Britain’s largest Sikh organization has dismissed as ‘lies’ claims by Downing Street that a Conservative Party donor who was made a peer this week is a prominent member of the Sikh community.
Businessman Ranbir Singh Suri, founder of London-based Oceanic Jewellery, was named by Prime Minister David Cameron to the House of Lords this week with the government describing him as one of Britain’s leading British Asian businessmen and an “upstanding member of the British Sikh community”.
However, the Sikh Federation UK, Britain’s leading umbrella organization for Sikh community groups, said in a statement that it had never heard of Mr Suri before.
“He is no leading figure in Britain’s Sikh community and he is not associated with any of the leading Sikh organisations.
Many in the Sikh community simply see Lord Suri as a businessman who has donated large sums of money [to the Conservatives].
In its official citation for Mr Suri, Downing Street claimed that the tycoon had a magistrate and ‘General Secretary of the Board of British Sikhs’, an organization that was later revealed to have been shut down just two years after it was established in 1990.
It was also revealed that Mr Suri had donated more than £300,000 to the Conservative Party personally and through his company.
Gurmel Singh, General Secretary of the Sikh Council UK, said: “We have not come across this individual before. The first time I heard of him was when his name was mentioned (publicly).
Mr Singh added: “While we welcome the appointment of a Sikh to teh House of Lords, the general feeling in the community is that it would have been good to have somebody who could speak on a range of issues. It would also have been good if he was known for his contributions in the Sikh community”.
Whilst there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on Mr Suri’s part, questions have been raised at the manner in which peerages have been awarded by the government with Mr Cameron accused of “blatant cronyism”.
Paul Flynn, Labour member of the public administration select committee, said: “Our legislature is being prostituted; jobs are being given out to the highest donors.
Mr Suri, who has been a Tory supporter for more than three decades, is said to have once described Prime Minister David Cameron as “delightful” and a “good leader”.
Mr Suri is also said to be a member of the Renaissance Forum, which gives people who have contributed more than £10,000 to the Conservative Party the chance of an audience with speakers such as George Osborne, William Hague and Eric Pickles.
Suri is the ninth person of South Asian descent to be made a life peer since the election of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in 2010, after Dolar Popat (Baron Popat), Raj Loomba (Baron Loomba), Tariq Ahmam (Baron Ahmad), Qurban Hussain (Baron Hussain), Gulam Noon (Baron Noon), Indarjit Singh (Baron Singh) Zahida Manzoor (Baroness Manzoor) and Rumi Verjee (Baron Verjee).
The 22 new peers announced this week – others include The Apprentice star and businesswoman Karen Brady and former Marks and Spencer chairman Stuart Rose – boosts the total number of peers to 850, the highest level since the system of hereditary peerages was scrapped in 1999.
Insiders say that the Lord’s is so overcrowded, only two-thirds of its members can enter the chamber at any given time.
According to reports, the size of Britain’s upper house of parliament is second only to the Chinese National People’s Congress and costs the taxpayer more than £21 million to maintain.
Today’s list includes six Lib Dem peers and three Labour peers, including a former Eastenders actor.