The Indian Journalists Association Europe hosted a celebratory dinner Wednesday 19th for Keith Vaz, the Labour MP and Chairman of the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee and arguably the most prominent British Asian political figure in the country.
This year sees the MP for Leicester East celebrate 25 years in politics – a career marked by dogged campaigning on causes close to his heart as well as a not insignificant amount of controversy.
During an anecdote-laden speech at Central London’s Bistro restaurant – described by the minister as one of his favourite haunts and home to the “finest Chicken Biriyani in Britain” – an often impassioned Mr Vaz articulated his views on an array of topics, particularly in relation to the Diaspora community as well as issues relating to the sub-continent.
On ‘Fast-Track’ passport lanes at Heathrow for low-risk travellers
“Rich people are going to be able to buy their way into Heathrow ahead of the rest of us to beat the queues. When I asked the UKBA chief Rob Whiteman which countries would be included in the plan, he said the ‘Old Commonwealth’, made up of Australia, Canada, the US and, oddly enough, Japan but not India. Firstly, I don’t believe in an economic basis for entering this country at Heathrow but if we are going to have fast track entry, the list of countries must include nations such as India where we do a lot of business.”
Indian students in the UK and the London Met…
184000 Indians have got visas between 2005 and 2010 to study in this country. Our education system would absolutely collapse without Indian students coming into this country. These students do not want to come and work for Tesco’s. They want to get an education and further their careers. When you go to a place like Cambridge University, you realize the contribution this country’s education system has made. There are busts of the current Indian Prime Minister, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajeev Gandhi and the list is endless. These students and their contribution is vitally important for both the UK and India. It’s not just for students themselves but it is vitally important to the country and trade between our two nations as well. No one wants students who are not genuine. The vast majority are genuine and we should not try and stop them from coming here.”
“The London Metropolitan University issue has been very badly handled. It is wrong to allow someone to pay 9000 pounds, come into this country and not have the chance to study. I have had so many complaints in Leicester for instance about bogus colleges. Students turn up to study and nobody wants to teach them. I think what they should have done with London Met is for them to not allow any more foreign students in, not to jeopardise the futures of all international students.”
On the Indian government’s decision to deregulate the country’s retail sector.
“As the one time shadow minister for the environment I have dealt with the supermarkets in this country. If India allows the big supermarkets to come in they will not hesitate to have the same domination that they have in the United Kingdom. I’m not sure if that’s good for India. In Leicester, the butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker, the heart of our High Street people’s lives have been decimated by the arrival of ASDA, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. I fought unsuccessfully to keep Tesco’s out of the Belgrave Road in Leicester because I knew the damage it could do. If that happens in India it would similarly decimate small operators. There has to be some degree of regulation. My only observation is that the Indian authorities need to be extremely careful. By all means, modernize the retail sector but don’t hand it over.”
The police handling of the Anuj Bidve case.
“I have never seen the British police react with such dedication. I have constituents who have never had the service that the family of Anuj Bidve had. I don’t believe it was a racist murder. I think (Kieron) Stapleton would have targeted anyone who had been there at the same time as Anuj. If it was a racist murder, the police didn’t regard it as such and the Bidve’s didn’t regard it as such having worked closely with the police. The guy was convicted in July this year. The police flew over to India several times to speak to the family. The family were brought over here several times. The CPS moved with such speed because I think they knew that the eyes of the whole world were on them and there were concerns in the Indian media that the killing mirrored what was happening in Australia but actually that wasn’t the case.
The UKBA awarding Capita Plc a contract to track down illegal immigrants and Visa overstayers
“We are asking for the contract to be sent to the Home Affairs Committee because we think that this is a fairly odd contract. Second thing is we have another aspect to this matter; I have heard loads of complaints from people, particularly women who say that their spouses have only married them so that they can come to the UK. How do we deal with those individuals? The UKBA says the number is 174,000 but it’s now in the region of 300,000. It’s constantly going up, being added to. It’s like the Tardis: things keep disappearing in it.
British Asians in politics…
“I had a typically British Asian upbringing and I never believed anyone would appoint me a Minister, especially a minister for Europe which is what Tony Blair did. I was given a fair shake and I did what I had to do. Many people think that we had to pay a high price but I don’t think that’s the case. Having said that, it is much easier for this generation: there are now 27 ministers from ethnic minority communities in the UK. Someone like Sajid Javid can go from the back benches to being a minister in just two years. There was far more scrutiny when I was first elected, especially from the mainstream media. Today we have British Asians in the mainstream media. So it’s a lot easier to be a black of Asian in Westminster today.”
– Viji Alles