Speech on the Sikh Community [Question for Short Debate] – 3 March 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for securing this debate. I was aware of the almost unanimous outcry of the Sikh community all over the world on the invasion of the Golden Temple by the Indian armed forces in 1984. This was a tragic event that resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives that could have been avoided.

The recent release of the report by the UK Government regarding the attack on the Sri Harmandir Sahib—Golden Temple—complex has raised more questions on the British involvement in this operation. I have had long discussions with Sikh leaders, including my friend and colleague, Parmjit Singh Gill, a former Member of the other House and one of only five Sikhs ever elected to it. He has worked robustly on the issue, both before the release of the report and after. I believe that, along with other Sikh leaders, he has met some of the most senior people in the Government, including the Cabinet Secretary, the Deputy Prime Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi.

On behalf of the British Sikh community, I wish to raise the following points. First, the Cabinet Secretary had reported that a key file on the provision of military advice to the Indian authorities on their plans for the attack in June 1984 was destroyed by the Ministry of Defence in November 2009. It remains unclear why such an important file was destroyed, and this lessens the credibility of the internal inquiry. Given the incredible importance of the 1984 attack to the Sikh faith, who took the decision to destroy the files and how was that decision taken? Was it taken at the ministerial level?

Secondly, Parliament appeared to have been misled at the time, following a Question on 30 July 1984 by the then MP for Slough, John Watts, who asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions Her Majesty’s Government had had with the Government of India about the incident—the attack on the Sri Harmandir Sahib, or Golden Temple. Ray Whitney, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary, replied:

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has received petitions and numerous letters from the Sikh community in the UK about recent events in Punjab. As this is an internal Indian matter, we have not sought to discuss it with the Indian Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/7/84; col. 111W.]

Is this not contrary to the fact now established that they were in discussions and had provided military advice?

Thirdly, the media had reported in January 2014 that the then Prime Minister had ordered an inquiry to be carried out by the Cabinet Secretary which would cover the events of 1984. However, the inquiry covered only the period up to the start of the attack and no other events, which included the genocide of Sikhs that followed later that year. Clearly, the parameters of the review were too narrow, and it has been alleged that the terms of reference, which have not been published, changed during the inquiry. Would it not have made sense, if the inquiry was to carry the confidence of the Sikh community, to review and release all documentation covering the 1984 events, and over a much broader period of time, including the genocide of Sikhs in 1984? Despite the review and report, why have the details of the specific advice that was given not been revealed, nor the reason that the UK Government agreed to advise the Indian Government on how to attack the Sikhs’ holiest shrine?

Fourthly, when the Foreign Secretary delivered his Statement in the other place on 4 February 2014, Members raised questions suggesting that defence-related commercial interests had been advanced on the basis of providing advice to India and that measures had been taken by the UK Government to stop Sikhs in the UK exercising their democratic right to hold peaceful gatherings. Will the Minister comment on that?

Fifthly, what sanctions, if any, did the Government of India threaten the UK with in order to secure its silence when a genocide of Sikhs was taking place in India in 1984?

Finally, given the gravity of the decision by the UK Government of 30 years ago to provide military advice to the Indian authorities, which led to the series of events resulting in thousands of innocent Sikhs losing their lives, the very least that the estimated half a million Sikhs in the UK are entitled to from this Government is a full, independent, judge-led public inquiry so that the truth can finally come out. Will my noble friend promise a full, independent, judge-led public inquiry to establish the facts about the extent of British involvement in the Golden Temple invasion, to satisfy the British Sikh community?

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