Lord Suri's Maiden Speech delivered on 15th January 2015, House of Lords

My Lords,

I would like to thank all noble Lords on all sides of the House, and the staff of this House for your immense kindness and friendliness in making me so welcome to this illustrious establishment, navigating me through the protocols, giving me advise and guidance to enable me to fulfill my new role in this House.

My Lords, in particular I would like to give my heartfelt gratitude and thanks to my supporters, my noble friends Lord Popat and Lord Leigh of Hurley for introducing me to your Lordships.

Little did I know back in 1974 when I emigrated from Kenya to the UK, that I would be bestowed with this great honour to work alongside your Lordships to continue contributing towards building a cohesive multi cultural society in this country. I am humbled to join this House and family, which strive to represent the diversity of the population in this great nation. My Lords, I am the second turbaned Sikh who has been elevated to the Upper House. This great British institution has taken a praiseworthy step by bringing into its fold people of different faiths.

I have spent all of my working life as a businessman, with a career that started in Kenya as an importer of educational supplies serving the needs of schools, colleges and students in the coastal city of Mombasa, known as the Gateway of East Africa. This was the start of my liaisons with United Kingdom, dealing with long established British publishers Macmillan, Longmans Green & Co, William Collins to name just a few. In 1974 having decided to migrate with my family to the United Kingdom, I pursued my business ambitions and challenged myself to a new business venture in complete contrast to the educational supplies business I had left behind in Mombasa. I decided to enter into the fashion accessories trade, and much to my disbelief I encountered a harsh reality not previously experienced. The estate agents who offered me business premises to rent strongly advised me not to be the ‘front man’ in a fashion accessories boutique as customers would not be forthcoming. Not to be put off, my wife was recruited in and she ran our boutique full time whilst I ventured onwards looking for further trading opportunities.

We were determined to stand on our own feet and to earn our living without committing to the state for benefits. Our children still at school, soon matured by taking on household responsibilities whilst my wife and I spent working long days and no holidays for many years to come. In 1977 I established a wholesale fashion jewellery and accessories business, and through its success I built up a sound property portfolio. The company is still trading strongly with those very children now in the management ranks and myself at the helm.

Through my selfless and entrepreneurial approach to business, I have always remained actively involved with many charities and provided financial assistance to many social action projects and social initiatives. This is in keeping with my firm belief that people should contribute back to society to help others in less fortunate positions. Service to charitable and voluntary works has always been deeply routed in my ethos on life. Service to mankind and praying for the welfare of all is one of the principle pillars of the Sikh religion.

I have been treading on this noble road to serve others from a very young age. Over the years I have championed community and local action and have held posts in the community, including: Justice of the Peace, General Commissioner of Income Tax, Middlesex Probation Committee, Home Office Advisory Council of Race Relations, Member of Board of Visitors of HM Prison Pentonville and Mentor to The Prince’s Youth Business Trust.

My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friends Baroness Tyler of Enfield and Baroness Jolly for putting down the motion for today's debate on the importance of mental health care provision. Good mental health, as well as good physical health is essential in enabling us to contribute to the socio economics of society. The relevance of today’s debate endorses over of five decades of my contributing to the community, voluntary services and charities, starting in Kenya and continued in Britain with unremitting devotion.

During my involvement as a Voluntary Associate at HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, prior to commencing my voluntary career in Probation and Magistracy, it was evident that poor mental health and the lack of mental health care provision hindered people from making the journey to recovery. I would like to share with my Lords, a particular case where I supported a fellow Sikh who was imprisoned for having committed murder. This individual who I will call Tej, which is not his real name, was further isolated in this environment through lack of communication as he was not literate and unable to converse in English. Tej was fluent in his mother tongue Punjabi which limited his interactions, intensified his isolation and sense of hopelessness, contributing to his depression, and being at a high risk of suicide. Through my weekly visits, we established a rapport over a cup of tea and biscuits. Over time Tej was persuaded to join literacy classes in prison, which reduced some of the isolation, and frequency of suicidal thoughts. Through continual support, Tej was transferred to a prison nearer to his hometown in order to rebuild his relationship with his family who had severed all links with him.

My work within the prison environment, led me to visiting the young people at Feltham Young Offenders Institution. These young men were institutionalized as a result of their criminal activities, with the outlook of further poor outcomes in the future, and once again the state of their mental health contributed to sense of despair and low aspirations. It could be said that the young people were like tender green shoots waiting to be trained along a framework that would build on their aspirations, acquire new skills, knowledge through education, which would be utilized in a productive way to reduce the cost to society.

It has been important to me to have put my business skills into the field and mentored young people through The Prince's Youth Business Trust, sharing my knowledge and experience of starting businesses thereby giving them the tools to take the first steps in building a new life and contributing to their community but also to the economy of the country.

Education has a multi dimensional impact on every member of society and should be for all to take on board as a lifelong journey of learning, discovery and character building. In 1956, I had the privilege of meeting with the President of India at that time, Mr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, who was visiting Kenya to open the Mahatma Gandhi Academy. In his speech he emphasized that although he was an academic, philosopher and statesman, he still considered the world as his school. This analogy has influenced my thinking on education, which has brought me here today.

I am sure that the provision of mental health services will remain high on the agenda of this House.

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