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Cabinet Office Minister sensing support from MPs leaves door open on Sikh ethnic tick box for Census 2021

London – 18 December 2018: Preet Kaur Gill MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs, today challenged the Cabinet Office Minister, Chloe Smith on the floor of the House of Commons.

The issue she raised was the Office for National Statistics (ONS) failure to propose the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021 in the Census White Paper published by the government last Friday.

The Census 2021, could be the last ever Census so the Sikh community is determined to ensure Parliamentarians appreciate the significance of having a Sikh ethnic tick box.

Preet pointed out that “thirty-five years ago, in a unanimous five-nil judgment, the Law Lords ruled that Sikhs were an ethnic group and protected from discrimination. However, the results of the Prime Minister’s race disparity audit contained no data whatsoever relating to Sikhs. The Office for National Statistics only requires public bodies to collect and monitor data relating to ethnic groups specified in the census, and the Government’s White Paper fails to include a Sikh ethnic tick-box.”

Preet asked the Minister to commit herself to meeting the APPG and to the inclusion of a Sikh ethnic tick-box in the Census Order, to bring an end to decades of discrimination against the Sikh community.

Chloe Smith, the Minister responsible confirmed she was happy to meet Preet and her colleagues from the APPG.  Recognising the large cross-party support for the Sikh community on this issue the Minister passed blame for the Census White Paper to the ONS.

Over 40,000 public bodies have been required for the last 20 years to collect and monitor data relating to ethnic groups to eliminate racial discrimination.  The Prime Minister’s first ever Race Disparity Audit showed a few months ago huge problems with data gaps. 

In a legal challenge by the Sikh Federation (UK) 8 years ago the ONS accepted Sikhs were an ethnic group but used the excuse that the paper questionnaire did not have enough space.  This is no longer an issue as the Census in 2021 will largely be online.

MPs across the political spectrum, perhaps as many as 350 (a majority) according to the Sikh Federation (UK), are supportive of the arguments presented as they recognise there is overwhelming support within the community for a Sikh ethnic tick box.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) responding to the development said:

“When Preet asked the question and urged the Government to include a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census Order before it is presented in the Commons many MPs on all sides were visibly supportive.”

“We are pleased the Minister has agreed to engage with the APPG and its Chair on this issue.”

“However, the ONS role ended when it made its proposals in the White Paper. The matter is now out of the hands of the government and MPs who must present and approve the Census Order.”  

“When the Draft Census Order was presented 10 years ago and debated in the House of Commons an amendment was proposed to include “Cornish” but was not approved.”

“If the Draft Census Order is not changed by the Cabinet Office to include a Sikh ethnic tick box before it is presented in the Commons we are confident that we will have sufficient cross-party support to be successful in securing an amendment.”

“Cabinet Office Ministers will in the next nine months have to listen to MPs on the many failings of the ONS in excluding the Sikh ethnic tick box in their proposals and decide what is the right thing to do from a legal and Parliamentary perspective.” 

“The Sikh case has legal, community and political backing.  We have not come across a single MP prepared to oppose a Sikh ethnic tick box.  They know to do so would be ignoring the legal status of Sikhs and they do not want to be seen as racially discriminating against the Sikh community.”  

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