The Offensive Weapons Bill, which is going through Parliament, details offences related to having offensive weapons such as corrosive substances, knives and firearms, in a bid to curb violent crime.
The row between the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK), which commands 13.5k followers on Twitter, and the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), which represents 130 Sikh organisations and gurdwaras, has been simmering since both publicly disagreed on whether a Sikh ethnic tick box should be included in the 2021 census. But it has now boiled over following a grand committee meeting on January 30 to debate amendments related to the kirpan in the new bill.
Bhai Amrik Singh, chair, SFUK, has written a letter to House of Lords Commissioner for Standards Lucy Scott-Moncrieff calling for an investigation into whether the director of the NSO, 86-year-old crossbench peer Lord Singh of Wimbledon, has broken parliamentary rules, stating that he has failed to declare his position as director of the NSO in the register of Lords’ interests and that on January 30 he “abused his parliamentary privilege” to defame and discredit the SFUK and attack the APPG for British Sikhs.
In a media statement, the SFUK has accused Singh of “launching an extraordinary attack” on itself during the debate, saying he is trying to “use his position to defame the SFUK” and influence who ministers should meet.
At the debate Baroness Barran had said that the SFUK and Sikh Council UK had contacted APPG for British Sikhs, expressing concerns about provisions in the bill in relation to the kirpan. Lord Singh interrupted her and said: “The SFUK are not a representative body of the Sikh community. They are trying to capitalise and muddy the waters. I think it would be helpful if the government dealt with the NSO who represent the vast part of the Sikh community.” He later added: “The APPG and the Sikh Fed are one and the same thing. They are exactly the same and everyone knows it.”
The SFUK branded this an “outrageous attack”, saying Lord Singh saw Preet Gill and the APPG as “a threat to the monopoly he has established over many years on Sikh issues in Parliament and with government”.
When Barran said she would be delighted to meet representatives of the Sikh Council UK to discuss their concerns, Lord Singh said: “Could I just correct that to the NSO, not the Sikh Council?”
Lord Singh also said: “Sikhs are sometimes referred to as a martial race. The description is wrong on two counts. We are neither martial nor are we a race. Sikh teachings criticise all notions of race or caste, emphasising we are all equal members of one human race.”
The SFUK has ridiculed this in a Facebook post, writing: “Then what are we??”
“Lord Singh urged the government to deal with the NSO. By publicly insisting that ministers and officials only deal and meet with his own organisation and using his position in the House of Lords and as head of the NSO interchangeably needs to be investigated,” the letter from Bhai Amrik Singh states. “Lord Singh’s failure to make disclosures about his interests raises serious concerns about the way he has been exercising his parliamentary influence for more than seven years. SFUK is requesting an investigation,” it adds.
A spokesperson for the NSO told TOI: “Lord Singh is not a lifetime director of the NSO. All power lies with the elected executive. They can sack him at any time, and the role is an honorary post for which he does not receive a penny.” The spokesperson added: “The ‘martial race’ theory was propagated by British military scientists, who wanted to increase enlistment to the British Indian Army during the Great Wars. It is not consistent with Sikh teachings. Under current legislation, the kirpan has an exemption from the provisions relating to the possession of an offensive weapon. All that is required is to include a clause to protect longer kirpans gifted to Sikhs and non-Sikhs. The failure of Sikh MPs to address this gap in the House of Commons made it necessary for Lord Singh to retrieve the situation.”