I have three duties today. The first is to declare this Convention open, which I hereby do with pleasure. The second is to be brief: you will hear a lot of speeches today. And the third, perhaps more difficult than the other two, is to avoid saying anything interesting, or at least anything more interesting than my Minister, Lord Green, who is about to follow me onto this podium.
But I do want to say something important today, which I hope will help set the framework for your deliberations. What I want to say is this: we in Britain believe in India; we believe in Britain; and we believe in the partnership between our two great countries.
Let me explain each of those points.
We believe in India. The reports of the death of the Indian economic miracle have been greatly exaggerated.
We in Britain know that India faces challenges. I see those challenges every day as I travel around this country, and most of you know them even better than I do.
But we also know that India has the capacity to overcome every single one of those challenges. Its economic fundamentals are strong. Whether it grows at 5 or 10%, it will soon be one of the world’s largest economies. Its sheer scale is an asset: India can mobilise more money, people and resources than almost any other country.
India has world-beating ambition, energy, talent and excellence – quite a lot of it in this room right now. Its vast and growing middle class is a force for progress and stability. Its unity in diversity is a recipe for innovation and growth.
India’s feisty democracy, freedom of speech, the fact that every Indian can and will argue about everything, these are some of India’s strongest suits. That’s because challenging the conventional wisdom and creative destruction – two things which you see everywhere every day in India – are the keys to success in the 21st century.
So point one: we believe in India.
Point two: we also happen to believe in Britain. We in Britain are proud of our past. But we think our best days are ahead of us.
Britain is and intends to remain one of the world’s largest economies. We have the right economic fundamentals: a stable democracy, the rule of law, a highly educated and flexible workforce, a business-friendly environment, and policies which support growth. We are the place to be if you want to be a global player - which is why so many Indian firms are in the UK.
Britain is and intends to remain a world leader in science, technology and innovation. Examples – the iPad, designed by a Brit; the Internet, invented by one; and the Higgs Boson, the particle which explains why the physical world works, predicted by a Brit.
Other things which the British have discovered or invented include, in no particular order: football, golf, cricket, tiddlywinks, croquet, railways,
steam engines, hovercraft, penicillin, gravity, longitude, the jet engine, vertical take-off aircraft, evolution, the postage stamp and - last but not least - sticky toffee pudding. Not bad for a small misty island off the coast of Europe.
Britain is and intends to remain a world leader in education and research. Of the top ten universities in the world, four are British. We have produced over 100 Nobel Prize winners, more than any country except the US.
And Britain is and intends to remain a country which can do difficult things well. Example – last year’s London Olympics: delivered on time, on budget, with friendliness, good humour and style. And featuring Britain’s two greatest icons – Her Majesty the Queen and James Bond – jumping out of a helicopter together.
Lastly, we believe in the UK/India partnership. That partnership has gone from strength to strength in the last few years. Since 2010 we have:
- Helped achieve a significant rise in UK/India trade. When he came to power, Prime Minister David Cameron set us a goal of doubling the trade between our two countries, and doing it by 20I5. If the trend so far this year continues, we will meet that goal. Helping UK business and promoting UK prosperity is job number one for me and my whole team here in India.
- Seen the UK become the biggest investor in India. The BP/Reliance gas joint venture represents the single biggest investment in India ever.
- Secured more Indian investment into the UK than into the rest of the European Union combined.
- Strengthened our people to people exchanges. Every year now some 800,000 Brits come to India, and nearly 400,000 Indians come to Britain.
- Improved our visa services. This year we introduced a new same day visa service – the first anywhere in the world.
- Built the largest diplomatic network Britain has anywhere in the world. We now have more diplomatic and trade offices in India than any other country does.
- Expanded exponentially our collaboration with India on science and innovation. A few years ago, jointly funded research with India was only £1m: it’s now over £125m.
- Boosted our efforts to help Indians learn English, which both improves their job prospects and helps strengthen the bond between us. In recent years the British Council has trained nearly 1 million English language teachers in states across India.
- Built new cooperation between our two countries on the rising challenges of the 21st century: energy security, climate change, terrorism and cyber security.
- So the UK/India partnership is becoming wider, deeper, and stronger. It is a partnership of genuine equals, with benefits for both. It is bringing our countries closer together. And it’s helping make our citizens safer, richer and happier.
- Is the partnership perfect? No. Is it always easy? No. Has it yet fulfilled its full potential? No. But is the effort we are putting in worth it? Yes, yes and yes.
- To conclude, ladies and gentlemen: we believe in India, we believe in Britain, and we believe in the partnership between us. You exemplify that partnership. Together with you, we look forward to strengthening it further over the coming years.