I am honoured to have been asked to join you in celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Khalsa. This, I know, is just one of many celebrations happening up and down the country throughout the year.
I am pleased that other members of the government have been able to take part in the celebrations. Jack Straw attended an event in the Royal Albert Hall in London last Sunday at which The Prince of Wales was also present. Other MPs, including of course our two Sikh MPs Piara Singh Khabra and Marsha Singh, have been joining in other celebrations.
Those celebrations have included exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert museum, weekend festivals here in Birmingham, TV programmes, and street processions. In Southall there is a magnificent new Sikh Gurdwara being built. And I know many people in the audience will have visited Anandpur in Punjab this year to take part in the celebrations there.
I am proud that Britain is home to the largest number of Sikhs outside the Punjab. Almost half a million live in communities from Southall to Cardiff, from Glasgow to Leeds, from Coventry to Gravesend. And of course here in Birmingham.
The Sikh community is a vital part of British life. In every walk of life, in business, culture, the legal profession, you are adding to the strength of Britain.
I want to pay tribute to the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras in Birmingham which has done so much to foster an appreciation of the Sikh way of life in the wider community. The events which have been organised through April and May have been superb and will greatly have enhanced the lives of those in the community.
From what I have read, the anniversary we celebrate today is of a great moment in the history of democracy. For the community born under Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th guru, was based on throwing off the caste system and doing away with all forms of hierarchy. It was a profoundly classless and egalitarian philosophy. From then on all Sikhs took the name of Singh, all women became equal with men and took the name Kaur, or princess. Yours is an inspiring vision.
Indarjit Singh, whose wise words I often hear on Today Programme's Thought for the Day, has written that "Sikhism is about achieving a balance between having independence and self-respect and living and sharing equally with others". The founding principles are equality, a just social order for all, tolerance of others and other religions, earning a living through honest labour, hospitality and sharing one's fortune with those less fortunate. These values are as powerful and relevant today as they were 300 years ago.
The idea of mutual tolerance and respect is at the heart of your beliefs.
Today, here in Britain and in the wider world, it is a timely message.
In Britain, it is our ambition to create a modern civic society for today's world, to renew the bonds of community that bind us together.
That society is based on shared values: rights and duties which go together; tolerance and respect for diversity. We work hard to provide opportunity for our young, whether it is in enhancing education or in giving hope to the unemployed. In return we demand responsibility, proper conduct, law-abiding behaviour. We stand up for our racial and cultural diversity; we fight against discrimination and violence; we value our differences and respect each other's background, ethnic and religious.
It is a vision for the 21st century, a society free from prejudice but not free from rules. We need order and stability in our society and we are prepared to fight for it. But it is an order based on decent values, a stability anchored in mutual respect and tolerance for differences.
And when one section of our community is under attack, we defend them in the name of all the community.
When bombs attack the black and Asian Community in Britain, they attack the whole of Britain.
When the gay community is attacked and innocent people are murdered, all the good people of Britain, whatever their race, their lifestyle, their class, unite in revulsion and determination to bring the evil people to justice.
And I thank our police, in particular the Metropolitan Police under the leadership of Sir Paul Condon, for the way they have responded - with vigour and resolution.
In responding in this way, we are doing more than bringing killers to justice. We are defending what it means to be British.
In the past, patriotism, national identity was defined by some by reference to those excluded. Nationalism in this sense can be dangerous: you have to come from one colour, one religion, one ethnic background as opposed to others.
Today, we take pride in an identity, limited by the geography of the country, but within that country, open to all whatever their colour, religion or ethnic background. We celebrate our diversity, we recognise it brings us strength and teaches us a patriotism that enriches and unites our nation rather than divides it. And the true outcasts today, the true minorities, those truly excluded are not the different races and religions of Britain but the racists, the bombers, the violent criminals who hate that vision of Britain and try to destroy it. But they shall not win. The great decent majority of British people will not let them. We will defeat them and then we can build the tolerant, multi-racial Britain the vast majority of us want to see.
And, as we fight injustice and intolerance in Britain, so in Kosovo today we fight ethnic cleansing and racial genocide. The values we are fighting for, are the same values: the right to live in freedom from fear, whatever your race or religion. When defenceless people are butchered by Milosevic in Kosovo, young men murdered, women violated, it is an outrage against the very values of humanity which are the world's only salvation. We must act to stop it; we must continue the action in the Balkans until those people driven from their homes are allowed to return in peace and security to their homeland. Then let any other dictator who tries to suppress a people on the grounds of their race or religion know that when NATO takes a stand, it will not yield until the battle is won.
Every day, every night our armed forces are risking their lives in defence of our values. They have our full support.
And we know that, as with the bus hit yesterday, innocent people whom we have no wish to harm, are casualties in this conflict. But when we report these incidents, where NATO has acted in error, let us never forget, unseen by TV cameras, often unreported, are the most appalling acts, far worse than anything we have done, and done deliberately by Milosevic and his forces - slaughtering innocent Kosovar Albanians in their thousands.
As the Sikh teaching tells us, we must 'never refrain from righteous acts whatever the cost'.
That is why I thank the Sikh community, just as I thank other communities in Britain, for supporting this war and uniting behind our values - British values, the values of the Sikh community. It is that belief that is echoed by the Guru Gobind Singh when he says: "recognise the human race as one".
We have a long way to go in Britain and elsewhere before this vision is realised. If nothing else, here in Britain, the case of Stephen Lawrence would teach us that. But in describing the journey still to go, we can take hope from the distance already travelled. We have time and history and all the good forces of humanity on our side.
Today we celebrate the creation of a nation whose temples open up to all - rich and poor, male and female, old and young. We celebrate a religion that respects all other religions. And a people who seek to lead a life of compassion, humility, piety, justice.
I am honoured to be part of those celebrations.