More about Parmjit Dhanda

With Zac


Parmjit’s parents came to West London in the 1960s from Punjab in search of a better life. His father (Balbir) worked as a lorry driver and his mother (Satvinder) was a cleaner at Hillingdon and Ealing hospitals.

Whilst a cleaner at the Hospital, the NUPE trade union (now Unison) offered to send Satvinder on an English language course if she would, in return, take up the challenge of becoming a union shop steward, representing her fellow cleaners at the hospital.

Education and early Career

After attending a state education in West London (including Mellow Lane Comprehensive in Hayes), Parmjit went to Nottingham University where he did a degree in electronic Engineering, followed by a Masters Degree in information technology.

On leaving university he went on to work for the Labour Party as a Campaigns Organiser in West London and also the West of England at the 1997 General election. He presided over the successful elections of Steve Pound (Ealing North), Piara Khabra (Ealing Southall), Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush), Michael Wills (Swindon North) and Julia Drown (Swindon South).

In 1998 he co-ordinated the Ealing Council elections campaign for the Labour Party which saw the Party win with a landslide. Parmjit was himself elected as a councillor for the council ward of Yeading (where he lived) on Hillingdon Council in 1998. In 1999, aged 28, he became the youngest European Parliamentary Candidate in the country.

MP and Britain’s first Sikh Minister

At 29, Parmjit was elected as Member of Parliament for Gloucester on June 7th 2001 with a majority of 3,880 – the first BAME MP in the region’s history. He voted against the Iraq war in the 2001-2005 Parliament and built a strong reputation as a campaigning local MP, helping to gain record levels of investment for his constituency – including a new hospital, police headquarters, FE college and university campus.

With the backing of Tony Blair he helped set up an Urban Regeneration Company for Gloucester and then personally oversaw delicate negotiations between Peel Holdings, British Waterways and the Regional Development Agency to build a £35 million further education college and a £200 million shopping centre in the Docks. This resulted in over 1,000 local retail and construction jobs as part of the complete renewal of the Gloucster Quays.

In 2005 he was returned with an increased majority of 4,240 to Parliament and subsequently was asked to join the government. He served as a whip with responsibility for the Department of Trade and Industry (from May 2005 to May 2006), as an education minister (May 2006 to June 2007) and as a Communities Minister with responsibility for Community Cohesion and for the Fire and Rescue Service (June 2007 to September 2008) in Gordon Brown’s government.

He was the first minister from the Sikh faith to serve as a minister in the UK government, and remains the only one to date, as well as being the first of Indian parentage to be a minister.

Running for Speaker

In 2009 he fought a high profile and radical campaign to be Speaker of the House of Commons, winning plaudits for his hustings speech from all three party leaders (video of speech – above).


Parmjit is married to Rupi, a family lawyer, and they have two sons aged 16 and 13.

Since leaving Parliament he has worked as a senior trade union official, Executive Director of Back Heathrow and as a non-executive director in the housing, health and regeneration sectors. He was the first independent Chair of the Allied Health Professions Federation.

He wrote his memoires in 2015 and held the launch party at Speaker’s House amongst friends, family and close colleagues.