Archive of ‘Speeches’

Bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka12.11.14

Lord Sheikh to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage more bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this important subject before your Lordships’ House. I have been a friend of Sri Lanka for several years and have visited the country on two recent occasions. I have met and spoken to several Sri Lankan government Ministers in London as well as in Sri Lanka, including the President, Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa. I have previously raised issues relating to Sri Lanka in your Lordships’ House. I am a vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Sri Lanka, and I have supported the Conservative Friends of Sri Lanka. I have also enjoyed a highly successful relationship with the Sri Lankan high commission here in London, in particular with the former high commissioner, Dr Chris Nonis, who has been an outstanding representative of his country. He elevated the stature of Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom.

The observations I have made throughout this time have reinforced my view that Sri Lanka is, and should be, regarded as one of our most important bilateral trading partners. Trading links between the UK and Sri Lanka date back to colonial times. We introduced commercial plantations to Sri Lanka—first coffee, then tea and rubber. Over the years the Sri Lankan export product base has diversified significantly, most notably with articles of apparel and clothing accessories. The UK has increasingly imported a wide variety of items, including electrical equipment, bicycles, jewellery, ceramics and toys. In return, we export to Sri Lanka items such as iron and steel, machinery, paper, beverages, plastics and pharmaceutical products.

Both our political and economic ties have worn extremely well over the past 200 years. Today, Sri Lanka is a major emerging economy in south Asia. It is a market of over 20 million people, but its geographical location means that it can in fact reach a market of over 1.6 billion people. It also serves as a logistical trading and shipment hub for the region. Over the past decade Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product has grown at an overall rate of 6.4%. It grew by an astonishing 7.2% in 2013. Sri Lanka now has one of the fastest growing economies in the region and is expected to grow by 7.5% this year. The Sri Lankan stock market is on target to finish among the top 10 performing stock markets in the world this year. It now has a GDP per capita of $3,200, and the Sri Lankan Government aim to increase this to $4,000 per capita by 2016. In short, Sri Lanka undoubtedly holds massive potential for UK investors.

We must acknowledge that for nearly three decades Sri Lanka was torn apart by a civil war. Thankfully, that came to an end in 2009. The country has since made significant progress, including meeting many international obligations and engaging with the United Nations on post-conflict matters. A commission was established to strengthen the process of reconciliation and the Sri Lankan Government are currently implementing its recommendations. I have been assured that the Government are committed to the realisation of all human rights to prevent further conflict. I believe that now is the time for any Tamil diaspora which left the country to be encouraged to return and be resettled so that it may once again contribute to the well-being of the country. Sri Lanka’s future is undoubtedly looking bright.

Fortunately, we already have a foothold in the country. We are already one of the top five investors in Sri Lanka. The bilateral trade between the two countries has increased by 70% since the turn of the millennium, and we are its number one EU trading partner. In 2013, UK exports to Sri Lanka were valued at £167 million. It should be noted that the balance of trade has risen significantly in favour of Si Lanka in recent years. In the longer term, we must look to address this imbalance. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could clarify what action is being taken to achieve this.

As important as the volume of trade between the UK and Sri Lanka is the strategic significance of the type of trade. We are one of Sri Lanka’s closest business partners for higher education and professional training as well as for partnerships in the technology sector. These are vital skills that will help Sri Lanka to build and strengthen its economy in the long term and anchor the UK as a key partner in trading. There are already more than 100 British companies with operations in Sri Lanka that cross a wide range of sectors. These include HSBC, GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce. When I visited Sri Lanka, I was able to visit the Brandix factory near Colombo, which makes garments for Marks & Spencer. I found the operations to be very eco-friendly, with excellent working conditions which were commended by all. I have spoken on this point previously in your Lordships’ House. Sri Lanka also has many of its own home-grown success stories. During my trip, I also visited Millennium Information Technologies, a fast growing Sri Lankan company which was acquired by the London Stock Exchange Group in 2009. Its systems power several stock exchanges and depositories around the world.

Aside from our historical ties and the strong Sri Lankan economy and business base, there are many other reasons for us to promote and further bilateral trade. English is widely spoken across the country, providing many western countries with an easy means of communication with potential workers. The literacy rate in Sri Lanka now stands at about 92%. The commercial law of Sri Lanka is based primarily on the principles of English commercial law and English statutes, offering many companies a legal framework with which they are already familiar. Sri Lanka is the highest rated country in south Asia in the World Bank’s rankings for ease of doing business. Sri Lanka also has free trade agreements in place with India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. These can reduce import tariffs for some goods into those countries and thus help build the Sri Lankan economy further and allow British products to make their way through the supply chain.

Another key consideration is infrastructure. Following the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka is seeing a rapid and wide spread of infrastructure development. Connectivity is being vastly improved through several major road projects linking urban and rural communities. The Government are also improving and upgrading urban infrastructure facilities and basic services in towns and cities.

However, further modernisation is needed and the opportunities for British businesses are vast. The Sri Lankan Government have launched a major infrastructure initiative, entitled Five Hub Programme, which will provide opportunities for us to be involved. There is also an increasing demand for greater expansion in the leisure and tourism sector, including hotels and retail. This is and will continue to be a key growth area for British investors.

Another key area for further investment is education. The Sri Lankan workforce lacks critical job-specific skills, which could serve to undermine both private sector growth and public infrastructure development in the future. We must expand even further our role in providing and investing in higher education and skills training, helping the Sri Lankan workforce to fill the skills gap and become more responsive to the needs of the global market. In particular, I believe we could do more to build university-to-university contacts and become involved in creating colleges of excellence. There are also calls for greater facilitation of business visas for Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to travel to the UK. I hope that our Government will undertake to look at this. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether that can be considered.

Finally, I commend UK Trade & Investment’s recent trade mission to Sri Lanka, which I understand included representatives of 21 British companies. I look forward to learning more about its findings and hope to see more of these delegations in the future.

The future potential for Sri Lanka is huge, but it will be reached only through continued and expanded bilateral trade with countries such as ours

Archive for Speeches, Sri Lanka

EU Islamic Finance and Banking Summit11.18.14

Sir David Wootton, Sheikh Bilal Khan, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning and Assalaamu Alaikum.

I would like to welcome you all to today’s Summit, showcasing the EU as a hub for Islamic finance. I am particularly delighted to welcome you all to London.

You of course already know of London’s history as an international financial centre of great importance and it is also vital in the expansion of Islamic finance in Europe and elsewhere. I am sure many of you will be keen to see how you can participate in the growth of Islamic finance and grasp the opportunities arising from the high growth in the sector.

Conferences and Seminars are wonderful venues for networking and I am sure that you will renew acquaintances with your existing connections and make new contacts for mutual benefits.

The Islamic finance system is founded upon the central theme of achieving sustainable growth and shared prosperity whilst promoting innovation.A great deal of importance is placed upon innovation as it is vital to the creation of new products and services within the sector. Modern Islamic finance emerged in the mid-1970s with the founding of Islamic banks but the growth has been very rapid since the 1990s.

With Islamic finance investments worldwide now worth over $1.8 trillion and forecasted to grow to $2.5 trillion, Islamic finance presents an exciting high-growth market opportunity. Globally the market has grown 50% faster than the traditional banking sector. Shariah compliant assets rose more than 160% between 2009 and 2011.

The UK is the biggest centre for Islamic Finance outside the Islamic world. The Shariah compliant assets in United Kingdom exceed 18 billion dollars.

I would also like to state that I have owned and built successful businesses relating to insurance, financial services and properties and I am Chairman of four companies. In my business career I have dealt with general insurances, life assurance and mortgages. I have actively supported mutual insurance companies and building societies and this is another reason I do like to promote Islamic financial arrangements. The principle of mutuality appeals to me.

I may add that I was the first Muslim to be appointed a Member of the House of Lords by the Conservative Party. I am very active in the House of Lords speaking on a variety of subjects including matters relating to finance, banking, financial services and Islamic finance. I am the Patron of the Islamic Finance Council UK, a body active in four areas – 1) government advisory; 2) promoting linkages between ethical finance and Islamic finance; 3) empowering shariah scholars; and 4) providing tailored executive training.

I am passionate about Islamic Finance and I have spoken on this issue at various meetings in UK and abroad. I am also the Co-Chair of the All Party Group for Islamic Finance and diversity in financial matter. The group was set up in 2010 with the principle aim of raising awareness about Islamic Finance in the United Kingdom.

It aims to do this by: Giving the Islamic financial industry a voice in Parliament to address issues of concern and opportunity, promoting London as a centre of excellence as the leading Western hub for Islamic Finance, address other issues such as inclusivity, diversity, regulation and taxation.

The officers are all members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords from the three main parties. The group also has associate members from the Islamic Finance business sector to reflect the interest, opinions and opportunities from the sector.

In fact it is the British Government’s intention is to establish and maintain Britain as the gateway to international Islamic finance. This has created a level playing field for Islamic financial products in the UK. The British Government would like to ensure that principles of fairness, collaboration and commitment will apply to Islamic financial arrangements and is actively encouraging Shariah compliant transactions.

There has been a history of Mutual Organisations in the United Kingdom. We should note that a life assurance company called Scottish Widows was founded in 1850s and it was the first mutual life company set up in the UK.

Subsequently a number of other life offices were established mainly in Scotland. Most of these mutual offices are now limited companies. In addition several insurance companies had set up Ethical funds which have performed well. In addition to life offices there have a number of co-operative organisations as well as credit unions which are run on mutual basis.

In regard to United Kingdom and Europe, I would like to state that there are now nearly 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom and 20 million in Europe. In countries like France and Germany there are nearly 5 million Muslims in each country, Italy have over 1.5 million Muslims, Netherlands has over1 million Muslims, Austria has over 500,000 Muslims. The list goes on. If we also reach out to non-Muslims the potential is considerable as the populations of the United Kingdom and Europe are over 60 million and over 450 million respectively.

Islamic finance should not remain a niche, but through its appeal to everyone irrespective of religion, its market should be part of the mainstream market, increasing its potential manifold. Islamic financial institutions should target not only Muslims but also non-Muslims, particularly in Western countries, and their products and the pricing should be such that it appeals to a wider audience. To enable us to succeed in achieving our expansion for Islamic finance we need to develop and market a range of products which will fulfil the needs of people and cater for local conditions in the relevant country where we would like to write business.

I am a Freeman of the City of London and I am very proud of my connections with the city and I have also been a Lloyd’s insurance broker. When I became a Peer I took the title of Baron Sheikh of Cornhill in the City of London.

I am pleased that we have with us today Sir David Wootton who has been the Lord Mayor of London in 2012.

In October 2013 the World Islamic Economic Forum was held in London and it was the first time the Conference was held outside the Islamic world. I believe the organisers were right in choosing London as the venue for the Conference.

We were very pleased to hear the Prime Minister David Cameron announce at WIEF that the British Government will issue a sukuk, which it has since successfully done. The Government has made it very clear of their intent to cement Britain’s position as a western hub for Islamic finance. With the recent issuing of the sovereign Sukuk, this ambition has been realised. We are the first country outside of the Islamic world to issue Sukuk, a feat I believe we should be very proud of. This Sukuk received very strong demand and was more than 10 times oversubscribed. It ultimately raised £200 million pounds on orders totalling around £2.3 billion pounds.

Allocations have been made to a wide range of investors including sovereign wealth funds, central banks and domestic and international financial institutions. Investors from the major centres for Islamic finance in the Middle East, Asia and Britain were all represented in the final allocation. It will have a maturity of five years and use the popular Al-Ijara structure. This is a sale-and-leaseback mechanism that means investors get paid a fixed rental income on properties placed in the structure rather than conventional interest. The Treasury appointed five banks to manage the Sukuk which are HSBC, Barwa Bank, CIMB, the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Standard Chartered.

It is important that we now use this momentum to attract further investment from Islamic countries. We will lobby for further progress and we will ask whether further Sukuks may be issued in the future. There is certainly the demand for them. The global Islamic finance sector is expected to reach $2 trillion dollars this year, extending to banks, mutual funds, insurance and private equity. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have also been investigating the possibility of introducing a Sharia-compliant student finance scheme, to work alongside traditional student loans.

There was widespread concern that many young Muslims were being dissuaded from applying to University because of the interest payments involved with the student loans system. However, Science Minister David Willetts was clear that such Sharia-compliant loans would ensure that “anyone with the ability and desire can go to university”. The consultation on this matter has since closed and the government have confirmed their intention to provide for Islamic student loans.

Similar consideration has been given to introducing Sharia-compliant Start-Up Loans in the UK. The Prime Minister announced this at his Eid al-Adha reception last October. The Muslim community has for some time longed for changes that would offer a ‘level playing field’ between conventional and Islamic products. These recent developments have provided them with just that.

Islamic finance is all to do with ethical forms of investment, and also investing in businesses and industries that are good for society and the environment at large. Islamic financial arrangements work for the benefit of society. For example there are opportunities to invest in the generation of energy by renewable means in UK and overseas. There are also opportunities for Islamic funds to be invested in building of infrastructure in United Kingdom which will help the country and also generate income for the investors.

There are also opportunities for investments from Sharia compliant funds in United Kingdom in other ways. For Example London’s sky line has been transformed by the construction of the Shard. There have been investments in a new stadium for Arsenal Football Club and Etihad have invested in Manchester City. The other investments relate to Thames Water, Harrods, Olympic Village and Chelsea Barracks. These have been funded wholly or in part by Islamic Finance.

There are a number of law and accountancy firms in the United Kingdom which provide professional services in Islamic finance. Furthermore there are numerous institutions offering educational training products in Islamic finance which are more than what is available in any other country.

These organisations also present potential career opportunities that can lead well into the Islamic finance arena.

Therefore the United Kingdom has the organisations and structures to help the expansion of Islamic finance in other countries. I would suggest that countries abroad that are thinking of developing Islamic finance can consider tapping into the expertise and facilities available in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore United Kingdom is an important sector for providing of education in Islamic Finance. Universities such as University of East London, Greenwich, Durham, Aston, CASS, Dundee and many others are offering dedicated undergraduate and postgraduate programmes on Islamic Finance.

Britain has long been regarding as a leading intellectual global centre and the education provided by UK institutes plays a key role in providing the human capital to drive future growth in the sector.

I wish to talk briefly about Takaful. I would like to state that in London we have been writing insurance business going back centuries and we have a long history of underwriting all classes of Insurance risks. Although we have been involved in the underwriting of various risks in London for many years, we are indeed very innovative and progressive and we have been at the forefront when it comes to the underwriting of new and different types of insurance covers.

I believe there are opportunities for writing Takaful covers for businesses, mosques and covers for buildings. I feel that Takaful covers for these risks can be developed and there is indeed a market for these covers.

The Global Financial Crisis which started in 2007 is considered by many economists the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This was caused partly by bad practices of banks and greed of certain bankers. We are all recovering from the crunch and in fact UK will have the highest growth in the Western world.

Whilst many countries in Euro zone and Japan are in recession our growth this year will be about 3%. The problems in the financial sector made people realise the importance of Islamic finance which is based on ethical principles and transparency. Whilst Islamic finance is relatively in its infancy the underlying value set, if applied correctly, can help to reduce systemic risk and increase social responsibility.

These remain issues that many in the public are keen to see and echoed by Lord Turner and the Archbishop of Canterbury who have made reference to the social usefulness and lack thereof of our current banking sector.

None of the Islamic banks globally were involved in the CDO’s and toxic derivative instruments which bought about the collapse of the banks such as Lehmans. Such opaque, toxic and highly speculative derivative instruments are highly regulated in Islamic finance.

In context of its infancy, Islamic finance may not have all the answers today, however it is clear that many of its values are shared amongst the other great faith traditions where a ban or strong aversion to interest is a common theme.

I recently chaired a meeting which was attended by Muslims, Jewish and Christian leaders including Archbishop of Canterbury. I have in the past spoken in a debate in the House of Lords on bad practises in lending which was led by the Previous Archbishop of Canterbury.

I would now like to talk more about education. The UK now has a number of universities providing courses in Islamic Finance, these include University of East London, Durham University, Reading, Cambridge and Aston amongst others. I am connected with the University of East London. They are conducting courses on Islamic Finance. In addition they also conduct a programme for training of Imams.

The UK has demonstrated global leadership in the education arena and have also pioneered in the area of educating shariah scholars on conventional finance – a programme initiated by the Islamic Finance Council UK.

It is important that we train people who want to work in the United Kingdom as well as train people who want to work overseas.

In regard to business operations I would like to say that I have successfully built up businesses and in fact one of my companies won or were highly commended on 13 major awards over a period of three years. No other company has achieved this. I built up my businesses on the following principles:

1. Produce innovative and excellent products which are competitively priced.

2. Staff need to be adequately trained.

3. Get staff to work as an effective and strong team.

4. Service stands need to be very high.

5. There needs to be adequate marketing.

6. Keep a control on your expenses.

I am sure that some of my views will resonate your own views. I do hope that you enjoy the Conference and also hope you find the discussions both informative and useful in your business lives.

 

Archive for Speeches

Contributions of Muslims in the First World War11.17.14

My Lords, Honourable Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentleman.

Good evening, Assalaamu Alaikum.

I am pleased to welcome you all to this meeting in the grand surroundings of House of Lords.

The purpose of the meeting is to commemorate the contributions of the Muslims during the First World War and also strengthen the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim Community.

I spoke twice in debates in the House of Lords to commemorate the centenary of First World War.

Today I want to focus on the contributions of Muslims during this war.

The significant part played by the Muslims is not widely acknowledged and the sacrifice made them and the suffering that they endured need to be fully appreciated.

I hope following today’s discussions we can all appreciate their contributions and perhaps address this imbalance.

India raised the world’s largest volunteer armies, a total of 1.5 million during the First World War, and even more in World War II. This was greater than the combined total of all volunteers from Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

There were in fact 400,000 Muslims who were part of the Volunteer Army.

They fought out of love and loyalty to the King Emperor and the Empire.

This marked the first time the Muslim soldiers ever fought on European ground.

They were originally called upon for help when the British Forces were suffering heavy causalities which reinforces just how historically important their role was.

Indian Expeditionary forces, of which there were seven, provided crucial support and fought directly alongside British Forces in Europe for example at the battle of Neuve Chapelle, they provided half of the attacking force.

A British General described them as a magnificent body who performed the most useful and valuable service.

The expeditionary forces also saw action in East Africa, Mesopotamia, Palestine, the Suez, Gallipoli and Palestine.

More than 74,000 Indian troops which included Muslims were killed or declared missing in action during World War I, a number that is testament to the level of sacrifice and loyalty shown by the Indians in supporting the Allied Forces.

Participants from the Indian sub-continent were recognised for their bravery and valour in combat during the First World War with over 9,200 decorations, including 12 Victoria Cross medals.

Sepoy Khudadad Khan who was a Muslim was the first native-born Indian to win the Victoria Cross for his gallantry in the face of overwhelming numbers.

He served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s Own Baluchis regiment.

There were two other Muslims who were awarded the Victoria Cross and their names are Mir Dast and Shahamad Khan.

There were many military hospitals set up in UK and perhaps the most famous of which was in the Royal Pavilion in Brighton where Indian soldiers including the Muslims were treated.

A number of Muslims who died as a result of their injuries sustained during the action in the First World War were buried on the Horsell Common in Woking.

We should never forget their contributions. The Union Jack meant a lot to them and a number of them paid the ultimate price. The Muslim soldiers were able to prove that it was possible to be loyal to both their faith and a country simultaneously.

Jahan Mahmood who is a military historian will talk about Contributions of the Muslims in greater detail when he makes his presentation.

Now I want to talk about the relationship between the Muslim community and the Armed Forces.

I would like to maintain and strength the harmonious relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim community.

I am actively involved in promoting this, both on the ground and at the various meetings that I have addressed. I am committed to this cause; in fact, I am wearing a Royal Navy tie given to me by Commander Richard Moss after a recent talk I gave at HMS “President”.

The Armed Forces have set up the Muslim Association of the Armed Forces.

I was in fact present when Lord Richards launched the Association and became its founding Patron.

I am very pleased that the Armed Forces Muslim Association has been moving forward since its inception.

The Association has organised several activities which I have attended and I will support them as much as possible.

You will notice that I am wearing a Royal Navy tie which was given to me by Commander Richard Moss after a recent talk which I gave at HMS Preisident.

I have also been given a RAF tie and and handkerchief which was presented to me by Squander Leader Zahour Hussain.

Unfortunately Squander Leader Zahour Hussain is unable to be with us today but he and other RAF officers including a Group Captain came to see me in the House of Lords last Friday.

I would like to mention that I speak on defence matters in the House of Lords from time to time.

There are over 600 Muslims who are currently serving in the British armed forces.

There are now nearly 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom.

Muslims have done very well in every field in this country.

I would like to encourage more of the ethnic minorities to join the Armed forces and the police force.

Muslims are now part of the British population and it is important that we get involved in every walk of life.

It is also imperative that we must maintain and strengthen the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslims in the country.

I am sure that Brigadier Alastair Aitkens and Captain Naveed will talk about this matter further.

As we with members of the Armed Forces and there is fighting in Syria and Iraq I would like to focus particularly on the role of Islam in the conflicts we are seeing in the Middle East.

I believe that it is important for the honest, peace-seeking, law-abiding majority of Muslims in this country and overseas to speak out against those who commit evil in the name of our religion.

The so-called jihadists in Iraq and Syria do not understand the principles of Islam.

They are harming women and children, forcibly converting people of other religions to Islam and committing barbaric acts.

There are clear rules of engagement in Islam relating to warfare, which were laid down by Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr.

Those rules include the following:

  • give diplomacy a chance before battle starts; respect treaties;
  • do not harm women, children, the elderly and religious persons;
  • do not destroy crops and trees;
  • protect all places of worship; treat well all prisoners of war;
  • allow the bodies of soldiers slain in battle to be buried in dignity.

These rules of engagement were laid down well before the Geneva conventions. The acts of the so-called jihadists are totally unIslamic and we utterly condemn what they have done and are doing.

In the 7th century when Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Caliph Omar signed the first Jerusalem declaration, which preserved the rights of existence and ensured the well-being of everyone in Jerusalem.

Subsequently, when Saladin conquered Jerusalem in 1187, he allowed people of all faiths to live in peace.

Before him, when Christians conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they mercilessly massacred all Muslims and Jews. In time of warfare Muslims should follow the examples set by Caliph Omar and Saladin.

The so-called jihadists are forcibly converting people to Islam. That is not allowed in Islam. It is written in the Holy Koran that there is no compulsion in religion.

In regard to treatment of non-Muslims by the so-called jihadists and our relationship with other communities, I emphasise that it is written in the Holy Koran that Allah says:

“O mankind! We created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another”.

We live in the United Kingdom, which is very much a multicultural society, and it is important that we maintain and strengthen relationships with everyone in the country.

Unfortunately there is a tiny minority of Muslims who have committed acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom and also countries overseas. Islam forbids act of terrorism and suicide bombings.

It is written in the Holy Koran:

“If anyone killed a person it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind”

A tiny minority of young Muslims in the United Kingdom have chosen to join terrorist groups overseas.

These young people have been radicalised. Parents, community and religious leaders have a role to play in ensuring that individuals do not fall prey to extremists’ teachings.

There must be supervision of the social media as young people are been radicalised by propaganda on the social media.

We must listen and communicate with the younger generation and gently put them right in order that they can follow the right path.

We need to ensure that the imams are appropriately trained and can effectively communicate with the young.

I am very keen that we interact with the Muslim Youths and promote them in every way.

I am very glad that our MC today is Zaniab Sheikh, she is indeed one of the many young Muslims who are progressing well in United Kingdom and we must all encourage them in every way we can.

Thank you.

Archive for House of Lords, Muslims, Speeches

Women: Homelessness, Domestic Violence and Social Exclusion11.06.14

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady King, for securing this debate.

I have spoken several times in your Lordships’ House on these issues. It is of course dreadful that women in our communities and in our society face homelessness, domestic violence and social exclusion. We will all have witnessed the effect these can have on women and those around them. What is most unfortunate is that these issues do not happen in isolation. One can lead to the other and some women suffer all three. These cases are nothing short of tragedies. So many women’s lives are ruined by these issues and their great potential wasted. It also has a huge effect on their families.

There are many more incidents of abuse which are not reported and, as a society, we must not allow this to continue. For a number of victims, the act of reporting domestic violence is an emotive and traumatic experience which can divide families and friends and result in social exclusion. The manner in which the police in England and Wales respond to domestic violence was condemned earlier this year in a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary which described the matter as “alarming and unacceptable”.

Research suggests that a number of adults who witness domestic violence as children are perpetrators of violence against their partners. Domestic violence against women often takes place in households where children are present. In some cases, these children are also victims of abuse. There should be an increase in support services for children who have witnessed abuse and for those who are victims of domestic violence.

We must do all we can to support women in seeking protection. That is why I am pleased that the Government have decided to continue to provide legal aid in private family law cases where domestic violence is a feature. I also welcome the fact that they have widened the definition of domestic violence to include both verbal and physical abuse. Domestic abuse is not just physical. It can also mean appalling emotional attacks and controlling behaviour. This can particularly be a factor in forced marriages which are an issue in certain communities. Eighty per cent of cases of forced marriage involve girls. There have been positive steps on this in recent years. I have been involved in tackling the issue of forced marriages relating to people emanating from south Asia. It is important that we continue to address them through education and by encouraging the involvement of leaders and members of the communities in which these practices are taking place.

I strongly encourage the Government to look at strengthening the law to introduce a single offence to remove any possible ambiguity regarding harassment in relationships. We must also make sure that women are made aware of those men who are a threat to them before they themselves become victims of domestic abuse. I agree with the principle that those who serve time in prison should be rehabilitated and go on to live normal lives, but we must also protect women from those who may still be dangerous. I welcome the Government’s decision to introduce Clare’s Law, allowing police to disclose to individuals details of their partners’ abusive pasts. Not all those who commit acts of domestic abuse will still be dangerous but women should be able to make informed decisions about their relationship.

Although our economy is improving, I know that a number of people are still feeling the effect of the recession. It is thought that the economic climate could have the effect of increasing acts of domestic violence in households that are struggling to make ends meet. The economic impact on victims is also felt through loss of earnings and prolonged periods of unemployment, particularly for women. It is therefore essential that victims of domestic violence are given practical support that includes counselling, emergency accommodation, support during court proceedings, and help in obtaining protection orders. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on this in her closing remarks.

There are a number of charities doing excellent work to support victims of domestic abuse. However, I would like to draw attention to one in particular, Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse. CAADA is a charity that receives funding from Her Majesty’s Government. I wholeheartedly support the Government’s proposal to introduce a new criminal offence of domestic abuse to include emotional and psychological harm. Coercive and controlling behaviour is at the heart of domestic violence. It is vital that victims should be able correctly to identify the behaviour they are experiencing as abuse. Criminalising such behaviour may help the relevant authorities to look for patterns of continually abusive behavior rather than isolated incidents. This demonstrates that the Government are committed to addressing this issue which is a strain on the lives of victims and their dependents.

We will not see an end to domestic violence until we modify attitudes. One of the most effective ways to do this is by empowering the next generation of young men and women with the knowledge to make a lasting difference and effect changes in their attitudes towards their partners while helping the victims. Victims must have confidence that they will receive the protection and justice they deserve from the relevant authorities.

Archive for Speeches

Middle East and North Africa10.30.14

My Lords, today I would like to focus particularly on the role of Islam in the conflicts we are seeing in the Middle East. I believe that it is important for the honest, peace-seeking, law-abiding majority of Muslims in this country and overseas to speak out against those who commit evil in the name of our religion. The so-called jihadists in Iraq and Syria do not understand the principles of Islam. They are harming women and children, forcibly converting people of other religions to Islam and committing barbaric acts. There are clear rules of engagement in Islam relating to warfare, which were laid down by Prophet Muhammad—peace be upon him—and Caliph Abu Bakr.

Those rules include the following: give diplomacy a chance before battle starts; respect treaties; do not harm women, children, the elderly and religious persons; do not destroy crops and trees; protect all places of worship; treat well all prisoners of war; and allow the bodies of soldiers slain in battle to be buried in dignity. These rules of engagement were laid down well before the Geneva conventions. The acts of the so-called jihadists are totally unIslamic and we utterly condemn what they have done and are doing.

In the 7th century when Muslims conquered Jerusalem, Caliph Omar signed the first Jerusalem declaration, which preserved the rights of existence and ensured the well-being of everyone in Jerusalem. Subsequently, when Saladin conquered Jerusalem in 1187, he allowed people of all faiths to live in peace. Before him, when Christians conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they mercilessly massacred all Muslims and Jews. In time of warfare Muslims should follow the examples set by Caliph Omar and Saladin.

The so-called jihadists are forcibly converting people to Islam. That is not allowed in Islam. It is written in the Holy Koran that there is no compulsion in religion. In regard to treatment of non-Muslims by the so-called jihadists and our relationship with other communities, I emphasise that it is written in the Holy Koran that Allah says:

“O mankind! We created you male and female and made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another”.

We live in the United Kingdom, which is very much a multicultural society, and it is important that we maintain and strengthen relationships with everyone in the country. Unfortunately there is a tiny minority of Muslims who have committed acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom and also countries overseas. Islam forbids act of terrorism and suicide bombings. It is written in the Holy Koran:

“If anyone killed a person … it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind; and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind”.

In regard to our military involvement in Iraq and Syria we must have a clear plan about what we should do when the conflict is over. Defeating an enemy is not enough; we must have a strategy to win the hearts and minds of people and create peace after the conflict. We invaded Iraq without an effective plan to be put in practice when Saddam Hussein was defeated. What was the result? The result was that a million people have died and we have created fragmentation and division between different communities and religious groups. It has led also to infighting between the Iraqis and the involvement of outsiders. I am pleased that we now have an inclusive Government in Iraq.

In regard to the present military conflict, we need to be careful who we supply the arms to. The situation is complex and the scenario is changing. The arms may fall into the hands of people who may create further problems in Syria, Iraq and friendly countries such as Turkey. In regard to Libya, there was no clear strategy after Gaddafi was toppled, and infighting and chaotic conditions prevail at the present time.

A tiny minority of young Muslims in the United Kingdom have chosen to join terrorist groups overseas. These young people have been radicalised. Parents, community and religious leaders have a role to play in ensuring that individuals do not fall prey to extremists’ teachings. We must listen and communicate with the younger generation and gently put them right in order that they can follow the right path. We need to ensure that the imams are appropriately trained and can effectively communicate with the young. In this regard, I commend the courses being started by the University of East London.

A pattern has emerged whereby a growing number of individuals are being radicalised via the internet. Scotland Yard deserves praise for creating an internet referral unit that liaises directly with online companies such as Google in removing extremist material from the web. There also needs to be constructive parental involvement in the education of Muslim children. The students must receive well rounded education in order to succeed in their future careers in the country.

We must maintain and strengthen the harmonious relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslim community. I am actively involved in promoting this, both on the ground and at the various meetings that I have addressed. I am committed to this cause; in fact, I am wearing a Royal Navy tie given to me by Commander Richard Moss after a recent talk I gave at HMS “President”. I am also hosting a meeting on this subject in this House in three weeks’ time.

Finally, on a different subject, I should like the British Government to now recognise the statehood of Palestine as a prelude to achieving peace in the region. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on this point.

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Young People – Alternatives to University10.23.14

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Monks, for tabling this debate and to commend him on his excellent speech. This is an important subject. It is essential that we discuss the alternatives for young people who do not attend university, and even more important that young people not attending university are themselves aware of these alternatives.

Our vocational qualifications system has grown too complicated, bureaucratic and hard to understand. I personally am a big supporter of apprenticeships and that is why I want to focus particularly on this subject today. I welcome the fact that this Government have overseen the biggest ever boost to apprenticeships. My party has also committed to delivering 3 million more apprenticeships over the next Parliament. The Government have made huge headway since they came to power in raising the status of apprenticeships so that young people leaving school view an apprenticeship and going to university as having equal merit. That is long overdue.

The role of government should be to provide people with the foundations that they need to better themselves. It should not favour one path over another, but provide the equality of opportunity that means that people can go on to do what they want to do and do it well, knowing that as long as they work hard and do the right thing the Government are firmly on their side.

An important step in advancing the standing of apprenticeships has been the move to pay apprenticeships a national minimum wage. Apprentices are paid from the first day of their apprenticeship. For those for whom university is not suitable, I am sure that the prospect of earning while working and learning is a very inviting one. What is also important to recognise is that when securing an apprenticeship many young people get themselves a job for life. There is a vast number of examples of people who have started working for a company as an apprentice and worked their way up throughout their career. That gives a boost not only to young people, who know that their employer can offer them career progression, but to employers, who can only benefit from having people at the top of their companies who have first-hand experience of all areas of their business.

I am pleased to see that apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular with 16 to 17 year-olds, with 15% more of them in apprenticeships compared to last year. Schools are legally required to secure independent careers guidance for 12 to 18 year-olds that includes information on the full range of education and training options, including apprenticeships. However, in 2013, Ofsted’s study of the early implementation of that duty found that apprenticeships were rarely promoted effectively, especially in schools with sixth forms. I fear that this may have more to do with finance than it does with education. The fact is that schools get in the region of £5,000 for each pupil that they keep on post 16, so they may not want to lose them. I encourage the Government to look into this and find out what is the best way around it, because without doing so there is concern that apprenticeships, skills and our young people will always be held back.

Apprenticeships are critical to tackling the skills gap that exists in Britain, which has held Britain back in its export and manufacturing capabilities. We need to expand our manufacturing base: manufacturing should be as important as my own business, that of financial services. We are still massively underperforming as a nation, with the UK ranked 23rd in the world for manufacturing output per head and 114th in the world for manufacturing output as a share of GDP. We must put employers in the driving seat to create new apprenticeship standards that will deliver the skills and businesses we need to compete. The Government must do all they can to make apprenticeships more responsive to employers’ needs and help to raise standards. I welcome the fact that measures are being brought forward which will give English apprenticeship funding directly to employers, following a recommendation from the independent Richard review.

Apprenticeships do not help only young people, they help the country and the wider economy. The National Audit Office estimates that for every £1 invested by the Government in an apprenticeship, the economy gets between £18 and £28 back. Employers are getting involved in the design of apprenticeships to make sure that people gain the skills they need for a job. Apprenticeships provide young people with much needed experience that often leads to a full-time job, bringing real value to the businesses that take them on and motivating these individuals to gain skills and qualifications. High-quality, rigorous vocational education is essential to our future prosperity and to improving the life chances of millions of young people.

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OneVoice Event in the House of Lords10.20.14

Sir Vincent Fean, Ladies and gentlemen. Good Evening, Shalom, Assalaamu Alaikum. I would like to welcome you all to this meeting in the majestic surrounding of the House of Lords.

When I was asked to host this event by OneVoice I said that I will be pleased to do so.  I first heard of OneVoice at a meeting organised by Baroness Hayman who was at that time speaker of House of Lords. Subsequently Jake Hayman came to see me and provided me with further details of the movement.

About 18 months ago there was a debate in the House of Lords on civil society in Palestine and I referred to the work undertaken by One Voice.  I also referred to OneVoice during a recent speech I made at an International Conference in Tunisia. OneVoice is an international grassroots organisation with offices in Tel Aviv, Gaza and Ramallah.

It also has presence in London and New York.  OneVoice gets people involved in conflict resolution and empower them to make representation to the political leaders.  It is firmly of the opinion that the Israeli and Palestinians can achieve peace if they believe in it and play a role in its achievement.

Their objects is to achieve a two state solution and to undertake this peacefully by linking the civil society with the politicians and community leaders.  You will of course hear more of the activities and the objectives of OneVoice from the speakers who will follow me.

I would first like to talk about Gaza where there now has been a ceasefire.  I appreciate that Hamas did launch rockets into Israel but the response of Israel has been totally disproportionate.

Israel has inflicted collective punishment on the people of Gaza and destroyed or damaged the infrastructure, homes, factories, power station and other buildings.  There were nearly 2,200 people in Gaza were killed including over 500 children. Over 12,000 people in Gaza were injured and thousands people have been made homeless.  On the Israeli side 66 Israeli soldiers and 5 Israeli civilians were killed and over 700 Israeli soldiers and civilian were injured.

I am taking a group of Doctors to Gaza in about two weeks’ time and I will then see for myself the misery and destruction which has been caused by the Israelis.  I will prepare a report which will be submitted to the relevant interested organisations and individuals.  After the previous Israeli invasion in 2012 I did visit Gaza and assisted in taking four conveys of humanitarian aid.

I has also visited Israel and West Bank and in this regard I wanted to talk to the Israeli officials and the Arabs in order that I can see the problems from both sides.

I spent nearly a day with the Israelis officials. I visited Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem and met a number of people.  I also visited an Arab village and a settlement which was occupied by the Israelis. When I saw the settlement I did notice the Israelis control the use of the land and water resources. I also saw the wall which is located within the West Bank partly along the Green line between the West Bank and Israel.

The wall severely restricts the Palestinians livelihood and restricts the freedom of their movements. There are frequent check points and road blocks which makes life very difficult for the Palestinians.

Israel has just taken over nearly 1000 acres of land around the settlements of Etzion near Bethlehem. I feel that it is a very bad and ill-judged decision as we are all trying to find a peaceful solution. We would strongly urge the Israelis not to proceed with the development of this area.

I think that we all agree that building of settlements have been illegal and should not have taken place. My finding were that the attitude of the settlers towards the Arabs was arrogant to say the least but they are belligerent and cause harassment and intimidate the Arabs. During my visit I saw Arabs protesting near the wall which the Israeli have created and the Israeli were throwing a liquid at them which smelled of human waste. This is an example of total humiliation and contempt shown by the Israelis.

We went to a court where young Arab boys were being prosecuted for alleged throwing of stones. I saw boys aged 9 to 12 years brought to court in chains and the proceedings were undertaken in Hebrew. In regard to settlements in different parts I saw that these were linked by roads which were only used by the settlers and no Arabs were allowed to use them.

Ladies and Gentlemen I have described is what I have witnessed and are my own findings. These are not hearsay and are totally factual.

I am very glad that last week the House of Commons held a debate on whether or not United Kingdom should recognise the statehood of Palestine. I was very pleased that Members of House of Commons voted by 274 votes against 12 votes to agrees and endorse the motion.

The British Government must take heed of what was decided in House of Commons and hope that our government will now recognise Palestine as a state as soon as possible. Sweden has recently agreed to recognise Palestine as a State. 135 out of 193 UN members have recognised Palestine. If there is recognition by United Kingdom there is a very good chance that other European countries will do the same.

The conflict in Palestine is the root cause of dissatisfaction and frustration in the Middle East and in fact in the whole world.

The European Union including United Kingdom did agree some years ago that Palestinians do have a right to self-determination but this has not been achieved. We do appreciate the formation of a new technocratic government for the Occupied Palestinian Territories and it must show that it abides by the quartet principles.

The West Bank and Gaza must be united under one government and be committed to peace. All the Arabs must unite and speak with one voice. Conflict between the Arabs will not achieve peace.

It is of course imperative that the Prime Minister and the government of Israel must show a commitment to enter into a serious dialogue and be much more conciliatory. It must avoid all actions to aggravate the situation. To achieve peace Hamas must accept the quartet principles and join the efforts for peace.

The Palestinian authority must show leadership and commitment to a dialogue with Israel and make progress on governess and security for Palestinians in Gaza as well as West Bank.

Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security and it is essential that all the Arabs and Muslim states do recognise the state of Israel which was set out in Saudi Arabia’s 2002 Arab peace initiative.

Hamas and all the Palestinians must recognise Israel. There must be creation of two states based on 1967 lines and there needs to be land swaps. Israel must give up terrorises in pursuit of peace. All restrictions of Gaza and West Bank will of course be removed and their security and the security of Israel should be guaranteed.

There a few issues which would need negotiations and these are as follows.

i. The future of Jerusalem needs to be decided. The probable answer is that it be a shared capital of both states.

ii. The security and future of 600,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank need to be looked into.

iii. Similarly we need to look at the right of return of the Palestinians who have been expelled from their land.

In arriving at a settlement, United States should play the role of an honest broker and have an even handed approach for the settlement of peace.  Double standards will not work and will create further disharmony. In an effort to approach a peace settlement I think Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt can play a positive role. Turkey is a very much an upcoming power and its involvement would be desirable. The quartet and our own country also have an important role to play.

I feel that we have a moral responsibility as we had a mandate in Palestine. We were a party to signing the Sykes Picot agreement. We were also responsible for the issue of Balfour declaration.

Finally I would like to say that I hope we can achieve peace in the Holy land during my lifetime.  Thank you

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Armed Forces Eid Event10.17.14

Lieutenant General Andrew Gregory, Ladies and Gentleman Good evening and Assalaamu Alaikum. At the outset I would like to wish everyone a belated Eid Mubarak

Eid-ul-Adha is an Islamic festival to commemorate the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. God however intervened and provided a ram to sacrifice instead.The Eid festival has significance not only in Islam but in Christianity and Judaism as well. Islam, in fact, regards Christians and Jews as people of the book, and Muslims believe the books of Allah are the Quran, the Torah, the Gospel and the Psalms of David.

In one of my speeches in the House of Lords I commended the Armed Forces on the formation of its Muslim Association. I was in fact present when Lord Richards launched the Association and became its founding Patron.

I am very pleased that the Armed Forces Muslim Association has been moving forward since its inception. The Association has organised several activities which I have attended and I will support them as much as possible.

You will notice that I am wearing a RAF tie and handkerchief which was presented to me by Squander Leader Zahour Hussain. I would like to mention that I speak on defence matters in the House of Lords from time to time.

There are over 600 Muslims who are currently serving in the British armed forces. There are now nearly 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom. Muslims have done very well in every field in this country. I would like to encourage more of the ethnic minorities to join the Armed forces and the police force. Muslims are now part of the British population and it is important that we get involved in every walk of life.

It is also imperative that we must maintain and strengthen the relationship between the Armed Forces and the Muslims in the country. I feel that tonight’s event organised by the Minister of Defence will help to achieve this objective. We must remember that Muslims and other ethnic minorities have made great sacrifices and fought in both World Wars in great numbers.

We are commemorating the centenary of the First World War and there have been numerous events held in the country. I have spoken in the House of Lords twice stating the contributions of people from the Indian sub-continent and scarifies made by them. They fought in both World Wars out of love and loyalty to the King and Empire.

On the 17th November I am holding a meeting in the House of Lords on the subject of the Contributions made by the Muslims in the First World War and emphasis the need to develop stronger links between the Muslims and the Armed Forces. If you would like to attend the meeting then please let Lady Sheikh know.

There were over 400,000 Muslims who fought in the First World War and there were three Victoria Crosses awarded to the Muslims.

The first person from the ethnic minority to be awarded the Victoria Cross was a Muslim whose name is Khudadad Khan. He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1915 whilst fighting in Belgium. He served in the 129th Duke of Connaught’s own Baluchi Regiment. Britain has a proud tradition of playing a major part on the international stage and our service personnel have demonstrated a courage and strength that have regularly achieved international acclaim.

The so called Jihadists in Iraq and Syria do not understand the principles of Islam. They are harming women, children, forcibly converting people of other religions to Islam and committing barbaric acts.

As we are guests of the Armed Forces and the subject is topical I would like to say that there are clear rules of engagement in Islam relating to warfare. These were laid down by Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) and Khalifa Abu Bakr.

These rules include the following:

i. Give diplomacy a chance before battle starts.

ii. Do not harm women, children, the elderly and religious persons.

iii. Do not destroy crops and trees.

iv. Protect all places of worship.

v. Treat well all prisoners of War.

The actions and acts of the so called Jihadists are totally un-Islamic and we utterly condemn what they have done and are doing.

In the 7th Century when Muslims conquered Jerusalem Khalifa Omar signed the first Jerusalem declaration which preserved the rights of existence and ensured the wellbeing of everyone in Jerusalem. Subsequently in 1187 when Salahudin Ayubi who is known as Saladin in the west conquered Jerusalem he allowed people of all faiths to live in peace. Before him when Christians conquered Jerusalem in 1099 they mercilessly massacred all Muslims and Jews. In time of warfare Muslims should follow the examples set by Khalifa Omar and Salahudin Ayubi.

The so called Jihadists are forcibly converting people to Islam. This is not allowed in Islam. It is written in the Holy Quran that there is no compulsion in religion. In regard to treatment of non-Muslims by the so called Jihadists and also our relationship with all other communities I would like to emphasise that it is written in the Holy Quran:

“O Mankind we have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.”

We live in United Kingdom which is very much a multi-cultural society and it is very important that we maintain and strengthen relationships with everyone in the country.

Unfortunately there is a tiny minority of Muslims who have committed acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom and also countries overseas. In this regards I would like to say that Islam forbids act of terrorism and suicide bombings. It is written in the Holy Quran “If anyone slays a person it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

Unfortunately we were unable to see the programme on Noor Inayat Khan GC because of technical difficulties. Noor Inayat Khan was a British secret agent and a member of SOE who was captured by the Germans in France. She refused to give any information about her work or talk about her fellow operatives. She was badly tortured by the Germans and then shot in 1944. She was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949.  This is another example of contributions of Muslims to the King, Country and the Empire.

Finally I would thank the Armed Forces Muslim Association for the courtesy shown to me and my wife.

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Assisted Dying Bill07.18.14

My Lords, not only am I opposed to the Bill but I am completely opposed to the principle of assisted suicide. The Bill would completely change the state’s role in people’s lives, the role of doctors in care and the way in which we look at the ill and the sick. The duty of a doctor is one of care and protection of life. A doctor is trained to do that. The doctor/patient relationship is an important one. A change in the law that effectively puts state-sanctioned killing in the hands of doctors would completely change the way that the public look at health professionals.

What is more, we would be asking doctors to make a life-or-death decision regarding matters on which they could not be completely sure. First, it is impossible for a doctor to know for certain how long a person will live. This has been proven many times. Secondly, the Bill makes no legal framework for psychological assessment or coercion. Suicide is as much about state of mind as it is about state of health.

On the subject of psychological well-being, it may be that outside pressures are being exerted on a person. There may be pressure from people who have a financial agenda. The right to die can easily become a duty to die. The law should not affirm that some lives are not worth living. A vulnerable person may start to think that they would be better off dead, but those tempted to think about that need protection and care, not the right to die. No life is less worth living than another. Life is sacred.

In my own experience, I have found that illness can bring families together. Before my mother died she was very ill and indeed she felt that she was a burden. But in caring for her my family was enriched. She died with us by her side, feeling close to her family and close to God.

The insecurity of the vulnerable would only be worsened by the passing of the Bill. This is a moral choice between right and wrong, between life and death. What we are talking about today is a dressed-up version of suicide. Suicide was illegal in this country until 1961 and is still contrary to most established religions. Indeed, it is those religions in which vulnerable people find solace in their final years.

This Bill is talking about ending the lives of the terminally ill, but we cannot pretend that this will end here. If you concede this for the terminally ill, you make it more difficult to argue the case against it for others, such as those who are disabled or are non-terminally ill. I suspect that those in favour of this Bill are well aware of this fact. This is about setting a precedent.

We could spend a long time talking about the necessary safeguards to make this change of law more acceptable, but no safeguards will make it acceptable fundamentally to change the way our society looks at the vulnerable. Most medical associations and colleges are against legalising assisted suicide. I would like to add that it would be against the spirit of the Hippocratic oath.

I shall conclude by sharing with noble Lords a conversation I once had with Dame Cicely Saunders when I met her as I have supported St Christopher’s Hospice. As noble Lords may be aware, Dame Cicely Saunders is widely recognised as the founder of the hospice movement. She recognised the important role that hospices had played in palliative care, but she emphasised to me that there is so much more to be done to improve palliative care. Instead of taking the easy way out and debating ending the lives of people who are suffering, I believe our time would be better spent discussing how the state, the medical profession and society at large could better take care of people who are vulnerable in the final years of their lives.

 

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BBC World Service and British Council07.10.14

My Lords, I am pleased to speak in this debate. I think that we all appreciate the importance of soft power in the modern world. We must therefore make friends and influence people overseas. I am very supportive of the BBC World Service and believe that it provides a truly valuable service, but I shall focus today on the work of the British Council.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, building lasting relationships between the UK and other countries. The British Council has been building long-term trust, people-to-people connections and international opportunities for the UK for more than 80 years. Each year, it works with millions of people on six continents and in more than 100 countries. It is an essential part of our international effort to promote British values and interests.

I speak as someone who has benefited from the work of the British Council. Growing up in Uganda, I found the British Council to be an extremely helpful and informative organisation. The regional representative of the British Council used to come to our school to give talks. There was a British Council library in my home town, and I used to borrow books from it frequently. It was through the British Council that I learnt about Britain—its constitution, institutions and values. Indeed, my first knowledge of this House doubtless came as a result of the British Council. Little did I know that I would end up in your Lordships’ House one day—I would never have dreamt that when I was young?

I came to the UK to study by myself, and my family arrived later. When I came to Britain, I stayed in a British Council residence: first in Knightsbridge and, following that, in Lancaster Gate. The council also helped me to find private accommodation in London and once, when I was once in hospital following an injury, a lady from the British Council used to come to see me frequently.

I have nothing but admiration for what the British Council does. I have continued to support it in my work ever since. I have travelled a great deal abroad and have spoken to representatives of the British Council all around the world, including in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Jordan and Nepal.

The British Council does admirable work, but in this country, at least, it is not good at telling people what it does. We must therefore publicise its work. I was pleased to learn that only 22% of the British Council’s funding comes from government, with 63% coming in the form of fees and income from services. By 2015, government funding will be less than 20%. I am pleased that the British Council seeks to maximise earned income to minimise the cost to the public of its activities.

The activities of the British Council can be summarised under the following headings: English examinations, language school accreditation, arts, education and society and overseas development assistance. As noble Lords will be aware, the British Council’s activities are under review, with the findings expected later this year. I would like to add my views on the subject.

I have already said that more needs to be done to promote the work of the British Council. I also think that the British Council could move out of central government, with its multifarious activities taken over by the private sector. I also believe that we need to put more power in the hands of local groups. The British Council is already a very good employer in the areas in which it operates, but individual facilities must be given more autonomy. However, they must work hand in hand with our embassies to ensure a joined-up approach to our overseas activities.

I am passionately supportive of the British Council and hope that the Government continue to give it the support it needs to carry on with the work that it does so well.

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    Lord Sheikh is a Conservative Peer, businessman, academic and philanthropist. This is his website.

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