Budget Statement07.21.15

My Lords, I am pleased to have the chance to speak in this debate and to comment on the Chancellor’s Budget Statement. We are already seeing the benefits of a strong majority Government, just a couple of months into the new Parliament. Our growth is better than that of any other major advanced economy. We have created 2 million new jobs in the private sector. I look forward to seeing the Government implementing the Conservative Party manifesto in its entirety. Under the last Government, our economy began to get back on track. It is still on the mend, but it will be a long process, and that is reflected by the Government’s intention to run a surplus by 2019-20. Our economy needs to be more resilient and balanced. That is the only way to secure a better future for Britain and for our well-being.

This was indeed a positive Budget. As we move further out of the red and into the black, the Government are able to map out our future rather than just undo the mistakes of the past. I welcome the steps taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to trust people more with their own money. Increasing the tax-free personal allowance from £10,600 to £11,000 means that a typical taxpayer will now be £905 a year better off than previously. I place on record my support for the Government’s ambition to increase the personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020. When people work hard throughout their lives, it is only reasonable that this is rewarded and that they are able to provide a stable and secure future for themselves and their families. On this subject, I welcome steps to take the family home out of inheritance tax and to increase the higher-rate threshold to £42,385 to £43,000 next year. Also assisting in this regard will be the 30 hours of free childcare for three and four year-olds from September 2017.

It is my belief that this Government’s work on welfare and employment is one of their greatest achievements. It is important, however, that we remember that employment is not merely a matter of statistics. Every position filled means that another family has the security of a regular pay packet. We must not forget that this pay packet is put back into the economy in both taxation and consumer spending, supporting yet more jobs and growth. Nor should we forget the great benefit to the individual’s well-being. I am sure noble Lords will agree that work gives people pride and confidence. As an employer, I know that people tend to work for two reasons: the first is to earn a living and the second is to get job satisfaction. On the other hand, being out of work sometimes creates depression and has an adverse effect on people. Work is good for people’s mental health, their physical health and their general well-being—benefits that have been demonstrated repeatedly. Dependency is not good for the country or the people. It constrains people and prevents them achieving their ambition. What is more, if we can get more people into work, some of them will receive salary progressions and improve their standard of living.

At this point, I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who has done some marvellous work in government. His most recent success was undoubtedly securing the living wage. The manner in which he greeted its announcement in the other place shows his passion for his portfolio and for improving the lives of working people in our country. The new national living wage of £7.20 an hour from April 2016, rising to £9 an hour by 2020, will really help to secure this.

My only concern is the possible effect that this could have on businesses. I would ask my noble friend the Minister to inform the House in his closing remarks of the assessment the Government have made of this. The cut in corporation tax and the rise in the employment allowance will, I hope, give employers the boost needed to get on and employ more people.

I spoke earlier of the need to rebalance our economy. This rebalancing should be twofold—first, rebalancing between the north and the south and, secondly, rebalancing so that our economy does not rely too heavily on certain areas, such as financial services, at the expense of others, such as manufacturing, which has declined massively in recent years. While some progress has been made, the growth is not enough. I therefore very much welcome Government’s plan to increase apprenticeships. We have already doubled the number of apprenticeships to 2 million, but the intention is to create 3 million more.

I pay tribute to the Government for providing a guarantee to increase the defense budget every year and for creating a joint security fund. I take a great interest in defense matters and welcome these commitments.

Finally, I conclude that this Budget will be good for the country and the British people.

Posted in Speeches

Freedom of Religion and Belief – Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights07.16.15

My Lords, I speak today as a Muslim. I also speak as somebody who cherishes the role that all faiths and communities play. I undertake a lot of work with other religious groups. I am a patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that promote religious harmony.

Our respective religions teach us valuable lessons in morality, help us interpret the world around us and give us guidance when we are in need. For many people, their religion is very precious to them. I agree wholeheartedly with the Motion: a greater priority should be given by the United Kingdom and the international community to upholding freedom of religion and belief.

It is right that everybody in the world should be entitled to this freedom. However, it is being violated by some misguided people. This debate is very topical because of events taking place across the Middle East and north Africa. My glorious religion of Islam is being hijacked by a tiny minority who have misrepresented it and wholly, totally wrongly portrayed the true message of Islam. I emphasise that Islam is indeed a religion of peace.

What is happening in these countries is strongly against the principles of Islam. What Daesh is doing and saying in Syria, Iraq and other places is totally wrong and un-Islamic. I remind them that it is written in the Holy Koran that there should be no compulsion in religion and that no one should be forced to become a Muslim. The Holy Koran celebrates different beliefs as a means of connecting with people. It is written in the Holy Koran:

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another”.

My religion teaches us to know and be friendly to people of other faiths. Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions and, according to Islam, the People of the Book are the Jews and Christians. The books of Allah are the Holy Koran, the Torah, the Gospel of Jesus and the Psalms of David. There has been a case in London where a Somali Muslim mosque was damaged and the Jewish community allowed them to pray in the synagogue. We appreciate this very much.

Two of the most successful emperors of India were Akbar the Great, who was a Muslim, and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who was a Sikh. They both allowed all religious groups to live in harmony in their empires. I hold great personal admiration for Maharaja Ranjit Singh. I have written a book about him that will be published shortly. There are more similarities than differences between people, and we should highlight the similarities in order to establish closer links between communities. It should also be noted that allowing freedom of religion often brings stability and prosperity to a country. As a businessman, I have found it to be beneficial for economic and social development, as well as for the religious communities themselves.

We must use this debate to commend and celebrate what is happening in the United Kingdom. Although the Church of England is the official church, people of all religions are allowed to practise their respective faiths. We are a tolerant and respectful people. This country should be viewed as a model for others to follow. We cannot overstate the importance attached to upholding Article 18, yet so many abuses and violations of it continue to take place. We must lead the world in ensuring that people feel free to practise their religion, both in private and in public. May God help us to achieve this.

Posted in Speeches

Contributions of the Ethnic Minorities07.06.15

My Lords, I recently spoke in your Lordships’ House on issues currently facing British Muslim communities following Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech. I briefly touched on the positive contributions made by Muslims in the United Kingdom. I shall expand on this. I am chairman of four companies. I am also the president of the Conservative Muslim Forum and have been involved extensively in both community and charitable work. My thoughts reflect my own experiences and findings.

My glorious religion has been hijacked by a tiny minority who are totally distorting the image of Islam and understanding of Islam. Unfortunately, as a result the entire Muslim community is in some circles tarred with the same brush. There are over 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom and they have contributed significantly in all walks of life. We are currently commemorating the centenary of the First World War. Over 400,000 Muslims fought in the war. The first Victoria Cross awarded to a non-white person went to a Muslim named Khudadad Khan. I invited his grandson to an event that I hosted recently. Muslims also took part in the Second World War. This includes members of my own family. Muslims have therefore been actively involved in loyally serving the King and the Empire.

I am the joint treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and very close to the Armed Forces Muslim Association. Muslims are represented in all three services of our Armed Forces. They have held and continue to hold senior positions, and include one rear-admiral, two group captains and a lieutenant-colonel.

I am co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamic Finance and Diversity in Financial Markets and a patron of the Islamic Finance Council UK. The United Kingdom has the biggest centre for Islamic finance outside the Muslim world. The UK’s Sharia-compliant assets exceed £20 billion. The Islamic finance industry therefore generates considerable revenue for the country and provides employment. It also gives us a high standing in the enormous and growing market for Islamic finance across the world.

I am co-president of the British Curry Catering Industry All-Party Parliamentary Group and a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh. There are over 12,000 British Bangladeshi restaurants and takeaway places in the United Kingdom. This curry industry, owned mainly by Muslims, employs over 100,000 people and has an annual turnover of nearly £5 billion.

There have been great Muslim dynasties, notably the Umayyad and the Abbasid. Muslims at that time led the world in various fields, including mathematics, science, astronomy and medical knowledge. These attributes are in the DNA of Muslims. There are now a significant number of Muslim doctors who work in the United Kingdom and make a valuable contribution to the health and well-being of the country. Also, many Muslims are successful bankers and accountants. My own brother qualified as a chartered accountant and was very successful in his field. Muslims have also done well on the sports field. There are a number who have excelled, including Mo Farah in athletics, Moeen Ali in cricket and Amir Khan in boxing. We also have successful Muslim media figures, such as Mishal Husain, Asad Ahmad and Mehdi Hasan.

When I became a Member of your Lordships’ House, I took the title of Baron Sheikh, of Cornhill in the City of London, because of my strong connections with the City. I have met many Muslim entrepreneurs who have created thriving businesses. They have generated income for the country, provided employment and furthered our trade. There is also wider Muslim representation in both your Lordships’ House and in the other place. There has recently been a fresh intake following the general election.

Some 33% of Muslims are aged 15 years or under. This youthful population is a strategic asset at a time of an ageing population and will be economically active in the future labour market. Encouragingly, 73% of Muslims here state that their only national identity is British. I hope and believe that the Muslim community will continue to play a significant part in our country’s future.

The speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was in some parts unfair and irrelevant, and will not help community cohesion in this country.

 

Posted in House of Lords, Speeches

Political Situation in Gaza07.06.15

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, for securing the debate. Achieving lasting peace between Israel and Palestine must remain a significant priority for the international community. The issues in the Gaza Strip are far-reaching and affect us all, not least the Muslim and Jewish communities.

Last month, the Daesh insurgents threatened to turn the Gaza Strip into another of their Middle East fiefdoms. Daesh is trying to destabilise Hamas and create tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Daesh has carried out bombings in Gaza and rocket attacks on Israel. In the light of this, the need for the international community to find a just solution to the plight of the beleaguered Palestinians becomes all the more pressing. We need to consider the implications of a spread of the brutal Daesh threat to Gaza and, perhaps, the West Bank. I ask my noble friend the Minister whether our Government have considered the security implications of increased Daesh influence in these areas.

We need a more balanced and equitable approach to these issues, and we could begin by recognising Palestine as an independent state. In October last year in the other place MPs voted by 274 to 12 on a Motion to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel. At the moment, 136 countries have recognised the state of Palestine, including the Vatican and Sweden. I ask my noble friend the Minister what the Government’s present position is regarding recognition. Further, does she feel that we have a fair and balanced attitude when looking at Palestine and Gaza? We must all work to the establishment of a two-state solution and the creation of a viable sovereign independent state of Palestine, living peacefully alongside a secure Israel. Can we take a more active role to achieve this objective?

This debate may be about the political situation in the Gaza Strip, but of equal importance is the humanitarian situation. I care deeply about humanitarian issues and have been involved in facilitating four convoys of humanitarian aid being sent to Gaza following the Israeli invasion in 2009. I subsequently visited Gaza with the consent of those on my Front Bench and the Conservative Party. I saw for myself the devastation that had been done and tragically continues to this day. I have also visited Israel and the West Bank.

It has been a year since the cessation of the 50-day assault on Gaza, which left more than 2,200 mostly innocent Palestinian men, women and children and 71 Israelis dead. There was a programme yesterday on the BBC that showed how the children of Gaza have been traumatised following the invasion. Little has been done to stem the tide of poverty, destruction and deprivation that has engulfed the strip. The situation is dire: more than 100,000 people are still displaced and homeless; unemployment stands at more than 50%; and 80% of residents depend on food aid. Medical supplies are at an all-time low; 25% of people have no access to fresh running water and there are frequent power cuts. I, with others, have tried to get medical and humanitarian aid into Gaza, without success, for more than six months. We must all use our influence to ensure that the inhuman siege is brought to an end. Can the Minister confirm the Government’s commitment to seeing an end to the brutal siege of the people of Gaza?

We can no longer stand by while the rights of Palestinian people are systematically abused and their suffering continues. Nor can we hide behind the idea that Palestine simply is not ready politically or economically to support a political state. We must work proactively with the international community to achieve a two-state solution.

Posted in House of Lords, Speeches

Speech on Trade and Investment06.15.15

My Lords, I begin by welcoming my noble friend Lord Maude to your Lordships’ House and congratulate him on his appointment as Minister of State for Trade and Investment and on the excellence of his maiden speech. He did great work in the other place, and I am sure that he will continue to play a key role in his new capacity.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the subjects being discussed here today. Trade and investment is an area in which I take great interest. I have stated several times in your Lordships’ House that I am very keen to promote more business between the United Kingdom and overseas countries. I believe that this will be one of the driving forces of our continued recovery. Ultimately, it will help us to balance our budget and reduce our national debt.

I would like to focus on the importance of the United Kingdom building its bilateral trade with the African continent. I have a personal affinity with Africa, as I was born in Kenya and spent my formative years in Uganda.

I have travelled across the continent, spoken at various meetings and met African businessmen. I have first-hand knowledge of what Africa has to offer. The continent’s GDP is expected to grow by 4.5% this year and 5% next year. Furthermore, many African states have been members of the much-admired “7% club” in recent years. A number of economists have predicted that Africa could account for 7% of the global economy by 2040. Africa has a huge land area and an abundance of untapped natural resources. These include substantial reserves of oil, minerals, food and natural resources, and will undoubtedly serve much of the world’s demands in the future.

Africa offers so much but, like any other economy, it has its challenges and vulnerabilities. Africa has realised these challenges and is already working hard to address them. At the moment a conference is being held in South Africa where one of the subjects being discussed is the growth of the continent’s economy and achieving prosperity.

Last week I hosted and spoke at an event for the Economic Community of West African States, a body of 15 west African countries with a vision of collective self-sufficiency for their member states. They are creating an integrated region with mutual access to resources and investment opportunities. A few days ago I met African businessmen who are very keen to promote trade between the UK and Ghana. It is worth while our accelerating our trade with Ghana, as it is a stable country with good governance. Similarly, last year I was asked to speak at an event for the Southern African Development Community. It is a great example of fluid multilateral co-operation to encourage economic growth. It is investing in projects aimed at improving infrastructure in the region. At a recent dinner held by the Association for African Owned Enterprises, I was awarded the lifetime achievement award for my involvement in trade with Africa.

African countries are also moving quickly to improve their investment climate and conditions for doing business. Last year a World Bank report found that Africa comprises five of the top 10 places in the world with the most reforms making it easier to do business. The same report found that since 2005, all African countries have improved the business regulatory environment for small and medium-sized businesses. Foreign direct investment is gradually moving away from mineral resources into consumer goods and services. This is in response to the needs of a growing middle class. Manufactured goods now constitute nearly 40% of intra- African exports. These changes present an unprecedented opportunity for overseas businesses to get involved. We must capitalise now before it is too late.

The UK’s current engagement with Africa is based too heavily on aid and long-established commodity-based businesses. We need to see new British companies entering the African market. We must seek to help the continent to grow rather than simply supporting it with aid contributions. This in turn will help us to grow further here at home. Does the Minister agree that trade and aid must go hand in hand? I would appreciate his comments.

We already have a natural advantage with the significant African diaspora settled in the UK. Businesses should look to engage with these people in seeking to connect with Africa for the first time. There is of course a young and hungry new workforce in Africa, ready for foreign investors to utilise. Indeed, it is estimated that Africa’s share of the global workforce will increase from 12% to 23% by 2050. The United Kingdom must do more to help unlock this potential. As someone who has a business as well as an academic background, I would like to see more partnerships between British and African universities. We must help to build practical vocational programmes and increase access to secondary and further education. Young Africans need to develop new skills in order to properly navigate what is a rapidly changing career landscape for them. Does my noble friend feel the same as I do about the education and training of Africans?

I am a fervent supporter of trade through our Commonwealth. It is in Britain’s economic interests to utilise what is essentially a ready-made trading bloc that covers a third of the world’s population. Many African countries are part of the Commonwealth, including Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria. On that note, I am pleased to note the Government’s recent enthusiasm for working with the new Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. I would be grateful if my noble friend updated your Lordships’ House on how the Government are supporting and engaging with that council.

I also commend the economic partnership agreements brokered between Europe and the African regions in recent years. However, the United Kingdom must do more in its own right. We must surge ahead of the rest of Europe, and indeed the rest of the world. It is also crucial that the relevant people and bodies work together in order to maximise our trade efforts. We must pool our talents as much as possible. The expertise from the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, UK Trade & Investment and the private sector must all be combined and work in tandem to accelerate the trade activities. Is my noble friend satisfied that there is adequate co-ordination between the parties I have referred to?

Our high commissions and embassies in African countries can take an active role in notifying relevant companies in the UK of the opportunities and tenders available for bidding in the countries where they serve. We should also arrange trade exhibitions and visits of delegations to suitable African countries. Can the Minister say whether the Government recognise the importance of such delegations, and will he undertake to ensure that we see more of these visits to the African continent in the future?

The embassies and high commissions of African countries should prepare details of the opportunities available in their countries and provide them to interested parties in the UK. They could also prepare periodic press releases with the information. The embassies and high commissions of African countries, together with private organisations that are trying to facilitate strengthening of trade links, can arrange for trade exhibitions and delegations, which can meet relevant government departments and interested companies.

Africa is made up of 54 countries and each does business in a slightly different way. Local knowledge will help us shape investment models that present African ventures to reflect their true commercial value. The UK will be left behind if we do not address our international trade engagement strategies with Africa. For future growth, and to see new UK companies enter the African markets, we need to look at individual sectors and have more of a business approach to engagement with Africa.

Particular areas that UK companies can look at are construction, infrastructure, manufacturing, minerals, IT, agriculture, the financial services sector and export of goods from the UK. We must act now and connect our businesses at home with the overseas markets of the future. From more overseas trade will come growth, and from growth will come prosperity and stability. We have unique services and products which we can offer to Africa. No other continent offers such a unique mix of opportunities and challenges. Indeed, I believe that the opportunities far outweigh the challenges.

Posted in Africa, Speeches

Speech on Gurkhas’: Anniversary06.10.15

My Lords, I am pleased to participate in this important debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for bringing it before your Lordships’ House.

I have always been a strong supporter of the Gurkhas. I have an extremely high regard for their loyalty and dedication to the British Army. I also hold a great fondness for the Gurkhas’ original home, Nepal. I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Britain-Nepal Group and in fact met the acting high commissioner for Nepal last Friday. I have visited Nepal twice, first as part of a parliamentary delegation and secondly to set up a school of excellence for business students in Kathmandu. The parliamentary delegation visited Pokhara, the centre of recruitment for Gurkhas. We also visited the historic Gurkha Memorial Museum there. I was privileged to meet members of the Nepalese royal family with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. We were treated to a most enjoyable evening. I was also presented with a real Gurkha kukri. I have previously worked with Nepal’s ambassador to the UK to support a trade delegation to the country.

Each time I visited Nepal, I found the people to be extremely friendly and hospitable. For me, the integrity of Nepalese culture and that of its Gurkha soldiers go hand in hand. The Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for 200 years. They fought loyally for our country all over the world and still continue to do so. They served alongside us in places such as Burma, Malaysia, Cyprus, the Falklands and China. More recently they played key roles in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. They made significant contributions during both the First and Second World Wars. Some 43,000 Gurkhas lost their lives during these two wars. They are noted and respected for their courage and valour in battle, having won 13 Victoria Crosses. The spirit of their service is demonstrated in the motto, “better to die than live a coward” a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. When Prince Harry returned from his tour of Afghanistan, he said that there was, “no safer place than by the side of a Gurkha”.

Today, they are still an integral and invaluable part of the British Army. Gurkhas within the British Army are proof that different religious and ethnic groups can work together. I find this very pleasing as I am actively involved in encouraging the BME communities, particularly Muslims, to join the Armed Forces. Admission to the Brigade of Gurkhas is highly competitive. There are often more than 20,000 applications for the 230 places available each year. The brigade is 3,640 strong.

Of course, the Gurkhas’ loyalty and integrity of service is not constrained to warfare. They also command respect away from the battlefield, undertaking wider military duties with the same discipline and vigour. We need look only at the recent invaluable contributions made by the Gurkhas following the Nepalese earthquake. The devastation caused by this disaster required enormous support from the international community. The United Kingdom’s humanitarian response has been most impressive. I commend both the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development for their financial commitments and for spearheading much of the wider relief effort. A large number of British Army Gurkha engineers were deployed to provide direct welfare support to serving Gurkhas, their families and veterans who were affected. They are constructing shelters and assisting in the repair of infrastructure.

In the long term, it is of course not only emergency help that will be required; also there will be the necessity to build communities and businesses. It is estimated that the Nepalese economy has suffered dramatically. Initial estimates put the cost of damage to property and infrastructure at $6 billion to $8 billion. Combined with an inevitable wider economic downturn, the total cost of the earthquake could be up to $10 billion. This is more than half of the country’s GDP last year.

Last week, I said in your Lordships’ House that Muslim charities are undertaking sterling humanitarian work in different parts of the world. I would like to mention that I am connected with the Al-Khair Foundation, which was founded by Imam Qasim. It has worked tirelessly in Nepal to help the earthquake victims, raising nearly £1 million from donors in the UK and securing over £5 million of medicines from its supporters in the United States. The Muslim community has responded positively to render help to all the people of Nepal. DfID has now pledged an additional £10 million to rebuild health services. Our total commitment of £33 million makes us the largest donor to the relief operation. I hope that we can continue to commit this level of support.

It is clear that Gurkhas hold a special place in the hearts of the British people. It is therefore important that we appropriately honour and celebrate their contributions on this anniversary. I am pleased to see that such an extensive series of events have taken place and are going to take place, not least the magnificent Gurkha 200 pageant that took place yesterday at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It is so good to see a string of concerts, exhibitions, sporting events and even physical challenges organised as part of the commemorations.

Commemorating the past sacrifices of Gurkhas is one thing. It is also of paramount importance that we treat the Gurkha soldiers and veterans of today with the respect they deserve. At the very least, we must afford them parity with other British soldiers. Many Gurkhas are now based here in the United Kingdom and settled here following completion of service. I believe this must be taken into account when considering matters such as pension entitlements. I am glad that the right to settle in Britain has now been extended to all Gurkhas, irrespective of when they retired. I spoke on that matter when it was discussed in your Lordships’ House several years ago. I commend the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gurkha Welfare for its tireless work on behalf of Gurkha veterans. Its inquiry last year ensured that veterans’ grievances were given appropriate attention.

I finish my remarks by expressing my own gratitude to the Gurkhas, and I am sure that that feeling is shared across the House and the country.

Posted in Speeches

African Business Safari06.03.15

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to today’s African Business Safari event, looking at the Economic Community of West African States. This is the second event I have hosted for Association here in the House of Lords. I was honoured and privileged to be presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from them at the dinner which they held at the Connaught Rooms last year.

I was born in Kenya and raised in Uganda. Whilst I have lived in the UK for many years I always maintain that my heart remains in Africa. I am very keen to promote more business between United Kingdom and overseas. Africa and African enterprises are very close to my heart both personally and professionally.

United Kingdom is doing well in economically and financially and our growth is expected to be about 3% in 2015. We need to do trade more with overseas countries and I feel that more should and can be done to increase the bi-lateral trade between UK and the African countries. With this view in mind I have already spoken three times in the House of Lords emphasising the need for us to expand our trade with Africa.

Last week I have tabled a debate to be heard in the House of Lords specifically on the subject of expansion of trade between United Kingdom and Africa. We of course already have a successful African diaspora here in the UK who have achieved great success in business and in the professions. We should encourage even more of these people to think about getting involved in African business. They certainly already have the knowledge and the resources. Indeed, the UK shares a commonality of language and laws with many parts of Africa. This provides us with a strong basis upon which to build our relationship further.

Africa is a huge continent, with an enormous wealth of diverse economic and cultural opportunity. The population is set to double by 2050, meaning there will be huge potential to grow the economy and make it more competitive. African economies generally showed great resilience following the financial crisis and have maintained an impressive momentum of growth. Overall continent-wide GDP growth is projected to rise to 4.5% this year, and 5% next year. Furthermore, many African states have been members of the much-admired “7% club” in recent years.

Today’s discussions are focusing on West Africa, and the work of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS is made up of fifteen member countries that are located in the Western African region. I would like to pay tribute to the vision and innovation of ECOWAS, in building what has become a pillar of the African economy. It is realising its vision of collective self-sufficiency for its member states, creating an integrated region with mutual access to resources and investment opportunities.

This year marks the group’s 40th anniversary and is an impressive milestone on a journey that will hopefully raise the standard of living for millions of West Africans. The Western region achieved growth of 6% last year and is projected to continue outperforming the continent as a whole. This was despite the Ebola virus outbreak, one of the greatest challenges in the region for many years, hitting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone particularly hard. Unfortunately, the great economic progress made by these countries in recent times has been set back as a result. Thankfully, these economies are projected to recover again next year.

Africa is moving quickly to improve its investment climate and conditions for doing business. Last year, a World Bank report found that Africa comprises five of the top ten countries in the world with the most reforms making it easier to do business. Four of those countries – Benin, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and Togo – are members of ECOWAS, which should be acknowledged as a huge complement to the community.

The same report found that since 2005, all African countries have improved the business regulatory environment for small and medium-sized businesses. Foreign Direct Investment is gradually moving away from mineral resources into consumer goods and services.This is in response to the needs of a rising middle class. However, with minerals and ores still accounting for two-thirds of Africa’s merchandise exports, the five-year low in global commodity prices could present challenges for the economies.

We must also acknowledge that ECOWAS encompasses Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa by a considerable margin. Nigeria continues to enjoy significant growth and I hope that the UK and others will recognise its potential, particularly in the non-oil sectors.

Indeed, the further potential of Africa as a whole must not be underestimated by the global business community. Unlocking all of this potential from Africa and harnessing it with the rest of the world will depend upon effective communication and an understanding of the challenges the region faces. I hope that today’s discussions will serve this agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen, today we are going to hear from a number of distinguished speakers, who will discuss their specific industries.

Posted in Africa, Speeches

Speech in the House of Lords-Queen’s Speech on Extremism06.02.15

My Lords, Her Majesty, in her most gracious Speech, said that measures will be brought forward to promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism. Any proposed provisions will affect the Muslim community, so I will focus my comments today on issues relating to our community. I wish to make several points about the Muslim community, and I ask that your Lordships kindly permit me to speak for more than seven minutes. I hope to speak for about 10 minutes.

There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, and they have contributed significantly to Britain in all walks of life. We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims. There are Muslim philanthropists and entrepreneurs, and we also have successful Muslims in the professions, politics, academia, in the media and on the sports field. Having said that, I realise that Muslims are going through a critical phase, and there are problems associated with some sections of the community.

Muslims have been severely criticised in some quarters. Some of the criticism is not at all justified but is either deliberate or based on misunderstandings. We have been and are subjected to Islamophobia in some parts of the media and by a few politicians and organisations—I believe they have their own agenda. The attacks on us are now regular, and some people feel that it is fair game to have a go at Muslims.

I have been active in community and charitable work for many years, and am a patron of six Muslim and non-Muslim organisations. I founded and chair the Conservative Muslim Forum, which is now an active and robust organisation. I was approached by several Muslim leaders to look at the current problems affecting the Muslim community, and have decided to be actively involved with the Muslim community and work out solutions. I have researched many statistics, but as the time is limited I will mention just three findings. Some 75% of Muslims believe that they are integrating into British society, whereas only 47% of British people opine that they are doing so. Muslims in Britain are overwhelmingly young, and the performance of some Muslims at schools is low. Some 46% of British Muslims live in the most deprived 10% of areas in the United Kingdom.

Over the past year I have travelled to various parts of the country and talked to leaders of mosques, imams, heads of community centres and members of the community. About two weeks ago I was the keynote speaker at a gathering of more than 2,000 Muslims in Birmingham, many of whom spoke to me afterwards. I have now identified a number of issues, which total 23 points, and have prepared a report on them. I do not have time to mention them all today, but I will state five—radicalisation, education standards, lack of engagement with the young, deprivation, and the Prevent strategy not being effective.

I have been asked by several Muslims to make it known to the Government that they have not engaged adequately with the community. I, too, feel that that has been lacking. We feel that the Government should do more to interact with the right people, look at the various problems and help the community to take positive actions. In addressing the problems we need the involvement of the Muslim community, the Government, the police, schools, local authorities and the relevant agencies. We are trying to raise awareness that there is also an onus on the Muslim community to be honest and realise that there are problems, and to take positive actions to remedy the issues as part of a holistic approach in conjunction with others.

In assessing radicalisation we must realise that this has been partly brought about by the actions of the West, including the United Kingdom, overseas. The action of a tiny minority of the young in being radicalised could be born out of frustration, but we must do what we can to allay these feelings. When the United Kingdom, together with the United States, decided unilaterally to invade Iraq, there was no adequate plan for action to be taken after Saddam Hussein was toppled. A vacuum was created that led subsequently to violence, death and destruction, and to al-Qaeda in Iraq taking root in the country. It also created a severe rift between the Sunnis and the Shias.

We bombed Libya without an adequate plan to be implemented after Gaddafi was got rid of. We invaded Afghanistan without realising the consequences. In future, the United Kingdom must have an adequate plan and think of all the consequences and implications before glibly invading any territory. We also have double standards when looking at the issues of Gaza and Palestine, and this is causing disquiet among Muslims. We need a more balanced and equitable approach to these issues, and we could begin by recognising Palestine as an independent state.

Over the last year we have seen the rise of ISIS—or Daesh, as I prefer to call them. What they are doing is not at all Islamic, and their interpretation of our glorious religion is totally wrong. It is imperative for the imams, Muslim leaders and parents, together with everyone in the community, to explain to the young the true values of Islam. In order to combat radicalisation, we must also use social media effectively to block information that unduly influences young people, and to convey the true message of Islam. Both the media and politicians should not refer to terrorism as Islamic, because Islam does not permit terrorism. They must use appropriate language. The word jihad is misused, as jihad involves internal and external struggle to do one’s utmost for good.

In deciding on measures to combat extremism, we must undertake extensive and balanced research. The Government must understand the challenging issues facing the Muslim community. The Prevent agenda has created some problems and needs to be reappraised. Some have even described it as toxic. Sometimes, the Government are ill advised in taking action. For example, I was told that the letter written to mosques in January of this year by the right honourable Eric Pickles was not well received by some members of the community. I agree that counter-extremism measures must be firm, but they should not be fierce and should not alienate the community. The Government must win the support of the Muslim community and must not be seen as the big brother wielding a stick. Otherwise, we will get a negative reaction. We must also respect freedom of speech, as we in this country take pride in our democratic values. The Muslim community will listen and take appropriate action, as part of the holistic approach we need to implement.

I understand that measures may be introduced such as banning orders, extremism disruption orders and powers to close premises. I suggest that before any powers are approved and implemented, adequate research and consultation with the community should be undertaken. The community will co-operate if there is appropriate engagement. We need to be very careful before interfering or applying any form of restriction on the activities of Muslim charities, which do very valuable humanitarian work across the world.

Finally, I would like to make the further point that we need to look at other issues concerning the community, including the education of the young and deprivation. I will be taking part in the proceedings on the proposed legislation and will make suggestions where I feel that these are appropriate.

Posted in Parliament, Speeches

Righteous Muslims – Recognising the courage of Muslims who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust03.30.15

I would like to welcome you all to the House of Lords.

We are here today to recognise the courage of Muslims during the Holocaust. The Jews and the Muslims belong to the Abrahamic faiths and Muslims regard the Jews as the people of the book. We also regard Torah as a book of Allah.

Throughout the history when there were Muslims dynasties which included the Abbasids and Umayyad’s the Jews were always treated well and furthermore during waves of persecution in Europe many Jews found refuge in the Muslim lands. For example the Jews who were expelled from Spain were invited to settle in various parts of the Ottoman Empire. They would form a prosperous model minority of merchants acting as intermediaries for their Muslim rulers.

When Saladin conquered Jerusalem he allowed all the religious groups to live in peace and before that time when Caliph Umar came to Jerusalem he proclaimed the Jerusalem declaration which allowed all the inhabitants of Jerusalem whether they were Jews, Christians or Muslims to live in peace.

During the Holocaust there are numerous incidents where Muslims protected the Jews during the Nazi evil regime.  I understand that Yad Vashem which is the official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, honours nearly 25,000 righteous persons and over 70 Muslims have been added to this list.

There is also a wonderful story of a Muslim Imam who hid a very old Jewish manuscript in the floor of the mosque until the end of the Second World War. This document is over 600 year old manuscript which narrates the exodus from Egypt every Passover.

Through history there has been a bond linking the Jews and the Muslims together and we must always appreciate this and continue with this bond. There are many commonalities between the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

A few months ago the practices of Halal and Shechita were been criticised and I formed a bond with Lord Palmer to fight this threat. We both went to see the Minister and I had a letter from the Prime Minister David Cameron that under his watch the practice of Jewish and Muslim slaughters will be preserved. The threat to our practices is still there and both the communities must join hands and combat the problems.

I believe in interfaith dialogue and I am a Patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim charities. I would like to emphasise that when I was growing up in Uganda my best friend was a Jewish boy whose family came from Cochin in India. When we visited each other’s house I did find that the attitude of our mothers was very similar and it strengthened our friendship.

I would now like to say that it is written in the Holy Quran that if anyone kills a person it would be as if he killed all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved all of humanity. This is very similar to what is written in the Talmud which is: If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world. Both these sayings therefore emphasise and underline the sanctity of life.

There is anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic practices in UK and elsewhere and we must get together to combat these actions.

I am looking forward to this meeting and very much hope that we learn from what is discussed here today and we should all work together to bring harmony and brotherhood between various racial and religious groups.

 

 

Posted in Speeches

Report prepared by the United States Congress on CIA involvement in torture.12.16.14

Lord Sheikh to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the report prepared by the United States Congress on CIA involvement in torture.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, the Senate committee’s account of the treatment of some detainees by the CIA is troubling. After 9/11, things happened that were clearly wrong. In Britain, we have made clear our determination to address allegations of UK complicity in the alleged mistreatment of detainees by others overseas. Her Majesty’s Government stand firmly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Will our Government undertake an independent, judge-led inquiry to examine possible British complicity in the programme of torture, secret detention and rendition? Will our Government also provide all suitable help and assistance to UK citizens and residents who have been detained to enable them to seek justice and remedies? I point out that Shaker Aamer is still in detention and needs help to be released. He has apparently been very badly treated.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government set up the Gibson inquiry in July 2010. It was asked to produce an interim report when police investigations into a number of potential criminal charges were instituted in 2012. The Gibson committee’s interim report raised 27 questions for further investigation, which have been taken up by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has now been working for a year with some additional staff on that inquiry. When that inquiry is complete, it will be for the next Government to decide whether a further judicial inquiry is necessary. On the question of Shaker Aamer, the Government are engaged at the highest levels for his release as a matter of urgency.

Posted in Speeches, Torture

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

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