Lord Sheikh hosted an event in the House of Lords for OneVoice which is a grassroots civil society organisation that empowers Israelis and Palestinians to work towards a two state solution. There were several speakers from OneVoice in attendance who spoke about the work that OneVoice undertakes in Palestine and Israel.
Category: House of Lords
Lord & Lady Sheikh hosted the Chinese Information and Advice Centre’s Woman Volunteer of the Year Awards in the House of Lords. Lord Sheikh spoke at the outset and congratulated and thanked the award winners for all of their hard work. The Lord Mayor of Westminster also attended and spoke at the event.
Lord Sheikh attended and spoke at an event organised by Pritam Chaggar of the Voices of Kenya Union to celebrate 70 years of Asian broadcasting of the Hindustani Service of Kenya. Deedar Singh Pardesi who used to sing on the shows and Pritam Chaggar and Chaman Lal Chaman who were presenters were also in attendance.
Lord Sheikh spoke about his and Lady Sheikh’s connections with Kenya and the fact that he used to listen to programmes broadcasted by Voice of Kenya. He also paid tribute to the various presenters and entertainers who have contributed to the show. He made his speech in English, Urdu, Swahili and Punjabi.
On 28 January 2014 a packed audience in House of Lords Committtee Room 4A received an exceptionally passionate and highly personal presentation from Saira Khan.
Saira Khan shot to fame in the first series of the smash hit BBC 2 TV Series “The Apprentice,” in 2005, where she was the runner up. Despite coming second Lord Sugar offered her a full time contract in his organisation and became one of the most talked about women in the UK. She is now a regular face on a TV and is currently co presenting ITV’s smash hit consumer show, “The Martin Lewis Money Show”. She says of her tv work, “I only do projects which I feel can add value to people’s lives. As an Asian Muslim woman in the media, I understand that I have a responsibility and am seen as a role model to some – it is for that very reason that I choose not to shy away from the topics that others are too scared to talk about.”
In the presentation she spoke about her loving upbringing in Long Eaton, Derbyshire with her parents and the challenges she experienced about her own personal identity and freedom of choice amidst cultural and religious divisions.
In the picture below seated left to right: Executive member Lady Sheikh, Saira Khan with the House of Lords plate that Lord Sheikh presented her with, CMF Chairman Lord Sheikh and the event chair Executive member Sana Kahloon who also chairs CMF Women.
Standing left to right: Executive members Hashim Bhatti, Ash Zaman, Fuad Hamzeh, CMF Administrator Shaheen Mahmood, Executive member Mike Mogul, CMF Deputy Chairman Mohammed Amin, Executive member Ajantha Tennakoon.
On 19 November 2013 the UKIP peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch initiated a short debate by asking the following question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what was the basis for the statement by the Prime Minister on 3 June that “There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror”
The first response to the speech was made by Lord Sheikh. A transcript of the speech is below:
My Lords, I speak as a Muslim, as a proud British national and a supporter of all faiths and communities. I am privileged to live in a country where people of numerous religious beliefs live alongside each other in relative peace. This is a testament to our nation’s tolerance and unity in equal measure.
I was brought up in Uganda, where there were people of different racial and religious groups, and learnt to respect all communities. I am a patron of several Muslim and non-Muslim organisations that promote harmony between people. I believe that there must be dialogue and respect for others if we are to continue to coexist peacefully. Without these, there is lack of understanding which leads to suspicion and tensions.
I believe this debate today has been called as a result of such misunderstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, questioned the basis for the Prime Minister’s statement that:
“There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror”.
I believe the basis for the Prime Minister’s statement was obvious. There is nothing in any religion, teaching or scripture that condones causing indiscriminate harm to others. It is the interpretation of corrupt minds that seek to justify these actions for themselves and those they manipulate.
The actions of a few fanatical individuals must not be the yardstick by which we judge Islam or any other religion. If we allow this to happen, the culture of fear and division takes hold. When that culture permeates, the terrorists realise their intentions. Later on in the statement, the Prime Minister referred to the murderers’,
“extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam to create a culture of victimhood and justify violence.”
It is that ideology that we are facing, not the religion itself. Terrorists’ motives have time and again been revealed as political grievances. Terrorists twist these grievances, through the prism of religion, into an ideology to justify their actions. It must therefore be clear that these actions were not motivated at root by religious teachings. The united condemnation of the Woolwich attack from prominent Muslims illustrated this.
Let us look specifically at Islamic teaching. As a Muslim, I was taught that human life was sacred. It is written in the Holy Koran,
“whoever kills a human being … it is as though he has killed all mankind, and whoever saves a human life, it is as though he has saved all mankind”.
That is why I have consistently spoken about Islam as a religion of peace, and continue to do so. In fact, I even represent that in my coat of arms, which features two doves. I believe that every Muslim should be an ambassador to convey that message and help to promote peace and harmony with other religions. I also believe that both the media and politicians must play their part. Some media circles, in particular, are guilty of vilifying Islam and portraying us with an unfair image.
There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and in the United Kingdom, there are more than 2.6 million. Such large numbers of people and their faith must not be used as a scapegoat or a political football. It is important that our politicians of all persuasions act responsibly and use moderate language. I find the use of the term “Islamic terrorist” to be improper in the same way that I would the term “Christian terrorist”. That kind of language stokes fear and creates a psychological tie between the religion and the terrorist.
The opposite is in fact true. A report by Demos in 2011 revealed that 83% of British Muslims feel proud to be a British citizen, compared with 79% of people across the whole population. That reasserts that our problem lies with a very small minority. The vast majority of Muslims enjoy practising their religion peacefully in the United Kingdom. I do not believe that anybody looking to cause disharmony should be allowed to come here from a Muslim country or a European country, such as the Netherlands. If we demonise Islam or any other religion, we are doing a disservice to the concept of religion as a whole and the societies that embrace it. I therefore totally endorse the comments made by our Prime Minister.
Lord Sheikh hosted and chaired a meeting in the House of Lords on ethical finance. The guest speakers included the Archbishop of Canterbury Welby and HH Judge Sir Gavyn Arthur. The event was also attended by a cross-section of leaders of various communities.
Lord Sheikh stressed the importance of more opportunities being made available for investments on an ethical basis which do produce favourable results and also have benefits for the community.
My Lords, I welcome this debate but I am extremely regretful of the circumstances that have triggered our discussions. I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing the debate.
Today we are focusing on the Middle East as a region but there is no doubt that the appalling situation in Syria is currently taking centre stage. I am horrified on a daily basis at the news reports of both the escalating conflict and, more importantly, the humanitarian crisis resulting from it. Tensions were high at the initial outbreak of violent protests in 2011 but few could have predicted that two years later 93,000 people would have lost their lives and that the death rate would still be accelerating.
The potential for a large regional sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims is now dangerously high and the bloodshed and political divide could spiral even further out of control. I am very worried about the rift between the Sunnis and Shias, which unfortunately is growing. As a Muslim, this disturbs me, but I feel that everyone should be concerned about how the situation is developing.
I share the wider desire to see President Assad’s regime brought to an end, and was excited at the increasing prospect of such an outcome late last year. About three years ago I visited Syria with other parliamentarians and we spoke to President Assad at some length. He seemed a reasonable man at that time but his attitude and behaviour are now totally unacceptable.
However, as we should have learnt so very well by now, true victory will not be won for the people of Syria, or indeed any country, if the overthrowing of evil is not accompanied by a good and stable substitution. I know that many colleagues share my concerns at the rather fragmented make-up of what we sweepingly refer to as the “opposition forces”. I appreciate the efforts made with the formation of the national coalition last year, but we must acknowledge that the coalition is beset by its own problems, perhaps most notably the resignation of its own leader in March, and remains generally fractious and divided. It is also unable to assert proper command over many of the rebel groups and has been unable to develop or offer any substantial support in respect of the humanitarian crisis.
What I find of great concern is that its principle is not to engage in any dialogue or negotiations with the regime. In reality, this illustrates a continued desire to fight this battle through sheer physical force, despite the incalculable pain and suffering that the conflict has already caused to millions of people. While I abhor the grotesque practices and governance of President Assad, I also find myself unable fully to support a group which exists by this philosophy.
With the coalition’s ideologies for the future of Syria so varied, in some cases even contradictory, and with no will to engage in negotiation with its enemies, it simply cannot be right for us or any other country to pledge unyielding support to it in the wider sense unless the various factions can get together and be a more cohesive force.
I am very supportive of the non-lethal assistance that we have so far provided. Such technical advice, training and basic equipment will help the opposition forces better to protect themselves and other civilians. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister commit to doubling this assistance by the end of this year.
However, the decision that some are calling for—for us to put our own powerful weapons, designed to cause maximum damage and often death, in the hands of people lacking a true unified ideology—carries with it many concerns. It would be dangerous, costly and, frankly, a substantial risk to both the Syrian people and the opposition members themselves.
We also cannot be sure where such weapons will actually end up once distributed on the ground. I know that the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that, if arms were provided, they would not be allowed to fall into the hands of extremists, but I would like a little further clarity on exactly how we can guarantee such a claim.
In addition, we must consider what will happen to such arms when the conflict finally comes to an end, whatever the outcome. One has only to cast one’s mind back to the Libyan crisis and the subsequent, exhaustive efforts made by the West in sourcing and retrieving the plethora of weapons that were lost in the post-war chaos. Supplying arms would seem to be a slightly contradictory move, in that it poses a threat to the very long-term stability that some believe we can achieve by arming the rebels in the first place. We are making these decisions in the interests not just of the conflict’s outcome but also of the safety and security of the Syrian people, who continue to suffer so greatly.
In May this year, I was privileged to be invited by His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan to visit his country with a party of British politicians. Back in April and before our visit, I spoke briefly in your Lordships’ House on the subject of refugees fleeing Syria, in particular those who have crossed the border into Jordan and are now settling there. I should like to make a reference to this once more.
During our five days in Jordan, our delegation had the opportunity to discuss many of the political, social and financial challenges facing that country. One of the most significant impressions that we were all left with was that of the plight of refugees fleeing across the border from Syria. About 400,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan and, of those, nearly half arrived in the first quarter of this year.
As the crisis in Syria deepens, the pressure on neighbouring countries such as Jordan becomes ever harder to address. For example, Jordan anticipates a large number of Syrians seeking refuge there during the remainder of this year. Refugees in dedicated camps, as I was able to witness during my visit, are being well looked after and cared for in the circumstances. The Zaatari camp alone provides home for 140,000 refugees, and the total refugee population at present makes up about 6% of the entire Jordanian population. The situation will be aggravated by the influx of other refugees.
Jordan is a country which has experienced a slowdown in economic growth, and its budget deficit is already creating a challenge. Jordan’s ability to address that fiscal issue is hampered by the chaos in Syria; it needs more help to address the costs of the crisis.
In the medium term, there are also grave implications for public services in Jordan. Jordan is allowing Syrian children to register in schools at no cost, and 80 new schools are anticipated to be needed in the coming year. Similar pressures are to be found in healthcare: there is a crisis of resources and hospital expansions will be necessary to provide for the needs of a growing refugee population.
Last year, the crisis cost Jordan about $251 million. The cost this year is projected to be a staggering $851 million. Jordan is an impressive country, but it is finding it difficult to cope with the situation, and there are severe pressures inflicted on the country. As an international community, we have a duty to see that more should be done so that the costs are not born by Syria’s neighbours alone.
The UK is one of the largest bilateral donors to the Syrian crisis. We have provided £171 million on vital assistance for refugees who have fled the Assad regime. That includes £26 million for support to Jordan. The Prime Minister announced at the recent G8 conference that further amounts will be provided. Our funding is providing food, as well as clean drinking water. The UK has also provided clinical care and counselling to the refugees. I commend our Government for the valuable support and help that we have provided and continue to provide to the countries affected by the Syrian crisis.
It is clear that a long-term solution to the conflict is some way off. The Government are to be congratulated for what they have done to seek to engage diplomatic pressure for an effective international response. The Secretary of State has shown real leadership and the Prime Minister has worked really hard.
I welcome the Government’s efforts to achieve peace and bring various parties to the negotiating table. I hope that we will see the proposed Geneva II conference taking place. In my opinion, the only solution will be a properly negotiated political settlement, one that involves Russia and, if possible, Iran. Only by bringing the interests of everyone to the table will we be able to make progress that is comprehensive enough to make a difference that will actually endure.
I feel that military action alone will not resolve the crisis in Syria. I also fear that if we increase military support to the opposition forces, Russia will augment its support to President Assad, and the crisis will spiral further. Different parties must talk to one another and arrive at an acceptable solution. We achieved the right results in Libya by military intervention, but circumstances are very different in Syria. We would of course all like to see a freer, more accountable Middle East with Governments who are more democratic and engaging with their people.
My Lords, at the outset I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for arranging this debate. The United Kingdom and Morocco enjoy a long and happy history—a heritage of which I believe we should be proud. Earlier this month, the British Embassy in Rabat celebrated the 800th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries, a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. In April this year the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs made his first official ministerial visit to London. An estimated half a million British tourists travel to Morocco every year to take advantage of its outstanding natural beauty and renowned hospitality. This tourism helps maintain our relationship, and Morocco is economically dependent on it.
I believe that the recent social revolutions across north Africa and the Middle East, coupled with the economic turmoil across much of the western world, present an opportunity to look again at our priorities. It is a chance to refocus where we should be looking to build stronger bridges for the future and dedicating more of our efforts. I firmly believe that Morocco should be one of the countries we should focus on, and with good reason. Like some other countries in the Arab world, Morocco is engaging in fundamental democratic reforms. While it remains essentially a kingdom, a new constitution was adopted in July 2011 establishing a more democratic system of governance. A key political change is that the majority party in Parliament, rather than the King, now has the right to nominate the Prime Minister. Strong human rights provisions were also included in the reforms, although I appreciate they have had mixed results.
Last September, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, reported his findings following a visit to Morocco. He was concerned at the continued use of cruel treatment by some security forces on the ground and in prisons. However, he also noted that the general situation regarding the practice of torture has improved and that a culture of human rights, with a genuine political will, is slowly emerging. Morocco has implemented a National Human Rights Council and announced that it will ratify the optional protocol of the UN convention against torture later this year. In recent years, further rights have been granted to women and the King has also stated that tackling unemployment and poverty are two of his main priorities. Unemployment has shrunk significantly over the past decade and spending on social programmes and subsidies have increased substantially.
In all, it seems as if this new constitution is laying the groundwork for introducing laws that will build greater levels of engagement with and transparency towards the general public. It is important we recognise how the conviction that fuels such reforms can spread across borders, calm tensions and set examples for others. These measures are a beacon of hope in an ever insecure region. Can the Minister highlight the role that Morocco has taken in promoting or contributing to regional stability?
Our Foreign Secretary recently reaffirmed his support for the progress that Morocco has been making towards implementing the new constitution, particularly through the Arab partnership, with efforts to tackle corruption and encourage political participation. I very much share this sentiment and, on that note, I would be grateful if the Minister could also provide details of any programmes that we are supporting in Morocco through civil society.
Our relations with Morocco can be enhanced further by undertaking more trade. As I have stated many times before in your Lordships’ House, one of the keys to building and advancing successful relationships between countries is by having increased levels of trade. Such trade allows for increased diversity and consistency of goods and services, leading to the widening and opening up of markets. This in turn nurtures cultural and technological exchange and helps bring countries closer together, benefiting economies on both sides. Indeed, 2012 was a landmark year, as the bilateral trade between our two countries passed £1 billion for the first time. Despite suffering a setback, Morocco’s GDP growth rate in 2012 was 2.9%, which is a respectable figure within the context of the global downturn and higher than that of many western countries. It is also projected to accelerate to an average of 4.8% over the next few years.
Morocco boasts a number of economic achievements that have, unfortunately, gone unnoticed and to which we should be paying much closer attention. Last year, it built the largest port in the Mediterranean, Tanger-Med—again, this is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison—as a strategic way of capitalising on its geographical position as a primary gateway between Europe and Africa. It is also establishing itself as a hub for international investors looking to get into Africa, with the creation of Casablanca Finance City. Morocco also enjoys free trade access to 55 different countries, representing more than 1 billion consumers and 60% of the world’s GDP. Bearing all these points in mind, it is no surprise that Ernst & Young recently ranked Morocco as the second most attractive African country for foreign investors.
I spoke last month in the Queen’s Speech debate on the importance of the UK investing in Africa. We must act now, before other countries beat us to it.
My Lords, I am very pleased to speak in this debate. Last week’s gracious Speech was rightfully centred above all else on the economy. It was a reminder to us all that although we have made some progress, there is still much to be done and our Government are committed to staying the course and maintaining our disciplined approach of austerity. Even more than that, it was about managing our economy in a way that is fairer for people and rewards those who work hard.
As a businessman myself, I was particularly heartened to see that central theme running through the very heart of our plans for the next 12 months. I am sure that everyone will agree that the way to strengthen our economic competitiveness is by growing our economy back to the health that it once enjoyed. That will be achieved only through more companies doing more business and offering more job opportunities.
I believe that the twin engines behind achieving that will be those of increasing our level of international trade and attracting higher inward investment from overseas. Last week, the Prime Minister spoke passionately to financial leaders at the global investment conference, when he rightly said that we face a sink or swim moment in the global economic race. Indeed, two of several key points that the Prime Minister outlined were focusing on trade deals and ensuring that the UK remains as internationally connected as possible.
Encouraging figures were also released last week which showed that our successful management of the 2012 Olympic Games brought the UK an extra £2.5 billion of direct foreign investment, increasing our productivity and, ultimately, our competitiveness. It created 58,000 new jobs, and 105,000 jobs were safeguarded as a result, firmly retaining our position as the leading destination for foreign investment in Europe. UK Trade and Investment was involved in helping to deliver the majority of those projects and should be applauded for its efforts.
Our focus must now turn to maintaining the momentum. We need to prove to the rest of the world why the UK remains an ideal place to do business. Specifically in terms of trade, I believe that we must begin to look much more seriously at developing our trade relationships in Africa. We have historic ties with some African countries and we can build on those connections further. Strong growth over the past decade has already helped to reduce poverty, and the International Monetary Fund recently forecast that sub-Saharan Africa will grow by 6% over the next four years. In fact, Ghana, Mozambique, the Congo, Liberia and six other African economies are expected to grow by 7% or more this year. To put that into perspective, the only other emerging economies in that 7% growth club are China, India and Vietnam.
It is therefore a very good time for British companies to get more involved with and invest in Africa. We must capitalise on that rapidly expanding economy simultaneously to grow British business and to help to drive further development and job creation across the African continent.
Here at home, as specifically mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, we must also continue to grow our private sector. Well over 1 million new jobs have been created since 2010, which has played a key role in the reduction of our deficit by one-third. I am very confident in our Government’s commitment to increase that further by a number of encouraging policies.
The £2,000 allowance on national insurance contributions has been welcomed with open arms by businesses across the board. It will particularly help those smaller firms which currently find that a substantial financial burden and means that one-third of all employers will not have to make any further national insurance payments. Research has shown that employers favour that measure, and it will be a business-boosting initiative. The Federation of Small Businesses has even stated that it went beyond what it was asking for.
The continued cutting of corporation tax is also helping private businesses to keep more of their cash to invest in expansions and employ more people, while promoting the UK as an attractive place for overseas companies to set up businesses here. Our Government have also promised to reduce the burden of excessive regulation on business. Again, that will make a considerable difference to small and medium-sized businesses, which find themselves bogged down with health and safety laws and restrictive red tape.
If there was ever a time to do away with the over-bureaucratic legislation that holds some businesses back, it is now. In particular, I look forward to seeing progress on the scaling back of consultations, audits and judicial reviews, as well as the elimination of equality impact assessments.
The latest figures show that we now have 4.8 million companies; 75% of them are sole traders; and 96% of all firms in the United Kingdom employ fewer than 10 people. It is therefore safe to say that small businesses will continue to drive us out of the economic downturn. The SMEs should, however, utilise digital technology as much as possible. That will be essential for their survival and growth.
I have always supported SMEs in my business life. In that regard, I declare the interest that I am chairman and chief executive of an insurance organisation which helps smaller organisations to place the insurance covers. I add that I was previously the chairman and chief executive of an organisation which had connections with more than 1,000 smaller insurance organisations.
In addition to cutting and reforming where necessary, it is also the job of government to invest in infrastructure to help to nurture growth and provide extra jobs. I was glad to see that explicitly referenced in the gracious Speech, with a specific focus on the development of the High Speed 2 railway line. I appreciate some of the controversy that inevitably comes with such a large-scale project, particularly on the acquisition of land, but the long-term benefits that it will provide to businesses across the country cannot be underestimated. It also takes a significant step in addressing two economic policies that I feel most strongly about-that of rebalancing our economy towards a manufacturing sector, which made our country so great; and promoting the redistribution of growth to many of our cities and regions nationwide.
Through such turbulent times, I believe that it is crucial that the Government are seen to be acting not just in the interests of economic health per se but in a way that also promotes economic fairness. That was another key pillar of the Queen’s Speech and one that goes hand-in-hand with our disciplinary approach to finances. It is heartening for me to see a government pledge on,
“building an economy where people who work hard are properly rewarded”.
I have always believed strongly in the notion of individual responsibility and reaping rewards from one’s own commitment and perseverance, and have spoken to that effect in your Lordships’ House in my support for reform of the benefit system.
Let us make no mistake: this Government’s welfare reforms are about making sure that the right people are helped back in to work while allowing for increased levels of support to those genuinely in need. Simplifying and rebalancing the ways in which benefits are considered and awarded can be seen only as progressive, particularly in the current climate.
I also welcome the inclusion of a Bill to help businesses protect their intellectual property. I have already declared my interest in the insurance business. I add that I have arranged insurance schemes for the protection of patents and copyrights. I therefore fully appreciate the value of a Bill to protect the intellectual property rights of businesses across the country. This is essential if we are to be seen as a centre for innovative ideas and products.
Before concluding, I wanted to mention my appreciation for the inclusion in the Queen’s Speech of the Government’s focus on preventing sexual violence in conflict worldwide. I have spoken on this subject both in your Lordships’ House and at several meetings elsewhere, and I am very grateful to the Government for placing a focus on it. The victims of these heinous crimes deserve justice, and it is up to countries like ours to provide the support that they need and to take effective action to deal with this dreadful problem. I have made clear my appreciation of the Government’s £1 million funding to the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on this matter, and I look forward to further progress in this regard.