I would like to welcome you to the House of Lords. This is indeed a historic building and origins of the British Parliament go back 700 years. We adhere to a large extent to our traditions and there is a culture of politeness and courtesy to others.
I joined the Conservative Party and within a period of less than two years I was elevated to the House of Lords which is unusual as most people provide years of voluntary service to the Party before appointment. It was a complete surprise for me as I had not undertaken any lobbying and I was a new comer to the political scene.
Besides being a Peer I chair a number of organisations which includes Chairmanship of Conservative Muslim Forum and the Ethnic Diversity Council. I care about the environment and Chair the EcoMuslim Association.
I am a very active member of House of Lords and take part regularly in the proceedings of the House of Lords. Over the period of the last year I have spoken in the House of Lords 33 times on a variety of subjects. For example over the last few weeks I have spoken on the Welfare Reform Bill, the Economy, Apprenticeships Bill, Policing Bill, Iraq and the Armed Forces. I have also tabled a number of written and oral questions.
Having said this I have quoted the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and also quoted the Holy Koran in the House of Lords. I always give the message that Islam is a religion of peace and tell everyone the true message of Islam.
I would now like to highlight the varied and important work undertaken by the House of Lords. The activities of the House of Lords can broadly be divided into three categories.
Firstly we make laws and spend 66% of our time checking and revising legislation. Each line in the proposed Bill is scrutinised and we will table amendments whereby there can be improvements in the proposed Bill.
Secondly we play a key role in looking at what the government is doing and hold Ministers to account for their decisions and actions. We do so by asking questions, responding to statements and holding debates.
Thirdly the members of House of Lords use their broad experience and expertise to investigate wide ranging subjects, scrutinise executive actions and shape public policy. There are a number of Committees set up to look at various subjects and I am in a fact at present a member of the Select Committee which is scrutinising the draft Bribery Bill. It must be emphasised that in the House of Lords we have members who have expertise in different subjects and have reached the pinnacle in their professions or careers.
I have made considerable strides in promoting Islamic values in the United Kingdom and also globally. I am a practising Muslim and proud of my religion and am very keen to support and enhance Takaful insurances.
In my business career I have dealt with general insurance, life insurance 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 and Takaful covers. The principles of mutuality and transparencies do appeal to me.
As an industry if we are to achieve growth in Takaful covers we need to expand our penetration globally and think about entering markets where there is an existing culture and a demand for conventional insurance products. The geographic areas that we need to seriously consider are United Kingdom and Europe as the take up per person on insurance on both general and life side is high.
To enable us to succeed in achieving the expansion of Takaful covers we also 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. It is therefore important that we write insurances covering various contingencies as well providing family Takaful plans. This is something I have done personally when I was Chairman and Chief Executive of Camberford Law Plc and we produced a range of products. These products were developed for specialist risks and we carefully examined the trend in the market and produced products which catered to the needs of people in various ways.
In our quest for expansion we would need to look at the matter of public awareness and overcoming mental obstacles which some Muslims may have in regard to taking out relevant insurances. For example some Muslims believe in destiny in whatever happens to them. They also may have the feeling that God will provide for the welfare of their dependants. Being a practising Muslim I understand these beliefs but I feel that more people should be gently encouraged to effect Takaful products. Our marketing must be geared to make people aware that the Takaful plans adhere to their religious beliefs. In addition we should make it known to the non Muslims why Takaful is ethical.
I now want to talk about the training of scholars. There are a number of scholars who are well versed in Islamic laws but their understanding of commercial realities may be limited. There is therefore a need for training facilities to be provided and in fact developed. In the United Kingdom there are already training programmes available and the idea is to provide these courses in the Far East as well as the Gulf countries.
Islamic Finance believes in an ethical form of investments and we also invest in businesses which benefit the society generally and the environment. I would therefore like to make a case that the investments should have a much wider appeal rather than these being niche. I hope that in due course the Takaful investments will be part of main stream market which will increase its worldwide exposure.
I am passionate about protecting our planet and I have spoken extensively on this subject world wide and taken part when the legislation was discussed in British parliament regarding climate change. In fact I am going tomorrow to Turkey to make a keynote speech on the environment. I think we need to invest our funds in production of energy by renewable methods and also support projects for the efficient use of energy. As an industry we need to promote the fact that we do and will support programmes and projects which protect the environment and are beneficial to our planet and the communities.
In regard to United Kingdom and Europe I would like to state there are 2 million Muslims in the United Kingdom and 20 million in Europe. If we also reach out to non-Muslims the potential is considerable as the populations of the United Kingdom and Europe are 60 million and 450 million respectively. There is however low awareness of Takaful but with the right products and effective marketing we will succeed.
If we are to promote and develop Takaful products it is important that we look at the human resources. We need to seriously examine the training of staff to ensure that they are well aware of technical Islamic insurance principles and are also well versed in Shariah finance. I used to be a visiting lecturer on insurance subjects and have also been President of the Chartered Insurance Institute. The Chartered Insurance Institute in collaboration with the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance are preparing courses for Takaful subjects which will become part of the Chartered Insurance Institute examinations. I have been asked by the Chartered Insurance Institute to chair a committee which is involved in the preparation and promotion of the courses and the subjects.
The Chartered Insurance Institute has produced a brochure which has a quotation from me. I am pleased that Mr Hussain from Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance is here today.
In addition to what I have said if we are to succeed and expand we need to ensure that our service standards are high and we are cost effective in every way and our work practices and computer systems must be efficient. It is also important that we not only produce the right products but our pricing needs to competitive as the policy holders would certainly consider the amounts they pay before effecting cover.
In my business life I have always worked to achieve this and also produced profitable results for everyone’s benefit.
As I mentioned I am Chairman of Conservative Muslim Forum and the Conservative Party in United Kingdom is doing very well. Although we are not complacent I am optimistic we will form the next government. I am promoting Islamic Finance and insurance in the Conservative Party so that our policies are geared appropriately.
I am a Freeman of the City of London and was given the title of Baron Sheikh of Cornhill in the City of London when I became a Peer. I feel that the United Kingdom has a lot to offer to the development of Islamic insurances. The United Kingdom can also be used as a springboard for penetration into Europe. In these countries there is a history and culture of mutuality and there have been a number of mutual organisations.
The United Kingdom has led the world in the field of conventional insurances and it can do so in regard to Takaful in Europe. I would like to leave this thought with you.