All 3 Debates between Baroness Flather and Lord Sheikh

Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Sheikh
Friday 23rd October 2015

(8 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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No. Under sharia law he does not have to do that. If sharia councils make unfair decisions, these must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I feel that there must be a mechanism to deal with such cases and that we should put in place an appeals procedure.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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Is the noble Lord saying that there is equal treatment of women and men under sharia or is he saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct? I am not sure; I think he is saying that whatever sharia prescribes is correct and proper. However, is there not discrimination against women?

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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It depends on what the noble Baroness means by discrimination.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I see that the noble Lord has not found that out yet.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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That might be amusing to the noble Baroness but it is not amusing to me.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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It is not funny to me—I am a woman.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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I will continue. In the same way as sharia councils cannot claim to make legally binding decisions, some religious decisions have no place in English law. In any case, mainstream courts are not able to deal with matters of religious custom. If Muslims or those from any other religious group wish to undertake mediation or even arbitration according to a set of religious principles, they should be free to do so and there should of course be no coercion. I would like to see the UK Board of Sharia Councils become a prominent, self-regulatory body of which every sharia council should be encouraged to become an accountable member. I have spoken to heads of sharia councils and I know that there is enthusiasm for this.

There are problems affecting Muslim women who are denied religious divorces and women who enter into religious marriages with no legal protection. If there are problems with some practices, it is incumbent on the Muslim community to deal with the issues and take remedial action. We must work together with the community to find the solutions. This Bill will not help us to achieve this.

Ethnic Minorities

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Sheikh
Monday 6th July 2015

(8 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for introducing this debate. It has many aspects; I do not know if I can cover all of them, but I will try my best to cover those that are on my mind.

I was very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, mentioned the fact that blacks were not welcomed in churches in this country when they first came. I am so old that I remember that year, and many other things that happened in this country; for example, how people had signs that said, “No blacks, Irish or dogs”, or whatever. It is amazing that we have wiped that out of our minds now, and in a way that is a good thing. We have moved forward. All my time before I came to your Lordships’ House was spent in race relations, and I saw the changes coming and saw new generations that were able to see themselves more as British than earlier ones had.

Having said that, we need to look at certain issues. One is that we must treat all people the same. We say that we do, but we do not. If they are white, we treat them one way, good or bad. If they are not white, we do not treat them the same way, good or bad. That is one of the things about grooming. There are so many scandals about the grooming of young girls up and down the country. We have turned a blind eye to that, because we think, “We don’t want anybody to criticise us or say that we’re racist”. Why should we not be racist about issues that deserve to be rooted out? We must not accept anything from anybody which is not acceptable under any circumstances.

I know I am probably talking about Muslims, but we now have this business of sharia marriages. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, mentioned the position of women. It is appalling that the man can get a divorce by just asking for it, while a woman may have to wait years, and may still not get it. She can get a British divorce, but not a sharia divorce. Noble Lords may ask, “Why does that matter?”, and I asked that of those women. They replied, “It means that we can’t go to Pakistan”. If they go there, the husband can come and take the children away, no matter what age they are. In any case, the husband can take the children from a sharia marriage when they are seven. All marriages should be automatically registered in this country. It is not fair to the women that some British women—they are British women when they come here—are treated in a different and unacceptable way from others.

I will bring one other thing to the attention of noble Lords. There are a lot of first-cousin marriages in certain communities, particularly among Pakistanis who come from the Pakistani Kashmir area. We know so much about DNA now, but there is so much disability among the children, which is absolutely appalling. You go to any such family and there will be four or five children, at least one or two of whom will have some disability. That is absolutely unacceptable, and if we cannot do anything about it, is it fair to the children? Never mind the parents—it is not fair to the children that they should be allowed to become disabled because of a social practice. It is a social practice which does not belong in today’s age, when we know so much about DNA. There should at least be some rule which says that you must have a DNA examination before your marriage can be registered. The church allows first-cousin marriages, and it would be wonderful if it decided that they will not take place unless the couple’s DNA history is produced.

There are issues which we need to look at. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Suri, about the Sikhs. What they do is wonderful. You can go to any Sikh temple at any time and you will be fed. That is a wonderful thing. It is very inclusive: men and women both go. Women do not go to the mosque; only men go to the mosque. If you go to the Hare Krishna temple in Watford, you see lines of people at lunchtime. Not only do they take food for themselves; they bring banks to take food for the whole family. So, very good things are being done in the name of religion, but certain things are unacceptable and against the ethos of this country. We should not be lily-livered and say, “No, no, no, they are not white, so we will not say anything”. We must say something. We have to stop the business of halal meat. Anyone who saw the sheep being killed on television would never eat halal meat. It is just not, and should not be, acceptable. We have worked so hard to improve the position of women, and to do what we can for animals. Why should we allow anybody who comes to this country voluntarily to do that? It is not right.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh (Con)
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Before the noble Baroness sits down, where does she get the information that women are not allowed in mosques?

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I am happy to have a debate with the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. Women do not pray in mosques.

Prevent Strategy

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Sheikh
Wednesday 30th November 2011

(12 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Noon, for giving us this opportunity to say how we feel about this issue? It is a very important issue, and I have given it much thought, over a long period of time. There are now cities in this country with areas where no white people live and no white people go, and usually they are Muslim areas. It is very sad, because in fact the people who live there have no desire to mix with the white people. There is of course a reason for it, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Hameed, has very properly touched on it.

They feel they are disliked by us. The Muslims now feel that people of this country think of every Muslim as a terrorist. That has had a very important and negative effect on relationships. We all know, of course, what Islam is like, but do they know what Islam is like? I am surprised that none of your Lordships has mentioned what happens in mosques, which are the crucial areas where recruitment and extremisation of people takes place.

Lord Sheikh Portrait Lord Sheikh
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You have made a statement about mosques. Where is your evidence?

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I will get you evidence, but I do not have it to hand at the moment. I hope you realise that it is happening. Schoolchildren go to mosques every day; they have no time to do their homework and they are falling behind in education. What is wrong with seeing that the imams are properly educated, that they can speak English and that they know what Islam teaches? One of the most important aspects of starting integration is making sure that people who go to a mosque are taught Islam in the proper way, as has been spoken about in this Chamber. I am sorry to say this is not happening.

The second point, which I am very keen on, is that the young—young men in particular—are not skilled in anything. It is time we started programmes for skilling them. Education is important, and they are lagging behind in it, but if we can give them a skill to earn their living, we might see a change in their lives. We do not want young people to not get jobs, to live on benefits all their lives and then start the trend again. Their fathers may be on benefits, they are going to be on benefits, their children will be on benefits. This is what happened in Northern Ireland. We must stop this somewhere. We have to start doing programmes, we have to skill them, and we have to make sure that they are capable of holding proper jobs. This will give them self-respect and respect from other people as well, which is very important. I repeat that we must make sure the imams in the mosques are properly educated and are teaching the people proper Islam, not what they think is Islam. If you talk to young Muslim people, they do not think like that. They do not say “Islam is a religion of peace”. They say that they want this country to become Islamic; they want to change this country into an Islamic country.

I am also very concerned about the advent of Sharia, particularly because it is discriminatory against women. That is not the way we live in this country. We have an Equality Act, yet we allow Sharia, which is totally discriminatory to women, to deal with family situations. No boy over seven is given to the mother—he automatically goes to the father. Property rights are not respected. I hope that your Lordships, especially those of you who are Muslims, will do your best to change these things.