Ethnic Minorities Debate

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Baroness Williams of Trafford

Main Page: Baroness Williams of Trafford (Conservative - Life peer)

Ethnic Minorities

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Monday 6th July 2015

(9 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I add to the comments from other noble Lords thanking my noble friend Lady Berridge for securing this debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I think we could have gone on for at least another hour and brought so many things into it.

It is a particularly poignant day to discuss this issue because we remembered today in Westminster Abbey the anniversary of the atrocities in Srebrenica in Bosnia. This atrocity, against predominantly Muslim Bosnians, is a reminder that hate should not be tolerated in any of its ugly guises. That event was all the more shocking for the speed at which it gathered pace and the horrors that unfolded because of it. The UK is leading the way in commemorating this atrocity with a series of events across the country including the service today. I am very pleased that today the Prime Minister also announced a further £1.2 million of funding for the Remembering Srebrenica charity.

Britain is multiethnic and it is multifaith. According to the 2011 census, some 12% of the population of the UK identify as belonging to an ethnic minority. Members of the UK’s ethnic minority communities, including the many different communities of African, Caribbean and Asian descent, have made an enormous contribution to the UK’s social, economic and cultural life, including to our public institutions. They have also made an enormous contribution to our faith communities, and the Government recognise this.

Faith is a powerful force motivating millions of people to do good in their local communities. Faith communities play a valuable role in British society. They provide hope and encouragement to their adherents, they strengthen local communities and they contribute to the well-being of their neighbours. At this point I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lady Eaton does in the Near Neighbours project. I visited a Near Neighbours project and was very impressed by the positive contribution it makes, not only across faiths but across ages and different communities and the benefit that it brings to those communities.

Many faith groups are the heartbeat of communities up and down the country, providing comfort to those who feel isolated, responding in times of trouble to relieve hardship and building communities of trust so that people respect each other. At this point I applaud the generosity and social-minded spirit of our Dharmic faith communities. The temples and the Gurdwaras across the country regularly throw open their doors to offer meals to those in need. I also welcome the commitment among many Christian groups to social action. This includes the black majority churches that do excellent work providing welfare services for the elderly and for ex-offenders. I am sure that the whole House looks forward to welcoming the first female Lords Spiritual in the autumn. I also commend the work of the Church of England’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns on the subject of diversity in church leadership and I warmly welcome the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark this evening.

A few noble Lords talked on the subject of Muslim marriage and a Muslim marriage working group, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Justice, has been looking at how best to promote awareness of religious-only marriages and the benefit of having a marriage that is legally contracted. The Government are looking at ways of communicating this benefit to those Muslim women who might be unaware of their rights under English civil and family law. Both my noble friend Lady Berridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about the lack of mosques registered for marriage and the mention of a Law Commission marriage project. There are 263 mosques and other buildings where Muslim faith is practised which are registered for the solemnisation of marriages. The Law Commission is currently under- taking a preliminary scoping study to prepare the way for potential future reform of the law concerning marriage ceremonies and the commission is due to report by December.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather also mentioned churches allowing first-cousin marriages and the resultant problems that can arise. I will just put it on the record that it is, in fact, against British law and against canon law to marry your first cousin.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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I thought that it was the church which said you could marry first cousins and therefore it is in the law. These are first-cousin marriages on a large scale.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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My Lords, I can confirm that first-cousin marriages are against the law in this country and the church does not condone them—not any church that I know of, anyway.

Several noble Lords talked about public body appointments. BME police officers currently make up 5.2% of police officers nationally and 11% in the Metropolitan Police area. The police have worked hard to improve equality and diversity since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. More women and members of ethnic minorities have joined the service. But we are clear that there is more for forces to do. Our reforms will allow for faster progress on equality and diversity. Police and crime commissioners and the College of Policing will play a key role in ensuring improvements in police forces. New entry routes to policing, such as Direct Entry, Fast Track and Police Now are proving attractive and are increasing the diversity of the police workforce.

A couple of noble Lords talked about the National Health Service, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the contribution that faith communities have made to it. NHS England and the NHS Equality and Diversity Council have overseen work to support employees from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in having equal access to career opportunities and receiving fair treatment in the workplace. The move follows recent reports that have highlighted disparities in the number of BME people in senior leadership positions across the NHS, as well as lower levels of well-being among the BME population.

A couple of noble Lords mentioned the contribution to the Armed Forces by the BME community. My noble friend Lord Sheikh and another noble Lord who I shall be reminded of shortly talked about how the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to a non-white was to a Muslim. We recognised VC recipients from across the Commonwealth back in March but I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work that they did in fighting for this country.

Turning to individual points that noble Lords have made, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, talked about the slightly contradictory role of faith—we come across this all the time—on one hand, helping; on the other hand, perhaps not helping so much. She talked about the NAZ project: how the faith communities have worked hand in glove with the HIV positive community and the very positive contribution they have made there.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, talked about how we have come such a long way. She talked about the sign that one would see on B&Bs many years ago—not in my lifetime, but in my parents’ lifetime—“No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. If that was still in place today, neither she nor I could get into a bed and breakfast and we probably would not be in your Lordships’ House. That might be a good thing in my case but it certainly shows how much society has changed.

My noble friend Lord Popat talked about the freedom, the tolerance and the opportunities that this country has given him. It is always a joy to listen to him and hear just how proud he is to live in this country as a British citizen. He talked about the contribution of Britain’s ethnic minorities to business, and I could not agree more.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Flather, talked about strengthening faith institutions, including the response to child grooming claims. My department is considering applications for a strengthening faith institutions funding programme. The funding will be used to develop training materials and provide practical support to new and emerging faith institutions. This support will include safeguarding, best practice and signposting to important social and health services.

I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lord Sheikh does in promoting not only cohesion in this country but a number of other aspects of integration in society. He talked—very sensibly, I think—about the actions of the few not tainting the many among our faith communities. I think that is so true. He also paid tribute to the contributions of Muslims in both business and sport—Amir Khan and Mo Farah, among others—and the representation that we have now in both Houses of what is, in the Muslim community, a very young population. He is absolutely right about that. I wish him and other noble Lords a peaceful Ramadan and encourage everyone to visit their local mosque and share in the breaking of the fast as part of the Big Iftar. It is a very enjoyable event.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, talked about the education standards that Catholic schools provide and the great community role that they inarguably play. It is good to know where the Catholics are in this House—including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I wondered how many Catholics were in this House when I arrived and it is good to identify them as time goes on. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about the Cardinal Hume centre, which I would like to visit with him one day if I may.

My noble friend Lord Popat talked about the faith covenant. I note that idea. The Government welcome the contribution of Britain’s faith communities united in our shared appreciation for British values.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, asked about government support for the Million Minutes charity. I welcome the work that she referred to and would be very happy to meet with her.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Eaton talked about the contribution of the Jewish community, not just in the country but particularly in the metropolitan areas of the north. I very much enjoyed listening to her talking about the arrival of the Jewish people in the 19th century, the Jewish merchants, Jacob Behrens and his knighthood, and their contribution to philanthropy —the sums she mentioned were incredible in those days. She also mentioned the soldiers in the First World War; she is the Member of your Lordships’ House to whom I was referring earlier.

My Lords, I have gone over time which is not good. I thank again all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. In terms of the ethnic diversity of this country, it is not where we are from, it is where we are going.

House adjourned at 8.27 pm.