Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:01 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench 8:01 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I have lived in this country most of my life. In fact, I do not call it “this country” now; I call it “my country”. It has been good to me. I have done well and things have happened, but of course some effort has to be made by the person who comes. That is a separate story. The country has been good to me and I have enjoyed living here.

I want to remind noble Lords of a couple of things from the gracious Speech. It talks about discrimination against anybody on the basis of,

“race, faith, gender, disability or sexual orientation”.

It goes on to say that,

“Legislation will be brought forward to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse”.

I read that because there is a group, particularly of women, who are victims of abuse, discrimination and domestic violence. These are Muslim women who, under sharia, have no rights whatever to do anything about their situation. They cannot get a divorce. Men can get a divorce in five minutes, sometimes by email. Women cannot get a divorce. Noble Lords may ask why they need a sharia divorce, if they can have a divorce under British law. They need a divorce because, if they visit their families in Pakistan, the husband can take their children away. After the age of seven, the husband can always take the children away. Every aspect of sharia is discriminatory.

I do not know whether noble Lords remember the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, who has retired. He studied sharia and said that not one thing in sharia is non-discriminatory against women. We are allowing this to go on in this country. No system such as sharia should have been allowed to take root in this country, but we have allowed it because we do not like to be nasty to anybody. It does not matter if half the Muslim population has no rights, because we must not be nasty to them. Well, we should be. It is time for us to protect our values.

Our values are about equal treatment for women. Women did not get equality in this country by sitting about and waiting for it. They fought for it. They really did fight for it, and it took them a long time to get equality. It is time that British women, whatever their faith or background, are treated the same. If these were white British women, would we accept that treatment? We would not. It is time that we looked at this more clearly.

People may say, “Let’s not do anything: it is about their religion and culture”. But if religion and culture hit at the most fundamental values of this country, the loss will be ours. We will lose our own values, by which we have lived and that we have fought for for so long. We have to do something about stopping this erosion, because it is completely wrong.

Nazir Afzal was the chief crown prosecutor in Manchester and became head of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. He said this so well that I do not want to get it wrong. He said:

“We all have a responsibility to stand up for British values and the rule of law”,

and by that I mean democracy, women’s rights and the rights of other minorities. That is a cornerstone of our values, and we should not forget it. It should always be there in our minds.

The time is so short, but I want to say that sharia is not really a proper law as such. It is not a law in the Koran, although it is based on Koranic principles. It may have been acceptable in the 7th century, but we are now in 21st-century Britain. Should it be acceptable today? It should not.

I end with a word from Sara Khan in the Times. She said that we need to fret less about religious sensitivities and become more intolerant of intolerance. We should keep that in mind.