Contribution to debate on UK military action in Syria – 2 December 2015

Organisations such as Daesh—known by some as ISIS—in the Middle East, the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Africa were born from the ashes of wars in Iraq, Libya and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and injustices in the Middle East.

My country of origin, Pakistan, has seen some of the worst atrocities committed by the Taliban targeting mosques, shrines and schools, killing more than 45,000 Pakistani men, women and children. Pakistan’s army is currently fully engaged in eradicating these extremists and terrorists from the country, with the unanimous approval of its Parliament, including the religious parties, and the full support of its public.

Daesh is known to be responsible for current mass killings in Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey and France. It has forcefully acquired a large area of Iraq and Syria by defeating both armies. That shows that it has some of the most modern weapons and military force. I believe that terrorists who kill children in schools, worshippers in mosques and churches, innocent shoppers, passengers and other ordinary peaceful men, women and children, or blow themselves up in busy marketplaces, causing carnage, have no religion or faith. They need to be defeated.

The question in front of us today is whether Britain should join its allies in military action against Daesh in Syria. I am not a legal expert, so I will not argue about the legality of the air strikes against Daesh, as many legal experts in this House have already given their views on it. However, some serious questions need answering. I wish to ask the Minister a few questions.

First, the use of force should be undertaken as a last resort. Have we exhausted all the peaceful means to neutralise Daesh, particularly by depriving it of weapons and finance?

Secondly, from the information available it seems that the allied forces have very little, if any, intelligence on the ground in Daesh-controlled areas, so they rely heavily on images taken from the skies above these areas. How do they distinguish Daesh from groups of students, religious congregations, funeral gatherings or the Free Syrian Army?

Thirdly, would victims of any potential friendly-fire air strikes not radicalise more people? Russian forces are involved in bombing anti-Assad forces. What pressure is being applied on Russia to see an end to that? Will more bombing not create more destabilisation and lead to more people fleeing Syria? Are the UK Government willing to accept more refugees? Will our actions make the UK and the rest of the world any safer?

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Speech on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill (2nd Day of Report Stage) 4 Feb 2015

My Lords, as somebody who has been deputy leader of Luton Borough Council, I support my colleague’s amendment. Luton has been in the media because of its extremists, and we do have a small number of people who hold extreme views. Nevertheless, it is on record that out of the 22—or now perhaps 24—mosques in the town, none of them allows those few extremists to use its platforms to spread their messages. Some of them have worked with ex-offenders and those who might have been involved in other activities.

Might I give an example of how this is going to affect them? One of the imams of those mosques, whom I knew very well, was working on a project with ex-offenders. It was a successful, well recognised piece of work that he had been involved with for years. He had worked with internationally recognised charities in Syria. Recently, when he gave in his passport to be renewed, the passport was held. We do not know the reasons; he has approached me and said, “Can you help me?”. He has tried to speak to the Passport Office; he spoke to the crime commissioner and his local Member of Parliament, but he is not getting anywhere. He said to me, “Lord Hussain, if I have done something wrong, just tell me that I have done something wrong. If it is wrong for me to go to work with a charity in Syria, I will not go to work with those charities in Syria, much as I would like to. But I don’t think I have done anything wrong”.

We have to give proper training to our staff in order to carry out these laws. Experience shows what went on when we tried to implement stop and search, a piece of legislation that the police actually admitted that they were not sufficiently trained to carry out. My fear is that we are going to alienate communities if we do not accept the amendments, which I support.

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Written Question: Extradition

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many individuals were extradited to the United Kingdom in each of the last two years; and for each year what were the nationalities of those individuals.

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Question on Kashmir: Line of Control – 20 Nov 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of peace and stability in the south Asian region, particularly in the light of the current tension and cross-border firing between India and Pakistan at the Kashmir Line of Control.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we are concerned about the recent incidents that have taken place on both sides of the line of control and international border between India and Pakistan. Our long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution that takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the United Kingdom to prescribe a solution or to mediate in finding one.

Lord Hussain (LD): I thank the Minister for that Answer. We know that India and Pakistan have been to war three times over Kashmir. If any of these tensions escalate into another war, now that both countries are nuclear powers, that war could well be nuclear. Hence, is it not incumbent on the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, including Great Britain, to help to de-escalate the tension across the line of control, demilitarise the Kashmir region and help to create a conducive environment for the Kashmiri people to have their right to self-determination, as we have seen given to the Scottish people in recent weeks?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I recognise my noble friend’s family background. He was raised in the Pakistani-administered state of Kashmir, so I realise that he has long-standing experience and ties. He has also worked hard for Kashmiri charities in this country, and I admire that. It is indeed in everyone’s interest that there is peace, security and prosperity in south Asia. The UK will do all that it can to encourage India and Pakistan to take the steps necessary to strengthen their relationship. However, the pace and scope of their dialogue has to be for them to determine, not for others.

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Speech on the Assisted Dying Bill – 7 Nov 2014

My Lords, from day one, I was minded not to support the Assisted Dying Bill and made my views known to fellow Members of this House. However, I have listened to today’s debate. My reasons for not supporting the Bill are my faith—everybody has their own faith and can choose whether to follow it—but also a personal experience.

Some 25 years ago, my father was critically ill. After he had been many days in hospital, I was told that he was going to die and that, if we wanted to take him home, we could. And we did. I was told that it could be a few hours, a few days, a few weeks or even a few months, but that he was on his way to dying and that there was nothing we could do to help him to live longer.

In the condition that he was in, I was feeling my father’s pain. I would do anything in my control at that time to help him, but I could not. However, when we took him home, he surprised not only me but the doctors and everybody else. Not only did he pull through that situation but he is still alive. He is nearly 90 now. I am glad that this Bill was not approved at that time and that we did not have the ability to assist him to die, otherwise we would have helped to kill a person who is still alive after 25 years.

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Question on Faith Group Relationships – 8 July 2014

Lord Hussain (LD): My Lords, will the Minister tell the House if she thinks that the Government’s approach in dealing with the so-called Trojan horse issue is a help or a hindrance in the fight to tackle extremism in this country?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point; everything that we do in tackling extremism must be done in a way that actually resolves extremism. Our language, our policy approach and our conduct must satisfy the end goal rather than the process.

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Speech on the Second Reading of the Deregulation Bill (taxis and private hire vehicles) – 7 July 2014

My Lords, I want to address the provisions relating to taxis and private hire vehicles. We choose to use taxi operators that we trust. If I ask my children to use a taxi at an odd time, I tell them which taxi rank to use, because that is the one that I have confidence in and which I trust. The proposal to allow taxis to subcontract to other operators will mean that it will not be possible for anybody to have their choice. We are going to take the choice away from people about which operator they want to use. We change operators from time to time when we are not satisfied with a particular company, but if this Bill is approved, we will have no control over who will come. It may well be a company that you have left because you were not satisfied with it. If you ring company A, company B may turn up, and you may not necessarily want to use it. Therefore, we need to think again about this particular aspect of the Bill allowing subcontracting to other firms.

Regarding the provision allowing a driver without a PHV licence to drive a licensed PHV when it is not being used for private hire, I know many people in the taxi trade. Many of my family are in the trade and I know that by allowing taxis to be used by others, some of them may benefit. In some cases, spouses may want to use the car when it is not being used for taxiing purposes, but they cannot at the moment because the law does not allow them to do so. In that case, it would be helpful to allow other family members to use those vehicles for other purposes—for family purposes—when they are off duty.

However, I have been strongly lobbied by many companies and unions, particularly Unite, GMB and RMT, which have put some valid points forward. There is a higher risk that those cars could be used as taxis by rogue drivers. They could be made available to those who are not necessarily taxi drivers and have not taken their tests. By allowing this to happen, we could compromise public safety. However, it may well help if we allowed named drivers to use those vehicles instead of any driver. In that case, at least we would know that the people who use those vehicles will be known to family members. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to this and perhaps have named drivers, instead of any person, driving those vehicles when they are not being used for taxiing purposes.

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Question on Israel and Palestine – 8 April 2014

Lord Hussain (LD): Since the resumption of talks between the Palestinians and Israelis last year, how many times have the Government of Israel announced new settlements in the occupied areas? How is that helping the negotiations?

Baroness Warsi (Con): There have been further settlement announcements since negotiations resumed last year: first, on 8 August last year, secondly on 30 October, thirdly on 3 November and then on 6 January this year. As I said, this is not an issue of playing the blame game. Both sides are doing things that were not agreed to, which is why we want them to get back to the negotiating table and do what was agreed.

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Speech in support of Amendment 54 to the Immigration Bill – 3 April 2014

My Lords, when the Government brought in this law, withdrawing the right of asylum seekers who have been here for more than six months to work, I do not know what they intended to achieve, or what they have achieved so far by having that law. It does not prevent any people coming into the country. It is not an immigration issue at all. We are talking about people who are already in this country, asylum seekers whose applications are being dealt with. Through no fault of their own, their applications are taking longer than six months. We are still saying that they should not be able to work.

This law drives people into deep poverty. They are more vulnerable to exploitation. They should have a right to work, like everyone else, and they should be able to feel proud that they are not living on handouts but working for their families. This is one good thing that the children can be proud of as well. Therefore, the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Roberts should be supported. I support it. I hope that the Minister will look into this and be sympathetic to the cause of the asylum seekers.

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Speech on the Sikh Community [Question for Short Debate] – 3 March 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Singh, for securing this debate. I was aware of the almost unanimous outcry of the Sikh community all over the world on the invasion of the Golden Temple by the Indian armed forces in 1984. This was a tragic event that resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives that could have been avoided.

The recent release of the report by the UK Government regarding the attack on the Sri Harmandir Sahib—Golden Temple—complex has raised more questions on the British involvement in this operation. I have had long discussions with Sikh leaders, including my friend and colleague, Parmjit Singh Gill, a former Member of the other House and one of only five Sikhs ever elected to it. He has worked robustly on the issue, both before the release of the report and after. I believe that, along with other Sikh leaders, he has met some of the most senior people in the Government, including the Cabinet Secretary, the Deputy Prime Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi.

On behalf of the British Sikh community, I wish to raise the following points. First, the Cabinet Secretary had reported that a key file on the provision of military advice to the Indian authorities on their plans for the attack in June 1984 was destroyed by the Ministry of Defence in November 2009. It remains unclear why such an important file was destroyed, and this lessens the credibility of the internal inquiry. Given the incredible importance of the 1984 attack to the Sikh faith, who took the decision to destroy the files and how was that decision taken? Was it taken at the ministerial level?

Secondly, Parliament appeared to have been misled at the time, following a Question on 30 July 1984 by the then MP for Slough, John Watts, who asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions Her Majesty’s Government had had with the Government of India about the incident—the attack on the Sri Harmandir Sahib, or Golden Temple. Ray Whitney, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary, replied:

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has received petitions and numerous letters from the Sikh community in the UK about recent events in Punjab. As this is an internal Indian matter, we have not sought to discuss it with the Indian Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/7/84; col. 111W.]

Is this not contrary to the fact now established that they were in discussions and had provided military advice?

Thirdly, the media had reported in January 2014 that the then Prime Minister had ordered an inquiry to be carried out by the Cabinet Secretary which would cover the events of 1984. However, the inquiry covered only the period up to the start of the attack and no other events, which included the genocide of Sikhs that followed later that year. Clearly, the parameters of the review were too narrow, and it has been alleged that the terms of reference, which have not been published, changed during the inquiry. Would it not have made sense, if the inquiry was to carry the confidence of the Sikh community, to review and release all documentation covering the 1984 events, and over a much broader period of time, including the genocide of Sikhs in 1984? Despite the review and report, why have the details of the specific advice that was given not been revealed, nor the reason that the UK Government agreed to advise the Indian Government on how to attack the Sikhs’ holiest shrine?

Fourthly, when the Foreign Secretary delivered his Statement in the other place on 4 February 2014, Members raised questions suggesting that defence-related commercial interests had been advanced on the basis of providing advice to India and that measures had been taken by the UK Government to stop Sikhs in the UK exercising their democratic right to hold peaceful gatherings. Will the Minister comment on that?

Fifthly, what sanctions, if any, did the Government of India threaten the UK with in order to secure its silence when a genocide of Sikhs was taking place in India in 1984?

Finally, given the gravity of the decision by the UK Government of 30 years ago to provide military advice to the Indian authorities, which led to the series of events resulting in thousands of innocent Sikhs losing their lives, the very least that the estimated half a million Sikhs in the UK are entitled to from this Government is a full, independent, judge-led public inquiry so that the truth can finally come out. Will my noble friend promise a full, independent, judge-led public inquiry to establish the facts about the extent of British involvement in the Golden Temple invasion, to satisfy the British Sikh community?

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