My Lords, Her Majesty’s gracious Speech made clear this Government’s commitment to defence and security, upholding human rights, and reducing poverty across the world. I am pleased to note that the Government will be taking forward the biggest increase in defence spending in 30 years, which will help to promote global peace and stability.
I am very concerned with the situation in Yemen, which has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Last Monday, I held a virtual meeting with the ambassadors of Yemen and the UAE to discuss how we can best support the country. What are the Government doing to support the peace process in Yemen? Can humanitarian aid to that country be continued as much as possible? I would like to see the aid budget restored to 0.7% as soon as possible. Will my noble friend comment on when the Government plan to reassess this commitment?
I am very interested in the well-being of our Armed Forces and I welcome the announcement in the gracious Speech to provide national insurance contribution relief for employers of veterans. This will help to support those who have already given so much to this country and is a step towards realising the Government’s commitment to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran. Our Armed Forces have played a significant role in shaping our country’s history. I pay tribute to the Muslims who have been an important part of our past. Unfortunately, the contribution of Muslims to our Armed Forces is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. In World War I, 2.5 million Muslims supported the allied forces with dignity and honour. In World War II, this increased to 5.5 million Muslims. Unfortunately, some Muslims paid the ultimate price in both wars.
I am the founder and chairman of the National Muslim War Memorial Trust, which is committed to recognising the contribution of Muslims to Britain’s Armed Forces, including the erection of a war memorial on a prominent site in central London. When I initially conceived the idea of setting up the charity, I wrote to my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and General Sir Nick Carter. They were both extremely supportive of the trust, and the support which I received from the Muslim community was very encouraging. The charity has now been established and, with my fellow trustee, my noble friend Lord Lexden, I have written to the Prime Minister and other Ministers regarding our initiative and hope to receive their support soon. I have also written to my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lord Ahmad. Can my noble friend Lord Ahmad confirm, in his closing remarks, if he is willing to support us and what support he may be able to give?
Our second objective is educational work. This will help to bring communities together and foster harmony between different groups. One of the key reasons why we set up the charity is to combat Islamophobia. People should realise the sacrifices Muslims have made to keep the union jack flying. Telling and building the story of their heroic service will help to build a better Britain for everyone. We are concerned about the findings of the report by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. My fellow trustee Major General Charles Fattorini had discussions with the commission, and we are actively looking at ways to support the report’s recommendations.
I also spoke to the Royal British Legion recently. It commends our efforts, and we look forward to working with it to explore ways in which we can be partners and support each other. Column 641is located hereI have already referred to the concession for veterans in the Queen’s Speech. I am hopeful that our charity will help to recognise the contribution of Muslim veterans and supplement the measures to address racial and ethnic disparities that were announced in the gracious Speech.
Finally, I, like many other Muslims across the world, was disturbed by the Israeli attack on the al-Aqsa mosque. To us Muslims, that mosque is the third holiest place in the world. I have visited it three times and prayed at it. It is sacred, and I believe that what has happened is sacrilege. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on what happened and perhaps try to ensure that it does not happen again?
Lord Sheikh’s question on the Statement on Israel and Gaza in the House of Lords on 20th May 2021
My Lords, I am very concerned at the loss of life and violent activities on both sides. I have been to Gaza as well as Israel, and I ask that we actively pursue securing the ceasefire immediately. However, I will refer to a question that I raised in your Lordships’ House yesterday but did not get a reply to. Like many Muslims in the world, I was very disturbed by the Israeli attacks on the al-Aqsa mosque; to us Muslims, it is the third holiest place in the world. I have visited and prayed there three times. It is sacred, and I believe that what has happened is sacrilege. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on what has happened and perhaps try to ensure that it does not happen again?
My Lords, my apologies; I was certainly writing to answer my noble friend’s question. I too have worshipped at the al-Aqsa mosque; it is a sacred site for Muslims. Equally, as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate, the whole essence of Jerusalem is important to all three Abrahamic faiths. Respect for the historic status quo in the holy sites in Jerusalem is also valid. Any violent action, particularly that which was taken on the eve of Laylat al-Qadr, is extremely tragic to see unfolding in a mosque, which is a place of peace. We need to ensure that the sanctity of places of worship is sustained.