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GulamNoon.jpgKamlesh Patel offers an appreciation of his friend and fellow Labour Peer, Lord Noon who died last month

Lord Noon once said: “’Courage and integrity’ is my motto and has helped me throughout my life. You have to be brave, you have to be honest, and you have to keep your integrity alive. Finally, keep the spirit of charity alive.” Noon didn’t just say these words, I can vouch for the fact that he lived by them.

I first met Noon in January 2011 just weeks before he was to be introduced to the Lords and I was asked to be his mentor. As a social worker from the north of England, I thought that I would have absolutely nothing in common with this business entrepreneur from London. Yet in the few - and too short – years I came to know him, I found that we had so many ideals and beliefs in common that he became more than a colleague but a very close and dear friend.

Noon didn’t consider his wealth as a mark of success but believed that came from what he accomplished with it; and I came to understand that as great as his passion for business was, he had an even greater passion for helping others, especially those less fortunate in life, both here in the UK and in India. 

Noon never forgot his roots – he was born in a single-room house he shared with eight people on Mumbai’s crowded Mohammed Ali Road – nor his dedication to the UK, which he believed had given him his chance in life. He set up his sweet stall, Bombay Halwa, in Southall, west London, in 1972 before launching Noon Products 17 years later.

There are now thousands of people in Britain, in India and throughout the world who have benefited from his enterprise and the jobs he created. But through the worst of times, when it truly mattered, he never lost his integrity. In 1994, a fire in his factory destroyed everything and he came close to being ruined. Noon was advised to formally dismiss his employees as a way of reducing his financial liabilities. He completely rejected this advice however, and insisted on paying their weekly wages – even though none could work. Within 10 weeks, the company was able to restart; and in fact successfully expanded. 

Noon actively wanted to serve the community and work towards the betterment of others. So in 1995, with £4 million of his own money, he set up the Noon Foundation – a charitable trust. He sponsored many charities and organisations in the UK and India, including the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, the Prince’s Trust and the British Library. Not only did he provide much needed funds, but most importantly he gave his personal time, energy, advice and guidance to ensure they were successful and sustainable.  I was fortunate enough to have been to India with him and see first-hand the magnificent hospital he had built, which serves people who have nothing and are in the greatest need.  He also provided community halls, sports centres, libraries and even funded a woman’s police station.

Noon also fundamentally believed in education. His contributions ranged from funding scholarships and funding mature students to take night classes, to supporting the establishment of a number of educational centres, including The Noon Centre for Equality & Diversity in Business at the University of East London, where he was Chancellor. The Centre finally gave him the opportunity to merging his two passions in life – business and entrepreneurship, and tackling inequalities – and to create what he called his ‘big footprint’.

Finally, we were both avid cricket fans, sharing a love of the sport. He was a Surrey and England supporter (except when they were playing India!) and had a personal collection of well over 100 autographed cricket bats. Once again, he used his wealth to support the game and helped fund the establishment of the ‘India Room’ at The Oval.

When I was training to be a social worker, I was taught not to judge people, but to try and walk in another person’s shoes before making assertions. Noon spent a lifetime walking in a million people’s shoes and he was not judgmental, looking for good in everyone – although he didn’t suffer fools gladly.  In Noon I found a truly gracious and dignified man; and a good human being who lived up to his motto of courage and integrity and touched the lives of so many people through his entrepreneurial spirit, philanthropic nature and thirst for education.  We will surely miss him – I know I will.

Lord Kamlesh Patel is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordKPatel

Published 26th November 2015

Remembering Gulam Noon, the Lord Noon

Kamlesh Patel offers an appreciation of his friend and fellow Labour Peer, Lord Noon who died last month

AngelaSmith.jpgAngela Smith responds on the floor of the Lords to David Cameron's statement

My Lords – I am grateful to the Noble Lady for repeating the Prime Minister’s statement; and also welcome the publication of the Prime Minister’s response to Foreign Affairs Committee. Both are of necessity, detailed and cover a range of issues which all members of Your Lordships House will wish to consider and reflect on. 

The first duty of any government is the safety, the security and the wellbeing of its citizens.

My party does not take an isolationist or non-interventionist position, and we have never been reluctant to use force when it has been deemed necessary. 

I understand and appreciate how difficult it is when making such judgements to ensure that decisions are right and fair and actions justified.

Our interventions as a Labour Government in 1999 to protect Muslim Kosovo Albanians from genocide by Milosevic and in Macedonia in 2001 were central and crucial to the protection of citizens and supporting peace. 

We used military action in Sierra Leone to bring order and stability and we still have British citizens there playing a central role in building and maintaining that stability. And we have provided military support in times of humanitarian crisis – for example fighting Ebola across West Africa.

My Lords – Your Lordships House, Parliament as a whole and indeed the general public are convinced of the evil and brutality of ISIL.  They are very aware and well informed of the atrocities.  Paris brought it so close to home that not only are ISIL willing and apparently rejoicing in causing death, terror and mayhem but that they have the capacity to do so. 

And if anyone has any doubts that such attacks will continue you only have to look at the videos and messages posted on line – as recently as last night – they are chilling, frightening and must increase our determination to protect our citizens.

Our efforts must focus on a comprehensive strategy to tackle not just the actions of ISIL but also the environment which encourages such views to develop.  And we have to support the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the UK who themselves challenge and reject such violent interpretation of their religion and culture.

That is why any strategy to defeat ISIL has to be so much more than military action alone.

My Lords, as we know the UK is already engaged militarily, providing intelligence and logistical support to our allies, who are flying missions over Syria.  We are directly involved in targeted military bombing in Iraq. And we must judge any proposed extension of UK involvement by the wider support it can gain, by the contribution that it would make to the chances of success, and by the additional capacity it would create. 

Any proposals brought forward must also be judged against how it contributes to the future transition towards peace and stability, and the protection and security of our citizens in the UK. But there are also broader issues. There is not just a war to be won – there is also a peace to be won.

The issues raised by the Foreign Affairs committee are focused on the issue of extending military operations, and identified seven challenges to the Government that should be addressed before the Prime Minister should ask House of Commons to consider this. 

When the Report was published a month ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee was not convinced that the Government would be able to provide convincing answers to the points raised. Of course, we will all want to consider the Prime Minister’s answers and the Committee’s response.

The conflict in the region is not straightforward.  Indeed, it is complex. The civil war in Syria hasn’t just meant the physical collapse of a country, it’s also meant the absolute collapse of society. The skills and the commitment to peace of those who have been forced to leave their homeland and become refuges will be needed to build the future.

So when the extension of air strikes on strategic targets to Syria is considered it must be as part of a political, diplomatic, humanitarian and economic strategy. 

We will seek reassurances that the Government fully understands and will be engaged in and committed to working closely with countries in the region to work towards the reconstruction and peace process.  The Vienna talks are vital.  Whatever the difficulties, that framework and bringing together so many countries provides some movement toward political and diplomatic progress. 


I have just a few questions for the Noble Lady that I hope she can address…

Can she say what assessment has been made of any direct threat to British citizens from ISIL?

Can the NL be clear about the additional capacity British participation would bring militarily, given the support that is already being provided?

Has any assessment been made of the impact of UK involvement in terms of the success of the objectives of military engagement?

Can she confirm whether the Service Chiefs of Staff been able to participate directly in the decision making process by providing expert strategic advice?

My Lords, she will understand the concerns about any possible unintended consequences of increased military action, particularly regarding civilian casualties.  Can she also say something about the impact of military action in Iraq, and civilian casualties in Iraq as a result of UK actions?

The Government’s response says that ‘a political solution to the Syria conflict is finally a realistic prospect’ following the establishment of International Syria Support Group and the Vienna talks. This is going to be a difficult process. The statement rightly states that this issue must not be reduced to a choice between Assad and ISIL. But can she say something more about the longer terms future of Assad and how the British Government can achieve its objectives, given the atrocities that he and his government have been responsible for?

Finally, can she say something further about the legal basis for military action following the UNSC meeting on 20th November?

My Lords – today’s statement will obviously be considered carefully over the coming days before the Prime Minister brings any motion before Parliament. These are not issues on which Your Lordships House has a vote, but I do hope that given the experience and wisdom here – in the military, diplomatic, political and humanitarian areas, that we will have an opportunity for an early debate. Can I urge that the Prime Minister consults with those in this House whose expertise will be of great value?

- Ends -

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon

Published 26th November 2015

Response to the Prime Minister’s statement on Syria

Angela Smith responds on the floor of the Lords to David Cameron's statement

MaggieJones2014.JPGMaggie Jones calls on the UK government to have a clear plan of action for dealing with climate change

Last week, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) produced its annual Red List of threatened species. From polar bears to fungi, the scientists have now identified 23,250 species threatened with extinction. This list matters because it acts as an early warning system about something more profound and ugly happening to our planet. Never before has one species dominated an ecosystem so completely. Through our actions we are undermining the very biodiversity which keeps nature in balance and sustains us.

I will raising these concerns today in a Lords debate on the impact of human actions on biodiversity. The truth is that the scale of population growth and the resulting drain on natural resources is increasingly unsustainable. In 1950, the global population was 2.4bn. It is now over 7bn and rising. Forests are being cleared to accommodate expanding populations but also to meet the insatiable appetites of consumers in the developed world. For example, replacing trees with cattle ranches in the Amazon to produce beef for export. This results in a major loss of species, but more crucially jeopardises our reliance on the forests to be our global lungs – absorbing carbon via photosynthesis.

Like the forests, the oceans are an essential part of our life support system – generating half of the world’s oxygen and absorbing almost a third of carbon dioxide. But rising sea temperatures and increasing acidity is dramatically weakening the marine eco system. The recent World Wildlife Fund Report Living Blue Planet shows a decline of 49% in the size of global marine populations between 1970 and 2012. At the same time, overfishing is reducing food fish such as tuna, mackerel and bonito. This is a disaster for those in the developing world who rely heavily on the ocean’s resources.

At its heart, the increase in CO2 emissions and its effect on climate change is at the core of our planet’s challenge. If current trends continue, it is predicted that the earth will be one degree warmer by 2025 and three degrees by 2100. This can already be seen in the reductions of snow and ice cover. The IUCN report highlights the loss of artic sea ice which has been declining at a linear rate of 14% per decade since 1979. This not only affects the survival of native species, it represents a major global environmental threat.

Rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions such as drought, flooding and hurricanes will further threaten habitats and potentially lead to huge population migrations. These trends require international understanding and cooperation on a heroic scale. Major changes need to be made to the way we live our lives. We can no longer go on burning fossil fuels and using up finite resources. We need to learn to respect and nurture our natural environment. The outcome of the forthcoming Paris talks on climate change is vitally important. It must be matched however with a passion for change – and clear programmes of action – from individual governments. Ironically, China is increasingly taking a lead in this regard.

Sadly, there is no similar enthusiasm from our own government. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power are being discouraged. The opportunities for building a world-class reputation for research and development in emerging technologies is being squandered. Instead the new emphasis is on investment in gas – putting in jeopardy our current EU CO2 reduction targets. Our credibility at Paris is already undermined and leadership is increasingly coming from elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the government is working on a 25 year plan for the environment and Labour will play its part in trying to raise the ambition and focus. Coordinated action is needed at a UN, EU and domestic level. Ministers however, have a long way to go before it can repair their battered green credentials and deliver a credible plan for sustainable one planet living.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 24th November 2015

One planet living

Maggie Jones calls on the UK government to have a clear plan of action for dealing with climate change

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