Asked if the Prime Minister welcomed the suggestion from the Archbishop of Canterbury that there were certain parts of the country that were being run by Sharia law, the PMS replied that in relation to Sharia law, there were instances where the Government had made changes; for example, we had changed the regulations around stamp duty in order to incorporate Sharia-compliant mortgage products. However, our general position was that Sharia law could not be used as a justification for committing breaches of British law, nor could the principals of Sharia law be applied in civil court in reaching a decision on a contractual dispute under British law.
Asked if that meant that it could be used for settling disputes in a civil court on issues that were not to do with a specific contractual dispute, the PMS said that, in general, if there were specific instances, like stamp duty, where changes could be made in a way that was consistent with British law and British values, in order to accommodate the concerns of Muslims who held religious beliefs, then that was something that the Government could look at. In general, it was British law that applied in this country.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought about the Archbishop’s comments, the PMS replied that the Archbishop had expressed his view and that there would always be a debate on these issues. The PMS went on to repeat that, where there were specific instances where changes could be made in order to accommodate the wishes of Muslims who held religious beliefs, then that was something that the Government would look at.
Asked if the Prime Minister felt that the Archbishop’s comments were unhelpful, the PMS replied that he would not say that; the Prime Minister had a good relationship with the Archbishop and the Archbishop was perfectly entitled to express his views.
Asked if the Government would be willing to look into this subject in more detail if somebody came forward with a specific issue relating to family law/divorce for example, the PMS replied that people made representations to the Government all the time and we looked at them. Overall, it was important that British values were maintained.
Asked how this helped integration and put repeatedly that what the Archbishop had said suggested that there should be a separate law to that of British law, the PMS replied that the Archbishop had made his comments and that people would no doubt have a debate about what was said. The Prime Minister was clear that in Britain, British laws based on British values applied.
Put that British values would not apply in a Sharia court, the PMS replied that he was not suggesting that that was what the Government was going to do.
Put that the Archbishop had not been talking about mortgages but of wider issues and asked if the Prime Minister had agreed with what he said, the PMS replied that he had not been suggesting that the Archbishop had been talking about mortgages and repeated that the Prime Minister believed that, in Britain, British law should apply and that those laws should be based on British values.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that Sharia law was incompatible with British values, the PMS said that if there were particular instances, like mortgages, where Muslims held very strong opinions and it was possible to make changes in a way that was not incompatible with the principles underlying British law, then of course specific cases could be looked at.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought Sharia law was being used to justify criminal activity, the PMS said that he was not going to get into a big discussion about Sharia law; he had made the Prime Minister’s views on this clear.
Asked about the exceptions for Muslims regarding stamp duty, the PMS replied that, as interest could not apply to Islamic mortgages, ownership of the house was transferred over to the bank and rent was paid on it. At the end of the period, the house was then transferred back to the owner. Stamp duty would be paid when ownership was passed to the bank and then again when ownership was transferred from the bank to the original owner.
Asked if the Prime Minister would meet with members of the Sharia Council, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was happy to meet with representatives of different communities in Britain.
Asked if the Prime Minister was worried that speaking on this subject strongly would stir up inter-communal violence and tension, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had led the debate about Britishness and the importance of British values in this country.