Housing and Social Security

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 22nd June 2017.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:44 pm, 22nd June 2017

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that Open Doors does excellent work, and I am aware of it day to day. There are many organisations in the House, but Open Doors also takes the opportunity to stand up for and talk to people around the world.

So-called Islamic State has nearly succeeded in its attempt to eradicate the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria; the Christian population has plummeted from 1 million to 200,000 in Iraq, and from 1.25 million to 500,000 in Syria. Many Christians remain displaced and face discrimination that prevents them from gaining equal access to food, shelter, education and work. In May, 122 Christians in Eritrea were rounded up from their homes and detained, including disabled people and entire families. That escalation in the crackdown on Christians coincides with the Orthodox archbishop’s 10th year under incommunicado house arrest.

In April we saw the Russian Supreme Court’s decision to declare the Christian sect Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organisation, banning their headquarters and all 395 local organisations from operating and ordering their property to be seized by the state. That shows a clear escalation.

In Pakistan, only last week a Shi’ite man, Taimoor Raza, was charged with blasphemy and handed the death sentence, contrary to international law. That underlines the issues there. In Myanmar, since 2012 over 168,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled the country because of attacks by the military, including the burning of homes and the raping of women. Those are vile, evil, wicked deeds, and in some cases they are carried out by its Government.

Advancing freedom of religion or belief between faith communities helps to build tolerant and cohesive communities. I believe that it is a crucial component of Government policy, not only in preventing further violent attacks on people because of their faith, but in preventing violent extremism and achieving the sustainable development goals. There is a role to play for the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, I believe, the Ministry of Defence. I am pleased to see the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work on the Government Front Bench. This is not her responsibility, but I know that she will take my points on board.

The Government’s recent manifesto declared that they would

“expand our global efforts to combat…violence against people because of their faith”.

The Prime Minister has made a commitment to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practise their beliefs openly and in peace and safety. Perhaps the Minister responsible will clarify what those measures will be. For example, will they ensure that displaced communities in Iraq and Syria can return home safely? I offer the Government the APPG’s assistance in taking those measures forward.

As part of its membership of the EU, the UK has routinely asserted its commitment to promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief as part of its global human rights diplomacy. The UK regularly reports on its implementation of the EU guidelines for freedom of religion or belief and has made further commitments within the EU human rights framework. I ask the Minister responsible whether Her Majesty’s Government will retain the commitment to monitor and report their implementation of freedom of religion or belief through their representatives globally. I urge the Government to deepen their work with multilateral organisations such as the Commonwealth and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

I believe that the Government are committed to that in some of their policies, but I am seeking an assurance because it was not mentioned specifically in the Queen’s Speech, and I think it is important that we put down a marker now. There are many things that we would wish to see happen. This matter is very close to my heart, as it is to the hearts of many people across the whole United Kingdom. The fact that people are intimidated because of their religious beliefs, having to live in endangered neighbourhoods, or even killed, indicates how important this issue is.

I want to mention a few other things that also concern me. There are many aspects of Brexit that we wish to support and take forward. I commend the financial guidance and claims Bill. Age UK recently contributed to the Government’s consultation on the future of the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise. I support the proposal to create one agency, which I think would be a step in the right direction, as the Government have recognised. I also welcome the smart meters Bill, which I believe will help older people to manage their energy costs. We should support that initiative. There are many other issues that we also need to work on.

The votes are in and the Government are in place. The agreement between the DUP and the Government is not done just yet, so let us see how that goes, but we look forward to carrying out the business of this House for all our constituents in the years to come.