Freedom of Worship (Commonwealth)

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th June 2018.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 12:00 am, 26th June 2018

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the extent of freedom of worship in Commonwealth countries.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The Foreign Secretary chaired regular meetings with Cabinet colleagues on the April Commonwealth meetings objectives. The Commonwealth leaders’ communiqué emphasised that full social, economic and political participation for all irrespective of religion is essential for democracy and sustainable development.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

Will the Minister tell the House what further practical steps are being taken to ensure the protection of human rights in the Commonwealth, including freedom of religion or belief? That is at the heart of UK foreign policy. Does she share the concerns of Open Doors that the persecution of religious minorities must remain high on the international agenda?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Yes, I can confirm that. Further to the very widely attended Westminster Hall debate last month, I can assure the hon. Lady that at all parts of our diplomatic network we raise these issues at the highest level.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Religious freedom in the Commonwealth is important, but Christian communities throughout the wider world suffer from persecution. Can the Minister give an absolute assurance that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that Christians and other religious groups have freedom of worship?

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the Minister ensure that she talks, via the Foreign Secretary, to President Buhari of Nigeria? With the dreadful goings on in that country and the increasing pressure on the Christian community in the north, it is about time that the President stood up and did something to protect it.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Specifically on the situation in Nigeria, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we regularly raise these issues at the highest level with our friends in Nigeria. We are aware that these conflicts are often driven by conflict over land, grazing rights and water. They should not necessarily always be characterised by religious difference.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

Sadly, around the world today we are seeing a rise in the level of persecution of Christians, particularly across the middle east. Will the Minister confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office remains committed to protecting and promoting religious freedom, particularly of Christians who are persecuted around the world?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I can certainly confirm that, but it is wider than that. We always seek to help in specific situations relating to all freedom of religion and belief, but we also raise the issue more widely in international forums such as the United Nations.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Bearing in mind that the Commonwealth charter lists tolerance, respect and understanding as a guiding principle, will the Minister outline what diplomatic pressure her Department will use to defend against persecution those who choose Christ in India, Nigeria and Malaysia?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s assiduous pursuit of this agenda. He mentions three specific countries. I can assure him that we regularly raise issues of freedom of religion and belief not just in those countries but more widely, and not only in Commonwealth countries but across the wider network.