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Persecution of Christians

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 1:30 pm, 6th February 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of the persecution of Christians.

I am very grateful to all hon. Members who want to contribute to this debate today.

The suffering of men, women and children persecuted for their faith or belief is a matter of deep concern to the Government. The Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief, my hon. Friend Rehman Chishti, would very much like to have been here today, but he is currently in Washington DC on a visit focused on this very subject.

The scale and severity of suffering is alarming, from daily discrimination in the workplace or in school to intimidation of businesses and families to large-scale violence or state-sanctioned persecution. On every continent, religious minorities are under threat. Everyone across the House will remember last year’s Easter bombing attack on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, which was deeply saddening.

Defending freedom of religion or belief is a long-standing priority for the UK. Last August, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:

“Freedom of religion or belief is at the heart of what the UK stands for.”

He also expressed our determination to use all the tools of British diplomacy in this cause.

However, despite our long-standing support of freedom of religion or belief, it is fair to say that we had not given the particular issue of Christian persecution the attention it warranted. That is why in 2018 the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt, commissioned an independent review to consider what more the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could do to support persecuted Christians overseas. The Bishop of Truro was asked to consider tough questions and make ambitious recommendations; his report highlighted the seriousness of the issue and gave practical recommendations on how the UK should respond and, as I am sure colleagues know, the Government have accepted all his recommendations. We reaffirmed our commitment to implement them in the Conservative party manifesto.

Before I say how we are implementing those recommendations however, I want to start with a note of caution: bluntly, we have to be a bit cautious about the scale of Christian persecution because we may not have the full picture. The reason for that is that, at the moment, only limited data is available on religious minorities. The UK is actively working to fill that information gap.