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I thank the Government for bringing forward this general debate on an issue that always stirs feelings in this House: the persecution of innocent, peaceful civilians across the world simply for trying to practise their faith.
I hope the House will indulge me if, before I begin my remarks, I pay tribute to a really doughty campaigner in my constituency. Her name is Joyce Sundrum. I mention her because she lies gravely ill, at the age of 90, in St Gemma’s hospice in Leeds in my constituency, having spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of Christians and other faiths in her own area in Leeds, across the nation and throughout the world. Her surname is Indian. She married an Indian citizen who was not a Christian, but she continued to practise her own faith and she stands up for all faiths. I hope she will be with us for a lot longer, but somehow I doubt it, so I wanted to pay my own tribute to her for her extraordinary work.
It is especially timely to be having such a debate shortly after the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, when we saw the ultimate, unimaginable depths of evil; where such persecution can lead humanity. For a world that reacted to the horror of what was discovered at Auschwitz and other concentration camps with a solemn promise of “never again”, it should appal and shame us that 75 years on we are still debating religious attacks, persecution and genocides that have happened in countries across the world in recent years.
I would also like to take the opportunity at the outset to pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Helen Goodman, the former hon. Member for Bishop Auckland. She remains a proud member of Christians on the Left and, in different circumstances, would probably have been leading the debate for the Opposition today. While she is a devout Christian, one of Helen’s great strengths is that she believes passionately in the freedom of every religion and would just as fiercely fight for the rights of the Muslims of Mindanao in the Philippines as she would for Christians in Burkina Faso. She is greatly missed in this House and in these debates, as is our other former friend and colleague Liz McInnes, who did so much to try to help Asia Bibi find sanctuary in this country when her life was at risk in Pakistan because of her Christian faith. Helen and Liz may be gone from this House, but I am at least glad that this House will always echo their views and be united in saying today—