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Persecution of Christians

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 6th February 2020.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 1:52 pm, 6th February 2020

I had a quick look through Hansard and discovered that I first started speaking on this subject 20 years ago in a debate on the persecution of Christians in Egypt. Frankly, there was little interest from the Government then, but we see much more attention now, which I welcome. There is a special envoy for freedom of religion and belief. Numerous charities, such as Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, work on the frontlines and raise awareness here, and Red Wednesday, of course, has become an annual fixture. However, I believe that the Government, for all their efforts, could still do more.

We continually underestimate the clout that we have. We gave £463 million to the Government of Pakistan in 2016. The Department for International Development’s planned budget for Nigeria in 2018 was £235 million. We have a long history and tradition of humanitarianism, which we want to continue. These countries have problems and we want to help them, but how are we helping when we are sending hundreds of millions of pounds to Governments who completely fail to protect their Christian citizens? We should not be afraid to turn off the tap when lives are on the line. We need to question countries with Islamist Governments on why they will not allow the total freedom of worship and religion and equal rights. Surely people everywhere, in every country, province and land, of every faith and denomination, should be able freely to practise their religion or belief in accordance with their conscience—it simply does not happen in the world today. How can we say we really think that if our aid budget does not reflect our thinking and we are not prepared to use our clout?

We sit here today in the heart of a country renowned across the world for our resilience in the face of challenge, and our magnanimity, fairness and concern for the vulnerable—that is all very good. We command one of the most capable militaries on the planet. We are a financial heavyweight, giving hundreds of millions of pounds each year to countries that are poorer than ourselves. That is fantastic, yet in the face of another radical threat to stability in the developing world, our resolve appears to have dimmed and our desire to help been neutralised.

Aside from questions of war fatigue, which I entirely sympathise with, we ought to consider how much more difficult it will be to solve this crisis in 10 years’ time if we do not act swiftly now. Some of us were in the Chamber as our predecessors decried the actions of Saddam Hussein against his own people and the malicious rule of Gaddafi, and we took action. I ask the House: where is that same commitment when it comes to the persecution of Christians? Where is the same loyalty to the victims of the repressive proto-caliphate that is developing in the Sahel?