My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in this debate and I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for initiating it. As we hear about the work that is already being done, I am sure that we would like to express our appreciation to everybody, be it in a religious or secular capacity, who is trying to bring together people of different backgrounds, religions, faiths and cultures. They are doing a tremendous job, often in very difficult circumstances. I am sure that we wish them well.
I am an emotional Welshman—I am not the only one to speak in this debate. I was standing outside the United Nations building in New York and looking at the flags. There was a flag for every nation—I think there were 192 in all—starting with Afghanistan and ending with Zimbabwe. Those two countries—the A and the Z—have had great problems, but many other countries in between have had serious political problems in the past. The UN, despite all its failings and its need for modernisation, has at least provided a forum for discussion. It has tried to overcome disputes before they become disasters. I am not sure that the world would have survived to see this 21st century without the United Nations' existence at the political level. Winston Churchill said that "Jaw jaw is better than war war", whereby you can get people to talk together and ease—and sometimes succeed in resolving—their problems.
Sometimes I dream. We all dream dreams. Would it not be possible for the world's faiths also to join together in some permanent organisations where they could discuss their problems and difficulties? Should we not work towards that? If you work and talk together you learn to understand, respect and tolerate each other. It is dialogue on a global scale. We also have many United Nations conventions. Is it not time for us to consider a UN convention on religious responsibilities and religious rights, so that people feel that whatever their faith, that faith is respected and upheld?
When we choose people for various international interfaith groups, or even a massive global forum, how do we get people who really represent their societies and communities to take part? We know that the Muslim community in the United Kingdom has various organisations and that the Christian community has a massive breadth of organisations. How do we choose people who can speak with authority and have the confidence of the people who are part of their communities?
We have made great advances in the Christian Church. There were the divisions of yesteryear—I am a Welshman. Would the Calvinistic Methodists share a platform with the Wesleyan Methodists? That is not a problem any longer. People of various strands of a faith come together. In Churches Together in England (CTE), the Evangelical Alliance and in other inter-Church organisations we come together and overcome many problems that existed years ago. If we are discussing this at a national or an international level, the faiths themselves—the Churches and the faith organisations—should choose their representatives. It should not be imposed by any government, because politicians can often use religion for their own ends.
I was reminded of that today. In Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Gibbon wrote that all religions were to the believer equally true, to the philosopher equally false, and to the politician equally useful. We may have found in people such as President Bush that readiness to use a Christian agenda for their own ends. So people from the religious communities themselves must choose those who lead them, and the door should always be open at every level to welcome new people who should feel that there is a growing respect and understanding.
I have spoken of Christianity, but we can speak of Islam in which there are many different strands. One of the problems is that there are so many different strands that they are warring against each other—you cannot obtain cohesion. The moderate voices in those strands are drowned by the loud and fierce minorities. We must work together and the dialogue must continue. It starts at our own feet at local level, which has been mentioned more than once. When that happens, we of different faiths can begin to show our respect and tolerance and get the confidence of those who do not believe as we believe, but are ready to talk together and be at peace together. Then, understanding can be very close. Within the body of our law, which is the final and only framework, there is a law of Parliament within which every faith group must act. Once we begin to be diverted from that we will be in the middle of anarchy.
So at many levels—in local communities and at national level—I can still dream of my global forum of faiths. We can work together and in the end we will overcome many of the problems that cause us such great difficulty at the present time.