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I congratulate Andy Slaughter on securing this debate. It is important in our democracy that colleagues are able to hear all sides and views in any debate. All colleagues have their own experiences of different countries and of different issues they have campaigned on. I led a parliamentary delegation to Bahrain last November—that is in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Prior to that visit, we had a very good meeting with the Minister to look at a number of different issues, including religious freedom, trade and security.
Bahrain came to my attention because, just before I was elected to Parliament, Rev. Chris Butt, the vicar at St. Matthew’s church in my constituency, became the vicar at the cathedral in Bahrain. When you have constituents who have gone to another country, and you have said all along that you will campaign for religious freedom, it is important to take an interest in the work they do around the world. I had never been to Bahrain before, and I did not know much about it, but I became interested in it when the vicar in my constituency went there.
Jim Shannon knows about my commitment to religious freedom—we campaigned together to reform the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Those pushing for reforms in such countries sometimes put their neck on the line, but pushing for change and standing up for religious freedom and human rights are the right thing to do. That is how I became interested in Bahrain.
When our delegation went to Bahrain in November last year, we went to the cathedral and met Rev. Chris Butt. We went to the synagogue with Bahrain’s former ambassador to the United States, Houda Nonoo. We went to the Hindu mandir. We met members of the minority religious communities to hear what they had to say. It is one thing to sit in Westminster and say that this is what is being written in the papers or said elsewhere, but this is about engaging and listening to people. I make this contribution having gone out there and engaged and listened to those people. I think that is very important.