International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:30 pm, 25th October 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered international freedom of religion or belief day 2018.

It is a pleasure to introduce this debate. Thank you, Mr Walker, for chairing it—it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship. International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day will take place on Saturday 27 October. I thank right hon. and hon. Members—particularly those who will make contributions—for coming along. The fact that we debate this issue annually does not take away from its importance. It is good to consider again where there are problems.

I thank the Minister and the Government for their actions to advance the right of freedom of religion or belief. The appointment of Lord Ahmad as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religious belief is very welcome. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has appointed more staff to its FORB team and, crucially, committed to developing a statistical database to track FORB violations around the world. Those are significant and commendable steps to advance FORB. I truly appreciate the efforts of the Government and in particular of the Minister, who I know will always speak out for those who have no voice. That is the reason we are here.

We are privileged to have Ministers who are so compassionate and committed to the cause of human rights. As I have said many times, I am thrilled that we have the right Ministers in the right place at the right time. I very much look forward to hearing the Government’s plans for commemorating International Freedom of Religion or Belief Day and for defending and promoting that vital human right.

Unfortunately, despite the amazing work that has been done, there is much still to do. FORB violations are rampant and truly global. Earlier today, at a panel on Afghanistan, I spoke about freedom of religious belief and how religious minorities of all kinds are persecuted in that country. Other Members will speak about Pakistan, which I recently visited with Ms Rimmer and Lord Alton. We had an opportunity to express concerns on behalf of religious minorities there, which we did with some fervour. I know she will speak about that.