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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:06 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 3:06 pm, 25th October 2018

I, once again, thank my hon. Friend. I think I might have mispronounced the gentleman’s name when I mentioned him, for which I apologise, but I absolutely associate myself with what my hon. Friend has said.

To return to the case that has to be made and remade for the primacy of freedom of religion or belief, earlier this year the all-party group for freedom of religion or belief, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Strangford, welcomed Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Dr Daniel Mark, chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, to Parliament. I want to reflect on some of the remarks that Elder Christofferson made on that occasion because they are highly pertinent. He said that freedom of religion benefits not only believers but all of society, whether they know it or not. He tied religious freedom to the freedoms of worship, association, expression and opinion, and assembly, and from arbitrary arrest and detention, and interference in home and family, saying that all rights and liberties are mutually supportive, with freedom of religion as what he called,

“the root freedom in giving life to all others... Religious freedom protects the freedom of individual belief and expression in all areas of human activity. This enables people to develop and express their own opinions in matters of philosophy, politics, business, literature, art, science, and other areas, which naturally leads to social and political diversity.”

Elder Christofferson went on to say that freedom of religion connects to the rights of free speech, free expression, freedom of the press, and freedom peaceably to assemble, and that those basic freedoms tend to rise and fall together.

As I conclude, may I ask the Minister to consider the following questions? How will the Government respond to the commitments made at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in relation to freedom of religion or belief? How will such matters be followed up? In Washington in July, an event was sponsored by the US Administration at which there was something called the Potomac declaration and the Potomac plan of action, part of the first ever US-sponsored Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. How can we ensure that such gatherings are not just more talk? How can we ensure that they are more than talk? Are we prepared to do more to stress the link between international development and adherence to article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights and perhaps even the Potomac declaration? Is Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon’s July appointment as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion or belief intended to be seen as an answer to what the United States calls an ambassador-at-large for freedom of religion or belief? What exactly is the extent of the remit that the noble Lord Ahmad now has?