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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:02 pm on 25th October 2018.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 4:02 pm, 25th October 2018

I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me but I am worried about running out of time, and I know that the hon. Member for Strangford will also want to get a word in at the end.

DFID’s wider programme is also designed to benefit religious minorities. As I touched on, in Iraq some £237.5 million in humanitarian support has helped Christians, Yazidis and other minorities who have been forced to flee persecution by Daesh. At the Foreign Office, we have also increased our support for freedom of religion or belief through the Magna Carta fund to over £1 million. That will fund projects in countries such as Burma, Indonesia, Iraq and Sudan.

Respect in education is a key element of our freedom of religion or belief strategy. Children are not born prejudiced; sadly, prejudice is learned. It does not have to be that way, and we believe that more should be done in schools to ensure that children remain as open minded as possible and respectful of difference. As the hon. Member for Leeds North East rightly said, respect is the operative word here. We believe that it is not simply enough to promote tolerance; indeed, that word alone suggests a begrudging acceptance. We plan to create a step-by-step guide for teachers and schools around the world to draw them into best practice and help them foster greater respect for different faiths and beliefs.

Naturally, learning does not end at school, and colleagues may recall that when we last debated this issue, I mentioned our efforts to increase religious literacy across the civil service. I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to know that our collaboration with the LSE Faith Centre is proving extremely popular, and annual faith and diplomacy courses for staff across Whitehall are now very well attended. In addition to such projects and initiatives, we continue to promote the issue internationally with our bilateral advocacy. We work with like-minded partners as well as with civil society across the globe.

The UK Government remain absolutely convinced of the key importance of freedom of religion or belief, not just because it is a basic human right, but because it goes hand in hand with all the other rights and democratic freedoms that make up the foundations of a fair, stable and successful society. That is why my ministerial colleagues and I are committed to promoting and protecting freedom of religion, and I am so pleased that that applies to Parliament more widely. I thank everyone for their contributions. Through Government, we shall work and strive for a better world—a world in which there is greater mutual understanding and respect, where everyone is able to practise their faith or to hold no faith at all, and to live the life that they choose.