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Freedom of Religion or Belief — [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:18 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary) 2:18 pm, 12th March 2020

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point, whether that is a political or a religious view. I have to make a distinction between being fundamental or extreme and how firmly we believe something. Being fundamental or extreme can be an unwillingness to accept that other people are equally sincere and passionate about a completely contrary view. When it comes to being extreme and the steps that people take to promote a particular set of beliefs, it becomes a problem.

I do not speak from a position of great authority, but on the occasions when I have engaged actively in dialogue with someone whose behaviour was blatantly racist, sectarian or religiously intolerant, it is surprising how often, on getting down to it, such people are deeply insecure in their own religious or political beliefs. It is almost as if they had never stopped to think about what they believe, and cannot allow anyone to suggest anything different, rather than accept that someone might challenge them. They hide in a shell, to come out fighting. That might present itself as Christianity, but it is so mired in hatred and intolerance that I can see no connection with what is happening or, certainly, with the teachings of the version of Christianity that I seek to follow.

I will finish with one statistic that should concern us all. In 2018, the British social attitudes survey found that almost two thirds—63%—of people in the United Kingdom believed that religions bring more conflict than peace. In my religion, we worship one who has the title “Prince of Peace”; and the word “Islam” can translate as “peace”. Every religion that I have any knowledge of is founded on peace, on respect for human beings of all kinds and on living together in peace and harmony. In this collection of countries, we think freedom of religion and belief is established, but almost two thirds of the population think religion is the problem rather than the answer. I suggest that it is not only the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that needs to change the way it does things. Perhaps the Church establishments, including my own, have a job to do in persuading that 63% not necessarily to follow a particular religion, but at least to understand that any true religion is about making things better for the whole of humanity.

I have spoken for longer than I expected to, so I will sit down to allow other hon. Members to speak.