Freedom of Religion or Belief: International Conference — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:03 am on 28th June 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 10:03 am, 28th June 2022

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very helpful intervention.

We have been very good at isolating Russia. We have heard about the complications in Ukraine, with the appalling violence by Russia against Ukraine and the churches that have been destroyed by bombing. Frankly, we have not been so good at taking on China over the persecution of the Muslim Uyghurs, which has reached dystopian genocidal levels. It is a disgrace. I am all in favour of good relations with China, maximising trade and promoting prosperity. I understand that our influence with the Chinese Government—the Government of a very large, proud country—is limited, but we cannot shirk our duty, despite the economic impact. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.

The Government could help UK business and industry to pivot away from China, even if it takes years, if progress is not made on the persecution of the Uyghurs. If a business’s factory is in China, move it to Malaysia, Indonesia or Africa. If its research and development is in China, move it to Israel or Singapore, or perhaps even to Manchester, Dundee or Belfast. Our influence is limited, and my point is also directed at our own companies that are sourcing products from the area where the Uyghurs are being persecuted. What is going on there is a disgrace. Although our influence is limited, what influence we have we should use. We should not be afraid to speak out, whatever the impact on trade might be.

Freedom of religion or belief is one of the most essential human rights. It is under enormous threat all over the world. Our Government should be the leader in the world in speaking out in favour of religious minorities and their rights. The Government should expand the office of the special envoy for freedom of religion or belief and resource it properly. I welcome the appointment of David Burrowes as deputy to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton. I hope that, just as we have acted with so much vigour in Ukraine, we can act with equal vigour to protect religious minorities of whatever faith, wherever they are in the world.