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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:31 am on 28th June 2022.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:31 am, 28th June 2022

As always, Mr McCabe, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate Fiona Bruce, whom I would like to call my hon. Friend, on securing this debate. She and I served together for three years on the International Development Committee nine years ago, and I saw then, as I do now, her complete commitment to an issue that is so important to humanity, human rights and civilisation. I thank her for her consistent championing of freedom of religion or belief in this place.

The hon. Lady opened the debate by saying that we can never be complacent about peace and stability—and hasn’t that come true in today’s world? Freedom of religion or belief is under threat, especially from people’s own Governments, which is something we should be deeply concerned about. She mentioned the rising levels of intolerance and oppression by authoritarian Governments throughout the world, the increasing use of technology for repression of freedom of religion or belief and the discrimination that damages democracies so badly, and she was absolutely right to say that FORB benefits us all. It promotes global peace and wellbeing, and it is as critical now as ever.

Of course, the hon. Lady mentioned the ministerial conference on FORB that will take place in London next week. I have just spoken to the Dutch ambassador about that conference; he will be attending and was delighted that he will be there. Survivors of persecution will be there to give their own testimony, which is vital: there is no substitute for hearing from those people. As the hon. Lady said, achieving real change will require international collaboration on freedom of religion or belief. She praised the UK’s cross-party work in this Parliament, which she said is pre-eminent around the world. That is absolutely true and I agree with her.

We then heard from Jim Shannon—again, my hon. Friend—who is always present at these debates. He is well known for his championing of freedom of religion or belief, especially the freedom of Christians from persecution. As we are all aware, he is chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, and he has made it very clear that this issue is close to his heart. He talked about his recent visit to Poland and, as he says, he speaks out not just for Christians who are oppressed but for all faiths. Thank goodness he does: his voice is a powerful one in this House.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned something that is very important: the freedom to choose not to believe, which is so essential in today’s world and always has been. He mentioned, as did other hon. Members, visiting Nigeria to witness the shocking violations of freedom of religion or belief in person.