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

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Perhaps that question is better directed at the Minister, but from my point of view we need conferences such as the one being held next week in London. We also need, as I think Sir Edward Leigh said, more resources and more authority behind the individuals, such as the hon. Member for Congleton, who do their very best to ensure that freedom of religion and belief is a worldwide human right and that that right is enforced. Perhaps we need the United Nations to intervene as well; I do not know, but I would be happy to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

The hon. Member for Strangford said—I think I have got this right—that on average 13 Christians are killed every day in Nigeria just for being a Christian. That is a shocking statistic and it mounts up to an appalling loss of life. I am sorry to say that it will be the same for other faiths, too. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government would prioritise the persecuted minorities in Afghanistan as well, because we know what is happening there. He also said he is a great believer in the power of prayer; long may that continue.

We then heard from the right hon. Member for Gainsborough, who quite rightly said that there is a long history of these debates—I have spoken in many of them. Gradually, we are raising interest in this subject, although I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree that doing so is a long haul. More Christians are now persecuted than ever before, but let us not forget the Muslims. He rightly mentioned the Shahbaz case, in which a 14-year-old was forcibly converted to Islam, married off, and then persecuted for leaving a faith that she had never held in the first place. He is right to continue to press the case with the British Government and with anybody who will listen. The Opposition support him in that effort and are willing to do whatever we can to help in that individual case, as well as in many similar cases. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned casual violence against Muslims in India and said that FORB is, of course, one of the most essential human rights.

We then heard from Carla Lockhart, who talked about the Myanmar Christians being targeted by Buddhists. We all think of Buddhism as a peaceful religion, yet the Buddhist majority in that country is persecuting Christian minorities as well as, of course, the Rohingya Muslim people of that country. That is incomprehensible to most of us—indeed, to all of us in this Chamber. The hon. Lady also urged those of us who are attending the conference next week to focus on those being persecuted.

I have good reason to speak in this debate, not just because I am the appropriate shadow Minister but because my family has experience of religious persecution. My father escaped the increasing persecution of Jews in Europe to come to safety in this country in 1934, as a 12-year-old boy. We know what happened after 1934. His own parents were trapped in occupied Europe. Thankfully, his father was in Spain when France fell to the Nazis, but his mother was in occupied Paris, and it was only thanks to the generosity of the Portuguese authorities that she was able to get a Portuguese passport and therefore escape the persecution that her brothers had to suffer—one of them was murdered during the second world war. So this issue is very close to my heart.