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Freedom of Religion or Belief

Volume 639: debated on Thursday 26 April 2018

1. To ask the right hon. Member for Meriden, representing the Church Commissioners, what discussions the Church of England had at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 on freedom of religion or belief; and if she will make a statement. (904962)

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Commonwealth initiative for freedom of religion or belief convened a two-day summit at Lambeth Palace last week involving 40 parliamentarians and religious leaders from 11 Commonwealth countries. The aim of the meeting was to look at ways in which parliamentarians and leaders from across the Commonwealth could champion freedom of religion or belief.

That is encouraging to hear. The Commonwealth and the Church of England have similar values where they overlap. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the two organisations continue to work in unison to influence Governments in countries where freedom of religion is not respected?

The geography of the Anglican Communion and the Commonwealth do overlap; in fact the communion is larger still. The charter of the Commonwealth contains a commitment to freedom of religion or belief, but the truth is that not all members abide by that. The personal relationships built at Commonwealth meetings and across the Anglican Communion mean that faith communities must advocate for the same global standards for freedom of religion and belief.

It is sad to see Commonwealth countries on Open Doors UK’s world watch list of Christian persecution around the world. What more can we do following the Heads of Government conference to promote tolerance between people of faith and none in the long term in the Commonwealth?

A number of actions were agreed at that seminar. For Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion, freedom of religion remains an important priority. Every time the Archbishop of Canterbury visits a Commonwealth country where there is a problem you can be sure, Mr Speaker, that he will raise it.

Part of the initiative in the Commonwealth involves developing a toolkit that Members of Parliament can use to champion issues of freedom of religion and belief in our constituencies.

Is the Church of England aware of deeply disturbing reports that restrictions on the freedom of Christians to practise their faith have severely increased this year in China, including a ban on taking children under 18 to church? If so, what step is the Church taking on this?

The Church of England is very aware of those reports, and China is a priority for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He hopes to be able to take up the invitation to go there, when I am sure he will raise these issues. Even before such a visit, Church officials are engaging with Chinese officials to discover the implications of the new five-year plan on religious engagement and raise concerns where it appears that Christians are being oppressed.