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Freedom of Worship (Commonwealth)

Volume 643: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2018

2. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the extent of freedom of worship in Commonwealth countries. (906036)

The Foreign Secretary chaired regular meetings with Cabinet colleagues on the April Commonwealth meetings objectives. The Commonwealth leaders’ communiqué emphasised that full social, economic and political participation for all irrespective of religion is essential for democracy and sustainable development.

Will the Minister tell the House what further practical steps are being taken to ensure the protection of human rights in the Commonwealth, including freedom of religion or belief? That is at the heart of UK foreign policy. Does she share the concerns of Open Doors that the persecution of religious minorities must remain high on the international agenda?

Yes, I can confirm that. Further to the very widely attended Westminster Hall debate last month, I can assure the hon. Lady that at all parts of our diplomatic network we raise these issues at the highest level.

Religious freedom in the Commonwealth is important, but Christian communities throughout the wider world suffer from persecution. Can the Minister give an absolute assurance that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that Christians and other religious groups have freedom of worship?

I can assure my hon. Friend that freedom of religion and belief is one of the topics we regularly raise at the highest level throughout our diplomatic network.

Will the Minister ensure that she talks, via the Foreign Secretary, to President Buhari of Nigeria? With the dreadful goings on in that country and the increasing pressure on the Christian community in the north, it is about time that the President stood up and did something to protect it.

Specifically on the situation in Nigeria, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we regularly raise these issues at the highest level with our friends in Nigeria. We are aware that these conflicts are often driven by conflict over land, grazing rights and water. They should not necessarily always be characterised by religious difference.

Sadly, around the world today we are seeing a rise in the level of persecution of Christians, particularly across the middle east. Will the Minister confirm that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office remains committed to protecting and promoting religious freedom, particularly of Christians who are persecuted around the world?

I can certainly confirm that, but it is wider than that. We always seek to help in specific situations relating to all freedom of religion and belief, but we also raise the issue more widely in international forums such as the United Nations.

Bearing in mind that the Commonwealth charter lists tolerance, respect and understanding as guiding principles, will the Minister outline what diplomatic pressure her Department will use to defend against persecution those who choose Christ in India, Nigeria and Malaysia?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s assiduous pursuit of this agenda. He mentions three specific countries. I can assure him that we regularly raise issues of freedom of religion and belief not just in those countries but more widely, and not only in Commonwealth countries but across the wider network.