First, I would like to pay tribute to the outgoing Foreign Secretary for having the vision to commission a report on the support that the Foreign Office provides for persecuted Christians. It was warmly welcomed by both the Church of England and the Catholic Church, and I sincerely hope that the new Foreign Secretary will follow through on the its recommendations.
On 8 July, the now Prime Minister said:
“If I am fortunate enough to become PM, I will always prioritise protecting religious freedoms and stand up for those facing persecution.”
I know that it is very early days, but what plans does the right hon. Lady have to speak with the Prime Minister about exactly what he will do to support persecuted Christians around the world?
We have had quite a lot of opportunities at hustings to ask quite a few leadership contenders what they would do about the report on Foreign Office support for persecuted Christians, and I am pleased to say that the new Prime Minister did give a pledge to follow through on this. If hon. Members have time to read the report, they will find that it is very revealing, and it acknowledged that a great deal needs to be done to provide more support for persecuted Christians around the world.
One of the many important findings of the Bishop of Truro’s report is that it highlighted a lack of religious literacy at the Home Office, particularly when dealing with Christians fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Home Office should take heed of this recommendation, and does she believe that the Church has a role to play in improving religious literacy across Whitehall?
The report, which of course is a Foreign Office report, does reveal that lack of religious literacy, but the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster both wanted the proposal for improving religious literacy to extend to all Departments, because in a way there is hardly a Department that is not touched by the need for better religious literacy. I know that the issue of religious literacy in asylum applications has been raised in the other place and that bishops have had meetings with Ministers.
In a letter to me, the Government have indicated that they will look at sanctions against those who persecute Christians, or indeed those of other religious beliefs. Has the right hon. Lady had an opportunity to discuss with the Government what form those sanctions might take?
I have not discussed that with the new incumbent at the Foreign Office just yet, but I think that we need to go through all these serious recommendations that were made through the excellent work of the Bishop of Truro. For example, one of the recommendations, which I commend to the House, is a UN resolution to better protect Christians in the middle east and north Africa, whose population has dwindled from 20% to just 4%.
Last week, a number of MPs were the target of some really unpleasant social media attacks, simply for speaking and then voting in a conscience vote in this place according to their biblical beliefs on marriage and the sanctity of life. What is the Church of England doing to uphold freedom of speech and religion for Christians in the UK? This is a growing concern for thousands of Christians in this country today.
The hon. Lady might not have heard the answer to an earlier question, but actually the Church has seized the initiative by launching its own guidelines on safe and positive conduct on the internet. I commend that guidance to all Members present. It is certainly important that religious difference is respected. Dialogue is a two-way business, but as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, the Church needs to model disagreeing well.