The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Persecution for Religion and Belief
The Church of England is grateful to all those who carry the flame for the freedom of religion or belief. I would point to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as a reliable source of information in this area. In its 2020 report it singles out China, Eritrea, India, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam as countries of particular concern.
The global pandemic has only exacerbated the persecution of people of faith. I was dismayed to learn from this year’s world watch list that Nigeria has become increasingly hostile to Christians. The Anglican Church in Nigeria is its second-largest congregation in the world, so what support is the Church of England providing to raise awareness and to tackle persecution in Nigeria and around the world?
The persistent attacks in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram and Islamist militia are a source of profound concern to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who knows Nigeria well, and to the wider Church. We are in regular contact with the Nigerian authorities and the Foreign Office, and tomorrow the General Synod of the Church of England will be debating freedom of religion and belief, which shows how seriously Church members throughout the country take this issue.
I recently met Environment Ministers to discuss this issue, and the commissioners are working closely with the Forestry Commission and other similar landowners to share best practice to improve the environment of rural let estates. We are encouraging regenerative farming practices, with new farm tenancies including obligations on soil health at the beginning and end of tenancies.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for his excellent answer. The Church owns more than 100,000 acres of forest land, including large areas in Wales. How are the Church Commissioners ensuring that woodland can be sustainably managed, and that species such as red squirrels and hedgehogs are being adequately protected?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I can tell her that the Church Commissioners own 95,000 acres of forestry across the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States of America and Australia; 2,166 acres of our forestry is in Wales. All our forests conform to the UK woodland assurance scheme and the UK forestry standard and have Forestry Stewardship Council certification, which the World Wide Fund for Nature recognises as the hallmark of responsible forest management.