The Church warmly welcomed the decision by the Foreign Secretary to launch an independent review of his Department’s support for persecuted Christians, which is being chaired by the Bishop of Truro. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster made a joint submission to that review, setting out practical recommendations for how the Government could take action to protect Christians facing persecution and to promote freedom of religion more widely.
The Sri Lanka terrorist attacks brought home the FCO’s recent review findings that Christians are suffering persecution at near genocide levels. Alongside the growing Christianophobia, there are growing incidents of Islamophobia—such as at Christchurch—and anti- semitism. What more can the Church of England do in co-ordinating international action across all faiths to combat hatred and violence against different faith communities by varied manifestations of the far right?
That interim report, which I recommend colleagues read, is quite a shocking revelation about how extensive the persecution of Christians and other minority religions around the world is. Just yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury invited the Foreign Secretary and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Lambeth Palace to discuss international religious freedom. The meeting included the Chief Rabbi and representatives of other faiths, because, as the Bishop of Rochester said in another place, it is almost impossible to predict when such terrorist attacks will occur and where.
The Foreign Secretary has commendably authorised that independent report, but does my right hon. Friend agree that unless the Department for International Development also engages with the interim report and with the recommendations in the final report when it is produced, this country will never achieve what it could achieve in addressing this issue internationally?
I do agree. In fact, one of the key points of the Church of England’s submission is that there needs to be a joined-up approach more widely, right across Government, to the challenges of keeping freedom of religion and belief. That is why, with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), I visited the former Minister who was jointly responsible at DFID and the Foreign Office to make sure that civil servants receive the right kind of training so that they really understand the threats that persecuted religious minorities face.
The right hon. Lady will be very aware of the situation in Sudan at the moment, with such a complex outcome following the removal of Bashir. Will she urge the Archbishop of Canterbury to look at the possibility of an early visit there to make sure that Christians in Sudan are protected?
This allows me to share with the House a bit of good news on a rather serious and depressing subject, which is that the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with Pope Francis, brokered a meeting in Rome of the key players from the Sudanese conflict zone. Those talks made really significant progress in bringing about peace in countries where a war has claimed over 400,000 lives.
International aid spending to recipient countries needs to be cut unless effective action is taken against attacks on Christians. Do the Church Commissioners agree?
The Church Commissioners are completely supportive of the statutory requirement in our law that 0.7% of our total income as a country should be spent on the world’s poorest people. In fact, DFID’s programmes do direct themselves to the support of vulnerable minorities, but obviously the point of the report commissioned independently by the Foreign Secretary is to see how much more effective we can be at tackling the threats to religion and to people’s freedom of religion and belief.