Skip to main content

Freedom of Religion and Belief

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

8. What recent steps the Church of England has taken to help protect freedom of religion and belief in other countries. (906094)

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend, who serves with distinction as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief, that the United Nations Security Council has recently adopted a resolution to produce an annual report on freedom of religion and belief. It was sponsored by the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, and the resolution was based on the Bishop of Truro’s review and incorporates many of his original recommendations.

That is indeed a very positive development. My hon. Friend will have seen another report, produced by former BBC reporter David Campanale and other FORB experts for the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, which I chair, on the ongoing major violence in Manipur, India. It indicates that since early May alone hundreds of churches there have been destroyed, many burnt to the ground; more than 100 people have been killed and over 50,000 displaced; and schools and seminaries have been targeted in what looks like systematic and premeditated attacks with religion a key factor. There has been very little reporting about this. People there are calling out for help; what can the Church do to draw more attention to their cries?

My hon. Friend has done a great service by putting this matter on the record in the House. I am sure that she, like me, would like to see much greater reporting of these issues by the BBC and others. What she has told us is truly shocking, and I know that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who visited India in 2019 to see the challenges at first hand, remains extremely concerned that such attacks have been worsening and spreading to other minority faith communities, so I will bring my hon. Friend’s report on Manipur directly to the Archbishop’s attention.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response to the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), who does such fantastic work as the ambassador for not only the Prime Minister but all of us in the House.

In February, I visited Pakistan with the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. Further to what the hon. Gentleman said, will he advise the House on what steps the Church of England is taking to support the Anglican ministry in Pakistan and to defend the rights of Pakistani Christians to practise their faith and express their beliefs without fear of repression?

I talked earlier this week with Dr Sammy Wainaina, the Archbishop’s new adviser on Anglican communion affairs, and he specifically mentioned Pakistan, so I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it. He is right that the situation there is extremely challenging—priests have been murdered—and the Archbishop visited quite recently. I express particular gratitude to the two hon. Members who have put these matters on the record this morning; they are right to do so and I hope they continue to do so.