I congratulate the Members who helped secure today’s debate on this very important matter. The persecution of Christians around the globe is felt by many both within and outwith the Church, in my constituency and further afield. Leaving Christians overseas vulnerable to persecution would be a gross abdication of the global responsibilities that this country has worked ceaselessly to uphold over many years.
The very birthplace of Christianity is under threat. Christians in countries across the middle east find themselves driven from their homes and imprisoned, tortured or killed on the basis of the faith that they hold or the texts that they follow. Daesh in Iraq and Syria, and the continuing spectre of Boko Haram in central Africa, present a real existential challenge for the free practice of religion in those regions. The presence of Christianity in more and more parts of the world faces nothing short of complete extinction, while Governments fail to provide a bulwark against the tide of attacks.
Christians in communities across the world under oppressive Governments, or who are the target of militant groups, take little comfort from warm words. For a child left parentless after her family was executed for attending church, condemnation provides no salve. For a pastor standing in the ruins of his church, statements of support ring hollow. We can do more, and we must do more, to help bring the persecution of Christians to an end.
I welcome the Bishop of Truro’s recommendations, which show the clear steps that this Government can take. I am encouraged by the words of many colleagues, which demonstrate the constructive spirit in which we all are willing to work. The challenge that faces all of us in ending discrimination and violence against Christians is monumental, but this report leaves me optimistic about the future of religious freedoms. This review makes concise, achievable recommendations that draw on the talents of our unparalleled diplomatic network. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has immeasurable experience in helping some of the world’s most vulnerable people when they need it most. Now is the time to use that experience and influence to protect Christians, who face the most unimaginable treatment for following their faith. I congratulate the Government on their unequivocal support for defending the rights of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, because that demonstrated the impact and reach that our country can have when we lead international responses to protect those suffering from religious persecution.
The systematic denial of freedom of religious belief is becoming entrenched by extreme nationalism and militant extremism in all corners of the world. We cannot afford to hesitate. The Government have shown that they are able and willing to lead an international response to tackle these injustices. The responsibility now rests with the Government to agree a strong collective response that has freedom and tolerance at its heart.