House of Commons: the Queen’s Speech and FoRB

On Monday 1 June the House of Commons debate on the Queen’s Speech included a focus on issues of foreign policy. Here are some extracts:

Rehman Chishti:

In tackling extremism, one has to create a tolerant world, but in 130 countries there is persecution of people based on their faith. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we have to do much more to protect religious freedom, whether it is reforming blasphemy laws in Pakistan affecting Christian and other minority communities or in respect of Burma and the Rohingya community? Does he agree that that should be a key pillar of our foreign policy?

Hilary Benn

Each of these conflicts has its own causes but, as well as being about who has power in a country, one of the threads that runs through many of the conflicts is the uneasy relationship between the secular and the religious. We should understand that all too well in this country, given our history of power struggles, religious intolerance and persecution, but we have now reached a state in which we have shown that it is possible both to uphold universal human rights and to enable people to be absolutely free to practise their religion. That is one of the reasons why Britain is admired by many countries across the world for its genuine freedom, but we cannot be complacent here and we have to be on our guard against the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as we stand up against religious and other persecution across the world, whether it be of Christians, of those who are lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual, or of the Rohingya who have been affected by the recent crisis in Burma.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)

I pay tribute to my predecessor, Naomi Long, who was the first Member elected to the House as a member of the Alliance party. Anyone who knows her will recognise that not only her tenaciousness but her talent did much for Belfast East. I have been contacted continually by people who recognised her ability and encourage me to take forward the great work she did on freedom of religion for persecuted Christians throughout the world. I pledge myself to do that.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab)

I would also like to make a point about religious liberty, which was referred to earlier in the debate. It is of huge importance around the world. In parts of the world we see Christians and other religious minorities suffering persecution, and in many parts it is getting worse. Too often people think that religious freedom means a person’s right to practise the religion they were born into, but it is more than that; article 18 of the United Nations universal declaration of human rights is very clear that it includes the right to convert, and the right to believe in something or in nothing. It is vital that we see those human rights as part of our vision of Britain in the world. I know that the debate on human rights and on what the Government will do is fairly open at the moment, but if this nation chooses to withdraw from international treaties, think of the message that will send. Think of what that would say to countries such as Pakistan, where so many people are already suffering under the blasphemy laws. I think that those are major issues. They are to do with communities such as mine, but they are also to do with this country and with the global community.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)

With the horrific increase across the world in the persecution of people for their religious beliefs, Britain must champion religious freedom. I hope the Government will consider adopting the Labour manifesto commitment to creating a specific role, and have a person, in the FCO to take forward the religious freedom agenda across the world.

Mr Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op)

From the Mediterranean to the Yellow sea, freedoms that we take for granted are under threat: freedom of religion and belief, freedom to love, and freedom of speech. Those freedoms require not our tacit acceptance but shoring up.