Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 6:58 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Farmer Lord Farmer Ceidwadwyr 6:58, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I will speak today about our Government’s response to global Christian persecution. In 2019 the Bishop of Truro, now the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and a Member of this House, highlighted in his review the near abandonment of the world’s most persecuted religion by western powers. By the UN’s definition, levels of persecution of Christians around the globe were close to genocidal. Their extinction was imminent in the Middle East. In Iraq, the number of Christians is now 10% of what it was 20 years ago.

Christian persecution is now even worse and still the worst of any religion in the world. One in seven Christians—365 million—face high to extreme levels of persecution for their faith and 80% of all acts of religious persecution are against Christians, which is a staggering proportion. Nearly 5,000 Christians were killed for their faith last year, compared with nearly 3,000 in 2019 when the Truro review was published, and twice as many Christians were forced to flee their homes in 2023 as in 2022.

Any concerted effort to secure freedom of religion or belief barely scratches the surface if Christians are ignored. This is not just because of these numbers. As the Truro review states, the persecution of Christians is “a bellwether for repression” more generally.

I need to mention two major areas. The first is northern Africa, including Nigeria—the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in her very eloquent speech, described what is happening there—and the Sahel. The second is the Indian subcontinent, where Christians are routinely targeted, terrorised and killed in countries which aspire to be, or already are, major trading partners with the UK. Nigeria is the sixth-worst country to live in as a Christian. More Christians are killed there for their faith than in all other countries combined. Armed groups, such as Boko Haram or Islamic State West Africa Province, burn churches and target Christians for rape, murder and kidnap.

Terrorism cannot be solely blamed. Deborah Yakubu was murdered in 2022 after expressing concerns in a college WhatsApp group about discrimination against Christian students. She was stoned, beaten and then burnt on a pile of tyres by a mob. Yet the UK signed a £7 billion trade partnership with Nigeria a matter of weeks ago. I ask my noble friend the Foreign Secretary if such abuses were raised at any point in negotiations.

On the Indian subcontinent, persecution against Christians is rising fast. Speaking about one’s faith is hazardous in most of India, where Christians can be arrested and subjected to physical violence on false charges of forced conversions. Acid attacks, so-called honour killings, mob beatings and executions happen regularly, as do arson attacks on churches. Again, can my noble friend confirm that this Government will use the lever of trade to improve rights to religious freedom?

The Foreign Office’s own assessment in 2022 found that many Truro review recommendations had not been implemented. It cited failure to create both an “early warning mechanism” for religious persecution and a data-gathering system of religious freedom abuses. There was still no name or term for Christian persecution and no meaningful culture shift in the Foreign Office to take it seriously. More positively on the FCDO scorecard, its November 2023 White Paper on UK aid referred to for the first time, and prioritises, persecution on grounds of religion or belief as a driver of poverty. I commend my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell, the Minister who listened to FoRB concerns and included this.

Additionally, the Prime Minister now has a highly effective envoy for freedom of religion or belief, my honourable friend Fiona Bruce. Her important role should be established in statute. Will the Government support the Bill to secure its continuity? It acts as an important counterweight when considering with whom we trade. I understand the pressure that the Government are under to bow down to the god of bilateral trade agreements while sacrificing the weak and vulnerable and our own British values. But where did these values come from? The historian Tom Holland says in Dominion:

“So profound has been the impact of Christianity on the development of Western civilisation that it has come to be hidden from view”.

Without Christianity, where would there be tolerance, respect for others’ views and the impulse to move beyond narrow personal, or indeed national, self-interest?