On March 19th 2014 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith, received an answer to a written question about human rights abuses in Iran.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the human rights situation in Iran following the election of President Rouhani.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The human rights situation in Iran remains dire. We are particularly concerned by reports that the rate of executions has increased in 2014. We urge Iran to take concrete action to improve its human rights record. However, President Rouhani’s government has taken some positive steps on human rights, including the release of a number of political prisoners in September 2013.
On March 19th 2014 the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth, received answers to two written questions about Egypt: on political and religious freedom in the country.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current state of political freedom in Egypt and of the prospects for free and fair Presidential elections later this year.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): The January 2014 constitutional referendum was an important moment for millions of Egyptians who expressed their opinion through the ballot box. We welcome the fact that the new constitution includes better provisions for the protection of the rights of minorities, including Christians, and women. However, we are concerned by restrictions on freedom of expression for opposition groups and the press, both in the run-up to the referendum and since. We encourage Egypt’s interim authorities to ensure that Egypt’s democratic transition leads to free and fair presidential elections in a genuinely inclusive process. We are pleased to hear that the EU European External Action Service is discussing with Egyptian authorities its intention to send an Electoral Observation Mission to Egypt for the presidential elections.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the state of freedom of religion and belief in Egypt following the removal of President Morsi from office in July 2013.
Baroness Warsi: Sectarian violence increased under President Morsi and has continued since. Amnesty report that 200 Christian-owned properties have been attacked and 43 churches burned down or damaged since July 2013. In September, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), made a statement in Parliament condemning the violence against Christian churches. Article 64 of the 2014 constitution states that freedom of belief is absolute. The key test will be how the constitution is implemented, as many articles require additional legislation. We have continued to raise the importance of respect for different religions and beliefs and the protection of religious minorities with the Egyptian authorities. The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, my Rt. Hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Mr Robertson), discussed the situation faced by Coptic Christians and implications of the new constitution in a meeting with Bishop Yulios during his visit to Cairo in December 2013. The Bishop was optimistic about the new Constitution provisions for religious minorities.
On 19th March 2014 the Bishop of Coventry, Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth, received an answer to a written question about the Indian operation at the Golden Temple, Amritsar.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Warsi on 3 March (WA 287), whether they intend to hold further meetings with the representatives of Sikh organisations in the United Kingdom to address concerns arising from the publication of the Cabinet Secretary’s report on the Indian operation at Sri Harmandir Sahib.
The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): Ministers held two recent round-table meetings with the Sikh community and the Government is keen to ensure that constructive dialogue is maintained.
On 18th March 2014 Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government “what assessment they have made of the findings of the United Nations commission of inquiry into human rights in North Korea.”
The Bishop of Peterborough, Rt Rev Donald Allister, asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, can the Minister confirm recent reports of the possible execution of 33 people for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime by their association with the South Korean missionary, Kim Jung-wook? What efforts are being made to urge the North Korean authorities not to proceed with such executions and to respect freedom of religion?
Baroness Warsi: We are aware of these terrible reports. Of course, this relates to the suspicion that these individuals were involved with the creation of an underground church under the support of Kim Jung-wook, a South Korean who was arrested by the DPRK last year. As noble Lords are aware, freedom of religion and belief is a key priority for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and we make those views clear to the North Koreans. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will accept that we have only so many mechanisms with which to make our opinions known on this matter.
Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered a number of written questions from Pamela Nash MP on the Church of England, Churches and LGBT people.
Church of England
Pamela Nash: To ask the right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of recent trends in the proportion of Church of England congregations that are(a) from black and Asian minority ethnic groups, (b) women, (c) disabled people and (d) from low-income groups.
Sir Tony Baldry: The most recent assessment of the proportion of Church of England congregations that are women and from Black and Asian minority ethnic groups was in the 2007 Congregational Diversity Audit. This was the first time such a survey had been conducted, and therefore no trends are yet available. It did not record information on people with disabilities and those from low-income groups.
Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered two written questions from Tessa Munt MP on the Church Commissioners plans for the Palace at Wells.
Tessa Munt: To ask the right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, what consideration the Church Commissioners gave to the historical or other interest of the residence at the Bishop’s Palace at Wells before planning alternative accommodation for the bishop in accordance with section 4 of the Episcopal Endowments and Stipends Measure 1943.
Sir Tony Baldry: Section 4 of the Episcopal Endowments and Stipends Measure 1943 applies only where the Commissioners propose to exercise a power conferred by that Measure—that is to say, to transfer a house to the diocesan authority, convert it for use for other purposes, sell, let or otherwise dispose of it, or demolish it or part of it. The Commissioners have not exercised any of those powers in relation to the Palace, as the intention is that the Bishop will continue to work and worship there. Continue reading “Palace at Bath and Wells: Church Commissioners’ Written Answers”