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Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): As my hon. Friend moves towards the end of his reply, he has been

10 Feb 1999 : Column 443

concentrating on India. However, the subject of the Adjournment is the Indian sub-continent. Although I am sure that he was about to deal with other parts of the sub-continent, will he accept my assurance that, like many other hon. Members, I have a great many people from Pakistan in my constituency who have Christian families in Pakistan who are today--now--applying for asylum in the United Kingdom because of a real fear of persecution on solely religious grounds? There are at least 1.3 million Christians in Pakistan, possibly more. Like many other hon. Members, I am greatly concerned about the increase in the number of people applying for asylum. I am sure that my hon. Friend was planning to mention the issue, and I apologise for perhaps anticipating him.

Mr. Lloyd: If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I shall deal in a moment with the situation in Pakistan.

Over several months, the Government have clearly stated our concerns to the Indian authorities. During his visit to India last November, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State expressed our concerns about attacks on religious minorities to the Indian Home Minister and urged that action be taken to restore the confidence of the Christian minority in India.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary recently raised the issue of the position of religious minorities in India with the national security adviser and principal secretary to the Indian Prime Minister.

Furthermore, last year, the high commission raised our concerns with senior figures in the Bharatiya Janata party, including the general secretary and the vice-president. In the context of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, it is important that I should make that clear.

I am pleased to report that there has been some progress in the Indian authorities' response to the incidents. The human rights commission has been invited to investigate the murders of Graham Staines and his family. That is in addition to the formal commission of inquiry headed by the Indian Supreme Court Justice, which has been asked to report to the Indian Home Minister. We look forward to reading the findings of this and other inquiries. Suspects have already been arrested, and we very much hope that all the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

The incidents in Gujarat are being investigated by the National Commission for Minorities, and suspects have been taken into custody. I understand that arrests have

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been made in the case of the rape of the nuns in Madhya Pradesh in September. We are encouraged by those developments, and by the determination of the Indian authorities to bear down against the perpetrators of this evil in Indian society.

The position of minorities, including Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims, in Pakistan is also a cause for concern. Like India, Pakistan's founding fathers were wholly committed to religious tolerance. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, said:

Jinnah described himself as the

    "Protector General of the Hindu minority in Pakistan".

Article 20 of Pakistan's constitution makes it clear that there is a right to practise, profess and propagate religion, and that there should be the right to establish, maintain and manage religious institutions. There are constitutional protections, but the rights of minorities there are abused.

Many hon. Members will have read a disturbing article called "Beyond Belief" which detailed various examples of discrimination against Christians. Accusations of blasphemy can and have led to death sentences. In the most widely known case, Ayub Masih, a Pakistani Christian, was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death after intervening in a dispute with a Muslim man who wanted to seize land from his parents. Masih was shot and injured as he was being led to court. The Sharia Bill, currently before Pakistan's Senate, has given rise to further concerns over the position of non-Muslims in Pakistan.

Mr. Colman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Lloyd: No, I will not, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has completed a three-day visit to Pakistan. I can tell the House that, on Monday, he raised the issue of religious minorities with Pakistan's Minister of Law. He told the Minister of the great concern in the UK. The Minister made the point that there was concern in Pakistan as well.

The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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