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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, there is a role too for community leaders, trade unions, businesses and the faith communities.

Which brings me to the theme of this debate. In my introductory remarks I said that this subject was possibly underexplored. Perhaps I should qualify that: it definitely was not “underexplored" from the 12th to the 18th centuries. But it has been for most of this century, having become, in the words of the volume published by the American Center for Strategic and International Studies, the “missing dimension" of statecraft. But there are signs that this and other things are changing.

Lord McNair: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. I believe that it is the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Dr Douglas Johnston used to work for the Center for Strategic and

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International Studies, but the new organisation he has set up is the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. My understanding is that when the book was written he was in his former incarnation. However, I shall bow to the noble Lord's superior knowledge on the point.

As I say, there are signs that things are changing. For all the reasons of interdependence I spoke of previously, faith communities can and will have an increasing impact on the promotion of stability and the avoidance of conflict. There is a clear coincidence between the principles upon which we base our approaches to these issues and the tenets of many, indeed most, faiths. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, described these as the “overlapping circles of belief". The challenge both for governments and for faith communities is to give fuller expression to the enlightened self-interest that lies at the heart of the UN Charter; in other words, to recognise that the actions of the international community must in future, to quote my right honourable friend the Prime Minister,

    “be guided by a more subtle blend of mutual respect and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish".

How can that be done? Recent academic surveys of this issue--and there have been remarkably few--have brought home to those of us interested in the relationship between foreign policy and religion the magnitude of the obstacles facing faith communities.

Part of this is the weight of history: the perceptions that religion can have as much a malign influence as a good, of which we have heard so much in our debate today from a number of noble Lords. Today's reality is no less daunting. There are still too many areas of the world where inter-communal hatreds based on religious differences are fuelling conflict.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of religious persecution in Tibet. I wish to assure noble Lords that human rights issues form an important part of the regular dialogue we have with the Chinese Government and will be raised during President Jiang's visit next week.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the predicament of James Mawdsley and Rachel Goldwyn, who have both been detained because of their attempts to express their beliefs. I hope that in this House there is no doubt of this Government's grave concerns about the nature of the regime in Rangoon. That was why this Government ended official support for trade promotion to Burma. Of course we shall keep under review with our international partners the possibility of taking further measures.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. In the context of what she said about Burma, can she and her noble friend consider the question of new British investment, such as has occurred in the case of Premier Oil, along

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the lines of that adopted by the United States Congress. I do not expect the Minister to reply immediately.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will take that matter into consideration.

I turn to the issues raised by other noble Lords. A number of noble Lords have said that those who write off the role of religion as negative do all of us a grave disservice. They ignore the huge positive impact made in some of the world's most difficult conflict zones by faith-based bodies. Anyone who has seen the work done by Christian Aid, with which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has such a close association, in East Timor, Colombia or Southern Sudan can only admire its dedication and bravery. I should like to reassure the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, that all Britain's embassies are properly conscious of the great contribution made by the religious leaders in their regions and have proper access to them.

Perhaps I may cover one more general issue raised in today's debate. A couple of years ago the respected American writer and academic Samuel Huntington put forward the thesis that the next phase of conflict might well be a clash of civilisations, in particular a confrontation between Islam and Christianity. Although his thesis should have been given little credence, it prompted much discussion at the time, and some feared he might be right.

My late friend and colleague Derek Fatchett took a close interest in these matters. Anyone who knew him will confirm Derek's great personal commitment to dialogue between faiths and between minority communities, a commitment which he brought both to his work in his constituency and in the Foreign Office. Derek addressed these issues in a speech to a seminar at the University of Westminster last year. He identified five areas where, in his view, religion played a significant role internationally: as conciliator; as promoter of development; as protector of development; as a force for change; and as a force for reconciliation. I respectfully agree. And to his five points, I offer a comment. That such work be done with a low, not high profile, unless the circumstances specifically demand this. His is good advice for anyone in the conflict prevention and resolution business. It is particularly apt when one considers the past history of religion and conflict.

Derek's list is particularly appropriate when one considers the challenges to peace and stability and the protection of human rights we face today. Intra-state conflict has been, and seems set fair to continue to be, the post-Cold War norm. The power of faith to reconcile these differences before, during and after conflict, is self-evident.

Leaders of the different faiths agree on the primordial role of the spiritual dimension to life. On this rock they can build understanding. The vision they hold out of a divine purpose for mankind and of the striving for compassion and justice which

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characterises that purpose has acted as a bridge of great strength. It is that sense of what different faiths have in common which can inspire all of us as we face the uncertainties and challenges of the future. I welcomed the sentiment that echoed to that effect from all sides of the Chamber.

That inspiration has already left its mark on the conduct of international affairs this century--not a dominant one, as in the past, but important all the same. Many states are effectively theocracies. Confessional parties feature in most democracies; and a number of influential leaders have left their mark, almost all of whom were mentioned by noble Lords, as they were by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, in his able address. I mention their names again because they are of importance. One only has to recall the work of Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II, and I add another, Aly Khan, to see how much of a contribution faith can make to bringing about peaceful and sustainable change. There are also examples of wider faith community action, from the conflict resolution work of the Quakers during the Nigerian civil war; to the Catholic Church in the Philippines during the transition from dictatorship, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams; to the evangelical churches in East Germany during the Cold War. So, good work--vital work--has been done. I am sure that even more can be done. Next year's UN summit of world religious leaders is but one avenue of real promise.

When the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London addressed Chatham House on these issues in May 1998, his honesty, compassion and vision shone through. He has followed up that speech with vigour and drive, through his successful campaign to establish a multi-faith centre for peace and reconciliation at St Ethelburga's Church in the City of London. I salute his efforts, and those of the friends and trustees of St Ethelburga's, and am glad that my own department has been able to make a modest contribution to his start-up fund. I look forward to developing our dialogue with him and the centre on these important issues.

I also want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to other efforts to bring together representatives of different faith communities in this country and internationally. Such efforts send an important signal of a willingness to develop a multi-faith dialogue on peace and reconciliation. We all have an interest in seeking to encourage effective and co-ordinated dialogue in this area. I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in that regard. The noble Lord voiced his view that learning, acceptance and the widening of understanding are a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Finally, my warmest thanks are due to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He has been in the vanguard of thinking on these issues for some time. The World Faiths and Development Dialogue is just one example: a meeting which he co-chaired with the president of the World Bank, bringing together representatives of nine world faiths at Lambeth Palace in February 1998. Today's debate has

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been both timely and valuable. I could not but add my voice to all those who would seek to congratulate him on that marvellous endeavour.

I spoke earlier about the volume entitled, Religion: the Missing Dimension in Statecraft". Thanks to the efforts of many in this Chamber, and to other faith leaders, that title may yet have to be changed.

4.15 p.m.

The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I rise to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, for her own contribution in drawing together in such an admirable way the many threads of our debate today. I hope that we have a long weekend in which to recover from much speaking this week. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that this has been a fascinating occasion and, if I may say so, one of those events in which the virtues of this unique Chamber have been very well displayed. There is so much that deserves comment, but I will not detain your Lordships for too long, you will be pleased to hear. However, once again I want to add my congratulations to those who have spoken for the first time in this House. They will by now be so embarrassed by the warm comments they have received that I will say no more.

I have been most encouraged by this debate. We may think in our darkest moments that this is only about words and words and words, but I can promise you that from today a message will go around the globe regarding our commitment to dialogue and the role of religion. What will that message be? Perhaps I can offer just two quick points. I think it will be two-fold: a challenge and an encouragement. It will be a challenge and an encouragement to the religions of the world that from the core values we share we should combat intolerance, suspicion, fear and prejudice. We must work together. There is so much “bad" religion around, but there is also a great deal of good religion, with warm humanity in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. We have to draw upon those resources of faith in our daily life.

This compels us to celebrate diversity and the richness of life in all its beauty. It also means that we cherish what we have in common and work from that, but I must warn your Lordships that this does not mean a wishy-washy synchronism or vague vacuity, as one speaker this afternoon described it. For example, I am passionately committed to my faith. I want a healthy, outward-looking Church of England and Anglican Communion. Indeed, I want Christianity to spread around the globe, but that does not mean that I am intolerant. If I want to proclaim Jesus Christ,

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I have to listen to the core beliefs of other faiths. I have to be challenged by them. I have to be humble, as one speaker put it today.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that the way of inter-faith worship is not the way. Such is the respect that we have for one another that we simply cannot merge together in a wishy-washy way. Respecting distinctiveness is a very important quality and it is part of our distinctiveness as Christians, or whoever we are. May I suggest that your Lordships put in your diaries the date 3rd January, because on that day-- this enlarges on what the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, has said--there will be a wonderful inter-faith celebration somewhere around your Lordships' House. It will not be inter-faith worship: it will be a way, at the beginning of the new millennium, of celebrating what we have in common.

Secondly, I believe it is a challenge and an encouragement to politicians and diplomats. The faith communities are there on the ground. We have huge networks. Let us use them and study the emerging liaisons between the great faith communities that have been mentioned this afternoon. So much is happening. One example is the small Christian initiative whereby Lambeth Palace is working much more closely with the Vatican in areas of conflict. We want to encourage other denominations and traditions to do likewise.

I should like to pay my respects to the present Government for what they are doing in liaising closely. For example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has called to No. 11 on many occasions representatives of NGOs and faith leaders to talk about international debt. We owe him a great deal for that, and we are working closely along those lines. I should also like to pay tribute to Claire Short, the Minister for International Development, who only this week came to badger me about the role of the Church in halving world poverty by the year 2015. She has our passionate commitment to assist in all that.

So as we approach the millennium in just 10 weeks' time, we are not blind to the many challenges that the human family faces. There are over 6 billion in our tiny over-populated planet with huge ecological problems facing the human family. There are clear grounds for despair, but no believer ever does. No one who looks back over the history of our country and our world in the past 100 years should in any way take fright. We can only create a better world if we can work closely together and see religion as a potential source for change.

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

        House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past four o'clock.

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