HC Deb 22 June 1999 vol 333 c909
1. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

What discussions he has had with the Indian Government regarding the persecution of Christians in that country; and if he will make a statement. [86572]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

India is widely respected for its commitment to religious diversity. We have made clear to the Indian Government our concern over attacks on religious minorities. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue with the Indian national security adviser and principal secretary to the Indian Prime Minister in January. The late Derek Fatchett urged the Indian Home Minister last year to take steps to restore the confidence of the Christian community. Officials here and, indeed, in India are in touch with representatives of those communities.

Mr. Robertson

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that, on 13 January this year, more than 140 bishops in India wrote to the President saying: Christians are being maligned and persecuted and a wave of hatred is being spread against them"? Is he also aware of reports in the press about the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is currently operating illegally in India and also collecting money in the United States and this country, and is alleged to be persecuting Christians on the back of the money that it is raising?

Mr. Hoon

I am aware of the letter and, indeed, of the situation. That is why—as I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman's main question—we continue to urge India to respect the rights of minorities. We have, however, welcomed statements by the Indian President and Prime Minister condemning attacks on, in particular, Christian minorities. We will continue to urge them to preserve India's secularism and respect for religious minorities.