Foreign Office hosts 'historic' talks on religion

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Baroness Warsi has described international talks hosted at the Foreign Office as a "historic" moment in the fight against religious intolerance.

Representatives from countries including the US, Canada, Pakistan and Morocco met at Lancaster House to discuss ways to prevent conflict between different religions.

"I hope this will make a real contribution to solidifying the international consensus around the need to do more to combat religious intolerance," Lady Warsi told peers during a debate on religious freedom on 22 January 2013.

The debate was led by the Bishop of Guildford, who spoke of "increasing encroachments on freedom of religion all over the world".

The Right Reverend Christopher Hill spoke of his diocese's links to Nigeria "where we've seen a tragic increase in sectarian violence, unequivocally religious complexion".

He called for the establishment of an advisory group on religious freedom under Baroness Warsi to work with the foreign secretary.

Conservative peer Lord Sheikh related his positive experiences as a Muslim in Britain. He said: "Governments and political leaders will have to work alongside religious leaders and civil society groups to help promote good relationships between people of different religions."

Labour's Lord Macdonald of Tradeston stressed the importance of protecting freedom of conscience for those who do not belong to any religion.

"Our tolerant balance of the sacred and the secular contributes to the stability Britain has enjoyed for so long," Lord Macdonald said.

Responding for the opposition, Lord Collins of Highbury described "respect and tolerance" as "the key ingredients in building a safer world".

He echoed the Bishop of Guildford's comments, asking whether the government had considered following the example of US and Canada in setting up specific task groups to look at the issue of protecting religious freedom.

Foreign Office Minister Baroness Warsi assured peers that "we regard it as a key human right" and said it mattered to her personally as "a practising Muslim in a Christian-heritage country and as a minister with responsibility for human rights".

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