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The Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief Bill 2023-24 is a Private Member’s Bill, Bill 191 of the 2023-24 session. It was introduced by Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). The Government supports the bill.

This briefing explains the background to the bill, its contents, and consideration at Second Reading and at Committee Stage in the Commons.

The bill would put the office of the Special Envoy, first established by the Government in 2018, onto a statutory footing. The envoy is tasked with promoting FoRB globally and raising awareness of cases of persecution and discrimination against people on the grounds of religion or belief.

The bill would require the Government to provide staff, accommodation, allowances and payments and other facilities it considers necessary for the Special Envoy to perform their duties.

The proposal to establish the Special Envoy role “permanently and in perpetuity” with appropriate resources was one of the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s review into Christian persecution overseas in 2018. The Government committed in its 2019 manifesto to implement the review.

Fiona Bruce MP introduced a similar version of the bill in 2023 but this did not proceed past its first reading.

The current bill passed its Second Reading Debate on 26 January 2024 and was considered by Bill Committee on 24 April 2024. Both the short title and the bill’s contents were amended at Committee stage by four amendments introduced by Fiona Bruce MP.

The amendments changed the bill’s short title to refer directly to the Special Envoy and merged two clauses in the original into a single clause to improve its clarity. The amendments were unopposed and made without division.

At Second Reading and Public Bill Committee, Shadow Minister Catherine West MP and Sarah Champion MP raised questions on how the Government would ensure it balanced rights on FoRB with others that “may occasionally collide”, such as reproductive or LGBT+ rights. Fiona Bruce MP said that the “reason that the special envoy for FoRB in particular is being put into statute is that doing so was a manifesto commitment” and “does not in any way diminish the importance of the work of other envoys”. Minister Nusrat Ghani said that the Government “defends the full range of human rights”.

The bill is tabled for report stage on Friday 17 May 2024.

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