Lord Alton has said the killing of Christians in Syria is a 'genocide that dares not speak its name'

The British government has agreed to consider if the slaughter and expulsion of Christians from the Middle East by Islamist terrorists constitutes genocide, but said it was reluctant to use the term.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, told the Lords that she would “reflect” on whether brutality inflicted on minorities by ISIS amounted to efforts to eradicate them completely.

She said the Government acknowledged that ISIS was “persecuting individuals and communities on the basis of their religion, belief or ethnicity, and its murderous campaign has resulted in the most appalling humanitarian crisis of our time”.

But she said the Government was reluctant to profess the view, held by Pope Francis, that the persecution was genocidal, but added: “I will certainly continue to reflect on that.”

Her comments were a response to Lord Alton of Liverpool, the Catholic crossbench peer, who had asked what steps the Government was taking to uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

Lord Alton told the Lords that the killing of Christians in Syria was a “genocide that dares not speak its name”.

In spite of the assurance from Baroness Anelay, the Foreign Office confirmed after the debate that the Government did not intend to use the term “genocide” to describe the persecution of minorities by ISIS.

A spokesman said the Government was unable to make “a full appraisal of the situation” because of difficulties on the ground and would be focusing instead on preventing further atrocities.