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8.43 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I shall speak for 10 minutes about foreign and security policy. Incidentally, I think that a time limit should be imposed on speeches in debates such as this, so that all hon. Members can make a proper contribution.

The theme of human rights is very current, in view of what has happened in Nigeria and many other places. In that context, we must consider the ability of world institutions to keep the peace and ensure justice. That is clearly not being done at present. The British Government have demonstrated their priorities by spending nearly £24 billion a year on defence and arms: that has brought about an enormous growth in weaponry, and a heavy promotion of arms sales. An increasingly large proportion of British manufacturing industry is dedicated to such sales--and anyone who looks carefully at what happens to the arms that are sold will find that they end up in the hands of oppressive and repressive regimes, and are used internally for repressive purposes.

I have before me an excellent document produced by the World Development Movement, entitled "Gunrunners' Gold: how the public's money finances arms sales". I suggest that the Secretary of State for Defence reads it carefully, and takes note of the relationship between overseas development expenditure

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and the expenditure of arms companies in promoting and propping up appalling regimes. Indonesia is just one example of the way in which British arms have been used to pursue a policy of genocide against the people of a country.

We have heard strong rumours that Britain's aid budget is to be cut substantially. That is on top of a stated Government strategy of pursuing a trade policy--with the assistance of the general agreement on tariffs and trade and the World Trade Organisation--that specifically takes from the poorest in the world and redistributes the money to the banking systems of the richest nations.

Quite simply, the Government are very much part of a globalisation of the economy designed to reduce the poverty of the poorest to penurious levels--as is currently the case--and to increase the wealth that exists in the richest parts of the world. A quarter of the world's population lives in absolute poverty. Many people do not live to even half the age that we would expect in this country, and millions of children around the world do not live to the age of five. Millions more receive no education.

It is not as if the situation were improving. In country after country--in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia and parts of Latin America--such is the burden of foreign debt and export-led growth that education and health services have been closed down, and life expectancy is falling as a result. We cannot be complacent in a world in which such appalling things are happening. The real problem is the imposition of a global economy that has led to corruption and support for repressive regimes, provided that they continue with the economic strategies that are imposed on them.

In the 19th century, colonialism came from British, German and French gunboats arriving on the coast to impose a particular kind of law and order--a Pax Britannica, or Pax Europa. The same principle applies now; the only difference is that a sharp-suited gentleman from the World bank or the International Monetary Fund now arrives to impose policies that will lead to equivalent levels of poverty.

Many hon. Members have spoken movingly about the situation in Nigeria--in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and for Streatham (Mr. Hill). I shall speak briefly on the subject. I must draw attention to the hypocrisy of the British Government: they knew full well of the abuses of human rights that were continuing in Nigeria, and the danger to Ken Saro-Wiwa's life, but they did very little about it.

There is a direct link between arms sales and Nigeria's economic and human rights crises. Over the past 15 years, the massive arms sales programme of Britain and other European Governments has pushed up Nigeria's foreign debt to more than $30 billion. Nigeria used to be a middle-income country, but since 1981 gross national product per capita has fallen by two thirds. Eleven out of every 100 babies die before their first birthday--the same figure as 30 years ago.

What has Britain sold over the past 15 years? It has sold 118 Vickers main battle tanks. I am not sure where the external threat to Nigeria is, but I am sure that those tanks will be used on the streets of Lagos and other cities to control people who are trying to demonstrate in favour of human rights and democracy in that country. Britain has also sold Saladin armoured cars, British Aerospace Jaguar ground attack aircraft and Saxon armoured personnel carriers.

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The Government claim that they are not selling any lethal equipment that could be used for purposes of internal repression. Since January 1995, however, they have admitted to more than 30 export licences for non-lethal military equipment for Nigeria. They relate to ammunition, large-calibre weapons, bombs, torpedoes, missiles, mines, vehicles, toxicological agents, riot control agents, military explosives and propellants, combatant vessels, aircraft and training equipment.

We have heard that sorry tale before, in the case of Iraq. Export credit guarantee support for Iraq went up in the year of the 1988 Halabjah massacre. I hope for a total cessation of all arms sales and a halt to all arms traffic to Nigeria. I hope that that will be followed by strong economic sanctions, including a refusal to buy oil because that is the only kind of language that that military regime will understand.

In many ways the questions about Nigeria relate to many other places. The Ogoni people, of whom Ken Saro-Wiwa was the best known although many others laid down their lives for them, were attempting to protect their communities, their ecology, environment and land, against the oil industry. Massive demonstrations have taken place in that country and, as a result, people have been gunned down. There have also been demonstrations around the world. The oil companies try to wash their hands and say, "It has nothing to do with us: we are merely looking after our own interests." But they must look at where their profits come from and at the damage that they are doing to people in those countries.

I could say much about human rights throughout the world but I shall briefly mention two cases. A few days ago I met a group of Makuxi indians from Roraima province in the north of Brazil. They were assured by the Group of Seven industrial countries that the rights of indigenous people in Brazil would be protected and that money would be made available to ensure that. They told me tales about gold mining, pollution, the destruction of their environment, alcoholism, crime, corruption and robbery that are happening to them because they are standing up for an environmentally sustainable life style and system that is contrary to the wishes of international corporations and mining companies. They are suffering as a result.

Those people came here and they are travelling to other European capitals to plead with people to raise the issue in their Parliaments. I am pleased to be able to do that here and I have tabled some parliamentary questions on the issue. Those people seek environmental sustainability but the World bank model for Brazil, as for many other countries, is to dam the rivers, exploit the ground as rapidly as possible, introduce western farming techniques and then be concerned about the environmental impact of such policies. We must look seriously at what we are doing to the environment of poor people in the poorest parts of the world. I could give other examples but I want to be brief.

Over the past 30 to 40 years the conflict in central America has been essentially between rich and poor. The richest people own the majority of the land and the oligarchies in every central American country have always been propped up by powerful armies. In Guatemala, the powerful army has been sustained by arms sales from all over western Europe and the United States. The peace that has come to Guatemala is not a happy peace. Human rights abuses continue and people still

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disappear. Anyone who speaks out against human rights abuses is subjected to interest by the police and death has resulted.

At the moment we are training Guatemalan army officers, and training a few officers is giving no message other than that we support the pre-eminent, powerful position of the Guatemalan army. We should support independent institutions that could do something to bring justice and human rights to that poor country, and as an example of what is happening in other parts of central America.

All over the world it is not the thirst for market forces, for free market enterprise, that people necessarily seek. They are looking at the environmental consequences of that policy. Everyone has environmental concerns because we all live on the same planet. I have an interesting document produced by the Just World Trust, which is based in Penang in Malaysia. In a book called "Dominance of the West over the Rest" there is an article called "The Metamorphosis of Colonialism" by Jeremy Seabrook. In a part about India it states:

Their life style is being destroyed and they are another example of victims of globalisation of the economy and what goes with it.

Tomorrow the President of Guyana, Cheddi Jagan, will visit the House and speak to members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in a Room downstairs. Last November, shortly after becoming President, he produced a paper and on the issue of globalisation he stated:

    In the South, the consequence of these divisions has been the increase in crime and disease, hopelessness, emigration, environmental degradation, the illegal traffic and use of narcotic drugs . . .

    More alarming, however, is the incidence of increasing poverty across the globe. Poverty atrophies the vigour and initiative of the individual and deprives the society of incalculable human resources at a critical time."
We cannot go on allowing the world to be impoverished of its resources, consigning a quarter of the population to short lives and terrible poverty and not making anybody very happy in the process. We have to turn our backs on the principle of the free market economy and start to look at global concerns and the rights of people to a humane life, housing, education, jobs and health. They must share in the technological and wealth achievements which ought to be for the benefit of all.

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