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1.6 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) on securing this debate on the last day of the Session. It is incredibly important, but it poses a huge dilemma for the world and, in particular, for the British Government.

The hon. Gentleman has ably described the contrasts in India and Pakistan. In many ways, they are very industrialised and have a high standard of technology in some sectors, yet, in most of India and Pakistan, people do not have access to clean water. In India and Pakistan, there is a brilliant and ancient culture and superb universities, yet a huge proportion of the people in both countries are illiterate and have no access to education.

Medical technology is of the highest quality in both India and Pakistan in their medical schools and teaching hospitals. Indeed, this country has benefited tremendously over the years from Indian doctors and surgeons working in this country, yet, as the hon. Gentleman has described, in India, the figures on infant mortality and the perinatal mortality of mothers are appalling. Both countries are areas of huge contrasts that are to be deplored.

Nearly half of the world's poorest people live in India. India receives the largest proportion of overseas aid that we give. As hon. Members will know, this year's Department for International Development White Paper said that we were concentrating on alleviating poverty among the poorest people of the world, not the poorest countries. That is what presents us with this dilemma: how can we put pressure on India and Pakistan without endangering the aid that we give to the poorest people in the world?

It all boils down to whether there is peace in the area. All the time the hon. Gentleman was speaking, something that we used to sing at school was going through my head; I think that it is from Judas Maccabeus by Handel:

The only solution to poverty is peace. I urge the Government to do everything that they can to stabilise the area and to encourage India and Pakistan to reach a peaceful settlement.

1.9 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) on securing this debate and on the way that he introduced it. I shall be brief so that the Minister has time to reply. I declare an interest as I hold a lifetime membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which I joined at the age of 16 and, I am proud to say, of which I am still a member. Indeed, I am a member of its national council. I passionately believe that the world would be a better and safer place if there were no nuclear weapons, and that we should set an example by not having any ourselves.

Next Thursday, 6 August, will be Hiroshima day; three days later it will be Nagasaki day. They are the only times that atomic bombs have been used in war--in

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anger--against people. People are still dying from cancers caused by the fallout from very small explosive powers compared with those that are available to this country, the United States, France, China, Russia and, now, India and Pakistan. The work of the peace movements around the world has at least focused attention on the possibility of getting rid of nuclear weapons.

In all the recent discussion and debate on the Pakistan and Indian nuclear tests, which I deplore, many people in Pakistan and India have felt that it is a bit rich to get lectures from Europe, the United States, Russia and China on why they should not be undertaking nuclear testing, when, for example, this country has just rapidly expanded our nuclear capability with the introduction of the Trident nuclear missile system. The 200 warheads have far more destructive power than was previously available under the Polaris system. Although I support what the Government have done in trying to persuade both India and Pakistan of the error of their ways, we would make far better progress if we were seen to be getting rid of our nuclear weapons.

The background to India and Pakistan's promotion of a nuclear capability and the vast arms race is, in part, a hangover from the cold war. The Soviet Union supported and heavily armed India, while the United States supported Pakistan; now, China is helping to develop nuclear missiles in Pakistan, while Russia--and many other countries--continues to try to sell nuclear material and technology to both countries. The bloodthirsty arms trade around the world is more interested in the profits that can be made from selling arms to both those countries than in dealing with the desperate and terrible poverty of people in India and Pakistan.

The running sore of the inability of the United Nations, since 1948, to deal with the issue of Kashmir provides the pretext in which the military establishments of both countries can put enormous pressure on their own Governments, who can then use the populist argument of the need to be fully armed in order to protect, invade, liberate--or whatever other word one cares to use--in order to resolve the issue of Kashmir. I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did his best to promote talks on the issue of Kashmir. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give us some further news on that. Promoting a greater UN involvement in Kashmir, or any other form of mediation, must be the way forward.

Although I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead said about the fact that both Prime Ministers met at the SARC summit in Colombo a few days ago--it is good news that at least they met--unfortunately, no agreement was reached at the end of that meeting and both sides are still committed to building a nuclear capability. India has tested five nuclear devices while Pakistan has tested six. India appears to have the capability to build a modern day thermonuclear device, while Pakistan appears to be developing a uranium-based atomic bomb. The capability is enormous. India appears to have stocks of highly enriched uranium and about 300 to 400 kg of reactor grade plutonium. Official sources estimate that by the year 2000, India's stockpile of weapons grade plutonium could rise to 450 kg. Pakistan has slightly less such material, but it has sufficient to manufacture a significant number of atomic bombs. Perhaps more importantly, Pakistan now has a missile system capable of delivering those bombs to another country, making the situation more dangerous.

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West Germany, France, Britain, Canada, China, Belgium, Libya, Holland and Switzerland have all supplied various parts of nuclear technology to Pakistan. The United States, France, Britain, West Germany, Canada, Russia and China have all supplied significant amounts of high-technology material to India, so that it would be able to develop its nuclear capability.

We have to look for a way forward. The gut reaction was that sanctions should be applied against India and Pakistan for undertaking nuclear tests. I should welcome anything that will stop further tests, and promote the peace process in both countries and the eventual removal of all those nuclear weapons. However, as India and Pakistan have such desperate poverty, high rates of infant mortality and communicable diseases, low levels of life expectancy and a lack of basic necessities--such as clean drinking water, never mind basic food and education--I am concerned that many of the proposed sanctions would not hurt the military, the hierarchy or those who are promoting the arms race between the two countries, but would punish the very poorest people, in some of the poorest states on earth. I am therefore concerned that nothing would be gained by imposing sanctions.

Sanctions would probably enhance the popularity of the Bharatiya Janata party, which promoted demonstrations in support of nuclear tests. We should therefore be extremely cautious about using a sanctions process that would hurt the poorest people in India.

I hope that we will hear in the reply to the debate what the British Government have been doing to try to deal with the Kashmir issue, which is the biggest running sore between India and Pakistan, and to promote universal adherence to both the nuclear test ban treaty and the non-proliferation treaty. Adherence is the kernel of the issue.

Above all, we have to work towards creating a world in which the United Nations' authority is enhanced, and its ability to sort out countries' basic disputes and to promote a long-term disarmament process is increased. Nothing could be more obscene than a well-stocked and well-equipped military in a country filled with desperate poverty and people who are unable to gain a basic subsistence. Another obscenity is populist politicians saying, "We have to defend ourselves against the enemy across the border", thereby enhancing still further the military's role at the expense of the very poorest people in those countries.

We live a world that is deeply divided between north and south. Unless Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States do far more to reduce their own nuclear capability--I should prefer that we got rid of it in its entirety--lectures from us to poor countries about why they should not have nuclear weapons will fall on deaf ears. The likelihood of other states around the world openly developing a nuclear weapons capability will be enhanced if they do not know where nuclear weapons are currently targeted or at whom missiles are currently aimed.

As we come towards the end of the 20th century--in which so many millions have died in so many wars, many of which were entirely and utterly useless; and in which the arms trade is burgeoning as never before--perhaps we

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should stop for a moment and do our very best to disarm ourselves as a way of encouraging a disarmament process around the world. The alternative is unthinkable. The alternative is some mad colonel or general pressing the button that will start the thermonuclear war that we all grew up dreading during the dark days of the cold war.

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