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Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). I admired the laudable and stoic way in which he ploughed on through all the Tory cheers for his policies on Europe. I agreed with most of what he said about Iraq and I cannot forget the valuable contribution that he made to the debate on 18 March 2003 in the run-up to the war on Iraq. He showed in that speech that he understood the issues facing the middle east and the world, which have not been made safer or better by policies followed on Iraq, but considerably worse. I sadly did not agree with several other points that he made, but they will have to wait for another day.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right that we have been presented with a Queen's Speech that talks heavily about security in the run-up to a general election. Security and people's rights to live in peace are obviously important, but have the policies of the United States and Britain since September 2001 made the world safer and better, or more dangerous and insecure? The invasion of AfghanistanI did not support it, although many of my colleagues who subsequently opposed the war in Iraq didremoved the Taliban regime, but it did not capture bin Laden or stop drug production. Indeed, drug production has increased a great deal since then and the warlords in Afghanistan are pretty powerful. Will that be a place from which concord, peace and safety will emanate, or a likely source of future problems? I suspect that it will be the latter.
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We have failed to engage with and understand the feelings of many poor people throughout the middle east and the wider globe, and have instead gone down the road of following narrow-minded and ignorant American policies. If anyone has read documents from the Project for a New American Century, which is made up of the people who surround George Bush, they will know that those people's arrogance and ignorance are terrifying, as are the dangers that that will bring to the world.
We were told that the reason for the invasion of Iraq was to remove weapons of mass destruction, but that was altered to regime change and later changed to developing a new society and democracy in Iraq. There will obviously be a new society in Iraq and I hope that there will be a form of democracy there in the future. However, many people who opposed Saddam Hussein's regime for many years were also sceptical, if not outright opponents, of the American and British invasion because of its illegal nature. They are also hostile to the current US presence in Iraq.
Although the Prime Minister seems to be unwilling to engage in debate on the article in The Lancet, the report by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other reports about the extent of the death rate in Iraq and the mayhem caused since the invasion, it is time that we had some openness. How many people have died? How many children have been killed due to unexploded cluster bombs? How many people are suffering the effects of depleted uranium and how many civilians died in Falluja and the other cities?
The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe is absolutely right that peace and democracy will not be brought about by militarily bombing one city after another into submission. Many people do not support the political or religious views of those who are termed insurgents, but they are being driven into their arms by the policies followed in Iraq by Britain and the United States. Surely we need a national exit strategy and an inward strategy for reputable forces under United Nations command to help future developments in Iraq. I suspect that we have not heard the end of Iraq by any manner of means. We will rue the day that we invaded the country. Unless a clear exit strategy is put forward, I suspect that the reported comments from British high command that British troops will remain there for decades are, unfortunately, probably true. That will not have a good effect throughout the world.
Every time that things go badly in Iraq, an announcement is made in the White House or somewhere else around the world that a peace process and policy for the middle east should be developed. Everyone wants and signs up to that, and I was pleased that the Prime Minister and the President were prepared to discuss a policy to bring about peace in the middle east. However, that will not be achieved without serious criticism of the way in which Israel has behavedand behavestowards the Palestinians and some understanding of the feelings of ordinary Palestinians and people throughout the middle east about what is going on. The situation is not a war of equals between Israeli and Palestinian states, but a conflict between the first-world state of Israel and people living in Palestine with a third-world standard of living and outlook.
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I have visited Israel and Palestine several times and talked to Palestinians who are not anti-Jewish and not necessarily against the state of Israel. However, they are certainly opposed to the way in which their parents or grandparents were thrown out of their houses at the time at which Israel was founded, and to the use of road blocks, the humiliation, the occupation, the invasion, the settlements and everything that goes with that. If one asks them the hard question of whether they think that suicide bombing is a good thing, most say, "No, it is not." They oppose it as wrong because it kills innocent civilians, causes many problems and leads to retribution. However, if one presses them further, they all say that they understand why people are driven to take such desperate action.
If we are to bring about peace in the region, as I really hope that we can, we could begin by asking Israel to start obeying international law. Rafts of UN resolutions condemn Israel, and the United States has used its veto against other resolutions to prevent them from being carried. The International Court of Justice has made a decision against the construction of the wall. Israel is undertaking the illegal construction of a nuclear reactor and the development of nuclear weapons. Although I was glad when Mordecai Vanunu was eventually released, he is still effectively under house arrest and denied the right to travel because of Israel's strange behaviour towards people who tell the truth about what is going on in the country. If we are to bring about peace, I hope that we can start to develop an understanding of the needs of the Palestinian people and the way in which such peace could come about.
When I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), I made the point that Marwan Barghouti, an important leader of the Fatah movement, is still in prison in Israel. It is symbolic of the country's whole approach towards an electoral process or change that it will not allow him to leave. I, like most Palestinians, want elections to take place in Palestine, but it is difficult to understand how an election could take place given that the area is divided between Gaza and the west bank; that Gaza is bisected by military roads and settlements, so it is impossible to move freely around it; that the west bank is scattered with settlements joined by military roads, meaning that movement is impossible; and that Israel controls all ingress and exits from Palestine. Real international pressure must be put on Israel merely to allow an electoral process to take place because there will otherwise be no solution or peace in the region.
Our debate is taking place in the year before the non-proliferation treaty review conference, which is due next summer. The conference is important by any stretch of the imagination. We are rightly worried about nuclear proliferation and what has happened in Iran and North Korea, and everyone is apparently keen for India and Pakistan to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty, the test ban treaty and all other controls on the proliferation and spread of nuclear weaponsfine. The problem is that the non-proliferation treaty requiresit is not an optionthe five declared nuclear weapons states of Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States to divest themselves ultimately of their nuclear weapons. What we have instead is the development of star wars by the United States and the active consideration by our Ministry of Defence of the development of a new
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generation of nuclear weapons. Small wonder that other countries around the world say, "If the five permanent members of the Security Council, which are also the five declared nuclear weapons states, continue to develop or to hold nuclear weapons themselves, is it any wonder that we want to develop them as well?"
It would be wonderful if we could go to the NPT conference with a declaration that there will be no new generation of British nuclear weapons and that instead we will lead the way in bringing about peace and disarmament. The problems that face the world are insecurity, poverty and all the problems that go with them. Nuclear weapons were not much help to the United States when the World Trade Centre was attacked. They are not much use in alleviating poverty and insecurity. I hope that there is a change of heart and direction.
There is much else that I could say, but I want to mention just two other things. The debate has been dominated by Iraq, the middle east and, to some extent, arms issues and defence procurement. The Prime Minister makes much of the problems facing Africa and the need for his Commission for Africa to be successful in bringing about hope and changes in the world. We live on a small island as part of a very rich continent that uses up a lot of natural resources. Generally speaking, the population of Europe has a far higher standard of living than most people in most parts of the world. The United States uses up far more natural resources than anyone else and has a deeply divided nation in which a proportion of its population live in appalling poverty while some live in enormous wealth. When one looks beyond that to Latin America, Africa and parts of south Asia, although great changes and improvements are undoubtedly going on, desperate poverty exists, and causes the insecurity of tomorrow and the misery that that brings.
I had the good fortune to visit Angola a month ago as part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation. I read all the statistics before I went. Indeed, I have read dozens of statistics on lots of things relating to Africa. The situation in Angola is appalling. One quarter of all children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Half the population have no access to clean water. More than half have no access to sewage and drainage facilities. Being paid a dollar a day would be a massive pay rise for many people. I understand all the problems that Angola has been through, including the 30 years of various wars, funded by oil, diamonds, South Africa and the United States, and all the horrors that went with that, but to go into towns where every building has either been destroyed or damaged by recent conflict makes one wonder what we are doing to allow that much poverty to exist between the north and the south.
I hope that Angola has a donor conference in the near future. I hope that the small but effective British aid programme to Angola, administered through the Luanda urban poverty programme, not just continues but expands because it clearly has a good effect. Above all, however, I hope that we recognise that if we are to deal with malnutrition, infant mortality and premature deathlife expectancy in Angola is 41, so that counts out just about everyone in the Chamber with the
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exception of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) and one or two of my hon. Friendswe must think about what we are doing in this world.
Angola is not an isolated example of African poverty, but is the solution to demand that Africa follows an International Monetary Fund-imposed World Bank-led programme, which often involves cuts in public expenditure and draconian structural adjustment programmes, or is it to bring a sense of fairness and justice in trade, aid and environmental protection to the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world?
The direction in which we are goingthe direction in which the United States is leading uswill not bring about a world of equality. Instead, we will spend more and more of our resources on more and more terrifying weaponry. There will be more and more wars. Afghanistan and Iraq have been mentioned, and plenty of others are on the agenda. Does that bring about peace, justice and a sense of equality? No. The Project for a New American Century and its selfish attention to American corporate commercial interests are very dangerous for the world as a whole. Instead of slavishly following what Bush and his cronies in the White House want us to do, it is time that we actively followed the path of the United Nations and international law and, above all, the path that brings about justice.
We want a decent standard of living for ourselves and some security for our children. If we cannot help to bring that about in other parts of the world, their insecurity becomes our insecurity. If we want a peaceful world in the future we have to work hard for it. We cannot be complacent or myopic. We have to try to achieve that. Otherwise, what do we bequeath to our children except a world of conflict and endless wars, as predicted by great writers in the past? We have a chance to make a difference, but we are missing the opportunity.
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