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Mr. George Galloway (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Respect): It has been some time since I caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, so I am extremely grateful to the mystery hand that guides the lottery that chooses the subject for the Adjournment debate. To be successful on this subject the night before the G8 convenes in Gleneagles is exceedingly good fortune.
On the subject of mystery hands, I should welcome my erstwhile hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who is now a Foreign Office Minister, to his post. I good-naturedly remind him that while he now has access to my MI6 file, remembering him well as I do from our days on the barricades together, I have access to his file from King street, Covent Garden. [Interruption.] The Minister affects not to know who was headquartered in King street, Covent Garden, but I think some of us in the House know the answer to that very well.
It is equally well known that I have a low opinion of this Government. But even I never imagined that they would try to execute a cynical U-turn in their international reputation on the sea of bodies laid out every three seconds as a result of poverty in the world such as that which we have been witnessing these last few weeks. Browno and Blairof, or Blairo and Brownof, or however else this self-styled Lennon and McCartney like to see themselves, have, however, been rumblednot only by the quarter of a million British people who marched in Edinburgh at the weekend but even, now, by the leadership of Make Poverty History, whom the Government imagined they had in their pocket. Quoted in The Guardian this morning, Steve Tibbett of ActionAid said this:
The Government are engaged in a carefully calculated deception of public opinion to try to draw a veil over the disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan and to scramble up at least the foothills of the moral high ground on the greatest issue facing the world today. More than half the world's population lives on half the money it costs to keep a cow in the Elysian fields of the European Union.
This has been deliberately reduced by new Labour to a question of heavily conditional debt cancellation for some countries in one continent. The conditions allowing a takeover of their countries' economies by the International Monetary Fund, Paul Wolfowitz's World Bank, and the vulture capitalists and robber barons of the globalised corporations will leave the people thus relieved even worse off than they were to start with. Seventy-seven per cent. of the people living on less than $2 a day in the 1990s lived in countries being strangled by free-market structural reforms implemented by exactly that unholy trinity.
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One in six in the world has no access to clean water, and four die every minute from drinking it dirty. The neo-liberal axis believes in privatisation as a purifier, hence the fiasco of the British Government's attempt to pour free-market water down the throats of the poor in Tanzaniaa scheme recently sunk in derision at the considerable expense of the British taxpayer.
Every day, more than 6,000 people die from AIDS in Africa alone, largely unable to access readily available medication. One hundred million children have no school to go to and 30,000 die every day from diseases that kill next to no children in the rich world. Everything the neo-liberal consensus proposes for Africa has already been tried in Latin America, where it failed utterly. Presumably that is why that region has not had a look-in in recent Government discourse.
One in five Latin Americans live in extreme poverty while more than 40 per cent. are characterised as poor. That is one reason why, from Bolivia to Brazil, from Cuba to Caracas, a radical challenge is being mounted now on the streets to the prescriptions that the Government propose to dole out to the people of Africa.
Just as one cannot get slim through eating low-fat chocolate when it is not part of a calorie-controlled diet, one cannot make poverty history through conditional, highly selective debt cancellation without a profound change in the distribution of wealth and power in the world. Such a shift is impossible to imagine at Gleneagles. That is why I shall be marching there tomorrow, with thousands of others, making it clear that we will not make poverty history until we make the G8 and its system history.
Let us be clear: the poor people in the poor countries do not owe the rich in the rich countries anything. In so far as they are in debt, it was not incurred by them but by overwhelmingly unelected dictatorships of one kind or another, usually backed in the cold war days by the west. The money was often spent on self-aggrandisement and western weapons. In any case, those original loans were long ago repaid, but for the usury of the hyper-interest charged by western lenders to bloat their £1 billion-a-year-plus profits. Poor countries would be entirely justified in tearing up their debt repayment books and declaring, "We have already paid", and they might well add, "Far from us owing you money, you owe us."
When the British empire, on which the sun never set because God would not trust us in the dark, arrived in the area then known as Bengal, it was one of the richest places in the world. When we left, it was one of the poorest. One does not have to be Einstein to work out what happened in between. The poor countries are poor because the rich countries became rich partly by making and keeping them poor. The great empires took away everything they could carry, including, in the case of Africa, the people themselves, whom we chained in the holds of ships and carried off as slaves. Until a seismic shift of wealth is made in reparation towards the people we robbed, justice will not be done.
Yet huge wealth remains in the poor countries and in the effort and skills of their people. However, the economic system over which the G8 presides continues to loot and plunder, as alliances such as the Jubilee
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South coalition of debt campaigns and social movements from 40 countries throughout the poor world have made clear.
Let us consider unfair trade and fuelling wars in and across colonial boundaries. Why are the British Government giving Uganda and Rwanda blue-eyed-boy status when both are involved in the invasion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, thus further beggaring a country first pushed down a long slope to misery by the colonialist conspiracy against and the murder of the greatest of all African leadersPatrice Lumumbaand by his hand-picked replacement Mobutu, who went on to become the greatest thief of the 20th century?
Despite all that, Government mendacity has relentlessly maintainedin some cases flatly falsely, for example the Chancellor's repeated statements that he proposes 100 per cent. debt write-off for the poorest countriesthat their proposals, if only they can persuade back-sliding Johnny foreigners, will make poverty history.
A small minority of the world's poorest countries will have significant debt cancellation if this deal is agreed. In the words of Ivy Maina from Kenya, who has travelled from ActionAid's Johannesburg office by bus:
"Africa is counting on this summit to deliver. I was face to face with Gordon Brown, and nothing he said will reassure the millions of people relying on his government and other G8 leaders. I fear that if there are no further developments over the week, all I will have to take home from Scotland is bleak news."
In place of the annual $125 billion in new money demanded by Make Poverty History if the G8 countries are to meet the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income, the G8 are offering just $25 billion for Africa, much of which is money that has already been pledged. In place of the $45 billion that would be released by 100 per cent. cancellation of the poorest countries' debts, the G8 are offering just over $1 billion in cancelled debt service paymentsa fraction of what is required.
War on Want, the World Development Movement, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, People & Planet and many other organisations are now mounting a massive critique of the mendacity to which I have referred. It would simply be impossible to imagine that the story being told
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