My right hon. Friend was right to mention the large number of Palestinian parliamentarians in prison in Israeli jails. How can we say to the people of Palestine, We think you should have an elected democracy? I was there as an NGO election observer for the presidential election, and there was nothing wrong with the electoral process. There was an awful lot wrong with the roadblocks, the checks and all the harassment that went on, but nothing wrong with the electoral process itself. A president was elected, and a few months later a Parliament was elected. If the message is, You have elected a Parliament, we dont like the result and were going to imprison those who were victorious, that is hardly a good advertisement for democracy there or anywhere else in the world. I endorse the call that has been made for the release of Marwan Barghouti and the others, who will be part of a dialogue that will eventually bring about peace and justice for the Palestinian people. That in turn will bring about security for ordinary people in Israelthe two things are indivisible.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned Turkey. For a long time, she and I have taken up the case of the Kurdish parliamentarians who were imprisoned. I was in Turkey last month, and during my visit I saw problems such as the lack of recognition of Kurdish parties and the 10 per cent. voting threshold that Turkey imposes before a party can be represented nationally. There are serious problems with that, but a large number of independent parliamentarians essentially represent the interests of Kurdish people in the south and east of Turkey. My position is not to endorse or support any violent activity by the PKK or anybody else, but if political representation, cultural identity and the right to speak ones own language are locked off, there aint much left as an alternative. That is what has fuelled so much anger and violence in southern and eastern Turkey for a long time. We must bear that in mind.
We were successful in the campaign for the release of the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, who suffered the most appalling abuse and had the most appalling nonsense spoken about him. The campaign brought about his release.
Next Wednesday I have secured an Adjournment debatesadly only half an hour, but thats the way it goeson Bangladesh. There are serious concerns that the interim Government there have continually increased their own longevity. Elections have not been held, and they now say that they need a year to prepare for elections. I realise that the tragedy of the cyclone and the floods must take priority over absolutely everything in the immediate future; I am not saying anything different. But, as a Commonwealth country, a member of the IPU and a democratic countryits constitution is democraticBangladesh should hold elections and the democratic process should take over. The democratic process is not enhanced by suspending political activity, banning political parties or imprisoning political leaders. If that happens, people resort to other means of doing things.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) mentioned the situation in Colombia, which I once visited on a trade union delegation. I will never forget meeting Colombian members of congress and Senator Wilson Borja. Visiting his house was like going to an Army camp in South Armagh 20 years ago. It had
barbed wire, watch towers and cameras, and that was for a radical, centre-left politician who has been shot at a number of times, very seriously injured on many occasions and survived. His idea of political activity is extremely limited because he cannot travel around and there are frequent threats to his life. There are also threats to many othershe is just one example. Many trade unionists have been killed in Colombia in the recent past. A democracy is not just about having a president and elections but about having the freedom to express oneself politically and engage in political debate. That is not necessarily available for all the people all the time in Colombia.
We are about developing accessible and accountable government. Most hon. Members have mentionedcertainly my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell) didpost-conflict societies, how they have to emerge into a democratic model, and what support, recognition and help one can give them in doing that. She talked about Guatemala; sadly, the human rights abuses there, particularly of children and indigenous women, are far from over. While the rates of murder and disappearances are not as high as during the civil war, they are not far off in the poorest communities.
I was invited to lead an IPU delegation to Burundi in September, and it was a very interesting experience. I will not go into all the details because I gave a fairly full report yesterday at the report-back meeting. Burundi struck me as being rather like Rwanda and neighbouring states that have gone through the most incredible conflict, the like of which we can hardly understand. Some 300,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict in the past decade or so. Depending on whom one believes, that amounts to between 5 and 10 per cent. of the population. The median age of the population is 16. There are desperate attempts to develop free primary education, which I absolutely endorse, and free health care for under-fives and nursing mothers, which I also absolutely endorse. It is a very brave attempt by Burundi to achieve its millennium goals. Again, I thank the Department for International Development and others for giving the necessary support to go some way towards achieving those goals.
During that delegation, we spent a lot of time meeting representatives of the Senate and the National Assembly. We kept on emphasising the importance of having a parliamentary system that held the Government or the Executive to account. There is nothing wrong with a Parliament disagreeing with an Executive, and there is nothing wrong with MPs asking Governments and Executives awkward questions. That is why we exist. I emphasised that I have exercised that position fully here over many years, as have many others. That is what we are here for; we are not a rubber stamp or a technical process. We are part of the whole process.
The delegation met for a long period and had a very good meeting with the Burundi human rights group. We talked at length about its need for support, facilities and operations, because when a country comes out of that kind of conflict, human rights abuses continue and there is continual instability. There is also a large number of people with not much to do, who have knowledge of and access to weaponry and guns. If the whole thing
goes wrong, the country could easily implode back into civil war. We have a responsibility to support the development process, and I see the development of accountable government as a part of that.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that post-conflict states are very vulnerable in the five years after a conflict and are likely to go back to the previous conflict unless they can get the sort of institutional change that he is talking about? It is all very well to have a Parliament that can hold a Government to account, but one thing that DFID is working very hard on is to establish capacity within Governments in such weakened states. Typical examples are Iraq and Afghanistan. The capacity of the Government to deliver any public service is, in both cases, and in a lot of African states, very low. That is what DFID is very good at doing, and we need to concentrate on that aspect.
Jeremy Corbyn: I do not disagree with any of that. Unless the Government of Burundi can develop and deliver the education, health and other services that are vital to the future of the country, all the institutions in the world will not be any good because people will say, We have elected parliamentarians and politicians and we are still hungry, homeless and illiterate. We still cannot get a doctor or go to a hospital and we are still reliant on tiny remittances from abroad. I once asked somebody in the Congo how the economy of Kinshasa worked. They said, You buy something in small quantities and sell it in smaller quantities to someone who sells it in even smaller quantities, and so it cascades down the line. There is no real economy there and that is the danger. That is why we have to give support now to countries such as Burundi that are coming out of conflict, otherwise they will descend back into conflict. There is never a shortage of guns in poor countries, but there is always a shortage of food, books and doctors, and we have to do what we can.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley pointed out that we had one or two nice moments during our visit. My local football team, Arsenaleveryone will have heard of Arsenalvery kindly donated a box of footballs for us to give to a school. We gave them to children who were orphans of the war or AIDS. Football is a universal language and, for the first time, we had real conversations with real people about matters of real importance. Sadly, it turned out that some of the children had, in a very misguided way, been supporting Manchester United. I was forced to stay behind and help them. However, it was a very nice occasion and I want to put on record my thanks to Arsenal for that gesture. It was a very nice gesture and I imagine that it is something we could repeat on other IPU visits. It certainly beat all the other gifts we gave out, and was very popular.
I want to mention another point very quickly because I know that the Minister wants plenty of time to reply. Last month, in Geneva, I attended the IPU-International Labour Organisation-UN Commission on Human Rights seminars on migrant workers around the world, which lasted three days. There was a delegation from Britain and three other European countries, and that was it. There was a large delegation of African countries, and a good representation from Latin American and Asian countries. What is wrong with European Governments and parliamentarians that they find it so difficult to get
to Geneva for three days in September? I know that it is a long journey from Paris to Geneva, and a horrendous journey from Berlin, but people made it from southern and central Africa to discuss the plight of the fourth worldthe undocumented migrant workers and people who are dying in the ocean trying to get to the Canary Islands, to cross the Mediterranean to get into Spain or Italy, because they are desperately poor and they want to make something of their lives. They then lead a twilight existence in western countries, like the Mexicans in America and so on; there are plenty of parallels around the world. We have a responsibility to try to do something about it.
I was very pleased to be able to go on that delegation, and I was elected the rapporteur of the conference. We put forward a number of ideas, which will be fed through to the migrants conference next year and the IPU assembly. I am grateful to the IPU for sending me there. There are lots of other issues relating to human rights abuses that I would like to mention, but I will conclude with this thought. We all campaigned for an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa because it was morally wrong and evil. That was very unpopular in the 1960s, moderately unpopular in the 1970s and fairly popular by the 1980s, but it was never easy. It is very difficult sometimes to raise human rights issues, particularly if it is believed or perceived that we have a close economic interest in the country in question. That is why, yes, of course we should raise human rights violations in Burma, but we should do the same if China, India or Saudi Arabia are involved. I have tabled an early-day motion along the line of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley when she introduced the debate.
We have a great institution in the IPU, which is about bringing accountable elected government to the world, as far as possible. I hope and believe and wish that the United States will rejoin the IPU. I have friends in the US Congressyes, I do, in the anti-war group within Congress. I have said to them, Join the IPU. It is another forum in which to make better contacts with the rest of the world. That would make the IPU a much stronger organisation.
Mr. Jim Murphy:
Thank you, Sir Nicholas. With the leave of the House, I would like the opportunity to do just that. I hope that no one takes this the wrong way, particularly you, Sir Nicholas. Occasionally in the course of a parliamentary day but often in the course of a parliamentary week, one hears an interesting speech. What has been fascinating todayI hope that you will agree, Sir Nicholasis that we have heard seven interesting speeches. I have learned something different from each and every one of them. I am not complaining about the amount of time that is available to me, because it was important that everyone had the opportunity to speak about their own experience, but I may not be able to respond to every point. However, I will ensure that the Secretary of State has an
opportunity to pay close attention to many of the specific details that were discussed.
I would like to thank you, Sir Nicholas, for presiding over our sitting in the way that you did. I am reliably informed that you are one of the members of the executive who has attended every executive meeting. You have an unblemished attendance record. As a former Whip, I am proud of you.
The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) made an interesting speech. He, too, is a former Whip. He spoke about his experiences during a visit to Mexico and many other matters to which I shall respond in a moment. He also gave an impromptu democracy audit, and I share his assessment.
We have heard about worrying and continuing problems in different parts of the world. We can even look on our near doorstep at the massive transformation in eastern Europe that has occurred in our own lifetime. Things are not perfect, and there are continuing worries about some countries. For example, there were recent announcements about a lack of election monitoring in Russia. There are still problems there, but the spread of democracy closer to home than some of the areas that have been discussed is a cause for celebration.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter) made several points to which I will respond. He spoke about the importance of gender equality and other issues for this country: our interface with parliamentarians outside of Europe, and the parity and participation of black and minority ethnic citizens in our own Parliament and the signal that that sends to parliamentarians in the countries with which we seek a dialogue. I believe that it was the hon. Member for Cotswold who quoted Edmund Burke. I do not seek to quote him but to record the fact that he opposed extending the franchise to women. To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Cheadle, perhaps the quote is not one that can be used in all cases.
I understand why the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) cannot be with us today. Quite rightly, with all cross-party support, he is celebrating the return of the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, which has done a phenomenal job in southern Afghanistan as part of the international effort. We all rightly pay tribute to their work.
I shall deal with some of the specific points and countries that have been mentioned. It was right that everyone paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). I remember throughout the mid-1980s, when the matter was not headline news, trying to organise demonstrations in Scotland about Kurdish rights. Other Members were also involved in that. My right hon. Friend was the leading voice throughout that period.
My right hon. Friend raised specific points about Saudi Arabia and told us about the terrible case of the young lady there. We all share her concern about those horrible events, and we continue to raise with the Saudi authorities our specific and general concerns about human rights. We did so again recently during the two kingdoms conference.
On the wider points about parliamentarians in Eritrea and Palestinemy hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) also raised the matterand the specific points about Marwan Barghouti and others,
the fact is that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has expressed its continuing concerns about Palestinian prisoners who are being held in administrative detention, and we will continue to raise the matter with the Israeli authorities. We are and will continue to be in close contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors conditions in Israeli prisons. I shall bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for the Middle East, specifically the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell).
Mr. Clifton-Brown: In order that something positive can come out of this debate, will the Minister make personal representations to his former colleague the right hon. Tony Blair about the Palestinian MPs who have been arrested by the Israelis? It seems to me that if we could get rid of that layer of anxiety, it would be the first step towards peace between those two countries.
Mr. Murphy: I am certain that that would be part of the solution to the remarkably multi-layered and complicated dynamic that is peace in the middle east, which often is about process and staging posts towards what we know is the ultimate solution of two democratic states living side by side with one another, both of which are viable, both of which are friends, and both of which, in time, have normalised relationships of the kind that many adjoining countries around the world take for granted. Of course those are important issues. I am not certain whether I will have an opportunity to raise them with Tony Blair before the meeting in Annapolis next week, but they will be part of the conversation that will take place there.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House made the point that if a Government have confidence to abuse their elected politicians, there is a near certainty that they are dismissive of their own publics rights. That is no more certain than in Zimbabwe, where grotesque violations of human rights and the disruption of the country are clear for all to see. That is why, among other things, the United Kingdom will not participate in the forthcoming EU-Africa summit. It would send the wrong signal and legitimise Mugabe at a time when he is so ill-deserving of that.
We have ensured that if Mugabe were to attend the gathering, there would be high-level representation by all European Union members in a plenary session. I believe that we all agree that we should not allow one individual to overshadow and make a mockery of a fundamentally important and historic gathering of two great groups of nations, which will try to find some solutions to long-term systemic and structural problems, not least getting the millennium development goals back on track.
On the points raised by almost everyone about Burma, it is clear that the IPUs work on that country is of crucial importance. The decision to prioritise the resolution sent a clear and important message. The UK Governmentsupported on a cross-party basis, it is fair to saycontinue to send that message. A Government who can abuse the many hundreds of peaceful, spiritual monks in public view in the way that they did, are a Government who, in
private, behind closed doors and away from the TV cameras, are doing much worse to their general population. Perhaps that is the wrong way of looking at the situation, but it is one way of judging it.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary therefore raised Burma with the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and senior leaders and Ministers in Europe, Asia and north America, and will continue to do so. We have discussed the matter at the EU. Indeed, I attended a meeting earlier this week at which it was discussed, and the Foreign Secretary attended a meeting last month at which specific, detailed agreements were put in place. Important sanctions have been put in place, but we do not rule anything out in terms of further European sanctions against Burma.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester referred to the British Council, and an interesting insight into its work is that its offices are one of the few places where the countrys citizens can still access the internet. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) referred to his experience of queues outside another British Council office, but that is also happening in Burma. There is anecdotal evidence that the children of the regime are also trying to find out what is happening in the world. That is not the British Councils purpose, but it plays a crucial role there, as in many other places.
Earlier this week in Brussels, I had the opportunity with 26 other European Ministers to meet Iraqs Foreign Minister. The UK and, importantly, France have tabled a joint paper with Sweden on human rights and developments in Iraq. The French Minister for Europe publicly and rightly raised the issue of the death penalty in Iraq, and we shall continue to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) spoke about her recovery from Groganitis while making her informed points about Albania. We all know that Albania is recovering from a remarkably dark period in its history, and it is the responsibility of all of us to support it in that. We are doing what we can. Albanias leadership in respect of Kosovo is remarkable, in both support of refugees and its diplomatic posture. Despite the direct impact on Albania, it has argued eloquently that the issue must be resolved through the international process based on President Ahtisaaris proposals. That is important.
I do not know whether this is the feedback that my hon. Friend received, but our embassy in Albania referred to an anecdote arising from the IPUs visit. Albanian parliamentarians valued the fact that they met not the Government, but individual parliamentarians. One Albanian MP said that because a Member of Parliament made the comment that passing legislation and not implementing it brought Parliament into disrepute, it made an impact. I am not sure which Member of Parliament it wasit may have been my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend, although I was not aware of that when I mentioned itbut the comment was one of many that hit home, not least in Albania. I am sure that such comments from IPU colleagues make a lasting impression on other politicians perception of the UK, and perhaps in some small but important way have an impact on their actions as politicians.