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My point is that the good things that are happening cannot be reported because of that discipline. It is the right discipline for the negotiations, but more pressure should be put on the Israeli Government to meet their obligations to put a freeze on the settlements, which are causing massive problems for the Palestinian Authority and their credibility. Indeed, Dr. Fayyad was pretty clear on that point, but when one puts it to the Israelis,
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they say, “Well, it’s keeping the coalition going in Parliament.” Colleagues in other parties in the House may be surprised to know that the Liberal Democrats do not support Israel’s form of proportional representation.

Let me briefly touch on the Syrian track. It has not really featured in this debate, but it is crucial and welcome. If we can get serious negotiations under way between Israel and Syria to sort out, for instance, Hezbollah or the Golan heights, that will have massive implications for the policy towards Iran. Decoupling Syria from Iran and closing down the funds and armaments going to Hezbollah could have a very important catalytic effect.

I will not go through all the countries that others have mentioned, because I want to allow other hon. Members to speak, but I want to discuss Sudan and Darfur, which have been mentioned briefly. Earlier this year, I asked the Foreign Secretary about helicopters to the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur:

In reply, he said:

It is my understanding that we have still not managed to send any extra helicopters to the UNAMID mission, apart from five helicopters that Ethiopia provided. We understand that the Ukrainians are in talks about sending helicopters, but that Britain, the EU and NATO have failed to supply the helicopters needed by the UNAMID mission in Darfur. That is a disgrace. The resolution that went through the United Nations Security Council in July 2007—resolution 1769—was the precursor to the planning for UNAMID but, more than a year and a half later, we have still not provided the basic equipment to allow UNAMID to do its job in Darfur. That is a disgrace.

As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said, there is a great deal of agreement on these issues, but the Government also need to recognise where they have gone wrong in recent years on Iraq and on their relations with the European Union. Until they do that, they will not be as well placed as they need to be to influence the new President and to ensure that Britain punches above its weight in the world.

3.51 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I welcome the fact that we have this annual debate, although it is a shame that this one coincides with a sitting of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. That does not seem terribly clever planning of parliamentary business, but of course it has never happened before.

Today is United Nations human rights day, and the theme of our debate ought surely to be the importance of international treaties, international agreements and international law to the way we operate. Some important reviews of a number of international treaties are coming up. There is also the serious problem of the denial of human rights around the world, both in the individual sense of the many people who suffer imprisonment, torture and isolation, or who are forced to flee into
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asylum and exile, as well as in relation to the 1 billion people—one in six of the world’s population, according to UN figures—who face starvation because of a lack of food for them to eat. This is not about a lack of food supply around the world; it is about people’s lack of ability to buy enough food to survive. That is surely a basic human right in itself.

I want to make a number of points on international law. I should like to know what stance the Government plan to take when the International Criminal Court review comes up in 2010. There are clearly limits to the Court’s effectiveness so long as a number of member states, including the United States, have not signed up to it, and to the Court's ability to get people who have been arraigned on charges of genocide and torture to appear before it. I hope that we will reiterate our support for the principles behind the International Criminal Court, as well as using the good offices of the incoming President Obama in the hope that he will change the United States approach to the UN and its agencies and to international law in general, as well as signing up to that particular process.

It is also important that we ourselves abide by international law and conventions, and this relates to the behaviour of the British Government towards, for example, the Chagos islanders in the Indian ocean, who were quite wrongly thrown off those islands in the 1970s and 1980s. They have fought a long and stoic legal campaign for the right to return but, unfortunately, the House of Lords finally rejected, by a majority verdict, their application to set aside the Orders in Council of 2004. The Chagos islanders might well exercise their right to take their case to international jurisdiction, and, personally, I hope that they do.

Kate Hoey: I should like to pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done to bring that small part of the world to the attention of the House. Does he agree that it is timely that an all-party group on the Chagos islands has now been set up in Parliament? We hope that that will bring pressure to bear on the Government not to take this issue any further.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I entirely endorse and agree with her intervention. What happened to the Chagos islanders was wrong and immoral; they ought to be allowed to return to those islands as they are the best people to look after them. One has to recognise the incredible stamina of Olivier Bancoult and the other islanders in campaigning over the decades for their right to return. Can we not put an end to this horrible period of our history and provide justice to those islanders who suffered so much when they were removed?

I want to welcome one particular part of the Queen’s Speech—the proposal to introduce an amendment to the Antarctic Act 1994, with which I was involved as it passed through the House. The premise of that Act was to oppose mineral exploitation of the Antarctic and I would be grateful if the Foreign Office or the Minister in his reply assured me that there was no danger whatever of going back on the principles that the Antarctic is a zone of peace, that it is a world park, that it exists for scientific and peaceful purposes only and that we will not disfigure, destroy or pollute it, as we have done to so
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much of the rest of the planet. The Antarctic is very important and very special in being such an important place for research.

This debate is clearly dominated by the current wars. I was one of a large number of Members who voted against the Iraq war in 2003. I have no regrets whatever about my vote and I am sure that my colleagues do not either—indeed, my understanding is that many around the House wish they had voted against the war in 2003. I am pleased that British troops are to be withdrawn in the near future, but the tragedy of the more than 500,000 people who died in Iraq during this conflict will not go away and neither will the bitterness of the 4 million people forced out of their homes into internal or external exile. We have to learn that what was, in my view, an illegal war and illegal intervention has not made the world safer or more secure. Perhaps there is also the lesson that supporting dictators, as many western countries did in arming Saddam Hussein in the first place, is a counter-productive strategy.

There is great danger in saying that because the war in Iraq was a bad war, the war in Afghanistan is automatically a good war. It is predicted that we will stay in Afghanistan for up to 30 years, yet there is no clear war aim and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) pointed out, there are increasing levels of corruption in the Afghan Government. The occupation by NATO forces and US special forces is increasingly unpopular and the spread of the war into Pakistan is terrifyingly dangerous. At the end of the day, every war has to be solved by some form of political dialogue and political process. There is no other way of ending conflict. Are we to stay in Afghanistan for 30 years and eventually be forced out by the growing unity of the Afghan people, or will there be a serious attempt at dialogue with some elements of the Taliban? The Taliban are not a seamless whole. I am not here to represent or defend the Taliban; I am just saying that we should look at the realities of the situation and that some talks will have to take place in the end.

The danger of the war spreading into Pakistan is very evident and obvious. Already the drone attacks on villages in Pakistan are causing political problems for the Government of Pakistan and the resulting instability is very serious. Pakistan is, of course, a nuclear power; it has weapons and a delivery system, as does India. The collapse of the Pakistan Government might, because of the spill-over from the Afghan war, ultimately have the most terrible consequences for the region and the world as a whole. This is very serious and, although I welcome his election, I am disappointed that incoming President Obama seems to be sending out a message, unless I have misunderstood him, that he believes that this war can be won by military means and that he is planning an increase in troop numbers.

The Foreign Secretary said quite a lot in his introductory remarks about nuclear weapons. Although I strongly support the non-proliferation treaty and associated purposes, the fundamental flaw is that India, Pakistan and Israel are not signatories to it—and because of its structure, they can never be signatories to the treaty or members of the non-proliferation system. I am not advocating breaking it up or leaving it. It is valuable and does have a purpose. Indeed, South Africa, Argentina and Ukraine, for example, have disarmed themselves of nuclear weapons within the terms of the NPT. However,
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there has to be something else in addition, which is why we should look seriously at a nuclear weapons convention of the sort promoted by Australia, formally known as the Canberra commission on the elimination of nuclear weapons, which is due to report in advance of the 2010 review.

There is growing support for the concept of a nuclear weapons convention that all states can join. At least that would be a forum for discussion and debate on the demilitarisation of nuclear weapons around the world. It would also help us. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) that if we were not planning an expansion of the Trident nuclear missile fleet and the weaponry that goes with it through the work that is going on at Aldermaston, we would have a much stronger moral voice within the NPT and nuclear disarmament system.

Israel is a nuclear power. That fact is often ignored; no one wants to go into that area. However, if there is to be disarmament around the world, it has to include India, Pakistan and Israel. If we wish to have effective pressure on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, we should put equal pressure on Israel, first, to take its weapons off alert and, secondly, to take them out of operation altogether so that the dream of a middle eastern nuclear-free zone—there are effective nuclear-free zones in Latin America, Africa and soon, hopefully, in central Asia—can be achieved.

The attitude that we take towards Israel is always far too soft. Every time any criticism is made of Israel’s policy in, for example, Gaza, we always say, “Well, on the other hand”. The reality is that Israel is acting illegally in the collective punishment of the people of Gaza. The bitterness felt in the daily lives of people in Gaza is something from which we will all suffer for a long time. There has to be a settlement based on respect for the Palestinian people, based on recognition of the needs of the Palestinian people. Israel should behave as a proper democracy in the world. That does not include arresting elected parliamentarians from Gaza or anywhere else and not affording them the right of a trial or representation. What is going on there is simply outrageous.

My final point takes me back to where I started: poverty around the world. One in six of the world’s population suffer from real starvation. Half of the world’s population lead very difficult existences and are seeing their living standards fall. The millennium development goals are not being met in many parts of the world. The Foreign Secretary mentioned the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and there have been interventions on that subject. The living standards of people throughout most of the DRC are barely increasing, and in many cases they are falling. The number of children attending school there is falling, and the instability brought about by the war is getting worse. Yet at the same time, massive amounts of money are being made out of the mineral wealth of the Congo by people all over the world. This is a war in a country endowed with the most enormous riches which at the same time is bedevilled by those riches.

Although I support what the UN does—my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) and I were in Goma earlier this year and saw the reality of the refugee camps and the misery that people face there—there
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has to be a political peace process and negotiations. The process led by the former President of Nigeria is hopefully a way forward. I hope that the Government will put as much effort as possible into supporting a peace process and getting humanitarian aid into the region. The people of the Congo do not deserve to live in that way. Those women do not deserve to be treated in the way that they have, with rape becoming a weapon of war used by all forces in the eastern Congo, be it the Government forces, the militia groups or anyone else.

I was surprised that the Foreign Secretary did not say anything about Latin America. It is a cause of regret to those of us with an interest in Latin America that so many British embassies have closed there and the amount of diplomatic activity has been so reduced.

The continent is experiencing enormous change, and I hope that the Government will continue to work with and support all the Governments there who are trying to reduce poverty and conquer inequality. I particularly hope that they will recognise that the present traumas in Bolivia have been largely brought about by wealthy vested interests that are trying to undermine a Government who are doing their best to bring a degree of prosperity and good-quality living to the poorest people in the poorest parts of that country. I think that there is a process there that we can admire and support. I hope that the Government will be prepared to extend an invitation to President Morales to visit this country at some point, so that there can be real discussions about the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes in a country that has suffered a great deal from mineral exploitation in the past.

We live in a world that is experiencing what is a time of trauma and a time of fear for many people. The way forward must surely be respect for human rights, sharing the world’s resources, and bringing an end to the wars that have so disfigured our society. That means a process of disarmament and a process of respect for law. It does not mean continuing what I believe to be the absolutely crazy war on terror into which President Bush led us after the dreadful events of 2001.

4.6. pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) about nuclear weapons. On the Trident decision, the point on which I think he is mistaken is that the need is for multilateral, not unilateral, nuclear disarmament. I do not believe that the Government’s decision is irreversible. I have no doubt that if there were scope for major progress on nuclear disarmament over the coming period, it could be revisited in the context of what was happening around the world.

The Gracious Speech itself was very light on the subject of nuclear weapons, but I pay tribute to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary. He paid great attention to the subject, and I very much agreed with the thrust of his remarks. I believe that the whole issue of nuclear weapons will be increasingly important over the next 12 months and the period thereafter, partly because the first foreign policy crisis with which President Obama will have to deal will be the question of nuclear weapons in Iran—and how
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he deals with that will also be influenced by what is happening on the wider nuclear weapons front—but also because I believe the time has come for major consideration of where the world is going with regard to the overall question of nuclear weapons.

Over the last two days, I have attended an international conference in Paris arranged by the new Global Zero organisation. It may be thought that the conclusion that was reached was not a surprising one, but it was surprising in one sense. I shall come to that in a moment. The conference reached the conclusion that there was an urgent need for a massive reduction in the number of nuclear arsenals around the world, and for serious consideration of the question of ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons.

Members may ask what was surprising about that, given that over the years many conferences have reached the same conclusion. It was extraordinary, however, in view of the composition of the conference. To put it mildly, none of the usual suspects were there. It was not a collection of professional peace campaigners. Among those present were a former President of the United States, a former American national security adviser, Foreign Ministers and former Defence Ministers of NATO countries and nuclear weapons states, and air marshals, generals and other senior military personnel from countries with nuclear weapons.

The conference followed an initiative taken nearly two years ago in articles that appeared in the American press signed by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and others. In this country, a number of us have made similar proposals. An early-day motion is currently before the House, signed by 277 Members including, I believe, some 57 of my hon. Friends. We have to ask why those of us who have so often been identified with realpolitik are becoming strongly convinced of the need for a fundamental debate on the overall question of nuclear weapons, along with a change of approach to one of greater urgency. Essentially, it is because realpolitik means being influenced by real events and not by idealism or theoretical issues, and the real world has changed substantially since the end of the cold war.

As the Foreign Secretary implied and my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said, much has been achieved. At the end of the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union between them had between 26,000 and 27,000 operational nuclear weapons. That figure is now down to about 12,000—between 5,000 and 6,000 each. Nuclear weapons have also been successfully eliminated from Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, and there have been local achievements, such as South Africa giving up its nuclear weapons and Libya being persuaded not to conduct a weapons of mass destruction programme.

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