Previous SectionIndexHome Page

12.43 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): It is a pleasure to welcome the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) back to the House. It seems like only yesterday that he occupied the exulted position of opposition leader on the planning committee of the London borough of Haringey when I was its chairman. I shall never look at a Jordan's crunch in the same way, having heard his comments.

22 Jun 2001 : Column 329

I compliment the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) on his speech and his amazing victory in the general election. It is a shame that the village of Tolpuddle is not quite situated in his constituency--it will be another four years before that triumph is achieved.

I shall be brief, as I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak. We should always recognise that we are elected to this place because thousands of people in our constituencies have put enormous faith in us to carry out a representative job on their behalf. I pay tribute and give my thanks to the people of Islington, North for electing me again to Parliament, for the support that they have given me and for their hopes about the second term of a Labour Government. They want us to ensure that the problems of inner-city deprivation, housing shortages and serious childhood poverty will continue to be addressed. In particular, the re-elected Government must recognise and understand that, unless the problems of affordable rented housing in the inner city--especially council housing--are not addressed, the electorate will not be so patient with us. They will be very angry indeed. Far too many children are being brought up in incredibly overcrowded and poor-quality conditions. Those problems must be addressed.

This Parliament will also be dominated by the quality of public services and the delivery of those services. I am a member of Unison, a large public sector trade union, and I was at its conference recently. A great sense of anger was obvious in many of those union members, who have loyally supported the Labour party for many years, about the proposed privatisation of services in the NHS and local government. We should pause and think more carefully about the value and the quality of public employment and services, and their ability to deliver a democratic and accountable service to the people.

During the election campaign, we had a big public meeting in my borough about the future of Post Office jobs. Those jobs are under threat in many parts of this country because of international pressure and the ludicrous competition rules that insist that each national post office can compete with all the others on their own turf. The idea is that that is more efficient, but I beg to differ with that view. I question the idea that Europe is improved by endless competition between public services or by their privatisation.

The rules of competition seem to encourage the break-up of public service, not to encourage it, which is part of a worldwide phenomenon in which people feel that their elected politicians, Governments and parliaments are powerless to do anything. Several people who did not vote in the election--and the turnout was lamentably low everywhere, including in my constituency, where just under half the electorate voted--asked me what elected politicians could do when multinational corporations are so powerful.

I look to the Government, in all their dealings with the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and all the other international trade organisations and bodies, to remember that the world economy should not be seen as beyond the power of elected Governments. There are some incredibly powerful multinational corporations that hide out in tax havens, the better to plot the transfer of capital around the world, and it is time for elected Governments to assert themselves over those companies and their power. Too often and for too long, individual regions and countries have operated

22 Jun 2001 : Column 330

a beggar thy neighbour policy of offering ever greater tax concessions and tax holidays to multinational companies to go to that area and do whatever they do for a few years before they move on to the next tax haven. It is time to engender a sense of responsibility into trade and industrial planning around the world. We look to a Labour Government to pursue a policy of fairer and more just trade, and more control over the flow of capital around the world.

The flip side of that issue is that the conditions under which many people work are poor and, in some cases, getting worse. The level of exploitation increases down the chain of production of sports goods, or any other type of clothing, so that the poorest people, in the poorest countries, are paid a pittance--sometimes child labour is used--to produce goods sold as luxury and fashion items in western European stores. It is important that our aim should be not to weaken the International Labour Organisation and its conventions but to strengthen them, so that child labour becomes a thing of the past and every child can expect to go free to school to be educated, instead of being sent to work in a brick or clothing factory. The absolute right to belong to an independent trade union, which can improve conditions for workers, must also be recognised.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in his opening remarks, talked about the importance of United Nations institutions. I draw the House's attention to some sanguine comments by Kofi Annan on the radio the other morning. He said that the United Nations was underfunded, got all the problems when no one else could sort them out and received all the criticism when it was incapable of sorting them out.

We need the United Nations; it is the only thing that can give us any hope of a sane and peaceful world. We must therefore ensure that every member of the United Nations makes its full financial contributions to it. I hope that the new Foreign Secretary will put whatever pressure he can on the United States to pay up in full both the backlog of its contributions and its current contributions to the United Nations, and that we contribute as much as we possibly can to the other United Nations agencies and institutions, especially the human rights and refugee commissions. Both do extremely important work. Both recognise the denial of human rights, often as a result of economic exploitation, and recognise the plight of refugees around the world.

While we luxuriate in what I believe to be a largely false distinction between economic and political migrants, we should look at why people seek asylum in the first place. In my constituency, I meet people who have been bombed out of their homes in Somalia and whose families have disappeared, and people from many other places around the world. They were insulted as much as I and many others were insulted by the rhetoric that the Leader of the Opposition used in the election campaign. We should have a greater sense of humanity about the victims of the world economic system and the language used against them.

I intervened in the speech of the Foreign Secretary to raise the issue of peace in this world. There are a large number of wars still going on. Many people are dying in those conflicts, which are often economically based. They are wars fought almost as a surrogate battle for a conflict

22 Jun 2001 : Column 331

about mineral resources. We must do all that we can to support peacekeeping efforts and ensure that those conflicts are brought to a conclusion.

We still have a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons in this country. President Bush, who can call himself democratically elected only by virtue of the assistance of his brother in Florida, tells us that he has a mandate to introduce national missile defence, which is an untested technology--or one that has been tested only in so far as it has been proven not to work. He is prepared to spend vast amounts of American taxpayers' money on NMD. It is essential for him that the United Kingdom supports NMD and takes part in it by making available Fylingdales and Menwith Hill as listening stations.

I am not alone in the House in opposing NMD. Many Labour Members and some Liberal Democrat Members have said that they are strongly opposed to it and concerned about the future. I hope that, instead of undertaking the consultation exercise with President Bush, we will oppose NMD from the beginning and all that goes with it. It would lead to a new arms race with Russia and China and would bring about not peace but the opposite in the long term.

We shall face many foreign policy and human rights issues in the next few years. I hope that ratification of the International Criminal Court will show that the dictators of the world will have no hiding place in the future. Unfortunately, former President Pinochet was allowed to go back to Chile, where we hope that he is to be put on trial. I ask the Foreign Secretary to recognise that the United Kingdom holds many documents in secret under the 30-year rule or the longer rules that may be of assistance in prosecuting Pinochet for his role in the disappearance of many people in Chile. I ask him to consider releasing those documents so that they can be used against General Pinochet and his henchmen.

We face problems in many places in the world. I draw attention to the danger of an imminent war in Morocco over the future of the western Sahara. The United Nations must go ahead with an independent free referendum so that the people of the western Sahara can decide their future and prevent the whole thing from descending into a war.

People in my constituency live the problems daily. For too long, the island of Cyprus has been divided. I hope that in the second term of a Labour Government we can bring about talks that will lead to the peaceful reunification of Cyprus and the recognition of all traditions in that island.

We have a great role to play in this, but--here I echo the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire at the beginning of the debate--Parliament must be a place where independent, free-thinking voices are readily listened to and heard. It also has to be a place that brings its Government and Executive to account for what they do. That is what makes for better and stronger Parliaments, better and stronger democracy and, ultimately, better government and better legislation as a result. That is the reason that we are elected to Parliament in the first place and I am looking forward to the next four or five years in that vein.

22 Jun 2001 : Column 332

12.55 pm

Next Section

IndexHome Page