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8.40 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Last Sunday, I went to the Edith Cavell statue, just outside the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and just north of Trafalgar square. I joined a couple of hundred other people. For an hour, we took turns to read out the names of people—there were 1,100 in total—who have died in the past year in the conflict in Israel and Palestine. The poignant and moving thing about the names was the differences in the surnames and first names, and the huge range of ages of the people who died. In some ways, it was like reading from war memorials for the first world war, on which one sees the names of brother after brother who died on the western front. Many people joined in the rota. There were people from Palestine and Israel and from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions, as well as people of no religion at all. They were united in calling for peace and hoping that, somehow, as we move into a time that is important for all religions—we have just come to the end of Ramadan, Hanukkah is around and Christmas is next week—we will see some genuine hope of peace coming to the middle east in the next year.

I must say, however, that the portents are not good. The demonstration was organised by Just Peace UK, which also has supporters and members in Israel, and members of Gush Shalom also attended. The petition that we passed around—I shall not read it all, but I want to refer to what it said—called on the British Government to call a halt to the Israeli Government's over-excessive violence and assassinations and the brutal siege of the Palestinian people that is breeding the horrific counter-horror of suicide bombings, which are universally condemned. It went on to describe the situation in the region.

Anyone who has visited Israel and Palestine will be aware that, as the Prime Minister has said, travelling from Israel into Gaza is like going from the first world to the third world. One sees the poverty, misery, distress and downright anger of ordinary Palestinian people about the way in which they have to live and in which they are treated. When an atrocity occurs in Israel, the Israeli authorities often make very little attempt to do anything about it judicially. There seems to be a policy of launching an immediate rocket attack on a supposed source of Hamas terrorists or on somebody else. The result is that villages, homes and lives are destroyed, and many people die. That breeds anger and hatred, and more support for the people who then carry out attacks in Israel.

When the Prime Minister of Israel or the President of the United States says that it is up to Chairman Arafat to capture such people, bring them to justice and have control over them, they forget that the Palestinian National Authority is not especially wealthy. Indeed, one

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could argue that it is often bankrupt. If Israeli armed forces systematically bomb its police posts and any form of transport that Chairman Arafat has, it is hard to understand how he or anyone else can exercise authority over what is happening in Palestine and Israel.

The wider question is how one brings about a peaceful solution. It is not wanting for lack of resolutions at the United Nations or of international recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people to exist in a twin-state strategy alongside Israel. There is no lack of political declarations around the world. However, they are not implemented and matters are not brought to a fruitful conclusion.

The British Government are an important part of the process, and I hope that they will do all that they can to put pressure on the United States to cease the apparently unending stream of military support for Israel and its blanket support for anything that Israel does. I hope that they will apply a great deal of pressure to ensure that the negotiations take place round the negotiating table, that a ceasefire occurs, and that, if both sides agree and wish it, some sort of United Nations policing operation is established. In 2002, I hope that we can look forward to the declaration of an independent Palestinian state, which will form the basis for long-term peace.

What is happening in the middle east is horrific and the implications are wide. No one of whom I know supports what al-Qaeda and bin Laden did on 11 September; no rational person could condone that organisation's activities. However, people are desperate for peace, recognition and self-determination. If the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority cannot provide that, people seek recognition and justification elsewhere. That is how organisations such as Hamas get their support.

I hope that after the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, there will be peace, some self-determination and genuine support for the clean-up operation in the wake of the use of depleted uranium, cluster bombs, daisy-cutters and all the other horrific accoutrements of modern warfare. I hope that there will be an examination of human rights abuses by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, especially the killing of so many prisoners at Mazar-e-Sharif in the early part of the allied campaign against the Taliban.

I want a recognition that the fundamental injustice of the treatment of the Palestinian people and the need for an active peace process lie at the heart of much of the world's problems, especially in the context of the war on terrorism. There is a need to end the blanket support and approval of Israel's action and to promote an active peace process.

The continuation of the United States campaign against terrorism without legal justification, declarations of war, support for an international criminal court and judicial process will lead to a break-down of any international agreement or treaty. A bombing campaign in Somalia will probably succeed as nothing else in uniting many Somali people against the United States and the west. I hope that there will be a halt, a pause and a recognition of the need for the primacy of international law.

I am about to finish because I am getting strange signals from the Whips. I have received such signals for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament. On 30 January, the United Nations mandate for the MINURSO force

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expires. It currently helps to ensure that there is a ceasefire in the western Sahara. There was a war, but now there is a ceasefire and a thirst for peace and for self-determination. The United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council have ratified the principle of a referendum to facilitate that peace process, but if there is no referendum for the people of Sahrawi, so wrongly expelled after the Moroccan invasion in 1974, there will be no peace, the Moroccan occupation will continue and a guerrilla war and all the wider implications of that will be on the agenda.

The Government are seized of that fact, but I hope that they encourage the French Government to stop allowing the Elf Aquitane oil company to sign oil exploration certificates in the occupied territories in Morocco, which is totally illegal, totally wrong and very dangerous, and ensure that there is sufficient financial and practical support for the UN operation to enable the referendum to take place early next year. Those hundreds of thousands of people living in dusty, dry, inhospitable refugee camps in Algeria will be able to return home to the country from which they were so brutally expelled in the 1970s.

8.51 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, I must briefly raise several points. First, I entirely agree with the hon. Members for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) and for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) on fireworks. I cannot recall receiving so many letters about fireworks and on firework night I thought that our house was under siege, as bombs seemed to be exploding everywhere.

Fireworks no longer produce pretty little stars and the noises that they make seem to have grown louder and louder—local residents were complaining about animals being frightened. I much prefer organised displays. We should not ban fireworks, but a ten-minute Bill on the subject is to be introduced next year and I ask the Government to consider how such products are manufactured and whether we can definitively control the period for which they can be displayed. I hope that a successful gunpowder plot does not result next year owing to the crazy decision we took last night.

My second point is about the wonderful Southend airport. Unfortunately, it has encountered a number of difficulties, so much so that an article about the airport appeared recently in The Daily Telegraph. To comply with new Civil Aviation Authority regulations, St. Laurence church, which is nearly 1,000 years old, must be shifted 150 yd. That is being seriously considered, but quite how an ancient church can be picked up and moved I do not know. Obviously, worshippers are extremely upset and those whose loved ones are buried by the church are outraged. Although I hope that the Minister recognises that the airport is worth supporting, will he pass that message to his colleagues so that this crazy scheme for an ancient church might be avoided?

My third point concerns cocklers in Leigh-on-Sea, who are in difficulty. Every year, there are problems in the Thames estuary with an algae called DSP. The cocklers advise me that a huge number of cockles would have to be eaten before a person became ill, but there seems to be no clarity and the cocklers of Leigh would be grateful if tests were carried out. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) had responsibility for such matters when she was a Minister.

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My fourth point involves the huge difficulty in attracting and retaining teachers. Going round the schools recently, I encountered a number of mature teachers and one wrote to me recently:

As a result of all that, following the pay increase the gross income of that teacher will be £7.75 over the limit allowed for deferment of student loan repayments. I wish I could go into more detail, but I can tell the Minister that this will apply to many other Members.

My fifth point concerns a reorganisation of benefits called the ONES. I recently visited a home for people with learning difficulties. I simply cannot believe that someone has come up with such a crackpot scheme. People in such homes are experiencing extreme mental-health problems, and it was always the case that the professionals would represent them in terms of benefits. That has all changed. The home that I visited was told "You now have to ring a help line". When that was done, nothing seemed to satisfy the gentleman at the other end of the line. It appears that these people now have to be interviewed individually. That is crazy, and I hope the Minister will look into it.

Finally, let me say that the best Christmas present for Southend would be the according of city status. I bet that when Her Majesty the Queen visited the town in 1998, she thought it extraordinary that it had not been declared a city. We have no cities in our wonderful county of Essex, although it is a huge area. I am sure that any Member visiting Southend would be given a warm welcome, and would support my entreaties to the Minister.

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