Part 2 of Jeremy Corbyn MP June/July Report: Parliamentary Contributions
AWE, 18 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which US establishments were visited by personnel from the Atomic Weapons Establishment under the terms of the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement in 2013; and how many staff visited each such establishment.
Mr Dunne: The information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Palestinians, 19 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what research her Department has undertaken into the humanitarian effects of the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.
Mr Duncan: Israeli movement and access restrictions do tremendous damage to the Palestinian economy; the World Bank has estimated that easing restrictions on Area C alone could increase Palestinian GDP by 35%. In Gaza, Israeli restrictions on movements of goods and people do tremendous damage to the economy and living standards of ordinary people. 80% of the households in Gaza are below the poverty line, and 57% are food insecure. The UN predicts that by 2020 Gaza may no longer be a ‘liveable’ place.
AWE, 23 June
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what facility rekit projects have taken place at the Atomic Weapons Establishment under the scope of the Nuclear Weapons Capability Sustainment Project; and what the cost of each such project was.
Mr Dunne: The term rekit is used by the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) to mean the replacement or modernisation of process plant and/or equipment within an existing facility, including upgrading of building services. The following is a list of major facility rekits that have or are taking place at AWE. There are also a number of more minor rekits underway which are not listed.
Depleted Uranium Upgrade
Plutonium Capability Programme (A90)
Enriched Uranium Facility (A45)
Explosive storage and processing Facility
Facility for assembly/disassembly of Warhead
The information relating to individual rekit costs for each facility for the years 2003 to date is not centrally held and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
London, Tilbury and Southend Railway Line, 14 July
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether the new trains due to be introduced during the new franchise agreement with NXET Trains Ltd for rail passenger services on the Essex Thameside line will be equipped with accommodation for a train guard.
Stephen Hammond: The procurement of new trains is being carried out by NXET Trains Ltd under European Union Procurement Regulations and has not yet begun. Decisions about this procurement are a commercial matter for the operator.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with NXET Trains Ltd about minimum levels of (a) on-train, (b) station and (c) ticket office staffing levels in each year of the new franchise agreement for rail passenger services on the Essex Thameside line; and what current staffing levels are in each such category on the line.
Stephen Hammond: Staffing is a matter for the operator; as such no discussions have been held between the Secretary of State for Transport and NXET Trains Ltd and minimum levels of staffing have not been specified.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with NXET Trains Ltd over plans to make staff more visible at stations on the Essex Thameside line during the term of the new franchise agreement for rail passenger services.
Stephen Hammond: The standstill period for the Essex Thameside franchise competition has not yet concluded, as such the Department has not signed the new franchise agreement and we are not able to confirm this information at this time. An announcement will be made shortly once the agreement has been signed.
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what safeguards there are in the new franchise agreement on the Essex Thameside line with NXET Trains Ltd against unsafe reductions in staff over the life of the agreement.
Stephen Hammond: Staffing on the franchise is a matter for the operator. The operator must act within the regulatory environment of the railway, which includes safety obligations under their license to operate (granted by the Office of Rail Regulation).
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many new (a) automatic ticket gates and (b) ticket vending machines will be introduced at stations on the Essex Thameside route under the terms of the new franchise agreement with NXET Trains Ltd for rail passenger services.
Stephen Hammond: The standstill period for the Essex Thameside franchise competition has not yet concluded, as such the Department has not signed the new franchise agreement and we are not able to confirm this information at this time. An announcement will be made shortly once the agreement has been signed. There is already a gate at every station on the franchise and all stations have ticket vending machines (with the exception of West Ham, which is managed by Transport for London). Additional ticket validation will be provided at Dagenham Dock to support step free access at that station.
Oral Questions and Debates
Business of the House, 19 June
Jeremy Corbyn: The Leader of the House will recall that a couple of weeks ago I asked him about the mutual defence agreement with the United States. Will he give us an opportunity for a full debate about it, so that we can examine the details of this agreement?
Mr Lansley: I will ensure that either I or a Minister in the relevant Department writes to the hon. Gentleman about that matter. However, he will have noted, if he was in his place, that a debate on defence spending will take place later today. I am sure it would not be regarded as out of order for him to make the points he wishes to make then and to ask that question again.
The UK’s Relationship with Africa, 19 June (Debate)
Jeremy Corbyn: The number of Members wanting to speak shows how important it is to have a debate on Africa. I hope that a general discussion on Africa will become at least an annual event, because it is a way of drawing attention to a number of subjects. I will be brief, because we do not want to take time out of the next debate.
In any debate on Africa, we should have some thought for our role in Africa in the past, with the colonisation, slavery and brutality, as well as the incredible wealth made by British companies and families from colonial Africa right through to independence in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In such debates, I always remember the prescient remarks of the former Member for Tottenham, the late Bernie Grant when he spoke about the African reparations movement and the need for justice in Africa. He was talking not just about money, but about justice in attitude towards Africa, as well as in trade and aid arrangements.
Owing to lack of time, I will restrict my remarks not to the whole continent, but to one area—the African great lakes region. I am a vice-chair of the all-party group on the African great lakes region. I have a considerable diaspora community from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in my constituency, as well as numbers of refugees from other conflicts in the region. The Minister will not be surprised that I raise such matters, but I hope that he will help me in his answers, or at least correspond with me afterward. Next year, the year after and the year after that, there will be very important elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, which I will consider in order.
We discussed the Democratic Republic of the Congo at some length in a recent Westminster Hall debate. Suffice it to say that its history is one of the most appalling brutality and exploitation, first by forces under King Leopold’s control in the 19th century, later by Belgian colonialists and then, following independence and the death of Patrice Lumumba, by a series of brutal military Governments. That has left the country with very limited infrastructure, while the majority of the population is extremely poor and life expectancy is very low. State organisations have very limited reach in any part of the country.
The death rate as a result of the internal conflict in the DRC and the fighting in the east is of almost First World War proportions. The number of people who have died in conflict in the DRC in the past 20 years runs into the many hundreds of thousands. The motive force behind much of that conflict is a combination of local determination and the huge mining interests in the DRC, as well as the other huge natural resources in the country, such as the forests.
One piece of good news—very little good news has come out of the Congo over the past few years—is the protection of the Virunga national park through the ending of oil exploration projects there. I hope that that is a permanent feature and that there is continued protection of that park. Other Members have referred to the protection of natural resources in respect of ecology and the ecosystem. Such protections are best enforced through local participation and support, rather than through quasi-military control.
As a result of the conflict in the DRC, the UN set up MONUSCO, which is the largest UN peacekeeping operation in the world. Its mandate is due to end fairly soon. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline in his response, or perhaps in correspondence, what the British Government’s attitude is towards that. What does he think of the performance of MONUSCO over the years?
I have been an election observer in the DRC and have made separate visits to the DRC, mainly on behalf of constituents. We have to look at the performance of the DRC Government, the use of EU and British aid in the DRC, and the human rights that exist there. The abominable treatment of women, particularly in the eastern DRC, where rape is a routine weapon of war, is appalling by any standard anywhere in the world. It is uniquely bad in the eastern DRC.
Although I recognise that there is now much greater world attention on all these issues, there is a big question mark over the transparency of the mining operations, what happens to the huge amounts of money that are made out of those operations and the very limited amount of tax income that the DRC Government get as a result. There is no reason why the DRC should be such a poor country. There are legitimate and important questions to ask.
Much European Union aid has gone to the DRC. One of the monitoring reports states that the EU “needs to be more demanding of the Congolese authorities when monitoring compliance with the conditions agreed and the commitments made.”
It asks for the strengthened “use of conditionality and policy dialogue”, and for “time-bound” and “clear” conditions to be placed on aid, particularly EU aid, in future.
Anyone who meets any member of the DRC Government or anybody from the opposition groups will find that the conversation turns rapidly to relations with Rwanda and the strong allegations about Rwandan forces, and indeed forces from Uganda and other countries, operating in the eastern DRC. There are legitimate questions to put to the Rwandan Government about the behaviour of their forces and agents in the eastern DRC. Although an agreement was reached recently on a peace and reconciliation process, that has to be monitored carefully. Only a week ago, on 11 and 12 June, there was fighting between Rwandan and Congolese forces in which there was an exchange of fire.
Meg Hillier: I recently had the opportunity to visit Rwanda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. My hon. Friend might go on to talk about the challenges for Rwanda in having a nation with the problems of the DRC on its doorstep, such as all the refugees coming into Rwanda. It is a difficult situation to manage and stability in the region is an issue.
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is right that it is an extremely difficult situation to manage.
The genocide that happened to the people of Rwanda is one of the most abominable pages in the history of the planet. One can only have a sense of sympathy and horror at what happened to the lives of so many people during that genocide. One would support peace and reconciliation efforts and the development efforts in Rwanda. I accept that it is a well-run country in comparison to many others in Africa.
However, I have serious concerns about the treatment of opposition figures and the freedom of expression in Rwanda. In particular, I am concerned about the pursuit of opposition members by President Kagame and, of course, the death of Patrick Karegeya in South Africa on New Year’s Day this year. We have legitimate questions to ask of the Rwandan Government.
I will quote the International Development Committee:
“On our visit we met with human rights NGOs, lawyers and journalists in Kigali. They explained how difficult it was to have a mature discussion about human rights with the Government. A recent ‘genocide ideology law’ had made it difficult for journalists or human rights groups to express any concerns. Tensions were building up under the surface because people were unable to speak openly. The press reported that the Government of Rwanda was attempting to assassinate Rwandans in exile in the UK and that the Metropolitan Police were investigating this.”
Very serious concerns are being expressed about Rwanda. Given that Britain provided £45 million in aid last year, which is more than half the budget of the Rwandan Government, there are legitimate questions to be put.
Lastly, I have some questions about Burundi, which I hope the Minister will help me with when he responds. I visited Burundi as part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation some years ago. Although it has had far less publicity than Rwanda and the DRC, the genocide that happened there and the poverty of its people are very serious issues that have to be addressed. They can be addressed partly through aid, but there are also issues with human rights and the freedom of expression. There are concerns about the freedom of expression of journalists and opposition figures in Burundi.
There are also concerns about the conduct of the upcoming election. The report made by Mary Robinson, the special envoy of the Secretary-General of the UN to the great lakes region of Africa, noted that she was “very concerned about the constraints on political space and civil liberties which hinder the efforts of the opposition, civil society, and the media, in the lead up to elections in 2015. Burundi has made commendable progress in overcoming a history of conflict, but that progress risks being lost if action is taken to undermine the electoral process and prevent the full participation of all stakeholders.”
The African great lakes region has enormous resources and enormous potential. It has a dreadful history that includes how it was treated by its colonial masters and the genocide that happened after independence. I hope that we can put appropriate supportive pressure on it to bring about a more democratic, pluralistic society that has much greater respect for the human rights of the people of the region. The waste of human resources in war and conflict is appalling. The loss of life and the treatment of women are appalling. We should at least be able to make our views on those matters known in an appropriate way to the Governments of those three countries.
Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, 24 June (Debate)
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that we are having this debate on UK relations with Saudi Arabia. I was fascinated by the contribution of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), who seemed to manage, towards the end, to draw an equivalence between the social and economic problems and human rights issues that we face in Britain and those in Saudi Arabia.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that more than almost any other country in the world, Saudi Arabia has virtually incalculable financial wealth and that, unusually for the rest of the world, it has a large number of public executions. The death penalty is rife, discrimination against women is systemic, migrant workers are denied any access to representation and frequently face deportation if they protest in any way, and the legal reforms that have been introduced do not apply to 1.5 million domestic workers.
I hope that in his visits to Saudi Arabia as a guest of its Government, the hon. Gentleman is able to raise those issues robustly. I hope that he reminds them that since Saudi Arabia has become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, it has had a responsibility to accept the universal declaration of human rights, which includes the rights to free speech, representation, freedom from discrimination against women, religious freedoms, trade union freedoms and press freedoms. A large number of responsibilities go with that, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s group will make representations to that effect.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the canard of visits to Saudi Arabia. I freely admit that I have not been to the country. I would be happy to visit on an independent basis. It is possible for parliamentarians to go on an independent basis through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as he is fully aware. I find it odd that he says that the only way for MPs to visit is as guests of the Saudi Government, but no doubt he, my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Katy Clark) and I will form a delegation, and we can robustly engage on matters of human rights. I am sure that he will be utterly convinced by the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend and me about the need for serious engagement on human rights abuses.
The background to the issue lies in what the hon. Gentleman mentioned at the beginning of his speech: the strategic and economic role that Saudi Arabia plays in the rest of the world. It is the biggest purchaser of arms from this country, and one of the biggest purchasers of arms from the United States, of any country in the world. It has a dubious economic relationship with BAE Systems and others, to the extent that the Serious Fraud Office went to enormous lengths to investigate the al-Yamamah arms contract. Apparently, the investigation was on the point of revealing a lot of corruption, and possibly prosecutions, when the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair—[Interruption.] The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, intervened, as he had the prime ministerial power to do, and stopped the investigation. Those are extremely serious issues.
These matters have been raised many times in Parliament. On 23 January this year, in a debate in this very Chamber, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on human rights, of which I am a vice-chair, pointed out that although the Foreign Office human rights report was slightly stronger than in previous years, it still remained weak, and that she wished there would be something rather stronger.
The papers and reports produced by the Campaign Against Arms Trade point out that arms sales to Saudi Arabia seem to colour all issues affecting relations with that country; I suspect that the Foreign Office’s “softly softly” approach on human rights and the interference in the SFO inquiry and many others are heavily influenced by the prospect of Typhoon aircraft and other materials being sold. The revolving door of lobbyists from the armed forces, including retired armed forces officers, and of course the influence of our own royal family on exports seem to override everything related to concerns about human rights abuses.
Any other country in the world that did not have the economic clout of Saudi Arabia would be strongly condemned by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham and many others, but it is the economic relationship between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world that heavily influences views on human rights.
Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman seems to imply that somehow selling Typhoon jets to Saudi Arabia, which obviously provides very important jobs in the United Kingdom, is somehow inappropriate. As a sovereign nation, Saudi Arabia needs to protect herself. She is in an extremely unstable and difficult region, and is potentially threatened by Iran. Are we to leave this very important country defenceless?
Jeremy Corbyn: The position of Saudi Arabia in the region is interesting, and I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue. I am sure he would have been concerned, as I was, by Saudi Arabia’s military incursions into Yemen, and perhaps even more concerned by the role that Saudi Arabia played in Bahrain, supporting the King against protesters through the use of Gulf Co-operation Council forces that went into Bahrain—indeed, those forces continue to support the Bahrain royal family. I am pleased that relations with Iran are improving. I hope that the human rights situation in Iran will improve in parallel with those relations, and that any negotiations with Iran are as strong on human rights as they are on nuclear processing or any other issues.
However, the hon. Gentleman must be aware of the very deep concern expressed by many about the volume of funding—some, apparently, from Saudi sources—that has become available to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant forces. Again, those forces have incalculable levels of funding compared with many other groups; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has raised the involvement of Saudi Arabia in the war in Syria on a strategic level with the Saudi Government during his visits there. There is a desperately dangerous situation in the whole region and Saudi Arabia is a very important part of that entire calculation, so surely we need a coming together rather than the funding of more military actions in other countries.
Daniel Kawczynski: The hon. Gentleman will know that Saudi Arabia warned Tony Blair repeatedly against intervention in Iraq; he also knows perfectly well that Mr Blair, despite all the Saudi misgivings, chose to intervene in that country—
Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. I think that we are drifting rather wide of the topic under consideration, which is human rights in Saudi Arabia.
Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Gray. I think the question is really about the relationship that we choose to have with Saudi Arabia. Is it to be one whereby we see Saudi Arabia simply as a purchaser from Britain and an exporter of oil, or are we going to have a constructive relationship in which, hopefully, there will be improvements—
Mr James Gray: Order. Having asked one hon. Member to stick to the subject, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could now return to the very specific issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia, leaving other matters of international concern to one side.
Jeremy Corbyn: Mr Gray, my next sentence was about the question of human rights in Saudi Arabia. In conclusion, I want to draw attention to the problems facing migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is not alone in its region in having vast numbers of migrant workers who have very limited rights; the economies of most Gulf countries rely almost entirely on migrant workers. I have been involved in UN discussions on migrant workers’ rights, and in the various charters on migrant workers and the International Labour Organisation standards. The number of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is absolutely enormous and they come from many different countries. Altogether there are 9 million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.
The 2005 labour law in Saudi Arabia changed the relationship of some migrant workers through the alteration of the kafala sponsorship system, which ties migrant workers’ permits of residency to their employer, but it specifically excluded the 1.5 million domestic workers who are the most vulnerable migrant workers and suffer the highest levels of abuse.
I hope that in this debate we have been able to draw attention to the issues of concern. My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran made very strong points, and quite rightly so, about the discrimination against and ill treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. She drew attention to the princesses’ situation as an example of how women are treated in Saudi Arabia and I absolutely support her on that. I also draw attention to the plight of migrant workers, the motor of the economy of Saudi Arabia. They clean the dishes, clean the floors, operate in the offices, work in the factories, deliver the oil and do all the other things, and yet they are denied any rights. If at any point they protest about their conditions, they find themselves on a plane home. It is not surprising that the Governments of the Philippines, Thailand and many other countries have protested about
the treatment of their citizens in Saudi Arabia, and we should do the same, on behalf of the people who provide such a great service and who work so hard for such little reward in a country that is incredibly wealthy.
I am pleased that I have been able to contribute to this debate. I hope that we will continue to return to these issues and that the Foreign Office will have a much more robust attitude on human rights in relation to every country of the world, irrespective of its wealth.
Private Rented Sector, 25 June (Debate)
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that we are debating the private rented sector. I suspect there will be many more such debates between now and the general election, because the situation requires urgent intervention, and in many respects a change in the law.
Like some of my colleagues who have already spoken, I represent an inner-London constituency, and we are facing the most acute housing crisis that I can remember, both in my time as an MP and before that as a councillor in a neighbouring borough. When I hold a constituency advice surgery—as we all do—I am frequently there for five or six hours, and 90% of the cases are about housing. Such cases are desperately sad: it is frightening to hear about what people are going through and the trauma of families being upheaved and forced to move out of the borough from one private rented property to another and another and another, with all the disruption that causes to their children’s education, their health and family relationships, and the damage it does to the community as a whole.
The ward where I live has a population turnover of almost 30% per year, which makes any kind of community cohesion much more difficult and voluntary organisations less well populated, and affects all the social infrastructure that is so important in our societies. We must consider the desperate housing need, not just in inner-city areas but in the country overall.
Frank Dobson: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest problems is that these constant moves often involve children? It is clear from the research that a child having to shift from one school to another—sometimes two or three schools in one year—is about as damaging to their educational opportunities as can be imagined.
Jeremy Corbyn: My right hon. Friend makes a strong point with which I absolutely concur and which I understand well. It works like this: a family is in receipt of local housing allowance, and the landlord puts the rent up way beyond what the allowance enables them to pay; they do not have enough other income—either from a low-paid job or from other benefits—to make up the difference, so they have to move. There is no possibility of their getting another private rented property in the same community, so the council is forced to do its best by hassling various agents all over the place to try to find somewhere for them to live—my council does that all the time, and Camden council does much the same thing. The family is perhaps found somewhere to live in Enfield, Barking or wherever. They are there for six months, they have the temerity to complain about the conditions, the tenancy ends, and they get moved again. The children either have to be uprooted from one school to another in another borough, or make a long journey to return to their original borough—such as Camden or Islington—and try to maintain themselves at the same school. What kind of life is it for a seven or eight-year-old child to be dragged on a bus or train for an hour every morning to get to primary school and has to change time and again? Ask the teachers how the kids suffer because of that.
My borough is doing its best to provide as much council housing as it can. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) kindly visited our borough last week, and she will have seen the excellent quality of our new build. Indeed, it is rather better quality than the current private sector new build: larger rooms, better accommodation, and more energy efficient—very good quality stuff. It is difficult to find land to build it on and expensive to do, but the social investment is enormous, as is the return for the whole community.
The message from the Government is that we should increase council rents to 80% of market value. That would be totally unaffordable for people who live in our existing council properties, and would mean that they could not accept even if they were offered them. We must maintain the social rented model and address the problems of housing in this country, essentially by building a lot more council houses.
Some 200,000 or more new households are created every year, and the number of new properties being developed in the country is around 100,000 per year. We are all into the science of managing shortages. Councils are doing that, as is everybody else, and the only safety valve is the private rented sector. The only safety valve in that is ever-increasing rents and the huge profitability that exists within that sector. We therefore need to do two things; the first is to support local authorities to build council housing.
I do not support the sale of council houses or big discounts on their sale, particularly in areas with enormous housing shortages, not because it makes a lot of difference to residents, if they remain living in them, but because later the properties might be sold on or rented in the private rented sector. The highest rent I have come across so far—there might be more in the pipeline—for a former council flat is £660 per week. For the person living next door in an identical council flat—possibly even in better conditions, because the council tends to look after things quite well—the rent would be about £100 to £120 per week. How can anyone possibly justify that discrepancy?
I support the Opposition Front-Bench team’s proposal for the regulation of letting agents and for the enforcement of much better conditions and much longer tenancies. In areas of very high housing demand—in London and other cities such as Oxford and York and in the centres of other cities—rent rises are huge. I have no idea where the Residential Landlords Association gets its figures from, but it claims that in the 12 months to March 2014, the rent increase in London was 1.4%. I tried this figure out on people in my community, but I only got as far as “1.4” before they started laughing. They said, “That must have been last week’s increase.” I have no idea where these figures come from, but these things are very important.
We seem to be presiding over a cowboy mentality among some, although not all, letting agents who think it okay to stick some scruffy piece of paper in a window saying, “No DSS allowed here”—they are a bit out of date: the Department of Social Security was abolished a long time ago and is now the Department for Work and Pensions; perhaps they should be educated about that. However, should anyone be allowed to say, “If you’re on benefits, you’re a second-class citizen and you cannot even apply”? Also, the “Panorama” programme has exposed the racial profiling that goes on, presumably under pressure from landlords saying they do not want any Muslims, blacks, Jews—or any other group they care to identify. To his credit, the Minister correctly agreed with me that this is criminal activity, completely wrong and has to be outlawed. I hope there will be serious prosecutions where it can be proved, as a lesson to others that we will not accept race discrimination in the housing market.
I hope that the House will support the motion. I do not know whether the Government will support it—I seriously doubt it—but I hope we can have not just the regulations outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East but even longer tenancies. I also think there is a case for rent controls, particularly in areas of very high housing demand such as London. If we do not manage the private rented sector, control rents and build more housing in London, it will become a totally divided city: a city divided between those lucky enough to get social housing through councils or housing associations, those rich enough to buy and become owner-occupiers, and the rest, who will be spending all their earnings and savings on excessive rents. It will lead to labour shortages and economic decline in our big cities. We need regulation and a determination that we, as a nation, will solve the housing crisis and give all our kids somewhere decent and safe to live.
Prime Ministers Questions, 2 July
Jeremy Corbyn: May I take the Prime Minister back to the question of the private rented sector in Britain? Across London, there are thousands and thousands of families—people in work and on benefits—who are frightened of rent increases, frightened of short-term tenancies and frightened of the consequences, for themselves and their children, of being evicted or forced to move out of the area in which they live. What is happening in central London is social cleansing, and it is coming to the rest of the country. Will he give me an assurance that, in addition to any regulation of the agencies, serious consideration will be given to the need to bring back rent control to protect people and ensure they have somewhere secure and decent to live?
The Prime Minister: Where I would agree with the hon. Gentleman is on the need for greater transparency in the work of letting agents in terms of fees. There is a need for alternative options, which we have put forward, for longer-term tenancies, but in the end we must allow customers to choose what they want. Where I part company with him is on the idea of introducing full-on rent controls. Every time they have been tried, wherever they have been tried in the world, they have failed. That is not just my view; it is also the view of Labour’s own shadow housing Minister, who is on the record as saying that she does not think rent controls will work in practice. Perhaps he might want to have a word with her before coming to me.
Caste Discrimination, 9 July (Debate)
Jeremy Corbyn: I will be very brief so that the Minister will have plenty of time to reply. First, I pay enormous tribute to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway) for securing this debate, for the way in which he has spoken on this subject today and for his willingness to grant me a few minutes of his time. I am very grateful for that.
I am one of the trustees of the Dalit Solidarity Network and a member of the all-party group for Dalits, the chair of which is Bishop Harries, a Member of the House of Lords. Together with the director of the Dalit Solidarity Network, Meena Varma, I have been to the United Nations in Geneva to raise issues of Dalit discrimination in India and many other places, but also, clearly, in this country.
I will briefly put on the record the enormity of the situation. Around the world, 260 million people are Dalits —scheduled castes. They suffer grievous discrimination, terrible poverty, appalling levels of crime committed against them and, in most of India and Nepal and other places, appalling standards of living. Every week, 13 Dalit people in India are murdered. Five Dalit homes are repossessed every week. Three women are raped every day. Eleven Dalits are beaten every day. A crime is committed against Dalit people every 11 minutes in India.
The Ambedkar constitution is an excellent document. Dr Ambedkar was himself a Dalit. It absolutely outlaws discrimination and has some provision for protected employment for people of the scheduled castes. It is a very effective document, but raising these matters with the Indian Government or Indian high commission is extremely difficult; they are quite resistant to having good discussions about it.
As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, discrimination also exists in this country. There are roughly 1 million Dalit people in Britain. As a result of both the case that he brought up, which was one that we raised in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council, and the debates that took place in advance of the Equality Act 2010, we are in a situation in which we are relying on the Government now to introduce regulation to put it on the face of the law in this country that it would be illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste.
In getting to this position, the Government of the day in 2010, the then Labour Government, with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) as the Minister leading on the Bill, accepted an amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that required the Government to undertake research on caste discrimination in this country. That research demonstrated clearly that there is serious discrimination, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said, in terms, that the British Government had an obligation to introduce the legislation. The Minister, I am sure, will tell us that consultations are taking place. I agree with consultations; everything should be consulted on, but there should be a limit to the time in which that is done. I am very disappointed that, at the moment, the introduction of the regulation will take us past the end of this Parliament and into the next Parliament. I would like to see something done in this Parliament and I hope that the Minister will give us good news on that.
My final point is that it is never popular to stand up for people who have been grievously discriminated against. I am really pleased with the way in which a number of Members have raised the matter today. Discrimination is wrong in any circumstances and against anybody, and people should be treated with dignity and respect. Our purpose today is to get into British law that clear declaration; at the same time, that will give us the moral authority to talk to others about it. I hope that the Minister will agree to introduce regulations quickly. Above all, I hope she will agree to attend a meeting with the members of the all-party group, which I am sure others could also attend, so that we can have a longer discussion about the matter. The time has come to act and not delay.
Housing Supply, 9 July (Debate)
Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased that we are having yet another debate on housing, and I hope there will be many more between now and the next election.
There is clearly a housing crisis facing very many people in this country. Basically, the problem is that 200,000 new households are being created every year through population growth or people choosing to live alone. New house building comes nowhere near to meeting those demands. Thus the shortage is dealt with by rising property prices, rising private sector rents and greater demand on social housing—or, at the other end of the scale, increasing homelessness, rough sleeping, overcrowding, underachievement in schools, and desperate poverty among many people who deserve somewhere decent to live.
I hope that we can look at this debate on the basis of the needs of the entire population. I am particularly concerned about those who are really up against it in inner-city communities such as the one I represent. I am very proud to represent an inner-London constituency. It is a place of growing division, I am sorry to say, because of the housing situation. House prices are rising very fast. The number of owner-occupiers is now well below 30% and falling fast. The number of council properties is increasing only as far as the council is able to find land to build and develop council housing, which is the most secure and affordable form of housing available to people. The remaining provision comprises the private rented sector, which has limited regulation and tends to be very expensive.
The strategy adopted by this Government, through the Department for Work and Pensions, on limiting the local housing allowance but not controlling rents means that large numbers of private tenants, who are often in work—as well as some who are not in work but have right of access to the local housing allowance—cannot afford to remain in those properties and are therefore decanted out of the area. That is happening not just in central London but in the central and more expensive parts of every town and city in the country. Frankly, there is a process of social cleansing going on. That is the effect of the overall housing shortage and the very great increases in costs associated with it.
I have raised with the Minister a specific concern about the development of new properties in former industrial or office buildings under what are known as permitted development rights. The Government decided that they would lift the planning restriction applied to permitted development rights on former office buildings. That means that a local authority has no control over what happens to a former office building, which can then be converted into housing. In some cases, it might be entirely appropriate to convert an office block into housing if there is no longer any requirement for an office block or likelihood of anybody wanting to use it as such. The problem is that if the local authority has no say in the matter, it has no opportunity to try to protect local employment, as it might sometimes wish to protect. Moreover, the local authority has no power whatever to insist that a proportion of the dwellings created are available for social rent. I do not like using the phrase “affordable rent,” because most of the “affordable” rents in London are not at all affordable to anyone on an average income or below.
Yesterday, the all-party group on the private rented sector had a very interesting meeting about access to housing for under-35s. We took evidence from Crisis, the National Union of Students and a company called Essential Living, which is backed by $200 million of equity funding from American pension funds and is very keen on developing the larger-scale private rented sector in London. It says that at some point in the future it wants to develop some kind of affordable rented model, but it is very unclear what that model is. It has bought into an office block in my constituency called Archway tower and turned it into, I think, 120 flats marketed at people earning more than £80,000 a year. It does not require local authority permission to do that; it is only building control and any external work to the building that need to be passed by the local planning authority. Requests have been made of the company to contribute to the social needs of the area by providing a proportion of those properties for social rent. Its responses have been polite and well informed, but the answer has always been the same: it says no, it will not do it.
When I say to the Minister, therefore, that there is a need to intervene in the development of the private rented sector, I do so not only because I want to see the continuation of the diverse mosaic of London’s communities, but, quite simply, for the sake of the survival of the economy of this very big city, which, indeed, will affect that of other very big cities. I pray in aid the London chamber of commerce statistics on the numbers of people who are finding it difficult to afford to buy or rent anywhere to live in London. There is a growing problem of labour shortage, and the same applies to other parts of the country.
Mr Stewart Jackson: I am rather puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s comments about his constituency. Given the paucity of greenfield and urban exception sites available to build new estates in boroughs such as Islington, I would have thought that he would welcome permitted development rights, to enable the cumulative release of more housing of all types and perhaps even affordable housing for his constituents and people across London.
Jeremy Corbyn: Uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman does not seem to have been listening very carefully. I did not say that I was opposed to the conversion of vacant office blocks or industrial premises into housing. My point is that if there are jobs to be protected—this could apply anywhere in the country—the local authority should at least have a say, so that a rational decision could be made. Secondly, any development has to have a sense of social responsibility, so at least a proportion of those properties should be available for affordable social rent rather than market rent, which is completely unaffordable for the majority of people in my constituency.
When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope he will reflect on the ways in which permitted development rights are actually militating against the housing needs of those people who are most desperately in need of somewhere safe, secure and affordable to live.
Gaza (Statement), 14 July
Jeremy Corbyn: The tragedy of the loss of life in the whole region surely stems ultimately from the occupation of the west bank, the settlement policy, and the current siege of Gaza. What practical steps has the Foreign Secretary taken to criticise Israel for its collective punishment of the people of Gaza, the destruction of water supplies and sewage plants, and the killings of large numbers of civilians, and what sanctions does he now propose to take against Israel for acting against international law in punishing a civilian population?
Mr Hague: I go a little further back in my analysis of the root causes, or, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, the ultimate causes, in terms of Israel’s policy. The ultimate cause is the failure to bring about a two-state solution, and there are failings on both sides in that regard. There is the failure to take opportunities in negotiations, and there is the failure by Hamas to adopt peaceful principles that would allow the world to welcome it into negotiations. Those failures exist on both sides, and therefore, for us, it is not a question of sanctions on one side or the other; it is a question of our effort to bring about a viable peace process, and that is where we must continue to place our emphasis.
Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (Business of the House), 15 July (Debate)
Jeremy Corbyn: I acknowledge your entreaties to be very brief, Mr Speaker. We would not normally be discussing timetable motions at any length at all, but this goes to the very lifeblood of what Parliament is about.
The Bill has been introduced in a big hurry. There has been no public consultation, no parliamentary scrutiny and very little public debate. It is a major piece of legislation that has global implications for what this country does. It relates to the surveillance of everybody’s telephones, internet and everything else. It is a massive intrusion into people’s lives. The Government are doing a great disservice to Parliament in insisting that we debate the whole of Second Reading by 5 pm, amendments by 9 pm and Third Reading by 10 pm, for the Bill to go to the Lords and come back here again on Thursday all done, and then have a sunset clause that goes on for two years.
This is not an appropriate way for Parliament to be treated and every MP should think very carefully. Why we are here? We have been elected to hold the Executive to account and to scrutinise legislation. This timetable motion is a travesty of what scrutiny of legislation should be about. I, for one, will oppose the timetable motion, so that we have a proper opportunity to scrutinise and debate the Bill.
Jeremy Corbyn: Will the Home Secretary reflect again on the intervention by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis)? If a foreign Government who are routine abusers of human rights passed the same legislation through their Parliament, could they then intervene on an internet service provider based in this country to obtain data on their citizens, in the same way that the British Government take that power for themselves in another jurisdiction?
Mrs May: The power that we are taking is to be able to serve a warrant in relation to somebody who is based overseas. There would be implications for anyone attempting to apply to serve something into the UK in relation to the operation of that under UK law.
Clauses 4 and 5 make it clear that RIPA applies to all the companies that provide communications services to people in the United Kingdom, regardless of where those companies happen to be based. The final clause contains the sunset provision, which means that the legislation will expire at the end of 2016. I recognise that a number of Members have suggested that this sunset clause should be at an earlier stage. I say to them that the reason it has been put at the end of 2016 is that we will have a review by David Anderson which will report before the general election. It is the intention that a Joint Committee of Parliament will look at his work and that of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It will then be necessary to put the required legislation in place. If anyone stops to think about that timetable, it is clear that it could not be completed by the end of this year.
Jeremy Corbyn: I support amendment 2, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), who made his case extremely well. Surely the issue is simply this: Parliament is here to scrutinise what the Executive do and to try to represent public opinion. We need to take advice from the public, organisations, lobby groups and so on, but all I have managed to find was an interesting and quite useful briefing from Liberty that came in yesterday—all credit to Liberty for getting a reasonable briefing together in a very short time—and a series of articles in The Guardian and one or two other newspapers.
But this Bill has massive implications in relation to the ability of the state to dip in and out of people’s telephone and e-mail accounts. Because it takes on itself a global reach, it has huge implications all around the world. If we are to take the global reach to dip into e-mail accounts all around the world, what are we to do, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said in an intervention, when an unpalatable regime decides to do the same and pitches up in a British court and says, “Well, you’ve taken these rights unto yourself. Why shouldn’t we do exactly the same?”? The implications of the Bill go a very long way indeed.
I am always suspicious when the House is summoned in an emergency and told, “This is an absolutely overriding, desperate emergency, so we’ve got to get this thing through all its stages in one day,” and Front Benchers from both sides of the House get together and agree that there is a huge national emergency. I am sorry, but what is the emergency?
There was a court decision some months ago, about which the Government have since done very little and made very few statements. There has apparently been an interesting debate between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party in the coalition. In the interests of public scrutiny, we should be given the minutes of the discussion between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, and of all the sofa discussions that have no doubt taken place. I thought that sofa politics ended with new Labour, but apparently it still goes on in Downing Street. We need to know the nature of that debate.
What is the objection to a sunset clause that would bring the—to me—very unpalatable Bill to a conclusion in six months’ time? Such a clause would at least give lawyers an opportunity to make a detailed case, and the Government an opportunity to explain their case a bit better. It would give the Home Affairs Committee a chance to discuss it, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights a chance to examine it, which we as Members of Parliament would also be able to do.
In an age of social media, it is interesting to see the numbers of people
following the debate online and live. They are interested in social media, privacy and communication, and they all have views and opinions. I have no idea what all their views and opinions are. All I know is that as an individual Member of Parliament, I, like all colleagues in the Chamber, must vote on this piece of legislation without having the chance to reflect or consult.
This is not a good day for Parliament. It is not a good advertisement for Parliament. It is not a good advertisement for democracy. The very least that we can do is to agree that this wrong-headed piece of legislation will expire by the end of this year and force the Government to come up with something more palatable, more carefully thought out and more sensible in respect of the protection of privacy and civil rights for all. That is why we were elected to Parliament. We should be given the opportunity to do our job, and should not have to lie down in front of a steamroller and accept something that we know in our hearts to be ill thought out and wrong.
(Westminster Hall) Middle East and North Africa (Debate): July 17th 2014
Jeremy Corbyn (speech): I apologise, Mr Sheridan, because I may not be here for part of the winding-up speeches, as there is a ministerial meeting with the all-party group on the African great lakes region at 4 pm.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on obtaining the debate. I am sure that when he applied for it and I supported the application, we assumed that it would be about the entire region and north Africa; inevitably, however, in view of the crisis, Gaza and the west bank will dominate the debate. I have recorded relevant interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, having visited Israel and Palestine nine times over the years.
My last visit to Gaza was depressing in the extreme, because I saw a place surrounded by a 1 km wide no-go zone. Anyone who ventures into that zone, whether a farmer or anyone else, will automatically be shot by machine guns placed on the fence between Gaza and Israel. Any fishing boat that goes more than a very short distance from shore will be shot at by Israeli naval vessels, and every day, all the time, surveillance planes, drones and so on fly over the Gaza strip. The people there live under siege and have done for a long time.
I know people in the Gaza Community Mental Health Foundation and Dr Munah Farah well. Their estimation is that at least two thirds of the population of Gaza suffer medical stress from the way they live, with constant food and water shortages, and constant insecurity of supply. That has been happening to those people not for just a few months but for many years. They live in an open-air prison, created and continued by the state of Israel. That is the cause of the deepest anger and frustration among ordinary people in Gaza. We would be angry and frustrated as well, if it was done to us.
Mrs Ellman: My hon. Friend describes a distressing situation; but does he recognise that it arose after Israel removed all its settlers and soldiers in 2005, only for Hamas to take control of Gaza and intensify rocket attacks on Israeli civilians?
Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend has made that point many times. Israel withdrew its unwelcome settlements in 2005, as she points out, but it maintained border control and surveillance. It is not just that there has been bombing recently; there has been regular bombing by Israeli jets of targets along the Gaza strip. I make my point again: no one should live in an open-air prison, facing such horror and continued destruction.
Mr Djanogly: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Jeremy Corbyn: No, I will not give way again, because of the time.
Jocelyn Hurndall is a brave woman whose son Tom was shot in Rafa by Israeli troops while he was trying to defend children whose homes were being demolished by Israeli defence forces. In response to an interview given in The Independent by Daniel Taub, she wrote:
“Mr Taub, there is only one Gaza, currently being bombed to pieces by the might and sophistication of Israel’s military”.
She went on to say, in respect of the Israeli victims of any rockets that are sent:
“Fortunately, Israel has the infrastructure, funds and basic materials to build bomb shelters for its people. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank continue to suffer: an internationally recognised, illegal military occupation, extreme provocation brought about by settlement-building on Palestinian land in spite of international condemnation, the utter thwarting of prosperity due to closed borders and blocked coast, grossly disproportionate civilian deaths and injuries, the destruction of thousands of homes, and a lack of food, water and medical supplies.”
She describes the situation for people in Gaza.
When there are protests in the west bank, Gaza and, indeed, all over the world about Israel’s actions, surely it is time for the rest of the world to recognise that what is being done by Israel is illegal—it is collective punishment. Settlement building all across the west bank is illegal. It is very hard to see how the much vaunted two-state solution could even be dreamed to be possible given the level of settlements. I will use the word that others get very upset about: a sense of apartheid that has developed in the west bank, where there are settler-only roads, settler-only water supplies and there is settler-only occupation of land. That is the reality of life there.
Yes, there is opposition by Palestinians. Ever since there was an attempt to bring about a unity Government that involved Hamas as well as Fatah, Israel has upped the ante no end on a military basis. However, it is not true to say that everyone in Israel is supportive of Netanyahu or some of the extremists in his Government, or of the far extremists who want to see Israel occupying a large but so far unspecifically identified area. A week ago in Israel, there was a large demonstration of both Palestinians and Jewish people against the policies of the Israeli Government. Indeed, I draw Members’ attention to the Jews for Justice for Palestinians website, which lists eight very interesting points on how peace could come about, including by mutual recognition, by the ending of illegal settlements, and by the rest of the world ensuring that international law is carried out so that Israel is forced to accept that law just as it thinks everyone else should.
We are not going to solve this problem today, but the reaction of the British Government, and of all Governments, to incidents of illegal activity around the world has been rather strange and disproportionate. We have placed sanctions on Russia because of the activities in Ukraine and Crimea; Israel is in breach of a large number of UN resolutions, and it is clearly in breach of international law on both collective punishment and the settlement policy, but no sanctions whatever have been proposed.
In looking for a long-term peace, I urge that we look also at our own historical involvement in the region and the surrounding area. After the first world war, the area was divided up in the interests of the west. The forerunner of that action, the Sykes-Picot agreement, was done in secret and only revealed some years later through files kept in Moscow, and that was followed by the mandate system and the division of the whole region. Israel was established in 1948, and the 1967 war expanded its territory no end. Netanyahu’s policies seem to put no limit on Israeli expansion.
We need to be very serious with Israel about its breach of international law, its expansion policy and its treatment of people. I am critical of anyone who wants to bomb anyone else—I do not see that as a solution—but if a people are kept imprisoned and denied work, hope and opportunity, then consequences follow. Those consequences are great bitterness, great conflict and horrible loss of life. In the past few weeks, 200 Palestinians have died in Gaza, and sadly one Israeli has been killed as the result of one rocket landing. This is wholly disproportionate. It is a horrible way forward, and the demonstrations around the world show just how isolated Israel is and just how isolated are those Governments who think that they can keep on and on apologising for Israel’s behaviour rather than pressure it to do something different. Such Governments are becoming out of touch with the feelings of an awful lot of ordinary people all over the world. Today’s debate gives us the opportunity to say that, at least.
Early Day Motions (EDM) Jeremy has been the Primary Sponsor of:
EDM 153: Debate on US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement, 19 June
That this House notes the expiration later in 2014 of the 10-year extension to the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA); understands that the role of MDA is to improve UK atomic weapon design; believes that the extension of this bilateral treaty undermines US and UK commitments under Article I and Article VI of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which states that each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty shall not transfer nuclear weapons or explosive devices and shall pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament; is concerned that the Government does not see a potential conflict of interest between the MDA and the NPT; and urges that a debate be held in Government time on any proposal to renew the MDA prior to ratification.
EDM 169: Medical Assessments Work and the Department of Works and Pensions,
That this House believes that medical assessments for the Work Capability Assessment, the contract which Atos recently relinquished, should be brought back in-house; recalls that the failure of this contract, which was ended with keen agreement by Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), follows a long history of criticism of the process and the company by politicians, press, public and DWP for their delivery of the healthcare contract, in particular the Work Capability Assessments; further believes that the current situation, with the contract yet to be granted, provides the opportunity for the Government to take responsibility and full control of the process by bringing the work and staff back in-house so that it can be delivered by the DWP; welcomes the benefits that in-house delivery would bring including the Department having direct control over processes and staffing and staff being able to work closely and interchangeably between core DWP work and those currently delivering the Atos contract, while recognising that this would go a long way to repairing the reputation of DWP medical assessment work; is concerned that awarding the contract to another private sector supplier could lead to a repeat of past mistakes, particularly as public spending cuts result in companies delivering contacts by making cuts to maintain profit margins; and urges the Government to stop the expensive bidding process now, bring the work and staff in-house, and take responsibility and control for improving the process for everyone concerned.
EDM 170: Imprisonment of Journalists in Egypt, 24 June
That this House condemns in the strongest possible terms the court case and sentences of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt: seven years for Peter Greste and Mohammed Fahmy and 10 years for Baher Mohamed, all of whom are suffering needlessly; condemns also the 10 year sentences in absentia for Alaa Bayoumi, Anas Abdel-Wahab Khalawi Hasan, Khaleel Aly Khaleel Bahnasy, Mohamed Fawzi, Dominic Kane, Rena Netjes and Sue Turton; notes the lack of respect these unjust sentences show for the democratic system; notes also the invaluable role these people carry out in briefing the international community regarding what is happening in other corners of the world; and calls on the Government to do everything in its power to convince the Egyptian authorities of the travesty of this case and the damage it is doing to the democratic process.
EDM 213: Bahrain Justice System, 3 July
That this House notes the lack of reform in the administration of criminal cases in Bahrain despite the acceptance of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report in 2011; is concerned by the failure of the Bahraini government to implement a number of the recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry specifically to address the culture of impunity and inequality of Bahrain’s justice system; further notes the 2014 Human Rights Watch Report that highlights the continued prosecution and conviction of defendants, including human rights activists, political figures and medical personnel, on charges based on the exercise of rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; is further concerned by the harsh sentences given by court judges for insulting the king and the ratification of recent penal code amendments in February 2014 that increase the sentence for such charges; expresses disappointment at the inadequacy of Bahrain’s attempt to investigate and prosecute security personnel accused of torture and calls on the Government of Bahrain to hold human rights offenders accountable; calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners including Ibrahim Sharif, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Hassan Mushaima, Naji Fateel and Abdulwahab Husain; is further concerned at the failure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to list Bahrain as a country of concern in its 2014 Human Rights Report; and further calls on the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to condemn human rights abuses in Bahrain and list it as a country of concern in order to promote accountability and transparency within Bahrain’s justice system.
EDM 246: Collective Punishment of Palestinians, 9 July
That this House notes that once again Palestine’s Gaza region has come under attack by the Israeli Defence Force; further notes that in this wholly unequal cycle of violence 490 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israel since the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and three Israelis; further notes that in this current attack Defence 4 Children International Palestine report that eight children have been killed and Palestinian writer and health worker, Mona Elfarra, reports the, not unusual, targeting of health centres including the European Hospital East of Khan Younis where many were both suffering and sheltering; and calls on the Government to do everything within its power to bring about an end to the collective punishment of Palestinans and the occupation that is a virtual death sentence for them.