I am honoured to represent the people of Islington North in taking their concerns and needs to Parliament. We have a vibrant and diverse constituency to be proud of, and I enjoy supporting the good work that we do together.  For many years I’ve fought for basic rights such as affordable housing, health care and education for all, as well as toward protecting our human rights: both within the borough and the UK, as well as for those who struggle and suffer so much in developing countries.

The great changes in our society, from votes for women, anti discrimination laws, support for the disabled, and so on,  all came from ordinary people making demands through their Members of Parliament.  It is not about you, or me, but it is about us.

Together we can continue to ensure Islington remains a borough to be proud of.


19 Dec

The Christmas parliamentary debate: Housing / Bahrain

I SPOKE IN YESTERDAY’S CHRISTMAS DEBATE:

I enjoy the Christmas Adjournment debate because it gives us a chance to raise diverse subjects that are of concern to us. I want to raise two subjects that might look very different but in fact have a link from the national to the international. In questions to the Leader of the House today, and earlier this week in questions concerning Iraq, I asked why Britain had just announced that it was going to build a new military base in Bahrain. I have also just tabled an early-day motion on the subject. It will be the first new base to be built anywhere in the world by Britain for a very long time. It is not just an extension of the existing naval facilities; it is a new base. The details are slowly beginning to emerge, and it appears that Bahrain is buying a British flag to go on the base and is indeed paying for quite a lot of it.

Following the announcement, the British ambassador to Bahrain spoke at a business meeting last week at which he assured the business men—I should imagine that they were indeed all men—that Britain was aware of the improving human rights situation and democratic processes in Bahrain, and that it was therefore an act of choice for Britain to build the new military base there. Yesterday, a press conference was held in the House of Lords. It was excellently chaired by Lord Avebury of the parliamentary human rights group. It was attended by a considerable number of people who had been exiled from Bahrain. Some were political exiles, others had relatives in prison there. A number of lawyers were also present, and they explained exactly what the prison conditions were like.

The assertion that human rights in Bahrain are somehow improving is bizarre beyond belief. If anyone doubts that, I would refer them to an excellent article in The Guardian on 20 October by Maryam al-Khawaja, in which she describes how her family have been imprisoned in Bahrain and how she has tried to get them out. They are in prison because they had been protesting about

18 Dec 2014 : Column 1635

the lack of democratic rights in Bahrain, the systematic discrimination against the opposition there and the interference in Bahraini affairs by Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Bahraini Government.

It is incumbent on our Government at the very least to come to the House and make a statement telling us why the base is being built, from where they are getting their information that human rights in Bahrain are improving when clearly they are not, and why they think that our approving of the regime—from the Formula 1 race to this—is somehow going to improve the human rights situation there.

In a telling section of her article, Maryam said the thing that would have the greatest influence on improving human rights in Bahrain would be the influence of the British and United States Governments, if they chose to exercise it. They have chosen not to exercise it, however; they have chosen to do the exact opposite because that fits their geopolitical view of the world.

We are, of course, also a major arms supplier to Bahrain. We have even sent anti-personnel equipment to Bahrain that has been used to suppress demonstrations and used against demonstrators. It does not do much for the image of the United Kingdom when people are being oppressed and beaten with equipment that has been supplied by this country, assisting the police in oppressing human rights and demonstrators.

Behind all that lies the huge influence of Saudi Arabia, which went into Bahrain with military force in order to support the Government there. The human rights record of Saudi Arabia is beyond appalling—there are public executions and very few rights for women—yet it remains a massive arms export market for British products. That is why, when we discussed earlier the anti-corruption plan, I specifically raised the running sore of the way in which the previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, suspended the Serious Fraud Office investigation into the corruption surrounding the al-Yamamah arms contract, which was worth £2 billion in sales to Saudi Arabia.

We talk about corruption around the world, and about human rights around the world. It is true that we cannot change everything, and that we have limited powers, but we can send signals. The signal sent by opening a base in a country that systematically abuses human rights and by selling arms to a Government who we know abuse human rights is absolutely the wrong one. We could do something rather different and rather better. I hope that when we come back in the new year we will have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s decision on the base and the associated issue of the arms trade. Of course, it is part of the strategy that our Government adopt internationally, but I would have thought that the experience of the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq—the cost in human life, both of the Iraqi and Afghan people, and of British and American soldiers, and the damage to our own civil liberties and standing in the world—would lead us to think a little more carefully about spending such sums on a military presence around the world. We could be using that money so much better.

The second part of what I want to say relates to how Government money is spent. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins) has just announced the local government spending settlement, and he kept

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saying, in answer to many questions, that the way forward for each local authority was to grow its business base to grow its income. That is fine, and I am sure every local authority would like to do that, but the reality is that more than half of all local government expenditure comes from central Government grant. That is not likely to change in a big hurry, unless there is a massive change in the whole taxation system in this country, and I do not see anybody introducing that in the near future. Local government is dependent on central Government grant every year. It comes in many forms—direct grant, special grants, special services and so on—but in essence local government is dependent on that.

Under this Government there has been a huge cut in the local government grant, which has affected most local authorities, but it is not a universal cut. The great cities of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, and all the London boroughs, have had massive, disproportionate cuts, almost directly related to the level of need and poverty that the people of those boroughs experience. By the end of the financial year 2015-16, Islington, my borough, will have had half of its money cut under this Government, yet it faces the same level of demand—nay, it faces an increased level of demand and need, because the borough has a bigger population. Some 40% of our children live in a degree of poverty. There are huge needs and there is a huge wish by the local authority to be able to meet those needs and the adult social care needs, but it will not have the wherewithal to do it. I appeal to the Government to carry out an audit on levels of poverty in this country and to start to think about how we allocate expenditure based on the crying needs of many people, particularly children growing up in inner-city areas.

Like all of London, my area suffers a housing crisis. The local authority is doing its best to build council housing, either directly or in partnership with housing associations, and to ensure that it does not go down the road of the Government’s policy of charging 80% of market rent for social housing but remains with the original affordable formula of local authority rents. However, the council is not going to be able to solve the housing crisis very quickly, and the issue we face is in the private rented sector, which comprises about a third of my constituency housing.

Despite everything the Government say, rent levels are increasing fast. The security of tenure is limited—it is usually six months but sometimes a year in an assured shorthold tenancy. There is little security at the end of those six months and no security if the person has had the temerity to complain to the environmental health service about the conditions they are in. The rent levels are so high that they are way beyond the level of the benefit cap, which, sadly, Parliament voted through, and that means that when it goes beyond the ability of families to pay the rent, they will be forced to move away from the borough. The families want to remain in the borough and their children want to remain in local schools, so many children are having horrendous long journeys every day in the hope that they will be able to get back into the borough and get a council house in the future. The situation is cruel, disruptive and damaging to the community. The lack of regulation in the private rented sector is enabling speculative private landlords to make vast amounts of money. This Parliament is unlikely to bring in any kind of regulation of the private rented sector; it will be a job for the next Parliament.

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The proportion of private rented homes is very high in my constituency and in a number of other areas in London, as it is in one or two big cities, but nationally it is going up very fast. By the end of the next Parliament, more than a quarter of the people in the UK will be living in the private rented sector. It is unbelievable that in the next Parliament there will not be regulation of the private rented sector to give longer, more secure tenancies, rights for tenants and, above all, control of rents, so that we bring an end to excessive rents and the evictions that follow.

I wish everyone a very happy Christmas, but I also think of the misery of children being homeless, unsure of their future and living in very poor conditions. It is unnecessary in the fourth richest country in the world that this degree of insecurity and poverty exists. We can and should do something about it.

17 Dec

Morning Star: Curbing Rights Does Not Stop Terrorism

The CIA torture report should be a warning as yet another security Bill comes before Parliament this week, says JEREMY CORBYN

“What really hurt me was the treatment Chelsea received in Quantico two years before the trial — stripped naked, kept in solitary confinement, made to stand in a corner, everything taken away.”

That’s what Sharon Staples, Chelsea Manning’s aunt, said about the treatment her niece had received. Manning ought to be seen as something of a hero for telling the world about the reality of the activities of the CIA in its intelligence gathering exercises around the world.

For her pains, she has been jailed for 35 years because she told the world about CIA rendition.

Last weekend, the CIA itself revealed that it had systematically misled the US Congress, and showed that US administrations dating back to George Bush and the war on terror did have knowledge of extraordinary rendition and did support it.

Britain cannot escape complicity in all of this.

Next year Britain will begin negotiations with the US on its renewal of the lease of Diego Garcia, the huge US military base in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

This territory was reputedly used for extraordinary rendition by the US, and the question remains whether the then British government knew of this, or whether this was done secretly by the US despite there being a small British military observation of the activities of the base ever since its establishment.

The role of Tony Blair’s government in extraordinary rendition has yet to be uncovered but what is clear is that ever since the launch of the war on terror in 2001 there has been systematic undermining of international human rights law by the aczzoccupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the treatment of prisoners.

The British were willing accomplices of the invasions of both countries. The appalling treatment of prisoners at Bagram airbase and extraordinary renditions conducted by CIA flights still dogs Blair, and his foreign secretaries Jack Straw and David Miliband.

Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, who is handling a number of claims of people who were ill-treated in Iraq said, “these cases involving the most serious human rights violations imaginable pose immensely difficult questions. The British mindset in Iraq appeared to be one of savage brutality and a sadistic inhumanity irrespective of whether it was women, children or old men being tortured, abused or callously subjected to lethal force.”

British complicity extended to an extraordinary alliance with Colonel Gadaffi in Libya, to the extent that Mark Allen, a former director of counter-terrorism at MI6, sent a message to Colonel Gadaffi: “I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq Bel Hadj. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years.”

Straw rubbished any questions about the use of Diego Garcia in 2005 when he claimed we would have to “start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying and that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States.”

Straw’s denial, Blair’s denials and later David Miliband’s denials have never been accepted by the victims of extraordinary rendition, or those with a seriously inquiring mind in the British Parliament or indeed some in the US Congress.

The Chilcott inquiry has still not reported on Iraq. If and when it ever does, it will show the way in which the obsession with supporting the US war on terror rode over every humanitarian consideration and British law.

Beyond that there has been significant damage done to civil liberties in this country through successive pieces of anti-terror legislation where terrorist suspects can be detained indefinitely under immigration law, and successive governments have given themselves executive powers to either detain people or limit their movements or virtually place them under house arrest.

Ministers always defend these measures as being of a necessary and urgent nature, whereas in reality they are an extremely dangerous departure from all norms of justice.

On Monday the House of Commons was debating the first stage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which includes powers to exclude British nationals from returning to Britain if the Home Office believes they’ve been involved in terrorist activities or supporting Isis.

The Bill also empowers the Home Secretary to remove passports using her powers under the Royal Prerogative, and additionally, to peremptorily cease passports and travel documents at the point of departure of British nationals. These powers are due to be reviewed after 18 months in operation.

Having observed anti-terror legislation through successive parliaments, the pattern is quite simple: any piece of legislation that is brought in temporarily rapidly becomes permanent, and the dominant themes are firstly to give greater executive powers over the individual, and second, to protect operatives in the security services from being effectively questioned, either in Parliament or, more importantly, in the courts.

Britain prides itself on having a permanent narrative of supporting human rights and democracy around the world. While there is no debate about the vile brutality of Isis in its operations in Syria and Iraq, it is not the first and sadly probably not the last brutal army around the world.

Western countries, including the US and Britain have often been very selective in their concerns for human rights.

In the 1950s the British army committed the most abominable violations of human rights in the wars in Malaya and Kenya.

But this disregard for human rights was not restricted to British colonial interests, as the truth commission in Brazil revealed last week via a 2,000-page report on the abuse of human rights during the 1970s. Britain and the US trained Brazilian interrogators in torture techniques.

Perhaps in retrospect we need to think a bit more about our foreign policy objectives and whether or not sending British troops back into Iraq and building a new base in the human-rights- abusing state of Bahrain is not just a continuation of the same disastrous policy.

16 Dec

Parliament 15/12: Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill

My main speech: I shall speak briefly because I know the Home Secretary is about to reply. Following the speech of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about the general direction in which anti-terror law has gone, I want to make two essential points. Ever since I have been a Member, we seem to have had some piece of anti-terror legislation before us every year. I assume that there is a very large department in the Home Office that is writing next year’s anti-terror Bill and the one for the year after that. I am sure there will be an ambition to do that.

The theme that runs through all such legislation is an attempt to give greater and greater executive powers to the Home Secretary, which are usually rowed back by a combination of the courts and parliamentary action; then, a year or two later, we come back to yet another counter-terror Bill in respect of which the Home Secretary, no doubt with the very best of intentions, is nevertheless given a high degree of executive power. It is no part of our duty as elected Members of Parliament to undermine an independent judicial process and hand executive powers to Ministers, on the basis of which they can either detain or exclude people under any process whatever. That is fundamental to what I understand our democracy to be.  Although there is—ultimately, I suppose—some degree of judicial oversight when an excluded person finally comes back to this country, I would have thought that the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) are surely true and important. If someone goes abroad, albeit on the basis of perhaps misguided notions about what they can do when they reach the zone of conflict to which they have gone, they will be there and will subsequently be prevented from returning. That might render them at risk of imprisonment by another judiciary, which might have much less concern for human rights than anyone here, and they could then be tortured and all kinds of terrible things could happen to them. Would the possession of British nationality on the part of someone affected in that way require the British Government to intervene on their behalf to stop them being tortured, given that the Government opposed their return to Britain in the first place? This whole process is full of many complications and contradictions, which I hope have been adequately thought through by the Home Secretary in introducing this legislation.

Secondly, I want to note the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). We are involved in a process of making subjective judgments about who goes where to fight for what, and for whom. My right hon. Friend made the point that if somebody goes to fight for ISIS in Syria—I wish they would not; I have no truck whatever with ISIS—they will be deemed to be a terrorist and a dangerous person. If they go to fight for the Syrian Government, I presume the same point applies, but if they fight for the free Syrian army, which is supported by the Americans and the British, and they do things as despicable as they would in any other force, are they then deemed to be all right? Do they then have to prove which particular force they joined in Syria’s three-way civil war?

There is a further complication. If someone enters Syria from Turkey to fight with the Kurdish forces, having been taken there by the PKK, which is a listed terrorist organisation in Turkey, they would nevertheless be on the side of the Kurdish forces against the forces of the Syrian Government and against ISIS. There are an awful lot of contradictions surrounding how we decide who is a good fighter and who is a terrorist; who is struggling for liberation and who is a terrorist. There was a time when people involved in Umkhonto we Sizwe in South Africa were known as terrorists; they were later welcomed to this country as freedom fighters. Things can turn full circle.

None of what I am saying is intended to give any succour, comfort or support to ISIS, but I feel that we should think about this rather more carefully and avoid the knee-jerk reaction of saying, “These are bad fighters and those are good fighters, so we will ban these and allow those in.”

Mr George Howarth: My hon. Friend has already answered the question that I was going to ask, but I will make my point anyway. I am sure he agrees that there is no comparison between the barbaric acts that are being committed by members of ISIS and what was done by the freedom fighters in South Africa.

Jeremy Corbyn: Of course that is true. I have no truck with those who commit those barbaric acts, and nor does any other Member.

Our job is to scrutinise legislation, and that is exactly what we are doing tonight. We can vote to change some of the amendments tonight, or we can return to the issues on Report. However, I hope the Home Secretary understands that a great many of us are deeply concerned about the principle of dealing with British nationals in this way, as we would be in relation to any other country. We are concerned about the long-term consequences: about what such treatment does to those people, and about the increased radicalisation of others. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) talked about that.

I have encountered young people who have been attracted to what ISIS is doing. They say that what the west did in Iraq and Afghanistan was appalling, and was questionably legal in the case of Afghanistan and definitely illegal in the case of Iraq. We are living with the consequences of the war on terror of 2001, and if we continue to try to create legal obstacles and make value judgments about people without considering the overall policy we are following, we will return to legislation such as this again and again, year after year.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): That is a humbling thing. It is, however, a lamentable fact that my constituent Omar Hussain appeared on the BBC to express considerable support for ISIS. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that such people need to be subject to special measures when they return to the United Kingdom?

Jeremy Corbyn: I have no support for ISIS whatsoever, and obviously that should apply to someone who has committed crimes, but we should bear in mind that expressing a political point of view is not in itself an offence. The commission of a criminal act is clearly a different matter, but expressing a point of view, even an unpalatable one, is sometimes quite important in a democracy. We should be slightly cautious about announcing that we will start to deal with people on the basis of a general view that they have expressed. We should think seriously about where our foreign policy has brought us, and what our legislative position now is.

Steve Baker: I am very much inclined to agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but the problem is that this particular individual expressed support for beheadings with a knife. I feel that the practical realities mean that we must take special measures in the case of such people.

Jeremy Corbyn: I would want that person to have some kind of treatment, or I would want measures of some kind to be taken, but expressing support for something and doing it are two rather different things.

There are very unpleasant parallels in the British colonial past. I sat through the hearings in the High Court when the Mau Mau people were seeking compensation. The way in which they had been treated by the British Army in Kenya in 1955 was disgusting and disgraceful beyond belief. We are now going through a horrible, vile period in Syria. We must understand where we have come from and how we will get through this period without denying our own civil liberties and encouraging more people to join in this whole ghastly process.

Mrs May: This has been a constructive and well-informed debate. Some Members have raised practical questions and others have raised questions of principle, but it was
 

16 Dec

Parliament 15/12: Northern Ireland Peace talks

Jeremy Corbyn asked Ms Villiers: Is it not entirely predictable that many people in Northern Ireland, having observed the operation of the welfare cap in England and Wales, look with great trepidation at deepening poverty, increasing homelessness and all the problems that have been associated with that policy here?

 

11 Dec

Parliament 12/12: Business / Nuclear Weapons

Jeremy Corbyn MP:  Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), next February the Government will host a meeting of the declared nuclear weapon states in London ahead of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference next May, which unfortunately coincides with our general election. What plans does the Government have to make a statement to the House ahead of the P5 meeting in February, and will there be an opportunity to debate the British Government’s position ahead of the NPT review conference next May? The issues are obviously extremely important if we aspire to bringing about a nuclear weapons-free world.

Mr Hague:  These are very important issues. The last NPT review conference in 2010 straddled the last general election, but that did not stop this country making an important and very positive contribution to it, and Members from all parties will want us to do so again. There will of course be several opportunities to question Foreign Office Ministers in the House before then, but I will certainly point out to them the interest shown in the House about having clarity on the Government’s approach to the forthcoming conference before the general election.
11 Dec

The Morning Star: Nukes Must be Consigned to the Past

JEREMY CORBYN reports from the Human Effects of Nuclear Weapons Conference in Vienna, where Britain and the US have been refusing to play ball

THERE was a fascinating moment during the Human Effects of Nuclear Weapons Conference in Vienna on Tuesday.

The British delegation’s surprising but nevertheless welcome attendance was called upon to make a government statement.

Essentially the British position was support for a nuclear-free world, pointing out Britain’s continuing support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its reduction in the number of nuclear warheads it holds.

In response to the many demands for a nuclear weapons convention and a global treaty to ban all nuclear weapons, the British government’s position is that a timetabled mechanism to make weapons illegal would risk instability and a loss of trust.

This unsurprising statement was received in stony silence by a very large conference.

The South African representative proudly announced that South Africa was the first and only state ever to develop nuclear weapons, then voluntarily decommission them and declare itself a non-nuclear country, as well as then joining the NPT process as such.

He went on to say how Africa had thus become a nuclear weapons-free continent, expressing his belief that possession of nuclear weapons created instability around the world.

In conclusion he described the possession of weapons by the five permanent members of the security council plus four other states to be a form of nuclear apartheid.

South Africa’s moral and principled position received loud and sustained applause, not just from civil society organisations but also from many states which were represented at the conference.

At the end of Monday’s presentations by esteemed nuclear scientists and medical experts led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the chair asked for questions only from state delegations.

The US delegation was called first and calmly told the assembled gathering that they weren’t going to ask any questions but that they would make a statement.

The ambassador said the US recognised the environmental effects of nuclear explosions, supported a comprehensive test ban treaty and drew attention to President Barack Obama’s relevant speeches in Prague and elsewhere.

To growing scepticism the ambassador went on to say that the US was driven by a real enthusiasm to achieve a nuclear-free world but could not support a convention or treaty with a fixed timeline for the achievement of the nuclear-free world it claims to want.

The conference was preceded by an excellent weekend gathering of 500 supporters of the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, held at one of the historic university buildings in central Vienna.

It was impressive in its attendance, but perhaps even more impressive was the youth and enthusiasm of people from all over the world who were campaigning for a global nuclear weapons treaty.

The Austrian government, which organised the conference, had gone to great pains to ensure that the state representatives were appropriately seated in proper conference format in one of the grand halls of the Hofburg Palace. Behind them was a big media attendance and the rest of the hall was taken up with a huge contingent of peace campaign and civil society organisations from all over the world.

We were welcomed to the palace by a large group of Red Cross rescue workers dressed as if they were trying to rescue people from a nuclear explosion, and they remained and took part in the conference for the next two days.

The ICRC information paper included many photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and outlined the effects and casualties of the heat and blast waves.

The heat casualties alone were documented as:

 

“The earth below the epicentre of the blast would be heated to a temperature of approximately 7,000°C, which would vaporise all living things in that area.

“Tens of thousands of those people who will not have been vaporised would be burnt, with most people suffering horrific full thickness skin burns. Severe burns could occur up to 3km from the blast.

“In addition, many people looking in the direction of the explosion would suffer temporary flash blindness for up to 40 minutes or even permanent eye damage, including retinal burns and scarring affecting the visual field, from looking at the fireball with the naked eye.”

A cold analysis of the levels of death and destruction from a nuclear explosion is truly frightening.

A number of very well-presented papers pointed out that even a limited nuclear war would result in enormous climate change, as darkened skies would lead to a rapid cooling of the Earth’s temperature, damaging agriculture and fish stocks.

“The radiation levels would last for years and lead to huge refugee movements and civil unrest all over the planet. However, there have been 2,000 nuclear explosions over the past 70 years as part of weapons testing programmes, both underground and atmospheric, and the consequences are being felt daily by those who experience them. Significant levels of radiation-induced cancers, ground pollution and crop problems still continue to this day.”

The colonial mentality surrounding the tests needs to be borne in mind.

Britain, for example, undertook its first nuclear test in Australia commencing on the Montebello Islands, as well as the mainland.

The Australian government recognised the damage to the population and the British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who witnessed the tests have either died or are suffering the consequences of it.

For the people of the Pacific the suffering goes on and on.

Nuclear test victims come from all over the world. There was a superb presentation from a Nevada woman called Michelle Thomas in her wheelchair, explaining what it was like growing up with more and more children being born deformed, and the continuing deaths through cancers as a result of the US testing in that state.

There were also witnesses from Russia, who discussed the long-lasting effects in the area surrounding the Soviet Union’s main testing site at Semipalatinsk on the Myakka river where 450 nuclear explosions took place.

Over 500,000 people were affected by fallout from those tests.

The victims include those who mined and transported uranium and those who suffer the consequences of insecure storage of nuclear waste from processing to create plutonium.

The Hidankyo Movement has become an international organisation of atomic bomb nuclear survivors.

They were among many others who persuaded first the Norwegians and then Mexican governments to host earlier human effects of nuclear weapons conference.

The Marshall Islands, virtually destroyed by US testing, have now taken their case against the declared nuclear weapons states to the international authorities.

They are quite rightly claiming that the Non-Proliferation Treaty requires existing nuclear states to take steps towards disarmament. Britain is in the frame for prosecution by the Marshall Islands.

In February the permanent five of the UN security council will meet in London to plot their strategy for the NPT Review Conference to be held in New York in May.

At Tuesday’s parliamentary roundtable organised by the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament we discussed the need for concerted parliamentary action around the world to achieve a WMD-free Middle East, as well as supporting a convention to bring about a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons.

We could make a good start here by refusing to replace the Trident nuclear missile system and fulfil our obligations, freely entered into, in order to take steps towards nuclear disarmament.

These weapons killed countless numbers at the end of the second world war, but there’s also the whole ghastly legacy of testing, pollution and destruction that the weapons industry has bequeathed to the world.

 

8 Dec

Parliamentary Motion 609: Bahrain Base

Today I tabled EDM number 609 expressing outrage re a future British Base  in Bahrain

Bahrain Base
That this House is appalled that Britain has signed an agreement with the Government of Bahrain to establish a permanent military base at Port Mina Salman in Bahrain; believes this announcement will be deeply upsetting to all those who have suffered human rights abuses by the Government of Bahrain and its officials, and will serve to send a message that the UK Government is not interested in justice, rule of law and reconciliation in Bahrain; notes the protests in Bahrain since the announcement was made; believes that the increased British military presence is likely to exacerbate tensions in the region; and, calls upon the UK Government to play a much more constructive role in Bahrain to help end, and ensure appropriate redress for, serious human rights violations, and to encourage meaningful dialogue leading to substantive political reform.   

 

5 Dec

Parliament on 5th December: We did it!

The Bill legislating to spend 0.7% of GNI on international development has just passed Third Reading in the House of Commons.

I was there to intervene on the new UKIP MP - Mark Reckless - who was enthusiastically opposing the bill.  I suggested to him that  “He is obviously not aware that very large numbers of people in this county feel passionately about inequality in the world, about the Ebola crisis and about many other crises, and that they believe that donating money, through the taxpayer and individually, to help to alleviate that terrible suffering involves a moral duty as well as a public good.”

It was a privilege to attend one of those rare and wonderful occasions when a Private Members Bill progresses so far, and this one will have huge consequences for the international community.

Labour are wholly responsible for this terrific achievement as it occurred in the face of much Tory opposition. A significant number of Labour MPs attended (despite it being Friday, a constituency day):  75 Labour, 40 Tories and 25 Lib Dems.

Thank you to everyone who wrote in to me to encourage me to attend parliament, which involved a very difficult decision I had to make about attending the funeral of the highly esteemed Richard Pout.  Richard was a do-er of all good things to do with railways, and would, I am in no doubt, have supported my decision to be in parliament today.

4 Dec

Morning Star: Tories at their Arrogant Worst

The Bullingdon boys’ Budget has little to offer ordinary people. The rich, on the other hand, stand to do very nicely, says JEREMY CORBYN

YESTERDAY, the House of Commons felt a bit like a reunion of the Bullingdon Club.

Its two leading members, David Cameron and George Osborne, sat together on the front bench with the looming threat of Boris Johnson banished from their minds.

At one level it showed the Tories at their arrogant worst, cheering every tax cut for higher-income people and every tax relief for yet another group of businesses.

On another level, one can see it as the last-gasp Budget of a government that has spectacularly failed to achieve the economic targets it set itself and left millions of people significantly worse off than they were four years ago, with the prospects for the younger generation even less appealing than in 2010.

In response, shadow chancellor Ed Balls quite rightly pointed out that for the last 51 weeks, prices have risen faster than wages, and that the average worker is now £1,600 per year worse off than they were four years ago.

For full-time workers this figure rises to £2,000.

Even the Office for Budget Responsibility has drawn attention to the dwindling government tax income caused by reduced wages.

Indeed, this year the deficit is £91.3 billion, as opposed to the £86.6bn forecast last year.

Balls pointed out that bank lending to small and medium enterprises is falling and that numbers of new apprenticeships are down.

He also pointed out that reductions in tax credits hit women harder than men and that £3bn has been cut from those on average incomes, while those earning over £100,000 a year are collectively £3bn better off than they were four years ago.

While acknowledging the £2bn put into the NHS as an emergency measure on Monday, Balls quite rightly questioned on what basis the £2bn is going to continue in future years – or is the NHS to go from one crisis to another every year?

Osborne chose not to reply to any of the questions put by Balls but instead resorted to incoherent shouting that Labour’s mansion tax proposals were a very bad idea and boasting about his new tax regime on property.

Interestingly, Osborne had nothing to say on the chronic housing crisis that affects millions of people in Britain but instead focused solely on people who are buying property.

He proudly announced that if re-elected the Tories would introduce another £15bn of public spending cuts in the first two years.

He seemed proud that, by freezing public-sector pay, £12bn has been taken out of the pockets of public-sector workers, saying that he expects to do the same in the next Parliament.

He also intends to take a further £1.3bn out of public service pensions.

So, taken together, a further £28bn is due to be cut from public services and the staff who deliver them.

Ominously, on top of the benefit cap introduced at the beginning of this Parliament, Osborne now proposes a freeze of universal credit work allowances, and is proud that beyond the cuts he announced in benefits four years ago, he’s managed to “save” a further £1bn in this area.

Essentially his Budget, like all his other Budgets, pretends to be in support of creating jobs and lowering business tax rates, making everyone better off.

The reality is that by deliberately lowering tax income from the richest, depressing wages and forcing more people on to zero-hours contracts, he is actually making the majority of the population worse off.

The continued pressure on budgets in the NHS is leading to longer waiting times for consultations and operations, and is leading to the rationing of some medicines and operations. The principle of a universal health service equally available to all is under dire threat.

Ten days ago, Parliament voted to support a private member’s Bill by Clive Efford MP, which drew attention to the culture of contracting privatisation within the NHS.

I have just received a copy of an excellent NHS Reinstatement Bill prepared by Peter Roderick and Professor Allyson Pollock at Queen Mary College, University of London.

Their Bill proposes a reinstatement of the government’s duty to provide for the NHS, the abolition of marketised bodies and marketisation within the NHS, and an end to the commissioning of commercial companies to provide services.

It also proposes bringing staff terms and conditions under the NHS Staff Council and, crucially, prohibiting the ratification of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership as long as it includes health services.

Unfortunately, some of the problems that we face were brought about by the last Labour government’s obsession with offering some NHS services to the private sector and private finance initiatives.

Yesterday Osborne set out the priorities of the Bullingdon Club boys in stark terms – lower taxes for those with the most, lower benefits for those with the least, lower wages for those at the bottom end and a promise of greater job insecurity in the future.

Balls asked a number of very good questions about income levels, apprenticeships, training and the effects of the benefit cap on women.

But we need to go a lot further and argue for the living wage to become the minimum wage and a huge housebuilding programme to deal with the housing crisis that affects millions who have no prospect of ever buying their own property. We need to defend the health service from the Tories and from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

We know what motivates the Tories, it’s time to motivate the opposite.

3 Dec

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