Foreign Affairs and Defence

Part of Adjournment (Whitsun) – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 26th May 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Labour, Inverclyde 6:00 pm, 26th May 2010

It is a tremendous honour to speak in a debate that has featured so many genuinely outstanding maiden speeches. They have caused me to recall my own puny affair with a growing sense of inferiority as the afternoon has proceeded. [Interruption.] I am too modest, it is true.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State for Defence to his new job, if for no other reason than that it resumes East Kilbride's grip on the Ministry of Defence, which was established by Adam Ingram's record tenure. Now that the Secretary of State has control, I wish him the very best for his endeavours in the difficult task that lies ahead. I also wish every success to the Front Bench teams holding the foreign, defence and international development briefs.

In the time available, I shall not repeat much of what has already been said about Afghanistan and other issues. Instead, I shall address an issue that has not been raised in the debate and that receives too little mention in the counsels of this Chamber. I am determined to put that right over the coming years.

If I may borrow a phrase from Harold Macmillan and amend it, the wind of oppression is blowing through the African continent today, an oppression aimed largely at young gay men and women. It has become a much more pressing issue; and although it is not confined to Africa, it is in Africa that that dehumanising and brutal oppression is occurring on this very day.

We are aware of the notorious private Member's Bill tabled in Uganda by David Bahati that proposes the death penalty for people who are HIV-positive and engaged in homosexual activity, life in prison for everyone else who engages in homosexual activity, and seven years in prison for people who counsel those who engage in homosexual activity. It is, as I said, a private Member's Bill, and the Ugandan Government have distanced themselves from it. None the less, even without the Bill, it will be illegal to be gay in Uganda, and punishable by 14 years in prison. The President of Uganda has said that homosexuality is "alien". In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government gave £71 million in aid to Uganda.

In Malawi, in the past few days, two young men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, have been sentenced to 14 years in prison for declaring publicly their love for one another. Passing sentence, the judge said that he would give them

"a scaring sentence, so that the public be protected from people like you; so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example."

Action against gays in Malawi is on the increase, and the President of Malawi has done nothing but stoke such prejudice.

There is another, less well-known case in Malawi, the so-called poster boy case. Peter Sawali has been sentenced to community service for the crime of pasting up a poster saying "gay rights are human rights". In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government donated £77 million of aid to Malawi.

In Kenya, things are little better. Homosexuality is illegal, and punishable by up to 14 years in jail. In February this year, five people were arrested for planning a gay wedding north of Mombasa, and another man was handed over to the police by members of the public on suspicion of being gay. In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government gave £103 million of aid to Kenya.

In Zimbabwe, almost nothing unites President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai except their competition to see who can demonise gay people the most. Just a few days ago, two members of the organisation Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe were arrested. Their crime was to publish a letter written by Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, which was critical of Robert Mugabe. Today, those two people are in prison. In the last year for which figures are available, the UK Government gave £56 million in aid to Zimbabwe. Even in South Africa, the only country on the continent where gays have any legal rights at all, there has been an increase in so-called conversion rapes against young lesbian women in the townships. In the last year for which figures are available, the UK Government gave £40 million in aid to South Africa.

I know that the question of our attitude towards what may be regarded as social and sexual mores in other countries, and especially developing countries, is a complex one, and that it can often tie us in moral knots. We may personally deplore what is going on, but we may also be anxious to avoid the sort of moral neo-colonialism that seeks to impose our western liberal sexual values on other countries; after all, these countries suffered enough from our forebears, who told them in the Victorian age what sexual mores they should and should not follow.

To answer that complex question, we must go back to first principles. Why do we have an international aid policy in the first place? Why do we give money to such countries? We do not do so because one day we hope they will trade with us, which is our rationale for giving money to European countries. We may do so because it helps bolster our image on the international stage-a fact recognised by the new Prime Minister on entering office-but that is not the main reason. Rather, we have an international aid policy in the first place because it is an outward expression of our common humanity. It is an expression of the fact that those of us who have plenty are morally compelled and obliged to help those of our fellow men and women around the globe who do not; and it is in that expression of an indivisible common humanity that we can properly locate our abhorrence of the oppression and dehumanisation of gay men and lesbians in Zimbabwe today.

I do not want to use our aid budget as a football. I know this money is not going to the state; I know it is going on projects to combat deprivation, ill health and disease, and I do not want to diminish it in the least, but what do we do when our denunciations are ignored? What do we do when our entreaties are brushed aside, and when President Mugabe, whose country receives tens of millions of pounds in aid, can say that gays are worse than pigs and dogs? What do we do when this Parliament has within its grasp the ability to say to some of these countries, "We want to help and support you-it is a recognition of our common humanity that we do so-but we cannot go on signing cheques to countries that are brutally and viciously oppressing and suppressing the rights of others."?

It is not only on the ground of sexuality that countries oppress rights. As we heard from Mr Donaldson, some countries oppress people on the ground of religion, which may be rooted in differences of creed or race. If our international aid budget is rooted in our humanity, it does not come value-free, and it does not come free from a sense that the humanity of everyone must be respected.

I have not even mentioned the utterly disastrous effect these policies in Africa are having on the rise in HIV and AIDS. If someone who thinks they might have HIV is told that to be homosexual is to be worse than a pig or a dog and is punishable by 14 years in prison, why would they come forward? What possible reason would they have to seek medical help and the method to prevent the spread of HIV? We are funding anti-HIV and AIDS programmes in countries with policies that do nothing to stop HIV and AIDS, and instead contribute to their spread.

This is a big job for the Government. I do not pretend it is the most important thing on the plate of incoming Ministers, but it is important to millions across Africa whose fundamental human right to be gay or lesbian is being brutally oppressed by regimes. I look to the Government to give a lead by setting out what positive action we can take when our denunciations are brushed aside and doing something about this appalling miscarriage of human rights.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website