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Column 1265up in this country in advance. The Turks are here on a temporary basis until such time as decisions are reached on their applications. The Government have no special responsibility for those people who are not refugees coming here as part of a Government programme. However, we recognise that there is a human problem to be addressed. Community organisations have helped and continue to provide, emergency shelter and food. I whole-heartedly thank them and commend them for their efforts. I have undertaken to consider reimbursing specific costs which they have had to incur.
I confirm that I have also said that we are willing to consider financial help towards the establishment of a short-term hostel in Tower Hamlets. My officials are in urgent discussions with the director of the British Refugee Council with a view to having this available for new arrivals at the earliest possible opportunity. More widely, my officials in the Home Office's voluntary services unit have been in touch with their usual contacts, and others, across Government Departments to let them know of the problems that these people may face while their claims are considered.
When I met a delegation from the Association of London Authorities and Hackney a few days ago, to which the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch referred, I agreed that my officials should set up a meeting between the ALA, Hackney and Government Departments to explore in more detail than was possible at that meeting--I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch that it was a courteous meeting, even if we did not agree on every objective--the problems that Hackney and other inner London boroughs are having to address as a result of the arrivals. I understand that that meeting has now been fixed for 5 June.
Meanwhile, we shall continue as quickly as we can to consider the individual claims and to reach decisions accordingly. This will be done on a case-by-case basis, as I have already said, against the criteria of the convention. There will certainly be some applicants where there are good and valid compassionate reasons for allowing them to remain here and they will be allowed entry on an exceptional basis. Where there are no compassionate features and where the applicant does not qualify for entry as a refugee or under any part of the immigration laws, refusal of entry and removal must follow. I listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Islington, North had to say about the general situation of the Kurds in the middle east. However, we do not accept that all Turkish nationals of Kurdish origin, regardless of individual circumstances, qualify to remain here as refugees under the convention.
We have so far reached decisions on 26 applicants who arrived here at the beginning of the month. Ten have been given leave to enter. Sixteen have had their applications refused and, after their solicitors' representations had been considered, were returned to Turkey.
Additional immigration officials have been brought in to deal with a sudden increase. I can assure hon. Members
Column 1266that every effort is being made to resolve these applications as quickly and as fairly as possible. This process will be hampered, though, if applicants on temporary admission do not co-operate or attend for interviews at the times requested. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch referred to the remarks made by His Eminence Cardinal Hume yesterday and his visit to the area. Of course I understand that it is desirable to provide accommodation for all asylum seekers in the community rather than in prisons. The cardinal called for Government funding. Our resources are very limited. We are considering giving help to increase the amount of accommodation within the community, but I warned the hon. Members for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and for Islington, North when they came to see me on Tuesday or Wednesday that I thought that it would be necessary in appropriate cases, where we were concerned about applicants on temporary asylum, to place them temporarily in prison. About 20 applicants are now detained in prison. A further 80 places have been made available in prison accommodation. That will be for those whom we think are unlikely to co-operate with interviewing officers. It will help in the speedy consideration of those cases. That can only be to the benefit of the genuine applicant. In the past, as the hon. Member for Islington, North certainly knows, Opposition Members have repeatedly extolled the benefits of an appeals procedure for port asylum applicants within the United Kingdom, but I wonder whether they have really thought through the implications. We already normally refer all applicants, on a non-mandatory basis, to the United Kingdom immigration advisory service when we refuse their applications. I personally look at any refusal whenever there is a difference of view between UKIAS and Home Office officials. A formal appeals system would be hamstrung by delays, as is the appeals system which already exists for ordinary immigration cases.
The longer the delay, the more attractive it must become for some applicants to exploit it. The experience of our European partners who have full appeal systems is precisely that. In France, asylum applications are running at the rate of over 30,000 a year and in Germany at over 100,000. In both countries, the delays in hearing appeals are in the order of years. Meanwhile, the applicant is free to stay in the country, to work, to marry and to raise a family. Removal soon becomes impossible because of the ties that have been established. None of this would be of any benefit to the genuine refugee fleeing persecution. It could only be an invitation to exploit the system.
Members on both sides of the House are united in agreeing on the need for measures to protect the genuine refugee. I am deeply disheartened that, where we have circumstances that are clearly being exploited to the disadvantage of the genuine refugee, Opposition Members never join me in condemining the abuse. In the long run, their failure to do so, and the encouragement that that gives to people who abuse the system, can only threaten the proper working of the very machinery that has been so important a part of the protection of refugees since 1951.
Cyprus is a small island, some 3,000 miles away with a population of about 650,000. The United Kingdom has very strong historical, strategic and emotional ties with the island. They stretch back to 1878 when Cyprus was annexed from the Ottoman empire and continued until 1960. During that period the island was a colony of Britain. We still maintain sovereign base areas on the island, in which 10,000 service men live. Moreover, Cyprus is an extremely important strategic base in military and geopolitical terms in the eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, its stability is extremely important. Britain also has significant economic ties with the island and is its largest trading partner. At present, 200,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots live in the United Kingdom.
Most important, however, is the United Kingdom's legal role as a party to the treaty of guarantee that set up the present Republic of Cyprus in 1960. The treaty obliged the United Kingdom to protect the constitutional and territorial integrity of the island. Incidentally, it is a constitution about which, with a somewhat curious use of the double negative, the former Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Young, said that the British Government have
"not accepted that the Constitution is not still in force". It is generally accepted that the British Government failed to carry out their role under the treaty. In 1974, it led to the partition of the island, to the effective occupation of just over one third of it by the Turkish Government and to its division ever since.
Today, 200,000 refugees from both sides are denied access to their homelands. Moreover, 2,000 people are missing and still unaccounted for, despite the efforts of the United Nations. A kind of Mediterranean iron curtain has been drawn through the island. Most important of all, when he last visited the United Kingdom, President Vassiliou said that Cyprus--a Commonwealth country and an associate member of the EEC--will, at the end of this year, following the Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia, the South African withdrawal from Namibia and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, be the only country in the world that is occupied without its consent by troops of a foreign power. As The Independent recently said :
"The spirit of de tente and co-operation which has run across other parts of the globe has yet sadly to reach Cyprus."
That is not through want of trying. In the past 14 years, through the United Nations and through bilateral negotiations, culminating in the present negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, under the auspices of the United Nations, that began last September, efforts have been made to reunify the island. However, it is still occupied and divided, and in terms of the stability of the region and natural justice, that is dangerous.
The Foreign Affairs Select Committee studied relations with Cyprus in May 1987. It reported :
"The permanent partition of Cyprus would be an injustice to those who have been forcibly removed from their
Column 1268traditional homes and possessions, a tragic concession to racial and religous bigotry, and a continuing irritant to the political stability of the region."
If that stability is to be regained, if unity is to return to the island and if injustice is to be removed, the United Kingdom must take a proactive role in diplomatic terms to bring it about. There is a danger in relying, as we do now, on a bilateral approach by the Turkish and Greek communities, as the Turkish side seems to have a continuing investment in the status quo. There is a danger that such an approach may be unsuccessful.
I shall not repeat the historical arguments or apportion blame. Ever since 1891, when there were 346 mixed villages, to 1960, when there were only 114, the two communities have taken paths of separate development, although it must be said that, at least until independence in 1960, they lived together in reasonable toleration of each other.
It is understandable that Greek Cypriots are fearful of a Turkish takeover- -they are only 40 miles away from Turkey. It is also understandable that they are emotional, and feel strongly, about the fact that many of them have lost everything--property, fathers and sons and other family--during the Turkish occupation. They resent the continued and unlawful military occupation of the island and what they regard as the raiding of many Cypriot treasures in the north of the island with the acquiesence, or even knowledge, of the Turkish authorities there.
We can also understand the Turkish Cypriots' perspective. They are outnumbered six to one. There is no doubt that they were subjected to significant atrocities by the Greek community between 1963 and 1974. Perhaps the worst were the activities of General Grivas in 1967. They are rightly suspicious of enosis, or union with Greece. In 1966, Archbishop Makarios talked about the 1960 agreements being abrogated and buried. No doubt that is a significant reason why, from 1963, the Turkish Cypriots effectively withdrew into their own enclaves. They regarded their security as paramount.
Objective analysis, no matter how genuine may be the attempt to be even handed, will not remedy injustice or provide sufficient impetus for reunification of the island, which time is gradually pushing apart. Certain facts are patent in this respect. It is not just the Greek Cypriot community, but the international community and the United Nations Security Council, who regard the Turkish occupation of the north of the island as illegal. Resolutions 541 and 550 of 1983 state that. Moreover, it could be argued that article 3 of the 1949 Geneva convention, which states :
"An occupying power shall not deposit or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies"
is being contravened, as Turkey is introducing a significant number of mainland settlers to the island.
Although, over the years, the Greeks have abandoned enosis in their proposals and have talked of multilateral guarantees for a sovereign independent state of Cyprus, the most recent Turkish constitution, which was adopted in 1983, talks of the Turkish Cypriot people as "an inseparable part of the great Turkish nation".
Assembly members in the north of Cyprus have to take an oath of allegiance to the "principles of Ataturk".
Although Turkey justified the invasion in terms of protecting the 1960 constitution and its position as a guarantee power and has used that to argue for the
Column 1269legitimacy of northern Cyprus ever since, the treaty argued against any partition of the island. In 1987, the Select Committee said : "While the first Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974 could have been regarded as a legitimate and successful exercise of her Guarantor rights in order to prevent Enosis, the subsequent Turkish occupation of the whole of the area north of Nicosia has been, and must be, seen as an illegitimate ... attempt to impose partition. In July 1974 Turkey appeared to be acting in support of the 1960 settlement ; in August 1974 Turkey was undoubtedly using force to prevent its restoration."
Turkey has allowed 60,000 settlers from Anatolia to populate the north of the island. Mr. Denktash, the Turkish leader, through his New Birth party, relies on their support to remain in power. When we take into account the fact that 30,000 native Turkish Cypriots have left Turkey during the past five years, we realise that Turkification has effectively taken place in the north of the island.
I rely on personal observation and on the words of the leader of the Republican Turkish party in north Cyprus, Mr. Ozker Ozgur. He addressed the congress on the Nicosia branch of his party on 14 April and said :
"In accordance with this strategy,"
--of the National Unity party and Mr. Denktash--
"the Turkish Cypriot Community is being dissolved and North Cyprus gradually turned into a province of Turkey The workers and peasants brought from Turkey are being exploited as a means towards permanent partition. They are being used to turn North Cyprus into a province of Turkey. They have been brought here in order to destroy the Turkish Cypriot identity."
He said that he estimates that, in five to 10 years' time, if such deliberate policies continue, the result will be the effective annexation of the north of Cyprus.
It is, therefore, not surprising that questions have been asked about the sincerity of Mr. Denktash and his allies in Turkey in their recent negotiating stance. Mr. Ozal's position, and especially that of his Motherland party, was substantially weakened as a result of the Turkish local government elections in March. That fact is highlighted by the negotiating positions taken by the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides during the United Nations talks. On the three freedoms--of movement, settlement and property--the Greeks have admitted that, although they regard them as of cardinal importance, they are not perfectly attainable and that there will be a transitional period during which they can take place. Yet the Turkish side has merely said that it is prepared to look at the problem and consider it in 18 years' time, and even then only on a limited basis. That will effectively mean that the partition of the island will have become virtually permanent after 32 years.
On territorial guarantees, the Greeks have specifically excluded Turkey and Greece and have called for the supervision of any future agreement by the Security Council or, at least, by an international force. The Turkish side has merely stuck to its major and first principle that there must be a physical presence of Turkish troops in the island.
On the security of the community, the Greek side has called for what has been generally regarded as the most effective way of ensuring that troubles do not re-emerge--the general demilitarisation of the island and the stationing there of an independent international police
Column 1270force to ensure that a bizonal policy is effective. The Turks have said that Turkish troops must remain, despite the fact that it has been calculated that it would take only one hour for troops to reach the island from the Turkish mainland in an emergency.
Equally important are the attitudes of the Turkish and Greek sides to confidence-building measures which are regarded as crucial to maintain contact between the two communities and create the undercurrent of trust which must underpin any effective reunification of the island. For instance, Friends of Cyprus has recently attempted to bring together Greek and Turkish Cypriots in a number of conferences for women, environmentalists, journalists and so on. Although there has been the will to co-operate among the leaders of the Turkish and Greek communities in, for instance, Nicosia, there have been continual attempts by the Turkish Cypriots to ensure that their representatives do not attend.
That does not mean that I believe that good will does not exist : it does. Most ordinary Turkish and Greek Cypriots and the civil authorities in Nicosia wish to co-operate and have been successful in doing so in several ways such as electricity, planning and a joint sewerage system in Nicosia. However, it would be wrong to ignore the differences, since they explain the painfully slow process of the negotiations which will reach the end of their present phase in June.
It would be wrong not to wish them well--I do. But if bilateral negotiations fail, I urge on the United Kingdom a proactive role which will see that the reunification of Cyprus can be effectively dealt with in a multilateral context. I urge on the United Kingdom a number of steps which would help bring about reunification. It should organise with the EEC a joint statement which will say to Turkey, whose troops are occupying Cyprus, that until it substantially reduces its forces or comes up with a timetable for their withdrawal, there is no possibility of a positive and successful result to the negotiations on its application for EEC membership. At present, that application and the fact that it may not be further processed relies purely upon a Greek veto. Given the international and legal circumstances, the EEC should take that proactive stance. To be even-handed, Britain should insist that the south ends its campaign to isolate the north economically and by its trade embargo. That would give the north more confidence that trade relations can take place.
A financial package led by the United Kingdom should be put in place to allow the redevelopment of the north following reunification and to pay for the enormous resettlement claims that will no doubt be put forward once reunification occurs.
The United Nations force should be taking a more proactive role, instead of supervising division, in encouraging unity between the two communities. It has an important role in confidence building, arranging conferences, supervising exchanges of people between the north and south and applying pressure on the Turkish and Greek communities to allow those exchanges to take place successfully. In 1979 it was agreed between the two communities that Varosha, the industrial area near Famagusta should be opened up for the benefit of the entire island. That has not taken place yet and it should happen speedily.
The United Kingdom should use its membership of the Security Council to propose ideas to allow for an effective
Column 1271guarantee of demilitarisation of the island and a federal police force once the island is reunified. That would give confidence to the two communities that once an agreement had been reached, it would be made effective and their security would be protected.
Those are initiatives which the British Government are uniquely qualified to take. They have good relations with Greece and Turkey, they are members of the Security Council and the EEC and they have guarantee status on Cyprus. More than that, the Government have an historical and moral responsibility to ensure that peace and unity return to Cyprus. That task is not easy but the rewards are great. I urge the Government to act with their customary imagination and sense of purpose.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) for providing this opportunity to have a short debate about relations with Cyprus. I congratulate him on a thoroughly comprehensive and scholarly speech in which his expertise and commitment shone through. I know that he has developed that expertise through visits to the island and through his membership of Friends of Cyprus, to which he referred. As my hon. Friend said, Friends of Cyprus does extremely valuable work in the cause of fostering contact between the two communities. I applaud its efforts and my hon. Friend's efforts in support of it. I wish Friends of Cyprus continuing success.
This is a good time to have this debate. It is some time since the House last debated Cyprus. We had an Adjournment debate in October 1987 when we heard the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). A little later, in December 1987, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Sir W. Shelton) initiated a longer debate on Cyprus, which allowed a number of hon. Members to speak. But there has been a long gap since then, and much has happened in that period.
As my hon. Friend said, there has been an improvement in the international climate in a number of regional disputes and problems. There has been a solution to a number of thorny issues. Sadly, as my hon. Friend said, we cannot say that the problem of Cyprus has been solved.
At the risk of being proved wrong by events, I think it is fair to say that the prospects of a solution are better than they were 18 months ago. I shall explain the reason for that qualified optimism in a moment when I deal with the present state of play in the international talks and how that fits into the context of Britain's relations with Cyprus.
I shall first run through some of the other aspects of those relations. I am glad to say that they are generally excellent. That is something to be proud of, and hon. Members from both sides of the House are to be congratulated on playing their part in bringing that about. Nearly 30 years after Cyprus was brought to independence, memories of the difficult last years of the colonial period are dimmer. But the links forged by earlier generations have proved remarkably durable. Admittedly, relations with Cyprus since then have, at times, been conducted in extremely difficult circumstances.
Column 1272I shall not go into the old arguments about what Britain might have done, but shall show briefly that although our relations have been through the fire they have emerged tempered and are in excellent condition.
Bilateral trade is reasonably healthy. Latest figures show an increase in our exports to the island from £141 million in 1987 to £160 million in 1988. Imports from Cyprus reached £122 million last year, so the balance of visible trade is in our favour. However, that is redressed by the income that Cyprus derives from British tourism. Our statistics rightly do not separate trade with the south of the island from that with the north. The healthy overall picture is reflected in the Cypriot Government's statistics and in those produced by the Turkish- Cypriot authorities. They clearly show that Britain is the largest overseas market for both communities. Indeed, we take far more of the north's exports than does Turkey, demonstrating Britain's position in the island which was one of the underlying themes of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest.
Our bilateral aid through the European Community to Cyprus takes the form of technical and educational co-operation and training. As the Government have made clear many times, notably when replying to the previous report on Cyprus of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, we believe that our aid should benefit both communities. Some hon. Members would like us to give all our aid money to the north, where the gross domestic product is much lower, or split it 50-50 between the two sides. We believe that the first course would not be right--the provision of training, scholarships for study in Britain and so on should be for the benefit of both communities-- and that the second would be impracticable because the size of the two communities is not equal.
I am sure that the majority of hon. Members agree that we must proceed according to the needs of the moment and whatever viable projects may be available. It is no use to say that we should give X thousand pounds a year to provide scholarships for Turkish Cypriots if there are insufficient qualified candidates to use the money. We therefore proceed pragmatically and apply funds to meet the needs. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development recently gave the House up-to-date information, in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), on commitments of public funds that the Government have made to the two communities over the past 12 months. They show what we are doing and what we are trying to do. It would not be right in this short debate to go into detail, but the Cyprus fee support scheme is winding down at the same time as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office scholarships and awards scheme is winding up. We expect Turkish Cypriots to benefit more from our educational provision in the future. I repeat that how much they benefit will depend on how many suitably qualified candidates are identified.
We contribute our fair share to the provision of EEC aid to Cyprus. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development told the House, the Community allocated £29 million under the second five-year financial protocol for Cyprus, which expired last December. A further financial protocol was agreed earlier this year, under which £41 million will be provided over the next five years. The Community tries to support projects of benefit to the whole population of the island. In particular, it has met the cost of water, sewerage and electricity works. I am
Column 1273afraid that I cannot break down how the sums benefit Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots as the information is not available. Links between friendly countries depend in large measure on people and the cross-fertilisation of cultures and interests that they make possible. Our links with Cyprus are very healthy. About 200,000 Cypriots from both communities live in our midst. Many of them hold British citizenship, and I am proud to have a considerable number, especially Greek Cypriots, living in my constituency. They play a full and active part in the political life of this country. More than 300,000 Britons visit Cyprus every year, going to both northern and southern Cyprus. They make a large contribution to the economies of both communities. There are about 3,000 British residents on the island, which shows the long-lasting ties of affection that still exist, divided between south and north. At the pinnacle of importance are contacts between the two Governments of Britain and Cyprus and the Turkish-Cypriot community in the north. I am happy to say that contacts between the two Governments could hardly be closer. The best illustration of that is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has met President Vassiliou no fewer than four times in his relatively brief term of office, which is remarkable. We have welcomed here two of President Vassiliou's Ministers. I met and gave a dinner for its Interior Minister, Mr. Venyamin last year. The traffic in high and low ranking officials in both directions is considerable. The strength and diversity of links are, I am sure, all that hon. Members could wish for.
We have good contacts with the Turkish-Cypriot leadership in the north ; some would say that we have too few and others that we have too many. As usual, the Government are criticised by both sides. It is a difficult balance to achieve, but I believe that we have done so.
I say to those who believe that we should cut off or reduce links with Turkish Cypriots that it would serve no one's interest, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest was not arguing for that. He argued that we should use all our contacts to work for the unity of the island. The Government have made clear their attitude in reply to the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.
To those who believe that we should be according the same treatment to Mr. Denktash, who is the Turkish-Cypriot leader, as we give to President Vassiliou, I say that we recognise only one state in Cyprus, whose Government is now headed by Mr. Vassiliou. Mr. Denktash made it difficult for us to give him the access that he used to have to Ministers when the so -called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" was declared in November 1983. We can have no truck with separatism and must guard against any action that might be construed by one side or the other as conferring recognition on an illegal entity. I do not say that we rule out for ever and a day a meeting between Mr. Denktash and a British Minister. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary were satisfied that such a meeting would materially assist the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement in Cyprus, I am sure that he would consider sanctioning one. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that in those circumstances
Column 1274that would be the right course to take. However, the conditions that will make such a meeting possible are not yet available. Mr. Denktash's lack of access to the higher levels of the Government does not mean that his voice and that of his community are not heard--they are. Turkish-Cypriot views are fully taken into account. Our high commissioner in Nicosia sees Mr. Denktash frequently. Mr. Denktash has also been received three times in the past 18 months by a deputy under- secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The most important aspect of my hon. Friend's speech was the state of the current inter-communal talks about a settlement of the Cyprus problem. When my predecessor replied to the debate in December 1987, he said that it was time for both sides to try to reacquire the habit of continuous and constructive co-operation--that marked the earlier stages of the inter- communal talks, which have been going on for a decade and more--and that we believe that the newly announced appointment of Mr. Camilion as the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative in Cyprus was a challenge to which both sides had to respond.
We congratulate the United Nations Secretary-General on having grasped the opportunity provided by the election less than three months later of Mr. Vassiliou as President of the Republic of Cyprus to relaunch the inter- communal talks. That took some doing, given the mutual mistrust that has built up between the two sides over the years, but the secretary-general managed to do so. With the active support of the British Government and others, he persuaded the two Cypriot leaders to meet him in Geneva last August, when they accepted his proposal that, without preconditions, they should attempt to negotiate a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem by 1 June 1989. President Vassiliou and Mr. Denktash have subsequently held an unprecedented number of one-to-one meetings, largely in the presence only of Mr. Camilion, to whom I pay tribute. They have had two further meetings with the secretary-general in an effort to cut the knot that has tied up the negotiating process for so long. The going has been predictably tough. There are too many people with influence on both sides who insist on maximalist solutions, believing that they are 100 per cent. right and the other side is 100 per cent. wrong. That is not the way to conduct any negotiation, because it nips the flower of success in the bud before it has a chance to bloom. We believe that both Cypriot leaders have been negotiating with a degree of flexibility. We call on them to show yet more flexibility and imagination, more of the spirit of compromise, to crown the secretary-general's efforts with success, reunite the Republic of Cyprus and remove a cause of instability in the eastern Mediterranean.
We genuinely believe that a settlement is a possibility. True, Mr. Vassiliou and Mr. Dentkash may not yet have been able to achieve the understanding of each other's positions and the necessary compromises on the main issues that would allow the secretary-general's original 1 June 1989 target to be met. We believe that there has been genuine progress after so much effort, and we call upon both leaders to redouble their efforts and continue the talks after their next meeting with the secretary- general, which we understand is likely to be in late June. We believe that both sides are ready to continue talking, because they recognise that there is a great prize to be won by both their
Column 1275communities. We hope very much that they will be able to agree on a draft outline settlement before their next meeting with Mr. Perez de Cuellar, which is the task they are engaged on in the present phase of the talks.
We are often urged to do more to assist the efforts to reach a settlement. Understandably, my hon. Friend urged us not to hold back. We believe that we are doing as much as is practicable, but we are always open to suggestions on how we should do more. I do not think that my hon. Friend would expect me to reveal the nature and detail of the diplomatic contacts with the parties directly concerned and all those others who have an interest in the Cyprus problem. I assure the House that they are continuous and extensive. Our policy and actions are based on one essential principle : that the secretary-general's mission of good offices, which he pursues by mandate from the Security council, represents the best prospect for achieving a settlement. Everything that we do is done with his support and in a way that does not cut across his and Mr. Camilion's efforts.
Beyond that, the biggest single demonstration of our active involvement remains our participation in the United Nations force in Cyprus. Our contingent, all of whose costs we absorb, is the largest in the force. The Unficyp has played and continues to play, a vital role in providing a background of stability against which Mr. Perez de Cuellar can pursue his initiative. I pay tribute to the work of the often very young British soldiers in that force. The British contingent and our other contributions to Unficyp, on which we shall spend about £23 million this financial year, are a living rebuttal of the charge that we are losing interest or are not doing enough. We see no advantage in an independent British initiative on Cyprus, which some urge us from time to time to take. This would do no more than cut across the secretary-general's efforts and would be counter productive. I am sure that the policy of giving full backing to the Security Council-endorsed policy is right. It offers the only prospect of putting our influence with all concerned to its best use.
I do not think that my hon. Friend was urging us to cut across the initiative if it still had momentum. He was asking what would happen if it failed. If the talks break down, we shall be in a different ball game. My hon. Friend would not expect me to lay out in detail the strategy that we would follow. Although we hope that this contingency will not arise--I have argued that there is still a momentum and we hope that the next crucial stage builds on it--our historical role would not be abandoned. We would have to think carefully about our next steps and how best to use our considerable influence and concerns. We would try to do that in close consultation with the
Column 1276secretary-general, to whose tact and patience I pay tribute. We would seek to be guided by him and the experience that he has gained. We would analyse the position. I assure my hon. Friend that we would not at that point lose interest in Cyprus nor would it fall on our list of priorities. It is a difficult but solvable problem. I take up my hon. Friend's point about Turkish settlers in the north. As many hon. Members are aware, this is a complicated issue. We receive much correspondence about it. There is no agreement on the numbers involved--perhaps one would not expect there to be--or on who is a settler and who is not. Greek Cypriot sources quote the figure, which my hon. Friend used, of 65,000. Turkish Cypriot sources go as low as 15,000. Our guesstimate is somewhere in between, at about 35, 000. Turkish Cypriots claim that the figure includes large numbers of people who have been granted what they call "Turkish Cypriot citizenship", and the children that they have borne since settling on the island.
It is not for me to say who is right and who is wrong in this numbers game. This is an issue of vital concern to both sides which must be resolved before a settlement is reached. There is no way, in our view, that an accommodation can be reached, except in the context of the overall negotiations. Many other issues are of equal concern to one side or the other--for example, for the Turkish Cypriots, the need to find ways to overcome practical difficulties in the way of implementation of the freedom of movement, settlement and property rights is equally important and pressing.
Hon. Members will agree that we must look forward to the day when harmony prevails again in Cyprus and the tragic division of the republic ends. When that day comes, we shall continue to have the closest possible relations with the island, to our mutual benefit. If that happy outcome is achieved, not a little thanks will be due to the many people in this country who have not lost interest in the future of Cyprus since independence. This is reflected partly by the large Cypriot community in Britain, but in addition there is a long-standing feeling of affection for, and solidarity with, the people of Cyprus. Important strategic and other interests are at stake. Cyprus is an island that perhaps many of us first viewed through the writings of Lawrence Durrell, who painted an affectionate picture of how the underlying bonds between Cypriots and Britain survived even the dark days of war between some groups and the British colonial power. Those bonds will not be broken. The British Government will continue to attach great importance to their Cypriot policy and, in doing so, will have the support of the expertise available on the Back Benches, not least that of my hon. Friend.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the issue of the right of people to access to their medical records. The debate has been occasioned by the recent publication by the Department of Health "Communicating Information to Patients and their Access to their own Manual Health Records". The House will agree that it is an important subject, developments are moving quite fast and therefore it is important to spend some time rehearsing some of the arguments in public to inform and promote the process of consultation now in hand.
Two years ago I sought to create a statutory right of access to medical records when I introduced my private Member's Bill, the Access to Personal Files Bill. That Bill is now an Act, sadly in a greatly reduced form. It provides a right of access to housing and social work records, but medical records are excluded as a result of Government objection to creating a statutory right of access to medical records. At the time, the Government supported the principle of access and would seek to encourage it on a non- statutory basis through discussions with the medical profession, and the draft code of practice on access to records, which the Department published earlier this month, and which is now undergoing consultation, is the result of such discussions.
I welcome the draft code of practice. It is certainly a step in the right direction. However, my welcome is seriously qualified. A voluntary code of practice is a very poor alternative to legislation because it cannot be enforced. It allows doctors who do not like the idea of patients seeing what is said about them--and there are many--to opt out altogether. I fear that that is precisely what will happen on the implementation of the draft code of voluntary practice. Let me explain why I seek a statutory right of access. I wholeheartedly agree with the preamble to the code which states that, normally, the best way of informing patients about their conditions and treatment is by full discussion. That must be right, sensible and proper. I am sure that, if it is handled well, proper discussion will satisfy most patients most of the time.
Those of us who advocate patient access as a matter of right do not regard it in any way as a substitute for a patient asking his GP questions in the normal way. But I believe that a statutory right of access would supplement that process, and perhaps compensate for some of the potential shortcomings. A statutory right of access would exist for a patient who wanted to be 100 per cent. in the picture, who wanted to know all the details and to understand them, rather than to rely unquestioningly on medical advice. A statutory right would exist when a doctor could not meet a patient's expectations because he might be too busy to spend enough time with a patient, or, alternatively, when a doctor was being over-protective and wrongly shielding a patient who wanted to know the full recorded facts. I fully accept that some people do not want to know the truth, but in my experience others who do have no access to it at present. A statutory right of access would be available to patients who suspect--sometimes wrongly-- that the truth is being withheld and who would be satisfied only by access to the written record. A statutory right of
Column 1278access would exist for people who felt that their conditions were not being taken seriously enough and who wanted to check that their full medical history was being recorded and contained no mistakes. Finally, a statutory right of access would help patients who believed that their treatment had gone wrong in some way and wanted to know what had happened.
For all those reasons, it is important that we allow a statutory right of access to medical records.
As I said earlier, I am pleased that the Government endorse the principle of patient access, but, given that they accept the principle, I find it difficult to understand why they object to a statutory codified form of legislation. I am amazed that we should still be so tentative about legislation. People now have a legal right to see their social work and housing records. We have been promised regulations on access to education records later this year, so why are medical records so different?
There are significant though inconsistent rights to medical records already. As I am sure the Minister knows, if medical records are held on computer, patients have access to them under the Data Protection Act 1984. An increasing number of general practitioners are computerising their surgery records, and those who belong to a practice which has a computer can check the records for accuracy, see the details of any test results and talk to their doctors from a more informed position. All those benefits are denied to those whose records are held on paper in manilla folders. In addition, since this January, patients have had the right, enforceable under law, to see reports which their general practitioner sends to an employer or an insurance company. That right is available to patients under the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988, which I introduced through the private Members' procedure last year. Therefore, precedents already exist for a statutory code of access.
Lest the House is worried about the unfettered nature of the proposal and the problems that may flow from legislation rather than a voluntary code, let me say that the legislation will not mean that access is absolute and completely unrestricted. The order introduced under the Data Protection Act 1984 contains entirely reasonable and proper exemptions and exceptions. For example, a doctor can withhold information which might cause serious harm to the patient. It is right and proper that a doctor should have such a legal let-out. Information about other family members or individuals can also, quite properly, be withheld. Information which identifies someone who has spoken to the doctor in confidence about the patient can also be withheld. A sophisticated framework of exemptions and exceptions already exists.
Legalising access will not mean that important concerns will be overlooked. It will make it clear that doctors cannot refuse access simply because they do not like the idea. The law does not, and should not, give way merely because doctors are accustomed to a paternalistic style of medicine and are not prepared fully to share information. If patients think that that is happening, they may go to court to enforce their rights. That approach was adopted under the Data Protection Act and the Access to Medical Reports Act, and I cannot understand why the Government are backing off here and implicitly endorsing an approach that will allow doctors who do not like the idea to ignore patients' requests for access to their medical records.
I agree that the system will work better if it is embraced by the profession in a positive spirit. The signs are not
Column 1279good that the code of practice will be so embraced. As the Minister knows, and as I said earlier, an agreed code was promised in April 1987 and has taken more than two years merely to see the light of day in draft form. Even now it apparently has only the profession's provisional support. I fear that rather than encouraging compliance in a positive spirit, a voluntary approach will lead to large scale opting out.
I have some specific comments to make on the draft code and should be obliged if the Minister would clarify those points which are still vague. First, as it stands, the draft code proposes to allow access only prospectively to what is recorded after it comes into force. I understand that there are good reasons for that.
The code contains a serious restriction. It seems that, under the draft code, patients will be unable to see everything recorded after the starting date, but will be limited to information about individual consultations or specific episodes of treatment. Someone who suspects that a mistake has been made in the records will be unable to go through them all to find it. Someone with a chronic illness or personal disability will be unable to review what has been written during a certain period, but will be allowed only small peeks at specific parts of their own medical records. Certainly no such restriction exists under the Data Protection Act, and there is no reason why it should possibly be justified here. I would be interested to hear the Minister's justification of it.
Secondly, in the draft code, health professionals are given much wider discretion to withhold information which they believe might harm the patient. As I said earlier, some exemptions and exceptions must be available to the health professionals so that they can protect patients when necessary.
Under both the Data Protection Act and the Access to Medical Records Act, the doctor must believe that there is a risk of serious harm to the patient's health before information can be withheld. The code of practice uses a different formulation. It says that information can be withheld where access would be likely to cause serious risk of harm. That is a simple but important difference. It means that if there is a real risk of minor harm, for example, of upsetting the patient, information can be withheld.
I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why the formulation used in previous legislation has been changed in that way because one argument of which the Department convinced me was that there is merit in having consistency throughout both the data protection legislation and the other Acts dealing with access to various personal files.
Thirdly, I notice that the code proposes that access will be permitted to allow patients
"to better inform themselves about their health but for no other purpose".
What does that exclusion mean? Suppose someone is applying for a disability benefit and wants to support his or her case by citing extracts from the medical record. Will that be permitted under the code? Suppose a patient wanted to document a complaint to the Health Service ombudsman, to a family practitioner committee or to the General Medical Council about the way in which he has been dealt with. Are they to be denied access under the specific part of the code that I mentioned earlier? Is the object of the exclusion clause to restrict the access of people who believe that they may have been the victims of
Column 1280a medical accident? If so, again I wonder why. The Minister would help and inform the process of consultation if he could say a word about the background thinking on the exclusion clause.
The Government may think that I am being slightly churlish about this because, of course, a voluntary code is a step in the right direction. It gives the right signals--and I support that--but it does not give very much more than a signal to the medical profession. I know that the Government want to see progress, and I very much appreciated the help that I received from the Department and from the Minister's predecessor in putting the Access to Medical Records Act on the statute book. I understand that that was not an easy thing for the Government to do. However, if the Government accept that the principle of access is correct, the logical conclusion is to make access a right that cannot be avoided without good reason. That would require legislation as a basic framework for enshrining the rights. I believe that those rights will come sooner or later, and I believe that the time to introduce them is now because otherwise these voluntary regulations will merely create a medical backwater that will allow doctors who do not like the idea to resist disclosures in future.
As far as I am concerned, the regulations are now on probation. If the profession does not respond positively, I warn it fairly and squarely that it will face a continuing clamour for statutory action to be taken as a matter of urgency to provide patients with the legal rights to which they are entitled, but which they are currently being denied.