|Previous Section||Home Page|
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : I have listened carefully to the points raised by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) and I fully understand that, with the parliamentary recess an hour or two away, he would rather spend today enjoying the sunshine in his home or constituency than coming to the House to make these points. I take his point that the reason why he applied for an Adjournment debate was the seriousness that he attaches to these two cases.
As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the issues that he has raised involve matters which are also the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, because he and his Department are responsible for the operation of the entry clearance system in overseas posts. These matters are also the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, as it is he, as well as the Home Office, who has administrative responsibility for the immigration appellate authorities.
I realise that the large increase in the number of appeals lodged with the immigration appeal system has led to an increased backlog of cases in the appellate system. In our office, that has placed extra demands on available resources and has led, to my regret, to an increase in the preparation time for appeals explanatory statements. We are now considering urgently with the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office what steps need to be taken to arrest the increasing
Column 1471backlog of appeals and subsequently to maintain that backlog at an acceptable level. Some resources have already been provided for additional appeal hearing rooms and for listing more heavily in the present rooms. I hope in the months ahead that that will have some success in reducing the backlog.
I say that against a background which I am sure the hon. Member for Wentworth understands. The two cases that he raises involve decisions to refuse entry clearance, against which Parliament has provided a right of appeal to an independent adjudicator. The system of independent adjudicators--and above them an independent appellate tribunal--has been in place for a number of years. Adjudicators are now appointed by the Lord Chancellor, which ensures that they are wholly independent of the Home Office. They are present to act as an independent check on the decisions reached by the immigration service, entry clearance officers or the Home Office.
Against that background, I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept the independence of the appellate system. It has an important role to play, which has often been ratified by Parliament. I must direct to that system both the cases that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned today.
Mr. Caglar has appealed against a decision taken by the entry clearance officer in Istanbul to refuse him entry clearance for settlement in the United Kingdom. I understand that the appeal is now listed for hearing in Leeds on 3 October. Despite the hon. Gentleman's strong plea to me in his closing remarks, it would be wrong in principle for me to make any comment today on the substance of a case, or to go into the immigration history or details of Mr. Caglar's appeal, when the case has yet to be considered by the adjudicator. If I did that, it might prejudice the fair hearing of the appeal.
Mr. Hardy : My constituent, Mrs. Caglar, attended the hearing in May when she was eight months pregnant after being separated from her husband for a long time. The officials immediately asked for an adjournment to provide time for an investigation. That was not a reasonable experience for my constituent. Why was she not told that she would face an official request for an adjournment as soon as she arrived at the hearing? Would the Minister care to imagine a lady in his family who was eight months pregnant being forced to go through such an ordeal?
Mr. Renton : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point with me again. I have been told clearly--and I have checked this with my officials while the hon. Gentleman was speaking--that the adjournment was granted at the hearing on 12 May at the request of both parties, not just at the request of the Home Office. Documentary evidence of certain points in the entry clearance officer's statement had not been produced and the adjournment was requested by both parties. The documents required were produced as quickly as possible and the appeal was listed for 11 July, but had to be adjourned again because Mrs. Caglar was then expecting her baby. As I have just said, it is now listed for hearing in Leeds on 3 October.
With regard to the complaints about the difficulties experienced by Mrs. Caglar in contacting the immigration department by telephone, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I fully recognise that, in the early part of 1988, the level of service provided by the telephone inquiry bureau at the headquarters in Lunar house in Croydon was not
Column 1472acceptable. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that many measures have since been taken to improve the efficiency of the telephone inquiry bureau. I will visit Lunar house next Thursday and will visit the telephone inquiry bureau to check on the progress. A fully satisfactory quality of service is now provided. If the hon. Gentleman would like to visit Lunar house after the holidays, I would welcome him there and he can reassure himself about the better quality of service provided for his constituents and others. Referring to the case of Miss Nawaz, she applied for entry clearance as a visitor in Karachi on 9 April 1989. That application was refused after interview because the entry clearance officer was not satisfied as to her intention to leave the United Kingdom at the end of her visit. I stress to the hon. Gentleman that the first interview on 9 April was complete in itself. The decision to make a second application the following day was, I am sure, entirely her own. It was not required by the entry clearance officer. The second application was also refused after a further interview. Miss Nawaz was then notified of her right of appeal against both decisions. The proper way for persons who are dissatified with decisions of the entry clearance officer to seek to have their cases resolved is through the appeals system estabished for that purpose, as I have said. Although I have listened to the points made by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of Miss Nawaz, I have to say that, in my judgment, these matters should be raised on appeal.
Despite the hon. Gentleman's eloquence and passion, I have heard nothing today which persuades me that the most exceptional circumstances exist which would justify my intervening in either case.
In the remaining few minutes, I shall outline the background of hon. Members' representations and the new guidelines against which I have made my remarks.
The guidelines for representations by right hon. and hon. Members in immigration cases make it clear that Ministers will not normally intervene to take the initial decision on an application, to pre-empt consideration of a disputed decision by the independent appellate authorities, or to reverse a decision where the appeal process has been exhausted and no new and compelling evidence has become available. The revised guidelines came into effect on 3 January. Following circulation in draft form, they were debated in the House. The final version reflects points that were made by hon. Members during that debate. Experience of the operation of the revised guidelines over the past six months has proved beyond doubt that they are fair and reasonable and, despite Labour Members' original doubts, are working well in practice.
The hon. Gentleman said that they remove the necessity for a Minister and that all that a Minister is doing is getting reactions from a computer. However, I make the contrary point : that they have put hon. Members in direct touch with immigration officers and chief immigration officers at ports and airports for the discussion of special circumstances. There is great advantage to both sides in that--certainly there is to the immigration service and to hon. Members in being able to go directly over the special circumstances of cases with those members of the immigration service who are charged with taking a decision. If it is felt that there are special circumstances that the immigration service has not properly taken into account, there is always discretion to go back to the Minister. I have not yet been turned wholly into a computer, even though, at times, I might like to be.
The Minister will appreciate that, if Miss Nawaz is to visit her uncle and aunt in my constituency before her marriage, there is some urgency. Would he, in his ministerial role, have the capacity or the inclination to ask for the timetable of delay to be reduced so that, if Miss Nawaz is to be able to come into this country, permission can be given before the date of her planned and impending marriage?
Mr. Renton : I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will certainly pass on that comment directly to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The decision about who is interviewed and in what order of priority lies with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is responsible for entry clearance officers.
I am informed that three months have passed since Miss Nawaz made her second application. Since then, she has made no application at all. We tried to check that point before the debate--I do not think that we have received final information, but that is my impression. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will persuade her to take the necessary steps as soon as possible in Karachi.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman today. I stress to him that the various steps that we have taken over the past two years have speeded up the treatment of the many thousands of immigration cases that come before us every year, but the Labour party has always voted against them. I hope that the hon. Member for Wentworth, given his seniority in the Labour party, will persuade it in the next Session to vote for future changes that will further speed up the process.
The hon. Gentleman should suggest to his constituents that the right course for them is to pursue their case through the appeals system as endorsed by Parliament.
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East) : I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to refer to what is currently happening in Bulgaria and to report to the House on my recent visit there. As I speak, hundreds of cars and trucks are lining up at the Bulgarian frontier with Turkey at Kapitan- Andreevo, containing members of entire families with about as much as can be transported, including, as I saw for myself last week, the kitchen sink. They leave behind their homes, jobs, livestock, other property and the country of their birth. They are all Bulgarian citizens. Their parents and grandparents, and their relations before them, were all born in Bulgaria, which is their home.
Currently, they are leaving Bulgaria and are unlikely to return. The reason, quite simply, is that they have had enough. They consider that their rights have been denied, and, for the first time, they have been given passports and can obtain exit visas. Most of them are leaving for good.
Those people are the so-called Bulgarian ethnic Turks. The authorities prefer to call them Bulgarian Moslems, which they are, but so are the Pomaks, who are not of Turkish origin but are Slavonic. These Bulgarians regard their identity as Turkish, which is what they are ; one has only to meet them to see that. They are the remnants of those Turkish families who settled in the Balkans over the centuries of the Turkish occupation. I was to hear the phrase "Five centuries of Turkish yoke" repeatedly and with so much venom--understandably so, in view of the history. One has only to recall the Bulgarian atrocities of the last century, the Bashi Bazooks, and Gladstone's campaign to raise British public opinion on behalf of persecuted Bulgarian Christians, in which he called for the Turks to depart "bag and baggage".
The tragedy today is that, contrary to the spirit of Helsinki, the Balkan wars are still being fought by propaganda and repression. As a consequence, we are witnessing the largest movement of people since the second world war.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) said on the "Today" programme from Turkey, 185,000 Bulgarian Turks have crossed the border to date, 3,000 are crossing every day and over 250,000 applications for exit visas have been made to date. It is obvious that that is only the beginning.
From what I saw and heard during my visit, the majority of the Bulgarian Turkish population, which numbers about 1 million--10 per cent. of the total population--want to leave and are planning to do so.
Apart from the human tragedy that that represents and the humanitarian issues involved--such as the division of families, the parting with friends, neighbours and colleagues at work, many of whom are Bulgarian Christians, and the emptying of communities, it is also resulting in growing problems for the Bugarian economy because of the unexpected loss of manpower.
It is resulting in major problems for Turkey, which is accepting the burden of providing for those people on their arrival there--in effect, as refugees rather than as tourists, as the Bulgarians would have it, although many of them have relatives somewhere in the country.
Surely few of those people can want to leave their country, homes and friends in that way. Does Bulgaria
Column 1475want to lose so many of its citizens? It says not. Surely Turkey can do without more refugees at a time when it is facing considerable economic problems of its own and is trying to provide for tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees from Iraq.
I believe that this tragedy was avoidable. Despite all the rhetoric and propaganda from both sides, it stems principally from the Bulgarian Government's policy to assimilate. I appreciate that they describe that as a process of national consolidation. However, they want to assimilate, integrate and regulate the ethnic Turkish population at the expense of its identity, culture and way of life. To the Turks, that represents their self -respect, indeed their very soul.
I first became alerted to the problem when it was brought to the attention of the Council of Europe committee for relations with non-member countries in March 1985, three months after the Bulgarian Government embarked on their assimilation policy. Every Bulgarian without a Slavonic name was required to sign a legal document to change it. Bulgaria maintains that that was a voluntary requirement, but from what was reported then and what I heard last week, I am convinced that it was carried out with threats and force. Henceforth, Mehmet, Ahmet, Ali and Hussein were to be called Mikhail, Ivan, Angel, Stojan and so on. That applied not only to the living Moslem population but to the dead. Names on tombstones have been erased and, as I saw, from 1985 only the initials of a Moslem name were allowed to appear.
Without a Bulgarian name, opportunities for employment, travel and a normal way of life would be impossible. Turks were not allowed to speak to each other in their own language in public. To do so would risk police beatings, fines, arrest and internal exile for those who persisted.
All Bulgarian radio broadcasts in Turkish ceased in January 1985, as did the publication of Turkish language newspapers in Bulgaria and the printing of Turkish books. Turkish community schools had long since been merged with Slavonic schools and the Turkish language was dropped as an optional subject in 1974. The wearing of traditional Turkish clothes such as the shalvar--baggy trousers--was penalised. Automatic telephone calls to Turkey could not be made and letters addressed to Turkish names were not delivered.
Perhaps the most insulting of all to many Moslems were the obstacles placed in the way of professing their religion. They effectively prevented them from performing marriages, funerals and circumcision in accordance with their Islamic rights and traditions. There are reports of mosques being closed, cemeteries being bulldozed and Moslem intellectuals and teachers of religion being imprisoned or even killed.
All that was contrary to the international commitments, treaties and protocols into which Bulgaria has entered concerning the rights of minorities. These include the original treaty of Berlin of 1878, which re- established the independent Bulgarian state, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, the Helsinki Final Act, the numerous bilateral treaties with Turkey and, not least, its own constitution. Article 35 of that constitution forbids such discrimination on the grounds of religion and ethnicity, and article 45 entitles ethnic minorities to be educated in their own language. It is not surprising that the implementation of such a policy met with opposition and resulted in violence. Reuters reported that 40 people were killed in the first
Column 1476month--December 1984--including 10 Bulgarian soldiers. Although the international press was not allowed to visit the areas concerned, foreign embassies reported eye-witness accounts of villages being surrounded by tanks while people were rounded up to exchange their personal documents for those bearing their new Slavonic name. Those who resisted and tried to escape were shot. Prominent Turkish community leaders who objected were held at the Belene island prison camp.
In response to all that, I was appointed the Council of Europe's rapporteur and in my report, which was unanimously adopted by the parliamentary assembly in September 1985, I called for an end to such a repressive policy and the violation of minority rights. We also called for a fact-finding visit, but the Bulgarian authorities did not respond. Instead, they continued their policy and there was no way out. No Bulgarian ethnic Turk was allowed an exit visa and none was allowed to emigrate. However, by now, the rest of the world was waking up to what was happening.
The events were raised by the United Kingdom in 1985 at the Ottawa meeting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. In March 1986, Amnesty International reported over 100 names of ethnic Turks killed in Bulgaria. Then, in December 1986, a Bulgarian weightlifter Naum Shalamanov, sought political asylum in Ankara. Better to be a garbage collector in Turkey than a national hero in Bulgaria, he said. At the Seoul Olympics last year, he won a gold medal under his previous Turkish name, Naim Sulemanoglu.
The Norwegian Helsinki committee reported on the position in 1987. The United Nations special rapporteur, Dr. Ribbiero, reported to the United Nations human rights commission in February 1988, and we raised the issue again at the Vienna review conference. Last year, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs heard Mr. Georg Schepfass submit :
"the West has some responsibility to look very carefully at what Bulgaria has been doing to its Turkish minority."
Last October, the Council of Europe repeated its call for an end to the persecution of ethnic Turks and the elimination of Moslem identity in Bulgaria, and embarked on a new report, with a further request to be allowed to send a fact-finding team. Only when it was realised that the report would be debated by the parliamentary assembly in May did the Bulgarian authorities at last agree to such a visit, which postponed the debate and which took place earlier this month.
Our visit could not have been more timely. In advance of the CSCE human rights conference in Paris in May and June, Bulgaria announced that, in accordance with its Vienna obligations, it would allow passports to be available to its citizens and exit visas to be provided for all those who wished to leave, with the freedom to return. That, of course, was what the Bulgarian Turks had been waiting for, and the exodus began. It also gave Bulgaria the opportunity to expel those whom it did not want anyway, and the first 1,000 or so passports went to them, with a 48-hour notice to get out of the country. They were the first to arrive in Austria, Sweden, Yugoslavia and Turkey.
Our fact-finding team consisted of an Austrian liberal, a Spanish Socialist and myself, with our committee's secretary and our own interpreter. We had insisted that we should be allowed to go wherever we wished, and to meet and talk to whomever we wanted. During our week in
Column 1477Bulgaria we had meetings with Ministers, parliamentarians, human rights campaigners, university professors and students, representatives of all the religions, and national, provincial and local government officials. We found all that very useful, and it helped us to understand the position better, particularly from the Bulgarian point of view.
Our task, however, was to establish to our own satisfaction whether basic human rights were being denied to the Bulgarian's ethnic Turkish population, and, if so, whether that was the principal reason for the current exodus. I believe that we achieved that aim, and that is what I believe we shall conclude, without any shadow of doubt. In the two areas where the majority of these people live, the Loudogorce and Kirdzhali regions, we were able to establish genuine and spontaneous dialogue with ethnic Turks who were keen to share their views and experiences with us-- although, as several said, they would be observed, reported, questioned, arrested, beaten and given 14 days' hard labour for doing so. There is no doubt that they consider themselves Bulgarian citizens who are Turks; nor is there any doubt that the denial of their religious and ethnic rights is the principal reason for their discontent and their departure. Asked if they would return, few expected to do so; asked whether they would leave if their old names were allowed to be restored, most said that they would stay. They confirmed that many had been forced to change their names at gunpoint, that fathers had been gaoled for circumcising their sons and that they would be fined for speaking Turkish in public.
It is also clear that renewed unrest, hunger strikes, demonstrations and violence broke out in many places on 20 and 21 May--perhaps to coincide with the forthcoming Paris CSCE conference--and that there were several deaths and many injuries at the hands of the militia. I shall never forget our arrival at one of the places--Dzebel, in the south--where there had been much violence. Everyone stood around in silence and apprehension, waiting for something. They were waiting for our arrival, of which they had been informed by the media. It was like "High Noon" in a Western town. The atmosphere was electric. At first no one wanted to talk to us, then everyone did, until the police moved them on.
In our discussions with Bulgarian officials, we found a total failure--or perhaps it was a refusal--to appreciate this situation. They blamed Turkish propaganda for inciting hysteria and provoking the exodus. They cited pan- Turkism as the motive, and warned of Islamic fundamentalism.
They are quite certain that these people will return, as they are entitled to do, because they will not find that the grass is greener in Turkey where, it was suggested, they will not be allowed to restore their original names.
I do not know the truth of that. It may be that the Voice of Turkey has gone over the top in encouraging resistance to exploitation and in offering a haven to all. Perhaps many will return to Bulgaria as some have, we were told, already done. We were not satisfied with the meetings which had been officially arranged for us with local muftis who run the mosques. Their denials of the restrictions did not always match the evidence or satisfy our questioning.
Column 1478In conclusion, while I cannot anticipate the recommendations which our Committee will wish to make to the Council of Europe in September, it must be right to appeal once again to the Bulgarian Government to alter their policy of enforced name changing and to end all those petty restrictions against the expression of Turkish identity and Moslem religious practice. That is an essential step, which at a stroke could reduce, perhaps even reverse, the present exodus, and which could perhaps form the basis of a new attitude to Bulgaria's ethnic Turks that truly recognises their cultural identity and respects rights that are equal, civil, and human. It would also do much to restore Bulgaria's dreadful image abroad, which is rivalled only by that of its neighbour Romania and which is the principal obstacle to establishing better relations with the rest of Europe, including many of its own allies.
Today, it is totally out of the question for the Council of Europe to contemplate offering Bulgaria the special guest status that Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union have accepted and about which my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and other hon. Members spoke in yesterday's debate on the Consolidated Fund. At the end of the day, these problems will only finally be resolved bilaterally between the Bulgarian Government and the Turkish Government, both of whom have their own explanations as to why their 1988 protocol has failed to establish the process of dialogue that is essential. Common sense must prevail sooner or later, and as a good will gesture the Turkish Government should end the propaganda element of its Voice of Turkey radio broadcasts, to which Bulgaria takes understandable exception.
Finally, we in Europe should make available our good offices, backed up by aid to both Governments, to ensure the peaceful resettlement of the refugees in Turkey or their return to their Bulgarian homes, depending on which they want to do. The Council of Europe has immense experience in human rights and in the problems of refugees. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that the Government will give their support to what we shall recommend to bring this latest Balkan tragedy to an end.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. William Waldegrave) : My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) draws attention to a great series of tragedies. He is right to say that the movements of population now taking place are perhaps the greatest such movements in Europe since the second world war. The scale of events is great. His speech was sensible and generous. It was sensible in urging the Turks to take such steps as they can that will not exacerbate the situation, and to make some gestures. I applaud my hon. Friend for that suggestion.
As in all such situations, it is easy to become as wholly partisan that problems are exaggerated. My hon. Friend has not done so and I pay tribute to him for that. He was generous in recording correctly the series of strong protests that the Government have made on these issues, and he gave an account of some of them. I think that it would be fair to say that we took the lead in the Paris conference on the human dimension of the CSCE in the matter. Earlier
Column 1479this week, during her visit to Turkey, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) went to see what was happening. My hon. Friend, with a proper sense of history, reminded us of the irony that this of all Houses of Parliament should be raising this matter, when we responded with such passion and generosity under the leadership of the then Prime Minister, Mr. Gladstone, to similar atrocities being carried out at that time to the Bulgarians. It is fair to remind the Bulgarians that our concern for human rights is not new, and is pursued impartially. There is no question of a vendetta against Bulgaria or anything like that. We are concerned about the events and the people.
The last time that I made a protest was to the Bulgarian ambassador on 1 June. As my hon. Friend knows, on 14 June, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey issued a statement calling on the Bulgarian Government to allow the Turkish minority to live where they wish, free of harassment. My hon. Friend gives a full account of his long-standing involvement in this. It is no exaggeration to say that, among western European politicians, he has been one of the leaders in drawing attention to this issue.
The scale of the movement of people makes it clear that the fears and pressures on the Turkish minority population in Bulgaria are not the result of events over a few weeks or months. The name-changing programme began in 1984-85, and when the full-scale assimilation programme described by my hon. Friend was put into full swing, that made matters much worse. We have emphasised again and again to the Bulgarian Government that they should reverse that policy. It has no chance of success and will produce nothing but conflict and unfairness. The pressures probably go even further back, and the right, now given under the CSCE process, to a passport has merely given a hope of escape to many who have suffered pressure for many years.
However, as my hon. Friend said, if this policy were reversed, many people might chose to stay in the areas in which they have had their livelihoods and families and in which their fathers have lived. My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the name-changing point and to emphasise that even a symbolic gesture against that might do a great deal by itself to change the flow.
Bulgaria recognises the immense damage that what is happening has caused to her economy. She is in dire economic straits, particularly in agriculture, because she has lost so many of her best farming people. Others are being desperately drafted in to try to deal with the harvest. Because she is suffering from an exodus, it is in her own interests to try to resolve the matter fairly.
On 21 June, we invoked the first stage of the human dimension mechanism, the new mechanism established by the Vienna conference under the Helsinki process. This is a formal request for information, and the Bulgarian Government have provided some information. However, I am sorry to say that that does not seem to have had any effect on the practices about which we are complaining. The situation can be resolved only by negotiation. We have been calling constantly on the Bulgarian authorities to negotiate agreements, where they are needed, with their Turkish counterparts. These agreements should lead to an orderly and proper departure for those who want to leave--that is their right--with their property and the right of return, should they wish to, should be safeguarded.
Column 1480What is most important is that we should secure guarantees that the human rights of those who wish to stay are properly observed in Bulgaria. Therefore, we look to an early conclusion of negotiations between the Turks and the Bulgarians. Recent steps that looked at one time as if they were leading to high-level talks have broken down again. There are rumours that the Soviet Union has been seeking to act as a mediator, and we should not exclude anybody who seeks, with good will, to try to mediate in this situation.
I told my hon. Friend that I would give him some account of my right hon. Friend's visit, which confirms much of what he said. When speaking in public after visiting the crossing point at Kapi Kule, she said that what she saw was heartbreaking. She saw families split as they were crossing. She saw families divorced from their possessions before they crossed. In the chaos and disorder afterwards, she saw desperate families seeking to be reunited with other family members and property. She said that it reminded her of the pictures in her generation--the generation of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and my generation, let alone the generation of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell)--of the massed forced migrations of the second world war. Those were tragic pictures. She said that leaving families had been forced to give up their house keys and car keys, with rather obvious implications. She returned from her visit reinforced in her belief that what is happening is a human tragedy on a great scale. Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend had seen, she asked me to pay a tribute to the Turkish Red Crescent organisation. My right hon. Friend has travelled widely as a representative of the Government in Africa and elsewhere. She has seen similar situations in other parts of the world but she added that she had never seen better organised refugee camps and reception arrangements than those which the Turkish Red Crescent were arranging. The British Government were able to give some small financial help to this work, with a donation of £300,000 to the Turkish Red Crescent.
I would add a footnote. I urge the Turkish Government once again to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, access to the Kurdish refugees, which they have not done so far. We would be happy to contribute financially to that problem, too. There are certain ironies, but perhaps this is not the appropriate time to draw attention to them. Something of the same policies of assimilation, pressure and use of langauge, for example, impinge on the Kurds at the other end of Turkey.
We are dealing with the Turkish tragedy, however, and that must not be disguised. There is no excuse for it. Perhaps we have the right also to remind the Turkish Government not to fall into the same traps themselves in their treatment of the Kurdish minority. Above all, we ask them to let the UNHCR have access to the camps so that the funds which are available in the western world--£8.5 million is on offer from western European countries--can flow to deal with another desperate situation.
I appreciate that the debate is about the Bulgarian situation, and I do not wish to detract from the deep concern of the British Government and of Parliament. I believe that the British people who have studied the events and accounts that have appeared in the British press feel a deep concern for what is happening. Surely it is not too
Column 1481late for Bulgaria to see that its economy will be damaged and that its reputation among its friends and in the wider world is being severely damaged.
It is not too late for a foolish and wrong policy to be reversed. In many instances, people will seek to return, and will probably be willing to respond to gestures of the sort that my hon. Friend has described. In the end, that is surely the best way forward. We know from wider afield--the Soviet Union is perhaps the greatest example of all--that the most thorough -going persecutions and suppressions of people's ethnic identity do not work.
Although Stalin moved millions of people, suppressed religions and killed thousands or millions of people, as the Russians now admit, yet when a more liberal regime appeared in the welcome form of Mr. Gorbachev, it became clear that those ethnic feelings were still alive throughout the great Soviet empire. It is quite beyond the capacity of the Bulgarian Government to suppress the culture and the traditions of their Turkish minority. This doomed and futile enterprise, which has caused so much harm to Bulgaria and to the people involved in it, should be abandoned and a more sensitive policy of proper treatment of a minority population should at once be undertaken.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Low pay is not inevitable, it is not necessary and it is in no way a vital component for a successful economy. If it were, Bangladesh would be way ahead of West Germany in the league of economically successful nations. The Government's persistent view that wages at the lower end of the labour market are being held above their true market level, thereby pricing workers out of jobs, is simply not true. The Government's obsession with deregulating the labour market to bring wages down has incurred clear costs in economic and human terms. For workers it has caused low morale, poor living standards, insecurity, poor health and inadequate housing. According to the Low Pay Unit, which uses Government statistics, the Government are achieving some success in depressing wages, as the relative earnings of the low paid were 4 per cent. lower in 1988 than in 1986 when figures were first collected. Firms caught up in the downward spiral of relying solely on low wages to increase profit have proved it to be a disastrous policy. Those firms often have a very high turnover in staff and their contribution to training and research is virtually nil. Low-wage competition produces uncertainty for individual firms, destabilises the business environment and destroys economic prospects for the future. It has a knock-on effect in the local economy as low-paid workers cannot buy goods produced by other workers and tend to rely more heavily on local authority services. Although low-paid workers pay a disproportionately high share of their wages in taxes, if they pay taxes at all, their taxes represent very small sums, so there is also a loss to the Exchequer.
In 1982 the Government rescinded the fair wages resolution, which instructed Departments to require contractors engaged on Government contracts to pay wages and observe hours and conditions no less favourable than those established for the trade or industry in the district. In 1985 the Government wanted to abolish the wages councils altogether, but because an election was on the horizon they settled for seriously weakening the wages councils by amending their powers and taking away protection for young people under 21. Wages councils were also no longer allowed to set minimum holiday entitlements for the workers in the industries they covered.
The Government engage in doublespeak when they talk about the market finding its own level and claim to be a non-interventionist Government, when in fact they intervene on a massive scale with family credit, which clearly subsidises inefficient and mean employers. The other side of the coin, which is even more negative, is that it is the least popular benefit. Low take-up is endemic, mainly because of the stigma attached to claiming it. People on low pay do not want to be seen to rely on Government handouts and would much prefer to earn a decent living wage.
The Government, in their push to abolish wages councils, have consistently refused to produce any real evidence. The only evidence that they have cited in maintaining the link between low earnings and employment growth was the Treasury model, in its paper, "The Relationship between Employment and Wages". That was
Column 1483referred to in the 1985 consultative document on wages councils. In that document Treasury officials admitted in relation to the fixed model that
"the simulation results depend critically on a system of adjustments which is entirely arbitrary and has no empirical basis" Even the Financial Times, which is usually reasonably sympathetic to the Government, said in its edition of 13 May 1985 :
"The Government have frequently given real wage increases as one of the causes of high unemployment and argued that lower pay was needed to price people back into jobs. However, the figures show that real take-home pay of the poorest single workers fell by nearly 6 per cent. in the three years to April 1982. A period during which unemployment was rising most rapidly."
Paradoxically, despite pinpointing real wage rises as a significant barrier to employment, the Government recognised in the consultative document accompanying the White Paper, "Employment for the 1990s", that since 1986
"the rates of youth unemployment has declined dramatically" at the same time as young people's earnings have--
"continued to rise".
It seems that the Government cannot make up their mind. During the 1980s the Government have also set out to render the wages inspectorate impotent by cutting the numbers of inspectors from 120 in 1985 to just 71 today. That means that there are 106 fewer inspectors in post than in 1979.
In June another excellent report was produced by the Low Pay Unit entitled, "Undervalued, Underpaid and Undercut", and saying that "The numbers of firms found to be committing the criminal offence of minimum wage underpayment has leapt by 26 per cent. in the past year."
The chances of prosecuting for that criminal act are small as only 51 of the 89,000 firms caught between 1979 and 1988 were prosecuted. More than 88,000 were never taken to court. That shows that the Government are ambivalent about their commitment to law and order. The Government's commitment to fining firms which underpay is a joke because they do not have enough inspectors at the Department of Employment. The Government now send out a postal questionnaire to smaller firms. The 1988 consultative document on the abolition of the wages councils was the last to be published by the Government and it is a slim and inaccurate document. On page 7 the Government say : "If the reply indicates that there may be an underpayment, or if no reply is received, an inspection visit is carried out. Where the reply shows that no workers are underpaid, no visit is made, except for a 5 per cent. sample selected for a visit to monitor the validity of the postal inquiry method."
That is not good enough given that the law-breaking firms owe their combined work force a total of £1.3 billion. How many small firms have filled in the postal questionnaire in each year since its introduction?
In 1985 the Confederation of British Industry voted by three to one in favour of retaining the wages councils. Then, as now, almost every response ranging from trade unions to churches was hostile to the abolition of the councils. As I have already said, a general election was on the horizon and the Government ran away.
The 1988 consultative document on the abolition of the wages councils uses many of the same arguments about workers pricing themselves out of jobs with one or two new ones thrown in for good measure. A firm in
Column 1484Calderdale, FKI Babcock, employs many low- paid workers. Recently, one of FKI Babcock's home workers visited me at my surgery. Home workers who work for that company are given kits of electronic components to assemble. They were arbitrarily told that the price of assembling those kits was to be halved, in the interests of efficiency. The woman who visited showed me written evidence. She had previously been paid £71 for assembling a kit--low pay, but that is the norm for home working--but in future she is to be paid £38. Meanwhile, Tony Gartland, the managing director of FKI Babcock, is to earn £773,000 this year, because he has just given himself a 250 per cent. increase in salary and bonuses. The company's pre-tax profits have risen by 122 per cent. to £108 million.
I ask the Minister to look at the massive increase in profits in the hotel and catering sector during the 1980s. The consultative document implies that wages councils were keeping wages higher than the market could afford. Greedy directors are a far bigger problem than low-paid workers. Those captains of industry--the good and the worthy--who are giving themselves huge pay increases and who have failed to invest in training and research, are being put in charge of training enterprise councils. Tony Gartland is one of the good and the worthy. He will be in charge of one of the TECs in my constituency--that is an absolute scandal.
On page 5 of the consultative document, the Government argue that 55 per cent. of workers covered by wages councils work for organisations that have established collective bargaining. It is sheer brass neck for the Government to try to treat unions sympathetically to win an argument when for years they have tried to smash the unions and any form of collective bargaining. The Government's arguments are fatally flawed. They have difficulty in following to a logical conclusion their thought processes in the document.
Because of high unemployment, the Government's union-smashing policies and some undemocratic laws, the number of workers covered by principal national agreements has fallen by 30 per cent., from 8.5 million workers in 1979 to only 5.9 million now. The Government admit in their document that two thirds of the 2.5 million workers who are still covered by wages councils work part time. The majority are women and those who work in the hotel and catering sector account for 39 per cent. Those groups have the smallest trade union membership in any industry. Women and part-time workers tend not to join unions and are discouraged from doing so. Hotels and catering services are notorious for not having unionised workplaces. Small firms often employ on a casual basis. It is a fiction that national agreements and trade unions can protect those vulnerable groups of workers. I hope that the Minister will give evidence to support the statement on page 5 of the consultative document that
"since young people ceased to be covered by wages councils in 1986 their earnings have not plummeted but have continued to rise. At the same time the rate of youth unemployment has declined."
I come from a low-paid area in Halifax, a town which has the dubious honour of being the low pay capital of west Yorkshire, which is the lowest paid area in the country. The West Yorkshire Low Pay Unit has asked the Minister to carry out some research. It has sent me examples of
Column 1485what has been happening to young people since the abolition of the protection provided for them. The Low Pay Unit referred to the following job :
"A receptionist offered £2 per hour to work shifts--morning, afternoons and evenings--in a busy town centre hotel. Duties involve checking guests in and out, cash handling, using a busy switchboard and a computer ; reception experience required ; age 17 to 20." If the wages council had still covered young workers, a 17-year-old could have expected the princely sum of £1.60 in a licensed hotel. However, a worker aged 18 or over would have been entitled to a minimum rate of £2.12 an hour. They are not paid shift allowances and their conditions have got much worse because this vital protection has been removed.
The report also highlighted the case of a 19-year-old working in a fruit and vegetable shop. On 26 April 1988 he was earning £1.85 an hour. If still covered by the retail food wages council, his hourly rate would have been £2.33. A 16-year-old working all day Saturday in a supermarket was being paid 50p an hour on 29 April 1988. If still covered by the retail food wages council his hourly rate would have been £1.47. Those are disgraceful rates of pay by any standards--even compared with pay under the wages councils, which never set high rates of pay. Such salaries now are virtually criminal.
The Government omit to mention that the number of school leavers has fallen. There will be more than a million fewer 16 to 19-year-olds in 1993 than there were in 1983. And we have got used to the Government not mentioning changes in the way in which unemployment is calculated, particularly by excluding those on schemes.
If, as seems likely, the Government go ahead with their proposals to abolish the wages councils--the only minimum protection for 2.5 million of the lowest paid workers in the country--despite widespread opposition from employers, unions and other organisations, we shall be the only EC state with no legally enforceable wage protection and we shall be in breach of the universal declaration of human rights, the European charter and the treaty of Rome, which called for member states to
"promote improved working conditions and an improved standard of living for workers".
United Kingdom wage rates are already relatively low compared with high- pay, high-productivity countries such as Germany and France. It is unlikely that other member states will stand by and allow the United Kingdom to engineer competitive advantage by wage cutting. They do not want the Third world society that would emerge from such a battle. I imagine that there will be great pressure on the Government to acquiesce in the European social charter.
I am sure that the Minister will say that most employers favour abolition of wages councils, but a large number of important employers--some of them the Government's paymasters--are not convinced about abolition.
I still have another 10 minutes and I could easily go on for that long, but I shall conclude by quoting from the Low Pay Unit's recent press release which contained a report on the responses to the Government's paper. The Government say that they have received almost 400 responses to their proposal to scrap the wages councils. The Low Pay Unit survey comments that
"none of the responses from the churches, charities voluntary organisations and trade unions favoured abolition. Amongst