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Column 1161our 1983 election manifesto that we would abolish the GLC, and we had one of the best results in London that we have ever had. We subsequently introduced the legislation and got it through both Houses. That is now the law and will remain the law until a Government say in their manifesto that they will bring back the GLC. At the last general election, restoration of the GLC simply was not an issue in my constituency. I spent a lot of time banging on doors but met few people who said, "I would vote for you and your party, Sir George, if you were committed to bringing back the GLC, but because you are not, I shall vote Labour." The issue simply did not emerge in my constituency or anywhere else.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West made a touching remark about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He said that my right hon. Friend was remembered with curious affection in his constituency. My right hon. Friend is deeply committed to the well-being of London and has a soft spot for Lewisham. He now lives in my constituency and, as chairman of the Cabinet Sub-committee responsible for London, is deeply committed to improving the well-being of Londoners. The hon. Member for Walthamstow added up all the money that was spent through what he called quangos and suggested that it should be spent through local authorities. I wonder whether the housing associations, for example, would welcome the proposition that, instead of getting funds from the Housing Corporation, they should in future depend on funds from local authorities. I think that the hon. Gentleman would find a lot of resistance to that proposition. The main argument against the case put by hon. Members is their own document, the "London Policy Forum". They criticise the Government for quangos when the number of quangos that they would set up is legion : a Greater London authority ; a national park to cover the Thames ; a police authority ; a strategic health authority for Greater London ; an independent public arbitration and advocacy service ; a national standards body for education ; a development agency ; a transport authority ; an environmental protection agency ; a cultural education commission ; a cultural education partnership ; a human rights commission ; an urban design partnership ; and a London film commission.
Opposition Members have a nerve to criticise the Government for having quangos in London when they have recently produced a London Policy Forum, to which the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) gave evidence. Has this document no connection with London Members of Parliament ? Is it of no relevance ? Will the hon. Gentleman disown it ?
Mr. Raynsford : Yes, I will. It has no relevance to any London Member of Parliament, it is not an approved document, it has not been endorsed by the national executive committee, and it has no basis whatever.
"The London Policy Forum is being used as a model for regional policy forums in other parts of the country. With its detailed analysis of the problems and challenges facing London, and its many innovative ideas, I am sure that this document will
Column 1162be of major benefit to Labour's campaign to win over voters in the capital."
The hon. Gentleman has just implied that Mr. Terry Ashton was totally wrong and that the document is of no benefit whatever to Labour's campaign. All those hon. Members listed at the back, who gave evidence to the London Policy Forum, have now heard from the hon. Gentleman that they laboured totally in vain.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow mentioned transport. My constituency now has the benefit of new rolling stock on the Great Western line from Ealing Broadway into Paddington. The Paddington to Heathrow extension is being constructed ; and £750 million is being spent on modernising the Central line. It would be wrong to depict transport in London as being represented by the Northern line, which we debated earlier.
As for housing, a subject in which the hon. Member for Greenwich and I have a shared interest, we published figures a few days ago showing that acceptances for homelessness in London in the past year were 13 per cent. fewer than in 1992--the seventh successive quarter in which the numbers have fallen by comparison with the previous 12 months. The figures are now at their lowest for six years, and there has been a big reduction in the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation too. Only 7 per cent. of all households are in temporary accommodation, down from 10 per cent. in December 1992. The Opposition spokesman knows perfectly well that there has been a decline of about two thirds in the number of those sleeping rough in cardboard boxes in the centre of London.
To bring back the GLC would be a step backwards : back to swarms of bureaucrats in county hall checking and double-guessing what might happen elsewhere in the capital ; back to the inefficiency, muddle, profligacy and waste that typified the GLC ; and back to high local taxation to pay for it all. That is not our way ; we are forward looking, creative and low taxing.
The crucial fact, which no Opposition Member mentioned, was that London has strong local authorities : the boroughs. That is the key difference between London and the other major capitals of Europe. Our form of strong, unitary local government is not replicated in other capitals. I see no point in bringing back an over-arching structure, as proposed by the Opposition.
It is much better to find out what London needs, the approach adopted in some of our initiatives, none of which was mentioned by Opposition Members this morning. They did not mention the development corporations, or city challenge, or London pride, or any of the other things that we are doing in London.
Last November we published "London : Making the Best Better", a document that was unashamedly positive about London, unlike Opposition Members this morning. It covers many aspects of London, ranging from the economy to visitors and shopping. It lists the achievements of local government, the private and voluntary sectors, and the Government. The document has been widely distributed and has been extremely successful. It was also an exercise in listening. It contained a questionnaire inviting those who live and work in London, and visitors to it, to tell us what they appreciate and to make suggestions for possible improvements.
We were extremely encouraged by the response--10,800 replies by the middle of February. We shall publish a digest of those responses later this month ; the House will
Column 1163forgive me if I avoid giving away any secrets today. It was noticeable how much Londoners like this city and how proud they are of it. Of course they have suggestions on how to improve it, but they also see a great deal to be proud of. In the autumn we announced city pride for London, Manchester and Birmingham, an initiative to produce a prospectus setting out a vision for the future of the capital and the practical steps needed to bring that about.
We have set up a partnership involving local authorities, the ALA, the private sector, and voluntary sector bodies, and they are on course to produce the prospectus by the end of the year.
We are also on the verge of another exciting development for London, creating a single Government office for London by bringing together officials from my Department, the DTI, the Department of Transport and the Department of Employment in a single office with a single senior regional director. The new office will provide a single point of entry to the government of London and will ensure that Departments' programmes are co- ordinated--a much more user-friendly service.
City challenge in London has utterly transformed attitudes in some of the capitals most intractably deprived areas. In Deptford, for instance, much has already been achieved. The initiative was greeted with scepticism, but it is now recognised as having broken the mould and changed how we all think about urban regeneration. It has enabled some players to see at first hand the power of competition to maximise resources for the good of those in need. It has created partnerships where there had been a tradition of non-co-operation between sectors. It has brought together participants whose paths otherwise rarely crossed : bankers, industrialists, church leaders, the police, councillors, tenants, educators, voluntary organisations and private individuals.
As a targeted, measured and time-limited policy, it has asked all partners to be strategic in their approach and to deliver hard, measurable outputs within a fixed term. There is no bottomless pit of funding ; it is a five- year programme with £7.5 million of city challenge money per year. The rest is up to the partners to secure, underpin and deliver. That contrasts with the vague, rather uncosted proposals about which we heard this evening.
The results of city challenge are already impressive by any standards. Seven of the 13 urban priority authorities in London were successful in their bids, working in partnership with local businesses and local people.
Over the five-year programmes, my Department's investment of some £260 million in the targeted areas will attract more than £450 million from other Government programmes and £800 million from the private sector. As a result, we will preserve 12,000 jobs that might otherwise have been at risk and open up 20,000 new job opportunities. We shall reclaim more than 450 acres of valuable inner city land currently lying derelict or contaminated. We shall improve or build 13,300 homes, help to start 2,600 new business and bring into use 500,000 sq ft of business and commercial floor space.
City challenge has already created a new impetus to urban regeneration. It has brought together all the stakeholders in urban regeneration to form new partnerships and to work towards achieving visions for key deprived neighbourhoods. The areas include Park Royal in Harlesden, a major industrial subcentre in west London ; Stratford in Newham, already benefiting from enhanced transport facilities and likely to become a keen
Column 1164regenerative force ; Bethnal Green in Tower Hamlets, which has the largest growing young population in the country ; and four other city challenge areas : Dalston, Deptford, Brixton and north Kensington. That is not the only example of partnership in London. In east London we have the East London partnership, a highly dynamic private-public sector organisation based in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham. It has a key role in Stratford city challenge and continues to contribute to strategic thinking in the pivotal area right at the head of the east Thames corridor.
On the other side of London there is the West London Leadership and the associated Park Royal partnership--powerful sponsors of revitalisation in that key area. Park Royal, part of which is in my constituency, and once a highly prosperous industrial enclave ensconced on the right side of London, has seen decline, but its potential, aided by city challenge, is enormous. The partnership is a key agent in realising that potential to the full.
In Greenwich, the Waterfront Development partnership has developed a strategy for the future of 7.5 miles of Thames waterside, linking major sites of the Greenwich peninsula, the historic town centre, Woolwich Arsenal and Thamesmead.
The newest area-based partnership was launched only last week. On 9 March, my right hon. Friend attended a gathering of 200 people at Haringey Technopark to launch the Lea Valley partnership involving six boroughs-- Enfield, Haringey, Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham--with members from all other key sectors. It covers one of London's oldest industrial areas, tracing a corridor reaching from the M25 to the terminus.
The partnership has the huge task of promoting the Lea valley and east London--an area with the capacity to develop into London's truly modern industrial zone reclaimed, opened up, greener and fully geared to the technical and commercial trends of the next century. It was clear that all the partners present were committed to that vital task.
City challenge, the area-based London partnerships, and the extended objective 2 partnerships for the Lea valley and east London do not end the story. There are other moves afoot in south and outer west London. There are many partners in London. The 33 boroughs, the nine TECs, the four task forces, English Partnerships, local business groups, the voluntary sector and the Faith communities are participants in many groupings. The networking of those groups is one of the most creative aspects of partnership development.
We have had a substantial debate on transport, so I do not plan to go over that ground again, but I believe that the flexible approach that we have adopted in targeting those parts of London that need help, bringing together the existing players--the private sector, local authorities, the Government and the voluntary sector--is much better than the recreation of a body which I have to say was unloved by Londoners, for which I do not believe there is any substantial demand.
Londoners had a choice in the 1983 general election. We fought on a manifesto stating that we would abolish the GLC. We had one of the best results ever in London. It was a vote winner on the doorstep in 1983. Successful packages will be driven by local as well as national policy objectives--package bids from local authorities focusing on a balanced approach to reducing congestion, for example, and in improving public transport.
Column 1165Partnership is a powerful idea whose time has come. The people of London know what they want. They do not want a son of GLC. They want their great city to remain powerful, prosperous, attractive, convenient to live and work in and a joy to visit. They do not want top-heavy bureaucracy pretending, at vast expense, to provide those things. They want to see things happen ; they live here. That is exactly what partnership is about. That is what Conservative borough-led local government is all about.
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich) : I asked for this debate because of my concern and that of many Opposition Members about the current political situation in Turkey and the treatment of the Kurdish minority there by the Government forces.
The Kurds are a people who, since 1926, in the words of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Ennals, have been a people of minority in five different sovereign nations, most of which have scant regard for human rights. The human rights record of Syria, Iran and Iraq is well known and publicised, but far less is said about the human rights record of the Government of Turkey. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and NATO. One may read something into the fact that less criticism is made of a country that is an ally of the United Kingdom than those that are perceived to be its enemies.
The situation of the Kurds in other parts of the area has been well documented and seen on our television screens, particularly since the run- up to the Gulf war, and subsequently. The Prime Minister expressed concern about the persecution of the Kurds in Iraq by the brutal oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein. At the time of the Gulf war, the Prime Minister called for safe havens for the Kurds in that country, yet the Government appear to have been relatively silent when similar policies of genocide against the Kurds have been practised by the Government of Tansu Ciller.
I visited north-west Kurdistan and south-east Turkey last October with Lord Avebury, on behalf of the parliamentary human rights group. We visited a number of villages, talked to the local population and interviewed the regional governor. I commend the bravery of the witnesses who gave evidence to us. That evidence is well documented in the publication that has been produced by the parliamentary human rights group. The evidence that Lord Avebury and I collected adds to that which has already been published by Helsinki Watch and Amnesty International, which has been supported by resolutions from the Inter-Parliamentary Union and confirmed by the visit of the representative of His Eminence Cardinal Basil Hume and several members of the other place.
When I visited south-east Turkey last October, it was one month after the assassination of Mehmet Sincar, the democratic Member of Parliament for Mardin, who was assassinated along with the chairman of the Democracy party for the Batman region. Shortly after that assassination and just prior to our visit, a bomb attack was made on Mr. Sincar's father's house, when Leyla Zana, another Democracy party Member of Parliament, was visiting to offer her condolences. Leyla Zana accompanied the human rights delegation on its recent visit. She is now under arrest by the Turkish Government for having used constitutional means to express Kurdish aspirations.
On our visit last October, we saw brutal evidence of the destruction and depopulation of villages. I understand that, according to the current estimate, some 900 villages have been destroyed by the Turkish authorities since 1993. The policy of the Turkish Government, in terms of their attacks on the villages, has been well documented, both in our report and by Amnesty International.
Column 1167Let me read the evidence that was given to us by one of the witnesses. Hurshit Diri, a 54-year-old farmer in the village of Kele, near Yuksekova, told us :
"On October 11 at about 1.30 pm we heard firing and saw a large column of armoured vehicles . . . entering the village. The troops first searched all the houses, then the mountains outside. The soldiers opened fire on the village, and we believed it was because we had refused to join the village guards. Four people were injured"
and, indeed, a young child was killed. The farmer went on to tell us :
"The army gave us until Thursday to join the military guards, or we would be bombarded. We didn't join and the village was attacked, killing two people."
Another witness said to us, in Karabag village :
"On October 11 the military called all residents to the station and told them they had to accept weapons and fight the PKK, or they would be evicted and their houses burned. Tanks are waiting outside the village now. Last night they opened fire and killed some sheep. Yesterday also they went to Dadaba, a next door village, and arrested some residents who refused to join the village guards".
That is typical of the action of the Turkish authorities. As I have said, I understand that, to date, some 900 villages have been depopulated or destroyed.
On our visit, we saw evidence that those who have become victims of the Turkish authorities had been refused treatment in hospitals and that doctors had been put under pressure not to treat them. We saw evidence that attacks had been made on the freedom of lawyers and, indeed, that lawyers who had defended those accused of political crimes had been arrested. We saw evidence of mass murder and other killings ; we received evidence of extra-judicial executions. We certainly saw evidence of attacks on journalists, and on the newspaper Ozgur Gundem .
As hon. Members may know, since my return the Turkish authorities have closed down that newspaper--on international human rights day, 10 December 1993, when its front page highlighted the violation of human rights in Turkey. Several of the journalists working for the paper have been murdered ; others have been arrested and tortured, and the lawyers defending them have been intimidated and arrested. The pretext for the arrests was that the lawyers were acting as couriers for the Workers party of Kurdistan ; the reality is that lawyers defending political prisoners were targeted by the Turkish authorities. Those arrests of lawyers in Turkey violate the basic principle that lawyers are entitled to defend their clients without interference from the state.
Earlier, I mentioned that a number of Democracy party Members of Parliament had been arrested. A few weeks ago, in answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister suggested that the Kurdish people of Turkey were entitled to pursue their Kurdish aspirations, but must do so through constitutional means. Eight Members of the Turkish Parliament who have been pursuing their aspirations through democratic and constitutional means now find themselves under arrest. Yesterday, I understand, the Turkish state prosecutor filed a case with the state security court, under article 125 of the Turkish penal code, which carries a maximum death penalty. What crime have those people committed ? They have asserted the rights of the Kurdish people, as a people.
Turkey is a member of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and an adherent to the declaration of Copenhagen. My understanding is that that declaration asserts the rights of minorities
Column 1168"freely to express, preserve and develop their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity and to maintain and develop their culture in all aspects, free of any attempts at assimilation against their will."
Turkey is clearly in breach of its commitments under the Copenhagen declaration of the CSCE. There is a responsibility on all the other participating states to protect those rights and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do that with force within the CSCE. The Kurds who have been denied statehood are a distinctive people with their own history, language and culture. The Kurds in Turkey played a significant role in the establishment of the Turkish Republic in exchange for promised equal rights and local self rule. Once the republic was founded, their language, their culture and their political organisations were banned. We have seen a regime of oppression on the part of the Turkish Government that has been matched only by the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in his brutal oppression of the Kurdish minority there.
I believe that this country has specific responsibilities to take some action. Apart from the fact that we had some responsibility for the delineation of the boundaries in that area at the beginning of the century, Germany, the United States and Britain are supplying Turkey with the military means to wage the conflict against the Kurdish people.
Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe. Presumably, it is therefore bound by the human rights conventions of the Council of Europe. As I said earlier, it is also a member of the CSCE. I believe that this country has a responsibility to ensure that Turkey fulfils its rights under the Geneva conventions. Not only does Turkey have a responsibility to carry out its duties under the Geneva conventions, but there is a responsibility on all the high contracting parties to the Geneva conventions to "ensure respect" for their terms. I believe that that places a responsibility on Her Majesty's Government to ensure that Turkey adheres to the conventions. I urge the Minister to argue with his colleagues in the Council of Europe to submit an inter-state application against Turkey under article 24 of the European convention on human rights.
The problem is inherent in the Turkish constitution. The constitution effectively denies the rights of any minority. A person who asserts the rights of a minority in Turkey is in contradiction of the constitution. Article 125 of the penal code states that the penalty for even arguing for independence, devolution or a degree of self-government for the Kurdish people is death. As I said earlier, eight democratically elected members of the Turkish Parliament, elected through constitutional means to carry out Kurdish aspirations, find themselves facing the prospect of the death penalty. Lest what I say sounds extreme, I shall quote the chief prosecutor of the republic. In one of his statements in a case against the Democracy party, the chief prosecutor's assessment is :
"The Democracy party claims that there is a distinct Kurdish nation and a Kurdish question in Turkey. It demands a political solution which can be found in a democratic context in which Kurdish identity is recognised with all its implications, and freedom of thought and organisation are recognised."
He goes on to say :
"This question is determined by the Lucerne agreement. There is a single nation in Turkey, the Turkish nation. Our citizens with Kurdish origin constitute the national unity by fusing with other ethnic groups and this unity forms the Turkish nation. By calls for
Column 1169a solution implying that there is a distinct nation, people or minority is aimed at dividing the nation. Only Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Bulgarians are minorities in Turkey."
The Turks' insistence that the Kurds do not exist is enshrined in the Turkish constitution, which is not only undemocratic but contravenes the articles on human rights, to which Turkey is an adherent.
The killing, the destruction of villages and the depopulation go on unabated. The abuse of human rights in Turkey is no different from that in Iran or Iraq. If the Government can call for safe havens and for sanctions against Iraq for its brutal oppression and murder of the Kurdish people, why are they not doing the same when those actions are carried out by the Government of Turkey ?
Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) has had the opportunity to raise this matter. I wish that he had been even more fortunate in the ballot and had been able to raise the matter at a time when it would have attracted wider attention. The issue is important and it increasingly concerns British people.
My hon. Friend's concern and his knowledge of the matter is well known. He is well briefed, particularly following his visit to the area last year with the noble Lord Avebury, as a result of which a report was written that has been influential in informing people in Westminster and beyond of the situation in south-east Turkey. A good debate was held in the other place last November, in which many took part.
I hope that the Minister will respond to some of the specific points that my hon. Friend made. The situation of the Kurds in Iraq enjoyed considerable publicity and became the focus of widespread international concern, but that of the Kurdish minority in Turkey has been less well reported, although the extent of repression is alarming.
Although I have nothing like the experience of my hon. Friend, in the past two months I have met representatives of the Kurdish minority in Turkey, who, I understand, held discussions with Foreign Office officials. As a result of what I heard, I felt that, if only half of what I had been told were true, it was still enough to make me deeply alarmed about what was happening and the repression that seems to have taken place. A huge number of innocent people certainly seem to have been caught up in a drastic situation.
There have been reports of terrorist activities perpetrated by the PKK, which were referred to in the debate in the other place. We must remember that the vast majority of the Kurdish population in Turkey are entirely innocent of any acts of violence, yet they are, on a great scale, the victims of state violence.
Labour strongly believes that if Turkey is to claim to be part of the democratic group of nations and a civilised country, it must give proper respect to minority rights. A range of policies must be introduced, such as allowing the Kurdish minority proper freedom of expression and freedom to organise and express their views in the country. Such forms of expression seem to be denied at the moment, as evidenced by the lack of a free press and free media in general. That form of repression needs to be considered alongside the instances of extreme brutality to which my hon. Friend referred when he mentioned the destruction of
Column 1170hundreds of villages and the expulsion of villagers from their homes. Many of the villagers were abandoned in freezing conditions, with no shelter.
The accounts of torture detailed in the report by Amnesty International make very frightening reading. They mention brutality against thousands of people and many instances of arrest and torture. How does the Minister respond to the specific recommendations in the report, with which I am sure that he is familiar ? If he agrees with them, how does he propose to pursue them with his counterparts in international organisations, such as the European Union, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations ?
There have been reports in several newspapers about the Government's role and their attitude towards the Turkish Government. Indeed, the Government seem to be portrayed as one of Turkey's friends within the European Union, together with the German Government. To what extent does the Minister accept the reports, especially that which appeared in the Financial Times in February, as accurate portrayals of Government policy ? It would be interesting if he were able to elucidate the Government's view.
We believe that Turkey cannot make any progress towards full membership of the European Union unless there is a complete sea change in its attitude to human rights. The plight of the Kurds will be the real test of the Turkish Government's willingness to adopt more civilised behaviour and respect for human rights.
In the past, Turkey's geographical position has given it a pivotal role, especially in the cold war era when it was regarded as an important part of NATO. It is less pivotal these days, although it is still important strategically for access to the middle east and the Balkans. Nevertheless, even though we need friends in strategic positions, we cannot have friends who do not behave in a civilised manner or respect human rights. There will be even more widespread alarm for the Kurds in Turkey unless Turkey mends its ways very soon and very dramatically.
For those reasons, and in view of all the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, I hope that the Minister will respond with care to the debate.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : There is no doubt that this is a serious issue, and I make ncriticism of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) for raising it at just before 2 am. I am bound to say that it is a very odd procedure whereby such important issues are discussed at this time, but the hon. Gentleman is making use of the facilities available to him and that is a perfectly right thing to do. This is also a perfectly sensible matter to debate. I shall not enter into a debate of the ordinary type, because I have learnt from long experience that those who try to do so at 2.13 am are asking for trouble. I shall not, therefore, respond to all the questions asked by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin)--I mean no discourtesy to them, but I have a feeling that that would not be wise thing to do. I have a text that I propose to read.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Woolwich on raising this issue. It is a difficult matter for the Turkish Government, and one that is followed with considerable
Column 1171interest and some concern in the United Kingdom and other western countries. The late President of Turkey was arguably right to describe it as going beyond the simple dimensions of terrorism and as perhaps the most significant problem in the history of the republic. It is good that this problem is now being increasingly and openly discussed in Turkey.
About half of Turkey's 12 million Kurds live in the south-east. That is one of the poorer areas of the country. Since 1984, the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Workers party--the PKK--has been fighting a terrorist campaign for an independent, autonomous Kurdistan, and there is a state of emergency. The escalating conflict between the PKK and the Turkish security forces has seen thousands of deaths since the troubles began. PKK tactics include attacks on Turkish military and Government installations, ambushes of security patrols, brutal attacks on villages believed to be pro- Government and the murder of teachers and electoral officials in the area.
As hon. Members will know, the PKK has also attacked tourist targets in western and south-western Turkey, seeking to undermine the income going into that country, which the people of the south-east need as much as anybody in terms of investment. In addition, it has kidnapped foreign tourists in south-eastern Turkey, and PKK supporters have carried out fire- bombings of Turkish properties in London and other European cities.
There are, in addition, in the south-east in particular, unexplained killings of many civilians, including local politicians and journalists, and detainees have been tortured in police cells. That is why there is widespread international concern about the Kurdish problem in Turkey.
It is, of course, for the Turkish Government to decide how to resolve their problems in the south-east. We unreservedly condemn terrorism. We understand and sympathise with the difficulties faced by the Turkish Government in the south-east. We support their efforts to remove the PKK terrorist threat. But they must do so in conformity with the norms of governmental behaviour, which they have accepted in subscribing to various international conventions. The clear evidence of human rights abuses by both sides is cause for justifiable concern by the international community. A Government must, above all, act with full respect for human rights, even in facing an opponent that shows no such respect.
It is important that all societies fully respect human rights. Turkey has signed the European convention on human rights. We have urged Turkey to ratify the two main United Nations covenants--the international covenant on civil and political rights and the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. Foreign Office Ministers and senior officials continue to stress these points when they meet their Turkish colleagues. Other western countries do the same. In Ankara, at the end of January, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear to the Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister that terrorism has to be tackled within the rule of law and with full respect for human rights. Only last week, my right hon. Friend the
Column 1172Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made the same point, in London, to the Turkish Minister for human rights. Britain and other European countries have also pressed for remedial action in international forums. At the Conference on Security and Co- operation in Europe human dimension implementation review meeting in Warsaw last September, the Turkish Government were criticised for the actions of their security forces against civilians in the south-east, their failure to investigate properly the murders of pro-Kurdish activists, including journalists and politicians, restrictions on the freedom of speech and systematic torture. The United Kingdom, on behalf of the European Community, delivered the statement on freedom of expression and free media. We cited Turkey as one of the participating states whose performance in that respect gave cause for concern. Our statement referred to the harassment of journalists, the murder of 16 journalists since February 1992 and the banning of journals and publications.
Her Majesty's Government are aware that, on several occasions, the International Committee of the Red Cross has requested access to Turkish prisons, in co-operation with the Turkish authorities. Regrettably, the Turkish response has so far been a negative one. Following the recent statement about that matter by the European Union at the human rights conference in Geneva, I urge the Turkish Government to engage in talks with the ICRC about ICRC access to prisons in Turkey.
The Turkish Government have made efforts to improve matters. We recognise that a new law passed over a year ago improves human rights provisions under domestic law. But the task remains to ensure that Turkish police abide by that code and that the fight against terrorism is conducted within the framework of proper respect for domestic and international human rights obligations. Moreover, officials who commit abuses must be, and be seen to be, brought to book.
The United Kingdom, along with our European partners, is concerned about the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of deputies from the pro-Kurdish Democracy party earlier this month. Our ambassador in Ankara made our concerns plain to the Turkish Government, stressing that such action was very damaging for Turkey's international image. Other European ambassadors in Ankara have done the same. We await the decision of the constitutional court on the appeal by the deputies before considering further action with the Turkish Government. The debate has underlined the difficulty of any moderate Kurdish view being expressed in Turkey. That is because, under the existing constitution, such expression is considered to be advancing separatist opinion and as such, even if non-violent, is a criminal offence. We believe strongly that the people of Turkey, including elected representatives, should be able to give non-violent expression to their beliefs even when they do not agree--as clearly they will not--with some members of the Turkish Government. That is the meaning of democracy.
We have seen promises from the Turkish Government on reforms aimed at greater democracy. They have undertaken to reform the constitution and certain terms that restrict freedom of expression. I believe that the House would urge the Turkish Government to make early progress to achieve all that, because if the moderate
Column 1173Kurdish view is allowed to be expressed peaceably in Turkey, the terrorists of the PKK will be isolated, and that is what will protect the civilians more than anything else.
I have listened carefully to the various concerns expressed during this timely debate. Once again, the hon. Member for Woolwich has given us the opportunity to discuss the matter. The debate will also serve to remind the Turkish authorities of the entirely legitimate concerns in the United Kingdom and other western countries about human rights in Turkey. It is appalling that large numbers of innocent civilians find themselves caught up in the conflict--often threatened by the PKK on one side and by the actions of the security forces on the other.
As I have said, and as we in the United Kingdom well know, dealing with ruthless terrorists is far from easy. But police and security forces engaged in the conflict must not sink to the level of their opponents. They must stand above them, and they must abide by the international standards of human rights.
We must also make it clear that moderate Kurdish views should be allowed to find expression within Turkey. That would strengthen the hand of the Turkish Government in dealing with ruthless terrorists. A functioning democracy cuts the ground from under them.
We continue to hope that the problem in south-east Turkey will be solved through peaceful and democratic means. That will bring lasting peace to the region, help to deliver the region's economic prosperity and encourage the Kurdish people of the south-east to feel that they are fully a part of a democratic Turkish state.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : Local government in this country is operating on a scale probably never envisaged when it first took on its present structure, and when the legislation that determined that structure was brought into being. It now costs about £80 billion in capital and revenue terms each year. That is an enormous sum, and the council tax that we all pay covers only about 10 per cent. of that £80 billion. The Government and business pay 90 per cent. of it. If we include teachers, there are about 2 million employees of local councils throughout the United Kingdom--that is, nearly 50 per cent. of all workers in the public sector. That is a vast number of employees, and the total cost is considerable. It is therefore important that we should always try to raise standards in local authorities, as we should try to do everywhere in the public sector. It is important that value for money be set as an objective, and strong efforts be made to achieve it. We must always strive for the utmost efficiency, the highest levels of effectiveness and the highest attainable quality of service from our local authorities. Sadly, that is not always the case. In recent years we have seen much abuse involving the way in which local authorities are run. The fact has recently been published that the debt of many Labour councils now exceeds that of many third world countries, and the 13 Labour councils with the largest debts all have debts of more than £500 million.
Manchester tops the list with a debt of £1,326 million. Then there is Birmingham, with a debt of £1,233 million, Islington, with £946 million, Lambeth, with £878 million, Southwark, with £856 million, Liverpool, with £765 million, Hackney, with £757 million, Camden, with £743 million, Leeds, with £737 million, Sheffield, with £730 million, Haringey, with £549 million, and Newham, with £547 million. Lewisham, 13th in the list, has a debt of £506 million.
Many people will wonder who is to repay this debt. Many people will also wonder whether they will be told the truth in the coming council elections. Will they really know who they are voting for ? Are these figures widely available ? Are they understood by the electorate ? Does the electorate even know about them ? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind that the figures ought to be publicised in the national interest so that taxpayers and council tax payers throughout the country can see which councils have the largest debt and be made aware of the figures that I have mentioned. The cost of servicing the debt ought to be recognised and understood more widely. Not only are there Labour councils in the top 13 councils for debt but also those top 13 Labour councils must raise some £600 million a year in taxation just to pay the interest charges on the debt. It is a phenomenal amount of money, equivalent to nearly 10 per cent. of the total council tax raised.
What emerges from all this is that Conservative councils have a much better record. In many cases, they are role models for the rest to follow. In my own constituency we had a Conservative council for many years, and although at present a Lib-Lab pact rules the council, it is worth looking at what a number of years of Conservative rule have brought to Dover. Dover has a debt of only £34