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Column 1201I wonder why there is that particular target date. I wonder why the end of the lifetime of the current council is the target date for matching the number of leaseholders with council tenants. Could it be anything to do with the borough elections? Could it be anything to do with the election prospects of the current majority party in Wandsworth? One wonders, after hearing so much about the way in which the Tory administration in Westminster has behaved, whether similar motives are driving housing policy in the London borough of Wandsworth.
I have to tell the Tory leadership in Wandsworth that it will have difficulty in achieving its target for two simple reasons. First, market conditions will make it difficult to persuade people to buy homes, not least immediately following a Budget that has cut away the safety net of income support which used to be available to help middle to low-income households, who have bought their homes but are worried that they might run into financial difficulty.
With that safety net gone, with interest rates rising and with the cost of owner-occupation going up because of the withdrawal of MIRAS, prospective home owners and home owners are facing large increased costs next year as a direct result of Government policy. That will frustrate the hopes of the political leaders of the London borough of Wandsworth to secure a sizeable increase in the number of leaseholds.
Those political leaders have also got themselves to blame, not just the Government. Their own performance has aroused a certain amount of local hostility. Once again, do not take my word for it. Let us look at the report on service charges from the director of housing of the London borough of Wandsworth on 27 September this year. With admirable and remarkable tact, he writes:
"Members will be aware that an increasing hostility is already being registered to the overall cost and method of provision of these services."
Let me provide one example of why there is that hostility. In late April this year, I visited an elderly lady in Putney who had bought her maisonette in 1988. The right-to-buy offer, which she received from the London borough of Wandsworth-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) should stop laughing and listen, because he would then realise one of the sad human consequences of crass Tory policies.
The right-to-buy offer that the lady received specified certain repair costs which she would be due to pay as a result of the repairs to the balconies of the block for which her contribution was assessed at £6,880. As anyone who knows the detailed provisions of right-to-buy legislation will understand, that estimate was covered by the five-year guarantee which safeguards those exercising the right to buy from charges in excess of the estimates over that period.
The lady concerned was told that the works were due to be completed in 1990 -91, well within the five-year guarantee period. But, in the event, the works were not carried out in 1990 or in 1991. They were not completed until 1993, just after the five-year guarantee period had expired.
What then happened? Instead of receiving a bill for £6,880, for which the lady had made provision, the unfortunate leaseholder received a bill from the London
Column 1202borough of Wandsworth for £16,119. She received no apology or explanation. No reason whatever was given for that outrageous increase in costs--just a demand to pay. What an outrage.
Needless to say, when I was given details of that, I took up the matter, first, with the local Member of Parliament and, subsequently, with the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford)--a former leader of Wandsworth council with whom I happened to be discussing the matter. He kindly referred it to the council leader, who wrote to me on 25 July. He said that the
"case is very well known locally"
"has occupied a very substantial amount of officer time over the past three years."
We wish that the officers had been busy ensuring that the works had been carried out promptly, expeditiously and to budget, rather than pushing paper, as they obviously do a great deal. He continued: "Regrettably, the Council's best efforts have not produced a course of action which would enable the service charge in question to be substantially reduced."
There is no explanation of why not; it simply failed to do it. The council leader continued:
"Notwithstanding my above comments, I have asked the appropriate officers to look once again at this case. I will write again in due course."
That is where the matter rests. Five months have passed and I have received no further communication from the leader of Wandsworth council. Nor has the lady concerned received any explanation of the council's outrageous behaviour. All she has received is one further communication increasing the sum demanded from her by the council from £16,119 to £16,674. If that is the way that Wandsworth treats its leaseholders, it is hardly surprising that its director of housing is reporting
"an increasing hostility . . . to the overall cost and method of provision of these services".
I would use slightly more choice language.
Of course, that is not the only example of Wandsworth's gross incompetence, maladministration and shameful failure to look after the interests of local people. Many hon. Members will have memories of other schemes that it has promoted in recent years. Those of us who pass Battersea power station will remember all the pledges given about the great planning scheme to transform it into an Alton Towers-type theme park. We remember that Baroness Thatcher heralded the proposal as a wonderful example of private enterprise and local government working hand-in-hand for the benefit of Britain. It did not turn out that way, did it?
Planning consent was given to Mr. John Broome, who said: "we always deliver what we promise on target".
He predicted the opening of the new theme park at precisely 2.30 pm on 14 May 1990. The appointed hour came and went and, as we all know, Battersea power station remains empty, derelict and deteriorating. It is another monument to Wandsworth's crass incompetence and failure. I could quote countless other examples of failures by Wandsworth to meet the needs of its residents, of actions that damage the interests of local people and of policies that are damaging to the interests of its community but that it pursues for ideological and dogmatic reasons.
Column 1203The theme of this debate is the effect of Government policy on local services in Wandsworth. In fact, the relationship between Government policy and Wandsworth is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting rightly said, a two-way process. It is a symbiotic relationship in which each party appears to be feeding off each other's prejudices in an attempt to prove that it is the true heir of Baroness Thatcher--hence, returning to housing policy, the extraordinary events of the past year in policy towards the homeless.
Over the past 15 years, the Government have conducted two reviews of their policy on homelessness--the first after 1979, set up by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and the second after 1987, set up by the late Lord Ridley and completed by Mr. Patten, currently the Governor of Hong Kong. Both those reviews concluded that part III of the Housing Act 1985 was working reasonably well and that there was no need for change.
Then, for no apparent reason, a year ago the Government suddenly announced that it was time for a fundamental review and a fundamental change of policy. Was it merely a coincidence that that happened at the very moment when the chair of housing in Wandsworth was writing about the need for a radical overhaul of Government policy on homelessness? His paper set out certain objectives: first, that the local authority should provide only assessment and temporary accommodation; secondly, that a regenerated private market should provide longer-term housing with guarantees of benefit or rent and other encouragement needed in the early stages; thirdly, that housing associations should be progressively replaced by the private sector as developers, with financial incentives; and fourthly that long-term rents should move to equalise at a free market level.
Those of us who are rather familiar with those proposals will notice the parallel between the proposals from Wandsworth and the proposals that were published by the Government at the beginning of the year in a consultation paper on changes to the legislation governing homelessness. The Government proposed to end the obligation imposed on councils to secure permanent housing for homeless people. They proposed instead to place homeless families in private lettings. They have also--not in that paper but in their actions--given substantially reduced emphasis to the role of housing associations. They have cut £300 million off the sums available to the Housing Corporation in last year's budget and cut a further £340 million off the Housing Corporation's allocation in the latest budget. The impact of Government policies on the residents of the London borough of Wandsworth are immensely damaging, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting has demonstrated. But equally damaging is the impact of the prejudices of the current political leadership of the London borough of Wandsworth on the policies of the Government. Happily, we can look forward, on the night when Labour is poised for victory in Dudley, to a speedy end to both the Government and the malign influence of the Wandsworth Tories. Both will be consigned to the political dustbin before long.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones): Tonight is a historic moment in terms of debates on the Consolidated
Column 1204Fund. Many hon. Members will miss them, having participated in them over the years at all sorts of hours of the day and night. I certainly remember initiating several such debates. I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on having had the fortune to secure a slot on this historic night. It is historic in another sense. It is the first time that the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) and I have met across the Dispatch Box since my appointment and his and since we turned from our previous relationship as fellow members of the Select Committee on the Environment.
If I may put the debate in context, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has recently announced the provisional settlement for local authority expenditure for 1995-96. We have considered the demands which will be placed on local authorities, including Wandsworth, next year. We also have to be mindful of the interests of the economy as a whole, and in particular the Government's objective of reducing the public sector deficit. We have considered the level of inflation. It is the lowest it has been for more than a decade. We have also taken into account our policy that increases in pay and prices within the public sector must be met through greater efficiency and economy.
I have no doubt that many authorities have scope to improve their efficiency. Wandsworth, the subject of tonight's debate, has been particularly innovative in this respect. Indeed, I believe that Wandsworth has made savings of some £15 million per annum from competitive tendering of its blue and white collar services. The hon. Member for Tooting said that there were two Wandsworths. I rather agree with him. There is the Wandsworth of Labour demonology, which we have heard about this evening, and the Wandsworth that has won four charter mark awards and is one of only five United Kingdom organisations awarded accreditation for achievements in energy efficiency by the Institute of Energy, an award which, as the Minister with responsibility for energy efficiency, I certainly applaud. It was also one of the first authorities to publish, in June 1994, its citizens charter performance indicators. Wandsworth was also quoted in a recent independent survey as the London borough offering the best overall telephone services.
To return to this year's local government settlement, the Government's view is that the appropriate level of revenue spending for local authorities in England for 1995-96 will be £43.511 billion. Central Government grant and income from non-domestic rates in support of that expenditure will be more than £34 billion. Those proposals, including provision for community care of £647 million and £50 million for reorganisation costs, provide for a 2.2 per cent. increase in local authority spending year on year, including the spending of police authorities.
Even leaving aside the increase in community care, those proposals amount to an increase in provision of just under 1 per cent. year on year. Of course this year's settlement is tough, but it is entirely consistent with our determination to maintain a firm grip on public spending.
Standard spending assessments were criticised. The indicators used to arrive at the SSA for Wandsworth are the same used for every authority. The fact that neighbouring authorities have higher SSAs than Wandsworth reflects the fact that their needs--as measured by SSA methodology--are perceived as greater.
Column 1205For 1995-96, we have brought our SSA indicators up to date. That has been particularly beneficial to authorities in inner London because the area cost adjustment for inner-London boroughs has increased. For the first time, we had access to detailed data from the new earnings survey, which enabled us to calculate actual relative wage rates. That data showed an increase in relative average wage rates paid in inner London but a decrease in outer London and in the rest of the south- east. As a consequence, Wandsworth's SSA will increase by 2 per cent. in 1995-96.
Wandsworth's provisional total standard spending assessment for 1995-96 is a little over £240 million, which is £904 per head--an increase of 2 per cent. over last year and of £18 per head, using adjusted figures, comparing on a like-for-like basis. That increase is not as great as for the average inner-London authority, due mainly due to a small drop in population compared with an increase on average for other London authorities, and fairly static pupil numbers.
In 1994-95 there were significant changes to SSAs because of the incorporation of detailed data from the 1991 census. When we undertake reviews--the hon. Gentleman is familiar with them from our past work together--it is inevitable that changes will occur and that some authorities will lose. In the absence of any special measures, those authorities adversely affected by SSA reductions would have been forced either to make rapid cuts in their budgets or to levy large increases in council taxes. We introduced SSA reduction grant to recognise that such authorities will need time to adjust their spending.
As a result of last year's review of standard spending assessments, Wandsworth's SSA for this year was reduced by more than 10 per cent. That was due largely to the use of 1991 census data, which showed that social conditions in the borough had greatly improved since the last census in 1981--no doubt a result of the energy and effectiveness of the Conservative council. As a consequence of that reduction, Wandsworth received £26.4 million of SSA reduction grant. It will receive a further £21 million from a similar special grant in 1995-96, in respect of those same changes. That will protect council taxpayers from the immediate effects of the 1993 review.
It is clearly for local authorities to determine their spending priorities within the confines of capping. They should have regard to the most efficient and cost-effective way of providing services. If they feel that that is best achieved through partnership with the private sector, that choice is one that we have opened up but are not forcing them to take.
In the same way that local authorities all over the country have been reviewing their provision of care, so too has Wandsworth. That borough and others have done this in the light of the White Paper "Caring for People", which stressed the need for authorities to improve services by working closely with voluntary organisations, private homes and providers to devise imaginative and innovative packages of care for the benefit of care service users and their families.
Wandsworth has obviously taken the decision that it will best be able to maintain its services to the elderly in the area by contracting out this service. I understand that
Column 1206it has decided to invite offers from independent operators for the running of three old people's homes. It is for each social services committee to decide, in collaboration with other local agencies, on the most appropriate pattern of services to meet the social service care needs of the people in its area. I am sure that Wandsworth reached its decisions having carefully considered the best ways in which to provide services, taking due regard of the need to maximise efficiency.
There are, of course, many independent sector providers with a track record of offering high-quality residential care. It is right that Wandsworth council should seek to utilise further that expertise to the benefit of residents in the borough. Indeed, Quantum Care, which operates in my constituency, is investing in a considerable improvement of the homes in my area and the building of a new one. That must be to the benefit of the people of Hertfordshire. I am sure that it will be welcomed if those skills are also harnessed for the benefit of the people of Wandsworth.
Mr. Raynsford: The Minister stressed that it was right for Wandsworth council to reach its decision on the most appropriate way forward. He will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) quoted Age Concern on the point that there had been a total lack of consultation with the organisations representing elderly people in the area and, by implication, with elderly people themselves. Does he really believe that that is an appropriate way in which to proceed?
Mr. Jones: I am rather glad that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question. The hon. Member for Tooting did, indeed, say that there was no consultation, and the hon. Gentleman repeated that later. I have with me--I thought it worth while to study this--the document presented by the director of social services on residential care for elderly people in the borough. It sets out in considerable detail what consultation took place. I shall quote some of it. In the opening part of paragraph 37, the director says:
"Full consultation will need to be undertaken with the existing residents and their families and the day centre users and, where appropriate, their carers. A letter has already gone to each resident and his/her next of kin informing them of these proposals." Paragraph 38 of the report details the fact that letters were sent to the residents of all four homes. Letters were sent to nominated relatives and friends. Letters were sent to day centre users. Letters were sent to relatives of users. A memorandum was sent to the purchasing social work teams telling them about the proposals. There were meetings for day centre users of George Potter house and meetings for residents of George Potter house and their relatives. There was a meeting for the users of Longhedge day centre. I do not want to quote the entire report because it goes on for several pages, describing in considerable detail precisely what consultation took place. It also describes the consultation with staff. Neither the hon. Member for Tooting nor the hon. Member for Greenwich can justify saying that there was no consultation.
Mr. Cox: Can the Minister tell us the date of that report?
Mr. Jones: The report was given to the social services committee on 16 November and to the establishment committee on 22 November.
Column 1207Wandsworth does not, of course, just get Government funding through the local authority finance settlement. It also receives other forms of Government support, such as £43 million of urban programme resources to date. That has resulted in, to name but two schemes, £400,000-worth of projects on and around the Doddington-Rolls estate and significant environmental improvements to the Tooting, Balham and Clapham junction shopping areas. There is £670,000 from the urban partnership programme for Battersea business 2000--a combination of an adult information technology training and employment guidance centre and a mini-technology park for 12 business units in the IT sector. There are £2.9 million of single regeneration bid funds over the next three years for the Wandsworth partnership, which is an area-based initiative that focuses on Wandsworth town centre and aims to revitalise the area comprehensively over the next three years. Wandsworth benefits from two other single regeneration budget bids in which it is a partner. One is Wandle strategy, a targeted programme of site preparation and infrastructure improvements to bring forward for redevelopment existing key sites along the Wandle valley. Funding for that will £3.75 million over three years. "Unlocking the Economic Potential of Young People" aims at increasing the competitiveness of the local economy through raising the skill, achievement and qualifications of young people. Funding will be £5.64 million over three years.
Column 1208The Government have introduced a plan-led system to ensure that individual planning decisions are taken in line with relevant development plan policies. I am pleased that Wandsworth is making good progress with its own unitary development plan, which I understand is due to be adopted today. It will ensure that planning decisions are made on a rational and consistent basis, and help to reduce uncertainty and blight.
Government policy also requires planning applications to be handled efficiently and speedily. Wandsworth is one of the top performers in London in terms of its handling of planning applications: more than 70 per cent. have been decided within the eight-week target in recent months. That has contributed to the authority's being awarded a charter mark for the excellence of its overall delivery of planning services.
I have ranged quite widely in my speech, to give hon. Members an idea of the breadth of Government support for local authorities and the particular impact that it has had in Wandsworth. The proposals in the local government finance settlement represent a balanced and reasonable response to the conflict between the pressure to provide ever-more resources for local government and the need to control public spending. Local government will need to continue to respond imaginatively to the pressure that it faces, just as the private sector has. I am sure that many local authorities could learn from some of the approaches adopted by Wandsworth to ensure that services are provided as cost-effectively as possible.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): Many years ago, George Bernard Shaw sent Churchill two tickets for one of his plays. He wrote on them, "Winston Churchill and a friend, if he has one." Churchill wrote back saying that he could not go to the first night of the play, but would go to the second night--if there was one.
The purpose of that story, Madam Deputy Speaker--apart from the promise that I gave you over dinner earlier tonight to try to amuse the House for at least 10 seconds--is to reiterate that so long as the current situation in Cyprus continues, there will be a second, a third, a fourth and a fifth night on which the House will debate the issue. Indeed, this is the third occasion in 1994 on which I have raised the Cypriot question in late night, early morning or other "end of term" debates. It is appropriate that we have debated Cyprus on several occasions in 1994, and it is always a pleasure on such occasions when the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) takes part in them. I hope that he will do so briefly tonight.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus. It is a tragedy, and shows the failure of the policiesof United Nations states, that we are no nearer a solution in 1994 than we were in 1974. There have been mediators and interlocutors; the United Nations has tried and failed. Not a one square centimetre of territory has been given up by the rulers of northern Cyprus, and the fate of not one missing person has been determined. There has been no indication of any desire for a settlement on the part of the rulers of northern Cyprus.
A commentator writing about Cyprus might refer to the great prosperity of the bulk of the island. Gross domestic product per head has grown from $1,489 in 1973 to $10,430 in 1993, owing to the hard work and resilience of the people of Cyprus. I remember visiting Cyprus in 1977, three years after the invasion, going to a small hotel in Limassol and realising that already, within a relatively short period, the Cypriot tourist industry was being rapidly rebuilt.
Commentators might also refer to the calm within the island. Indeed, only six people have been killed along the green line in recent times. But the fact that there is calm and quiet in Cyprus does not mean that the Cypriots are happy--it means that they grieve in silence.
Many thousands of individuals in Cyprus are unable to live in their own homes which have been in their families for generations. Those individuals are unable to return to their villages or tend the graves of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. They can see their family homes but are unable to live in them. Eighteen months ago I, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and the ex-mayor of Famagusta, who is now in exile, saw the owners of such homes and sensed their anger that they could not live in them. They also knew that their homes might have been requisitioned for Turkish settlers.
Others endure the pain of uncertainty, not knowing what has happened to their loved ones. There are 1,619 missing Cypriots; wives do not know what has happened to their husbands; children do not know what has happened to their fathers; parents do not know what has
Column 1210happened to their sons. I have here a picture from The Observer showing old ladies wondering what happened to their husbands. Most of the missing persons were young men. Nine hundred young brides were left not knowing what had happened to their husbands and forced to bring up their children on their own. Not knowing whether their loved ones were dead or alive, they were unable to mourn and unwilling to remarry. It is a tribute to their loved ones that only 24 have remarried since 1974. In 1981, the United Nations set up a committee on missing persons which has not solved one case. Thirteen years on, the committee has not discovered the fate of one person. Next year, the European Union will be considering the application by Cyprus to become a member. Cyprus' desire to join and become closer to Europe is of long standing. I remember going in 1979 to a place called Charlie's bar in Nicosia, where I talked to members of the Cypriot information office. They said then that they wanted to become closer to Europe and that has been Cyprus' objective ever since. Cyprus has played a major role in western civilisation and it would be wrong for its application to join the European Union to be subject to further delay.
The delay until now has been justified by the fact that the island of Cyprus is divided, but the division of Cyprus should not influence the European Union one iota. If Cyprus were to be told that it could join the European Union only if partition were ended, it would in effect give the Turkish Cypriots a right of veto over whether the legitimate Government of Cyprus were to be allowed into the Union. Historically, East Germany had no right of veto over the application by West Germany to become a founder member of the European Union. It would surely be wrong for the Government of northern Cyprus, which is not recognised by any Government in the European Union, to be able to prevent the Government of Cyprus, which is recognised by all members of the European Union, from becoming a member. I hope that there will be an early determination of that application.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): The hon. Gentleman knows that I have the highest regard for him and for his commitment to Cyprus. He makes an important point. Does he agree that the membership of Cyprus would benefit not only northern Cyprus but the Turkish Cypriots who he and I and many other hon. Members believe have as much right as the Greek Cypriots on the island of Cyprus? They have suffered enormously over the past 20 years.
Mr. Marshall: It is a pleasure to be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman. Of course the benefits would be felt by all the people of Cyprus. It would therefore be to the advantage of the island as a whole if Cyprus became an early member of the European Union. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some good news, if not tonight at least in the near future.
Earlier this year the European Court of Justice ruled that trade between the European Union and northern Cyprus was against the rules of the EU. I hope that that embargo will be strongly enforced, because economic pressure on northern Cyprus may persuade Turkey to reduce its support or to bring pressure to bear on the Government of the north.
Column 1211It is sad that northern Cyprus has degenerated into nothing better than a client state of Turkey. It has also become a haven for criminals such as Mr. Asil Nadir, who has decided to dodge justice in Britain and now seems to be dodging taxes in Cyprus too. Who knows, the Cypriots may put a little notice on him saying, "Return to sender--unwanted here as well."
In northern Cyprus there has been ethnic cleansing as evil as anything in Yugoslavia. Thousands of Turkish settlers have come in, and there is a Turkish army of 35,000 troops there. That is an amazing situation, with one soldier for every five Cypriots. The United Kingdom equivalent of that that ratio would be an army of occupation with 10 million men. There are more Turkish troops in northern Cyprus than there have ever been British troops in Northern Ireland. Who are they protecting the country against? Does not the fact that so many troops are needed there suggest that there is much unrest?
As The Economist pointed out earlier this year, it is perhaps significant that the standard of living in northern Cyprus is one quarter of that in the rest of the island. Many Turkish Cypriots have demonstrated their despair by emigrating. Thousands have gone to the United Kingdom, to Australia, to Canada, to the United States and even to Turkey.
In the Sunday Times on 17 July there was an interesting article quoting a Turkish Cypriot as saying:
"I've come all the way from Melbourne. My mate George gave me that watch. He's a Greek Cypriot. We get on very well over there." If Greek and Turkish Cypriots can get on very well over there in Australia, in London and in the United States, why can they not have the opportunity to get on well in Cyprus again?
Surely there is something wrong with a country such as northern Cyprus when many of the young choose to emigrate, there is a large army of occupation and tens of thousands of settlers, and the place has made itself into a haven for a fraudster.
On a previous late night parliamentary occasion I made a speech in which I said that I hoped that peace would come to the middle east by means of a series of building blocks, and suggested that Gaza would be one of the first. I believe that that will happen in Cyprus too. There will be a series of building blocks there, and the most obvious of those is, of course, Varosha.
That town was once a Mecca for tourists, a jewel in Cyprus's tourist trade and a home for thousands. Now it is deserted. The hotels were bombed and have collapsed and what was once a centre full of laughter and amusement has only one noise today--the sound of the rats and other wild animals scurrying around. Only sheer unadulterated intransigence prevents Mr. Denktash from agreeing to the return of Varosha. That deprives thousands of people of their homes; it deprives the Cyprus tourist trade of a great opportunity and it deprives the island of Cyprus of the hope of peace. In the past 10 years we have seen remarkable progress in the world. I remember in a maiden speech talking about the plight of the refuseniks in what was then the Soviet Union. Today, virtually anyone can leave Russia to settle in Israel. The Berlin wall, which was an even more effective barrier than the wall in Nicosia, has disintegrated. We have seen the jackboots of the communists yield to the flame of freedom. In South Africa
Column 1212we have seen apartheid give way to a multi- racial Government. Who would have guessed five years ago that Mandela and F. W. de Klerk could be part of the same political process?
In the middle east we have seen peace between Israel and Jordan and we have seen Itzhak Rabin and Arafat shake hands on the White house lawn. However, during all that remarkable progress, there has been no movement on the part of the Turkish Cypriots. The fact that it is Turkish Cypriot intransigence that is holding up progress in Cyprus has been confirmed by the United Nations. Earlier this year, Mr. Boutros-Ghali said:
"The absence of agreement is due essentially to a lack of political will on the Turkish Cypriot side."
They hope to institutionalise partition. Many thousands of young Turkish Cypriots have never met a Greek Cypriot. They have only met Turkish Cypriots, Turkish settlers, and Turkish troops. There must be a danger that the longer that situation prevails, the more difficult it is to reach a conclusion.
The Turkish Cypriots today are subject to the same religious intolerance that hit this country during the reformation and which was still alive in this country in the 1960s. I well remember the first election campaign that I fought. I knocked on the door of a house in Bridgeton in Glasgow and said that I was the Conservative council candidate. The person said that it was very nice to see a Conservative candidate, "We've not done that for a long time." The next question was, "What's your religion?" I thought very carefully. I did not think that I should say Church of England as I was standing in Glasgow, so I said, "Episcopalian. Is that all right?" The answer was,"That's fine, because we're Christians and we can't vote for a Catholic."
That was the kind of intolerance that prevailed in Glasgow as late as 1963. That intolerance is magnified 1,000 times over in northern Cyprus simply because the people of northern Cyprus are inward looking and do not have the opportunity to meet Greek Cypriots. That makes it that much more difficult to solve the problem in the longer term.
In this House, we must commit ourselves to continuing to provide the oxygen of publicity. We must press the Government to indicate their agenda for action. We must show that we want an early decision on the application by Cyprus to join the European Union. Above all, we must assure the people of Cyprus that they will not be ignored and that we will continue to fight for them until once again democracy and freedom prevail right across that island.
Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on winning a place in the ballot and on introducing the debate. Both he and I wish that he had managed to acquire a more prime time slot for his debate--
Mr. John Marshall: And the Minister.
Ms Quin: Indeed. We all share that feeling. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman also on his assiduity and his determination to give the issue, as he said, the oxygen of publicity. He also introduced a similar debate in July.
Column 1213I pay tribute to certain hon. Friends who have also been assiduous in drawing the attention of the House to the issue. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and to some of my hon. Friends who spoke in the July debate--for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and others. I shall be brief because of the hour and also, as hon. Members can probably hear, because of the state of my health. Unfortunately, I am suffering from a heavy cold.
I come fairly new to the subject; I do not share many hon. Members' personal knowledge of Cyprus, and I do not have many constituents of Cypriot origin. However, when reading briefs and previous debates, it struck me that there has been a lack of progress, about which I am sure that hon. Members are very sad. The hon. Member for Hendon, South was right to mention the number of people living in Britain and in Cyprus who have had their lives blighted by the tragic events in Cyprus. I refer, for example, to the uncertain fate of the people of Cyprus, and to people who have lost their homes and families. Although "ethnic cleansing" is a relatively new expression, it is sadly not a new phenomenon and it has certainly applied to Cyprus and elsewhere.
Since the July debate, there have been few significant developments. Indeed, the developments that have taken place have tended to give even fewer grounds for optimism. I have been staggered by the immigration into Turkish Cyprus from the Turkish mainland, and at the number of Cypriots who have left Turkish Cyprus who felt that they did not want to have their future in that part of a segregated island.
I note also that in August controversial resolutions were passed by the assembly of the so-called Turkish republic of northern Cyprus to co- ordinate its defence and foreign policies with those of Turkey and to reject a federal solution to the Cyprus question. There have been meetings between President Klerides and Mr. Denktash, but although they were held in an effort to restart the stalled peace process, they have achieved very little indeed.
I note also that a United Nations resolution asked the Secretary-General, in consultation with the parties involved, to submit by the end of October 1994 a programme for achieving a comprehensive settlement. I do not know what progress was made by the Secretary-General in that task, but perhaps the Minister will update us on that matter. Bearing in mind what has happened, one is tempted to agree with the statement of the Foreign Minister of the Cypriot Government. He said that, if anything, they are in an even less satisfactory position than before. That is of great regret to all hon. Members.
Mr. Cox: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment to the Opposition Front Bench and to her responsibilities in respect of Cyprus. Even though the debate is sparsely attended, my hon. Friend is aware of cross-party agreement on Cyprus. Will she make a clear statement on the embargo imposed by the European Union regarding exports of products from northern Cyprus? Many Cypriots believe that it is crucial in
Column 1214applying essential pressure on Mr. Denktas so that he will enter meaningful discussions regarding the Secretary- General's efforts.
Ms Quin: My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. The embargo is an important way of putting pressure on the Turkish Cypriots and Mr. Denktash and his followers. However, given the statistics that the hon. Member for Hendon, South provided about the existing economic disparity between the Turkish and Greek parts of the island, an embargo might worsen the country's economic situation.
Although very little progress has been made in reaching a settlement in recent years, one or two of Mr. Denktash's comments have revealed a few glimmers of hope. It seems as though he is trying to soften his position, perhaps partly because of the effect of the embargo to which my hon. Friend referred.
Another important issue referred to by the hon. Member for Hendon, South is Cyprus's application to join the European Union. Labour has consistently supported the line that the hon. Gentleman advanced about the timing of the application and the fact that it should not be held up awaiting a settlement of the dispute over the division of Cyprus. Progress with the application could bring about the desired settlement.
The Government have sent out confusing signals about the matter, with the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Minister of State making slightly different statements in the past year about how much a decision on Cyprus's application will depend on the progress that is made in resolving the dispute between the two parts of the island. Perhaps the Minister can clear up that confusion in his reply to the debate tonight. In so doing, we hope that he will agree with us and with his hon. Friend who introduced the debate.
In a recent communication, the Commission said that it could foresee no economic problems for either of the Mediterranean applicants for European Union membership-- Malta and Cyprus. That is a very important statement because it means that, at least as far as economic issues are concerned, Cyprus should be able to make progress towards a successful application.
The enlargement of the European Union to include Malta and Cyprus has political benefits for the Union as a whole. France, Spain, Italy and the other Mediterranean countries are keen to see the European Union accept Cyprus and Malta as members because they feel that it will provide a geographical balance to the also very welcome moves to open up the Union to the countries of eastern Europe. We obviously look forward to the Minister's reply, and I hope that he will refer to that point.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South talked about the extraordinary changes that we have witnessed in recent years. He mentioned the end of the cold war and the changing situations in the middle east and in South Africa. He could also have mentioned the hope for a peaceful future for Northern Ireland. There have been momentous changes--I am almost tempted to refer to an extraordinary change in a certain by-election result tonight, which is very welcome on the Opposition side of the House.
It is heartening that such changes are occurring, but I join the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends in hoping that there will be a similar momentous change in the form