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10.20 am

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): First, I join other hon. Members in congratulating the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) on her appointment. I am sure that her new responsibilities will be both varied and interesting, and I wish her great success.

In this Adjournment debate, I shall talk about Cyprus. At the outset, I declare that I am chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Cyprus group, to which hon. Members of all political parties in the House belong.

I shall not go over in detail the events since the Turkish invasion of the Republic of Cyprus 24 years ago, because they are well known, as are the efforts made, year after year, to try to reach an honourable settlement, and the United Nations resolutions on Cyprus which have repeatedly called for a settlement. All hon. Members who belong to the CPA Cyprus group want an honourable settlement that recognises the rights and security of Turkish Cypriots just as much as Greek Cypriots; and we want a Cyprus in which all its people can live in peace and share in the development and prosperity of their country.

As many hon. Members know, this country's links with Cyprus go back well over 100 years. It is a Commonwealth country, and we are one of the guarantor powers for Cyprus, yet Cyprus is today the only European country that is divided by a wall and barbed wire. A great deal of its territory is occupied by a foreign army, that of Turkey. There is a so-called "independent state" in northern Cyprus, which was set up in 1983; but, after all those years, the only country that recognises it is Turkey. The United Kingdom, the European Union, the Council of Europe, the United Nations and the United States of America all refuse to recognise that so-called independent state.

For some time, the Republic of Cyprus has sought membership of the EU, and it is widely supported by many countries in that endeavour. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has left no one in any doubt of the UK Government's support for that application, and I warmly welcome that clear commitment.

Despite that support, and despite President Clerides of Cyprus having made Turkish Cypriots a constructive and generous offer of a meaningful role in the discussions on membership, which has been refused, threats have been

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made that, if the application continues and is successful, Turkey will annex northern Cyprus into its mainland; and Turkey has insisted that it should be admitted to the European Union before Cyprus. Those threats are totally unacceptable.

I serve as a member of the British delegation to the Council of Europe. At the assembly meeting of the socialist group in Strasbourg in June this year, I opened a debate on Cyprus. The chair of the political affairs committee of the Council of Europe, Andras Barsony of Hungary, commented on the attitude of Mr. Denktash, the spokesman for the Turkish Cypriots, and on Turkey's attitude towards Cyprus's right to seek membership of the EU.

I subsequently asked the House of Commons Library about the British Government's view; a reply dated 3 July stated a clear commitment. The Library wrote to me as follows:


I warmly welcome that clear statement. I hope that Turkey and Mr. Denktash are made fully aware of the Government's view.

To my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House I say that I hope that the UK will now work actively with our colleagues and friends in the Austrian Government, who currently hold the presidency of the European Union, to continue that commitment to Cyprus. There can be no doubt that membership will benefit the whole of Cyprus, both Greek and Turkish communities. It will also bring security and prosperity to Cyprus. That is what I want, what many hon. Members want, and, indeed, what many Turkish Cypriots want. Regrettably, Mr. Denktash continues to refuse.

As I said, Cyprus has had a long association with this country. Cyprus threatens no one, but it is now repeatedly threatened. I have here a cutting from The Daily Telegraph of 21 July, which states that the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Yilmaz, renewed threats of force against Greece and the Greek Cypriots on the 24th anniversary of Turkish military intervention on the island. We know of the presence of more than 30,000 Turkish troops in the north of the island of Cyprus; and we know that those troops have some of the most modern and sophisticated weaponry in the world. For years, President Clerides has called for the full demilitarisation of the island, and he has outlined proposals on that subject, but they have been rejected by Mr. Denktash and by Turkey.

Every Member of the House knows of the crucial role played by Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean. Yet Cypriot airspace is repeatedly overflown by Turkish military aircraft. Turkey has repeatedly threatened to annex the northern area of Cyprus. Now the Republic of Cyprus is discussing the establishment of missiles in the south of the island.

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I should much prefer that there were no missiles, but every country has a right to protect its territory from aggression. That is why the issue is so important, and all efforts need to be made to try to resolve it. Certainly, the Republic of Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Greece--which is another guarantor power for Cyprus--the United States and the United Nations all want a settlement. Turkey can undoubtedly play a major role in working towards such a settlement.

Turkey talks about its future European role and its wish to be a member of the European Union, and I am in no doubt that it will, one day, join the European Union. However, it must begin to understand that, unless it changes its record on Cyprus and on human rights in Turkey, its action against trade unions and the press in Turkey and its treatment of Kurdish communities, it will make little progress towards achieving a role in Europe. Turkey must be told that, clearly and firmly.

As I said, 24 years ago the Republic of Cyprus was invaded. Some 30 per cent. of its territory is still occupied. No UK Government can say, "That is sad, but it is not up to us to find an honourable solution." For the reasons that I have given, it is up to us. That is why I and many hon. Members on both sides of the House will repeatedly return to the issue of Cyprus until there is an honourable settlement for the island that will benefit all the people who live there, whether they are Greek or Turkish.

I realise that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may not be in a position to respond in great detail to my comments, but I am sure that she will convey them to my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

10.32 am

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): I also welcome the Leader of the House to the Dispatch Box. Perhaps she belongs to the modernising faction in the Labour party, but I am sure that she will have a deep respect for the traditions and customs of the House, and an open ear for Madam Speaker's entreaties not to wreck some of the cherished procedures of the House in a frantic drive to over-modernise.

I want to address a few issues that worry us in Cumbria, which the House ought to consider before it rises for the recess. I am also prompted by the comments about pet animals by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow)--who, sadly, is no longer in his place--to make a few introductory remarks to bring the House up to date on exciting developments in the puppy farming business.

I am the right hon. Member who poked his head above the parapet and said that the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Bill was flawed, and I blocked it. That caused outrage from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I discovered that the Petcare trust, the National Canine Defence League, the Blue Cross, the Kennel Club, the British Dogbreeders Council and Justice for Dogs also had concerns about the Bill, and thought that it could be improved. I chaired meetings of those organisations, which wanted to work for a better Bill.

I am pleased to tell the House that the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association have now joined that working party, which is working to draft a better Bill that it hopes to have ready for an hon. Member who, in November or December, may be willing to

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introduce it. I am delighted that I was the catalyst for that Bill, but I thought that it would be best if I backed out in favour of someone who is seen to be totally independent. The noble Baroness Wharton has taken over the chairmanship of that group, and is now working with all those animal welfare organisations, the Kennel Club and the British Dogbreeders Council to draft a better Bill.

Compromises must be made, but I am certain that, when the group has drafted the Bill, with Government help in due course, it will represent a wider coalition of interests than the one drafted only by the RSPCA, which satisfied almost no one.

My concerns about Cumbria relate, first, to the county council. For some extraordinary reason, it has decided to reorganise itself into what I can only describe as a politburo structure. We have passed no legislation saying that county council structures are improper or not working, but Cumbria county council heard a speech by the Prime Minister and assumed that, if it did not totally change its organisation, it would be attacked or criticised for not being modern enough.

The council has come up with a structure that practically rules out the contribution in proper debate and scrutiny of Labour, Liberal, Conservative and independent council members, and concentrates all decision making on a little politburo of eight "cabinet ministers" and eight executives who will meet in closed session to decide the whole council policy. That has been described as a much more executive form of decision making. It will cut out many council committees and some bureaucracy, but I am afraid that it will also cut out much accountability to the electorate.

That is a foolish move, which council members will one day regret, because their constituents, of all political persuasions, will find that the councillors cannot represent them because they cannot stand up in a committee or full council and make points on their behalf.

I want also to make a point about education. The Queen Elizabeth grammar school in Penrith is working side by side and hand in glove with Ullswater high school. A few years ago, there was tension between the schools, mainly because the county council wanted to close one or other of them. I chaired meetings of staff, headmasters and governors, and they worked out a good working relationship. The Government then sensibly extended the scope of Ullswater high school so that it could offer A-levels, and of the grammar school so that it could take in younger pupils. The schools offer complementary courses, and are working together well.

That is all in danger of being overturned by the decision of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to extend the voting procedure determining the status of grammar schools to catchment schools which may or may not send pupils to the grammar school. That doctrine of the franchise will create instability in a market town of 12,000 people which has two schools, both of which are centres of excellence. There is now no stigma for pupils attending Ullswater high school, because it is a centre of excellence offering courses different from those at the Queen Elizabeth grammar school. It is unfortunate that that should be destabilised in a frantic bout of political correctness.

I suggest that the Leader of the House examines the guidelines that have been issued by the Secretary of State for Education, in which the procedure for voting on

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school status is an extension of voting powers to people who have no legitimate say whatever in how a school is run. That procedure can be used to bring about a settlement for schools that is motivated by politics rather than local practicality and need.

Another cause of concern in Cumbria is transport, which is vital to us in the far north-west of England. I know that many colleagues have long distances to travel, and there is always tremendous sympathy for Scottish colleagues who may want to go home on a Thursday evening. I have no sympathy for them. The last plane may be the Glasgow shuttle, which leaves at half-past 8--[Hon. Members: "Eight o'clock."]--the 8 o'clock shuttle--[Hon. Members: "Nine o'clock."]--the 9 o'clock shuttle to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Inverness. It is a tremendous distance. Those hon. Members will be home by 8 o'clock, 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock. The last train for Cumbria leaves at half-past 6. There is a slight extension in the summer--remarkably, we have Mr. Branson to thank for that. Currently, the last train for Cumbria leaves at half-past 7.

That is not a personal sob story. I do not mind; I have become used to it over 15 years. I am merely illustrating the point that, whereas colleagues in other parts of the United Kingdom may live further from London, the transport links are infinitely better than those with Cumbria and the north-west. To reach our nearest airport, we must cross the Pennines to Newcastle or travel south to Manchester. We therefore depend fundamentally on motorway links and rail links, and on the forthcoming improvements to the west coast main line.

Today I wish to focus on more parochial issues--well, not parochial, but not mega-stuff such as the £2 billion investment in the west coast main line. I wish to talk about the need to close the Cumberland gap--the last remaining stretch of dual carriageway at the top of the M6 before we hit the M74 and the improvements being made to it. That short stretch of dual carriageway is a death trap, because there is motorway either side.

The contracts for upgrading that stretch of road to dual carriageway standard were ready a year ago last May. It is a private finance initiative thing, on which, naturally, the general election brought the shutters down. One cannot let contracts with an election in the offing. Then, unfortunately, we were caught up in the roads review.

It is a small contract. Everyone knows that the work must be done. I expect that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will announce it today. I should be appalled if it were not announced today. We have wasted 15 months because that small contract was caught in the roads review. Although it was right for the Government to review their road strategy, it was unfortunate that such a small, necessary thing was caught in it.

I do not know what announcement the Secretary of State will make about the A66 today. I merely say, as someone living in the north-west of England, in Cumbria, that, whereas some parts of the United Kingdom may have decided that they do not want more bypasses or roads, and that they are anti-transport, we have not. There is quite a list of roads that need improvement in the constituency of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), in Workington and in my constituency--especially the A66.

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We would all welcome that funding. I ask the Leader of the House to convey to the Deputy Prime Minister the message that, if the Government announce today that they plan improvements to the A66, the A69 and other roads in Cumbria, no protest groups will lie down in Cumbria, saying, "No road improvements, thank you." If Mr. Scrumpy, Mr. Swampy, Mr. Stumpy, or whatever his name is, comes to Cumbria--he can bring some scrumpy to Cumbria--he will not be made welcome. Although we desperately care for our wonderful lakeland environment--for our Pennines, the Solway plain and all the other wonderful areas of Cumbria--we depend on road improvements, and we shall welcome them if the Government care to spend money on them.

We are also worried about the Territorial Army. Following the strategic defence review, the Government announced in the White Paper that the Territorial Army would be cut from 56,000 to 40,000, and that the cuts would be concentrated in the infantry and the yeomanry. That announcement desperately affects us in Cumbria, because the only real Territorial Army units in Cumbria are infantry.

The Fourth Battalion King's Own Royal Border Regiment has a company each in Carlisle, Workington and Barrow, and headquarters in Lancashire--as the Leader of the House knows, all Labour-held constituencies. It also has two platoons in Kendal. I believe that 24 per cent. of the members of that Territorial Army regiment are unemployed. It is a vital source of employment to young men and women in Cumbria. Each year, about 100 of them enter the Regular Army.

It is a mistake to cut the Territorial Army infantry. They can be used even in the modern, high-tech mobile brigades that the Government envisage. A few years ago I, and many other colleagues, were thought good enough, as territorial infantry soldiers, to be part of the First British Corps on the Rhine. When we faced the Soviet Union--which was regarded as the most powerful adversary that the world and the western forces could have--the infantry were not told, "I am sorry; these Russians are too good for you. You people are not suitable." Tens of thousands of us had a role, integrated with the rest of the infantry, integrated with armour, in First British Corps, in a task facing the Soviet forces.

Thank God, that has changed, but now we are told, "Terribly sorry; there is no role now for all you guys who were good enough to be part of the force facing the Russians. We shall have these new air mobile brigades. There will be rapid deployment, with all sorts of new things to do, but there is no role for you." That is wrong; of course there is a role. We do not need the same numbers, but the Territorial Army infantry could be used in the new role envisaged. Ten per cent. of our Territorial Army forces are in Bosnia; they can be used there.

Although I believe that the cuts being made in the Territorial Army are wrong in principle and short-sighted, the White Paper is long-sighted enough to consider two new aircraft carriers--if we ever get them. If we get them, it will be wonderful. I believe that we might reconsider the Territorial Army infantry.

Leaving that aside, we have a problem in Cumbria. If the Government are to make cuts of 16,000, the infantry must bear the brunt, and that could devastate us in

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Cumbria. I plead with the Government to keep the Fourth Battalion King's Own Royal Border Regiment, or not to cut it so much that it is reduced to a meaningless shell.

We may lose a company in Workington. Presumably Carlisle will have a case to keep a couple of platoons. Lancashire will have to keep something. It would be nice if we could keep something in Barrow. The whole thing may be cut drastically, and the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, to the south, may be cut drastically. The whole thing may be cobbled together to form a new battalion composed of a couple of platoons in Carlisle, a couple in Barrow and so on, which will have no real identity or core, and whose platoons will be unable to train together.

The final point on which I wish to conclude is the plight of rural areas in Cumbria. We are worried about what is happening in the countryside. Undoubtedly agriculture is suffering because of the strength of sterling. Everyone who relies on agriculture is suffering. We are already seeing redundancies among agricultural supply companies, and cuts in a range of rural industries.

Farm incomes fell by 46 per cent. in the year to March 1998, and are likely to fall by at least the same percentage this year. That is an incredible cut in income. We know how devastating it would be if our salaries were cut by 46 per cent. Only when that happens do we begin to realise how many industries rely on agriculture. One then becomes aware of the suffering of industries that one never imagined had such a key input from agriculture, and depended so much on it for their livelihood.

The effects are widespread. Everyone in rural parts of Cumbria is suffering from the effects of the drop in farm incomes. If farm income drops 46 per cent., it is not a few wealthy farmers who are affected: in Cumbria, it is tens of thousands of hill farmers--small farmers. We do not have big grain barons with 10,000 acres. It is all small farmers in the sheep, beef and dairy sectors, and all those sectors are affected.

The effect of BSE and the European beef ban continues to be felt. There can be no confidence in the future of agriculture unless we can find ways to speed up the lifting of that ban and to extract a date from the Commission.

On a further point, we must keep green-top milk. The Government have sensibly kicked this into touch, and I hope that there is not one of those announcements that sneak out at four o'clock, hidden behind other announcements that the Prime Minister may make today, stating that it is abolished. Green-top milk is a small part of the overall milk trade in Cumbria and in the UK. Nevertheless, it is purchased by consumers who know what they are doing. There are adequate warnings, and there must be consumer choice. I am a great believer in labelling products, telling people what the risks are--we know that the risks of green-top milk are negligible--and leaving consumers to make a free choice. I could say that the same applies to beef on the bone, but I shall not go down that route now.

I anticipate that many hon. Members will want to speak in the debates tonight. As I do not expect to get in then, I hope that one of them will mention the calf processing aid scheme, and point out to the new Minister of Agriculture how important it is that that scheme is kept going as a vital lifeline to livestock producers. I am sure that the right hon. Lady and her admirable staff will make sure that that point is conveyed to the new Minister of Agriculture.

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I hope that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission will intervene, following a further breakdown in talks between Milk Marque and the dairy trade. Dairy farm incomes alone have fallen 35 per cent. this year, and entire areas of dairying country such as Cumbria will suffer untold damage unless trends are reversed, with milk prices to the farmer rising. I am not making a plea for the doorstep pinta to be more expensive, but there is a widening gap between the price paid on the doorstep or at the supermarket, and the price that the farmer gets. Farmers' income is being cut drastically.

The final point on rural areas--


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