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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 108 (Welsh Grand Committee (sittings)),

Question agreed to.

13 Dec 1999 : Column 83

Adjournment (Christmas)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

7.26 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): I wish to raise the issue of Cyprus. I chair the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Cyprus group in this Parliament, a group made up of Members from all of the main parties in this House.

Next year will be the 26th year in which the Republic of Cyprus has been a divided island, occupied by troops of a foreign power--namely, Turkey. Cyprus is a Commonwealth country, and the United Kingdom is one of the guarantor powers for Cyprus. This in itself shows to many people the inability of many countries, including the UK, to resolve this long-running tragedy.

Cyprus is a small and beautiful country. For more than 25 years, nearly one third of the territory of the island of Cyprus has been occupied. It is the only country in Europe that is divided. The capital city, Nicosia, is divided by a wall, barbed wire and troop emplacements. All who walk along the dividing line have the same thought--why, after 25 years, is this island still divided? How do we allow a Commonwealth country to suffer as, sadly, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots suffer from this divide?

Since 1974, there have been countless meetings in Cyprus, London and the United States, and many meetings of the United Nations Security Council. Resolutions have been passed that clearly outline the views of the United Nations on what should be the basis for a settlement to this long-running tragedy.

Many promises have been made. One has only to think of the promise made many years ago for the return of Famagusta--a town that is still deserted some 25 years after the invasion. Once, it was one of the most beautiful towns in Cyprus. Yet the promise made by Mr. Denktas, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots, to return that town has never been honoured, any more than the resolutions passed by the United Nations have been honoured.

Report after report has stated clearly that, under successive presidents of the Republic of Cyprus since the invasion, there has always been a willingness to enter into meaningful talks. Regrettably, however, that has always been refused by Mr. Denktas and so, sadly, we have got nowhere.

Mr. Denktas, fully supported by Turkey and the Turkish army, plays by his own rules of non-co-operation. Thousands of Turkish settlers--no one knows the correct number--have come from mainland Turkey to live in the occupied area of northern Cyprus. At the same time, thousands of Turkish Cypriots have left the country.

In a debate such as this, it is interesting to highlight the views of the countries of the world. After some 25 years, the only country that recognises the so-called independent state of northern Cyprus is Turkey. No other country in the world does so.

I referred to the many meetings held over the past 25 years to try and find a settlement. At the G7 meeting at Cologne earlier this year, the heads of Government issued a statement calling for the President of the Republic of Cyprus, President Clerides, and Mr. Denktas

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to meet to discuss the grounds for a settlement. I and many other hon. Members warmly welcome that commitment by the G7 countries.

The group that I chair has always made it clear that we want a settlement in which the rights and security of Turkish Cypriots will be just as important as those of Greek Cypriots. Guarantees to that effect should be written into any such settlement.

The talks called for by the G7 nations have started. Discussion is, sadly, slow, but the deadlock is of long standing, so we must accept that the talks will take a long time and be difficult. However, the House, the United Nations and other countries involved in the Cyprus problem must be clear that the settlement that we hope to achieve must be based on the resolutions passed by the UN. Those resolutions require that Cyprus must remain a single sovereignty, that there must be total withdrawal of all Turkish troops, and that all refugees who so wish must have the right to return to their homes. The resolutions also call for the final resolution of the fate of the missing people, and state that there can be no recognition for a separate Turkish state in any part of the island of Cyprus.

I have referred to the repeated willingness of the President of the Republic of Cyprus to enter into meaningful talks on any aspect of a settlement. Cyprus is now a candidate for membership of the European Union, and it has every right to be considered. Its economy is far stronger than that of many of the other applicant countries now under consideration.

President Clerides has called repeatedly on Mr. Denktas to join in the discussions about the EU membership application. Regrettably, Mr. Denktas has refused on every occasion. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, and my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, will fully support Cyprus's application for membership of the European Union. I hope, too, that they will make it clear to Mr. Denktas and the Turkish Government that they have no veto over Cyprus's application.

The events of the past few days have altered considerably the issues surrounding a settlement in Cyprus. At the weekend, the Helsinki conference of European Union heads of Government decided to invite Turkey to attend meetings to discuss its possible EU membership. The House knows how much Turkey wants that to happen, and I have no doubt that, in time, Turkey will have a role in the EU. However, I hope that the Government will be at the forefront of those telling Turkey what is expected of it.

European Union membership sets very clear rules. Countries must respect human rights and have no political prisoners. Above all, however, their troops should not divide and occupy another European country.

I understand that the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Ecevit, attended the European Union meeting in Helsinki. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not forget that it was the same Mr. Ecevit who said not so long ago that there was no Cyprus problem, and that

I hope that the leaders of the European Union will leave Mr. Ecevit in no doubt that membership of the European Union will bring responsibilities and clear obligations to resolve disputes and conflicts. No dispute requires resolution more than that over Cyprus.

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We in the United Kingdom can never say, "It's sad, we hope the problem will be resolved, but it isn't our responsibility." It certainly is our responsibility. As I said, Cyprus is a Commonwealth country, and the United Kingdom is one of its guarantor powers. I hope that, in the coming weeks, we will be in the forefront of those countries supporting the Republic of Cyprus and working towards a settlement there. Such a settlement will bring benefits to the country and its people, be they Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. May I explain to the House that a number of Back Benchers wish to speak and that brief contributions would therefore be appreciated.

7.38 pm

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): I shall certainly adhere to your request for brevity, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I wish to raise the subject of policing levels in Hampshire. My contribution arises from my experience as a local Member of Parliament, and from recent headlines in the Chandler's Ford and Romsey newspapers. Examples of those headlines include "Safety Fears as Police Shortages Affect Local Residents", "Bobbies Cut as Shops Face Vandal Problem", and "Precinct Folk Frightened". Another story, headed "Police Cuts Row", had a sub-headline describing how angry traders feared more vandalism if police officers were transferred elsewhere in the district.

Many hon. Members will be familiar with such headlines in their local press. In my constituency, they have been prompted by the anger felt by shop traders in Chandler's Ford's troubled central shopping precinct in Bournemouth road. They are angry that police officers are to be transferred from that area to make good personnel shortages elsewhere. As reported in the Southern Daily Echo, they complain that the precinct is "a magnet for vandals" and say that matters

I think that all hon. Members would agree with that. The article continued:

    "In the past few months, gangs of youths and young girls have vandalised seating, upturned concrete plant pots, scrawled graffiti on buildings and verbally abused anyone who has challenged them.

    "Several shops have regularly had windows smashed, takeaway food has been smeared over windows and rubbish and excrement pushed through letterboxes. In some cases, attempts have been made to set fire to items pushed through doors."

Such stories show how bad the situation is.

On 29 November, the Home Secretary launched his crime-reduction strategy and stated that the Government had embarked on a crusade against crime. Laudable though the aims of the strategy may be, I am having difficulty in relating them to what is happening on the ground. Page 2 of the strategy's summary refers to:

I suggest that it is a little optimistic to promise to increase our police forces by 5,000 new officers when there are 3,000 gaps in the thin blue line every day due to unfilled vacancies and sickness. Still, the Home Secretary has

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challenged police authorities to agree plans for more bobbies on the beat, and, if they meet their targets, they will receive more money from the Home Office.

About half our police force funding comes from council tax payers, with the other half coming from the Home Office. In recent years, Hampshire is fortunate to have received additional grants of £2.7 million to enable it to increase its police establishment by 222 full-time equivalent police officers, bringing its total establishment up to 3,491. But the force is currently 66 constables short. That may not seem a lot, but, coupled with the pressures that officers are under, it has a significant impact on the area.

Superintendent Tribe, the divisional commander in the Eastleigh police station, which serves my constituency, says:

He cites establishing a dedicated domestic violence officer, as well as

    "sending officers into school to help prevent the children from getting into trouble, and in Hampshire we are participating in the new Youth Offenders Team pilot with probation officers and youth workers."

For all that extra work, over and above normal requirements, the Hampshire police authority receives no additional resources.

If my constituents want more bobbies on the beat, the Hampshire police authority will have to meet the Home Secretary's challenge. Council tax payers will have to pay more, or cuts will be made elsewhere in Hampshire county council's budget. Even if the establishment is increased, we must find suitable recruits and retain more police officers.

I do not think that police officers are paid enough, and that applies to many other forces in the south-east. On appointment, a police officer receives £16,635 per annum, which rises to £18,612 after one year. That salary is not attractive enough to compete with commercial and other industrial employment in a prosperous part of the country--my constituency has virtually full employment. Moreover, in such an economically sound area, there is more to steal. Although recorded crime figures are decreasing--following the trend started in the previous Government's term of office--an awful lot of crime, such as the vandalism and thuggishness that I mentioned, is not reported.

I have three or four points to raise, and should be grateful for the Government's view. First, what about having a differential in rates of pay for police constables across the country? I am told that there is no problem in recruiting police officers on Merseyside and in similar areas of high unemployment. Recruitment is particularly difficult in the south-east and I think that the tripartite police negotiating board on pay and conditions of service should consider that possibility.

Secondly, we must think again about housing allowance. When I first started taking an interest in the police, officers were provided with dedicated housing, which they retained throughout their service. The housing has all gone--a victim, perhaps, of the right to buy.

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Had that legislation excluded police houses, they might have been retained, but that chance has been lost. I am not suggesting a return to such provision, because buying the housing would be expensive. We could, however, reintroduce the housing allowance. It was phased out at the same time as dedicated houses, and reintroducing it would make the job much more attractive, particularly to police officers' families. It would improve retention as well as recruitment.

Thirdly, we should think again about reintroducing police cadets. I believe that the Metropolitan police force still has cadet units. There is no doubt that the Territorial Army units' sponsorship of local cadet forces has helped to recruit youngsters into the armed forces. The same can be said of the police forces, and local police authorities might like to reconsider whether there is merit in reintroducing police cadets to build up the ethos of both public service and service in the police forces.

Fourthly, we should look at the retirement rules. At present, police officers retire after 30 years of service, or when they are 55. There is a provision for that age limit to be extended to 60 if applicants wish it and if they have a good service record. Many jobs can be done by people over the age of 60. I am one such person and, looking round the Chamber, I can see plenty of others over the age of 60 who are still contributing to society by serving their constituents in Parliament. I do not see why police officers should be forced to retire at 60 when they could probably come off the beat and go into an office, with all the experience gained from their years of service, and continue to add to the establishment of the police force.

Finally, there should be more special constables back on the beat, as they have an enormous contribution to make. First, they are volunteers, so they are dedicated to the task of policing. Secondly, they are free--we do not pay them. They receive a free uniform and their expenses are covered. Most importantly, they have strong local community links. That is the real value of a bobby on the beat. In addition to the 3,500-odd police in our establishment in Hampshire, there are another 700 special constables, and I only wish that there were more.

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