Previous Section Index Home Page

10 Jan 2007 : Column 106WH—continued

10 Jan 2007 : Column 107WH

We want the POA to respond positively to the letters that we have sent to it. The association is making substantial allegations and, if they are correct, we want to know about them and ensure that we act on them. I hope that Mr. Fletcher of NAPO and Colin Moses, president of the POA, will respond to the letters that we have sent to them.

It will help if I explain how the categorisation and allocation process works. Prisoners receive their initial categorisation soon after they are convicted and sentenced. They are categorised objectively according to the likelihood that they will seek to escape or abscond, and the risk that they would pose should they do so. In the majority of cases, consideration of those two factors alone are sufficient to determine the prisoner’s security category.

The risk assessment includes a consideration of current and previous offences; details of the charges, pleas, findings and sentences relating to the current offences, particularly whether they are of a violent or sexual nature; whether the offences involve drugs; and any other information on the prisoner that is available to the prison and probation services, such as a previous history of escape or absconding, medical and psychological reports and security information that might be relevant. Prisoners are placed in the lowest security category that is consistent with the assessment, although there may be instances where there is clear evidence that a prisoner needs higher levels of supervision than are available in a prison of the lower security category.

Nick Herbert: Will the Minister directly answer this question: is it acceptable that two prisoners a week abscond from Ford? He referred to the prison governor’s memo. How will he deal with the fact that she said that unsuitable prisoners are being transferred to Ford, and that Ministers know that and are taking the risk? How does that square with his claim that the categorisation policy has not changed?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I want to be clear about this: the briefing that the governor sent to her staff gave her view of the situation. I am saying that the categorisation has not changed. We have also said that people must be appropriately assessed for risk. As I said to the hon. Gentleman, I shall take up with the governor at Ford the issues that he has raised, but the categorisation has not changed. What has changed—he and others would have attacked the Government if we had not made this change—is that we are maximising use of the estate.

Nick Herbert: Not with the wrong prisoners.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Certainly not, and that is why the risk assessment, which I shall discuss, is important in ensuring that people are in the most suitable places. However, as we are also criticised for not providing prison places, we are ensuring that we maximise the use
10 Jan 2007 : Column 108WH
of prison places, providing the proper risk assessments have taken place. I want that to be clearly understood.

Nick Herbert: Will the Minister answer my question: is it acceptable that two prisoners a week abscond?

Mr. Sutcliffe: Of course no absconds are acceptable, but they happen in open prisons because of the very nature of such prisons. The figures that I have for absconds from Ford go from a high of 142 in 2003-04 to 47 to the end of November 2006, so the hon. Gentleman’s figures are not correct. However, any abscond is inappropriate. People who are coming to the end of their sentences are risk-assessed. The vast majority go on to be reintegrated into society, but some abscond. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that we should not have open prisons? Is he saying that we should not try to reintegrate people into society as they come to the end of their sentences? Murderers are given life sentences, but they do come to the end of them. In fact, it was this Government, through the Criminal Justice Act 2003, who ensured that we could have indeterminate sentences.

People come to the end of their sentence and have the opportunity to go back into society. Surely that should be done in a managed way.

Mr. McLoughlin: The person who absconded this week was convicted in 2002 of manslaughter and was given a 10-year sentence. Is he coming to the end of his sentence?

Mr. Sutcliffe: In the two minutes that remain, we can get into a debate about sentencing. In 2003, the Government introduced indeterminate sentences so that people who are a danger to society could be kept in prison, unlike what was happening before. We are trying to rebalance the criminal justice system, and that is why we announced in July that we want people to have confidence in what goes on and to understand sentencing policies, and we have given undertakings in respect of that. I hope that the Opposition will be helpful in the discussions that need to take place on that.

As an Adjournment debate is too short for dealing with such issues, I am prepared to meet the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs and to visit Ford. We will consider in detail the issues that he raised. I hope that we can set up that meeting as soon as possible.

On foreign national prisoners, I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman in writing, in addition to the letter that I sent to him on 26 May. I hope that the assurances about the closed conditions that he thought would be the case at Ford—

Mr. Edward O'Hara (in the Chair): Order.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o’clock.

10 Jan 2007 : Column 109WH


2.30 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Last October, as vice-chair, I led a delegation from Friends of Cyprus to the island. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Member’s Interests in relation to the costs of the visit.

The debate on Cyprus seems to have become an annual event—recently under your chairmanship, too, Mr. O’Hara. I know that you take a particular interest in the matter. Regrettably, over the past year, there has not been a great deal of progress. When we were in Cyprus, it was clear that the Greek Cypriot view is that the world has forgotten the basic cause of the problem: the injustices of invasion, occupation, Turkish troops and settlers and development of their property. The Greek Cypriots feel disappointed by the lack of progress since Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat became President of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Many Turkish Cypriots would privately agree about that, which is shown by the slipping of electoral support for the Republican Turkish party—the CTP—and apparent growing division within the CTP.

The focus in the north and for Turkey is on upgrading their status, consequent to the EU process. The Republic of Cyprus will not agree to delegations seeing TRNC leaders in their offices, as that is seen as supporting that upgrade, but Mr. Talat and others will now only see visitors in their offices. That reduces the prospect for visitors to get both sides’ views and to debate and test those views with the other side’s leaders.

After the failure of the Annan plan, rather than reaching out to the Greek Cypriots to reassure and engage with referendum “no” voters, who will have to be won round to support any future settlement plan, the Turkish Cypriot leadership only harks back to its community’s “yes” vote and the injustice that it perceives of its continued isolation, which is seen as a breach of faith by the international community. That has the effect of alleviating pressure on Turkey, which supported a referendum “yes” vote, and of turning Turkish Cypriot and international disapproval on to the Republic’s leadership and especially President Papadopoulos.

The demonising of the President is counter-productive and drives the communities further apart. Attacks should be directed at policies, rather than personalities, and Mr. Talat should not be encouraged to see such attacks as acceptable by the attitudes of some in the EU. Having the CTP in government in the north has relieved Turkish Cypriot political pressure on Turkey, as there was no one left to organise it. As one of the prime movers of the former common vision movement said to me, “We’re back to square one.”

Questions have to be raised about whether the CTP Administration is slipping back into the old ways and failing to reflect Turkish Cypriot opinion to Turkey, as they were elected to do. The Administration in the north believes that they have international support and can achieve much of what they want through that. We were told that that was now debated as “Eurotaksim”,
10 Jan 2007 : Column 110WH
or partition through Europe. In the south, the Turkish EU accession process is seen as leverage. Both sides are regrettably playing it long.

Time is objectively not on the side of settlement. Facts are being created on the ground in the north, with building on Greek Cypriot land—a negative by-product of the failure of the Annan plan—and the increase in the population from Turkey. Although the green line has been opened, resulting in 15 million crossings and the removal of the physical barriers to trade and movement, so—inexorably, given the present climate—a green line of the mind is being erected to replace it, with reducing meaningful bi-communal contact at every level. Although personal friendships across the divide can be maintained, that does not read through politically.

We heard that recent polls—one has to be sceptical, sometimes, about polls in Cyprus—showed that a majority on both sides wanted division. That runs a risk of coming not with a bang but a whimper, and there is a growing risk that such an outcome will become inevitable through default and neglect.

The UN initiative is led on the island by the self-styled “optimist on duty”, Michael Moller, who has made clear that there is no UN plan B. Since the leaders of the two communities were brought together by UN Under-Secretary-General Gambari in July 2006, the agreements that were then reached have dissolved in the face of disputes about how to take the process forward, and talks about talks have assumed an identity of their own. On 15 November, Mr. Gambari wrote to both leaders to set out proposals that were formally accepted by both sides on 18 November.

Kofi Annan, in his 1 December Security Council report on Cyprus, said:

He urged both parties to show good will and determination to overcome deep mental distrust and suspicions, and he hoped that the blame game would be stopped. Whether the new Secretary-General will embark on a good offices initiative will depend on progress. In response, there was a welcome announcement on 28 December by Turkish Cypriot leader Mr. Talat that the bridge will be immediately removed, so that the Ledra street crossing point can be opened. I believe that demolition started yesterday, despite objections from the military.

Although there are protestations of no linkage on both sides of the green line, in practice that is unavoidable when one considers the position on the Cyprus issue and on Turkish accession to Europe. Turkey certainly sees a link, as was seen at the review of its accession process at the December European Council and its failure to open its ports, airports and airspace to the Republic of Cyprus, even though it previously undertook to open them.

The embargo is far wider than most appreciate and affects not just Cyprus, but the whole EU, as it applies to any ship or aircraft with the remotest connection with the south. A recent absurdity concerned the wish of the Italian chief of staff, who had arrived in Cyprus after inspecting troops in the Lebanon, to fly direct in an Italian plane to Afghanistan from Larnaca across
10 Jan 2007 : Column 111WH
Turkey. The Turks refused permission, so he had to return to Rome before he could fly across Turkey to Afghanistan.

Turkish general elections are due by 4 November, and the presidential election, in which Mr. Erdogan may be a candidate, is due before May this year, so the profile of EU accession and the stand-off over Cyprus assumes an added importance. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has toughened his position. His public pronouncements that Turkey’s ports will not be opened match his private discussions—megaphone diplomacy, if I may say so, without the diplomacy.

Equally, the Republic’s single-minded concentration on Turkey fulfilling the legal obligations of the customs union overlooks the fact that Turkey simply will not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, as administered by Greek Cypriots since 1964. The embargo on the Republic has implications across Europe. As Cyprus has the second biggest fleet in Europe—the 10th biggest in the world—and given that Limassol is a key shipping centre alongside London and Athens, the ban must inevitably affect the cost of shipping rates, reducing available supply.

One commentator suggested in the Financial Times on 19 December that the biggest losers are Turkish importers, as freight rates to Turkey would be significantly lower if Cyprus-flagged ships had access to Turkish ports. That issue will become even more important with the recent opening of the BP-operated Caspian oil pipeline from Baku through Turkey to the Mediterranean if tankers from Cyprus continue to be banned from calling.

Turkish Cypriots feel hard done by because of the EU’s failure to honour its pledge, as they see it, to permit direct trade. As is often repeated, including by our own Government, to quote that commitment selectively is a misinterpretation of the EU Council of Ministers’ 2004 decision. Yes, that decision was to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, but it was qualified by emphasising that that was to be considered in the context of moving towards the economic integration of the island, as well as in those of improving contacts between the two communities and with the EU and helping to reunify the island.

Everybody accepts that direct trade is meaningless in economic development terms—it is worth at best 10 million Cypriot pounds—but it has assumed great political importance as a status issue. The Turkish Cypriots believe trade with the EU would upgrade their status, which they see as an important bargaining tool in the wider issue. For the same reasons, that symbolism had led to greater efforts to avoid status recognition of the TRNC by the Republic of Cyprus and thus to its opposition to meetings with Mr. Talat in his office.

There is also a serious question about whether the policy is being advanced by the TRNC with clean hands. We heard of a documented example—we saw the documents—of how the TRNC frustrated a deal worth 1 million Cypriot pounds to export potatoes from the north through Limassol, stating that no Turkish Cypriot goods should go through that port, in clear opposition to the EU green line regulations that were designed to facilitate trade across the line.

10 Jan 2007 : Column 112WH

There are suggestions, too, that the green line is being illicitly abused to export Turkish—as opposed to Turkish Cypriot—produce into the south, including agricultural produce containing DDT insecticide, which is permitted in Turkey but banned in the EU. In the first half of November, 370,000 kg of onions were brought from the north into the south over the green line—a quantity that could not possibly have all been grown in the north.

Against that background, the Finnish presidency of the EU bravely attempted a compromise proposal that involved the opening of two ports in Turkey. Famagusta port would jointly be administered by Greek and Turkish Cypriots to permit EU trade and Varosha would be returned to UN administration without the right of return. Both sides squared up to reject the proposal straight away. Turkey and the TRNC did so because it did not include Ercan—Tymbou—airport and direct flights to the north, and they condemned it as a rehash of earlier proposals from President Papadopoulos. The Republic of Cyprus did so because it did not provide for the return of refugees to Varosha, nor that Turkey would open all its ports, as it had already agreed to do.

The net result of the EU summit was that the opening and closing of eight chapters were blocked by the European Council; and Cyprus continues to block the closing of seven other chapters. Although the EU is about to propose the opening of new chapters, at least one will be blocked by Cyprus until Turkey properly implements the customs protocol.

On a more positive note, I am pleased to say that the €259 million aid package to the north is being released, and a programme team office established in the north to administer it. However, enthusiasm in Turkey for EU accession appears to be waning. Another problem is that Cyprus failed to persuade the EU to set a fresh deadline for Turkey to meet its obligations, and the Republic will soon come under renewed pressure over direct trade.

All those issues should be taken into consideration before the EC recommends, or the Foreign Ministers meeting in January decides, a further opening of direct links with northern Cyprus, which I believe will inevitably drive prospects for settlement further away. There is no direct link arrangement for ports or airports that will not increase the pressure to develop more Greek Cypriot property. That must await comprehensive settlement.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for the EU to put more pressure on Turkey in relation to its customs union obligations, and that that will be particularly important following the Turkish presidential elections in May?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The feeling, certainly among people in the south of the island, is that the pressure is on them and not on Turkey, despite Turkey’s agreement to the customs union. Indeed, Turkey will have to accept the customs union at some stage, and it might as well do so earlier rather than later. That would provide a key to unlocking many of the problems that we presently see between the communities.

Next Section Index Home Page