Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), the indoctrination of young, vulnerable minds is a real source of concern when it comes to the growth of radical Islam. Last week, Ofsted found 15 illegal schools educating 800 children in very worrying circumstances. We have a real problem

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with private Muslim faith schools and pupils dropping off the register. May I urge the Home Secretary to work on this with the Education Secretary and Sir Michael Wilshaw? This is an area of real concern, because we are not doing the job at the moment.

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. We have already seen some actions taken in this area. The Government are committed to taking further action in relation to supplementary schools, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced in October. We will be looking at further inspections of supplementary schools that are providing a certain number of hours of education. This is important both in relation to the issue he raises on radicalisation and as a general safeguarding issue.

Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): I join Members across the House in welcoming the Home Secretary’s statement, in particular the announcement of extra resources for GCHQ and the security services. As she will recognise, the Metropolitan police has responsibilities for counter-terrorism not only in London but across the country. What extra support might be extended to the Met police for the execution of those duties?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is right that the counter-terrorism command—what was called ACPO TAM, but is now NPCC TAM—is based in the Metropolitan police. It is funded through the counter-terrorism policing grant, as are the counter-terrorism regional units that exist in places across the country, such as the west midlands and the north-west. We have already protected counter-terrorism policing budgets over the past five years and we have been clear that counter-terrorism funding will continue to be protected.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Europe must pull together to tackle this threat. We welcome the Home Secretary’s attendance at the European Justice and Home Affairs Council on Friday. Does she agree that it is imperative we continue to co-operate with our European Union partners and friends to stem the flow of arms, to share information and to stop these vile acts of terrorism?

Mrs May: Indeed. That co-operation is important. We are looking to enhance co-operation in a number of areas, including in relation to the movement of firearms, as I indicated earlier, and in relation to the exchange across borders of information about criminality and criminal records, so we can all better protect our citizens in future.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, in particular that there will be increased border checks for vehicles entering the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that to further reduce the risk of illegal immigrants and illegal firearms being brought into the United Kingdom, every single vehicle entering this country should be thoroughly checked?

Mrs May: Decisions on the extent of checks on any particular vehicle will be taken at our borders by the Border Force. It operates under a clear mandate. It has increased the number of checks it is undertaking. It will be looking for those who are trying to enter the United

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Kingdom illegally and for those who are trying to bring in firearms illegally. It has had success in both those areas; our Border Force officers do an excellent job for us.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Home Secretary will have heard, in departmental questions and during the statement, the high level of concern across the country about cuts to police forces. What consideration has she given, in discussions with the Ministry of Defence, to utilising the armed forces in the prevention of, and in response to, an armed attack in the UK?

Mrs May: I assure the hon. Lady that there are tried and tested arrangements in place for military support to be provided to the police when necessary. We looked at this issue again after the attacks in Paris earlier this year. Exercise Strong Tower took place on the streets of London this summer. Hundreds of individuals took part in the exercise, which involved not just the police but the military.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): As somebody from a Muslim background, I agree with the Home Secretary that this was an evil act carried out by an evil organisation and that we must unite to defeat Daesh, including its ideology and propaganda. It is estimated that 80% of attacks aimed at the United Kingdom in the last five years have been prevented thanks to intelligence sharing with the Saudis and other Gulf Co-operation Council countries. Is that correct, and will we continue with that intelligence sharing?

Mrs May: I do not comment on any particular information or intelligence that leads to our being able to disrupt attacks. We work, of course, with a number of countries in relation to intelligence sharing, and I can confirm that, as the Prime Minister said this morning, in the last 12 months, seven terrorist attacks have been disrupted in the UK.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I listened carefully to the Defence Secretary’s justification for the drone strike against Reyaad Khan, from Cardiff, and his description of the nature of the threat he posed to the UK. Will the Home Secretary say a little bit about the nature and origins of the threats we face and the extent to which they are supported directly from Daesh-controlled territory in Syria?

Mrs May: The threat we face is diverse. The threat we face from Daesh is diverse. As we saw in Paris, it comes from individuals conducting an attack that has been prepared and planned, but it is also possible these days, with social media, for people based in one territory to reach out to others and to encourage them to go out, perhaps as lone individuals, to undertake an attack on our streets. The threat we face is diverse, and obviously some of it originates from ISIL-held territory.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Our thoughts go out to those in Paris. Further to the last question about the nature of the threat, is my right hon. Friend saying that if Daesh were defeated in Syria and Iraq, it would not necessarily stop the problem in western Europe?

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Mrs May: It is important that we defeat Daesh, but as my hon. Friend will recognise, we face threats not just from Daesh—for example, there are still threats from organisations with links to al-Qaeda. It is important, therefore, that we defeat the ideology that lies behind these terrorist groups, and that can be done in a variety of ways. For that reason, moves we have made, such as on the counter-extremism strategy in the UK, are also important. There is often a focus on what security agencies and the police can do—on that sort of activity—but defeating the ideology is essential.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): A survivor of the Paris attacks expressed surprise at the young age of some of the suicide bombers. For example, it has been reported that one of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France might have been as young as 15. I have already raised the issue of the growing number of child suicide bombings in the House. Is this not an urgent matter that we need to do more to consider?

Mrs May: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the potential youth of some of those involved in the attack. Sadly, in recent times, we have seen more and more younger people attempting to travel to Syria and more teenagers in the UK being prosecuted for their involvement in potential terrorist activity. This is a matter of real concern. It is a question of dealing with the radicalisation of those young minds.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth is a dispersal centre for asylum seekers and will be welcoming a share of them over the next few weeks. What action is she taking to make sure they are genuine asylum seekers, not terrorists, and that younger asylum seekers are not radicalised?

Mrs May: In relation to the refugees we are accepting from Syria and to people claiming asylum here, of course we carry out the necessary security checks when considering claims. That is an important part of the process. In terms of children or minors coming to live in the UK as unaccompanied asylum seekers, my answers to hon. Members about radicalisation are important. It is important that we promote the mainstream voices and cohesion within communities that can help provide the resilience against radicalisation.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): How does the Home Secretary respond to the claim made by President Putin that Daesh is funded by 40 countries, including members of the G20? Do not the Government and the Opposition deserve the nation’s congratulations on their restrained, measured response to these terrible events? Do the Government now fully embrace the notion that hearts and minds can never be won over by bombs and bullets?

Mrs May: What lies behind the terrorist attacks and Daesh is a perverted ideology. It is important, as I have said in response to a number of questions this afternoon, that we deal with that perverted ideology. We need to take steps to ensure that our police, our security and intelligence agencies and our Border Force have the powers they need and the ability to keep us safe and secure. What underpins what the terrorists do is that perverted ideology, which is why dealing with that ideology—confronting and challenging it—is so important.

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Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that, if re-elected, he would seek to tag electronically all those on the extremist watch list. Has the Secretary of State considered doing the same thing in this country?

Mrs May: In respect of anyone who is a matter of interest to the police, law enforcement or security agencies, a number of powers and measures are available. For those planning or seeking to undertake terrorist attacks, of course, we have strong counter-terrorism legislation here in the United Kingdom, and I think everyone would agree that the best place for a terrorist is, after prosecution, behind bars.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Home Secretary understand that the Prime Minister will not get a consensus for increased military intervention unless and until he comes to the public and to this House with a plan involving increased diplomatic, development and military options? When can we see some leadership? The right hon. Lady says that the UK will stand with France. When will this happen?

Mrs May: I find the hon. Gentleman’s question a little confusing: we do stand with France and we have stood alongside France. We have been providing France with assistance and co-operation in these matters, and we continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman mentions the issue of whether the UK will take part in military action in Syria. The Prime Minister has been very clear that if and when he comes to this House in relation to such matters, it will be on the basis of a consensus.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): From Beirut to Paris, and not forgetting the explosion on the Russian Metrojet plane, it is clear that ISIL/Daesh is looking to take its barbaric battle beyond its hoped-for caliphate. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what steps are being taken to work with the international community, particularly including Arab states, to cut the funding to these terrorist groups and particularly to Daesh?

Mrs May: A group of counter forces has come together in coalition in a whole variety of ways in respect of these matters, including carrying out work to counter the narrative given by Daesh. Our Foreign and Commonwealth Office is playing its part in the coalition of states with that single aim of ensuring that we can defeat Daesh.

Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): Michael O’Connor from South Shields lay on top of his girlfriend in the Bataclan; as shots fired around him and bodies fell, he lay there still, pretending to be dead. Michael’s actions saved both of their lives, and I am sure that the Home Secretary will join me in commending his brave actions. I welcome what she said about the support that the Government are offering to British citizens caught up in the aftermath of the attacks. I would like some confirmation that such support will be extended to those who are temporarily resident in Paris, such as my constituent Michael.

Mrs May: I join the hon. Lady in commending her constituent Michael O’Connor for the action that he took. It is unimaginable to have been in that situation,

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with the shots all around and so many people being killed; the presence of mind that he showed was considerable. As the hon. Lady said, it saved two lives.

I can confirm that the support available to British nationals who have been caught up in this extends to those who are temporarily resident in France.

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): I share my right hon. Friend’s gratitude to our intelligence and security services, but as long as Schengen continues—and I hope that the British Government are actively advocating reform and the end of Schengen, to the extent that that is possible—our security will depend, at least in part, on those on the front line of Europe. What support are the Government giving the intelligence and security agencies on the front-line extremities of Europe to beef up our own security?

Mrs May: As I have said in reply to a number of Members on both sides of the House, the internal borders of Schengen are primarily a matter for the countries that are in Schengen, but the United Kingdom takes very seriously the question of the external borders of the European Union. We have been working to enhance the security of those external borders by, for example, encouraging the proper registration of migrants who are crossing them. We have also supplied resources to Greece in particular, but we have offered resources to Italy as well, to help those countries to deal with the numbers of people crossing the borders, as part of the process of strengthening the security at the external borders, which, as my hon. Friend said, is so important to us.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): The financing of terrorist organisations such as Daesh is essential to their capacity to carry out atrocities of the kind that we witnessed on Friday. What strategy is in place to combat the financing of such groups, both here in the United Kingdom and internationally?

Mrs May: Action is being taken at international level to deal with the financing of such organisations. Daesh took territory that enabled it to access oil supplies, and part of its financing has resulted from that. In the wider context of the funding of terrorism, we take very seriously the existence of links between organised crime, such as kidnappings, and terrorism finances, and we work on that problem not just as the UK but on an international basis.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): The people of Yorkshire have been showing their solidarity with the people of France over the weekend. We made many friends in Paris and beyond when we hosted the Tour de France last summer. May I add my voice to those who have demanded a review of the availability and resourcing of armed rapid response units in our regional towns and cities?

Mrs May: We had previously considered the whole question of the availability and capability of rapid response and armed response vehicles, and over the last five years we have increased capability of both straightforward armed response and specialist counter-terrorism armed response. We are now considering where it is most appropriate for capabilities to sit to ensure that they provide the greatest reassurance and security.

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Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary’s reference to the understandable measures to boost border and aviation security. Are there specific corresponding plans to review railway security in particular, including the role of the transport police and the resources at their disposal?

Mrs May: The increased security arrangements that have been introduced since the attacks in Paris include increased security in relation to rail movements to the continent. That action was taken in conjunction with the French authorities, who were keen for rail travel security to be increased. That is important in continental Europe, as well as being important in terms of the links with the United Kingdom. We assess the capabilities of the British transport police regularly and as part of the post-Mumbai exercise that I mentioned earlier, we have reviewed their capabilities over the last few years. As a result, those capabilities have been increased in this regard.

Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): Vital to upholding our values of freedom and liberty are measures of the sort in the upcoming Investigatory Powers Bill. Of course that Bill must be examined thoroughly and the joint scrutiny Committee will be meeting shortly for the first time. May I ask the Home Secretary what message she would send out today to my colleagues and I serving on that Committee?

Mrs May: I think the message I would send out is that this is a significant Bill. I think it is an important Bill. I think it is crucial that it has the scrutiny that it requires, and I look forward to the report that will come from the joint scrutiny Committee. I commend my hon. Friend and others on agreeing to serve on what I think is going to be a very important Committee doing this significant piece of work.

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): I had the privilege of being invited to attend and speak at the Ahmadiyya Muslim community peace conference in Scotland on Saturday. Not only do they fully contribute to life in Britain, but they raise thousands of pounds each year for British charities. The horrific events of Friday evening in Paris were condemned by all attendees. True Islam is a peace-loving religion and the Ahmadiyyans follow this principle in their daily lives: they believe wholeheartedly in peaceful solutions to all matters.

It is very sad that in today’s world there is a minority of Muslims intent on presenting an alternative image of Islam. The Ahmadiyyan Muslims wish to promote loyalty, freedom, equality, respect and peace, and the motto they live by is “Love for all, hatred for none.” All of us would do well to remember, and try to live by, that motto also.

Mrs May: A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending the Ahmadiyyan mosque in Morden and I have met on a number of occasions with members of the Ahmadiyya community. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: they are a very good example in terms of not just the values they live by, but the practice—the way in which they put those values into practice in working within their local communities.

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Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con): It is clear that as a country we face a growing tension between our desire to be compassionate and welcome those who are genuinely fleeing the violence in Syria and our own safety and security. Since the events on Friday, I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are very concerned about this issue. Please will the Home Secretary reassure my constituents and the country that the safety and security of our own people remain this Government’s No. 1 priority and that they will not be compromised by our desire to welcome refugees?

Mrs May: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that the safety and security of people here in the UK is our No. 1 priority, but that is not in conflict with our desire to ensure that we can welcome into the UK a number of those who have been displaced and affected by the conflict in Syria. We have security arrangements in place to provide proper security checks for those refugees coming from Syria into the UK. It is absolutely right that we do so, and in doing so we can both work to keep people here safe and secure and provide that protection to a number of people who have fled from the conflict in Syria.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): My constituents in Darlington would like me to convey their sympathy and solidarity with the people of Paris after the horrendous events on Friday. We know from experience in France, Denmark and elsewhere that often people who commit these atrocities have served time in prison. I am not convinced that the people who run our prisons know as much about radicalisation in prison—or, indeed, the opportunity for deradicalisation there—as they could. How confident is the right hon. Lady that we are doing all we can in our prisons to prevent radicalisation?

Mrs May: Of course the Prevent duty we have introduced covers prisons as well as other public sector institutions. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice came into his post, he required a review of the provisions for dealing with radicalisation in prisons. That review has, I believe, yet to report, so there is a piece of work ongoing to look at what is happening in prisons. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security will soon be meeting the prisons Minister to talk about exactly these issues, because we do recognise that we need to look at what is happening in prisons and ensure that we are taking every possible step to reduce the potential for radicalisation.

Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con): I was delighted to be able to join many of my constituents this morning in Sutton to observe a minute’s silence and to remember those who had fallen in Paris. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as testing our resilience to a similar attack here in the UK, we must also play a full role in defeating Daesh at its source on either side of the Iraq-Syria border? Does she also agree that it is most important that we continue with our daily way of life, in the full appreciation of the fact that we live in a free and democratic society?

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Mrs May: I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend joined his constituents for the minute’s silence. A minute’s silence was observed in the Home Office and in other Departments this morning, and I joined the French ambassador at the French embassy for the minute’s silence there. My hon. Friend’s point about our way of life is absolutely crucial. If we change our way of life and stop doing the things we normally do, the terrorists will have won. They want to divide us and to attack our very way of life, so it is important that we continue with it.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Over the weekend, a number of my constituents have contacted me with concerns about the adequacy of security arrangements at the port of Hull, which provides a major route into the United Kingdom from northern Europe and particularly from Belgium. Will the Home Secretary undertake to look specifically at the adequacy of the security arrangements at Hull and other sea ports?

Mrs May: We are looking at the security arrangements at all our ports, but I am happy to take away the hon. Lady’s point. If she has any specific concerns, will she please pass them on to the Home Office?

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): I welcome today’s funding announcements, but given that our police officers are the nation’s front line on the ground in responding to and protecting us from these barbaric individuals, will the Home Secretary make the strongest possible case for police funding to be protected in the spending review?

Mrs May: I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that I discuss these matters with the Chancellor, and I am very clear about the important role that policing plays in the life of our nation, and not just in relation to these sorts of matters. I indicated earlier that counter-terrorism and policing grants had been protected. Also, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary has pointed out that police forces can make changes that would enable them to make savings without affecting their ability to respond to matters such as these.

Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): The tragic events of the weekend illustrate yet again that we live in changing times in terms of threats to national security. To that end, I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement of additional security officers and aviation measures. However, given the concerns being expressed by Members, including those on her own Benches, does she agree that a greater investment in policing, security and prevention measures would be far more productive than wasting £167 billion on Trident? That would also give future Governments greater flexibility to react to events.

Mrs May: The hon. Gentleman cannot stand up and say that we need to look after the security of this country and then say that we should be scrapping Trident.

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Point of Order

5.13 pm

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to raise an important constituency matter on the back of a meeting that took place in my constituency last Friday between the Ministry of Defence, the defence contractor QinetiQ and local fishing interests. The meeting was held in the light of an announcement by the MOD of a consultation on the closing of fishing waters in the Minch.

I was assured in the House by the Minister for Defence Procurement, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) on 23 June that there would be a public consultation before the byelaws were published, but that has not happened. I have written today to the Secretary of State and asked him to intervene. With your guidance, Mr Speaker, I would like him to come to the House to make a statement about what has happened. In particular, I am asking for these events to be put on hold while an economic impact assessment is carried out and a project group is set up to look into these matters in the correct manner.

Mr Speaker: I did not hear to which Secretary of State the hon. Gentleman was referring.

Ian Blackford: The Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman. This is not a matter for the Chair, but he has made his point with his usual force and alacrity, and it will have been heard by representatives of the Government sitting on the Treasury Bench. They will choose how to respond. There is an arsenal of parliamentary devices to enable the hon. Gentleman to pursue this matter—if not thoroughly to his satisfaction, then at any rate sufficiently to ensure that he has aired his concerns at every turn.

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Backbench Business

Council of Europe

Mr Speaker: We come now to the motion on membership of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I have selected the manuscript amendment (b) tabled by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), who is in his place. To move the motion, I call Mr Owen Paterson.

5.15 pm

Mr Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House adopts with immediate effect the same system for nomination of its membership of the UK Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as it has for nomination, following party elections, of membership of departmental select committees, and accordingly directs the Speaker not to send the names of its membership of the UK delegation to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly until the nomination of that membership has taken place according to that system.

After the horrors of the weekend and the statement, there will be many looking at this Chamber today and wondering why we are discussing this arcane issue. It is highly appropriate that we do so because the Council of Europe concerns itself with the conduct of 47 different countries and covers human rights, democracy and the rule of law. At the heart of this debate is the perennial tussle between the Executive and the legislature—it is about who really calls the shots.

May I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for enabling this debate to take place at very short notice? We are six months out from the election, and I am sad to report that the UK membership of the delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe lapsed on 7 November because we did not provide a delegation within six months of our general election. The next chance occurs when the Assembly’s Standing Committee meets in Sofia on 27 November, so there is real urgency in having this debate and in ensuring that we come up with a delegation that is selected by appropriate methods.

If, as I hope, this motion is accepted by the House today, it will enable the necessary elections to take place so that that timetable can be kept. I say “necessary” because most parties in this House with representation in the Assembly already choose their members democratically on a basis similar to that for choosing members of departmental Select Committees.

This motion has attracted widespread support across the House. Those who have signed it include five Chairmen of Select Committees and the Chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative Backbenchers, as well as a former Conservative Deputy Chief Whip.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): On that very point, I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) has removed his name from the first motion and instead tabled in his name and the names of other hon. Members amendment (b), which has been selected. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the amendment reflects a good old-fashioned British compromise that should be widely welcomed on both sides of the Chamber?

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Mr Paterson: I thank my hon. Friend for his comment, and I am happy to stand corrected. I got off a plane from France only a couple of hours ago and learned about that amendment, which has interesting merits. I shall wait until my hon. Friend moves his amendment to hear how it will work in practice.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Do I take it from my right hon. Friend’s earlier remarks that, although previously serving members have been told they will not be put back on this committee, no substitute names have yet been put forward? If that is true, it would suggest that it is more about removing certain people than there not being room for them to serve again.

Mr Paterson: My right hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. There is room, because a larger number stood down than were taken off. If I could just make progress, I might explain that point a little later.

The motion should also be helpful to the Government because it will establish beyond doubt that all new members of the new UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will have been chosen by Parliament and not by the Government. The Government are already represented at the Council of Europe in the Committee of Ministers, which is the intergovernmental decision-making body of the 47 member countries. The role of the Parliamentary Assembly by contrast is like that of a departmental Select Committee of this House: it holds the 47 Governments to account for their decisions in relation to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. As I said at the start of my speech, those are the three core competences of the Council of Europe.

The House has only relatively recently begun to elect members of Select Committees. The need to do so evolved over time; and in my view, one of the main catalysts of the current system of election were the attempts by Governments of both persuasions to use the previous system of appointment to exclude those who had criticised their own party. That happened to the late Gwyneth Dunwoody at the hands of a Labour Government, and there was an earlier occasion involving Sir Nicholas Winterton at the hands of a Conservative Government. All Government involvement in appointing members of departmental Select Committees has now ended, and the same should apply to membership of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

It is fair to say that hitherto the Labour party has elected its members while the Conservative party has operated on an informal basis whereby those who wish to be on the Assembly are accommodated, and, without exception, those who are already on the Assembly and wish to be reappointed are so reappointed.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Is that not the unfortunate aspect of this whole affair? Those hon. Members who have been replaced testify that they have been told that they are being replaced because they voted against the Government when it came to such matters as purdah. That must be wrong, and that is the central issue that we must address. That is what they themselves have been told by Front Benchers.

Mr Paterson: Sadly, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I shall come on to that point in a few moments.

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Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I respect my right hon. Friend terribly and have read the motion with a great deal of interest, but after the events of the weekend does he not think that people outside this place will see this debate as somewhat self-indulgent?

Mr Paterson: That is an interesting point, which I touched on in my opening remarks. We had a lengthy statement lasting 90 minutes or so and I have just come back from France myself. People will wonder what we are doing discussing this arcane issue, but the Home Secretary was absolutely spot-on. The mood I experienced in France at the weekend was one of complete determination to carry on with normal business and not to be knocked off course. The Home Secretary was quite right to say that the football international should go ahead, and I think that we are quite right to go ahead with this debate on a Back-Bench motion, discussed by the Backbench Business Committee only last Thursday, arcane though it might be. We have had a good crack at discussing the horrors of the weekend and now we are discussing something fundamental that the people who launched the attacks do not even believe in. Who calls the shots? Is it the legislature or the Executive? There is a constant battle between the two and this tiny vignette continues that tussle.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): Further to his reply to the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), does the right hon. Gentleman not concede that a Parliament that can stand up to Front Benchers and in which Back Benchers can exercise their rights is a Parliament that will answer some of the important questions that have arisen from the events of the weekend far better than one composed of yes-men and women?

Mr Paterson: That was well put and I will not attempt to improve on it.

Of the 12 Conservative members of the PACE from the House of Commons in the last Parliament, four retired at the general election and two others said that they did not wish to continue as members. The remaining six said that they wished to be reappointed, and, in accordance with the precedent, had no reason to believe that that would not happen. As we now have 13 members, that would still have left room for seven additions. At the end of October, however, the Government said that they would not reappoint three of the six who wished to be reappointed because they had voted in September in support of retaining purdah for the EU referendum. That was confirmed in a report in TheDaily Telegraph on 4 November that quoted “Downing Street sources” saying that

“the trio had paid the price for rebelling against the Government”.

Such direct interference by the Government in the process of reappointment is at odds with the previous convention in the UK and is also against the statute of the Council of Europe. Article 25a of the statute of the Council of Europe emphasises that appointments or elections should be by Parliament and not by Government. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) rightly and accurately said during the urgent question on 3 November, correctly quoting article 25a:

“The Consultative Assembly shall consist of Representatives of each Member, elected by its Parliament from among the members thereof, or appointed from among the members of that Parliament, in such a manner as it shall decide”.—[Official Report, 3 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 888.]

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The Prime Minister’s role in announcing to Parliament the members of the UK delegation is purely formal, and before so doing he should consult the parties. This time, there was full consultation with the official Opposition and with other parties but none with the Conservative parliamentary party outside the Government. Why, for example, was there no consultation with the chairman of the 1922 committee of Back Benchers?

The three Members who are being punished for supporting the retention of referendum purdah were backed by the opinion of the independent Electoral Commission, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, and a majority of this House in a vote on 7 September. By penalising the three, the Government seem to be showing that, far from respecting the decision of the House, they resent it. It is peculiarly inappropriate to choose this issue to do so, as the Council of Europe set up the Venice Commission, otherwise known by its full name of the European Commission for Democracy through Law. It is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. It has ruled on the conduct of referendums in guidelines and elsewhere. An analysis of its considerable output indicates that the Government’s stance on purdah in the EU referendum is clearly in breach of the European Commission’s guidelines. Specifically, the Venice Commission’s “Guidelines for Constitutional Referendums at National Level”, published in 2001 at its 47th plenary meeting, clearly states:

“However, the national, regional and local authorities must not influence the outcome of the vote by excessive, one-sided campaigning. The use of public funds by the authorities for campaigning purposes during the referendum campaign proper (ie in the month preceding the vote) must be prohibited.”

As recently as 2005, the Venice Commission built on those guidelines in “Referendums in Europe—an Analysis of the Legal Rules in European States”, which notes that Ireland makes provision for electoral neutrality; that in Portugal, all authorities are required to ensure the strictest impartiality; that Latvia must provide citizens with neutral information; and that the Russian Federation—that well known democracy—has neutrality rules. The UK Government were very much out of line in trying to abandon the purdah rules.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that given that the Council of Europe stands for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, it is a bit strange that the Government should punish people for exercising their right to freedom of expression? They are saying, “As you say what you think, and vote as you do, you can no longer go to an institution that champions those principles.”

Mr Paterson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is even more perverse than that, as for a couple of decades the Venice Commission has promoted the issue of Government neutrality in referendums.

Judges in the European Court of Human Rights are appointed for a seven-year term, which is non-renewable to protect their independence. How can members of PACE from the UK’s governing party express independent opinions in Strasbourg if there is a covert threat that their appointment will not be renewed if they step out of line with the Government’s wishes? Right at the heart of this issue is the question of the separation of powers; that is at the root of the whole debate. What could the Government possibly have to fear in trusting

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Conservative Back Benchers to elect Conservative representatives to the Parliamentary Assembly, as they do for departmental Select Committees?

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I was tempted to raise this as a point of order. My right hon. Friend does not have to go to Europe to get the guidelines on this; he can look at “Erskine May”. On page 265, under the heading “Improper influence”, it says:

“Conduct not amounting to a direct attempt improperly to influence Members in the discharge of their duties but having a tendency to impair their independence in the future performance of their duty may be treated as a contempt.”

In other words, what the Government have done to Members of the House would be treated as contempt of Parliament if it had been done by anybody else in the country.

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his assiduous research. That is a most pertinent point. It is also particularly relevant when one considers the three characters in question, all of whom are established, respected, assiduous Members of this House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), if I may embarrass him first, has been on PACE for 10 years. He is the leader of the European Conservatives Group—a group with members from 17 countries. He sits on the Presidential Committee, which is made up of the President and the five group leaders. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) was Secretary of State for Wales, she guided a referendum so skilfully that none of us even noticed it. She is also Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who sits on the Council’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, has done splendid work highlighting the horrific persecution of centuries-old Christian communities in the middle east.

Dr Julian Lewis: May we take it that, given the eminence and integrity of all three right hon. and hon. Members, there has been no question of any of them having been informed by the Government that their previous service on that body was in any way deficient?

Mr Paterson: No, indeed. They seem to be completely incorruptible and their behaviour impeccable, and they have represented this House well on that parliamentary body, whose job is to hold the 47 Governments to account.

By supporting the motion this evening, the House will be able to tell the Government that the way forward is not for the Government to seek to exercise ever more control through patronage, but to win political arguments through persuasion. We have a great ally in this. The House will be endorsing the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) who, as Leader of the Opposition in 2009, gave a speech called “Fixing Broken Politics”, in which he correctly said:

“If we’re serious about redistributing power from the powerful to the powerless, it’s time to strengthen Parliament so it can properly hold the government to account on behalf of voters.”

He specifically said:

“MPs should be more independent - so Select Committee Chairmen and members should be elected by backbenchers, not appointed by Whips.”

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Very pertinent to today’s debate, he called for

“Parliament to be a real engine of accountability . . . not just the creature of the executive.”

If it is good enough for the Prime Minister, it is good enough for the rest of us.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): When my right hon. Friend introduced the motion, he mentioned all the eminent people who had signed it. He forgot to mention a former Secretary of State who is proposing the motion. Will he confirm that the Conservative party manifesto that we all stood on said that we would increase parliamentary reform in this Session?

Mr Paterson: Indeed. We all stood on that platform, so we are at one with the Prime Minister in his 2009 speech.

This is unfinished business. It is right that the Executive do not appoint members or Chairmen of Select Committees. It is right that we vote today that this House should appoint its representatives to the body that represents 47 Parliaments, holding 47 Governments to account.

5.32 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is straining the ecumenical character of this Chamber to the limit that I am today supporting the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson). In the 20 years that he has been here and the 28 years that I have been here, I think this is the first occasion on which we have been in agreement. He is right. What is at stake here is the continuing reform of Parliament and the movement of power from the Executive to Parliament itself.

I am the longest-serving member of the Council of Europe UK delegation. I became a member in 1997. I am not seeking re-appointment this time for various reasons, but I know well the work of the three Members involved. I was present when they were first nominated and watched with admiration their diligent and effective work on the Council of Europe. The only crime they have committed is that they have been caught in possession of independent ideas, which, as far as the Executive is concerned, is a very serious offence and deserves expulsion from that body.

We should support the motion. We will hear later what the manuscript amendment would be. The Government’s proposed course of action is an outrage and a step backwards for us as a Parliament, because there has been progress—uncertain, faltering progress—in order to reform Parliament. It is the most serious task we have. After the screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal, we have a decade-long task of trying to win back public respect for us as an institution and for us as Members of Parliament. When we appoint people to serve on an international body of such importance, it is absolutely right that we do so in the most democratic way possible. That has not happened with the Conservative delegation.

There is another reason I think we should look at the way in which we can or cannot question the delegation. I believe that we are slipping backwards in our determination to take a firm line on those who offended in an egregious manner when the expenses scandal

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broke. I have seen somebody ennobled in the House of Lords who put in one of the most unlikely claims. I will not mention what it was.

One of the people who is likely to be recommended for appointment in the place of our three hon. Friends was considered by the Committee for Privileges and Conduct in the House of Lords to have offended against the rules. There were two cases—one in 2012 and one in 2014. In 2014, the person involved had forgotten that he had signed an agreement with the Cayman Islands to lobby for it—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of this House. I am quite sure that he will not be using the narrow terms of the motion to talk about the history of any particular person.

Paul Flynn: I accept your judgment, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is just that this appointment is of such importance. Our role at the Council of Europe has been an honourable one over its long history, the reputation of the British Members has always been high and we have often set a fine example to other countries.

The Council of Europe has been very influential. When the former communist countries wanted to become part of Europe, their first step was to become members of the Council of Europe. Standards were insisted on by the Council of Europe to ensure that those countries were brought up to the standards that existed throughout the free Europe of the time. That was a great achievement. The Council of Europe is suffering at the moment because its most important issue is human rights, but a rival institution in the European Union is performing the same task, but with much greater finances.

We must refuse to accept the decision that has been handed down to us by the Government in the name of the Prime Minister. We all know that the Prime Minister is probably not intimately involved in such matters. In practice, it is the Whips who are doing this. They should be defied by this House in the name of reform and in the name of increasing the power of Parliament over the Executive.

5.38 pm

Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): I beg to move manuscript amendment (b), leave out from “adopts” to end and add

“henceforth a system for nomination of its membership of the UK Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe following a General Election reflecting that for nomination of membership of departmental select committees, namely that the House of Commons names be communicated to the Speaker following party elections involving a secret ballot (with each party to seek to reflect in its nominations the same gender representation as in its parliamentary membership, in order to comply with the rules of the Assembly), and for such names to be sent as now by the Speaker to the President of the Assembly; requires that the revised system be implemented in time for the delegation thus nominated to be able to attend the January 2016 part session of the Parliamentary Assembly; and in the interim authorises the Speaker to send now the names of the delegation as set out in the Written Statement of 3 November to the President of the Assembly in order to permit UK participation in the Assembly until then.”.

I am pleased to be able to move amendment (b), which stands in my name and that of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen). In 2009, he and I were

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elected by our respective parties to sit on what became known as the Wright Committee, the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons. That Committee recommended, among other things, the creation of the Backbench Business Committee—the body that enabled this debate to be tabled—and the election of the Chairs and members of Select Committees.

As has been alluded to by other hon. Members, the establishment of the Wright Committee and the election of Select Committees came about when Parliament was at perhaps its lowest ebb, held in deep disdain by the public and the media, and mired in the expenses scandal. I would venture to suggest that it is the election of Select Committees, perhaps more than anything else, that has begun the process of rebuilding the reputation of this House. Select Committees, with their elected Chairs and with members elected by the party groups, have grown in stature, and I think that the House itself has benefited as a result.

I will not concentrate in my brief remarks on why we are having this debate, because I do not want to build on the magisterial introduction given by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), looking at the important work of the Council of Europe and the rules and precedents that surround it. Although I absolutely cleave to the belief that this House should regard itself as sufficiently important, capable and worthwhile to believe that it is obvious that it should choose its representatives, whether on Select Committees or important international bodies such as the Parliamentary Assembly, I tabled this amendment because I am also aware of the dilemma that colleagues might be placed in by the timetable envisaged in the motion. My amendment is an attempt to resolve that difficulty.

My amendment would preserve the principle of election — the principle that this House, rather than the Executive, should choose its representatives on the Parliamentary Assembly and that we should elect them in the same way that we elect Select Committees—but would also accommodate the needs of the timetable for appointment to the Parliamentary Assembly, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire.

Were the motion to be agreed unamended, we would be left with a very short window in which to organise elections and ensure that the right choices made by Members of this House are put forward for representation in the Parliamentary Assembly. Amendment (b) would therefore preserve the principle of election while recognising that we can have an interim period, so that those Members currently proposed by the Government to be members of the Parliamentary Assembly would still go forward. They would therefore meet comfortably the deadline of 27 November for the delegation to be in place, yet we would also have an expectation that elections would take place before the beginning of the January 2016 part-session. That would give us a reasonable timeframe within which to organise and hold those elections.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) kindly described my amendment as a fine British compromise, and I hope that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will see it in that light. I hope that the Government will recognise that this amendment is an attempt to preserve an important principle that is held dear by many Members on both sides of this House, while ensuring that the practicalities of appointment to the Parliamentary Assembly can be accommodated.

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As has been said already, election to Select Committees is a fairly new practice. There were calls for that for many years, but it began only at the beginning of the previous Parliament, in 2010. Few now would advocate returning to a patronage-based system for appointing Select Committees. Were the motion or the amendment to be agreed to, I suspect that the election of the UK delegation would quickly become the norm too.

This House is made up entirely of elected representatives. It would surely be odd if today it rejected the principle that representatives should be elected. Choosing to support the amendment would be the act of a legislature that is becoming more self-confident, more independent and better able to do its job.

5.44 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): I rise to speak as a member of the Council of Europe.

Many people may think it strange that we are having this discussion in the long shadow of the atrocities that we witnessed over the weekend. They might think that it looks like self-indulgent navel-gazing and that we should be talking about the clash between liberty and security, and how to have more light and love and less hatred and darkness. However, if we think of the history of the Council of Europe, which was born out of the clash of steel and fire of the second world war to champion democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and to spread its wings across a map of 47 nations, it is right that we think again about who we select, how we select, and what we are allowed to say.

Against the backcloth of what we find ourselves in, this may be regarded as a very trivial thing, but it is about whether the Government should be allowed to choose or exclude members of the Council of Europe on the basis of how they are whipped in a vote, whatever it may be. With regard to the Members who have been isolated in this way, I do not agree with what they say on a variety of issues, but I agree with their right to say it—or, should I say, their right to be wrong. Unlike some of the Members involved, I am very much a pro-European. I will be voting and campaigning for Britain to stay in Europe because I think that is in all our interests, while some Members are sceptical or anti-European, but that is not really the point. The argument about requiring the Government not to have a voice during the referendum—indeed, at a point where we may have the presidency of the European Union—may seem absurd to many, but this is about free speech and the right to be, in my view, wrong. Obviously other Members put forward their arguments with great sincerity and believe them to be true.

The issue is whether people who feel strongly about something and are willing to put that forward in what they say and vote for should be punished by the Government in order, in essence, to filter the people who are allowed to go the Council of Europe to talk about human rights, democracy and the rule of law so that they are just yes women and men for the Government of the time.

Mr Bone: If the hon. Gentleman did something domestically that the Labour party did not like, it could not remove him from his position. Is that not the crux of the matter? We need to have elected representatives in the Council of Europe, and once elected they must do what they think is right and not be looking over their shoulders.

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Geraint Davies: I felt too polite to make the obvious point that Labour is already embracing these democratic principles and trying to evolve democracy in the Conservative party. I welcome the opportunity to mention that. The hon. Gentleman is right—there is a free election within the parliamentary Labour party.

We are meant to go to the Council of Europe not as representatives of the Government—there are Ministers to do that job—but as parliamentarians. In the exchanges of Back Benchers from across the nations there is a different sort of dialogue going on whereby we can suggest, “Why don’t we do this in our Parliament and your Parliament?”, and begin a campaign. Those in positions of power may be conservative with a small “c” in terms of change or may not want to cross-fertilise culturally in terms of policy, but these sorts of forums enable us to move forward on human rights through free thinking, freedom of expression, and new ideas. For Governments here and elsewhere to constrain that so that it basically duplicates the meetings of Heads of Government would defeat the object of the Council of Europe in many respects.

My view of some of the people we are talking about, strangely enough, is that they are often the difficult, open-minded and self-opinionated people whom the Government wanted to put into exile in Strasbourg but who are now making their contribution in a wider forum, regrouping and coming back with perhaps stronger views. Personally, I do not agree with their views, but this is clearly a public punishment of Back Benchers who dare to have enlightened thoughts and support freedom of expression. Without further ado, I am happy to support amendment (b).

5.50 pm

Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I guess I have to declare an interest: for my sins, I appear to be, at least for the moment, the leader-designate of the delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Geraint Davies: Resign!

Sir Roger Gale: I might do that at the end of my speech, but give me five minutes!

I should also say, just in case anybody thinks otherwise, that, as far as I can see, I will have no gain and a lot of grief if I take the job. If I am asked to do something, I have a tendency to say that I will do it to the best of my ability, and that is what I will do. I have some experience, including nearly 20 years as a member of the Panel of Chairs and a couple of days in the big Chair. With the help of friends, I am sure we can create a satisfactory delegation, if we are allowed to do so.

I do not want to dwell on the background to this debate. My personal view, for what it is worth, is that neither side, if I can put it that way, has covered itself in glory. I certainly think that the Whips Office made a pig’s ear of it, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who is a genuine friend of mine, ignored Denis Healey’s first rule of holesmanship, which is that if you are in one, stop digging. That made it harder for those of us who were trying to broker an agreement between an immovable object and an irresistible force. However, we are where we are.

It is in sorrow rather than in anger that I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who moved the motion, that if it goes

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through as it stands, it will be a complete dog’s breakfast that will leave our relationship with the Council of Europe in the mire. It quite clearly was not thought through by my right hon. Friend or those who signed it. When I telephoned the chairman of the 1922 Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), on Thursday and asked him, “Do you actually know what this is going to do?”, he was very candid and said, “No.” We had a constructive conversation, the product of which—I am deeply grateful to him for it—is amendment (b). I hope, at the very least, that the House will accept it, even though it would not do what I want to do.

Let me go back to the effect the motion will have if it is carried as it stands. The list approved by Mr Speaker has to be in Strasbourg by no later than this Friday, 20 November. That does not mean downstream or by the end of the month—it means by the end of this week. If it is not in by then, we will not have a delegation—at least not until January, but I will come to that in a moment. There is, therefore, a sense of urgency.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire was right to say that there was a delay, but to be fair to the Government—although I have no reason to be fair to them—we waited, understandably and reasonably, for the Labour party to have its leadership election and for it to apportion high office positions so that others could then be elected to the Council of Europe. That led to a huge delay and in my view there has been an inordinate delay since then, too.

If we do not submit our nomination in time for the Bureau, which will be held in Sofia on 26 November, and the Presidential Committee, which will approve committees on 27 November, none of the work that should take place during December and January will be able to take place. That includes work in Paris, and we really need to be in Paris after what happened over the weekend. Those of us who have served on the Council of Europe have good friends there, and we want to see them and reassure them. We want them to know that we are not running away and that we will be there alongside them and supporting them.

The committee on culture, science, education and media, which is vital, will meet on 3 and 4 December. It is a pity that the Press Gallery is empty, because those who have criticised the Council of Europe need to recognise that we, including the sub-committee that I chair, do a huge amount of work in defence of the freedom of the rights of journalists internationally. We fight for those in prison.

On 7 December, the political affairs committee will meet in Brussels, and that is important. On 8 December, the legal affairs committee will meet in Paris. The monitoring committee, which is one of the key committees of the Council of Europe, will meet in Paris on 9 December. On 10 December, the procedure committee will meet in Paris. On 13 and 14 December—Members should bear it in mind that if the motion goes through, we will have no delegation—the Presidential Committee and the Bureau will meet here in London. The meeting will take place in this building—we are hosting it. We are going to look pretty stupid as a nation if we do not have a delegation to host it. Mr Speaker is probably aware of this by now, but he will host a reception in Speaker’s House at the end of that meeting. On 15 December, the migration committee will meet in Paris. That is important, particularly given what is happening at the moment. On 14 January,

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which is before the plenary part-session, the committee on the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights will meet, and that is very important indeed.

I say as gently as possible to my right hon. Friend that a raft of work needs to be done between now and the next plenary session. I have already been prevented from completing a report for the monitoring committee on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, because we had no delegation and therefore no members, so I could not go. Other colleagues have found themselves in the same boat.

I am not opposing the principle of election; it applies to Select Committees and that is fine by me. However, if we are going to do that—this is why I tabled my amendment, which has not been selected—I want to give the process a little time so that we can do the job properly. I served on the Procedure Committee and we considered how members of every single Select Committee and the Deputy Speakers and Speaker should be elected.

Paul Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Roger Gale: Let me just finish this point. We made recommendations, only one of which—I will not say which one—was rejected. All the rest went through. The issue under discussion was never raised at that time and we have to ask ourselves why not. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the NATO committee were not mentioned either. They are not on the agenda of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire, in spite of the fact that one very senior member of the NATO committee has also been removed from his position. That may have escaped my right hon. Friend’s notice, but it is true.

If we are to do this properly—and we should—I would have preferred the issue first to be referred to the Procedure Committee so that it could give a proper recommendation on the Council of Europe, the OSCE and NATO. That could then have been approved by the House in time for the election of a full delegation for the next session in 2017.

I am told there is fear that the Government would block that process. I do not believe that to be the case and I hope my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to give a clear assurance—she might not—that, were we to go down the route of the Procedure Committee and do the job properly, the Government would not stand in the way of its findings. If we did that, I think we would do a better job.

I can and will work with whatever is foisted upon me this afternoon. If it is the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West, we will work with that as best we can. However, if it is the original motion, I fear it will fail the House.

5.59 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Dr Thérèse Coffey): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister issued a written ministerial statement confirming the agreed names of the UK delegation on Tuesday 3 November. The credentials of the current delegation expired on 6 November, six months after the general election, and there is now no UK delegation. The only way to ensure that there is a serving delegation quickly is to transmit the credentials for consideration by the Standing Committee

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on 27 November. As we have heard, it would prefer to have the credentials a week in advance, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) has already mentioned the date of 20 November.

The longer the delay continues, the more the problem is exacerbated. A failure to submit the delegation’s credentials in time for ratification at the Assembly’s next Standing Committee will mean that delegation members will be unable to participate in Assembly business until at least the next plenary part-session at the end of January.

Paul Flynn: Will the Minister give way?

Dr Coffey: It is probably best if I try to inform the House of the Government’s position, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me.

The absence of the UK delegation will be most keenly felt in the work of the Assembly’s committees, as well as in preventing participation in key decision making during this period. As has been said, the UK Government do not and cannot represent the Assembly delegation. Consequently, we will be without a voice. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet has set out some of the other meetings in more detail.

Even those with sympathy for the principles of the motion should recognise that the UK parliamentary delegation is not a Select Committee of the House. The Council of Europe has certain guidelines to provide that a delegation is a fair representation of Parliament. In meeting those guidelines, we have consistently ensured that the delegation has had appropriate political balance, has members from both Houses and MPs from every nation of the United Kingdom, and has fulfilled the criteria on gender balance.

Paul Flynn: When there was a vacancy for the leader of the Labour delegation some years ago—the leader of the majority party’s delegation is the leader of the entire delegation—a vote was held between Lord Prescott and Chris McCafferty. Will the Minister explain to the House how the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) was chosen as the leader-designate not only of the Conservative delegation but of the entire delegation? How does that process work—is it election or appointment?

Dr Coffey: Given that the Conservatives have a majority in the House of Commons, I believe that the decision was made by the Prime Minister as leader of the Conservative party. I am not privy to all the ins and outs of how Labour Members decide who they select or appoint to various Committees or Assembly delegations. I do not know about the election to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I am not aware that it was an election of the whole House. On his logic, it probably should have been, given that the whole House elects Committee Chairs. I am aware that the Labour delegation was uncontested within the parliamentary Labour party in 2010, but I do not know what happened this year.

I have outlined how the Council of Europe has certain guidelines and demonstrated how we have met them. As a consequence, I believe that the delegation is perfectly in order. The delegation has been chosen in this way for many years, and we believe that this is still the right way to nominate the parliamentary delegation, as it is not a Select Committee. I should remind right

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hon. and hon. Members that we also have parliamentary delegations to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, NATO and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which is meeting today. The UK and this Parliament are at risk of losing influence at an important time.

The Government do not support the motion. I therefore encourage my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) to seek the leave of the House to withdraw the motion, or not to give voice to the motion at the end of the debate. I encourage my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) to do the same with regard to his amendment.

6.3 pm

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): I will be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the Government, in a system without the separation of powers, choose to use their dominance against the legislature, one of the things they are very good at is making very important issues of principle into trivial or procedural matters. This is painted as an introverted, esoteric issue about the Council of Europe. I have no interest whatsoever in the Council of Europe, and I do not ever wish to be on the Council of Europe delegation, but God bless those who do. The question at the heart of the issue could not, however, be more significant—whether Members of the House can elect their own delegates and do so in a secret ballot, rather than letting Front Benchers decide who is to represent the House of Commons on such organisations. The use of a secret ballot in an open franchise is as fundamental an issue as one can get.

On the back of that, I want to make a short and simple point. There are many new Members in the House, several of whom on my side of the House or on both sides of the House may think that having a secret ballot must surely have been the tradition of the House for 50, 100 or 200 years. No, the idea that Members are capable enough of electing their own members of Select Committees—such as you, Madam Deputy Speaker, who served with great distinction on the Select Committee that I chaired in the last Parliament—is six years old. The fact that we can do that and that Select Committee Chairs can themselves be elected in a secret ballot, within the main parties or within all parties in this Parliament, has been part of our environment only for about five years.

My anxiety is that if we do not hold the line on this issue, there could well be slippage back to the days when a particular important person, the independent-minded Chair of the Social Security and Health Committees, Sir Nicholas Winterton was eased out—in fact, rather publicly pushed out—by his side. On my side of the House, one of the most distinguished Select Committee Chairs, Gwyneth Dunwoody, had to fight, hanging on by her fingernails, to the Chair that she had made such an important part of this House. If I may say so, what had hitherto been rather a backwater, the Transport Committee, became one of the key places in which issues were fought out in the House. We could return to those days very quickly unless colleagues in all parties hang on to the principle that they can elect their own representatives.

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Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): The hon. Gentleman was part of the original constitutional Select Committee, the Wright Committee, which recommended that all Committees of this House should be elected. Does this whole incident not demonstrate that not only should such European committees be elected by the House, but House Committees should be elected as well?

Mr Allen: That is absolutely right. We have already seen slippage. I will not go into any detail, but the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was abolished by Government Front Benchers who decided that they did not want it to continue with some of its work. We have seen stalling for six years on the creation of a House business Committee, to which all parties said they would sign up. We are now seeing an erosion of the principle that the secret ballot should rule when we appoint colleagues in the House to representative positions outside it. This is an area of very great concern. It should concern Members of independent mind and none. Members should hold the line on this very significant issue. It has been painted as trivial, but it is actually one of the most fundamental things a Parliament can discuss.

6.8 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who has expressed exactly why this debate is so important and who has consistently put Parliament first.

I have come across the Council of Europe on only two occasions. One was early on when the deputy Chief Whip said to me, “Peter, we’d rather like you to go to the Council of Europe.” Then I found out why: it was not because I would be a star on the Council of Europe, but because I would be sent away from this House and not be aggravating the Whips. May I suggest that some of the Members who have now been removed were put there for that reason?

The principle is not the fact that three Members, who would by convention have been reappointed, have now been removed. That is not the reason why I am supporting the amendment so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady)—not the original motion, although my name appears on it. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) that, in practical terms, if the main motion were passed it would be difficult to get our delegation in place quickly enough, and there would be a gap. That is why we should all support our amendment.

The amendment is a sensible compromise—we would get our delegation appointed tomorrow, effectively, because Mr Speaker has said that he wants to know the will of the House before submitting the names, and then we would have elections next year. That would solve the problem.

I return to the simple point that we are talking about the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It is not the Ministers who sit on it: it is parliamentarians. It represents this House, so this House must choose. The delegation should not be appointed by the Executive. This is clearly House business and not party political. I am sure that when we vote the Government will do what

16 Nov 2015 : Column 423

they have done with so many Backbench business motions and ask the payroll vote to abstain, letting Members who are not part of the Executive express their view on what is clearly a House matter.

Mr Graham Brady: Given that my hon. Friend has kindly indicated that he is transferring his support from the main motion to amendment (b), does he share my concern that the Minister only advanced reasons not to support the main motion? I have yet to hear an argument, from those on the Front Bench or elsewhere, why amendment (b) would be a problem.

Mr Bone: I am grateful for that intervention. The Minister rightly explained why the original motion would not work, but she did not want to express an opinion on the amendment because it is not something on which the Government should express an opinion. They will stay out of it and let Members, especially Conservatives, make up their own minds.

I pay tribute to the Council of Europe. When I was chairman of the all-party parliamentary group against human trafficking, it was not the European Union promoting reform: it was the Council of Europe. The original convention on the rights of people against human trafficking was a Council of Europe convention, representing 47 countries. I remember arguing from the Opposition Benches that the then Labour Government should ratify it.

This is not a minor matter: it is important. It is about parliamentary democracy, and is in line with what the Prime Minister said so eloquently in his fixing politics speech. The amendment is also in line with my party’s manifesto and, more importantly, supporting it is the right thing to do.

6.13 pm

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I am a little embarrassed to interrupt this—what can we call it—family argument or lovers tiff. I cannot concur that debates on the inner workings of the Conservative party are the best way to use valuable time in this Chamber, but I welcome Conservative Back Benchers’ newfound belief in democracy. I just think that they should go further and give the public more of a say in important issues. The irony cannot be lost on Tory MPs that they are arguing here to give themselves a vote on electing delegates to the Council of Europe while their peers in the other place are voting to deny 16 and 17-year-olds a vote on the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Of course, those Conservative Members who are arguing for democracy are correct—that almost goes without saying. I am not as polite as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who is no longer in his place. In the Labour party, we appoint our delegates through elections and we have an excellent set of representatives to show for it. We are happy to see changes made if other parties wish to adopt our system.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is meant to be made up of parliamentary representatives, not Government representatives. Delegates must either be elected or appointed in a way decided by Parliament—neither of which has happened here. Instead, it is clear to everyone that the Prime Minister is simply punishing

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those Members who disagree with him. That is no way to go about selecting representatives for our country. The Assembly is, after all, meant to be a representation of Europe’s Parliaments, not a group of those in the good books of Europe’s Prime Ministers and Presidents.

The situation is becoming embarrassing for the UK. The Standing Committee for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council Europe will meet at the end of this month, as has been mentioned, and we still do not have a representative. That means that the UK could be unable to make a contribution when the rest of Europe is debating refugees and migrants, justice and human rights, tackling violence against women and other major issues facing the continent. The UK needs to have a seat at the table when the Assembly is deciding on policies that will affect our country, but once again the internal squabbles of the Conservative party are weakening the UK’s voice in Europe. The Government have had months to sort this out: instead, they have created this unnecessary mess. The Government need to sort out this disagreement with their MPs before it damages our place at the table in Europe.

6.16 pm

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): How wonderful it is to observe at close quarters the development and progress of democracy. When I was only an engineer, I used to think that the development of high principle happened through careful thought and gentle means well in advance; I wonder now whether democracy is actually often advanced through the irritation of those in power when their rights are trespassed on by those in higher office.

Of course, these circumstances bear no relation to the great events of 800 years ago, in which a tyrant imposed his will on self-interested barons, out of which emerged Magna Carta. Today, we wish to uphold a principle that the House has already accepted: that we elect our own representatives in matters that are not Government business.

I accept that the original motion, which I signed, involves a little of the revolutionary fervour of 800 years ago. I have been persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady) to dampen down that revolutionary fire and accept his compromise amendment. If my revolutionary spirit had not been dampened down sufficiently, my hon. Friend the Minister would have quenched it completely. In endorsing amendment (b), therefore, I hope that the Government will also support it wholeheartedly so that we do not have to have a Division. In the event that we do, I will certainly vote for amendment (b) and encourage colleagues to do so also.

6.18 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): How sad it is that we find ourselves in this position, in large part because certain Ministers decided to punish individuals who sat on the Council of Europe for voting with their consciences on key issues. It is as simple as that. We have heard from the individuals themselves that that reason for their removal has been described to them. We have had no denials from Front Benchers on that point, so we do not have to rely on reports in The Daily Telegraph and hearsay: we know why this has happened, and it is a great shame that it has.

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We should remind ourselves that we are talking about the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It should be up to Parliaments to elect, by whatever means they deem fit and sensible, their representatives to the Council of Europe. But here we have this ludicrous tussle between the Executive and the legislature. Ministers have dug a hole; they would now be best advised to stop digging and accept amendment (b), to resolve the situation.

We must come back to the fundamental principle in relation to parliamentarians and Back Benchers on issues of this sort. The Council of Europe, 47 nations coming together, expects its parliamentary assemblies to be made up of Back Benchers who are elected by each other and are able to express their views. We should remind ourselves that that is what the Council of Europe is about. That is how the vast majority of other parliamentary assemblies go about their business. We need to catch up with that fundamental principle in relation to the Executive and the legislature, particularly when Ministers decide to punish individuals for expressing views against the Government.

This matter is about the Council of Europe, but it is also about something much bigger: getting the right balance between the Executive and the legislature. We have an opportunity to take a small step forward in that direction this evening, which is why I encourage the House to support amendment (b), tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady).

6.20 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I am very grateful to be called so late in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker.

For the benefit of the House, I want to place on the record, as a member of the Backbench Business Committee, that the application for the debate came to us in a cross-party manner. It was not presented purely by Government Members; it was a cross-party application. That should be put on the record clearly from the point of view of the Backbench Business Committee.

6.21 pm

Mr Paterson: We have had a most interesting debate. I endorse those last comments: Members from six parties, I think, signed the original motion.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) made some very interesting comments. I do not entirely accept his gloomy view that it is impossible to organise a swift election at short notice—given the competence of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady), I think an election could be put forward very rapidly—but he made sensible and practical points about all the important work being undertaken down the road at the Council of Europe. It is not good that the UK is currently not represented.

As the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said, we have clearly won the point. It is appropriate for Governments to appoint Ministers to a body representing 47 Governments, but Parliaments should elect the delegates to a parliamentary body that exists to scrutinise and hold to account 47 Governments.

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I learnt about amendment (b), tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale West, only as I got off an aeroplane at lunchtime. I sense it has some support across the House. We are not clear on what the Government are going to do. I will wait and see whether my hon. Friend is prepared to press his amendment to a Division. It is probably our best chance for a sensible compromise to keep the delegation doing the important work that my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet requests and to give us a proper election system down the road.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 34, Noes 171.

Division No. 122]


6.23 pm


Afriyie, Adam

Allen, Mr Graham

Baron, Mr John

Blackman, Bob

Blunt, Crispin

Brady, Mr Graham

Burrowes, Mr David

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Sir William

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Crausby, Mr David

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

Flynn, Paul

Gray, Mr James

Hermon, Lady

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Lamb, rh Norman

Leigh, Sir Edward

Lewis, rh Dr Julian

Lucas, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pursglove, Tom

Redwood, rh John

Rees-Mogg, Mr Jacob

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Stringer, Graham

Turner, Mr Andrew

Vickers, Martin

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wragg, William

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Steve Baker


Mr Peter Bone


Andrew, Stuart

Atkins, Victoria

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Berry, James

Bingham, Andrew

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, rh James

Buckland, Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Sir Simon

Burt, rh Alistair

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Chalk, Alex

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Colvile, Oliver

Costa, Alberto

Crabb, rh Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, Byron

Davies, Dr James

Davies, Mims

Dinenage, Caroline

Dowden, Oliver

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drummond, Mrs Flick

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Graham

Evennett, rh Mr David

Fallon, rh Michael

Fernandes, Suella

Foster, Kevin

Frazer, Lucy

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, rh Sir Edward

Gauke, Mr David

Ghani, Nusrat

Gibb, Mr Nick

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Chris

Green, rh Damian

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, rh Robert

Hall, Luke

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, rh Matthew

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, rh Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Hayes, rh Mr John

Hinds, Damian

Hoare, Simon

Hollinrake, Kevin

Hopkins, Kris

Howlett, Ben

Hurd, Mr Nick

Javid, rh Sajid

Jayawardena, Mr Ranil

Jenkyns, Andrea

Jenrick, Robert

Johnson, Boris

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kennedy, Seema

Kirby, Simon

Lancaster, Mark

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lumley, Karen

Mackintosh, David

Mak, Mr Alan

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Mrs Maria

Milling, Amanda

Milton, rh Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, rh Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Murray, Mrs Sheryll

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Offord, Dr Matthew

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Parish, Neil

Patel, rh Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Pow, Rebecca

Pugh, John

Quin, Jeremy

Raab, Mr Dominic

Rudd, rh Amber

Rutley, David

Sandbach, Antoinette

Scully, Paul

Shapps, rh Grant

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simpson, rh Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Solloway, Amanda

Soubry, rh Anna

Spencer, Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Throup, Maggie

Timpson, Edward

Tolhurst, Kelly

Tomlinson, Justin

Tracey, Craig

Truss, rh Elizabeth

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Wallace, Mr Ben

Warman, Matt

Wharton, James

Whately, Helen

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, rh Mr John

Williams, Craig

Williamson, rh Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, rh Jeremy

Tellers for the Noes:

Margot James


George Hollingbery

Question accordingly negatived.

16 Nov 2015 : Column 427

16 Nov 2015 : Column 428

Main question put and negatived.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As someone who does not follow the interminable petty disputes within the Conservative party—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman. People should not be speaking behind the Chair.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for a second chance. For those of us who do not follow the lovers tiffs within the Conservative party, will you explain which wing of the Conservative party actually won that vote?

Madam Deputy Speaker: No, I cannot explain that to the hon. Gentleman; I think he knows, like the rest of the House, that, very fortunately, that is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr Graham Allen: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it possible for the Chair to inform the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that he would have better understood how to vote and what the discussion was about, had he attended the debate—rather than coming in two minutes before the end?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Very fortunately, the matter of Members being in the Chamber or not is also not for the Chair. On a point of information, however, I should say that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) was here for a fair amount of the debate, so I am sure he understood as well as anyone.

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6.37 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I beg to move—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Members are being exceedingly discourteous to the hon. Gentleman, who is trying to move the motion.

Mr Burrowes: I beg to move,

That this House supports the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality, as set out in the relevant Security Council Resolutions and the High Level Agreements; endorses the Declaration of the European Parliament of 14 February 2012 on the return of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants; notes that the city of Famagusta in the Republic of Cyprus was captured by the invading Turkish forces in August 1974, that a section of Famagusta was then sealed off and remains uninhabited, under the direct control of the Turkish military, and that the return of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants would facilitate efforts toward a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem; further notes the 1979 High Level Agreement and UN Security Council Resolutions 550 (1984) and 789 (1992) and the 2008 Report of the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament on Petition 733/2004; calls on the government of Turkey to act according to those UN Security Council Resolutions and Report Recommendations and return Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants, who must resettle under conditions of security and peace; urges the Government, as a guarantor power of Cyprus, to promote Turkey’s cooperation; and directs the Speaker to forward this Resolution to President Nicos Anastasiades, Mr Mustafa Akinci, the UN Secretary General and the government of Turkey.

The massacre in Paris is rightly dominating public and parliamentary attention, so the question might be asked, “Why is a motion about Cyprus being debated today?” I could reply with a phrase commonly used by many of my Cypriot constituents: why not? In fact, Cypriots have been asking why not for more than 40 years, since the occupation and division of Cyprus in 1974. Why not justice for Cyprus? Other divided and occupied countries have seen freedoms over those 40 or so years, but Cyprus remains one of the longest-running unresolved issues in British foreign policy.

This issue matters to my constituents because I represent the most Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish, in the world. I am proud to represent them, but it is sad that nowhere else in the world do so many Greek and Turkish Cypriots live freely side by side, working, socialising and trading with each other—in my constituency, they live together along Green Lanes, but in Cyprus they are divided by the green line.

Cyprus remains one of the most militarised places per head of population anywhere in the world. When we think of the current conflicts around the world, that is an extraordinary fact. When we note the tens of thousands of Turkish troops in the north of Cyprus, we have to ask ourselves why this is continuing, day after day, year after year. We know that Cyprus is a member of the European Union, yet it is tragically and intolerably divided and occupied. That provides the context of the motion before us today.

Why should consideration of this issue fall to this particular Parliament? As we know, Britain has a significant historical interest in Cyprus, as well as a legal interest as one of the guarantor powers. In recent months and days, Cyprus stands as an obvious strategic interest,

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given its location in a troubled region, and it is home to sovereign base areas that are significant for the wider world. We know, too, that RAF Tornados are based there, conducting operations, and there might be further ones to come.

Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward this important debate. He mentions Dhekelia and Akrotiri as the sovereign base areas, and he will know that previous Cypriot Governments, if not the current one, were very keen to get their hands on those sovereign base areas. To what extent does my hon. Friend think attention is taken away from those areas by the current conflict between the Turkish and Cypriot sides? Once that is resolved, which I hope it soon will be, does he fear that attention might refocus on Dhekelia and Akrotiri?

Mr Burrowes: I should declare an interest as a member of the Conservative Friends of Cyprus, which recently visited the country, returning at the weekend. Cyprus has a Conservative President, President Anastasiades, who has taken a very sensible view of the sovereign base areas. Indeed, an important agreement was reached with the British Government on appropriate property development to support Cyprus on the road to economy recovery. This was a very pragmatic and appropriate use of those base areas, showing a keen understanding of the ongoing strategic interests of those base areas for wider security in the region. I think Cyprus is in good hands, and we hope for a comprehensive settlement, which, together with our ongoing strategic interest, could make Cyprus a beacon to other nations, providing the stability the region needs so much.

This House has conducted a number of debates on Cyprus, many of which were secured by me and by other hon. Members whom I see here. What makes this particular debate different is that we have a substantive motion, and I would like to thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to it. The basis of the motion is, in many ways, public support, with a petition signed by 50,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots being presented to the Prime Minister back in 2012. It follows up the declaration of the European Parliament of 14 February 2012, calling for the return of Famagusta. If such a motion can be good for the European Parliament, it can certainly be good for our British Parliament.

We often say in this place that our debates are timely. That is certainly true of the motion before us—not just because six of my hon. Friends who are in their places today have just returned from a visit with the Conservative Friends of Cyprus, but because the two leaders of Cyprus are undertaking an intense period of negotiation this month to reach a settlement to the Cyprus problem.

Our meetings with both Greek and Turkish Cypriots revealed an encouraging positive approach to the talks. Indeed, Ambassador Andreas Mavroyiannis, the Greek Cypriot negotiator, described it as the “best chance ever”. Very pertinently, he said that if we do not succeed now, “we may never succeed”. That echoes the Foreign Secretary’s remarks a couple of months ago, who also has great timing as I understand he will be visiting Cyprus on Thursday. He said that the stars were “optimistically aligned” to create the chance for a settlement, the like of which we have not seen in decades. I thus

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look forward to hearing the Minister affirming the Government’s support for the comprehensive settlement, which we need as soon as possible.

Why the particular focus of this motion on Famagusta? The reason is all too clear, as it was to my hon. Friends who were in Cyprus on Saturday and saw for themselves, as I did, very visible on the beach of Famagusta the fenced-off area of Varosha.

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I declare an interest, too, because I accompanied my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on the recent trip to Cyprus. Famagusta has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and they would play a strong part in the economy. I know that because my constituents in South East Cornwall also have some beautiful beaches. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging both sides to come to an agreement so that we do not see these beaches divided by a dreadful barrier, with part of Famagusta being a ghost town?

Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend speaks with some experience about tourism and the beautiful coastlines that benefit from it. She is right so say how important it is that Famagusta, which previously generated 53% of Cyprus’s tourism, should no longer be a ghost town— a sharp contrast in what was the jewel of the Mediterranean. Every day that Famagusta remains as it is is a day of injustice, which is why we must not tolerate it. While we appropriately recognise and support the comprehensive settlement, we must recognise that Famagusta and its return is a key element in facilitating such a settlement.

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate; I know how hard he fights for his Cypriot constituents, whether they be of Turkish or Greek heritage. Does he agree with me that Famagusta is a visible reminder that Cyprus is the only EU country occupied by a foreign power—Turkey—and that we cannot allow Turkey to accede to the EU until it withdraws from Cyprus?

Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend has been a champion of these causes over a number of years. The Famagustans in the Public Gallery are acutely aware of that very fact. They, along with 40,000 others, fled their town. They recognise that they have lost not only their town but their freedom and justice. We all recognise that this is a scar on Europe—a scar that must be sorted out, sooner rather than later. It is the visible reality of a divided, occupied island that stands out, but it also offers the hope and opportunity to provide credibility for a settlement.

That is recognised by all the communities who formed the basis for the motion by signing the petition. Together, they recognise the importance of this act of justice. They have called for the two UN Security Council resolutions 550 and 780 to be properly fulfilled. Sadly, Turkey has ignored that. I invite the Minister to let us know what steps have been taken to ensure that we get co-operation from Turkey. We must see co-operation to ensure that this comprehensive settlement is truly credible and will have a reality. Britain has a key role to play in securing it, and providing assurance about the safety and security that everyone wants.

The return of Famagusta was described during our visits as a game-changer.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab) rose

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Mr Burrowes: Before I explain why it is a game-changer, I give way to the hon. Lady.

Catherine West: I thank the hon. Gentleman and congratulate him and his colleagues on securing this debate. Does he agree that there is a lot of cross-party support for a deal, and that we could indeed bring about the very moment when both sides come together, extending the arm of friendship and gaining a great deal of support in the region for a settlement? Does he also agree that it is good that the Cabinet Secretary has twice visited Cyprus over the last 12 months, which must also be a positive step?

Mr Burrowes: Those are all very positive steps. What we also need is to provide a reality to the agreements, given that they have been reached in the past but without meeting the approval of the public on both sides. One key way of making an agreement a reality is through Famagusta. We cannot get away from Famagusta, which is the subject of this motion. It matters. Opening the ports, run jointly by both Greek and Turkish Cypriots under the supervision of the EU or the UN, would dramatically help to support, financially, a reunited Cyprus.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): I am the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and I have just returned from a visit to the area with other members of the group. While we were there, we met the President, Mr Akinci, and other politicians, including the Prime Minister. They seemed very optimistic that there would be a deal and settlement very shortly. We also met and discussed these matters with the British ambassador in Cyprus. I understand that the issue of Varosha is very much part of the discussions that have taken place there, and I sensed from the discussions in which I engaged that it was hoped that, sooner rather than later, there would be a settlement of some kind.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. The hon. Lady will have plenty of opportunities to make a speech later: the Labour Benches are not overpopulated. It is bad form to make a very long intervention.

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. As she said, and as we observed ourselves during our visit, there is real positivity among both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. I had visited the area many times before, but on this occasion there was clearly genuine support for Mr Akinci and Prime Minister Anastasiades, who were making good progress. We should wish them the very best in their endeavours.

It is also important for us to note the role of Turkey, and the need for proper co-operation. Turkey’s opening up of ports is a good sign. If Turkey removed its troops from the island and recognised the Ankara protocol and the customs union—which would result from the opening up of the port of Famagusta—that would allow proper recognition of the need for free movement of goods and trade, and would remove obstacles from Turkey’s path to accession to the European Union. Those are all important aspects of the proper, comprehensive settlement that would provide reassurance.

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Mrs Sheryll Murray: During our visit, we saw churches desecrated and graves robbed. Does my hon. Friend not think that a settlement would help the people of Cyprus to rebuild religious tolerance and understanding in all the communities on the island?

Mr Burrowes: I agree. There is much sadness on what is a beautiful island. There are humanitarian issues such as religious and cultural destruction, and the issue—which may well be mentioned later—of missing persons and the need to find truth for relatives who still have no information about their loved ones. There is also the humanitarian issue of Famagusta, which demands all our attention and demands justice.

I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government support the motion. He would not have to be too bold, because he would have the backing of the Prime Minister, who wrote to me on 29 June 2012 about the petition which, in effect, referred to this motion. He wrote:

“we fully agree with the principle behind it; that measures to build confidence between the communities in Cyprus can have great value in facilitating efforts towards a comprehensive settlement. “

He also wrote:

“We fully support all the relevant Security Council resolutions, including UNSCR 550 and UNSCR 789.”

So there is the Prime Minister’s backing. The Minister simply needs to say that he agrees with the Prime Minister.

Time is short. Others wish to speak, and I shall leave it to them—with your leave, Madam Deputy Speaker—to raise a number of issues that may go beyond the motion. Let me end by saying this. I left Cyprus at the weekend, along with a number of my hon. Friends. Many people who visit a tourist destination such as Cyprus leave with souvenirs such as duty-free goods—they may even try to leave with tortoises—but I brought back a list of questions for the Prime Minister, which I shall now read.

Will the Government support access for experts to Varosha, so that they can assess the damage and the requirements for restoration and regeneration? If we are serious about the return of Famagusta and a comprehensive settlement, we should be serious about enabling experts to go there now.

In relation to our guarantor powers, will Britain indicate that external countries’ guarantees have no future following a comprehensive settlement? Do the Government stand ready to help following settlement negotiations when intractable issues may require Turkish co-operation?

There has been good bi-communal progress on the issue of missing persons. The Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus is an exemplar, providing support in areas of conflict across the world, working not only with other committees in directing that support, but with lab technicians from both communities. It has done painstaking work in seeking information and DNA that can be linked with missing persons. There has been good news recently: the Turkish army is to provide access to 30 military bases over the next three years, which will provide important information. Will the Government go further, however, and continue to ask the Turkish Government to provide information that is still being kept in their archives? Relatives of missing

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people rally here in Parliament every July. Can we persuade Turkey to provide that information about their loved ones?

I do not propose to speak for much longer, because others wish to contribute. This is a historic motion, which not only sets the scene for a general debate, but makes it crystal clear that we stand full square behind a comprehensive settlement that will be good for Cyprus, good for the region, and good for Britain. We can make that a reality if we provide justice for Famagusta and return it to its lawful inhabitants.

6.56 pm

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing the debate. As he said, it is extremely timely, given that six of my colleagues and I travelled to the divided island of Cyprus only last week. It was not my first visit, and, indeed, it was not the first time that I had crossed the border and entered the occupied territory, but it was my first opportunity to travel to Famagusta.

I could speak about many issues that arose during that trip. I could speak about our encounter with the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus—which people found very moving—about stolen artefacts, or about access to property or land. However, I want to make just two points. First, I want to describe my observation of a situation on the island which I found truly inexplicable. Secondly, I want to talk about the effect of the huge military presence in the occupied zone.

Let me begin by talking about the beaches, particularly those in Famagusta. To witness what I can only describe as a ghost town, frozen in time, would be interesting if it did not affect so many people in the here and now. Many people are unable to visit the graves of their relatives or friends, access their properties or businesses, or even visit their own beaches without harassment.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): There are 371 people—mostly conscripts from this country—buried in Wayne’s Keep. We must ensure that we have access to that graveyard and look after it. Those men were killed mainly by Greek Cypriot terrorist fighters, and we must not forget that.

Dr Offord: My hon. Friend is right. As the record shows, I have asked parliamentary questions about the issue, because we have our own graves in that country. I shall not open a debate about the historical aspects of the island—we realise that there are many sides to all the stories that we can tell—but we are very concerned about the graves of all the people on the island, be they Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots or British service personnel who died and were buried there.

I can name some of the people who have been affected. These are not names that I have plucked out of the air. There is Maria, who was formerly a regular visitor to the beach; there is Antonis, who is denied access to his grandfather’s property; and there is Costas, who is unable to visit the King George hotel, where his father worked for more than 30 years. Those are all real people with stories to tell. Owing to the behaviour of the authorities, which we experienced, I shall not reveal their surnames, because I fear that there would be further repercussions against them.

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What I found striking about Famagusta was not just the sight of hundreds of residential and commercial properties lying empty, but the simple issue of access to the beach. I think that my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Byron Davies), for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) will relate to this, given that they have coastal constituencies.

Walking along the sand in Famagusta means having to enter a contested area, alongside the overbearing corrugated iron and barbed-wire fences which enclose the tower blocks that surround the beach and give it the air of a militarised zone. This barrier extends across and alongside the beach until it meets the curvature of the water’s edge and then enters the sea, preventing anyone from moving along the coast. Both that and the mines in the sea ensure that there is no access. To someone who grew up on a beach—literally—I would find that very difficult to explain. Even if someone could navigate that, the military presence in the watchtower will shout at them to get away from the fence and certainly not to take any pictures. I wonder whether the Turkish authorities are embarrassed by that sight. I leave it to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and other Members in the Chamber to decide whether that is so; I certainly think that it is.

In an attempt to intimidate us even further, the Turkish authorities had another security presence on the beach. He was quite a peculiar person, in his own shorts and with comb-over long grey hair. He marched around the beach at great pace, walking closely by us to intimidate and to see what we were doing, and all the time we could hear the Turkish border guards shouting at him through his earpiece at the top of their voices. It was one of the most peculiar scenes I have ever seen.

It is not just the environment in Famagusta that has been physically manipulated by the Turkish forces; so, too, have the people who have been relocated from mainland Turkey—the settlers, known as the Türkiyeli. Northern Cyprus’s first official census performed in 1996 showed that there were more than 200,000 people in the occupied territory. A decade later that had increased by 65,000. A third census was carried out by the United Nations in 2011, and it recorded a population of over 294,000, but these results have been disputed by many political parties, trade unions and indeed local newspapers. Accusations of under-counting were made because the TNRC—Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus—had said to Turkey that there were more than 700,000 people in the occupied territory in order to gain access to greater funds. What we do know as a fact is that over 50% of the people who come from the mainland have no common heritage or culture with the indigenous Turkish or Cypriot people.

We often hear in this Chamber—I am sure the Minister has heard me say it to him many times—about the settlements in Israel and how they are illegal under international law. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you are glad that I will not be opening up that debate, but I never hear criticism of Turkey for doing the same thing, yet its actions are a clear breach of the fourth Geneva convention. Article 49 makes it clear that an occupying power may not forcibly deport protected persons or deport or transfer parts of its civilian population into occupied territory. Turkey has done this; Turkey has clearly breached this convention and there can be no dispute that immigration to the occupied territory is unlawful.

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What is not disputed is the number of Turkish troops in the north. In 2013 the Cyprus Center for Strategic Studies estimated that 74,000 troops were based in the occupied territory in Cyprus, an area of 1,295 square miles. To put that into context, in April the UK had 87,060 Army service personnel and we have a land mass of 83,700 square miles. The contrast is obvious and illustrates Turkey’s determination to maintain its military presence in Cyprus.

Indeed, on Saturday we witnessed the over-the-top display of soldiers, trucks and howitzers as traffic was stopped to allow army personnel to travel through Famagusta. It was clear that this was purely a public display of weaponry designed to do little more than intimidate the indigenous Turkish and Cypriot population into not seeking the removal of the Turkish army in the occupied territory.

The European Parliament has repeatedly voiced its support for the return of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants. The resettlement of Varosha and Famagusta on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions would have a positive effect in seeking a comprehensive, viable solution to the Cyprus problem, as it would create a tangible example of co-operation and coexistence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the island and serve as a symbol of future harmony and prosperity.

Famagusta may be a forbidden, occupied town in Cyprus, but it will never be a forgotten community among its lawful inhabitants and its friends in this place.

7.4 pm

Sir David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing this debate and on his brilliant leadership of the recent delegation, of which I was privileged to be a member. I should tell the House that I found none of my colleagues disagreeable on that trip. My hon. Friend exhibited true leadership skills, and if ever an hon. Friend were fit for office, it is he.

I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) will be responding to this debate, because I know him well, and he is not a Minister who will respond with a lot of waffle. I anticipate that he will agree with everything said in this debate, and given that, as I understand it, the Foreign Secretary will be visiting Cyprus in a short while, the timing of this debate could not be better.

When I first became a Member of Parliament, I was taken to the island of Cyprus. I have no constituency interest at all—very few Cypriots, whether Greek or Turkish, live in my constituency—but when I visited that tiny island I could not believe that it was divided by a green line. This debate focuses on Famagusta and I can best liken it to “Great Expectations” and Miss Havisham. It is very much a time warp. It is very distressing to see the buildings that have stood empty, decaying since 1974, which is an absolute disgrace.

At the start of the visit, I was very cynical about the prospect of a settlement, because I had heard it all before. As we all know, there is no problem between Cypriots, whether they live on the north or south side. It is when the two mother countries start to intervene that things become challenging. However, I was very impressed by the meetings we had, and particularly with what the acting President and the negotiator had to say. I therefore

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think that that will be the last time that any British parliamentary group will visit a divided island. I am very optimistic that in two or three months’ time we will at long last see a united island. I therefore again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate on his timing of our trip.

We could go back to 1974 and say that it was a disaster that should never have happened—we can often be wise after the event—and it is indeed a tragedy that those events occurred then and that all these years later the situation has not been resolved, but I have decided that it is no good going on about the past; we have to draw a line under it, as Cypriots on both sides have decided to do.

I was very pleased that on 18 September our Prime Minister met the Greek Cypriot President and there was a general meeting of minds on the issue. I believe there is a need for Turkey to send specific signals through specific actions that would enhance the ongoing settlement process. The recent election of the new leader on the northern side is widely seen as having significantly increased the prospect of a solution.

Mrs Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend agree that this also presents an opportunity for the missing persons to be located and identified? We have seen for ourselves the bones of both Greek and Cypriot persons, which had seemingly been strewn across tables, being sorted in the anthropological laboratory. It should be a priority for both sides to come together so those who lost loved ones can lay them to rest.

Sir David Amess: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, although I have not seen the details of the DNA testing that was carried out on the bones.

Returning to the election of the new leader, his first act on assuming office was to abolish the entry visa for visitors to northern Cyprus. The requirement for such a visa had long angered Greek Cypriots, so this was a very positive move. Of course there are obstacles to overcome, relating to governance, security, territory and—as my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate and for Hendon (Dr Offord) have mentioned—refugees. However, if relations continue to be positive, as they certainly seem to be, I am optimistic that with the support of the UK—which I was told over and over again was absolutely crucial—there could be a fairly swift unification, perhaps within two to three months.

The potential impact on Greek Cypriots of the return of Famagusta cannot be overestimated. It would be very significant indeed. It would be an enormous confidence-builder for Greek Cypriots; it would also be an important humanitarian move that would allow the return of 40,000 people to their homes. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) has mentioned missing persons. I think I am right in saying that about 1,500 Greek Cypriots and about 500 Turkish Cypriots are missing.

We were all shocked by the detail of the work that is going into tracing those missing people. We were taken to the laboratories. If any of us had had a loved one whose bones were somewhere in the room, it would have been overwhelming, but we managed to step back because we did not know any of the people involved.

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I had had no idea of the forensic detail of the work, and the House should know that it is a very expensive operation. The Department for International Development is stretched on this issue, but if there is anyone who could lend financial support to the programme, it would mean a great deal to all those concerned.

Mr Burrowes: Anyone who visits Cyprus would surely be encouraged to see the work of the bi-communal committee on missing persons. The laboratory that we visited is on British land, and I understand that we have given it support in the form of a vehicle and in other ways. It is also encouraging that the Foreign Secretary will visit that laboratory. It will be good for him to see how we might provide as much support, either financial or in kind, as is necessary to obtain the information that the relatives of those missing persons need.

Sir David Amess: My hon. Friend makes a wonderful point. He is absolutely right about the timing of the Foreign Secretary’s visit. It was explained to us that we will never find all the missing persons, but it would mean a great deal if that work could be continued for the foreseeable future.

Bob Stewart: I am the chairman of Remembering Srebrenica, which works on tracing people who went missing in Srebrenica. It is not that difficult to get the DNA off a bone and compare it with a DNA sample taken from a close relative. Those are the two parts of the process, which can be done quite quickly under the auspices of the United Nations.

Sir David Amess: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, but it was explained to us that there is a difficulty, in that some of the burial grounds are now under multi-storey buildings such as housing developments. It is therefore not quite so straightforward as we might hope.

Dr Offord: May I remind my hon. Friend that finding the bones is also complicated by the fact that some have been dispersed by wild animals, some have been washed away and some have been bleached by the sun? Those that have been bleached in that way often lose their DNA.

Sir David Amess: I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of that fact. The experts are doing a fantastic job, but there is a limit to how far they can go.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon also mentioned the graves. I was shocked and horrified to see that many of the Greek Cypriot graves had been totally vandalised, with their crosses broken up and the ground dug up by people searching for riches like those the Egyptians used to have. However, the Turkish graves, just opposite, were kept in magnificent order, and all through European Union funding. It is an absolute scandal. It is an insult, and the House would be well directed to find out more information about this. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate tried to get a group of volunteers to go over there to do something about the graves. This is a relatively small matter which, given the will to do it, could be put right very quickly. The lady who took us to see where her loved ones were buried broke down in our arms, and my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall comforted her.

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Mrs Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend also acknowledge that it is not only the graveyards but the churches that have been destroyed? In my opinion, that is all part of the oppression of the people, and something really should be done to rectify the situation.

Sir David Amess: Absolutely. It was so insulting to see that one of the churches had been turned into a stable. If only we had had the archbishop or his deputy with us on those trips! That would have made it even better. I believe that we could do something about the graves.

We need to endorse the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s mission, which states:

“We work with Cyprus to implement policy on Europe and the single market, building trade for mutual growth. We support all parties in finding a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus and work together to beat international crime and threats to British and international security.”

I would like to commend the Cypriot President for all his efforts on the unification of Cyprus. If all goes well, the island could be a wonderful model for coexistence between Muslims and Christians. Cyprus now has a real opportunity to reach an agreement that would be a wonderful thing for Europe and the world.

7.17 pm

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): I have not been to Cyprus. It sounds as though I might have missed a really fun trip and that you all had a really positive experience in the last couple of weeks—

Mrs Murray: I have to say to the hon. Lady that it was not fun to see graves that had been destroyed or to see beaches with a great big barrier down the middle of them. It certainly was not a fun trip for me or for any of my colleagues.

Catherine West: I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification. Perhaps one feels a little excluded, not having visited Cyprus with the group. On this question, there is no division between us. It should be an all-party parliamentary issue, because we all want the same thing, but one cannot help but feel a little left out of the debate this evening.

I want to talk about the contribution of the Cypriot community—the Turkish speakers and the Greek speakers—to business, to local government, to catering, to IT facilities and services and to our diet in Haringey. The Mediterranean diet and the arrival of fresh fruit and veg on our high streets began the revolution towards a healthy way of life and the move away from the staple of fish and chips towards wonderful vegetables, olive oil and so on. I know that the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) will agree that north London has been greatly enriched by the diet that the Cypriots have brought us from the 1970s onwards.