On a more serious note, the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) is right to say that there has been much suffering in Cyprus. I believe that there has been suffering on both sides. Older Cypriots have told me that they want to see some kind of hopeful conclusion to what has been a terrible experience for them, before the end of their lives. They want to see that conclusion for their children and their grandchildren,

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but it is not enough for them to know that it will happen at some point; they want to be part of it and to see it before they pass on.

There are sticking points, though, and Famagusta is one of them, as are the land disputes. We got close to a settlement two decades ago—

Byron Davies (Gower) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that an important feature of our visit last week was the fact that the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots want to live together and are quite happy to do so? It is the Turkish Government who are stopping that at the moment.

Catherine West: Certainly, both my Turkish speaking and my Greek speaking colleagues and friends in the borough of Haringey are always talking about the place of Cyprus, and we are the Friends of Cyprus. It is important to remember that sense of togetherness, and the fact that we need to bring the formalities together. We need the Cabinet Secretaries in place, and we need to live up to the reality, which I believe we can do.

Mr Burrowes: The hon. Lady emphasises that we are debating a cross-party motion. Indeed, there has been cross-party support over the years. There is also cross- party support for the Friends of Cyprus. As we are in neighbouring constituencies, she must be aware that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots will work together and agree on lots of things, but they will not necessarily agree on Cyprus. However, on the issue of Famagusta, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have, quite uniquely in many ways, signed petitions and come together to say that this is a really good confidence-building measure that can facilitate a comprehensive settlement. That is a point that we need to keep emphasising and for which we need to encourage support.

Catherine West: That is right. We have to show that it is impossible for other Governments to ignore the huge swell of support. The most important thing is Cyprus itself. We should provide an example so that regional Governments have to support the idea.

We must bottom out the disagreements over land before we get close to a settlement. I hope we can assist with that. A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have come along to speak this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Sir Alan Meale) has played a key role for many years, working with colleagues across the piece on the environment and other such issues.

As a new Member of Parliament with a commitment to the place of Cyprus, I hope that I can now join the table. I am pleased to see that there is another hon. Lady in our midst, because my experience of other such meetings has been rather lonely. I look forward to seeing her at future events to talk about the unification of Cyprus.

7.23 pm

Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): Let me first say to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) that the baton—the chairmanship of the all-party group—has been smartly passed from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) to me. Either I or the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir Alan Meale) will certainly ensure that

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she gets a chance to see the position for herself. Some colleagues have seen the Berlin wall, but not everybody has seen the green line in Cyprus. Right through the centre of one of Europe’s major cities is a barricade. There are several yards of barren land, with buildings going back to 1974 when everything stopped. There are 1974 cars in the car showroom, meals still on the table, and change still on the table. It is quite extraordinary. Unless colleagues have seen that for themselves, they do not understand how desperate the situation is.

It is quite wrong that, since 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern part of Cyprus, a European Union member state, Cyprus, has been occupied by an aspirant member state of the European Union, Turkey. Successive attempts to resolve the problems have failed. That is not, as has been said, because Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots do not get on together: they do by and large—well, as much as anybody else does—and they live happily side by side. There was a time, a generation and a half ago, when Greek Cypriots spoke Turkish and Turkish Cypriots spoke Greek and they used the same bars, cafes and coffee bars, they played sport together and they coexisted in the same villages in harmony.

Sadly, a generation and a half down the line, that is beginning to change. Now there is a generation of children—some of Turkish settlers and some of Greek Cypriots—who have never known the other side, have never spoken Turkish or Greek and have never shared each other’s cultures, much of which is very similar. [Interruption.] I am coming to Varosha Famagusta, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am just trying to set the matter in context. By the way, I should have declared an interest as an honorary citizen of Morphou who takes part, by invitation, in the annual march.

I have been working on the Cyprus problem—as it is known—since 1983, which is when I first came into the House, and I have not seen a great deal of progress, but there is a window of opportunity now.

The leader of Northern Cyprus, Mustafa Akinci, used to be the mayor of the northern part of Nicosia when Lellos Demetriades was the mayor of Nicosia. The reason that is important is that, while everybody else was fighting, not getting on and posturing, Lellos Demetriades and Mustafa Akinci got together literally in the dead of night and planned the sewers for the whole of Nicosia, because patently, there cannot be two sewerage systems for one major city. They also planned the water systems. They even planned the road system, so that one day, looking downstream when there would be a settlement, the roads would join up, and they will.

I do not believe that Mustafa Akinci, who was capable of that degree of foresight and co-operation, is not capable of reaching a deal with Nicos Anastasiades, the current President of the Republic of Cyprus. Such a deal can, and should, happen. In the interests of the peace of the whole of the middle east and the whole of Europe, it must happen, but for it to happen, unfortunately, Turkey must agree.

Recently I have seen the welcome mat put out for Turkey. For very obvious reasons, we need Turkey at the moment. It is, for example, taking thousands and thousands of refugees from Syria and it is rightly looking for help. The idea that we can fast track Turkey into a European Union without settling the Cyprus problem is a non-starter;

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it is simply a red line—or shall I say a green line? Both Front-Bench teams must use their best endeavours to seek to ensure that Turkey comes to the negotiating table and does the deal. Yes, the hon. Lady and my hon. Friends were right to say that without the settlement of the property issues there will be no settlement. Without the right of freedom of movement, there will be no settlement. Without the removal of Turkish troops from Northern Cyprus, there will be no settlement. How would it feel if we had said after the war that we would keep troops there in perpetuity? Why should the Cypriots—Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots—settle for the presence of foreign troops, even one foreign troop, on their land without invitation? If they are there by invitation, that is a different matter. The Greek troops and the Turkish troops have to leave the island.

The rest gets harder. Property is very difficult indeed, as much of the land has been built on. We know who owns the land, but who now owns the houses? It will not be easy. It will take money and it will take time, but it has to happen. The bottom line is a bi-communal and bizonal federation. That is the goal, and it is achievable, but we say to our Cypriot friends, some of whom are in the House tonight, “We are with you and we will stay with you for long as it takes.”

7.30 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) not only on securing the debate but on his excellent leadership of the delegation that visited Cyprus a few days ago. It was my first visit not just to Famagusta but to Cyprus itself. It is a beautiful island and the beach at Famagusta runs Cleethorpes a close second.

Mrs Sheryll Murray: Does my hon. Friend not believe that south-east Cornwall comes above Cleethorpes?

Martin Vickers: No. I am afraid that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend, as I am sure she anticipated.

As always in countries where there is conflict and division, it is the ordinary people who suffer. We had the privilege of meeting a number of them over the past few days, including those who suffer what has already been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), witnessing the desecration of their churches and the vandalism of their graveyards. That scars them permanently and we must do all we can to improve that situation. It is damaging to not only those individuals but the heritage and culture of the Cypriot island and people.

I will not detain the House unnecessarily, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has focused on the point about the committee for missing people that I wanted to highlight. This was the second time that I had visited a place such as that which we visited on Friday, where we saw bones and DNA. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) intervened earlier, and it was with him that I visited similar work being done in Bosnia this time last year. It is harrowing and the meticulous work of those involved deserves recognition. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West pointed out, modest resources are needed to maintain and enhance that work and I hope that the Government will look favourably on that request. It need not necessarily

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involve taxpayers’ money, but could involve donations in kind from the private sector. I am sure that if the work is highlighted to a greater extent donations will be forthcoming.

Mr Burrowes: My hon. Friend might remember that it was, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) who mentioned the potential to use the good will of a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) to provide an extra digger. The digger is perhaps one of the most expensive parts of the kit needed to try to find missing persons, and that might be a useful in-kind donation.

Martin Vickers: That is exactly the point I was trying to make. If we were to make known what is required to a greater extent, I am sure that donations would be forthcoming.

It meant a great deal to me to visit the former Nicosia airport, which gives an impression of being frozen in time, as do the empty and derelict buildings in Famagusta.

Bob Stewart: I used to fly from Nicosia airport—I am that old—and I used also to go on the beaches of Famagusta as a boy. It is crucial that we get both areas functioning again. The United Nations, which has manned the green line for so long and has done so well, could well be redeployed to help with Famagusta and open up the airport. That would end the sterility that has faced these areas for the past 40 years.

Martin Vickers: I entirely agree. The island is heavily dependent on tourism and every opportunity to enhance that would surely be welcome.

At the airport, as elsewhere, we saw bullet-scarred buildings that were a constant reminder of what happened 41 years ago. What purpose does the continuation of this division serve? I urge our Government to do everything possible to encourage and support the Cypriot people.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): Cyprus is a fantastic country and I have been on delegations and holidays there, but the Turkish Government have continually ignored UN Security Council resolutions on peace. What additional pressure can the UK Government put on the Turkish Government to try to bring this dispute to an end that satisfies everyone?

Martin Vickers: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I hope that it will be the Minister who will enlighten us about what additional help, support and encouragement can be given. It is entirely true that it is the Turkish Government who have seemingly been the blockage for so many years, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West said a few minutes ago, if there ever was a possibility of a settlement it seems now to be within our grasp.

Dr Murrison: Does my hon. Friend not agree that there were in fact two midwives to this situation? One, of course, was Turkey, and I support the motion and its condemnation of the actions of the Turkish Government, but there was also Greece. In 1974, Greece’s militarism was very much part of destabilising Archbishop Makarios and introducing an unpleasant junta, albeit for a short period. One can perhaps have a little bit of sympathy for Turkey, and so far the debate has been rather one-sided.

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Martin Vickers: Yes, of course, it takes two parties—two to tango, as it were. Both sides must be willing to come to an agreement.

Dr Offord: Although there is some history of Turkish troops invading the island, that was 36 years ago. It is time for them to go now. Even their behaviour on our visit, when we were followed by security forces who photographed us, sought our names and determined when we were leaving and what we were doing, shows that the Turkish Government have not really changed.

Martin Vickers: Yes, there was a slightly sinister feel to some parts of our trip as a result of being followed and photographed by the Turkish authorities.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): I apologise for not being present at the opening of the debate, but I had other duties elsewhere. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that for the first time in 41 years settlement looks closer than it has, but does he not accept that in order for such a settlement to take place there must be some recognition on both sides that there have been failings on both sides before anyone can move forward?

Martin Vickers: Yes, of course. As I mentioned in response to my hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), there clearly have been failings on both sides but it takes two to come together and reach a conclusion. That is now within our grasp and we should do everything possible to achieve it.

7.39 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and his co-signatories on tabling the motion for debate. The division of Cyprus for more than 40 years is often referred to as a frozen conflict. The motion gives some sense of how long the situation has gone on for. It mentions the UN resolutions, the high-level agreements reached, and the efforts made, and as it says, all that effort was aimed at a “comprehensive settlement”—that is the phrase that is continually used—of the problem of the island’s division. The aim, as the motion says, is

“a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality”

guaranteed for the whole population of the island.

Bob Stewart: I would like to put on record that one reason why the conflict was frozen for a very long time was that the actions of so many United Nations troops on the green line stopped the conflict from breaking out again. It may have been sterile and boring for the troops, but by goodness, they have prevented people from dying.

Mr McFadden: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I suppose he is gently reminding us that a frozen conflict is better than an unfrozen one, without a settlement. The frozen nature of the conflict is perhaps at its most graphic in the city of Famagusta, and specifically in Varosha, where homes, hotels and other buildings have lain dormant for 40 years, trapped in a specific moment in time. Those buildings are still standing, but year after year, they have been devoid of the people and the changes that give a city life; they are overgrown with

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vegetation, and are gradually rotting away. It is no accident that the term “ghost town” has been used to describe it, both in tonight’s debate and before it.

It is of course right that the city and its properties be returned to their rightful owners. When people left, they thought they would be able to return within days, or perhaps weeks. They have had no access to their homes, businesses and other places of real importance to them for more than 40 years. People lost their houses, land, money, and access to places of worship. It is no wonder that this enforced absence is a source of such heartbreak and sorrow to all those affected. They are right to not only hope but expect that they will be able to return. The broader question is how that happens, and the relationship to a wider settlement of Cyprus’s division and issues.

As has been mentioned several times in the debate, the omens are better than they have been for some time. Both Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci seem genuinely committed to a settlement, and optimism is higher than it has been for many years. The prospect for progress on this agenda seems stronger than in the past. I am sure that the whole House hopes that that applies to the wider issues, including that of Famagusta, on which we have focused tonight. The Foreign Secretary is due in Cyprus later this week. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, asked the Minister a few questions; I wonder whether I might add to the list. Will the Minister tell us the Government’s agenda for that visit, and what more the UK Government can do, as a friend of Cyprus, to encourage momentum, and ultimately agreement, in the talks?

Given that the political atmosphere is more positive than it was, how does the Minister see the Government using their position as a guarantor to press for a settlement that leads to the reunification of the island, as set out in the various UN resolutions that have been adopted? Does he believe that Mr Akinci, who represents Northern Cyprus, and in whom a great deal of hope has been invested, is free to make an agreement if he wishes to? Can the Minister say more about Turkey’s role in the process? That is particularly important with regard to Famagusta. It is important to mention that the frozen area of Varosha is in the hands of not the Turkish Cypriots, but the Turkish military. It is important that we consider not only the people on the island, but the Turkish military’s role.

Could the Minister also say what the relationship is between this process and the issues raised tonight that are being discussed by Turkey and the European Union? Specifically, I am thinking of the huge refugee problem affecting both Turkey and the European Union, and the question of future accession to the EU. How possible is it to make progress on these other issues while the situation in Cyprus remains as it is? What is their effect on the process taking place in Cyprus?

Much has happened in recent months and days that is a cause for grief and heartbreak on the human level, and huge concern on the political level. In the statement earlier today, the House set out its views on the terrible events in Paris a few days ago. We have talked, understandably, of a generational struggle against Islamist extremism. The world has failed to find a solution to the terrible war in Syria, which has been unfolding for

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years, and which is driving much of the refugee problem facing Europe. Yet on the Cyprus issue, there are grounds for hope and optimism. Inevitably, that will be tempered with caution, given how many setbacks there have been over the years—the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) referred to having been involved in this issue for decades—but as we know from our experience, making peace is hugely dependent on leadership. Among both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, there is a leadership in place that seems committed to finding a way forward. We Labour Members will support their efforts, and we hope that the UK Government play as positive a role as possible, so that this conflict, which I have referred to as being frozen, can be resolved, and the island of Cyprus can be unified on the basis of mutual respect among all parts of its population.

7.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on finding the time for this important debate. I begin by apologising for the absence of the Minister for Europe, who has an engagement away from the House. I will do my best to answer the questions from right hon. and hon. Members, but I shall certainly pass on to him any that I am unable to answer, so that he can write to hon. Members. It has been mentioned that the Foreign Secretary will visit Cyprus this week, so this debate is fortuitous.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing this important debate at this time. Cyprus is not in my brief—I deal with the middle east and north Africa most of the time—but it is a country with which I am very familiar. I served there as an officer with the Royal Green Jackets. I remember my old stomping grounds of Nicosia, Larnaca and Paphos; I have been up to the panhandle and Bellapais monastery in Kyrenia. It is a truly beautiful country, steeped in history. We have gone back to when it gained independence, but of course it has a place in Greek mythology as the birthplace of Aphrodite and Adonis. The sculptor Pygmalion also came from there. It is truly a remarkable place. I have very fond memories of it. It is where I learned to fly, as a pilot, and where I learned to parachute. It is a place associated with fun and enjoyment, but there is a serious element to it, which has been highlighted today. Back when I was there, in the 1990s, two other protagonists were taking up the debate: Denktas and Clerides, the two leaders of the day. They were debating the very same matters that we are. There is a sense of frustration, which has been aired by right hon. and hon. Members, about how long it has taken to resolve the issue in an important part of Europe.

My hon. Friend mentioned the British interest. Britain has an historical interest, a commercial interest, including culture and tourism, and a security interest because of the sovereign bases where I had the honour to serve. The RAF, and the role that it is playing, not least in the current challenges in the middle east, have been mentioned. We have an important strategic relationship with the country. My hon. Friend mentioned the letter that he had received from our Prime Minister on his commitment to a bicameral solution, supporting UN resolutions 550 and 789, and working towards that important comprehensive settlement.

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Mr George Howarth: Does the Minister agree that in order to make progress on that proposal, it is necessary to recognise that there are legitimate grievances on the side of the Northern Cypriots that must be addressed if they are to feel comfortable with such a settlement?

Mr Ellwood: As I make progress, I will come on to those grievances and the role that Britain can play.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) commented on the empty beaches that he saw on the visit—it sounds like quite an amazing visit—that he and other hon. Members made, and the enormous potential for tourism to fill those beaches. That is exactly what all sides want. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) did not want to dwell on the past. He wanted to look at the future, but we must learn from the past and also stress the importance of trade. I was about to say lots of nice things about the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), but I see that she is not in her place. Although she has not been to Cyprus—she was not on that visit—she clearly has a major diaspora in her constituency. By coming today, she is representing her constituents well. She mentioned an older generation of Cypriots still waiting for a solution and said how frustrating the situation is for them. We hope we will make progress.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) to his new role. He has some big shoes to fill, if I may say so politely. He stressed that there is a window of opportunity. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate talked about the stars being aligned. If I may correct him, I think it is the planets, rather than the stars, that are aligned. Nevertheless, the moment is before us. That is why it is pertinent that the Foreign Secretary will visit Cyprus in the near future.

Mr Burrowes: I was repeating what the Foreign Secretary said in the House. He was, no doubt deliberately, using the same phrase as was used ahead of the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland, to make the point that we are on the cusp of another historic agreement.

Mr Ellwood: I agree. I hope that is right. That is why the visit of the Foreign Secretary this week is so pertinent. I am sure he will read Hansard to make sure that he is fully aware of what has been said in the House today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) asked what purpose the division continues to serve. I agree—it serves no purpose whatever. Everybody will benefit from a solution.

I welcome the support expressed in the motion for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. Cyprus has been divided for too long. Under the courageous leadership of President Anastasiades and Mr Akinci we may now have an opportunity to secure a just and lasting settlement. I can assure the House that the UK will remain a strong supporter of the two communities’ efforts to secure a settlement. We will do whatever we can to help them reunite Cyprus.

Ian Lavery: I understand what the Minister said earlier about others in the Department having more expertise on Cyprus than he might have, but can he say what powers the UK Government have as a guarantor power of Cyprus?

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Mr Ellwood: The hon. Gentleman needs to allow me to develop my argument. I will come to the role that Britain seeks to play in the important task of finding a solution.

A lasting settlement would have clear benefits for Cyprus, for the region and for the UK. Some 80,000 British nationals live in Cyprus, and 900,000 visit every year. A reunited Cyprus would unlock significant economic benefits through increased opportunities for trade, investment and tourism, including tourism to the Varosha area of Famagusta. The respected Peace Research Institute Oslo forecast that the peace dividend from a Cyprus settlement would amount to €20 billion over the next 20 years, and it would add, on average, 2.8% GDP growth in real terms every year. Those figures alone make a powerful case for the importance of securing a settlement.

Beyond the economic benefits, a settlement in Cyprus would help to advance regional stability. Cyprus is already a beacon of stability in a challenging region, and a settlement would reinforce the island’s security. It would open up the possibility of new energy and economic partnerships in the region, and bring new momentum to Turkey’s EU accession process. In all these areas there are opportunities for the United Kingdom.

It is clear that Turkey remains an important part of reaching a solution. We welcome Turkey’s support for a settlement, and public statements on that from President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu have been important in building support for a settlement. Turkey’s recent agreement to give the committee for missing persons in Cyprus access to 30 sites controlled by the Turkish military, which was mentioned by hon. Members, was a very helpful step. We welcome the positive response from the Republic of Cyprus to that and hope that the parties can build on this to generate even more confidence in the settlement process.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I have listened intently to the debate, which of course stirs memories of the past in Northern Ireland. I would like to make a suggestion to the Minister. The IRA murdered and disappeared a number of people 30 or 40 years ago. A very distinguished forensics expert has helped identify some of the remains of the disappeared—they have not all been found, sadly—and also helped in Bosnia. Will the Government please make a point of involving that very distinguished lady forensics expert in identifying those found in graves in Cyprus?

Mr Ellwood: The hon. Lady makes an important point about the reconciliation and her words are now on the record. I am sure I will have discussions with the Europe Minister about the matter. I am pleased to say that progress has been made on it, as has been mentioned by other hon. Members.

Securing a sustainable Cyprus settlement remains important internationally and regionally, given the opportunities and security threats, but above all for the people of Cyprus, who stand to gain most from the social, economic and security benefits that a lasting settlement would bring. The UK remains firmly focused on supporting the people of the island to find a solution. Our approach has three elements. First, we maintain strong links in Cyprus with both communities. We strongly support the efforts of President Anastasiades and Mr Akinci to reach a lasting settlement through the

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UN-led negotiations. As the Foreign Secretary, who will be visiting Cyprus this week, confirmed to the House in June, the UK has made a generous offer to cede nearly half of the territory of the sovereign base areas to Cyprus in the event of a settlement.

Bob Stewart: May I place on the record the immense help the sovereign base areas have provided over 40 years to maintain stability? The Turkish troops were stopped by the sovereign base area when the invasion occurred in 1974. We are ceding back land to the Republic of Cyprus. Those two areas of British territory provide huge stability to the island in security terms.

Mr Ellwood: Following independence, the sovereign base areas have played an important part in the history of the country and they continue to do so. I am pleased that we are using them as a method of encouraging a settlement.

We support practical initiatives to build trust between the communities, notably through our support for the excellent work of the bi-communal chambers of commerce. The Minister for Europe was very pleased to host an event at the Foreign Office in March that enabled the chambers to highlight the value of bi-communal work and the economic benefits of a settlement.

At the regional level, we discuss with the other guarantor powers, Turkey and Greece, how best to support a solution. On the question of security and guarantees, our position is clear: we are not seeking a specific role for the UK. Rather, we are ready to consider whatever arrangements the sides can agree to enable their communities to feel secure. Finally, we engage with other international partners, including through the EU and the UN, to encourage them to support the efforts of the President and Mr Akinci. As the Foreign Secretary has made clear, the UK will continue to do all it can to help the sides reunite their island.

On the specific issue of Famagusta, I understand the strength of feeling about Varosha. The present state of Varosha reflects the consequences of the continued division of Cyprus. We fully support all relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolutions 550 from 1984 and 789 from 1992. We have raised this issue with the Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish authorities. The Government remain convinced that, ultimately, a comprehensive settlement is the best chance of resolving these complex issues. We will remain focused on supporting the efforts of the two leaders to secure a settlement.

In conclusion, this debate has underlined the depth of the ties between the United Kingdom and Cyprus. It has demonstrated that it is in the UK’s national interest to help the Cypriots reach a lasting settlement. That will require bold decisions from both communities in the weeks and months ahead. The President and Mr Akinci have demonstrated that they can provide the strong and determined leadership required to secure a historic agreement. The Government are cautiously optimistic that a solution may be within reach. Certainly, many people think that there is now a chance, the like of which has not been seen for decades. We urge both sides to seize this opportunity. Cypriots of both communities want to live and prosper together in peace. As they

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strive for a lasting solution, we will continue our active support in Cyprus, Ankara, Athens, Brussels, New York and beyond.

I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for making time for this debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss these important issues.

8.3 pm

Mr Burrowes: I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to this important and timely debate. I thank the shadow Minister and the Minister for their broad support for the principles behind the motion and the powerful case for a comprehensive settlement, which would bring economic benefits, as the Minister said, and regional stability. We must bring in other partnerships and use the momentum that is there through the work of Mustafa Akinci and Nicos Anastasiades. We must give them support, which the motion does.

We have heard many voices in this debate. Seven Members—my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Byron Davies), for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and the hon. Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery)—have shown their support for the motion.

Five other Members have spoken. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) felt left out from the delegation; it was a Conservative Friends of Cyprus delegation, but she is welcome to apply. Perhaps she could join the all-party group under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who spoke about the generational problem and the hope that Mustafa Akinci has the skills to work with Nicos Anastasiades to make the most of the best chance for decades.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) said that international law should be applied equally everywhere, whether in Israel or Cyprus. He said that we must never forget the important issue of justice that must be dealt with. The motion seeks to do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) mentioned the old Nicosia airport, which is a horrifying example of the scar of division and occupation. We must do more on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) said that he had heard it all before, but that the motion would allow us to take things a stage further. That is the case.

Some 40,000 Famagustans, many of whom are in the Gallery, fled their homes after the relentless bombardment. They had to leave Famagusta to be looted and left empty to decay. I have been given a set of photographs showing its former glory, which we must work hard to see returned. Those people have had a long wait for justice.

We had UN Security Council resolutions 550 in 1984 and 789 in 1992. There have been various proposals by the various leaders of the communities and there have been negotiations. There have been petitions—not least the one from 50,000 Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots that forms the basis of this debate. There was a European Union declaration. Now, we will have a resolution of this House, which I hope will receive unanimous support, that speaks of the return of Famagusta and supports a comprehensive settlement. We want to ensure that this is the last time we need such a debate and resolution, and that we reach a settlement that is for the good of all Cypriots.

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Question put and agreed to.


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.

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Transport for London Bill [Lords]: Revival

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010-12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)

8.7 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): This is a private Bill promoted by Transport for London that was deposited on 26 November 2010 and ordered to commence in the House of Lords.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Blackman: Perhaps I might make some progress on what has happened and on timescales before I give way.

The Bill was considered by an Opposed Private Bill Committee of this House on 13 January 2015 and one of the clauses was amended. The Bill was subsequently debated on Report on Monday 16 March, but the time allocated for the debate expired before proceedings could be brought to a conclusion. Parliament was prorogued shortly thereafter and the Bill fell.

In accordance with the practice of the House, at the beginning of the present Session the promoters requested that the Bill be revived under Standing Order No. 188B on private business. The revival motion that was subsequently tabled in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means has continued to be objected to, leading to the necessity for this debate. I stress that this debate is about the revival of the Bill, rather than its substance.

Andy Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman has pointed out that a revival motion is needed because the Bill did not succeed earlier this year, but I wonder whether he raises his eyebrows slightly, as other Members do, at the fact that it has taken five years to reach this stage. Will he indicate why he thinks that might be the case?

Bob Blackman: Clearly the process in the other place has taken some time, and there were various applications to the Opposed Bill Committee for consideration of amendments, which is why the promoters of the Bill have amended it to allow those who objected to it to see changes that would benefit the overall process.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide TfL with additional powers so that it can meet its business needs more flexibly and take advantage of more efficient arrangements for the stewardship of its financial affairs. It would allow TfL to maximise the value of its assets and deliver significantly better value for money to the paying public, which is a laudable aim, and one with which I am sure we all agree.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my colleague from Harrow for giving way. I recognise that he has lived with the Bill for a very long time, whereas I am coming to it fresh. Is there anything in it that might give hope to my constituents, and perhaps to one or two of his, who use Harrow-on-the-Hill station and are waiting, and who continue to wait, for improved access arrangements there? Might the Bill help to sort that out?

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Bob Blackman: I am wary of straying too far from the principle of the revival of the Bill, because I know full well that there are transport improvements across London that we would all like to see. The key point is that ensuring that TfL has the ability to maintain its finances efficiently and effectively means that the improvements that my honourable colleague and neighbour would like to see can be brought to fruition. There are some improvements that I would like to see brought to fruition in my constituency, because, as I will say shortly, there are provisions in the Bill that would allow TfL’s finances to improve, so there would be more money for the transport improvements we all want.

Mr Thomas: My colleague will forgive me for being a little uncharitable and suggesting that his answer about Harrow-on-the-Hill station was a tad vague. I know that Stanmore station is a significant issue for him, so I will happily make common cause with him if he will use the influence that he undoubtedly has with TfL, having been asked to be the promoter of the Bill, to ensure that it brings forward improved access arrangements at both Harrow-on-the-Hill and Stanmore as a matter of urgency.

Bob Blackman: I thank my colleague for stressing the point about Harrow-on-the-Hill station. I know from my use of the Metropolitan line that that is a vital aspect of the improvement that needs to take place. I will use the opportunity with TfL and others to ensure that we get the improvements we all want to see in Harrow, including at Stanmore and Harrow-on-the-Hill.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman seems to have great influence with TfL, so will he also take up the cause of Caledonian Road tube station, which is going to be closed for six months so that a lift can be renewed? I do not understand why the whole station has to be closed for sixth months, because there are four lift shafts—it is incomprehensible. I have written to TfL about it but do not seem to be getting very sensible replies. I wonder whether he might take up that cause as well.

Bob Blackman: I am rapidly taking up a number of causes across London. I know that Caledonian Road tube station is one of the great ways of leaving the Emirates stadium after football matches. Interestingly, substantial amounts of money were secured in order to dramatically improve the transport system around the stadium when it was being rebuilt. The reality is that there are concerns about whether that money was used properly. Clearly I realise that there is a need to renew the lift at Caledonian Road tube station, but I would much rather we ensured that there was a lift at Harrow-on-the-Hill station, because it does not have one, and at Stanmore station.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op) rose

Bob Blackman: I give way to another hon. Lady from London, who no doubt has an aspect of London transport to bring up.

Rachael Maskell: I must correct the hon. Gentleman: I represent York Central, but I am in London today, as we all are. He said in his opening remarks that TfL’s financial position would be improved as a consequence of the Bill. On what premise is that assumption based?

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Bob Blackman: If the hon. Lady permits me to advance further in my speech, I will refer to that issue in a few moments.

TfL is responsible for one of the world’s biggest transport networks. On the tube alone there have been 1.3 billion passenger journeys over the past year. TfL is also responsible for a multi-billion pound investment programme to improve capacity and the connectivity of the transport network. London Underground, the subsidiary responsible for providing the tube service, has achieved improved reliability, with a 40% improvement in recent times. Since TfL took over the Overground network in November 2007, demand for its services has quadrupled, delays have been cut by two thirds and customer satisfaction has risen from 70% to 82%.

TfL is providing 25% more capacity to Overground services to help meet growing demand. The network was expanded in May to include the West Anglia inner suburban routes. TfL is the joint sponsor with the Department for Transport of Crossrail, the largest transport project undertaken in the capital for many years. The delivery company is a wholly owned TfL subsidiary and the project is on time and within budget.

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): I note that the hon. Gentleman has prioritised Harrow-on-the-Hill station when it comes to improvements, but a whole swathe of Londoners had hoped to be able to get on the tube network but now cannot: people with disabilities who need level access. Osterley station and Turnham Green station in my constituency were promised level access but now the projects have stopped. Is that because of the delay in the Bill or some other problem that TfL has?

Bob Blackman: TfL has clearly been investing quite dramatically in access for disabled people on the network over the past 10 years. I remember that the points she has made were made under the previous Mayor of London and not delivered, so I think that there is a quid pro quo on that subject.

Emily Thornberry: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Blackman: I am going to move on to the key points about the Bill.

The Bill has only four substantive clauses. None the less, it is of great importance to TfL because it would enable it to deliver better value for money for the fare payer and the tax-paying public. Since the Bill was deposited, TfL’s operational funding from central Government has been cut by 25%, and the Government’s aim is to reduce that funding over time to zero. TfL is required to deliver £16 billion of savings over the period to 2021. The Bill would assist in that regard.

In summary, clause 4 gives TfL subsidiaries the ability to access cheaper finance, subject to the consent of the Mayor and, in respect of core operational assets, the consent of the Secretary of State, so clearly there will be an opportunity for Members of Parliament to have oversight of such proposals.

Clause 5 allows TfL to form limited partnerships. Following scrutiny by the Opposed Bill Committee, the clause was amended to provide that the Secretary of State must consent to the formation of the limited

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partnership by way of an order to be debated in both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, on the principle of transparency of the limited partnerships, which I know was one of the particular concerns raised by objectors, the sponsors of the Bill have given way and ensured that there will be full public debate over such arrangements.

Mr Gareth Thomas: The hon. Gentleman talks about oversight by Members of this House. Does he acknowledge the concern that there ought to be more regular oversight by ordinary Oyster card holders in London and that the governance of TfL as a whole needs reform, partly to oversee the arrangements in this Bill but also to give people in London more of a stake in the big decisions about TfL’s future on asset sales, fare rises, and other big calls that it has to make?

Bob Blackman: There is clearly oversight by the Mayor of London, the Assembly and the Assembly’s transport committee. Of course, the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government who set up the arrangements for London in 2000, so no doubt somewhere on the record he has expressed the view that this should have been done, but I do not recall that that was being said at the time. The key point as regards oversight and transparency is that there will be an opportunity for the limited partnership arrangements, in particular, to be scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament.

Emily Thornberry: The partnership might be overseen when first established, but will there be anything to stop the identity of those in control of the other partnerships changing at a later stage and our not having control over that?

Bob Blackman: The initial set-up will be scrutinised by both Houses. If there were to be any substantial change to the way in which the partnership was structured, there would clearly be an opportunity for oversight. I am sure that nothing would be done that prevented proper oversight of proceedings through the London Assembly, its transport committee and the Mayor of London.

Emily Thornberry: Is there anything specific in the Bill that would stop the control of a partnership moving from one organisation or individual to another and ensure that at that point there was some form of oversight that would stop a transfer of control?

Bob Blackman: The hon. Lady might wish to probe that point further on the revival of the Bill when we debate particular aspects of changes to it, but it is not about the revival of the Bill in its own right.

Clause 6 expands the list of entities through which TfL can undertake commercial activities to include limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships and companies limited by guarantee. This enables TfL to conduct its affairs more flexibly and meet the maximum value from its assets. Clause 7 gives TfL greater flexibility to mitigate its risks through hedging, including allowing it to hedge commodity prices when it is exposed to fluctuations as a consequence of a transport contract or a contribution risk to the pension fund.

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Contrary to assertions made on Second Reading and elsewhere, the Bill does not give TfL any new powers to sell or to develop its land. TfL has had such powers since it was created in 2000 and is not seeking to extend them in any way, shape or form. TfL must obtain the consent of the Mayor to dispose of surplus land by sale or granting a long-term lease. If that land is operational, or has been operational in the past five years, the Secretary of State must also give his or her consent. TfL is also subject to scrutiny by the London Assembly and has various obligations to publish financial details in its accounts and details of its surplus land and building assets. The powers TfL is seeking in the Bill will not detract from its discharge of its core functions.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Blackman: I will not give way any more.

The discrete scope of the Bill should be taken as indicative of a desire by TfL to meet its business needs more flexibly, and cost-effectively.

One of the key issues that has been identified during the whole process, which I think we all agree on, is the opportunity to maximise the development of assets for housing purposes. If the Bill were finally to become law, TfL would release more than 300 acres of land in London to help create more than 10,000 new homes across London. Sixty-seven per cent. of this phase of development is in travel zones 1 and 2.

Andy Slaughter: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Emily Thornberry: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bob Blackman: No, I am not giving way any more.

TfL is working with the Mayor, London boroughs and the commercial property development sector to bring forward developments in an innovative and creative way. The additional powers in this Bill will enable these developments more efficiently, enabling more of the revenue raised from the developments to be reinvested into the transport network and bear down on fares. That means that the people who oppose the revival of the Bill will be saying to Londoners that we do not want 10,000 new homes on redundant TfL land.

Several hon. Members rose

Bob Blackman: I am not giving way any more.

In view of the benefits that this Bill will bring, it is essential that it becomes law as soon as possible. I will be eager to listen to contributions from Labour Members, in particular. Given the campaign that is shortly to be run in London, it is vital that we give the Mayor of London the opportunity to create much needed housing. The creation of 10,000 housing units on 300 acres of redundant land is a great opportunity that is being denied and prevented by the shenanigans of Labour Members. I therefore move that the Bill should be revived so that it can complete its passage through this House. I trust, Madam Deputy Speaker, that during the course of this debate you will ensure that Members restrict themselves to the subject of the revival of the Bill.

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8.26 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): I am concerned about clause 5, in particular, and the idea of limited liability partnerships. As I understand it, limited liability partnerships were established in 1907 to enable people to become partners without taking on the liability. There needs to be a general partner who will be liable for everything, but then those who are coming into the partnership, and perhaps giving money towards it, would not have any form of liability. I understand that it is a means of raising capital, but I am very worried about who the partners might be. We have heard all kinds of scare stories, and I would be very interested to hear some reassurance.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): When my hon. Friend describes the scope of limited liability, is it her understanding that the limit of the liability in such a partnership arrangement could be nil? If that is the case, what on earth are we doing thinking about such an arrangement?

Emily Thornberry: I believe that that is exactly the position. This legal instrument was created in order to help to raise money. However, the difficulty is that we will be raising money on public land—public for the moment, at least. That is land owned by you, Madam Deputy Speaker, by me and by all of us, and we will be handing over some sort of investment in it to organisations that are cloudy, to say the least. Is there anything to stop these partners being offshore companies or being able to establish themselves with £2-worth of capital? Is there anything to stop documents naming certain people as responsible for the company, only for the Russian mafia to take over at a later stage? Are we handing over Caledonian Road, Old Street and potential developments in my constituency to such people? I certainly hope not, but I am worried that this Bill’s revival may allow that to happen.

Andy Slaughter: My hon. Friend is asking extremely pertinent questions, but I wonder who is going to answer them. If I get the opportunity to make a speech, I will try to answer them with the aid of the promoter’s statement on the one hand and the legal opinion obtained by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers on the other. The Bill’s sponsor, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), is now deep in thought, having gabbled through the end of his remarks without taking interventions on any of the substantive matters covered by the Bill. If this Bill is to be revived, does my hon. Friend agree that our questions should be answered tonight?

Emily Thornberry: I genuinely think so, because, as the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has said, we are talking about large swathes of publicly owned land in the centre of our capital. My constituency has the least amount of green space of any in the entire country, and all our brownfield sites need to be looked at very carefully in order to maximise housing. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need for housing, but frankly we do not need developments such as that currently taking place on our canal, where a one-bedroom flat is being sold for £826,000. That is not affordable housing for anyone who lives in Islington. We need real affordable housing, but the Bill does not seem to have any control over that.

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Clive Efford: That is a really important point. Too often, people talk about housing numbers and bandy around the word “affordable” for properties that are by no means affordable for most people in London. Making available 300 acres of land for housing that people from London, particularly those on moderate and low incomes, will not be able to access will contribute nothing to their housing needs.

Emily Thornberry: I have to say that Islington residents who are on what could be seen as high incomes are very concerned about their children, as are those who are on middle and low incomes. How will children who were born in Islington remain in Islington, given the price of housing? The Mayor of London’s answer has been to redefine affordable housing. It is a little like getting rid of child poverty by taking income out of the definition.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): People in my borough of Westminster now need an income of £77,000 to be able to afford what the Mayor of London has deemed to be an affordable property. My constituents, like those of my hon. Friend, look at the proliferation of new developments and see properties that they will never have the remotest chance of being able to afford. They want not just house building, but the building of affordable homes that they will have a chance to access.

Emily Thornberry: The point is this: once the land is gone, it is gone for ever. Once these luxury flats are built, Islington residents will never have a chance of being able to afford to buy them, and if no social housing or real affordable housing is built in inner London, that will be it. We need to defend very carefully the land available.

The Mayor of London has decided that affordable housing equates to 80% of market rent. That would be a laugh if it were not so tragic. It is like newspeak in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and someone saying, “Say black is white and say it for long enough, and hopefully some fools will start to believe it.” In Islington, 80% of market rent is not affordable housing.

I read with alarm what was said in the Financial Times about housing. Transport for London is talking about affordable housing in the constituency of the hon. Member for Harrow East in outer London, but not in inner London. There are 21,000 people on the waiting list for housing in Islington. Does this Bill answer any of their problems?

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): We are being distracted from one of the Bill’s main points, which is of concern to the hon. Lady’s constituents and mine. The explanatory notes to clause 4 state that, as fare payers and taxpayers, they are bearing the cost and the risk of the lack of

“capacity to finance projects and functions at the best available interest rate or at the lowest risk.”

If we do not give the Bill a safe passage, our constituents will continue to bear that risk. Is that acceptable?

Emily Thornberry: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. It brings us back to another rumour, which is that £700 million will be taken away from Transport for London in the comprehensive spending review and Transport for London is therefore even more

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in desperate need of a fire sale of our land to subsidise fares. London is the greatest capital in the world, and we need a proper transport system that is appropriate and helps our city to continue to be the lifeblood of this country. It seems to me to be short-sighted to the greatest extent to take away subsidy from Transport for London, because our city will grind to a halt. Once we have sold off that land and the opportunity for my constituents to live in affordable housing has gone, for the sake of their having cheaper fares for a year or two, what do we do then, having sold off the family silver in the way that is being suggested?

Ms Buck: Does my hon. Friend agree that risk comes in many different forms? The Evening Standard revealed a few weeks ago that there has been £100 billion of investment in the London property market from overseas since 2008. Some of that money comes from very dodgy sources, including money laundering. That kind of investment in property—where it is not transparent and the property is not properly managed—involves a fundamental risk to the London property market and all other sources that depend on such revenue.

Emily Thornberry: All of us have probably been down the river and seen all the developments that are happening. Members should look for how many flats have lights on at night, because if they do not, people are not living there. It is simply that somebody in Singapore can either invest a bag of gold or they can think, “No. Let’s buy a flat in south London, on the river with a lovely view. There will be someone to look after it. We can invest in that and keep it empty for years or decades.” Those empty flats are laughing at my constituents, who are in desperate need of proper housing. It seems to me that this opportunity is being frittered away.

Mr Gareth Thomas: I apologise to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for appearing uncharitable to him—one should always be charitable to him, as a Tottenham fan—but does my hon. Friend not accept that the Old Oak Common experience, with its lack of affordable housing and the poor negotiation that TfL entered into with its partner on that site, has scarred those of us who have looked at this Bill? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might persuade TfL to look afresh at the Bill in the light of such concerns and to come back with more amendments, perhaps on the future governance and oversight of any deals that are done.

Emily Thornberry: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Essentially, the sponsor of the Bill and TfL are saying, “Trust us. Let us enter into limited partnerships with who knows who.” TfL wants to enter into a limited partnership, which is not a distinct legal entity, which has a clear consequence for public transparency. For example, we cannot use the Freedom of Information Act to find out who is behind the partnerships that TfL may get into. TfL says, “Don’t worry about it. We can be trusted.” The difficulty is that TfL’s behaviour during the past few years, with some of the developments we know about, shows that we cannot in fact trust it.

Caledonian Road is not a frivolous example. As the hon. Member for Harrow East said, it is one of the few tube stations that has disabled access that is available to the large number of people who go to watch the highly

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successful Arsenal football club, but it will be closed for six months. What about Arsenal fans in wheelchairs during that time? TfL cannot look after a tube station with four shafts. It tells me that it needs to close it for six months to renew one of the lift shafts; yet it has two functioning lifts at the moment, both of which it will stop. I said, “The lift capacity is only 50%, so just use one lift while you are repairing the other one.” It replied, “Oh, but what happens if the lift that is in use breaks down?” I said, “Well, excuse me, TfL, but you’ve got lift engineers on site. You are re-doing the other lift shafts, so what’s your problem?”

If TfL has difficulty running a tube station, I have some concerns about its ability as a property developer, particularly if it goes into partnership with others. Those people may be perfectly adequate. TfL may go into partnership with a latter-day Peabody. That would be fantastic, would it not? It would be great if it went into partnership with somebody who really wanted to provide housing that was entirely appropriate for my constituents. The difficulty is that I do not really believe that, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Harrow East does either. TfL is trying to make as much money as it possibly can out of that land, and it will make as much money from affordable housing as it will from luxury flats.

Andy McDonald: My hon. Friend hits the issue on the head. Of course the value of the assets needs to be maximised, but the structure is based on the best investment opportunity. It will not be a Peabody Trust that comes along: it will be someone who wants to make the maximum money out of it. That is why the flexibility is there. It is an “ask no questions” policy—“we do not care who you are”.

Emily Thornberry: My concern is that we will be the partner who takes unlimited risks. My constituents will not get what they need, but their public assets will have been subject to a fire sale and they will be taking the risk.

Mr Gareth Thomas: My hon. Friend rightly talks about risk. A further risk is the partner that TfL goes into business with on a site—for example, the Caledonian Road tube station site she mentioned—going bust. TfL would be left with a large potential cost to taxpayers and that would make getting the lifts at Harrow on the Hill—which, if she will forgive me, I think are more important than her lift at Caledonian Road—an even more distant prospect.

Emily Thornberry: It is as though the risk is being nationalised and the profit privatised. That is what is happening for the sake of George Osborne being able to balance the books in the CSR.

Rachael Maskell: A further risk is that profits for some of those property developers may be invested offshore and they may not pay tax here. The Treasury would lose even more money on that land.

Emily Thornberry: Many questions need to be asked about the status of the partners that TfL will be able to join in partnership. Will they be offshore? Will they pay taxes here? Will they be able to move the control of the partnerships from one party to another without the

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public—it is our land—being able to stop it? One hears many scary stories, such as money from Moldova being laundered through Scotland—all sorts of extraordinary things go on under these instruments—and my concern is that the limited partners are liable only for the value of any investment they make and do not need to be involved in the management of the partnership. They put their money in, that is the extent of their liability, and we do not know what sort of profits they will then be able to make and we do not know whether they will pay any tax in this country. Those questions need to be asked before we revive this Bill.

Mr Burrowes: My fare-paying, tax-paying constituents— and the hon. Lady’s—will want to know whether future projects offer the best available interest rate at the lowest risk. Everyone wants that to be achieved. Would not clause 4 enable that to happen?

Emily Thornberry: I do not know that it would. It is vague in the extreme. In my view, it is inappropriate for a public company to go into partnership with public assets with who knows who—for us to take the risk of putting the assets out there and see who will put up the money. That is not the sort of slippery Joe operation we should deal with. We are talking about public land in my constituency in the centre of London, and frankly I do not want it to be controlled by the Russian mafia, for instance.

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): I realise that the hon. Lady has concerns, so I will try to be helpful. To answer the questions she has asked, she might want to talk to Labour Sheffield, Labour Barking and Dagenham or Labour Gateshead, which have all entered into similar joint limited partnership arrangements, to see how they have worked.

Emily Thornberry: I do not know what the conditions are in those limited partnerships. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to enlighten me, I will give way again. It is a question of what controls are available.

Mike Freer: From my limited investigations, I understand that Sheffield entered into a local housing company in which the council invested the land and the joint venture partner invested the finance, with shared risk. Barking and Dagenham had a special purpose vehicle, in which the council put in the land and the private investor put in the money. Gateshead had a local asset backed vehicle—I believe such vehicles were introduced by the previous Government—where the council put in the property but the private sector put in the finance.

Emily Thornberry: As the hon. Gentleman said, there was some form of shared risk, but there is no shared risk in this instrument as I understand it. If I am wrong I am open to being corrected, but I do not believe I am. That, essentially, is my concern.

Mr Gareth Thomas: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for raising the example of Sheffield. Sheffield Housing Company is an extremely interesting model. I am surprised to hear a Conservative pushing an example of local housing companies being set up, because they enable the right to buy not to apply to any properties built by such housing

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companies. It is very odd that the hon. Gentleman should pray that in aid, given some of the other proposed legislation this House is debating at the moment.

Emily Thornberry: There we are. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe we ought to be focusing on whether the Bill should be revived and whether it will make London a better place. My fundamental belief is that it will not.

There are more questions in relation to the Bill than there are answers. It is about disposing of land all over London, much of it operational land. Some of it may be appropriate for development, but some of it may not. Who is to say whether these shady partners might not be pushing TfL into inappropriate developments? Yes of course we need housing, but where may we have it? For example, there is a large tract of land next to Farringdon station just by Farringdon road that on the face of it is very valuable. At the moment, it is just tracks. Is there a possibility of that land being built over and some form of flats being built there? I do not know.

Is there a possibility of something being built over Old Street? Old Street is a phenomenal station. It has two wells in it. I do not know how it functions as a tube station, but what kind of property might be built on top of it? We may well find these shady partners pushing TfL into developing such areas, which would be entirely inappropriate for the building of flats, even luxury flats. We should be very careful about that.

Another risk of the Bill is that we may end up restricting TfL’s ability to invest more in transport in London, because we have caged in a particular area or built a block of flats on a particular place, not allowing it to continue to develop the transport system that London needs and deserves.

Andy McDonald: We have heard examples of investments in other places in other cities, but is there not a stark distinction between other places and London? There is no risk involved whatever in investing in the property market in London. People are investing in a goldmine, so there is no need for special purpose vehicles or any other such arrangements that may not withstand scrutiny. Is that not the reality of the situation?

Emily Thornberry: Certainly, the way things seem at the moment is that the property market in London only goes upwards. We will see what happens in the future. There has to be, in the end, a limit to it, and there may be some form of risk. One risk has to be, for example, finding asbestos. If asbestos is found at a development site, what happens then? Again, the risk is nationalised and the profits are privatised.

Andy Slaughter: My hon. Friend mentions asbestos. The site that begat all this nonsense in the first place is the Earls Court exhibition site, which is coming down at the moment and is absolutely full of asbestos. There are huge risks here. The brakes are being taken off. It seems ironic that Transport for London should think it needs to do something to ease up the London property market. The London property market is out of control as it is. Only TfL, with its lack of commercial acumen, could really think that it should prioritise building more luxury flats with whoever turns up to build them and make it as easy as possible, with no questions asked.

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Emily Thornberry: Yes. Representing and living in the area that I do, I could not agree with my hon. Friend more. The property market continues to be stoked. The Government say “Let’s cut back on the amount of housing benefit available and that will dampen down the property market.” I laugh, because clearly that is not what happens. Instead, rents and property prices continue to rise, and we continue to price Londoners out of London. If it continues to eat itself, London will cease to function. But perhaps that is fine by TfL: no one will need to travel into London because no one will be able to live or work in London. They will need to live so far out that working in the centre will not be viable.

Clive Efford: My hon. Friend, like me, heard the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) say that TfL should be able to maximise the income from the sale of this land, but, as she pointed out, where land values are extremely high, that is likely to squeeze out affordable and social housing. TfL is a public body, however, and there is a shortage of public land on which to build social housing, which is why we need properly to scrutinise how this land is used, instead of selling it off to the highest bidder in every case.

Emily Thornberry: If we do not use public land to build affordable housing, what land will we use? If we sell off the land, and it ends up in the hands of private property speculators, that will be the end of it, in terms of its being within the reach of Londoners.

Again, perhaps someone can enlighten me, but there has been talk that TfL could set up a subsidiary to insulate itself against risk. I do not understand what TfL has said about that, but, on the face of it, if it continues to own the land, or at least to manage it, it seems that a court would say, “The legal instrument might say one thing, but the reality is quite clear”, and strike it down. The project is being built on the never-never, and on very dubious grounds. We are asking serious questions about the risk this public body is being put under. What is TfL going to be doing with our land? What does it mean for the future of London? There are so many questions. I appreciate the Bill has a long history, but that makes it even more disappointing—to say the least—that these questions cannot be answered. They have been asked of TfL many times, yet we still do not have answers. In the absence of such answers, it does not seem correct to revive the Bill.

Andy Slaughter: I will attempt to answer my hon. Friend’s question, although, again, it would be better if the sponsor did. Counsel’s opinion, on exactly this point, expresses doubt about whether such an approach would be within the vires of TfL and lawful and that, even if such a subsidiary was formed, it might also give rise to the issue of vertical liability for TfL. It seems that, if that is what TfL is attempting, it has failed to do so in the Bill.

Emily Thornberry: That is very interesting. If that is counsel’s opinion, why can TfL not allay our fears? It is a pretty fundamental question. As I understand it, attempts have been made over several years to progress the Bill, yet there are still no answers to these important questions. It is not enough for TfL to say to the House, “Please revive the Bill. The Chancellor is going to take £700 million away from us, and we need to sell off our assets to fill the gap.” Economically, it makes no sense;

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socially, it is appalling; and, politically, it is extremely short sighted and not the sort of thing the House should allow.

Mr Gareth Thomas: If the scenario my hon. Friend paints, of £700 million being taken out of TfL’s budget in the spending review, if the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) vote for it, quite clearly against the interests of their constituents, and if the Bill becomes a reality, could not the gap be better plugged by ensuring full fiscal devolution, including of property taxes raised in London, to the Mayor and London local authorities? In that way, some of the rising value in the London property market could be captured for investment in housing or public transport, and the sort of controversial things we are discussing now might not be needed.

Emily Thornberry: My hon. Friend tempts me. I understand what he says, and there are times when London MPs argue for investment in our infrastructure, yet wonder why it is that London has to beg when it is the driving force behind our economy—

Andy McDonald rose

Emily Thornberry: I will give way in a moment!

London is a driving force, so it seems a ridiculous idea that TfL can be so short-changed at a time like this, when the economy is supposed to be getting back on its feet, and we are finally coming out of the recession caused by the international financial crisis. We seem finally to be staggering our way out of it, despite the Tories crowing about it over a large number of years. At a time like this—[Interruption.] The Minister says “Staggering?” from a sedentary position. There are 3 million people in this country who believe themselves to be underemployed, and, despite the fact that there may seem to be more people employed, the last lot of statistics show that the number of hours we are working as a nation has gone down. So, yes, I do say “staggering”.

Andy McDonald: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. She is being tempted down a particular path, so I simply wish to bring to her attention the fact that, at least on the Labour Benches, we are all in it together, and there is a momentum and imperative towards us staying together in solidarity, which is the order of the day. We should not forget the regions that have made a major contribution to this city in building its sewers, its stadiums and all the rest of it. I ask my hon. Friend not to be too tempted by the proposition suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas).

Emily Thornberry: I am very grateful to my comrade for bringing me back from the brink. In those circumstances, there is nothing more to say about that.

Andy Slaughter: I wonder whether I can help my hon. Friend by putting it slightly differently. As London MPs we are very grateful for the support from great engineering and great railway towns around the country, such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I think the nail was hit on the head in the answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), who is no longer

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in his place, about whether there is a balance between Londoners who want access to housing and Londoners who want reasonable fares. The answer is that everybody is losing out under this scheme. The cover on this Bill has been blown by the revelation that money is going to be sucked out of London and that TfL is going to have to scrabble around, selling the family silver simply to pay the fares bill over the next year or two. That is a disgraceful way to run the economy.

Emily Thornberry: That, in summary, is my objection to the Bill. It seems to me that we need to call out its true intentions. I am afraid that, supporter as I am of TfL—I have written to its director to praise him, but I have to criticise other things—I have to say that TfL is making a mistake about this. I suspect that the reason it is trying to make this terrible mistake is that it is being pushed by the Government who are looking to entirely short-term gain. This is not in the interest of Londoners, so the Bill should not be revived.

8.58 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who has been an assiduous campaigner for this Bill and made some very important points in seeking its revival on the Floor of the House today. I have listened with interest to the contributions and I hope to continue to do so. I have say, however, that we have meandered—nay, staggered—round a very circuitous path in talking about this Bill. We have talked about mafias, Moldova and the city of York, which the last time I looked was a little way away from the city of London. We have staggered around a special purpose vehicle, and for some reason the image of a white van is flashing before my eyes.

What I have also noticed is a revival of interest in transport matters on the Opposition Benches. Many Labour Members are frequent and assiduous campaigners on behalf of constituents in London, but there are also those I have neither heard nor seen in my time as the Minister—either at Transport questions or in any correspondence coming across my desk. I am therefore delighted that we are seeing that revival of interest in transport matters this evening.

Let us now return to reality, rather than remaining in the meandering world that we have been inhabiting. The Bill simply seeks to enable TfL to expand its financial freedoms, and to use practices and mechanisms that will allow it to release greater value from its financing arrangements. It is not some back-door attempt to—what was it?—allow members of the Russian mafia in to finance Londoners through special purpose vehicles.

Andy McDonald: The Minister says that the Bill is not a back-door deal to let in various nefarious characters, but how does she know that? How can she guarantee that someone will not come along and exploit this arrangement? Given the lack of transparency, we might never know who that person was.

Claire Perry: Like many Labour Members, the hon. Gentleman is displaying a complete disregard for the scrutiny role of London Assembly members, and, indeed, for the Independent Investment Programme Advisory

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Group, which provides the Mayor with independent insurance and expert advice in relation to TfL’s investment programme. Labour Members are displaying a blatant disregard for the devolved authority that we have given to the Mayor.

Ruth Cadbury: Will the Minister give way?

Claire Perry: I want to make some progress.

That disregard does not sound a very strong note of confidence in Labour’s candidate for next year’s mayoral elections.

I welcome the principle of introducing flexibility to the public finances at a time when the Government are seeking new mechanisms to unlock maximum value from public assets. That flexibility enabled us to build systems that we all celebrate, including many of the railways throughout the country that we all know and love, and it has been used to great effect by many other Departments.

It is no secret that the outcome of the 2015 spending review will be challenging, and it is right that we are looking for ways in which to unlock value in the public assets out there while we deliver on our stated intention to reduce TfL’s operational funding over time. To hear Labour Members, one would think that this was an organisation on its knees, but TfL is a world leader in providing public transport systems in one of the most congested cities.

Several hon. Members rose

Claire Perry: I want to make some progress.

TfL is an organisation that manages, extremely effectively, more than £9 billion of revenue every year. It has delivered incredible increases in reliability and efficiency since 2008. Labour Members are displaying a great lack of confidence in our nation’s transport systems.

Andy Slaughter: The Minister does not represent a London constituency. That is not her fault; we all have our cross to bear. However, those of us who have put up with 30 years of incompetence from TfL—both financial and operational—would beg to differ with her. Will she confirm that, as was stated in the Financial Times on 12 November, the London transport network is facing a loss of £700 million a year in state subsidy as a consequence of the comprehensive spending review?

Claire Perry: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Financial Times, but he will have to wait until next week to hear about the spending review. I did not quite catch his other comment, but I think he said something about our not using the tube. I suspect that I have been using it for many more years than he has. Let me return to the point, however. We are trying to find flexible ways—

Emily Thornberry: Will the Minister give way?

Claire Perry: No, I will not.

We are trying to find flexible ways to allow the public sector to use its assets more effectively. Only a party whose face is firmly turned to the past—preferably the nationalised past of the 1970s—would find that an unpalatable mechanism.

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

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Claire Perry: No, I will not.

TfL has already implemented a savings and efficiency programme that will enable it to invest in infrastructure while holding down fares. I have not heard any Labour Members stand up for their constituents who have to get on to the tube every morning, and who are delighted that fares have been kept down.

Clive Efford: Will the Minister give way?

Catherine West: Will the Minister give way?

Claire Perry: No, I will not.

Those constituents are delighted that fares have not been charged for children who are travelling, and they are delighted by the improvements that have been made to stations, including the provision of step-free access throughout the network.

Several hon. Members rose

Claire Perry: I will not give way.

However, TfL still needs to continue to identify further savings, and I understand that this private Bill—

Mr Gareth Thomas: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am greatly enjoying the Minister’s performance and hope it continues for at least another 20 minutes, but is it not part of the traditions of this House that Ministers should take interventions from Members wanting to raise constituency concerns? A series of interventions—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not a point of order. It is entirely up to the person who has the Floor whether or not to take interventions. The hon. Gentleman may find it unfortunate that the Minister is not doing so, but that is entirely her choice.

Claire Perry: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and, to be clear, I am afraid that we heard all sorts of rather pointless interventions earlier, and what we would like to do is make some progress, I think, so we can understand what this Bill is all about.

So let me put some numbers in front of Opposition Members to give them some facts, rather than having them shroud-waving. I understand from TfL that this private Bill could immediately generate savings in excess of £50 million by improving its hedging power, enabling it to borrow money in a cost-effective way and make the most of its assets. If Opposition Members do ever take the tube, they will see the money the tube generates is reinvested in investment programmes, delivering the sorts of transport investments their constituents need.

The Department supports TfL’s commercial programme. We want TfL to better maximise its unique commercial position. We want it to generate the maximum potential from the public assets that it will continue to own, and we believe—

Andy Slaughter: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Claire Perry: I have given way once to the hon. Gentleman.

We believe that giving TfL greater flexibility—

Emily Thornberry rose

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Claire Perry: Oh, do tempt me so I can make some more jokes about vans.

Catherine West rose

Claire Perry: I will take an intervention from the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) instead.

Catherine West: I thank the Minister for giving way. Does she accept that transport providers are often not the best organisations to launch into a business programme, particularly where we have examples such as that of Earls Court, which has been well and truly exposed tonight, where TfL did not get the best value for money or the best value for Londoners? There has been virtually no affordable housing in that scheme and that is the key concern for Londoners. That therefore proves that transport providers are not necessarily the best property developers.

Claire Perry: I am a bit confused by the hon. Lady’s intervention. I think what she is suggesting is we should not give TfL powers—that somehow we should retain these powers or not give it powers at all to try and maximise the commercial value. I will agree with the hon. Lady on this: most state-owned institutions are not good at maximising the value from these particular developments. The same is true across the railway network, but we have to look at different mechanisms to enable organisations to unlock the value from that public-private partnership which is so crucial.

TfL runs a world-class transport system. It is led by an expert transport commissioner.

Emily Thornberry: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way.

The hon. Lady has just talked about TfL running a world-class transport system. There are concerns about some of the changes that have been made, however, such as the closure of the ticket offices. Women in my constituency are very concerned about safety on the lines as a result. The hon. Lady referred to children, but children are unable to get their tickets because the ticket offices are closed and they are not able to get their tickets through the machines.

Claire Perry: I do not know when the hon. Lady last took the tube, but there are such things as Oyster and contactless, which mean in many cases that ticket offices are not required by those taking the tube. I also gently remind the hon. Lady that the 21st-century investments TfL has made are now being looked at by transport systems across the world. I wish Members representing London would realise what we have is a public transport system that moves more than 4 million people on a daily basis and that is the envy of the world in its technology and its investments in the ticketing system. There is this idea that somehow we should be keeping ticket offices open, but in many cases they are kept open. By the way, the British Transport Police, which again the hon. Lady does not appear to recognise, plays an incredible job in keeping people safe. Its Operation Guardian has led to a great jump in the reporting of sexual violence on the tube, the number of cases of which I am determined to drive down. If she would ever like to write to me about transport-related matters, I would be delighted to share such information with her.

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Ms Buck: I wonder whether the hon. Lady saw the Evening Standard on Wednesday of last week. It reported a list of shame of London tube stations, where passengers were often queuing for up to an hour in order to get their tickets following the closure of the ticket office. Although she is painting a rosy picture of everything being wonderful on London transport, will she reflect on the fact that not everybody is able to use Oyster ticket machines and there is still a need in some cases for ticket offices?

Claire Perry: I did not see that report—[Interruption.] Well, I do not read the Standard every day; I apologise. The hon. Lady says that in some stations in central London people are queueing for up to an hour to buy a ticket because they do not have an Oyster card or a contactless card. I find that absolutely astonishing. Frankly, I might have to question the veracity of the reporting.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Claire Perry: May I just finish what I am saying? I will be delighted to hear more speeches after that.

Taking into account the fact that the Bill will deliver real savings and efficiency for council tax payers and fare payers, that it will allow TFL to do what it was set up to do—namely, to take responsibility for the world’s greatest transport system—and that with the Bill we are effectively supporting the role of the devolved Mayor and the crucial scrutiny role of the London Assembly, I can only think that anyone who votes against us tonight does not believe in devolved mayoral accountability, does not have confidence in the scrutiny role that the London Assembly plays and does not give a stuff about their constituents, who will benefit from lower fares and the opportunity to get on the housing ladder through the housing development that the Bill could provide.

9.11 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I am not a London MP—

Claire Perry: No? You’re kidding!

Ian Lavery: I think the Minister has recognised that fact from my accent.

I am not a London MP, and I believe it is really important to understand that it is not just London MPs who have a view on this serious issue. Although I live 300 miles away, I can smell a rat. This is not just about meandering on about Transport for London; it is much more detailed than that. It involves the housing crisis. It involves housing that is really unaffordable. Coupled with the issue faced by TfL, this is about the casino world of property development rather than a conscious decision by that wonderful public service to improve the transport infrastructure of our great capital city, and that really does pose a great threat. The deal being sought under clause 5 of the Bill could expose huge swathe of public finance to unlimited liability.

The Minister has said on more than one occasion that Transport for London is doing a fantastic job and that it is one of the best companies in the world, operating one of the finest transport systems in the world, but is it

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not a fact that the Government reduced its operational funding by 25% in the 2013 spending review? That has put a huge financial burden on TfL.

Mr Gareth Thomas: In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, does he understand the surprise felt by London Members on hearing the Minister talking about the benefit of lower fares that the Bill will bring? Part of the context for the Bill is that fares for journeys between outer London and central London—from Harrow to Baker Street or Westminster, for example—have risen by 60% under the present Mayor.

Ian Lavery: I fully agree. The fares issue was absolutely outrageous. Does anyone really think that, if this Bill is passed, the impact will be a reduction in fares in central London or the outskirts? By the way, I am part of this as well, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just because I come from a different part of the country and do not live in London does not mean that I should not have a say.

Mr Thomas: My hon. Friend should not feel intimidated because he is not from London. He would be very welcome to come to Harrow, particularly to use Harrow on the Hill station, which is crying out for investment and for the sort of lifts that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) has plenty of in the Caledonian Road station—she has four and we do not have any. My constituents have been waiting for an extremely long time to have that sort of accessible service. I do not see this Bill delivering that service—I hope I am wrong, but at the moment I do not see it. I hope that my hon. Friend might be persuaded to come not just to central London where we are now but out to Harrow to see for himself the sort of investment that we need in Harrow on the Hill.

Ian Lavery: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Of course I welcome the opportunity to visit his constituency to see what he has described.

Emily Thornberry: While my hon. Friend is doing a tour of London’s stations, perhaps he could visit Angel tube station, which has the longest escalator in the country, but no lifts. In fact, a Norwegian student skied down the escalator, which my hon. Friend can see on YouTube. Disabled people are unable to get to the Angel, because there are no lifts available for them.

Ian Lavery: I have never had so many kind invitations in my life. I will enjoy the two visits that have been lined up. I wonder whether there is a third such visit.

Catherine West: My hon. Friend could not possibly fail to come to Finsbury Park, because that leads into the Stroud Green part of my constituency. Indeed, we have a problem with step-free access. Perhaps I will use this opportunity to lobby the Minister on that matter. We have long been promised step-free access at Finsbury Park. We have also been promised proper ticket barriers; ours is the only station in London without proper ticket barriers. My hon. Friend is welcome at any time to join us in Finsbury Park.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. If we go through this debate station by station, we will be here for a very long time. This Bill goes rather wider than individual stations. Perhaps Members can bear that in mind and move along a little bit.

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Ian Lavery: I am pleased that you said that, Madam Deputy Speaker, rather than me making that determination. Of course I will go to Finsbury Park station on my visit in the not too distant future. I have listened to all the experts—the people who live in the city and the Members of Parliament who discuss this issue with constituents. It has just been said by colleagues that there is a huge underinvestment in the transport system in London, and there is no doubt about that.

I mentioned the fact that there had been a 25% reduction in operational funding, which was announced in the 2013 spending review. Some £16 billion of savings were also identified to be made by 2021. That is enormous, and will have a hugely detrimental effect. How can we fix the stations to which my hon. Friends refer if Transport for London has not got the finances to do it? That is what the Bill is about. It has been mentioned that the spending review next week could see a further cut of £700 million from the Transport for London budget. That will be a disaster. This is a world class city in which people live. The tourists who come to this fantastic city have to use a system that is totally and utterly underfunded. That does not portray us as the best capital city in the world.

What is the history? TfL promoted a Bill in the last Parliament that would give the organisation new financial powers. The Opposition could live with parts of this Bill, following, of course, more debate and discussion. Parts of it are vaguely acceptable, but the main problem—the crux of the matter—lies in clause 5.

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): As a fellow non-London MP—

Mr Gareth Thomas: Shame!

Cat Smith: It is a shame, as my hon. Friend says.

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) share my concern? As Peter Hendy, who was perhaps the architect of the Bill when it began its journey at TfL, has now moved to the position of chairman of Network Rail, the provisions in the Bill, which would immediately affect London, might go on to affect his constituency and mine in the north of England.

Ian Lavery: Of course. I could not put it better myself and I fully agree.

Let me get back to the issue. The Bill is about property developments that have contained very low levels of affordable housing. It has been suggested that the likes of the now infamous Earls Court development potentially contain only 10% affordable housing.

Andy Slaughter: The master plan for the Earls Court and west Kensington area shows the construction of 8,000 properties, which will include no social rented housing additional to that currently on the site, of which only 11% will be affordable housing. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, “affordable” can mean 80% of market sale or rental value. I am afraid that in central London, that is unaffordable to anyone at all.

Ian Lavery: That is the point, really. The Bill is about the fact that Transport for London has been totally underfunded. It has undergone a huge reduction in funding and there will be more reductions in the spending review. The Minister let the cat out of the bag when she

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said that we will have to take difficult choices. As far as the Conservative party is concerned, that means taking money away. Wait until next week and see what the reduction in the spending review will be.

Andy Slaughter: We all noticed that the Minister did not deny that £700 million might be withheld from TfL, but it is also the case that in any of the proposed developments in zone 1 or 2, about which the sponsor of the Bill talked, TfL has no intention of providing any affordable housing at all.

Ian Lavery: Again, that is extremely concerning. I am not from the area, but I am sure that such cases have been experienced many times in many constituencies in the city. If any of my hon. Friends wanted to give any examples, I would be interested. The House should be prepared to listen to past experiences and to what has happened, as that is what we are likely to see if clause 5 is agreed to.

Catherine West: Will my hon. Friend accept as an example what happens now in the private rented sector, as opposed to the possibilities we might have had under a social housing deal? An income of £75,000 is needed for a household to rent in Finsbury Park. This is not Chelsea: in Finsbury Park, a family with three children wanting to rent in the private sector needs an annual income of £75,000. Is not that why we have such a desperate need for affordable homes? TfL has proved severely wanting as regards the Earls Court scheme and other schemes and that is why we are so desperate to stay in the Chamber at this late hour debating this important matter.

Ian Lavery: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; £75,000 is a king’s ransom to many people. It is not affordable in any way, shape or form.

Emily Thornberry: I can give my hon. Friend another example of public land that has been frittered away by the Mayor of London: Mount Pleasant, which used to belong to Royal Mail. It was privatised and has since been used for luxury flats. There are no affordable homes there for Islington residents. It is a disgrace. The Mayor of London railroaded that change through, in the teeth of united opposition from local people who are desperate for housing.

Ian Lavery: I thank my hon. Friend for that fine example. It appears that there is huge potential for land development in central London. Property developers snap up public sector properties for luxury homes, driving those who cannot afford to buy them out of central London. This will keep going, believe me; that is what is happening in the capital. She mentioned that in her constituency alone, there are 21,000 people on the housing list. How will the proposal help any one of them, in any way, shape, or form? How many children are associated with those 21,000 people? How many people just want a decent property to rent? Many people cannot even afford to rent these properties, but big property dealers snap them up. Someone mentioned gangsters, I think with tongue in cheek, but international corporations and individuals with money to burn will buy these properties in the city. They will be snapped up in seconds. That land, which is really owned by, and should be for the use of, the public—constituents—in London, will be lost for ever.

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Mr Gareth Thomas: With the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), who is no longer in his place, I think I am the only Labour Member from outer London taking part in this debate. [Interruption.] I beg the pardon of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury). There is a further concern for those of us from outer London who have an open mind about development on TfL sites. I think that the Harrow on the Hill site might benefit from development, but my worry is that if the Bill goes through without further assurances, it will concentrate TfL’s mind purely on developing zone 1 and 2 sites. Development of outer London sites, where investment in access and other things is needed, might be delayed even further, because the Bill will be seen as a gold mine so long as there is a focus on zones 1 and 2.

Ian Lavery: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Gold-diggers with money to burn will buy the properties, and will not use them at all.

Andy McDonald: We talk about outer-London MPs, and there are no more outer-London MPs than those from the north-east and Scotland. This is not just a matter of London votes for London laws; it is a matter for everybody. What we have been seeing in this capital city are safety deposit boxes in the sky, with nobody living in them. Those properties could provide proper housing for the population of London, rather than investments. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is indicative of the way the Government are going? I do not know whether it is true, but I strongly suspect that a contractor might be able to get away without even putting proper finishes on such properties, because nobody is ever going to live in them.

Ian Lavery: I thank my hon. Friend. That is the point that I have been making from the outset. The essence of communities in the capital city and elsewhere across the country is affordable properties. Nobody would disagree that we also need private properties. The right balance is needed, and the right balance is different in different areas. But if a huge swathe of properties without the proper finishes is bought up by property developers who live across the globe, what will that contribute to the local economy? Nothing. It will lead to the development of ghost towns in this wonderful city. That is something we must all try to avoid.

The main point of contention, as I mentioned, is clause 5, which refers to limited partnerships. Clause 5 would give Transport for London a new power which would enable it to enter into limited partnerships with private developers and to incur unlimited liabilities. That is a huge gamble with public funds. It is a casino-type economy, which we cannot afford when the economy generally is not at its best. Not only that, but if the Bill is passed, Transport for London could undertake wider activities than it is permitted to undertake now.

Andy McDonald: My hon. Friend rightly focuses on clause 5. Does he agree that the reason there is such freedom in the arrangement, as opposed to the return that is going to be made, is self-evident? If somebody is given the maximum possible return, it is because of the freedoms that that delivers. There is a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability in that arrangement which is utterly dangerous. Does my hon. Friend agree?

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Ian Lavery: Indeed. Although the Bill is not long, it lacks transparency. A limited partnership differs slightly from a limited liability partnership. A limited partnership is a form of agreement between parties, not a distinct legal entity, with unclear consequences for public transparency measures, such as the Freedom of Information Act. In the other form of partnership, the general partner assumes unlimited risk, whereas the secondary or limited partners are liable only for the value of any investment they make. The limited partner may not be involved in the management of the partnership.

Although it is assumed that Transport for London would primarily take the role of a limited partner, the Bill would not prevent the organisation from acting as a general partner. If it assumed the role of limited partner, Transport for London would not be able to end the arrangement without the agreement of the general partner, as has already been mentioned.

Catherine West: Does my hon. Friend agree that those on the Labour Benches would feel much more generous towards the Bill had there been examples of Transport for London achieving what Londoners want, which is 50% affordable housing on all such deals? We got that in the case of Earl’s Court, rather than 10%. We need genuinely affordable homes—not the current definition of “affordable”, which is 80% of the market rate. We know that 80% of the market rate in London is completely unaffordable for the average earner, who is on about £28,000, £29,000 or £30,000 a year.

Ian Lavery: That is another excellent intervention that explains what a lot of people in this city are experiencing.

Mr Gareth Thomas: May I underline the concern that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) raised? For those who read the proceedings, as one or two poor souls in Transport for London will have to do, it is important that they take full note of the concern, at least among Labour Members, about the lack of appetite from Transport for London for genuinely affordable housing. If they gave us some reassurance on that point, perhaps the Bill would have a chance of making progress. Old Oak Common, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) so ably demonstrated, is a huge factor that hangs over the Bill and is responsible for many of the concerns that we are hearing from the Labour Benches.

Ian Lavery: I am not sure I would be comfortable with assurances from the likes of Transport for London on the split between private and public. I have the simple view that Transport for London, as its name suggests, should look after the transport systems in London. It should involve itself in upgrading and updating the transport infrastructure in London, and perhaps not in property development. I would draw the line there. Perhaps my view is wholly different from that of other people on that issue.

Emily Thornberry: That is a point well made, but if there is land that can be developed, I, for one, would not stand in the way of that. If we get a promise from TfL that half the property will be social housing—that, frankly, is what affordable housing means in inner London—it may well find that it has more friends than

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it thinks it does. At the moment, we are nowhere near that. In fact, we have the exact opposite. We are told that zones 1 and 2 will not even have what is laughably called affordable housing.

Ian Lavery: That is interesting. It shows that Labour Members are open to the potential development of land, as long as assurances are given by Transport for London that guarantee the split of the asset. I am not sure whether I would accept such guarantees, but it is important that people recognise that if guarantees were given, there would be room at the table for much more consultation and discussion.

Ian Mearns: A question has to be posed if there is no guarantee from Transport for London. There is no doubt that London has a housing crisis, particularly in the affordable housing sector. If not Transport for London with its property portfolio, who will provide the land for the much needed affordable housing that must be provided for the workers of London?

Ian Lavery: That raises a whole new question that has not been discussed by anyone on either side of the House. It is a valid question that needs answers.

Ms Buck: I, like a number of colleagues, am keen to see land released for development, as long as it is fair and balanced, includes affordable housing and does not substitute for significant cuts in spending on services. Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of people are very jaundiced by the sale of police stations by the Mayor of London? Two police stations in my constituency were sold off, but that did not provide affordable housing; nor did it lead to an investment in front-line policing, which we were told would be a guaranteed consequence of the property sale. We are therefore very jaundiced at the idea that the experience with Transport for London will be any different.

Ian Lavery: Are not people right to be jaundiced? They are sick to death of austerity. When the Government close fire stations, police stations, public buildings and public toilets, they always give the excuse that it will result in a better service for the public purse, and on every occasion the opposite is the case. That is why we need to ensure that this issue is discussed and that the people involved—not just the politicians, TfL and the developers, but everybody—understand what is likely to happen if the Bill is passed.

There have been many arguments about this issue. It has been suggested that TfL should not be able to enter into these partnerships until it proves that it can manage them properly, and I think that is fair. Why should an organisation—a first-class organisation, as the Minister called it—that was created to look after transport infrastructure be allowed to go into property development without proper accountability? I think that is a fair and reasonable question. The Bill would give TfL more power to enter into speculative developments on the sites it owns. We have discussed whether the property prices for these developments are affordable. That needs to reflect what people in the city actually need.

There is also an argument about whether TfL should be getting involved in these limited partnerships, and whether it has the financial competence to do so, because the people it will be getting into bed with under clause 5 are no mice or shrinking violets; they will be used to

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delivering development projects not just in this country but around the globe, so they will be shrewd cookies. We want to ensure that, whatever happens, the people of London get the best deal.

Andy Slaughter: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to be very suspicious of those partners. He said that he thought it might be a slight exaggeration to say that we are dealing not only with people who might take commercial advantage, but with actual fraudsters. That is not so. In relation to the Earls Court development, TfL’s partner, Capco, went into partnership for another part of the site with the Kwok brothers, one of whom is currently serving a five-year sentence for corruption in Hong Kong. If they are the sorts of people who will be involved in the deals, frankly we should have nothing to do with them.

Ian Lavery: I think that it is really wise counsel to scrutinise the qualifications of the people involved with TfL, to see whether they have any nous at all with regard to this. Somebody mentioned gangsters earlier, and perhaps gangsters are getting involved in this. I am sure that more than one has ended up with a five-year prison sentence. Who knows what has been happening behind the scenes, and who knows what is likely to happen if the Bill goes ahead?

Claire Perry: I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s speeches, but I just want to reassure him on a couple of points. First, for TfL to participate in one of these limited partnerships, the Secretary of State’s consent must be sought, and that has to be done through the affirmative resolution procedure. Secondly, before the House gets carried away vilifying limited partnerships, let me point out that the Electoral Commission suggests that since 2010 the Labour party has accepted donations of £3.1 million from limited companies and limited liabilities partnerships—about 5% of its donations. Let us not get carried away vilifying a corporate structure that is used perfectly legitimately right across the country, and, indeed, that has raised funds for the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman should accept the reassurance that the Secretary of State has to sign off any of these partnerships that are put together.

Ian Lavery: I thank the Minister for that intervention. I am not criticising limited partnerships but the potential for bad limited partnerships, and I am wondering whether it is in the best interests of people in the capital city for transport in London to become part of these limited partnerships. She mentioned the donations that the Labour party has received from limited partnerships. I wish I had done my homework to find out exactly how much the property developers, rather than limited partnerships, have donated to the Conservative party.

Andy McDonald: Is there not also a concern about the stamp duty arrangements that are made on these potential transfers down the track? As I understand it, if those are transferred to the limited liability partnerships there will be an exemption from stamp duty. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that before this debate is out we should hear from the Minister the assessment made of the loss of stamp duty as opposed to the returns that will be got on this deal?

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Ian Lavery: I am sure that the Minister will have heard what my hon. Friend says about stamp duty and respond accordingly.

Claire Perry: Again, I would like to give some facts. I cannot answer on stamp duty, which is a good point, but let me gently point out that the sector that has donated the most to the Labour party after the trade unions is the property sector, with £2.1 million raised from individuals or companies involved in that business. If Labour Members would stop scaremongering and consider the benefits that these sorts of flexibilities could bring to their constituents, we might make some progress and get this Bill sorted.

Ian Lavery: I am not sure whether that was an intervention or another speech, but I thank the Minister.

Catherine West: This is not about the private sector per se, but the track record. In a large investment such as Earls Court, 10% affordable homes is not acceptable. The fire station in Clerkenwell closed because the Mayor of London was keen to see posh flats instead of services. Muswell Hill police station closed and is about to be sold for half a dozen posh flats. There is the continual sense that we are being ripped off. Transport providers are not necessarily the best people to be running property developments.

Ian Lavery: That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), who mentioned that ordinary people in London are jaundiced by the experiences they have had before. The police station or the fire station is bulldozed, there are the luxury flats that people do not live in, and then we have ghost towns, which means that there is a downward spiral in the local economies. The only people who make anything from it will be the property developers.

Emily Thornberry: My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. The fact is that our communities are being hollowed out. We do not object in principle to people coming from all over the world to live in London, as they always have done, so long as they do live here—it is buying properties and leaving them empty that is the problem.

Ian Lavery: That is a good point. London is a fantastic multicultural community, and we welcome people from all corners of the globe. We welcome them coming here to spend their money—of course we do. What is unacceptable is what the people of London could face if this Bill goes through. Property developers will be coming in, snapping up the land, and giving money to Transport for London that it should have had in the first place if it had not had these huge cuts, with more to come. That is the real issue.

Mr Gareth Thomas: My hon. Friends and I have dwelled on the experience of Old Oak Common. One would think that TfL would have learned from that experience and sought to reassure Members about its commitment to building affordable housing in future. In actual fact, it has created an advisory board to drive its property development, and no one on that advisory board has experience of building, developing and owning social housing—

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. There are several Members who still wish to speak. The hon. Gentleman knows that that was too long for an intervention. He is seeking to catch my eye, but if he makes a very long intervention, his chances of catching my eye go down considerably.

Ian Lavery: I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas). I wonder whether he could repeat exactly what he said. [Laughter.] I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was taking liberties and it was said merely in jest.

In conclusion, it is widely accepted by many of the British public that Transport for London needs to be saved from itself. It faces financial challenges that we had all, in the main, hoped would be different.

Andy Slaughter: I know my hon. Friend is about to conclude, but Transport for London is being saved from itself by the process of scrutinising this Bill. The Minister, who has become garrulous now that she does not have to take interventions, should have added that the only reason the Secretary of State’s consent is needed on clause 5 is that that concession was achieved in the Bill Committee.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Madam Deputy Speaker isn’t happy.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Is the hon. Gentleman questioning something?

Stephen Pound indicated dissent.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I did not think so.

Ian Lavery: I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). This great city cannot afford TfL’s being speculative and gambling on the property market, which will only benefit people who have the money to buy hugely luxurious properties. Simply put, TfL needs proper funding, not the projected cuts of £700 million. I hope the Minister will say that there will be no further reductions in central Government funding to TfL. It will be interesting to see whether that actually happens.

We need to look after the people we represent. I and the Labour party firmly and clearly believe that this dangerous Bill should be opposed, for the simple reason that it is not about enhancing the lives of people in London or of people who use the capital city, or about enhancing transport infrastructure, whether it be tubes, trains or buses. It is about underfunding a great service and putting strains and pressures on Transport for London to look elsewhere to raise finances so that it can keep its head above water.

9.53 pm

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I am glad to be able to make a contribution to this debate. I am not from the city of London—I am from the city of York, which is a railway city—but I have many concerns about the Bill, and many of my hon. Friends have touched on them this evening.