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Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 5 February 1975

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In view of the questions that were asked last week I will, with permission, make a statement on Cyprus.

During my recent visit to the United States, I had separate discussions on Cyprus with Dr. Kissinger and Dr. Waldheim, the Secretary General of the United Nations.

It is Her Majesty's Government's view that at present, and despite their slow progress, the talks between Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash continue to provide the best chances of moving towards a settlement. The Government fully support these talks and hope that they will be pursued with a greater sense of urgency. A lasting settlement is most likely to be achieved if the Cypriots themselves agree upon the nature of a constitutional settlement. The present talks provide the people of Cyprus, of both communities, with an opportunity to do so.

Our policy remains based on active support for the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and of the General Assembly. I reaffirm that Her Majesty's Government will be ready to support any solution which is acceptable to both communities, and which maintains the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus. I also reaffirm that, if it is the wish of the parties that we should assist in wider negotiations to reach a settlement, we remain ready to do this or to help in any other forum.

The House is aware that the transfer to Turkey of the Turkish Cypriots from the Western Sovereign Base Area is now complete. Winter weather in the camp in the Western Sovereign Base Area had, as I saw for myself when I visited Akrotiri briefly on my way to Africa, brought about a significant worsening in the conditions of these unfortunate refugees. It would have been inhumane to withhold agreement any longer. I was not willing to use these people as political pawns and I refute the suggestion that, by this decision, Her Majesty's Government have shown some change in our policy towards Cyprus. Some have even used it to argue that we support partition. This is untrue.

I remain very conscious of the plight of the Greek Cypriot refugees. We shall continue to do whatever we can to help them. The British Government have not forgotten that many Greek Cypriots have lost their homes and livelihoods. By virtue of their numbers alone, the Greek Cypriots' problems are much greater. Britain has given over £1·5 million in relief aid to Cyprus, but no lasting solution can be found until there has been a political settlement. Nor have we forgotten the many British subjects who have suffered in Cyprus, whether by loss of life or injury, or by damage or loss of property. We are trying to obtain compensation for them and to protect their interests in every way we can.

Humanitarian considerations equally call for a move by Turkey to help the Greek Cypriot refugees. I understand that a proposal has been made that some 5,000 Greek Cypriots should be allowed to return to their homes in an area round Athienou. It remains to be seen whether the conditions for their return can be accepted by the Greek Cypriots, as the villages concerned are behind the Turkish lines.

It would be wrong to assume too quickly that these talks between Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash are irrevocably deadlocked at any one point. The problems of Cyprus have never been easy to solve and a long-term settlement of the many humanitarian, social and political problems of the Republic as a whole can be found only by some agreement between the two communities themselves.

I am in continuing contact with Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash as well as with the Greek and Turkish Governments and have urged on all of them the need for serious bilateral negotiations to be pursued without delay.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, which reflects the growing anxieties which have been expressed on both sides of the House about the situation in Cyprus. I welcome his acknowledgement of the plight of the Greek Cypriot refugees and also accept what he said about the rightness of not using the Turkish Cypriot refugees as political pawns, but surely there were discussions with the Turkish Government about the action which they might take to relieve the situation.

As the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that the best hope is perhaps the talks between Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash, what effect does he think the Government's action, taken in the way it was, had upon the talks? Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate what initiatives the Government are taking to secure the implementation of the treaties of London and Zurich of 1960 in order to create arrangements which will guarantee—and I am sure that this is the policy of both sides of the House—the political independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus?

Finally, in view of the importance of this matter and the interest in it displayed on both sides of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman consult and give his support to any proposals which may be made for an early debate?

There has been continuing discussion with the Turkish Government, as with the Greek Government, about the position of 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees who have been displaced from their homes. Alas, they are not within our jurisdiction or our territory, and, therefore, we can only make representations on their behalf.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what effect the evacuation of the Turkish refugees had on the talks. I could only assume that it should make the Turks rather more accommodating in helping some of the Greek refugees. I did not make it a bargain because this is not a subject to bargain about, but the Turkish Government are well aware of my attitude. Indeed, it is the attitude of the United States Secretary of State. Both of us have made continuing representations.

We are anxious to play our part in the London and Zurich agreements when we think that the Clerides-Denktash talks cannot be carried any further. Although they seem to be in a position, I regret to say, of near stalemate, I do not think that we could usefully intervene in those discussions. We are watching the situation literally day by day; it is a continuous review.

The question of a debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but I shall always be willing to account for myself to the House when I am allowed to return to this country from time to time.

Many people will congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his clear and unequivocal rejection of partition, because partition would certainly lead to a continuing foreign, non-Cypriot presence in Cyprus, which would not be for the good.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not use the Turkish Cypriot refugees in Akrotiri as political pawns. Although indubitably he made an extremely honourable decision, does he agree that it appeared to be a change of policy and, therefore, was made to appear as if this country yielded to Turkish pressure? Does he agree that the situation is fairly dangerous? There is a real danger of deadlock. There is the question of the Turkish attitude to Congress and the archbishop's apparent enthusiasm for the Soviet proposal for an international conference.

What proposals does the right hon. Gentleman have to bring a new moment-tum to the talks? In particular, for example, is it true that the Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers will meet in Brussels with Dr. Kissinger in the next 10 days? If so, are we to be involved?

I am glad to repeat that not only do the British Government rule out partition as being a solution which would help but in my conversations in Geneva and subsequently with them the Turkish and Greek Foreign Ministers said that they rule out partition as an effective solution for the problems of Cyprus. I hope that that is still their policy.

On the question of the refugees, I was conscious that I should appear to be succumbing to pressure from someone. But this was a no-win situation. If I had resisted the evacuation of the refugees I should have been told that I was holding them as political hostages. Therefore, I had to take the decision which I thought was right, and, having seen the conditions for myself, despite the misrepresentations, I still think that it was the right thing to do. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the situation in the island is fraught with danger and we must all be careful about the way in which we approach it.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in indicating that in my talks with Dr. Kissinger it was agreed that he would meet in Brussels the Foreign Ministers of Greece and Turkey. I shall not be personally associated with that, but there will be representation in Brussels at that time. I hope to have a very early meeting with Dr. Kissinger immediately after my return from Moscow in about 10 days' time, when we shall be able, I hope, again to concert our policies.

Although my right hon. Friend could not have resisted the evacuation of the Turkish refugees, he could have prevented the Turkish Government from resettling them in the northern territories of the island. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] In the ways which have been suggested. I hope that the House will have a chance of debating some of these matters, which may prevent exacerbating the situation.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his attitude on the question of non-intervention in the Clerides-Denktash talks? Does he agree that it will be virtually impossible to achieve a political settlement and a peaceful solution in the talks if they are based on the concept of ethnic separation and geographical partition? Therefore, if federal government will not lead to a peaceful solution for the island, is it not time to consider recalling the Geneva Conference so that further elements can be introduced as a means of intervening in what must become a deadlock between the Cypriot negotiators?

My hon. Friend's analysis, which is a pessimistic one, may turn out to be right because, as I said in my statement, the progress of the talks is extremely slow and I cannot pretend that I am satisfied with them. I remind the House that they began only on 14th January. But both sides are loth to move precisely because of the difficulty which my hon. Friend thinks I should try to overcome; namely, their fear of each other and desire for ethnic separation.

This is an intractable problem. If I thought that a return to Geneva would help, I should, subject to the views of the Turkish and Greek Governments, be happy to continue to discuss it. I have already made clear that I should be willing to assist in any forum, either there or in the United Nations, if the Government came to the conclusion that that would be helpful.

However, the talks in Cyprus are going on under the chairmanship of the United Nations, and Mr. Weckmann is the United Nations representative there. When I talked with Dr. Waldheim last Saturday, we discussed a formal intervention by the United Nations. We shall keep the idea in mind, but the timing is not just yet.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the implications of this matter go very much wider and that we must all be very disturbed to hear today of the possibility of the Turks, at least temporarily, withdrawing their forces from NATO? Therefore, I wonder what steps the NATO Council is taking to involve itself in this matter.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in the last 20 years the Turkish-Cypriot minority have behaved in a most exemplary fashion, often under extreme provocation—for example, during the EOKA troubles, in 1963, and again in 1974, when the final intervention took place. The same applies—and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees—to the Turkish Government. Their position in 1963, in particular, was extremely difficult. At a time when there were pressures on them to intervene with military force they did not do so. The circumstances in 1974 virtually forced them into that position, and we should bear that in mind.

I do not think I can debate those issues with the hon. Gentleman. I was informed shortly before coming to the House—and I have had no opportunity to check it—that the Turkish Prime Minister has said that Turkey has no intention of withdrawing from the military side of NATO. As to the other issues, this problem, as many others, has a great deal of history, and on the whole, if I have any influence, I would prefer to get the communities to see how they can live together in future, rather than apportion praise or blame for the past.

Has Mr. Clerides or Mr. Denktash made representations to Her Majesty's Government about the unacceptability of arrangements for the use of the sovereign bases in Cyprus by the Americans? Is my right hon. Friend aware how dangerous such arrangements would be to our relations with the Arab countries?

I am not aware of any such arrangements or proposals. None has been made to me.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether Her Majesty's Government propose to assist in exploring the possibility put forward by Mr. Denktash of the internationalisation of Nicosia airport and its administration by a neutral administrator? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Turkish Government have yet made any definitive response in the context of compensation for damage suffered by British nationals and whether in principle they accept liability subject to proof of damage and quantum?

When I had my discussion with Dr. Waldheim last Saturday he had put forward an ingenious proposal for handling the administration of Nicosia airport, but I have not yet been informed whether it has been accepted. That decision is now with the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders. I have not had any response from the Turkish Government on the question of compensation and liability. There is an office to which claimants are directed, which I believe is in the Ministry of Finance—if the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes, I will give him particulars—where people can register their claims, but so far there has been no admission of liability.

I accept my right hon. Friend's concern, which we all share, for the distress of all the refugees and his wise decision on humanitarian grounds to evacuate the Turkish Cypriots from Episkopi. Is not the primary concern of the British Government to look after those refugees who are in the sovereign base areas and to seek to get them resettled as quickly as possible in view of the criticisms and difficulties which face the British Government? What about the new section of Famagusta which is virtually a ghost town? Could we not put pressure on the Turkish Government to relax military operations there and allow the Greek Cypriots to get back into the houses?

I do not believe that there are any refugees in the western sovereign base area, but there are in the eastern sovereign base area of Famagusta. I wish that part of it would be released so that Greek Cypriot refugees could return. The Turkish administration is in no doubt about the views of Her Majesty's Government and others on this matter.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that up to a few days before the Government made the welcome announcement that the Turks would be allowed to go where they wanted, as can any other refugees. I received letters saying that that was impossible on political grounds because it would interfere with political arrangements? The letters were not confidential. I commend on humane grounds what the right hon. Gentleman said, but will he confirm that under international law we have no power to keep people anywhere against their will should they wish to go somewhere else once they have become refugees in our base? I completely support what the right hon. Gentleman said about partition. Does he not agree that the only way to prevent de facto partition is for both sides to get together and hammer out a federal solution?

It is true that we had no right to hold any refugees. The difficulty was that they could not go back to their own homes. I must confess that I modified my view between August and February. At the start I hoped that Mr. Denktash and Mr. Clerides would move fast enough to enable the problem of the refugees—whether Greek or Turkish—to be solved. It became clear that that was not to be, and I had to intervene when I saw the conditions under which the refugees were living. Of course, we have no right to determine where they should go once we have taken the decision that they should be free to leave the area. I do not think that it would be helpful for me to express an opinion at this stage about constitutional arrangements. Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash should get down to this problem as soon as they can and decide on what basis they propose to live together, having excluded—as both have done—the idea of partition.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the commander and the troops of the United Nations forces have a clear mandate as to their rôle? Does he agree that, whereas previously they had a quasi-police function between two indigenous communities, they are now faced with a major invading army and their rôle in that situation must be different? Are they clear about this?

There have been discussions about the nature of their mandate, but I cannot answer that question offhand. If my hon. Friend will put down a Question I will try to give him a detailed answer.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his statement. I was in Cyprus three weeks ago and had talks with Mr. Clerides, Mr. Denktash and Archbishop Makarios. It was generally agreed, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that the best hope of progress was talks between Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash, and that was agreed by the archbishop. Can the right hon. Gentleman throw any light on why there is a deadlock in the talks? Progress was made rapidly at one stage but there now seems to be deadlock. Will the right hon. Gentleman bring pressure to bear on the Turks to release Famagusta so that 60,000 Greek Cypriots can return to the town? Will he express an opinion on whether action by the American Government in withdrawing arms aid to Turkey will help or hinder a possible solution?

In reply to the last part of the question, that is a matter between the United States and Turkey, and I do not think it would be helpful, or indeed proper, for me to express a view on something that is not my responsibility.

As to why the talks have been held up, there has been a dispute about Nicosia airport, which was referred to earlier in this exchange, and that has not been settled. There has been no serious discussion yet on the future constitution. The question of the refugees has reached the stage where there have been discussions about Famagusta, without agreement to open up the port, and there has been the proposal that 5,000 Greek refugees should return behind the Turkish lines, which on the face of it is not very promising given the degree of suspicion between the two communities.

Our powers in this matter are limited unless the House wishes me to embark upon a course of action that would bring down on my head severe criticism. We are confined to making representations and making our position clear. If I am cautious in what I say publicly in the House, that should not necessarily be taken as the degree of caution I exercise in private conversation. Those concerned are aware of our anxiety and our feelings that what it is right to do should be done, and I will continue in that way.