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Volume 886: debated on Friday 14 February 1975

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the situation in Cyprus.

We understand that at noon on 13th February Mr. Denktash, the Vice-President of the Republic of Cyprus and the Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community, proclaimed what he called a Federated Turkish State of the Republic of Cyprus with himself as the head of that State—a statement which Her Majesty's Government deplore. He has made no communication to us. According to Press reports, Mr. Denktash has said that this is not a unilateral declaration of independence on the part of the Turkish Cypriots, adding that he does not seek international recognition. A declaration by Mr. Denktash does not in itself alter our attitude to the legitimate Government of Cyprus nor our obligations under the 1960 treaties.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. Will he say whether the Government were taken completely by surprise by the events which have taken place? If not, what initiatives have the Government taken, or what initiatives do they propose to take, under the London and Geneva agreements in accordance with the assurance the Foreign Secretary gave the House on 5th February, namely, that if the talks broke down the Government would act?

The Government were taken by surprise in the sense that the talks to which my right hon. Friend referred have still not broken down. There has been no announcement that the talks between Mr. Denktash and Mr. Clerides are over or suspended, let alone abandoned, and it is our hope that they will continue. I shall be seeing both the Turkish and the Greek ambassadors later today, and I shall make it clear that we continue to believe that under the framework of the legitimate Government of Cyprus progress would best be secured by a continuation of these talks.

In view of the seriousness of the situation, or the potential gravity of it, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether an effort will be made by the Government to provide time for an early debate?

That is, clearly, not a matter for me, but I understand the anxiety to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers and I shall make sure that the Leader of the House understands his feelings.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the legal position is somewhat confused if, on the one hand, we are talking about a Turkish Federated State and, on the other, Mr. Denktash does not call for international recognition? May I ask what has been the reaction of the Turkish Government—whether they have accorded de facto or de jure recognition?

Secondly, can the Minister confirm—I think he said so to the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)—that this does not preclude the possibility of a federation of all sections of Cyprus? Apart from our own position in having, I gather, joined the Greek Government in making representations to the United Nations, what further action have the Government in mind?

The right hon. Gentleman has asked a number of important questions, and I hope the House will forgive me if I answer each in some detail.

Reports that we have joined the Greek Government in making representations to the United Nations are incorrect. We have not been asked to do so.

The legal confusion is not on our part. We do not talk of the Federated Turkish State of Cyprus—Mr. Denktash does. As far as we are concerned, the legal position is clear. The Government of Cyprus is the same today as it was yesterday, and as it was the day before that. Mr. Denktash insists that the federated State which he claims he set up yesterday is, and will continue to be, part of a unitary Cyprus—unitary in the sense that it will have a single Government, single international obligations, a single high commissioner and a single foreign policy—but that is his judgment, and the confusion to which the right hon. Gentleman refers has to be apportioned to Mr. Denktash.

I hope to clarify the position of the Government of Turkey when I talk to their ambassador later today, but I understand that they regard what Mr. Denktash did yesterday as creating a part of a State of Cyprus, rather than in any way an independent State on its own. Clearly, these are matters which I shall want to discuss with the ambassador later today.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a deplorable departure from international conventions on the part of the Ankara Government? Does not this place the British Government in a difficult situation? Indeed, does it not challenge our diplomatic relationships with the Ankara Government and, further, our existence as a signatory to the guarantee treaty? What is the position of the British Government in the talks from now on between Mr. Denktash and Mr. Clerides?

My hon. Friend described the action as deplorable. I said that the Government deplored it. We are separated only by parts of speech. We are agreed on the general tone of what my hon. Friend said.

As for the action which Her Majesty's Government take, the position is clear. We continue to believe that the Denktash-Clerides talks, if they can continue, are the best prospect for progress towards peace and stability for Cyprus, and we shall do our best to encourage them. If they are not possible, Her Majesty's Government are available to co-operate in any other solution which is acceptable in terms of honour, the treaties, and the United Nations. It is a good deal easier to hypothesise that Her Majesty's Government should be doing something than to stipulate what the Government should be doing.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the total confusion caused by Mr. Denktash's very strange statement, but it seems a little over-optimistic to hope that these talks can be resumed. If they break down, will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider reconvening the external Powers to see whether something can be worked out in order to avoid a potentially extremely serious state of affairs?

When the right hon. Gentleman has cleared up what Mr. Denktash's statement means, will be report back to the House as early as possible, perhaps on Monday?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that a great question mark must be placed against the continuation of the Denktash-Clerides talks, though if it is possible for them to go on that would be a good thing.

As for a meeting between the guarantor Powers, we have to be sure that the time is right for that and that the initiative would be welcomed. Nothing could be more likely to lead to continued difficulty and a postponement of a lasting solution than an attempt to produce a guarantor Power's conference which ended in failure and hardened attitudes rather than moved towards improvement.

As for an early statement, again I understand the concern of the House, and I shall bear that in mind.

Although this is obviously an unhelpful and provocative gesture, does it not amount to little more than a gesture? Is it not important to do all that we can to play down its importance and to make sure that the talks go on, however, much we think that the Turks have not helped by behaving in this way?

It may be described as a gesture, as a fundamental breach of the constitution or in a number of other ways. But we may be sure that it is not likely to promote the outcome to the Cyprus situation which this House and the Government want. We must hope now that there will be no more actions, retaliatory or compensatory, to make the situation even more difficult and the outcome even less likely to form the basis for a proper solution to the problem.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the recent development is viewed with very great concern by the 200,000 or so Greek Cypriot refugees in camps and by the many others who have come to this country, a great number of whom live in my constituency at the moment? Their concern is about the increasing remoteness of any prospect of their regaining their homes and land which they lost in the recent upsets. Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that unless steps are taken to allow these people to return to what is theirs, there may develop in Cyprus a situation similar to that which we saw in Palestine, with refugees and all the agonies which the world will see as a result?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I agree with almost all that he said except his Palestine analogy at the end of his remarks. I do not believe that analogies of that kind are helpful in this difficult situation. I understand the concern of the Cypriot community in Britain, and I know of the hon. Gentleman's concern on their behalf as one of their representatives in this House. Her Majesty's Government have done all that they can to achieve a solution in Cyprus which allows all the refugees to return to their homes. But our powers are limited. We shall continue to do all that we can to ensure that homes are restored, that families are re-united, and that refugees are allowed to return.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that among the Cypriot community in London there is increasing puzzlement about just what the Government are a guarantor of in Cyprus? When my right hon. Friend has ascertained the true facts, will he leave open the possibility of taking some action on this matter? Simple words deploring this development will increase the cynicism among refugees that Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to act under their treaty obligations.

If that doubt exists, I hope that my hon. Friend, who clearly does not share it himself, will do all that he can to put their minds at rest. The Government remain a guarantor of the principles which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out in his statement earlier this week. The Government are anxious to do all that they can to restore peace, harmony and territorial integrity to the island of Cyprus. If my hon. Friend has any recommendations about what we should be doing in terms of action rather than in terms of the negotiation that we have tried to promote, I shall be happy to hear his suggestions.

Bearing in mind that the solution to this dreadful problem is essential to NATO and to the whole Western alliance and that there can be no proper solution without the full agreement of Greece and Turkey, will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the Foreign Secretary the desirability of his taking a real initiative and inviting the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey to this country together with representatives of the Cypriot communities to discuss this matter? It is vital that something is done, and I suggest that the Government have a responsibility to take the initiative in this regard.

I have no doubt that if my right hon. Friend's judgment was that such an initiative was likely to promote the ends which we all seek, he would take that initiative. I have no doubt that he will keep all these suggestions in mind. But we have to recall what happened in the summer. My right hon. Friend then convened the first Geneva conference, which enjoyed a good deal of success and ended the fighting. The second Geneva conference did not end in such a happy fashion. I think that it would be my right hon. Friend's view that taking an initiative which ended in failure was less likely to promote peace in Cyprus than waiting for the right moment. I am sure that that has to be our continued policy.

How many British nationals are there still in Turkish Cyprus? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to take special measures to protect their position in present circumstances?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a numerical answer to his question, but I assure him that when I see the Turkish ambassador today one of my principal tasks will be to remind him of the obligations of the Turkish forces in the north of the island to British citizens and their property. I shall make that point with some force.

I share the concern which has been expressed this morning on behalf of the Cypriot community in London. This latest development came to many of us who are concerned about the problem as a bolt from the blue. Can my right hon. Friend say what consultations, if any, took place between Her Majesty's Government and Mr. Denktash about the possibility of this development? If any information was passed at any time, what attitude did Her Majesty's Government take to the proposal?

I made it clear that we had no warning and no reason to believe that this would happen. As I said in my initial statement, all that we know now we have obtained from newspaper reports of Mr. Denktash's Press conference. There has been no official communication with Her Majesty's Government about this since it happened or, indeed, before it happened.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we all deplore this unilateral action taken by the Turkish Cypriots, but does he agree that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus are themselves a Greek community Government set up in 1963, again in breach of the 1960 agreements? Does it remain the policy of Her Majesty's Government not to take sides in this issue but to use their best endeavours to try to bring the two sides together, either themselves or in conjunction with the other guarantor Powers?

I tried my best this morning to deplore individual actions which I regard as improper and undesirable without seeming to take sides, because I share the right hon. Gentleman's view that that would not help in arriving at the solution which we all seek. At this Press conference Mr. Denktash said that he had appointed Turkish ministers and that might not be in conformity with the 1960 constitution, but that Archbishop Makarios had appointed Greek ministers for a number of years, I think equally not in conformity with the constitution. I endorse the right hon. Gentleman's comment that this is a confused situation in every sense, and that is why we have to tread so carefully when we talk about initiatives.