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Volume 234: debated on Friday 17 December 1993

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12.59 pm

Cyprus is often debated by the House and we would all say rightly so. It is a member of the Commonwealth, and the United Kingdom is one of the island's guarantor powers. Nineteen years after the brutal invasion by the Turkish army that divided the island, thousands of Turkish troops are still there and thousands more settlers have been brought from mainland Turkey. Both actions were and remain a scandalous infringement of the rights of the democratic republic of Cyprus and its people.

I welcome the presence in the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), who have loyally been committed to finding an honourable and just solution to the tragedy that has befallen Cyprus since the Turkish invasion. We have always made it clear that we seek a settlement that ensures the rights of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

There have been many hopes of such a settlement over the years, but time and again Mr. Denktash and Ankara have rejected any attempt to reach one. One has only to read the reports of the United Nations Secretary-General to know who is clearly to blame for that lack of progress.

After 19 years, can progress be reported? After all the discussions, is it possible to say, "Progress has been slow in some respects, but here is an example of the commitment of Mr. Denktash and Ankara"? The purpose of this debate is to learn Government thinking, the actions that they think should or need to be taken to restart talks, and what they think should be on the agenda. Are the Government in discussions with the United Nations Secretary-General? If so, what is the subject of that discussion?

The United Kingdom is not only a guarantor power but a member of the United Nations Security Council. What contacts have the Government made with the two other guarantor powers—Greece and Turkey? I hope that the Minister will give a clear and direct answer. Would the Government support any action taken on Cyprus by the Greek Government when it assumes the EC presidency in the near future? What would be the Government's attitude if the Greek Government wanted, as a guarantor power, to put Cyprus high on the agenda?

When Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Cyprus last October, they issued a statement on the Cyprus situation that was fully supported by the British Government and every country represented at that conference.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us what has happened since then. Will I hear today? Will the House be informed of the actions that the Government have taken following the passing of unanimous resolutions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Cyprus in October? We hear repeatedly of the need for confidence-building measures and we would all agree with that.

I could name a couple of actions that could be taken in a matter of days and which, without doubt, would lead to confidence-building measures starting to take place: first, a sizeable reduction in the number of Turkish issue troops who are now in northern Cyprus; and, secondly, a complete stop—I emphasise "complete stop"—in the number of settlers who now come from Turkey into northern Cyprus. Those are confidence-building measures which could be taken without any great delay or problem if the Turkish Government wished to.

I must tell the Minister that the real confidence-building measure would be regarded as the decision that is taken on the town of Famagusta. It is empty of people, except for troops. Just what do the Government say on the issue of Famagusta? Do they support the return of Famagusta? I stress "Famagusta". I do not say "parts of Famagusta", but the full return of the town. The Minister may be aware that that is fully supported by the United Nations.

I am often told, as are other hon. Members who have come to hear my remarks and who hope to make a short contribution, that the United Kingdom Government fully support the efforts of the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General is now calling for the full return of Famagusta. As one of the guarantor powers, do we support that? I must stress to the Minister that it is not some kind of trade-off. It is an issue on which the actions of Mr. Denktash and Ankara will be judged as to their real commitment to a settlement and to the full return of the town of Famagusta.

I have a copy of the document of the Security Council of the United Nations dated 15 December, which was adopted unanimously. Perhaps the Minister has seen it. It says that the Security Council
"Requests the Secretary-General to submit a report by the end of February 1994 on the outcome of his efforts to achieve an agreement on a package of confidence-building measures."
The next two months will test the sincerity of Mr. Denktash and Ankara. I stress to the Minister that that sincerity will not be expressed through their ideas or proposals, but by their full support for the actions of the Secretary-General on Famagusta. The Cyprus Government have fully supported the proposals of the Secretary-General since May this year. There is no question of needing to go to the Cyprus Government to see what they believe. They have clearly announced their stand on this very important issue. The real test of commitment will soon be on Mr. Denktas and Ankara. I hope that we shall hear today where the British Government stand on that commitment.

During Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs questions this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) asked what the Government's response would be to the request from the European Union to have a monitor attending the forthcoming discussions between Cyprus and the officials from northern Cyprus. That person would sit in on those discussions and report back to the Community. The Minister replied that a decision would be made on 20 December. I need hardly remind the House that Monday is 20 December. I expect the Government have already made their decision and I hope that it is favourable to my hon. Friend's request.

Last week, elections took place in occupied northern Cyprus. Although no other country in the world, with the exception of Turkey, recognises northern Cyprus, to be frank, we all know that the Government have contacts in that area. That is what one would expect. What is the Government's views of those elections? To whom are they talking in northern Cyprus?

Those who care about Cyprus look to the future when we genuinely hope that the island of Cyprus becomes a united Cyprus in which the rights of both communities are properly safeguarded. The British Government should ensure that basic freedoms are secured for the people of Cyprus—that is of paramount importance. Refugees should be free to return to wherever their homes were before the 1974 invasion. People should have the freedom to own property and the freedom to move anywhere within the island of Cyprus. Those basic freedoms should be guaranteed for all Cypriots and should be contained within any agreement. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that such commitments and confidence-building measures, about which we hear repeatedly, are supported by the Government. I hope, in time, that they will also be supported by Mr. Denktash and others in Ankara because, as I have already said, in February the Secretary-General will report back to the Security Council on what has happened in the intervening two months since this week's resolution was passed.

I am grateful to the Minister for his presence today, because this debate is of crucial importance to our country. We cannot say that we are concerned about the problem but argue that it does not affect us. I hope that the Minister will offer a real commitment on the part of the British Government. I also hope that he will confirm that between now and when the Secretary-General reports to the Security Council, the Government will make it clear to Mr. Denktash and his colleagues in Ankara that the time has come for their meaningful involvement in the discussions conducted by the Secretary-General.

In recent years, we have had many discussions that have got nowhere. The latest discussion in the long-running tragedy is a test of the sincerity of Mr. Denktash and those in Ankara.

1.13 pm

I am immensely grateful to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who is a fellow friend of Cyprus, for allowing me to contribute to this debate. I congratulate him on securing more Adjournment debates on Cyprus than I have managed to do over the years. I thought that I had the record. I also congratulate him on putting the obvious points with great vigour and effectiveness.

I have been involved in the fortunes and misfortunes of the beautiful but tragic island of Cyprus since I first went there as a young, inexperienced soldier in 1958, when I had the privilege to guard the last colonial governor of Cyprus. From that time, Britain has had more responsibility towards Cyprus than any of the other 180 countries in the United Nations. In recent years, there has been a temptation for the Foreign Office to say that we are fitting in behind the United Nations and the Commonwealth and that we are playing our part. I passionately believe that we should not just be playing a part, but taking a leading role because of our unique responsibilities. Indeed, the United States looks to London to give a lead.

What is happening in Cyprus is intolerable. It is a European and fellow Commonwealth country which is tragically divided. It is too small in political, economic and commercial terms to be divided in that cruel way.

I hope that the Minister will comment on the use of northern Cyprus to harbour refugees from justice, which is an unattractive feature and a growing tendency. As the Ministers knows from my correspondence with him and his officials, it is time for the Government to take some action and we are anxious to hear the Minister's response. Above all, I hope that he will tell us that Britain understands its clear duty in the matter.

1.17 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for allowing other hon. Members a few minutes in which to speak and I congratulate him on securing the debate.

After almost 20 years, it is time that the Government, as a guarantor, decided to do something positive. For almost 20 years, the northern part of Cyprus has been illegally occupied by Turkish troops and it is time that the Government set about settling the problem. Most people refer to the occupation as the Cyprus problem. I refer to it as the Turkish problem, because Turkey made the initial decision and it has the problem. How could we allow such a situation to occur and how can we allow it to continue in this day and age? I welcome the recent moves that the Government have made over Northern Ireland, as do most hon. Members, but it is time that the Government started to make moves to sort out the problem in Cyprus.

On a recent visit to Cyprus, what moved me most was meeting the people who are refugees in their own country. It is unimaginable to us that those refugees look over the border and the barbed wire and see living in their houses and stealing their property, people who were brought in by Turkey and were not born and bred in Cyprus. It cannot be nice to look over that barbed wire week in and week out for almost 20 years at other people who are occupying one's land. It is time that the Government began dealing properly with the problem.

1.18 pm

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on having secured the debate on this important issue. I know how strongly he feels about the matter from meetings that we have had at the Foreign Office and from correspondence on behalf of the people whom he represents. He has brought his judgment to bear on that issue for many years, as have the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend).

We are bound to Cyprus by many ties of family, of history, and of political interests. It is an island which is tragically divided and I also believe that the division is unacceptable. We must not accept that just because the division has existed for 20 years we must somehow learn to live with it. We must redouble our efforts to reach a settlement and a solution. This is not a party political issue: the original division took place under a Labour Government and it has persisted under Conservative Governments. It is generally recognised on both sides of the House that the present situation is unacceptable.

I warmly welcome the Minister's comments—especially those about the unacceptability of the division of Cyprus. Have the British Government officially made it clear to Turkey and the illegal regime in northern Cyprus that, no matter how long it continues, the present division can never be tolerated or accepted in a civilised society?

I can add to that. We have made it clear that we do not recognise the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and that we have no intention of doing so. We were disappointed—and said so—when Mr. Denktash was not able to follow President Clerides in accepting a package of confidence-building measures, which, as we heard, was proposed by the United Nations Secretary-General. We were particularly disappointed when Mr. Denktash did not return to New York—effectively stalling the talks since that time in the summer. We attach considerable weight to the success of those measures. The hon. Member for Tooting mentioned Famagusta. Among the confidence-building measures is the return of Varosha, which is part of Famagusta, to the control of the United Nations. That, in turn, should lead to a more general settlement.

Such measures are crucial because confidence is essential if any long-term settlement is to be achieved. A new generation is growing up on both sides of the divide. Those young people have no experience of living together in a united island. At one time, Turks, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots lived together and, despite undoubted differences, by and large rubbed along and learnt to live with one another. Memories of that time are fading; it is outside young people's experience. For that reason, too, it is important that the political leaders on the island find it in themselves to reach a long-term political settlement.

Since the talks were stalled, there have been elections in northern Cyprus. We do not know what the final outcome will be in terms of the Government, but those elections give a new opportunity. There is the hope—shared, I know, by the United Nations—that we can return to the question of the confidence-building measures. Mr. Clark, the special representative of the Secretary-General, has been asked to resume intensive contact with both sides—and, indeed, with Turkey—following the elections. On 15 December —the date mentioned by the hon. Member for Tooting —the Security Council also endorsed that approach.

The question of an EC observer has been raised. I have been asked what will happen on Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council. That will depend on what European Union member states conclude at the time. I cannot prejudge that discussion. It is, after all, a joint decision that we hope to reach about the possible appointment of an EC observer. I can tell the House that we are being genuinely open-minded about the matter and approach it without prejudice. Our judgment must be influenced chiefly by what is best for the prospect of confidence-building measures. Will the appointment of an observer aid that process? In answer to a question on Wednesday, I said that, if we are satisfied that that will help and not impede the success of those confidence-building measures, we will give the matter favourable consideration.

The Secretary-General laid considerable emphasis on other means by which the European Union might visibly support his efforts. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did just that when he, along with other European Ministers, met Mr. Cetin, the Turkish Foreign Minister, on 8 November at the European Union/Turkey Association Council. My right hon. Friend made it clear to the Turkish Minister that we wished to make rapid progress with the confidence-building measures, after the election in northern Cyprus, and that we looked to the Turkish Government to use their influence and best endeavours to accelerate that process.

We all want a just, viable and lasting settlement, which must be reached by the two communities together. No great imperial power can impose a settlement. The days of colonialism are past—[Interruption.] No doubt to the regret of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). We must take the longer, perhaps stonier, road of getting the local communities and politicians to negotiate between themselves, within a framework set by others, together with all possible assistance and support from friends of Cyprus and from both sides of the community.

We are aiming at a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary put it clearly in the House on 19 November when he said that he was aiming for
"one country, one Cyprus, one Government and two communities."—[Official Report, 19 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 117.]
There is no question of our recognising the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." We condemned its purported declaration in 1983 and the Government helped to secure the United Nations Security Council resolution 541, which considered that declaration to be legally invalid, and that remains our position.

People get confused about why we have contact with the Turkish Cypriot community at all. We are one of the guarantor powers of the treaty of guarantee, and we have a clear obligation to deal with both communities. For that reason, we maintain contact with Mr. Denktash and others who are prominent and have influence in the northern Cyprus community—but that does not imply recognition.

Future efforts will be directed chiefly towards the success of the confidence-building measures, and the recent elections have given us a new opportunity in that respect. Following those elections, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has sent messages to his Greek and Turkish counterparts, and to Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash, urging them to do their utmost to reach a settlement.

We will follow that up. We have reopened the issue not only by way of direct correspondence with those concerned, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will discuss Cyprus with Mrs. Ciller, the Prime Minister of Turkey, when he meets her in the margins of the NATO summit on 10 January. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will raise the issue of Cyprus when he meets Mr. Cetin, the Turkish Foreign Minister, in Akara during his visit to Turkey on 19 and 20 January. After that visit, my right hon. Friend plans to visit Greece and to follow up those discussions in direct communications with the Greek Government on 21 January.

We should see the package of confidence-building measures as important, but they are only the first step. After that, we must make progress with the Secretary-General's set of ideas—which, naturally, we shall support. We cannot compel a solution to be found, but we must work with a will.

Compromises will be required on both sides. We require genuine power sharing between the two communities. The possible nature of the ultimate political arrangement cannot be foreseen at this point, but I can reaffirm that we will not rest until a final solution has been achieved.