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Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the recent speech by the United Nations Secretary-General on the lack of progress towards a political solution to a divided Cyprus.

My Lords, the United Nations Secretary-General has made it clear that a solution will take compromise and flexibility from both sides. We hope that both leaders take advantage of the meeting with the United Nations Secretary-General, or his representative, on 7 July, and the period leading up to it, to work jointly and concretely towards reaching a mutually acceptable, lasting settlement. We will lend whatever support we are able to in the hope of bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. He will be aware that United Nations’ peacekeeping troops have been in Cyprus since 1964 and that inter-communal talks have been going on intermittently since 1967. Post the 2004 Annan peace plan, which was rejected by the Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Cypriots remain isolated, while Greek Cypriots are in Europe and are to take over the presidency of the EU next year. If the latest round of talks fails, will it be time to look at other solutions, and is a divided Cyprus in Europe desirable or sustainable?

Obviously we hope that the next round of talks will make progress. As the noble Baroness knows, the talks will take place under Alexander Downer, a former Australian Foreign Minister, whom many of us know. I am sure that he will preside skilfully and try to get some advance and agreement. On the role of the Republic of Cyprus in the EU presidency next year, we are confident that it will fulfil its responsibilities under European legislation, as it is required to do. I do not think we need have worries on that score. My noble friend is quite right to say that this has been going on for years—almost back into distant memory—and we long to see real and positive progress, but we think that the UN Secretary-General’s procedures are the right ones to follow to achieve a better base.

Have there been any developments in the Apostolides v Orams case since the Court of Appeal upheld the European Court of Justice ruling that the judgment of the courts in the Republic of Cyprus had jurisdiction in the Turkish-occupied part of the island? Is it still the Government’s view that British subjects who consider buying property in the north should exercise the greatest care in ensuring that they are entitled to buy that property?

On the latter point, it certainly is the Government’s view that the greatest care should be exercised. A complex and sensitive issue of the Cyprus problem is the question of title deeds. Our advice has been to give very clear guidance and to take great caution when purchasing property in Cyprus. I cannot comment particularly on the Orams case at the moment, but the British High Commissioner in Cyprus has raised this issue with the Republic of Cyprus Ministry of the Interior and received assurances that the Cypriot Government intend to introduce a Bill to address the overall problem of finding that the people from whom you bought a property were not the legal owners. I recognise that the issue has affected a large number of British citizens who purchased property in Cyprus. Ultimately, this is a matter for the Cypriot Government.

My Lords, does the Foreign Office remember what the Akritas plan was? If so, will the Minister tell the House where else within our sphere of influence has an entire national identity been shunned and isolated, as the Turkish Cypriots’ has been for 37 years for resisting the Greek Cypriot plan to ethnically cleanse them?

I think that I can safely say that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a pretty long memory about many of these issues. In some cases, as we know from a recent announcement, some of the files were not immediately available but recently have become available about those dark days in the past. The noble Lord is taking us back to many plans and arrangements, going right back to EOKA itself, which ended in tragedy and difficulty and have underpinned the situation we have today of a divided island. The best thing to do is to put these matters behind us and try to build a positive and creative atmosphere in which we can overcome the still considerable range of problems to bring about the end of this island partition and the proper emergence of a bizonal, federal Cyprus.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the biggest practical problem facing Cypriots wanting to reunify is the difference in GDP between the two halves of the island, and that the best way of improving things on the Turkish Cypriot side would be for the European Union to implement the direct trade regulation? Can the noble Lord assure us that the Government will really push for this particular measure, which is practical and offers part of a solution?

I have two points in answer to my noble friend. First, the EU is putting a considerable volume of funds into northern Cyprus, precisely with the thought that when the happier days come, the disparity in incomes will be somewhat overcome. I have a figure here of €259 million, I think, for the current year, a very considerable sum indeed. That may be over two years, actually. So on that side things are being done. As to the problem of trade between Turkey and the rest of the EU and the bar on the use of Turkish ports by EU or Greek Cypriot shipping in response to the fact that the EU appears to have pursued a policy of isolation of northern Cyprus, that is a very difficult issue. There is a stalemate at the moment, with each side waiting for the other to move. However, I agree with my noble friend that if we can get movement on that front on both sides, trade and prosperity will open up and the problems of northern Cyprus will be further alleviated.

May I urge the Minister to continue the support of the United Kingdom for the United Nations recommendation over many years that the answer to the problem in Cyprus is a bizonal, bifederal state based on political equality and that any other solutions simply will not work? It is easy to blame other powers in the region for doing this or that, this year or last year or whenever, but the real answer is that given the active support of the new Turkish Government and the Greek Government and especially in the light of the better relations that now exist between them, they should take the lead to encourage the leaders of both communities in Cyprus that a solution is almost a hand’s reach away if they simply make up their minds to get down to doing this and giving it a try.

The noble Lord speaks complete sense, and I agree with very nearly everything he says. Obviously, we have hopes: there is a renewed Government in Turkey, which is playing as a nation a responsible and forward part in the global agenda and certainly the agenda of the entire region. We must look to the Turkish Government to play their part; we must also look to Athens to the Greek Government, who have many problems on their plate at the moment, to be constructive. There is absolutely no doubt that with the right spirit in Athens and Ankara, we really could make progress in this very long-standing problem.