Question for Short Debate
My Lords, before the clerk calls the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, I remind Members of the Committee that this is a one-hour debate and contributions from Back-Benchers are therefore limited to three minutes. Hopefully, the Clock will be working. The last time I chaired Grand Committee it was not, and we all had to add up on our fingers and toes. I think that today it is working.
My Lords, I start today’s debate by congratulating my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece on the recent award by Coventry University of an honorary doctorate, partly in recognition of her contribution to the Cyprus peace process. I also thank the House of Lords Library for its very helpful and comprehensive briefing pack. It is clear from even a quick scan of this document that the prospects for the reunification of the island can seem quite remote and the issues involved quite intractable.
The current dispute is now over 40 years old. Over those 40 years there have been many serious attempts by people of good will from both sides of the island and from outside organisations to bring about a resolution. All those attempts have failed and all had one very significant factor in common—they all used, as you might expect, the political machinery of the island as the primary, if not the sole, mechanism for negotiation. Perhaps repeated failure of essentially the same process, albeit with different actors, should come as no surprise. However, at some point those involved have to address the obvious question of whether it really makes sense to do the same thing over and over again and expect something different to happen.
It is fairly easy to see why the prospects for success may now seem remote. Earlier this year, the UN admitted that talks were deadlocked and saw no immediate way ahead. The Republic of Cyprus’s assumption of the EU presidency has had an obviously chilling effect on dialogue. Research conducted in July shows that over 70% of both communities now feel that they should assert their own rights even if it means members of the other community would be negatively affected. The same survey revealed that only 14% of Turkish Cypriots and 39% of Greek Cypriots would prefer a feasible solution now to an optimal solution some time in the future. Perhaps this is not very surprising. As the International Crisis Group pointed out as long ago as 2009, there appears to be a growing younger generation on both sides of the island who have never interacted with each other and see no reason to do so. They do not have a stake in the property issue and may not wish to face the uncertainties and potential problems that a settlement neither side likes, but accepts, would create. There are additional factors that give weight to the ICG’s comments. The economies of both the north and the south are fragile and both rely on external support, but the intrinsic wealth and prospects of the two sides are widely divergent. It would be quite reasonable to see, in the latest failure, the lack of a real desire in the political machines of the north and the south to actually achieve unification.
That is all very complex and distressing, but does it in fact really matter? The two sides are de facto separate states. Does the de jure status actually matter? I believe strongly that it matters very much indeed. It matters to the people of Cyprus, it matters to the people of the eastern Mediterranean, and it matters to Britain. The eastern Mediterranean is now more troubled and unstable than at any time in the last decade. We have a civil war in Syria, enormous tension between Iran and Israel and unresolved situations in Libya and Egypt. Now, added to all that, there are the problems raised by the huge gas finds in Cypriot territorial waters. Exactly who that gas belongs to and in what quantities, how to develop the fields and how to transport the gas, are all questions that, if unresolved, are highly likely to add severely to the political tensions. It would be absurd and tragic if the division of the island effectively prevented any exploitation of those gas fields, yet that is exactly what a senior energy industry executive has predicted to me privately.
But there is a clear positive side to the existence of those fields, quite apart from their potential for the economy of the island. Over the summer, it seems to have given fresh energy to those seeking renegotiation. In September, Alexander Downer said that the Greek and Turkish sides now had a strong economic reason to agree to a reunification that would reduce the sovereign risk of investing in Cyprus, clear up the problems of investing in property, grow GDP and offer the capacity to service and pay off debt. The British Foreign Secretary made the same point when he said recently in Nicosia:
“We have supported the rights of Cyprus to develop resources but I hope that doing so can somehow be an incentive for the settlement of the problem, rather than a disincentive”.
All that is good news. It is a sign that the parties may understand that there is a new and compelling reason to negotiate. However, it does not address the failure of the traditional methods of negotiation. The UN Secretary-General’s report of March this year notes that:
“Civil society also has a crucial role to play in building public confidence in the process. Unfortunately, civil society organizations, and women’s groups in particular, remain outside the framework of the negotiations. I therefore call on the sides to step up their engagement with civil society and women’s groups, with a view to building public confidence in the benefits of a settlement”.
Most involved countries and supranational institutions and many commentators have recognised the force of that. James Ker-Lindsay of the LSE, writing in May this year, concluded that:
“Having comprehensively exhausted the elite focused approach to conflict resolution in Cyprus, it does seem time to radically rethink the ways in which we try to resolve the Cyprus Problem … a truly Cypriot-led process needs to be far more inclusive than has hitherto been the case … the case for involving civil society in any future effort to resolve the Cyprus issue is certainly compelling. After all, everything else has been tried—and failed”.
The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee had this to say on the subject in its report of March this year:
“We … recommend that if this effort fails”—
referring to the then current round of negotiations, which did fail—
“and there is still no settlement on Cyprus once Cyprus’s period as President of the EU Council is completed … the Government should consider whether any alternative approach to the Cyprus situation, by itself and the international community, might be more likely than previous efforts to yield a settlement”.
Fortunately, some organisations have believed in that approach for some years and have made substantial funds available to help encourage the development and inclusion of civil society. That financial help is absolutely critical. As INTRAC noted last year in its extensive briefing paper on the subject, key challenges are sustainability and funding, staffing and maintaining CSO networks. Funding is absolutely the key issue. If we believe that the involvement of civil society can advance reunification, then money needs to be found. In 2009, the EEA awarded €1.5 million in grants to civil society projects in Cyprus. In June this year the EU approved funding of €26.5 million to the Turkish community with the goal of promoting confidence-building and reconciliation between the two parts of the divided island. Beneficiaries of the new funding will include civil society organisations.
But what is Britain’s contribution to the encouragement of civil society in Cyprus? On 11 June this year in a Written Question, I asked Her Majesty’s Government,
“which bi-zonal or bi-communal civil society organisations or projects in Cyprus they currently support”.
This was the Answer:
“We welcome bi-communal work in Cyprus, which is an important way of preparing the ground ahead of a settlement by building trust between the two communities. The UK supports directly the Committee on Missing Persons through both financial donations and by providing its accommodation. In the past 24 months, our High Commission has hosted the Stelios award for successful bi-communal businesses”.—[Official Report, 11/6/12; col. WA 156.]
That does not seem to be a lot and it does not seem to take civil society very seriously. It does not measure up to our history or our obligations in Cyprus. I hope very much that today the Minister will tell us about a much greater effort and much greater funding. After all, a lot is at stake here. I look forward to hearing the contributions of all noble Lords on this matter.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the current chairman of the all-party group for Northern Cyprus. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sharkey for securing this brief debate. For years, Northern Cyprus has been treated unfairly, and even spitefully, by Greek Cypriots. Considering that Britain is a guarantor, I believe that we have failed in our duty to the north to get things right. These people really do not deserve to bear the suffering and hardship that is inflicted on them—and many of us have seen it for ourselves.
In my three minutes, I shall deal with the case of Meliz Redif, a Turkish Cypriot athlete who sought to compete in the Olympics. She had every right to do so, but she was not allowed to unless she changed her nationality, lied, denied her own country and claimed to be from Turkey. The Olympic charter specifically states that taking part is a human right without discrimination of any kind. I cannot believe that Britain, as a guarantor, can stand by while people whose only fault is that they live in the wrong part of Cyprus are treated in this way. It seems that only the reunification of the island will end this suffering. I long to hear that my own Government fully appreciate and understand the unfairness and suffering that is going on, and will seek again to end it.
My Lords, the European Union was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and I hope that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will congratulate the European Union on achieving the aim of providing peace in Europe over the past 60 to 70 years. But one big failure has been the inclusion of Cyprus in the Union when peace has not been secured on the island. My sympathy for Northern Cyprus was increased when I learnt that it had agreed to the Annan plan but southern Cyprus had not. I can assure the Minister that the European Union Select Committee, which is currently writing a report on enlargement, will ensure that never again will anyone come into the European Union represented by a divided nation.
I have had the benefit of twice visiting Turkish Northern Cyprus. At the moment, the EU presidency is held by southern Cyprus. A missed opportunity there was the chance for the two sides to work together both informally and formally to welcome the other countries of Europe. Can the Minister say what help the United Kingdom has given to the presidency—it is the first presidency to be held by Cyprus—in these very difficult times? I hope that we have given administrative help and advice. Perhaps I can press her to take other opportunities after the six-month presidency expires to try to deal with some of the other outstanding problems, not the least of which is that we are still not allowed to operate direct flights from the United Kingdom to Northern Cyprus. Under the Bologna process the vibrant universities of Northern Cyprus are still excluded from exchanging and learning from other universities around the whole of the European Union.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, I have seen NGOs, civil society and particularly the business community come together on the island of Cyprus. These could use opportunities such as gas exploration to help revive the island of Cyprus, which is experiencing some real financial problems on both sides of the dividing line.
If it is the case, as we have learned, that Turkey is now Greece’s number two trading partner—if their two presences are beginning to come together in the economic sphere—it should also be the case for Northern Cyprus. Will the Government make a new initiative to help out and resolve this issue?
My Lords, I declare an interest as the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cyprus. I thank my noble friend Lord Sharkey for securing this debate. I have spoken many times over many hours on Cyprus, but I have never had to do it in three minutes, so I hope that I will get in the key points I wanted to raise today.
As has been mentioned, the UN peacekeeping forces have been in Cyprus since 1964—48 years later they are still there. The problems did not start in 1974, as we so often hear, and like so many others of a Cypriot heritage—in my case, Turkish-Cypriot—my family have been directly affected by decades of unrest, conflict and loss. All Greek and Turkish Cypriots have suffered. There are victims on all sides.
Following the failure of the biggest opportunity, the 2004 Annan peace plan, and the ensuing failed referendum, many of us were hugely disappointed when Greek Cypriots voted overwhelmingly no and Turkish Cypriots voted emphatically yes. This no vote cemented the status quo. In 2004 a categorical promise was given to Turkish Cypriots by the EU to lift and alleviate isolation. What representations have the UK Government made to honour these promises?
The recent efforts of the United Nations towards Cypriot-led talks have failed and I believe they have retrenched divisions. Both the UK and, in my view, the EU have hidden behind the United Nations and are in danger of contracting out any responsibility to help and support new ways towards a solution. Disappointingly, lobbying by some here in the UK has become a campaign to preserve the status quo. I must stress that the groups doing this are a minority, but a vocal minority, adept at lobbying parliamentarians who often lack background knowledge and experience of Cyprus, and simply listen to the loudest voices and form their views after a few days visiting some parts of the island. This is not helpful, and only seeks to polarise opinion and reinforce divisions.
I believe that the United Kingdom, as one of the guarantor powers, has a responsibility to be more proactive and an honest broker. Neither Greek nor Turkish Cypriots can fulfil their potential on an island whose future is so unequal, divided, uncertain, militarised and facing new economic difficulties—and, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, educational difficulties as well. Are we really saying that Turkish Cypriots should be denied recognised qualifications until there is a peace plan at some point? I do not think so.
I believe strongly in the need to unblock the situation on the island and engage civil society, as so eloquently mentioned by my noble friend Lord Sharkey. Both Greek and Turkish-Cypriot NGOs argue that by focusing solely on the talks at the leadership level, we are losing out on real opportunities. The UN formula of two men—and I am afraid that it is always men—locked in a room, disengaged from their respective communities, until they agree on all points, has not worked.
In the north, there is a new civil society movement, spearheaded by Dr Kudret Özersay, the former UN chief negotiator, called Toparlaniyoruz, which in Turkish roughly means, “We are pulling ourselves together” or “We are getting our act together”. I call on the Government here to get their act together a bit more and support NGOs, civil society and organisations working on the ground to bring far more peace, equality and dialogue. If you ask any Greek or Turkish Cypriots, here in London or in Cyprus, about the peace process, the response is likely to be the same: complete apathy and resignation. Can we please see efforts from Her Majesty’s Government and the EU to change this?
My Lords, this debate, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, asks the Government what their current assessment is of the prospects for the reunification of Cyprus. I am sorry to say that my opinion is that they are nil and I shall explain why. I have been to Cyprus for every one of the past 50 years and I am also a regular attendee of the Anglican church in Kyrenia. I well remember 1975, after the coup d’état, when the collection plate went around in the church and we were told, “British pounds or Greek Cypriot pounds but no Turkish lira”. Unfortunately, that was the attitude at that time.
In 1963, the Turkish Cypriots were driven out of the partnership state of Cyprus. In 1974, there was a coup d’etat by the Athens-inspired Government, bringing in the former EOKA leader, Sampson, as the president. In 1975, I was there when, only a few months later, the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus was created, which subsequently in 1983 became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. We are now celebrating the 29th anniversary of peace since the TRNC was created.
In 2004, a peace agreement was proposed by the United Nations. The Turkish Cypriots voted for it, but the Greek Cypriots rejected the peace agreement. What was their reward? The European Union immediately appointed the Greek Cypriots as a member state, which was a disastrous decision yet again by the EU. It was not the first one it has made but this was a very bad decision. It means that the Greek Cypriots no longer have any incentive whatever to reach agreement within the island of Cyprus.
There are three jurisdictions in Cyprus: the Greek Cypriot jurisdiction, known as the Cyprus Government; the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; and, of course, there are United Kingdom sovereign bases. Therefore, we must have talks. As one who took part in the Belfast agreement settlement, I know the importance of talks. But those talks must not be under the auspices of the European Union in any way. It is biased in every respect: Greece is a member, Greek Cyprus is a member and there is a background of accepting Greek Cyprus even though it voted against the Annan agreement.
What is the way forward? We can have unity with Turkey; we can have independence for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus; or we can have a bizonal agreement. Unity with Turkey is already taking place—they have the same religion, the same currency and free trade. Unity is on its way. I do not think that that is the answer and we have to try to do something to stop it. I find independence of the TRNC diplomatically impossible to accept.
You do not want to hear any more. I have some questions for the Government. First, will they investigate how Cyprus, as present president of the European Council, employing 700 people in Brussels, employs only one Turkish Cypriot? Is that fair play? Let us hear the answer to that. Why has that not been raised by the United Kingdom Government? Secondly, why does our sovereign base in southern Cyprus, in Akrotiri, refuse to issue any statements or contact the press in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Conference of European Churches, of which the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Cyprus is a member.
First, I will offer a personal reminiscence. Way back during the summer of 1974, I was preparing myself to take up a post at Lambeth Palace in the then international affairs department. The breaking news of course that summer was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to the provocative tactics, already mentioned, of the Greek-speaking south, instigated by Athens. There the division of Cyprus seems to have remained. I am not unaware of the significant local and international attempts at reconciliation, which we have heard, and we know, have had no success so far.
The points I want to make are simple. First, before the intervention and its provocation, there were many villages and communities where there was a well documented positive relationship between the local communities. The partition and then the movement of populations have made that much more difficult and, indeed, in most places locally impossible. Yet there were places where the two religious communities, Greek Orthodox and Muslim, in part shared, in a local way, each other’s local feasts and festivals. Some restoration of this local community respect and mutual celebration needs to be considered, alongside political initiatives. That is very much alongside what the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said in terms of civil society.
The second point is about the UN and the Green Line. The softening of the Green Line in part in latter years is, of course, welcome—it is easy for tourists. This needs to be further encouraged in terms of the ability of the local communities. Some time ago, I spent some time on the Green Line with the British Army chaplains seconded to the UN force. I could go across either side at will because I have a UN pass and privilege to do that. The local communities need to be enabled to do that again too.
Thirdly and finally, in Turkey there are reasonable and constructive religious relations and dialogue, at least at the level of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Muslim leaders in Istanbul and elsewhere. Obviously that does not apply to more extreme groups, but there are external ecumenical bodies, such as the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches that might in part, alongside a reengagement of civil society, be constructive instruments of reconciliation. In a taxi on the way here this afternoon, I noticed an advertisement for North Cyprus as a unique Mediterranean experience—“beautiful North Cyprus”. I encourage everybody and Her Majesty’s Government to do all we possibly can to make that experience even more beautiful in terms of the reconciliation of communities, in spite of all the international road blocks so far.
My Lords, as a relative newcomer to the Cyprus question and as a member of the all-party Northern Cyprus group, I have listened to many experts speaking in that group and here today. The recent Congressional Research Service paper entitled, optimistically, Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, reiterates that roughly 18% of the population are of Turkish origin, so any settlement must take fair account of this representation. The Treaty of Guarantee of 1960 promised the Turkish population security, which was in danger of being breached by a more hard-line president in Greece, who was encouraging union of the island with Greece. Hence, there was the need for Turkey to invade in 1974 to protect their minority on the island.
I can understand more clearly the history of negotiations since the 2002 Annan plan. The best chances of reunification appeared to be the Christofias-Talat negotiations between 2008 and 2010. However, since Mr Eroglu came to power, relations between the two sides seem to have become much more difficult. President Christofias comes out with little credit and it remains to be seen what the attitude of his successor will be after the election in 2013.
With regards to the issues, the paper makes clear why negotiations have been so difficult. First, there is the very basic issue of how a new united Cyprus would be created. The Greek Cypriots assume it would be evolved from the existing Republic of Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot view, which I have much more sympathy for, is that the new state would be based on two equal founding states. Mr Eroglu has hinted that he is not prepared to give up the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus or its flag. Disagreement has also continued over the process for appointing the president and vice-president.
The next very difficult area is the thorny issue of property. Since 1974, it is estimated that over 150,000 Greek Cypriots living in the north have been forced south, and close to 50,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the south have fled to the north, with both communities leaving massive amounts of vacated property. The establishment of the Immovable Property Commission—the IPC—to hear cases related to Greek Cypriot property in the north was a positive step. It is interesting to note that a few private Greek property owners have filed claims for compensation. As in past negotiations, the gap in the respective Cypriot positions had been great and appears to remain so.
Then there is the by no means small issue of overall territory that would come under the jurisdiction of the two equal states. The Turkish Cypriot side of the Green Line includes approximately 37% of the island and includes several areas that had been almost 100% Greek Cypriot-inhabited before the 1974 division. Greek Cypriots want that territory returned, which would leave the Turkish Cypriot side controlling about 29% of the territory. Next to the property issue, the issue of security guarantees continues to be one of the most difficult bridges to cross. At the end of all this, I feel that the only way forward will be to involve civil society more, but I fear that formalised partition may be a possibility.
My Lords, the recent reports contained in the helpful Library pack make gloomy reading for those of us who strongly favour the reunification of this beautiful island. The Congressional Research Service report ended by asking whether unification can be achieved at all, with the increasing possibility of a permanent separation; a view shared, for example, by Jack Straw. Historians may look back and see the events of 2004, 2008 and 2010, with the good relationship between President Christofias and Mr Talat, as failed opportunities, leading possibly to an ultimate separation.
Does the Minister see any signs of hope in the current position, for example on the apportionment of resources from the recently discovered gas fields? On demography, is it her understanding that many—some say up to 50,000—Turkish settlers have returned to the booming economy of the mainland? Will the election in February 2013 of Mr Anastasiadis of DISY, who voted yes in the referendum, have a positive effect? Does the Minister agree that the key to any possible settlement still lies in Ankara, which, after the EU dimension, has less incentive to press for an agreement?
Surely the grim reality is that there seems to be insufficient political will to make progress. There is currently a sense of drift, with both sides, particularly the younger generation, becoming used to the status quo of a divided island. The lack of confidence has been increased by recent border provocations. In classical Greek drama, when there was no clear ending, a “deus ex machina” was brought on to the stage. Alas, there appear to be none on the horizon, save, perhaps, the greater involvement of civil society as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. The beautiful island of Aphrodite slides towards greater separation all because of a lack of trust on both sides and a continued failure to make progress on the core issues such as property and territory. Can the Minister cheer us by signalling any windows of opportunity?
My Lords, in 2014 it will be 50 years since United Nations troops started peacekeeping in Cyprus. Despite their best efforts, not only has there been a lack of progress but resolution is further away than it has ever been, as public attitudes harden and the economic disparities increase. The international view is that this is entirely a matter for Cyprus. Indeed, the main victims of this failure of political leadership are the Cypriot people. We owe it to them to think about whether it is time to approach this differently. There is also a much wider set of strategic issues that make progress imperative. There is the whole question of Turkey’s membership of the EU and what that means for where Turkey sees its future alliances, and the growing instability in the eastern Mediterranean and how Cyprus plays into that, particularly since the discovery of offshore gas.
Of course, the solution cannot be forced on anyone and nor can you make people undertake fruitful negotiations. However, I believe it is possible to change some facts on the ground, and here are a few possible thoughts. There is currently a proposal to expand the port of Limassol and no doubt an EU grant will be sought to do the work. However, as an alternative, real consideration should be given to developing the port of Famagusta. There is a viable option that would see it operating under the auspices of the European Union and open to all trade. The economic benefits would be significant and it could help unlock the ban on Greek-Cypriot trade using Turkish ports.
Secondly, the EU must turn its attention to meeting the commitment it made to introduce the direct trade regulations that will free up businesses in the north to trade directly with EU countries. The Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce told me two years ago that direct trade would go a long way to bridging the economic gap with the Republic of Cyprus. At the very least, the EU should ensure that barriers are not placed on the transit of goods from north to south under the Green Line regulations.
Thirdly, regional agreement needs to be reached on the development of the offshore gas resources. Currently, the Republic will struggle to develop the fields because of the political uncertainty, and because the cost of liquefying the gas and sending it by sea is unlikely to be economically viable. On the other hand, a gas pipeline through Turkey is a completely different matter. News came from Ankara last week that work has started on a water pipeline from Turkey to Northern Cyprus, to which an electricity pipe will be added. Either the EU or the UN should act as a broker for a deal that develops these new infrastructures for the benefit of the whole island.
Finally, we should build on the work that has been carried out by the UN and EU to build civic society and foster links between the communities. Strengthening these communities, and creating cultural and sporting links on both sides, across the border and internationally, would over time help to change the terms of the debate on the future of Cyprus.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for raising an issue that has preoccupied me for more than 25 years. Rather than repeat what I and others have articulated in support of the human rights of Turkish Cypriots over that period, I want to try, in these few moments available to me, to examine the role and responsibility of the United Kingdom in the context of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, where we were, and still are, one of the three guarantor powers.
Sadly, I have observed over my 30 years in Parliament the extent to which successive UK Governments have allowed themselves to delegate authority to the United Nations, to the United States and, worst of all, to the European Union—to an extent where Ministers are no longer in a position to state a government position but merely seek to interpret extraneous influences that are used to excuse their own political impotence.
It is, at the time when we ponder 50 years of BBC moral ineptitude, not inappropriate to remember the not dissimilar behavioural vulnerability the United Kingdom exploited in order to force Archbishop Makarios into an agreement that was never going to work, had no historical precedent and abandoned Turkish Cypriots to a form of ethnic cleansing that was virtually overlooked until we encountered the later events in the Yugoslav or Balkan wars 20 years ago.
Our culpability was that as a guarantor power we abdicated to the United Nations, which, not for the last time, stood by while innocent women and children were slaughtered by terrorists like Nikos Sampson and EOKA-B. Thank God Turkey, albeit 10 years too late, intervened in 1974. That was 38 years ago and our feeble reaction to this period has been to isolate the victims and to embargo their rights to their identity, their travel, their businesses and their educational opportunities. What arrogance and what injustice. Still, after two generations we merely subscribe to an unrealistic United Nations premise, which was contrived in panic in 1963. We seek to perpetuate a failed process—the Annan plan—which was voted down at the 11th hour by Greek Cypriots when, to our shame, we cravenly abandoned every conditional promise that we had made to the Turkish Cypriots who accepted it.
Time beats me but I conclude with this challenge. I ask the Minister to show me a single episode in this sad 50-year tragedy that brings credit to the United Kingdom. Is the Minister aware that this and the previous Government do not even have the courage to turn up on 11 November each year to show respect at the memorial in Girne, Kyrenia, to the 371 of our soldiers who died during the Cyprus emergency between 1956 and 1959? I ask the Minister: when will this Government find adequate time to fully debate the Cyprus issue and contribute positively towards a plan that has some modicum of humanity and circumspection, in contrast to our past ineptitude?
My Lords, we should thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for posing this Question, which allows us to have this debate. Many noble Lords have spoken with great passion about the intractable problems and multiple injustices of the island of Cyprus. The Government should listen hard to what has been said. For my part, the Cyprus issue is a 21st-century equivalent of what Lord Palmerston quipped about the Schleswig-Holstein question: “Only three people understood it; the prince consort who is dead; the German professor who is mad; and me, who has forgotten all about it.”. I am afraid that this issue is of such complexity that that is what it is like.
When Labour was in government and I was in No. 10, we tried to resolve this complexity by sending for the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who tried to negotiate a deal. Indeed, he made quite a lot of progress and it is a great pity he is not here to bring his wisdom to this debate.
Our options are limited. What happened in 2004 was a tragedy but we were acting under a threat of Greece vetoing the major enlargement of the European Union and one had to make a realpolitik choice in truth about what was the best thing to do, which was very difficult. What can be done now? What does the Minister think that we can do, as Britain, as a guarantor power in trying to promote reconciliation on the island? Given our history, we have a special responsibility and we should exercise it.
More than that, I have always thought that the solution to the Cyprus problem was part of a wider solution to the relations between Greece and Turkey, and the whole situation in the eastern Mediterranean. It is very important that, as committed members of the EU, we are trying to proceed with Turkish membership. That is what will give us quite a lot of leverage in order to get a solution to this problem.
In terms of Greece and Cyprus, and the economic difficulties that Greece is presently in, if things go wrong there, this will make the situation in that part of the world much worse. We have to exercise our best endeavours to make sure that we do not have an economic collapse that leads to a return to extreme nationalism in that part of the world. I fear for the consequences were that to happen. We look forward very much to hearing the reply of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to this excellent debate.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to respond for the Government to this debate brought by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. I start by endorsing his words of congratulation to my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, quite usefully laid out how the previous Government dealt with some of these challenges, and once again I am reminded of the great experience and expertise in this House on foreign relations and Foreign Office matters. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, missed me yesterday at Oral Questions, but I am sure that he will agree that campaigning for re-election to the Human Rights Council in Geneva was as important.
Cyprus has been too long divided, as I am sure all Cypriots and friends of Cyprus would agree. The current round of settlement negotiations, under way since September 2008, unfortunately is in hiatus. The United Nations is doing what it can to move the process along in the absence of political-level meetings. It is focusing on the work of the technical committees, trying to make them more productive and focusing on practical co-operation. Alexander Downer, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on Cyprus, believes that there has been some success.
The Greek Cypriots continue to express willingness to continue talks, but not constrained by a timeframe. The Turkish Cypriots say that they want to continue talks but wish for a timetable that would include a deadline for a multilateral conference in order to create the environment for give and take, which they say is necessary to address the internal aspects of the negotiations. The leaders of the two communities have not met since March this year and it seems unlikely that any such meeting will take place until after the presidential elections next February.
Her Majesty’s Government continue to take a keen interest in the situation in Cyprus. We are very aware of our role as a guarantor power, but we must not lose sight of the fact that this is a process by Cypriots for Cypriots, and that it is for the leaders of the two communities, whoever they may be, to work constructively together to deliver a new future for Cyprus. We will continue to support this process and to encourage all who have a role to play to seize the opportunity of a new political era to find a solution to this long-running human tragedy.
As a guarantor power, the UK has undertaken by treaty to prohibit,
“any activity aimed at promoting directly or indirectly, either union of Cyprus with any other State or partition of the Island”.
A settlement will bring long-term stability, peace and security for all the people of a united island within the European Union, supporting the prosperity of all Cypriots and ending the isolation of those who live in the north of the island. More widely, it will create an arc of greater stability from the Aegean to the eastern Mediterranean by removing the major impediment to good relations between Cyprus, Turkey and Greece.
Only through a fair and lasting settlement can we ensure that all the people on the island are the beneficiaries of a fair and sustainable future and that the EU acquis can be extended to the whole island. It would deliver significant economic benefits for both communities, opening up greater opportunities for regional trade and investment. Reunification would also provide the space for civil society to flourish and for leaders to look outwards, spending time on the global issues that confront us all, such as climate change and energy security.
Living on a divided island cannot be a situation that any Cypriot would want to continue without a long-term solution. Ordinary citizens cannot move around the island as noble Lords would move around the UK, and this was raised today in the debate. There are checks on persons as they cross the Green Line that divides the two communities, and checks on the movement of goods have an inevitable negative impact on the prosperity of the island as a whole.
The division of the island has resulted in the dislocation of ordinary Cypriot families, and the resulting disputes about the ownership of property continue to impact on people today. Many Cypriots born after 1974 do not know anyone from the other community. Where there is no contact there can be no understanding, and negative stereotypes tend to dominate the image each community has of the other.
My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece raised some valid points about views on the issue not being fully informed. She always speaks with great passion and expertise and expresses very personally the frustration felt by so many in Cyprus. My noble friend also asked specifically what the UK is doing in relation to alleviating the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. The UK is in contact with many civil society groups in Northern Cyprus. It supports the direct trade regulation blocked in the EU and is working to support a comprehensive settlement as ultimately the most effective way of ending the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.
There are some positive signs and it is important that we do not lose sight of them. Following the dreadful explosion in July last year which killed 12 people and knocked out the main electricity plant in the south, the two communities were able to come to an agreement which saw the north of the island supplementing the electricity supply for the south. This mirrors the arrangements made in 2006 when the Government of Cyprus agreed to supply the north with electricity after an explosion in the main power plant. That type of co-operation and practical assistance shows that it is possible to move forward from the difficulties of the past.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, referred to the recent gas finds. The UK is optimistic that efforts to achieve a settlement will eventually be successful. The gas finds and the presidential elections next February are a part of this. In this difficult and long-lasting situation, my noble friend Lord Sharkey is absolutely right to say that civil society within and between the two communities has an important role to play in developing the key missing ingredient, that of trust. Civil society can reach out to those beyond the bounds of politics to establish practical working relationships and foster co-operation that will lay down the grounds for a long-term improvement in relations.
Perhaps I may give some real examples of where civil society contacts and initiatives are working. Over the past five years, our high commissioner has worked closely with Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s Stelios Philanthropic Foundation to encourage bicommunal business. It also directly supports the bicommunal Committee on Missing Persons through financial and practical support. This important committee is working on one of the most difficult and distressing aspects of the whole situation, seeking to identify bodies and find resolution for families who do not know what happened to their loved ones. There are also important locally driven initiatives looking at best practice and learning lessons from other long-running, complex intercommunal conflicts, such as those in Northern Ireland and South Africa. Valuable efforts are also being made to bring the two communities together that include school children.
I take the noble Lord’s point, but there are lessons that can be learnt. The FCO funds a small number of projects to support this.
I agree that more could be done, and I turn to the specific point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford on bringing together religious communities in order to foster reconciliation. The UK would support any efforts made to encourage the coming together of the Muslim and Greek Orthodox communities on the island. The right reverend Prelate is aware of the work I support in relation to inter-faith understanding.
My noble friend Lady Knight spoke of the important case of Meliz Redif. Her Majesty’s Government do not recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and so we were unable to make representations to the International Olympic Committee about the inclusion of Northern Cyprus as a participant country in the Olympic Games. Turkish Cypriots are able to compete under the Cypriot flag, but I am afraid that I must presume that that is not the answer my noble friend wished to hear.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked what help could be offered through the Cypriot presidency of the European Union. The Government have provided support through practical assistance, including the provision of secondees across government. The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, raised the issue of the employment of Turkish Cypriots in Brussels. Who is employed has to be a matter for the Republic of Cyprus. However, the British high commission employs staff from both communities.
I was not talking about the British high commission. I was talking about the so-called Cyprus Government, the Greek Cypriot Administration, which totally discriminates against Turkish Cypriots in Brussels. The United Kingdom is a guarantor power. Are we doing nothing, as a guarantor power, to exercise our powers in respect of fair employment by the Cyprus Government?
The specific question that the noble Lord asked was in relation to employment in Brussels. We, of course, only have a say in relation to the people that we employ at the British high commission. It is therefore important to stress that we employ staff from both communities. The high commission represents—
No, my Lords, the British Government are not saying that. I must move on as a number of matters were raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, raised the issue of the Immovable Property Commission. We support that commission and agree that property is one of the key and most complex areas for any final settlement.
My noble friend Lady Scott raised the issue of direct trade for Turkish Cypriots. The UK is committed to liberalisation of trade with the Turkish Cypriot community but the relevant draft EU regulation is being blocked at the moment by the Republic of Cyprus.
Many of the issues surrounding any debate on Cyprus are understandably difficult and emotive. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, outlined some of these, including issues such as the fate of missing persons and the loss of one’s home, things that thankfully most of us will never have to face. Those who lived through the events in Cyprus’s turbulent past, and their children and grandchildren, are now living with the legacy of those events. It is absolutely right that we do not forget the past and that we acknowledge the pain suffered by the ordinary people of Cyprus, but we must also look to the future and continue to have faith in the UN-led settlement process. We must look to the leaders of the two communities, who ultimately are responsible for working together to deliver a package that the Cypriot people can believe in and which will secure the future for the reunited island, so that her people can live together in peace.
Until that future is secured, we hope, through the work of the technical committees, confidence-building measures and grass-roots initiatives such as the Stelios award for business co-operation, that the everyday lives of Cypriots can be improved and, in parallel, that trust between the two communities can regrow. It is only through building such trust that a stable and prosperous future for all Cypriots can be assured. I am sure that I have not answered all questions raised by noble Lords—
I wish the Minister well in her new position in Government. However, it is a huge disappointment when we get a response to a debate that has been pre-prepared and does not answer a single question that has been raised. I would have thought that, at a time when the Prime Minister is talking about remembering the sacrifices of 1914, she might at least have had the initiative to address the matter I raised about 371 of our soldiers who died during the Cyprus emergency. I am disappointed that she has failed to do so.
I was about to say in conclusion that I am sure I have not answered all the matters and questions that have been raised by noble Lords in an hour’s debate on such an important issue, about which there is so much expertise in this House. I can assure noble Lords, including the noble Lord, that I will respond to them in writing on any specific questions that have not been answered today.