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Volume 208: debated on Wednesday 3 June 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when a Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last visited Cyprus to discuss the situation in the island.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to make an official visit to Cyprus to discuss progress towards a settlement; and if he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent progress has been made towards resolving the situation in Cyprus.

We give full support to the United Nations Secretary-General's efforts to bring about a just and lasting settlement in Cyprus. There are grounds for some sober optimism. All sides have now endorsed the ideas set out in Security Council resolution 750, and the secretary-general has invited the leaders of the communities to New York for talks on 12 June. We have had frequent talks with Cypriot Ministers, and with all other parties to the dispute, since the last bilateral ministerial visit, which was in 1983. It has been important not to cut across the negotiations by United Nations envoys in Cyprus itself, which are again active.

Does the Foreign Secretary not appreciate that to the Cypriot community in this country the absence of a ministerial visit indicates that the 1974 invasion by Turkey and the continuing occupation of the northern part of the island of Cyprus is not a high priority for the Government? Does he not consider that the fate of the refugees and of the missing people in that country deserves a much more vigorous Government approach?

The hon. Lady will be able to explain to the Cypriot community why this has happened. The last ministerial visit, by Lady Young, took place before Mr. Denktas had proclaimed that part of Cyprus as an independent state. If a Minister went in the present situation he would face the difficulty of having to choose whether to meet Mr. Denktas. Either way it would be difficult to argue that such a visit would help towards an agreement. Our main interest is to get an agreement and there is a possibility of that. I am strongly in favour of a British ministerial visit so long as we can be clear that it would help and not hinder an agreement.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Government of Cyprus would welcome such a visit? As the British Government do not recognise Mr. Denktas, what is the difficulty about the Foreign Secretary going to Cyprus? He will go to Athens and Ankara to talk about Cyprus, but he will never go to Nicosia to do so. Why does he not do that?

I have explained the reason. We had an exchange a few weeks ago and the hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to say that we recognise one Cyprus in which there are two communities and, as everyone accepts, those communities are of political equality. We keep in close touch with President Vassiliou of Cyprus and with my Cypriot colleague and shall continue to do so.

While recognising the importance of the present UN efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is particularly important for Britain to support continuing negotiations on the application by Cyprus to join the EC, as not to do so would not only be entirely unjustified but would give an effective veto to Turkey which occupies half of the island?

I am sure that we should try to strengthen the relationship between the communities in Cyprus. The technical position is that we are waiting for the opinion from the Commission that the Council of Ministers requested in September 1990. We want this relationship between the communities in Cyprus to facilitate, not to make harder, the solution to the inter-communal dispute. Finding an answer to that dispute, which is possible, would unlock many doors.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is intolerable that, at a time when barriers are coming down all over Europe, a small Commonwealth island should still be divided in two? What is the Government's attitude towards the suggestion by the secretary-general that the peacekeeping force in Cyprus might be reduced, bearing in mind that Britain plays such a sterling role in that force?

There is a strong case for reduction, and we are proceeding cautiously in that direction in concert not just with the secretary-general but with others such as the Canadian Government, who are also involved. I agree with my hon. Friend's first point. There is now a better opportunity than there has been for some months to get a solution, and we are bending all our efforts to helping the secretary-general in that direction.

The House will have noted that the Foreign Secretary signally, significantly and shiftily failed to answer the specific question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). While Ministers have scuttled off regularly to Turkey, the right hon. Gentleman himself having gone there only a few weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman and his Cabinet colleagues will not go, and have not been, to Cyprus. This demonstrates that there is a significant tilt of the Government's policy in favour of Turkey and against the sovereign Cypriot Government. In reply to the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), who asked about membership of the Community, the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped for speedy Turkish membership of the Community, but did not respond to the proper application of a sovereign Commonwealth country—Cyprus—to be a member of the Community. Is it not time the Government stopped being pro-Turkish and anti-Cypriot on this matter?

The right hon. Gentleman seems determined to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. He was wholly inaccurate on a central point. He has never heard me advocate, firmly or otherwise, full Turkish membership of the Community. He is wrong about that. I have chosen my words carefully and they have not added up to that. I will tell you why—[Interruption.] I will tell the right hon. Gentleman, through you, Madam Speaker, why we have not in recent years had a ministerial visit to Cyprus. I have already explained it. We want every step that we take to contribute towards a settlement, for the reason that 1 gave to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). It is clear that if we paid a ministerial visit to Cyprus, the choice—as the Canadian Minister has just found for herself—in terms of arrangements for a programme, far from helping a settlement, might set one back. For heaven's sake, let us concentrate on the central objective, which is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) said, to bring about an inter-communal settlement in this one sovereign island with two politically equal communities.