Cyprus

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th August 1975.

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4.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the tragic situation in Cyprus. As one of the three guarantor Powers, Britain is pledged to support the independence of Cyprus. I do not underestimate the problems posed for our Government by the Cyprus crisis and the agony of the Cypriot people. I hope I do not overestimate our diplomatic and economic strength, but over the past year we have failed in our special moral commitment and left undone certain things that might have been done.

I respected the Foreign Secretary's initial enthusiasm to deal with this threat to international peace and security, but I am not alone in thinking that much of that enthusiasm has been allowed to slip away with the sands of time. This is a part of the world in which Britain could and should take an initiative independently of the United States. I appreciate the desire to keep in step with United States foreign policy, though with the present constitutional deadlock in Washington it is not always easy to discover what is the Americans' policy. Britain has ties with Cyprus going back into the last century. One hon. Member is a former deputy-governor of Cyprus. Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth and of the Council of Europe.

Our greater ties are matched by greater obligations. On no account can we merely accept the situation as a fait accompli on a far-away island. The British people must raise their sights from their largely self-inflicted economic problems and see what is going on in a Commonwealth country in a crucial area of the world.

The decision of the United Nations is being treated with contempt, and great damage is being done to the UN's authority and effectiveness. The UN resolution No. 3212 was supported by 117 nations, including Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. None voted against and none abstained. Yet it has still not been implemented. The lack of action could create a vacuum which might be filled by the Soviet Union. The Communist Party in Cyprus has capitalised on the anti-imperialist and anti-NATO feeling that is rampant on the island. There has also been pressure put on Archbishop Makarios by arms sent from Russia. We do not know whether he has succumbed.

This is not the time to go over the events which led to the invasion of Northern Cyprus by Turkish armed forces. Over the years, the Turks have exercised patience and restraint in the face of provocation. The Greek colonels apparently wanted to reactivate the EOKA struggle for Enosis. The arrival of the murderer, Nicos Sampson, as President of Cyprus was clearly an outrage, but we must face the reality that the Turks, with only 18 per cent. of the population, hold 40 per cent. of the island by force of arms. This 40 per cent. happens to contain much of the agricultural and industrial capacity of Cyprus. This is the first and most obvious of all the many barriers on the way to a free and independent Cyprus. So long as the so-called Attila line runs like a Berlin wall from Lefka in the east to the empty city of Famagusta in the west, Britain can be said to be failing in its duties as a guarantor Power.

I have been given reliable reports that the Turkish authorities have been settling simple Turkish farming families from Anatolia in Cyprus. It does not take much imagination to realise that such a move of population is fraught with dangers for the future. I much appreciate that the Minister of State has come to the House on the last day of the long, hot summer term to reply to this short debate. I hope that he will pick up this point. I hope he will tell us that the Government have been making strong diplomatic protests to the Turkish Government about it.

I can think of two gestures that Turkey could make which would produce a favourable impression in Cyprus. The Turks could and should withdraw immediately from the Greek part of Famagusta. Here is a European city which originally had a population of about 42,000 and which is now empty, with stray animals roaming the streets and doors flapping on their hinges. Of course it would have only a minor military significance, but it would allow tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots to return home. The Turks could scale down their occupying forces, at present about 40,000 strong, representing one person out of four in the north of Cyprus.

There is a danger that the current negotiations will be seen to have taken place against a background of duress. Understandably the Government have been reluctant to offend Turkey lest it withdraws from NATO, but Turkey will remain a NATO ally only as long as it believes that it is in its own interest to do so. One has only to consider the geographical situation of Turkey and to remember some of the remarks that have been made about Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces by hon. Members recently to realise that Turkey is likely to wish to remain in NATO in the foreseeable future. Who knows what will happen after that?

Surely the way to obtain vital stability in the Eastern Mediterranean is first to achieve an independent, sovereign Cyprus with both communities participating in a strong, central administration with adequate provision for communal and local autonomy. There is a danger that Cyprus could become a second Palestine. As in the Middle East, violence is being bred with the degradation and squalor of the refugee camps, where, amid the heat and the flies, 200,000 Greek Cypriots remain, uprooted from their lands and strangers in their own homes. That figure includes 50,000 children. It is an extraordinarily high proportion of the total population of Cyprus, which is about 633,000. The number of refugees is rising.

Reports that it has been agreed in Vienna that 9,000 of the approximately 11,000 Turkish Cypriots in the south are being allowed to move north, whereas 800 Greeks expelled from the north in late June and July of this year are being permitted to return to their homes, mean that action on behalf of the 200,000 Greek Cypriots in the south has become imperative. Here is a priority rôle for the United Nations as the refugees face, with mounting anger and despair, a second winter under canvas.

I wish to comment briefly on the woes of the British subjects whose property has been occupied either by Turkish soldiers or by Turkish Cypriots. There have been reports of a great deal of looting and general damage to personal possessions. I understand that no compensation for homeless British residents has yet been agreed or formally offered by the Turkish Government. I shall be listening intently to what the Minister says about this.

I have been told that on occasions the Turks discriminate against British passport holders on the ground that they have Greek-originated names. Have any such reports been received by the Foreign Office? No doubt when the idea of a Select Committee was first put forward the gentlemen of the Foreign Office gave it a frosty reception, and all credit is due to the Government for going ahead and setting up a Select Committee. The Committee is fielding a high-calibre team.

The Government will know that citrus fruits and potatoes have been exported by the Turkish-occupying forces from Famagusta to Britain. Much of this produce must have come from Greek-owned but now Turkish-occupied farms. I am told that all produce landed in the United Kingdom must be accompanied by the appropriate official documents. In the case of potatoes, they include plant health certificates. The issuing authority for such documents in Cyprus is the Government of Cyprus. They have issued no such documents since July 1974. It is alleged that our Government have allowed produce into the United Kingdom which has not been covered by the necessary documents. One result of this is that the Government have contravened international plant health regulations.

It would be appreciated if the right hon. Gentleman could arrange for me to receive a letter on this specific point. I raised the matter in a Parliamentary Question on Monday of last week and received what I thought was an unsatisfactory answer, which incidentally conflicted with a previous statement in another place a month ago.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Central

I believe that the entry of future fruit and vegetable imports is now the subject of High Court proceedings in which a judgment is being sought.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. It behoves the British Government to treat exports from north Cyprus with far greater caution than they appear to have done so far.

All of us have put our faith in the present communal talks. They might lead to success—God willing, they will. We all appreciate that this debate takes place at a critical time in those talks. Should they wind down, there would be a real danger that once again Greek Cypriot guerrillas will stalk the pine forests and orange groves of Cyprus and that the Turks will not be slow to retaliate with restriction and repression. Beyond the shores of Cyprus, two former NATO allies might reach for each other's throats. If the Clerides-Denktash talks should fail before the end of the Summer Recess, at all costs the Government must generate future discussions.

My conviction is that the European Community has a great rôle to play in the Eastern Mediterranean. I look forward to hearing the views of the right hon. Gentleman. His pro-European background and current responsibilities should allow him to take a major part in such an initiative. In addition, as a permanent member of the Security Council we may have to appeal to that council once again to give a lead to the international community.

I offer four further simple guidelines. There will need to be a revised constitution, worked out by the two communities this time. Obviously Greek and Turkish troops must be withdrawn. The United Nations peace-keeping force should be strengthened in size and given wider responsibilities to cover the protection of both communities and to guard the integrity of the island. All refugees must be returned to their homes.

I remind the House that the Commonwealth Heads of State in Jamaica issued an official communique in which they expressed their solidarity with the Government of the Republic of Cyprus and their determination to help in the achievement of a political settlement based on the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-alignment of the Republic of Cyprus. They agreed to establish a committee consisting of representatives of the Governments of Australia, Britain, Guyana, India, Kenya, Malta, Nigeria and Zambia to meet the Commonwealth Secretary-General. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to bring us up to date on the work of the special Commonwealth Committee.

I am not pro-Greek Cypriot. I am not pro-Turkish Cypriot. I am a pro-Cypriot. I do not doubt that a long and tortuous road lies ahead. I do not doubt that missed opportunities could condemn an island's generation to bitterness and bloodshed. But neither do I doubt that a magnanimous and lasting settlement between these two proud and ancient communities could lead to a fertile plateau of peace and prosperity.

4.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Central

I was in Cyprus three weeks ago—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Has the hon. Gentleman reached agreement with the Minister and with the hon. Member for Bexley-heath (Mr. Townsend) to intervene in the debate? Mr. Speaker has ruled that the only hon. Members who can participate are those who have reached such agreement.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I am prepared to give agreement now, if that helps my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Central

Having been in Cyprus three weeks ago, I wish to make the observation that it is a disaster area. Thousands of people are living in deplorable conditions. What will happen to them with the advent of winter I do not know.

The part of Cyprus occupied by the Turks is a desert. The tourist trade has disappeared, and the agricultural resources in that part of Cyprus are bound to be adversely affected. We must take immediate steps to remedy the tragic situation, in respect of which we have special responsibilities.

4.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I understand very well the anxiety expressed in the House over many months, and expressed again by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) today. I also understand the near despair felt in Cyprus that over a year after the invasion of that island a settlement which would bring peace, stability, territorial integrity and lasting independence is still a very distant prospect. I understand the feelings of frustration. I understand, as do the Government as a whole, the need to make progress where progress can be made.

I do not want the House to think for a moment that during this difficult and in many ways desperate year the Government have been idle, indolent or passive. Throughout the year the United Kingdom has constantly sought a negotiated solution and has constantly played a part in that search which seemed to us appropriate and likely to lead to practical results. We not so much attended as initiated the two Geneva conferences of last summer, the first of which was successful in stopping the fighting and the second of which did not end in success but which on our part at least was a genuine attempt to find an immediate solution to the Cyprus tragedy which would have lasting effect. We have played our part on many occasions.

We have played our part within the EEC and the Commonwealth and we have constantly initiated bilateral discussions which have led to advice and suggestions and sometimes to pressure—bilateral initiatives of the sort the hon. Gentleman suggested. He implied that we had not made them, or at least that we had not made them sufficiently strongly.

The hon. Gentleman told the House that the Government should be speaking to the Government of Turkey about excessive troop levels in the north of the island and the need to show a more compassionate and understanding attitude towards the Greek Cypriot refugees. These things have been done, and it has been announced to the House that they have been done. I remember very well, when we agreed that Turkish Cypriot refugees should leave the Western sovereign bases, making the point as forcefully as I could to the Government of Turkey that that required from them reciprocal gestures, not as a balance or bargaining condition but simply out of human understanding and compassion. We announced to the House that we had sought such gestures in strong terms.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has told the House his views on the involvement of Turkish forces in their present numbers, and the disadvantage not only for the people and the island of Cyprus but the problems that would be caused for the people of Turkey themselves. All these things have been said and done.

I should not like it to go on record unchallenged that the Government have been dilatory or lacking in understanding and interest in all these matters. This is not the occasion for controversy, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that his speech was rather long on description and short on prescription. I say that not as a point of criticism but as a pointer to the dilemma that we all face in dealing with Cyprus.

We all know how extensive the tragedy is and the results of the suffering which has been faced so bravely by the people of Cyprus. The difficulty that we face is knowing exactly what are the best steps to bring the suffering and the crisis to an end. The Government strongly take the view that we ought not to confuse apparent activity with genuine achievement. There may be times when new initiatives and effort on our part are appropriate. There have been times when we have been urged to do something without that something being very precisely specified, and when it has been our view that doing something might not play a part in bringing about a settlement but might push it into an even more remote time.

That attitude remains our policy. Of course we are ready to do anything, on our own or with our partners, playing a major rôle or a minor rôle, contributing to any initiative or mounting an initiative, which seems likely to have a constructive outcome. But we have equally been cautious about unwise initiatives or precipitate proposals which might give the appearance of great activity on our part and make it easier for us to answer Adjournment debates, but which would not result in the kind of practical progress which all of us regard as an essential part of our policy towards Cyprus.

We have placed very much hope for progress towards peace and stability and territorial integrity on inter-communal talks held in Cyprus and, more recently, in Vienna, between Mr. Denktash and Mr. Clerides. We have placed our faith in them for two reasons. The first is our fundamental judgment that the final decision about Cyprus, although it will have to be endorsed by the Governments in Athens and Ankara, must come about as a demonstration of the wishes and the will of the Cyprus people themselves. Secondly, we do not believe that until the people of Cyprus themselves, as represented by the leaders of their communities, are able to give a clear indication of the sort of solution they would accept, there will be much progress of a kind which would enable the Governments in Ankara and Athens to endorse the decisions taken and thereby endorse a permanent and lasting solution.

The Clerides-Denktash talks have had what I must describe as success and failure and a mixed history. But their prospects of success took a substantial turn for the better when, through the involvement of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, they moved into their second phase, and increased dramatically as a result of the third phase of the talks, held in Vienna a week ago.

The prospects of success increased dramatically, for two reasons. First, for really the first time Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash were prepared to talk about the most difficult and intractable issues—for example about territory, at least about the shape of a constitution. The fact that these items remained on the agenda and were discussed is a sign of hope. Secondly, Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash were prepared to take some decisions, on humanitarian grounds, about alleviating the plight of refugees in enclave areas—desperately needed in terms of the humanitarian requirements of individuals, and important not only for that reason but because it was an important demonstration that they were prepared to grasp some of the most prickly nettles and to discuss and decide some of the most difficult issues.

As my right hon. Friend told the House yesterday, where previously our hopes of the Clerides-Denktash talks have been based on a mixture of hope and judgment that they were the best way to proceed, the element of hope has not deteriorated and the element of judgment has increased. The prospects of these talks making some progress in cutting through the undergrowth before the Turkish and the Greek Governments give eventual approval to some scheme have appreciably increased as a result of the discussions in Vienna between 31st July and 2nd August.

The hope that those discussions will continue to be fruitful and point the way forward does not lead me to believe that the other major initiative to which the hon. Gentleman referred—for some kind of participation in discussions by the EEC, corporately and collectively—should be abandoned.

The EEC discussions were never thought of as an alternative to the Denk-tash-Clerides talks. They were never thought of as measures to be employed if the Denktash-Clerides talks ended in failure. They were thought of as the EEC making itself available to use its good offices in whatever way seemed appropriate, to bring pressure where pressure was needed, to urge on the parties where that seemed necessary, to offer advice and assistance, to contribute the collective wisdom of the nine Governments, the nine Heads of Government and Foreign Ministers, as to how progress could be made.

The EEC corporately through its president, the Prime Minister of Italy, and through Mr. Rumor, his Foreign Secretary, remained available to give what advice and assistance it could. It is now contemplating how the influence of the EEC can best be used. Although I regard that as a possibly crucial element in bringing about a solution, we must continue to hope that the Denktash-Clerides talks continue, when they are resumed, as successfully as last week and that they make it possible for us to see our way towards a situation in which the Governments of Greece and Turkey and Cyprus can come to a conclusion based on the wishes, the will and the judgment of the Cyprus people. That is essential for a variety of reasons, essential predominantly and overwhelmingly in my view because of the plight of the refugees in Cyprus.

Perhaps it would be unwise for me to give a table of importance of the reasons why we need to solve the Cyprus crisis at the first opportunity. However, I act with that unwisdom and say that for me at least the most important reason is the plight of those people and our obligation to bring relief to them. They are innocent of any guilt in the events which preceded the invasion, a plight which was described graphically and movingly by the hon. Gentleman. The need for that relief will grow increasingly necessary as the economic situation of Cyprus deteriorates, as it must. That is the first reason. The second is the necessity to avoid instability in the Eastern Mediterranean, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and the necessity for two ex-NATO partners to work again in peace and harmony.

We understand those matters well. We understand the crucially important point about finding a solution to end the suffer-ang and the difficulty which has been experienced by many British residents in Cyprus, especially in North Cyprus.

I must make two points about the British residents. First, we note with pleasure and relief that the harassment seems to have come to an end. When I saw the Foreign Minister of Turkey in Ankara eight weeks ago, he expressed his strong determination that that should be the case. As a result of his actions and words, harassment in its worst forms no longer takes place.

There is still the problem of compensation. I fear that I cannot promise that those problems will be remedied swiftly and that compensation will be paid soon. International compensation is a protracted business. However, there are signs of hope. At that meeting the Turkish Foreign Minister told me that the Government of Turkey accepted some responsibility for paying the bills. Mr. Denktash made a broadcast on the BBC accepting a measure of responsibility. We have been following up that broadcast with him today. The signs are that progress will soon be made. It will be a long and protracted business, as will, I fear, be the solution to the Cyprus situation, which is necessary before the problems of the refugees, the economy and the British residents or of NATO can be solved.

The Government are certain of two points. If we are to make progress, we must do so without constantly gearing our discussions and our plans to recriminations and analyses of past faults and past shortcomings.

Secondly, we believe that that must be done in a way which demonstrates that the will of the Cypriot people will be properly observed and enshrined in the new constitution. That is why we place much of our faith in the Cleride-Denktash talks. But those talks must be backed up by a variety of international initiatives. We are at the disposal of the United Nations Secretary-General to play our part.

We shall play our part as best we can through the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the EEC, and our hope and determination to bring this crisis to an end is no less than that of the hon. Gentleman, as I am sure he understands. It is incumbent upon all those who have the same feelings as the hon. Gentleman constantly to bring this matter to our attention and it is incumbent upon the British Government to keep pressing as hard as we can to bring the crisis to a speedy conclusion.