Cyprus

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

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Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath 12:00 am, 7th August 1975

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.