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

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Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook 12:00 am, 7th August 1975

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.