Cyprus

– in the House of Commons at 10:42 am on 23rd December 1981.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thompson.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

In view of the late start of the Adjournment debates, I propose to allow the first debate, on Cyprus, to run until 11.30 am, and that succeeding debates should have half an hour each as on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath 10:49 am, 23rd December 1981

I wish to draw the attention of the House once again to Cyprus. I last raised the question of the Cyprus tragedy in an Adjournment debate in August 1975. The intervening years have brought little hope but much suffering and misfortune to this remarkably beautiful Mediterranean island.

I have not come to cheer on one side or the other but to cheer on the people of Cyprus in their struggle for a just, honourable and lasting settlement and my Government in their attempts to facilitate such a settlement. As one of the three guarantor Powers, Britain is pledged to support the independence of Cyprus, and, of course it was a Conservative Government who correctly gave the pledge.

I do not underestimate the problems posed for successive British Governments by the Cyprus crisis and the agony of the Cypriot people. I hope that I do not over-estimate our diplomatic strength, but I believe that over the years my country has failed in its special moral commitment and left undone things that could have been done, particularly following the coup of 15 July 1974.

Britain has ties with Cyprus going back to 1878. Cyprus is a fellow member of the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe. On no account can we accept the situation as a fait accompli on some faraway holiday island. The decisions of the United Nations are being treated with armed contempt, and grave damage is being done to United Nations' authority and effectiveness. United Nations resolution No. 3212 was supported by 117 nations, including Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. None voted against it and none abstained, which is almost unheard of in the General Assembly, yet it has still to be implemented. The United Nations peacekeeping force, in which for years Britain has played a leading role, does excellent work. It should be strengthened and given wider responsibilities to cover the protection of both communities and to guard the integrity of the island.

We should not give ourselves to recriminations and the repetition of actions with which we are all familiar. It is sufficient to say that prior to 1974 the Turks exercised patience and restraint in the face of provocation. In particular, in the important years 1960 to 1963 there was an incredible failure to give the Turks a full part in the new independent Cyprus. The Greek colonels wanted to reactivate the EOKA struggle for enosis. The arrival of the murderer, Nicos Sampson, as President of Cyprus was an outrage. I speak as one who was ambushed by members of EOKA prior to independence.

Using the coup as a pretext, Turkey invaded Cyprus—my right hon. Friend's predecessor was wrong to open up a debate on when is an invasion not an invasion—allegedly as a guarantor of the independence of Cyprus. Approximately 40 per cent. of the total territory of the Republic of Cyprus still remains under Turkish military occupation. In 1974 Turkish Cypriots represented only 18 per cent. of the population. The area occupied happened to contain 60 per cent. of the agricultural land, 90 per cent. of the tourist accommodation, 83 per cent. of the cargo handling capacity and 55 per cent. of the mines.

The occupation must, in all honesty, be seen as the first and most obvious barrier on the way to a free and independent Cyprus. So long as the so-called Attila line runs from Lefka in the west to Famagusta in the east, Britain can be seen by the whole world to be failing in its duties as a guarantor Power.

The House has previously noted the plight of the refugees in Cyprus. The 200,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees, including 50,000 children, represent 40 per cent. of the Greek population. They are still prevented by sheer force from returning to their homes, businesses and farms. The Government and people of Cyprus have done a wonderful job in looking after such a large number of refugees, but their right to return to their towns and villages must not be overlooked by the House.

The question of the so-called missing people must be tackled by the international community on humanitarian grounds. I am told that the committee to investigate the fact of persons missing in Cyprus since 1974 was set up in April after meetings between the Greek-Cypriot committee of relatives of missing persons and Mr. Denktash. Some 2,000 Greek and 500 Turkish Cypriot cases are involved. The committee consists of representatives of both sides and a United Nations Red Cross representative, but procedural disputes have prevented investigations taking place. The committee continues to exist only because neither side wishes to take responsibility for killing it off. That is not good enough. The wives, lovers, mothers and fathers of the missing soldiers have a right to know whether they are alive or officially dead. Will Britain give a lead in getting the matter settled once and for all?

The Turkish authorities have been settling farming families from Anatolia and former Turkish soldiers in the so-called "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus". Altering the demographic structure of Cyprus in that way and passing on houses and farms of the uprooted Greek-Cypriots must be condemned without reservation, as it has been by the United Nations.

The Turkish authorities could and should further scale down their occupying force. There can be no conceivable reason for the continued presence of 20,000 troops. Incidentally, what is the Government's latest information on the rumours that the garrison is being reinforced by 7,000?

A reduction of the garrison would bring minor relief to Turkey's well-documented economic plight. It would also help Turkey's military Government regain the political friendship of those members of the world community on whom she depends, almost totally, for financial support.

All British Governments have appreciated the fact that the Turkish contribution to NATO is crucial. The morning after our debate on Poland is a good time to pay tribute to the military strength of Turkey and the courage and dedication of her soldiers, sailors and airmen. However, the importance of our NATO ally has led to a tendency in the Foreign Office over the years to play down Britain's obligations to Cyprus. Turkey will remain in the alliance, I hope, for many years, but in reality only so long as it is in her defence interests to do so.

To obtain stability in the eastern Mediterranean it is necessary to achieve first a settlement in Cyprus. Without such a settlement, NATO's south-east flank, bordering the Middle East, with its tensions and tank armies, will remain a matter of continued concern.

I appreciate the presence of my right hon. Friend this morning. I trust that I have not delayed his departure either to bring Christmas cheer to his constituents or to be with his family at home. Cyprus for him will be one of many problems on his new desk, but its importance should not be overlooked.

Who, following recent political events in Greece and noting the results of the election and the country's present views on NATO and the European Community, would deny that Cyprus has been an underlying factor? I would mention Mr. Papandreou's visit to Cyprus on 9 January which is, I am told, the first visit of a Greek Prime Minister since independence. I cannot help wondering whether its timing and purpose will help or hinder a Cyprus settlement. All of us have put our faith in the present intercommunal 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. The Secretary-General's special representative, Hugo Gobbi, started by expressing satisfaction about the good atmosphere that prevails. Discussions began on reaching agreement on the resettlement of Varosha under United Nations auspices and on practical measures by both sides to promote good will and mutual confidence.

There is general agreement in Cyprus that a revised federal constitution is required. Fixing the northern region boundary will be a formidable problem. Above all, the Turkish community in Cyprus must be given security. As in the Middle East, security is one of the keys. However, I fear that real negotiations are not taking place, only the tabling of carefully prepared papers setting out well known, carefully prepared positions. Real negotiations will require toil, sweat and the burning of midnight oil.

The British Government have a clear duty to strain every sinew to get the talks to succeed. Of course, a settlement cannot be imposed, but propositions can be put forward that neither side would have proposed but which both sides can accept. The whole weight of world opinion can be brought to bear to achieve a settlement. We need to get the American Administration closely involved and to activate direct links with both Greece and Turkey. My conviction is that the European Community has a key role to play in the Eastern Mediterraean.

The new Secretary-General has a special knowledge of Cyprus and will want to take a close interest. It would be good to hear that one of the first ambassadors that he will see after taking up his duties on 1 January will be our own Sir Anthony Parsons, who would remind him of our deep concern for Cyprus and would discuss with him the current United Nations proposals and how they can best be advanced.

I am currently the chairman of the British-Cyprus CPA group. I assure my right hon. Friend that many right hon. and hon. Members want to know that Britain is doing everything possible to support the intercommunal talks and that she does not intend to allow Cyprus to fall by the wayside because no one is prepared to stand up for the people of Cyprus, whether Greek or Turkish Cypriots. My right hon. Friend must also be considering privately with his officials and with other countries how best to discharge the commitment that we have arising from our association, if the talks should flounder and if Mr. Denktash again raises the cry of UDI.

That is my main message to the Government, although I have a number of minor points. First, Friends of Cyprus recently organised in London a remarkable and encouraging meeting. A mass meeting of Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish, assembled to welcome a declaration which had been made by three editors from the Greek side and three editors from the Turkish side, all calling for understanding and reconciliation. This follows other meetings of professional Greek and Turkish Cypriots. There is a danger that as the years go by the two communities will grow apart. Friends of Cyprus, as an independent organisation, is well suited to call such meetings, but the Government and their diplomats and agencies also have a part to play. How can that part be played in the future?

Secondly, I raise the vexed subject of students' fees. Cyprus has no university. In the past, many of her leaders in politics, law, industry and commerce have been educated in Britain. In the future, it looks as though Cyprus will turn elsewhere, particularly to America, which I understand recently allocated no less than $5 million for scholarships, and of course the Soviet Union. It is as plain as a pikestaff that Government policy in this area has been short-sighted and in the long run will be damaging to both Cyprus and Britain. It is not too late for wiser counsels to prevail. Let the Foreign Office contribute to those counsels.

Thirdly, the woes of those British subjects whose property was occupied in the north of Cyprus have frequently been related by hon. Members. What is the latest position with regard to compensation from Turkey for former British residents? Has the matter been resolved once and for all?

Fourthly, the sovereign bases are of considerable importance to Britain. At present, the administration of the United Nations force in Cyprus is carried out from them. They assist the local economy. There is minimum feeling against them locally. May I be assured that their future is not in question?

In conclusion, having studied the Cyprus issue for many years and having had the opportunity to meet the leading politicians on both sides of the dispute, I am convinced that a settlement that will bring peace, stability, territorial integrity and lasting independence and non-alignment can be achieved.

If there has been a thought among Greek Cypriots that a delayed settlement is likely to be a better settlement, such an attitude is tragically mistaken. Equally, it is not in the interests of either the Turkish Cypriots who live under an austere and economically unsuccessful regime, or Turkey, which stands condemned by the international community, that the present shameful state of affairs should continue.

I am not pro-Greek Cypriot or pro-Turkish Cypriot. I am simply pro-Cypriot. Although Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are very different in character and temperament, they share a love of Cyprus. The evidence of the past 100 years is that in Cyprus they can live peacefully together and the two communities complement each other. Individual shopkeepers, farmers and those who will have to share a water channel or graze the same pastures have told me of their conviction that they can live together in harmony.

In economic, industrial and agricultural terms, Cyprus must be regarded as one unit. A mountainous island of 3,572 square miles is far too small to be permanently divided. An officially partitioned Cyprus would be as lacking in stability as Palestine or Northern Ireland. Joining Cyprus to either Greece of Turkey would lead at once to a vicious and bloody war between Greece and Turkey and would be a monstrous destruction of an independent country.

I do not doubt that a long and tortuous road lies ahead. I do not doubt that more missed opportunities could condemn an island's generation to bitterness, growing hatred, despair and degradation. But neither do I doubt that a magnanimous, lasting settlement, encouraged by Britain, between these two proud and well-established communities could lead on to a fertile plateau of peace and prosperity.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

I remind the House that we hope to finish the debate at 11.30, and I am sure that the Lord Privy Seal will want some time to reply.

Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West 11:08 am, 23rd December 1981

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on raising this important issue, which is too seldom debated in the House. I wish to make three brief points.

First, I urge upon the Government the need to enter into a new spirit of trust with the Cypriot Government and the Cypriot people of both communities. Many fences need to be mended in this respect, not just because of the instance, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, when the Lord Privy Seal's predecessor visited Cyprus and used the unfortunate phrase that "invasions mean different things to different people", but also because of the Prime Minister's remark at Melbourne that Cyprus was a "territorial problem". The Cyprus problem is not a territorial one and it does no good for our relationships with the Turks or Greeks to mince words about the situation.

The Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, both in his manifesto and since being elected, described the Cyprus problem as one of foreign occupation. That needs saying, although, as the hon. Member for Bexleyhath said, the fault for the problems of the past 20 years cannot be laid on one side. The Turks must make certain concessions, which they are not willing to do. There is a long history of appalling behaviour by Greek Cypriot and chauvinist elements and of appalling neglect of the problem by Labour and Conservative Administrations, and NATO has had a sinister influence on the problem. The present tragic division of the island conforms almost exactly to NATO plans drawn up in the 1950s for the island's partition. Some people within NATO—I do not include the secretary-general—wrongly think that the present situation is the best that can be obtained.

I urge the Lord Privy Seal to try to cement good relations with both sides. Although I pay tribute to Ambassador Gobbi and Mr. Perez de Cuellar, the new secretary-general of the United Nations, who comes to that job with tremendous knowledge, it is obviously no good for the Government simply to say that the best hope for Cyprus lies in the continuation of inter-communal talks.

A new initiative of some sort, within the United Nations, Europe or another international forum, must take place if the problem is to be solved. That is in no way incompatible with the continuation of the talks, which are an essential engine to solve problems and to arrive at a federal solution. However, there must be far greater international pressure, particularly on Turkey, if any progress is to be made. There has been none recently.

I say in all sincerity to the Lord Privy Seal that the Eastern Mediterranean situation—between Greece and Turkey—is now much more serious than Government spokesmen in Britain or elsewhere appear to realise. The recent NATO meeting was unable to agree a communiqué stated. I support Andreas Papandreou's view that the new Greek Government will raise the whole profile of its dispute and difficulties with Turkey and involve NATO in that problem. If the British Government have any desire to maintain stability in that area, pressure to solve the Cyprus problem must be an important part of their policy, otherwise the instability within NATO will increase.

It has been assumed for years that Turkey must be mollycoddled and given vast military aid but that Greece can be taken for granted. I was in Greece before the recent elections and observed that they proved the bitter and violent anti-American feeling that took Andreas Papandreou to power. The Greeks no longer want to be treated as pawns.

The Government have granted an extra £ 1½ million subsidy to EEC students by lowering the home fee so that a Greek medical student—even though there is a perfectly good medical school in Athens—can train in Britain for £450 a year. However, a Greek Cypriot medical student, whose country does not have a university, partly because Britain insisted in the 1960 settlement that it should not have one, must pay £5,000. That is a piece of pure idiotic absurdity and one of the little pinpricks that cause unnecessary bad relationships.

The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts recommended to the Government that the concessions to EEC students should be extended to the three countries that have an association with the Community—Cyprus, Malta and Turkey. That would cost £3 million or £4 million, probably no more, but it would be an enormous step in trying to show the Cypriot people that we do not want to abandon them and send them to universities in other countries, but want to demonstrate some sort of solidarity. Although I do not expect an answer from the Lord Privy Seal on that issue, I strongly urge him to convey that suggestion again to the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Photo of Mr James Spicer Mr James Spicer , West Dorset 11:16 am, 23rd December 1981

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) on raising this topic again. Few hon. Members have a longstanding interest in and concern about Cyprus and its people and I share with him the view that we speak for all Cypriots when we discuss the problems faced by that troubled but beautiful island.

This is possibly the right time to re-examine our role. For over six years successive Governments have said that it is a matter for the Greeks and Turks in communal talks to get ahead and do something. However, we are now in a new and much more dangerous phase.

My hon. Friend said that there were about 20,000 Turkish troops on the island. That is far too many, and I have wished over the years that their numbers could be reduced dramatically. There are now reports, and I hope that the Lord Privy Seal can confirm whether they are true, that there are also 6,000 regular Greek forces on the island. That introduces a new and dangerous factor in a situation which is explosive enough anyway.

It has been stated that we have a responsibility as a guarantor power. Considering the past seven years—particularly at the time of the intervention or invasion of Cyprus—if we had exercised our guarantor powers and done more, the present situation might not have arisen.

However, if we have a responsibility, so does the European Community. The European Community has an association with Cyprus and only last week its Parliament passed legislation about financial assistance to Cyprus. Such financial aid and common schemes must be passed through the Cypriot Government, but there is always the fear among the Turkish Cypriot community that it does not see its fair share of the money that is meant to be for all Cypriots.

May I make a positive proposal that the British Government, the European Community and all the guarantor powers should put their weight behind? We should reopen Nicosia airport, to internationalise it and to use it as a bridge between the two communities. We tend to forget the generation of Mr. Denktash and Mr. Clerides, but they are still there and have worked together. However, the younger generation of Turkish and Greek Cypriots has no contact. If the airport could be reopened and there could be a Turkish entry point and a Greek entry point, it would play a part in bringing the communities together, give new life to the Turkish Cypriot community in the north and make it much more likely that a final settlement would be agreed.

Photo of Mr Humphrey Atkins Mr Humphrey Atkins , Spelthorne 11:20 am, 23rd December 1981

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) was lucky in the ballot and had the opportunity of drawing the attention of the House to developments in Cyprus. The comparative absence of headlines over the last seven years has tended to take the island out of the public eye, yet the suffering and the underlying tensions remain and the relative properity of the island cannot disguise the fact that, in many respects, things are becoming worse.

As the years go by, the two communities are growing apart. Voluntary efforts to bridge the gap can help and the initiatives taken recently by the British Friends of Cyprus in bringing together teachers and journalists from both sides, to which my hon. Friend referred, is a good case in point. Nevertheless, a generation is growing up in Cyprus knowing nothing of the other side. The possibility of a just and lasting solution—something we all want—which will enable the communities to live in harmony together must diminish as time goes by and they continue to live separately.

Apart from the people of Cyprus themselves, there is the problem of its geographical position. It is in an area where the world can ill afford increased tension. The problems there carry the seeds of potential confrontation between two of our NATO partners—Greece and Turkey. For that reason alone, finding a solution is a matter of deep concern to Western Governments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath drew attention to recent allegations of troop reinforcements on the island. The allegations have come from both sides, who have discussed them with us. We have seen nothing to substantiate allegations of reinforcements on the scale alleged and we have told both parties so. If they were true, the stories would be deeply disturbing. As it is, they are an illustration of the potentially explosive nature of the problem. We hope that the parties will not allow the squall created by them to set back the search for a settlement.

As has already been said, Britain has special reasons to be troubled by the continued failure to find a solution in Cyprus. There is not only our residual responsibility as a guarantor power; there are the close historical and human ties that bind Britain and Cyprus. We have done, and we shall continue to do, all we can to promote the well-being of Cyprus by trying to improve its terms of association with the EEC. Our largest commitment to United Nations peacekeeping is, quite rightly, in Cyprus. We are the biggest contributors of both men and money to the United Nations force on the island. That is tangible evidence of our concern, as is the support that we provide for the sovereign base areas. I believe that the House will wish to join me in taking this opportunity to applaud the vital contribution of British soldiers and airmen in helping to keep the threatening situation under control.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath raised two particular points, and two others were raised by other hon. Gentlemen. There is the question of student fees, raised by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Christopher Price) and by my hon. Friend. This is not the moment to go into the detail about the history of student fees, which in any case is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. We have the problem in mind and are looking at ways in which it might be possible to relieve the impact, at least upon selected students.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) suggested that a move forward would be to reopen Nicosia airport. I agree, and the principle that it should be opened for the benefit of both communities is a good one. It was discussed at an earlier stage of the inter-communal talks but it has been put on one side for the moment, pending an overall settlement. Again, it must be a matter for the parties to decide but it is something that would be worth re-examining to see whether benefit would flow and a start could be made on reducing tension. I am grateful to him for his suggestion.

With regard to the question of compensation for British property owners, we remain in close contact with the Turkish authorities. About 150 claims have so far been settled, and we are renewing the pressure for an early settlement of the remainder of the claims

I was speaking a moment ago about peacekeeping. The United Nations can help to maintain a minimum stability but its peacekeeping efforts do not bring a settlement any nearer. Since 1974, the search for a settlement has been pitifully slow, but the last few months have seen several more encouraging developments, and reference has been made to some of them. I think there is a glimmer of hope. There is a chance that what is needed—negotiation between parties—will get under way.

As the House will remember, in September last year inter-communal talks, under the auspices of the United Nations secretary-general, resumed in Nicosia. The atmosphere, for the most part, has been good. In April, the United Nations announced agreement on the establishment of an inter-communal committee, with Red Cross participation, to carry out investigations into the humanitarian problem of missing persons. Its work has been delayed by tiresome procedural wranglings. I understand that the Red Cross representative has now made proposals to break the deadlock, and I hope that the inter-communal committee will be able to move forward.

As I said, progress has been slow over many years, but in August and September this year the two sides came forward with new proposals. For the first time, both sides had on the table concrete territorial proposals—however far apart they might be—as well as suggestions for a constitutional settlement. On 18 November they accepted the tabling of a United Nations paper, the "Evaluation", designed to bridge the gap between the two sides and, in the secretary-general's words, to lend "structure and substance" to the negotiating process.

As recently as 21 December, the Turkish Prime Minister said that the inter-communal talks had taken a meaningful and substantive course and that the Turkish Government would continue to support the negotiating process. Our recent contacts with the parties in Cyprus have shown appreciation that the talks have gone further than any previous such dialogue, and there is a willingness among the parties to build on this.

A great deal of the credit for the progress of recent months is due to Dr. Waldheim, the secretary-general of the United Nations, and his personal representative, Ambassador Gobbi. They are to be thanked for the untiring persistence with which they have sought to give momentum to this process.

Dr. Waldheim's successor, Mr. Perez de Cuellar, has long experience of Cyprus, having held for a time Mr. Gobbi's present post in Nicosia. He had a hand in laying the foundations for the present initiative and will, I am sure, pursue it with the same determination as his predecessor. We shall be taking the earliest opportunity, when he takes office at the beginning of July, to make clear to him our views on Cyprus and to stress the need to maintain progress in the talks.

There are those—the hon. Member for Lewisham, West was one of them—who urge a more obvious British or European role, or some sort of special initiative. I sympathise with the concern and the sense of responsibility underlying such suggestions. I assure the House that we are as keen as anyone else to give whatever constructive help we can, but at this stage it is our view that the most constructive thing we can do is to give our full support to the United Nations in its search for a settlement.

We stand ready to do anything more that the United Nations would consider useful, but there are constraints, and the adoption of positions which are clearly partial would undermine our capacity to help. It is particularly important, at this delicate stage, to do nothing which might cross the United Nations' efforts or diminish their credibility.

I remind the House that there has been no call from any of those directly involved for any sort of Western initiative. Indeed, hon. Members will recall the fate of the 1978 United Kingdom-United States-Canadian initiative, which was rejected. All the evidence suggests that outside attempts to intervene directly or to pressurise the parties will not succeed.

Some hon. Members have suggested that the present process will fail. That is a gloomy view to take and I do not think that they are justified in taking it at the moment. Prime Minister Papandreou and President Kyprianou agreed, at a press conference on 11 December, that they could show "restrained optimism" about the prospects. It is not our business to write off the present process at this stage. Of course, we must think about what we would do if there were a breakdown, but we are still a long way from that point.

The two sides, along with the United Nations, are considering how best to carry the process forward and to make use of the ideas advanced by the secretary-general. The inter-communal talks will resume after Christmas, and I hope that a substantive negotiation will begin then.

At a meeting that I attended on Monday with the British Parliamentary Cyprus Group, one member with deep experience of Cyprus strongly argued that this problem is not insoluble. I believe that he is right, but progress towards a settlement will ultimately depend on the flexibility, moderation and will of the parties. I do not believe that the advances of the next few months give us any cause for complacency, because momentum once gained can quickly be lost. The present opportunity is there and should be exploited. If it is not exploited, it may not recur again for a long time. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to do everything they can to help and encourage everyone concerned in the search for a settlement to this difficult problem.