Petition – in the House of Commons at 10:31 pm on 2nd November 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South 10:32 pm, 2nd November 1992

I am grateful for the opportunity to initiate an Adjournment debate on the important and topical subject of Cyprus. I am pleased to note the presence of colleagues who share my deep interest in and concern about the tragedy that besets that beautiful island. I am especially pleased to notice the presence of the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), a distinguished Member who has the honour to serve as the chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Union international Cyprus committee. I am especially gratified by his presence in the Chamber tonight.

The basic facts can be stated with classical brevity. In 1974, Cyprus was invaded. Some 6,000 casualties were inflicted on the Greek population. Two hundred thousand people were displaced from their homes and 1,619 people are still officially registered as missing.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. Seated interventions of that kind are to be deplored.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South

Eighteen years later, in 1992, 37 per cent. of Cyprus is still occupied by 35,000 Turkish troops, 400 tanks and supporting artillery. Refugees are still debarred from returning to their homes, churches and cemeteries —worse, those are being desecrated. Their land, property and business assets have been expropriated. Nicosia is the only divided city in Europe and the families of the missing people still do not know the fate of their loved ones. To quote a relative of one of the missing people: Double is the pain and unbearable the agony of all those of us who live in uncertainty waiting to learn what happened to the 1,619 missing people.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South

No, I will not give way. I have only 15 minutes or less and there is much to say on the subject.

The majority of the victims are of course Greek Cypriots. In 1974, they comprised 77 per cent. of the population when the Turks comprised 17 per cent. The majority of those displaced were Greeks and the majority of the expropriated assets, in volume aand value, belonged to them. The families of the missing people are, in the main, Greek.

However, the tragedy affects both the main communities of Cyprus. Some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots were also induced by the invading army to displace themselves to the occupied zone in the north. They and the 40,000 Turkish Cypriots of the north to this day suffer the economic consequences of the division of the island arising, for example, from the failure of the international community to recognise the Turkish republic of northern Cyprus and from the systematic settlement of immgrants from Anatolia which brings depressed wages, social strains and consequently a mass migration of Turkish Cypriots from the north.

It is difficult to obtain reliable statistics. The Cuco report, which has now been adopted by the Council of Europe, suggests serious and systematic alteration of the demography of northern Cyprus and it is a conservative estimate that 80,000 of a likely 160,000 now resident in northern Cyprus are immigrants—with a second generation reaching majority, with the consequential social strains that that will bring.

There have been numerous abortive efforts to produce a solution in the 18 years between 1974 and 1992. In April 1992 the Secretary-General of the United Nations presented a set of ideas to the Security Council for a solution based on the establishment of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal republic of Cyprus.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South

I will give way to my hon. Friend because she had the courtesy beforehand to seek my permission to intervene.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Roche Mrs Barbara Roche , Hornsey and Wood Green

With regard to the United Nations, will my hon. Friend comment on the recent decision by this Government to reduce their contribution to the UN force by 25 per cent. and the effect that that will have on the security of the island?

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South

I fear for the consequences of that decision. The ideal solution is obviously for all foreign troops to be withdrawn from Cyprus to allow the two communities to work out their future amicably amongst themselves.

In the transitional period there will be a need for some security forces—preferably independent and provided by the United Nations. I fear for any reduction in those forces, and for Government decisions to reduce their contribution to that force.

The set of ideas presented by the United Nations Secretary-General to the Security Council dealt with several issues: constitutional arrangements for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal republic; security and guarantees; territorial adjustments, including a map which could be a basis for settlement; the rights of displaced persons, which is crucial; and economic and developmental safeguards, because the economies of northern and southern Cyprus are out of alignment.

That set of ideas was endorsed by the Security Council, which charged the Secretary-General to produce by July 1992 a report on progress to a solution based on those ideas. The Secretary-General thus undertook the first round of talks separately with Mr. Vassiliou and Mr. Denktas in June 1992; he undertook a second round, including joint sessions, between 15 July and 14 August, when it was agreed that there should be a pause for reflection; and the crucial third round of talks started seven days ago on 26 October.

I regret to say that the auspices for the third round do not seem to be the most favourable. The Secretary-General was unequivocally critical of Mr. Denktas's intransigence in the second round of talks, referring to his need to avoid adopting positions which would upset the delicate balance of the set of ideas or be counter to resolutions of the Security Council, and to his need to show a necessary willingness to adjust his position.

Mr. Denktas's negative remarks prior to leaving for New York reinforce that negative impression, and in the first week of the present talks he has indulged in behaviour which has suggested that he is not approaching them in the most positive manner. He has refused to accept the right of refugees to return to their homes, although he had agreed to that in August, which is a retrograde step. That is a serious and fundamental matter. The freedom of movement and settlement, and the right to own property, are essential components of any solution to the problems of Cyprus.

Why should the House turn its attention to all that? Because of the geo-political position of Cyprus and the historical, moral and legal bonds between it and the United Kingdom,. Cyprus is European in its history, its culture and its orientation. From the late 19th century to 1960 it was governed by a British colonial administration. Its progress to independence occurred during the historical watershed decade of the 1950s—the decade of Suez and associated upheavals in the middle east. That had its effect on the decolonisation of Cyprus, causing strains in both communities, in which were sown the seeds of subsequent intercommunal conflict.

Mistakes were made by all concerned, but they were not such that Cyprus deserved the tragedy of the past 18 years. Despite the problems of the 1950s, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots value their close relationship with the United Kingdom and wish it to continue. It is interesting to note that the majority of Greeks and Turks in Cyprus co-existed amicably before 1974, and expatriate members of both the Greek and Turkish communities co-exist amicably in London.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South

I am willing to give way to colleagues who had the courtesy to ask me beforehand if I would give way, but if one gives way too often in an Adjournment debate one runs out of a limited amount of time.

It is also interesting to note that Greek and Turkish Cypriots still co-exist peacefully in one village in Cyprus, Pile, which is on the green line near the sovereign base of Dhekeleia. That is an example of how Greeks and Turks in Cyprus could work out their future together without an occupying force in the way. There is growing evidence of a widespread desire in the north for a solution, but the voice of opposition to Mr. Denktas must struggle hard to be heard.

In 1960, Britain, in consequence of its role, was a signatory to the treaty that guaranteed the independence of Cyprus. Furthermore, Britain retained its sovereign bases, significant tracts of land which cover 90 sq miles —equivalent to the size of Malta. Those bases are important to the security not only of Britain but of the west.

In 1961, within a year of independence, Cyprus was enrolled as a member of the Council of Europe and the British Commonwealth. In 1972, it was accepted as an associate member of the European Economic Community; and in 1987 it signed an agreement on customs union—it is almost the only country to achieve such status within the EC.

Cyprus, although small, is a natural and significant trading partner of the United Kingdom. Where do the United Kingdom Government stand now? Whatever the outcome of the current round of talks, the United Kingdom has an important role to play as a guarantor power. If the talks are successful in easing the process of transition, there will still be many problems over the detailed constitutional arrangements in the Secretary-General's proposed set of ideas; the potential for deadlock and dispute over those arrangements is enormous. Problems will arise relating to the withdrawal of the occupying Turkish forces and the detailed settlement of the claims of displaced persons.

If those talks are unsuccessful, the Government will have an important role in taking positive initiatives to support Cyprus and to get the two sides around the table again. They will have a role in supporting Cyprus's application for full membership of the EC. They should also put Cyprus on the agenda in any discussions with Turkey, because let no one pretend otherwise than that Ankara pulls the strings that move Mr. Denktas. Turkey currently has preoccupations to the east, but the Government must remind the Turkish Government of the potential costs of failure to resolve the problem of Cyprus. The Government should also put Cyprus on the agenda in discussions with the United States—that agenda and that of Turkey are connected. That may mean different things, depending on the outcome of the presidential elections tomorrow. Mr. Clinton has made much stronger public commitments on the problem of Cyprus than President Bush.

The British Government have a responsibility, not least, to assist the relatives of the missing people in ascertaining their fate.

Cyprus has witnessed violation of sovereignly and territorial integrity no less brutal than that which happened in Kuwait. It has also witnessed violation of human rights and ethnic cleansing no less callous than that which has occurred in Bosnia. No Government bear a greater responsibility than Her Majesty's Government for the correction of those injustices. I call on the support of both sides of the House in urging the Government to undertake their responsibilities earnestly. The Government should not merely support the UN Secretary-General but should display energy and vigour to demonstrate to the international community that they recognise their special responsibilities for Cyprus.

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford 10:49 pm, 2nd November 1992

I congratulate the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) on initiating this opportune debate. It is a tribute to the intense interest which the House takes in the matter that several hon. Members on both sides of the House should have remained at this late hour to listen to not only the hon. Gentleman's speech but my reply.

On the Opposition Benches, the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), for Tooting (Mr. Cox), for Bootle (Mr. Benton) and for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) have been here throughout the debate. We are pleased to see them here. On the Conservative Benches, as many as a dozen of my hon. Friends are here, including my hon. Friends the Members for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen), for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva), for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) and for Rochford (Dr. Clark), who has a particular interest in the matter, as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn), for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), for Newark (Mr. Alexander), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves) and for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith).

I am only surprised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), a senior member of the Administration, is not here, as he would normally be. As the House will know, he is engaged in the public expenditure round. He is a constant writer on Cyprus and visitor to the island, as are all the hon. Members present tonight. That reflects the intense interest that the House rightly takes in the matter.

The Adjournment debate today is opportune because Cyprus is very much in our minds as a result of the key talks taking place in New York even as we speak. The United Nations Secretary-General, building on the work of his predecessor, has done remarkably well in narrowing down the differences. The proximity talks at the United Nations this summer were very difficult, but some progress was made on most of the important issues. We are now at the point where face-to-face negotiations are starting.

The talks reconvened on 26 October in New York and moved to face-to-face discussion on 28 October. These are still early days and so far only limited ground has been covered. But both sides appear to be taking a constructive approach to the talks. The sessions have been full and lengthy. The Secretary-General's set of ideas, to which the hon. Member for Knowsley, South referred, provides an outline of a federal settlement along bi-communal lines. Cyprus must remain one country, but in reality it houses two communities and that must be recognised.

Security Council resolution 774, passed unanimously in August, endorsed the set of ideas as the basis for a solution. Within that framework, the detail must be negotiated between the leaders of the two communities. That involves a great deal of effort in rebuilding trust between the two Cypriot peoples.

If I may digress for a moment, it seems that the interest that has been shown in the debate by several hon. Members reflects in many instances not only the responsibility of the United Kingdom, with which I shall deal later, but the number of Cypriots from both communities who make a substantial contribution to life in Britain. I suspect that that is what first elicited many hon. Members' interest in the matter.

I have had many meetings with Cypriot constituents who have been introduced to me by hon. Members—I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton has done so. It seems that Cypriots from both communities who live in the United Kingdom now have a special responsibility and opportunity to play a part. It may he a little presumptuous of me to say so, but we shall not find the solution to this tragic problem if those of us who talk to people feel that there must be 150 per cent. support for one side of the argument or the other. British Cypriots have a role to play in saying to the leaders of the two communities that they want a settlement and recognise that, by definition, any settlement will involve substantial sacrifices on both sides.

I am not making a criticism, but I sometimes feel that hon. Members with a particular interest in one or other of the two communities are a little more partisan or papist than the Pope in defending the legitimate interests, as they see them, of their constituents in Britain. Now more than ever, British Cypriots can contribute towards a settlement.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara , Knowsley South

I appreciate the Minister's concern for the feelings and the contribution of the native Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Would he be prepared to visit Cyprus to have direct discussions with those members of the island's population now resident there?

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the whole thrust of Britain's support for the peace process in Cyprus is based on the support that we and the international community give to the Secretary-General's efforts. That support is tangibly demonstrated by the effort that we make in supporting the United Nations force in Cyprus.

We can claim that Britain has lived up to the responsibilities and opportunities presented by our position, both within the United Nations and with other major partners. I think that hon. Members know that an immense amount of diplomatic effort has been made by the United Kingdom with all parties. The Secretary of State and I have held lengthy discussions with our Greek and Turkish counterparts, and with President Vassiliou. There has been continual British contact with Mr. Denktash; and senior officials in Nicosia, New York, Athens and Ankara, as well as London, have been involved throughout. I appreciate that many of the negotiations conducted during the dispute take the form of megaphone diplomacy and that Britain's responsibilities to both communities and as a guarantor power involve us in an immense amount of work that is, of necessity, in the background.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green spoke of UNFICYP. We remain committed to maintaining a peacekeeping force in Cyprus for as long as it is necessary to do so. I am glad that the improved political climate in Cyprus and the stable security position have meant that current force levels are no longer needed. UNFICYP is a substantial strain on the finances of the troop contributors. The cost to the United Kingdom now runs at about £30 million per annum. It has also been a strain on the manpower and resources of the Ministry of Defence, given the increasing United Nations commitments we have elsewhere, particularly in Bosnia and Cambodia.

After extensive discussions with the other contributors, all contingents are reducing this December. The Danish contingent is withdrawing altogether. The United Kingdom will still be the largest contributor and will provide an even higher percentage of the total force. So there is no doubt that we intend to continue to play what I think we can claim is more than our full part in this important duty.

The UN set of ideas specifies that the two communities shall be politically equal following a settlement, each having its own majority zone of the federal state, and sharing power at the federal level.

The status quo is not tenable in the long term. Recognition of the Turkish republic of northern Cyprus would cement division, increase tension and make UN efforts more difficult. On the contrary, we must seek to promote reconciliation. That is the purpose of the effort that we are putting into the current negotiation. At the specific request of the UN Secretary-General, our high commissioner to Cyprus will be in attendance throughout the talks now going on in New York.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Does my right hon. Friend agree that since the intervention, unfortunate as it was, there has not been one killing or murder in the island of Cyprus?

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford

I am glad to confirm that.

At the end of the day, it is not in the power of the UK, the United Nations or anyone else to compel a working solution. That must depend on the political will of the two Cypriot communities.

We should not underestimate the difficult choices that that involves for both sides. Greek Cypriots must agree to genuine power sharing that accepts Turkish Cypriots as a politically equal community. Turkish Cypriots must agree to give up some of their unequal share of the island.

Dr. Boutros Ghali and the Security Council have pointed the way to a settlement which can bring peace, security and the chance of prosperity to all Cypriots. Now is the best chance for a generation to solve the dispute. I very much hope that President Vassiliou and Mr. Denktash will find the courage to make the necessary compromises.

The international community is watching events in New York very closely.I do not think that that community will forgive failure due to intransigence. I very much hope that the House and the hon. Members who have attended this debate and who have influence in this matter will seek to persuade the two leaders meeting in New York and the Cypriot communities in the United Kingdom to strain every effort to make it possible to bring this tragic dispute to an end.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Eleven o'clock.