HC Deb 15 November 1983 vol 48 cc723-8 3.31 pm
Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East) (by private notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the decision of the Turkish community in Cyprus to opt for a unilateral declaration of independence.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The position is that this morning the body calling itself the Assembly in northern Cyprus passed a resolution approving the establishment of a Turkish Republic of North Cyprus and a declaration of independence. Her Majesty's Government deplore this action by the Turkish Cypriot community, which amounts to a declaration of secession. We have issued a statement which makes it clear that it is incompatible with the 1960 treaties.

Our position has always been that we recognise only one Republic of Cyprus. That remains the position today. In our view, this latest move cannot be seen as altering the status of the Turkish Cypriot community. We would deeply regret it if, as seems all too likely, this action provokes the breakdown of the inter-communal talks and the consultations carried out by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Both have had our full support.

There have for some time been reports that a move of this sort was being contemplated by the Turkish Cypriot authorities. We have throughout made it clear, most recently, both to Mr. Denktash personally and at a high level at Ankara, that we would strongly disapprove such a move. It must be a matter for deep regret that those representations have apparently been disregarded. Our ambassador at Ankara has this morning, on my instructions, called on the Turkish Government not to associate themselves with this move by the Turkish Cypriot authorities. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has sent a similar message to President Evren urging him to help secure a reversal of the declaration.

In accordance with British responsibilities under the 1960 treaty of guarantee, I shall be proposing urgent consultations to both the Turkish and the Greek Governments. We are also in direct contact with the Government of Cyprus. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke this morning to President Kyprianou, and I have just seen the Cyprus high commissioner in London.

We shall consult urgently other interested Governments and also the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who has been playing a key role in the search for a peaceful solution to the longstanding Cyprus problem. In addition, we are approaching the President of the Security Council with a view to securing an early meeting.

Mr. Healey

I should like to associate the Labour Opposition with Her Majesty's Government's position on this matter, as explained by the Foreign Secretary and set out in the statement issued by the Foreign Office this morning, and, in particular, with the statement that Cyprus is a single state with a single President, Mr. Kyprianou. I also want to associate the Opposition with the condemnation of the act of the Turkish Cypriot Assembly, an act which is bound to have a damaging effect on the interests of its own people and on all people on the island of Cyprus, particularly the 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees from the areas that are now under Turkish control.

I welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has approached the Turkish Government on the matter. Can he say whether Her Majesty's Government have any evidence that the action taken by the Assembly was instigated or approved by either the Turkish army or the Prime Minister-elect of Turkey? Second, in his approach to NATO and the European Community, will he ask them to warn the Turkish Government that any support they might give to the declaration of the Turkish Cypriot Assembly would be contrary to the interests of the Alliance and the Community, and would be bound to have a damaging effect on Turkish relations with both those bodies? Finally, will he tell us whether the United States Administration are taking the same position as Her Majesty's Government take on this matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I express my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for his support of the position that we have adopted. I entirely agree with what he said about the potentially damaging effects of the action, as he described them. Evidence of instigation is plainly not a matter on which I can have any certainty, but the latest evidence suggests that the Turkish Government have been taken by surprise. Of course, there have been rumours and suggestions that something of this kind would happen, and that is why we made representations to the Turkish Government.

I entirely accept the force of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the need for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Community to give the warning that he suggests to the Turkish Government. We do not yet fully understand the position of the United States Government, but preliminary indications show that they are likely to take a similar view.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton Pavilion)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that the 1960 treaty of guarantee, which I helped to negotiate, placed an obligation on the British Government to intervene to maintain the constitution of Cyprus, then agreed? Does he also agree that subsequently the Government of the day, under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), made a historic mistake when they declined the invitation of the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Ecevit, to intervene alongside the Turks to restore the constitution? In view of that mistake — probably an irretrievable mistake, which led to the widening gap between the two parties in Cyprus—will my right hon. and learned Friend be very cautious about taking sides in the dispute, remembering the importance of the sovereign base areas and the importance of Turkey, as well as Greece, as one of our allies?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I recall, of course, my right hon. Friend's role in the original 1960 treaties. If I remember correctly, it was recalled by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) when he was questioned about this matter in a not dissimilar situation in 1974. Although the treaty gives the guarantors the right to take certain action, and obliges us to consult one another, it does not oblige us to take action of the kind that my right hon. Friend may have in mind. It is clear that this is not a military problem. The guarantor powers should be drawn together in consultation to see what further action can be taken with a view to reversing the Turkish Cypriot decision. It is also clear, as my right hon. Friend points out, that we shall certainly not seek to take sides in the matter.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Without trying to refight old battles, is not the situation now a little different from what it was in 1974, when the Turkish Government asked us to help them to invade the island to overthrow a gangster called Nicos Sampson, who had taken control of the island and deposed Archbishop Makarios, and who was supported by the Greek colonels — a dictatorship, fortunately later replaced by Prime Minister Karamanlis?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The position is, of course, very different from that which the right hon. Gentleman had to face, but the treaty obligations and the rights of the powers are precisely the same as they were then.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

I do not dissent from anything that my right hon. and learned Friend said in his statement, hut, on the suggestion that the Turkish Government in some way instigated this action, is it not true that not only the existing although outgoing military Government but the new prospective Government have made it clear on all occasions that they want, not territorial aggrandisement in Cyprus to the benefit of Turkey—the last thing they want is to take on that responsibility—but to achieve the only conceivable solution to the problem, a genuine federal single state within Cyprus itself? That has always been the position of the Turkish Government and it remains so today.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the position of the Turkish Government as he sees it. The objective roust be to secure the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of what may well be a federal state.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Is it not a fact of life that Mr. Denktash must have sought permission from General Evren before daring to make such a statement? Is it not true that Mr. Ozal, the Prime Minister-elect of Turkey, said last week and repeated earlier this week that, should Mr. Denktash declare independence unilaterally for the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus, he would give full support to that declaration, and it would certainly have the backing of the Turkish occupying troops?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the two press reports of Mr. Ozal's views. One of those reports was a correction of the other, and they are both slightly confusing. Regardless of the outcome of the recent elections in Turkey, we have been making our views absolutely plain to the Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish Government for a long time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was in Ankara last month, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Baroness Young, saw Mr. Denktash in Nicosia recently. I myself have seen Mr. Turkmen twice since the late summer, and have discussed the matter at the United Nations. We have taken every opportunity to make our view plain.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

My right hon. and learned Friend's firm statement will be warmly welcomed on this side of the House. Does he appreciate that the declaration of independence could lead to further violence in Cyprus and further destabilisation of the eastern Mediterranean and that, over the years, many Turkish Cypriots have been strongly opposed to such a declaration? Will he continue to take the lead in the international community in working for a peaceful and unified Cyprus?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interest in this subject, which he made plain in initiating the Adjournment debate on 27 July., and I entirely agree with him about the necessity for warning about the possible consequences of this unwise action.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Waltham Forest)

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to put the strongest possible pressure on Turkey, and does he recognise the crucial importance of the United States of America in this matter? The United States may carry more weight with Turkey than the whole of the rest of the Western Alliance.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall bear in mind the important role that the United States could play.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

The position as it existed in Cyprus until today suited too many people in both halves of the island and too many foreign Governments as well, though not Her Majesty's Government. Should we not, therefore, avoid trying to return to the status quo of yesterday, but rather work towards a comprehensive settlement?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My right hon. Friend is right to stress the need to work towards a comprehensive settlement. It was to that end that the United Nations Secretary-General resumed his initiative, and to that end that I have discussed the matter twice with President Kyprianou and twice with the Secretary-General.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

While condemning this impudent and dangerous action, may I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will confirm that it remains Government policy to work for the restoration of the territorial independence and sovereignty of the island of Cyprus?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Yes indeed—the independence, sovereignty and integrity of that state.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Does not today's deplorable event mean an end to the intercommunal talks? Will there not therefore be a greater need than at anytime since 1974 for active participation by Her Majesty's Government in seeking a just solution?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with my hon. Friend about the need for us to take all possible steps to promote a more effective search for a solution. However, as I have made plain in my statement and my answers this afternoon, we have already been extremely active in promoting moves in that direction.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

The Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus is not economically viable. It is totally dependent upon economic support from Turkey. Must not the responsibility for the unilateral declaration of independence rest to a large extent upon our NATO partners in Ankara? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore take appropriate action to ensure that a Government who condone military invasion do not remain part of NATO?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I would not be disposed to take the hon. Gentleman's advice in that respect. I remind the House again that the Prime Minister has already sent an urgent message to President Evren, urging him to secure a reversal of the declaration. I understand that the Turkish national security council was convened at about noon today and is still meeting. We shall have to await the result of our representations.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Has not what has taken place arisen out of sheer frustration that the attempt to solve the problem by the United Nations and by other powers has dragged on over a number of years with no apparent result?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Plainly, frustration is likely to be increased if the search for a peaceful solution is prolonged. Everyone would wish that a solution could have been found earlier. The true foundation for a peaceful solution, however, must depend on the attitude of the communities concerned.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that there is no question of the Government recognising the new regime in the northern part of Cyprus? When the right hon. and learned Gentleman communicates with the Government of Turkey, will he deplore their support for the UDI? Will he also consider whether it is appropriate for the British Government to have any relationship with the repressive military junta in Ankara which has imprisoned thousands of people, including, very recently, the president of the Turkish Peace Association and 17 of his colleagues? Is it not possible that the support given by the British Government to the junta has led to take the foolish course of supporting UDI?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have taken every opportunity to express to the Turkish Government our firm opposition to any step of this kind. I therefore repudiate the suggestion implied in the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Since we are in a treaty relationship with the Government of Turkey as well as with that of Greece, it is important for us to take steps jointly as guarantor powers to find a solution. We deplore what has taken place, and there can be no question of the recognition of more than one Government for Cyprus.

Mr. John Corrie (Cunninghame, North)

For the last nine years there have been, de facto, two states in Cyprus and the intercommunal talks between the two ethnic groups have got nowhere. In order to bring some sense to both sides, do not the British Government need to exert more influence, and should not British diplomacy be brought in to work out an agreement for that sad island?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It would be highly desirable, if it were possible, to end the division of the island. It must be remembered that in such an intercommunal conflict the power of the British Government, with all our diplomacy, must be limited, but we shall continue to do everything that we can.

Mr. Healey

What has emerged from this exchange is that, at the moment, the prime responsibility lies with the Government in Ankara. If they wish, they can be responsible for a major move forward to a general solution on the island. If they take the other course of recognising an independent Turkish state in the north of Cyprus, they will gravely damage their relations with their friends and allies and their partners in the Community, and will embark on a course that will progressively estrange them from all their Western friends. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will make that clear to the Prime Minister-elect of Turkey.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It would not be right to conclude that the prime responsibility for what has happened so far rests on the Turkish Government. I do not believe that that is what the right hon. Gentleman meant to imply. The responsibility rests upon the shoulders of Mr. Denktash and his colleagues. Plainly, however, the attitude of the Turkish Government could be crucial to the prospect of moving in a sensible, or unwise, direction. That was why I acted as soon as I could this morning to make our view clear to the Turkish Government, and why the Prime Minister has urged President Evren to try to secure a reversal of the declaration.