HC Deb 06 March 1996 vol 273 cc282-301


Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I make no apology for again bringing the tragedy of Cyprus before the House. Although the issues facing Cyprus have not changed since 1974, the hurt that ordinary Cypriots feel has grown deeper. Over the past 21 and a half years, many tens of thousands of Cypriots have been able to see their homes but unable to live in them. Homes that might have been in their families for generations may now be uninhabited or, worse, inhabited by squatters sent there from Turkey.

The green line that divides the great city of Nicosia provides a contrast between the closed, but once prosperous, shops in the north—from which their proprietors have fled—and the modern, successful stores in Greek-Cypriot Nicosia.

The tragedy of Cyprus is a human tragedy. It is a tragedy of individuals displaced, and of whole generations of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who have known only Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The separation between the two communities is as cruel and effective as apartheid was in South Africa. Old friendships have died over the past 21 and a half years. Young Cypriots no longer mingle, Greek with Turk and Turk with Greek. No longer do they play together on the football field or drink coffee together in the cafes. The events of 1974 have led to an almost institutional division of that beautiful island, which has been treated cruelly by mankind.

It is necessary that the House should reiterate from time to time that the status quo in Cyprus is unacceptable and that Ministers and leading politicians throughout the world should remind the international community of that. It is wrong that Turkish and Greek Cypriots should mingle and be friends in London, Melbourne, Wood Green or Edmonton, but not in Nicosia or elsewhere in Cyprus.

There is in any debate about Cyprus a sense of déjà vu. Today's debates are similar to those of the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. All that can be said is that the dramatis personae has changed. The fundamental problems remain the same. The island is divided when it should be united, and Nicosia is still divided when it should be a united city. However, those sentences fail to describe the dreadful suffering that some Cypriots have undergone. If a home has been in the family for generations, and if generation after generation of the family has lived in the same village, it is a cruel blow if, suddenly and by force of arms, one has to leave quickly knowing that it will not be possible to return for many years—as happened in 1974.

In 1979, I met a Greek Cypriot in Nicosia who told me that, before his father left northern Cyprus, he said, "We must take the title deeds to our house, so that we can claim it when we come back." That did not do the father much good—he has since died. Tens of thousands of Greek Cypriots have died but been unable to be buried in the villages that were their home for generations; others have been unable to live in the homes of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

It is difficult to imagine such a situation in this country because Britain has not been a divided island since the Romans built Hadrian's wall. The closest analogy is if the River Thames were a mythical green line and people could not cross Westminster bridge or Lambeth bridge—if we could look across at County hall but could not go there, or look across at St. Thomas's hospital but not visit patients there. That is what it is like in Nicosia for the refugees from Famagusta. At night, they can see the lights on in their former homes, and they know that Turkish Cypriots are living in the properties in which their parents and grandparents once lived.

Some 500 Greek Cypriots live in an enclave in northern Cyprus, but it has gradually shrunk. They decided to remain in their homes, but they do so with great difficulty—there are restrictions on their movements, they may spend only a limited time in southern Cyprus, and there are restrictions on their activities in northern Cyprus.

There is justifiable anger across the world that there is a large number of Turkish troops and settlers in northern Cyprus. Since 1974, many Turkish Cypriots have left northern Cyprus to be replaced by settlers. Why are the troops there? If the people of northern Cyprus are happy and so rejoice in their good fortune, surely there is no need for troops. The ratio of troops to local population is greater in northern Cyprus than it ever was in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles. That seems to indicate that the people of northern Cyprus are rather dissatisfied with their lot, and the people of the rest of Cyprus must wonder whether the troops are there to attack southern Cyprus one day.

One of the greatest tragedies since 1974 has been the uncertain fate of the missing people. Some husbands did not know what had happened to their wives, parents did not know what had happened to their children, and sisters did not know what had happened to their brothers. Many Cypriots have died since 1974 not knowing the fate of their loved ones. Last summer, I was in Trafalgar square with my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) and the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara). One touching aspect was that elderly people came to the demonstration with photographs of their loved ones as they had been in 1974, still not knowing what had happened to them.

We are now told by Mr. Denktash that 1,600 of those missing people were killed by Turkish troops in 1974. That bald announcement is not good enough. The relatives have a right to know how their loved ones were killed and where they are buried. They have the right to give their loved ones a proper funeral. We must be told who committed those atrocities and what will happen to them. Surely we have a right to know why the international community has been kept in ignorance for 21 and a half years about the fate of those people. It is a disgrace that, 21 and a half years later, anyone can say, "Yes, we killed them in 1974."

The Cypriot problem also has practical implications, because of the United Nations peacekeeping force. The United Nations is almost bankrupt due to the cost of peacekeeping and the fact that the United States is rather reluctant to pay its dues to it, but it is essential that the peacekeeping force stays in Cyprus as a means of averting bloodshed. Cyprus is one of the flashpoints between Greece and Turkey. Turkey is a valued member of NATO, and Greece, of course, is one of our valued partners in the European Union. We want to reduce the flashpoints between them. We want them to have a sense of amity rather than enmity.

Cyprus has wanted to be part of the European Union, to become closer to Europe, for a very long time. I remember from my visits in the 1970s that the Cypriots were saying, "We want to get closer to Europe. We are part of Europe. Our traditions and our heritage are European." The European Union has agreed to begin negotiations for Cyprus and Malta to join the European Union within six months of the end of the intergovernmental conference. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would be happy for the IGC to disappear quickly from the earth, as indeed would some other of my hon. Friends. The current timetable is that the IGC will end in mid-1997. That means that negotiations on joining the European Union should begin towards the end of 1997.

Some argue that the negotiations should start only if the Cyprus problem has been solved, but that is quite wrong. If we were to adopt that approach, we would be giving the Turks and Turkish Cypriots a veto on decisions to be taken by the legitimate Government of Cyprus. The timing of the decision would no longer be in the hands of the European Union, of the recognised Government of Cyprus or of the people of Cyprus; it would instead be given to an illegal regime that is recognised by no member of the European Union.

Would it accelerate a solution to the problem of Cyprus to say to Turkey, "Cyprus cannot join the European Union unless and until you agree to a settlement"? Of course it would not, because securing the accession of Cyprus to the European Union is scarcely high on the list of objectives of the Turkish Foreign Ministry. At worst, Turkey is hostile, and at best it is indifferent. It would therefore be crass in the extreme to give the Turkish Government any means of preventing Cyprus from joining the European Union. We in the European Union must encourage Cyprus's application and make it clear that it will go ahead, whatever the political situation in Cyprus. In the longer term, we know that Turkey also wants to join the European Union. We must make it clear to Turkey that it cannot join unless the Cyprus problem has been solved. I believe that a necessary precondition of Turkey's successful application would be a solution to the problem.

The logjam in Cyprus has lasted for a very long time. That is why I welcome the fact that Mr. Richard Holbrooke, who managed to bring peace—perhaps only a fleeting peace—to the former Yugoslavia said that 1996 will be the year of Cyprus. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is also committed to making progress on Cyprus. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will outline his thinking this morning. I know that the timing is complicated by the elections that are due to take place in northern Cyprus and in Cyprus in the middle of the year, but from June there will be a period during which we could hold successful negotiations before the presidential elections in southern Cyprus.

Cyprus is much like the problem of the middle east. There will be a successful conclusion only if we have a series of building blocks. When two communities have been apart for about 20 years, confidence will not suddenly be rebuilt overnight. That is why I am sad that the confidence-building measures proposed by the United Nations have so far failed to succeed. If we could get agreement on two issues—Varosha and the reopening of Nicosia international airport—in unison, we would be laying the foundations for future productive developments.

If Varosha were given back to its original owners, it would lead to a rebirth of tourism in northern Cyprus, to the rebuilding of hotels, the restoration of property rights and the rebirth of confidence. Where, in 1974, there were the best hotels in northern Cyprus, we now have the wrecks of buildings. What was once home to tens of thousands of tourists is now home to weeds and vermin.

Last summer, I was on holiday in Cyprus with my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton and the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Knowsley, South. We met former citizens of Famagusta and the mayor in exile of Famagusta, who were able to see their homes. At night, we could see the lights of Famagusta, but we could not see a light where Famagusta was. There was nothing. Total darkness reigned over that part of the island. The ghost town of Varosha should again become an inhabited city, which would help to bring confidence to Cyprus. During that meeting, the mayor in exile of Famagusta made it clear that the people yearned to return to Varosha and to their homes.

The confidence-building measures could be mutually beneficial. They would enable Greek Cypriots to regain assets and provide Turkish Cypriots with a boost to the economy of the north of the island and provide them with jobs. Most important, it would allow the fragile plant of confidence and mutual respect to grow again, and get rid of some of the enmity of the past 21 and a half years.

My message to the people of Cyprus is, "Never despair." Around the world in the past 15 years we have seen tremendous developments, none of which could have been forecast 15 years ago. No one would have forecast that the Berlin wall would disappear. How many people could have forecast the demise of communism? In the 1960s, Mr. Kruschev went around the world saying that communism would bury the west. In the 1990s, communism was buried by capitalism. Where communism once reigned, we now see democracy. Who would have believed in the 1980s that F. W. de Klerk or Nelson Mandela would be able to take part in the same democratic elections in South Africa and be part of the same democratic Government? Who would have believed 10 years ago that King Hussein would be willing and able to make peace with the state of Israel?

Those are some of the major international developments, all of which have taken place against the expectations of experts only a few years ago. The people of Cyprus must not despair. I have a final message for the leaders of both communities: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

11.19 am
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on securing the debate on Cyprus. There have been a number of debates on Cyprus in recent months, but there cannot be too many on this important subject, which we must never forget.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the demonstration in Trafalgar square that he, other colleagues and I, attended last year to mark the 21st anniversary of the 1974 invasion. Sadly, if we are realistic, we may anticipate the 22nd anniversary in July this year.

As that date approaches, time is vital in the search for a solution. I shall not weary the House by repeating what was said by the hon. Member for Hendon, South, as many other hon. Members wish to speak. Let me say, however, that I agree entirely with what he said about the tragedy of Varosha, and the importance of finding a solution in the short term in order to establish confidence in the communities. I also agree with what he said about the tragedy of the 1,619 missing people—a tragedy that confronts us graphically whenever we attend demonstrations calling for a solution. I agree also with what he said about the tragedy of the refugees who have been unable to return to their homes for nearly 22 years.

As I have said, time is vital, for a reason that I do not think was mentioned by the hon. Member for Hendon, South. I refer to what is happening to the population in the occupied zone of northern Cyprus. Hon. Members will know of the Cuco report, produced for the Council of Europe, which demonstrated conclusively that there had been a massive programme of ethnic engineering in the occupied zone. It is possible that the immigrants who have been brought in from Turkey—the Epiki, as they are called—now outnumber the Turkish Cypriots who still live in northern Cyprus. Every day that passes separates the two communities more, and makes a solution more difficult. Those two communities will have to relearn the habit of living together peacefully, as the vast majority did before 1974.

Given the exigencies of time, however, I prefer not to look back, but to look forward optimistically. There are signs of movement everywhere in 1996, leading us to hope that it may prove to be the year of a solution to this tragic problem. President Clinton has appointed Richard Beattie as his special envoy, to devote urgent attention to the problem. Following his successful efforts to find a solution in Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke had planned to visit Cyprus, but was diverted by the crisis in the Aegean involving the island of Imia, when Greece and Turkey nearly went to war. That would have been a tragedy in itself, but at the same time the Turks landed about 40 fresh tanks at Famagusta, which gave us all cause for reflection and concern about the explosive possibilities that still exist in that part of the world.

The Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, visited Cyprus and offered his empathy and experience to the search for a solution. On 19 January, the United Nations Secretary-General's special envoy. Gustave Feissel, proclaimed that there was no reason why progress should not be made quickly, and that the elements of a solution were well known. The hon. Member for Hendon, South alluded to those elements, not least when he mentioned the confidence-building measures that were the subject of the last round of talks.

The European Union is taking a renewed, reinvigorated interest in the problem. In connection with the progress of Cyprus towards full membership of the Union, Greece was supported by France and Germany in its proposal for the appointment of a European Union co-ordinator to monitor progress towards a solution. The United Kingdom Government opposed the idea, but I understand that that was because they feared that such a move might interfere with the initiatives taken by the United States Government. I gather that the United Kingdom has not ruled out the appointment of a co-ordinator; I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments.

The new Italian presidency of the European Union has also taken a close interest in the problem. Susanna Agnelli, Italy's Foreign Minister, has said that the EU cannot just sit back and follow United States initiatives; the problem of Cyprus is a European responsibility. The Italian presidency has therefore appointed a representative to monitor developments in Cyprus—Italy's former permanent representative in the European Union, Federico di Roberto.

Lord Finsberg, who in the past has not been noted for his advocacy of a solution to the Cyprus problem other than one based on the status quo, went to northern Cyprus recently. He visited the enclaved people in the Karpas peninsula—another tragic group mentioned by the hon. Member for Hendon, South. He is quoted as saying: I didn't expect to find at the end of the 20th century people having to endure the sort of restrictions placed on their lives that I found. It is said that He described as 'inhumane' the practice of banning visits from children over 16 years old to their parents and called the confiscation of Greek-Cypriot houses and property in the northern third of the island 'legalised theft'. That constitutes a dramatic change of heart.

I was interested to read, on 27 February, an editorial entitled "Cypriot bitterness". According to The Times, The divided island looks infertile for the Dayton process". I was gratified to see The Times taking an interest in the problem, even if belatedly, but some misapprehensions in the editorial should be corrected. It referred to the Cyprus Government as currently representing only the Greek side, although it is the only one to be recognised internationally". That is half right, but half wrong. The Greek side is the only Government of Cyprus to be recognised internationally; the so-called republic of northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey. The editorial is wrong, however, to suggest that the Cyprus Government represent only the Greek side. They also represent the Turkish Cypriots. Hon. Members who fight for a solution always make it clear that they are supporting not just the interests of Greek Cypriots, but those of Turkish Cypriots and Cypriots of all other ethnic origins.

The Times was even more wrong in stating that there has been a clear lack of political will on both sides. In his report on the breakdown of the last round of negotiations, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that the responsibility for the lack of progress lay clearly with Mr. Rauf Denktash, leader of the Turkish Cypriots, and with his intransigence over the years.

I question the suggestion of The Times that a Dayton procedure might be the appropriate way—although The Times is not optimistic about it—towards a solution of the Cyprus problem. The problem is complex and deeper-rooted than the Bosnia problem. I would be apprehensive about a quick fix through a Dayton process.

We can, however, be optimistic for these reasons. We can look forward to Cyprus's progress to full European Union membership. That is good news not just for Cyprus, but for Europe and the west. Cyprus is of enormous importance to the west. As it lies at the meeting point of three continents, it has geo-political importance—part of Cyprus's tragedy has been the importance of its geo-political location over thousands of years. Cyprus has been the bone over which stronger world powers have frequently fought throughout history.

Cyprus is important militarily, again because of its geographical location. That is why we have our bases there and why the Americans preserve their presence there. Economically, Cyprus has much to offer the EU, as distinct from feeding off it. Cyprus's growth, averaging 4 to 6 per cent. per year, continues to outperform that of most EU members. Cyprus's per capita income averages $12,000 per annum and is one of the highest in the EU. Cyprus's economy has much to offer Europe, much as Europe has much to offer Cyprus.

We should look forward with optimism and purpose to a solution. I suggest—I am sure that many hon. Members would welcome this—that we should immediately look to demilitarisation. I mentioned the 40 extra tanks that landed at Famagusta. That is alarming. There is common criticism of the excessive weight of arms on both sides on such a small island. The occupying force is out of all proportion to any strategic need to protect northern Cyprus's population. More than 37,000, I think, troops are occupying northern Cyprus with supporting light and heavy armaments, including tanks.

I accept that the Cyprus Government are also spending heavily on armaments relative to Cyprus's size, but what are they to do when faced with the armaments that they see across the border? We should consider closely President Clerides's generous offer for an approach to Cyprus's demilitarisation whereby the Cyprus Government would pay the costs of taking interested forces in Cyprus out and replacing them with neutral forces. As the hon. Member for Hendon, South rightly pointed out, the costs of policing Cyprus with neutral forces are enormous and a burden on the UN. We should grasp that generous offer.

We should turn our attention to the management of a solution because, in my bones, I believe that a solution is coming. The management of the solution will present problems. I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, South that Varosha could be important in that. I frequently refer to Varosha as the test bed for demonstrating that a solution can work.

There will be tremendous problems of management. We should turn our attention to those and look forward to a future in Cyprus of prosperity for the whole island, where the two communities and the minority communities can live together in peaceful co-existence, as the majority did before 1974. Commonly, that is stated in the slogan: One island, one people, one Government"— albeit a federal Government, the likely solution— one Cyprus. I look forward to that.

With the permission of the House, I should like to quote a few lines of a Greek poem that I have often quoted in Cyprus and in this country. It sums up so much of Cyprus's importance to the Cypriots, to so many hon. Members and to humanity:

My translation is: If I forget you Cyprus, I shall fail as a man, I shall be beggared, I shall be diminished, I shall wither.

11.36 am
Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I should declare my interest in Cyprus. I was a paid-for visitor to the rallies at Morphou and Famagusta last summer. Sadly, they were held just outside those regions because they are occupied by Turkish troops. That is a graphic symbol of why hon. Members should take a close interest in what is going on in Cyprus. It is a blot on Europe and on the world that we allow an island to remain occupied and divided in such a way.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on securing yet another debate on Cyprus. It shows the interest that exists here and that we want to keep reminding the country, this Parliament and others around the world of the need to be positive about Cyprus.

Listening to the two speeches so far, I find it interesting that there is optimism. Despite what has happened in Cyprus, we remain optimistic that a solution is not only right but possible to achieve. That solution would be in the interests of all Cypriots—not just Greek Cypriots but Turkish and other Cypriots. Their prosperity and human rights are at stake and that is what we are discussing.

Britain has a particular interest in Cyprus. It is not just that we are the former colonial power—or one of a number of former colonial powers over the years—or that we have bases there that continue to be extremely useful to our defence needs, or that we have strong cultural links with Cyprus. Even a casual visitor to that lovely island must realise that people there drive on the same side of the road as us and that they speak English very well. Some businesses have joint branches in north London and in our constituencies in particular. Hon. Members speaking today are proud to represent many Cypriots who are London based, which is our gain, but Cyprus's loss in that Greek and Turkish Cypriots are not able to live at peace in their own homes there.

The reason why we have a moral duty to take a close interest in Cyprus is that, as Britain is a guarantor power, we have international obligations. Sadly, we have not always taken those as seriously as we should. The 1974 Turkish invasion remains a blot on British foreign policy. The Government of the time, a guarantor power, refused to join the other guarantor power in taking action against the Greek colonels, who had instituted a coup in the island and thrown out the legitimate president.

We had every right, indeed a moral duty, to be involved then. We did not act, and we have been fighting the consequences for the past 21 years. We in the House must recognise that fact, and it is right to return to it time and time again. I hope that we shall not be as weak-kneed again in the future, and will take our responsibilities seriously.

We left a legacy in Cyprus, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South has outlined in graphic detail the effect that it has had on Cypriots. There are refugees who cannot go back to their homes, and there is an army of occupation far larger than Turkey, as a guarantor power, could possibly argue that it needed to protect Turkish Cypriots, even if anyone seriously believed that such protection were needed. I fully accept that in 1974, with the Greek army there and a coup taking place, there was a need for international involvement in Cyprus, but I do not think that that justifies the presence of 30,000 or more troops and lots of heavy armaments on such a small island.

Today we have heard about the refugees, the occupation and the missing people. We have heard from Mr. Denktash the very late news—which, although interesting, is not surprising—that those people were killed in 1974 by Turkish Cypriot paramilitaries. Possibly that is what most people already knew in their hearts actually happened, but the committee in Cyprus investigating the missing people must consider with a little more urgency what happened to them and where the graves are.

The surviving relatives remain most concerned, and while there is even the slightest hope that the missing people may be alive, it is cruel not to allow their deaths to be finally underlined, so that proper remembrance services can be held. I hope that Mr. Denktash will carefully consider the implications of his words. Indeed, I hope that he is not too ill to do so, and will make a recovery from his heart attack, as I gather he is now doing in Turkey.

At the time of the invasion, and perhaps even before, what took place in Cyprus was ethnic cleansing. We have seen results of that continue in the Mediterranean area. None of us has anything to be proud of when we realise that we allowed that to happen.

There is another legacy of what happened in Cyprus—the actions of Turkey itself, which convey serious messages that we tend to forget. Yes, Turkey is important and we have to take account of it. It is a military ally of ours, and was extremely important to us during the cold war. It remains significant in the fight against the spread of fundamentalism in Islam. It cannot be in the interests of European civilisation to allow non-democratic fundamentalist terrorism to spread in our area, and Turkey stands as a bulwark against that. If it can continue to do so, that is something that we should all support with enthusiasm, and we must give Turkey all the help that we can.

Turkey's sheer presence is important in the region. The hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) talked about the geo-politics. Turkey is a large significant country with strong cultural links with Cyprus, but Cyprus is not and never has been part of Turkey. It was a Turkish colony until we took it over in the 19th century, when it became our colony. But Cyprus remains a separate country. When Turkey starts to say that it would like Cyprus to be part of Turkey, we should all fear for the consequences.

We do not want an expansionist Turkey in the region again. We have a duty to support that country as it is, but not as it, in its wilder fancies, may like to see itself, with an expanding empire. The United Kingdom and the European Union must stand firm against Turkey, while at the same time being supportive. I look at Cyprus and wonder what objectives Turkey can possibly have in carrying on as it does there. There can be only one conclusion: Turkey wants to dominate the island and still sees it as a part of its empire which, for cultural and other reasons, it would like to take back. We need to say that that is not acceptable.

The United Nations has made that plain, and in all its statements and successive motions, as well as in the activities of the Secretary-General, has underlined it time and time again; yet 21 years later we are in the same position as we were in 1974. There has been no significant progress, for the good reason that Turkish politicians and some Turkish Cypriot leaders have not wanted there to be any progress. All the political good will, where there have been signs of progress, has come from the Greek Cypriot politicians and the Cyprus Government—but I hope that we shall now start to see a significant change.

I believe that the European Union offers the possibility that Cyprus could become united again, and have the guarantees of peace and freedom within their own country that all Cypriots want. Perhaps it was not appropriate for Greece, Turkey and Britain to be guarantor powers, but it would be appropriate, within the European Union, for the guarantees of freedom and justice to be offered by a wider international community. So I hope that we can make progress there.

I am grateful for the British Government's support for the UN. It has been noticeable that many of the initiatives have come about not only with Britain's tacit support but after a great deal of hard work by our Ministers and diplomats. One has only to observe the activities of the British high commissioner in Nicosia to appreciate what good work is done, and what confidence building between the two communities can be achieved by the positive actions of the British Government.

I hope that that will continue. We must do more than rely on the United Nations; we must work through the EU and use our own resources to promote justice within Cyprus rather than simply relying on what may be perceived as the foreign affairs interests of the United States.

We would probably all agree that nothing can be achieved in Cyprus unless the United States wants something to be achieved. After 21 and a half years, that may lead us to certain conclusions about the good will of American Administrations. I hope that there is now an opportunity for America to show a more positive attitude towards Cyprus, and a less sycophantic response to the military needs of Turkey. The United States elections are a jolly good time for candidates on both sides to make their positions clear, and I hope not only that they do that but that this time they carry out what they say after they have been elected.

We have talked about possible membership of the EU for Cyprus, with negotiations starting six months after the conclusion of the next intergovernmental conference—if it ever reaches any conclusions. I hope that we manage to get some sensible conclusions from the IGC, with which Conservative Members can agree. I see my hon. Friend the Minister of State laughing; he knows perfectly well what I would like to come out of the IGC. Immediately afterwards I would like to see Cyprus join the EU.

It is important for us to reaffirm the message that Cyprus will join, and that it should join as a federal state—one Cyprus, one sovereignty and one Government, albeit in a federal system with two parts. Turkey does not have the right to veto a political solution in Cyprus, and therefore veto its membership of the EU.

I have no illusions about how difficult it would be for the Government of Cyprus to enter the EU when one third of the island is still occupied, as that part could not functionally be part of the European Union. That would be incredibly difficult, but it must remain a possibility, if Turkey and Turkish Cypriots do not adopt a positive attitude and find a solution. I should like an affirmation from my hon. Friend today that that remains the bottom line, and could happen, however difficult it may be.

I also draw conclusions about Turkey over what has being going on in the Aegean. I am concerned that Turkey has sought to overturn a clear international agreement on the demarcation line between the Dodecanese islands and the Anatolian coast that was agreed in 1932. It was perfectly fairly agreed with Italy, transferred by Italy to Greece in 1947 and has been operated successfully ever since by Turkey and Greece. Turkey cannot use weasel words or find ways to slip out of it.

It is beholden on us to recognise that international agreement and the way in which it has been operating and say, "No, we will not be drawn into supporting Turkey in trying to widen an area of conflict." I suspect that Turkey is only trying to distract attention from its political problems at home. We should not become part of the dispute and I would like to hear the Government reaffirming their statement.

Like other hon. Members, I remain very positive about Cyprus despite everything that has happened over the past 20 or so years. It is possible to reach a successful conclusion. We need the good will of the Government and of the people of this country and Europe to do so. I hope that we all work together to achieve it.

11.50 am
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I am extremely proud to declare as an interest that I have a very large Cypriot community in my constituency. I have visited Cyprus on a number of occasions as a paid guest of the Morphou district association and the Morphou council in exile.

I am very pleased that we have the opportunity to debate Cyprus once again. It is extremely appropriate to continue the debate because, as hon. Members know, Cyprus is important to us not only as a member of the Commonwealth but because of the unique role that we play as its guarantor power—a guarantee of Cyprus's integrity.

It is difficult to speak in this debate without feeling emotionally committed to Cyprus and the history of the past 21 years. I remember very clearly where I was when Cyprus was invaded in 1974. I was a student and can remember the shock waves and the feeling of outrage that the invasion caused. When we look back, we ought to feel outraged that an invasion was allowed to take place and that that occupation—that is the only word for it—is continuing in Cyprus.

To very many people in this country, Cyprus is a beautiful island to visit. It has built a very successful tourism industry and many people from Britain visit that lovely place. They probably go for a couple of weeks' holiday, have a lovely time on the beaches and, one hopes, also see the sights and visit the villages, where people can still receive traditional hospitality.

Before people go—or even during their visit if they stick to the beaches—few realise the tragedy of the divided island and its divided capital. In, for example, the commercial, bustling, modern city of Nicosia, they might suddenly come to the end of a road where they are met by a wall, and the fact that they are in the middle of a division will really hit them. Encountering that division, represented by a physical wall, is a great shock to many people.

One of the reasons why Cyprus is not so high on the international agenda is that the Cypriot community have been so successful in building their economy and absorbing their refugees. One does not see any refugee camps in Cyprus. Indeed, as a result, one can go to Cyprus and not fully appreciate what has happened. That is part of Cyprus's tragedy. Its problems are on the international list, but not as high on it as hon. Members want.

Hon. Members have graphically described how 40,000 Turkish troops—a foreign army—are occupying a country that is a member of the United Nations, a sovereign country, part of the Commonwealth, and for which we are a guarantor power. We have heard about the terrible plight of the enclaved people, the great majority of whom are elderly. Some, however, are extremely young and are harassed in their daily lives. We know that not only from people who are sympathetic to the Cypriot cause but from the United Nations.

There is also the tragedy of missing people, about which recent information is very welcome. Like other hon. Members, I have Cypriot constituents who do not know the fate of their relatives. I know that hon. Members have heard me say this before, but it is worth repeating. An elderly lady in my constituency does not know what has happened to her son. The only snippet of information that she has is a reference to his name on the BBC 9 o'clock news on the day the invasion occurred. Her son was a police officer—a young man serving his country and his community. One moment he was there, the next moment he disappeared out of sight. That lady is elderly and she deserves to know what has happened to her beloved son.

I referred earlier to visiting Cyprus. Sadly, I could not go to Morphou, although I could see it from a distance. The refugees may be absorbed in the new lives that they have created, but they can still see the villages and communities that they had so tragically to leave when they were invaded. Indeed, they can even smell their former orange groves while staging demonstrations.

Like other hon. Members, I remain optimistic, as we must. Cyprus's application to join the European Community is absolutely essential in resolving the problem. It is very important that the illegal regime of Mr. Denktash and the Turkish Government is not allowed a de facto veto on negotiations. I remain disturbed by the Prime Minister's comments on Cyprus's application. Cyprus fulfils the criteria of European Union membership in every possible way. It looks to Europe. Its successful, modern, vibrant economy is right for European Community membership. But Turkey and the illegal regime must not be allowed to have a veto on the accession.

A two-pronged strategy involving the EU and the United States is needed. Britain has a key role with respect to the United States because of our countries' special relationship, and we must work with the Americans and the EU to bring about a just solution. Britain could do much more with the Americans to make sure that the issue goes to the top of the international agenda.

I want to come back to the House to say that the situation in Cyprus has been resolved and that there is one Cyprus, and I want a debate in this very Chamber to celebrate the unification of Cyprus. I want Cyprus to take a proper part in the world and to display all the enthusiasm and energy that a united Cyprus could produce.

12 noon

Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)

During a debate on Cyprus last year, I explained that I was taking up the case of a particular missing person to whom reference has been made by hon. Members. I said that I would have a letter to Mr. Rauf Denktash translated into Turkish, and I did. I received a reply that asked for more information, and it may amuse the House to learn that the letter—which I took great difficulty to prepare—was treated by Mr. Denktash's office as though it were a standard letter. That office has obviously been bombarded by such letters over the years. I intend to continue my efforts and negotiations, and I am still in contact with Mr. Denktash's office. If there is a further debate on Cyprus this year, I shall give the House more information.

Those of us who are friends of Cyprus look now not to Mr. Denktash—whom we regard as a puppet—but to mainland Turkey. Greek Cypriots—indeed, all Cypriots—now see their future in the hands of mainland Turkey. Only when the 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus are withdrawn by the political will of Ankara shall we see a solution.

I hope that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Minister that the British Government place a top priority on solving the problem, and they should focus their attention on two matters. First, no one should argue that the fact that the island is temporarily divided—it is only a temporary division—should be a barrier to EU membership for Cyprus. One thinks of the differences between Gibraltar and Spain, the residual claims of France to the channel islands, the well-known divisions in Belgium, the awful divisions in Germany, the divisions in Corsica and, of course, those in Northern Ireland. It seems as though there is almost a rule that a country needs division to be a part of the EU.

What would be a barrier to EU entry, however, is a failure to observe human rights, and that is the second point that I want the Government to focus on. For years, Europe told Franco that if Spain cleaned up its act, respected human rights and got rid of dictatorship, it could perhaps join the European Community. Democracy was introduced and human rights were respected in Spain thanks to the force of the EU. That is now also taking place in eastern Europe, and it could also happen in Cyprus.

I want to end my remarks here, because my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) has an important speech to make. I wanted to take part in the debate because Cyprus is so important, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

12.4 pm

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I want to make four points about Cyprus. First, the status quo is not acceptable. It is easy to say that the situation is stable because there has been only one death on the green line in 22 years. Nevertheless, it is precisely the opposite. The recent tension between Greece and Turkey in Imia, and the fact that Cyprus is heavily militarised—and hence potentially explosive—and occupies an important part of the eastern Mediterranean between the Islamic and western worlds mean that the island of Cyprus is extremely important. Having a green line across the island separating two communities whose resentments for one another fester the longer the division goes on is therefore not sustainable.

Secondly, the approach adopted in the past 22 years—the UN overseeing intercommunal talks—has plainly been a failure. If one is to solve the Cyprus problem, although one must leave the individual communities to discuss the basic substance, the strategic overview must be internationalised, as it was in Bosnia. Had there not been an intervention by the international community in Bosnia, we would not have got a successful solution there.

Thirdly, any such solution must now involve demilitarisation. We shall never build confidence between the two communities while enormous armies are facing each other across the green line and if one community—the Turkish Cypriot community—is effectively being deprived of its Cypriot character by the gradual process of annexation. The Turkish Government are practising almost racial apartheid in the area, as more settlers come in and more Turkish Cypriots leave.

Fourthly, the new opportunities presented by the accession of Cyprus to the EU must be grasped. The benefits of that might include the possibility of encouraging moderate opinion in the north side of Cyprus to speak in favour of a solution. That moderate opinion has been unable to express itself effectively in the past few years. We must also try to exercise through the EU some leverage over Turkey, which has not been prepared to accept the association agreement that it signed in December as a means of promoting a more rational approach to unity in Cyprus from Mr. Denktash. Any continuation of that association agreement, any further integration of Turkey into the EU and any benefits that the EU might have for Turkey must be made conditional on Turkey exercising effective pressure on the Turkish Cypriots to come to the negotiating table. The Turkish Cypriots must accept the agreement of the late 1970s that they now seem to have gone against, as Mr. Denktash talks about the sovereignty of northern Cyprus being recognised as a pre-condition of talks. That is obviously totally wrong. I look forward to hearing what the Front-Bench spokesmen have to say.

12.8 pm

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on bringing the issue to the House. The debate is crucial, as we must discharge a responsibility that in many respects rests here in Westminster with the Government. I must apologise to the House on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin), who has been detained in Europe on European business—the Minister is probably delighted to be so detained on some occasions, if not others—and is unable to join us for the debate this morning.

Every hon. Member has talked graphically of the personal stress caused by the division of the island of Cyprus. They are right to do so and all of us, either through constituency cases or, as in my case through personal contacts, can talk in exact terms about the personal loss, stress and bad memories that people will take with them for many years.

In his closing remarks, the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) summed up well the important points that result from those divisions. First, there is a real danger of allowing the dispute and division to become institutionalised and the status quo to become normality for Cyprus. That imposes a responsibility on all of us to ensure that we are always trying to find a peaceful solution to the problem. If we allow the status quo to become institutionalised, two further risks are involved.

First, there is a substantial differential between living standards in the Turkish and Greek parts of the island, which will widen. We all know and understand the reasons for it, but it is unhealthy to have people with such wide differences in living standards living just a few miles from one another. In his opening comments, the hon. Member for Hendon, South referred to per capita income of $12,000 per year. The figure for the Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus is never very accurate and is usually never available, but would not be anywhere near that. We therefore need to do something about the economic imbalance.

As several hon. Members said, we also need to do something about the fact that too much money is spent on arms and too many people are involved in what is potentially an armed conflict. We need to avoid that, to demilitarise and to de-escalate. By maintaining the status quo, we always run the risk of moving in the direction of such a conflict.

Everyone has referred to the 1,600 missing people. The hon. Member for Hendon, South was right to refer to Mr. Denktash's weekend announcement about them. It seemed remarkably cold and callous to make the announcement in that context and without giving the relatives any indication of what has happened to their loved ones or of where their bodies can be found. The statement did not seem likely to build up trust between the communities. I hope that at some stage soon, Mr. Denktash and his authority can use the opportunity to make the information readily available to the Cypriot community so that people know exactly what has happened to their relatives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) displayed a remarkable optimism in his speech. I welcome optimism—those of us who have been in Labour party politics for many years have that as an endearing characteristic and perhaps that optimism is desperately necessary in the context of Cyprus. My hon. Friend was right to point out that we need a twin-track approach to push the Cyprus peace process along. He was also right to say that the Americans have a crucial role to play. I welcome the fact that President Clinton, above all other American Presidents, has recognised that Cyprus is an important political issue and put it on the map. I hope that he will continue to do so throughout and beyond election year, if he is successful in gaining re-election.

Richard Holbrooke has become a key player and we need to look for a Dayton process, which is the way to make progress. I note that Holbrooke has talked of three important conditions. I agree with those, but would add a fourth. Holbrooke said, first, that the leaders must have the authority to negotiate. That means that we need strong leadership and leadership in which the communities have trust. Secondly, he said that there is a necessity to remain at the table indefinitely, until we reach a solution. Again, that is a question of commitment on the part of all those involved in the negotiations. Thirdly—something that is crucially important in the Cyprus context—we need to maintain confidentiality. Hitherto, there has been no great success in maintaining the confidentiality of the discussions.

I would add a fourth condition, which is that confidence building and demilitarisation, to which all hon. Members have referred, is of crucial importance. It is almost a pre-condition to getting the talks started. We need to build up trust between communities. Throughout the world, wherever there are divisions between communities, whether on ethnic or religious grounds or a mixture of the two, the only way to make progress, flesh out and add spirit to the meat of such negotiations is through confidence-building measures in the various communities. That is an important part of the process. We wish the negotiations well. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South is right to be optimistic. We have to do all we can to push the process along.

The other track is that of the European Union, and it is important for the EU to continue to emphasise its role and for Britain to emphasise its unique role as regards Cyprus and the responsibilities of the EU. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in that respect. We can and should give a lead on the issue.

I wish Cyprus well in its application for EU membership and it seems to meet most of the economic criteria. I think that it is in danger of being one of the few countries that would meet the Maastricht criteria—that may well be a mixed blessing for its economy in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) said that EU membership is essential to Cyprus. That may well be so, but it is not an alternative to a long-term peace solution; it is an addition to a long-term peace settlement. Logically, we must always bear in mind the fact that it is important to see EU membership as an addition. The Opposition would certainly not give Turkey the right to veto such membership.

I know that the Minister has some important comments to make. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green ended her speech by saying that she looks forward to the day when we can have a debate in which we can look forward, not back—a debate that allows us to celebrate the fact that Cyprus is again united and that the communities can live together. We can all sketch out constitutional models for the way in which that could occur, but the important thing about that day is that it would mean that this House of Commons—This Westminster, whatever Government are in office at that stage—had discharged its responsibilities towards the people of Cyprus. I look forward to that and I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South on playing his part in that process.

12.17 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)

I must also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his consistent good fortune in the ballot for Adjournment debates. The House has rightly debated Cyprus many times, often in debates under his sponsorship.

We have heard many excellent speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House—the wisdom that we have come to expect from my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn), the sharp clarity of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and concise common sense from my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth). I look forward to receiving a copy of the poem from the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara). I also welcome—this may seem unusual, but in this context I think that it is right—the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) if not to his baptism of fire, to his maiden speech on the subject. He showed great common sense.

As other hon. Members have had so much to say, I shall have to be extremely brisk. My remarks are still well meant for all that, however. As everyone has recognised, Britain has a special place in Cyprus and vice versa. The large Cypriot community is part of the landscape of British society and the island of Cyprus has a special place in the hearts of millions of British people. The history of our close ties does not need recounting here—I have recounted it on at least two previous occasions. The closeness between the two countries means that we shall always be centrally involved in work to end the divisions on the island. The presence and contribution of so many Cypriots in Britain mean that we feel the tragedy of division all the more acutely.

The House has heard of Mr. Denktash' s sudden illness and will wish to join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery. The leaders of both communities play a central role in the search for a settlement. The recognition question, of course, colours the nature of our contacts with each leader, but it is essential that we listen carefully to the concerns of both communities, as several hon. Members have said. We shall continue to maintain contact with both leaders.

At times, the job of bridge-builder in Cyprus would try the perseverance of Sisyphus. I am sure that the hon. Member for Knowsley, South could give us an appropriate classical quotation. The divisions have gone on too long. The world has seen progress in other seemingly intractable and long-running disputes, so why not in Cyprus? I understand the impatience of hon. Members for progress in Cyprus. Cypriots themselves are understandably anxious for new initiatives to break the deadlock. However, neither we, the UN, the EU nor any other outside body has the solution in its hands. Only the two communities can decide what is acceptable and what arrangements are likely to last. The rest of us cannot laze around under the "tree of idleness" depicted so memorably by Lawrence Dun-ell in "Bitter Lemons", but our role is to offer advice, objective counsel and imaginative encouragement, not to impose a blueprint.

There has been a tendency to forget or belittle the painstaking work of the UN to bring the sides together. Talk, perhaps understandably, has been more of the prospect of accession to the European Union. I shall come on to the role of the EU a little later, but it would be a mistake to allow the UN's work to fade into the background as it remains a key reference point for negotiators in both communities. I am struck, for instance, by how central the principles of the 1992 UN set of ideas are to any discussion on the island about the Cyprus problem. The Government firmly believe that the ideas explored in the UN-led negotiations over the years will remain the building blocks of a settlement.

The United Nations has been closely involved in the question of people missing following the tragedy of 1974. No discussion of Cyprus can ignore a question that is rightly a source of anguish to many Cypriots. I know from today's debate and many others that that subject concerns the House. We recognise that it has caused untold suffering over the years. It is in the interest of both sides that the issue should be resolved as soon as possible.

The best way to do that, as the hon. Member for Leeds, Central suggested, is through the UN committee on missing persons. It is encouraging that the committee has persuaded both communities to submit details of missing relatives. We must allow it to carry on its painstaking work, which we repeatedly urge both sides to do their utmost to facilitate. We have noted Mr. Denktash's remarks in that context and the Government of course deplore the atrocities that have been committed in Cyprus. If he has any information, new or old, we trust that he will pass it to the UN committee on missing persons. We repeatedly urge both sides to do their utmost to facilitate the committee's work, as was noted by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central, by my hon. Friends the Members for Edmonton and for Hendon, South and by other hon. Members.

The UN's contribution to security in Cyprus through UNFICYP remains as important as ever. A walk through the buffer zone in Nicosia is enough, as has been said, to bring home the importance of UNFICYP's work. We can take some pride in the fact that Britain has been a major contributor to UNFICYP since its inception and that our contingent's present role in the sensitive Nicosia area is especially important. There is more to UNFICYP than security. Its humanitarian work has provided an important stimulus to both communities to improve the living conditions of the Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the north and the Turkish Cypriots living in the south.

There is still some way to go. We see no reason to maintain the remaining restrictions on the Greek Cypriot enclave in Karpas. We should also not forget that the 400 or so British soldiers who, together with their colleagues, make up UNFICYP play a crucial role in creating the conditions of peace and security in which a settlement can be pursued. I say this clearly because I want the point to be taken: they are emphatically not there to perpetuate the status quo.

On the last occasion that the House debated Cyprus, we discussed the confidence-building measures, to which several hon. Members referred. The talks led by the UN Secretary-General came close to agreement on the resettlement of Varosha and the re-opening of Nicosia international airport. Sadly, the CBMs were a missed opportunity. The reasons for their failure have been well documented, but it would be a shame if they sank irretrievably into mutual recrimination. We believe that the package of measures could still play a useful role in the work of overall settlement. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South made that point most persuasively and was reinforced by the hon. Member for Knowsley, South.

Another important staging post was the direct talks between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash in October 1994. The imaginative approach adopted by President Clerides brought new hope. Mr. Denktash helpfully reaffirmed his commitment to a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Although those talks brought no concrete conclusions, they were a driving force for the confidential talks in London in May last year under the auspices of ourselves and the Americans. Their outcome was perhaps disappointing. The lesson from that experience is that nothing can be achieved in the full glare of publicity: privacy is vital to the success of such talks.

The task following the May talks was to ensure that the momentum was not lost. Our contacts with both communities sought to encourage a common perception of the sort of trade-offs needed to make real progress. Our high commissioner in Nicosia worked untiringly to maintain both communities' focus on the central issues. His efforts and those of his US colleague and UN deputy special representative, Gus Feissel, proved invaluable for the visit to Cyprus in December by the US presidential emissary, Dick Beattie, who worked on a short round of shuttle diplomacy across the green line with modest expectations.

We were all heartened when it became apparent that Mr. Denktash was prepared, in certain circumstances, to support EU membership for Cyprus within the terms of a political settlement. Mr. Denktash acknowledged that this was a U-turn. We were heartened, too, that both leaders were still prepared to explore the ideas advanced by President Clerides in the last direct talks in October 1994. It was, of course, disappointing that Mr. Beattie's efforts did not make more progress, but the fact that the leaders were addressing issues at the heart of the dispute and Mr. Denktash's response provide a more encouraging basis for progress than hitherto.

The European Union's role must be seen in perspective. The decision at the 6 March 1995 Foreign Affairs Council to open accession negotiations with Cyprus six months after the end of the intergovernmental conference was a milestone. It envisaged what we all want: Cyprus joining the EU on the basis of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation.

Cypriots as a whole stand to gain significantly from EU membership. Both communities have a strong interest in finding an acceptable settlement, which we believe will bring EU accession within easy reach. That means hard work by both communities between now and the opening of accession negotiations. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton expressed the accession issues rather well. Both sides are aware that accession in the absence of a settlement, although by no means impossible, would be a much more difficult process and that neither side can insist on accession proceeding entirely on its own terms. There can be no veto.

Real progress has been made in preparing Cyprus for accession, as many hon. Members have said. The EU-Cyprus Association Council has set out a pre-accession strategy and a structured dialogue, which is going well. On 6 March the Foreign Affairs Council mandated the Commission to develop contacts with the Turkish Cypriot community. It has a duty to discover and to examine the community's detailed concerns about European Union membership and to consider how they can be met. Commissioner Van den Broek has just returned from a visit to the island to take forward the mandate. It is essential that Turkish Cypriots hear an authoritative account of the benefits of membership and how their specific concerns can be met.

I do not want the House to think that the tensions in the Aegean have discouraged us from keeping up our efforts to pursue a settlement. There are always excuses to do nothing, but the House is not interested in excuses. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary takes a close personal interest in Cyprus. He believes, as I do, that Britain can and must use its special position to maximum effect. At the Foreign Secretary's request, the political director at the Foreign Office recently visited Cyprus and the region for talks with political leaders.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. The time is up.