HC Deb 27 November 1996 vol 286 cc326-8
10. Mrs. Roche

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the political situation in Cyprus. [4595]

17. Mr. William O'Brien

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current situation in Cyprus and the talks involving both parties to reconcile the differences in Cyprus. [4603]

Mr. Rifkind

We are fully committed to United Nations-led efforts to end the long-standing division of Cyprus. My forthcoming visit to Cyprus is designed to help promote those efforts.

Mrs. Roche

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply, and hope that his visit to Cyprus goes well. Does he agree that, since 1974, there has been the continuing problem of the occupation by Turkish military forces, which followed the invasion; the problem of the missing people; the problem of the enclaved people; and the great difficulty of the refugees who have been expelled from their homes? Given that background, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the British Government should use their best endeavours to persuade Turkey that the solution to this problem lies in Ankara, and that they have a key role to play in this?

Mr. Rifkind

I have no doubt that both Turkey and Greece have an important role to play, but I hope that the solution to the problem lies in the political will that will be shown by both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities and their respective leaders. What makes the problem capable, perhaps, of some progress and potential resolution is that both communities have said that they look forward to the day when Cyprus will be a bizonal, bicommunal federation. If they can agree on the end result, the challenge is how to get from where we are now to that conclusion. I believe that that points towards early negotiations between the two communities, and I hope that they can begin to take place in a serious and considered way early next year.

Mr. O'Brien

The question of Cyprus is very vexing. For more than 21 years, there has been partition and division within the communities. I heard the Secretary of State say that he will visit Cyprus again to try to make some progress in resolving the situation. I impress on him that all the people of Cyprus want an agreement that will give rights back to the people to whom they were denied 21 years ago. I ask him to be more firm, more determined, in bringing about a settlement. I hope that, in 21 years' time, we will not be talking about the same issue. Can he give an assurance that there will be a genuine approach to trying to resolve it?

Mr. Rifkind

I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is not a question of visiting Cyprus again; there has not been a visit to Cyprus by a British Foreign Secretary since the 1960s, apart from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Nicosia. It is precisely because I believe that that policy, which has been pursued over a long period, is no longer appropriate that it is necessary—in order to encourage Greek and Turkish Cypriots to have dialogue with each other—for us and for others of good will to have dialogue with both communities in Cyprus. I believe that we have an opportunity now to see some real progress.

Sir Anthony Durant

When my right hon. and learned Friend visits Cyprus, will he foster the idea of greater inter-community relations—for example, the opening of Nicosia airport, improved telecommunications and the opening of the border so that people may cross from one side to the other, all of which would create a better atmosphere?

Mr. Rifkind

I very much agree that this is an important priority. There is the additional dimension that Cyprus has applied to join the European Union. When the negotiations begin, as we hope they will, later next year, it will be extremely important to be able to say to the European Union that the Cyprus that we hope one day will join will be a united Cyprus. Without a united Cyprus, the problems of accession to the European Union will be extremely difficult, and very difficult to realise.

Mr. John Marshall

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on being the first Foreign Secretary to visit the island for over 30 years? May I congratulate him also on the appointment of Sir David Hannay? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the despicable murders that took place earlier this year underline the need for the division of the island to end at the earliest opportunity? There was a disgraceful misuse of power by the Turkish troops.

Mr. Rifkind

The killing that took place earlier this year demonstrates the fragility of the situation on the island. The United Nations has done an extremely good job over the years. Interposing UN force between the two communities has largely preserved the peace, but it may also have been instrumental in removing some of the pressure from both communities to resolve their political differences and to reach a constitutional settlement.

I believe that it is necessary for the international community to make a special effort to work with all those on the island, of both communities, who recognise the need for a solution, and who also recognise that the well-being of all the people of Cyprus will always be thwarted as long as the island is dominated by an artificial division, by the presence of a large number of foreign troops and by an inability to achieve a political solution to the needs of both communities.

Ms Quin

May I, too, welcome the Foreign Secretary's visit to Cyprus, which follows the visits by various Opposition spokespeople, including me? May I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have granted Turkey a favourable arrangement with the recent customs union agreement? The closer relationship which Turkey has with the European Union should surely be accompanied by an acceptance by Turkey that it has no veto over Cyprus's membership of the European Union, and a willingness to begin military disengagement from the island so as to start to create the conditions for peaceful reunification.

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with the hon. Lady that that must be part of the process. We know, however, that that cannot in itself resolve the problems. There must be real political will on the part of Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktash and those who work with them, from each of the communities, to address the real issues in moving towards achieving a bizonal, bicommunal federation. If both can agree on what the end result should be, it should not be beyond the means of either leader, or their followers, to negotiate and resolve the details in determining how they can reach that conclusion.

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