HC Deb 26 May 2004 vol 421 cc1686-94

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.–[Derek Twigg.]

7.33 pm
Ann Winterton (Congleton)

When Cyprus is debated in this House, we usually hear the Greek Cypriot point of view, but the Turkish Cypriot case is rarely heard. I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to redress the balance.

The international community asked for the self-determination of the two peoples of Cyprus on the future of the island and the decision has now been made. The Annan plan, on which the two peoples of Cyprus voted on 24 April, was presented to the world by the United Nations, the European Union, the Americans and the British as fair to both sides. It gave neither side as much as they wanted. On 16 April, the Secretary of State of the United States described it as the end of the process. He said: There is no Plan B…There is nothing else coming along. Kofi Annan himself said: There is no other plan out there—this is it. The two peoples of Cyprus accepted these statements in good faith and voted accordingly.

Turkish Cypriot voters had serious doubts about whether the Annan plan would secure their physical, economic and cultural future in the island, but they were nevertheless willing to give it a chance. The Greek Cypriots were not.

Likewise, Turkey had serious doubts about whether the plan would create a sustainable settlement or cause instability and conflict, as proved to be the case with the 1960 settlement. Nevertheless, the Government of Turkey worked hard with the Turkish Cypriots, the United Nations and Greece to negotiate the Annan plan and pledged to do whatever was required to support it. No fair-minded observer could have expected Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots to do more.

European Commissioners Verheugen and Patten said on 21 April that they felt cheated by the Greek Cypriots. Indeed, Commissioner Verheugen said: I feel taken for a ride by the Cypriot Government. How much more cheated do the Turkish Cypriots feel? For more than 40 years, they have been subjected to physical and economic deprivation and debilitating uncertainty and it is time to put an end to that. It is simply not fair to the Turkish Cypriot people to expect them to endure that hardship any longer and there must be no more attempts to force unwilling parties together. Nor is it fair to penalise Turkey a moment longer in respect of Cyprus.

The European Union said that Turkish Cypriots could not be left out in the cold if the Greek Cypriots voted no and the former have therefore called on the EU and the international community to lift the restrictions to which they are subjected and give them financial assistance to repair the damage done to their economy by those 40 years of restrictions.

Sympathetic words are not enough and specific action must be taken to lift the restrictions without further delay. Adjustments to the restrictions and the modest financial assistance promised so far is simply not enough. In particular, it is wrong to expect the Turkish Cypriots to accept financial aid channelled through the Greek Cypriot Administration. Direct air and shipping services to and from Northern Cyprus must be permitted without further delay and Turkish Cypriot students must have access to education here at the same cost as Greek Cypriot students. Turkish Cypriots should not be expected to export their goods through the territory controlled by the Greek Cypriots and EU inspectors could be based in Northern Cyprus.

The international community should also remove visa restrictions. When Greek Cypriots do not need visas, Turkish Cypriots should not need them. It is especially disgraceful that the elected leaders of the Turkish Cypriots should be told to get a visa before they can enter the United Kingdom, even on official business and I ask the Minister for an assurance that this insulting treatment will be stopped forthwith.

The visit of our high commissioner to Prime Minister Talat's office was welcome but our Government should go further and invite President Denktash and Prime Minister Talat for a meeting with the Foreign Secretary. They should also upgrade our high commission office in the north, with senior UK staff actually living in the north. Relations with the Turkish Cypriot mission in London should also be upgraded to permit the same contact as the Greek Cypriots have.

Some people believe that there would be something unfair or unjust in that. Others think a threat to international peace would remain. To explain why that is not the case, it is necessary to deal with the international perceptions of the reasons for the situation in Cyprus, which are so fundamentally mistaken.

The Turkish Cypriots are aware that Greek Cypriots had to abandon their homes in 1974, but they did not wish to abandon their homes in 1958, 1963, 1967 or 1974, which they had to do for mutual defence. The Turkish Cypriots did nothing to deserve the violent attacks to which the Greek Cypriots subjected them in those years and which resulted in the death of so many of their men, women, and children, and the separation of the two peoples of Cyprus.

The Turkish Cypriots did nothing to deserve expulsion from all their positions in the republic, of which they were co-founders, nor did they use their veto power unreasonably, as is so often alleged. The Turkish Cypriots were heavily outnumbered, had no modern weapons and Turkey was, in 1963, in no position to protect them.

Our former Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, said in his memoirs that if the Greek Cypriot leadership could not treat the Turkish Cypriots as human beings, they were inviting the invasion and partition of the island. Those were prescient words. The Turkish Cypriots called on the guarantor powers—Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom—for help in 1964 and 1967, but none could or would put a stop to the actions of the Greek Cypriots.

It is hard to believe that the United Nations allowed the Greek Cypriots to get away literally with murder and then rewarded them by treating their officials as the Government of Cyprus for the next 40 years. The Greek Cypriots sought to justify their position by reference to a so-called doctrine of necessity, but they had created the necessity themselves.

On 12 March 1964, the British Government agreed with Turkey that the title "Cyprus Government" could mean only a Government who act with the concurrence of its Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot members. There has of course been no concurrence since 1963, but that essential point has been quietly forgotten.

This is what the Foreign Affairs Committee found in 1987: When in July 1965 the Turkish Cypriot members of the House of Representatives sought to resume their seats they were told that they could do so only if they accepted the changes to the Constitution enacted in their absence". In other words, they could resume their seats if they agreed to fundamental constitutional changes to the great disadvantage of their people, imposed on them by force of arms.

Accordingly, even if there had been any substance to Greek Cypriot claims that they were operating the Government alone of necessity because the Turkish Cypriots were leaving their places vacant, there can be no justification for that claim after July 1965.

The Turkish Cypriots are willing to forgive the Greek Cypriots and to forget the past, but not while they continue their attempt to strangle the Turkish Cypriot economy by restrictions on trade, communications and sport and continue to force diplomatic isolation on their state.

It would not be surprising if hon. Members had a different view of those events, because for the past 40 years the world has been given a skilful version of the story almost entirely from the Greek Cypriot point of view. That is because the Greek Cypriots have had all the Cypriot embassies and high commissions for themselves since 1963. They also occupy Cyprus's chair at the United Nations and in all other international bodies, while the Turkish Cypriots have been excluded from that time until now from all the normal channels of international communication.

The Turkish Cypriots have been prevented for 40 years from having normal trade and communication with the outside world, but what have they done to deserve that discrimination? Their only crime was to be Turkish in an island that Greek Cypriots wanted to turn into a Greek island, by force of arms if necessary.

It is important to remember that, although the Greek Cypriots are more numerous than the Turkish Cypriots, their relationship with each other has never been one of majority and minority. The two peoples joined together as co-founders when they established the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 and successive Secretaries-General of the United Nations have acknowledged that fact. The Annan plan makes it clear that their relationship is one of political equality, where neither side may claim authority or jurisdiction over the other.

The United Nations has never authorised an embargo against the Turkish Cypriots, but the Greek Cypriots were able to place them under restrictions from 1963 to 1974 because they had physical control of the island. By 1974, Greek Cypriot officials had already been accepted for the purposes of day-to-day business by most states and international organisations as if they were lawful representatives of Cyprus, and they were able to persuade the world that Cyprus had been subjected in 1974 to an unprovoked attack by Turkey.

In fact, when the civil war broke out on 15 July of that year, the Turkish Cypriots again feared for their lives and called on the guarantor powers for help, as the United Nations force could not, or would not, prevent the violence. This time, after waiting 11 years, Turkey responded to their call by landing troops. Britain did nothing to help.

The Greek Cypriot leader of the anti-Makarios faction, Nicos Sampson, said on 26 February 1981: Had Turkey not intervened, I would not only have proclaimed Enosis"- annexation to Greece— but I would have annihilated the Turks in Cyprus". Having dealt with Sampson, it would have been absurd for Turkey to depart and leave the Turkish Cypriots again at the mercy of Makarios, who had been responsible for their persecution for the previous 11 years.

Turkish soldiers are needed in the north of Cyprus until the Turkish Cypriots can survive without them. We all know from the 1950s that even the British Army could not disarm the local militia in Cyprus. Notwithstanding those risks, the Turkish Cypriots were willing to accept the Annan plan's reduction in Turkish troops to a mere 650 men—a force that could not even defend itself—and still the Greek Cypriots object.

After 1974, they enforced their restrictions against the Turkish Cypriots by persuading other countries, and more recently by persuading the European Court of Justice, that it was illegal to trade with or fly to any part of Cyprus without the permission of the "Government of Cyprus"—which meant, in practice, the permission of the Greek Cypriots themselves. The purpose of the restrictions was to bring the Turkish Cypriots to their knees and force them to accept a settlement on Greek Cypriot terms. Fortunately they have not succeeded, but it puzzles most Turkish Cypriots to find that the Greek Cypriots also complain about, for example, the ancient heritage in the north—which I have been fortunate enough to see for myself—but do their best to prevent international experts and donors from giving the Turkish Cypriots any help.

The Greek Cypriots were also able, by using international acceptance to their advantage, to secure judgments against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights in property cases. In fact the second division of the island, which occurred in 1974 and caused property losses on both sides, was caused by the incomparably more serious violation of the human rights of the Turkish Cypriots, none of whom has ever been compensated.

Some people think that the economic embargo should not be completely lifted because Turkish Cypriots might not then wish to unite with the Greek Cypriots. It is also said that to lift the embargo would be to expose the Greek Cypriot tourist industry to unfair competition from the north. In fact, the reverse is true. The south enjoys an unfair advantage, because the Turkish Cypriots cannot have direct flights to the north or get the investment that they need.

By 1983, the Turkish Cypriots had concluded that it was impossible to achieve a reconciliation with the Greek Cypriots. One important reason was the attitude of the Greek Orthodox Church, along with the extreme views of its leadership. It is clear from the attitude of the Church to the Annan plan, including threats to Greek Cypriot voters that they would be barred from heaven when they died, that that is as true today as it ever was.

The Turkish Cypriots therefore had no alternative but to establish their own state, although the international community never understood the compelling reason for that. The Greek Cypriots were able to obtain Security Council resolution 541, which has dissuaded other states from recognising the Turkish Cypriot state. The resolution calls on the world to recognise only one state in Cyprus, but has advisory force only, and relates to events of more than 20 years ago. The situation today is completely different, especially following the referendum earlier this year, and states need no longer feel that the resolution requires or even advises them not to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

It is sometimes claimed that the UN has also called on all states to recognise the Greek Cypriots as the Government of Cyprus, and that the British Government do so. In fact, on 28 April 1980 the then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in another place we have conducted a re-examination of British policy and practice concerning the recognition of Governments. This has included a comparison with the practice of our partners and allies. On the basis of this review we have decided that we shall no longer accord recognition to Governments."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 April 1980; Vol. 408, c. 1121W.] On 30 July that year, the then Minister of State reiterated that the British Government recognise States, not Governments."—[Official Report, 30 July 1980; Vol. 989, c. 723.] That was affirmed again on 12 November 1987.

Accordingly, if the British Government recognise states, not Governments, neither the Greek Cypriot nor the Turkish Cypriot Administration are recognised by the United Kingdom as the Government of Cyprus. We should therefore stop referring to the Greek Cypriot Administration as "the Government of Cyprus," as the Americans have already done.

On 25 April 1980, the Government declared that they would decide the nature of our dealings with regimes which come to power unconstitutionally in the light of our assessment of whether they are able of themselves to exercise effective control of the territory of the State concerned, and seem likely to continue to do so."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 April 1980; Vol. 408, c. 1122W.] Clearly, any such assessment would conclude that the Greek Cypriots are able to exercise effective control of the southern part of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriots of the northern part, and that they are both likely to continue to do so.

So far as international peace is concerned, the Turkish Cypriots have no aggressive intent toward the Greek Cypriots, and it is they who have opened the border. There is no Berlin wall in Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots know that they have nothing to gain by attacking the north, and Turkey and Greece now have a mature relationship with each other. It is unrealistic to regard Cyprus as a threat to international peace. Turkish Cypriots are as determined as anyone to fight terrorism, drugs and organised crime, and are already co-operating fully with the international law enforcement agencies. The only reason why extradition is not possible is that other countries have not as yet signed an extradition treaty with them.

Turning, in conclusion, to the people who had to leave their homes in Cyprus as a result of the violence of the past, of course the Turkish Cypriots are concerned about them—as, indeed, are we all—but the dispossessed persons were not only Greek Cypriots. Many Turkish Cypriots have been dispossessed more than once, as they were forced out of their homes in the 1950s, the 1960s, and again in the 1970s. Families have now been resettled for 30 years and more, and the clock cannot be turned back. The Turkish Cypriots' consistent policy, with which I agree, is that everyone on both sides should stay where they are and be compensated. The Annan plan gave 80,000 Greek Cypriots the chance to go back, but they rejected it.

The property issue must now be dealt with once and for all, and Turkish Cypriots have appealed to the international community for funds with which all those people who lost their property on both sides can be compensated. The British Government should respond generously to that appeal and give further funds with which the Turkish Cypriots can repair the damage done to their economy by 40 years of unjust restrictions.

7.52 pm
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) for raising this important matter. In the short time left for me to reply, I shall try to respond to some of her points. I hope that she will forgive me if I do not enter into a full historical discourse on the problems of Cyprus. The hon. Lady made a passionate appeal and I hope that she will not disagree with me when I say that she made a strong partisan appeal from the position of the Turkish Cypriots. Had the debate taken place with more expert hon. Members of all parties present and with more time to spare, I could have replied in more detail to some of the historical points that she made.

Much wrong was done to both communities over the years. The British Government are now seeking not to right all the wrongs of the past, but to move forward. If we allow today to be the prisoner of the past, as Winston Churchill once said, we will never build a future. I do not believe that there are many in the international community who think that the way forward is a unilateral—and, if I may say so, provocative—recognition of the Turkish northern Cypriot state. That is certainly not the position of the United States or of Prime Minister Talat. It is not the position of all those who are working constructively to find both an international and, in particular, a European solution to the problems of Cyprus. It is undoubtedly through membership of the European Union—through its good offices and trading practices, its support for human rights and the rule of law, and other EU values—that a way forward can be found.

I regret, of course, that we are not discussing today the courageous decision by the Cypriot people to form a new united Cyprus republic. Had both communities voted "yes" in the referendum, this debate would have taken place under very different terms.

We must not lose sight of the fundamental goal, which is to work to reunite Cyprus. It is not to encourage a sectarian split, if I might call it that, of the two communities into two states. I believe that the internal dynamic of the EU, combined with proposals to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots—which I hope will address some of the specific and important questions raised by the hon. Member for Congleton—can provide a catalyst to bring both communities together.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discussed this matter with Mr. Günter Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, this very afternoon. He fully supports encouraging both communities to come together, and the hon. Member for Congleton quoted him accurately earlier. He is concerned that, whereas the Turkish Cypriots voted clearly in favour of the Annan plan, the Greek Cypriots rejected it.

The immediate next step is the publication of the UN Secretary-General's report on his Good Offices mission. I certainly do not want to pre-empt that document. We will work in concert with the UN and other partners to ensure that we co-ordinate on next steps. Those comprehensive proposals for reuniting the island were a result of years of work, and compromise. Much of the finalised document is the result of the work of Cypriots themselves.

I repeat that I firmly believe that the plan provides a fair, just and lasting basis on which to reunite. There is no plan B or C. The referendum provided a chance for the Cypriots to state their views on their future, and we must respect the result. However, it is right to suggest that Greek Cypriots need to reflect on whether they made the right decision.

I believe that it was a great shame that the Greek Cypriots voted no, and that it was a mistake to reject the Annan plan. That offered the best possible compromise, and a basis on which a united Cyprus republic could have functioned effectively in the EU.

The Annan plan had clear advantages. Half of all Greek Cypriot refugees would have returned to their former homes, under Greek Cypriot administration. A property restitution scheme would have given dispossessed owners a much improved system for getting back a share of their property, and compensation for the remainder.

In addition, the plan contained strong and effective protections against migration from Turkey upsetting the ethnic balance of the island. Also, the amount of Greek Cypriot territory would have increased from 64 per cent. to 72 per cent. of a unified state, and the UN had agreed to oversee the transfer of territory to ensure that that happened according to the timetable. At the end of the process, the number of Turkish troops on the island would have been reduced to just 650 soldiers, as the hon. Member for Congleton noted, with great force. Finally, almost all the federal laws of a new united Cyprus republic, including the excellent economic arrangements to ensure financial viability, were drafted by Greek Cypriots.

In the past 50 years, there have been movements of people all over Europe. We accept that the future of our common EU must be based on interdependence rather than on separatism. People must accept the facts as they are today: they must not hope for a return to the past, or to some imagined past that never properly existed.

We fully support the EU policy, agreed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council, following the referendums. Cyprus has changed. It would be wrong simply to return to the status quo prior to the referendums. We strongly believe that the Turkish Cypriots, who voted for a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem, should not be penalised because the Greek Cypriots rejected the UN settlement plans. Turkish Cypriots demonstrated their desire to be in the EU, as part of a united island.

That is why it is so important that our country and our Parliament take a lead in strengthening the integration of the European Union, so that Cyprus can find a peaceful role within it. We must reject the views of the separatists and anti-Europeans who would encourage those in Cyprus who want to divide the island permanently.

The hon. Lady asked about visa restrictions on students from the Turkish north and high-level visitors. It is simply a question of visas being appropriate for members of the European Union. Many Turkish Cypriots will be members of the EU by dint of having Republic of Cyprus passports. Turkish Cypriots from the north with such passports will be eligible for the same student visas as any other member of the European Union. The issue of university fees will be dealt with by the normal procedures that cover all EU member states.

We will approach the increased trade and travel activity with northern Cyprus on the basis of two principles. We will continue to work for the objective of reuniting the island as a bi-zonal, hi-communal federation. It would be wrong, therefore, to recognise the north of Cyprus as a separate, independent state. As I understand it, that is certainly not the wish of the present elected leadership of the Turkish Cypriots.

On trade, which is a matter of exclusive community competence, we are waiting for the Commission to bring a proposal to the European Council. In the Government's view, the Turkish Cypriots should be able to trade directly with the EU, importing and exporting through ports in north Cyprus. That will mean putting in place measures to permit duty-free imports of all goods wholly obtained or substantially manufactured in the north, provided that they satisfy the necessary EU checks and requirements. There would, of course, be a requirement that the goods enter via recognised border inspection posts, which could carry out the necessary checks.

We also await suggestions from the Commission for spending the €259 million structural funds earmarked for helping the north "catch up" with the EU acquis. We imagine that to that end the Commission will identify a mix of projects on infrastructure, environmental standards, training and legislation harmonisation. The Government, together with our European partners, seek to send a positive message to the Turkish community in northern Cyprus that Europe is their friend. We hope that Turkey as a whole can start accession talks to join the EU in due course. The future of Cyprus lies in the European Union, as the Mediterranean is a strong part of the future policy—

The motion having been made after Seven o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKERadjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at three minutes past Eight o'clock.