HL Deb 04 June 2003 vol 648 cc1316-9

2.45 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What legal advice they are offering to British citizens who have bought, or are contemplating buying, property in the Turkish-occupied area of northern Cyprus, following the recent opening of the border between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot areas.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we cannot offer legal advice to British citizens who have purchased, or who are contemplating purchasing, property in the north of Cyprus. We recommend that before purchasing, British citizens appraise themselves fully of the situation created by the non-recognition of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" and the possibility of a future political settlement in Cyprus, and seek their own legal advice. We believe that issues concerning property already purchased in the north can be resolved only through a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. She will be aware that since the buffer zone was opened, large numbers of Greek Cypriots have visited their former properties in the Turkish-occupied part of the country which have been bought by British citizens. There have been some interesting encounters with the Britons, who bought the properties after the invasion of 1974. Does my noble friend recognise that the restoration of properties to their former owners, or at least a payment of fair compensation to them, whether Greek Cypriots in the north or Turkish Cypriots in the south, must be an essential part of any long-term settlement to the problems of Cyprus, and that people who bought their properties in dubious circumstances, largely against the advice of the British High Commission and others in the European Union, must not be allowed to frustrate that process?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am of course aware that there have been a number of difficult encounters, but my noble friend Lord Faulkner puts his finger on the nub of the issue. We do not yet have a final settlement on Cyprus, try as we and the United Nations have to find one. The question of the legality of ownership is one for the courts. I do not know what the rule of law may be in a final settlement, but whatever it may be, it should of course be upheld. This is a complex legal question, and I suggest that the best way forward is to wait for a final settlement and then see these issues resolved appropriately by the courts.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party group, the Friends of Northern Cyprus. Is the Minister aware that northern Cyprus is becoming one of the most popular areas in the Mediterranean for British people to buy homes? Is she aware that of the 1,000 homes bought by foreigners in northern Cyprus last year, 95 per cent were bought by United Kingdom citizens? Is she aware that the while the Church of England may be closing churches in England, there is a scheme out to contract to double the size of the Anglican Church in Kyrenia? With the positive news that Turkish Cypriots now invite Greek Cypriots into northern Cyprus and Greek Cypriots are allowing Turkish Cypriots into southern Cyprus, why, after 30 years, have Her Majesty's Government banned British citizens in northern Cyprus moving into their own sovereign base? This has caused a lot of resentment.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I very much welcome the relaxation on the restrictions of freedom of movement across the green line. I do not think, however, that that is any substitute for a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the UN plan. I hope that the advice of the British High Commission—that anybody seeking to buy property in northern Cyprus does so on the basis of sound legal advice—is taken.

The noble Lord raises the point of what is happening in the sovereign bases. Any person who has entered the island of Cyprus through an unrecognised port of entry is considered an illegal immigrant by the government of the Republic of Cyprus. The fact is that people are being checked if they wish to enter the eastern sovereign base. That is because there is much more traffic across the green line. The government of Cyprus view those who have come in through some of the unauthorised ports as illegal entrants. That is the basis of the increased activity to which the noble Lord refers, as those going into the sovereign bases are being checked. I hope I have made that point clear, because it is an important issue and has raised a certain amount of tension.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, the Minister is, of course, right that the outcome of this advice clearly depends on the nature of an eventual settlement. Can she bring us up to date with what the prospects are? I think that the Secretary-General of the United Nations rather gloomily said he felt it was the end of the road when the last set of negotiations came to a dead stop. But the offer is still on the table and the ideas are still there. What plans do Her Majesty's Government have for trying to revive the hope that seemed so strong a few months ago that some new kind of confederation or arrangement could be achieved and the problems of Cyprus at last be brought to an end?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, it is only a short while since the UN plans sadly came to grief. I cannot answer the question as the noble Lord would wish me to without making reference to the fact that I have today answered a Question from my noble friend Lady David on this matter. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have accepted the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that his term should end with effect from today, in the role that he has undertaken in Cyprus. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, might have cause to chide me gently afterwards if I did not make that clear to him in answering the question.

We take the view, as does the UN Secretary-General, that the UN should not take any new initiatives until the Secretary-General is given reason by all parties to believe that there really is a political will to solve the problem in Cyprus. We all know that an enormous amount of energy has been devoted to the issue in the past few years, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I am sorry that he is not in his place, because he deserves a great deal of praise and thanks from all sides of your Lordships' House for the work that he has undertaken. However, the fact is that until there is a real political will on all sides to solve the problem, we are unlikely to see much movement.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords—

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, is it not the fact that the decision by President Denktash—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I believe that it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, I am grateful. Reverting to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is the Minister aware that the European Court of Human Rights gave very valuable advice on the question? It made it quite clear that the Republic of Turkey is responsible for any breaches of the human rights convention, including the right to property, in the TRNC in northern Cyprus. Is it not the position that, if British citizens are victims of breaches by the TRNC in northern Cyprus, Turkey will be responsible? On the other hand, if they were the victims of breaches in the Greek-occupied part, the Cyprus Government would be responsible. There are complete remedies already under the European convention.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord misspoke when he referred to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, which was on Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We are discussing the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.

In general terms, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lester. However, I am anxious to avoid providing an absolute blueprint for what may be difficult questions of property ownership in all circumstances. The fact is that property ownership may happen in a wide variety of circumstances. Speaking from the Dispatch Box, I must be careful about sounding prescriptive about the way in which this issue may be resolved. However, in general terms, of course I can agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has said.