HL Deb 18 May 2004 vol 661 cc644-7

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, given that the Turkish Cypriots have voted to accept the Annan plan, they will now take steps within the European Union to promote the immediate amendment of legislation which restricts trade or communication with northern Cyprus.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the United Kingdom, together with our EU partners, has already adopted a regulation intended to facilitate trade and other links across the Green Line. In addition, the 26 April General Affairs and External Relations Committee invited the Commission to, bring forward proposals to put an end to the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community, with particular emphasis on the economic integration of the island and on improving contact between the two communities and with the EU". The UK fully supports these objectives and will consider the Commission's proposals when they are presented.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said. Is she aware that being prevented flying directly into or out of northern Cyprus and having to go all the way round through Turkey puts a considerable cost burden on the poor people who must earn their living by selling their produce abroad or looking after foreign visitors? Does she not agree that the Turkish Cypriots, having now accepted the UN plan, which was by no means drawn up in their favour, now deserve to have this spiteful and unfair stricture removed?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we agree that it is important that proposals are brought forward to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made that clear when answering questions on the subject only yesterday. He made it clear in respect of air travel, trade and disbursement of moneys. We welcome the announcement on 5 May that EU and other foreign tourists arriving on the island from legal ports of entry will have the right of free movement across the Green Line and there will be no restrictions on the time that they could stay in the North. That has been a step forward, but we would like to see further measures to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, does the noble Baroness really expect that the Turkish Cypriots will be accorded a level playing field across the Green Line? Can the Minister cite one single example of trade and travel embargoes and cruel victimisation of a small, peaceful and democratic nation to compare with what has been inflicted on the Turkish Cypriot people for the past 30 years? Is it not time for the Government to make sensible amends?

Baroness Symons

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has particular concerns and interests about this. I am bound to say to him that that is exactly the question that my Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, addressed; it was exactly about what can he done to facilitate trade between the two sides of the island. There are also the proposals that we want brought forward and which we have asked the Commission to draw up for our consideration, we hope, in June.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, first, does the agreement that was signed by the Prime Minister and his Turkish opposite number Mr Erdogan go any further than had already been agreed by the Commission, or indeed had been announced by the Cyprus Foreign Minister? Secondly, is the Secretary-General due to report on the implementation of the Annan plan; and thirdly, what happens next to the Security Council this week? Will the United Kingdom consider implementation of parts of the Annan plan regarding the transfer of territory, demilitarisation, property, and the Reconciliation Commission?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, in his time-honoured fashion, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has asked me a number of questions, and I shall answer two of them. The Secretary-General is writing a report on the Good Offices Mission, and we hope that that report will be forthcoming next week. I cannot guarantee that, but that is certainly the hope. Thereafter, we want and expect a full and frank discussion of the report in the Security Council, but we are not necessarily looking for new solution ns. The Secretary-General has made it clear that he has already given his best advice on this issue. It is probably wise at present to allow the dust to settle to see what can be done about some of the practical issues addressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Knight.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords, now that the Turkish Cypriots have rejected and turned their backs on the misconceived policies of Mr Denktash, which were the cause of much of their isolation, and have opted for a plan that has the approval of the United Nations and the European Union, does the Minister agree that it would be wrong if they were made in any way to suffer from this? Does she also agree that the European Union should do anything that it can to prepare the Turkish Cypriots for membership, which should be their right as they voted for it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I echo what my right honourable friend said yesterday when he paid tribute to the work of the Turkish Cypriots by saying that it was clear that we must now act to end the isolation of northern Cyprus. He said that that means lifting the embargoes in respect of trade and air travel, and it means making sure that the European Union funds that are available for dispersement are actually disbursed. He said that he could not make any undertaking about the timings of these moves, but that he wished them to happen as soon as possible. That gives the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, a very full response.

The Earl of Dundee

My Lords, how far will the co-operative position of the Turkish Cypriots influence the line that the Government will choose to take on the EU candidature of Turkey itself when that comes to be considered at the December summit this year?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we have said throughout that we would welcome the opportunity, if all the criteria are met, to open serious negotiations with the Turkish Government on their accession. It has been the view of the United Kingdom Government since we came to power in 1997 that we would do everything that we could to encourage the reforms in Turkey. Those reforms have been very thorough-going, and a number of encouraging moves have been made by the Turkish Government in respect of human rights in that country. We will have to see what the assessment is of all our colleagues in the EU before any decision is taken to open the formal chapters of negotiation.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Baroness said just now that there would be free movement for EU citizens across the Green Line, provided those citizens had arrived at "legal ports of entry". Does she agree that that differs from the Written Answer that she kindly gave me yesterday, which made no such qualification regarding legal or illegal ports of entry?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I was giving the answer that, as I understand it, has been forthcoming from the Government of Cyprus. The fact is that EU citizens are allowed to move freely in either direction across the Green Line. The regulations allow third party nationals to cross the Line if they possess a residence permit issued by the Republic of Cyprus, a valid travel document, if required, or a valid visa for the Republic of Cyprus. If there is any ambiguity on these issues, I would be grateful if the noble Lord would see me privately. I will go through them with him, and if there are remaining issues to be settled I will write to him and place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, further to the Minister's reply to my noble friend Lord Dundee, does the Minister accept that we agree with the view that the EU should reduce its restrictions on Turkish Cyprus and improve communication links, as my noble friend Lady Knight suggested? Furthermore, we agree that the behaviour of the Turkish Government in Ankara has been so positive throughout the process that this does qualify them to ask for an early beginning to negotiations to join the European Union. If that is the case, does she also agree that when and if Turkey joins the Union—I hope that it will be "when"—that will make it the second biggest country in the entire Union; and that, therefore, it should have a right to have a say in any new constitution for the Union?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can fully understand that the noble Lord thinks that I have let myself in for it a bit because I answered the question on Turkey that was asked by his noble friend Lord Dundee. The fact is that this Question is actually about Cyprus and not about Turkish accession. However, we believe that Turkey adopted a most constructive approach over the negotiations, and I am sure that that approach will not have done its candidature any harm.