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10 Jan 2007 : Column 119WH—continued

3 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on securing the debate so early in the new year and so soon after the appointment of Georgios Iacovou as the new high commissioner to London. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish to welcome Mr. Iacovou to his post, and I had the opportunity to do so formally in Margate at the blessing of the seas on Sunday. We should place on record our appreciation for the work that he has done and for the work that we hope he will do.

The hon. Gentleman’s grasp of Cypriot politics is arguably second to none in either House of Parliament, and he also has a grasp of the legal issues, so I do not propose to go over the same ground. Instead, I want to put a human face on the issue, and I can almost hear the groans coming from one quarter as I mention the name of George Geroletiou. He is well known to colleagues who take an interest in Cyprus affairs. Indeed, that is literally true, because he is a personal friend in many cases. He also happens to be one of my constituents, although the Minister probably does not know him.

George is British. He was born in January 1913, so he is 94 this month. He was born in Komi Kebir, which was quite a thriving town close to the Karpas, but which is now almost a ghost village. He was born in a house in which his father and his grandfather had lived before him. He emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1935 to work and seek his fortune, and he did well. He joined the Royal Air Force at the start of the second world war and served in it for four and a half years. For part of that time, he served with Glafcos Clerides, the former and distinguished President of the Republic of Cyprus. He served in India, Burma and Ceylon—he was not sitting on his backside in pretty places. As a citizen of the United Kingdom, he served this country and put his life on the line, as so many people, including former President Clerides, did at that time.

In 1970, long after the war, and having concluded a successful business career, George Geroletiou and his British wife, Ivy, decided to live back in Cyprus, the land of George’s birth. They built a villa outside Famagusta, in a hamlet called Tricomo, right on the coast. It was a beautiful place in a beautiful location, with a view over the sea. The villa was completed in 1970, and George and Ivy spent two winters in their home before moving there for what they thought would
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be the whole of their retirement. They hoped to see their family—their children and their grandchildren—enjoy the property.

By 1974, Tricomo was on the Turkish side of the green line, and George Geroletiou’s property had been appropriated by the Turks. He did not go back until relatively recently. He came to see me in the Central Lobby in 1983, shortly after I was elected to the House. He asked me to use my good offices as his Member of Parliament to get him back his home, or what he and Ivy had come to regard as their home. For 23 years, I have been trying to do just that, with a signal lack of success, I have to say. I do not want to point too many fingers, however, because there have been failures on the part of successive Governments. I am as deeply ashamed of the lack of progress made by the Conservative Governments of the 1980s and 1990s as I am of that made by the current Government.

George is 94. He was hospitalised last summer, although, happily, he has made a recovery. I told him that he has to go on for two reasons. First, I want him to get his telegram from the Queen. Secondly, he has damn well got to stay alive until he gets his property back, however long that takes—and he could become the oldest citizen in the country if we have to wait too much longer. What he cannot understand, however, is why his country—the country for which he fought and in which he worked and paid taxes—is prepared to do so little to help him get back his stolen home.

A couple of years ago, after the green line was opened, George and I went up to Komi Kebir and saw the place of his birth. It was a pretty little cottage, which is now occupied by a Turkish Cypriot lady of advancing years. She actually remembered George just before he left Cyprus in 1935. She invited us in, and we sat down and had coffee with her. I did not understand a word that they were saying, but they jabbered away for yonks in a Cypriot dialect that was part Greek and part Turkish. Of course, that is the kind of relationship that exists between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots when they are allowed to get on with their own lives, although, in the main, they are not allowed to do so now, at least in Cyprus.

From Komi Kebir, George and I went down to Tricomo and saw his villa, although we were not allowed into it. It was “owned” by a Turk, and there was a Turkish name by the little post-box slotted into the gates. A bulldozer was digging a swimming pool in George Geroletiou’s garden for the illegal Turkish occupant’s use. Imagine how that old man felt. Imagine how he and others living and working in this country feel about our Government.

I have to tell the Minister, however, that it gets even worse than that. Following the referendum, in which the Cypriots dared to say no, as was their complete democratic right, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom went to Ankara and condemned the Republic of Cyprus in terms for daring to vote no. That referendum was largely constructed by the now Lord Hannay, who, as far as I can see, has been ennobled for his failure. It was impossible for Cypriots who understood the future of Cyprus to vote yes, because the referendum, which was held under Annan V, the plan to which hon. Members referred, did not deal with the three key issues.

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The plan did not deal with the settlers, illegal immigrants and Anatolian Turks whom Turkey dumped in the north of Cyprus. That has now resulted in the literal exclusion of Turkish Cypriots, who have left their island in droves. There is a myth that such movements are just a Greek Cypriot problem, but they are also a Turkish Cypriot problem. Those of us who have been to the island understand only too well that a generation of settler children have grown up on the island and regard themselves as Cypriot. As Cyprus is the only home that they have ever known, they have to be regarded as Cypriot, but that has compounded the problem.

Nor did the referendum deal with the issues of armed forces of occupation in the north. It said that there would be a phased scaling down of Turkish troops in the northern part of the island and that a token presence would be ultimately left. Would the United Kingdom, having fought the war in the Falklands, seriously have tolerated a token Argentine force on the islands, on British territory? Of course it would not. If soldiers from another country wish to come to the United Kingdom at our invitation and train and work here and mix with our own servicemen and women, that is their business—at our invitation, but not imposed.

The second key issue was not dealt with in Annan V. The third issue—the one that I have spent rather too much time dwelling on—is property, and that was not dealt with either. There was no solution to what Cypriots—Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots—regard as one of the key problems.

When George Geroletiou and I went through the green line up to see his home, we passed scores—hundreds—of little boxes. They were white concrete “Stop me and buy one” villas, most of which had the names of British businesses outside them as marketing agencies and very many of which have been acquired by citizens of the United Kingdom—many living in this country—as holiday homes. The hon. Member for Hendon pointed out that that has done no good at all for the tourism industry in the north of Cyprus, because all the people who were going and staying in hotels are now going and living in their villas, and they expect to be able to go on doing so for a very long time.

That has compounded the settlement problem, because now those people have to be dealt with as well. They may have been warned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in small print on a website that it was a bad idea and that they might lose their properties, but no Minister yet has been prepared—although perhaps this Minister will be this afternoon—to stand up and say, “You will lose those properties, so your £10,000, £15,000 or £20,000 is money down the drain—lost, gone—if you buy stolen property. That is what is happening.”

Mrs. Villiers rose—

David Lepper rose—

Mr. Gale: I shall give way first to my hon. Friend and then to the hon. Gentleman.

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Mrs. Villiers: Does my hon. Friend agree that the building boom in the northern part of Cyprus is not only cementing the injustice for those whose properties were seized in the invasion, but could have very significant environmentally damaging consequences for the island?

Mr. Gale: That is absolutely the case. My hon. Friend talks about cementing the injustice; it is actually concreting it. One of the sadnesses about the southern part of the island is that far too much concrete has been laid. Many small coves, beaches and villages that some of us knew a long time ago have disappeared under development, and precisely the same thing is happening in the north, which is very sad indeed and very bad for the environment.

David Lepper: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one issue that has been reported in a confused way in this country is the outcome in the High Court of the Orams case? In so far as it was reported, many of the reports suggested that the High Court judge had found in favour of the Orams, when in fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said, he substantiated their case, but the ruling was that courts in this country had no jurisdiction over enforcement of the Orams case.

Mr. Gale: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and valid point. The media reports at the time exacerbated the situation, because they were almost designed to lead people to believe that they could in effect flout the law—they could go and buy property in the northern part of the island of Cyprus with impunity and they were likely to be able to hang on to that property either for a very long time or, probably, in perpetuity. As he says, that is not the case. I raised the issue at the time publicly and I was quite interested to receive not a huge mailbag, but certainly several letters from British expatriates or potential expatriates who had bought property in the north and were outraged that a British Member of Parliament was daring to criticise what they had done. Frankly, what they had done was just as illegal as walking into Boots the Chemist and shoplifting. They are dealing in stolen property. That is what it is.

The Government, after the referendum, sent a terrible message through the mouth of the Prime Minister. The relationship between the Republic of Cyprus and the United Kingdom, which had been very good, has been dramatically soured. That is the fault not of the Republic of Cyprus, but of the United Kingdom and its attitude to the result of the referendum. Bridges now have to be built. Since the referendum, there is an impression abroad, which is not ill founded, that somehow the Government of the United Kingdom have been trying to punish the Republic of Cyprus for daring to do what Britain believed that it should not have done, because this country has been in thrall to the American policy over Turkey and once again we are following the United States.

The Americans can do what they like. They have their own interests and agenda for the middle east. We all understand that. It is their business, but with respect, they are not a guarantor power or a member of
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the Commonwealth. The United Kingdom is, and citizens of the United Kingdom, people who have fought for this country, such as George Geroletiou and many others—some of them, dare I say it, living in highly marginal seats—look to this Government to play square by them and to defend their interests, not the interests of others who are breaking the law.

3.15 pm

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for securing the debate. As he said, it is almost an annual event. We have heard a great amount of detail and—I say this with respect—some very emotive detail, but let us not forget that the problem with Cyprus has been on the UN agenda for four decades, and four decades is far too long.

Reference has been made to the Annan V plan, and a number of us felt and hoped that that provided for a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus issue. We felt and hoped that it would provide an historic opportunity to establish a unified state on the island, in compliance with the long-established parameters of the UN. In the simultaneous referendums in 2004, Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the plan and accepted a new partnership state. Sadly, however, Greek Cypriots rejected the plan with an overwhelming majority. Despite their rejecting the plan and thereby maintaining the divided status of the island, the Greek Cypriots were as a result, one could claim, awarded EU membership.

Dr. Vis: My hon. Friend says that Turkish Cypriots voted for the plan, but there are now fewer than 80,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the occupied territory, although there are about 130,000 Turks living in that territory, and they were given voting rights?

Mr. Laxton: I would not necessarily want to argue the statistics about the numbers voting one way or the other. The fact remains that the majority of the Turkish Cypriots voted for the Annan V plan, but the Greek Cypriots in the south did not.

Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): Is it not the case that had things gone otherwise, we would not need to discuss many of the issues that we are discussing today, because they would have been in the process of resolution? Is not the conundrum that we face that those people who voted positively were punished with isolation and the Greek Cypriots, who voted negatively, were rewarded with EU membership? The situation has reached upside down proportions. Is it not important that we resume, for example, direct links and end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots? Is that not a fundamental right for the Turkish northern Cypriots?

Mr. Laxton: I could not agree more. Had the result in the referendum been different, we would certainly be in a different position and hopefully we would have been moving forward.

Following the referendums in 2004, EU Foreign Ministers took a decision to ease the restrictions on the Turkish Cypriots. According to that decision, the EU
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agreed on regulation on financial assistance and on direct trade. In May 2004, the UN Secretary-General published a report of his mission of good offices in Cyprus and clearly stated that the restrictions on the northern part of the island should be lifted.

However, as the Greek Cypriot Administration became a member of the EU, implementation of the EU regulations that I have referred to was blocked by the Greek Cypriots. Two and a half years after the referendums, the Turkish Cypriots, who supported the unification and settlement and thereby gained, one could claim, the moral high ground are still suffering from restrictions due to the Greek Cypriot obstruction in the EU.

The fundamental aim of the Greek Cypriot side is to change the established parameters of the Cyprus issue. They want to stall the UN’s efforts to find a comprehensive settlement and involve the EU in the problem. That is a platform on which Turkey and Turkish Cypriots are not members, and Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration have a right to veto and chances to manipulate the process in their favour. The Greek Cypriots also appear to be trying to remove the vested rights of Turkish Cypriots and downgrade them to the level of “minority.” Furthermore, Greek Cypriots are trying hard to open a direct negotiation channel with Turkey and push aside the Turkish Cypriot leadership, whom they disregard as a counterpart, yet the Greek Cypriot leadership’s method of finding a comprehensive settlement has always been through the Turkish Cypriot authorities. Turkey and Greece—the motherlands—together with the UK are the guarantor powers who must overlook and participate in the efforts to find a solution.

Mr. Love: I welcome my hon. Friend to the debate. He seems to be characterising the Turkish and Turkish Cypriots as good and Greeks and Greek Cypriots as bad. Everyone in the Chamber who takes an interest in Cyprus and the wider issues in the eastern Mediterranean would consider that to be far too superficial an approach. It is of critical importance to have balance if we are to move forward and suggest to Ministers a way to gain the support of both the communities on the island. I suggest that a little more balance would be helpful.

Mr. Laxton: I thank my hon. Friend because I entirely share his view, but I have heard little balance up to now. People on both sides of the argument, and anyone who participates in the debate, should try to take a balanced view. Surely, the ultimate desire of everyone should be to bring about a settlement in Cyprus.

Unless the Greek Cypriot side genuinely wants to find a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem, I am not sure how we will progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentioned the Turkish Cypriot students who were attacked at the British school in the southern part of the island. That was rightly denigrated by politicians in the south of the island, but the intransigence of the Greek Cypriot Administration breeds and ferments the ultra-nationalistic attitude on the Cypriot issue that exists on both sides to a degree, which does not assist progress.

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3.23 pm

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On 29 December, I was on my way back from a short visit to Israel and Palestine and was at a stopover at Istanbul airport when I was approached by some constituents—something that happens in this job. They said, “Simon, it is very nice to see you. Are you coming to our event on 9 January?” “What event is that?” I asked. They told me that it was the annual new year event of the Cypriot elders centre in Southwark, where Greek and Cypriot people have for years met and enjoyed an extremely good community facility. My constituents had been in Turkey for a meeting about the future of Cyprus.

Yesterday, I went to that evening event and found that both Turkish and Greek Cypriots—like many hon. Members in the Chamber, I represent both—overwhelmingly want peace, settlement and justice in Cyprus. They want the politicians to get their act together, so that they can go back to normal life north or south of what is now the border in the place where they come from. I have never held a brief for one or other side of the argument, but I hold one for the rule of law—as I do in relation to Palestine and Israel.

To me, the rule of law says simply that there was an invasion in 1974. However difficult the times before that were or however much injustice there was, in the end, there was an invasion of one country by another, which caused the division. The northern part of Cyprus has been occupied since then. That is against international law. There cannot be peace when any country holds territory to which it is not entitled in another country. That does not mean that I am against the Turkish Cypriots having their say or that I am against Turkey. We have to reach a balanced, fair resolution in which the troops withdraw and the Cypriots decide their own future.

I add my criticisms to those of my colleagues around the table and say to the Minister that the Government have been very feeble and weak on this issue since the invasion. We were the colonial, empire power and are now the guarantor power—Cyprus is a Commonwealth country—yet we have barely ever sought to drive the process. That is a terrible frustration and indictment. We are also the power with sovereign bases there, so we have a direct interest. Some of my family have lived there, and I have visited them there. We have a huge interest in trying to drive the process towards peace.

There was a referendum after lots of UN work, but I share the view of the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) on that. If a question is put to the people in a referendum and both halves of the island are required to reach a common view, they cannot be criticised if one side says no, but the Government did that completely unjustifiably. Both sides were required to say yes before the proposition could go ahead, but they did not both say yes, so it was not an acceptable proposition—end of story. The Government should then have gone back to work and tried to find an acceptable proposition.

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