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House of Lords

Tuesday, 12th March 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.


Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to promote the entry of a reunited Cyprus to the European Union.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we believe that the best chance of a reunited Cyprus joining the European Union lies in supporting the current United Nations-brokered settlement talks in Cyprus. We and other member states are therefore working to support that process and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the Government's special representative, is active in that respect.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she recognise that the amount of time that has been lost as a result of the break in the UN-sponsored talks in the past 18 months means that they are a long way behind the accession negotiations and that it will be hard work to ensure that the two negotiations are within sight of each other when the accession negotiations conclude by the end of this year?

Will she accept that, if we are to ensure that the talks make rapid progress, active diplomacy is needed by the British Government and their new partners not only in the two halves of Nicosia but also in Athens and Ankara?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that it was unfortunate that the talks did not get underway in any real sense until the beginning of December. The noble Lord is right that the accession talks which Cyprus is undertaking with the EU are making good headway. However, now that the talks between the two sides—between Mr Denktas and Mr Clerides—are under way, good progress is being made.

I would not like the noble Lord to think that the EU or the United Kingdom Government were standing back. As I have indicated, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is actively involved in the process. Although neither the EU nor the United Kingdom can be a mediator or broker, we take an active part in advising on the way forward.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, will my noble friend reiterate the views of Her Majesty's Government and the rest of the European Union that the accession of Cyprus to the EU does not depend

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upon reunification of the island, much as members of both Cypriot communities and others elsewhere want to see that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. However, the United Kingdom strongly supports the discussions under way between the two sides in Cyprus. We also strongly support the accession of Cyprus to the EU. But let me say categorically that neither we nor the European Union believe that such coming together in Cyprus is a precondition for accession. That was made abundantly clear at the Helsinki European Council, but for the purposes of further clarity I repeat that now to your Lordships.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, can the Government explain what incentive there is for Greek Cypriots to reach a settlement on the island when at the same time we are telling them that they can enter the EU without a settlement? Secondly, on the principle of the freedom of movement of persons, is it not inconsistent that in the EU we might have a member nation, the centre of which is patrolled by a United Nations peacekeeping force maintaining the peace between the two parts? Finally, would the Government be better advised to follow the example of the upper House of the Netherlands Parliament and decide not to support accession until there is agreement on the island?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords, emphatically not on the last point—emphatically not. Of course it would be better for the two sides to reach agreement and I believe that the statement of the two leaders, Mr Clerides and Mr Denktas, following the 4th December meeting, made clear that the talks in the United Nations framework at the invitation of the UN Secretary-General and with the help of the special adviser, Mr Alvaro de Soto, were talks in which they were prepared to engage in good faith.

The Secretary-General has requested that we do not discuss publicly the detail of the negotiations—either past negotiations or those currently under way. I believe that that request should be respected. Of course there are difficult issues and we all understand that. However, we have a specific request from the Secretary-General on this issue and I hope that the difficulties which the two sides face will be successfully resolved.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while the division of Cyprus must not be allowed to get in the way of progress in the accession talks to the EU, the accession talks and the EU issue must not be allowed to get in the way of the glimmerings of successful talks at last moving ahead between the North and the Government of Cyprus?

Secondly, if by some miracle after many years the talks make progress, are we standing ready to offer every possible assistance as regards the legal,

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administrative and restitution issues and the meetings of vast complexity which will arise if reunification at last begins to move ahead?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that we should give all possible help. We have given a very good earnest of that intention in that one of the best diplomatic brains in the country—in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—is already involved. His standing is generally acknowledged and your Lordships do defer to the noble Lord, whom I can see blushing very prettily in his place at the moment. I agree that the accession talks should not get in the way of the talks between Mr Clerides and Mr Denktas. I am happy to say that the accession talks are well advanced. Seven chapters remain to be resolved, but the talks are making excellent progress.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, in echoing what has been said around the House, will Her Majesty's Government ensure that some sympathy is shown to the Turks, who suffered considerably in the 1970s coup d'état? Some regard should be paid to the fact that the problems in Cyprus were, to a large extent, created by the Greek Cypriot community which staged the coup d'état in the early 1970s. I do not wish to dwell on history, but Her Majesty's Government should pay regard to it because history has a nasty habit of coming back.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, attention should be paid to both sides of this difficult question. The workable solution needed cannot be imposed by outsiders. It has to be agreed by the two sides to the discussion and put to the two communities in separate referendums. There is no question of either community being forced into anything. I hope that it is a reasonable assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that not only the two political sides but the two communities must agree any settlement that is made.

Marine Mammals

2.44 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they intend to take to reduce the number of marine mammals illegally killed in nets and trawls in British waters.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, research funded by the department has helped to demonstrate where particular problems involving marine mammal casualties occur in international fisheries managed under the common fisheries policy. To resolve this problem, action is required by the Commission. This is why my right honourable friend the Fisheries Minister has written to Commissioner Fischler explaining the trials on separator grids which the Sea Mammal Research Unit will be undertaking

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on our behalf. He has also called on the Commissioner to be ready to take action to address the problem of cetacean bycatch in EU fisheries through gear adaptations and other restrictions.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Although I understand they are not compulsory, what conclusions have been drawn from the recent research project? As to the new net trials, with the season drawing to a close, when will the trials begin and when will the results be known? Similar schemes have not worked in New Zealand. Since 1st January, no fewer than 1,000 dead dolphins have been washed up on the shores of France and England. What measures have been taken to warn the public of the hazard of putrefying dolphins on the beach transmitting disease?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as to the noble Lord's final point, I have experienced the stench of rotting dead seagulls, and the smell of putrefying dolphins would make it unlikely that anyone would go near enough to them to constitute a health hazard. It is to be hoped that immediate action would be taken by local environmental health authorities to remove anything that was considered to be a health hazard.

As to the action being taken, since 1990 the UK Government have funded a scheme to investigate, through postmortems, the reasons for strandings. Alongside this, extensive research has been undertaken into bycatch problems with dolphins. That research has demonstrated that there must be international action. Trials of separator grids in the offshore bass fishery are currently under way. I cannot tell the noble Lord exactly when the trials will be completed, but the results will inform on-going work in the lead-up to the review of the common fisheries policy.

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