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House of Lords

Tuesday, 14th January 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Cyprus: UK Sovereign Bases

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United Kingdom sovereign bases in Cyprus will become part of the European Union on the accession of Cyprus.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, it has been agreed that following Cyprus's accession the sovereign based areas will remain outside the EU, with technical adjustments to ensure the continued smooth functioning of the relationship between Cyprus and the SBAs to ensure that Cypriots who live and work in the SBAs benefit from Cyprus's EU membership.

My noble friend Lady Amos updated the House in a Written Answer on 12th December 2002 on progress in implementing this policy. We expect the detail of the arrangements to take the form of a protocol which will be part of the terms of Cyprus's accession. The accession treaty is due to be signed on 16th April in a Bill introduced to enable its ratification by the United Kingdom.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive answer. Is she confident that this rather anomalous arrangement will not risk another Gibraltarian situation in which having elements under British sovereignty on the edge but partly within a member state gets us into all sorts of complications with the other member states?

I note that in the written statement there was reference to co-operation on asylum seekers. What will happen when asylum seekers perhaps succeed in landing in the sovereign based areas and then move across what I understand is an open frontier with Cyprus? Is there any plan to fortify or at least fence properly the frontier between the SBAs and Cyprus itself?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the UK will, as now, exercise controls at the external borders of the SBAs. There will continue to be no controls on the land boundary with the Republic of Cyprus. The situation between Gibraltar and Cyprus is not analogous. The sovereign based areas are completely different from those in Gibraltar. Through our undertaking of the 1960 Treaty of Establishment, the UK is committed not to allow economic development within the SBA.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, given that the majority of Turkish Cypriots have demonstrated

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that they want to join the European Union and want a settlement to the problems on the island, will the Minister explain what further help the United Kingdom Government can give to both communities to reach a settlement based on the Annan proposals?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend is right. I understand that there is a demonstration today in Nicosia in favour of the UN plan. Up to 50,000 people have attended, which was larger than the Boxing Day demonstration. The United Kingdom will continue to do all that it can consistent with the UN proposals. Your Lordships will be aware that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has—as a former member of the diplomatic service of this country—been of great value in those discussions. Of course, we shall continue to give them all the support that we can.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the sovereign based areas are even more crucial to global security today than when they were first set up in 1960? Does she accept that we, on this side, strongly welcome the negotiation which has secured a proper status for them? I do not expect her to comment on this, but would mention that their value as a listening post for intelligence right through the wedge up into the Middle East is very great indeed and must be protected. We would expect the full support of all member states of the EU for what has been agreed. Will the Minister tell us, if the UN plan goes forward—as obviously we hope—and Cyprus enters the EU as a united country, whether that would further affect the arrangements that have been worked out?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords, I do not believe that that will affect the arrangements that have been worked out. Those arrangements are enshrined in the protocol to which I referred in my original answer. I welcome the noble Lord's support for the stance that Her Majesty's Government have taken on this. The sovereign based areas are currently outside the EU; it is our firm belief that they should remain so.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on the question of asylum seekers. The sovereign based areas have a substantial coastline which is part of the European Union's external border; it is difficult to defend, particularly at night. If asylum seekers succeed in landing within the sovereign based areas do they become Britain's responsibility? Do we accept them therefore into the United Kingdom or do we pass them on to the Republic of Cyprus?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, anyone who requires a visa to enter the Republic of Cyprus will also be required to hold a valid Republic of Cyprus visa in order to enter the SBAs through any external border. The question concerning whether any such individuals would be the responsibility of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Cyprus is a matter on which I shall have to write to the noble Lord.

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2.41 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their current policy towards Iraq.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I set out our policy objectives in a Written Answer on 7th January. Iraq must comply with its obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. UNSCR 1441 has served notice on the Iraqi regime that it must now give up its weapons of mass destruction or face serious consequences.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, in addition to the risk of serious damage to the United Nations which could result from military action against Iraq—unless the issue is handled with great skill and care in the United Nations—is there not another perhaps even more serious risk regarding military action? Unless the Government of the United States put a more urgent and stronger effort into resolving the appalling conflict between Israel and the Palestinians— with a result that is fair to the Palestinians—will not the Arab world be confirmed in its suspicion that the United States is in the pocket of Israel? Will not the likely result be that there will be even more instability and terrorism in the Middle East?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that it is important that the authority of the United Nations is upheld. That is one of the reasons why the United Kingdom has been so concerned that, in so far as is humanly possible, the issue is dealt with under the auspices of the United Nations.

The problems that prevail in Israel and the Palestinian Authority are of enormous concern, but they are free-standing problems. The issues around weapons of mass destruction in Iraq might be solved and there still might be an outstanding and terrible problem in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, I acknowledge the noble Lord's point that they are linked in many minds. That is one of the many reasons why my right honourable friend has held discussions today to look at ways in which the Palestinian Authority might be reformed.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that within the context of the Government's policy, as she has described it, there is room for anxiety about how well equipped the United Nations inspectors are to complete their task? Will she explain to the House why there has been a delay in sharing intelligence with the inspectors? Obviously, if they are to do their job, they need all the available intelligence.

Can my noble friend assure us that all the available intelligence is now at the disposal of the inspectors and that we are determined that they should be able to complete their task with full intelligence and report back to the United Nations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am not going to give the absolute categoric assurance that

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my noble friend has asked of me. I cannot assure him that all available intelligence is communicated to the inspectors. I can assure him that all intelligence that is consistent with the security of this country is conveyed to the inspectors. I do not know whether my noble friend heard the interview with Dr Blix on the radio this morning, but I heard it and thought that he was positive about the co-operation he was receiving from American and British sources.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister who said yesterday at his press conference that there had been only one week in which the full complement of inspectors had been available? The Secretary of State, Mr Colin Powell, speaking for the United States, indicated that their intelligence had been made available only last week.

In view of that, will the Government consider sympathetically any requests from the inspectors for a greater amount of time to work on the inspection of what evidence there may be? Furthermore, in view of the fact that the United Kingdom and France are permanent members of the Security Council, will the Government consider permitting a debate immediately after the report of the inspectors to enable the opinions of this House and another place to be considered in the work which our United Nations representatives will do on a second resolution, should their be one, so that they may take into account the views of Parliament?

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