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House of Lords

Wednesday, 25th June 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.


Lord Maginnis of Drumglass asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether European Union sanctions against the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have created a significant disparity of incomes between Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, there are no EU sanctions against the north of Cyprus. The self-declared "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" is not internationally recognised, except by Turkey. That has created practical barriers to trade. We welcome the recently published EU measures to promote economic development in the north of Cyprus and to bring it closer to the EU. But we believe that the best way for Turkish Cypriots to achieve peace and prosperity is through a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement on the basis of the United Nations proposals.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer, but does she acknowledge that that is, in essence, a quibble and that there is an average annual wage differential between southern Cyprus, where it is the equivalent of 15,000 per annum, and northern Cyprus, where it is only 3,000 per annum? Does the Minister acknowledge that that wealth differential is an insurmountable barrier to integrated resettlement, as proposed by the United Nations, and that such an agreement would result in 80,000 Turkish Cypriots becoming refugees? Is that what the Government want?

On a more promising note, is the Minister aware that President Denktash has been invited, in his own right, to the prestigious Crans-Montana international conference in Switzerland this weekend? I am privileged to be part of his delegation. Is it not time that the Government in this country made a similar gesture?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in relation to the first half of the noble Lord's question, I do not agree. Of course the Government of the United Kingdom do not want to see that kind of difficulty in Cyprus. I do not agree with the noble Lord that this is a question of a quibble. The facts are as I have stated. Because northern Cyprus is not recognised, there are real difficulties concerning trade.

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I acknowledge what the noble Lord said about the differences in income. With that in mind, the EU brought forward some very promising proposals on 3rd June. The Commission stated that it was putting forward a package as a strong political signal of support for the Turkish Cypriot community. The package includes 9 million euros of financial assistance to boost economic development. It also provides for some proposals on trade, which I hope will help to overcome some of the difficulties. I am sorry that the noble Lord did not concentrate on what I consider to be very much a package of good news from the EU in respect of northern Cyprus.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords—

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we have plenty of time. Perhaps we may start with the noble Lord, Lord Howell.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, while we are talking about Cyprus, will the noble Baroness join me in congratulating one of our own number—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—on the honour that he received in recognition of his tireless work in trying to bring together the communities in Cyprus?

As to the Question, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that there are no direct sanctions. She is also right that, unfortunately, northern Cyprus recently rejected a substantial offer of aid from the European Union. However, would it not be possible for the European Union to make exports from northern Cyprus a little easier and to ease some of the regulations so that some of the prosperity enjoyed by the Republic of Cyprus could be shared in the north and perhaps pave the way for surmounting the appalling political difficulties?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course I join the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on his very well deserved honour. All your Lordships are well aware of the tireless work that he has put in through the United Nations. I believe that it is a matter of great regret to most of your Lordships that his work did not meet with immediate success, but we hope that, in due course, there may be some settlement along those lines.

On the question of what the EU can do, I hope that your Lordships will spend a little time considering the 9 million-euro package of financial assistance, which will help to develop the economic infrastructure in the north. It is introducing grant schemes for SMEs and conducting feasibility studies on economic integration. But there is also a package of proposals on trade, stating in particular that the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce could be given the authority to issue movement certificates for goods from the north of the island to the south and then on to the EU. I believe that that move by the EU to try to facilitate trade is very positive.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, has my noble friend seen reports of the encouraging remarks

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made yesterday by Abdullah Gul, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, on local Turkish television, who said, after meeting Kofi Annan, that Ankara would have no objection to the United Nations plan, with changes, being the basis of a Cyprus settlement? Is that not a far more realistic approach than the one being followed by Mr Denktash, who dares not put that plan to the Turkish Cypriot people in a referendum and who, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is stuck way back in history?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, any encouragement that Turkey can give to northern Cyprus to move in the direction of the United Nations' plan is to be encouraged. As to the specific issue of what Mr Gul said, it depends on the sort of changes necessary to meet the point that Turkey wants to meet. In our experience, when changes are made by one side, another side in the discussion wants changes of a reciprocal nature in other parts of the programme.

I agree that it is the UN that holds the key. The UN Secretary-General has made clear that he remains at the disposal of the parties, should they request UN assistance in any further negotiations for a settlement; but a settlement based on the UN plan.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for his kind words. Does the Minister agree that Mr Denktash, when he rejected the UN plan last March, turned his back on what is by far the quickest and easiest way to start narrowing the gap between the prosperity of his community and the rest of the island? Doe she agree that the way to achieve that now is to come back to the table on the basis of the UN plan and not to try to make conditions for that, or to rubbish the UN plan?

Does she also agree that the European Union has shown over many years that its instruments are the best for narrowing the gaps between prosperous parts of a country and less prosperous parts of a country, and the same would be likely to happen in Cyprus should a reunited island join the EU?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord said. After all, he is best placed among all your Lordships to make that sort of judgment. It is indeed the best way for the northern part of the island not only to find peace but prosperity. The people of northern Cyprus recognised that when they demonstrated in favour of the UN proposals.

Middle East Road Map

2.46 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made with the road map for peace in the Middle East.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government

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have accepted the road map that was presented to them on 30th April. At the Aqaba summit on 4th June, Prime Minister Sharon and Prime Minister Abbas made public commitments to implement the road map. Phase one of the road map has begun, with action including the appointment of Prime Minister Abbas and the dismantling of some settlement outposts. Much remains to be done.

Her Majesty's Government are ready to support all efforts towards a just and settled peace.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, the noble Lords will welcome the fact that the noble Baroness is able to report some progress. However, are there not still too many killings?

The killing of members of Hamas by the Israeli forces—targeted killings—are conducted on the instructions of the Government of Israel, whereas the killing of Israeli people by extremists on the Palestinian side is conducted against the wishes and the efforts of Mr Abbas. Is not that the difference? Is not the danger that the actions of the Israeli Government are making the efforts of Mr Abbas to secure a ceasefire on his side, more difficult?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there is some progress, but as the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, points out, it is very fragile at the moment. I hope that I stressed that when I said that much is still to be done.

The killings carried out by Hamas are clearly terrorist actions. I hope that your Lordships understand that discussions are taking place between Hamas and the Palestinian Government to try to work towards a ceasefire. I am sure that we all support those strenuous and continuing efforts.

As regards the Israeli actions in carrying out assassinations, it is regrettable that the Israelis feel that they are trapped into a security situation in which that action seems necessary. However, I am bound to say that the belief of Her Majesty's Government is that such actions do not help the path of peace, and may well mitigate against the very thing that Israel is trying to secure—namely, its own security.

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