All Debates between Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Northbrook

Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [HL]

(Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords)
Debate between Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Northbrook
Monday 21st May 2018

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury
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My Lords, I might as well begin by declaring what is not really a direct interest. My father was born in Bermuda and his father was born in Bermuda, so I think that entitles me to go and live there at some point and not have to deposit the $30 million that I think is currently needed if you want to live there. It is a very nice island, and I do love it and I love its people.

This debate is a reflection of constitutional concerns. There are concerns over the rights of people to determine their own laws and no one can disagree with that. But it is also a very strong moral debate, because we know that developing countries lose three times as much in tax avoidance as they get in all the international aid that is available to them. That is the scandal of this world we now live in. The Paradise papers and the Panama papers highlighted just how much of an issue this really is, and that is why we have such huge public concern. If we want to break the business model of stealing money and hiding it in places where it cannot be seen, transparency is the answer. I agree completely with the words of David Cameron in 2013 when he spoke about ripping aside “the cloak of secrecy” and repeated the well-known mantra that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. I think that that commitment by David Cameron in 2013 is what this debate is about.

Last week, I had the opportunity of meeting the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition of the British Virgin Islands. They made their case very strongly to me about their concerns over this amendment. However, whatever position you are taking constitutionally, no matter what the concerns are, there is one thing that everyone agrees on, and that is that the scandal of money flowing out of countries and being hidden is something that has to stop. The Prime Minister of the British Virgin Islands acknowledges that transparency is important. We have heard about the actions of Bermuda and other places. David Cameron was actually trying to change the global position, to get to a position where we would have global agreement on addressing this issue.

How do we get global agreement? David Cameron believed it was by giving a lead. There is an issue here about reputation and being able to influence things. While we are in the European Union and saying, “You’ve got to ensure that all territories within the European Union comply with this”, and when we are in other global fora, we should be able to say that we will be acting on this. We know that the excuse of the overseas territories is often used by others to say, “If you’re not doing it there, why should we do it here?”. That is something that we have to address.

I absolutely understand the need to ensure that all the territories have the proper opportunity to consider this, but this is something that they have been acting on for some time. I respect the Minister’s undertaking to ensure that they have the necessary means as well as the necessary policy and advice.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook
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When the noble Lord talks about the relevant means, does that mean he expects the UK Government to substitute the revenue that these overseas territories are going to lose? He may say that some dodgy money will go out there, but some reputable people with money out there will take their money elsewhere. Is he saying the UK Government will have to take their place with our duty of supporting these overseas territories?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point. We have been talking about money flowing out. We have had debates elsewhere. I have also spent time working in Gibraltar and I know that on financial matters—Bermuda is another good example—it has built its reputation on having proper transparency and controls. That is what we need to establish: that there is a good way of doing this that will help expand the industry. Reputational interests are incredibly important.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, is absolutely right that we do have time; the point was also addressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. We have had some considerable time already on this issue, but we have time to ensure that we can get everybody on board with this principle. The only way we will get global agreement is for the United Kingdom to go into those international fora and say, “No more—we need transparency”, because transparency is what will ensure that we can find all those activities, particularly tax avoidance.

Northern Cyprus

Debate between Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Northbrook
Monday 16th October 2017

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, it is tempting to answer the two questions of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, rather succinctly. To his first, I say that there will be plenty of problems now that the reunification talks have collapsed. As for the second, I am sure the Minister will recite the usual FCO formula that both sides have to work out a new solution and the UK cannot assist until they have produced an almost final blueprint. That view needs revision, as I shall come on to discuss later; but, like the noble Lord, I want to praise the FCO for its efforts toward the end of the talks in trying to achieve a solution.

However, I think the question of the noble Lord needs much more detailed analysis. The main problem will be the continued isolation of Northern Cyprus, which will continue to rely upon Turkey’s support. That isolation comes in several forms. First, it is economic. For instance, I will cite the major problem of the relationship with the EU which, unbelievably, agreed in 2004 that Cyprus could join, regardless of whether agreement had been reached with the Turkish Cypriots. To add insult and injury to the north, it is the whole island that had formally acceded to membership, including the unrecognised and unrepresented Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus—TRNC. As a result, the north is deprived of favourable tariff treatment from the EU and other financial benefits to help the infrastructure and other projects.

The next economic problem applies to the natural resources available from the seas surrounding the island. If the island was reunited, there would be the possibility of exploiting the gas resources in, for instance, the Aphrodite field. At the moment, such exploitation is impossible. That gas could be piped to Turkey, giving Cyprus much cheaper energy on the way.

Another form of isolation is travel. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, has already stated, visitors to the north are unable to fly directly to the island, having to stop in Turkey on the way. Such a problem will not be solved as long as the island is divided. That has a direct effect on tourism for the north, as the hassle factor of getting to it deters many. Varosha, which was a prime tourist resort before partition, is still shut off; that is a benefit to no one.

Another problem faced by the north could be the attitude of Turkey. The unpredictable President Erdogan could seek to take in Northern Cyprus as another province of Turkey. That would be a very unsettling event as it could stir up the Greek Cypriot community and Greece itself.

What should be done to solve these problems? Like every other speaker, I fear that negotiations to reunite the island as one entity are now doomed to fail, basically because the Greek side has got exactly what it wants at present, especially with membership of the EU. As Jack Straw, the former Foreign Secretary, wrote in the Independent on 1 October:

“For any negotiation of this kind to succeed, both sides have to be able to gain something. But, from the Greek Cypriot point of view, conceding political equality with the Turkish Cypriots means giving power away. If the quid pro quo had been EU membership, a deal in my view would have been agreed. But absent that … no Greek-Cypriot leader will ever be able to get their electorate behind a deal. The status quo for the south is simply too comfortable”.

Jack Straw goes on to say that he believes the international community should,

“acknowledge this reality and recognise the partition of the island. That would be far more likely to improve relations between the two communities than continuing the useless merry-go-round of further negotiations for a settlement that never can be”.

So what should the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office be? Several members of the APPG group for the TRNC, of which I am a member, visited the FCO in July. For myself, having watched the progress of the talks carefully over the last two years, there were major indicators of lack of progress, particularly when it appeared that the Greek side was expanding the convergences. The FCO was putting all its money on the negotiations succeeding and it was apparent that it had no plan B if the talks were to fail. That was too narrow an approach to take. The FCO should be much more proactive at an earlier stage and look to push forward the partition concept. An interesting article by Dr Sen Dervish of the Centre for the Study of International Peace and Security looks at that idea in more detail. First, she says that Cyprus is already a,

“de facto militarily-partitioned state between Turkey and Greece”.

She believes that reunification is,

“a pipe dream … A readiness for political compromise and social cohesion—undisputedly a precursor for any peace deal—is debatably non-existent on the island … The psycho-political stance of the two Cypriot communities indicates that they want to remain divided; Cyprus should not be left at the mercy of an endless peace process where issues are negotiated to a point of tautology”.

She believes that recognition of the two states,

“would consequently eradicate many legal and political problems surrounding partition, such as human rights and property issues … There are further axiomatic legal obstacles to partition, such as Article II of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee signed by the two Cypriot leaders, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom. International organisations such as the EU perpetuate the existence of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus, granting it enjoyment of protections awarded to states under public international law. In reality, however, there exist two democratic states of Cyprus and obstacles to peace are overtly political rather than strictly legal … accordingly, the solution needs to be a political one. Partition would also result in the destruction of rights of residence and property of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots; justified mutual claims for compensation can, however, be raised following the recognition of the TRNC. Moreover, redistribution of land rights in the interests of permanent peace is not, however, a new concept and has been employed—contentiously but successfully— … in Colombia”.

She concludes:

“If the partition of Cyprus is internationally accepted, a wide variety of challenges of the ongoing peace negotiations can be resolved: derogations from EU law regarding living in the north without limits; freedoms will be restored throughout Cyprus; the contentious guarantorship will cease to be required”.

More controversially, she says that the,

“Greek Cypriot authorities will acquire the sole legal right to use the hydrocarbon findings that have been found on the south of the island”.

I am not sure I can agree with this last point because I feel the natural resources should be shared.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for initiating this debate, and a timely debate it is. The UN-backed talks in Switzerland, which began in January, were seen as the best chance to move towards a two-state federation. As the United Nations Secretary-General said, their failure was,

“despite the very strong commitment and engagement of all the delegations and different parties”.

I have no doubt about the sincerity of people’s commitment, particularly the two communities, who want to see a settlement. Unlike many of the noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I have not visited Cyprus, neither north nor south, but I have spent most of my life living on that other green line, which is of course Green Lanes, where the diaspora communities from both sides work and live together in a unified community spirit. We must not forget that hope. Very often the politics of this divided community do not originate from the island of Cyprus but from external factors. That is what we need to better understand.

The sticking point of the settlement remains the troops. There is no doubt about that. Turkey and President Erdogan said that removing Turkish troops was “out of the question” unless Greece committed to removing its troops. That is a difficult issue to resolve. There also remains the obstacle to a deal of the return of property to tens of thousands of Cypriots who fled their homes when Turkey invaded the island in 1974.

The question we are focusing on tonight is the problems that will be faced by the community in Northern Cyprus economically. The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who is here tonight, has said that,

“the best way to improve north Cyprus’s trade relations and overcome the isolation of those residing in north Cyprus”,

was to see,

“a settlement deal that protects the interests of both … communities”.—[Official Report, 14/9/17; col. 2525.]

I am sure that, not for the first time, the Labour Front Bench’s position is at one with that of the Government Front Bench. The speakers in the debate will show that we are in isolation, as it were. But the Opposition’s position, like the Government’s, is that we continue to support all efforts towards a just and lasting Cyprus settlement, both bilaterally and within the forum of the United Nations. The conditions in Cyprus and the social and community divisions can be resolved only by the two parties ultimately coming together. My concern about the actions referred to in the debate is that any that frustrate that ability of communities to come together would be wrong and in breach of our international treaty obligations. As Alan Duncan said, the collapse of the talks is,

“a time for calm reflection and consideration of future steps”.

That is what we need to foster.

I ask the Minister to address my concern that the Turkish Cypriot authorities have started charging customs duty on goods carried by UN aid convoys to Greek communities in their territory. Delivering humanitarian assistance is vital in that part of the island, under a long-standing agreement. What representations have the Government made on this alarming development? Our actions should be about building that consensus towards a settlement.

Will the Minister agree, in responding to the debate, that the Government’s position of simply supporting and encouraging is doing little to progress the situation? As a guarantor, we have a responsibility to be an active participant in promoting the coming together of the two communities. Will he outline the Government’s further action to that end, in the light of the breakdown and deadlock of discussions? What do we need to do to unlock this situation?

Many noble Lords have talked about economic development. I read Jack Straw’s article about the situation and his conclusions, but my experience is that people understand, as they have done in Northern Ireland, that the real benefit of peace is economic development and lifting people out of poverty. You cannot go for that without first having a settlement.