Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 1 December 2009.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 2:30, 1 December 2009

What steps he is taking to support the talks aimed at bringing a resolution to the situation in Cyprus; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary recently met President Christofias to reaffirm our support for the settlement process, and I met both leaders in Cyprus last week. The UK has also written to the United Nations offering to cede approximately half the sovereign base area land for incorporation into a reunited island, should there be a final agreement.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

The House and others will be grateful both for the Government's continuing interest and for the Minister's specific commitment to this issue. Given that many people believe that the best chance in the near future of a peaceful settlement remains while President Christofias is President of Cyprus and Mr. Talat is the President in the self-declared northern republic, what do the Government plan to do at the European Council later this month to try to move things on, and what other pressure can be exerted to try to ensure that the next few months are not yet another wasted opportunity?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this is a unique opportunity given that the leaders in each community have staked their political careers on desiring and willing a settlement. I saw the buffer zone last week, and it must seem to any sane person a disgrace that we still have a divided capital city in Europe, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin wall. We are determined to do everything that we can. We think that it is important that Turkey adheres to and complies with what it has said that it would do under the Ankara protocol. It is also important that Turkey continues further along the route towards accession to the European Union. Perhaps the motto that might best serve the talks at the moment is the words of Sheridan, the first Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office, when he said:

"The surest way to fail is not to determine to succeed."

We should determine to succeed.

Photo of David Lepper David Lepper Labour, Brighton, Pavilion

I thank my hon. Friend for the support that the UK Government have given to the efforts to determine the whereabouts of people on both sides who have been missing since the Turkish invasion of 1974. Will he put additional pressure on the Turkish Government to reveal more information about the possible whereabouts of the remains of those missing people?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

Last week, when I met the Committee on Missing Persons, it was one of the most distressing parts of my visit, as it must be for anyone who goes to Cyprus, to see so many cadavers laid out and to know that many more are missing. Their families have no sense of closure about what happened so many years ago. We will continue to put pressure on all those involved to ensure that any information that is out there can be made available to the organisation. However, it is probably going to have to speed up its work as the further we get away from those events, the more difficult it is to find answers to what happened.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Minister (Europe)

Like the Minister, I too have visited Cyprus this year and we would all like to see progress towards a lasting settlement. He mentioned the buffer zone. Given the vital need to maintain public support for the process on both sides, does he believe that there is now scope for further confidence-building measures such as opening extra border crossings, to try to demonstrate to people across the island that real progress is being made and a settlement is yet possible?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Europe)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the more confidence-building measures can be put in place, the greater the likelihood of maintaining political support for the talks and for any eventual solution. My own feeling of optimism rose dramatically when I spoke to the individual leaders who are actively involved in the talks, but sometimes when I spoke to the media my optimism plummeted. Sometimes the media in Cyprus are overly sceptical and cynical about the process. I think that there is significant progress being made and it is important that agreement has been reached to intensify the talks in the new year.