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.
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?
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.
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 upon reunification of the island, much as members of both Cypriot communities and others elsewhere want to see that?
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.
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?
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.
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, administrative and restitution issues and the meetings of vast complexity which will arise if reunification at last begins to move ahead?
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.
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.
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.