I am very pleased to have secured a debate on an important subject of long-standing concern. Cyprus has many friends in all parties at Westminster, as I believe will be reflected in our debate.
Before I begin, I draw colleagues' attention to the relevant entries in the Register of Members' Interests.
One reason why it is a great privilege to represent Enfield, Southgate is that it is a multicultural community, of which the Cypriot community forms a major part. I believe that my constituency contains the largest number of people hailing directly or indirectly from the island of Cyprus--both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, living together--and I pay tribute to their contribution to local life. Yesterday, I was grilled by one of the toughest possible audiences--the school council of my old school, Southgate comprehensive. When I go back there I am struck by the large number of pupils from Cyprus--Greek and Turkish Cypriots studying together.
I want to pay tribute to some of the excellent welfare work done locally--Ms Ryan and for Edmonton (Mr. Love) are both here today--and, in particular, to the work of the Greek and Greek Cypriot community of Enfield and the Enfield Turkish Cypriot Association, which provide welfare advice, information and support for local people, assistance for those for whom English is not their first language, luncheon clubs and other social, cultural and communal activities. Those organisations and others like them, not only in Enfield but throughout the country, provide an important local voice for those who hail from a Cypriot background.
For me, Cyprus is not simply an international issue or a question of foreign policy. It is a real, local issue of direct concern to thousands of people living in my constituency. The question of Cyprus arises every day that I am in my constituency, whether on the doorstep, visiting schools or at meetings, so I am acutely aware that there are differences of opinions and experience not only between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities but within them: they are lively, democratic communities that enjoy the full cut and thrust of debate.
It is a privilege to have this debate, which is timely, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is to visit Cyprus next month, and following the sad withdrawal of Mr. Denktash from the proximity talks. I have no doubt that there is enormous frustration in the Cypriot community at the lack of progress towards a just, peaceful and lasting settlement in Cyprus. Such a settlement should respect the human rights of everyone in Cyprus and create a united, demilitarised island with real devolution for both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. That would enable people to return to the villages and properties from which they have been separated for almost three decades.
During the general election campaign almost four years ago, I spoke to a teenage boy at my old school who was from Cyprus. He had never been able to go to the village from which his family had come to this country and he could not visit his grandparents' graves. All he wanted was to pay that important respect, and it struck me that it was simply a question of dignity--the human side of the tragic events in Cyprus in recent decades.
If progress is to be made in Cyprus, people must sit down and talk. I am wary of drawing parallels between different international situations, but lessons can be learned from Northern Ireland, South Africa and even the middle east. Discussion, dialogue and negotiation are crucial. It is against that background that I want to express my regret and, I am sure, that of all hon. Members at the decision of Mr. Denktash and the Turkish Cypriot leadership to withdraw from the proximity talks. However, I welcome the fact that that withdrawal has attracted criticism from opposition parties and the media in northern Cyprus, as well as--unusually--from the media, the business community and politicians in Turkey. What action are the Government taking to press Mr. Denktash and the Government in Turkey to return to the proximity talks at an early opportunity?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I apologise that I cannot remain for the whole debate because of another engagement.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the influence that Britain must have on Mr. Denktash. Will he confirm that the new American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said that the US will remain firmly engaged in seeking a solution? Does he agree that, when the Minister goes to Cyprus next month, he should use his influence--I am sure that he will do so--with the American Administration to ensure that they bring pressure to bear on Mr. Denktash to return to the UN proximity talks?
The hon. Gentleman anticipated the next paragraph of my speech. I had a brief opportunity yesterday to speak to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in advance of his forthcoming visit to the United States. I impressed on him the importance of raising the Cyprus question and telling the new Bush Administration that America has a crucial role to play in getting the proximity talks back on track and obtaining the just and lasting settlement to which the British Government and, I am sure, all hon. Members in this Chamber are committed. Does the Minister agree that America has a pivotal role to play? She has not used her influence with Turkey in the past, but it is vital that she now takes the opportunity to do so.
The desire for progress in Cyprus is common to the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities. If there is to be progress, confidence-building measures will be necessary between the two communities. In recent years, there have been several opportunities for Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot people to come together to discuss issues of concern. Two years ago, a group of Chevening scholars--some from the Republic of Cyprus and others from northern Cyprus--who were studying in this country came together in the House to exchange experiences and ideas. I want to pay particular tribute to the Cambridge Cyprus Campaign, which has continued its excellent work to facilitate debate and dialogue among young people from the island of Cyprus who are studying in the United Kingdom. As the example of Northern Ireland shows, such dialogue and debate can play a very important part in promoting reconciliation and securing consensus for the just and lasting settlement that we all seek.
In the past 12 months, events in the northern part of Cyprus have demonstrated that there is a lively debate among Turkish Cypriots. Opinion polls in northern Cyprus suggest not only overwhelming support for the northern part of Cyprus joining the European Union, but strong support among Turkish Cypriots for a federal solution to the Cyprus question. Late last year, a poll showed that that option was supported by 31 per cent. of those surveyed. It has been clear for some time that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots want to be part of the European Union.
I want to consider the very important matter of the current discussions on European Union accession. Being part of the European family confers both rights and duties, and that is an important starting point. It is some time since the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case of Mrs. Titina Loizidou. As hon. Members will recall, on an important and central question of human rights, the judges found in favour of Mrs. Loizidou and against the Turkish Government by a margin of 15 to two, but there has been little progress in terms of that Government's response. What are the British Government doing to press the authorities in Ankara to implement fully the terms of the decision reached by the European Court of Human Rights?
Despite his being in the British sovereign base area of administration on the island of Cyprus, Mr. Panicos Tsiakourmas was detained by Turkish forces in December and he appeared in court in Famagusta last week. His case has been raised several times by Mr. Cox and for Edmonton. What representations are the British Government making in respect of this important case, which appears to involve a fundamental breach of Mr. Tsiakourmas's human rights?
The European Union provides a real hope that progress can be made in meeting the needs and aspirations of all the people of Cyprus, and the British Government's support for the Republic of Cyprus's application for European Union membership is much appreciated by the Cypriot community in the United Kingdom. As has been said many times, all of us would prefer that a united Cyprus entered the European Union, but the Government's commitment to the view that no power can have an external veto on Cyprus's application is an important one, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reaffirm it today.
President Clerides of Cyprus invited Mr. Denktash several times to provide Turkish Cypriots for the delegation that is discussing European Union accession and several Turkish Cypriot opposition parties have called for Turkish Cypriot participation in those discussions, yet Mr. Denktash has refused. What action are the UK Government taking to press for Turkish Cypriot participation in discussions on Cyprus's accession to the European Union? There is no doubt that, economically, politically and socially Cyprus is ready to be a member of the European Union, and impressive progress has been made in the accession discussions. There is clear majority support for joining the European Union among the people of Cyprus, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and membership could deliver enormous economic, political and social benefits for all the people. Does the Minister recognise that Cyprus has made real progress over recent months?
The United Kingdom is a guarantor power of the independence of Cyprus, which is a highly valued member of the Commonwealth. Hon. Members have a duty, and the Government a responsibility, to play an active, positive and constructive role in helping to secure a just and lasting settlement that will enable all the people to live together on a united island that respects both traditions. I hope that the Minister will use the opportunity of today's debate and, more importantly, his forthcoming visit to the island, to reaffirm the priority that the Government attach to support for Cyprus's application to join the European Union and for all efforts to secure the just and lasting settlement that the majority of people in Cyprus want, as do hon. Members of all parties.
As my hon. Friend has said, Cyprus is of great importance to this country. We are one of its guarantor powers, and it is also a member of the Commonwealth. When I look back over the years since the invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by the Turkish army in 1974, I think of the many debates in which I have taken part and the questions that I and many other colleagues have tabled to successive Foreign Secretaries. As my hon. Friend also said, the great strength of this Parliament is that we are as concerned about the rights and security of Turkish Cypriots as about those of Greek Cypriots. Regrettably, many of our hopes for an honourable settlement have not been realised, and in a debate such as this there must be clear speaking.
One has simply to read the reports of successive Secretaries-General of the United Nations. Whom do they blame for the lack of progress? Mr. Denktash and his friends in Ankara. The proximity talks began a year ago. What is their position now? When did the two sides last meet? When are they expected to meet again? I look to the Minister to be open and frank with us. Has Mr. Denktash stopped the talks? I understand that he has clearly said that, unless the state that he has declared in the occupied area of northern Cyprus is recognised, he will take no further part in the talks. If that is true, what is the Government's view of that attitude? Turkey is a close ally of Mr. Denktash, but in recent months, at both Helsinki and Nice, Turkey has sought membership of the European Union. I am not criticising Turkey for wanting that, but if it really wants to be part of the EU, what constructive role does the Minister expect it to play in the Cyprus issue?
Do we accept some of the comments that have been made by prominent Turkish politicians, including the present Prime Minister of Turkey, who said that there is no Cyprus problem because that was resolved by the invasion of Cyprus in 1974? Irrespective of which party they belong to, many hon. Members do not accept such a statement. It would be interesting to know what the Government think about that statement.
The current talks started one year ago, with no preconditions. I believe that the many resolutions that were passed at the United Nations should be the cornerstone of any meaningful discussions on Cyprus. Otherwise, why did successive British Governments and others support them? We are now in the 26th year after the invasion of Cyprus--a Commonwealth country, a third of which is occupied by foreign troops. What does the Minister regard as the basis of a settlement? After 26 years, we must have a vision. What is that vision?
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate rightly talked about the role of the United Kingdom Government and the European Union. We must bear in mind the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which
I do not believe that for a moment. Prominent Turkish politicians repeatedly express their support for Mr. Denktash and describe the system that they support for the occupied area. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that, after all the years since Mr. Denktash set up the so-called independent state, the only country in the world that recognises it is Turkey. When opening the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate said that the Minister is to visit Cyprus shortly. I welcome that, as, I am sure, will the Cyprus Government and Mr. Clerides. The Minister will go to the north and meet Mr. Denktash. I hope that he will convey clearly the views that are expressed, irrespective of party, in this Parliament.
We want a settlement. We do not accept that, after 26 years, there has not been time to achieve one. We want a settlement under which the rights of both traditions are safeguarded and protected. Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union, but it plays no willing role in trying to reach the settlement that the people of Cyprus, both Greek and Turkish, want. The Minister spoke about the disturbances that have taken place in the north. They did not just happen; they have been going on for a long time.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. It is always a great pleasure to see the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, because he and many other Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members have always been fully supportive of Cyprus. That is a great strength of this group in the United Kingdom Parliament. Clearly, the Minister will have a lot to say, and I hope that he will be frank and tell us exactly what vision the British Government have, what views he has expressed to Turkish politicians, and what views he will express to Mr. Denktash when he visits Cyprus next month.
The Greater Bristol area has a relatively small but long-established Cypriot community, which is almost entirely Greek Cypriot with one or two Turkish members. The newly formed Bristol Friends of Cyprus met recently and was concerned to learn that, in some circumstances, the expression of thoughts and ideas in the north could lead to five years' imprisonment and a considerable backlash from extreme right-wing groups.
That has been brought to the attention of more people recently, as a result of the publication in two newspapers of an advertisement by the executive committee of the Turkish Cypriot teachers' trade union, KTOS, 30 members of whose executive are facing up to 150 years' imprisonment if they are convicted. The trade unionists gave their testimony about the advertisement, and other trade unionists were there to support them. The advertisement did not question the sovereignty or integrity of the Turkish Cypriot state, but said "No to Ankara." It stated:
"Ankara: we do not want your money, your package or your civil servants. We do not want to be slaves."
The reaction of right-wing groups has been extreme--using verbal abuse and threats against trade unionists. Indeed, Mr. Denktash has called on the Attorney-General to consider laws to ban the trade unionists from teaching in schools. I understand from a more recent e-mail that the head office of KTOS has been ransacked by the secret police, who have taken all the office equipment. I have contacted the National Union of Teachers, of which I am a member, and I hope that we will show solidarity. I mention that before the Minister's visit, so that, if he is able to speak to those in the north--especially Mr. Denktash--he may question such a denial of freedom of speech.
I apologise for not being present for the start of this debate. I was otherwise engaged in receiving a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. I apologise if I make points that have already been made in my absence.
I am worried about the manner in which the press are being treated in the norMr. Corbett and I visited the area last autumn. We met journalists and learned at first hand the pressures under which they are placed and the fear that they experience in trying to tell the truth--which is what any journalist worth his or her salt would do naturally. The truth is not something that comes easily to the so-called Government of the Turkish republic of northern Cyprus--a Government whom we, of course, do not recognise. My hon. Friend--if I may call him that in the circumstances--the Member for Erdington and I are both members of the National Union of Journalists.
I listened with great interest to the comments made by my colleague and parliamentary friend, Mr. Cox, who referred to the role of the international community, the Council of Europe and the European Union. I did not want to interrupt him, so I did not intervene, but he did not mention the United States in that respect. The US gives a great deal of succour to the regime in Turkey, both literally and metaphorically--literally, in the form of hard cash, and metaphorically through political support. It seems to think that Turkey is the last bastion between east and west against the rampages of Muslim fundamentalism. Personally, I believe that that is a misconception, and that the United States can and should play a greater role.
The United States of America is not a guarantor power, whereas Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom are, but if the US brought sufficient pressure to bear, the problem could be solved within weeks or months, if not overnight. So far, the problem has not been solved in 26 years. I hope that the Minister will influence his colleagues to make it plain to the new Administration in the United States that they have a role to play, and that, were they to play it, the problem would be solved relatively swiftly.
Everyone says that the Cyprus problem is intractable, but it is not. We are dealing with two communities--Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots--who fundamentally want to live together in peace and harmony. The problems are caused by people outside the island of Cyprus. The communities may have had their differences--and there have been wrongs on both sides in the past--but that is what they want.
We are discussing a long and gross violation of human rights: 26 years of illegal occupation has been tolerated by the Western world and the world community. That flies in the face of successive United Nations' resolutions, but nothing of any practical substance has been done. There have been trade sanctions, but what sanction is in operation when full-page advertisements are placed in the London Evening Standard by British travel companies advertising holidays in northern Cyprus? Citizens of the United Kingdom, who would be genuinely horrified if they understood the politics of the matter, spend good money buying cheap holidays in an area of a country that wants to be part of Europe.
The Loizidou case is well known. Property has been misappropriated and occupied for 26 years. I never enter such debates without remembering my, by now very elderly, constituent George Gerolemou, whose home is still occupied after 26 years. His wife has died and will never see her home again. There are scores of such people in the United Kingdom, dotted throughout the world and on the island of Cyprus. They simply want to go home. That is what we are asking for. When will the Government, the United States and the world community say that we will not tolerate this illegal international action any longer and we intend to do something about it?
I want to speak briefly on behalf of my constituents. Like my hon. Friend, I have a large number of Cypriots living in my constituency--both Turkish and Greek. They live together, work together and study together; that does not pose a difficulty. They do not always agree on everything, but they live peacefully together. I am convinced that eventually that can and will be the case in Cyprus. On behalf of many of my constituents, I could echo many of the remarks made in the debate. I talk with elderly Cypriots, who live with the sadness that they cannot return to their homes. They are getting older, and many others have died and will never return to their home. I speak on their behalf, and on behalf of their children who, having lost their parents, want to go back to see their family home and visit family graves.
It is easy to list such issues, but when they comprise the tragedy with which people live as individuals and as a community, they scar people, and we have a responsibility to do something about it. If I did not have a single Cypriot constituent, it would still be right to speak today because, as Mr. Gale said, this is a human rights issue, so we all have a responsibility to speak on behalf of Cyprus. When the human rights of one are threatened, the human rights of all are threatened. Many of us here have stood at the green line and seen and felt the tragedy of that division and the deep sorrow of Cypriots. We do not experience it as they do, but we can empathise when we stand there and see the feeling and hurt.
Cyprus's application to the European Union, and the interest that Turkey has expressed in eventually becoming a member, could still be the catalyst for the settlement that we seek. It must be a settlement based on international law, UN resolutions and the policy of the Government. There is nothing wrong with the policy that we have, or with any of the resolutions--we are all signed up to them, and so is Cyprus, which is fine--but the problem is that nothing happens.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate used exactly the right word when he talked about the frustration of the Cypriot population in both north London and Cyprus. We must try to ease that deep frustration as soon as possible. There have been times when it could not be said that everything that could be done was being done. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government do everything that they can, on the basis of sound policy. When he visits the island, I hope that he will reassure the Cypriots and the Cypriot Government that we are playing our full role, given our especial responsibility as a guarantor power.
The British Government have been supportive of the Cypriot Government's right to apply to join the EU and have made it clear that no external power has the right of veto over the application, and we must continue to be so. Europe would be the gainer from Cypriot entry. Cyprus meets the qualifications and would be a positive advantage to the EU. I would prefer a settlement to be achieved first, but I want Cyprus in the European Union with a settlement or without, if necessary.
Turkey has expressed an interest in getting more involved with the European Union, and that provides the opportunity to ensure that it is aware of the hurdles standing in the way of a closer relationship. A closer relationship would be an advantage for Europe, but if it is to be truly welcomed, Turkey must remedy certain problems both in Turkey and in Cyprus. We must make it absolutely clear at every opportunity that Cyprus is a major hurdle to a closer relationship between Turkey and the European Union. Will the Minister explain the Government's attitude to the Cyprus application and to Turkey's stated aims concerning the European union?
Britain is a guarantor power, and we have a close and long-standing relationship with Cyprus, which is valued on both sides. Many Cypriots live in England. North London has the largest Cypriot population outside Cyprus, and the borough of Enfield has the largest Cypriot population in Britain. Cyprus is a valued trading partner. Many Cypriots speak English as their second language, and for many Cypriots living here, it is their first.
We have a responsibility as a guarantor power, and if we look back over the past 26 or 27 years we cannot say that we have always fulfilled that responsibility. We can do more. The Government have a strong and clear policy on Cyprus that is welcome, but we must move from policy to practice. I know that that does not lie entirely in our hands, and I hear what is said about Ankara, Mr. Denktash and America. However, we have a special responsibility and we are in a unique position in being able to facilitate talks.
It is distressing that the proximity talks have foundered, but that was not the result of action or lack of action on the part of the Greek Cypriot representatives. The Greek Cypriot Government and their representatives have gone out of their way to make progress, to work with Turkish Cypriots and to involve them in the application for entry to the European Union. I pay tribute to them for their work in building trust among Turkish Cypriots for a good working relationship throughout the community. The blame for the breakdown of the talks lies firmly with Mr. Denktash, but we must work to achieve peace, a just solution and recognition of human rights under UN resolutions and international law. We must have a better relationship to lead to agreement between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. I look forward to that and I am pleased that the Government are working to facilitate it.
I congratulate Mr. Twigg on securing this debate. He takes a close interest in Cypriot affairs and has a good relationship with the Cypriot community in Ms Ryan said, in north London we have the largest Cypriot community outside Cyprus itself. That is a reflection of the close relationship that has existed between Britain and Cyprus since 1878, and which has continued since Cyprus achieved independence in 1960. We cherish that relationship--indeed, many hon. Members whose constituencies do not contain Cypriot communities take a particular interest in Cyprus and in finding a solution to its continuing division.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's planned visit to Cyprus. Many of us believe that the Cyprus problem cannot truly be understood without visiting the island. On his arrival he will discover that a framework solution has been available since 1974, when the original United Nations resolutions were drafted, and since 1977 and 1979, when high-level agreements were reached. He will also discover that since that time, the UN and the international community have consistently tried to sponsor negotiations. As has been said, the most recent negotiations were brought to a premature end by Mr. Denktash, who refuses to accept the international community's failure to recognise his illegal state.
The Minister will further discover that the sponsored negotiations have not been successfully concluded because the international community has failed to put Cyprus at the top of its agenda. It is undoubtedly true that the international community has not focused on the Cyprus question to the extent that it has focused on numerous other disputes that have occurred in the past 25 or 26 years since the island was invaded. We must recognise that the solution lies in Ankara rather than Cyprus itself. In recent discussions with the US Senate, Colin Powell suggested that the United States will take a particular interest in Cyprus. I welcome that because the United States can bring the parties together for fruitful negotiations.
However, negotiations on Cyprus's accession to the European Union can also play a part as a catalyst for bringing together the two communities. As has been said, the main beneficiaries of accession to the European Union would be the Turkish Cypriot community, who have been invited to participate in the negotiations. In the light of the policy that I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will reaffirm today, it is my belief that no third party will veto the final negotiations for Cyprus's accession to the European Community. That will act as a catalyst to bring the parties together to find a solution.
I want to discuss the continued detention in northern Cyprus of Mr. Tsiakourmas, which was mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, and is a matter of great concern to the Cypriot community. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that Mr. Tsiakourmas was, in the words of the official investigation, "violently forced" from his car and bundled into another vehicle while driving in the sovereign base area of Dhekelia on
Mr. Tsiakourmas was travelling in the sovereign base area to pick up Turkish-Cypriot workers who were employed by him on construction sites in the Government controlled area of the island. He has been accused of possession of 1.5 kg of cannabis, for which he was originally remanded in custody for eight days, but he has since been charged with possession with intent to sell. As has been said, a preliminary hearing was conducted on
There is additional cause for concern because Mr. Tsiakourmas is a diabetic. Although he has undergone various health checks and was seen by a Hungarian specialist in Nicosia, there remains considerable concern about his deteriorating health. Indeed, he was taken to hospital on
Interestingly, 10 days before Mr. Tsiakourmas was arrested, Mr. Omer Tekugul, a Turkish-Cypriot coffee shop owner, was detained in the sovereign base area on a charge of heroin possession with intent to supply. Mr. Tekugul is currently being tried in Cyprus, and I was interested to note that there have been various attempts by the Turkish-Cypriot authorities to swap Mr. Tekugul for Mr. Tsiakourmas. One must conclude that there was an element of tit-for-tat when Mr. Tsiakourmas was arrested on
All attempts to engineer a swap have been wholeheartedly rejected by the Cypriot Government. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, the investigating authorities in the sovereign base area have interviewed witnesses and staged a reconstruction. Their investigation shows that Mr. Tsiakourmas was taken forcibly, his vehicle was left with its engine running, lights on and door open, and, perhaps more importantly, the incident occurred well within the sovereign base area. The results of the authorities' forensic examination show that there were no drugs in the vehicle at the time Mr. Tsiakourmas was taken. Furthermore, he has an unblemished record and has never been linked to drugs.
Mr. Tsiakourmas was arrested in the sovereign base area, so he has become the responsibility of the British authorities. I know that the high commissioner, Mr. Clay, has made strong representations to Mr. Denktash. Indeed, Sir David Hannay has made representations to the Turkish Cypriots and to the Turkish authorities in Ankara and in London. I am also aware that the Minister met Mrs. Tsiakourmas and has been brought fully up to date with not only the events but the strength of feeling in Cyprus and the United Kingdom about what happened to Mr. Tsiakourmas.
Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, I want to press the Minister on three main areas. First, there has been some concern about Mr. Tsiakourmas' medical condition. He is a diabetic and has been in hospital since
Secondly, there have been extensive investigations. A report that is with the British authorities goes into considerable detail about the events and about the evidence relating to Mr. Tsiakourmas' innocence. Has that report been made available to the Turkish authorities in order to secure his early release?
Finally, I know that the Government have made strong representations, which I and the Cypriot community welcome, but what further action can the Minister tell us is being taken to ensure that the events that took place in the sovereign base area are followed by the restitution of Mr. Tsiakourmas's freedom and his return to his family in the south of the island?
That case is important because it establishes that the rule of law must apply across the island. It is essential that we, the legitimate authorities in the sovereign base areas, undertake to ensure Mr. Tsiakourmas's release. That will contribute to a better atmosphere in Cyprus. I know that when the Minister goes there he will discover that not only the Cyprus Government but many of the political parties in the Turkish Cypriot community want to foster the good will that exists and develop it into proper negotiations. If we can bring the two communities together with that good will, that could be the catalyst for a process that leads to fruitful negotiations towards resolving the division of the island.
We have had a splendid debate, which has shown an incredible depth of knowledge of the issues from a number of hon. Members with large Cypriot communities in their constituencies. I pay tribute to Mr. Twigg for triggering the debate. I know that he has long-held interests in Cyprus, which he referred to in his maiden speech, and his constituents from the Cypriot community should be proud of his continuing efforts to keep raising the issues at Westminster.
An extraordinary change has taken place over the past 15 to 20 years, and many countries are now desperate to join the European Union. It is a tribute to its work and its role that so many countries now want to be part of that community. It is bizarre that, at a time when so many countries want to join, some in this country would rather turn away from it. Cyprus has been on the waiting list for the past 10 years. A number of hon. Members have spoken this morning of their enormous frustration that it is taking so long for new countries to join. Certainly, the Liberal Democrats regard it as a major aspect of foreign policy to speed up EU enlargement. We want to see Cyprus in that early wave of countries, joining as soon as possible.
There are responsibilities not only for the applicants but for the EU itself. We have not said much about the EU's responsibilities in relation to welcoming Cyprus. The EU needs modernising as well as more democracy and less bureaucracy if it is to be able to welcome not only Cyprus but many of the other countries that want to join. As a pro-European, I am frustrated with the mechanisms in Brussels and, just as the EU accessions are a catalyst to help the applicant countries to change, they must also be a catalyst for serious reform in the way in which Brussels operates. Unless that happens, we will end up in gridlock if many more countries join the EU.
The strong principles that the applicants must put in place are set out in the Copenhagen criteria. I want to spend a few moments celebrating the achievements of Cyprus rather than its problems, as it has gone an extraordinarily long way towards meeting many of the criteria. Let us consider some of the requirements, such as satisfying economic and political conditions, guaranteeing democracy, the protection of minorities and a functioning market economy. It is good news for Cyprus.
The progress report on the applicant countries had a great deal of praise for Cyprus. It said:
"Cyprus is a functioning market economy and should be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces required within the Union." On administration, it said that
"Cyprus has further strengthened its administrative capacity" and cited the example of the shipping industry, where much better systems had been put in place to deal with inspection and safety.
Agriculture is a major barrier for several countries that want to join the EU--especially Poland--but the report stated that Cyprus had made good progress. More needs to be done, but it said that Cyprus was going in the right direction. It also said that Cyprus was making progress on the matters of justice and border controls, which are a worry, because it will have an open border with the enlarged community and it is crucial to get that right. We have spoken a lot this morning about difficulties, but it is worth highlighting the progress that has been made.
In its opening assessment of Cyprus, the November 2000 progress report stated:
"The predominant political problem is the continued division of the island, but over the last year important efforts have been made in the search for a political settlement in line with the Accession Partnership. From the fourth round of proximity talks held in September there were encouraging signs that the two sides were engaging in substantive discussion." Sadly, with the decision to withdraw from the talks, that critical progress seems to have been set back--a matter that several hon. Members have raised this morning. What pressure can the Minister bring to bear to ensure that those talks begin as soon as possible?
A further concern is the progress that Cyprus is making on human rights. Again, the Copenhagen criteria are rightly clear and state the need for the
"stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities". Cyprus has ratified most of the international legal instruments in human rights. We heard this morning about several high-profile problems. Mr. Cox asked the Minister endless questions about the non-implementation of the European Court of Human Rights ruling on the Loizidou case. I hope that the Minister can reassure us and say how he plans to raise that matter. Mr. Love has referred many times in the past few months to the case of Mr. Tsiakourmas and again raised the matter forcefully this morning, which is another matter that I hope the Minister will raise in future meetings.
I hope that we can move speedily towards getting the talks set up again. There could be enormous benefits for those who live in the northern part of the region. Their income is a third lower than that of people in the south. The pressure that needs to be brought to bear to make the authorities realise that it is in their people's interests for them to join the European Union is a catalyst that must restart the negotiations. Progress must be made on some key human rights issues. Otherwise, such issues and those concerning the divided nation will set back much of the progress that has been made on economics and infrastructure, on which Cyprus is in the leading pack of countries that could join the European Union. I strongly favour Cyprus's joining, and I hope that we shall be able to make progress as soon as possible.
I warmly congratulate Mr. Twigg on having introduced this important debate, and all hon. Members on having made such worthwhile and well-informed contributions. I wish the Minister well on his intended visit to Cyprus.
Given the historical perspective, the question of Cyprus is important for all British politicians and political parties. It has long involved all political parties in the House, and like many other contentious international subjects based on partition or division, it evokes passionate debate.
Cyprus is an island with which the United Kingdom has long historic associations. We enormously value Cyprus's membership of the Commonwealth. Many Cypriots of both communities have settled in Britain and greatly enriched our national life. They are supplemented by many thousands of young Cypriots who come to university here.
Successive British Governments have rightly paid close attention to developments in Cyprus over the past 25 years. We have tried to play our part in Britain in doing whatever we can to promote the interests of peace and stability on the island itself and in the region as a whole. We condemned the invasion in 1974, and we drafted and secured the adoption of Security Council resolution 541 in 1984, which declared the Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence legally invalid. That position remains today.
Mr. Major, the former Prime Minister, and both his Foreign Secretaries, Lord Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, specifically raised the future of Cyprus with their Turkish and Greek counterparts. The previous Government appointed the distinguished diplomat Sir David Hannay as our special representative to Cyprus to help bring the two sides together.
We respect the fact that, as guarantors of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey have their own, different views about the status of the island, as do the two Cypriot communities themselves. Our role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council underlines the importance and dedication of our involvement, especially in view of the personal commitment and involvement of the UN Secretary-General.
The disputes that emerged from the conflict of interests focused attention on Cyprus and the surrounding region. Now, as previously, a settlement is clearly in the interests of both communities on the island. It would also help Greece and Turkey to normalise their relations and would end tragic stories of atrocities and unfairness, displacement from homes and alleged abuses of human rights.
Fortunately, today's debate on Cyprus takes place in a political climate in which there is at least some optimism, in stark contrast to previous parliamentary discussions on Cyprus, which were conducted against a background of discouraging developments. The stand-off over the acquisition of missiles by the Cypriot Government, and the Turkish response, have been succeeded by a new era with greater hope for stability. To some extent, that emerged from the two devastating earthquakes of 1999. The response and generosity of the Greek people to their Turkish neighbours was heartfelt and impressive.
The House has already welcomed the UN initiative announced in September 1998, and resolution 1218, which endorsed it. The UN has begun to try to achieve its aims of reducing tension and promoting progress towards a settlement. President Clerides's decision in December 1998 not to bring the S300 missiles to Cyprus is an example of that, as was the visit of the Greek Foreign Minister to Ankara last year. We now have a series of agreements in the region on tourism, environmental protection, investment and the fight against crime and terrorism. Those are tentative steps, but in the right direction.
In November, the fifth round of the proximity talks was concluded, following a fourth round in New York last September. At that point it was clearly felt that a more substantive phase of the process had been reached with special representative Mr. de Soto. The UN Secretary-General reported to the Security Council that a qualitative step forward had been made. Further progress is now awaited, but we welcome the commitment of the Foreign Minister of Cyprus that the elections in May will be no impediment. We can only continue to urge all concerned to go ahead with the proximity talks--a point made clearly by Mr. Gale, who said that it was time to move on.
The Conservative party has strongly supported Cyprus's membership of the EU, and we have also welcomed the decision of the Helsinki European Council in December 1999 to grant Turkey candidate status. More than ever, the EU can have an important role to play, and it would be most unfortunate for the Turkish part of the island if it were to be excluded, as that would not be advantageous to its residents.
The EU is a vessel through which mediation and eventual settlement can be sought between the two opposing sides in the debate. President Clerides has spoken optimistically of the role that the EU can play; he said that he believes that the European factor will play a great role in the achievement of a solution in Cyprus. A settlement will benefit both communities on the island. Everyone wants a resolution to the division, but however desirable that objective may be, it is important that it is not and should not be a condition for EU membership.
Given our close ties of kinship, history and friendship, Britain should continue to do all that it can to ease Cyprus's path into the EU. We welcome the work of President Clerides in this respect, not least his introduction of further market reforms as part of the accession process. The economic success of the Republic of Cyprus has been a remarkable tribute to the entrepreneurial energies of its citizens. It is an extraordinary achievement to have developed the sixth largest merchant fleet in the world. We also welcome the Government's decision to renew Sir David Hannay's mandate as the United Kingdom's special representative in the region.
The British position on Cyprus has been clear for many years. Britain's role remains one of offering advice and providing support for the UN operations on the island and the international attempts to mediate between the two sides. Ultimately, only the two communities can decide what is acceptable and what is likely to last. We encourage all sides to participate actively in the negotiations. We believe that the UN's ideas for a bizonal, bicommunal federal Government provide the best possible basis of achieving a successful united Cyprus, with both communities co-operating freely together with confidence in their future and that of their shared island.
This has been an excellent and important debate, and I join the hon. Members for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) in congratulating all those who have taken part--but of course most congratulations must go to Mr. Twigg on securing the debate. This is the first time that Cyprus has been discussed in an Adjournment debate for roughly a year.
I was reminiscing about when I first met my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. It was about 20 years ago, when I saw him at the first Labour party conference that he attended. I never believed that he would be here and able to speak so passionately on such a subject. He gave a most eloquent speech: one of the best that I have ever heard on the subject. He should be congratulated on the work that he does on behalf of all his constituents--not only those of Cypriot origin--as should all the hon. Members who have spoken.
It was good to hear from Valerie Davey about the new group established in Bristol. She raised the issue of EU membership, to which I shall also refer.
Mr. Gale, who was with me for five years on the Home Affairs Committee, spoke passionately and reminded us of the human consequences of the events of 26 years ago. Sometimes when one reads debates and participates in the Chamber, one forgets that the real issue lies with people with real feelings who have suffered greatly, such as the hon. Gentleman's constituent. He is right to chide the Government and previous Governments; we need him to remind us of the human tragedy underlying global diplomatic issues.
Ms Ryan mentioned European Union membership, as did Mr. Love. All hon. Members present have a wide knowledge of the subject. I only wish that I could take them all with me when I visit Cyprus in early March. The hon. Member for West Suffolk wished me well, but I cannot even take him with me, because the taxpayer would not understand. I promise hon. Members that I will report back to them on what I have seen, and that I will talk to them all before I go.
The week of my trip to Cyprus will be something of a Cyprus week for me. I will meet the Cypriot community in north London on
I know that you will chide me if I refer to someone sitting in the Gallery, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the high commissioner for Cyprus is sitting somewhere in this building. She has made an enormous contribution to developing bilateral relationships between Britain and Cyprus. In fact, she is probably in the House of Commons more often than she is in the high commission, ensuring that her country's views are represented at the highest levels. I pay tribute, too, to Edward Clay, our excellent high commissioner in Nicosia, and to the Cypriot community in London.
Cyprus has been an important partner for the United Kingdom, and we have long-standing historical links and strong bilateral ties. The British people have a special affection for Cyprus, as shown by the fact that almost 1 million British visitors regularly choose to go there. Some 50 per cent. of the total number of tourists visiting the island come from the United Kingdom. We have close cultural ties and many Cypriot organisations and individuals choose to study here. We have strong economic ties: this country is the number one trading partner for Cyprus, with approximately 11 per cent. of the market share.
It is an interesting and challenging time for Cyprus, which is engaged in two important processes that will determine its future: the United Nations settlement process and the European Union accession negotiations. All Cypriots have much to gain from a successful conclusion to those processes. I urge hon. Members not to assume that, because those processes are at a crucial stage, the Government can wave a magic wand to resolve a situation that, as the hon. Member for North Thanet said, has gone on for 26 years. That means not that we do not want to try but that there is no instant solution. Both processes depend on careful and patient negotiation. The wrong word in the wrong place could have the wrong effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting asked me to outline our vision, which is clear and conclusive. We want to see Cyprus reunited--that is our vision. We continue to believe that the best basis is a bizonal, bicommunal federation. We also want to see Cyprus in the European Union. A just and lasting comprehensive settlement, which reunites the island, remains our central goal, but it is clear that reunification is not a precondition for EU accession, as was set out in the conclusions of the Helsinki European summit of December 1999. The Foreign Secretary reaffirmed that stance when he met Foreign Minister Kasoulides in London last October. When I visit the island in March, I will carry exactly the same message.
Last year, there were signs of real progress in the UN settlement process. The process, which started in December 1999, carried on throughout 2000. The UN Secretary-General has appealed to all concerned to avoid public comment about the delays and details of the negotiation. We shall ensure that the confidentiality of the process is respected. We welcomed remarks made last summer by the Secretary-General's special representative, Alvaro de Soto, that the change of gear for which we had been hoping had taken place, and that both parties had started to address the substantive issues at the heart of Cyprus's problems.
It is disappointing to consider the negative Turkish Cypriot reaction to Kofi Annan's statement at the end of the last session of talks in November, and the subsequent statements by the Turkish Government and Mr. Denktash that the proximity talks could not continue on the same basis. In our view, the Turkish Cypriots have much to gain from a settlement. We regret that they have not yet responded to Kofi Annan's invitation to the parties to meet him again in early 2001.
If there are misunderstandings, or if clarifications are required, those issues are best resolved through a continuation of the process. We have heard nothing that could justify a refusal to continue with those important talks. We have made it clear to all involved that the United Kingdom continues to give every support to the UN process and the efforts of the Secretary-General and his special representative. We hope for a continuation of the process in the near future. We also expect both parties to come to the table in a spirit of give and take, prepared to negotiate a just and lasting solution.
Meanwhile, we will continue to work closely with Greece and Turkey, which have important roles to play in the Cyprus settlement process. Relations between them can do much to create a positive climate. We warmly welcome the moves for closer relations between Greece and Turkey. I want to commend especially the efforts of the Greek Foreign Minister, George Papandreou. We hope that the process of dialogue will continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton came to see me at short notice to discuss the case to which he drew attention. When I met Mrs. Tsiakourmas in London, in January, I left her in no doubt about our interest in this case, and our concern for her husband's welfare. Other hon. Members have also raised the issue with me. The Foreign Secretary sent a message to Mr. Denktash, and our high commissioner has made strong protests to him about the circumstances of the arrest. The Foreign Secretary also sent a message to Foreign Minister Cem, and we have raised our concerns with the Turkish authorities in Nicosia, Ankara and London. Our high commissioner in Nicosia remains in close contact with the family and the UN concerning the health and welfare of Mr. Tsiakourmas. I understand that the preliminary hearing into his case is currently under way. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that the case is resolved in a just and satisfactory manner. We share my hon. Friend's concern at the way in which the issue arose, and we have not been silent. We have been very active and will continue to be so.
On the negotiations for Cyprus to join the European Union, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North referred with passion, I can assure her that they are progressing well. Cyprus has now closed 17 of the chapters of the acquis communautaire, and the United Kingdom, and the Prime Minister in particular, continue to champion enlargement. We want to see Cyprus in the European Union as soon as possible. The Prime Minister made it clear during his speech in Warsaw on
We want new member states to participate in the 2004 European elections and to have a seat at the table at the next intergovernmental conference, but it is for the countries concerned to reach a conclusion in their negotiations with Commissioner Verheugen. Britain's role is to ensure that people understand that we want new applicants to join as soon as possible. That is why I cannot understand the Conservative party's policy. I do not want to make a partisan point, but those who believe that there should be a referendum on ratification of the Nice treaty would delay considerably Cyprus's accession to the European Union. I shall say no more about that, because I see the hon. Member for West Suffolk stirring in his seat.
In December, the Nice council agreed that we should have a road map for admission. The next 18 months are important, and enlargement will be a key issue under the Swedish presidency, which will want to examine progress at the Stockholm European Council in March. When I go to Stockholm next Thursday, I shall certainly raise the points that have been made today.
We all know that the Cyprus problem is one of the most difficult in the world to solve. That does not mean that the Government are not committed to ensuring a solution. I join the hon. Member for West Suffolk in commending the work of Sir David Hannay, who has a difficult task. I urge hon. Members to keep in close contact with Sir David, because he is keen to meet hon. Members to discuss confidentially what is happening, but they will understand that he cannot discuss the details of the process.
A just and lasting settlement would bring immense benefits to ordinary Cypriots and other countries in the area. Cyprus's continued division is a tragedy that must be overcome to secure a future offering lasting peace, security and prosperity for all. The Government remain firm in their commitment to finding a solution to the Cyprus question and to working with all those involved to achieve that. We must remember that, as we were reminded today by so many hon. Members, all of whom spoke with passion, behind the global negotiations and details are the men and women whom we have all met. They should tell their constituents that the Government really care. The pace may sometimes seem too slow, but officials in the Foreign Office and Ministers want to ensure a just and lasting solution. I hope that all hon. Members will encourage their constituents to meet me on