Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
A debate on Cyprus after a Friends of Cyprus visit to the island now seems to be a part of the House's annual calendar. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests for the visit.
The fact that we are here, year after year, could imply that there has been no progress, but that would be wrong. However, such progress as there is is painfully slow, and the clock is ticking ever more quickly against the prospect of a settlement. During our visit, we saw more than 50 people and held almost 40 meetings. Those visits were to both sides of the green line, and we saw elected politicians, officials and civil society.
There is a clear lack of a pro-solution culture throughout the island, perhaps reflecting the media coverage, and pessimism abounds. Neither side has a strategy to prepare their people for a solution or to support the talks, but there are many initiatives, contacts and co-operative ventures, which are encouraging. We need more events such as the recent bi-communal evening in Pyla. There is a dangerous belief in the south that if the negotiations fail, another United Nations initiative will come along in due course, albeit starting from a worse position, rather than seeing this as the last sketo in the kafenio, which it certainly is, and may well be for many years if there is no success. We are already half a decade on from the failure of the Annan plan.
There are "nevers" on both sides with very loud voices. Although they do not represent the majority view of either population, their influence is persuasive and in many instances malign. Although the talks do not have a timetable, there are natural deadlines in the immediate future, including the European Union review of Turkish accession and, more importantly, elections in the north in April 2010 when Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat will be up for re-election.
The presidential election in the Turkish-occupied north in April clearly shows that an artificial deadline would probably not be helpful. Does the hon. Gentleman accept, nevertheless, the imperative to get a fair settlement as soon as possible, because the massive movement of Turkish people from Turkey to settle in Cyprus without the language or Cypriot affiliations will make a settlement increasingly more difficult as time goes on? In that event, the main losers will be the Turkish Cypriots.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but the deadline is not artificial; it is a natural deadline that comes with the normal electoral process.
Both sides have been issuing unhelpful statements that provoke each other, and rhetoric from the north can only magnify as the April elections approach. Positive statements from either side receive little coverage. There is a general decline in optimism throughout. Of those involved in the negotiations, the most optimistic person was Turkish Cypriot negotiator Ozdil Nami, but that was not saying a great deal. There is a general and accurate view from every independent commentator that if these two leaders cannot do it, no one can.
The negotiations received a boost following PASOK's election results in Greece and George Papandreou, in his Foreign Minister role, paying his first overseas visit to Turkey, closely followed by his visit to Cyprus as Prime Minister. Although Greece's fundamental policy of supporting the Republic of Cyprus's negotiating position will not change, we will see a more active foreign policy approach from Greece, including improving relations with Turkey, which is all to the good.
During his visit to Turkey, Mr. Papandreou said to Mr. Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, that
"we must free Cyprus of dependencies and its motherlands, occupation troops, divisions and walls which have no place in the European Union".
That view resonates with Nicosia, the last divided city, during this week of the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the guarantor powers, particularly Greece and Turkey, have a critical role, not just because of the history of the conflicts in Cyprus, but because both communities look to the guarantor powers for succour? It is critical that they take a more active engagement in the current negotiations.
I shall speak about the treaty of guarantee, but it is correct that both sides look to what they consider to be their motherland. I also believe that George Papandreou is right to say that Cyprus must be freed from the influence of the motherland, which has not been entirely beneficial throughout Cyprus's independence.
Among Cypriots on the island, there is a generational problem. Research a few years ago showed that two thirds of Cypriots who are alive today were not alive in 1974, and know no bi-communal way of living. One of our visits was to the English school, which now admits Turkish Cypriot pupils, who account for about 15 per cent. of the total. It was rather depressing to talk to Greek Cypriot teenagers, who generally seem to be satisfied with the status quo, and not particularly enthusiastic for a solution. Although Turkish Cypriot students at the school are learning Greek, there is no take-up whatever of Turkish lessons by Greek Cypriot students. Turkish Cypriot students seem to be isolated. The school is working very hard to break that down, but there is a xenophobic undercurrent on both sides of the green line. There are no school exchange programmes across the green line because of recognition and passport issues. Heads could deal directly with schools across the line, but there is a likelihood of a parents' backlash.
Friends of Turkey are wrongly perceived as Greek Cypriot enemies. Greek Cypriots must influence Turkey's friends positively to influence Turkey in turn. The object should be not to punish Turkey in the EU, but to press the EU to assist Turkey to help herself.
I declare an interest, which is in the Register of Members' Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that the December assessment of Turkey's progress towards EU accession offers an excellent opportunity for the other guarantor power-the United Kingdom-to make it clearer exactly what it expects of Turkey on, for example, Famagusta and the ports?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I hope to say a little about the EU accession process.
There is a real need to create a pro-solution culture, and to talk not of "the other side" but of "another side" of the debate. America has a key role in persuading Turkey of the need to pave the way for a Cyprus settlement to fulfil her EU aspirations. President Obama's Nobel prize for peace could be well earned on the island.
Regrettably, there is continuing lack of confidence-building measures. The two military exercises-Nikiforos and Tavros-were both cancelled this year, as they were last year, and those decisions by both sides were extremely important and welcome, but there is little else to show. The constructive work of the technical committees has not been taken forward through confidence-building measures by either side, and I commented on that during last year's debate.
Many of the practical agreements that could ease day-to-day life for all concerned could be implemented, but neither side is keen to do so for different reasons, except on heritage, where good work is being done. There has been slow progress on the new crossing points, with contracts for joint work now being let to build the road and crossings for Limnitis, funded by the United States and the EU.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is an urgent need to press ahead with locating the remains of missing people, to give their families the truth about what happened to their loved ones?
The hon. Lady is correct, and I hope to speak about that.
There has been little to show on the ground at Ledra street towards the essential building restoration or withdrawal of the Turkish army, but we were told that the next phase to make safe the buildings and their facades at least will go ahead from about now. Although not strictly a confidence-building measure, Stelios Haji-Ioannou of easyJet has offered €1 million in grants for joint bi-communal business ventures. The Association for Historical Dialogue and Research has developed material for schools on both sides of the green line to discover old Nicosia.
At the same time as moves are being made towards multicultural education and a new history syllabus in the Greek-medium state schools in the south, steps are being taken in the north, such as replacing text books, promoting the teaching of Islam in schools that were secular, a change of terminology from "Turkish Cypriots" to "Turks of Cyprus", and a ban on the Cypriot Turkish dialect in the media in the north. The joint proposal of the two mayors of Famagusta for restoration of the old city and the surveying of Varosha, which would be a welcome confidence-building measure, has fallen on deaf Turkish ears. However, work on missing persons is going ahead, and I will speak about that later.
Progress on the negotiations has been slow until now, and has pretty well avoided the difficult issues. President Christofias is circumscribed and is not supported in the negotiation by EDEK and DIKO, his coalition partners. There has been considerable development on governance issues, with constructive proposals for a rotating presidency, but with disagreement as to the method of election, although there are prospects for further progress.
Differences remain substantial. The Turkish Cypriots say, for example, that the federation should not have a foreign policy function. They want a veto throughout decision making, not just at the end. They also want separate institutions. There has been progress on matters relating to the economy and the EU, but on the most difficult issues-property and territory, which are clearly interlinked-there has been little progress.
President Christofias has attempted to move the settler issue on by restating that 50,000 Turkish settlers in the north should receive Cypriot citizenship in a settlement. That is not a new concession, having been proposed in previous negotiations, but it is not accepted by DIKO. Mr. Erdogan did not help by denying that there were any settlers, saying that
An additional complication is the question of the treaty of guarantee. President Christofias has said that it is anachronistic and should go as part of any solution. For the Turkish Cypriots, however, the treaty of guarantee is a red line. There could be other ways of guaranteeing a solution and security for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but that is a very difficult one to bridge. One option suggested to us is for the treaty of guarantee to be phased out with Turkish accession to the EU, and for a treaty of implementation for the specific details of any settlement to be considered.
I was pleased to read, in the answer to my parliamentary question on the point, that the UK will not be an obstacle on the issue of security and guarantees. It seems to me that there are three issues requiring guarantee in the event of a solution. I am referring to a political guarantee for the indivisibility of the federation, which the EU can provide, and a guarantee for the implementation of the agreement, which could be a UN Security Council resolution. The most difficult issue is the personal security guarantee, including the removal of Turkish troops and the future role of UNFICYP-the UN Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus. UNFICYP's role could be a new mandate to support implementation and federal policy. To see what could be done and, equally, where UNFICYP went wrong from the outset in 1964, I recommend Martin Packard's diary of 1964, "Getting It Wrong". He was working on a tripartite basis to try to bridge the gap in the troubles of '63 and '64.
It is something of a paradox that Turkey has a seat on the UN Security Council while continuing the occupation of northern Cyprus. It seems very much as though the current effort is the last throw of the dice for the UN. It sees the natural timetable to which I referred: if progress is not made by next April, the UN may well call it a day. The Turkish Cypriots would like the UN to act as arbitrators, although that is complete anathema for the Greek Cypriots post the Annan plan. Annan changed 60 points to create the final and fifth plan, which led to its ultimate rejection.
Mediation might be a more appropriate way of analysing what the UN should do, but that role has been badly compromised by a professional hacking job into the UN team's computer and the downloading of all the internal UN memorandums and e-mails, which are being gleefully published on the drip in the rejectionist Phileleftheros newspaper, with the clear intention of undermining the process. Instead of condemning the hacking, the Cypriot view was that UN Special Representative Alexander Downer should be more careful. That was a most outrageous attempt to derail the talks and interfere with an international body that is there to assist. The perpetrator of the crime-for that is what it was-has not been identified and dealt with firmly, as should have been the case. In the north, people see a degree of irony, as they remember the Turkish "deep state" leaking e-mails from pro-solution Turkish Cypriots.
The UN team has been strengthened by the appointment of Leopold Maurer as Mr. Barroso's special representative to advise the UN team on EU acquis issues. There is a further new appointment for a team member to engage with Cypriot women's organisations, recognising that, proportionately, women voted no to a greater degree than men did in the Annan referendum.
UNFICYP continues to play a key role. It is still needed because the green line is inherently unstable. Minor incidents are stamped on very hard, and UNFICYP believes that without it, there would be a very rapid escalation into hostilities. UNFICYP continues to estimate the strength of Turkish forces on the island at about 25,000-many fewer than the 35,000 or more claimed by both sides.
Is my hon. Friend aware that part of any settlement could be that the people who were displaced from their homes have a legal right to go back and claim that property? British people who have bought such property may be unaware of that, so there is a responsibility on those selling property in the northern part of Cyprus to British people to let them know that it is a distinct possibility.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will say a little about property shortly.
We should acknowledge the cost of Operation Tosca-the UK contribution to UNFICYP-to the UK taxpayer. That subsidy from the UK to the island is often overlooked. Last year the cost was £16 million, of which only £2.5 million was reimbursed by the UN. I was pleased to hear that the refurbishment of the Ledra Palace hotel, used to accommodate our troops, is pretty well complete. That was long overdue-I raised the matter a couple of years ago-and it has been done at no cost to the UK taxpayer.
We were very impressed by the new EU Commission representative, Androulla Kaminara. She is very enthusiastic and energetic and is doing a great deal to try to improve the knowledge of the EU, particularly in respect of the north. The lack of knowledge and understanding of the EU in that regard has been a considerable barrier to the talks. As a consequence of that and other factors, including a general lack of progress as perceived by Turkish Cypriots, confidence in the EU has been waning in the north.
The €259 million has not had the impact hoped for, as it has taken so long to disburse. Years on, by the end of September 2009, €134 million-just 52 per cent. of the programme-had been contracted. Although the expectation is that the rest will be by the end of the year, that is still short of delivery of the projects involved, and those projects are not potentially visible either.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this annual debate, in which I welcome the opportunity to participate. Does he share my concern that those euros should also be spent on restoring the cultural and religious heritage, which has been ignored or decimated in many places? Would he also like to pick up on, as he did last year, the visit that he and I made in relation to the four Maronite villages in the north? Particularly in terms of the villages of Agia Marina and Asomatos, there is a lack of access for the Maronites to worship, and it is important for confidence building that access is given.
The hon. Gentleman is right. It is important to remember when we talk about a bicommunal island that in fact there are more than two communities in Cyprus. The Maronites, the Armenians, the Latins and even people from the UK form part of the community of Cyprus. The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us of the particular minority to which he referred.
One of Ms Kaminara's initiatives is to take editors of newspapers and broadcast media from both sides of the green line to Brussels and encourage them to be better informed about the EU. One issue that we came across concerned the bicommunal Nicosia master plan and, in particular, the need for work in the buffer zone. EU grants for work for the north have to go through the enlargement directorate, and for the south through the regional development directorate. That means that it is virtually impossible to do anything useful in the buffer zone, because the two sources of funding do not seem able to talk to each other. For example, surveying work is needed to work out what could happen after a solution. That should be resolved within the Commission.
The key question for the EU, though, is its role in supporting the negotiations and, in particular, the attitude that it takes towards the December Turkish accession review. Lord Hannay, writing for the Centre for European Reform, commented that Turkish EU accession is inseparably linked to a Cyprus solution. I would put it the other way round. Although a solution should not depend on Turkish accession, a solution would undoubtedly help Turkey's EU hopes, and Turkey will not accede without a solution.
It seems inevitable that there will be the usual EU fudge, which will seriously anger Greek Cypriots who are expecting leverage on Turkey, which they believe gets away with everything, including non-compliance with international agreements such as the 2005 declaration and the Ankara protocol, on which there has been no progress at all. In that context, it is important to remember that the ports were open from 1974 to 1987, including four years after the TRNC's unilateral declaration of independence. We are therefore talking about an economic sanction, not a recognition issue; it was not a recognition issue during those four years. The offer from the Republic to Turkish Cypriots was that Famagusta port could be reopened under EU management and that they could use Larnaca under EU control too, but that was not accepted. There has also been considerable harassment by Turkey of oil exploration vessels not flagged by the Republic but working under its licence.
If the European Council decides to avoid standing up to Turkey, the least worst option would be for the EU to put the review on hold for six months, in the light of the negotiations, to see whether any progress is made by April, because if there is no progress by then, there probably never will be. At that stage, Turkish accession aspirations would in effect be in an indefinite limbo, as there would be inevitable blocks on further progress on acquis chapters.
Property issues are fundamental to the outcome of the negotiations. According to the most recent press statements from President Christofias, the sides are not ready to discuss the issue in depth, although some convergence has been achieved. The issue is inevitably linked to the territorial settlement, because the more territory that goes back to the Greek Cypriots, the fewer people would then have to consider living under Turkish Cypriot administration. The two sides are starting from diametrically opposed positions on property, but I suspect that in practice the net results of either proposal would not be far apart.
The Turkish Cypriots expect a dirigiste system, with maximum numbers laid down as to, for example, the number of Greek Cypriots who would be allowed to return to live under Turkish Cypriot administration and the amount of property that would be owned by Turkish Cypriots as opposed to Greek Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots would seek derogations from the acquis to institutionalise these, but it seems to me that any such derogations would be bound to fail, either because they were too rigid and would prevent inward investment or because they were too lax and would be easily avoided.
The Greek Cypriot position starts from the recognition of individual property rights and the fact that everybody should be able to make their own decisions. The hierarchy is: first, restitution; secondly, choice of exchange; and thirdly, compensation. It is for the state to provide for the current user. In theory, Mr. Talat accepts individual property rights, too, but he wants superior rights to be given to the Turkish Cypriot occupier, rather than the Greek Cypriot owner of a property. He wants no restitution, although he would accept an Annan-based formula.
George Lordos's research and consequent proposals are interesting and worthy of further consideration. His view is that individuals should be allowed to make their own minds up during a three-year hiatus, but they could be influenced, for example, by tax concessions and speeded-up planning permissions to encourage them to exchange property north and south. That is based on the principle that few Greek Cypriots would in practice want to live under a Turkish Cypriot Administration. Furthermore, most Turkish Cypriots who were previously allocated Greek Cypriot properties in the north own homes and land in the south, although that would not, of course, apply to Turkish settlers. Some people would need to be rehoused, but bearing in mind the respective balance of property and the value of property in the north and south, the cost could be manageable. Compulsory denial of rights would be avoided or at worst minimised. Residential ownership rights could be ranked, for example, by reference to whether the claimant originally lived in the property.
The court cases proceed in the European Court of Human Rights, where Turkey has received a battering. The Court will consider the question whether the Turkish Cypriot property commission is a valid domestic remedy on
There is also the question of the cost of compensation, should anything other than restitution or property exchange be the norm. The first question is where the billions necessary would come from; the second is what impact the huge sums that would be put into circulation as a result would have on the island's economy. If all the property in the north was subject to expropriation and compensation, the bill would be unaffordable.
One issue that the UK should help to resolve is the Turkish Cypriot claim to 55 per cent. of Varosha, which is based on the fact that the land belonged to EVKAF-the Board of Pious Foundations in Cyprus-before independence. In 1960, however, the UK provided £1.5 million to pay off that claim as part of the independence settlement.
The Turkish Cypriot economy is nothing short of a basket case and is heavily subsidised by Turkey. Over the past six years, according to Prime Minister Erdogan, it has been subsidised at an average of $523 million per year. In 2009, the figure was $815 million-a huge drain on Turkey's economy. There is still little trade across the green line. Most of the money going north is made up of remittances from Turkish Cypriot workers who are taking their wages back.
There is unrecorded trade to evade tax, as well as illegal trade in prohibited items, such as animal products. There is Greek Cypriot consumer resistance to goods that many say are produced through the use of stolen property. Business sources in the north tell us that Turkish army base retail outlets undercut Turkish Cypriot businesses in the sale of consumer goods, including foodstuffs, at prices well below those in legitimate Turkish Cypriot shops. The Turkish Cypriot minimum wage is also undercut by businesses in Turkey's immediate southern coastal area, where there is no minimum wage. The construction boom, which was fuelled by post-Annan development on Greek Cypriot land, has ended, in large part because of the consequences of the Orams case and the world economic downturn.
There remain huge human rights issues in the north. Turkish Cypriot secular culture is clashing with settler culture. The CTP-the Republican Turkish party-did badly in the parliamentary elections last year as a consequence of its decision to try to implement the EU acquis in the north, which brought hardship to Turkish Cypriots, with no real benefits, as they saw it, from the EU.
There is unrest and industrial action against the UBP-the National Unity party-Government of Mr. Eroglu. That is now worsening and could be compared to the unrest that took place before the opening of the green line, although this time without the participation of the CTP. Hospitals, ports and even Parliament have been closed by strikes. That has partly been caused because Turkey's economic subsidy is under pressure, with the unjustifiably large number of public employees in the north being questioned. It also has a lot to do with the increasing numbers of people migrating from Turkey.
In the absence of a solution, things do not look good for Mr. Talat's re-election prospects. If Mr. Talat loses and Mr. Eroglu wins, it will be hard for President Christofias to negotiate with Mr. Eroglu, although Turkey will still have the final say. Even at a practical level, Mr. Eroglu does not speak English. On the policy level, he is much more hard-line than Mr. Talat on issues that make no difference to Turkey, but which are vital to achieve a workable solution. The general view is that if there is no settlement before the election and Mr. Talat loses, the negotiations will be at an effective end.
The UN Committee on Missing Persons continues its work, although there is a significant backlog in its anthropological laboratory on the piecing together of the various remains. None the less, the committee told us that it was not really practical to expand the operation. Altogether the bicommunal teams have exhumed 570 sets of remains from both sides of the green line and returned the remains of 179 people to their families-135 Greek Cypriots and 44 Turkish Cypriots. They are perennially in the hunt for money, requiring between €2.2 million and €2.4 million a year to function. The EU has just given the teams €2 million for the next two years, but they are still €1 million short for next year. Since the committee started its work many years ago, the UK has given it $159,000, but it is a long time since we last gave it a grant, and it is time that we gave it another one.
Last summer, the remains of several high-profile victims were identified, including the five Cypriot national guardsmen who were depicted kneeling in fear in the infamous picture taken by a Turkish photographer. There was an outcry from some politicians in the south, although the bereaved families maintained a dignified silence. However, the political response led to a reaction from the Turkish army, which has withdrawn from its tentatively developing approach of permitting excavations on military land and reverted to its original non-committal wait-and-see position of proceeding after all civilian sites have been exhausted. Previously, the army said that it would consider a case if it had been documented, but there have been no excavations on military land so far.
Does my hon. Friend agree that confidence-building measures, such as providing funding for work on missing people and joint ventures between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, are hopeful signs that people are coming together on Cyprus? Should not the British Government do more to foster and sponsor such activities?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments and I entirely agree. I hope that the Minister will be able to find a little cash in the Foreign Office budget to provide the initiatives that I mentioned with at least token support, if not more substantive support.
There are strong rumours, which have been reported in Kathimerini and Afrika, that up to 1,000 Greek Cypriots from the Kyrenia area could be buried at a major military site at Lapithos. Journalists are investigating that military zone, which is apparently mined.
The European Court of Human Rights case of Varnava has been decided in the grand chamber. It was ruled that Committee on Missing Persons work is inadequate for an investigation into compliance with article 5, which requires a proper inquiry into deaths at the hands of the state, and Turkey will have to respond to that. However, the Court imposed a limitation block on any new cases, except those brought to it soon after remains are partially identified to families.
Relatives are agitating for more information about the circumstances of deaths. In addition to the missing, there are 1,000 known Greek Cypriot dead, including 500 in the north, and 30 Turkish Cypriot known dead whose bodies have not been recovered. Nowadays, such people would be classed as missing. The committee's total objective is therefore to deal with the cases of about 2,200 missing and known dead.
Any discussion about Cyprus inevitably raises the question whether Turkey is the key to a solution. The Greek Cypriots complain of Turkey's provocative statements, such as Mr. Erdogan's recent comments about two republics, two states and two peoples. Mr. Talat probably has more room to manoeuvre than is generally accepted in the south, although in the end Turkey will undoubtedly have to approve any agreements, particularly on security.
There remains, of course, the issue of the military occupation. Clearly, there have recently been rapid foreign policy developments in Turkey under Prime Minister Erdogan-for example, towards Armenia and Israel and on broadcasting in Kurdish. Given that Turkey is not as yet an entirely democratic country, it can switch its positions fast.
Some trade is taking place. In 2007, exports from Turkey to the Republic were worth $1.4 million, while exports from the Republic to Turkey were worth $8.6 million. However, that is only a tiny fraction of what would be possible if we had a solution that opened Turkish ports and markets to Cypriot trade. Turkey has said that it would like to see a solution by December, and we will have to see whether it makes any concessions by then, although it has now conceded that there will not be a settlement by the year end and it maintains that the negotiations cannot be open-ended.
One thing that I have not mentioned is the peace dividend, which would be substantial in terms of the island's economy and the income of individual families. The International Peace Research Institute in Oslo found that the benefit to the island of a solution would be €1.8 billion per year-equivalent to €5,500 for every family every year. A solution would create 33,000 jobs and 3 per cent. GDP growth over seven years in real terms. The benefits of success would result in not only an economically thriving Cyprus, but wider regional stability.
To conclude, the choice, which is still not accepted in the south, is really between a settlement, if one can be negotiated, and the drift to partition, under the status quo. However, the situation is not a status quo. It is changing in a negative direction, year by year, as more development takes place in the north and there are more settlers, and as more Turkish Cypriots emigrate and the demography changes, with an increase in the number of young people who have no knowledge of the other side, compared with those who lived bicommunally before 1964 and 1974.
The International Crisis Group has commented that failure will lead to de facto partition. Martti Ahtisaari, the 2008 Nobel prize winner, writing for the Independent Commission on Turkey, also believed this to be the last chance. Failure will mean that Cyprus is likely to slide into hostile partition, with further strain on the EU-Turkey relationship, new frictions in the eastern Mediterranean, damage to EU-NATO co-operation, acceleration of Turkish Cypriot migration and continuing questions over the future of UNFICYP. Plan B for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus if the talks fail seems to be to press the EU to reopen issues of trade, and to seek recognition, probably in the first instance, from Islamic countries.
The 50th anniversary of Cyprus's independence from British colonial rule will be marked in 2010. Throughout its short history as an independent country Cyprus has been subjected to outside pressures and division: Enosis and EOKA-B, Taksim and Turk Mukavemet Teskilati, bicommunal villages divided, the Greek junta-backed coup against President Makarios and the Turkish Cypriot invasion and occupation, with the green line splitting the island. Time is running out and surely now is the time, after so long, for the lasting settlement that is the birthright of all Cypriots, to enable them all to live in peace, security and prosperity.
Two hon. Members are waiting to speak in the debate. It is a very important subject and I want the party spokesmen to have adequate time to sum up, so I intend to call the Liberal spokesman at 11.55.
I congratulate Mr. Dismore on obtaining the debate, and draw the Chamber's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests about a recent visit to attend the Morfou rally in Cyprus.
During a week when across Europe we are celebrating the incredible day in 1989 when the Berlin wall came down, it is right and timely to consider Europe's last divided capital, which is of course in Cyprus. It may now be possible for Cypriots to cross the green line, but it still divides Cyprus in a deeply painful way, not least because it still prevents the refugees who fled in the face of the 1974 invasion from returning to their homes.
The fact that a European country, now a full member of the EU, was forcibly partitioned 35 years ago should be a matter of huge concern and regret for world leaders as they meet to celebrate the upsurge in freedom that occurred when the Berlin wall was brought down by people power. The fact that Cyprus remains partitioned after 35 years is nothing less than a tragedy. We should not forget, of course, that the wall divided Berlin between 1961 and 1989-a mere 28 years, which is seven years less than the green line has divided Cyprus.
I do not suppose that Hansard is regular reading for the world leaders in question, but I hope that they will listen to our pleas to use this week's celebrations as an opportunity to give a push to the search for a just, lasting and balanced settlement, to reunite Cyprus. I hope that they will recognise that although the international community-the UN and the EU-can help by facilitating and encouraging the finding of a solution by Cypriots, willingness on the part of Cypriots to negotiate is not enough. If Cypriots are to reach a settlement to reunite Cyprus, Ankara needs to give them the freedom that they need to make their own choices about their own country. If we are to achieve the goal of a peaceful and united Cyprus, we need to demilitarise the island. A just, lasting and peaceful settlement is incompatible with the location of thousands of Turkish troops in the country.
My hon. Friend has made her point about the division clearly. That division is nowhere clearer than in Nicosia itself-a divided capital. Is it not unacceptable that there should be that division in a European state? We have been commemorating the reunification of European capitals; is not reunification something that should happen in this context?
I am grateful to you, Mr. Olner, and to my hon. Friend for an intervention with which I wholeheartedly agree. Those issues were one reason for my writing to the Prime Minister and Chancellor Merkel this week, to ask them to use this week's celebrations as an opportunity to push forward with progress towards a settlement, and to put pressure on Ankara. They need to make clear to Ankara that it is vital for it to comply, first, with its obligations under the Ankara protocol to open its ports and airspace to Cypriot aviation and shipping; secondly, with the UN's repeated resolutions calling for freedom and justice for Cyprus; and thirdly, with the repeated resolutions of the European Court of Human Rights on Cyprus. Only when the Turkish Government do that will we see freedom and justice for Cyprus.
I want to keep my remarks short as I know that many others are pressing to take part in the debate, but I reiterate that it is vital to get progress on locating the remains of missing persons. That is one of the saddest and most distressing aspects of the division of Cyprus-that after 35 years, the remains of only 10 per cent. of the missing persons have been located.
During my recent visit to Cyprus for the Morfou rally, it was my great privilege to meet several relatives of those who are missing. It was also a privilege to meet them in north London, a few days ago, at an event organised by Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis. The matter is one of real distress for those people. We need the truth quickly; sadly, many of the relatives of those who are missing will not be with us for much longer. They need the truth about what happened to their loved ones 35 years ago; that is a key part of pressing forward with a solution in Cyprus. Such a solution could be of major benefit to all Cypriots, regardless of the community from which they come.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate, and I pay tribute to Mr. Dismore for securing it. I welcome the new Minister for Europe to the debate. We have had a change of envoy and several Europe Ministers in a short period, which has not necessarily helped with our focus on the Cyprus issue, but I welcome the fact that the Minister, like previous Ministers, is committed to making an early visit to Cyprus. It is important that, among all the competing priorities, the concerns about the need to reach a solution should be heard loud and clear.
I declare an interest, to the extent that I visited Cyprus last year as part of the Friends of Cyprus delegation; there is also a primary interest in my constituency, where I represent a large number of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, to whom progress is a matter of vital concern.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the positive attitude of the leaders, and their engagement in talks. Their relationship is perhaps one of the best aspects of the situation as we look to make progress. Their personal commitment is no doubt sincere, and it is something that we should all support. It is important that all noises off, outside the negotiations, should be sensible and positive, and be built around the UN framework. It is therefore also important that Turkey should play its part. Noises off about confederation are not welcome in the context of pursing the bicommunal, bizonal federation solution.
The report from the UN Secretary-General is also welcome. He welcomed the constructive dialogue between the leaders and made the point, mentioned in this debate, that the status quo, which is leading further away from a solution, is unacceptable. A settlement becomes harder with each day that passes without a solution. An increase in the frequency of talks is welcome, and the fact that they now take place twice a week is a sign of real progress, but it is also important to recognise the point made by the Secretary-General. He said that the need to rationalise the process to deliver results and bring negotiations to a successful conclusion is becoming more pressing.
Where can the results be seen? My hon. Friend Mrs. Villiers mentioned the work of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. That is one of the lights in the darkness of the Cyprus problem. When I visited Cyprus last November, I saw the great progress that the scientists had made in that most welcome of bicommunal projects, and how hard they are working to ensure that the remains are identified and that families receive the truth that they need to enable reconciliation to happen.
However, the task is large. As the hon. Member for Hendon said, 2,200 Cypriots-both Greek and Turkish-are missing. The latest information is that 562 individuals have been exhumed, and 172 have been identified. It is a slow, difficult and painstaking task, but it is of absolute importance to achieve reconciliation and unity on the island. In political terms, we also need to see truth and reconciliation for the families; it is therefore important that information is passed on. Turkish authorities and the authorities in the north must recognise people's real concern about the remains that are to be found on military bases; we should ensure that access is provided and that information is passed on. The many relatives who come to the House every July to campaign on behalf of their loved ones need to see the truth.
It is also important that there should be proper compliance with European Court of Human Rights rulings. Turkey should recognise the need for effective investigations, which goes beyond the work of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. It needs to carry out its own investigations and ensure that answers are given. That is a key element to building confidence. It is important that we reach a solution. It needs to happen for Cypriots, including my constituents, and for Cyprus itself. It is also important to secure regional stability. Turkey is interested in EU accession, but that can happen only if the Cyprus problem is solved.
Opinion surveys say that there is a great deal of pessimism among Cypriots and that it is increasing. It is increasing particularly among the younger generations, who have little knowledge of an undivided island. However, on the other side of the equation, opinion polls say that there is a wish and respect among people that the leaders should reach a settlement. The diaspora in my community also want to see a settlement. It is evident that they work and socialise together, and that they have the Cypriot identity and culture. That must be retained; it is part of the solution.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the air of pessimism evident in Cyprus could be turned around if only we could engage in confidence-building measures such as dealing with the missing people and opening a dialogue about the history of the conflict? If we were to do that, we could create the sort of atmosphere that would lead to more positive negotiations.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. On a cross-party basis, we very much share the concern that a solution should be reached for Cyprus. The amount of talking is increasing, but it is important that we see real confidence building. We talk about it a lot, but we need a real result. Confidence can come about only through dialogue and access.
I mentioned in an intervention that one important aspect of access is access to worship-for those from Maronite villages, for example. It is extraordinary in this day and age that individuals cannot go to their own church to worship, but have to go through military zones, which are often restricted. It is important that measures are taken; if such matters are kept distinct from the other negotiations, real progress could be made. Over the next months, while the extra talks are in progress, we need to focus on aspects such as Maronite access and the missing persons.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said, we are remembering the fall of the Berlin wall. However, we still have a divided city in Cyprus; Nicosia is a city of great heritage, but it is impaired by the divisions that we see every day. Although the crossing has given us an opening, the city is at a great disadvantage and is scarred by division. We must ensure that, in 12 months, we return to celebrate a united city and a united island.
When one considers the conflicts that are being dealt with by the United Nations, the Cyprus problem should not be seen as an irreconcilable conflict. It is important that we recognise the need for sacrifice and compromise, but we also need proper integrity for the process that is based on the UN framework.
Finally, the Economist Intelligence Unit says that the chances of Turkish and Greek Cypriots reaching a settlement are about 40 per cent. The reality is that that is a 40 per cent. greater chance of a settlement than there would be if talks were not taking place. We need to support those talks; it is the best option. The House should be 100 per cent. committed to seeking a solution to the Cyprus problem.
I had not intended to speak today, Mr. Olner, but as we have a modicum of time before you call the Front-Bench spokesmen, I wish to raise one or two important issues.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore on his most comprehensive survey of the situation in Cyprus, based on his recent visit to the island. I join the hon. Members for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) in saying how appropriate it is that we should be debating the subject during the week when the international community is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ending of the division of Berlin. However, we in the European Union still have a divided capital in Nicosia. The international community should focus more on what needs to be done to end the long-standing division of the island of Cyprus.
The Berlin wall was erected in 1963 after a long period of turbulence. That was when we saw the first divisions in the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot community in Nicosia. Both problems date back a long way. If we had the time, I suspect that we could debate for a significant period the opportunities over the years to find a resolution, many of them missed. I think of the high-level agreements of 1977 and 1979, when there was a real air of optimism that a solution could be found; I think also of the 1980s and 1990s, and even the present decade, and the opportunities that have been missed because of the failure of all concerned. I think particularly of the failure of the international community to give the problem the prominence and effort needed to find a solution.
That brings me to the role of the United Nations, which has been critical to all developments in Cyprus since 1974. It has conducted various negotiations which reached various stages. Indeed, it was successful in bringing together a plan that was put to both communities-the so-called Annan plan. I do not want to rehearse everything, but simply to recognise that the UN has done a great deal and that it understands the critical issues involved. However, I am here today because I would like to see it do more; confidence-building measures are necessary if we are to create the atmosphere in which negotiations could be successful.
There are many ongoing joint initiatives. Work is under way to address the long-standing issue of missing people, which goes back to 1974 and before. I welcome all such initiatives, but more needs to be done. For years we have talked about taking an initiative on Famagusta and on various other issues related to airports. Although I recognise that the situation on the island has changed remarkably and that progress has been made-the green line has been opened up and there is more interchange between the two communities-we must do even more. The United Nations has a big role to play in creating an atmosphere in which negotiations can take place.
Historically, the European Union has not had a central role in finding a solution in Cyprus, but Cyprus is now a member of the EU. Given that the EU recognises the continued division of one of its member countries, it must take on an important role. Such an issue, however, is tied up with the negotiations for Turkey, and I will not go into the Ankara protocol now, except to say that the EU must find some movement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, there was a period when its ports were open to Cyprus shipping, so it is not impossible for such a thing to happen again. The European Union has a critical role to play in facilitating a solution. It may be that, in the future, it plays a role as a guarantor. It is a guarantor for democracy and for all sorts of human rights and the rule of law. Perhaps it could play a more prominent role as a guarantor of the independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus.
That brings me to the guarantor powers themselves, namely Britain, Greece and Turkey. The guarantor powers have not played as central a role as they should. Although I accept the comments made by George Papandreou that perhaps Cyprus should be moving away from its connection with Greece and Turkey, that can only happen if both those guarantor powers facilitate the process. It is only with their help and assistance that that could take place.
Finally-I hope that the Minister will take this on board-the United Kingdom continues to be a guarantor power. Historically, we have a legacy of involvement in Cyprus. There is a large Cypriot community-both Greek and Turkish-living in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom must play a more prominent role in the current negotiations. I know that the European Union looks to the United Kingdom as the country that has been critically involved over the years. We must exercise more influence and do so in a way that will help to build confidence between the two communities.
Mr. Olner, you said that I had until 11.55, so I will exercise my right to say "finally". There is a lot of talk about a settlement being further away than ever, and the general attitude is very pessimistic. As has been said earlier in this debate, the two leaders of both communities are very much committed to a settlement. Progress is being made, although it is slow. It is for the international community, and particularly the guarantor powers, to give fresh impetus to the negotiations. If that can be done, we can turn around the negotiations and perhaps reach agreement on the final date-it will be around May next year-when we can look towards a settlement. However, without that impetus, progress will not be made at sufficient speed.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner. I congratulate Mr. Dismore on giving such a comprehensive introduction to this debate. He outlined areas in which progress has been made, and managed to cover a whole range of issues in this complex case. It has been very helpful to hear the experiences of hon. Members, many of whom have visited Cyprus. Some have spoken with constituents who have a link with that country and others have heard first hand from individuals-relatives of the missing and others-about the difficulties that they face. I always think that mention of such experiences brings something to the debates that we have in this Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman held an Adjournment debate on this issue on
I echo the comments made by many hon. Members about the timing of this debate. We are discussing a divided island and a divided capital in the week of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin wall, which I hope will inspire a renewal of efforts in this case.
Obviously, the clock is ticking. As many commentators have noted, the presidential elections in the north in April are likely to see nationalists elected, and that will clearly seriously damage the ongoing negotiations. Progress, so far, has been slow, but we have a window of opportunity at the moment with both Governments being pro-reunification. The fact that such a view is liable to end in a few months means that there must be a renewed sense of urgency.
The consequences of no solution have been pointed out by the International Crisis Group, which says that failure to reach a settlement could result in slow economic progress, greater defence spending and reduced international credibility for the Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Turkey.
David Hannay, the UK special representative for Cyprus from 1996 to 2003, has said that the prominent role played by those outside Cyprus may have had a detrimental effect, allowing Greek and Turkish Cypriots to blame outsiders for the failure of the talks. The Cypriots on both sides must own the negotiations at every stage, or they are bound to fail. That does not mean that outsiders have no role, but that their role should be discreet, and aim to persuade, not coerce, Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
The hon. Member for Hendon mentioned the natural deadlines, which obviously include the December assessment of Turkey's EU accession. I am very much in favour of Turkey joining the EU, not least for the symbolism of accepting a Muslim country into what is still perceived as a Christian club. However, the possibility of Turkey's accession to the EU presents a very curious Catch-22 situation. On the one hand, the EU is unlikely to agree to admit Turkey until a settlement is reached on Cyprus, and on the other, Turkey is unlikely to support a settlement that is acceptable to Greek Cypriots if it feels that the EU is not sufficiently progressing its application. In September, David Hannay wrote:
"So long as there is breath in the body of Turkey's EU accession aspirations, there will be some hope for a Cyprus settlement."
The EU has an important role to play here. As we have seen in other parts of Europe, such as the Balkans, the prospect of accession can be used as a very effective incentive and negotiating tool. I am not saying that the EU has necessarily always been right about the way in which it has used such a tool in the past, but it is something that can be used positively.
Turkey is often blamed for the lack of progress on the Cyprus issue. People say that Ankara has not pushed hard enough for peace, but that assertion is not entirely true. The Turkish Government, under Prime Minister Erdogan, campaigned for a yes vote in response to the Annan plan in 2004, whereas the Greek Cypriot Government, under President Papadopoulos, campaigned for a no vote.
[Hywel Williams in the Chair]
Having said that, Turkey could do more to progress the negotiations on Cyprus, especially by implementing the Ankara protocol and opening all its ports to EU trade. Furthermore, there is no reason for maintaining such a huge number of Turkish troops in Cyprus and movement has to be made on reducing that number.
However, Turkish Cypriots obviously feel very disillusioned, having voted yes to the Annan plan. They continue to be very politically isolated and economically disadvantaged, their young people cannot take part in the national sporting or cultural events and they look across the green line to the Greek Cypriots who enjoy the full benefits of EU membership and who are flourishing economically and socially. Obviously, that situation leads to genuine grievances. On both sides, property issues have also been raised.
We have heard in this debate some ideas about the types of confidence-building measures that could be put forward to make progress. It is not for us in the UK to resolve all the difficult individual issues that are at stake, but we should be an honest broker and take a neutral position, supporting Cypriot solutions.
I want to raise another point of concern with the Minister, which has been raised with me by the Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey group. It has expressed a concern among Turkish Cypriots in the UK about the Prime Minister's decision to meet President Christofias tomorrow. Tomorrow is also the first day of a High Court hearing of the controversial Orams property case and as the meeting between the Prime Minister and President Christofias is on the same day, it could be interpreted as Britain possibly taking sides in that case. Obviously, it is not for us to become involved in international law in this instance, but we should seek to appear neutral. I would welcome it if the Minister reassured Turkish Cypriots in the UK that the British Government are not taking sides.
I also encourage the Minister and the Government generally to meet representatives of both Cypriot communities in the UK, to help to build consensus and confidence. I understand from the Turkish Cypriots who have been in contact with me that the British Government have met a particular group of Labour-supporting Turkish Cypriots but they have perhaps not met representatives from the whole mainstream of Turkish Cypriots in the UK. So I would be interested to hear the Minister's comments on that issue.
I would also like to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Hendon in the debate on Cyprus in January about the €50,000 donation for demining to the UN Mine Action Centre in Cyprus. That demining work is obviously an example of something that is very symbolic; not only does it help to demine the buffer zone but it helps to build confidence. I wonder whether we could have an update on how that money has been spent. Furthermore, given the €5 million shortfall that was referred to, is there any possibility of convincing other EU member states to give more money to that important fund?
In conclusion, I concur with the conclusion of pretty much everyone who has spoken today that the longer it takes to reach a settlement in Cyprus, the more likely it is that the division of the island will become permanent. Obviously, a permanent division would have huge negative consequences for regional stability and economic development.
As a guarantor power with strong relationships in Cyprus, the UK ought to have a significant influence on the situation there, although that influence should obviously be exercised discreetly. We should also be using our voice in the EU and the UN to push for a redoubling of efforts to use this window of opportunity to create conditions whereby these talks about the future of Cyprus can succeed, bearing in mind the imminent natural deadlines that exist.
It is a pleasure, Mr. Williams, to serve under your chairmanship today.
I must begin by congratulating Mr. Dismore on securing this important debate on Cyprus. It is right that we should devote time to this subject today, so that we can discuss it at Westminster in some detail. The hon. Gentleman went into considerable detail in framing the debate.
We have also had a number of other contributions, beginning with that of my hon. Friend Mrs. Villiers. She has a long-standing interest in the issue of Cyprus, first, Mr. Williams, as you may know, as a Member of the European Parliament before coming to this place. She has continued that interest since becoming a Member of Parliament at Westminster. She knows a great deal about Cyprus and has visited the island on a number of occasions. Today, she raised the issue of missing persons and I hope that, when the Minister replies, he can speak in some detail about it.
We also had a contribution from my hon. Friend Mr. Burrowes. He has significant Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities in his constituency, as he alluded to in his contribution. Unsurprisingly, therefore, he has also taken a close and strong interest in this subject. He spoke in some detail about the challenges facing Cyprus and the need for a settlement. I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to his contribution, too.
We then heard from Mr. Love, who used the time available to him to maximum effect. He also pressed the Minister on the point that there is still an opportunity to achieve a settlement, which all of us present today would agree with. We hope that that opportunity will not be missed. We then heard from Jo Swinson, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats. She gave a very balanced contribution in outlining the challenges that Cyprus faces.
I want to begin my contribution by pointing out that British-Cypriot relations go back many years. Indeed, it could be argued that they began with Richard the Lionheart in 1191, when he visited Cyprus en route to the Holy Land. He stopped off in Cyprus long enough to marry his wife Berengaria in the Byzantine St. George chapel in Limassol. Coming forward to today, Cyprus is now a fellow member of the Commonwealth, having attained its independence in 1960. It is also now an important trading partner and, of course, a member of the European Union.
Beyond that, we should not forget the thriving Cypriot community in the UK. For the first time, I believe, it has now produced a British-Cypriot MEP in Marina Yannakoudakis. I am sure she will continue to raise the Cyprus issue in the European Parliament with the same persistence that her predecessor in that Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet, demonstrated before her. We are very pleased that she can now be a voice for Cyprus in the European Parliament.
As we have heard, the talks aimed at resolving the division of Cyprus are ongoing, the current series having resumed in September 2008. It is with that in mind that I visited the island in April on behalf of my party, to see for myself the state of the negotiations and to try to familiarise myself with some of the issues at stake.
On that visit to Cyprus, I had the privilege of meeting President Christofias and the UN's Special Representative, Alexander Downer, who has worked so hard to get a dialogue going between the two communities. I also had the chance to meet the Turkish community's chief negotiator, Mr. Ozdil Nami. That visit taught me a lot about the issues involved-not least their complexity-and which must be addressed in trying to find a settlement to the dispute. I also learned about the special role that Britain has played historically in Cyprus.
The current state of the talks is that some progress has undoubtedly been made. For example, Mr. Downer is quoted in yesterday's edition of the Financial Times as saying that he is still "cautiously optimistic" about a settlement. He points out that President Christofias and Mr. Talat, the two leaders of the Cypriot communities, are meeting regularly and have discussed key issues, including power-sharing and property ownership in a future settlement. He is quoted as saying that, after almost 50 sessions of talks, the leaders
"have made significant progress-though not equal progress in all the chapters-but they have agreed on an enormous number of things".
That is how Mr. Downer characterises the state of progress to date.
The areas where the most progress has been made include the economy and European Union responsibilities. They are generally seen as being the least contentious of the six negotiating chapters. However, the Cypriot leaders have also discussed the governance and power-sharing chapter that dominated their talks earlier this year. The talks have now entered into the detail of what is perhaps their most contentious section, on property. A meeting took place on Monday between the two leaders, and another is scheduled for Thursday.
As we have seen, some progress has been made. There are signs of concern that both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities are beginning to harden their positions. In fact, a recent opinion poll demonstrates that about 60 per cent. of the Greek Cypriot population still have some reservations about a potential solution. A recent opinion poll published in the Turkish Cypriot daily Kibris showed that about 78 per cent. of Turkish Cypriots would prefer two independent states, and obviously, only a smaller proportion would say yes again to the Annan plan if it were put back on the table. It is a worrying trend, as Mr. Talat, the Turkish Cypriot leader, will be facing elections within the Turkish community in April. It could lead to a new leadership that is less committed to bringing about the reunification of the island.
At present, therefore, there is still an opportunity to make progress in finding a solution that could lead to the reunification of the island, but both sides should be aware that delay at this point will not create an environment for the talks to succeed, and could in fact have the opposite effect. Unless further signs of flexibility appear, a valuable opportunity to reach a lasting settlement could be lost, a point made by hon. Members from all parties in this debate.
I have said that Britain should do all that it can to work for a peaceful settlement. That also applies to the other guarantor powers. Turkey, for instance, has a role to play in achieving a solution, and it would be beneficial if it showed greater flexibility in its relations with Cyprus in order to facilitate that solution. In that context, it is an interesting coincidence that the progress of Turkey's accession to the EU is due to be evaluated at the EU's December Council. It would undoubtedly be a good sign of Turkey's intent to pursue its European vision if, as a candidate country, it could demonstrate good will towards its potential future EU colleague, Cyprus, by showing some flexibility aimed at bringing about a solution.
I would like to raise with the Minister an additional issue relating to British people living in Cyprus. There have been numerous problems with British and other people investing money in properties in Cyprus and discovering later that the title deeds are either faulty or retained by a developer who may then re-mortgage the property without their knowledge. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website acknowledges the problem, estimating that up to 100,000 properties owned by Britons, Cypriots and others may be affected by faulty title deeds. I believe that the Cypriot Government are trying to make progress on the problem, but given the number of British people caught up in it, has it been raised with the Cypriot Government directly? If so, can the British Government do anything further to facilitate a quick solution?
This week, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out. It is a cause for dismay that there is still no solution to the division of Cyprus. We hope that one can still be achieved, perhaps even before the next British general election, whenever that might be. However, if a final agreement has not been reached by then, a potential Conservative Government are ready and willing to do what we can to help the people of Cyprus find a solution to that long-standing problem, subject of course to the realisation that the future of the island rests primarily in the hands of the two communities themselves.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Williams; I think that it is the first time that I have done so. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore on securing what he referred to as his annual debate. It is not annual, as it happens more than once a year; there was another Adjournment debate earlier this year that lasted only half an hour. However, I congratulate him on securing this one. The issue is important not only to the many Cypriots living in the United Kingdom, who, as many constituency Members have shown today, take a direct and specific interest in it, but in terms of securing justice and economic opportunity in a key area of the European Union. It is also important because of Britain's historic links with Cyprus, to which Mr. Francois alluded, although I sometimes think that talking too much about history in discussions about Cyprus is part of the problem, and that we need to talk less about history and more about the future.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend on the enormous number of parliamentary questions to me that he has tabled, and I congratulate myself on how many answers we have provided him with.
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not, and that he will table another set of parliamentary questions on any issue about which he is not fully satisfied.
Several hon. Members have referred to the irony of our debating this issue during the week when Germany is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the tearing down of the Berlin wall and the beginning of the process of German reunification, which I think everybody here welcomes. Of course, at the time, there was anxiety in the UK and some parts of the then Government about whether reunification was a good idea. I merely note that in 1948, the British Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, made it absolutely clear that the Labour Government were wholeheartedly in favour of a united Germany, just as we are entirely in favour of a united Cyprus. I think that those who argue for a two-state solution in Cyprus are going down the wrong route.
First I will refer to some of the specific issues raised and then I shall move on to more general issues. Mr. Burrowes referred to the Maronite community. Obviously, we take a particular interest in that community. It is not large, but it is significant and its linguistic and cultural heritage is important. I do not want to refer too much to history, but ever since the Maronites arrived 1,200 years ago from Lebanon, they have played an important part in Cypriot life. We as a Government supported the Council of Europe's 2008 resolution calling for
"additional measures to support the revitalisation and promotion of the cultural, religious and linguistic heritage of the Maronites".
It is crucial to bear in mind that we are not talking about just two communities. We are talking about a wide diversity, and the more we can embrace that in the eventual solution, whatever it may be, the better. Obviously, it is essential that any final settlement should include the freedom to express and enjoy one's religion and to worship, a right guaranteed within the EU.
My hon. Friend Mr. Love mentioned the importance of bicommunal links. Notwithstanding the point that I just made about the fact that there are more than two communities, he is right that it is vital to provide support for any confidence-building measures. We are keen to do so, and the British high commission wants to take every possible opportunity to do so. We continue to support financially the Committee on Missing Persons, about which I will say more later, through the European Union. We also support the UN mine action centre, and I will also say more about that.
It was encouraging to see Elsi Christofias and Oya Talat speaking together at an event in Pyla. It is good that the chambers of commerce, and commerce and industry, co-operate across Cyprus. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, we are encouraged by the fact that the founder of easyJet is producing a bicommunal business initiative. In many ways, it is economic opportunity that will take us forward into the future, rather than leaving us languishing with the problems of the past.
I would not overestimate the value of my visiting anywhere, but I am grateful for my hon. Friend's confidence. I intend to visit Cyprus at the end of the month.
Jo Swinson asked whether I have met people who are on different sides of the argument. I do not take any side in the argument; I am on the side of those who want to see a settlement. I am happy to meet people from a wide range of views when I visit Cyprus. The Foreign Secretary would also like to visit Cyprus. We will play as significant a role as possible, but, to echo the hon. Member for Rayleigh, there must be a Cypriot settlement. Although we can encourage people to talk, enforcing a solution would be counter-productive.
Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, there have been a range of complex issues on the island. One confidence-building measure that encouraged both sides was the opening of the Ledra street crossing in Nicosia. Both sides acknowledged that as a positive development. Does the Minister agree that the opening of other crossings, particularly in the near future, would build confidence on both sides and encourage momentum?
The more that the two communities are able to commune, the better. For that to happen, people must be able to travel between the two communities. I shall reserve my view on how many crossings there should be until I have visited the island; the hon. Member for Rayleigh has the advantage over me on that point. As all hon. Members will acknowledge, physically seeing and experiencing the situation is more significant than reading any number of articles, even in such illustrious a publication as the Financial Times.
Mrs. Villiers referred to missing persons. I lived in Argentina briefly in the 1980s. From speaking to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who are named after the big square where they used to demonstrate, I know of the profound feelings of loss that are multiplied by not knowing what might have happened to the person concerned. That can be enormously toxic not only for the individual, but for the body politic. The hon. Lady is right that this issue is one of the most important things to get right so that history can be closed before moving forward. We have long supported the Committee on Missing Persons and I will meet with representatives of it when I visit Cyprus. Of the 562 sets of remains that have been exhumed, the remains of 128 Greek Cypriots and 44 Turkish Cypriots have been identified and returned to their families.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire referred to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Turkey. That is an abstruse group. She seemed to develop a certain paranoia-not uncommon among Liberal Democrats-about the Prime Minister meeting Mr. Christofias tomorrow. There is no connection between the dates. There is a legal process and a political process. We do not take a side in either, except that we are in favour of a settlement. I am glad that the Prime Minister will see Mr. Christofias tomorrow and I look forward to meeting him in a couple of weeks.
The hon. Lady asked about the UN mine action centre. We were delighted to give €50,000 of bridging finance this year and are delighted that the EU has given a commitment on the issue. I am sure that all hon. Members would acknowledge the contribution that the action centre has made and the tragic loss of one of its members of staff last week. By demilitarising and demining the island, it is playing a vital part in the process of reaching a settlement.
The hon. Member for Rayleigh mentioned UK residents in Cyprus and I hope to meet representatives when I arrive there. He is right that there is a significant property issue, as there is in Spain. Many people raised such issues with me when I visited Spain earlier this year. Yesterday, I met with the Spanish Minister with responsibility for the matter and we are trying to find solutions. The issue is complicated in Spain because different autonomous regions have different powers.
The British high commissioner has raised the issue with the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Cyprus and we have received assurances that the Government intend to introduce a Bill to address future cases. The issue affects a large number of people, as is stated on the Foreign Office website to which the hon. Gentleman referred. When British people buy property in other countries, they may come up against property and land laws completely different from those in the UK. It is an important element of the Foreign Office's "Know before you go" campaign that we ensure that British citizens have as much information as possible before undertaking such property transactions.
Several hon. Members asked whether we should be optimistic. I confess to being a natural optimist, so I am optimistic about the situation in Cyprus. There are reasons to be cheerful: in Mr. Talat and Mr. Christofias, we have two leaders who are committed to negotiation, and in Greece and Turkey, we have two Governments who are committed to a settlement. We can all point to issues on which individuals from those four parties have not implemented fully what we would have liked. However, we must take at face value that they are committed to a settlement. Regular meetings are going on.
Why is this issue so important? First, there is a natural interest for Britain as we approach the 50th anniversary of independence. Secondly, it will not be possible for Cyprus to achieve its full economic potential-in both communities-until a lasting settlement is accepted throughout the island. Not only tourism, but a range of industries, could move forward dramatically if there was a lasting settlement. Thirdly, security in the eastern Mediterranean can be enhanced for the EU and the region only if there is a settlement in Cyprus.
Several hon. Members have referred to Turkey's accession to the EU. I am a passionate supporter of Turkey's accession. I believe that it would be good for Turkey to enter the EU as a secular Islamic state, that it would enhance our energy security and that it will be the Asian tiger of the European economy in the next 25 years. However, it is inconceivable that it will accede until there is a full and lasting settlement in Cyprus. People argue against Turkey's accession for many reasons, not least on the basis of migration. However, I believe that we must pursue Turkey's accession and, at the same time, a full and lasting settlement in Cyprus.
We believe that Turkey must comply with its commitment to implement fully the customs union. Last week in Ankara, the Foreign Secretary made it clear that we believe that the ports should be open. We believe that the UN resolution calling on Turkey to give back Varosha should be fulfilled. At the heart of the issue is the fact that political will is needed to make that happen. As in "Othello", which was largely set in Cyprus-