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12.1 pm

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden): I require only a couple of minutes, so I have allowed as many hon. Members to speak as possible. The House has heard me speak on this subject at four or five-weekly intervals during the past three years and I have nothing new to add.

I compliment the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on his brave and excellent maiden speech. I add my thanks to a number of others for his compliments to his predecessor, Dr. Ian Twinn. He is a friend of mine of some 20 or 30 years, standing, so I am particularly grateful to him for that. Ian Twinn spent a great deal of time in what was my office and is now the Minister of State's office in the Foreign Office pursuing precisely this issue. The hon. Member for Edmonton has honourably maintained the tradition of adopting a high profile in representing his constituents on the issue. He took a balanced view, which was also reflected in the speech made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett).

The hon. Member for Edmonton said that he wants Britain to restore the unity of Cyprus. I think that there is agreement on that throughout the House. This is not a partisan matter. This has been a largely non-partisan debate, with the exception of some ill-informed comments from the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). I have obeyed a strict self-denying ordinance on the subject for three years, trying not to score party political points about something that affects the lives and futures of so many people in Cyprus. I wish that he would do the same.

The hon. Member for Edmonton said that he wanted Cyprus to have a higher profile on the international agenda. The Conservative Government achieved just that. Malcolm Rifkind created a precedent by being the first Foreign Secretary to go there for some 30 years. We appointed our own special representative and fought hard in the EU and in the United Nations to have the issue resolved, often at some political cost. The Minister will find the same problems as he takes up the issue and I am sure that he, too, will find it hard. We are all committed to obtaining a peaceful and equitable solution to this tragic problem.

There were a number of other cogent and valuable contributions today, most notably from my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), but from others as well, with which I found much to agree.

This is my first opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. I look forward to his matching my grey hairs during the next few years, as a

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result of dealing with not just the Cyprus issue, but a number of others which will test him. I pledge all necessary personal support to the aim of obtaining a peaceful and equitable solution to this tragic problem in the next few years.

12.4 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Doug Henderson): I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. By reputation, you are an affable man, but I know the other side of you. You are a stern and firm man when necessary. We look forward to that latter quality when the Government are in trouble, as no doubt we will be on some occasions in the next five years. However, I know that you will retain the impartiality in your current responsibility that you showed in your past responsibilities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on his foresight in making an early application for this debate which the past hour has shown to be of considerable interest to hon. Members. It is a great credit to him that he has chosen to make his maiden speech on this subject. He said that Lord Graham had been the voice of Edmonton. After my hon. Friend's excellent contribution, there will be a new voice of Edmonton, which the House will look forward to hearing on a number of occasions in the future. He was generous to his predecessors, eloquent, knowledgeable about his constituency and committed to the subjects on which he feels strongly. It is a credit to him that he was able to make such a speech today.

New hon. Members may not be aware that, for an Adjournment debate, this has been well attended. Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on choosing a subject of such interest to so many hon. Members. There have been many good contributions.

I thank the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) for his kind remarks on my appointment and for his commitment that the Conservative party will do what it can to seek a settlement of the Cyprus issue. He referred to my pending grey hairs. One learns one or two secrets in opposition in that regard and I shall be happy to see him afterwards to give him some advice which he may wish to follow. I can assure him that being an Opposition spokesperson is a tiring business. There is a lot of campaigning to do which can result in more grey hairs than might be acquired even in government. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) says, Falkirk supporters are even more afflicted by that trouble than others.

The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) asked whether the Government would have a determined attitude on Cyprus and I can assure him that they will. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), with whom I have had a long association on foreign affairs and other matters, made a knowledgeable contribution. I was particularly impressed by his emphasis on the contributions of both the Greek and Turkish communities in his constituency and in neighbouring constituencies to the economic and social fabric of the communities in which they live. I can also give an assurance to my hon. Friend. He said that this Government, as the inheritors of a guarantor power, have a definite responsibility towards Cyprus. I assure him that that is certainly the case.

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I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) that, in looking forward to the British presidency, we have Cyprus very high up the list of our international obligations. We will consult widely on how best we can proceed to raise the issue and to persuade others to reach a settlement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) emphasised that a settlement in Cyprus and accession to the European Union would be of benefit to both communities, but that one community might benefit more than the other. That point was well made, and well taken at the Dispatch Box.

It is right that Cyprus should be among the first foreign affairs subjects to command the House's attention this Parliament. As hon. Members have made clear, the history of Cyprus is long and tragic. It has been recounted on many occasions in the House, and we have heard further contributions today recalling the suffering and loss that the Cypriot people have endured over many years. That strife has scarred the people of the island and has led to a culture of hostility and suspicion in both communities. That is intolerable for present and future generations of Cypriots, and unacceptable and intolerable for the international community.

There can be no doubt that successive failures to address those divisions has left Europe with a dangerously unstable region in the eastern Mediterranean. That is why emphasis was laid in the debate on the Loyal Address on the Government's commitment to work actively in support of the UN for a lasting settlement of the Cyprus conflict.

The question that citizens in this country and those in Cyprus will be asking is whether progress towards peace is realistic. I do not have to remind the House of the difficult start to 1997. Indeed, hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have already emphasised that point. The recent violence followed the violence that marked much of 1996. I hope that both sides of the House will agree on the need to work for a comprehensive, political settlement in Cyprus, establishing a bizonal, bicommunal federation comprising two politically equal communities.

Despite the setbacks, the United Nations, supported by the international community, has been working hard with both parties since March to prepare the way for face-to-face negotiations. The preparatory process has been taken as far as it can; real progress, as the House knows, can be made only through direct talks. We therefore support the UN's aim of convening face-to-face negotiations within a few weeks. It is important that the ground we have gained this year is not lost.

Of course, problems remain, but the prospects for getting both parties to talk to each other under UN mediation are now better than they have been for a long time. I therefore urge the leaders of both communities to respond positively to an invitation to negotiations from the UN Secretary-General. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will pursue that process in talks later today with the Foreign Minister of Cyprus.

There is a heavy burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the leaders of both communities to negotiate a settlement. I know that they are aware of the

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responsibility and I urge them to exercise it wisely. There is an equal burden of responsibility on each and every Cypriot to make any settlement work.

I noticed that many Cypriots across the divide were prepared to make the first, tentative steps--to gather at a bicommunal concert in Nicosia on 19 May. The success of that concert is encouraging and I hope that more Cypriots will take up future offers to attend similar bicommunal events. They are crucial in breaking that familiar stranglehold of suspicion which we all know exists.

Of course, there will be those do not wish to see a peace process through reconciliation. Some tried, but failed, to disrupt the concert I referred to. I congratulate the authorities on both sides on the firm stance they took with the protesters. Those wreckers see peace coming not through reconciliation but only through the dominance of one side over the other. They aim to inspire fear and to deter those who want to take part and genuinely want to extend the hand of friendship. They will fail, however, for negotiation and reconciliation are the only paths to a lasting peace in Cyprus.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton reminded us of the tragedy of family life on the island of Cyprus and my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham made the same point. Families on one side of the line have not been to visit their relatives for 20 years or more. When the wreckers consider their tactics, they should think of the plight of those families and others.

I have said that we hope that if face-to-face negotiations are convened, both leaders will work constructively with the UN Secretary-General's negotiator, Diego Cordovez, and his team. The parties must be ready to do business; there will be much to do and many issues need to be addressed, including security, territory, refugees, the provisions of a new constitution, the powers of the zones, the powers of the federation and voting mechanisms. Those are just some of the matters of important concern.

The issues may appear impossibly complex to many of us, although many of the hon. Members in the House today have been acquainted with those problems and complexities for many years. Fortunately, the parties do not have to start from scratch. The useful work left over from previous attempts to negotiate a settlement provides a good starting point. The "Set of Ideas", for example, is a useful quarry. The parties themselves also have a depth of experience and knowledge of much of the detail. We look to them to apply that knowledge with the political will, the determination and the vision to make possible the compromises that will be inevitable to ensure success. Nobody, including the UN, can impose a settlement. Ultimately, it is for the Cypriots themselves to decide their future and they now have an historic opportunity to do so.

Hon. Members and people in the country have asked about the role of the United Kingdom in the negotiations. We stand ready to help in any way. We recognise that we have a historical and moral duty to do so. As the House will know, we have reappointed Sir David Hannay as UK special representative for Cyprus. He will visit Cyprus, Greece and Turkey next week, and he will continue to help both sides with advice, encouragement and support.

I have no doubt that our help and that of the international community will be more than ever needed in the months ahead. We must, however, be guided on some matters by the UN mediator, Diego Cordovez, on how

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best we and others can assist. I know from the contributions in the debate today that hon. Members on both sides will want us to do our utmost.

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