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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): Recent bilateral contact with Cyprus has been both regular and valuable. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister met President Clerides in April, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met Foreign Minister Kasoulides in May. The meetings focused on the current United Nations Cyprus settlement process and the United Kingdom's continuing interest in and support for that process. Sir David Hannay, the UK special representative for Cyprus, is in regular contact with all those in Cyprus who are involved in the settlement process.
Mr. Love: This week sees the 26th anniversary of the invasion of the island, and they have been long, frustrating years for Cypriots waiting for a solution. I welcome resumption of the proximity talks in Switzerland. Can my hon. Friend reassure the House that the Government continue to support a comprehensive solution to the problems in Cyprus that will reunite the island? Can he also confirm that the action that he is taking will lead to those talks being productive?
Mr. Vaz: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he has done on the issue and on behalf of his many Cypriot constituents. I can reassure him that the Government are doing everything that we possibly can to support the proximity talks. As he knows, the talks will resume next Monday. As I said, Sir David Hannay is our representative. He has visited twice this year to talk to both sides. Our ambition, as set out in the Prime Minister's statement on 23 September 1998, is that there should be a just and lasting settlement. We would like to see a united Cyprus entering the European Union, but that is not a precondition to accession. We shall continue to do everything that we can to propose and support that settlement.
Mr. Vaz: The issue of Turkey's candidacy is quite separate from the issues in Cyprus. Turkey has only just become a candidate for inclusion in the Helsinki accession process, and Turkey will be judged on whether it meets the Copenhagen criteria and on the state of its negotiations. No third country has a veto over the accession of another country into the European Union. We will, of course, be carefully monitoring the situation. We will ensure that we are fully aware of all the negotiation processes.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity of confirming that the Government will stick to their position that Cyprus's accession to the European Union will not be vetoed by Turkey or by any other country, and that settlement of the Cyprus issue is not a condition for Cyprus to join the European Union? Will he also make it clear to Turkey, in negotiations on its entry, that there can be no prospect of Turkey's joining the European Union unless and until it gets its troops out of Cyprus?
Mr. Vaz: As I have just made clear, and as the Foreign Secretary made it clear on 14 February, we would like to see a united Cyprus entering the European Union. However, that is not a precondition for accession. Cyprus has done extremely well in the negotiations--it has opened 29 of 31 chapters of the acquis, and closed 16 chapters. Turkey does not have a veto over the accession of Cyprus. The issue for Turkey is quite separate: it will have to meet all the criteria. As we have said on many occasions, Turkey is a long way off. It will have to meet the Copenhagen criteria, and it will have to be part of its own negotiation procedures.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): In relation to Cyprus's application to join the European Union, will the Minister confirm that the main issues still to be resolved centre mainly on banking and ship registration? Will the Minister further confirm that there is no reason why those and a few other remaining matters cannot be cleared up in, say, six months' time? If so, why should Cyprus have to wait another two years for the sake of diplomatic convenience so that other successful applicants can join at the same time?
Mr. Vaz: We would like Cyprus to join as soon as possible. It has made excellent progress and has opened 29 of the 31 chapters. There are a number of outstanding chapters and difficult negotiations, including banking. We would like Cyprus to join as soon as possible. It is up to the European Union to ensure that the IGC is completed as at the end of this year. Once that is done and the various treaties have been ratified, it will then be for Cyprus to set its own timetable. We are doing everything that we possibly can to help Cyprus as want to see it in the European Union.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): Relations between Britain and Portugal have always been close, both bilaterally and as partners within the EU and allies within NATO. The relationship is stronger than it has ever been, following the intensive contacts we have had with Portugal in the run-up to and during its presidency of the EU. I pay tribute to the work of our ambassador to Portugal, Sir John Holmes.
There has been considerable ministerial contact in the run-up to the Portuguese presidency and during the presidency itself. Since November 1999, 10 senior Cabinet Ministers have visited Portugal and 12 other Ministers have also been there.
Ms Shipley: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Can he confirm whether or not the historic British-led agreement on the EU economic reform at Lisbon is now paying off in terms of real jobs and growth creation in the EU? Is that not the right way forward for Britain and Portugal, by contrast with the suggestion by the Opposition, who would have Britain out of the EU and working in partnership with Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement area?
Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: Lisbon was an enormous success. It was a watershed in terms of the economic reform of the European Union and a tribute to the negotiating skills of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. The importance of the Lisbon summit is that it was preceded by a number of bilateral agreements between the United Kingdom and other countries. Of course our future is in the European Union--not in NAFTA, as has been barmily claimed by some Opposition Members.
Mr. William Cash (Stone): The Minister will recall that the murderer of my constituent Isabelle Peake escaped to Portugal from France and thereby escaped justice in France. Will he confirm both that progress is being made in establishing how that person managed to evade justice and extradition by committing suicide in his cell, and the circumstances in which that happened? Apparently, the guards were watching football rather than guarding the prisoner. Finally, will he confirm that we will resist all attempts to pay compensation through Portugal to the person who committed the murder rather than to the victim and her parents?
Mr. Vaz: I know that these must be painful matters for the family of Isabelle Peake, the hon. Gentleman's constituents. May I suggest that he come to see me about this matter with her parents so that we can take these matters forward? We will certainly do everything that we possibly can to assist the family and the hon. Gentleman in getting justice for his constituents.
Ann Keen: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he and all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that the British Council does excellent and supportive work. I should particularly like to highlight its current work in the Punjab in relation to human rights and encouraging women there to stand as local government representatives. Will he confirm his support for higher funding for the British Council, in line with the opinion of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs?
Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that the British Council is doing an excellent job in the Punjab. It has, for example, a library that is a showcase for Britain there, as it has in many other parts of the world. Wherever I go on overseas ministerial visits, I make a point of visiting the British Council if I can. As for funding, we shall have to wait for the Chancellor's statement, but 10 years ago under the Tories, spending on the British Council was 8 per cent. of the budget of the Foreign Office, whereas now it is 12 per cent. That shows our commitment to the British Council, and we shall continue to give it.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I declare an interest. I received a British Council grant to study at a Danish university. I also received a grant from Rentokil. How many postgraduate students are now able to benefit from British Council funds to study at a European Union university, as I did in my early 20s?
Mr. Hain: I am not sure whether the hon. Lady can spray a bit of Rentokil around the Conservative Benches, thereby enhancing the quality of the House. We are committed to the British Council's getting as much support as possible in respect both of the issue that she raises and of other issues. When I have visited posts, I have seen the excellent work of the council and the way in which it encourages students to come to Britain by providing all sorts of support, from IT support and English language training to assistance with visas and university placements. That is another excellent mark to its credit.
Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): May I join the fan club of the British Council and express the hope that in the next hour it will receive an increase in its three-year funding? Will my hon. Friend use his best endeavours to support the council? As he knows, it deals with the English language, which is the world's premier language. Would it not be great if we could use some of the money in the next three years to link the British Council with the British library so that we could offer the best service in the world through British Council offices?
Mr. Hain: I will certainly consider that. I agree with my hon. Friend that the council's commitment to English language teaching, much of it now self-financed, is extremely important. When I travel in francophone or lusophone African countries, it is clear that their leaders want to see their people and their countries engage increasingly with the English language and the anglophone world, not least because English is the language of IT and international business. For that reason,