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Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): May I first declare an interest as the Labour vice-chairman of the Friends of Cyprus group? I visited Cyprus from 5 to 9 October. My accommodation and driver for official meetings were provided by the House of Representatives and by the municipality of Morphou. The Conservative vice-chairman of the Friends of Cyprus, the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), would like to be here, but he is attending the memorial service for Sir Edward Heath. I have been asked to convey his apologies to you, Mr. Taylor.
The visit was an opportunity to meet political leaders, business people, academics, and people from civil society from both sides of the green line. There has always been a tendency in Cyprus to look back. I do not want to dwell on the failures of the Annan plan today; we debated those on 6 July last yearthe last time that we had a full debate on Cyprus. I would rather focus on where we are now, the way forward and what we and the European Union can perhaps do to help.
We have to start by considering the atmosphere. I felt that there was an air of depression and fatalism about the lack of prospects on the island. There is a lack of trust between the communities, and it is worse than I have experienced for many years. The Turkish Cypriots feel rejected and abandoned by the Greek Cypriots in the aftermath of the no vote. The Greek Cypriots think that the Turkish Cypriots are trying to get the best of both worldsthe benefits of European Union membership and services in the Republicwithout making progress towards a settlement, and that they are perhaps looking towards separation.
There is a real feeling of despair among pro-settlement people on the island. People still cross the green line and maintain contact, but young people do so rather less frequently than before, and fewer people are visiting their homes in the north from the south. There is a degree of clutching at straws; some lawyers on both sides are now talking about making the cost of non-settlement prohibitive; to illustrate that point, I have heard talk of a thousand Loizidou cases. We hear people such as Mustafa Akinci of the BDH party in the north talking about reasserting the Turkish Cypriot rights of the 1960 constitution, because they see no other way forward. Turkish Cypriots are moving to the south to work and, increasingly, to live. Shener Levent, editor of Afrika newspaper, is even talking about standing for the 2006 elections in the Republic.
I have to say that there is some hostility towards the United Kingdom; we are roundly blamed for the failures of the Annan plan. Whenever the issue of the sovereign base areas comes up, it is a sign of rising discontent with the United Kingdom. We are not seen as even-handed; we are seen as very pro-Turkish, and as not having accepted the outcome of the democratic referendum of the Greek Cypriots. That can be compared with the situation as regards the United
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Nations. Sir Kieran Prendergast recently visited Cyprus, and in his report to the Security Council, he made it clear that
"the highest priority concerns which led Greek Cypriots to vote the way they did would most certainly have to be addressed in any future process based on the UN planand the Greek Cypriot electorate must have confidence that this would be borne in mind in a renewed process."
The recent visit of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, and the signing of the memorandum of understanding, which asks for a structured dialogue, is an important development. We must build on that and recognise the importance of our joint history of many years. We need to look forward to possibilities for the future outside the diplomatic dance, which is continuing and which has identified a substantial gap between the two communities. As the UN says, we cannot afford another failure after the Annan plan.
The outside international community can help, but in the end a settlement has to come from within the island, with the consent of both communities. The consequences of the lack of progress are pretty clear. I mention just onethe problem of crime across the green line. There are growing problems of smuggling, people-trafficking, drugs and illegal migration. Perhaps the best example of those problems was the murder in January this year, in the south, of a Turkish Cypriot, Mr. Elmas Guzelyurtlu, and his daughter and wife. The suspects fled north. The Greek Cypriot police have the evidence, but are not prepared to hand it over to the Turkish Cypriot authorities because they are not recognised. That sort of problem has to be addressed, otherwise the murderers run free.
Of course, there are some positive signs. I particularly welcome the start of Turkey's accession negotiations. We should very much support the process in which Turkey is involved, although it will be a very long one. I was pleased that both Greece and Cyprus supported the start of the process. However, that brings obligations for Turkey. Although we have a possibility of a fresh start after 3 October, it is important that momentum is maintained, and that Turkey is kept engaged. That was not helped by some of the statements about Cyprus that emanated from Turkey at the time of the decision to commence negotiations.
The EU will evaluate progress at the end of 2006. Without progress on Cyprus, there is the risk of an annual crisis if Turkey does not make progress towards a settlement, as there is the possibility of a veto at the opening and closing of every chapter. If Cyprus is not to be a running obstacle, progress must be made; otherwise that veto will be exercised sooner or later by one country or another.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Is there concern about the lack of progress in relation to the pre-negotiations to accession? Now that we have moved on to the accession negotiations stage, the matter could just go into the long grass for many years, and may not reach a speedy conclusion. We all want a sustainable settlement for the benefit of the Cypriot people.
Mr. Dismore : I have my own theory about that, which I shall come to in my crescendo at the end. The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point. There are two schools of
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thought. One is that the EU, Cyprus and the UK presidency should have driven a harder bargain with Turkey. The other is that it is important to get Turkey to sign on the dotted line to maintain the pressure. I, as well as the republic's Government, subscribe to the latter view; ultimately, that is the best way for Turkey to proceed.
May I also say something rather more positive? We now see more crossing pointsfor example at the Astromeritis-Morphou roadand it was interesting to attend the Morphou rally, where a symbolic barrier had to be put across the road for us to protest at, as the road is now open. A further crossing point is now to open in Nicosia, which will be of great advantage to both communities.
There is a lot of positive movement on the issue of missing persons, with signs of real co-operation between the two communities. I was pleased that Mr. Talat told me that the difficulties that remain would not be politicised or publicised so far as he was concerned. I am also pleased that a UK organisation based in Bournemouth, the Inforce foundation, is doing a lot of good work in that respect. There is a risk, which was highlighted by Emine Erk, a lawyer from the Turkish Cypriot human rights foundation, that there will be a determination to punish the perpetrators. A time may come for that, and there may be a time for peace and reconciliation. However, the risk of that sort of talk in relation to, for example, the Tochni murders is that information will dry up. That is not helpful. Money is neededtwo million Cyprus poundsto complete the work, and I hope that we can help with that.
There are also positive signs from the UN's recognition of the Greek Cypriot concerns to which I referred. The republic is facilitating the position of Turkish Cypriots in relation to the European Union, with 40,000 Turkish Cypriots now holding Republic passports, 60,000 holding identity cards and 100,000 having their birth certificates. All Interior Ministry papers are now translated into Turkish to facilitate that process, and Turkish Cypriots have access to the range of services provided by the republic. The health service, in particular, is of great importance.
On the positive side for Turkish Cypriots, there is quiet acknowledgment that recognition of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is off the agenda. There is now talk of an end to isolation, but I would question whether Turkish Cypriots are ready for the globalisation that would follow from thatthere is a degree of naivety there. There is acknowledgement in the north that direct trade is not going to make a difference; it is not going anywhere, as it would probably be worth only about €10 million to the economy. I was pleased to hear that there are plans for a census in the north next year. The economy in the north grew by 12 per cent. last year, and Turkish Cypriot incomes have doubled over two years. The United Kingdom is supporting public sector infrastructure reform and America is supporting financial infrastructure reform in the Turkish Cypriot community.
We should recognise that Mr. Talat, who is now President of the so-called TRNC, is not Denktash the second. He does support a settlement, but is clearly going to drive a hard bargain. However, his language is not well chosen. His threat of civil war if Turkish accession were blocked by the republic was certainly not
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helpful, and nor were his insults of a personal nature. On 12 October, he said that the Greek Cypriots were "racist, chauvinistic and ultra-nationalistic." That is not the way towards a settlement. Another part of the problem arises from the fact that his party, CTP, is in power. That has relieved the pressure on Turkey in the north, where opposition was organised by CTP and its associates. That pressure has now been diverted towards the Greek Cypriots, and the European Union has become the bogeyman. Clearly, they are not going to organise demonstrations against themselves. I am concerned that the pro-solution parties in the north are divided and not able, as they were before, to unite around a single message. The strains between the CTP and AKEL, the south's largest party, are not constructive.
Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a very serious problem in northern Cyprus at the moment is the boom in building, much of which must be on land from which Greek Cypriot owners were driven in 1974? That building will make finding a solution much harder.
Mr. Dismore : The hon. Lady presages my next remarks. That is an appalling downside of the Annan failure, which has fuelled the building boom on Greek Cypriot land and is the basis of the growth in the Turkish Cypriot economy. Turkish Cypriots recognise that if there is a settlement as far as property is concerned, it will probably be along the lines of the Annan plan. They have therefore worked out that if they build on the land, they will get to keep it, even though they may have to pay compensation to the Greek Cypriot owners. Had the land not been developed, it would have had to have been restored to the Greek Cypriot owners. That will make it harder to reach a settlement. Property rights will become a much bigger issue in any future negotiations unless a firm stand is taken on the building boom on Greek Cypriot land.
One can draw a comparison with the middle east. Building on the west bank has created facts on the ground that have made it harder to reach a settlement there. Although the international community has gone out of its way to condemn Israel, there has been a blinding absence of any condemnation of that very similar building boom in northern Cyprus, which is, in fact, even worse. At least in the middle east, the homes are for Israeli people to live in. In northern Cyprus, the homes are for holiday makersgenerally overseas people, mainly from the UK.
I should like to report what Mr. Anastasiades, the leader of one of the Greek Cypriot parties, DISY, told me. The night before I met him, he had visited Kyrenia for dinner with Mr. Talat. He was virtually in tears as he described the building boom that he had seen and said that in five years' time there would be no land left.
David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, have to declare an interest. I visited Cyprus in early October as a guest of the municipality of Morphou. That is on the register.
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My hon. Friend has mentioned the building boom. Does he have a view about the purchase by UK citizens of properties in the north of Cyprus? In particular, what is his view of the advice given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website to those contemplating such purchases?
Mr. Dismore : My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is the Orams case, which is a serious issue; I met the lawyer involved in that. One of my concerns is that people may well be risking their properties in the UK if they buy property in northern Cyprus that, frankly, does not belong to the person selling it. I am pleased that the Foreign Office has significantly improved the advice on its website, but there is always room for stronger warnings about the risks.
I was talking about the role of the Turkish army. There have been dangerous incursions, most recently in Lourougina, where the UNFICYP commander was threatened at gunpoint as the Turkish army tried to build a new checkpoint. That led to reciprocal protests by Greek Cypriot nationalists, particularly DIKO MEP Mr. Matsakis, who went to protest and tried to pull down the flag, inevitably heightening tension.
There has been an increase in troop numbers; there are now in the order of 50,000 troops and the Turkish air force continued its incursions on 13 and 14 October. Immediately after the accession process, there were overflights, which put civilian aircraft in danger and potentially jeopardised the safety of a Royal Air Force exercise in the south.
Greek Cypriot enclaves are being oppressed. Most recently, teachers at the Rizokarpasso school have not been approved, Turkish Cypriots are taking the land, and Greek Cypriots have even been forbidden to use cars unless they are TRNC-registered, although Maronites, who are also in the north, are not forbidden from using them.
Of greatest concern in the north are the recent developments in the Turkish Cypriot chamber of commerce, where elements of the CDP, UBP and DP organised a coup against its highly respected president, Ali Arel, after an attack by Mr. Soyer, the so-called prime minister of the TRNC, on television. One needs to ask why. Mr. Arel was very pro-solution in the north, and he was seen to be rocking the boat. He has argued, as I started to do more than a year ago, that free trade is the best way to proceed. He wants the European Union customs union to be implemented and the green line regulations to be applied properly and made to work. The final straw was probably his refusal, which came to light, to sign dodgy certificates to certify Turkish tomatoes as Turkish Cypriot for the purpose of smuggling. He very much agrees with the need to decouple trade and aid.
The fact that Mr. Talat recently accused the EU of being biased against Turkish Cypriots is another example of the rejectionist tendency. There has been a power struggle in the CDP between rejectionist elements trying to assert themselves and Sener Levent, the editor of Afrika, whom I mentioned earlier, who has a court hearing on 28 December in which he faces some 100 charges about things that he has written in his newspaper. Moreover, the property rights lawyer, Mr. Candounas, who is acting in the case to which I referred
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in my response to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper), has been harassed, and I am concerned about whether the rule of law is operating effectively in the north.
Trade is key, and is another issue that we must address. The trade from south to north is now worth some 97 million Cyprus pounds, which is 15 to 20 per cent. of the Turkish Cypriot economy, but it is mainly because of people, not goods. Some 5,000 Turkish Cypriot workers work in the south every day and take their wages back to the north. Between 7 and 12 per cent. of tourists from the south go north, and a quarter of them stay overnight. Greek Cypriots spend up to €135 each time they visit the north, apparently in large part on pirated designer clothing.
Turkish Cypriots buy goods in Greek Cypriot supermarkets because of their variety and quality. Electrical goods, for example, are much cheaper. Green line trade remains neglible; I shall discuss the reasons why shortly.
North-south trade is neglible. It is worth only about 1 million Cyprus pounds. Business in the north is not competitive. Clothing manufacture in the north has been heavily hit by the Chinese and Indian clothing trade, as it has elsewhere. Turkish Cypriot business people lack knowledge of the business practices of the south. Turkish Cypriot banks will not lend to Turkish Cypriot businesses because they receive a safer and better return on Turkish Government bonds on the mainland.
The market is very competitive in the south, and is likely to become even tougher when a French supermarket chain enters it. There is also some market resistance among Greek Cypriots to buying their own oranges grown on their own land. Some of that is real, but some of it is perceived and is, in fact, risk aversion on the part of the supermarkets already in the south.
The EU VAT rules are, however, a real problem. The Greek Cypriots are blamed for this, but it is not their fault that the EU rules on VAT are enforced. The subsidies make some of the products in the north uncompetitive, and it is not the fault of Greek Cypriots that the hygiene rules prevent the importation of anything that contains animal products. That is why the direct trade argument is a dead end, because the same EU rules would apply whether or not the imports crossed the green line or entered other EU countries. The same problems of competitiveness would arise, so that is not the way forward.
Progress can be made in trade by making the Turkish Cypriot economy more competitive. We should consider not direct trade but free trade in the eastern Mediterranean generally. We should get the economists to co-operate, with a view to creating a single economy in which trade leads to partnership, to interdependence, to economic integration and ultimately to political integration along the lines of the bi-communal, bi-zonal federation, which has been the elusive goal for many years. That view has been expressed on both sidesby Ali Arel on the one hand and by economists whom I have met in the south on the other. It was floated by the Turkish Cypriot chamber of commerce, and I understand that the Republic is also considering it.
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The Turkish Cypriot economy should be developing itself to shadow the acquis communautaire and to move towards complying with it. Given the answers given by my hon. Friend the Minister before the election, I believe that the Government also believe that.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman support the call by some Members of the European Parliament for Turkish Cypriot representation in Brussels to be increased to give a stronger voice to their concerns? They are concerned that the very effective lobbying of the Cypriot Government is not being properly heard in Brussels and they want a greater say for Turkish Cypriots. Would the hon. Gentleman support that?
Mr. Dismore : That has to come as part of an overall political settlement. In theory, there was no reason why Turkish Cypriots should not have stood in the European Parliament elections in the south, although they chose not to do so; indeed, the TRNC authorities put barriers in place to prevent them from doing so. There was talk of people standing for election and, as I said earlier, Shener Levent may stand for the House of Representatives elections in the south next year. However, the way forward must come through the existing channels; there is no way, and no reason, to make new arrangements.
I was talking about the Turkish Cypriot economy shadowing the acquis on issues such as equality and subsidies. It should be making preparations for the implementation of the customs union. If that was done effectively, it would reduce the cost of reunification, which was one of the main problems arising from the Annan plan. The first step in the process was suggested to me by Ali Arel and is very important: the European Union should do research and produce a technical study on liberalising trade on the island, with the goals that I have mentioned in mind.
The key to trade must be the proper implementation by Turkey of the customs union protocol. Turkish ships already call at ports in Cyprus. In the first six months of this year, trade from Turkey to Cyprus was worth 3.1 million Cyprus pounds. Although that is not a lot, trade has been growing rapidly.
The Turkish ban on shipping with Greek Cypriot connections cannot be allowed to continue. It is much broader than most people realise and interferes with EU trade generally. Let me give an example. The tanker, Hans Scholl, was Liberian flagged and had a German beneficial owner. It was managed by a subsidiary of the German company based in Limassol, chartered by a Danish company and sub-chartered to British Petroleum. It was carrying a cargo of petroleum from France to Turkey without going anywhere near Cyprus. On 6 August, however, it was banned by Turkey from entering a Turkish port, so 27,000 tonnes of gasoline had to be trans-shipped in the open sea off Malta. That cannot be right and cannot be allowed to continue; Turkey must be required to meet its obligations.
Although I would, of course, very much prefer Turkey to recognise the Republic, it does not necessarily have to do so. At the very least, however, the protocol must be implemented wholeheartedly. That is a European Union requirement, and the issue has an
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impact on European Union trade way beyond Cyprus. With the opening of the new pipeline, there will be £4 billion of goods to be shipped. It is difficult to imagine how that can be achieved without Cyprus shipping, bearing in mind that a large part of the world's shipping fleet is Cyprus-flagged.
The obligation on Turkey is not only a legal issue: it is the key to unlocking the Cyprus problem. If implemented effectively and wholeheartedly, the customs union could remove the Greek Cypriot arguments that have put up some of the barriers. It could also lead to the opening of the Famagusta port, probably under European Union management; indeed, the Turkish Cypriots are prepared to negotiate on that. It could then lead to the return of Varosha, and wider progress would become possible.
A free trade zone started by Turkey wholeheartedly implementing the customs union is one of the keys to making progress. Again, one could call it "sequential unilateralism"those, I think, are the new buzzwords in foreign policy. That could well be the way to make some real progress.
We have to be careful, however, in view of the electoral cycle. Elections to the House of Representatives are due in the Republic next May and Turkish parliamentary elections are due in October 2007. There are various municipal elections and by-elections in the TRNC next year and the Republic presidential elections are in February 2008.
However, the Republic is working hard towards meeting a target date of 1 January 2008 for joining the euro, and President Papadopoulos has made great progress in the economy in the south. When people focus on this issue, they fail to recognise the progress that has been made on domestic policy. The Republic economy is being geared towards that target date, and it will be useful to work towards it to see whether a unified Cyprus could join the euro.
What is to be done immediately? Some things are relatively easy. Earlier, I mentioned the need to find finance to deal with the issue of missing persons. Two million Cyprus pounds is not too much for the UK to find, either on its own or with its partners. The census that the Turkish Cypriots have announced is important. They are open to outside monitoring, but no one has asked them so far. We should put it to them that it is important to ensure that the census is crediblethat the right questions are asked, and that it is set up properly and monitored. We must ensure that there is international involvement, sooner rather than later, from either the European Union or the Council of Europe. This is also an opportunity to begin talking to the south about whether it is time for a census there too, because there are a lot of foreign residents in the south.
It is important that European Union documentation is translated into Turkish. The EU must find the funds for that. We should also put pressure on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to stop the building boom in the north and to ease the pressure on the enclaved in Rizokarpasso.
We must recognise the realities and accept that the trade and aid package has to be decoupled. The Turkish Cypriots accept that; indeed, we may be the only ones who are opposed to it. The aid package of €279 million
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should be rolled over to next year. We must try to persuade the EU to undergo the study on the liberalisation of trade to which I referred and to consider implementing the green-line rules in that context. We should also talk to Turkish Cypriots about the way in which their checkpoints are used to prevent diplomatic visits by the Greek Cypriot European Union Commissioner and the European Commission delegate to the Republic; because they are both Greek Cypriots, they cannot cross unless they comply with Turkish Cypriot requirements, which they regard as being incompatible with their diplomatic status.
What is neededthis is the hardest issue because it involves Turkeyis action from Turkey. It should reduce troop levels. If that is too far a step to take, we could consider supervising Turkish troops through greater European involvement in security maintenance, for example. That could be done through NATO or Europe. Turkey has to implement the customs protocol, and we should look to the 2007 date for the republic's accession to Europe as a target for a comprehensive settlement, because time is short.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend's argument. There have been several indications in the press that the United Nations is considering an initiative in Cyprus. What does my hon. Friend think the UN should do to smooth the path to negotiations?
Mr. Dismore : The UN should do pretty much what it is doing. It would be premature to launch a major initiative at this stage because we cannot afford the failure of another initiative. It is important that the UN should continue to engage with both communities, try to identify the gaps between them and start to bridge those gaps. At the moment, the differences are quite wide, and progress has to made in bridging them. It is incumbent on the republic to be a little more specific about its reservations, and incumbent on the Turkish Cypriots to be more flexible in their approach to negotiations. It is important that negotiations are conducted in the correct framework, as no progress will be made if they are open-ended. The UN is taking the right steps, but there is still a lot more ground to prepare if we are to progress.
Mr. Dismore : We debated the Annan plan at length in July 2004, when I was last able to secure an Adjournment debate on this issue, so I do not want to go over old ground and reopen old wounds. We should look forward. Any future framework for a settlement will have to be based on the Annan plan, as there is no point in throwing away work that has been done, but any future settlement must recognise the shortcomings of the Annan plan for both communities, particularly the Greek Cypriot communitythe no voters.
Any adjustment must be by consent, and any future plan must be endorsed by the leaders of both communities. We cannot go forward with a referendum on a plan that is condemned by one side or the other. Unless both sets of community leaders can agree, the
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settlement will not succeed. The international community can help to create the climate and bring the parties together and bridge the gap, but in the end the settlement must come from the people in the island.
Time is short. Despite all that I have said, recent opinion polling and detailed research by Alexandros Lordos and Muharrem Faiz shows that Cypriot public opinion on both sides is relatively close on the terms of settlement, but will start to move apart if the negotiation process does not begin soon. An example of that was the point raised by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers), which I developed, on the question of property rights. That problem will grow harder as time goes by, as the building boom continues. Property rights were not, as I understand it, a deal breaker in the Annan plan as it was, but they may become one if progress is not made and the problem gets worse.There is a risk that parties' positions will become more entrenched and that rejectionists will come more to the fore, as we saw from the treatment of Mr. Arel. I think, therefore, that although time is short we must recognise the problems.
Perhaps I may conclude with a statistic. A quarter of the Greek Cypriots who were alive in 1974 are now no longer alive and 42 per cent. of the Greek Cypriots who are alive today were not born in 1974. In less than 10 years half the population of Greek Cypriots will have no organic link with the north. I should like to give figures for the Turkish Cypriots but I cannot, because there has been no census. However, the longer things continue the harder they get, as the ground changes.
I come back to my crescendo to make a perhaps rather cheeky point, which is that Turkey has an awful lot to do to join the European Union. It must sort out its economy and its political institutions and carry out a huge programme of internal reform. On the face of it, Cyprus may seem a difficult nut to crack, but of all the things that Turkey must do to join the European Union, dealing with Cyprus is one of the easiest, if the political will is there. Turkey should recognise that.
Turkey must decide whether it really wants to be a member of the European Unionor perhaps it is better to say that the Turkish army must decide whether it wants to be part of a modern, democratic state, and withdraw from politics, allowing the will of the Turkish people, as expressed in the previous general election and their continuing support for the Erdogan Government, to prevail, so that Turkey may look to the west and moderniseas the founder of the modern Turkish state, Kemal Atatürk, with his westernising, modernising approach, would very much have liked. Turkish politics has been ossified for too long. Turkey must look to the west. It is its future. It is the future of Europe to include Turkey in the European Union, but it must solve the Cyprus issue first, and sooner rather than later.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on securing this important and timely debate. Like many hon. Members in the Chamber, he has great knowledge of and cares deeply about the Cyprus problem. I pay tribute to President Tassos Papadopoulos for his steadfast and consistent stand, on behalf of the Cypriot people, for a just settlement. He must continue to resist any possibility of a separate legal entity for the illegal regime of occupation in the north of Cyprus.
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There have, of course, been diplomatic tensions between the UK and Cypriot Governments since the referendum in April 2004, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the Annan plan was democratically rejected by an overwhelming majority, and that was right and fair, because it was seriously flawed. Let us clearly understand that every person who believes in democracy must respect the decision of people in referendums, including the decision that the Cypriot people took in April 2004.
Mr. Burrowes : I very much endorse my hon. Friend's comments about the Annan plan and respect for the democratic will of the people of Cyprus. Is not it also important that the US State Department also recognises that? It is perhaps almost isolated now following its recent reiteration that any settlement should be based on that plan, and it needs to realise that it too should respect the will of the people of Cyprus.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I accept that the plan was rejected by people on one side of the island, but it was accepted by those on the other side. The situation is a little more complicated than the hon. Gentleman portrays it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) explained.
Bob Spink : The hon. Gentleman shows great wisdom. The key problem was that Annan did not provide for the reunification of the island. The division was perpetuated. Tassos Papadopoulos stated that as recently as last week. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Cypriot problem is complicated. There are two sides to it, and each side must recognise the other with dignity, tolerance and forgiveness. That is the only way to move forward, which is what the Cypriot people want.
I hope that Europe will continue to give Turkey all the help and encouragement possible in the accession process. That would be good for Cyprus, for the Kurds, for human rights and for the whole region. Anything less would betray the Turkish and Greek Cypriots and would show that some countries in Europe have not yet grown up enough to put progress, peace, human rights and stability before pernicious self-interest.
Cypriot public opinion is moving positively towards the terms of a just settlement. The international community, including America, must act quickly to grasp that nettle and to ensure that it takes advantage of that time. As the hon. Member for Hendon said, the Alexandros Lordos and Muharrem Faiz opinion polls showed that movement. That could be used as the basis of an NGO-type constitutional convention, with discussions ahead of or to accompany United Nations talks between the leaders of the two communities.
The Turkish accession process must be supported by Cyprus and Greece. They must not threaten to use or actually use their vetoes. In return, Turkey must try to make faster progress and show more good will towards a just settlement of the Cyprus problem. It is very much in Turkey's interests to agree to a just settlement, because if it does it will have two new and strong allies, Greece and Cyprus, in its EU accession process.
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There is a need to move quickly, balanced with a need to get the timing right. The UN must begin the settlement process as soon as possible to avoid further entrenchment of both communities. The hon. Members for Hendon and for Edmonton (Mr. Love) implied that timing is everything in politics. Elections to the House of Representatives in Cyprus will be in May next year, and the Turkish elections will be in November. If Erdogan stands and is elected president of Turkey in April 2007, there could be a window of opportunity for Turkey following that presidential election.
Tassos Papadopoulos's first term runs out in February 2008, which is about the time when election fever will be hotting up in this House. If there is to be a UN big push, it will need to be in May next year and should run up to the end of 2007.
A much tougher message needs to come from London on the thorny issue of delivering back property to each community's rightful, individual, legal owners. The rule of law must prevail, including rights of ownership. Anything lessany other precedentwould be a disaster, not just for the Cypriot people, but for the law-abiding world. It would send out the wrong message to rogue states that possession, not law and human rights, will prevail. That would be detrimental to world stability and peace in the longer run. The UK Government must make stronger statements about the improper sale and development of Greek Cypriot land in occupied areas. A shop opened in my constituency advertising land for sale in the north of Cyprus, and I hit the newspapers big time telling my constituents what I thought about that, and quite right too!
We must make sure that everyoneespecially British citizens who are still buying the stolen propertyunderstands that those who bought what amounts to stolen property must take the full loss when the matter is eventually resolved, as it must be. At best, those who buy it are cynical opportunists and at worst they are no better than looters, preying on others' misfortunes. The UK Government have at last woken up to the abuse but are still doing too little, too late. It was wrong to stand by and allow the sale of stolen Cyprus property to be promoted and enacted in the UK. That would not have happened if mere artefacts were involved; the Government prevent that as it is against the law, so why should they allow people's homes to be sold?
Bob Spink : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There is a balance to be struck, and I took the decision to make it absolutely plain to everyone in this country that what is happening is simply wrong. It is unacceptable to go out and purchase property in the north of the island that belongs to individuals in the south of the islandproperty that was their family home. That must not and cannot be tolerated, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman
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is not excusing that irresponsible and unacceptable action. There are times when intemperate language is fair and right.
I want to move on to other issues, including the planned census of people and property in the north of Cyprus, which needs international credibility through the involvement of the Council of Europe or a similar body. Free rather than direct trade is needed, as the hon. Member for Hendon said. The port of Famagusta needs to be opened with international involvement and the customs union between Cyprus and Turkey should be implemented.
On humanitarian matters my language may again be slightly intemperate, and I make no apology for that, because it is necessary. We must respect and understand the missing person issue and fund the committee that the hon. Gentleman mentioned so that it can build on recent developments and employ Inforce to do the necessary work. How could Turkey think that it is ready to be considered to take part in Europe or to be respected by the international community if it cannot allow the relatives of the missing persons to have closure? It is an affront to humanity, and it could so easily be resolved. That would be a measure of Turkey's willingness to change and to do what is right. At last, there are some positive moves in that respect, which I welcome.
I pay tribute to the Greek Cypriot community for the care it is rightly showing to the Turkish Cypriots who are going south looking for jobs and to those who need medical treatment in the south. That is absolutely right and laudable. Each community must show compassion to the other and that is happening; it must happen more.
In addition, the Turkish Cypriots must prepare for the European Union by complying with the acquis and shadowing its requirements, which will help them to plan for settlement and reunification. Another key development is to improve the crossing points, which will help both communities. Cypriots from both sides responded to the opening of the green line in April 2003. There have been huge numbers of contacts and crossings as people literally vote with their feet and there have been hundreds of thousands of peaceful, constructive exchanges in both directions. Although that has slowed somewhat, more crossing points are needed, particularly in the shopping area of Ledra street, hopefully linking to a similar development north of the green line.
In conclusion, the Foreign Office and Government got it wrong after the referendum. They showed disrespect for democracy and sought to deny the self-determination of the people of Cyprus. Their attitude was unsustainable. They did a great disservice to the people of both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities, but it is now time to put that behind us and to set out on a positive road to a just settlement that will stand up to
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international standards and laws, and respect rather than deny the original UN resolutions. Only a just settlement will work and deliver the better life that both communities deserve.
We are gathered to reflect on a grave injustice that was done back in 1974. In my view, 31 years is far too long to wait for a solution to reunify Cyprus. I take this opportunity to urge the Minister and the international community as a whole to redouble their efforts to help Cypriots find the elusive solution that will reunify their island, and to find a just, balanced and lasting settlement. I emphasise, as others have already, that no settlement will work unless it has the whole-hearted consent and support of both communities. No settlement will stick and last without that.
We should seek a solution that balances the interests of the two communities within a federal structure in a single state, so that we can bring the island back together as it was before the disruption of 1974. Like others, I believe that the Annan plan 5 is well and truly dead. There is no point in trying to revive it. As parliamentarians, we need to urge the international community to start fresh negotiations between the two communities to work for a new plan that will address the serious reservations of many Cypriots about Annan 5.
There is no justification for criticism of the result of a democratic referendum. We have to address why so many Cypriots voted no to Annan 5. A particular concern was expressed about security, but there were also serious concerns about long-term restrictions on free movement. The Cypriots would have been deprived of the fundamental rights that one would normally expect to enjoy as a citizen of a European Union member state.
In particular, property will be an issue that it is vital to get right. It is not simply a financial matter; it is a human tragedy that saw thousands of people driven from the homes in which they had grown up, with, in many cases, nothing more than the clothes on their back. I have heard countless poignant and desperately sad stories about Cypriots going back across the line to see their old homes, and perhaps finding some of their furniture or their wedding photographs carefully stored by those who have occupied the premises. It is vital that we recognise the value of returning people to the homes that they lost in 1974, which they still remember.
It is vital that we take action as soon as possible. As we have heard, Annan 5 has encouraged a building boom in the northern part of Cyprus that is steadily making it more difficult to reach a solution and deal with the property issues. More and more land owned by Greek Cypriots, from which they were driven in 1974, is being built on. That must increase the urgency with which we address the issue.
I intend to keep my speech as short as possible, because I know that many others would like to contribute. The Foreign Office must strengthen its warnings to British citizens who consider buying property in northern Cyprus. It is highly irresponsible
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for anyone to encourage the purchase of property that might have been stolen from its original Greek Cypriot owners. I echo the comments of a number of hon. Members on the matter.
It is vital in the EU negotiation process that Turkey is encouraged to co-operate and make progress on the issue of Cyprus. It should clearly recognise the Government of Cyprus. I cannot see how it can negotiate for EU membership with a range of Governments, including the Cypriot Government, if it does not recognise every one of the Governments with which it is negotiating. The authorities in north Cyprus should stop the discrimination that we have seen against enclaved Greek Cypriots, particularly in Rizakarpasso, with the continuing problems that they have had in accessing education at the high school. We should take a fundamentally optimistic view of the future in Cyprus.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): There is some concern that the gap between two communities is too wide to start negotiations at this stage. That is primarily because, on one side, there is rejection of the Annan plan and, on the other, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Talat have made it clear that the basis of a solution has to be the Annan plan. How do we bring those two sides closer together to start that process of negotiation?
Mrs. Villiers : I was going to explain why I am fundamentally optimistic. My view is based on looking back at the past, where it was clear that Greek and Turkish Cypriots could live happily side by side. I also view it from the perspective of the present, where I can see the huge cultural overlap between the outlook of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, both in the UK and in Cyprus itself. One of the tasks that we face as British parliamentarians is to rebuild that trust. If the communities are allowed to live together, there is no question of violence erupting. They have a huge amount in common, and I believe that they can live and work together harmoniously.
David Lepper : The hon. Lady mentioned the role of the UK Government in relation to rebuilding that trust. Does she agree that there is a twofold responsibility on the part of the UK Government? First, Cyprus is a member of the EU already, and Turkey is not. That gives the UK a particular role. Secondly, Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth, which gives an additional responsibility to our Government in relation to the legitimacy of the republic of Cyprus.
Mrs. Villiers : I completely agree. The British Government have always had a pivotal role in Cyprus and should use their influence in the United Nations, in the European Union during their presidency and in the Commonwealth to drive forward the search for a just and peaceful solution of the Cyprus question.
In concluding, I should declare an interest on Cyprusperhaps I should have done so at the start of my speech. I had the pleasure of visiting Morphou for a rally recently hosted by the municipality of Morphou. I also received support from the Cypriot community in my election campaign.
I urge the Minister to take on board what so many speakers have said today about the urgent need for the British Government to take action. I urge the Minister
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to visit Cyprus at the earliest opportunity to talk to Cypriots, to learn about the past and to drive forward a solution towards a just and unified Cyprus. As it holds the presidency of the European Union, the UK has a unique opportunity at a vital time. I urge the Minister to make the most of that opportunity so that we can see Cyprus united once more.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I speak as Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, but I shall refer to a report published by that Committee during the previous Parliament, when I was not a member. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for providing the opportunity for this debate. Almost exactly a year ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee visited Cyprus following the rejection of the Annan plan in a referendum. The Committee produced a report that was published in February, to which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responded in April. The House has not had an opportunity to debate that report, and I speak today to give hon. Members at least a flavour of it.
Many key points have already been covered, and I am conscious of time so I shall be as brief as possible. The Foreign Affairs Committee has received a written response from the Government to many of our recommendations, and I have written to the Foreign Secretary to further pursue developments under the UK presidency of the European Union. When the Select Committee published its report, Luxembourg held the EU presidency. The six-month period of the UK presidency is significant for the reasons mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper), but also because the UK is a guarantor power. Turkey and the UK are both members of NATO and therefore have a considerable interest in the complications caused in a number of international organisations by the continuing failure to resolve the situation in Cyprus.
At its last sitting, the Foreign Affairs Committee was critical in some respects of the attitude of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus to the process of negotiations. The Committee was also critical of aspects of the policies of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot entity. The Committee took a view, howevercontrary to what has been said by some earlier contributorsthat a modified version of the Annan plan represented the best way forward and that the plan was not dead. It is important to recognise that there may be a need to make changes to that plan.
"in any future negotiations on a settlement based on the Annan plan, the parties be invited to consider accelerating the withdrawal of Turkish and Greek forces and the demilitarisation of Cypriot forces".
The Committee welcomed the British Government's offer to halve the size of the sovereign base area territory, but that is only an interim step towards an ultimate solution that deals with the decisions of the Greek Cypriot elected representatives.
It is important that any resumed negotiations take account of significant changes among Turkish Cypriot people, as well as the economic developments that have taken place. The fact that the Turkish Cypriots voted for the Annan plan, despite the position of Mr Denktash, is of fundamental importance and should not be dismissed. We do ourselves no favours if we see this matter with regard simply to the position in 1974. The position in 1974 is important, and the issues raised by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) and others are fundamental to a long-term solution. However, it must be recognised that the Turkey of the recent past is different from the Turkey of 1974. The decision of 3 October gives the potential for a process of transformation in Turkey. It is not in Turkey's interests to have a continuing problem with other EU states as a result of its presence on the island of Cyprus. If we take intelligent and practical measures over the coming years, we have a real opportunity to take matters forward. That was broadly what the Foreign Affairs Committee argued in its report earlier this year, and I am grateful for the opportunity to refer to it today.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on securing this debate. He has a long record of initiating such debates; his interest in the island of Cyprus is well known and recorded, and he spoke with knowledge. We have seen broad cross-party support for the British Government in recent years, and I hope that it will continue. I shall keep my remarks relatively brief so that the Minister has plenty of time to respond to the important points that have been raised.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) made a robust speech in which he showed his knowledge not only of Cyprus but of the wider Mediterranean area. He raised some interesting points. The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) spoke of balance, something surely needed in a future settlement of the island of Cyprus. It epitomises what we should strive to achieve. The hon. Lady's predecessor, Sir Sydney Chapman, who often spoke in such debates, would have been proud of what she said.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, of which I am delighted to be a humble member, spoke with the great knowledge associated with that important position. In an intervention, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) mentioned the Commonwealth. Yes, Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth, but Britain has a direct responsibility for its sovereign base areas in Cyprus.
Britain very much welcomes and values the importance of our two important sovereign base areas. We also value the close relationship between the British
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military community and the Cyprus community. There have been problems in the past, but those bases are largely welcomed by the island community. The bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia remain integral to our defence, and we commend the effort and determination of our troops on the island.
My party believes that Cyprus can succeed as an independent state only with reconciliation and respect for the fundamental rights of the Turkish and the Greek communities. A future settlement of property rights must recognise the legitimate claims of the Greek Cypriot population who were evicted in 1974, but without causing the social injustice that many in the north feel might result. We call for the ending of restrictive Government policies on mobility and property and we call for the settlement of both communities within the islands. The leaders of the two communities must exercise the political will necessary to establish a democratic, bicameral, two-party federal state with a single international identity, its independence being guaranteed by the United Nations.
We broadly support the Foreign Office's and Europe Union's position on Cyprus, and we regret that the UN plan was not adopted. However, it is hoped that some elements of the plan might form the basis of a future settlement.
I mentioned trade in an intervention on the hon. Member for Hendon. Some in the European Parliament have put forward a case for direct trade to be established with northern Cyprus in order to relieve the economic impoverishment of the Turkish Cypriots; and 24 of the 25 EU member state Governments of the Council of Ministers approved the principle. However, it has been blocked by the Government of Cyprus. We regret that. The Council of Ministers pledged to end the isolation of northern Cyprus in the wake of a yes vote for the UN-Annan plan for political settlement, yet despite calls from MEPs there has been no direct trade or financial assistance. We believe that it would have assisted the political settlement and helped to finalise the dispute.
Many people believe that the solution will be found only through ongoing Turkish negotiations with the EU. Cyprus was one of the 10 new states to join the EU in 2004, but it joined as a divided island. The Turkish Cypriots are in a strange situation. Since 1976, the island has been viewed by the UN as one island, and it joined the EU as one island. However, even though Turkish Cypriots are viewed as EU citizens, the wider world does not recognise their Government, and thus Turkish Cypriots are not represented.
We have always maintained that Turkey should be a full member of the EU in order to maintain good trade links and international relations with the country. Those links must be subject to the accountability of the European Parliament, but Turkish accession must also be subject to the appropriate timing of compatible economic and human rights policies. It may be difficult for Turkey to join the EU if it continues to refuse to acknowledge Cyprus as a member state in its own right. That may cause difficulties, but it is unacceptable to
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expect Turkey, in order to gain accession to the EU, to make concessions to Cyprus. To do so would deprive Turkish Cypriots of their communal identity. Therefore it is fundamental that the Turkish and Greek Presidents work bilaterally, as well as within the EU, to create a harmonious federal state in Cyprus.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). I join him in congratulating the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on securing what has been a good and constructive debate.
The hon. Member for Hendon began by speaking about the lack of trust and the air of depression that he had encountered on his recent visit to Cyprus. He moved on, however, to talk about the more hopeful signs that we see on the island. I join him in welcoming those encouraging signs and a more optimistic future.
We frequently find ourselves in the House talking about what is wrong with the European Union. I have had many exchanges with the Minister for Europe on the subject. Differences exist among the parties on the various issues. However, we hold a common belief in the capacity of the European Union to help to build and secure freedom, democracy and rule of law, particularly for new member states. If we can contribute to resolving Cyprus's problems, we would all greatly welcome that.
The beginning of the Turkish accession talks promises a time of great opportunity in many ways, one of the most important of which is the openings for movement towards a peaceful resolution of Cyprus's problems. We know that those resolutions will not be easily or quickly achieved. Many hon. Members have referred to the Annan plan and the referendum that followed it. The lesson that must be learned is that a lasting, peaceful reunification of Cyprus cannot be achieved over the heads of its people. As the hon. Member for Hendon said, both communities' consent is required if we are to make progress.
It is unfortunate that more progress could not be made on the Cyprus question before the Turkish accession talks began. We must therefore recognise where we are and start from there. We must look positively at the influence that can be brought to bear, on Turkey in particular, during the accession process. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) said, it is important that Turkey's recognition of Cyprus as a member state is not held off until Turkish accession arrives, whether that be in 10 or 15 years. Recognition of Cyprus is an essential sign of Turkish good will and commitment to joining the European Union.
The accession agreement requires progress on the normalisation of relations. That progress should include measures to tackle the real problems, such as the criminal justice issues to which the hon. Member for Hendon referred.
The hon. Gentleman also made the telling point that, in many ways, the Cyprus question is an easier one for Turkey to resolve than some of the other large challenges that lie ahead on that country's road to accession. I hope that that wise guidance will be heard.
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The United Kingdom's special role and position in its relationship with Cyprus has also been mentioned. I therefore welcome the new, structured dialogue agreed by the Deputy Prime Minister that is due to start in January. Britain should maintain close relations, friendship and dialogue with Cyprus. I hope that the wounds of recent disagreements between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Cyprus can be healed. I echo remarks made about the British Government's response to the referendum, which was unfortunate.
It may be a little surprising that it is the Deputy Prime Minister's diplomatic skills that have been brought to bear in pouring oil on the troubled waters that were caused by the Foreign Secretary's involvement in the issue but, however surprising, it is none the less welcome, because Britain's history and close connections give us a vital role in resolving the problems of Cyprus. Those problems are very real, and we have heard a great deal about them this morning. They include the settlement-building that is taking place in the northpossibly fuelled by the Annan plan, which may make a settlement harder to achieve, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) said. There is also a need for proper and full implementation of the EU Customs union. The hon. Member for Hendon was right to say that free and open trade would give considerable impetus for change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) spoke passionately about the need for compassion, tolerance and maturity on both sides if we are to move forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet rightly reminded hon. Members of the very real human tragedies of Cyprus, but also of how much the communities have in common. That was a message of hope for the future.
I want to leave time for the Minister to address all the issues that have been raised, so I shall conclude by saying that anyone who listened to our proceedings this morning could not doubt the complexity of and the difficulty in finding a solution to the problems of Cyprus. However, I believe that this is a time of real hope. The Government were right to press forward with the start of Turkish accession talks. A resolution of the problems of Cyprus will not be the only benefit of Turkish accession, if that can be achieved, but it should be regarded as an important one.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander) : From the Conservative Front Bench, the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) concluded his remarksnot in the same manner as the crescendo that we anticipated and then enjoyed from my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore)by saying that anyone who listened to our debate today would be aware of the complexity of the issue and the challenge that faces all of us in relation to Cyprus. I would add that anyone listening to the debate that we have enjoyed this morning would reflect on the great credit that it brings to the House of Commons that we
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can stillsometimes away from the television cameras and the press reportersenjoy a debate of such quality.
I therefore begin my remarks by congratulating my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Rather elliptically, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) acknowledged the fact that my hon. Friend has some form on Adjournment debates in the House, and is well known for his expertise in that regard. My hon. Friend more than matched that record today by demonstrating his expertise, long-standing interest and concern for the issues of Cyprus, and I pay due regard to that. I am also aware that this Adjournment debate takes place after my hon. Friend's recent visit to Cyprus between 5 and 7 October. I believe that the House is well served in having individuals with such personal and direct experience, such constituency interest and such expertise as has been manifest in the course of the debate today. I welcome the opportunity to discuss Cyprus and the points raised in today's debate. In the time available to me I shall endeavour to cover most of the specific points that have been put to me in the course of the past hour.
The Government have always worked hard in support of efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement in Cyprus, brokered under the auspices of the United Nations. I am sure that the House will agree that the search for a settlement must remain an important priority for the Governmentthat sentiment was echoed in some of the remarks made by hon. Members today. After more than three decades of efforts to find a solution, it is a matter of genuine and great regret that the island remains divided, and that the communities on the islandabout which we have heard this morningand the stability of the region and the international community as a whole, continue to suffer as a result. The Government firmly believe that every effort must be made to achieve a comprehensive settlement. Time is not on our side, for some of the reasons given by my hon. Friend. Many of the points made in today's debate have confirmed my belief that the longer the current division continues, the more intractable the issues become.
My hon. Friend raised, in particular, the concerns of Greek Cypriots about the ongoing situation in the north. I know that the property boom, the presence of Turkish troops and the number of Turkish nationals living in the north are a matter of great concern for many people who take a close interest in Cyprus. All those issues are at the heart of the Cyprus problem and underline the urgent need to achieve a settlement.
On the specific issue of property, which my hon. Friend and other hon. Members mentioned, I can assure the House that we maintain a dialogue with the Turkish Cypriots on all Cyprus settlement issues, including that of property. However, we are not able to prevent property development, and the authorities themselves face powerful economic forces in a perverse political environment. It is a matter of great regret that the island did not reunite on the basis of the Secretary-General's proposals of last year, with the system of property restitution and compensation that was anticipated by the Annan plan. However, we continue to believe that the difficult and complicated issues relating to property in Cyprus can realistically be resolved only as part of the comprehensive Cyprus settlement. That reinforces
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the importance of achieving a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the Annan plan as soon as possible.
Mr. Love : Two weeks ago, the Saturday edition of the Financial Times featured a large article on purchasing property in northern Cyprus. If one read it very carefully, one found a little mention in one paragraph of the fact that legal difficulties might attend the purchase of such property. Should the Government do more to bring to the attention of those who might read such articles some of the difficulties that might occur?
Mr. Alexander : I am grateful for the question, because it anticipates a point that I was going to make on the efforts that the Government are making, and the steps that we are taking in relation to exactly that kind of issue.
We do not encourage British citizens to buy property in the north of Cyprus; through our travel advice, our website and in response to queries we explain clearly that property issues are closely linked to the political situation on the island, and we mention the risk to purchasers who could face legal proceedings in the courts of the Republic. We also advise potential purchasers of property to seek independent qualified legal advice and explain that the non-recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the possibility of a future political settlement in Cyprus could have significant practical financial implications for those considering buying property in the north.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) made clear the efforts that he has made in his community to bringrather forcefully, I suspectto the attention of prospective purchasers the risks facing those who would be persuaded by the kind of advertisement of which my hon. Friend spoke. We have a responsibility in Government, and I have sought to explain the steps that we are taking. I urge hon. Members, particularly those whose constituents might be interested in acquiring property in that part of the world, to make their concerns known directly to such people.
In the past year, there have been both encouraging developments on the path towards a resumption of settlement negotiations and some causes for concern, as has been reflected in the debate. Let me address some of the specific questions that have been put to us about the prospects for renewing talks after the result of the referendums.
We believe that new settlement talks in Cyprus can be initiated only with the support of both communities on the island. The recent report by Sir Kieran Prendergast, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, following his visit to the island in May, concluded that the gap between the stated positions of the parties appears to be widening, while confidence between them is not high. The point was made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon that that makes the process of establishing common ground extremely difficult. The United Kingdom Government, however, remain committed to achieving a fair, viable and lasting settlement in Cyprus for the benefit of all Cypriots. We therefore maintain our contact with all parties and encourage all sides to show the necessary political will and readiness to negotiate to achieve that goal.
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On a practical level I know that, immediately following the 30 hours of negotiation in which the Foreign Secretary and I participated on 3 October to secure the beginning of accession talks with Turkey, our Foreign Secretary was in direct contact with the Secretary-General of the United Nations in order to explore with him the potential for further action, given the changed context of the opening of accession talks.
The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about whether the attitude of the Foreign Office after the referendum was somehow unacceptable or biased. I refute that charge absolutely. Our objective was and remains, as I have said, the achievement of a comprehensive settlement in the interests of all Cypriots, and in that we maintain a close and constructive dialogue with all parties.
The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) impressed upon me the importance of respecting the democratic nature of the vote that was exercised in relation to the Annan 5 plan. I assure her that we do respect the outcome of the referendum and the fact that many Greek Cypriots expressed their genuine concerns in their rejection of the referendum proposals. However, I repeat that any future changes to the plan will need to be acceptable to both sides. Notwithstanding the fact that that was perhaps not evident in our discussions this morning, it bears heavily on the importance of trying to find a way forward in light of the rejection of which a number of hon. Members have spoken.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon raised the questions of the Turkish implementation of the protocol and, in particular, access to Turkish ports. Let us be clear: by signing the protocol, Turkey has committed to implementing its terms. To quote the EC directly:
"The European Community and its Member States expect full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol, and the removal of all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on means of transport."
In relation to the broader question of crime and drugs across the green line, the European Union has made clear the need to de-isolate the Turkish Cypriots and bring them closer to the EU, fulfilling the mandate from EU Foreign Ministers last year. Helping Turkish Cypriots to raise standards in the north would, I believe, have a beneficial effect on the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants from northern Cyprus into the Republic of Cyprus and the rest of the EU.
Mr. Brady : The Minister referred to the expectation that the protocol should be fully implemented. Could he enlighten us as to what steps are being taken to ensure that and suggest by which date we expect it to be the case?
Mr. Alexander : I am not able to give a definitive date at the moment, but I can assure the House of my good faith. As recently as the day of the Hampton Court summit, I met Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and impressed on him the importance of seeing progress on that as well as on a number of issues. That is reflective of a general desire on the part of the British Government
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to make the Government of Turkey fully aware of their responsibilities under the protocol as well as the need to maintain the momentum established on 3 October to try to drive forward the process. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are using the opportunities available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon raised the matter of the recent elections to the Turkish Cypriot chamber of commerce. That is not a matter usually discussed on the Floor of the House, but it is important as it tells us about the dynamics in Turkish Cypriot politics. I will not comment in detail on the specifics of who was elected and who was not and on the internal procedures of the chamber, but I can assure the House that our high commissioner has met the chamber of commerce's new president, who has stressed his commitment to recognising its responsibilities and relationships with the EU. It is a matter of which we are aware and on which work is under way.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the importance of finance for missing persons. We strongly support the work of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. The United Kingdom contributed $50,000 to the work of the committee last year and we are actively considering a further contribution in the light of the important work it undertakes. We are in discussion with other member states about what further steps can be taken at an EU level to encourage that work.
David Lepper : On the question of missing persons, would the Minister agree that the Turkish army has an obligation to make available the full records of those who were arrested at the time of the occupation in 1974 to enable proper investigations to take place?
Mr. Alexander : Clearly, difficulties in access to information have been encountered in the past. I hope that the sentiment I have expressed and our financial contribution speak to the fact that we would not support the committee if we did not support its aims, which are that information should be established about all the missing people related to the terrible and difficult events that took place.
Notwithstanding the many challenges, it is also important to maintain a sense of perspective, despite the considerable challenges that still confront us. I was enormously encouraged by the EU's historic decision on 3 October to open accession negotiations with Turkey. As well as being the right decision on its own grounds, I strongly argue that it is also the right result for the European Union, for Turkey and for Cyprus. Steady progress in Turkey's accession negotiation process will encourage normalisation of relations between Turkey and Cyprus, as the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West acknowledged. That should in turn help to increase trust and interaction between the parties and provide a sure context for a resumption of those negotiations.
I am encouraged by moves such as the opening of additional crossing points on the green line in Cyprus and the progress towards opening a further crossing point in
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the centre of Nicosia on Ledra street. The work of the Committee on Missing Persons, with the increased contribution and engagement of both communities, is also promising, notwithstanding the continuing challenges that have been mentioned. We are making every effort to work with the Republic of Cyprus to build a broader base of bilateral co-operation.
During his visit to Cyprus in late October, the Deputy Prime Minister signed the memorandum of understanding establishing a structured dialogue on bilateral co-operation, as agreed by the Prime Minister and the President when they met in July. The hon. Gentleman suggested, gently, that there was surprise about the role of the Deputy Prime Minister and the constructive contribution that he is already recognised as having made in that regard. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I personally can testify that not simply internationally but sometimes even domestically my right hon. Friend is able to pour oil on troubled waters. My right hon. Friend was also involved in discussion about the prospects of the resumption of United Nations' negotiations with representatives of both sides of the island during an important and timely visit.
I am concerned that the stated positions of the parties on the elements that will need to be discussed during a resumption of negotiations regrettably remains far apart. The report produced by UN Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast after he visited the island in May underlined how wide that gap remains.
I am also concerned that to date the EU has not been successful in meeting its commitments to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, an issue addressed in the wide-ranging contribution of the hon. Member for Hereford. As the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said, the Turkish Cypriots showed their continued support for the settlement and for a reunited Cyprus in the EU at the referendums in 2004 and in subsequent elections. But the more the Turkish Cypriots are left isolated by the international community, the more that elements in the north of Cyprus who oppose a just Cyprus settlement will flourish. We must not allow that to happen, so we will continue to do all we can to ensure that the EU lives up to these commitments.
The Commission has put forward proposals for financial assistance and preferential trade. As hon. Members said, it has proven enormously difficult for member states to agree these measures, but our duty while we have the presidency is to make every effort to do so; we will continue to work to that end with our European Union partners beyond the end of our presidency.
I listened carefully to the contributions from both sides of the House in this wide-ranging debate. I assure hon. Members that we will continue to take forward the work that I discussed when I met the Prime Minister of Turkey and which the Deputy Prime Minister took forward during his recent visit to the island. I assure the House that, not least for all the reasons we have heardthe sovereign bases, the guarantor role, our role in the European Union and in NATOCyprus continues to be one of the key areas of priority for the Government.
8 Nov 2005 : Column 49WH
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