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Volume 518: debated on Tuesday 16 November 2010

Although I am extremely grateful to have secured this debate, it is unfortunate that, 36 years on, the Cyprus problem remains unresolved. There have been many staging posts along the way, where hopes have been raised and dashed. The tolerance and discipline of the Cypriot people must be recognised and not seen in any way as a weakness, because they have a determination to win back their island.

Despite UN Security Council resolutions calling on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Northern Cyprus, Turkey has stubbornly refused to do so. In fact, Turkey has declared on more than one occasion that if it has to make a choice between Cyprus and its accession to the EU, it will choose Cyprus.

Indeed, these very days remind us of Turkey’s continuing intransigence over the years. Rather than working to implement the high-level agreements of Makarios-Denktash in 1977 and Kyprianou-Denktash in 1979, on 15 November 1983 Turkey instigated and supported separatist acts by the Turkish Cypriot leadership with an illegal unilateral declaration of independence of the northern part of Cyprus. That action prompted UN Security Council resolutions 541 of 1983 and 550 of 1984, which condemned the UDI, declared it illegal and called for its immediate withdrawal. As a result, no country in the world has recognised the illegal regime, except Turkey, which funds it and exercises virtual control over it.

The newly elected leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, Mr Dervis Eroglu, continues to advocate the same separatist policies on Cyprus. On the anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus earlier this year, he said:

“After 20 July 1974 there has been a new geography and two separate states, two separate peoples, two separate republics and two separate sides”.

It is against that backdrop of intransigence that President Christofias of Cyprus continues to negotiate in good faith for a lasting solution to the Cyprus issue.

To counter the intransigence of the Turkish Cypriots on the property issue, the President of Cyprus recently made several proposals: to conduct an independent census of population and property ownership in Cyprus; to link the issue of property with that of settlers, as they are interdependent; that the ghost town of Varosha should be returned to its inhabitants; and that the port of Famagusta should be opened, under the supervision of the EU, for the purposes of trade between the Turkish Cypriots and the EU.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are tremendous fears about whether the Turkish Cypriots will take those issues at all seriously in the negotiations and discussions that are to be held on 18 November?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and we must do all we can: I hope that this debate will reinforce this Government’s insistence that Turkey take those negotiations or discussions seriously. I thank him for that important intervention.

The meeting on 18 November at the UN between the UN Secretary General, President Christofias and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community will provide a good opportunity for the Turkish side to show its respect for UN resolutions and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and to respond positively to the various proposals put forward by the President of Cyprus. We must remain optimistic and sincerely hope that the meeting will prove to be successful, and that Turkey will take seriously not only the concerns of the Cypriot people, but those of the international community.

Sadly, to date the Turkish verbal support for the ongoing negotiations has not been met by their deeds—not a single step has been taken to that effect. Within the context of negotiations, Turkey has rejected all the proposals put forward by the President of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey still maintains illegally a 40,000-strong occupation army in Cyprus, it has not implemented the Ankara protocol vis-à-vis the Republic of Cyprus, and it has repeatedly used the so-called “isolation” of the Turkish Cypriots as a pretext for the political upgrading of the non-recognised entity—the Turkish Northern Republic of Cyprus, or TNRC—in Cyprus.

Mr Brady, I want to take this opportunity to welcome the high commissioner from Cyprus, who has joined us today for this very important debate.

Having visited Cyprus, I saw at first hand, as others have done, that Turkish Cypriots are far from isolated. More than 60,000 Turkish Cypriots have passports and identity cards of the Republic of Cyprus and therefore of the European Union, allowing them to travel freely across Europe and to benefit from Cypriot health care and social security. In addition, more than 10,000 Turkish Cypriots cross the green line every day to work in the Republic of Cyprus. Moreover, Turkish Cypriots are able to trade their goods freely in the Republic of Cyprus and export them overseas, through the recognised ports and airports of the Republic of Cyprus. However, they are prevented from doing so by the Turkish Cypriot authorities.

It is equally unfortunate that Turkey’s intransigence has been rewarded with a seat on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member and that both Europe and the US are prepared to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s activities.

May I also say, in a non-partisan way, that the recent visit by our own Prime Minister to Turkey did nothing to help the Cyprus problem? While he was publicly supportive of Turkey, unfortunately he did not make public mention of the Cyprus problem. However, I am led to believe that he made a private call to President Christofias. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that that was indeed the case.

I think that the Prime Minister actually mentioned in his speech that Turkey had to resolve the Cyprus issue, so it is not quite correct to say that he did not mention it. That may need to be checked. I read his speech and he specifically said in his speech that the Turkish authorities had to resolve the Cyprus issue.

I have not had the good fortune of reading the speech; I am led only by press and media reports. However, let me say at the outset that I do not wish this issue to become a partisan one. I also put on record that my own party, when it was in government, did very little—if anything—to solve the Cyprus problem. So it is not a question of apportioning blame. When my party was in government, it was just as poor at addressing the Cyprus problem.

Some of the other areas that I want to cover are the issues surrounding the missing persons of the 1974 invasion, the destruction of the cultural heritage of Cyprus, the restoration of property rights and Turkey’s accession to the EU.

Can my hon. Friend add to that list of issues his response to the orchestrated campaign in the media in relation to suggestions that, if the talks at the UN in New York are not successful, it may lead to a two-state solution for Cyprus?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. There is a school of thought—certainly among the Cypriot people—that regards the press and media as biased toward Turkey. I sincerely hope that the discussions next week will take a balanced approach.

Many colleagues here today have visited Cyprus, seen it for themselves and heard stories about the young men and women who went missing during the invasion, never to be seen again. Their loved ones’ heart-breaking stories cannot fail to leave a lasting emotional imprint on all of us. Those families have the fundamental human right to find out what happened to their loved ones, and we as a Government should be asking Turkey to facilitate that request. To this day, the whereabouts of more than 1,400 individuals are still unknown. It is a human tragedy that should not be allowed to continue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the 1,400 young men and women who went missing during and after the invasion should be a main item on the agenda at this week’s meeting? It is now 2010, and there are 1,400 families with missing people. Should that not be a main theme on the agenda at the meeting on Thursday 18 November?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One cannot overestimate the distress caused to the loved ones of the missing Cypriot people. All that they ask of the Turkish people and the Turkish Government is to understand the severity of their feelings. It should be a crucial part of the discussions to bring some conclusion to that problem.

The destruction of Cyprus’s cultural heritage is equally unacceptable. In 1965, Turkey ratified the Hague convention of 1954 on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict. Nevertheless, since Turkey’s intervention and subsequent occupation of Cyprus in 1974, it has been responsible for the devastation, vandalism and looting of the island’s cultural heritage on a scale unworthy of any civilised nation, let alone a prospective EU member. According to the Church of Cyprus, more than 500 churches and monasteries in the northern part of Cyprus have been destroyed, and some 15,000 small relics have been looted. Some colleagues and I recently visited the annual Morphou rally and saw for ourselves the graveyards and cemeteries that have been devastated. I am more than happy to pass the photographs to the Minister if he should require to see them.

Colleagues will also be aware of the indefensible isolation of Famagusta, or Varosha as it is known in Cyprus. The city has been left to rot while the rest of the world has moved on. Many Cypriots can only look on with horror and dismay while their properties are occupied by strangers. Turkey’s invasion of 1974 left 200,000 refugees homeless, many of whom fled their homes with few or no belongings. There is no doubt that if Turkey wished and had the political will to find a satisfactory conclusion to the problem, we could find a way to restore the properties to their rightful owners.

Turkey has effectively created a so-called state in northern Cyprus, to the detriment not only of the Greek Cypriots whose property was confiscated by the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus but of the Turkish Cypriots who have suffered under Turkish rule by becoming a minority in the northern part of Cyprus. According to the Turkish Cypriot press, Turkey has transferred 180,000 settlers into northern Cyprus, with the consequence that Turkey has imposed its ideology there. More mosques than schools have been built in northern Cyprus—181 mosques to 162 schools—and the crime rate has soared due to uncontrolled immigration from Turkey. Education and health services are becoming overburdened. The Turkish Cypriot media also report that in order to enshrine the ideological shift further, Turkey is now demanding that settlers account for more than 50% of new appointments in the civil service, police, education and health services.

That is the backdrop to the relentless efforts by Turkey and those who blindly champion its membership of the European Union to push for outcomes that legitimise all the grave consequences of Turkey’s illegal invasion and 36-year military occupation of the northern part of the island.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important and timely debate as we look to the UN meeting on Thursday. Does he acknowledge that Cyprus itself supports Turkey’s accession to Europe? Obviously, that cannot happen unless the Cyprus problem is resolved, but he mentioned blindly supporting accession. The Cyprus Government are willing to go down that path as long as the Cyprus issue is settled.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That will be a crucial part of the discussions, and the Turkish authorities must take it seriously. I certainly hope that they will.

I wish the UN negotiations every success. There is no doubt that they are complex, but they must be solved in order to draw a line under the Cyprus problem. However, the key to a solution is in the hands of the Turkish Government and authorities in occupied northern Cyprus. A solution that reunites the island for the benefit of all Cypriots and leads to the withdrawal of the Turkish occupation army from the island will boost Turkey’s chances of joining the EU more than any other single factor, but that will require Turkey to change its bullying behaviour and give the Cypriot people a chance to live in peace in their own free and united country.

I remind my colleagues of Cyprus’s long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship with the United Kingdom. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities constitute a strong and vibrant part of British society, predominantly in London, the midlands and Manchester. Equally, Cyprus welcomes more than 1.7 million British tourists to its shores every year. In addition to that mutually beneficial relationship, we have a special responsibility as a guarantor power of Cyprus’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Therefore, we must be an honest friend of Cyprus and help the two communities reach a solution for Cypriots and by Cypriots that safeguards the whole island’s territorial integrity and unity. After all, any proposed solution must be put to a referendum. The last effort to solve the Cyprus problem, in 2004, demonstrated what can happen when an imbalanced solution proposed by third parties lacks the support of the people.

Some people argue that the Cyprus problem has had its day, that its shelf life is over and that only elderly people in Cyprus pay attention to it. I have a letter from Alexis Stavrou, president of NEPOMAK, the world organisation for young overseas Cypriots in the UK. It is an extensive, emotional and fact-finding letter, and I am more than happy to share it with any colleagues who wish to see it. I wish for a satisfactory solution to the Cyprus problem in the near future.

This is an important and timely debate, and I welcome the opportunity to speak as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Cyprus. I see colleagues here who are officers and members of that group, and recognise that the spirit of the debate is an all-party one. We want to make a consensus point to the Minister that it is important that we take extremely seriously this country’s responsibilities as a guarantor power and do not simply sit on the sidelines. We need to make it clear that the Cyprus problem must be solved and the island reunited.

There was a debate on the subject last year and the Library prepared a standard note dated 4 November 2009, which states:

“many commentators have suggested that the current window of opportunity may well be closed if the presidential elections in the north in April 2010 bring in a nationalist president. The current prospects for a settlement have been put at about two in five.”

I am not sure what people would say the prospects are now. In the north, a nationalist politician has been elected. Nevertheless—as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) said—despite the campaign during that election for a two-state solution, talks have continued. We must recognise that engagement has continued on the basis of the United Nations framework, which clearly refers to a federal bi-zonal, bi-communal solution. That is the framework everyone will be discussing as they approach the United Nations meeting.

The debate is timely given that, as was mentioned in an intervention, reference has been made to the subject in the media by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who raised the spectre of partition. I want to refer to that article—indeed, I have given notice to the right hon. Gentleman that I wish to do so. We have had such debates before; indeed, many colleagues here have also been involved in those discussions. At least 70 talks have taken place, and there may be fatigue in relation to the issue. When we discuss concerns about overseas disasters, colleagues will deplore—as I do—references to compassion fatigue. That becomes imbued when people do not react as they should do to what is happening, and simply accept and tolerate a situation because it goes on and on. My constituency has perhaps the most Cypriots of any—both Greek and Turkish Cypriots—and during my time as a Member of Parliament, I have seen a degree of “Cyprus fatigue” occurring, if one may put it that way. The question is whether Parliament itself has been guilty of that as the years have gone by—or, indeed, whether the British Government have been guilty of it.

My constituents will not allow that to happen. They remind me—if not daily, then weekly—of how, at these times, such a situation is not acceptable. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots in my constituency want a settlement and a reunited Cyprus. Many of them are refugees and, as has been said, they miss their loved ones. They do not know the truth of what happened, and they cannot even begin the process of reconciliation without that information. I defy anyone attending the rallies held in July by those who are still missing loved ones to go out on to College Green and be fatigued from hearing the protest and seeing the pictures of those loved ones. I encourage everyone to attend such rallies, when we get to that point in July. When we are reminded of the fact that fundamental human rights have been breached, property has been lost and the right to return to villages has been lost—as colleagues have said—we cannot in any way be fatigued.

In my constituency during the election campaign, Cyprus was inevitably an issue. I was given a book about Cyprus and, on the inside cover, the author has written:

“Why do you as the mother of parliamentary democracy allow Turkish troops to continue to occupy our island?”

That is a very simple but profound question that continues to be asked, and that we cannot simply ignore and become fatigued about through the passage of time. Parliament must stand up for Cyprus, which is why it is so welcome that hon. Members from all parties are doing that today. Through the all-party parliamentary group on Cyprus, we want to encourage more parliamentary colleagues to become involved in the issue and join the group.

Also, we as Parliament must take more seriously our guarantor powers and responsibilities—indeed, the Government must also do so. We cannot sit on the sidelines as a spectator. It is fundamentally enshrined that we, as a guarantor power, must ensure the independence of Cyprus and the sovereignty of the whole island. That must be fully respected. If, in any way beyond that, one were to be fatigued about the Cyprus problem, one would only have to read the article written by the right hon. Member for Blackburn in The Times on 8 November to be energised.

The right hon. Gentleman’s influence is now confined to the Back Benches and the media, and I am confident he has no influence on the Government in this regard. I do not know whether his article was deliberately provocative, but it has certainly served the useful purpose of galvanising support for reunification—not for partition. It is worth analysing the argument that has been made in the media—I do not want to pay too much attention to the article because I do not think it should be given more credibility than it is worth—to allow the Minister to respond and to contrast such opinions with the Government’s approach. Doing so would benefit the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, and the community at large.

When one considers the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, it is—to coin a phrase—based on straw. He says that if talks fail, the Government should formally consider partition. First, that is not legal. The United Kingdom’s obligations in the 1960s treaties relate to a commitment not to support

“any moves towards the partition of the island or the recognition or upgrading of any separate political entity.”

I would welcome the Minister’s making it clear that partition is not an option for Britain. It is not an option for the United Nations and, fundamentally, it is not an option for the European Union, which cannot accept a divided member state. Secondly, it is not ethical. The right hon. Gentleman’s article referred to the numerical advantage of Turkey over Cyprus in terms of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. However, one cannot say—certainly we in the House cannot say—that law and justice do not matter if someone is big and strong. I do not want to make this a partisan issue—that certainly has not been the nature of the debate—but the previous Government talked about having an ethical foreign policy. The right hon. Gentleman was a member of that Government, and I wonder how his opinions sit with that argument.

Thirdly, such an argument is wrong on the basis of fact. Reference was made to the Annan plan. From being involved in this subject, we all know that, regarding the argument, we can often go back into history and be left there. However, we need to be accurate about history. The Annan plan did not fail as a result of the late President Papadopoulos ratting—as the right hon. Gentleman said—on the deal. The Annan plan failed because it was imposed—this is a lesson to be learned by the United Nations—by the Secretary-General and others, who sought to impose a deal through their own time limits on the Greek Cypriots. The plan came very late in the day; indeed, it was seen at only five minutes to midnight by some people before they had to start making a decision on it. As the Prime Minister states in a letter to me that has been published, we need to recognise that

“The ethos of the current process, by Cypriots and for Cypriots, and without the imposition of deadlines distinguishes it clearly from previous processes, such as the Annan Plan.”

Reference has also been made to the accession process, to suggestions that Cyprus alone is standing in the way and that the matter of Cyprus is a convenient excuse for other countries to object to Turkey’s accession. I support Turkey’s accession and realise that it has great advantages. I welcome the Government’s commitment to Turkey’s accession and do not see it as being at odds with what we want to do; indeed, I consider it to be an important part of ensuring that we receive justice for Cyprus. Let us not forget that Germany, Austria and France have deep objections to Turkey’s accession, but they do not simply rely on the matter of Cyprus as a convenient excuse.

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. On Turkey’s accession to the EU, does he agree that it will be important for there to be continuing support from both Cyprus and Greece? The questions raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) will go a long way to undermining that continuing support, on which Turkey’s membership will crucially be dependent.

That is quite right. The argument has been taken into terrain that is neither practical nor lawful. We must properly recognise the parties whose support is needed to move towards accession.

We must also recognise the facts. The reality is that the European Commission’s report published on Tuesday 9 November admonished Turkey for not moving faster to settle border disputes and normalise relations with Cyprus. That involves the Ankara protocol, which deals with proper access to ports for Cypriot shipping. Cyprus has been a member of the European Union since 2004, which is important. The Prime Minister made that point clearly in his letter:

“part of Turkey’s accession criteria also requires full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Ankara Protocol, including allowing access to its ports for Cypriot shipping. We continue to press Turkey to do this.”

I ask my hon. Friend to be slightly firmer on those requirements, and perhaps the Minister might also like to comment on them. Turkey must do more than just allow access to the ports through the general Ankara requirements. We must accept that it cannot become a member of the EU while it has armed forces occupying part of Cyprus. It is not just about access to ports; all Turkish troops must be withdrawn from the island before we can proceed.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. It is not simply the case that Cyprus is standing in the way of EU membership; it is up to Turkey to recognise that it must remove the army and that the island needs to be reunified. Turkey must take those steps before it can move towards EU accession. The European Commission’s report also noted the Commission’s assessment that freedom of expression needs to be strengthened in Turkey, both in law and in practice. It highlighted the fact that shortcomings remain in the free exercise of religion, and reference was made to disputes with neighbours, including Armenia. Those are other factors that go beyond Cyprus. It is important to get the facts right when making the argument about the accession process.

I believe that talk about partition is loose talk. Where would the property rights of my constituents and others stand in a partitioned land? Where would the villagers whom I met on Saturday evening stand? They are desperate to return and to have free movement, so that they can take up their proper rights to their villages. Where would villagers from Eptakomi, which I have visited, stand if they want to return, or those from Famagusta, which has been mentioned, and from other places? What about the enclaved people in Rizokarpaso, whom I visited some years ago? They are few in number, but there are huge human rights concerns. Where would they stand in a partitioned land?

There is talk of two peoples and two states, but that does not fit with the reality, the ethics, the law or the practice. One example is the Maronite community, whom I have mentioned in previous debates, who have not had free access to three of their four villages. On 17 July, the army allowed Maronite inhabitants to attend a church service in one of those villages, Ayia Marina, for the first time as a one-off. That is progress, but it was just a one-off. The Maronite community would like to know why they cannot have continued freedom of access and the basic freedom to worship. They have that freedom in Kormakitis, but why not in Asomatos and Karpasha?

There has been some progress. Crossings have been opened in the north-west of the island, progress has been made in relation to missing persons, with the remains of 690 Cypriots being exhumed, and some better access has been granted, but I encourage the Minister to press Turkey for better access to restricted areas for investigations.

In conclusion, it is important that we build a consensus. Indeed, the Prime Minister made that point in his letter:

“The UK’s politicians also have an important role to play in supporting the efforts to build consensus”.

That is what we want to achieve. It is a consensus on the reunification of the island of Cyprus as one country. It is a single international personality, with a single Cypriot citizenship, on a single united island.

This is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate you, Mr Brady, on your exalted position—I trust that it is the result of a lack of available positions on the Front Bench given the poor coalition that is now in government. Hopefully, you will one day tread the boards in that direction.

I am pleased to hear it, Mr Brady, and I trust that you will continue to exercise your great degree of independence on political matters from such a prime position.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) for securing this excellent opportunity to discuss what is a very serious subject. I should at the outset declare an interest: I have a small Cypriot community in my constituency, which my hon. Friend failed to mention in his list. As a result, I was invited to visit Cyprus in September for a day and a half—travelling by second-class air fare—to speak at the Morphou rally in the south of the republic.

It is important that we are having the debate at the start of a week in which, as we all know, serious talks will take place in New York. I must say to Members present, and to others who will read the pages of Hansard, that the whole question of Cyprus is expressed as a problem for Cyprus, but—as I keep saying again and again—it is also a problem for Europe and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) said, for Turkey itself.

Let us look at why Cyprus was allowed to join the European Union, a move that was led by Britain. A British Government argued that Cyprus should be in Europe because it would have been ridiculous and folly to keep it out of Europe. We all know what Cyprus was at the time of its entry. It was being treated as an offshore island by many, with 7,500 companies on its shores. It had its own stock exchange and an independent link into the European banking system. It was probably best placed for trade with the old eastern bloc, which most of Europe was not. It had a fine relationship with areas of the middle east and an outstanding trading relationship with China and Africa, which many EU countries did not have. As I understand from scientific texts, Cyprus is one of only four places on the planet that have windows into space, and, communications being so important for the future, it was important that that was kept in the European sphere, rather than being independent outside it. If anyone has any doubt about that, they will recall that it is for that reason that Britain’s listening and searching stations are still situated on the island.

Last, but not least, there is the importance of oil and gas, not only for Europe, but for the rest of the world. People will have to consider the importance of the European oil and gas pipeline, which is now being driven down to the shores of Greece, where further pipelines will be fixed that go across to Limassol in the republic. Similarly, pipelines will be coming down to join the central European pipeline from the Caspian sea, and they will link in to guarantee oil and gas for Europe. Cyprus will shortly become the gas station of Europe, and possibly the world, which is another reason why it was important that it came into the EU.

The talks that will take place this week in New York are very important. Although I praise greatly my colleague, the chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, those who argue in favour of the Annan plan should be asked which Annan plan they favour. Annan 1 had some important aspects that people might have used for the basis of negotiation, but after time there came Annan 2, Annan 3, Annan 4 and Annan 5, and each one was worse than the one before.

In this week before the talks commence, we have had a deliberate provocation by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw)—a colleague from this side of the House, in this place—which was an attempt not only to influence the talks in New York, but to set in motion a political dialogue in Europe that would call for partition. No one with whom I have discussed the issue of Cyprus has argued such a case. I trust those of my colleagues who say that the announcement by that individual two weeks earlier that he would take the opportunity to speak freely around the world, and possibly be paid for doing so, was not one of the reasons that he tip-toed in such a sordid manner into that area of political discussion—I hope not. I met him last night in this place and left him in no shadow of a doubt about what I thought of his position. I fervently countered each of his arguments, and we accepted that we would continue to disagree.

Let us look at why there needs to be a conclusion to the sordid affair of Turkey’s involvement in the independent country of Cyprus. Turkey has no right whatever to be there. Anyone who has any doubt about that should look back only 100 years in history. They will find that the Turkish state sold the island to Britain for 110 pieces of gold—that is the reality. Turkey sold it many years ago and gave up its interest in it.

Since that time, successive British Governments have participated in the life of Cyprus in a positive way. They built good institutions and mechanisms that are still alive on the island today—there was good purpose in those people. As I said earlier, that is one of the main reasons why we have supported the case for Cyprus to enter the European Union.

However, Cyprus is still left in the abyss of division, and we cannot agree that that should continue. I say to this British Government, as I said to the previous Government, who were of my political persuasion, that they cannot and should not stand idly by while individuals take advantage of the situation in Cyprus. British citizens take advantage of it—wrongly, in my opinion—but no action is taken against them. I refer, of course, to British citizens who foolishly invest vast sums of money to get properties and land on the cheap and then seek to put them on the market to make money. That has to be stopped. Rather than actions to try to stop freedom in Cyprus, perhaps some action should be undertaken by the British Government against British citizens who act in that way.

I refer hon. Members to my interests in respect of Cyprus. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when an agreement is reached, those people who decided to invest in or purchase property in northern Cyprus should not be recompensed by either the Greek Cypriot people or the British Government?

All I can say is, “Well said.” I agree with every sinew of that argument and would take it even further. The hon. Gentleman may recall that the European Court of Justice recently made a decision in the Loizidou case, in which a property had been taken over in the north and used for 27 or 28 years. The ECJ said that a large sum of money should be given in compensation just for use of the property and then, whenever the stage is reached at which property is handed back, no price should be paid for that property portfolio. The same thing should apply to others, and I say that in the knowledge that a handful of my constituents have been foolhardy enough to invest in Cyprus. They were told clearly and repeatedly, time and again, by the British Government—and I said this in local papers when the issue came up—that they would be foolish to invest in such a way, but greed and avarice took over and they foolishly did so. They had one sole objective, which was to make money for themselves.

To conclude—I know that several other people wish to speak—there can be no veto on full EU membership for the Republic of Cyprus, or on its recognition by the United Nations as an individual nation. I doubt that there would be any support in this or any future British Government for partition of the island. We have fought for years to try to get a solution to the problem. We fought in Germany to get what we thought was the last remaining wall in Europe pulled down, and I do not believe that we would go for partition in Cyprus.

In the course of achieving freedom for Cyprus, there are projects that are trying to identify the remains of people who were killed, but we must insist that work is done on other areas of concern. Many people are still missing, and we must work with the Turkish Government and insist that they provide the knowledge that they have of the whereabouts of missing persons. They should perhaps also suggest that leading religious figures and bodies—Greek and Turk, Muslim and Christian—appeal to their leadership to reveal any information they have.

As any of us who have lost loved ones in the past know, if there is any shade of doubt about what occurred, we think about it all the time. If individuals are missing, we live with that on a daily basis. It is no different for the hundreds of thousands of people—not just mothers and fathers but brothers, sisters, cousins and nieces—who have missing relatives in Cyprus.

The free world must also make certain demands about the kind of solution that is achieved. It cannot be right that 180,000 settlers have been moved from the mainland of Turkey into Cyprus and told that the property on which they live is now their own, when they have no right to it whatever. Those people have to return.

Last but not least—most important of all—the tens of thousands of troops who illegally occupy the north of the island have to be taken back to the mainland. There can be no peaceful solution in Europe while troops from a country that is not a member of the European family reside on European shores. That is the reality. They have to go back, and I ask this Government to plead with Turkey to start that process.

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr Brady. This is the first debate I have attended for which you have been in that position. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, just in case I have one in respect of this issue.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan), who represents a part of the country that is dear to my heart. I congratulate him mainly on the timing of this debate, which comes just in advance of the forthcoming United Nations-sponsored meetings in New York.

I start today from the premise that the coalition Government, the previous Government and I have all been committed to Turkey’s entry to the European Union. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, Greece and Cyprus have also been committed to its entry. We take that position to reject the crude anti-Muslim feeling that one sees across Europe—it has no place in a decision in respect of Turkey—but also because Turkey’s membership would be good for the EU and for Turkey. The question is how we achieve its membership.

The first thing—I say this with some passion—is that we do not issue threats about a two-state solution in Cyprus. I was rather surprised by the mention that was made of the role of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). People who pay attention to these matters will of course know that there has been an article on them by Martin Kettle in The Guardian, and a leader in the Financial Times, which show the somewhat dubious consistency over the years. I read the articles with some care, and was reminded of the negotiations on the referendum and the Annan 5 proposals. The one lesson that we should learn from that experience is that to issue unveiled threats and to try to maximise the pressure on one side rather than the other is almost certain to be counter-productive, and to fail.

The first thing that I would say to the Minister, therefore, is that, when the parties assemble at the United Nations, I hope that Britain in its role as a guarantor power will try to exercise some leverage on other guarantor powers, and also on the two communities taking part in the direct negotiations. It is important to be impartial in that regard. Everyone says that we need to get into a proper negotiation and, to do that, equal pressure on all parties to the negotiation is required. We have to have, as the United Nations states, the courage to “break the stalemate”, but the stalemate is not broken by trying to break one of the parties to the negotiating process.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was placed under the spotlight last week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, and I was reassured by his response:

“I do not want to say anything at this moment that might make those talks more difficult.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 139.]

Those are surely wise words at this time, and I only wish that others had taken that lesson to heart.

What if we ended the isolation of the northern part of Cyprus? I am often told that its having access to a market of the European Union would make a tremendous difference, and that the very low living standard of the people there would suddenly be transformed. The collective evidence is that the most likely way to transform the economy of the north of Cyprus is to find a solution to the division of the island. That will achieve more than any other step. We have to accept that if the area is not reunified, and does not get the support of the Cypriots on the rest of the island, it will be a very long time before the northern part of the island can look towards European-style standards of living.

It has also to be said that the north of the island remains very dependent on subsidies from Turkey, and that will not change in the short or medium term. Although the isolation might be ended, there are factors that increase the isolation from Cyprus itself. Mention has been made of the changing demographics in Cyprus: Turkish Cypriots are leaving the island and people from the mainland are still coming in. That will do nothing to reverse the isolation; it will, I would argue, increase it.

The isolation is, of course, also strengthened by certain politicians—we have all heard the comments. Mr Denktas cast a very long shadow during his 22 years as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community. In the statements that are made—and we have heard some recently—it is said that there are two peoples, two languages and two cultures and there must, therefore, be two states. We reject that idea, but if they do not, it is hard to see how they will prevent the Turkish Cypriot community from continuing to leave the island. The Turkish Cypriot community recognises its long-standing bonds with the rest of the Cypriot community on the island, and would continue to experience the isolation.

What are the consequences of a two-state solution? I turn to the Financial Times leader writer:

“A two-state solution is not an ideal outcome.”—

a bit of an understatement by a leader writer—

“It would impose grave costs on the Greek Cypriots in terms of maintaining high levels of military expenditure to counter the perceived Turkish threat. In the short term, it would deal yet another blow to Turkey’s prospects of joining the European Union.”

So, let us look at the matter in slightly more detail. Yes, the solution would be a major blow to Turkey’s membership, and I wish that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn had thought about that. Would it inflame relations? Undoubtedly, and not just those between the Governments of Cyprus and Turkey, but relations that have been unfrozen in recent years and have enabled many people from the north of the island to cross the border to work in the south.

A two-state solution would inflame relations between Greece and Turkey, which have, of course, been a major problem in recent years, but it would also increase instability in the eastern Mediterranean. What would the consequence of that be? It would not be just Cyprus that was building up its military arms; we would see, I suspect, just a little bit of an arms race in the eastern Mediterranean. What would the impact on NATO be? Such impact is one of the major reasons why the Americans are so keen to find a solution, as is, of course, the impact on the island itself, with the continuing exodus of Turkish Cypriots. Such a solution would have a negative impact on Turkey’s membership of the EU and would give heart to those European Union member states that are not really concerned about the situation in Cyprus. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), there are other reasons why France, Austria and other European Union states continue to object to Turkey’s application. We need to unify those states in support of EU membership for Turkey, and we do not achieve that by ostracising Cyprus, or by ostracising Greece, at this particular time.

I finish by asking two things. First, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) please to give us a defined statement that the Opposition parties continue to support the negotiating process and take on board the Foreign Secretary’s wise words. Secondly, I ask that the Government not just wholeheartedly support the negotiating process—I know that they do—but that they do so while recognising that Britain, because of its unique position and its guarantor power status, and because it is a member of the Security Council and a critically important member of the EU, should do more. We need to kick-start that negotiating process when it happens next week, but let us be in absolutely no doubt that it is only that session that can lead to a viable, long-term, stable solution in the eastern Mediterranean. Frankly, talk of any other issue is wild and unnecessary; we all need to get behind the Government, the two parties, the other guarantor powers and the United Nations to ensure that this succeeds where it has failed in the past.

I welcome this debate, secured by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan). I, like him and some of my colleagues, have been involved in the Cyprus debate for many years and I often feel, with some despondency, that we do not make further progress, even after the annual Trafalgar square rally and our visit to the Morphou rally in Cyprus. I was therefore pleased that the coalition Government outlined, in its document for governing, that Cyprus will be taken seriously.

[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair]

Cyprus has faced many invasions in its long and continuous history. The difference in the experience since 1974 is that 40% of the island is divided from the other part, based on people’s origin, religion and nationality, effectively expelling the Greek Cypriots from their own homes in the occupied areas and moving Turkish Cypriots into the occupied part of the island. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) misses the point. More than a quarter of the population of Cyprus and many people who live in this country are still experiencing the effects of the invasion. They are not allowed to live in their legally owned home, not able to cultivate their land or to worship in their churches and not even allowed to tend the graves of their loved ones, which is most distressing for a lot of people.

Much mention has been made of the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfortunate that my right hon. Friend did not take the opportunity to attend this debate and share his pearls of wisdom with us?

It certainly is a great shame that the right hon. Gentleman did not attend today. [Interruption.] I am informed that he was, in fact, invited to come along. Perhaps he had something else to do in the House, I do not know, but it would have been useful if he had come along and clarified his comments, particularly as a former Minister.

For the first time in history, the people of Cyprus have been left, de facto, separated into homogenous racial, religious and geographical areas. That continues to happen, despite the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations and other organisations adopting resolutions that condemn the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and support the independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.

The division planned by Ankara was strengthened in 1983 by the unilateral declaration of independence by the Turkish Cypriot leadership, with Turkey’s encouragement and support, and the establishment of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It is worth stating that the international community directly and categorically condemned this secessionist action. The Security Council stated that the act was “legally invalid” and demanded the revocation of the “unilateral declaration of independence”. As a result, the illegal occupying regime has not been recognised by any state other than Turkey, the occupying power.

In addition to the human tragedy, I have seen for myself the cultural and religious destruction that is taking place. Hon. Members have spoken about recent political issues and the talks, which I welcome, but I shall focus on the continuing destruction of the history and culture of the island. The occupying force in the north appears to be working to erase any reference to anything Greek or to Christianity in the north part of the island. The Turkish occupying force has replaced all Greek names of towns, villages and roads with Turkish names. At the same time, I am concerned that Neolithic settlements are being destroyed, such as the one at Apostolos Andreas-Kastros, which, for those who cannot understand my poor Greek, is on the eastern tip of the island. Prehistoric and historical towns, such as the famous site of Enkomi and the ancient city states of Salamina and Soloi, are being left to the ravages of time.

Clear and undeniable desecration is occurring in churches. This year, when I took the opportunity to cross the line, I visited the occupied town of Morphou and saw for myself churches being used for so-called alternative activities—for example, we saw one church being used as a dance studio and another being used as a warehouse. Some churches are derelict and left dilapidated. What shocked me most was desecration of the churchyards: I saw one being used by the fire service, which parked fire trucks on graveyards; the second was not only left in a desecrated state, but was being used as an army base. I cannot understand how an occupying force could allow its army to do that.

Cyprus is often referred to as the crossroads of civilisation. What I witnessed there were not the actions of a civilised nation, but shocking and disrespectful behaviour by an invading force.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s accurate descriptions. Other descriptions have been given by Members of Parliament who have crossed over, including of former churches being used for animal husbandry. Does the hon. Gentleman know that the Leventis Foundation, which conducted an examination of stolen artefacts—my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North mentioned that more than 1,500 have been stolen and shipped abroad—found that many were found in huge numbers, including in the walls of churches, with references dating back as far as St Paul? All had been stolen. Whole walls were stolen and exported to the United States and other places for sale.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting, useful point. I am aware of some of the artefacts that have been removed from the island. In a judgment of the United States Court of Appeal in 1990, the judge ordered the return of the Kanakaria mosaics to Cyprus. The president of the Court Appeal, Chief Judge Bauer, mentioned a characteristic quotation from Lord Byron, which I think the hon. Gentleman will find interesting, describing the Turkish invasion of Corinth in 1715. Of the many churches and monuments that lie today in ruins on Cyprus, Bauer says:

“As Byron laments, war can reduce our grandest and most sacred temples to mere ‘fragments of stone’. Only the lowest of scoundrels attempt to reap personal gain from this collective loss. Those who plunder the churches and monuments of war-torn Cyprus hoarded their relics away, and are now smuggling and selling them for large sums, are just blackguards.”

That description could apply to people who are continuing in that fashion today.

I say to the British coalition Government that in the talks about the accession of Turkey to the EU, there are red lines on which hon. Members here today will insist. First, land and property must be returned to its rightful owners without compensation being paid to those people who decided, through greed and avarice to invest their moneys in the northern part of Cyprus. Secondly, the people who are missing need to be identified and returned to their loved ones, so that they can start the grieving process. Thirdly and finally, I urge the British Government to secure an agreement that is acceptable to all the islanders—not just the Greek Cypriots, but the Turkish Cypriots as well. We want to be even-handed and open with all islanders and to remove the only divided island left in Europe, so that we can have the peace and security in Europe that we want.

We have had an important debate this morning. I commend the tone in which it has been conducted: serious, practical and honest. I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) on securing the debate and on his opening speech, in which he showed his knowledge of and passion for the subject. He emphasised that we need a balanced approach to Cyprus and touched on the complexity of the issues confronting us, particularly missing persons and property ownership. Indeed, he is a true and honourable friend of Cyprus.

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) made a good speech, in which he warned us to be wary of what is sometimes termed “Cyprus fatigue”. We must all ensure that we are fully engaged with the issues and that we take the matter forward collectively. The hon. Gentleman, and others, referred particularly to remarks by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). I should like to make it clear that in both his article in The Times and the interview on the “Today” programme, my right hon. Friend was expressing his entirely personal view. It is not Opposition policy. Labour’s policy, I believe, is unchanged. We are focused foursquare on ensuring that maximum support is given to the talks at the United Nations in New York this week. We encourage both parties to work together harmoniously to come to a just, fair solution.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr Meale), who talked about the abyss of partition—a highly graphic way to put it, and I am sure that we are all mindful of what he said. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), whose wise words stressed the need for us to be impartial in ensuring that both communities together reach a mutually agreeable solution. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr Offord) powerfully expressed his concern about the destruction of artefacts in the north of Cyprus and the need to protect places of worship.

We are at an important stage in what will, we hope, be moves towards peace and reconciliation in Cyprus. I emphasise that Labour believes in a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement for the whole island. Our view is that only a settlement that is negotiated by Cypriots for Cypriots, and acceptable to both sides, will ensure the future of Cyprus. We support a unified Cyprus and a Cypriot-led process under the auspices of the United Nations. We do not support a solution that is imposed or enforced by others. The United Kingdom must offer its full support to the negotiations that all Cypriots want to succeed.

When Labour was in government, we proposed that 50% of the land currently in UK sovereign bases in Cyprus be made available to a united island once a resolution was found. We hope that that proposal will be taken forward by the current Government when the two sides resume their talks.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) on securing the debate. He has a long track record in this House of interest in and support for Cyprus. As the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) said, the contributions to the debate have been thoughtful and forthright in equal measure. I thank the hon. Members for Mansfield (Mr Meale) and for Edmonton (Mr Love), and my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Hendon (Mr Offord) for their contributions. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) for their interventions.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss Cyprus and I have listened carefully to the points raised during the debate. The Government support a just and lasting settlement on the island. As has been said, that was an important manifesto commitment and a priority recognised in the coalition’s programme for Government.

I am sure that the House will agree that the status quo is neither satisfactory nor adequate for any community in Cyprus. Reference has been made to the plight of Greek Cypriots, particularly those in displaced families, and, in fairness, to the isolation and economic underdevelopment of the Turkish Cypriot community. Only a united island within the European Union will provide the long-term peace and security that all Cypriots deserve, as well as bring economic development and prosperity to the region. The hon. Member for Mansfield was right to draw our attention to the tremendous economic opportunities in the eastern Mediterranean, which could be capitalised on to the mutual benefit of all Cypriot communities, of Turkey and of Greece, if a just and lasting settlement can be achieved.

A settlement would enable a generation of people to find a way to close a traumatic chapter in their lives, particularly by addressing the difficult issue of property and the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. I believe that reunification would also provide the space for civil society to flourish in the north and south of the island, and for the leaders of the communities to spend more time helping to find solutions to global issues, and ensure that the Cypriot people as a whole come out of the current global economic downturn well placed to enjoy a prosperous and sustainable future. In my view, those benefits far outweigh the admitted difficulties of the compromises that would be necessary to reach a settlement.

Let there be no doubt that the United Kingdom Government are committed to supporting the ongoing settlement negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, and particularly of Alexander Downer, which are aimed at achieving a settlement based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality. That political equality must be accorded not only—although most obviously—to the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, but to the smaller minorities on the island. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate, chairman of the British-Cyprus all-party group, reminded us of the Maronite community. The position of the Maronite community and its members’ entitlement to cultural and religious freedom of expression will be fully resolved only by a comprehensive settlement that reunites the island. The Government support the resolution passed by the Council of Europe in July 2008 that called for additional measures to

“support the revitalisation and promotion of the cultural, religious and linguistic heritage of the Maronites,”.

Does the Minister agree that not only do we have a moral obligation to support a solution in Cyprus on a one-state basis, but we have a legal obligation based on the treaty of guarantee and the memorandums that we have signed with Cyprus? Does that differ from what he has just said?

No, it does not. The hon. Gentleman draws me on to comments that I was about to make.

Far be it from me to criticise a distinguished elder statesman such as the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), but I am happy to make it clear that the Government’s position is to support a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality for a united Cyprus. We do not support partition. As the hon. Member for Wansbeck has said, as one of the guarantor powers, we are bound by treaty not only to resist but to prohibit any step that would lead either to the partition of Cyprus or to its unification with any other country. The new British Government remain in support of that position on the present and future status of Cyprus.

Does the Minister agree that there would be a great danger if Britain’s policy moved away from the one that he has expressed? If we break the treaty signed in the ‘60s that gave independence to Cyprus, it would break all other parts of the treaty. That could affect the British bases on the island.

As a general principle, if one signs and ratifies a treaty, one should stick by its obligations. That is what we intend to do.

Important British interests are at stake in the search for a settlement in Cyprus. The amount of human misery in Cyprus, whichever community we are talking about, would in itself justify making the search for a settlement a political priority; but there are also hard-headed British national interests at stake. Although a peaceful and lasting settlement in Cyprus would not, as others have said, remove all obstacles to Turkish accession to the European Union, it would remove one of the most significant blocks to that process. I believe and the Government believe that Turkish membership of the European Union is in the interests not just of the UK, but of Europe as a whole. A settlement would also make possible the effective co-operation between NATO and the European Union that has been impossible for so many years, because of the stand-off between Turkey and Cyprus over the events of 1974 and what has happened since.

I hope that both sides in the negotiations and especially at the forthcoming meeting in New York can continue to show both flexibility and leadership. The leaders have the full support of the international community and they need to grasp the opportunity to find a solution before that window closes.

One of the concerns expressed widely within Cyprus is that Cyprus is not considered important enough internationally for a solution to be found. In reflection of that, would it not be sensible for the British Government to make greater use of the European Union to try to bring parties together and to pressure all the parties to negotiate, and would it not be much more sensible if the three guarantor powers, of which we are one, met to try to co-ordinate the putting of pressure on the two parties at the negotiations in New York?

I would not rule out a meeting of the guarantor powers at some stage, if that would be helpful. The hon. Gentleman reminds me that in his speech he called for vigorous diplomacy on the part of the British Government. I do not dissent from what he said, except that I would add two words of caution. First, by virtue of our history and status as a guarantor power and our possession of the sovereign base areas, we of course have a particular interest in Cyprus and the search for a settlement there; but sometimes, precisely because of our history, we are not necessarily the most welcome source of advice, particularly public advice. Sometimes it is better if others—in this case, the United Nations envoy, Mr Downer—take the lead. It is very important that the negotiations are seen to be, in the end, in the ownership of the Cypriots themselves, because unless there is buy-in from both communities in Cyprus, a settlement will not endure.

Secondly, although the search for a settlement in Cyprus is seen by the Government as an important political priority, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that in the conduct of foreign affairs, just as in the conduct of domestic politics sometimes, it is best to talk candidly to friends, allies and partners behind closed doors, rather than through a megaphone. We have to suit the technique to the occasion.

May I press the Minister further on the details of the relationship with Turkey? The hand of friendship has gone out from the Prime Minister to Turkey. Will the Minister be able to draw attention to the role that we play in terms of pressing the case for Cyprus?

I will come to that very point in a moment. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of it. Before I do so, I want to deal with a point that the hon. Member for Caerphilly raised by saying that the coalition Government have maintained the offer made by the previous Labour Government to cede nearly half the sovereign base area territories in the event of an agreed, negotiated solution in Cyprus.

I shall now respond to what my hon. Friend just said. We welcome the support that Turkey has given the settlement process. Prime Minister Erdogan has publicly stated his full support for the Cyprus settlement process on a number of occasions, including in March this year, when he confirmed—this is an important point—Turkey’s acceptance of the UN principles under which the process takes place. We regularly discuss all aspects of the Cyprus issue with Turkey. As my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green said in an intervention, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did so publicly as well as privately when he visited Turkey earlier this year. Most recently, we raised the subject of Cyprus during President Gül’s visit to London last week, and I did so with Turkish Ministers when I attended the Bosphorus conference in Istanbul in October.

Turkey has an important role to play in encouraging the Turkish Cypriots to grasp the opportunity of a settlement and to ensure that the negotiations succeed. A settlement will deliver economic benefits to Turkish Cypriots and end their sense of isolation once and for all, which is a key Turkish objective. A settlement in Cyprus will, we believe, be of great benefit to Turkey as a whole and her ambition eventually to join the European Union.

A number of hon. Members talked about particular aspects of the tragedy that has afflicted Cyprus for more than 30 years. Some referred to the damage done to cultural sites and places of worship. There is no doubt that that damage took place, particularly during 1974 and in the immediate aftermath. I have made note of the points that were made particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North about the alleged desecration of cemeteries and church graveyards. I will take advice on how we might raise that issue.

For the record, I point out that I have passed on the photographs that were taken recently at the Morphou rally, which demonstrate the clear indignation caused by the vandalism that has taken place.

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is important, as a means of helping to build community reconciliation, that we support confidence-building measures at local level and take account of the reality of the grief still experienced by many individuals and families. Action in respect of the proper treatment of cultural and religious sites and co-operation in the search for missing persons are matters that the British Government take very seriously indeed. We have given particular support to the work of the European Union’s Committee on Missing Persons and we donate to its annual budget. As hon. Members know, the CMP has so far found just under 700 sets of human remains, both Greek and Turkish Cypriot.[Official Report, 23 November 2010, Vol. 519, c. 2MC.]

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, because I am getting very near the end of my time.

I welcome the commitment of the Cypriot leaders from both communities to the current negotiations. Their meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this Thursday is a positive step, but there is a great deal of further work to do to maintain the momentum and to ensure that the important opportunity to achieve a strong and lasting peace is not lost. These are different from previous negotiations. It is now in the hands of the leaders themselves to reach agreement. I agree that there can be no arbitration or tight deadlines, but a purely open-ended process will not benefit the Cypriots themselves. I urge all parties to engage positively and flexibly in negotiations and to grasp the opportunity to secure the benefits that all communities in Cyprus so richly deserve.