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Volume 585: debated on Tuesday 9 September 2014

[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]

It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.

I welcome this opportunity to raise the issue of Cyprus. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), to his post; he will respond to the debate.

It should be noted that a number of my hon. Friends are not present. In fact, there are not a huge number of hon. Members in this debate, but that should not suggest that there is a lack of interest in Cyprus in the House. There are particular reasons why a number of Members cannot attend. A number of members of the all-party group on Cyprus, who would normally take part, are out campaigning for the Union. Furthermore, my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) are in Committees. I also wish to make a particular reference to the chair of the all-party group, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), who is unwell due to a detached retina. He is now undergoing surgery and we send him our best wishes.

This is my first opportunity to pay tribute to the late hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton. He was a good friend of Cyprus and fought for many causes. As we know, he stood up primarily for human dignity, from the very beginning of life to the end. He has been described by many others as a man of great principle and I am sure we all agree that he is a great loss to the House. We send our condolences to Pat and the rest of his family at this difficult time for them all.

My hon. Friend the Minister has much to occupy him, given his brief, particularly in relation to the middle east—let alone having to cover Cyprus while my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, is travelling overseas. However, therein lies one of the main reasons for raising Cyprus as a subject for debate; there are so many countries of concern to the Foreign Office that it would not be a surprise if Cyprus was not up there as a priority.

One of the primary purposes of this debate is to emphasise that a solution to the Cyprus problem must be a priority, and it would be good to receive an assurance from the Minister in that regard. Cyprus is not just an issue for Cyprus itself; given the troubles across the eastern Mediterranean, particularly in relation to the middle east, a reunited and stable Cyprus must be good—not only for the island itself, but for the wider region.

The other reason for the timing of this debate is that this has been the first opportunity for one since the 40th anniversary of the division of Cyprus and the Turkish invasion of the island. Others may wish to remark that it is more than 50 years since a power-sharing agreement between the two communities in Cyprus collapsed, in the wake of the island’s independence from Britain; we can go back in history and pick particular moments to focus on. However, the point of this debate is that it provides us with a formal opportunity to reflect on the passage of those 40 years, such that Cyprus—sadly—is now the longest-standing western dispute. Other areas of conflict have seen peace and unity break out, with divided capital cities being reunited and different communities reconciled. The Berlin wall has come down and Germany has been reunified, but Nicosia stands alone in Europe as a divided capital.

How sad it is that after these 40 momentous years Cyprus remains divided, with more than 40,000 troops still situated in northern Cyprus, which I understand makes it one of the most heavily militarised parts of the whole world, let alone Europe. It is extraordinary that there is such a continuing heavy military presence, given that since 2003 there have been 18 million incident-free crossings of the green line.

Since I have been in Parliament—no doubt my neighbour, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love), will be able to take us even further back in history—a rally has taken place outside this House every July. Those rallies have mainly been attended by women, who hold pictures of their brothers, nephews, cousins, uncles or other relatives. The people in the pictures are the missing. For 40 years, those women have not known what has happened to their relatives; the men are missing, presumed dead, but the women do not have any information about them. The missing people are their loved ones and the women have a basic human right to receive information about them, but that information has been lacking for all these years.

That right transcends communities, and we should note that the reality of missing persons is one shared by both the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities; later, I will mention the progress made in relation to the missing persons committee. The point is that every year, every month, every week and every day that goes by without a solution to the Cyprus problem is a human tragedy for all Cypriots. That reminds hon. Members, the Government and even those of us who have been involved with this issue for many years that we must not rest until we have a solution to the Cyprus problem that delivers justice and respect for the human rights of all Cypriots.

Wherever one stands and whatever one’s viewpoint, the current situation throughout the island is as unacceptable and intolerable in 2014 as it was in 1974—and given the history of conflict in Cyprus, the island’s problems go back even further than that.

The timing of this debate is important given the recent events in Cyprus and Turkey. This last week, President Erdogan has visited northern Cyprus and the UN Secretary-General’s new special adviser has arrived on the island. In addition, there has been the NATO summit, which I understand provided an opportunity for Cyprus to be discussed, at least by Greece’s Prime Minister and Turkey’s new President. I hope that the Minister, who attended the summit, can confirm that. Perhaps he can also say whether the importance of establishing peace and unity in at least one part of the troubled region—namely Cyprus—was discussed by the NATO allies.

Plainly, Cyprus has an important strategic role in the region, which appears to be increasingly, and helpfully, recognised by the United States. It would be good to hear from the Minister about the impact of increased US diplomatic involvement and its significance in trying to reach a solution, or at least in gaining momentum towards a solution.

Obviously, an immediate significance of Cyprus is the use of the sovereign base areas. Can the Minister confirm whether they are being used to provide humanitarian aid from Akrotiri or being considered to provide future support for allies in the region? Also, although the Minister may be may less able to comment on this issue than on others, the use of Ayios Nikolaos GCHQ—in terms of intelligence for the whole middle east—should be noted. It amplifies the strategic value of Cyprus in the wider region.

A few months ago, I had hoped to participate in a debate on Cyprus in the House with a positive view about the optimism arising from the joint declaration on 11 February, but sadly the recent news from Cyprus is negative. President Erdogan referred to “two founding states”, which I understand soured talks between Greece and Turkey at the NATO summit last Friday.

Having been elected, the President initially spoke of Cyprus as one of his four key priorities, which in many ways was encouraging—not least because of the number of other priorities, problems and challenges that Turkey has. One would look at Cyprus in that context and think the problem eminently solvable, with good will on all sides. It is also encouraging that Cyprus is such a high priority for Turkey, given the key influence that Turkey will have on the island’s future. However, after the President’s comments last Friday about “two founding states” and citizenship, that influence does not appear to be a positive one.

Such comments take Turkey backwards from showing that it truly wants a settlement; indeed, in making them it goes back on its support for the Annan plan in 2004. The comments constitute not a solution but, sadly, a perpetuation of the division of Cyprus, and they fly in the face of the United Nations basis of the talks and the commitment to a reunited Cyprus based around a single legal personality. They cast a dark shadow over the talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders and, sadly, they do not bode well for the future success of negotiations, particularly when opening sensitive chapters on territory and citizenship.

It is vital that Turkey backs a realisable settlement. Erdogan is understandably receiving criticism about his increasingly authoritarian policies in Turkey. Many of my Turkish constituents—I join them—want Turkey to talk and act like a liberal democracy with great potential, which we all want, because that is important for itself and the wider region, including Europe. It is important for Turkey to talk and act like a liberal democracy, rather than slide into being an illiberal, authoritarian state.

It is also plainly in the interests of Britain, which supports Turkey’s accession into Europe, that Erdogan should talk and act in relation to Cyprus in a manner that respects the democracy and human rights of what is a European nation state. Given the significant relationship between Britain and Turkey, and Britain’s role as a guarantor power, how do the Government respond to the comments that have been made? What are they going to do about what would appear to be continuing Turkish intransigence on the Cyprus question?

Will the Minister confirm the Government’s ongoing support for the United Nations and high-level Cypriot agreements? On 11 February, the then Foreign Secretary said in a statement:

“The Joint Declaration they adopted is an important step forward, and provides a real opportunity to secure a lasting and comprehensive settlement…Many of the broad principles for a united Cyprus have now been agreed, and I trust that the parties will now negotiate in good faith on that basis until a final settlement has been reached…With continued co-operation and pragmatism, and a sustained commitment to the vision of a reunified Cyprus, the two communities will be able to agree a solution which they will approve by referendum.”

Those were positive words, and rightly so. However, is that declaration really valid? One also has to accept that Turkey’s then Foreign Minister and now Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, had detailed discussions with Dr Eroglu before that key, important declaration was made, but do we now have to reflect on whether President Erdogan’s call for two founding states affects these fundamental foundations of the negotiations?

Since February, there has been a series of leaders’ meetings between Nicos Anastasiades and Dervis Eroglu and the negotiators. In addition, the two negotiators have made one cross-visit to Turkey and Greece respectively, to speak with the Foreign Ministries in each country. Unfortunately, I understand that the cross-visits planned to Ankara and Athens did not take place in August.

As a guarantor power, do the Government envisage themselves, as a nation, having any role in meetings before a settlement is reached? Given that the Republic of Cyprus is a full member of the European Union and will continue to be after what we hope will be the solution of the Cyprus problem, one has to regret that Ankara does not accept the reality and does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus. Furthermore, I understand that Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot leadership reject any notion of further EU involvement in the negotiation process. What are the Government, as a member of the EU and a guarantor power, doing to convince Ankara to change what seems to be an unproductive stance?

Veterans of these debates and talks over so many years will know that confidence-building measures are often pursued. Unfortunately, no confidence-building measures have yet been agreed. The key confidence-building measure is the return of Famagusta. President Nicos Anastasiades’s proposal for the return of Famagusta is a positive and practical step. It is a tangible sign of determination to move the Cyprus issue out of the current deadlock and create the conditions that will give necessary impetus and momentum to efforts for a comprehensive settlement. It is in the interests of Greek and Turkish Cypriots to return Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants and open up the economic benefits of the port. I welcome the Bicommunal Famagusta Initiative, founded last year.

The issue is also a matter of justice that should concern us all, because for more than 40 years 65,000 people have not been allowed to go home. I will say that again: 65,000 people, including my constituents, are essentially by force not allowed to go home to a place in Europe. That should outrage us as a Parliament and a Government.

Famagusta has been the subject of EU resolutions, proposals and motions, as well as a petition, which I, with other hon. Members present today, helped submit to the Prime Minister last year. The petition, and similar motions placed before the House, promotes the immediate return of the city of Famagusta to its lawful citizens in advance of any comprehensive solution. It notes that such a confidence-building measure, which is supported by the United Nations, would act as a bridge for a settlement. It has also gained the interest of the United States. Vice-President Joe Biden visited in May and wanted to find support for a technical team to be allowed into the fenced-off part of Varosha to start to assess the state of the buildings. Sadly, that did not happen, although many think it vital to provide genuine confidence for a positive outcome—not just in getting to the point of a solution on paper, but for voting in favour in a referendum.

Additionally, more immediate economic and social benefits will accrue to both communities. There is a United Nations development programme project for developing co-operation between Famagustians living in Famagusta and those in Deryneia, which would be assisted by another checkpoint at Deryneia. I look forward to the Minister’s confirming the previous helpful responses from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Europe about the Government’s absolute commitment to justice for Famagusta and what they are doing about it.

Other confidence-building measures can happen, not least in relation to cultural and religious heritage. Cyprus has heritage of great value that needs to be valued by all communities, and by us all. I welcome the leadership of the Swedish embassy in Cyprus, which has helped tackle some issues of access and supported real work on churches and mosques around the island, from the Tekke in Larnaca to Apostolos Andreas in the Karpas peninsula. Some Maronites have been allowed back to worship in one village—I have raised this issue previously in the House, as have other hon. Members—but they are still, intolerably, excluded from their basic right to worship, because their churches are in an army camp and a military area.

It is good to hear about work taking place to restore the Othello tower in Famagusta and I understand that the Armenian monastery in Nicosia has been largely restored with US support. What is the United Kingdom doing to support former British cultural heritage as well? I appreciate that the Minister will probably not be able to reply in detail to all these specific points and that the Europe Minister with the brief will be able to, so I should welcome a note on any detailed points.

Much more needs to be done to restore religious and cultural heritage and respect for freedom of worship. In a region, and a wider region—we will no doubt debate this issue in the world affairs debate—where freedom of religion is often denigrated and abused, Cyprus really should set an example of proper respect for the freedom to hold and practise any faith or none. The problem is that without more progress in Cyprus, indifference, perhaps, or lack of respect for religious and cultural heritage can provide succour for the extreme discrimination that we see elsewhere in the middle east.

I am trying to be positive and there are some positive initiatives. The Home for Cooperation building, created from a shop left behind by an Armenian owner in 1974 on the road now connecting the north and south checkpoints at the Ledra Palace, has become a hub for meetings, conferences and offices, and for teaching Greek and Turkish languages. It is also a coffee bar. It grew out of the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research and the building and work received the Europa Nostra award in May. That is going to be celebrated on 16 September.

The Cyprus Community Media Centre, next to Ledra Palace, now has a studio that broadcasts in different languages—not just English, Turkish and Greek. CCMC is asking an interesting and important question: where are all the women in the Cyprus peace process and in politics as a whole? Chambers of commerce and industry, trade unions, women’s groups, youth groups and environmental groups are all doing what they can to work together. They are asking where we can fit civil society into the peace process, so that people, as well as politicians, feel an ownership of the process. That would encourage confidence in voting yes at the end, when we have referendums. It is that confidence, which needs to transcend generations, that is of real concern as time moves on.

As is often said in these debates, by far the most successful of the joint projects is the bi-communal Committee on Missing Persons, which is responsible for finding sites and the exhumation, identification and return of remains to relatives. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his recent report on the UN’s operation in Cyprus, underlines that it is critical that the work of the committee suffers no further delays. He highlighted the need to expedite the process, including through the accelerated granting of access to military areas. As the UK is a permanent member of the Security Council, will the Minister indicate how the Government intend to exercise their leverage on Turkey to facilitate access to military areas expeditiously? Will he confirm that the UK continues to contribute the necessary costs to the operation, which benefits all Cypriot families and allows for some degree of closure?

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, there is the discovery in the east Mediterranean of vast amounts of oil and natural gas reserves. That has, probably rightly, been described by all sides as a game-changer. In the immediate future, that could be game-changing economically, given the real challenges facing Turkish Cypriots. They express concern about isolation and impoverishment.

Obviously, we know very well the huge economic challenges for Cyprus from the recent crash. The reserves provide an opportunity for a sustainable economic future that could transform the economic prospects of all Cypriots, to the benefit of the whole island. One has to recognise, however, that the exploitation of hydrocarbons requires regional stability involving Cyprus, Turkey and Israel, so the fruits of labouring for a solution are immense. That is why it is important that everything is done to reach a settlement for Cyprus and the wider region.

The Secretary-General has stated that the appointment of the new special adviser on Cyprus illustrates the United Nations’ determination to continue supporting the parties in arriving at concrete results in the coming phase of negotiations. Despite the momentum generated by the joint declaration by the two leaders on 11 February, we must hope that the 17 September joint meeting with the UN special adviser breathes new confidence into the process, which appears, to some extent, to be at a standstill.

In the 40th year, will the Minister assure me that the Government are doing all they can to support a settlement? I fear that unless we see a settlement at the end of this round of talks, we will have lost an opportunity for at least a generation. The younger generation are increasingly disillusioned or disinterested about the prospect of a reunited Cyprus. At the very least, can we as a Parliament and a Government never give up on speaking for Cyprus and a just settlement?

I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes)—my immediate neighbour—on securing this debate. I join him in paying tribute to the former hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton, who was a doughty campaigner on behalf of Cyprus, which was among the many issues he took up in the House.

As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate said, this is a timely debate at a time of great change in the eastern Mediterranean. Although, interestingly, Cyprus did not, as I understand it, play much of a role in the recent Turkish presidential election, the successful candidate, Mr Erdogan, chose the country for his first official visit on being elected President. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, he made some controversial speeches while there, and they have considerable ramifications for the process.

We have recently seen the interesting appointment of a new UN special adviser, Espen Barth Eide from Norway; I wish him every success in bringing the parties together for a successful negotiation. The NATO summit, if nothing else, ranged far and wide. I will return to giving Cyprus greater priority on the international agenda, but the NATO summit was an opportunity that does not seem to have been seized. I regret that Cyprus did not appear much on the agendas of the meetings held there.

We now have in place the infrastructure for a successful negotiation. The two leaders of the communities have met reasonably regularly and the negotiators appointed to do the nuts and bolts of the agreement are in place and working hard. As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned, we have the joint declaration. Although it took some time to put together, it is a very good basis for such a negotiation, which could and should take place. A number of innovative procedures have been entered into as part of that infrastructure. I think particularly about the cross meetings, where the negotiator for the Turkish Cypriot side visits Athens and the negotiator for the Greek Cypriot side visits Ankara to update two of the guarantor powers about progress on the negotiations. I understand that the August meeting was cancelled, but a meeting has taken place and I hope that that will be successfully deployed as a mechanism to draw the guarantor powers into the negotiating process, which will be critical if we are to make progress over the coming months. The negotiation is on the basis, as is usual with such negotiations, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. That is not exceptional or surprising, but we wait to see how things will develop.

Like the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, I have to say that a shadow hangs over the negotiations. It is a time to reflect that for the past 40 years the island has remained divided and the two communities separated. It is a time for negotiations on that failure and disappointment. Whenever I visit Cyprus, I always go to the immediacy of the green line and Nicosia, the only divided city in Europe. In the immediate vicinity of the green line, Nicosia can be seen, frozen in aspic, as it was in 1963. That is a constant reminder that we have failed Nicosia, Cyprus and the Cypriot people. It reaffirms the need for us to be hard-headed, and while we are not optimistic, we must maintain a positive attitude towards the negotiations.

Of course, it was not always that way. In 1977, the then President Makarios was able to enter into a high-level agreement that set a framework, which was built upon in 1979. In the 1980s, Boutros Boutros-Ghali put more detail on that framework, including political equality, and we then had the Annan proposals, I to V, and the referendums. There has been plenty of negotiation, but we have failed to reach agreement. To echo the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, we need greater engagement from the international community.

The United Kingdom has a unique role to play in that, because we have a long, historical connection with Cyprus stretching back to the 1870s when it became part of the British empire. We were the main international party to the negotiations of the London and Zurich agreements in 1960 that set the framework for the independence of Cyprus, and we were a guarantor power in the settlement. The UK has a large Cypriot community, many of whom live in the constituencies of Members present today, and Cyprus has a large, but often forgotten, community of UK citizens. The connections between our two countries are strong, so Britain has a unique responsibility.

My constituents constantly remind me that we must do more to seize the opportunities of the negotiation process and to involve the international community. Now may not be the most opportune moment to grab the international community’s attention, however. Problems in Iraq and Syria, which are continuing to inflame the situation in the middle east, and in Afghanistan were foremost in concerns at the NATO summit, and if we add to that the developing situation in Ukraine, there is a great deal for the international community to deal with.

I apologise for being late; I was detained on a Delegated Legislation Committee. On Ukraine, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is rather unusual that the European Union seems exercised about Ukraine being occupied and divided by a military power while being oddly silent and acquiescent to the continuing occupation and division of Cyprus?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and would add that Cyprus is a full member of the European Union and should therefore get priority over non-member states. It is a constant battle to remind the European Union of its responsibilities. It took Cyprus into the European Union, hoping that it would be reunified. That has not happened, and engaging in the process and finding a solution must be a priority for the EU.

Returning to the role that Britain could play, although I recognise the difficult international situation in the middle east, Ukraine and other parts of the world, I ask the Minister to re-energise international involvement in Cyprus and to do whatever the United Kingdom can do. The international community looks up to the UK in its role in Cyprus, so we must do more to engage the international community.

Of course, the international involvement situation is not all negative. Some months ago, Vice-President Joe Biden, who is the first senior US official to visit the island since Vice-President Lyndon Johnson in 1963, travelled to Cyprus. The United States is re-engaging with the negotiation process and sees a successful conclusion as a priority. Joe Biden seems to have a direct interest not only in Cyprus but in the eastern Mediterranean and seems acutely aware, as the entire international community should be, of the importance of stability in the region not only because of the discovery of oil, but because of the current frictions that have resulted from the division of Cyprus.

On the negotiating process, the meetings have been frequent but, sadly, progress has been disappointing and is going at a glacial pace. It is particularly disappointing, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, that the confidence-building measures that it was hoped would accelerate the process have not met with the approval of both communities. It is important that we stress the need for such measures in order to boost the prospects of finding an overall settlement. There are some positives, but it is mainly negative, so I would like briefly to discuss some of the measures.

Missing persons have been a critical issue since the start of the dissolution of the two communities in Cyprus in 1963 and going on to 1967 and 1974. As has been mentioned, the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus comes to Parliament every year to remind us that they still do not know what happened to their relatives. Closure is a luxury that has not been afforded to them. Work on this is vital and must involve both communities to bring them together. Successes have been achieved and a number of remains have been returned to families, but there appear to be two main difficulties on which I ask the Minister to focus. The first is adequate funding for activities to push the process forward and the second is access to parts of Cyprus that are currently off limits, but where it may be possible to exhume the remains of those missing following previous conflicts. It is the most successful of the joint projects and must be given some priority. I hope that the Minister can confirm that.

The Famagusta initiative has been mentioned, so I will just say that it has the backing not only of the President of the Republic of Cyprus, but also the Turkish-Cypriot city of Famagusta itself. Bringing those two together, it should be possible to push the initiative forward, to return Famagusta to international control and to take forward what has been the major confidence-building measure that has not succeeded so far. If we can put that in place, it should be possible for the negotiating process to get under way.

Finally, religious and cultural heritage has been mentioned. There have been two successes. In particular, we have succeeded in bringing about the refurbishment of the Apostolos Andreas monastery, which is on the tip of the Karpas—well into Turkish Cypriot territory. As I understand it, that process has now started.

Confidence-building measures could make such a difference to the negotiating process, but there are some negatives as well. President Erdogan’s speech in Cyprus was, to say the least, disappointing. It set back the negotiating process. It starts from a position that, even under Annan, was not taken by either of the two communities. I hope that President Erdogan and the Turkish Cypriot community will reflect on the need to reach a compromise on all the issues that are outstanding. If they do so, then, after 40 years of division and separation, we can reunite Cyprus as an island and reduce tensions in that part of the world. I hope that, with oil, gas and the other benefits coming on stream, we can look forward to a bright economic and political future not only for the island, but for the eastern Mediterranean.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on introducing this debate. It is always important to debate Cypriot affairs. Those of us who represent London seats, particularly those in north London, will have large Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations; as one who contested such a seat in the last millennium, I recognise that. There are significant numbers of people of Cypriot heritage living even in my part of central London to this day. On the 40th anniversary of the division of Cyprus, one might argue that the debate comes at a time when both Turkey and Greece are at the forefront of some important international events, which I shall touch on.

The truth, to be brutally honest, is that Britain’s place in the world is not as strong as it was 40 years ago. It is probably not as strong as it was even a decade or so ago, not least given the decisions that have been made by Governments of all colours—by the current coalition Government and by the previous Labour Government—to make the cuts in defence that make us less of a world power. However, we are still a guarantor for Cyprus, as we were a guarantor for Ukraine, which is one reason why our voice cannot be entirely ignored, nor indeed our responsibilities relating to those affairs.

However, I do think one thing very profoundly. It is all very well to talk about our responsibilities, but there is an ongoing responsibility that, in my view, has been sadly lacking in political leaders on both sides of the Cypriot divide. They, too, have a responsibility to look to the future, rather than simply hark back in a negative way to the past. The Turkish and Greek Cypriot people have not been well served by their political class over the past four decades. They need leadership with a firm focus on where the future should lie. I say that as someone with heritage from eastern Europe: my late mother was an ethnic German from what is now Poland. It is thankful that many of the millions of people from that background do not constantly hark back to lands in what is now Poland. The biggest message I have, which I hope is a robust message, which should be put across by the UN, the US and British politicians to politicians in Cyprus is, “For heaven’s sake, you owe it as a responsibility to the people who live in your islands not to constantly hark back to slights and difficulties of the past, but to try to ensure the world is a better place and one in which Cypriots, of Turkish or Greek background, can benefit in the future.” The children and grandchildren of those living there today will hopefully have a better time, not simply because of the mineral resources that we have mentioned.

As I have said, the eurozone crisis clearly is not behind us. It is entering a new phase, and the Greek economy still requires a boost from the European Central Bank to buy its own bonds. I hope Cyprus can be an element of that thinking. It is timely that political leaders in this country now recognise that what is happening in Iraq and Syria will not be over in a matter of weeks or months; it will be there for years to come. We have to ensure that Turkey is a part of that discussion and a part of that coalition: Turkey is, of course, a member of NATO, as is Greece. Turkey also has a significant Kurdish minority. If we are to make common ground with Kurds in Iraq, we have to recognise the sensitivities in Turkey. One hopes that, in bringing them together, Cyprus can be part of the solution for the long term, rather than an ongoing problem.

It is fair to say—perhaps understandably, given the relative populations in Enfield Southgate and in Edmonton—that criticisms have been made of President Erdogan, but there has been intransigence on both sides. It is important that we progress. I have had the opportunity to visit both sides of the island. Most recently, I spent a few days last September as a guest of the representative office in London of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, to see that part of the island, having seen parts of what we would call Greek Cyprus in previous years. There are tremendous opportunities there. The economy is clearly having its difficulties, but potentially could thrive, not just on the back of mineral resources. Tourism or the educational offering that can be provided on both sides of Cyprus are important ways forward. I would like Turkish Cyprus not to be seen as a pariah state. An important way to encourage some cross-fertilisation across the island would be to ensure that more flights go directly from the UK to the northern part of Cyprus, rather than going via Istanbul, as they are currently obliged to do. That would be an important economic first step.

These debates in Parliament are important. As I say, we are a guarantor power. A significant number of Cypriots feel strongly about this issue. From my experience as a London Member of Parliament, it strikes me that many of the Turkish Cypriots I encounter—this applies to many Greek Cypriots as well—do not harp on the past. They are looking to make their lives here in the UK. They are proud of their Cypriot heritage. They have family in Cyprus and often have business interests there. I hope the UK can play a small part, but that has to be by having a firm eye towards a better future, which is clearly in the grasp of the people of Cyprus. Above all, it has to be by ending a sense of grievance and blame. I hope we can play a small part in pushing it further forward, but that future ultimately must be in the hands of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot political class. If there is one small message that can come from the debate—whether from the Front or Back Benches—it is that we hope they will take their responsibilities seriously to ensure that better days lie ahead in the whole of Cyprus.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I look forward to making a contribution. I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on bringing this matter for consideration. By doing so he gives us all an opportunity to make a contribution, which I hope the Minister will be able to respond to. This is an important debate. Some of my constituents are Cypriots, but many of my constituents have homes in Cyprus, whether in the north or the south. They are therefore aware of the issue.

I pay tribute to two former Members of this House who are now Members of the other place: Lord Kilclooney and Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, who as MPs made a significant contribution to debates and who retain their interest in the matter. The situation in Cyprus may seem bleak, after several attempts at finding peace—most notably the Annan plan of 2004, which produced a no vote in a referendum. I hope that in the referendum here the no vote will again be strong. The most recent round of talks, aimed at forging a federation between the Turkish Cypriot north and the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot south, ground to a halt in the middle of 2012. That is a matter of concern to all the Members who are here for the debate, and those who wanted to attend but could not.

Peace talks were launched again this year, but the situation in the country is difficult to repair, partly because of the still raw emotions on both sides of the UN-patrolled green line. That has been described by hon. Members today. The difficult tensions are no doubt largely due to the fact that some 2,000 of the country’s 1 million people vanished in the fighting from 1974 onwards. If there is one issue that rankles, it is, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) made clear, the disappeared. As hon. Members will know, there has been a similar situation in Northern Ireland. The disappeared are still a raw issue for many in Northern Ireland, although the numbers involved are clearly much larger in Cyprus.

At the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus the Turkish press was inundated with reports of unspeakable atrocities committed by Greek Cypriots—families being buried alive and houses burned. There were accounts of summary executions and other atrocities, which made Turkish blood boil, resulting in Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit ordering the Turkish army to intervene. In their turn, many Greek Cypriots and their sympathisers claim that the Turkish military killed and maimed numerous Greek Cypriots. They accuse Turkish soldiers of war crimes and other unwarranted and unprovoked violence, in addition to chasing 200,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes in the north of the island. There was a clear polarisation of two communities over a number of years. I always say that if Northern Ireland had adopted the same attitude of not seeking a way forward, we would still be in the situation we were in for 30 years up to 10 to 20 years ago.

The result of what happened was that the island has effectively been split into two since 1974, with the northern part necessarily turning to Turkey for aid and support, in view of its isolation within the international community. That is a clear issue. The split has remained despite attempts to reconcile north and south over the years, but 2014 might actually be the year for change. That is, I think, what the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate said. He is, like me, a man whose glass is half full rather than half empty. We always look for the positive, and should do that today. The main difference today is that a gas field, called the Aphrodite gas field, has been discovered off the southern coast of Cyprus, some 21 miles west of Israel’s notorious Leviathan gas field.

I had an opportunity to go to Cyprus through the armed forces parliamentary scheme. As well as asking about the defensive role, we had the chance to speak to Cypriots and find out where they see their future. The gas field is a key to moving forward for Cyprus, and that is how the people of Cyprus see it. Unemployment was high at the time of our visit, and it still is. There are problems with banking and the economy, and if the gas field pulls things around and enables people to envisage a better future, we should focus on it. Turkey wants to be the transit route for Israeli gas, to provide easy access to international markets, and so it should.

A reunified Cyprus would allow the north to reap some benefit from the newfound undersea wealth, and would constitute direct accession to the EU and the eurozone. It would also bode well for reviving Turkey’s now all-but-defunct EU ambitions. If the reaching of an agreement between the two communities of Cyprus could bring Turkey and Greece closer together, we should see whether we can move it along. The time has now really come for them to bury the hatchet—not in each other, but in the ground—and to let bygones be bygones.

I come from a country that was torn apart by fighting at about the same period as what took place in Cyprus, where there was a realisation—not just personal, but on the part of everyone involved in the political process—of the difficulty and pain. The only way in which Northern Ireland could move forward and become the absolutely fantastic little country that it is today was by doing just that—moving forward. Religious beliefs and cultural heritage have been mentioned, and I have a strong interest in such things, as hon. Members know. More movement in that respect is good news.

The memories are still fresh and the pain is still real, but when I think about the situation that Northern Ireland has come from and where we are today, I realise that we had no choice but to co-operate and start afresh. We had to make those difficult but necessary decisions for the next generation and the generations after that. When we listen to the young people in today’s society and hear that their concerns and aspirations are for peace without threat, a strong economy and job opportunities—the same aspirations as those in mainland Britain, the United States and western Europe—we know we did the right thing.

Lord Wood of Anfield referred in the other place to

“a line in the February declaration that reads that,

‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 July 2014; Vol. 755, c. 579.]

If we had adopted that attitude in Northern Ireland we would never have made progress, so perhaps it is time to agree on what can be agreed first, and use that as a foundation. From that point there can be movement towards other things. It is not a perfect process—let us be honest—but it is a way of moving forward.

Did not we get to that point in February in the joint declaration? Despite some people’s cynicism and concern the joint declaration was made, with an agreement on the fundamental principles. There was forward momentum, but since then noises off have suggested otherwise.

Yes, it takes both sides to recognise the need for initial engagement, and a basis on which to move forward. I am disappointed that things have not gone beyond that, because polls seem to have suggested a way forward.

I feel that real change may be brought about through the work of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus. I mentioned the 2,000 people who went missing, and we cannot bypass the hurt of the people affected by that. If people are given some form of closure perhaps their emotions can begin to recover, and the past can be left to rest in the past. Then I believe people will find it easier to talk, co-operate and, as has been said, compromise and make the necessary changes—to be totally committed to finding a way forward. When I think how far we have come in Northern Ireland despite not having closure for many family members, and despite the constant rather ludicrous debate over who the victims really are, I think that real change is every bit as likely in Cyprus as it was for us.

The article headed “Turkish poll sees shift on Cyprus” refers to

“24 per cent saying the Cyprus issue has lasted too long and a solution should be reached ‘no matter what the conditions are’.”

It adds:

“Another 26 per cent argued ‘there is no need to insist for a solution’, the best option is to have two separate states on the island. Eighteen per cent support the formation of a new Cypriot state”

with another 19% in support of a similar notion. Clearly, almost 87% want progress.

There has been some progress in recent months, with the newly elected Turkish President Erdogan making some fairly positive remarks, beneficial to both sides. However, his meeting with Greek Prime Minister Samaras did not go entirely to plan, as relations between the two soured because of their differences on Cyprus. That is to be expected, however; finding a peaceful solution with which to go forward will not be easy, but it is a possibility to be pursued with all eagerness. The Pancyprian Federation of Labour, the Turkish Cypriot Revolutionary Workers Trade Union Federation, Turkish Cypriot teachers and workers unions and the United Cyprus party have called for a

“just and mutually accepted solution”.

As always when there are two opposite opinions, compromises will need to be made if change is to be made possible, and talks should begin as soon as possible.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing the debate. I want to focus on the missing people, but first may I reiterate to my hon. Friend the Minister that the Foreign Office needs to be as vocal about Cyprus as it has been about Ukraine? As the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) said, Cyprus is a fully fledged ally and a member of the European Union that we are hanging out to dry.

To focus on the missing, 1,500 people are still unaccounted for—a subject that I have raised many times. They may be missing, but they are not forgotten. That is a message that the House has to send out. The families have a right to know what happened, whether their relatives are dead and, if so, where their graves are to be found. If those people are dead, why can the location of their remains not be disclosed and their remains returned? What about those who were relocated to Turkey? Might they still be alive, or imprisoned? Might they be dead and, if so, where are they buried?

I have expressed concern before about the missing children, such as Christaki Georghiou, the brother of Mrs Hatjoullis, a constituent of mine. He disappeared at the age of five in 1974. Recent newspapers reports suggest that he might still be alive and working in Ankara, but the Turkish authorities refuse to answer letters or to give even a scrap of information. How many other children might have been placed with Turkish families and still be alive in mainland Turkey?

The tragedy of missing persons is a humanitarian problem with implications for human rights and international humanitarian law. The Cypriot Government comply with efforts to identify the missing on both sides, and it is time that Turkey followed suit. The organisations involved in locating and identifying the missing should have full access to the archives of all organisations, both civilian and military. The right of family members to know the fate of their missing relatives, including their whereabouts and the circumstances and causes of their disappearance, is a humanitarian matter. The obligation to carry out an effective investigation into the circumstances is required by international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

When focusing on the humanitarian dimension of missing persons in armed conflicts, it is necessary to bear in mind that the cases of missing persons can sometimes constitute criminal offences, including war. Perhaps that is why Turkey is dragging its feet. The lack of an investigation by Turkey into the fate of those who went missing has condemned relatives to live in a prolonged state of acute anxiety. Time has not lessened that anxiety, and any Member who has seen the relatives of the missing holding vigil outside this place or, for those of us who have visited the green line, in Cyprus know the pain and anxiety that the families still have—it is still vivid to them. The families simply want to know what has happened; they want to be able to grieve and to lay their relatives to rest.

Finally, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and the hon. Member for Edmonton in asking the Foreign Office if it will continue to apply pressure on Turkey to open up all the sites that are now restricted and, on a perhaps easier note for the Minister, to help the missing persons commission to fund the latest equipment that could be used to find the remains of people. Those are two quite simple asks, and I hope that the Minister will comply. I finish by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate again on securing the debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), in the usual way, on securing the Adjournment debate. It would be wrong of me not to acknowledge his gracious and deserved tribute to our hon. Friend, the late Member for Heywood and Middleton, in particular on this issue, but more generally as well.

The debate is timely, especially given Britain’s long association with Cyprus and the continuing challenge facing the country’s leaders and people and those of us who are friends of Cyprus on how to secure a lasting resolution of the division of the island. Many people of Cypriot extraction, Greek and Turkish alike, live in the UK, with many in my own constituency. They, too, want to see a lasting solution to the island’s divisions, but they certainly want to see a fair and just resolution of the many issues that have prevented a successful settlement to date.

I want to acknowledge the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) and that of the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who echoed in a different way one particularly powerful point made by my hon. Friend, which was about the important joint work on missing persons—the 1,500 people still missing—and especially the missing children, an issue that will have struck many of those reading the record of our proceedings. My hon. Friend asked two questions of the Minister, about funding and about access to areas where missing persons’ remains might be buried. I hope that the Minister will address those two key requests.

The hon. Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made important points about the need for the political leaders with crucial roles in the talks to let the potential of Cyprus’s future inform the negotiations. Clearly, the past cannot be forgotten and the legacy has to be addressed, but the potential for Cyprus’s future, to which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate alluded, should surely provide the ongoing motivation for those closely involved in the present negotiations.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north. A military coup on the island backed by the Government in Athens was the supposed pretext for the invasion, which saw the island partitioned. Roughly, the northern third was inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and south by Greek Cypriots. There are many estimates about the scale of the upheaval that followed. The United Nations suggested at the time that some 165,000 Greek Cypriots had had to flee or were expelled from the north, with some 45,000 Turkish Cypriots going from the south.

Such figures are heavily contested. Whether one accepts them or thinks that they are higher, they nevertheless hide many individual tragedies arising from the events in 1974. Furthermore, communities that had lived together for hundreds of years were torn apart. A considerable number of people are still missing, which I alluded to earlier; homes invested with incomes and considerable emotion had to be deserted, almost at a moment’s notice; and many cultural and religious sites, including many churches, are unused and inevitably in poor condition as a result. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton mentioned parts of Nicosia that have been left almost untouched since then. The still deserted Varosha part of Famagusta stands as the perhaps most permanent challenge to the status quo on the island. Its future will be one of the many issues that needs to be addressed. I will come back to that point.

The green line is the UN buffer zone, which stretches from Morphou through Nicosia to Famagusta. It is patrolled by UN troops and has only a small number of designated crossing points. It now divides the two parts of Cyprus. There have been a number of serious attempts to secure a lasting resolution to the situation in Cyprus, but to date they have been unsuccessful.

I understand that for the first time, last Friday, the new UN special adviser, the Norwegian diplomat Espen Barth Eide, met separately with the leaders of the two sides, President Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu. Plans for a further joint meeting next week are encouraging. It is also encouraging that, despite some recent comments, both President Erdogan and Prime Minister Samaras were able to meet in the margins of the NATO summit on Friday to discuss Cyprus. I hope the Minister will set out what further steps the Government are taking to support the effort to build personal and political trust between the key leaders on Cyprus. In particular, what support is being given to the new UN special adviser?

Trust between political leaders is clearly a first, essential step if a deal is to be achieved, but other opinion formers on both sides of the green line need to feel their voices are being listened to. Will the Minister tell us what steps the Government have put in place or are encouraging to build dialogue between faith leaders and others in civil society, to help engender better relationships? I understand that there have been some encouraging contacts between business leaders in the two parts of Cyprus. Again, it would be good to hear what efforts our Government and others are making to build those relationships further.

It would be useful, too, to make sure that at this point of transition the European Union continues to be heavily involved in the effort to get a lasting settlement. Will the Minister discuss not just the role of the current High Representative but the efforts being made to brief the incoming High Representative, to prioritise the need for her active engagement in resolving the situation?

Other Members have already alluded to the encouraging visit of the US vice-president to Cyprus recently. Again, it will be useful to hear what further discussions the Foreign Office has had with the US to encourage it to maintain its interest and engagement in finding a solution.

Previous efforts to achieve a long-term solution to Cyprus’s political future have been conducted against a very different economic outlook. Cyprus is currently emerging from a difficult time economically—its banks have had to be bailed out—and in the north, too, the economic situation is a long way from ideal. Other Members have already alluded to the potential long-term prospects for the Cypriot economy, partly from the discovery of oil and gas. I understand that the UN has estimated that a long-term settlement could deliver a 3% boost to economic growth on the whole of the island—a far from insignificant potential peace dividend.

There are, inevitably, regional powers with a crucial role to play. Greece and Turkey are the two most obvious, but Israel, too, has a role. Will the Minister update hon. Members on the discussions he or others have had with those three regional powers?

It is to the credit of both President Anastasiades and Premier Eroglu that they have been willing to embark on renewed negotiations. We should continue to be positive about the signing of the joint declaration after such lengthy discussions in February and welcome the dialogue between both men personally and between the negotiators.

Previous negotiations have moved the process forward, but serious and significant challenges remain, not least on security, property, compensation and the distribution of powers in a new Government. The challenge the negotiators have to think through is how to build confidence among the peoples of Cyprus, while those difficult issues are being explored. I encourage the Minister to welcome the potential involvement of European parliamentarians and the High Representative and to think through what else can be done to build trust and confidence in the negotiations, among people on the island and in ex-patriot communities. Other commentators have suggested that negotiators from other, successfully resolved conflicts might offer a helpful perspective to those currently negotiating the future in Cyprus; it would be good to hear the Minister’s view on that.

Comments on both sides about the negotiations—both on specific elements and, more generally, on the way they have been conducted—have had a slightly less positive tone of late. I am sure we all recognise that all difficult negotiations have their bumpy moments, but it is important for those of us who want a long-term settlement to continue to encourage the key players and support deeper and wider engagement in the process, to help continue to achieve progress even when there are difficult moments. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about how that wider engagement is being built and, in particular, about how the Foreign Office is supporting the key players in Cyprus in continuing to move the process forward.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I begin as others did by saying how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for initiating this timely debate on the future of negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem. I am also grateful for the valuable contributions from hon. Members.

Hon. Members will note that I am here, rather than my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe. He sends his apologies, but he is in Hungary at the moment. Although this is not my portfolio, Cyprus is a country that I am familiar with, having served there as an officer in the 1990s with the 1st Battalion the Royal Green Jackets. It is an incredible island, and it was a pleasure and honour to serve there and travel the island extensively. I would probably have taken more notes had I known that one day I might be speaking on the subject. I was based in Larnaca and am familiar with Akrotiri, Episkopi, Paphos—the birthplace of Aphrodite—Famagusta and the amazing monastery in Bellapais. Restrictions on travel were severe then, and it was difficult to move backwards and forwards. It is good to see that there have been some advances since the days when I served there and that the key industries that Britain is involved in—tourism and banking, which has been mentioned—are in a good position, as are our strategic role, through which we play an important part, as I shall mention later, and our links with the diasporas in the UK.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate has had a long and active interest in promoting the case for a solution, and I thank him for his efforts. I also pay tribute to the British Cypriots of all backgrounds who have done so much to promote ties between the UK and Cyprus. This debate comes as we reflect on the difficult events of 40 years ago. Although it is important to understand the past, as hon. Members have said, it is vital that we look ahead to the new hope for the reunification of Cyprus. A settlement would help Cypriots take full advantage of the economic, political and security opportunities of their region, not least the mineral opportunities mentioned by the Opposition spokesman.

I can assure hon. Members that this Government will continue actively to support the efforts under way to reach a lasting solution. Indeed, our diplomatic activity continues apace. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe invited both chief negotiators to London in June. Last Friday, at the NATO summit, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of Cyprus with the Turkish Foreign Minister.

The UK’s efforts are in full support of the UN’s leading role in facilitating the talks. Like others, I warmly welcome the appointment as UN special adviser of Espen Barth Eide, who will bring a wealth of skill and experience to that important position. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe said when they spoke on 28 August, we hope that Mr Eide will soon help the parties to accelerate progress on the substantive negotiations.

The prospects for a lasting solution are promising, even if progress is less apparent or rapid than either community would like. The two communities and, just as importantly, Turkey are showing the right ambition to reach a settlement. The UK and Greece—the two other guarantor powers—are also fully supportive of the UN’s efforts to encourage the parties to work further forward.

I should now like to turn to some of the specific points that have been raised, and I hope that hon. Members will allow me to focus on those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. If I am unable to do so in the limited time available, I or my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will do our best to reply in writing.

I recognise that at a different time more of our colleagues might be here. This is an interesting week in politics and some hon. Members are in different parts of the country. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) is not here and that he is undergoing surgery. We wish him well.

I pay tribute, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate has done, to the late hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton, Jim Dobbin. This is the first opportunity I have had to do so. He was certainly a man of great principle and integrity, and he will be missed on both sides of the House.

Reference was made to the Committee on Missing Persons. The UK fully supports its work whereby communal teams undertake painstaking and sensitive work. So far, more than 571 individuals have been identified and returned to their families. We recognise the anguish suffered by families of the missing people from both communities, and we encourage parties to help the CMP to accelerate its work, which becomes more challenging as the years pass. Since 2006, we have donated more than $220,000, and bilateral EU funding, which comes partly from UK contributions, totalled $15.3 million from 2006 to 2013. We stand ready to consider further requests for funding from the committee if they are forthcoming.

In Northern Ireland and in the Republic, we have had specific attempts to try to find people who have disappeared. Has the Minister considered giving help with equipment because advanced equipment is available to find bodies that have been buried for many years and perhaps that could provide an advantage?

I am grateful for that intervention, and I am aware of initiatives in Northern Ireland, having also served there. I am not aware of any such equipment, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe to write to the hon. Gentleman. It is an interesting thought.

The UK will continue to urge all those in control of such areas, including the Turkish military, to co-operate fully with the committee and allow it to accelerate its vital work.

Sovereign base areas are pivotal to Britain’s strategic interest in the region, as has been said many times on the Floor of the House, and that applies not just recently in relation to the humanitarian aid drops that are taking place in Iraq at the moment. Cyprus is an important staging post and location for our military: the Army, Air Force and Royal Navy. The hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) mentioned Operation Tosca, which, sadly, is one of the longest running UN operations and polices the green zone. It is hoped that it can be wrapped up in the near future if the final agreement can be made. I am pleased that Britain has been a long-term contributor to that operation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate also mentioned Turkey’s role in the current negotiations. It remains an important part of reaching a solution and I welcome Ankara’s strong support for a settlement. We regularly discuss Cyprus with our Turkish counterparts, including at ministerial level, and we encourage Turkey to maintain its constructive engagement to make this round of talks successful. One example is the visits of the two negotiators to Athens and Ankara, and it would be useful to repeat them in the near future.

Turkey remains committed to supporting international efforts to solve the Cyprus problem. We do not believe that its support has been affected by the recent elections. We are aware of the remarks by President Erdogan on 1 September. The UK continues to support the UN-chaired negotiations to reach a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement on the basis of the relevant Security Council resolutions.

On EU involvement, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) referred, the EU has an important technical role to play—he is familiar with it—in providing advice on the EU acquis and technical assistance to help to implement the settlement. We welcome the work being done under the EU financial aid regulation aimed at bringing Turkish Cypriots closer to EU standards. However, the UN rightly remains the lead in chairing talks and facilitating the process. The EU has said that all parties will have to agree to an upgraded role. We recognise that Cyprus is a member of the EU, but the talks take place between two communities with equal status. The UN has led international efforts since 1964 and both sides will have to agree to any change in modalities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and others referred to Famagusta, which I visited not too long ago. Sadly, it is not the place it used to be, but we fully support UN resolutions 550 and 789, and have also raised the issue with Turkey. We understand that this is important for many Cypriots, which is why so many efforts have been made over decades for a package deal, unfortunately without success. Varosha, as part of Famagusta is known, is best addressed as part of a comprehensive settlement, given the myriad complexities, and we welcome the work of civil society, such as the bi-communal Famagusta initiative, in preparing the way.

Hon. Members also referred to religious freedom. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate noted that some of the challenges faced by religious groups in Cyprus were caused in no small part by the political situation. We recognise the constraints, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe discussed with the Cypriot archbishop in May, and we also discussed such matters with the Turkish Cypriot community. More can be done, but we are pleased that progress has been made in recent years on religious services in both churches and mosques, on mutual understanding and on cultural heritage.

Flights were mentioned. The UK Court of Appeal has confirmed that direct flights from the UK to the northern part of Cyprus would breach obligations under international law. The court found that it is for the Republic of Cyprus to determine which airports are open for international traffic and as a result no airlines are licensed to operate flights from the UK direct to north Cyprus.

In conclusion, this debate has underlined the warmth of the ties between the UK and Cyprus and shown how it is in the UK’s national interest to help the Cypriots to reach a lasting settlement. No one should underestimate the scale of the challenges ahead, but the Government firmly believe that a solution that meets the fundamental concerns of both communities is possible and that there has been no better time to achieve it. The parties have stated their willingness to reach a deal and we urge both sides to seize this opportunity. Cypriots of both communities want to live and prosper together in peace. As they strive for a lasting solution, we will continue our active support in Cyprus, Ankara, Athens, New York, Brussels and beyond. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate for securing this debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss these important issues.