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Volume 700: debated on Thursday 27 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they will take to resolve the division of Cyprus, following the recent talks between President Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Talat.

My Lords, we applaud the agreement reached between the leaders of the two communities to resume the search for a comprehensive settlement through negotiations facilitated by the UN and flanked by confidence-building measures such as opening Ledra Street. This agreement is a clear demonstration of their joint desire to reunify Cyprus. The UK’s role in this is not prescriptive but supportive. We will continue to support the UN by encouraging all parties to capitalise on this new opportunity.

My Lords, while recognising the necessity of the two parties themselves resolving the issues between them, will my noble friend nevertheless consult the Greek and Turkish Governments to reinforce any such agreement that occurs? Will he consult our European Union allies to ensure that Northern Cyprus benefits from being in the EU, something of which it has hitherto been deprived?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we intend to be actively involved in the diplomacy on this. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have already directly met their Cypriot counterparts. We have intense engagements with the Government of Turkey as well as that of Greece. On the latter point, while it is true that Northern Cyprus has not enjoyed the benefits of EU membership, it enjoys a generous aid programme in per capita terms, intended to raise the living standards of Turkish Cypriots in a way that will reduce the friction on the happy day that the two halves of the island are reunited.

My Lords, while joining wholeheartedly in welcoming the steps that President Christofias, since his election, and his Turkish Cypriot opposite number, Mr Talat, have taken to revive the negotiating process aimed at reunifying the island, will the Minister confirm the importance in any resumed negotiations of the two Cypriot parties taking full ownership of the process from the outset, up to and beyond its conclusion? That way we would not again have any prospect of a party opposing the terms of a deal in the subsequent referendum. Will the Minister confirm that, in the context of an emerging settlement, Her Majesty’s Government will renew the offer made in 2003 to hand over a substantial part of the sovereign base areas to a reunited Cyprus?

My Lords, the noble Lord is of course a well recognised expert on this issue. He knows that the last time there was an agreement, there was coincidentally a change of Government through elections in the Republic of Cyprus, which complicated the issue of support for the agreement. We now have a new President in Cyprus with a new and fresh mandate, who is committed to negotiations. Equally, in the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Talat, we have someone committed since he came to office to finding an agreement. The omens for both sides taking ownership of this and negotiating in complete seriousness are very high. Of course, we will do everything we can—including on the issue of the sovereign bases—to provide incentives to make such negotiations a success.

My Lords, is it not the case that we have in this country a real responsibility as a long-term guarantor to do something to help Northern Cyprus? Is the Minister aware that real suffering has gone on for years in that little strip of land, not only with the people trying to make a living but in every aspect—property and so on? This is an urgent matter, and we would all welcome action being taken by the Government.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct that there have obviously been real economic disadvantages in the north which we have sought to address. With the prospect of two political leaders willing to lead their communities into a final solution to the root cause of this problem, this is not the moment for the UK to introduce new aid or economic incentives to the north alone. We must put all our efforts into finding a lasting solution: a political agreement between the two communities.

My Lords, on occasions over the past six or seven years, it has seemed as if the United Kingdom has been the only EU member apart from Greece that is actively interested in resolving the Cyprus conflict. Given that the Cyprus conflict and its related links with Greece and Turkey are at the heart of the problems of closer links between NATO and the EU, can Her Majesty’s Government make the strongest possible efforts to ensure that other EU Governments also take an active and positive role in assisting both parties in negotiating?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. We will certainly work to involve individual EU countries in this way. He was not suggesting otherwise, but both parties agree that the right frame for negotiations remains the United Nations. EU member states have a particular role in supporting that.

My Lords, why do the Government appear so dismissive of human rights for Turkish Cypriots, as evidenced in recent Written Answers? Have they forgotten the ruthlessness of EOKA-B against Turkish Cypriots? Why do they still disregard their obligations as a guarantor of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, despite promises renewed in April 2004 after the Annan plan referendum?

My Lords, I certainly hope that the noble Lord is not correct and that we do not overlook either our obligations as a guarantor or concerns for the human rights of those in the north. Rather than direct monitoring by the UK, as occurred in the past, we now rely on the well established UN mechanisms and UN reports on the human rights situations of the different communities as our main basis for action. I reassure him that we have not forgotten about these issues.