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Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to further prospects for a united Cyprus.

My Lords, the current negotiations represent the best opportunity that Cypriots are likely to have to resolve the long-standing division of the island. It is up to the two leaders and the Cypriot people to seize the unique opportunity to shape their future for the better. The UK welcomes the personal commitment shown by the two leaders and we shall continue to lend our full support by encouraging positive engagement by all parties to reach an agreement by Cypriots for Cypriots. Although good progress has already been made, efforts must now be intensified to make substantive progress in the coming months. A settlement will deliver major economic, social and political benefits. All parties, therefore, need to show flexibility and good will to reach an agreement. This opportunity will not last for ever.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that helpful Answer. Does she agree with my observation on a recent visit to the island that there is a surprising degree of communication and dialogue between the two communities and certainly a shared interest in arriving now at a solution and that the obstacles may lie primarily with Ankara? Therefore, are Her Majesty’s Government using the leverage that they have with Ankara, as this country has been a sustained and consistent advocate of Turkish membership of the European Union and there is no chance of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union unless there is a settlement in Cyprus?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. However, I point out that, following the recent visit to Turkey, the Foreign Secretary expressed his personal belief and the Government’s belief that the Government of Turkey are fully committed to achieving a settlement in Cyprus. Following the April elections in the north of Cyprus, Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul have both made positive public statements about the importance of supporting Talat in the negotiations.

My Lords, my noble friend will recall that, in the last round of negotiations, to facilitate territorial adjustments between the parties we agreed to transfer part of the Sovereign Base Area to the Republic of Cyprus. Does that offer still stand?

My Lords, the focus for now must be on the core settlement negotiations. We will be ready at such time as that occurs to respond to any question of this type, but it must be at the appropriate time.

My Lords, are the Government urging parties to the current talks to give due consideration to the positive contribution that the religious communities of Cyprus can make to the future of the island? Are the Government also committed to ensuring the highest standards of religious freedom in a reunified Cyprus?

My Lords, I certainly accept and support what the right reverend Prelate has said. He makes a good and urgent point for us to recognise. The religious division certainly needs to be addressed and understood by us all. We would expect that it will be a factor that will be given priority in the negotiations.

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the factor most likely to drive these negotiations forward would be if the European Union revitalised the negotiations for the accession of Turkey? That would then give a high motivation to all parties involved in the negotiations, including the Turks themselves, to come to a solution on Cyprus. Given the signature yesterday by Turkey and other countries to the Nabucco pipeline agreement, and the accession of the new presidency, which is a good deal friendlier than the previous one to Turkey’s point, is this not the moment to get this moving? I leave with the noble Baroness the thought that it is always unwise in Cyprus negotiations to try to impose artificial deadlines; it is best to soldier on.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I think that I am someone who will be prepared to soldier on with this matter. I certainly very much support his point about the importance of Turkey’s accession and the opportunity that that presents to move forward the talks in Cyprus. Of course, that contributes to Turkey’s security, stability and prosperity, as it does to ours in the European Union. The process is now establishing a clear path towards European standards in Turkey across a range of domestic issues, from human rights to agriculture, business practice and border security. The prospect of EU membership, together with the Turkish Government’s determination to give their citizens the quality of life that they deserve and demand, is bringing real change. The noble Lord makes a very important point.

My Lords, what the noble Baroness says is very helpful. I know that she appreciates that this has been a very long saga. The United Nations alone has been there for 45 years and, of course, the British were deeply involved before that. I gather that the latest meeting between the two community heads—the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots—was last week, on 9 July, on security issues. Can she bring us up to date on what of substance was agreed at that meeting?

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the honest answer that I know that security issues were discussed, but I am not absolutely clear whether anything substantial was agreed. I will write to the noble Lord with that information.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the lesson to be learnt from Cyprus’s membership of the European Union is that one should not agree to the accession of countries where territorial disputes are still unresolved? Does she agree that it is very important in future enlargement that that rule is respected? I think in particular of the troublesome case of Croatia and Slovenia, but hope that they will be able to solve this problem bilaterally, rather than have the process of the agreement to the opening and closing of chapters held hostage to the views of one side rather than the other.

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. The Croatian and Slovenian difficulty illustrates the importance of those benchmarks and of those opening and closing of chapters that have been put in place. The problem that we had with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania was that we were not as rigorous as we should probably have been. I assure my noble friend that that rigorous approach will take place with Croatia, as it will with Iceland in the near future.