HC Deb 04 June 1997 vol 295 cc330-49 10.59 am
Mr. Andy Love (Edmonton)

I should like to add my congratulations to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and welcome you to your new position. I also offer belated congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), both on his appointment as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and on the prominent part that he has played in forging a new relationship with our neighbours in the European Union.

I hope that hon. Members will bear with me as I make my traditional introductory remarks. It is a great honour to represent the people of Edmonton and I thank them for electing me as their Member of Parliament. I should also like to thank all those across London, both hon. Members and supporters, who worked so hard to achieve victory. For the first time, I am joined in the House by two other new Labour Members for the London borough of Enfield: my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg). Not only is the borough now represented by three Labour Members of Parliament, but it has a Labour council which was newly elected in 1994 after 26 years of Tory rule.

This phenomenal run of electoral success began with the election of the first Labour Member of the European Parliament, Pauline Green, who was elected eight years ago. Like Pauline, I stood for election as a Labour and Co-operative candidate and now have the privilege of representing the Co-operative movement in the House. With my colleagues, I hope to bring its principles, values and experience to bear on hon. Members' deliberations.

Prior to the coming of the railways and the rapid expansion of London, Edmonton, like the surrounding villages of Enfield, Friern Barnet and Potters Bar, was represented in Parliament by a Middlesex county Member. Under the Reform Act of 1885 Edmonton became part of the Enfield parliamentary division. Local electors had to wait for the subsequent reform Act of 1918, which introduced the major innovation of a limited franchise for women, for the formation of the Edmonton constituency.

My immediate predecessor, Dr. Ian Twinn, was the seventh Member of Parliament for the constituency. Although, since its formation, there have been four Labour and three Conservative Members of Parliament, more than 50 years separate Dr. Twinn's election from that of the previous Tory Member. It is a measure of the regard in which he was held that Dr. Twinn served for 14 years in the House. I pay tribute to the tenacity with which he held the seat during that time. Indeed, I learnt that to my cost at the general election in 1992. The House will not be surprised to hear that we disagreed on many things, but he was, by unanimous consent, a tireless representative of local people and local causes. He will be particularly remembered in the House for his advocacy on behalf of Cyprus—a cause about which I know he feels passionately and to which I shall return later.

Among the distinguished list of my Labour predecessors, I wish to pay tribute to Ted Graham, now Lord Graham of Edmonton. Like me, he is not a native of Edmonton—he originally came from Tyneside. He came to work locally, stayed and formed a strong attachment to Edmonton and its people. In the nine years that he served in the House, he built up an unrivalled reputation as a campaigner on issues affecting the constituency. He was, and to some extent still is, known as the voice of Edmonton. I wish him well, in the knowledge that he will be playing an active part in this Parliament in another place.

I have it on good authority from the Fees Office that Edmonton lies nine miles north of the House—[Interruption.] That struck a chord. Since local government reorganisation in the early 1960s, it has formed part of the London borough of Enfield, but it still maintains a distinct identity and character, of which its citizens are very proud. Depending on one's view, it is either blessed or cursed by being dissected by two of the busiest routes into and around the capital: the great Cambridge road and the north circular road, which are both currently being extended or strengthened.

The work is causing significant disruption, noise and pollution. Business is being badly affected, as are local shopping patterns. Local people wonder whether the disruption will ever end. But when the work is complete, the improved road network should hold out hope of much-needed investment in that part of north London—to some extent, that hope will be fulfilled. However, little thought has been given to the overall impact of the road developments on either the wider transport infrastructure or on public and private investment patterns locally. That is because decisions are fragmented and taken by unelected and unaccountable bodies. London needs a directly elected strategic authority to provide an independent voice and to act as a powerful champion for promoting economic, transport and planning strategies to boost prosperity and job growth.

I can also confirm that the local economy is in much need of a boost; it was undermined in the 1980s by two of the deepest recessions since the war and has not fully recovered. Much of the industry for which Edmonton was famous—furniture, electrical goods and electronics—has disappeared or moved to green-field sites. The replacement jobs have often been low skilled with low wages. Many people are insecure and it is not hard to find locals, particularly young people, who have been forced to change jobs two or three times in as many years. One in four of all our under-25s in Edmonton are unemployed. With few or no skills or qualifications, many of them have little prospect of gaining employment. For that reason, the people of Edmonton welcome the Chancellor's welfare-to-work initiative and the Government's commitment to provide meaningful employment and training that will lead to a qualification. For many people, the scheme will for the first time provide both the independence and self-respect that come with earning a wage.

Edmonton is a community of many contrasts. Alongside increasing prosperity, many people suffer considerable hardship and deprivation. One way in which those problems are being challenged is through the Edmonton partnership initiative, an innovative scheme to regenerate the local town centre. It is an attempt to reverse the long-term decline of the shopping centre while, at the same time, radically improving local housing conditions and providing community facilities and much-needed jobs and training for local people. Based on a public-private consortium, the initiative will attract more than £100 million of investment into the constituency, with more than £80 million of that coming from the private sector. Over the next seven years that exciting partnership project will transform the centre of Edmonton, delivering tangible benefits and increasing prosperity to one of the most deprived parts of the constituency.

Edmonton is also a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community. At the latest count, 65 languages were spoken in local schools. In the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it will be a great privilege and pleasure to represent all of the people in my constituency. By far the largest local ethnic minority is the Cypriot community—Greek and Turkish—many of whom have come here since the invasion and division of the island in 1974. The future of Cyprus is of more than academic interest to all of them. It is with that in mind that I have sought to initiate this first debate on Cyprus in the new Parliament.

First, I offer the apologies of my hon. Friends the Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), who are great friends of Cyprus and regularly contribute to debates on this subject. Unfortunately, they are away on urgent business of the House and are unable to be with us today.

I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on their commitment, stated in the Queen's Speech, to seek a settlement in Cyprus. I warmly welcome the mission statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am particularly pleased to see that, among its objectives, he includes: to work through international forums and bilateral relationships to spread the values of human rights, civil liberties and democracy which we demand for ourselves. We must also demand them for Cyprus and the Cypriot people. It is appropriate that this debate is taking place today, because I understand that the Cypriot Foreign Minister, Mr. Cassoulides, is at this very moment flying into Britain for talks with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing them well.

This year has been dubbed the year of the "big push" in Cyprus. There has certainly been a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent months, which is not surprising, given the number of international representatives who are currently on the island. Apart from the ubiquitous United Nations representative, who has recently been sponsoring proximity talks between the two communities, there are also representatives from the United States and from the European Union and, of course, Britain's own representative, the recently reappointed former ambassador to the UN, Sir David Hannay. This has occasioned the President of Cyprus to comment that there are "too many cooks", and one can see his point.

The critical issue facing the Government is to evaluate what role Britain can play in finding a just and lasting settlement for Cyprus. Before looking at that, I want to give a word of caution. Nearly 23 years have elapsed since the military invasion that divided the island and hopes of a settlement have risen in the past, only to be dashed. A flurry of diplomatic activity is no substitute for confidence-building measures and meaningful negotiations. The high-level agreements that form the starting point for direct negotiations and that set out the framework for a settlement were drawn up 18 years ago and it has to be admitted that there has been little real progress since.

It is widely recognised that there is a great deal of work to be done before there is a realistic prospect of reaching an agreement, but a consensus is emerging that that work must be undertaken urgently and that the measures necessary for the effective promotion of a settlement must be put in place. Britain is uniquely placed to facilitate that process, because of its historic role on the island; because it is a guarantor power of the security of Cyprus; and because it is a member of both the UN Security Council and the EU. Most important, Britain can help to ensure that any final agreement is based on international law, UN resolutions and the objectives of the Government's own mission statement.

Britain must make it clear that the continued division of Cyprus is unacceptable and can never form the basis of a settlement. Any solution must be based on the unity and integrity of the island. That is already set out in the high-level agreements and in the Gali set of ideas to create a bizonal, bicommunal federation comprising two politically equal communities. Over the years, many on both sides have cast doubt on that formulation, yet it describes the only framework that can provide both the unity and equality that are critical to a settlement.

Division on the island creates instability, as the furore over the now delayed purchase of Russian S300 missiles shows. A shift in the balance on one side leads to a response from the other and the result is military build-up. It is little wonder that, over the past 23 years, Cyprus has become one of the most over-militarised areas of the world and consequently a potential flash point. Any solution must be based on the demilitarisation of the island and in that respect the House should welcome the statement by Mr. Clerides, proposing to demilitarise the whole island and reallocate spending to the economic development of a reunited Cyprus.

It is, of course, security—or the lack of it—that has bedevilled all attempts to find a lasting solution. Both communities well remember the failures of the past—in 1963 and 1967—and the tragic events of 1974. No one underestimates the difficulty in achieving firm security guarantees. The people of Cyprus must have confidence that there will be no return to the communal violence or military interventions of the past.

Working next door to my constituency offices is a Cypriot shopkeeper, who has not seen his parents for 25 years. They are elderly and he despairs that he will never see them again. They are Greek Cypriots, but live in the Karpas peninsula in the north of the island. They should be able to travel, but cannot leave as they would find it impossible to return. Their relatives cannot visit. Ending their isolation must be the first step in building confidence and moving towards a settlement.

Both communities have suffered many grave injustices. If they are to be reconciled, each community is entitled to know what has happened to the loved ones who disappeared during the violence of the past. Like the truth commission in South Africa, justice demands that the terrible events of the past should be made public, so that the fate of the innocent victims can be known. In addition, the events of 1974 made hundreds of thousands of Cypriots on both sides refugees on their own island. Many would like to visit their villages, return to their homes and travel freely to other parts of the island, but they cannot do so. Any meaningful settlement must underpin the human rights of all Cypriots.

Cyprus has had a relationship with the European Community since it first signed an association agreement in 1972. A customs union in 1987 was rapidly followed by an application for membership of the EC in 1990. A favourable opinion from the Commission on Cyprus's eligibility in 1993 led to agreement at the Cannes summit two years ago that negotiations for accession should begin six months after the conclusion of the intergovernmental conference in Amsterdam. That will coincide with Britain's presidency of the EU and provide a unique opportunity for Britain to give a lead in supporting Cyprus's application.

Membership will benefit both communities. It will end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community and provide an impetus to the economy and a huge boost to living standards. The EU can help to guarantee the security of both communities. However, one question remains: will Cyprus be reunited, as we all hope, before those negotiations are completed? In November last year, the then Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, made it plain that it would be very difficult to admit a divided Cyprus to the EU. That view was subsequently echoed by the German Foreign Minister. The Government should continue to offer support to Cyprus's application for membership, on its merits and without conditions.

Much of the answer to the question of accession and of a general settlement lies, not in northern Cyprus, but in Turkey. Turkey's own application for membership has been described as "premature". It was told recently by the Christian Democrat group in the European Parliament that, as a non-Christian country, it was an unsuitable applicant for membership. I disagree fundamentally with that view.

However, there are continuing difficulties with the recently agreed customs union, and against that background it is unlikely that Turkey will be in a position in the near future to make a serious application for full membership. Many believe, as a result, that it is unlikely to encourage the Turkish Cypriot community to co-operate in the negotiations for Cyprus's entry to the EU. That would be regrettable, and I hope that the Government will make it clear that it can never be acceptable for a country that is not a member of the Community to exercise its veto on the application of another.

Relations between Greece and Turkey remain tense, and complicate the finding of a solution in Cyprus. Disputes about uninhabited islands, the military build-up in the region and friction regarding Cyprus continue to sour relations between the two nations—both, supposedly, NATO allies. As yet, diplomatic efforts to resolve the various disputes have met with very limited success. As both are guarantor powers, it is hard to see how any permanent settlement in Cyprus can be achieved without an overall resolution of the disputes in that part of the eastern Mediterranean.

The year 1997 will be crucial to Cyprus. The European Union and the United States appear to believe that there is a brief window of opportunity for a political settlement. Although proximity talks are not reported to have thrown up new initiatives or signs of greater flexibility, it is widely felt that, as Sir David Hannay was recently quoted as saying, the chances of getting a settlement are better than they have been for quite a long time". In addition, with European Union accession negotiations, presidential elections in Cyprus and the distinct possibility of fresh elections in Turkey—all likely to happen in 1998—it is hard to avoid the conclusion that 1997 presents a better prospect than will exist for some time.

I was therefore very pleased to read recent press reports of the possibility of direct UN-sponsored talks between President Clerides and Mr. Denktash, expected to begin in early July. As part of that announcement, the UN emphasised the importance of the talks developing on a positive note. I believe that we would all agree. I also welcome the note of realism in that statement, saying that the first round may not yield any concrete results as such and that they will be followed by further talks later in the month. No one underestimates the task confronting the participants, but I am sure that the House will join me in wishing them every success in their endeavours.

However, Britain needs to do more. I hope that the debate will send a clear message that this House believes that the Government must do everything in their power to assist those negotiations, and that Ministers must use their influence with the international community to move the issue of Cyprus up the international agenda and to step up efforts to find a just and lasting settlement of the division of the island.

11.23 am
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)

I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment to the Chair of the House, which I regard as a reflection of your long and very distinguished service in this place, and wish you success in your role.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on his maiden speech. I thank him for the pretty compliment that he paid his predecessor, Dr. Ian Twinn, who was a friend of many hon. Members on both sides of the House and a very good friend of the Parliamentary Friends of Cyprus. I am sure that it will be of considerable comfort to his constituents, and the wider Cypriot community in the United Kingdom, to know that the Edmonton tradition is being continued, and that the support for the movement behind the Parliamentary Friends of Cyprus and the Cypriot Brotherhood will continue to be represented by him in the House.

The hon. Member for Edmonton described the volatility of the constituency that he represents. However long or short his tenure of office in the House, I hope that he will enjoy it and that he will be successful in it. On this morning's showing, I am sure that he will be.

The hon. Gentleman neatly managed to weave that magic dance that all of us are required to weave the first time that we speak in the House, knitting together the virtues and joys of one's constituency, as the second garden of Eden, with the need to concentrate on the debate. I commend him on the manner in which he did so. I am sure that his constituents will be pleased to read his remarks in local newspapers and in Hansard.

I briefly turn to the subject of the debate—the future of the sadly divided island of Cyprus. Specifically, I shall mention the role that the Parliamentary Friends of Cyprus has played and will continue to play. I am sure that the hon. Member for Edmonton will quickly become a signed-up member of the organisation, and I hope that many of his new colleagues in the Government, and many of the colleagues who have joined us on the Opposition Benches, will take up that cause. I hope that they will understand that, as its title implies, the Parliamentary Friends of Cyprus means the friends of Cyprus and of all Cypriots worldwide, not—as, sadly, is sometimes said—merely the friends of Greek Cyprus.

Members of the Parliamentary Friends of Cyprus, on both sides of both Houses of Parliament, have worked for far too many years to secure a settlement of the division of the island of Cyprus that is in the interests of all those who have a legitimate right to live on, and move freely around, the island. No settlement will ever be possible of what has become known as the Cyprus problem that is not based on the three freedoms: freedom of movement, freedom of domicile and freedom of employment. Unless and until all international politicians involved in these debates understand that, there will never be a settlement.

However, I accept that the hon. Member for Edmonton is correct in believing that 1997, being the window of opportunity in the run-up to the Cypriot presidential elections and elections in Turkey, may offer an opportunity for a settlement that, if it is missed, may not come around again for some time. The year 1997 may be the year of Cyprus—the year of the "big push", as the hon. Gentleman described it—which some of us thought might have been 1996, 1995, 1994 or 1993. Such predictions have been made for far too long.

The hon. Gentleman illustrated his concern through the eyes of the neighbour to his office, a Cypriot whose parents live in a peninsula in the north of the island and who has been unable to visit his parents. That illustration encapsulates the problem that confronts many hon. Members. We have constituents who find themselves in a similar position.

I think of George Yerolemou, now an elderly man, who first came to me within days of my arrival in the House of Commons, 14 years ago, showing me a photograph of a simple dwelling in a village in the northern part of the island, which is his home. He has not seen that home now for well over 20 years. Sadly, his wife has died and will never see it again. For me, that is the Cyprus problem—the fact that there are people living in my constituency who are unable to go to their homeland, to move around it, to visit their Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot friends and drink coffee with them and to visit their family's graves. They can do none of those normal things.

The Berlin wall has come down; Germany has been reunited; we have watched the Soviet empire crumble. Wars and conflicts are being settled throughout the world. The Gulf war—a major middle east conflict—has been and gone. In this day and age, outrageously, an army of occupation continues to sit with virtual impunity in half of a territory, where it has sat since an invasion in 1974, while the entire might of the western world stands by, arguing the toss in the United Nations and passing resolution after resolution, and the Council of Europe and the European Union discuss the issue, and nothing happens. It cannot be right that the situation is allowed to continue.

It is time that the world community took the Cyprus issue as seriously as it has taken others. We must recognise that the instability of the Turkish economy and of some Turkish politicians makes it convenient to have a distraction just across the water, to focus Turkish attention on it and to distract the Turkish people from their problems at home. That may be convenient for Turkey, the power that works the strings of the regime in northern Cyprus, but it is no longer acceptable.

I hope that the present Administration will take the same determined attitude in the House as have previous Administrations since the invasion. They must send a clear message that the illegal regime in the northern part of Cyprus will never be recognised; that we, with our European partners, will press for the admission of Cyprus as swiftly as possible to the European Union; and that we hope, believe and expect that the international community will bring its best endeavours to bear to ensure that, before the year is out, the island will be united and our constituents, be they Turkish Cypriots or Greek Cypriots, will be able to move freely around their homeland.

11.30 am
Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), first, on being canny enough to secure the debate. He is a new Member, but he has already managed to find his way around the House of Commons. I have been trying for some time to get one of these Wednesday morning debates, but I have not yet succeeded.

Secondly, my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on having the courage to open a debate in his maiden speech. His performance this morning bodes well for the future. That is no surprise to me, as I have known my hon. Friend for many years. He was a councillor in Haringey and the chair of the housing committee when I was a councillor. We spent many years discussing issues, especially matters relating to Cyprus.

My hon. Friend mentioned the ethnic diversity in his constituency, Edmonton, and said that Cypriots were the largest ethnic group. The reason for that is the fact that they left my constituency, Tottenham, and moved to Edmonton and further afield as they became more prosperous, having come mainly to Haringey in 1974 after the invasion of Cyprus. Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish, have made a great contribution to the economy of Haringey and of Tottenham in particular, and I believe that they will continue to play an important role in the local economy.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by the executive members of one of the Cypriot organisations in London, DEKO—the Democratic Party of the Workers of Cyprus—to visit Cyprus in April this year. It was my third visit to Cyprus. I have been to the green line, to demonstrations in Morphou and to conferences in Cyprus. It was my first opportunity to see in detail the way in which the Cyprus problem has affected the lives of people there.

At the Ledra Palace on the green line I met a woman who was there with her daughter. She was looking across at the Turkish side. She pointed out her house to me and said, "It is 100 metres from where I stand, yet I cannot go there." She told me that she had been coming there every day since 1974.

There were huge pictures on display, showing the violence that occurred in Cyprus in August last year, when three Greek Cypriot men were killed. One was an old man who was collecting snails in the mountains. He did not know where the green line was and happened to wander over to the Turkish side. He was beaten and shot dead. Another picture depicted a young man who had climbed a flagpole to remove the Turkish flag. He was shot down like a dog by the Turkish authorities. A third person was beaten and killed.

That brought home to me the grief of Cyprus and the problems that exist there. With my hon. Friends, I am determined to do something about the matter. One wonders how the previous British Government could sit in office for 18 years and do nothing to try to resolve the situation in Cyprus.

The United Nations should deal with the matter, but as a guarantor power and one of the old colonial powers in Cyprus Britain has a clear responsibility to do as much as it can to bring the other guarantor powers together. I hope that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), will give us an assurance that, in addition to what the United Nations is doing, the Labour Government will do everything in their power to bring together the other guarantor powers, Greece and Turkey, and to get things moving.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton raised various points with which I agree. He spoke about the missing persons. There are about 1,500 missing persons on the Greek Cypriot side and hundreds on the Turkish Cypriot side. Any settlement must deal with their fate.

As a gesture of good will in the talks that are currently taking place, the rights of the people of the enclave, particularly in the north of Cyprus, must be taken into account. Those people are in serious difficulties and their rights must be guaranteed. I call on the Turkish Cypriot side in particular to ensure as a gesture of good will that the rights of the people of the enclave are respected.

I am particularly concerned about the demilitarisation of Cyprus. As my hon. Friend stated, the Turkish soldiers in the northern part of Cyprus have been bolstered by Turkish settlers from Anatolia. When demilitarisation takes place and the soldiers leave, the majority of the settlers, if not all of them, should leave as well.

The agreement must ensure that Cyprus becomes a bizonal and bicommunal community. That was the original agreement made between Mr. Denktash and Archbishop Makarios, and it must be honoured if there is to be a way forward.

In relation to the European Union I believe, like my hon. Friend, that Cyprus should be admitted, regardless of the state of the country—whether it is divided or not. The Government of Cyprus, who are the legitimate Government recognised by the United Nations and by all countries except Turkey, have applied for membership of the European Union. I believe that Cyprus is entitled to become a member, and that that should happen as soon as possible. I hope that when Britain has the presidency of the European Union next year, we will ensure that Cyprus's membership application goes through.

Meanwhile, I oppose Turkish membership of the EU for a number of reasons. First, its relationship with Cyprus rules it out; secondly, and more importantly, human rights in Turkey are a thorough disgrace. There must be no question of Turkey becoming a member so long as it continues to treat Kurdish people in the way it does—

Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)

My hon. Friend has mentioned the abuse of human rights in Turkey and Turkey's continued illegal occupation of the north of Cyprus. Does he agree not just that it would be wholly wrong for Turkey to be considered for membership of the EU in those circumstances, but that it is wholly wrong that western nations should continue to supply economic aid and military weapons to Turkey while the illegal occupation continues?

Mr. Grant

I thank my hon. Friend. The difficulty is that Turkey is a member of NATO, and certain treaties need to be upheld. Britain, however, could adopt the stance that my hon. Friend has mentioned; I shall support him if he wants to push the matter further by means of a motion or some other procedural device.

I want to mention Mr. Asil Nadir before I close—that infamous person who jumped bail, absconded and was allowed to stay in northern Cyprus. He has now gone to Turkey, where he is flaunting his presence and trying to do deals with the British Government. I am pleased that our Government have refused to do deals with Mr. Nadir. I hope that Turkey will come to its senses and return him to Britain so that he can face justice here.

When reaching any solution for Cyprus, we must take into account the deserts of both sides. The Turkish Cypriot side has had little championing in this House. Mr. Andrew Faulds, a former Member, was one of the few in this House who spoke up for the Turkish Cypriots. I believe that they have every right to have their safety guaranteed. The events of the early 1970s—Eoka and the coup—mean that Turkish Cypriots have good reason to believe that they would be under severe threat in a reunited Cyprus. It is therefore incumbent on all who are concerned about Cyprus and its reunification to ensure that the Turkish Cypriots are given absolute guarantees of their safety and their ability to purchase and maintain properties in Cyprus. They must be given a fair deal as an integral part of any united Cyprus.

I look forward to further debates on Cyprus. I was extremely pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned the country in the Queen's Speech, as he did in the Labour party manifesto. I look forward to the Labour Government working to ensure a free, democratic, demilitarised and united Cyprus.

11.43 am
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), who was a sturdy fighter for Cyprus even before he entered the House. I know that the Cypriot community in Britain was overjoyed to hear of his election to this place. I commiserate, too, with his predecessor, Dr. Ian Twinn, who was also a magnificent fighter for Cyprus. I am sure that he will continue the fight outside this place.

I hope that the new Government will take the Cyprus issue more seriously than the previous one did. We have some responsibilities toward Cyprus, and in the past I believe that we have let the people of Cyprus down. The people of Cyprus are our allies. On the first day of the second world war, 40,000 out of an available 52,000 Cypriots volunteered for active service to fight fascism in Europe. During that conflict and in subsequent conflicts they have always been on our side, but unfortunately there have been times when they needed our help and we did not reciprocate.

Cyprus has been a good member of the Commonwealth and has participated fully in it. Britain is a guarantor power, yet British Governments do not have a good record in the matter: 23 years after the illegal invasion and occupation we have yet to reach an agreement to sort the problem out. One reason for that is the fact that what is at stake is not the foreign policy of Cyprus but rather the foreign policy of the United States of America. Recently the President of the United States visited this country, and I know that our Prime Minister discussed Cyprus with him while he was here.

America's attitude has little to do with missiles based in Turkey, which used to point toward the east of Europe but which now point elsewhere. It has more to do with the fact that 73 per cent. of the world's oil and gas reserves are to be found in the region. That is what interests the Americans and guides their policy. However, it is about time we started looking at the interests of the people of Cyprus, more than 400,000 of whom have been dispatched to live elsewhere in the world because of the partition.

There is a window of opportunity at the moment. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton is sympathetic to the cause of finding a real solution to the Cyprus problem. Our presidency of the EU starts in January, and I know that the Foreign Secretary has put Cyprus's entry to the EU at the top of his agenda. That offers us and Cyprus a genuine opportunity. The EU would be foolhardy even to contemplate delaying Cyprus's entry to Europe. It is in Europe's interests that Cyprus should play a full part as a member country.

Cyprus has excellent trade links with eastern European countries—better than those of any country in the EU. It also has good trading links with the middle east—better than ours. As an economist, I know that the western world's economy has been in recession—a point that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) used to make when he was a Minister—and that the only way out is to trade our way out of that recession with the third world. All the African countries have sound trading relations with Cyprus, for instance.

As for defence, we have two strategic bases in Cyprus which will continue to be important to the defence of Europe once Cyprus joins the EU.

There is an ever increasing need in world trade for shipping, and the fleets of Cyprus and Greece combined would give the EU the second largest fleet in the world. So Cyprus's accession would boost the EU's trading possibilities.

Cyprus is also very active in banking and has its own banking system. More than 1,800 offshore companies are registered there and over the past few years it has developed its own stock exchange. It could perhaps give Europe an opportunity for offshore banking that is not afforded to it at the present time.

Geographically, Cyprus is important for telecommunications and Britain recognises this. Everybody knows that telecommunications will play a large part in the future of the world. As an offshore telecommunications bank, Cyprus is ideally situated, and Europe could benefit greatly from that.

Last but not least, there is a programme, a structure, an agreement, for oil and gas pipelines to come down from eastern Europe, which will service most countries of the European Union, and also to have an oil and gas pipeline into Cyprus. That will make Cyprus—particularly with the shipping that it has in conjunction with Greece—the gas station of Europe. It would be foolhardy for Britain and Europe not to allow Cyprus to play a full part in the European Union when that opportunity arises. I see no reason why Cyprus should not be a full member of the European Union.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary push for a speedy solution to get Cyprus in as a full member of the European Union, that will benefit Britain and Europe in the future.

11.50 am
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

It gives me great pleasure to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on his maiden speech. As a joint vice-chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Cyprus, I am particularly pleased that he was generous enough to pay tribute to his predecessor, Dr. Ian Twinn, who worked with us on that committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) said that the needs and views of the Turkish Cypriot community have not been properly attended to. As the hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) said earlier, the Parliamentary Friends of Cyprus has tried since 1974 to be friends of both Cypriot communities and to work with those in both communities—on the island and in London—who were willing to work with us, not for us to tell them what a solution should look like, but to try to create a climate in which that solution becomes more possible.

There was an extremely significant development on the island while we were otherwise engaged in March this year. The all-Cyprus trade union forum, linking trade unions in both parts of the island, came together—something that it has not done for many years—to talk about the effects on the working people of Cyprus of the future accession of Cyprus to the European Union. There is no question but that the main beneficiaries of Cypriot membership of the European Union will be the members of the Turkish Cypriot community. That is indisputable.

Without going back over history—much of it painful—I believe that the people who have paid the highest price for the continued division of Cyprus have been the ordinary working people of the north of Cyprus, who have been starved of the partnerships that have been on offer for many years from the southern part of the island. There was a hope—a distinct possibility—that Varosha could be handed back, and as part of that arrangement there would be joint ventures involving business people from both Cypriot communities.

The all-Cyprus trade union forum met at the Ledra Palace hotel, which is a living example of the futility, the stupidity, the grief of disputes such as those which have torn Cyprus apart. I have nothing but praise for the painful efforts that the United Nations has made over the years, and for those who have made up the peacekeeping force on the island. For those of us with photographic memories of what that hotel was like before the cruel and barbarous invasion of the island in 1974, in many ways it is worse now than the Berlin wall ever was, because it is much nearer.

If one looks from old Nicosia across the no man's land into the occupied part of the island, one sees that it is absolutely untouched by human beings, save for the odd United Nations patrol. We are three years from the end of the millennium. Is this really the best that men and women can deliver in an island as small as Cyprus? It is crazy, because there has not been a shared willingness by the leaders of both Cypriot communities to reach a solution. That is what makes so important the move by the all-Cyprus trade union forum to bring together representatives of working people from both Cypriot communities to discuss and debate the benefits that would flow to them, their families and to the island as a whole from the admission of Cyprus to the European Union. There is no question but that that would be beneficial. As ever, of course, politicians will get in the way of that.

Over the years, many of us have valued our contact with Mr. Denktash as the representative of the other Cypriot community. He will understand, I am sure, when I say—perhaps he shares this feeling—that many of us have found the discussions in which we have engaged exceptionally frustrating. He may well have found the same with us. It must be understood—this was mentioned earlier—that the Turkish Cypriot community has an absolute right to have its security and human rights guaranteed. They are in no sense a second-class community on the island of Cyprus. They enjoy, and deserve to enjoy, equal political status. I am not interested in counting heads, as evidence from around the world, including parts of the United Kingdom, proves that counting heads and saying, "This is a majority community and that is a minority community," does not help to solve problems. It helps to make them worse and to keep them going.

That is why I say—I hope that Mr. Denktash will accept this, and that it may encourage him in the contacts that are about to resume—that in no sense does anybody regard the Turkish Cypriot community as second class. They have equal political status. They are entitled to a full say, not just in a settlement to the Cyprus question but in the negotiations concerning Cyprus's admission to the European Union. Seats have been reserved by the Government of Cyprus for representatives from the Turkish Cypriot communities to take part in the negotiations. Given political willingness, ways can be found—and are found, by the representative in Nicosia—to consult and to try to involve them informally in the lead-up to the detailed negotiations. There is no substitute for their taking their proper place.

I hope that Mr. Denktash will seize this new opportunity—heaven knows, as a number of hon. Members have been saying for long enough, it is a glorious opportunity, the best for years—for leaders of both communities to take part in the negotiations. They are getting on a bit, they have seen it all, they studied together and qualified in law in London, and no doubt sank a pint or two, donkey's years back. Now, as they look forward to their active careers in politics perhaps coming to an end, is it really beyond their wit, on behalf of the two Cypriot communities which they lead, to sit down, to put their differences on the table, but to come to the conclusion that they have more in common than not?

There are large issues to be settled. I have mentioned security. There is the question of freedom of movement on the island and the vexed question of the settlers brought in from Turkey. Those questions are not easy, but if there is a willingness to find a solution, a solution can be found.

As the hon. Member for North Thanet said earlier, despite all the stumbling blocks, potholes and other things that can go wrong, the opposing factions in South Africa and the middle east have found ways of sitting down, talking to each other and committing themselves to a process the end result of which is agreement. Both sides in those examples, and many others around the world, committed themselves to success.

We have a right now to say to Mr. Denktash and President Klerides that we expect them to seize the opportunity later this month of the renewed contacts and to accept their solemn responsibility and duty to bring peace, stability and security to both Cypriot communities. That is to the benefit of both and in the interests of the whole.

12.1 pm

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

I require only a couple of minutes, so I have allowed as many hon. Members to speak as possible. The House has heard me speak on this subject at four or five-weekly intervals during the past three years and I have nothing new to add.

I compliment the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on his brave and excellent maiden speech. I add my thanks to a number of others for his compliments to his predecessor, Dr. Ian Twinn. He is a friend of mine of some 20 or 30 years, standing, so I am particularly grateful to him for that. Ian Twinn spent a great deal of time in what was my office and is now the Minister of State's office in the Foreign Office pursuing precisely this issue. The hon. Member for Edmonton has honourably maintained the tradition of adopting a high profile in representing his constituents on the issue. He took a balanced view, which was also reflected in the speech made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett).

The hon. Member for Edmonton said that he wants Britain to restore the unity of Cyprus. I think that there is agreement on that throughout the House. This is not a partisan matter. This has been a largely non-partisan debate, with the exception of some ill-informed comments from the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). I have obeyed a strict self-denying ordinance on the subject for three years, trying not to score party political points about something that affects the lives and futures of so many people in Cyprus. I wish that he would do the same.

The hon. Member for Edmonton said that he wanted Cyprus to have a higher profile on the international agenda. The Conservative Government achieved just that. Malcolm Rifkind created a precedent by being the first Foreign Secretary to go there for some 30 years. We appointed our own special representative and fought hard in the EU and in the United Nations to have the issue resolved, often at some political cost. The Minister will find the same problems as he takes up the issue and I am sure that he, too, will find it hard. We are all committed to obtaining a peaceful and equitable solution to this tragic problem.

There were a number of other cogent and valuable contributions today, most notably from my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), but from others as well, with which I found much to agree.

This is my first opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. I look forward to his matching my grey hairs during the next few years, as a result of dealing with not just the Cyprus issue, but a number of others which will test him. I pledge all necessary personal support to the aim of obtaining a peaceful and equitable solution to this tragic problem in the next few years.

12.4 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Doug Henderson)

I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. By reputation, you are an affable man, but I know the other side of you. You are a stern and firm man when necessary. We look forward to that latter quality when the Government are in trouble, as no doubt we will be on some occasions in the next five years. However, I know that you will retain the impartiality in your current responsibility that you showed in your past responsibilities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) on his foresight in making an early application for this debate which the past hour has shown to be of considerable interest to hon. Members. It is a great credit to him that he has chosen to make his maiden speech on this subject. He said that Lord Graham had been the voice of Edmonton. After my hon. Friend's excellent contribution, there will be a new voice of Edmonton, which the House will look forward to hearing on a number of occasions in the future. He was generous to his predecessors, eloquent, knowledgeable about his constituency and committed to the subjects on which he feels strongly. It is a credit to him that he was able to make such a speech today.

New hon. Members may not be aware that, for an Adjournment debate, this has been well attended. Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on choosing a subject of such interest to so many hon. Members. There have been many good contributions.

I thank the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis) for his kind remarks on my appointment and for his commitment that the Conservative party will do what it can to seek a settlement of the Cyprus issue. He referred to my pending grey hairs. One learns one or two secrets in opposition in that regard and I shall be happy to see him afterwards to give him some advice which he may wish to follow. I can assure him that being an Opposition spokesperson is a tiring business. There is a lot of campaigning to do which can result in more grey hairs than might be acquired even in government. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) says, Falkirk supporters are even more afflicted by that trouble than others.

The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) asked whether the Government would have a determined attitude on Cyprus and I can assure him that they will. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), with whom I have had a long association on foreign affairs and other matters, made a knowledgeable contribution. I was particularly impressed by his emphasis on the contributions of both the Greek and Turkish communities in his constituency and in neighbouring constituencies to the economic and social fabric of the communities in which they live. I can also give an assurance to my hon. Friend. He said that this Government, as the inheritors of a guarantor power, have a definite responsibility towards Cyprus. I assure him that that is certainly the case.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) that, in looking forward to the British presidency, we have Cyprus very high up the list of our international obligations. We will consult widely on how best we can proceed to raise the issue and to persuade others to reach a settlement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) emphasised that a settlement in Cyprus and accession to the European Union would be of benefit to both communities, but that one community might benefit more than the other. That point was well made, and well taken at the Dispatch Box.

It is right that Cyprus should be among the first foreign affairs subjects to command the House's attention this Parliament. As hon. Members have made clear, the history of Cyprus is long and tragic. It has been recounted on many occasions in the House, and we have heard further contributions today recalling the suffering and loss that the Cypriot people have endured over many years. That strife has scarred the people of the island and has led to a culture of hostility and suspicion in both communities. That is intolerable for present and future generations of Cypriots, and unacceptable and intolerable for the international community.

There can be no doubt that successive failures to address those divisions has left Europe with a dangerously unstable region in the eastern Mediterranean. That is why emphasis was laid in the debate on the Loyal Address on the Government's commitment to work actively in support of the UN for a lasting settlement of the Cyprus conflict.

The question that citizens in this country and those in Cyprus will be asking is whether progress towards peace is realistic. I do not have to remind the House of the difficult start to 1997. Indeed, hon. Members who have contributed to the debate have already emphasised that point. The recent violence followed the violence that marked much of 1996. I hope that both sides of the House will agree on the need to work for a comprehensive, political settlement in Cyprus, establishing a bizonal, bicommunal federation comprising two politically equal communities.

Despite the setbacks, the United Nations, supported by the international community, has been working hard with both parties since March to prepare the way for face-to-face negotiations. The preparatory process has been taken as far as it can; real progress, as the House knows, can be made only through direct talks. We therefore support the UN's aim of convening face-to-face negotiations within a few weeks. It is important that the ground we have gained this year is not lost.

Of course, problems remain, but the prospects for getting both parties to talk to each other under UN mediation are now better than they have been for a long time. I therefore urge the leaders of both communities to respond positively to an invitation to negotiations from the UN Secretary-General. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will pursue that process in talks later today with the Foreign Minister of Cyprus.

There is a heavy burden of responsibility on the shoulders of the leaders of both communities to negotiate a settlement. I know that they are aware of the responsibility and I urge them to exercise it wisely. There is an equal burden of responsibility on each and every Cypriot to make any settlement work.

I noticed that many Cypriots across the divide were prepared to make the first, tentative steps—to gather at a bicommunal concert in Nicosia on 19 May. The success of that concert is encouraging and I hope that more Cypriots will take up future offers to attend similar bicommunal events. They are crucial in breaking that familiar stranglehold of suspicion which we all know exists.

Of course, there will be those do not wish to see a peace process through reconciliation. Some tried, but failed, to disrupt the concert I referred to. I congratulate the authorities on both sides on the firm stance they took with the protesters. Those wreckers see peace coming not through reconciliation but only through the dominance of one side over the other. They aim to inspire fear and to deter those who want to take part and genuinely want to extend the hand of friendship. They will fail, however, for negotiation and reconciliation are the only paths to a lasting peace in Cyprus.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton reminded us of the tragedy of family life on the island of Cyprus and my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham made the same point. Families on one side of the line have not been to visit their relatives for 20 years or more. When the wreckers consider their tactics, they should think of the plight of those families and others.

I have said that we hope that if face-to-face negotiations are convened, both leaders will work constructively with the UN Secretary-General's negotiator, Diego Cordovez, and his team. The parties must be ready to do business; there will be much to do and many issues need to be addressed, including security, territory, refugees, the provisions of a new constitution, the powers of the zones, the powers of the federation and voting mechanisms. Those are just some of the matters of important concern.

The issues may appear impossibly complex to many of us, although many of the hon. Members in the House today have been acquainted with those problems and complexities for many years. Fortunately, the parties do not have to start from scratch. The useful work left over from previous attempts to negotiate a settlement provides a good starting point. The "Set of Ideas", for example, is a useful quarry. The parties themselves also have a depth of experience and knowledge of much of the detail. We look to them to apply that knowledge with the political will, the determination and the vision to make possible the compromises that will be inevitable to ensure success. Nobody, including the UN, can impose a settlement. Ultimately, it is for the Cypriots themselves to decide their future and they now have an historic opportunity to do so.

Hon. Members and people in the country have asked about the role of the United Kingdom in the negotiations. We stand ready to help in any way. We recognise that we have a historical and moral duty to do so. As the House will know, we have reappointed Sir David Hannay as UK special representative for Cyprus. He will visit Cyprus, Greece and Turkey next week, and he will continue to help both sides with advice, encouragement and support.

I have no doubt that our help and that of the international community will be more than ever needed in the months ahead. We must, however, be guided on some matters by the UN mediator, Diego Cordovez, on how best we and others can assist. I know from the contributions in the debate today that hon. Members on both sides will want us to do our utmost.

Mr. Grant

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new position. Is it the Government's position that they should reconvene a meeting of the guarantor powers? My hon. Friend mentioned Sir David Hannay, who would go as an ambassador to the various guarantor powers. Has my hon. Friend considered the British Government themselves calling a meeting of the guarantor powers to discuss the matter?

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I assure him that the British Government want to see the parties brought together. Our view is that it would be better for us to use our best endeavours to bring those parties together under the United Nations rather than to reconvene a meeting, as we believe that that would have more impact and would probably be easier to achieve.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new position. I did not seek to intervene earlier because many hon. Members wished to contribute to the debate. I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will have the support of the whole House and certainly that of Liberal Democrat Members in pursuit of the policies he has outlined. If the British Government can play an active role in concert, of course, with the United Nations in seeking a lasting settlement in Cyprus, the Minister will certainly have the support of Liberal Democrat Members.

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that commitment and his reassurance. I can give him a reciprocal assurance that when new issues and initiatives arise, we shall endeavour to keep every group of interests well briefed on developments. That would include hon. Members—and, indeed, the parties that they represent—who have shown an interest in seeking a settlement in Cyprus.

We know that negotiation will not resolve itself quickly, as has been said. We are not talking about one make-or-break negotiating session. Indeed, we do not necessarily expect to find a solution this year. Hon. Members will recognise that the process will need to take account of the impending presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus in February 1998. That is not however an excuse for standing still, and we hope that progress will be made on a number of key issues. The negotiating process needs a basis to ensure that progress continues in early 1998. We are ready to help the United Nations manage any break in the negotiating process.

As hon. Members know only too well, a settlement cannot be achieved easily, but the consequences of another failure would be grave. On the other hand, a settlement would mean an end to the tragedies that have been described in the debate, an end to the continuing spiral of arms purchases that has made Cyprus the tinder box it is today and an improvement in the climate of relations between Greece and Turkey.

I turn to the European Union dimension. The prospect of Cyprus's accession to the EU brings a new opportunity to make progress towards a settlement. Accession negotiations are due to open six months after the end of the intergovernmental conference under our EU presidency. We expect that that important initiative will begin on time.

We welcome the prospect of Cyprus's accession to the EU and hope that it will stimulate both sides to make progress towards a settlement through direct talks hosted by the UN. I should make it clear again that no third party can have any veto over that process. We believe that membership of the EU will benefit all Cypriots in terms of political and economic co-operation and the social benefits that EU citizens enjoy. As has been said, Cyprus itself can make a substantial contribution to EU activities.

Above all, a settlement of the Cyprus problem will mean that that troubled island will start the new millennium with confidence, vigour and hope. I am pleased that hon. Members have been so committed to helping to find a settlement that can allow that to happen. The Government make the same commitment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. We move to the next debate, on arrangements for Prime Minister's Question Time.