§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Maldon)
If I am causing any inconvenience to my right hon. and hon. Friends, who have not anticipated that there would be a debate at this time on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, I regret very much the necessity for doing so. My excuse is that we have had sprung upon us without any warning, just on the eve of the long Summer Recess, one of the most extraordinary and dangerous statements that have ever emanated even from that Tory Government opposite.
During the replies to the many pointed questions put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), it seemed as though, whether through not fully understanding what he was being asked or for some other reason, the responsible Minister was attempting, semi-obtrusively, to revise the Statute of Westminster. We have always understood that self-government means self-government, including, as my right hon. Friend has said, the right to opt out or to contract out of the Commonwealth. This happened in the case of Burma. We may or may not regret the fact that Burma chose to sever her link with the Commonwealth and to become an independent sovereign State, but nobody in this House questioned Burma's right to do that.
Now the Minister who made this extraordinary statement on the question of Cyprus has enunciated an entirely new interpretation and application of this doctrine of self-government and the right to contract out. The right hon. Gentleman says that there are some territories in the Commonwealth which can never 518 expect to have complete self-government. This, surely, is the abandonment of a general principle of colonial development which we had thought was common to both sides of the House, even though we on this side have always done our best to press it forward rather more urgently and speedily than hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We thought that it was generally accepted, as a principle, that the various Colonial Territories should be assisted as speedily as possible towards responsible self-government, and always hitherto self-government has been taken to include, under the Statute of Westminster and the ordinary arrangements for Dominion status, the right to contract out.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Would the hon. Member quote the precedent or authority to show how he arrives at that conclusion? I do not interpret it at all as he does in regard to Australia, New Zealand or such countries. If he had chapter and verse or some authority for what he is asserting I should be obliged to him for giving it.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am obliged to the hon. Member, but I do not think that he can have been listening to what I said: I quoted the example of Burma.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May we ask the Leader of the House whether he can send for a member of the Government who has some responsibility in this matter? Notice was given that this matter would be raised on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)
That has been done, but I did not understand that this subject was coming on in this way and my right hon. Friend did not. A message has been sent and I apologise. Knowing that steel was to be the subject to be taken at once, I suppose my right hon. Friend assumed that another opportunity would be taken to debate Cyprus, as this is not the only opportunity available for the purpose.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am much obliged to the Leader of the House. I see how the misunderstanding arose, but I think that 519 the right hon. Gentleman could at least have waited to see what happened when the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill was proposed before rushing out to his tea. I do not blame him for wanting his tea, after those extraordinary exchanges across the Table of the House; but he might just have waited till the Question was proposed.
Before the supplementary questions and answers were reached, the Minister had already announced some rather startling provisions in this new constitution which, apparently, is to be foisted on the people of Cyprus. I cannot think why the Minister was so optimistic as to suppose that they are any more likely to accept this new constitution than they have been in the past six years to accept the 1948 constitution which was offered to them. The same conditions still apply, and it seems equally unlikely that anyone will co-operate—except a few stooges, if I may use that vulgarism in this context.
However, in telling us about the new constitution, the Minister made it quite clear that it would not be anything in the nature of a dangerously democratic constitution—nothing like the Constitution that was originally given to the people of British Guiana, for instance, which had to be reversed so hurriedly when the people of British Guiana took advantage of it in their own interests and against the interests of the City of London.
The Minister said, as I understood him, that there would be more nominated than elected members in the legislature. Perhaps when he replies to what I am afraid may be a rather protracted debate, he will tell us exactly what proportions of nominated and of elected membership are projected in this constitution?
I ought perhaps to explain why, in the natural heat of the moment, when I was announcing, as I hoped, to the Minister—although he did not understand what I tried to say—that we would raise this matter at once on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, I used the word to which exception was taken by an hon. Member opposite. I said that the statement had been, as I thought, hypocritical. That seemed to me an appropriate word, because it really is rather too obvious when a Minister announces what purports to be a great advance in democracy, a 520 new constitution and all that, on the very same day as the withdrawal from Egypt is announced, and everyone knows that the base in Cyprus is to be very considerably enlarged and that the only real interest of the Government Front Bench and hon. Members opposite in the welfare of the people of Cyprus is that they should provide a convenient, peaceable and co-operative base.
That is the truth of the matter and that is why I said that all this talk about progress and self-government was hypocritical, when, in the next breath, the Minister was saying to them, as it were, "Of course, we are not going to let you have proper self-government ever, because you are strategically too important to our interests."
When the Foreign Secretary was making his announcement about Egypt a little earlier, he made a very wise remark, with which all of us on this side of the House would concur, about the necessity for having the "consent and cooperation" of the population around a base. If we have a large base in a foreign land we must have a friendly people around it; otherwise, we shall not be able to operate it effectively, as we have seen over the last year or two, particularly in the Suez Canal Zone. I would seriously ask the Minister what consent and cooperation he expects to get from the people of Cyprus in the operation of the base that is to be developed there? What consent and co-operation does he expect if this new constitution is to be foisted on them without any real democratic test of their desire for it?
The Minister knows as well as everyone else knows—if I may use that offensive word again, it is one of the many hypocrisies of public life in this country —that 90 per cent. of the people of Cyprus, perhaps ill-advisedly or foolishly, want Enosis, or union with Greece. Personally, I have never been able quite to understand why any progressive or Left-wing Cypriot should want to come under the control of a Government of the nature of the present Greek Government; but that is what they prefer. As has often been said, people prefer self-government to good government: it may even be that the people of Cyprus—foolishly, as we think—prefer Greek Government to good government.
521 That, however, is their affair and, to refer to hypocrisy yet again, it makes absolute hypocritical nonsense of the so-called Potomac Charter to interpret it in the sophistical way in which the Minister interpreted it when a Question was asked him by one of my hon. Friends. No one reading the Potomac Charter or the Atlantic Charter would realise that there were all these reservations and qualifications and that the distinguished signatories really meant, "We are going to give self-government some day to some parts of the various Empires of the world as and when they deserve it, when they can show they will be good boys; but some of them, even if they want it, will never be entitled to self-government at all."
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Member is saying that self-government in the sense in which he invites the House to construe it is the right for a people to "go it alone." Is he aware that the issue of Enosis is whether they shall belong to Greece or Britain and that in either case they would not get the self-government which the hon. Member wants? It is purely a question of sovereignty in that sense, Britain or Greece, and it is obvious that they want Britain.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for interrupting me again. Each of his interruptions makes it possible for me to say something in, I hope, simple enough terms for him to understand; and I can clarify it more and more each time the hon. Member invites me to do so.
Self-government, surely, has always been taken to imply and include self-determination. Self-government or independence, as in the case of the Sudan—to quote another instance from more recent history than Burma—means that a people which achieves its independence has a perfect right to say, "We are going to be on our own, a sovereign Power"—like Burma; or, "We are going to remain within the Commonwealth"—perhaps under a special new arrangement, as in the case of India or Pakistan or Ceylon. Or, again, there is a third possibility: an independent people, on achieving self-government, might say, "We will come to a special arrangement with another power"—such as Greece.
When we were discussing the Sudan, before Sudanese sovereignty had been 522 achieved, it was always envisaged by this House, by Government spokesmen and everyone else, that it must be left entirely to the discretion of the Sudan, after independence had been achieved, whether they wished to apply to join the Commonwealth, or whether they wished to make a special treaty arrangement with Egypt, or whether they wished to remain completely independent. I hope I have made my point clear.
I do not want to take up undue time. I have just launched the subject in a rather imperfect and haphazard way. But it seemed to me that there were such dangerous implications in what the Minister said that the matter had to be cleared up at once, in case he was simply blundering, so that the blunder could be corrected overnight before the news travelled too widely in Cyprus, from Famagusta to Nicosia, from Larnaca to Limassol, through the length and breadth of that island which some of us know and love—that small and beautiful island whose most engaging and likeable people are surely, at this time of day, entitled to a better deal and truer democracy than they are apparently going to get from this Tory Government.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I feel that it is incumbent that a reply should be made from this side of the House to the remarks of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) who has chosen, in accordance with his rights, to raise this matter on the Consolidated Fund instead of continuing with the proposed debate on steel. The very few observations which I make must, of necessity, also be haphazard and I will be brief with regard to them.
I think it is perfectly plain that at this moment it was incumbent on the Government to make their position quite clear with regard to the sovereignty of Cyprus. I would agree with what was said from the benches opposite that this must be to some extent related to the present situation which has arisen in Egypt. My beliefs on that aspect are, of course, well known. About 30 or 40 years ago my own father was a judge in Cyprus and during the many years when he was in a judicial capacity there Enosis, as it is known, was pressed—the desire of some members of the Greek community to be returned to, and to become part of, the sovereign State of Greece, because that 523 is the point—was then uppermost in the minds of the people. That was 40 years ago and it has remained in the minds of many of the Greek orthodox leaders for the whole of that period.
It is interesting to note that it is only since the troubles arose at the time of Abadan, and the troubles which have arisen over the situation in Egypt, that this question has been brought to the forefront of political feeling in Cyprus and Greece. It is in that light that we must look at it. There never was any great enforced demand for Enosis or to go back to join the Greek people, that is to say, a desire by the Greek people in Cyprus to be affiliated with Greece. They have no history or traditional background nor have they ever been part of Greece at any time.
It arises, by reason of the political propaganda at the present time in Cyprus, in two ways. First of all, there is the Communist propaganda, and if the suggestions made by the hon. Member for Maldon were to take effect in the near future and the Greek natives of Cyprus were to have the right to determine what other minorities would have to do, the result would be to play straight into the hands of the Communists. They would merely be supporting the views of the Greek Orthodox leaders—Makorios, and others—who were entirely against the most restrained and modern leaders in that part of the world.
If, at this stage, it is not made plain that we intend to remain in the immediate future and be assured of our sovereignty in Cyprus as in the past—as it has been made plain today by the Government—there will be the greatest danger of immediate trouble both by the Communists and also, I regret to say, by the Greek orthodox leaders, who are trying to introduce Enosis at this stage because they feel that at a time when we are reaching certain arrangements with Egypt it is an opportune time to press home their attack.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has stated that the agitation is, in effect, an agitation by the Greek Church leaders, and that it is being pushed forward by them against the responsible expression of orthodox opinion. Can the hon. Gentleman say 524 who it is who is expressing a contrary sense to the Greek Church?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
In the first place, I have no doubt whatever that to a large extent—because although it is a minority it is very extensive—Turkish opinion throughout the whole of Cyprus is quite clearly in favour of British sovereignty, as opposed to a take-over by Greece. Furthermore, the European community there, which is extensive and to whose welfare the Minister referred this afternoon—
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
—are Clearly not against it. That is a second volume of opinion.
Thirdly—and this is the point I was making for the hon. Gentleman—there is no tradition or background of any kind of Greek sovereignty there. Therefore, if they be of racial Greek descent in Cyprus they have no more right to contend that this island should be returned to Greece than an Italian who comes to this country—or a Greek, or any person who becomes a British subject—has the right to say that Britain should go back to Greece.
§ Mr. Driberg
The hon. Gentleman interrupted me twice to ask for an explanation. What I was arguing was that they should have at any rate some independence and self-government, or that they should choose what they wanted to do; whether they wanted to stay in the Commonwealth, or go in with Greece or remain as they are now. That is all I was saying, and it seems to me that the hon. Member is evading that point.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I think that the question put by the hon. Member for Maldon might be answered in this way. At this moment the vital question which must be made plain is that our sovereignty there shall be supreme. When, in the future, we get a democratic Government established, the supposed self-government—I am using that word because I disagree with Enosis, and it is thought that self-government of the people could be 525 possible even within the British Commonwealth—it may be that in the years ahead a claim for the right of self-determination might arise.
I may be wrong, but in my view that is not self-government. The right of self-determination would not arise for some years and, as I understood it, what the Government were saying was that this was the right moment to state two facts: first, that our sovereignty in future shall remain as in the past; and, secondly, that we shall carry out certain reforms although they may not receive the support of the two main parties, the Communist Party and the Nationalist Party.
I entirely agree. I do not believe that we should support anything which would lead to further penetration by the Communists into the Colony and I do not believe that we should accept the arguments of the Nationalist Party, because I do not believe that the Greek Orthodox leaders are doing what is right. They are misleading the people of Cyprus in order to capture a small island for the sovereignty of Greece and not for the benefit of the people.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
It must be a matter of regret to all of us on this side of the House, and even to some hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the House is going into Recess and giving this last message to the people of Cyprus for some time. It will be many months before we can discuss the matter again, many months during which there will have to be difficult negotiations in Cyprus with the Cypriot leaders, and it seems most unfortunate that the negotiations should have to go on at a time when the House is not sitting. We have had to seize spontaneously on this opportunity, our only one for many weeks, to put a different point of view.
We could have a very long and interesting debate on the history and ethnography of Cyprus, but I do not think that that is the business of the House in the present situation. For many years we have not taken the question of Enosis sufficiently seriously. I should like to remind the House of the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir Winston was Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office. He said to the Legislative Council in Cyprus: 526I think it is only natural that the Cypriot people who are of Greek descent should regard their incorporation with what may be called their mother country as an ideal to be earnestly, devoutly and fervently cherished. Such a feeling is an example of the patriotic devotion which so nobly characterises the Greek nation.
§ Mrs. Jeger
That was said to the Legislative Council in 1907. I think that the right hon. Gentleman's words are eternally true.
Moreover, there was a period when the Government took a slightly more sympathetic view of the question. That was during the First World War, when in 1915 Cyprus was offered to Greece by the British Government in return for the immediate entry of Greece into the war. At that time Greece was not able to enter the war, but she did so a short time afterwards. However, the offer for the union with Cyprus was not renewed by the then Government. Since then the people of the island have certainly not decreased in any way in their interest and enthusiasm for what they regard as their proper destiny.
Hon. Members take a very wrong view when they suppose that this is just a Communist plot. It may be that when a referendum is held the result is not always what one would wish, but that is no reason for discrediting referenda and imagining that they are inspired from a certain source. It was a matter of great regret that on the last occasion when Cyprus was discussed in another place one noble Lord said that the result in favour of Enosis showed that the country was Russian dominated. Lord Winster said:I never expected anything else. To my mind, the plebiscite ran absolutely according to form. …He spoke of it as:… following the best Russian example—or the example of countries that are Russian dominated …" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 23rd February, 1954; Vol. 185, c. 1078.]As long as there is this attitude among Members of either House the Cypriots will not enter into discussions about their future with very co-operative feelings. We have plenty of evidence of widespread support for the movement. In answer to a Question which I asked in the House today the Minister had to admit that support for Enosis was widespread among the people of the island.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I do not want to dispute what the hon. Lady has said, but I should like to know whether her experience accords with mine. Has she found that the large numbers of people who come from Cyprus to this country are extremely proud of what they describe as their British citizenship? I suppose that many Cypriots come to her constituency as they do to mine and I should like to know whether her experience is the same as mine.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have certainly had considerable experience. About 10,000 Cypriots have come from their sunny island to the smoke and chill of St. Pancras in search of work in the back kitchens of Soho and Bloomsbury. I am sure that the Minister knows that I have tried to assess the viewpoint of Cypriots in this country and I find complete agreement among them. It may be that there is something peculiar about Cypriots who live in St. Pancras, but as they happen to form the vast bulk of Cypriots in this country it would be wrong for me to say other than that there seems to be complete support for Enosis, and that not one Cypriot in St. Pancras has ever put a different point of view to me. It may be that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) will be able to bear out what I say.
On the question of the plebiscite it should be remembered that that was taken when the Ethnarchy asked the Governor to carry out the referendum and the Governor refused. Therefore, when the Ethnarchy carried out a plebiscite with the result that 95 per cent. of the Greek population voted for union with Greece, it seems a little unfair for us to say now that there must have been something wrong with the referendum. Surely the answer is that if we were not prepared then to carry out such a referendum and to give the people an opportunity to express their opinion we should do it now as a matter of great urgency.
It is a matter of great puzzlement and confusion to the people of Cyprus who regard themselves essentially as Europeans with a long tradition of culture. It is a serious blow to their pride that the people of the Sudan whom they regard as perhaps a little less forward, a little less educated, should have been given the opportunity to express their point of view 528 on their constitutional future when the opportunity is denied to the people of Cyprus. This must be confusing to our friends in the island.
Now we are in a serious situation. As we know, the Greek Government are raising the question before the United Nations. It is a matter on which we must ask the responsible Ministers to take action, treating it as an emergency. The Greek Government will certainly not hesitate to raise the question before the United Nations. The Minister today referred to the strategic importance of Cyprus. The Greek Government have already made it perfectly clear that, as a member of N.A.T.O., they are prepared to offer full facilities to other N.A.T.O. Powers, including of course Great Britain, in any strategic purposes which we might work out together.
I should have thought that from a strategic point of view the chance of making the best use of Cyprus would have been enhanced had that policy been carried out in concert with the Greek Government, following the wishes of the majority of the Cypriot people, and not carried out in a situation in which feelings are exacerbated and in which the local population can again put us in the unfortunate position which has arisen in Egypt. I recognise that there are constitutional differences between the position in Cyprus and that in Egypt, but the common denominator is a hostile population.
The crux of the question is whether we believe not merely in self-government but also in self-determination by the peoples of the Commonwealth. We have to accept that our view may not always be right and may not always prevail. Many hon. Members regret what has happened in Burma and there may be some who believe that a mistake has been made in the Sudan, but surely the governing principle, in this day and age, of any happy or successful Commonwealth Government must be the acceptance of the supreme power of the will of the people themselves.
The Cypriots have expressed this point of view. They refused to co-operate when a constitution was offered them a few years ago. I am informed that since that time there has been some increase in the support for Enosis, and it therefore seems that the chance of obtaining 529 the co-operation of any representative Cypriots, other than purely nominated "stooges." must be much less now than it was a few years ago.
I am afraid that the hope expressed rather glibly this afternoon that all would go well in Cyprus is one which will not be fulfilled. The urgency which has been given to this question by events in Suez makes it all the more important that we should have a further statement this afternoon, before the House rises, which will help the Cypriot people to see the Government's intention. A further statement should be made on which talks can be held, because nothing said so far this afternoon by the Government could possibly form the basis of any useful or progressive talks to bring about happiness in Cyprus.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) referred to a speech made by the Prime Minister in 1907 in which he recognised the natural aspirations among Hellenes in various parts of the world for unity with Greece and, in particular, the aspirations of Cyprus, where he was speaking at the time. It may be relevant to mention that since 1907 Greece, for which country we have the greatest admiration—a country with which we have a long tradition of friendship—has, unfortunately, been involved in no fewer than five wars. We have seen the tragedy through which she has passed.
It may be said that if, in spite of these difficulties, many of the people of Cyprus are anxious to unite with Greece, then surely the feeling must be very strong indeed. The House would be unwise not to take account of the great sentimental urge for Hellenistic unity. But let us see where that urge has led the Greek people in the past. I believe that the proportion of Greek people in Izmir before the Greco-Turkish War was as great as it is in Cyprus today and that some Hellenistic sentimental urge led to a great tragedy. As a result, many Greeks have been expatriated from Izmir.
I wonder whether those Cypriots who live in the hon. Lady's constituency—and they are her constituents—have given full thought not only to what their own position would be, but also to what would be 530 the position of Cyprus. I am not referring to the view adopted by the hon. Lady, because I recognise the altruistic nature of her speech. Have these people given full thought not only to what their position would be, but also to what would be the position of Cyprus, a territory for which we are responsible, if the Cypriots were to achieve that union which they are being urged to seek?
§ Mr. Crossman
Would the hon. Member not regard them as adults, able to make up their own minds? If he disagrees with them, does he not think that he should let them decide for themselves?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I remember listening a few years ago, when I first came into the House, to the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) speaking about plebiscites and referenda, with particular reference to Scotland, and saying that in his view a plebiscite was never a satisfactory way of determining a matter of this description.
We should be very careful of this sentimental urge. One of the great troubles has been that the opposite point of view has not been sufficiently expressed in Cyprus. One of the reasons for which I welcomed my right hon. Friend's statement today is that it provides some possibility for another point of view to be expressed. We must remember what the history of Cyprus has been since the war. First of all, we had the great development of Communism in the island. At that time there were many Communists in Grece, and the Communists in Cyprus were keen on the idea of the union of Cyprus with Greece.
What happened? An attempt was made to outbid them. A party of the Right arose in an attempt to outbid the Communists in Cyprus so that we now have two extreme points of view. I welcomed my right hon. Friend's statement, because it gives some hope that more moderate counsels will prevail.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
How does the hon. Member think that the other party, by which I presume he means the Greek Orthodox Church, could outbid the Communists by standing for Enosis unless Enosis was what the people of Cyprus wanted?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I have already indicated that it is very easy to play on 531 sentiment on this matter. Politics is not only a question of sentiment; it also involves a responsibility for the lives of the people of Cyprus and for their future well-being.
The reason why I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made his statement is that by making it crystal clear that the question of sovereignty cannot arise at present and removing the issue from the field of politics he is making it clear that there will be a possibility for the people to work gradually towards self-government and of stating their real interests. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] My right hon. Friend did not say the opposite. He spoke of working towards self-government and this was the first step.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Did not the right hon. Gentleman put two limitations? It is true that he said that he was taking the first step towards self-government, but did he not make it very clear that there never will be a last step, that there will not be any change of sovereignty and that that is ours for ever? Did he not also say that if it should ever happen, which God forbid, that the majority of the people of Cyprus should be Communists we would interfere by force to prevent their having the form of government which they desired?
§ Mr. Macpherson
My right hon. Friend certainly never said anything of that kind. I never heard the word "force" used.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I said, first of all, that this was a first step towards self-government, which we hoped would go forward with the co-operation of the people of Cyprus. I was questioned about sovereignty and I said that this did not involve any question of change of sovereignty and that that was something which we did not contemplate. I said that there were certain territories in which the question of the exact degree of independence which a Colony could achieve would depend upon its circumstances. [An HON. MEMBER: "Malta."] Malta is one territory with almost the same population and which is not a territory which can be self-governing.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the right hon. Gentleman makes a speech now he cannot make one again on Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I was asked questions, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, which, with your permission, I should just like to answer. I was asked about the question of the establishment of a Communist régime. I repeated what was said at the time of the British Guiana incident last autumn that a Communist régime would not be tolerated, because it is a negation of independence and self-government.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The hon. Member made play with the fact that force would be used to prevent it. We are anxious to get a constitution going in which such force would have no place.
The House should really regard the situation as it is in Cyprus at the moment. We have these two extreme parties on either side, each competing on a sentimental basis for the support of the Cypriots but with neither having any responsibility for the government of the country. Surely the Government's proposals are the right thing to do when there are two parties of this kind. Surely we do not imagine that the whole country supports Enosis. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] We know, for example, that the Turks take the opposite view.
Let us give the opportunity for opinion to be expressed freely through a democratic constitution. Surely, by these proposals we are taking the first step towards achieving that. The House should welcome this first step and the opportunity to have these matters freely discussed in an assembly in Cyprus, instead of the present non-co-operation of the two extreme parties which is exercising the greatest moral suasion on the people. We know the Communist methods and we know how the Orthodox Church is refusing to marry and baptise people until they receive full support in this matter.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I cannot quote a definite instance just now, but surely it is common knowledge. This has been reported again and again. It is well known. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Even if this suasion is less than I represent it to be, surely it is right at present to get 533 going a constitution in which various opinions can be expressed. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend's hopes will be realised and that instead of refusing to co-operate, as the parties have done so far, the parties will now enter into talks with the Governor, and that there will be an opportunity to take the first step. We should all welcome this first step towards self-government. It would be wrong not to take it.
It may be said that the proposed constitution is not an advance on the previous one, but suppose one had elections with only two main parties. One never can tell, but they might combine. The Orthodox Party and the Communists might combine for a specific purpose, but surely once we made it quite clear that sovereignty is not to be parted with at the present time, it would immediately result in a deadlock. Therefore, it would be absolutely absurd to establish that constitution now. We know that other opinions exist in Cyprus. Let us give the opportunity of having them expressed. That would be one of the effects of getting an Assembly going. I welcome this step and I hope that the House will also welcome it.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I do not think that anyone in this House can be under any misapprehension as to the importance of the statements which have been made by the Government on Cyprus. Whatever views can be taken of it, something has been said this afternoon which will affect very materially not only the lives of the people of Cyprus but the security of the Eastern Mediterranean and our relations with the Greek people for a long time to come. I only hope that this is not a further instance of the party opposite doing the kind of thing which it did at the time of the Boston Tea Party and refusing to recognise a strong feeling which has been held over a long period of years by a people who hitherto have avoided violence for the most part.
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) is the last person that I would ever have expected to have to accuse of laying himself open to a charge of being presumptuous, but he presumed to ask whether the Cypriot people had really considered the position that they would be in if they left the British Commonwealth. This is an adult people. 534 It is a far more adult people than many others whom we have encouraged towards self-government. However much we may imagine that their material well-being will be less good if they leave the British Commonwealth, I do not think that we have any right to say therefore that we ought to do what is in our power to put a brake upon their march in the direction in which they want to go, namely, towards self-determination.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Surely that is contrary to what we are doing. We find that there has been no response to the previous offer of a constitution and we are now taking a first step. So far from that being a brake, it is an encouragement.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
We have found that there was no response in the direction of co-operation under the first constitution which was offered; and now we offer another one which is in no way better than the first.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
That is putting on a brake, considering that there has been a lapse of time, a passage of years as the Prime Minister so often expresses it, between the offer of the first constitution and this offer. We should have offered before now a proper solution which, if the Government had not had its head in the sand, would have been the one most likely to further not only the interests of the Cypriots but our own.
I asked the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), who unfortunately is not in his place at the moment, what were the other expressions of Cypriot opinion upon which he was relying when he said that the Greek Church had been furthering this agitation for a long time and nobody else had; and that the leaders of the Greek Church had been furthering this agitation in defiance of expressions in a contrary sense in Cyprus. All he could answer was that the Turks and the non-Greek Europeans had expressed those opinions. That may be so, but from the best opinions I can get —and I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong on this point —80 per cent. of the people of Cyprus are Greek and 96 per cent. of that 80 per cent. voted in favour of Enosis, or union 535 with Greece, in the plebiscite which has been somewhat smeared by the party opposite.
Therefore, it is surely not correct to say that there has been any substantial expression of Cypriot opinion in a sense contrary to Enosis. If I am wrong, I ask the Minister to enlighten us on the point when he replies. If there has been any responsible expression of Cypriot opinion against Enosis in the last 20 years, would he give particulars of it? It would be surprising if there were none, but it will not be enough to say that there has been some.
We want to know what particular expressions there have been in a sense contrary to Enosis. In my submission, there has been none worth considering in face of the expressions of Cypriots in favour of Enosis in their Press, their speeches and in their personal contact with us in this country. Is there, for example, a single newspaper published in Cyprus, whether in Greek or in English, which is against Enosis?
§ Mr. W. T. Aitken (Bury St. Edmunds)
There is one paper. I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the "Cyprus Mail," which has held forth against Enosis on some occasions.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I could not accept that instance. I am familiar with the "Cyprus Mail," and to say that it has held forth substantially against Enosis would not be accurate.
§ Mr. Aitken
If the hon. Gentleman had read the paper very carefully, he could not talk like that. I get the paper almost every week and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I could produce for his benefit leading articles attacking Enosis in a way that I think none of us here would like to do in public.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I would point out to the two hon. Gentlemen that this is a Second Reading debate. We are not in Committee.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I shall not continue the point, much as I should like to. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet also said that it was improper for us to speak about Cyprus being returned to Greece. 536 In a sense that is true, as Cyprus has never been under Greek sovereignty. It is wrong strictly to talk about returning Cyprus to Greek sovereignty. It would not, of course, be wrong to talk about returning the Colonial Secretary to the City, because he was there once, he was a City man always, and doubtless will be again in a few days or a few weeks. It is contrary to the strict interpretation of the words to talk about returning Cyprus to Greek sovereignty, because there never was Greek sovereignty until comparatively recent times when the Turks were turned out of Greece. Since then the territories occupied by Greek people have come under Greek sovereignty. Cyprus is the last one to remain outside. It is not just an agitation dating from the time of the Abadan crisis, as the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet said.
The hon. Member said that this agitation was started then, by the leaders of the Greek Church. Has he forgotten what took place in 1931 in the island; what his own supposed leader the present Prime Minister said in 1907 about Cyprus; what Gladstone said in 1897, which was that he hoped that Cyprus would become a Greek island in the near future? This agitation has been going on ever since there was such a thing as Greek sovereignty. We should be most unwise in our own interests to bury our heads in the sand and to refuse to recognise the trend of events in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As far as we can tell from the Government's statement, we are hoping increasingly to use Cyprus as some kind of base for our defensive arrangements in the Eastern Mediterranean. How can it be supposed that our efforts in that direction will be furthered unless we win the co-operation of the Cypriot people? What hope is there of our doing this unless we make towards them the gesture of granting the self-determination for which they are asking?
It is said that for security reasons we must hold on to the island of Cyprus. Is it not a fact that the Greek Government have openly stated that they will give us all facilities for defence in Cyprus, or in any other part of Greek territory if we will allow the Cypriots to follow their own passionate desire to come under Greek sovereignty? How can it be said that we are in any way furthering our own strategic interests in the Eastern 537 Mediterranean by hanging on to this island, dog-in-the-manger like, against the wishes of 80 per cent. of the population? Should we not be seeking rather to gain their co-operation and to maintain the friendship which our country has traditionally had for the Greek people, for whom we certainly express admiration? How can it possibly be said that we have our own interests in mind in refusing the legitimate aspirations of the Cypriot people?
We need not only the co-operation of the Cypriots but of our friends the Greeks. I hope that the Government will think again on this matter and will not just bring up a rehash of the old constitution. I hope they will take the bold step which is necessary to secure our interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and will give the Cypriot people what they have been asking for, mainly peacefully, for so long.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Aitken (Bury St. Edmunds)
It seems that hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House have been stampeded into this attitude of Enosis in the same way as the Ethnarchy have stampeded the people of Cyprus. I can give the House three good reasons why we are in Cyprus and why we should stay there.
The first reason is security. I do not think anybody can possibly argue, considering the kind of world in which we live today, that we could be secure with a base on a small island under a weak and unstable Power. Anybody who thinks that political conditions in Greece are such that Communism could not prevail at any time in the next year or two is not very well informed about conditions there. No base on a small island can possibly be as secure as a base over which we hold complete sovereignty. I do not think anybody can possibly argue against that.
The argument which is so often made about a base in the midst of a hostile population seems to me to have no validity whatsoever in the case of Cyprus, because the people in Cyprus are not hostile to Great Britain. Anybody who has visited the island, as I have done, knows perfectly well that the people of Cyprus are anything but anti-British. In spite of the intensity and fervour with 538 which the Enosis campaign has been conducted, the people of Cyprus are still very pro-British, and the Enosis campaign has, as one hon. Member said, been running since 1878, and even before that under the Turks, although not so strongly. The base cannot be secure unless it remains under our sovereignty.
We also have to consider the welfare of the people who live in Cyprus. There is no doubt that the material welfare of the people who live in Cyprus is better than the welfare of the people who live in Greece, and infinitely better than the welfare of the people who live on the Island of Rhodes. The Island of Rhodes was handed over to the Greeks at the end of the war. It was under Italian sovereignty before that. Many people of Rhodes are in a condition of semi-starvation. They are trying to emigrate to Cyprus, and a number have already emigrated there. They have come to Cyprus because conditions in Rhodes are so bad.
The average Greek-speaking Cypriot will admit that he is better off, and will say that he is in favour of Enosis. But if he is told that tomorrow the island will join a political union with Greece, what happens? I can tell hon. Members what happened in the case of one Cypriot whom I know. I shall not give his name, for reasons which will be understood. The moment the Greeks announced that they were going to raise this matter with the United Nations, he moved his money out of Cyprus into England. Those things would seem to be in complete contradiction.
§ Mr. Aitken
That is rather an unfair question to put. I am not going to say that that is characteristic of most or all the Cypriots in Cyprus, because I do not know.
§ Mr. Bevan
I thought the hon. Gentleman's point was that, although it was perfectly correct to say that most of the people in Cyprus express a desire for kinship with Greece, nevertheless if they had to choose between that and surrendering the advantages of their association with Great Britain, they would sing a different tune. If that is the case, why not try it?
§ Mr. Aitken
Either the right hon. Gentleman has not understood me or I have not made myself clear. What I am trying to indicate is that the connection between Enosis and the immediate conditions under which the Cypriot lives is not always clear to all Cypriots. I do not think that the average Cypriot realises that Enosis is in any degree imminent. I am sure that if he did think so, many material considerations such as those which I have mentioned would operate.
This question of material welfare is very important, because if people are better off as they are, if people realise that Enosis will make them worse off, that would be a perfectly fair choice. But I do not believe that the average citizen in Cyprus realises that. I do not believe that the average Cypriot farmer or worker who voted for Enosis realises that his conditions would be very much worsened under Greek sovereignty. The reason they do not realise it is to be found in the very nature of the Enosis campaign. This is a campaign run on lines which we in this country have learned to mistrust for the last 200 years. We do not like plebiscites run by the Church. We do not like plebiscites in which only one side of the question is put.
§ Mr. K. Robinson
Did not the hon. Gentleman hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs tell the House very clearly that the Ethnarchy offered that this plebiscite should be run by the British Government, and the offer was turned down?
§ Mr. Aitken
I think anybody who has examined the situation is perfectly aware that the Ethnarchy have on several occasions asked the local government to run their own plebiscite, but this would still make it a one-sided plebiscite. If anybody thinks that a plebiscite run by the local government would be a fair plebiscite, I will explain why it would not be.
A plebiscite run by the local government would be exposed to exactly the same one-sided pressures as the plebiscite run by the Ethnarchy, because, first of all, the vast majority of the people in Cyprus speak Greek and a great many do not speak English or read English newspapers. Secondly, the Byzantine Church is the main driving force in the Enosis movement. A Church running a political campaign exposes itself to very grave dangers and temptations to which 540 no religious body ought to expose itself. To my mind, elections and political questions are not suitable methods for the Church. We do not like it here, and we do not like it in other countries. We do not like it in Ireland.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
I have very great sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about the suitability of the Churches taking part in elections. Having lived a great deal in Ireland, I can understand what he means. But would he not admit that in the case of the Church in Cyprus the position is rather different, in that every bishop has to submit himself to election by a body composed as to more than half by the laity?
§ Mr. Aitken
I am aware of that, but that still does not make me less suspicious of that kind of plebiscite.
The first reason which I have given why we should remain in Cyprus is security. The second reason is the welfare of the people, and I do not believe that the people of Cyprus realise what would happen to them if the sovereignty of Cyprus were transferred to Greece. Thirdly, I do not trust plebiscites, and I do not think that we in this House ought to trust plebiscites of any kind, especially if they are run by the Church.
My last point is that there is nothing in the whole character and development of our colonial policy which would preclude Cyprus eventually determining her own fate. There is nothing to prevent a community like Cyprus eventually being able to determine its future, but it must be able to determine it with full knowledge and understanding by the people. The Gold Coast has had more experience of running its own affairs than Cyprus has had. The Gold Coast has a much more advanced constitution than the Cypriots had prior to 1931. Unless the Cypriots are in a position really to understand what the choice is, unless they have had a taste of self-government and the advantage of running their own affairs, I think the British Government are quite right to insist that we retain the sovereignty of Cyprus.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. S. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I think we all wish we could hear the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) more often in this House. I 541 thought what he said was extremely instructive and, if I may, I should like to make a resumé of what he said. He gave three reasons for standing firm in Cyprus. First, it was important for our military security. We could not be squeamish about little things like national independence where military security was at stake. Secondly, he said that where elections go against us they obviously do not represent the will of the people. If as a result of a plebiscite or election one gets the wrong result, one must educate the people. Thirdly, he stated that we must stay because it was good for Cyprus to be under British rule.
I wonder why the hon. Gentleman and some of his friends opposite object so much to certain actions of Soviet Russia? To what do they object? Here is the principle that where military security is concerned we have the right to occupy a country, whatever its national ownership may be, to disregard all plebiscites or elections, and to tell those people that it is good for them to be under our rule. I wonder whom we think we are deceiving? Whom do we think we are taking in with all these ridiculous announcements and this talk from the other side? I wonder who will be deceived by the Minister's statement about all the good we have done for Cyprus and how we really want to give them self-government —but, of course, not to let them do what they want to do. Oh, no—we give them everything else and deny them what they really want.
This has been going on for a long time. We have been told by those opposite that this island had never been under Greek sovereignty. It happens to be the only one of the hundreds of islands of Greece which is not part of Greece proper. It is not part of Greece proper because Disraeli swopped it with the Turks in 1878. It became part of Britain in 1878, and believed that as a Colony of Britain it would get independence, but it is as a result of being a British Colony that it has been denied the independence and Enosis which have been obtained by every other one of the Greek islands.
To the Cypriots we say, "It is all for your good. We know you better than you know yourselves." There are some 10,000 Cypriots who have come to Britain and have their own ideas about this. But we know better than them. Even when under the great influence of this Metropolis 542 they remain obstinately convinced of their grievance and remain in favour of Enosis; they feel Greek; they are Greek —even then hon. Gentlemen say, "No, no, gentlemen—with time and trouble we shall teach you not to be Greek."
How often in our colonial history have we said the same thing? It is an ironical fact that we are starting the trouble in Cyprus on the same day as we have the ignominious end of the trouble in Egypt. May I say to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that this retreat from Egypt is a scuttle. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen said, "We shall be tough. We shall not give way. Where our national security is concerned we stand firm"— and 18 months afterwards they crawl into the conference room.
§ Mr. Crossman
For two and a half years I have been saying that since an agreement was inevitable the sooner it was done the better. The Government knew it—everyone knew it except the Tory rebels and the chief rebel on the Front Bench. For 18 months he has prevented the agreement with Egypt which is now being concluded with much worse conditions and is likely to cause the most crave trouble in the Middle East.
The difference between a scuttle and a negotiated settlement is this. If one negotiates genuinely wishing an agreement and while one is still free to concede it, one gains the kudos which the Socialist Government gained when we handed over India voluntarily. But these people have kept on for 18 months saying, "Oh, no, it is impossible to go out unless there are left 4,000 British in British uniforms." But now the work is to be done by British civil contractors and Egyptians. What is the change? The change is that one old man has got older and given way. He has kept 80,000 men there and spent £100 million in order to transform what might have been a magnanimous action into the scuttle of imperialists who fail to keep up their imperialism.
I warn the House about Cyprus and all the grand talk that there is now—that we will be tough, give them a moderate constitution, and so on. We will put the base there and then the Enosis movement will get going and there will be the same dreary story as there was in Palestine and 543 other parts of the world. One puts in troops and all the rest against the will of the people. One talks of being tough, and of making moderate constitutional reforms—which only have the effect of enabling the Nationalist forces to exploit the situation against one. Then one sends British troops, one arrests all the nationalists, then de-arrests them and makes one of them Prime Minister a year later. There was a time when the whole present Cabinet of the Government of Israel was arrested as terrorists and I said then that the time would come when Israel would have its independence. We said that Egypt would have its independence, but there was no genuine independence for Egypt with 80,000 troops close to Cairo. And now it comes years too late and under the worst possible auspices.
Then, immediately after the announcement of this ignominious agreement, there is the announcement that we will go into the same dreary business in Cyprus. Why blind ourselves to all the facts and believe all these half-truths? There has been a plebiscite showing 95 per cent. of the people of Cyprus wanting Enosis, but the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds knows better than those people. He says that if the really responsible people got nearer to the point they would not believe in Enosis. There is a simple way to try that out—give them the chance to get nearer the point and decide for themselves.
That is exactly the chance which is to be denied them under the present proposal. The present proposal is that, since under a constitution which did not appeal to anyone in Cyprus a majority of the members of the legislative council were elected, in future they shall be nominated. If someone is not content with half a loaf, he is given the crust instead. [Interruption.] We are told solemnly by the Minister that we shall really please the Cypriots by giving them, in 1954, a legislative council with a nominated majority. Far less was offered and refused five years ago, yet we are told that this will stem Enosis and that it will stem Communism. We have been told from the other side that we cannot have Communism in Cyprus, but do not hon. Gentlemen realise that the Communists exploit the nationalist movement? The Communists are becoming popular in 544 Cyprus because they recognise the genuine nature of the nationalist feelings. The best pointer to the genuineness of Enosis is that the Communists have exploited it; they are no fools, and they are on a winner there.
Here I should like to say a word or two about what happened at the meeting of the sub-committee of the Defence Committee of the 1922 Committee. If reports are true, the sub-committee of the Defence Committee of the 1922 Committee—which, of course, was the whole of the 1922 Committee—met a fortnight ago to duscuss Suez. We hear that the Prime Minister took with him to that meeting a great map of Suez. He opened it to show what would happen if an H-bomb exploded. It would wipe out the whole of that area. With an emotional catch in his voice, the Prime Minister told his hearers to look at the map which showed the Suez base, a large area 120 miles by 50 miles, which would be wiped out, and he told the sub-committee it was a dead loss. How grateful the Egyptians will be to the British now that we are getting out of the Suez base and removing this threat from them! But now we are transferring the base to Cyprus, do we expect the Cypriot to be pleased at the privilege of having the headquarters of Middle Eastern Command? Millions of pounds are being spent on the barracks there, and I expect the same contractors are doing this work as did the work on the barracks at Gaza which were not completed before we were thrown out of Palestine.
§ Mr. Aitken
Has the hon. Member not thought what the position of the Cypriots in respect of the H-bomb would be if we passed the Cyprus sovereignty to Greece? It would be exactly the same as it is now.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am discussing whether the Cypriots are attracted by the proposal to transfer the British Middle East Base from Suez to the island and whether it will strengthen or weaken their desire for Enosis. If I were a Cypriot and a democrat in Cyprus, I would say, "God forbid that any base in my country should be available for any American bomber, because it is a grave risk." The risk is almost as grave as a non-aggression pact with a Communist state.
We are told now that the Suez Base is a death-trap, that the Egyptians are too 545 awkward and too hostile and that the best thing would be to move it to Cyprus. Let me assure the House that the Cypriots will not welcome us. They want independence, not occupation. There are some places in the world where we can talk about being trustees for a backward people, but there is no trustee excuse in Cyprus. We acquired this island in 1878, not for economic exploitation, but to keep it as a possibility for the future. The then Government thought that some use might turn up some day for Cyprus and so we should keep it in cold storage. We neglected the island and not until a few years ago was there any economic development there. Nothing was done for it.
I was in Cyprus twice recently on my way to and from Israel, and I should just like to add that if the British Colonial Office had done for that island one-twentieth of what has been done by the Israelis for Israel—and it is roughly the same size—it would be a far more prosperous country, because potentially it is far more prosperous than Israel. Its rainfall is much greater, and it has good prospects, if the rain water is properly controlled.
In the last few years, I agree that we have done something for Cyprus, but that was just when nationalism in the island was beginning to be heard. That is when we start appeasing people in our Colonies. For generations we neglected Cyprus. We kept it in cold storage, in the belief that there would be a use for it some day. Now it is going to be useful—because we have scuttled out of Egypt.
But we are going to make exactly the same mistake in Cyprus as we have made in Egypt and elsewhere. We know already what the will of the population is. It is overwhelmingly in favour of incorporation with Greece. Hon. Members opposite may talk about that meaning a lower standard of life, but democracy means the right to have a low standard of living if that is what the people want and if that is the way they want to live their own lives. Have we learned nothing from Ireland? Human beings sometimes prefer to be free with fewer of the material advantages. If we could only learn that now it would be a step in the right direction.
Do we not understand that the Cypriot prefers to lead his own life in his own way? Heaven knows, he has not had 546 much from us until recently, so that his standard of life was low anyway. But when we decide that the island should become our base, then we begin to develop it economically. I beg the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, who made this astonishing statement today, to go back to the Cabinet and ask it to change its mind. It is changing its mind about so many things today that it can afford to change its mind once more on Cyprus.
What are we telling the Cypriots today? On the day of the announcement of the evacuation of Egypt, the Cypriots are told that Britain is tough; that she is going to retain her sovereignty over the island. That means only one thing. May I say that the tragedy of the Middle East is that there is not a country there whose people have got their rights from the British without murder? In every case we have resisted as long as they made their demands peaceably, and we conceded appeasement when they began violence against us.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am talking about the the Middle East. That is what has happened in Jordan, in Persia, in Palestine and in Egypt. In every one of those countries they have learned the lesson that British imperialism is something that gives them nothing unless they take it by force or the threat of force.
The Cypriots are a peaceable people, but they did burn down Government House a few years ago. If the Minister of State continues to make the sort of insulting statement that he made today, he is creating the very Communist movement he says he is determined to prevent. How can the Cypriots organise themselves to get independence? They can only do it either through the Church or through the Communist Party. Those are the two organisations which are fighting for them.
What is it that we have promised the Cypriots this afternoon? We have told them that Britain is getting tough about sovereignty and we are offering them a less progressive constitution than that which they rejected six years ago. In effect, what we are saying is, "Never in any circumstance will this little island be allowed to have its independence; the right to choose whether it should be a 547 member of the Commonwealth or not." But nobody can be a true member of the Commonwealth without the freedom to choose not to be a member of the Commonwealth. That is the essence of what is, after all, one of the greatest voluntary associations in the world.
We are denying this right of choice to the Cypriots because we want to substitute that island for the Canal Base as our Middle East headquarters. The Prime Minister told the sub-committee of the Defence Committee of the 1922 Committee that the H-bomb would destroy the Suez Base, but now we propose to bring the dangers we are removing from Egypt to the people of Cyprus. I warn the House that this will lead to trouble.
I say to the Colonial Secretary that in the last eight years we have antagonised all the forces in the Middle East which we could have had for our friends because we continued to put military expediency and strategic expediency before political principles. Constantly we have been told that we must be "realists," but that sort of realism is infantile lunacy. Surely by this time we have learned the lesson that a military base is useless if the civilian population are opposed to us. We have to withdraw eventually with a considerable wastage of troops and we loose the good will of the people of the territory in question.
Now we propose to lose the good will of the Cypriots. We first went there in 1878, and now we are in the position that even the Cypriots living in London would far rather see their island a part of Greece. That is the result of 70 years of British rule in that island. We are now to follow a policy of accelerating anti-British feeling in the island, and it is done in the name of military realism. It is done by a Government which because of their Tory rebels got tough in Egypt, but then had to clear out. I say that if it is the right thing to evacuate Egypt —and it is—then it is the right thing to evacuate Cyprus, and to do it in good time.
That is the case we put from this side of the House, and we want to hear what the Colonial Secretary has to say about it. He may say something less repellent and hypocritical than that which came from the ex-Foreign Office official. The 548 Cypriots will understand what he means by all the talk which we have heard from him today. It will stimulate their resistance; it will make the base useless, and make the Government look even more ridiculous than they look this afternoon.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt
On a point of order. This debate arose out of my attempt to move the Adjournment of the House during the supplementary questions which followed the statement upon Cyprus. I think it is unreasonable that I and other hon. Members who are interested in the subject should not have been called before the Minister.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman. This debate is on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill. It has nothing whatever to do with the Adjournment or anything else.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I had not intended to intervene on the subject of Cyprus, except for one reason—that this may well be the last occasion when I have the honour of addressing this House. I have no doubt that that will give great satisfaction to some hon. Members opposite. But now, after hearing the extremely irresponsible and dangerous speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) I find it necessary to say a few words upon the subject in any case.
We all understand the hon. Member's policy; it peeped through some of his remarks. He said, "If I were a citizen of any country, whether it was a British dependency or anything else, I should never permit a British base to be located there." That is exactly what he said, and it means, "I prefer to run every risk of being enslaved rather than allow people of the British Empire to be stationed in my country." We all recognise what that argument is, and we also recognise the policy which underlay all 549 the speeches I have heard, namely, that whenever anybody asks for anything, even when there are no ordinary democratic means of finding out what it is they want, we are committing a great mistake and being provocative if we do not immediately give way.
I want to try to bring this subject back towards the facts. Let us examine the question of security in the Eastern Mediterranean. Not a single speaker from the benches opposite has even mentioned Turkey in the course of his remarks. The hon. Member for Coventry, East, who knows so much about the Middle East—
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Only in the historical sense. I want to refer to it in the present sense. Are hon. Members opposite aware of the position which Turkey occupies in the defence plans of N.A.T.O.? Are they aware that 18 per cent, of the population of Cyprus is Turkish-speaking? Is no account to be taken of these facts? They have not been mentioned—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]—when I have been in the House. I am only making the point that any talk of Enosis will have the gravest effect upon Turkish opinion. It is worth making the point that 18 per cent. of the population of Cyprus are Turkish-speaking, but it has not been made by anybody so far.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the fact that 18 per cent. of the population of Cyprus speak Turkish has not been mentioned, but that is not correct. I referred to it a great deal. Have there been any representations from Turkey upon this question? If so, what?
§ Mr. Lyttelton
I said that in the scheme of the defence of the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkish opinion and the solidarity of Turkey in the arrangements are of primary importance. That point has not been made while I have been in the House, and I heard the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) in full. The mere statistic that 18 per cent. of the Cypriots speak Turkish might well have been mentioned.
Eastern Mediterranean security demands that we maintain sovereign power in Cyprus. That is expert opinion. Some 550 hon. Members opposite expressed the opinion that we would be much safer if we allowed a country to become attached to some foreign Power and then established our base there by treaty. That is a curious argument to advance. A large part of the argument of the hon. Member for Coventry, East, was devoted to drawing a comparison between the situation in Egypt and that in Cyprus, but that is wholly inapposite to this discussion. There cannot be any going back on expert opinion in this matter.
I believe that the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg)—when I was not in the House—said that the talk of self-government for Cyprus was hypocrisy, or words to that effect. He knows that in many parts of the British Colonial Territories there is a very large measure of self-government, while the Governor and, consequently, Her Majesty's Government, retain certain powers in their hands in connection with external relations and defence. However desirable it might be, in everybody's opinion, it is not possible at this stage in the world situation to give Cyprus full control over her external relations and defence, any more than it is possible at this moment to go still further and say that the external relations and defence of Cyprus are matters for the Greek Government.
§ Mr. Driberg
The right hon. Gentleman used the phrases "at this stage," and "at this moment." Possibly there is a very important difference between his view and that of the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs because the main point of the Minister of State which alarmed and disturbed some of us was that the term "self-government" could never be applied in its full sense to Cyprus, and that this was one of the territories, under the Potomac Charter and other agreements, which could never enjoy full self-government with independent self-determination.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
It is a most unlikely thing in any future we can foresee. I never used the term "never" and neither did my right hon. Friend.
One of the things about which the hon. Member for Coventry, East became most effervescent was the fact that we were now leaving Egypt. He said that he advocated this step two years ago. At that time it would have been disastrous, but now, with the H-bomb and various 551 other weapons in existence, quite a different set of circumstances have arisen. However, I was not on that point but on the point of self-government.
I should have thought that we would all have agreed that, within the framework of Eastern Mediterranean security, which we have to preserve, we should make every attempt to engage the population of Cyprus, as far as possible, in the responsibility for managing its own affairs. Since 1948 Cyprus has had before it a constitution, which, if I may use the phrase, it has not taken up. Are we, therefore, just to sit down and make no attempt to broaden the basis of the Council in Cyprus? I would remind hon. Members opposite who are not on the Front Bench that the constitution offered in 1948 contained this clause:It is the intention of His Majesty's Government that the field of debate and legislature should be restricted as little as possible. The Constitution must provide that the Legislature may not discuss the status of Cyprus within the British Commonwealth, but apart from this no subject need be ipso facto excluded."— [Colonial No. 227, paragraph 16.]It would be interesting to know whether that is still the official attitude of hon. Members opposite, or whether the official attitude now is that we should follow the policy enunciated with so much froth and effervescence by the hon. Member for Coventry, East and hand Cyprus over to Greece. If it is the latter, the sooner it is stated the better, and the easier it will be for the Government to knock down the case. I can hardly imagine that that is the official Labour Party attitude, but it is a little difficult to know because of the sharp difference there is between Members opposite below the Gangway and those above it. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Tory Party?"] Well, these things happen, but it would be interesting to know what is the Labour Party's official attitude about that. That constitution has not been taken up and it seems to me the commonest of common sense that now we should at any rate make some advance towards broadening the basis of the administration.
Another point I would impress upon hon. Members opposite is that to plunge into things like Enosis when there is no democratic basis for the formation of public opinion is very dangerous. What we want to do is to give Cyprus the fullest 552 measure of self-government, bit by bit as she is able to exercise it, but always within the framework of British rule. We cannot now, in the interests of the Cypriots and of Mediterranean security, think of the junction of Cyprus with Greece.
In all British Colonial Territories, we do not admit the right of any foreign Power, however friendly, to interfere with the sovereignty of the British Crown. Let me make it quite clear that that applies to Cyprus as well as to every other British territory. We want to build up self-governing institutions, and if they will not take up the present constitution, as they have not done—and it has been lying on the table for six years—we have now to broaden the basis of the administration by taking action of our own. What cannot be done by agreement has to be done by what is popularly known as unilateral action now. There is nothing forcible about this. It is an attempt to broaden the representation of the Greek-speaking and the Turkish-speaking Cypriots in the management of their own affairs. The attitude of those who have said that we should do this by handing over Cyprus to a foreign Power is quite unworthy.
We have to be patient in these affairs. Those who deal with colonial matters know that one of the most dangerous things is to try to do by Tuesday week what has taken years to work out. I can imagine no more disastrous policy for Cyprus than to hand it over to an unstable though friendly Power. It would have the effect of undermining the eastern bastion of N.A.T.O. It would have the effect of depressing the standard of life of everyone in Cyprus. How many times have I heard in the last three years hon. Members opposite say that the first thing we have to do is to raise the standard of life in this and that country. This proposal of theirs to hand Cyprus over to another Power would have the effect of lowering the standard of life in Cyprus.
So on those grounds I am afraid there can be no other policy than to endeavour —patiently, especially when one side does not agree with all that is proposed—to build up self-governing institutions in Cyprus so that the people there may take an increasing responsibility for their own affairs. It is very likely that when those institutions have been built up the 553 Cypriots who do not agree with us will take a very different view of the Enosis proposals from that which they may take now in the present atmosphere, whether created by the attitude of the Church and a certain amount of propaganda or not. Then, too, some hon. Members opposite will be ashamed of many of the things that they have said, which cannot do any good at all in the present situation, but are in some sense an incitement still further to promote the Enosis campaign.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The Secretary of State began his speech by intimating personally to us what we have gathered from reports in the Press, that this would be his last appearance in this House. In the last three years I have crossed swords with him as often as any Member of the House. I have done so not for personal reasons, but because of disagreements with him about policy. Now that he is leaving and we break off the battle I would say, "Never mind that now. That is over. I wish him well."
The debate has arisen because of the statement made by the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs. I hope that the Minister will intervene in the debate again because neither he nor the Secretary of State has clarified some of the issues which have arisen out of questions put to him today. The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs said that it was proposed to bring into operation a new constitution. He did not give the details of it, but he laid down this basis for it, that there is to be a legislature and that in the legislature there would be an official majority and an unofficial minority, which means that the elected element will be the minority.
In the constitution that was offered to Cyprus before, and to which reference has been made, the reverse was the position. There was to have been an elected majority. I would ask the Minister since the Government now feel another offer has to be made to Cyprus to encourage constitutional advance, why the Government have made a change in that material and important respect. The Secretary of State has not told us, and I hope the Minister will intervene later to tell us.
The next question is, when it is proposed that these changes should come into operation? I ask the Minister of 554 State for Colonial Affairs, or the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister, as he is about, to confirm that no irrevocable step will be taken before the House resumes its Sittings in October and has an opportunity of fully discussing the matter.
§ Mr. Lyttelton
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will take it from me that we certainly give that pledge. A start has to be made, and the first thing is that the Governor must have wider opportunities of discussing these proposals with the political parties. It will take some time.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes. I particularly ask that because I would say, after consultation with my right hon. Friends sitting with me on this Bench, that we want time to consider this statement and to consider the whole matter. We reserve our position on it, because the matter has not been considered by our party since the statement was made. I want it to be understood, since the House is to rise on Friday, that no final step will be taken in this matter and that the Government will not act upon this policy of bringing into operation these proposals until the House resumes in October and the matter can come before the House again. I want to get that clear.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his noble Friend welcomed this statement in another place today?
§ Mr. Griffiths
No, I am not aware of that. I am for the moment speaking for myself and for my right hon. Friends, after consulting those of them here now.
The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs said that this was the first step towards self-government for Cyprus. He was asked whether it included a pledge to Cyprus that the evolution of self-government within the British Commonwealth envisaged at the end the reaching of that constitutional status which we still describe as Dominion status, which is clearly defined in the Statute of Westminster, and which, when reached, enables the territory concerned to make up its own mind whether to stay in the Commonwealth, or to become severed from the Commonwealth, or to join with any other country.
As I understood, the Minister said that the offer did not include that at any stage —not "at the present stage." If that is true, it will be a departure in the case 555 of Cyprus from the policy we have laid down for the Colonial Territories. It is true that there are problems about the smaller territories, but there are no problems comparable with the one in this case. As we understood the Minister, never was Cyprus to obtain to the position in which it could have Dominion status and, therefore, be free and entitled to decide for itself.
It was the hope of the Labour Government—I still adhere to the hope—that the people of Cyprus would work with us by accepting a constitution. We not only offered a constitution, but also offered to discuss it. We did not say, "This is the constitution, and you will accept it"; we said, "This is the basis for discussion." The present Government are not saying to Cyprus, "These are the proposals that we are putting forward, and we invite you to discuss them." I still urge the Government to consider whether that ought not to be the line to be followed.
My predecessors and I refused a referendum. I am not attracted by a referendum. I and my predecessors wanted to work out our colonial policy, which was to create institutions in all the Colonies so that they should eventually reach the stage where they would be fully self-governing. I not only want to create in those Colonies self-government; I want it to be democratic self-government, and I want there to be social justice as well. I want us to reach a stage where we not merely hand over power; I want us to hand over power to a democratic country with democratic institutions by whom the power will be wielded democratically. I am convinced that the only real independence is democratic independence. What other kind of independence is there?
I understand that no irrevocable decision will be taken before the House resumes after the Recess. The Labour Party want to consider the whole position in the light of the changing situation and also in the light of the changing strategic position. It was the hope of the Labour Government, and in particular of the late Mr. Ernest Bevin, that the Middle East's strategic situation would be solved—it is a great pity that it was not—by mutual arrangements covering all the countries in the Middle East. If it had been possible to secure such an arrangement in which 556 Greece, Turkey and all the other countries could have taken part, the whole problem of Cyprus and strategy in the Middle East could have been reconsidered. Unfortunately, that opportunity has not arisen, and we are now faced with the present situation.
If a constitution is imposed, there will be a likelihood of elections and a boycott, and in six or 12 months' time we shall have contributed nothing towards a solution of the problem in Cyprus. I believe there is a chance of a settlement if we offer not a constitution but discussions on a constitution, with the undertaking that the constitution will be a beginning towards democratic independence as defined in the Statute of Westminster, and then when that stage is reached it will be for the people of Cyprus themselves to decide their own future, as the people of India and Burma have done, and the Gold Coast will do. That would be the wisest and the best course to follow.
There was a passage in the Minister's statement with which I agree. Certainly, since 1945—and, to some extent, even before that—our colonial administration has done a first-class job in the social and economic fields in Cyprus. The job that we did in the field of health under the five-year plan to wipe out malaria was one of the finest pieces of co-operative effort to raise the standard of life of a people in the record of our colonial administration during the last eight or nine years.
The Labour Party will consider this matter as a party and we shall make up our minds after reviewing the whole situation in the light of the changes which have taken place and with the desire to build up democratic self-government in Cyprus. I do not want to discuss the merits or demerits of this matter at any great length now. I repeat that the Labour Party reserve their decision; we want an opportunity fully to consider the matter and to make up our minds in due course.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am very sincerely sorry that the speech which we heard just now from my right hon. Friend may be his last in the House. Whatever differences I may have had with other right hon. Friends who sit on the Government Front Bench as Ministers, I have certainly nothing but admiration for his tenure of the Colonial Office. 557 This country and, in particular, the Colonial Territories owe a great debt to him for the sincerity with which he has approached his task and for the resolution with which he carried out his policy once he made up his mind what it was he wanted to do. Whatever else may be said about him in the future, the record which he will leave behind him at the Colonial Office will be outstanding in man's mind by reason of the fact that he carried out a just policy with great courage in the face of considerable unpopularity. His policy was based on what he believed to be right, and no man on earth can be asked to do more than that.
I lived for six months in Cyprus during the war. I realise that it is very dangerous to rush to conclusions as to what the civilian life of a country is when one is stationed there as a soldier, especially in wartime. In time of war, it is especially dangerous to attempt to judge what the politics of a country are. I sometimes think that people serving in the Armed Forces who return to this country and start telling us what the political situation is in the countries where they have been ought to have that consideration in mind.
I should like to give the House one or two observations which I hope will be helpful to hon. Members and will assist the Government in making up their minds as to how to go about the tasks which they have now set themselves.
In the first place, I most heartily endorse all that was said earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken). I am convinced that the security issue in respect of Cyprus is the overriding one, whether we like it or not and whether those who live in Cyprus like it or not. My reason for thinking that it is overriding is that I cannot perceive in the foreseeable future the slightest chance of the Cypriots themselves being able to provide the revenue necessary to ensure the defence of Cyprus. That seems to me automatically to lead to the conclusion that someone else has to be very largely responsible for providing the security of Cyprus. Who is in a better position to do this than ourselves in conjunction with the other signatories of N.A.T.O.?
I have an historical note here which, I think, may be of interest to the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs and. I think, 558 the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) earlier in the debate referred to our obligations arising out of our acquiring Cyprus from the Turks in 1878. History sometimes takes a long time to work itself out. I have here a copy of the letter which Lord Beaconsfield wrote to Queen Victoria on 5th May, 1878. It reads:If Cyprus be conceded to Your Majesty by the Porte and England at the same time enters into a defensive alliance with Turkey, guaranteeing Asiatic Turkey from Russian invasion, the power of England in the Mediterranean will be absolutely increased in that region, and Your Majesty's Indian Empire immensely strengthened. Cyprus is the key of Western Asia.The point which I particularly wish to draw to the attention of the House from that quotation is where it refers to an alliance guaranteeing Turkey against the possibility of Russian invasion. One can say that we have had to wait 80 years before that treaty has materialised. We now have the N.A.T.O. Treaty, which really does this very thing.
I would say, because I disagree with the Government about what they have done in Egypt, that to my mind today is a very black day in British history. I would also say that the importance of Cyprus from the security point of view becomes infinitely greater than it was while we had as our policy the maintenance of troops in Egypt. I feel, therefore, that the security aspect of our relations with Cyprus must be the overriding one, not only from our own point of view, but also from the Cypriots' point of view. I cannot see how Cyprus as a country can ever possibly afford from her revenue to finance or even to man, still less to equip, adequate forces.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for being so frank about the real reason why he wants us to remain in Cyprus. On the limited point of the inability of the Cypriots to provide for their own defence, surely he would agree that the same is true, for instance, of Burma to a certain extent, and also that it is possible for an independent Cypriot nation to enter into defence agreements with other nations.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I see the point of the hon. Member's question perfectly well. I think that the less I say about Burma the better. I have already listed Burma in a long chain of withdrawals, 559 of which I certainly do not approve, looking back on it. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is dodging the point."] I am not dodging the point. So far as defence is concerned, surely one of the greatest measures of true sovereignty is whether or not it is possible to defend oneself if attacked. I cannot see that, given the best will in the world, the Cypriots will ever be in the position to do that, the world situation being what it is and the nature of modern war being what it is.
I hope that the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), from what I have said, will not suppose that as a result I would obstruct anything which was likely to lead the Cypriots to the greatest measure of self-government possible. I have not had an opportunity to read the statement which the Government made today about the future of Cyprus, but nothing that I have heard in this debate has led me to suppose that the Government want to obstruct that process. All that we are trying to do is to face the reality of the situation, namely, that Cyprus cannot possibly defend itself, or have the revenue to defend itself, or pay for its own defence. Therefore, there must be some difficulty in the Cypriot issue which normally goes in granting self-government.
I think that there is another important aspect which hon. Members who have not been to the island of Cyprus cannot possibly have appreciated; that is, that there is a very marked difference between the Cypriots who live in the towns and the Cypriots who live in the countryside—an enormous difference to which we in this country are not at all used. With our State education, such as we have it today, and with the readiness to take an interest in current affairs that there is both in the countryside and in the towns of this country, we perhaps overlook the fact that in a country where the peasantry have very simple ways and a certain reluctance to over-exercise themselves in any type of employment, it is very difficult to see the way clearly ahead as to how self-government should come about.
I hope that the Government will be very careful to see that, whatever form of self-government they put up, it will not result in the townsmen of Cyprus alone ruling or advising as to what should be done for the island as a whole. I 560 think that the difference between the outlook of the townsmen in Cyprus and that of the peasants in the countryside is so great that if we tried to rule the country from the town this would inevitably cause great unhappiness in the countryside.
I think that those who have met the Cypriots in the countryside have rather a warm corner in their hearts for them. They are not over-energetic and they have the most simple methods in agriculture. To see them threshing is a wonderful sight, in a way, because it conjures up the idea of almost primitive methods. To see, for instance, a chair placed on a board in which sharp flints have been inserted in the underside and the whole contraption being dragged round and round by a donkey on a summer's day makes one wonder what modern agricultural methods could do for that island.
This is one aspect of the island's life which I have painted to show how markedly different it is from this country, and how terribly dangerous it is that we in this country should assume that everyone has the same approach and the same needs when we start talking about self-government. We have a great advantage over those people. We are far more civilised and cultured in many ways, but they have something of their own which we have not got. It is wrong for us to suppose that by pumping something from our system into theirs it is automatically going to work.
There is one other political aspect beyond that upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds touched earlier. It is true, I think, to say that there has been a good deal of political interference over Enosis so far as the Church there has been concerned. In my recollection, one of the most awkward situations which arose every year in Cyprus was the attempt to celebrate the Battle of Navarino of 1827. That battle resulted in a crushing defeat of the Turko-Egyptian fleet at that time by Britain and Russia very largely, and that date is still celebrated regularly every year in the villages of Cyprus, particularly by the Greeks.
If we are not very careful, if we grant all that Enosis is now asking for, we may find that we have done a shocking injustice to the 18 per cent., or whatever it may be, of the Turkish population in the villages. Obviously, little disputes 561 like that need careful watching, especially when they become village festivals, or attempted village festivals, at the expense of a small section of the population of those villages. One has a certain obligation to see that that sort of trouble does not get out of hand, which is what it easily could do.
More by bad luck than anything else, that island happens to be geographically in a position which automatically makes it of supreme strategic importance from the point of view of preserving world peace against possible Russian aggression. I do not think any of us welcome that fact. I am quite certain that if the arguments that have been used about hydrogen bombs for our removing ourselves from Egypt are applied to Cyprus, the position of Cyprus is truly terrifying.
I agree with those—I think I was one of the first ever to raise it in the House —who say that of all places where not to put G.H.Q. Middle East, Cyprus is it. But that is a matter of opinion, and obviously the Government will inevitably take the best military expert opinion they can get at the time; that, obviously, does not agree with my point of view. Nevertheless, all the lessons of the last war show that islands are difficult places on which to have vital things. And on top of that there is now the hydrogen bomb, which has already blown one island out of existence and has left a hole in the floor of the ocean a mile wide. And yet we are moving our great Middle East headquarters into Cyprus. I certainly do not agree with that.
If we go from Egypt, Cyprus becomes of even greater importance to us than it is today. I do not dispute the deployment argument. It must, I think, apply, and we must break up our forces into what might be called penny packets rather than having them all in one lump sum. The question is where to go and what to put in the various places to which we go.
My feeling is that the wrong decision has been made; that is why I say that today is a black day in British history. But so far as Cyprus and the particular issues before us this afternoon are concerned, I think that the Government are right to claim that the security of Cyprus affects the sovereignty problem of Cyprus very materially, and that the previous Government were right when they said they were not prepared, as the present 562 Government are not prepared, to discuss the sovereignty of British territory with anyone. It is a matter for us to make up our own minds about, and in the interests of Cyprus herself and of this country I say that we certainly must preserve that position so far as sovereignty is concerned.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
This has been to most hon. Members who have been in the House and listened to it, a very important debate. It is unfortunate that it had to push out another subject that hon. Members on this side of the House wanted to discuss, but we had no idea of the nature of the statement that was to be made. I want to protest once more against these very radical alterations of Government policy being announced immediately before the Recess, when the House has no normal opportunity of discussing them.
The speech to which we have just listened is characteristic of the courage and honesty of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge Bourke). He is very plain spoken about these matters, and perhaps he was quite right when he said that in one respect this was a black day for Britain; for what has fallen from the lips of the Colonial Secretary and from the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs today has shown that the Conservative Party has not changed one little bit.
The party opposite would, indeed, not only have scored a victory, but they would have put our foreign policy on an intelligible foundation, had they said, "We are leaving Egypt because we consider that we have no business to remain in a country if the people of that country do not want us." Had they said that, and their whole policy had been consistent with it, it would amount to an intelligible and coherent design in foreign affairs.
The Colonial Secretary said that we are leaving Egypt because of the advent of the hydrogen bomb. Therefore, we are saying to the people of the Middle East, "We are not leaving Egypt because we recognise the rights of the Egyptians, or because we do not want to be bad friends with Egypt. We are leaving Egypt only because it is not now militarily tenable" The Government emphasise that by saying, on the same day, that so 563 indifferent are we to the wishes of people that we are to establish our base in Cyprus; and we tell the people of Cyprus quite bluntly that if the existence of the Middle East Command there and their self-government are inconsistent, their self-government must be abandoned. That is what the Government have said.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely is quite right when he is so sorrowful about the situation. What he is now saying is that Great Britain has not changed her attitude to the world at all, that we have not adjusted ourselves to the facts of the modern world, and that we are still as imperialist as we ever were but we are not as strong as we were. In other words, we are still as traditionalist as we ever were before but, unfortunately, we have to abandon place after place because we have been driven out. So we are not leaving because we are better; we are leaving because we are weaker.
I can quite understand that a traditional Conservative weeps over that situation. He has a nostalgia for the days when he would stay where he wanted to stay, no matter what the people of that country thought about him. He has not moved at all. He has not awakened to the fact that we on this side have tried to point out over and over again that the forces of nationalism in the world today form some of the strongest emotional urges with which every nation has to deal, and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) said in what, I consider, was a most remarkable. Coherent, cogent speech—[Laughter.] I do not know what hon. Members opposite are laughing about. When we were urging them more than two years ago to do what they have now done today, they jeered then just the same. They have learnt nothing at all. Now, they are repeating, on Cyprus, exactly the same arguments that they advanced to us two and a half years ago with respect to Egypt. They talk about the overriding military, strategical considerations.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely told us just now exactly what a Burmese during the war told me the then Prime Minister told him. A very representative Burmese visited this country, with very great difficulty indeed, 564 to try to negotiate with the Prime Minister self-government for Burma. All that he wanted from the Prime Minister at that time was a promise that when the war was over, Burma would be given self-government within the Commonwealth. That is all he wanted. What did the Prime Minister answer—or so he told me? He said, "What is the use of giving Burma self-government? She is too weak to defend herself." That was the answer, and that is exactly the hon. and gallant Gentleman's answer, that no nation ought to be given self-government if it is too weak to defend its independence. We had better give it up here, because we are too weak to defend our independence.
Every argument advanced from the opposite side of the House for the existence of the American bases in Great Britain is an argument that we are now too weak to defend our independence. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman accept the logic of that? I will give way to him if he wishes. I understand his reluctance to intervene, but the fact is that there is hardly a nation in the world which is now strong enough to defend its independence. We have reached a situation in which the traditional attitude of the Conservative Party is no longer relevant, but they will not wake up to the situation.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The right hon. Gentleman is using his usual imagination when transcribing what I actually said. I would ask him to remember that one of the things I said—and I think he will probably agree when he faces it—is that the sovereignty of a country ultimately is often judged by whether it can defend itself. I do not see in the future the slightest likelihood of Cyprus being able to provide her own defence.
§ Mr. Bevan
That is exactly what I said the hon. and gallant Gentleman said. If he does not understand what he said, we are quite clear about it. If he will only face facts, he will agree that that is an argument against any nation having independence, because no nation can now defend itself. Therefore, that point is irrelevant.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the Cypriot peasants are different from the townspeople, and he described in graphic terms the way in which they 565 get water and thresh their corn. If he went to India he would see at the present time people living under even more primitive conditions than that, and yet in India is to be found one of the most remarkable examples of the beginnings of self-government among backward people in any part of the world. I should imagine that everybody is hoping, because it is in the British Commonwealth, that India will succeed in her attempt.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not forget that many of the benefits which those people are now deriving were originally brought into being by the British-Indian Civil Service.
§ Mr. Bevan
Then why have we not conferred the same benefits upon the people of Cyprus who are literate and, therefore, could take advantage of those benefits?
Now that we are leaving Egypt, why could we not give the civilised reason for doing so, the reason which the soldiers gave and the reason that we were given by the generals in the Canal Zone—that we could not stay in Egypt because a hostile population made it impossible to have a modern military base in its midst? That is what they told us. It is not because of the hydrogen bomb because, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, this island to which we are retreating would be wiped out by the hydrogen bomb, so we are not going from a weaker place to a stronger place. We are not even going to a more inaccessible place, because it is nearer.
It would be far better if we accepted the logical fact that in the modern world we can only govern people eventually with their own consent and we cannot have even reasonable military relations with them unless they are prepared to accord them. The Middle East Command is going from Egypt to Cyprus, and the function of the Foreign Office is to create in Cyprus as friendly an atmosphere as possible among the people in Cyprus for the hospitality of our troops. That, surely, is their first duty. If we are leaving Egypt for the reasons that we all know about, and if we are to take up residence in Cyprus, surely it is the duty of the Government so to adjust their policy as to produce as 566 friendly an atmosphere as possible in Cyprus.
Instead, what have they done? The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs bluntly tells the Cypriots that they can only get their own way by doing what the Egyptians have done. That is what he said. In fact, when we try to plead in the House for some consideration for their own wishes we are told that we are mischievous. If, in this House of Commons, no voice is raised for the legitimate aspirations of colonial peoples, then they are driven to nothing but violence in order to get their own way. That is why we are here. The only way in which we can conceivably get orderly development towards self-government in the British Empire is through those people feeling that they have their advocates here. If they have not got them here, they must have them in their own streets.
This is an open invitation by the British House of Commons to the people of Cyprus to take whatever measures they think they can take to make things as uncomfortable as possible for us when we establish a base there. I think that is a most unfortunate and undesirable thing to say, and it was not in accord with the much wiser sentiments which fell from the lips of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, because if there was any division at all in this House it was the division between the last speech of the Colonial Secretary and the speech of the Foreign Secretary. In fact, so mischievous was the Colonial Secretary in his last speech that he made as much trouble as possible for us with Greece because he talked about the Greek Government as being unstable. Judging by what is happening upstairs, if unstable Governments make por allies, this one is rocking to its death.
I think that the juxtaposition of those two statements today, the one about Egypt and the one about Cyprus, was most unfortunate because they will be interpreted throughout the Middle East not as we would wish them to be interpreted, that we have adjusted ourselves to the realities of the modern world, but that we have a reluctant Conservative Government clinging to their old ideas, being driven from one position to another because they have neither the moral stature nor the physical strength to defend themselves.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
I make no apology for continuing the debate on Cyprus because, as has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), this is, in part, a black day; but, whether it is black or white, it is certainly an historic day because we have to make very serious new decisions about the disposal of our forces throughout the Commonwealth and about what we are going to do about the colonial areas which are important strategically and to which, for various reasons, we are not anxious to give immediate self-government.
We should consider for a moment how this statement on Cyprus came to be made today, because the background of it is Partly the key to it. First, the Government had their difficulties with the 1922 Committee, and that is politically of no small importance at the moment. Having forced their way through the 1922 Committee, or by-passed it, and having insisted on carrying on with leaving Egypt —which they knew to be right and as the Foreign Secretary said was fair to the Egyptians themselves—they realised that they would have to throw something to the 1922 Committee to keep it quiet. So they threw to the Committee the proposition that, although we may have been driven out of Egypt, we do not propose to be driven out of Cyprus. That was the nature of the bargain made over Cyprus.
However, the difficulty the Government were in was that, having made the bargain, having said, "We will promise you never to get out of Cyprus if you will let us get out of Egypt," they then had to put a better gloss on it for the world at large than a mere abrupt determination to stay in Cyprus. Consequently, we had that long constitutional explanation and the not very clear proposals made by the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs this afternoon.
This simply will not do, because the Government are getting the worst of both worlds on it; they have not really satisfied their 1922 rebels, who are still angry about Egypt and are worried about Cyprus—because even the mere mention of self-government, disguised though it was this afternoon, is enough to throw them into a panic. It has certainly not 568 done anything to satisfy the people of Cyprus, because it has proposed a nominated and official legislature.
So there can be no real expression of the feelings of the people, whatever the elections throw up, because they can never be translated into action, since the nominated and official members of the Assembly will have the majority and that will prevent any minority proposal which the government do not like from getting through. Consequently, they have said, "You may have self-government so long as you do not want self-government."
The only result can be to create not less Communists—I can understand the Government being worried about the number of them on the island—but more, because we cannot damp down national feeling in Cyprus by this action. It will be inflamed further, and will make more solid the coalition between the Church and the Communists—incidentally, it is the only place in the world where there is such a coalition—and it is the Tory Government who are strengthening this.
The Government should have taken a long-term look at the future of Cyprus. I understand that the object is to get a secure base there, particularly as that base will have to be expanded as a result of the withdrawal of troops on active service from Egypt. I understand that, and I also think it is correct. Nevertheless, we have to do it in a way which is consistent with the rights and feelings of the people who live on Cyprus. There is a real defence problem involved there, just as there is in the case of Malta and Gibraltar, and other territories which, at the moment, are not to get self-government and for whom some arrangement has to be devised to satisfy them.
It was interesting that in the same week as this statement about Cyprus has been made a delegation has been here from Malta. The Minister has seen the delegation, but not the Secretary of State. It has been given a brief answer to its general proposition, which is a sound one. The proposition is that Malta would like to be integrated with this country and to send two or three Members of Parliament here to take part in our deliberations, and to continue to be a part of this Commonwealth and have a fuller hearing in this country for their grievances.
569 Here we have the extraordinary case of a Colony wanting to get closer to this country, not farther away. Yet the Government, in a very intelligent way, are brushing all that aside and not looking at the possibilities of the proposal. And the same sort of thing arises over Gibraltar. In the case of Cyprus, however, there is a different problem. First, it is probably much too big to be integrated with this country, even supposing it wanted to be. Secondly, the national feeling will rise. Thirdly, the Cypriots happen, rightly or wrongly, to want to join up with Greece. In this case, therefore, there is a third party besides ourselves and the Cypriots.
It is no use the Secretary of State saying, "It has always been our custom never to discuss any section of British territory with a foreign country" because this is an entirely new situation. It is one in which the inhabitants of the British territory concerned want to become a part of this country and the Secretary of State declines to have any discussion with them. It does not create a precedent, however, in the sense of saying that any country which likes has a right to talk about our Colonies; it only creates a precedent in that here are the inhabitants of an important area who want to join up with Greece.
The nub of this matter is not whether or not the constitution offered today is far from likely to lead over a long period of years to self-government; it is not whether or not we are to try to run Cyprus by brute force; it is whether or not we are to discuss practically what could be done with the Greeks in order to give us what we want and what the Cypriots want. What we want is a secure base. What they want is a link with Greece. Also, Greece happens to want us to have a secure base in Cyprus, too, because she is a member of N.A.T.O. and also has a pact with Turkey. So everyone concerned wants to have a secure base on Cyprus.
In that case, the way is open. The Greeks themselves have made it clear that they are willing to talk about this in detail and to give us the base we need. It has been said by the Secretary of State that, in the opinion of some unnamed experts, unless there is complete sovereignty over the whole territory there cannot be a satisfactory base. This is nonsense. We 570 have a very satisfactory base at Gibraltar and yet we do not have sovereignty over the hinterland. At the moment we have a fairly secure base in Hong Kong—at any rate, it is secure as long as the Chinese allow it to remain there. The only reason why it might not then be secure is because of the overwhelming force which the Chinese can mount against it.
There is no reason why we should not create in Cyprus now, while feeling is sympathetic towards the idea, both in Greece and in Cyprus, a kind of Hong Kong. It is perfectly easy to have a kind of Hong Kong which is ceded territory; not a territory for a term of years, but a permanent cession of a sufficient part of the island to provide a harbour and the necessary military base, which is the arrangement that was made about Hong Kong and which has been made about Gibraltar.
We have no particular concern in governing Cypriots. That is not our desire. We do not want to govern any part of Greece either. What we are concerned about is the base. What we ought to be concerned with as a leading nation of the free world is only having bases in a way which is consistent with the rights of the inhabitants of the country concerned.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Has my hon. Friend considered the situation of the Turkish population of Cyprus, who are very nearly a quarter of the total, and who would object desperately to being handed over to Greece?
§ Mr. Wyatt
Yes, there is a Turkish minority, but it is 18 per cent., not a quarter. The question of minorities is always difficult and is always advanced to prevent progress towards self-government or the wishes of the majority being achieved. We had the same thing in India and in Burma. We have had the same thing wherever we have had the problem of trying to arrive at self-government. It is a solvable problem because there must be consultation about what is to be done about the Turkish minority and all the rest of it. I am saying, however, that whether we were there or not, there would be a Turkish minority. There was one there before we arrived. It is not our duty to deal with the affairs of the Cypriots. The only 571 reason why we want to deal with them is because we want a secure base there.
I believe that it would be quite possible to work out a kind of Hong Kong or Egypt in Cyprus to give us all that we need in the way of a base, which means that instead of losing the friendship of the Greeks we should retain it and be able to show the rest of the world that while we are trying to maintain bases to defend not only ourselves and the Commonwealth but the free world we are doing it in a way acceptable to the people who have to live in the territories where the bases are situated.