HC Deb 30 June 1955 vol 543 cc511-4
The Prime Minister

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that Her Majesty's Government have this morning made the following communication to the Greek and Turkish Governments, through Her Majesty's Representatives: Her Majesty's Government have been giving further consideration to the strategic and other problems affecting alike the United Kingdom, Greece and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. They consider that the association of the three countries in that area based on mutual confidence is essential to their common interests. Her Majesty's Government accordingly invite the Greek and Turkish Governments to send representatives to confer with them in London at an early date on political and defence questions which affect the Eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus. Her Majesty's Government very much hope that the Greek and Turkish Governments will accept this invitation. The House will note that the terms of the invitation are not restricted; and, in fact, it is our intention that there should be no fixed agenda, and that the discussions should range widely over all the questions involved. The discussions will be without prior commitment by any party.

Mr. Attlee

In view of the disturbed conditions in Cyprus at present, I am sure that the announcement of these meetings will be welcomed. May I ask whether "an early date" will mean what we call early, that is to say, in a matter of weeks? Sometimes an early date means a matter of months.

The Prime Minister

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. As regards the date, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—who, with the Minister of Defence and the Colonial Secretary will represent us in these discussions, if, as we hope, they take place—is going to Strasbourg early next week. There, provided the response is favourable, he will have discussions with his Greek and Turkish colleagues immediately, to make arrangements. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a Geneva date which cannot be moved. That is the only consideration we have to bear in mind.

Mr. C. Davies

I am sure that everyone will welcome this announcement and will congratulate the Government on taking this step. The position in Cyprus is one which is not only causing anxiety here and in the Middle East, but can be doing us no good at all anywhere. Assuming, as we all hope, that those invitations will be accepted, may I ask the Prime Minister whether consultation will take place at the same time with the people of Cyprus, so that they can be sure that their interests are considered?

The Prime Minister

We have had to consider how best to handle this very difficult question. We thought that it would be wise to begin with the international aspect which has, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise, repercussions a good deal wider than the island of Cyprus itself. That is why I have chosen these terms in the invitation —to show that the discussions will be wide in scope and I am sure that we will be wise to hold them

Mr. Braine

While I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, may I ask whether he can give the House an assurance that, pending these negotiations all necessary steps will be taken to maintain law and order in the island?

The Prime Minister

Pending and during. That must be so, because that is a Government responsibility which has to be discharged; but we hope, naturally, that the effect of this invitation, if it is accepted, will be salutary in all senses of the word.

Mr. Benn

Is the Prime Minister aware that no settlement of the problem can have any meaning at all unless it takes into consideration the wishes of the people of the island? Would he, therefore, give further consideration to the suggestion made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that the Cypriots be associated, at the outset, with negotiations that vitally affect their own future?

The Prime Minister

We have considered that aspect of the problem, and I and the Government are convinced that this is a better method of approach at the present time.

Mr. S. Silverman

If the right hon. Gentleman has added to his original statement—which many of us thought was intended to refer mainly to the Cyprus situation—the wider question of peace in the Eastern Mediterranean, has he considered whether, either at this conference or on some other occasion, a similar step might be taken in regard to Egypt, Jordan and Israel?

The Prime Minister

I think the hon. Member knows that there have been attempts to bring about discussions of an informal character in that respect, but that is a different question from the one with which we are dealing. Perhaps he will be good enough to give me notice.

Mr. Lee

Will the Prime Minister say that decisions already announced on defence matters affecting Cyprus are not now to be considered irrevocable?

The Prime Minister

It is perfectly open to the representatives of the Governments concerned to raise any points they wish. It is also a fact that nobody enters this conference giving any commitment in advance. I think, myself, that that is the only way in which it will be possible to make any progress.

Mrs. Jeger

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the question of the future sovereignty of Cyprus will not be barred from these discussions?

The Prime Minister

I think that what I have said in my statement is clear and that I would be unwise to depart from it. I would rather leave it there.