HC Deb 26 January 1956 vol 548 cc375-80
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I promised yesterday, Mr. Speaker, in reply to Questions by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and by the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson), to make a statement on Cyprus today.

The recent consultations with the Governor ranged over the many problems of Cyprus, including the talks that he has recently had with Archbishop Makarios, and his discussions with leaders of the Turkish community. In this full exchange of views, Ministers were in complete agreement with the proposals made by the Governor in regard to all aspects of the situation.

The recent discussions with Archbishop Makarios have been of a general nature, in the attempt to find a basis for cooperation. The Governor has endeavoured to clarify certain points which the Archbishop on his side felt to be particularly difficult. The Governor has now reported on these matters to my colleagues and myself, and now that he has returned to Cyprus is arranging a further meeting with the Archbishop.

I cannot, of course, at this stage forecast whether an agreement will be reached, nor will the House expect me to anticipate those discussions by a fuller statement now. I hope to make a further statement soon. Her Majesty's Government, and the Governor, realise the urgent importance, not least for the people of Cyprus, of bringing these talks to an early conclusion.

I can assure the House that Sir John Harding, with the full support of the Government, has done and will do everything possible in an effort to bring about an agreement and a cessation of violence. I am glad to be able to say that, as a result of the efforts of the security forces, information is improving, which, we hope, will pave the way to further successes against the terrorists.

The right hon. Member for Llanelly asked yesterday about constitutional progress. The talks with the Archbishop have not been concerned with the details of constitutional development in Cyprus, but with finding a general basis for co-operation in its development. The details will require further consultation with representatives of all sections of the community. For this to make progress, violence must end.

I am sure that the House will join with me in expressing the hope that Sir John Harding's patient efforts to reach a basis of agreement and bring an end to violence will meet with a response, which I am sure would be welcomed by the vast majority of the people in the island.

Mr. J. Griffiths

We gather from the Secretary of State's statement, as, indeed, we have gathered from Press reports, that in the discussions which the Governor had with Archbishop Makarios before the Governor returned here for consultations, what they had been discussing was a general formula that would end violence, bring peace back to the island and afford an opportunity, at greater leisure, of discussing and agreeing upon constitutional changes. Would the Secretary of State confirm that, in the discussions to arrive at this general formula of a settlement, before the Governor returned here, agreement was almost reached, and that the differences were very narrow—so narrow that it seemed to us, if what we have heard is true, that now there should be an early settlement?

May I ask the Secretary of State whether in these discussions and consultations which he and the Government have had with the Governor, who has now returned, he has now authorised a complete settlement of these outstanding points, or whether the Governor is sent back with a tied mandate beyond which he cannot go?

Further, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is the intention that the Governor shall resume talks on these outstanding points quickly, and whether he will keep the House informed as to their progress, because it is the earnest desire on all sides of the House that this matter shall be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible? Since the points, if we are correctly informed, are so narrow, can we hope that a settlement will be very quickly reached?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am glad to say that it is true that as a result of the talks the differences have been narrowed down quite considerably. But I think it would be wrong to regard the differences that remain as only differences of words. They also involve a considerable element of substance. I do not think that it would be conducive to the ironing out of the difficulties if I added further to my statement today, because I know that we all wish well to the further talks that His Excellency will shortly be having.

Mr. Griffiths

As the Secretary of State knows, our desire from the very beginning has been to say nothing and to do nothing which would prevent these negotiations from reaching a settlement, but may I press him to reply to my question? This is very important. Since both sides have made a really serious attempt to come together—and the Archbishop, on his side, has made serious attempts as well as the Governor—may I ask whether the Governor is now authorised to reach a settlement on these outstanding points, or will he need to make further reference back to Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

All I can say on that is that the Governor and Her Majesty's Government are in complete agreement as to the next step to take.

Mr. C. Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he does not think that the best way of arriving at agreement—because we are all anxious for peace to be restored to this island—would be to make public as quickly as he possibly can the offer? If it is a generous one it might be acceptable to everybody.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have very little doubt that when the time comes for the whole story to be told the wisdom of the steps taken by Her Majesty's Government will become clear to all fair-minded people.

Mr. Brooman-White

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in these negotiations the Government have been keeping in close touch with the views of the Turkish authorities concerned, because it is quite clear that any lasting settlement, which everybody wants to see reached, must be on a tripartite and not only on a bilateral basis?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The Governor has had talks with Turkish representative leaders, and throughout all these difficult negotiations Her Majesty's Government have been very conscious of both the existence of Turkish minorities on the island and of the geographical position of Cyprus, which is so close to the shores of Turkey.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

Is the Minister aware that on this side of the House very great restraint has been shown? Will he not agree that all of us are hoping that there will be a successful and honourable outcome of the negotiations in Nicosia and that we hope that everything possible will be done not only by Her Majesty's Government but by Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Government and other parties concerned to see that that happens?

Further, may I ask for a categorical assurance that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends have really taken into full consideration the disastrous repercussions throughout the area, and in particular the disastrous damage to British prestige throughout the Middle East and throughout the Arab countries, of a breakdown in the talks and a continuation of violence in Cyprus?

Finally, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that at some times too much responsibility has not been put on the shoulders of Government officials and Governors which should have been taken by himself and his right hon. Friends? Should it be necessary for him to intervene personally at an early date in the negotiations in Nicosia, would he be prepared to do so?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am fully conscious of the restraint shown on all sides of the House during recent months, and all the more so by those people who, like the hon. Member, have considerable personal knowledge of the territories concerned. Our difficulties in the Middle East do not turn only on settlement in Cyprus, but the settlement in Cyprus is of the first importance. We all recognise that. I would remind the hon. Member that sometimes there are worse things than a breakdown from the point of view of safeguarding vital interests, but throughout we have been conscious of the vital importance of Cyprus to Middle East defence. We have the greatest confidence in the Governor, whose handling of these negotiations has, I think, shown the utmost wisdom and patience.

Several Hon. Membersrose——

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that we can carry the matter further at this stage.

Mr. K. Robinson

As the Minister said that he was replying to two Questions put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and myself yesterday, Sir, may I have the opportunity of asking a supplementary question?

Mr. Speaker

Yes. The hon. Member is quite right.

Mr. Robinson

The Minister did not say very much about the situation in Cyprus. Is he aware that, contrary to some reports, the situation is deteriorating and that this makes it all the more necessary that a solution should be found urgently? May I ask, further, whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the Governor would give a television broadcast last Monday and, if so, whether he is aware that in the opinion of a number of us that broadcast was not exactly helpful to the general situation?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I cannot accept that the situation is deteriorating. Undoubtedly, the security forces are steadily gaining the upper hand. As regards the Governor's television appearance, I thought that it was a singularly successful one.