HC Deb 12 July 1956 vol 556 cc595-602
The Prime Minister

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.

In order that the House may be able to form a true judgment of the situation which has been reached regarding Cyprus, it is, I think, desirable that I should remind hon. Members of the recent history of this problem.

As the House will remember, in September, 1955, Her Majesty's Government held a Tripartite Conference with the Greek and Turkish Governments. The chief purpose of this conference was to discover whether a way could be found to reconcile the differences dividing the Governments concerned on the question of Cyprus. The Governments proved unable to agree at that time on a common policy.

Her Majesty's Government then decided to try to make progress towards a solution by means of discussions on the island itself between the Governor of Cyprus and Archbishop Makarios. These discussions lasted several months, but for reasons which have previously been debated in this House, they broke down.

Her Majesty's Government then decided to make another approach to this most intractable question on the international level. The principle of self-determination had been accepted by Her Majesty's Government. The problem was, therefore, whether a solution regarding its application could be devised which would provide fully for the protection not only of our own interests in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean, but also of those of Turkey and of other countries to whom we have treaty obligations.

Unfortunately, this has not yet been found possible. It has become plain that steps to create conditions which might lead to the application of self-determination for Cyprus would raise far wider issues for our Turkish allies as parties to the Lausanne Treaty settlement.

The House will readily understand the risks which would be involved if Her Majesty's Government were to attempt unilaterally to take such steps. As it has proved impossible to obtain international agreement in this matter, which so clearly contains the seeds of grave danger to the whole future of the Eastern Mediterranean, Her Majesty's Government have to accept that for the present progress by this means cannot be realised.

But certain steps can be taken within the island itself. Her Majesty's Government therefore intend to proceed with the development of internal self-government in Cyprus. For this purpose they have decided to ask Lord Radcliffe to start work forthwith as Constitutional Commissioner. It will be his task to consider the framework of a new liberal Constitution for Cyprus, including safeguards for the interests of all communities, and to make recommendations. He will be leaving tomorrow for a preliminary visit to Cyprus. Her Majesty's Government intend, on his return, to draw up detailed terms of reference.

The new Constitution will not, however, be put into effect until terrorism has been overcome—

Mr. S. O. Davies

By whom? Who started it?

The Prime Minister

—and law and order has been restored. The rate of progress in this constitutional development must, of course, depend on the extent of the co-operation of the people of Cyprus.

Mr. Donnelly

Is the Prime Minister aware that the decision he has just announced about sending Lord Radcliffe to Cyprus is something which should have been done long ago, at the very beginning of this crisis? Is not this another example of the too little and too late policy of the Government? To save something from the wreck, can the right hon. Gentleman make it quite clear to the House that the British Government still stand by the principle of self-determination?

Further, can the Prime Minister make clear to the House that within the preliminary terms of reference which have been given to Lord Radcliffe the possibility of a Greek-elected majority is not ruled out?

The Prime Minister

I must point out that Lord Radcliffe would certainly have been in the island long ago if Archbishop Makarios had felt able to agree to the proposals which we put before him. We thought it desirable—Lord Radcliffe thought so, too, and I am sure it is right—that his preliminary visit to Cyprus should be without detailed terms of reference so that he might have an opportunity himself to survey the scene and then have detailed terms of reference given him when he came back. I am sure that that is the best way to try to get a result.

Mr. Donnelly

indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member shakes his head, but I am quite certain that to give detailed terms of reference to an experienced authority like Lord Radcliffe at this time would be the height of folly. It is better for him to survey the scene and when he comes back we can provide terms of reference, of course in consultation with Lord Radcliffe.

Mr. W. Yates

I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether, during the international discussions, the question of joint sovereignty of Cyprus was raised at any of the conferences and also the right of both the Greek Cypriots to be represented in Athens and the Turkish Cypriots in Ankara, rather on the same lines as Malta will be represented here?

The Prime Minister

There have been international discussions. There may be further international discussions. I think it would be unwise for me to elaborate in any detail on those discussions because the only result, as I am sure the House will understand, would be that everybody would fix his position and that would make further discussions more difficult rather than otherwise.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Prime Minister aware that, apart from the belated appointment of Lord Radcliffe to begin work as Constitutional Commissioner, the general tenor of his statement will have been received by the House as a whole with great regret? The failure of the negotiations with Turkey leaves agreement on the international plane apparently impossible at the moment. That, I think, is a matter for very great regret, but I should like to ask the Prime Minister three questions arising out of his statement.

First, has he considered, and, if not, will he consider, raising the international issues involved in this matter in the Council of N.A.T.O. since, as he himself said, this position contains the seeds of grave danger to the whole future of the Eastern Mediterranean? Secondly, can he tell us with whom Lord Radcliffe is to consult in the island of Cyprus when he goes there? Thirdly, does he realise that the last two sentences of his statement leave us in the position that if terrorism is not suppressed no progress whatever can be made? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the terrorism in the island is the direct result of the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to give any indication to the Cypriot people that the principle of self-determination will be implemented?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman was for some time a member of a Government which declined to give any indication of self-determination whatever and consistently refused to make any kind of statement on this position at all. While it may lie with other people to blame us, it does not lie with any member of the late Socialist Government.

As to the possibility of starting a Constitution before law and order is restored, the decision we have taken, I should have thought, was the only possible one, not for any political or doctrinaire reasons, but because we cannot hope to negotiate a Constitution in conditions where terror still exists. So we have simply stated an obvious fact, that we are ready to discuss a Constitution. [HON. MEMBERS: "With whom?"] Lord Radcliffe will go out and do all he can and we will prepare the framework of the Constitution, but for it to come into effect there must be the restoration of law and order, without which there can be no Constitution at all.

Mr. Gaitskell

I must press the Prime Minister to make a further effort to answer two of my questions. With whom is Lord Radcliffe to consult about the Constitution? Secondly, will Her Majesty's Government take the international aspect of this problem to N.A.T.O.?

The Prime Minister

We have considered the international aspect and, of course, we have been dealing with it for some time. It is not our intention to raise the matter at N.A.T.O. now. We have, naturally, considered this, but the views of other people have also to be considered, and so far as I know that is the general international view of the matter. As to the other point, which was about consultation, Lord Radcliffe is going out and he will be available for consultation—[HON. MEMBERS: "With whom?"] I think it is reasonable that Lord Radcliffe should have an opportunity for the widest consultation—[HON. MEMBERS: "With whom?"]—both with the Governor and with officials and also with any others who may wish to speak with him.

Mr. Clement Davies

On the vital question of self-determination, which the Prime Minister said was accepted by Her Majesty's Government, are we now to understand that Her Majesty's Govern- ment have abandoned the doctrine of self-determination? Was that at the dictates of Turkey, which has abandoned all rights in this island under the Treaty of Lausanne? It looks very much like giving way to blackmail.

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the right hon. and learned Member should speak of our ally, Turkey, in those words, nor do I think them really justified. At least, we cannot say that our ally Turkey is doing her best to encourage people to murder Cypriots and British subjects.

Major Legge-Bourke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statement he has made this afternoon has been received with the greatest possible satisfaction on this side of the House, and will be so received, I believe, among many outside the House? Will he bear in mind that the statement of the Leader of the Opposition and his reference to what led to the present terrorism amounts to one of the most highly treasonable—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]—statements ever made by a member of the Opposition in this country?

Mr. Speaker

Order. When such language is used I think it is a sign that I ought to bring this discussion to a close. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) has no right to suggest that the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) is guilty of treason. The hon. and gallant Member ought to withdraw that remark.

Major Legge-Bourke

If I have said something which is out of order, Sir, I must, of course, withdraw it.

Mrs. L. Jeger

The Prime Minister showed a great tenderness in his statement for our parvenu ally, Turkey.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not a debate. If questions are to be asked they should be listened to and asked with moderation.

Mrs. Jeger

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister omitted any reference to our traditional ally, Greece, from his statement, may I ask whether the views of the Greek Government are completely without interest or relevance to Her Majesty's Government at this time? May I also ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that all the elected representatives of the Cypriots, in local government, trade unions and other organisations, have stated very clearly that they are not prepared to enter into any negotiations at all in the absence of Archbishop Makarios? What steps do Her Majesty's Government propose to take to enable Archbishop Makarios to join in these negotiations, which is the only way in which they can lead to success?

The Prime Minister

It is true that I made no reference to Greece and that these conversations were conducted with Turkey. It is equally true that the previous conversations, which also, unfortunately, did not succeed, were conducted mainly with the Greek Government or with the full knowledge of the Greek Government. We thought that this time we had better try the other end. I think it was right to make the attempt even though, I am sorry to say, it did not succeed.

As to the point about Archbishop Makarios, the differences which Her Majesty's Government had with him were not on the terms of the discussion, though we did not agree about them, but were, as the hon. Lady will remember, on his refusal to denounce violence in any way. If the Archbishop were to take action to denounce terrorism, a new situation would be created. Meanwhile, I have nothing to add to my earlier reply.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his refusal to take the matter to N.A.T.O. will give very great relief to many people? Are we to understand, as I hope we are, that from now on the context of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' communiqué, the Norwich speech and the statement today represent the outside limits, as it were, within which Her Majesty's Government will operate?

The Prime Minister

I am not prepared to put any interpretation on my speech beyond the words which I have used in it.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

Can the Prime Minister say whether or not his statement represents a retreat under pressure from the previously adopted position of Her Majesty's Government recognising the principle of self-determination and envisaging a Legislative Assembly which would be composed in proportion to the populations in Cyprus? Secondly, when is the right hon. Gentleman going to resume contact at least with the chosen representatives of the people of Cyprus, the chief of whom he is still keeping in the Seychelles? Finally, can the right hon. Gentleman say how long he thinks Lord Radcliffe will take to prepare the draft Constitution, and whether, when it is done, there will be private consultations with Governments and other bodies concerned?

The Prime Minister

I dealt with the position about self-determination in my statement just now, when I said—it has been said before; I will repeat it—that the principle of self-determination has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government. There is no change and no retreat in that respect. As to dealing with the Archbishop, I have already answered the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger), and I do not think that there is anything that I can possibly add.

Mr. Gaitskell

In view of the gravity of the statement made by the Prime Minister, will he find time for an early debate on the subject—next week?

The Prime Minister

There is a foreign affairs debate, I understand, the week after next. If the Opposition wish to arrange for a debate on a Supply day, it is in their power to do so.