HC Deb 05 March 1956 vol 549 cc1715-23
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I can now make a statement on Cyprus, which is necessarily rather a long one. I recognise that hon. Members on both sides of the House have exercised great forbearance in not pressing for a statement pending the outcome of Sir John Harding's discussions in Cyprus over the past five months and of my own recent visit.

The Governor had exploratory talks with the Archbishop last October to enable the issues to be established.

Discussions continued from November to January, both with the Archbishop and with other Cypriot leaders, and, in the light of these discussions and after giving most careful consideration to the views expressed by the Governments of Greece and Turkey, both at the tripartite conference in London and in subsequent discussions, Her Majesty's Government prepared a statement which represents their policy on both the short and the long term aspects of the problem of the future of the Island. This statement is as follows: Her Majesty's Government adhere to the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, the Potomac Charter and the Pacific Charter, to which they have subscribed. It is not, therefore, their position that the principle of self-determination can never be applicable to Cyprus. It is their position that it is not now a practical proposition on account of the present situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Her Majesty's Government have offered a wide measure of self-government now. If the people of Cyprus will participate in the constitutional development, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to work for a final solution which will satisfy the wishes of the people of Cyprus, be consistent with the strategic interests of Her Majesty's Government and their Allies and have regard to the existing treaties to which Her Majesty's Government are a party. Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to discuss the future of the Island with representatives of the people of Cyprus when self-government has proved itself capable of safeguarding the interests of all sections of the community. This statement was shown to Archbishop Makarios and to leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community and was fully explained and discussed with them. On 2nd February, the Archbishop indicated that, although he was not prepared to associate himself with the statement, he was prepared to co-operate in the framing of a constitution on certain conditions. These conditions concerned the questions of the form of the constitution and an amnesty. It was thus clear that general agreement had been reached on the need to establish self-government and that the principle of self-determination was no longer a stumbling block.

Discussions on these outstanding issues continued with the Archbishop during the early part of February, involving a further exchange of correspondence. During this stage it became clear that the outstanding points were the amnesty, the reservation of public security to the Governor for as long as he thought necessary, and the question of a Greek elected majority. At the time when these three points emerged, the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), who was in the Island at the time and who later returned at the Archbishop's request, made ceaseless and selfless efforts to assist in bringing about a settlement.

It was at this point, when the outstanding issues had been narrowed to three, that I decided, with the full approval of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to fly to Cyprus in order to ensure that everything within our power was done to reach an honourable settlement.

During my visit, I naturally had a discussion with the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot communities, who had throughout been kept informed by the Governor of developments. The Archbishop's letter of 25th February, which was received by the Governor on the day of my arrival in Cyprus, confirmed that he still sought clarification on certain points. After preliminary discussions, I therefore spoke to the Archbishop on the 29th February in the following terms: I said that I was prepared to give him certain undertakings on the understanding that he, on his part, would assure me that he would co-operate in the framing of a constitution, that he would encourage his fellow-countrymen to do the same and that he would make an appeal for the cessation of violence and would, thereafter, use all his influence for the restoration of peace and order.

The undertakings I offered were as follows: First, I told him that when law and order had been re-established, there would be an amnesty for all those convicted of offences under the Emergency Regulations (or of comparable offences prior to their enactment) except those involving violence against the person or the illegal possession of arms, ammunition or explosives, which would come up for review in accordance with the normal rules. This would have applied to offences committed before a certain date. Had the Archbishop accepted my statement, this date would have been today. I said that the release of detainees would begin at the same time as the amnesty. I confirmed what the Governor had already made clear, namely, that he was prepared to repeal all Emergency Regulations at a pace commensurate with that of the reestablishment of law and order.

Secondly, I said that his letter of 25th February raised certain questions concerning our intentions in the constitutional field and that I felt that the best way of replying was to restate to him in person our position on these points. I explained that Her Majesty's Government's objectives had been set out in the Governor's letter of 14th February. Her Majesty's Government proposed to send a Constitutional Commissioner to Cyprus who would draw up a liberal and democratic constitution in consultation with representatives of all sections of opinion in the Island. It would reserve to the Governor all powers in the field of foreign affairs and defence. Public security would also be reserved to the Governor as long as he thought necessary. Control of all other departments would be handed over to Cypriot Ministers responsible to a Legislative Assembly representing the people of Cyprus as quickly as was consistent with an orderly transfer. The constitution would provide for an elected majority in the Legislative Assembly and would safeguard the interests of all sections of the community. It would be for the Constitutional Commissioner to recommend what arrangements should be made for this purpose, including the precise composition of the elected majority which he would define in accordance with normal liberal constitutional doctrine.

I told the Archbishop that the talks had now been going on for five months and that, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, the time had now come when it was essential to let the world know of the offers that they had made and to make their position clear.

After a lengthy discussion, I regret to say that the Archbishop told me that he was not prepared to accept my statement as a basis for co-operation and indicated that, in particular, he could not accept the exclusion of those carrying arms, ammunition and explosives from the amnesty or the reservation of public security to the Governor "for as long as he thought necessary." He also made it clear that he required the composition of the elected majority to be defined to his satisfaction in advance of the recommendations of the Constitutional Commissioner.

The full correspondence will be published in a White Paper, which will be available this afternoon.

As to the future, the first and most important duty is to restore law and order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] For this we have the resolution and the forces, and it will be done. In the constitutional field our objective remains the same, that is to reach agreement with the communities in Cyprus, in accordance with the principles that I have indicated.

It is difficult to find words in which adequately to express the admiration of Her Majesty's Government for the skill shown by Sir John Harding in these discussions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The greatest possible praise is also due to him and those under him in both the civilian and Fighting Services for the calm and efficient manner in which they have discharged their duties in circumstances of immense difficulty.

Mr. Bevan

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to recollect that he has made that very long and important statement in close proximity to another statement about that part of the world, and that unfortunately it is because a statement was made about Egypt at the same time as a statement was made about the future of Cyprus that language was used from that side which is very largely responsible for the situation in Cyprus? Will he, therefore, bear in mind that he ought not to allow himself to be influenced too much by what occurs behind him? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly. Does he realise that the first part of his statement today retracts what was said in the House by the Government on 28th July, 1954—"Never, never"? That was stated on the same day as we announced the evacuation of the Canal Zone.

Furthermore, as there is to be a debate, I think next week, on the subject, does the Secretary of State realise that we must preserve our main comments today, but may I say that I do hope that the people of Cyprus will pay regard to the fact that a debate in this House might yet be able to make a far better contribution to the settlement of the problem than the Minister himself has yet been able to make, and that they will therefore in the meantime exercise all the restraint and patience they can until the House of Commons has an opportunity of repairing the mischief which the Government have done?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I would hesitate at this stage to enter into purely partisan arguments by reminding the right hon. Gentleman of one or two things he has said which have scarcely lent themselves to the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean or the maintenance of British authority. As to what he said in regard to what, I assume, was meant to be a quotation from my noble Friend Lord Colyton, the then Minister of State for Colonial Affairs, I would beg the right hon. Gentleman, now that he has come to interest himself in colonial affairs, to read the full statement and not just an extract from it.

Finally, in regard to what he has said about the proximity of the statement on Jordan to the statement which I have just made, I think that the proximity is valuable, in that it shows the immense security and defence problem which exists in the Middle East and in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Mr. Clement Davies

May I ask the Secretary of State first of all to answer the question suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), namely, will there be a debate either this week or very early next week? Assuming that that is so, one of the major points is the question of an amnesty. Does he not draw a close analogy between this case and that of Ireland? Will he bear in mind that in the case of Ireland a complete amnesty was given—that even where there were 21 persons convicted of murder and 121 of attempted murder there was a complete amnesty?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The right hon. and learned Gentleman can be assured that there will be a debate, I believe early next week, on this subject. As for amnesties and acts of oblivion, before I went to Cyprus I steeped myself in the story of Ireland, Kenya and Malaya. In Ireland there was an amnesty which came, not after an agreement, but after an agreement had been ratified by a representative body in Ireland in the Dail. It was, in fact, a treaty between a Government here and a provisional Government in Ireland—a very different situation. I shall be glad to develop that in the debate.

Sir J. Hutchison

May I ask my right hon. Friend two questions? First, in the steps which have been taken, and particularly the terms of the agreement, were the Turkish minority in agreement with what Her Majesty's Government were putting forward, and did they want us neither to go faster nor to go more slowly? Secondly, does he not think that the happenings in other parts of the Middle East should encourage him to stand firm on what he has put forward?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Replying to the first part of that question, unhappily there has not been an agreement, but the Turkish community have been kept fully informed throughout of the views of Her Majesty's Government, and we have naturally paid great regard to their own points of view and, to use the words of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), to the proximity of Cyprus to Turkey.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Do I gather from the Secretary of State's statement, which we shall want to study, that the major conflict with which this trouble began, the right to self-determination, is no longer a matter in dispute and that therefore the differences between us are narrowed to the three points he has mentioned? Are the Government stating to the House and the country that negotiations are now at an end and that the conflict, the end of which none of us can see, is to go on? Are they stating that view, when the major problems have been settled and when all that remains are these issues which some day we shall have to settle anyhow'? Do I gather from the statement that negotiations have been completed and that we are to go on in Cyprus without any end in sight at all?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I hope that, in addition to studying my statement with care, the right hon. Gentleman will also study the White Paper with care, because that is a very relevant document. I do not think it would be wise at this stage to add to what I have said.

Mr. Griffiths

I hope that I shall study the White Paper with care, as I try to do in all these matters. May I ask my question again? Do we gather from the statement that because of these three points—I will not discuss them now; that is for the debate—which are not the major issues about which the conflict started, negotiations have ended and the conflict continues?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The right hon. Gentleman has said that these are not the major points. I can certainly say that the big issues—the principle of self-determination and the question of selfgovernment—are in a sense out of the way and that now we are down to other points; which makes the failure of the Archbishop to condemn violence all the more inexcusable, for it is a fact that this failure to condemn violence is an active encouragement of it. As a result, he is using the weapon of violence in order to try to secure agreement along his own lines for what are not the two main points.

Mr. Griffiths

The Secretary of State knows that I myself have joined in the appeal against violence, but I asked a question, because obviously the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State realise that there is to be a debate. Is the debate to take place on the assumption that negotiations have now ended? To put it simply, is it on that basis of not?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If the right hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper he will see the point of view of Her Majesty's Government on the outstanding issues. As for the constitutional issue, he knows that it is still the view of the Government that we hope that a constitution will emerge, but I should be misleading the House if I suggested that in present circumstances this seems very likely at the present stage.

Captain Waterhouse

Will my right hon. Friend not refute the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's question that whenever there is a dispute between this country and a foreign country it is always this country which is mistaken? [HON. MEMBERS: "Which is the foreign country?"] Is it not a fact that the statement made by my right hon. Friend is ample proof of the tremendous concessions which he has made?

Mr. McGovern

In view of the great dangers, both in this issue and in the issues in the Middle East generally, would it not be greater statesmanship if the leaders of the three parties got together to try to find a solution to these difficult problems?

Mr. Shinwell

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that we on this side of the House are as anxious to protect and preserve the interests of the United Kingdom in the Mediterranean, despite what was said by the right hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse), as anybody on that side of the House, but that we should like an answer to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths): are we to assume, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, that negotiations have now terminated?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I know the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety that British interests should be preserved, and I have never disputed it. The Government's view has been put forward over the last five months, and we have made a series of concessions to the Archbishop's point of view. I must confess with distress that as soon as one obstacle is out of the way another one, unheard of until a week or two before, rears its head. I can do no more than say now that our point of view stands as put forward in my statement and in the White Paper.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

There is to be a debate. We cannot continue with the matter now.

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