HC Deb 17 June 1958 vol 589 cc897-902
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on Cyprus.

As the House knows, an undertaking was given by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary on 19th May that a detailed statement of the comprehensive policy on the Cyprus problem which the Government had prepared during recent months should be made not later than today.

In preparation for this, the policy has been fully explained to the Turkish and Greek Governments. It has also been put before the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Council and yesterday afternoon there was a full and helpful discussion during which our efforts to find a new basis for a solution received general recognition.

As a result, M. Spaak, on behalf of the Council, conveyed to Her Majesty's Government last night the strong request to postpone for 48 hours their parliamentary statement in the belief that this short delay would be of advantage.

I trust that the House will feel that we have done right, in all the circumstances, in acceding to this request. I recognise the great forbearance which the House as a whole has shown on this matter.

I also have in mind the definite undertaking that a full statement would be made not later than today; and we had already made arrangements for a debate next week. Nevertheless, I did not feel that we could turn a deaf ear to the plea of our Allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, nor do I think that any opportunity should be neglected which might lead to a settlement.

I shall, in any case, make a statement on Thursday in the light of the progress made.

Mr. Gaitskell

As the House is aware, we have on many occasions in the past proposed that the question of Cyprus should be put to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and we are glad that at this last moment, at least, that step has been taken. In view of the request from M. Spaak, on behalf of the Council, I think that the Government had no option to defer the statement, as requested, for a further 48 hours. At the same time, the Prime Minister will be aware that various accounts of the Government's plan are appearing in the Press and I am sure that he will be ready not only to give us a report on progress, but, I would hope, also to indicate, at least in broad terms, the Government's plan when he makes his statement on Thursday.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that according to Press reports he has secured the acquiescence of the United States in the proposals of Her Majesty's Government for the future of Cyprus? In these circumstances, would it not be believed that any lengthy interrogative—I do not care to use a harsher term—by a Power complex in Europe, however friendly to this country, would be damaging to the prestige of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition, whom I consulted last night as soon as I had this appeal brought to me.

In reply to the noble Lord, I would say this. We are members of an alliance which most of us regard as vital for the defence of the West. An unhappy dispute exists between two of its members and, in a sense, ourselves. When, as a result of this discussion, which, I believe, was being continued this morning, an appeal was made to me to say that the work that they could do might be helpful in smoothing out some of the differences, with perhaps a good chance of doing good, I felt it right to ask the House, as I now do, to give me this authority.

I know that it is asking a great deal and one has to weigh the disadvantages of general leaks and matters appearing in the Press on the detail of our policy against what seems to me to be the great advantage of the sympathy and general good will of our allies and their assistance in helping us in the work of conciliation to which we are about to put our hands.

Mr. H. Morrison

Has the Prime Minister observed—presumably he has—what appeared to be circumstantial accounts in the Press this morning, in a number of newspapers, of the Government's intentions before Parliament has been informed? Can the right hon. Gentleman throw any light upon these accounts as to whether there was any leak?

The Prime Minister

In the course of these negotiations and discussions, a great deal is known to a great number of people. I have asked the House to see my difficulty. I would much have preferred to make my statement today and to take the House into the confidence which it ought to have. On the other hand, when an appeal of that kind is made, to which there are such obvious possible advantages; I felt it my duty, which I hope the House will support, to accept the embarrassment of another two days' delay for the great gain of good will, at least, that we have received from the great mass of the peoples of Europe.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Prime Minister confirm that this request from M. Spaak appears at least to have the acquiescence, if not the agreement, of all the members of the N.A.T.O. Council? Secondly, is it still the intention to hold a debate next week? If so, can the Prime Minister say when it will be held and for how long, whether one or two days?

The Prime Minister

M. Spaak spoke upon what he called the general consensus of view in the Council and to that I felt it right to yield.

The question of the debate will, no doubt, be discussed through the usual channels and arranged for the day that is most convenient to Members on both sides of the House.

Mrs. L. Jeger

While the right hon. Gentleman is asking the forbearance of the House, which, once again, is being accorded to him, would it not be appropriate for him also to ask the Greek and Turkish Governments for their forbearance for another 48 hours, especially in view of the inflammatory and inaccurate broadcasts which are being put out by Radio Ankara, which are having a very unhappy effect in Cyprus?

The Prime Minister

The situation is really this. In accordance with the plan that we have developed, we had arranged to discuss this matter with the N.A.T.O. Council and put our plans before it. I had intended today to give the full account to the House. Our position, therefore, for the next 48 hours is that we have rather left it to our colleagues in the Council to see what help they can give in the work of conciliation. I think that it would be wiser for me and for Her Majesty's Government to leave that task for the moment to those nations which are willing to undertake it.

Mr. Benn

Can the right hon. Gentleman say at what stage, if any, he proposes to consult the Cypriots themselves about their own future?

The Prime Minister

The Governor has, of course, been in touch with the representatives of Cypriots on this very policy.

Mr. Brockway

Is the Prime Minister aware that there will be little objection in any part of the House to a postpone- ment if it will assist the settlement of the tragedy of Cyprus? May I, however, ask him whether he will have consultations with representatives of the Cypriot people, both the Greeks and the Turks, before he brings forward a final proposal for our endorsement?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, the Governor has been authorised to discuss the details of our policy, in broad terms, with representative Cypriots, both Greek and Turk. I should not like to accept a suggestion which would lead to a still further postponement. I agreed, however, to this suggestion—and I am grateful to the House for its general view that it was the right course to take—last night when I received this message, but I would not, and could not, agree to a perpetual postponement from day to day which would probably not serve the purposes which our allies have in mind. What they want to do is to use an interval to be helpful in any way they can.

Mr. Bevan

Whatever may be the merits of the Government's proposals, is it not desirable that the members of the N.A.T.O. Council should exert themselves in the meantime so as to provide at least a more pacific atmosphere for the reception of the proposals than might occur if they were announced today?

The Prime Minister

On receipt of this communication from the Secretary-General, representing the general views of the Council, I felt that it would be right to leave in his hands, and in the hands of his colleagues, the best course they can take in the purpose to which they have set themselves.