HC Deb 29 January 1959 vol 598 cc1387-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Redmayne.]

10.9 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

Following upon a question put this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) about Press reports of troop movements in Cyprus, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he would consult with his colleagues as to when a statement might be made. I thought that it would be for the general convenience of the House if I were to make a statement now.

The exercise in the Karpass peninsula has been exaggerated in the Press reports. It is primarily a training exercise and a continuation of the declared policy of extensive patrolling. Care has been taken not to cause inconvenience to the general public and there have been no curfews, cordons or searches of villages.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. He makes it clear, does he not, that the present operation in Cyprus is patrol activity—[An HON. MEMBER: "Exercise".]—an exercise, but a number of reports have been received tonight, according to the evening papers, that 300 vehicles, a dozen helicopters, and light aircraft are taking part in one of the biggest sweeps ever made in the region. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is necessary for this operation to be carried out? [An HON. MEMBER: "Exercise".] If it is an exercise, and it is necessary that it be carried out, well and good; but is the Colonial Secretary aware that, at this particular juncture, everybody else is trying to secure peace in the island of Cyprus? Is this the best way to achieve it?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It is necessary that this exercise be carried out for the specific purposes which I have mentioned in my answer. As to the general framework in which all our thoughts and activities about Cyprus are concerned, there is, naturally, no change whatever in our resolve to continue to encourage the best possible climate for the talks between the Greeks and the Turks, which we all greatly welcome.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

Is it absolutely necessary to carry out these exercises at this time? After all, they are not urgent. They can be postponed for some time. If they are liable to give rise to misunderstanding, or tend to undermine the intention that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed, with which we all agree, to try to prepare a climate of opinion favourable to successful negotiations between the parties, would it not be wise to avoid any appearance whatever at present of activities of this sort?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I do not think that that is altogether true. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that these exercises are unnecessary, or, at least, should be postponed until a later date. I myself hope very much, as we all hope, that the present talks will result in some worthwhile conclusions. Meanwhile, it is essential that the activities for the purposes I have named in my statement should be continued, and I have nothing to add to that reply.

Mr. Bevan

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is anything particularly urgent in the postponement of exercises of this sort? In view of the fact that they might give rise to the assumption that we are, in fact, violating the spirit of the truce which, we all hope, will be carried on, why does he not act with a little bit more tact in this matter?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have nothing to add to the statement I have made, save to say that I do not think that anyone conscious of the conditions in Cyprus and the undoubted regrouping and movement of explosives that is still taking place would doubt the wisdom of the action now being taken.

Mr. Brockway

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not desirable to balance the supreme need to secure conditions of peace in Cyprus against the much lesser advantages of any exercises which are now being carried out, and whether these exercises are not likely to destroy the hope that there is now in Cyprus that a settlement may be reached?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

On the last part of that question, I can only answer "No, Sir."

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that if, as we all hope, we want these talks to succeed there is no better way of ensuring that they will succeed than by making quite sure that every terrorist in the island realises that there are plenty of British troops about to keep the peace?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am perfectly sure that my hon. and gallant Friend is right in saying that the best hope for peace in Cyprus is the knowledge that law and order will be restored.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember, just over a week ago, telling me all the reasons why the operations in the Troodos mountains could not be called off? Does he remember that three hours later they were, in fact, called off? Does he recall saying that military operations could not be turned on and off like a tap? If so, is not this exactly what the Government are doing? What are they playing at?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The operations were not called off. These particular operations came to a natural and successful conclusion.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

Is it not true that similar operations, originally called exercises and afterwards declared by the military spokesman to be operational, provoked riots and curfews and certainly did much to damage the atmosphere in which a peaceful settlement can be obtained? Is that not likely to happen again if the Secretary of State continues such actions as this?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, Sir.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what went wrong with his public information service here? How did it happen that not only Reuters but other responsible Press correspondents were so ill-informed that they mistook these perfectly innocent exercises, which could affect nobody, for a major resumption of anti-terrorist activity?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. and learned Gentleman's conclusion on that matter is as good as mine.

Mr. Martin Redmayne (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.