HC Deb 11 March 1959 vol 601 cc1258-60

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Minister of Defence whether, in view of the amnesty granted to Cypriots convicted of offences, he will instruct all the Service Departments to grant similar treatment to officers and other ranks who, because of offences committed during service in Cyprus, have been sentenced to imprisonment or demoted.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

With permission, I will answer Question No. 71.

I must admit that I have a great deal of sympathy with the feelings which have prompted this Question. But after most careful consideration, I am convinced that the course proposed would be neither desirable nor practicable.

During the three and a half years' emergency in Cyprus, our forces have shown remarkable restraint and steadiness in the face of considerable provocation, for which they have been rightly praised in this House.

Troops engaged on security duties overseas have a difficult and delicate task which demands the most exacting standards of personal behaviour, and the Services are rightly jealous of the high reputation they have established.

Almost without exception those now serving sentences of detention or imprisonment for offences committed in Cyprus are men found guilty of ordinary breaches of discipline or honesty which might just as well have been committed anywhere else. When I say that they are almost without exception I must safeguard myself. In fact, I have not so far been able to trace any man who is at present serving a sentence for an offence directly attributable to the emergency. Therefore, apart from the issue of principle, the question of an amnesty does not, in practice, arise.

Mr. Shinwell

While expressing my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for his consideration of this matter, and my agreement with what he has said about the demeanour and general behaviour of our troops in Cyprus during the emergency, and, at the same time, appreciating the difficulties about an amnesty for those who have been demoted, cashiered or dismissed the Service, as the case may be, may I ask, having regard to the general amnesty which has been granted for the Cypriots who have committed very grave crimes, whether, in logic, something ought not to be done to mitigate the sentences imposed on our men?

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree, at any rate, to review the sentences that have been imposed on our troops in Cyprus for offences committed or any breach of military discipline? Will not that be conceded? Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree to that?

Mr. Sandys

I understand, naturally, the generous impulse of the right hon. Gentleman, but if he were still in my job he would, having thought the matter over, come to the same conclusion. As I have explained, I have not been able to trace any case where men are now serving sentences for offences committed in Cyprus and connected with the emergency.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the House to take it, from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that the ordinary procedure of reviewing court-martial sentences, which takes place from time to time, will not be prejudiced? If possible, will the individual circumstances of the men concerned be taken into account by those who carry out the review?

Mr. Sandys

Of course, Sir.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that there is something to be said in these circumstances for expediting the review of sentences which have been imposed? We are well aware that the review takes place in ordinary conditions, but are not these conditions abnormal? Would not the right hon. Gentleman hurry on with some of the reviews of the sentences that have been imposed? Will he not accept that?

Mr. Sandys

The ordinary procedure will be maintained. If there are any delays which the right hon. Gentleman has to complain of, perhaps he will address his complaints to the Service Departments concerned?