HC Deb 02 June 1960 vol 624 cc1640-4
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I am glad to have an opportunity of making a short statement on the Cyprus negotiations before the House rises for the Whitsun Recess. The Government recognise that the House has been very forbearing in not seeking to press us in this matter and are most grateful.

The House will have seen Press reports according to which Archbishop Makarios considers that the remaining issues could be quickly settled. I am sure that this is right, and I hope, therefore, that the Archbishop will soon see his way to resume discussions with my hon. Friend. By the Archbishop's wish, there have been no formal meetings between the leaders of the delegations for some little time. I feel confident that the points which are still causing difficulty can in practice be resolved by discussion.

The Archbishop has, in his public statement, made known the points of difference. The House will not expect me to say now what we shall say to the Cypriot leaders if, as I hope, confidential negotiations are very shortly resumed. I can say that I do not think there is much between us on the delimitation of the boundaries of the sovereign base areas. We have done our utmost to meet Cypriot wishes on Cypriot participation in the administration of those areas, within the framework of British sovereignty. It is common ground that the areas to be retained have to serve a military purpose; military considerations must, therefore, be given full weight, as regards both the boundaries and the administration.

On the long-term view of the base areas, it is difficult to foresee the circumstances in which we might want to relinquish them. This is a hypothetical situation to which many factors might apply. At present we are seeking a settlement, in which the retention of base areas under British sovereignty is one of the principal elements. But we recognise that the Cypriots have an interest in this matter and we shall be glad to discuss it with them.

The other main outstanding question is financial aid. On this, our offer of £10 million over five years is, I think, generous.

We have approached these negotiations throughout in a spirit of accommodation and good will. We are sure that if the outstanding questions are tackled together in that same spirit an agreement can very soon be reached, and for our part we are very anxious to see such agreement.

Mr. Driberg

Could I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, is there any indication that recent events in Turkey have had any effect on the attitude of the Turkish Cypriot minority? Secondly, if the Archbishop's statement of the relatively minor differences on the points still at issue is correct, as quoted in the Press yesterday, is it really not possible, as the right hon. Gentleman indeed says he hopes it is, to reach agreement very soon indeed? Cannot the Government let the Archbishop have that letter about this remote hypothetical future situation?

Mr. Macleod

On the first point, I do not think that recent events in Turkey have had any effect on the position. On the second point, it is true that the question of cession, which is considerably hypothetical, seems the main point at the moment and I believe, and I think that I agree with the hon. Member, that this is in a way, though it may seem the most important, the least of the difficulties and might well be the one which, if resolved, will be the lead into settling the others. We are trying to find the right sort of formula, in conjunction with the other parties to the London Agreement, which will achieve that.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been called to rumours that Her Majesty's Government have entered into financial commitments recently for expenditure on this base, or are about to enter into further financial commitments at a time when these negotiations are far from being concluded? Can we have an assurance that no commitments are being entered into which may be entirely wasted if negotiations break down?

Mr. Macleod

I should not like to go as far as my right hon. Friend's suggestion. Naturally one is reluctant to enter into financial negotiations unless one can see a clear and settled future, and it would certainly help very much if that could be achieved. But so much depends on this matter and so much is involved in the financial matters to which my right hon. Friend has drawn attention that I believe that the recent announcement that the work will be continued has been widely welcomed.

Mr. Grimond

Is it not a fact that there are many people who will feel that this is one of the points which it is feasible for the Cypriots to make about the future of the base areas, were we ever to have to give them up? Can the right hon. Gentleman throw any light on this? I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's answer is that the Government's position is that they are not averse to giving them up to a Cypriot Government, if they give them up. Is the position that the Government feel that they must agree to this with other parties to the negotiations before they give any such undertaking?

Mr. Macleod

The exact position is that I believe that a formula can be found in this matter, and we are now seeking to find such a formula in conjunction with Greece and Turkey, who were parties to the London Agreement.

Mr. W. Yates

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he could get and sign agreement on this letter concerning the return of the base areas to the Cypriot people and not to any outside Power, the rest of his problems would soon be settled?

Mr. Macleod

All I can say is that I hope that my hon. Friend is right. We have often seen our hopes go up and down like a yo-yo in the last few weeks in these discussions, and it has seemed that matters have been solved only for others to be raised, but I agree with my hon. Friend that this is the most helpful matter on which to concentrate now.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that to those who try to follow the reports in the Press the present arguments really seem more suitable to medieval philosophers than to politicians? Is he aware that we are asking the Government that they should come to a conclusion on these very tiny matters? Am I not right in assuming that one of the major matters in dispute, apart from the final destination of the bases, is over an area of 600 square yards? If my arithmetic is right, that is about the size of a tennis court. Surely we are not going to argue over a thing like that?

Mr. Macleod

The hon. Member says that he would like us to come to a conclusion. So would I, but it takes two to come to a conclusion in these sorts of matters. Moving away from future concession to the size of the base, I said in my statement …I do not think that there is much between us on the delimitation of the boundaries of the sovereign base areas Indeed, the Archbishop said that in his statement. I do not believe that the two sides on that issue are any distance apart at all.

Mr. Wall

Is it not a fact that in many negotiations with Cypriots just as agreement is about to be concluded some new factor is brought in by them? Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that we do not intend to surrender in any way British sovereignty over the base for what may be, after all, only a temporary agreement with the Cypriots?

Mr. Macleod

There has been no change in relation to the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the sovereignty position in the base areas.

Mr. F. Noel-Baker

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many of us have quite a different view about the importance of sovereignty as applied to this base from that held by the Government. Is he aware that, frankly, we think that this is a lot on nonsense and that whether or not these are sovereign areas is much less important than that we should be on good terms with the new Republic and its inhabitants?

May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman cannot say more positively that he recognises the interest of the Cypriot Republic in the future of these areas and the very reasonable apprehensions generated by the reluctance of the British Government to give a positive assurance on these matters? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the back of the Archbishop's mind there is an idea that we may be intending to install some other Power in our place in the base areas? Is it beyond the wit of man to make a statement which does not upset our sovereign rights for the time being but at the same time makes it plain that we have not the kind of sinister intentions that some people may have ground to think we have from recent negotiations?

Mr. Macleod

1 do not think that there is any basic dispute about sovereignty, and it was common doctrine to the parties that signed the London and Zurich Agreements. On the second point, I said in my statement that, even though this may be hypothetical, naturally the Cypriots have an interest in it and it is perfectly reasonable that they should seek a form of assurance. The only matter between us is the precise wording that formulation should take.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a Cypriot in my constituency who has recently been to Cyprus told me only yesterday that the question of the hypothetical future of the base areas, if they are not required militarily, was, in the opinion of the man in the street in Cyprus, a very small point and should not be a stumbling block holding up agreement?