HC Deb 07 April 1964 vol 692 cc801-5

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Colonies if he will make a statement on the present stage in the handing over of functions from British troops in Cyprus to the United Nations force.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I will, with permission, now answer Question No. 29.

The United Nations Force in Cyprus became operational on 27th March. On assuming command, General Gyani expressed his admiration for the manner in which our British troops had been carrying out their peace-keeping task; and he praised the courage, restraint and patience which they had shown.

At present, the United Nations Force consists of 4,500 men from Britain, and 1,200 from Canada. There are also some small advance parties from the Republic of Ireland, Finland and Sweden. The main contingents from these three countries, totalling rather over 2,000 men, are expected to arrive within two or three weeks.

One British battalion has already been withdrawn from Cyprus, and we shall be able to make further reductions as soon as our troops can be relieved by contingents from other countries. The planned strength of the United Nations Force is approximately 7,000, of which we have offered to provide, if necessary, up to half.

Since recent incidents have caused some anxiety, I think it right to inform the House that we are satisfied that the directions under which the United Nations troops have been operating give them adequate authority to use such force as may be absolutely necessary for self-defence and to enable them to discharge their mission.

The Secretary-General has assured us that he recognises that the Force must have the powers necessary to fulfil its task.

Mr. Bottomley

Is it not regrettable that British troops are being asked to carry out a well-nigh impossible task? Can the Secretary of State explain how it came about that British troops were disarmed at gunpoint by Greek-Cypriot irregulars? Will he convey on behalf of us all our appreciation of the way in which the British troops, under great difficulties, are doing their best to keep the peace?

Mr. Sandys

I am sure that we all greatly admire the restraint they have shown in these humiliating circumstances. Recent behaviour towards the British troops in the United Nations Force has, as I think everyone will agree, been deplorable. General Gyani has lodged the strongest protest to the Greek-Cypriot authorities on this matter.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While wishing to associate myself with my right hon. Friend's remarks about the conduct of the British troops in Cyprus, may I ask him—since he has said that there are about 4,000 British troops there now and that we are ready to contribute a half of 7,000 of the United Nations Force—whether he can give an assurance that we will not commit men just by numbers, but that whatever commitment we undertake in this respect will be a commitment of units or formations which will make military sense?

Mr. Sandys

Of course.

Mr. Grimond

The whole country will be grateful to the British troops for their conduct in conditions of extreme difficulty, but are not those difficulties in part due to the confused state of the terms of reference or orders under which the United Nations Force is supposed to act? As the right hon. Gentleman has said, in his view no United Nations Force could act in Cyprus unless it had clear terms of reference, or orders, or both. Will he now tell the House exactly what those orders may be and, in particular, whether it is for the United Nations Force to act simply in concert with the Greek-Cypriot forces in the island, or whether it is meant to hold the Greeks and Turks apart? Could he say exactly what it is?

Mr. Sandys

I would not like, in reply to a supplementary question, to try to define exactly what is the function of the Force.

I would welcome the publication of the instructions, but that, of course, is a matter to be decided by the Secretary-General.

Mr. Grimond

Is it not profoundly unsatisfactory that we should not know what the instructions are, and did not the Secretary of State himself say that the United Nations Force should not go into Cyprus until the instructions were made clear?

Mr. Sandys

The fact that they have not been published to the world does not mean that they have not been made clear to the commanders.

Sir G. Nicholson

I must pursue this matter further. Is it right that British troops, under the United Nations' ægis, should be acting under terms of reference or orders of which this country is ignorant? What conceivable motive can there be in the mind of anyone, the United Nations or anyone else, for keeping them secret? I must press this matter, because the House demands an answer.

Mr. Sandys

I have already made it clear that I am in agreement with my hon. Friend. I have said that I would welcome the publication of these instructions. I will see to it that the views which are obviously held by the House are conveyed to the Secretary-General.

Mr. Driberg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that another difficulty which the British troops have encountered has been the blocking of the road from Nicosia to Kyrenia by Turkish forces acting under orders from the Government in Ankara? Especially now that the United Nations Force is taking over, can he say by what authority and under what Clauses of the Treaty or the Constitution this action has been going on for some months, against the wishes of the Cyprus Government?

Mr. Sandys

That is not altogether correct. The Treaty of Alliance does not prescribe where the Greek and Turkish contingents, which are in Cyprus under the Treaty, are to be stationed. That is not laid down in the Treaty. The Turkish contingent—and, for that matter, the Greek contingent—have been in the places where they are now with the agreement of the Tripartite Force Commander before the taking over by the United Nations Force. Their location now or in the future is a matter between them and the Government of Cyprus.

Sir P. Agnew

Since my right hon. Friend's original Answer indicated that he is satisfied that the directions are right and proper under which the British troops should act, and since he has suggested that he and the Secretary of State for Defence have been made aware of what those instructions are, how is it possible for this House to know whether Ministers are looking after the welfare and proper conduct of our troops unless those instructions are published, so that hon. Members may judge of them?

Mr. Sandys

My hon. Friend's supplementary question is much the same as that put earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson). I have made it clear that I would welcome the publication of these instructions. I will do my best, through my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, to secure the agreement of the Secretary-General to their publication.

Mr. Paget

Is it the position that our Commander knows what the instructions are, but is not allowed to tell his subordinate and junior commanders what they are? Surely that makes their position very difficult?

Mr. Sandys

I do not know from where the hon. and learned Gentleman gets that idea. I have said that the Secretary-General has not decided to publish the instructions to the world. I have not said that the instructions are not being communicated to the subordinate commanders of the United Nations Force. Of course they are.

Mr. Paget


Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this topic without a Question before the House.