HC Deb 02 June 1964 vol 695 cc921-5
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 35, which was asked earlier by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson).

Since the serious incidents in Famagusta, three weeks ago, there have been fewer acts of violence in Cyprus. The arrival of further troops from other countries has enabled the British contingent in the United Nations Force to be reduced to about 2,000 men, in addition to the important logistic support which we continue to provide. Britain is thus still supplying the largest element in the peace-keeping force.

Our British troops have endeavoured to discharge their difficult task with complete impartiality; but this has not always been appreciated by the two communities, who have at different times accused us of favouring the other. At present, anti-British feeling among the Greek-Cypriots is, unhappily, running very high and is being actively stimulated by newspapers and speeches.

This situation has recently been aggravated by the case of a British airman, who has been charged by the Greek-Cypriot police with carrying arms to the Turkish-Cypriots. Since the matter is sub judice, I will not comment upon it, except to inform the House that our High Commissioner has protested strongly about the statement made by the Cypriot Minister of the Interior, in which he publicly condemned the accused man, thereby prejudicing the prospect of a fair trial.

I do not know whether the charge against this individual is well founded. But it is not necessary for me to say that the British Government would be deeply distressed at any failure on the part of its Service men to live up to the high reputation which they have rightly earned throughout the world.

For some time we have been much disturbed by the build-up of arms and military forces in Cyprus by both sides. As guarantors of the Constitution, the Governments of Britain, Greece and Turkey have made representations to President Makarios about his decision to introduce conscription. At the same time, the British Government and the Governments of other countries which are contributing to the United Nations Force have expressed to the Secretary-General their concern about the reported intention of the Cyprus Government to import substantial quantities of heavy armaments.

The three-month mandate given by the Security Council expires in about four weeks' time and will no doubt have to be extended. We remain anxious to do all we can to help the United Nations Force to fulfil its mission. However, before entering into a commitment for a further period, we shall wish to be satisfied that our continued participation is necessary and is generally desired by the other countries concerned.

The sole reason for our participating in the United Nations Force is our desire to help restore peace in the island and create conditions in which a settlement acceptable to both communities can be negotiated. While they are performing this thankless task, we feel that our troops and their families have a right to be treated with respect and courtesy by those who, in the crisis of last December, so readily accepted our offer to come to their aid.

Mr. A. Henderson

Is it not intolerable that British women should have to experience the indignities which have been reported in the Press in the last two or three days? Are any steps being taken to prevent such treatment? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that adequate arrangements exist to ensure the safety of British nationals in the event of a further deterioration in the situation in Cyprus?

Mr. Sandys

The first matter to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred is being taken up with the authorities concerned. We have for a long time had arrangements in preparation to deal with any deterioration in the situation, should it arise.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Are not some of the actions of the Cyprus Government, particularly towards the Turkish-Cypriot minority, placing in doubt their whole validity under the Constitution, of which we are guarantors? Will Her Majesty's Government ensure that all member-States of the Commonwealth, N.A.T.O. and the United Nations are fully aware of the constitutional position?

Mr. Sandys

I think that the constitutional position is well known.

Mr. Bottomley

We all join in the tribute to the traditionally high standard of conduct of British troops overseas. Is it not a fact that British troops are in Cyprus at the invitation of the Cyprus Government and now form part of the United Nations contingent? In the circumstances, ought not Her Majesty's Government to make it quite clear that they will not tolerate the continual humiliation of British troops and nationals whose only job is to try to keep the peace?

Mr. Sandys

I can assure the House that I feel no less deeply on this question than the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir A. V. Harvey

If anti-British feeling continues against our troops and their families, will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear, not only to the Cyprus Government but to the United Nations, that we will not continue to give the full strength we are at present giving unless the situation changes?

Mr. Sandys

I think that I dealt with that point in my original Answer.

Mr. Grimond

Everybody will agree with what the Secretary of State said about our troops in Cyprus. If it became apparent that we should withdraw them, has the United Nations indicated whether it would be able to maintain adequate forces in Cyprus to keep the peace?

Mr. Sandys

That is the point with which I was dealing when I said that, before entering into a commitment for a further period, we would wish to be satisfied, first, that our continued participation was necessary, and, secondly, that it was generally desired by the other countries concerned.

Mr. Berkeley

Would the Secretary of State not agree that the most urgent and immediate task is that of pacification? To achieve this end, will Her Majesty's Government press for a larger United Nations Force and, thereby, a smaller United Kingdom contribution? Will Her Majesty's Government also press for a greatly strengthened United Nations mandate, giving the United Nations Force full control over all military and police operations on the island?

Mr. Sandys

That is a matter for the Secretary-General. We have already expressed our views on some of these points at different times.

Mr. Driberg

If British troops are to be withdrawn from the United Nations Force, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can say what steps are being taken now, through the United Nations, to prepare other nations to send contingents to replace them? If British troops are to continue to serve in the United Nations Force, will the right hon. Gentleman look into a matter which has been raised before—perhaps a secondary matter, but not altogether unimportant—the comparative pay and allowances of British and other contingents in the United Nations Force?

Mr. Sandys

The hon. Gentleman's second question should be put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

To answer the hon. Gentleman's first point, I did not say that British troops were to be withdrawn from the United Nations Force. I made it quite clear that we have not been at all happy about the situation and that we would be very pleased to be relieved of this obligation. On the other hand, we have a sense of responsibility in this matter and we have no wish to do anything which would result in wrecking the effectiveness of the United Nations Force.

Sir G. Nicholson

Cyprus is not a rich country and arms cost a great deal of money. Can my right hon. Friend say how this threatened importation of arms is to be financed and who will be paying for it?

Mr. Sandys

I am not Minister of Finance for Cyprus.

Several Hon. Membersrose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must pass on. We have much to do.