HC Deb 16 March 1964 vol 691 cc990-4
The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I promised to keep the House informed of further developments in Cyprus.

In the last few days the situation on the island has been much calmer, though there have continued to be minor incidents. A cease-fire was negotiated at Ktima, which has eased the position there. There is, of course, still widespread tension, particularly in Nicosia.

Early on Friday, the Turkish Government issues a warning that unless the attacks upon the Turkish-Cypriot community ceased, they might have to exercise their right of intervention under the Treaty of Guarantee.

That night, the Security Council, by a unanimous vote, reaffirmed its earlier resolution end once again called upon all concerned to refrain from action which would worsen the situation.

At the same time, the Secretary-General announced that substantial progress had been made in the formation of the international force. Contingents have been promised by four countries. Canada has undertaken to provide about 1,000 men, of which the advance party has already arrived in Cyprus. Sweden has agreed to send one battalion and an armoured car squadron. The Republic of Ireland and Finland have also offered to contribute a battalion each.

We warmly welcome this helpful response and we are most anxious that everything should be done to hasten the arrival of these contingents, so that the international force may be brought into effective operation at the earliest possible moment. We are in close touch with the Secretary-General and the other Governments concerned about this matter and about the choice of a mediator, to whose early appointment we attach great importance.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Is the Secretary of State aware how glad we all are about the relaxation which has come about since last Friday, although we realise that the position is still tense and difficult and that we must all be careful of what we say at such a moment'? Is he further aware that this is an example of the way in which the United Nations can act with very great vigour and speed to settle a dispute which, without the United Nations, looked absolutely impossible of settlement and as if it was getting out of hand?

How soon does the right hon. Gentleman expect the forces from Sweden, Finland and the Republic of Ireland to arrive? Does he agree that not only is the speed at which these troops arrive important, but also their terms of reference? It is very important that the United Nations forces, of which our men form a part, shall not serve under the same rather humiliating terms of reference under which our men are serving, although we are all full of admiration for their splendid conduct in this difficult situation. Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to say how soon we will be able to make a substantial reduction in the number of British troops in the island?

Mr. Sandys

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a firm answer on the question of the speed with which these troops can be brought into operation, and the force into being. We hope that this can be effected quickly. But we fear, at the moment, that there will be certain delays among these countries, with the exception of Canada, which is already prepared to send her force to Cyprus as other countries are ready to do the same.

I entirely share the right hon. Gentleman's view as to the importance of getting clear and effective terms of reference, which will enable the force to discharge its task in accordance with the resolution and intentions of the United Nations. This is a matter which is now under very active discussion with the Secretary-General and the other countries concerned.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

We must all welcome the United Nations initiative in this matter, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that the sole purpose of the United Nations force, pending mediation, is to preserve law and order and to prevent violence in the island? Will he do his best to ensure that the breathing space thus gained will not be used to advance the political aims of one section of the community?

Mr. Sandys

The task of the force is to stop the fighting, to help to preserve law and order, and to act with complete impartiality.

Mr. Grimond

First, can the Secretary of State say whether, until the full terms of reference are decided, the United Nations force will co-operate with or recognise the Greek security forces? Secondly, can he say something about the terms of reference of the mediator? Will he act under terms still to be settled in the United Nations? Does the right hon. Gentleman envisage a recall of the original conference under which the present Constitution of Cyprus was set up?

Mr. Sandys

The terms of reference of the mediator will have to be settled by the Secretary-General in agreement with the other countries concerned.

The force, in my view, cannot come into being, and cannot begin to operate, until its terms of reference are settled. Therefore, I do not think that the first question would arise.

Mr. W. Yates

My right hon. Friend realises that under the Zurich Agreement there are Turkish military forces in the island, who disobeyed the commander's instructions and have taken the St. Hilarion Pass, and also Greek forces in the island? What is my right hon. Friend going to propose about these troops? In view of the United Nations undertaking, would it not be advisable to consider that those Greek troops should return to Greece and the Turkish troops to Turkey? At the same time, Britain would get the good will of the Cypriot people by withdrawing to her sovereign bases.

Mr. Sandys

If everybody left there would be a complete vacuum.

Mr. Warbey

Can the Secretary of State say whether his public bullying of the Secretary-General of the United Nations last Thursday afternoon was approved by the Foreign Secretary and whether, when he delivered that public lecture to the world's No. 1 civil servant, he was aware that the British and American Governments had already undertaken between them to supply 3 million dollars towards the cost of the Cyprus peacekeeping force?

May we have an assurance that in future the relations between this country and the United Nations will be conducted by the Foreign Secretary and not by the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Sandys

I was fully aware of all the facts and acted in full accord with my colleagues.

Sir P. Agnew

Would my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as there being terms of reference, it is necessary that the United Nations troops should have definite orders about what they are allowed to do and what they are trying to achieve? Therefore, would my right hon. Friend arrange for a copy of the orders to the United Nations commander of the forces to be placed in the Library as soon as they are known?

Mr. Sandys

I think that one must distinguish between terms of reference which are, so to speak, a continuing instruction, and orders which may be issued from time to time. When it comes to the terms of reference, I will see that they are placed in the Library, as my hon. Friend requests.

Mr. Bottomley

Is it not heartening that it should be Canada that first gives assistance to British troops to help them keep peace in Cyprus? Can the Secretary of State say why he did not from the very beginning seek Commonwealth assistance in the matter?

Mr. Sandys

I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would not all the time, every day, try to be more Commonwealth-minded than I am. From the very start we approached Canada as a member of N.A.T.O.

Mr. Gower

As the units which compose the United Nations force will have to undertake what must be in many cases an invidious and difficult task, can my right hon. Friend say whether, if some of them, unfortunately, lose their lives, any arrangements have been made internationally so that their next-of-kin can be compensated, whether that has to be a matter for the United Nations as a body, or whether it has to be done by the country which sends the troops there?

Mr. Sandys

Without notice, I could not give an answer to that question.

Mr. Shinwell

Are we to understand that this the best that the United Nations can do? Are only four countries to make a contribution? Is not the contribution comparatively small? If British troops are to remain in Cyprus—and we have as yet very little information from the right hon. Gentleman about a possible reduction—why cannot some of the N.A.T.O. countries also make a contribution to the peace-keeping force?

Mr. Sandys

I must say that I have a great deal of sympathy with the feelings which inspire the right hon. Gentleman's question. As he knows, of course, we had virtually got a N.A.T.O. force ready and available to do this job, but it was not acceptable to one of the parties, and, therefore, could not be used.

I think that, on the other hand, we must welcome the response, though it is not as great as we would have hoped, that has been forthcoming to the Secretary-General's appeal for contributions, and we must hope that further contributions will be forthcoming from other countries, these four countries having given a lead.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot go further on this now.