HC Deb 23 November 1967 vol 754 cc1492-7
Mr. Maudling

(by Private Notice) asked the Commonwealth Secretary whether he will make a statement about the situation in Cyprus, with special regard to the safety of British personnel, both military and civilian.

The Secretary of State for Common-wealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)

Since I last spoke in the House about Cyprus, the cease-fire which I then reported has been largely maintained. In the island itself, incidents have been few and on a small scale. General Grivas, who conducted the military operation which sparked off the present crisis, has been recalled to Athens. On the other hand, I have to report to the House that, outside the island, relations between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus have reached a new and acute stage of tension. We therefore face a very serious situation.

As a precautionary move, I have given the British High Commissioner in Cyprus discretion to arrange for British subjects in certain areas of the island whose presence there is not essential to be concentrated elsewhere in the island where it will be easier to keep in touch with them in the event of an emergency.

The safety of the dependants of British military personnel in Cyprus is the immediate responsibility not of the British High Commissioner, but of the Commander of British Forces, Near East, whose headquarters is in Cyprus. He is maintaining a very close watch on the situation and is in close touch with the British High Commissioner in Nicosia.

There has been intense diplomatic activity in an effort to reduce tension. As a party to the 1960 treaties and a major contributor to the United Nations force, Her Majesty's Government are in the forefront of this effort, which is being deployed in Ankara, Athens and Nicosia. We are keeping in very close touch both with the United States Government and with the Canadian Government, who provide an important contingent of the United Nations force in Cyprus. As the House will know, the Canadian Prime Minister is at present in London, and I took advantage of his presence here to discuss the situation thoroughly with him yesterday.

A special emissary of President Johnson, Mr. Cyrus Vance, has arrived this morning in Ankara, and the United Nations Secretary-General is sending a special representative, Mr. Rolz Bennett, to talk to the Greek, Turkish and Cyprus Governments.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are keeping the situation under constant review, and we stand ready to help the cause of peace in any way that we can.

Mr. Maudling

May I thank the Secretary of State for that statement, and ask him whether he can assure the House that British forces in Cyprus have been given clear instructions about what they should do if the situation should become an emergency?

Mr. Thomson

Yes. Instructions to British forces, both those serving with the United Nations force and those in the sovereign base areas, have been quite precise, and we are satisfied about the position.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker

Can my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that the current diplomatic efforts will not be an obstacle in the way of the only just long-term solution, which is free self-determination for the majority and protection for minority rights? Can he say, in the short term, what special consultation there has been with other Governments participating in the United Nations force and what the rôle of British troops in the sovereign base areas would be in the event of aggression on the Republic?

Mr. Thomson

The last question is a hypothetical one, and I would not wish to answer it in the present circumstances. I can tell my hon. Friend that the diplomatic activity has been very intensive, both in the three capitals and in the United Nations, amongst all the participants in the United Nations force.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

While making it clear that this country would not support a Turkish incursion into Cyprus, will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to ensure that Greece does not extend her Fascist tentacles into the island?

Mr. Thomson

I think that the aim of everyone concerned with the crisis is to prevent it flaring up into open violence, and even more into international war. The less we try to apportion blame between the different parties to the crisis, the better, and we ought to concentrate our efforts upon producing a settlement.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, without expressing any view on the merits, that a five-point proposal has been put forward by the three Governments whom he mentioned? If so, has it met with any diplomatic response yet, and will he confirm that British troops would not he involved in implementing any of its proposals?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. What has happened is that the Ambassadors of the United Kingdom in the three capitals, Nicosia, Athens and Ankara, together with their colleagues from the United States and Canada, have jointly put certain specific proposals to each of the Governments designed to reduce tension and lessen the likelihood of renewed fighting on the island.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is not this crisis particularly grave for this country because of our obligations under Article 1 of the Treaty of Guarantee? Will the Secretary of State keep the House constantly informed of what is happening? Does he see any prospect of the four-Power consultations provided for under Article 2 of the Treaty taking place?

Mr. Thomson

If we thought that there was a useful purpose to be served by consultation of any character at any point, we should certainly advocate it. In our view, in the first instance, this is a matter for the United Nations and for the Security Council, under a resolution of which the United Nations force is operating there. As the House will know, on 4th February, 1964, our predecessors referred the situation in Cyprus to the Security Council, which remains seized of the position.

Mr. Orme

In relation to that last point, has the Security Council been reconvened to discuss it, and have the British Government considered that?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, Sir. We have considered all the possibilities. The Security Council has not been reconvened. The first step and the proper one is the one which the Secretary-General has taken of sending his senior emissary, Mr. Rolz Bennett, to the three capitals. Before I came into the House—and I apologise for coming in at such short notice—I heard that Mr. Bennett has left the United Nations and is on his way to Ankara.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

In any settlement, will the right hon. Gentleman remember that the Turks are in a minority and that their rights must be protected, because they have been provoked in the past?

How is it proposed that British personnel on the island be protected? Does this not show the folly of getting rid of our aircraft carriers?

Mr. Thomson

I think that the best way in which I can help to protect British people in Cyprus is by giving the House as little information as possible at the moment about the actual way in which that will be done. This is a very tense situation. But the House can rest assured that we are taking every action necessary to look after our own people in Cyprus.

Mr. Shinwell

As both these countries, Greece and Turkey, are associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—indeed, both are pledged to come to the support of each other in the event of aggression from an external source—is the Organisation intervening in the matter, more particularly as the Organisation, apart from its military obligations, has now decided to accept certain political responsibilities?

Mr. Thomson

My right hon. Friend is on a very good point, and I hope that his wise words about the mutual obligations accepted by members of N.A.T.O. will be listened to in Athens and Ankara. The Organisation is actively seized of this matter. The Secretary-General, Signor Brosio, has been making a very constructive contribution towards trying to prevent this crisis resulting in violence.

Mrs. Lena Jeger

Surely this calls in question the whole basis of N.A.T.O. membership? Have we not here two N.A.T.O. member countries armed by other N.A.T.O. member countries, including ourselves and the United States, now threatening a Commonwealth country?

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, could you give some guidance on this matter? We have seen it happen twice that two hon. Members have been called from the opposite side. Is this a new procedure?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman had more confidence in the Chair. I called, first, all the hon. Members from both sides of the House who had indicated this morning that they would like to put this Private Notice Question to the Minister. I endeavour to secure a balance as between both sides.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing


Mr. Speaker

Order. That may mean that sometimes I call two from one side at some moment. I can assure the House that I do try to keep the balance.

Mr. Heath

This is an important matter. This is the first occasion during the time that I have been here that Members have been called on the basis of Private Notice Questions which they have put to you and which have been refused. The Chair normally keeps the balance by calling Members from each side. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) is correct that on two occasions this afternoon consecutive speakers have been called from one side of the House.

Mr. Speaker

If the Leader of the Opposition looks at the record I think that he will find that that is not so. If the House thought that the Chair was in any way partial, then the House would have a duty to say so.

Mr. Thomson

In answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, North (Mrs. Lena Jeger) it is a fact, regrettable though it may be, that membership of a security organisation, any more than membership of the Commonwealth, does not inhibit member nations from having disputes with one another.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

In view of the gravity of the right hon. Gentleman's statement today, would he consider consulting his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence with a view to getting him to refute the quite astonishingly irresponsible statement that he made last night about the likelihood of possible hostilities.

Mr. Thomson

I cannot accept for a moment the premise on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question is based. I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have been in the closest consultation throughout today.

Mr. Hooson

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. I wish to seek your Ruling on a matter of privilege.

Mr. Speaker

This is not the moment to do it.