HC Deb 19 July 1974 vol 877 cc853-61
The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Roy Hattersley

): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a further statement about Cyprus.

May I begin by apologising to you and the Opposition for the fact that the statement has been delivered so late. It will, I hope, be understood that this is a moving situation and it was essential that last-minute additions and alterations could be made to what I had to say.

Since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs last reported to the House two days ago, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have had talks with Archbishop Makarios the President of the Republic of Cyprus. They have also had talks with Turkish Prime Minister and his colleagues and with Mr. Joseph Sisco, the American Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs. In these consultations and exchanges the aim of Her Majesty's Government has been to explore the details of a situation which remains very grave and to determine the lines on which progress might best be made. We have urged restraint on all concerned and have emphasised the need to avoid further unilateral action.

The Security Council has met once and will be meeting again later today. The North Atlantic Council is also meeting regularly and playing a very helpful rôle.

It is essential that time should be allowed for this complex and confidential process to be pursued. My right hon. Friends have made this clear to the Turkish Prime Minister and to his acting Foreign Minister.

We have also been in regular contact with the Government of Greece. Following our repeated representations, we were informed early yesterday that the orders for the replacement of the Greek officers in the Cyprus National Guard had been signed. This means that the officers who led the coup in Cyprus will be withdrawn from the island. The withdrawal will start in the next few days. This is significant progress but it is only the first step towards a solution of the problem.

This morning we have formally asked the Greek Government to send representatives to London immediately. We intend to discuss with the Greek Government and others concerned how the National Guard should be officered in future and whether the system of providing security within Cyprus should be modified. We believe that if we get this right to the satisfaction of all concerned, it will be a major step forward towards restoration of confidence and stability.

There is now no fighting in the island and Nicosia airport was opened to traffic yesterday. Substantial numbers of British holidaymakers have already been able to leave. For the time being, in a situation which is still highly uncertain, I am sure that all British subjects considering a visit to Cyprus will wish to postpone their journey.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The House will be obliged to the Minister. It is important that we should have the latest information. There will therefore be no complaints, I am sure, that this statement was a little late. What governs this statement, of course, is the tripartite treaty.

The Minister will remember that I asked last time whether we were in close touch with the Greek Government. I am therefore glad that he has asked representatives of the Greek Government to come here to talk the situation over, because the key to a peaceful solution lies largely with them. I think that the gradual withdrawal of the Greek officers of the National Guard there now is important progress. It is too early to say whether this will lead to a peaceful solution. I have no questions but I am glad that the Greek Government representatives are coming here. It is essential that they should be party to a peaceful settlement.

Mr. Hooson

Does the Minister realise that his statement is very disturbing? Is not the implication of what he said that there is to be not only withdrawal of the Greek officers but their replacement by others? While other NATO countries have been soft with the previous Greek régime and the present régime, has this not led to a greater risk of confrontation than if the NATO countries had been much tougher with both régimes? Is not the trouble that the gestures by the Greek Government—they are no more than gestures—will not prove satisfying to the Turks and that there is a real danger of conflagration in the Middle East? This country appears to be siding with the line alleged now to be taken by Dr. Kissinger, who is reported as having said that President Makarios is now a spent political force and to be backing the present régime in Greece, and to be supported in his views by the Greek Government?

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me a long and important question which was really in two parts. I hope the House will forgive me if I give an equally long answer. I must make it clear that the United States Government recognise our central position in this situation as one of the guaranteeing Powers. The United States Government are supporting our position and giving us all the help they can in seeking to achieve the solution to the situation which has been described in the House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I hope I can put the hon. and learned Gentleman's mind at rest on that point.

I very much share some of his fears about the Cyprus National Guard and I certainly am sympathetic to the spirit of his question, which I will seek to answer in three ways. First, it is substantial progress that the officers whom we know to be largely responsible for the coup are themselves to leave Cyprus. Second, while it is essential that the Cyprus National Guard should exist—if it exists in future—in the new form, it is equally important for peace and stability in Cyprus that it should not exist during the next days and weeks totally without officers and NCOs. Were there to be an immediate withdrawal and no replacement, there would be a National Guard with no chain of command. I do not believe that that would be in the interests of the Cyprus people.

What is in the interests of the Cyprus people is that the officers personally in- volved in the coup should leave the island and that we should begin very soon—as soon as the Greek Government send their representatives to London—to talk about a more fundamental reorganisation of the Cyprus National Guard. The hon. and learned Gentleman and I do not disagree about how that should be carried out.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas

Is my hon. Friend aware that by inexplicably using the word "replacement" instead of "withdrawal" originally, the Government have handed the first diplomatic and military round to the Grek Government on a platter? Will the Government now tackle the question of the Greek officers in the National Guard very much more realistically?

Mr. Hattersley

I repeat what I have said to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson.) I believe that our response has been realistic. Realism requires us to understand the great dangers and difficulties that might exist were the officers of the Cyprus National Guard to return at once to Greece leaving the unit without officers or NCOs, in a potentially dangerous if not explosive situation. I share my right hon. Friend's views that a more fundamental reorganisation of the guard has to take place but I do not believe it would be in anyone's interests that the guard should have been left without officers and NCOs during the past 48 hours or that it should be left without them during the next 72 hours.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

In spite of the natural abhorrence of what is being done by the Greek régime, may I ask the hon. Gentleman seriously to consider that the problem is one of maintaining peace in the area? This is the main interest. To this end, when the Greek Government representatives come here, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider reconvening a meeting of the three guarantors of the independence of Cyprus? Otherwise we shall have a totally unbalanced situation.

Mr. Hattersley

I take the right hon. Gentleman's point and I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will consider it. The right hon. Gentleman may accept that the present situation, in which one of the guarantors believes that another guarantor has been guilty of what amounts to agrresssion, is not an ideal one in which the three parties should sit down together. If that were possible it would be the path of progress. Perhaps what has happened over the past five days makes it almost impossible to take that path.

Mr. Mikardo

When my hon. Friend says that if the Greek Government representatives come here he will discuss with them the future organisation of the Cyprus National Guard, does he realise that he is virtually conceding to the Greek Government some sort of suzerainty over Cyprus? Why on earth is the officering of the Cyprus National Guard any more a matter for the Greek Government than the officering of the army of any other country apart from Greece? If my hon. Friend is sincere in what he is saying and wants to lean on the Greek Government, would not the best thing be to say to their representatives "Whatever happens we will not recognise the Sampson régime"?

Mr. Hattersley

There is no question of the British Government recognising the Sampson régime. If my hon. Friend wants an assurance on that point, he has it. I think he had it earlier this week. I am happy to repeat that assurance today. As for the invitation to the Greek Government, that Government has a locus in this matter in two respects. First, it is one of the guarantors; perhaps at this moment that is a rather paradoxical situation. Nevertheless that is the situation and we must discuss the future of Cyprus with that Government in those terms. Secondly, the Greek Government has a locus in terms of reality. It has a force on the island, established under the treaty, and it has influence over what is going on in the island.

While there is no question of accepting the Greek Government's suzerainty, no question of accepting, acknowledging or in the remotest way approving of what the Greek Government have been responsible for over the past week, it would be irresponsible of us not to face the realities of the situation. Therefore the Greek Government must hear our views. They will be forcibly expressed but they must hear them.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Apart from the tripartite guarantee, is not one very serious aspect of this grave matter the obligations of the United Kingdom unilaterally to preserve the status quo in Cyprus under Article 4 of the treaty of guarantee? Will the hon. Gentleman say something about that? Can he also give us an assessment of the degree of public support for the coup and for the Archbishop respectively? Can he say what naval and air forces the National Guard has?

Mr. Hattersley

The drift of the hon. Gentleman's question—he will forgive me if I am misinterpreting it—is to suggest that our unilateral obligations, and I refer particularly to his implied question concerning naval and air forces, should be discharged in a military fashion. I think the implication of the question is clear. I do not believe it is the will of the House, nor do I believe that it would be in the interests of Cyprus, were our obligations to be discharged in that way at this stage.

Mrs. Jeger

Is my hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members will regard the progress to which he has referred as being two steps backwards because an original request for withdrawal is met by a suggestion of replacement? Surely it is possible that the replacement officers will be just as Fascist and unacceptable as those at present in control.

Mr. Russell Kerr

They will be a bit fresher.

Mrs. Jeger

Quite. They will not be so tired. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that the British High Commissioner in Nicosia is not in any way, in any circumstances, receiving any of the so-called Ministers of this usurping Government. Will he instruct our Ambassador at the United Nations to ensure that any envoys who appear there are not recognised and will he confirm that in the view of Her Majesty's Government the elected leader of Cyprus is still President Makarios?

Mr. Hattersley

I am happy to confirm that the elected and proper leader of Cyprus is President Makarios. I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no question of acknowledging, in deed or spirit, any of the so-called Ministers of the so-called new Government. My hon. Friend probably knows that someone purporting to be a Minister of that Government knocked on the door of our High Commission without preparation or warning. That is a situation we cannot avoid. We can certainly do what my hon. Friend suggests and make it absolutely clear that we know who are the legitimate Government of Cyprus. We will not be budged from that.

In regard to the point about the replacement of the Cyprus National Guard Officers, I have to repeat the argument I put forward earlier. If my hon. Friend reflects on the practical implications of carrying out immediately what she suggests should be done, she may decide that that would not promote peace and stability in Cyprus during the next few days. I must rest my point there.

Mr. Cormack

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that while caution is commendable, with every day that passes the de facto régime—that is what we must call it—is consolidating its hold in Cyprus? What is the British Government's representative in Cyprus doing at the moment? What are we doing to ensure that when those officers are replaced they are not replaced by EOKA thugs, just as bad as any Greek replacement? Can we not consider getting together with the United Nations force and arranging something whereby the United Nations officers could temporarily take over this duty?

Mr. Hattersley

The final point raised by the hon. Gentleman is most valuable. It is one we have in mind. May I point out that the question of replacement versus withdrawal is only one of the obligations in terms of the Cyprus National Guard and the general security arrangements on the island. In the days lying ahead we must make progress. Progress must be made swiftly because the longer Mr. Sampson remains in something like control the more his organisation will assume control which it is difficult to budge. Progress must be made on more points than simply officering of the National Guard. The whole security situation and the level of forces in Cyprus, whether Turkish or Greek, are among the issues that have to be considered. While I am unable to accept the narrow point about the National Guard officers which has been made by my hon. Friends and others, I think they would agree that over the next two or three days when we discuss this matter, the discussion must go wider than that and review the entire realities of the situation on the island.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will accede to no arrangement or solution which prevents President Makarios returning to the island as its President, and that we should not simply recognise him when he is away from Cyprus, but that we will agree to no arrangement which prevents him returning necessarily as President?

Mr. Hattersley

Of course it would be intolerable for us to say that we recognise and for us to continue to recognise, President Makarios without putting that into practical operation. We have said, and we have instructed our representative in New York to continue to say, that President Makarios goes to the United Nations today as the elected Head of the Cyprus Government, and that he is the only head of Cyprus it is proper for the United Nations to hear. In this way I hope that we can put into operation and make it the principle that he is the elected head of that country and that there is no other.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I support what the Minister said about the need for a comprehensive settlement going far beyond the question of the Cyprus National Guard, and I hope if the Government have the opportunity they will be able to collect together the three parties to the treaty. I am sure that that is the way to find a comprehensive settlement. But for those hon. Members who are anxious about the Cyprus National Guard may I support what the hon. Gentleman said about the situation over the next few days? There are 10,000 members of the Cyprus National Guard, and that makes a very formidable force. Without officers anything could happen in the island, and the force must be officered for the time being, although a comprehensive settlement should deal with the issue.

Mr. Thorpe

I agree about the question of the Cyprus National Guard being one of many issues, but does the Minister not agree that for the Turkish people this is an inflammatory issue and that nothing short of complete withdrawal will avert the very real risk of a Turkish invasion? May I take up the point referred to by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), that if the main problem is providing officers, why should we not immediately, through our permanent representative at the United Nations, suggest that the National Guard be put under the officers of the UN forces already there?

Mr. Hatterlsey

This is one of the issues which are very important to the Turkish community in Cyprus and to the Turkish Government, but it is only one of the issues, and the Turks described to my right hon. Friend five imperatives among which the position of the Cyprus National Guard appeared. The right hon. Gentleman makes a point of some substance about the United Nations replacement, and we shall pursue that with all speed.

Mr. John Ellis

Why does my hon. Friend think the Turks will and should accept a situation in which Greece has taken an arbitrary action through these officers, in which the Turks have lost all points of the game and in which all the conventions have been flouted? Why should they not, and why will they not, resort to violence in this situation? It is unacceptable to many hon. Members to see one gang with blood on their hands being replaced by another gang carrying out the same policies which are inimical to the interests of many people in the island, particularly the Turks.

Mr. Hattersley

We think that the Turkish Government should not resort to force because we do not want many people, innocent and otherwise, to be killed in Cyprus in the next few days or weeks. Our hope must be that we can restore a situation which is just to both communities and acceptable to the international community without an outbreak of violence. That is the rule which governs our consideration of how to deal with the Cyprus National Guard in the next few days. That must now be our judgment and our principle.

I understand my hon. Friend's point that the resentment in the Turkish Government and the Turkish community is in many ways justified and in most ways understandable, and I hope that the Turks know we share many of the views they hold and that we want to restore a just and adequate system to Cyprus. That must be done without bloodshed and violence, because that is the right way.

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