HC Deb 30 July 1974 vol 878 cc468-71
16. Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he is satisfied with the deployment of British forces in Cyprus; and whether he will make a statement.

17. Major-General d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the security of the Cyprus base.

Mr. Mason

The resident garrison in Cyprus was reinforced by two Royal Marine Commandos on Sunday 21st July followed by armoured car squadrons and an infantry battalion together with support personnel over the next few days. A number of Her Majesty's ships also deployed to the area. The level of forces required to ensure the security of the Cyprus base is being kept under review. The reinforcement was carried out with great efficiency and reflects much credit on the officers and men concerned in the planning and execution of the operation.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Following on the tribute to the work of the three Services for evacuating and looking after tourists and other British subjects, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman how many people now remain to be moved home and whether consideration has been given to the use of a Services cable communication to enable inquiries to be made from this country by people who are still worried about relatives and friends remaining in Cyprus?

Mr. Mason

I will consider the point about cable communication which until now has not been drawn to my attention. With regard to evacuation, we have already brought home 8,000 people, consisting of British residents and tourists of 49 different nations as well as some Service dependants. We have now started to evacuate about 1,200 dependants of Servicemen who should be living outside the sovereign base areas, bringing them home if their Service husbands are within three months of the end of their tours. That should satisfy the situation for the time being.

Major-General d'Avigdor-Goldsmid

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. One of the reinforcements which went out was an armoured car squadron from my own regiment. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm the statement today in The Times that the United Nations force is to be reintroduced in the future and, if so, what proportion of the reinforcement will be British?

Mr. Mason

A request was received a few days ago from the United Nations Secretary General for the United Nations peace-keeping force in Cyprus to be increased. Her Majesty's Government responded quickly to the request and immediately released 600 men, including Coldstream Guards and 50 Ferret cars, which means that our United Nations contingent is about 1,350 strong and is the biggest unit in the peace-keeping rôle in Cyprus.

Mr. Greville Janner

Can my right hon. Friend comment on the allegation made by a constituent of mine who was brought home from Cyprus that we were very slow off the mark? Will he indicate some of the difficulties which created this situation?

Mr. Mason

I thought we were cautious and safe. We had to make a calculation about when would be the right time for United Kingdom troops to move through Larnaka, Limassol, Famagusta and Kyrenia to bring in British residents as well as foreign tourists. If we had gone in prematurely it might have given an indication that we were possibly working in alliance with the Turks and many people might have been killed escaping to the sovereign base areas. I think that we took a calculated risk and were cautious, and in the end it proved to be safe and sure. There has been only one casualty involving the United Nations force and a small child of 10 who was killed in crossfire.

Mr. Goodhart

While joining in the tributes to the magnificent work done by our Services in carrying out the evacuation of civilians, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say what compensation will he paid to those Service families whose homes have been looted following their withdrawal to the sovereign base areas?

Mr. Mason

I cannot give a figure but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have already broadcast on the forces network to Cyprus to give assurances of that kind to those of our Service men and their dependants who might have been adversely affected.

Mr. Bagier

What advice is my right hon. Friend giving to tour operators who are still reported to be taking holidaymakers out to the island?

Mr. Mason

That is not within my province. As my hon. Friend will know, the Foreign Office has been giving advice to the Association of British Travel Agents. Most of its members have been heeding that advice.

Mr. Sproat

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is his intention, assuming that there are no further outbreaks of fighting on the island, to allow the TAVR units which are to hold their annual camp there next month to go ahead, in particular the 4th Volunteer Battalion, Royal Green Jackets?

Mr. Mason

On the understanding that the hon. Gentleman might be wanting to go with them? It will depend entirely on the situation at the time. He must know that there was a TAVR unit on camp in Cyprus during the conflict which had to be brought back to the sovereign base area.

Mr. Peter Walker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on the Conservative side of the House would very much like to convey our congratulations and thanks to all three Armed Services for the remarkable skill which they displayed in what was a very tricky operation? Secondly, is he aware that we would like to express our hope that the remarks he made in reply to an earlier Question mean that at least this sad episode has resulted in him realising the importance of Cyprus as a base?

Mr. Mason

We have always realised the importance of Cyprus, and who knows to what extent that will come through in the defence review? I take on board what the right hon. Gentleman said in praise of the troops. This evacuation is unparalleled in peace time. Great credit is due to all British forces who have been concerned, plus all three Services active in the home base who were supplying and sending out aircraft 24 hours a day—sending out not only troops but supplies and so on, and then bringing back all the 8,000 people, together with foreign nationals from 49 different countries, including Russia and Germany, who led their nations to believe that they got their people out first. It has been a remarkable operation and credit is due to all concerned.