HL Deb 15 July 1958 vol 210 cc1106-17

6.40 p.m.

THE EARL OF DUDLEY rose to draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the murder of two British soldiers, who were shot in the back when they were buying groceries for their unit in Hermes Street, Famagusta, on July 8 after a public declaration two days earlier by the Eoka terrorist, Dighenis Grivas, that he would carry out reprisals for the casualties caused to two Greek Cypriots during a clash with British troops in Avgorov: and to ask Her Majesty's Government if they will take immediate steps to tighten up military protection and security measures, so that British soldiers shall not be unduly exposed to danger in going about their business in small units, on duty or otherwise, without armed protection from the rear, particularly as two British military policemen were also shot in the back in Famagusta, on May 4.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. Perhaps I should apologise to your Lordships for raising this matter so soon after the debate on Cyprus which took place in your Lordships' House a week ago. But this sad incident only happened on that morning, and although reference was made to it by some noble Lords who took part in that debate, the details had not then been published; and no reference was made in that debate to what seems to me a most important question: that of the fullest protection for our troops in Cyprus, for whom we have a great responsibility, which I do not feel satisfied is adequate at present.

These two boys, aged twenty, fresh from school, and nearly completing their term of military service, were part of a unit involved in a tragic incident at Avgorov ten days ago. It was, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, told us, an isolated incident. He assured us that great forbearance was shown by our troops involved, with casualties to themselves, and two fatal casualties to Greek Cypriots. We pray that such incidents, which are so harmful to good will in the island, will become more and more isolated. As long as they last they are a breeding ground of bitterness on all sides and consequently a strong barrier to a peaceful settlement. But, as the noble Earl the Leader of the House told us last week, there is still a hard core of murderers in Cyprus, and against these terrorists we must protect our troops to the utmost degree. That is a definite responsibility, and it is one which, I submit, should not be left to local commanders on the spot but should be laid down in routine measures by the Director of Operations in Cyprus.

In this particular case, the terrorist Dighenis Grivas according to Press reports swore vengeance publicly at the funeral of the two Greek casualties on July 6. It would have seemed clear that he would seek his reprisals from the unit that took part in the Avgorov incident. It would seem to me to be only common sense, in any case, particularly in view of this warning, that strong protective measures should have been imposed by the military authorities. Yet these two boys, two days after this threat, were allowed to go completely unprotected, so far as I know, to buy groceries, in Famagusta, and were murderously shot in the back. One assumes that if they had been properly protected from the rear by armed comrades at the entrance to the shop this tragedy might not have happened. Two military policemen were also shot in the back in the same town in May. There must be something wrong and military protection cannot be 100 per cent. adequate. I hope that the noble Lord who is to answer this question will be able to assure us that steps will at once be taken by the Secretary of State for War, in consultation with the Commander-in-Chief or the Director of Operations in Cyprus, to make it as watertight as possible.

The noble Earl the Leader of the House, referring last week to our gallant forces in Cyprus, said that they have the confidence of Parliament that they will be fair and loyal and will carry out their necessary, though distasteful, duties in the way we expect of the British soldier. That is all very well, my Lords; but in return they must be protected from these murderous attacks, particularly as a great many of them are mere boys on the threshold of life and lacking the experience and cunning of an old soldier. I remember when I was a young soldier serving in my regiment during the troublous times in Ireland. After one or two such incidents military protection was tightened up rigorously and was laid down as a routine by the Commanderin-Chief. We were not allowed to go about unarmed, or in parties of less than six. It was the duty of one or two comrades always to watch the rear, for no man has eyes in the back of his head. I remember that we were trained even to march backwards when going through danger spots, so that those in the front could not be attacked from the rear without warning.

My Lords, I ask this Question on a matter of principle, and not on private grounds, but it so happens that one of these boys was a native of Birmingham, a city with which I have many associations, and the other was the only surviving grandson of a man very much respected in your Lordships' House, who has been a Member of it for more than fifty-five years, the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester. His age prevents him from attending here often now, but I feel sure that your Lordships' sympathies will go out to him and his family in full measure.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I think it will be to the wish of the House that I should confine my remarks strictly to the subject of my noble friend Lord Dudley's Question. I do not therefore propose to traverse again the ground we covered during our recent full-dress debate on Cyprus; nor do I propose to refer to the tragic deterioration in the last few days, save to condemn whole-heartedly the senseless and vicious murders to which my noble friend Lord Dudley has drawn attention. Irresponsible acts of revenge are deplorable at any time. They are all the more deplorable at a moment when every effort is being made to put an end to the strain and grief which three years of terrorism have caused and are increasingly causing in Cyprus.

My noble friend Lord Dudley has suggested that more should be done to protect individual soldiers and small parties out of camp in Cyprus. He has put forward some constructive and practical suggestions, based on experience, but he, as much as anyone, will I think appreciate this point. Security measures are essentially a question for the military authorities on the spot. They are an operational matter, dictated by local conditions. of which our forces in Cyprus have had all too much arduous experience. They are not a matter in which I intervention from afar would be helpful. The command in Cyprus must be relied upon to enforce the most effective possible counter-measures for the security of soldiers and civilians in the Island.

It would be wrong to draw from these two incidents the conclusion that our security precautions in general are not adequate. There are, as we all know, large numbers of troops in Cyprus, in the towns and countryside, on and off duty. The security rules are strictly observed, and the great majority of our forces go unharmed. The deterrent effect of our precautions cannot be measured, but the number of successful armed attacks has been small. As long as troops have to move among the population, it is not easy to see what absolute protection there can be against a determined man, choosing his own time, firing from ambush, and escaping among a terrified or a sympathetic crowd.

There are three points about the current regulations for the security of troops in Cyprus which I would bring to your Lordships' attention, and they are more stringent now than at any time during the emergency. They were reintroduced on April 29 last after a period of several months comparative calm. They have been developed with experience, the latest revision being on June 7.

The regulations which are relevant to the Famagusta murders are these. All Service personnel must be armed when they are away from their camps, unless they are in a large party under armed escort—for instance, a swimming party. All ranks are continually reminded of the need to watch for attacks. All movement is subject to the principle of mutual cover by men in pairs. Off duty, men must move in fours, divided into two pairs covering each other. Officers and N.C.Os. may, at their discretion, move in pairs, provided that the principle of mutual guard is observed. Let me relate these regulations briefly to what happened in the case of the murder of the officer and trooper of the Royal Horse Guards. At 9.25 in the morning on July 8 these two men were shot in the back in a shop in Famagusta. They were on duty. Which way they were facing when they were shot or from which quarter the bullets came we do not know, although we made particular inquiries about this. The murderers have not been caught. The officer and trooper were armed, in accordance with the standing orders. The trooper's body was found just inside the door of the shop. This is consistent with his having been in a covering position. Furthermore, his Sten gun had its magazine clipped on. The officer had drawn his pistol but had not been able to fire it. In the opinion of the Governor, these murders were to avenge the deaths of the two Greek Cypriots who died as the result of the incident at Avgorou.

I do not express any opinion as to whether these measures for military protection and security should be tightened up. I repeat that this matter must, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, be left to those in command on the spot—namely, the Governor and his military advisers. May I also remind the House that on July 9 the Governor stated publicly, in the most forthright terms, that it was entirely unwarranted to suggest that there was any lack of co-operation, understanding and agreement between himself and the security forces at all levels. Her Majesty's Government can have no doubt that the Governor and his senior military commanders are no less conscious than your Lordships' House of the need to provide all possible protection to the public and to members of the security forces against the ever-increasing number of terrorist murders.

Nor will your Lordships forget the heavy measure of responsibility which the Cypriot public themselves bear for not helping to end this dreadful state of affairs. It is true that they have been intimidated and are under severe pressure from the terrorists, but in any society it requires more than efficient police work to ensure that law and order are preserved. The co-operation of responsible members of the public is essential for this purpose. Unhappily, at this time terrorist murders can be committed in broad daylight in a crowded thoroughfare, and not a single member of the local community present will come forward to give any information. My Lords, the security forces of the Crown are doing a magnificent job in rotten conditions. They receive no backing whatever from the community they do so much to protect—indeed, they receive nothing but abuse. I am happy to believe they receive nothing but support and encouragement from your Lordships' House.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, will allow me to say how deeply I sympathise with the feelings which have prompted him to put this Question on the Order Paper. I am afraid that, with such a state of affairs as prevails, unhappily, in Cyprus to-day, it is inevitable that some of these deplorable incidents must take place. I noticed that in the speech by the Governor, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has referred, Sir Hugh Foot expressed in the strongest possible terms—and the Governor is also, of course, Commander-in-Chief in Cyprus—his intention to take every possible means in his power to afford adequate protection and security to our men. I think there is no reason at all to think that everything possible is not being done.

The only exception I would take to what the noble Earl said is that, underlying his remarks, there seemed to be a feeling that everything possible is not being done; that there is negligence in this matter. From that I would demur, though I prefer to say nothing about it because I hope that the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Harding of Petherton, may have something to say on this subject—and who is more fitted than he to do so? The only point I wish to make is this. I should regret it very greatly if, as an outcome of this Question, any feeling were created amongst the relatives of our Forces in Cyprus that everything possible is not being done for their security and protection. It would be most unfortunate if any idea of that sort got abroad. Therefore, unless very strong evidence is brought to prove the point, I demur from the suggestion that there is any negligence; that what could be done is not being done.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all associate myself with the expression of deep and sincere sympathy to the relatives of these men who have been so brutally murdered. The young officer and the trooper both served under my command. I happened to know the young officer well, and his parents are personal friends of mine, so that I feel very deeply in this matter of their assassination. I should like to express my own personal, deep and sincere sympathy to all the relatives of both those men who have lost their lives and, indeed, of all other men who have lost their lives in Cyprus.

As the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, has clearly pointed out, it is, of course, axiomatic that the first duty of any commander is to ensure, in so far as physical means make it possible, the security and lives of his own troops. I know well the present officer commanding the troops in Cyprus. He is also of course director of operations. I should like to assure your Lordships that I have complete confidence in him as a commander who thoroughly understands the situation with which he is dealing, and I am satisfied that the rules he has made for the protection of his own troops, be they soldiers or policemen, are as good as can be devised in the circumstances that, unhappily, exist in Cyprus to-day. I am fully satisfied that the troops are given all possible training in these methods of protection, avoiding ambush or murder of this kind—the training that is needed for their own safety. But, of course, it takes time to make that training effective and I know from personal experience that it is a matter to which all commanders in Cyprus give the closest personal attention. On the other hand, no rules, no amount of training and no purely defensive action, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, pointed out, can provide absolute security for any soldier or policeman going about his duty or, indeed, when he is off duty, under conditions such as now exist in Cyprus. Every soldier and every policeman in that island is exposed to the danger of attack at all times, and there is no possibility of absolute security until terrorism has ceased.

As I see it, there are two aspects of this problem. First, there are the security measures to be taken by the troops for their own protection; and, as I have said, I believe that that aspect of the problem is being very carefully studied. The past experience is being used to the utmost, and I am satisfied that the rules which exist to-day are the best that can be devised for the purpose under the conditions that exist. Then there are the offensive measures—that is to say, the counter-measures that are taken against the terrorists. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that we must leave it to the officer commanding the troops, that is to the Director of Operations, to decide whether any changes are needed in the existing security rules, and, if so, what those changes should be. That matter, in my opinion, is one that can be dealt with only by the officer commanding on the spot, who has the responsibility, who has the knowledge of the conditions, and who can vary his orders and instructions from moment to moment as need be. Equally, I am convinced that we must leave it to the Governor, in consultation with Her Majesty's Ministers, to decide whether any changes of policy are needed in regard to counter-measures against the terrorists; and that decision must, of course, be made in the light of the general political and strategic situation that exists at the moment.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to associate myself entirely with the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Winster; that it would be disastrous, and quite wrong, if the parents, relatives and friends of soldiers or policemen now serving in Cyprus got the opinion that the security, the protection and the well-being in all respects of their menfolk are not very much and always in the minds of the Governor and of the military commanders on the spot.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House is very grateful to the noble Earl for asking this question this afternoon, if only because we have had the opportunity of having a reassuring statement from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and the first-hand knowledge of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Harding of Petherton. I should like to be very much associated with the noble Lord, Lord Winster, in his plea that we do not create any greater fear among the relatives of those soldiers who are serving in Cyprus to-day. I am speaking this evening because I have had some personal experience of the type of campaign that is being fought in Cyprus to-day; it was not in Cyprus but it was in Singapore and Malaya. I believe that there is considerable similarity between Cyprus now and Singapore and Malaya in the years 1948 to 1950. I can well appreciate the anxiety of the military commanders in trying to protect their troops from vicious attacks by gunmen and assassins, but it is not easy to do so. You are dealing with a clever and unscrupulous enemy, and there is no hard and fast regulation that can be laid down. I would, however, ask the Government whether they can give us some information as to what training our Servicemen receive when they go to Cyprus. I believe the regiment to which those two soldiers belong had only recently gone to Cyprus. I should like to know what sort of training and what sort of instructors are available for that type of work.

If I may, with your Lordships' permission, I will broaden this question to deal with a point which I should have liked to raise in the Cyprus debate last week, but I honestly felt that if I raised it I might not be doing a true service to the House on that subject. I wish to try to put before your Lordships the similarity of the campaign of murder and intimidation in Singapore and Malaya with what is going on in Cyprus to-day. In Malaya our troops were always open to attack, but the brunt of murder and intimidation was borne by the civilian—a civilian who was unarmed, a civilian who had to live in his town and village, never knowing who might be his friend and who might be his enemy.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in his speech this afternoon deplored the fact that information was not being given when a murder was committed in broad daylight. I appreciate that one cannot possibly condone the withholding of that sort of information. But these civilians are in a most difficult position. I well recall a tapper in Malaya who was being questioned why he did not give information on a murder on the estate when the police well knew that he was present. He said, "Well, if I do not give you information and you finally prosecute me for doing that, I could get five years. But if I give you the information not only might I get a knife in my back but my wife and my children might also." This intimidation is a terrible thing. Many of the recruits who went into the jungle in support of the Communists went there to protect their own families. If they did not go their brother or their sister would be assassinated. This is not an exaggeration; this is fact.

What is the answer? I personally do not believe that you will get security in the towns and villages by the use of the military, the use of the soldier. Our experience in Malaya was that whilst the Army could strike at the Communists in the jungle they could not bring that feeling of security and confidence in the villages and towns. That spirit of confidence could come only when they had built up in that town and that village a police force that was semi-permanent, a police force in which the local inhabitants could have confidence. The military are always on the move; they are being posted from one part of Cyprus to another. They may be withdrawn from Cyprus and sent to Kenya. So the local population can never have the opportunity to build up confidence in the security force. As an example, in Malaya you might have had a young police officer posted to a village, but he could not speak the language, and that may well be the case with the troops in Cyprus. The local inhabitants were reluctant to give information to that officer because they had to give it through an interpreter, and they had no trust in the interpreter although they had trust in the officer. It was only when there was an officer who could speak the language that the people had confidence to go and give information. Once there is this confidence, then will come the information to strike at the enemy and then will come the co-operation that is so essential.

I would ask the Government seriously to consider this suggestion. I would ask them to consider the building up of a large police force so that gradually the military may be taken out of the operations whether the Government's policy is accepted by those to whom it is addressed or whether it is not. For many years to come a strong security force will be needed, and I believe that that security force should be basically the civil power—the civil police force. I should not like it to be thought that what I have said is in any way a criticism of the Army. I believe that our Army has behaved magnificently against the greatest provocation. Surely there is no greater provocation than the shooting of a comrade in the back. In spite of this provocation, our troops have done their duty, and I am sure that we are all grateful.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, we all have great sympathy with the noble Earl who raised this question to-day, and I hope that he will feel, as I do, that the fact that he has raised it will have served a most useful purpose, in that it will go, I think, some way to comfort those who have fears that the safety of the troops has not been properly taken care of. We have heard from the noble and gallant Field Marshal what in fact is done in that respect—how the safety of the men is the first anxiety of the commanding generals, and there is nothing more for me to say on that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked a specific question as to what training the units have in security before they go out to take care of themselves. The answer is that all units have a special security training and have their own security schools. So far as the Royal Horse Guards are concerned, they have not just gone out to Cyprus; they have been there for two years. On the other remarks of the noble Lord, about the police force and the importance, in the long run, of that rather than of soldiers, I can only say that we all appreciate the point. As he will have seen—it was announced only yesterday—some 300 more police are being recruited over here, not on a permanent basis for them but in order to build up the police force in Cyprus. That, of course, will continue to be our policy.

I think there is nothing more that I need say. I believe we shall all agree that this discussion should be kept strictly to the military context in which we have been talking—and, we have heard from several noble Lords, in particular from the noble and gallant Field Marshal—on what is right and what is being done.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for what he has just said, and also the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for his full and most courteous answer. I am sure that it will do a great deal to help.