HL Deb 02 June 1964 vol 258 cc409-12

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I will now answer the Question which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked earlier this afternoon, about the present situation in Cyprus. Since the serious incidents in Famagusta three weeks ago, there have been fewer acts of violence in Cyprus. The arrival of further troops from other countries has enabled the British contingent in the United Nations force to be reduced to about 2,000 men, in addition to the important lcgistic support which we continue to provide. Britain is thus still supplying the largest element in the peace-keeping force. Our troops have endeavoured to discharge their difficult task with complete impartiality, but this has not always been appreciated by the two communities who have at different times accused us of favouring the other. At present anti-British feeling among the Greek-Cypriots is, unhappily, running very high and is being actively stimulated by newspapers and speeches.

This situation has recently been aggravated by the case of a British airman, who has been charged by the Greek-Cypriot police with carrying arms to the Turkish-Cypriots. Since the matter is sub judice, I will not comment upon it, except to inform the House that our High Commissioner has protested strongly about the statement made by the Cypriot Minister of the Interior, in which he publicly condemned the accused man, thereby prejudicing the prospect of a fair trial. I do not know whether the charge against this individual is well-founded. But it is not necessary for me to say that the British Government would be deeply distressed at any failure on the part of its Servicemen to live up to the high reputation which they have rightly earned throughout the world.

For some time we have been much disturbed by the build-up of arms and military forces in Cyprus by both sides. As guarantors of the Constitution, the Governments of Britain, Greece and Turkey have made representations to President Makarios about his decision to introduce conscription. At the same time, the British Government and the Governments of other countries which are contributing to the United Nations Force have expressed to the Secretary-General their concern about the reported intention of the Cyprus Government to import substantial quantities of heavy armaments. The three-month mandate given by the Security Council expires in about four weeks' time and will no doubt have to be extended. We remain anxious to do all we can to help the United Nations Force to fulfil its mission. However, before entering into a commitment for a further period, we shall wish to be satisfied that our continued participation is necessary and is generally desired by the other countries concerned.

The sole reason for the presence of our troops in the United Nations Force is our desire to help restore peace in the island and create conditions in which a settlement acceptable to both communities can be negotiated. While they are performing this thankless task, we feel that they and their families have a right to be treated with respect and courtesy by those who, in the crisis of last December, so readily accepted our offer to come to their aid.


My Lords, we are grateful for that statement. The position is a very unsatisfactory one and all of us agree that everything should be done to clear up whatever it is possible to clear up. I should like to ask one or two questions about this statement. The first is: could the noble Lord tell us what has been the result of the representations that have been made to President Makarios about his intention to introduce conscription? Secondly, I think we should all agree that we should continue to participate so long as it is necessary. I hope that we shall continue to remain in occupation while there are British subjects on the island, because they are very much in need of protection. I would say, I am sure on behalf of every noble Lord here, that we very much deplore the action which has been taken as regards individual British subjects on the island and their families, particularly the wives of Servicemen.

We should like to pay a tribute at this stage to the conduct of our Servicemen on the island under extremely difficult conditions. We should not like them to feel that they are in any way open to criticism, in spite of the charges which are made against them. We realise that the situation is a difficult one and we wish to be assured that the Government are doing everything they can to protect British subjects from the indignities from which we are told they have been suffering recently at the hands of the Cypriots.


My Lords—


My Lords, I was asked three questions, and if the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition—the Leader of the Liberal Party, not the Opposition yet—would speak after I have replied to them, I should be grateful. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for what he has said, and would join with him in saying how much we all admire the restraint with which British troops have carried out their task in Cyprus. He asked me what was the result of the representations to President Makarios about conscription. The President's answer was that while there was a threat of Turkish invasion it was the duty of any sovereign Government to take steps to defend itself.

With regard to the British subjects on the island, I can give the noble Lord an assurance that this will be one of the paramount considerations of Her Majesty's Government in any decisions upon what steps we take with regard to the United Nations Force. I can also assure him that we will be careful to do as much as we can to save British subjects from any further indignities.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I am sorry if I caused him embarrassment, but I hoped to save him trouble by adding one small question, after endorsing what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about our troops there in their difficult situation. I understand that the British Forces have been reduced to about 2,000, which still leaves us in the position of having the largest element there. Are arrangements in progress, or is pressure being made, to have these men replaced by the forces of other nations, so that we may take a less prominent part in the armed part of this island?


My Lords, not at the moment. The ratio of troops has been fixed to the end of this present mandate, but no doubt this will be one of the questions for discussion when the renewal of the mandate is under consideration in New York.


My Lords, arising out of the reply regarding the proposed or suggested conscription in Cyprus, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government will suggest to the United Nations that they should make the strongest possible representations to President Makarios that any such introduction of conscription would very likely lead in itself to a civil war much more acute than we have yet seen, and that, in its turn, would lead to foreign intervention in Cyprus?


My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend that the decision of the Cypriot Government to introduce a Bill on conscription is one of the greatest gravity, and I think we must take every possible step we can to bring home the seriousness of the situation to all those interested in peace in that area.