HL Deb 23 November 1967 vol 286 cc1141-4

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the present developments in Cyprus affecting Turkish-Greek relations, and the responsibilities of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force.]


My Lords, noble Lords will know that heavy fighting broke out in the island on November 15. A ceasefire was arranged and the National Guard withdrew from the positions they had occupied during the fighting. These positions were taken over by the United Nations Force. As a result of this fighting, there is a very serious state of tension between Turkey and Greece. In concert with the United States and Canadian Governments we are doing all we can in all the capitals concerned to achieve a peaceful settlement. A special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General is about to arrive in the area, and an emissary of President Johnson has already done so. We have discussed the situation with the Canadian Prime Minister who is in London on a visit at the moment.

The responsibilities of the United Nations Force remain unchanged. They acquitted themselves very well in the recent incident. My right honourable friends the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretaries are keeping the situation under constant review and are ready to help the cause of peace in any way they can.


My Lords, in view of the obviously very dangerous situation that has arisen, may I ask my noble friend whether it is intended to evacuate the 660 British civilians in the event of a Turkish invasion of the island? Secondly, in view of the fact that there are 3,000 United Nations peace-keeping forces and 8,000 British servicemen on the island, will not an extra-ordinarily dangerous situation arise if there is an invasion? May I ask whether consideration could be given to placing all the troops on the island, both Turkish and Greek, for the time being under the command of the United Nations? Thirdly, is not this a situation which is definitely a threat of war, and should not the Security Council proceed to carry out its functions under the Charter?


My Lords, the noble Lord, who is a great expert on these matters, has asked me a number of questions. I will try to answer them all. Or course, the situation represents a great threat to peace, and if an invasion took place a most dangerous situation indeed would arise. So far as the question of evacuation is concerned, I think that it might exacerbate the situation on the island if one were to go too deeply and in too much detail into evacuation plans. But I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Commonwealth Secretary has given the British High Commissioner in Nicosia discretion to arrange for British subjects in certain areas of Cyprus, where their presence is not essential, to be moved and concentrated elsewhere in the island, where it will be easier to keep in touch with them if an emergency arises. As my noble friend will know, there are existing plans, which we believe to be adequate, for the safety of British civilians and military personnel; and the High Commissioner and the commander of forces in the area have authority, all the authority they need, to put these plans into effect if the occasion should arise.

On the question of forces on the island, as the noble Lord has said there are more than 10,000 British troops there. The delicacy of the situation is obvious. With regard to placing Greek-Cypriot, Turkish-Cypriot and other forces on the island under United Nations command, that is an interesting idea, but clearly it is not one that is easy to put into effect. So far as the Security Council is concerned, of course we are in close touch with the Secretary-General about this, and action in the Security Council is naturally much in the front of our minds.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord two questions? I understand that there is a Private Notice Question in another place on this subject. Will the noble Lord tell the House whether or not the terms of the Answer to that Question are exactly the same as that which he has given the House, or whether further information will be given to another place? If the Answer is not exactly the same, perhaps the noble Lord may consider making a further statement at half-past three.

Secondly, may I ask him what instructions have been given to British troops in Cyprus in the event of hostilities between Greek and Turkish troops? I imagine that British troops under British command have been told not to intervene. But may I ask him what instructions have been given to British troops under United Nations command?


My Lords, so far as the question of the differences, if any, between the information I have given to your Lordships' House and the information that will be given in another place in answer to the Private Notice Question are concerned, the facts as I have given them do not differ in substance from the Answer which I understand will be given to the Question in another place, although possibly not in exactly the same words. If anything arises from the proceedings in another place then, of course, with the usual indulgence, a Statement will be made at a later stage.

So far as orders given to the troops are concerned, I think it would be wrong of me to go into too much detail about the actual operational orders that have been given. Clearly, as the noble Lord suggests, there is a distinction between the action that may be taken by, and the orders that have been given to, troops under British command and those under United Nations command. As the noble Lord will know, British troops under United Nations command have already been in action in these events since the 15th of the month.


My Lords, I hesitate to press the noble Lord, but I think this is most important. After all, these are British troops, even if they are under United Nations command. In the event of an invasion by Turkish troops, I think the House is entitled to know what orders the British troops would have from the United Nations commander.


My Lords, my own feeling is that we are still dealing with the hypothetical situation of an invasion. I think it would be wrong to go into details in your Lordships' House about the orders that have been given to deal with a hypothetical situation. If the situation deteriorates then, of course, all the information available will be given to your Lordships' House.


My Lords, in view of the fact that both Greece and Turkey are members of NATO, may I ask my noble friend whether the influence of NATO, as well as of the United Nations, might be used to bring about a peaceful settlement of this dispute?


My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the fact that these two countries are our allies in the Western Alliance has not been lost on us. The most intensive diplomatic activities of all kinds and in all accommodations has been going on. I think my noble friend will understand that it would be prejudicial to the efforts if I went into too much detail about those diplomatic activities.