HL Deb 15 July 1974 vol 353 cc858-63

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. The Statement reads as follows:

"The House will understand that information about events in Cyprus is still coming in and what I say this afternoon is incomplete.

"The National Guard in Cyprus claiming to be intervening in order to stop fighting between Greeks in Cyprus have seized power. The Presidential Palace has been under attack and it is reported that President Makarios has been killed. If this report proves to be well founded the whole House will join me in expressing their very deep dismay and regret at the death in such circumstances of the President of a friendly country who was also the senior Commonwealth Head of State.

"The Treaty of Guarantee, which was signed by the Greek, Turkish and Cyprus Governments as well as by Her Majesty's Government, provides for the recognition and maintenance of the independence, territorial integrity and security of Cyprus. I have drawn the attention of the Greek and Turkish Governments to these undertakings and have urged the need for restraint on all sides. I have asked for their urgent views on the situation. I am also in touch with the Secretary General of the United Nations and with other interested Governments.

"There have been no reports of injury or loss to British subjects. The airport at Nicosia is closed and our High Commissioner has advised residents and holiday makers to stay at home until the position is clarified. I am reviewing arrangements for ensuring the safety of the British community and their evacuation should that prove necessary.

"I will keep the House informed of future developments."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I think the House would wish to thank the noble Lord for repeating that Statement, and I think we should all wish to associate ourselves with what he said about President Makarios. We must hope very much that these reports are not true. The consequences of this may be very grave indeed, and I do not think that it would be right at this stage, when we do not really know exactly what the situation is, to comment too fully about it. I think that the Government are quite right in reminding the Greek and Turkish Governments of our particular interest in this, not just as guarantors of the Treaty but by virtue of the fact that we have sovereign base areas in the Island of Cyprus, and there is of course a very great Western defence interest in the Island of Cyprus as a whole.

May I ask the noble Lord two questions? He may not be able to answer, and I shall quite understand. There was a report on the radio that the National Guard had declared an independent Hellenistic Republic. I wonder whether he could confirm whether or not that is so. It is very difficult to know exactly what that phrase means, but it is just as well that the Government should have reminded the two Governments concerned about the independence of Cyprus. Does the noble Lord know whether there has been any reaction from the Turkish Government? Secondly, may I ask him to confirm that the British troops under United Nations command are under the control of Her Majesty's Government, and cannot be committed in any situation without our consent?


My Lords, may I, from these Benches, endorse what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and express the hope that the first reports of President Makarios's death are not true. May I ask the noble Lord whether he has any information about the later report which said that the President might well be in the United Nations' headquarters? If so, is there not a radio link with the outside world through which this report could be either confirmed or denied? May I also express the hope that this incident, or more than an incident, will not be allowed to escalate into something very serious indeed, and that if military action has to be taken from outside it will be under the auspices of an international organisation.


My Lords, may I, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, associate myself with those who have thanked the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. We also associate ourselves with what has been said about the grave news about the possible death of Archbishop Makarios. He is not only a great political leader, he is also a great religious leader and a much respected figure in the Orthodox Church, and we all offer our prayers that this sad news might in fact not be true.


My Lords, may I thank the two noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for what they have just said in regard to President Makarios. We all devoutly hope that these reports will not be confirmed. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to confirm the report, I believe from Ankara, that he has found refuge with United Nations' Forces. We are in the process of endeavouring to confirm the truth of that report. Turning to Lord Carrington's point, may I say that I shall immediately, without waiting for the OFFICIAL REPORT, bring to the attention of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary what the noble Lord, and indeed the noble Lord who leads the Liberal Party, have said about this matter as to the view that very grave consequences, and indeed escalation, are terribly possible in this situation, and the view that the 1960 Agreement and what it guarantees must be very firmly brought to the attention of the Greek and Turkish Governments. Our NATO interest in this has been expressed in this House, and I strongly concur that it is of very great importance.

As to the report that an independent Hellenistic Republic has been proclaimed, here again I cannot confirm whether or not this is true. We are trying to find out exactly what the position is, but I take on board the implication of any such development in regard to the 1960 Agreement and, indeed, in a wider sense. The position as to British troops was raised by both noble Lords in different contexts. In regard to the British troops committed to the U.N. peace-keeping operation, of course they are subject to direction from this country. In regard to the British troops, forces and equipment in the sovereign base areas, I am advised that the position there is perfectly secure. I think that deals with the points raised by the two noble Lords. I repeat that I shall immediately report to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary what has been said in this House about this very difficult and highly dangerous situation.


My Lords, has it occurred to my noble friend and his right honourable friend that as both these countries, Turkey and Greece, are members of NATO, that in addition to referring the subject to the United Nations—not that I expect very much from that body in any circumstances—it is much more important to ask NATO to intervene in the matter because it has a pragmatic interest? Would it not be a frightful event if two NATO countries were engaged in conflict?—because it would render the whole of the NATO organisation into a farce.


My Lords, I entirely agree. I hope that in my replies to the two noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate I indicated that we regard NATO as being of extreme importance in relation to what my noble friend Lord Shinwell has said. As to the United Nations, it is important that we should be contacting the Secretary-General, which, in fact, my right honourable friend is now doing. The 1960 Treaty of Guarantee has of course, like similar treaties, been registered with the United Nations. The United Nations, on behalf of the comity of nations, has a clear duty to take stock of this situation and consider how it can help.


My Lords, could the noble Lord inform the House about the position of British dependants in Limassol where there have been reports of fighting? Having been a member of a delegation from your Lordships' House to visit Cyprus last year, I saw large numbers of dependants of British soldiers, airmen and civilians. I hope that the position of their safety will be looked into with great care to make sure that if things come to the worst they could be got back to sovereign base areas to be looked after should the fighting spread.


My Lords, my information has been that there has been no injury to British dependants or Servicemen. But I shall certainly ensure that the point of safety which the noble Earl has raised about Limassol is considered.


My Lords, having regard to the grave consequences and repercussions, not only internal but international, which would result from an outbreak of civil war in Cyprus should it occur, will the Government, in their approach to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, examine the possibility of a speedy strengthening of the United Nations peace-keeping force before it is too late? Will they realise that although there are guarantees from Britain, Greece and Turkey—particularly with regard to the latter two—it is not easy for the Greek and Turk military forces to be effective in a situation of this kind?


My Lords, I would certainly expect that the consideration which the noble Lord has advanced will be very much in the forefront of our minds, indeed of the Secretary-General's mind and possibly the Security Council's, if it comes to it for consideration.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can tell the House that he has any information about the reaction of the Turkish community to these events?


My Lords, I have no information on that point, but we are in continuous contact with sources which may shortly clarify a number of similar points.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that those of us who have met and know Archbishop Makarios will profoundly hope that the report that he is still alive is true? May I also ask the Minister—I may have misheard his report—whether he said that the National Guard had intervened when there was conflict between Greeks? Or is it the case that the conflict was between Greeks and Turks? If it is the former, then is it the case that the National Guard is largely officered by Greeks? Therefore, will Her Majesty's Government take the most urgent steps to raise this issue in the Security Council, so that the peace-keeping force of the United Nations may be strengthened?


My Lords, the officership of Cypriot other ranks is part of the original agreements, not necessarily in the treaty. I should expect that this would be considered in the light of what has happened. I cannot go any further about that. As to the nature of the fighting which the National Guard in Cyprus claims to have intervened to stop, perhaps I should make it absolutely clear by reading the sentence referring to this point in the original Statement. I quote: The National Guard in Cyprus, claiming to be intervening in order to stop fighting between Greeks in Cyprus, have seized power. That is the information we have, that they claim to have intervened to stop fighting between Greeks.


My Lords, in view of the grave possibility of friction—we hope it would not be more than that—or conflict between pro-Makarios Greek Cypriots and pro-Enosis Greek Cypriots, and also between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, apart from the expressed wish of your Lordships that every measure should be taken if necessary to increase the United Nations force, would it not be desirable also to consider the reinforcement of our military strength within the sovereign base areas, especially bearing in mind the fact that we may have to bring out British Service families and other civilians?


My Lords, I am sure that every aspect of the military position will be looked at, including the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan Sandys.