Cyprus

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th December 1958.

Alert me about debates like this

3.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on Cyprus.

We have been striving, and we shall continue to strive, for a political settlement which will bring peace to the island. I intend in a few moments to say something on the position now that the debate in the United Nations is over. But I wish, first, to refer to the suggestion arising out of the inquest on Andreas Louca that there should be some form of inquiry into the conduct of British troops in Cyprus.

When we consider the crimes which have been committed against our troops and the provocation which they have undergone, I think that we have a right to be proud not only of their high morale but of their discipline and restraint. Of course, there are people in some countries who would wish to discredit Great Britain by wild and unjustified allegations.

At the same time, we are very jealous of the honour of our troops and we have recognised that in the peculiarly difficult circumstances of maintaining order in the face of terrorism and civil disorder vigilance was required and there were bound to be incidents concerning which as full information as possible should be available. The Governor, therefore, some time ago, set up a special investigation group to undertake prompt inquiries into any complaints against the security forces. This has been of considerable value to the Governor and his advisers. It is clear that these reports could not be released for publication without prejudicing the usefulness of this system in the future.

After the murder in Famagusta, on 3rd October, of Mrs. Cutliffe, and the wounding of another soldier's wife, it was hoped that the assailant might he seized and identified in the neighbourhood of the crime. A round-up of the males nearby for possible identification therefore followed. In accordance with normal practice a report of the events was made to the Governor. The searching inquiries which were made have not led to the securing of any evidence to identify any particular individual or individuals of the security forces as having used an unjustified degree of force.

Coroner's inquests were held in two cases. The coroner formed the view that there appeared to have been used on some of those arrested a greater degree of force than was justifiable. The coroner also recognised the horror, disgust and anger that filled the minds and hearts of everyone on that day. Thirdly, he drew attention to the many discrepancies in the evidence of certain witnesses who alleged brutality and he said that certain witnesses seemed more anxious to inculpate the security forces than to help the court with unbiased evidence. He said that he had not sufficient evidence to enable him to conclude when or by whom the blow which led to Louca's death was struck.

In view of the very full inquiries made by the coroner and the group to which I have referred, and to the fact that none of these investigations has produced evidence to identify any particular individual or individuals as having used excessive force, I do not consider that any useful purpose would be served by holding a further inquiry now.

I should mention that there was one case in which misconduct by a particular individual has come to light—it was a case of larceny—and this man has already been tried and sentenced by court-martial.

More generally, I must repeat that even in the suppression of brutal murder the use of undue force is repugnant to the civil and military authorities in Cyprus as well as to the Government here. In any case, where there is evidence of a kind to justify the preferment of charges in respect of such misconduct action will be taken in the future as in the past. In addition, the new Director of Operations has recently seen all the commanding officers and made personal visits to the units to impress upon them the need for the utmost restraint in the use of force, however great the provocation. I feel sure that we can have full confidence both in the troops and in their commanders.

Before passing to the future, I ought perhaps to say a word about the Geunyeli incident, concerning which the Governor of Cyprus published a Report on Tuesday, 9th December, of which copies have been placed in the Library of the House. This Report is of a Commission of Inquiry conducted by the Chief Justice into an incident on 12th June, when eight Greek Cypriots met their deaths at the hands of Turkish Cypriots after they had been detained by the security forces and then released some distance from their village.

A special inquiry was held in this case because the incident occurred at a time of acute intercommunal tension and it was imperative to investigate the allegation that the security forces had intentionally contributed to the death of the unfortunate victims. The Chief Justice's Report, although he had certain criticisms to make, wholly repudiates this baseless suggestion.

I now turn to questions of general policy. After two weeks of debate on the Cyprus question the General Assembly of the United Nations has passed a short resolution in very general terms. At one time there were seven different draft resolutions before the Political Committee. Some of these would have been acceptable to us; others, we thought, pointed too much in the direction of a particular final solution.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs took the opportunity, of the debate in the United Nations, to give a full explanation of our policy. He described in detail the British plan with which the House is familiar. He also explained the lengths to which Her Majesty's Government have gone in their endeavours to reach an agreement for the holding of a conference at which the British plan could be discussed and amendments to it agreed, and at which the final solution could also be discussed. We still believe that useful progress could be made through a conference, either confined to the parties directly concerned, including, of course, Cypriot representatives, or with the assistance of others chosen by agreement.

The proceedings in the General Assembly revealed a wide measure of understanding of the complexity of the Cyprus problem and not a little sympathy for the efforts which Her Majesty's Government have made to deal with it. They also, I think, revealed some reluctance on the part of many of those not directly concerned with the problem to try to lay down the conditions on which a settlement should be sought. The resolution finally adopted avoided this and simply expressed confidence that continued efforts would be made by the parties to reach a peaceful. democratic and just solution in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. That is certainly our hope.

It is right that a little time should now be allowed for the Governments concerned to consider their position in the light of the United Nations' debate. Next week, in Paris, there is a Ministerial meeting of the North Atlantic Councii which will be attended by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have every expectation that the Foreign Ministers of Greece and Turkey will be present. No doubt advantage will be taken of this occasion for confidential discussions between those who have been principally concerned. I feel sure that this approach is the most likely to be fruitful.

As we have already made clear, we are ready to discuss with our Greek and Turkish Allies the interim arrangements for the administration of Cyprus described in my statements of 19th June and 15th August; and we are willing, as we have said, to put into effect any amendments to our announced policy on which agreement can be reached. These offers remain open and can be taken up at any time. We regretted that the Greek Government did not feel able to agree to a conference on the lines discussed in N.A.T.O. last October. But the position may now have changed. In any case, we continue to hope that in time the Greek Government will see the advantages to the Greek Cypriots and to Greece of the offers which we have made to them.

Whatever the difficulties, progress has been made in narrowing the area of dispute. For our part, we shall do our utmost to reach agreement.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

The Prime Minister has made a long and important statement, and I think that we shall wish to study it carefully, but I should like to ask him, first, a question on the earlier part of his statement. While I agree very much with many of the things that he said both about our pride in the conduct of our troops and being jealous of their honour, did he not somewhat under-estimate the strength of the comments of the coroner about the Famagusta episode? Did not the coroner speak of a degree of force that would appear to be entirely unjustified being used by security forces "? Although he very properly went on to say: One can fully understand the horror, disgust, and anger which filled the minds and hearts of everyone that day". he added: But nothing can justify the assaults on those who were not responsible for the shootings and who had done nothing to warrant such assaults. This is a difficult matter, but I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether there is not grave danger that, these remarks of the coroner having gone out throughout the whole world, there will be a misunderstanding on the part of other countries at least about the conduct of our troops if the matter is left just there? Is there not really at least a stronger case for an inquiry by the Chief Justice than there was in the other case? Is not the difficulty in the case of these private inquiries which are made that we never hear about them and, consequently. they are not much use from the point of view of refuting the allegations made about British troops?

I would, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would consider this point, because we are all of us jealous of the honour of the troops and wish to see them vindicated. We support entirely what he said. Perhaps I may defer my other questions until the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with that.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes. Of course, in the inquiry which the Governor asked the Chief Justice to hold there was a special examination of a charge which would have had, I think, very grave consequences in exacerbating intercommunal feeling in Cyprus. In these circumstances the inquiry was held, but, of course, it was not really a question of disputing the facts. It was the interpretation of the facts. I feel satisfied from what the coroner said himself as to the witnesses, as to the impossibility of finding any prima facie case against any particular person, and from the information in the Governor's possession, that no inquiry at this time could succeed in bringing any prima facie result upon which a charge could be based.

But I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, the spirit in which he has said it, and perhaps I may take the opportunity to inform the House, and, since he has referred to it, the world, of the instructions issued under the heading, "Standards of conduct" by the Director of Operations. I will read it: A correct standard of treatment towards the public is one of the first principles of internal security duties. Rough handling and bad manners towards the public are quite unnecessary, alienate feelings both here and abroad, and make our task doubly difficult. Commanders must bring home to all ranks that there is a world of difference between quick and effective action against the terrorists, and a 'bullying' attitude towards the person halted for checking or screening. The former is efficient; the latter is the very opposite. I can remember many cases in the history of the world where there have been troubles of this kind. I cannot remember any order so humane or so wise.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

I am glad that the Prime Minister read out that order. May I ask him, however, whether, in view of his reply, the refusal of the Government to have any further inquiry is really due to their satisfaction that no responsibility can be brought home to any individual in this, but that, for the rest, the Government must accept the findings of the coroner in this matter?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, I think that that is a fair comment.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

May I ask one or two questions on the wider issues of policy? May I ask, first, whether the Government, and the Foreign Secretary in particular, when they go into these private conversations in N.A.T.O., will do so with an open mind, willing to consider any possible solution which may be agreeable and acceptable to the Governments principally concerned? In that connection, may I ask what is the position in regard to the British plan? Is it, in fact, being operated in Cyprus today? Is it really necessary to adhere so rigidly to it? Would it not help matters if the Government were to say that they no longer insisted on proceeding with this plan, but were willing to make a fresh start in the whole business?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. I think that with the first part of what the right hon. Gentleman said I am in agreement. We will go into any conference with an open mind and will implement any modifications of the short-term plan that may be agreed, and we would discuss any final settlement; but I think that it would be a great error to throw everything into the melting pot again. I think that we should proceed quietly and unprovocatively to make progress with all the measures which we have proposed, as they have been amended, to try to meet all concerned; but I think that our first purpose must be the one on which he placed particular importance, and that is, to see whether we cannot revive and make effective what so very nearly did take place— a conference on the lines proposed a few weeks ago.

Photo of Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

Surely, in view of the resolution adopted by the United Nations and for which the Government voted, and of the fact that the Greek Government themselves refused to come to the conference on the footing that the plan would be discussed, and also in view of the fact that apparently the Prime Minister is anxious to bring all these people together, does he not think that the right thing to do now, in order to bring them round the table, is to send out an invitation in general terms, without insisting upon any plan at all?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

If I thought that that would lead to a settlement I would do so.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir, it has not failed. Very great progress has been made and a great deal has been done to narrow the differences. When we were discussing the possible conference there were no differences on the agenda, or on the composition, or on the chairmanship. We must remember that we agreed, after the start of the conference, that we would be quite willing to pass the chairmanship to M. Spaak. Coming from the sovereign Power, I think that that is a reasonable and rather generous suggestion.

Much to our chagrin, after we thought that everything would go through, the Greek Government, for reasons which I can understand, did not feel able, at that time, to hold a conference. Possibly, the United Nations' discussions coming forward may have influenced them. What I would like to do now is to see whether, by quiet and diplomatic methods, we can restore the situation to what it was, but I think that for me to make a public declaration now would not have that effect and might, indeed, disturb some of the progress which we have made.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

Does not the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement show the value of the coroner's inquest as part of British law and could not that estimable procedure be extended to other occupied areas, for example, East Germany or Hungary, where Russian troops are in occupation?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The right hon. Gentleman has underlined the contrast between the British method of doing things and other people's methods, and I am glad that he has done so.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us, on this side of the House at least, believe very much in this plan and also believe that it will meet increasing support in Cyprus if we stand resolutely by it? Can my right hon. Friend say whether the electoral registers are being compiled and other preparations are being made for the setting up of the representative institutions which many of us hope very much will come into being in Cyprus under the partnership plan sooner than looks like being the case at present?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

It is the intention of the Governor, supported by the Government—and I again use the phrase—to proceed quietly and unprovocatively to all the necessary administrative measures.

Photo of Mr John Hynd Mr John Hynd , Sheffield, Attercliffe

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the findings of the coroner's report, which mostly bears out what was so obvious to everybody in Cyprus at the time, and while making every allowance for the troops getting out of hand, which I can understand, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the House is not entitled to receive from him an explanation of why his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War denied that the troops had got out of hand? Did the Minister make that statement in the full knowledge of the facts or without any knowledge of the facts?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The coroner did not say that the troops got out of hand, and at no time was there any kind of breakdown of discipline. Let the House just imagine the picture. When this particularly brutal murder of the wife of a sergeant was committed, it was hoped, by a round-up, because one of the relatives thought that the man could be identified, to catch the man quickly. But, of course, a round-up of this kind in the circumstances at that time is a very difficult operation and, naturally, it is not surprising that there were some things such as were referred to by the coroner. Whether it was right to have that roundup at that time is a matter of judgment. There are other methods, not altogether unsuccessful, now being pursued by the Director of Operations, but there was never anything of the kind of a breakdown of discipline. There were certain incidents, such as can be imagined, which took place.

I should like, if I may, to add a few words to show the lack of bias and the attempt to keep absolutely fair, on the part of the authorities on the spot. I remember, and the House will remember, that not very long ago there was a good deal of criticism of a case of a corporal who was court-martialled for distributing leaflets urging strong methods of the kind which do not commend themselves to either the military authorities or the Government.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

While we agree that we have sympathy with the troops and there is no criticism of the authorities here, can it really be said that if the coroner's report is accepted by the Government and he says that wholly unjustifiable force was used, there was not, therefore, a breakdown in discipline? Otherwise, how can the right hon. Gentleman explain it?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I will place the official transcript of the coroner's remarks in the Library as soon as we have a copy. We have now only a cabled reply. What the coroner said was that there was use on some of those arrested of a degree of force which would appear to be entirely unjustified. That does not seem to me anything of the kind of an accusation of a breakdown in discipline.

Photo of Viscount  Lambton Viscount Lambton , Berwick-upon-Tweed

In the event of the Greek Government saying that they are prepared to renounce Enosis, to condemn terrorism and support or agree to Cyprus being part of the British Commonwealth in some degree or other, would we be prepared to drop the plan?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. If the Greek Government were to make those proposals we would discuss them, of course, both from the point of view of their effect on any interim arrangements and their effect on the longer future; and that would certainly be a contribution to the conference. Surely we must now try to see that we can get a discussion, which, after all, is what the United Nations have told us to do.

Mr. Dugdale:

In view of the murder of Mrs. Cutliffe and other horrifying outrages that have taken place, is it not foolhardy in the extreme not only to allow Service families to remain in Cyprus but actually permit more to go out there?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I warned the House in an earlier statement that, although we had temporarily stopped sending out families, I did not think that we could hold that position consistent with the morale of our troops, more especially when at this very time so many people seem to be willing to volunteer to go to that island. I told the House then that, of course, any family that wished to return could do so at the public expense. In one case, where there were special circumstances, advantage has been taken of that offer. But after examining the matter and getting the advice of the Secretary of State, the Service Ministers, the Minister of Defence and all those concerned, I am sure that if we are to maintain the very high state of morale of the troops it is far better to let the families go out.

Photo of Hon. Patrick Maitland Hon. Patrick Maitland , Lanark

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his refusal to be budged from the main lines of his plan for Cyprus will command widespread support outside the House, as well as inside, as will also his jealousy for the reputation of our troops and his refusal to be bamboozled into an inquiry which could lead only to another smear?

Photo of Mr Desmond Donnelly Mr Desmond Donnelly , Pembrokeshire

Can the Prime Minister say what is the position of Archbishop Makarios in relation to attending such a proposed conference as he envisages? Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about the possibility of the return of the Archbishop to the island?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I think that the more important is the first part of that supplementary question. I should rather like notice of the second part.

We made quite clear that in the conference, which, I repeat, will be between the representatives of the three Governments, there would be added to it representatives of other Governments. I think that we have agreed on two. We have agreed that M. Spaak, in his special position, should be present. We have also all agreed that representatives of the Cyprus people, whether Greek or Turkish, should be present at the conference, and they would be absolutely free to propose whom they wish. If they wished the Archbishop to represent the Greek Cypriots, then, certainly, he will be present at the conference.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

Is not the main obstacle to the holding of the conference on Cyprus the Greek fear that the British plan will lead to partition? Has not the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, at the United Nations, by turning down the Indian resolution, on the ground that it ruled out partition, made those fears even more active than they were before? Would the right hon. Gentleman not make the conference possible now by announcing that if Enosis is ruled out by the Greeks Her Majesty's Government, for their part, will declare that partition is ruled out?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

All these things will be discussed as part of the final settlement, and statements by Governments at the conference would have great weight. But I must enter this caveat. Sometimes we are urged to follow very correctly the views of the United Nations. We do our best. On this occasion almost a two-thirds majority supported our view and the whole supported the final resolution to which we are trying to conform.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

To avoid any misunderstanding, will my right hon. Friend inform British forces in Cyprus of our real sympathy with them in the difficult task which they have to carry out and tell them that the Government and the country are very much behind them in the way in which they are carrying out their duties?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir. I think that the whole tone of the House today —and I express my gratitude to the Leader of the Opposition for what he has said—shows that, though sometimes we have great differences, on this we ought to send out a message of good cheer and confidence from the whole House of Commons, Parliament and all our people.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

As the beneficial effect of the right hon. Gentleman's plan and his personal handling of the Cyprus issue seem to be so much more obvious to him and to some hon. Members opposite than to us on this side of the House, may I ask whether we can have an opportunity soon to debate the matter?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

That, no doubt. will be discussed through the usual channels.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

On the question of an inquiry, may I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not a fact that the coroner, in his findings, referred to people in hospital who had to be treated for "beatingup"? Is it not difficult to believe that there was no laxity of discipline if a number of Greeks, according to the coroner, had to be treated in hospital for "beating-up"? Is not the sort of questioning that we are now having proof of the need for a further inquiry, for there seem to be considerable differences even now? Is it not a fact that if the Prime Minister really accepts the findings of the coroner, he cannot possibly accept the version given by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I must hold to what I have said. I am quite satisfied that no further inquiry could be of practical value. I should like to recall to the House the circumstances. Some of these men were collected and some tried to break out from their control. Certain incidents, no doubt, did take place, but I have maintained and I repeat—and I hope that the House will accept it—that there was nothing of the kind that could be called a breakdown of discipline.

Photo of Mr Fenner Brockway Mr Fenner Brockway , Eton and Slough

In view of the need to encourage a peaceful atmosphere in Cyprus, will the right hon. Gentleman consider the proposal that, just as many of the curfew regulations have been withdrawn, if peace is maintained in the island there should be before Christmas a very considerable liberation of the detainees now there?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Of course, if and when, as we hope, the emergency is brought to an end, that will follow. I think that we must be careful that we do not take steps which would lead to the undoing of the gains that we have made.