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Cyprus (Cost Of Living)

Volume 393: debated on Wednesday 3 November 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will inform the House about the one day protest strike in Cyprus on 25th October against the failure of the Government to take effective steps to check the rise in tire cost of living; whether the trade union leaders of the protest, who were arrested under an old decree, have been released; and what steps have been taken to meet the grievance?

As the reply is necessarily long, I am circulating a statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am, however, glad to say, that, as a result of the measures to which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs referred on 13th October, the cost of living index had fallen by 47 points by the beginning of October.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the keen feeling in Cyprus about the rise in the cost of living, which has not been adequately checked, and that large numbers of them consider this protest was justifiable? The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not replied to the point in my Question about the release of those who have been in prison because of making a publicly justified protest.

On a matter of this kind, it is obviously not fair to attempt to deal with it piecemeal. Therefore, the statement must necessarily be long, and I am circulating it in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and this point will be covered.

Following is the statement:

On 24th October meetings were held in Nicosia, Limassol and Larnaca by the trade unions, supported by the Cyprus Working People's Party know as Akel, when it was decided to call a 24-hours' strike as a protest against the cost of living. The strike was to be confined in the case of men employed on essential works to a 15 minutes' halt. Shops were to be closed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The strike, which was described by the unions as a general strike, took place on the following day, but it was in effect confined to urban areas and shopkeepers of the towns of Nicosia, Limassol, Famagusta and Larnaca. In these towns the response was only partial and other areas generally were unaffected. Following the meetings on 24th October, processions were organised for which no permission was sought. It is illegal in Cyprus under legislation enacted in 1932 for any public procession (except for certain special purposes, i.e., circumcisions, marriages and funerals) to be held without a permit. In Nicosia a procession of about 2,000 persons, although warned by the police, marched to the main square, breaking a police cordon en route. Here the crowd was addressed by one of the leaders, who threatened more serious action if the Government failed to take steps to reduce the cost of living. Thereafter the crowd was persuaded by the police to disperse. There was no disorder and no actual force was used by the police. Subsequently eight of the leaders were arrested and charged with organising and taking part in an illegal procession. All pleaded guilty. Five were released with a caution. One was fined £10. Two who had previous convictions, including one conviction in each case for seditious conspiracy, were sentenced to six months' imprisonment. Similar processions were held in Limassol and Larnaca. They were orderly and the police did not attempt to break them up. The leaders in Larnaca, sixteen in number, were prosecuted, and fines ranging from 21s. to 60s, were imposed. Summonses against the leaders in Limassol are due for hearing on 4th November.

Certain shopkeepers in Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol, Famagusta and Polis who stock essential goods are being prosecuted for closing for periods varying from 4 to 24 hours on 25th October in breach of the conditions of their licences. Twenty-four cases have already been heard and penalties imposed ranging from cautions to fines of varying amounts between 15s. and £12. Other cases are pending.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs made a general statement on the measures being taken by the Cyrus Government to reduce and control the cost of living in reply to a Question by the hon. Member on 13th October. He explained that the cost of living index figure has, if clothing is left out of account, remained for some time at about 100 per cent. above pre-war level and that wages have on the average risen proportionately. Including clothing the index stood on 1st September at 178 per cent. above pre-war level, but, mainly as a result of the special steps taken in regard to clothing, this figure fell by 47 points during September.

I would again emphasise that wages for unskilled labour have risen in Cyprus from an average of 1s. 8 piastres a day for a 56-hour week to an average of 4s. a day for a 48-hour week; and for skilled labour the corresponding figures are 2s. 8 piastres and 6s.; but wages for skilled labour vary considerably in different trades.