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Cyprus (Future)

Volume 530: debated on Friday 23 July 1954

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

3.58 p.m.

I wish to raise the question of the future of Cyprus. Over four-fifths of the 500,000 population of that island, in fact 80·2 per cent., at present speak Greek, belong to the Greek Orthodox Church and think of themselves as Greeks. Those are three very strong facts which lie at the basis of the islanders' growing Greek national feeling. It is very difficult to find any argument anything like as strong on the other side to suggest that the islanders are not Greek in feeling. The case against the union of the island with Greece has been stated many times, but in a very diffuse way. Practically all the arguments against union ignore the three basic facts which I have mentioned.

I was very interested to see a letter from Sir Harold Nicolson on 15th July in "The Times," in which he said:
"There are several arguments against the union of Cyprus with Greece. Even when tied tightly together they make a sorry little bundle; taken separately they snap at once."
The most common argument advanced against union is that Cyprus has not belonged to Greece in recent years and therefore cannot be considered to be Greek. That argument has been advanced in this House and in another place quite frequently. It is wholly irrelevant and ignores the fact that for centuries Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire and was only recognised as an independent country in 1832. It is impossible, therefore, for any territory to have belonged to Greece in recent years. In fact, the nucleus of the Greek State when it became independent was in the Peloponnesus and the land to the north of it, and that territory has been added to, bit by bit, until now—

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

practically all the Greek-speaking territories round about have become part of the Greek State, with the one important exception of Cyprus. To go through the history of these various territories, the Ionian Islands were joined to Greece in 1863, Thessaly in 1881, Crete and Macedonia in 1913, West Thrace in 1920, and the Dodecanese in 1945.

None of these territories belonged to Greece or could have belonged to Greece before they were added to the Greek Kingdom. One could have said that none of the territories had belonged recently to Greece before they were added to Greece and could have used that as an argument against their being added. That argument would have been irrelevant then, and it is equally irrelevant today in the case of Cyprus. The argument is invalid, and no one would use it if they had any knowledge of recent Greek history. The fact that the argument is used so widely shows the weakness of the case against the union of Cyprus with Greece.

The second argument is that although the Cypriots may speak Greek they are not really Greeks. Recent historical research has shown, however, that Cyprus was settled by the Achæan Greeks in the Mycenæn Age, as long ago as 1400 B.C., some centuries before the sack of Troy and many centuries before the birth of Homer. The Greeks settled in Cyprus before they did in much of the present Greek mainland, and the present dialect in Cyprus still has traces of its archaic Achæan origin. The fact is that Cyprus has been Greek for 3,300 years, a far longer time than this island has been English or English-speaking.

It is true that the city States in Cyprus originally had one or two Phoenician city States among them, but they were absorbed early and became Greek. A case can be made out to the effect that for the whole of the period since then Cyprus has been predominantly Greek in language and culture.

Let us take the history of the island, which some people like to rake up nowadays. The city States passed under the rule of Alexander, the Ptolemies, Rome and the Byzantine Empire in turn, but during that period the administration was Greek and the culture of the island was Greek. A break took place—if there was a break—when our Richard Cœur de Lion seized the island in 1191 and handed it over to the Crusaders. The Crusader followed by the Venetian rule lasted until 1570. There is no trace in the island of this Latin rule, apart from the architecture. From 1570 to 1878 there was Turkish rule, and this left a Turkish minority. Then the island passed under British rule.

It is significant that when the British took over the administration of the island, the Governor was asked to inquire whether the higher education to be organised in the island should be carried out in English or Greek, and he made a strong report saying that it should be carried out in Greek because even after the island's many adventures it still happened that when the British took the island over its culture and language were predominantly Greek. The Governor recommended that the higher education should be carried on in Greek, and that has been done to this day. These facts show that through its long history the island has been predominantly Greek in culture and language.

The Turkish minority in the island is advanced as a reason for not giving the island to Greece. The Turkish minority is fairly small, being about 17·8 of the population. It is very undemocratic to argue that the 17·8 of the population should be able to veto what the 80 per cent. of the population want to do, particularly when one considers what happened just across the sea in Hatay, formerly known as the Sanjak of Alexandretta, at the point where Syria and Turkey join each other. That territory was incorporated in Syria by the French in 1920. Their earliest census showed that 60 per cent. of the population were Turkish and 40 per cent. were Arab.

The Turks started an agitation for the cession of the territory to Turkey, and ultimately in 1939 the French gave way and handed it over to Turkey. All the way through the argument the Turks advanced the view that the majority ought to have their say, and did not take the view that the 40 per cent. of Arabs should be entitled to have a veto upon the wishes of the majority. If a majority of 60 per cent. were allowed to have their say in that case, I cannot believe that a case can be made out for a 17·8 per cent. minority in Cyprus having a veto over what the majority there want to do.

I agree, however, in view of what has happened in the past, that the Turkish minority have every right to be very seriously concerned as to what their position would be if the island was transferred to Greece, particularly in view of what has happened between these two peoples in the past.

In the case of Crete, which had a similar Turkish minority, when that passed under Greek rule, the whole Turkish minority migrated to the Turkish mainland. None of us want to see the Turkish minority in Cyprus being forced to migrate to Turkey, but if they want to go back to the mainland in Asia Minor there is plenty of room for them.

A much happier thought for the future is provided if we look at the situation of the minority of Turks in Western Thrace and of Greeks in Constantinople who were left behind when the exchange of population took place after the first World War; these minorities were given guarantees by both parties that their religion, schools and cultural life would be respected. I do not see why similar guarantees should not be given to the Turks in Cyprus, and, if necessary, not only by the two countries concerned, but that an international guarantee should also be given. I think that problem should be approached on those lines, which offers a solution fair both to the Turkish minority and the rest of the population.

There has been a large migration from Cyprus to this country in recent years, which has prevented a decline in the relevant size of the Turkish minority. This would have otherwise happened owing to a higher birthrate among the Greeks. I am told that there are now about 25,000 Greek Cypriots living in this country, where there were about 7,000 before the war, and there is no doubt that many of these have come in during very recent times.

To take another argument against the cession of Cyprus to Greece, it is said that Cyprus is much more prosperous under British rule than it could ever possibly be under Greek rule. I think that up to 1914, we could not claim that our rule in Cyprus was particularly good, from the point of view of the inhabitants there, but we can claim that in recent years we have done a very good job of work in combating malaria, in making advances in the social services and in the developments in afforestation, etc. In these directions a very good job has been done, but I do not think that that is an argument that Cypriots would feel was a strong one against transferring the country to Greece. It is the fact that nationally minded people would prefer to be governed by their own people who may make mistakes than be governed well by people who they considered to be foreigners. Although we have done a good job of work in Cyprus, I do not see that this is a serious argument for not making a change.

Then there is the important point about the bases we are now holding in Cyprus. The argument is that these are of greater importance now that the Suez Canal bases are likely to be evacuated and it is all the more important that Cyprus should remain in British possession. I advance the point that if the Suez Canal is to be evacuated one of the reasons will be that it is undesirable to hold bases in a country against the active hostility of the inhabitants, and that there is a danger of our finding the bases we have in Cyprus largely valueless if the population round about them becomes actively hostile to us. In a fairly small island such hostilities would be damaging and serious.

I cannot see why our bases should not remain in the island while possession of the island is transferred to Greece. After all, there are American bases in this country, in Newfoundland and in many West Indian Islands. The Americans, however, do not interfere in the political running of the countries where they have these bases. If any argreement is made for the transfer of the island to Greece, I suggest that an arrangement be made to retain the bases we require there.

Is it not a fact that Greece has already given an assurance in advance that should discussions take place for the transfer of Cyprus she would give bases to Britain or to N.A.T.O. if that were required?

I understand that that is so. I go further, however, and suggest that the Greeks might be asked to give us bases elsewhere, in Crete, Rhodes or the Peloponnesus or elsewhere in return for our cession of Cyprus. I am not an expert in defence matters, but there should be advantages in having our bases distributed over the Eastern Mediterranean. If such further bases were provided it would strengthen the general defence of the West in that part of the world.

Another argument seriously advanced is that Great Britain cannot cede Cyprus to Greece because the British Government cannot admit the right of a foreign country to discuss what shall be done with British territory. I cannot see what is gained by adopting such a juridical line of argument. We have just been discussing with the Soviet Union and China the internal affairs of Indo-China. We are prepared to discuss all sorts of issues with countries with which we are in a state of cold war; why not be prepared to discuss with our friends the Greeks, what they want to discuss with us? The Greek point of view is that there is British occupation of Greek national territory.

I regret that some years ago, when a constitution was offered to Cyprus, it was not taken up. There was a time when Home Rule for Ireland was first discussed, and when Gladstone had a discussion with Parnell on the future of Ireland.

It would be very silly to discuss with Irish leaders today proposals which it might have been very practical for Parnell and Gladstone to discuss. It is not practical politics to discuss some kind of self-government for Cyprus within the Commonwealth when opinion in Cyprus has moved far beyond that stage. I very much regret that the Cypriots did not take advantage of the first offer made to them. I am sure that if they had accepted it they would be nearer union with Greece today than they are.

I now wish to raise one or two general points. We ought first to remember the Ionian Islands. These islands were taken by Britain after the Napoleonic wars as bases for Britain in the Eastern Mediterranean. The people of these islands developed a desire for union with Greece, and very wisely, in my view, the islands were handed over in 1863. There was strong opposition at that time, particularly by Disraeli, who took the view soon after the Crimean war that these bases should be retained in order to counter Russia. Palmerston, however, took the view that it was more important to strengthen Greece than to keep the islands in British possession.

I think that we should look at the question of Cyprus in the same way that Palmerston looked at the Ionian Islands in the middle of the last century. The alternative before us is either to stay in the island too long and thus destroy the value of the bases that we have there through having the Cypriots against us, or to hand over Cyprus to Greece and thus strengthen our relations with that country. If we do not take action soon, we shall diminish the friendly feeling that there is for us in Cyprus and Greece at the moment, and we shall strengthen Communist influence in Greece and Cyprus, because it will enable Communists to exploit nationalist feeling on the matter

On the other hand, by handing over Cyprus to Greece we shall strengthen our ties with Greece, and we might well, I suggest, get further bases on Greek territory which might be of value to us. We should certainly make the bases which we have in Cyprus much safer through them being surrounded by a friendly population. Would it not be very much wiser to follow the lead which we have already given in India and Ceylon? By the action which we took in those countries a few years ago we have made many friends there.

Let us compare out attitude with that of the French, and the result of French action in trying to remain too long in Indo-China. We have seen the result of that policy, and we do not want to make the same mistake in Cyprus. Now is the time to take action. Let us take the right action

4.19 p.m.

It is always distasteful when old and valued friends who have stood by each other in good times and bad, have a dispute. That is the position in which Great Britain and Greece find themselves over Cyprus. I do not think that anyone would accuse me of being unfriendly to a nation whose country I know well and whose people I love.

I wish to answer one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), because I think that the other side of the picture should be stated. First of all, there is no analogy whatever between the position in Cyprus and that in the Canal Zone. In the latter case we have treaty rights which come up for review in 1956. In the former case, Cyprus is a British possession, and we are proud of it. Cyprus, in its time, has belonged to many different peoples. It has been under the rule of the Crusaders, the Phoenicians and the Turks, but never of the Greeks. Its language is certainly Greek, but then, of course, Greek was the language of the Levant.

A very important point of principle is involved, and one over which the hon. Member for Dagenham appeared to skate. I do not think that any British Government could conceivably discuss with the Greek Government the immediate transfer of Cyprus. I would be very surprised if either this or any future Government would consider that. Her Majesty's Government have many times made their position in that respect quite plain.

There is another important principle involved in any constitutional advance. The Greeks say, "Do not let us discuss a change of sovereignty now; let us discuss the future constitution of the island." The principle is that the constitution of a British Crown Colony is purely a domestic concern, just as much as, for example, the question of whether or not the Church of Wales should be disestablished, or how many Northern Ireland Members should sit in this House.

For that reason the late Government, and the present Government have always denied the competence of U.N.O. to discuss colonial matters. If the Greeks pursue this matter through U.N.O. the only effect will be that they will find themselves in rather unusual company. No one would be sorrier to see them in that company than we.

A proposal has been widely canvassed that there should be some sort of constitutional offer followed by a plebiscite. We do not like plebiscites in our Crown Colonies. We have had some experience of them in Cyprus, because the church organised one in 1951. The result was about 98 per cent. in favour of Enosis. That was not surprising when one considers the influence of the priests, who told their flock that, unless they voted for Enosis, they would not be buried when they died, nor would their children be baptised when they were born. To talk of a secret plebiscite with the elimination of church influence is an impossibility. It is like talking of a General Election in this country with the elimination of all Press influence on either side.

I hope very much that a new constitutional offer will be made, that wisdom will prevail in Cyprus, and that the Cypriots will accept it. If any constitutional offer made is to be boycotted by the protagonists of Enosis because the offer does not go far enough, one is bound to go back to direct government. There is no other alternative.

The time is overdue for the British case to be stated. One wonders whether the Cypriots really understand the issues involved? Do they realise that Enosis would mean transfer from the sterling area, the liability to call up for service with the Greek army, and the loss of their British passports? The trouble in Cyprus is largely due to the fact that our case has not yet properly been deployed.

4.24 p.m.

Perhaps the House will excuse me if I begin on a somewhat personal note by referring to the similarity in the names of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and myself. Some years ago, the hon. Member was arguing a case about Newfoundland—in which he, like I, had a certain interest—and confusion arose because of that similarity. If the Press abroad or at home take an interest in reporting our proceedings I hope that we shall not find such confusion arising in any report made of this debate. I hope that the reports will not associate me in any way with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. Speaking from memory, I think that in the Newfoundland case he used to say that the minorities' views against closer association with Canada should be upheld in this House.

I am glad to hear it, but that was certainly the impression I got from some of his remarks. I hope that the embarrassment caused to me on that occasion will not arise again. When the hon. Member raised this matter in the House he wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and said that he hoped that the Foreign Office would answer this debate. Therefore, I am here to answer the debate on behalf of the Foreign Office.

I am sorry that the hon. Member has apparently been muddled in his view of the relative responsibility of the Foreign Office and of the Colonial Office because practically none of the points which he has raised come within the sphere of activities of the Foreign Office. We have, of course, in the Foreign Office, responsibility for one aspect of what has to be looked at and taken care of, as I shall come to in a few moments.

The main responsibility, however, for what goes on in Cyprus is that of the Colonial Office and of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I shall, of course, pass on to the Colonial Secretary the remarks which have been made in the course of this debate. I happen to know that my right hon. Friend is at present most actively engaged in a study of the questions raised. As I say, they are outside the sphere of the Foreign Office, and I will pass them on to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

If I may, I will turn to the somewhat narrow but very important points which are the concern of the Foreign Office—the concern in both senses of the ward. They have an effect not only on Anglo-Greek relations but on Anglo-Turkish relations and to a certain extent on relations with the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, of which the three of us are members.

First, I would say that all of us who enjoyed or, even if we did not, endured a classical education, have the most sincere friendship for Greece and our Greek friends. We all know what they have done for civilisation and freedom, particularly in the last war; indeed, many of us in this House know something of it. Therefore, we regret all the more any distress which any words in this House may cause. On the other hand, the Government must disclaim any responsibility for what is said here because we have never had any doubt about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government or His Majesty's Government previously, a point to which I shall come in a few moments.

Whatever Administration has been in office, the attitude of the Government of this country has always been made clear. Such continued agitation can bring no comfort to any one but the Communists—there are a few in Cyprus, may be not so many as some believe, but there are certainly some—and others who wish to disrupt the good feeling and loyal cooperation between all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United Nations.

The hon. Member for Dagenham made a point—as I understood it—about the United Nations. But as I, speaking last Monday, said, with the full authority of Her Majesty's Government:
"Under Article 2 (7) of the Charter the United Nations have no powers to discuss a question which lies entirely within the domestic jurisdiction of a member Government. Her Majesty's Government hold that the status of Cyprus is such a question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1954; Vol. 530, c. 973.]
My joint colleague returned to this point last Wednesday, when he also underlined this attitude of Her Majesty's Government. I believe that there is no reason for anyone in any part of the House to have doubt about this point.

The Minister of State, on 12th May, said:
"We cannot agree that any foreign Government, however friendly, can assume the right to be consulted about the future status of one of Her Majesty's present possessions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1954; Vol. 527, c. 1232.]
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who was Secretary of State for the Colonies in the previous Administration, said, on 28th April, 1954:
"may I make it clear that it has been laid down by successive Governments that the degree of self-government granted to Colonial Territories is a matter for Her Majesty's Government and for our Parliament."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 1595.]
I think that no doubt can be left anywhere about the continuing interest of Her Majesty's Government in the welfare of Cyprus and its future, and I trust that we shall hear no more of this agitation. I am sure that all will realise that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies completes his study his conclusions will be of the greatest benefit to Cyprus and to all its inhabitants—

The Question having been proposed at Four o'Clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Four o'Clock.