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Cyprus (Constitutional Arrangements)

Volume 531: debated on Wednesday 28 July 1954

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Her Majesty's Government have decided that the time has come to take a fresh initiative in the development of self-governing institutions in Cyprus. They are convinced that, given good will, an early start can be made in associating the people of Cyprus in the fuller management of their own affairs. They wish to make it clear once again that they cannot contemplate a change of sovereignty in Cyprus.

The proposed constitutional arrangements have not yet been worked out in detail, but will be broadly as follows. In 1948 a constitution was offered which would have given a high degree of internal self-government, but, although the offer has remained open for six years, it has not been taken up by responsible and representative political leaders. Her Majesty's Government have therefore decided to wait no longer but to introduce in the near future a modified constitution providing for a legislature containing both official and nominated members—together forming a majority—and elected members and also for the appointment to the Executive Council of some unofficial members of the legislature to take charge of Departments. This will mark a first step along the road of constitutional advancement and will enable Cypriots to take a part in operating self-governing institutions and exercising responsibility both in legislation and in the executive control of administration. The Governor has been instructed to take all action necessary in preparation for the introduction of a new constitution on these lines.

British administration in Cyprus, besides bringing much prosperity to the island and safeguarding the rights of all sections of the population, has maintained and still maintains stable conditions in this vital strategic area. Her Majesty's Government are resolved Ito continue their vigorous policy of economic development in Cyprus. The efficient administration in the island, in which a large number of Cypriots play a most effective part, has brought about vast improvements in health, agriculture, communications and many other fields. Since the war great strides have been made, thanks to a stable currency linked to sterling and a sound budgetary policy. Cyprus has access to the London loan market on the favourable terms which are available to Colonial Governments. The Government's plans for economic development are estimated to cost £15½ million over the 10-year period 1946–56.

Substantial direct assistance has been given from United Kingdom funds under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts and Cyprus will receive assistance from the additional funds which Parliament will be asked to provide for colonial development and welfare. Water supplies have been piped to hundreds of villages, denuded mountains have been re-afforested, malaria has been expelled, the effects of soil erosion are being vigorously combatted, and industry has been encouraged and developed. The question of port development is at this moment being actively studied.

Her Majesty's Government fully recognise that the Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking parts of the population have close cultural links with Greece and Turkey. Without sacrifice of those traditions. Cypriots have before them the prospect of expanding opportunities in economic, social and constitutional development.

The Minister has made a very important statement and my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself will want time to consider the full implications of what he has said; I reserve our rights in that regard. I should like, however, to ask some questions.

First, have any discussions taken place in recent weeks between the new Governor and the leaders of responsible parties in Cyprus? Second, are the Government taking fully into account the possibility that this step may be rendered nugatory by a boycott in Cyprus, and has the policy been decided upon bearing that possibility fully in mind? Third, on the details of the constitution—I cannot offhand make the comparison—how do the new proposals compare with the 1948 constitution? Finally—which is important—are these steps being taken with the full intention that they shall lead eventually to full Dominion status, which means that when that status is reached Cyprus will have the right to decide its own future?

The right hon. Gentleman has asked me four questions. First, he asked whether there had been any discussions with responsible party leaders in Cyprus. Of course, the new Governor, who has been there now for some six months, has been taking every step to inform himself as to opinion in all sections of the Colony, but there have been no discussions with the leaders of the two main political parties, the Nationalists and the Communists, neither of whom have been willing so far to operate the 1948 constitution, which has been open to them.

As regards the second point, of course there is always the possibility of a boycott of any new constitution, but we must hope that enough men of good will and of moderate views will come forward and take part in the new constitution, both as nominated members and as elected members, and that this, in due course, will lead to further co-operation by the political parties.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me for certain details in regard to the new constitution. I cannot give him those because it has not been settled yet. I cannot go any further than what I have said, except that there will be a majority of nominated plus official members, although there will be provision for elected members. In the 1948 constitution, the right hon. Gentleman will remember, it was the other way round and there was a majority of elected as against official and nominated members.

The last and the most important question which the right hon. Gentleman put to me was whether in due course this would lead to self-government—I think he called it Dominion status—and the right, I take it, to opt out of the Commonwealth. Certainly this is a first step on the road to self-government and it depends on how the new scheme is operated by the parties in Cyprus as to how fast we can go along on that road. At the same time, my statement has made it quite clear that there can be no question of any change of sovereignty in Cyprus—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—no question of any change in sovereignty. That, therefore, would act as a limitation on the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman put in the last part of his question.

As I have not the details of the 1948 constitution before me—I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has them here—I asked him a question as to the comparison. I gathered from his reply that there is one important difference, that whereas before there was a provision for an elected majority, now there is not. May we ask what prompted the Government to make an important change of that kind?

It is the declared policy of both sides of the House and of the whole of this Parliament that our policy in the Colonies is to guide and assist them gradually towards self-government within the Commonwealth, and we have always declared that self-government within the Commonwealth will reach the stage at which they will be, within the meaning of the Statute of Westminster, independent and entitled at that stage to decide for themselves their future relations with the Commonwealth. Are we now to understand that, so far as Cyprus is concerned, it is not proposed that this constitutional development shall take its normal course which it has in other places, in conformity with the policy of this House?

The reason Her Majesty's Government are to put forward revised proposals for a constitution is that, when the 1948 constitution was drawn up and offered to the Consultative Assembly, the full co-operation of the main parties was presupposed, but that co-operation has not been forthcoming and they have not been willing to operate that constitution of 1948. In many other respects certain of these political leaders in Cyprus have shown that the necessary co-operation to operate such a constitution would not be forthcoming, so in fact the constitution would not work. We are therefore proposing a constitution which we hope will work.

In regard to the second part of the question, it has always been understood and agreed that there are certain territories in the Commonwealth which, owing to their particular circumstances, can never expect to be fully independent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there are some territorities which cannot expect to be that. I am not going as far as that this afternoon, but I have said that the question of the abrogation of British sovereignty cannot arise—that British sovereignty will remain.

The Minister is aware, as we are aware, that there are small territories in the Colonies to which at any given stage, so far as it is possible to foresee, the grant of Dominion status would be meaningless because of their circumstances, but what he is saying is different. If I understood him correctly, he is saying that in Cyprus it is not intended that, at the appropriate stage in her evolution, she will have conferred upon her Dominion status with all the rights that go with it, not because she is not able to do it but as a matter of policy. Is that what the Government have decided?

The Minister used these words in his statement, that this was the first step along the road towards constitutional development. It is only right that we should know exactly what he means by that. Does he really mean, whether it is a long step or a finicky step, that this will lead to full self-government by the people of Cyprus? If he does not mean that, then what meaning does he or the Government attach to the words used by the Prime Minister and the President of the United States recently with regard to the self-government of peoples?

I have made it quite clear that this is a first step towards self-government, but it depends on the way in which it is operated by the people of Cyprus as to how rapidly we can move along that path. I have also said that the question of sovereignty does not arise. In regard to the declaration made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of the United States recently, it was made perfectly clear in that statement that independence should be given to those peoples who desire, and are capable of sustaining, an independent existence. What is now proposed in regard to Cyprus entirely conforms with that provision.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that in the new constitution there will be sufficient safeguards to prevent its subversion by Communist minorities in the interests of a Communist régime in that country?

That is certainly our intention. Of course, there is a Communist Party in Cyprus and it is probably the biggest and the best organised. While we want to establish a legislature, it certainly would not be in the interests of anybody to do so in a form in which it would be Communist-dominated. As we made clear in British Guiana, we are not prepared to tolerate the establishment of Communist régimes in British Colonies.

In the first instance, may I ask you, Sir, to appreciate the fact that we have just had an exceedingly important statement—once more made immediately before the House rises; that the statement itself will be fiercely resented by the population of Cyprus; that it follows closely on the heels of the statement made by the Foreign Secretary; that we are leaving Egypt directly as a consequence of the fact that we are not welcome there and that we cannot stay amidst a hostile population; that we are, in fact, establishing the Middle East Command in the middle of a hostile population, made more hostile by the extraordinarily unfortunate language used this afternoon—

I am asking a series of questions, Sir. Is it not a fact that this is the case, and that when he made his statement the right hon. Gentleman flatly contradicted himself, because it has always been understood that self-government—

On a point of order. In view of your Ruling earlier this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, that the object of a supplementary question should be to elicit information, is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to make statements at great length which are in any case highly inaccurate and tendentious?

Is it not a fact that, unless the matter is cleared up today, there will be immediate repercussions in Cyprus? That is why I am asking the question—how does the right hon. Gentleman interpret the Statute of Westminster except as the right to contract in or to contract out of the Commonwealth? That is precisely what sovereign rights mean. Is it not, therefore, the fact that, if Cyprus is not to be permitted at any time full sovereignty, that is a denial of complete self-government by Cyprus? How, therefore, does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile all those considerations, and is this not a most unfortunate statement to make at this time?

I made it perfectly clear in my original reply that, as far as this particular territory is concerned, the question of sovereignty does not arise. I also said to the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) just now that we are all agreed that certain territories have to be dealt with in particular ways, and that it is not possible to treat every British Colonial Territory in exactly the same way. In referring to the Egyptian negotiations, the right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that Cyprus is British territory, whereas the position in Egypt is that we are dealing with the presence of a force there under treaty rights. I do not see any reason to expect any difficulties in Cyprus as a result of this statement, and I would only add that I think it is the considered view of Her Majesty's Government that nothing less than continued sovereignty over this island can enable Britain to carry out her strategic obligations to Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,

"The making of a highly ambiguous statement by the Government about the future of Cyprus which can only add confusion at a moment just before we rise for the Summer Recess, and at a time when there can be no possibility of further clarification."

You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that you will not accept my hon. Friend's Motion under the Standing Order, but, in order that we may be able the better to judge, I wish to ask the Minister a question. We have not yet heard from the right hon. Gentleman when the new constitution is to come into operation. Are we to understand, therefore, that the Government do not propose to implement this policy until the House resumes? If it is the Government's intention to implement it before the House resumes, does that not affect any Ruling which you, Sir, may give on the question of Standing Order No. 9?

I took the position to be that this was a preliminary statement for the introduction of a new constitution. No one knows whether it will be worked or adopted. It is not by any means urgent as yet. We have plenty of time to discuss it when we come back.

If it is the case that it is not urgent, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, why in his preliminary paragraph the Minister said that the Government had decided that they could wait no longer? Why make a statement of that sort today? Does not the fact that the Minister made a statement to the effect that the Government can wait no longer indicate that it is urgent? It is definitely and certainly a highly controversial matter of public importance, because the Minister has made things far worse than they were before.

The mere fact that a Minister makes a statement does not make the matter urgent within the Standing Order. The hon. Member himself said that the preliminary paragraph was an ambiguous statement. It is a very general statement, and nothing in it brings it within the Standing Order.

On a point of Order. Surely, Mr. Speaker, if the Minister chose this afternoon to make the statement, and if you gave him permission to do so, it was because the matter was urgent and so that he could make it before the House rose, otherwise you, Sir, would not have allowed it and he would not have made the statement. Surely, it must be urgent to get this matter clarified before the House rises. As the consultations which the right hon. Gentleman described are to take place before the House meets again, it will be too late when we return in October to have any influence on whatever the Government do, because the preliminary steps prescribed will have been taken.

There are degrees of urgency. Because it is proper to make a statement before the House rises, that does not necessarily bring it within the Standing Order. On the statement, I have formed the definite view that nothing will happen until the House comes back, and it is my view, alas, which matters. I do not think it urgent in the sense of Standing Order No. 9, and I cannot add anything to what I have said.

I appreciate your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but may I put a question to the Minister? Can he tell us when it is proposed to introduce the new constitution?

These negotiations and discussions are bound to take time, and my own impression is that it will be some months before the new constitution can be introduced. But the Governor will be getting to work on it and making his plans at once. He will be going forward during the summer. I am afraid that I cannot give any definite date.

Can we have an assurance from the Minister that no irrevocable step will be taken in this matter before the House resumes in October?

I am certainly willing to give that assurance, but, in the meantime, I would not want operations to be held up. The new constitution will be drawn up, and I hope that we shall be in a position to lay it before the House in the form of a White Paper, or otherwise, when the House reassembles.

Is the hon. Member still wishing to discuss the submission made under Standing Order No. 9?

What I want to discuss, Mr. Speaker, is something which arises out of the Minister's last two answers, because he has made it perfectly clear that a constitution is actually to be drawn up between now and when we meet again in October. Although the constitution may not be put into force, it will very probably be brought to this House in such a form that we cannot then materially alter it. Does not that, Mr. Speaker, make it an urgent matter for discussion before we rise?

It is quite clear that there is nothing which brings it within the Standing Order. That is the only matter with which I am concerned, and I would call the attention of the House to the hour.

On a point of order. This statement is so important, and, in our view, so outrageous and hypocritical that some of us intend to initiate a debate on it on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Is not the use of the word "hypocritical" an unparliamentary word, Mr. Speaker, and should it not be withdrawn?

I think that to imply that an hon. Member of this House is a hypocrite is distinctly out of order, if that was the intention of the hon. Member. The hon. Member should, I think, refrain from using language of that sort.

I am perfectly willing to withdraw the word, but may I say how deplorable it is that the hon. Member opposite should be unconscious of the hypocritical nature of the statement.

May I make a respectful submission to you in respect of your Ruling just now, Mr. Speaker? It is, of course, correct that a statement has been made, and if the negotiations are to continue, there is no urgency. The Minister, when he made his statement, did refer to a number of conditions which are to be precedent to the new constitution. They change the nature of the previous undertaking in order to provide a majority of nominated members as against elected members, and the statement was made that in no circumstances can Cyprus look forward to full self-government.

These are two statements of the utmost urgency, and they are to govern the discussions with the Governor and those with whom he is to discuss the constitution. May I respectfully suggest that they are statements of such very great importance that, even if Standing Order No. 9 cannot be invoked, it is impossible to allow the Government to obtain the Consolidated Fund Bill without having a debate upon them?