HC Deb 04 December 1916 vol 88 cc778-88

I wish to raise again the question of Greece, but I am by no means sure to whom I am addressing myself, seeing no representative of the Foreign Office present, although the Foreign Office had ample notice of my intention. Again and again this question has been raised, and it would appear to me, from the manner of the Foreign Office in dealing with this question, that it is really immaterial whether or not they be represented on the Treasury Bench. While* we are enjoying this rest from our labours, or this little political revolution, or solution of continuity, or whatever it may be called, affairs in Greece are going from bad to worse. They are drifting. I once before remarked in reference to this Government that I had known instances of a Government drifting to defeat, but I had never yet known one drift to victory. Whenever I have touched upon this question I have been forcibly impressed above all by the fact that, whether you take the diplomatic service, or the military service, or the general direction of affairs, one never seems able to come in contact with what might be called the engineering type of mind. That is the type of mind of one who sees a problem before him, no matter of what magnitude, who takes the necessary steps to carry out the work of solving that practical problem, and, having formed his plan and having seen it before his eyes in a regular, consecutive, concatenated manner, proceeds at the beginning to execute it and so, from the very first, to make sure that he will terminate the work. Instead of that, we find the lawyer type of mind, of which the first instinct seems to be to put off till tomorrow or throw dust in the eyes of those who are criticising his action. If any man responsible for this business had that engineering type of mind, he would, from the great problem of the Balkan campaign, step by step be led to consider that the crux of it was the Grecian question, and he would tackle it with all the renewed impetus derived from the knowledge of the importance of the great issues that had been raised. Instead of that we have hesitations, delays, counter orders, and all the marks of weak and incapable men; never once clear vision and bold decision.

Let us consider what is actually happening in Greece for the moment. The reports which we get from the newspapers, exciting and alarming as they are, are nothing to the reality. Greece is evidently in a state of the utmost effervescence. The parties are sharply divided among themselves. Hostility and animosity has grown up, leading to resistance on the part of the enemies of the Allies. Supporters of M. Venizelos are imprisoned without trial, adherents of M. Venizelos are being thrown into prison and otherwise persecuted, and in the country districts, where the Royalist party remains supreme, the utmost pressure and persecution is being exercised against those inhabitants who are friendly to the Allied cause. Let me give one example to show how opinion may be manufactured. The Mayor of Colyndro is a Venizelist partisan. Pressure, that is to say real menace, has been brought to bear upon that man, so that he has been forced to sign a document in favour of the Reservist party. Multiply that by 10,000, and you will have an idea of what is going on now in Greece, and the manner1 in which public opinion is being manufactured. That instance will also enable me to account for a certain discrepancy between statements I myself have made, agreeing with the general opinion running throughout the whole of this country, and the statements of the noble Lord who represents the Foreign Office, namely, that M. Venizelos himself is not in favour of a change, for instance, in the Government of Greece, say a change in the supreme head. M. Venizelos may be forced to take that attitude by the same sort of pressure as that exercised on the Mayor of Colyndro, who, being a Venizelist, declares himself to be an adherent of the Reservist party. That pressure may be exercised on M. Venizelos, I do not say publicly, but behind the scenes, so that when ultimately he is forced to make a public declaration, it comes out in a certain form as if to indicate that he is in favour of preserving the present regime in Greece.

I go further than that. It has been suggested, and even declared, that in this matter the hands of this country are tied because other Allies are in favour of retaining the present regime, and the Republic of France has been mentioned, as if the very mention of that fact would not make its absurdity leap to the eyes— that the Republic, possessing no kind of attachés with the Royalist regime, and being by its spirit and inclination opposed to tyranny, insists on maintaining King Constantine. While it is quite consistent to say that in council the Republic of France is in complete accord with the Allies, because behind the scenes, and in in a most unwarrantable manner, persuasions, or interferences, have been brought to bear upon the minds of French statesmen in order beforehand to mould their opinion in what they believe to be agreement with the reigning opinion of this country. The nature of that interference I cannot describe, because that would be out of order, and in order to discuss the whole matter it would be necessary for me to bring forward a substantive Motion. If this situation continues I will not hesitate to take that course. I will bring forward a substantive Motion, and I will tear the last veils which hide this matter from the eyes of the public.

The situation is going from bad to worse while we are resting from our labours. What is to be done? The problem, which at the beginning was a fairly small one in which all the chances were in favour of the Allies, has been converted into one of great complexity and great magnitude, in which all the chances are turning against the Allies. They have interfered with indecision, they have interfered too late; they have interfered without sufficient means of supporting that interference, and they have sustained in Athens itself, and before the eyes of the Greek people, a reverse unfortunately associated with much bloodshed, and one which will cause still deeper feelings of resentment and hatred between the opposing parties.

Once they determined to interfere they should have interfered with a force not only sufficient to carry out their will, but to make even the most fervid of the Reservists disinclined to oppose them. Instead of that they gave notice to their enemies. They encouraged their enemies by their own timid and hesitating councils and their weak actions until now the problem is a hundred times more difficult than it would have been a few weeks ago. I believe I can say from my own knowledge that if General Sarrail, who is often attacked, and against whom insinuations are insidiously spread but who has proved himself to be one of the most capable French Generals—if he had months ago been given a thoroughly free hand, not only would he have dealt adequately with this Grecian situation, but it would have seemed to be a matter of very trifling importance, instead of looming up as a serious situation which is menacing the whole of the fortunes of this War. I will affirm again and again in spite of all contradiction, because the evidence remains stamped on the very nature of the transactions, that the whole of the resistance has been due to the desire to uphold the Greek dynasty. I will not labour this further to-night.

Again and again the Allies have had chances presented to them which to all of us seemed to be opening up the path of victory. Again and again they have thrown away those chances. They have behaved like the spoilt children of victory. But the Sibylline leaves presented again and again became dearer each time. They will not be presented for ever and in the end the spoilt children of victory will become the spoilt children of defeat. Even now destiny seems to be writing the main decisions of this War. That handwriting is appearing in the scrolls of Fate. The Adamantine Gates are closing; the great decisions of campaigns are often taken long before those campaigns are actually terminated. Now is not the time for weak counsels, for cowardice, for mean ideas, for lack of energy, for indecision, for all those vices which seem to have been stamped upon the Foreign Office since the inception of this War, but rather once and for all, if a miracle can bring them forth, for bold and masculine qualities of energy, of power, for golden deeds, for feats which blaze in the eye of time, and remain immortal in the history of the world.


I agree with my hon. Friend that it matters very little to this House whether the Foreign Office is represented on that Bench or not. A week or ten days ago this question was raised by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ellis Griffith), and the Foreign Office was represented and gave us a succession of pledges that the followers and supporters of M. Venizelos would be rigorously and effectively protected. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Office did on that occasion, and in reply to repeated questions, give us the most solemn pledges that efficient steps would be taken to protect M. Venizelos' friends, and in to-day's "Times" there is a letter from Professor Burroughes containing a telegram from M. Venizelos, in which he says that nothing has been done to protect his friends, and that they are now exposed to systematic terrorism and are prevented from joining the National Army. The history of this Greek matter has been a history of blunders perfectly unparalleled, I think, in civilised lands. A full year ago this country had a clear treaty right to intervene in Greece, and she landed at Salonika at the invitation of the lawful Government. If she had not been invited by the Government, of course her landing in Salonika would have been on a parallel with the action of the Germans in Belgium. The only justification for our ever having set foot upon the soil of Greece was the invitation of the lawful Government of Greece. When that took place, and when the King of Greece broke the constitution of his country and swept it away, and when, by the recent election we were entitled to appear in Greece, invited by the lawful Government, and as the protectors of the majority of the Greek people who recorded their votes at the poll and by a great majority returned M. Venizelos to power—the treaty of guarantee of the three protecting Powers, guaranteed to Greece a constitutional monarchy and did not guarantee the present dynasty—we had a clear right to come in as the protectors of the Greek people and to see that their voice, constitutionally expressed at the poll, was carried out.

Instead of that we stood idly by. We defied the orders of the King, who invited us to quit. We refused to quit, but we stood idly by while this man for a whole year spent millions of German money in organising a system of terrorism and intimidation against our friends in Greece, and endeavoured to overcome the voice of the majority of the Greek people. A year ago we had a clear right. A year ago our intervention would have been effective, and by this time we should have had the whole Greek nation at our backs, and could have used Greece as an efficient base for our operations in Macedonia, and in attacking Bulgaria, but we have allowed all that time to pass, and now look at the position in which we are. We marched on Athens the other day, having in this House, since these unconstitutional actions, persisted in recognising the King of Greece as the lawful sovereign of that country. We then served him with notice that he must deliver up his artillery. What right had we to serve that notice? We have deliberately and elaborately put ourselves in the wrong, and having put ourselves in the wrong, we deliver an ultimatum to the King of Greece that if he does not hand over ten batteries of artillery by 1st December we will make? him do it. Then what do we do? We advance on Athens on this buccaneering expedition, having put ourselves in the wrong, and we advance in such force that we meet with a most humiliating and disastrous reverse. Could human folly go any further than that? Can hon. Members not picture to themselves the ruinous effect on the prestige of the three Allied Powers, throughout the whole of the East, of this performance? We proposed to rescue the Balkans, to redeem the East, and to defeat Germany, and we are defeated by King Tino in the streets of Athens, and obliged to return from there under the escort of a Greek guard ! Was there ever such a farce? [AN HON. MEMBER: "Was there ever such a Government?"] I think it is most melancholy.

The pledges given to this House by the Foreign Office are treated with absolute contempt. Now for a period of several days we are relegated to silence. During those days nothing can be said in explanation, nothing can be demanded. But, after all, I suppose it does not very much matter. This House has already been practically obliterated. We get no explanations here. We are kept in as much ignorance as the man in the street, while foreign assembles, even the Duma in Russia, and I need not add the French Assembly, are at this moment discussing this crisis with closed doors and with the fullest information that Ministers possess, yet the British House of Commons, the ancient House of Commons, the mother of Parliaments as she has been designated, is told nothing by the Coalition Government. I hope those who manufactured that Coalition Government are proud of their production. I thank God the Irish Party are absolutely clear of all responsibility for this transaction by which this Mother of Parliaments, having been muzzled, is kept in ignorance and treated with contempt. We are now to be relegated to a period of silence—an indefinite period, because I do not believe that Thursday next will see the end of this ministerial trouble. I have sat in this House for thirty-eight years, and I have never known it presenting a more melancholy aspect. It is sinking day by day lower and lower in the estimation of the people until we find the Northcliffe Press saying the best thing we can do is to close our doors.


I agree with everything said by my two hon. Friends. This is not the first or second time we have raised this question with considerable difficulty in this House. We have no one here representing the Foreign Office. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench (Mr. McKin-non Wood) appears in his capacity as a Member for Scotland or as a representative of the Treasury. But my hon. Friend the Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) gave distinct notice this afternoon to the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that he intended to raise this question on the Adjournment. That was said in the presence of both the Noble Lord and his Parliamentary Secretary, and I think it is treating the House of Commons somewhat with contempt that the Noble Lord should not now be present. I know there are people who are reconstructing the Government. It may be that the Noble Lord is reconstructing his foreign policy. If he is, it is none too early. According to the Cecilian view the House of Commons has very little to do with foreign politics. and no doubt if that is the Noble Lord's view he is justified in saying, "why should I waste time in coming here in order to listen to a discussion on Greek affairs." But that is not a very useful way for the Government to treat the House of Commons, especially as we hear that is the last day of its existence.

This matter has been before the House several times. It is one of those questions upon which the Government have had ample warning. They know the views of the people of this country about the position in Greece. We have not been very fortunate in our championship of small nationalities. We went to war mainly because Belgium was attacked. Belgium has been overcome. Incidentally we went to war to protect Serbia and Montenegro, and both those countries, too, have to a great extent been overcome. The last small nation to come in was Rumania, and Rumania, position is nothing of which we have cause to be very proud. We have gone to Greece in virtue of certain rights, real or alleged, and we have taken a portion of Greek territory. We have known, even the man in the street has long known, that the King of Greece has always been opposed to the Allies. It is common knowledge that, for dynastic and matrimonial reasons, he is so opposed. Why not recognise the position? It is the excess surely of political folly not to recognise facts as they present themselves. We took a portion of his territory, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury had been representative of the Foreign Office, rather than the Exchequer, I would have asked him one or two questions which no doubt he would have answered quite as intelligently as the Noble Lord would have done had he been here. Probably the right hon. Gentleman would have said he could not answer because he did not know, while the Noble Lord would have declined to answer whether he knew or not. The right hon. Gentleman is a very welcome figure on the front Government Bench and no doubt his appearance here is in great part a recognition of the fact that he thinks the Government ought to be represented by somebody.

I should have liked to have asked him if he had been in a position to answer, whether it is not true that the failure of the Gallipoli Expedition was in no small part due to the interference of certain enemies of ours in the Kingdom of Greece, and if the Government did not have full warning of what they were doing. Really, if anyone had a sense of humour, such as is possessed by the right hon. Gentleman coming from Scotland, it would be impossible not to find humour in the way we have treated this Kingdom of Greece. There is a man there who has absolutely asked men to join in acting independently of the King of Greece. He is really a traitor to the King of Greece, and we have encouraged him to be a traitor. We have recognised him as a traitor, but only a de facto traitor, not a de jure traitor. We support this man, who is a traitor to his King. We give him £400,000. We give him perorations; they are very plentiful on the Front Government Bench. We praise him. We say he is all that is excellent. We do everything we can for him, except the one thing he wants. We will not recognise his position in Greece. Yet without our recognition he is a traitor who might be brought to justice, and, according to the law of the land, be rightly executed by the King of Greece. We have delayed doing everything.

Delay is the order of the day, not merely ill Greece but in every other matter. I agree with the hon. Member for East Mayo when he says that the events of the last two days have probably been the most humiliating that have happened to us during the War. What are we doing? We take a part of Greece. We deliver an ultimatum to the King. We say we want a given number of batteries delivered to us, and if we do not get them by a certain time we will land troops. We do land troops. We land them, of course, in inadequate numbers, with the result that many are killed and many are wounded, and British soldiers, and French soldiers as well, are led back through the streets of Athens under the escort of Greek soldiers. Really! Has ever such a humiliating thing happened to a great Empire as the condition of our soldiers in the streets of Athens within the last few days? Why does not the Government make up its mind, I may say that it has got a mind to make up. [An HON. MEMBER: "Several minds."] I am not so sure about that. Let us assume that the Government have got a corporate mind, a collective mind, to make up in a certain direction: why should they not make up that mind once for all as between. King Constantine and M. Venizelos? That is the real point.

The Noble Lord was very eloquent the other night when he said he must not give away the secret of the position of the Allies. We do not ask for secrets, we ask for action. Really the position of Great Britain is strong enough in the Alliance; we do quite enough; we have done our full share in it, perhaps more than our share. I am one of those who have never concealed that from my mind, and, whatever the Allies have done, I believe we have done as much and more, and that we ought to have a. voice in decisions of this kind. I think we have a right to ask His Majesty's Government to use all their influence in the direction I have indicated and to make up their mind once for all either to leave King Constantine alone and get done with it, or prevail upon him to do what you said publicly you want him to do. It has been one of the great misfortunes of the last few months that we have not been allowed to have a discussion upon the real points. It is a great mistake; it is a mistake for the country, and a mistake for the Government, because the Government has nothing to lose by allowing full, frank and free discussion of all these points. It may be that there is some answer, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman who is at present representing the Government that there is a feeling of disquietude throughout the country about the matter. It is a small matter; it may be that it does not affect the War at a vital point, but I feel quite confident in my own mind that there are thousands or millions of people in this country who are disquieted by our conduct in Greece. If the Government wants to get the confidence of the country, as I am sure the Government is anxious to have the confidence of the country, let them behave with consistency and have a definite policy, and let them convince the electors of this country, not only that you will not abandon—as the Noble Lord said the other night, and it was a poor sort of consolation—not only that you will not abandon M. Venizelos, but that you will support him, that you will put every facility in his way, and that Greek subjects, at any rate, who are in favour of his policy shall be allowed to join him without let or hindrance; and if let or hindrance is put in their way, that then you will speak with all the authority and force at your command to make sure that your support shall be secure and firm.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty minutes before Ten o'clock till Thursday next, 7th December, pursuant to the Resolution of the of the House of this day.