§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
Before I enter on a discussion of the Greek situation, I would like to say that I think we are all fully aware of the serious turn of events on the Western front and that must be in the forefront of our minds all the time. I have never, so far as I know, on any occasion in this House since the declaration of war, spoken in any sense which I thought would interfere with its active prosecu- 1859 tion towards the final victory, and one feels that now we are suffering—and we must admit it—a substantial and serious reverse. We shall go through critical days, and I can understand that these matters are giving grave anxiety to members of His Majesty's Government. But it is, of course, quite clear that now on the Western front, as indeed on other fronts, might is on our side. I submit, however, that this problem of Greece has its importance not from the military point of view so much as from the fact that when final power has exercised its force spiritual values will finally determine victory.
One must regard the situation in Greece as a test case. I am fully aware of all the difficulties that we have had in the past. I remember the heart-searchings there were in this House and outside in the country with regard to M. Darlan. I remember the heart-searchings there were about the Italian situation after liberation had begun. We are now in very considerable difficulties as regards the situation in Greece. I want to make full allowance for the Prime Minister's difficulties and the enormous strain, physical and intellectual, which rests upon him at this time. But I must say this, and I say it far more in sorrow than in anger—I am bound to say it, and I do so with a full sense of responsibility—that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has not handled this situation in the way in which it should have been handled. I am not taking any joy in saying this, but I feel it on my conscience to say it because I believe that my right hon. Friend's words have, in fact, done something to embitter the political situation over here.
When my right hon. Friend, the other morning, said that there was a division in the country on this issue, I felt myself, and I had better say it now, that there is no division in the country on this issue. Everybody deplores this situation. Everybody knows that it is a fantastic situation, a tragic situation, to have Greeks and Britons at each other's throats, and a terrible thing to have British soldiers having under orders to attack men with whom they have fought in the past. There is no difference of opinion. If there is a difference it is, and I regret to have to say it, due to the tone and the words used by my right hon. Friend a week last Friday. Again this week, if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had been 1860 a little more responsive and a little more generous in the words he used, I do not think there need have been any occasion for a special Debate this afternoon. I say that with the deepest regret. We have arrived at the situation where the Prime Minister comes down to the House and threatens us with a Vote of Censure. Really, on the eve of—I must not use the word "holiday" as I did this morning, but I would refer to it in this regard as a holiday—the Prime Minister should not come down as the schoolmaster prior to the Christmas holidays waving his birch in front of him instead of wishing all the boys a happy and merry Christmas.
This is no occasion for Votes of Censure. There is no challenge to the Government as a Government on this issue. There is great perturbation in the minds of millions of our people and of our Allies overseas with regard to the situation which has arisen in Greece. I have, during the past fortnight, given a good deal of time and thought to this problem. It was my duty a week ago to-day, at the annual conference of my party, to move a resolution on this issue, and it is on those lines that I would like to speak. I am not seeking to cast blame on anybody for past actions. I am anxious, as, indeed, everybody is, to find a way out of this difficulty which will redound to the honour of Britain and Greece and cement the bonds of friendship which have already been laid. I find very little controversial in the resolution which I moved. I had a little hand in the drafting of it, and naturally I would be inclined to agree with it, but I submit that the House can regard it as really representing what, in my view, is the opinion of the people of this country:This conference deeply regrets the tragic situation which has arisen in Greece, and calls upon the British Government most urgently to take all necessary steps to facilitate an armistice without delay, and to secure the resumption of conversations between all sections of the people who have resisted the Fascist and Nazi invaders, with a view to the establishment of a provisional National Government which would proceed to a free and fair general election as soon as practicable in order that the will of the Greek people can be expressed.These are the operative words of the resolution. They march on from a difficult situation to its possible solution, and, as I gather, it is really the intention of the Government to pursue, broadly speaking, that line. Yesterday afternoon I attended 1861 a meeting of the National Council of Labour which, if I may say so in all humility and respect, is one of the most powerful bodies in this country, representing as it does the Labour Party, the Trades Union Congress and the Co-operative Movement, and there, unanimously, this resolution was endorsed. I speak on this issue, therefore, in the name of those three combined movements, which represent no inconsiderable proportion of the population of this country. I speak in advance of the General Election, and therefore I shall not offer figures of what "no inconsiderable proportion" means, but at least this was the considered opinion of the leaders of three great democratic movements.
If I understand the position, the Government intend more or less to proceed along these lines, but, as I gather from statements in the Press, and I think my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to the matter this morning, there is one difference. A demand has been made for certain people to lay down their arms. I really do submit that British honour and British dignity are at stake in this business and that we ought not to stand on the ordinary kind of rules and regulations. I am glad to think that, following very shortly the Debate we had 10 days or so ago, when my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) made a speech which I said I was sorry the Prime Minister did not have the advantage of hearing, and when he and others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), made a suggestion about some Minister going out, the suggestion made in this House was adopted.
I believe this problem is not a military but a political problem. It will not be solved by forcible means or by a demand that arms shall be laid down before anybody talks. This is a supreme test of statesmanship, on which the future of our liberated countries will largely depend. This is not an isolated problem. We have had some discussions about Belgium. I am not going into that question again, but other territories will, in time, be liberated, and we are likely to have the same kind of problem, because political views have developed with amazing rapidity under the pressure of war. Old conflicts have been intensified. That is clearly the case in Greece. If, on each 1862 occasion when a nation is liberated or partially liberated, we are to be driven into the position of a sort of Gestapo, to keep underground forces whom it has been our glory to admire in the days when they were overrun and were resisting at very great peril to themselves—[An HON. MEMBER: "Poland."]—then Britain loses her good name in Europe.
I would say this: The name of this country has never stood higher in Europe than it does to-day. We have given them great succour. We stood by them, at first alone, in their direst hours of trial. They looked to us for a certain measure of moral leadership. Surely it is the duty of His Majesty's Government, as it would be the wish of the people of this country, that some forces and His Majesty's political representatives should, in each land that is freed, use their influence for the fulfilment of those high aims for which this war is being fought. Now I would hope that my right hon. Friend would not stickle for the laying down of arms by one section of the people. I am not quite as afraid of E.A.M. as is the Prime Minister. As was pointed out a week last Friday, the Prime Minister tends to divide people into sheep and goats. I have never known quite which are the worse, the sheep or the goats. My right hon. Friend did try to convey the impression in the House that we were helping to support a righteous cause and that everybody who was in E.A.M. was a gangster. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I thought it was most unfortunate language.
It is not as easy as that. I have no doubt that E.A.M. consists of people—I think I have mentioned it—quite as respectable as the right hon. Baronet who speaks for the Liberal Party. If that is so, I cannot imagine E.A.M. being such a dangerous and revolutionary force. It may well be that there are disorderly influences inside that movement, but our problem is to stop the fight. When that is stopped the position can be dealt with. The British Government are now embarked upon a course from which they cannot escape. I am not challenging their motives in going into Greece at all. They-went in for perfectly good motives, to feed the Greek people. They got involved in it, and now they cannot escape and they have to see it through. I think they have a great part to play in establishing an armistice. When the fight is stopped, 1863 things can march along to the time to which my right hon. Friend looked forward, I am sure with complete sincerity, to the right of the Greek people freely and fairly to determine their own future.
The situation has become a little more complicated this week. I am not going to argue as between monarchy and republicanism, but a new situation has arisen this week because of the action taken by the King of the Hellenes. I think it is wrong for the British Government to use their influence until the Greek people can freely express their minds either one way or the other; but when the King of Greece takes action, as he does, I think it may be argued that it is the only Government they have got and the only King they have got. That might well be argued. I would say that the question of a regency is not new. I think I am right in saying that it was raised during the Lebanon discussions and it was certainly felt, not only by the Left Wing of Greece but by a very large proportion of the people in Greece, that this matter ought to be allowed to rest in abeyance without coming down on either side and that a regency was the best kind of caretaker for the existing situation.
The new demand for a regency does not arise, as I understand it, from His Majesty's Government, but spontaneously from the people in Greece at this time, who regard it as an essential element in some established, stabilised form of government. I submit that it is unfortunate that the King of Greece should have expressed great reluctance against the establishment of a regency which, so far as I understand, is generally agreed upon by the vast majority of the Greek people. I hope I have not spoken with bitterness on this issue. I do not feel any sense of bitterness about it, but I do feel a sense of very deep sorrow. I feel that it lies upon us to deal with this situation now, because unless we do, unless we are courageous enough to handle it firmly but in the interests of the liberated people, we shall set a bad precedent for the days that are to come.
I can foresee that, in the new year, with the victory of our arms, we may have this situation arising over and over again, We have now arrived at a stage in the war at which I am prepared to forget the Darlan episode, I am prepared to forget 1864 Badoglio, but I could not forget Greece, not now. We have in a special way taken this responsibility upon ourselves, for purely humanitarian reasons in the first instance; we are involved in it, and I beg the Government, in the interests of the people of Greece, in the interests of their future, in the interests of our relations with the Greek people, in the interests of the honour of our people in the eyes of the world, to get rid of the shooting and get down to the making of the ballot rather than the use of the bullet.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Major Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I rise for a few moments to intervene in this Debate. I do so with great diffidence, because my halting and ill-expressed phrases must indeed compare unfavourably with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I would only hope to convince the House that what I lack in eloquence I may perhaps be given credit for in sincerity. I saw the Greek nation rise as one man to repel the Italian invaders in the autumn of 1940, and I was privileged to serve with Greek troops in that campaign. No one who witnessed those events can have any doubt in their own mind as to the great qualities of the Greek nation, and it is to all of us a great tragedy that after these long years of bondage and incredible suffering, when at last liberation has come, Greek should be shooting Greek in the streets of Athens, and that British troops should be involved.
I feel that the best service which we in this House can render is to avoid being violently partisan on either side. It is frightfully easy to be pro-K.K.E. or pro-E.A.M. or pro-E.D.E.S., or any of the factions that make up political life in Greece. I believe we should be "pro-the-Greek-nation-as-a-whole," with their welfare as our only goal. As I understand it the policy of His Majesty's Government is threefold. In the first place it is immediately to do everything possible to stop the shooting; secondly, to distribute such relief material as we can spare for Greece as quickly as possible, thereby creating stable conditions; and thirdly, to create conditions just as soon as we can which will permit of free elections at which the Greek people will be entirely free to choose whatever Government they want. Those aims seem to me to be both humanitarian and democratic.
1865 I want to try to analyse just a few facts. I am not altogether happy in my mind that the E.A.M. movement, or at least the extremist element in it, is quite so patriotic and quite so democratic as is sometimes suggested. It is, I am afraid, an escapable fact that although E.L.A.S. forces carried out acts of great valour at intervals against the Germans in Greece, some proportion of their military effort as a guerilla force was directed instead, with the use of the weapons which we gave them for guerilla warfare against the Germans, to seizing power by very ruthless methods at the expense of those who disagreed with them politically, over large areas of Greece. And it is, I am afraid, an inescapable fact that some of those methods employed were against peaceful Greek people who had no violent political leanings one way or the other. The actions of E.A.M. were certainly as cruel as, possibly even more cruel than, those of the Metaxas police. I suspect that the extremist element of E.A.M. have pushed the more moderate elements further than they wish to go, and that when the Greek Government, containing six or seven E.A.M, Ministers, returned to Greece, those Ministers failed to face the music when it came to putting into actual force the terms of the Caserta agreement regarding the disbanding of all guerilla forces, to which the E.A.M. members, together with every other Member of the Greek Cabinet, agreed. These extremist elements, with some Germans in their midst, are now, by the most undemocratic and most Fascist of all methods, attempting to seize power by the use of the tommy gun and the hand grenade. Would we be honouring our obligations to the Greeks if we were to give way to this threat?
I submit to the House that it is extremely dangerous to affix party labels that we understand in this country on to the political parties of other countries, that it causes a great deal of confusion, and that what are Left and Right, as normally understood in England, would not necessarily be Left and Right in Greece.
I also submit that we should be fair in our criticism. Some of the statements made in the Press and elsewhere have been somewhat less than fair to the Sacred Regiment and the Greek Mounted Brigade. I think I am correct in saying that the Greek Sacred Regiment was originally composed largely of officers who 1866 volunteered to revert to the ranks and to go back into battle as parachutists in the Western Desert. I think it is also a fact that the Greek Mountain Brigade is almost the last regular formation of the old Greek Army, that Army which throughout the winter of 1940 and 1941 held between 250,000 and 350,000 Italians on the mountains of Northern Greece and Albania. It was right and proper that they should wish to go back to Athens and take part in what was hoped would be a march of liberation. I find it very difficult to believe that some strange metamorphosis has overtaken them, and that those troops who have played such a gallant part in Libya, the Western Desert and Italy, some of whom are even now prepared to go back to Italy and continue fighting, would really be supporting the present Government if it was as reactionary as it is labelled.
I would beg this House, as the oldest and most democratic of all Parliamentary institutions, to stand firm on one point: that no Greek Government is set in power by the threat of force. We have got, I think, to the stage where there is a psychological deadlock on both sides. The extremists in E.A.M. are unwilling to withdraw because they are afraid of reprisals if they do; the more moderates on the other hand are extremely frightened of giving way, because they fear an E.A.M. reign of terror. I would beg my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to do everything he possibly can to convince both sides that when the shooting stops there must be no reprisals, on the one side or the other. I feel that in Greece it is a test case of the machinery of true democracy versus the threat of a Government by force. Democracy is a Greek word by origin: it is also the most important word in the English language; but neither in Greek nor in English does it mean that a Government which shoots its way into power is truly representative, when there is the alternative of free elections.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South West)
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) on the tone and temper that he has set for our discussion, and I hope that this Debate will follow in that spirit. I find myself very much in agreement with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who speaks for my hon. Friends above the 1867 gangway. I have a vivid memory of the first week in September, just before we entered this war, when, as we shall never forget, the right hon. Gentleman exercised the opportunity to speak for the whole nation; and I felt all through his speech to-day that he was trying to live up to the very high standard he set on that occasion. I agree with him that this is not a military problem; it is a political problem, and, as he so wisely said, at a time when there is critical fighting on the other side of the Channel and the lives of thousands of our fellow-countrymen are at stake, we want to approach this burning issue—and it is a burning issue in the country—without too partisan an outlook. Believe me, the whole country is stirred by these incidents in Greece. It is not merely, as some people think, an agitation by the Left. All through the country, in the villages and in the towns, people who are not violently political have had their consciences stirred.
There are many reasons. First, there is the historic feeling about Greece, the home, as has been said, of experiments in self-government. We owe everything that we have to the political ideals and teachings of the philosophers of Greece. Therefore, it is natural for us to be moved when we see that country locked in a struggle apparently for its liberties. But there are other reasons. We were stirred in the early years of the war by this gallant little country being the first of the small countries to put up a fight. Almost alone they held up the Italian Empire, defeated the Italians in battle, and would have destroyed them if it had not been for the attack in the rear by the Germans. There is real resentment, too, among the common people that their sons, who are conscripted, are being used, as they think, not to fight the Germans but to shoot down our Allies. They want a lot of proof that this policy that the Government have been compelled by circumstances, perhaps, to pursue, is justifiable. Next, it is suspected by many people—and we have to face up to the fact—that this is a direct attack on democracy. I was in Greece in 1936 and 1937, just when Metaxas established himself in power. All the walls of the cities were covered by unattractive posters, in imitation of the technique of Mussolini. Hoardings were made hideous by Metaxas aping the style and method of the Italian dictator. I was informed 1868 that all the leaders of every party were either exiled or in prison; in other words, the Constitution had been brought to a standstill. It was pointed out to me that the sinister part of it was that, only a year before, the King had been brought back, by a popular vote, to establish a monarchy on constitutional lines; and the feeling was that he had betrayed the Constitution. That very great feeling is understood in this country, and we have to face it.
I am sure there is a feeling, which may not be justified by the facts—a suspicion, at any rate—that the Government are playing the game of power politics, endeavouring to establish a sphere of influence. The Minister of Labour gave colour to that feeling in a speech which he made, by pointing out that the Mediterranean was of special interest to this country——[Interruption.] As I understood it, he meant that strategically the Mediterranean is of vital importance to our country. That is my interpretation. But many people feel that this is an attempt to establish a sphere of influence. This problem of law and order has constantly arisen since we started to bring relief to the occupied countries. It has happened in Italy. We faced it there, and with skill. It has happened in Belgium, it has happened in France, and, of course, it has happened in Poland.
We are always talking about the United Nations. It is true that in the early part of the war we were standing alone. Now we have great and powerful Allies. I think that if we are to have a satisfactory understanding before the armistice, and after the armistice, these United Nations must prove themselves united and co-operative. I am informed that Russia was quite willing to hand over the responsibility for Greece to ourselves. I think that is the wrong policy, and that we should not be compelled to have the odium or unpleasantness of shouldering alone the responsibility of bringing order and peace to Greece.
§ Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in that case, the United Nations should be responsible for other countries overrun by the Allied Armies, such as Poland and Rumania?
§ Sir P. Harris
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. I think the real danger at 1869 the present time is that all the Allies are manoeuvring for position and sowing the seeds of future wars, not only in the Balkans, but in the Baltic also. We had a Committee for trying to work out machinery for a post-war organisation which met at Dumbarton Oaks. Of course, it is quite impracticable for it to start work under present conditions, but I plead that the right way to settle the immediate future of all the occupied countries when they are released is by establishing some machinery of the kind foreshadowed in the Dumbarton Oaks scheme.
There is a body called the European Council, representing ourselves, Russia, the United States and France. It was set up in order to share the responsibility for peaceful organisation in Europe as the nations are released. I want to know what has happened to the European Council. Is it fast asleep or is it functioning? Has it considered the problem of Greece, the problem of Poland, the problem of Belgium and the problem of any other country that is likely to be released in the near future? I say it is a mistake and an unwise policy to take the whole responsibility.
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last pleaded the urgent necessity of bringing this civil war to an end. We are all conscious of the difficulties. I cannot see why our Allies should not be required to share the responsibility. We have a lot of critics on the other side of the Atlantic and they are very free in their criticism. They must be asked to share the responsibilities, and I do not see why we should not also have the advantage of the wisdom and experience of the French; but I do not pursue that. The longer this trouble is prolonged, the more bitter will be the feelings of the Greek people. There will be the danger of turning loyal friends into bitter enemies. I want to see a settlement. I agree with my right hon. Friend; I want to see an armistice. Do not let us be too particular about the terms. The Greeks, both E.A.M. and E.L.A.S.—we do not know which is which, though one is political and the other military—have proved, in the last two years, that they have been able to hold up the whole of the great German organisation with very little outside assistance. If we are prepared to challenge that force, they could hold up the civil 1870 settlement of Greece for a long time, and that is the last thing we want.
The Greek Patriarch is ready, we understand, to act as Regent. We have, more or less, something of the kind in Italy. I cannot believe that the Greek King will allow himself to be used to hold up a settlement of that kind. The Foreign Secretary, with whose speech, on the last occasion when we debated this subject, I agreed so much, because it was a wise speech, said that a message should go out from this House——
§ Sir P. Harris
—a message of profound sympathy with the Greek people and of a desire for a peaceful settlement. I want a message again to go out, but I want that message to be accompanied by a constructive policy and proposals to show that this great and powerful nation is not prepared to stand on its dignity, but is prepared to discuss with the Greek people a settlement to bring peace to this most sorely tried nation.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Roland Robinson (Blackpool)
Some 10 days ago, on a miserable wet evening in Italy, I was sitting in a tent with a group of British and American officers. On turning on the radio to listen to the B.B.C. news we heard a report of a heated Debate in the House, in which complaint was made that the British Government and the British Army were denying freedom and liberty to the people of Greece. One of my friends turned to me and said, "I wonder what is happening to the people at home when they talk like that?" The view was freely expressed, "What a good thing it would be if some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen could get out of this House to see some of the practical realities." [Interruption.] With that experience, many of their views would be radically changed.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
May I ask my hon. and gallant Friend if, at that discussion, ordinary privates and lance-corporals were present?
§ Wing-Commander Robinson
As I said, there were British and American officers present. On the other hand, those of us who have been in the field have taken care that we know what the ordinary soldier is thinking. In general, it is the 1871 experience of all our Forces that nowhere do the British Forces in the field deny liberty, but rather that they are its champions wherever they go, against tyranny and against aggression. The immediate reaction of nearly everyone there was the feeling how dangerous it was that statements, perhaps ill-founded or unconsidered, about British Government policy should go out as facts to the whole of the world, for there is a real tendency, led on by many statements which have been made, to destroy some of the good will and mutual trust which have been built up among our Allies. Some statements about the British Government's policy, when repeated in America, may well tend to alienate our American friends, and sow discord and distrust among our Rusian Allies. Above all, in building this impression of apparent disunity, we are giving our enemies the opportunity of creating propaganda which would indicate that there is dissension in the Allied camp and cause the Germans to foster the hope that, if they hang on long enough, we may quarrel among ourselves.
The conversation that evening was the more interesting because some of us had been to Greece and had been privileged to arrive there in time to see the glorious scenes which took place round the time of the liberation of Athens. It was, indeed, a great inspiration. Freedom and liberty are things which can easily be talked about by politicians but one never realises how much liberty means until it it lost. Apart from their behaviour generally, the people of Athens had a look in their eyes and one saw perhaps for the first time how much liberty can mean to an oppressed people. The Greeks were a grand people.
§ Wing-Commander Robinson
As a serving officer in the Royal Air Force. The city of Athens, when we went in, was decked out with Greek and with British flags. Across the streets people had strung large banners which said, "Welcome to our Liberators." I admired their guts because perhaps for the first time in his- 1872 tory, a people had not waited until the Germans had gone out before they put up their flags and banners but had put them up for the Germans to see, so that they marched out underneath banners welcoming their liberators of Greece. There was no doubt, too, about the people's feelings for the British Army. Everywhere one saw signs, which said, "Salute to Glorious England." One of them delighted me particularly because it showed a keen sense of humour. It said, "Salute to Glorious England, the second country of Byron." We watched a small group of Tommies marching in through the streets. They were tired, dusty and weary, but wherever our ordinary soldiers went the people of Greece stopped in the streets and stopped in their work to clap them and to indicate the very warmth of the welcome they had for them. Some detachments from the Greek Navy marched in, and the people lined the streets to cheer and welcome them home. It was touching from time to time, when somebody broke out of the group and embraced a friend who had not been seen for years. They told us that in the harbour had come "an old Greek ship" and that was the cause of so much feeling. It was a ship they had got from the British some years ago, perhaps not in very good fighting trim, but always that ship remained free and carried with it the spirit of Greece. It was the spirit of Greece.
In my spare time I tried to find out what the Greek people were thinking. I did not talk to any Greek politicians; I did not meet any Greek political leaders. I was more concerned with the ordinary man in the street and with what he wanted and what he thought. It was perfectly easy. All we had to do was to walk down any street and stop for a minute and we were instantly surrounded by a group of people. There was always a fair number of them who could talk English. They freely came forward and told their stories of oppression under the Germans and the Bulgarians. They told us of the acute starvation that they had been through and they used that illustration to tell us that the Germans had done their best to use starvation as a weapon to set Greek against Greek. They blamed many of their acute political dissensions to that. The Germans had deliberately fostered this disunity among them. They hoped things would be a little better. Tribute was paid to 1873 the work that had been done in helping to get rid of the starvation through the International Red Cross, but there was a great deal more that could be done. They told us of their sorrow and distress, but always, every man said the same thing, "We have kept alive. We have kept our faith during these last three years because we always knew that the British Tommy would come back." They paid a great tribute to the work we had done in the early days in Greece. They had lived for our return. We ourselves felt that. We knew why we were back. I asked about Greek politics. I knew that there had been dissension and almost civil war at times during the past year. I knew that guns we had supplied to the Greeks had been turned upon other Greeks. The general view of the man in the street was that, "Now you are back we hope and pray that we may get unity. We have got a Greek Government to which all political parties have promised their adherence and we feel that you will help to keep the situation as it should be."
From the military point of view the operation in Greece was not a major operation, but it will fulfil its part in harassing our enemy wherever he is. But behind all that there was the main task, to bring food and supplies to people who needed them probably more than anyone in Europe and to bring order out of chaos to men who had suffered. Those things are what the common man in Greece wants. It must be clear that this state of order and of supplies coming in cannot be if armed bands are roaming the country and are allowed to seek to impose their will to settle whatever differences they may have by force. When an individual is given a gun there is inevitably trouble.How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds, Makes ill deeds done!It was obviously right that the Greek Government, which had the pledged support of all parties and the British military authorities, to whom all the partisans had promised obedience, should say to the Greek parties and to individuals, "Hand in your arms." It would seem that, while our Armies are the controlling factor in any country, we are the custodians of the liberty of the freedom of the people. When we go in we promise to the people freedom of choice of their own Government and of their rulers. We do not care whether the Government is to come from 1874 the Right or from the Left, or whether they want a monarchy or a republic. It is for the ballot box to decide and, when we are in a position as custodians, are we to allow this freedom to be stolen from the people by armed bands? We have responsibilities and we must honour them. We do not wish to use force and we hate the thought that one Greek or one British soldier should be killed by our orders, but we must stay in Greece and we must do our best to ensure peace and order.
There can be only one reason for the use of force by E.A.M. or, indeed, by any party—and my remarks would apply equally to all—and that is that they use force because they have no faith that the people of Greece would back them through the ballot box. If the cause is good, then surely it can always be submitted, with safety, to the people. The Greek people have suffered much. Greek forces have fought gallantly. Let us see that the common man of Greece does not lose his newly-won freedom. Let us direct our policy to work for the end of the German-fostered dissension. Let us urge the Greek parties to surrender their arms and to settle their differences around the conference table and not by the arbitrament of force. Let us do this, and let us give such leadership that once again the gallant people of Greece may achieve unity, freedom and dignity.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
The speech to which we have just listened has been confirmed and given added weight in our minds since it was given by the personal witness of some of the events which have occurred in the last few weeks, but I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that there are other witnesses from Greece, many of them as gallant as himself, many of them as distinguished as himself, who wholly disagree with that speech. There is, however, one thing about which they do agree. All to whom I have spoken, and I have spoken to a good many in the last fortnight, are agreed upon one thing, that the British naval, army and air forces, though they hate being out of this country, would rather be in Greece than in any other foreign country in the world. So warm, so hospitable, and so overjoyed were the Greeks when we landed there, that all our people paid universal tribute to the hospitality and the warmth of their welcome. I was told 1875 by an officer the other day that the diaries of all our men—not only officers but privates as well—were full of engagements with the Greeks all over the place, so pleased were they to see us.
But the scene has changed. It has changed fundamentally in the course of the last two or three weeks. Where we landed as liberators, we look like staying as tyrants. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I did not say we were staying, I said we looked like staying as tyrants, in the eyes of many Greeks. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of it, but we are meeting this evening under the shadow of a threat which General Scobie has distributed by leaflet over Athens to-day. We have been pouring in, during the last fortnight, heavy reinforcements that ought to have been used against the Germans, but we are pouring them into Greece. General Scobie has declared by leaflet that unless E.A.M. guns cease firing by nine o'clock to-morrow morning, every weapon that we have at our disposal—and he itemises them: bombers, rockets, guns, tanks, mines—will be loosed upon Athens and environs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Blow up the Parthenon?"] That is the latest message of General Scobie to the people of Athens. If those threats are carried out, then we in this House shall be put in a most shameful situation. When the Germans were fighting in Greece we issued an ultimatum: we said that if Athens was bombed, we would bomb Rome. The Germans did not bomb Athens, but we have bombed Athens. A statement has appeared in the British Press that the Acropolis did not take much damage from the recent bombing by British planes. Do not hon. Members on the other side of the House realise that for British bombers and British airmen to be used in bombing Athens—taking sides in a political quarrel in Greece—brings the whole of the British nation to humiliation and shame?
My hon. and gallant Friend referred just now to the statements made elsewhere about speeches in this House. It is not necessary to make speeches in this House at all. Has he read the American Press? Has he read the French Press? Has he read some parts of the Russian Press? It is not necessary for us to make speeches here in order to show our detestation of what we are doing in Greece. The Press of the whole free world——
§ Wing-Commander Robinson
I feel sure the hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer his question. I do read the French Press, and the American Press, whenever I can, but an illustration of my point is well made by the hon. Member's own statement. Obviously, neither he nor I have seen the leaflet dropped on Athens this morning, but he gives it as fact that we have said we will bomb Athens until the job is done.
§ Wing-Commander Robinson
I have not seen it, but I would be perfectly certain that it does not say we would destroy Athens but that certain groups of people would be attacked. There is a difference.
§ Mr. Bevan
I was saying what I have said with a great sense of responsibility. I have confirmed it this afternoon [Laughter.] I would like hon. Members on that side of the House to realise this, that it is for them to disprove what we say. Unfortunately for them, as was shown yesterday in the Prime Minister's speech, our statements are usually correct but unfortunately they do not catch up with the lies from the other side until a fortnight or three weeks afterwards. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] That happened yesterday over Belgium. The Prime Minister came down a little over a week ago and painted a picture about Brussels which was a complete distortion of the reality. I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman, and what was his reply? That my statement could not have been a more concise statement of the opposite of the truth. [An HON. MEMBER: "Loud Tory laughter."] Yes, loud Tory laughter from the little boys opposite. What are the facts? The facts are that the Prime Minister distorted the whole situation either willingly or unwillingly—or rather, knowingly or unknowingly. Now I say that the information we have from the most reputable sources is that General Scobie has issued an ultimatum, and that ultimatum is that the whole strength of the Allied Forces will be loosed upon Athens and the environs unless the enemy ceases to fire by nine o'clock to-morrow morning. Now, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, when he comes to reply, can confirm it or otherwise. That is my information, and my information comes from international sources. [An HON. MEMBER: "Reuters."] Yes, it is 1877 Reuters; I think it is on the tape now, and it is "hard" news, as the journalists say—in other words, it has been confirmed by cross-checking. Are we prepared to go home for the Christmas Recess and allow this strife in Greece to be continued in such terms as that?
We are meeting not only under the shadow of the Grecian situation, we are also meeting under the shadow of a German offensive in France. The war with Germany is not yet over. This offensive is as much a political offensive as a military one. It is as much designed to split the Allies as it is to achieve an immediate military result. I ask my hon. Friends opposite, Do they think that they are contributing to the spiritual consolidation of the alliance in these circumstances by sending British Armed Forces to shoot down Greeks at the present time? Is it not obvious to them that the adventure into which they have been led in Greece is an adventure which they are following to the detriment of the whole of the Allied objective against Germany? They say, "We were there, and we are obliged to discharge our obligations."
What are our obligations? My hon. and gallant Friend, like a good many others before him, has been pretending that we are endeavouring to suppress an attempt by E.A.M. at dictatorship. There is not the slightest shadow of evidence of that. On the contrary, all the evidence is against it. E.A.M. would never have succeeded if they had been so bungling as they appear to be, if that were true. If they wanted to achieve the military coup d'état in Athens they could have done it long before we landed. But the Germans had practically cleared out. We have not done much fighting against the Germans in Greece during the past year because the German garrisons had gone, and if E.A.M. had wanted to achieve a military coup d' état they would have done it long before we landed. It is obvious that E.A.M. represents the vast majority of the Greek people. Why should a majority take part in a Government in which they had a minority of seats if they wanted to achieve a military coup d' état? According to all the evidence at our disposal, E.A.M. have been striving all the while to open negotiations with the British. All the evidence supports that. Is that the behaviour of a body attempting to achieve government 1878 by military force? There is no evidence whatsoever that this was a military coup d' état, any more than was the evidence in Brussels when partisans, consisting of two lorry-loads of soldiers, were trying to achieve a military coup d'état there.
What are the facts? The Foreign Secretary made a very temperate speech recently. It would have been so much better if his had been the only speech from the Government side that day. In spite of his speech being temperate, I am bound to tell him that it did not accord with the actions of the Government. The Government pursued their objectives behind the obscurantism of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The whole history of the Greek affair goes far beyond the formation of Papandreou's Government. You cannot start the business there. If hon. Members opposite would do us the honour of wanting to understand what happened they might read the speeches we have been making on this side of the House during the last two years about the Greek situation.
Hon. Members opposite must ask themselves this question: Why is it that the Greek people do not accept the word of the British Government that their sole concern is the establishment of a democratic Government in Greece? Will they answer that? Why do not E.L.A.S. lay down their arms and accept the assurances of the Foreign Secretary? I will tell him. It is because the Greeks do not trust the British Government, because the British Government have been intriguing for more than two years to get King George of Greece back on to the Greek Throne.
§ Mr. Eden indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if there was time we could produce the proof of this. Will he answer this question: Will he give an assurance to this House that the British Government favour the establishment of a Regency in Athens at the present time? Further, will he give an assurance that King George of Greece is not to be allowed facilities to intrigue with the Greek Ministers from the Clarendon Hotel in London? Will King George be cut off from communication with Greece at the present time? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Well, why not? Why should British soldiers lose their lives in Athens 1879 in order to back up the intrigues of King George of Greece? Hon. Members on the other side of the House must face the realities, not run away from them. I believe that the right solution of this difficulty is for E.L.A.S. to lay down their arms, along with the Sacred Battalion and the Mountain Brigade. I believe that the British Government should become the real custodian of the restoration of Greek democracy. In order to convince the Greeks that we are sincere in that we have to take certain steps. The first step we have to take is to disarm both sides, and the second is to agree to the establishment of a Regency. If King George is as patriotically a Greek as the Foreign Minister pretends he is, he would save his country this agony by agreeing to the establishment of a Regency.
All we know is this, that with the support of the British Government King George is bringing pressure to bear upon his Ministers in Greece to reject a Regency. If the right hon. Gentleman says that this is untrue then we shall be very glad to hear it, because what we want to hear from him is that the British Government will use their prestige in Greece for the purpose of establishing a Regency. What we want from the British Government is a rejection of the immediate claims of King George of Greece to the restoration of the Greek Throne. The right hon. Gentleman says, "We are in favour of holding a plebiscite when the war is over," but the Greeks do not trust us and the reason is because we favoured the Greek Government after the overthrow of a democracy in 1936. We were on good terms with the Metaxas dictatorship in Greece before the war broke out. Is it, therefore, reasonable to ask the Greek people to believe in our intentions at the present time? I suggest that the British Government, in addition to making themselves the custodian for the restoration of the Greek democracy, ought to ask the American Government to associate themselves in that guarantee to the Greek people. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not Russia?"] Why not Russia, although I can see—and hon. Members opposite will be perfectly entitled to point it out—that in these circumstances that may produce additional complications. But if it is necessary to end hostilities in Greece, and reassure the Greek people in their fears, why should 1880 not America and Great Britain jointly guarantee to the Greek people that when hostilities are over, after the armed bands on both sides have been disarmed, plebiscites will be held to allow the Greek people to decide their own form of government in their own way? Is not that a statesmanlike thing to do in present circumstances? It would be a far better thing to do than to allow ourselves to be dragged further into this squabble.
I ask hon. Members on the other side of the House—and I am going, to say something which is grave, although I am not saying it for the purpose of being an alarmist—to realise that large numbers of men in this country enlisted in the British Forces to fight the Nazis. I have some friends in the Middle East. If they are ordered to fire on the Greeks who may believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are fighting for their own forms of government, those friends of mine, and friends of Members on all sides of the House, will have a very painful choice to make, either to disobey orders or to carry on a war that they did not enlist to fight. Ought Englishmen to be put into that position at present? Furthermore, the hon. Member did not tell us how much the Greek people resent Ghurkas being used against them. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is wrong with that?"] I do not on general grounds object to the use of black troops. But the reason why they are resented is that the Greeks object as much to being dragooned by Ghurka troops as the Spaniards did to being dragooned by Moors, and as the English would too. The hon. Member knows that the reason why Ghurkas are used in Greece is that they are a politically backward people.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
What was the point of the hon. Member's 1881 offensive remark about the Ghurkas being used because they were politically backward?
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
It was said in the hearing of the House. Let us get it absolutely clear and on record. The hon. Member asserted that the reason why our gallant Indian troops were used was that they were politically backward. That is now proved wrong and the hon. Member refuses to withdraw it.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not understand why I should give way in order to hear that. The Foreign Secretary has not denied the presence of Ghurkas. What he has said, perfectly properly, is that the overwhelming majority of Allied troops in Greece are white, and I said there was a larger proportion of Ghurka troops at the beginning. I said further—and this surely is obvious—that the use of Ghurkas is deeply resented by the Greek people.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I did not hear the remark. But may I point out that whatever is said is in the hearing of the House and the House must be the judge?
§ Mr. Bevan
I dare the consequences of my own indiscretions, which is more than the hon. Member does. I wish to end what I have to say here. My right hon. Friend who opened the Debate spoke in very moderate terms and said that we do not desire to bring down or end the Coalition Government on this issue, but hon. Members opposite must not put too great a strain upon us, because, if they wish to do these things, they must carry the responsibility for doing them themselves. Our participation in these policies has gone as far as some of us will allow and, when we come back after the Christmas Recess, if the fighting has gone on, if we use our Forces any further for the subjugation of the Greek people, and if the right hon. Gentleman rejects the friendly advice offered by my right hon. Friend, then if the Labour Party itself does not put down a Vote of Censure on the Government, some of us will, so as to make it clear to the country that, if these policies are going to be continued against the people of Greece, they are the policies of the Tories alone and not the policies of Socialist Members.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise (Smethwick)
I think the House may well be grateful to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). When I first came in and listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) making his extremely moderate speech I rather felt that there seemed to be really little issue between the two sides of the House. When I further listened to the right hon. Baronet who leads the Liberal Party, I became even more convinced. He was following the traditional Liberal attitude in these days: first of all, agree with everyone; secondly, cover them with as much soft soap as possible; and, thirdly, if possible, run away from any British interest. That is a sad degeneration since the days when the Liberal Party had to be restrained by its coat tails from taking too forward a policy in the foreign affairs of the country. But the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has reintroduced that heat which many of us on this side may well welcome, because 1883 it is an old cliché that thunder-storms clear the air.
I should like to examine some of the things the hon. Member has said. His picture of the situation in Greece was gloomy and his solution was so self-contradictory that I am surprised that a debater of his experience produced it. What did he say? He said, first, that we must disarm both sides. In other words, the Government must lay down its arms, E.A.M. must lay down its arms, and, the most outrageous suggestion of all, the regular Army must lay down its arms. To suggest that a regular Army that has fought from the opening of the war against Italy with success and glory on all fields should be asked to go through the formality of laying down its arms now, when they have got back in glory to their own country, is a suggestion outrageous to their honour and impracticable in fact.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
My hon. and gallant Friend may disagree with me, but that is certainly not self-contradictory.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
I am coming on to the contradictory bits in a moment. This is merely a slight diversion on maintaining the very proper honour of a military force. A force which refused to lay down its arms to the Italians and Germans should certainly not be asked to lay down its arms now to please E.A.M. I will come to the contradictory point. Having said that we must disarm everybody in Greece, the hon. Member implied that the only force available for maintaining law and order must be the British Army. A temporarily disarmed country without even an armed policeman will hardly be the people to maintain internal order, particularly in the state of chaos that exists in Greece to-day. In other words, the hon. Member suggests that having disarmed everybody we must assume full responsibility for the preservation of law and order, and then, with a terrific flourish of trumpets, he says that nobody trusts the British in Greece anyway. It does not make sense anywhere.
What is actually the real policy in Greece? There is a short-term policy which is practicable. That is to see that order, decent government and some form of livelihood are restored to that unfortunate people as soon as possible. During 1884 the days when the Germans were in full occupation of Greece there were frequently in this House considerable voices raised, and raised justly, that we should lift the blockade and send food to Greece, even though it might help the Germans. Now that the Germans are gone and food to Greece can be sent in full, what is stopping it from reaching the population? The fact that E.A.M. will not allow the ships to be unloaded. I submit that a party which is prepared to starve its own people in order to enforce a political object is not a party which can be regarded with any great degree of confidence on any side. That is the practical point. We have to feed the population of Greece, and it looks as if at the moment we shall have to use force of arms to do it. Nobody would deny that it is a right and proper use of British arms. If we must carry food on the end of our bayonets to the starving Greeks, it is a very good use for bayonets, for it is getting food to the people who badly need it.
The long-term problem of Greece is a much more complicated one. Greece has, unfortunately, always been divided by factions. From the very earliest days there has been in all Greek cities a party within the city gates which was more ready to treat with the enemy than its own side. The first axiom of the most famous classical besieger of cities was not how to erect tortoises and catapults but how to sit down outside the gates and wait for your friends inside the city to open them to you. That unfortunate doctrine has persisted throughout Greek politics. Being the nation in which politics took birth, they probably regard them more seriously than even we do here, and they are prepared to impose their political ideals above the general welfare of their country. That is the long-term problem of Greece. It is all very well to say that Greece is suffering from the dictatorship of General Metaxas and because we supported the Government of General Metaxas. But it was the Greece of General Metaxas which fought the Italians and beat them. It was the Greece of General Metaxas which went on with the war and continued fighting by our side and which received the support of its own people. During the whole of the time the Germans were in full occupation one heard a lot about these heroic—and in some cases they were heroic—forces of E.L.A.S. which fought on our side. I 1885 have not heard any Member yet mention that there were a lot of people who were not in E.L.A.S. who fought on our side, sometimes under continuous sniping from E.L.A.S. itself, and that the security battalions which we now have quite rightly disbanded because their needs, we hope, will soon be over, were largely formed for the purpose of protecting the villages from the depredations of the armed forces.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
That allegation is continually being made and was repeated by the Prime Minister last week. How are irregular forces going to maintain themselves when they are cut off from communication with the rest of the world except by foraging in their own areas, as irregular forces are doing in Yugoslavia?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
I am perfectly ready to agree with the hon. Member's description of his friends' activities during the campaign in Greece, and one can hardly blame their own people for raising the security battalions to protect what small property they had left. I find it satisfactory that the hon. Member and I have reached such a measure of agreement on the activities of some of the guerilla forces, but I would point out to him that, although his friends, according to him, did this foraging there is, as far as I know, no assertion that villages had to be protected from other forces of Greek guerillas and their military exercises. These other forces are still in Greece and still, behaving reasonably an example which might well be followed by those people who are at the moment committing considerable depredations in Greece and are fighting against our troops.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
Just to clear up a misunderstanding, may I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman, if in fact nearly all the E.L.A.S. troops are the sort of bandits he suggests, how he explains that there is a considerable war going on in Athens at the present time?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
I do not see how the question whether they are bandits or not prevents them fighting a civil war in Athens.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
An interruption of that sort is too juvenile for words. The 1886 hon. Member should return to a more gullible public on the air.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
If what the hon. and gallant Member says is true, will he explain why we still have a British Military Mission at the E.L.A.S. military headquarters?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
I imagine that it is for the best possible reasons and I take my hat off to those extremely brave men. I should like to offer one or two observations, going rather further back in this matter. One of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield—I made a note of it—was that we were faced in Greece not with a military problem but with a political one. That is not strictly true. It is British soldiers and not British politicians who are being shot at at the moment. It is a war in the Balkans and not a debate which is going on. We are responsible for pressing forward, as our contribution to the war in the Balkans, on the heels of the retreating Germans. We are responsible for rallying all the forces there are in Greece who are prepared to continue, and are capable of continuing, the war, and to carry on the pursuit of those Germans, in order that we may drive them into the net which is being formed by the Russian advance in the East and North. That is a military and not a political problem.
I want to urge that the first and paramount consideration which must be in the mind of the Government to-day is, What does the military situation demand? Whatever political aspect there may be to these problems must wait for some more reasonable time to be fought out. Nobody disagrees that ultimately Greece must have its own form of government, and nobody presumably disagrees that some form of government must now be established which must maintain our military communications in Greece. If the existing Greek Government can do it, well and good, with our assistance; if they cannot, it looks very much as though His Majesty's Government must be forced to say, "All right, we will do it ourselves." The immediate military needs require military government, unless the various parties in Greece are prepared to reach a proper accommodation.
The most important remark of the right hon. Member for Wakefield, which I again noted, was that we must find some solution which would redound to British 1887 honour. That is a sentiment which can be warmly endorsed on all sides of the House. There may be some difference of opinion about what constitutes British honour, but I do not believe there can be a very wide doubt. The first solution which does not redound to British honour would be any symptom of weakness now. Long ago, a great Roman, beseiged by rebels, which E.A.M. are, was invited to come to a compromise in order that he might evacuate his forces. He replied: "The Romans never negotiate with enemies in arms." That I regard as a very reasonable motto for General Scobie's own troops.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
What the hon. Member might do if he were a Greek—I wish he were—is entirely his own business. I feel that his orations on the steps of the Acropolis, even without a pebble in his mouth, would be as distinguished as those of Demosthenes. A negotiation with people who have taken up arms against us before they have laid down those arms would not redound to British honour, nor would redound——[Laughter]. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) laughs loudly. He is undoubtedly a special custodian of British honour.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
The hon. and learned Member is a custodian of the honour of any country but his own.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
The hon. and learned Member has fallen back on the first rule of his profession—the least creditable part of his profession—"When in doubt, abuse the other side's attorney."
§ Mr. Pritt rose——1888
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
The Government are at the moment pursuing the only course which they can pursue. They must insist upon the authority of the British Forces being respected. Whether or not the Greeks can reach a compromise themselves is for them to decide, if some means of bringing the various political parties together can be found. We did, at one time, succeed in bringing them together and got an agreement which was signed by all parties, but unfortunately the E.A.M. Ministers walked out after they had signed it. That makes matters difficult for the future. Our military security must in no sense be imperilled. Our pressure on the Germans must be continued by all means and our Imperial lines of communication must be maintained. We must do it with whatever forces we are able to spare. That is the only message which any British Government can send to all those of its officers who are entrusted with the job in the Aegean to-day.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him very much, because I have not sufficient respect for his political past to want to argue with him. I have had the good fortune in the last two or three months to visit four countries in Europe. I hope no hon. Member will be so unsporting as to remind the Home Secretary of that fact. In all those countries I found exactly the same symptom, which I think goes a long way to explain what is happening in Greece and elsewhere. It is for that reason that I propose to follow my right hon. Friend who opened the Debate, and to try to deal with wider issues than the Greek campaign itself.
In the three countries which have been liberated or partly liberated, Holland, Belgium and France, and in the fourth country, which is Spain, I found very much the same symptoms at work. I would develop the illustration in regard to Spain if I were not afraid of taking up too much of the time of the House. The factor which is at work is that all of us have under-estimated the extent to which the nationals of those countries who went into exile have got out of touch with the 1889 resistance movements inside their countries. I spoke of Spain because, to some extent, the same sort of feeling exists there about the Republicans who went into exile. In this country we have had more to do with those exiled Governments and have made friends among them, so that our sympathies are apt to be with them when they go back to their own countries. I believe that the troubles inside Europe at the present time come very greatly from this fact that the people inside those countries do not care very much for the people who went outside, with the exception of General de Gaulle, I think he is the only exception.
What I want to do to-day is to suggest that these resistance movements deserve a great deal more sympathetic attention from the British Government and the British people than I think they are getting. They are rough. There is obviously a certain gangster element in them all. There always is, when law breaks down. There was even in this country, in this city, during the blitz, but we all know that during the blitz the people of this city were a very fine bunch of people. Even in this House we had a greater feeling of co-operation after Dunkirk and during the blitz than we have ever had at any time before or since. I suggest we are giving much too much attention to those lawless elements which are found in all the resistance movements, and far too little to the magnificent services they have rendered to their country.
I have recently been to France——
§ Mr. Bartlett
The hon. Gentleman may manage to get there when the Home Secretary is looking the other way. If one goes to Rouen or Le Havre, Toulouse or Paris—those are the only places to which I have been—the préfets and the mayors and so on are nearly all people who for three or four years have been living in hinding. Many of them have suffered torture. They are people who deserve our greatest respect. These same people have the very greatest admiration for this country, because it was from this country that there came, at the worst possible moment, words of hope and courage to them. My belief is that we shall destroy the admiration of these people if we show so little understanding of the 1890 good qualities behind their rough exteriors. The other day I voted against the Government, in many ways reluctantly, above all because I think that for the Prime Minister to refer to some of those Greeks as gangs of bandits from the mountains and so on is not only unfair to the Greek people, whom we were very glad to claim as our Allies a little time ago, but it is very bad for our prestige in all the countries with resistance movements. The reaction of the resistance movements in every country as far as one can check it has been in favour of E.L.A.S. and E.A.M.
There is no doubt that the Government are not sufficiently well informed about the developments of these movements. On 5th December the diplomatic correspondent of "The Times," who is a very responsible journalist indeed, wrote:There is every confidence in London that the firm attitude General Scobie has taken will soon bring an improvement in the situation.That was as far back as 5th December. The situation cannot be said to have improved very much. On the same day a British spokesman in Athens said that the Greek Government had very wide support, and that that Sunday demonstration was staged by a very small and noisy minority. I interrupted the hon. Gentleman just now because I cannot quite understand how it is, if in fact it is only a very small and noisy minority that is causing all the trouble, that we should have this very serious war going on inside Greece, and that when you have liberated Athens you may find yourselves compelled to fight large-scale guerilla warfare——
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wise
The hon. Member has only to cast his mind back to 1919 and see what the Sinn Fein movement did in Ireland, to see what minorities can do.
§ Mr. Bartlett
I think Sinn Fein did so much because of the attitude of the British Government of that day. I do not want the same thing to happen to-day.
I want to end with this. I have a feeling that the Foreign Secretary is riot as well informed by his representatives abroad as he should be, because they are not the sort of people who by training have much sympathy with these resistance movements, in the same way that certain people in Mayfair had little sympathy with the shelter marshals in London in 1891 the blitz, although they were performing a very valuable job indeed. I think that the Diplomatic Service at the present time—I say this with reluctance as I have many friends in it—is terribly out of touch with all these developments inside Europe. If it were not so we should not have so misjudged the Greek situation, and these other situations previously. For example, when Thorez, the French Communist leader, came back from Moscow the other day to Paris—I do not happen to be a Communist; I dislike Communism more and more; I think it is a growing danger and I am very much afraid our policy may be pushing Europe more and more towards it—there was a meeting attended by some 30,000 people in the Velodrome d'Hiver. I wonder if any representative of the British Embassy was there to make a report.
§ Mr. Bartlett
I am glad to hear that. I want to urge the Foreign Secretary to go ahead as soon as possible with the real reform of the Foreign Service. I know that he has not been able to do so hitherto during the war but he might begin to do so now. It does seem to me extremely important we should not so often find, if we go abroad, the man who can really give one a good picture of the country is not the professional diplomat, but the unofficial chap, the non-career chap, the Commercial Secretary, the Shipping Attaché, and so on. Those are the people who know what is happening inside the country. Therefore I maintain that there is something wrong with the Diplomatic Service.
I have suggested it before, and I suggest it again with great hesitation, because I think the present Foreign Secretary is the best Leader of the House we could possibly have with the present Government, that the time has really come when it is absolutely impossible even for a man who works so hard as he does, even for a man of such good stamina as he has got, to carry on these two jobs. The more I study the situation in Europe the more I feel we are not using to the extent that we should that immense prestige which was given to this country by the guts of the people of Britain in 1940.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I wish to begin with a recognised truism, that is, that the Prime Minister owes his position in this House, in the country and throughout the world, to the support of the progressives in this country and generally in Europe. Right up to the last moment the great mass of the Tories on the other side gave a vote of confidence to the late Prime Minister, when the Progressives, against the mass of the Tories, were forcing the present Prime Minister on them. Why do I say that? Because the Prime Minister of this country is strong as long as he marches with the progressive forces. When he goes against the progressive forces, we have an exhibition such as we had yesterday morning.
Never did a weaker man stand at that Box than the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is facing ruin and disaster when he places his fate, not in the Progressives, but in the gang behind him, including the hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise). Such unspeakable hypocrisy as that of the hon. and gallant Member I have never listened to. How is it possible for a Member with his record to stand up in this House and say that a party that prevents food going into the country, thereby starving its own people, is not worth regarding? That is the gist of what he said. I am not misquoting him. He gave every conceivable support to Franco, who was sinking British ships that were carrying food to the starving people of Spain. Will he deny it? There is a word that is not allowed in this House, so I will not use it; but if it were permissible, I would add it to the term "confirmed hypocrite." I will leave it at that. He should never get up in this House and speak again after the speech he made to-day.
Of course, much noise was made about the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) talking about the guerillas foraging. There never was a guerilla band anywhere which did not forage. De Wet had guerillas in South Africa. Where did De Wet and his guerillas forage? Off the villagers? Where did he get their ammunition and guns? Off the villagers? No, off the British Army. Where did the guerillas in Russia get their arms and their food? Off the Germans. Where did the guerillas in Yugoslavia get their arms and their food? From the villa- 1893 gers? No, from the Germans. The Yugoslav guerillas were fighting for more than a year, with the British Government supporting the traitor Mihailovitch against them. Every gun they had was taken from the Germans, and their food was taken from the Germans. If the guerillas in Greece came into an area for food and ammunition and clothing, did they go to the starving villagers? No, they went to the Germans; and the Germans set up the security police to protect their stores. Does anybody deny that?
§ Mr. Gallacher
No. I want to come to what has occurred in Greece. First, let me say that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and I, and perhaps other Members, are receiving telegrams day by day from mass meetings of factory workers. On Thursday I had a deputation from the Clyde and Rosyth, representing masses of workers, demanding an end to this disastrous policy in Greece. Of course, when a deputation comes down about housing it is the Communists who have organised it; when a deputation comes down about Greece, it is the Communists who have organised it; if anything happens anywhere, it is the Communists who have organised it. At some times the Communists seem to be supermen; and at other times, according to some hon. Members, they are almost sub-human. Most of the people instinctively understand that the Government have taken a disastrous line.
On thing that the Foreign Secretary carefully avoided mentioning in his very careful speech last Friday, was the demonstration, and how that demonstration came about. The members of the Committee of National Liberation agreed to demobilisation and disarmament. Then the Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Battalion, handpicked in Cairo, were brought back. The Army that fought against the Italians, the Army that fought against the Germans, mutinied in Cairo; and the British Army had to suppress the mutiny. The Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Battalion were handpicked and organised to prepare the way for the coming back to Greece of the sacred person of His Majesty the Hohenzollern King George. When the Committee of National Liberation agreed to 1894 the demobilisation, the Fascist forces, the Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Battalion, were brought from Italy to Athens, and the men who had done the fighting all through the years with the Germans were faced with the fact that they were to be disarmed, while the men who had come back were to be left in possession of their arms. However, there was still a possibility of agreement. On Friday night several members of the Committee went to see Papandreou about a demonstration in Athens, and Papandreou agreed. Everything was in order. There was to be a demonstration. Word was sent out around Athens. Then, late on Saturday night, as a result of somebody whispering in his ear—perhaps Members would like me to give the name—Papandreou banned the demonstration and went into hiding, so that the members of the Committee could not get in touch with him. I ask the Foreign Secretary if that is correct. I ask him if he dare deny it.
The demonstration took place. The Fascist police fired on it. British officers tried to stop them, but they kept on firing for an hour. The Prime Minister said that it was deplorable that women and children should be killed, but he added that it was also deplorable that women and children should be called out to demonstrate on the streets in a city which was crowded with armed men. When the Foreign Secretary went to Athens, there was a demonstration. Thousands of women and children on the streets of a city crowded with armed men. But in that case there was not the slightest danger of the progressive forces of the Left doing any firing. When the people came out for a peaceful demonstration about the demobilisation of all the forces, the trial of the traitors, and effective distribution of food, where was the danger? Not from the progressive forces; not from the Left, but from the Fascist police, who opened fire on women and children. We were told on the last occasion, by the Prime Minister, that German forces were left in E.L.A.S. Where did the Prime Minister get that statement? Did he think it out in Downing Street? Who sent him that word from Greece? Who was responsible for getting the military men removed from Greece? Will the Foreign Secretary tell us? If there is one grain of intelligence in the minds of hon. Members on the other side they will speak with disgust of such a phrase coming from the Prime Minister. 1895 Why? Look at the Foreign Secretary. When he was parading through the streets of Athens, when the streets were packed with cheering men, women and children, there was a heaven-sent opportunity for the Germans who were left behind—if they had been left behind—to create the utmost disunity, dismay and terror. I say to this House—and I challenge the Foreign Secretary—that lies, distortions and slanders have been sent across from Greece. What is wanted is a declaration from the Foreign Secretary: "Cease fire." Then demobilise all the forces, and let the police, the national guard and the army be made up of groups called up according to their ages; let there be immediate trial of the traitors, and an opportunity for a national Government that will represent, in every sense, the masses of the people in Greece.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
On a point of Order. May I ask the Foreign Secretary if he has had a word with the Leader of the House and has considered whether we could go on after six o'clock, in view of the fact that the Government took up a good deal of time with two Bills earlier to-day?
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I do not think it would be reasonable, at this stage of the discussion. There has been no representation and no Government spokesman has intervened until now.
I do not wish to abandon the wisely uncontroversial line adopted by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) and by the hon. and gallant Member for Windsor (Major Mott-Radclyffe) in a truly remarkable speech, but I must deal with one charge which an hon. Gentleman has just made against me for not giving an account of the circumstances which took place in Athens just previous to these unhappy events. If the hon. Member will read my speech again, I think he will find that I did deal with the very points which he has just asserted I omitted. He said that the whole issue has been raised by the Sacred Battalion and Mountain Brigade, whom he has described as Fascist.
§ Mr. Eden
I am going to deal with it again. I do not know what the hon. Member means by a Fascist brigade. The Mountain Brigade fought with very great gallantry in the desert, and I prefer to regard them as our Allies. The point is, as I explained last time, the Sacred Battalion has never been in Attica and is at present engaged with some German remnants in the Greek islands. The matter of the Mountain Brigade was never raised in the Debate until a late stage of the discussion. They arrived back in Athens and were cheered by the Greek people and had a tremendous reception from everybody. This question was raised at a very late hour in the Debate, and, as I explained, an offer was made by the Greek Cabinet that the Mountain Brigade should remain and that also a force of E.A.M. of equivalent strength, and one of E.D.E.S. of proportionate strength, should remain, so it is quite wrong to say that this Brigade has for long been a source of trouble.
The hon. Gentleman also gave an account of the events of Saturday night. He said there was going to be a demonstration which had been agreed by the Papandreou Government, and that, late at night, somebody whispered something in his ear. The impression the hon. Member gave was that some British Minister whispered in his ear. I assure him that that is absolutely untrue. I think we could more properly be censured for not having interfered, so far as law and order were concerned, at an earlier stage. The facts are that we had been advised that a general strike was declared at that time, and, as a result of the declaration of the general strike, the Greek Cabinet felt that the demonstration ought not to take place, though they had previously allowed it. I am not saying whether they were right or wrong. What I am denying is that a British Minister whispered in anybody's ear on that point.
Now I come to the points raised in the Debate, and I shall do my best, in this very unhappy business, as we all feel it to be, not to make matters worse, because I am very conscious that anything I say, if I am not careful in the choice of my words, may make matters worse rather than better. My object is to make them better, and if I speak with more 1897 caution than usual, I hope the House will make allowances, because this is a situation which all of us, whatever our feelings, want to see resolved.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield was a little unfair, if I may say so, in his otherwise careful speech, in what he said about the Prime Minister. He did not quite correctly quote the Prime Minister about E.L.A.S. I have looked up his words. The Prime Minister said:Meanwhile the forces of E.L.A.S. which is the military instrument of E.A.M. were planning a descent on Athens as a military and political operation and the seizure of power by armed force. E.L.A.S. is a mixed body and it would be unfair to stigmatise them all as being entirely self-seeking in their aims and actions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th Dec., 1944; Vol. 406, c. 942.]The right hon. Gentleman said they were a mixed body. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, that is the quotation.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
My right hon. Friend does not give a fair picture. The Prime Minister talked about… a fairly well organised plot or plan by which E.L.A.S. should march down upon Athens and seize it by armed force and establish a reign of terror. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th Dec., 1944; Vol. 406, c. 943.]
§ Mr. Eden
What I am dealing with is the hon. Gentleman's statement that everything about E.L.A.S. was utterly bad. That is what he said, so I produced this quotation showing that the Prime Minister said it was a mixed body. I do not want to emphasise that, but to pass on to a remark of the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who asked why there was not more collaboration between the Allies over this business. The right hon. Gentleman asked what, above all, was the European Advisory Commission doing. The European Advisory Commission was set up on our initiative to agree plans for surrender terms to Germany and for post-occupation plans for Germany. That is the task upon which it has been engaged.
§ Mr. Eden
No, on these plans. As regards the general machinery of international collaboration, I spoke on this matter only a fortnight ago, and there is nothing that we should welcome more than machinery for closer collaboration 1898 than there is now. We would welcome quarterly meetings of the Foreign Secretaries of the great Powers, as we used to have before to deal with some of these matters. I have said over and over again that we will go anywhere and take any steps to further such a result. I really do not think, whatever hon. Members' feelings may be, that the charge can lie against us that we have not tried to promote this machinery and get it going more satisfactorily.
So far as the decision to go to Greece is concerned, I am bound to say, after listening to this Debate, that I cannot see what other decision we could have taken in the circumstances. I admit there were risks. We knew there were risks; but I still think the decision was right. Before we took that decision, as my right hon. Friend said a fortnight ago, we did consult the United States. We went there with their agreement, and we conveyed our decision to go to Greece to our Soviet Allies and they also approved that decision. There is no question, therefore, of our having done this without consulting our Allies. The only criticism which the hon. Gentleman may make is that we might have brought others with us, but the Government did not foresee that matters would turn out as they have done, and in a fashion which we all so deeply deplore.
It is also true to say that, for reasons of operational security, we did not, before we went to Greece, describe in detail our plans and intentions to our Greek Allies. The result was that we could not give them a clear answer to the many appeals which they were making—this then being a government of all the parties—to us to go into Greece, appeals made because they saw the situation developing and wanted us to drive the remnants of the Germans out. We were unable to explain and we did not want to reveal the details of our military plans. As we got nearer the day for our actual entry we did tell them of our plans to some extent and did also invite their co-operation in respect of these military bands in Greece. The two representatives—General Zervas and General Sarafis, the E.L.A.S. Commander-in-Chief—were invited to come to Caserta and meet the Supreme Commander, and there was drawn up and agreed formally between them, what is known as the Caserta Agreement.
1899 I do not want to weary the House but I must draw attention to one or two items in the Agreement which shows that immense trouble was taken to try and get an agreed decision, and an agreement between all parties in the Greek Government and the Greek military leaders before we went into Greece at all. This was agreed to by M. Papandreou, the Prime Minister and leader of the Government which was composed of all the parties. It was signed in the presence of all the leaders by the commander of the E.L.A.S. forces and of E.A.M. This was the conference presided over by the supreme Commander in the Mediterranean theatre, at which the Greek President of the Council, with other members of the Greek Government—I ask the House to remember that at that moment all the parties were in the Greek Government—and the Greek military leaders, General Zervas and General Sarafis, were present. The following decisions were agreed as having been accepted unanimously:All guerilla forces operating in Greece place themselves under orders to the Greek Government of National unity. The Greek Government places these forces under the orders of General Scobie, who has been nominated by the Supreme Allied Commander as General-Officer-Commanding forces in Greece.That is what was agreed, and then next——
§ Mr. Gallacher
This is very important. It is clear from that first point, that there was no Greek Army to which the guerillas could be allocated and they were, therefore, allocated to the British Army. It was the bringing in of these other brigades from outside.
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech that the whole thing turned on bringing the Mountain Brigade into Greece. That matter was only raised some time after the Greek Government arrived, and when it was raised—this was before the breakdown of everything—they offered E.L.A.S. another brigade if they desired to counter it. I do not think it is true to say that this one brigade has been the cause of all the trouble, but, if so, it might well have been raised at an earlier stage when E.L.A.S. was in the Government. They were in the Government and as far as we know they never said one word against General Zervas. If the hon. Member has 1900 other evidence that they protested against their arrival in Athens, I shall be glad to hear about it, as I have not seen it. The agreement goes on:In accordance with the proclamation issued by the Greek Government, the Greek guerilla leaders declare that they will forbid any attempt by any units under their command to take the law into their own hands. Such action to be treated as a crime and will be punished accordingly.As regards Athens, no action is to be taken save under the direct orders of General Scobie, General-Officer-Commanding forces in Greece.Security battalions are considered as instruments of the enemy. Unless they surrender according to orders issued by General-Officer-Commanding they will be treated as enemy formations.That has been done.All Greek guerilla forces in order to put an end to past rivalries, declare that they will form a national union in order to co-ordinate their activities in the best interests of the common struggle.In accordance with the powers conferred on him by the Supreme Allied Commander after agreement with the Greek Government, General Scobie has issued attached operational orders.Then followed the orders for the division of stores between the various forces. I am sorry to weary the House by reading all that text, but I do it deliberately because it shows that a great deal of trouble was taken before we went into Greece, first, to get a government of all parties, and secondly, over and above that, to gain complete agreement between the guerrilla leaders and the Government. I suggest that the document I have read out does show that we could not have done more to try and deal with the events which have so unhappily come upon us.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Did that agreement lay down that the Athens police were to be removed? Were they not to be disarmed?
§ Mr. Eden
No, Sir, there was nothing in the Agreement about the police at all, nor do I know of any reason why there should have been anything on that subject in the Agreement. I also remind the House that it was about that time, as I stated the other day—actually 10 days before the Agreement was signed—that Mr. Sophoulis, leader of the E.A.M. representatives in the Government, saw M. Papandreou on behalf of all his E.A.M. colleagues in the Government and expressed his confidence in the Government and his desire to continue in office under M. Papandreou as Prime Minister, if they could get to Greece, until an election could be held. All I am trying to say to the House is that on this date, before the actual entry into Greece, there was no issue which divided the Greek Ministers amongst themselves and no issue which divided us from any part of our Greek friends. That was a step forward.
So I come to the next step. What was our purpose in going to Greece? Here I answer a speech made earlier in the Debate. We seek nothing for ourselves in Greece at all. We seek neither strategic advantages nor economic advantages nor any other advantages of that kind at all. There is nothing in the least inconsistent in what my right hon. Friend has said and what I am saying now. In this action we are taking we have no ulterior motive whatever. We really have not. I do not see why hon. Members are so eager to think we have some sinister purpose.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
I am very sorry to have to interrupt. My right hon. Friend may have taken note of the fact that the Minister of Labour, at the Labour Party Conference, did refer to the Mediterranean position.
§ Mr. Eden
Of course, it is true we have an interest in the Mediterranean. That has never been denied by anyone, but I say that we took this action above all, and only, to try to bring food and supplies to Greece, because we knew of the condition in which we should find Greece. We had no ulterior motive. I should like to try to show a little of what we have been doing. Let me say this. If Greece had been largely a self-supporting country, if she had been in a condition where she 1902 could have provided her own people with food, it is quite likely we should not have done it. We might have said, "We will help chase the Germans out," but certainly we should not have gone in with this vast organisation to try to supply food for the people of Greece. But we knew that in normal conditions Greece was quite unable to feed herself. We knew that the harbours and all means of transport had been utterly destroyed and that unless we could get food and supplies in there was no chance of the Greek people escaping starvation and of allowing Greek industry to be restarted.
Those are the reasons why we went into Greece and I do not think they are reasons of which anyone could complain. Suppose we had not done that. We did weigh the alternatives. We knew there were some risks because of disturbed conditions, and the story of the Metaxas regime, and all that went before it; but if we had not gone in, what would have happened? Suppose there had been civil strife—Greeks against Greeks—as a result of which no food could have been got in. Without our help in clearing the ports and our lorries to carry the food, there would have been no food for them, there would have been for certain mass starvation all over Greece, and I am sure, and rightly, hon. Members would have come to the British Government and asked, "What are you doing about this? Are not these people your Allies? Why have you not made an effort to go and help them?" And we should, I think, have been blamed for that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Could not U.N.R.R.A. have done it?"] U.N.R.R.A. was coming in to help us in the matter and, unfortunately, U.N.R.R.A. has had to pull out, as the hon. Gentleman will see.
I want to give the House some little account, very shortly, of the amount of supplies we have put in and the work we have done, because this has been largely our own effort—stock piles, for instance, built up in the Middle East in conditions of some difficulty to meet this food situation which we knew existed. I shall only give the figures for one week, 18th to 24th November. I have not specially chosen it as being particularly good or otherwise. We unloaded in that week in the Piraeus alone over 20,000 tons of food, in Kalamata over 4,000, in Patras over 4,000, in Mytilene over 7,000, in Chios over 2,700, and so on. In the 1903 same time we delivered—I would ask for the attention of the House for these figures because I think they are important—in all regions clothing and footwear 14,000 pieces to Euboea, to Lamia 24,000 pieces, to Tripolis 25,000 pieces, to Patras 30,000, to Volos 24,300, and so on down the list. We did so because one of the greatest problems for Greece this winter was the lack of clothing and the cold of the Greek winter and the lack of boots—problems all of which we had more or less worked out before. The hon. Gentleman asked "Why not leave it to U.N.R.R.A.?" But we have prepared this and I only give these details to show the House that our purpose had been planned, and carefully prepared at some considerable effort to ourselves, and that the chief of U.N.R.R.A. agriculture arrived at that time and consultations were initiated with him. I could go on, though I do not want to weary the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] It is quite important. We have tried to help these people.
Now, I come to an important matter which has been raised in this Debate by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield—terms for an armistice. What is the position? It is, as I have already explained in reading the Caserta Agreement, that E.L.A.S. Forces undertook to obey General Scobie's orders by that Agreement. He has asked that E.L.A.S. supporters in Athens and the Piraeus must cease resistance, and hand in their arms—E.L.A.S. supporters in Athens, and the Piraeus must hand in their arms. I emphasise those words, because it is limited to that area; he has not asked that E.L.A.S. supporters outside who have withdrawn from Athens should hand in their arms. Why is that provision there? I fear that it must be there. It is the minimum which must be asked, because, if arms are left in the hands of numbers of people in civilian clothes—as, of course, many of them are—in Athens for a long period, even when this immediate emergency is over, the moment political tension rises again you will get the risk of this same thing happening again and people using these weapons again. I think the terms are the minimum because, it is only, I repeat, in that area. We have not said that everybody bearing arms must get out of Athens and the Piraeus because we realise very well that some of 1904 those who are using those arms are the local population and have nowhere else to move. Where they can withdraw with their arms we have said withdraw; where they cannot, in Athens and the Piraeus, we have asked them to hand in their arms.
§ Mr. Bevan
What does the declaration mean? I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman has occupied over 20 minutes on what was not said in this Debate at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] What is meant by the ultimatum that the civilian population should withdraw within 500 metres or wherever hostilities might be taking place to-morrow? How can they tell what is 500 metres?
§ Mr. Eden
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Reuter message, I am coming to that in a moment. We have not asked that the disarmament of the guerrilla bands outside the Athens area should be done otherwise than by agreement subsequent to the cessation of hostilities, and there is no question of leaving security battalions in the possession of their arms, nor any Right-Wing organisation in Athens either. I ought to tell the House—in fairness they should know this—that General Scobie, some little time ago, refused assistance offered to him by Right-Wing organisations against E.L.A.S. There was one of these organisations known as Organisation X—I think I have General Scobie's telegram here, at any rate I remember its purport, in which he said that these men had offered to join with our Forces against E.L.A.S. and he had refused and had disarmed them.
§ Mr. Shinwell
May I ask if any of the Right-Wing elements in Athens, on General Scobie's declaration, handed over their arms?
§ Mr. Granville
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that if General Scobie's order is complied with it means that Right-Wing Forces will have laid down their arms?
§ Mr. Eden
All we desire is that all should lay down their arms. We are not trying to impose a Right-Wing Government or a Left-Wing Government. It is not our purpose to do so. What we wish, if we can get it, is that the ship shall be 1905 on an even keel. That is what we wish and we are against—I repeat what I said at Question Time—reprisals by one side or the other after this event is over, and we shall do everything we can to stop that. One hon. Gentleman said he thought the fear of reprisals was an element in continuing this fight. I think he may be right, and I would like to assure him that the position of His Majesty's Government is that we shall do all we can to stop reprisals after this event has taken place.
§ Mr. Eden
I cannot answer a question like that straight away. What I say is that we shall do all we can to preserve order, and we ask that everyone concerned shall lay down their arms. I really think that is a reasonably broad proposition. I will just read General Scobie's message, because I have it here, dated 8th December:Armed members of the Right-Wing X organisation who attempted to join forces with British troops are being disarmed by the latter as they are acting contrary to the orders issued by the prevailing Government and General Scobie regarding the carriage of arms by irregular forces.That was the telegram on 8th December showing the action taken.
Then the hon. Gentleman referred to Reuters message which he said he had just read on the tape, and I must say I was a little disturbed by the account, as he gave it, of what was happening.
§ Mr. Eden
I see. Well, anyhow, the hon. Gentleman gave an impression of something he had gathered from somewhere. It was to the effect that suddenly to-morrow a very heavy bombardment—and I got the impression an indiscriminate bombardment—is going to be opened on Athens. I have the message and I had better read it to the House:Aircraft to-day dropped leaflets containing a warning from General Scobie, General Officer Commanding Greece, to civilians in and around Athens and in the Piraeus, that rebel guns still firing after 9 a.m. to-morrow will be attacked with all the arms at my disposal.
§ Mr. Eden
I am not seeking to make a debating point. All I wish to say is that I do not think, if the hon. Gentleman will read his own account in HANSARD to-morrow, he will find that it squares with General Scobie's statement. The hon. Member need not be so angry. These guns have for some time been firing at the centre of Athens; General Scobie has said he would attack them, and warned the civil population to get out of the way before he does so. I do not think that that is at all the picture which the hon. Gentleman gave. I must say, in justice to our commanders, that I am absolutely convinced that they have used every possible means they can to avoid unnecessary loss of life, and have probably done so at considerable cost to themselves in the conduct of very difficult and delicate operations.
§ Mr. Eden
That is all the message I have, but if there are any more I should be glad to have them. Now I come to answer the hon. Gentleman on the subject of the King. He said that we were trying to impose the King on the Greek people. That really is not so. I must tell the House one factor which may perhaps carry weight, even with the hon. Gentleman. We all know perfectly well that the King is in this country. It was on the advice of the Prime Minister and myself, given personally, that the King is still in this country. It is very likely that he would have taken that decision on his own account—I cannot say—but our advice was strongly that he should remain in this country, because we were perfectly conscious that his arrival in Greece might certainly be the cause of a political controversy which we wanted to avoid. That is not imposing the King, with British bayonets, on the Greek people. I want to go a little further, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will do me the courtesy of listening.
§ Mr. Shinwell rose——
§ Mr. Eden
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me develop my speech. I did not intend to reveal this, but I think that in fairness I should. Many harsh things have been said about our Ambassador in Athens. Some Members suggested that the question of the establishment of a Regency had been a spontaneous suggestion from Greek Ministers, or something of that kind. But in point of fact the first suggestion for a Regency was made by His Majesty's Ambassador in Athens. He put it forward, and when my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) reached there, he confirmed the judgment of the Ambassador. What is the position of the King? As I understand it it is this. He feels that before he can make a decision on a matter of this kind he must get recommendations from the leaders of the parties in Greece. [Laughter.] The hon. Member laughs, but does he want this to be constitutional or not? The King says, "Before I can decide I would like to know the views of the political parties in Greece."
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is a matter of major importance. If the King declares that he is willing to consider the possibility of setting up of a Regency after consulting leaders in Greece the opinion of the E.A.M. must be taken into account. How could they be excluded?
§ Mr. Shinwell indicated dissent.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I gather that the British Government advised the King of Greece to stay in this country. That being so, will the Government advise the King of Greece not to stand in the way of a Regency?
§ Mr. Eden
We are not at all opposed to a Regency; on the contrary, it may be the best solution, but I think the Ministers themselves and the leaders of the political parties in Greece have the right to express 1908 their own opinion, and to express it to the King. I understand the King will then take a decision on their advice.
Mr. Driherg (Maldon)
If the Government can give advice to the King of Greece about remaining in this country, cannot they also advise him against sending messages to Athens in a form which can hardly be likely to promote reconciliation?
§ Mr. Eden
I do not think that that is a reasonable request. I have put the position. We are not against a Regency; if that might provide a solution, we would like the Greeks themselves to say that they think it is a solution. I am not in favour of it if it does not commend itself to the Greeks themselves.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
Is it worth while spending the life of, or wounding, one British soldier to defend the King's prerogative?
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Gentleman is most unfair. In this matter the King has behaved with complete constitutional propriety. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members might let me finish. He has not gone to Greece, at our request. He awaits the advice of his Ministers, and so far as I am aware if they give that advice he will take it. I have tried to avoid importing controversy into this Debate, and I am sorry if I have done so at any stage.
Let me try to sum up. We want to bring the present conflict to an end as speedily as possible, by whatever means can be devised. Apart from the tragedy of the loss of life, we must bring it to an end, otherwise we cannot get supplies to Greece and there will be the tragedy of starvation. We are trying to get food into Greece. With the help of the Red Cross some supplies have been sent in, but they are pitifully small and they will not be enough if the present situation continues 1909 much longer. A population of 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 in Athens will be faced by the serious threat of starvation and disease. The rest of Greece is in great need of supplies which cannot reach there because of the present disturbed conditions. So, we shall use all the means at our disposal to try to bring this conflict to an end. We shall use all the means at our disposal to ensure that this conflict is not made the excuse for a lasting vendetta, either of the Right against the Left, or of the Left against the Right, and that when the conflict is over neither side shall be allowed to try to eliminate the other. Our aim is to maintain law and order and establish a Greek Government broadly representative of all opinion in Greece, including E.A.M., and enable that Government to establish its authority throughout the country. Our desire is to see such a Government re-formed at the earliest possible date. The first task of that Government will be to get relief going again, and food for their people. The second task will be to organise a free and fair election. If our help is needed it will be available, and if our Allies will come and help that help will be valuable. We ask nothing of the Greeks. It is our wish to bring our troops away as soon as is practically possible. We only ask that order shall be established so that the people shall be fed with supplies, the greater part of which we have ourselves collected. This is an unhappy phase in Anglo-Greek relations. I hope that this chapter will soon be closed, that there will be once again that friendship in which we have taken a pride and that the Greek people and our own people will be united together.
§ It being Six 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."—[Major A. S, L. Young.]