HC Deb 08 November 1944 vol 404 cc1369-73
Mr. Eden

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave the House a fortnight ago an account of our conversation with Marshal Stalin and M. Molotov in Moscow. I have nothing to add to that account but if the House would give me leave I would like to make a very brief statement of the work that it fell to me to do after the departure of my right hon. Friend. In Egypt I met the newly appointed Egyptian Prime Minister, who assured me of his Government's loyalty to the alliance with this country, which alliance, as the House will remember, is enshrined in the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, an instrument which has well stood the test of time, emergency and war. In the three or four days that I spent in Cairo I also had the opportunity to discuss with Lord Moyne—whose brutal and tragic assassination is such a blow to us all—all the manifold political and administrative problems which were in the area of his responsibility.

On 25th October I left, with Lord Moyne, by air, for Athens. I should have explained that, at an earlier stage, our Ambassador to Greece had telegraphed to the Prime Minister and myself urging that one or both of us should visit Athens on our way home, to meet the Minister of the Greek Government and to see for ourselves the situation and the problems which to-day confront liberated Greece. The Prime Minister agreed that this should be my task. I do not believe that informed opinion in this country yet fully understands how complete, how merciless, how dastardly has been the devastation inflicted by the German armies in Allied lands as they are compelled to withdraw. The purpose underlying this systematic barbarity is clear enough. It is to bring to a standstill the whole life of the nation. That is what the Germans told the Greeks they would do as they left All communications, all bridges, all telegraphs are destroyed; all means of transport, lorries and even, in many instances, pack animals are removed; all harbours are mined, blocked, blown up, every crane in the Piraeus destroyed. The essential parts of factories are removed and stocks of raw materials are either taken away or destroyed. For instance, there is, in Greece, a small but important textile industry. There is no means of getting that to work because there is no. machinery left nor cotton.

In Greece, thanks to the heroism of the local defenders, the great power station near Athens was saved, but for the rest, one has to admit that the German plan was so thoroughly carried out that problems of immense complexity confronted the Greek Government, and of these vexed problems, the currency situation was by no means the least. Though much remains to be done, I am able to report to the House substantial progress in dealing with these problems. First and foremost, in respect to supply; as a result of most strenuous efforts on the part of the Royal Navy and the Royal Engineers, who sometimes do not get all the public credit they deserve, and of the civilian population in the Piraeus, too, that port has been got to work again, in part, at least. By the end of October we had reached a figure of supplies unloaded at the Piraeus alone almost of 3,000 tons a day—a truly remarkable figure in the circumstances. A substantial proportion of what is unloaded is foodstuffs for the civilian population and we are confident that that figure can be improved substantially as the port capacity is increased.

When the remaining obstacles are overcome, we expect to unload in Greece a monthly tonnage of over 130,000 tons and of that, about 60,000 tons will be foodstuffs and 70,000 tons will be clothing, medicine and relief goods. I must make it plain that the delivery of these very large supplies and the organisation entailed were only made possible by the careful work done in advance largely by all staffs of our military authorities and by those of the United States in the Middle East, so that when the emergency came we should be ready. It is also clear that an effective means of combating this inflation—though I do not pretend to be an authority on this matter—is to ensure tht import of supplies, and in connection with that the Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean, General Wilson, Admiral Cunningham, the C.-in-C., Mediterranean, Lord Moyne and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan) and I have had many consultations, as a result of which, certain arrangements were made to bring urgently from the Middle East certain goods in addition to the previously arranged military relief.

I would like to give the House just two examples which may interest all. By air we arranged to bring some 200 tons of special supplies urgently needed, and the Royal Navy and warships brought over in addition some 600 or 700 tons in emergency passages. The arrival of these goods helped to restore confidence; and we tried to deal with the problem of transport in the same way. Admirable arrangements have been made by the military authorities, but owing to the complete removal of every means of transport inside the country, something further was needed, and we did arrange for several hundred further lorries to be brought from the Middle East to help to restore some economic life inside the country, for that was wholly at a standstill. For example, olive oil, which is the diet of the Greek people, is produced in large quantities, but owing to this complete removal of transport and destruction of bridges it could not be removed from the country places and in the towns it was not available.

In the last few days the first convoy has arrived in Athens bringing olive oil from the Peloponnese, and so progress is being made, and there is good hope for the future provided stable internal conditions can be maintained; but on this all successful organisation of relief must inevitably depend. I could not close this brief account of what we saw in Greece without saying how much moved were all ranks of the British Forces by the truly warm-hearted welcome given them by all sections of the Greek people. As we all know, our Greek friends are very politically minded, they have many parties, and I could find only one subject upon which they all agreed, a general and wholehearted welcome to the British Forces.

I should like also to say a very few words about my visit to Italy. The main purpose of this was to accept an invitation which General Alexander had kindly extended to me, to visit our Front in Northern Italy. I was unfortunate in that the days of my stay there coincided with those phenomenal storms, which the people of a country invariably tell you have never been known to happen since 1880 or some other date. As a result, all I could know was that the rivers were soon torrents, all low-lying land was a quagmire much more like Flanders than the Italy of the Florentine pictures, and all movement was a matter of the utmost difficulty. Even a day's hard work, in which we transferred ourselves from a jeep to a three-ton lorry in accordance with the depths of the flood at particular points—all the time slithering about and cursing and struggling a good deal—enabled us to cover only a very small percentage of the mileage we had planned to cover. Although this was naturally disappointing to anyone who wished to see much, it did enable me to understand, as I suppose nothing else could have done, the conditions under which our Allied Armies are living and fighting in Italy. No praise that we can utter can be too high for those men. They have had a prolonged struggle with a stubborn foe. They have had to contend not only with the fighting capacity of their enemies but with conditions of climate and terrain peculiar to Italy. Under the brilliant leadership of General Alexander and of his Army commanders, the United States General Mark Clark and General McCreery, who has succeeded General Oliver Leese, they have persevered undaunted.

I hope that in a comparatively short space of time it will be possible to arrange for some Members of this House to visit that Front. I know that such a visit would be welcomed there—I was so informed—and when hon. Members do go I am sure they will feel, as I do, that to meet those men, to see the conditions in which they live and fight, is to feel a deep sense of pride in our own people, a conviction of final victory and a confidence in the work we can all do together in the years that lie ahead.

Miss Ward

May I ask whether, at a convenient date, the right hon. Gentleman would publish in a White Paper details of the kind of devastation the Germans have caused in the countries which they have occupied? I think it would be very useful to have it on record.

Mr. Eden

I will see whether the information that comes to us can be collected in same form.

Mr. McGovern

Has the attention of the Foreign Secretary also been drawn to the "Evening News" of last Friday, in which it was stated that we are engaged in a policy of systematic obliteration of German territory?

Mr. Eden

What I am dealing with is a systematic attempt of the Germans, on being forced by military events to retreat from a country, to see that that country cannot live.

Captain Duncan

Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about Northern Greece and whether Macedonia and Thrace are now free of Bulgarian troops?

Mr. Eden

Yes, all the Bulgarian troops have been withdrawn.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether Salonika, which is now understood to be free, will receive supplies of food as quickly as Athens?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, plans have been made but I am sure the hon. Member will realise the particular difficulties of the approach to Salonika.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

As my right hon. Friend mentioned the lamented death of Lord Moyne, can he inform the House whether any more news has been, received by His Majesty's Government?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, I am not in a position at present to add anything to what the Prime Minister said yesterday. We have called for a full report and investigations are being made, and as soon as we have the report we will inform the House.