§ 12.9 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
I gathered that it was the desire of the House that there should be a further discussion of the war and foreign situations and policies at this time, before any new important international conferences take place. I will try to survey the whole—I cannot say the whole, but large and select portions—of this vast scene to the best of my ability. It has fallen to the hard lot of Britain to play a leading part in the Mediterranean, and particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean. We have great responsibilities, and we have made great exertions, there. In Italy the British, or 397 British-controlled, divisions under Field Marshal Alexander's command, and still more if the whole area of the Mediterranean is included, outnumber three-fold those of the United States. There is battle along the whole front in Italy, and behind the front, in the hard-stricken peninsula, are many economic and political difficulties. The old structure with its hateful rigours has been destroyed, and in its place we have had to raise a Government of improvisation. We have the Bonomi Government, which has been trying to do its best under extraordinary difficulties, but which, of course, has no electoral authority behind it. But now, at any time, perhaps in a few months, perhaps much sooner—for no one can tell what is proceeding in the minds of the German war leaders—the Germans will be driven out of Italy, o[...] will perhaps withdraw; and immediately the great populous districts of the North, the cities of Turin, Milan, and other centres of industry and activity, and a large population of all kinds of political views but containing great numbers of vehement or violent politicians, and in touch with brave men, who have been fighting, and maintaining a guerilla warfare in the Alps, all these will be thrown—probably at a time when the Northern regions have been stripped bare of food by the retreating Germans—hungry, upon the fragile structure of the Italian Government in Rome, with consequences which cannot be accurately foreseen, and certainly not measured.
How necessary it is for Britain and the United States, who bear the chief responsibilities, to maintain the closest and most intimate contact in the solution of all these new problems. Let me say once and for all that we have no political combinations, in Europe or elsewhere, in respect of which we need Italy as a party. We need Italy no more than we need Spain, because we have no designs which require the support of such Powers. We must take care that all the blame of things going wrong is not thrown on us. This, I have no doubt, can be provided against, and to some extent I am providing against it now.
We have one principle about the liberated countries or the repentant satellite countries which we strive for according to the best of our ability and resources. Here is the principle. I will state it in the broadest and most familiar terms: Government of the people, by the people, for the people, set up on a basis of free 398 and universal suffrage election, with secrecy of the ballot and no intimidation. That is and has always been the policy of this Government in all countries. That is our only aim, our only interest, and our only care. It is to that goal that we try to make our way across all the difficulties, obstacles and perils of the long road. Trust the people, make sure they have a fair chance to decide their destiny without being terrorised from either quarter or regimented. There is our policy for Italy, for Yugoslavia and for Greece. What other interests have we than that? For that we shall strive and for that alone.
The general principle which I have enunciated guides us in our relations with Yugoslavia. We have no special interest in the political régime which prevails in Yugoslavia. Few people in Britain, I imagine, are going to be more cheerful or more downcast because of the future Constitution of Yugoslavia. However, because the King and the Royal Yugoslav Government took refuge with us at the time of the German invasion we have acquired a certain duty towards the Government and peoples on the other side of the Adriatic which can only be discharged in a correct and formal manner such as, for instance, would be provided by a plebiscite. I am the earliest outside supporter of Marshal Tito. It is more than a year since in this House I extolled his guerilla virtues to the world. Some of my best friends and the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Major Churchill) are there with him or his Forces now. I earnestly hope he may prove to be the saviour and the unifier of his country, as he is undoubtedly at this time its undisputed master.
Recently Bulgaria and Rumania have passed under the control of the Soviet military authorities and Russian-controlled Armies are in direct contact with Yugoslavia. As we feared that there might be misunderstandings and contrary policies between us and the Soviet Government about Yugoslavia, which can easily arise when armies enter a country which is in great disorder, the Foreign Secretary and I reached at Moscow an understanding with Marshal Stalin by which our two countries pursue a joint policy in these regions, after constant discussions. This agreement raised no question of divisions of territory or spheres of interest after the war. It arrived only at the avoidance, during these critical days, of friction between the great Allies. In practice 399 I exchange telegrams on behalf of His Majesty's Government personally with Marshal Stalin about the difficulties which arise, and about what is the best thing to do. We keep President Roosevelt informed constantly.
In pursuance of our joint policy, we encouraged the making of an agreement between the Tito Government, which, with Russian assistance, has now installed itself in Belgrade, and the Royal Government of Yugoslavia, which is seated in London, and recognised by us, as, I believe, by all the Powers of the United Nations. Marshal Stalin and His Majesty's Government consider that agreement on the whole to be wise. We believe that the arrangements of the Tito-Subasic agreement are the best that can be made for the immediate future of Yugoslavia. They preserve the form and the theme of monarchy pending the taking of a fair and free plebiscite as soon as conditions allow. King Peter II agrees in principle with these arrangements, but he makes certain reservations. The nature and effect of these are, I understand, at present under discussion. I should hesitate to prophesy or to promise how all this will turn out, but in all the circumstances, and having regard to the chaotic conditions arising out of this war, I do not see what else except this Tito-Subasic agreement could be done by His Majesty's Government and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to contribute what they can to bringing about the widest possible measure of agreement among Yugoslays, and to ensure that these issues should not become a cause of friction among Allies. It is a matter of days within which a decision must be reached upon this matter, and if we were so unfortunate as not to be able to obtain the consent of King Peter, the matter would have, in fact, to go ahead, his assent being presumed. The King's point of view, as I understood it, was that he was anxious about becoming responsible, while he had no power, for any severities or confiscations which might take place in his country before the plebiscite decided whether it was to be a monarchy or a republic. Such scruples must be respected, but cannot necessarily, in these times, indefinitely prevent the march of events.
From the troubles of Italy and Yugoslavia, we come naturally to those of 400 Greece. Once again, we are guided by our simple policy: Victory against the Germans; the establishment of and aid to the most coherent and substantial government machine that can be found; the delivery of such food as we and our Allies can spare and our combined shipping afford; the maintenance of tolerable conditions of law and order; and the holding of plebiscites or general elections fairly and squarely—then, exit at the earliest practicable moment. We toil through a mighty maze, but I can assure the Committee it is not without plan. The story of events in Greece has been told so fully in the newspapers that I shall not attempt a chronological or descriptive account—[Interruption]. I beg that I may not be interrupted. Every two or three minutes the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who receives exceptional courtesy in this House, thinks it necessary to assert himself by making some half-inaudible and occasionally partially- intelligent interruption. I do not think that is in accordance with the wish of the Committee or the conditions of our Debate.
I said that I should not attempt a long chronological account, but there is no case in my experience, certainly not in my war-time experience, where a British Government has been so maligned and its motives so traduced in our own country by important organs of the Press or among our own people. That this should be done amid the perils of this war, now at its climax, has filled me with surprise and sorrow. It bodes ill for the future in which the life and strength of Britain compared to other Powers will be tested to the full, not only in the war but in the aftermath of war. How can we wonder at, still less how we can complain of, the attitude of hostile or indifferent newspapers in the United States when we have, in this country, witnessed such a melancholy exhibition as that provided by some of our most time-honoured and responsible journals—and others to which such epithets would hardly apply? Only the solid and purposeful strength of the National Coalition Government could have enabled us to pursue unflinching and unyielding the course of policy and principle on which we were and are resolved.
But our task, hard as it was, has been and is still being rendered vastly more difficult by a spirit of gay, reckless, unbridled partisanship which has been let 401 loose on the Greek question and has fallen upon those who have to bear the burden of Government in times like these. I have never been connected with any large enterprise of policy about which I was more sure in mind and conscience of the rectitude of our motives, of the clarity of our principles and of the vigour, precision and success of our action, than what we have done in Greece.
We went to Greece for the second time in this war. We went with the full approval of both our great Allies. We went on the invitation of a Greek Government in which all parties, even the Communists, were represented, and as a result of a military conference at which the generals of E.L.A.S. and of E.D.E.S. were equally present. We came with good gifts in our hands, stability and assistance to the all-party Greek Government who were formed and had to face the confusion left by the flight of the Germans. We brought food, clothing and supplies. We came with a small force of troops. We took up our positions from no military point of view, scattering and spreading our troops in a number of places on the coast and at small points inland where we hoped to be able to pour in the largest numbers of supplies as quickly as possible to a very hungry people. We were received with flowers and cheers, and other expressions of rapture, and we British, the wicked British—so denounced by the American correspondents, whose names have, no doubt, been noted by the House, and so hounded by some of our own—busied ourselves in the distribution of supplies throughout those parts of the country to which we had access.
We had made Greece safe for U.N.R.R.A. before the outbreak took place. Meanwhile, for a period of six weeks or so, the Greek Government, representative of all parties, were distracted by internal divisions and street demonstrations, and all the time the Communist-directed forces were drawing down from the North and infiltrating into the city of Athens in which they had also a strong local faction. We had furnished these men, for several years, with arms in considerable quantities in the hope that they would fight against the Germans. They accepted the arms, and they kept them and other arms they procured from the Italians and the Germans in their retreat—captured or bought, or otherwise 402 obtained—and they kept them with a plan to seize the power of the Greek State in Athens once the Germans cleared out and went away. [Interruption.] I cannot guarantee to carry unanimous opinion with me at every stage in the discussion of what is admittedly the most controversial matter of the hour in British policy.
I must speak a little about these Greek Communists, among whom Macedonian and Bulgarian elements are also found, possibly with territorial ideas of their own. They are a very formidable people. They have a theme and a policy which they pursue by merciless methods while all sorts of other people in these regions have only been trying to keep body and soul together. I have been told that I made a mistake in under-rating the power of the Communist-directed E.L.A.S. I must admit that I judged them on their form against the Germans. I do not wish to do them any military injustice. Of course, it was not against the Germans they were trying to fight to any great extent. They were simply taking our arms, lying low and awaiting the moment when they could seize power in the capital by force, or intrigue, and make Greece a Communist State with the totalitarian liquidation of all opponents. I was misled by the little use they were against the Germans, especially once the general victory of the Allies became probable, in spite of the arms we gave to them. I certainly under-rated them as a fighting force. If I am accused of this mistake, I can only say with M. Clemenceau on a celebrated occasion: "Perhaps I have made a number of other mistakes of which you have not heard."
While the British were busy distributing the food and endeavouring to keep things steady, the E.A.M. and Communist Ministers, who were eventually increased to seven in the Papandreou Cabinet, were playing a different game. Throughout, this has been a struggle for power. They were playing the game of the E.L.A.S. bands and of their Communist directors. While sitting in M. Papandreou's Cabinet they were working in the closest combination with the forces gathering to destroy it and all that he and other colleagues represented in the everyday life of Greece. E.A.M. and Communist Ministers threw sand in the wheels of the Government at every stage. They did 403 their best to hamper the landing and distribution of food by provoking strikes on some occasions. In addition, they fought over every officer in the Army which it was necessary for the poor State to raise—you cannot have a State without some kind of national army; I am entirely against private armies, and we are not going to have private armies. Every single appointment was wrangled over in this time of crisis till the last minute, and then, when the moment came, when the fierce mountaineers, who had been so tame and idle against the Germans, had got well into the city of Athens——
§ The Prime Minister
I have spared no pains to try to learn what I believe are the facts. I consider myself far better informed on this matter than I was a month or six weeks ago, but what I have learned with great pains and patience has led me to a strengthening of my original conclusions, and among them is undoubtedly the conclusion that the E.L.A.S. armed bands, at any rate for the last two years, played very little part against the Germans. Now, I really cannot argue with my hon. Friend. No doubt he and some of those who hold his views will have an opportunity of extolling their glorious deeds. I, personally, am not prepared to pay them anything like the tributes which are paid to the heroic French or Belgian Maquis, or to the men in Italy who are in the mountains fighting their desperate battle. It seems to me they took aid from us with their eyes on more important local matters after the general war was over.
Every single appointment was wrangled over, and when the fierce mountaineers had got well into the city and joined up with their confederates inside, then all those seven Ministers of the Government resigned like clockwork, except one, whom I told the House about before, who was [...] little late, but by running very hard, under the threat of death, managed to keep his appointment. So far, the Allies seemed very content with what had happened in Greece. Our minds rested upon 404 its liberation from the Germans. We expected a certain amount of local ebullition while matters readjusted themselves and food could come in. After all, there were other things going on at the same time. We rested on the pleasure which our early reception in Athens and in other Greek cities and islands had given to all of us, especially to those who care deeply about Greece and her future.
Now we come to a new phase about which it was not possible to consult our Allies, and upon which action had to be taken immediately. On the night of 4th-5th December I had before me a series of telegrams which showed that the advancing E.L.A.S. forces in Athens, the Communists and all they could gather with them, were within about 1,000 yards of the centre of Greek Government in the Hôtel Grande Bretagne, and also within the same distance, or even less, of the British Embassy into which all our womenfolk of the cipher departments, and others, had been gathered, and it seemed that the overrunning of these places, or at any rate of the seat of Government, by this ferocious and well-armed, well-directed mob, or army if you like——
§ The Prime Minister
—or army of brigands, if the hon. Member wishes—I shall have to tell the Committee much worse about them than that before I have finished. This was about to take place. Almost all the police stations in Athens and the Piraeus had been occupied or stormed by E.L.A.S. forces, some with the slaughter of every single inmate. Firing was widespread throughout the city—it was growing, it was approaching. General Scobie signalled:A general strike has been declared in Athens. All power and utility services have ceased working. Unless full order can be restored the situation of the Government will be critical. All British troops, including the Parachute Brigade, are being held here.We were about to take some of our troops away when this happened. The Parachute Brigade was needed in Italy. The hour was late, or rather early—two o'clock in the morning. Orders were sent to General Scobie to take over the military command of Athens and restore and maintain order by whatever measures were necessary. If I did wrong, I take the full responsibility, but my colleagues are most desirous to share it with me. 405 For three or four days, or more, it was a struggle to prevent a hideous massacre in the centre of Athens, in which all forms of government would have been swept away and naked, triumphant Trotskyism installed. I think "Trotskyists" is a better definition of these people and of certain other sects, than the normal word, and it has the advantage of being equally hated in Russia. However, by the skin of our teeth and thanks to the resolution of the handful of British soldiers on the spot, the assailants were hurled back and Athens, and, as I firmly believe, Greek freedom were saved.
On Christmas Day I thought it necessary to go to Athens with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. There was a demand from many quarters for the Regency and for the Archbishop. I was anxious to test that on the spot: I was anxious to see what could be done at the conference of all parties including, of course, the representatives of E.A.M. and the Communists, which I asked the Archbishop to convene in Athens. At this conference those severed by mortal hatred—mortal and living hatred—were seated around a table and found themselves united upon the Regency, and in their minds at that time there was, obviously, only one man who could fill it. So the Foreign Secretary and I, on our return, laboured with the Greek King in order to procure his assent. We were successful, and on 31st December Archbishop Damaskinos was invested with the Royal power pending his Regency, and, I think, with more than the Royal power.
We did not seek to be consulted about his measures, nor did we interfere in the choice of his Prime Minister, nor in the character and composition of his Government. I did not know when I left, with any assurance, who would be his Prime Minister or what men would be chosen by that Prime Minister and approved by him to fill the Government. I gathered, however, that there was a general desire to avoid merely getting the leaders of parties together, but rather to pick strong and real representatives of those parties, the leaders of which are very numerous and not always free from the dangers of being discredited. The Archbishop struck me as being a very remarkable man, with his headgear, towering up, morally as well as physically, above the chaotic scene. I am sure he would not have undertaken his re- 406 sponsibilities unless he had been free to exercise his own judgment.
He called upon General Plastiras, who, under his close guidance, formed a Government of the character I have described—Liberal, Socialist, Left Wing, Democratic and Republican, in fact, as we are assured, with all the modern virtues, but, undoubtedly, violently against the Communists. People here talk of making a Government of all parties and of every one being persuaded to fall upon each other's necks, or, at any rate, to work together in a sensible manner. I must admit that I had had some of these ideas when I flew to Athens on Christmas Day, but the House must not suppose that, in these foreign lands, matters are settled as they would be here in England. Even here it is hard enough to keep a Coalition together, even between men who, although divided by party, have a supreme object and so much else in common. But imagine what the difficulties are in countries racked by civil war, past or impending, and where clusters of petty parties have each their own set of appetites, misdeeds and revenges. If I had driven the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister out to die in the snow, if the Minister of Labour had kept the Foreign Secretary in exile for a great many years, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had shot at and wounded the Secretary of State for War, or the head of one or other of the great spending Departments, if we, who sit here together, had back-bitten and double-crossed each other while pretending to work together, and had all put our own group or party first and the country nowhere, and had all set ideologies, slogans or labels in front of comprehension, comradeship and duty, we should certainly, to put it at the mildest, have come to a General Election much sooner than is now likely.
When men have wished very much to kill each other, and have feared very much that they will be killed quite soon, it is not possible for them next day to work together as friends with colleagues against whom they have nursed such intentions or from whom they have derived such fears. We must recognise the difference between our affairs and those which prevailed in Athens, especially while the firing was continuous all round us. That cannot possibly be overlooked. We should have been very glad to have seen a united Government set up. We left them to it, 407 with a strong urge and appeal to unite and save their country, no exception being made of Communists or any one at that moment. All next day they struggled. On several occasions, the entire Liberal Party left the room and were with difficulty shepherded back into their places. It was absolutely certain that no agreement to form a united front could be reached, and, since then, far worse things have happened than had happened before.
The days passed. Our reinforcements rapidly and steadily arrived. They were found, without altering the operations on the Italian front, by putting, I am sorry to say, an extra effort on divisions which were resting and which would otherwise have gone to rest camps. But the troops accepted these duties in the most loyal and hearty spirit and have frequently expressed the opinion that the people they were fightng were even dirtier than the Germans. Street by street, Athens was cleared. Progress was very slow, because of the care taken to disentangle the women and children and innocent civilians who were all intermingled with people in plain clothes who were firing.
The assailants have fled; Attica is free; a truce has been signed, giving a much larger area of peace and order around Athens and the Piraeus, which are the heart of Greece and which have always been the dominant centre of the life of Greece. More than one quarter of the entire population lives there and in the region now liberated. I have not the slightest doubt that, in the opinions they express and in the views they take, they represent at least four-fifths of the whole Greek nation, if it could express its view in conditions of peace and normal tranquility. Fighting has ceased now, except for skirmishes with parties of E.L.A.S. troops, who probably have not yet heard the news in this primitive country. Now the Greek people can talk things over as they choose under the guidance of Archbishop Damaskinos, who is also ready to receive, and has invited, the representatives of E.A.M., or what is left of E.A.M. in the political structure, and E.L.A.S., to come to meet him.
What do we seek in Greece? Do we want anything from Greece? What part do they play in our so-called power politics? How much does it matter to us, from a national point of view, what form their government takes? I repeat: we 408 want nothing from Greece but her friendship, and, to earn that and deserve that, we have to do our duty. We cannot disentangle ourselves from Greece immediately after what has happened. We cannot do so until there can be either a free vote, or a guarantee of a free vote, under the most stringent and impartial supervision, a vote of all the Greek people as to what they want in the future. Whatever they decide, Monarchy or Republic, Left or Right, that shall be their law, as far as we are concerned. When I see all the fury expended on this subject, and when we are abused, without one shadow of truth, as if we wanted some islands or bases from Greece, as if we needed their aid to keep ourselves alive, I feel added anxiety for the future, which with all its sombre and infinitely complicated problems, is closing rapidly upon us.
However, the "Cease fire" has sounded, and the rejoicings of the people of Athens have once again acclaimed the liberating British troops, this time with an intense, agonised fervour. At any rate, there is a region where about 1,500,000 men and women can earn their daily living without fear of pillage, or of being killed in street fighting. Meanwhile, as a result of these events, and also of the complete clearance of the city, which proceeded for several weeks with heavy fighting night and day, various alphabetical groups like S.K.E. and E.L.D. have, I am informed, speaking by the best available leaders they have—for all is in confusion—subtracted themselves from E.A.M., leaving now only K.K.E., the Communists, in uncomfortable isolation, clinging to their hostages.
Let me now read an extract from a despatch from our Ambassador, Mr. Leeper, whom I have seen at close quarters in difficult and dangerous circumstances, and who, I am bound to say, has grown in stature with the tests which have been applied so severely and increasingly to him—a man now labouring with the utmost earnestness for a peace on the broadest possible basis. This is what he says:Ever since the Germans left, the small but well-armed Communist Party"—he wrote this in a despatch a day or two ago——has been practising a reign of terror all over the country. Nobody can estimate the number of people killed or arrested before the 409 revolt in Athens actually began, but, when the truth can be known, there will be terrible stories to tell. When the fighting began in Athens, the brutalities increased rapidly. Men, women and children were murdered here in large numbers, and thousands of hostages were taken, dragged along the roads and many left to die. Reports from Salonika show that much the same thing was happening there.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
On a point of Order. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman was quoting from a document sent to him by the British Ambassador in Athens. May I be allowed to ask that the Papers be laid upon the Table?
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The hon. Gentleman has put a question to me. The answer is that, except in matters where it is against the public interest, it is usual to lay such documents on the Table.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I want to ask if it is in Order for the Prime Minister to quote from one of his own speeches 25 years ago about Soviet Russia?
§ The Prime Minister
Evidently, the chance remark which I made the other day to the hon. Member has stung him deeply. I shall continue to probe carefully the exact political shade which he adopts. With regard to this document, I think I should be quite ready to lay the telegram which I quoted.
§ The Prime Minister
The whole document, subject to anything that may be excluded on the grounds of the public interest.
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, on account of public security. There is a good deal more in it than I have read out. Some of the news may not be any more palatable to the hon. Member.
§ The Prime Minister
I am not accepting it at all as an absolute rule, that in time of war documents can be quoted without 410 the most careful survey by the Government. That is absolutely necessary. In times when Blue Books were given to the House, even in peace, frequent excisions were made and indicated by dots by Ministers responsible for the safety of the country.
There is another tale told by a British officer, Lieut.-Colonel H. G. Morrison, the King's Royal Rifle Corps, who obtained his information by personal cross-questioning of a large number of hostages whom he met at a field dressing station. The Colonel said:On Christmas Day"—I will lay this too—a column of hostages composed of men and women dragged from their homes by the insurgents moved northwards from Athens. They were collected in one suburb and after most had been relieved of their footwear and many of their overcoats, they were driven in dead of winter along the mountain roads covered with snow. Every day some died of exhaustion and others were executed. For food these miserable, bare-footed hostages were left entirely to their own resources. The inhabitants in villages from whom they begged food were mostly too terrorised to do more than look on in impotent sympathy. When their starvation became acute E.L.A.S. proposed to buy them food if they supplied the money. The equivalent of about £100 was raised but all they received in return was one half loaf of bread each. A favourite trick of the E.L.A.S. guards was to assemble these bewildered people and inform them that after so many hours' march they would find a billet, a hot meal and a bed. After several days of this they fully realised they would be lucky if they found room on the floor of a stable with no promise of food of any description.Two characteristic details. A woman discovered to have money was deprived of it and shot. When other hostages protested the guards justified themselves by asserting that she had been working for the British. One man managed to extract a gold tooth from his mouth and barter it for a little food. A few fortunate stragglers from this column were picked up in the last stages of exhaustion, their bare feet in ribbons. Hitherto those no longer able to walk had been executed; but their guards were in a hurry and received warning that the British armed patrols were on their tail.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member may not only have the pleasure of having it told to him but of reading it in the document.
§ The Prime Minister
The hon. Member continues to presume. I am reading the facts and he does not like the facts. I am telling him the truth and he fears the truth. These facts reflect on those whom he has so thoughtlessly championed, and I will give him further warning. There is a great deal more to come, and I think that the Committee has a right to hear it. [Interruption.] When I quote from the colonel of the King's Royal Rifle Corps and say he gathered his information from the advanced dressing station, where he examined a number of these victims, the hon. Gentleman opposite immediately tries to suggest it is all some fake propaganda. He did not use those words, but the whole sense of his interruption was to cast doubt on an officer who has not the slightest interest, political or otherwise, to do anything but collect, gather and convey the truth. Mr. Leeper adds:This is the story of one column of 800 hostages of whom about 200 were dead within 10 days. The total number seized runs into thousands and includes many reputable men and women well known to the Greek public. A good many survivors have now returned to Athens to tell a similar tale.The following is an eye-witness report by another British officer. I cannot give his name. I have telegraphed for it, and I will lay it before the Committee shortly afterwards. He says:Whilst at Peristeri (an Athens suburb) interrogating E.L.A.S. prisoners, I was informed by civilians and National Guards that a great many hostages had been executed by E.L.A.S. and buried in ditches on the outskirts. I proceeded to the place where exhumation of bodies had begun and interrogated the cemetery guardian. According to his statement batches of 15 to 20 hostages were brought to the north-east corner of the cemetery every day by E.L.A.S. and murdered; their bodies were then buried in some disused trenches. This system of trenches which covers some 200 yards is now filled with earth but trial diggings have uncovered bodies along most of its length. Further to the north and north-west are more trenches and pits, which, according to the guardian, also contain bodies of hostages who were executed there. He estimates that in all 1,200 to 1,500 people were executed, mostly with knives or axes. The latter testimony was borne out by partially exhumed bodies which I saw, which had deep wounds in the back of the head or neck, probably inflicted by a heavy knife. Apparently they were hostages taken in Athens during the early days 412 of the fighting and who were systematically exterminated up till the E.L.A.S. withdrawal from Athens.I am sorry to trepass on the Committee. This is one which only arrived this morning. It is from Consul-General Rapp, who is at Salonika:Between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. yesterday, 16th January, 31 sick civilians, of whom 17 to 20 were in a dying condition, were removed by E.L.A.S. from the Municipal Hospital at Salonika, loaded on to bullock carts in their pyjamas (some had pyjama trousers only) and taken off to Verroia. Facts are verified by Mme. Riadis and M. Zannas of the Greek Red Cross who followed the convoy in a car a few hours later and distributed blankets. It is probable that several have already died from exposure. British military authorities are taking all possible steps to secure their immediate return.Three days ago the roads leading out of Salonika were crowded with long columns of horse- and bullock-drawn vehicles which had been brought in from the countryside and had left with much booty and loot, their owners having stripped bare every house, rich or poor, in which they could find anything worth carrying away. I know perfectly well that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) would not stand for anything of this kind. I know that he would not, but would rather throw away great advantages in an argument than stand for one moment for inhumanity. I am not trying to suggest that hon. Gentlemen opposite, even those who are most excited, are in any way associating themselves with this sort of thing, and, therefore, I am taking great pains to show what has been going on, and is going on, in order that they may carefully watch their steps and choose their language in such a way as to keep themselves clear of all taint of approbation.
I give my warning to what I must call the E.L.A.S.-ites in this country and elsewhere. The prisoners are coming home and the truth is coming out. Two horrible stultifications await them. First the revelation and proof of the atrocities committed by those whom they have found it their duty to defend, and secondly, a great surprise is going to come upon them in the vote which the Greek people will give about these matters, when our purpose of free election has been achieved. I would warn the Committee that, if we are going to tear ourselves asunder in this island over all the feuds and passions of the Balkan countries which our arms and 413 those of our Allies have liberated, we shall be found quite incapable of making our influence count in the great settlement which awaits the end of the war. It is, I believe, the intention of the Regent and of General Plastiras to broaden the Government continually but we really must leave this process to them and not try to interfere with it from day to day.
It is only fair for me to tell the Committee that I do not believe that any of the existing authorities in Athens will ever work as colleagues with the Communist leaders who assailed the city and brought, as they think, all these miseries upon Greece. There is a violent feeling throughout the liberated area that there should be no amnesty. Even when we were there three weeks ago, and when we held only a small part of the city, most of the roads were dangerous. There were bands of men marching about, poorly clad men, with placards bearing the words, "No amnesty." Passions there are tense and I am told that they tend to become more tense because of questions and answers in this House. We try to allay those passions as much as we can. The Government have been committed by me to the principle of "no proscription." That means that no person, whether ringleader or otherwise, shall be punished for his part in the recent rebellion unless he is found guilty by a properly constituted court of personal breaches of the laws of war or of the private crimes for which ordinary felons are punished. This principle has been accepted by the Greek Government and all statements to the contrary are over-ridden. Any statement which does not conform to it is over-ridden by the quite definite agreement which I made on the spot in respect of these matters and which I have every reason to believe will be maintained. It is quite possible that General Plastiras under tremendous pressure of people, boiling with rage and bursting for revenge, may have used some sentences which do not correspond or seem not to correspond with the interpretation which I have placed upon it. But the position of His Majesty's Government has been definitely taken up and our opinion is, I am sure, one which will be treated with respect and consideration by the Greek Government, who are so largely dependent upon our Armed Forces for their existence.
§ Mr. Bevan
This is of the utmost importance. The right hon. Gentleman 414 may have heard that statements are being made to the effect that the Government are already weeding out from the administration in Athens any of those persons who recently sympathised with E.A.M. I do not say it is true because I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman knows. Would he make it quite certain that British arms will not be used to sustain a Government, which does not honour, in full, the law and the pledge he has now given to the House?
§ The Prime Minister
I think there is a great difference between putting people to death for the crime of rebellion, or bringing them to penal processes, and making sure that your Government Departments are not full of people who are working for the other side. I am dealing with the whole question of amnesty which relates to the penal processes of law, such as imprisonment or sentences of death, and an amnesty certainly does not mean that persons who are not trusted by the Government of the day will immediately be made Cabinet Ministers, or that employees who were found to have left their posts in the crisis and taken part in the fighting on the opposite side to the Government of the day, should be reinstated or left in their positions. No one can stand for that, and I want to be very careful not to lead the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale into any ideas that I am promising something that goes beyond the actual words I have used.
As I say, this principle, which I have advised, has been accepted by the Greek Government, and I have no doubt it will be observed while any of our Forces remain in the country, but after that Greece will be completely free and sovereign and I cannot tell at all by what terrible feuds the wrangle may be carried on. There is, however, one further reservation which I must make. The promise of "no proscription" or amnesty—whichever term you prefer—is dependent, as we see it, upon the treatment and delivery of the hostages, and no amnesty could be declared while hostages were held in the grip of E.L.A.S. We thought it better that the fighting should stop. It is always a good thing for the firing to leave off in a case like this, when you wish to reach a parley. We thought it better for the fighting to stop, and that whatever parley took place about hostages would go on more 415 quickly after firing left off than before. But let there be no mistake, the name of Britain and the honour of our country are deeply engaged in this matter of hostages. We cannot let it be said that we made arrangements for all our people to be saved and left anything from 5,000 to 10,000 Greeks, men, women and children, to be carried off to the mountains by E.L.A.S., and its remaining associates, to be used as a weapon of blackmail, not merely to procure their own immunity from the crime of rebellion—for that, as I have said, is open to them if they take the proper course—but to be used to procure for them political advantages.
I tell the House quite plainly that His Majesty's Government will discharge their obligations, however painful, with complete integrity whether it is popular or not to do so, and that we shall not hesitate to rescue these hostages and punish their slaughter or maltreatment, if we are to continue to hold office under the Crown.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister
I finished before lunch dealing with the Greek question, and I quoted a statement by a British officer about the bodies which were being dug up. I had not got his name then, but it has since arrived by telegraph and is Captain R. F. G. Blackler, of the Royal Artillery. He gave an eye-witness account.
Now I turn to a very different theme and story. I turn from the pink and ochre panorama of Athens and the Piraeus, scintillating with delicious life and plumed by the classic glories and endless miseries and triumphs of its history. This must give way to the main battle-front of the war. In this, my chief contribution will be the recital of a number of facts and figures which may or may not be agreeable in different quarters. I have seen it suggested that the terrific battle which has been proceeding since 16th December on the American front is an Anglo-American battle. In fact, however, the United States troops have done almost all the fighting and have suffered almost all the losses. They have suffered losses almost equal to those on both sides in the battle of Gettysburg. Only one British Army 416 Corps has been engaged in this action. All the rest of the 30 or more divisions, which have been fighting continuously for the last month, are United States troops. The Americans have engaged 30 or 40 men for every one we have engaged, and they have lost 60 to 80 men for every one of ours. That is a point I wish to make. Care must be taken in telling our proud tale not to claim for the British Army an undue share of what is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory.
I never hesitate, as the Committee, I think, will bear me witness, to stand up for our own soldiers when their achievements have been cold-shouldered, or neglected, or overshadowed as they sometimes are, but we must not forget that it is to American homes that the telegrams of personal losses and anxiety have been going during the past month, and that there has been a hard and severe ordeal during these weeks for our brave and cherished Ally. This implies no disparagement of our own exertions, for we ourselves, a month or two earlier, lost 40,000 men in opening the Scheldt. The bulk of our Army on this occasion, when von Rundstedt attacked, was separated by scores of miles from the impact of the new offensive. They could not possibly have been moved into battle in large numbers without criss-crossing the lines of communication and creating utter confusion. The British Army stood, and stands, in its Northern position between the enemy and Antwerp in a strategic attitude, capable of averting all possibility of a major disaster. Our Armies are under the supreme command of General Eisenhower, and we march with discipline wherever we are told to go.
According to the professional advice which I have at my disposal, what was done to meet von Rundstedt's counter-stroke was resolute, wise and militarily correct. A gap was torn open as a gap can always be torn open in a line hundreds of miles long. General Eisenhower at once gave the command to the North of the gap to Field-Marshal Montgomery and to the South of it to General Omar Bradley. Many other consequential movements were made, and rightly made, and in the result both these highly skilled commanders handled the very large forces at their disposal in a manner which, I think I may say without exaggeration, 417 may become the model for military students in the future.
Field-Marshal Montgomery at the earliest moment, acting with extraordinary promptitude, concentrated powerful British reserves at the decisive strategic point. Having been placed in command, as he was by General Eisenhower, of American Forces larger than those he holds from His Majesty's Government or from the Canadians, larger than those he holds in the 21st Army Group, he fell unceasingly on the enemy in the North and has fought the battle all the time from that part of the assailed front. The United States First Army, which was one of the group of Armies under General Omar Bradley, was severed by the inroad. It was re-inforced with extraordinary military efficiency from the Metz area by General Patton's Army, who hurled themselves on the intruders from the South side of Bastogne. But all the movements of the commanders would have been futile but for the bravery of the troops. General Omar Bradley was commanding American troops, and so was Field-Marshal Montgomery. All these troops fought in magnificent fashion and General Eisenhower, balancing the situation between his two commanders, gave them both the fairest opportunity to realise their full strength and quality. Let no one lend himself to the chatter of mischief-makers when issues of this most momentous consequence are being successfully decided by the sword.
Lest it should be thought that the British Commonwealth and Empire are not playing their part in the battle of the Continent, or in the general war, let me give a few facts and figures. We are maintaining at the present time, in the field and in our garrisons, the equivalent of upwards of 100 divisions, apart from the vast Navy and Air Forces and all the workers in the munitions shops. Many, of course, are not mobile, but 67 of them are at the front and in constant or frequent contact with the enemy. We are fighting incessantly on three separate fronts, in North-West Europe, in Italy and in Burma. Of all the troops landed in France the losses sustained, in fighting, by the British Army and the United States troops have been very level in proportion to the numbers engaged. Of course, there are over twice as many American troops on the Western front as there are 418 troops of the British Commonwealth. We, in fact, have lost half as many as our American Allies.
If you take killed only, British and Canadians have lost a larger proportion than the United States, heavier though the United States losses are. We have taken measures, which I announced some weeks ago, to keep our Armies up to the full strength, whatever the losses may be, and also to reinforce our divisions—I wish they were more numerous—by supplementary units, brigades and so forth, to add to the strength of the foot who bear the brunt of two-thirds of the losses of war. We therefore felt it necessary to make this demand, for movement towards and into the battle, of about 250,000 additional men, to be drawn from every possible source in the next few months, not only men but women. However, in the combatant sphere of the Anti-Aircraft batteries no woman will go but a volunteer. They have practically all volunteered.
In the United States, also, extreme measures have been taken. Let the Germans dismiss from their minds any ideas that the losses or set-backs of the kind we have witnessed will turn us from our purpose. We shall go on to the end, however the storm may beat, and for myself I do not hesitate to-day to give my own opinion, not dissented from by the experts with whom I live in constant contact, that the decisive breaking of the German offensive in the West is more likely to shorten this war than to lengthen it.
We must regard von Rundstedt's attack as an effort to dislocate and, if possible, rupture the tremendous onslaught across the Rhine and Siegfried line, for which the Anglo-American Armies have been preparing. The Germans no doubt hoped to throw out of gear, before the on-fall of the Russian Armies from the East, this main stroke from the West. They have certainly lost heavily in their efforts; they have cast away a large proportion of the flower of their last armies; they have made a slight and ineffectual dent on the long front. The question they will be asking themselves is whether they have, at this heavy price, delayed appreciably the general advance of the Armies of the West beyond the period when it had been planned. That is the question which no doubt to-day the German headquarters are anxiously asking themselves.
419 I always hesitate, as the Committee will bear me witness, to speak at all about the military future, but it is my hope and belief that by this violent attack, in which they have lost perhaps double what they have inflicted, they have in no wise delayed, or still less averted, the doom that is closing in upon them from the West. Harsh as it may seem to say, a terrible thing to say in dealing with our own precious flesh and blood, it is our interest and the American interest that the whole Western front, and the air everywhere at all possible flying times, should be in continuous action against the enemy, burning and bleeding his strength away at every opportunity and on all occasions if we are to bring this horror to an end. I think it was not necessarily a bad thing, indeed it was a good thing, that large parts of the Western front were thrown into counter battles in open country by the enemy, counter battles in the forests, undulations and hills of the Ardennes, rather than that all our troops should be compelled to advance at this season of the year across great rivers and seas of mud against lines of concrete fortifications. It suited the Allies that there should be as much fighting as possible in the open country rather than that the whole front should be crashing up against pillboxes.
In short, as I see it, the Germans have made a violent and costly sortie which has been repulsed with heavy slaughter and have expended in the endeavour forces, which they cannot replace, against an enemy who has already more than replaced every loss he has sustained. These German forces are needed now not only to support the German front in the West but even more to fill the awful rents, only now emerging upon cur consciousness as the telegrams come in, which have been torn in their Eastern line by the magnificent onslaught of the main Russian Armies along the entire front from the Baltic to Budapest. Marshal Stalin is very punctual. He would rather be before his time than late in the combinations of the Allies. I cannot attempt to set limits to the superb and titanic events which we are now witnessing in the East, or to their reactions in every theatre. I can only say it is certain that the whole of the Eastern and Western fronts, and the long front in Italy, where 27 German divisions are still held by no more than their own numbers, will henceforward 420 be kept in constant flame until the final climax is reached. The advance of the enormous Forces of Soviet Russia across Poland and elsewhere into Germany and German-held territory must produce consequences of a character and degree about which the wisest strategists and the most far-sighted prophets will reserve their opinion until the results are known.
Simultaneously with the battle of the Ardennes another battle, almost as great, has been fought by the United States in the Philippines at the other side of the world. The Philippines and the Ardennes—two vast military episodes—have been proceeding simultaneously. When we think of the distances to be traversed in the Pacific and the vast consumption of ships and war material entailed, of the mighty fleets and air forces engaged as well as the large armies convoyed and supplied in every detail, we must marvel at the triumphant military strength of the United States, now roused from its peaceful free-and-easy life, to become, against its desire, the greatest military Power in the world. We can also marvel at the folly of those treacherous schemers in Japan who so wantonly called out against them this incredible manifestation of armed power. General MacArthur's recovery of the Philippines, which is in full progress many months before it was expected, is a fearful warning to the Japanese of their impending defeat and ruin. We offer our congratulations to General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz on the increasing success and speed of their mighty combined operations.
I cannot pass from this subject without mentioning the loss which we have sustained, and which I personally have sustained, in the death in action of my representative with General MacArthur, Lieut.-General Lumsden, one of our most distinguished and accomplished officers, the man who at the very beginning of the war, in the first contact with the enemy, brought the armoured car back into popularity. He was killed on the port side of the bridge of an American ship approaching Luzon by a bomb which Admiral Fraser himself, the Commander-in-Chief of our gathering Navy, who happened to be there as a spectator, only escaped by the accident of a few seconds. There have been large losses among the high commanders in these campaigns. In Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory and Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay we have lost 421 two out of the three British commanders of the expedition across the Channel, General Montgomery being the sole survivor of the three.
There is one other campaign on which we and India have expended immense effort and where good fortune has attended us—the advance of the 14th Army—not forgotten but watched carefully, their movements ever attended by our thoughts. The advance of the 14th Army, in harmony with the Chinese on its Northern flank, has carried them in an attack against the Japanese army in Burma at some points almost 200 miles forward from Imphal, Kohima and Myitkyina. Now is the time when all the fierce fighting at these places last year is reaping its reward. The stuffing was beaten out of the Japanese troops in these terrible conflicts in which we had very heavy losses — 40,000 British, Indians and others at least—and in which a far larger toll was taken by disease. I had always dreaded the new campaign in Burma this year on account of the heavy toll of disease which the march through the jungle exacts not only from the British but also from the Indians and the West and East African troops who have been fighting there with great distinction. I dreaded it for that reason and also because of the unimaginable difficulties of supply through all these hundreds of miles of gorges from India, where every bridge and culvert is swept away by torrential rains, where rivers rise 20 or 30 feet in a few hours and over which all means of communication are so primitive and scanty.
I had always dreaded the beginning of this new campaign in Burma which, nevertheless, it was necessary to achieve in order that, having rid Burma of the invader, the large Forces there might acquire mobility to act in the final stages of the war. Moreover, the obstinate prolongation of the war in Europe necessarily delayed the movement to the East of many reinforcements of all kinds. Soldiers, aircraft, vessels of many different kinds used in amphibious operations were all delayed, although Admiral Mountbatten had been led to count on them. First things have to come first. But, in spite of these disappointments, he and his dauntless Army have made greater advances than were required or expected of them up to the present by the Direc- 422 tives of the High Command, and they may well be described as "On the Road to Mandalay," though I think from a different direction. This reference to the 14th Army, moreover, takes no account of the important capture of Akyab, on the coast, with its airfield, a place for which alone a considerable expedition at one time seemed necessary. It has now been picked up out of hand by the troops of the 14th Army.
I have covered as far as I propose to do to-day the different military theatres of the war in which His Majesty's Forces, with all their elements drawn from every part of the British Empire, are contending without a moment's surcease or slackening of effort. So it will go on—great efforts pulsating through the heart of this small Island, arising again all over the vast scope of the Commonwealth and the Empire and not dying away even with the long fatigues, monotonies and wearisome trials which the war imposes not only on the men who are fighting but on the men and women who stay at home and do all that is in them to back the soldiers at the front.
We have reached the 65th month of the war, and its weight hangs heavy upon us. No one knows what stresses are wrought in these times by this long persistence of strain, quite above the ordinary normal life of human society. Let us be of good cheer. Both in the West and in the East overwhelming forces are ranged on our side. Military victory may be distant, it will certainly be costly, but it is no longer in doubt. The physical and scientific force which our foes hurled upon us in the early years has changed sides and the British Commonwealth, the United States and the Soviet Union undoubtedly possess the power to beat down to the ground in dust and ashes the prodigious might of the war-making nations and the conspiracies which assailed us. But, as the sense of mortal peril has passed from our side to that of our cruel foes, they gain the stimulus of despair and we tend to lose the bond of combined self-preservation, or are in danger of losing it.
There is, therefore, demanded of us a moral and intellectual impulse to unity and a clear conception and definition of joint purpose sufficient to overbear the fleeting reinforcement which our enemies will derive from the realisation of their 423 forlorn condition. Can we produce that complete unity and that new impulse in time to achieve decisive military victory with the least possible prolongation of the world's misery, or must we fall into jabber, babel and discord while victory is still unattained? It seems to me to be the supreme question alike of the hour and of the age. This is no new problem in the history of mankind. Very often have great combinations almost attained success and then, at the last moment, cast it away. Very often have the triumphs and sacrifices of armies come to naught at the conference table. Very often the eagles have been squalled down by the parrots. Very often, in particular, the people of this Island, indomitable in adversity, have tasted the hard-won cup of success only to cast it away.
I, therefore, consider that this is a most grave moment to address the House and it is one which affects the Members of every party—and all parties have the credit of our war effort; it is no monopoly to be flung from side to side in some future party dispute—we are all in this for good or ill. We all come through it together. Very often, I say, these troubles have arisen at a moment of success, at a period when no one can doubt what the ultimate result will be, and it is the duty of all parties to rouse themselves to the highest sense of their obligations and of the services which this House has already rendered to the cause of freedom.
At a time like this it is necessary to concentrate with clarity and command and mental perseverance upon the main, practical issues with which we are confronted, and upon which we hope and believe we are in accord with our principal Allies. What, for instance, should be our attitude towards the terrible foes with whom we are grappling? Should it be unconditional surrender, or should we make some accommodation with them through a negotiated peace, leaving them free to regather their strength for a renewal of the struggle after a few uneasy years? The principle of unconditional surrender was proclaimed by the President of the United States at Casablanca, and I endorsed it there and then on behalf of this country. I am sure it was right at the time it was used, when many things hung in the balance against us which are all decided in our favour now. Should 424 we then modify this declaration which was made in days of comparative weakness and lack of success now that we have reached a period of mastery and power?
I am clear that nothing should induce us to abandon the principle of unconditional surrender and enter into any form of negotiation with Germany or Japan, under whatever guise such suggestions may present themselves, until the act of unconditional surrender has been formally executed. But the President of the United States and I, in your name, have repeatedly declared that the enforcement of unconditional surrender upon the enemy in no way relieves the victorious Powers of their obligations to humanity, or of their duties as civilised and Christian nations. I read somewhere that when the ancient Athenians, on one occasion, overpowered a tribe in the Peloponnesus which had wrought them great injury by base, treacherous means, and when they had the hostile army herded on a beach naked for slaughter, they forgave them and set them free, and they said:This was not done because they were men; it was done because of the nature of Man.Similarly, in this temper we may now say to our foes, "We demand unconditional surrender, but you well know how strict are the moral limits within which our action is confined. We are no extirpators of nations, or butchers of peoples. We make no bargain with you. We accord you nothing as a right. Abandon your resistance unconditionally. We remain bound by our customs and our nature."
There is another reason why any abrogation of the principle of unconditional surrender would be most improvident at the present time, and it is a reason by no means inconsistent with, or contradictory to, that which I have just given. We should have to discuss with the enemy, while they still remained with arms in their hands, all the painful details of the settlement which their indescribable crimes have made necessary for the future safety of Europe and of the world, and these, when recited in detail, might well become a greater obstacle to the end of the struggle than the broad generalisation which the term "unconditional surrender" implies.
The Germans know perfectly well how these matters stand in general. Several countries have already surrendered unconditionally to the victorious Allies, to 425 Russia, to Britain and to the United States. Already there is a tolerable life appointed for their peoples. Take Finland, take Italy: these peoples have not all been massacred and enslaved. On the contrary, so far as Italy is concerned, there are moments when one has almost wondered whether it was they who had unconditionally surrendered to us, or whether we were about unconditionally to surrender to them. This, at least, I can say on behalf of the United Nations to Germany: "If you surrender now, nothing that you will have to endure after the war will be comparable to what you are otherwise going to suffer during the year 1945."
Peace, though based on unconditional surrender, will bring to Germany and Japan an immense, immediate amelioration of the suffering and agony which now lie before them. We, the Allies, are no monsters, but faithful men trying to carry forward the light of the world, trying to raise from the bloody welter and confusion in which mankind is now plunged, a structure of peace, of freedom, of justice and of law, which system shall be an abiding and lasting shelter for all. That is how I venture to set before the Committee to-day the grave issue called "unconditional surrender" which an hon. Gentleman opposite referred to—as he was quite entitled to do—the other day at Question Time.
I now come to the second of the main questions which lie before us, namely, to the principle which I have already dealt with in particular application to Greece, Yugoslavia and Italy, the question what principle should guide us in regard to countries which we and our Allies have liberated, and also in regard to that quite different class, German satellite States which are, in one way or another, working their arduous passage home. Here, of course, I can only speak for Britain and its special responsibility. The expression "power politics" has lately been used in criticism against us in some quarters. I have anxiously asked the question, "What are power politics?" I know some of our friends across the water so well that I am sure I can always speak frankly without causing offence. Is having a Navy twice as big as any other Navy in the world power politics? Is having the largest Air Force in the world, with bases in every part of the 426 world, power politics? Is having all the gold in the world power politics? If so, we are certainly not guilty of these offences, I am sorry to say. They are luxuries that have passed away from us.
I am, therefore, greatly indebted to my friend, the illustrious President of the United States, four times summoned by the popular vote to the headship of the most powerful community in the world, for his definition of "power politics." With that marvellous gift which he has of bringing troublesome issues down to earth and reducing them to the calm level of ordinary life, the President declared, in his recent Message to Congress, that power politics were "the misuse of power." I am sure I can say, on behalf of all parties in the House, that we are absolutely in agreement with the President. We go further; we define our position with even more precision. We have sacrificed everything in this war. We shall emerge from it, for the time being, more stricken and impoverished than any other victorious country. The United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth are the only unbroken force which declared war on Germany of its own free will. We declared war not for any ambition or material advantage, but for the sake of our obligation to do our best for Poland against German aggression, in which aggression, there or elsewhere, it must also in fairness he stated our own self-preservation was involved.
After the defeat of France in June, 1940, for more than a year we were alone. We stood alone; we kept nothing back in blood, effort or treasure from what has now become the common cause of more than 30 nations. We seek no territory; we covet no oilfields; we demand no bases for the forces of the air or of the seas. We are an ancient Commonwealth dwelling, and wishing to dwell, at peace within our own habitations. We do not set ourselves up in rivalry of bigness or might with any other community in the world. We stand on our own rights.
We are prepared to defend them, but we do not intrude for our own advantage upon the rights of any friendly country in the world, great or small. We have given, and shall continue to give, everything we have. We ask nothing in return except that consideration and respect which is our due, and if that were denied us we should still have a good conscience. 427 Let none, therefore, in our own country and Commonwealth or in the outside world misname us or traduce our motives. Our actions are no doubt subject to human error, but our motives in small things as in great are disinterested, lofty and true. I repulse those calumnies, wherever they come from, that Britain and the British Empire is a selfish, power-greedy, land-greedy, designing nation obsessed by dark schemes of European intrigue or Colonial expansion. I repulse these aspersions whether they come from our best friends or worst foes. Let us all march forward against the enemy, and, for the rest, let all men here and in all countries search their hearts devoutly, as we shall certainly continue to do.
I have tried as well as I could to cover, in a time which is unconscionably long for a speech but ludicrously short for the subject, the more prominent features of the world war. I will just add that we must keep our eye on jet-propelled fighter aircraft, on the V-rockets, and, above all, on the renewed U-boat menace. No doubt there are other dangers, but, taking the position as a whole, I have never at any time been able to present a more confident statement to the House of the ever-growing might and ascendancy of the United Nations or of the military solidarity of the three great Allies. Political misunderstandings and difficulties of an essentially minor rank undoubtedly confront us. That is why I was so glad to hear that the President said in public on Tuesday that he was almost immediately starting to meet me and Marshal Stalin somewhere or other and quite soon. The Foreign Secretary and I, with our military and technical advisers, will be present without fail at the rendezvous and "when the roll is called up yonder, we'll be there."
I have great hopes of this conference because it comes at a moment when a good many moulds can be set out to receive a great deal of molten metal, and also at a moment when direct advance may be made towards the larger problems which will confront the victors and, above all, advance towards that world organisation upon which, as we all know, the salvation of our harassed generation and the immediate future of the world depend. We shall enter into all these discussions with your sympathy and with the confidence of your support. Whatever 428 happens, the British Nation and Commonwealth may rest assured that the Union Jack of freedom will for ever fly from the white cliffs of Dover.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
I should like first to thank my right hon. Friend for his very heartening statement about the course of the war, which I am sure every Member of the Committee has heard with great pleasure and deep satisfaction. I would like also to thank my right hon. Friend for the noble words he has spoken towards the end of his speech. If I may say so, I prefer his temper this afternoon to his temper this morning. I do not mean temper, I mean tone. There were unnecessary signs of temper on both sides of the House this morning, and I will try not to fall into that error. If I may say a word or two about Greece, I am sorry that this problem, a deplorable problem—let me say not of our seeking—has created divisions of opinion in this House which, in my view, were quite unnecessary. The fault does not lie always on this side of the House. My right hon. Friend has on the Greek situation done his utmost to chastise my hon. Friends, even for views they have never held and do not hold now, and has taken the somewhat easy course of dividing the Greek people into Left and Right and the right and the wrong. I have never given a universal blessing to E.L.A.S. or E.A.M. I do not in any way accept the view that all republicans are revolutionaries or monarchists reactionaries.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I do not accept the proposition. What we have to do in the Greek situation is to exercise infinite patience with the people who are going through—— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think that that meets with the approval of both sides of the Committee. [Interruption.] I am not sure that my hon. Friends are repudiating me at this moment. We must exercise infinite patience. For nine years the Greek people have never had a mind of their own. They have never been allowed to have a mind of their own. Nine years ago Metaxas struck down every figure in democratic life in Greece. They have suffered five years of war; they have been overrun and 429 invaded, they have suffered, they have been tormented, and, somehow or other, they are having to build up their national life. What a problem! Out of those years of agony there have emerged all kinds of groups, some of them, to me, of a most mysterious kind. I have had communications from Greece in the last five or six weeks from people purporting to be leaders of this and that, whose organisations have conveyed nothing to my mind and whose names I had never heard in my life. That is bound to be so, but there are emerging now efforts to establish some kind of normal political life. They are being frustrated, unfortunately, by civil war—for that is what it is.
I think we must not be too harsh in our criticisms of any group in Greece, having regard to the times through which the country has lived. Let us say—everybody must admit this—that the situation to-day, the general position, is much better than it was where we left it at Christmas when the House rose for the Recess. We have got a truce and we have got a Regent. But I do not think, if we are honest, that we can pretend that the present situation is yet satisfactory. I am sorry that General Scobie made what was in fact a political speech the other day, of which my right hon. Friend approved. It is very difficult for a man actually on active service to mix that up with political speeches.
§ The Prime Minister
I might say that General Scobie's position is rather a peculiar one, because, as the British troops gathered, the command passed from him to General Hawkesworth because of the size and scale of the operation. General Scobie has throughout been in a quasi-political position, in the closest negotiations with all the different quarters. He has not been simply a military commander charged purely with the application or non-application of military force.
§ Mr. Greenwood
He might be in a peculiar position, but I am afraid that there is a peculiar situation. I should have thought—I am not going to press my point—that the Resident Minister in the Middle East ought to have been the spokesman for any political pronouncement. However, I am not pressing that point.
The unsatisfactory problems still left with us are three. The first is the question of hostages, to which my right hon. 430 Friend referred this morning The system of selecting hostages is repugnant to all the instincts of the British people. It is not a practice which ought to be tolerated, and the fact that there are cruelties—I am certain there have been cruelties in Greece committed by what are called both sides—does not make it any better. Hostages held for the purpose of—as I think my right hon. Friend called it—blackmail are indefensible. I lay that down myself quite definitely. I think that General Scobie was quite right to agree to the truce so long as he could stop the fighting although this question was left outstanding. This question of hostages, if it is to be settled, has got to be settled, in my view, on the basis of reconciliation. I see no signs that General Plastiras, who has made various pronouncements, all of which do not fit together, accepts the principle of reconciliation.
§ Sir Herbert Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
The Committee ought to be clear upon this. Am I to understand that the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that it will be quite right to retain hostages unless some bargain is made on the other side?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am definitely against hostages and I think that the hostage question ought to be settled, anyhow, irrespective of any other problem. I feel that we cannot afford to neglect all the instruments of reconciliation. After all, Greeks have to live their own lives in their own way. We ought to do nothing that will make things more difficult for them. I should have hoped that the Greek Prime Minister would show signs of coming to terms with the other people. I know it is difficult, and I appreciate that very much, but the way in which it would appear that the Greek Prime Minister is carrying out the policy of His Majesty's Government is not the way that we should wish. I prefer the word "amnesty." I am sure that my right hon. Friend, when he used the term which he did, and which was used by General Plastiras in his statement a week ago——
§ Mr. Greenwood
Yes, but I am saying that he perhaps put a rather narrower interpretation on that term than was in the mind of my right hon. Friend and 431 also in the minds of many of us. I would not defend, in any conceivable circumstances, an amnesty which really meant that any man who could get a gun could keep it and do what he wanted with it, nor would I defend the looter or the man who was guilty of rape or crimes of that kind.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Certainly not; but I claim, where there are conflicts of political opinion which have led to the use of force, and where there have been differences of opinion which have led to the use of force and, therefore, to civil war, that the only satisfactory solution is a general amnesty under which no man or woman who has, through political conviction, taken part in that struggle, should be penalised in any way. That is what I think "amnesty" really covers and that is what I suggest His Majesty's Government ought to press upon the Greek Government. I know the argument that a Regent has been appointed who has himself appointed a Prime Minister, and that we cannot pretend to dictate terms, but we have forces there which have proved to be very useful in Greece, and there is such a thing as moral influence. I hope that His Majesty's Government will do what they can to use that influence with a view to getting the term "amnesty" accepted and the spirit of it fulfilled.
I was very pleased with the speech that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made about broadening the basis of the Greek Government. I appreciate the difficulties. In the Debate before Christmas the right hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that we should get out of this situation a broader-based Government. There is an important reason for that. We cannot become the permanent policemen of Greece or of anywhere else. The best way to ensure a free and fair election and to ensure justice is for there to be a Government which the people will trust to see that there is a fair election. I would rather it were done by the Greeks than done by us, but we might stand by and watch. That might be useful. I cannot think, Greek politics being somewhat turbulent, that the Government as constructed now would necessarily enable their political opponents to have that opportunity for expressing their own views 432 and going to the polls that they would give to their own supporters.
§ The Prime Minister
They fully agree that outsiders should be present, whether from this country or from our Allies. There would be no difficulty in seeing that any election is fairly conducted, as far as the present Greek Government are concerned, by outside observers.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I gather from a statement made only last night by General Plastiras that he would welcome something of that kind. The point I am putting is that the Greeks are a proud people. They are a very naughty people on occasions, but they are a proud people. They would prefer to have an election arranged, organised and conducted by a Government in which they had confidence rather than with the forces of potential British bayonets behind the election. I think that is a reasonable point of view to take. I would, therefore, hope that the Government could be broadened so as to get as representative as possible a basis for it and to create conditions in Greece which would satisfy the Greek people that they are going to have a square deal when the election comes.
I want to put the responsibilities, so far as I can do so, back upon the Greeks themselves. We cannot hand out freedom on a plate. We cannot give the Greeks freedom. They can only win it for themselves, and, somehow or another, they have to learn to live together. It is a difficult process: it is in this country, in peace-time. There are occasions in wartime when it becomes a little difficult—let me say I have never created them myself. If we can do something to inaugurate a Government rather more broadly based upon whom responsibility can be cast, with us rather as onlookers than as people interfering, it would he all to the good. There is, or there can be, a danger of our getting too much mixed up with Greek political life. [Cheers.] I do not quite appreciate the reason for that enormous applause. I did not object to British troops going to Greece. I have never questioned the bona fides of our going to Greece.
§ Mr. Greenwood
We ought to have done what we could to get food and supplies to the Greek people. What I think 433 was intolerable and what the people of this country would not stand, would be the use of British troops in what turned out to be an internal quarrel in Greece. His Majesty's Forces cannot be used as partisans in Greece or anywhere else. I did not invent the terms "on one side or the other" and "the Left or the Right." I have never used them in this House and this is the third occasion I have spoken on the Greek situation. True, we may have been suppressing not merely ordinary rebellious elements in Greece but people of bad motives, and so on; that is quite true; but, in fact, we have come very close to siding with what is called the Right as against what is called the Left. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"; and "Withdraw."] I am sorry to have caused this commotion, but that is my view. I regard the Greek situation as a test question. It is a question in which British honour and prestige are at stake. Europe and our American friends are looking to the Greek problem as a key problem. I am sure that on the Continent of Europe our prestige will depend very much on whether we come out of this situation with dignity, honour and pride. It must surely be our aim in liberated countries to do everything we can to strengthen those forces which have resisted Fascism and Nazism and to put them back so far as we can on their legs and enable them to march forward in their own way. I hope that may be done in Greece.
§ Mr. Greenwood
That is as much as I wish to say about Greece. I would now like to say something about the later parts of my right hon. Friend's speech. At the end of his speech the Prime Minister got above the battle that has been waged round us in this House for a few weeks, and uttered a principle with which I personally would whole-heartedly agree when he talked about our responsibilities and implied that there must be no vindictive peace. I am sure that is a view shared on all sides of the House. When my right hon. Friend refers to power politics I agree with him without any reservation, and when he says that we are asking nothing material for ourselves out of it. I hope that that will always be our attitude. We did not enter this war lightly. 434 It was entered, I am satisfied, with no thought whatever of British advantage to be gained except the fulfilment of Britain's honour and the maintenance of her spirit.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I tried to say so. Now we are getting to a stage where opportunities are increasing. I am glad to know that the Prime Minister is going to meet his two colleagues again for what I hope will be a friendly talk. I hope that results may accrue not merely in the military field but on the post-war field too. I believe the franker the discussions both with Moscow and Washington the better. I have been a little disturbed at the way in which we appear to be becoming a sort of minor partner in the war. My right hon. Friend, in what he said this afternoon, has pointed out the part played by our two great Allies, and I was glad he was so generous in his estimates of them. But in a sense this is our war; we declared it, we took a risk on it. We could rely on the Commonwealth; we knew of no one else on whom we could rely outside it. Therefore it is not the size of the population in this country that matters. The place we occupy and ought to occupy in the councils of the world is founded on the contribution we have made to the development of democratic life, and the part we have played in the war. No nation has played a greater, and when the end comes no nation will have played a greater. Therefore, if there are disagreements between Washington and Moscow and ourselves, I do not believe it is wisdom to ignore them, brush them over and pretend they are not there. It does not pay, and what is more, it is not honest.
If I may say so, I would never have thought until quite recently, four years ago or so, that my right hon. Friend would become a great appeaser. His predecessor had a policy of appeasement. My right hon. Friend seems to be a little inclined to appease either his dear friend Marshal Stalin or his dear friend President Roosevelt. I can see that we have to live together, and that there have to be give and take, but they must do some giving as well as some taking. When these discussions take place, one loses nothing by open and frank discussion. There are differences of policy between this country and the United States. There are differences of ideology between this country and 435 the U.S.S.R., and it does not solve any problems to pretend they are not there.
I believe that my right hon. Friend, in his forthcoming mission, has an enormous opportunity for constructive action. I have said in the House before, and I feel it very strongly myself, that in the last stages of the war it is morale that is going to matter most, it is morale that will shorten the war. I feel very strongly myself, with some experience—I have talked to people in many parts of the country and I have correspondents in many parts of the world—that it would be a great thing for the morale of the world if, out of this forthcoming conference, there came actual proposals to show how we are to implement the promises that have sustained mankind and all the United Nations during the darkest days of the war. We need evidence of firm intention that the generally accepted war aims will be implemented, and if, when the right hon. Gentleman comes back, he can announce that some political difficulties that are in the way—and they are there—some of the big economic difficulties that are dividing some of the United Nations, have been removed, I believe his mission will have been of enormous service to mankind. When people are suffering under the strain to which my right hon. Friend referred, after five years of it, I think a little encouragement would mean a great deal, and would create in their minds and hearts the confidence that that for which we fight we mean to win in the peace and that this would be perhaps the mightest, the final, weapon for our victory over the enemy.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Commander Prior (Birmingham, Aston)
The Prime Minister, in his wonderful and inspiring speech, spoke about the series of battles for the Scheldt and the entrance to the great port of Antwerp in which we suffered very heavy losses—40,000 men—a series of operations showing the highest conception of tactics and generalship combined with great daring and skill in execution. I was very fortunate to witness the final battle, the assault on the Isle of Walcheren, one of the most heavily defended islands in Europe, with pill boxes, batteries, strong-points every 50 yards along the sea front. The R.A.F. had breached the dykes causing the whole centre of the island to 436 be flooded. A small narrow perimeter was left along which these formidable defences were sited. Our Army, in their assault, had to attack along this very narrow front, against these terrible defences. Within a week all the resistance in the island had ceased, an amazing feat of arms. The Army had achieved the impossible.
No sooner had the flood of war passed over than the Dutch commenced to repair the devastation. So much do the Dutch prize liberty that we were met everywhere by smiling welcoming people and there was no complaint that we were the means of their undoing. The industry, cheerfulness, and friendliness of the Dutch were a great inspiration and example to us all. Food unfortunately is very scarce. Milk is practically non-existent, the people are on the verge of starvation, the cattle are dying, there is no pasture. It might be possible for the Allied Governments to use part of the great liberated ports to land more sustenance for the civilian people. I had the very good fortune to talk to one of the leaders of the Dutch resistance movement. He told me that 45 per cent. of Holland was now under water, their great cities were devastated, their land was ruined. It might be that after the Germans have been driven out and peace attained many Dutch people would be forced to emigrate. He asked me whether an asylum could be found for them in the British Empire. I assured him that such fine workers and citizens as the Dutch would be welcome anywhere they choose to go. He gave me a warning that if the Dutch authorities harboured and nurtured Quislings or collaborators great trouble would undoubtedly ensue.
I will now speak for a few moments on the resistance movement in France. I am putting before the Committee, with very great deference and respect, the views of the rank and file of the resistance movement, the common man, the man who fought, the man who suffered, the man who matters. During my journey through France in 1942 and whilst I was incarcerated in diverse dungeons I met and talked with many members of the resistance movement. In those days, it was feeble, badly organised, ill armed, but even then it was the hard core in the battle for freedom, for resistance against the Nazi oppression. It was disrupting communications, sabotaging factories, and, above all, helping poor men such as 437 myself who were "on the run." Bewilderment is growing in France. It is considered that the large fortunes of the big collaborators are left, while the little fellow who did some minor black market transactions with the Nazis is imprisoned and possibly shot. I am told that the leading collaborators with the Nazis have now become collaborators with the Allies, following in the gallant and lucrative footsteps of our co-belligerents the Italian Fascists.
Although there are still many pockets of resistance in France—the Nazis are still holding out on the Atlantic coast—the French Armies are not yet supplied with the adequate equipment they require. Here not only men but women have to go over and fight on the other side. In France and Belgium there are thousands of men waiting to be equipped, ready and willing to fight, burning to avenge the disasters and devastation which have been wrought by the Nazis in their country. When I was in prison in 1942 I spoke to a Belgian saboteur who was "on the run." I asked him how sabotage was doing in Belgium. He replied, "Quite well." If I desire to do any very dangerous work I go either to the extreme Left, the Communists, or the extreme Right, men who have great faith in themselves, their country and their cause. I have worked and fought and suffered with the resistance movement. I may be prejudiced in their favour. I have great faith in their integrity, their patriotism. They hold the heart and have the ear of their country. These men, who risk their very all, their possessions, their lives, their families, in their fight for liberty, these great patriots will become the governors and leaders of their country. They will undoubtedly lead their country to a new era of liberty, peace and prosperity.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I am sure the House has listened with very great sympathy to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aston (Commander Prior). In particular I was very concerned about what he had to say about the lack of equipment given to the French Army. I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs yesterday whether priority might be given to the equipping of the French Army before the equipping of the Greek Army, in view of the fact that in my 438 opinion, and I think the opinion of a great many people, the arms and equipment would be more properly applied against the Germans by the French Army than by the Greek Army. Apparently my right hon. Friend has a great deal to do yet before the needs of the French Army for proper equipment will have been fully met, and I hope he will give this matter his earnest attention.
I agree with the right bon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that there was a very great difference of tone and temper between the two halves of the speech made by the Prime Minister, and personally I preferred very much the manner and matter of the second part of the speech. My right hon. Friend appealed to the House for a moral and intellectual impulse towards national unity. I must confess that there was very little in the first part of the speech which gave encouragement to that moral and intellectual impulse for national unity. To my regret, I was unable to join in the applause—at times, I must confess, the deafening applause—with which that speech was received by my hon. Friends behind me. I could not help contrasting it with other occasions when the Prime Minister has addressed the House during the war. On those occasions he spoke as a great national leader: I could not help feeling that to-day the first part of his speech was that of a partisan.
He complained of the criticism—I think, he called it the malignant criticism—of the Government's policy which had appeared in great organs of the national Press; and he thought that it was sufficient answer to that criticism simply to denounce it. I imagine that the organ that he had in mind was "The Times." I have read the leading articles in "The Times," on the Greek question, and I have also followed the reports of "The Times" correspondent in Athens. I think that if we really want to get at the truth of this matter—and that ought to be our principal object—it would be more helpful not to denounce the critics, but to find out the reason, and the justification, as they see it, for their criticism. "The Times," in their criticism of our policy in Greece, were not influenced by any malignant hostility either to the British Government or to the interests of this country. If they thought that our policy was wrong, it was perfectly right 439 for them to say so. I have to confess that I have found myself sympathising with the views of the Government's policy in Greece expressed by the critics, rather than the views expressed by those who support the Government.
I do not doubt for a moment the good motives and intentions of the Government in going into Greece, but we have been told that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What I am concerned with is not the intentions of the Government, but the results of their policy. I think the policy of the Government in Greece stands condemned by its results. My complaint against the Government is not that they backed a horse of a wrong political colour in this Greek quarrel, but that they backed a political horse at all in the Greek quarrel—although I must confess that, from the record of General Plastiras and his recent utterances, I do not find that he is a horse of a democratic quality, as we understand democracy in this country.
§ Mr. Lipson
I feel very strongly that we made a mistake in intervening in the mixed tangle of Greek politics. We went into Greece purely to feed the people, and we ought to have confined our actions to that alone.
§ Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
My hon. Friend says that we went into Greece purely to feed the people. Am I to understand that if he had been in charge and fighting broke out, he would have left the people to be massacred?
§ Mr. Lipson
May I point out that our intervention, according to the statements made by the Prime Minister to-day on the actions committed by E.L.A.S., has not prevented great atrocities. I think it is quite conceivable that the intervention of a foreign force into the political quarrels of a country might very easily embitter matters, and produce acts of violence which might otherwise not have taken place. But we went there to feed the people—a very necessary act of humanity. If our soldiers were shot at, we should have had a perfect right to defend them, but our soldiers were not shot until we took sides in the Greek quarrel. Our soldiers were not attacked until we intervened in the 440 quarrel between the two Greek parties. [Interruption.] I am sorry that my remarks are causing so much disagreement, but my hon. Friends will have their opportunity, no doubt, to answer me, if they desire to do so. I think it is in accordance with the traditions of this House that even views which some hon. Members do not like are listened to, and an hon. Member is given an opportunity to develop his views without interruption. [An HON. MEMBER: "You should be on the other side of the House."] It is for me to decide on which side of the House I shall sit, and not for the hon. Member to decide for me. Any hon. Member is perfectly free in this House to express his views. That is one of the things we are fighting for, and I hope that hon. Members will have regard not only to their right to express their own views, but to the right of other hon. Members to express theirs.
In my view, the policy of the Government stands condemned because of its results. It has inflicted a very great blow to national unity; it has caused a great deal of criticism of our policy in other lands. The only Press in the United States of America, I believe, which has praised what we have done has been the Hearst Press, which has not done so for reasons friendly to this country. It has meant tying up large forces in Greece when those forces are badly needed elsewhere. I feel very strongly that it was a mistake to enter into a policy which would have effects of this kind. In view of the state of the war, in view of the Rundstedt break-through, I think it was necessary for us at all costs to avoid anything in the way of military adventures or diversions which took us away from our main course. All our military effort should be concentrated against the Germans and against the Japanese, and it was a mistake to get entangled in a war in Greece. We ought to remember that the Greeks are our Allies, and that they have a right to settle their political difficulties themselves, without interference from us.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
Would the hon. Gentleman make the same statement in regard to Poland or any other of the Allies?
§ Mr. Lipson
I should be opposed to armed intervention by our Government in Poland or in any other of the Allied 441 countries, most certainly. I imagine that this question was directed purely to the British Government's policy; it is not for me to express an opinion about the policy of other Allied nations. Fortunately, a truce has now been arranged in Greece. I believe that that truce has been made possible more as a result of the actions of the critics of the Government's policy than as a result of the actions of the friends of the Government's policy; because the widespread criticism made the Government realise what result their policy was having, and, consequently, they took the measures which have secured the truce. It is vital that fighting should not break out again between our Forces and those of the Greeks. For that reason, I hope that we shall take early steps to withdraw our Forces from Greece, and to send them to some other battle fronts where they are urgently needed. There can be no doubt that what has happened in Greece has been a very great encouragement to the enemy. We know that Hitler and his associates are relying upon a difference of policy between the Allied nations to secure a stalemate peace. They argue to their own people that if they will only hold out long enough the Allies will quarrel among themselves. There can be no doubt that our policy in Greece has caused very great concern, not only in this country but in the United States.
It is not only in this matter that there is a difference of policy between the Allied nations, which is strengthening German morale, and to that extent tending to prolong the war. There is the difference of opinion with regard to Poland. The United States and ourselves recognise the Polish Government in London: the U.S.S.R. have recognised the Lublin Government. There was also the difference of opinion between America and ourselves over the policy which we adopted in Italy with regard to Count Sforza taking the position of Foreign Secretary. There was that remarkable statement, made by Mr. Stettinius, the American Secretary of State, in which he publicly declared that the American policy was not to interfere with these countries in the choice of their Governments. All these things point to the fact that, while it is true that the future peace of the world depends upon close co-operation between the three Powers, in practice it is extremely difficult to bring this about. 442 Therefore, we ought to be careful in all matters—and I think that applies to the Greek episode—that in any action we take the policy shall be a United Nations' policy. Our prime mistake, I believe, in this Greek matter was that we did not associate with the policy that we wished to follow in Greece the Governments of the United States and the U.S.S.R. We should have refused to act upon a policy of our own in this matter.
§ Commander Agnew (Camborne)
Does the hon. Member think it lies in our power, in every case and in all these countries, to associate, in any executive action, the representatives of all the other Allied Nations?
§ Mr. Lipson
The question whether or not there should be any armed interference in the political differences of other countries is a question of high policy, and there ought to be agreement. I am not referring, of course, to administrative action, but I say that, so far as policy is concerned, there ought to be agreement. We are fighting this war as a team, and, if we want to win the peace, we must act as a team, so far as political matters are concerned.
Having criticised the first part of the Prime Minister's speech, I want to say how very wholeheartedly I welcome what he had to say in the second part, particularly about the policy of unconditional surrender. I support him entirely in that, and I also agree with what he said about what would be our attitude after the policy of unconditional surrender, but I hope that whoever is going to reply will go a little further and will indicate to the House the kind of peace settlement which the Government have in mind. We want not only to make a clean job of the war, we want to make a clean job of the peace. We want to try and establish a peace that is likely to last. If we are to succeed in that, we must make the kind of peace that will not only appear just and right when it is made immediately after the war, but be a peace which, 10 or 20 years afterwards, the people of this country, if need be, will be prepared to enforce. We do not want to see happen this time what happened after the last war, when the Treaty of Versailles was violated and the people of this country were not united in their determination to resist its violation, because they were not satisfied that there was not some moral justification for the violation.
443 That is why I am concerned with the Government's announcement with regard to compensating Poland for the loss of territory in one direction by giving her territory from Germany in the other direction, to the extent of the whole of East Prussia. Not only will it be extremely difficult to carry out, but the transport, at a time when transport will be very difficult after the war, of millions of people will take a long time and cause tremendous suffering. Further, I believe the loss of East Prussia is something that the German people will never accept, and I think we should be on sounder lines—and what I have in mind is a durable peace after the war—if we were to adopt the Curzon Line on the one hand, and allow the Poles to retain the Corridor, because I believe that, until Hitler came into power, the Germans had become reconciled to the Corridor position. If need be, give them Danzig, but certainly do not transport millions of people from East Prussia, which would create bitter feelings and might easily make it very difficult to ensure peace after the war.
I hope that we shall also be told what plans the Government have in mind for carrying out the agreement which was reached at Dumbarton Oaks with regard to an international organisation. If we are not very careful, we are going to miss the bus in this matter, so far as American support is concerned. In the United States criticism of our policy in Italy and in Greece has once more given an opportunity for the Isolationists to come out in the open, and, unless we are extremely careful, it will be too late for us to bring about this world organisation with the support of the United States, and, of course, unless the United States does support any international peace organisation after the war, the chances of a durable peace will go, just as its failure to support the League of Nations last time made inevitable the failure of that great attempt to solve the peace problem. It will not be enough only to set up a world organisation. There must be established a proper basis for co-operation between the three great Powers, and there must be much more public support, in this country and in other countries, for this international organisation if it is to succeed.
This country, and the whole world, in fact, will be grateful to the Government 444 if it succeeds—and the sooner it succeeds the better—in winning this war, but, if it wins the war and does not establish a durable peace it will have done only half its task, and I hope and pray that we shall not take any action now which will make it more difficult to establish a durable peace after the war. We want, this time, to reap to the full the fruits of victory.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
I hope my hon. Friend who has just sat down will not mind if I deal with some of the points in his speech in the course of my own, instead of taking them up where he left off. In the main, I profoundly agree with most of what he said, but I would like to deal with it in the course of my own remarks. When listening to the Prime Minister, two reflections were forced uppermost in my mind by his remarks. First, it seemed to me astonishing that it is possible to deplore the atrocities in Greece while altogether ignoring very much the same kind of atrocities which are going on elsewhere and which stand equally strongly condemned by all right thinking people. Secondly, it seems to me to be the bankruptcy of statesmanship to attempt to build a case on atrocities. We all know that in war-time, and especially when we get into this awful business of civil war in a country over which we have no control, atrocities do take place, and take place on both sides, and in the most brutal manner. While what the Prime Minister said will no doubt hit the headlines to-morrow, the tragedy, to my mind, is that the main issue is not there at all, and that the atrocities will obscure what really ought to be made plain to the people.
I do not want to deal for too long with the Greek issue, because I think there is a danger of obscuring the point. I have travelled too long and too far and for too many years to pretend that a cursory stay of a few weeks in a country gives one authority to talk on the various political parties which form the Government of that country. I have travelled in the Balkans and I should think that they are more affected than any other part of the world. Having just been in that part of the world—but not in Greece—it may not be without some interest to the Committee if I give some of the impressions I have gained both from Greeks and Turks and other people who live in the surrounding 445 countries, though not, I emphasise, in Greece, which is a country I did not visit.
It is most important, in the first place, when viewing the Greek situation, that we should not lose sight of the effect which the policy in Italy had on the minds of the democratic forces in Greece. I refer particularly to our treatment of Marshal Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel. In one of the Moscow declarations it was stated that persons who committed atrocities in the countries which had been returned to the people of those countries, should receive the justice they deserved. Whatever one may think of Marshal Badoglio, he certainly had something to do with Abyssinia. By the Greeks in those parts of the world, whether we agree or not, King Victor Emmanuel was considered to have at least connived at the handing over of the Italian people to the Fascist regime for 20 years or more, and, in regard to the affairs of E.A.M., Turks will tell you that, while they contain strong Communist elements, they also represent the people as a whole. There was always a fear in their minds that we were going to impose on them a Monarch whom many of them did not want to have back. I am not going into the issue of whether or not the King is a desirable person, but that is the fact.
On top of it—and the Committee had better remember this—in this House, and from high personages here, we have heard references to the Royal Greek Army and the Royal Greek Government which have been a constant source of irritation to those people in Greece fighting the Germans behind the scenes. Let us be frank. In the Mediterranean and in Egypt it is common talk that we went to Greece for three reasons. We did not go to Greece merely to feed the people. It does not matter who you ask, they will say that we went there for three reasons; first, because we expected a coup d' état which we wanted to stop, secondly, to feed the people, and thirdly, to prevent the Russians getting a foothold in the Mediterranean. The Government have been very badly served by their informers in that part of the world. I recall that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary told us that the Lebanon Conference had been a great success. I did not find anybody in that district who considered that it was anything but a complete farce. If the Government were basing their policy on 446 those reports, then they were in error from the start.
As I said, I do not want to dwell on the Greek question too long but it is raised in my mind in consequence of the three points I have mentioned. The Prime Minister rode off on this Communist issue in Greece by calling them Trotskyites. That may be—I do not know—but I doubt it very much. I should have thought that it might be possible to appeal to Marshal Stalin to give a lead in directing Communist affairs and urge them not to use force and commit atrocities. Emphatically in the minds of responsible people in the Middle East is the question of a Russian entry into the Mediterranean.
§ Commander Agnew
Does the hon. Member think that Marshal Stalin ought to exercise control over Communists all over the world? If that is the case he appears to exercise a very loose form of control over the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), often to the Prime Minister's detriment.
§ Mr. Stokes
I do not pretend that he should control Communists everywhere. I certainly do not suggest he should control the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). It would be deplorable. Why should the hon. Member for West Fife expect to be controlled? But it is no use blinking the facts. The Minister of Labour made a statement at the Labour Party Conference that one of the reasons for going there was to stop the Russians in the Mediterranean. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] All right, I will withdraw. I misunderstood what he said. As the soldiers have to do the fighting, it might just as well be said in this House as well. The situation is that a Regency has been established, and I do not want to say anything which would irritate in any way. [Laughter.] People are so frightfully squeamish about hearing the truth. I agree that I may not be right. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Certainly, but you can only endeavour to say what you believe to be the truth at any particular moment. You may be profoundly wrong but there is no monopoly in correctness, at least on the opposite side of this Committee.
The second thing—and it is frightfully important—is that both sides should be disarmed, and at once, and there should be no nonsense about it. There should 447 be no armed forces at all there. I agree with everything that the Prime Minister, and the leader of the so-called Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) have said with regard to hostages. It is absolutely deplorable that either side should hold on to hostages, but having said that, do not forget that the E.A.M. forces are extremely suspicious of the group now in power. They are the same people whom they feared in the first instance. By armed power, I do not think that you are going to establish any peaceful rule there at all.
I want to say a few words about Italy. I was fortunate enough to pay a short visit recently to Italy. While it is not for me to talk about strategy, I would like to place on record the magnificent job which the Army is doing in the North of Italy. They feel in a way very much a lost Army. They feel a bit bitter about the Greek situation. Whatever the Prime Minister may say about the military situation not having been affected in Northern Italy, I think it was, and I am afraid that the troops think that it was. They hoped to get Bologna and down out of 'the mountains for the winter, instead of which they have had to withdraw. I saw them up in the hills away from anywhere, under conditions which were much worse than anything I experienced in the last war, not because they were more filthy or more horrible, but because there was no human habitation for miles. The troops there are in great heart and obviously doing a great job of work, but, on the political side, I question very much our interfering in the personnel of the Government. With regard to the exclusion of Count Sforza—I do not want to develop the issue at all—my judgment is that a profound mistake has been made by entirely putting a ban on his admission to the new Government.
There is only one other thing I would say about it, and it is this: the condition of the people is absolutely appalling. Of course, it happens when war sweeps through a place that the poor inhabitants have a perfectly dreadful time, and so there are hundreds of thousands of people there with nothing to do, with no place to go, and very little to eat. That is accentuated by the wrongful fixation of the rate of exchange, which cannot be helped now, I suppose, but which has 448 had the effect of driving very nearly all food on to the black market and making it extremely difficult for the poor people of the country. If anything can be done to get more food to them, I am sure our name would be forever blessed among them all.
Before I get on to my main theme, I want to say one or two words about the Lebanon and Syria. There we have two small nations who are looking to us to fulfil the guarantee which so many nations have now given—there were some 14 or 15 mentioned by the Foreign Secretary yesterday—as to their future liberty and independence, and they are very anxious lest we shall let them down. I hope we shall not. I would say to our French friends that I do not think the local French there seem to understand the niceties of a mandate, and that the duty of a mandatory Power in the first instance is to get out as soon as possible. The promise was made by General Catroux in 1941 that they should have their liberty and independence—I need not quote that, for the Committee will be familiar with it. Unless great care is exercised in dealing with those two small countries, it is quite within the bounds of possibility that the whole peninsula will catch on fire. May I, in this connection, pay a tribute to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir E. Spears), who has done a really magnificent job of work in those two countries, and I say, without any fear of contradiction from anybody who knows anything about the indigenous population there, that he enjoys the affection and confidence of all classes of people there, and we ought to congratulate him.
I would also like to dwell a little on Palestine. Without saying anything about the trials for the terrible murder of Lord Moyne, may I say that things are just about as electric there over the 1939 White Paper, as they could easily be made electric in the Lebanon?
Now, I come to my main theme. [Laughter.] No, it is not tanks. The Prime Minister not long ago said that the war had become less ideological. I and some of my hon. Friends over here for years, ever since the war started, have been pleading with the Government to give a really idealistic view, not only to this nation but to the whole world. I took the trouble to look up the records and I find that I have made 18 speeches 449 on this subject since 1939. That is a deplorable number, and they have had a deplorable absence of effect. I have often thought that some of the peace plans which are turning over in the minds of our great leaders most be too disgraceful for the nation to know. I have now come to the conclusion that that is so. I want to speak with great emphasis on this subject. I believe the principles for which I stand were largely betrayed at Teheran. I believe the scheme of allowing zones of influence, of deciding that America shall deal there, and Great Britain there and Russia there, is the most deplorable and impossible policy to follow if you really want an effective and just and lasting peace. I think the scheme is leaking out, despite the Foreign Secretary's assurance that there were no secrets—he stood up in this House six months or more ago when some of these things were debated, and assured us that there was nothing secret.
We have never had any clear indication of what happened at Teheran, and the birds are now beginning to come home. We are told that Poland is to lose part of what was before the war known as her Eastern territory. I have never disputed the right of Russia to insist that there should be some adjustment of her Western frontier, but equally I have always insisted that it should be done by agreement and not arbitrarily, by force. And so it ought to be. I cannot understand why our Government did not stand out and insist that we should follow that course. At the same time we are told that Poland is to be compensated in the West by giving her East Prussia and, if you believe the refugee Germans here, the cumulative effect of all the changes that are to be made in the West will be the uprooting of 10,000,000 people from their homes and planting them elsewhere. I protest, first of all, against the inhumanity of the thing, which should never be done at and, secondly, against the complete and utter idiocy of it, because you will never get peace if you treat millions of people in that way, a way which is indescribably inhuman and absolutely bestial.
So far as East Prussia is concerned, I cannot even follow the Prime Minister's mind. In his own book he writes that East Prussia, though once a Prussian colonial conquest, is more German than Germany itself. How can you expect to get peace if you cut great chunks off Ger- 450 many and hand them over to people who will have to fight at some time in the future to maintain them? As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) said, peace will not depend on whether you and I think it just at this moment; it will depend on whether our children and the next generation after them really think that what has been done has been fair, and will fight to uphold it. I am quite certain that what has now taken place will bring about a state of things which in the minds of future generations will be considered much worse than the Treaty of Versailles. Where does peace lie under those conditions? We are being led into an impossible position because the Government will not give us a positive and constructive lead. They are funking it. I cannot understand their attitude in this matter at all.
Finally, I come to the question of unconditional surrender. I would like to say something about Poland and the Baltic provinces but perhaps I have been too long. However, in that connection it seems to me to be quite senseless to deplore the terrible things that have been done by both sides in Greece and to ignore the horrible things that have been going on in Poland and in the Baltic provinces. What absolutely astonishes me is the cowardice of our own authorities in not allowing the truth to be told in the Press here. My information comes from the American Press, where they are much more outspoken, and it is better they should be. I think that the truth of what is going on should be made available to the public in this country for, while I am second to none in recognising the marvellous military feats of the Russian Armies, the terrific endeavour of their soldiers, the capability of their command, I loathe and despise and vomit at the beastliness of the political Gestapo that follows in their wake.
The demand for unconditional surrender always seems to me to be sheer lunacy, if it means the unconditional surrender of a nation, to let another nation do exactly what it likes. I understand perfectly one general saying to another general in the field, "I am not talking conditions at all; you must lay down your arms," I can understand that unconditional surrender of the Forces. I was glad to see that President Roosevelt in his message to Congress at least seemed to give that definition of unconditional surrender, but 451 let us have it from this House as well. I was surprised to hear the Prime Minister say yesterday that he did not believe that unconditional surrender had any real effect on the morale of the German people and of the German Army. All I can say is that that is flying in the face of any considered opinion of any fighting man of any rank whatever. It seems to me that you are telling the other chap that he is to hand himself over to you, and, when he has handed himself over, what is he to look for? The birds are flying home from Teheran—the cracking up of Germany, the uprooting of millions of people, the partitioning of their country, and another war to look forward to in the future. But they would rather go on fighting than stop and face that. Therefore I do not understand the Prime Minister in this matter at all.
However, I want to call upon one or two authorities on this question. In "The Economist" of 4th November it was stated:Unconditional surrender is obvious nonsense. It is an unworkable policy which encourages the enemy to fight to the last gasp. No German will surrender until he knows, or thinks he knows, what surrender involves.One of the leading correspondents in the "Daily Mail" on 9th November, under the heading, "Why Germany Fights," said:In early September German morale reached an all time low ebb. Now it is extremely high. Goebbels never had an easier job; at least he has done something genuine. We have demanded a blank cheque for unconditional surrender and the Germans are convinced that we shall fill in that cheque for the full amount. If they are ruined they feel convinced that they may as well fight on.I hope mothers and fathers of those who are killed as a result of this idiotic policy will make their voices heard in no uncertain manner to the Government for not having clarified this position.
Now I want to say a word or two to our friends across the Atlantic. I have many friends in America and I have been there many times. [Laughter.] I know that the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) likes to carry on a twitter, but I am quite serious about this matter. I do not particularly like speaking to this House, even though other people may think otherwise. As I was saying, I want to say a few words to our friends across the Atlantic, towards whom I have found that it pays to be absolutely frank 452 and open, and not beat about the bush. I suggest what is an obviosity, that the collaboration of the Atlantic families is absolutely essential for the future peace of the world. Bickering between us will not do any good at all. Just as we do not like them criticising and "jawing" us on our performances in Europe, however great the temptation, we should recognise that unilateral action should not take place. Let us realise that there must be this collaboration, that "jawing" does not do any good at all and that if we are to go along together, it must be in the greatest friendliness not only between ourselves but between the other United Nations.
It seems to me that we have something better to offer to the world than anything which the totalitarian Governments have yet offered. As I think a member of the Government said a week or so ago, if we succeed in beating Hitler merely to establish a new form of totalitarian régime, whether of the Right or the Left, we shall have lost the war. So I appeal to the Government to make clearer to the peoples of the world that we have something finer to offer, and that we believe that the freedom which a Christian unity alone can provide will give us what we want to see—a great resurgence of our cause all over the world and the war brought to a speedy end.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I feel certain that both hon. Gentlemen who have last addressed the Committee will acquit me of any discourtesy if I say that perhaps as a result of what they have been saying the issues and subjects for discussion in this Debate have somewhat lost on their clarity. At any rate, I think the Committee as a whole—and perhaps the two hon. Gentlemen concerned—would agree with me in saying that their views, although honestly held and highly individual, are certainly not representative of the House. The House as a whole, whether it be right or wrong, is determined to support the Government in their demand for the unconditional surrender of the enemy, and as the one common point between the last two speakers seemed to cast doubt upon that determination I feel certain that they would regard themselves as unrepresentative.
§ Mr. Lipson
I presume that by "the enemy," my hon. Friend means the Ger- 453 mans. I made it perfectly clear that I supported the policy of the Government for the unconditional surrender of the enemy.
§ Mr. Hogg
I will certainly do so; I am delighted to find that in that respect, at least, I did an injustice to the hon. Gentleman, and I am very glad now that there is one point upon which I am in agreement with something he said. But perhaps I may be forgiven for bringing the Debate back to the point at which it was left by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), to whom I would like to say this: I think he may rest assured that from this side of the Committee there is no desire whatever to take advantage of the obvious embarrassment in which he found himself. We respect, alike, his patriotism and his sense of responsibility in doing a difficult job as well as it could be done. But I do not think that we can quite leave the matter there. I want Members of the Labour Party to accept it from me as being sincere when I tell them that what I want to say about the critics of the Government is not intended as an attack upon the Labour Party as a whole. I believe that the Labour Party as a whole have been anxious and distressed, as all decent people have, by the deplorable and tragic events in Greece. I believe that the leaders of the Labour Party in the Government have shown themselves to be staunch, loyal and true and I should like to pay my tribute to their patriotism and their moderation in very difficult circumstances.
But the words which I wish to address to Members of the Labour Party are these: Whom are they going to follow? Are they going to follow their own leaders or are they going to listen to the siren voice of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan)? They must make up their minds. We have a right to know whether the Labour Ministers in the Government represent anybody or nobody. I have listened to a number of speeches 454 on this Greek issue, as we all have during the past three weeks, and it is fair to say that of the critics of the Government not one belonged to the responsible working-class elements in the Labour Party. What they represented was three little cliques—the professional agitator, the near-Communist and the mere intellectual. [An HON. MEMBER: "The lunatic fringe."] Yes, the lunatic fringe——
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
It is a case of—they are all mad but me and thee, and thou art a little bit queer.
§ Mr. Hogg
It is fair to say that over the four years of Coalition Administration through which we have passed there have been perhaps half a dozen Votes of Confidence in this House. The personnel of the Opposition Lobby has changed from time to time as the issues have changed, but there has been throughout a little hard core representing the same little clique or group of people who have opposed the Government in all these divisions. No doubt they have been inspired by sincere patriotism. I do not dispute the depth of feeling that they have shown, but they have believed, contrary to the great mass of the Labour Party, that the overthrow of this Government was still consistent with military victory, and that is the clue to their consistent votes in opposition to the Government on issues of confidence. Throughout this period the purposes of the majority of the Labour Party as a whole and of this little clique or group have, therefore, been immediately divergent. One has sought to overthrow the Government and the other to support it.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Are we to understand that the Tory Reform Committee has been completely liquidated?
§ Mr. Hogg
I hope to reassure the hon. Member on that point. We are only offering a little kindly advice to those for whom we have a very sincere liking and respect. The difference between the Labour Party as a whole and this little clique has been fundamental throughout. Are they quite sure that in listening to the criticisms of the Government, made during the last few months by precisely the same little clique, they have not been led up the garden path in pursuing the real objective of the little clique, and leaving the real objective of their own party and their own leaders? I do not believe the responsible working-class ele- 455 ment in the party has any doubt as to the real position in which the party has been put as the result of the activities of the little, cynical group who have deliberately tried to exploit the generosity and humanity of the feelings of the country in the interests of their own political ambitions. Let us examine where we have got to in this controversy. What are the facts in Greece? This morning the Prime Minister read reports from British officers there. If they are true, does anyone doubt that they represent a most deplorable state of affairs—most shameful atrocities, innocent people murdered, tortured, starved and exposed to the weather at this time of the year? Does anyone think that the British nation as a whole, even hon. Members opposite, are going to find a word to say in support of people who have committed acts like that?
§ Mr. Hogg
The question is, Are they true? We, of course, have not been to Greece, and nothing is more remarkable in the enthusiastic attitude of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) than the extraordinary scepticism with which he treats our front line reports from our own officers and the gullibility with which he accepts everything that comes from the other side.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is the hon. Member not aware that the Prime Minister, the Ambassador, General Alexander and Plastiras were all engaged in exactly the same stories 25 years ago, and were all associated with attacks on the Soviet Union? There is not a lie being told about Greece but exactly the same lie was told 25 years ago about the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Hogg
I was hoping to reinforce the reports that my right hon. Friend read from our soldiers in the field by some which I have received. The first was put into my hands by the father of a boy in my own constituency. He was, as his father says, a person who, having a right to hold political opinions of his own, has accepted the views of the "New Statesman." This is what he wrote to his father from Greece:I cannot get over the undeniable fact that now, when Greece literally is starving and is short of every kind of supply, the Left has been responsible for the present ghastly situation, when many more Greeks are being killed and, on top of this, British soldiers too, I see 456 that in the Debate in the Commons on Greece Churchill got 30 votes against him. Quite obviously those Members of Parliament know precisely nothing about the situation. The British commander here could have done nothing else in the circumstances. If we had acquiesced in the demand of E.A.M. for a monopoly of government there would have been a massacre. To call the E.L.A.S. crowd the friends of democracy is like saying that the S.S. (Germans) would make good Sunday school teachers.In a second letter he says:In this letter I will not say much on the situation generally because the radio and the newspapers will have told you about it. The main thing that is worrying us here is the reports constantly reaching us from England that certain people are demonstrating against the British Army being used to murder democrats and in favour of the insurgents. This is complete poppycock. It is literally impossible for anyone to comment on the situation here unless he is actually on the scene.Two days after that letter was put into my hands I received a telephone communication from the father who, choked with grief, informed me that his boy had been killed and begged me to see that his dying voice should be heard in the councils of the nation as a warning to those who accept the views of the "New Statesman." I have discharged that debt.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
We have had to-day five or six letters of that sort. If I produce to-morrow six letters of the opposite kind, which I can quite easily do, what would it prove? I can produce from my postbag 30 or 40 letters from parents of soldiers in Greece protesting against the iniquity of the hon. Member and his friends.
§ Mr. Hogg
I must leave the hon. Member to make his own speech when the time comes. In the meantime, here is another letter from a young officer in Greece. It is vouched for by a colleague in the House:E.L.A.S. have now been forced back on to the defensive and no longer have any hope of breaking into our perimeter. I am afraid it will be a long and costly job clearing them completely up, but, even so, no one here desires a truce or any terms except unconditional surrender. These things deserve, and I hope will get, no mercy; we are absolutely convinced of the right of our fight. E.L.A.S. began in exactly the same way as the Nazi gangs of toughs.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
That is absolutely untrue. The man who writes those letters does not know the facts.
§ Sir R. Acland
Does the hon. Member seriously contend that E.A.M. did originate in just the same way as the Nazi gang? Is he conveying that as his view?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
The hon. Baronet may have a chance to speak, and it would be in the general interest if we got on with one speech at a time.
§ Mr. Hogg
The letter continues:forbidding freedom of speech or Press; preventing the operation of the courts of justice; looting the houses of their political opponents and carrying the inmates away into the hills for torture, imprisonment and usually murder; seizing Red Cross supplies for their own use; conscripting civilians at the point of the sword into their army and in fact making life Hell for any person not in their party. They are waging this war with an unspeakable brutality worse even than the Nazis and on a par with the North West frontier. It is no wonder that we don't love them much, having seen the concomitants of their rule.When we ask ourselves what are the facts in Greece we must give some weight to the documents which are coming from our own front-line troops in Greece. I shall come back to them in a moment, but, supposing the truth of this general assessment of the situation is doubted, what sort of question can we properly ask ourselves? There is one fact out of this turgid muddle of allegation and counter-allegation to which we have listened which no one has so far disputed. E.L.A.S. has taken 15,000 hostages—[Interruption]. Does it matter what number they have got? Is it disputed that a substantial number of hostages, running into thousands, and put by some authorities at 15,000, have been taken by E.L.A.S.? What does that mean? What are they wanted for? To give them afternoon tea? What is the purpose of taking a hostage? Each hostage is taken for a particular purpose; not only in order to inflict pain and torture upon that man, that woman or that child—because hos- 458 tages are of all three kinds—but in order to inflict pain, anxiety and suffering on four, five or even more other people who belong to their families, perverting their political judgment and holding up the population which they represent to political blackmail. Are we going to tolerate that? Does it not look as if our view, backed up as it is by front-line reports, is right, or that the view put forward so recently by the little clique of critics of the Government is right, especially when the best information that the Government can get is absolutely in conformity with those views which we have in our own hands? Which is likely to be the truth?
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that some of us who served in Salonika and the Balkans for a long time did not disagree when Colonel Zervas said that this kind of cruelty and barbarity was common in Greek politics? We do not dispute that, and we do not in any way repudiate what the allegations mean, but truthfully, they mean very little, in themselves, in the arguments that may be put forward during the course of this Debate.
§ Mr. Walkden
What I said was that they do not really mean anything in the real argument. We do not in any shape or form condone the cruelties, barbarities and horrors, but, unfortunately, the other side have been as guilty as E.L.A.S. or E.A.M. have, or as any other groups that represent Greek politics have.
§ Mr. Hogg
—and I think they do matter, on whichever side they are done. They do mean something. If I may be betrayed into a digression and say something that I had intended to say afterwards, I believe the real truth to be that this British people, which we all love, is not so much Left or Right, Conservative, Liberal or Socialist, but profoundly humanist. I believe that 459 it puts the rights and decency of man above any other consideration, and that that explains its long history in the liberation of mankind. It sometimes adheres to views which other nations find inconsistent. It loves law and at the same time extols freedom. When law and order are attacked, it becomes Conservative almost to the point of reaction, and when freedom is attacked it becomes libertarian almost to the point of anarchy. That is the secret of the British people. The gospel which we preach to mankind is clear, that man should love his neighbour as himself and not take hostages, even if we may be in fear of our lives by not doing so. If it be the defence of the hostage system that we are in fear of our lives because some revenge may be taken on ourselves, what more can the Nazis say when they recede from the occupied countries, and what more need they say if it goes forth from this House that we are prepared to condone such action upon that ground?
The next point in assessing the truth or otherwise of the reports we have received is this. What is the consistency of the arguments presented on the other side of the House? There is none. When the House rose in December we had reached the point at which the critics of the Government had, for the first time, committed themselves to a definite policy. That policy was the appointment of a Regency under Archbishop Damaskinos. If I may quote from the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), this is what he said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 1879.]He went on to say that what he wanted to hear from the Foreign Secretary was a support of the Regency. Two or three days later the Regency was appointed under the very Regent who had been demanded on the opposite side of the House. Even the "Tribune," so hard to please in these matters, was apparently satisfied. It said:The proposal to end the crisis in Greece by the establishment of a Regency Council headed by Archbishop Damaskinos is a compromise solution that …. could have prevented the very crisis it is now proposed to end.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the only merit of the Government's policy is in their acceding to the request I made? What the hon. Member is now suggesting is that it is a merit of the Government that they belatedly accepted our advice.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Member is anticipating the point before it is made. It is really a better point than that. It is this. What is the purpose of a Regency? It is to have somebody on the spot, above, it is to be hoped, party politics, who would exercise presidential or royal functions by selecting a Prime Minister who could form a Government. That is the only purpose with which the Regent was appointed. The moment the Regent does the one thing which he exists for hon. Members say: "Let us intervene and smash the Government which the Regent has created. Let us destroy General Plastiras"—a gentleman of whom I dare say the great majority of hon. Members in this Committee had never heard before this situation arose. What is more, so keen are hon. Members opposite, as they showed themselves this morning, to disregard anything which might have an element of hearsay, that a complete dossier of General Plastiras, provided for them, is solemnly read out to them as if it were evidence why we should intervene to-day.
We are entitled to ask: "Are we in favour of intervention or are we not?" This agitation began with the cry: "Hands off Greece." It is now at the stage and the point where the demand is that we should lay a heavy hand on Greece, that we should sack General Plastiras whom the Regent, demanded by the Opposition, has selected, that the Regency should become a cloak for British rule and that an infinite number of military commitments should have to be entered into in order to support that rule. That is the logical consequence of the policy that is disclosed. That is not the end of the inconsistency. Look at the change in regard to Greek popular demonstrations. A popular demonstration of some 15,000 which appeared in the streets of Athens before Christmas was, of course, a spontaneous outburst of popular enthusiasm.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, the suggestion was that it was a splendid democratic crowd crying 461 for E.L.A.S. After Christmas a much bigger crowd gathered in the streets of Athens to welcome British soldiers who had liberated them, and each waved some particular emblem. Of course, it becomes a servile and organised outburst by the Right Wing.
§ Mr. Hogg
Look at the change in regard to the trade unions and the Left Wing parties. When two of the parties leave the coalition and E.A.M. falls into something like the uncomfortable isolation of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) there is a change of attitude. Before that divorce they were welcomed as evidence of the moderate quality of the E.A.M. forces, but after the divorce is complete they are, of course, renegades and quislings to be abused with all the regular armoury of vituperation which some of our friends opposite employ. The trade unions, when they were part of E.L.A.S., were evidence of the extraordinary solidarity among all classes of the Greek community, but when they resigned from E.L.A.S. and E.A.M. and rather pathetically complained that E.L.A.S. had shot 114 trade union officials, Professor Harold Laski, vice-chairman of the Labour Party, comes down to Oxford and says that the Greek trade unions are phoney. I have thought that some British trade unions were sometimes a little phoney, but I would not shoot 114 trade union leaders for that reason. It is just a difference of attitude towards political affairs. I suppose my attitude is reactionary.
Now a word about the military situation. Not only have I had the advantage of reading some letters from front-line troops but I have had the extraordinary good fortune to meet a friend of mine with whom I had served in the Army and who has just come back from Athens where he had been in the fighting. I am not now talking upon a high military level but from the situation of a little company command post of airborne troops on the outskirts of Athens. What happened, from the point of view of the ordinary man, was an attack upon British troops. I use the expression without any tendentious implication and in the sense that von Rundstedt has attacked, we have attacked and the Russians have attacked. There was the preparation for the attack, a concentration of troops, an assembly 462 point and a starting line and all the apparatus of regular and irregular warfare. British sentries were sniped at, without any offensive action on their part, British soldiers were shot in the back as they walked along the streets without any military activity whatever, and in one command post 11 sentries were either killed or wounded in circumstances in which had they been done in ordinary fighting in these days they would undoubtedly have meant a court martial, involving the death penalty to the sniper.
I do not know where the little clique of Government critics stands but I think I know where the great body of the Labour Party stands, as well as the great body of the country and the entire body of the Conservative Party. They would say: "If you do not like British policy in Greece, argue, demonstrate and agitate against it, but the moment you start shooting British soldiers in the back and sniping British sentries, then somebody has to be taught that that is an argument which the British people do not particularly relish as a contribution to political controversy." The party to which I belong say that, and I believe it to be true of the best part of the party opposite. So far as I am concerned, the moment that argument has been brought into play there can be no negotiation until there has been withdrawal, and there must be adequate action afterwards to see that those who were responsible for the employment of that argument do not use it again because they will know that it is not worth while dealing with the British people in that way.
There is just one more point. This little agitation cannot be treated in isolation. There has been a series of little agitations since the war began, all coming from the same sort of source, the opportunity taken being in each case similar, the objects aimed at and the technique employed the same, and, ultimately, the result identical. Is it too long ago for hon. Members to remember the agitation for "a people's Government for a people's peace" which the hon. Member for West Fife and his concealed friend the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) have ever since then been trying to persuade us was really intended to support the Russians against the Finns and not an attempt to give up against the Germans? Have we forgotten the "Second Front Now" agitation, to which 463 the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale lent himself at the time of the Tobruk Debate, when he suggested that the British Army might actually be commanded by a Pole?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I would ask the hon. Member to remember that at the time of the Tobruk Debate it was a Member of his own party who took the lead.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Member is referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) but I would remind him that the "People's Government for a people's peace" agitation took place in the summer of 1940, at the height of the blitz. The hon. Member should remember it because his attitude towards the war altered from the moment that Russia came into it and he will now be reminded that the Tobruk Debate was during the war against Russia. As a matter of fact it was in the Tobruk Debate that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said: "Strike the enemy where we can get at him, 21 miles away, instead of 2,000 miles away." That is what he said—abandon the troops who were to fight the battle of El Alamein to the sweet mercies of Rommel just outside Alexandria in order to prepare for a gigantic Dieppe raid.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Is the hon. Member, who has had a distinguished academic career and is supposed to be learned in the law, quoting from what I said then or is he allowing his imagination to run riot? Why does he not grow up, for a change?
§ Mr. Hogg
I am coming to that too, as we are going to have this out—because the spirit of the British Army has to be regained.The Prime Minister appointed first General Gott, who tragically lost his life, and then General Montgomery. The hon. Member continued:We have in this country five or six generals, members of other nations, Czechs, Poles, and French, all of them trained in the use of German weapons and German technique.464 So he described their unfortunate reverses:I know it is hurtful to our pride but would it not be possible to put some of these men temporarily in the field?His attitude at that time was a Polish General instead of General Montgomery. In order to complete the quotation——
§ Mr. Hogg
My side was, as a matter of fact, in the Middle East, and we were rather annoyed at the attitude both of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the hon. Member for Kidderminster, and we did not differentiate very much between them. To complete my quotation, this is what the hon. Member said in reference to which he called me a little boy of 15:Get at the enemy where he really is—21 miles away not 14,000 miles away."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1942; Vol. 381, c. 537–540.]He went on to say he wanted a front in the West of Europe—to abandon our Middle East Forces to Rommel, to embark on a gigantic Dieppe raid with our preparing Army which was to liberate Europe in 1944. So much for the "Second Front Now." If we had given in to that agitation what would have happened? It would have meant the end of the war in favour of Germany. It was in a following Debate that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale called the Prime Minister a paranoiac. That is perhaps out of the true line of agitation.
We come now to the Badoglio and Darlan affairs. The Darlan one fizzled out ignominiously because he was killed. The Badoglio one fizzled out even more ignominiously because the Soviet Government accredited an Ambassador to Badoglio without apparently consulting this country first. [Interruption.] I do not know whether he consulted the hon. Member for West Fife. We now have this little Greek agitation. In each case the opportunity has been the same—Britain's anxiety and temporary embarrassment due to circumstances of the war, our Alliance with great Powers with strong views of their own. Britain's anxiety and embarrassment become the oppor- 465 tunity of this little clique. Their opportunity for what? Criticism? No, not quite. Their opportunity for denigrating and sneering and casting doubt on the sincerity of the Government's motives. That is the purpose of the whole agitation. It is not so much to object to actual concrete acts of policy. The objective is to cast doubt on the sincerity of the Government. The sneer in "A people's Government for a people's peace" was, of course, that the "Municheers" were going to sell out. The sneer in the "Second Front Now" agitation was that we were going to let the Russians bleed while we stood by and smiled. In the case of Badoglio and Darlan the sneer was that we were going to make terms with the enemy. In the agitation about letting out Mosley no mention was made of the great constitutional issues involved. The suggestion was made that we were actuated by some kind of tenderness for this pretentious egoist and exhibitionist, whose last connection in this House was with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.
In each case the agitation has petered pitifully out, although at the time, no doubt, it seemed to have a certain spurious plausibility and was bolstered up by a certain sort of organised agitation in the country, representing not genuine feeling but deliberately whipped up feeling, in which the natural sympathies, suspicions and generosities of the working class were made to serve the political purposes of that little clique to which I refer.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
The hon. Member keeps talking about "a little clique," when, in point of fact, the views which have been expressed here were strongly expressed by the whole Labour movement at its annual conference, where all the trade unions in this country were represented. The trade unionists have their own men and sons and fathers in the Forces, and it is just nonsense talking about "a little clique" when we were representing the views of the Labour movement.
§ Mr. Hogg
I made it clear that my criticism did not apply to the whole Labour movement in this country. The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Strauss) has forgotten a saying of Abraham Lincoln:You can fool some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time.466 This little clique grasps gladly the opportunity the devil offers them; they have already succeeded in their first objective of fooling some of the people all the time, and they are moving towards the second objective of fooling all of the people some of the time; but they need not think that they are going to fool all the people all the time. That is beyond the power of a little clique.
This country has had a long experience of agitations of this kind. The working masses of this country have long memories, going back 100 or 200 years. They remember clearly enough the spurious little agitations which arose in the time of Fox. I was reading the other day some words of Edmund Burke, that greatest of English orators. [HON. MEMBERS: "Irish."] As I myself am proud to carry a good deal of Irish blood in my veins, I accept that correction willingly and happily. Let me say the greatest orator in the English language, a language that has made the Irish people able to contribute fully to our British civilisation. This is what he said, applying it to a little clique of conspirators in the time of the great revolutionary wars, when this country engaged upon what was only one of a series of great liberating wars which it has engaged on throughout the centuries.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, the wars against Napoleon, one of the earlier Cæsars. I should like to get on to my quotation. The hon. Gentleman will enjoy it, as he is a great judge of language.Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle repose beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.In these degenerate days we have forgotten the true art of vituperation. We have lost the real sting and bitterness of invective, and the form and force and power of declamatory eloquence. I can only console myself by saying that even Burke in the heyday of his oratory would have found it hard to find words apt to describe the squalid conspiracy of a little 467 clique who have deliberately exploited the tragedy of two nations in order to further their own sordid little political ambitions.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
The Committee, I am sure, appreciates the depth of feeling behind some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). In fact, I have not been so moved by him since I heard him speak once about the extraction of some garments from Oxford laundries. It is time to come back now to the serious subject before us. We are faced by a very serious situation. I do not think we have been helped at all by the speech we have heard from the Prime Minister—at least by that part of the speech which was made before the luncheon interval. But the tragic position is this. Everybody agrees that, whatever our views are on this Greek question, for the first time since the war broke out the national unity has been broken. I do not say that it has been broken about the war; we are all united still on winning the war against Germany; but there is a fissure from top to bottom on the political issue of Greece. Apart from that, everybody knows that the unity of the United Nations is not what it was. I notice that the "Observer" correspondent in Washington says that the year closed at the lowest point in the unity of the United Nations since the war began. I think that those are tragic circumstances. I am talking very carefully, because we are still at war, and I do not want to give any help to the enemy if I can—although they use anything that they wish. A wave of indignation has been going through the American Press about our Greek policy; the French, I understand, are almost unanimous in opposition to it; and the only country in which the British Government are getting credit and plaudits is Franco Spain.
We have just heard a lot of letters from soldiers, giving their views of the E.L.A.S. troops. I think everybody will agree that all disciplined troops are very indignant, and naturally so, when they see a comrade shot down by guerillas, who are not troops at all, especially in that sort of house-to-house fighting in a city like Athens. They say, "These people are really bandits; they are not wearing the uniform of the Guards, or of any known regiment." Let us understand that these 468 are very natural ebullitions of their feelings. But I, too, have letters from troops. Here are three from the Middle East, one from each arm of the Services, which I have received since I spoke on this subject a month ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Are they from Greece?"] No, from the Middle East. They are all from the Services. Surely I can read them. The first is from a soldier, who says:As one who might soon have to take part in enforcing Mr. Churchill's Greek policy, I am writing to thank you for your speech. In four years I can recall no political subject which has aroused a quarter as much spontaneous discussion and certainly none on which the unanimity of view has been so striking.The second is from a naval commissioned officer in the Mediterranean. He says:Having served for two years in the Mediterranean theatre, and particularly in the operation for the so-called liberation of Greece, I can assure you that your comments reflect the opinions of an ever-growing body of Servicemen.The third is from an airman. He says:May I express my appreciation of your magnificent stand … Let the Greeks settle their own affairs … In the words of "The Times," we do not want British lives sacrificed fighting on behalf of the Greek Government, which exists only by virtue of a foreign power.Lastly, this is from a parent:I am one of those unhappy parents who has recently lost a splendid and well-loved son in action at sea against the Huns. That calamity I accept as calmly as I can. I have other sons in the Forces, and I protest with all the vehemence of which I am capable against their lives being risked by intervening in this shameful business.Let us talk about this question of hostages. We are all against the system of hostages. In all civil wars hostages are inevitable—"The Times" uses that very word—but we deplore the fact. We deplore the fact that there is a civil war, but when there is a civil war, hostages are taken on both sides. Any maltreatment of hostages, of innocent people, should be condemned by everybody, without any qualification whatsoever. We have heard the Prime Minister read letters in this House to-day about the hostages. When I was in Spain I heard all about atrocities committed against the Spanish Republicans. We heard that the other side were doing it. No doubt it was being done on both sides. No doubt the stories in the papers were exaggerated. Whether exaggerated or not, I quite admit that on the Republican side there may 469 have been atrocities committed, not on the orders of the Government, but by people fighting on their side. That did not shake my support for their views. Consider that story which was told over the wireless the other day about Madame Metaxas. It was announced that a young girl had been taken by E.L.A.S., and that she was going to tell her story. I waited to hear that story. I thought that something very dreadful was going to come out. What happened? We heard about Madame Metaxas, the wife of the dictator, naturally a person who would be regarded in a very unfriendly way by any Republicans. She was taken away. Her friends were rather alarmed about her. She came back smiling all over her face, and bringing two oranges. What happened was this. They said to her, "You are the wife of the dictator?" She said, "That is quite true." They then said, "You hold his views, do you not?" She replied, "Yes, but he was perfectly entitled to hold his own views."
Being Greeks, they said, "Yes," and they presented her with two oranges. I think these stories are not nearly so terrible as we are led to believe. On the other hand, hostages were taken by the other side, and the prisons of Athens have been filled, according to "The Times" correspondent, with people who have done nothing at all but express Left Wing views. He said they were Liberals and Socialists—all the wrong people, as far as I can make out.
§ Petty-Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
Is it not the case that, in fact, these prisoners are now being released?
§ Mr. Cocks
Hostages were taken on both sides, and there is a tribute to the British people in the fact that British officers, when they arrived, caused the maltreatment of prisoners to be discontinued. These people had been taken prisoner by the Right in Athens, and British officers, with their humane standards, stopped it. Still, they were hostages and they were the hostages of the Right. What about the working class suburbs of Athens, now surrounded by barbed wire? Are they not all hostages? What about the Prime Minister's order to General Scobie to hold as many hostages as he possibly could? The right hon. Gentleman did not say "hostages." According to the American Ambassador in Italy, the message which 470 the Prime Minister sent to General Scobie was: "I authorise you to intern any desired number of persons." If you intern people, are they not hostages? What are they? If the Germans did that, we know they would be tortured. We do it, and, though we are humane and do not do this sort of thing, the fact is that they are interned and they are hostages. The fact that we treat them more humanely than the Germans does not make any difference. I understand that several thousand hostages have been sent to Egypt.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
No hostages have been sent to Egypt. The only people sent to Egypt are those captured in the war.
§ Mr. Cocks
I am talking about hostages. If the people sent to Egypt are prisoners of war, that is another matter and I accept it. I hope the British Government will not take the attitude that hostages should not be released until discussions take place. I think that while the discussions proceed, which may result in a possible agreement, the hostages should be released on both sides. I think the whole idea of hostages is horrible and abhorrent to any person, but inevitable in a civil war.
§ Miss Rathbone (Combined English Universities)
Is there any evidence that the people whom my hon. Friend describes as hostages are men, women and children, not accused of particular offences but who have been maltreated?
§ Mr. Cocks
I do not know. I am only saying that hostages are inevitable on both sides, and, when one side or another takes hostages, their treatment has nothing whatever to do with the matter. The second point I want to make is with regard to the Prime Minister's statement to-day that, although E.L.A.S. have been fighting against the Germans for three years, they have never done anything much. The right hon. Gentleman said they never fought the Germans at all. I think the Germans will be very surprised 471 to hear that. I have always understood that E.L.A.S. troops had neutralised 10 divisions of the German army.
§ Mr. Cocks
Yes, and they neutralised 10 divisions of the German army. They did some very useful work. They blew up bridges and destroyed trains, and, when the Germans were sending troops into North Africa, they blew up the North to South railway in Greece and helped us very much in that way. I understand that, when we invaded Sicily, we asked for their help, which they gave. I think that, at this time of the day, we are not playing fair in saying that these people, whom we have been supplying with arms for some time, have never done any particular fighting at all.
I think the Committee do not quite understand what E.L.A.S. is. It is not an organisation of political parties. E.A.M. is the national resistance movement—a movement of the whole people. It is not an addition of the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the Labour and Socialist Parties and so on. They may be in it, but it is an association of people, many of whom do not belong to a political party at all. It is not a political but a national movement, and the object which it lays down is the liberation of Greece from the Axis conquest and the reorganisation of the nation and of a free people rid of all foreign domination.
I have a letter here from a flying officer in Salonika, describing what happened there on 7th December, and I think it will interest the Committee, because it gives a picture of the position there. This is what he says:All night long I have been hearing, and, all morning, watching, the insignificant minority of extremists streaming down from the villages and towns to demonstrate for freedom. These people are not partisans; they are whole families, in their carts and on foot, old and young, with grandparents, children, animals, proudly bearing banners and the flags of all nations and parties, except the Royalist, and even crucifixes. The village priests, who know the lives and minds of their people, are there on the people's side, marching with them behind E.A.M. banners. There must be no one but the very old and very young left in the villages. It is to them something of a fiesta and they come with smiling faces. These peaceful demonstrators are not an unruly gang of extremists, and, unless British Forces bring in anti-popular troops here, there can be no 472 civil war, because the extremists are in a minority and are unarmed. They represent only eight per cent. of the population.
§ Captain McEwen (Berwick and Haddington)
Where does that letter come from? Was it written to the hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Cocks
No, it was written to the officer's brother. I only received it a couple of days ago. His brother is another officer, who said that I might wish to read an extract from the letter. There have been suspicions for many years that our action in Greece has not been so free from financial reasons as has sometimes been stated. I do not know whether the Committee knows about the question of bondholders, but there is a very big debt held in this country. A few years ago the Republican Government of Greece wanted to reduce that particular debt and as a result the Republican Government was overthrown and the present King of the Hellenes was brought back by a particular plebiscite. I am not going to stress this particular point; it has been in the American papers. The American papers say we are going in now in the interest of Hambro's Bank. The Prime Minister said democracy was not a harlot to be picked up in the street. I think the general view is that ladies of that ancient profession are more likely to be attracted by the jingle of coins in the trouser-pocket than by the glint of a lethal weapon. Neither is democracy the kept woman of an oligarchy or the painted mistress of a King. But freedom has often been won by the sword, as it was in this country, and no doubt the Prime Minister has said that in some of his speeches. He has said he is sure of the rectitude of our motives in Greece. He has also said that it was necessary for the truth to be told.
In August, 1943, six envoys from the three resistance movements in Greece, E.A.M., E.D.E.S. and another, went to Egypt and said that they would like to support the Government on two conditions. One was that the King should give a pledge not to come back without a plebiscite and the other that on the liberation of Greece a Government should be formed representing all parties to make preparations for the next stage. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that we have never had any intention of bringing back the King, and 473 it is rather interesting to know what happened then. We had two Ministers there at the time, Mr. Casey and Mr. Leeper. I understand that they visited the Government and said—this is what I am told—that it was the firm intention of the British Government to restore the King and that we considered that any pledge that he should not come back without a plebiscite was equivalent to abdication, which we strongly discouraged. I understand that he sent a cablegram to the Prime Minister who was then in Quebec—this has all been published in the American papers—and the Prime Minister sent a message back, "I urge you to ride forward into battle at the head of your troops."
§ Mr. Cocks
It was a technical instruction which he would have had difficulty in carrying out at Shepheard's Hotel. Later on the Prime Minister broadcast to both the King of Yugoslavia and the King of Greece saying that he hoped to see them both returned to their thrones by the free choice of their people. How can it be said that we never at any time wanted to restore the King, when, as a result of our intervention, the proposals were rejected and the representatives of the resistance movement were ordered out of Egypt? The resistance movement felt there was nothing to hope from the Cairo Government except a dictatorship. Colonel Zervas had said that if the British Government wanted to restore the King he was not prepared to oppose this even if the King came back without the wishes of the people. That went on for about six months, and in March, 1944, another attempt was made to contact the Government. An Admiral and a General went to the Greek Government and said they hoped they would negotiate with the resistance movement. As a result they were both arrested and put into prison, but were let out the next day. M. Venizelos, the son of the statesman of the last war, came forward and was going to be Prime Minister. King George of the Hellenes made certain stipulations which he would not accept and he did not take office and the old Government remained. The Army threw out their Royalist officers and British troops moved against them. I understand that they are interned to-day. The first brigade of the Greek Army which General Alexander had commended for their conduct in the Battle of El Alamein, 474 are now interned, some 8,000 of them, and are hostages. Then out of those who did not mutiny there was formed the mountain brigade, of which we have heard a great deal.
After a lot of negotiations E.A.M. joined the Government on 18th August last and on 22nd August the Prime Minister and M. Papandreou came to some agreement. It was announced that there was general agreement but nothing was known of what had happened. When Papandreou went to Egypt he refused to tell his Cabinet colleagues what had been agreed on that occasion, whereupon Venizelos and two of his colleagues resigned. He said he was not prepared to go on in the Cabinet when the Prime Minister had made an arrangement with another Prime Minister and refused to say what had happened.
Now I come to the Caserta agreement, on which the Foreign Secretary made a speech the other day. I think he stated that at Caserta the resistance movement placed themselves under the orders of General Scobie. They did not do anything of the sort. First of all the Prime Minister said that British troops should go into Greece to preserve law and order, but it was just the opposite, because a clause was put in the original agreement that British troops should be allowed to go into Greece to preserve law and order, but the E.A.M. Ministers refused to sign that agreement and the actual words were cut out of the final agreement. If words like that were cut out, it means much more than if they were never put in. It means that we did not go there to preserve law and order but merely to provide food and clothing. Secondly, the E.L.A.S. troops placed themselves under the authority of the Government of National Unity, not under General Scobie. The Government of National Unity then placed the E.L.A.S. troops under the command of General Scobie, it is true, but directly the E.A.M. Ministers resigned from the Government, it ceased to be the Government of National Unity, and therefore they were no longer under the orders of General Scobie. That is their contention.
Moreover, when a military force places itself under a general, it does so for military reasons; it does not expect to be told, "Now you have to disarm and go back to your homes and cease to be a military force." It was not a suicide pact; 475 if it had been it would not have been signed. In view of the fact that the Prime Minister has already told us that before Caserta he was already determined to send troops into Athens to prevent E.A.M. controlling Athens, which he did not tell E.A.M. Ministers at Caserta, it seems that the Caserta agreement was a trap for E.A.M. It did not succeed, but it gives the Government an excuse for shooting down people in Greece instead of feeding them.
When our British troops entered Athens on 15th October and were received with flowers and so on and had a marvellous reception, we are told that under E.A.M. and E.L.A.S. exemplary order prevailed in that part of Greece which E.A.M. held. That was said by a member of the Cabinet of the Papandreou Government who was opposed to E.A.M. Well, there is no cheering heard to-day. Then there was the demand for the trial of the collaborators. Nothing or very little was done. Some people were arrested, but not a single Quisling, I understand, has yet been put on trial, and when it was decided that the E.L.A.S. police force, which was formed for arresting collaborators, should be disbanded people thought that the collaborators would escape.
What happened next? An agreement was reached, apparently, that they should all disarm and, as far as I have been able to place the date, on 17th November it was generally agreed that all guerilla troops from Right and Left should disarm but, two days later, on 19th November, the Mountain Brigade arrived in Athens suddenly from Rimini, where they had been doing very good work fighting the Germans. Why were they moved from the Italian front to Athens? General Scobie was in command of them and they arrived at Athens—I cannot understand what the Foreign Secretary is saying to the Deputy Prime Minister, but probably he will say something a little later on about that—and it was generally agreed that their arrival was a deliberately provocative act. The Mountain Brigade is very anti-E.A.M., of which their colonel is an opponent. E.A.M. said, "Here are these people coming in on the right; if we are to disarm, they must disarm too." Now I want to tell the Foreign Secretary that the statements I have show that he was quite incorrect in the last speech he made 476 when he said it had been suggested that instead of the Mountain Brigade being disarmed, E.A.M. should have one brigade equal in strength to the Mountain Brigade. He went on to say that, having agreed to that, E.A.M. went back on it. I am told that just the opposite is the fact. Let me put these points to the Foreign Secretary.
§ Mr. Cocks
It is Greek information coming from Greek sources. I am told that on the night of 30th November the E.A.M. Ministers put up their proposals to M. Papandreou that they should have one brigade equal to the Mountain Brigade. Apparently he agreed to it, and they went away thinking he had agreed to it, but the next thing they heard was on 1st December at 4.30 in the afternoon when he issued a decree saying that all should be disarmed, ignoring that Brigade, and at the same time British aeroplanes dropped leaflets, which must have been printed before, all over Greece saying that all irregular troops must be disarmed, absolutely ignoring the agreement about the one Brigade. At 7 o'clock of the same day General Scobie issued a broadcast supporting the Government's position, and it was not until 8 o'clock that M. Papandreou sent his decree to E.A.M. Ministers and asked them to sign it. They would not do so because they had been betrayed, and they resigned. After that General Scobie issued another proclamation supporting the Government, which was supported the next day by the Prime Minister, who issued another one from 10, Downing Street. If those facts supplied to me are true, it is quite clear that the final break was made by the Right and not by the Left, which is the point, By that time the Prime Minister seemed to be determined to put down the Left by every means he could, because he said in this House that quite early on 5th December:…. I directed General Scobie. … to use whatever force might be necessary to drive out and extirpate the E.L.A.S. bands.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 946.]According to the United States Ambassador in Italy, it has been stated in America, where apparently they have no Official Secrets Act, that he said a great deal 477 more than that, and used rather violent language about them. [An HON. MEMBER: "From what paper is the hon. Member quoting?"] From an American paper—Drew Pearson.
§ Mr. Cocks
This was sent to me from America:Churchill closes by saying that he will back up Scobie in whatever action Scobie takes along these lines and that the British must keep and dominate Athens.Scobie should not hesitate.… to act as if he were in a conquered city, confronted by local rebellion.There is more which I do not intend to quote. I come now to a Conservative paper, the "Daily Express," which is owned by a member of the Government. This is what their correspondent said:E.L.A.S. have the support of most of the working-class suburbs of Athens. They are tough districts, which put up fierce resistance to the Germans. To-day these people, who were staunchly pro-British when we landed, are fighting us just as fiercely as they fought the Germans, in the belief that they are defending their rights and liberties. Women walk through the streets with tommy-guns hidden beneath their skirts and hand grenades in their market baskets.These working-class suburbs have been attacked with 25-pounder guns, which were made to fight the Germans and not the Greeks. I have not heard of any of the upper-class suburbs being attacked. We attacked the people who welcomed the British troops and garlanded them with flowers. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister flew to Athens, where they met the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan). I notice that they did not take the Deputy Prime Minister with them. It is a curious thing that no Labour representatives ever go to an International Conference, except those of the International Labour Office. They do net go to Moscow or to Quebec or anywhere else. But apart from that the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary said, "We have come here to end the fratricidal strife." I was glad to see that they had made that statement, but I think two mistakes were made. First of all, a truce was not declared, and secondly the Prime Minister went on saying "General Scobie's terms must be accepted. You must lay down your arms. We will go on fighting until you do."
478 What was the psychological result of that on the Right Wing Greeks? It was that they felt they were supported by the British and that so long as they refused to compromise with the Left they would have British arms on their side. When E.L.A.S. came to that meeting they put forward certain proposals, which everybody thinks were quite moderate. I do not think the Foreign Secretary will deny that they were moderate. At any rate, they were the basis for argument, but General Plastiras and the Right Wing representatives walked out of the room, saying that they would not listen to them. I think that that was due to the fact that they felt that they had British support for whatever they did. They represent a minority in Greece.
§ Mr. Cocks
I think so, and so do many others. The conference broke down; all that came of it was that the King of Greece promised not to go back to his country until there had been a plebescite, and the Archbishop of Athens became the Regent. What is the point now? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I mean, what point has been reached? A truce has been declared, but we have not heard what has happened since then. We know that the Foreign Secretary said that there must be an amnesty, and that E.A.M. ought to be brought into the Greek Government. General Plastiras has said the opposite to that several times, that there must be a purge and that the leaders of the revolt must be punished, and E.L.A.S. cleared out of Greece. So I want to know what the Government propose to do with this Frankenstein monster which they themselves have created. Are they going to allow him to carry out his intentions? If we support General Plastiras in his savage policy we shall find ourselves engaged in a major war in Greece against people who want only to be our Allies. I think everybody will agree that the Greek people mean very much to humanity, and to the British people. It was on the soil of Athens that for the first time, and perhaps the last, men and women showed themselves to be more than just civilised apes. I know that Athens represents to the Foreign Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister the exact opposite of what Berlin represents: it is the highest point of achievement of the human spirit that has been reached 479 since the world began. In my view, the British people should never fight the Greeks because our battle honours are engraved on the same shield—Waterloo, Marathon, Trafalgar, Salamis, the Battle of Britain and Thermopylae. Nor should the Greek people fight against the countrymen of Byron, whose constituency, incidentally, I represent.
I have never been a persistent critic of the Prime Minister. I have never criticised him until now. I supported him in the days of appeasement, and I feel to-day as he felt at the time of Munich. But he has weaknesses, as we all know, one of which is that he acts impulsively on insufficient judgment. But just as a man who is frivolous can become strong, determined and great when the sword is at his throat, so the Prime Minister, when the country was on the point of being defeated, let all that drop from him like a cloak. Now the country has been saved from defeat I think those weaknesses are coming back. We are not faced to-day with the great man of the time of Dunkirk; we are faced with the man who helped General Denikin to invade Russia just after the last war. So, if it is necessary to fight the Prime Minister, we shall fight him on the beaches, on the hill-sides, on the Floor of the House, in the Division Lobbies, on the hustings and at the ballot box, and in the name of liberty we shall defeat even the man who, four years ago, did so much to defend the liberties of this Island.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)
It would have been tempting had I time to endeavour to reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), but the events of yesterday have brought another very important question to the front. The capture of Warsaw and of Cracow have made consideration of the Polish question extremely urgent at the present time. I would appeal to His Majesty's Ministers to do everything in their power to render help to this unfortunate city of Warsaw. We all know of the heroic campaign, lasting 63 days, which that great city carried on in its defence. Now it has been relieved, but I understand there is scarcely a house left intact in that once beautiful and very important city. I feel sure that it would be possible for the Government to take steps to see that medical supplies, 480 food and clothing are sent to these most unfortunate people, who have deserved a very much better fate. The Prime Minister laid stress on the fact that it was in order to carry out our guarantee to Poland that we have gone into this war. There was a Debate on Poland on 15th December.
I will not repeat anything that was said on that occasion, but I should like to call attention to a few points which escaped notice. I feel that this question of the Eastern provinces of Poland is one of the most vital importance. Great stress was laid on the fact that Poland was being asked to sacrifice 47 per cent. of her territory and a third of her population. This proposed border is really almost exactly equivalent to the partition line of 1795, when the whole of Poland was annexed to the three neighbouring States. What you are proposing under the arrangement that has been suggested is that you should hand over to Russia everything that she obtained by the final partition of Poland in 1795. One of our greatest historians, a distinguished Member of the House and President of the Board of Education, Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, said of the partitions of Poland that the story was one of the most shameful in the annals of Europe. No one pointed out in the Debate that the proposal to hand over Eastern Galicia is to give Russia something which in the whole course of her history she has never possessed. At the time of the first partition in 1772, part of Galicia was handed over to Austria and the remainder at the third partition of 1795. It remained Austrian down to the outbreak of the last war and, of course, from the time of the Treaty of Peace it was Polish. With regard to the other territories—the Northern territories and the White Russian territories—even those were Polish for more than 400 years before the first partition of 1772. We have heard a very great deal with regard to the question of race and we all know that Eastern Poland is inhabited by a mixed Polo-Ukrainian race but it is certain that the Poles are in a relative majority. In any case—this argument was never brought forward—there are practically no Russians in the whole of that territory. I doubt very much whether the whole Russian population exceeds 100,000—that is one per cent. of the whole population.
Further, I would ask the House never to give its consent to handing over those 481 two great centres of Polish culture, Vilna and Lvov, to Russia, because they are essentially Polish. I, as a University Member, entreat you to remember that those great Universities were European centres of culture. If there were time I could tell you what they have done. I could give you a list of the men of science and literature that they have produced. I would, therefore, implore the Government not to force Poland to give up those two absolutely essential Polish cities. May I make a comparison? If you were to ask Poland to hand over Lvov it would be just as much as asking Ulster to hand over the sacred and historic city of Derry, commemorated in the graphic and striking pages of Macaulay. You could not do that without provoking a civil war throughout Ireland. The Poles attach exactly the same importance to the ancient and historic city of Lvov that we in Ulster attach to the maiden city, as we call it, the heroine of the great siege—Londonderry. I would make this appeal to our Russian friends. Do not insist on a frontier which will always throughout the ages be a bone of contention. No Pole who is faithful to his country will ever consent to give up that noble heritage of his race, Galicia and the North-Eastern provinces. Do not make the mistake that was made by the Germans in 1870. Bismarck was very much against the proposal to seize Alsace and Lorraine, but he was overborne by the King and by the military party. Germany annexed Alsace and Lorraine and that was a bone of contention for over 40 years. That was a sore which prevented any reconciliation between Germany and France during all that period and was one of the causes which led to the outbreak of the war in 1914. After all, the line of the Treaty of Riga was a very fair compromise. Poland was asked by the Treaty of Riga to give up 120,000 square miles which had belonged to her in 1772 and which that great Ulster statesman Lord Castlereagh was anxious to give her at the time of the Treaty of Vienna, but when the Emperor Alexander got up from his seat, stood against the map and put his hand on it and said, "Poland is mine," he was the master of great legions and it was impossible for justice to be carried out. What have the Russians themselves said with regard to that line of Riga? I have a statement signed by Lenin and Chicherin in July, 1920: 482The real frontiers which Soviet Russia will establish with the representatives of the Polish people will be to the east of the frontiers marked out by the Imperialists in London and in Paris.That is to say that the real line would be very different from that suggested in the telegram from Lord Curzon. It would be a line very much more East and corresponding much more to the compromise line adopted in the Treaty of Riga. I would like my hon. Friends to remember this. When war broke out, it broke out 500 miles to the West of the country where it would have broken out if the Poles had accepted the offers made to them by Field-Marshal Goering. We have heard of the hunting expeditions and of the visits of Goering to Marshal Pilsudski. The documents in the Polish White Book give the tempting proposals which were made by the Germans: "Join with us, attack Russia, help us, and then we will guarantee the integrity of Poland." Poland to her honour rejected those proposals, and the consequence was that Russia owes her an immense debt, because when the war broke out it broke out, as I have said, 500 miles further to the West than it would have broken out had Poland accepted them. I would appeal to four brief texts which, I think, are of vital importance. I will give them as briefly as possible. The Prime Minister, on 3rd September, 1940, said:We do not propose to recognise any territorial changes which take place during the war unless they take place with the free consent and good will of the parties concerned.The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 31st July, 1941, wrote to the Polish Prime Minister, General Sikorski:His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have entered into no undertaking towards the U.S.S.R. which affects the relations between that country and Poland. I also desire to assure you that His Majesty's Government do not recognise any territorial changes which have been effected in Poland since August, 1939.Then we have that magnificent clause in the Atlantic Charter, Clause 2, signed by the Prime Minister and President Roosevelt on 14th August, 1941:They desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.Finally, may I quote Article 5 of the Anglo-Soviet Agreement of 26th May, 1942: 483The high contracting parties will … act in accordance with the two principles of not seeking territorial aggrandisement for themselves and of non-interference in the internal affairs of other States.We have been told that we were obliged to accept the Munich Agreement and that as it was a question of force, we could not resist it. That may or may not be. All I can say is that it left a nasty taste in the mouth because it handed over 800,000 Czechs to Hitler and thousands of Sudeten Germans who had no wish to be Nazified. On this question, let me implore the Government not to hand over these provinces which are sacred to Poland against the will of Poland, or we shall be doing an action which we shall afterwards regret. We may have to submit to force majeure; I do not deny it, but do not let us be a party to it. Do not let us play the Bismarckian rôle of the honest broker. Do not let us even give our consent to it. Let us remember those glorious words of the "Chanson de Roland," that great monument of the earliest French literature. Let no charge be brought against us in history, as it was brought against the traitor Ganelon: "Il a forfait à l'honneur."
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
I do not wish to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken but wish to return to some observations which were made by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), who pointed out that the national unity which has led us so far through the war was in danger of being jeopardised. I say to him frankly that I share his view, but we are entitled to ask where the danger to national unity comes from. Whether we like it or not, the fact is that British troops in the main, from the military point of view, achieved what they sought in action. If, however, we examine the handbills that were distributed by certain of those people who were protesting in the middle of December, we find that the crime of the British Government was then quite different from what it is at the present time. The British Government was then being attacked because it was endeavouring to maintain Papandreou in office. Now Papandreou has gone, and now that we have Plastiras, the British Government again is wrong. This is the first time I have ventured to intervene in a Debate on foreign affairs and my intervention will be short.
484 It is some satisfaction to one who has consistently supported this National Government since 1940 to realise that, just as they have been proved right in the main militarily, so, as events have developed, they have been proved to be right in the foreign field as well. It is easy to be wise after the event. Here we have this Government in which all parties are represented. My hon. Friend twitted the Labour Ministers, his own leaders, in this Government, for not going to international conferences. I have never regarded my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Labour, and the Home Secretary as people without minds of their own and wills of their own, and I believe that they are acting as part of the Cabinet. This National Government is not exactly the Government anybody would choose, and certainly those who are opposed to it do not desire to see it continue any longer than need be. We all agree that there should be a resort to the country so that the people can express their opinion.
Nevertheless, let us bear in mind that this is a National Government and that under it we have got so far. It would be a pity if at this stage of the war, when the military prospects of our own Armies and those of the Armies of our Russian Ally on the East are bright, and when the prospects of the Americans in the Pacific may perhaps lead to a far greater diminution in the time of the war against Japan than we once thought would be the case, there was disunity. At such a time is it not worth while making an appeal to the small section of the Left to give up bickering at the Government, in which their own party is represented, but for three months more to support their own men inside the Government and then go to the country and see whether or not they are representative?
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
I was reminded when I was listening to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) of a remark once made by Lord Baldwin, that there was no greater tragedy in the world than a theory killed by a fact. The hon. Member has put forward a great theory about the Greek situation which is quite fantastic. To-day, I think he is a little unhappy when he sees the house of cards which he has created collapse. I want to refer to the campaign in the 485 country against the Government's policy in Greece. Before I do that, let me say that I think it is a little ungracious that the hon. Member for Broxtowe and others who think with him have not paid a tribute to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who have managed to clear up the position in Athens, and to persuade the parties to cease fighting. The hon. Member and his friends in their campaign in the country have misrepresented the Government's Greek policy. I have never known a campaign which has been such a complete flop, and I wonder why that is. I believe it is because the party opposite, and the Left Wing intelligentsia, always fail to understand the good sense of the British people. Could anything be more silly than to represent the Prime Minister as the enemy of democracy when he is the one man who has saved the world for democracy?
I wonder how many letters supporting that campaign hon. Members have had. I have had four. In the "Evening World" there was a letter in which a man accused the editor of political censorship because he had published only three letters attacking the Government's policy on Greece. His reply was that he had received five—three published, one seditious and the fifth one that had arrived that day. That answer is evidence that the whole thing was a complete flop, because the people in the country were not prepared to believe that the Government were carrying out a policy as hon. Members opposite represented it. I have had four letters. They were all of the same kind. They all complained that Mr. Papandreou and the late Government were reactionary. I always try to be non-political in my replies to correspondents. In every case I replied that I understood Mr. Papandreou to be a Socialist and that it did not necessarily follow that all Socialists were reactionaries.
The campaign may have been a flop in this country but it has had a very bad effect abroad. No doubt when people in America read the criticisms of British policy made in this House they thought that a very large section of our people were against the Government. I also think that nothing did more to create that false impression than the articles in "The Times" newspaper. I am very surprised to see the hon. Member for Broxtowe a bedfellow—maybe unwillingly, but still 486 a bedfellow—with the editor of "The Times." I would remind the hon. Member that "The Times," in its famous leading article on Sudetenland, did more than any other paper in the world to betray democracy in Europe. I think he would agree with me in that. "The Times" to-day has been issuing articles which have given a totally false impression of British policy in regard to Greece. It does not end there. "The Times" pretends to be pro-Russia and pro-America, but those articles must have hurt our prestige in Russia and in America.
I think everyone will remember that the most important thing at this time is that we should keep together what we may call the Grand Alliance. Great Britain is the linchpin of the Grand Alliance and the Prime Minister is its great architect. We all know that Russia did not come to our aid when Britain was attacked, but directly Germany invaded Russia the Prime Minister announced that he would give all the aid he could to Russia. We have carried out that promise. They, in return, have borne the brunt of the land fighting. In the same way, the Prime Minister, by a very far-sighted American policy, has made it easier for America to co-operate. I very much doubt whether you could get co-operation between Russia and America if Great Britain were not there as the linchpin. Therefore, speaking with all seriousness, I say that we ought to be careful in criticising the policy of the Government not to create misunderstanding and misrepresentation which will make it more difficult for the Grand Alliance to work at full pressure.
I have referred to the Grand Alliance. By that expression I mean Russia, America and the British Commonwealth of Nations. I do hope that a fourth member may be added to it very shortly. I should very much like to see France a full member of the Grand Alliance. France has been said to have lost her soul in 1940, but I think she is regaining it now. We must help her to regain it. We must not be hypocrites. Let us face the fact. Great Britain and America have their share of responsibility. After the last war, when America would not guarantee the frontiers of France, and Great Britain refused alone to make that guarantee, France was driven into a policy of what was called encirclement but was really a policy of self preservation. I hope that it will be possible to equip as 487 many French divisions as we can so that when we defeat Germany France will be able to march into Germany feeling that she has made a great contribution to the victory over the common enemy.
I have appealed often in this House before the war for a foreign policy which all parties could support. I think we have now a foreign policy which all parties can support. I believe that the party opposite have lost a lot of their prospects for the next General Election by their unwise attitude over Greece.
§ Sir D. Gunston
I do not rejoice in that. I think they have weakened their position. I would like to make this plea, before sitting down, and it is that we should maintain national unity till Germany is defeated. Our national unity is the inspiration of the United Nations. When Germany is defeated and we have to separate and go our various political ways, let us try to maintain unity of foreign policy. I do not think that will be too difficult. In the long run we all have the same end in view now, and it is to win the war and to maintain a just peace. We can only do it if we have full co-operation among Great Britain, Russia, America, France and the other United Nations.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I want to make a short intervention in this Debate in reply to some of the points that have been made, and try to make plain what, in my opinion, are the broad facts of the situation. The whole of this Greek question has got involved in an atmosphere of emotion. It is quite understandable but it is quite inimical to our getting a clear view. We in the Government have to deal with these foreign situations in the light of the facts as known to us. We take every opportunity We can to exercise our utmost vigilance, to try to arrive at these facts. Let me say at once it is not always easy for anyone to get the whole of the facts when dealing with a foreign country, a country which has only just been cleared of a foreign invader, a country that was for a long time under a dictatorship. It is not at all easy in such cases to get the exact facts about what happened. It is not very easy to sum up 488 the various personalities, particularly when their names are often like each other and one is not always sure which is which. It is not at all easy to judge the exact state of public opinion.
I would say particularly that these difficulties prevail over Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. I may illustrate that, I think, by the speech made by the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast (Professor Savory), on the Polish question. I expect every one of us has received scores of documents on the Polish question, with maps and statistics of the population of Lithuania in the census of this or that year, one proving one thing, and one proving another. I have stacks of maps about Yugoslavia. At intervals during this war, I often meet people who talk to me about their own particular people; they may be Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, but they never agree on the facts. We have to try to pick our way through these things as best we can.
§ Mr. Attlee
That is exactly the point I am making. We give these matters our very close attention. Let me say here, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), that the foreign policy of this Government is not a matter that is left to the impulse of a Prime Minister or to the sole discretion of a Foreign Secretary. These matters are debated and discussed very fully in Cabinet. I can assure him we have endless discussions. Therefore we do try to arrive at an opinion on the facts.
I know that my hon. Friend opposite is most sincere, and has also tried to arrive at the truth. He and I were campaigners together for many years on these foreign affairs matters. He and I are both, he would agree, devoted to democracy, and it may be that if we differ, we act on different sets of what we think are the facts. It is difficult for any of us to find the facts. I am a little surprised sometimes at the ready acceptance by some people of statements which, I must say, seem to be based on rather slight authority. I will give an example. A friend of mine was quite convinced on a certain point which had been put to him by a certain Greek. As a matter of fact, he went, properly, to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign 489 Affairs with the Greek, and, as it turned out, the Greek had to admit that his version of the facts was entirely wrong in that instance. If my friend had not taken this up he would still be thinking that the report was a fact. I sometimes think that the critical faculty which is so alert with regard to one's own countrymen is sometimes a little dulled when dealing with people from other countries.
I have been surprised by the positive assertions made. I listened with great interest to the story told by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe. I have been following these things with a very close attention, and I have read the papers, but I must say I could not agree with the account given by him in many of these instances.
§ Mr. Attlee
My hon. Friend gave a long list. The Foreign Secretary will be replying to-morrow. My hon. Friend gave us rather a long history. I can tell him straight away that there are a great many instances on which he was completely mistaken. I would ask him to think that on these matters I am as desirous as he is of seeing that the truth shall prevail and that we shall support the principles we hold in common. I would not like him, therefore, to assume always that the word of a Greek, or the word of Mr. Drew Pearson, is better than the word of His Majesty's Ministers. We are all, of course, subject to temptation in this matter. We all tend to lend credence to something which seems to support our own point of view. Otherwise, I am quite sure my hon. Friend would not have quoted Drew Pearson.
§ Mr. Attlee
In matters of foreign policy this habit is increased by the practice of dividing the world up into Right and Left. To many people everything that comes from the Left is suspect, and to others everything that is done by the Left must be supported.
§ Mr. Attlee
The point my hon. Friend is making is not a very good one. I am saying that is a habit of all of us. I know people who think that all people who may disagree with them are Bolsheviks. I 490 sometimes think that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) thinks that everyone who does not agree with him is a Fascist. But, as a matter of fact, when one comes to Right and Left, people of very different views are grouped together under these very wide umbrellas. I think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe pointed out so well, that was the case with E.A.M. It is quite a mistake to think that E.A.M. consisted of one lot of people—of Communists. It consisted of Liberals, Socialists and Communists, people of varied political views.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) was entirely wrong, when he said that the Greek Government was a Government of the Right. It is not a Government of what in any part of Europe is called the Right. Almost all its members were in revolt against the dictatorship, many of them were in exile or had been put in prison. They consist of Socialists, Liberals, followers of Venizelos, and so on. There is always a danger in people who want to be very Left, to shift the application of Right until it includes a great many people who are more Left than some people who profess to be Left. I do not believe that the views of the hon. Member for West Fife are Left Wing in the sense of being very advanced. I think they are reactionary because they support a doctrine of force, and I am a supporter of the doctrine of democracy. Therefore I myself think that the hon. Member for West Fife is something left over from the 19th century.
§ Mr. Lipson
I am sure my right hon. Friend did not mean to misrepresent me, but I never said that it was a Government of the Right.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am afraid the hon. Member will find that he did if he will look at the report in HANSARD of what he said. He talked of this British Government coming in to support one side against the other. The point is that we came into Greece for a Government of all parties, Socialists and all the rest. We must get that right. It is a mistake to try to lump all people together as Right or Left, and to suggest——
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
Hon. Members really must allow the right hon. Gentleman to proceed with his speech.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am making my own speech now. The hon. Member need not talk about what the Prime Minister says.
§ Mr. Grenfell
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Prime Minister? He is fighting Communism.
§ Mr. Attlee
I do not agree with my hon. Friend's translation of what the Prime Minister said. As I was saying, it is a mistake to try to lump people together like this, and to be deflected from principles by imagining that some people are all Right and some people all Left, particularly in South-Eastern Europe. When you are dealing with people like the Greeks, who are rather temperamental perhaps, and with countries which, like those of South-Eastern Europe, have had a very short experience of the working of democratic institutions, you should never try to judge them exactly on our own basis. Therefore, you should try to get quite clear in your mind what your principle is. I do not believe in dictatorship of the Right or of the Left, or in seizure by force by the Right or by the Left, whether a person calls himself a king or a leader or anything else. We believe in democracy. I hold that the trouble here has been that, while we had everything fixed up, with a Government ranging right through the whole block of political parties, which was in due course going to have a general election to decide where the majority lay, there was a forcible attempt by a minority to seize power. Some people who call themselves Left are not believers in democratic methods. It has been suggested, although it is not suggested so often now—although again, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe rather suggested it—that we were specially interested in putting back the King of Greece. We really are not. With the situation in Europe we had to deal with a great many Governments who, unfortunately, had been driven out of their own countries. Some were monarchists, some were republicans; in some cases there was not a Government, but only representatives. In any case, would it have been right for us, without the will of the people, to change the Government from a monarchy to a republic, or from a republic to a 492 monarchy? We had to deal with things as they were.
We are entitled to stand on our record. In every instance we have endeavoured to broaden the basis of those Governments with whom we are dealing. In Italy we had to deal first with the King of Italy and Badoglio, because they were the people who could give orders to the troops. As soon as possible we got an all-party Government. We have a Government there to-day which, I regret to say, includes the Communists but not the Socialists—I do not know whether my hon. Friend would call it Right or Left or middle. Again, the original men who came out for the resistance of France outside this country were, I think, on a rather narrow basis. We did our utmost, and successfully, to bring into the Resistance Movement every side, until by the time we came to the liberation of France we had a very representative body—as representative as you could get without an election. We are entitled to be judged on that. It was suggested that there was something very evil in our bringing to Athens, amid the applause of the population, a body of troops who were the same Greeks who fought the Italians, to the applause of everybody, and fought in North Africa. Was it not natural that on deliverance the Greeks would like to have these people brought in? There was no comment, when Paris was freed, at the entry of General Leclerc's troops.
But members, in this case, at once impute a wrong motive. That is not our motive at all. The Greeks came into the war. They fought the Italians as a monarchy. We have enedeavoured to widen the basis, but it is entirely a matter for the Greek people whether they have a monarchy or a republic, and, when they have an election, what colour their Government shall be. But when we came to Greece, and were setting up a Government, it was up to us to see that power was not seized by the people to whom we gave arms, as against the rest. I am sure that if the boot had been on the other leg, if there had been an attempt to overthrow the Papandreou Government by force, by some general at the head of reactionary troops, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe would have been the first to say, "No, you must protect the people, and not let their liberties be snatched away." That is a principle, and principles are no good unless you are 493 prepared to apply them all round. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) feels that very strongly. When I thought of this I was imagining—I cannot say it as vividly as he could—the ringing tones in which he would have demanded whether all our sacrifices were made merely to set up a reactionary Right-Wing Government in Athens.
§ Mr. Attlee
It is not a question of a Fascist, but of a Right-Wing, Government. Do not fall into the error of the hon. Member for West Fife, of thinking that everybody who is Right-Wing is Fascist. They may be old-fashioned monarchists, Catholics, and the like. Do not let Hitler get away with it by giving him too many companions. Therefore, I say that we were right to see that the Greeks got a fair chance with their own Government. I would ask hon. Members to get away from that typical British habit of dealing with the Balkans by falling in love with one party or one nationality. It is very difficult to get knowledge of all the facts. I would say that, on the record of this Government and on the known opinions of this Government, we have the right to be trusted to carry out the principles in which we believe.
§ Mr. Attlee
I have stuck a great deal more closely to carrying out the principles in which I believe and in working with my party than has the hon. Member opposite.
Ordered:That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. Beechman.]Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.