HC Deb 16 April 1948 vol 449 cc1397-408

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

3.58 p.m.

Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)

I desire to raise the question of the situation in Greece in order that we may hear from the Government a statement as to their policy towards Greece. When we last had a Debate on Foreign Affairs the Secretary of State gave us a very clear analysis of the situation there, but it did not seem to me that he went on to make any declaration as to the steps which the Government think ought to be taken in order to clear up that situation.

As the House is well aware, the problem in Greece is really the Greek phase of a universal problem of the aggression and threat of Communism to freedom in the world. The House has frequently read of the forms in which that aggression shows itself in other parts of Europe. We have in recent days been more concerned with affairs in Germany and Italy and perhaps as a House we have more knowledge of affairs in France than we have of affairs in Greece. We may forget Greece, but the Greek Communists, the Communists outside Greece, and General Marcos and his Communist rebels work on relentlessly towards the end they have in view—the end which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs himself described on 22nd January: …there is in Greece …a ruthless attempt, constantly maintained, to bring that country in the Soviet orbit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January. 1948; Vol. 446, c. 385.]

It being Four o'Clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

Mr. Low

I shall not weary the House with the full account of the distress in Greece now; of the suffering; of the abduction of children—the stories of which have horrified hon. Members in all quarters of the House; of the numbers of children who, because of this threatened abduction, have had to be evacuated from their homes in Northern Greece to the safety which they seek in Southern Greece; of the plunder, the pillage and the murder which goes on, day in and day out, in one village after another. We know too of the economic crisis and of the inflation which threaten that small country, despite the generous United States aid which has been offered, and is still being offered.

All this is dominated by one thing: the action of the rebelsx2014;the guerillas. Of that at least there can now be little doubt. For long there has been discussion in this House, due to a very large extent to false information in the first instance about what was happening in Greece. The facts are now clear. We know, too, as has been recently acknowledged by the Government, that these rebels, who are responsible for the distress and suffering in Greece, are given direct help by Greece's northern neighbours— Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria. Only recently there has been in "The Times" a report to the effect that the Special Balkans Commission have again reported that they have evidence of help of one kind and another from those three countries.

Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme): rose

Mr. Low

I am afraid time is too short for me to give way. As I see it, the position of the rebels and the method of dealing with them is briefly this. The rebels number approximately between 25,000 and 30,000. We are told that they have little support anywhere in Greece. But they have great organization—which, of course, is typical of Communism, wherever it may work. The rebels' numbers are frequently increased by a process of seizing or enticing men into the neighbouring countries, training them as guerillas, and sending them back to Greece. That this, or something like it, goes on, there is ample proof. In any event, we know that during last year there were about 20,000 known casualties to the rebel forces. Yet, during that time the rebels increased their number from 20,000 to about 30,000. Not only have they increased their number, but, from all reports, they have increased the efficiency of their methods and the quality of their equipment.

These guerillas have the advantage of all guerillas because of the form of warfare they carry on. We have seen in Palestine how difficult it is to deal with terrorists. In Greece the guerillas have those advantages, and the additional advantage that they can stretch the Greek forces by operating in so many different areas that the frontage of the Greek Army becomes the sum of the circumferences of those areas. If we add all the fronts on which the Greek Army has been fighting from time to time they total as much as 12,000 miles. I see the Minister of State looks up in surprise. So did I when that fact was first put to me. But, of course, that is the difficulty in combating guerilla warfare. In fighting against 20 areas one has to cover the circumference of each of those 20 areas. If all those miles are added together it makes a very large number. I give that figure to emphasise the difficulty, and for no other purpose.

The final advantage which they have, and of which we are well aware, is that they' are able to retreat for safety to the countries to the north of Greece, and gain supplies from those countries. On the other hand, the Greek Army is now only beginning to get the benefit of better equipment and training. It has recently been increased to about 132,000, and in addition security battalions are being organised to take on the role of more passive defence in the various areas. I very much doubt whether this number is sufficient to carry out the two tasks which any army has to carry out when facing guerilla activity of this sort. The two tasks are, first to attack and clear up the rebels, and secondly to stop the rebels retreating north and stop support for them coming south.

The second task is none other than sealing the frontier. From reports of hon. Members who have been 'to Greece, and by journalists who write of Greece, until the frontier is sealed, or until support from the north stops reaching the rebels, there is little chance of the Greek Army beating down those rebels. To my mind it is clear that the countries to the north have the ability to supply the rebels with just that kind of extra help which will make them strong enough to cope with any increase in the Greek Army which is likely to be made.

Mr. Mack

The hon. Member has made a series of general statements in which he has charged, among others, Bulgaria with having aided rebels. Can he give one piece of practical, concrete, evidence in support of that contention? He should know that the Bulgarian Government have never increased their armed forces, and have made it clear that they will not have any aggressive designs on any of their neighbours.

Mr. Low

I am grateful to the hon. Member, but he should put that question to the Government who, in answering my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) on 17th March, said: both the majority report of the Balkans Inquiry Commission and the interim reports of the Special Balkans Committee now in Salonica, have established that assistance is being afforded by Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria to the guerilla forces in Greece."x2014;[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1948; Vol. 448, c. 2097.]

Mr. Mack

What assistance?

Mr. Low

What I have read is the statement of the Government, and if the hon. Member wants to ask about that, let him ask the Government about it, and let me make my case as quickly and shortly as I can. In those circumstances, I am asking the Government what they are going to do. Has the time not come when words are quite useless? Has the time not come when even resolutions of the Assembly of the United Nations may be quite useless? The kernel of the problem in Greece is the guerilla activity, and in, my view it is most unlikely that the Greek Army by itself will be able to carry out the two tasks which have to be carried out in order that the rebels shall be cleared out—those are, sealing the frontier, and actively beating down the rebels. What is the view of the Government about that?

Let me in a few minutes, for I know other hon. Members want to speak, say what I think ought to be done. It is possible that the Government might, in the past, have justified doing nothing except through the United Nations organisation. We know now that the Security Council will not do anything About this position at this moment. We certainly know that the Balkan Commission has made a number of reports to the Assembly, but we know, or at least I am so informed, that the Assembly is not to meet to consider them until September. Can we afford that delay? Is it not clear that if in September the Assembly recommends the sending of military aid to Greece, that that military aid would not come into operation until March or April next year, which is 12 months from now?

Do the Government think that we can afford to delay all that time? If His Majesty's Government think that we cannot afford that delay is there any chance that we, in conjunction with the United States, could offer Greece some immediate help? I suggest now, as I have suggested previously, that soave kind of international force containing perhaps three divisions from the two countries concerned, namely the United States and Great Britain, supported by aircraft which could dominate all movement in the area, should be sent to the north of Greece to seal the frontier within practicable limits by controlling completely what might be termed an international zone in the north of Greece; very much on the same principle as a small zone in the south of Carinthia and Styria was sealed in Austria immediately after the war, when the Yugoslavs were threatening the independence of that part of Austria. I put this suggestion to the Government before; I am sure they cannot answer it at once today, but I put it in all earnestness once again, because the time has come when words are no longer any use in this matter.

There are two more things which the Government should do. Having done as I have suggested, they should inspect the Bulgarian demilitarised zone. I think that the time has come to do that. I wonder if they have considered inspecting that zone by air photography if they cannot inspect it by people on the ground? I do not wish to see the Government go outside the United Nations in this matter. If they decide to do something in conjunction with the United States let them ask for a special Assembly of the United Nations to ratify What they have decided to do.

Owing to the shortness of time I will not say any more beyond pressing upon the Government the importance of this problem. The Greek problem is only the Greek phase of a universal problem and we have little time to lose.

4.13 p.m.

Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King's Norton)

The House is indebted to the hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) for raising this subject. I am sure that the House remembers that he himself had a great record in 1941 in the hills of Greece, when he held an important position in the British Force defending that country when it was the first country successfully to resist Fascist aggression, just as I believe it will prove to be, the first country successfully to resist Communist aggression. I spent three weeks in January mainly in the villages of Greece, and the country that gave the word "tragedy" to the world is indeed the greatest example of tragedy in the world today. The villages of Greece are, on the whole, dominated by terror. It is most important for us to understand that today the Communists rely on terror and not on persuasion as their main weapon.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

They always do.

Mr. Blackburn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The issue in Europe today is not whether or not we can persuade the people of Europe to accept democracy but whether they are to be frightened into accepting totalitarianism. There is only one answer to it, and that is being firm, strong and of good courage. I am sure that the Foreign Office and my right hon. Friend bear in mind all the time that Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria are in continuing disregard of the resolution of the General Assembly.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) I would say that the national agent of the Labour Party, Mr. Richard Windle, spent about nine months in Greece on the United Nations Balkan Commission, and they have established over and over again the fact that Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria are supporting the rebels, are arming the rebels and are doing everything in their power to help them conquer Greece. I have in my pocket documents captured in Delphi when I was there from the bandits who arrested and kidnapped the Liberal member, Coutsopetalos. What is the first object of these bandits? What does the document say is their objective? Is it liberty, freedom or democracy? No, it is "the destruction of the foreign imperialists." The aim of Marcos is the destruction of America and Britain and everything that the words "freedom" and "democracy" stand for in the world.

It is a tragedy to see defenceless villages one after another as I have seen them without any arms. I ask for one practical contribution—a mere quarter of a million rifles for Greece. We have millions of rifles here and we are doing nothing with them. I was assured by Mr. Papandreou, who was Prime Minister in 1944, that in his opinion with another quarter of a million rifles Greece would soon be free. These men in the villages have nothing with which to protect themselves, and I agree that it is impossible for an Army of 132,000 to clear the guerillas out of the present area.

Mr. Mack

There are two questions I should like to put to the hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn). First, is he aware that the present Greek Government is a reactionary Government; and, secondly, can he give one practical example to justify the statement that the Bulgar Government is aiding and abetting the Greek guerillas?

Mr. Blackburn

In answer to the second point I say that the evidence in regard to that is in the report of the United Nations Commission to which I have already referred. In regard to the second point, the Greek Government is the only freely elected government in the whole of Eastern Europe. The election was carried out under the supervision of an international body, and the national agent of the political party of which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme are members, was associated with it. We know that my hon. Friend's loyalty is not to the Labour Party but to Moscow.

Mr. Mack

On a point of Order. The hon. Member for King's Norton has made a very specific and in my opinion serious charge, namely, that my loyalty is to Moscow. In that connection, I must ask for your intervention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because I think that is a point which is resented and repudiated by me and by others as well. My loyalty is not to Moscow or to any other country, but to my own country and to my own party. I should like the hon. Gentleman either to justify his statement or to withdraw it.

Mr. Blackburn

If I may proceed, I do not desire—

Mr. Mack rose

Mr. Blackburn

If my hon. Friend wishes me to withdraw my remark about his loyalty to Moscow, I will withdraw it. I will say this with great respect, that every speech he has made in this House on this subject has been in favour of the Communist Bulgarian Government, and I have never heard him say a word of criticism of the Soviet Government. His whole attitude has been consistent. I believe he has something to do with a group of Members of this House who are associated with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus).

Mr. Mack

On a point of Order. I am sorry to have to do this, but it is necessary to say clearly and unequivocally that I am not a member of any group associated with the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) or any other Member in this House. These innuendoes, insinuations and charges ought not to be made when they are entirely without foundation, for they are unworthy of any Member of the House making them.

Mr. Blackburn

The record of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme is well known, and it is unnecessary for me to say anything further.

Mr. Mack

On a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Norton has made a certain charge and in spite of the fact that I have denied it, he has not withdrawn it. The original charge was that I was a member of a group associated with the hon. Member for Gateshead. I desire to say most emphatically that I am not a member of any coterie or clique associated with any Member of this House, and therefore, in view of this further statement, I hope my hon. Friend will have the decency and the courage to withdraw his statement in the same way in which he withdrew his original statement which impugned my loyalty.

Mr. Blackburn

It is essential that the Minister of State should reply and I only wish to say one thing more. I understand that some 20 or more Members of the Labour Party today sent a message on the subject of the Italian elections. Some of those hon. Members were Members who made speeches on the subject of Greece. I will only say that in sending a message to Italy inviting Italy to join the Communist conspiracy against freedom, they have shown themselves to be traitors to the cause of the Labour Party and to, the cause of freedom and democracy.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I do not think that I can allow that remark to pass. Personal allegations are always undesirable, whatever the hon. Member's opinion may be. I understood the hon. Gentleman to assert that certain hon. Members were traitors. If so, I must ask the hon. Member to withdraw.

Mr. Blackburn

No, Sir. My words were, traitors to the cause of democracy and freedom. I did not say that they were traitors to this country. As everybody knows, they have shown themselves to be traitors to the cause of freedom and democracy over and over again.

4.21 p.m.

The Minister of State (Mr. McNeil)

I almost hesitate to intervene in the Debate between my two hon. Friends. However I must say to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) that it simply is not good enough to get up time after time and say that there is no evidence of Bulgarian intervention in Greece. Indee4, I am not sure that my hon. Friend's friends in Bulgaria will altogether approve of this line of action. I think that it may embarrass them seriously. I think that they may be in trouble with their political masters; and so may he. There are at least four reports published under the signature of the United Nations organisation, witnessed by reputable technicians, which have pointed to intervention from Bulgarian territory and from the other northern territories.

But there will be an excellent chance for my hon. Friend to prove his bona fides as a democrat in the very near future. His Majesty's Government hope to see the Bulgarian Government demonstrate that they have nothing to hide in the zone to which the hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) referred, which should he, by this time, demilitarised under an agreement to which the Bul- garian Government are a party. So far, we have not had any assurance from the Bulgarian Government that we shall be permitted to proceed to make that inspection, as we are entitled to do. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, in confirmation of his democratic attitude, will publicly plead in this House, as he alone can plead with the Bulgarian Government to make sure that this which is our right, and which is the obligation of the Bulgarian Government, should be fulfilled.

I am tempted to be irrelevant on another subject which has intervened, the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn). He referred to the resolution which, I am led to understand, some hon. Members from this side of the House have signed and sent to Signor Nenni and his associates who are fighting the Italian election in common association with the Communist Party. I am sure that the House know that my party—I am not talking of the Government—have already declared themselves for the Socialist democratic forces in Italy which are headed by Signor Saragat and Signor Lombardo. Our only hope is that on Sunday the Italian people will be left free to exercise their rights as citizens to declare by which Government they want to be led in a democratic way.

That, of course, is what the hon. Gentleman opposite asked for in this Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton is quite right in reminding anyone who opposes him that the present Government in Athens is, at any rate, a Government elected under international supervision and more representative of the people, so far as we know, than any other Government in the Balkans. At any rate, there is no other Government which can say that their elections were conducted under international supervision.

I think, that, in addition to the point about the demilitarisation of the Bulgarian frontier, two other points were made. I apologise for not having dealt with them fully, although I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman gave me notice of the matters he would speak about, but I thought it proper to deal first with the other points which intervened. The first of the hon. Gentleman's points concerns what we can hope for from the activities of the United Nations Commission. I think it is quite true that it would be within the power of the Commission to summon a Special Assembly to consider this report or reports. I have not seen the latest report, but I have seen Press accounts, and have spoken to people who have seen the reports, and, undoubtedly, they will offer evidence of continued intervention, not only of a logistical kind, but also of serious intervention directed against the Greek Government. This intervention is bringing much continued misery to the Greek people, who want nothing more than to be left alone to get on with the rebuilding of their country and the cultivation of their fields. It is, however, in our view, very doubtful if a good purpose will be served by seeking any emergency measures inside the United Nations until they have completed their reports. I understand that they hope to do that by the end of May or by some time in June. They will then be able to decide what action they want taken on their reports.

The other point is the suggestion that Britain and America and other interested countries might make available forces to try to seal the northern frontier. I confess I am surprised to hear that the distance is 12,000 miles.

Mr. Low

It should be 1,200 miles.

Mr. McNeil

I agree; the frontier is about 1000 kilometres, I believe. I would not attempt to match my opinion against the military opinion of the hon. Gentle- man, but I am informed that the figures which he suggested would scarcely meet the position. I want to say that we have recently seen an extension of the Greek Forces, as they have had authority for an additional 10,000 men, which will bring their strength up to 147,000. In addition, there is authority for the creation of 100 battalions of a national defence character, and my hon. Friend can be assured that we have noted the point he made about small arms. No one will pretend that they will have a simple job, nor can anyone be confident of their success, but in recent weeks there has been an indication that they are having rather more success. However difficult their task, they can be assured that every one concerned with the position is anxious to see that the electors and the representative Government hold their rights, and the peoples of all Western countries will be behind the effort which these big forces are about to develop in the next few months against these guerillas who are not representative of the Greek people, not resting upon the Greek people, and do not derive their supplies or their forces from the Greek people. The latter can be assured that such aid as His Majesty's Government can legally give under the terms of our international obligations will be given to the Greek Forces.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Half-past Four o'Clock.