HC Deb 16 February 1948 vol 447 cc816-8
39 and 72. Mr. A. R. W. Low

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether he will arrange with the Greek Government that British troops in Greece are enabled to take immediate offensive action against any rebels who take hostile action in their vicinity;

(2) what steps were taken by British troops to locate and destroy the gun belonging to the rebels which shelled Salonika on 9th February; and whether any limitations are imposed on the action of British troops in such circumstances.

Mr. McNeil

The responsibility for operations against the Markos rebels rests with the Greek forces. British troops take no part in military operations in Greece, and took no action on the occasion referred to.

Mr. Low

Does not this put the British troops in a very difficult position? If another incident—such as took place in Salonika on Tuesday, 10th February, as mentioned in Question No. 38—were to take place, would it not be outrageous if British troops were not able to repel the rebels?

Mr. McNeil

My right hon. Friend has already spoken quite deliberately upon this general question. There is no reason to believe that the attack was directed against a small British contingent in Salonika. Of course, if an attack were math directly against British troops, they would no doubt know how to reply.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the most effective way of securing the safety of these British soldiers would be to bring them home at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. McNeil

I have no doubt that in any of these situations the easiest way is always to overlook any obligation or promise made previously upon the subject.

Mr. Blackburn

Would my right hon. Friend make it quite plain that there will be no surrender to acts of terrorism?

Mr. Low

A moment ago the right hon. Gentleman said he had no doubt that British troops would know how to reply. At the moment, are British troops forbidden to take any action at all?

Mr. McNeil

As I have already explained, British troops take no part in these operations. I must further make it plain that, as far as we know, from the best evidence available to us, no attack has been directed against British troops.

Mr. Warbey

When my right hon. Friend spoke of obligations just now, did he mean to say that His Majesty's Government are not in a position to withdraw these troops the moment they think fit?

Mr. McNeil

His Majesty's Government are always masters of their own powers; but, as has already been explained repeatedly in the House, we have given undertakings to a duly elected and constitutionally proven Greek Government.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I was not inviting him or the Government to escape from difficulties by breaking obligations undertaken—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly not; I wish they would always keep them. Is it not the case that the Foreign Secretary has repeatedly announced in this House that it is the intention of the Government to bring home these soldiers at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. McNeil

I am sorry it I did my hon. Friend any injustice. My right hon. Friend has repeatedly made it plain that we wish to redeem our promise by bringing home the troops as soon as is practicable.