HC Deb 10 May 1948 vol 450 cc1718-21
23. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has now received a report from His Majesty's Ambassador in Greece about the recent executions; and whether any reply has been made to his representations to the Greek Government.

24. Mr. Piratin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has had a report from His Majesty's Ambassador in Greece on the mass executions being carried out by the Greek Government; and whether he will make a statement.

25. Mr. Bing

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether a reply has yet been received to the representations made by His Majesty's Ambassador in Athens to the Greek Government in regard to the numerous executions now taking place in Greece; and what further action His Majesty's Government propose to take in this matter.

26. Mr. Blackburn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has a statement to make on the subject of the recent communication by His Majesty's Ambassador to the Greek Government in connection with the Greek executions; and what has been the result of this communication.

Mr. McNeil

His Majesty's Ambassador in Athens, of course, has no status to interfere in Greek judicial procedure; however, in view of the Press reports and the answers in the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend instructed him to represent, in the plainest language, to the Greek Prime Minister and Foreign Minister that any executions in Greece in the nature of reprisals or of mass executions would create an immediate and deplorable reaction not only in this country but on all civilised opinion. Since the statement in the House on 5th May, telegrams from His Majesty's Ambassador show that the first public reports about the intentions of the Greek authorities were misleading.

The apprehension and trial of individuals charged with capital offences, many of them committed in the most brutal manner during the civil strife of 1944, has been a slow process continuing from July, 1945, to December, 1947. Then, after the conclusion of these trials, there have been the further procedures of appeal to the Supreme Court and to the Council of Pardons; and the House will appreciate that, repugnant as it is to our ideas that there should be so long a delay before condemned criminals are executed, these delays have been in great part due to the congestion in the Greek judicial machine, which has been worsened by the fact that Greece has been, throughout these years, in the throes of an armed uprising, receiving outside support. I should add that the decision of the Greek Government to allow these sentences to be carried out in the worst cases was taken many months ago, after the failure of conciliatory methods and the offer of amnesty.

The execution of those whose appeals were rejected began towards the end of 1947, and my information is that, up to 1st May, 157 of these convicted murderers had been executed. On that day Ladas, the Liberal Minister of Justice, was assassinated; and on 4th, 5th and 6th May a further 43, and on 7th May a further 17, persons convicted of murder during the 1944 rebellion were executed. My information is that these executions, like those previous to 1st May, were carried out after the full process of law.

Mr. Chetwynd

In view of the very great shock to public opinion in this country, because of these judicial murders—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—will my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend to use his very great influence in Greece to put an end to further executions, and to do his utmost to bring about a truce between the contending parties, so that normal peaceful pursuits can be followed there?

Mr. McNeil

I hope I have already made plain our distress and anxiety about these reports, which are not completely borne out by the facts, but to call them judicial murders is quite unjustified. The Greek Ministry has assured us that there will be careful scrutiny, but we cannot ask that convicted murderers should just arbitrarily be freed from the appropriate penalty. Moreover, while, like my hon. Friend, I am most anxious that strife should come to an end in Greece, it is—may I be pardoned for saying this?—rather easy for us coolly and appropriately to give advice to the Greek Government from here while they are threatened by an enemy, assisted from outside, and by a self-appointed leader of that enemy who urges that assassination should be used as a political method, and as a method of terrorisation. If our efforts can do anything to bring about a cooling in the temperature on both sides, that would be most desirable.

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

Whatever the explanations are, is the Minister aware that many people in this country do look on these mass executions as barbarous, and will the Government consider withdrawing all financial and military assistance from Greece if they are continued?

Mr. McNeil

I have made it plain that I do not wish to subtract from my anxiety and distress about these happenings, but it is unfair to call them mass executions. The figures and the procedure do not add up to that. There has been a detailed legal machinery followed which permitted an appeal, and, in some cases, a pardon.

Mr. Blackburn

May I ask the Minister whether it is not the case that every individual concerned has been convicted of murder, or of multiple murders, and whether the Government have stated, in reply to His Majesty's Government's communication that this is not a reprisal?

Mr. McNeil

Those facts are not only true, but the Greek Minister of Justice has publicly announced that each case will be scrutinised by him before execution is proceeded with.

Mr. Bing

In view of my right hon. Friend's reply that His Majesty's Government will investigate each one of these cases—[HON, MEMBERS: "No."]—would he not agree that these are all executions arising out of political crimes, and in view of the protest made against executions of this sort, will he not redouble his protests?

Mr. McNeil

I hope that I make the position plain. His Majesty's Government are neither conducting investigations nor have they any status on which so to proceed. Secondly, it is quite inaccurate to say that these sentences arise in all cases from political crimes. Some of them were most barbarous, dreadful and multiple assassinations.

Mr. H. D. Hughes

On both sides.

Mr. McNeil

Of course, on both sides. But these prisoners are not, therefore, political prisoners.

Mr. Donner

Is it not a fact that foreign journalists have testified that these trials have been fair?

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