HC Deb 31 October 1949 vol 469 cc38-40
56. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the current need for economy, it is now intended to withdraw British Forces from Greece.

59. Mr. A. R. W. Low

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he now has any statement to make on the future of British troops in Greece.

Mr. Mayhew

It has always been the intention of His Majesty's Government to withdraw the British Forces from Greece as soon as practicable and this has been made clear on a number of occasions. Although the threat to Greek independence cannot be said to have passed, the victories of the Greek Army have brought about an important change in the situation, and His Majesty's Government have, therefore, informed the Greek Government that the British troops at present stationed in Greece will be withdrawn in the near future. The withdrawal of our troops in no way affects the position of the British Naval, Military, Air Force or Police Missions in Greece; neither does it in any way indicate a lessening of interest in the security and well-being of the Greek people, which continue to be matters of the greatest concern to His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Chetwynd

In thanking my right hon. Friend for this reply, might I also ask him whether he will convey to the troops concerned best wishes for the excellent way in which they have discharged their most difficult duties?

Mr. Mayhew

I am sure that is the wish of the House.

Mr. Low

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether this decision has been taken in view of the current need for economy or as a deliberate act of policy? If it has been taken as the latter, will he assure the House that it is not because of an overweening optimism over the future position in Greece, and will he also assure the House that the Greek Government still have the backing of His Majesty's Government?

Mr. Mayhew

I am glad to make it clear that this decision was not taken for economic reasons. The cost of stationing the troops in Greece rather than elsewhere has always been very small, and the part they have played and the issues at stake have always been out of all proportion to the cost of the troops.

Mr. Eden

Perhaps I may associate my hon. Friends with what has been said about the troops themselves? May I also ask the hon. Gentleman why it was that the announcement was not made in this House in the first place instead of in the Press last week, as well as in reports from the United States?

Mr. Mayhew

The first official announcement is the announcement I have made. This is the first announcement from British sources.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker

Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that this announcement in no way represents any diminution of the British Government's interest in the independence of the Greek people and the security of the Greek frontiers?

Mr. Mayhew

Our interest in Greek independence and security is as strong as ever.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

Is not this the appropriate time to pay some tribute as well to the gallantry of the Greek Forces after nine years of war?

Mr. Pickthorn

Could we be told whether this withdrawal means that His Majesty's Government are less concerned about the possible dangers to the Greek Government from the Albanian and Bulgarian frontiers than they were?

Mr. Mayhew

I have said already that the threat to Greece has not passed, but it is not so immediate now that we cannot find a better use for these troops elsewhere.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that if the presence of small British Forces in Greece has been regarded as an indication of our interest in the independence of that country, their withdrawal can only be regarded by the Cominform as an indication that we are less interested?

Mr. Mayhew

Hon. Members opposite seem determined wilfully to misunderstand the position. I have stated perfectly clearly that the situation has changed as a result of the Greek victories, but our interest in Greek independence remains as strong as it ever was.