§ 2.24 p.m.
§ LORD FARINGDON rose to move to resolve, That this House regrets the policy of His Majesty's Government in Greece which has had the shameful result of military action against our Greek Allies. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with a very deep sense of responsibility that I have put on the Paper the Motion which stands in my name. I am told that there is a certain feeling that the wording of the Motion may perhaps give rise to some misunderstanding. Your Lordships will have noticed a word which possibly occurs seldom on your Lordships' Order Paper, the word "shameful." By that I wish 501 to imply the very deep feeling which I myself have, and which I believe is shared by the vast majority of Englishmen, at the happenings in Greece—a feeling of shame and of humiliation—much the same feeling as I recollect having when on fairly frequent occasions I addressed your Lordships' House during the Spanish War, a feeling that we were being committed to, or were paying the price for, a policy of which we profoundly disapproved and of which we felt that there was nothing or little that one could do to avert the, effects. It is therefore as an expression of my personal feeling and, as I say, of the feeling which I believe to be shared by the majority of my fellow-countrymen, that I have used this particular word.
§ I wish to make it quite clear that I appreciate the enormous difficulties of His Majesty's Government in circumstances like the present. In a country which has been liberated and in which previous to liberation you have, by all the powers of propaganda and of suasion and of the highest possible praise, encouraged the activities of guerrillas, there must inevitably ensue after liberation a period of the greatest difficulty. I believe I should not be wrong if I said that rather a similar experience was met with, to bring the matter very near home, by Mr. de Valera in Ireland. This is a problem which of course clearly occurred to His Majesty's Government before any countries were in fact liberated. I have no doubt that the Foreign Office gave the problem its very deepest consideration, but the fact is that as yet we do not seem to have found anything like a satisfactory solution. There was not, as your Lordships are aware, the solution of Amgot. Perhaps some unduly hard things have been said of Amgot, but on the other hand it cannot be said to have been an unqualified success; and in any case it has now been decided to abandon that particular solution. Then there is the solution which we are at the moment attempting in Greece, and the solution which has been employed in Belgium. It is the solution of a more or less constitutional Government which was carried over from the earlier period and which we can bring back into its own country to carry on the forms of government during a period of interregnum. I can see very well the attraction of that idea. It appeals to all 502 of us who are constitutionalists, as I hope we all are in this House. But it does give rise to very considerable difficulties and in their most exaggerated form we are experiencing those difficulties to-day in Greece.
§ There is, I suggest, a third method of coping with this particular situation or problem, the solution which would appear to be about to be used and which is to some extent already in operation in Yugoslavia. It is the recognition of the resistance movement in any country as the effective de facto Government in that country. I think His Majesty's Government are to be congratulated on their handling of the Yugoslav situation. They have contrived that the effective power shall be exercised—as quite clearly it was going to be exercised in Yugoslavia—by Marshal Tito. They have arranged that there shall be a temporary relationship between the Government of the exiled King and of the Marshal who is holding actual power in that country; and I believe that it is probably along those lines that in the future the solution of this undoubtedly extremely difficult problem will be found. I may say in passing that a lather similar solution is quite clearly envisaged by the Dutch Government. What the Prime Minister meant, when speaking on Greece last Friday week in another place, by his reference to Holland I do not understand, and I confess that it has caused a certain amount of alarm to people to whom I have talked about it. But what is proposed by the Dutch Prime Minister is that on the liberation of Holland he shall resign and the Queen shall send for a member of the resistance movement in Holland to form a Government, on the ground, as Mr. Gerbrandy himself has put it, that he and his Government, having been out of the country so long, are out of touch with what is going on and with the ideas which have developed within the country. That is a point of view which I consider to be that of a fair-minded and a very generous-minded politician, and one which, I am sure, will bring him the highest possible credit, and should have the result of bringing about a peaceful transition in his own country. I recommend, therefore, this solution to His Majesty's Government.
§ Now I think this desire to have a consecutive policy, to have a Government in the liberated country with whom His 503 Majesty's Government can deal, has been responsible for the policy of His Majesty's Government, which has been based essentially upon the recognition of the King as the head of the Greek Government and of his Government as the central authority in Greece. I suggest, with respect, and I am not speaking only in the light of events—it is an opinion which many of us held long before Greece was liberated—that the King of Greece did not deserve and was an unsuitable recipient of the respect and authority with which His Majesty's Government invested him. We have all been informed, and I think there can be no possible doubt, that the King has hardly any personal support in Greece. The Greek people inevitably hold against him that it was he who brought in the dictatorship in Greece and who maintained the dictator Metaxas in power. The Greek dictatorship did not receive the same publicity that other dictatorships have had, but I know the country well and I can assure your Lordships that under the Greek dictatorship of Metaxas, life in Greece had all those elements of cruelty, of oppression and, above all, of spiritual repression of which the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, in your Lordships' House the day before yesterday, spoke so feelingly.
§ The Greek dictatorship had all those characteristics just as any other dictatorship had, and for that dictatorship the King was held responsible by his subjects. He is therefore, I suggest, wholly in-acceptable to all except an infinitesimal minority of the Greek people. I suggest that had the King been worthy of any trust he could not have permitted events to develop in Greece in the way that they have. Much of the present situation has been due to repeated intervention in Greek affairs by the King of Greece. The last intervention was that of the day before yesterday, I think, when, if reports in the Press are to be believed, he telegraphed to his Ministers that they should in no circumstances accept a Regency. It seems to me unlikely that at this juncture, however irresponsible the King of Greece may be, he would have sent a telegram of that sort had the British Government made it clear to him that such an intervention on his part would be wholly in-acceptable. We have heard recently a good deal about the establishment of a 504 Regency in Athens as a possible way out of our difficulties, and there does seem to be a very good possibility that that would in fact enormously help the present situation. It has been suggested that the Archbishop of Athens, Archbishop Damaskinos, should accept the position of Regent, and I understand that he is willing to do so. I am told that he is acceptable to all parties, and that during the occupation he obtained the respect of his flock by his attitude to the invader. It would seem to me that he, or he with a Council, would help enormously to settle this extremely difficult problem.
§ But the Regency is not a new suggestion. Such a suggestion has been repeatedly raised by the liberation movements through their envoys, ever since, I think, 1943, when the emissaries of the liberation movements came to Cairo and, amongst other things, requested the formation of a Regency. I am given to understand that at that time negotiations were very nearly brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and they in fact came to disaster just on this question of a Regency. The constitutional position was found to be incapable of a satisfactory solution again at the Lebanon Conference, just on this particular question of a Regency. It has been suggested again and again. It was suggested just before the Government returned to Athens that a Regency should be formed. It has been suggested so often that I do hope that now at last, if the King's consent cannot be obtained to a Regency, His Majesty's Government will give the necessary backing to Mr. Papandreou in order that a Regency may be set up. Such a Council or such a person in Athens, if he had the necessary standing as I understand, for example, the Archbishop has—and he may not be the only person who can fill this position; no doubt His Majesty's Government would be well advised on that point—would be able to act as umpire and so to bring the parties together and stop this appalling slaughter in Athens.
§ It is not my intention to go carefully year by year, month by month, week by week, and day by day over the events of the past. I made out for myself a chronological list of events since September last. I thought it might be of interest to some of your Lordships because Greek affairs, when one sees them merely from day to day in the Press, 505 seem very confusing. However, having compiled my list I decided that the patience of your Lordships, however great your interest may be, would not stand quite such a long catalogue. If, therefore, the noble Viscount in replying should raise points of chronology and so on, I shall take it up when closing the debate, but it is not my intention to rehatch the whole of these unhappy last few months. It is true that my Motion to-clay appears as a somewhat unconstructive one. It regrets His Majesty's Government's policy, but, by implication, it is a request for a different policy. It is a request for a change of policy along the lines which I have outlined and shall develop in a minute. That being so, it is not my wish or intention to rehash the past. My wish is, if I can, to suggest what seem to me to be possible lines along which His Majesty's Government should go at present in order to bring about the result which I believe we all desire—the immediate cessation of fighting in Greece.
§ Quite clearly the first thing under that head must be an armistice. In this connexion I would suggest most earnestly to His Majesty's Government that the proposed conditions of an armistice that have been put forward by General Scobie are not armistice terms. They are clearly unacceptable as armistice terms. They are terms of surrender. I hope that General Scobie may be directed to withdraw those terms and to offer terms which are more acceptable. Your Lordships will, I think, agree with me that if fighting can be stopped it does take a great deal of exacerbation to reopen it. There is a general disinclination to restart the flow of blood. If an armistice is made, negotiators are under a moral and psychological compulsion to come to an agreement, if possible. I believe therefore that an armistice would in fact be likely to lead to an agreement. Most armistices are in fact an agreement to cease fire.
§ It will be replied that, in a war like the present war in Athens, a war which is being waged largely by civilians—I understand that there are few E.L.A.S. uniformed forces in Athens—it is excessively difficult to make an armistice of the kind I suggest. You will wish, of course, having made your armistice, that affairs should continue in Athens, that business 506 should start again and that food should be distributed. Clearly it will be suspected, if that is done, that one side or the other will seize the opportunity to take up positions more advantageous from which it will be difficult, supposing negotiations broke down, to dislodge them. That is quite obviously true. I would, however, point out that in daylight a rifle is not a very easy thing to carry unnoticed. It does not even go down your trouser leg without being rather conspicuous. I feel that if bank clerks of Athens were found to have their legs in splints the situation would be sufficiently noticeable to be dealt with. Nor is a sub-machine gun a thing which you can hope to put inconspicuously into your pocket. Revolvers, I admit, you can put into your pocket, but the revolver danger is not, in itself, I suggest, a very great one from the military point of view. It will be said that these objections I have put forward would not hold in the hours of darkness, that it would be quite easy then for men or women to have an agreed meeting point, and to come there bringing their arms. Might not that possibility be met by a curfew? I suggest that it might be quite possible to allow life to start again in the day time and to close it down at night.
§ These are my suggestions. I do not believe that an unconditional surrender of arms can conceivably form the basis for an armistice. After all, it leaves one party quite unable to continue the discussion should the negotiations break down. It means that one party in the negotiations is in a wholly disproportionately strong position and therefore I do not believe that along lines such as these we can possibly hope for an armistice. I hope His Majesty's Government will try to bring about a cessation of fighting even if, perhaps, it entails some small risk.
I think it is worth while to call your Lordships' attention to a telegram which appears to have been received by General Scobie on December 8 from General Serafis, which, apparently had not been published until the 18th. I have a copy of it which I will venture to read to your Lordships because it is, I suggest, important in that it does define very clearly the attitude of E.L.A.S. and E.A.M. to the British Government. This is naturally a compilation from, and to some extent an adaptation of, the telegram to General Scobie:
It was British policy that prevented the unity of the resistance movement. New and independent bands were created, and British support was generously given to all those which were opposed to E.L.A.S.
That, we may believe, and I sincerely hope, is not true, but it is an impression which is commonly current among E.A.M. owing to the fact that in 1942 and 1943 fairly large quantities of arms were in fact sent to E.L.A.S., and at the time when the Germans were passing their troops through Greece E.L.A.S. did give quite invaluable aid to the Allies. There were, at that time, as your Lordships remember, constant tributes to the efforts of E.L.A.S. Subsequent to that time it was felt by E.L.A.S. that support for them had been withdrawn and it was at any rate true that considerable support was given to many other bodies, some of them so small that one would hardly have thought they justified the attention they were receiving. That is the basis on which I have no doubt this particular complaint is made by General Serafis.
I mention it, not because I am saying it is true, but because I think it is important that we should all understand what the attitude of E.A.M. and E.L.A.S. in this matter is. The telegram goes on:
Before and since the liberation of Athens E.L.A.S. had maintained complete order throughout Greece.
That has been confirmed by reports from Salonika and elsewhere.
From the time the Greek Government was established in Athens, conditions were created bordering on anarchy because of the employment of people and officials who were notorious collaborationists. No action against collaborators was undertaken, possibly because some members of the Government had collaborated in conjunction with the Quisling Government in the creation of the Security Battalions.
I do not know if there is any basis at all for that charge; I sincerely hope there is not.
The Government insisted that the Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Battalion should be retained as units of the Regular Army. This led to the resignation of E.A.M. Ministers and the subsequent break in national unity. An appeal had been made to General Scobie to remain impartial. If he were not, then E.L.A.S. must continue the struggle as its sacred duty.
I have read that telegram because it does define the position of E.A.M. and E.L.A.S. It is important that we should appreciate the anxieties which they have,
because if peace is to be made those anxieties must be set at rest.
§ The question of the Mountain Brigade has already been mentioned. It is referred to in the telegram. I am not going to rake up the past—whether the Mountain Brigade should, or should not, have been brought back to Greece or whether it is, or is not, the reactionary body which the E.L.A.S. people believe it to be. I am not going to raise that, though I cannot resist saying in passing that perhaps some colour is given to the belief in its reactionary nature from the fact that its commanding officer was an official in the Ministry of Defence under the first Quisling Government after the arrival of the Germans in Athens. Whether or not the Mountain Brigade is a reactionary force seems to me to be somewhat unimportant. The really important fact is that it is believed so to be. If this is a stumbling block, then I suggest it should be removed. Either the Brigade should be disbanded or, as suggested in one of the so very nearly successful compromises, given extended leave. Alternatively, if it has proved in Italy a valuable fighting force and it is felt that it should not be lost to the Allies, then it might be sent back to Italy where it could be useful in the prosecution of the war against the real enemy.
§ I have spoken longer than I had intended, but I have tried to keep my speech this afternoon to the shortest possible limits. I cannot, however, resist making some reference to the very unfortunate effect this minor war which we have started in Greece is likely to have, and indeed certainly is having, upon our Allies. Our Russian Allies are unlikely to be enthusiastic about a war against people whom we, or at any rate our newspapers, are calling Communists. My own view is that what we are doing in Greece is making Communists. I had the happiness in peace-time to know Greece fairly well and while it is true that none of our knowledge of European countries in present circumstances can be up to date, as far as my knowledge goes there was in Greece a very small body of organized Communists. Small peasant proprietors do not lend themselves to such organization. So far as my information went there was no concentration of Communists except perhaps a small number in Kavalla. We are really making Communists where 509 originally very few existed. However that may be, our Russian Allies are not likely to be enthusiastic when we describe the reason for intervention in Greece as an attempt to prevent Communists taking forcible possession of the government.
Our American Allies, as your Lordships are aware, have been extremely critical of the Greek situation and I am going to quote one passage from an American publication which is called the Army and Navy Journal and therefore is to some extent, I presume, an official publication. It says:
Since D-day in France…greater preoccupation has been shown…by Great Britain in Italy, Greece and Albania to protect her lifeline through the Mediterranean than in an achievement of the prime objective of our armies—prompt defeat of Germany.
That statement was made and I say that that is the impression that our policy is making on our Allies.
It is not one journal. I wish to God it were. That is the, impression that is being given and I do suggest that no effort is too great and no risk is too great to be taken to prevent that happening. I am not a military expert and I cannot say what the military view of Greek events is likely to be, but I would suspect and I believe any layman would feel that our Commanders in Italy and in France must feel very bitterly at seeing reserves, which we have been told again and again are none too plentiful, being drained off to go to Greece. We all heard, and heard with satisfaction, of the fall of Faenza, but a day or two later our troops had been driven back and out of part of the town. I wonder whether that could not have been prevented if reinforcements sent to Greece had gone instead to Italy.
I feel that not only are British lives being lost in Greece, not only are Greek lives being lost in Greece, but British and Allied lives are being lost all over the world because of this Greek affair. I believe that owing to the withdrawal of supplies and of reinforcements the war may be protracted weeks or months owing to this Greek imbroglio. If that is so, then the lives of our men in every theatre of war are being lost and the lives of our 510 Allies also. I have received a number of letters from members of the Forces since I made a small remark about Greece last week and I have no doubt of the feeling of all those members of the Forces who are politically conscious. I admit that all my letters so far have come from men in England, possibly because either your Lordships' debates are not so fully reported in places abroad or there has not yet been time to receive comment from abroad, but I do not believe that all the politically conscious, democratically minded men in our Army are in England. I should not be surprised if military commanders had met cases of men who showed the greatest reluctance to fight the Greeks and may indeed have refused to bomb them. It may be that we shall have a mutiny amongst our men in Greece, a refusal to fight the Greeks.
I think it is possible that our people throughout the country feel that this is a wrong thing and, as I say, it is possible that these feelings may be shared to the extremest point. It is possible, and I believe the Government should take account of that feeling. I beg to move.
§ Moved to Resolve, That this House regrets the policy of His Majesty's Government in Greece which has had the shameful result of military action against our Greek Allies.—(Lord Faringdon.)
§ LORD SOUTHWOOD
My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene for a moment to say that in the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, he is not necessarily expressing the views of his Party?
My Lords, with permission I should apologize to your Lordships and to my noble friend that I omitted to make that statement when I was speaking.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, whatever view may be taken of the greater part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, I am sure that in all quarters of your Lordships' House there will be 511 universal condemnation of the final passage of his speech—his reference to the possible feeling among the troops and the very important consequences which he envisaged. Such language ought not to be used in your Lordships' House, and I am sure that on further consideration the noble Lord will regret that he was betrayed into these remarks.
As to the question in general, whatever difference of view there may be on the merits of the situation in Greece there will be universal agreement on one point in your Lordships' House and throughout the country—namely, that this conflict is deeply to be deplored. We have had in Great Britain long and happy connexions with the Greek people, a close historic friendship which has hitherto been unbroken, and we may hope that this may be a passing interlude and that friendship may be fully restored. Surely we have enough to do fighting our enemies without beginning to fight with our friends. I think the origins of this unhappy conflict, certainly its extent, have a harmful effect upon British prestige, for our prestige does not rest, like the prestige of Germany, upon mere military might and force, but upon our reputation as a Power which seeks the good will and the welfare of other countries, which is striving in this war to promote liberty and independence and not to impose our own views upon other people. Now we seem to be in the false position of taking sides in a domestic quarrel, and also, it appears in the eyes of many of us, to be fighting on the wrong side. The situation was somewhat out of hand from the beginning, and this was partly because there appears to have been no civilian authority on the spot sufficiently responsible to be able to take effective action.
And it cannot be too often remarked that this quarrel is not really a military quarrel but a political quarrel. At the moment when the troubles began there was in authority in Athens a General Officer of distinction, but it is very rare for any soldier to be able to deal effectively with a tangled political situation in a foreign country. The British Ambassador was there. I have no knowledge of his special qualifications, and if I had I should say nothing about them for it is well recognized to be improper to do so. But it i a fact well known that, appar- 512 ently, our Ambassador in Greece does not command a sufficiently universal authority for him to be regarded as an arbitrator, so to speak, among all the various Parties in Greece.
The civilian authority in that part of Europe was the Minister Resident in the Central Mediterranean, Mr. Macmillan, but he has to concern himself not only with Greece but also with all problems of Italy, and it happened, most unfortunately, that at that moment he was in neither of those countries but was on his way to some business—no doubt very necessary business—in the United States. The consequence was that the direct management of the affair fell upon the already heavily-burdened shoulders of the Prime Minister, who had to give instructions, as to day-to-day action, from Downing Street. I do not propose to criticize in any degree the action of the Prime Minister. He has upon his shoulders an immense burden. His efforts are unceasing, and they have been attended with remarkable success in the two matters that are most important—namely, securing military victory and Allied solidarity. The Prime Minister has here got into a bad patch of difficult country, and the business of all of us, I think, should be to help him to get out of it, and not merely to seize the opportunity to rebuke him for having got into it.
Nor is it fair to throw all the blame on the shoulders of His Majesty's Government. The course taken by the E.L.A.S. forces may be considered to have been marked by very great ingratitude. They have hastily taken up arms and engaged in serious fighting with the British Army who are there only in order to enable the Greek people to expel their German conquerors, to help them to redeem their financial system from complete collapse, and to bring in food and clothing for the starving and destitute population. I think we have the right to expect that the guerrilla forces of Greece would have exercised some restraint before being willing to embark on military conflict with those who come solely with the purpose of being their benefactors. They ought, surely, to have continued, until the last hour and the last moment, efforts to secure a settlement by negotiation rather than embark on a conflict of this nature. But guerrilla forces in Greece, 513 and perhaps everywhere, have the defects of their virtues. That heroism and self-sacrifice which they have been willing to show and have gloriously shown is frequently marked by a certain impulsiveness and impatience of deliberate negotiations which has been very conspicuous in this case.
No doubt some would say, though it is not a course that I would for a moment recommend or your Lordships would be willing to accept, that the British Government would be perfectly justified, in view of the situation, in withdrawing from Greece altogether, and using our much-needed ships, forces and supplies in other quarters. But there has been that long friendship with the Greek people of which I have spoken, and it would not be consistent with our duty to allow Greece, now that we are there, merely to fall into anarchy, and probably open civil war, with the result that our future relations with the Greeks would become almost impossible and our reputation would suffer. Nor is it the case that all the Greeks are engaged. It is far from being the case that all the Greeks are engaged in this conflict with the British forces. If we were to withdraw and leave Greece to work out her own unhappy destiny in her own way, we should be deserting the general population who are, no doubt, animated by a sober desire for a peaceful policy in order that they may work for the restoration and regeneration of their country. The objects to be pursued were succinctly summarized in five words by The Times newspaper in a leading article yesterday as being disarmament, amnesty, regency, coalition and reconstruction. And it was represented that these five points were approved in substance by both sides in the domestic conflict in Greece. We have no desire to impose any settlement of our own, nor should we endeavour to obstruct any settlement proposed by the Greeks themselves unless it were the re-establishment of a totalitarian régime.
Our policy, in general, during this war has been to recognize, in the occupied territories the pre-war legitimate Governments. That has been done, I think, in every case. In the case of Greece, the King, who was a sovereign under a Constitution, found himself in this country, and he has been regarded as the head of the constitutional Government of Greece. 514 My knowledge of present-day Greek politics is not sufficient to know whether since the dictatorship of General Metaxas the King, who started and maintained that dictatorship, can still be regarded as a constitutional monarch. I am afraid that I do not know whether, having established a dictatorship in his own country, he can still be considered as guaranteed by the Constitution which was of a different character. During the three visits I have made to Greece in recent years, I have heard much of that dictatorship, and while it was less cruel and brutal than others in Europe, there is no doubt that it was maintained by force, by the suppression of all opposition and the imprisonment or exile of Opposition leaders. So I am not sure whether the general principle of recognition need necessarily apply in this particular case.
There is no reason of principle that I know of why Great Britain should be called upon to bear this burden alone. Why should it be only British soldiers and Indian soldiers who risk, and sometimes lose, their lives, in order to bring pacification to Greece and to establish order? By the force of circumstances it happened that it was British troops who were there, and British shipping which was available in the Mediterranean. There is also our old connexion with Greece, dating back to the days of Byron and Gladstone, and our great friendship with the Greek people and their friendship with us. Further, there was the fact that it was our officers who had helped (perhaps owing to that old connexion) the Greek guerrillas to fight against the Germans. All these facts led Britain to her intervention in Athens.
Our great Ally the United States has, of course; enough to do in the Pacific without wishing to be troubled with affairs in the Mediterranean. Russian Forces are not within reach, and Russia would not wish to divert them from the gigantic campaigns in which she is now engaged. Consequently, we found ourselves in Greece. Being there, it would no doubt be better at this moment if we could settle the question ourselves, without the delays and complications of bringing in other Powers; but if our present efforts fail we cannot contemplate the alternative of a prolonged campaign, lasting perhaps for months, in difficult country, involving a drain on our resources and much loss of life, together with a legacy of hatred after- 515 wards between ourselves and the Greek people. That would be a detestable situation for this country to find itself in, and consequently, if some alternative has to be found, we might perhaps be compelled to have recourse to some form of inter-Allied action. There is the Council of Europe, representing the Allied Nations, which has not so far intervened in this matter. If the present deadlock is not surmounted within a reasonable time, it may be necessary to endeavour to circumvent it by a different approach, rather than by carrying the conflict to a bitter end in pursuit of inflexible military demands.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
My Lords, I crave your indulgence upon this occasion, the first time that it has been my privilege and honour to address your Lordships. I am sure that you will grant it to me, as you have done to so many "new boys" in the past. My task in rising to intervene in this debate, which I do with some hesitation, is made no easier by the fact that I have succeeded to your Lordships' House on the death in action, in North-West Europe, of a very gallant officer and gentleman, my nephew, and secondly that it is my honour to bear a name which is well known as that of one who, a quarter of a century ago, played a great part in the Party political strife of those days.
The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who introduced this Motion to-day, began by saying that he had a feeling of shame. I have not a feeling of shame, but I must say that I have a feeling of frustration, that after five years of war, in which have had the honour and privilege of myself participating in command of troops, not abroad but on active service on the East Coast of this country, I find at this time, when all our attention should be focused on defeating our one enemy, the Hun, the occasion should be chosen to try to bully our Prime Minister and His Majesty's Government. I base my arguments to-day on the fact that there is one foe that we have to fight against, the Hun; but in another place, and among the public generally, there are sections of opinion—very small sections—who will take up any stick with which to beat the dog when it suits them. We have had the B.B.C. broadcasting a 516 meeting from Trafalgar Square. What must the world think of these things, when at this very moment on the Western Front we are confronted with one of the greatest attacks that the common enemy has ever made since D-day?
It has been said that public opinion generally is against this conflict which has arisen in Greece. I have had to travel about the country a good deal, and that is not my view; and I claim that I keep my ears and eyes just as open as any other member of your Lordships' House. On the contrary, I think that what the masses are saying is that we want to end this war, and that we trust the Prime Minister and the Government to get it over as quickly as possible. While the public generally regret the tragic events in Greece, yet, tragic as those events are, they focus their attention on the common foe. The noble Lord who moved this Motion seemed to me to make an attack—perhaps he did not mean it as such—on His Majesty King George II of the Hellenes. Are our memories so short that we forget 1940 and 1941, when His Majesty, and his gallant country, declared and made war on the oppressor? We are now told that that was a dictatorship. It may well be so, but there was a common foe in the field, and, regardless of whether we supported Greece or not, her gallant King and her Prime Minister of the day declared war on the Italian nation, and afterwards on Germany. They were the admiration of the world for the fight which they put up in those years, and for that fight His Majesty the King of the Hellenes was awarded the Distinguished Service Order by His Gracious Majesty our King. That is the first time, I think, on which that honour has been conferred on any monarch in the world.
Now let me turn to one or two other points. I am told that a Regency is not constitutional in Greece. The noble Viscount opposite questioned whether it was constitutional. I am told that it cannot be set up. I am told that under the Constitution of Greece it is impossible. But, assuming that a Regency can be set up, I was interested to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, thought that it was a good idea to make the Archbishop of Athens the Chief Regent. I am sure your Lordships will agree that we are all out to beat the common foe. I should like to 517 ask the noble Viscount who is to reply what happened to the Archbishop who was in office when the Germans entered Athens. What action was taken when the German Commandant walked into his room, and he kicked him out and said he would have nothing to do with the Hun? The result of that, I am informed on the very highest possible authority, was that he was deposed and the present Archbishop was put in his place. I leave your Lordships to draw your own conclusions as to the result of such an appointment to the position of Chief Regent, even if a Regency were possible.
I should like to say at once that, having served for three years in this war, I refute every suggestion that the noble Lord made about the British Army. I think it was an unpardonable thing to say in your Lordships' House, and I resent it personally, having had the honour to command. Take our troops in Epirus at this moment. Less than four days ago the association that stands for law and order in Greece, E.D.E.S., held meetings in public at Janina and other places in that neighbourhood. I assure your Lordships that our troops have been feted and have been acknowledged as the saviours of Greece wherever they have gone in those areas. I can see no signs of any disturbance between our troops and those properly constituted bodies who are out to maintain law and order—the law and order for which we are fighting at present throughout the world as against mob law, whether in Greece or any other country.
It may be of interest if I put this further question. We are aware that arms were dropped and that the Greeks were encouraged to take up guerrilla warfare, but the noble Viscount, I think it was, wondered whether it was the right policy to arm them. The regrettable fact, I believe, is that those arms fell into the wrong hands and these people were encouraged by Hun officers. I am only concerned in defeating the Hun. Wherever he rears his ugly head, so far as I am concerned, I shall do my best to crack it open and then stamp on it to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, as I said, these arms got into the wrong hands, and then there was a state of guerrilla warfare, not between the Greeks and the British, but between the very men who fought in Albania and Macedonia and suffered terrific casualties. 518 These gallant soldiers went to the mountains, and then unfortunately the arms instead of falling into their hands, so that they could be properly grouped together and disciplined again, fell into the hands of the guerrillas. It is a regrettable fact that thousands of these grand soldiers who were living in the mountains have been murdered by their own compatriots of E.A.M.
I have one suggestion to make to your Lordships, if I may. Could His Majesty's Government as soon as possible make a frank statement as to what is happening, and then see that through the means of the radio a statement is broadcast throughout the world representing the official policy of His Majesty's Government? A last word in this humble effort that I have tried to contribute to the debate. I believe that there are only two of us in your Lordships' House who are directly descended from Lord Canning, who a hundred years ago gave Greece her freedom and her liberty; so I felt to-day that the least I could do in these difficult days was to stand up and thank the Prime Minister and His Majesty's Government for the valiant efforts they are making to support a grand country, a great and brave King, and above all to support the great object for which we are all fighting, freedom and justice throughout the world.
§ 3.25 p.m.
My Lords, I am very glad to have the privilege of congratulating the noble Lord on a very sincere and moving speech. As one who, like many of your Lordships, had the privilege of the friendship of his distinguished kinsman, the first Lord Long, it gave me particular pleasure to hear the noble Lord speaking with such force and eloquence in your Lordships' House. He will permit me to suggest, however, that perhaps the information about the Archbishop needs checking, because apparently the Foreign Secretary in another place yesterday took great credit for the fact that His Majesty's Ambassador in Athens had recommended the present Archbishop of Athens as Regent.
I can only quote The Times correspondent, who I think has been accurate during these tragic events, 519 as saying that the present Archbishop earned the respect of all Parties in Greece during the German occupation. He is reported to have offered himself as a hostage when the Germans were proceeding to shoot hostages. However, I must make it clear that, like my noble friend Lord Faringdon, I am not necessarily speaking to-day for all my colleagues in this House. May I also make another comment on the most admirable and interesting speech of the noble Lord? That is that it was because of the grave events on the Western Front, because of the grave news that we are getting, that some of us, at any rate on this side of the House, considered it very desirable that this debate should take place in your Lordships' House. There might be some excuse for these things if the war was nearing its end. Obviously there is a great deal of fighting still going on and for that very reason I think there is justification for this debate.
May I comment also very briefly on the most interesting speech of the Leader of the Liberal Party and take the opportunity of congratulating him publicly, as I have already done privately, on reaching that eminent position? He protested against the situation in Greece as became the political descendant of the great line of statesmen to whom he referred. But he found fault with the impatience of the E.L.A.S. in taking up arms. They have been under arms for about three years fighting the Germans. He omitted to say who started the shooting in this new conflict. When we landed there had not been a shot fired in Athens and until the Quisling police, the police who served in the dictatorship and who served the Germans, fired on a procession of demonstrators there had been no shooting. I suggest that impatience was on the part of the police and I think that is generally admitted. While agreeing with so much of the noble Viscount's speech, I regret very much that he sought to bring in other Allies to support this policy of intervention. I do not think he will succeed in drawing our Allies into this affair. The only Ally that we might possibly bring in is Franco's Spain; you will get no Allies from anywhere else I can assure the noble Viscount. Judging from the comments in the American Press and statements by Congressmen, the American public will not support intervention in Greece.
520 This Greek episode cannot really be taken by itself, and may I particularly make this comment to the noble Viscount who I understand is going to reply for the Government? It is not only in the matter of Greece. Right through our policy and in some cases American policy a thread is becoming visible. In France there was the attempt to support the Darlan, Giraud and Peyrouton régimes and the extraordinary reluctance to recognize the Provisional Government and the Committee of National Liberation.
That happily has been settled. Thank goodness there was in France a man who had been the head and front -of the resistance movement, who had also been abroad and was acclaimed as a great hero by the French people—General de Gaulle. I am glad of this because the actions of His Majesty's Government, their hesitation in giving General de Gaulle his full due, helped to build him up in French eyes as a French patriot. Now you have the resistance forces of France, who were armed rather slowly—and General de Gaulle has complained about that publicly—fighting with great gallantry on the Western Front.
Certainly; that was what was done. There was a difficult situation for a time. The solution in France was to make a number of the most respected resistance leaders Cabinet Ministers and to incorporate the French Forces of the Interior into the national Army. But that was a French affair. The same thread of British policy has been visible in Belgium and I have explained what I think this thread leads to. I have in my hand here a dispatch from Brussels from the correspondent of the Daily Sketch. I am very glad to quote a Camrose paper for a change, or at least a Berry paper—I do not delve much in that stable. The quotation reads:A delegation of the 'resistance front,' headed by M. de Many, the former Resistance Minister, was yesterday received by M. Auguste Schrijver, the Deputy Prime Minister. The delegation formally conveyed to the Government the wish of all members of the resistance movement to be mobilized at once and placed at the disposal of the Belgian and Allied authorities.That, I understand, was always the request of the Belgian underground resistance movement. 521M. Schrijver replied that the Government's point of view was identical with that expressed yesterday by General Erskine, i.e., that the plan already in existence for the mobilization of the Belgian Armies should be proceeded with.Of course General Erskine would carry out his orders, and because I mention his name there is no kind of reflection on the head of the British Military Mission in Belgium. But panzer divisions and German motorized infantry are driving deep into Belgium. They have occupied a number of Belgian towns, slaughtered the unfortunate inhabitants and established a reign of terror in the parts reoccupied. What a pity it is that the Belgian resisters have not been treated in the same way as the French Forces of the Interior in helping to defend their own homes. And we have, as my noble friend reminds me, had a hint of the same policy in regard to Holland. There is no trouble there at all, so far as I know. As my noble friend pointed out to your Lordships, the attitude of the Royal Dutch Government is perfectly plain. The emigré Government intends to resign and the Queen will call on members of the resistance movement to form a new Government, and there should be no trouble in Holland. But why this threat by the Prime Minister in his speech of December 8? Why bring in Holland? Because I say the same thread of policy runs through the whole of these countries and it is most clearly visible in Greece. Incidentally, as I have mentioned Belgium because it is very relevant, I notice that the Prime Minister's account in another place—I will not trouble your Lordships with it—of the imminent coup d'état, has been completely demolished by reputable eye-witnesses whose accounts have been published in the British newspapers.
Now, my Lords, where does this thread of policy lead to? I am going to hazard the opinion that the real object is to make a kind of new Holy Alliance. The Holy Alliance of Castlereagh, Metternich and the Tsar of Russia was an attempt to hold the march of political democracy by under-pinning and supporting everywhere the monarchical institutions of Europe. To-day the same attempt is being made, not to hold back political democracy but to hold back economic democracy. But unfortunately—or quite possibly fortunately—it is being done by the same methods that Castlereagh and Metternich used. This is not the nineteenth 522 but the twentieth century and the propping up of unpopular Kings on their thrones is not going to keep back the march of either political or economic democracy. Furthermore, this is not an alliance. Castlereagh, the Foreign Minister of the day, was able to say that he had powerful Allies and helpers in the matter, but we are alone in this business; we have no helpers. Lord Samuel deplored it, but Lord Faringdon gave the reason. You might get an Anglo-American Holy Alliance to keep back the march of economic democracy but you will not get the Americans to use these methods of propping up the tottering thrones of unpopular Kings.
This is a personal policy under which we are suffering, and it is a lone policy. I hope I shall not hurt the feelings of the noble Lord opposite who made such an interesting speech, but I am attacking the Prime Minister. This is what we are here for—we are criticizing the Government. I think his actions were best summed up by the very brilliant American correspondent in London, Mr. Daniels of the New York Times. Referring to the trouble in Greece, Italy, Belgium and so on, he said:The trouble is that the Prime Minister of Great Britain is trying to fight a twentieth-century war with a nineteenth-century mind for eighteenth-century aims.I think that is the exact position in a sentence, and we have the example of it in Greece.
Now the Council of Europe was mentioned by Viscount Samuel. That Council includes France to-day, but I see that the Council of Europe is at present officially occupied in dealing only with questions arising out of the conquest of Germany. May I respectfully reinforce the plea of the noble Viscount that the Council of Europe might widen the scope of its activities, especially now that the French Government is represented upon it? I wonder if the noble Viscount who is going to reply for the Government, Lord Cranborne, has had brought to his attention the Drew Pearson charges in the United States. I do not know whether they are true or not, but he is a columnist who is read by 5,000,000 readers and those particular charges are being discussed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans throughout the Union. He claimed to print a copy of the dispatch sent by the American Ambassador in 523 Rome to the State Department detailing instructions given by the present Prime Minister of Great Britain from Downing Street to General Scobie, and those instructions made perfectly clear that when the British troops were sent to Greece they expected trouble. They did not go there to fight the Germans. I hope Lord Long appreciates that. That is admitted—the Germans were a hundred miles away before we went to Athens, which had been liberated by E.L.A.S. before we went there. According to Mr. Eden, the Foreign Secretary himself, we went there only to supervise the distribution of food.
I do not know whether' the noble Lord is asking me. All I know is that the British troops were asked by the Greek Government to go there.
I did not mean to address the noble Lord personally; he touched me so much by his plea about fighting Germans which I entirely support. These troops did not go into Greece to fight Germans but to fight E.L.A.S., the Army of the Greek Committee of National Liberation. From this account issued by Mr. Pearson, which has been a matter of very keen discussion in the United States, there is no doubt these troops did not go there to distribute food. They went, apparently, if these charges are true, either to overawe the armed forces of E.A.M. or, if necessary, to teach them a lesson or, as his wording says, if necessary to shoot. I do think we should not forget that in any case our troops are not in Greece to fight Germans.
My noble friend has referred to E.A.M. and has described it. I am relying here on The Times account of E.A.M. before the present shooting began. Its correspondent in Athens then declared that 80 per cent. of the people of Greece supported E.A.M. I venture to guess that now, as always happens when you have a Power intervening in a country, the supporters of E.A.M. probably number 90 per cent. I understand that the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, is to take part in this debate. He will remember, as I do, what happened when we intervened in Russia. The Bolshevist Government was immensely strengthened by the very fact of foreign military intervention from outside, and the effect of our intervention will, I submit, only be to strengthen E.A.M. I should have thought that some 524 of our Ministers would have learnt the lesson from what happened in Russia twenty-five years ago following intervention. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, spoke of the future. What is going to be the next development? If we do not get an armistice and peace, if we do not get the settlement we all want, how many troops shall we have to send to Greece? The Germans did not succeed in occupying the whole of Greece with ten divisions numbering, I suppose, 150,000 men, though they used methods of cruelty and ruthlessness which we should never dream of using or be permitted to use. They only managed to hold the cities and railways and some towns. The interior mountain masses were held by E.L.A.S. forces. Where are we to get ten divisions from to carry this thing through, for that is what it comes to if we do not get a settlement in Greece which is acceptable to the Greek people, who, for reasons I have suggested, are represented by E.A.M.? We shall have to occupy the whole country if we do not get this settlement.
Actually, what has happened now is that British troops with great difficulty are holding a small area in the middle of Athens, the Piæus and the Acropolis. The whole of the rest of Greece is under the effective control of E.A.M. There are British troops at Salonika. My information is that fortunately there has been no trouble there and that food delivery is going on, while the British Commander is co-operating with the E.A.M. authorities. We have withdrawn the Indian troops from Missolonghi where they came to blows with the Greeks. I wonder if that was within sight of the tomb of Byron. We have withdrawn apparently also from other points where we had landed troops of various categories. The whole of the rest of the country is under E.L.A.S. and the administration of E.A.M. I do not know what has happened to the Forces called E.D.E.S. Colonel Napoleon Zervas commanding them was sent, I believe deliberately, from Cairo by the British authorities there to form a separate guerrilla band. He was a notorious coup d'état man who had been mixed up in all the intrigues and revolutions and counter-revolutions in Greece for years. On this occasion he declared for the King and he was plentifully supplied with arms and money and formed a small band in the West of 525 Greece. I do not know what has happened to him. But apart from his force the whole country is occupied by E.A.M. and the armed forces of E.L.A.S.
If we are to attempt to coerce—pacify I suppose is the word—the whole of Greece, we shall have to use troops, tanks, motor transport, shipping, aeroplanes, guns, and above all, precious men that we cannot spare from the other fighting fronts. The Foreign Minister, in another place, declared that we did not go to Greece for any ulterior motive. He suggested that we went neither for strategical advantages nor economic advantages, nor any advantages of that kind. Further on he said that of course it was true that we had an interest In Greece and the Greek islands because of their strategical importance in the Mediterranean. That has never been denied by anyone. But we had no ulterior motive, he said. I heard a very powerful speech by Mr. Ernest Bevin last week at our Labour Party Conference. He was perfectly frank and he said we had strategical interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and therefore could not be indifferent to the Government in Greece. That is perfectly true. I make no complaint about that. We have strategical interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Mr. Bevin's words were heard by some of your Lordships and I do not think I have in any way misrepresented them. We have strategical interests in the Mediterranean, and we do need a friendly people in Greece.
My complaint is not that we are looking after our life-lines through the Mediterranean; I think that may be necessary. I do not think our Allies will object if we defend our strategic position until we have a better system by means of the Dumbarton Oaks charter or in some other way. Until we have a better strategic position we must have in Greece and the Greek islands a people that is friendly to us. I suggest that what we are now doing is not a way to get Greek friendship and support. I hope Lord Cranborne, if he is interested in strategy, is also considering the other side of the Mediterranean. Palestine is of far greater stragetic importance to us than Greece ever was, and it always will be of more strategic importance than Greece ever was or the Greek islands. It is very important to have a friendly population in Palestine as well as in Greece, 526 but I only throw that out in passing because I think it is very important.
I want to deal with only one other matter and it is this. We are told repeatedly, and will be told again by the noble Viscount who speaks for the Government, that we only went to Greece to distribute food, and that if this policy is insisted on now of unconditional surrender and it does not succeed food cannot go on being distributed and so on. I have here a dispatch which appeared in the Washington Post of December 16 sent by their correspondent in Athens, Mr. Weller. This account is very remarkable. Nothing of this has appeared in the British papers. Your Lordships will be aware that U.N.R.R.A. has been functioning in Greece and that the part of U.N.R.R.A. which is in Greece happens to be under American direction. No doubt our part of U.N.R.R.A. is operating somewhere else, but in Greece it is an American unit which is operating.
This is what Mr. Weller says about U.N.R.R.A. in Greece:U.N.R.R.A. disassociates itself from military liaison for the duration of the Greek civil war"—May I say that I regret that I did not send notice of this beforehand to the noble Viscount, but I only came by train an hour ago from Yorkshire and I did not have an opportunity of doing so. My train was late too. The dispatch goes on:declaring it impossible to feed people while subordinate to General Scobie.I am making no complaint about General Scobie, he is carrying out his strict orders as a soldier. I complain about the people who issue orders to General Scobie. The dispatch goes on:Formal announcement says 'We find ourselves unavoidably associated with an organization of force and discrimination.' U.N.R.R.A. sees no end in sight for crisis. U.N.R.R.A. executive braved R.A.F.'s intense strafing and bombing of Piræus to find Republican hospital well provided and U.N.R.R.A. food stores in E.L.A.S. controlled area untouched, but E.L.A.S. officers averred that the starving population would probably force use of food mainly of American origin and American purchase and to which E.L.A.S. considered they have as much right as the Athenian garrison.That is taken from the Washington Post of December 16. No doubt a copy is in the Foreign Office ready for the noble Viscount to check if he wishes to do so. I think that is a very grave and im- 527 portant statement. It may be entirely untrue. It only comes, of course, from the correspondent in Athens of the Washington Post.
I did apologize, but I only arrived from Yorkshire just before this debate and I had not time to give the noble Viscount notice. What has induced me to speak in this debate is the same feeling as has induced other noble Lords on this side. We have a feeling of shame. I would not have used the word in the Motion if I had drawn it, but I feel it is shameful that the Acropolis, which contains I suppose some of the greatest treasures which the whole of humanity has inherited, which we warned the Germans to refrain from damaging on a threat of bombing Rome, and which they did not damage apart from the moral damage of hoisting the Swastika over it, should be made into a fortress by British troops against the people of Athens. This ghastly situation, however it arose, we must find some means of ending.
The other point I want to make is this. There is a shortage of men on the United Nations battle fronts. Russia has been much more clever in her methods than we have in dealing with Rumania and Bulgaria, both ex-enemy countries. They have managed to enlist large forces of Rumanian and Bulgarian soldiers and have got them to the front line. Except in the case of France we have not succeeded in doing that in the countries we have liberated. I believe the number of armed trained soldiers in the ranks of E.L.A.S. in Greece is between 60,000 and 80,000. Probably it could be very greatly increased, and I suppose we could raise an army of several divisions from Greek manhood. They want to be fighting the Germans, I want them to be fighting the Germans, my noble friends want them to be doing that. We do not want them to be killing British soldiers or British soldiers killing them. Whatever constitutional proprieties stand in the way, whosoever's prestige stands in the way, efforts must be made to stop this horrible and shameful fighting that is going on between two Allies. It is a gift for the Germans, a gift for Goebbels and 528 for his propaganda machine. He has only to say, as he is saying, to the German people, "We told you to hold on, to resist a little longer and the Allies would be quarrelling among themselves. Now you have the British and Greeks fighting each other." It is a terrible thing from that point of view. I am not satisfied that a real effort has been made to bring this horrible situation to an end and that is why I support my noble friend.
§ 3.43 p.m.
My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Lord who introduced this Motion and practically the whole of it consisted not in an attack upon His Majesty's Government for the policy they have pursued in this matter but in urging measures to enable His Majesty's Government to get out of what I agree is a very unfortunate position. He ended up with a statement which, like all others in your Lordships' House, I greatly deplored, making certain suggestions with regard to our troops. I hope we shall never hear again an expression of that kind come from the noble Lord. I think that the debate as far as it has gone was summed up by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, when he said we all deplore the conditions which exist in Greece to-day. Everyone deplores the conditions under which our troops are engaged in fighting with a section of the Greek people, but so far as I am concerned I have no quarrel with His Majesty's Government or with the measures which they have taken which have led up to this unfortunate position. I do not see how the Prime Minister or his Government could have pursued a different policy. I am not so conversant with the conditions in Greece and the percentages of those who are on one side or the other as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, but I am not prepared to accept the percentages which he has stated unless they are confirmed by the noble Viscount who is going to reply to this debate.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, suggested that our troops should withdraw from Greece. What position would that leave? The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, suggested that we should have an armistice and stop fighting. It takes two sides to stop fighting. Suppose we stopped fighting and came out of Greece we should leave E.A.M.—or the E.L.A.S., who are the actual troops—in the position of going on fighting and overwhelming the 529 other side of the Grecian people against whom they have a grudge or with whom they do not agree. I cannot see that that is the way in which we are going to get peace and the ballot box in Greece. Both sides have to stop fighting, but E.L.A.S. has shown no indication that they are prepared to stop fighting or even that they are prepared to accept any of the proposals which have been made to them by their own people or by our officer commanding the troops in Greece.
These E.L.A.S. people are not the nice respectable people which the two noble Lords would suggest they are. I will give your Lordships an experience which has come to my notice quite recently. There was a certain British property in Greece, an agricultural property aggregating some 60,000 acres of land, which was farmed in a mixed manner. When the Germans came into Greece they took possession of that property. There were certain British managers who, of course, had left. The Germans ousted the Grecian manager who had been put in charge and they put in his place a man belonging to the E.L.A.S. persuasion. The Germans had that property cultivated to their advantage and they took all the crops. So soon as the Germans retired from Greece, what happened? This agent of E.L.A.S. persuasion who had been put in charge by them immediately got together a number of others of his own kind. They ousted all the other Grecian employees, the peasants on this property, they brought in members of the E.L.A.S. group who proceeded to pillage and rob it, to cut down the crops and, generally, to make havoc of the place. Those are the kind of people to whom I refer. I do not say they are all like that, but that shows the type of mind against which we are contesting to-day.
I do not want to call these people Communists. It is no concern of mine whether Greece is ruled by Communist people or by Liberal people. That is not our concern at all. Our concern is to establish a peaceful position which will enable the Grecian people to go forward and recover their prosperity along democratic lines. What I should like to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is to what extent are the Germans, the Nazis, behind this movement of the E.L.A.S. and E.A.M. in Greece? Some time ago—I cannot remember how long, there have been so many debates and so many ques- 530 tions and answers in the other House on this question—it was suggested by one of the Ministers, I think, in the House of Commons that there were German officers fighting with the E.L.A.S. forces and that the movement had a German backing.
My Lords, would the noble Earl permit me to intervene for a moment? He surely is aware that there are also German soldiers fighting in the British Army, and doing very good service, but that does not mean that any of our forces are under German control.
I am asking the noble Earl a question. I am not asking about what are called good Germans. I am asking about what are called Nazis or bad Germans. They are the subject of my anxiety to-day. I should like to ask the noble Earl whether there is any evidence, any real knowledge, or any good grounds for suspecting that these E.L.A.S. troops are in any way backed, supported, influenced or helped by the Nazis in any way whatsoever. If that is the case then—as Lord Long said in his admirable speech, upon which I have great pleasure in congratulating him—we are not only fighting the E.L.A.S. in Greece, but we are fighting the slimy reptile that has drawn its trail all over Europe—namely, the Nazi, and if we do not get rid of this reptile now it will continue to leave its effects after the war wherever it goes. That was my main reason for rising to speak, and I did not intend to make so long a speech. I shall be glad to know if the noble Earl can satisfy your Lordships that there is no influence of the sort to which I have alluded connected with the E.L.A.S. or other troops in Greece.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords who have spoken in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Long, on his maiden speech. I think it was an extremely eloquent one, and I hope that we shall have the pleasure of hearing him very often in this House in the future. I should also like to say that in taking part in this debate I am not necessarily speaking on behalf of all the noble Lords who sit on these Benches. A most tragic situation has developed in Greece. We are all agreed on that point. It is a great responsibility to speak at 531 such a critical time. On the other hand, I have also felt that it is evading responsibility, possibly, not to speak and, as this debate has been initiated, I feel myself obliged by my conscience to support my noble friend who has brought forward this Motion.
I think that the one desire we all have in this House is to find a solution to this problem—a way out of what no one can help describing as a dreadful and unfortunate situation. In order to discover this way out I think it might be wise—if your Lordships will have patience with me—to try to find out to some extent what are the facts behind the situation as it really is. I read with great attention the report of the debate in another place on the subject of Greece and, as far as I could make out, the Government's claim was, roughly, that the British Forces had arrived in Greece in order to assist in the final expulsion of the Germans.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD CROFT)
And to feed the starving population.
§ THE EARL OF HUNTINGDON
And it was the intention, I understood, that our Forces should stay there to maintain law and order until a Government should be elected by fair and free election. There were no other motives, and our people were to act with strict impartiality in all matters. I do not know whether that is a fair representation of the Government case, but that is how it struck me. How far actually do the facts, as we know them, coincide with or support this claim? Was the only intention of the British Government, after the Germans had been expelled from the mainland, that their armed Forces should impartially support a Government of national unity which we had brought in under M. Papandreou until a Government could be chosen by free and popular election? Was there no other motive at all? I must say that I think the Prime Minister in another place has partly answered this question.
I would like shortly to quote his words on this subject. Speaking about the hiatus, as I think he called it, in Athens when the Germans had left, he said:It was very likely that the E.A.M. and the Communist extremists would attempt to seize the city"—532 he was referring to Athens—and crush all forms of Greek expression but their own.He then went on to say that to counter this he proposed to gather forces to enter Greece—but I will not go on with his speech; you will find the report of it in Hansard. The point I wish to make is that it was envisaged right from the start, before we went into Greece, that British troops might be used to prevent a seizure of power by the E.A.M. or by Communist extremists, but you will notice that nothing was said about British troops being used to prevent attempted seizure of power by the Royalists or any of the Right Wing extremists. It is only the Left Wing people to whom reference was made. It will, no doubt, leap to your Lordships' minds that it would be a very unlikely thing to happen that the Right Wing Government under M. Papandreou would start using force or would try to bring in a Government illegally; but I think I must submit that the opposite may be true. We have seen already in Spain, after elections where the democratic Liberal Left Wing succeeded in obtaining a majority, that the Right Wing felt themselves forced to try to gain power by force of arms, and with the support of Germany and Italy they succeeded in doing so. The motives in this case are much more likely to influence the Right Wing rather than the Left Wing to use force. As far as we can gather, E.A.M. had undoubtedly an overwhelming majority of support in Greece in their terrific resistance to the Germans, and there was no need for them to falsify the elections. The Royalist movement was a very small group, and there would be every motive for them either to set up a dictatorship by underhand or violent methods or, worse still, to try to start up violence in the hope that the British troops would restore order and themselves at the same time. We cannot fail to note that there might be this very strong motive on the Royalist side.
That this is not a dream or a wild imagining of mine is shown by the fact that M. Papandreou, who remained in power in the Government after E.A.M. had left it, in a broadcast on November 28 accused the Right—what he then called "the ruling class"—of provoking civil war. Both the National Liberation movement and the Communists were very much alive to this danger of trouble being 533 caused by the Right, and they consistently urged Mr. Papandreou to get rid of collaborationists and of those whom they called Fascists and of Fascist influence from the Government and from the Athens Police Force. M. Papandreou promised to do this, but it was never done, and, as we know, these elements remained both in the police and in the Government.
I submit that this is the whole trouble behind the present Greek situation. The National Liberation movement seems to have behind it the overwhelming support of the people of Greece. As the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, says, it is difficult to give exact figures, but on the Paris radio recently its membership was put at about two millions, which as a Party membership is enormous. In any case, its effective force, the E.L.A.S., controls the mainland of Greece, except for a tiny area in the north-west where Colonel Zervas's forces still hold sway, and apart from the British troops in Athens.
This E.A.M. Party, which comprises all shades of opinion from Liberal to Communist—almost all republican and democratic opinion—is really frightened. How far its fears are justified I do not know, but it is genuinely frightened that the Right Wing element is going to attempt a restoration of the Greek King, and hence a repetition of the dictatorship under some man chosen by the King. I must say that our Government have done nothing to relieve this fear, and, in fact, very much the reverse. It seems almost as though we have come, through unfortunate circumstances, to frustrate agreement even when it seems to have been on the point of being made. For instance, on October 18 an agreement was apparently reached after much discussion and argument, on the disbanding of E.L.A.S. and E.D.E.S. and on the formation of a neutral National Guard, but the value of this agreement was completely wiped out when the Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Battalion, which are looked upon in Greece, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, told us, as completely Royalist and Right Wing troops, were brought to Greece. As a result of that, E.A.M., who had consented to the original agreement, said that it was not fair to bring them in, that the whole balance of power was upset, and that the whole position must be reconsidered. I 534 should like to know why these regiments were brought to Greece. It seems strange that when an agreement was so near it should have been upset in that way. The disbandment of these regiments was asked for by E.A.M., but I understand that the Government, with the support of General Scobie, refused to do this.
Another attempt to reach a solution was made by the different parties, by the Right Wing Papandreou Government and the E.A.M. Ministers. It was that E.L.A.S. should retain a number of men equal to the Sacred Battalion and the Mountain Brigade. I think that the police were to be disbanded. It was said in another place that an E.A.M. Minister apparently visited General Scobie and explained the whole agreement which had been reached. Soon after this, M. Papandreou, who had become apparently, for some reason or other, very much more a supporter of the Right, issued a decree by which all guerrilla forces were to be disbanded, but there was no mention of the disbandment of the Mountain Brigade or of the Sacred Battalion, which E.A.M. wanted, and there was the unfortunate incident of leaflets being dropped at the same time as the decree demanding the unconditional disbandmemt of all guerrilla forces. Here again we have an example of agreement between the Greeks being stopped presumably by the Papandreou Government. How far they were influenced by our Government it is difficult to say.
Finally, we come to the unfortunate incident of the Athens police firing on the demonstration. This demonstration was, I understand, first allowed and then forbidden by M. Papandreou. It consisted of unarmed civilians, women and children as well as men. I shall not dwell on the terrible events which happened when the Athens police opened fire on these wretched people for an hour or more. What is worse, no effort was made by the British troops to stop it. Why that was so I do not know; British tanks were in the vicinity. You can imagine the state of mind of the people of Athens the day after such an appalling event. There must have been terrible feeling, and it is not surprising that when some of our troops went to disband some of the E.L.A.S. people they were fired on. It is regrettable, but I think that it is understandable. Then we had the British Forces immediately going into action with 535 guns, tanks and everything else against E.L.A.S. troops in Athens, and since then the fighting has continued.
We had, however, one last chance of peace. An old Liberal, M. Sophoulis, volunteered to form a Government of all Parties, including E.A.M. and the Right Wing, and as far as is known E.A.M. said they were agreeable to serve under him. For some extraordinary reason, apparently, our Prime Minister would not allow Mr. Sophoulis even to attempt to form a Government and secure a peaceful settlement. Instead of that, an ultimatum was issued from General Scobie's headquarters telling the people of Athens that they must lay down their arms. There was no offer of an armistice and no talk of an amnesty, as far as I know, and no guarantees given; it was a question of unconditional surrender and hoping for the best. One can hardly be surprised if the E.L.A.S. forces preferred to keep their arms.
If I have been critical it is with the intention of clearing the ground, and seeing if something cannot be done to break this dreadful deadlock. I do not know why we have really been supporting the Right Wing and the King of the Hellenes. I do not think that any advantage we should get from that would be as great as the advantage of having the friendship of the Greek people. If the present fighting at Athens develops into a full-scale affair it certainly would be disastrous on every account. There are reports from Athens of conversations going on, and I am very glad to hear it. It is an encouraging sign, and I hope that His Majesty's Government will make every possible effort not just to demand unconditional surrender but to try to arrange an armistice and get some arrangement working.
I would suggest that something on these lines might be acceptable to both sides in this dispute: First, that all hostilities should cease. Secondly, that there should be a complete amnesty for both sides, because it is immensely important, if you want these people to agree, to have a guaranteed amnesty for both sides. Thirdly, that free and fair elections should be held. The fear of the E.A.M. is that in such an election the people of Greece will not be allowed to express themselves. They have experience of what crooked elections mean. 536 Would it not be possible to have an inter-Allied election commission, or something of the kind, in which representatives of the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. would be invited to participate, and which would guarantee the holding of free elections at the earliest possible stage? The fourth point is that the E.A.M. should be invited after the armistice to join a Government of National Unity, and it has been suggested that the Patriarch of Athens should act as Regent and appoint someone under him as head of the Government. I think that would produce good results.
Then we come to the fifth point, the most thorny and difficult question of all, and that is the question of disarming the different Parties. I would suggest, if nothing better could be thought of, that once the Government of National Unity has been formed discussions should be entered on to arrange for the disarming of supporters of Right and Left, so that neither side may feel that it has been fraudulently dealt with. On the other hand, if such an agreement cannot now be reached after the bitterness of the last few days in Greece, I would suggest that both sides keep their arms. You would still have a balance, but fighting would have stopped. Then both sides must promise to deliver up all arms as soon as the National Government has been elected. In the meantime a National Army could be formed which would by then have strength enough to maintain peace. The British Government could also guarantee that British Forces would support the selected Government, whether of the Right or of the Left. I suggest that terms on that sort of basis would be acceptable to all Parties in Greece. In any case, it is worth while to attempt to get out of this terrible fighting between Allies, which might well turn into an ideological war which would blaze from one end of Europe to the other in the liberated countries. No nation has fought more heroically against the Fascists and Nazis than the Greeks, no nation has suffered more. Do not let our country add to their injury and their suffering.
§ 4.25 p.m.
My Lords, we are always accustomed to use so far as we can extremely temperate language in your Lordships' House, but I feel bound to say in all due seriousness, and 537 with all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, who is responsible for this Motion, that in the form in which it is put before your Lordships and in the wording which is placed before the House it is ill-judged, ill-timed and ill-drafted. The speech which he made to your Lordships this afternoon, I fully agree, showed far greater restraint, except for one passage at the end which we should all wish to forget. Had he tabled his Motion with a moderate wording, had he urged that a settlement should be reached as soon as possible, and that our troops should be withdrawn from Greece, I think 'that would have been entirely legitimate. For, in fact, that is the aim and object of all of us as soon as it is possible to achieve it; we all want to see an end to this miserable business. But the noble Lord has chosen to table a Motion in a form which, I am bound to say, is not merely offensive in itself, as I think it is, but which amounts to a censure on a Government containing all the main leaders of the three Parties; and this he has done at a moment of very great delicacy, when it is essential that everyone should weigh his words with the greatest care. I can imagine nothing more irresponsible than that. I am not very much surprised that he found the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, at his side. The noble Lord, if he will forgive my saying so, is always irresponsible, and here in this House we do not take him too seriously. But he was, perhaps, a little more reckless this afternoon than I have known him for a long time. Indeed, his speech was such a tissue of misstatements that I cannot attempt, however long I speak to your Lordships, to answer them all.
I am not complaining for one moment that this Motion should have been put down. In fact, I think the noble Lord, Lord Southwood, will confirm me when I say that when Lord Addison a few days ago—a week or so—told me that the Labour Party might wish to raise this subject, I said I should be very willing to find time for it. That is absolutely true. I am merely complaining of the form of this Motion; and for that lapse of judgment, and, as I think, of taste. I am glad to feel that the noble Lord himself is alone responsible. His Motion speaks of the "shameful" result of the policy of His Majesty's Government. He has explained to us this afternoon that it does 538 not really mean what it appears to say. He has explained that it means that he is personally ashamed of the results of the policy that is being followed; he does not mean that that policy is a discreditable one. But that is exactly what it will be taken to mean all over the country, and in other countries too. The Motion puts on this country the whole responsibility for these unhappy events which have occurred, and in the light of information which has already been given by the Foreign Secretary in another place—and which the noble Lord must have seen—that really is a travesty of the facts. Whatever may be said of the policy of His Majesty's Government in Greece, whether in all respects it may be approved or not approved, I should have thought that one thing is certain, that nobody questions the purity of our motives or suggests that we have any sinister or ulterior motive. His Majesty's Government have absolutely nothing to hide in regard to their Greek policy. Their conscience is clear, and I am very glad myself to have the opportunity to give a correct and full account of the events that have led up to the present plight of Greece.
I should like, if I may, to go back—I shall be as brief as I possibly can—to last May, when the Lebanon Conference was held. That conference, as your Lordships already know, was promoted by His Majesty's Government for the express purpose of ensuring that all sections of Greek opinion, including E.A.M., were brought into the Greek Government. The conference was successful. Agreement was reached between the leaders of all the Parties and a statement of policy was issued which is known as the Lebanon Charter. Certain delays followed—I do not complain of those delays—as the representatives of E.A.M. failed to get the endorsement of their leaders to the decisions of the conference. But, as I say, I am not attempting to make a point of that or to complain of it in any way. Eventually, however, the E.A.M. representatives did agree to join the Government on the basis of the Lebanon Charter, and that Government, after they had joined, was as representative a Government as any Greek Government could be.
Now Lord Faringdon this afternoon praised the Yugoslav settlement. He said, what a splendid thing it was that they had 539 now got an administration combining the Royal Government and the resistance leaders. That is exactly what M. Papandreou's Government was before E.A.M. left it. On 6th September the Greek Government moved from Cairo to Caserta in order to be ready to enter Greece as soon as the Germans moved out, and while they were there, M. Svolos, one of the representatives of E.A.M., assured M. Papandreou on behalf of the E.A.M. Ministers that they were perfectly satisfied with the Government as it was then constituted and he hoped that the Government would stay in office under M. Papandreou until elections could be held. That was the statement by the E.A.M. Minister. Before the liberation of Greece, at the end of September, General Wilson asked General Zervas, one of the guerrilla leaders, and General Serafis, the leader of E.A.M., to come to Caserta in order to concert plans for the time when the Germans began to move out.
On September 25 an agreement was leached with the two guerrilla leaders and with the Greek Government, under which all the guerrilla forces were placed under General Scobie. That agreement was known as the Caserta Agreement. There is nothing secret about it; it was published in The Times on December 18. But I would like to remind your Lordships of one or two of the clauses of that Agreement. They were actually quoted in another place yesterday, but they are so relevant that I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I recall them to you again. Clause I said:All guerrilla forces operating in Greece place themselves under orders to the Greek Government of National Unity.Clause 2 said:The Greek Government places these forces under the orders of General Scobie. who has been nominated by the Supreme Allied Commander as General-Officer-Commanding forces in Greece.Clause 3 said:In accordance with the proclamation issued by the Greek Government, the Greek guerrilla leaders declare that they will forbid any attempt by any units under their command to take the law into their own hands.That is a very relevant clause.Such action will be treated as a crime and will be punished accordingly.Clause 4 said:As regards Athens, no action is to be taken save under the direct orders of General Scobie.540 Clause 5 said:Security Battalions are considered as instruments of the enemy. Unless they surrender according to orders issued by the General-Officer-Commanding they will be treated as enemy formations.Those were the Security Battalions which have now been disbanded. Clause 6 was:All Greek guerrilla forces, in order to put an end to past rivalries, declare that they will form a national union in order to co-ordinate their activities in the best interests of the common struggle.Now those, my Lords, were the main features of the Caserta Agreement. I think it is an admirable document. I think we shall all agree it is an admirable document. It was calculated to avoid all the troubles that have since occurred. The House will note that it was signed by General Serafis, the Commander of E.A.M., and it was in the light of that Agreement that General Scobie and the British troops went to Greece. On October 18 the great day arrived and the Greek Government returned to Greece. On the same day M. Papendreou, the Prime Minister, defined their policy in a speech in Athens, and the E.A.M. Ministers subsequently assured my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary—personally assured him—that they concurred in that speech, which included the provision for replacing the guerrillas by national forces. At the same time, British troops entered Greece for the sole purpose of helping to chase out the Germans, of keeping order, and of ensuring the distribution of food supplies. They did that—and I would emphasize this—not by unilateral action but at the express invitation of the Greek Prime Minister, with the full knowledge and agreement of the Greek Government containing members of E.A.M. His Majesty's Government also took the precaution of consulting the United States and Soviet Governments and both of those Governments approved the action we were taking. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, quoted an American paper which was critical of our having gone into Greece. Personally, I still prefer the view of the United States Government itself.
Negotiations then began as to the exact method by which the guerrillas should be disbanded. By November 19 the whole Government, including the E.A.M. members, had agreed in principle on the following plan. I hope your Lordships will forgive my going so fully into this 541 matter, but it is important. First, they agreed that the E.A.M. police established in Athens and other towns should be disbanded on December 1, and replaced by a National Guard composed of men of the 1936 Class. Secondly, it was agreed that all guerrillas—E.A.M. and E.D.E.S.—the whole lot—should be demobilized on December 10 and replaced by a National Army, which was formed, or was to be formed, by calling up three more groups. Now to this decision the E.A.M. Ministers were party.
The noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, raised the question of the Mountain Brigade. The Mountain Brigade was at that time, I think, already in Greece, and no question was raised by the E.A.M. Ministers with regard to the Mountain Brigade. The Government decision did not provide for the demobilization of the Mountain Brigade nor of the Sacred Squadron. That is perfectly true, and after all, it was entirely in accordance with the procedure adopted by all other Governments of countries which have been liberated from the German yoke. In France and Belgium the Regular forces have been kept under arms. The object in all these liberated countries has been not to demobilize the Regular forces, but only to disarm the private armies and incorporate them in the National forces of the State. I should have thought that was the obvious policy for any Government in the position of these Governments to adopt. It is perfectly true to say that the E.A.M. leaders soon began to agitate for the demobilization of the Regular forces as well. Eventually, however, at the request of the Prime Minister, M. Papandreou, the E.A.M. Ministers themselves produced a compromise. It was E.A.M.'s own compromise in the form of a draft decree under which the Greek Regular forces were not to be demobilized, and E.L.A.S. was to be allowed to retain one brigade. That was the compromise suggested by E.A.M. Ministers. It was their own proposal. It was, in fact, accepted by M. Papandreou and the other Ministers, and the trouble seemed over. But, at the last moment, E.A.M. insisted on the demobilization of the Regular forces, and it was on that that the final break came.
As a result of these difficulties between the E.A.M. Ministers and other Ministers, the Greek Government's final decision was 542 postponed and on December 1, owing to these difficulties, the decree still remained unsigned. The House will remember that the policy agreed upon on November 19, to which I have already referred, envisaged two stages. The first stage was that E.A.M. police should hand in their arms on December 1, and, so far as I know, and I believe so far as is known anywhere in this country, the E.A.M. Ministers never questioned this step of the disarmament of the E.A.M. police, to which they themselves agreed. It had nothing whatever to do with the draft decree which had led to difficulties and which was concerned with the general demobilization of the guerrillas that was to take place later, on December 10. M. Papandreou therefore circulated a decree designed to bring into force the Government's decision that the E.A.M. police should hand in their arms on December 1. The E.A.M. Ministers, who at that time were still members of the Government, refused to sign that decree and resigned.
On the morning of December 1, it became known that E.A.M. were intending to call a general strike. On December 2, E.A.M. announced the incorporation of the E.A.M. police in the E.L.A.S. forces and they also reconstituted E.L.A.S. as an autonomous force outside the authority both of the Greek Government and of General Scobie. That was a direct breach of the Caserta Agreement which had been signed by General Serafis. By December 2, information began to come in that large E.L.A.S. forces were moving on Athens, and on December 3 the unhappy and unfortunate fracas occurred in connexion with the procession to which reference has been made in this debate, and in which a number of people were killed and wounded. That set the torch to the tinder, and a conflagration flared up.
There was, I think, in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, a suggestion that this fracas was entirely caused by the brutality of the police. He gave a picture of an entirely peaceful procession proceeding through the streets and suddenly being shot at by what I think he called Quisling police, and implied that these police alone were responsible for the subsequent events. He suggested that, but for this, there would have been no further difficulty. I think it will be seen from the story which I have told your Lordships—I am afraid at great length— 543 that that is an absolute travesty of the facts. Wherever else responsibility may arise for these first shots, I would say to Lord Strabolgi that the evidence does not support the contention that the police were responsible. The evidence we have been able to obtain goes to show that the crowd had already roughly handled the police and disarmed a number of them before any shots were fired. But whatever the facts are about that incident, it was not the main cause of the trouble which ensued. It was merely the spark which set fire to the touchwood. The ultimate causes were far more deep-seated than that.
The noble Viscount has referred to me. I would like to point out that I was answering my noble friend on my right, Lord Samuel, who complained of the hastiness of E.L.A.S. in taking arms. I said the first shots were fired by the police.
If the noble Lord did not, certainly Lord Huntingdon did give that impression to the House. He certainly gave me the impression—and I think the rest of the House—that it was a totally unprovoked attack by the police on a peaceful crowd. I have pointed out that many of the police had already been disarmed. I do not wish to put too much emphasis on that, because I say that to my mind that was only the occasion for the outbreak, not its cause. What I would put to your Lordships as undeniable is this: the Greek Government and the British authorities at that moment saw that a definite attempt was being made to achieve a coup d'état and seize power by force. M. Sophoulis, to whom reference was made by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, this afternoon, in an interview reported in the Daily Telegraph, on December 15, said:Every Greek knows that E.A.M. would have revolted, even if the Government had accepted all its demands.I think that is an important statement by M. Sophoulis, who I understood from Lord Huntingdon was the man whom he himself would have chosen to bring all the different Parties together. It is a curious thing, in those circumstances, that to-day E.A.M. is trying to represent itself to the outside world as a democratic organization claiming that it has 544 the support of the police, the Air Force, and the Navy, and yet it dare not put those claims before the Greek people. I am not the authority for the statement I have just quoted; the Daily Telegraph is the authority for it. But it is an interesting and significant account of the position.
What I am trying to make clear to your Lordships is this: the march of E.L.A.S. upon Athens which brought about the present situation must be regarded as a deliberate attack upon the free institutions of Greece, and it is to protect those free institutions and to ensure a fair distribution of foodstuffs to the suffering people that British forces are now being used. Those are our sole motives for going to Greece, and our sole motives for being there. I am not concerned to attack the character of E.A.M. I think various speakers have described them as the saviours of their country, and I am very ready to believe that large numbers of E.A.M. fought extremely well against the Germans. I do not want to blacken their character. I have no reason to think—and I say this in answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank—that E.A.M. are under the control of the Nazis; they may be, or they may not be. But I have no reason to suppose that they are, and I think it only fair to say that probably, like everyone else, some E.A.M. are good and some are bad. But I am sure one thing will be agreed, that their methods were certainly extremely unfortunate on this occasion of the 3rd December.
Subsequent events of the unhappy affair have already been fully described by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, and it is not necessary for me to elaborate them further. I do not wish to weary the House. I would only add this. Our object throughout has been to find some means of composing the differences between the various sections of Greek opinion and of recreating a Government which may be able to heal this deplorable division and allow free institutions to function again. There has been a reference to the King of Greece, and perhaps I ought to say a word or two about that. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, said that the King has no support in Greece. It is not for me to pronounce what support the King has in Greece. It will be very easy, if they are allowed to do so, for the Greek people 545 themselves to pronounce upon it by ballot. At any rate, there was, if he will allow me to say it, no justification for his stating that the King was not worthy of trust. The King's position has been an extremely difficult one during this period, and I know from what I have heard that His Majesty, whatever views he has taken and whatever steps he may have taken, has been entirely actuated by motives of public duty. I think it is only fair to the King to say this to your Lordships.
There is no more advantage to my mind in attempting to blacken the character of the King than in attempting to blacken the character of E.A.M. As the noble Lord, Lord Long, said in his most admirable maiden speech, we owe much to the King for his courageous leadership in the dark days of 1940. There has been a suggestion—I think there was more of it in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, than in any other speech this afternoon—that His Majesty's Government have been in favour of the King. I really do not know on what it is based; certainly it is not based on the facts. It was His Majesty's Government who after the Lebanon Conference was largely responsible for the formation of the Government; it was His Majesty's Government who, as the Foreign Secretary said in another place yesterday, advised the King not to return to Greece at the present time; it was the British Ambassador who took the initiative in putting forward the suggestion that the Archbishop of Athens might become Regent. We are neither pro-King nor anti-King in Greece. That is a matter for the Greek people; it is not a matter for us. But we are interested, if I may use the Foreign Secretary's words, to see that the country is put on an even keel so that relief can be carried through. We are also interested as a member of the United Nations in seeing that a solution should not be imposed by force on the Greek people with arms supplied by us to fight the Germans.
This is an important matter affecting British lives. 546 The noble Viscount has been good enough to give way. If we are neither pro-King nor anti-King and if the Regency which we ourselves have suggested through our Ambassador is held up by the King's veto, this business may go on, and entail very great loss and misery.
If my noble friend will give me his attention for a moment, I am just coming to that. We are interested, as I have said, that a solution should not be imposed by force. We want to see an end of fighting. Indeed, as has been said this afternoon, General Scobie has put forward proposals for an armistice. These proposals have been criticized, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon—certainly by the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon. I do not in fact find that they are such unreasonable terms. Let us look at the terms. The first main point is that E.L.A.S. forces should obey General Scobie's orders and clear out of Attica. That is quite in accordance with the Caserta Agreement which has already been signed.
The second is that E.L.A.S. forces in Athens, the Piræus and the district around should cease their resistance and hand in their arms. That second point is what I may call a local condition. It is to ensure that trouble should not recur in Athens and in the neighbourhood. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, said he did not really think there was much danger of that; that when people stopped fighting they did not begin again. I am not so optimistic as the noble Lord. I should not like to see a situation where Athens was full of armed men going about and able at any moment, if there was a sudden wave of political feeling, to break the peace, as has been done before. Nor I think is it true, as was said this afternoon, that the effect of these terms is to put one side—that is the Right—in a strong posiion. The Right Wing are to be disarmed just as much as the Left Wing, and it is British troops who are going to keep order in this area. There is going to be no differentiation between Right and Left.
May I ask a question? I think it is apposite. The noble Viscount says both sides will be disarmed, and only British troops will be left in control in Athens. Would that extend to the Mountain Brigade?
No, of course it would not, for the reasons I explained earlier. The differentiation is between the Regular forces of the State and private armies. What I have said applies to all the private armies of the Right as well as to the private organizations of the Left. In these circumstances, these are really not very unfair armistice terms; in fact, they seem to me equally fair to one side and the other in this dispute. Let me add that, in fact, no use is being made, or so far as I know has been made, by General Scobie or the Greek Government of any Right Wing organization.
I now come to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. He asked what was the position about the Regency, what were the prospects of the Regency? I really do not know. I will be quite frank with the House—I do not know. It depends entirely on the measure of support which the proposal has in Greece. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, stated that there appeared to be evidence that the King was the only snag in the way. I do not think the noble Lord can have read or read very carefully the speech which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made in another place yesterday afternoon, because my right honourable friend made it perfectly clear that it would be untrue to say that the King would be unalterably opposed to a Regency.
I can only deem it incorrect. The noble Lord must accept the statement of the Foreign Secretary. As I understand it, the position of the King is that he cannot come to a definite decision except on the advice of his Ministers, and I understand he has doubt as to what their attitude and advice will be. Apart from the King altogether, it seems to me equally important and essential from our point of view, that we should know whether the Regency is likely to be generally acceptable, because, if not, and if a Regency were set up and that device failed, then the situation would be worse than before. I would only say this afternoon that His Majesty's Government are not against a Regency, but they want to make certain that a 548 Regency is a practicable proposition. An attempt has been made in certain quarters to represent this trouble which is going on in Greece as a struggle between the Right and the Left, and to suggest that we are intervening to protect the Right, or what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, called "the wrong side." The noble Viscount, as I understood him, did not state that as his view, but merely said it was a view which was held. I hope that what I have said to your Lordships this afternoon disproves any such suggestion.
Let me make this clear once and for all to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, to the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, and other noble Lords who have supported the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, and who seemed to harbour such dark suspicions of our intentions. It is no concern of ours—that is the view of His Majesty's Government—whether the Greek people have a Government of the Right or a Government of the Left. That is a matter for the Greek people themselves, and it is perfectly open to E.A.M., if they think they represent a majority of the Greek people, to test the feeling of the people through the ballot box. It is the concern of ourselves and of all the United Nations that power should not be seized by militant minorities, because if military dictatorship either of the Right or of the Left should be set up all over Europe, we might have beaten Germany, but we should have lost the war. We have no desire to intervene in the internal affairs of Greece—no desire at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, at the end of his speech, raised one or two questions of which he was not able to give me notice. I am aware of the reasons for that, and I think he will accept it if I say that for the same reason I am not able to give him very complete answers. He referred to an article by Mr. Drew Pearson in the American Press. I have not seen the article quoted and I had no notice that this matter was to be raised. But if, as I understand from the noble Lord, the charge which is made by Mr. Drew Pearson is that British troops had not been sent to Greece to distribute food, but to over-awe the population, the answer is that that charge is utterly and fantastically untrue. They went to Greece to supply food and to produce conditions in which a free election could take place, and for no other reason. I 549 am glad it has not been suggested in the House that the British troops should clear out of Greece at once, but it has been suggested, as your Lordships know, in some quarters. His Majesty's Government are very ready that our troops should leave Greece, and I am sure everybody in this country would agree that they should do so as soon as the conditions are favourable.
They went there to help and succour the Greek people. But noble Lords and the House should realize quite clearly what would happen it they left now. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, there would be general massacre and utter destruction of liberty. Is that what the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, wants? Is that what the House wants? Or is that what the country wants? I am quite certain that it is not. In my view we are in honour bound to stay in Greece until order is restored and free institutions resume their sway. We must make every effort to bring that situation about. When that has been done then, by all means, let the Greek people choose a monarchy, a republic, or what they will, and let the British troops leave. Lord Samuel suggested that the matter might properly be submitted to the European Advisory Committee. That Committee was instituted to deal specifically with the instrument of surrender of Germany and certain other post-war questions. I do not think its terms of reference would enable it to deal with this matter. But the Government are always ready to consider any method that may be suggested of ending this trouble.
My Lords, I am not here to stand in a white sheet with regard to our policy towards Greece. Let me make that quite clear. We had two alternatives. The first was to leave her to stew in her own juice. That would have been the easier policy to follow but it would have meant chaos and misery for the common people for whom the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, professes to speak. The second alternative was to go in, as asked by the Greek Prime Minister, and drive out the Germans, maintain law and order and relieve the necessities of the population. There can be no doubt which of those two alternative policies was the right one. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, said, I think, that he had letters from men in the Forces who were 550 worried and troubled about this campaign. Well, of course, we all recognize that there is misunderstanding about affairs in Greece. But the purpose of debates, such as this should be to remove those misunderstandings, and I hope that the debate this afternoon may help to have that effect. As a great Power we are bound, as was said in the debate earlier this week, to assume responsibilities which often involve risks. If we failed to shoulder this responsibility, then, indeed, our policy might be described as "shameful" and we should deserve the reprobation which it would undoubtedly earn from this House, from the British people, and from the world.
§ 5.5 P.m.
My Lords, of course all of us who are accustomed to hearing the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, would expect that he would make of any case the best possible case, and we have certainly suffered from no disappointment to-day. I would like, before referring to what he said, to join with other speakers in offering my congratulations to Lord Long on his maiden speech. It seems to me probable that the noble Lord and I will seldom find ourselves in agreement, but it will always be a pleasure to hear even contrary views expressed as eloquently as Lord Long has expressed his to-day. It is not very often that one can make the complimentary speeches which are customary in your Lordships' House on these occasions with such complete sincerity as I know those speeches have been made to-day.
It is not my intention to keep your Lordships while I go through the various points made in the debate. It is always a pleasure to listen to my noble friend Viscount Samuel. His ideas are always as invaluable as they are original. I think that my noble friend Viscount Elibank mistook me in one connexion, if I may say so. In talking about the question of an armistice, I did not suggest the immediate withdrawal of British troops. Nor am I under any illusion about the necessity for an armistice being two-sided. Naturally, my hope was to obtain terms that would persuade the other side to stop firing. The noble Viscount gave a description of an unfortunate experience on a certain estate in Greece. Episodes of that sort illustrate one of the dangers of guerrilla warfare. I have met really enthusiastic and sincere 551 anti-Fascist Greeks who have deplored the encouragement of guerrilla warfare in their country. Of course, in view of the well-known and extremely important aid that our troops obtained elsewhere, by the tying down of German troops in Greece, that is a view that would not be likely to be accepted here. But so strongly do some of the people to whom I have referred feel about this particular form of warfare that they do hold these views.
I thought that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House—who was partly joking, no doubt—was, if I may say so, almost discourteous to my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. He said, I think, that he never took my noble friend seriously. I think that Lord Strabolgi's record, both in your Lordships' House and in another place, should have prevented the noble Viscount from giving vent to quite such a drastic expression of attitude. Lord Strabolgi's nautical robustness, shall we say, of expression, has, to me at any rate, as agreeable a savour in your Lordships' House as it has to his very large audiences all over the country outside. For the noble Viscount to say that he cannot take the noble Lord's intervention—was it seriously he said? I forget.
Well, if the noble Lord is satisfied that is all right. May I say that the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, has asked me to apologize to the noble Viscount for his absence now, as he has been called away? The noble Viscount took us through the list of events and I have no quarrel with his account of the various dates. But even allowing for those dates, there are certain points which are sometimes not quite clear. My complaint against His Majesty's Government is not that they have not always tried their best, but they seem always to have tried with one hand tied behind their backs. They have always had certain hypotheses, prejudices, and predilections which seem to have prevented them from achieving a solution.
The noble Viscount said that I had praised the solution reached in the case of Yugoslavia. We have not returned to Yugoslavia an emigré Government 552 without support in its own country, or so far as we know without support. What has happened, as I understand, is that the equivalent of E.L.A.S. is taking over the country. It has quite friendly relations with the emigré Government outside, and in due course it intends to hold elections and to decide what its constitution will be in the future. I suggest that had His Majesty's Government recognized E.L.A.S. in the same way as they recognized General Tito, if the emigré Government had remained outside Greece and had had on it representatives of the liberation movement, that would have been an equivalent development of affairs. I am not so pessimistic about the effects of a withdrawal of the British from Greece. These fearsome assassinations have not taken place elsewhere. It is agreed that E.L.A.S. controls the greater part of Greece, and it is only in Attica that this trouble is going on.
I do not want to take your Lordships through the whole position again, but I was a little unhappy about what the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, said about the question of a Regency. It brings us back again to the deeply-rooted prejudice which His. Majesty's Government seem to entertain. I am not talking about a prejudice against the Left, or anything of that kind; I think His Majesty's Government's influence has in many cases been used to liberalize and widen the emigré Governments which are here amongst us. We have to realize, however, that it is His Majesty's Government who have adopted the original emigré Government, though they may have widened its basis, and the essential element in the Government in this case is the King. The noble Viscount said that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs dealt with this matter in the House of Commons yesterday. He did, but nothing alters the fact that the King has sent a telegram to his Prime Minister, M. Papandreou, refusing the setting up of a Regency. I submit that in those circumstances His Majesty's Government should bring their influence to bear.
That may have been in the Press, but I have not seen it anywhere else. I am not questioning it, but I do not accept it without qualification.
It was very definitely in the Press, and so far as I 553 know it has not been denied. It was not denied by the Secretary of State yesterday, as I think it would have been had it been untrue. I have detained your Lordships for too long. I thank you for your patience, and I should like to say a word of apology for having offended your Lordships. In your Lordships' House I have always spoken as I have felt, and I believe that your Lordships respect other people's convictions as you expect your own to be respected. I have stated what I conceive to be the truth and what I think are the possibilities, and if what I said gave offence I am sorry, particularly because it may have covered up more important points which arose in the debate. However that may be, I always regret to call down on myself the condemnation of your Lordships' House, 554 and in particular of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. I regret that he should have described my Motion as being in bad taste. I think that that was perhaps a little unfair. He seemed to think that I ought to put down a Motion which would fall in perfectly with Government policy, but as my Motion was a complaint against Government policy I think that he was asking too much. We have had an interesting debate. While the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, has made a very good case from his material, and while I agree that the situation is very difficult, I do not feel that it has been dealt with as it should have been.
§ On Question, Motion negatived.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past five o'clock.