HL Deb 09 December 1969 vol 306 cc521-43

7.27 p.m.


rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: What will be their attitude towards Greece at the forthcoming meeting in Paris, of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, bearing in mind past Anglo-Greek friendship, our good trade relations, and the importance of Greece within NATO. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name. From the Prime Minister's remarks yesterday in another place Her Majesty's Government present attitude would unfortunately appear to be only too clear. When the Prime Minister says (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 8/12/69, cols. 39-40): What has happened in Greece has been an affront to every lover of Greece, of the Greek people, of democracy itself … is he not overlooking the disarray of the political life of the country which existed prior to April, 1967, and also the rapid succession of Governments over the previous 23 years, a total of 41 Governments? When the Prime Minister says (col. 40): We all look forward not so much to a return to the democratic forms of the past, but forward to whatever form of genuine democracy the Greek people choose for themselves … is he not overlooking the results of last year's Referendum?

Before coming to the present situation, I should like to refer briefly, and that is in view of the wording of my Question, to past ties between our two countries. In 1824, Lord Byron, spokesman of a large body of sympathisers and active helpers in this country, landed at Missolonghi during the Greek war of independence. In the early 1860s, according to Stanley Casson, in his book, Greece and Britain, friendship with Britain was "complete and unruffled" with the cession of the Ionian Islands. Around the same period, in a plebiscite on the succession to the Throne, out of 244,202 votes cast by the Greek people 230,016 votes were given to Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred.

In 1917, Greece entered the First World War on the side of Britain and France. In the early 1930's, when a serious rising took place in Cyprus, Eleftherios Venizelos restrained the Greeks from any step which might alienate British friendship. In 1941, Anglo-Greek forces were fighting together in Macedonia and Northern Greece. In 1944–45 British troops were suppressing Communist guerrilla forces in Greece, and I think we should remember that it was only in October, 1949, that the Communist rebellion ended.

To turn now to trade (and I welcome the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, because I think this is an important aspect, perhaps more important than past history) between our two countries, taking one year with another, the United Kingdom sells to Greece three or more times as much as she buys from that country. Last year, our share of the Greek market was 10.3 per cent.; that is, we were sharing second place with Italy. I understand that our exporters are hoping to secure a share of the large capital projects, including nuclear power contracts, on which Greece will be concentrating in the next few years.

At this point it might be realistic, therefore, to remind the House that at the beginning of last week, Mr. Makarezos, the Minister of Economic Co-ordination, hinted at possible economic sanctions during the course of a meeting with our Ambassador. The Envoys of six other European countries were also summoned, but I think it is significant to note that the representative of France was not included in the seven. I would add that the London Chamber of Commerce, in their Report last year, after a trade mission to Greece, said this: The Greek market offers good prospects for Britain in projects connected with tourism, shipping and other forms of transport, mining, telecommunications, electrical (and other) engineering, processing of crops and much else. Owing to Britain's difficulties over foreign investment she must go flat out to sell plant and machinery, 'know-how', royalties and after-sales service; also she must examine all forms of joint ventures, i.e. on tourism and hotels, co-operation between British tour operators and contractors in association with Greek capitalists and hotel owners. I would mention that this year, between January and September, a total of 1,112,432 tourists visited Greece—a record—and that was an increase of 30.3 per cent. over last year and an increase of 43 per cent. in so far as British tourists are concerned. Again in October this year a strong delegation from the London Chamber of Commerce visited Greece, and I understand that the prospects were then still most promising. I would therefore ask Her Majesty's Government whether their present political attitude is helpful if this country, for one, is to take advantage of the opportunities offered regarding the development of mines, hotels, and other industries in the Western Peleponnesus and certain regions of Crete, for instance.

To turn now to NATO, I am sure the Minister will agree that from a strategical point of view Greece has always held a key position on the South-Eastern flank of Europe. Perhaps at this stage I might quote C. M. Woodhouse, from his book, The Story of Modern Greece. He says: Although the new military government in 1967 consciously modelled their policies on Gaullism they were careful also to reaffirm their loyalty to NATO. According to the Institute of Strategic Studies, all the Greek Army is assigned to, or earmarked, for NATO, and seven tactical squadrons, plus one transport squadron, are assigned to the Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force. The Greek Navy also co-operates in NATO naval exercises. If the technique of NATO is to interlock the political as well as the military structures of the contracting parties—that is, "An attack on one entailing an attack on the rest"—is it not a little ungenerous for one of the parties, namely, Her Majesty's Government, not to support our ally, Greece, regarding membership of another organisation, the Council of Europe? For instance, in 1936 when General Metaxas came to power the road back to a true Parliamentary democracy may have looked hard and long, but it came about.

Some people, too, tend I think to disregard certain facts. Boris Litvinoff, in his article headed, "What are the real facts concerning the Communist danger in Greece?", puts the case very well. This article appeared in the August/September, 1969, issue of the publication Nato's 15 Nations, and I quote from that article: Too many Western critics tend to underestimate or even completely to ignore the unfortunate experience of Communist subversion in Greece immediately after the end of the Second World War. They forget the massacres, the torture, the violence and extor- tions of every kind. Too often the Western critics disregard the conditions special to Greece. My Lords, regarding next Friday's meeting, the Committee of Ministers will have before it the Report of the European Commission of Human Rights. I think two points come to mind. One, I understand that Mr. Pipinelis, the Greek Foreign Minister, has stated that the Report has no standing in law. Two, an article in the Guardian of December 1 states: According to Scandinavian Government lawyers, the Committee of Ministers is prevented by the Human Rights Convention from taking action on the Commission's Report until three months after it has received it. If that is the case, will it not be curious if the Committee acts on it next Friday to suspend Greece from the Council of Europe? I should like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, if he can, to comment on these two points. I should be most grateful to him if he does so when he comes to wind up.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is leaving the question of the Report of the Commission of the Council of Human Rights, would he say whether or not he accepts the conclusions of that Commission as reported in the Sunday Times on November 30?


My Lords, my only comment there would be to express regret that there should have been a leak which enabled the Sunday Times to quote. as it says, extracts from that Report. I am not saying that Her Majesty's Government are in any way responsible for that. I read an article to the effect that the leak came from a Scandinavian country. I do not wish to comment any further at this stage, except to express regret that there should have been a leak before this Report is considered by the Committee of Ministers, if it is to be considered next Friday.

I have yet to refer to the leaks. I think they are both regrettable, but it might be worth recording that the International Red Cross, following an agreement of November 3 last, announced on December 5 that its delegates had enjoyed absolute freedom of movement during visits to 13 detention sites for Greek political prisoners. They were able to meet detainees of their choice without any time limitations. On May 20 this year, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said in the House: In the question of Greece … we are interested in the dignity and quality of life of human individuals. That will be at the heart of all our considerations in the matter of Greece and the Council of Europe."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 302, col. 301.] At this point I should like briefly to refer to one or two of the things that have been done in Greece to raise the standard of living of the Greek people. With regard to the farmers, I would quote from a recent publication called Greece Today. The publication says: To give farmers financial relief arid assistance the Government wiped out all their debts to the Agricultural Bank. These amounted to 7.380 million drachmae in respect of farmers and 384 millions in respect of their co-operatives. In addition the Bank made loans to farmers amounting to 14,339 million drachmae in 1968 compared with 11,491 millions in the previous year. In view of that statement, last July when I was in Greece I visited one afternoon a little village north of Athens called Afidne. There the local farmers were pleasantly and quietly enjoying a chat, drink, or a game at the outdoor tables of the cafés as they would do in any Continental village. I spoke to one of the farmers, and he said that he had been personally affected by this measure, to the effect that his debt had been written off by the equivalent of £400. In Athens, too, I spoke to businessmen, taxi drivers and so on. They recognised that there was now greater security in work, reduced unemployment and improved incomes.

That same month—that is, last July—Mr. George Papadopoulos, the Prime Minister in an interview he gave to Mr. Fabian Lacombe of the French News Agency, said: We shall bring back the country into the full exercise of the constitution. Preparation of the institutional laws will be achieved at the earliest possible time giving priority to the laws regarding the Press, the constitutional courts and other laws to secure the freedoms and obligations of the citizen. He also mentioned that he sought to reorganise the economy of the country, the social services and the administration before holding elections. Noble Lords will certainly be aware of the degraded Parliamentary systems which existed up to April, 1967, with constant changes of Government and corruption, so I think noble Lords might consider these reforms to which the Prime Minister referred as being reasonable. In October this year, Mr. Papadopoulos announced progress in the fields of restoration of Press freedom, the abolition of special courts-martial, the restoration of individual liberty and in the drafting of institutional laws.

To conclude, my Lords, should we therefore not trust and support Greece, our ally and friend, and leave the timing, procedures and machinery involved in a stable return to Parliamentary democracy to the Greek Government? It would appear from an article in the Sunday papers that Her Majesty's Government have reviewed their policy on the sale of arms to South Africa; therefore could they not review their present attitude towards Greece? I trust it is not too late in the day for Her Majesty's Government to have, in the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, "a sudden change of heart", and that they will be influenced by to-morrow's speech to the nation of Mr. Papadopoulos. Perhaps I may end by reminding the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that at the moment we are rightly seeking a greater degree of understanding with France. Could we not then consider aligning our policy, within the Committee of Ministers, with France's, namely, support for Greece or abstention?

7.46 p.m.


I cannot help thinking, in view of everything that has been said about Greece from all quarters in the last week or so since the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale put down his Question, that he would have been better as their champion to have said nothing and withdrawn it. He has divided his Question into three parts. The first concerns past Anglo-Greek friendship. I wonder whether the noble Lord is not confusing Anglo-Greek friendship—friendship with the Greek people—with friendship with the Greek Colonels, the régime. The noble Lord will remember that on the occasion of Mr. Papandreou's funeral, half a million turned out to protest against the Colonels' régime.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord so early in his remarks. But I would mention that there was a letter which appeared, written by the widow of Papandreou, which expressed support for the régime.


I cannot answer for what Papandreou's widow said, but I am saying that half a million people in Athens turned out to protest against the Colonel's régime, and that seems to me very significant.

The noble Lord mentioned the referendum at the time of the 1968 Constitution. But does he also remember that there were more abstentions at that election than there were at the free election before—and that in spite of the dreadful and savage penalties put upon anybody who either abstained or did not vote pro. Does the noble Lord also not bear in mind the non-co-operation of the Greek Civil Servants, who up to now refuse to help the régime; and does he not also bear in mind that although some of the régimes, like the Spanish one in 1936, were supported by Conservative elements, this one in Greece never was. This régime is supported by no one in Greece. The noble Lord shakes his head, but this is true; there is no support other than the terror that the Colonels' régime promotes. This is where it seems to me that the noble Lord is making a confusion between the friendship with the Greek régime and friendship with the Greek people.

The noble Lord speaks about our good trade relations, and says there is a Greek threat to the continuance of those relations. I would dismiss that threat for what it is worth. I cannot help feeling that, in so far as we have got a favourable balance of trade with Greece, that small balance of trade is not a suitable argument to use in supporting a régime of this nature. With regard to the nuclear power station, it seems to me, and I am advised, that it is extremely likely that this order will go to France anyway; and that the Greek Government is merely stringing us along in this respect.

Thirdly, the noble Lord based his argument upon the importance of Greece within NATO. First of all, let us get the record clear on this. There is no suggestion at the moment of expelling Greece from NATO, and there is no possibility, so far as I know, that Greece will leave NATO. But it seems to me that the Armed Forces of Greece are becoming a liability to NATO, not an advantage to it. Look at the Army. The Army has lost one-third of its best officers, either dismissed or in prison, and the remainder are discontented and disaffected and are kept sweet only by bribes, The kind of bribes I mean are that they get preferential loans and first offers of goods which are in short supply, or goods which are available only for export. They are demoralised by mutual spying and distrust within their own ranks; and they are concentrated around Athens itself, being used as a political police force. I cannot quite see that this makes for a very useful military force for NATO. Lastly, they are losing the good will of the people. without which no Army is worth anything.

As to the Navy, my Lords, it is even more disaffected than the Army. I do not know whether it is commonly known that at the major Greek naval base at Scaramanga there was no admiral available to command it because the admirals would not "play up" with the régime; a military officer had to be found to do this. With regard to the Air Force, the position is much the same as with the Navy. They are extremely disaffected, and I understand they have no petrol. I am told that when Mylonos escaped from one of the prison islands in the Aegean in a private yacht the Air Force had not enough petrol to feel that it was worth their while to chase him.


They fly jets, my Lords.


Be that as it may; this is the on dit—that they were unable to follow Mylonos because they had no petrol. I do not imagine that you would follow a private yacht in a jet: you would follow it in something much more modest, but you would still need petrol, or whatever it is, to do it. In fact, so far from being a value to NATO it seems to me that the Armed Forces are a liability; that they are of no military use whatever on NATO'S South-East flank. Furthermore, I would suggest that they are an embarrassment to NATO in that there is a feeling—and this can be played upon by the Russians—that it is to the discredit of NATO that they can employ the Armed Forces of so disgraceful a régime. The Prime Minister pointed out yesterday—and the noble Lord quoted this—that we are under obligations, as signatories of the European Statute, to suspend Greece, which has broken the Statute so flagrantly. We should stick to those rules, because if you start breaking rules internationally it does not help international life and it does not help international organisations. So much for the three points which the noble Lord raised—our friendship, our trade and NATO.

What will happen if the Government do not stand firm? I think that the first thing that will happen is what happened in May. When Greece was given a second chance last May at the Council of Europe, the immediate reaction was the arrest and the torture of hundreds of people. I think that that would happen again. Secondly, I think there would be a drift away from the non-co-operation which is taking place at the moment. After all, people need jobs; they would have to go back. At the moment the country is leaderless and is not being administered at all. This is having economic and social consequences; but people cannot hold out indefinitely, and there will come a time, if they are forgotten, if we do not stand firm, when they will have to go back to work and co-operate with the Colonels. If we make a wrong decision on the 12th, I think that in six months this would mean a wholesale return of the sort of people I have in mind—the people who have been non-co-operative—and this would perpetuate the state of affairs which was revealed in the Sunday Times and reported by fifteen jurists after an examination over two years. All the noble Lord had to say about that was that he was sorry there was a leak. I wish he was sorry for a bit more than just that there was a leak.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? It was also discounted by the International Red Cross, so I think that all these allegations of torture are highly exaggerated.


My Lords, I simply do not accept that, and where the noble Lord gets his information that this was discounted by the Red Cross I do not know. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will comment on that.

Thirdly, it will mean the extinction of the democratic opposition. They will be imprisoned; they will be terrified; they will be squeezed out—and this can only lead to a free field for the Communists. The Communists are not active at present. It is interesting that their absence was notable at Papandreou's funeral protest. What is also interesting is that Russia has given the O.K., the go-ahead, to the Greek Communists to operate in about a year's time. They do not want them to do anything now: they want them to do it in a year's time, when they feel that the liberal elements, the bourgeois, democratic set-up, will all have been destroyed. If we allow that opposition to be squeezed out and forgotten, it will, as I say, leave a free field for the Communists.

I said to the noble Lord when I was discussing this with him this evening that I felt that this was almost like a free benefit society for the Communist Party. It is almost designed for what they want to try to do. In the years before 1967 their vote, their influence, was dwindling. Between 1958 and 1964 their vote dropped by half, and they have been totally inactive. But what they know is that they can flourish when they are conducting an underground struggle against an unpopular régime, and this is what they are waiting for. What will happen if they get what they are waiting for? As I say, the democratic opposition will be squeezed out, will be forgotten. One will be left with an ultra-Right wing régime, with the Colonels on the one side, being attacked by an ultra-Left wing of underground Communists on the other side—and what good will that do us in Western Europe?

Next among the things that will happen if we do not bring down this régime is this. At the moment, this conflict, unlike that in the Middle East, which is already an international affair, still has not escaped from the confines of Greece; but if it goes on for a year or two, believe me, Russia will be in on the act. In view of what I have said I cannot see that it can possibly be in our interests to support this régime, and the first step towards damaging the regime is to expel the Colonels. I think they show how much they mind being expelled by the frantic efforts they have been making, by various devices, to show that they should not be expelled. I hope they fail. There is no chance of their mending their ways. I do not think they can. If they were to attempt to try to liberalise their régime it would fall down; and they know this as well as we do. So they are in the position that, whatever they say—and they said this in May—they can do nothing. They must go on maintaining this extremely repressive régime because that is the only way they can stay in power.

We must stand firm in Europe. This is one of the occasions, I think, on which we can really give a lead. What we say in Europe is going to matter in this context; and this will be the first step towards getting rid of this distasteful régime. I am sorry to have to say this because I know how much the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, cares for Greece—quite genuinely so. His survey of our past history with Greece was interesting and, indeed, convincing. But this is not the Greeks; this is the Greek Colonels. It is an odious régime, and this is the only way we can get rid of it.


My Lords, the noble Lord talks about oppression. Who, in effect, are the present régime oppressing?—certainly not the people. I have been there a number of times. They are certainly not oppressed.


My Lords, the first thing that any dictatorship does when it gets into power and starts to oppress is to take all the people who might be leaders, who have any degree of expertise, any degree of a liberal way of thinking, any degree of education, and see to it very quickly that they are imprisoned. What the Greek régime is doing is systematically to torture people. I think that the evidence of this is absolutely incontestable. They are maintaining a régime of terror so to frighten the sort of people who might oppose them that they will not dare to do so. It is extremely unlikely that anyone will be able to prove that that is not so as far as the Greek Government is concerned.

My Lords, this is an Unstarred Question and I have spoken too long. I think there are signs that the Government mean to stand firm and to vote for the expulsion of Greece. I hope that they will do so and that they will not be bamboozled at the last minute by protestations from the Greek Government that they can and will do something.

8.3 p.m.


My Lords, the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, concerns the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is an organisation which I believe to have been established to protect and to further the principles of freedom, the rule of law and the rights of the individual for which we in this country and the other signatory countries are supposed to stand. I find it significant that in the whole of his speech there was scarcely a mention of the fact that freedom, the rule of law and democracy are quite unknown in Greece to-day. There is no disputing this; the Colonels themselves do not try to dispute it; they have been crushed in the interest of "saving the country", as they say. There was a programme on television last night, "Panorama", which I hope the noble Lord saw. In it, ex-Prime Minister Kanellopoulos, who is no Socialist, said that saviours are apt to become tyrants. The noble Lord knows full well that that is what is happening inside Greece.

Like the noble Lord, I have been to Greece. I have been twice since the Junta took over power. I have talked to Ministers of the Junta and I have talked to some of the victims of the regime. I was told, incidentally, by Mr. Pattakos that I should beware of the House of Lords because of the threat of Communist subversion in the House of Lords. I never knew that the work of my noble friend Lord Milford had been so successful. I should mention the fact that on my second visit I got no further than Athens airport. Clearly, my questions were not to the Colonels' taste.

All of us, with the exception of the noble Lord who put this Question, know that what has happened in Greece is a great tragedy. It is a tragedy; but at the same time it is a challenge. It is a challenge to all who believe in the ideals which the free world is supposed to embody. I say "supposed", because I believe that the vote which will be taken in the Council of Europe is a test of the sincerity of the democratic countries in the West, whether they are prepared to go along with or to say, alternatively, that they will have no part of a régime which tramples the rule of law and the rights of the individual under foot.

I believe that the Council of Europe is an organisation of great importance. The signatories to the Council of Europe believed in the ideals of human rights and the liberty of the individual. They knew from the experiences of the war years and the pre-war years that those rights are too fragile sometimes to be left to the governments of individual countries. They signed a Statute. Let us read some of the words of that Statute. By Article 3, every Member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The signatories of the Statute of the Council of Europe went further. They defined what were human rights and fundamental freedoms in a Convention. They went even further than that. They set up a Commission and a Court so that for the first time in history one Government could complain to the Commission of the violation of human rights by another Member-Government and individuals whose human rights had been violated in their own country could complain against their own Government in that Court. If ever there is to be any kind of world order, if ever human rights are to be protected against the vagaries of tyrannical governments in the world, that world order must be founded on some such model. It is a model which I find most inspiring.

When on April 21 the Colonels came to power, the organs of the Council of Europe set about their work and they have done their work in the most impressive and authoritative way. The Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, has consistently, by the votes of Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists, condemned what has happened in Greece. They have been guided in their deliberations by reports which if the noble Lord has not read he should read. I should like to pay tribute to Dr. Max van der Stoel for the work that he has done on this matter. Finally, the Commission have investigated complaints made by the Governments of Scandinavia and the Netherlands. It may not be in order for the Ministers at the end of this week to discuss that Report; but whether there has been a leak or whether it is in order is quite immaterial. The noble Lord has read his Sunday Times and he knows full well that not only did those lawyers—who are not hot-headed Left-Wing figures—find conclusively that the Junta has produced no justification for its usurpation of power, but they found after many months of painstaking investigation, using legal standards of proof, that torture was practised in Greece "as an administrative practice".


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that prior to the take over by the present régime, in effect the Communists were the only coherent political force in existence in Greece at the time?


My Lords, I ant glad the noble Lord has raised this point. The coherent political force was the Central Union Party which would have come to power, led by Papandreou. As the noble Lord knows, the Communists in the last elections achieved 13 per cent. of the votes. I do not know whether the noble Lord is saying that the danger of Communism overthrowing the State justified the usurpation of power by the Colonels. If he is, I should like to know who he is to put his judgment not only against the lawyers of the Council of Europe but against such figures as ex-Foreign Minister Averoff, a conservative man, who said(again on "Panorama" last night) that there was no such justification. Prime Minister Kanellopoulos said the same thing. Perhaps when he spoke of the degraded Parliamentary system he has the same contempt as the Colonels of all politicians Right or Left. I happen to believe that politicians in a democracy are people who should be given the freedom to vote a means of change, and there is no freedom of that kind in Greece to-day.

My Lords, I am pleased that our Prime Minister said yesterday that Britain would vote for the suspension of Greece from the Council of Europe unless there were some dramatic last-minute change. I regret that the British Government were not a party, together with the Dutch and the Scandinavians, to the action in the Commission on Human Rights Convention; but even so, it is welcome that they should now realise what is their duty. I would only urge this upon the Government, and I urge it with the utmost seriousness. They should not be led into the path of appeasement by any kind of last minute promises which representatives of the Junta may make. It is clear that the Greeks are alarmed at the prospect of exclusion from the Council of Europe. They have resorted to what I feel to be pathetic threats of economic blackmail and during the course of this week they may well come out with some soft words. The record of the Junta shows that soft words should be treated with contempt.

The Junta has had more than enough time, and during that time it has done nothing but consolidate its power. Sometimes, my Lords, to ascertain what are the intentions of the Junta one may do little better than to listen to what they say and I should like to refer to some of the statements made by Mr. Pattakos on the "Panorama" programme last night. I took them down as I listened. He was asked about the suspension of the rule of law and he said, "All laws were put to sleep so that one supreme law could reign". He was asked how long the Junta would continue to rule, and he said, "The danger will continue so long as those who have been shouting continue to shout". When asked if there was any timetable for a change, he said it would begin, "one year after people from abroad stop shouting".


My Lords, that was said with his tongue in his cheek.


My Lords, if the noble Lord thinks that the next statement was said by Mr. Pattakos with his tongue in his cheek I should like him to say so. He was asked about the Constitution, which the noble Lord, Lord Merivale, vaunted as something which had been approved by the Greek people. Even accepting that that were true, which of course it is not, he said, "If the country is in danger, it does not give a second glance at the Constitution". And that pronouncement is justified, of course, by the action which the régime took when the Council of State this year protested against the dismissal of the judges.

My Lords, these were not off-the-cuff remarks by some junior personage; this was the Deputy Prime Minister of Greece making remarks in front of the television cameras of a country which, presumably, he wishes to impress. The duty of the Government is quite clear; to cast this vote and to treat any last minute so-called promises with the contempt that they deserve. Of course, it is possible for the Junta to survive expulsion from the Council of Europe. But in addition to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, the vote will, first of all, give to the Greek people the heart which they sorely need in their days of trial. Further than that, I hope that ostracism from the Council will be clear notice to other Western Governments, and particularly to the Government of the United States on whom the future of the Junta depends, that Europe does not tolerate this régime in an organisation which is designed to protect democracy and freedom.

I have always felt that the Greek tyrants could be removed by sustained international pressure, and particularly pressure from those who are her friends. If they are not toppled in that way, they will most certainly be toppled by civil war, and that is not a prospect which I would wish on the people of Greece. My Lords, I ask the Government to do their duty in this matter and help to push these Colonels into the history books forever.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to repeat what other noble Lords have said. I was told that this debate would be at a late hour because the debate on Scottish affairs was going on for a long time. I cannot think what has happened to Scotland this afternoon. I got into the Chamber only just in time to hear the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, but I gather that we are seeing once again what happened 30 years ago in Europe and over the world. The good old Red bogy is being raised up to encourage Fascism to put it down. We remember what happened about appeasement before the last war; how people welcomed Hitler and the other Fascists against the Red bogy of Communism. Now we have a noble Lord bringing up the whole thing again.

I was in Greece when the election campaign was on, a few days before the Colonels took over. There were no Communist candidates. The Left had a broad front called E.D.A. At the end of that election they expected, on the most optimistic reckoning, that they might get 30 seats. Was that a Communist threat so that the elections had to be abandoned for the whole Junta dictatorship to come in? About a year ago, when this question of the Council of Europe was coming up, I put down Questions in your Lordships' House. I asked Her Majesty's Government to expel Greece because I thought, and put forward, that if she were not expelled, the Colonels would take great heart and go on torturing and having trials and putting down the people of Greece. That is exactly what happened. They were encouraged by the breath we gave them. They started their vicious trials straight away, cocking a snoot at all of us.

The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, belongs to the Tory party. May I just tell him what the chief Tory leader in Greece, the Leader of the Tory Party, has said in Greece? He has put three points forward. First, the struggle to overthrow the tyranny with all available means must be intensified; this struggle must be coordinated as broadly as possible. Second, the Government of the transitional period must be composed of representatives of all anti-dictatorial parties and of all resistance organisations. Third, the programme of this Government must include the abolition of the 1968 pseudo Constitution, all the Fascist laws of the Junta and all the extraordinary laws and measures upon which the Junta has based its régime of terror and intimidation. The holding of free elections in the shortest possible time for a constituency assembly and with the participation of all political Parties guarantees that the Greek people will be able to express themselves freely without the interference of foreign Powers. That is the noble Lord's Party, speaking in Greece on the situation of the people of Greece.

What has happened to the trade unions and co-operative movement? Trade union branches cannot hold meetings without getting leave from the police, who have to go to the local military authorities and bring back their permission. In elections to the unions candidates have their names sent in to the police, and through the local Army authorities these go up to the Junta and down again; and the candidates are "O.K." only if they do not show any fight against the Junta. I suppose that that is claimed to be free election to the trade unions. It is the same with the co-operative party. The co-operative party was very strong among the peasants and it gave protection to their interests, helped them to market their produce and to buy their fertilisers and other goods. To-day it has been taken over by the Junta and is now working for the interests of the big private farmers.

I expected the question of NATO to be raised by the noble Lord opposite. I have been in Holland and Denmark recently and have talked to people about what an example Greece is as an ally within NATO. The Scandinavians especially are very worried about having a Fascist ally, and I was told and have read—I cannot vouch for its being true and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, can tell us—that the Danes say that if the Greeks are not expelled from the Council of Europe, they are unwilling to take part in NATO manœuvres. I gather that the supporters of NATO want really strong allies. The Army in Greece to-day is held in absolute contempt by the people, and that is not a good background for any national army. The Greek Army has also been purged of its best officers, leaving Fascist officers only.

I have seen in the Press that America has been trying to exert pressure on Her Majesty's Government and on West Germany on this question of expelling Fascist Greece from the Council of Europe, and I should like to know whether this is true. There are two Americas on this question of Greece: there is the Pentagon, which fully supports the Junta, but would rather like to see a more reliable ally, and there are real progressive Americans, like Senator Fulbright and Senator Penn, who are all for getting the Greek Junta out of the Council of Europe. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to answer me on that question.

I noticed in the statement made in another place yesterday that there is still a loophole. If the Greek Government make certain statements, we may not decide upon expulsion. But who on earth is going to believe this gang of Colonels, whatever they say? Surely we all agree, except perhaps the noble Lord opposite, that we cannot believe these people in power in Greece to-day. I hope that Her Majesty's Government do not believe them, either, and I hope that we shall now take strong steps to get rid of the Fascist Greek Government. I am interested in the political prisoners in Greece and in their wives and families, and try to help them in several ways. I would put a special plea to Her Majesty's Government to do all they can to get an amnesty for all the political prisoners in Greece, so that Greece becomes a free country for all its people, whatever their politics.

8.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, because I was not in my place when he rose to put his Question. Like the noble Lord, Lord Milford, frankly I anticipated that the Scots would use their day perhaps to greater advantage and keep your Lordships to a much later hour than they did. I am told that my noble friend Lord Hughes made one of the shortest speeches in his own record. So if the noble Lord or I have any complaint we should see my noble friend tomorrow. But I gather that the part of the noble Lord's speech which I missed was his historical survey of the long connections between the United Kingdom and Greece.

If I may, I would express my sincere compliments to my noble friend Lord Gifford for one of the warmest and most notable speeches that I have heard in your Lordships' House. I think that he spoke, like so many of his age, with a sense of despair at seeing countries that have had long traditions of democracy falling by the wayside. He asked how long this will last and what steps could be taken to change the direction of these developments and bring us back, I hope, to a safe haven.

I do not dissent from the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, as to the importance of our export trade and of our long connections with Greece. But I must remind him that to-day there are some 1,600 Greeks who remain under arrest, with or without trial; and while we welcome last month's agreement between the Greek Government and the International Committee of the Red Cross, I must say on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that the régime's treatment of its political prisoners continues to give us very deep and very grave concern. The Greek Government are well aware of our views.

The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, asked me a question about the European Commission of Human Rights. Their Report arises from an application brought by the Scandinavian and Netherlands Governments against Greece in 1967, alleging that Greece was in violation of certain Articles of the European Convention of Human Rights. Under the rules of the Convention the Report may not be made public for at least three months after it has been transmitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. I share the regret that this Report has been prematurely leaked. The Committee of Ministers, who received the Report last month, may not take a decision on the Report for three months after its receipt. But they are entitled to discuss it, and I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government, and I believe our colleagues in the Ministerial Council, will take due account of that Report at the Paris meetings. We must not, however, allow action against the Human Rights Convention to divert attention from the proper discharge of Ministerial powers under the Statute—and this I will deal with in a moment.

The House will remember that on May 7 I repeated a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. That Statement made it clear that the resolution which the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe had adopted the day before had set a clear time limit—this week's meeting of the Committee—for the Greek Government to convince European opinion that they were prepared to make an early return to democratic practices and the rule of law. That time limit has very nearly expired; and unless the Greek Government, by the time of the meeting, can show that they are in a position to conform to what is required of membership of the Council of Europe, or unless they voluntarily withdraw from the Council, the Committee will later this week have to consider Greek membership of the Council.

The question they will have to answer is whether Greece is at present fulfilling the obligations imposed by Article 3 of the Statute of the Council, which I should like to quote. It reads: Every member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the Rule of Law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council… There can be no doubt, my Lords, as to what those words mean to us in this country or to Europe. Nothing would please Her Majesty's Government more than that the Greek Government should give unqualified undertakings before or at this week's meeting that they will take within an acceptable time-limit steps to fulfil these obligations. In saying this, I am not suggesting that it is for us to tell Greece, a sovereign State, how to run her own affairs. But I do suggest that it is our right—indeed, our duty—to satisfy ourselves that our fellow members of the Council of Europe are abiding by the Statute. The Council is unique among international organisations in that its whole purpose is to bind together those European nations sharing the ideals and practice of democracy.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether, if the Greek Junta did make these promises, he would believe them?


I wish that my noble friend would let me complete what I am saying. Clearly I am using most careful words, and I think that perhaps when I have completed my speech the noble Lord will have an answer.

The fact is that the present situation in Greece cannot in our view be reconciled with her continued membership of the Council. The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, asks that we should bear in mind past Anglo-Greek friendship. I am very conscious of the historical and cultural links between the British and Greek peoples. Indeed, this is the reason for the acute awareness and concern in this country that democratic practices have now been suspended in Greece for more than two and a half years. We earnestly hope that the traditional warmth of Anglo-Greek relations may soon be restored. Meanwhile, I hope that, for their part, the Greek people will reflect that if Britain, with all her sympathy for Greece, concludes that the present situation in Greece is not compatible with her membership of the Council of Europe, there must be some force in that conclusion.

The noble Lord also points out that we enjoy good commercial relations with Greece. I am well aware of this, and I hope that they will not be affected by the outcome of the meeting of the Committee of Ministers. In our view, trade and politics should not be confused; we enjoy good trading relations with many countries who do not conform to the ideals of the Council of Europe. Noble Lords will be aware that the Greek Government have uttered warnings to several members of the Council of Europe about possible commercial reprisals against nations who oppose continued Greek membership of the Council. Of course we do not wish to lose exports. But the fundamental consideration here, both for us and for our European colleagues, must be our respect for the ideals of the Council of Europe. I am sure that noble Lords would not expect us to ignore our duties under the Statute.

As to the role of Greece in NATO, I fully share the noble Lord's view that this is important; Greek membership is of value to NATO. And Greece, I am convinced, attaches importance to the benefits she herself derives from that membership. It would be wrong to do anything that would weaken NATO. But I think that the role of Greece in NATO and her membership of the Council of Europe are separate matters. NATO is an organisation for defence. The Council of Europe, on the other hand, is an ideological organisation, and is the correct forum in which to pursue moral and legal issues, although clearly these in themselves arise in NATO.

The noble Lord, Lord Milford, asked me about Denmark. I am not aware of anything that the noble Lord himself suggests as to the attitude of the Danish authorities in this matter. There are some who believe that Greece has gone some way to meet the concern of Europe. We have naturally welcomed progress in Greece towards the restoration of human rights and democracy, including the agreement of the Greek Government which was concluded last month with the International Committee of the Red Cross, under which representatives of the latter have free access to the political prisoners in Greece. But this agreement is limited in its context, and the measures as a whole do not, in our view, match up to the requirements for membership of the Council of Europe.

Before concluding, I would say again to the noble Lord, Lord Milford—and it may also be of use to the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, and to those who look with concern at the attitude of the United Kingdom in this matter—that the British Government have not sought to take a lead in the Council of Europe on this matter. We have perhaps been open to criticism that we have sought for time in order that Greece could make its moves, make the changes that we all desire. It would be wrong for us to say that we have taken a lead in this matter nor have we had the pressure of the United States upon us to change our view on it. The countries in the Council of Europe will have to make their judgment on the information and facts that are before them.

So far as the British Government are concerned—and I believe so far as Parliament is concerned—the position was put forward by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place yesterday when he said: At this week's meeting, unless the Greek Government were to decide to withdraw voluntarily or unless at this very late hour there is a sudden change of heart, expressed in a specific and short timetable relating to the restoration both of democracy and of human rights, then Her Majesty's Government will have the duty of voting for the suspension of Greece."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 8/12/69, col. 40.] At the same time, of course, we greatly hope that Greece will soon be able to resume, if this becomes necessary, her place in the Council. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, in speaking of democracy (col. 40) that: … we owe that very word and that way of life to Greece. We all look forward not so much to a return to the democratic forms of the past, but forward to whatever form of genuine democracy the Greek people choose for themselves. I believe that this is something which your Lordships' House will endorse.