HL Deb 16 December 1969 vol 306 cc980-5

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' leave I will repeat a Statement on Greece and the Council of Europe being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Statement is as follows:

"In the Foreign Affairs debate last week my right honourable friends, the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, set out our position, which we have consistently pursued since the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's Statement of May 7. At the Paris meeting, the Greek Foreign Minister sought to convince the Committee of Ministers that the measures his Government had in hand qualified them for continued membership of the Council. But it was our view, and that of most other Delegations, that the programme offered by Mr. Pipinelis fell well short of the requirements of the Statute of the Council of Europe.

"A draft resolution for the suspension of Greece was circulated early in the meeting. The United Kingdom was one of the nine co-sponsors, who were later joined by two others. Several Ministers, including myself, made speeches in support of this draft. It was after hearing these speeches and seeing the weight of opinion in favour of suspension that Mr. Pipinelis announced the decision of the Greek Government to withdraw from the Council.

"The Greek Government's decision called for a new resolution. This was tabled and adopted unanimously, with the Foreign Minister of Cyprus not taking part in the vote. I am placing a copy of the resolution in the Library of the House. It makes clear the view of the Committee of Ministers that Greece has seriously violated Article 3 of the Statute; expresses the Committee's understanding that the Greek Government will abstain from any further participation in the activities of the Council; and expresses the hope of an early return in Greece of conditions which will enable her to resume full membership of the Council.

"Our first and inescapable duty in facing the Greek problem was the need to preserve the standards of democratic behaviour to which the Council of Europe is pledged. The Committee of Ministers has clearly discharged its duty. The Committee had, for more than two and a half years, exercised considerable tolerance in permitting the continued membership of a Government that was in clear violation of its Statute. But, as I said in my speech, the Council of Europe could no longer be true to itself with a representative of the present Greek Government taking part in its deliberations. The only proper course was to proceed with the suspension of Greece. We and most of our colleagues were ready to do this, but Mr. Pipinelis's announcement made it unnecessary.

"We also wished to discharge this duty in a way which would further our hope that Greece will soon return to democratic practices and will thus be able to resume membership of the Council of Europe. I am sure all honourable Members share this hope which the Committee of Ministers expressed in their resolution."


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for repeating the Statement, which I think marks a sad occasion. There are many friends of Greece in this country and the roots of Anglo-Greek friendship go deep. There are many of us who remember the days when Britain and the Commonwealth stood alone with Greece against the dictators. May I add that it is sad for me personally, because I suppose that Greece is the foreign country I happen to know best. I spent many months in peace-time and many months in war-time on Greek soil and in Greek waters, and I find it peculiarly sad that Greece, to which all Europe is indebted, should be in any way severed from the Political Community of Europe. Feeling these sentiments, I cordially echo the hope that conditions will soon permit Greece to resume membership of the Council of Europe.

May I add one reflection and put one question to the noble Lord? The reflection is this. I should like to recall the fact that the Foreign Minister of Greece, Mr. Pipinelis, to whom a great deal of reference is made, was one of the staunchest and most fair-minded friends of this country in Greece and incurred considerable odium in his country at the height of the Cyprus crisis, when tension between the two countries was running very high. My question is this. Can the noble Lord assure the House that the Government regard membership of the Council of Europe as one thing and membership of NATO as another? Can he assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will resist pressure for the expulsion of Greece from NATO, a step which could entail very dangerous consequences?


My Lords, I need hardly say that we on these Benches welcome the Statement which has just been made, and we should like to congratulate the Government on the line which they have pursued on this very difficult matter. It must be evident that if we attach any importance to the principles which are enshrined in the Statutes of the Council of Europe we cannot, whatever our ancient friendship with the nation concerned, just do nothing when they are consistently and obviously violated by one of the members. Nor do we on these Benches believe that it is solely a question of ideology, as is sometimes pretended, for, as it seems to us, unless we insist so far as we can that the Europe which we are now trying to create, chiefly for economic and political reasons, should consist essentially of like-minded Governments, we shall just not be able to make it work from a practical point of view.


My Lords, I am grateful for the way in which the spokesmen of the two Parties opposite have received this Statement. I may say that I share the feeling of regret at this, to me, inevitable development, and repeat the hope that Greece will soon return to democratic practices and thus qualify once again for membership of this democratic organisation. On the question of NATO, I can assure the noble Earl that we have never considered the question of Greek membership of the Council of Europe to be in any way relevant to its role in NATO. The Council of Europe, as he will know, is a body essentially devoted to the institutions of Parliamentary democracy, to human rights and to the rule of law, and we thought that this was the correct forum in which to pursue this issue. NATO, as he has implied in his question, is a defensive alliance. Action against Greece in the NATO forum would not, in our view, bring any benefit to the Greek people. What it would do—I think this is the noble Lord's point and one on which I can reassure him—is to undermine the security of the South-Eastern flank of the Western Alliance. That might put at risk democratic ideals and institutions on a scale far beyond the issues of Greece and of Greek democracy.


My Lords, may I express appreciation of the fact that on Friday last Mr. George Thomson paid a personal tribute to the elderly statesman, Mr. Pipinelis, during the course of his remarks. May I ask the noble Lord two questions? Does he not agree that forcing Greece's withdrawal from the Council of Europe does not assist in any way the unity of Europe? Does he not think, too, that we could have been a little more generous and less hasty regarding suspension, in the light of the remarks yesterday evening of Mr. Papadopoulos concerning the completion of the economic, social and cultural programme and the future functioning of political parties?


My Lords, I hope I shall be forgiven for not being drawn on the subject of Mr. Pipinelis. Whatever may be said about him as an individual, this is not a matter of any personality in the Greek Government; it is a matter of democratic practices, or the absence of them, in Greece. So far as the other part of the noble Lord's question is concerned, in my view Mr. Papadopoulos has introduced no new element at all into this issue. He has said nothing which would lead us to question the rightness of any decision taken at Paris or the way in which we handled the problem. This is not only a matter of the unity of Europe; it is also a matter of upholding democratic ideals in Europe, and it is with that in mind that we have followed this particular course.


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend is aware that many people in Greece who are struggling to return to democracy and the rule of law will take heart from the strong line which this Government and other Governments in Europe have taken in this matter. Is he also aware that the principles of the rule of law and democracy are enshrined also in the preamble of the NATO Treaty? Is it not another way in which Western Governments can put pressure on the present Greek Government to return to democratic rule, by reminding them that it is their duty to conform to the ideals of the NATO Treaty.


My Lords, I think that this is a matter not only of expressing our views about democratic ideals and practices, which it was our concern to do, but also of seeking to bring about a return to democratic practices in Greece. We therefore thought that the Council of Europe was the correct place to do that. My own view, and that of the Government, is that to attempt to take any action against Greece in NATO would not have this effect; indeed, it might have the reverse effect and, what is more important, might lead to a weakness in the defences of the Western world which, as I hinted before, might result in greater danger and menace to democracy even than that which is taking place in Greece to-day.


My Lords, while we all approve what the Government have done, may I ask the noble Lord this question? Does he not think that if we angrily condemn Greece because they are governed by a few not very intelligent colonels we may only antagonise moderate liberal opinion, which understands their own recent history perhaps better than we do and realises that freedom there is threatened from one side as well as from the other? And does he not think that if we could patiently say that we are going to wait for the restoration of the Four Freedoms in Greece, this would encourage moderate liberal opinion to work for that purpose?


No, my Lords, I cannot accept the noble Earl's assumptions. In the first place, I would point out that we have done nothing angrily; we have done it patiently and quietly. We have waited for two and a half years already in the Council of Europe. We have invited the Greek Government to point out to us what it intends to do, quite apart from what it has done. None of that has given us or our colleagues in the Council of Europe any sign that Greece is moving, at any speed that we should consider acceptable, towards democratic practices. I entirely disagree with the noble Earl about the effect on the liberal elements in Greece. I am absolutely certain that all the Greeks who are most anxious for an early return to democracy will be encouraged, rather than otherwise, by the recent events in Paris.


My Lords, now that Greece has withdrawn, we hope only temporarily, from the Council of Europe, can we consider any possible means of increasing our cultural ties with Greece, whether through the British Council or by other means, in order to strengthen the hopes of the democratic element in Greece?


My Lords, that is really another question, but so far as relations with Greece are concerned, our trade and cultural relations with Greece will be carried out in a way which will, first of all, obviously be in our own interests, but, secondly, be in the interests of maintaining as much contact with Greece as we possibly can and thereby encouraging Greece to return to the principles of democratic rule and human rights.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one more question? He referred to democratic practices in Greece. I should like to ask him whether he has seen the leading article in The Times last Saturday—not a pro-régime paper—where it was said that in all probability the regime has at least the acquiescence of the majority of people of that country?


My Lords, I have not found it possible, at least in recent years, to agree with everything that is written in The Times.