HL Deb 20 May 1969 vol 302 cc298-301

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in their deliberations on whether Greece should remain a number of the Council of Europe, they took into account the fact that at least thirty democratically elected members of the Greek Parliament are still held in prison, in detention, or under house arrest, some of them being sick and aged.]


My Lords, the resolution passed by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on May 6, for which Her Majesty's Government voted, reaffirmed the need for a speedy return to a democratic régime in Greece.


My Lords, whilst thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that the military dictatorship Press in Athens and in this country have treated the resolution of the Foreign Ministers as a moral victory? Is he further aware that since the resolution there has been a spate of trials, formerly significantly held up, in which 50 Greeks are now fighting for their very lives?


My Lords, if anybody has interpreted the resolution in the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe as a moral victory for the régime in Greece, he is very much mistaken. This would be a very wrong interpretation of what that resolution meant, and what it is meant to bring about. I think I might say that the Greek Government are well aware of the very strong feelings that exist in this country about political prisoners and their treatment. I have much sympathy for the spirit that lies behind the Question that the noble Lord has put, but I must make the point—and this is a point that one always makes in terms of relations between one Government and another—that whatever we may think about the fate of the political prisoners in Greece, the Greek Government regard representations on behalf of Greek citizens as interfering in their internal affairs, and the result of such representations would be in my view much more likely to prejudice the prospects of release of these prisoners than to improve them.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the Communist practices, which I gather the noble Lord, Lord Milford, wholeheartedly supports, do not on occasion lead to the detention of political opponents, both aged and sick, without trial?


My Lords, whatever may be the political complexion of this kind of activity, the detention without charge of anyone is obviously not in accordance with democratic practice. Her Majesty's Government deplore it. The fact that the people so detained may be sick and aged merely makes the practice more outrageous.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that it would be more appropriate that we concern ourselves with the development of two-way trade with Greece, rather than that we concern ourselves with their internal affairs, for which we are not responsible?


My Lords, however important international trade may be, the fate of human beings in any country in the world will always be more important.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the great majority of the Assembly of the Council of Europe, from which I have just returned, who can by no means be said to be "pro-Colonel", did not at all object to the declaration of the Council of Ministers?


My Lords, I think it is clear that the resolution of the Assembly of the Council of Europe did not call for the expulsion of Greece, but called for the Council of Ministers to take action. The Council of Ministers took action, and, as the noble Lord has said, I think the Council of Europe as a whole is well satisfied with that action.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the widow of Mr. George Papandreou wrote to Mr. Papadopoulos, the Prime Minister, on November 12 last expressing support for the revolution of April 21, 1967, as it had, in her words, "saved Greece from an oncoming Communist menace"? In view of Greece's history since the war, and its geographical position, would not the noble Lord agree that the Greek Government are right in being very conscious of the Communist threat from within and without her boundaries, and right in taking the necessary measures to ensure the safety of their country?


Order, order!


My Lords, I think that this is the moment to echo, as I always like to do, the words of my noble Leader, and to say that those comments are interesting and important but not entirely relevant. The fact is that Her Majesty's Government are of course well aware of what is going on in Greece, and our view is that the sooner a democratic form of Government can be restored in Greece, the better. What may have been the causes and the historical lead-up to the revolution is, I think, quite irrelevant to the Question that we are discussing in your Lordships' House this afternoon.


My Lords, may I then ask a relevant question? Would not the noble Lord agree that all these stories of torture in Greece are grossly magnified and bear no relation at all to what, in effect, is happening in that country?


No, my Lords.


My Lords, while I wholeheartedly agree with a great deal of what the Minister has said, would he reaffirm that the continued membership of Greece in NATO is vital to the defence of the right flank of the European countries?


My Lords, I think we have gone far from the original Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Milford, and I think we ought to allow ourselves to discuss the role of Greece in NATO on a different occasion.


My Lords, would my noble friend say that our philosophy should be not to defend pseudo-Fascist States but democratic Governments?


My Lords, I am not quite sure that I have taken the drift of my noble friend's question. I will take note of it when I have read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.


My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government also be in favour of the introduction of democracy in the Communist countries?


My Lords, this really is another question. I think we are getting into deep matters of political philosophy. In the question of Greece, as in the question of any other country in the world, 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.