HC Deb 29 July 1936 vol 315 cc1497-500

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on whose authority the naval authorities at Gibraltar refused the request of Spanish warships loyal to the Government and reinforced by a personal request from the Spanish Consul-General for fuelling facilities; and what was the purpose of this refusal?


No request by Spanish warships for facilities for obtaining fuel at Gibraltar was refused by the British naval authorities. The facts are as follow: On 21st July the Spanish Ambassador inquired whether His Majesty's Government would be willing to sell oil from Gibraltar to the Spanish fleet. His Excellency was informed that there were at Gibraltar some stores of privately-owned oil. If the Spanish Government desired to buy this oil, His Majesty's Government would of course put no difficulties of any kind in their way. No authorisation from His Majesty's Government was necessary to purchase this oil. It would be a normal commercial transaction. The Governor of Gibraltar was immediately informed of the Ambassador's request and of the reply which had been given to him. On 22nd July the position at Gibraltar was that six Spanish warships were anchored in the port. These ships were taking in fuel from an oiler belonging to the Spanish Government which was in the harbour, and I understand that application by those in command of the ships was made to local firms for further supplies of oil and coal. Permission was given for the ships to obtain fresh provisions ashore. No request was received from the ships to be furnished with supplies by the Government of Gibraltar. On the same day it was learned that an attempt had been made, apparently by rebel aeroplanes, to bomb a British tanker. During the night of 22nd July all the warships, with the exception of one gunboat, left Gibraltar, and the question of supply of fuel no longer arose. The gunboat left Gibraltar on the morning of 24th July.

I should add that in the course of an interview at the Foreign Office on 23rd July the Spanish Ambassador again referred to the supply of fuel at Gibraltar, and he was again assured that His Majesty's Government would put no obstacle in the way if the Spanish Government desired to purchase fuel from commercial firms. His Excellency was, however, reminded that there had been attempted bombing of a British tanker and it must be assumed that this action had been taken because it was feared that the ship might be used for the supply of oil to the Spanish Fleet. In these circumstances His Majesty's Government felt that they could not put pressure on commercial firms which might involve their running abnormal risks. If the Spanish Government negotiated an ordinary transaction with commercial firms, His Majesty's Government would regard any such transaction as one in which they were not themselves concerned or could use their influence one way or the other. It is, therefore, perfectly clear that the suggestion in the hon. Member's question is entirely without foundation.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say that His Majesty's Government are prepared to treat the Government of Spain in the same way as we were accustomed to treat them before these military hooligans and gangsters came on the scene?


That question does not arise from the question on the Paper.


Am I to understand that the oil was not supplied, and that the failure to supply it was owing to the action of private firms, or am I to understand that the oil was supplied but it was interrupted by the action to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—the bombing of a tanker?


As far as I am aware there was no question of interruption. The situation was clearly delicate because there was bombing of a tanker going on. Obviously, I could not put pressure upon anybody to supply oil in those conditions. Naturally, we shall do our utmost in a very difficult situation fairly to fulfil our international obligations.


Are the Government taking steps to protect British tankers against aeroplane attack?


Yes, Sir. Steps were taken and action, too.


asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has any information concerning the courtesy visit paid by the commander of His Majesty's Ship "Shamrock" to General Gueipo Llano, leader of the rebel forces at Seville, when that vessel put in at the port of Seville last week; and will he cause such disciplinary action to be taken as will deter a repetition of such slights to a friendly foreign Power?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Sir Samuel Hoare)

It was necessary for the Commanding Officer of His Majesty's Ship "Shamrock" to call on the military officer in de facto control in Seville in order to make arrangements for the evacuation of British subjects and to lodge a protest concerning the bombing of British vessels. The call on General de Llano cannot be termed a courtesy visit, and the second part of the question does not arise.


If no courtesy visit was paid by a British officer to a Spanish officer, should not a statement to that effect have been made by the British authorities when the newspaper reports first appeared?


The hon. Member has himself given me the opportunity of making the necessary statement.