HC Deb 12 April 1937 vol 322 cc593-9
16. Mr. Arthur Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the Spanish Government Note alleging the presence in Spain of four Italian divisions?

Viscount Cranborne

Yes, Sir. In the view of His Majesty's Government the best way of meeting such a situation as that which is described in the Note of the Spanish Ambassador is to make progress with the evacuation of volunteers. His Excellency has been informed to this effect. Should, however, it not be found possible to make progress with this subject in the Non-intervention Committee in the near future, a new situation would be created, which His Majesty's Government will at once examine with other interested Governments.

Mr. Henderson

Do the Government accept the allegation that there are four Italian divisions in Spain? Have they made any inquiries on that subject?

Viscount Cranborne

That is a matter primarily for the Non-intervention Committee.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Does that refer to the Italians fighting on the side of the Government in Spain or on that of General Franco?

18. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has been furnished by the Spanish Ambassador with the evidence upon which His Excellency has publiciy stated that 10,000 Italian troops landed at Cadiz on 22nd, 23rd, and 24th March?

Viscount Cranborne

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend has received no such communication from the Spanish Ambassador.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Will the Noble Lord ask the Spanish Ambassador for this evidence, with a view to its being laid before the Non-intervention Committee?

Viscount Cranborne

I think that if the Spanish Ambassador wishes to give this evidence, he will bring it to the notice of the Government.

21. Mr. Woods

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Non-intervention Committee is meeting regularly; what was the date of the last meeting; and whether the date of the next meeting has been fixed?

Viscount Cranborne

The answer to the first part of the question is, Yes, Sir. The last full meeting of the committee was held on 24th March. A meeting of the Chairman's sub-committee will take place as soon as possible this week, and I hope it may be to-morrow.

22. Mr. Woods

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the control board established in connection with the Non-intervention Committee has yet begun functioning; and is he able to report on its operations or the reasons if it is not yet functioning, and the difficulties delaying its satisfactory operation?

Viscount Cranborne

The International Board for Non-intervention in Spain has been in existence since 8th March, and it has since that date almost completed the elaborate organisation required for the establishment of the scheme of observation of the Spanish frontiers. I understand that the functioning of the board has been entirely satisfactory.

Mr. Woods

Do I understand that the statement means that the arrangement made is actually functioning at the present time?

Viscount Cranborne

No, I said that the elaborate organisation has been almost completed. It is hoped that it will be put into force in the course of the next few days.

Mr. Cocks

Have the Italian Government passed the necessary legislation to implement their side of the agreement?

Viscount Cranborne

I understand that it will be possible for the scheme to come into force in the next few days.

28. Duchess of Atholl

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the scheme for the prevention of volunteers going to Spain is to come into operation; and, if so, on what date?

Viscount Cranborne

The Non-intervention Agreement was extended, as from midnight 20th-2ist February to cover the recruitment in, the transit through, or the departure from their respective countries of persons of non-Spanish nationality proposing to proceed to Spain for the purpose of taking part in the present conflict, and this prohibition has been in force since that date.

32. Mr. Windsor

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is now in a position to state what progress, if any, has been made by the Non-Intervention Committee respecting the withdrawal of foreign combatants from Spain?

Viscount Cranborne

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement made by my right hon. Friend on 6th April, to which I have at present nothing to add.

33. Mr. T. Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has anything to report in connection with the work of the Control Board appointed by the Non-intervention Committee; whether that board has now appointed all the observers and assistant observers; and on what date the board is likely to begin its work?

Viscount Cranborne

I understand that the board have now appointed all the observers and assistant observers required for the operation of the scheme in its initial stages. Some of these officers have already reached their posts and others are expected to arrive shortly. I am not yet in a position to give a date for the entry into force of the scheme itself. I have, however, every hope that it will enter into force in a few days.

34. Mr. Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the date of the last meeting of the Non-intervention Committee and on what date the Committee will next meet; and whether he has any thing to report in connection with the last meeting of that Committee?

Viscount Cranborne

The last meeting of the Non-intervention Committee was held on 24th March. Since that date certain conversations have been taking place and I hope that a further meeting of the Chairman's Sub-Committee will be held as soon as possible this week. It is hoped that this may be to-morrow. As regards the last part of the question, I am not in a position to add anything to the communique issued by the Committee itself.

36. Miss Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has received evidence of any further entries into Spain of Italian or German bodies of armed combatants since the undertaking given by Germany and Italy to the Non-intervention Committee on 20th February not to permit such intervention?

Viscount Cranborne

No, Sir.

Miss Rathbone

If the Non-intervention Committee meets to-morrow, will it investigate the allegation of the Spanish Government that 10,000 Italian volunteers landed in Spain on 24th March? I gather that the Committee has not met since the landing of the Italian volunteers was reported by the Spanish Government; are We to understand that the allegations of the Spanish Government have not been inquired into?

Viscount Cranborne

I have already explained that there has been a rumour to this effect, but the Spanish Government have not brought it to the notice of His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Attlee

Can the Noble Lord explain why the Government are always ignorant of facts which seem to be known by all other countries and all other agencies?

Viscount Cranborne

What I have said already is that the Spanish Government have not brought this matter to the notice of His Majesty's Government. They certainly have not.

Mr. Attlee

Have our Government no sources of information whatever, as the Noble Lord always says he has no information?

Viscount Cranborne

The right hon. Gentleman believes everything he sees.

Mr. Attlee

Will the Noble Lord explain why, after repeated denials of any knowledge, it always turns out subsequently that these rumours are correct?

Sir A. Sinclair (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister what measures the Government propose to take to prevent interference with peaceful British shipping endeavouring to enter the Spanish port of Bilbao?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Baldwin)

His Majesty's Government have had under consideration during the week-end the present situation for shipping in the neighbourhood of Bilbao. It has been necessary to take into account the practical aspect of the problem arising out of the efforts of the insurgent forces to invest Bilbao by sea and land. Bilbao is in close proximity to the war zone, and there is constant and serious risk to shipping in Bilbao harbour from bombing by aircraft. In addition, on account of the laying of mines by both sides in the approaches to Bilbao, there is now grave risk to any ship seeking to enter the harbour, unless mine-sweeping is first carried out within Spanish territorial waters. His Majesty's Government have come to the following decision. They cannot recognise or concede belligerent rights, and they cannot tolerate any interference with British shipping at sea. They are, however, warning British shipping that, in view of conditions at present prevailing in. the neighbourhood of Bilbao, they should not, for practical reasons, and in view of risks against which it is at present impossible to protect them, go into that area so long as those conditions prevail.

The Vice-Admiral commanding Battle Cruiser Squadron, in His Majesty's Ship "Hood," has been sent to the north coast of Spain. It is the desire of His Majesty's Government that, having regard to the difficult position which has arisen in those waters, an adequate naval force under the direct command of an officer of flag rank shall be available.

Sir A. Sinclair

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that no interference with British shipping entering the port of Bilbao, or any other port of Spain, by General Franco's cruisers and armed trawlers, will be allowed, and that our ships will have orders to give them full protection, not only on the high seas but in territorial waters?

The Prime Minister

I have told the House that no blockade is recognised. The difficulty is that this situation is a comparatively new one. It is possible now to sow harbours, and the approaches to harbours, with mines. That is a comparatively new problem, and what I have said about mines, in my answer to the question, stands good.

Mr. Attlee

Is it not a fact that the Spanish Government are prepared to guarantee the safety of vessels in the territorial waters of Bilbao, and that no rebel ship has gone there; and is it not for this Government to protest if mines are sown by the rebels which prevent the merchant ships of this country from proceeding on their ordinary course for a peaceful purpose?

The Prime Minister

The situation is constantly changing, and this is a matter of the last few days. I can only speak of the present situation; I cannot say how long it will last. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that these mines have been sown by both sides.

Mr. Attlee

Does not this position in effect amount to a blockade of Bilbao?

The Prime Minister

No. I do not think it amounts to a blockade.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Would it not be a breach of the non-intervention Pact if ships were allowed to proceed to Bilbao for the assistance of the National Government in Spain?

Mr. Sandys

In view of the fact that we as a sea Power have often in the past claimed for ourselves the right of blockade and search, can the Prime Minister assure us that the policy of denying belligerent status to the combatants will not create an international precedent which might prejudice our rights on some future occasion?

The Prime Minister

We do not admit belligerent rights now. As I said in the answer, His Majesty's Government cannot recognise or concede belligerent rights, and they cannot tolerate any interference with British shipping at sea.

Mr. Shinwell

What would be the position of the Government if these British vessels were prepared to undertake the risks involved?

The Prime Minister

I do not propose to answer at this moment any hypothetical question. They have been warned of the danger, and I cannot imagine that there are any owners in this country who, knowing the danger, would disregard it, and expose their ships and men to it.

Mr. Attlee

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's very unsatisfactory statement, I beg to give notice that I will ask for a day in order to discuss the failure of His Majesty's Government to give protection to British merchantmen.