HC Deb 20 April 1937 vol 322 cc1589-92
69. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether any reports have now been received from British naval officers giving precise information concerning the mines laid by General Franco's warships in the waters adjacent to Bilbao?

The First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Samuel Hoare)

Perhaps the hon. Member will be good enough to await the Debate which is to take place later to-day on the Motion for the Adjournment.

70. Mr. Thurtle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the position obtaining on the northern coast of Spain, arrangements have been made for the exchange of communications, with the minimum loss of time, between the naval officer in command of British Forces in these waters and the appropriate representative of the Foreign Office?

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Cranborne)

Communication is maintained between His Majesty's Naval Representatives and His Majesty's Ambassador to the fullest possible extent, having regard to the abnormal situation prevailing.

71. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the naval authorities off Bilbao have reported if mines laid by General Franco are laid in accordance with international law; and, if not so laid, has any protest been made?

Sir S. Hoare

I have been asked to reply. I have from time to time received reports from the naval authorities concerning minelaying by the Spanish insurgents off Bilbao. None of these reports suggests that this minelaying was not in accordance with international law. The last part of the question, therefore, does not arise.

Mr. Arthur Henderson

Is it not a fact that the object of this minelaying is to intercept commercial shipping, and has it not always been the view of His Majesty's Government that such minelaying is contrary to international law?

Sir S. Hoare

I think I had better deal with complicated questions of that kind in the Debate which is going to take place later.

Mr. Pritt

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us under what international law pirates are allowed to lay mines?

72. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any British ships clearing for Spanish ports have applied for protection; and whether British ships at St. Jean de Luz have been informed that protection is available should they wish to clear for Bilbao?

Dr. Burgin

I have been asked to reply. Some inquiries have been received from shipowners on the subject, and the position as to protection has in each case been explained. The owners of the British ships lying at St. Jean de Luz were informed on Saturday that the Government could not advise proceeding to Basque ports, including Santander and Gijon, but that in any case British naval vessels would, as already announced, give protection on the high seas if called upon.

Sir Percy Harris

Is the hon. Member aware that a British ship has arrived with a food cargo at Bilbao this morning?

Dr. Burgin

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the hon. Member which explanation has been given—the one given by the First Lord of the Admiralty or the one given by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs?

53. Mr. Benn

asked the President of the Board of Trade what were the terms of the latest warning issued to British shipping as to approaching the Basque coast; whether any new advices are to be given; and what is the text of the same?

Dr. Burgin

On 8th April, the British shipping industry was warned that owing to military operations in the neighbourhood of the Basque coast, particularly off Bilbao, it is especially dangerous at present for shipping. It was added that the existing instructions to British naval vessels to afford protection to British shipping on the high seas still, of course, remain in force. On 12th April, the Board of Trade forwarded to the Shipowners' Associations copies of the answer on the subject which was given by the Prime Minister in reply to a question by the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). The present advices state that the Government's present information does not enable them to advise entering into Bilbao, and that, as regards other ports such as Santander and Gijon, there is a degree of risk which may vary from day to day; but in any case British naval vessels will, if called upon, give protection on the high seas as already announced.

Mr. David Grenfell

Although the Minister said that the Government do not advise British ships to enter these ports, are they putting a prohibition upon entry to the ports?

Dr. Burgin

That question had better be dealt with in the Debate, and not by way of question and answer. I know of no prohibition.

Mr. Thorne

When information is conveyed from the Department to the shipowners, is it the duty of the shipowners to convey it to those who are in charge of the ships?

Dr. Burgin

It is the special duty of the Board of Trade, as custodians of the interests of the Mercantile Marine, to bring to the notice of owners and masters any facts which may affect their navigation, and the way in which it is done is as a rule by telephone message.

Sir P. Harris

Does it not seem to be the case that the "Seven Seas Spray," which has safely got into Bilbao, is better informed than His Majesty's Government?

Mr. A. V. Alexander

Have the Board of Trade yet received notice from any shipowners of claims from the Bilbao Government in respect of the non-fulfilment of orders?

Dr. Burgin

Obviously that is not a matter which can be answered without notice.