HC Deb 21 April 1937 vol 322 cc1721-7
2 and 5. Mr. Graham White

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether his attention has been called to the seizure of the steamship "Mar Baltico," which left Bilbao on 13th February last with an entirely British-owned cargo destined to the Tyne and was taken into Ferrol; and what steps he is taking to obtain the release of the cargo and to secure that it is brought to its destination;

(2) what steps he is taking to secure the release and transport to destination of the cargo of iron ore destined to Middlesbrough in steamship "Fernando L de Ybarra," which was seized by Geenral Franco's forces in February last and taken to Pasajes?

Mr. Eden

I would refer the hon. Member to the answers given to questions by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) by myself on 10th March and by my Noble Friend on 15th March. In reply to the representations made by His Majesty's Ambassador on 5th March, the insurgent authorities have pointed out that these two ships were Spanish ships and were captured in Spanish territorial waters. They have, however, stated that they agree to hand over to the British authorities the cargo of the "Fernando L de Ybarra" which was taken to the port of Pasajes. Sir Henry Chilton has been in constant communication with Salamanca during the last fortnight with a view to making arrangemtnts for the transfer of this cargo to the United Kingdom. I am hopeful that these arrangements may shortly be completed. I have also instructed Sir H. Chilton to renew his requests for the release of the cargo of the "Mar Baltico."

Mr. White

May I ask whether the representations which have been made include a claim for any loss which may arise in connection with the detention of these cargoes which are urgently required for national purposes?

Mr. Eden

I should like to have notice of that question, but the hon. Member will see that our representations have met with some result.

4. Mr. Mander

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any decision has been arrived at with reference to the sweeping up of mines by the Navy outside territorial waters near Bilbao; and whether this is presenting any appreciable obstacle to the passage of British merchant ships?

The First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Samuel Hoare)

I have been asked to reply. My information is that the minefields in the vicinity of Bilbao are inside territorial waters, and the question of minesweeping does not, therefore, arise.

Mr. Mander

Are we to understand that the Government have not yet come to any decision as to whether they will sweep outside territorial waters, if necessary?

Sir S. Hoare

No, Sir.

Mr. Arthur Henderson

Are we to understand from that reply that in the opinion of the Government there are no mines outside territorial waters off Bilbao?

Sir S. Hoare

No, Sir.

11. Lieut.-Colonel C. Kerr

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the exaggerated importance likely to be attached to visits of Members of Parliament and other nationals of this country to either side in the civil war in Spain, he will see that no passports are issued for the purpose of such visits, in order to observe strict adherence to the non-intervention of Great Britain?

Mr. Eden

I am satisfied that His Majesty's Government are taking all proper steps to fulfill their undertakings in regard to this matter.

Lieut.-Colonel Kerr

In view of the reply, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that it is non-intervention for hon. Members of this House to lecture either side?

Mr. Eden

Obviously that must be a matter of opinion, and I do not know whether the House would want to hear my view.

Sir Percy Harris

Is not this a free country, and have not Members of Parliament the right to say what they like in their own country?

Mr. Eden

That has not been challenged; and it is not the point at issue. The point is how much should they say in other countries.

Mr. Logan

Is it considered right for Members of Parliament to express their opinion in Spain while Spanish nationals in this country are not able to express their opinion?

Mr. Eden

I would not like to dogmatise on this matter, but assurances of this nature are asked of all who go to Spain, and I am sure the country would like these assurances to be respected in the letter as well as in the spirit.

Mr. Cocks

Is it not a good thing that Members of Parliament should endeavour to obtain first-hand information of the situation in Spain?

13. Mr. Thurtle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the latest information he has regarding the safety or otherwise of the approaches to Bilbao harbour for British shipping wishing to enter that port; and whether he is arranging for the Admiralty to furnish him with reports, at frequent intervals, on the matter?

Mr. Eden

I am not at present in a position to add anything to the statements made by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and myself in the course of last night's Debate. As I then informed the House, however, the position is constantly under review and further inquiries are now being made.

Mr. Thurtle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the First Lord stated that the situation is changing daily, and will he therefore see that reports are received from the Admiralty daily in regard to it?

Mr. Eden

That is not quite a matter for me. It is true that the situation inevitably changes from day to day.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Has any report ever been received of a commercial ship being blown up by a mine outside Bilbao?

14. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any information as to the application of the Non-Intervention Committee's scheme of control regarding Spain due to come into operation as from midnight on 19th April; and whether, in fact, the scheme has been applied on all the sections by the ships and officials of the respective Governments concerned?

Mr. Eden

I understand that the scheme duly came into operation on the date given. So far as I am aware, the answer to the second part of the question is, Yes, Sir.

Mr. Riley

When is the right hon. Gentleman likely to make a statement as to whether the scheme is in full application and how it is working?

Mr. Eden

I have given all the information I have up to the present. I will naturally keep the House informed.

Mr. Vyvyan Adams

Has the Foreign Secretary any information about the prospects of the withdrawal of such foreign nationals as are at present in Spain?

Mr. Eden

Our first anxiety is to see the observation scheme in working.

15. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what are the differences between the situation in the port of Bilbao and the situation in the port of Barcelona which make it unnecessary to ask General Franco to establish a safety zone for foreign shipping in the former port?

Mr. Eden

The insurgent authorities have declared their intention of investing Bilbao. So far as I am aware this is not the case as regards Barcelona.

Mr. Noel-Baker

In view of our great interest in the shipment of ore from Bilbao, is it not a fact that ever since last December we have had a greater interest in the safety zone in Bilbao than anywhere else?

Mr. Eden

That is another question. I do not think the hon. Member will expect me to answer it after last night's discussion.

18. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether instructions have been given to the British naval authorities in the vicinity of Bilbao to protect any British food ships within Spanish territorial waters, for the purpose of proceeding to Bilbao, which may be fired upon by a Spanish insurgent vessel which is itself outside such territorial waters?

Sir S. Hoare

As has repeatedly been made clear to the House, as long as a British merchant ship remains on the high seas she would be protected by any British warship within call if she were fired upon or otherwise subjected to illegal interference by a Spanish warship. If, however, a British merchant ship enters Spanish territorial waters she does so at her own risk. These conditions apply whether or not the Spanish warship is inside territorial waters.

Mr. Henderson

If it is permissible for an insurgent warship which itself is outside territorial limits to fire upon a British ship which is just inside territorial limits, will this not render the protection of the British Fleet worthless?

Sir S. Hoare

No, Sir; I do not admit the right of the insurgent warship to sink or attack a British ship in conditions of that kind Within territorial waters, as the hon. Member knows, the utmost that a hostile ship can do would be to take the other ship into possession.

Mr. Shinwell

In the event of a British merchant vessel penetrating territorial waters and being damaged as a result of insurgent action, who will be held responsible?

Sir S. Hoare

We have already drawn General Franco's attention to the risks involved in that way. We have said that any damage done would be without prejudice to further claims that might be made.

Mr. Shinwell

Does that mean that if a British merchant vessel is in territorial waters and is damaged by action for which the insurgents are responsible, the Government will call upon General Franco to compensate accordingly? Is that the meaning?

Sir S. Hoare

Yes, Sir; we have already told General Franco that he would be responsible for any claims that might be made in that connection.

19. Mr. Mander

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will consider the advisability of recognising officially the action, off the north coast of Spain, on 6th April, of Commander C. Caslon, R.N., of the destroyer "Blanche," in clearing for action and steaming straight for the Spanish rebel cruiser, by which he was greatly outgunned, in order to defend the British ship "Thorpehall"; and whether he will inform the Naval Command that such conduct is approved of and supported?

Sir S. Hoare

A suitable message conveying appreciation of the manner in which this unexpected and difficult situa- tion was dealt with by the Commanding Officer, His Majesty's Ship "Blanche," and the destroyers under his orders has been sent through the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet.

Mr. Mander

Do I understand that the Navy have a free hand to take similar action in similar circumstances in future?

Sir S. Hoare

Yes, Sir, certainly.

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