HC Deb 28 April 1937 vol 323 cc312-9
6. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware of the molestation on Friday, 23rd April, of three British food ships by the Spanish insurgent cruiser "Almirante Cervera"; that such molestation took place on the high seas while these ships were approaching Bilbao; and what action he is taking in the matter?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I have already instructed His Majesty's Ambassador to address a protest to the insurgent authorities against this incident, which took place on the high seas.

Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman

Can the right hon. Gentleman say who are the owners of these ships or to whom they were chartered?

Mr. Eden

That is a question for the Board of Trade.

Captain Cazalet

In view of the fact that we have not granted belligerent rights, have not both sides a right to try to carry on the blockade in the way they think best?

Mr. Eden

Neither side has a right to stop ships on the high seas.

Miss Wilkinson

Is it a fact that we have not granted belligerent rights to the duly-elected Government of a friendly country?

Mr. Eden

Nobody has been granted belligerent rights.

8. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what date His Majesty's Government received information from His Majesty's Consul at Bilbao or from the officer commanding His Majesty's ships in the Bay of Biscay that the approaches to Bilbao were dangerous to merchant shipping on account of insurgent mines; and whether that advice has been confirmed or modified since the arrival of the five British merchantmen at Bilbao?

The First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Samuel Hoare)

I have been asked to reply. Reports concerning insurgent minelaying in the approaches to Bilbao were received from officers commanding His Majesty's ships on the north coast of Spain on 23rd January, 2nd February, 25th February and 22nd March. In addition, the master of a British merchant vessel which entered Bilbao on about 13th April reported sighting a mine while proceeding into harbour. No reports have been received from His Majesty's Consul at Bilbao. The answer to the second part of the question is in the negative.

Mr. Strauss

Is it not desirable that the Government should now find out whether the advice they originally received about mines was correct, in view of the fact that many vessels have gone into Bilbao without seeing a mine?

Sir S. Hoare

We are taking what steps are possible to check our information and to obtain any new information.

Mr. Riley

Did the information received by officers of British ships come from officers of rebel ships?

Mr. Thurtle

As the First Lord made a categorical statement that the harbour of Bilbao was mined, does he not think that he owes it to British ships now to say whether a change has taken place?

9. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the number of ships that arrived at the port of Bilbao during the months of February, March, and April of Spanish, British and other nationalities, respectively; and the number of ships that departed from the same port for the same months of Spanish, British and other nationalities?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Dr. Burģin)

I have been asked to reply. According to information recently supplied by the British Consul at Bilbao for the period from 1st to 23rd April, the arrivals of Spanish vessels, British vessels and vessels of other nationalities at Bilbao numbered 24, 7 and 2, respectively. The corresponding figures for departures were 26, 8 and 3. Similar particulars for previous months are not available, but according to the information available in the Board of Trade, which is riot necessarily complete, there were 12 arrivals and 12 departures of British ships in February, 13 arrivals and 12 departures of British ships in March, and 14 arrivals and 8 departures of British ships from 1st to 27th April, inclusive.

Mr. Thorne

Is it not true, according to reports that have appeared in the newspapers, that 213 ships went into Bilbao during the time mentioned in the question, and that 214 left?

Dr. Burģin

A good deal of trouble has been taken to secure the statistical information for which the hon. Gentleman asked, and the figures given in the answer are accurate to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Mr. Thorne

I will show the hon. Member a paper where it is different.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it not true that more ships went into and left the Port of Bilbao during the period of the alleged blockade than during the two preceding months?

Dr. Burgin

The figures speak for themselves.

11. Mr. Mander

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action he is proposing to take with reference to the threat of General Franco that energetic measures will be taken against action by the British Navy to maintain the right of British ships to carry foodstuffs on the high seas?

Mr. Eden

As the House is already aware, it has been made clear to all concerned, including the insurgent authorities, that His Majesty's Government will not tolerate any interference on the high seas with British ships carrying out legitimate trade. This continues to be the attitude of His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Mander

Is not His Majesty's Ship "Hood" the best answer to a question of this kind?

12. Mr. Mander

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many ships have been inspected and have carried observers in accordance with the nonintervention scheme since it came into operation; what the destination of the ships was and their nationality; and whether any reports have been received of apparent attempts to contravene the terms of the agreement?

Mr. Eden

In order to avoid misunderstanding I should like to make it clear that the reports of the officers administering the scheme of supervision are addressed to the International Board for Non-Intervention and if the board consider that they contain evidence of a breach of the agreement they would report accordingly to the Non-Intervention Committee. Evidence obtained by the captains of the warships exercising the patrols off the coast would naturally be sent in to the Government responsible for the patrol in that area, who would themselves lay a complaint before the committee if they considered that the evidence justified such a course. No reports have reached His Majesty's Government from these sources which indicate that breaches of the agreement have taken place.

14. Mr. Emrys-Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has received any reply to the inquiries which he has addressed to the parties in the Spanish civil war regarding the use of poison gas; and whether any assurances have been given against the use of such gas during the continuance of the struggle?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. In view of rumours that had appeared in the Press and in order to do all that lay in their power to clarify the situation, His Majesty's Government have lately made inquiries of the two parties to the conflict in Spain with regard to the possible use of poisonous gas. As the result of these inquiries I am glad to be able to state that His Majesty's Ambassador at Hendaye has received a written assurance from Salamanca to the effect that the insurgent authorities never have used and have no intention of using poisonous gas as a weapon of war. The Spanish Government have also informed His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Valencia that it has never entered into their calculations to take the initiative in the use of gas.

Mr. Mender

Is the use of poison gas likely to be much worse than what has been done by the rebels in the last few days?

Mr. Eden

I hope the hon. Member will not say that. We are doing our best.

15. Mr. Emrys-Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has yet received replies to the inquiries which were addressed to the Spanish Government and the insurgent authorities in regard to the treatment of British prisoners in their hands?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. His Majesty's Government made inquiries on this subject, as the result of which the Spanish Government, in a note addressed to His Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires at Valencia, state that they accord to all prisoners taken by their forces the humane and juridical treatment prescribed by international law. The chief of General Franco's Cabinet has likewise assured His Majesty's Ambassador at Hendaye that no British prisoner taken by the insurgent forces has been shot. He also undertook to furnish a list of British nationals who have been captured.

Mr. Donner

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Government of Signor Caballero for an assurance that proper precautions will be taken that British prisoners will not be foully murdered by Communist mobs as many civilians have been—[1nterruption.]

Mr. W. Roberts

How many prisoners are in the hands of General Franco?

Mr. Eden

General Franco's representative has undertaken to furnish a list, and I will take steps to get it.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

Has the right hon. Gentleman received any information with regard to the murder of British prisoners by the Spanish Government, up to date?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir.

Mr. Donner

Is it not a fact that prisoners have been murdered at Alicante and elsewhere?

17. Miss Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, for the purpose of Spanish frontier and coastal observation, lists have been compiled of the articles included under the terms arms and war materials and have been supplied to the observation officers and to the warships of the countries engaged in observation?

Mr. Eden

All the observing officers employed by the International Board for Non-Intervention have been supplied with these lists. The British warships engaged on patrol duties under the scheme have also been supplied, and I have no doubt that the same is true of the warships of other Powers.

Miss Wilkinson

What observation is there over war material carried to General Franco in German and Italian warships?

Mr. Eden

Perhaps the hon. Lady would put that question down.

Miss Rathbone

Would the right hon. Gentleman furnish the House with a list of the articles which have been supplied to observing officers?

Mr. Eden

I will certainly consider that.

21. Mr. Vyvyan Adams

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any and, if so, what action is proposed in respect of the obscene abuse directed, in the course of a broadcast from. Seville by the Spanish rebel General de Llano, against the right hon. Members for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), and Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the Primate of all England?

Mr. Eden

I have seen Press reports of the broadcast to which my hon. Friend refers, but I naturally do not propose to take any notice of it.

Mr. Adams

Do not General de Llano's broadcasts show beyond question that a rebel victory would be a serious issue for British Imperial interests?

Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will take immediate steps to address a collective protest with other Powers to General Franco and Herr Hitler against the bombardment of the civilian populations of open towns which is now being conducted in Spain?

Mr. Eden

His Majesty's Government deeply deplore the bombardment of the civilian population in the Spanish civil war, wherever it may occur and whoever may be responsible. They have in the past taken such steps as were open to them to make their attitude on this subject clear to both parties and to promote agreements to safeguard the civilian population. They will continue to examine the question whether further steps are possible to prevent the recurrence of such deplorable events.

Sir Arthur Salter

Does the right hon. Gentleman know, or will he try to ascertain, whether the bombing aeroplanes and pilots were of foreign origin, and if so, whether they came to Spain recently?

Mr. Eden

I have certainly seen reports in the Press that the bombing aeroplanes were of foreign origin, but the hon. Gentleman may be aware that there is material of foreign origin on both sides. What I would much prefer to do would be to seek to obtain an arrangement by agreement by which a stop could be put to this practice which, whoever indulges in it, must be deplored by the civilised world.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Is it not the case that, as regards the bombardment of Guernica, the civilians were deliberately pursued by aeroplanes with machine guns and that, therefore, it was not a case in, which civilians were killed in the course of ordinary bombardment, but was a deliberate effort to use air power as an instrument of massacre and terrorism, and will not the right hon. Gentleman take some means of making an effective protest expressing the condemnation of British public opinion?

Mr. Eden

I think what I have said represents the feeling on both sides of the House. The House may be quite certain that as in the case of gas, where there were rumours and we at once did our best to get an agreement and got one, so in this case, if there is anything we can do, we shall do it. I do not think the House will expect me to say anything more than that.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of the fact that these massacres were committed by German machines apparently driven by German pilots—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is speaking without confirmation.

Mr. Henderson

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether it is not possible for the Council of the League of Nations, under Article XI, to take action in respect of the massacres which have taken place at Guernica?

Mr. Eden

I think the House would prefer, as far as Government action is concerned, to leave the matter as I have just stated. I appreciate just as much as the hon. Member does the horrors of these bombardments which have been inflicted on both sides. There is a report to that effect in the papers to-day. Naturally our action should be directed to putting a stop to them wherever they occur.

Mr. Gallacher

Is it not the case that the Government of Spain have scrupulously refrained from bombing open towns?

Sir N. Stewart Sandeman

Is this not simply a question of rumour?

Captain Cazalet

Is it not a fact that aeroplanes of the Spanish Government, of foreign origin, in the course of the war have dropped bombs on open towns constantly?

Mr. Eden

There is a report in the "Times" this morning on the same page as the other report, in which reference is made to the bombing of the open town of Motril by Government aeroplanes.

Duchess of Atholl

Will my right hon. Friend keep in mind the point which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), that it is not merely a case of the bombing of towns in which a legitimate objective may be missed and something else hit, but that there have also been cases before this of the deliberate machine-gunning of fugitive populations by aeroplanes?