HC Deb 17 February 1937 vol 320 cc1154-7
4. Mr. Dalton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now give the House any information regarding the participation of Italian warships and soldiers in the rebel operations against Malaga; and whether the Foreign Office has been in consultation with the Admiralty regarding the new naval situation which has been created in the Western Mediterranean?

Viscount Cranborne

As regards the alleged participation of Italian warships in the attack on Malaga, I can add nothing to the reply which I gave to a question asked by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) on Monday last. With regard to Italian soldiers, my information is that a force of about 6,000 men entered Malaga on 8th February, including about 3,000 Italians. With regard to the last part of the question, the Foreign Office are continuously in contact with the Admiralty with regard to the situation arising out of the Spanish civil war.

Mr. Dalton

In reply to the Noble Lord's answer to the first part of my question, may I ask how long it takes the Foreign Office in these days to acquire information in regard to important matters of this kind? Is it not a long while since the incident took place?

Viscount Cranborne

As I have already explained, it is not what the House is entitled to, but what information is available. His Majesty's Government's representatives send such information as is available, and I have no reason to think that that has not been done.

Mr. Dalton

Is it not a very long time that has elapsed between the incident complained of and the Foreign Office knowing anything about it? Is it not a serious reflection upon the competence of the Foreign Office?

Mr. Henderson

Are the Foreign Office in possession of any unofficial information in regard to the movement of Italian warships?

Mr. H. G. Williams

Is it in order for an hon. Member to make a statement that war vessels of a certain country took part in certain operations, without first having ascertained that in fact they did so?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member, I take it, makes himself responsible for the information in the question.

Mr. Dalton indicated assent.

15. Mr. A. V. Alexander

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has any statement to make with regard to the bombing from the air of two of His Majesty's destroyers in the Mediterranean on 15th February?

17. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether a report has been received from the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet as to the bombing of two British destroyers by a large aircraft, apparently a Junker machine; and, if so, whether he is taking any steps in the matter?

The First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir Samuel Hoare)

I have received a report from the Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, to the effect that on 13th February last, His Majesty's Destroyers "Havock" and "Gipsy" when in the vicinity of Cape Tenez, Algeria, were bombed by an aircraft presumed to be in the service of the Spanish Insurgent authorities. It was stated that the aircraft appeared to be of a four-engine Junker type, and that four large and two small bombs were dropped without effect. In accordance with the instructions which have been issued to His Majesty's Ships to defend themselves against attacks such as this, fire was opened on the aircraft. Steps have been taken to lodge a suitable protest with the insurgent authorities.

Mr. Alexander

Does the First Lord consider that this was an accident or was it that as this was a new type of destroyer it was done deliberately to find out what kind of anti-aircraft gun she was fitted with?

Sir S. Hoare

I have no reason to suppose that that was the case. I imagine that it was one of several incidents which have occurred during the Spanish civil war in which gross errors have been made.

Mr. A. Henderson

Is not this evidence of the reckless irresponsibility of units of the German air force who are serving with the insurgent forces, and does it not justify the charge that they have been engaged in bombing defenceless refugees fleeing from Malaga?

Sir Hugh Seely

May we ask why they missed the aircraft?

Sir S. Hoare

Or ask why the aeroplane missed the destroyer.

Colonel Wedgwood

Are our destroyers armed with the latest anti-aircraft guns? If so, why did they miss?

22 and 25. Mr. T. Williams

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) how many public demonstrations have been organised in Malta in support of the insurgents in Spain; and who was responsible for organising them;

(2) whether he is aware that Monsignor Pantalleresco, the Dean of Malta, who is the nominee of His Majesty's Government, is acting in a way contrary to the expressed policy of the Government in relation to the situation in Spain; that at a large demonstration which was organised ostensibly for religious purposes he submitted a telegram of good wishes to General Franco and subsequently sent it to General Franco; and what action was taken, if any, to warn Monsignor Pantalleresco against interfering in this civil war?

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)

I have made inquiries of the Governor, who informs me that no public demonstration has been organised in Malta in support of the Spanish insurgents. I understand, however, that at the Roman Catholic festival of Christ the King on 25th October of last year Monsignor Pantalleresco, Dean of the Cathedral, read out a telegram which he sent, in the name of the congregation, to General Franco in the following terms: — "Catholic Malta gathered in its thousands feast Christ King in communion of spirit pray final victory of arms of Catholic Spain"

Mr. Williams

Does not the right hon. Gentleman regard that interference in a civil war on the part of His Majesty's Government's nominee as being directly contrary to the expressed and spoken and written policy of His Majesty's Government, and does he not feel that the Government are entitled to intimate to their nominee that this ought not to be repeated?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

We cannot regard this Monsignor, acting in connection with a festival of the Church, as His Majesty's Government's nominee. I know that Catholic people all over the Empire are as entitled to their views as the hon. Member is to his views.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Has not the hon. Member's party sent money to the Government of Spain?

Mr. T. Williams

Does not the right hon. Gentleman regard this action on the part of the Dean of Malta as being as much anti-British as it is pro-Franco?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

No, unless I concede that every Catholic who openly in this country expresses a preference for one side or the other is anti-British, and that I decline to believe. After all, many people take the other view, and are allowed to express their opinion. The Government's position is non-intervention, but hon. Members opposite seem to be very much on the opposite side.

Mr. Williams

May I point out, first of all, that there is no implication of anything either anti-or pro-British in the question? I am asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he thinks it is consistent with the policy of His Majesty's Government for one of their nominees to organise a huge religious demonstration and to take advantage of that opportunity to send telegrams to Franco, and whether ii is not the case that there is less religious tolerance in Malta now than there was before?

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