HC Deb 07 July 1937 vol 326 cc315-23
1. Mr. Wedgwood Benn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make any statement concerning the detention in a French port of the steamers "Seabank" and "Axpe Mendi"?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

The steamship "Seabank" carrying, it is believed, a number of securities and valuables from Bilbao arrived at the French port of La Pallice about a month ago. I understand that legal steps have, in the meantime been instituted in the French courts by various concerns who claim to be the rightful owners of the goods in question. As a result of these legal proceedings the competent French judicial authority at La Rochelle issued an order placing the vessel and its cargo under embargo. I understand that a portion of the cargo from the "Seabank" was transferred to the Spanish ship "Axpe Mendi" and that the embargo has consequently extended to this ship as well.

2. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government, either alone or in conjunction with other Governments, will accept the Spanish Government's offer to give them every facility to verify that Government's claim that all Spanish submarines were in port at the time of the alleged attack on the "Leipzig" on 15th and 18th June?

Mr. Eden

As the hon. Member will be aware, subsequent to the incident referred to, His Majesty's Government themselves proposed a full investigation of all the relevant circumstances. This proposal was not accepted by the German and Italian Governments.

Mr. Cocks

Would it not ease the mind of the German Government, if it were shown that the alleged attack on the "Leipzig" did not take place?

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman cannot speak for the German mind.

Mr. Cocks

May I put it this way? In view of the serious international position created by this incident, will not the Government take the first opportunity of ascertaining the facts?

Mr. Eden

We have suggested an inquiry, and if that inquiry is not acceptable to the German Government, I can see no useful purpose in attempting to insist upon it.

Mr. Benn

Is it necessary that the German Government should participate in an inquiry as to the whereabouts of Spanish submarines?

Mr. Eden

German agreement would be necessary.

Mr. Benn

Why is German agreement necessary to investigate the truth of a statement made by the Spanish Government that their submarines were in a certain place at a certain time?

Mr. Eden

Quite clearly, in this case German participation in such an inquiry would be necessary.

Mr. Arthur Henderson

Seeing that the German Government is in the position of a prosecutor, why should it not be possible for people who are neutral to make the investigation?

3. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the volume of evidence of Italian intervention in Spain published by the Spanish Government and examined by the British Government shows whether or not any complete units of the Italian army have been sent to Spain under official orders, commanded by Italian generals, and with messages of encouragement from the head of the Italian Government; and what steps he proposes to take in view of the pledge given by Italy to forbid the sending of arms and volunteers to Spain?

8. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to a statement in the Italian Government organ "Popolo d'Italia" that only Italian volunteers are fighting in Spain, over whom the Italian Government has no power of control; and whether His Majesty's Government have any evidence that troops and aeroplanes of the Italian regular forces have been despatched to Spain by the Italian Government and are engaging in the fighting there.

Mr. Eden

The document published by the Spanish Government which is referred to has been placed in the Library of the House. So far as I am aware there is no evidence in this document that Italian combatants have been despatched to Spain since the entry into force of the ban on foreign combatants, though, as the House is aware, in the earlier stages of the conflict foreign personnel reached both parties in the conflict in considerable numbers. As the House is already aware, His Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance to the withdrawal from Spain of all foreign combatants who are already there, and they will continue to do their utmost to bring this about.

Mr. Cocks

Did not the Italian Government pledge itself last Autumn not to send arms to Spain; and is it suggested that these gallant troops were sent to Spain without arms or ammunition?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that aviators have not arrived since them?

Mr. Eden

I do not think I suggested that.

Mr. Benn

In that case, how can it be said that foreigners have not arrived? Did not the right hon. Gentleman himself inform me that the air control had never been effective?

4. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware or the allegations contained in the controlled Italian Press to the effect that volunteers, officers and men, arms, airplanes, and ammunition had been sent to Spain from this country; and whether he proposes to take any action in the matter?

Mr. Eden

His Majesty's Ambassador at Rome has already been instructed to take this matter up with the Italian Government.

5. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what grounds visas were refused to Mr. J. Strachey and Mr. W. Auden to go to Valencia to attend a writers' conference?

7. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why visas were refused to a number of British writers who desired to attend a writers' conference at Valencia commencing on 4th July?

Mr. Eden

The House will be aware, from the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Fairfield (Sir E. Brocklebank) on 10th March last, of the nature of the regulations at present in force with regard to the issue of visas for British subjects desiring to visit Spain and of the conditions in which it is possible to give special consideration to applications for such visas. These conditions were not held to be applicable to the case in question. I would, moreover, point out that the question of the protection of British subjects in Spain must, in existing circumstances, be a source of increasing anxiety to His Majesty's Diplomatic and Consular Officers in that country, who have already pointed out to me their difficulties in this regard. I am sure that the House will agree that it is essential that the burden already imposed on these officers should not be unduly increased by visits of British subjects to Spain, save in the most pressing circumstances.

Mr. Strauss

Can the Foreign Secretary say whether any conditions were proposed and not agreed to by these two well-known writers; and, if not, why was this ban put upon these people and not upon other people?

Mr. Eden

There is no question of a ban being put upon some people and not on others. At present visas are only granted to Spain for certain approved categories—for bona fide business reasons, for humanitarian purposes or for accredited correspondents of established newspapers.

Mr. Henderson

Were not these people prepared to take the risk, and was it not up to them to decide?

Mr. Eden

Not entirely, because we must have some responsibility for British subjects in any country abroad.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Is it not the case that the pen is mightier than the sword, and might not this be a dangerous form of intervention?

Miss Rathbone

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the vast majority of the British workers engaged in journalistic and philanthropic work in Spain are in Madrid, and that there is no British representative there to look after their safety; and is he also aware that they have been there all the winter and that not one of them has been killed or hurt?

6. Mr. Riley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make any statement with regard to the present position and jurisdiction of the Non-Intervention Committee regarding the war in Spain?

Mr. Eden

I cannot at present add anything to the statements which I made on this subject yesterday and on Monday.

Mr. Riley

In view of the anxiety which prevails as to the present position of the Committee, can the right hon. Gentleman say when he will be in a position to make a statement on the matter?

Mr. Eden

After the Committee has met on Friday.

Mr. Benn

May I ask a general question? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that proposals made to the Non-Intervention Committee will be made in consultation with, and jointly with, the French Government?

Mr. Eden

Perhaps I may tell the right hon. Gentleman at once, that we have no intention of putting any fresh proposals before the Non-Intervention Committee on Friday.

11. Mr. Cocks

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the number of submarines included in the Spanish Navy before the outbreak of the rebellion; the number of these that remained loyal to the Government and the number that went over to the side of General Franco; and whether he has any information as to the number of submarines now possessed by the insurgents?

The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Duff Cooper)

According to the information at my disposal, there were 12 submarines in commission in the Spanish Navy before the outbreak of the rebellion, and all these submarines at first remained loyal to the Government. Subsequent reports have been received to the effect that one, and possibly two, of the submarines have gone over to the insurgent side; and it is also believed that another submarine which was sunk by the insurgents in December, 1936, has since been salved, and is now in the insurgent service.

Mr. Cocks

Can the First Lord say whether these two submarines are not doing more than the usual work of two submarines; and has he any information as to whether General Franco has been lent some of these submarines, which kept bobbing up around Malta a year or so ago?

Mr. Cooper

I have no definite or official information about that.

Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information as to whether any more submarines have gone over to General Franco? Is there any reason to be surprised at two having gone over and is it not expected that more will follow?

13. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the first Lord of the Admiralty what naval forces, respectively, the contending parties in Spain dispose of; and what units of the Italian and German navies are operating in Spanish waters?

Mr. Cooper

As the answer includes a number of figures, I will, with the hon. and gallant Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Benn

How can it include a number of figures since the Foreign Secretary told us yesterday that there were no German warships in the Mediterranean?

Following is the information:

According to the information available, the strengths of the Spanish naval forces on either side and of the German and Italian naval forces in Spanish waters are as follow:

Government. Insurgents.
Three 6-inch cruisers Two 8-inch cruisers.
(one non-effective). Two 6-inch cruisers
(one non-effective).

Fifteen One.
(three non-effective).
Torpedo Boats.
Seven. Six.
One. Four.
Nil. Four.
Armed Merchant Cruisers.
Four. Eleven.
Armed Trawlers.
Twenty-one Twenty-nine
(approximately). (approximately).

As regards submarines, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the answer which I am giving to-day to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks).

GERMAN. One armoured ship, one cruiser, four destroyers, three submarines. ITALY. One cruiser, five destroyers.
Mr. Noel-Baker

(by Private Notice) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he can give the House any information concerning the stopping of the British steamship "Gordonia" five miles off Santander by an insurgent warship; why instructions had been given to British merchant vessels not to enter the port of Santander; why instructions inconsistent with the pledge of His Majesty's Government to give naval protection to British and other vessels evacuating the refugees from that port were issued; whether, in view of the terrible conditions of the refugees in the Santander province, the Government would immediately cancel the instructions given to British vessels and would take all the measures necessary to make the naval protection for British and other vessels fully effective?

Mr. Cooper

According to reports which I have received, the British steamship "Gordonia" was stopped yesterday morning in a position approximately five miles north-east of Cabo Mayor by the Spanish insurgent torpedo boat No. 7, supported by the Spanish cruiser "Almirante Cervera." Shortly afterwards, His Majesty's Destroyers "Escapade" and "Bulldog" arrived on the scene. Having regard to the grave risk which clearly existed that the "Gordonia" would be captured if she entered Spanish territorial waters, the naval authorities told the master not to proceed, whilst the situation was reported to the Admiralty and the owners. I understand that the owners decided to order the ship to proceed in the direction of Bayonne.

I am very glad to be afforded this opportunity of emphasising that His Majesty's Government have not issued instructions to the owners of British merchant ships not to enter the port of Santander, but it is known that there is a grave risk that their ships will be captured if they attempt to do so, and warnings have been repeatedly issued through the Board of Trade to make this fact clear to them. If, however, shipowners desire to proceed in spite of these warnings, they have complete discretion to do so, and they will be protected by the British Navy up to the limit of territorial waters.

Mr. Noel-Baker

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister a fortnight ago promised that naval protection should be given to all these ships, and that for a large part of that time Admiralty warnings amounting to a paper blockade imposed at Bilbao have prevented British ships from going in, is it not plain that the Government are indirectly, and perhaps contrary to their will, assisting General Franco to make war on refugees?

Mr. Cooper

No, Sir. The Parliamentary pledge is being completely carried out. Seven British ships carrying refugees have been protected when coming from Santander, and one French ship has been accorded similar protection. At the same time these orders have been issued, and the fact that they are necessary is proved by the capture of a French ship two days ago.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it not a fact that the French ship was released by General Franco after a protest from the French Government; and will our Government give an assurance that they will take the same course which the French Government have pursued, thereby getting rid of the danger which the right hon. Gentleman foresees?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Is not the evacuation of refugees an act of intervention?

Mr. Crossley

Is not the main duty of the Government to our own shipping?

Mr. A. Henderson

Does not this interference on the part of Spanish cruisers constitute an act of piracy contrary to international law; and what do His Majesty's Government propose to do in that regard?

Mr. Cooper

The position of His Majesty's Government has always been perfectly plain. They will protect British ships on the high seas, but they cannot afford that protection in territorial waters.

Mr. Gallacher

Why not?

Mr. Cooper

Because of international law. As to the point of international law, that is not a point on which I am concerned to reply without notice.

Mr. Gallacher

There are no belligerent rights, and therefore it is piracy inside territorial waters.

Mr. De la Bère

Peace, perfect peace!