HC Deb 19 July 1937 vol 326 cc1754-63
3. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to the announcement of the Valencia ministry of national defence that arms are being conveyed to the rebels by former Spanish merchant ships handed over by the rebels to the Italian Government, which ships carry double sets of documents and two flags and figure as Italian until they enter the control zone when they hoist the Spanish flag; whether he will make inquiries into this matter; and whether British warships taking part in the control system have been given powers to stop such vessels and inspect their cargoes?

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

The Spanish Government have not brought any such announcement to my notice, nor have I any evidence that such practices are taking place. The second and third parts of the question do not, therefore, arise.

Mr. Cocks

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the last part of the question: whether they have power to inspect the cargoes in these cases?

Mr. Eden

These cases have never been brought to our notice by the Spanish Government or anybody else.

4. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the Non-Intervention Board has received any report concerning the cargo of the "Marques de Comillas" which arrived at Cadiz on 17th May; whether any poison gas was found on board this vessel; what country she had come from; and whether or not this vessel flies the same flag both while inside control waters and during the rest of her voyages to and from Italy?

Mr. Eden

I understand that the "Marques de Comillas" is a Spanish ship. She is consequently not subject to supervision under the non-intervention scheme, and I understand that no reports have been received by the board regarding her movements?

5. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that German ships have been conveying arms from Hamburg to Spain, proceeding, in some cases, under false names and flying flags of countries which have not adhered to the non-intervention pact; whether he has any reports on this matter; and, in particular, whether he has any information regarding the "Amalienborg," sailing under the name of "Acme" and flying the Panama flag, and the "Schleswig," sailing under the name of "Maranon"?

Mr. Eden

My information is that the steamship "Amalienborg" was bought from a Danish firm and placed on the Panama registration list in April last. As she was not flying a European flag, the Non-Intervention Board have not received any reports about her movements. I have no information about the other ship mentioned. His Majesty's Government are aware that arms and munitions have been reaching Spain in ships flying the flag of countries not parties to the Non-Intervention Agreement. The House must not, however, assume that this gap in the present system has been benefiting one side only. Hon. Members will, no doubt, have observed that the proposals recently submitted by His Majesty's Government to the Committee contained suggestions designed to deal with this situation.

Mr. Cocks

Do not these gaps in the scheme show that the whole non-intervention plan is a farce?

Mr. Eden

We debated that last Thursday.

Mr. Thorne

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether under the new suggestion they will be allowed to find out whether arms and munitions are going to Spain?

Mr. Eden

I should not be answerable for that.

6. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Mr. T. W. Pears is being allowed by the rebel authorities in Spain to exercise his functions or enjoy his privileges and rights as His Britannic Majesty's Consul at Bilbao; and, if not, whether he will recall Mr. Pears forthwith?

Mr. Eden

The hon. and gallant Member appears to be misinformed. Mr. Pears is a subordinate official on the staff of His Majesty's Consul who is temporarily in charge of the Consulate offices and archives. The second part of the question does not, therefore, arise.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether Mr. Pears is being allowed all the rights and privileges of a Consul?

Mr. Eden

I am told that he is being cordially treated and he has proved most useful.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Is he being allowed to exercise the full functions of a Consul? For example, can he telegraph in code?

Mr. Eden

He cannot. He is not His Majesty's Consul.

Mr. Benn

Then why did the right hon. Gentleman tell the House last week that we had a Consular officer there, and give the impression that the Consul was functioning?

Mr. Eden

I do not think I gave the impression that he 'was functioning as Consul. The right hon. Gentleman must have formed that impression for himself. What I said then is absolutely consistent with what I have said now.

Mr. Benn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I asked him this question: "Have they refused to allow the Consul to function?" and his reply was: "That is not so"?

Mr. Eden

I have not said anything inconsistent with that.

7. Captain Ramsay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government have yet sent military observers to both sides in Spain, or whether British military observers are still only attached to the Valencia forces?

Mr. Eden

There are no permanent British military observers attached to the forces of either side.

11. Commander Marsden

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in the event of British merchant ships entering Spanish territorial waters and being challenged by Spanish naval forces, His Majesty's Government recognise the right of these forces to apply the doctrine of continuous pursuit where necessary?

Mr. Eden

His Majesty's Government would not recognise the right in question as justifying the pursuit of a British vessel on the high seas in such a case.

Commander Marsden

Will the right hon. Gentleman make his answer more generally known, that in that case ships of His Majesty's Navy should interfere with the pursuit?

Mr. Eden

I am sure it is pretty well known.

Mr. Dalton

Are we to understand that if a British ship is within Spanish territorial waters and is obstructed by a rebel vessel and is then allowed to pass out of territorial waters she is safe from further molestation and will be protected by the Royal Navy?

Mr. Eden

This is a difficult matter to define, but if the hon. Member will read the question and answer carefully he will find that the answer fully meets the case as put. I do not want to be drawn further by supplementary questions.

13. Mr. Vyvyan Adams

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what measures are being taken by His Majesty's Government to ensure the safety of British citizens in the crew of the steamship "Molton."

17. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what steps are being taken to secure the return of the steamship "Molton" to the control of her owners; and whether notice that a claim will be made for compensation for her illegal capture and detention has been sent to General Franco?

Mr. Eden

I understand that the steamship "Molton" was chartered on 1st July by the Basque Government agent in London for the purpose of evacuating civilian refugees from Northern Spain to French ports. She is believed to have been returning to Santander in ballast at the time of her capture. Instructions have been sent to His Majesty's Ambassador at Hendaye to demand the release of the vessel and her crew, and to state that His Majesty's Government must hold General Franco's Government responsible for any injury or damage which she may have incurred. It is reported in the Press that the ship is about to be released, but I have not yet been able to confirm this.

Mr. Adams

And the crew will enjoy the full protection of Great Britain?

14. Miss Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether there is now any British Consul at Santander; and, if not, whether, in view of the difficulties that have arisen in the evacuation of refugees owing to the lack of such an official and the importance of having official information as to the conditions in that port, he will arrange to have a Consul sent there?

Mr. Eden

His Majesty's Consul has been repeatedly exposed at Santander to risk of death or injury arising out of military operations. His Majesty's Government consider, and I feel sure the House will agree, that Consular officers should not by reason of their official position be exposed to such grave risks, and he was accordingly withdrawn. Before the post is reopened, His Majesty's Government will require to be satisfied that the conditions which called for his withdrawal no longer exist, and I have called for a report from His Majesty's Ambassador at Hendaye on this point.

Duchess of Atholl

What arrangements has the right hon. Gentleman been able to make that if any refugees can be evacuated from Santander they will consist only of non-combatants as the Government require?

Mr. Eden

I do not think the question of our Consular representative at Santander affects the question of the evacuation of refugees which is being made under arrangements between the French and Spanish Governments, in respect of which we give our protection.

Mr. Noel-Baker

If the risk is so great is it not desirable that women and children refugees in Santander should also be evacuated?

Mr. Eden

We desire to do the same in Santander, in Madrid and other places.

16. Sir Percy Harris

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement as to the result of the last meeting of the Non-Intervention Committee?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I am glad to be able to inform the House that at the Meeting of the Non-Intervention Committee on Friday last, all representatives stated that their Government were willing to accept the proposals put forward by His Majesty's Government as a basis for discussion. The Committee unanimously agreed that the proposals should be referred to the Chairman's Sub-Committee, which is to meet tomorrow morning.

18. Mr. Thurtle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the fact that in the White Paper proposals the recognition of belligerent rights is made contingent on the fact that the withdrawal of foreign nationals has made substantial progress, he will represent to the Non-Intervention Committee the desirability of defining in advance, to avoid future disagreement, the meaning of the word "substantial" in this connection?

Mr. Eden

This is one of the points which, as has already been explained, will clearly have to be settled when the proposals are examined in the Chairman's Sub-Committee which is to meet tomorrow.

43. Commander Marsden

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the number of British ships that have been captured in Spanish territorial waters by Spanish naval forces during the past 12 months; and which of these ships had disregarded advice tendered to them by ships of His Majesty's Navy.

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

Three British ships have been captured inside territorial waters while attempting to enter Spanish ports, and on each occasion information as to the dangers furnished to them by ships of His Majesty's Navy had been disregarded.

Commander Marsden

Is it not the case that in all these matters the Navy knows best?

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that, in spite of any criticism, he will continue to give warning to British ships in order that British lives may be preserved on the high seas?

Mr. Arthur Henderson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether en any of these occasions a British warship was present?

Mr. Cooper

On two occasions, certainly, a British warship was present. I am not certain about the third.

Mr. Gallacher

Will he British Navy refuse to assist British ships?

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any of these merchant ships operating in Spanish waters have changed their names recently?

45. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister whether the Cabinet has considered the status and rights of British shipping inside and outside Spanish territorial waters vis-à-vis Spanish rebel naval forces; and whether he will make a statement?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

The matters mentioned in the question have been, and continue to be, under close examination by the Government as a whole. I think it has already been made amply clear to the House that, although we have net admitted that either of the parties in Spain possesses belligerent rights, yet in pursuance of our policy of Non-Intervention we are not prepared to intervene by force to prevent the capture by either party of a British merchant ship which has voluntarily placed herself within Spanish jurisdiction by entering Spanish territorial waters, provided that the capture is made with a due regard to the universally recognised rules of naval warfare which prohibit such practices as firing on a merchant ship before she has been properly warned or after she has submitted. As His Majesty's Government have not admitted that either party in Spain is entitled to exercise belligerent rights, the foregoing statement of policy is entirely without prejudice to any claim for loss or damage to British interests which may arise out of an attempt to exercise these rights.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

What is the position in the case of a merchant ship which has disregarded the warning shot of a rebel cruiser and which is subsequently sunk by gun-fire from that rebel ship? In such a case as that, would a ship of His Majesty's Navy stand by and make no attempt to prevent the merchant ship being sunk?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. and gallant Member will read my reply, I think he will see that that case is covered by it.

51. Miss Rathbone

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty how many ships, and under what flags, carrying refugees from Santander have received naval protection on the high seas since the fall of Bilbao; how many refugees have been thus evacuated; and how many British ships have received naval warnings against entering or leaving territorial waters round Santander during the same period?

Mr. Cooper

Nine ships, all British, carrying refugees from Santander have received naval protection on the high seas since the fall of Bilbao. The total number of refugees carried by these ships is estimated at 16,091. During the same period 21 ships have received information from His Majesty's ships as to the situation off Santander.

Miss Rathbone

Is it not apparent that His Majesty's Navy is proving much more effective in helping General Franco to maintain a blockade than in assisting in the evacuation of refugees?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Is it not a fact that the evacuation of refugees by a neutral country from a city which is being besieged is a direct intervention in the war?

Duchess of Atholl

Is it not the case that these refugees are much more likely to come from the country around Santander than from Santander itself, and that there are said to be 200,000 or 300,000 refugees in that area at present?

52. Mr. Benn

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty where the steamship "Molton" is at present; whether any watch was kept to see whether she was brought out of Spanish territorial waters; and what His Majesty's ships are ordered to do when they observe British vessels being forcibly detained on the high seas?

54. Mr. Lyons

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he can now state the whereabouts of the steamship "Molton," and her movements since her encounter with the "Almirante Cervera"?

Mr. Cooper

According to my information, steamship "Molton" is at present at Bilbao, and I understand that after her capture and while she was under the effective control of the Spanish cruiser "Almirante Cervera," she passed out of territorial waters on to the high seas. As regards the last part of the right hon. Member's question, His Majesty's ships have been instructed not to attempt the recapture of vessels which have submitted inside territorial waters and have passed into the control of Spanish ships in cases where such vessels still under control emerge once more on to the high seas.

Mr. Lyons

Can my right hon. Friend say when it is expected that the steamship "Molton" will pass on its way?

Mr. Cooper

I cannot say.

53. Miss Rathbone

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that, on the morning of 15th July, the British steamship "Thorpe Bay" and either the same ship attempting entry a second time or another British ship was deterred from entering territorial waters round Santander by warnings from two British destroyers, and that the authorities at Santander report that no insurgent ships were then in sight and that the channel was clear; whether he has information that this report is incorrect; and, if correct, why the ships were warned not to enter?

55. Mr. Gallacher

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether his attention has been drawn to the action of a British destroyer which stopped the merchant ship "Thorpe Bay" on its approach to Santander; whether the destroyer was acting under Admiralty orders; and, if so, what is the reason for such orders?

Mr. Cooper

According to reports which I have received, during the 15th July five British ships, including the "Thorpe Bay," were in the vicinity of Santander, and throughout the day three Spanish warships were in a position to intercept any ships which attempted to enter the port. Of the five British ships concerned, four, including the "Thorpe Bay," were informed that if they en-deavoured to enter Santander, they would run a very serious risk of capture inside territorial waters and that British ships had in fact been captured in this manner on 8th July and on the preceding day.

Miss Rathbone

Is it not plain that since the capture of the first British ship, which was received in this House by applause and laughter—

Hon. Members

"Nonsense!" and "No!"

Mr. Gallacher

Are we to understand that when a British destroyer attempts to stop a British ship, if the British ship refuses to stop, the British destroyer will fire on it, or will it simply give "the soldier's farewell"?

Mr. Benn

I desire to give notice that with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will at Eleven o'Clock again raise the question of the protection of merchant ships on the High Seas.

Mr. Speaker

Another hon. Member has already given me notice that he wishes to raise a question on the Adjournment to-night; he must, therefore, have precedence.