HC Deb 26 July 1937 vol 326 cc2635-45
2. Mr. Denville

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that petrol, which is a Government monopoly in France intended for national defence, has been sent by order across to Spain free of duty for purposes of the war; and whether he will bring the matter to the attention of the Non-Intervention Committee?

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

As the House is aware, petrol is not one of the goods prohibited to be exported to Spain under the Non-Intervention Agreement. No reports are, therefore, received by the board regarding consignments of petrol crossing the frontier from France.

Mr. Denville

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a question was put in the French Chamber and received no answer?

Mr. Eden

French ministers are more fortunate than I am.

4. Mr. Denville

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to a book issued by the Press department of the Spanish Embassy in London entitled "The Spanish Peoples' Fight for Liberty;" and whether he will make representations against this breach of ambassadorial etiquette in issuing propaganda?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. His Majesty's Government do not however, consider that the contents of this book are such as to call for representations to the Spanish Government.

Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

Will my right hon. Friend state what would be the probable attitude of the Soviet Government if His Majesty's Minister engaged in similar activities?

5. Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has information as to the total number of aeroplanes and tanks engaged during the civil war on the side of the various Governments which are opposed to General Franco in Spain; and what were their countries of origin?

Mr. Eden

I am not in a position to give an authoritative estimate of the total quantities involved. Such information as is in my possession tends, however, to show that such material has been supplied both from European and non-European sources in considerable quantities.

Mr. Gallacher

Is it not the case that all the aeroplanes in the hands of the Spanish Government belong to the Spanish Government, while the German aeroplanes belong to Germany?

Mr. Eden

That is a nicety I cannot go into. This is a question of origin.

6. Sir H. Croft

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the illegal action of the Valencia Government in transferring the gold of Spain to a foreign country, he will consider the desirability of inviting the League of Nations to become trustees of this gold and to hold it in trust for the Spanish people until such time as the civil war is ended and a Government responsible for all Spaniards can restore this gold to its rightful owners, the inhabitants of that country?

Mr. Eden

I do not think that any useful result would be obtained by making the proposal which my hon. and gallant Friend suggests.

Sir H. Croft

Is it not almost inevitable that difficulties will arise if British ships are purchased by this gold illegally taken from Spain?

Colonel Wedgwood

Was it really an illegal action, and cannot the Spanish Government send their gold where they like?

Mr. Eden

It is an extremely complicated question. All I would say at the moment is that it does not seem to me that my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion is a practicable one.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

If there is any question of the ownership of the gold, surely it is not a matter for the right hon. Gentleman to decide, but is a matter for the courts?

Mr. Eden

That is so.

Mr. Thurtle

Has the right hon. Gentleman any ground for thinking that the statement in the question that this was an illegal removal is justified?

Mr. Eden

The point is that that is not a matter for me to decide.

7. Commander Marsden

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any complaint has been received from owners or masters of British merchant ships captured by Spanish naval forces as to the method of capture or as to the treatment of ships' companies after capture?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Euan Wallace)

I have been asked to reply. No such complaints have been received.

Commander Marsden

In view of my right hon. and gallant Friend's answer, may I ask whether he considers that the rules of the sea have been observed and that any suggestions to the contrary arc exaggerated and hysterical?

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman received any message of thanks from the captain of the "MacGregor," which was fired on seven times while the British Navy stood by?

12. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement concerning the deadlock reached in the proceedings of the Non-Intervention Committee on Tuesday last?

24. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make as to the progress of the British proposals to the Non-Intervention Committee?

Mr. Eden

In view of the difficulty experienced by the Non-Intervention Committee at its meeting on Tuesday last in reaching agreement on the order in which the various parts of the British proposals should be discussed, His Majesty's Government have felt that it might be more convenient for the Governments concerned to submit in writing their considered views on the principal points in these proposals. To this end they have drawn up a series of questions which have already been communicated to the countries represented on the Committee and which will be submitted by Lord Plymouth to the Chairman's Sub-Committee this afternoon. It is hoped that the Committee will agree to communicate these questions to the governments for their immediate consideration. The further attitude of His Majesty's Government will naturally be dependent on the nature of the replies received to these questions, for the receipt of which it is proposed that the Committee should fix a definite time limit.

Mr. T. Williams

Will His Majesty's Government guarantee to the House that they will in no way deviate from the terms submitted to the Non-Intervention Committee and that in no circumstances will belligerent rights be accorded before the withdrawal of foreign troops?

Mr. Eden

That is a very wide question, going far beyond the one on the Paper. So far as the position of the Government is concerned, naturally we stand by our proposals, and it is in an endeavour to hasten results that we are following this procedure.

Mr. Attlee

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the time allowed for the receipt of these answers will permit of their being considered before this House rises for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Eden

I think a reply by Thursday night is asked for.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask at what time the replies are likely to be considered, seeing that the House rises on Friday?

Mr. Eden

Naturally we want to act as quickly as we can, but it is not only we who are concerned.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Is it not clear from the number of Italian troops at present taking part in the fighting round Madrid that the Italian Government have no intention of withdrawing any of their troops as long as they think that Franco has a chance of being victorious?

13. Mr. Vyvyan Adams

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any further information to give the House regarding the Spanish guns emplaced opposite Gibraltar?

The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Sir Victor Warrender)

I have been asked to reply. If my hon. Friend will specify what further information he requires, my right hon. Friend will readily consider his request.

Mr. Adams

Would it be contrary to the public interest to state where they come from? Do His Majesty's Government know the country of origin of these guns?

Sir V. Warrender

I am not prepared to answer a question on a specific point of that kind unless it is put on the Paper.

Mr. Benn

May I ask the Foreign Secretary when he expects a reply to the questions he kindly forwarded to our agents in Southern Spain, as to the German guns, in the early part of last week?

Mr. Eden

Perhaps the right hon. Member will put down his question.

Mr. Benn

It has been on the Order Paper two days, and the right hon. Gentleman kindly offered to get me an answer.

Mr. Thorne

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is going to bluff the House in this way?

14. Commander Locker-Lampson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that General Franco has alleged that guns of British manufacture have been discovered at Bilbao; and whether His Majesty's Ambassador at Hendaye has been or will be instructed to inform General Franco that no guns or other armaments have been supplied by this country to the Spanish Government since the outbreak of the civil war?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. It was recently brought to the notice of His Majesty's Government that there existed a widespread belief in the territory under the control of General Franco, as well as elsewhere, that guns of recent British manufacture were captured from the Basques at Bilbao. Instructions were accordingly sent to His Majesty's Ambassador at Hendaye to inform General Franco's Government categorically that no war material had been exported under licence from this country to Spain, either directly or indirectly, since the civil war began. Sir Henry Chilton at the same time informed General Franco's Government that, if they were able to give markings or dates of any British guns found in Bilbao which appeared to have been manufactured since the civil war began, His Majesty's Government would be very willing to endeavour to ascertain how they could have reached Spain.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

Is not this a type of propaganda which has extended even to uninformed Members on the other side of the House?

17. Captain Ramsay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been drawn to the murder by Spanish Government militia of an English woman named Miss Boland, in Barcelona, on r6th June; and what steps he is taking to have these soldiers brought to justice?

Mr. Eden

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the statement which I made in the House on this subject on 5th July.

Captain Ramsay

In view of the fact that everyone in the house was murdered, including a woman who was expecting to be confined in three weeks, and of the further fact that the same kind of thing was going on in other houses, is it not clear that either the whole thing was deliberate or that the so-called Government of Spain is no government at all?

18. Captain Ramsay

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether, in view of the fact that there are nine British consular posts at present open in territory held by the Valencia Government and 14 in the territory held by General Franco, and that it is part of the regular duties of all these consular officers to report promptly on events of interest to His Majesty's Government occurring within their consular districts, he can give comparative figures of the number of political murders and other atrocities committed in each area?

Mr. Eden

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the statement on this subject which my Noble Friend made on 13th July.

Captain Ramsay

Is it not clear from these reports that not only were the greater number of outrages committed on the side of the so-called Spanish Government but that they were the original ones, and that anything done by General Franco has been retaliation?

21. Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the evacuation of refugees is, in the view of His Majesty's Government, a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement in Spain?

26. Miss Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the policy of His Majesty's Government in the matter of evacuating women and children from Spain is regarded by the Government purely as humanitarian action or as implying some degree of military assistance?

Mr. Eden

The degree in which the removal of refugees from a besieged or blockaded place might or might not affect the military situation must depend upon the circumstances of the particular case. His Majesty's Government who, in the evacuation of women and children from Spain during the existing conflict, have acted throughout from purely humanitarian motives, do not consider that the evacuation of civilians from Spain which they have effected or assisted is a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement or inconsistent with the policy of nonintervention which they have adopted.

Mr. Benn

In view of the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty on Thursday, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement for our ships to protect a refugee ship when fired at by the enemy?

Mr. Eden

I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that my answer covers the supplementary question which he has asked, and that I made it definite that the action we have taken, in our view, is not a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement.

Miss Rathbone

Is it not the case that the First Lord definitely stated that in his opinion any kind of evacuation of women and children from a besieged town was a form of assistance, and may we be assured that His Majesty's Government do not share that view?

Mr. Eden

I read with care the speech of my right hon. Friend, and I did not so interpret it. I have said that the action which we have taken is not a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

While it may not be a contravention of the Non-Intervention Agreement, is it not a fact that it is of direct assistance to those in command of a beleaguered city that there should be an evacuation of refugees?

Mr. Eden

That must depend upon the circumstances of each particular case.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Has the right hon. Gentleman received any requests that these children should also be evacuated from South Wales?

Mr. Thorne


Mr. Noel-Baker

With regard to the refugees in Santander, is it the desire of His Majesty's Government that they should be evacuated, and will the right hon. Gentleman give the same protection as was given at Bilbao?

23. Sir John Mellor

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will consider suspending British assistance in the evacuation of Basque refugees until he is satisfied that the Basque Government has released all hostages and political prisoners in its hands or given to them the fullest possible opportunity of leaving Basque territory?

Mr. Eden

The Spanish Government have been informed that His Majesty's Government expect that, in return for the protection which is being offered to Spanish refugee ships proceeding from Santander, the political prisoners and hostages detained at that town will be released and allowed to make use of such evacuation facilities as may be available. do not consider that any further action in regard to this matter is called for at present, but I can assure my hon. Friend that His Majesty's Government will continue to take an active interest in the welfare of all non-combatants held as prisoners on political grounds by the contending parties in Spain.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider returning these refugees now?

25. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has received any reports from consular authorities at Flushing or Rotterdam as to the circumstances under which the steamship "Thorpehall" was recently not allowed by the Dutch authorities to clear for Bordeaux until the master had signed an undertaking not to enter Spanish waters, and officers of the ship were sent for and interrogated by Dutch police officials without the knowledge or assent of the master?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I have received reports of the incident referred to, but, according to my information, clearance was not refused to the ship. The Dutch authorities, I understand, were not prepared, however, to arrest and return to the ship certain members of the crew who had deserted and refused to return to Santander, unless the master gave an undertaking to call at Bordeaux. This he did, and the ship sailed on 16th July.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Is it not an unprecedented action for these police officers to send for the officers from the ship, and to interrogate them, without having the courtesy to ask permission of the master to do so, or permitting the master to be present at the interrogation?

Mr. Eden

The circumstances of this case were somewhat exceptional. I understand that the crew in this case were Spanish, and in view of the presence of General Franco they did not want to go back to Santander.

51. Commander Marsden

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether, in view of the arduous and difficult duties that have been so effectively carried out by His Majesty's ships off the Spanish coast, the Board of Admiralty will grant all officers and men concerned extra leave on their return to this country?

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

Arrangements are made, as far as possible, for ships to be relieved after comparatively short spells of service in Spanish waters. In the circumstances, I think that the normal allowance of leave is adequate.

Commander Marsden

Is the Board of Admiralty quite satisfied with the way the Navy has performed its duties?

Mr. Cooper

Yes, entirely satisfied.

Miss Rathbone

Is the satisfaction of the Admiralty proportionate to the efficiency of the assistance given by the commanders in question in carrying out General Franco's blockade?

Mr. Speaker

That is going beyond what the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised in the question on the Paper.

52. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has any statement to make regarding the firing by the "Amirante Cervera" on the steamship "MacGregor"?

Mr. Cooper

According to the reports of one of His Majesty's ships which was in the vicinity the British steamship "MacGregor," with 1,500 refugees on board, on leaving Santander on Thursday afternoon, 22nd July, was ordered by the cruiser "Almirante Cervera," by signal, to stop. As the "MacGregor" took no notice, two warning shots were fired across her bows by the "Cervera" and shortly after one or two more warning shots were fired, all shots being well clear of the ship. As the "MacGregor" was outside territorial waters when the last warning shot was fired, the "Cervera" was requested to cease fire, and the "MacGregor" was taken under the protection of His Majesty's Ship "Kempenfelt." She proceeded without further interference. Signals were then exchanged between the Cervera" and the British Naval authorities in which the captain of the "Cervera" represented that the "MacGregor" in not obeying the order to stop had taken advantage of his humanitarian feelings, but that he was not taking further action. From the reports received from the British Naval authorities it quite clear that the shots fired by the "Amirante Cervera" were warning shots only, and that no attempt whatever was made to hit the steamship "MacGregor."

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Will any representations be made to General Franco in view of the fact that warning shots were fired at this ship when she was outside territorial waters, and was in fact some seven miles from Moro Island?

Mr. Cooper

The ship had just left territorial waters apparently, according to our information, when the last warning shot was fired and, in view of the fact that the ship was delving the authorities on the spot and taking great risks, I do not think any representations are called for with regard to the action of the "Almirante Cervera."

Mr. De la Bère

What is a good little ship to do when it is attacked by a bad big ship?

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Was the "MacGregor," in fact, committing any illegal act during the time she was inside territorial waters?

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Would it not save a great deal of trouble—

Mr. Speaker

That is only a matter of opinion.

53. Mr. Benn

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether in view of the attempt to sink the steamship "MacGregor," carrying 2,000 refugees, made by a Spanish cruiser on the high seas, the Cabinet will reconsider the present declared policy as to naval protection?

Mr. Cooper

As will have been clear from the answer which I have just given to the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), I cannot accept the suggestion of the right hon. Member that an attempt was made to sink the steamship "MacGregor." According to my information, the shots fired by the "Almirante Cervera" were, as I have said, warning shots only, and no attempt whatever was made to hit the British vessel.

Mr. Benn

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the last part of the question.

Mr. Cooper

The question asks whether, in view of a certain fact, the Government will reconsider their policy, I have explained that the fact is not as the right hon. Gentleman proposes it, and there is no reason, therefore, why we should reconsider it.

Mr. Benn

Has the right hon. Gentleman any report from Captain Jones on the subject?

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