HC Deb 28 July 1937 vol 326 cc3057-66
1. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's Government's demand for the immediate release of the cargo of the "Fernando L de Ybarra" has yet been complied with by General Franco?

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

I have at present nothing to add to the reply which I gave on Monday to a similar question put to me by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White).

Mr. Cocks

Is it not three months since the Government demanded the immediate release of this cargo, and how long is the British Empire to put up with this most impudent rebel?

Mr. Eden

While I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's adjective, I do agree that the situation is extremely unsatisfactory, and I am considering what further action we may take.

8. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he proposes to make representations to the Dutch authorities concerning their treatment of the master of the steamship "Thorpehall"?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Does not the right hon. Gentleman consider that the treatment accorded to this British master was to some extent high-handed and discourteous, and that the political opinions of the Spanish crew, over which the British master had no control, offer no excuse to the Dutch authorities for the treatment they meted out to him?

Mr. Eden

I have made some inquiries and have not been able to substantiate that there was discourtesy to the master of the ship. We must remember the most difficult position of the Dutch authorities, with a Spanish crew divided as to what it wished to do.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Was it not discourteous to send for the officers of this ship, and to interrogate them without informing the master of the ship or allowing him to be present at that interrogation?

Mr. Eden

I have seen that report, and I do not think, myself, that the report is accurate.

9. Major-General Sir Alfred Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that the Spanish Embassy in London has a Press department which is actively engaged in propaganda; whether any other Embassy in London or any of His Majesty's representatives abroad engage in similar activities; and whether he will suggest to the Spanish Ambassador that such conduct is not in accordance with diplomatic usage?

Mr. Eden

The conditions in which exception could properly be taken to the issue of information through diplomatic agents would be that such information constituted an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the country in which they reside, or contained statements derogatory to any other foreign States with which His Majesty's Government maintain friendly relations. So far as I am aware, the conditions to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred have not been infringed in this instance.

Sir A. Knox

Would the right hon. Gentleman reply to my question as to whether any of our representatives abroad engage in similar propaganda; or do any other representatives here?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, the rules which I have laid down and the conditions to which I referred are, of course, adhered to in all circumstances by our representatives abroad; and we ask other representatives in this country, whatever their views, to adhere to them, too.

Lieut.-Commander Agnew

May we take it, then, that the literature sent out from the Spanish Embassy is merely propaganda and not authoritative information?

Mr. Wise

Is it not a fact that a great deal of this propaganda contains statements derogatory to Powers with which His Majesty's Government are in friendly relations?

Mr. Eden

If my hon. Friend has information to that effect, I shall be glad to consider it.

Mr. Thorne

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the pamphlet sent out by the Anti-Socialist Union about Spain?

Miss Wilkinson

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Spanish Embassy carefully limited itself to statements of fact, of which it has proof, and of which it is willing to give proof?

11. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any information about the landing in Spain during the last few days of large numbers of Italian troops and two Italian generals?

14. Mr. Mander

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make with reference to the two Italian generals who recently landed at Gibraltar from the "Conte di Savoia" and motored to La Linea, and the 3,000 Italian troops who landed at Cadiz on 25th July?

Mr. Eden

I have no evidence whatever to substantiate the reports which have appeared in the Press to the effect that Italian generals and Italian troops have arrived in Spain during the last few days. I understand that between 23rd July and 25th July certain Spanish vessels arrived at Cadiz with troops from the west.

Mr. Mander

Have the Foreign Office any evidence that there are any Italian troops at all in Spain?

Mr. Cocks

Would it be a breach of the non-intervention pact to allow any officers to land at Gibraltar, which is British territory?

12. Miss Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can give the House any information as to the batteries of German guns seen by observers on the spot to have been erected at various points along the coast of Spanish Morocco west of Ceuta, including Benzou, Punta Blanca, Ksar Seghir, and also at various points east of Ceuta on the south coast of the Mediterranean, including Melilla, Cap des Trois Fourches, and Mar Chica; and whether he is satisfied that the military preparations in this region constitute no menace to British Imperial communications?

18 and 19. Duchess of Atholl

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether he is aware that there is reason to believe that Germans have established naval and air bases at Melilla, Alhucemas, Ceuta, and Larache, in Spanish Morocco, on the Canary Islands, in Rio de Ora, on the African coast opposite the Canary Islands, and at Ifuri, north of Rio de Ora; and that each base has a dock for submarines, an aerodrome, a petrol depot, a wireless station, and an electrical power station; and what steps the Government propose to take in the matter;

(2) whether he is aware that there is reason to believe that at Ceuta, near Melilla, in Spanish Morocco, Punta Ceres, Punta Leone, Cap Quilates, Larache, and various places on the Atlantic coast of Spanish Morocco between Larache and Arzila, there are recently installed German guns some of which are of 285 mm. calibre, of 405 mm. calibre, or 75's; and what action he proposes to take?

Mr. Eden

His Majesty's Government have received information as to batteries installed at Ceuta and Melilla, and as to the existence of isolated field batteries for defence purposes at certain points on the Spanish Moroccan coast, and also of certain air bases in Spanish Morocco. No confirmation has been received of the recent installation of German guns, nor of the other points mentioned. As regards the suggestion of a possible threat to Imperial communications by sea through the Straits of Gibraltar, I would refer hon. Members to the detailed statement made in the course of last night's Debate by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence.

Miss Rathbone

Have His Majesty's Government expert observers on the spot of a kind that would enable their information to be kept up to date?

Mr. Eden

I can assure the hon. Lady that we are just as alive to the importance of these questions as she can be. As my right hon. Friend stated in the Debate last night, we do not always expose all that we know, but we have a certain amount of information.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Has the right hon. Gentleman yet received replies to the inquiries which he kindly promised to make on Monday of last week through our officers in Southern Spain?

Mr. Eden

I think we have some replies in. I will see, and, if so, will furnish the right hon. Gentleman with information about them.

Duchess of Atholl

Will my right hon. Friend reply to that portion of Question No. 18 which refers to the Canary Islands and other Spanish possessions on the Atlantic coast?

Mr. Eden

I think the actual position as regards the Canary Islands is that there are no naval or air bases established there.

Mr. Macquisten

Would it not be possible to amend the Standing Orders so that we could get on with the business of this country, and not with that of Spain?

13. Mr. Cocks

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any information to the effect that, since the erection of heavy guns and howitzers in territory adjacent to Gibraltar in the early part of the year, further heavy guns have been or are being erected in the same neighbourhood; and, if not, whether he will make inquiries?

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

I have been asked to reply. No, Sir, there has been a reduction of two heavy howitzers.

Mr. Cocks

Is the hon. Baronet aware that two Krupp guns were placed in position last week, and that Gibraltar is now definitely in danger?

Sir V. Warrender

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear the statement which my right hon. Friend made yesterday.

Mr. Cocks

I did hear it; it was misinformed.

20. Mr. Benn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in the view of His Majesty's Government, the evacuation of refugees by the steamship "MacGregor" was a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement?

Mr. Eden

I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the full statement which I made in reply to a question asked by him on Monday last.

Mr. Benn

Does the Foreign Secretary remember that in that statement he said it depended on circumstances? I am now giving him a specific case; it is easy to say "Yes" or "No."

Mr. Eden

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is quite easy. We do not admit that any action that His Majesty's Government have taken contravenes the Non-Intervention Agreement.

Mr. Benn

Will the right hon. Gentleman draw the attention of his neighbour to that answer?

Miss Rathbone

Will he communicate with the captain of the ship?

22. Mr. Bellenger

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any claim for compensation has yet been submitted to the Spanish insurgent authorities arising out of the mining of His Majesty's ship "Hunter"?

Mr. Eden

I understand that, as the result of the Court of Inquiry which was subsequently held into the circumstances in which the incident took place, the Admiralty are now satisfied that a detailed claim for compensation can be presented. As soon as I have received from them the exact figures, the necessary steps will be taken without delay.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the period of time that has elapsed since this incident occurred? What stands in the way of presenting a claim?

Mr. Eden

The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. He seems to think that, if time elapses, it affects the claim. It does not. The more detail we get and the more we substantiate the figures, the more effective the claim will be.

Mr. Bellenger

Does the right hon. Gentleman hope soon to be in a position to receive details of the claim?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

If no compensation is forthcoming from the Spanish authorities, will not the cost of any grant made to dependants of the men who lost their lives in this deplorable disaster, and the cost of repairs to the ship, have to be paid for out of the Navy Votes, which the hon. Members opposite would not support last night?

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Has notice already been given that a claim will be presented in due course?

Mr. Eden

I am fairly certain that has been done, but I should not like to pledge myself.

32. Sir A. Southby

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is completely satisfied with the way in which the duties of patrol are being carried out by His Majesty's ships off the coast of Spain?

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

Yes, Sir, the Government are very satisfied with the manner in which His Majesty's ships are carrying out their most arduous and difficult task.

Sir A. Southby

Is there any truth whatever in the suggestion that the Navy has shown partiality to either side in Spain?

Mr. Cooper

No truth whatever.

34. Sir A. Knox

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that a steamer, the steamship "Highbury," of the Highbury Steamship Company of London, financed by the Spanish Government, with officers and crew all Greeks with the exception of two Turkish engineers, has been flying the British flag and so procuring the protection of our Navy on the high seas while engaged in helping one of the parties in the Spanish civil war; and whether he will give orders that protection will not be afforded in future in such cases?

Mr. Cooper

I understand that the steamship "Highbury" has a provisional certificate of registry as a British ship and as such she is entitled to fly the British flag and to receive the protection of His Majesty's Navy on the high seas. I have no information concerning the other matters referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend.

Sir A. Knox

Does my right hon. Friend consider that it is right that a ship which has nothing British about her but the Red Ensign should be the cause of our sailors risking their lives?

36. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he has received any recent reports concerning the establishment of gun batteries capable of commanding the Straits of Gibraltar along the African coast?

Mr. Cooper

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement on the subject made by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence yesterday, to which I have nothing to add.

37. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether inquiry reveals that any of the British ships which have been subjected to interference by insurgent Spanish naval forces have committed any illegal acts prior to or at the time of such interference; and why His Majesty's Government recognise the legality of a kind of interference which would only be legal if exercised by parties in enjoyment of belligerent rights?

Mr. Cooper

So far as I am aware, the answer to the first part of the question is in the negative; with regard to the second part, the policy of His Majesty's Government was explained in the reply given to the hon. and gallant Member by the Prime Minister on 10 July.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Is it not clear from the answer that these ships, while committing no illegal act, are being subjected to illegal treatment?

Lieut.-Commander Agnew

Is it not a fact that the responsibility for the adequate policing of territorial waters off the coast of Spain lies at present with the Spanish Government?

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Is it not also the fact that the Admiralty is allowing Spanish ships, or rather the ships of General Franco, to fire at English vessels from the high seas, and ought not they to stop acts of belligerency from being committed on the high seas?

38. Mr. Benn

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what are the orders to His Majesty's ships when observing Spanish vessels on the high seas firing to sink British ships carrying refugees?

Mr. Cooper

I would refer the right hon. Member to the reply given by my predecessor to the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) on 21st April, and to the reply given by the Prime Minister to the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) on 19th July.

Mr. Benn

Would it not be simpler to say whether the Admiralty gives orders that they should protect ships being fired on at sea or not? It seems to be a simple question.

Mr. Cooper

The policy has been very clearly stated.

Mr. Benn

May we take it that the statement of the First Lord means that they do not interfere until a ship is hit?

39. Mr. Benn

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty what signals were made to Spanish vessels ordering them to desist from firing at or near the steamship "MacGregor"?

Mr. Cooper

The signal made was "Cease fire."

46. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister when the last joint inquiry by representatives of the three Defence Services into questions affecting Gibraltar took place; and whether, in view of public uneasiness caused by recent events in Spain, especially in the vicinity of Gibraltar, he will set up a joint committee of the three Defence Services to inquire into the security of the defence establishments at Gibraltar and of the passage of the Straits of Gibraltar against modern methods of attack and in the light of political developments?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

There has been a very recent joint inquiry by representatives of the three Defence Services into questions affecting Gibraltar. This inquiry was based on a detailed review of the existing strategical situation in the Mediterranean as a whole. In these circumstances it is unnecessary to adopt the hon. and gallant Member's suggestion of setting up a joint committee of the three Defence Services.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

Is it not a fact that there is no uneasiness except among those who refuse to vote supplies for these Defence Services?

Mr. Cocks

Will the Prime Minister consider answering, at the same time, Question No. 103, which was put down to him originally, and which has been put on to a minor Minister, who knows nothing about the subject of the question?

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Can the right hon. Gentleman give some indication as to the date on which the inquiry of which he has spoken was conducted?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member would put that question upon the Paper.