HC Deb 30 July 1937 vol 326 cc3532-5

11.48 a.m.

Mr. Attlee

I do not intend to trouble the House with a long speech. On the Motion for the Adjournment, hon. Members in all parts of the House wish to raise a number of matters, and I know that several are to be raised to-day. Moreover, we have just heard notice given that another very important question is to be discussed. However, I make no apology for asking the House for a few minutes to consider the position in which we are adjourning at this time. We are leaving for nearly three months' holiday at a time when there is an extremely critical position in foreign affairs. I think that every hon. Member who is going off for his holiday must be full of anxiety, and must be wondering whether it may not be that we shall have to come back before it is generally expected. In the Far East, the flames of war seem to be shooting up. In the West, the Spanish contest shows no signs of coming to an end, and the policy of non-intervention adopted by the Government in order to prevent that conflagration from spreading seems to be only too likely to break down altogether.

It is unfortunate that we have to leave to-day before we have the results of the meeting of the Non-Intervention Committee this morning, but already there are indications that the possibility of agreement on the Government's proposals is very slight. We were criticised for raising this matter on the Adjournment the other day, but I say that our altitude has been justified. At that time, the Government pointed out that the matter was urgent and would brook no delay. What we have had has been simply a continuance of the delays that we have had so often. It is now two months since the withdrawal of Germany and Italy from naval control. When that happened, it was said that the control must be reinstated at the earliest possible moment. Instead, delay continued, and meanwhile it is clear that the insurgents, with foreign aid, are seeking to get a quick decision, while the Spanish Government are still hampered by the operation of one-sided control. The land frontier remains closed to the Spanish Government, but every day the naval forces of General Franco, supported probably by the naval forces of other Powers, are increasingly impudent in breaches of international law, because those forces have only the status of pirates. On the point of delay and of the fact that these proposals would merely continue what has happened, we are amply justified.

We said that the Government's proposals would not effect their purpose. We said that they were an attempt to bridge the unbridgeable, and that no agreement was worth having unless there was the will to carry it out. From the first meeting which considered those proposals, we found dilatory tactics, and we found that there were fundamental disagreements between various Powers. We do not yet know what the replies are, but one gathers the impression that there is a triple division. Some Powers hold that no belligerent rights should be granted; other Powers hold that the granting belligerent rights and the withdrawal of foreign nationals should be synchronised one way or another according to the Government's proposals; and I gather that other Powers press for belligerent rights before there has been any subtantial withdrawal of foreign nationals. I could not help being amused when I saw a leading newspaper announce with a tremendous "splash" that Italy was in complete agreement with all the Government's proposals, and then, on looking inside the newspaper, found that there were reservations on the two vital points, on which there was disagreement. Moreover, there has been no elucidation up to the present as to what substantial withdrawal means, and no elucidation as to the proportion of withdrawal to take place on either side. It is clear that the hopes of progress on these lines are somewhat remote.

Now, we have to rise for the Recess, and I wish to ask the Government what is their view of the situation, and what is to happen? Are there to be more delays and more evasions, while all the time one-sided non-intervention continues? I want to stress that point, for I do not think any one can doubt that throughout the whole of his period nonintervention has worked very heavily against the Spanish Government. Again and again we have demanded that the Spanish Government should be given its full rights. If there is a complete break- down, will the Spanish Government be given those rights? I confess to anxiety as to whether the Government, in an attempt to preserve a kind of facade agreement, will not gradually recede even from the proposals which they have put forward. We consider that those proposals are gravely insufficient, but the Government put them forward, based on the principle that there should be no grant of belligerency until there had been a substantial withdrawal of foreign nationals. I am afraid of further retreat and of other proposals made before the Non-Intervention Committee or, perhaps, if non-intervention breaks down altogether, action on the part of this Government by itself in granting either full or partial belligerent rights to General Franco.

I wish to stress again the great danger, from the point of view of international law, of the granting of belligerent rights to insurgents who depend upon a foreign Power. That is the real issue. It is not just an admission that there is a state of civil war. It is an admission and a recognition of aggression. I quote from a well known writer on international law: Recognition by a foreign state of full belligerent rights, if not justified by necessity, is a gratuitous demonstration of moral support to the rebellion and of censure on the parent Government. There are Members in this House who, day after day, give what I should call gratuitous demonstrations of moral support of the rebels in Spain, but I hope that this Government is not going to give any such demonstration. I think even a partial grant of belligerent rights is dangerous. It has been suggested that there is nothing much in the granting of belligerent rights after all, but whatever there may be in it from the point of view of the local situation, the granting of belligerent rights has serious consequences. It amounts to a partial recognition of the rebels, and I hold that this would be not only injurious to the fabric of international law, but extremely dangerous to British interests. I believe it would lead to the exposure of our ships to still greater risks of attack and capture, not merely in territorial waters but on the high seas. Rules are laid down in regard to belligerency and the rights of belligerents and the rights of neutrals, but I have never observed that General Franco has shown himself to be a student of international law, and I have never observed that he has shown the slightest degree of desire to fulfil international law. Nor do I think there has been shown any keen respect for international law on the part of his backers. You may have, perhaps, an alleged effective blockade; you may have allegations of contraband or of unneutral practice by our vessels; you may have our ships attacked not only in territorial waters but on the high seas; you may have a long distance blockade on the ground that the Straits of Gibraltar are controlled by General Franco. You may have blockades not only by General Franco's ships but by the ships of the Powers that back him. I want to ask for a specific undertaking. I want an undertaking that Parliament shall be called together before the Government embark on any new policy.

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