HC Deb 15 June 1937 vol 325 cc204-5
61. Sir H. Seely (for Mr. Mander)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the number of Germans and Italians who have recently returned from Spain to their own country?

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Cranborne)

I have no means of estimating these numbers.

Mr. A. Henderson

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make a statement on the present situation in Bilbao, including the bombing and machine-gunning of civilians in the precincts of the city?

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

As the House will be aware, the insurgent army has, during the last few days, resumed the offensive and is pressing its attacks upon the city of Bilbao. While the reports that are at present being received are inevitably fragmentary and indefinite, I understand that the Basque Government is still directing the defence from Bilbao. The evacuation of refugees has continued, and on Sunday last the "Habana" left Bilbao with over 4,400 refugees and proceeded under British naval protection to a French port. Yesterday morning His Majesty's Consul communicated to me a message from the Basque Government to the effect that, owing to the intense bombardment of Bilbao and its suburbs, they were anxious to hasten the evacuation of the civil population. They proposed to make use, for this purpose, of all shipping available in the port and also to charter a foreign liner, and they offered to evacuate at the same time the hostages held by them in the proportion of one prisoner for every 20 refugees. They inquired whether His Majesty's Government would, in these circumstances, continue the protection hitherto afforded, thus rendering possible an accelerated programme. His Majesty's Consul was instructed yesterday evening to inform the Basque Government that on the clear understanding that arrangements for evacuation would cover only women, children, old men and hostages, such protection as circumstances permitted would continue to be given.

I also received yesterday an appeal from the Basque Government for diplomatic action to prevent the further destruction of the centre of the city pending the evacuation of the civil population. His Majesty's Ambassador at Hendaye was instructed last night to inform General Franco of this communication and to draw his most urgent attention to it. In the meantime, in view of the military situation, the British merchant ships on the northern coast have been strongly advised by the naval authorities to communicate with their owners before entering the port of Bilbao. In view of the latest developments in the situation at Bilbao, and the increasing risks involved, His Majesty's Consul withdrew from Bilbao this morning on my instructions, with such members of the local British community as were willing to leave.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not a fact that the Basque Government have officially alleged that German and Italian aeroplanes are responsible for the air attacks on Bilbao, and in view of that charge is it not desirable for the right hon. Gentleman to ask for an emergency meeting of the League Council?

Mr. Eden

That is a very different question from the one of which the hon. Member gave me notice, and we are, unfortunately, aware that there are a number of foreign aeroplanes on both sides.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not a fact that a month ago the late General Mola stated——

Mr. Speaker

The supplementary questions of the hon. Member have nothing to do with his private notice question.