HC Deb 29 June 1937 vol 325 cc1774-8
14. Mr. Marcus Samuel

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the ships which brought the refugee children from Bilbao carried any gold or securities as part of their cargo from Spain?

Mr. Stanley

I am advised that the "Habana," which brought the refugee children from Bilbao, landed no mails or cargo of any kind in this country.

55. Mr. Mander

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what communication was made to the German Government recently as to the action that would be taken by the British Government in the event of the former attacking Spanish Government ships or blockading or bombarding Spanish towns?

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

I have nothing to add to the statements made by my right hon. Friend with regard to the "Leipzig" incident.

Mr. Mander

Can the Noble Lord say whether there is any foundation for the statement that the German Government were informed that aggressive action of that kind will not be tolerated?

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

54. Mr. Mander

to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any investigation has taken place into the possibility of dummy torpedoes having been fired at the "Leipzig" by German submarines?

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

On a point of Order. May I ask whether this question has been withdrawn or postponed?

Mr. Speaker

My information was that it was withdrawn.

Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether His Majesty 's warships are now advising British foodships and other cargo vessels not to enter the port of Santander, and if so, what is the reason for this advice?

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

In the course of last week information was received by the naval authorities on the north coast of Spain that a close blockade of Santander was contemplated. As the institution of such a blockade might have involved serious dangers for British ships attempting to enter or leave Santander, it was considered advisable to warn them not to enter the port until the situation had become clearer. Yesterday it became evident that the Spanish insurgents were not intending for the time being to blockade Santander, and the advice given to British merchant ships was accordingly altered to conform with that previously given, as explained to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his speech on 20th April, namely, that entry into Santander involves a degree of risk which may vary from day to day.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask whether this is not just a repetition of what occurred at Bilbao in which a British paper blockade was put on on the word of the insurgents; and when on the word of British naval officers there was no danger in Bilbao?

Mr. Cooper

I do not agree with the interpretation put upon it by the right hon. Gentleman. It is the duty of the officers who are in charge of the obligation of providing for the safety of British ships to act on such information as they receive from time to time, at the time that they receive it.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask what steps are taken by these officers to confirm this information, and whether they act merely on the word given to them by rebel commanders?

Mr. Cooper

They take every step possible to verify the information and to make the instructions which they give to British ships conform to the information that is available. If they err in one or other direction they think it wise—and the Government support them in their view—to err on the side of caution.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Have His Majesty's officers on the spot furnished the right hon. Gentleman with evidence that General Franco has sufficient ships to establish a close blockade of Santander?

Mr. Cooper

There was no time to furnish full evidence, but, according to the information in possession of the Admiralty—all of it is not confirmed—it would be much easier to establish a blockade of Santander than of Bilbao, owing to the fact that there are not the same land defences.

Mr. Noel-Baker

If there was no evidence of an effective blockade, on what basis was the advice given?

Mr. De la Bère

Will the right hon. Gentleman understand that England comes first?

Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether His Majesty's ships are now offering naval protection to British, Spanish and other ships engaged in evacuating refugees from Santander, and, if not, what are the reasons for which that protection has been refused?

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

As explained in the answers of the Prime Minister to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) on Tuesday last, the grant of protection by His Majesty's Navy to refugee ships proceeding from the north coast of Spain to French ports must be governed by the willingness of the French Government to receive such refugees. His Majesty's Government have been in communication with the French Government with regard to this point, and understand that they agree in principle both to receive further refugees in France and to transmit them through French territory to Barcelona and Valencia. At the same time, they make it clear that permission to land in France must be dependent on the setting up of some adequate system of control, so as to ensure that the refugees are limited to women and children. As the Prime Minister explained in the House, His Majesty's Government had envisaged some system of joint control at the ports of arrival. I have, however, to-day heard from the French Government that they have alternative proposals to put forward. His Majesty's Government are at present awaiting these proposals, which have been promised at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Attlee

Is this matter not urgent in view of the reports we have had of the conditions in Santander? May I also ask whether we did not understand from the Prime Minister last week that action will be taken immediately? Now a week has gone by and nothing has been done; it is still being considered. What steps are the Government taking to try to carry out this humane task?

Mr. Eden

We understand the urgency of the matter, but this is a matter which concerns not only us but the French Government also and they are submitting to us particular proposals. I really must await the receipt of them which, I hope, will be in the next 24 hours.

Mr. H. G. Williams

Do the records of the Foreign Office give any account of the assistance given by Spain to the evacuation of Frenchmen from Paris when it was beseiged by the Germans in 1870?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

May I ask whether it is not a fact that many of those who were over-hastily evacuated from Bilbao do not now regret what happened? Is not the same thing likely to happen in the case of Santander?

Miss Rathbone

On the question of control, whether they are refugees or not, is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the French have a representative in Santander, that there is a British vice-consul in Santander, and that every one of the five British ships which have been waiting for a week to take refugees out of Santander has upon it one or two observers—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady must not really make a speech.

Miss Rathbone

The question is whether there are means at Santander for seeing whether the people are genuine refugees. I am asking whether it is not true that there are observers already on every one of these ships?

Mr. Attlee

Will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to give further information on this point to-morrow, if I put down another question?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I will certainly do my utmost to do so. I was in conversation with the French Ambassador last night; but I must say to the hon. Lady that what measure of verification there may be by a French officer at Santander is a matter which must be left to the French Government.