HC Deb 06 May 1937 vol 323 cc1249-53
87. Mr. Tinker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that the bombing of Guernica is causing concern all over the country; that religious bodies and other organisations have carried resolutions asking our Government to bring it to the notice of the League of Nations so that it can be dealt with; and will he state what action he proposes to take?

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

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply on this subject given yesterday by my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson).

Sir H. Croft

Is it not a fact that certain charges have recently been made which are as yet not substantiated, and will my Noble Friend discourage these various charges on which up to date there is no conclusive proof?

Viscount Cranborne

I do not think that that really arises on this question. The blame for the occurrence is not attributed in the question.

Mr. Sorensen

Is not that all the more reason for appointing an independent international commission to investigate the charges?

Viscount Cranborne

Certainly it points to the fact that it is desirable to consider whether that should be done.

Mr. Donner

Is it not a fact that in the same week as the bombing of Guernica, three open towns were bombed and bombarded by the Madrid Government?

89. Sir A. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will give the substance of General Franco's reply to the request for acquiescence in the project of evacuating the civil population of Bilbao and of the alternative proposals for safeguarding noncombatants' lives put forward by General Franco?

Viscount Cranborne

Yes, Sir. The following is a summary of the reply received from the insurgent authorities on this subject. While expressing appreciation of the humanitarian spirit and the impartiality of His Majesty's Government, the message, after adducing certain complaints against the Spanish and Basque Governments, pointed out that Bilbao was subject to a blockade and that the air action being taken against the traffic in the port and neighbouring military objectives made it impossible to guarantee the safety of operations in the port. The message added that it was unnecessary to evacuate the civil population through a foreign country. As an alternative, a safety zone in territory between Bilbao and Santander was proposed, provided that the International Red Cross Committee could guarantee that the zone would not be used for military purposes. The insurgent authorities, the message added, would also be willing to admit women, children and old people to insurgent territory without distinction of political creed, with the exception of those who might be found guilty of crimes.

Sir A. Knox

Does not this reply of the Nationalist leader show that his attitude towards the civil population is just as humane as that of any sentimental supporter of the Spanish Government in this country?

Mr. Mander

Was not his attitude to the civil population very clearly indicated at Guernica?

90. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has received any information as to the arrival of further foreign aeroplanes in Spain during the month of April?

Viscount Cranborne

Reports tending to show that aircraft and aero-engines were delivered since the beginning of March to both sides in Spain have been received, but none of these reports could be confirmed by the first-hand evidence of a British official.

Mr. Henderson

Is the Minister aware of reports, apparently based on trustworthy information, that during the last two weeks of April large numbers of German bombers and Italian chasers arrived in Spain? If that be so, does it not indicate that the placing of observers on the frontiers of Spain is a system which is proving to be completely ineffective?

Viscount Cranborne

I have said that we received several reports of Various kinds. The hon. Member will realise that the question of aircraft is an immensely difficult and complicated one, and it is a matter which must be carefully considered. Even if it had not been completely tackled, I still think that the supervision scheme is a great advantage.

Mr. Henderson

Will His Majesty's Government make representations to the Non-Intervention Committee to consider this problem of aeroplanes?

Viscount Cranborne

I think all aspects of the matter are as much in the minds of the Committee as in the mind of the hon. Member.

Mr. Benn

Was the question of the delivery of German aeroplanes put to the German Ambassador on the occasion of his visit to the Foreign Office yesterday?

Viscount Cranborne

I should like notice of that question.

Mr. Noel-Baker

In view of the fact that we specifically raised this question of aircraft in the Debate of 15th March, can the Noble Lord tell us what action the Government have taken and what positive proposals they have made to the Non-Intervention Committee?

Viscount Cranborne

No, Sir, the position, as I have already explained, is that our object in the supervision scheme —and it is the object of all concerned—has been to get an effective agreement as regards supervision, to prevent as far as possible arms going to either side in Spain. There are these difficult questions, and they are under consideration, but it is not an easy matter. It is no good hon. Members saying that a specific scheme can be brought forward quite easily.

Mr. Speaker

This is becoming a debate.

92. Mr. Ede

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that the British steamer "Greathope" was, when two hours 10 minutes out of Gibraltar, stopped by the rebel warship "Dato" on 26th April, 1937; that the "Greathope" was compelled to return to Gibraltar by the "Dato"; that the "Greathope" reached Gibraltar at 5 p.m., about four hours 35 minutes after sailing from that port; that no British man-of-war was sighted by the "Great-hope" or rendered any help; and what steps he proposes to take to prevent the recurrence of such incidents?

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. Kenneth Lindsay)

According to the reports I have received, the British steamship "Greathope" was intercepted by a Spanish insurgent gunboat, probably the "Antonio Canovas del Castillo," at 2 p.m. on 26th April when she was four miles from Pogon Lighthouse on passage from Valencia to Antwerp with a cargo of fruit. She had sailed from Gibraltar at 12.30 a.m. on the same day. In spite of the fact that the master informed the captain of the Spanish gunboat of the nature of the cargo and of the destination of the ship, the steamship "Greathope" was ordered to proceed to Gibraltar. No request for naval assistance was received from the steamship "Greathope," and, consequently, the naval authorities were unaware of the incident until the vessel arrived at Gibraltar. The vessel subsequently sailed on the following day without incident, under the escort of His Majesty's Ship "London." The British naval authorities at Gibraltar have asked for an explanation of the action of the Spanish gunboat in this case.