§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I do not want to keep the House for more than a minute or so because I know there are other matters to be raised. May I bring my remarks to a logical conclusion by saying that I believe the time has gone by when we can still go on under the assumption that things will somehow or other settle themselves. I feel that the situation is now such that things are not going to settle themselves until there has been a great deal more human misery. It seems to me that Guernica cannot be considered separately, for it follows logically as a plan of campaign. The north coast of Spain is the centre of the heavy industry of the country, and it is from there that they get most of their home-produced munitions. Whoever controls the north coast of Spain controls the munitions industry, the iron mines and the coal mines. Consequently, it cannot be said that Guernica is an isolated thing. Durango, Guernica, Eibar, Bilbao—I know the country pretty well and have motored all over it, and I know that that is the logical sequence towards the control of Bilbao.
The large accumulation there of aeroplanes and military stores makes it clear that probably within the next week or so we shall witness a terrific attempt to take Bilbao. I do not intend at this moment to be in the least sentimental, and I will pass over the whole of the hon. Member's cold-blooded assertion that people get killed in civil wars, and that is that. But are we going to see that accumulation of German and Italian aeroplanes continue within striking distance of Bilbao, are we going to see Bilbao razed to the ground, and yet refuse to the Spanish Government the right to buy aeroplanes to meet the 1363 situation? I do not say that we want to sell them any aeroplanes, for that is not the point; the point is whether we are going to refuse them the right to buy aeroplanes.
On the morning after Guernica, the leader in the "Times" newspaper, which was I think about the meanest piece of journalism that has been produced recently—I hope they will note that fact—after regretting what happened at Guernica, interpolated a few sentences to say that, of course, the extremist Government of Madrid would not be anxious to help the Basques, implying that they had not shot prisoners and priests and so on, and that that was why the Madrid Government would not send aeroplanes. The "Times," not as a newspaper but as representing the vast amount of opinion on the other side of the House, after refusing to allow the legal Government of Spain to buy aeroplanes, sneers at it because it cannot send aeroplanes away from its beleaguered capital, and has not been able to send help to Bilbao. As a matter of fact, the Madrid Government is trying to do so at very great peril to Madrid.
I feel that this is a situation which, before we come back after the Recess, may develop into something extremely serious. I ask the Foreign Secretary whether, with all this concentration by the Powers which have sent this stuff in since they promised not to do so—the diary of a young airman who crashed in France proved conclusively that he had left Germany since the time of the Non-Intervention Agreement—we can shut our eyes to what is going on and say, using that delightful formula of the Foreign Office, "We have no information." The facts are there, and the world knows them; and to do General Franco justice, he does not seem to take great pains to hide the facts. Are we going to say to the Spanish Government: "No intervention; you shall not have the right to buy arms to defend yourselves"; and then to have our leading newspapers sneering at them because they have not enough planes to defend their people. That is not a very pleasant thing for the people of this country, which is supposed to be a democratic country, to know; and there is only one consolation; it is that when we have done mean things such as that, they will come back on us, 1364 and the British people will pay, and pay heavily, for what their Government have done to poor little Spain.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
In all parts of the House there will be recognition of the great sincerity and force with which the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) has put the case in which she so profoundly believes, and if I differ from her emphatically in my conclusions regarding the non-intervention policy, I would at the beginning like to pay a tribute to and express my recognition of her complete sincerity in the cause which she has at heart. It may seem strange that we should be having a third Debate on Spain within so short a period, and I think that if we were to have such a Debate it could not have been introduced in a speech of happier tone than that employed by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). I noticed in the course of that speech from the Front Opposition Bench that it did not express a complete rejection, or indeed any rejection, of the policy of non-intervention. Nevertheless, every remark made throughout the Debate which has drawn any applause from the Labour Opposition has been a remark repudiating non-intervention. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite say, "Hear, hear," and that proves that I am right in that statement.
I was very much astonished that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) should have complained that he did not know the policy of the Government as to the use of British armaments. If that statement ever had any force, it has had none whatever since my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made his speech at Leamington, which has been so often quoted in the House, in which he stated exactly the circumstances in which British arms would be used and the circumstances in which British arms might be used. That being the case, it is quite idle for hon. Members to say that they do not know what is the policy of His Majesty's Government. What we do not know is where the two Oppositions stand on this policy of non-intervention. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton condemned it, and the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow did the same. If I support the policy of nonintervention it is not because I favour either side in Spain, but because I believe 1365 that in the interest of our own people, whom it is our primary duty to consider, the Government's policy of non-intervention, with all its disadvantages—and it has some—is the right one. If hon. Members will recall the recent Debates, they will recollect the difficulty which occurred and may occur again in the position of shipping approaching Bilbao.
I listened throughout those Debates in an endeavour to find out what was the cause of the Opposition's complaint against the Government, and there seemed to be three propositions, one or more of which occurred in all the Opposition speeches. The first was that there was no danger to shipping approaching Bilbao; the second was that it was the duty of the Government to remove the danger; and the third was that the Government ought not to have told British shipping about the danger. How well those propositions fit together, the House may form its own conclusion. As to the first proposition, that there is no danger, that is a question of fact, and I think the British people would prefer the view of the Naval authorities on the spot to chance remarks by different hon. Gentlement opposite, even on the Front Opposition Bench. British shipping, of course, can believe which it likes. [HON. MEMBERS: "It has!"] I am delighted to have the agreement of both Oppositions. There will at any rate on that score be no further complaint against the Government. The Government gives the opinion of the Naval authorities on the spot, and British shipping can accept whichever opinion it likes, but the danger from mines in the neighbourhood seems to have been rather confirmed by the fact that General Franco's chief ship has been sunk by them.
As to whether the Government ought to have warned shipping of the dangers, the complaints of hon. Members opposite are so fantastic that I do not think it is worth making any serious attempt to argue them. If the danger was there, there was an obvious duty to warn. I come now to the third point made in those Debates, that it is the duty of the British Government to remove the dangers. In contrast to the two previous points, that is at least a policy. It is not the policy of His Majesty's Government, and until recently it was not the policy of His 1366 Majesty's Opposition, although I am well aware that half of the Opposition may have wavered on that point. I well remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), in moving the official resolution at the Edinburgh Conference, spoke in favour of non-intervention, which he described as the policy initiated by the French Government and supported by the British and Russian Governments. He also pointed out—and this may still be true in spite of what the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow said—that the only effect of withdrawing that policy would be enormously to load the scales against the Spanish Government. If the hon. Lady has forgotten the passage, this is what the right hon. Gentleman said:I can assure you—you know in your hearts yourselves—that if there is to be freedom to send arms into Spain, Germany and Italy will send 50 guns and 50 aeroplanes for every one that goes from other countries. [A cry of 'No' from the Conference] "—and the right hon. Gentleman said:This is a matter on which I have perhaps a little more knowledge than certain members of this Conference.Let us assume that we did seek to sweep the mines and sent mine-sweepers, under the protection of our Navy, to remove the dangers of any blockade. Anyone who thinks on the matter for a moment cannot doubt that whatever other effect such an action would have, the Non-Intervention Agreement would come speedily to an end and the Non-Intervention Committee would break up. I am aware that there are hon. Gentlemen opposite who would welcome that. That is a tenable policy. What is not tenable is to advocate that, unless you advocate the ending of non-intervention. I think we are entitled to know from the Front Opposition Bench whether even to-day they would end the Non-Intervention Agreement. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary is constantly faced by two entirely inconsistent demands from the Opposition. The first is to use the Non-Intervention Committee for this, that and the other thing, and the second is to take action which would bring the Non-Intervention Committee to an end. We are entitled to know where both the Oppositions stand. Admittedly there are very difficult matters involved in the nonintervention policy.
1367 According to the ordinary methods practised in all previous wars, we should long ago have recognised belligerent rights in both combatants. We may still have to do that. I have no doubt that the Government had weighty reasons against that course. I believe that some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think that one can recognise belligerent rights in one side and not in the other. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not? "] The reason is very simple: One of the few unilateral things that cannot exist is a unilateral war. If the hon. Member who said "Why not?" will look in a dictionary, he will see that "belligerent" means carrying on a war, and one of the facts about war is that there must be at least two sides. It is elementary common sense and international law that if one concedes belligerent rights to one side, one must concede them to the other side. It is too elementary to be argued. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not be funny!"] The hon. Member had better address that remark to the hon. Member who asked "Why not?" It is not I who am trying to be funny.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am not at all distressed when the hon. Member says that I could not be, because I was not endeavouring to be funny; but perhaps he can be and is inevitably, whether he wishes to be or not. What follows if you have a nonintervention agreement and do not recognise belligerent rights? First, you cannot recognise a de jure blockade enforced on the high seas by either party. Secondly, you must treat a de facto blockade in the same way whichever party imposes it. A de facto blockade if and when established by General Franco will, therefore, be treated just as a de facto blockade was treated when it was established by the other side last autumn. I believe much might be gained by a recognition of belligerent rights and I think the Government may have to consider it in the near future, but I realise that there may be weighty reasons which may operate against it.
Let me say two things about that. First, it is utterly untrue to suggest that by recognising belligerent rights you are recognising that the rebels are in the right in the war. Such recognition does 1368 not prejudge that question at all. Any hon. or right hon. Gentleman who studies the precedents and knows anything about international law, knows that such a question would not be in any way prejudged. Secondly, I suggest to the Government that, if they do come to the conclusion that belligerent rights should be recognised, they should not be alarmed by any outcry from the Left. The outcry from the Left is so invariably inconsistent that it is negligible. I had the pleasure on Saturday last, which was May Day, of listening to the speeches delivered from numerous platforms of the United Front in Hyde Park which dealt with Spain among other subjects. [HON. MEMBERS: "The pleasure? "] Yes, it was a great pleasure. There are few things from which I derived more encouragement than what happened in Hyde Park on that occasion. From all those platforms, save one, I heard passionate defences of democracy. From the remaining platform, a middle-aged gentleman under the banner of the Anarchists was denouncing democracy. The crowd strayed from one to the other and greeted all with equal enthusiasm. It was a fine afternoon, and all enjoyed themselves.
There are other topics in connection with this question with which I should like to deal, but I do not propose to develop them on this occasion. I think that the Government, when faced with the sort of criticism that has come from the Labour and Liberal benches to-day, can derive considerable encouragement from what happened on the last occasion when a Vote of Censure was moved against them on this very question of Spain. An extremely effective speech was delivered on that occasion by the Leader of the Opposition, but he will forgive me if I say that for virulence of criticism of the Government he was easily surpassed by the right hon. and bellicose Baronet who leads the Whig party. If the Leader of the Opposition chastised the Government with whips, the right hon. Baronet chastised them with scorpions, and those who had read the Liberal Press that morning knew that it was expected that at last the Popular Front would appear in the Division Lobby. But so shattered had the Opposition case been in the course of the Debate that when the Division came, a scene of indescribable indiscipline was 1369 to be observed on the Liberal benches, and that was the more astonishing in a party composed almost exclusively of Whips. It was quite obvious that if hon. Members were permitted to go into the Division Lobbies, one-third would vote with the Opposition and one-third with the Government and not less than two showed signs of being in danger of going through the ceiling. But the right hon. Baronet exercising all his authority was able to persuade all but one of them to go home, and that one voted with the Government.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith
On that occasion we were given an undertaking by the Foreign Secretary which had considerable influence on us, and which in subsequent days did not appear to be observed.
§ Mr. Strauss
That undertaking caused no astonishment to anybody except to hon. Members on those benches who wished for an excuse for altering their decision. It was in exact accordance with every declaration made by the Government previously. I believe that I express the view of the whole House when I say that I hope that the right hon. Baronet may on some future occasion be able to lead the whole of his party into the same Lobby, marching in good order and taking their step carefully from the extreme left.
The policy of non-intervention inevitably has difficulties. I have no doubt that it has been broken in various respects and may be broken again. But in the absence of that policy, foreign intervenetion in Spain would be enormously increased and the risk of the Spanish conflagration becoming a European conflagration would become imminent. In those circumstances I think it a pity that any hon. or right hon. Gentleman should speak from sympathy either for the Spanish Government or for General Franco. If they must, let them sympathise with the one or the other, but for us the interests of this country are infinitely greater than the interests of either of the combatants in Spain, and the interests of this country are in the preservation of peace. I believe that this policy, with all its difficulties, has pre-served the peace of Europe. I hope my right hon. Friend will persist in it, and I should like him to know that in doing so he will have the overwhelming support of this House and of the country.
§ 5.8 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
We have had one of the most interesting Debates I have heard in this House, in the course of which, if I may say so as an old Member, some very striking speeches have been delivered on both sides. But I do not propose to intervene to carry on the general discussion. I rise merely to ask the Foreign Secretary a couple of questions before he replies on the Debate. On the question of non-intervention, I do not propose to express any opinion. I am going to act on the assumption that that is the policy of the Government, and that the House has supported that policy up to the present. With regard to the merits of the controversy in Spain, while it is interesting to hear debate upon it, I do not think we have any time to develop that very interesting theme. The two questions which I wish to put to the Foreign Secretary are very important, especially as we are about to separate for a fortnight or more.
The first question is with regard to non-intervention. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will say that nonintervention has been as great a success as he anticipated. I am not blaming anybody in particular now—it would be idle to enter into the question of responsibility—but for the moment, there is no doubt, we must admit that it has been a tragic mockery. There are gigantic forces on one side and very powerful forces on the other side, all introduced from foreign countries. The right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in securing a second pact, and he has organised measures which he hopes will ensure that the pact of non-intervention will now be respected and, if necessary, enforced. Since that pact was signed, there has been a good deal of information to the effect that the Germans and the Italians have sent very powerful reinforcements to Franco's forces in Spain. We have had a good many reports in the British Press, of all parties, that planes have been seen crossing France on their way to Spain. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any information that, since Germany and Italy signed that pact, they have sent fresh contingents of aeroplanes to Spain. If so, what steps do the Government propose to take to protest, and protest effectively, against that breach of an arrangement which has 1371 only been made within the last few weeks?
The second question is this: The right hon. Gentleman has used language—and I have been very glad to read it in the papers—in which he makes it quite clear that he deprecates the bombing of open towns. It is no use quoting the precedent of Birmingham. Birmingham was a considerable arsenal and a source of supply to us during the War. There were the Birmingham Small Arms and there were a great many other manufactures which were essential to us in the course of the War, so that in that case Birmingham was not an open town. But there is no doubt at all that there has been bombing of open towns. The evidence is not evidence that has come from the Left. There is evidence which has come in a very remarkable contribution to the "Times" to-day, from their correspondent in Bilbao, quoting one of the most respected priests in Bilbao upon the subject. If that proceeds—and there is some indication that an attack of that kind is about to be repeated—what steps do the Government propose to take to enter an effective protest here again against the repetition of the horrors of Guernica?
I should very much like to get some information from the right hon. Gentleman as to what the intentions of the Government are. It is no use saying that the policy of non-intervention is a good one. Let us assume that it is, but unless it is enforced, it is worse than worthless. Up to the present there is no doubt at all that the parties have departed from the pact into which they have entered, with the exception of ourselves. I believe that, as far as Britain is concerned, as usual, she has kept faith, but I am afraid that that is not applicable to the other parties. The question is, What do we propose to do with regard to this second pact? Do we mean to make it quite clear that not only shall we take cognisance of any breach of this second pact, but that we shall have to take some kind of action in regard to it and that we shall have to reconsider the whole of our attitude towards non-intervention if Germany and Italy persist in breaking their bond? The second question is, What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do if this bombing of open towns and these horrors continue?
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I had undertaken to sit down at 10 minutes past 5, and I am now, therefore, in a somewhat embarrassing position. I hope the House will forgive me if I do not answer the questions that have been put to me, as I wish to bring the Debate back to the lines laid down in the powerful speech which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). Happily, the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has indeed very largely done that. We, like him, are interested this afternoon in two questions—the destruction of Guernica, and the violation of the Non-Intervention Agreements, both that of 28th August and that of 20th February, which we believe still to be continued. We are going to press the Government that they will speak the truth, declare it if they know it, and use every means to find it out if they do not, demand that the obligations accepted by different nations shall be carried out, and, above all, that they will press for the early evacuation of the foreign troops which are in Spain.
I confess that we approach this matter with certain misgivings about the attitude of His Majesty's Government. We have had proof that the Government are only too ready to believe what is convenient at the moment, to reject everything else as unconfirmed, and to end up with the conclusion that both sides are to blame. If the Foreign Secretary this afternoon were to repeat the speech which was made on behalf of the Government in another place last week, we should regard that as a very grave happening indeed. For, in respect of Guernica, we say that it is not enough to make an appeal to both sides in the Spanish war to "humanise" their conduct. This event at Guernica is not like anything that has ever happened before. Franco has never elsewhere bombed civilians, and the Government has not bombed any open towns, as Guernica was bombed. We have the evidence in that classic report in the "Times," which has been quoted so often in this House to-day, that the whole town of 7,000 inhabitants was "slowly and systematically pounded to pieces," in accordance with a strategic plan which had been very carefully prepared. We say that that is by far the worst atrocity that has happened; that, as a precedent, it is extremely dangerous 1373 to us and to the world; that, if it is not followed by effective action now, then we may expect the destruction of Bilbao by the same means; that such methods will become to be regarded as an accepted practice, which all to probably would be the starting point for the next war, and that in the first week of hostilities, if another war should ever unhappily break out, we should see repeated on a grand scale what a few dozen German aircraft did at Guernica.
We believe that the case in regard to Guernica has been absolutely proved. We have the evidence of countless eye-witnesses, and we have the rebel case itself. They said, on 29th April, that no aeroplanes were able to go up on the day of the bombardment, because on that day there was fog over their aerodrome; in a longer explanation, the next day, the fog had blown away, but the aeroplanes had still not risen from the ground; on 4th May there had been some bombs which had fallen before the fatal day; and, lastly, in the explanation given, I think it was, yesterday morning, we find them saying that there was some intermittent bombing during a period of three hours. As against this self-contradictory defence, we have the evidence of the Mayor of Guernica, a Catholic priest, who broadcast his own experiences; we have the evidence of another Catholic priest who broadcast again last night; we have the evidence of a high Catholic dignitary, the Dean of the Cathedral of Valladolid, who said that he arrived at 4.40 and left at 7.45, that between those times the sky was black with. German aeroplanes, and that they came down to a height of 200 metres to machine-gun the civilian population.
We have the evidence of British eyewitnesses. The first account published in this country was by the reporter of the "Star," who watched it with his own eyes from beginning to end from a neighbouring hill, and who heard the screams of the people. We have the evidence of the "Times" correspondent, who was himself machine-gunned in a neighbouring village by the German Air Force as they came back. We have his article this morning which completely destroys the fabricated case which has been put up by the rebel leaders. We have the still more sinister evidence that some authorities of the German Government were privy to the plan. I hope, 1374 indeed, that these reports will turn out to be false, for I hope the name of the German Government will be cleared, if it can be. But there is the report of a speech by General Goering, which was made the day before the atrocity occurred, and in which he said:In a short time the Spanish War will prove Germany's aviation strength.We have, much more sinister still, the article written to the "Frankfurter Zeitung" by their correspondent in Northern Spain three days before the bombardment took place, when he said that 12 or 15 dozen bombers had been concentrated in Viscaya, with only a dozen Rer aeroplanes to oppose them. He says they could fly over the whole Basque country undisturbed. He goes on to describe in detail this new technique of demoralising "the unprotected Reds" by bombarding them first and then firing down on them with machine guns. That is what actually took place.
We believe the case has been proved, and if the Government have any doubt, let them accept the plea of the Basque authorities and the Spanish Government for an international inquiry on the spot. We will accept any kind of inquiry, but I do not much believe in an inquiry held at the Foreign Office by the diplomatic methods of the Non-Intervention Committee. Under that procedure, no report of any agent abroad can be published, because his position would be difficult afterwards; no Government will submit the information it receives, and every Government is thinking of its general relations to the rest. Let us have an inquiry by independent people. The Government could do it themselves if they would spend £100 and send three British judges to draw up a report. If they do not want to adopt that plan, will they not have a really impartial international inquiry? They can get it done at Geneva. The Spanish Government have promised to accept such an inquiry without limitations of any kind. General Quiepo de Llano, with his usual courtesy, has invited the Dean of Canterbury to come behind General Franco's lines. Perhaps he will also invite a commission of inquiry on this point. In any case, he who refuses that inquiry will stand self-condemned. We hope the inquiry will also extend to the violations of the Non-Intervention Agreement.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
Would the hon. Gentleman also include Irun, which, an almost similar case, was burned to the ground?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Irun had been the scene of desperate front line fighting for a period of weeks, and there is no proof that it was burned by the defenders; but if it had been, that is a normal method of defence which the Russians used at Moscow to defeat Napoleon many years ago. The case of Irun is in no way parallel.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
No, of course I would not, and I would not be afraid of the result. May I now summarise the evidence, which we think amounts to proof, in regard to the violation of the Non-Intervention Agreement? There is the interview that various British journalists have had in private with an Italian prisoner, who said he belonged to the 92nd Regiment of Infantry of the regular Italian Army, that he was mobilised, that he was not a volunteer—"I am a soldier under orders," he said—and that he left Naples on 27th February, a week after the so-called "Volunteer" agreement came into force. There was the evidence of Major Lucianio given to Lady Hastings, and also, in private and without any pressure, to the correspondent of the "Times," in which the major said he belonged to the Littorio Division, a regular division, of the Italian Army; that altogether there were 40,000 Italian troops in Spain; that they were equipped with Italian uniforms, and that they came as Italian units and not as units of General Franco's army. There is a British observer at Bilbao from whom I have a telegram—the Foreign Secretary knows who he is, and that he is a person worthy of credence—who said that German pilots had told him spontaneously and in private that all the pilots and nearly all the crews of the aircraft on the Bilbao front were German. There is the evidence of the "Daily Telegraph," which, I think, hon. Members opposite will accept. Their correspondent in Bilbao on 19th April saw the diary of a German pilot who had been shot down, by name Hans Sobotka. His passport was also there. These documents prove that he had left Berlin 1376 on 5th April, arrived at Rome the night of the same day, arrived at Seville on 6th April, left for the front, and carried out a large number of bombardments on behalf of Franco.
We say that that is proof; and we ask the right hon. Gentleman if he still doubts it, to set up an international inquiry that will establish the truth; we ask him then fearlessly to declare the truth to the world; we ask him to call on the Governments of the world to stand together for the maintenance of international obligations; we ask him to bring this whole matter to an end by taking effective action to secure the rapid evacuation of foreign troops. I sometimes think that the Government have almost forgotten the meaning of international law. A little while ago the Admiralty threw away our old doctrine of effective blockade and our doctrine about mine-laying; the Board of Trade seem to care nothing about the rights of neutral shipping; and the Foreign Office seem all too ready to accept excuses about the violations of non-intervention of the Covenant, and of the Kellogg Pact. We ask them to stand on the law. We believe that if they appeal to the nations of the world to support them in upholding international obligations which have been freely accepted, they will find that the immense majority of mankind will be behind them. Abyssinia proved that there is a juristic conscience of mankind which is still alive. We ask the Government to mobilise it, because we believe that if they do not, Guernica will not only be a tragedy in itself, but that it will be but a pale forecast of horrors to come.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I have listened throughout this Debate to every speech made, and I should like to say that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who speaks with much greater experience than mine, when he said that he thought the speeches were some of the best he had heard in Debate for some time past. Although in the course of this Debate and from time to time there appears a certain bitterness on one side or the other, I feel sure that the House will appreciate the difficulties of a Foreign Secretary who has to deal 1377 with a situation such as we have in Spain at the present time.
Before I deal with the main subject of the Debate, I would like to refer to a question put about non-intervention by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith). I do not think that I am unduly sensitive to criticism, but I did somewhat resent the comment which the hon. Gentleman made and which I must frankly confess that I did not at all understand. In the course of the Debate on Bilbao I gave this House a very definite assurance, on behalf of the Government, that we would protect our ships going to the north coast of Spain up to the limit of territorial waters. That undertaking has been carried out corn-pi etely, and I do not know what the hon. Gentleman meant when he said that it was an undertaking which we did not carry out.
§ Mr. K. Griffith
I have no wish to be misunderstood. I do not wish to make any imputation of bad faith, but we were attacked from the benches behind the Government on the ground of having abstained on that occasion, and I was merely explaining that the reason for that was an assurance which we had got from the right hon. Gentleman which we understood, and which I think everyone would have understood, to include the protection of our ships by convoy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Almost the next day we got an entirely different interpretation of that speech from another Member of the Government, and then afterwards the convoy was carried out. If the Government do not know their minds, why should hon. Members behind them accuse us?
§ Mr. Eden
—who, no doubt know how to do it just as well as the hon. Gentleman. Before turning to the subject-matter before us, I think that, in view of certain comments which have been made, the House may like to have the latest information at the disposal of the Gov- 1378 ernment on the situation in Bareelona. On 4th May His Majesty's Consul-General reported that there was a grave disturbance of public order, and he requested the immediate dispatch of a warship, which arrived there from Valencia on the same day, that is, the 4th, and was reinforced yesterday by a second ship. On the evening of the 4th the Consul-General reported to us that the situation was very grave, that the British colony were dispersing, and that at that moment it would be inadvisable to try to land anyone from the ship. He added that the streets were barricaded and that fighting between Anarehists and police had been taking place all day and was still going on. Last night the Consul-General reported that the situation was still confused, that the fighting appeared to be heavy, and he feared that there had been a considerable death-roll. He is now in touch with His Majesty's ships in Bareelona. I am afraid that is all the information that I have, but it shows that there is a very anxious situation in that city at this time.
§ Mr. Emmott
Can the right hon. Gentleman state approximately the numbers in the British colony in Bareelona, and has he any information on the question whether there has been any loss of life in the colony?
§ Mr. Eden
I cannot. So far as I know there has been no loss of life. British ships are there to do what they can to help the British colony. Coming to the Debate, I have been asked to deal specifically with two aspects of the Spanish situation, and as I do not wish to detain the House long, it is on those two that I shall concentrate. There is, first, the issue at Guernica. It is perfectly true that this affair has stirred considerable depths of feeling in this country. It is not an isolated incident in the sense that it is the only example of the bombing of the civil population in Spain. Nobody pretends that there have not been other examples of it before, but it does seem, from the information which has come to us so far, a particularly deplorable 1379 example of bombing and machine-gunning from the air. I should like not only this House—in this instance I am speaking to a rather wider audience—but other nations to understand that the feelings in this country on this matter are not due, as some of them appear to think, to a desire to put any other country in the dock, or to a desire to accuse any other country, but they are due to a belief, which is widely shared in this country, on the evidence at present available, that there has been an exceptionally severe air bombardment and machine-gunning. It is the knowledge that if that kind of thing is repeated and intensifies in a larger scale, it is going to mean a terrible future for Europe to face which has resulted in this expression of opinion. This opinion is not confined to this country at all, as some foreign nations think—not at all—but extends not only to the Dominions but, as I know, to the United States of America and elsewhere. The last thing which anybody in this country wants is to make use of this, as I believe, tragic happening for some unworthy political purpose. What we do want is to make of this event, if the event is of the nature that we think it is, an occasion for seeking to put a stop to the repetition of happenings which must have such tragic consequences in the future if allowed to be repeated.
That is the position. What is to be done about it? The hon. Gentleman said perfectly truly that the Spanish Government have asked, not for three British judges, I am thankful to say, which would be rather an embarrassing request, but for an international inquiry, and the question arises, Can such an inquiry be agreed to? So far as the Government are concerned, we should be glad to see such an inquiry take place. We say that, not because we want, as I repeat, to indict anybody, but if the facts are disputed—and it is clear that they are disputed in some quarters—then the only satisfactory solution is to have an inquiry which will establish the facts. As to the hon. Gentleman's belief that such an inquiry would be readily accepted and readily worked out, I am not perhaps as optimistic as he is, but in any event I believe that Europe, every nation in Europe, would be the gainer if we were to co-operate in trying to establish the 1380 facts. I believe the best people for that purpose would not be any of the great Powers. I should like to see, perhaps, a number of nationals of small neutral States endeavour to carry out that task. We shall be doing that, not in an effort to pillory the past, but in an attempt to better the future.
I was asked about the position at Bilbao. The House is familiar with the request which was addressed to us. We were asked by the Basque Government to protect on the high seas ships evacuating non-combatants, old men, women, and children, who wished to leave Bilbao. I do not disguise from the House that we should much have preferred it if that evacuation had taken place by agreement between the two sides, but in any event the Government consider that they have nothing to apologise for in the action which they have undertaken in offering this measure of protection. I was asked whether that remains our position. It does. Protection on the high seas will be afforded should it be necessary, which I cannot conceive it should be, to these ships carrying women and children away from Bilbao. We claim that that action is perfectly consistent with what we have done hitherto in this strife. We have car-ried numbers of people in our ships. I have not attempted a computation, but I think it is probably true that we have evacuated or saved the lives of more supporters of General Franco than of the Government.
§ Mr. Eden
Yes, once to Malaga and once to Almeria, once to the insurgents and once to the Government, and we say that work of this kind, which is purely humanitarian, in such circumstances as then existed, cannot possibly be regarded as any form of intervention. Now I come to the criticism of the Non-Intervention Agreement. As I listened to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), I could not help feeling, much as I respect him, that in his heart of hearts he is an ardent interventionist, and that in some respects he is like the fifth column of the Spanish insurgents.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am merely trying to explain what I believe to be the view of the great majority of my party. We hope that democracy will triumph over Fascism 1381 that, having accepted the policy of nonintervention, it will be loyally carried out, and that, if it is, it will rapidly bring the civil war to an end. We protest with all our power against the sham, the hypocritical sham, that it now appears to be.
§ Mr. Eden
The position of the hon. Gentleman is quite an easy one to take up, seeing that he speaks from the other side. He makes no complaint that it is not our desire to carry out the obligations. We cannot contrive that all others are equally loyal. I admit the difficulty of which we have been conscious ever since this scheme began. That is why we sought by one means and another to try to improve the system, and finally, after endless labours, we arrived at this system of supervision. The hon. Gentleman spoke as though this system were sonic pet idea of the Government, but it is nothing of the kind. It has been elaborated by experts of all nations, and it has been endorsed by the French Government, the Russian Government, and the German Government; and all the Governments participating in this endeavour regard it as the best scheme that they have been able to work out in the circumstances.
I am sure that this scheme of control will stop the influx by foreign ships, of foreign volunteers, and of foreign arms to Spain. The hon. Gentleman says that that is not enough, but I would put this question: We have to face the alternative. This scheme has reduced and is reducing the volume of intervention in Spain, including the intervention of the inflow of materials from those who are willing to send them. The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) thought that if we abolished the non-intervention scheme and if everybody were free to provide what they wished, the Spanish Government would benefit. With all respect to her, I do not agree. I do not believe that the chief sources of supply from which presumably she imagines the Spanish Government would draw their material, namely, France and Russia—I will come to the position of this country in a moment—would counter-balance what could be done by the fully-armed dictator Powers, Germany and Italy.
As regards this country, it is no secret, and the House is well aware that our armament firms are fully occupied with our own rearmament. I may tell what is 1382 certainly not another secret, that at the Foreign Office we have difficulty in securing the fulfilment of contracts for certain countries for whom we have for a long time been supplying arms. We were fully alive to the facts when we agreed to the existing scheme, and we sought to find a means of dealing with the possibility of intervention by air. I need only state the problem for hon. Members to realise its immense complexity. We should have had to devise supervision over air ports within 1,000 miles radius of Spain, which would require such a prodigious organisation that it was clearly beyond our immediate capacity. As to the reports of machines flying into Spain, I have seen reports and rumours of aeroplanes flying over France, but I have heard nothing of that matter from the French Government, nor, so far as I am aware, have the French Government reported it to the Non-Intervention Committee. I can say to the House that we are faced with two alternatives, and that in either case this air problem was particularly difficult. We were faced with either having no scheme at all or accepting the scheme oas it was and trying to deal with the air problem.
The hon. Gentleman says, "What are you going to do if this kind of intervention grows to enormous proportions?" I agree that if that should happen, a new and very grave situation would arise which we should have to consider. I would add that I do not think that it will happen, for technical reasons which I do not propose to outline to the House at length, but if it were to happen and if it were to detract from what we are trying to do in another sphere, we should have to consider the scheme in the light of the position. I beg the House to believe that the Government are doing their utmost to work the policy of nonintervention. I believe it is the policy which the country wishes to see carried out. I believe the country desires that this Spanish conflict shall not become a European conflict. The hon. Gentleman may say that there is danger, but that danger is very much less than it was. It has not gone. If the hon. Gentleman will consult the files of some of the foreign newspapers, he will see what the position is. My first responsibility is to do everything that a man can do to prevent this spark from the Spanish furnace lighting up Europe.
1383 I believe with the House and the country that we should do all that we can to stop foreign intervention in this conflict and to bring the conflict, as a conflict, to an end. Can anything be done in the latter sphere? A few weeks ago I had hopes that action might be taken, but now passions seem to be mounting again. In my view that action can be successful only if the great Powers agree among themselves to try to influence the two sides in Spain. When the moment will come it is hard indeed for any man to say. Europe to-day must realise that this Spanish conflict is an opportunity for international effort. In the last few weeks, both the statesmen of the Little Entente at Belgrade, and the Belgian Foreign Secretary speaking in Brussels, all of them qualified to speak upon the international situation, thought that the tension had grown less in the last few months, and I agreed with them. It is tragic if the opportunity to secure an improvement in the general situation is to be destroyed by this Spanish tragedy, with all its attendant evils. I am confident that, were the necessary measure of collaboration forthcoming to help to bring this Spanish chapter to an end, we might see an entirely new European collaboration.
There is the position as it is at the present moment, and I would beg the House to believe that I am just as conscious as any hon. Member of the consequences of this Spanish civil strife. Perhaps I get more detailed reports than the Opposition can get, and they are not, believe me, all on one side. I am not going to attempt to draw up a balance-sheet. The Government occupy and must retain a more detached position in relation to this matter than other nations of Europe, and must use their whole influence to circumscribe the strife and limit its suffering, and one day, I trust, bring it to an end.