HC Deb 12 December 1938 vol 342 cc1571-9
4. Mr. Parker

asked the Prime Minister the numbers of ships legally flying the British flag which have been fired at, sunk, or damaged by mine, torpedo, bomb, gun, or machine-gun fire inside territorial waters and also on the high seas, and the totals, in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Bay of Biscay, respectively, as the result of action by the insurgents since the outbreak of the Spanish civil war; the position when attacked and, where known, what nationality was responsible; the number of officers and men killed and also wounded, specifying non-intervention officers; and what claims have been forwarded to the insurgent authorities?

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Butler)

As the answer is necessarily somewhat long, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the answer:

According to my Noble Friend's information, the number of incidents in question amounts to 23 in the Mediterranean, none in the Atlantic and six in the Bay of Biscay, on the high seas; and, in territorial waters, 87 in the Mediterranean, none in the Atlantic and four in the Bay of Biscay. In the majority of these cases, where damage has resulted, it has been of a relatively slight character. His Majesty's Government hold General Franco's forces responsible for all these incidents. I regret to say that 48 officers and men and three nonintervention officers lost their lives in these attacks, and 64 officers and men are known to have been injured, as well as three non-intervention officers. For reasons previously explained to the House, apart from the exceptional case of the damage to His Majesty's Ship "Hunter," no detailed claim has yet been presented to the Burgos authorities in respect of these attacks, although His Majesty's Government have reserved the right to claim in due course for compensation for the damage caused.

9. Mr. David Adams

asked the Prime Minister whether an account has yet been rendered to General Franco for costs of detention of various ships carrying cargoes for Britain, and British vessels as from the point of arrest to return thereto or equal?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir, but His Majesty's Government have reserved the right to claim compensation in due course in respect of losses incurred by British interests as a result of the illegal detention of ships by General Franco's forces.

Mr. Adams

Are we to understand that no account has been rendered?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. We have reserved our right to claim compensation.

Mr. T. Williams

What do the Government mean by "reserved our right?" Do they intend to exercise it?

Mr. Butler

As the hon. Gentleman must know, in cases of this sort the usual practice is to send a communication to the authorities concerned, reserving one's right to claim compensation, and that we have done.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Is it not the custom in due course to render the account?

Sir Percy Harris

Have we ever had compensation in respect of our claims for damage done by those who are concerned, and has any money been paid out in respect of the claims, some of which have been outstanding for at least 18 months?

Mr. Butler

I have explained this matter to the House on several occasions. It is usual for claims such as these to be paid on the conclusion of hostilities, and in every case where there is a likelihood of compensation being required we have reserved our right to make that claim.

Mr. Attlee

Does that apply where there is not an established government, but only an insurgent government which is not recognised?

Mr. Butler

As far as I know, the practice in international law is that claims are paid when hostilities are concluded.

Mr. Petherick

How is it possible to expect legal compensation to be paid by a government which is illegal?

Mr. J. Morgan

Why have these accounts not been presented?

12. Mr. Petherick

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that some British subjects who are being repatriated after fighting in Spain are unable to pay their own expenses of return and that these expenses cannot be recovered from the Spanish Government in Valencia, he will endeavour to ascertain by what person or agency those persons were recruited in order to obtain from that person or agency a refund of the expenses which would otherwise fall as a charge on the British taxpayer?

Mr. Butler

I am advised that, even if it could be established that some or all of the persons repatriated had been recruited in this country or had been assisted by any person or agency in travelling to Spain, it would not be possible to make any legal claim for the recovery of the expenses of their return against any such person or agency.

14. Mr. Kennedy

asked the Prime Minister why, on the occasion of his recent visit to Paris, he urged the French Government to close the frontier to food supplies to the Spanish population as well as to armaments to the Spanish Government?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

No such suggestion was put forward during the Paris conversations or on any other occasion.

Mr. Kennedy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the suggestion in the question has received very wide Press publicity, without any contradiction being offered?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I have not seen any such suggestion before, and a contradiction has now been made in very precise terms.

15. Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the recent decision of the Court of Appeal that His Majesty has recognised the National Government of Spain as the government of a foreign sovereign State, he is now prepared to concede to the two contending governments in Spain the exercise of the right of capture at sea, which, by virtue of international law, belongs to every sovereign State in time of war, more especially as the granting of these rights would put an end to the bombing of British ships in Spanish ports?

36. Miss Rathbone

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that the action of the Spanish Government in voluntarily and unconditionally dismissing all their foreign combatants will not be penalised nor the action of General Franco in refusing consent to the Non-Intervention Committee's plan for the evacuation of foreign combatants rewarded, by the grant of belligerent rights to both combatants on terms less rigid than those required by the Non-Intervention Committee's plan?

Mr. Butler

The Court of Appeal decided on 31st October that General Franco's administration should be accorded the immunity from suit in this country which is accorded to the gov- ernments of foreign States. This decision has no bearing on the question of the grant of belligerent rights, on which I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Members for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) on 21st November. The right of capture at sea is a part of belligerent rights.

Sir N. Stewart Sandeman

Does not the question of international law come in strongly here, and must be agreed to properly?

Mr. Butler

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but there is no connection between the decision of the Court of Appeal and the actual granting of belligerent rights?

Mr. Leach

On a point of Order. May I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that in this question the insurgent government of Spain are referred to as the National Government of Spain, notwithstanding the fact that the de facto Government of Spain is one with whom we are in friendly relations?

Mr. Speaker

The question has often been raised before. Some refer to it in one way and others in another.

Mr. Thurtle

Have not the Government already shown that they do not attach any great importance to international law?

16. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister where he has made any protest against the formation of General Franco's prize court at Palma?

Mr. Butler

His Majesty's Government have always made it clear that General Franco's administration, not being recognised as possessing belligerent rights, are not entitled to subject any ship or cargo in which there is a British interest to any prize court.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Does it follow from that answer that this is an illegal court and that its decisions are equally illegal?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Petherick

Would it not be different if belligerent rights were granted, as they ought to be?

Mr. A. V. Alexander

Are the Government to take no action at all against the operations of an illegal court dealing with British shipping?

Mr. Butler

No ships flying the British flag have been among those arrested in the Mediterranean and subjected to a prize court.

Mr. George Griffiths

Is it proposed to give belligerent rights to pirates?

29. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister on what date His Majesty's Government last addressed a protest to General Franco against the illegal air blockade of Spanish Government ports now being conducted by aircraft under his command?

Mr. Butler

The last date on which His Majesty's Government addressed a protest to the Burgos authorities against attacks on British ships in Spanish ports was 17th November.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Will the hon. Gentleman consider making representations in Rome, as he did on 27th June, when the result was that the air blockade was suspended for several months?

30. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any information as to how many civilians have been killed and wounded by aircraft under General Franco's command engaged in carrying out his threat to bombard 150 open towns in territory controlled by the Spanish Government?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it proposed to take any action to indicate to General Franco the strong feeling that exists in this country against a new air campaign?

Mr. Butler

I think that General Franco will be aware that there is much feeling in this country on the subject.

32. Mr. Wedgwood Benn

asked the Prime Minister whether the list of ships with British cargoes which General Franco has promised not to molest was accompanied by any covering document; if so, whether it can be published; and whether assurances of any kind have been given to General Franco in return for his undertaking not to seize certain specified items of British property?

Mr. Butler

The British Agent was instructed, in communicating the list of ships, to request the immediate release of the two ships which had been detained and to obtain an assurance that those mentioned in the list would not be molested. No undertakings have been given by His Majesty's Government to General Franco's Administration in return for the assurances which they received. Since full information has been given to the House on this matter, the publication of further documents does not appear to be necessary.

Mr. Benn

Can the owners of British property that is being carried via the Mediterranean be secured this immunity by application to the Foreign Office; or how can British cargoes and property be protected during their passage through the Mediterranean?

Mr. Butler

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that British ships have the protection of the British Navy. In cases of British cargoes or interests in foreign ships, the whole matter has been and still is under discussion with General Franco.

Mr. Benn

Do we understand that, unless they get this special dispensation, they are liable to be pursued by General Franco?

Mr. J. J. Davidson

Is this why the British Navy is called the "Silent Service"?

35. Sir N. Stewart Sandeman

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the nationalised railways electric power station of La Tour de Carol in France is making plans to supply Government Spain with its surplus output of 30,000 kilowatts to enable the Puigcerda-Barcelona railway line to function normally and the unrequired balance to be used for driving factories, etc.; and whether, as this is a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement, he will make representations about this matter?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir, but I am advised that assistance of this kind would not constitute a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement. The answer to the last part of the question is, therefore, in the negative.

37. Miss Rathbone

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that the evacuation of foreign combatants fighting with the Spanish Government forces is being accomplished outside the framework of the Non-Intervention Committee's plan owing to the refusal of General Franco to agree to that plan, His Majesty's Government will give the same financial assistance to the cost of evacuating the British volunteers, as would have been given if that evacuation had been carried out within the framework of the plan?

Mr. Butler

The Spanish Government are providing, at their own expense, transport for the volunteers as far as the Franco-Spanish frontier or Spanish seaport, but His Majesty's Government are bearing the cost in the first instance of transport from the Spanish frontier to this country. They reserve the right to recover these expenses from the individuals concerned.

Miss Rathbone

Is it not the case that paragraph 71 of the Non-Intervention Committee's plan provides that the cost of evacuation of foreign volunteers shall be paid for by the Governments participating in the plan? Is it fair that either the Spanish Government or the individual volunteers should be required to pay the cost merely because General Franco has not given his consent to the plan, and the evacuation is being carried on outside its scope?

Mr. Butler

The suggestion simply is this—and I think it is quite reasonable—that the expenses should be met by these volunteers in cases where they can afford to pay them. As regards the second part of the supplementary, the fact that His Majesty's Government entered into an undertaking towards other Governments on the Non-Intervention Committee would never have excluded their recovering the expenses from the men concerned, had they been able to do so.

Mr. Petherick

Is it fair that the British taxpayer should be asked to pay for the demobilisation of other people's armies?

Miss Rathbone

But would that not be the case under the Non-Intervention Committee's plan, and, therefore, should it be any less so when the evacuation has been voluntary and unconditional, as an act of grace on the part of the Spanish Government?

Mr. Butler

It would not, in our view, preclude the Government from recovering the expenses from such volunteers as are able to pay them.