HC Deb 20 June 1938 vol 337 cc675-82
6. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister what reports His Majesty's Government have now received concerning the nationality of the aircraft which recently sank the British steamships "Thorpehall," Greatend" and "Penthames."

Mr. Butler

I regret that I have as yet nothing to add to the answer which I gave to the hon. Member on 1st June. In any case, His Majesty's Government, as has been previously pointed out in other instances, must regard the aircraft in question as part of the forces under the control of the Burgos authorities.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Have His Majesty's Government asked the masters of the ships for reports concerning the nationality of these aeroplanes?

Mr. Butler

As I informed the hon. Member on the last occasion, we were led to understand that the masters were sending us reports.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Have not the Government taken any further action themselves to obtain information?

Captain McEwen

Have His Majesty's Government any information concerning the nationality of the ships in question?

7. Mr. R. C. Morrison

asked the Prime Minister whether the list of prisoners of British nationality held by the forces of General Franco has yet been received?

11. Mr. Day

asked the Prime Minister the number of British subjects at present known to be held as prisoners of war by General Franco's forces in Spain; and what steps are being taken to secure their release?

Mr. Butler

One hundred and seventy-seven persons of British nationality have so far been reported by the British agent at Burgos to be held prisoners of war by General Franco's administration, and the names of these persons are being made available for publication. His Majesty's Government have made inquiries regarding the possibility of arranging the release of these men, and negotiations are at present in progress on this subject.

Mr. Morrison

Can the hon. Gentleman say when the names will be published?

Mr. Butler

I hope when we have verified the lists, and got the addresses clear. They will then be placed by the Foreign Office at the disposal of the London and Provincial Press in the various parts of the country from which those persons came.

8. Mr. Vyvyan Adams

asked the Prime Minister whether, to sustain British prestige, he will inform General Franco that any further bombings of the Union Jack by the insurgent forces in the Spanish Civil War will be countered by retaliatory measures on the part of His Majesty's Government?

Mr. Butler

I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by the Prime Minister on 14th June, from which he will have seen that His Majesty's Government have considered retaliatory action of various kinds, but, as at present advised, are not prepared to embark on such measures, which, apart from their inherent disadvantages, cannot be relied upon to attain their object.

Mr. Adams

Is it not a fact that the mere threat of firm action, if clearly backed by resolution, might well prove effective, as in the case of Czechoslovakia a few weeks ago?

Mr. Thurtle

Does the reply of the Government mean that Franco may go on bombing ships with impunity?

Sir Nairne Stewart Sandeman

May I ask—

Mr. Speaker

We must get on with Questions.

10. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister whether he has laid before the Italian Government the evidence in his possession as to the bombing of British ships in Spanish waters by Italian aeroplanes?

Mr. Butler

All representations on the subject of aircraft forming part of General Franco's forces must, in the view of His Majesty's Government, be addressed to the Burgos authorities.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Is it to be understood from that reply that His Majesty's Government have made no representations to the Italian Government, although it has been established that these attacks upon British ships have been made by Italian aircraft with Italian pilots?

Mr. Butler

The hon. and gallant Gentleman must understand from what I said in my reply that all representations on the subject of aircraft forming part of General Franco's forces should, in our view, be addressed to the Burgos authorities.

Hon. Members


Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Is it not unreasonable—

Sir N. Stewart Sandeman

Would not this whole problem be solved if some of the directors of these lines who are sending ships out to Spain had to sail with the ships?

13. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Prime Minister what are the commodities which the Spanish insurgent authorities have suggested should be barred from British ships trading with ports under Spanish Government control?

Mr. Butler

His Majesty's Government have received from the Burgos authori- ties no list of such commodities, and I cannot at present add anything to the statement made by the Prime Minister on 14th June.

Mr. Strauss

Does that answer mean that the Burgos authorities suggested that there should be some cargoes excluded without indicating what they are?

Mr. Butler

They suggested that the port should not be used for the purpose of supplying the Spanish Government with munitions and other commodities.

Sir Percy Harris

Would the Government consider withdrawing the Non-Intervention observers for their own safety, as several of them have been killed, and because they are no protection against attack from the air?

14. Mr. W. Roberts

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any information as to the military mission of Spanish insurgent officers, under General Orgay, which arrived in Berlin on 10th June, and whether the object of this visit was to obtain additional assistance from Germany for the insurgent forces?

Mr. Butler

I have seen reports in the Press regarding this mission, and am making inquiries.

Mr. Roberts

Would the hon. Gentleman make inquiries whether a consultation has taken place between those officers and leading munition makers and armament firms in Germany?

Mr. Butler

I have told the hon. Gentleman that we are making inquiries.

15. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister how many British ships have been attacked to date by Spanish insurgent aeroplanes; how many have been sunk; how many damaged; how many British lives have been lost in these attacks; at what the total amount of damage done to such British ships is assessed; how many protests have been addressed to General Franco; what claims have been made against General Franco for damage to ships and for compensation for killed and wounded men, respectively; how many of such claims have been admitted by General Franco; and how much has been received from him in regard to them?

Mr. Butler

The hon. and gallant Member asks a number of detailed questions. I will, with his permission, circulate the answer in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the answer:

Since the beginning of the civil war three British ships have been sunk and 10 seriously damaged in the course of attacks by such aircraft, while some 43 others have sustained lesser damages, in most cases of a minor character. I regret to say that 21 lives have been lost in these attacks, at least 13 of them being British. As regards the total amount of damage done, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the reply given to the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss (Rathbone) on 24th March. Protests have been addressed to General Franco in the matter on five distinct occasions, sometimes in respect of a single attack, while on other occasions the protest was of a more comprehensive character. As regards claims for compensation, I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the statement which I made in the Debate on the Adjournment on 12th May.

16. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Prime Minister how many British ships have been bombed in or near Spanish Government ports since 14th June?

Mr. Butler

According to my information, four British ships have been damaged by bombing in Spanish Government ports since 14th June.

Mr. Strauss

As 14th June was the date of the Prime Minister's protest in this House, does that not show that the Burgos authorities treat all protests by His Majesty's Government with complete contempt?

Miss Rathbone

Will the hon. Gentleman state when the Prime Minister will act upon the mild threat he made on 14th June that friendly relations with the Burgos authorities would be broken off if there was any more bombing: and how many more bombings there have been since then?

Mr. Butler

The answer to the first supplementary question is that there is no evidence that any of these attacks was deliberate, and to the second, that the Prime Minister does not make mild threats.

Mr. Arthur Henderson

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the statement made yesterday by the so-called Minister of the Interior of the Spanish insurgent government to the effect that all ships coming to Spanish Government ports were pirate ships, and that they intended to destroy them?

Mr. Butler

I have not seen the statement; perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bring it to my notice.

Mr. Noel-Baker

When the hon. Gentleman says there is no evidence that these attacks were deliberate, does he mean that he had received reports from the masters of the ships to say that they were not?

Mr. Butler

No, it means that we have no evidence that the attacks were deliberate.

20. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether any reply has been received from the Spanish insurgent authorities to the protest made by His Majesty's Government on 4th June against the bombing of civilian populations in Spain; and whether he has any statement to make on the proposal for sending an international commission to Spain to report on the damage caused by air bombing?

Mr. Butler

The Burgos authorities, in reply to His Majesty's Government's protests regarding the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of towns and villages, in particular of Alicante and Granollers, contend that these towns contain military objectives placed in or close to inhabited districts, and that their bombardment is unavoidable. As regards the second part of the question, I am glad to be able to announce that arrangements are nearing conclusion for the early despatch to France of a commission consisting of British, Swedish and Norwegian experts to report on aerial bombardments in Spain. This commission, whose headquarters will probably be at Toulouse, will be prepared to proceed to any part of Spain, at the request of either side in Spain, and report the facts concerning the bombardment by air of towns or villages.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Is it not a fact that His Majesty's Government sent the British Minister to one of the towns where, according to the information of the Under-Secretary, as he has just mentioned, there was no military objective and bombing was justifiable; and did not the British Minister report that there was no military objective and that the bombing was unjustifiable?

Mr. Butler

I have given an answer to the question that is on the Order Paper.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Have His Majesty's Government received any evidence from the British military attaché in Spain concerning the existence of military objectives in the towns which have been bombed?

Mr. Butler

That is a very broad question. I shall be replying to the detailed points raised by the right hon. Gentleman when we reach the next question on the Paper.

21. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister what report has been received from the British Minister in Barcelona with regard to the presence of military objectives in Granollers, Spain?

Mr. Butler

His Majesty's Minister at Barcelona has reported that the town of Granollers contains a small barracks lived in by some 300 troops, a garage used to erect aeroplane engines, a small generating station for the supply of the town, a railway bridge and a railway station. These points were, however, well outside the area which suffered the full force of the bombardment. With the exception of a group of six or seven bombs, which fell in a field outside the town and far away from any target, and of three which burst at the railway station, all fell in the centre of the town.

Mr. Henderson

Has this information been passed on to the Burgos authorities; and, if so, has any reply been received?

Mr. Butler

It has not yet been passed on, but I have no doubt that it will be.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Is it not quite clear from the answer that this town was a perfectly legitimate military objective?

Mr. V. Adams

Is it not quite clear that His Majesty's Government do not credit the reply of the Burgos authorities?

Mr. Butler

We regard the military objectives in this town as extremely limited.

29. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Prime Minister the nationality of the warship that recently bombarded Castellon?

Mr. Butler

I have received no reports to show that Castellon was bombarded by any warships.

Mr. Strauss

Since all the news agencies reported that Castellon was bombarded by warships, I wanted to ask whether the hon. Gentleman will find out if that is so, and whether there is any definite evidence that will confirm or deny the statement made in responsible quarters that these were German warships?

Mr. Butler

I cannot officially confirm or deny that there was any bombardment.

Mr. David Grenfell

Have the naval officers in Spanish waters been told to put the telescope to the blind eye?