HC Deb 04 May 1938 vol 335 cc851-5
10. Mr. W. Roberts

asked the Prime Minister whether, as protests have failed to safeguard British ships and British seamen from attacks by Italian aeroplanes, he will now consult with the French Government to devise means by which the navies of the two countries may protect such ships in the conduct of their lawful commerce?

24. Mr. Acland

asked the Prime Minister whether he has received any information tending to show whether the insurgent aircraft whose raids damaged British shipping recently in Barcelona and Valencia were indiscriminately bombing the harbours or were deliberately attacking the British shipping?

29. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister whether he has received any reports concerning the nationality of the aircraft which bombed British ships in Barcelona harbour last week; whether those reports indicate whether the attack was deliberately directed against the British ships; and what is the extent of the damage inflicted upon the ships?

Mr. Butler

As regards the air raid on Valencia on 25th April, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to similar questions on 2nd May by the hon. Members for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) and Birkenhead, East (Mr. White). During this raid one British ship, the "Stanland," was narrowly missed by a bomb and suffered considerable damage, and four other British ships are reported to have been slightly damaged. As regards the air raids on Barcelona on 30th April and 1st May, no British ships were damaged. On all three occasions the aircraft were flying at a great height, and it was not possible to identify their nationality. All the air raids in question appear to have been directed against the ports, and His Majesty's Government do not consider that there is any evidence to show that attacks were deliberately aimed against British vessels. In these circumstances, they do not consider that any special action is called for.

Mr. Roberts

Is it not a fact that the captains of the ships concerned have definitely identified the aeroplanes as Italian?

Mr. Butler

As I said in my answer it was not possible, owing to the great height, for us to identify their nationality.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

If these planes were flying at such a great height, can it be argued that they were aiming at military objectives? Were they not just dropping bombs from a great height indiscriminately on civilians?

Mr. Butler

The effect of the raid seems to have been concentrated on a district in which there were military objectives.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it the view of the Government that it is legitimate to drop bombs on ports where there is neutral shipping, although the ports may be remote from the firing line?

Mr. Butler

I do not think we like air raids in any circumstances at all, but it is less easy to make a protest when there are military objectives in view from the air.

Vice-Admiral Taylor

Was the British ship not alongside the jetty and within the area of a perfectly legitimate objective?

11. Mr. W. Roberts

asked the Prime Minister whether the British Government will now claim damages from the insurgent authorities in Spain for damage done to the steamship "Stanwell," which was the object of deliberate bombardment by aircraft?

Mr. Butler

As I informed the hon. Member for Birkenhead, East (Mr. White) on 30th March, the British Agent has been instructed to inform the Burgos authorities that His Majesty's Government reserve the right to claim in due course compensation for the damage to persons and property resulting from the attack on the steamship "Stanwell."

Mr. Roberts

Why should a different procedure be followed in this case from that which was followed when the British Ambassador was deliberately attacked by Japanese planes? Is there a different valuation on the lives of seamen and of Ambassadors?

Mr. Butler

I have already outlined in a previous answer what the procedure is with regard to compensation. Of course, there is a difference between an Ambassador and a ship.

Mr. George Griffiths

The men on the ship do not count then, do they?

Mr. Mander

Will any compensation be asked for before or after the settlement?

Mr. Butler

Does the hon. Member mean the settlement of hostilities?

Mr. Mander

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Butler

It is probable that a claim will be put in after the cessation of hostilities. That is the general policy. But it is now necessary to assess the damage to property resulting from the attack.

13. Mr. Creech Jones

asked the Prime Minister whether the British Consulate at Barcelona has been closed; and, if so, what arrangements have been made to give help and protection to non-combatant British nationals who remain in the city?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. There is a branch of the office in Barcelona, through which touch is maintained with British subjects in the town.

Mr. Creech Jones

Do I gather that the consuls of other nations are already in Barcelona and that the British Consul has been withdrawn?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir, there is an office in Barcelona, though it is true that the British Consul lives outside.

20 and 21. Captain Ramsay

asked the Prime Minister (1) whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that 466 trucks with a loading capacity of 850 tons and carrying that weight of heavy and light artillery guns, anti-tank guns, machine guns and munitions, armoured cars, automatic rifles and tanks passed over the Franco-Catalan frontier in the week ending 22nd March; and will he bring these facts to the attention of the Non-Intervention Committee;

(2) whether he is aware that 300 aeroplanes crossed Rumania from Soviet Russia on 25th April en route for Spain; and whether he will bring this fact to the notice of the Non-Intervention Committee?

Mr. Butler

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply which I returned on 2nd May to a similar question put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft).

Captain Ramsay

May I ask my hon. Friend whether, in view of the importance of Question No. 21, if I put the question down later on, he will let me have a separate reply on the matter?

Mr. Butler

That question has already been covered by the answer I have given.

Mr. Gallacher

Is the Minister aware that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who asked this question saw the Russians pass through Scotland during the War?

22. Mr. Riley

asked the Prime Minister whether the German Government is still a member of the Non-Intervention Committee; and if they have accepted the British formula for the withdrawal of foreign volunteers from Spain?

Mr. Butler

The answer to both parts of the question is in the affirmative.

23. Mr. Riley

asked the Prime Minister whether the application of the British formula for the withdrawal of foreign volunteers will also cover the withdrawal of foreign military aeroplanes, guns and munitions?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. In this connection I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply given on 30th March to a question by the hon. Member for Kings-win-ford (Mr. A. Henderson).