HC Deb 03 November 1938 vol 340 cc372-3
Mr. Arthur Henderson

(by Private Notice) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty whether he can make a statement on the firing on the Spanish Steamer "Cantabria" by a Spanish rebel cruiser off Cromer on 2nd November?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)

At about 3.30 p.m. yesterday, a report was received from the steamship "Monkwood" that an auxiliary cruiser flying the flag of General Franco's forces was firing at a Spanish merchant vessel at a position seven miles west of the Cromer Knoll light vessel. Instructions were at once sent out to His Majesty's ships nearest the scene to proceed to the spot with a view both to rendering any assistance to crew of the vessel which was being attacked and to ensuring that the armed auxiliary took no action inside British territorial waters. I understand that of the crew of the vessel, which proved to be the "Cantabria," II were rescued by the steamship "Pattersonian" and five by the Cromer lifeboat, and that the remainder were taken on board the auxiliary cruiser. No violation of British territorial waters occurred.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the fact that Spanish rebel cruisers are apparently patrolling the North Sea, may I ask the Minister whether steps will be taken to protect merchant shipping, first by preventing the sending of wireless messages to those cruisers from rebel sympathisers in this country, and secondly by strengthening the British Naval patrol in the North Sea?

Mr. Shakespeare

If there are auxiliary cruisers belonging to General Franco patrolling the North Sea, I do not see how any threat to British ships is involved in that.

Mr. G. Strauss

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether it was in fact contrary to international law for a cruiser to fire on this tramp steamship, and that the most they were entitled to do was to take it prisoner?

Mr. Shakespeare

I have no information as to what happened except what I have seen in the Press, but according to Press accounts warning was given by the cruiser.

Mr. Garro Jones

Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that no facilities will be given to this or any similar vessel for taking on fuel or supplies from any British port?

Mr. Shakespeare

That is a hypothetical question.

Mr. Garro Jones

May I press for an answer? It is not a hypothetical question, and I am asking for the assertion of a principle which it is now time to announce.

Mr. Shakespeare

I think that question should be put down.

Mr. Dalton

Would it not be a gross violation of the principle of non-intervention for these rebel vessels to be succoured from British sources of supply?

Lieut.-Commander Agnew

Is it not a fact that a few months ago a Barcelona Government destroyer was repaired at Falmouth, fitted out with ammunition, and afterwards taken down the river and allowed to go to sea?