HC Deb 29 November 1938 vol 342 cc251-3
Mr. Benn

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he has any information regarding the capture by General Franco of two Greek ships bearing wheat purchased from Rumania on behalf of the British Government, and what action he proposes to take in the matter?

Mr. Butler

Two Greek ships the "Mount Cynthos" and "Nitsa" conveying wheat purchased from Rumania by His Majesty's Government were taken into Palma by General Franco's Forces for examination on 23rd November and 26th November respectively. Instructions were sent last night to the British agent at Burgos and to His Majesty's Consul at Palma to request the immediate release of these two ships.

Commander Marsden

Is it not the case that if this wheat had been conveyed in British ships, those ships would not have been stopped?

Mr. A. V. Alexander

Is not this action by General Franco an assumption of belligerent rights which have not been granted; and is the Under-Secretary aware that within 24 hours of this incident, the insurance rates on these ships and on this class of ship, had gone up from 7s. 6d. to 40s.; and what steps does he propose to take with General Franco to stop action of this kind?

Mr. Butler

In regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, this certainly could be interpreted as an assumption of belligerent rights. As regards the second part of the question, I am not clear that those rates are necessarily connected with this incident. As regards the third part of the question, we have taken energetic steps. We immediately sent instructions to demand that these ships should be released.

Mr. Alexander

But is the hon. Gentleman not aware that, according to Lloyds, there are now seven of these ships in exactly the same position and being held up by the Franco authorities, and that it is on the strength of this practice that the insurance rates are going up, and does he not consider that if the Government allow belligerent rights to be assumed by General Franco, without genuine Government action being taken, it is bound to lead to chaos?

Mr. Butler

I have informed the right hon. Gentleman that energetic action has been taken. His Majesty's Government take a serious view of this matter.

Mr. Gallacher

Have the ships been released?

Mr. Attlee

May we ask whether the action taken in this matter will be any more energetic than the other protests made to General Franco in the past year?

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Did not my hon. Friend say in his original reply, that he had "requested" the release of these ships, and in a later reply that the release of the ships had been "demanded"? Which of those words is to stand?

Mr. Butler

I think whichever is the stronger can be taken as the more applicable.