HC Deb 27 February 1939 vol 344 cc894-6
48. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty's Government have made any representations to the Italian Government following the notification to His Majesty's Ambassador in Rome by the Italian Foreign Minister that the recent increase in the number of Italian troops in Libya were necessary for the security of Italian interests?

6. Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister what is the peace strength of the Libyan army as referred to in the Anglo-Italian Agreement; what was the number of the Italian effectives in Libya when the Anglo-Italian conversations began and what they now are?

Mr. Butler

His Majesty's Government understand that the peace strength of the Italian forces in Libya referred to in the Anglo-Italian Agreement would amount to roughly 32,000–35,000 men, and I would refer to the replies given to the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) and the hon. and learned Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) on 15th and 20th February respectively. My Noble Friend, on learning that the Italian Government proposed to increase the garrison in Libya, instructed His Majesty's Ambassador at Rome to express regret that the Italian Government should feel obliged to depart from the programme of reduction in the Libyan garrison, foreshadowed in the Exchange of Notes of 16th April. The Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs emphatically stated that the present increase was intended solely for defensive purposes, and added that when things again became normal the question of the strength of the Libyan garrison would once more be reviewed.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not a fact that these increases, although they may not be a breach of the letter of the Anglo-Italian Agreement, are definitely a breach of the spirit of that Agreement?

Mr. Butler

As I said previously, the terms of the Agreement were actually carried out by the Italian Government; that is to say, progressive reductions took place. When we heard that the troops in Libya were to be increased we expressed regret at such action, and we received the reply which I have given.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not a fact that the Government had no intention of making an agreement that troops should be taken away and immediately sent back, and is not this act, therefore, a breach of the spirit of the Agreement?

Mr. Butler

It is difficult to be tied down to that, because the terms of the original agreement were carried out, but, in order to indicate our attitude in this matter, we expressed our regret to the Italian Government and received the reply I have just read.

Mr. Attlee

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in the Debate on the Italian Agreement it was suggested that this would be done, and we were told to have confidence in the good faith of Signor Mussolini?

Mr. G. Strauss

Does anybody seriously believe that Libya is likely to be attacked?

Sir P. Harris

Setting aside the Italian reply, does not the right hon. Gentleman consider this a rather evasive way of carrying out the Agreement?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

Do not we as a country often have to reinforce our troops?