§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the decision of His Majesty's Government to grant unconditional recognition to Spanish insurgent forces dependent upon foreign intervention constitutes a deliberate affront to the legitimate Government of a friendly Power, is a gross breach of international traditions, and marks a further stage in a policy which is steadily destroying in all democratic countries confidence in the good faith of Great Britain.Before dealing with the main substance of the Motion, I will revert for a moment to the conditions under which this House was made aware of this decision. The Prime Minister was under a pledge to communicate to this House, at the earliest opportunity, the decision come to with regard to the recognition of General Franco. On Thursday, replying to a question put by me, he had an opportunity of acquainting the House. He evaded the question. In the French Chamber on 24th February, M. Daladier, the French Prime Minister, made the following statement:Do you find it a matter of no moment that on 22nd February we received advice that the British Government considered that the hour had come to recognise General Franco and that we should wait no longer, since certain declarations by the General regarding the independence of Spain and his domestic policy were calculated to afford satisfaction?I take it, unless the Prime Minister contradicts me, that M. Daladier was stating the facts when he said that he had received that advice. Obviously, there had been a decision prior to last Thursday, when this House was informed that the Prime Minister could make no further statement. Therefore, the Prime Minister was not carrying out his pledge to the House to acquaint it at the earliest possible moment. The Prime Minister, in answer to questions yesterday, seemed to be surprisingly vague on the whole matter. He came down to announce to this House an important decision of policy. When asked when that decision was made, he asked for notice, and, first of all, tried to say that he did not quite understand the question. Later on he again asked for notice, and finally he told us that the final decision had been come to during the week-end. What does he mean by "the final decision" in that respect?
1100 The "Times," in an elaborate attempt to explain away the position to-day, quoted at considerable length from Sir William Anson's book with regard to the proper activities of Ministers, but the essential point is that, whether a Prime Minister is authorised to take action or not, he must have the agreement of the Cabinet. The Cabinet is, after all, the Government, not the Prime Minister, and we are entitled to know whether, as a matter of fact, any decision was come to by the Cabinet. As far as I understand the Prime Minister, the Cabinet handed over their responsibilities to the Prime Minister. I do not know whether he has a general right to act, or whether this special authority was given at Wednesday's meeting, but it is certainly a surprising commentary on the Cabinet. One can understand the Cabinet coming to a decision and then giving the power to the Prime Minister to put that decision into effect at a particular time, but in answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), the Prime Minister said that he was given authority to say when and where this decision should be made. That is the effective decision by the Government, when they empowered the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister objects to being cross-examined on this matter. That is a new line for the Prime Minister to take.
§ Mr. Attlee
"Without notice." Really, I have known junior Ministers try to escape from answering obvious questions by asking for notice, but I have never known a Prime Minister, who has just taken an important action on foreign affairs, acting on authority given him by the Cabinet, having to ask for notice before he could say when the decision was made. The right hon. Gentleman must be in an extraordinarily hazy condition of mind if he cannot recall when he did that. When the Prime Minister said he was not going to be cross-examined, he might have been a dictator addressing the Fascist Grand Council. I would remind the Prime Minister that he is a British Prime Minister, and, with all the honour that belongs to that position, he also accepts certain responsibilities, and one of these is the responsibility of answering for his actions in the House of Commons to Members of Parliament. I 1101 would remind Members of all parties that they also have the duty of questioning the Prime Minister and the Government upon their attitude.
Really what it came to was a pitiful evasion of the issue by trying to suggest that a decision had not been made. It is quite obvious that the Prime Minister had made up his mind and had notified the Prime Minister of another country of that act of policy which he refused to communicate to this House. That is not the way to treat the House of Commons. One looks to see what could have been the reason for this kind of smart trick. I think it is just part of a kind of Spenlow and Jorkins business which has been going on between the reactionary elements in this Government and the French Government, throughout the whole of this Spanish affair. They have all made an attempt to say, "It was not our fault; the other people did it first." When any particular thing of a base nature has to be done, an effort is always made to try and put the responsibility on to the other Government. This seems to have been a device to allow M. Daladier to speak first. I say that that is a trick, but a trick which was trumped by the French Prime Minister, because he revealed that he was doing it on the advice and pressure of this Government.
Now let me turn to the question which is raised here of the recognition. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I am not surprised that hon. Members opposite are glad to leave that side of the question. It is unprecedented in my experience in this House for a Prime Minister to do such a thing as that. The point is the question of the recognition of General Franco, and the Prime Minister's statement which he made to justify his action was a tissue of half truths, which are worse than lies. He said in that statement that the greater part of Spain was now in the control of General Franco as if that were a new factor. But the larger part of Spain has been in the hands of General Franco since the fall of Bilbao, and it does not alter the fact that a quarter of Spain is still in the power of the Republican Government. He even tries to make out, by stressing the undoubted resources in Franco Spain, that, after all, the part of Spain in control of the Republic is very small and very weak, but it contains Madrid, Valencia, and 1102 Cartagena and the greater portion of its commerce and its industry.
Then there is the disgraceful allegation, made without the slightest foundation, that there is not an effective Government in Republican Spain. There is an effective Government and an effective army of more than 500,000 men. Those are not the conditions which justify the recognition of General Franco either de facto or de jure, and certainly they do not justify the taking away of recognition from Republican Spain. The latter course is a course that is taken very, very seldom, and in the practice of this country only under very special conditions. I would like to refer a little to what is the position in international law. I cannot hope to interest the Prime Minister, because he is not interested in international law. He has done more than any man to show his contempt for international law and to break down the rules of international law. But I will give quotations with regard to the question of recognition of belligerents. Sir William Harcourt, who was a great authority, states:While the issue can be still considered in any degree in ambiguo, the presumption is necessarily in favour of the former Sovereign and a friendly State is bound to exact very conclusive and indisputable evidence that the sovereignty of a government with which it has existing relations over any part of its former dominions had been finally and permanently divested. It is not at liberty during the pendency of an actual struggle to speculate on the result or to assume the probability of the ultimate failure of the ancient sovereign, however plausible may be the grounds for such an inference. What the claimant to recognition has to show is an accomplished and de facto, not a probable or paulo post futurum independence. This I believe to be the accurate rule of international law.''That was dealing with the revolt of certain Colonial territories, but is applicable to new governments after civil wars. The point is also dealt with in Hall's International Law:Until independence is so consummated that it may reasonably be expected to be permanent, insurgents remain legally subject to the State from which they are trying to separate. Premature recognition therefore is a wrong done to the parent State; in effect indeed it amounts to an act of intervention. Hence great caution ought to be exercised by third Powers in granting recognition; and except where reasons of policy interfere to prevent strict attention to law, it is seldom given unless in circumstances which set its propriety beyond the reach of cavil.I suggest there are no circumstances 1103 "beyond the reach of cavil" now. There is a further important consideration to be borne in mind. The Republican Government of Spain is represented at Geneva on the League of Nations. In 1932 a resolution was passed:It is incumbent upon the Members of the League of Nations not to recognise any situation, treaty or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the Covenant of the League or the Pact of Paris.I am not suggesting that that has any great validity with the Prime Minister. I am not going to burden the House by quoting precedents of international law, but the practice of Great Britain has been well established, and there is only one outstanding instance to the contrary, and that was the refusal of the Conservative Government to recognise the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics long after it had been fully established, and years after all opposition to it had been ended. Let me turn from the things that do not appeal to the Prime Minister to something that perhaps does, and that is his own statement. It was made in this House on 31st January last when the right hon. Gentleman said:Signor Mussolini in the course of the conversations in Rome, expressed the view that it was absurd to call a man who was in possession of three-quarters of the Spanish territory a rebel, but, of course, the reason why we refused to grant belligerent rights to General Franco was not on that ground at all. It was on the ground that this was not a civil war merely, but that the matter was complicated by that intervention of foreign Powers on one side or the other, and it was on that account that we declined to grant belligerent rights.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1939; cols. 77 and 78; Vol. 343.]Is that true? The right hon. Gentleman did realise then that there was action by intervention by other Powers. But how on earth can it be right to give recognition to the government of General Franco and to withdraw recognition from the government of Republican Spain when it was wrong merely to give belligerent rights? I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell me exactly what has happened between 31st January and the present time to change his opinion. It is not a question of whether there has been a conquest of Catalonia. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because that is not the reason the Prime Minister gave. It is not a question of the extent of territory. That is the point that Signor Mussolini made. 1104 No, his line was that he could not give belligerent rights because of the intervention of foreign Powers. I do not know whether anyone pretends that that intervention has stopped. It is going on actively to-day. The Italian troops are just as prominent in these territories. Giving belligerent rights is giving rights to two sides in a quarrel, but recognition of one side and the removal of recognition from the other goes much further than the giving of belligerent rights. It is saying what has not been said before, that although there is a friendly Government which is still in existence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]—and which still occupies a large part of Spain—Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman must be allowed to make his speech without these interruptions.
§ Mr. Attlee
My point is that we have no precedent for it. Let me recall that the Republican Government is the Government that has been scrupulous in observing international law, that has pad its debt—I know hon. Members opposite pay great attention to that point—and it is a Government which in response to the request of the Non-intervention Committee removed unilaterally its foreign volunteers, although General Franco did not remove his foreign troops. But it appears that the Prime Minister will always recognise a Government that breaks international law, that outrages every law, human and legal and divine, but any Government that obeys the ordinary international law and the ordinary rules of civilisation is sure to be done down by the Prime Minister.
The next question is as to conditions. The Prime Minister has recognised General Franco's Government unconditionally. I see that the usual apology is made in the Press. It is said hat General Franco would be too proud to submit to conditions, that the Spaniards are a dignified race and that they could not submit to conditions. General Franco has not been too proud to introduce the Moors into Spain. He has not been too proud to have the entry into Barcelona headed by the Italian troops. Lord Baldwin, speaking in this House on 13th February, 1924, was very strong against giving recognition without conditions. He said: 1105We are running the risk, it seems to me, of giving away, before we begin to negotiate, the only lever we have to obtain not only the things we desire, but which we shall be obliged to have."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1924; col. 853, Vol. 169.]Of course, that was the refusal of recognition of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The conditions were all right there. There are no conditions with regard to General Franco. I ask the Prime Minister to consider what the conditions were that we might rightly have insisted upon. After all this is being done because it is something that is valuable to General Franco. I do not know why we should always give everything and get nothing in return. I put it that first of all there should be assurances of clemency and amnesty to those who are opposing General Franco. What have we got? We have got a mere statement, an alleged statement by General Franco, that no one except law-breakers will be dealt with. But the law is what General Franco likes to make it. He can make it a crime to have taken up arms on behalf of the lawful Government of Spain. That is done. And what is there in the record of General Franco and his supporters that leads us to believe that there will be any clemency? In Barcelona they are rounding up 20,000. Only the other day they machine-gunned 1,000 men who came back from the Republican Army. What happened at Seville? General Quiepo de Lana said:We have executed 3,000 men in this Province. Our work was a surgical operation. We have struck the word 'pity' out of our dictionary.The giving of an amnesty, the assurance of clemency is the most vital element in doing what we all want to see done—peace brought to Spain. The leaders of the Spanish Republic have to make their decision, a terrible thing if that decision is merely to face bullets in the firing line or to face bullets from the firing squad in the rear. I ask the Prime Minister to tell us what he has done in exchange for these benefits to try and ensure amnesty and clemency. Has he got any kind of promise or assurance? He is close friends with Signor Mussolini. He is used to calling in Signor Mussolini's influence. Has he done anything to try to get Signor Mussolini's influence brought to bear in this matter of clemency and amnesty? The next question I ask is, has the Prime 1106 Minister done anything with regard to the claims which his own Government has put forward against General Franco since the beginning of hostilities? Twenty-five British ships have been sunk and 120damaged, 45 officers and men have been killed, and the Prime Minister has sent in numerous protests, and those protests have been entirely ineffective. On 1st February General Franco gave his answer. He refused to pay compensation; he refused a commission; he refused to consider compensation even after hostilities had ceased, which, we have been told over and over again, is the appropriate time for sending in a bill for compensation. Has the Prime Minister made any conditions with regard to compensation for British subjects killed and British ships destroyed, or is General Franco's friendship so precious that he will not make any attempt to get any conditions?
Let me take the third condition, the withdrawal of foreign troops from Spain and Spain's independence. We here again have to rely on merely the dictum of General Franco. The Prime Minister did at one time lay very great stress on this question of the withdrawal of foreign troops. It is an important matter for us all to know whether, when we are recognising General Franco, we are recognising a Spanish Government or a puppet Government of Signor Mussolini and Hen-Hitler, because it is the fashion in these days to have puppet Governments. There is one in Manchukuo, and there are others in other parts of China. I should like to know whether the Prime Minister has any assurance that General Franco's Government, when recognised, will not join the axis. It is an important thing for us to know from the point of view of British interests. Has the Prime Minister any guarantee from General Franco with regard to the position of Gibraltar or the Balearic Islands? It looks as if he had given away everything and got nothing in return. The stop press news to-day shows that he has not even got a "Thank you'' from General Franco. General Franco says, "This is a very late come in by Great Britain and France and we will stick to our earlier friends."
The "Times," in its leading article to-day, expresses the hope that the annoyance of the Opposition will not be allowed to obscure from the world the remarkable clearness and continuity of 1107 British policy in Spain. I am going to do my best to help the "Times" in that respect. It is crystal clear that the policy of the Government all through has been to back General Franco to win and to do everything they could to help him. The sham of non-intervention has been really a device to prevent the Spanish Government exercising the rights that it has under international law. They have allowed every kind of breach of international law to be committed and have thrown aside doctrines of maritime law that every statesman in this country for generations has upheld. The right hon. Gentleman is the first Prime Minister to show himself perfectly indifferent to those laws of the sea which were created and upheld by statesmen of this country. He connived at the starving of women and children, he connived at the bombing of open towns and the slaying of men, women and children and non-combatants, and now he is scrambling with indecent haste to try to make friends with the perpetrators. This is not in the interests of democracy. It is not in the interests of the safety of the British Empire. He is thinking all the time of the interests of British capital. What does it matter if Gibraltar is endangered if Rio Tinto Mines pay a dividend? What does it matter about women and children if Spain is made a place safe for autocracy?
Then the Prime Minister put forward his usual hypocritical plea that this is all being done to prevent further suffering and loss of life. I ask why he did not think of that before. What offers of mediation has he ever made? When he was visiting Rome we had a fairly full account of the discussions with Signor Mussolini. It was obvious that throughout, his idea was that Signor Mussolini should be allowed to finish off the war in Spain. Did he ever make any suggestion that there should be joint mediation and appeasement? Never any attempt from this Government. We all deplore the slaughter in Spain, but want effective thing has the Prime Minister done to try to bring it to an end? It would have been ended long ago if he had done what he said he was going to do and make non-intervention effective. By this act he is stabbing in the back the heroic defenders of democracy. There was a time when this country 1108 was universally known as the friend of liberty, the friend of peoples and the enemy of tyrants. It is now being regarded more and more as a nation which will always acquiesce in every kind of tyranny, which always stands in favour of dictatorship.
It is true that in the Dominions, in the United States and throughout the democracies of the world there is, as we say in this Motion, a growing distrust, a complete distrust of this Government as in any way willing to stand by the old traditions of this country. The world sees small country after small country always sacrificed with the acquiescence of this Government. The world sees on every occasion the advocates of brute force and tyranny being sought in friendship by the British Prime Minister. This is not only having a grave effect throughout the world. It is having a grave effect in this country, too. Hon. Members laughed the other day when one of my hon. Friends said that this line of policy that is being followed by the Government is having a serious effect on the morale of our people. Everyone knows that it is true. Everyone knows that it affects the volunteering for service under this Government. The Prime Minister assured us the other day of the determination of this country to standby France, and he was applauded. People would like to stand by France, but, remember, the France that we wish to stand for is not the France of the reactionaries but the France of the great tradition of freedom and democracy, and if in these days you want to get the people of this country rallied, you will have to appeal to them in support of democracy, and not in order to make friends with tyrants and to betray peoples.
We see in this action of the Government a gross betrayal of a friendly Government, a gross betrayal of democracy, the consummation of two and a half years of the hypocritical pretence of non-intervention, and a connivance all the time at aggression, and this is only one step further in the downward march of His Majesty's Government in which at every stage they do not sell but give away the permanent interests of this country. They do not do anything to build up peace or stop war, but merely announce to the whole world that anyone who is out to use force can always be sure that he will have a friend in the British Prime Minister.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister
It must be a long time since the House has listened to such a series of bitter and repeated personal attacks upon an individual as those contained in the speech that we have just heard. I do not pretend to be immune from human weaknesses, and I admit that I felt a certain temptation to think of one or two sharp things to say in reply to the right hon. Gentleman, but we are debating a subject of very great importance—the decision by the Government to recognise another Government which has been engaged for a long period of time in bitter strife. The action of the House to-day in agreeing or disagreeing with the view of the Government is going to constitute a fresh precedent for those who come after us, and it does not seem to me that it is in accordance with our dignity, or with the scope of the subject which we are discussing, that it should degenerate into a personal squabble.
I shall try to avoid anything of that kind, but I must say a few words about the right hon. Gentleman's accusation yesterday, which he has repeated to-day, that I had deliberately misled the House in order to avoid a Debate on this subject. I have been a Member of this House for 20 years, and for the greater part of that time I have been a Member of one Government or another. No one with that public record behind him could hope to conceal from the House or from the public the main traits of his character. I have my faults, no doubt, but those who know me best would agree that I am incapable of trying to mislead this House or of shirking a Debate even if the subject of the Debate had been embarrassing to the Government.
I was at a little disadvantage yesterday because I had no idea that the right hon. Gentleman was going to raise this point. I had seen that M. Daladier had made a statement to the French Chamber. I confess I had not attended very carefully to the exact words. I find myself that it is difficult to trust my memory as to the exact sequence of events which have happened even a short time ago when so many important questions are concentrated in one period. Under the pressure of the right hon. Gentleman's questions, I did my best to recall the sequence in this particular case, and now that I have had an opportunity of refresh- 1110 ing my recollection, I find that my memory was substantially accurate—more accurate, I think, than that of the right hon. Gentleman for he plainly implied, if he did not say so in so many words, that M. Daladier had said in the French Chamber that the British Government had already reached a decision on the recognition of General Franco. The right hon. Gentleman read some of M. Daladier's words to the House this afternoon. If hon. Members attended carefully to what he said, they will, I think, agree with me that his quotation did not bear out that interpretation. I will read it again, however, in order that hon. Members may have it clearly in their minds:After all, do you think that it was a negligible fact that we were told on 22nd February that the British Government considered that the moment had come—and that we should not let it pass—to recognise the Government of General Franco, certain declarations of General Franco being of a satisfactory nature?That is not a decision. It is an expression of opinion, and we invited the comments of the French Government upon it. But M. Daladier went on to use some other words which the right hon. Gentleman did not think it necessary to quote. Nevertheless, I think they are germane. He said:According to the information at our disposal England would be disposed to grant recognition as from next week.Does not that clearly mean a simple and straightforward explanation of what the right hon. Gentleman sought to describe as a deliberate misleading of the House by myself? [Interruption.] Of course, I cannot expect any fair consideration of this question from the right hon. Gentleman. We had two desires. We did consider that the moment had come when recognition should be afforded to the Government of General Franco, and we wished to keep in the closest harmony with the French Government, and we were not prepared to grant recognition until we were satisfied that we were in agreement with the French, or that the French were in agreement with us on that subject, and were prepared to accord recognition at the same time. We could not have been certain of what the French attitude would be until Friday when they were meeting and, therefore, I was perfectly correct in saying that the final decision could not be taken until Friday had passed, and it was, in fact, taken over the week-end.
§ Mr. Attlee
The point on which the House wants to have information is whether any decision had been come to by the Government. Does the right hon. Gentleman really tell the House that for the Government to say that if France were willing, next week, or some subsequent week, or at some time there might be recognition, was not coming to a decision?
§ The Prime Minister
I do say that that is not an effective decision. It is an indication, but not a decision. What I did say to the right hon. Gentleman was that I could not then add to my statement.
We come now to the Motion before the House. It makes three statements. First, it says that the granting of unconditional recognition constitutes a deliberate affront to the legitimate Government of a friendly Power; secondly, that it is a gross breach of international traditions; and, thirdly, that it marks a further stage in a policy which is steadily destroying confidence in the good faith of this country in all democratic countries. As to the last statement, I will only say that I find some difficulty in believing it, seeing that the great sister democracy of France takes exactly the same view, and is taking exactly the same action. But I would like to deal with the first two points in the Motion, and particularly with this statement that what we are doing is a gross breach of international traditions.
We had to deal with this matter not in a partisan or prejudiced manner, but, as far as possible, with judicial impartiality, and only an attitude of that kind would be consistent with the policy which His Majesty's Government have followed throughout in dealing with the Spanish question. The circumstances accompanying the considerations of the question of recognition naturally received exhaustive examination, and it is not as though this were the first occasion upon which this Government or other Governments had had to consider similar questions. Precedents had already been created, and the results of the actions of various Governments have been brought together under review and have formed the subject of pronouncements in standard works on international law. The right hon. Gentleman quoted certain passages from standard authorities on this subject, and although he thinks that matters of international law are of no concern to me, I 1112 may tell him that I also have looked into standard works upon this subject and have extracted a few passages which I propose to read to the House. The first is from "Oppenheim's International Law," a work which was published in 1905, and is, I believe, recognised as being particularly authoritative. It says:A Government which enjoys the habitual —although not necessarily willing—obedience of the bulk of the population"—Not, observe, the whole of the population, but the bulk of the population—with a reasonable expectancy of permanence can be said to represent the State in question and as such to be entitled to recognition.Then there is this passage, which has some bearing upon the closing portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he asserted that we ought to have asked for various assurances:In the absence of effective international guarantees for securing just government and proper administration of the law within the various States, it is impossible to insist on the perpetuation of any existing regime by a refusal to recognise its revolutionary successor. Neither is it in the long run practicable to adopt the indirect method of refusal of recognition as a means of compelling the fulfilment of international obligations. The more rational method"—I do not know whether this will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman.—" is to grant recognition and then to insist by such means as International Law offers, on the proper fulfilment of its obligations on the part of the recognised government.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am very well acquainted with that passage, but that is not the passage in which the author deals with the imposing of conditions. He is dealing there with the question of whether there is a transfer to the new State of the obligations of the old one—an entirely different point.
§ The Prime Minister
The language is perfectly clear, and it cannot be argued away by the right hon. Gentleman saying that it means something quite different.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am not trying to argue it away. I am only telling the right hon. Gentleman that it does not relate to the particular point which I put. I have the relevant quotation on that very point, and if the right hon. Gentleman wants it he can have it.
§ The Prime Minister
I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that every quotation which I 1113 give to the House is entirely irrelevant. I go on to the next authority "Hall's International Law" from which the right hon. Gentleman has already quoted. It says:''For international purposes the continuance or the recall of authority is judged of solely upon the external facts of the case; so long as a person or body of persons are indisputably in possession of the required power, foreign States treat with them as the organ of the State; so soon as they cease to be the actual organ, foreign States cease dealing with them; and it is usual if the change is unquestionably final, to open relations with their successors independently of whether it has been effected constitutionally.It is gratifying to me that two, at any rate, of the extracts which I wish to read to the House, come from authorities already quoted, and therefore recognised as authorities, by the right hon. Gentleman. The next one I have is Sir William Harcourt, who, in 1863, wrote a number of letters to the "Times" over the well-known signature "Historicus." And he said in an interesting passage:On the other hand, if persons who once owned the relation of subjects have been able, either by force of arms or otherwise, to divest themselves, in a final and permanent manner, of the status of subjects, then diplomatic transactions with such persons afford no justifiable ground of offence to their former Sovereign nor can they be regarded as a breach of neutrality or friendship.I think that is a direct contradiction of the first part of the Motion. The same writer quotes Lord Liverpool, who had been Prime Minister, on the recognition of the South American Republics when they revolted against Spain:The question ought to be—was the contest going on? He, for one, could not reconcile it to his mind to take any such steps so long as the struggle in arms continued undecided. And while he made that declaration he meant that it should be a bona fide contest.The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that International Law is not a concern of the Government, but that will show that we are not without precedents. From 1873 to 1875 Spain was the scene of disturbances, which began with the abdication of King Amadeo on 12th February, 1873, and ended with the restoration of the monarchy under Don Alfonso in 1875. In 1874 His Majesty's Government formally recognised the Republican Government which had been formed under Marshal Serrano, and in February, 1875, when that Government was overthrown and replaced by Don Alfonso, they formally recognised Don 1114 Alfonso. Lord Derby at that time explained the reasons for their action in the case as follows:Her Majesty's Government have not departed from the usual manner of proceeding… We delayed a little in the first instance because, as your Lordships will remember, the government of Marshal Serrano was one which did not rest on any popular basis, but was created by a military pronunciamiento, and it was natural that we should wait until we saw that it was a Government in a position—I will not say to be permanent, for it is very difficult to say what Government will be permanent in Spain as Spain now is—but in a position in which it could hold its own, and in which it should be recognised de facto by the great majority of the people. We thought that the Government of Marshal Serrano fulfilled that condition. It was undoubtedly recognised de facto over nearly the whole of Spain with the exception of the Provinces in which the Carlist war was then, and still is, going on.
§ Mr. Attlee
Is not that always quoted by international lawyers as showing the disadvantage of precipitate action?
§ The Prime Minister
I have said that the right hon. Gentleman would find fault with all my quotations. I am afraid I shall not be able to satisfy him whatever I say.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am very sorry to interrupt the Prime Minister, but he is dealing with an important question of International Law, and I am sure he will not desire to mislead the House. Is it not the fact that the Government of Marshal Serrano fell six months after the time we recognised it, and that, in fact, it was a premature recognition?
§ The Prime Minister
I am reading what Lord Derby said were the reasons why they recognised the Government of Marshal Serrano, and why they recognised the government which followed:As we had acted in the case of Marshal Serrano's government, so also we have acted in the case of that of King Alfonso. We found the government of King Alfonso to be accepted by the country, as that of Marshal Serrano had been, over all other parts of Spain except those which the Carlists occupy. We were in no particular or precipitate haste to give a formal sanction to that government; but we satisfied ourselves that it was de facto established, and we believe that it has at least as good a chance of permanence as any government that might take its place. Where revolutions are so frequent as they are in Spain, I do not think it would be a desirable thing for it to be supposed that by recognising a de facto government in Spain we commit ourselves to any expression of opinion upon its merits, or to anticipations as to the future. We recognised the government of King 1115 Alfonso as we recognised the government of Marshal Serrano because it appeared to us to be that which, as a fact, the Spanish people acknowledged and obeyed.I put it to the House that the effect of these various quotations and precedents is that the questions which the Government have to decide are two questions of fact. They are: first, did General Franco after the fall of Barcelona and after he had got possession of Catalonia put himself into a position which one might call a position of reasonable expectancy of permanence and superiority? On the other hand, had the Republican Government of Spain any title any longer to be considered the legal government of the country? The answers to these questions, I think, are pretty plain. Not only is General Franco in possession of the major part of the territory—I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman appears to suggest that the possession of Catalonia made practically no difference, although it seems to me that it was just that which made the difference——
§ Mr. Attlee
I did not say that it made no difference in that respect. I only said that the possession or non-possession of Catalonia made no difference to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, which was about whether there was foreign intervention or not.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. He was criticising my observation that General Franco is now in possession of the greater part of Spain, and said why did I not say that before the fall of Barcelona when it was still in the possession of the Republican Government. One has to remember what are the chances of a prolonged resistance by the Republican Government to General Franco in their present circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were still in effective possession of something like one-third of the area of Spain. The point we have to consider, and I put it to the House, is, can they command a sufficiency of munitions or even of food to be able to carry on the struggle for any prolonged period with any reasonable chance of ultimate success? I do not think there can be two answers to any such questions. As for the Republican Government, nobody can say how much of it remains or where it can be found. 1116 The President is no longer in Spain: indeed, he has resigned. Some of the ministers are in France, some are in Spain, and many, I believe, of Dr. Negrin's own ministers and military advisers are urging upon him a cessation of hostilities. It is doubtful whether the Government can be considered a legal Power. What is the authority of the Cabinet in the absence of the President and in the impossibility of calling together the Cortes? The Diplomatic Corps is accredited to the head of the State, and where the head of the State legally resides that is where they should perform their mission. How can they perform their mission when the head of the State is no longer in Spain? It is impossible for the Cortes to be assembled in order to elect a successor according to the constitution. I say that so far from our action having been a gross breach of international tradition, it would have been such a breach if we had refused to recognise General Franco in present circumstances.
Let me say a word on the question of expediency. Of course, expediency does not arise until the right exists, and I think that what I have said has established the right of General Franco's Government. Therefore, I will turn to consider the question of expediency. I wonder what exactly the right hon. Gentleman and his friends think would be gained by a refusal of recognition. He said that we have stabbed in the back a friendly Power. Do they mean by that that if we had refused recognition this friendly Power would have gone on fighting? I cannot get an answer to that question. Would it be an encouragement to the Republican Government to go on prolonging their resistance? If so, I say this, that it would be contrary to all the dictates of humanity and could not affect the ultimate result. Anybody who has heard recently any accurate and reliable accounts of the conditions prevailing in Madrid to-day cannot surely for one moment want that state of affairs to be prolonged any further than is absolutely necessary.
§ The Prime Minister
The late Sir John Falstaff has some remarks about honour which may be in the minds of the people in Madrid.
1117 To withhold recognition from General Franco could not help the Republican Government or the people in Madrid. What it would do would be to embitter our relations with the new Government of Spain and to destroy any influence which we may hope to have with that Government. The right hon. Gentleman did not say much about it but he alluded once again to a matter of which he has spoken before, namely, his fears that British interests, by which, of course, he does not mean to suggest that he is thinking of British property, or anything so sordid as that, but British strategic interests might be jeopardised by the accession of General Franco to authority in Spain. If he does think that, is he going to suggest that it would be a good thing to drive General Franco into feelings of hostility to this country, to make him feel that we have imposed a humiliation upon him or done him an injustice? Should we not, on the contrary, when his right to recognition according to all precedents had been established, refuse to withhold from him what is clearly his due under international traditions? Might we not, by establishing friendly relations with him, secure that British interests shall not be jeopardised by anything which happens hereafter?
The right hon. Gentleman put forward again various conditions which he would have us exact from General Franco before we grant him recognition. I wish sometimes that right hon. and hon. Members opposite would face up to realities. We know perfectly well that it is quite impossible for us to exact such conditions unless we are prepared to go to war to enforce them. We could not exact such conditions. What we could do was to obtain assurances while at the same time granting recognition unconditionally. We have had repeated assurances, upon all those points which were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, from General Franco and his Government over a period which may now be measured by years. But there was one point on which we felt so particularly concerned that we thought it was necessary to ask General Franco once again to repeat the assurances he had already given us, and that was on the question of reprisals.
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite speak with great positive ness and assurance about massacres and murders which they allege to have been committed 1118 by General Franco's forces, but they never say anything about similar incidents on the other side. I am afraid that if ever the whole history of this prolonged struggle comes to be recorded accurately, it will not be found that those incidents have been confined to one side or the other. Bitter feelings were naturally aroused in the minds of those who heard terrible stories of what was done to those who were dear to them when they were in the power of those who were then their enemies. It would not be reasonable to ask General Franco to grant beforehand a complete amnesty which would include the men who had been guilty of such horrible crimes. It would not be reasonable to ask for that, but we did think it would be reasonable to urge on him that there should be no general reprisals, no reprisals for what could be described as strictly political offences. We have had those assurances. I will read to the House a telegram which was sent in answer to our inquiries. I quite anticipate that we shall have the usual jeers at the terms of this telegram; nevertheless, I am going to read it. It is right to state to the House what General Franco has committed himself to in response to our latest inquiries. The telegram is dated the 22nd of this month, and it reads:National Spain has won the war, and it is therefore incumbent on the vanquished to surrender unconditionally. The patriotism, chivalry and generosity of the Caudillo, of which he has given so many examples in the liberated regions, and likewise the spirit of equity and justice that inspires all the National Government's actions, constitute a firm guarantee for all Spaniards who are not criminals. The courts of justice, applying the established laws and procedure promulgated before 16th July, 1936"—The right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that General Franco would make new laws, but he will observe that General Franco has committed himself to the laws promulgated before July, 1936—are restricted to bringing to judgment, within the framework of those laws, the authors of crime. Spain is not disposed to accept any foreign intervention which may impair her dignity or infringe her sovereignty.I ask hon. Members to note those words. I do not need to read the last passage of the telegram, because it only says that if the Red leaders prolong their resistance and sacrifice more lives, it will be their responsibility.
1119 We are not, in the decision to which we have come, creating a new precedent. Already 19 other Governments have recognised the Government of General Franco. If we had refrained from doing so, I do not know how long it would have been before we should have found ourselves alone. The position of France is exactly the same as our own. I say to the House that the recognition is really only a formal act which brings the relations between this country and General Franco's Government into relationship with reality. What is wanted now is a cessation of hostilities. Anything that the British Government could do to help to bring about an armistice, during which some discussions could take place between representatives on the two sides, we should gladly do. I hope that not many days will pass before we hear that such an armistice has been agreed to. I hope that once the fighting has come to an end, all Spaniards may unite to repair the destruction that has taken place and heal the wounds that have been inflicted, and together build up a prosperous and happy country which will be worthy of their own glorious past.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
The Prime Minister began his speech with an eloquent reference to the importance of this Debate, and he said that it ought not to degenerate into a personal squabble; but he went on to refer to the first charge which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had brought against him in language which showed that, although he dissented from the charge, he appreciated its gravity. Although I do not propose to spend very long upon it, I must tell the House frankly that I was not impressed by the answer which the Prime Minister gave to the right hon. Gentleman. For my part, I do not accuse, and I am not sure that the Leader of the Opposition accused, the Prime Minister of shirking a Debate in the sense in which the Prime Minister used that phrase. He took a very high line. He said that he was a man whom we all knew to have courage and ability—and I have never denied that—and that we had accused him of shirking a Debate.
§ Mr. Attlee
I did not say that the Prime Minister shirked a Debate; I said that he took action in order to avoid a Debate in the House.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It was exactly that distinction which occurred to me. It is clear that the Prime Minister did not want to shirk a Debate. He was willing to answer in this House for the policy when he thought it an appropriate time, but he wanted to postpone it to a convenient date, and until it was too late for the House to alter the course of events.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Baronet will remember that I was asked more than once whether I would undertake that the House should have an opportunity of discussing the question before a decision was taken. I refused to give any such undertaking.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The right hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to say that, but my contention is that, in fact, an effective decision had been taken by the Cabinet before the Leader of the Opposition put his question on Thursday last. It seems to me that the Prime Minister is in this dilemma—either an effective decision had been taken before the Leader of the Opposition put his question, in which case an announcement ought to have been made and we ought to have had a Debate; or the decision was taken not by the Cabinet, but by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary on their own responsibility. It seems to me that the correct answer to the question must be that an effective decision to recognise General Franco had been taken by the Cabinet before the Leader of the Opposition asked his question on Thursday last, but that the Cabinet had left it to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to decide when effect should be given to that decision. In those circumstances I think we ought to have been told before the French Chamber was told what was the decision of the Cabinet. Monsieur Daladier said perfectly clearly, and indeed the Prime Minister read out the words,that the British Government considered that the moment had come, and that we should not let it pass, to recognise the Government of General Franco.It is that information which I think, we ought to have had in reply to the question put by the Leader of the Opposition on Thursday last. We ought to have had a Debate then, or even on Friday. 1121 The Prime Minister seems to me to have acted in this case, as he and the Government have acted in other cases within the last few months, as though it was his deliberate policy to deprive Parliament of an opportunity of discussion until the time had passed when such a discussion could possibly influence events.
I did feel inclined to argue with the Prime Minister about his interpretation of international law, on the question of withdrawing recognition from the Spanish Government and according it to General Franco and his Government. For my part, I cannot agree with the Prime Minister that this action is in accordance with the best precedents. I also have studied the precedents; certainly some of the authorities to whom he has referred, and also other authorities, such as Hall and Professor McNair. But it seems to me that this is not really a question which can be decided or has been decided by such criteria. The decision which the Government have taken is an act of policy, and it must be presumed to have been taken with an eye to the preservation of the interests of this country—I use the phrase "interests of this country" in its widest and not merely in its material sense—and also of those of the people of Spain.
The truth—and I think we are all aware of it from speeches that have been made by the Government and their supporters and by inspired articles in the Press—of the reason behind the Government's decision is that the Government believe that the best hope of serving the interests of this country, and, I have no doubt, of the Spanish people and of peace, is to get quickly into the confidence of General Franco. They believe that so long as the war lasts General Franco depends upon Germany and Italy for supplies of troops and war material, and that once the war comes to an end he will depend upon this country and upon France for supplies of money and for the capital which he re-quires to rehabilitate the economic life of Spain; and they therefore think that if they can make friends with him quickly now, they will be able to influence his policy. In pursuance of that policy, I expect that we shall soon have a demand for extending credits to General Franco's Government in Spain. I hope that no such demand will be made upon Parliament. Already there is a feeling in this country that we are doing too much for 1122 people of other countries and not enough for our own people. I regret the growth of that feeling, because, as a result of the policy of this Government, floods of refugees are pouring over Europe, from Czecho-Slovakia, from Spain, from Germany, from Austria, and it is a moral obligation upon this country, which I recognise and which I have avowed in the country, to do something to help those refugees. But we have plenty of deserving objects for the expenditure of British capital, and I hope there will be no proposal that we should invest our capital in bolstering up General Franco's régime in Spain.
Nor do I believe that it would in the least degree affect the policy of a proud nation like Spain. There is, we must recognise, fundamental agreement between the policy and outlook of General Franco on the one hand and those of Italy and Germany on the other hand, and let us not under-estimate the hold which Germany has already obtained upon the policy of General Franco and upon those forces on whose support General Franco mainly relies. In so far as General Franco has any mass support in the towns and cities of Spain, it comes from the Phalange party. The doctrines and principles of the Phalange party are closely in accord with those of the National Socialist party in Germany. They exchange instructors; that is to say, men and women of the Phalange party go to Germany to be instructed, and they receive German instructors from Germany to instruct the Phalange party; and Germany has, not only indirectly through the influence of its advisers and technicians in various departments of the economic life of Spain, but also directly through its hold upon the Phalange, an opportunity of exerting decisive influence upon the policy of General Franco's Government. Nor let us forget that it is a part of the policy of the declared statement of policy of the Phalange to recover Gibraltar from the British Empire. I believe that, like many sixteenth and seventeenth century British politicians, General Franco will accept whatever financial and economic assistance we are prepared to give him, and that, unlike this Government, General Franco will remain faithful to his own principles and his own friends.
I would ask, Why are no conditions attached to this recognition? It is not the 1123 case that there is no precedent or even that there are not strong precedents and respectable authorities for imposing conditions, in the interests both of our own country and of the people of Spain, or in the interests of the peace of Europe, upon General Franco's Government in return for recognition. I could quote many authorities and precedents. The only possible excuse, therefore, for not imposing conditions is because the Government's policy has rendered them powerless to impose them, except, as the Prime Minister said, by going to war. But the Prime Minister says that we must face realities, and he says that that is the reality, that we can only impose these conditions by going to war. Well, we have frequently in this House, and especially in these Debates on foreign affairs, to face realities, and the hardest realities that we have to face are the consequences of the Government's foreign policy. But, as a matter of fact, we have in our possession very strong bargaining factors, and there are certainly some points in which we ought to insist upon conditions.
Surely the first condition upon which we ought to insist is the withdrawal of foreign troops from Spain. Italy and Germany will impose conditions upon General Franco before they consent to withdraw their troops from Spain. They have started to already. Hon. Members must have read translations of Signor Gayda's article on the necessity for a political victory as well as a military victory, and for clearing up Red troops in contiguous territories. The Government may answer that that article has been officially disavowed in Rome, but since that article was written the "Relazioni Internazionali," which is recognised to have official sources of inspiration on foreign affairs, has declared in its issue of 19th February, only a few days ago:Italian legionaries will go where the common interests of Italy and Spain demand their presence.Indeed, we have seen the power of the independent authority which the Italian troops exercise in Spain when, while our own cruiser, His Majesty's Ship "Devonshire," was lying in Port Mahon, the Italian planes came over and bombed the people of Port Mahon when their own Spanish commander was actually on the 1124 cruiser; and, finally, we have seen the tribute which General Franco has paid to them by placing them at the head of his forces in the triumphal march through Barcelona.
In the Government's opinion it was indefensible, yesterday at any rate—perhaps it is still to-day; I should like to be told at the conclusion of this Debate—to accord to General Franco belligerent rights. What is the Government's policy on that matter if the war continues? My own view is—as a matter of fact I have expressed it in this House—that but for one circumstance we ought to have accorded belligerent rights to General Franco. I have always held that view, that he was entitled to it, and has been entitled to it for a very long time, but for one circumstance; but that circumstance was a very important one. That circumstance was that he relied largely on foreign support for the maintenance of his position. That was the Government's opinion, yet while reliance upon foreign support and the presence of German and Italian troops with General Franco's forces was considered by the Government themselves to be an insuperable obstacle to the recognition of General Franco's belligerent rights, they now constitute no obstacle to the recognition of his sovereignty over the whole of Spain.
I also consider that there should have been a further condition, to prevent reprisals. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has said that dreadful things have happened under General Franco's régime, but that they are matched by equally dreadful things that have happened under the Republican régime. The Prime Minister there, I think, leaves out one very important factor—the time factor. It is quite true that at the beginning of the revolution terrible things did happen in Republican Spain. The Republican Government had been attacked by the very generals who were sworn to defend it, and by the Regular Army, and they did what was inevitable. They armed anyone who would defend the State against the rebellion. The result of that was that arms fell into the hands among others of the worst elements in the population, and certainly in those early days terrible things did happen. But the history of the struggle has shown that the Republican Government set themselves to recover control over the government of Spain, that they did re- 1125 cover control, and that they did restore the guarantees of law and liberty to their citizens; and from innumerable people who have come back from Republican Spain and talked to me about their experiences there, I have learned how well the Republican Government succeeded in restoring those guarantees.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that applies to the murder of the Bishop of Teruel only a fortnight ago, and of 42 officers and hostages?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) has been good enough to make it clear that this occurred only a fortnight ago The Prime Minister has just told us that the difficulties of the Republican Government are such, that the Government are so spread about all over the country, that it is very doubtful whether there is an effective Government to recognise. If that is true, it is perfectly clear that there must be very great difficulties indeed, at a time of crisis like this, in maintaining their authority in every part of Spain. The hon. and gallant Member does not even tell me in what part of Spain the bishop was murdered.
§ Sir H. Croft
He was murdered on the borders of the frontier, and 42 officers and leading hostages were also murdered at the same time. Further, Colonel Rey d'Harcourt, to whom it was sworn that his life would be saved if he surrendered, was also foully murdered.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The hon. Lady says there is no proof of the hon. and gallant Member's assertion, and she is obviously quite right. But I am not taking that point; I would prefer to answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the assumption that his story is true, and I would say that in these circumstances, when soldiers are in a state of desperation, when the control of military authority is relaxed, the confusion of a rout, is exactly the time when these terrible events, which all of us must deeply deplore, may take place. All I am saying is that when the Republican Government have been in a position to exercise their authority they have established and maintained guarantees of law and liberty 1126 for the people under their jurisdiction. I am sorry to say that, in spite of General Franco's success in extending his power and authority, the actions of his supporters have been very different and that the most terrible atrocities are now being committed by airmen under his orders. There have been two speeches by ladies whose names are given, and the Duke of Atholl has written to the newspapers saying he has heard—[Laughter.] Why the Prime Minister should laugh I do not know.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The Prime Minister laughs when I am only at the beginning of the story and before he has heard the evidence. He laughs at the name of the Duke of Atholl, who is a respectable member of his own party. Why should he think that the Duke of Atholl should be laughed out of court before I have had the chance of giving the evidence on which he bases his claim? His correspondent is a lady whom he knows and who has been in Spain. She says what the other two ladies have said—I wish the Prime Minister would listen. He asked for the evidence and he might listen to it. These two ladies and the Duke of Atholl's correspondent say that General Franco's airmen have dropped boxes of chocolates in the streets of Spanish towns, and that when children have picked them up they have exploded in their faces and blown their hands off. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) is amused. I hope his constituents will visit their censure upon him at the next election.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
Since the right hon. Baronet objects to my smiling, which is, after all, the most agreeable exercise to be taken while listening to a speech, I may perhaps quote to him the words of Oliver Cromwell on a famous occasion:I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.I beseech the right hon. Baronet, who represents the height of morality and Caithness, to think it possible that it is he and not the other things at which we are laughing.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
All I say is that I hope the hon. Member's constituents will read my speech and form their own conclusions. I have quoted these two ladies 1127 who have made public speeches, and who have served humanity by going out to Spain and, in conditions of danger and hardship, have served the suffering people. I do not see why the hon. Member for Cambridge University should come here and laugh at the evidence which these ladies have given to the public in London. It was a disgraceful action on the hon. Member's part.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg
Has it occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that if a chocolate box is dropped from an aeroplane it is hardly likely that it would remain intact, and that, if it did, it is not likely that it would go off in the hands of children?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I prefer against the hon. Member's hypothetical reasoning the actual statements of two ladies who have been to Spain, have worked there and have come back here, and have told these stories in public and the statement of the Duke of Atholl, who is a man of honour, which he has made in a letter to the public Press. There is my evidence, and I stand by it.
I, therefore, say that the Prime Minister was unhappily guided when he referred to the dreadful acts of Republicans on the one hand, and of General Franco's supporters, on the other, as if they were on a par. They are not. Wherever the Republican Government have managed to establish their authority they have maintained guarantees for law and order which General Franco has conspicuously failed to maintain. Further to that, it is relevant to consider the record of these two Governments in regard to the death penalty. The Republican Government agreed last September to abolish the death penalty if General Franco and his Government would agree to do the same, but General Franco refused. In spite of his refusal, the Republican Government did abolish the death penalty. General Franco has never done so. On the contrary, it is well known that he has announced that he has 2,000,000 names on a dossier, and that among the people who were shot when he entered Barcelona was a judge who had been carrying out his functions under the Republican Government. The Prime Minister says that it would not be reasonable to ask for a complete amnesty. It would have been a reasonable and practicable proposal to 1128 make to General Franco that he should have made a declaration of a general amnesty, that he should have been allowed to exempt from that amnesty certain individuals whom he regarded as criminals, and that a safe conduct should have been given to those individuals so that they could have escaped from the country in His Majesty's ships or in some other way.
There is a third condition which I consider the Prime Minister should have made before he afforded this recognition. He should have ensured that compensation would be available for British ships which have suffered so severely at General Franco's hands. A year ago the British Agent at Burgos declared that:The time has come to let it be known once and for all that His Majesty's Government cannot continue to deal with these attacks solely by protests and claims for compensation.That declaration was only words, for no action followed, and in recent months the attacks on British ships outside the three-mile limit have been as frequent as they were a year ago. I need only mention the examples of the "Stanbrook," the "Stangrove" and the "Mariongo." These ships have kept going our export trade with Spain in circumstances of difficulty, hardship and danger. They have brought to us 87 per cent. of the mercury which we need for our rearmament programme. Why have the Government not taken this opportunity of recognising General Franco to obtain compensation for the ship owners and for the seamen who have been killed and wounded? The Prime Minister says that 19 other countries have recognised General Franco, including, of course, Germany and Italy, who have recognised him all along. We have a greater responsibility than most of the other countries. Our interests are very closely intertwined with those of Spain. As for France, we know from M. Daladier's speech that the policy of France has been largely influenced by the pressure which the Prime Minister has brought to bear in favour of recognition.
The Prime Minister has offered to the House to-day a defence of the recognition of General Franco which on one condition is logically unassailable. That condition is that you can accept his premises. The bomb-proof shelter in which the Government hide themselves for this Debate 1129 would be logically proof against the direct hits of the Opposition if it did not lie in the shifting sands of the Government's unprincipled foreign policy. It is not much more than a month since the Prime Minister in Rome was raising his glass to drink to the health of the King of Italy as Emperor of Abyssinia. What else could he have done? He was the guest of the Italian Government. Does anybody suppose that he would have refused to perform such a courtesy? He must, indeed, have been a little embarrassed by the recollection of his own speech in Glasgow, reported in the "Scotsman" of 15th October, 1935, in which he said:The choice before us is whether we shall make a last effort at Geneva for peace and security or whether by a cowardly surrender we would break the promises we have made and hold ourselves up to the shame of our children and our children's children.But the sands of the Government's policy had shifted, and in that situation what else could the Prime Minister do but drink to the health of the King of Italy as Emperor of Abyssinia? We are told that it is useless to mouth phrases about supporting the League of Nations and collective security for they no longer have any meaning, and that in the present situation the only hope lies in ignoring the League of Nations and in abandoning ourselves to power politics. Have the Government forgotten the declaration in their General Election manifesto thatOur attitude to the League is dictated by the conviction that collective security by collective action can alone save us from a return to the old system that resulted in the Great War.We have not forgotten that they won their great majority at the last General Election on that declaration of a policy of loyalty to the League of Nations and of steady and collective resistance to unprovoked aggression. They said in their manifesto:The League of Nations will remain as heretofore the keystone of British foreign policyBut within four weeks they had sent the present Home Secretary, who was then Foreign Secretary, to Paris where, in the Hoare-Laval negotiations, he dealt the League of Nations a blow from which it has never recovered. Then they had 50 nations ranged in opposition to aggression and in a struggle to assert the authority of the League of Nations, but they lacked the faith and the moral 1130 energy to give the world effective leadership in support of the principles of the Covenant.
Since then the Government's policy has steadily undermined the authority of the League, until they ask now who can blame them if they pursue a policy of power politics? Less than a year ago they were telling us that the independence of Austria was an object of British policy, but, when Austria was invaded by German armies, the forces of law and order in the world had been scattered, and they were indignant if anybody reproached them for failing to maintain the independence of that country. In the circumstances as they then existed, what else could they have done? So again last September. The Government spokesmen are very sensitive about discussing anything that happened before Munich. Their case rests on Munich and what happened there. They challenge the Opposition to say what they would have done if they had been at Munich. They came into power after the election of 1935 with huge majorities in both Houses of Parliament. There were 50 nations ranged in opposition to aggression and resolved to maintain the authority of the League. They were like the heir to a great fortune who, after a few short years of unprincipled dissipation, finds himself faced with the alternatives of bankruptcy or suicide, and the credit they claim is for not choosing suicide.
So now in Spain: having failed to insist upon making non-intervention effective, having allowed the farce of the Nonintervention Committee to drag on, having consented to the destruction of British ships and the killing of British seamen, and the establishment of the precedent of an aerial blockade by a rebel authority to which they would not even grant belligerent rights—having also objected to granting belligerent rights on the ground that the rebel authority was supported by foreign troops—they now find themselves in the position of having to withdraw recognition from the constitutional and democratic Government of Spain which has punctually fulfilled all its obligations to this country, which is maintaining law and order in the territory which it now effectively governs, which, to the satisfaction of the League of Nations, has sent out of the country all the foreigners who were supporting it, and have recognised General Franco, who 1131 could not have obtained his present power without that German and Italian aid which he himself has described as indispensable and for which he has pledged his eternal gratitude.
I do not believe that if a firm line had been taken earlier against German and Italian intervention in Spain it would have involved war. I do not believe that Germany and Italy would have dared to resent any action which we thought necessary to preserve British ships and the lives of British sailors from the attacks of General Franco's airmen provided the use of force had been rigorously restricted to what was necessary to achieve that object. Nor do I believe that the restoration to the Spanish Government of the opportunity which, according to the normal practice, it would have had of buying arms, would have resulted inward. I am not sure that the mere threat of it would not have stopped Italian and German intervention. But again the Government are triumphantly confronting Parliament with the choice between bankruptcy and suicide. A friendly Government is fighting with its back to the wall. The prolongation of resistance would appear to be useless, and would only inflict further suffering on the Spanish people. The case is that nothing short of active intervention by France and Britain would now suffice to give the Republican Government victory, and so the Government call upon Parliament to allow them to withdraw recognition from the constitutionally-chosen Government of Spain and to give it to the insurgent general. Another humiliation for Britain. Another triumph for the dictatorships over the democracies.
The Prime Minister tells us that General Franco has issued public statements asserting the determination of himself and his Government to ensure the traditional independence of Spain. What else could a man do who aspires to the Government of a great and proud country? Who has ever heard of a leader who dared to admit that his object was to bring his country into dependence upon some foreign country? I fully and frankly accept General Franco's assurances that he is anxious to get rid of German and Italian troops the moment he feels he can spare them, but those who accept his statement must admit that the fact is that he cannot spare them, because he needs them to maintain his authority, and the Govern- 1132 ment are now asking us to extend de jure recognition to a Spanish Government which cannot even maintain its de facto authority without the help of foreign troops.
Every concession to the aggressor has both strengthened the dictatorships and whetted their appetites. Austria and Czecho-Slovakia—what has happened there has resulted in 45 to 50 divisions being available for use by the German dictators on any front where they may intend to use them. We had the Anglo-Italian Agreement last year. Two things in it gave the Government great satisfaction. One was that the Italians had promised to reduce their troops in Libya by 1,000 a week—Libya, where they threaten not only French Tunis but Egypt, too; and now we know, even by the figures which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has given us, that the numbers are back to what they were before the Anglo-Italian Agreement was signed; and, as a matter of fact, the information which I have leads me to suppose that the numbers of troops are even larger than the Under-Secretary has admitted. The other thing in the Agreement on which the Government prided themselves was recognition of the status quo in the Mediterranean. Italy would do nothing to disturb the status quo in the Mediterranean, but a few weeks later the Italian Chamber was ringing with the cries of "Corsica—Tunis—Nice." The tension in the Mediterranean is greater now than it was a year ago when the Prime Minister took over the control of foreign affairs.
Munich was followed by the resumption of German naval activity, the building up of submarines to a strength equal to ours and the arming of cruisers with 8-inch guns, the cruisers being all ready for those 8-inch guns the moment the German Government gave our Government notification in December that they were going to arm them. There are Italian troops and airmen in the Balearic Islands; German aerodromes on the frontiers of Spain from which they can threaten the munition factories of France in the south west of that country; guns on the Straits of Gibraltar and protecting the air ports in the Balearic Islands; submarine bases all round the coast of Spain. The Government's policy has strengthened the dictatorships, weakened the democracies, and betrayed one after 1133 another those countries that trusted us, and their epitaph will be, "We have eaten dirt in vain."
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am sure that I shall be forgiven if I do not attempt to cover the whole range of foreign politics during the last five or six years, but confine myself to the Motion which is on the Paper. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) made great play in his speech with the fact that His Majesty's Government had made no conditions with General Franco. I am surprised that one with his experience should imagine that the position was one in which any country could make conditions with a victorious Power in a country where there had been civil war, a civil war which looks like coming to a conclusion. Surely it is obvious that it is impossible for anyone to lay any conditions upon General Franco. Therefore, it is not a question of conditions. The position is that, having recognised him, our Government can for the first time approach him on terms of equality and use its influence to try to secure the best possible results from this change.
I think the right hon. Gentleman was speaking without any great authority in suggesting that the Falangists in Spain were, in fact, going to control the situation. That is not necessarily true at all. They have taken a great part in events there, but I believe the right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in imagining that any Fascist system can be imposed upon the Spanish people. They are far too proud, independent and free ever to submit, at least for any length of time, to the kind of policy which the right hon. Gentleman dreads may prevail in Spain. I think they are much more likely to go back to the old traditional form of government they had before they unwisely and rashly experimented in forms of democracy in their later years, and we shall find emerging in Spain something very similar to the old government, a people under a monarchy. If the monarchy is restored in Spain it will make a very great deal of difference to the fears of the right hon. Gentleman regarding a sole and absolute dictator. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be very much alarmed at the idea that any credits might hereafter be granted to Spain. I do not 1134 think that was one of the conditions he referred to. He has at various times painted a tragic picture of the state of affairs in Spain. He is very humanitarian in his views when it is a question of assisting any country—unless the unfortunate population are not being governed by his own particular friends. Then he hardens his heart and says nothing must be done. I hope, however, that we shall not rule out altogether the possibility of assisting, in conjunction with the United States, France and the other great democracies, to get that unhappy country once more established on the road to commerce and success.
He seemed to think we could have made conditions regarding the treatment of the population, that General Franco might have been asked to abolish the death penalty. He said the death penalty had been abolished by the Republican Government. I do not want to be facetious on such a serious subject, but I wonder whether there were many more people who could be described as bourgeois or leaders in Republican Spain who could have suffered the death penalty; because, tragic though it is, I think it is now generally admitted that something like 400,000 civilians who had taken no part in the war have been foully done to death. That presents a difficulty, because we must not ignore the fact that the memory of it is still very fresh in Spanish hearts.
While I hope His Majesty's Government will do everything in their power, as I believe they have done, to show the Generalissimo that he would win the good will of all the civilised world if he could limit his policy of justice to those who had committed definite crimes, it must be admitted—although we hear it said sometimes that it has been a case of "six of one and half a dozen of the other''—that under General Franco's Government there has been no deliberate murder of women and children. It may be that in the heat of battle troops have been shot. That happens sometimes in war, and the Spanish are a fierce fighting people; but in all the studies I have made I can find no evidence that there has been any deliberate attempt to murder women and children, and if we want the friendship of Spain it is a grave mistake to suggest that there has been that form of criminal activity in the past.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Let say that there are a great many instances, well authenticated by responsible journalists, of towns and villages being bombed and of the fleeing population being pursued by airmen with machine guns. Further, there was the report of the British Military Mission.
§ Sir H. Croft
We all hope that the Spanish war is coming to an end, and the facts will all very soon be within the knowledge of the world. It will not be a matter of assertion by journalists here and there. It is quite true that towns and villages have been bombed—undoubtedly; but I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that wherever there has been bombing it has been the supreme object of the generalissimo not to destroy the town or village which he would occupy shortly afterwards, unless there was a supreme military need to do so. In practically every case where it happened it will be found that there was a railway there, or cross roads, or docks or a munitions factory or an aerodrome. But these facts will all be known in a short time, and I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman and I should go out to Spain together and take a look over the country.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The facts are known now. There was the report of the British Military Mission which declared that such instances had occurred.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is right that certain towns and villages have been bombed, but with regard to his further point, I think there is good evidence to show that there has been no deliberate machine-gunning of civilians on the roads.
§ Sir H. Croft
Yes. I submit that those who wrote the report were not on the spot, and that there is no definite evidence that there has been a deliberate attempt to slaughter civilians on the roads. I do not want to detain the House more than a very few moments, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the French general who met the commander of the Spanish division which first arrived at the frontier and who definitely offered him his appreciation and said that the world would appreciate the fact that there 1136 had been no machine-gunning of the retreating army in rout and of the civilians who were mixed up with it.
I met to-day a very distinguished gentleman who has just returned from Spain. He went exactly behind the retreating army and the pursuing force of General Franco and he said that the most significant fact was that there were very few signs of disaster. He said that it was evident that the retreating army had not fought any action in the whole of that 100 miles, and that there were very few casualties except in a few places where resistance was still being kept up. Very shortly, I suggest, all this is going to be ancient history. What object is there in the right hon. Gentleman once more awaking our fears by suggesting that there are German aerodromes all along the French frontier, directed against the cities of France? Why stir up these world hatreds? [Interruption.] Yes, I ask that definitely, especially when there was a commission of distinguished French generals who went all along the frontier and declared that there were no such visible signs of offensive aerodromes directed against France. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was not one of those who declared, or joined in declaring, that there were great German forces in Morocco.
§ Sir H. Croft
In believing it to be true the right hon. Gentleman pits himself against the evidence of those British naval officers who were asked to go there officially and who declared that there was not one word of truth in the statement, which is exactly on a par with the stories of guns at Gibraltar. Those stories have come to this country to turn us against this emerging Spain and to create trouble between us and Spain, Germany, Italy and other countries. The Spanish war will soon be over and the time has come for us to realise, whatever our views may be, that the longer this tragedy goes on the more pitiful will be the result upon the people of Spain. The right hon. Gentleman knows whose forces he champions. In the Madrid area they have put up a fine resistance, but they have now no possible hope of holding out. Surely the proper course of the democratic Powers should be to say: "You have fought bravely; 1137 do not go on until vastly greater numbers still of your civilian population suffer and until starvation afflicts many of your children."
Surely that is the wise policy. Surely it is not wise to go on encouraging the Republican forces in Spain, as people have unfortunately been doing in this country during the last two or three years. They have had a great agitation asking for arms for Spain, in order that British bullets might kill more Spaniards. Why did we not follow the suggestion of His Majesty's Government from the start and keep out of this conflict? The Leader of the Opposition went to Barcelona to urge the soldiers, the International Brigade and other Spaniards, to go on fighting. He addressed an audience of Spanish troops amid fixed bayonets, and then he came back to this country not realising that he had intervened, in order to try to prolong the resistance of the Republicans in Spain. That was at the end of 1937.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
Has not the hon. and gallant Member consistently encouraged General Franco and his forces to conduct their campaign?
§ Sir H. Croft
I never opened my mouth on this subject until the right hon. Gentleman's party had for three months made this matter the spearhead of attack against His Majesty's Government. It was only when I realised that the whole thing was done for a political purpose while men were dying in Spain and men, women and children were suffering because of the right hon. Gentleman's Left Wing, ideological ideas that I thought I would do my best to see that the other side of the matter was presented to the country. Let us not forget that His Majesty's Government could not resist these attacks. They had to keep their independence. History is going to show that the Government of this country, perhaps alone, have really honoured their word on the subject of non-intervention, and while they have been honouring their word incessant political attacks have been made upon them throughout this country.
We hope that the war is nearly over. I say to hon. Gentlemen: "You have had your political bean feast; surely it must be realised that the objective of the future should be that the new Spain should be friendly with this country, as Spain has been in the past." His Majesty's Govern- 1138 ment have done most wisely in giving recognition when recognition was essential. Nothing could stop it. Who started to give recognition? Is Switzerland other than a democratic Power? She gave the lead. Is Republican Holland one of your reactionary countries? Holland has already seen the wisdom of this course, and so have Poland, the Balkan Entente, and Argentina. Altogether some 29 countries have now taken this action. Thank goodness our country is not going to wait to be the last to recognise established facts.
That is the whole question. The fact is that the Nationalist Government are controlling Spain, and if hon. Members read their "Daily Telegraph" they will have seen that a really marvellous organisation has been brought to Barcelona. When you realise the fact of this extraordinarily good government which is being established in Spain you realise that it is an accomplished fact. Let us do all in our power to assist that Government with counsel and advice to show them that Great Britain to-day, as in the past, believes the word of Spain when Spain says that it will insist upon independence. Let us do all we can to help them to recover from the horrors and the disasters that have afflicted their country.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
It would be extremely difficult to go through the collection of mis-statements made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) on this matter. I should like to be in this House, it may be a few months hence, or a year or two, when the hon. and gallant Member, patriot as he is, has to stand up and say: "I am sorry to see that the policy which I advocated in Spain has resulted in the breaking of the vital communications of the British Empire." I hope that the day will come when that speech will most certainly be made. I am certain that that speech will have to be made. [Interruption.] I do not mean that I hope that the speech will be made, but that I hope that I am here when it is made. Many well-known journalists with reputations to lose have made the statements which the hon. and gallant Member has denied. They were not journalists from papers all on one side, but were from the "Times" and "Daily Telegraph," as well as leading American papers. They have actually been on the spot not only with the retreating army 1139 but with General Franco's army and they have written of the bombing of the refugees on the road from Barcelona, as has already been quoted in this House in previous Debates. Such things cannot be denied.
§ Sir H. Croft
I must tell the hon. Lady that the correspondents of the "Times" and the "Daily Telegraph" were witnesses of no such things. It was purely hearsay.
§ Miss Wilkinson
All I can say is that the hon. and gallant Member is one of those people who believe that the Basques burned Guernica themselves. If a man will believe that he will believe anything. I am mainly concerned with two points, the first of which is the indecent haste to recognise General Franco. It makes a very curious contrast with the long time it took the British Government to recognise the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, when all fighting in its territory had ended by the end of 1919. In fact, recognition was given by a Labour Government. In the case of Spain, a large part of the central area is still in the hands of the Republican Government, but the National Government rush to recognise General Franco. If he wishes to get this policy across to the country the Prime Minister has to make some sort of a show of getting assurances of clemency, not only for the ordinary soldiers but for those who are the leaders of the opposite party.
We have been repeatedly told, even in the "Daily Telegraph" which the Prime Minister read out, that there will be clemency, except for criminals. This expression "criminals" is important. To Englishmen it means only one thing. A criminal is a man who has broken the established law of the country. We have a phrase "moral turpitude." On the other hand we have already had examples of what Fascists mean by criminal. They mean a man who has supported the legitimate government of his country when it was the legitimate government and when there was no question of it being anything else. They have flung men into concentration camps on no other charge but that they were officials under the Schuschnigg Government, when it was recognised as the legitimate government of Austria. Do hon. Members deny what I say? Take an example from Czecho-Slovakia. I 1140 have seen photographs in the Press of men lined up and being marched to concentration camps with their hands behind their heads because they were folk-traitors. Why were they folk-traitors? Because they supported the legitimate government of their country when it was the recognised government of their country, and did not support the rebels. Is it the Conservative doctrine that these people are to be considered as criminals? We have had some oddities of international law during the last three or four years, but this is the most dangerous of them from the point of view of the party opposite.
I have here an exact translation of the law promulgated on 13th February this year. It is published and obtainable. It is General Franco's "State Law in regard to Political Responsibilities." It enumerates the parties and organisations which he says are now outlawed, and it goes on to say that:Responsibility of a private nature will be exacted from individual members of those parties, in accordance with the legal procedure of the courts to be created for that purpose.That is to say, it is retroactive legislation for these criminals. It says that:members of such parties are liable for political responsibilities, and will be subject to sanctions to be imposed upon them by this procedure; also those sentenced by courts-martial for rebellion, adherence, help, provocation or exciting to rebellion, or for treason by virtue of a criminal activity against the Glorious National Movement.That is the glorious national movement of a rebel general who, whatever his position now, was in July, 1936,in the position of an officer who broke his oath to the Government of the country to which he had made that oath.
Included in the list are not only the deputies elected in 1936, but those who convened the elections; and those elections were convened by a Conservative Government. Most of those who ran that election were put in prison by the party of the Right. It includes:the members of the Government presiding over the elections and those holding executive posts in it.These are the people whom General Franco considers to be criminals—men who took executive posts, and even the returning officers in an election that was being held under a Conservative Govern- 1141 ment. The Prime Minister accepts the word "criminal" in the sense in which we understand it in this country, that is to say, including only such people as have been guilty of murder, or robbery, or looting, or some such thing, as indicating those who would come under the vengeance of General Franco; but in face of that you have General Franco's own list of people whom he considers to be criminals.
We are asked by the Prime Minister to face realities. What of the indecent haste of the Government to recognise General Franco, and the indecent haste of the City of London to be in with the newly-formed company of Senñr Juan March in order to get the high percentages that are offered? I would ask those who suggest that Spain will need this country, will need the City of London, will need foreign capital, to face one or two economic realities. I know the country very well. I was there a good deal long before there was any question of civil war. Spain is a country which in normal times accumulates foreign currency very quickly. It has always had an export surplus, importing comparatively little and exporting a good deal. Its oil, oranges, wine and valuable natural products are always in demand. Now it is in a vitally important position. In a world of very quick rearmament, it controls 44 per cent of the mercury supplies of the world. We have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) that 87 per cent. of the mercury we have used in our recent rearmament has come from Spain. The other big mercury deposits in Europe are held by Signor Mussolini. When Signor Mussolini, through a puppet Government, controls, not only the Italian supply, but also the 44 per cent. in Spain, it will not be a case of General Franco having to come and beg from the City of London, but a case of our own Ministers for Co-ordination of Defence having to consider how they are going to beg of General Franco, and how and what deals they are going to arrange with Signor Mussolini, who will control so large a part of such an important item in our munition supplies. It may be that the Prime Minister thinks that that is something that can be fixed up over a glass of wine with these gentlemen of his own class, with whom he has deep sympathy and of whom he will regretfully say a little later 1142 that they have not understood that they were dealing with English gentlemen.
§ Miss Wilkinson
Certainly it will be peaceful negotiation, but I suggest that it will hardly be negotiation on such equal terms as it would have been if there had been a democratic republic in Spain, drawing towards the democracy of this country and anxious to supply it with the necessities for their common defence. But, on account of the invincible, crass ignorance of the economic facts of Spain, and the wishful thinking of hon. Members opposite, it is not likely that economic facts will be considered.
There is one point in particular that I would like hon. Members to consider. I have no doubt whatever that the Italian Government may be very ready to oblige the present Prime Minister by a grand parade of an apparent withdrawal of Italian forces, but I suggest that it would be a token withdrawal. There are at present in the files of the Italian and German Governments blue-prints and maps of every corner of the Spanish Peninsula which General Franco controls. It is obvious that there must be; they have fought over that territory. There was a similar situation before the War, when this country was rather concerned about Turkey, and when Turkey was appealing to this country. What actually happened was that, with the connivance of the Turkish Government of that time, the German Government, similarly, had, not only blue-prints but maps and details of every spot in Turkey. The Italians and Germans are in an even better position with regard to Spain. They have had two years in which to build the aerodromes, the submarine bases, even the concrete foundations that are needed. We may get a token withdrawal, but there will be left in Spain a complete apparatus for the control of the government of that country in peace time, or so-called peace time, with the possibilities of an immediate attack.
Is there any hon. Member on the other side of the House who really expects that, after this enormous gamble in life and in money, Signor Mussolini is going to withdraw, having got the victory? Why should he? He has got everything he wants, and he has got it with the connivance of this country. This country has tied behind their backs the hands of 1143 the Republican Government. For the Prime Minister to talk about humanity when we have refused to allow them antiaircraft guns to safeguard their women and children is a farce, and he knows it. We have refused to allow the Spanish Government to use the money that came to it from taxes at a time when it was the legitimate and recognised government of the country. We have ensured that Italy shall win in Spain, and we have ensured it at the price of avoiding the risk of war. If we had said to Italy, "If we are to have a non-intervention pact and observe it, you are going to observe it too," was Italy in a position to say "No?" But we did not want to say it. Why? Because the Prime Minister, incredible though it may seem, believed all the stories of the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth.
We have seen it gradually dawning upon the more intelligent Members on the other side of the House that this really is a very serious thing for the British Empire—that with a hostile Government in Spain, which we have never allowed to happen for 300 years, it means danger to our vital communications. We could have had in Spain a Government that was vitally loyal to this country, composed of the same people who during the last War were loyal to this country; but we have chosen, instead, to back exactly the people and classes and parties in Spain who during the last War were loyal to Germany. These are facts, which cannot be explained away. For the possibility of buying over at the last minute a rebel General who even now is much more concerned—as indeed he ought to be—about the friends who have supplied him with men and equipment, we are putting in jeopardy the vital interests of this country.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden
In the Debates that have taken place during the last two years on the Spanish issue, something in the nature of a gladiatorial combat between my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) has become almost a staple part of our fare. For my part, I will not venture to come between two such combatants, because I can readily imagine what my fate would be. If I may say so 1144 with respect, I think it is important that the House, in considering the issue before it, should bear in mind, not only its importance from the point of view of precedent, not only its importance for the security of our own country, but also the fact that this particular issue is definitely a limited one.
For the two and a half years during which the Spanish conflict has lasted that conflict has been a source of continuing anxiety to Members of this House, wherever they happen to sit, and, let us make no mistake about it, whatever is the decision of the House to-night, that anxiety is going to continue, in a measure, for some time to come. From the very beginning this conflict has enlisted divergent sympathies in various parts of the House, and these have been well exemplified by the course of this Debate so far. Even now, I think, those of us who are speaking in this Debate are conscious—I know I am—that we cannot reveal the whole of our thoughts on this question to the House and to the Press of the world. That is a difficulty of which, in any discussion on Foreign Affairs, we must all be conscious, but it is especially obvious in the conditions which prevail at present. For all those reasons, I confess that I would have preferred not to intervene in this Debate, but I thought that that might perhaps have been regarded by some as shirking a responsibility, so, for a few moments, I will give the House my own view of the position in which we now find ourselves, and the alternatives which confront us.
It seems to me that throughout the Spanish conflict this country has had two main interests: first, to attempt to circumscribe the area of the conflict; and, second, to attempt to ensure the independence of Spain. The first of these was responsible for the initiative which was taken to put into force the policy of non-intervention. It is profitless, for the purposes of this decision we have to take to-night, to discuss whether that initiative was wise or unwise, but it is fair to remind the House that the decision was taken then because, in the sincere judgment of both the French Government and ourselves, there was the greatest risk of a spread of the conflict. It may be argued now whether that risk was exaggerated or not, but hon. Members have only to look back at the speeches of 1145 Members of the French Government of that time to appreciate the truth of that. That was the origin of the policy. Having embarked on it, it was clearly our duty and the duty of the French Government to do our best to hold the balance even and, as far as possible, to see that policy carried out fairly. Nobody will pretend that that task was easy, and nobody, I think, will pretend that it was conspicuously successful—certainly I do not for the time in which I had any responsibility. We had to have resort to all sorts of devices, through systems of control and inspection, because we thought that that policy was better than the alternative. It seemed to me that, in view of our special responsibility, it was not possible for us to take any action which might be construed as condoning breaches of that agreement by anybody. I felt that to do that was to debase the currency of international good faith and to make intervention not less likely but more likely.
But that is a matter of past controversy, and I do not think that the decision we are called upon to take to-night is a decision on whether we approve of non-intervention or not. It seems to me that the decision is principally bound up, so far as the actual interest of this country is concerned, with the second of the two matters I mentioned, the independence of Spain. This country—here I think we are all agreed—can never rest indifferent to a situation in which Spain or any part of Spain's territories, islands or overseas possessions, is under the control, or even the partial domination, of any non-Spanish party. That is why, at the very outset of my remarks, I used the phrase that this Spanish conflict was going to be a source of continuing anxiety for us. Clearly it is, and must be, whatever decision we take to-night, as long as there remain foreign troops on Spanish soil or foreign aircraft on any of the islands that form part of Spanish territory. No one, so far as I am aware, will suggest that the present situation is satisfactory, or can be other than anxious while the conditions exist that we confront to-day. In that connection there is one warning that I would like to utter.
In the past, relations between this country and Spain, taken over a long period, have been good: sometimes very good. Those relations have been due to geographical reasons and to reasons of 1146 common interest. We are now still the greatest naval power in Europe, and our strength in that respect is, happily, growing every day. Spain is a country with a vast seaboard. It is natural that she should be borne, for that reason alone, into friendship with a great naval Power. Many of my hon. Friends are convinced that the moment this civil war is over it will be possible to establish with General Franco's Government relations as good as those that have existed between this country and Spain in the past. It is true that this country has no design of any sort on Spanish independence—and that counts for something—and has no desire to see Spain anything but strong—and that counts for something. But, whether my hon. Friends are right or not, the warning I would venture to give is this: that if in future our relations with Spain are to proceed on a friendly basis that will be only because there is a realisation of a common interest, and not because of a pecuniary interest. I hope that nowhere is there any suggestion that that motive can have anything to do with the policy of a foreign Government towards this country.
What of the actual decision we have been asked to take? I would ask the House for the moment to consider not what some hon. Members might like the position to be, from whatever point of view they examine the Spanish problem, but what the actual position is. It is this: The French Government have declared their determination to recognise General Franco. A large number of other Governments, including the Balkan Entente, for instance, have done so already, and our own Government have made a similar declaration. M. Daladier, in the French Chamber the other day, gave his reasons, with what I thought was welcome clarity and candour, and if I may refer to another part of his speech which seems to have been rather more important than that which was a source of controversy earlier in the Debate, I would like to remind the House of the reasons that M. Daladier gave. He said he was convinced that the next few months, or even weeks, would bring some redoubtable reefs to be faced, and peace would have to be defended with vigilance. This, he said, was yet another reason for the French not being absent from Burgos. I do not ask the Government whether they endorse that view of the immediate 1147 future in the international situation, but I do say that, in face of that expression of opinion by the Prime Minister of France, it is very difficult for any of us to say that we do not agree, or that we will take steps to try to stop the decision at which he has arrived.
Not a single Member of this House has approached the question from this angle, of what would be the effect if we in this House were to decide to delay recognition despite all that has passed. If hon. Members would make a mental tour of the great capitals of Europe and think for themselves what, from the point of view of each of those capitals, would be the answer to that question, I do not think they could escape the conclusion that to withhold recognition now, after all that has passed, would not assist the independent Spain which must be our objective. Members in all parts of this House have different sympathies in the Spanish conflict. There are some who ardently wish to see General Franco win. There are others to whom General Franco is anathema. There is a middle bloc of Members who have no ideological views but who are concerned about the strategic position of our own country and France.
More important, as I think, than any of those considerations is the argument which the right hon. Gentleman made just now about the conditions. Every Member of this House must have put to himself the same question: Are there conditions that can be imposed in connection with recognition which will assist to reduce the dangers of retribution, punishment, and so on when the war is over? I must say frankly that I do not believe it would have been possible to impose a complete amnesty as a condition of recognition. I do not believe any Member would suggest it, after all that has passed in the Spanish war. What I do suggest is that this country should exert itself to the utmost, with the French Government and the United States Government, to try to see that the closing stages of this war are as far as possible devoid of the sufferings which occurred at the beginning. Unfortunately, there are already possibilities of such sufferings happening, because both sides still possess political prisoners in considerable numbers, and I would have thought that the Government have an opportunity, and should use the oppor- 1148 tunity in the closing stages of this conflict, to try to negotiate an armistice, in order to avoid the tragedy of the opening of these hostilities being repeated at the close.
One consideration which has weighed with me more than any other argument is this. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the House now agreed with the Leader of the Opposition, and we decided to withhold recognition, what would be the result? It is quite clear what the result would be. It would be a great encouragement to those who, until yesterday, were the Government of Spain, an immense encouragement to Madrid and to Valencia, perhaps even so great an encouragement as to result in their going on righting, when, in other circumstances, they would not have gone on fighting. There is no hon. Member in this House who is going to suggest at this hour that we ought to start sending munitions and so on to assist the Government of Spain.
§ Mr. Eden
I must say that I think that to do that now would not only be futile but cruelly futile. I think we have to face what would be the result of our action if, after all that has passed, we now withheld recognition. I believe that the result of that would be to encourage the conflict to go on after it has passed a period when nobody thinks that the result could be changed. That seems to me to be a fearful responsibility for any Member of this House to take. It is not one that I myself am prepared to take, and that is why I shall go into the Government Lobby to-night.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
Milton! thou shouldn't be living at this hour:England hath need of thee: she is a fen Of stagnant waters—altar, sword and pen.I hoped that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) rose from that corner bench we were going to have reproduced the elder statesman, Sir Austen Chamberlain. He has gone, and we have 1149 not here to-day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The House is making history which will look black in retrospect. Let us remember that there are in this country countless men and women who do not merely feel strongly on this issue but feel that the question of our honour is at stake. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I felt that he, just as badly as the Prime Minister, will look upon this issue, and indeed upon every issue that comes before us, purely from the point of view of immediate expediency. I believe that in the long run that which is unjust can never be expedient; and I do not believe that either nations or individuals can make friends by "sucking up" to the man who is on top. It has not been our custom in the past to seek friendship by humility or humble solicitations. Our strength in the past, as all the statesmen of England of the past have known, has come from the respect which foreign countries feel for us, and respect does not depend upon loans or upon armaments but upon acting on principle.
I have never been in favour of nonintervention in Spain. I have held always that it was the right of the Government of Spain, if they could get help, to get it from wherever they might. But if any non-intervention had been adopted, could anything have been more cruel than to have allowed the Spanish Government to get nothing and Franco to get everything? That is why people in this country are feeling this question so much at heart at the present time; not only the working class, though thank heaven, support comes solidly from them, but the people who value the traditions of this country in all classes. It is not merely a question of honour. There you have had for two years and a-half a most gallant people struggling for freedom as bravely as did the Swiss Cantons or the Dutch Netherlands—carrying on against greater odds than faced those countries when they secured their freedom; fighting with one rifle between three men, with half-a-dozen rounds of ammunition and overwhelmed on the other side by all the latest devices of war.
In the past it has been an English principle that sympathy should at least go out 1150 to the weak fighting desperately against the strong, but here we have had this afternoon the same lies against a brave people and the same stories raked up after two years and a half without a tittle of evidence behind them. We have had England doing everything she could to secure the support and the friendship of the strong bully, kicking down the men who have been doing our work for us in defending liberty. It is almost over now, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, when he says that we are all anxious for the Spaniards to give in, to reflect with a certain pride that we in such circumstances have not given in—that the French, overrun by the German armies, defended Paris for six months; that in Spain itself Saragossa was held heroically until the people dropped down dead in the streets. It ill becomes us now to advise the brave men, who have but honour to fight for, to surrender without terms. Do we not know—even the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft)—what will happen when Franco does win? How many of these men, who can still die on their legs instead of living awhile on their knees, will survive when Franco rules? It has always been the case in the past whenever the working people have dared to go in arms against the upper classes, whenever they have been driven to it by the horror of their conditions and the unfairness of their lot, whenever these revolts have been put down, the worst brutalities in the world have been enacted.
When the slaves under Spartacus were defeated in Italy the roads from Rome, all down to Apulia, were all lined with crucifixes upon which the Spartacists hung. That was but a sample of all that has happened since whenever the governing classes suppressed the revolting workers. When they suppressed Wat Tyler—the men who rose under Ket in Norfolk, these were but murdered. They died easily compared with the way in which the peasant revolts in Europe were putdown. We have got back to-day to the fifteenth century, and they have shown us in Guernica, Bilbao and Barcelona what they mean to do. If I were a Spaniard with a rifle in my hand to-day, I would never give up. The crusade is over. The Albigenses are de- 1151 feated; the Fascists are worse than the priests. What are the Government going to do? Accumulating dishonour, will they, now that we have recognised Franco, treat with him for mercury and loans, instead of using everything still in our power to save these gallant men who have fought so valiantly?
I would remind the House that at the beginning of this war the British Navy played a striking and even a noble part in rescuing the supporters of Franco who were in danger of their lives. We sent the Navy to save the people from Barcelona and from many other towns. Cannot they do the same for these men for whom there will be no mercy once Franco wins. If we use our ships to save these people to whom defeat and surrender mean death to themselves, and very often for their wives, at any rate we shall be doing something to wash out the accumulating surge of dishonour which the Government are inflicting upon England.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes
I think that the whole House always enjoys the utmost sincerity of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) when he speaks, and the more we disagree with him the more we appreciate the crusading spirit he always shows in any cause in which he believes. But the tragedy of the case put forward by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his friends is the tragedy of all history. As has been so often proved, those who are prepared, for the sake of ideals, to disregard the realistic facts of the present situation may, indeed, as has been the case in the past, cause more unnecessary suffering that perhaps any other people. The position in regard to Spain to-day is clear. You have the Spanish Government scattered, and a certain number of persons still holding out at Madrid, Valencia and elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has said that this House has at the back of its conscience that nothing should be done to encourage these men to fight on in a hopeless fight, which in the long run might well mean the sacking of certain great cities and all the misery that sacking must involve. Supposing the balance were still even and there were 1152 some possibility perhaps that the Republican side in Spain might succeed, the position might be different.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said that we had never granted belligerent rights while the war was on, and, therefore, why were we granting recognition in Spain? Surely the answer is not a difficult one. During the days when the war was being carried on, the question of recognition of belligerent rights was deliberately used by this country, as some bargaining weapon which might reduce the danger of the spreading of the war, in return for belligerency, by getting the foreigners out of Spain and therefore making the Spanish War a home war and a less dangerous war to Europe. Those times have changed. To all intents and purposes the Spanish war is over. If you do not grant recognition you are playing into the hands of the very people whom hon. Members opposite denounce so often—the leaders of the dictatorship States. If you refuse recognition and deliberately drive the new Spain into opposition to this country, you are playing the game of the very Hitlers and Mussolinis who are so often denounced from the other side of the House.
That is not all. Suppose that we were to wait and say, "No belligerency until the last foreign troops have been withdrawn," what a temptation that would be to certain countries which shall be nameless to keep a few thousand men there in Spain indefinitely in order to make it impossible for this country to deal with the man who is to-day the virtual ruler in Spain. Whatever government is in office in Spain has great opportunities of working and dealing in trade. So far as we are concerned we only desire to live on terms of harmony with any government in Spain, and if we can play our part and use our mediation and our power for the cancelling of many of those debts which have been uncancelled, and to prevent things which will lead to increased bloodshed, we may play our part in stabilising the integrity of Spain under a regime which, whatever its weaknesses and whatever its faults, is passionately national in outlook and bitterly opposed to the cession of territory to any foreign power. Indeed, there is no reason why the new Government in Spain may not become a Portugal rather than a Nazi Germany.
1153 It lies very largely in our hands whether the new Spain is to be brought into the paths of wisdom and peace or driven into the arms of persons who have views upon religion and any form of tolerance which are opposed to ours. That is our task at the present time. It is folly to talk about the bertrayal of a legitimate government when that government has gone. After all, the 40-odd deputies who met at Figuer as a fortnight ago were no more representative of the Spanish Cortes, even of 1936, than the 40 Members of the English Parliament who, after Pride's Purge were alone left and found willing to betray and murder their King in defiance of real popular opinion.
It is finally argued that the Government policy is the betrayal of democracy, and that democratic countries throughout the world will turn upon us because England has by non-intervention, permitted a pseudo-democracy to be defeated and destroyed in the fields of Spain. It is very easy, particularly for Members of the Opposition, to uplift their voices in regard to democracy and the sacrifices which are made for democracy, but it seems to me rather unfortunate that hon. Members opposite, who for the last five years and more have consistently opposed everything done at home in this country in the way of defence estimates for defending the democracy of this country, should to-day be uplifting their voices in loud protest because we are endeavouring to prevent foreign workpeople from fighting on to the destruction of themselves and their own land. It seems to me that this Motion of Censure is not only ill-conceived but that it is inconsistent and completely contrary to the facts.
§ 7.5 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
I wonder whether, supposing my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) and myself were in a hopeless case against overwhelming odds and believing in the justice of our case, we should none the less after a long struggle surrender without conditions. I cannot say. I can only say that for me it is a little difficult to find the stomach to urge brave men to take that course. But I am to-night going to take a course which I always try to take, a particularly realistic course. The Prime Minister urged us to deal with this matter not in a partisan or a prejudiced manner. I am going 1154 to try to respond, though I must say that the example set by some of the previous speakers in this Debate has not been very promising. Like every hon. Member of this House I have tried to put country before party. When His Majesty's Government have seemed to me from time to time to be in uncomfortable danger of fouling their own nest, I have tried to speak and to act in accordance with my own judgment. But with the best will in the world—or with the worst will in the world—it would be quite impossible for me in my wildest nightmares to support the Labour party's Motion of Censure to-night.