HC Deb 12 June 1939 vol 348 cc876-80
9. Mr. Thorne

asked the Prime Minister whether he has been made aware of the speech made by Herr Hitler in Berlin on Tuesday, 6th June, to the 18,000 German troops returned from Spain when he stated that he sent German war vessels and war material in July, 1936, to take an active part in the Spanish war; and whether this information was known to the members of the Non-intervention Committee?

11. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the recent declaration of Signor Mussolini that the Italian Government gave all their assistance openly to the Spanish Nationalist authorities from the first day until the end of the Spanish civil war; and whether the Italian representative on the Non-intervention Committee at any time informed his colleagues that such assistance was being given?

23. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty's Government were aware of the considerable help rendered to General Franco by the Italian navy from the beginning of the Spanish war?

Mr. Butler

I have seen these declarations. His Majesty's Government are well aware and have often stated that from the beginning of the civil war in Spain intervention on both sides was taking place on a considerable scale. Neither the German nor the Italian representative ever communicated to the Non-intervention Committee the information now divulged.

Mr. Thorne

Is it not the fact that on 9th July, 1936, and again on 9th August, 1936, statements were made to the Non- intervention Committee that they were not doing this kind of business, and were they not perversion of the truth?

Mr. Butler

I would not say that they were perversions of the truth. I am sure that the Non-intervention Committee, as well as His Majesty's Government, at that time, and since, regretted the intervention in Spain.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not evident, as far as the Italian Government were concerned, that from the beginning to the end of the Spanish war, they regarded the policy of non-intervention as being a pure farce?

Mr. Butler

I am afraid that I cannot answer for the Italian Government.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

How does the right hon. Gentleman explain the constant assurances given to this House that these facts were not so?

Mr. Butler

Every fact that was presented to His Majesty's Government was investigated. In every case in which we had information to rebut it, we did so, and in every case in which we did not have it, we said we did not have it.

Sir Percy Harris

Would His Majesty's Government consider publishing the minutes of the Non-intervention Committee, so that we can know what statements were made by the representatives of Germany and of Italy?

Mr. Butler

The Non-intervention Committee was an international body and it would have been necessary to obtain their permission to do that.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is it not the case, as now revealed, that very large-scale operations were being conducted against the Spanish Government by Italy at a time when it must have been known to His Majesty's Government, owing to the scale of the operations, and His Majesty's Government were denying that they had any knowledge of them?

Mr. Butler

I deny that statement at once. His Majesty's Government always said that there had been intervention in the Spanish war on both sides.

13. Mr. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister on what date or at what stage of the negotiations for the Anglo-Italian Agreement the Italian Foreign Minister informed His Majesty's Government that some Italian war material might be left in Spain after the conclusion of the war?

The Prime Minister

At the end of March last year His Majesty's Ambassa- dor was informed by the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs that Signor Mussolini would give an assurance that as soon as the Spanish civil war had terminated all Italian volunteers would leave Spanish territory. This assurance applied also to Italian war material, but Count Ciano made it clear at the time to His Majesty's Ambassador that some war material might, when the war was over, be sold or given to the Spanish Government.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Are we to understand that His Majesty's Government had a warning from the Italian Government that Italian troops might remain in Spain until the end of the war, although the Prime Minister was telling us they were being withdrawn and he was encouraging the Non-intervention Committee in making agreements for their evacuation?

The Prime Minister

I have not made any statement which is new. I have only repeated what I have said before.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The Government had then been informed by the Italian Government that the Italian troops might remain until the end of the war?

The Prime Minister

Yes, if they had not gone before.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

Is it not the case, arising out of what the Prime Minister has said, that before he informed the House of the Anglo-Italian Agreement, and before he had told the House that men and materials were to be withdrawn, His Majesty's Government knew that in certain circles material would not be withdrawn?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I think that is quite clear from what I have said but, as I explained the other day, His Majesty's Government did not attach very great importance to that matter. The point to which they did attach importance was that war material should not be left in control of Italian troops in Spain.

Mr. Greenwood

Is it not the case that repeatedly from these benches the question was asked whether when men were withdrawn material would be withdrawn, and was it not well known to the Government that we had grave doubts on this side of the House as to the use to which such material would be put, and is it not the case that in this matter the House has been misled?

The Prime Minister

I must point out that, whatever was in the Anglo-Italian Agreement, it would always have been possible when the civil war was over and the Non-intervention Committee had come to an end, for other Governments to supply the Spanish Government with war material. If the Italians had taken away all the war material there would have been nothing to prevent them sending it back, either by way of sale to the Spanish Government or by gift.

Mr. Greenwood

Then why did the right hon. Gentleman not tell the House of that?

The Prime Minister

I have explained, or tried to explain—the right hon. Gentleman does not accept my explanation—that this was not a matter to which the British Government attached any particular importance, for the reason which I have given.

Sir A. Sinclair

May I put a personal question to the Under-Secretary? When he told us on 3rd April that the Italian Government had given us an undertaking that they would withdraw all their troops and war material from Spain, and he told us that he had no reason to doubt that they would honour their undertaking, did he realise that there was some understanding by which they were going to be allowed to sell or give their war material to General Franco?

Mr. Butler

I have always had the same knowledge of what passed as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I was always under the impression that the Italian Government would withdraw Italian troops and war material in Italian hands, and that is exactly what the Italian Government have done.

21. Commander Marsden

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the evacuation of the Italian troops from Spain, His Majesty's Government will send a communication to the Italian Government expressing their appreciation of the manner in which the Italian Government are carrying out the spirit of the Anglo-Italian Treaty?

Mr. Butler

My Noble Friend does not consider that my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion is necessary as no doubt the Italian Government are quite aware of the feelings of His Majesty's Government in this matter.

Commander Marsden

In view of the completely wrong conception of the situation which is held by the party opposite, may I ask the Under-Secretary if he does not think it would be an opportune moment to express the real feelings of the vast majority of the people of this country?

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