HC Deb 20 February 1951 vol 484 cc1249-58

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Royle.]

12.44 a.m.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

I rise at this late hour to raise what is a very delicate topic. Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Goole (Mr. G. Jeger), who I am happy to see in his place, at the time of the Spanish Civil War I was in sympathy with the then Government, and I remain a firm believer in democratic processes. But the emotions which stirred this country at the time went very deep, and they have surrounded our relationships with Spain with a fog of prejudice and confusion.

I want to try to obtain from the Government some enlightenment on the policy they hope to pursue in this important matter. So far as I can see, it does not have much to do with the political colour of the Spanish Government. I have examined my conscience most carefully in this matter and I think I would be prepared to advance any of the arguments which I am going to advance now if, for example, there were a Communist but independent—in other words, "Titoist." Government in Spain.

The background to this problem is that of the foreign affairs and defence debates which we recently had in the House. It will be recalled that in those debates the Government put forward a case for rearmament on the ground that by re-arming the Western Powers we are most likely to secure peace. There was general assent on both sides of the House that our desire above all things is for peace. It seems to me to be of the greatest importance to us at this time to make up our minds what we are going to do about the Spanish problem, which has been a sort of skeleton in the cupboard for all political parties for a long time. I think the position was radically altered this week and became urgent in view of the statement made by Mr. Secretary Acheson. As it appeared in the Press only very shortly, perhaps I ought to read it to the House.

In the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee on 16th February, Mr. Acheson was asked a question by Senator Russell, who said: Mr. Secretary, there are millions of people who are very much concerned about the part, if any, that Spain may or could play in the defence of Western Europe. Do you object to stating whether or not negotiations are being pursued to see whether or not the position of Spain can be fitted into the defence of Western Europe? Mr. Acheson replied as follows: The importance of the association of Spain in the defence of Western Europe, I think, is clear. I think it is also clear that the relations of this country, and I hope of other countries, with Spain are now entering a new phase. We are sending a most able Ambassador to Spain, who is on his way at the present time. I am sure the objects you have in mind and I am sure I have in mind can be accomplished. That depends on the reactions of many nations and on our partners in the North Atlantic Treaty and also on the reactions of Spain. At the present time we have only some statements made by the Spanish Government as to what their attitude should be. The last sentence may have been misreported, because it sounds garbled, but I think it should read: We hope before very long we shall know more about that and we hope that the development will be along the line of close association with Spain and would lead to a Spanish contribution to mutual undertakings in regard to the defence of Western Europe. I read that statement carefully and I think it is correct to say that it does not commit the United States Government to the arming of Spain in a military sense, though that may not be so. It certainly commits the United States Government to incorporating Spain in the Western European effort at least in the economic sense. It seems that we are faced with this decision of the United States Government. I do not know whether we were consulted before it was taken. I hope we were. We have now to face our own problem.

I would like to ask the Government what action they hope to take to safeguard the undoubted strategic interests we have in this area. It must be obvious to anybody, let alone to somebody like myself, who was a Service attachè for several years, that the lines of communication from the United Kingdom to Africa, to the Mediterranean and to the Middle and Far East, and from the United States to Middle Eastern oil, all pass through the Spanish strategic area. In addition, it must be obvious that our treaty obligations to go to the defence of Portugal in certain circumstances—I think we have that obligation—bears considerably upon the position of Spain. So it would appear that the use of sea and air bases in Spain is a vital matter to us. I do not mean necessarily in the active sense, but rather through the fact that they should be available as friendly ports to our ships and aircraft, in case of need. Still more important, perhaps, is the negative side of this matter.

Even more, we require to be assured that the Government have in mind the importance of preventing this vital strategic area from falling into hostile hands. It has to be borne in mind that in the last resort it might perhaps be one of the final strategic places in Europe which can be held, in time of great difficulty, behind the barrier of the Pyrenees. I would say, summing up this part of the argument, that from the point of view of our strategic interests, whatever Government there is in Spain, the important thing is that it should be on our side.

I would like to turn now to the more constructive aspect of the argument; that is, to ask the hon. Gentleman what the Government propose to do to enable the Spanish people to play their part in the great effort which is being made by Western Europe to defend itself. I say "Spanish people" pointedly, because after all, it will, I think, be agreed that they are one of the great Christian peoples of the world. If anyone objects to that term, I would say that they share the great humanistic heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, which has come down over the centuries to us. All round the world one comes across their influence and civilising force. I am sure that if our opponents, the nations behind the Iron Curtain, could succeed in manoeuvring us into a position in which it was impossible for the 30 million people in the Iberian Peninsula to join with us in defending our traditional heritage, it would be a great strategic success for those forces ranged against us.

It seems to me that we have to play our political cards in such a way that the success achieved by Soviet propaganda two or three years ago, when they managed more or less successfully to outlaw Spain, will not be repeated at this critical juncture. Therefore, I hope that H.M. Government will adopt a policy which will look beyond the political prejudices of the past, on both sides, and perhaps beyond those of the present, to the major issue for the future.

Objections to a close association with Spain have been raised in various quarters. It has been said, by the Under Secretary himself, I think, that political as well as strategic considerations arise in this matter. I quite agree. I think that political considerations are fully as important. I feel, however, that they ought to be most carefully examined, and that the balance of advantage will be found to be not in favour of any continued ostracism of the Spanish Government, but rather in an opposite course. If we ask ourselves where an outcry is likely to come from if we follow the lead taken by the Americans, there will be an outcry indeed from the "fellow travellers" and from some who are not "fellow travellers" but who I would describe rather as the "woolly-headed," and from some others besides. But I would not take that outcry too seriously.

Another objection is that we cannot afford to send military equipment to Spain. I do not believe that that objection is a real one. It was made by the Minister of State in answer to a Parliamentary Question by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher). Surely if we assume, as I think we must, that we have vital strategic interests in this area which we have to defend as a whole, it must require less equipment and less expenditure of material and manpower to defend it with the planned cooperation of the people who live in the Iberian Peninsula than if we have to count without that co-operation. That latter must obviously be a much more extravagant alternative. I cannot, therefore, feel that it makes any sense to say that such a policy would be a waste of equipment. It takes a long time to do joint planning. The working out of the use of resources, both economic and military, is a complex business, but it is a very important one, and if we are to take any steps in that direction, they ought to be begun fairly soon.

Another objection which is sometimes made—and I think it is an important one—is that we ought not to take any step towards closer association with Spain unless war is imminent. I think that was the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) in the foreign affairs debate. The hon. Member made a very sincere speech on that occasion, and I well remember it, but it seems to me that the matter of prime importance is not to wait and take action when war is imminent; but if we think we can reduce the risk of war by strengthening ourselves by taking action before that time, then that is the course we ought to adopt, because we are agreed that the preservation of peace is the primary objective.

In this matter it seems that Europe looked to us for a lead. They have now had one from the United States, and surely we have to make up our minds what we shall do. Can anybody really doubt, with the development of events as they are, that we shall, sooner or later, have to take some steps in the same direction as the United States? I feel sure that that must be so. But even were it not so—and I have an open mind; I want to hear what the Minister has to say in this matter and I am quite willing to be convinced that I am mistaken—it seems as though a decision has to be reached quickly.

If we had taken a decision in this matter two years ago, and had we then decided for some closer association with Spain, it would have been taken as an act of friendship. The longer we wait the longer it appears, on our part, to be not the hand of friendship but the hand stretched out for help that we are offering. I would like it to go out from this side of the House that we have a real friendship for the Spanish people, that we desire to help them, and that we desire them to help us. I hope that tonight, when the Under-Secretary replies, he will be able to tell us what the Government's policy is in this matter.

12.55 a.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

This is an important subject and I agree to this extent with the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Peter Smithers), that I believe the time has come when we must review our attitude towards Spain, just as we are reviewing our attitude towards Germany. We cannot allow an emotional hangover from the civil war to govern and prejudice our relations with Spain forever. The Franco régime will always be regarded with abhorrence on these benches, but we have to consider the Spanish people. I, for one, am glad that we are again exchanging ambassadors with Spain.

I agree that we cannot forget that in the unhappy event of war Spain would undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to the defence of the West against Communism. At the same time, I hope we shall not agree with Mr. Acheson, who is reported in "The Times" as having said he hoped progress would be made in fitting Spain into Western defence plans. It would be entirely premature to do that. To do so at this stage would be to give gratuitous offence to European democracies. At the same time, apart from the possibility of war, we should welcome—

Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

On a point of order. Is it in order, Sir, for an hon. Member to read his speech, even at this late hour?

Mr. Fletcher

I think we should welcome the financial and economic assistance which the United States are giving to Spain. Their attitude is more realistic in that respect than ours. We should encourage trading and commercial relations with Spain. If we are anxious, as I am, to see a more liberal and more democratic régime succeed in Spain—

Mr. Nicholls

Further to my point of order. May we have a ruling from you, Sir, as it is obvious that the hon. Member is reading his speech?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I think the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) is using copious notes, but he is quite in order.

Mr. Fletcher

If we want to see that more liberal régime, we are more likely to see that goal achieved if we do all we can to increase the prosperity and security of the Spanish people. Those are the most likely conditions to enable the Spanish people to emancipate themselves from their present bondage of dictatorship.

1.3 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)

I listened carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers), but I find myself unconvinced by the arguments he put forward. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) referred to what my hon. Friend called the "emotional hangover." I think that time does not eliminate evil, but that the emotions felt at the time of the Spanish Civil War linger on because they were real emotions shared by a great number of people throughout the world. The mere fact that time has passed and that the international situation is what it is today does not mean that those emotions were wrong or should now be ignored.

The hon. Member for Winchester referred to the political situation and said he did not mind what was the political colour of the Spanish Government as we needed their help and he wished that they should be brought into Western defence. He thought our prejudices against the Franco régime should not prevent us bringing Spain in to make some contribution towards Western defence. I find frequently that Members of the Opposition when they do not like certain principles call them prejudices. I think that is the case on this occasion.

Mr. Smithers


Mr. Davies

I am sorry, I have no time to give way.

The hon. Member for Winchester referred to the important statement made by the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Acheson, but I would like to point out to him that Mr. Acheson himself made it quite clear that Spain's relations with Western defence plans depended upon the actions of many nations, as well as those of Spain herself; that, clearly, it would be a matter which would have to be discussed in due course through the proper N.A.T.O. channels, and that the decision as to whether Spain shall come into N.A.T.O. or not clearly rests with all the members of that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The question of Spanish participation in Western defence, therefore, closely concerns all members of N.A.T.O., and it cannot be decided by unilateral action.

Mr. George Ward (Worcester)

We can set an example.

Mr. Davies

An example cannot be set by bringing Spain in because no one member of N.A.T.O. can bring Spain in. It would require all the N.A.T.O. countries to agree.

There are practical and political considerations which, I am sure, the United States Secretary of State would be the first to recognise. First, there is the practical strategic issue, to which the hon. Member for Winchester referred. I do not want to enter into strategic considerations, but the question is where the strategic interests of N.A.T.O. compared with the armed strength of the U.S.S.R. and her satellites would benefit from the intervention of Franco Spain at present. The Atlantic Treaty is an alliance of non-aggression and plans the defence of the Western democracies on the basis of defence in central Europe itself. The strategic interests of, and the arrangements worked out in Western defence do not require, nor are they dependent upon, anything which Spain has to offer. Spain is not a party to the Atlantic Treaty, and arrangements are being made without her at this time. His Majesty's Government are of the view that the strategic interests arising from these arrangements do not depend in any way on Franco's help, and our efforts are capable of defending Western Europe without it.

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth East and Christchurch)


Mr. Davies

I am very sorry, but I cannot give way. The right hon. Gentleman, who is not here very often, knows—

Mr. Bracken

On a point of order. The Under-Secretary referred to "Franco-Spain." Is that not bad language? Surely it is a rule of the House that proper respect must be paid to the head of a foreign State.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There is no point of order there.

Mr. Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that it is bad language to speak of Franco Spain?

I was about to say that, in the matter of this strategic issue, the Spanish forces are notably ill-equipped, and that equipment is a prime requirement of all the Western European armed forces. Until the needs of N.A.T.O. countries have been fully met in this respect, there is very little prospect of the Spanish armed forces being so equipped as to make them a useful contribution to Western European defence.

But there is also the political aspect, which is of equal importance with the strategic one. Whatever views are taken on the ultimate contribution which Spain could render to Western defence, the political implications must be taken into account. I would remind the House that the Atlantic Treaty is primarily for democratic Powers and the preservation of their way of life; and that way of life includes the basic freedoms, which are always absent in totalitarian régimes. Let me remind right hon. and hon. Members of the preamble to the Atlantic Treaty: To safeguard the freedom, common heritage, and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Those things are absent from Franco Spain at the present time.

Mr. G. Ward


Mr. Davies

It is all very well for the hon. Member to say "Nonsense," but the United Nations have, in their resolutions, gone further than that in condemning the régime which exists in Spain today. Their moral condemnation, it must be remembered, has not been revoked, although it has been decided to return ambassadors to Spain.

Mr. Bracken

What did the hon. Gentleman tell Tito when he saw him?

Mr. Davies

I would add that the longings of the peoples of the free world, or of N.A.T.O., to preserve our way of life would be weakened by a too ready acceptance of those countries whose régimes are contrary to those which N.A.T.O. exists to preserve. The moral basis of N.A.T.O. might be weakened rather than strengthened by the inclusion of forces as opposed to the democratic way of life as is Communism itself. To be anti-Communist, as Spain unquestionably is, is not alone enough to justify inclusion in an alliance of democratic countries for the preservation of peace.

I would add one further political point. We do not want to do anything, which would discourage those forces inside Spain and those Spanish forces outside Spain, which have looked to the democracies for encouragement and which have faith in democracy. If we do anything at this stage whereby we destroy the faith of these people, who want to bring democracy back to Spain, then we would be doing a grave harm to democracy and to the Spanish people who believe in it.

I would add that it is quite possible that if we betrayed the democratic forces in Spain or gave the impression that we were betraying them, then we might well drive Spain into the hands of the Communists or into the Communist camp, and thereby destroy the very thing we are trying to preserve, which is democracy itself. We would drive Spain away from the democratic camp into Communist hands and, in that way, destroy the possibility of having Spain ultimately as a democratic Ally.

On balance, the view of His Majesty's Government is that at present an association of Spain with the Atlantic Defence Organisation would not strengthen the collaboration of the democratic countries against Soviet expansionism. On practical grounds, it would hinder the building up of our own position of strength to supply arms to Spain when the armies of the Western Powers are not fully equipped.

On political grounds, the close association of an undemocratic Spain with the Western Powers would not serve the cause of the Western democracies if it weakened the moral basis which unites them and further if it hindered the ultimate return of Spain to democracy, which all the Western democracies desire. It is because the views of His Majesty's Government on political conditions in Spain have not changed, because we stand by the original resolution of the United Nations, that we cannot accept the arguments which have been put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite for ignoring the political situation in Spain and ignoring the aspirations of the large numbers of Spanish people who wish to see democracy return to Spain, and cannot agree, at this stage, to a revision of our policy in regard to the inclusion of Spain in N.A.T.O.

1.14 a.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)

The Under-Secretary has made about the most unhelpful speech I have ever heard in the House. It will be received extremely badly in Spain and I should think it will be received extremely badly in the United States of America, too.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock on Tuesday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Fourteen Minutes past One o'Clock.