HC Deb 25 March 1952 vol 498 cc369-78

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

11.52 p.m.

Mr. Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

I rise on this Adjournment Motion to turn from biscuits to the wider field of foreign affairs, and I want to use this opportunity to put to the House and to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State certain questions dealing with the relations of Her Majesty's Government with Spain and the Spanish people. In doing so, I believe it is our duty on both sides of the House to try to bring our two countries closer together.

I am talking for 50 million or more people in this country and 30 million or more in Spain—ordinary men and women who, I believe, have no rooted antagonism one towards the other. I hope that we shall see as the years go by closer economic relations which will benefit both countries. At the beginning of this debate I want to admit that our internal political machines are different, but so they are in many other countries. One only has to look at South America and the Latin-American States, Portugal, or the other side of the Iron Curtain, to Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and to the latest Government in China.

First, I want to review the policy of this country over the last three or four years under the late Government. I believe that policy had a fallacy in it which weakened it in the eyes of people outside. That was its inconsistency on these points. As I understand, their policy was that they were antagonistic to Spain because they did not agree with its internal politics. If that is so, I cannot help looking at their policy towards China and Yugoslavia. Those countries did not have democratic Governments, yet I believe that certain hon. Members on the other side were willing that the Chinese Government should be represented on the United Nations and, I believe, leaders on that side went to Yugoslavia and had some conversations with Marshal Tito.

There was no question there that as those Governments were non-democratic they should be antagonistic to them. That inconsistency in the policy of the late Government was one of their greatest weaknesses. Therefore, I hope tonight, in the early stages of the present Administration, that we shall have a lead in this respect and that we shall find that my right hon. Friend is not going to follow in that path.

As to the principle which I believe should guide us in this matter, I think it should be the duty of our Government to bring closer together, and to have better relations with, all Governments, irrespective of their internal politics, except that we must also be guided by the atmosphere and attitude of these Governments to their immediate neighbours. Where, for instance, one finds in the Far East that there is an aggressive militant policy towards neighbours, I believe that should be dealt with firmly, but where one finds an attitude of friendliness, it is our duty to try to meet that as far as we can and to see whether any mutual good can be brought from it.

To turn to the particular case of Spain and Western Europe, the great feature of the political scene over the last six years has been the growing threat of the Communist military bloc in Eastern Europe. That has been the shadow which has dominated the whole of our policies not only in foreign affairs, but, to a great extent, in home affairs. We have been faced with the insidious attack of Communism, politically and morally, inside our country and Western Europe. I have been gratified—as I think all hon. Gentlemen have been—by the defence which we have been able to build up against this in Western Europe. We have been associated with the United States in this effort, and I think we all appreciate the part she has played.

We have built up an atmosphere of resistance and defence in Western Europe, except that there are three countries at the moment who hold aloof. They are Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain. I believe that Sweden and Switzerland hold aloof because of their traditional neutrality. I think they are mistaken, and they will find when they are up against Communist aggression that their neutrality will not help them. But Spain is of a different character because at one time or another she opposed militant Communism.

What has Spain to offer to this country and what have we to offer to her? First, on the economic side there are particular minerals which would be vitally useful to us in our re-armament drive. She has iron ore, mercury, wolfram, and lead. In point of fact, importation of iron ore from Spain has not been anything like as much as we could have. The most recent figures show that our trade in this mineral is something to the tune of £1 million a year. I am quite certain we could do more, and that is equally true of mercury and wolfram.

The Government, during the last war, sent people to Spain to buy up wolfram at extremely high prices to prevent the Germans getting it. These resources are still there and need to be developed. Then there is pyrites. Sulphur will become more and more important in the years to come, and Spain has great potentialities in that field, and there is a great deal of English capital invested in that industry. We, on our side, have manufactured goods. We have textiles, and we hear a great deal about the difficulties of selling textiles abroad. These, I am certain, could be satisfactorily exchanged. On the economic side there is a great deal which could be done.

On the military side there is the question of the defence of the Pyrenees. I believe that the Pyrenees are possibly a more defensible barrier at the moment than the Rhine.

Next, the question of seaports—on the Atlantic, in the Bay of Biscay and in the Mediterranean, covering the Western approaches to the Mediterranean. Even more important is the question of air bases. If, unfortunately, difficulties arise in Eastern Europe—and I put it no higher than that—it may be difficult for us to send our long-distance planes from this country over Italy to the Far East and beyond. We may well have to use a route further west, and Spain is placed strategically in a most important position. It may well be that our route to North Africa and the Far East and to our Dominions may lie in that direction, as well as our route to South Africa and, from there, to South America.

On the military side, too, I believe there are great advantages. The United States have already sized up the position, and economically and militarily are making advances to Spain. They may be seizing advantages for which we are not pressing, and if we do not press for them we may be faced with more serious losses in the future. It would be a tragedy, I suggest, if the Government were to follow the antagonistic policy of the late Government towards Spain, for I believe that policy has driven Spain further into the arms of America than it is in our interests to see.

In conclusion, I make this point in all sincerity. We should make a gesture. I believe that the Spanish Government made a gesture in sending their Foreign Secretary to this country, as an act of courtesy, to the funeral of his late Majesty. There is now an opportunity to change the attitude and the atmosphere between our two countries. I have been to Spain once or twice and I believe that we have seen a great deal of Communist propaganda infiltrating not only into this country but particularly into France with the object of keeping our countries apart. The Communists can see that it is to their interest to prevent the unity of Western Europe, and whenever Spain is mentioned we have this propaganda trying to stir up hatred and revenge in order to make the two countries and the common people of the two countries antagonistic towards each other. We must not continue to dance to the Communist tune.

I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will look at the problem to see what benefit we can get for our country and for the people of Spain from a changed policy towards them. If the Government could tonight make a pronouncement which would help to create a better understanding between our two countries, that would be an important step. It is by tolerance towards one another that we shall achieve advancement in our various political relations.

I do not believe that the policy of the late Government in putting a circle around Spain has been successful. We need an interchange of ideas. There is great benefit, economically and militarily, to be gained from such a move. I hope that tonight my right hon. Friend will say something which will help in this year and in the years to come so that we may take advantage of the benefits which we can obtain and shall not throw them away because of emotions which, I hope, will be buried in the past.

12.9 a.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield)

The hon. Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) referred to the policy of the last Government. I do not think he has anything to complain about on the economic side, for the economic exchange of goods between this country and Spain in the last few years has been to mutual advantage. But when the hon. Member turned to the political side, he and I certainly did not see eye to eye. He suggested, for instance, that we should support Spain and bring her in politically, strategically and militarily, as it were, to help keep Communism out. Our attitude, as far as that is concerned, differs very much from that of the hon. Gentleman opposite.

As far as Spain is concerned, the hon. Gentleman must not overlook the fact that the Spanish Government was established in circumstances which cannot have the support of people in this country who believe in democracy. We cannot forget the fact that the Government established in Spain as a result of civil war was a Fascist Government. Spain has continued to carry on a form of Government which cannot receive the support of our people. If we wish to prevent Communism spreading, it is quite impossible for us to associate ourselves militarily, politically or morally with a Government which was founded on Fascism and which has continued to carry on a totalitarian régime.

Mr. P. Roberts


Mr. Davies

I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman; I have only two or three minutes left, because I want to give the Minister of State ample time in which to reply.

All I wish to say to the hon. Gentleman opposite is that the defence organisation of the democracies is based today on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Once we depart from the democratic basis of that organisation and bring into N.A.T.O. countries which do not share our belief in democracy, then there is a moral undermining of our basis of defence which would antagonise the people in Europe whom we are endeavouring to defend.

In other words, if we were at this stage to depart from this democratic basis and to accept as allies people who do not share our belief in democracy—and nobody can say that Spain today shares that belief—we should destroy the moral basis on which N.A.T.O. is founded and its effectiveness.

I would further add that if, at this stage, we were to follow that policy, we should discourage those Spaniards inside and outside Spain who do not support the Spanish Government. If we were to accept the Spanish régime as it is today and bring Spain into the comity of European nations, then those who wish to re-establish a democracy in Spain would be discouraged and we should drive them to Communism. The surest way of increasing Communism in Spain is to throw overboard the democratic basis on which N.A.T.O. is founded by accepting Franco Spain as an ally.

As far as the strategic point is concerned, there is no justification for suggesting that Spain today could make any useful contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty countries. Spain is not in a position seriously to contribute to N.A.T.O. at the present time.

I would ask the Minister of State to give the House an assurance tonight that there has been no departure from the policy of the last Government so far as the political association of the NA.T.O. countries with Spain is concerned. The policy of the last Government was not to reach an arrangement with Spain which would bring her into the comity of European nations—the N.A.T.O. countries—in such a way as to undermine the basis on which N.A.T.O. is founded.

I want an assurance from the Minister tonight that there has been no departure from that policy and that there has been no change in the policy which the previous Government followed in supporting the United Nations policy towards Spain. The United Nations passed a resolution in which they drew attention to the manner in which the Government of Spain had been established, and they made it quite clear that Spain could not come into the United Nations because of that and because of the undemocratic structure of the Spanish Government.

Spain would not be a member of the United Nations until there had been a change of régime in Spain. There was a return of ambassadors but the original resolution was never rescinded. The United Kingdom is still a party to the resolution, as are the United States and other members of the United Nations. I would appreciate an assurance from the Minister of State that there has been no change in that respect.

I believe that to undermine the moral basis of N.A.T.O. would be to destroy the democratic basis on which it is established and that to accept Spain as a partner in N.A.T.O. at this stage would do precisely that. It is in the interests of the preservation of demcracy and to prevent the spread of Communism that there should be no change in the policy of this country in regard to Spain at the present time.

12.17 a.m.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

Those who have taken part in any previous discussion upon Spain in this House will admit at once that it has proved recently, at all events, a controversial topic. I recognise the fact that strong feelings are held on both sides of the House about our relations with Spain. Nevertheless, I believe that this debate has served a useful purpose, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley (Mr. P. Roberts) for having raised the matter.

My hon. Friend dealt with the point that Spain has been much criticised in this country because her internal political system is not the same as ours. Upon that matter I think that the position of Her Majesty's Government is clear. We do not believe that friendly relations should be limited to countries whose political systems are the same as our own. There are several countries that could be quoted. I do not propose to name them; some of them have been named by other people who have taken part or interjected in this debate. There are other countries with whom our relations are friendly at the present time, although we certainly do not agree with their political systems.

Perhaps I may say this without offence. Adverse foreign criticism is usually the most effective way of reinforcing the strength of a Government among its own people. Open denunciation is one thing, but I think that tactful representation is a much better way to seek to influence political systems of other countries towards our own ideas of what is right.

The position of the Government towards Spain can be put quite shortly. Our policy is to promote correct and, we hope, friendly relations with Spain. We believe, as my hon. Friend rather inferred, that that friendship and understanding would be made easier by ordinary international courtesies. The late Government decided to send back our Ambassador. We certainly approve of that step. We think it was a wise one.

We appreciated the visit of a distinguished delegation from Spain to the funeral of His late Majesty. The Foreign Secretary and I were very glad of the opportunity of making the acquaintance of the Foreign Minister of Spain. One of Her Majesty's ships has recently paid a courtesy visit to a Spanish port, and more courtesy visits of that sort will be paid during the summer. We believe that normal friendly intercourse between the two countries will be of benefit to our relations.

My hon. Friend referred to the question of trade, and, of course, he is absolutely right when he says that there are many commodities or raw materials which Spain has to supply which we should like to acquire. There are also many commodities which we have to sell and which we think Spain wants. There is one matter with regard to the trade between the two countries which I should emphasise. In 1951 we exported to Spain £15¼ million worth of goods, but we imported from Spain £52 ¼ million worth of goods, which is a substantial disequilibrium in the trading relations between two countries. We very much hope to extend our exports to Spain. We believe that we have many commodities to sell in Spain which the Spanish people want, and in view of the present disequilibrium in trade between the two countries we hope that we shall extend our two markets. We think that the extension of trade between the two countries will be another way of improving our relations.

It is right that I should say there are certain matters which are likely to impair our friendly relations. I would mention, first of all, for example, the attack on the British-owned Protestant Church in Seville, about which a Question was asked the other day. We must recognise that an incident of that sort does impair the friendly relations between the two countries, and we hope that the Spanish Government will punish the offenders.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

Could the Minister say whether any reply has been received to the representations which have been made?

Mr. Lloyd

Not yet. Representations were only made a day or two ago.

The second matter relates to the question of political trials. Publicity has been given to certain trials. It should be recognised that public opinion in this country has always been disturbed by political trials. I therefore hope that such trials as the Spanish Government feels compelled to institute will be so conducted that Western standards are observed, and, furthermore, the old British adage observed that not only should justice be done but that it should be seen to be done.

Mr. Ernest Davies


Mr. Lloyd

I cannot give way again, I am afraid. I only have a few more minutes. I want to make quite clear that we do not interfere or dictate in these matters. These are matters of domestic jurisdiction, but, on the other hand, they are matters upon which public opinion in this country is always sensitive.

On defence matters, I would take up my hon. Friend on one point. I do not think he meant any misconception to arise from what he said, but he talked about the Pyrenees being a more defensible frontier than the Rhine. So far as our conception of the defence of Western Europe is concerned, we regard a defensible frontier as the most easterly frontier, and we shall concentrate our efforts on seeing that there is a strong defence there. The question of the admission of Spain to N.A.T.O. is not a matter which requires a decision at the present time. It is obviously a matter which must require the consent of all the members of N.A.T.O.

To sum up, we believe that the improvement of the relations between our two countries is necessarily a gradual process. It requires some effort on both sides, and we propose to do our best, remembering the considerable community of interest between our two countries and remembering friendly ties of long duration. We think that it is necessary for individuals and Governments so to speak and act that greater friendship will be a practicable proposition.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Would the Minister say that the policy of the Government remains the same as was stated by me on 20th February, 1951 when replying to a similar Adjournment debate?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not propose to be drawn into any comment, complimentary or adverse, upon what the hon. Gentleman said in that debate. But in regard to the question of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, to which he referred specifically in this debate, I think I have dealt adequately with that in my answer.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes past Twelve a.m.