HC Deb 13 December 1961 vol 651 cc439-41
32. Sir L. Plummer

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty if he will make a statement on the Anglo-Spanish naval exercise in the Mediterranean from 11th December to 19th December.

34. Mr. R. Edwards

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether he will make a statement on the proposed joint naval manoeuvres to be held between 11th and 19th December involving British and Spanish naval forces.

Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing

This exercise which started in Malta on Monday is the third in a series of Anglo-Spanish exercises held annually since 1959. It is similar in character to last year's exercise which was mentioned in this year's Explanatory Statement.

Sir L. Plummer

May I ask the Civil Lord this? Is it not true that normally this country carries on exercises with allies and not with people who are enemies of this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—who are pro-Nazi, pro-Fascist, like the Franco Government? Is it not an astonishing thing that his own office, when the first announcement of this exercise appeared in the Press, knew nothing at all about it? Is it not astonishing that the information was given by the Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean? Is this a back-door way the Government are using to get Franco Spain into N.A.T.O.? Is that the purpose of this exercise?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

There are a lot of supplementary questions there. On the first point, my office knew it as one of a series of three exercises. The previous announcements came from the Commander in Chief at Malta. There is nothing unusual about that. The exercise is a bilateral one. Certainly it is in no way concerned with N.A.T.O. These exercises should be of benefit to the Royal Navy, and follow the Government's policy of maintaining contact with the navies of countries with which we have normal diplomatic relations. For example, there was an exercise with the Yugoslav navy a few years ago. We may well do so again.

Mr. R. Edwards

Is the Civil Lord aware that the Spanish Captain Pollanco has publicly declared his support for Franco's claims to Gibraltar? Is it not a very dangerous exercise to train potential aggressors against British territory? Is the Civil Lord further aware that the same Spanish captain justified the use of German U-boats in Spanish, waters during the last war and justified the use of U-boats against British troopships in Freetown Harbour which resulted in the loss of thousands of British soldiers and sailors? Is not this enough for those dead people to turn over in their graves in disgust?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am sorry, but I cannot be responsible for certain statements made by Spanish personnel. I should have thought it extremely unlikely that Spanish ships would be likely to make an assault on the Rock of Gibraltar. I think that we are enlarging the area of international understanding by exercises of this sort.

Mr. Burden

Is it not clear that if the British and Spanish navies exercise together the Spanish captain to whom the hon. Member opposite referred will be left in no doubt as to the folly of any attempt to acquire Gibraltar?

Mr. Dugdale

Will the hon. Gentleman see that there is as much fraternising as possible between the British and Spanish forces in order to ensure that British officers and ratings learn all they can about the principles of their Fascist allies and why they decided to support Hitler and Mussolini?

Mr. Burden

But they did not.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I think that it is a mistake to try to drag the Royal Navy into the political arena. As I made clear, we exercise with the navies of countries with which we have normal diplomatic relations. There was no row over the exercise with the Yugoslav navy, and we also announced that.

Mr. Callaghan

Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his twice given answer about Yugoslavia? Does he think it right to put on terms of parity Marshal Tito, who fought on our side in the last war very courageously against the Germans, and General Franco who harboured spies at La Linea to the extent that we had to go into Gibraltar after dark and get out before daylight in order that reports should not get back to the Germans? Will he please not put these two countries on a par in this way?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

It is not for me "to try to draw distinctions between two such great men".

Sir L. Plummer

On a point of order. May I give you notice, Mr. Speaker, that I shall apply to you at the end of Questions for permission to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss this?