HL Deb 03 December 1936 vol 103 cc586-616

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking you to give this Bill a Second Reading I think I ought to offer some explanatory remarks upon it. As your Lordships know, His Majesty's Government have supported a, policy of non-intervention from the very beginning of the Spanish crisis and they have repeatedly expressed their intention of continuing to do so. Their main object, as has also been frequently explained, has been to localise the civil war in Spain and to do everything in their power to prevent it from spreading outside the Spanish frontiers. I am sure the House will readily understand that if there had been no such agreement for non-intervention, and if there had been, on the other hand, an unrestricted competition in the sending of arms and war materials to Spain, the risk of the conflict spreading would have very greatly increased, and if it had spread it is quite obvious that the consequences would have been such as it is almost impossible to calculate.

It has been constantly asserted by members of the Party opposite that this Non-Intervention Agreement has worked unfairly, that it has worked against the Spanish Government and in favour of General Franco. The Government do not share this view, and they have said so on previous occasions. But members of the Opposition have taken that view; and they go further and say that in consequence of the position which they maintain exists we should have been ready—and here I am really quoting—to supply arms to the legally constituted Government and to have refrained from doing so to the other side. This is an argument that was repeatedly used in another place when the Bill was being discussed there two days ago. This seems to me a really extraordinary proposition and begs the whole question. When you say that you are not going to intervene in a quarrel between two people, you surely mean that you are not going to help either of them. This is the only possible interpretation that can be placed upon the intention of the Non-Intervention Agreement. But entirely apart from this, to have adopted this suggestion would have inevitably led us into the very situation which we wish to avoid, a situation which would have been fraught with very great danger to ourselves and of very serious consequences to the rest of the world.

I confidently maintain that the policy which we have pursued has been successful in so far as it has prevented any further extension of this conflict. In order to implement this policy, to which they have adhered from the very beginning, His Majesty's Government took certain measures to prohibit the export of arms, munitions and aircraft to Spain. For a considerable time past the export of munitions, arms and war material has only been permitted under licence, and the Government have made use of this method in order now to prohibit the export of such articles to Spain. But one definite loophole does exist, as I pointed out to your Lordships when we were discussing the whole position in Spain last week. The House is aware, I have no doubt, that the Non-Intervention Agreement does not lay any obligation upon Governments to prohibit the carriage of arms by their merchant ships. It was naturally hoped, when the Agreement was originally concluded, that the strict enforcement of it by all countries—the enforcement of this arms embargo—would have made a prohibition of this kind quite unnecessary. Unfortunately, it must be admitted that it is not impossible to obtain arms in Europe for transport to Spain. We here in this country know that a few British ships have taken part in this traffic, but I would emphasise that they have been very few indeed. Admittedly, however, the objects of the Agreement have to this small extent been nullified.

His Majesty's Government therefore decided to stop this loophole and this Bill is intended to effect that purpose. The present position is undoubtedly one which involves considerable risk of incidents at sea. British merchant ships have continued to trade to Spanish ports. It is certainly true that attempts at interference with them have been very rare in the past, but in the circumstances which have obtained it was the duty of His Majesty's ships to protect British merchant ships from interference. During the last few weeks the difficulty of the position has been further increased as General Franco has announced that he intends to take steps to prevent by force the arrival of arms for his opponents by sea. This at once raised a question of belligerent rights. The problem which His Majesty's Government had to face was whether to give naval support to British ships which might he carrying arms to Spain contrary to the very policy to which the Government have adhered, or whether, on the other hand, we were to allow British ships to be stopped, searched and even captured on the high seas, by warships of an authority whose status we have not yet officially recognised, a position which would arise if belligerent rights had been accorded to the parties in Spain.

After the very fullest consideration of every aspect of this subject the Government decided not to accord belligerent rights to either side in the dispute. The Government, as I pointed out in our recent debate, do not consider that the internal situation of Spain justifies any Spanish authority in interfering with British shipping on the high seas. Furthermore, recognition of belligerent rights might very easily have been misunderstood in many quarters as a departure from the policy to which we have hitherto adhered. It might have been looked upon as an attempt to help one side or the other to establish and effect a blockade of the Spanish ports. On the other hand, it would have been quite inconsistent with our policy if His Majesty's ships had afforded protection to British merchant vessels to enable then to carry arms to Spain. At present it is not an offence under British law for a British vessel to carry arms consigned to or destined for Spain from outside a port in the United Kingdom. This Bill, if it is passed, will make it illegal for any British ships to engage in such trade. It would definitely be an offence against our law. Consequently, there could in the future, in the view of the Government, be no possible excuse in the new circumstances which would have arisen for any interference with British vessels by Spanish warships, and they have stated that such interference on the high seas will be resisted.

There will be, no doubt, some criticism to the effect that this Bill is being rushed through Parliament unnecessarily quickly. May I just say a few words of explanation in regard to that? So long as His Majesty's ships were instructed to defend British ships against interference on the high seas and so long as British ships were not forbidden by British law to carry arms to Spain from any port outside the United Kingdom, a grave risk of serious incidents existed, as I have already emphasised. Such an incident, if it had occurred, would have had a very unfortunate effect. In order to minimise the possibility, which might be considered to have been increased as a result of the recently announced policy of General Franco, the Admiralty have already, by direction of the Government, issued instructions to His Majesty's ships that if they intercept a British ship carrying arms to Spain it is to be taken into a British port. This Bill is necessary in order to legalise these instructions and to indemnify any naval officers who may have acted upon them. In these circumstances it is quite obvious that the sooner this Bill is enacted, and the sooner this position is regularised, the better it will be.

There is just one other point to which I want to refer before I ask your Lordships to permit me to explain the provisions of the Bill. I would like to emphasise that the action which is proposed under this Bill is regarded by the Government as a special arrangement to meet special circumstances. Let me make it quite clear that the Bill is not being brought forward because we think in principle that State responsibility ought to extend to the private carriage of arms in ships on the high seas, but, on the other hand, because we are anxious in this special and peculiar case to do everything we can to prevent the spread to other countries of the disastrous conflict in Spain, and consequently to take a course which would not be considered desirable in other circumstances.

Now, if I may, I will proceed to a short explanation of the clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 has nine subsections. The first subsection prohibits ships to which the Act applies from loading or carrying arms for discharge at any Spanish port or place or into another vessel at sea for the purpose of discharge at any Spanish port or place, and also, as the result of an Amendment o which was passed in another place the day before yesterday, it applies to any articles of that character consigned to or destined for any such port or place. Subsection (2) defines the articles prohibited to be carried as those which may not be exported from this country to Spain. Subsection (3) defines the ships to which the prohibition applies. It covers all ships in respect of which His Majesty's ships would be expected to extend protection, except Dominion ships in respect to which the United Kingdom does not legislate. It includes vessels registered under local laws in any Colony or in any Protectorate or Mandated Territory. Subsection (4) enables action to be taken against persons responsible for contraventions of the Act; it puts the penalties on the footing of those applicable to serious offences under the Merchant Shipping Act.

Subsection (5) enables proceedings to be taken for the forfeiture of any goods carried in contravention of the Act. This naturally strengthens the deterrent force of the other provisions and appears to us a suitable addition to the penalties that can be imposed. Subsection (6) gives certain officers, and particularly naval officers, the powers necessary to stop and search any suspected ship and, if the ship appears to be acting in contravention of the Act, to bring it with its cargo, master and crew to a convenient port for adjudication. Subsection (7) makes it an offence to resist the exercise of the powers in the preceding subsection and prescribes the appropriate penalty against the responsible persons. Subsection (8) is necessary in order to protect naval officers and other officers against proceedings in cases where it has been necessary for them, before the passing of the Act, to give effect to the decision announced by the Foreign Secretary on Monday afternoon, November 23, by interfering with ships carrying arms to Spain. This procedure is, I know, unusual, but I venture to say that the abnormal circumstances which exist clearly justify it in this case. I ought to point out in this connection that there is no question of imposing the penalties envisaged in the Bill in cases occurring before the legislation is operative. Subsection (9) defines Spanish territory in accordance with the definition which is already in operation for the purpose of the prohibition of the export of arms from the United Kingdom to Spain.

Clause 2 is more or less formal and for the most part self-explanatory, but the House will perhaps expect some comment on subsections (4) and (5). Subsection (4) is included in order to enable proceedings to be taken in the Colonies and territories specified. These include all the territories to which the vessels covered by the prohibition may belong. Without this subsection it would be possible to take proceedings only in ports of the United Kingdom, and I think your Lordships will certainly agree that it is reasonable from a legal point of view that Courts in any territory should be entitled to deal with offences by vessels registered in that territory. In practice, as a matter of fact, it is proposed to take an offending ship, her cargo and her master and crew to the nearest and most convenient port for adjudication. Subsection (5) is necessary since it is clearly desirable that the Act should be brought to an end without delay when circumstances no longer call for the continuance of a prohibition on the carriage of arms to Spain in British ships. The prohibition is a temporary and unusual measure necessitated by the existing circumstances. Those may change; and it is clearly desirable for His Majesty's Government to be in a position to adjust their action as rapidly as possible. I have attempted to explain this Bill as briefly and clearly as I can, and I now ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Plymouth.)


My Lords, I am aware that your Lordships are anxious to carry this Bill through all its stages as rapidly as possible, and I shall therefore not detain the House any longer than is necessary to state the case of the Opposition. I have no complaints to make, as I think the noble Earl suggested I might have, about the speed with which this measure has been put through its initial stages. I do not feel that the Government have not given the Opposition in both Houses an ample opportunity to voice its views. I think that probably there is no reasonable person in this country who would disagree with the fundamental principles underlying the policy pursued by the Government. I do not think that any average Englishman in any political Party is anxious to see the war in Spain spread farther afield, and I am perfectly certain that the great majority of our fellow-countrymen welcome any attempt to confine the conflagration within the limits of the Iberian Peninsula. Nothing could be more fatal than for the flames of war to spread eastward and to sweep across the Continent of Europe. I think, besides, that every reasonable person will sympathise with any efforts that are made to mitigate the cruelty and suffer-in; inflicted on the Spanish people by both parties in the terrible struggle that is now being carried on in Spain. If I am not mistaken, these aims lie behind the policy of the Government and they are making the very sincerest effort to promote them by the measures they are laying before Parliament.

But I imagine that the tribunal of history will judge the Government and the policy not so much by their intentions as by their achievements. There is an old proverb about the paving-stones cm the path to hell, and I sincerely hope that it does not apply to the line taken in the past months, and leading up to the present Bill, by the British Government. I have had to dwell at some length on the broader lines of the policy towards Spain adopted by the Government, because it is from that starting-point that this Bill has been approached. It is because we feel that the machinery adopted by the Government for implementing its broader views on policy has been extraordinarily inadequate that we are opposing this Bill on principle as well as later offering our criticisms on certain of its clauses.

The only achievement of the Government with which we are satisfied is the refusal to recognise the contesting parties as belligerents. We feel that, as the noble Earl has just said, to do so might give a false impression of the line we should adopt in the case of a blockade of ports on the Spanish coast; and we also feel that we should very much object to any suggestion fiat a legal Government should be treated in exactly the same way as the conspirators who are doing their best to overthrow it. We disagree, on the other hand, with the policy of non-intervention or neutrality as it has actually been carried out since the end of August by the Government. We were always in sympathy with what we considered to be a genuine policy of non-intervention and neutrality on the part of all those great Powers and small nations affected by this civil war in Spain. We were perfectly ready to accept the view that a genuine neutrality, resulting in the complete aloofness of all the neighbours of Spain, whatever their public or private sympathies may have been, would have left the Spanish people to settle their own difficulties in the way that they thought best. That was a policy which we considered to be both desirable and happy if it succeeded, but the actual practice, if I may so put it, of non-intervention, as it has been conducted by the British Government, has been to afford a very considerable advantage to one Party in the Spanish Civil War, and to impose a very considerable handicap on the other.

Having regard to the impossibility for the Spanish Government to obtain the military supplies that it required to deal with the revolt in its territory, from quarters whence those supplies might naturally be expected to come, and to the extreme facility with which, apparently, the rebel movement has secured whatever supplies it required from other sources, I do not think that this state of affairs can be observed without anyone who contemplates is being forced to the conclusion that practical non-intervention has meant the stopping of supplies for the Spanish Government, while the Spanish rebels have been able to secure what they wanted.




I think there is a very real objection to what I have just said, and I dare say it is in the minds of noble Lords opposite. They will say that while there is an allegation, which is borne out by many reliable newspaper correspondents and many people who have been to Spain, that certain Powers are helping the rebels, other Powers are supplying similar assistance to the Spanish Government. I think the answer to that is that up to the middle of October the one great Power which it is alleged has given active assistance to the Spanish Government, in spite of its agreement at the end of August, abstained very rigorously from doing anything to infringe its pledged word. I have on the most reliable authority this statement, and I shall be very glad if any noble Lord sitting on the Government Benches would bear it out or contradict it. That being so, the Powers which were helping the rebel side had a start of a good two and a half months, not to mention the period before the Non-Intervention Agreement, when they were able to send in any arms that they thought fit to supply.

I am not excusing any Government for breaking its agreement or pledged word. I am merely saying that any Government which it is alleged has come to the assistance of the Spanish Government did give a fairly large span of time before it decided that the agreement was being broken by other Parties, and that therefore it was obliged to do the same thing. I do not think that this can be said in any sense to have redressed the balance, but I think it supports my original argument, that the balance of intervention has been on one side because, in view of the recentness of the intervention on the Government's side, it cannot have been conducted on so large a scale as the steps which were taken to help the rebels. I would suggest that quite apart from actual infringement of the Non-Intervention Agreement, the forms of moral support which gave very definite encouragement, and official encouragement to one party in the dispute cannot be said to afford any evidence of real impartiality or neutrality. I would say that recognition of General Franco's forces before they were in command of half the territory of Spain, and before they had under their rule anything like half the population of the country, was an action which has no precedent in the civil wars which have broken out in European history and was a very definite moral breach of the attitude of impartiality or neutrality.

I should like to ask the noble Earl if he can give us any information, when he replies, as to the 5,000 recruits which it is said have been landed at Cadiz for the use of the rebels. If they come from Germany, as it is said, one doubts very much whether the claim that they are volunteers can hold, because forces in such numbers could scarcely leave a territory ruled by an autocratic Government without the approval and blessing of that Government. I would also ask whether the statement as to equipment of rifles and ammunitions with which they are alleged to have left their port of departure, is accurate, and, if so, whether it does not constitute a very open infraction of the Non-Intervention Agreement. I mention this not merely because it is an instance of alleged intervention, both moral and material, but because it is the most recent, and we have it most clearly in our minds. But I do feel that if one looks back over the past few months there can be little doubt that the abstention of democratic Governments from doing anything to help the Government of Spain has given very substantial advantage to the other side in this conflict.

I think that we are entitled to ask our own Government to look at this thing from a long point of view, and from the point of view of our British national and Imperial interests, because if it is the case that the rebel movement has made definite progress as a result of the actual policy which our Government has carried out, we should consider the consequences for our country and for the Empire of a new Government in Spain which would consist of a military dictatorship under the auspices of those who are at present occupying a large part of Southern Spain. A State of this kind would clearly be a puppet State dependent in all essentials on its dictatorial neighbours, and with little more vitality of its own than Manchukuo in respect to Japan. This being so, what would be the effect on our own strategical and commercial interests in the Mediterranean? It is perfectly clear that the rebel forces have no money with which they can pay those who are assisting them. It is equally obvious that no foreign Power would call in men and munitions, arms and equipment of every kind, without expecting something in return. I am well aware that the rebel General has given a p edge that he is not handing over any territory to the Italian Government. But I think we are entitled to ask ourselves whether it may not be possible to establish submarine or air bases either in the Balearic Islands or in Spanish Morocco opposite Gibraltar without any territorial concessions being made. In view of the possibility of the western gate of the Mediterranean being closed to us in time to come, I think we should very seriously consider the consequences and repercussions of a certain eventuality in South-Western Europe which certainly has been brought nearer by the policy of the Government in the past few months.

As I said at the outset, we have always been in favour of genuine neutrality and genuine embargo applying equally to both sides. That policy has not been carried out, and we can see only one alternative, and that is for the Spanish Government to be treated in exactly the same way as other Governments would be treated in similar circumstances. I am not for a moment, as I think the noble Earl suggested, saying that we believe in anything that might be called intervention on the part of the British Government in Spain. We certainly do not support any view that would suggest that our Government should send a single man, a single ship, a single round of ammunition to Spain. We are well aware that that would be completely contrary to our British national interests, and to a policy that must necessarily respect the domestic affairs of other countries. We are, at the same time, unable to see why a Government should not be able to buy what it likes from private firms in any friendly country, wherever they may be. And, failing the success of the Government in bringing about a genuine policy of neutrality and non-intervention, we believe that our Government, in con-junction with the French Government, should restore to the Spanish Government the normal rights that a perfectly friendly and legally constituted Government expects to enjoy in such circumstances.

I cannot imagine that His Majesty's Government would be anything but wildly indignant if, supposing there was a strike in munition factories here and he beginning of a rebellion, they were unable to obtain the supplies on which they relied from France or any friendly country in their neighbourhood. That is why we object to the actual policy the fulfilment of which has led up to the present Bill, and of which indeed this Bill is a part. We further feel that the Bill itself is yet another obstacle in its present form in the path of the Madrid Government. We have heard certain assurances about other countries that are willing to take the same line. We have heard that Norway has forbidden its shipping to carry arms to Spain, and that France is likely to follow our example. But this only means that the democratic Governments are again taking isolated and independent action. What about other Governments? What about the Government of Germany, what about the Government of Italy? Have they given any assurance that their ships will not carry arms?


Or Russia?


Or Russia. Certainly. I am most obliged to the noble Lords for simply reinforcing my argument, which is that those countries most concerned with the Spanish dispute should agree to the operation of a measure of this kind; that is to say, should forbid their merchant vessels to carry arms to Spain; and that this agreement should be obtained before any independent action is taken. There is a sad analogy between this and the original Non-Intervention Agreement. We are most anxious that the Government should take an initiative and give a lead in foreign affairs, because we feel that our country still has immense prestige in the world, and immense opportunities to pacify nations, both in Europe and further afield. At the same time, we do not feel that we can support a lead which is taking us in the wrong direction, because it would give undue advantage to one side in the Spanish conflict, and because there has been no guarantee that other Powers working on the Non-Intervention Committee will come in immediately this Bill has passed through Parliament.


My Lords, I feel most strongly that His Majesty's Government are in this matter in a position of great difficulty and of great delicacy, and I think it is incumbent upon us all not to say or do anything which could add to their difficulties in this respect. So far as the contents of this particular Bill are concerned, I have no comments to make upon the details, for I feel sure that in the main the Bill carries out to the full the purpose to which it is directed. Therefore I have no doubt it will pass through your Lordships' House, and I do not think that it is in any way necessary to comment on its provisions. At the same time, I think there are one or two general observations which ought to be made from these Benches.

The noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, who introduced this Bill with a most complete clearness and moderation, stated in the early part of his speech that the Opposition had regarded its provisions as dealing unfairly with one of the two contestants in Spain. That is quite true, but that criticism was by no means confined to the Opposition. When this Bill was being discussed in another place there was more than one speaker sitting on the Government side, and in ordinary circumstances strong supporters of His Majesty's Government, who took that particular point—namely, that though the purpose of the Bill, as stated in words, is one of a completely neutral character, yet in its operation it would work out far more hardly on one side than on the other. That is a point which cannot altogether be ignored. It might be taken as a general proposition that when two parties are in dispute, if you cannot be fair to both, it is better to be unfair to both than to be fair to one and unfair to the other. It is no doubt always difficult, when the effects of a neutral policy are examined, to be sure that they will operate with complete fairness to both sides.

It can hardly be disputed, I think, that the provisions of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will work out with greater severity to the Government at Madrid than to the insurgent forces, for reasons on which I shall say a word later and with which your Lordships are well acquainted. I will just mention in passing, though it is not exactly relevant, that the whole question of the desirability, or the contrary, of the private manufacture and export of arms does not arise on this question, because all the countries who are alleged to be sending arms and munitions in large quantities to Spain are under dictatorial Government control, so there is no question of illicit profits on a large scale being made by private manufacture. I am in no sense, as I pointed out, against the whole policy of non-intervention, and the noble Earl who spoke from the Labour Benches has equally explained that that is the policy of himself and his friends, but the point is whether in this case non-intervention will work out fairly to both sides. On that it seems to me that the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, only stated half the case. He did not touch on what has passed in the International Committee in which he has taken so prominent and so leading a part. It does seem to me to be thoroughly germane to this discussion to consider whether the action which His Majesty's Government desire to take in this matter is likely to be generally followed. If it is not, I do not see how His Majesty's Government can escape from the charge of doing something which operates more severely against one side than the other.

We have seen in this morning's newspapers some account of what occurred at the meeting of that Committee yesterday. It did not seem to take anybody very far. We all know that the operations of the Concerts of Europe, and even of the League of Nations, are apt to be what, to an ordinary observer, appears dilatory, but there does not seem to be any very definite prospect that the action which is being taken by His Majesty's Government to-day is likely to be followed by the important part of the great countries who have been engaged in supplying arms and munitions to Spain. That, I confess, points in my opinion to the absence of urgency in this matter. It was proposed in another place that the wisest course would be to pass this measure, but not bring it actually into operation until its operation became effective through an Order in Council. That seems to be in itself a reasonable proposition. The noble Earl opposite will no doubt be able to say whether there is really such desperate urgency in this refusal to allow British ships to carry munitions as to make it necessary to bring the measure into force before other countries have taken similar action. If he is able to prove that, there is, of course, nothing more to be said, but until he does I confess I should like to see the operation of the measure postponed as far as possible.

Only one word on the question of volunteers who have apparently flocked into Spain from all quarters and on both sides. I should not otherwise have mentioned it, but it was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his speech. This is a matter which no doubt may have to be considered later on grounds of urgency. For instance, the noble Earl mentioned the landing of a large force of German troops. Germans will be killing Germans, because I happen to have been told on good authority that there are a number of Germans, obviously not at home in Germany, who are fighting on the side of the Government of Madrid. I heard the number put as 2,000; and I have no doubt that in addition to Russian volunteers, there are volunteers in sympathy with the communistic or anarchical movement which the Government of Spain, Republican in itself, has to adopt, who are fighting for the Government of Madrid. On the other hand, it is believed that the Foreign Legion from Morocco fighting on the side of General Franco is mainly officered by German officers. That is a most lamentable state of things, and of course complicates to an indefinite degree the whole position in Spain. I only mention it because the point was alluded to by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I will not dwell upon it. I will merely conclude by saying that I do not feel convinced of the urgency of this measure, and I shall await with interest to hear what further statements His Majesty's Government may have to make on this subject.


My Lords, this de gate, although there have only been two speakers, has covered a fairly wide range of ground, and yet I think the issue here really lies in a very narrow compass. Indeed, as the noble Earl who spoke first for the Opposition said, all that could be said on the one side or the other could be fairly said in a day's debate, and therefore, whatever we ought to do, it was reasonable we should do to-day. I think all your Lordships will agree that if action is right in this matter, there never was an occasion when the aphorism more truly applied: "What thou doest do quickly." A great deal has been said, and I will reply to it in a word or two, about whether the policy now proposed in the House is going to serve the interest of one side or the other in Spain. May I put this to your Lordships: it is important to be fair. I think we have been scrupulously fair in everything we have done and are doing. Faced with the sombre, tragic fact of the civil war which is raging in Spain, are there not two other interests which we have got to keep always in our minds, the interests of this country and foe interest of keeping the peace of the world and localising this conflict within as narrow limits as possible? It seems to me that these two vital considerations are the considerations which must weigh with us in the action which we take over this Spanish conflict.

Indeed, at the outset of his speech the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, really accepted that. He told us we were right to have done all we could to localise the conflict in Spain. That was the whole basis of the Non-Intervention Agreement. And let the noble Earl observe that though we whole-heartedly supported non-intervention, and do to-day, even if it be broken here or there—and the breaks are not all on one side—it was the Govern-merit of France which with great vision and wisdom proposed non-intervention and is supporting non-intervention to-day. We were very glad to join our friends in carrying out that policy. But what does non-intervention mean? It must rest with each country a party to that pact to carry it out according to its own conscience, but it is no excuse for us not to carry out non-intervention strictly and impartially because it is said, and no doubt said with truth, that some other people are not carrying it out equally well. That would not be honest or fair on our part, and certainly it would not add to securing the peace of Europe.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that non-intervention as conducted by the British Government has benefited one side and handicapped the other. I flatly deny that there is a vestige of truth in that observation. I challenge the noble Earl to give a single instance in which the British Government have done anything which benefited either one side or the other. I challenge him to show or to allege that there is a single case in which we have not absolutely impartially done our best to stop munitions going to one side or the other. The noble Earl made two extraordinary observations. One was, apparently, that now we should break our non-intervention. What does that mean? Does he seriously mean that we should go back on this policy, that we should send arms to both sides equally? I presume that at any rate he is not suggesting that we should take sides in this conflict and send arms to one party and not to the other. That is not the suggestion? The suggestion then is that we should either ourselves send arms to both sides or that we should facilitate their going there.

Another most extraordinary suggestion was made by him. I think he saw the difficulty of the proposition he was putting and he then said, in effect: "Well, you ought at any rate to let these people get arms from private sources where they can." What an astounding proposition to come from a Party which has always denounced the private manufacture of arms, which has always said that one of the dangers of the private manufacture of and trade in arms; was that when you got signs of trouble in the world the private manufacture of arms might lead to war spreading! If we were to take the advice of the noble Earl who has spoken for the Opposition to-day, to encourage and facilitate anybody going to any quarter, however irresponsible, to get arms, then indeed—I think a great deal of nonsense has been talked in the past about the private manufacture of arms—for once the case might have been proved, and the private manufacture of arms might have been a real peril for the first time to European peace. That really is not the way.

The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, asked what was the urgency. The urgency is the situation with which we are faced. We are faced with a position in which British ships might be stopped on the high seas. British ships have the right to protection from the British Fleet, but the right to protection while they are on their lawful occasions. We have the right, and indeed the duty, to say to either side in Spain that British ships must be allowed to pass upon their lawful occasions, and in order that we may be able to say that with full right and with a clear conscience, surely it is our duty to see that the British ships which proceed on the seas are proceeding in the spirit and in the letter of their lawful occasions, and that they are not transgressing either the spirit or the letter of the Non-Intervention Pact to which we have set our hand. That is the urgency of the case. It is the position of our own ships, the position of our own country, which makes it urgent for us to legislate to-day. And in a situation getting always more difficult, I do not think it is a bad thing that, having stood for non-intervention, we should make it plain that as far as we are able to carry out our word and our bond we shall see that all our subjects by land or sea carry out the obligations which we have undertaken on their behalf. I suggest that that is our plain duty, and if it is our plain duty the sooner we discharge that duty the better both for our own honour and for the peace of the world so far as the peace can be kept.


My Lords, the noble Viscount is in good debating form this afternoon. He seemed to revel in the chance of a good cut and thrust encounter with my noble friend who spoke for us in the first place. He was good enough to put certain challenges to us, quite fairly, and I shall endeavour briefly to answer them, because this is a very important matter. The noble Viscount, I am sorry to notice, is not as fully informed on the legal side of this question as he usually is on most subjects in my experience of his public work. He asked whether it is really suggested by the Opposition that we should allow one side to buy arms and not the other. The answer is, Yes. That is exactly what we do propose, and I will give the reasons to your Lordships without any equivocation.


Is that non-intervention?


I am not arguing for non-intervention. I am arguing for the observance of International Law, which is the policy of my Party. We supported the Government at first, for reasons which I shall explain, but, the Government's attitude has now become such a farce that we want the nations, including our own, to return to the practices of International Law. That law was very clearly stated by the Secretary of State of the United States of America in 1930 in similar circumstances, and I suggest that the action then taken by America should have been taken by His Majesty's Government on this occasion. There was a rebellion in Brazil and some American citizens seemed to be favourable to the rebels. I dare say it was a question of oil concessions. The American Government of the day was criticised for rat allowing these people to send arms to the rebels, and the Secretary of State Lade a perfectly clear re-statement of International Law which exactly applies to the present position in Spain.

With your Lordships' permission I will read the passage, which was quoted very usefully by an honourable friend of mine in the debate last Tuesday in another place. It is as follows: There is nothing unprecedented in the principle which we now apply, which we have applied many times before. It is very important that people should not misunderstand it as a new principle. It is important for the reason that the revolutionists, who may be hurt by our action in placing an embargo, may assert that we are taking sides for some ulterior reason with one or other of the combatants. Instead of that we are acting according to general principles of International Law. Those principles declare that where we are in friendly relations through diplomatic channels with a Government which has been recognised as the legitimate Government of a country that Government is entitled to the ordinary rights of any Government to buy arms in this country [meaning of course the United States of America], while the people who are opposing and trying to overthrow that Government and are not yet recognised as belligerents are not entitled to that right. It is not a matter of choice on our part, but is a practice of mankind known as International Law. We have no personal bias, and are doing nothing but attempting to carry out the law of mankind. That, I think, is an admirable statement of International Law by the American Secretary of State in 1930 in almost precisely similar conditions to those prevailing in Spain to-day.

The noble Viscount, I am sure, will not controvert that opinion and that is the present policy of the Labour Party as approved at our Conference in Edinburgh, to which we adhere, which was reaffirmed in another place, and which my noble friend the Earl of Listowel has reaffirmed to-day. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, declared with great emphasis that he and his colleagues have been perfectly fair in this matter—"scrupulously fair" were his words. We say they have not been fair, and I will explain why we say that the Government have been most unfair. They always act with great speed in anything that is calculated to injure the present Government in Spain—always. There was the very early ease at the end of July or the beginning of August when, without waiting for any other Power to act, they clapped on an Order preventing any British munitions being sold to the Spanish Government. May I say that we do not want the Government to supply the Spanish Government with arms? We only want to give the Spanish Government the, ordinary legitimate rights which they have, and should always have, of buying arms in the open market. We do not want the noble Earl's chief in another place to ask for an Estimate in the House of Commons for the supply of arms to the Spanish Government. We only want the Spanish Government to be allowed to buy in the open market.

His Majesty's Government, weeks before Italy or Germany or other States concerned made any move, while they were still haggling and arguing and manæuvring, clapped on this ordinance preventing anything being purchased on behalf of the legitimate and recognised Government of Spain, a Government which is a fellow Member of the League of Nations, a Government which is represented at the Court of St. James's. The other example of their speedy action is this Hill. As the noble Marquess who spoke from the Liberal Benches pointed out, there is no guarantee that other States will act in this way. Therefore this action is likely to have a one-sided effect. As long as the reactionaries in Spain can buy all the arms they require, and more than they can use, what effect can this action have but to injure to some extent the legitimate Government in Spain? In another case the Government would not move at all until other States also acted. In the case of Italian aggression last year the noble Lord who spoke then for His Majesty's Government said we could not move at all until other States moved with us. That was a case of a small people struggling against a Fascist Power. Now when it is a case of helping a legitimate Government, or rather of doing nothing to hinder them, His Majesty's Government rush in with this Bill which we say is precipitate and unnecessary.

I wonder if the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, will be offended if I make a small complaint. We had a debate last week on this matter and I asked for certain information. The noble Earl did not reply at the time, but I requested him to let us have the information in some other way, and I should like now to repeat my request for information. I am not referring to the case of Majorca in regard to which information was sought by three noble Lords. The question I raised was one of piratical action against British subjects. We hear brave words from the Secretary of State for Air and from, the noble Earl about defending British ships on the high seas, but they have not done it in the past. I quoted a case, referred to in the newspapers on November 7, of a cargo of British goods—potatoes to wit—carried in a Norwegian steamer. The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Air laughs, but those potatoes were the property of hardworking British farmers. They are people who are as much entitled to protection as anyone else. Those potatoes were being carried in a Norwegian steamer to Valencia, and a Spanish rebel gunboat stopped this steamer, took her into Vigo, and discharged the potatoes, to the loss of the British farmers who had sold them or the British merchants, as the case may be.

That was an act of piracy. That ship was not condemned in a prize court, a court of law. That rebel was acting as a buccaneer in International Law, as every lawyer will agree. I have not heard of a single protest by His Majesty's Government—not a word. Then there was the other case, of a British ship this time, the Newcastle steamer "Thornhope," which was stopped by another gunboat flying the piratical flag—because these people, in International Law, are pirates. She also was taken into Vigo. She had no munitions on board; she was on her lawful occasions—to quote the words of the Minister. When they found that she was bound for a French port in Algiers they graciously let her go. These are the Press reports giving the names of the steamers, and I asked the noble Earl about them. He is the Chairman of the Non-intervention Committee and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; why cannot we have the information? What is happening? If it is true, what are the Government doing and what have they done? There was the earlier case of which the Leader of the House has knowledge and to which I drew his attention in the Recess: there was the earlier case of these rebel forces declaring a blockade at the port of Bilbao, a port of the greatest importance to British merchants and shipping. Bilbao is one of the greatest supply ports of iron ore, and they put down a minefield outside it and declared that any British ship going near Bilbao would be attacked and prevented from trading. I never heard of any action by His Majesty's Government, none whatever.

I should like to give another example of the Government's unfairness and their partiality. Right back in August, a Spanish Government cruiser stopped and visited a British merchant ship on the high seas. Immediately a battle cruiser—already under steam, presumably—left Gibraltar, cleared for action, warned off the Spanish cruiser and rescued the British merchant ship. That was a Spanish Government cruiser. The Government did not ask for a Bill to enable them to do that; not at all. I say that those are just a few examples of their partiality. They have acted unfairly—I repeat what my noble friend Lord Snell said last week—towards the Spanish Government.

I also resent very much the fact that from the beginning there has been no word of sympathy from any member of His Majesty's Government, that I am aware of, with the Spanish Government in this case—not one word of sympathy. Indeed, the First Lord of the Admiralty went so far in a public speech as to talk of "the two factions," putting them entirely on an equal level. It is the fashion nowadays—to come back to this question of International Law—to talk as if International Law were of no further account, that it does not matter, that it has no force. If that attitude is accepted, it cuts at the very basis of civilisation. There is a law of nations that has grown up during centuries. I was always taught—and I see noble Lords who have had an early maritime training in the House, and they will bear me out—we were always taught in our early days that there was a recognised law between nations at difference and that it had to be observed; that it had grown up through the centuries, long before the League of Nations was established; that it was the basis of communication between civilised States, and that there were certain conventions that had grown up and could be recognised as a kind of common law between nations. If we are to pretend now that this law cannot be carried out, it is, I submit to your Lordships, giving over the world to anarchy and the rule of the bully.

We are told that the Government thought that the best policy to adopt was this policy of so-called "non-intervention "—a very unfortunate word, if I may be allowed to say so. I believe the French call in "non-interference." It is not a question of intervening at all. If I may examine the word for one instance, it has really acted, as my noble friend Lord Listowel says, from the very beginning against the Spanish Government. Why did they do this? We are told, because there was a danger of this conflict in Spain spreading. I have watched this matter very closely from the beginning and I can find no trace of any one talking about the danger of war except His Majesty's Ministers in this country—no one else. Who threatened war? Is it really supposed that we were in danger of being attacked, or our French neighbour was in danger of being attacked, if we stood by the law of nations? That law is that the recognised Government of a country, as stated in the declaration I have read out from the American Secretary of State, is entitled to buy arms and that the supply of arms and other assistance to insurrectionaries in that country is an act of aggression. If we had stood by the letter of the law of nations, is it really seriously suggested that a war would have started? I can find no trace of it, and I say that the only talk of war from the beginning came from His Majesty's Ministers. Of course, if they took that attitude, they were inviting breaches of the law of nations by those who are now helping the Government in Span. I can only suppose that they were actuated by one of two reasons, or, it may have been, by both. One is that they were afraid to carry out the law, afraid of attack, and the other is that they were actuated by malevolence towards the Government in Madrid. Both motives are equally reprehensible, and I should not be a bit surprised if both were the cause of their action.

I understand now that a meeting of the League of Nations will take place at the request of the Spanish Government and that His Majesty's Government will be represented on the Council. I should have thought that it would be better to delay the passing of this Bill until we could have seen whether it were possible for action to be taken through the League of Nations. May I echo some words which fell from the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, on the Liberal Benches, when he asked whether nothing further could be done to mitigate these horrors in Spain? The noble Viscount spoke of the interests of this country in not seeing the war spread. There is a third interest, which I am sure he shares, and that is the interest of humanity. Can nothing be done at all? Can His Majesty's Government concern themselves—I am sure that they do concern themselves, but are they really working at some policy, in conjunction with other Powers, to stop this horrible business in Spain of the slaughter and torture of so many innocent people? If so, why, with the greatest respect, do they not let the country and other countries know what they propose to do? It is not a question of two factions fighting it out, as the First Lord of the Admiralty says; it is a most horrible business, and I am sure that there is no decent person in any country—I do not care what country he is in—but must deplore it.

I should have thought that, this policy having so obviously failed, the other policy might be tried, and I should have thought that the League of Nations in this case was the proper body to act. I personally am not a defeatist about the League of Nations; I think it is a great misservice to the world to pretend that the League of Nations is of no more account. I believe it could be revived to-morrow. The whole of the machinery is there; it is the spirit behind it that counts. I believe that if a great appeal were made to all nations through the League of Nations, even to those nations which do not belong to it, something might be done to intervene and stop this barbaric slaughter. I am told that in the event of the rebel cause winning in. Madrid, the best opinion expects another two years of fighting in that country before the rebel cause can succeed. I have not heard the estimate if the rebel cause loses, but I should think that the fighting will then come to an end more quickly. It will mean the most terrible' slaughter in either case. You have a large army of Moors in Spain to-day who, I suppose, when they find their cause is losing, may turn upon Spaniards of all political creeds, and then you will have another cause of suffering and wholesale murder in that unhappy country. I should have thought that His Majesty's Government would have strained every nerve at the present time and have used every kind of influence they possessed to attempt to get the nations of the world to take joint action to end this horrible situation.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been dispensed with, Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House forthwith.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now go into Committee.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Plymouth.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1: Prohibition of the discharge in and transhipment for Spanish territory of munitions of war from certain ships.

1.—(1) No article to which this Act applies shall be discharged at any port or place in Spanish territory or within the territorial waters adjacent thereto from a ship to which this Act applies, and no such article shall be transhipped on the high seas from any such ship into any vessel bound for any such port or place, and no such article consigned to or destined for any such port or place shall be taken on board or carried in any such ship.


There are no Amendments on the Paper, "but a manuscript Amendment has been handed in in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It is an Amendment to Clause 1, on page 1, line 6, at the beginning to insert: If at any time the Secretary of State certifies that foreign Powers (represented on the Non-intervention Committee) in sufficient numbers to have decisive effect, have adopted measures similar in substance and effect to the provisions of this Act, His Majesty may by Order in Council declare that and then follow the words of the clause.


I must apologise, my Lords, first of all, for the fact that you have not been able to have copies of this Amendment, but I have no doubt you will understand that the position is one for which we on these Benches are not responsible. I am not going to repeat the arguments to which you have already listened, and I merely wish to explain that the intention of the Amendment is to postpone the operation of this measure until other countries represented on the Non-intervention Committee have agreed to do the same thing. The analogy of last August is one that may hold again in this instance. There we put an embargo on munitions for Spain on the 19th of the month, and Germany and Italy did not come in until the end of the same month. There was therefore a time lag, which definitely gave an advantage to one side in this conflict. We are exceedingly anxious that there should not be another time lag in this instance. We are afraid that it might be even longer. The noble Marquess who leads the Liberal Party said he was in substantial agreement with the intention of this Amendment, and I hope that noble Lords on the Liberal Benches will be able to represent their points of view. I would like to add that I am not certain whether the actual words or the drafting of the Amendment cover my point, but naturally I should be willing to accept any alteration which the Government might wish to make if they approve the principle of the Amendment itself.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 6, at the beginning insert ("If at any time the Secretary of State certifies that foreign Powers (represented on the Non-intervention Committee) in sufficient numbers to have decisive effect, have adopted measures similar in substance and effect to the provisions of this Act, His Majesty may by Order in Council declare that)"—(The Earl of Listowel.)


As the noble Earl has explained, the object of this Amendment is to make the entry into force of this legislation dependent upon similar action on the part of an unspecified number of other countries who are parties to the Non-Intervention Agreement. The noble Viscount who sits on the Front Bench, and who spoke on behalf of the Government, explained, I think quite clearly, why urgency was of the utmost importance in this respect, and I say straight off that I cannot possibly accept this Amendment. The prohibition of the carriage of arms in British ships forms in our view an essential part of the policy which His Majesty's Government have found it necessary to adopt, to meet the naval problems which have resulted from the situation in Spanish waters. Though I admit that this is not actually a part of the Agreement, it is entirely in conformity with our policy. The noble Earl who moved the Amendment spoke of the question of a time lag, which would work in favour of one party and against another. I cannot accept this point of view, because on his own showing, and on his own admission, the time lag would operate not only in favour of countries which may be supporting the insurgents in Spain, but also in favour of countries that may be supporting the Government party in Spain. He admitted himself, and it is generally recognised, that war materials were entering Spain destined to help not only one party but both parties in the conflict there. Therefore I cannot admit for a single moment that the effect of this Bill is going to be to help one party in Spain at the expense of the other.

I repeat, in spite of everything said by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strabolgi—and I think it is a view which would be supported by every fair-minded person—that we have acted scrupulously fairly in carrying out our policy of non-intervention, and we intend to pursue that policy and not be deterred by speeches such as that which was delivered by the noble Lord opposite. We do not believe that this Bill is going to help one side as opposed to the other. We ask your Lordships to pass it because we believe it to be an essential and logical part of our policy of non-intervention. The Amendment asks that we should not put this measure into operation until similar legislation has been passed by other members of the Non-Intervention Committee. We have, it is perfectly true, drawn the attention of the members of the Non-Intervention Committee to the fact that we were introducing legislation, and we have asked them to consider whether it would not be possible for them to take similar action themselves; but I venture to say that as this case is so urgent we could not possibly expect that effective action would be taken by other countries with anything like the speed and expedition that we think we ought ourselves to use in the matter. I cannot believe that it is necessary or desirable for us to make our action depend upon action taken by other countries. I cannot think that your Lordships wish that arms which cannot be sent from this country to Spain should at the same time be allowed to be taken from any country to Spain by a British ship. The object of the Bill is to prevent that being done, and I repeat that it is a logical and sensible policy to pursue. In those circumstances I very much hope your Lordships will not accept the Amendment which is proposed.


I cannot say that I am by any means satisfied by the assurance of the noble Earl opposite that in the event of a time lag the interval would be used equally in favour of both sides in the Spanish conflict. I am sure he will agree with mo that there have been already indications that certain countries that would naturally sympathise with the Spanish Government are willing to enter a similar agreement. The Government of France, for instance, which has worked very closely with our Government, has already expressed the view that it is likely to present a Bill of very much the same purport as the one which we are considering at this moment. It therefore looks as though again it were the democratic countries, which would be approached naturally by the Spanish Government if it desired support and material, that are going to take the first action to prevent support being carried in merchant vessels to Spain.

There is no assurance, so far as I am aware, that either Germany or Italy, which are the two principal Powers likely to favour the opposite side, the rebel side, are prepared to take similar action and to forbid their merchantmen to carry munitions of war to Spanish ports. That is a point of absolutely first-rate importance. It is a plea that has been made by both the Liberal and the Labour Oppositions in both Houses of Parliament, and it is not because I am the least satisfied with the answer that has been offered by the Government, or that I feel that this is a point that can be waived, but simply because I have not as solid backing as noble Lords opposite have the good fortune to possess, that I am obliged to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

House resumed.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Earl of Plymouth.)


My Lords, before we finally part with this Bill I wonder whether the noble Earl would find it convenient to give some information on the points raised last week by my noble friend Lord Snell and myself, and again to-day? Could he say something about the position in Majorca, or in any case about the other action taken against British ships with British cargoes at sea?


My Lords, I am afraid I am not in a position to make any statement on the point that was raised by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition when we discussed Spain last week. This, as I think your Lordships will understand, is a measure that had to be brought forward quickly and that was intended to make special arrangements to deal with special circumstances. I know your Lordships' Rules of Procedure are very wide, and consequently the opportunity has been taken to refer to every aspect of the trouble in Spain, but I am afraid that I am not in a position at present to deal with the question that was asked by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition last week, or indeed with a number of points that have been raised during the course of this debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made great play with the particular case of a ship that had been stopped on the high seas by one of General Franco's cruisers, which was a Norwegian ship carrying a cargo from Aberdeen, and he asked why we have not done anything about this. The answer seems to be simple, that as this cargo was being carried in a Norwegian ship and not a British ship, it was clearly not our business, or indeed possible for us, to interfere in the matter. For the rest, all that I understood the noble Lord to say was that we acted unfairly in taking action in certain cases which happened to be cases in which the Spanish Government was concerned, and not having taken it in others. I can only say that we have been actuated by a motive which is one that I think all members of your Lordships' House would gladly support, and that is a desire to act scrupulously fairly in all cases. I cannot admit for a single moment that we have acted in favour of one side or the other. Although I am afraid I am not in a position to deal with all these specific points which have been raised during the course of this debate, I can assure noble Lords that those have been the objects of His Majesty's Government, and I think that the great majority of your Lordships would agree that we have been successful in achieving those objects.


My Lords, I do not want to prolong the debate, for the issues have been clearly stated and are in the minds of your Lordships, but in parting with this Bill I think it is my duty on behalf of the Opposition to express our very keen disappointment at the lack of response by His Majesty's Government to the request for information. I hope His Majesty's Government will not get into the way of ignoring the requests of the Opposition for information on public matters. The fact that we are few in this House tempts His Majesty's Government to treat us with less consideration than would be the case if we were more numerous. If the noble Earl had said first, "We have not any information," or that it would not be to the public interest to expose it, we should accept that in a moment as being satisfactory, but in parting with the Bill I do wish to say that, as far as we see our duty in this House, we have certain responsibilities and we shall have to try to carry them out with or without the co-operation of His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is so unlike his usual self, if I may say so, that I think on reflection he will agree that his strictures are really undeserved. No one knows better than he does, and no one has acknowledged more frequently, the readiness of the Government to meet him on all occasions in the fullest way in debate. He has paid me more than one compliment in that respect, and certainly there is no reason why I should be singled out above my fellows. It is exactly the same with everybody on this Bench. But I do want to put this to my noble friend. There is not the least intention to keep any information from him, but my noble friend the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs was, I think, in a very genuine difficulty to-day. I should have been in exactly the same difficulty, and I should not have had the least idea what was the answer to two or three of the points that were thrown out.

We have here a Bill on which the issues are in a very narrow compass, dealing with certain specific things. I think the House will agree that on everything that is relevant to the Bill we have given the fullest possible information and answered every argument. As we all know, the Rules of Order in this House—well, there is only one rule of order and that is that there is no order, and I think it is rather a good plan, and in that way alone we are like a Soviet State—the Rules of Order in this House enable noble Lords to raise almost any question, however irrelevant to the particular subject in debate, and we have done our best—and I think we have succeeded in a good many cases—to answer questions which in another place would not be in order for discussion at all. My noble friend has been unable to answer one or two of the questions which were raised because, without the whole of the Foreign Office archives and others of many other Government Departments before him, he could not have given an answer. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is much better that he should say so frankly than attempt to produce an answer, so to speak, out of the hat. I hope that on consideration my noble friend will not think any discourtesy was intentionally offered to him, and that he will agree that we have dealt as fully as we could with all the subjects in any way relevant to the debate.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.