HL Deb 10 March 1937 vol 104 cc595-622

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is necessary to implement the Agreement that was reached by the Non-Intervention Committee on March 8. I should like in the first place to apologise to your Lordships for the fact that this Bill has been brought forward in great haste and that the Government are asking your Lordships to pass it through all its stages with as little delay as possible. But I should like to assure your Lordships that speed has been vital in this particular case, as I hope to be able to explain to the satisfaction of the House during the course of the remarks that I am going to make. It was on February 16 that an Agreement was reached to ban volunteers from going to Spain to take part in the conflict there, and from the midnight of February 20 that ban was actually enforced. But it was made clear even before that that this agreement was conditional upon its being followed at a very short interval by the operation of a supervision scheme to see whether the agreement itself was being honoured or not. I think it is quite obvious that any considerable delay between the time the actual Agreement was enforced and the time when the supervision scheme comes into operation may be fraught with very serious dangers indeed. It is perfectly obvious that if there were to be an untoward incident during that period it might undo a great deal of the work which it has been possible to do during the last few weeks and, as I say, it might have the very gravest consequences.

It was one thing to come to an agreement on the banning of volunteers, and another thing to reach complete agreement about a supervision scheme. There were many thorny questions, very largely of a technical nature, which had to be dealt with, and very full and careful examination was necessary; and although the Committee and the technical advisers of the Committee have worked at extremely high pressure, it was not until Monday afternoon that it was possible to adopt a Resolution in the main Committee, where were present representatives of the twenty-seven European countries concerned. There was further this difficulty, that our Bill, which it was necessary to pass into law before we could give effect to the obligations we had undertaken as the result of this Agreement, could not be finally drafted until the Resolution was passed by the main Committee, because it was on that Resolution that the actual provisions of the Bill had to be based. Your Lordships will therefore see that we were in considerable difficulty. On the one hand, we could not finally draft our Bill because we were awaiting the final decision of the Committee, and, on the other hand, it was of supreme importance to pass this Bill into law at the earliest possible moment so that we, at any rate, should be in a position to implement our undertakings under the Agreement with the least possible delay.

Your Lordships will remember that we hoped to bring this Scheme into operation on March 6. Unfortunately, that was impossible, but at the same time, now that we have reached agreement, it is hoped to be able to operate the Scheme in a very short time. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it would be extremely unfortunate if any delay in operating this Scheme were due to the fact that His Majesty's Government had not been able to take the necessary legislative measures in time. That is why this Bill can justifiably be looked upon as an emergency measure brought before your Lordships' House at short notice. The text of the Agreement has been published in a White Paper, Command Paper 5399, which was available to your Lordships to-day. I ought to draw your Lordships' attention to one fact, although it has no actual bearing upon this Bill. There is a mistake in the first paragraph of the Annexe to the Resolution on page 4. In that paragraph are enumerated the countries which are to appoint representatives to serve on the International Board for Non-Intervention in Spain. It was omitted to state there that, in addition to those five countries there enumerated, the Committee at its last meeting added three countries which were not actually specified at the time also to serve on this Committee. That provision should be added to that paragraph, and the necessary correction will be made in due course.


What are the three countries?


They have not yet been selected. The section in this document which requires legislation is that which deals with the system of observation in regard to merchant ships. It was originally intended to exercise observation in Spanish ports whilst the ships were being unloaded. That was the first scheme we had in mind—a scheme to be operated inside the Spanish frontiers by means of placing agents at ports and other points of entry into the country by land as well. That scheme required the consent of both parties in Spain, but that was not forthcoming and we had to draw up another scheme. This Scheme is based on the principle that the consent of the two parties in Spain is not necessary in order to put it into operation. So far as this part of the Scheme is concerned—that which deals with merchant ships—the basic principle is that the minimum of interference with legitimate trade will take place. There are certain obligations imposed as the result of this Bill. These are obviously essential for the success of the Scheme, and I do not think, on reflection, in view of the difficulty with which we were faced, that they are unduly arduous.

There is one point I ought to mention at this stage, and that is that the Scheme to which this Bill is to give effect has no direct relationship to the Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Munitions to Spain) Act of last year. The object of this Bill is to ascertain whether the Non-Intervention Agreement is being observed, but no doubt, if observing officers secure information indicating that infringements of the 1936 Act are taking place, the Board of Trade will be informed and will consider whether proceedings are called for. But, as I say, this Bill has really no direct relationship to the one of last year.

I shall now, if I may, describe, not at any great length, the provisions of the Bill in relation to the Scheme which is set out in this White Paper. It would be quite unnecessary to take your Lordships through every subsection of the Bill, but there are certain portions which undoubtedly require some explanation. The underlying principle which is given effect to by Clause 1, subsections (1) to (4), is the imposition of an obligation on all ships proceeding to Spain to call at a non-Spanish port to embark observing officers. The duty of these observing officers would be to watch the unloading of the cargo and the landing of passengers to see whether or not the Agreement is being kept and, if they become aware of any breaches of the Agreement, to report accordingly to the authority. The ships covered by the Bill are all British ships except those registered in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free State, or in any territory administered by the Governments of these Dominions. None of these Dominions are parties to the Non-Intervention Agreement except the Irish Free State, who will no doubt take the necessary measures in due course to deal with the situation so far as they are concerned.

At this point I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 14 of this Scheme. This shows that the question of how the Canary Islands are to come into the present Scheme of observation has not yet been decided. The reason for this is that to apply this Scheme to the Canary Islands in its present form, as it is to be applied to other parts of Spanish territory, presents special difficulties. To begin with, there is an enormous number of liners and ships on cruises calling at the Canary Islands, and to place observers on all these would necessitate a very great increase in the staff of the Board, and would consequently seriously increase the expenditure of that body. As your Lordships no doubt appreciate, the question of expenditure is one that is of considerable importance to most countries that are parties to the Agreement. Furthermore, it is unlikely in the extreme, in our view, that the Canary Islands which, after all, are hundreds of miles from the scene of the conflict in Spain, will be made use of to import into Spain war material or volunteers in contravention of the Agreement. In any case any attempt to do so would certainly become known immediately. We therefore thought it would be best to take a little more time to consider the special position of the Canary Islands and, when a satisfactory scheme could be devised, to bring it into operation at the earliest practicable moment. That is why, as a result of the definition of Spanish territory in Clause 4, the Bill does not require ships proceeding to the Canary Islands to take observing officers on board, but the Canary Islands can be brought into the Scheme at a future date through the issue of an Order by the Board of Trade when international agreement on the subject has been reached.

Proviso (c) of Clause 1 (1) requires some explanation. It provides particularly for the situation that may arise, or probably will arise immediately the Scheme is brought into operation. A large number of observing officers will be required when the Scheme is in full operation. The Scheme will be brought into operation by stages and before the full number of observing officers can be available. In these circumstances it may well happen that on occasion there are not sufficient officers at particular ports to deal with all the ships coming along. Proviso (c) of subsection (1) of Clause enables the administrator of the authority at any of the specified ports to exempt the ships from the obligation to embark observing officers if they are not available. In practice, in my view, these occasions will be very rare indeed and only at the commencement of the operation of this Scheme.

Then subsection (5) gives effect to paragraph 19 of this Scheme under which shipowners engaged in regular trade to Spanish ports may arrange for observing officers to be stationed continuously on board their vessels. That is, I think, a reasonable thing to make provision for and will obviously be of convenience to the shipowners concerned. Subsection (6) gives effect to paragraph 10 of the Scheme regarding the powers of observing officers and the facilities to be accorded to them on board ship. It requires that observing officers on a ship are to be provided with proper subsistence and accommodation and facilities for sending wireless messages, and particularly to have the necessary powers to get the information requisite to enable them to carry out their duties. In addition to obtaining information the observing officers may require packages to be opened under the conditions stated. Subsection (7) gives effect to the second part of paragraph 33 of the Scheme. This provides that ships which have taken observers on board or have been exempted, are to fly a special flag in order to facilitate the duties of the naval vessels carrying out the task of naval observation.

Subsection (8) is inserted in order to avoid loading up the Bill with detailed provisions required to carry out certain parts of the Scheme. It empowers the Board of Trade to make regulations covering these details. I would like to draw your Lordships attention to paragraph (b) which is important. Under this the Board will be able to make regulations as to the payment to be made to shipowners by the authority in respect of matters already referred to in the Bill and also as to the repayment of pilotage dues incurred by ships which enter a British port merely to embark or disembark observing officers, as well as harbour dues and other similar charges so incurred, that is, if exemption from such charges is not granted under Clause 3. Perhaps I ought to elaborate that a little further. The position as regards harbour dues and other similar charges is, your Lordships will see from paragraph 21 of the White Paper, that no decision has yet been reached whether a ship calling at a port for embarking or disembarking observing officers should be exempt. One or two countries are finding some difficulty in agreeing to this exemption, but what I want to make clear is this: If exemption is not secured the authority will refund to the shipowners the expenditure involved. As to pilotage dues, in the interests of safety, it is not proposed to grant any exemption. Here again the pilotage dues concerned will be repaid to the shipowners concerned by the authority.

I now pass to Clause 2. Clause 2 contains the necessary provisions in connection with the arrangement set out in Part IV of the Scheme for the establishment of a system naval observation on the Spanish coasts. Subsection (1) gives effect to paragraph 37 (a) and (b) of the Scheme as regards the powers which officers of the warships of the four participating countries—at present the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy—may exercise over British ships when they are within ten miles of the Spanish coast. In view of the possibility of alterations in these matters, that is, for instance, variation of the zones which are allotted to individual Fleets, it is quite likely as a result of experience or as a result of events in Spain that the present zones may have to be modified. Therefore subsection (3) enables the necessary details of such modifications to be set forth in Orders which are to be issued by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Subsection (4) is necessary for legal purposes and the last three lines are intended to protect British naval officers from proceedings arising out of the exercise by them of the powers conferred by the Bill in respect of foreign ships.

Clause 3 is one that certainly does require a certain amount of explanation. This clause is intended to serve two distinct objects. In the first place the Scheme itself contemplates the possibility of arrangements being made, with the consent of all the countries concerned, for dealing with certain outstanding questions. For example, as I have already said, no decision has yet been reached on the question of whether ships calling at a port merely for the purpose of embarking or disembarking observing officers should be exempt from the dues and other charges usually paid. This matter is to be discussed further by the Governments of the countries in which the observation ports are situated and this clause of the Bill will enable any arrangement reached as a result of that discussion to be applied to the British ports affected through the issue of an Order in Council. The British ports primarily affected are those of Dover and Gibraltar, but if other ports are substituted for these to meet the convenience of shipowners, they will also be affected. It will be seen from paragraphs 31, 36, 37 (c) of the White Paper that an arrangement for the institution of what are known as "focal areas" may be brought into operation with the consent of the Non-Intervention Committee. This arrangement would mean that "focal areas" might be prescribed through which all ships proceeding to Spanish ports within those zones would be required to pass in order to facilitate the work of naval observation. This clause would enable this system to be applied to British ships by Order in Council if it is put forward and receives the consent of the Non-Intervention Committee.

The second object which the clause is intended to serve is that of enabling effect to be given to any further agreement which may be reached by the Non-Intervention Committee amending or supplementing the present Observation Agreement. Your Lordships will see from paragraph 5 of the substantive Resolution adopted by the Committee on March 8—that is at the beginning of the White Paper—that the Observation Agreement which was accepted then is to be carried out "unless otherwise amended or determined." This means that, on further consideration and particularly as the result of experience of the working of the agreed Scheme, changes in the Scheme may be found desirable, and a further agreement sanctioning these changes may be made. I certainly think it is wise to make provision for that eventuality. It is more than likely that modifications and alterations will be required in a complex scheme of this kind, and all the more so because we have had really no precedent whatsoever to work upon in framing our Agreement. It is impossible to state now whether the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill would be sufficient to enable any amended agreement to be applied to British ships or not. If they were insufficient, a further Bill would be necessary unless the provisions which are now inserted in Clause 3 were there.

I readily admit that the clause is an unusual one and requires special justification, but I think that this justification is to be found in the very special circumstances of the present situation and the importance of this country being in a position if the necessity arose to give prompt effect to any amendments of the present Scheme which may commend themselves to the members of the Non-Intervention Committee. That is too obvious for me to stress. The ultimate authority of Parliament in respect of any changes in the law introduced by an Order in Council giving effect to any further international agreement amending or supplementing the Observation Agreement is safeguarded by subsection (3), but I ought to make this point clear. Subsection (3) would not apply to Orders which are made merely for the purpose of giving effect to any arrangements made in pursuance of the provisions of the Observation Agreement as already accepted. It would not apply, for example, to any Orders that may be issued, as I have already explained, for exempting ships from harbour dues. I think that this is reasonable, but I want to emphasise once again that Parliament will be enabled to express its view on all new features which may be introduced into the Scheme later on.

There remains Clause 4, which is really largely a formal one, and I do not think I need do more than make some reference to subsection (5) which does require some little explanation. Subsection (5) deals with the following matters. It is a fundamental principle that the Bill will not be brought into force until the date when other maritime countries which are represented on the Committee will bring similar measures into operation. In consequence of that the date of operation of the Bill cannot be specified in advance, but it is to be left to be fixed by an Order issued by the Board of Trade. The provision that different days may be appointed in relation to different ships will be useful if it should be necessary to bring the Scheme into force at short notice, which we shall almost certainly have to do, when special arrangements may be requisite as regards ships which have commenced their voyage before the date of the operation of the Bill and have practically reached Spain on that date. I think I have explained the most important features of this Bill. I shall be only too glad to give any further explanation that I can in answer to any questions that may be submitted to me during the course of the debate, but I hope that, in view of the considerations to which I have drawn your Lordships' attention, you will be prepared to give this Bill a Second Reading.

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


My Lords, by the courtesy of my noble friend, I am saying a few words now. I have been asked by the noble Lords who usually sit upon these Benches to say that they fully recognise the need of this Bill, and that they will give it their hearty support. They think that it is a great achievement to have got through so important a Scheme in a comparatively short time, and they particularly wish to express their appreciation of the tact and diplomatic management that the noble Earl who is in charge of the Bill, and who has been Chairman of the Committee, must have shown during the long and I difficult negotiations. To bring nearly thirty countries into line on such a complex subject as this is something which deserves recognition. We have read in the newspapers of midnight oil, or rather electricity, being consumed, but I think the noble Earl has probably used a good deal of diplomatic oil as well. I heartily support the Bill.


My Lords, I would like on behalf of my noble friends to re-echo what has fallen from the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, in personal appreciation of what must have been a very difficult and arduous task for the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth. I heard a definition of what was not a diplomat the other day. A man who said "Yes" meant "Perhaps"; when he said "Perhaps" he meant "No," and if he said "No" he was not a diplomat. And there was a corollary which I expect one of the noble Lords on that Committee would be able to supply, but I shall not trouble your Lordships by referring to it. The noble Earl had no need, I am sure, to apologise to Opposition Peers in your Lordships' House for the short notice given of the introduction of this Bill and the laying of the White Paper, and I, therefore, need not apologise either for not giving him full notice of all the questions that I am going to raise I did my best this morning to send in such notice as I could.

This is a very important measure indeed, and contains very important precedents. It may have effects of the greatest moment. I make no apology therefore for trying to clarify one or two matters connected with it and making certain observations upon it. The first question I shall ask the noble Earl arises out of the speech that he made. I must say that I think he explained this measure very well, if he will allow me to say so. The measure itself is very ingenious and farseeing. I remember some of the difficulties of arranging for control of shipping during the Great War, and when you have to arrange these matters in conjunction with a number of other Powers you arouse a mass of difficulties and complexities. In all the circumstances I think the Bill itself is excellent, but I want to ask about certain matters arising out of the noble Earl's speech.

First of all, the Dominions are not in this. Are they to be invited to adhere? Secondly—and I think this is very important—having got so far, are we going to invite the Government of the United States of America to help us in this matter? I see that in that horrible episode at sea when a passenger ship, the "Mar Cantabrica," was bombed, there were two American passengers on board. I shall return to that in a moment. The United States is intimately concerned here—intimately concerned with the safety of seamen on their lawful occasions upon the high seas. I think that in the long run is of just as much importance as the principle of non-intervention. It involves the preservation and re-establishment, if possible, of the ancient laws of nations safeguarding the highways of the sea. I should think the United States Government might well be invited by a joint note from the Powers represented on the Committee to assist. If they will not assist, then we cannot help it.

I have not had time to read the whole of the White Paper, I freely confess, and I only read the Bill itself on my way to your Lordships' House this afternoon. What I should like to ask is when it is expected that this Scheme will come into force. If I understood the noble Earl aright similar measures must be passed by all the signatory Powers before this Bill comes into force.


All the maritime Powers. They will have to take similar measures to ourselves. Everybody is agreed already.


There are twenty-seven countries. If we take the maritime Powers that leaves out Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Luxembourg. All the others are maritime Powers. I am not cavilling and I am not complaining about the noble Earl's explanation, but I think we might have some more information about it. If we have to wait for twenty or more Powers to pass Bills through their Parliaments, where Parliaments exist, or to issue Ordinances, we may have to wait a long time and I can see endless opportunities for delay on the part of evilly disposed persons. I want to say on behalf of my Party—we have discussed this matter very fully in our councils from time to time—that we are still prepared to support a real non-intervention that works and is worked, and is honestly carried out. But we have had a very disillusioning lesson in the events of the last few months in Spain. I have before me a very remarkable article that appeared in The Times yesterday, which no doubt the noble Earl has read, on the subject of non-intervention in Spain. I regard The Times newspaper as being usually the mouthpiece of the Foreign Office. Certainly it is not over-favourable to the Government cause in Spain, and certainly it is not unsympathetic to the rebels in Spain, whom it has now taken to calling "Nationalists."

I would like to read a few sentences from that very remarkable article by a special correspondent in The Times. It says: Nearly all the air material of both sides entered Spain after the civil war began; three-quarters of it was sent in breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement, and most of that three-quarters with the connivance of foreign Governments. The next sentences I would like to quote read as follows: When at the end of January a diversion was required to relieve the deadlock round Madrid, the Malaga solution was chosen by the Italian advisers of Franco. It is improbable that Malaga would have been taken without the Italian contribution in infantry and the Italian and German bombardment by land and sea aeroplanes. Later in the article there appears this paragraph: There can be no doubt that foreign military aid first came from Italy and Germany. The Savoia aeroplanes which crashed in French territory in July were given their flying orders on July 17, before the revolt began, and the German bombers began to arrive at the beginning of August. The same article refers to the help sent—without the connivance, apparently, of the French Government—from French territory and the help from Russian sources. I do not want to avoid anything that might weaken my argument. These things are known. It is undoubtedly the fact that all this has been going on in spite of the Non-Intervention Committee.

That brings me to the questions of which I have given notice to the noble Earl. They are questions to which my noble friends in this House and my friends in another place attach great importance. Take the case of German or Italian merchant ships going to Spain. Will they have German national observers on board in the case of German ships and Italian national observers in the case of Italian ships? We do not want to make any accusations against any particular nation, and therefore we would like to see as a principle that observers should be of different nationality to the vessels in all cases. I would like to say at once as regards our own naval officers that, from what I know of both the Royal Navy and the Royal Naval Reserve, I am sure that whatever their political predilections may be if they are put to do a job they will do it honestly and conscientiously. But in view of what has happened in Spain I would not like to trust many other nationalities in this matter. Therefore we think that, if this Scheme is not to be a ridiculous and dangerous farce, the observers should be of different nationalities to the ships. It is, of course, known that German and Italian warships have been engaging in warlike operations. They have been giving information about Spanish Government merchant ships being in a certain position or on a certain course. They have given that information to the Rebel Government, and they have done a great many other things. These same warships under this Scheme are going to blockade or supervise the zone which is held by the Spanish Government. How are we to know that they are not going to continue these warlike of operations?

I would like to know if we are going to have real neutrality in connection with this horrible struggle that is going on in Spain. Take, for example, the case of merchant ships—Norwegian or Dutch if you like—carrying foodstuffs to Barcelona or one of the other ports in the territory held by the Spanish Government. Are they going to be held up, or does this Scheme apply only to munitions and weapons of war as generally understood? In answer to questions about the earlier Bill the noble Earl told your Lordships that foodstuffs, raw materials, coal, etc., are not contraband. Therefore I think it is very important that we should have some further information on this question. I am asked by members of my Party to put forward this proposal. It is not in the Scheme, but we think that it ought to follow as the next step. I know the noble Earl well enough to understand that he does not think the Scheme is complete and his labours at an end. I am sorry for him, but I know he understands that there is a great deal more to do. I think the next step should be to invite agreement that in all the blockading warships there should be neutral observers. We have nothing to hide and I am sure that we should be very glad to accommodate neutral officers, and it seems to me that it is essential, if non-intervention is to be made a reality, that there should be English or French observers, or Dutch or Norwegian observers, if you like, in these German and Italian ships-of-war.

What I am now going to say is, I submit of some importance. There have been piratical operations going on for some time. I say "piratical" advisedly. They are piratical; they are illegal, unrecognised and contrary to the law of nations. There have been piratical operations going on, carried out by the gunboats and other warships manned by the rebels. Is this still to go on? Are our ships going to be molested, after this Scheme comes into operation, by these gunboats? I have in my hand a newspaper cutting of last Monday with a report from the correspondent in Gibraltar of the Daily Herald—the same report appeared in other newspapers—of a British steamer which was chased by a Spanish rebel trawler in the Straits of Gibraltar. She was chased, but managed apparently to reach the Bay of Gibraltar and get inside it into British territorial waters in time.

Chased by a rebel gunboat—a British ship! We were told that our ships were going to be protected, when the last Bill on this matter came before your Lordships' House completely forbidding British merchant ships and their masters from carrying war material to Spain. We were told then that we were going to protect our ships. But this is a case happening last Sunday, of this British merchant ship on its lawful occasions, the "Springwear," told to stop and go into Ceuta to be searched. The captain ignored the ultimatum, put on steam and just managed to get in ahead of the rebel gunboat, into Gibraltar. He was carrying—note this, my Lords—a cargo of wheat from Rotterdam to Alicante. Now comes the sinister part of this whole matter. Within the Bay of Gibraltar at that time, within sight of these operations, were sixty-five of His Majesty's ships, flying among them eleven Admirals' flags. You had the concentration of the Home Fleet and the Mediterranean Fleet in Gibraltar Bay, and in broad daylight this rebel gunboat chases a British ship, fires upon it, under their very noses. What is done about it? Eleven Admirals, sixty-five of His Majesty's ships, the "embattled might of Britain's naval power," and an armed trawler insults and molests a British merchant ship and, if her gunnery had been better, might have killed the master, a British seaman.

The report goes on to say that these rebels are stopping ships of every nationality on the high seas. The Norwegian steamers "Erica" and "Breidbalk" arrived there from Ceuta arid their captains lodged a protest to their consuls at Gibraltar. They said that their vessels had been detained at Ceuta for a number of days and stripped of their cargoes of fruit. The cargoes, it was stated, were reshipped to Italy and Germany in Italian and German ships. Both vessels were bound for Norway, and the "Erica" was left with nothing on board but 15 tons of coal. My Lords, that is piracy. Those ships were not condemned in a prize court; they were not molested by a recognised belligerent. That is piracy. In the next column of the same paper, incidentally—I must refer to this—it mentions "25,000 more Italians for Spain; troops concentrating at Naples"; and says that they are being sent to Cadiz under the escort of an Italian man-of-war.


What date is this?


This is last Monday's paper, but I will give the noble Earl something much more recent than that! This is the Evening Standard, another paper which is usually sympathetic to the noble Earl and his Party.


Oh, is it!


Yes, the Evening Standard, the London Evening Standard, which usually supports the Government, especially whenever the Government do anything wrong; it attacks the Government on the rare occasions when the Government do something right. But at any rate I will leave that out. I do not understand the relationships between the noble Viscount who owns that paper, and who is a member of your Lordships' House, and who is a member, certainly, of the Conservative Party, and the Party opposite. But the paper is sympathetic to the rebels in Spain and it is unsympathetic to the Government in Spain, and therefore its testimony is of some value. This is in the Lunch Edition to-day: "French ship bombed; attacked from the air in the Mediterranean." And this is the sinister part of it: this ship was on her normal course between Phillippeville and Marseilles. She was a vessel proceeding between one French port and another French port. She was bombed from the air when east of Majorca and some material damage was done. Then the report goes on to describe the attack on Madrid that is going on at the present time, and it says that 16,000 men of the Italian Regular Army are leading the advance. Well, I think we have a right to ask whether, now that we have this Scheme in operation by the Bill before your Lordships' House, this sort of one-sided non-intervention will cease.


That is all in the past.


Well, I mean what is going to happen from now onwards, and particularly in regard to this molesting of and interfering with British ships on their lawful occasions by these rebel gunboats. Now take the case to which I referred just now, that of the "Mar Cantabrico," the Spanish ship which loaded munitions in New York and was fired on and sunk or damaged, I do not know which yet, by a cruiser under the control of the rebels. She was set on fire and some of her passengers were killed, I understand. Her passengers included, according to the announcement made in the News Bulletin of the British Broadcasting Corporation last night—I took it down—Americans and Italians. They included American citizens. She might just as well have had English passengers on board.

When an Englishman and his family go on board a merchant vessel of any nationality to go to any part of the world, they are entitled to the recognised laws for their protection. For a rebel cruiser to attack this ship and fire upon her in this way without ascertaining who she had on board was illegal. It is piracy. You cannot do these things. We protested against the German submarine campaign in the late War, but at any rate the Germans were belligerents and they did attempt to establish a blockade. They attempted to keep within the law. There is no blockade here, there is no recognition of belligerency; the whole matter is absolutely illegal. Is this going on? I see that a Dutch steamer has been taken into Ceuta and her cargo stolen—I am speaking legally: stolen—and the Dutch Government are sending a gunboat to protect Dutch shipping. But we have sixty-five men-of-war flying the White Ensign in Gibraltar Bay, under eleven Admirals, and we cannot protect a merchant ship from attack by an armed trawler because she is under the control of General Franco! Is this sort of thing going to stop—cases like that of the "Springwear"—and has the noble Lord any undertaking or belief that it will stop?

Next I refer to the case of mine-laying—the laying of submarine mines. We have already had one ship badly damaged, the "Llandovery Castle," by mine-laying in the open sea. That is absolutely illegal, the sowing of mine-fields; it is against the law of nations. I do not know whether we are protesting. We are having to divert our ships out of their proper courses because of the laying of mine-fields by these pirates. I am speaking in the legal sense; they are pirates within International Law. On these matters I was able to give notice to the noble Earl, and I should be glad if he would give us some comfort. But now I have to raise one or two other Questions, and I apologise to the noble Earl because I had not time to give him notice of them.

They are, I think, of importance. Japan is not in this Scheme. Like the Americans, the Japanese are not in this Scheme, but the Americans have a Neutrality Act, which has passed through Congress, fort bidding American nationals to export war material to any part of Spain. The Japanese, as far as I know, have no such Act or Order in Council. What happens with regard to Japanese ships? I should have thought the next step, if I might venture the observation, would be to invite the Japanese to adhere to the Scheme. Secondly, there is nothing to prevent General Franco and his junta from buying German ships or Italian ships and sailing them under the rebel flag. Will any sort of control be exercised there?

I listened very carefully to the noble Earl's explanation of what these observers can do about opening cases and packages on board and verifying the crews on board. All that seems all right. But what will they do if they find that this vessel which they have boarded, say in the Downs or at Cherbourg, on the way to Cadiz, a port in rebel-controlled territory, is loaded with artillery and weapons? They will, I presume, report it to the Committee in London; they will report it to the noble Earl.




They will? Then hat do the Committee do? To whom do they report it?


To the International Board.


I see. Then you have a British officer on board a Belgian vessel, for example, sailing to Cadiz, and he finds in the course of his duties that it is full of ammunition. He reports it to the noble Earl and the noble Earl reports it through his machinery, whatever it may be, to a Board or the Committee. Then hat happens? In the meantime the vessel has been unloaded. She has gone on to Cadiz and she is cleared.


I thought you understood that.


But then, how do you prevent it?


You do not.


You do not prevent it? Then it is rather like the way you have exercised non-intervention so far, to the tune of 100,000 Germans and Italians or thereabouts in Spain who certainly are not there without the permission of their respective Governments. I noted what the noble Earl said about alterations to the Scheme and alterations to the Bill, and I see there is a clause—which I welcome—in the Bill for putting such required alterations into effect. I hope that some tightening up will be brought about in that sort of case. As I said, I make no apology for raising these points. This is an entirely new principle. This is a precedent we are establishing. It is very important, and I think these matters should be examined arid cleared up.

Now when the Board, or the noble Earl and his machinery, get the reports of these breaches of the Non-Intervention Agreement, is the matter published? Is it made known that there have been breaches of the Agreement? Or does the noble Earl, the next time he meets this Committee, just regret—as I am sure he would do—any breaches, and that is to be the end of it? So far his Committee have been sitting in secret, and I do not want to probe into their secrets. But if the whole Scheme is to be kept secret now, and breaches are not to be made known to the world. I think there are loopholes for evasion. There is one other matter of which I have not been able to give notice. There is no control of the air. I humbly suggest that that is one of the matters which ought now to be taken in hand. I Know the difficulties, but aeroplanes are now becoming much larger. They can carry a lot of cargo, and I think the air should in some way be controlled. Those are specific questions that I venture to put to the noble Earl, and I think they are worth answering.

Generally, I should like to make these brief observations. My Party are prepared to support this policy of nonintervention, and any means that will help to make it effective. Therefore we are prepared to give facilities for this Bill to go through in one day, and we do not want it to be delayed, either here or in another place. But we are legalising something illegal, and we do not like it—we admit that. The legal position is well established. The legal position, which we have discussed in your Lordships' House before, is that the recognised Government of Spain has the right to buy arms, and the rebels have not. Nevertheless, in view of all the circumstances, we have to support anything that will make the policy of non-intervention effective, and I go a little further. However unpromising this particular field, this is an experiment in international co-operation which may be very useful in the future. I am one of those who believe that our major world problems can only be solved by international co-operation.

Now what are we going to do next? I do not mean on the details of air control and the other suggestions that are made, but what is the Government's major policy now? Having established this blockade of the Spanish coast, are we just going to sit back and let the combatants fight it out? Are we going to play the part of nautical Pharisees, and do nothing more? For the Spanish Government, to my mind, is like the man who fell among thieves, who despitefully used him. The Pharisees in this case, instead of passing by on the other side, are preventing the good Samaritans from helping. And in this case the Pharisees are calling in the original thieves to assist in this operation of preventing the good Samaritans from going to the help of the man who was robbed and injured. Well, I suppose all this can be justified by His Majesty's Government on the ground of expediency. I was very much impressed, I must say, by a sentence which fell from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House last week, in answering my noble friend Lord Arnold, when he said that he did not believe in the inevitability of war. I was delighted to hear it. He quoted as an example the undoubted fact that any of the major Powers that wanted it could have had a war about Spain at any time. That made a great impression on me, because I felt in my bones it was true. And therefore you can justify a great deal on the ground of expediency. But I do not think you can now sit back with justification and do nothing else.

I should like to think that this is a new breathing space, and that this Scheme which we are discussing this afternoon will give time. Time for what? Not to let these two parties in Spain fight it out, with terrible slaughter and destruction in a beautiful country—the slaughter of a people with fine qualities, a splendid people, one of the mother races of the world, one of the great pioneering, navigating peoples of the world. Whoever knows them must respect them. It is abominable to allow this destruction and slaughter and cruelty to go on, and I hope, now that we can get this breathing space, there will be an effort at joint mediation. I think it will be a crime on the part of all concerned—I am not making any special charges against His Majesty's present advisers—if they allow this devastating conflict to go on. I do not expect an answer on this matter from the noble Earl. It is a question of high policy. But I do ask your Lordships to support me at any rate in these last words. I say that if there is the least chance of joint mediation to stop this horrible campaign in Spain it will be very wrong to miss it. I hope His Majesty's Government will be vigilant in looking for some opportunity of bringing in possibly the New World—North and South America, especially South America, with its intimate ties with Spain—to see if we can do something by joint mediation. Then, if the other Parties to this Agreement, the other nautical Powers, the Italians and the Germans, are willing, I believe mediation might succeed. If His Majesty's Government can do anything in that matter I am sure they will have the blessing of every right-minded man in the whole world.


My Lords, this is one of the most complicated Bills that have been introduced into this House for a very long time. In ordinary circumstances it would go to a Select Committee, which would require six or eight weeks to consider its far-reaching implications, and then it would have to have very full consideration here in this House. It is a Bill full of omissions. We have no guarantee whatever that the other twenty or thirty Powers who are to be associated with it are going to accept the basis laid down in this Bill. Even contraband is not defined. The noble Lord who has just spoken seemed to think it would be easy to bring this Bill into effect. I am much more concerned as to how we are going to extricate ourselves from it later on.

But, even so, it is not going to be easy to bring it into effect. As to these observers on a ship like the one mentioned by the noble Lord, the "Marcantabrico"—the master of that ship or of any ship being taken to a Spanish port would have no scruples whatever in carrying the observer into a Spanish port, and, as not one in fifty of our observers tan talk Portuguese or Catalonian, they would be at the mercy of the governing authority in that port. The ship would be calmly unloaded unless His Majesty' ships are going to have the power of search at sea and interception. That, I gather, is not contemplated. It seems to me we are in a very embarrassing position. I am only going to say a word or two, but I would point out what my noble friend Lord Plymouth said about the variation of zones. Power is taken to vary zones. I do not know how far it is authorised, but the newspapers have published maps of Spain showing the zones allotted to different Powers. My noble friend says there will be power to vary these zones. Supposing a Power entrusted with a zone gets tired and says, "We are going to withdraw," I hope we shall be very cautious in extending our zone. We do not want to be left, the sole country, with one zone surrounding the whole Iberian Peninsula.

Lord Strabolgi was friendly towards the temperament of the Good Samaritan which he thought was being shown by Lord Plymouth and his colleagues. We lave tried to be the Good Samaritan in the last few years. We have done our Lest to preserve neutrality. We did it in the Far East. We incurred the hostility of Japan, but we acquired very little gratitude from China. In Abyssinia we took our share in the blockade of that country. We were almost the last in the blockade. We got the hostility of Italy, but the Abyssinians call us traitors. In Palestine we try, by neutrality, to hold the balance between Jew and Moslem, and from the publications which these two communities send to me we seem to be equally disliked and distrusted by both. Now comes Spain. We take a zone. I think it is a very dangerous thing to do. I am desperately frightened that one of His Majesty's great ships may be mined. I think that is a real danger. There is a clause at the end of the Bill which says that the moment His Majesty is so advised by his Ministers an Order in Council can end this blockade. I only express a very fervent hope to my noble friend Lord Plymouth that the moment other countries—following the analogy of Ethiopia, if you like—withdraw from this international covenant, we shall not be slow, we shall not be hesitating, in putting that Order in Council into force.


My Lords, I am grateful to the House for the reception that has beer given to this Bill generally and for the recognition on the part of your Lordships that this is an emergency measure brought up in this way to meet a particular situation, and that that is its main justification. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me a number of questions and dealt with a number of aspects of this situation which were not perhaps strictly relevant to the actual Bill we are now discussing but which nevertheless, as the noble Lord was kind enough to give me notice he was going to raise these questions, I shall attempt to answer to the best of my ability. He first of all asked if there was any intention on the part of the Government to invite the Dominions and the United States of America to co-operate with the non-intervention Powers in order to make this supervision scheme effective. Closely connected with that subject was the matter of Japanese ships to which he alluded. I am afraid I cannot give him a categorical answer on that subject but, quite clearly, that is an aspect of the difficult position with which we are faced which has not escaped our attention, and undoubtedly we shall have to consider whether any action in that direction ought to be or can be properly taken.

Then he asked when this Scheme was going to commence operation. He pointed out that if all the Powers had to take measures to give effect to the Agreement it might take a long time and there would be considerable delay. I assure him that I fully realise the difficulty there is in getting complete agreement and simultaneous action on the part of as many Powers as we have on the Non-Intervention Committee; but I feel in practice that if all the important Powers have taken the necessary legislative or administrative measures to give effect to this Agreement, there will be no further delay in the commencement of the operation of the Scheme apart from the physical difficulties of building up your organisation and getting your personnel on the spot. I can assure the noble Lord that all the parties to this Agreement are anxious to see this Scheme operated at the earliest possible moment, and to my mind that is the best guarantee that it will be put into operation at the earliest feasible date.

He raised the question of what the position would be with regard to the nationality of observers on ships that came under this Scheme. Perhaps I can explain and clear away his doubts on this subject. The allocation of observers will be decided by the administrator or the deputy-administrator in charge of the various observation ports. These will be responsible persons who will be nominated by the unanimous vote of the Non-Intervention Committee. That is one of the conditions. I think it is perfectly safe to assume that they will take all the necessary measures, all the necessary steps, to ensure that the Scheme is administered, so far as they are individually concerned at any rate, as efficiently and impartially as possible. Therefore the noble Lord can take it for granted that the nationality of the observers will, as a general rule, not be the same as that of the ship. In fact, it must also be remembered that there must be two observers on most ships, and sometimes more, if it were found necessary, in the case of a large ship. Therefore it would be perfectly easy to ensure that at least one of these observers is not a national of the same country to which the ship belonged. In addition to that, there is this further guarantee and protection, that the Committee will have the ultimate control over all questions of this kind which have anything of a political aspect in connection with them. I really feel that on that score we need have no qualms.

Then he asked me what would be the position so far as the food ships are concerned, and whether it would be possible for them to pass into the various ports on the Spanish seaboard. I think that on this point it would be best for me to make clear to him of what the powers and duties of the patrolling ships consist. The duties and privileges of the naval vessels engaged in observation off the Spanish coast are set out in some detail in the Agreement. These vessels will have the power to board ships that are bound for Spain in order to verify their identity and so on, but they will have no right of search and still less any power to prevent any ship from completing its voyage. I can assure him that any case where a naval vessel exceeded its duties in that respect would very quickly come to the notice of the International Committee and appropriate measures would then be taken. He asked me another question in that connection. He asked me whether neutral observers were going to be placed on these vessels. We have not considered that question. It is not one that has been discussed at any length at any rate on the Committee, and therefore I am not in a position to say anything further than that it is open to any member of the Committee to raise any point such as that at any time with a view to trying to strengthen the Scheme itself in the light of experience that has been reached, or, indeed, for any other reason that is thought satisfactory.

Then the noble Lord raised directly the case of the "Springwear." May I put the position so far as it is known to us at the present moment? It is not really correct to say that the "Spring-wear" was chased into Gibraltar by an armed trawler, nor indeed was she fired on by the trawler. She was quite peaceably sent into Gibraltar with a complaint that the Nationalist authorities had definite information that she was carrying contraband of some kind, war material I think, an allegation of which, if you have regard to the Merchant Shipping Act of last year, we clearly had to take cognisance. We do know now, as a matter of fact, that she was not inside territorial waters when she was stopped, and we shall therefore protest against this interference with a British ship on the high seas, which has been our attitude in regard to this matter all along. I do not think this interference could, at any rate, be interpreted as being piracy, as the noble Lord has suggested, as there was no attempt made of any kind to capture the ship. That is the position with regard to the "Springwear" herself. I might add to what I have already said that, after we had adopted this policy of forbidding merchant ships to carry arms from any source to Spain, the Nationalist authorities issued instructions to their naval vessels to the effect that British merchant ships are never to be detained n the high seas, and that in any case of suspicion the Spanish warship is to communicate with Gibraltar, in order that steps may be taken under our own law, if is found that it is necessary.


Is the noble Earl referring to the Spanish Government vessels? Does he mean the Spanish Government vessels?


No, it refers to General Franco's vessels. I was not aware of the fact that I had, as a matter of fact, used the word "Nationalist." Then the noble Lord raised the question of the laying of mines. The view of His Majesty's Government on this point is that the laying of mines not justified except where prior and adequate notice has been given by the Spanish authorities concerned. Warnings have been received from time to time from the insurgent authorities to the effect that certain specified ports on the Mediterranean coast had been declared to be 'closed" by mining. His Majesty's Ambassador has been instructed, in consequence, to protest to General Franco against his failure to notify His Majesty's Government of the intention to lay mines in waters which are remote from, and can in no circumstances be regarded as approaches to, the ports in regard to which warnings had been previously issued, and notably in the case of the 'Llandovery Castle."

Then the noble Lord asked me: If you have an observer on board a ship and that observer catches the boat on which he has been stationed outright in an attempt to import arms or war materials into Spain, what then will happen? The first thing that would happen is that this would be reported to the Board. The Eoard would, no doubt, report it to the Committee, and as a result of that notification the representatives of the Governments represented on that Committee would naturally communicate this to their own Governments, and those Governments would have to decide for themselves what action could be appropriately taken. But this I must point out to the noble Lord and emphasise, because it is a basic fact that must be realised before you can understand the object of our Scheme: we have, and the servants of the International Board will have, no executive powers whatsoever. This Scheme is not based upon executive power, or upon any attempt to give these officers authority to take action to stop things going to Spain, to order boats back and all the rest of it. It is based purely and simply on the principle of observation, and that is why I said, when the noble Lord asked me, that we could not in a case of that kind stop material from actually going in. But we believe that as a result of this observation, which we hope will be a strict and complete one, the necessary confidence will be restored and the necessary assurances will be forthcoming to the Powers concerned that this Agreement will be adhered to all round.

The difficulty all the way up until now has been that, although the individual Powers were agreed and indeed anxious to take measures to stop this inflow of volunteers and war material into Spain, they were not prepared to take them unless there was in operation a scheme which assured them that effective measures could be taken to observe as to whether the Scheme was being honoured by all parties concerned. Therefore it is quite obvious that these officers can have no executive powers in the circumstances, and at the same time, in consequence, it must be made perfectly clear that each Power which is a party to this Agreement is at liberty, at any time when in its view it does not think the Scheme is working satisfactorily and that breaches of it are occurring, to withdraw from the Agreement and take what action it thinks right in the circumstances. I think those are the main questions that the noble Lord asked me.

The noble Earl, Lord Crawford, expressed in a few words his fears as to the efficacy of the Scheme and the consequences that it might have. I share to a certain extent his fears. As I pointed out during the course of my speech, there is no precedent for a scheme of this kind. We have devised a Scheme that we think is best in the circumstances. I believe that with good will on all sides it will operate effectively, but there are quite obviously many loopholes and many dangers that we may have to face. Of that I am perfectly aware. I can only plead, as I said at the commencement of my speech, that this is an emergency measure which is brought in to deal with very special circumstances indeed, and it is on that ground that I ask your Lordships not to examine into it or criticise it with the same detail as you would examine into and criticise other measures. I can only repeat as my last remark that I hope and believe, with the good will and co-operation which there are on all sides in regard to this matter, that this Scheme will work, and will effectively isolate the war in Spain and prevent it from spreading outside that country.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at five minutes before six o'clock.