Oral Answers to Questions — Spain.

– in the House of Commons on 23rd March 1938.

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Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth North

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware that the Spanish Ministry of National Defence issued on 14th March a note alleging that General Veidt, Commander Neudorfer, Commander Hermann, Commander Schultze, Captain Schroeder, Commander Fischer, and Commander Zielberg were German officers taking part in the insurgent offensive in Aragon; and whether in view of these allegations, he will cause immediate inquiry to be made in Berlin by His Majesty's Ambasador to ascertain the present whereabouts of these indivduals and whether they are, as alleged, members of the German armed forces?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have seen the statement referred to, but I do not consider that the action suggested by the hon. Member would serve any useful purpose.

Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth North

Is it not recognised officially that interference and intervention in Spain of Germany on the scale suggested is of supreme importance for the preservation of the peace of the world, and is it not the duty of His Majesty's Government to find out about it and to inform the House of Commons?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I cannot deny its importance, but it is a matter for the Non-intervention Committee.

Photo of Mr Thomas Williams Mr Thomas Williams , Don Valley

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether these allegations have been submitted by His Majesty's representative to the Non-intervention Committee and if so, with what result?

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

What are the means taken by the Non-intervention Committee to find out these facts? Have they developed any system of finding them out? If such matters are brought to the notice of His Majesty's Government do they, of their own accord, submit them to the Non-intervention Committee?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The procedure for submitting matters to the Non-intervention Committee involves the Government concerned taking responsibility for verifying the facts.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

That is really not an answer to my question. When these matters are brought to the notice of His Majesty's Government do His Majesty's Government endeavour to verify the facts? If that is not done, how does the Non-intervention Committee obtain any information?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Naturally His Majesty's Government try to verify any facts brought to their notice, but that is a different question to putting them before the Non-intervention Committee.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

Have the Government made any attempt to find out whether there are, in fact, 30,000 Germans and 100,000 Italians in Spain?

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Kingswinford

asked the Prime Minister whether any reply has been received from the Vatican authorities, following the approach of His Majesty's Government and the French Government that the Vatican should be associated with their appeal to both parties in Spain to stop the bombardment of civilian populations?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Edgbaston

The representations made by His Majesty's Government to the Vatican were not such as to call for a reply. I understand, however, that the Vatican are deeply interested in the prevention of air attacks on civilians in Spain, and they are no doubt taking such action as they consider best calculated to achieve this end.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Kingswinford

Is it the intention of His Majesty's Government and other Governments that the Vatican should be associated with their protests to General Franco; and is it not desirable that the Vatican should express the fact that it will associate itself?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Edgbaston

The hon. Member has asked a question on that subject before, and I have told him what steps the French Government and our own are taking. I now tell him again that the Vatican are taking presumably their own steps, and are not associating themselves with the steps that we are taking.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Kingswinford

asked the Prime Minister whether any reply has been received from the Spanish insurgent authorities in Spain to the protest addressed to them following the bombardment of Barcelona?

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

Would the Prime Minister consider publishing the text of the protest sent to General Franco about the bombing of Barcelona?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Edgbaston

The gist of it has been given. I do not know that there is any object in publishing the text.

Photo of Mr Richard Acland Mr Richard Acland , Barnstaple

asked the Prime Minister which nations, being members of the Non-intervention Committee, have expressed themselves as unwilling, or have not expressed themselves as willing, to accept the British proposals as a basis for discussion; and what steps have been taken in the last five weeks either to persuade such nations to change their point of view or to amend the British proposals so as to make them acceptable to all members of the Committee?

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

asked the Prime Minister what Governments represented on the Non-intervention Committee have not yet accepted the British formula for the evacuation of foreign troops from Spain?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

As I have already stated on many occasions, the proceedings of the Non-intervention Committee are confidential, and I am not, therefore, able to give the information desired.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The question on the Paper has been answered, and I have called the next question.

Photo of Mr Richard Acland Mr Richard Acland , Barnstaple

On a point of Order. May I not be allowed to put one supplementary question to one of my own questions?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The hon. Member has received an answer that the Minister has nothing more to say.

Photo of Mr William Greene Mr William Greene , Worcester

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the protest sent by His Majesty's Government to General Franco with regard to the bombing of Barcelona, whether he will give a definition of what is held to be an open town; and why the town of Barcelona, in which are situated the seat of government, the offices of the government departments, military bases, munition factories, docks, and railways available for the transport of troops and munitions, is classed as an open town and, therefore, immune to attack?

Photo of Mr Neville Chamberlain Mr Neville Chamberlain , Birmingham, Edgbaston

As explained to the House by the late Foreign Secretary on 2nd February, the rules of international law as to what constitutes a military objective are undefined, and pending the conclusion of the examination of this question which, as he stated, was being undertaken by the competent Departments of His Majesty's Government, I am not in a position to make any statement on the subject. The one definite rule of international law, however, is that the direct and deliberate bombing of non-combatants is in all circumstances illegal, and His Majesty's Government's protest was based on information which led them to the conclusion that the bombardment of Barcelona, carried on apparently at random and without special aim at military objectives, was in fact of this nature.

Photo of Mr William Greene Mr William Greene , Worcester

Is it the case that there is absolutely no definition of an open town?

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Roberts Mr Wilfrid Roberts , Cumberland Northern

Did not the hon. Member who put this question protest against the bombardment of Madrid, which was exactly similar?

Photo of Marquess of  Titchfield Marquess of Titchfield , Newark

asked the Prime Minister whether British interests are being carried on in areas of Spain occupied by the Government and insurgent forces respectively; and whether any have been confiscated without compensation?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Yes, Sir. British undertakings in both areas in Spain are being carried on so far as circumstances permit. There have, however, been numerous instances on both sides of the assets of wholly or partially British-owned enterprises benig seized without compensation by the authorities. As regards the losses suffered by firms with a substantial British interest in the territory under the control of the Spanish Government, by processes such as collectivisation, workers' intervention or intervention by the State, I would refer my Noble Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner) on 13th December last.

Duchess of Atholl:

Did not the Catalonian Government, which carried out a certain measure of compulsory collectivisation in 1936, say that it was not intended to be regarded as confiscation, and that everything possible would be done to protect the rights of British subjects?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am glad to have that information.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the official statement of General Franco last week that the number of foreign combatants in the Nationalist forces has decreased by about 20 per cent. compared with a year ago; that the number of foreign troops only reaches 5 per cent. of the total forces in the Army, and that no other foreign combatants are on their way to Spain; and whether these facts have been presented to the Non-intervention Committee in connection with the proposals for the withdrawal of foreigners from Spain?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Yes, Sir. My attention has been drawn to this statement. I have no doubt that the Non-intervention Committee will take into consideration all relevant information in framing their proposals for the withdrawal of foreign volunteers.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the statement of General Franco last week declaring that the status quo in the Mediterranean will not be modified by any act of the Nationalist Government; that no territory will be taken from Spain for the profit of a foreign Power, and that the essence of his movement is the independence of Spain and the territorial integrity of Spain; and whether he will note this declaration of Spanish independence and express Great Britain's interest in the freedom of that country at the conclusion of the civil war?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Yes, Sir. My attention has been drawn to this statement. It is the desire of His Majesty's Government that, whichever side is victorious in the present conflict, the independence and territorial integrity of Spain should remain intact.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the specific information that a large number of volunteers have entered the frontiers of Spain under the control of the Government of Barcelona in violation of non-intervention and since the general acceptance of the principle of the British proposal for the withdrawal of volunteers; that 25 officers of superior rank have been supplied to the Barcelona Government in recent months by France; whether he has the details of the quantities of tanks, aeroplanes, lorries, heavy guns, field guns, machine guns, automatic rifles, and cartridges supplied to Barcelona from foreign sources; and whether he is aware that practically the whole of the munitions and materials captured in recent actions is of foreign manufacture, supplied by countries which are partners in the Non-intervention Committee; and whether he will bring these facts to the attention of the Non-Intervention Committee?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have no confirmation of these reports; the last part of the question does not, therefore, arise.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

Will my hon. Friend accept definite information on this subject if it can be provided, with a full list of the names and categories of all these armaments, and see that it is conveyed to the Non-intervention Committee?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I am always ready to study any information that my hon. and gallant Friend sends me.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

Will the Government consider sending the hon. and gallant Gentleman to Spain to be an observer on the spot?

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the statement by His Majesty's Government that the bombardment of the civil population of Barcelona and other Spanish towns is a violation of the principles of international law, His Majesty's Government will now permit the Spanish Government to purchase anti-aircraft guns and fighting aircraft; and, if not, by what means does he propose that this vital rule of international law should be upheld?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Any such alteration in the list of prohibited war material as is suggested by the hon. Member could obviously not be undertaken by His Majesty's Government alone. As regards the second part of the question, they believe that the rules of international law can best be upheld by themselves adhering to them and by reminding those who fail to do so of the condemnation which their action is bound to call forth from all civilised peoples.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

In view of the fact that it has been proved many times in recent months that those who are using these methods of warfare care nothing whatever for verbal protests, is it not time that some concrete action was taken to protect civilian populations from military attack which the Government themselves condemn?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I think there is an indication that attention has been paid to the recent protest of His Majesty's Government.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

asked the Prime Minister when the attention of the German and Italian Governments was last called to their alleged breaches of the Non-intervention Agreement; and with what result?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The last complaint submitted under the procedure of the Nonintervention Committee against the Italian and German Governments was on 11th November, 1936, that is before the system of international observation was established early in 1937. The committee found at that date that it was impossible to prove to their satisfaction that there had been a breach of the agreement.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

Are we to understand that the attention of neither the German nor the Italian Government has been called to these breaches since 1936?

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

How long is this mockery going on?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Are we to understand from the answer that, in spite of the information which the Non-intervention Committee has received, there has been no breach of the agreement in the last 12 months?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

No, I did not say that.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Are we to understand that there has been a breach of the agreement in that period?

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

What is the difficulty? Why is not the attention of these Governments called to these breaches?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

As I said earlier this afternoon, if any Government takes responsibility for bringing a matter before the Non-Intervention Committee, it must be convinced of the facts of the situation, and that the facts are correct, before it does so.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

Were the breaches of the Non-intervention Agreement which were detailed to this House by the late Foreign Secretary brought before the Nonintervention Committee?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

In my answer to the question of the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) I gave the last date on which such a matter was brought before the committee.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

Did not the late Foreign Secretary declare that he must confess that these breaches had been far greater in the case of Russia during recent months?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that the Government will make inquiries into these alleged breaches of the Non-Intervention Agreement and will bring them before the Non-Intervention Committee?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

These breaches give His Majesty's Government as much cause for anxiety as the right hon. Gentleman, and we shall certainly continue to examine the matter.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

asked the Prime Minister how many authenticated breaches of the Non-Intervention Agreement by Germany and Italy have come to the knowledge of the Government; and whether he will give particulars?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

As I stated on 21st March, in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), it is common knowledge that both parties in Spain have received help in men and material from foreign sources. The hon. and gallant Member will realise that it is extremely difficult to obtain confirmation of specific breaches of the Non-Intervention Agreement, and I cannot, therefore, give particulars for the accuracy of which I could not vouch.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

Will the hon. Gentleman accept my statement that I have myself seen in Spain breaches of this agree- ment, in that I have seen the identity book of a pilot, who was brought down within an hour of my seeing it, showing that he was only commissioned on 31st October, 1937? Is not that a clear and authenticated breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I shall be glad to see any material the hon. and gallant Gentleman submits to me.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

Will the hon. Gentleman take action upon it, and bring it before the Non-Intervention Committee?

Photo of Miss Ellen Wilkinson Miss Ellen Wilkinson , Jarrow

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the recent speeches that have been made by the present ruler of Italy, detailing the intervention for which he has been responsible?

Photo of Captain Archibald Ramsay Captain Archibald Ramsay , Peebles and Southern

asked the Prime Minister whether he has received any reports from the representatives in Spain of His Majesty's Government, and whether he will inquire from General Franco's representatives in this country regarding the recent official declaration of the Valencia Government to the effect that 30,000 German soldiers have been landed in Spain since 14th March; and whether this declaration of the Valencia Government is borne out by the reports of His Majesty's representatives in Spain?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply which the Prime Minister gave on 21st March to a similar question put by the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl).

Photo of Captain Archibald Ramsay Captain Archibald Ramsay , Peebles and Southern

Is my hon. Friend aware that these allegations put about by the Valencia Government bear the same relation to the truth as the bogus evidence in the Moscow trials?

Duchess of Atholl:

Will the hon. Gentleman look at the question I put two days ago? He will see that the 30,000 German persons to whom I referred were technicians—not the 30,000 storm troopers now referred to?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

These rumours cover a good many different categories. I am bound to say that we regard these figures as false.

Miss Rathbone:

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether there were any Spanish insurgent ships standing by at the time of the sinking of the "Baleares"; if so, what were their names; and whether they made any offers to assist in the rescue of the crew of the "Baleares"?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. The second part of the question, therefore, does not arise.

Miss Rathbone:

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will publish the list of names of the commissioned officers who were rescued from the insurgent vessel "Baleares" on 6th March; and whether any steps were taken and, if so, of what nature, to discover and verify the nationality of those officers?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I regret that I am not in possession of the names of the commissioned officers rescued from the "Baleares." As regards the second part of the question, I would refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Cumberland, North (Mr. W. Roberts) on 14th March last, to which I have nothing to add.

Miss Rathbone:

Assuming that evidence of this kind is available—evidence of breaches of the Non-Intervention Agreement—ought not efforts to be made to ascertain these particulars?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I am informed that at the time of the rescue the sea was covered many inches thick with oil fuel, and that all the survivors were smothered in it. They had to be scrubbed down, and the bulk of them were wounded. The hon. Lady must realise that, in these conditions, it is quite impossible to ascertain such particulars.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Roberts Mr Wilfrid Roberts , Cumberland Northern

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty the names and number of battleships, cruisers, flotilla leaders, and destroyers which adhered to the Spanish insurgents at the outbreak of the present hostilities in Spain; whether the insurgents are now in possession of any other warships of these classes; and, if so, whether His Majesty's Government have any information as to the origin of these vessels?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

At the outbreak of the present hostilities in Spain one battleship, "Espana," four cruisers, "Almirante Cervantes," "Baleares," "Canarias" and "Republica," no flotilla leaders, and one destroyer, "Valesco," adhered to the insurgent cause. In the late autumn of last year, according to our information, General Franco's forces received four additional destroyers; and as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs indicated on 16th March, there have been reports that these vessels were of Italian origin. There is no information which suggests that General Franco has received any other vessels of the classes mentioned.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Roberts Mr Wilfrid Roberts , Cumberland Northern

Is it not a fact that 64 destroyers were of Italian origin and that the names of two of them were "Falco" and "Aquila," and is that not a breach, not only of the Non-Intervention Agreement, but of the Washington Treaty?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I do not think I am authorised or competent to deal with that.

Photo of Mr Albert Alexander Mr Albert Alexander , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Has the Admiralty, in addition to information about those classes, information as to the reinforcement of Franco's forces by a large number of Italian submarines?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will put that down. Submarines are not specifically mentioned in the question.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the fact that, on 16th October, 1937, Lord Plymouth stated that unless agreement on the Non-Intervention Committee was reached within a short space of time the British Government would reserve to themselves the right to resume complete liberty of action, whether the Government will fix a specific early date upon which agreement must be reached, failing which they will lift the ban on the supply of arms and volunteers to the Government of Spain?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

His Majesty's Government have never wavered in their intention to do everything in their power to bring about a more effective application by the Governments concerned of the policy of non-intervention. At the time of the statement to which the hon. Member refers, the proposals of His Majesty's Government for the withdrawal of foreign volunteers were under consideration. As a result of their efforts, His Majesty's Government since that date have secured the adoption in principle by all the Governments represented on the Committee of the British plan of 14th July last. Moreover, as the hon. Member is aware, a new British formula in connection with the withdrawal of volunteers has been put forward for the discussion of the foreign Governments concerned. In these circumstances I am not prepared to tie the hands of the United Kingdom representative on the Committee in the manner suggested.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Kingswinford

When is the committee going to meet?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

At present informal negotiations are proceeding.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

asked the Prime Minister when the last meeting of the chairman's sub-committee of the Non-Intervention Committee was held; what is the cause of the present deadlock; and when the next meeting of the sub-committee will be held?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The last meeting of the chairman's sub-committee was held on 3rd February and no further meeting has yet been fixed. As regards the rest of the question, I have nothing to add to the statement which I made on 21st March in answer to a similar question by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks).

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

In view of the allegations that large-scale intervention has been going on is it not desirable that the matter should be cleared up at an early date in order to secure the early withdrawal of volunteers?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The negotiations to which I have referred are continuing to take place, and no doubt these matters are receiving consideration.

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

Is it left entirely to the discretion of the chairman when the committee is to meet?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I should like notice of that question.