– in the House of Commons on 30th May 1938.
asked the Prime Minister whether he is prepared to make a further statement in regard to the scheme for the withdrawal of volunteers from the two forces in the Spanish conflict; and why there is delay in the adoption of the proposals in the Non-Intervention Committee?
I am glad to be able to say that at the meeting of the Chairman's Sub-Committee which was held on 26th May, very considerable progress was made. All the Governments concerned have now accepted the British formula which furnishes a definition of the "substantial progress" in the withdrawal of foreign volunteers provided for in the British plan of 14th July last. Three new proposals were put forward by the United Kingdom representative designed to dispose of difficulties which had arisen in connection with the date for the restoration of observation, the balancing of the sea and land observation schemes, and the method of withdrawing volunteers. These proposals were accepted by all the representatives present, with the exception of the Soviet representative. Agreement was also reached on nearly all the provisions of the Draft Resolution, apart from a number of reservations on the part of the Soviet representative. Further meetings of the Sub-Committee have been fixed for this week, when I earnestly hope that the progress recorded at the last meeting may be consolidated by the adherence of the Soviet Government.
Would it, therefore, appear that the reluctance to withdraw foreign nationals lies on the side of the Republican Government and their supporters?
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the proposals to which objection is taken by the Soviet Government are sufficient to prevent considerable supplies of war material from reaching General Franco by sea, even during the operation of the closing of the French frontier?
That is a matter of opinion. We attach importance to the British plan if it is accepted in toto, and we hope to gain the adherence of the Soviet Government.
Is it possible for the Soviet Government's embargo to hold up the whole agreement indefinitely?
This matter has been discussed by all the members of the Non-Intervention Committee, and the Governments concerned are those which are represented on the Committee.
I would like the Minister to answer what Governments—[interruption.]
Is it not clear that the objections of the Soviet Government are to the details of the plan, and not to the wish to have foreign combatants removed from Spain; and will the hon. Member not, therefore, repudiate the suggestion that was made just now across the Floor of the House that the Soviet Government are hostile to the withdrawal of foreign combatants from Spain?
As I have said before, I cannot answer for another Government. We have done our best by putting for- ward our plan, and we are attempting to gain the adherence of the Soviet Government to that plan.
Are not these objections the same as those of the Spanish Government to the—[Interruption.]
asked the Prime Minister whether any reply has yet been received from the insurgent authorities to the protests made by His Majesty's Government against the deliberate bombing of British ships in Valencia and Barcelona; and whether any action has now been agreed upon for the prevention of similar incidents in the future?
The British agent has been informed that, following his representations, the Burgos authorities are making an inquiry.
In view of the fact that it is three weeks since the first protest was sent, and that the only effect of the protests appears to be continued and, in fact, intensified, deliberate bombing of our ships, is it not time that some definite action was taken?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there has been a fresh instance of bombing of British ships within the last 24 hours; and are not these long delays certain to encourage the Burgos authorities to think that they can go on bombing British ships and sacrificing British lives with impunity?
I am aware of the gravity of the situation. In this case I am answering the question on the Paper.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.
asked the Prime Minister on how many occasions British ships bound for ports under the control of the Spanish insurgents have been stopped and searched by British naval forces?
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, since on many occasions ships going to the Government of Spain have been searched, the British naval authorities are so much more zealous in examining ships—
Surely, when there is an extraordinary disparity between the conduct towards the insurgent authorities and the Government of Spain, one is entitled to put a question on that point?
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.
asked the Prime Minister whether he can make a statement concerning the bombing and sinking of the ship "Thorpehall," off Valencia, on 24th May?
From the reports which I have received, I understand that at 2.45 a.m. on 25th May this vessel was attacked by an aeroplane which dropped two bombs. One of these struck the vessel, which sank half an hour later. From the fact that the ship was lying well away from the harbour, about ¾ mile from the end of the breakwater, and that she had been reconnoitred by a similar aeroplane on the previous evening, His Majesty's Government consider that she was the victim of a deliberate attack. Sir R. Hodgson has been instructed to bring this incident to the notice of the Burgos authorities and to request that strong disciplinary action should be taken against the crew of the offending aircraft. Sir R. Hodgson has further been instructed to impress upon the Burgos authorities the serious view taken by His Majesty's Government of the repetition of deliberate attacks on British shipping, and to request that immediate instructions should be given that such attacks should cease. His Majesty's Government have reserved their right to claim full compensation for loss and damage to persons and property resulting- from this attack.
Is it not the fact that this ship was wholly under the authority of the Spanish Government, who have had it on charter for the last two years solely for this purpose; and can any question of compensation arise?
Apart from the representations which have been made to the Burgos authorities, are not these Italian aeroplanes, manned by Italian Air Force personnel, so that obviously deliberate attacks by them could not take place without the assent of Signor Mussolini; and, if so, ought not representations to be made to the Italian Government?
When the hon. Gentleman says that it was a similar machine that made the reconnaissance, can he say what the type of machine was?
Then how can the hon. Gentleman say, if he has no information, that it was a similar machine that came the second time?
I am not certain what type of machine it was that came on the second occasion.
asked the Prime Minister whether he proposes to make a protest against the recent air bombardment of non-military objectives in the city of Alicante, in Spain?
asked the Prime Minister whether he proposes to take any action in reference to the recent bombing of the civilian population of Alicante?
His Majesty's Government have on more than one occasion expressed to both sides in Spain their profound concern at the intensification of aerial bombardment resulting in serious loss of life among the civil population, and have drawn attention to the universally accepted principle that aerial bombardment of military objectives is alone admissible. While I have not sufficient information at my disposal to judge what were the objectives on this occasion, I desire to take this opportunity of repeating how profoundly His Majesty's Government deplore the maiming and death of defenceless civilians.
In view of the fact that the Prime Minister himself has previously stated that this kind of aerial bombardment is contrary to international law, and in view of the fact that the Franco authorities take no notice of British protests, will not His Majesty's Government consider withdrawing Sir Robert Hodgson from any association with General Franco?
Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that either side in Spain or in China will take much notice of our protests against this sort of warfare, seeing that Great Britain and all the great Powers are feverishly struggling to prepare even worse and more foul and vile outrages against civilian populations if war should break out?
Do the Government accept the universally admitted principle that the bombardment of military objectives is not admissible if it involves danger to the civil population?
Why are we devoting Wednesday to air-raid precautions if we are not perfectly well aware that we expect to bomb any enemy with whom we may be at war, and they expect to bomb our civilian population?
since His Majesty's Government have taken the lead in refusing the Spanish Government permission to buy anti-aircraft guns for defence of open towns, surely they cannot escape responsibility?
asked the Prime Minister whether the British Embassy at Barcelona has attached to it a full complement of attaches experienced in military, naval, air, and commercial matters; and whether, in view of the importance of the British interests involved and the increasing attacks on British shipping, His Majesty's Government will consider the advisability of strengthening the staff?
My Noble Friend is satisfied that the staff of His Majesty's Embassy and Consulate-General is fully adequate for the purpose of obtaining military and naval information and for the protection of British interests in that part of Spain.
The assistant military and air aé have been serving in the Embassy at Madrid, and later, at Valencia and Barcelona. No occasion has yet arisen for the appointment of a separate naval attaché.
Did the attaché know the type of machine which bombed the "Thorpehill"?
We are perfectly satisfied with the sources of our information in Spain.
asked the Prime Minister whether he can now give the result of the examination of the steamship "Stancroft" at Gibraltar; whether any breach of the Carriage of Munitions to Spain Act, 1936, was found to have been committed; and, if so, will he give particulars?
asked the Prime Minister whether he can now state the result of the examination of the steamship "Stancroft," which was taken to Gibraltar under naval escort under suspicion that a breach of the Carriage of Munitions to Spain Act, 1936, had been committed; and, if so, what further action has been taken?
I understand that, though the whole of the cargo of this vessel has not yet been discharged, it has been found to include aeroplane engines and cartridge cases. Proceedings under the Merchant Shipping (Carriage of Munitions to Spain) Act, 1936, have been started against the master but the case has been adjourned until 10th June.
On a point of Order. The Minister has stated that this case is going to be brought to the court. I submit that it is out of order, therefore, for any comment to be made on it.
My hon. Friend stated that steps are to be taken in connection with the master. Might I also ask that, if the Government are satisfied that there has been an illegal traffic, steps should be taken against the owners, who have been making great profits at the expense of British lives?
Has my hon. Friend any information to the effect that this ship was chartered by the Spanish Government?
May I protest against two allegations which have been made: that the Spanish Government chartered the ship; and that the owners are making large profits out of a breach of an Act of Parliament—comments on the case that are highly improper while it is sub judice?