Skip to main content


Volume 334: debated on Monday 4 April 1938

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the establishment of an Italian air base at Palma, Majorca, and of a German air base at Pollensa, Majorca; and whether he will draw the attention of the Non-Intervention Committee to this breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement?

I am aware that there have been reports that German and Italian aircraft are present in Majorca. The hon. Member will recall that under Section 6 of the British Plan of 14th July last, provision is made for the examination of methods of controlling by observation the arrival of foreign aircraft in Spain. It is not, therefore, considered that any useful purpose would be served by raising this matter with the Non-Intervention Committee in the absence of such a scheme of control being agreed upon and being put into force.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Spanish Government officially stated that the facts contained in this question are correct?

I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question by saying that I am aware that there are reports to this effect.


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that the Governments of Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, and His Majesty's Governments in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa have already promised or given contributions to an international commission for assistance to child refugees in Spain to operate on both sides in the civil war, His Majesty's Government can now give assistance to this work?

This matter is receiving special consideration, and I hope shortly to be able to make a statement on the subject.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the extreme urgency of the need, and will he do all that he can to expedite a speedy decision?

8 and 17.

asked the Prime Minister (1) why, in a communication from the Foreign Office to the London County Council Motor Licence Department, dated 4th March, reference is made to the Spanish Nationalist Government, as this conflicts with assurances that the reception of an agent of General Franco in London in no way constituted recognition by His Majesty's Government of the authorities of the territories at present under the control of General Franco;

(2) why diplomatic privileges have been extended to the Duke of Alba, contrary to assurances that were given by His Majesty's Government when an agreement to exchange representatives was made with General Franco?

9and 10.

asked the Prime Minister (1) what privileges and facilities normally accorded to duly credited diplomatic representatives are now being accorded to the Duke of Alba, the agent in London of General Franco, and his staff; and what such privileges and facilities are not being so accorded;

(2) what reply has been returned to the request from Senor Don Jose F. Villaverde, the secretary to the Duke of Alba, for a driving licence, with a further request that he shall be exempted from the obligation of passing a driving test and of paying the fee of 5s. normally chargeable?


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that the letter of 4th March from the Foreign Office to the London County Council Motor Licensing Department, stating that the Duke of Alba and his staff are regarded officially as diplomats in all but name, goes beyond the agreement between His Majesty's Government and General Franco according to which neither party will accord or expect to receive diplomatic status for their agent, he will say why Parliament was not informed of this further step towards the recognition of General Franco?

My attention has been called to the letter sent from the Foreign Office to the licensing department of the London County Council, and I am glad to have this opportunity of removing the misapprehensions to which its unauthorised publication has obviously given rise. The use of the phrase "Spanish Nationalist Government" in this letter, which was in fact only of a semi-official character, implies no sort of modification of the attitude of His Majesty's Government in regard to the recognition of General Franco's administration. Under the agreement made with the latter for the exchange of agents, diplomatic status was not to be claimed for them, and no such claim has in fact been made or conceded by either party to the agreement. It was, however, felt desirable to secure for the British Agent and his staff certain privileges of a kind which are commonly enjoyed by diplomatic officials in order to Facilitate the discharge of their duties. It was thus found necessary to concede corresponding privileges such as the one in question to General Franco's Agent and his staff. Such concessions made by either side involve no admission that the recipients possess diplomatic status, in proof of which it should be sufficient to say that certain reliefs which could be granted only on the basis of such status are withheld from the Duke of Alba and his staff, and the privileges accorded to them are of a limited character.

Does the letter to the London County Council, which states that the Duke of Alba and his staff are regarded officially as diplomats in all but name, represent the views of His Majesty's Government?

The views of His Majesty's Government must he taken as being represented by the answer which I have just given.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that when this question came up fears were expressed from the Members of both Oppositions in this House that this diplomatic recognition would gradually take place, by stages, and that a promise was given that no diplomatic recognition of any kind would follow, and is this not a breach of that definite promise which was given?

I trust that the hon. Member will realise that the answer which I have just read out will allay some of the anxieties which he has expressed.

Did not the terms of this letter indicate the view that is actually taken in fact in the Foreign Office with regard to the position of the Duke of Alba in this country?

The views taken in the Foreign Office are those which I have just read out.

Are not the terms of the hon. Gentleman's reply really in direct contradiction of the terms of the definite statement made in this House by the former Foreign Secretary on 8th November, 1937, and would it not have been more acceptable to this House if the change in the Government's views had been openly indicated to the House?

Is not the hon. Gentleman's answer just a piece of humbug, and will he stop this hypocrisy? Why does not the hon. Member answer?

The hon. Member knows quite well that that is not a proper way to put a supplementary question.

On a point of Order. If the hon. Member persists in indulging in half truths, it is the only way to address him.

On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Member of this House to suggest to another hon. Member that he should return to another country instead of this country, to Poland, suggesting that he belongs to Poland?

At this juncture the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. SHINWELL) crossed the Floor of the House and struck the hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland(Commander BOWER) a blow on the face.

On a point of Order. Is it in order in this House for a Member sitting on any bench, let alone the Front Opposition Bench, to go across the House and assault a Member, and may I ask you to order that hon. Member to get out of the House?

May I make a personal explanation? The hon. and gallant Gentleman grossly insulted me, in a manner which was quite unwarranted. I was born in this country. I am a British subject, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman has no right to make the personal reference to me that he did. It seems that the method I took was the only protection open to me.

I did not very distinctly hear what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, but I understand that what he did say was grossly out of order and ought not to have been said by anyone, but that does not justify the hon. Gentleman in assaulting him. Both were so thoroughly disorderly, that I propose to ignore them if the hon. Members will apologise.

With very great respect, I offer my humble apology to you, Sir, and your position in the Chair. I recognise that the action that I took was taken in a fit of temper. Nevertheless, I think there was some justification for it. I beg humbly to apologise to you, Sir.

May I be allowed to say that I think my remark might have been taken as provocative, and I should like to apologise, or I would have apologised to the hon. Gentleman if he had had the courtesy to remain to hear my apology. As he is not here I am afraid I cannot do it, but I should like to apologise to the House and to say that, as far as I am concerned, I think that the hon. Gentleman's conduct has done him a great deal more harm than it has done me.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will ask for reports regarding the supply of war material and men from France and Russia during the present year to the Government of Barcelona from His Majesty's Ambassadors at Paris and Moscow, and the British consular offices at Marseilles, and in that part of Spanish territory still controlled by the Government of Barcelona?

As my hon. and gallant Friend is no doubt aware, it is the function and practice of His Majesty's representatives and consular officers to report on all matters that may affect British interests; and His Majesty's Government call for reports on specific subjects whenever it may appear advisable for them to do so.


asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered the note delivered by General Franco's representative in London at the Foreign Office on 29th March, officially denying the alleged arrival of foreign troops and foreign war material in the ports of national Spain, and giving a detailed list of the foreign officers, volunteers, technicians, and war material which reached, via the French frontier, the territory controlled by the Barcelona Government between 1st January and 20th March; and whether this information will be given to the Non-Intervention Committee with a view to representations being made to the Government of France?


asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered the official note sent from the Nationalist Government of Spain giving details of volunteers passing over land frontiers to the Barcelona Government this year, including two generals and over 100 officers of a foreign Power, and large quantities of guns, munitions, lorries, tanks, machine guns, aeroplane engines and 174 aeroplanes of different types; and whether this information has been placed before the Non-Intervention Committee?

Yes, Sir. I have considered the note; but, as I have previously stated, His Majesty's Government are not prepared to bring to the notice of the Non-Intervention Committee alleged breaches of the agreement for the accuracy of which they cannot vouch.

May I ask whether the attention of the Non-Intervention Committee has been drawn to other subjects; and if definite information is laid is it not considered desirable, in view of what has gone before, that the information should be handed to the Committee?

Certain information has been handed to the Committee, but if the Government arc to make themselves responsible for complaints they have to be convinced that the information is correct.

Is there any evidence that the information is not correct? Mr. Butler: shall have to look at it again.


asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make as to the proceedings at the meeting of the Non-Intervention Committee on 31st March?


asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement regarding the recent meeting of the Non-Intervention Sub-Committee?

A meeting of the Chairman's Sub-Committee was held on 31st March, at which Lord Plymouth reported the results of the informal negotiations which he had undertaken to pursue with the representatives of the principal Powers on the Committee. I am glad to be able to state that as a result of these negotiations all these Powers have agreed in principle to the British formula, the nature of which was explained in the official communiqué issued after the meeting. Complete agreement, however, has not yet been reached on the basic figure which will represent the number of foreign volunteers to be withdrawn from the side having the smaller number engaged, and which is to constitute the criterion for substantial progress, in accordance with the plan originally suggested by His Majesty's Government. The members of the Sub-Committee further took note of, and undertook to submit to their Governments, a new proposal put forward by His Majesty's Government regarding the date on which observation should be restored. The Sub-Committee also agreed to submit to their respective Governments a document, drawn up by the Secretary to the International Board recommending that withdrawal should be carried out not by categories, but simply in accordance with the proportion of the total number of foreign volunteers serving with either side. Finally, the question of finance was considered and the members of the Sub-Committee agreed to refer to their Governments a statement of the financial position which would be prepared by the Secretary to the Committee.

When will these matters which have been referred to the various Governments be replied to?

If, as my hon. Friend states, the proposal to withdraw men by categories has been dropped, does he not realise that this is a very serious alteration inasmuch as a technician such as an air pilot or an artilleryman is of infinitely greater value than an ordinary infantryman, and that this proposal will tell very much in favour of the insurgent forces?

Is not that the very reason that His Majesty's Government have agreed to it?

This question gave the Non-Intervention Committee a great deal of anxiety and thought, and they realised the force of what the noble Lady has said, but they had to come to this conclusion owing to the immense technical difficulties on either side.


asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the declaration made by Signor Mussolini on 30th March that soldiers of the Italian regular army are serving in Spain; and whether in view of this admission that the Italian Government are committing a breach of the Non-Intervention Agreement, as well as acts of aggression against the Spanish Republic, and are acting contrary to British interests in the Mediterranean, he proposes to take any action in the matter?


asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the statement by the head of the Italian Government that the Italian-army and the Italian air force have gained valuable experience from their participation in the war in Spain; and whether, as this statement constitutes an admission that the Italian Government have been guilty of aggression against the Government and the people of Spain in violation of the Covenant and of the Kellogg pact, he will say what steps His Majesty's Government propose to take to enable the Spanish people to defend themselves against this foreign invasion?


asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty's Government have drawn or will draw the attention of the Non-Intervention Committee to the statement in Signor Mussolini's speech to the Italian Senate that thousands of Italian officers had gained experience of modern warfare in fighting in Spain?

Yes, Sir. My attention has been drawn to the speech in question, but, as I stated in reply to the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) on 21st March, it is, of course, common knowledge that the combatants in Spain on both sides have received help in men and materials from foreign sources, and it is this situation with which the Non-Intervention Committee is doing its best to deal.

Is not the Minister aware that public opinion throughout the country is becoming profoundly shocked because of the refusal of the Government to admit the fact that German and Italian intervention is plain?

I have just said in reply to the hon. Gentleman that it is common knowledge that combatants in Spain on both sides have received help in men and materials.

Are we to understand from the Minister that he makes no distinction between Government assistance officially declared by Signor Mussolini and the arrival of unofficial volunteers from other countries on the other side?

I appreciate the difference to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.

May I have an answer to the second part of Question No. 19, whether an official admission by Signor Mussolini of Government intervention in Spain does not constitute a violation of the Covenant and the Kellogg Pact, and what do the Government mean to do?

With regard to the concluding part of Question No. 19, the Government propose to adhere to their policy of non-intervention.

If the fact that there is intervention on both sides is a reason for not calling the attention of the Non-Intervention Committee to a particular case, what is the use of having the Committee at all?


asked the Prime Minister whether he can make a further statement concerning the aerial bombardment of the towns and villages of Eastern Spain by the German and Italian aircraft under General Franco's command?

I am informed that Barcelona has not suffered from aerial bombardment during the past fortnight, but that further attacks have taken place on a number of smaller towns and villages in Spanish Government territory.

Is it not a fact that these small towns and villages have been absolutely destroyed with great loss of civilian life in contravention of international law?

Is not the word "attack" rather an inadequate description of the absolute destruction which these bombardments have brought to Portosa, Reus, Fraga and other towns?

I can only say that the Government feel the same sense of horror and disgust that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister expressed about the bombing of Barcelona.


asked the Prime Minister whether, with regard to the communication from the Duke of Alba regarding the alleged arrival of foreign troops for the assistance of the Spanish Government, he will say in what capacity the Duke of Alba acted in making such a communication; and what are the terms of the British Government's reply to it?

The Duke of Alba was acting as the agent of General Franco in-the United Kingdom. No reply was required by the communication referred to and none was sent.

Was not the acceptance of the communication an extension of the restriction laid down by the ex-Foreign Secretary in this House in November, 1937, that agents would be appointed only for commercial, industrial and financial interests?

It has sometimes proved convenient to employ the agents as a channel of communication on other subjects. For example, Sir R. Hodgson, our agent with the Burgos authorities, was instructed to make representations to General Franco's administration regarding the bombing of non-military objectives.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the question really is whether faith is being kept with this House? Is he aware that we had a definite statement from the late Foreign Secretary as to the status of this agent, and is it open to the Government to break that understanding, which was accepted by the House?

I think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have certainly served a useful purpose in putting questions which have elicited that faith has not been broken with this House.


asked the Prime Minister whether efforts have been made to promote the exchange of prisoners in Spain; whether representations have been made to both sides; and, if so, whether any answers have been received?

As was stated by the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 2nd February, His Majesty's Government have for some time had under discussion with the two parties in Spain a proposal which had been made to them for the appointment of a British Arbitrator to prepare and carry out a general exchange of prisoners. On 3rd March His Majesty's representative at Barcelona and the British Agent at Salamanca were instructed to inform the parties that His Majesty's Government proposed to appoint Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode as Arbitrator and to ask for their approval of this appointment. An affirmative answer was received from General Franco's Administration on 10th March, but His Majesty's Government are still awaiting the Spanish Government's reply, on receipt of which the Arbitrator will take up his duties forthwith. In the meantime both parties have been urged, rather than allow any exchange negotiations at present under way to break down completely, to hold them in suspense pending the appointment of the Arbitrator and to refrain from any action likely to prejudice their prospects.

Will my hon. Friend urge the Spanish Government to give a very prompt reply in view of the fact that positive action such as this can do nothing but good, and is far better than acceding to the demands from the other side to give up the non-intervention policy?


asked the Prime Minister whether the Government and the Government of France have made any protests to the Barcelona Government with reference to the frequent air raids throughout the war against non-military objectives, including towns and villages remote from the firing line, causing great loss of life amongst civilians on the mainland and including 310 casualties among the civilian population of Majorca alone?

My hon. and gallant Friend will recall that last June His Majesty's Government addressed, on behalf of the Non-Intervention Committee, on which both His Majesty's Government and the French Government are represented, an appeal to both Spanish parties to abstain from aerial bombardment of open towns and non-military objectives. In addition to this, His Majesty's Government drew the attention of both parties last February to an appeal on this subject signed by a number of prominent persons in this country.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the official organ in Madrid has declared that the destruction of entire populations and the machine-gunning of women and children is justified? Further, may I ask whether he is taking any steps to see that the attitude of His Majesty's Government is equal as regards its criticism of air bombing, from whatever side it comes?

The attitude of His Majesty's Government has been made abundantly clear to both sides.


asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that the bombing from the air of the British steamer "Stanwell" at Tarragona, on 15th March, is now known to have been committed by German officers flying a Heinkel seaplane, it is proposed to put in a claim for compensation to the German Government as well as to the Franco authorities?

According to international law, the Burgos authorities are solely responsible for actions carried out by the forces in their service. The question, therefore, of claiming compensation in any other quarter does not arise.

Is the Minister not aware that he is evading the real point? Is it not the case that all the German forces in Spain are under the direct control of the German Government?


asked the Prime Minister whether he will approach the French Government and the League of Nations respecting assistance for refugees from Spain who have entered France?

This appears to be a matter for action on the part of the French Government should they desire to take such an initiative.

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that at least we have certain humane responsibilities? Is not this just one of the pieces of work which the League of Nations could perform, and would he not desire to take some initiative in the matter?

I realise the importance of the question, but I am afraid we must leave the initiative to the French Government.

Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman will respond to any initiative taken by the French Government?


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can now state the total number of Basque children who have been repatriated from England and to what destinations in Spain?

The number of Basque children who have been repatriated to Spain is 1,722, of whom 1,681 have been repatriated to Bilbao and district, and 41 to Barcelona and places under control of the Spanish Government.

Does my right hon. Friend think that Barcelona is a very nice place to which to send Basque children just now?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the children who were sent to Barcelona were sent there before the extent of General Franco's cruelty was known?


asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that recruiting for General Franco's forces is taking place at the Fascist headquarters in Hargreaves Street, Hulme, Manchester, and that the recruits are being shipped via the Manchester Ship Canal to Hamburg, where they are equipped with arms and uniforms and transhipped to insurgent ports in Spain; and will he take steps to end this breach of the non-intervention pact?

I have been in communication with the Chief Constable of Manchester, and am informed by him that he has caused inquiries to be made, but there is no evidence in his possession that the alleged recruiting by the Fascist organisation is taking place, or that any person has embarked from the Manchester Docks to proceed to Hamburg for the purpose alleged. The last part of the question does not, accordingly, arise.

Would the right hon. Gentleman be willing to consider cases if I send them to him?

Certainly; I shall be very glad to have any information that the hon. Member possesses.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether recruiting is still going on for the "Attlee Battalion"?