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Spain, British Protestant Chapels

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 27 April 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many British Protestant churches have been ordered to be closed in Spain since 1st January, 1947; how many are now closed; and what action he is taking in the matter.

Seven British Protestant chapels in Spain have been closed by order of the Spanish authorities since 1st January, 1947, and are still closed. His Majesty's Embassy in Madrid drew the attention of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to this matter on 21st January, 1948. In the meantime, repeated petitions were made by the pastors of the British chapels for permission to reopen, but these had no effect. The Embassy accordingly addressed a further note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 31st, December, 1948, referring to the assurance given by the Spanish Ambassador in London on behalf of General Franco in 1937 that full religious liberty would be granted to all classes and creeds in Spain; and demanding that the properties should be restored without delay and that those chapels which had fulfilled all requirements of the law should be allowed to reopen. A reply was received to the effect that the matter would be investigated. On 24th March, 1949, His Majesty's Embassy addressed a third note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in which they reminded them that they were still awaiting a final reply to their previous representations. The hon. Member may be assured that I shall continue to pursue this matter.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us if it is a fact that the majority of these chapels have been closed down by the local authorities rather than by the central Government and can he press on the central Government to exercise greater control over the activities of the local authorities?

From my point of view the central Government are responsible. I do not believe anyone can do anything in Spain without the authority of the central Government.

Has my right hon. Friend taken the opportunity of reminding the British delegation to the United Nations of the continuance of religious persecution and other objectionable features of the present Spanish Government?

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken specifically of chapels; does he mean that any Anglican churches are left uninterfered with and does he know what denominations the chapels represent?

I cannot give the denominations at the moment, but I think they are mainly Baptist chapels.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us on what pretext these chapels were closed down; whether they did not comply with some local law, or whether it was some religious intolerance?