§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Hope.]
§ 11.16 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I asked permission to speak on the Adjournment because I found unsatisfactory the replies given by the Prime Minister on the question of the Italian troops sent to replace those who have been withdrawn from Spain. I have only a few minutes in which briefly to state the position, but I would remind the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that on 21st February, the Prime Minister said very definitely:I expressed my personal opinion that I believed the assurances given by the Italian Government would be fulfilled and carried out; but I made it perfectly plain that if they were not, then the chances of an agreement were nil."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1938; col. 153, Vol. 332.]2838 On 2nd November, he stated:first of all that the remaining Italian forces of all categories will be withdrawn when the non-intervention plan comes into operation; secondly, that no further Italian troops will be sent to Spain, and thirdly—in case this idea had occurred to anybody—the Italian Government have never for a moment entertained the idea of sending compensatory air forces—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1938; col. 209, Vol. 340.]Now, the Prime Minister bases the whole case with regard to Spain on the fact that Signor Mussolini has, in fact, kept his word, and that at most some 200 men have been sent to Spain since the withdrawal of the 10,000. The difficulty in dealing with the Foreign Office is that it always has a habit of saying "according to our information" or "we have no information." Having been to Spain on several occasions and seen and talked to some of the sources of information which the Government have, I am not surprised that they either get no information or get the sort of information that is pleasing to General Franco. But, presumably, somebody at the Foreign Office reads the newspapers and presumably somebody there makes extracts from the foreign Press for the Government. Therefore, I want to deal with two points.
We are dealing with the position from 15th October last. Let me deal with three cases which it is possible to authenticate from the Press. I know it is the habit occasionally for the Foreign Office, when it does not want to admit something, to say that responsible organs of the Press in this country when they give information, cannot be relied upon; but I would call attention to three cases. On gth November, 1938, the Italian steamer, "Gradisco" landed 400 Italians at Cadiz. On 28th November, 1938, two steamers, both of them on the Italian register, landed 170 Italians. Some were landed at Cadiz and a smaller number at Malaga. On loth December—and this is the point to which I particularly want to draw the Under-Secretary's attention, the Italian ship "Firenze" landed 375 Italian officers and soldiers at Seville, after having left 25 aviators at Palma de Majorca, and 86 other men, said to be technicians, at Malaga.
I want to underline the last point, because not only has the statement been made in the British Press, but the landing from this particular ship was regarded as so much of a routine matter that it was 2839 mentioned, not as any special item of news, but in the course of general reporting in the Italian Press, and also in the Press in Spain. I am aware that the numbers in those three cases—which we can authenticate—do not in themselves constitute an enormous force. They constitute in fact 945 men, but even that number is considerably in excess of the 200 which the Prime Minister dismissed with a wave of the hand when he said that that was all who had arrived. I underline this, because these are absolutely authentic cases. There is no hearsay about them at all. But there is another case which we consider comes from reliable authority. I cannot say that it is as authenticated as these other three cases, but in fact the men have arrived. Some 8,000 have entered rebel territory via Cadiz since 15th October last.
There is one other point which the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary have always rather skirted away from. The Prime Minister has told us that if the soldiers were sent only in replacement, then we had no complaint. I have read statements from the Prime Minister in which he assured us that nobody had any idea of sending compensatory air forces for those that have been withdrawn; but leaving aside for the moment the question of compensatory air forces, I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the actual replacement of soldiers. The Prime Minister, in dealing with the British plan, has underlined the fact that Italy, if she was going to get the Anglo-Italian Agreement, or if General Franco was going to get belligerent rights, was not supposed to do anything which would tip the balance in favour of General Franco. I have here details of authenticated cases of considerable supplies of material to General Franco which have arrived since 15th October. These I will hand on to the Under-Secretary because it is not fair to ask him to reply on a great many details which he has not seen.
On the question of replacement, however, I would say this. War is a horrible thing. We remember our own tragic affairs of Passchendaele and the Somme in the last War. One of the reasons—or excuses if you like—given for those horrible massacres of men on both sides was that it was a war of attrition, and that you had to kill your enemy. According to Sir Douglas Haig, the side which 2840 killed the most would win the war. But the Republican troops in Spain, fighting against overwhelming material supplied by foreign forces, have this further nightmare. Every time they kill an Italian or a German those men are immediately replaced by fresh troops from Italy and Germany. They themselves have lost the small amount of help which they received from the International Brigade. That brigade has now been voluntarily withdrawn by President Negrin, under the British plan, but no pressure is being brought to bear on General Franco to do the same. On the contrary, the idea that he may get belligerent rights is still being held out. I want to leave the hon. Gentleman time to reply, but I feel that I have said enough to show that we have a grievance in the attitude which the Prime Minister has taken, and I should like some assurance with regard to these points.
§ 11.24 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Butler)
I am sure we are grateful to the hon. Lady for giving us the opportunity of going further into this subject, which we have discussed before. There has always been some difficulty on this question of information, and I will certainly give all that I can, as I have done in the past, in order to serve the House to the best of my ability. I must say, however, that were I representing an administrative department which was responsible for its own statistics, I should be in a happier position. It is very difficult to give with confidence information on a matter such as this for which the Government can take responsibility. If information of the Government does not always tally with that of the hon. Lady, I am sure she will understand that I regret it as much as she does. One of the advantages of the Non-Intervention Plan would be, if it comes into operation, that commissions would go to Spain with the object of counting foreign nationals. I am glad to say it is no longer necessary to count nationals on the Government side for reasons which the hon. Lady has given, but we have always reserved the right, when the commissions go, for them to get verification of the withdrawals.
The issue to-day is one which was raised in answers given by the Prime Minister and myself on 14th December. 2841 The question was further developed in the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Debate yesterday—
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
Is there not a League of Nations Committee? Has there not been a League of Nations Committee set up to supervise this matter?
§ Mr. Butler
I am partly responsible for that committee having been set up, and I have described its functions frequently to the House, but I can say no more about it this evening. The conclusion of my answer was that what were described as replacements did not mean any increase in the personnel of the Italian troops in Spain. This was borne out by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in their speeches yesterday. What has appeared as the result of our interchanges in this House is that there has been only a very small exchange of Italians between Italy and Spain. The Prime Minister has described the situation. The hon. Lady is concerned as to whether replacements mean going as far as this—whether they mean that every Italian killed is replaced by another one, and whether we regard that situation as satisfactory. Our answer is that we are satisfied that interchanges between volunteers are of the small nature that has been described.
We do not contemplate, and indeed we trust, that they will not be greater. I think the hon. Lady need not magnify the issue and I hope she will not have anxiety on that score. The whole truth is that the more we look into this matter, the smaller the number of troops we find and the more we realise that this issue is not as big a one as has been suggested on the other side of the House.
The hon. Lady referred to the Spanish Government, and I should like to say that in the last months the Spanish Government have carried out their intention of withdrawing the foreign volunteers from their side. The latest information I have is that 5,000 volunteers have 2842 actually left Catalonia and that 1,300 are ready to be evacuated from the southern sector of the Spanish Government territory. I say that in fairness to them because one realises the spirit in which they have carried out their decision to withdraw their foreign volunteers.
The hon. Lady said that she would give me certain material. In the past when we have looked into cases we have been able to give answers, and in many cases we have found that the reports have been without foundation. We have looked into the question, which she raised in the earlier part of her speech, about Italian pledges, and I think that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said is true, and that the examination of that question leads us to the following conclusion: That we do not regard these exchanges as a breach of the agreement not to send further Italian troops to Spain. I have acknowledged, as I said to the hon. Member opposite a few days ago, that there has been a measure of assistance, but I do not want the fact that I have acknowledged this to be magnified into something more sinister than it is. That illustrates my difficulty in giving information. I try to give the facts that I have in my possession, and when I make a statement it tends to be exaggerated into something more important than it really is. The fact is that I have tried to be consistent throughout. We are always ready to look at any information supplied to us, and are always ready to give, under the exceptionally difficult circumstances of the civil war in Spain, all the information that we have at our disposal. That we shall continue to do, and I hope in due course to be able to satisfy the hon. Lady; but let us at least be thankful that many foreign volunteers have gone already from Spain on the Government side, that others are to go, and that large numbers of Italians have left General Franco's side.
§ It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.