Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 23 June 1937

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for External Affairs) . - I lay on the table the annual report of the Department of External Affairs for the year 1936, copies of which have already been circulated to honorable senators, and move -

Thatthe paper be printed.

I should like to take this opportunity to survey some of the more important aspects of the international situation. 1 propose to confine ray remarks to the discussions which have -taken place for a treaty to replace the Treaty of Locarno, the situation in Spain, the joint declaration of the 24th April, 1937, by the British and French Governments in regard to Belgium, and the proposal made by the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth at the Imperial Conference for a Pacific pact.

During the last few months confidential discussions have taken place between the British, French, German, and Italian Governments as to the conclusion ofa treaty to replace the Treaty of Locarno, hut up to the present it does not appear to have been possible to find a common basis for negotiation. Honorable senators will, no doubt, have noted from reports in the newspapers that Baron von Neurath, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, was invited to visit London on the 23rd June as the official guest of the British Government. It was hoped that this visit would lead to a relaxation of tension in the European situation, and that it would serve to prepare the ground for the initiation of negotiations which would have as their object the solution of those problems which to-day menace the peace of the world. Developments in the Spanish situation to which I shall allude later have led to a postponement of this visit. It seems improbable that the resignation of the French Prime

Minister, M. Blum, will modify to any considerable extent the present trend of French foreign policy.

In regard to the situation in Spain, I emphasized in my statement in the Senate on the 11th November of last year, that since the outbreak of civil strife in Spain, the Commonwealth Government has consistently maintained a policy of strict non-intervention in the internal affairs of Spain. The policy of the Commonwealth Government is, in this respect, similar to that of the British Government. In this connexion, I draw the attention of honorable senators to the speech made by Mr. Eden, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, at Liverpool on the 12th April, in the course of which he referred at length to the Spanish conflict. He said that, from the outbreak of that conflict, the British Government had had two main objectives before it: first, to prevent it from spreading beyond the borders of Spain; and secondly, to preserve, whatever the final outcome, the political independence and territorial integrity of Spain. " I believe ", he continued, "that those two objectives commend themselves to the overwhelming majority of the people of this country. In furtherance of them we have from the first supported the policy of nonintervention. No doubt many gibes can be hurled at the policy of nonintervention. It can be said, and said with truth, that there have been breaches, flagrant breaches of the agreement. Despite the agreement, both sides are using materials from abroad ; despite the agreement there are foreign nationals fighting on both sides. And yet a broad gain remains. The policy of non-intervention has limited, and bit by bit reduced, the flow of foreign arms and men into Spain. Even more important, the existence of that policy and the knowledge that many governments, despite much discouragement were working for it, has greatly reduced the risks of general war."

The Non-intervention Committee, which now consists of the representatives of 27 European countries, has sat at frequent intervals in London since the beginning of September of last year, and has investigated many allegations of breaches of the Non-Intervention Agreement. The Committee passed a resolu tion on the 16th February, 1937, to the effect that the agreement should be extended as from midnight of the 20th-21st February, 1987, to cover the recruitment in, the transit through, or the departure from, their respective countries of persons of non-Spanish nationality proposing to proceed to Spain for military service. Agreement was also reached for the establishment of naval supervision of the coast of Spain and the Spanish dependencies. The British Government, accepted an invitation by the Portuguese Government to observe the carrying out of the agreement in Portugal, and for this purpose to appoint British observers to be attached to the British Embassy in Lisbon. A scheme of observation to carry these measures into effect was agreed to by all governments represented on the Committee on the Sth March, 1937.

In the early part of April, General Franco, the leader of the insurgent forces, declared his intention to prevent merchant vessels, if necessary by force, from entering the harbour of Bilbao. The attitude adopted by 'the British Government was that, although its policy of affording protection to British shipping on the high seas remained unchanged, and although it did not admit the right of General Franco to establish a blockade on the high seas or elsewhere, it did not feel in a position to guarantee protection to British shipping in Spanish territorial waters in the neighbourhood of Bilbao, particularly in view of the danger from, mines and aircraft. The British Government accordingly advised British ships that, in view of the conditions prevailing in the neighbourhood of Bilbao, they should not enter that port so long as those conditions continued.

On the 15th May, the Valencia Government, led by Senor Largo Caballero, resigned, and after some preliminary difficulty, a new Ministry - was formed with Dr. Negrin as Prime Minister. Senor Caballero and the other four Syndicalist Ministers were excluded from the new Ministry, which seems definitely more moderate in its political views than its predecessor. On the 26th May, the Italian ship Barletta was bombed by Spanish Government aeroplanes, and on the 29th May,' the German warship

Deutschlandwas bombed by two government aeroplanes with considerable loss of life. As a reprisal for this action, German warships bombarded Almeria on thu 31st May, and the German and Italian Governments notified the NonIntervention Committee that they had ordered their ships to take no further part in the naval patrol of the coasts which had been allotted to them under the observation scheme until full guarantees had been received that there would be no repetition of such occurrences. _ After these incidents, consultations took place between the British, French, German and Italian Governments. The four governments concerned informed both parties in the Spanish conflict of the steps which had been agreed upon by them in regard to the provision of safer conditions for the continued operation of the naval patrol scheme. They also demanded assurances from both parties in Spain that incidents such as the bombing of the Deutschland would not be allowed to occur again. The four, governments intimated that, in the event of any infraction of the assurances requested of the parties, or of any attack upon the foreign warships responsible for the naval patrol, the* four governments concerned would meet as quickly as possible for the purpose of reaching agreement among themselves for joint action. In the event of failure to reach agreement, it was understood that a new situation would be created for each of the four governments in regard to which they must reserve their respective attitudes. After this course of action had been determined, the German and Italian Governments intimated that they would resume their participation in the naval patrol. On the 19th June, however, a German official communique alleged that a Spanish Government submarine had fired torpedoes at the cruiser Leipzig on the 16th June. The communique added: "It will now be the duty of the patrolling powers to take the requisite measures in accordance with the recent agreement ". This matter is still under discussion by the four governments concerned, but no definite course of action has as yet been determined. It was felt by the German Government, however, that the- situation required for the time being the presence of the Foreign Minister in Berlin.

The Spanish insurgent forces have now entered Bilbao, and the collapse of the Basque resistance will, in all probability, have a considerable effect upon the general situation in Spain, although the government forces are still in control of Madrid and the eastern provinces. There does not, unfortunately, appear to be any immediate prospect of the civil strife in Spain coming to an end.

It had become clear during the latter part of 1936 that the Belgian Government was dissatisfied with the situation caused by the obligations it had entered into under the Treaty of Locarno and the temporary arrangement of the 19th March; this, it will be recalled, specifically kept alive the conditions of the Locarno Treaty as between Great Britain, France and Belgium. On the 14th October, 1936, King Leopold said that the aim of Belgium's foreign policy, on which her defence policy was dependent, must be to keep the country from being involved in war. The re-occupation of the Rhineland in contravention of the Locarno Treaties had almost put Belgium back into its pre-war international status. The general effect of King Leopold's declaration seemed to be that, in the event of any "Western Pact being concluded in the future on the lines of the Locarno Treaty of 1925, Belgium desired to be neither a guarantor nor a guaranteed State. Protracted negotiations took place between the British, French and Belgian Governments during the early part of 1937, .which resulted in a joint Note of the 24th April by the British and French Governments declaring that they considered Belgium released from all obligations towards them resulting from the Treaty of Locarno and the arrangement of the 19th March, 1936. The two governments, at the same time, intimated that they maintained in respect of Belgium the undertakings of assistance which they entered into towards it under these two instruments. They also took note of certain views expressed by the Belgian Government relative to its continued fidelity to the Covenant of the League of Nations and its determination efficiently to organize the defence of Belgium against any aggression or invasion.

In the course of the negotiations which had been proceeding for the conclusion of a new western security pact to replace the Locarno agreement, it appeared to the British and Trench Governments that Belgium did not wish to give guarantees to other States, and that the other four governments concerned in the negotiations would be prepared to agree that Belgium should not undertake to guarantee other States in the new treaty. As the negotiation of this treaty had been delayed, the British and French Governments had decided to meet the wishes of the Belgian Government to be released in advance from its remaining obligations under the Locarno Treaty. This declaration was favourably received in Belgium, and M. Spaak, in a speech on the 29th April, said that Belgium was in a stronger position than previously since, while dropping some of its duties, it retained all its rights. Belgium, by organizing its national defence, was giving to Europe all that Europe could reasonably ask of it. As the discussions necessary for the achievement of the Western Pact might well he protracted, the immediate solution of certain problems had been sought and found.

At the Imperial Conference a lead was given by the Commonwealth Government in its proposal for a Pacific pact. The conference noted with interest the statement made on behalf of the Australian Delegation at the opening plenary meeting that Australia would welcome a regional understanding and pact of nonaggression by the countries of the Pacific, and that Australia would be prepared to collaborate to this end with other peoples of the Pacific region in a spirit of understanding and sympathy. This proposal was the same as was announced in statements in both Houses of this Parliament in September, 1936. The relevant passage in the statement is -

The Government's view is that, so far as the Commonwealth is concerned, the Pacific is the area in which we are most vitally interested in the maintenance of peace. With the United States of America and Japan outside the League, provision for a regional agreement of the particular kind mentioned could hardly be applicable, but the promotion of a regional understanding and pact of non-aggression for Pacific countries, in the spirit of League undertakings, should not be beyond the. bounds of possibility.

During the discussions on the Pacific andFar- East at the Imperial Conference, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) elaborated the idea that the Commonwealth Government had in mind. He emphasized that international relations should be based on the principle of maintaining absolute friendship with all nations of the world, and he expressed the conviction that any difficulties in the Pacific regioncould be resolved by the method of friendly negotiation. The Imperial Conference agreed that, if such a pact could be made, it would be a desirable objective to pursue as a contribution to the cause of peace and to the maintenance of friendly relations with other nations in the Pacific area. It was agreed that the matter should be the subject of further consultation between governments.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Suggest corrections