HC Deb 01 April 1941 vol 370 cc830-2
4. Mr. Parker

asked the Minister of Economic Warfare whether he has any information as to the number of ships arriving and leaving, and the tonnage of goods imported and exported from the port of Marseilles in December, 1940, and January, 1941, according to official French sources; and what proportion of the imports he estimates were requisitioned for German or Italian use?

The Minister of Economic Warfare (Mr. Dalton)

Figures purporting to be official show that, taking the two months of December and January together, about 450 vessels with a cargo of about 500,000 tons entered, and about 400 vessels with a cargo of about 136,000 tons left, Marseilles. Many of these vessels are small coastal craft and lighters, the average ton- nage of each ship being only 1,200. A large number of reports from a variety of sources leave no doubt that the Germans take their pick of all incoming cargoes which interest them, while the Italians are permitted to take smaller pickings. Nearly all these reports indicate that more than half of such imports are taken by the Axis. Many reports put the proportion as high as 80 percent.

Mr. Parker

What are the principal commodities that enter enemy countries through this channel?

Mr. Dalton

The principal commodities reported are ground nuts, grain, fruit, early vegetables, fish, eggs, salted casings and skins, and minor quantities of copra, sugar, coffee, cocoa, wool, wine and spirits, mazout oil and pig lead.

Mr. Wedgwood

Is my hon. Friend taking appropriate steps to stop this sort of thing, even at the risk of annoying Admiral Darlan?

Mr. Dalton

I am constantly in touch with my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty in the matter, and he is being very helpful.

Sir William Davison

Has any explanation been given by Admiral Darlan or the Vichy authorities of the fact that they are transferring food supplies through Marseilles or elsewhere to Germany when they are begging for supplies of food to be sent by us?

Mr. Dalton

No, Sir. Admiral Darlan has made a large number of statements. They all speak for themselves.

Mr. Mander

Is it not the case that French ships coming from the French Empire overseas are now allowed to pass unmolested through the Straits of Gibraltar, and is it not about time this was stopped?

Mr. Dalton

I informed the House the other day that a number of interceptions have in fact taken place of ships seeking to enter the Straits, and, as the House is aware, a certain incident connected with such operations was reported yesterday. It is not the case that ships are allowed to pass freely through the Straits. Some interceptions have been made in recent weeks and months.

5. Mr. Mander

asked the Minister of Economic Warfare whether, in view of the fact that it has now been disclosed that the alleged gift of wheat by Germany to the Vichy Government was part of a barter arrangement, and that some of the goods which the Vichy Government are to supply to Germany under it are to be imported through Marseilles, he will reconsider his decision to permit two food-ships to pass our blockade to unoccupied France and give no such permission in future?

Mr. Dalton

The omission of the Vichy Government to disclose the facts about this barter deal, when complaining of our blockade, will not, I think, redound to their credit. His Majesty's Government are in communication with the United States Government regarding this affair. They do not feel able to withdraw the pledge given to the United States Government that the two ships already navicerted will be allowed safe passage, but, as I informed my hon. Friend on Tuesday last, the agreement of His Majesty's Government to these two shipments of flour does not, of course, imply that under present conditions they would be prepared to issue navicerts for the import into France of other supplies.

Mr. Mander

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to impress upon the United States Government the very strong feeling in this House against any direct feeding of the enemy?

Mr. Dalton

I think that in a democracy it is very healthy that the representatives of the people should speak so clearly.