HC Deb 16 March 1943 vol 387 cc1026-8
35. Mr. S. O. Davies

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare whether he is aware of the abnormal quantities of petrol imported by Spain; and whether he is satisfied that no proportion of these imports is delivered to the Axis Powers?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare (Mr. Dingle Foot)

My hon. Friend is mistaken in supposing that recent Spanish imports of petrol have been abnormal. As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) on 10th March, imports of all kinds of oil into Spain, including petrol, are carefully regulated by a system of quotas designed to ensure that, while Spain can obtain sufficient oil for her essential needs, no surplus shall be accumulated. This system has been in operation for the past two and a half years, and there has been no recent increase in the permitted rate of imports. During the first six months of 1942, however, shipments of the quota amounts were delayed, pending a fresh investigation into the level of Spanish oil stocks, and allegations of leakage to the enemy. Following this investigation, the results of which were satisfactory, it was agreed between His Majesty's Government and the United States Government that shipments should be resumed at approximately the same rate as previous quotas. It follows that the answer to the second part of the Question is in the affirmative.

Mr. Davies

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the statement made recently by the United States Ambassador in Spain that petrol and petroleum products are being imported into Spain to the full capacity of Spain's tanker fleet? Has the hon. Gentleman any information that that fleet has been substantially increased during the last 12 months, perhaps by tankers being handed over by the Axis Powers to Spain?

Mr. Foot

That is a separate question. To the best of my recollection there has been no substantial increase of the Spanish tanker fleet. In regard to the first part of the Question, I think that if the hon. Gentleman re-reads what the United States Ambassador said he will find that it was with regard to the resumption of oil shipments during last year.

Mr. Davies

Has not the hon. Gentleman seen the comment made by Senator Reynolds, of the United States, who described it as a "damned outrage" that these imports should go on to the extent that they do?

36. Mr. Davies

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Economic Warfare whether he is aware of the extent that the ports of Spain are being used for the importation of certain products far in excess of the present needs of that country, and is he satisfied that such products do not pass to the Axis Powers for war purposes?

Mr. Foot

While I do not know what particular products my hon. Friend has in mind, I cannot accept the statement contained in the first part of the Question. The import into Spain of almost all commodities, and certainly of all commodities of any strategic importance, is regulated by our blockade quotas, which are designed for the specific purpose of preventing imports in excess of current domestic requirements. It is a condition of all imports under these quotas that there shall be no re-export and that no similar goods shall be exported. I am satisfied that this condition is generally observed, and that any leakages are insignificant.

Mr. Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the arrangement that has been working with respect to Spain will be overhauled and considerably tightened, in view of the suspicion that exists, based upon considerable information, that we have not the watertight arrangements there that we should have in these days?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman has any particular information in mind, I hope that he will supply me with it. I can only inform the House that this matter is under constant examination and review and that if there wore any well-grounded suspicion of leakage in respect of any particular commodity we should at once hold up shipments of that commodity to Spain.

Commander Locker-Lampson

Will my hon. Friend consider allowing grants of these materials conditional on the release of British prisoners?

Mr. Shinwell

Would it be possible for the Government, in order to clarify the minds of hon. Members, to submit a statistical statement of the actual amount of our imports to Spain in order to ensure that we are not exercising too great a strain on our shipping resources?

Mr. Foot

I do not think our shipping resources are involved, because nearly all the imports are carried in Spanish bottoms, but if the hon. Gentleman cares to put down a Question on the subject of Spanish imports, I shall be glad to give him the figures.