HC Deb 02 May 1944 vol 399 cc1203-8
Mr. Speaker

I am calling on the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) to ask the Foreign Secretary a Private Notice question. I would point out that I am doing this deliberately although it is technically out of Order, because the statement of the Foreign Secretary is, I understand, one which is being made simultaneously here and in America. The hon. Member has given, notice to withdraw a similar Question on the same subject which he had down for to-morrow, and having put down this Question he has rather "stymied himself," because technically a Member can not effectively withdraw a Question on the Order Paper until the end of that day and so the Question on to-day's Paper should really rule out a Private Notice Question. Although the Question is technically out of Order, I think that the House will understand the circumstances.

Mr. G. Strauss

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can now make a statement about the recent negotiations with the Spanish Government in regard to outstanding differences.

The Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

Yes, Sir. For some time past His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, and the United States Government, have been in negotiation with the Spanish Government in regard to a number of matters in which the attitude of the Spanish Government in the past seemed to them contrary to the declared policy of Spanish neutrality. The matters under discussion were: the presence and activities of the German consul-general at Tangier and of German agents throughout Spanish controlled and Spanish territory; the continued presence of certain Spanish units on the Eastern Front; the detention of Italian ships in Spanish ports; and the level of exports of Spanish wolfram to Germany. These negotiations have now been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The main features of the agreement reached are as follow:

  1. (i) I informed the House on 22nd September last that the Spanish Government had been asked to put an end to the unneutral activities of the German Consul-General at Tangier. The Spanish Government have undertaken to close the Consulate-General forthwith and to arrange for the departure of the Consul-General and all his staff. They have already expelled from Tangier, the Spanish Zone of Morocco and the Gibraltar area certain German agents who had been working against British interests and they are in the process of expelling from the mainland, Tangier and Spanish Morocco other such agents, to whom His Majesty's Government have drawn their attention.
  2. (ii) The Spanish Government have given an assurance that the remaining Spanish units have been withdrawn from the Eastern Front and that all survivors of the Blue Division and Blue Air Squadron have already returned to Spain, with the exception of a few wounded and small administrative detachment supervising the withdrawal.
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  4. (iii) Six of the Italian merchant ships detained in Spanish ports at the time of the Italian armistice have already been released. The remainder will now be released, with the exception of the two whose ownership is in dispute and which will be chartered to the Spanish Government, subject to arbitration as to eventual ownership. The Spanish Government have agreed to the proposal of His Majesty's Government that the disposal of the Italian warships which sought refuge in Spanish ports after the Armistice shall be settled by arbitration.
  5. (iv) The following arrangements have also been made in regard to wolfram. Export permits granted to Germany during the current year will be drastically reduced. Twenty tons may be exported to Germany in each of the months of May and June. Thereafter for the rest of the year—if, as a practical matter, they can be made—exports will not exceed 40 tons a month. It should be added that throughout the whole period of about three months, when the details of this agreement were under discussion, the Spanish Government maintained a complete embargo on all wolfram exports to Germany.
As a result of the settlement reached with the Spanish Government on all the above points, each item of which marks a substantial gain for the United Nations and represents definite and concrete evidence of the intention of the Spanish Government to maintain neutrality, His Majesty's Government and the United States Government consider themselves justified in accepting once again the strain on Allied resources represented by the export of oil products to Spain. Permission will accordingly now be given for the renewal of petroleum loadings by Spanish tankers in the Caribbean, and for the lifting from United States ports of minor quantities of packaged petroleum products in accordance with the programme in operation before the suspension of such loadings.

His Majesty's Government regard the outcome of all these negotiations as satisfactory, on account of the military and economic benefits accruing therefrom to the United Nations, and because it marks a notable step towards the fulfilment of that strict neutrality which the Spanish Government have declared to be their policy.

Mr. Strauss

What percentage of the former exports of wolfram is represented by those 20 tons a month for the next two months?

Mr. Eden

They represent, broadly speaking, taking last year and this year, a reduction which will be a very considerable one. I should say that the 20 tons—I hope that this will not be taken as the actual figure—represent perhaps a fifth, and perhaps less, of the previous export of wolfram.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while the country will regard the outcome of these negotiations as satisfactory in itself, nevertheless the belatedness of the negotiations, and the very unlikely bearing they are going to have upon the outcome of the war, will not mitigate our feelings of hostility towards the Government of General Franco?

Mr. Eden

That is the highest tribute which I have ever had from the hon. Gentleman. He admits that we have done right belatedly. I never would expect more from him. This is an arrangement which will redound to our advantage and which we can broadly regard as satisfactory.

Mr. Bevan

I did not speak about the belatedness of the right hon. Gentleman but of General Franco's belatedness.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in any case, feel assured of the satisfaction of the House in general with the agreement which has been come to, and the hope that he will be able to pursue a similarly successful policy with other Powers with which he is in negotiation?

Mr. Mander

Is it intended that the arbitration proceedings referred to shall take place forthwith, or after the war?

Mr. Eden

The arbitration concerns the warships only. I am not in a position to say how the details are to be carried out.

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes

How is the right hon. Gentleman to satisfy himself that the minimum quantities are not being exceeded, and that the rule as to the quantities is not circumvented?

Mr. Eden

The hon. and learned Member can rest assured that that point has been very much in our minds.

Mr. R. Taylor

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the oil products that are now to go to Spain will not leave Spain and go to Germany?

Mr. Eden

What is happening, of course, is that we are resuming the same amounts of oil products that we previously sent. Those amounts are not large. They are only just enough for the bare needs of Spanish economy, and they will be fetched in Spanish tankers.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the future state of Tangier in any way affected?

Mr. Eden

Only in this sense, that the German Consul-General, for whose presence we have never admitted there was any legal right whatever, has now been removed.

Mr. G. Nicholson

Is the future of Tangier as an international zone affected?

Mr. Eden

Slightly purified.

Mr. Tinker

Is not the outcome of these negotiations the best indication that the Allies are winning the war?

Sir William Davison

I am not quite clear on one point. My right hon. Friend said that 20 tons were to go in May and June and then he referred to a figure of 40 tons. Does that mean that after May and June 40 tons of wolfram are to be exported from Spain to Germany? It seems a large amount.

Mr. Eden

It is not a large amount compared with what has been going. What I said was, 20 tons for each of the months of May and June, and that thereafter, for the rest of the year, if as a practical matter, they can be made, exports will not exceed 40 tons a month.

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

Will my right hon. Friend bring this friendly and satisfactory arrangement to the notice of the Swedish Government?

Mr. Stokes

If the right hon. Gentleman says that 20 tons amount to 20 per cent. of the supplies, will not 40 tons amount to 4o per cent., in which case the reduction is not really very great?

Mr. Eden

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been kind enough to confirm my hon. Friend's calculation. I will only add that if my hon. Friend studies the document he will find it is obvious that we thought it desirable to make the best possible arrangement for the immediate future.