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Contraband Control (Navicerts)

Volume 363: debated on Tuesday 30 July 1940

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11.

asked the Minister of Economic Warfare whether, in view of the fact that German occupation now extends to the Spanish frontier, a system of contraband control will be instituted over the imports of Spain and Portugal?

15.

asked the Minister of Economic Warfare whether he has any statement to make concerning new measures to enforce the blockade?

With the permission of my hon. Friends, I will answer these Questions together in a statement at the end of Questions.

Later—

German occupation of the West European coastline from the North Cape to the Pyrenees has greatly changed the conditions of the economic war. The German Armies have succeeded in overrunning large parts of Western Europe, but the overseas imports which they require are still barred from the seas commanded by the Royal Navy. Many fewer ships are now engaged on legitimate neutral trade between Europe and the Americas. Moreover, we must now control, not only shipping approaching the Mediterranean or the North Sea, but all shipping crossing the Atlantic. To apply this control in the old way would mean diverting many ships far out of their course to contraband bases in British waters, either in this island or in West Africa. To avoid imposing such grave inconveniences upon shippers, shipowners and crews, His Majesty's Government have decided to extend the navicert system to all seaborne goods consigned to any European port, as well as to certain Atlantic islands and to certain neutral ports in North Africa. In future ships sailing from a neutral port to any such destination must obtain navicerts for all items of cargo, and in addition a ship navicert at the last port of loading. Any consignment not navicerted and any ship without a ship navicert, will henceforth be liable to seizure by our patrols. The same rules will apply to outgoing trade. Ships sailing from European ports, or from certain Atlantic islands, or from certain neutral ports in North Africa must have certificates of non-enemy origin for all items of their cargoes, and any ship whose cargo is not fully certificated will be liable to be seized together with all uncertificated items of the cargo. An Order-in-Council giving effect to these changes will be issued forthwith.

It has been suggested in some quarters that we intend to extend the blockade to certain neutral countries. This is not so. Where supplies can reach such neutrals without the risk of falling into the hands of the enemy we shall grant navicerts on such a scale as to allow imports adequate for domestic consumption, but not for reexport to other countries. Moreover, it will be the policy of His Majesty's Government not merely to allow such adequate supplies to pass through our controls, but to assist neutral countries to obtain them. These measures will greatly benefit those engaged in honest neutral trade. Delays in such trade, due to the exercise of our controls, will be much reduced. At the same time, a heavy blow will be struck at those who seek to elude our controls and to carry supplies either to or from the enemy. Our friends will be further encouraged, and our enemies discomforted, by some ingenious provisions which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Shipping will, I understand, immediately announce.

Finally, I would recall that on 2nd July I informed the House that contraband control had been extended to French territory under enemy control and that no goods were being allowed to reach the enemy through unoccupied France. After a most careful review of all the circumstances, His Majesty's Government have now decided, with regret, that in present conditions they must treat all metropolitan France, as well as Algeria, Tunisia and French Morocco, in the same manner, for the purposes of contraband and enemy export control, as enemy-controlled territory. Goods destined for these territories are, therefore, liable to be seized as contraband and goods originating in, or owned by persons in, such territories, are liable to be placed in prize. These steps, which I have now announced, are designed to smooth the path of genuine neutral trade, while increasing the strength of our blockade and avoiding all unnecessary calls upon the Royal Navy.