I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for the length of the reply. The Soviet authorities have imposed, or retained, since 12th May a number of restrictions on traffic to and from Berlin. Individually these may appear to be insignificant or technical in character. Collectively, their effect has been to limit the volume of supplies entering Berlin.
These restrictions include an insistence that all trains proceeding to Berlin must now be drawn by Soviet zone locomotives manned by Soviet zone crews. Prior to 1st March, 1948, Bizonal locomotives and crews were used and this practice was based upon a Soviet request in 1945.
Secondly, Soviet officers have been permanently installed at principal Western sector stations dealing with Allied traffic and are insisting upon supervising working of trains. They have instructed Reichsbahn officials that they are to refuse any Allied instructions not passed through them. This system did not obtain on 1st March, 1948.
Thirdly, the Soviet authorities have now stated that only the Helmstedt line may be used for traffic to Berlin. Before the blockade, a variable number of goods trains to Berlin was permitted to pass by alternative routes through Cebisfelde and through Probstzelle.
Fourthly, the Soviet authorities have contended that they are only obliged to provide facilities for a total of 16 Allied passenger and Allied and Kommandatura freight trains to Berlin a day. In fact, in the months previous to the blockade, the average number of trains was considerably higher than this.
Fifthly, the Soviet authorities, departing from previous practice, have placed restrictions upon the use of the autobahn from Helmstedt by commercial traffic to Berlin. They have also demanded documentation and permits for the movement of freight by road which were not required before the blockade.
Sixthly, they have insisted upon a new system of documentation and registration for barges entering from the Western zones. These documents have been forthcoming in very limited numbers and they appear to confer only a limited right of movement within the Soviet zone.
Vigorous representations have been made to the Soviet authorities in respect of each of these departures from pre-blockade practice. As a result, there have been relaxations on a number of points.
The right hon. Gentleman said just now that some of the traffic had been interfered with and delayed. Can he give any idea of the percentage of the traffic affected by these various restrictions?
In order to ensure the continuance of traffic into Berlin, are any steps being taken to reintroduce the three posts on the autobahn which we had before the restrictions were imposed?
Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas:
Will my hon. Friend indicate the nature of the interference with traffic, particularly with railway traffic? Are the goods displaced, or transferred, and in what respect is there any guarantee that goods in the train are delivered at the end of the journey untouched?
Are these matters being discussed in Paris and, if not, would it not be better to see that the question of free traffic is raised before going forward with more important matters?