HC Deb 01 December 1952 vol 508 cc1087-9
20. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if the conference which he has had recently with the Icelandic Minister in London on the subject of the Icelandic fishing dispute is continuing or has been completed; and if he will make a statement on the result of the conference.

21. Mr. Osborne

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a further statement on the talks he has had with the Icelandic Government regarding the fishing dispute.

22. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the deadlock in respect of Icelandic fisheries, he has considered submitting the dispute to The Hague Court.

Mr. Eden

On 24th November my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary communicated to the Icelandic Minister a proposal from the British Trawlers Federation that there should be a conference to formulate a scheme acceptable to the fishing interests in both countries. The Icelandic Government replied on 26th November stating that trawler owners are not competent to conduct negotiations regarding the conservation measures which the Icelandic Government have taken. Her Majesty's Government are now considering what further steps should be taken by them.

As regards the suggestion that the dispute should be referred to the International Court of Justice, Her Majesty's Government have, naturally, had this point in mind. Their aim is, however, to try, by friendly negotiation with the Icelandic Government, to reach a practical solution which would take account of the interests of the British fishing industry and the need for conservation.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Secretary of State aware that this dispute has dragged on for far too long and that in the meantime British consumers are being prejudiced, as fish has diminished in quality and increased in price? Will he do something to have the dispute determined quickly?

Mr. Eden

The hon. and learned Gentleman asks me to do something. I should always be grateful for constructive suggestions in this extremely difficult matter, which we have been conducting to the best of our ability for some time. The hon. and learned Gentleman is misinformed about the price of fish, which, I am told, has not risen as a result of this dispute, but has, in fact, fallen.

Air Commodore Harvey

In considering this matter, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that only last week many tons of British fish went for fishmeal at Hull and Grimsby, in spite of what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes)?

Mr. Sorensen

May we take it that if the negotiations which are now being pursued break down the Secretary of State will refer this matter to the International Court, just as the dispute of the Norwegian fisheries was referred there?

Mr. Eden

I should not like to pledge myself to that course without a great deal of further consideration. Among other things, in any event that would not be a short-term solution; that would mean all the length of the proceedings at The Hague Court, quite apart from other considerations which we have to bear in mind. There might be other and better ways of trying to reach a solution.

Mrs. Braddock

Will the Foreign Secretary take note of the comment by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) and realise that the reason why fish went to the fishmeal factories was because the price was too high? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Is he aware that the reason for this dispute at the moment is that the Trawler Owners' Association have for a long time been trying to prevent Icelandic fish from coming into this country because it keeps down the price of British fish at the ports?

Mr. Eden

One thing about which there is no dispute—or I hope there is no dispute about it in the House—is that we want to get this matter settled as soon as we can. But I think it is also a fact—so I am informed; it is not my Department—that the price of fish has not risen while this dispute has been in progress.

Mr. Younger

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the fact that the price of fish has not risen is not conclusive evidence that the absence of Icelandic supplies has made no difference? Might not the price have dropped a great deal more if these supplies had been available?

Mr. Eden

That is an argument which could well be used, and it may be an extremely useful argument in the negotiations.