HC Deb 26 May 1952 vol 501 cc938-40
23. Mr. Hoy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the decision of The Hague Court in the Anglo-Norwegian fisheries dispute, Her Majesty's Government are prepared to extend the limit of British territorial waters from three to four miles.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

No, Sir. The decision of The Hague Court related not to the breadth of territorial waters but to the method of delimiting the base line from which territorial waters are measured. In the opinion of Her Majesty's Government the Court's judgment does not in any way affect the position that it is contrary to international law for a State to claim a territorial belt of more than three miles unless very special historical circumstances can be invoked. In the Anglo-Norwegian fisheries case, Her Majesty's Government admitted that Norway was entitled to a belt four miles in width precisely because of special historical circumstances. Norway has a limit of four miles which goes back in time to a period earlier than the adoption of three miles by any country.

Mr. Hoy

While agreeing with the Minister of State that this matter is not likely to be settled satisfactorily by unilateral action, may I ask him whether the Foreign Secretary will consider convening a conference urgently of the signatories to the Fishing Convention to consider this matter?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a suggestion I will certainly bear in mind.

24. Mr. Duthie

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the decision of The Hague Court in the Anglo-Norwegian fisheries dispute, what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the adoption of the base line principle for British territorial waters and to which headlands it would apply.

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

The future policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the method of delimitation of British territorial waters has not yet been settled, but it is being studied in the light of the judgment of The Hague Court in the Anglo-Norwegian fisheries dispute. In these circumstances, it is not possible to say which headlands would become base points if it were decided to adopt the principles enunciated by the Court.

As a naval and maritime Power with considerable deep sea fishing interests; the United Kingdom cannot, without careful consideration, depart from its established policy of maintaining a maximum area of the seas free from national jurisdiction. Her Majesty's Government are in any case bound by certain fisheries conventions to retain the present exclusive fishery limits, so far as the vessels of certain countries are concerned, and have the further obligation to consult Colonial Governments who would be affected by any change in policy.

While Her Majesty's Government are fully alive to the advantages which might accrue to inshore fishermen from the adoption of the base-line principle, they feel that it would not be right to come to firm conclusions with regard to a very serious action until the wider aspects of the problem have been fully examined.

Mr. Duthie

While appreciating the difficulties that beset this problem, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend if he will bear in mind the grim paradox that no British trawler can operate in the Moray Firth inside a line drawn between Duncansby Head and Rattray Head, whereas foreign trawlers have been coming in during the last 50 years and have done much to destroy the livelihood of the largely indigenous fishing population along that coast?

Mr. Lloyd

I am quite aware of the point my hon. Friend has put forward and I have considerable sympathy, but the fact is that in the areas outside territorial waters foreign trawlers cannot be excluded, but they are not permitted to land in the United Kingdom any fish they catch in those waters.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that our people along our northern coasts feel that this principle seems always to operate against us, and never in our favour?

Mr. Edward Evans

Will the Minister have this matter referred to the White Fish Authority for an adequate report?

Mr. Lloyd

I consider that the proper course to pursue is to continue our negotiations with the Icelandic Government on this matter and to bear in mind the suggestion which the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) and the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) have put forward.