HC Deb 15 November 1956 vol 560 cc1139-43
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement about the Icelandic fisheries dispute.

I am taking this first opportunity to inform the House that an Agreement for the resumption in an orderly manner of landings of Icelandic-caught fish in the United Kingdom was signed in Paris yesterday by representatives of the fishing industries of the two countries. It enters into effect today.

The Council of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation has taken note of this Agreement between the two fishing industries and of statements by the Icelandic and United Kingdom delegates covering other aspects of the settlement, notably fishery limits and the safety of fishing vessels within the limits.

On the fishery limits, the two Governments have reserved their position while a report toy the International Law Commission on the Law of the Sea is under consideration by the current session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

On the question of the safety of fishing vessels within the Icelandic fishery limits, the Icelandic Foreign Minister has stated that the practice will be continued of not applying the law governing the stowing of gear within the fishery limits to foreign fishing vessels seeking shelter; and vessels which enter Icelandic ports for repairs will, as hitherto, be allowed to sell their catch if it might otherwise be spoiled.

The Landings Agreement makes provision for the overall level of supplies of Icelandic-caught fish to the United Kingdom market and prescribes for Icelandic vessels arrangements in regard to landings similar to those applicable for British vessels. In the event of differences between the two industries arising out of the Agreement, provision is made for their reference, through Governments, to the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation which will retain its interest in the maintenance of the settlement.

The thanks of the Icelandic Government and of Her Majesty's Government for the help they have received in reaching the present settlement have been conveyed to the Council of the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation and to the members of the Special Group, under the chairmanship of M. Bauer, which was set up in 1954 to seek a solution for this dispute.

I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to express the thanks of Her Majesty's Government to those representatives of the British fishing industry whose public-spirited co-operation has made this settlement possible. Her Majesty's Government hope that this Agreement will further strengthen the friendship between our Icelandic partners and ourselves.

Mr. Younger

May I, on behalf of my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends, welcome the settlement of this longstanding and at times bitter dispute, and congratulate the negotiators upon it? Particularly may I join the Government in thanking the O.E.E.C. Special Group, under the chairmanship of M. Bauer? May I ask the hon. Member whether, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, he will take note of, and will also bring to the notice of all the interested parties, the fact that as long as this was allowed to be a discussion purely between the commercial interests on both sides no progress was made and considerable damage was done to international relations? It was only after the matter was taken up at an international and Governmental level, through the O.E.E.C, that progress was made. Will he draw the moral for the future?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his first remark. I am sure that the whole House will welcome the end of this dispute. I cannot go as far as he went in the second part of his remarks and accept the criticism of the industries concerned. I hope and believe that the forum of the O.E.E.C. may prove fruitful, as it has in this case, for the settlement and probable prevention of such disputes.

Major Wall

May I assure my hon. Friend that all sections of the fishing industry in Hull and Haltemprice will welcome the statement which he has made today? May I ask two questions? First, as Her Majesty's Government still recognise the three-mile limit, will they make it clear that they maintain their position with regard to the question of drawing that line from cape to cape? Secondly, may I ask him whether he would agree, rather in contradiction to what the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) said, that the British Trawlers' Federation have made considerable concessions which, I think he will agree, went a long way towards making this Agreement possible?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Answering the first part of the question, we maintain the position of the lines now drawn.

On the second part of the question, we all recognise in all parts of the House that the trawler industry is one of our greatest and oldest industries. We are grateful for their help and hope that they will find benefit from the Agreement.

Mr. Edward Evans

Following the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) in welcoming this Agreement, may I pay a tribute to the negotiating committee which was set up under the O.E.E.C.? It is a great pity that it was not initiated many years ago. During my visit to Iceland some years ago, it was clear to me that we should have no relaxation of the limit; the political situation there made that quite clear.

While welcoming the new Agreement, may I say that there are one or two points in it which are not very clear to me. I am particularly glad that the very arduous regulations about the stowing of gear and vessels running for shelter have been abrogated and that a much more humane approach has been made to the problem, but I am concerned about the disposal of the catch of those vessels. It is clear that vessels running to shelter might be loaded with fine quality fish. We know that they are allowed to dispose of the fish—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I thought he wanted to ask a question. No doubt we can have speeches on the subject later if the House so desires.

Mr. Evans

Then may I ask the Government to take a very firm line when the matter is debated at the United Nations, to refuse to recognise any unilateral arrangement which is made by any nation, and not to give away our present right to make bilateral agreements, such as those relating to the Faroese and to certain Russian ports? It is very important in the future that that right should be maintained.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Yes, Sir. I thank the hon. Member for what he has said. He is among other hon. Members on both sides who have taken a great interest in, and have helped to solve, this problem. So far as I understand his question, I think that that certainly will be the line and attitude adopted by Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. G. R. Howard

Is the Minister aware that those of us who have a fairly close knowledge of the problem, and bearing in mind the intransigent attitude taken up by both sides at the beginning, are only too happy to hear of this successful conclusion, which will be welcomed on all sides? But may I ask who will be representing Her Majesty's Government at this session of the United Nations which is to go into the question of the North Sea? What will be our representation on that subject? Will we be able adequately to state our point of view?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I cannot, at the moment, tell my hon. Friend, who is an expert on these matters, who exactly will represent Her Majesty's Government, but they will, of course, have expert advice. We shall make certain that the best representation is made.

Captain Hewitson

On behalf of the largest fishing port in the country, Hull, and the one most vitally affected by this settlement—especially in regard to the measures that can now be taken when a ship is running in front of hazard—I welcome the settlement, but may I ask the Minister whether this settlement has been agreed by the Trawler Officers' Guilds? Our information is that they have not agreed. There could be the likelihood of some dispute there.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

As far as I know, agreement has been reached with them.

Mr. Hector Hughes

While welcoming this Agreement, may I ask the Minister whether it will have statutory effect? If not, what steps are being taken by the respective parties to the Agreement to implement it and give it statutory effect?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

This is, of course, an international Agreement between the industries concerned, and not a Governmental Agreement.

Mr. Gibson

Following the question asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, West (Captain Hewitson), may I ask whether there has been any discussion with the fishermen's unions, whether the Government know their attitude towards this Agreement? They are as anxious for a settlement as anyone else in the industry, but unless the settlement carries with it the general agreement of the fishermen—who, of course, have to spend their working lives in this business—as well as of the officers, there may be difficulties.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I am informed that there have been very full discussions over the last four and a half years with all those concerned in this country. We are very well aware, of course, as the hon. Member says, that this is of vital importance to the whole of the fishing industry.