HC Deb 05 May 1958 vol 587 cc836-7
31. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on what grounds the Attorney-General stated at the recent Conference on the Law of the Sea at Geneva that Great Britain favoured the extension of territorial waters from three to six miles.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Commander Allan Noble)

My right hon. and learned Friend did not say that Great Britain favoured an extension to six miles. He said that we submitted the proposal reluctantly, in recognition of the strength of the feeling in many quarters against the three-mile principle as such. He added that we still regarded the three-mile limit as representing the fundamental rule of law in the absence of agreement on any other limit.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister realise that the House never gave the Government any sort of authority to make any such offer, and that if that offer had been accepted it would have inflicted on the fishing industry a very great loss? Will he give an assurance that no such offer will be made by the Government at any future conference of this kind or otherwise?

Commander Noble

Last week, both I and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture made it quite clear that we fully share the grave concern of the fishing industry about the situation which resulted from the absence of any decision on territorial waters at Geneva and its possible effects on the economy of this country. We have done, and we are doing, everything we can to safeguard the interests of the deep sea fishing industry.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

While all of us would favour a three-mile limit, is it not a fact that the Government would have been very wise and very pleased to have obtained a compromise, if that had been possible, rather than return to total anarchy with nations claiming up to twelve miles and with us being unable to interfere?

Commander Noble

Yes. I think the House will agree that a six-mile limit would be better than a twelve-mile limit.

Mr. Younger

Do the Government feel that there would be any better prospects from some kind of a regional rather than world-wide consultation, which would provide a higher proportion of votes of those who are seriously interested in fishing matters and have serious responsibilities?

Commander Noble

We most certainly have that in mind.

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