HC Deb 02 December 1959 vol 614 cc1152-3
2. Mr. F. Noel-Baker

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what naval units are now engaged on protecting trawlers off Iceland; what instructions have been given to the commanding officers concerned; and for how long it is proposed to continue to use Her Majesty's warships for this purpose.

Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing

Two of Her Majesty's ships are at present protecting British trawlers off Iceland; their instructions are to protect British fishing vessels which, under international law, are fishing on the high seas.

I cannot forecast how long it may be necessary to use Her Majesty's ships for this purpose. I would, however, remind the hon. Member that Her Majesty's Government have on a number of occasions made suggestions for the negotiation of a temporary settlement of this dispute pending the results of the next United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, due to start in March next year.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Would the Civil Lord agree that the two ships at present engaged do not give an entirely accurate picture of the extent of this naval commitment? Would he further agree that, in view of the damage being done to British merchant interests as well as to British relations with many other countries, including our allies in N.A.T.O., it is very desirable that some method other than gunboat diplomacy should be tried to solve our differences with what is a traditionally very pro-British and loyal allied country?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

We have had two or three ships there. It is true that large numbers, in their turn, have served in this important undertaking, but I would agree with the hon. Gentleman that naturally we would like to have a settlement. We do not wish to see disputes, particularly between allied N.A.T.O. nations, and the sooner we can come to an amicable settlement the better.

Mr. Awbery

Can the Civil Lord say how many nations have now agreed to the 12-mile limit which is the cause of the dispute and of the need for our ships to be in the area?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

That is a question which should be put down to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and not to the Civil Lord.

Mr. Jeger

Is the Civil Lord aware that, whilst our ships are unable to put into Icelandic ports for assistance when required, the Navy performs an invaluable task in giving help to our fishermen who are grateful for the assistance they get?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am glad to have the endorsement of the hon. Gentleman and of the House in general in respect of the wonderful work which our fishery protection vessels have done in this task.

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