HC Deb 11 May 1959 vol 605 cc853-5
33. Mr. Awbery

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is aware that shots have recently been fired off the coast of Iceland and fishermen's lives are put in danger because the British and Icelandic Governments have failed to come to an agreement on the delimitation of coastal jurisdiction, and that this is likely to continue until a mutual agreement has been made; and, as the International Court which deals with these problems does not meet until April of next year, if he will make a further effort to contact the Icelandic Government with a view to arriving at a temporary settlement of the dispute until the meeting takes place next year, or seek an earlier meeting of the World Conference on the Law of the Sea.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Unless the Icelandic Government are willing to come to some interim arrangements of a compromise nature to regulate fishing around Iceland, the risk of dangerous incidents in that area is likely to persist. We are constantly reminding the Icelandic Government of our readiness either to negotiate an interim arrangement, or to refer the dispute to the International Court and to accept any interim arrangement indicated by the Court. But the Icelandic Government have not responded to our approaches; and the Icelandic Parliament recently passed a resolution to the effect that "no fishery limit can be considered which is less than twelve miles from the base lines around Iceland". We shall, however, persist in our requests that the Icelandic Government discuss an interim arrangement.

Meanwhile, I will repeat an offer which my right hon. and learned Friend made last December to the Icelandic representative in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, namely, that we are prepared that all British warships should be withdrawn from their present task of protecting British trawlers within the twelve-mile limit if, as an interim arrangement, the Icelandic Government will see that the activities of their Fishery Protection vessels do not go beyond a six-mile limit.

As for the possibility of advancing the date of the forthcoming United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, Her Majesty's Government would have liked a much earlier date than the one eventually fixed, but it was not possible to secure world agreement to a date earlier than the spring of 1960.

Mr. Awbery

I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the consideration he has given to this matter, which was discussed last week on the Floor of the House. Is he aware that so long as the question of territorial waters is unsolved our fishermen in that area are in danger, and that when the question of the twelve-mile limit was before the Conference on the Law of the Sea 39 voted for the twelve miles, 38 voted against the twelve miles and eight were neutral?

In view of this vote, the Icelandic people believed that they were right in establishing the twelve miles. Will he, therefore, now ask them, as we voted for the six miles—whether they would make it alternate months—six miles for one month, twelve miles for the next month —and continue this arrangement until the international Conference meets? It has been done with the Faroe Government.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

I do not think it has been done with the Faroe Government along the lines which the hon. Gentleman suggests. What I indicated was that Her Majesty's Government had made every possible attempt to get the Icelandic Government to discuss some interim arrangement which would make fishing round Iceland safer during the interim period before the Law of the Sea Conference meets next year and comes to a final decision on the matter.

Mr. Younger

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a great many people will think that the interim offer of Her Majesty's Government is, in fact, a very reasonable one? Can he tell me whether any steps have been taken, either through N.A.T.O. or O.E.E.C., both of which bodies have at various times attempted to mediate in this dispute? Is there anything going on about this at the present time in either forum?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

Not at the moment. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have tried for a very long time, through N.A.T.O., in particular, to get the Icelandic Government to discuss these problems, but I am afraid we were unsuccessful. It is a matter of judgment of when it would be useful to take up the matter again with the Icelandic Government, but I will certainly bear the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion in mind.

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