HC Deb 12 June 1961 vol 642 cc29-31
41. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Lord Privy Seal what decision he has now reached following his study of the relevant facts regarding claiming compensation from the Government of Denmark for the owners, officers and crew of the Aberdeen shipping vessel "Red Crusader" for the damage done when that ship was fired on and taken prisoner by a Danish Government vessel off the Faroe Islands last May.

Mr. Heath

I cannot reach any conclusion as regards the claim against the Danish Government for compensation until the facts have been established. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has received a report of this incident following the return of the "Red Crusader" and the British naval vessels involved to Aberdeen. From this and from the information given us by the Danish Government it is clear that there are differences as to the facts of the case. We have been in touch with the Danish Government about this and they have now proposed that a commission of inquiry be appointed to ascertain the facts. We agree with the Danish Government that an impartial enquiry into the facts is desirable, but the terms of reference, the composition of the commission and so on have still to be agreed between the two Governments.

Mr. Hughes

Do not the relevant facts referred to in my Question indicate that the rights and responsibilities of two friendly nations with regard to fishing have become unnecessarily complicated owing to the non-existence of a Minister of Cabinet rank devoted entirely to fishing problems? Will the Lord Privy Seal bring this aspect of the matter before the Cabinet with a view to the appointment of such a Minister? Does he not realise that the negative and unconstructive answer which he has just given reinforces the view that I am putting to him?

Mr. Heath

This is far from being a negative and unconstructive answer. It is an answer which accepts the Danish proposal that there should be an impartial inquiry into the whole of the facts of this case. We all deeply regret that this incident should have created tension between our two countries, We all agree on the importance of the fishing industry, but I do not think that this incident could have been avoided by the appointment of a Cabinet Minister responsible for the fishing industry.

Lady Tweedsmuir

In view of the fact that this incident has now involved the Governments concerned, would my right hon. Friend consider making approaches to those concerned that the facilities of the International Court at The Hague might be extended in order that there might be some international court to which all these fishing disputes could automatically be referred, because they are likely to happen again in the future? While welcoming the inquiry very much as possibly a means of preserving good British-Danish relations, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will say, once the inquiry is complete and supposing that further procedures are necessary, if it is possible to adopt my suggestion, as this incident involves the Governments, to refer this matter to the International Court at The Hague?

Mr. Heath

On the last point, perhaps my hon. Friend would give me notice of that rather technical question and I will look into it. On the question of arranging for the International Court to hear disputes over territorial waters, it is true that most nations are very jealous of their juridical rights over territorial waters, but I will certainly look at that point.

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