HC Deb 09 December 1963 vol 686 cc30-3

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

68. Mr. WALL

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement about the West European Fisheries Conference.


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement upon the result of the European Fisheries Conference.

70. Mr. Jeger

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on future policy on fishing limits.

The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)

With your leave, Mr Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Questions Nos. 68, 69 and 70.

A conference of Western European countries met in London from 3rd to 6th December to consider certain fishing problems. Her Majesty's Government invited to the conference representatives of the Commission of the European Economic Community and of the following Governments: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Iceland, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All attended the conference.

The agenda comprised the following items:

  1. (1) Freedom of fishing and access to fishing grounds;
  2. (2) Access to markets;
  3. (3) Fisheries policing;
  4. (4) Miscellaneous.
There was a useful discussion on all these matters, and a number of proposals were made. In particular, proposals were put forward by the United Kingdom and by other delegations relating to fishery limits. In order to allow time for further study of these proposals, and of the other matters discussed in the conference, it was agreed that the conference should resume on 8th January next with the same agenda.

I do not think that, while these matters are still under negotiation, the House will wish me to add to the statement of policy made on 29th April last by my right hon. Friend the then Lord Privy Seal. A full report will be issued after the conclusion of the conference.

Sir Douglas Marshall

Is my hon. Friend aware of the importance of fishery limits, particularly to the inshore fishing industry? May I ask him whether he will be able to make a statement on these limits and when he thinks that the conference is likely to end?

Mr. Thomas

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of considering limits in a general consideration of fishery problems. We will make a statement as soon as the conference is over. It is difficult to say how long it will last, but I should anticipate that it would be finished within a fortnight of its resumption.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the hon. Member realise that his statement is very unsatisfactory regarding, in particular, fishing limits? He did not give any indication of what discussions took place, how far those discussions went and the possibilities of an agreement between the various countries. Does he realise that that is of the utmost importance to the British fishing industry, and particularly to Aberdeen?

Mr. Thomas

I am fully aware of the importance to the fishing industry, par- ticularly to those who fish near the coastal waters, of limits. This matter was discussed at length during the course of the conference. I disagree with the hon. and learned Member that there has been an unsatisfactory conclusion. There has been no conclusion. It is, in fact, satisfactory that the Governments concerned are considering the proposals put forward.

Mr. Gordon Walker

It is a little difficult to understand why the hon. Gentleman made this statement verbally instead of in a Written Answer, because he has told us nothing. He says that he will make a written statement at the end of the conference. I can only assume that he was hoping for a supplementary question which he could answer as to what were the proposals about limits which we put forward, because he said that proposals were made. The only purpose of making a verbal statement would be to tell us that, so I ask him that.

Mr. Thomas

I am sorry, but I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's question because it was agreed at the conference that its proceedings should be treated as confidential until the conference is over. As I say, I hope to make a full statement when the conference is over. We thought that it would be convenient, particularly to those hon. Members interested in the subject, if I were to give the state of play at the moment.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Does my hon. Friend agree that this matter has dragged on for some time? Will he confirm that, in the last resort, if no agreement is reached after the January meeting, a decision about limits will be reached in Britain's own interests and that it will not necessarily be dependent on other people's opinions?

Mr. Thomas

We certainly hope that agreement can be reached, but if it cannot Her Majesty's Government will have to consider the situation in the light of the policy outlined by my right hon. Friend the then Lord Privy Seal on 29th April last.

Mr. P. Browne

While welcoming Her Majesty's Government's initiative in calling this conference, may I put it the other way round? Will my hon. Friend say whether he made it clear to the other members of the conference that we must take unilateral measures of our own on fishery limits? If he has not done so, will he please do so in January?

Mr. Thomas

We have made it quite clear to the conference that the present situation cannot remain as it is.