HC Deb 09 March 1964 vol 691 cc33-7

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

56. Mr. WALL

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Government's policy with regard to the Danish Government's declared intention unilaterally to extend the Faroese fishing limit to 12 miles after 11th March, 1964.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Robert Mathew)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Question No 56.

The House will recall that the Danish Government gave notice terminating the Anglo-Danish Agreement of 1959 from 28th of April last. Negotiations a year ago for a new agreement proved unsuccessful and on 5th April the Danish Government declared their intention to apply a 12 mile limit measured from straight baselines to British fishing vessels after 11th March, 1964.

Her Majesty's Government expressed their surprise and deep regret at the Danish Government's action and fully reserved their rights. My right hon. Friend reiterated these views to the Danish Government in the course of his recent visit to Copenhagen.

At the European Fisheries Conference, which has just concluded, a wide measure of agreement was reached on a Fisheries Convention, which would, with its special provisions for areas in which the local population is overwhelmingly dependent upon coastal fisheries, have secured in the view of Her Majesty's Government a fair and reasonable balance between the interests of Faroese coastal fishermen and British fishermen who have traditionally fished around the Faroes.

However, the Danish Government were unable to agree to the application of the Convention to the Faroes and adhere to their decision to exclude British vessels from the 12-mile zone at the Faroes after 11th March. This is a matter of great regret to Her Majesty's Government, since in our view there is room in these waters both for Faroese fishermen and for British fishermen, for whom these grounds, in which they have fished for over 50 years, are of great importance.

In these circumstances, the Danish Government, have been informed that Her Majesty's Government are unable to recognise the new fishery limits at the Faroes We shall not, however, oppose their enforcement by the Danish authorities. This decision is accepted by the British fishing industry. Discussions have taken place with the authorities in Copenhagen on the practical measures necessary to minimise the risk of unpleasant incidents occurring after 11th March off the Faroes.

Mr. Wall

White very much regretting this decision of the Danish Government, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he would agree that this unilateral declaration wholly justifies the industry's imposition of a quota on Faroese landings? Will my hon. Friend continue to do what he can to persuade the Faroese that it will be in their best interests to sign the recently negotiated convention?

Mr. Mathew

Action by the industry is primarily a matter for the industry itself, and the Government could not intervene.

Perhaps I might draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that in connection with this matter my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) has tabled a Question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Her Majesty's Government are ready at any time to reopen negotiations to try to get some settlement of this matter.

Mr. Peart

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are anxious that negotiations should be reopened? Can he say what is the Government's attitude towards the industry's desire to have a quota system? Are the Government against it, or for it?

Mr. Mathew

I think that the hon. Gentleman must await the Answer of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but in the circumstances one can fully understand the attitude of the industry.

Mr. Peart

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we need not await the reply of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? The Government have made up their mind. Why cannot the House be given some information now?

Mr. Mathew

I understand that the Question is being answered today. As I said, in the circumstances, one can understand the attitude of the industry.

Dame Irene Ward

Would not it be a good idea if, for once, the Government would associate themselves with the industry in the view that it takes? Is it not a fact that the trawler industry has to fight a grave and difficult battle? Is my right hon. Friend aware that I regard it as annoying of the Government not to say that they will associate themselves with the industry? I am a bit sick of all this "it is not our job, it is your job" business.

Mr. Mathew

I have already said that I cannot anticipate the Answer which my right hon. Friend will give, but I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are extremely concerned about the position. The Royal Naval Fishery Protection Squadron will patrol the area of the Faroes for the time being after 11th March.

Mr. Grimond

May I ask the hon. Gentleman first, whether he is aware that one result of this may be considerably increased fishing of other grounds, with possibly deleterious results on the stocks at those grounds? Secondly, can the hon. Gentleman clarify what will happen in the Faroese grounds? He says that our fishery protection vessels will be there. He also says that the Government do not recognise the decision taken by the Danish Government, but that they will not interfere with the Faroese fishery cruisers enforcing it. What are our fishery cruisers going to do in the Faroese grounds?

Mr. Mathew

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Royal Navy is at all times under standing orders to protect British lives. The object of patrolling will be to avoid unpleasant incidents of the sort that have occurred in the past and to maintain an atmosphere in which it will be possible to reopen negotiations at a future date.

Mr. Loughlin

Will the hon. Gentleman go a little further on that? If the British Government do not recognise the 12-mile limit, and if the British Navy is in Faroese waters to protect British lives and British fishermen fish within the 12-mite limit, what action will the Navy take to safeguard the rights of fishermen to fish inside that limit?

Mr. Mathew

I think that the main object at the moment is to avoid any incidents in the early stages which could make it impossible to come to an agreement. I have already said that the Royal Navy is at all times under standing orders to protect British lives. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can expect me to specify what action Royal Navy vessels may take in any possible eventuality. That is a hypothetical question.

Mr. Ross

Without wishing to impinge on the Navy Estimates, surely we are in a serious position, because if British fishermen do what they want to do, and what they feel they have a traditional right to do, that is, to fish within these limits, they will not be breaking any law. The Government have said that they do not recognise what the Danes have done, but they say that at the moment they will not prevent the Danes from enforcing their own law. The only thing that that can mean is that to prevent incidents our protection vessels will keep our fishermen out of these waters. Is not that the case? Would not it have been better if, before making this announcement, the Government had got together with the industry and agreed on a satisfactory new initiative on this matter?

Mr. Mathew

I have already described to the House what the function of the patrols will be. I think that the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that although we are not intending to oppose enforcement by the Danish authorities, this decision is accepted by the British fishing industry.