HC Deb 20 April 1972 vol 835 cc738-9
22. Mr. George Cunningham

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether the Government of France obtained the agreement of the British Government before the French naval vessel "L' Agile" entered the Port of Fishguard, following the arrest of the French trawler "Athos" for illegal fishing in British waters.

Mr. Kirk

Long-standing arrangements exist between the United Kingdom and France under which agreement at governmental level is not required for visits of naval vessels where there are no ceremonial or other special features. On the United Kingdom side the detailed operation of the arrangements is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Cunningham

Is it not a highly unusual practice for a foreign State to send one of its warships into a British port following the arrest of a merchant vessel and the trial of its captain in that British port? Has the Under-Secretary observed that the captain of the French ship said that, though unusual, this practice might have to become normal? Will he arrange with the Foreign Office that the French Government are told that whether it becomes normal will be a decision of the British Government and not of the French Government?

Mr. Kirk

The drill for fishery protection vessels like "L'Agile" is for us to be given an outline programme in advance. We are supposed to be given 24 hours notice of a call. This call was rather unusual and unscheduled. [Interruption.] I hope that I may be allowed to reply without interruption. This was an unusual and unscheduled call. We are discussing with the French authorities the circumstances in which notification might be given in future. It is quite useful to have them there as they make very good expert witnesses before the court.