HC Deb 25 June 1975 vol 894 cc430-2
11. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions have taken place, since the end of the Geneva session of the Law of the Sea Conference, with the chairman of the Committee of 77; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Hattersley

Since the Geneva session ended on 9th May, we have been examining the single negotiating texts produced by the chairmen of the main committees. We shall be having extensive consultations on these with other States, including members of the Group of 77, before the next session of the conference.

Mr. Knox

Will the Minister discuss with Mr. Evensen the concept of the exclusive economic zone? Will he also discuss the compatibility of this with the concept that the sea-bed should be the common heritage of mankind?

Mr. Hattersley

We should be hoping for too much if we believed that much progress could be made at this conference without the acceptance of some of the general principles of the economic zone. I understand that within that concept there have to be understandings about sharing the revenues that might come from it, and free passage among, upon and above it. Therefore, the British representative at the discussions to which the hon. Gentleman referred will bear all these points in mind.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the impatience felt in many of the fishing areas over the failure to come to some concrete decisions about fishing and economic zones? This is causing great distress. People do not know what investment to put into the industry. When shall we be told something definite for them?

Mr. Hattersley

I understand the problem that has been created, not least because of the progress of the Law of the Sea Conference and the need to carry out parallel discussions on the common fisheries policy with the EEC. The combination of those two negotiations is causing a good deal of uncertainty. My hon. Friend will understand that an international negotiation of the sort that has been taking place in Geneva, and before that in Carácas, is bound to take some time. If it is to succeed, it needs to have the support of many nations with many different interests. That can be achieved only over a long period.

Mr. Henderson

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to tell the House about the recent talks which his right hon. Friend had with the Norwegian Foreign Minister and the Icelandic Prime Minister on the desire of those countries to increase their fishing limits? Is he able to say whether he is putting forward proposals whereby our limits can be increased at the same time, on the basis of mutual co-operation and understanding with them?

Mr. Hattersley

Our obligation is to conclude with our partners and friends a successful Law of the Sea Conference and to make sure that the common fisheries policy of the EEC meets the needs of our own fishermen. We are pursuing that end. I do not think that the revelation of negotiations with individual countries would help that.

Mr. Wall

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing pressure among fishing industries of many nations towards demanding united action for a 200-mile EEZ? In view of the slowness of the Law of the Sea Conference and with the very difficult questions of international law it has to determine, will the right hon. Gentleman consider an interim decision on this matter?

Mr. Hattersley

It is important that no decisions or arbitrary unilateral actions are taken before the outcome of the main considerations. We have made it clear that we would not contemplate taking a decision or making statements which were in conflict with international law. It is important that the entire thing be done as a package rather than individual items being pursued.

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