HC Deb 26 November 1975 vol 901 cc836-9
10. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on further discussions with the Icelandic Government over fisheries limits.

15. Mr. Prescott

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on his discussions with the Icelandic Government about the British-Icelandic fisheries dispute.

27. Mr. Alan Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the discussions with the Icelandic Government concerning fisheries limits.

Mr. Hattersley

I have nothing to add to the statement I made on 20th November and the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence on 24th and 25th November. Her Majesty's Government are ready to continue discussions with the Government of Iceland with a view to reaching a negotiated settlement whenever and wherever the Government of Iceland are prepared to enter into such talks.

Mr. Wall

In view of the statements emanating from Reykjavik, will the right hon. Gentleman again make it clear that the action taken by Her Majesty's Government was purely defensive and was caused by the aggression of armed gunboats against unarmed trawlers? Does he agree that it is unlikely that there will be any chance of renegotiation or of resuming discussions until the Law of the Sea Conference reports some time early next year, but that, in any case, as he said, we are prepared to negotiate at any time?

Mr. Hattersley

I agree that everything done by the British Government has been intended to do no more and no less than to defend our own proper interests and international obligations and the opportunities for our trawling fleet and those who support it on shore to continue their livelihoods and remain in work. No act of provocation or international lawlessness will come from the British Government.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is wrong when he suggests that there will be no opportunity to reopen discussions before the next Law of the Sea Conference. I hope that even now the Icelandic Government will realise that sooner or later we must talk and that, as we are specific in our willingness to make concessions, they will understand that an agreement consistent with their interests and honour is still possible. I take this opportunity—an opportunity which I shall take every time it is open to me—of inviting them to talk again.

Mr. Prescott

Will my right hon. Friend explain why we are not developing every political initiative in other countries involved in fishing—for example, the EEC, Norway and Iceland—to discuss fish stocks and exploitation rates? Will he confirm that our experts who went to Iceland to discuss this matter with the Icelandic authorities agree that their level and interpretation of fish stocks are correct and not propaganda, as we said in the last year or two?

Mr. Hattersley

Our experts did not agree with that report. They agreed that the data on which the report was based were accurate, but they did not confirm the projections and the reduction in cod stocks which the Icelandic Government interpreted from those data.

We are prepared to use and enjoy the good offices of any friendly Power or organisation which can persuade the Icelandic Government to negotiate with us. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we must make it clear that some of these matters are proper for us, not for the European Economic Community. I suspect that, like me, he does not want the EEC to extend its competence to an area which we believe is proper for Great Britain and this Government.

Mr. Clark

Does the Minister agree that the subject of discussions and concessions should be approached with extreme caution? Are not territorial limits at sea likely to assume increasing importance in future not only in fisheries, but in mineral rights, offshore oil and submarine technology? Does he agree that to establish a precedent for making concessions in this respect would be extremely undesirable?

Mr. Hattersley

I think that I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest on that point. The one area of agreement that we reached on my first visit to Reykjavik was that any new agreement, were it to come about, would be without prejudice to future international law and obligations. That was the one subject on which the two Governments agreed. Therefore, if we were to make some agreement on tonnages, catch figures and the numbers of ships to operate freely in those disputed waters, I do not believe that that would prejudice our future position.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Icelandic dispute highlights the need for a proper, sensible fishing policy by this Government and the need to indicate to the industry and, indeed, to the EEC what our future fishing policy will be?

Secondly, will he comment on the initiative taken by the Secretary-General of NATO to try to get agreement between the disputing parties?

Mr. Hattersley

I would not describe what the Secretary-General of NATO did yesterday as an initiative. It was a statement, which I endorse and I hope the House endorses, of regret that two friendly nations and partners in NATO should have arrived at this situation. That is my feeling and I am sure that the House will endorse it.

As for a fishing policy which is a development of the present EEC common fisheries policy, I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I are now considering the position that we must take up within the EEC. One of our duties during the months ahead is to ensure the development of a new Community fishing policy that meets the needs of Britain's fishing industry.

Mr. Watt

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how West Germany managed to reach agreement with Iceland, bearing in mind that she has no reciprocal fishing rights to offer? Is he aware that Icelan-die boats are now fishing for herring within 20 miles of the British coast? Would he agree that as Britain has so much to gain and so little to lose by extending her fishing limits, we ought to go for a 200-mile limit now? Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that negotiating power is more important than naval power in the present dispute with Iceland?

Mr. Hattersley:

The simple fact of the matter is that Germany and Iceland have come to an agreement for two reasons. First, what the Germans want is to catch fish that are unacceptable to British housewives and unsaleable in British shops, and therefore of no commercial value to the fishing fleet. We want to fish for cod, and the Government of Iceland take different views about cod and other fish. Secondly, if, proportionately, we were offered by the Government of Iceland the kind of catch figures that the Government of Germany have been offered, the offer would have been not 65,000 tons but 95,000 tons, and that might have put a different gloss on the negotiations.

What the hon. Gentleman is inviting the Government to do in the last part of his question is to behave in a way not consistent with international law, that is, to announce that we are extending our fishing limits irrespective of what the International Court of Justice or any-body else thinks to be right. The Government are not prepared to act in that lawless fashion.

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