HC Deb 28 July 1976 vol 916 cc631-3
8. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current state of negotiations between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Iceland in relation to deep-sea fishing off the Icelandic coast.

Mr. Crosland

As I told the House on 7th June, and as the agreement with Iceland makes plain, negotiations with Iceland on a long-term agreement will be undertaken by the EEC. We have urged the Commission to produce a draft negotiating mandate as soon as possible, and I expect this to be considered immediately after the holiday break.

Mr. Farr

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer but I ask him not to rely too much on the EEC reaching an agreed negotiating position by 2nd December in view of the deep differences that at the moment exist between member nations. With that in mind, and with the possibility of there being a vacuum after 2nd December, will the Foreign Secretary be prepared to maintain British fishing rights in that area in whatever way is necessary?

Mr. Crosland

I believe that the hon. Gentleman has just come back from Reykjavik and is extremely well informed on these matters. As for the EEC negotiating position, I am optimistic that that can be reached in September. I saw the Commissioner responsible for these matters only the day before yesterday. I am relatively optimistic about that. Whether that will in turn lead to an agreement between the Community and Iceland is a much more uncertain matter. Obviously there must be reservations about how likely it is that we shall reach a satisfactory agreement. I should not like to speculate on the hypothetical situation that will arise if on 2nd Decem- ber no agreement has been reached. It will be a very unpleasant situation.

Mr. Powell

Does the accurate terminology of the right hon. Gentleman's reply confirm that membership of the Community deprived this country of the status of an independent nation and the right to negotiate as one nation with another? [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish." Just listen to the answer.

Mr. Crosland

I cannot accept the suggestion that accuracy of language necessarily leads to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to draw. The fact is that we all had our votes in the referendum one way or the other. That decision, rightly or wrongly, was taken. That limited a decision on the common fisheries policy. That policy is a fact. That means that this country now has to make the best that it possibly can of the task of revising the policy in our own national interests.

Mr. Wall

In view of the threat from the Cuban fleet and other large fishing fleets, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that British limits are extended to 200 miles before the conclusion of a final agreement with Iceland?

Mr. Crosland

I believe that the Cuban story greatly reinforces the case for a 200-mile limit. Ideally we would do that at the same time as it is agreed at the Law of the Sea Conference. However, that looks increasingly unlikely. We had the declaration of intent made at the meeting of the Council of Ministers only yesterday morning. We hope that with the EEC we can all do it conjointly, but if there is any unnecessary delay as far as the Community is concerned we shall not have the slightest hesitation in taking action unilaterally. We are now preparing legislation to make that possible if it is necessary.

Mr. Brotherton

Following the agreement with Iceland on fisheries, will the right hon. Gentleman have talks with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to prevent the landing of Icelandic fish at Grimsby?

Mr. Crosland

I have always been fairly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his solicitude for my constituents. However, I think that they still prefer to look to me rather than to him for their protection. I continually have meetings with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the point that the hon. Gentleman has made is something about which we often exchange views.