HL Deb 14 December 1953 vol 185 cc22-3

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I might be allowed briefly to intervene to make a statement on the policy regarding delimitation of territorial waters. For some time past Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have had under consideration the question whether the territorial waters round the coasts of the United Kingdom and overseas territories for which Her Majesty's Government are responsible should be re-defined in the light of the judgment delivered by the International Court of Justice on December 18, 1951, in the Anglo-Norwegian fisheries case. After full consideration of the matter they have come to the conclusion that there should be no change; these territorial waters will, therefore, continue to be delimited by a line drawn three miles from low-water mark, or, in the case of bays and estuaries, from a closing line drawn at the first point where they narrow to ten miles in width.

The judgment in the Norwegian case depended on the facts of that case. In the view of Her Majesty's Government it ought not to be inferred from that judgment that, as a principle of International Law, a baseline drawn in the manner authorised by that judgment in that particular case would necessarily he applied to all or any other coasts. Her Majesty's Government recognise that, legal considerations apart, an extension of United Kingdom territorial waters by means of the drawing of baselines, such as have been adopted along the indented coast of Northern Norway, would be of some advantage to British inshore fisheries. Her Majesty's Government sympathise with the point of view of the inshore fishermen, and are conscious of the effect on them of their decision. Her Majesty's Government are also informed that an extension of territorial waters would be of some advantage in certain Colonies and other overseas territories for which Her Majesty's Government are responsible, and they have taken this fully into account. Her Majesty's Government have, however, come to the conclusion that wider considerations, arising out of the naval, mercantile and deep sea fishery position of this country, and like interests in the other territories concerned, must take precedence.

Her Majesty's Government consider that the true interests of all seafaring nations are best served by the greatest possible freedom to use the seas for all legitimate maritime activities, and they view with concern the increasing encroachments on the high seas which have taken place in recent years in many parts of the world. At the same time, Her Majesty's Government will continue to co-operate in securing the fullest possible measure of conservation of fisheries by means of international agreement through the Commissions set up under the International Fisheries Conventions.


May I ask the noble Marquess whether, in coming to these conclusions, Her Majesty's Government have had in mind the continual depletion of the growth of seaweed off our coasts that has been going on through my whole lifetime, and the consequent failure to materialise of whole generations of fish which might have fed us and, possibly, our descendants?


I think this problem has now been considered for something like two years since the judgment was given. All aspects of it have been considered, but, as I say, on balance the principle which I have now proclaimed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government must prevail.