HL Deb 16 July 1964 vol 260 cc396-404

3.58 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill has come to us with a fair wind from another place, and I should like to think that it will also sail through at almost the speed of the last series of measures. I am confident that it will be well received by your Lordships. Its purpose is to extend British fishery limits from 3 miles to 12. So the importance of this measure is not to be judged by its length, and I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to begin by offering a short explanation of the background.

As your Lordships know, Her Majesty's Government have traditionally upheld the validity of the 3-mile limit in International Law. In recent years, however, there has been an increasing tendency for States to claim wider fishery limits. This was not a welcome development for us, for our deep-sea fishermen had long fished in grounds close to the shores of other countries, but we were, above all, anxious that if change had to come it should come by agreement on some new rule of International Law. We played a leading part in two United Nations Conferences on the Law of the Sea in 1958 and 1960. The second of these Conferences failed by one vote to reach agreement on a new rule of International Law. We nevertheless continued to work for agreement in these matters, and we subsequently made various bilateral Agreements with other countries.

By the beginning of 1963 it was cleat that 12-mile limits were in process of becoming established in nearly all the areas in the North Atlantic of interest to our deep-water fishermen. Accordingly, Her Majesty's Government decided that the time had come when some extension of limits could no longer in justice be denied to our own coastal fishermen. In keeping with our desire to proceed in these matters by agreement, we convened the London Fisheries Conference, which completed its work in March of this year. This Conference agreed upon a Convention embodying a 12-mile régime of fishery limits, which was signed by most of our neighbours in Western Europe. We hope and believe that this Convention will contribute significantly to the stabilising of International Law as related to fishery limits.

The Bill now before your Lordships will enable us to establish the regime adopted by the London Fisheries Conference. I can state its main effects very briefly. Clause 1 extends the British fishery limits from their present breadth of 3 miles to a breadth of 12 miles, divided into two 6-mile belts. Foreign fishermen will be excluded altogether from the inner 6-mile limit round our coast after a short phase-out period provided for in Clause 2. In most places, this will end on the last day of 1965. In a few places, notably off the West coast of Scotland, where our limits are being extended by the drawing of new base lines, as well as by the extension of limits itself, foreign fishermen will have an extra year's grace. Between 6 and 12 miles, foreign vessels will still be allowed to fish if they have habitually done so in the past, but they will be limited to the areas and to the species of fish for which they have habitually fished. To give effect to these arrangements, subsection (3) of Clause 1 empowers the Ministers to make orders designating for each country the area in which its vessels may fish and the stocks of fish they may exploit.

Within the 12-mile limit the Bill enables us to apply to foreign vessels the rules of conduct and rules for the conservation of the fish stocks that already apply to British vessels. We have had many complaints about damage to gear suffered by inshore fishermen from foreign vessels, and about the loss of fishing which may result from the use of small meshed nets by foreign vessels. The rules that will apply to the conduct of fishing operations and to conservation are not new. The new feature of the arrangements is that within our limits they will be enforceable by us on foreign vessels, as well as British. This is a solid gain. At the same time, it is only a first step on the road to more effective international measures of enforcement, for which we shall continue to work in consultation and co-operation with all other fishing countries in the North-East Atlantic.

There is little else in the Bill to which I need draw your Lordships' attention at this stage, but perhaps I may pick out one or two minor points of interest. Clause 3, subsection (2), extends to salmon the same protection against foreign fishing that is given to other fish. Clause 3, subsection (5), preserves special arrangements of long standing between ourselves and France around the Channel Islands. Clause 4 extends the domestic jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Parliament in parallel with the extension of the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Westminster.

Your Lordships will wish to know what action we propose to take under the Bill. We intend to bring the new regime into force in September. We are in touch with the countries which signed the London Fisheries Convention about the extent and nature of their habitual fishing rights. There remain three other interested countries, who are not parties to the Convention: Norway, Russia and Poland. We have already had discussions with Norway, to whom we have treaty obligations in this matter. Officials were able to agree upon certain recommendations, subject to the conclusion of a formal Agreement between Governments. We have also had preliminary talks with Russia and Poland about the possible effect of the extension of our limits on their interests, and we shall be following up these talks.

My Lords, what is being done in this Bill is, even at first sight, a change of historic significance for our inshore fishermen. It goes beyond that. After two unsuccessful attempts at Geneva in 1958 and 1960 to reach general agreement on International Law relating to fishery limits, we have in the London Fisheries Convention succeeded in establishing a very large measure of agreement for the North-East Atlantic with our neighbours, and I hope that in the coming months we shall succeed in extending that area of agreement further. Agreement on fishery limits is an important beginning, and will help to pave the way for agreement on such problems as conservation and the regulating of fishing, which must be faced and solved on an international basis in the coming years. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord St. Oswald.)


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister a question before we go any further? He mentioned that foreign trawlers are to have a year's extension, so far as fishing within the limits of the West Coast of Scotland is concerned, but that they are to be restricted to certain types of white fish. May I ask my noble friend exactly how this restriction will be regulated, seeing that, under present conditions, our fishery protection cruisers are quite incapable of carrying out their duties and their normal function of preventing poaching in this area?

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, this is one of the rare occasions when I can almost compliment the noble Lord upon the production of this small measure. Having read the whole of the Report of the debate on Second Reading in another place, and having now listened to the noble Lord here this afternoon, I am quite satisfied that, within the Government's intentions, this small measure will be a welcome addition to our fishing legislation. Honourable Members in another place took full advantage of the omissions from the Bill to raise a wide variety of problems and questions, most of which had little or no relation to this particular Bill, although they were of great importance either to their local constituencies or to the fishing industry generally. However, those points having been raised in another place, the Bill received a really warm welcome and there was no opposition to Second Reading. Better still, from the point of view of the Minister, there were no Amendments down on Committee stage, so only a few minutes were required before it was on its way to Report and Third Reading. And the Minister can take it from me that there will be no more opposition in your Lordships' House than there was in another place.

Although, as the Minister in another place said, it is a very small measure, in terms of size and clauses, it will be of some value to certain sections of our fishing industry, especially, of course, the inshore fishermen. The problem of fishing limits has a very long history, as the noble Lord hinted in his short speech, and, on the whole, I should say that nations have been very reasonable and moderate in their demands. As a matter of fact, by common consent, I believe, the 3-mile limit became almost universal in the last century. As the noble Lord has said here this afternoon, United Kingdom Governments down the ages have always preferred international Agreements where they could be obtained, but it was not always easy to get an international Agreement either on fishing limits or, indeed, on conservation and many other problems.

So far as the trawler industry in this country are concerned, they produce by far the greater proportion of our fish, and they do so by having extended their operations to more distant waters, many of them fairly close to the shores of foreign countries. It was therefore not altogether unexpected that the time would soon come when other countries would seek to extend the limits around their coasts within which foreign vessels could not operate. Since the end of the war, several countries, acting unilaterally, have either increased their limits or are about to do so at present, and this modest measure is our only answer: it provides a little more scope to our inshore fishermen, at least within the 3-mile, 6-mile and 12-mile limits. One can call it retaliation or reciprocation; but once unilateral action was taken by several countries it was inevitable that other countries would follow suit. So far as I can recall—and I was at one time responsible for several Bills dealing with the fishing industry—the United Kingdom always preferred international Agreements, whenever and wherever possible. But, as I said a moment ago, international Agreements are not always easy to get; and in dealing with production, conservation and trade generally, negotiations can be long-drawn-out affairs, and very frustrating. Casual outbursts of unilateralism are almost inevitable. This small measure is the result of one of those occasions.

I said earlier that this small Bill could be very useful to our inshore fishing industry. I think they have been one of the most impoverished sections of the community. It will not only do them a fair amount of material good, but will have also a psychological effect. As the noble Lord has said, the substance of the Bill is in Clause 1 which provides for the extension of our limits from 3 to 6 miles and from 6 to 12 miles, and it gives the Government the right to control access by foreign fishermen to fisheries in what is termed in the Bill, the Outer Belt, the outer 6-mile limit. Conditions on which foreign vessels can fish within the Outer Belt are set out in subsections (2), (3) and (4) of Clause 1; and as the noble Lord explained them in reasonable detail, there is no reason why I should repeat his words.

I am pleased to see that in the Outer Belt the Government have reserved the right, among others, to exercise control over conservation; for the fish that are caught within the 6-mile and 12-mile limits are often those of the highest quality; and there is no wisdom in killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Honourable Members of all Parties in another place expressed some apprehension as to whether the Government would police these new limits better than they apparently have been policing the 3-mile limit in various waters around this country. I cannot believe that the new problem of these extended limits, will cause the naval authorities any great anxiety. In any case, it will be the duty of the Minister, whoever he may be, to see that these new limits are observed. If our fishermen are caught inside the prohibited limits of certain other countries, they are made to pay "good and hearty". We do not want to see the rules broken; we should prefer to see them observed. I think that when the new limits come into force the Navy will do its duty efficiently from the word "Go". Then there will be no prosecutions, no "pinching" the nets and all the rest of those unpleasant international problems. I repeat that I think this is a fairly useful little Bill. The number of omissions could be multiplied by scores; but we also know something about the timetable for Government Business. So we shall not hold up this Bill but will help to speed it through your Lordships' House.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I think this is a good Bill which will be welcomed by all who have the interests of fresh-water and sea-water fishing in mind. It is a Bill which has been brought about with the abandonment of the three-mile limit, and in a situation which has not been brought about by this country, but by others. If this Bill succeeds in its purpose of conserving our white fish industry, it will do a considerable measure of good to the East Coast of Britain.

There is one point upon which I hope the Minister will give me some information. As I understand it, the Amendment in Schedule I to the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act, 1951, gives the Minister power to control any efforts by foreign vessels in the Outer Belt to catch salmon. Already we know that the Inner Belt distance has been ravaged by new methods of salmon fishing which were stopped only by an Order in Council pending the Report of the Hunter Commission. Drift netting is out until the final Report of the Hunter Commission. But it will be a bad day for salmon if, by modern scientific methods, it is ever discovered where the salmon go in salt water, so enabling the salmon to be trapped and caught in deep water. If that ever comes about it will be a bad day, for salmon are a wonderful fish and a great national asset in England and Scotland. So I welcome the powers, as I understand them, to control all types of fishing in the Outer Belt by foreign vessels. That is one of the most valuable parts of this measure, which I think all of us welcome greatly.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to welcome this Bill. I would make one suggestion to my noble friend, which is that these base lines may cause trouble. I was wondering whether he could tell me if there is an authoritative map showing where are the six-mile and twelve-mile limits from the base lines. This need will apply in the West of Scotland where the coastline is broken and where the base lines will make a considerable difference, compared with the old method of calculating the three-mile limit. If no map is available, I wonder whether his Department would consider publishing such a map so that all people who have an interest in fishing of any sort know exactly where they could and where they could not fish.


My Lords, in also welcoming this Bill I feel bound to say with many others that I could wish it had been possible to bring it into force earlier. But the time is fixed by the Bill and by arrangement. However, this is an opportunity to urge Her Majesty's Government (and this point was made also by noble Lords opposite) to use their fullest powers to enforce the regulations which exist to-day and—especially in the light of the tragedy which took place off the East Coast of Scotland recently—to use that power to the maximum extent so that regulations are complied with and the safety of British fishermen, their vessels and gear is ensured between now and the time when this extended area becomes a fact.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the acceptance of this Bill and the recognition of its importance. The noble Lord, Lord, Williams of Barnburgh, said he could almost congratulate the Government. He then pro- ceeded to deliver something which, coming from him, across the Floor of the House, was positively laudatory, I thought; and I am very grateful for it. Both he and my noble friend Lord Cromartie referred to the protection necessary. My noble friend felt more anxiety than did the noble Lord opposite, and on this occasion, not particularly tit for tat, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Barnburgh. At any rate, at the beginning I think we need not feel any enxiety about the inadequacy of protection vessels. Regular patrols are operating at present, and without a quite unreasonable amount of expenditure it would not be possible to ensure that there is absolutely no poaching. We are satisfied that an adequate degree of protection is provided. We shall not need to make any particular change at the beginning, due to the phasing-out provisions. We shall have time to learn about what additional protection, if any, is required.

My noble friend the Duke of Atholl asked about maps. Of course, maps will have to be drawn. The points upon which the base lines rest must be established on their proper co-ordinates. And these authoritative maps will have to be published by the time that the provisions become effective—that is to say, in mid-September, we hope. My noble friend Lord Ferrier would have liked it to come earlier, but in view of the degree of agreement we naturally have to obtain from other nations affected I do not see how we could have brought it in any earlier. My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye asked a question about salmon. I can tell him that the Bill does not affect in any way legislation governing salmon fishing by British vessels, but it does make it an offence for a foreigner to fish for salmon within our fishery limits. This is to be found in Clause 3(2), at the top of page 3. I think that this will be a gain for protection. I think those are all the substantive questions I was asked. I am most grateful for the reception given to the Bill and hope that it will be given a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.