HL Deb 03 March 1964 vol 256 cc26-31

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, it may be convenient if I now repeat a statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in answer to a Question on the West European Fisheries Conference.

The European Fisheries Conference, which has met in three sessions under my right honourable friend's Chairmanship since the 3rd of December, 1963, concluded its work yesterday. At its final session a majority of Delegations adopted ad referendum the final text of a Fisheries Convention, together with a Protocol of Provisional Application and certain ancillary agreements. The Conference also passed resolutions on Fisheries Policing, on Conservation, and on Access to Markets.

Arrangements are being made for copies of the Final Act of the Conference, to which the texts of the relevant documents are annexed, to be placed in the Library of the House.

The Fisheries Convention enables signatory States to regulate fisheries within a twelve-mile zone from the baselines from which their territorial seas are measured. Fishing is to be reserved to the fishermen of the coastal State within the inner six miles, subject to a short phase-out period for foreign fishermen who have traditionally fished the three-to-six-mile zone. During the Conference our Delegation agreed with the other countries principally interested the duration of this phase-out period so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. It will be until the 31st of December, 1965, except where straight baselines or new bay closing lines are drawn, where it will be until the 31st of December, 1966.

Within the outer six miles fishing is reserved to fishermen of the coastal State and to those States which have habitually fished in the area between the 1st of January, 1953, and the 31st of December, 1962. Such foreign fishermen will be restricted to stocks and grounds which they already fish and subject to regulation and policing by the coastal State. The Convention will be open, on conditions to be agreed, for accession by other countries which were not represented at the Conference. It was agreed that any straight baselines and new bay closing lines should be drawn in accordance with the rules of general International Law, and in particular of the Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea, 1958. A copy of a map indicating our broad intentions in this matter is being placed in the Library of the House.

The Convention is open for signature between the 9th of March and the 10th of April, and thirteen Delegations indicated that they would recommend their Governments to sign it. I am sorry that the Delegations of Norway and Iceland, and the Danish Delegation, in respect of the Faroes and Greenland, were unable to accept the Convention. The Convention will, of course, remain open for accession by these and other States. The position of Denmark in relation to the Faroe Islands raises urgent and special questions on which a statement will be made by my right honourable friend within the next few days.

So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, legislation will be necessary to give effect to our acceptance of the Convention and will be introduced as soon as possible. The signature of the Protocol of Provisional Application will enable early effect to be given to the new regime of fishery limits without waiting for ratification of the Convention by all signatories.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for this statement, and I am sure that everyone in the House would wish to congratulate the noble Earl on the success which he has obtained, not only in having been able to secure substantial agreement in three meetings but also on having arrived at what looks like (and I must say "looks like", because I am no authority on this matter) a very favourable agreement. It is a pity that the agreement was not unanimous, but there may be special conditions applying to Norway and Iceland, and we shall be hearing in a few days about the Faroe Islands. I do not know whether the noble Earl can tell us whether there are special difficulties here, and whether there is any hope of meeting them, so that we can achieve complete unanimity.

The noble Earl told us that thirteen countries have accepted the Convention. Can he say who they are and whether they are all countries who are interested in this particular question? Were they all represented at the Conference? He did not mention them in his statement. The Convention provides that existing rights which fishermen have enjoyed in the outer six miles for ten years up to December 31, 1962, are to continue. Are there many of them, and is there a registration or information as to exactly who these fishermen are? I see that they will be regulated, but I would hope that they can be identified without any difficulty. Finally, we are to have legislation on the subject. Will this agreement become effective before the legislation is passed, or must we wait until the legislation actually goes through Parliament?


My Lords, may I also welcome the statement from the Minister and congratulate both him and the Government upon having come within sight, apparently, of a settlement of this serious problem, which, as your Lordships well know, has been a problem not only for decades and generations, but even for centuries. It is unfortunate that the three dissident nations who are not signing are presumably those who most concern us. All we can say is that we very much hope that the tension which existed a few years ago between ourselves and Iceland will not arise again, and that we shall come to some amicable agreement with these three countries. There is one further point, and that is about the phasing-out period. If these, as I call them, dissident countries do not come into the Convention for some time, will they also have to be phased out by December, 1965, or will they be given some pro rata extension in which to make their own rearrangements?


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive a brief intervention on my part, but this is quite a moment in my life. It represents at least a partial, and I would even go so far as to say a substantial, victory in a battle which I personally have been fighting for precisely 40 years against successive Governments of every political complexion, all of whom have been equal in their obstinacy, obduracy and stupidity. At long last our inshore fishermen will get a measure of protection in the only form which can really be of any use to them.

It is not the end of the story. This agreement, good as it is in many ways, will not solve the major problem of the over-fishing of the North Sea over a long period to come. This has taken place twice in this century; and, had it not been for the intervention of two World Wars, I do not think any fish would be being caught in the North Sea to-day. The agreement does not get down to the basic problem, which can only be settled internationally and which will take time. But it goes a long way to protect the inshore fishermen.

I want to say only two things, having already said that, so far as it goes, this agreement is good. First of all, I ask for an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that, in the exercise of the control which they will possess over the outer six-mile limit under the agreement, they will bear in mind always the paramount importance of the conservation of stocks and, above all, of the spawning grounds, particularly in the Minch and the Moray Firth. That is of tremendous importance to our inshore fishermen.

Finally, I am going to do something that I can never remember having done before in 40 years of public life—I want to thank and congratulate the Government. Whatever the future vicissitudes of politics may be, the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be remembered permanently, and with gratitude, by the inshore fishermen of this country, because he has done something that they well deserve—and none too soon.


My Lords, if I may take the questions in their reverse order, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Boothby should enjoy all the credit for this achievement—


I deserve it!


—on condition that my noble friend will also accept the blame for any defects which may subsequently become apparent and any criticism arising from them.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, countries which do not come into the agreement will not, of course, enjoy any benefits under it so far as we are concerned, but we shall be very glad to discuss with them bilaterally on questions of mutual interest, and to make any suitable arrangements on which we can agree.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked the names of the thirteen countries who signed the Convention. There were sixteen countries who attended this Convention, and they all signed it except Norway and Iceland, and also Switzerland, because Switzerland, having no coast, thought it was rather pointless to come in. Denmark signed it in respect of her domestic waters, but could not do so in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland. I do not know whether the noble Lord wants the names of the sixteen countries, which will take a moment to read out. They were: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Iceland (who did not agree), Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway (who did not agree), Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord also asked about the policing of the outer six-mile limit. I understand that no difficulty is anticipated in deciding which vessels or which countries have habitually fished these areas in the last ten years. Of course, they will be subject to the control and policing regulations. I should also like to say to my noble friend Lord Boothby, in connection with that, that we have very much in mind the necessity for protecting stocks and the spawning grounds, particularly in the areas which he mentioned.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, could he explain why Luxembourg and Austria signed, and Switzerland did not, because I do not think their coast line is very different.


No, my Lords, I think if the noble Lord will look at the texts which are being put in the Library he may be able to form some theory about that.