HL Deb 12 December 1972 vol 337 cc577-98

7.48 p.m.

LORD KENNET rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: What is their long-term policy concerning the dispute with Iceland about fisheries. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in putting the Unstarred Question which is on the Order Paper I shall from time to time appear critical of the Government. So I want to say before I start that I do not intend to say that the Government of Iceland are right in the course they have taken, and I do not intend to say in so many words that our own Government are wrong in the course that they have been forced to take. Above all, I do not wish to say that the Icelanders are right in law and we are wrong in law. That would be ridiculous. On the contrary, my intention is to broaden the whole matter, to take into account aspects of it which do not seem to get into the public debate at all and which have nothing to do with international law, or which have only a tangential impact on international law. I should say one more thing by way of introduction. I fear that the Government, to judge from their public statements in Parliament and elsewhere, may be suffering from what they call "tunnel vision"; that is, seeing straight ahead to one purpose only, and ignoring the relevant features of the landscape which lies around.

My Lords, the present world of fisheries is an amazing one indeed. It is a world in which the Soviet Union keeps a fishing fleet in the Central Atlantic and flies crews to Casablanca, of all places, to change them when they are due for relief. That country also fishes in waters off Indonesia, and uses Singapore. It is a world in which, if you go to Bermuda, you find that the principal deep-water fishing fleets around the place are not, as you might expect, European or American, but Japanese and South Korean. It is a world in which the South Koreans catch tuna off Bermuda and take it to the Canary Islands, on Spanish territory, where they process it and can it for anybody who will buy it. It is a world in which many countries, particularly the Soviet Union, adopt the so-called vaccum-cleaner approach to fishing; just sucking everything in the water up a tube into the holds of their ships, and it is then taken, whatever it is, without any differentiation, and turned into fishmeal.

I want to speak for a moment about conservation. The last full look at the British fishing industry, the last major overall look, was that of the Fleck Committee in the early 1960s. This Committee said that it was not competent to pronounce on conservation. Let us turn to the series of annual reports on which we base ourselves for information. The last annual report of the Herring Industry Board pointed out that the Board was not empowered to act on conservation grounds. The last annual report of the White Fish Authority had a section on future supplies of fish which one might have thought would touch on conservation matters. Not at all! It dealt only with research into fish farming—necessary, but I think everyone knows 20 years ahead as a commercial possibility. Even international bodies, principal among which is the North-East Atlantic Fishing Commission, can only recommend conservation measures to members, and of course the members can put them into effect only in their own territorial waters, their own exclusively controlled fishing zones.

What is happening about fish catches? The Government tend to take a 10-year average and say that they have either gone up or gone down. But within a 10-year average it is pretty startling and alarming to know that between 1971 and 1972 there was a one-third fall in the catch in the Barents Sea. This fall was already apparent before 1971 and it sent more British boats to Iceland. In 1971 there was an increase of no less than 50 per cent, in the hours fished over those fished in 1970 by the British fleet off Iceland. Nevertheless the catch per hour of fishing declined. In 1969 per 100 hours fished off Iceland the catch was 67 tons, and in 1971 56 tons—a pretty sizeable decrease. At the same time the proportion of the white fish which came from Iceland has increased. It was 18 per cent, in 1970 and 23 per cent, in 1971. The picture there is clear; it is of an increasing concentration on Iceland and lower yields from Icelandic waters for our own fishermen. All this is accompanied by catastrophic and notorious price rises and also by rising profits in the British fishing industry. These facts together tell their own tale.

Let us look for a moment to two factors which ought to be related but which are not often: capitalisation and the employment level. On capitalisation, the Government do a great deal to stimulate. Over the last 10 years, if I make out the figures correctly, there have been £7 million in grants to the white fish fleet of all sorts, not only for distant waters, and £6 million loans to the white fish fleet. My honourable friend Mr. James Johnson in the House of Commons estimates that Government aid to the British fishing industry over the last 10 years, taking everything together, including things done on land in Britain as well as to the fleets, is no less than £80 million. This is a big figure.

This ought to be related—I should like to ask the Minister whether she can relate it—to the employment level in the fleet. What is it? One cannot easily learn from the published reports. The Fleck Report 10 years ago makes no mention at all of employment levels or trends in employment. It said that so many thousand men were employed, but not that this figure had gone up or gone down or was likely to go up or go down. The last annual report of the Herring Industry Board made no mention of it. The White Fish Authority annual report, on the contrary, boasts of labour-saving devices introduced through its grants; for instance, un-manned engine rooms on fishing boats. Is this wise—to pour money in, in order to get men out? What we are interested in is the rational distribution of wealth in the industry, and above all the interest of the men who take the risks to get the fish.

Let us turn to other scenes which relate to the fishing scene. The seas have so many parts, and they all get annexed by national legislation and jurisdiction. The United States took national power over its Continental Shelf in 1945, and only one year later Chile was the first country to take national jurisdiction over its fishing industry waters out to 200 miles. Within a year or two, it was joined by most of the rest of South America.

In 1970, Canada took jurisdiction over the seas out to 100 miles in order to control pollution. In doing so, they rejected the International Court as arbiters of the matter. Our own country recognises national sovereignty beyond 200 miles over the high seas in the case of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which is the treaty on the non-nuclearisation of Latin America—the treaty which says that there should be no nuclear weapons in Latin America. We recognise the national authority of Latin American countries to a line which is way beyond 200 miles. Only last year we in this country, rightly, took power to order ships about on the high seas, to order them to do this and to do that, and to sink them, on the high seas for the purpose of preventing oil pollution. This was the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Oil Pollution) Act. This country also gives the international corporations powers to seal off areas of the high seas over our Continental shelf. Philips have been allowed to build an artificial island of I do not know how many acres, in the middle of the North Sea. This has a safety zone around it which is one kilometre across. That is national jurisdiction giving power to commercial interest in the high seas.

I should like to give a key quote of something which was said in the House of Commons on November 30 this year. Mr. Grimond raised the point: how is it that we can claim the oil under the high seas if Iceland cannot claim the fish in it? He continued: There must be some good reason, but at present I do not see what it is."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 30/11/72; col. 640.] He was answered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Alec Douglas-Home—none other—and his answer was: Nor do I. Turning to the actual question of fishery limits, I would remind the House—


My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord. If he will read on in Hansard he will find that my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary made it clear that the jurisdiction over mineral resources on the sea-bed is quite different from the jurisdiction over fishing limits. That was made quite clear by my right honourable friend.


My Lords, it is the case that there is an international law which justifies the annexation of the Continental shelf and not an internationally agreed law about the fish in the sea. I was interested by Sir Alec Douglas-Home's spontaneous reaction before coming to the details. He said, "Nor do I". That is the reaction of the ordinary man, the reaction of the sensible man; and Sir Alec is a sensible man.

The Fleck Report in 1961, on page 4, said in effect that it was all very regret- table that there was this dispute with Iceland about whether they should have control of fishing out to three miles or to 12 miles as they then claimed. It said that the Government had been saying, "Let us wait for the forthcoming conference on the International law of the sea which will solve these matters." That conference had taken place just before the Fleck Report and the point was that it had not saved the bacon of the British Government on the three-mile limit and, contrary to British wishes, decided on 12 miles. That whole paragraph could be read to-day with the substitution of the date of 1973 or 1974 for the date of 1961 with respect to the International Conference on the Law of the Sea.

Where do we stand, now? All the Latin American countries claim fishery jurisdiction out to 200 miles. Chile has done so for 25 years. There is agreement between the United States (our natural allies, a maritime nation like us) and Brazil about shrimping, under which not only does the United States recognise Brazil's right to control shrimp fishing up to 200 miles but it pays money to Brazil to police the observation of Brazilian law by U.S. vessels. It says to Brazil, "You control our vessels within your zone which we recognise." Else where in the world, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—three of the largest and most respected nations in the British Commonwealth—all go out beyond the 12-mile limit with their fisheries control. In West Africa, Nigeria does; Morocco goes out to 70, Guinea is beyond; Gabon goes out to 100 miles; Senegal goes out to 200 miles, as does Taiwan. Within the United States, who stick to 12 miles for the moment, the fishermen are most vehemently demanding a 200-mile zone to protect them against the Russian and Japanese fleets. Bermuda, as we learned in this House the other day, has asked for a 25-mile jurisdiction and has been turned down by Whitehall. The Bahamas and the Solomon Islands, other British dependencies, have asked for an extension and they are not going to get it from our own Government.

My Lords, let us look at the question the other way. Do we remember earlier this year, when the E.E.C. wanted to have the right to fish within our 12-mile zone, how we defended our national territorial rights then and what an outcry there was? This was the occasion on which Mr. Austen Laing, the Director General of the British Trawler Federation, said, according to Press reports: Without the abolition of free entry to fishing grounds, measures to manage stocks of fish are as effective as trying to store water in a sieve. About the Icelandic limits, my Lords. If one looks a little wider, I think that the sancrosanctness of the 12 miles appears in a different light. In the 17th century Icelandic fishery limits, recognised by everybody, were 32 miles. In the late 19th century they came down to four and in 1901, at the heyday of British Imperialism, when we controlled the world and could make smaller nations do what we wanted, they came down to three miles. In the late 1950s there was the cod war and we were driven back from three to 12 miles off Iceland, and we all remember that. Now Iceland claims another advance, from 12 miles to 50 miles. This advance, it is not often noted, is one which was supported by the Nordic Foreign Ministers, meeting at Helsinki at the beginning of September of this year.

I would say to the Government, please will they talk to us about the chances of holding the 12-mile line against this background? When the International Conference on the Law of the Sea meets, they will face a situation where more than half the members of the United Nations adopt what one might call the coastal State's view of the matter and reject what one might call the maritime State's view of the matter; the coastal State's view of the matter being that it is the right, in certain circumstances even the duty, of coastal States to preserve their fish stocks by taking whatever extension of national territorial control is necessary.

We have at the moment a complicated situation which I will not describe, because I think that the noble Baroness will describe it better, whereby we and Germany are in the same position as regards our claim on Iceland. Belgium is in a different position; they have settled. Germany wishes to use the coming into effect of the Iceland-E.E.C. Association Agreement as a weapon to prevent the Icelandic extension, or to come to some suitable agreement with Iceland on the quarrel. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether we agree with the German stand on that. When we are in the Common Market shall we, too, say "No association agreement until we have regulated the 50-mile quarrel"? In passing, I would remind the House that The Hague Court ruling that we have obtained in our favour—that is, the interim injunction—does not say that the Icelandic regulations are out of order. It says that for the moment Iceland should refrain from any measures to enforce the regulations. I think the noble Baroness was herself a little confused about this when on November 30 in this House she said that The Hague Court had given us "an absolute right" to fish up to 12 miles off Iceland, and then later this was de-escalated to the "strong moral force" of The Hague Court ruling.

Lastly, there is the question of the NATO base at Keflavik in Iceland. I think we all know that the Icelandic claim is the fruit of internal Icelandic politics. There is a strong Communist Minister in that Government who does not mind having a big quarrel with this country and with Germany because he is inclined to ask the United States and other countries who use the NATO base—that includes us—to get out of the NATO air base at Keflavik. Recently in this House I put down Questions to the Secretary of State asking whether this air base was of major importance to the Alliance. He said it was used by the United Kingdom, among others, for the surveillance of Soviet naval activities in the North Atlantic. He said that the loss of staging rights for aircraft would be "a matter of great concern to the United Kingdom and to the Alliance collectively." It remains the fact that the Icelandic Government is grumbling about getting NATO out of that place. They have not made any direct plan, but it is at stake.

Just before the summer Recess, I tabled to the Government 17 Questions for Written Answer about our quarrel with Iceland. I also asked them whether they would publish a White Paper in order that we could get into public debate some of this material that I have been attempting to outline. They refused to publish a White Paper, which I regret. I ask them again, will they publish a White Paper? To my 17 factual Questions they gave an answer which was in part helpful, but it began with the following words: Even when information is available a full answer to many of the questions would entail an expenditure of time effort that would not be justified. My Lords, against unjustifiable expenditure of time and effort to find out who catches what and where, because essentially this is what I was asking, let us set a 10-year investment of £80 million in this industry. I would ask whether public information is not being somewhat neglected at the expense of the rather thoughtless rush towards capitalisation which does not necessarily bring any great employment benefit to the industry and will the Government take a fresh look at the matter? Will they perhaps appoint another Fleck Committee, or will they at least let us have a White Paper? Will they recognise the world trend towards recognition of national jurisdiction? What looks now like a deplorable extension of creeping national jurisdiction may, I believe, in a few years' time look like an international duty on the part of States to take the only course open to them to protect these fish. There is no possibility at the moment of effective international regime; there really is not.

If it is to be said that what I am saying tends towards the diminution in the long-run of our traditional fishing rights off Iceland, and of the economic return on our investment, I would say to the Government: let us examine the possibility of turning South. This country has unique knowledge of the marine fauna of the Antarctic Ocean. For 20 years with the ships "Discovery I" and "Discovery II" we had a continuous monitoring of fish stocks there. It is, of course, knowledge over the decades that you need if you are to know what is happening. There is not only our traditional herring, there is also the Southern herring, virtually uncaught, a different species and equally edible. It has been estimated that there is a sustainable yield of no less than 45 million tons per year of krill in the Antarctic Ocean. Krill is a little shrimp which is just as good for cattle food as all those delicious anchovies which the Peruvians are putting into our cattle at the moment. Why are we feeding the cattle of the world on the best edible fish instead of utilising this vast stock, which we know about, which is untapped and which we could exploit? We have the harbours in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Is it simply a matter that we do not choose to do so, perhaps because we are nationally a little too lazy to build fleets and to send them very far. Other countries do so. The Russians do; the Japanese do; the South Koreans do, of all the extraordinary people! Why should not we do the same? Why should we be moaning around with gun-boats on a small traditional claim when there are these vast resources waiting to be taken up if only we can get a wider view of the issue? I ask the Government, therefore, what is their long-term policy with regard to the dispute with Iceland?

8.10 p.m.


My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for arriving a few minutes late and thus missing his opening remarks. I was delayed by traffic, as another notable person was recently, and I had no one to ring up. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has gone into immense detail on the legal and other parts of this argument. From these Benches I think it is our duty to draw the attention of the noble Baroness to one or two points that may or may not have been overlooked so far. I think the first point is that there has been a steady improvement in the inshore and offshore fleets around the Scottish coast, both in numbers of vessels and in their successful operation. They are offering employment to young people all round the coast. I think the noble Baroness is aware, as we in Scotland certainly are, that this is not a dying industry but an industry with a future and for this reason we are an interested party in this debate.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for clarifying a question that I asked on her Statement concerning the fishing rights and oil rights between nation States. A clear distinction has now been established. On the subject of oil, I should like to mention one point. With the development of the oil reserves in these waters, experience from the United States has indicated that there is a real danger, in spite of the assurances and all the safety precautions that have been taken by the oil companies, of major or minor accidents, causing heavy spillage of oil which will undoubtedly affect the essential breeding grounds of fish in these waters. I think the turbulent waters of the North Sea may cause more big fractures, or at least a higher percentage of accidents, than statistics so far have shown are caused in the more tranquil conditions prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico. I should like to see the establishment of an insurance fund to cover such eventualities; it would go a long way towards protecting the future of those who obtain their livelihood from the fishing industry and, in the long term, protecting the fish breeding grounds.

The problem for those who work in the fishing industry to-day is that with the new developments of oil along the Scottish coast—and no doubt the English and Welsh coasts as well—the fishing industry will begin to die as an industry mainly because of the very attractive rates of pay offered by the oil companies to use their craft in maritime services to the oil industry. Noble Lords may recall that in the short debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, the other day, I quoted Morgan City on the Gulf of Mexico. Once the maritime oil development took place, only 30 per cent, of the commercial boats, out of the entire fishing fleet, were engaged in fishing. This does not necessarily mean a major change in the construction of the craft, but it means a reliance on the experience, skill and courage of the men who know the sea and its conditions. I believe that the tempting rates of pay offered may be an inducement to fishermen to abandon the fishing industry. There is another point that I would put forward. The industry of oil development is a temporary one which may last 10, 15 or perhaps 20 years. One has to ask: what happens when the oil development has come to an end and these conditions no longer apply? The fishing industry must be careful not to allow its manpower to be diverted by these tempting rates of pay, which may deny the industry as a whole a long-term future.

Then, looking again to the future, there is the question of fish farming. What proportion of fish in the future will be taken from the sea, compared with production of the same types of fish, which never see the sea but are induced to breed in the lochs and voes of Scotland and elsewhere? I hope that the noble Baroness will give an indication of how seriously the Government look on this new industry, as I believe it to be, and will also give an indication of how much finance and research is going into it at this stage. I am sure that she does not need me to advise her that Nature cannot be hurried along by money in order to develop a new industry of this sort, which will take years to build up, however much finance is put into it, because it is a natural industry and a long-term one.

I have no doubt that before I entered the Chamber the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned that this dispute has been created by the fear of the Icelandic community about their economic future, which is based purely on the fishing industry. There are, of course, political overtones as well. I feel that, through the noble Baroness, we have made a generous offer on an interim basis and that it is in many ways wrong and short-sighted of Iceland to reject it. But I can see a workable solution being brought about only if we show—and I hope that we shall show it in this debate to-day—an understanding of the justifiable fears which the Icelandic community have about their economic future. The International Court, whose decision we still await, will no doubt make a decision.


My Lords, with respect, I think the noble Lord had better explain his words, "the International Court, whose decision we still await…" We have had the decision of the International Court. Is there another one to come?


I beg your Lordship's pardon. I mean the international conference, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet.


That is two years ahead.


It is due next year.


In 1974.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. However, this dispute, and this debate, have primarily been brought about by a shortage of food—in this case fish. I believe that our planetary larder, if I may so call it, is beginning to show one or two bare shelves. In these circumstances, disputes of this kind can become more frequent. I should like to feel in a positive way that this dispute may bring us one step nearer towards the establishment of an international enforcement agency, and one step further towards world government: because a number of experts have predicted—and I think this dispute is evidence that they are right—that the balance between supply and demand is beginning to get out of hand. It may well happen that our fossil fuels will run out by the turn of the century, and that other major sources of raw material will also dry up or be affected for one reason or another. This will bring nation States into conflict, and I like to think that the Icelandic dispute, however small it may appear at this stage, will be recognised in future as one step in the progression towards world government.

8.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for having given us the opportunity to debate this important Question, and I should like to thank him for the manner in which it is framed. It refers to the "long-term policy concerning the dispute with Iceland" about fishing. All the same, I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was rather pessimistic. He seemed to think that at the end of the day twelve miles would be the possible solution for everyone and that it was not much good trying to resist it at this moment. He seemed very pessimistic about the Law of the Sea Conference. On the other hand, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, was, if I may say so, looking at it in a very constructive way, although he also said that he felt that Iceland herself had justifiable fears because she was, as he saw it, largely dependent on fish. I would only say to the noble Lord that, having had the good fortune to go to Iceland both in the summer and in the winter, at the time of the Midnight Sun and at a time when it is practically dark all the time, I have felt all along that Icelandic claims that they are primarily dependent on fish are very misguided; because every single house is thermally heated by natural power; indeed, any industry which they sought to exploit in future could have some of the best and cheapest sources of power available. In an age of modern communications, I should have thought in any case that to rely entirely upon a natural resource is not a very wise thing to do.

These long-term matters before us raise difficulties which are of major importance. As both noble Lords who have spoken to-night have said, there is the basic need to ensure that the resources of the sea still remain one of the world's major food supplies. This means that all of us who fish the high seas must learn how to harvest the catch and to balance three main interests: those of the nations who are dependent upon fish for their food; those of the coastal States who are dependent upon fish as a source of income; and those of the communities (of which many of us are closely aware) who are dependent upon distant water fisheries for their livelihood. Britain shares all three interests. If ever there was an issue which should be settled by international negotiation, it is this one.

There are two main methods open to us by which we can together try to solve these matters. First, there are the various international fishery agreements and the provision they make for statistical studies, which are very important, and for cooperation on conservation. Secondly, there is the Law of the Sea Conference which will consider international law in relation to fisheries. The United Kingdom has of course taken part in regional agreements, as I hope shortly to show. We are also doing a great deal of work in preparing for the Law of the Sea Conference. When I was at the United Nations in New York only just three weeks ago, our team over there was doing a lot of detailed study. We look forward—and I should like to emphasise this—to working with Iceland as well as with other fishing countries on a new long-term policy which will take account of the real interests of all the parties all over the world.

It is because we look forward to working with Iceland on a matter of such importance to all of us that we feel it is a matter of particular regret that Iceland has sought to pre-judge the issue. She has sought to do so by enforcing her policy against our vessels; and because of that we have had no option but to dispute its legality and refer the matter to the International Court. We consider that her action is contrary to existing international law and that it does not reflect what the international law of the future is likely to be as it emerges from the Law of the Sea Conference. Therefore, while pursuing our particular case before the International Court of Justice, we shall of course continue to work for agreement on what must be much longer-term arrangements.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves that point I wonder whether she can tell us what the Government do expect to emerge from the International Law of the Sea Conference, and also whether she can tell the House when that Conference is to be held.


My Lords, as the preparatory work is by no means complete, I should not like to say at this moment exactly what will emerge from the Conference; but I shall hope to deal with that a little later. I would say to the noble Lord that the Conference is supposed to start in 1973, but it looks at the moment as if it is not likely to start until 1974; and it will last a considerable time.

I thought it might be of interest to the House if I were to explain that during the NATO Council meeting in Brussels, on December 6 and 8, my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary had a further discussion with the Icelandic Foreign Minister. I think that as a result of these discussions there is some hope that we may be able to reach a satisfactory arrangement that will take the heat out of this dispute until it is finally settled. I do not think that a solution becomes any easier with the passage of time. No new proposals were put forward during the NATO meeting—it was rather a question of putting the known elements of the problem together again—and I should not like to mislead the House by suggesting that an agreement will ever be a simple matter, or that tensions on the fishing grounds will disappear. I think that noble Lords will recall from what I said on November 30 that the two sides are very far apart. All the same, I feel that my right honourable friend's discussion with the Icelandic Foreign Minister has renewed our confidence that there is a real wish, both in Iceland and certainly on our own side, to try to get together and make an interim amicable arrangement.

The noble Lord who opened this debate talked a good deal about the Conference on the Law of the Sea. He seemed to imply—in fact he did imply—that the trend to-day, both as regards this Conference and what will take place after it, is towards wider coastal State jurisdiction. That was really the burden of his remarks. I do not want to anticipate this, because there are a great many British maritime, commercial and Defence interests which are bound up in the question of coastal State jurisdiction. We will ourselves work for an agreement which, while it acknowledges the preferential rights of coastal States, will stop short of exclusive jurisdiction because both preferential rights and conservation measures should surely be the subject of agreement and not of unilateral imposition.

May I make plain once again that there is at the moment a clear distinction in international law between the law governing the exploitation of the mineral resources of the Continental Shelf, to which the Continental Shelf Convention of 1958 applies, and of course that governing the exploitation of fisheries, whether in the water superjacent to the Continental Shelf or elsewhere. This is covered by the High Seas Convention and the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas. This legal distinction reflects the fact that the resources of the Continental Shelf adjacent to a State are permanent and immovable, while fish stocks unfortunately move from one area to another with no guarantee that they will be there or can be caught, and thus cannot be identified in the same way as one can identify a land mass.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said about the effect, as he saw it, of the booming oil industry, particularly in the North and East of Scotland, and the effect it might have on coastal fishers. I have the feeling that while the pay given to men who work in the oil industry may be larger than for those who are accustomed to go to sea and earn their living by the sea, there will always be a great number who wish to follow the latter occupation. It is our duty as a nation to do our best to see that this is possible.

The noble Lord who opened this debate spent a good deal of time on conservation, and I should like to refer to a particular Report which was prepared by the Working Group of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the International Commission for the North-West Atlantic Fisheries. This Working Group were given the task of summarising the existing assessments concerning cod stocks in the North-East Arctic, Icelandic and East Greenland waters, as well as West Greenland, Labrador and Newfoundland; and were asked to study in general terms the effects of possible regulatory measures, with particular stress on the interaction between fisheries on different stocks.

The main conclusions reached were these: that fleets fishing for cod in the North Atlantic were now operationally capable of concentrating on those stocks which were most productive at a particular time; that for virtually all stocks further increases in fishing would at best produce very small increases in catch, and for some stocks would actually decrease catch; that spawning stocks as low as, or lower than, at present could lead to a very large drop in total catch; and that a level of fishing which would be about right would probably be about half the present level, although this would not in fact reduce the level of catch in the long term. I suggest that it is very important to remember, when considering these conclusions, that the Working Group were considering cod stocks over the whole of the North Atlantic, and that conclusions which are relevant to the area as a whole are not necessarily relevant to the stock of a particular area—in this case, Iceland, which is the subject of this debate. It is very interesting to see that the Working Group found no particular problem over Icelandic cod stocks; indeed, the levels of cod stocks in Icelandic waters are shown to be stable.

The second general point concerns the Working Group's conclusions that a desirable level of fishing effort (and I quote), "would be approximately half the present level", because this again applies to fishing by small as well as large vessels by all countries and is not just aimed at the Icelandic fishery. They said that a drop in fishing effort "would not affect the average long-term yield." The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked was it right to have modern vessels with fewer men employed. Surely that is a very old argument which one could apply to any industry. It is most important that the fishing fleets of this country should have the most modern boats available. This was one of the problems of the last proposal put to us by the Icelandic Government: that it would have excluded some of our most modern boats.


My Lords, the noble Baroness is making the most important points thick and fast. I wonder whether she would allow me to come back again. She has quoted the so-called Garrod Report, which was presented to a meeting at Charlottenlund in March this year. Will the Government publish that Report in whole? Would that be possible? In any case, could the noble Baroness say any more about the fact which she implies is the case: that this Committee said that the total fishing effort for cod in the North Atlantic ought to be cut by half but that things were perfectly all right in Icelandic waters? Is she saying that the Committee said, or gave countenance to the view, that they should not be cut by half there; that they distinguished or singled out Icelandic waters in order to say that the cod fishing need not be cut by half there, though it need be cut by half everywhere else?


My Lords, I thought I had made it quite clear that the Report said that, for the North Atlantic as a whole, they thought the fishing effort should be cut in half—that was for the whole of the North Atlantic—and the Group did not find, and did not express in terms, that the cod stocks off Iceland were anything but stable.


My Lords, I am sorry to press the noble Baroness, but did they say anything about whether in this assessment there was any reason to treat Iceland separately from the rest of the North Atlantic, or did they simply not mention Iceland at all?


My Lords, to quote, the Working Group found no particular problem over Icelandic cod stocks". What they were considering were the cod stocks over the whole North Atlantic; and, I may say also, fishing by vessels of all nations—this is the important thing. Of course there are, as the noble Lord rightly said, some nations which use ships—I think he called it—on the "vacuum cleaner" principle; which of course we do not. We do not have factory ships of that type. Therefore, that cannot possibly apply to the British fishing effort off Iceland.

It would not be for the British Government to publish that particular Report; it is not our Report. But on publishing, I should like to refer to the noble Lord's question, whether we would publish a White Paper generally on the Icelandic negotiations. I do not think this moment is the time to publish a White Paper, because we hope we are still in a state of continuing discussion. That being so, I do not think there would be any particular point in doing so, but I will certainly draw the noble Lord's point to the attention of my right honourable friend.

The only other observation I should like to make, because I do not wish to speak for too long, is again on conservation. It is just to remind the House that of course this country takes part in a great deal of international fishery research work: we take part in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention which is aimed at conserving fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic; we carry out the recommendations which include gear regulations, close seasons and closed areas, and we have applied all this to our own fishing fleet. If you take the North-West Atlantic, this Government are also undertaking a catch limitation scheme which is aimed at conserving stocks in the area, and we have introduced measures to limit the United Kingdom catch to 24,000 tons a year, and smaller quotas for other species. Although in the course of negotiations we in fact offered a straight catch limitation scheme to the Icelandic Government, they did not accept this. I think they wanted also physically to see fewer boats fishing off their shores. It was for this reason that the last proposal we put forward was based on a limitation of effort which would have reduced the catch considerably; but I will not now go into all these details of which I am sure noble Lords are well aware.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me about the amount of capital spent on the fleet and its relation to employment. I think he will know that we give two types of assistance to British fishermen: one is a system of capital grants and the other a system of subsidies. At the moment we have about 7,000 men working in the 500 vessels which make up the deep-sea fleet. These are boats which are over 80-feet. I would have said that it was one of the duties of a British Government to try to sustain a British fishing fleet, because surely we should want to see the best working conditions for our men at sea. We feel strongly that we must do our best to protect the interests of not only Britain's distant water fishermen but also our inshore fishermen. It is true that the largest single part of our distant water effort takes place in the high seas off Iceland. That is why we cannot accept Iceland's claim to exclude us by her own action


My Lords, the noble Baroness has been very courteous. She has given the figure of 7,000 men employed now. What was it ten years ago or at some convenient date in the past?


My Lords, I have not all the annual reports with me, alas! but I will certainly write to the noble Lord. I would say that the trend in the number of people employed is going down, but that is because we are having much more modern vessels and modern methods of operating, just as one would in an ordinary modern industry.


My Lords, may I interrupt for one moment, in case your Lordships' House begins to think that the distant water fleet represents the total of British fishing capacity and the authority of the White Fish Authority. Of course, in addition, I do not think we ought to forget that we have a middle water fleet and also an inshore fleet, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, referred, who of course must have their requirements met from those authorities who have provision from Government to make it possible.


My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly correct, and both he and I have had some experience of this matter. I would say that the capital grants are available for the construction and adaptation of both white fish and herring vessels, because it is important to refer to that. The rates are 25 per cent, for vessels over 80 feet and 30 per cent, for those under 80 feet. In the last year, the total amount of grant paid was nearly £4 million, of which £3⅓ million was for new vessels. This last sum was divided almost equally between deep sea vessels over 80 feet on the one hand and the inshore and herring vessels on the other. I am glad that the noble Lord raised that point.

In conclusion, not only are jobs at stake but, of course, if a large area of our fishing grounds were denied to us there would be a large increase in food prices. I think we are conducting the dispute with careful regard to our wider interests, both in other distant waiter fisheries and in the Law of the Sea Conference, and I am glad to say that in our negotiations with the Icelandic Government, throughout this dispute, we have had the full support of the industry, of Parliament and of public opinion. I hope that this debate will consolidate the position and serve as a reminder to the Icelanders, not only of our determination but also of our goodwill.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, and also with permission of the noble Baroness—because there is nothing worse than to come back on a question at the end of a speech, and if she does not want to answer this question I shall understand and respect that view—may I come back to the Garrod Report? Does she deny that the Garrod Report did not single out Iceland when stating that North Atlantic cod fishing ought to be cut by half? Does she deny that the words she used, "They found no special problems connected with Iceland", are her words—the words of the Government—and not the words of the Garrod Report?


My Lords, I will say now, for the third time, that the Working Group said that cod fishing over the whole North Atlantic should, if possible, be cut by half. But when it came to the Icelandic cod stocks, I am informed that the levels of cod stocks in Icelandic waters, expressed by the Working Group as "population biomass" (if one really wants to take the technical term), are shown to be stable.