HL Deb 21 December 1976 vol 378 cc1190-210

2.59 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Peart.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Lord ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [British fishery limits]:

On Question, Whether Clause I shall stand part of the Bill?


I should like at the beginning of this Committee stage to raise the point about the relationship between the debate which we were expecting to take place on Clause I stand part and the Statement which we have been told is to be repeated in the House some time after half-past three. I had given notice to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that I was hoping, under Clause 1 stand part, to ask the Government to give us the latest report on the negotiations, both concerning Iceland and the EEC, and also within the EEC.

I would remind the Committee that Clause 1 enables the Government to make the sensational change with other fishing countries of extending our fishery limits from 12 to 200 miles at some time after 1st January. Agreement in principle has been reached at the World Conference on the Law of the Sea for an extension of 200 miles. That is bound to happen during 1977 by the main fishing nations doing it at about the same time. In the meantime, there are these very urgent negotiations which have to take place and which are in progress at the moment.

The noble Lord who is to repeat the Statement is not the noble Lord the Leader of the House: he is the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. I would therefore ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether that Statement is simply going to be restricted to the negotiations concerning Iceland. if so, I would hope that he would be able to tell us now that a stage has been reached in the equally important negotiations within the EEC on an exclusive band for British fishermen. If the Statement is going to cover both subjects, no doubt the noble Lord the Leader of the House will ask us to wait until 3.30, and we shall try to seek another opportunity at a later stage of the Bill to enable the Government to give us information about the situation. Today will provide the last opportunity for several weeks of Parliamentary discussion on these matters at a crucial time for the British fishing industry.

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has expressed his concern, quite rightly, for our fishermen. I very much regret that it seems unlikely that British fishermen will be able to resume fishing off Iceland from the 1st January. At this stage I would not wish to say any more than that. A Statement will be made and no doubt the Statement will be referred to during the later stages of the Bill. I believe that many of the points in which the noble Lord is interested will be covered. However, I should like to express my sympathy with the men of Humberside. I feel that there is a good chance that an agreement with Iceland will be reached eventually, but I know that this latest setback will come as a great disappointment. Nevertheless, I hope we can wait for the Statement.


I wondered whether the noble Lord could say anything about the negotiations within the EEC for an exclusive band for British fishermen. A meeting was scheduled for this morning, and we were hoping that we might hear a report on that during the course of the afternoon. On the Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill? was the appropriate place for this but, with the usual flexibility that is shown by your Lordships' House, no doubt we could arrange to discuss this matter at a later stage of the Bill if that appeared to be more convenient. On the other hand, if the noble Lord the Leader of the House considers that matter will also be covered by the Statement we are to have, then I am content to wait.


My Lords, I am afraid I am not in a position to make a Statement or an announcement regarding the arrangements which we are anxious to have.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having dealt with that point. The timing of this is very tricky, with the Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part? coming about half an hour before the Statement is due. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having told us how he suggests that this should be dealt with in your Lordships' House.

Clause 1 agreed to.

3.5 p.m.

Lord KENNET moved Amendment No.1:

After Clause 1 insert the following new clause: —

"Vesting offish in Her Majesty.

"Within these limits all the fish present at any moment in the sea are hereby vested in Her Majesty".

The noble Lord said: I suppose the only thing we can do is to continue trying to legislate as best we can in the knowledge that the world outside goes on. This rather bold-looking Amendment is really a matter of making perfectly sure that everything is all right, because I fear that unless something of this sort is added we might run into certain dangers which I should like to outline to the Committee.

It is at present open to question—indeed, it has been questioned—whether, when the Bill becomes law, the Government will have any right to order anybody to do anything or to refrain from doing anything about the fish in the extended fishery zone, because the fish are, and will remain, common property unless Parliament takes steps to cause them to cease to be common property. It is that very simple notion which lies behind my proposal that they should be vested in the Crown—a time-honoured procedure. If they proved to be, in international law, common property, or indeed nobody's property, then theoretically it would be open to any trawlerman—possibly not of Community nationality or even of a flag at all —to take the skippers of enforcement vessels of this country to the International Court at the Hague and to ask them: "What right have you to order me off or to tell me where to fish?" I speak here subject to correction, and I hope that some of the noble and learned Lords among us may be able to correct me if I am wrong, but I think there is a good chance that the International Court would say: "You are right. The British enforcement vessels have no locus in this matter at all. These fish belong to anybody and nobody can give anybody else orders about them."

If that were not the case, why was it necessary for us, in the Continental Shelf Act 1964, to vest the oil under the seabed in the Crown? Your Lordships will remember that Clause 1 of that Act says: Any rights exercisable by the United Kingdom outside territorial waters with respect to the seabed and subsoil and their natural resources, … are hereby vested in Her Majesty".

If we had simply been interested in obtaining a right to issue licences for oil exploitation, and if we had thought that was sufficient, no doubt Parliament at that time would have said so, and so the relevant Ministers would have the right to license exploitation of the oil and nobody who did not have a licence could exploit the oil. But no, at that time it was found necessary to go further and to vest the oil in Her Majesty and then allow the relevant Ministers to get on with licensing the exploitation.

Moreover, Parliament at that time went further and vested the natural resources of the sea bottom in the Crown. That means lobsters, crabs and other types of bottom-walking fish—spiney lobsters are quite an economic resource. This matter was settled in international law over the Franco/Brazilian lobster war about seven or eight years ago, when the settlement went in favour of Brazil. In international law, anything which walks on the sea bottom is part of the Continental Shelf, and thereby lobsters and crabs on our Continental Shelf are vested in the Crown. There is no doubt that the Ministers in question have the right to license their taking by those whom they consider fit and convenient to take them. By contrast, it appears there is no doubt that they have no right to license their taking, or that they would have had no right unless they had been given such a right by an Act of Parliament, through the Crown. If that is true as regards lobsters and crabs on the bottom, my question to the Government is: Why does the same thing not apply to fish swimming about in the water? If it was found necessary for the oil and for the lobsters and crabs, why is it not equally necessary for the fish?

Since 1964 another whole dimension has been added to the problem: that is the question of VAT. Consider the situation in which, say, a Dutch trawlerman takes fish by licence and with our approval in the British extended zone and takes them back to Holland, with our approval, and sells them in a Dutch port. Where has the value been added? It seems to me that in common sense it has been added on two occasions: first, when the fish were pulled on board the trawler and, secondly, when the work of unloading and selling the fish was done. However, if those fish were not British property, then the trawlerman will pay VAT only in Holland. If, on the other hand, those fish were British property and had been vested in the Crown there would be no legal difficulty in determining that a transaction had taken place and in levying VAT both here and in Holland, which appears to be the course of natural justice.

I ask your Lordships to take another case. France has already legislated—it is permissive legislation—to take complete sovereignty over her waters out to 200 miles, which equals, I submit, vesting of all natural resources in the waters. A British fisherman taking fish in the French zone, with a licence from the French Government, and bringing it back with the approval of the French Government for sale in Britain, would very properly find himself paying French VAT for the taking of the fish and British VAT for the sale of the fish in Britain. A French fisherman coming the other way would, I submit, if we did not vest these fish in the Crown, possibly be paying French VAT only. We do not know the size of the natural resource in question. The Government have no figures of the value of the fish in our zone. It could be—I think it probably is, over the years—that we are talking of several thousands of millions of pounds, and I submit that it is not really acceptable for the property rights in that resource to remain in doubt. I do not know whether others of your Lordships share my feeling, but I should feel much happier if they could be vested in the Crown, once and for all, just like the lobsters and just like the oil.

I may be objective, but when Parliament proposes to vest something in the Crown it always gives the Crown due warning of that fact and awaits the Crown's comments to see whether Her Majesty wants to have whatever it is vested in the Crown. But this Bill is extremely urgent, and we have the remaining stages tomorrow, and therefore it is improper for that to be done. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the position of those of us who for three or four years past have been urging this Government and the last one to pass a Bill something like this, and how successive Governments have been resisting our urgings and have finally done it at the last moment. I also hope that the Government will bear in mind the probability—I would even say the certainty—that the Palace is extremely well equipped with modern methods of communication, and is not ignorant of the issues at stake in this matter. I beg to move.

3.12 p.m.


I should like to speak for two or three minutes in support of this Amendment. The noble Lord is quite right when he says that when certain countries have extended their limits to 200 miles, they have also referred to an exclusive economic zone. I asked a question on Second Reading of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, but I did not get an answer. So I should like to ask again whether our extension to a 200-mile limit also includes an exclusive economic zone. It is quite true that fish are no respecters of boundaries and they swim around, but their breeding grounds are always the same. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said on Second Reading, there is a great danger that, before we have completed our negotiations with the EEC for a 50-mile limit, other boats—whether from the EEC or from outside it—will be able to come and exploit our fisheries. It depends on how long the negotiations with the EEC last, but from my experience of such negotiations they usually take a very long time. So that as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has said, I hope that the fish within that zone can be vested in the Crown. I heartily support the Amendment.


I have listened carefully to what my noble fried Lord Kennet said, and I have also noted the support which he has had from the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene. I fully appreciate his concern that the stocks of fish around our coasts, which represent a valuable economic resource, should not be in some way appropriated; say, by the Community. I can assure my noble friend, however, that that will not happen and that his Amendment is unnecessary. To some extent, also, it runs counter to the way in which sea fish are normally treated under both national and international law.

Let me say, first, that the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference Revised Single Negotiating Text, on which extension of fisheries jurisdiction is being based, does not confer ownership of the fish within 200 miles of the coastal State. What it does do is to confer exclusive rights of managing fish stocks and priority for catching fish within the 200 miles, coupled with the duty to conserve fish and to see that as much as possible is caught, consistent with conservation. There is no concept of fish as property, nor is fishing within the 200-mile zone intended to be exclusively the preserve of the coastal State. In fact, Article 44 of the Text goes so far as to say the following: In exercising its rights and performing its duties under the present Convention in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal state shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other states. It is moreover consistent with English law that no right of ownership should be asserted over wild creatures—a term which includes fish. Under our law—for example, the Theft Act 1968—wild creatures are not treated as property until they are killed or captured, even though the right to kill or capture may be vested exclusively in the owner of the land on which they happen to be found.

As regards the suggestion that the Community will in some way declare the fish stocks common property if we do not ourselves assert property rights, this is quite unrealistic. The Community cannot exercise jurisdiction over fish stocks, except to the extent that Member States already do so. There is thus no chance that some kind of impost could be imposed without our consent on fish caught within our limits. We might at some time wish to agree to a Community system of licensing, with fees paid into a central fund, but this is a matter for separate discussion and for agreement. It cannot be imposed.

I am aware of the reference which my noble friend has made to Section 1 of the Continental Shelf Act 1964. This, however, talks not of ownership but of "rights exercisable by the United Kingdom". The rights which the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference Text envisages for the coastal State in respect of fisheries are those of conservation and access control. The powers sought for Ministers through this Bill are precisely those needed to enable the Government to assert those rights. It is unnecessary and also inadvisable, as I have shown, to go further. Admittedly, we cannot through this Bill override the provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy in respect of EEC access to our waters. But my noble friend's Amendment would likewise fail to achieve this. The reappraisal of the Common Fisheries Policy—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned this and hoped that it would be in the Statement—must he pursued in a Community context.

Before I sit down I might mention that if this Amendment were accepted Her Majesty's consent would need to be sought before the Bill could proceed to Third Reading. Given the proximity of the Recess, there would be a delay until the second half of January. British fishery limits could not therefore be extended on 1st January, which would be most regrettable, and I think I would have the support of all sides of the House on this matter. I hope that with that explanation, and the assurances which I have given, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I do not disagree with his general argument, but is it not time that we amended the concept of the right to kill wild creatures? I understand that a pheasant does not belong to anybody until it is killed and that it is arguable that salmon in the river do not belong to anybody until they are caught. But the point of the Bill that we are now considering, and the point of general conservation throughout the world, is that man is now so competent at catching and destroying species that we need a new concept. I do not think that we can hold outdated concepts any longer with regard to the law of the sea. With regard to lobster fishing, for example, 20 years ago I was laughed to scorn by the fishermen of the North coast of Scotland when I suggested that they might have to lease a stretch of coast. They said to me, "What nonsense! The sea is free to all." Our thinking must be directed towards ownership, not towards the right to kill wild creatures. We have to conserve and preserve our wild creatures, otherwise they will become, as some have already become, extinct.


If I may interject a few words, what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said confirms my own understanding of the legislation regarding the Continental Shelf, that we have rights to mine for minerals within that part of the Continental Shelf which has been designated as belonging to the United Kingdom, but that we do not claim sovereignty over the bed of the sea. That is a somewhat difficult kind of idea for us to recognise. None the less, so far as the North Sea is concerned, agreement was reached over 10 years ago, in the negotiations of 1962/63.

One of the difficulties, as my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard has pointed out, is that whereas the hydrocarbons of the seabed are not mobile and are there until they are removed, fish move around in shoals—particularly the pelagic surface fish. What happens within the fishery limits of one country can greatly affect the fish within the fishery limits of another at different stages in their life cycle. Also, when fish move around in shoals, serious depredations can take place while fish are in one country's area and before they reach another. It is a very difficult concept that an individual fish belongs to a particular country.

Secondly, on the question of animals that are in a wild state being regarded in general by our law as not belonging to anybody until they are caught, may I point out that there may be a time in future when sea fish will not be regarded as wild and to be hunted and when we shall have to cordon off areas of the sea and regard fish as farm animals which are being herded and husbanded and, in fact, farmed. When that happens within the fishery limits of our country we may well feel that the fish belong to us in a way in which, when they are wild, they do not.

With that proviso, which itself may present problems for us in the future, because sea fish farms have not yet extended far enough out to sea to cause that to arise, I say from this Bench that we think that the noble Lord the Leader of the House has stated the present position.


Before the noble Lord the Leader of the House makes his final answer, may I ask him one question in respect of the doctrine enunciated by him that there is no exclusive right for British fishermen within the 200-mile limit. I am not arguing about that; I must accept what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said. However, may I ask him whether that doctrine is accepted equally by all the other European countries which are now enunciating their own 200-mile limits? If so, we are all equal. If it is not so, then this country is at a disadvantage, as compared with other countries enunciating 200-mile limits.


I understand that that is the concept, and we must accept it. In any case, we are in the Community and a Community solution may well emerge out of the negotiations. I understand the noble Lord's point about the definition of wild creatures and that the law should be altered. I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that I do not believe that this Bill should be the instrument for the revision of our law affecting not only fish but also wild animals. The 1968 Act which I quoted was passed not so very long ago. Time passes, and no doubt the Liberal Party wants to be in the vanguard of progress. I do not dissent from that, but I do not think that I could alter the law of our country in this Bill; it would be very wrong of me to do so. The noble Lord, if he wishes, or the Liberals, if they should so wish, could raise this point on a suitable occasion—but not, as I used to say in another place, next week or today.


I did not raise the revision of the law; the noble Lord the Leader of the House raised it. While accepting his argument, I was pointing out that we might have to look at this point in the future. I did not ask the noble Lord to alter the law tomorrow.


I must confess that at first sight I liked the appearance of the Amendment which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Kennet. Equally, I must say that, after hearing the explanation of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I have come round to the other point of view. But that is not the main reason why I am influenced against my noble friend's Amendment. I am very old and my mind goes back to the Dogger Bank incident of over 70 years ago, when British and Czarist fishermen came to blows over their rival claims to the fishing rights of that part of the North Sea. The two countries were brought almost to the verge of war. We know that in the present day the Soviet fishing fleets have a habit of fishing here, there and everywhere, and that, no matter what we do this afternoon, they will probably trespass into what we call our part of the North Sea.

What, then, is the position? If the Soviet fishing fleets are trespassing in such a way that they breach our fishery licensing regulations, I suggest that this is a matter which ought to be settled through the civil courts, with the imposition of fines. If, on the other hand, we have vested all the fish in the North Sea within 200 miles of our coasts in the person of Her Majesty—that is to say, we have nationalised all these fish—and if the Soviet authorities then send their trawlers to trespass upon our grounds and take Her Majesty's fish, then this incident, otherwise a matter for settlement by civil law, immediately becomes a matter of intense diplomatic disagreement between the two countries. That might have dangers. On balance, therefore, I have come round to the view of my noble friend the Leader of' the House, that perhaps it would not be safe to accept this Amendment.


Am I not right in saying that the incident referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, regarding the Russians on the Dogger Bank had nothing to do with fishing? Is it not a fact that the Russian Fleet going to Vladivostock to fight the Japanese Fleet, in rather bad visibility saw some trawlers on the Dogger Bank and that they fired at them? Why they fired at them I do not know; I suppose they panicked. I thought that that was the incident. I never thought that Imperial Russia was vying with us for the Dogger Bank, but perhaps she was.


I am always open to correction, but on this occasion I think that I may be more right than the noble Viscount. I was alive and reading actively in those days. The noble Viscount had not been born.


I think the reason expressed by my noble friend Lord Leatherland for not wanting the Amendment —namely, that if the Russians come and poach our fish without a licence we shall not mind if they are private sector fish, but if they come and poach our fish without a licence we shall mind very much if they are nationalised or public sector fish—is not a good one. But to turn to the remarks made by my noble friend the Leader of the House, he said—and how remarkable it is when we see every day in our own lives (those of us who are concerned in this business) how this document, which does not have the force of law, is already beginning to be accepted as customary in international law—that the revised single Negotiating Text of UNCLOS does not confer ownership of any resources in the coastal State. That is true indeed; but what it does confer is sovereignty, and I remain just a little alarmed that the new text of customary international law confers sovereignty, that our neighbour France has taken sovereignty by national legislation but that we will not take either ownership or sovereignty. It is of course quite possible that the Convention which we all hope will come out of UNCLOS in due time will not resemble the Revised Single Negotiating Text. It may be weaker; it may be stronger—it may even confer ownership.

My noble friend said that there is no property right in wild creatures but there is of course in crabs and lobsters, as I was trying to find out. We have nationalised them; we have vested the right to exploit them in the Queen, so that they are different from pheasants. My noble friend also said that there was no danger that the European Community could declare our fish to be Community common property. That is not my worry. I do not have the feeling that some people do. that the Community is a dangerous enemy which may do something against our interests any day. The Community is a body to which we belong and I am sure they will not do that. No, my worry is about non-Community countries—perhaps Russia, perhaps Korea, with vast fishing fleets; perhaps Roumania ordering fishing boats from Poland in the Baltic—perhaps one of these countries might declare that we have no right to present our own case because we have not vested them; we have taken no sovereignty, we have taken no property, and might conceivably win. I do not know.

It may he that we are moving a little slowly in this matter. We arc going slower than most nations; we are behind the pack in taking control of our marine resources. I should feel happier if we could go faster. I am disappointed to learn that, in spite of my belief that the Palace might react within 24 hours, that is not the case and in fact it could not react within several weeks. However, taking all things together, I will withdraw the Amendment and leave it with the single sentiment that I believe it may be necessary, and hope that it will be possible for the Government to introduce a very small Bill within the next few months. This would be a Department of Trade and a Treasury Bill, regulating in some way more effective than my amateurish wording the right to property in the fish in the North Sea. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Access to British fisheries:]

Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD moved Amendment No.2: Page 2, line 11, leave out ("to") and insert ("in").

The noble Viscount said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee to take Amendment No.3 at the same time as I move Amendment No.2. They are not exactly earth-shattering Amendments, but if they were accepted then from the end of line 10 subsection (2) would read: and the Government of the country in which the boat is registered".

Unless there is a decisive difference between "belonging to" and "registered in", surely it is better to use my wording throughout the Bill, because I have always believed that the more simply Bills are drafted, the better. We might then be able to do without some lawyers.

Some laymen may think that "belonging to" might be interpreted as belonging to the Government of the country and not necessarily a boat belonging to an individual in that country. It is usual in shipping circles to refer to where a ship or boat is registered. I have had some slight experience of shipping in the past and the object of this Amendment is to try to make the wording of this part of the Bill completely foolproof and understandable to a layman. I beg to move.


I understand that the noble Viscount desires to improve the Bill and I believe he is seeking to tidy up the wording of the clause by referring throughout to fishing boats which are registered in a particular country, and not in one case the country to which the boat belongs. May I say that the wording in line 11 is deliberately chosen. Subsection (1) provides that only vessels registered in a designated country may fish within the British fishery limits. The intention of subsection (2) is to provide that other foreign fishing boats may enter our limits for certain purposes, although not for fishing. In most cases these other fishing boats will be registered somewhere but in some cases they may quite lawfully be unregistered. It is not our intention to exclude non-registered boats from the aegis of an international convention, which would be the effect of these Amendments.

I should perhaps say a word about the purposes for which foreign fishing boats not registered in a designated country would be allowed to enter British fishery limits. Purposes recognised by international law include such things as taking shelter for the safety of the vessel; direct passage to or from a port in the United Kingdom; seeking medical attention. As regards conventions in force between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of other countries, the most notable example at present is that allowing Polish mother ships access to our territorial sea limit for purposes such as transshipment of catches but not, as I have said, for fishing. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the noble Viscount will withdraw his Amendment.


In view of what the noble Lord has said I will withdraw the Amendment, but I was under the impression that in fact all boats and ships were registered. My boat is registered and it is an extremely small boat, so I am surprised to hear that there are boats which fish commercially but which are not registered. However, having heard what the noble Lord has said, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.39 p.m.

Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD moved Amendment No.4:

Page 2, line 39, after ("in") insert ("or off")

The noble Viscount said: I beg to move Amendment No.4, which I have tabled because unless there is some statutory definition which includes the sense of the word "off" in the word "in"—in other words, to put it into plain English can "in" really mean "off", because so far as I am aware fishing boats like any other boat are not amphibious—to me it does not make sense to say "in Scotland". Surely it ought to be "off Scotland". If a boat is arrested for illegal fishing, surely it ought to be "off Scotland", not "in Scotland". It reminds me of a friend of mine a long time ago in the Admiralty when we had a Far East Fleet, who gave a longitude and latitude reading for the fleet to rendezvous 500 miles inside China. It surely makes far more sense for this clause to read "where the contravention takes place in or off Scotland … I beg to move.


This Amendment proceeds on a mistaken belief that the provision made in Clause 2(5)(c) on page 2 of the Bill does not extend to a contravention occurring in or on the waters off or adjacent to Scotland. Section 14 of the Sea Fisheries Act 1968 permits offences committed at sea under Section 6 of that Act (which Clause 2(2) of the Fishery Limits Bill reenacts), to be deemed for the purpose of prosecution to have been committed on land. The Amendment is therefore not necessary, and with that explanation I hope that the noble Viscount will withdraw his Amendment.


I am not quite clear about this. if a contravention has taken place, I am not sure where it is supposed to have taken place. It is going to be deemed to have taken place in the land of Scotland, so where actually did it take place?


All I know is this—and I am answering for the purpose of the Amendment. The Amendment seeks to provide that fish or fishing gear forfeited by order of a Scottish court may be destroyed or disposed of as the court directs, not only where the contravention takes place in Scotland, but where it takes place in waters off Scotland. I understand that is what the noble Viscount is trying to achieve. I explained that the Amendment proceeds on a mistaken belief that the provision made in the clause in the Bill specifically dealing with this does not extend to a contravention occurring in or on waters off or adjacent to Scotland. I do not think I can go further.


In view of that explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

3.45 p.m.


On Clause 2, "Access to British fisheries", Ministers can designate the countries which will be allowed to fish within the United Kingdom fishery limits, and to prescribe the conditions for their fishing. This will enable the British Government to bargain with a view to obtaining reciprocity and enabling British fishermen to continue to fish within the fishery limits of other countries when those are being extended at the same time to 200 miles or the median line. In that way, we hope to win as much as possible of the worthwhile and valuable fishing off the coasts of other countries, fishing which for many years, in some cases centuries, our fishermen have traditionally plied as their livelihoods.

I will not trespass on the Statement to be made shortly, but on Second Reading of the Bill I raised the point that there was little or no fishing carried out by, for example, Iceland within the proposed 200-mile fishery limit of the United Kingdom. On the other hand, Iceland lands and sells in this country a large quantity of the fish they catch around their own shores. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity today to tell us more about the powers available to the British Government, including those available through the EEC, to control such landings, and make sure that our markets are not used gratuitiously or without restriction while our fishermen are being denied reasonable fishing rights by those very countries, because this is something which will apply to other countries and not only Iceland.

The noble Lord the Leader of the House, in the course of a speech winding up the Second Reading debate, in which he addressed himself to a large number of questions which had been put to him from all sides of the House, replied briefly on this point. We now have the opportunity for the noble Lord to expand upon this clause. I was not myself very happy that our action should be restricted to that associated with the EEC reference price system. The noble Lord particularly referred to that. I am not sure that that is necessarily appropriate or, indeed, adequate for the situation I have described, but if the noble Lord would take this opportunity of expanding on what he said was available within the EEC we shall be glad to hear about this. Certainly the developments in the last few days indicate that this is now a subject which deserves a great deal more attention by the British Government.


We are here discussing the Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill? I do not want to go into details, but if the Committee wishes I can explain the purpose of the clause. However, I think noble Lords have been following the debate, know the Bill, know the clause and how it affects access to British fisheries.

The specific question which arose was really the position of Iceland. This came partly out of public feeling because of the landing of large quantities of Icelandic fish at British ports on Humberside. Here is a country preventing British trawlermen from fishing in waters near to Iceland. I can well understand the feelings of many people on this matter. This point was raised when we had the Second Reading debate. Noble Lords put forward the possibility that landings of fish by Icelandic vessels might be barred. This is the argument. It is true that the Community has power through EEC regulations to control the landing of fish, although, as I explained on Second Reading, the powers are intended for use when there is a danger of market disruption. It was then I referred to the reference price system which we had, and which the Community accepted. This in effect exercises a measure of control of landings of fish into our ports from countries like Norway.

I do not know what is going to happen with reference to the Icelandic negotiations. I cannot forecast, for example, whether the Icelanders will be prepared to agree to arrangements which will permit our fishing to resume, and then one would have a quite new situation. There is a common interest in seeking a reasonable solution on the basis the Commission have discussed with Iceland. One will be hearing very soon the Statement by my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House. I could go into deep waters by arguing other matters, but I think I will just leave it at that. I know there is strong feeling about it, but I believe the present negotiations are important. This is where we can get some real agreement, I hope, in the end, which will resolve the problem. I cannot go beyond that.


Clearly, agreement will be the goal which British negotiators and our EEC partners will be seeking. The problem is how can we achieve it in the particular case of Iceland; the domestic scene in Iceland itself has created a situation where political parties and individuals are outbidding each other in their apparent toughness towards Britain. But there are other similar situations; we have had a similar situation visà vis Norway in the past. So I am raising this as a general question. There will be straightforward bargaining where we have fisheries within our 200 miles limit in which other countries are interested, and if we license some of their boats to fish in our waters then we will expect reciprocity, something in return. My point here is that we must also link this with markets, that markets are as valuable, or even more valuable in some cases, to other countries with whom we are negotiating than the fish in our waters. This is something which I hope the Government will continue to bear in mind. I shall have more to say on this when the Statement comes in a moment.

When I was speaking about controls I was not necessarily meaning a ban. I think the noble Lord the Leader of the House said that I was contemplating a ban. That I think would probably only be used in some kind of emergency. But it is a situation where we should make it clear that we control our market and that is used in our bargaining with Iceland and other countries; we do not simply allow their fish to come in more or less without restriction when our fishermen are being denied rights which have become traditional, and which are very reasonable ones bearing in mind conservation in the waters of those other countries.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Licensing of fishing boats]:

Viscount MASSEREENE and FER-RARD moved Amendment No.5: Page 3, line 27, after ("that") insert (", for the purpose of implementing any international agreement or the arbitral award of an international body, ")

The noble Viscount said: My reason for putting down this Amendment was that I cannot understand why our fishermen should be controlled outside the 200 miles fishing limits, apart from some international agreement binding on other nations' fishermen. As I read the Bill. British fishing boats cannot fish outside the 200 miles limit unless they are authorised by the Government. I do not think that is good enough. I think they ought to be allowed to fish outside the 200 miles limit unless there is some international agreement which prohibits the boats of other nations from fishing outside the 200 mile limit. I do not want to take up the time of the Committee. That is all I intend to say. It ought to be a quid pro quo. I beg to move.


If I may deal with the Amendment which has been moved, this Amendment would restrict Ministers' powers to impose licensing on British boats fishing outside our limits to an extent similar to that contained in the existing Section 4 of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. The new restriction, like the existing one, is designed to ensure that British fishermen fishing outside our limits are not unilaterally subjected to stringent controls, while their foreign counterparts fish freely. I fully agree with this principle.

We should, however, look at the changed circumstances in which the new Section 4 is intended to apply. In 1967 most countries had 12 mile fishery limits, and most fishing was, therefore, carried on in areas outside national jurisdiction. Conservation rules were agreed in the international commissions, such as the NEAFC, on a voluntary basis. It was, therefore, necessary to ensure that our fishermen were not penalised by controls which other countries refused to apply to their fishermen.

In the new situation of 200 mile limits which we and most other North Atlantic States will adopt from next year, most fishing will be carried out in waters under the jurisdiction of coastal States, subject to conservation rules and effort limitation applied by them on a compulsory basis. Our fishing in the waters of countries such as Norway and Canada will be regulated by agreement between the EEC and the third country concerned. We may wish or be required to enforce our side of the agreement by licensing our vessels to fish in that country's waters. Equally we may need powers to license our vessels in the waters of other EEC Member States as part of a Community conservation régime

These purposes would be covered by the Amendment, which would permit licensing "for the purpose of implementing any international agreement". But it may be that we should wish voluntarily to license fishing by British boats in other countries' waters while agreements on fishing rights are being negotiated. This would be with the aim of avoiding an increase in fishing effort which might prejudice the outcome of those negotiations. For the most part, therefore, the need is an interim one arising from the fact that the negotiations cannot all be included by 1st January next.

Additionally, I should point out that under the existing 1967 Act there is no restriction on Ministers' powers to license British boats fishing outside our limits for anadromous species such as salmon and migratory trout. The Bill maintains that situation, although, of course, a much higher proportion of the catch of these stocks will be taken within our new limits, where licensing can henceforth be applied to both British and foreign vessels. I hope the noble Viscount will not press this Amendment; otherwise, I would ask noble Lords to reject the Amendment.


Of course, I have taken the words of my Amendment out of Clause 1(2). I thought the words there were rather superfluous. I would like to have seen it vice versa. I should like to have seen those words in my Amendment. But I have heard what the noble Lord has said. I am sure he has the interests of British fishermen at heart just as much as I have. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I suggest this may be a good moment to take the Statement which is at present being made in another place. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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