HL Deb 23 April 1986 vol 473 cc1152-3

2.45 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the reported views of the Falkland islanders, as expressed in a petition to the Baroness Young, on the continued depletion of fish stocks around the islands by foreign fishing vessels and the growing threat to bird life, they will now declare a 200-mile economic and fisheries zone around the Falkland Islands.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, as I made clear when I was in the Falklands last February, our policy is to work for a multilateral conservation and management regime under FAO auspices. We have been pursuing that goal actively both with the FAO and in contacts with all the nations involved. A technical study by the FAO, which is an essential preliminary to the imposition of a multilateral regime, is now under way.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Does she not think it somewhat odd and illogical that, having conducted a very spendid operation at a distance of 8,000 miles in order to liberate the Falkland Islands, and in order to meet the expressed wishes of the islanders that they should remain British, we should subsequently do nothing effective to protect the principal resource of the Falkland Islands—that is, the fish stocks—from the depredations of foreign fishermen, despite the strongly expressed wishes of the islanders that we should take effective steps to establish a 200-mile fishery zone?

Baroness Young

My Lords, our claim to sovereignty is not in doubt, but our first priority is to secure a fishing regime which is both workable and effective. I hope the noble Lord will appreciate that we are working actively with the FAO to establish a multilateral regime, and the first stage of that, which is to undertake a technical study, is now under way.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that penguins are now dying in their thousands around the Falklands area? The reason is that foreign fishing boats are over-fishing squid, which is the penguins' main diet. Is my noble friend also aware that I was pleased to hear her Answer to the noble Lord's Question, that the Government are taking the conservation of the fisheries around the Falklands seriously?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's last remark. I hope I can assure him that, although it seems that the number of dead penguins is greater than usual, there is as yet no definite knowledge about the total numbers involved or, indeed, the cause of the deaths, and there is no evidence to link the deaths of the birds with squid fishing in the Falklands.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Baroness telling the House that the talks on the proposed multilateral regime are now in suspension pending the FAO survey? Can she say when the FAO survey is likely to be published, to what extent Her Majesty's Government are tied to the recommendations of the survey, and whether the Argentine is tied to the survey as well?

Baroness Young

My Lords, what is happening at the present time is that under the FAO a technical survey is being conducted to establish the state of the fish stocks. I am glad to confirm to the noble Lord that the study is well under way, technical experts from the FAO have been visiting capitals of the fishing nations, and Argentina is participating in the study. Talks to implement any possible scheme will, of course, follow the publication of this study, but we have not yet reached that stage.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said, will my noble friend not agree that there can be no long-term solution to the very vexed fisheries problem in this area unless Argentina agrees? Will she therefore not consider that this is a very worthwhile opportunity for the resumption of a more direct dialogue with Argentina on a subject on which we probably all agree?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I can confirm, and gladly do so to my noble friend, that co-operation with Argentina on a multilateral fishing scheme would be the best basis for a successful regime. I confirm that Argentina is currently taking part in that. I can also confirm that such a regime would be without prejudice to sovereignty on either side.