HL Deb 29 October 1986 vol 481 cc739-45

4.26 p.m.

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement on South Atlantic fisheries which is being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Geoffrey Howe. The Statement is as follows:

"The Government are today taking steps to establish a Falkland Islands interim conservation and management zone (FICZ). It will be generally of 150 miles radius from the Falkland Islands. At the same time we are declaring the entitlement of the Falklands, under international law, to a fisheries limit of 200 miles, subject to delimitation with Argentina. We are also confirming our rights to jurisdiction over the continental shelf up to the limits prescribed by the rules of international law.

"The necessary legislative measures will be introduced shortly in the Falkland Islands. Our action is taken in agreement with the Governor and his executive council. We are informing the fishing nations, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, our allies and partners, the European Commission, the United Nations and other governments concerned, including Argentina. Copies of the declaration have been placed in the Library of the House.

"The House will know that the rapid increase in fishing in the south-west Atlantic, with its serious impact on fish stocks there, has aroused widespread concern. The Government share that concern and have been active in trying to meet it.

"From the outset, the Government took the view that the problem would best be solved on a collaborative basis. Accordingly, as a result of a British initiative in March 1985, a study was launched last November at the Food and Agriculture Organisation. We gave it every support. We saw this as the first step to agreeing multilateral conservation and management arrangements under FAO auspices. In public, and directly to the Argentine Government, I made clear our view that a solution without prejudice to our respective positions on sovereignty could and should be found.

"However some fishing nations have not co-operated fully with the FAO study, and its preparation has been delayed.

"Pending completion of the study, we took steps to reduce by voluntary means the impact of the fishing effort in the 1986 season. We had hoped to extend these voluntary arrangements into 1987.

"Argentina has pursued a different course, and her actions have undermined the multilateral approach. In particular, Argentina has embarked on aggressive patrolling more than 200 miles from Patagonia and within 200 miles of the Falklands. Unlawful use of force by Argentina led in one case to loss of life and the sinking of a vessel. Argentina has concluded bilateral fisheries agreements with the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. Through these agreements Argentina purports to exercise jurisdiction that is as a matter of international law the entitlement of Falkland Islands. These agreements are incompatible with the multilateral initiative.

"In sum, the Argentine Government's recent actions show an indifference to conservation needs and a preference for obstruction rather than co-operation.

"The Government are determined that there should be adequate protection for the fishery. In view of the failure of Argentina to co-operate in a multilateral approach, we have therefore decided to establish unilaterally a conservation and managment regime. We remain, however, ready to work for a multilateral arrangement which would still be our preference, just as soon as that can be achieved. I have made this clear to the Argentine Foreign Minister and suggested to him that we should review how Britain and Argentina can co-operate to support conservation on a regional basis.

"The legislation to be introduced by the Falkland Islands Government will take effect from 1st February 1987. Its aim will be to preserve the viability of the fishery. Fishing within the conservation zone will be licensed by the Falkland Islands Government. Licensing will reflect conservation needs. The Falkland Islands Government will use its own civilian fisheries protection vessels and a surveillance aircraft. Revenue and costs will be for the Falkland Islands Government. The conservation zone for most of its circumference will be co-extensive with the protection zone. Our forces stationed at the Falklands will continue to deter Argentine aggression and maintain the integrity of the protection zone."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. We fully recognise the need to organise fishing in these waters with a view to proper conservation and we have noted with concern the evidence of over-fishing to which the Statement refers. As the House is aware, we have had several exchanges here on this subject over the last few months and we are also conscious that we still await the FAO report.

The establishment of the new zone—the FICZ referred to in the Statement—is an important departure, although we do not necessarily dissent from it. The noble Baroness has often reiterated the Government's adherence to a multilaterial agreement based upon the FAO report. Indeed, in March she said that she was convinced that a multilateral arrangement offers the best prospect of meeting all needs. On 2nd April in this House she said that she thought that the FAO report was an essential preliminary to the imposition of a multilaterial regime. I must therefore ask the noble Baroness why the Government have decided to change direction now. Why have the Government decided to act unilaterally at this point before the publication of the FAO report? Furthermore, is the noble Baroness able to say when the report is likely to be published? When it is available will the Government then propose to move towards consultations with a view to a multilateral agreement?

Does the noble Baroness think that this unilateral action could create difficulties with the USSR and the Eastern European fishing nations whose fishing fleets are operating in these waters? We note that the Falkland Islands Government will use their own vessels and aircraft in these waters. Does the noble Baroness think that that is adequate, or is there a possibility of confrontation and some danger to the ships and the aircraft? I understand—and perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm this—that two ships are involved and of course those ships (as again I am sure the noble Baroness will confirm) are quite unarmed.

Given what the Statement says about the aggressive patrolling which is now going on, I assume that the Government will be prepared to defend the ships and the aircraft if that becomes necessary. Finally, will the noble Baroness tell the House how it is proposed to use the licence fee money? Is she able to give some estimate of what it might amount to? Will it be used to establish a company in the Falkland Islands to supply the full needs of the foreign fleets operating in the area?

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I congratulate the Government on their efforts to obtain some multilateral agreement and regret that that has not been possible. I should like to ask further questions about the new fisheries zone. Has it been drawn up largely for reasons of international law or are the actual fishing conditions in the South Atlantic taken into account? It seems to me to be very much the same kind of zone as we have heard a good deal about in the North Sea. I should like to be assured that such matters as the migration of fish in the South Atlantic and the type of fishing—whether it is industrial fishing or whether we hope to establish some kind of in-shore shipping there—have also been taken into account.

It is a very large area indeed and it presumably runs from the heads of the land and will be extremely difficult to patrol. I therefore ask the noble Baroness, in addition to what has already been asked, what ships and aircraft the Falkland Islanders have at their disposal for this purpose. It is not enough to have aircraft, because some of the ships—clearly the Argentine ships—will not obey orders and may have to be boarded. It would be interesting to know what vessels the Falklanders have at their disposal other than those of the Navy for carrying out this task.

I remind your Lordships that the total population of the Falklands is about the size of a large village. Even by Orkney standards it is very small indeed. If Orkney had to enforce a 200-mile limit it would be hard put to do so.

First, are there courts in the Falkland Islands to try those who have been carrying out illegal fishing and are they empowered to enforce the very heavy penalties which are the only effective ones? The value of fishing catches is now enormous and unless the courts are empowered to levy very heavy fines or imprison skippers they will simply take no notice.

Finally, as regards licensing, are foreign nations to be allowed to apply for licences? I take the view that licensing is the ultimate solution to most fishing difficulties and that zones are very difficult to enforce. However, may I take it that other South American nations—and, indeed, other world nations—will be entitled to apply for licences? If so, to whom do they apply and on what conditions?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank both the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, for their response to this Statement. I confirm again to both noble Lords that we have been very concerned about the conservation of fish stocks. I have been conscious that this point has been raised on many occasions by noble Lords from all parts of the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me a number of quite specific points on the Statement. First, he quoted what I had said about the Government's hope that we would achieve a multilateral regime—a point, which the Statement itself makes. As again the Statement makes clear, the unilateral option was always available to us. We hope that we may move towards a multilateral regime, but in the meantime we have, as the Statement makes clear, proposed the arrangement of an interim zone.

The noble Lord asked me when we thought the FAO report would be published. So far as we know, it should be published by the end of the year. It is a technical study of the state of the fish stocks. We had hoped to receive it this summer and it is unfortunate that it has been delayed. Our latest information is that it is expected by the end of the year. The noble Lord then asked me whether we would be having consultations about this matter. Of course we would have to discuss the report, but the fact is that the fishing fleets would now be preparing to go to the South Atlantic because the fishing season starts early in the year, January-February, and therefore it is necessary to have something in place before the next season.

The noble Lord asked me specifically whether we thought there might be any difficulties either with the USSR or with the Eastern European fishing nations. Again, if I may repeat this point, we believe that it is in the interests of all fishing nations to ensure that the fishery remains viable both ecologically and commercially. We therefore look to all the nations that fish there to comply with the licensing regime which will enable that to take place.

The noble Lord then asked me whether we thought there might be some confrontation and possible danger to our ships. I do not think that this would be the case if the other fishing nations behaved lawfully. It is important in this connection to note that only two days ago there was a Brazilian proposal at the United Nations to establish a South Atlantic zone of peace. It was co-sponsored by Argentina with Brazil, and we supported it at the United Nations. I think that this indicates that Britain and Argentina can vote in the same way when we have a common interest, and we hope that all the fishing nations will recognise that there is a common interest in the preservation of the stocks.

Finally, the noble Lord asked me about defending our ships and aircraft. The fact is that we hope there will be two civilian ships and a civilian aircraft. We hope that this will not be something that we are called upon to do; and certainly not if the fishing nations behave lawfully. But of course the fact of the matter is that it is open to us to use armed forces should this be appropriate. However, it is our hope, for the reasons I have given, that this will not be necessary, and it is going to be patrolled by a civilian force.

The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, asked me about the ships and aircraft, and I hope he will accept that I have answered that question. He then went on to ask me whether there would be courts in the Falkland Islands able to try those fishing illegally. The answer is yes, there would be. There would be a magistrates' court. An ordinance is to be passed in the Falkland Islands early in November laying down the penalties.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us will warmly welcome her Statement today, because the previous policy of the Government, although well-intentioned, was taking much too long? In the meantime, the long-distance fleets from far away, such as Japan and the Soviet Union, were making serious inroads into the stocks of fish in that area.

As regards the question from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will my noble friend accept the congratulations of at least one Member of this House on having taken this decision now, because it was I who pressed in a Question and supplementaries at the end of July, just before the Recess, that the Government should make such a change? I am sure that many people will welcome the Statement today.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for his warm reception of this Statement.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Baroness and tell her that there is another Member of your Lordships' House who is pleased. The recommendation that I made four years and two months ago is finally being implemented. This has been a subject of continuous pressure on the Government, since those of us who knew about what was going on at the FAO had no belief that the Government would succeed in their multilateral approach, desirable though it was.

I believe that the Government were right to play it slowly and make every effort to get an agreement, notwithstanding the great pressure from the conservation world, which will greatly welcome this step to implement protective measures at this stage. I think that the reaction of the Argentine to the Government's efforts is very depressing indeed. I do not know whether the noble Baroness would agree, but there is still the danger of a cod war with unfortunate international implications in view of the attitude of the Soviet Union and the establishment of a fishing base in the Argentine, and the Soviet Union's indifference to our complaints about the agreement they had entered into, in our opinion illegally, with regard to fisheries in that area.

Would the noble Baroness also accept—and I speak as somebody who was until recently chairman of the East European Trade Council—that I have no doubt that East European countries, and particularly the Poles, are only too eager to have a sensible regime, which this envisages? I also congratulate the noble Baroness on the fact that the Government have achieved this, so far as I can tell, with no cost at all to the British taxpayer. I just hope that the Falkland Islands will get some benefit financially from this.

Finally, may I ask the noble Baroness—and again I say this in the warmest and most congratulatory way—whether we shall have to wait another four years before we put fishing limits around South Georgia? This is also an area that we recommend should be protected in this way. South of the Antarctic convergence in particular is in danger of very heavy fishing.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for his warm welcome of the Statement, It is even more welcome because, as we know, he recommended such a zone in his report published in 1982, and no one has been a stronger advocate of it. I am glad too that he believes that it has been the right policy to play it slowly. We have tried hard to achieve a multilateral regime. I am particularly pleased to hear from him that conservationists will welcome this, because it is such an important part of the argument.

The noble Lord asked me about the reaction of the Argentine Government. Of course, one does not know. They have been informed of this decision, and we hope that they too will see the argument about conservation. As I indicated in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, we believe that the fact of the Brazilian proposal at the United Nations on a zone of peace should make people think carefully about settling any differences other than peacefully, and we are pleased that we were able to support this proposal as well as Argentina.

I was interested in what the noble Lord said about Eastern Europe. We hope that if the Polish ships wish to continue to fish there they will apply for licences. So far as concerns the cost of the scheme, of course it will be run by the Falkland Islands government, who will issue the licences and will therefore collect the revenue. That will depend on the number of licences issued and how the cost works out. They clearly will need to look at this carefully, and I would not in any way want to overestimate the amount of revenue that might be achieved for the Falkland Islands government. What is most important is that the fishery should survive in the conservation area.

So far as concerns the water around South Georgia, the fishery is subject to existing international agreement—that is, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. We continue to regard this agreement as having the potential to develop into a truly effective conservation regime. We shall continue to work with other like-minded commission members at next year's meeting, which takes place in October 1987. So far, the CCAMLR has introduced a ban on all commercial fishing within 12 nautical miles of South Georgia.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves that point, the agreement to which she referred is still not a very successful one. I hope therefore that she will agree that at the next meeting of the Antarctic treaty powers (or the SCAR meeting) they will press strongly for more action; but there will still be the problem of enforceability.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I shall certainly note the important point that the noble Lord has made.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend could clear up a small point which is bothering me. She said the conservation zone was to be of the same radius as the protection zone. When I was last in the Falklands, in July, the protection zone was only about 150 miles, whereas the conservation zone is to be 200 miles. Therefore, will the protection zone—or FIPZ, which I think is its exact name—have to be extended?

Baroness Young

No, my Lords. The interim conservation zone is co-terminous with the Falkland Islands Protection Zone. We have claimed up to 200 miles but the actual area that will be licensed and will be patrolled will be of 150 miles radius. This is because most of the fishing is done within 150 miles radius and because it is coterminous with the Falkland Islands Protection Zone.