HC Deb 24 July 1958 vol 592 cc62-3W
Mr. Ridsdale

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will state the terms of Her Majesty's Government's declaration of policy, of 4th June, concerning the Icelandic Government's proposed intention to extend their fishing limits.

Mr. Ian Harvey

Yes. The terms of the declaration of policy are as follows:

On 2nd June, 1958, the Prime Minister of Iceland made a broadcast elaborating upon an official statement issued the previous day to the effect that the parties constituting the Government Coalition in Iceland had agreed to the issue on 30th June, 1958, of a Decree concerning the fishery limits off Iceland. The Decree would claim the extension of Icelandic fishery limits to twelve miles as from the 1st of September, 1958; it would seek to subject fishing within the new limits to Icelandic control, and to reserve the right to alter the base lines from which Icelandic fishery limits are at present measured.

Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have noted with surprise and regret the disregard, both in the Icelandic Prime Minister's broadcast and in the official statement of the long established rights of other nations to fish in the high seas around Iceland.

In an aide mémoire dated 29th May, 1958, Her Majesty's Ambassador at Reykjavik pointed out to the Icelandic Government that if the proposed Decree were issued, it could not and would not in law in any way restrict the rights of other nations on the high seas, nor could it lawfully prohibit fishing by other nations in areas which have long been regarded as part of the high seas.

Her Majesty's Government accordingly will not be able to accept the proposed Decree, if issued, as of any effect in law. Claims to exercise exclusive jurisdiction in relation to fishing in areas outside the normal limits of territorial waters are wholly unwarranted under international law. Further, Her Majesty's Government will not be able to recognise base lines beyond those permitted by international law.

Her Majesty's Government find it difficult to believe that the Icelandic Government would use force against British fishing vessels in order to secure compliance with a unilateral Decree which the parties of the Government Coalition propose to issue without regard for International law. At the same time, Her Majesty's Government must point out that it would be their duty to prevent any unlawful attempt to interfere with British fishing vessels on the high seas, whether or not such an attempt were to be made within the area in which the Icelandic Government now propose to claim exclusive jurisdiction in fishery matters.

While one nation or a number of nations cannot by themselves alter international law, it is of course open to nations to enter into bilateral or multilateral agreements waiving or restricting in specified areas some or all of the rights which they now enjoy under the law of the sea. Her Majesty's Government and a number of other friendly Governments have done their utmost to persuade the Icelandic Government to abstain from unilateral action and to enter into discussions with a view to the negotiation of an appropriate fisheries agreement.

Her Majesty's Government are aware of the importance of fisheries to Iceland. Fisheries are also of great importance to the United Kingdom. Her Majesty's Government adhere to the view that through negotiation it should be possible to conclude an acceptable agreement. For that reason, before the announcement of the Icelandic Government's intention, Her Majesty's Government informed the Icelandic Government that they were prepared to enter into negotiations for this purpose. Her Majesty's Government are still prepared to enter into such negotiations in the spirit of goodwill which they showed during the Geneva Conference on the Law of the Sea. They hope that the Icelandic Government will agree that negotiation is in every respect preferable to unilateral action, and that the period before the 1st of September should be used to negotiate a lasting solution acceptable to all concerned.