With permission, I should like to make a statement on South Atlantic fisheries.
The Government are today taking steps to establish a Falkland Islands interim conservation and management zone. 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 embarkd 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 a matter of international law the entitlement of the 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 then 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 management 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 1 February 1987. Its aim will be to preserve the viability of the fishery. Fishing within the conservation zone will he 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.
The Foreign Secretary will be aware that he has made a very serious statement which embeds Her Majesty's Government still deeper in the quagmire of the Falklands commitment. He knows that his announcement is bound to make negotiations with Argentina more difficult and to reduce still further the minuscule minority of Governments in the United Nations who support the British position on this issue. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just announced the unilateral imposition of a fishing zone around the Falklands, which is something that he told the House last year was not justified. In his statement to the House on 14 March 1985 he explicitly supported the Select Commitee for drawing attention to the "political and practical problems" of policing such a zone when it comprises some 70,000 square miles of ocean, in part overlapping a zone already established by Argentina. He has dumped the responsibility for policing such a zone on the population of the Falklands, which is half that of the average parish in the United Kingdom. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman regard the Falklands Government as being free to use force in imposing this unilateral decision against any fishing vessel which may, without agreement, fish in the zone?
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to the fact that 18 months ago it was still our view that we should strive to achieve a multilateral agreement on this matter. It is for that reason that we have striven so hard to do so and why it was only after the lapse of that time and in face of the actions of the Government of Argentina, that I have listed, that we reached the conclusion that a unilateral regime has to be imposed at this time. As I said in the statement, we remain ready and willing to achieve a multilateral regime as soon as possible. It must be the Government of Argentina who take the steps to make that possible. They have failed to do so thus far.
There is no question of Her Majesty's Government embedding themselves deeper in a quagmire, which was the graphic phrase chosen by the right hon. Gentleman. We are asserting, as is necessary, the maintenance of our sovereignty, the preservation of fish stocks in the south Atlantic and the jurisdiction we are entitled and obliged to exercise. The policing of the fisheries conservation zone will be undertaken by civilian surveillance aircraft and fisheries protection vessels of the Falklands Government. That will be comparable to the division made in United Kingdom waters. It is open to Her Majesty's Government to use armed forces in appropriate circumstances in the waters around the Falkland Islands, as well as in waters elsewhere within our jurisdiction.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that he will receive the wholehearted support of the Conservative Benches for the decisive action that he has taken and that we, at any rate, will reject the surly and weak-kneed reaction of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)? Is it not perfectly clear that, if the Government had not been prepared to take such decisive action now, there would have been lasting and serious damage to the fishery stocks of the south Atlantic, with harm not only to the Falkland Islanders but to a much wider range of countries as well?
I am grateful for the support of my right hon. Friend. He is precisely right in his diagnosis of what would have happened had we not taken the action which he commends.
On the grounds of fishing and fish stock conservation alone, I believe that the statement was fully justified. However, was it naval grounds which made the Foreign Secretary limit it to 150 miles, which seems prudent? Will the Foreign Secretary now say to the Government of Argentina that, although he is not ready to consider a transfer of sovereignty to Argentina, he is ready to discuss other alternatives such as pooling sovereignty and a possible transfer of sovereignty to the Security Council of the United Nations?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's first comment. The decision on the precise extent of the zone depends, among other things, on what is practical and sensible to set out in the circumstances within the maximum 200 miles that we could have claimed. Sovereignty remains a matter which is not for negotiation. It is not possible to contemplate moving in that direction when one realises the total reluctance of the Government of Argentina to take even the most elementary steps towards normalising relations along the lines we have so often described.
The long delay in coming to a decision has been harmful to fish stocks. Is it not yet another illustration of the impossibility of coming to an agreement about anything with the present Government of Argentina? Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that the Falklands Government have enough resources to police the area?
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that, if his statement is to be in any way meaningful to the British fishing industry, the owners of the much depleted distant-water fleets will have to convince their bankers that the new regime that he has announced will be secure and will stop the depletion of stocks? Is he further aware of the desperate financial plight of the distant-water sector of the fishing industry? Finally, does he believe that what he has said today will provide sufficient confidence to create the level of bank lending necessary?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising those practical questions. He will recollect that some companies already have joint ventures with some of the far eastern fishing fleets and that other joint ventures are under discussion. The number of British vessels among those already fishing around the Falklands is a small proportion of the total. We hope that the establishment of this conservation zone will offer scope for the expansion of British fishing efforts in those waters because within the framework of the conservation regime, first priority will be given to vessels connected with the Falklands. We hope that the British element will grow rapidly. We believe that the arrangements that we have made will be adequate for the protection of the zone with the support of Her Majesty's forces in appropriate circumstances.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed by our fellow citizens in the Falkland Islands and every member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Falkland Islands group in this House? What estimate has been made of the additional revenue to the Falkland Islands from the licensing arrangements? Are additional facilities expected in Port Stanley for the revictualling or refuelling of ships which will use the port as a result of the agreement?
The revenue will depend on the number of licences applied for and issued. We expect the revenue to make a useful addition to that of the Falkland Islands Government, taking account of their present financial circumstances. The facilities on the islands will be considered in the light of the scale of demand that develops.
Will the Foreign Secretary concede that much of the difficulty could have been obviated if the Government had shown more enthusiasm for the third United Nations convention on the law of the sea? How does this particular proposal stand in relation to that convention? The Foreign Secretary mentioned the division of the continental shelf. How does he propose to have the Falkland Islands Government negotiate median lines with neighbouring states, including Argentina?
On the law of the sea, the 200-mile zone, within which the fishery conservation zone is being established, does not depend on the convention. That has been accepted by the International Court of Justice. On the continental shelf and the question of delimitation on the south-western side, facing Argentina, we have taken account of the need for delimitation in the precise border of the zone that we have established. Beyond that it would be a matter for negotiation, which we hope can take place.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement will be welcomed by most of us—at least by those of us who have had the privilege of visiting the Falkland Islands? Will he say a little more about the enforcement of the arrangements? It seems hard that the burden should fall in the way he describes. Might it not be necessary for there to be further Royal Navy or Royal Air Force deployment there to assist with the enforcement of these arrangements?
No, Sir. The position is the same as in every other area where fishery rights are being protected. The function of fisheries protection is undertaken by the fisheries protection resources, which will consist of civilian Falkland Islands Government fisheries officers with a surveillance aircraft and two fisheries protection vessels. That is comparable to provision in United Kingdom waters and should be adequate for the purposes. If there were a need for further support, as everywhere else, it is open to the Government to use armed forces in appropriate circumstances. The tasks of the existing garrison will continue to be to deter Argentine aggression and to maintain the integrity of the Falkland Islands protection zone.
I should like to follow precisely that point. Are the resources for the Falkland Islands Government in manpower and ships other than utterly inadequate to deal with the size of Russian, Japanese and other machinery there? Is it not completely erroneous to believe that they can cope without bringing the British military presence into direct confrontation?
No, if the matter is handled normally, as it is in other parts of the world. The scale of the fishery protection resources available is believed to be adequate, and comparable to provisions made in United Kingdom waters. Beyond that, the resources of the garrison remain available to deter Argentine aggression and to maintain the integrity of the protection zone.
The Government have shown great patience in trying to get a multilateral agreement on this important matter. I cannot agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that it will exacerbate relations between our two Governments. The Argentine Government, I might remind my right hon. and learned Friend, had already made separate fishing agreements with the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. I believe that they feel that it is strange that we have not done anything to conserve fish, but now we are doing something.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. One factor that we took into account was the fact that Argentina had been making agreements of this kind with the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, purporting to exercise jurisdiction—as a matter of international law, however, it is the entitlement of the Falkland Islands — and making agreements that were incompatible with the multilateral initiative. Because of that, we felt obliged to take this measure unilaterally. We remain anxious to secure a multilateral conclusion if that is possible.
Was it not impossible to secure agreement with Argentina on this issue as long as the British Government refused even to discuss sovereignty with them? That being so, would it not have been better to listen to the pleas of the fishing industry much earlier, to take temporary action of this kind before the East European trawlers came in to scoop the pool, and to get on with the job of improving Britain's diplomatic relations with Argentina?
I fancy that I detect a certain difference of emphasis on this between the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. partner on the Front bench, the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). We have been trying, since we took our initiative at the beginning of last year, to establish a multilateral fishery conservation regime, but that has proved impossible. Argentina has taken the actions that I have mentioned, which make it even more difficult to achieve. In those circumstances, to suggest that it would be easier to negotiate about sovereignty than about this single practical thing seems absurd.
May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on this decision and observe that it is better late than never? To what extent will there be increased opportunities for the British deep-sea fishing industry in that the Government could negotiate rights for foreign vessels to fish in Falklands waters in return for increased opportunities for British vessels to fish in other countries' waters?
That question extends national ambitions in a sensible fashion, which should be taken account of. The key is that we have created a framework which existing joint ventures between British fishing vessels and others in Falklands waters can begin to expand. That may create other opportunities.
In the interests of conserving these valuable stocks, a decision was certainly needed. I argued some two years ago in an article in the Glasgow Herald that we needed a bilateral fisheries agreement between Britain and Argentina in the hope that it would diminish hostility between the two. Anyone with a knowledge of the fishing industry and of the fisheries protection service knows that a fisheries protection service cannot be introduced in circumstances such as these overnight. It is a complicated business.
Bearing in mind the difficulties associated with policing fishing activities, do the Government intend to transfer one or two unarmed fisheries protection vessels from the United Kingdom fleet to help the Falklanders manage the stocks?
I am grateful that the decision to establish a conservation regime is in line with the advice offered by the hon. Gentleman at an earlier stage, and I am glad that he endorses—
My hon. Friend wanted a bilateral agreement with Agrentina.
Let me answer the hon. Gentleman's question. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) must contain himself.
I am also glad to respond to the advice of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about the desirability of achieving, if possible, a bilateral-multilateral regime. It is for that reason that we have striven for so long to do it. It is for that reason, as I have said, that we remain ready to work for a multilateral arrangement, which would still be our preference. I have made that clear to the Argentine Government. In the absence of that, we have to take this action, as I think the hon. Gentleman recognises. Fisheries protection vessels will be in place by the time the zone comes into effect on 1 February 1987. That is why I gave that as the date of commencement. The necessary support from armed forces, if it became necessary, would come from the present garrison at the Falklands.
Although I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement, I must point out to him that two small civilian craft and a light aircraft are unlikely to be able to provide proper enforcement. Is he aware that earlier this year the Argentines carried out an armed attack upon a Taiwanese trawler, resulting in loss of life, and that it is hopeless to try to compare the threat in United Kingdom waters with a threat in the south Atlantic? Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at enforcement again? We need to have the Royal Navy in visible back-up to the civilian craft.
I am fully aware of the facts pointed out by my hon. Friend. The attack to which he refers was a matter that I identified as one of the reasons why it was necessary to take the action. What I am saying—it is perfectly plain — is that, for fisheries protection purposes, the resources that I have described should be adequate and are comparable to those that are normally necessary. But, of course, it will be the task of the garrison to continue to deter Argentine aggression and to continue to maintain the integrity of the protection zone, which is substantially co-extensive with the conservation zone.
I think that the decision will be welcomed by both the fishing industry and the Falkland Islands because the waters were being overfished, and without the certainty of limits and help in investment, it is unlikely that the British fishing industry would participate in developing the stocks there. But at the same time is not the Foreign Secretary wrong to place the entire burden of enforcing the regime on the pathetic resources available to the Falkland Islands? Up to now, his argument has been that we should not impose fishing limits because of the certainty that they would be defied and the difficulty of enforcing them. In placing that burden on the Falkland Islands now, is he not really showing the courage of his own lack of convictions?
The hon. Gentleman must understand precisely what the position is. We refrained from taking the action until now because we believed, as I think the whole House would wish us to, that it was better to try to achieve a multilateral regime if possible. We initiated that through the Food and Agricultural Organisation and have been working to that end. Unfortunately, for the reasons that I have given, that has not proved possible, so we are taking this decision to put the unilateral regime in place. I repeat: the regime depends on two components — first, upon the establishment of the normal fisheries protection resources that I have described, and in addition upon the availability around the Falkland Islands, as would be necessary anywhere else, of Her Majesty's armed forces, with the customary task of protecting the integrity of the protection zone and deterring Argentine aggression. It is for those reasons that the forces are on the islands, and for no other purpose.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if the Argentine Government had negotiated on that point as on other points that he mentioned at Question Time, there would have been no need for us to take the action, and that the only reason why we have had to do so is the refusal by the Argentine Government to negotiate and come to an agreement? In that case, it happens to be the Argentine Government's fault that the Government have had to take the action: their hand has been forced.
I am entirely grateful to my hon. Friend. He made precisely the point that I made in my statement. It was for the reason that he gave that we have taken the decision to establish the unilateral regime. I repeat: we should have preferred to achieve a multilateral regime. That remains our long-term preference.
Order. There is to be an important debate and a ten-minute Bill after this. I shall allow questions to continue for a further five minutes, and then we must move on.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that we all understand why he has come to the Dispatch Box today—for a bit of electioneering and flag-waving, trying to give the British people the impression that the Government will take on the Argies again without any fishing protection vessels 8,000 miles away? It will not go unnoticed in the coastal and fishery areas of Britain that, while the Tory Government can suggest a 150-mile exclusion zone around the Falklands to protect fish stocks, they cannot do so for British fishermen around here. That will be the response of British fishermen. They will see the measure for what it is worth —a load of hypocrisy.
The hon. Gentleman speaks for a large number of constituencies, but I have not heard him speak with great credibility on behalf of the fishermen of England. Within the framework of the common fisheries policy, we have established a perfectly effective regime for the protection of British fishing interests in the waters around Britain and around the European Community.
After waiting so long, would it not have been prudent to wait for a chance to read and study the FAO report? Is not the reality that the Royal Navy has been given an unwelcome burden in the north Atlantic when it is over-stretched? Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that many serious commentators will see that what we have gained in fish stocks we have lost in attempting a realistic long-term policy on the problems of the south Atlantic?
I wish the matter were as simple and benign as my hon. Friend suggest. It is necessary, for the reasons I have outlined and in response to the performance of the Argentine Government, to take action to establish a unilateral regime after a long and patient attempt to establish a multilateral alternative. It would not have been possible to go on waiting for that to emerge from the work of the FAO because the appearance of the first draft of the report is not expected until at least the end of this year. It is important to take action from the beginning of the next fishery season at the beginning of February.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the questions that I asked his Department in July this year about the high mortality rate of rock hopper penguins in the Falkland Islands? One of the reasons advanced for the high mortality rate was over fishing around the Falkland Islands. Was concern for rock hopper penguins considered by the Foreign Secretary when he made his announcement? Can he tell the House what has been discovered by the Government about the cause of death among rock hoppers in the Falklands? Is he not aware that rock hoppers will be grateful to him for his statement today—the live ones, of course?
I am sorry to have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I must tell him that among the many factors leading us to take the decision, those that were not the most important were his own interests and the impact of puffinosis on penguins in the south Atlantic. Several thousand penguins, out of a population of about 4 million birds, are thought to have died from the effects of a seabird disease known as puffinosis. It is no doubt because of the hon. Gentleman's passionate interest in the subject that I am able to give him the additional information that tests at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food veterinary centre in Norwich showed unusually high concentrations of lead in the birds' tissues. Further research will he undertaken next year. But that interesting information had nothing to do with the motivation of today's decision.
As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I was the only member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to vote in favour of the establishment of the fisheries zone, so I welcome his action. Can he really tell me that he has made no estimate, as he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), as to the revenue and the costs to the Falkland Islands? I trust that the revenue exceeds the costs.
That is the broad basis on which the matter has been undertaken. Obviously, it is not possible to identify precisely, in advance, what the revenue will be. That depends on the number of licences that are issued. There is an expectation that the costs should be kept as low as possible. The costs should not exceed the licence revenue. It is no doubt on that same prudent premise that my hon. Friend voted so long ago for the measure that we have been wise enough to take today.
Will the Foreign Secretary accept that what he has said so far about the costs of this exercise has been vague in the extreme? What consultations have taken place with the Falkland Islands Government? Has the Foreign Secretary given the Falkland Islands Government a blank cheque that, whatever happens, British conventional troops are at hand?
The decision to proceed to the unilateral regime has been discussed with the Falkland Islands Government, including the cost of implementation and policing, revenue as well as costs, and has led to the expectation that I have identified. The fisheries protection vessels will be the responsibility of the Falkland Islands Government. The defence of the integrity of the Falkland Islands protection zone will remain the responsibility of the forces in place in the Falklands at present.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many of us who talked to Argentine parliamentarians recently in Buenos Aires made the point that the Government's action on Argentina is asserting sovereignty in the matter of Bulgaria and Russian agreements was bound to bring a response? Will he take this opportunity of responding to those Argentine parliamentarians who argue that the exclusion zone arid some agreements in future on ending the state of hostilities should be treated as separate matters?
It is probably prudent to treat all the various sources of conflict and argument separately from one another, with a view to seeing whether we can resolve any or other of them. I am quite glad to acknowledge that some people in Argentina realise the extent to which the actions of their Government made today's decision inevitable.
How can we avoid an escalation of this dispute into another cod war'?
By a sensible response on the part of the Argentine Government. If they were willing to respond to the moves that we have been pressing ahead with for some months and agreed to the establishment of a multilateral zone, which we regard as far preferable, there would be no question of such a risk arising.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that, when the fishing licences for far eastern fishing nations are considered, there will be no unfair discrimination against the Taiwanese squid fishermen who have been more diligent in respecting the conservation requirements of the area than many other fishermen from the same part of the world?
I do not think that I can begin, at this stage, to draw up policy guidelines in that much detail. I should like to take account of the way in which such behaviour has taken place in the past.
Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the Government's policy will be seen as an act of aggression by the Soviet Union? Is he aware that the Falkland Islanders will not be able to police those waters; that the Soviet Union, which took out nearly 400,000 tonnes of fish down there last year, will not accept that Britain has the right to impose such restrictions; and that it will drive a coach and horses through the policies that the Government have set on course for a whiting war in the south Atlantic within 12 months? Is that what the Government want?
I am aware that this exchange would not have been complete without the addition of the hon. Gentleman's uniquely misguided insight.
In view of the enormous resources that have been removed from the area over recent years by Eastern bloc, Japanese and Taiwanese fishermen, can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether, because we have the wherewithal to provide the necessary policing that clearly will be required, it will be of any benefit to the British taxpayer?
As to the position of the British taxpayer, as I have said, the responsibility for fisheries protection will be that of the Falkland Islands Government. It is hoped and expected that the cost will not exceed the licence revenue that is forthcoming. The cost of Her Majesty's forces in the neighbourhood remains unchanged. They remain available as heretofore to maintain the integrity of the protection zone alongside which the borders of the conservation zone largely will march.
Since the Falklands remains a colony, is parliamentary sanction needed for the changes in Falklands law that this statement implies? Will the Foreign Secretary place in the Library a list of the intrusions into the fishing zone so that we may know exactly what will happen? Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise how warmly one can welcome the evidence that in this case, as in the case of his response to the Hindawi verdict, the smack of firm government is back in fashion in the Foreign Office?
I am more than content to acknowledge the tribute paid by my hon. Friend in the spirit in which it was intended. The necessary legislative measures will be introduced in the Falkland islands. Copies of the declaration which underlie this statement have been placed in the Library. I shall consider whether it is possible to provide the additional information my hon. Friend has requested.
With respect, will the Foreign Secretary now answer the important question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)? Specifically, what discussions took place with representatives of the Soviet Union before this announcement was made? Since the Soviet Union does not accept British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and has concluded a bilateral fishing agreement with Argentina, what does the Foreign Secretary expect will happen if a Soviet Union fishing fleet were to move into the 150-mile zone?
This matter has been raised several times with the Soviet Union. Representatives of the Soviet Union have stated their intention to conduct themselves in a fashion that is not inconsistent with British claims in the area. Doubt about the interpretation and significance of the agreements entered into between the Soviet Union and Argentina and the likely intention of Argentina in that respect have led us to conclude that we need to act unilaterally to achieve the objective on which the whole House is agreed.