The limitation of territorial waters has not been the subject of formal agreement between Her Majesty's Government and any other State. Her Majesty's Government regard the three-mile limit as sanctioned in international law by long usage and custom. Her Majesty's Government have accordingly always refused to accept in principle claims to territorial waters of more than three miles, and have reserved the right to uphold any British interests prejudiced by such claims.
As regards the second part of the Question, Her Majesty's Government have confirmed their refusal to accept the extension of territorial waters outside a three-mile limit to the International Law Commission. This panel of distinguished jurists appointed by the United Nations—is now engaged on codifying international law on the régime of the territorial sea. The Commission's report will in due course be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly for approval.
In view of the great importance of getting this business of territorial limits settled at an early date, how soon does the right hon. Gentleman think the report will go to the United Nations? Will he then propose that the United Nations should try collectively to agree to a definite territorial limit as being one recognised throughout the world?
I agree with the hon. Member's supplementary question. So far as we are concerned, the sooner the panel of distinguished jurists report the better we shall be pleased. Our endeavour will be to get the matter before the United Nations on the basis of that report as soon as possible.
It is difficult for me to say how long a panel of international jurists will take. I am neither international nor a jurist, but I shall do my best to convey to them the wish of this House that the sooner they act the better this House will be pleased.
As the freedom of the seas is of paramount interest to this country, and as it is possible for oil and other minerals to be discovered more than three miles away from any national shore, would my right hon. Friend agree that it might be a reasonable solution to put ocean beds more than three miles from any nation's shore under the jurisdiction of the United Nations?