Falklands Fisheries

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1987.

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Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North 12:00 am, 18th March 1987

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many fishing vessels have been boarded by fisheries protection personnel in the Falkland Islands conservation zone since 1 February; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

Seventy-four fishing vessels have been boarded by fisheries protection personnel in the Falkland Islands interim conservation and management zone between 1 February and 12 March 1987.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

Does the Secretary of State agree that although fishery protection is important to the Falkland Islands economy, the broader issue of conservation is even more important for ecology? Does he agree that one should avoid the over-fishing that has taken place in the north Atlantic and resulted in the migration of seals to the Norwegian inshore fishing grounds? Are the current licensing system and the protection that is afforded sufficient to take regard of that, and will the right hon. and learned Gentleman sponsor a form of international symposium to ensure that the Falkland Islands get the best possible advice on the subject?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for what we are doing. The fishery protection arrangements were established precisely to meet the conservation case that he has put. It is a matter of satisfaction to him and the House that the system is working as well as it is. Obviously, we would like to see that extended into a multilateral basis, and that is why we started our initial search for arangements through the Food and Agriculture Organisation and would still be ready, if we could, to move to multilateral arrangements.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall the whingeing, cringing predictions of international conflict and disaster by the Opposition Front Bench when the zone was first introduced? Has the zone not been fully justified and has not the Government's policy earned the thanks of the Falkland Islanders and the British people?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that. There were, indeed, doom-laden predictions from the Opposition Benches, supported by the now benignly smiling hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on the Opposition Front Bench. Again, it must be a matter of satisfaction to the House that the arrangements have been put in place and have worked as smoothly and well as they have done.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

May I say that I have the greatest admiration for the skippers and crews of the elderly stern trawlers which are carrying out the police work? However, what consideration has been given to the replacement of those elderly vessels by, for example, two newly constructed fisheries replacement vessels of the sort built by Fergusons, which just happens to be in my constituency?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in that aspect of the matter. The main thing is that the vessels and aircraft selected for the task have been able to carry it out effectively, entirely in line with the normal pattern of fisheries promotion, with the granting of 100 licences to 50 vessels so far and a substantial revenue accruing to the system. No doubt the question of prolongation of the life or substitution of the vessels will be borne in mind by those responsible.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I am sorry to see the Secretary of State following his Back Benchers in jumping so prematurely to conclusions after only a few months' operation of the zone. As the Government have always said that the unilateral zone is a temporary measure, when does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect the United States-inspired contacts between Britain and Argentina—I know that I must not call them talks—to result in a bilateral or, better, a multilateral agreement, which is the way in which any two civilised Western democratic countries ought to be concluding an agreement, instead of what is still a nerve-racking and tense arrangement that could flare up at any time?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman lives in lively expectation of that event, if only to fulfil his doom-laden forecast. I am not suggesting that he would like it for the sake of warlikeness. On experience so far, he has been shown to have made some extremely foolish and ill-founded predictions. Of course it is right to say that we want a multilateral rather than a unilateral arrangement. It is precisely that that we are seeking. It is on that basis that ideas are being exchanged. There is no secret about that. We are now awaiting a response to the ideas that we have put forward. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his care for arriving at a sensible conclusion, will recognise that here particularly it is most important to follow a step-by-step approach if we are to ensure the establishment of a proper basis of understanding.