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Territorial Limits

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions there have been with other member states about the effect of the extension of the United Kingdom's territorial limits on access to United Kingdom waters by European Community fishermen; and if he will make a statement.

Officials have had discussions with representatives of both France and Belgium and with the European Community Commission. There is a clear difference of legal opinion about the effects on other member states' fishing rights under Community law of the Territorial Sea Act 1987 which changed United Kingdom baselines in certain areas.The common fisheries policy settlement secured in January 1983 provided among other things for the continuation of previous arrangements under which member states are allowed to exclude vessels of other member states from fishing within their coastal belts, subject to recognition of certain rights of access which, in the case of the United Kingdom, were restricted to parts of our six to 12 mile belt calculated from the baselines of the territorial sea. As the result of the coming into force of the Territorial Sea Act 1987 on 1 October 1987, the six to 12 mile belt around the United Kingdom, as measured from the new baselines, moved outwards in certain areas. Whilst our view is that the parts of our coastal belt where other European Community fishermen have access were altered accordingly, it has been put to us in the discussion that this infringed access rights under Community law.This difference in interpretation of Community law needs to be resolved and we remain in contact with the European Community Commission and the other member states concerned. In the present circumstances and bearing in mind the importance we attach to preserving the integrity and effectiveness of the common fisheries policy in the interests of the United Kingddom fishing industry, my right hon. Friend, the Fisheries Minister has instructed our fisheries enforcement officers to refrain from taking action which might exacerbate or extend the dispute until the legal question is resolved.