|Draft Adjacent Water Boundaries (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 Draft Sea Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2002
Mr. Blunt: Now that the Minister has received more advice, he has given a satisfactory explanation of the difference. However, he said earlier that the line should more properly be known as a geodesic line. During the proceedings, he has discovered the difference between a loxodromic and a geodesic line, as indeed have I.
Mr. Browne rose—
Mr. Blunt: The Minister wants to intervene and I shall let him do so in a moment, but it was painfully apparent from his introductory remarks following my intervention that he did not know the difference between a loxodromic and a geodesic line. They are different. This is a matter of detail, but it is important to know whether the line is the one stated in the order or the one stated by the Minister as geodesic.
David Burnside (South Antrim): I wish to support my hon. Friend. Fishing policy in the United Kingdom from the accession of the UK has been shrouded in mystery about the lines and the definition of the interests of the whole UK fishing industry and, from my perspective, those of the Northern Ireland fishing industry. The Government are good at talking about straight lines, but there are crooked lines that are not defined. It is important for the interests of the Northern Ireland fishing industry, and because of the history of European Union fishing policy, that we have precise definitions of where the line is. That affects the interests of my constituents.
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Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am afraid that lines on maps are terribly important. They may be of almost passing interest to other Committee members, but it is important that we get this right. The difference between loxodromic and geodesic may or may not be an important issue. Frankly, I do not know the answer. The Minister introduced the word ''geodesic'' into the debate; I thought that we were dealing only with loxodromic lines and was finding those difficult enough to get to grips with.
Mr. Browne: For the purposes of accuracy—the hon. Gentleman can of course read the Official Report tomorrow—I at no stage said that this should be a geodesic line; I said that I was advised that the term ''geodesic'' would be more accurate. However, loxodromic lines have been selected on this occasion for consistency, because they were used in relation to the Scotland Act.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for the Minister's clarification. I now understand that point, as does, I am sure, the rest of the Committee. It is important, however, that non-Government Members have an opportunity to get independent advice—independent of the Government—so that we can do our job properly. I am almost sure that the line has been drawn in a place that is properly defensible under international maritime law, but I cannot give that wholesale assurance, because I have not been able to get assurances from sources other than the Government.
I have no quibble with the second order that we are considering. However, as I have not been able to satisfy myself about the map and have not been able to establish whether the line is drawn in the correct place, I will not support the Government, because we have not been able to do our jobs properly as members of the legislature.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I wish to make one brief comment. The fundamental point is not whether the line is loxodromic or geodesic, but that it is of extremely poor quality and is barely legible. One can make out the words ''England'', ''Scotland'' and ''Northern Ireland'' and one can just about make out the words ''Isle of Man'' and ''Irish Sea''. Beyond that, it is virtually impossible to read anything, because the map is an extremely poor reproduction and does not allow us to make a detailed judgment, which is why we are here. One does not require a higher degree in geography to assess whether the map is effective. The practical point is that one can barely read it.
The Chairman: Order. I might be able to help the hon. Member. I indicated at the beginning of the sitting that the map was for illustrative purposes only and did not form part of the order, which was laid correctly.
Mr. Francois: I thank you for that guidance, Mr. Cummings. I listened carefully to what you said at the beginning of the sitting and entirely accept the point. However, if the map were intended for illustrative purposes, it has failed. It does not illustrate anything, because one can barely read it. That is my point; I do not wish to pursue it further.
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Mr. Browne: First, those of us who are familiar with the shape of the islands of the United Kingdom recognise where Northern Ireland, Scotland and England are on the map. It is obvious; we do not need to be told to look at the left side of the map. For illustrative purposes, whatever the print is like, the map works reasonably well; in fact, it works really well.
Secondly, I am glad that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) did not make the orders a mini-European issue, despite the valiant intervention by the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), who encouraged him to do so. Instead, he jumped over Europe and suggested that there was a concern about international waters. The orders have nothing to do with international waters. As I understand it, there are no international waters in the area between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The matter has nothing to do with international maritime law but is entirely about internal British fisheries. I hope that those comments will reassure hon. Members who might oppose the first of the two orders that there are no significant international aspects to the matter, so they can support the order.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful for the Minister's comment that the matter is entirely internal and that the line has no international significance. However, what would happen if the constitutional status of Northern Ireland changed? Would the line still be of no international significance? I imagine that it would be of some significance to our proceedings. The constitutional status of Northern Ireland is dependent on the view of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland by virtue of the Belfast Agreement, which is supported by both major parties in the House. Is he telling us that the line would be of no importance if the constitutional status of Northern Ireland changed?
Mr. Browne: That was a valiant attempt to complicate the matter unnecessarily, but I shall not speculate further on the implications of a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. The order is being made under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and, without going into detail, I venture to suggest that quite a number of things would change if the constitutional status of Northern Ireland changed. A line drawn in a purely British statute might well be the least of our concerns.
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 3.
Division No. 2]
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