Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the then Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 21 May 1973.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.
Since 5th September 1972 British trawlers fishing on the high seas have been systematically harassed by Icelandic coastguard vessels. During all that time, in order to assist negotiations British naval vessels have been kept outside the area.
Lately, despite repeated warnings and although negotiations were in progress, the Icelandic Government continued and intensified their harassment and it became clear that they were making a determined effort to drive British vessels from the area by force. A critical situation was reached on 14th May, when there was an unsuccessful attempt to board a trawler and live ammunition was used by a coastguard vessel.
After consultation with the industry the Government concluded that it was no longer possible for British vessels to fish in safety without protection. Naval vessels were therefore ordered into the area on 19th May. They will take only such defensive action as is necessary to protect British trawlers exercising their lawful rights to fish on the high seas.
British naval vessels are, of course, fully entitled in international law to operate freely in this area of the high seas. They will, however, be withdrawn at any time if the Government of Iceland will cease harassment of British trawlers.
It is still the Government’s desire to settle this dispute by negotiation. Pending such a settlement, we shall, however, authorise trawlers to catch up to the limit of 170,000 tons indicated by the International Court. We shall also pursue substantive proceedings before the court and shall continue to seek longer-term solutions in the Law of the Sea Conference.