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benefits from minerals activity within the British Antarctic territory."--[ Official Report, House of Lords, 20 April 1989 ; Vol. 506, c. 929.]

That is the clear motive. There is no primacy to environmental considerations ; it is a narrow, national commercial interest, set out with brutal frankness, to ensure that when the carve-up comes Britain has its piece of cake.

The prospecting defined in the Bill still rather assumes that it will lead to something else. The Government are not involved in an academic exercise or a scientific exploration for the good of mankind. Clause 2(1) states that clause 1 does not apply to purposes connected with

"the identification of suitable areas for the further exploration or the exploitation of mineral resources in this Act referred to as prospecting activities' ".

It is clear that in that incremental process prospecting is considered to be but the start of it. We see that slippage easily, albeit with a possibility of a further debate if another convention is worked out-- [Interruption.] There will be further pressures at that stage and it will be easy to move from one stage to another. It may be only prospecting now, but development is just further down the line.

It is said that prospecting means avoiding deep dredging and that there will be no drilling lower than 25 m. The whole problem of inspection has been set out by my hon. Friends. Essentially, the international authority sub-contracts to national Governments. It is difficult enough at local level for planning authorities to ensure that those to whom they give licences act within the ambit of those licences. Will countries have the motivation to ensure compliance with the licences? There is a real danger of collusion between national Governments and companies. For example, during the convention negotiations the parties refused to ban state subsidies for prospecting by the various companies. Do the countries have the resources adequately to monitor those activities?

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) said, during negotiations, environmental considerations, certainly within the British negotiating team, were given a low priority. The Nature Conservancy Council was not part of the team, nor was it adequately consulted. The Department of Energy and the Department of Trade and Industry were part of the team, but the Department of the Environment was not. Again, that suggests that narrow commercial motives rather than environmental considerations were paramount for the Government.

How, then, would the Government seek to restrain the

multinationals? Clause 4 gives the power to revoke, vary or suspend licences, but insufficient attention is given to monitoring and compliance with the licence permission. There is a real danger of collusion, particularly when Governments are searching greedily for resources.

We recognise the ultimate dangers--the danger that there could be a new Klondyke in Antarctica and the dangers of military strife between powers because of uncertainty over existing claims and the unwillingness of many countries to accept the claims made by the countries that were first in on the act. But because of the current price levels of relevant minerals or the state of technology, there is no suggestion that countries are about to embark on serious developments. Therefore, there is no pressure on Governments to proceed with the convention now.

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An international agreement is necessary and we accept that such an agreement is best pursued within the Antarctic treaty structure, not within the United Nations. But why the Government's haste? The key question that I leave with the Government is this. Who can deny that new circumstances have now arisen as a result of the Australian Government's decision? The Minister's answer on that point was weak. The Australian Government, which must give its assent, effectively has a power of veto. Therefore, we are back at the starting gate. The convention will not be operative as long as the Australian Government maintain that veto with the possibility of being joined by other countries such as France.

In response to those new circumstances, the Minister could only say that the treaty system was based on compromise and mutual concerns so that a veto was not contemplated. In fact, a veto exists. Given the Australians' strongly held position, there is no way in which between now and October they will say that they have reconsidered the matter and now think that their original position was correct. That is not possible given the Australian temperament and the practicalities. The Minister's second point was that Australia was wrong in principle and that he hoped that it would change its mind. It will not do so and the Government had better be clear that they are now in an entirely different ball game.

As I said at the beginning, Senator Gareth Evans's statement that events have now changed means that the Government should formulate a new position in the new circumstances. Faced with a convention that could open the way to mining, it is surely time to reflect afresh and to prolong the moratorium which has stood the test of time since 1977. We need to negotiate from scratch. It is clear that Australia will not sign the treaty. It is surely a pipe dream to say, as the Minister did, that, although Australia may technically not sign, it may nevertheless join the treaty. The Foreign Office had better get that idea out of their minds, because Australia will maintain its opposition and the convention as drafted will not be ratified. Australia is a major claimant state, with 42 per cent. of Antarctica's land mass.

We urge the Government to accede to our reasonable amendment. There is no urgency, because we know that at the 15th Antarctica consultative meeting in October Australia will propose the development of a comprehensive environmental protection convention. That proposal will be on the table, and the British Government had better start working out their response to it now.

There is nothing dishonourable about having second thoughts in changed circumstances, particularly if they are a pragmatic response to new realities. In no case have the Government appeared to take the initiative in a matter of importance relating to the environment, despite the Prime Minister's brave words last September. Here is a chance for the Government pragmatically to respond to new circumstances and to accept the Opposition amendment.

9.46 pm

Mr. Eggar : Concern has been expressed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House about the need to protect Antarctica's environment. I welcome the nature of the debate, which generated sensible discussion about how best to achieve a common goal. I join the hon.

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Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) in paying tribute to Dr. John Heap, who heads the polar regions section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As the hon. Gentleman said, Dr. Heap was involved in every stage of the six years of negotiations on the treaty, and has been involved in matters relating to Antarctica for more than 25 years. He is recognised throughout the world as a leading expert in matters relating to Antarctica, and his dedication to the cause of preserving its environment is matched by many officials in the other states that are parties to the Antarctic treaty. It is right that we should recognise the work that they have done on behalf of us all for a long time.

The convention is not the product of a piratical or exploitative design by a series of rapacious mining companies. Nor is it the case, as has been implied by many Opposition Members, that the non-governmental organisations or the Department of the Environment were not involved in the United Kingdom's preparations for negotiations on the convention. The non- governmental organisations were consulted, and the Department was involved.

The convention is a supreme example of foresight of the need to protect the Antarctic environment, which first became evident in the 1960s. It also recognises the unique fragility of the Antarctic environment and that Antarctica could easily fall prey to those who have no respect for its environment but regard the continent only in terms of its potential mineral riches.

Mr. Summerson : I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the Prime Minister of Malaysia is on record as saying, "I have heard that there is gold at the south pole, and I want a part of it."

Mr. Eggar : I am aware of those reported remarks, but that is one reason why this country believes in continuing with the present Antarctic treaty system--an approach which I note is supported by the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen, although not by a number of Opposition Back-Bench Members.

The convention would prevent mineral exploitation, except when it is agreed unanimously that such activity can proceed safely and without substantial risk to the environment. In short, the convention makes it very difficult to exploit Antarctica's mineral resources. There are those who say that it is biased. They are right : it is heavily biased in favour of protecting the Antarctic environment. The Opposition amendment shows no understanding of the objectives of the convention or, indeed, those of the Bill.

I agree with Opposition Members that the world is more concerned about environmental matters than it was even a year ago, but I think that they are making a fuss in a way that the Opposition in the Lords did not only a few weeks ago. It is the convention's primary objective to meet environmental concerns, including the desire to prevent disastrous environmental damage such as occurred in the Arctic from the accident involving the Exxon Valdez.

I have stressed that what we need in Antarctica is first-class scientific research such as has been carried out by the British Antarctic Survey. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), who pointed out graphically how critical that work is. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) also mentioned it. If we are to have first-class scientific

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research in Antarctica, however, we need peace and harmony in the region, and only if the Bill is passed and the convention ratified will that essential peace be assured. If the Bill is not passed the convention will not come into force, and we shall enter uncharted areas of uncertainty, not only with the convention but with the Antarctic treaty system as a whole.

The Government are always prepared to consider new initiatives for the protection of the Antarctic environment, and in doing so we shall of course take account of the views and interests of all our Antarctic treaty partners. An important element in environmental protection is that any proposal for mineral activity must go through a rigorous four-stage process, in which each state will have a veto on exploration and development. In other words--this point has been overlooked by Opposition Members--any state will be able to stop exploration and development.

Opposition Members have expressed some scepticism about the veto mechanism. I could go through the elaborate four-stage process step by step, but unfortunately time does not permit that. Let me assure Opposition Members, however, that this was extremely difficult to negotiate. The four-stage mechanism allows any one party to the treaty to veto at any of the four stages : thus states that wish to stop exploration and development can do so on their own and in their own capacity, without fear of being pressurised by other states--or by own companies. That process rules out the risk of a particular country's colluding with its nationals or its national companies to despoil the Antarctic. Frankly, it is surprising that Opposition Members should use that argument when they know that, if the convention does not come into force, then, and only then, will it be possible for individual states to collude--the word that they have used-- with their nationals and companies.

The safeguards do not end there. Any proposal to explore or develop must pass the sufficiency of information test. That is the key element in the convention's environmental protection armoury. No activity at those stages can take place unless enough information is available to allow informed judgments to be made on what its environmental consequences will be. That applies as much to prospecting as to exploration and development.

In relation to prospecting, the state sponsoring the activity must vouch for the adequacy of information available to it. The commission set up under the convention can challenge the sponsoring state in that area. In relation to exploration and development, the advisory committee is specifically required to say whether adequate information exists.

The right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert), who is no longer in his place, asked about enforcement. Inspections by each state are possible anywhere in Antarctica. Any state can bring another state to the arbitration tribunal if it believes that that state has broken the rules. The arbitration tribunal can make urgent binding measures to protect the environment.

I assure the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), who was concerned about the role of inspectors and who asked whether the British Antarctic Survey would act as inspectors, should that be necessary

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from Britain's point of view, that that is not the case. It is the intention to appoint inspectors who are not associated with the BAS. Many hon. Members have suggested that Antarctica should be designated as a world or wilderness park. My answer is that what matters is that activity in Antarctica should be in harmony with nature and should be carried out with due regard to the environmental consequences. The Antarctic treaty system has been committed to the protection of the Antarctic environment for nearly 30 years, long before Greenpeace came on to the scene.

The Government do not believe that sticking a label on the Antarctic would help to ensure its future. They do not believe that it is right to rule out the possibility that we might want to extract minerals at some time in the remote future. For those reasons, the Government believe that Antarctic environmental protection is best achieved by practical initiatives aimed at particular threats to nature.

It has been suggested that if the United Kingdom maintained its opposition to a complete ban on Antarctic mineral resource activity, we could find ourselves in the minority or even isolated. Our soundings of our partners in the treaty system do not support that assertion. The responses that we have had to specific inquiries show that the majority, including the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Brazil and seven other consultative parties, strongly support the entry into force of the convention. A minority, including France, have yet to make up their minds about signing the convention. No other countries have committed themselves to supporting the Australian position. Some have suggested that we should go for a ban now and reconsider mining later, when there is a need for Antarctic minerals. That is not a practical alternative. The convention bans all Antarctic mineral activity, except in accordance with its strict terms. Moreover, even if it were to be a practical alternative, we believe that it would be contrary to the interests of Antarctic environmental protection.

By passing the Bill we have an excellent opportunity to make real progress on the protection of the environment in Antarctica. This is the first piece of legislation to prohibit mineral exploration in Antarctica by British nationals and companies. The Government therefore strongly support the convention and intend to ratify it. Question put , That the amendment be made :--

The House divided : Ayes 121, Noes 217.

Division No. 278] [10 pm


Adams, Allen (Paisley N)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Armstrong, Hilary

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bermingham, Gerald

Blunkett, David

Bradley, Keith

Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Buckley, George J.

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Clark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clay, Bob

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Cohen, Harry

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cousins, Jim

Cryer, Bob

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)

Fisher, Mark

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Foster, Derek

Foulkes, George

Galbraith, Sam

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Galloway, George

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Golding, Mrs Llin

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Hinchliffe, David

Howells, Geraint

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Ingram, Adam

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)

Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Kennedy, Charles

Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil

Lamond, James

Lewis, Terry

Livsey, Richard

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Lofthouse, Geoffrey

Loyden, Eddie

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

McCartney, Ian

McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

McKelvey, William

McWilliam, John

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Marek, Dr John

Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)

Martlew, Eric

Maxton, John

Meale, Alan

Michael, Alun

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morgan, Rhodri

Morley, Elliott

Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)

Mullin, Chris

Murphy, Paul

O'Brien, William

Orme, Rt Hon Stanley

Pendry, Tom

Pike, Peter L.

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Prescott, John

Primarolo, Dawn

Quin, Ms Joyce

Robertson, George

Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Rowlands, Ted

Ruddock, Joan

Sheerman, Barry

Shore, Rt Hon Peter

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)

Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)

Soley, Clive

Spearing, Nigel

Steel, Rt Hon David

Steinberg, Gerry

Strang, Gavin

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Vaz, Keith

Wall, Pat

Wallace, James

Wardell, Gareth (Gower)

Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)

Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)

Wilson, Brian

Winnick, David

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Wray, Jimmy

Young, David (Bolton SE)

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. Robert N. Wareing and

Mr. Frank Haynes.


Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael

Allason, Rupert

Amess, David

Amos, Alan

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)

Baldry, Tony

Batiste, Spencer

Bellingham, Henry

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Benyon, W.

Bevan, David Gilroy

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Boscawen, Hon Robert

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter

Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)

Bowis, John

Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard

Brandon-Bravo, Martin

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Browne, John (Winchester)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Buck, Sir Antony

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butler, Chris

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda

Chapman, Sydney

Chope, Christopher

Churchill, Mr

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)

Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)

Colvin, Michael

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon John

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Curry, David

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Tony

Eggar, Tim

Evennett, David

Favell, Tony

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Fishburn, John Dudley

Fookes, Dame Janet

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

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