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Mr. Anderson : The nature of the problem is clear and was discussed in Committee. The ecosystem in the Antarctic is a unique and fragile system that needs to be protected. However, there is a danger, if minerals are to be researched, prospected and exploited, that international and multinational companies will take advantage of every possible loophole, including changing their place of registration. If the dependent territories of the United Kingdom are granted rights in the Bill, they should have corresponding and consequential obligations.
We proposed a similar amendment in Committee, when the Government replied that it was possible to extend coverage of the obligations to the dependent territories by the Order in Council procedure, and it was their intention so to do. They argued that this procedure was adopted by convention, and that it was only a matter of courtesy to those territories that it was adopted.
However, it is possible to extend jurisdiction directly to any territory for which we are responsible, and there are a number of precedents for doing it that way rather than by an Order in Council. We believe that this is a matter of some urgency, which demands a commitment from the Government. If there were to be an accident, there would be a major liability on us. As to the courtesies, it was possible for the Government, since the convention was signed in Wellington in June of last year, to have consulted each of the relevant territories, explained the importance of the matter and informed them that on this occasion, because of the special factors involved, it was their intention to apply the convention directly to the territories rather than by the Order in Council procedure. I hope that the Minister will recognise the dangers that could arise. He and I remember, during the Iran-Iraq war, how easy it was, when ships were under threat in the strait of Hormuz, for them to take on a British dependent territory registration so as to come under the protection of the Armilla patrol. That illustrates how easily people can flow from one area to another when it suits their
Column 89commercial interests. The danger is there. We hope that the Government will see that our amendments are a proper safeguard against that danger, and will accept them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Eggar) : As the hon. Member for Swanse East (Mr. Anderson) said, this matter was debated at some length in Committee. As I said then, the amendments would breach the constitutional convention by which, when we extend international obligations to our dependent territories, we consult them about how this might best be done, rather than instruct them. I said that it was rather curious to find Labour Members arguing for what one might call the imperialist position.
Mr. Anderson : There is nothing wrong with that.
Mr. Eggar : I shall store that one up for future use.
I assure the House that there will be no loophole. I can give a categorical assurance that nationals and bodies incorporated under the laws of any British colony will be obliged to comply with the Bill and with the convention.
Mr. Anderson : Can the Minister give any timetable or target date by which he hopes that the Bill will be extended to all dependent territories?
Mr. Eggar : We shall seek to proceed in a timely manner. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Bill will be extended by the time that the convention comes into force.
Mr. Anderson : I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 2, line 31, after activities', insert
means activities for the purposes of further scientific investigation which do not cause damage to the Antarctic environment or dependent or associated ecosystems and'.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments : No. 23, in page 3, line 16, clause 3, after damage', insert
to the Antarctic environment or dependent or associated ecosystems'.
No. 34, in page 4, line 28, clause 7, at end add
and especially if there is any risk of environmental damage'. No. 36, in page 4, line 36, clause 8, at end add
among whom shall be individuals nominated by either or both national or international organisations which have standing in the field of environmental protection.'.
Mr. Anderson : The lead amendment, No. 14, attempts narrowly to redefine "prospecting". The House will recall that the essence of the Bill is to allow only prospecting and to set out a new series of procedures before any country or licensee can proceed to the next stages of development and exploitation of any mineral resources that may be found. We are seeking to redefine prospecting and to distinguish it from existing scientific research. The key word is "further". We seek to limit prospecting to scientific investigations. Thus, prospectors would be able to undertake only activities that have a sound and purely scientific basis and are of a nature that is not damaging to the Antarctic environment.
"Damage" is to be interpreted according to the convention, and is defined in article 1(15) of the convention :
Column 90" Damage to the Antarctic environment or dependent or associated ecosystems' means any impact on the living or non- living components of that environment or those ecosystems, including harm to atmospheric, marine or terrestrial life beyond, that which is negligible or which has been assessed and judged to be acceptable pursuant to this Convention."
We accept that, even under the limits of current scientific investigations, there can be grey areas. We are not always certain exactly who pays for the scientific investigations and what their motives are in so paying. We have discussed definitions in Committee, however, and we have made it clear that there should be definitions of what is permitted and what is prohibited. In our judgment, the Bill should be self-contained. Any definition should arise from the convention and not from definitions in other domestic legislation in the United Kingdom.
Amendment No. 23 widens the definition of damage to include damage to the environment and ecosystems. We seek to move away from the purely commercial definition of damage, such as loss of profits, in this peculiarly sensitive area.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Are the Government in a position to give the House any scientific advice on this issue? Is it their view that the ecosystem will necessarily be damaged in all circumstances if minerals are found? As I understand it, there has been mining at Spitzbergen for decades without great effect on the ecosystem there. I shall be interested to know the facts that are available to the Minister.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : I shall take a little longer than my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), partly because two of the amendments, Nos. 34 and 36, stand in my name. I tabled those amendments and others because I share the view expressed by Greenpeace, that the Bill is fatally flawed. I deeply regret that the British position is not the one that has been adopted by France and Australia. I am delighted that France and Australia have taken what I believe is the only independent position that the civilised world could take.
If the House had been debating the extension of the deserts 25 years ago, I believe that it would have taken the same attitude as it appears to be taking to the Antarctic this evening. If, 15 years ago, the House had been talking about the destruction of tropical forests, it would probably have taken the same attitude as many hon. Members are taking to the Antarctic now. In the past three or four decades we have seen the destruction of large parts of our planet with consequences that only now are beginning to be accepted. Indeed, the summit meeting could find agreement only by suggesting that there should be research before it is too late. That is the position on global warming. We have had sufficient experience over the past two or three generations to understand that we should approach ecosystems as large, substantial, attractive and important as that of the Antarctic with rather more sensitivity than the Government have displayed.
I do not always agree with every organisation in the environment lobby, but in this instance I agree wholeheartedly with Greenpeace. I deeply regret that the Government must stand high on the list of the culpable. The Government have reacted far too late to past despoliation and they should be a great deal more careful before they run the risk of seeing an important part of our planet destroyed. I know that the Minister made some relevant comments in Committee, but I hope that he will
Column 91spell out on Report-- [Interruption.] I note that the Minister is amused. I am glad that he finds this issue amusing. He should understand that some of us find it an extremely serious matter. I ask the Minister to respond to the latest batch of questions which Greenpeace has sent to hon. Members. For example, who will ensure compliance with the convention? Who will ensure compliance with the convention in the area of the Antarctic whose ownership is disputed by the United Kingdom, Chile and Argentina? Do we supervise the Chileans? Do the Argentines supervise us? Who will accept responsibility? If development follows the arrangement that is before us, someone will have to accept responsibility to ensure that devastation does not take place.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : How can we trust the Government when they have given away Hong Kong?
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend is right. I remind the Minister that I am accustomed to hearing fine-sounding words from denizens of the Government Front Bench, but I am still angry that on 16 January, when I stood on King's Cross station applauding the Prime Minister--
Mr. Skinner : Did my hon. Friend do that?
Mr. Hardy : I did. I know that my hon. Friend will be surprised. I stood on King's Cross station on the centenary of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Those who were gathered there were addressed by the Prime Minister, who made the most heartening speech. She called for the protection of hills, wetlands, the coast, lakes, rivers and hedgerows. I left that meeting to come to the House to present, with all-party support and with the blessing of every conservation body in Britain, a Bill to protect our significant hedgerows. A Government Whip blocked that Bill.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend has told us that he went all the way to King's Cross to cheer the Prime Minister. Is that the same Prime Minister who supported the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1988, a Bill that we tried to stop night after night? We argued that it would destroy an area in which lovely little birds--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Bill is about the Antarctic. Let us return to the Antarctic.
Mr. Skinner : I am talking about a Bill that will damage the environment at Felixstowe. That environment will be destroyed by the Government, who pushed the Bill through. I say to my hon. Friend : judge people by what they do, not by what they say.
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend must recognise that I was brought up as nonconformist and I always rejoice when the sinner comes to repentence. I thought that the right hon. Lady had done so. I was heartened because I thought that it gave hope for Antarctica as well as for the English hedgerows. Imagine my distress when the Government blocked that Bill ; imagine my anger when I wrote to the right hon. Lady saying that she had blocked that Bill, which was presented on the very day that she had called for hedgerows to be protected. One passage from her reply will ever stick in my mind. She said that we have to think
Column 92about other things as well as conservation-- as though she had not always thought about things other than conservation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) was with me on that memorable occasion and shared my pleasure at the right hon. Lady's speech and my disappointment when my Bill was blocked. I speak today from an experience that makes me intensely suspicious of the Government's attitude--a suspicion increasingly shared in Britain by all the green organisations. They are right to be suspicious, as they are right to ask questions. The Minister will be aware of the questions posed by Greenpeace in its latest missive to hon. Members, and I trust that when he replies he will give answers which, although they might reassure trusting, docile Conservative Members, will also be sufficiently powerful to persuade my hon. Friends and I.
The Government say, "We will ban exploration and ban exploitation, but we will not stop prospecting." That is ridiculous. The Minister may have read cowboy books or watched western films when he was a little boy. He may imagine that a prospector is a hoary old man riding on a mule with a backpack of beans and dried bacon, hoping to extract a few bits of rock with a hammer and a shovel and so discover gold.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Sounds like Nicholas Ridley. Mr. Hardy That description applies to a number of Conservative Ministers.
Modern prospecting is a different kettle of fish. Prospectors have high academic qualifications ; they have some understanding of the use of explosives ; they can drill
Mr. Skinner : Yuppie prospectors.
Mr. Hardy : They are indeed the yuppie prospectors that my hon. Friend conjures up in his mind.
We are not talking about people with little hammers who chip off bits of rock ; we are talking about people who could easily perpetrate an enormous amount of damage to an area, which our colleagues in Australia and France believe, as I do, should be a world reserve, and not subject to destruction by whatever interest group thinks that it can play ducks and drakes with an administration that does not have a record of constancy.
I want to know whether the Minister will answer all the questions posed by Greenpeace. How will we avoid the worst implementers of legislation being those with responsibility for implementation? Will the least competent administrations in the world be relied upon to interpret the regulations to protect Antarctica? Will we leave that attractive and important area to the mercy of the incompetent, the greedy, the feckless and the irresponsible? Will we leave it to those interests that have already destroyed the tropical forests and allowed the deserts to expand at an astonishing rate over the past 30 years?
Someone has to be concerned about the environment, because life must survive on this planet for a long time. I do not know whether it is appropriate to discuss the ecology of Antarctica on this group of amendments, or whether I should leave it until we discuss the next group.
Mr. Hardy : The hon. Gentleman prefers me not to mention the subject at all. If you think that it should be left until the next debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be happy to comply with your wishes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned another reason for speaking in this debate--the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act 1988. Every Conservative Member voted to break an international commitment- -
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman can talk about ecosystems in Antarctica, but not Felixstowe.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to raise the citing of examples in passing during a speech. The Bill involves the administration of an area. If the Government support a particular system and a particular piece of legislation, surely it is necessary to point out their
inconsistencies in previous legislation to show that they cannot be trusted.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Of course it is in order for hon. Members to draw analogies, but it is not in order for them to give a detailed description of them. I was advising the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) against doing that.
Mr. Hardy : I am happy to accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My only reason for referring to the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Act was as a lead to discussing the Ramsar convention, an international agreement to which Britain was a principal signatory. To comply with the terms of that convention, Britain identified three or four sites in the British Isles that it pledged to the remainder of the world would be protected unless it be necessary to do otherwise because of the most grave and serious national predicament or interest. We selected the Orwell estuary for permanent protection, and said that it could never be touched other than in the most dire national extremity. Along came some people, aided and abetted by a few Conservative Members who smelt the possibility of making a bit of money, and the Ramsar convention went through the window, just as the Prime Minister's commitment to the British countryside went through the window.
The Government must understand that growing numbers of people in Britain, and throughout our planet, want them to act with a little more wisdom than thay have shown in this legislation. I refer the House to a letter to hon. Members from Sir Peter Scott. I received my copy this morning. I do not know which political party Sir Peter supports, but I know that for many years--as some Conservative Members will appreciate--he has played a more active part than any other living human being in promoting the conservation of our planet. He has a particular knowledge of Antarctica, so the House should be aware of the letter written by that distinguished, experienced British citizen, who has given great international service. Sir Peter said :
"Many assurances have been given that this is an environmental bill'. However its primary concern is minerals exploitation, not the environment and its effect will be to facilitate the exploitation and almost inevitable despoliation of Antarctica.
Concern for the protection of the environment is increasing both nationally and globally. Both Australia and France have declared that they will not sign CRAMRA, rather they would like to see Antarctica designated as a Wilderness Park' I applaud their bold initiative and sincerely
Column 94believe that a Wilderness Park, with a permanent moratorium on minerals exploitation, is the only way to ensure that the Antarctic wilderness is really protected. Having been to the Antarctic five times, including visits to my father's huts and to the South Pole, I have first hand knowledge of the potential vulnerability of the area."
I refer also to some very interesting comments in a book by Sir Edmund Hillary. Like Sir Peter Scott, he is a distinguished person who is familiar with the most far-flung corners of our planet.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend quoted Sir Peter Scott's remark that he is so dissatisfied with the Bill that he urges right hon. and hon. Members to vote against it. If we are really concerned about environmental protection, we must take Sir Peter's recommendation seriously into account.
Mr. Hardy : I hope that we shall act on Sir Peter's advice. Such advice from a man of Sir Peter's standing should be taken seriously. I have served on a number of national and international conservation bodies over a long period, so I have met Sir Peter occasionally and know of his record. I am aware of no other occasion on which he has given such advice. When such advice comes from a man who in the past has stood away from party politics, it should be taken very seriously.
I also take seriously the advice of Sir Edmund Hillary. I remind right hon. and hon. Members of his contribution in flying the British flag at the summit of Mount Everest in coronation year, and of crossing Antarctica. Sir Edmund Hillary writes about his visit to McMurdo sound in 1982, when the talk was about mineral resources and krill farming. There was very little talk in the relevant circles about protecting the environment and an area of the world that he acknowledges as superbly beautiful. Sir Edmund Hillary comments in his book "Ecology 2000" that he dreads the thought of drilling and of the risk that it would pose to the Antarctic. He dreads the inevitable risk of inadequate supervision and of the lack of any control or protection of the environment. Sir Edmund Hillary observes that such activities would destroy a significant part of our environmental inheritance.
In his book, Sir Edmund reminds us that the water in Antarctica has been frozen for 200,000 years. He notes that the pockets of air trapped in that water contain half the level of carbon dioxide that is to be found in the air that we currently breathe. There are many lessons to be learned from Antarctica.
No one is suggesting that we should ignore the lessons that Antarctica can teach us. The Opposition amendments merely seek to ensure that Antarctica will not be destroyed or at least disfigured before those lessons can be learned. I have no objection to the scientific establishments in Antarctica that have fulfilled a useful role there for some time, for their activities are quite a different matter from unleashing the forces of commercial exploitation. It is that which we fear most. The fear of commercial exploitation and of the consequences that it could bring led me to table my two amendments.
Amendment No. 34 would amend clause 7 by adding at the end the words
"and especially if there is any risk of environmental damage." That amendment is perfectly reasonable. It represents a compromise. I do not like the Bill at all, but the Government could at least make a gesture to people who are concerned about the environment by adding the words that I suggest, as a way of reassuring environmentalists and of warning off the greedy whose depredations we fear.
Column 95Amendment No. 36 to clause 8 is also wholly reasonable. If there is to be an advisory committee, as there should be, the individuals who comprise it should be capable of giving proper advice. They should not necessarily be members of the Conservative party. Far too many Conservative placemen who have been appointed to such advisory bodies in recent years believe that their job is to tell the Government what they want to hear. The advisory committee should instead be comprised of individuals who are prepared to eschew lickspittling.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : Is my hon. Friend aware that the governors of the Nature Conservancy Council, which is supposed to be responsible for protecting nature, have appointed a master of foxhounds? How can we have confidence in the Government when they allow an appointment such as that?
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend speaks with considerable knowledge of such matters, as the Minister said. Perhaps we should not tread on the topic of quangos. In 1979, the Government declared that they would abolish quangos but then decided that if they could not beat them, they should join them. Governments should be able to obtain independent advice from people who know what they are talking about--not from people who seek to please the Government with comfortable words.
Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : Does my hon. Friend agree that all the undertakings that were made to prevent the exploitation of Alaska did not stop the Exxon disaster earlier this year? Even though promises and undertakings about environmental protection, consultation, and emergency action to clear up pollution were given, they proved worthless. A disaster occurred because the companies operating in Alaska are there not for any philanthropic reasons connected with understanding the environment but to exploit and destroy it. Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that, although his amendments are important, companies would ignore such provisions and continue to destroy the environment?
Mr. Hardy : Yes, my hon. Friend is right. But if the Government use their majority, as they will, to ensure that the Bill becomes law, the least that we can do is to incorporate in the legislation a damage limitation--if only so that should such a tragedy occur in Antarctica, we shall be able to say, "We told you so." That would give further encouragement to those who already recognise that the Government's service to the environment is grossly unsatisfactory.
Ms. Primarolo : The company that markets Exxon products in this country is Esso. Its current advertising campaign, which features a barrage balloon, promotes unleaded petrol and uses the phrase "Caring for your future". Yet both Exxon and Esso have shown that they do not care at all about our future but only about their own profits.
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend may be unaware that I am particularly concerned about environmental matters. For the past three years, I have served as chairman of the Council of Europe's environment committee. During that
Column 96time, the committee has taken a number of initiatives with regard to marine pollution. It is sad that calls from my committee, from the European Parliament, and from committees of other national legislatures are ignored.
The scale of that disdain was shown in Alaska. The part of Alaska in which the oil spillage occurred is remote, difficult to reach and a long way from centres skilled in harbour and coastal protection. If that part of Alaska is far from the reservoirs of support, how far away from them is a part of the world a good deal south of the Antarctic circle? There would be no guarantee, which is why it is essential that those people should at least be in a position to tell the Government what is needed. We should be able to exercise a very critical role if the Government ignore the resulting evidence ; the Government, of course, might find it possible to appoint to the committee people who would be prepared to speak out should their advice be ignored, but we need to be sure that that advice will be tendered and officially and formally received.
In the absence of such advisers, the Government would be able to say, "We did not know ; we were not told." I should like to remove any possibility of such an excuse : hence the amendment, which I hope my hon. Friends will support unless the Government are prepared to accept it. I do not consider it unreasonable, although my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) was somewhat critical because her hostility to the Bill is more root and branch.
Mr. Skinner : During the economic summit, the Prime Minister has been gallivanting around Europe, spending taxpayers' money and indulging in parties and binges. Apparently, between bouts of sipping claret and Beaujolais, all those countries got together and decided to set up a 10- point plan for the environment. I find it a bit odd that the same Government, headed by the same Prime Minister, should not be prepared to accept my hon. Friend's amendment.
My hon. Friend should remind the Minister that he may not be in his job much longer. There is going to be a big reshuffle, and he has not been sparking on every plug, has he? He has a chance of being kicked out. The course that should appeal to him is to adopt the 10-point plan and accept my hon. Friend's amendment. To do otherwise would be hypocritical, in view of all the great plans that were made at the summit.
Mr. Hardy : The 10-point plan seems very strong on investigation and very weak on action. We have seen a good deal of investigation. I have been making speeches in the House for 15 years about the need to protect the environment, and on occasion after occasion have presented evidence to justify my arguments. In a small way I have contributed to the pursuit of the learning in which the Government have now agreed to engage. It is a form of paradox. The other day--I think that this is relevant, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I attended a meeting with Lech Walesa, and I asked him a question.
Mr. Skinner : He is a Catholic shop steward.
Mr. Hardy : My hon. Friend's description, although less than generous, may be reasonably accurate.
I asked Lech Walesa, "Are you familiar with a development that we watch in western Europe? Are you familiar with the phenomenon of western leaders visiting your country and saying one thing there and something
Column 97entirely different when they return to their own countries?" Lech Walesa does not speak English, but he stuck his thumb up and gave me a broad grin. Over the headphones I heard the interpreter say, "Mr. Walesa says yes, and now he is going to talk about paradoxes as well."
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is on the wrong Pole.
Mr. Hardy : I shall now return--in a southerly direction--to the appropriate latitude, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I could not resist the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who was, to some extent, leading me astray ; I now return to relevance. I could not, however, overlook the fact that we were discussing a strange paradox. The Paris summit has been celebrating the French revolution : I only wish that it had met 200 years earlier for, as I am sure some of my hon. Friends will agree, I think that 1789 would have been a more appropriate date for such a gathering than 1989.
Mr. Tony Banks : They might have chopped her head off.
Mr. Hardy : I had always thought that my hon. Friend was opposed to capital punishment.
Mr. Banks : I make exceptions.
Mr. Hardy : The House is being offered reasonable amendments. If the Government wish to retain any vestige of consistency between their words and their actions, they have no alternative but to take a generous attitude. I do not think that I need say more ; the case that we have advanced is utterly convincing, and I trust that the Minister's reply will be acceptable to us.
Mr. Morley : I wish to concentrate exclusively on amendment No. 14, which deals with the definition of exploration. Clause 2 of the Bill provides that
" prospecting activities' includes field observations". There is no problem there ; field observations are not particularly damaging, although if large numbers of people set up bases in the area that in itself could be damaging. We discussed that in Committee. As it stands, the Bill does not appear to limit the number of people who can take part in any kind of prospecting expedition in the Antarctic, with all the associated problems of waste and disturbance.
"Prospecting activities", says clause 2, also include
"geological, geochemical and geophysical investigations". Those are likely to involve the use of drilling rigs. The Bill lays down certain conditions, stating that such activities do not include, for example,
"drilling to depths exceeding 25 metres or such other depth as the Commission may determine for particular circumstances".
That would be helpful in certain circumstances, because drilling also involves the risk of dirt and waste and the possible danger of blow-outs, problems associated with the control of machines and the disturbance caused by mud that is used for cooling the
machinery--although I imagine that it would not be very difficult to cool machinery in the Antarctic.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : My hon. Friend has made a fair point. Cooling material in the Antarctic might not be much of a problem, as for the most part the air is very cold anyway. Is he aware, however, of a serious problem that has occurred in some of the scientific stations