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Column 109they deserve, and we shall attempt to ensure that they qualify and control the Secretary of State's future activities.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said that amendment No. 14 was a probing one to test the Government's real intention with regard to the Bill. Having listened to the analysis of amendment No. 36 given by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), I could say the same of that amendment.
Amendment No. 36 should commend itself to the Government, although the Opposition parties would prefer no such Bill to be before the House. I cannot see anything wrong with amendment No. 36 as it would ensure that there was some confidence in the inspectors and observers to be appointed. The notes on manpower in the Bill show that the observers and inspectors will not be appointed for some years and are likely to be appointed
"on an ad hoc basis"
If the Bill reaches the statute book, those inspectors and observers will have an important job to do, and if their work met with international approval, their hands would be greatly strengthened.
The Government have had a problem trying to sell the Bill because no Opposition Member believes that it will end at prospecting--that is the first step. One does not have boreholes at Sellafield or Dounreay unless, ultimately, one hopes to dispose of nuclear waste in them. Companies will have to invest considerable sums of money if they want to undertake any operation in Antarctica. Do the Government genuinely believe that they will be content to invest all that money purely for the purpose of prospecting? What activities does the Minister expect to be undertaken in Antarctica? Surely he accepts that companies would be unwilling to stop if they found that mineral wealth in the region could be exploited later.
It is easy to say that the Bill is just about prospecting, but prospecting involves considerable engineering work. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has spoken of the report that has already been compiled on existing installations and operations in Antarctica. Those installations do not live up to the highest standards of cleanliness, tidiness and environmental integrity. If we are to embark on further major engineering operations, albeit prospecting operations, that involve fuel and mud it is clear that further damage could be done to the environment.
The Minister should recognise that prospecting itself could lead to environmental harm. For that reason, I believe that amendment No. 14, moved by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), is important, as it restricts such prospecting to "further scientific investigation" coupled with the requirement that it does
"not cause damage to the Antarctic environment or dependent or associated ecosystems."
That amendment focuses the concern that has been expressed by many Opposition Members. The Minister must give a convincing reply. Amendment No. 23 deals with insurance. The loss and damage that should be covered must relate to environmental damage, not to the usual economic loss that is often associated with insurance claims. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to say what the Government have in mind for the conditions to be
Column 110attached to licences with respect to insurance. I note that clause 3(5) suggests that any requirement on the licensee will be discretionary. Do the Government intend to have a stipulation on insurance? Under clause 3(5)(b) the licensee must insure himself "to such extent as may be determined under the licence". What do the Government have in mind regarding the extent of that insurance? The wording is rather vague. The Bill almost gives the Government a blank cheque to do what they like. It is important to know the Government's intentions.
If we are talking about insurance, we are presupposing the possibility of some damage. For that reason, my party firmly believes that there should be no opportunity for such damage to take place and that is why we reject the drift of the Bill. We should be interested, however, to hear the Minister's detailed response to some of the points that I have made.
Mr. Eggar : We have had a long and interesting discussion on this group of amendments. I shall start by referring back to the purpose of the Bill which, for the first time, regulates prospecting activity by United Kingdom nationals and entities. In addition, for the first time, it excludes exploration and development by such companies. There has been, particularly from hon. Members without the good fortune to have served on the Committee, confusion between prospecting, which the Bill covers, and exploration and development, which it explicitly excludes.
I shall, if it is convenient for the House, go through the various points made by hon. Members. I can tell the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who is not in his place at the moment, that I shall certainly deal with the Government's response to the letters of Sir Peter Scott and Greenpeace. It may be more convenient for the House and more orderly if I do so on the next group of amendments. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked about the experience in Spitzbergen. It is true that there has been some mining in Spitzbergen for a number of decades. However, it was not prospecting, but development as defined under the terms of the covention. That development work has had some limited environmental impact but certainly has not caused the damage to the ecosystem to which the hon. Gentleman referred in his brief intervention. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) asked a number of detailed questions. I shall try to deal with them now, and if the hon. Gentleman would like further clarification in writing, I shall be happy to give that. He asked about the size of any prospecting team. Size will be a key factor which the Secretary of State will have to take into account when he decides whether to give a licence.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about what he defined as seismic exploration. I am informed that, in practice nowadays, seismic exploration rarely uses explosives. The most frequently used technique is known as an air gun which is, effectively, a sound wave echo analysis. It may be of interest to the hon. Gentleman that explosives have already been used for scientific research under the Antarctic treaty system. I hope that I have been able to set his mind at rest. I assure the hon. Gentleman that no samples will be permitted which would be commercially valuable in themselves, so that method could not be used as a route to development through the back door. The
Column 111precise definiton of "small-scale", which was the hon. Gentleman's point, will be decided during the process of issuing a licence. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) raised the problem associated with existing scientific research and the despoliation of the environment which followed from that. He raised the issue of sewage. He should put this in perspective. He should imagine the sewage output of a colony of 100,000 gentoo penguins and compare that with the sewage ouput of, for example, a scientific research station of 10 individuals. He would then see that the two are relative and that a problem associated with sewage from the local inhabitants already exists--if one can describe penguins as inhabitants. It is true that the environmental effect of the issue of nutrients--if we can refer to penguin and human sewage in that way--is exactly the same. That is part of the regenerative cycle in Antarctica.
Mr. Corbyn : It is not a fair analogy to describe what 12 scientists in a cabin might be eating and excreting and to compare it with 100,000 penguins' diet, which consists exclusively of fish. Fish becomes part of a natural cycle, but humans eat a variety of foods. Pollution levels in rivers and seas around this country show that there is a serious problem. Some of that sewage is partly treated ; some of it does not degrade or decompose ; some of it lies around in still water for a long time.
A small number of humans and all the rubbish that they produce can cause a great deal more damage-- [Interruption.] I am not sure whether everyone is listening to this important point. The Minister should address his mind to the problems of large volumes of rubbish and of the incineration of plastics which pollute the air. His point was rather silly.
Mr. Eggar : I had no idea that the hon. Gentleman was so sensitive. I was just trying to put his remarks into context. He made his other points in Committee too, where I took considerable trouble to try to answer them. I assure him that we shall raise a number of them in the October meeting. They are not covered by Bill : they are covered under the terms of the Antarctic treaty.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) discussed the definition of prospecting. That definition comes from article 1, paragraph 8, of the convention. It does not come from United Kingdom legislation. The purpose of the definition of prospecting in the Bill is to ensure that no entity in Antarctica will be able to licence any activity which will have any more effect on the environment than the sort of scientific research that is already going on and is covered by the Antarctic treaty.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred to Opposition amendment No. 14. Perhaps it would help him if I explained why that amendment gives us some difficulty. The definition of prospecting in the Bill already reflects the definition in the convention. Scientific research within the meaning of the Antarctic treaty is expressly excluded by the convention. Defining prospecting activities in terms of scientific investigations, as his amendment does, would be incompatible with the convention and would cause serious confusion between
Column 112scientific investigation carried out under the Antarctic treaty and prospecting activity carried out under the convention.
The qualification that the amendment would introduce, relating to damage to the Antarctic environment, is unnecessary. The avoidance of such damage in relation to all Antarctic mineral activity is the purpose of the convention, article 4 of which provides in detail for assessing possible environmental impact. Clause 3(3) requires that the Secretary of State does not issue licences other than in accordance with the international obligations of the United Kingdom. Similar points may be made about amendment No. 23, although the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) spoke specifically about insurance. It is highly likely that any licensee would insure himself against liability for environmental damage, and it is also likely that any licence would include a condition requiring him to insure. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's point. The hon. Member for Wentworth spoke to amendment No. 34. There will be an international obligation on this country under articles 2 and 4 of the convention to avoid the risk of environmental damage in Antarctica. The whole purpose of the Bill is to ratify the convention, so the amendment is not necessary.
Mr. Dalyell : If, for one reason or another, the convention is not ratified, what do the Government estimate will be the ecological damage to Antarctica, given the circumstances that would then prevail?
Mr. Eggar : Potentially, it is extremely serious. At present no prospecting is being carried out because of a voluntary moratorium, pending the timely entry into force of the convention. If it becomes clear that the convention will not come into force, it will be only a matter of time before one country or another agrees to prospecting being carried out in an unregulated way. The consequences for the environment in Antarctica would be extremely serious. That is why the convention is so desirable and why we are moving rapidly to ratify it.
The hon. Member for Wentworth asked how the inspectors would be appointed. The Secretary of State and the Government are responsible for the appointment of inspectors. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, we intend to appoint inspectors in an ad hoc way. Clearly, the skills and experience required will vary depending on the type of prospecting activity to be inspected. The Secretary of State will take into account the skills that are necessary. I imagine that the qualifications or experience of environmental protection referred to in the amendment will be called for.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) also expressed some anxiety about that point. If hon. Gentlemen are unhappy about the appointments that may be made by the Secretary of State, I remind them that any other party is entitled to appoint people to inspect prospecting activity that is licensed by the Government. If that does not satisfy them, the Commission that is set up under the convention can also appoint inspectors. There is
Column 113a three-tier system of appointment and even with the most vivid imagination no one could believe that all the inspectors would be flawed and would fail to take account of environmental protection. With those remarks I hope that the hon. Member for Swansea, East will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are considering a group of amendments and I understand that you will call at least the first one for a Division. Will the Division on amendment No. 36 be recorded in Hansard at the end of the debate, which would be convenient, or when it is put to the vote?
Mr. Corbyn rose --
Mr. Corbyn : It is simply this. The Minister did not answer the points put to him reasonably and legitimately, so I sought the leave of the House to find out more from him. The Minister gave way at one point when I asked about inspectors, and I wished to reply to what he said.
Question put, That the amendment be made :--
The House divided : Ayes 73, Noes 194.
Division No. 300] [9.34 pm
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Golding, Mrs Llin
Heffer, Eric S.
Home Robertson, John
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James