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Column 126As I said before, I am concerned about the fact that the Greenpeace survey of scientific sites in the Antarctic showed that considerable damage has already been done to the environment immediately around them, and that requires rectification. The Minister in Committee and again on the Floor of the House has promised to take up our concerns at the October meeting.
Another worry is what will be the cut-off point between scientific research, which will provide information which is freely available in the public domain, and mineral exploration which becomes a commercial benefit. I believe that the Bill crosses that Rubicon, which is why I and many others are so worried about it. The Bill paves the way for commercial exploration, the results of which would not be in the public domain but would be commercial secrets available to only those companies which had invested considerable sums of money in the search for that crucial information.
One cannot imagine that a company the size of Exxon, BP, Consolidated Gold Fields, Rio Tinto-Zinc or Lonrho--or any large mining exploration companies --would be prepared to invest the millions necessary to undertake the research in the Antarctic if they did not feel at the end of the day that they would get something out of it. That would be the purpose of going there. It might be a bit of a shock to Conservative Members, but none of the companies I have mentioned are charities. They are dedicated to making large sums of money out of the mining industry. They have no charitable intent. That is why the difference between publicly funded scientific research and privately financed exploration is so crucial. In that regard, the Bill is seriously defective.
Together with amendments Nos. 17 and 19, I tabled other amendments, designed to strengthen the environmental protection agency that I envisage or the licensing commission that is envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East. It is important that a number of criteria are laid down. It is important that such an organisation should report regularly on the effects of exploration an its environmental impact. That does not mean that those reports would be made at the end of the period of a licence--such a licence could run for several years--rather, that the effects of any exploration should be investigated and reported upon as it goes along.
We should be clear about who is in the Antarctic and what they are doing there. It is all very well for the Minister or for the Secretary of State to grant a licence to any one company to undertake exploration in the Antarctic. The company may or may not be reputable, but that remains to be seen. The company, however, may be the subject of a takeover and in the subsequent takeover battle the value of its prospecting licence could be brought to bear. The nature of the exploration could then change significantly, as could the character of the personnel. Amendment No. 47 asks that the numbers of personnel and their names be agreed with the Secretary of State. Clause 10 deals with the penalties for people who infringe the conditions of the licence or damage the environment. If such damage is to be avoided and such persons are to be prevented from taking part in another exploration at a later date, there must be a register of those who initially go to the Antarctic. That is why amendment No. 47 asks that the Secretary agrees all the names of those who go to that region and that a register of them be kept.
Column 127If any of those people are found guilty of infringing the terms of the licence or of wilfully damaging the wildlife, flora or fauna, they could be prevented from going to the region again under another licence. That is an important consideration.
We also believe that the Secretary of State should report to the House all the licence applications that he has received and his decision on them. In that way those applications and the subsequent decisions would be in the public domain.
It is also important to specify the volume of minerals allowed to be extracted for sample purposes. As my hon. Friends have already said, scientific whaling is the grossest abuse of science. That whaling is commercial ; it is a deliberate attempt to thwart the intentions of the International Whaling Commission that has finally banned such whaling. Whaling is continuing under the guise of science, and it is a cruel deception. I do not want to see something similar happen in the Antarctic.
Mr. Tony Banks : It is worth placing on record the efforts that have been made in this regard by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as it shows that our attitude to the Bill and, in this respect, to the Government, is constructive. The Parliamentary Secretary has stood up to defend the interests of the world's whale population against the approach adopted by the Norwegians, the Icelanders and, in particular, the Japanese by their slaughter of the minke whale.
Mr. Corbyn : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Whenever we pass conservation measures, such as those to stop the slaughter of whales, commerce finds a loophole. Exactly the same will happen if the ban on ivory sales is successful. In a short time, someone will say that it is necessary to slaughter some African elephants for scientific reasons, and that will rapidly become a basis for commerce. The licence must state clearly what volume of minerals can be extracted under research conditions. Minerals that are extracted for sample purposes should not become the property of the commercial organisation that dug them out, but of the licence commission, so that there can be no commercial benefit in someone extracting excessive quantities, perhaps beyond the terms of the licence. What I propose in amendment No. 50 may already be covered in the Bill or in regulations. I read the Bill carefully during the weekend and I did not see any such provision, so I tabled the amendment. It is obvious that, if the convention system is to work--some people believe that it can--and punishment is to be meted out to those who wilfully destroy the environment and go beyond the licence, they must be denied the opportunity to commit those crimes again.
Amendment No. 50 would not permit such people to apply for a licence under their own name. Amendment No. 47 proposes that the names of all such people should be submitted to the Secretary of State. There is, therefore, the possibility of strict control of what is happening to the environment.
Amendments Nos. 31 and 45 are similar. Non-governmental organisations must have a right of inspection. Without Greenpeace's work in the Antarctic and the North sea on nuclear dumping, for example, we would not know what is happening. It is under-resourced,
Column 128but I pay tribute to its contribution to monitoring. It has shown that the damage that has already been done to the Antarctic environment would be a thousand times worse as a result of mineral exploration. It is therefore essential that non-governmental organisations should be able to visit sites.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East proposed a commission which is not commercially dominated. I would not have much confidence in an Antarctic environmental protection agency whose board members were representatives of all the major oil and mining companies in the world. They would quietly carve the Antarctic up between them. Such an agency has to include people with no commercial interest but with a deep scientific knowledge of the continent. Sir Peter Scott would make an excellent member of such a commission.
Non-governmental organisations must have the right to investigate and inquire into what is going on. Amendment No. 45 proposes : "Before any licence is operated there shall be an opportunity for environmental protection groups to visit the site(s) and at any other time during the life of the licence.".
At present, if Greenpeace undertakes another expedition around the Antarctic to visit all the sites--I hope that it does--it does not have to be allowed to visit all of them or to go into all the detail necessary to write a report. It experienced some difficulty at some scientific sites that it visited during its last expedition in 1987-88.
Amendment No. 51, which is crucial too, refers to the number of inspectors who shall be appointed. Perhaps due to an oversight, the Minister did not reply to that point earlier ; perhaps he will this time. Those of us who have been active in trade union matters for many years have experienced the factories inspectorate. It is not that we dislike it ; it is just that we find it inadequate. There are never enough inspectors, and they do not come often enough. The employers often know when they are coming, in any case. We want a large number of independent inspectors who can visit not only the sites licensed by the national Governments on their territorial claims, but every other site throughout the continent. We want them to communicate what they find every six months. Their report will give an account of all activities in that time.
This may seem expensive and excessive, but the issue is so important that we need this degree and regularity of reporting. If we let commerce dominate the commission and the exploration that goes on, and let it own the information that it obtains, that will lead to ecological disaster. Unlike temperate climates, in which partial recovery from such disaster is possible, in the Antarctic there can be none.
In Antarctica one can see the petrified remains of a husky that Captain Robert Scott rather short-sightedly destroyed. Had he used dogs instead of ponies, he might have got to the south pole, probably before Amundsen, who relied entirely on dogs. Scott ended up towing his sledges himself. The dog is petrified in the ice for ever more because it was frozen suddenly. It is mummified, like an Egyptian mummy or like the bodies found in the northern deserts of Chile. So any serious spillage would not biologically degrade as it would in a more temperate clime--it would remain. Oil would freeze into the ice for ever more, just as any other pollutant would.
I hope that the Minister accepts that our amendments are designed to protect this fragile environment. We recognise the work done in the past by the British
Column 129Antarctic survey, which I do not want to be involved in private enterprise. It should be entirely publicly funded and in the public domain. We applaud the work done by Greenpeace to draw to our attention the fragility of the Antarctic environment.
When Captain Cook first set eyes on the Antarctic, he realised what a special, fragile place it was. Tragically, he did not live long enough to be able to write enough about his discoveries, but all the signs from his letters and diaries are that he was appalled at what was done afterwards to the places that he discovered--in a European sense--in the name of commerce.
I hope that tonight we will decide to play our part in protecting the Antarctic and not to allow it to be divided up into national claims, and subdivided into commercial claims. I hope that we shall support the idea of a world environmental park, and eventually take the continent out of the hands of the treaty nations and make it part of a truly international park, owned for ever through the United Nations, and exploited never.
Mr. Tony Banks : It was appropriate that as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) mentioned the "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner", the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) seized his cue and rose to make a speech. Conservative Members will know that the opening lines go :
"It is an ancient Mariner
And he stoppeth one of three.
By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?' "
The right hon. Gentleman has a fine grey beard and a glittering eye. I am glad that he stopped us, because he has shown us that we were right to have said all along that the Bill is about exploitation--something that the Minister has been denying. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that he thinks that we should extract the wealth of the Antarctic for the benefit of the world. That is not what we want to do. We do not accept that that is necessary. The Bill has no mechanisms that make it likely that the wealth that is exploited is used for the benefit of mankind. Multinational mining companies will go in there and make money for their shareholders. 10.45 pm
Mr. Anderson : My hon. Friend may have forgotten the debates in the other place, in which the Government spokesman let the cat out of the bag. He said that the objective of the Government was to get the largest possible share of the economic returns from the activities in the Antarctic.
Mr. Banks : It was always clear to us, but it is becoming manifestly clear to all, that whatever the Minister is saying, for whatever reason he is saying it, we are not being given the whole story. We cannot accept that this is only about exploring, not exploitation. The Bill talks about exploration, but that is only the thin end of a very obvious wedge. The Minister cannot expect us to accept his bland statements, which do not match what was said in another place, or by the right hon. Member for Pavilion. In his robust and honest way, the right hon. Gentleman stated what we know to be the philosophy behind the Bill. We are indebted to him. The Bill has no mechanisms for making sure that if the mineral resources of the Antartic are properly explored--that is what we are moving towards with the Bill, which
Column 130is merely the first step in the softly, softly approach to exploitation--mankind as a whole will benefit. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the trickle effect, which the Prime Minister has mentioned--one allows the people at the top to make vast sums of money and, magically, it will trickle through to everyone. We know that that does not work.
Why should we exploit the resources of the Antarctic? As far as I can see, there is no shortage of the minerals that are in the Antarctic. They are in abundance everywhere, waiting to be exploited. Why do we need to move to virgin territory? The right hon. Gentleman said that minerals are difficult to get out, but mining technology is changing. Lessons have been learnt in Alaska by British Petroleum and other mining companies, so they have the expertise to get over many of the difficulties of extracting minerals from the Antarctic. Such expertise is increasing by the day. There is no economic reason for such exploitation, and it is not needed to benefit the world. We know what would happen, and I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman knows it, too. If there is exploitation, there will be pollution. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth has already described in some detail the destruction of the wildlife in the area, with consequences that we are not competent to judge. We at least know from experience of events elsewhere that when human beings start exploiting, they pollute and destroy. There is no reason for us to believe that anything different will happen in the Antarctic, if there is the exploitation that the right hon. Member for Pavilion expects.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is not only not in his place now, but he is not with us on this Bill, which is a disappointment to Labour Members. As he said, we usually stand shoulder to shoulder on matters such as this. I still find it difficult to grasp his position on the Bill. I note that my hon. Friend comes timely upon his entrance. I can now say to him directly that I am disappointed that he is not with us. He said that the agreement is the best that we can get. He said, in effect, that there will be exploitation and that it is better that it should be regulated. That comes close to what the Minister is saying. Surely that is a counsel of despair--as we cannot stop it, let us regulate it. I think that we can stop it. We can take great heart from the position adopted by the Australian and French Governments, and by the Belgians. There is the possibility of establishing an international wilderness reserve because of what has been said in Australia and by President Mitterrand.
There has been rapid change since the Bill appeared in another place. There was a massive green vote in the Euro elections, and I do not believe that that was a vote for the Green party. Instead, it was a declaration by the electorate that the environment is at the top of the political agenda. The time is ripe for us to return to the drawing board. Let us reject the Bill and re-examine these matters.
Mr. Banks : That is something that can be developed. If an international wilderness reserve is declared in the Antarctic, under the supervision of the United Nations, for example, or a special environmental protection agency, all the countries that have an interest in the Antarctic could fund the necessary policing to ensure that intruders are kept out and that the area is used for scientific research
Column 131that is in the interests of mankind. We do not need exploitation by multinational mineral companies. Let us have scientific exploration in the name of true science, of real knowledge. We can learn from the past. Much that remains frozen in the permafrost would tell us a great deal about the early days of the planet. To destroy all that to extract base metals and oil, which exist in abundance elsewhere, would be destruction on the grand scale.
If there is a political will among the nations to preserve the Antarctic as an international wilderness reserve, the means can be found. That is what national or international politics are all about. I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow takes such a defeatist attitude. He is such a spirited attacker of the abuse that he sees in this country. It is strange that he is not prepared to defend the Antarctic in the robust way that he has tried to defend the rain forests of Brazil. I am surprised at my hon. Friend, but I am sure that we shall be able to talk him round. The climate of opinion has changed since the Bill emerged in another place. The declaration at the G7 summit in Paris was the final piece of evidence that we needed. It was unique for such a group of countries to produce a statement in which the environment played such a major role. That is why we ask the Minister to examine the amendments and to meet our point.
If amendment No. 17 were accepted, it would establish a British Antarctic Licensing Commission--
Mr. Corbyn : It occurs to me that the Group of Seven's declaration was essentially one of setting enterprise loose on the remaining open spaces of the world so that it could destroy them. I accept, of course, that it states at the end that it is concerned about the environment. With the policies that most of the Seven are following, it should be concerned about it.
Mr. Banks : That is true, but at least the Seven have had to pay lip service to the environment. That is something that they have not done previously. It is for national Parliaments and public opinion to turn the lip service of G7 into political reality. World opinion on environmental matters is changing, and it is in that hopeful climate that we can move forward.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : My hon. Friend makes an important point about the G7 statement. Although it acknowledges the need for environmental protection, it says that it should be scientifically well founded and economically well based, or words to that effect. Does my hon. Friend agree that the words "economically well based" could be dangerous? If it proves easier to exploit the resources in the Antarctic than in other land masses, the economic base becomes one of cost. There may be no economic base at all in protecting the environment ; indeed, there may be an economic penalty. The G7 declaration could simply be dangerous lip service.
Mr. Banks : The matter becomes more complicated. We could be talking about the difference between short-term and long-term economic gain. There could be a great deal of long-term economic gain from leaving the resources unexploited because that would save all the horrendous problems of over- industrialisation and
over-exploitation that are coming home to Europe and other parts of the world.
Column 132I am not so green as to believe that all are genuine in their sudden conversion. Once again it is a case of politicians, whether in Britain or elsewhere, understanding votes. They have recognised the sea change in world opinion that is pushing environmental matters to the top of the political agenda. It would be a very, very stupid politician --there are many of them around--who wilfully chose to ignore that public demand. I repeat that the climate is different from that which existed when the Bill first surfaced.
Amendment No. 19 is exceedingly long, but it tests the Government's sincerity. It proposes that an environmental impact statement be attached to any form of exploration in the Antarctic. The EEC has proposed that any form of environmental scheme should have an impact assessment attached to it. Even in this House, we have said that private Bills relating to dock work and the building of railways should have environmental impact asessments attached to them. That is in line with EEC proposals, and something which the Government will no doubt follow. It would be appropriate to apply that to the Antarctic.
I do not want to go into detail about the amendment. I hope that the Minister has read it. If he accepts it, that will show the House that what he has been saying is what lies behind the Bill, not what has been said in another place and by the right hon. Member for Pavilion. There is a dichotomy between what the Minister has said in Committee and today and what was said by the right hon. Member for Pavilion. I hope that the Minister will tell the House why his right hon. Friend is wrong. If he is not wrong, the Minister would be well advised to accept the amendment.
Mr. Eggar : It may be for the convenience of the House if I first deal with the points made by Greenpeace. It states in its letter that the convention means that in the interim there will be no international supervision of prospecting activities. That is wrong while the moratorium survives in the period prior to the convention coming into force.
Greenpeace asks who will ensure that prospectors comply with the convention in the area of overlapping claims, which was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). As I said in Committee, each of the three states will be able to ensure that their nationals, and anyone else in their claimed territories, comply with the convention--and each state will be able to inspect the other licensees' activities. Greenpeace asks also who will ensure that non-United Kingdom nationals will not be engaged in explorations in United-Kingdom claimed territory. Greenpeace has lost sight of the fact that the convention is specifically designed to prevent exploration until a decision is reached by consensus. Greenpeace states that prospecting could be a hazardous undertaking. It is of course right--and that is precisely the reason why the convention has been negiotated and why we want to ratify it. Greenpeace makes the nonsensical assertion that United Kingdom implementing legislation will be only as good as the worst implementing legislation in another country. That is incorrect.
Column 133Finally, Greenpeace claims that we shall be unable to control events in our own Antarctic territory. To the contrary : the convention provides the means to do so in respect of mining.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made a brave speech, which showed that he has followed events in the Antarctic for a considerable number of years. Without wishing to offend any other right hon. or hon. Member, the hon. Member for Linlithgow knows most about Antarctica. He has studied the situation there and followed the negotiations on the convention over a long period of time. The hon. Gentleman asked me, quite reasonably, to comment on Sir Peter Scott's letter to right hon. and hon. Members. He pointed out that the other son of that famous pair, his noble Friend Lord Shackleton made in another place a strong speech in support of the Bill. Sir Peter Scott's letter was similar to that which he wrote to The Times . A few days after it was published, Mr. Nigel Bonner, who at one time was deputy director of the British Antarctic survey, replied. It may assist the hon. Member for Linlithgow and other right hon. and hon. Members if I quote the critical paragraph of Mr. Bonner's letter :
"and without a World Park, some governments may regard themselves as unrestricted in the search for minerals. Sir Peter and Australia may find that by refusing to support CRAMRA, they have deprived Antarctica of the very protection they wish it to receive." That is the bald answer to Sir Peter Scott.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked also about rubbish disposal. I agree with him that there is a critical difference between rubbish disposal and sewage. I was trying to make the point that there is little to distinguish between the excrement of gentoo penguins and that of humans. Rubbish disposal relating to scientific discovery is a significant problem in Antarctica, and for that reason we and other parties to the Antarctic treaty have been working on an agreement to govern rubbish disposal there, which will be discussed at the meeting in Paris in October.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), whose questions I always try to answer, raised the issue of inspectors. The Government intend to appoint sufficient inspectors, and we shall have to examine the particular terms of the licence application to ensure that we have the right inspectors in each case. The Bill makes it clear that inspectors will be appointed on an ad hoc basis to deal with specific licence applications.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said, rightly, that Opposition amendment No. 19 goes to the core of the difference between the Opposition and the Government. There is no difference of principle between the Government and the Opposition : we both wish to ensure that the necessary environmental safeguards exist in Antarctica. The amendment, however, provides us with a number of difficulties.
First, the proposed procedures simply are not consistent with the convention. Secondly, and very critically, the adoption in British law of any such procedures at this stage would bind the hands of future negotiators in the commission who sought to elaborate on
Column 134reasonable and acceptable environment impact assessment procedures. The hon. Gentleman, I think, recognises that those procedures are critical.
Mr. Eggar : What I am saying is that it is entirely wrong to seek to bind the negotiators in the way proposed in the amendment. Other features of the amendment--which the hon. Gentleman himself has said is based on domestic legislation--are not likely to be appropriate : rules that apply in Swansea are not necessarily appropriate in Antarctica. Many elements in that amendment will, however, be covered. This brings us back to what was said in Committee should the need for flexibility--the need to consider specific approaches in detail rather than imposing an inflexible framework.
For those reasons, the Government are unable to accept the amendment, and others in the group whose intent is similar. Question put, That the amendment be made :--
The House divided : Ayes 78, Noes 190.
Division No. 301] [11.07 pm
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Golding, Mrs Llin
Home Robertson, John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Macdonald, Calum A.
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Pike, Peter L.
Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Steel, Rt Hon David
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Wise, Mrs Audrey
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Elliot Morley and
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Amery, Rt Hon Julian
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)