Order for Second Reading read.
I have been a Member of the House for almost 30 years and this is the third time that I have been lucky in the ballot and been able to introduce a private Member's Bill in the Chamber. The last time I did so was only a few years ago with a Bill relating to children's seat belts which got on the statute book. Previously, in the 1960s, I was able to introduce a Bill that also got on the statute book. The title of that Bill has always somewhat embarrassed me--the Parish Councils and Burial Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970--but it was much appreciated by parish councillors. I hope that on this third occasion the Antarctic Bill will allow me to have three in a row. I shall take great pride in that, especially with this Bill, which is of such great interest and, I hope, without controversy.
It is not often that the House has been faced with a proposal for legislation dealing with Antarctica. In fact, only twice before has Parliament legislated on Antarctica--back in 1967 with the Antarctic Treaty Act, which provided mainly for the conservation of Antarctic wildlife, and more recently in 1989 with the Antarctic Minerals Act. Therefore, I feel very privileged to be able to bring before the House today a Bill that is fundamental to the long-term protection of Antarctica. The Bill will strengthen considerably environmental protection over that most remote and pristine part of our planet. Antarctica is the seventh continent and it is by far the most unknown.
I am confident that this important issue is one that all hon. Members will feel able to approve. I am grateful for the support that has already been shown by eminent Members of the House who have been kind enough to lend their signatures to the Bill. I hope that the Bill will prove to be uncontentious and I have noted the cross-party support that is already evident.
The primary purpose of my Bill is to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty and to do so in a timely fashion, thereby demonstrating to the wider Antarctic community our serious commitment in Britain not only to the conservation of the Antarctic environment but to the Antarctic treaty.
I used the word remote a few moments ago. Yet ever since my fellow north Yorkshireman Captain Cook ventured south to the Antarctic seas in the 1770s, Antarctica has held a special importance and fascination to
Column 556the United Kingdom. The continent may be remote geographically from the House, but, as a nation, we have always taken particular and significant interest in its well-being and we continue to do so. Britain was prominent in the early exploitation of Antarctica. Sadly, that was in a somewhat unenlightened environmental era when major inroads were made into the substantial whale and seal stocks of the sub- Antarctic islands and the southern oceans. From those depredations decades ago, a number of species have yet to recover. Britain was also to the fore in what has since been termed the heroic age of exploration, when the early surveyors were confronted with virtually a blank sheet of paper.
Until well into this century, Antarctica lived up its to old name of "Terra australis incognita". British involvement in the exploration has stretched from the journeys of Sir James Clark Ross between 1840 and 1843, through Scott and Shackleton earlier this century to the famous trans-Antarctic expedition of Sir Vivian Fuchs in the 1950s.
The process continues, and only last year those extraordinary men Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Doctor Mike Stroud completed their epic journey on foot between the Weddell and Ross seas. If any of my colleagues in the House have not read the book of their journey, I could not commend it more highly.
To dispel further the notion of remoteness, there are two other important Antarctic elements in which the UK has always been, and remains, heavily involved. Those are Antarctic science and Antarctic politics. Antarctica plays a crucial scientific role in today's world. It acts as a principal template for monitoring the health of the global environment and, suffice it to say, some environmental protection in Antarctica as provided by the environmental protocol is vital to safeguarding that science base.
It would be helpful to the debate if I were to rehearse the part that has been played by the Antarctic treaty and the important position within the treaty system of the new protocol. The Antarctic treaty has often been held up as the model of international co-operation. It has enabled international governance of Antarctica to continue for more than 30 years in a peaceful, non-militarised and co-operative fashion. I remind the House that we are dealing with an area of approximately one tenth of the globe's surface.
The negotiators of the treaty, in which Britain's influence was significant, realised that long-term stability in Antarctica would be possible only if states with an interest in Antarctica were to set aside their differences. If the prospects for peaceful co-operation were to be assured, two fundamental issues needed to be addressed. The first was a formula to defuse the sovereignty issues in Antarctica and the second was to cocoon Antarctica from whatever issues were engaging the rest of the world--in effect, to draw a political cordon sanitaire around the earth at 60 deg. south latitude. The pie-slice territorial claims in Antarctica, including our own British Antarctic Territory, have accordingly been put in abeyance. If you will forgive my pun, Madam Speaker, they have been put on ice for the duration of the treaty by the simple but ingenious mechanism of article IV. That article preserves existing claims and also existing denials of those claims, while at the same time making it clear that nothing which is done during the life of the treaty can be used to assert, support or deny any existing or new claims.
Column 557The treaty parties have studiously isolated Antarctica from the political problems that confront states elsewhere. This has ensured that harmony has prevailed in Antarctica south of 60 deg. south, even when disharmony might reign elsewhere. Certainly for British interests, the continuing success of the Antarctic treaty is crucial.
British Antarctic policy during the past 30 years has been predicated on the view that the most appropriate way for us to manage our affairs in Antarctica with states which dispute our territorial claim and with those which deny all claims is through a strong Antarctic treaty. Anything that might weaken the treaty system would bring with it the danger of reintroducing tensions in that area. That view remains as relevant today as it did in the late 1950s when the treaty was negotiated.
Our strength and commitment to the treaty is, I hope, well known in the House and around the world and it is appreciated by all those other parties. As one of the seven claimant states in Antarctica, Britain was influential in the protracted negotiations that led to the adoption of the treaty and was among the original 12 signatories. Indeed, the UK was the first to deposit its instrument of ratification in May 1960.
Our influence in treaty matters has continued unabated through 17 consultative meetings of the treaty parties, the adoption of over 200 regulatory measures and recommendations and the negotiation of three self- standing international instruments to deal with resource issues on seals, marine living resources and, most recently in 1988, on mineral resources. I shall return to that later. The last instrument was followed by an abrupt change of course early in the following year which precipitated the Antarctic treaty parties into a flurry of negotiations which, fortunately, culminated in the successful emergence of the protocol.
Fundamental to the see-sawing nature of Antarctic politics in recent years has been the question of resources, both renewable and non-renewable. Questions regarding resources strike to the very heart of the Antarctic treaty and they, more than anything else on the Antarctic agenda, have the capacity to increase the tensions that have been held in abeyance by the sovereignty article of the treaty. They carry by implication a political and economic spin-off. From time to time, Antarctica has been portrayed as some sort of El Dorado, whether one is talking about fisheries resources and the existence of the small crustaceans called krill, off which whales and fish live, or about mineral wealth. Early predictions that the commercial krill harvest from Antarctica would run into many millions of tonnes and would ease the world's protein shortage have not been realised and they seem unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. Many of the statements on hard rock minerals and hydrocarbons in Antarctica were little more than speculation. They were emotively portrayed at times to fuel the environmental debate. Even before the ink was dry on the Antarctic treaty, the signatories were well aware of the resources dilemma. But resolving that issue back in 1959 was more than they could accomplish. The priorities of the day were geopolitical stability, the reduction of cold war friction,
Column 558non-militarisation and the prohibition of testing or dumping of nuclear material. All other matters but those were secondary. Subsequently, we have seen how important a role resource questions were to play on the Antarctic agenda, as the treaty parties negotiated conventions on the conservation of seals and marine living resources and the regulation of mineral resources. The latter alone took six years of tough, painstaking negotiation to achieve what was to prove an ephemeral consensus.
If there is a common thread that runs through the issues of Antarctic resources, it is foresight. The treaty parties always realised that it was better to regulate for resource activity ahead of any real demand rather than wait until the demand had become a reality, by which time consensus-- the hallmark of the treaty decisions--would at best take an inordinately long time to reach, or at worst become beyond the grasp of the negotiators.
A stark reality that persistently focused the minds of the treaty states towards agreement was always the realisation that lack of consensus meant lack of regulation and that lack of regulation meant a tension-raising free -for-all. That could be in the interests of no one, least of all in the interests of the Antarctic environment. The protocol to whose ratification the Bill aims to lead the way was born of the effective demise of the convention on the regulation of Antarctic mineral resource activities. If the House will allow me, I should like to refer to it as CRAMRA, which is the universal acronym understood by many people for that convention. Although considered innovative and tough by international environmental law standards, CRAMRA was presentationally flawed. It was portrayed, wrongly we believe, as a miners' charter which would be used for the despoliation and even the rape of Antarctic. In practice, CRAMRA erected so many tiers of regulatory hurdles that any would-be minerals developer would have been hard pressed to have gained the necessary consensus from the treaty parties to open up any sector of Antarctica to mining or hydrocarbon exploration. But the threat was there, no matter how latent. It apparently carried unacceptable risks, at least politically, for some of the parties to the treaty. CRAMRA was adopted in June 1988, but the consensus created for it was rudely shattered the following spring when France and Australia announced that they would not sign the convention. By 1990 New Zealand, which had already signed, announced that it would not ratify. Such public statements from three claimant states, all of which had to ratify for CRAMRA to come into force, sounded the death knell of the convention. The shattering of consensus brought with it a new potential danger. Rather as in a game of snakes and ladders, lack of consensus promptly returned the treaty parties to square one. No consensus equalled no regulation of the exploration or mining of areas in Antarctica. The minerals free-for-all that CRAMRA was designed to regulate against could once again become at least a political possibility, if not a practical reality.
So late 1989 and 1990 was a difficult period for the treaty parties, which were deprived of their usual consolidation behind consensus. However, again demonstrating a degree of corporate doggedness or ingenuity, the treaty parties began to explore ways to return the system to its customary consensus. It was felt that if agreement did not lie with CRAMRA, it must lie elsewhere.
Diplomatic exploration of a means to solve the minerals debate led the treaty parties to look more widely at
Column 559environmental protection. In many respects, despite the hostility and antipathy that it generated, CRAMRA had sown many of the environmental seeds from which the protocol was to germinate. Strangely, the Antarctic treaty says almost nothing about environmental protection or conservation. That is not surprising as those were hardly buzz words in the late 1950s. In contrast, much of the subsequent work of the treaty parties has devoted itself to the environment. More than 50 per cent. of the recommendations that have been adopted since 1961 have been directly relevant to environmental protection.
So with the great emphasis on the environment, which we all welcome and have encouraged in the House, one might reasonably question the need for yet another environmental instrument. One could ask what it would do that was not already catered for. One fundamental criticism, and a valid one, which is directed persistently against the treaty system is that too many of its regulations tend to be aimed at encouragement rather than enforcement and that what is clearly needed is a block of tough new mandatory provisions to project the treaty forward into the 21st century.
The United Kingdom and Chile took up the issue by proposing in late 1989 that a special consultative meeting be convened. Its theme was to be comprehensive measures for the protection of the Antarctic environment and its dependent and associated ecosystems. The first such meeting was held in Chile in late 1990. It was followed by three further meetings in Madrid the following year. At the last meeting, the environmental protocol containing the mandatory provisions which the parties had desired was adopted. The treaty parties had returned to consensus and the treaty was again on its customary even keel. Just as 30 years earlier the United Kingdom was the first to ratify the treaty, so the United Kingdom, in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), then Secretary of State for the Environment, was the first to sign the protocol.
The protocol is expressly stated to be supplementary to the treaty. It stems very much from a British initiative and from British drafting. We were not in favour of the free-standing conservation convention then being designed and promoted by a group of the treaty parties. Such a convention would have been overly complex and expensive to operate and would have presented the danger that money would be diverted from the Antarctic science programmes.
Given the dominant role played by the environment in Antarctic affairs, a convention could have ended up competing with the treaty rather than supporting it. The pivotal position of the Antarctic treaty consultative meeting could have been eroded. A free-standing convention, like all conventions, would, as likely as not, have been insufficiently flexible to meet the ever-changing demands that would inevitably be placed upon it.
International legislation needed to be as adaptable as the ever-changing environment that it was attempting to protect. It was believed that a protocol--as framework legislation, with annexes that could be added to or modified--would provide the flexibility required to deal with Antarctic concerns.
The British concept for a protocol was supported by Argentina, Uruguay, Norway and the United States. It was launched at the meeting in Chile and rapidly gained acceptance. Subsequent input--I must single out that from the Norwegian delegation--added considerably to the text.
Column 560What does the protocol set out to achieve ? It designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. It sets out strict environmental principles for the protection of Antarctica to ensure that any activities there will have minimum impact. In particular, it requires that most activities in Antarctica shall be subject to environmental assessment before they are even allowed to proceed. The procedures for environmental impact assessment are spelt out in some detail in annex I to the protocol, while three other annexes deal with the conservation of wildlife, waste disposal and management, and the prevention of marine pollution.
As an illustration of the flexibility of the annex approach, a fifth annex on protected areas has since been added to the protocol and the treaty parties have considered, but so far rejected, a proposed annex dealing with tourism. Further work has begun on yet another annex, which deals with liability for damage to the environment, but I guess that that will take some time to negotiate. Tourism is a fast-growing industry in Antarctica. Last season, about 6,500 tourists visited the region, mostly by cruise ship to the Antarctic peninsula area, which has the easiest access from south America. All the signs are that that trend will continue. There is no disagreement about the fact that tourist activities in Antarctica must be carefully regulated. The formation of a co-ordinating organisation by the tourist industry--the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators --is a welcome development. The regulation of tourism is already catered for.
The protocol explicitly refers to tourism as one of the key activities in Antarctica to which its provisions apply. Having said that, I believe that there may be merit in introducing some additional regulation for tourism, although not by means of a new annex as that is not held to be a sensible way to proceed. Tourism will be debated further in April at the next meeting of parties to the treaty in Japan, when it is hoped that some progress will be made.
On minerals, the protocol is very clear. A single sentence in article VII spells it out and simply prohibits all mineral resource activities in Antarctica other than for scientific research. Such research would include the sort of geological and geophysical studies that are being carried out by the British Antarctic Survey. The protocol includes mechanisms for the review of the mineral ban after 50 years, or before that time if all parties to the treaty agree. The ban will continue unless, or until, a binding legal regime is in place under which a decision can be taken on whether mining is environmentally acceptable.
Ironically, although they approach the minerals issue from opposite corners, the ill-fated minerals convention and the environmental protocol have one important element in common. For the next 50 years, both require a consensus of treaty parties before mineral activities in Antarctica could even be contemplated. That puts the minerals issue on the shelf well into the foreseeable future--one could even say that it does so indefinitely.
The environmental protocol establishes a new institution, the committee for environment protection, which will be a technical and scientific organisation providing advice to parties to the treaty. That additional tier within the treaty system is vital as environmental and scientific issues in Antarctica take on increasingly important roles. The new committee will supplement, but not supplant, the highly valued advice that has been provided to treaty parties by the Scientific Committee for
Column 561Antarctic Research--incidentally, its secretariat is based in Cambridge--which will continue to advise treaty parties as part of its primary function to co-ordinate and direct the thrust of Antarctic science.
The protocol reinforces the treaty's inspection provisions for facilities in Antarctica to ensure political transparency and compliance. It identifies the need for emergency contingency plans to deal with incidents, such as oil spillages and accidents to vessels. During the past few days there was such an accident, but mercifully no one was hurt. Finally, the protocol sets up mechanisms to settle disputes if they cannot be resolved by other means.
The adoption of the protocol in late 1991 was the most radical and far- reaching strengthening of the Antarctic system since the inception of the treaty 30 years before. Without stating as much, parties to the treaty have carried out the very 30-year review that was envisaged in it. They wisely left the carefully crafted formula of the treaty's language intact and bolted on to it, in the form of the protocol, the tough environmental regulations that the treaty had left out. With those new additions and the built-in flexibility inherent in the protocol and its annexes, one hopes that the Antarctic treaty is in sound shape to carry on for at least the next 30 years and longer. It should remain the flagship of international co -operation.
I am afraid that it has taken me a long time to reach this point, but I shall now turn to the Bill and how it deals with the protocol. I mentioned earlier that the primary purpose of the Bill is to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the protocol. First, I must mention those elements of the protocol that are not dealt with in the Bill and the reasons why that is the case. Annexes III and IV of the protocol set out mandatory provisions to deal with waste disposal and management and the prevention of marine pollution. Waste disposal and management is not dealt with because it was thought more practical for them to be set out as conditions on any permit issued by the Secretary of State for a British expedition going to Antarctica or a research station that might be established there. Contravention of those conditions would, therefore, constitute an offence. That is a more satisfactory way to deal with the somewhat technical issues of waste disposal and management.
The second issue that is not covered by the Bill is marine pollution. The text of annex IV of the protocol tracks very closely the provisions of the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships, to which the United Kingdom is a party. Its provisions are already implemented by the Merchant Shipping Acts and the supplementary regulations under those Acts. We see no need for further primary legislation to deal with marine pollution in Antarctica.
The other three annexes in the protocol are, however, dealt with in the Bill and I shall refer to them later.
I draw attention to the definition of Antarctica in clause 1. The Bill's area of application is that of the Antarctic treaty area--the area of land, sea, ice shelves, air space and continental shelf south of the 60 deg. south latitude. That definition alone is wider than that found in previous United Kingdom legislation on Antarctica because the protocol has a wider ambit than either the treaty or the convention on the regulation of Antarctic mineral resource activity.
Column 562The Bill goes further than the protocol requires in regard to the protection of seals and whales in the Antarctic ocean.
The key principle of the protocol is that activities in Antarctica, governmental and non-governmental, including science and tourism activities, but excluding commercial fishing, should be subject to environmental assessment before they are allowed to take place. The procedures for carrying out those assessments are set out in the protocol. The degree of assessment will depend on the predicted severity of an activity's impact.
It is felt that the most appropriate way to ensure compliance with those obligations is to require that all British expeditions or research stations in Antarctica have an environmental permit from the Secretary of State. Regulations will set out the criteria under which permits will be issued. One such criterion would be that any applicant for a permit must demonstrate that the activities that the expedition will undertake will not have an unacceptable environmental impact and that an appropriate impact assessment has been undertaken. Conditions will be attached to any permit, including, for example, conditions to ensure compliance with the waste disposal provisions of annex III of the protocol, to which I referred earlier.
Perhaps I should point out that the more traditional view of an expedition, conjuring up ships sailing south to frozen wastes, has nowadays been somewhat eclipsed. Today's expeditions include a growing number of tourist cruise liners. Elements of the Bill--for example, the legislation governing wildlife and protected areas--will, however, extend to all United Kingdom nationals, whether they be scientists in the British Antarctic Survey or tourists, wherever they may be in Antarctica. Vessels or planes that are simply in transit in the Antarctic treaty area or commercial fishing vessels are not to be regarded as expeditions. They will not, therefore, require a permit.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Clause 21 applies British law to British citizens active in any way in the Antarctic. Hon. Members will be aware of the great conflicts concerning the so-called claims on Antarctica--the British claim is overlaid by the Argentinian claim, the Chilean claim and so on. In the case of a prosecution against an individual under what, for the purposes of the debate, I will call the British claim, what would happen if that person sought refuge in Argentinean or Chilean law ? Should they not ratify all the convention in exactly the same way as the Bill is trying to do, their laws will be different from British law.
Mr. Jopling : The terms of the protocol bind all the nations that are signatories. Once all the 26 nations have ratified, the terms of the protocol will become binding on them. There are some problems, to which the hon. Member has alluded, and they go further than he suggested. If nationals from a country that was not a signatory to the protocol attempted to carry out activities in some of the unclaimed portions of the continent, it would cause problems of the type that the hon. Gentleman described. If that were to happen, the signatories to the protocol would come together again to see how they could deal collectively with the problem. We have had cases in the past where states that do not approve of this system of collective international co-operation have set up bases in Antarctica. It may be indelicate for me to name them, but their behaviour causes a problem.
Column 563One of the more emotive issues raised during the negotiations on the protocol--the issue that set in train those negotiations--was the question of mineral resources in Antarctica. Article VII of the protocol prohibits mineral resource activity, other than scientific research. Article XXV sets out the procedures for any amendments to the protocol, including amendments to the minerals ban. Clause 6 of my Bill deals with the minerals issue. It prohibits all mineral resource activities--in effect, it bans prospecting, exploration and the exploitation of minerals.
The Secretary of State has the power to grant permits, but only in respect of bona fide scientific research, for example, the important studies into geology and geophysics carried out by the British Antarctic Survey, or for obtaining building materials for the construction of a research station or ancillary infrastructure. Even then, the activities in question must have been the subject of an appropriate environmental assessment and a permit must be issued for that activity to be carried out. The permitting procedure for scientific research is, legally, the most appropriate way to deal with this sensitive matter. It leaves the decision as to what is, or is not, scientific research firmly in the hands of the Secretary of State.
The issue of minerals is particularly difficult, because I understand that it can be very difficult to distinguish between an activity carried out for academic science and one carried out for commercial purposes. The physical activity, such as a drilling operation, may be identical in each case. The critical difference between the two lies solely in the purpose, the intent, for which the activity is being carried out.
The determination of whether a particular activity is undertaken for scientific reasons is best done by the Secretary of State, in the light of all available information. I am confident that, under the formula in the Bill, the integrity of Antarctica will be ably safeguarded from potential mineral exploitation by United Kingdom nationals without prejudicing the ability to carry out important scientific research there.
Thirty years ago, the Antarctic treaty parties introduced, under the treaty, agreed measures for the protection of Antarctic flora and fauna. In their time, those measures were the toughest international wildlife regulations and they have stood the test of time. The protocol has done no more than refine those earlier regulations. The Bill will ensure strict protection for Antarctic wildlife--far stricter than corresponding wildlife law in the United Kingdom. Anyone who saw the recent BBC wildlife series, presented by Sir David Attenborough, called "Life in the Freezer" will have been captivated by the sheer spectacle of Antarctic penguins, seals and whales. It was a most memorable series and the proper conservation of those internationally important wildlife resources is clearly important. The Bill will make it an offence for any United Kingdom national to disturb, take or kill any mammal or bird in Antarctica. It will prevent them from undertaking commercial sealing or whaling operations in the Antarctic treaty area, although I hasten to add that none is foreseen.
Provision will be made, however, for a permit to allow wildlife to be taken for scientific purposes on the understanding that the guidelines set out in annex II of the protocol will be adhered to. Those stipulate that no more animals or plants should be taken than are strictly necessary. Clause 16 sets out a reporting procedure on the
Column 564permit which, together with the exchange of information under the Antarctic treaty, should ensure more than adequate transparency to the permit scheme.
Mr. Corbyn : The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the appalling abuse of the international whaling convention by Japan, which consistently takes thousands of whales on the pretext of scientific research. They end up on diners' plates in restaurants in Tokyo and elsewhere. I understand the intentions behind the Bill, but is the right hon. Gentleman certain that the same appalling abuse will not be perpetrated in Antarctica under the guise of scientific research, which is a thin disguise for commercial activities ?
Mr. Jopling : Again, the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a danger. I share his anxiety about the cover of so-called science which has protected so many whaling activities around the world in recent years. The hon. Gentleman may recall that, in a former incarnation as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I was responsible for those matters. The British initiatives over the years to control whaling have played a major part in trying to stop pseudo-scientific whaling. I hope that the Minister will say a little about it when he responds. It is a real danger because it is a matter of interpretation of the protocol. I hope that, through the International Whaling Commission, we shall continue to work hard to stop that pseudo-scientific activity.
Clause 8 prohibits the introduction of non-indigenous animals and plants into Antarctica, except under permit. So the dispensation under which sledge dogs could be used in Antarctica is now almost impossible to justify. They are no longer a vital form of transport in Antarctica. The last three countries to use huskies in Antarctica have all arranged for their dogs to be removed by April. I understand that the 14 sledge dogs that we left at the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera station were airfreighted out of Antarctica this week and will be repatriated in the Hudson bay area of Canada. The House will be pleased to know that they will be kept and used there as a team.
Annex V of the protocol has rationalised the existing plethora of protected areas in Antarctica into two types of sites. The Bill will make entry into Antarctic specially protected areas, referred to as "restricted areas", illegal except with a permit issued by the Secretary of State. Under clause 11, similar provisions will extend to scientific sites set up under the convention on the conservation of antarctic marine living resources to monitor seals, sea birds and penguins.
At first glance, part III may appear to be a strange insertion in a largely environmental Bill, but it is intended to deal with the jurisdictional lacunae. Some five sixths of Antarctica is claimed by some state or other, but one pie slice lying between 150 deg. west and 90 deg. west longitude has never been claimed by any country. While the treaty is in force, no country can claim it. In contrast to the British Antarctic Territory, there is no territorial jurisdiction whatever in that sector of the continent. To ensure that UK nationals who may work in or visit that area are properly subject to law--not just the environmental law under the Bill--the whole of United Kingdom criminal law should apply to UK nationals in that sector. The Bill similarly extends UK jurisdiction to observers and exchange scientists and their accompanying staff
Column 565designated under the convention on the conservation of antarctic marine living resources. Those two provisions are required by both the treaty and the convention.
A miscellany of clauses deals with offences, proceedings, regulations, entry into force, and repeal of existing legislation. We intend that the two existing pieces of Antarctic legislation--the Antarctic Treaty Act 1967 and the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989--should be repealed. The former would be totally repealed and the latter repealed leaving only one section dealing with jurisdiction with respect to proceedings under the law of the British Antarctic Territory.
I hope that the House agrees that the aim and content of the Bill are laudable. Antarctica may be a far-away land of which we know little, but it is an enormous land mass and we are becoming increasingly aware of its importance. To ensure its long-term protection, we must give it our urgent attention now. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : I am delighted that we are having this debate and that the Bill has been introduced. I fully support it because it represents the culmination of a lot of effort by many people for many years to change the regime and attitudes towards Antarctica. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on the content and drafting of the Bill and the fact that we are now debating it. I confess to having a long-term love affair with Antarctica, which has always greatly inspired and interested me, and I was due to visit Antarctica when the Gulf war broke out. I had to return to the House and oppose the Gulf war, which pleased neither Front Bench, but that is life. The history of Antarctica and the current feelings towards it are interesting. It has been a place of inspiration to many. We cannot say that Captain Cook discovered it because we do not know who may have gone there previously, but he certainly made people in this country aware of it. His writings show that he was concerned about preserving its wondrous flora and fauna. Much later, Charles Darwin did exactly the same. They recognised that it was a place of wonderment, amazement and research from which we can all gain a great deal of knowledge. That is the main thrust of much of the Bill. Antarctica has also inspired many other people and it would be wrong to debate it without referring to its impact on British life and literature. The wonderful epic poem by Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", is partly based on the voyages of Captain Cook and his knowledge of what went on at that time.
I shall briefly quote the part of the poem in which, after the ancient mariner has left his port in the northern hemisphere and has been driven south by the strong winds, there is this wonderful description :
"And now the Storm-blast came, and he
Was tyranous and strong :
He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.
With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head...
And now there came both mist and snow,
Column 566And it grew wondrous cold :
And ice, mast high, came floating by
As green as emerald."
The poem goes on to decribe the horrors of the cold and the later part of the voyage.
There has also been a sordid side to the history of Antarctica--the rapacious attitude of, initially, northern nations and, more latterly, southern nations towards the whale and seal populations there. There has been the appalling destruction of the whale population and the brutality of the whalers, shown in the methods used to kill whales. There has been the near extinction of the blue whale, a 160-tonne mammal which is so big that an elephant could stand on its tongue. The blue whale was destroyed wantonly and totally unnecessarily, often for wasteful purposes.
I honestly believe that if people could understand the intelligence of whales and the communication that they have among themselves, they would not allow whaling to continue for one moment longer. I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred to the role of the International Whaling Commission and to the need for the protection of whales in the Southern ocean. It will take centuries, long after we are all gone and forgotten, for the blue whale population to get back to even a fraction of what it was in its heyday, and the same applies to the other whales. I strongly believe that we must end whaling once and for all, in all parts of the world. Many nations, such as Norway, Japan and the former Soviet Union, have told lies about the number of whales they have taken. Those lies are utterly to be deplored and we must once again reaffirm our commitment to a total ban on whaling. Whales are extremely intelligent creatures ; they can communicate, they have a sense of family and they have a sense of responsibility. We should recognise that.
There has been an uneasy relationship between commercial interests and scientific interests in Antarctica. Many have recognised the potential for genuine scientific and environmental research in Antarctica for many years. The early expeditions by Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton and others recognised the value of Antarctica as a place of research and a place of interest for all of us. The Fuchs expedition in 1957, international geophysical year, paved the way for the Antarctic treaty of 1959, which was a very important document. I was only 10 years old in 1959, but my mother told me about the treaty. We were at the height of the cold war and it would have been logical for the militarisation of the Antarctic to develop then. Indeed, bases were placed in the Antarctic during the second world war because some people realised that it had military potential. In that sense, the 1959 treaty was a remarkable document in declaring the Antarctic a non-military zone of peace. I am not saying that no base has ever had a miliary impact-- most of them have such an impact in some sense or another--but the fact that the zone of peace principle is on the face of the treaty has at least meant that there cannot be any military activity there, although I am sure that some of the "scientific" uses have really been for military purposes. Once again, we need to reaffirm that the Antarctic should never be used for any military purpose. Such use could lead to serious threats to the area's ecology, ecosystem and environment.
All those issues came together when many of us strongly opposed the Antarctic Minerals Bill. I shall not repeat the arguments, save to say that it must be understood that the Antarctic ecosystem is very fragile. Antarctica is a
Column 567dry continent ; there is little precipitation. The snow that falls is wind blown and wind drawn for the most part. Antarctica is a place where, if rubbish is left, it remains. If dog faeces are left, they remain. If oil pollution occurs in the ocean, it remains ; it does not biodegrade as quickly as it would in a warmer, more northerly climate. Those factors must be borne in mind in the tight definition of who can act and what they can do within the Antarctic. We must pay an enormous tribute and give great credit to Greenpeace and others around the world who have done so much to expose the nature of the Antarctic bases, the way in which rubbish has been strewn around the place, and the fact that many nations have refused to remove their rubbish and have done quite unnecessary building work around their research stations. I remember the great dispute with the French over the building of their base and the arguments about the development of one of the British bases. The work of Greenpeace and the visits to Antarctica by the replacement Rainbow Warrior--after the French blew up the first one--have succeeded in drawing attention to the way in which some of the bases are run and have forced countries to clean up their act and take their rubbish home. That is an important aspect of the matter.
I did not support the Antarctic Minerals Bill and I was very pleased when, eventually, the Foreign Secretary confirmed in an answer to me last November that he would ensure that legislation was introduced to repeal the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989. Although I congratulate the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale on introducing the present Bill, I believe that it should have been a Government Bill. However, at least the Bill is here and we are getting it through ; that is the important point.
I congratulate those who have drafted the Bill : it is forward looking and unambiguous in its content and the spirit of the Bill will have widespread support. It is especially commendable and important that jurisdiction under the Bill covers the whole Antarctic treaty area south of the 60th parallel- -not only the continental shelf, but all land, water and ice below that parallel. The Bill's commitment to prohibiting oil and mineral exploitation, except for the purposes of genuine scientific research, is also important. I understand the wording of the Bill and the intention behind it, but I believe that we must be extremely careful here. Those of us who opposed the Antarctic Minerals Bill did so because we recognised that once one allows exploration to take place for any minerals, whether oil, zinc, manganese, gold or coal, of which there are probably large reserves under the Antarctic, a commercial value is put on the continent and on the potential for exploitation. As surely as night follows day, exploitation would happen at some point.
It is interesting that world public opinion--and I mean genuine public opinion--came together to oppose the idea of mineral exploitation of the Antarctic. It forced the Australian and New Zealand Governments to change their view. Commendable work was done in Santiago in Chile around that time to achieve the intention of stopping exploitation and to look towards the idea of a world scientific park in the Antarctic. The public opinion to which I refer was world wide. Ordinary people all around the globe could understand the importance of preserving this amazing continent in perpetuity, which would help the rest of us to understand things a bit more deeply.
The Bill is also to be commended for including the permit system and controls on entry to and exit from the
Column 568Antarctic. It should not be difficult to police those provisions, but some resources will be required. A will to do it and, above all, the co-operation of other countries is required.
The open commitment to prevent any commercial whaling or sealing in the treaty area is also welcome and important. The seal population has grown quite a lot and has recovered quite well and in some areas has overtaken the whale population as the consumer of krill. It is important that people do not look on the fish reserves of the Southern ocean as something that can be plundered in the way that the fish stocks of so much of the north have been plundered, causing us to try to conserve them. The krill are there to maintain the ecosystem. If the krill are taken or if large stocks of fish are taken, not only from below the 60th parallel, but from areas near there, there will be a serious problem for the ecosystem of the whole region. We must ban all whaling and sealing in the region in order to allow those wonderful mammals to breed and, hopefully, to regain their former numbers, although I suspect that in the case of the great whales it is a vain hope and is unlikely to happen. I hope that the Minister can assure us today on the need for a strong diplomatic offensive among the 26 signatories to the treaty to support fully what is happening and to ensure a new approach to the Antarctic. Above all, we must encourage other nations to support the treaty's provisions, sign the protocol and support the protection of the Antarctic. If 26 countries fully endorse all the provisions to protect and control the environment of the Antarctic, but a few do not and decide to put illegal bases in the unclaimed part of the territory and exploit and break the rules, sanctions will have to be applied against them.
It is not just a matter of sanctions, but of understanding and accepting that the world has moved on and the Antarctic does not exist merely to be exploited. The need for a serious and strong diplomatic offensive around the world is important. Greenpeace has done much to heighten world-wide awareness of the Antarctic. It is a two-way process--popular demand combined with Government-to Government relations will, hopefully, protect the Antarctic for ever. I should like the Minister to tell us what attitude the British Government intend to take at the Kyoto meeting in Japan, which I understand is in April this year, in terms of launching that diplomatic offensive. The last clause in the Bill states that it will become law at a date to be determined by the Secretary of State, which I assume depends on what happens at Kyoto and other meetings. We need an assurance that the Bill will not be passed only to lie for years on the statute book unimplemented because of insufficient approval from other countries. We need to take a lead. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance on that. I hope that he will also assure us of continuing Government financial support for the activities of the British Antarctic Survey and its fine record of genuine scientific research in the Antarctic.
The environmental message from the Antarctic is absolutely overwhelming. There is no other place on earth where one can drill for a core sample. In the Soviet research base the deepest possible ice-core samples have been drilled. We can check what the water purity was like as long ago as 500 years, 1,000 years, at the time of the Romans, Christ and before. We can see what we are doing to the planet by studying core samples of ice in the Antarctic. By examining the ice and the laying down of air
Column 569pockets in it when it was formed, we can also find out about air pollution on the planet. It is horrific that lead pollution from cars in the United States, Britain, Germany and France as well as other countries eventually ends up in the air around the Antarctic. The discovery by Joe Farman, a member of the British Antarctic Survey, of the problem of ozone depletion was a major breakthrough in the advancement of environmental science. It demonstrated that what we are doing to the ozone layer can lead to the death and destruction of us all. It has already caused serious problems for mammals in the Antarctic region and for sheep in southern Chile and southern Argentina. It has caused skin cancer for people in Australia and New Zealand. It is a terrifying and serious problem. Had that discovery not been made by Joe Farman and the British Antarctic Survey, it would not have been made until much later. We are under pressure to remove all CFCs and ozone-depleting chemicals from production and to prevent their use.
The measurement of the temperature rises that have occurred in the Antarctic shows that, since 1945, the average mean temperature there has risen by 2 deg C--a significant rise. The Antarctic has the largest amount of water locked up in it of anywhere in the world. The Antarctic demonstrates the fragility of the planet and the ecosystem. If we do not use the Antarctic as a place for research, we shall be denying ourselves knowledge that will help us to preserve the planet and what lives on it. The Antarctic can help us to find a sustainable way of living with the environment rather than destroying it. The Bill is important, as is the Antarctic and the message we can take from it. If we do not grasp the opportunity now and ensure that we relay the message that commercial activities and mineral exploitation in the Antarctic are out of court, we shall have failed in our duty.
I understand the wish for tourism but we must control tourism and the numbers of people entering and leaving the Antarctic territory. I can understand why people want to be tourists in the Antarctic. I should love to go there as a tourist and so, I suspect, would many others. The desire to go to the Antarctic is perfectly understandable, but tourism must be strictly controlled. Ill-equipped tourists turn up in unsuitable ships which then get into difficulty and expect British, Russian or French scientists from the various stations to bail them out. Such tourists leave rubbish, pollution and destruction in their wake. The problem is serious and I hope that the Minister can assure us that, at the Kyoto meeting, there will be serious discussions about the role of tourism and visitors to the Antarctic, the ways in which the numbers can be strictly regulated, the routes that they can take and what they can do.
It would be awful if, having stopped the killing of whales by whalers and prevented the exploitation of minerals by the repeal of the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989, we allowed pollution and destruction to follow through people going on Cook's tours to look at icebergs. I want people to be able to visit and see Antarctica, but they will have to recognise that the price to be paid is that they must not touch the environment and must take every piece of rubbish home with them and not leave it to rot for future centuries.
The introduction and passage of the Bill allows us to send out a vital message. Popular demand has been far in