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Dr. John Cunningham : Everyone will recall that, on the last occasion that relations between Malaysia and Britain were at a low ebb, it was because of the policies of the present Government, so we take no blame for their mismanagement of our relations with Malaysia. We of course deplore the threat to trade and jobs in this country, as I said at the outset, but we shall take no lessons about threats to jobs from a Government under whom there are still 2.8 million people in receipt of benefits and many more unemployed. For every year that they have been in office, they have had many more people unemployed than the last Labour Government ever had. That is the reality.
May I say to the right hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.] --and his raucous supporters--that it will never be possible to build a successful economy and stable and secure jobs on squalid, if not illegal, deals like this. Of
Column 582course we all need a responsible press in any democracy ; but even more in Britain, we need the responsible conduct of government in the interests of the people.
Mr. Goodlad : This morning, the right hon. Gentleman seems to be rather a late convert to the interests of British workers and British jobs. It has suddenly occurred to him that he should say something about the matter. I am sure that he will not be pleased that unemployment in this country is falling as it is, and that we are doing so much better than our European competitors. It is feeble to complain about what the right hon. Gentleman called "raucous supporters" on this side of the House : I fear that he may be rather embarrassed that he has so little support on his side.
As I said, Britain and Malaysia have worked hard together over the past few years to develop an excellent relationship, with very high levels of trade in each direction. We are determined to preserve that excellent relationship, and we do not expect any assistance from the Opposition Benches.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This statement was most important to me, because jobs in my constituency could certainly be at stake, as it is extremely important in other constituencies, for that reason and for many more. However, the statement was not notified to 3 Dean's yard where my office is and, therefore, not to me. Although I asked the attendant on duty if she knew about the statement, she said that she did not, and nothing came through. Could you look into the matter and ensure that that never happens again, bearing in mind the great importance of a matter like this, and any other statement ?
Madam Speaker : I am sure that the statement has been on all annunciators since 10 o'clock this morning. However, if the hon. Gentleman will let me know the annunciator that he looked at, I will have it examined. I call Mr. Wallace.
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hope the fact that you did not call me on the statement does not mean that you thought that I was not present for it, because in fact I was present at the start.
Madam Speaker : Hon. Members need not raise these points of order. The two hon. Gentlemen I referred to--I will not mention their names so as not to embarrass them--knew exactly whom I meant, and did not rise after I said what I did. We are a little subtle in the Chamber--not very often, but sometimes.
Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Mr. Wallace : I was talking about the welcome steps that the Government have taken to include in the Bill the protection of all mammals, which of course will include whales. I ask the Minister what the position will be with regard to fish, because reference has already been made to the importance of krill, especially in the food chain.
I note in clause 3(2)(b) that the requirement for a permit will not apply to persons who are entering or remaining in Antarctica for the sole purpose of fishing for profit. I think that we are all well aware--indeed, the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, having previously been a Fisheries Minister, will be only too aware of this--of the importance of the conservation of fishery stocks and how difficult conservation can be.
We want to know what arrangements are in place for the conservation of fishery stocks in the Antarctic area. It is clear that a free-for-all would not be in anyone's interest, let alone those of the fishermen who wish to continue to fish in these waters. I turn to some of the specific provisions of the protocol and the Bill. It is clear that the protocol addresses the issue of environmental impact assessments, although they are not specifically mentioned in the Bill. I understand that, in granting permits, the requirement for environmental impact assessments will be a condition attached to the permit. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that. I ask the Minister to indicate just how he envisages environmental impact assessments being carried out. I assume that they will have to be carried out before a permit is granted, and that some presentation will need to be given. Perhaps the Minister could make that clear. Who will determine whether certain criteria have been met and are covered by the environmental impact assessment ? Indeed, will that apply to those who are seeking a permit ? For example, it may be the British Antarctic Survey. We know that an airstrip was built at Rothera station in the late 1980s. At that stage, the requirements for environmental evaluation were gone through.
Will the British Government be the judge and jury on an application from a British Government agency ? That need not necessarily mean that there will be anything improper about that, but we would be grateful for a reassurance about the way in which such applications will be dealt with.
The two areas that are left out of the Bill, which have already been referred to, relate to waste disposal and management. As the hon. Member for Islington, North pointed out, waste is an important issue when the speed of biodegradability is slow. Indeed, Greenpeace must be congratulated on pointing out exactly what damage can be done simply by sewage effluent. Although the Bill does not refer to that, some reassurance that conditions on waste disposal will be part of the permits granted for expeditions would be welcome.
May I enter a caveat about the final part of the protocol relating to marine pollution ? There have been serious oil spills in Antarctica. Having had some experience of dealing with marine pollution in the northern hemisphere and in northern waters, I am concerned that the Merchant
Column 584Shipping Acts, even the international regime that applies under the marine pollution convention, can be weak when it comes to enforcement.
I will not go into all the details, but for some time I have been pursuing with the Department of Transport the case of a Greek vessel which was photographed and videoed discharging garbage into northern waters contrary to the MARPOL convention. Basically, it is now accepted by the Department of Transport and the Foreign Office that little can be done to bring those responsible to account for that, because of lack of evidence or because it appears that the international regime is weak when it comes to enforcement. We want the means of enforcement strengthened when there are incidents of marine pollution, particularly in Antarctica.
All hon. Members who have spoken have mentioned tourism. The useful brief provided by the research staff in the Library gives a figure from the United States Natural Science Foundation. The foundation projected that it expected some 8,460 United States tourists in the 1993-94 season. I thought that was a very precise figure. I share the view that has already been expressed, that there is a great attraction to going to Antarctica--I would like to go there myself some time. Equally, there is concern that, if tourism got out of hand, it could do considerable damage to a very sensitive biological and wildlife area.
It is clear that the protocol is intended to deal with tourists. It is clear from the Bill that any tourists wishing to travel to Antarctica, either on their own or as part of a group, will require a permit. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have a policy for restricting or otherwise controlling the number of United Kingdom citizens who wish to visit Antarctica, and the kind of conditions that they envisage will apply to British tourists to that part of the world.
As to the granting of permits--many parts of the Bill relate to this--I hope that we can have a commitment to openness, especially when permits are refused. It would be useful for those who have had a permit refused to know the reasons why it was refused. In one sense, that might discourage repeat applications, if it were clear that a policy or pattern were emerging, and that there were certain kinds of expeditions which clearly the Government were keen should not take place, perhaps for good reasons. It would be helpful if that was all above board.
Non-governmental organisations, such as Greenpeace, may want to mount expeditions to see whether everything is going on in Antarctica as we have been assured that it ought to, and that the requirements and treaty obligations are being fulfilled. One would hope in those circumstances that such organisations would be permitted to go, and it would be useful to have some guidance on that.
Mr. Corbyn : The hon. Gentleman is on to an extremely important point. There is a danger of abuse with any system where there is no appeal. If the Government, or any Government, felt that the presence of Greenpeace was not conducive to that Government's interests--never mind the interests of the natural environment--they might refuse a permit. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there should be some type of appellate system ?
Column 585"for appeals against the revocation or suspension of permits", it does not appear to make any provision for appeal against the refusal of a permit. Perhaps that important area could be examined in Committee.
I am sure that amendments could be tabled so that the matter could be discussed in Committee, because that is a valid point. No one at this stage is suggesting bad faith--least of all in a Bill for which there seems to be lot of commitment to achieving the objectives of the environmental protocol --but some openness when permits are refused, combined with an appeal system, would give reassurances. I raise one final point of detail about the Bill, as someone with a qualification in Scots law. It is clear that those who have drafted the Bill have been cognisant of the fact that Scots law does differ, and specific provisions are made for Scottish partnerships. I note that clause 21 states that, where a UK national does or omits to do anything in the given area which would have constituted an offence under the law of any part of the UK if it had occurred in that part,
"he shall be guilty of the like offence as if the act or omission had taken place in that part".
Under which jurisdiction or which law would that apply ? I will take a hypothetical example. Suppose that, in three or four years' time, a person is found in possession of cannabis in that area. We know that the Home Secretary is proposing a maximum fine of £2,500 in England and Wales, whereas a Scottish Office consultation document brought out last week proposes a fiscal fine of £25. There is a world of difference, and I would like to know which jurisdiction would apply in such causes.
That is a fine legal point, but we should always be on guard in the House when dealing with the historic basis of Scots law, to make sure that it is not automatically subsumed into a different legal system. The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale stated that the Antarctic treaties were models of international co-operation. That certainly has been proved during many years. Following the breakdown after the lack of ratification of the minerals agreement, a new regime was quickly put in its place. That is a tribute to all the participating countries, and it is a recognition of the global importance of Antarctica.
It is also important that the area has not become a place of competing political interests ; above all, it is important globally for the scientific research which can be undertaken there. Issues such as global warming and the ozone layer are critical to all humanity, and it is important for us to preserve perhaps the only genuine wilderness area left in the world.
I am glad that the Government appear to have given a commitment, and the Bill embodies it. I am sure that the Bill will have a warm welcome, and I wish it a speedy passage through the House.
Mr. Gerald Malone (Winchester) : It is widely recognised that when we deal with private Members' legislation in the House we often have a more interesting time than when we deal with other matters. That is certainly true this morning.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), not only on
Column 586picking this measure, but on moving its Second Reading so well in the House today. He is a very wily right hon. Gentleman. Many hon. Members know that private Members' legislation can occasionally be a trap. On being selected in the ballot, it is tempting to secure a measure that is perhaps provocative. It sounds exciting at the time, but one lives to regret it. One may provoke constituents, and there can be a huge mailbag. There can be all sorts of difficulties on the Floor of the House and a tedious time in Committee.
My right hon. Friend has managed to select a piece of legislation for a part of the world which is far removed from his constituency. He has no constituents there who will write to him to complain about it. The penguins, whom the legislation will doubtless benefit, cannot correspond with him. They cannot even write to congratulate him on his measure.
My right hon. Friend is wily because he got there before I did. I would probably have selected his measure, but I was obliged to go for a different measure which also appears on the Order Paper today. It is perhaps a shame that my right hon. Friend's Bill dealing with Antarctica does not address the problem that I attempted to address with the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill, because the problem will still apply.
If a tribunal in Antarctica were to sit and the chairman had not been appointed by the Lord Chancellor, that tribunal would not come within the ambit of the parliamentary commissioner, as currently happens in the United Kingdom. That would be a problem not only in Britain, but in Antarctica as well. The other measure before the House today would be of great benefit to my right hon. Friend's Bill because it would increase scrutiny on an exceptionally important point.
The main concern of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration--I am sure that it could be extended to the area covered by my right hon. Friend's Bill--is social security appeals tribunals, and there may be some scientists who work for us in the Antarctic to whom this would apply
Mr. Malone : I shall, indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point I am making is that those people who perhaps fall within the need for the parliamentary commissioner would find it important to have my measure applied there also. I have made my point, and I will not attempt to engage in a different Second Reading debate for another measure. Although Antarctica is remote, we have heard thoughtful speeches from my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and from the hon. Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) which have emphasised that it is in many other senses extremely close to home. That is not just because it is a part of the world in which Britain has always had great interest. We were instrumental in discovering Antarctica and in getting it recorded in geography and history. Since then, Britain has taken a great interest in exploration, and we have participated with many countries
Column 587in scientific experiments there. These have all been of great benefit. There has been a history of co-operation in an area where there could well have been conflict.
The House should note a rather interesting lesson. Competing claims have been made on that continent by many different nations, but we have managed its affairs to the extent that there has been no real conflict. We have quietly left the problems on one side and got on with the business of ensuring that scientific research is carried out properly and in an ordered way. It is important that the measure is introduced now because there was a great risk if we did not do so that, having been in the forefront of co- operative work with other nations in the Antarctic and having been the first country to sign the protocol, it would look as though we were laggards. I understand the pressure of parliamentary time on introducing legislation which may not appear to be in the forefront of the public interest or the public's mind, but I am glad that we now have the opportunity to put it right. I welcome my hon. Friend's Bill for that reason. As right hon. and hon. Members have explained, Antarctica is a fascinating place. Not only is it virtually the last wilderness in the world but it is the place where 70 per cent. of the world's fresh water supply exists. The penalty for not getting right our policy on a part of the world that is such an ecological jewel would be high. I read in my research for the debate the rather interesting if somewhat nerve-wracking point that if the Antarctic ice shield melted the water level across the world would rise by some 65 m. It would not be possible to have a debate in the House on the consequences of such a disaster, should it occur, but it is a serious matter because the consequences of getting our policy wrong in Antarctica would affect all of us, no matter how far we may be from it, and we can already see changes happening.
We can see what has happened during the development of the industrialised world from the ice cores that have been taken from Antarctica. We have seen two things. One is the problem of lead pollution which, surprisingly, has already reached that subcontinent. The hon. Member for Islington, North mentioned that. He did not mention, but I shall, that the ice cores also show that since the developed world moved to unleaded petrol, the problem has improved. So we see the consequences of an irresponsible policy but we can also map out in Antarctica what happens once we put those policies right. Our policy is important from not only a scientific point of view and in terms of lead pollution. Most of the studies on holes in the ozone layer take place in Antarctica. It is the right place for it. I am not one of those people who believe in the Armageddon theory of what might happen if holes appear in the ozone layer from time to time. Let us remember that it is only 20 years or so since the phenomenon was observed. I am not at all certain that we are seeing it for the first time in our history. Perhaps added research in places such as Antarctica will tell us whether ozone holes are a passing phenomenon that we should ignore or a permanent difficulty that we must tackle. The mood now is that the phenomenon must be tackled. That is probably the right judgment. However, continuing work by our scientists in Antarctica will tell us whether it is a permanent problem or merely something that occurs from time to time. Much other work is done in Antarctica. The protection of that work, the need to ensure that it continues in an unpolluted atmosphere and the regard that we must have
Column 588for wildlife there is paramount. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale deal with the matter of controls. When I read the Bill I was concerned that the terms of the permits to be issued for a range of activities were not set out in primary legislation. I came to the early and perhaps uncharitable conclusion that that was to avoid difficulty. I thought that the permits might not address the regulatory framework in the way they should. I was worried that they might not be tight enough and that we might be getting away from our obligations under the protocol. I was therefore extremely pleased to hear my right hon. Friend set out the reasons for that.
I accept entirely that a wide range of circumstances can affect the permits that will be granted to scientists to carry out work. The permits will affect the ways in which waste is dealt with and environmental impact studies. I am persuaded by my right hon. Friend's speech that those matters can vary from time to time. It is important to have flexibility in the arrangements. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will comment on that. I hope that he will be able to confirm that the spirit in which the Government approaches the framing of the permits will be tight rather than lax. I hope that the Government will set firm standards which match the protocol. If we could have that undertaking from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, I should be extremely grateful.
Tourism has been mentioned. I have a feeling that the 8,000 or so--a very precise figure was given--tourists that it is estimated will go to Antarctica from the United States are but the thin end of the wedge. I do not object to such tourism. The more people who are able to experience at first hand the wonders of a continent that have been displayed only in literature or on television for most people, the better. They should be able to do so. Both the hon. Member for Islington, North and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said that they would like that to happen to them. Perhaps a Select Committee trip may beckon. Who knows ? If normal relations can be resumed with the Opposition, perhaps we can agree that Select Committee trips can be made. Antarctica would be a rather good destination so that Select Committees could see for themselves and perhaps suggest to my right hon. Friend how best the excellent measures in the Bill could be monitored and secured.
Mr. Malone : My right hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion. He has suggested that the Standing Committee which will consider the Bill should go to Antarctica so that it can conduct its affairs at first hand. I rarely volunteer to serve on Standing Committees. I long ago learned that if one speaks on Second Reading one perhaps expects to serve on the Committee. My right hon. Friend enforces the view that a visit to Antarctica would be the ideal way for the Standing Committee to gain first- hand experience on this important matter.
I return to the issue of tourism. I hope that when the Government consider the implementation of the Bill they will keep in view the voluntary organisation of tour operators that has come together to regulate tourism to Antarctica. It may work or it may not. Tour operators who are not a party to the voluntary arrangements can easily get round them if they suddenly decide that there is an opportunity to exploit. I hope that there will be constant
Column 589monitoring of the rules and regulations that the voluntary organisation applies. It is important that we get it right. I do not suggest that tourists take with them a stick measuring five metres so that they always know whether they are five metres or more from a penguin that they happen to come across, but I am concerned about the conditions under which tourism is conducted.
For example, the type of vessels used must be appropriate. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Islington, North. He is right that thin- hulled vessels sailing in those waters are a menace. We must ensure that there is no likelihood of increasing tourism being brought to Antarctica at the expense of an increasing risk of pollution and damage. Tourism also poses a risk to those working on scientific experiments in Antarctica. If a difficulty arises and people need to be rescued, those carrying on scientific work in the area are obliged to come to the rescue. It is a waste of their resources and energy and we should not ask them to bear that risk.
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks) : In support of that point, does my hon. Friend agree that so often it is the sheer volume of tourism that damages the environment ? Although relatively few tourists may go to Antarctica, the likelihood is that they will concentrate in particular areas and, therefore, the damage could be great.
Mr. Malone : My hon. Friend is right. Although the statistic may not be 100 per cent. accurate, I think that I am correct in saying that only 2 per cent. of the Antarctic land mass is ever free from ice. The scientists congregate in those areas and they are also the dropping-off point for tourists, which is why there are waste disposal difficulties.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) that it is important that the context within which tourism can take place should be established very early on. Antarctica must not suddenly become fashionable in the way that fashions for other resorts come and go. It must not suddenly become the done thing to up sticks and go to Antarctica. While one cannot deny anyone's right of access to one of the most fascinating parts of the world, any regulatory mechanisms must take great care to consider the arrangements made for tourists when they get there and their numbers. My hon. Friend is right--pressure of numbers is the real problem. Mineral exploitation is also important and the Bill is clearly designed to deal with it in the firmest possible way. I welcome the fact that we have moved on from the stage where the legislative structure for the Antarctic could have permitted mineral exploitation. Now it does not. Enforcing the protocol in legislation here will be an important step towards ensuring that Antarctica is a no-go area for such exploitation.
I am not so sure that mineral exploitation was a very great risk. Those wishing to extract minerals--for example, hydrocarbons in the shape of oil or whatever--would face almost insuperable problems. It is not easy to extract minerals from a sub-continent where the ice sheet is 5 km deep in some places. It has not been possible to get ice cores for examination from any deeper than 2.5 km, so there is a technical problem and I am not certain that massive exploitation of minerals was ever a likely or feasible proposition in our lifetimes. However, it is good that we have decided to ratify a protocol which will stop it
Column 590entirely, as it helps to press the case for protecting the Antarctic environment in this country and elsewhere and I welcome that.
I hope that once the Bill reaches the statute book, which I trust it will do in good order and in good time, the Government will make every effort to ensure that other countries which have signed the protocol but not yet enshrined it in their legislation will do so as that is important. I hope that our Government will send out the message that, after a short delay, we have enacted the protocol and it is time for others to act as well.
I hope that we shall continue our commitment to scientific research in Antarctica and that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister will deal with that in his speech. The costs of scientific experimentation can be reduced in many ways. Two stations in Antarctica, which were previously manned, are now automatic. Such investment, which ensures that costs are trimmed wherever possible but guarantees continuing experimentation, is an important way to ensure that money is well spent. It would be a great shame if we withdrew our scientific efforts in an area where we have always had the greatest interest and been able to take a clear lead. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to assure the House that our scientific efforts in Antarctica will continue.
I must reinforce something that the hon. Member for Islington, North said about wildlife. He was right to cite the problem of commercial exploitation under the guise of scientific
experimentation. What has happened in the whaling industry is a disgrace. Some countries have clearly ignored the undertakings that they gave and have gone in for commercial exploitation on a grand scale, under the thin veil of scientific experimentation. There are lessons to be learnt from that--we must ensure that once the protocol is implemented nothing similar can happen and that we create an exploitation-free zone.
One example where we must be on our guard is in dealing with the seal population, which requires culling from time to time. Experiments with culling and its effects on seals and on the balance within the mammal population have taken place in many nations, not merely in Antarctica. I am concerned that there should be no commercial exploitation of such culling. There is one way to guarantee that : when a scientific decision has been taken that scientific experiments or culling exercises are required because it is in the interests of the mammal population, there should be no commercial exploitation of that decision. Otherwise, I fear that scientific experiments will be the crutch on which commercial exploitation can rest. We have seen that happen before and are forewarned, so it is important that when we implement the treaty and the protocol we remain forewarned and make every effort to ensure that nothing of that kind can happen again.
Antarctica is one of the places from which we can observe our future. In many ways it is vital to the way in which we manage the global ecosphere. We can have summits in Rio, but it is what we are able to observe in places such as Antarctica that will eventually tell us whether our policies are successful.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale has done an excellent job in introducing the Bill, which has been well drafted and matches the protocol in just about every particular, and he has explained that those elements of the Bill that do not entirely reflect the protocol will be set out in permits granted once it is enacted. It is an excellent effort.
Column 591My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale has a great interest in wildlife, not only in Antarctica but also in this place. He has been the author of three pieces of private Members' legislation and a report designed to protect parliamentary wildlife as effectively as the Bill and the treaty will protect the wildlife of Antarctica. There is a better prospect, however, of the protocol being enforced in Antarctica than of his measure to protect parliamentary wildlife coming to fruition. That is a great pity. The benefits of this legislation for the penguin population are one thing. The benefits of my right hon. Friend's other report are greatly needed for the wildlife in this House and I trust that not only the Bill will be enacted but that he will be successful in his other efforts.
Ms Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : The Labour party welcomes the Bill and wants it to proceed as smoothly as possible through its parliamentary stages. The all-party support that it has received is clearly shown in the list of sponsors, which includes the shadow Foreign Secretary and shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, as well as other prominent Members of the House. I also note that the Bill received strong approval from the Liberal Democrat party in the speech by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I congratulate the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on his success in winning a high place in the ballot and on his choice of subject, the protection of Antarctica. Since I am sure that he is confident of the Bill becoming law in due course, I am sure that it will be part of his parliamentary record on which he will look back with considerable pride in the future.
As I have said, the Labour party welcomes the Bill. The fact that the Government want the Bill to be enacted is a matter of satisfaction to the Opposition, because we believe that it represents a vindication of our long -held views about the need to ensure the highest degree of environmental protection for Antarctica. Despite the achievement of the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale in introducing the Bill, I, too, regret that it had to be introduced through the private Member's procedure. Many of us believe that the Government should have taken the opportunity to introduce the Bill themselves at the earliest opportunity. Many people had expected and hoped for the Bill's inclusion in the Government's programme, because the Madrid protocol has been awaiting ratification since October 1991. One wonders what would have happened if the right hon. Gentleman had not had the wisdom to sponsor the Bill when he won a place in the ballot. I hope that we would not have had to wait much longer before a similar Bill was introduced. Now that the Bill has been introduced, the Government must give it their full support quickly so that it reaches the statute book soon. The Bill has been introduced in an atmosphere of consensus and all-party agreement, which I welcome. Many of us, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), will remember that the last time that a Bill concerning Antarctica was discussed, it was much more controversial. The Antarctic Minerals Bill was debated forcefully by both parties some three years ago. Throughout its proceedings Labour Members consistently argued that it was inappropriate. They argued that, at best, it would be impossible to implement because other
Column 592signatory countries to the Antarctic treaty would veto it and, worse, that it could be seen as giving encouragement to commercial forces interested in exploitation of the Antarctic. That Bill showed up the fact that the Government's green credentials were not nearly as good as they should have been.
I put it on the record that throughout the proceedings on that Bill, the Labour party spoke strongly in favour of Antarctica being given permanent protected environmental status as a world wilderness park. We continue to hold that view and it is a goal that we would advance in government.
Having read the debates on the Antarctic Minerals Bill in the House and in Committee, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who took part in those debates for their foresight and commitment to the environment and to Antarctica. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, who spoke knowledgeably and with great feeling this morning, was a member of that Committee as were my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). I am sure that they are all pleased that today's Bill is being considered. They will be greatly relieved that it will make it impossible for mineral exploitation and mineral resource activities in particular to take place.
In 1989-90, the Government seemed to view with some concern the activities of the Governments of Australia and of France. Our Government saw them as trouble makers, who broke the consensus on mineral exploitation and testing. I believe that those Governments were motivated by the highest environmental concerns and I am glad that, in the end, it is their view that has prevailed.
Throughout all the debates on Antarctica, what has been of great encouragement to us all has been the concern that our constituents have shown for the continent and the protection of its environment. It has been heartening to realise the depth of the environmental commitment of many of our constituents. Like many other hon. Members, I was lobbied by constituents, written to and presented with petitions about Antarctica. The importance of its environmental protection is obviously something about which people feel strongly. There was widespread recognition of the unique importance of the Antarctic environment, the research carried on there and of the knowledge about world environmental problems that that research is capable of bringing to light.
Although concern about the environment expressed by groups and interested constituents is important in this country, it is also important in other countries. For example, the work of the Cousteau Foundation in France was important in getting the French Government to adopt a certain attitude about three years ago.
I echo the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) in paying tribute to the research work carried out by the British Antarctic Survey. I know how important that work is. Hon. Members have already mentioned, understandably, the relationship between that research and knowledge about the ozone layer and the hole in it which was discovered over Antarctica. I wish that some of that research had been better funded. The hon. Member for Winchester said that two of the five stations would be unmanned from 1995 to 1996. The excellent paper produced for Members by the House of Commons Library notes :
Column 593"The bases are closing because the BAS cannot afford the necessary £5 million to make each conform to Health and Safety standards." I hope that that is not some false economy, which we will regret in the long term. Perhaps the Minister could address that when he replies to the many excellent points that have been made by hon. Members.
We have the ice patrol vessel and the research vessel in Antarctica. If I may inject a personal note, I was delighted to be present when the research vessel, James Clark Ross, was launched on Tyneside by the Swan Hunter shipyard. That ship is an interesting example of how modern-day shipbuilding is linked with high technology. In many ways it is sad that Swan Hunter still seems in danger of being closed. I hope that the skills of the managers and the work force at that yard can be used in the construction of similar high-quality vessels in the future. I know that that sentiment is strongly felt on Tyneside, but it is equally important to the nation.
Although I welcome the Bill, I have a number of questions to ask the Minister, to which I hope he will be able to respond. I recognise, however, that there will be an opportunity to consider many of the important issues that have been raised by hon. Members when the Bill is considered in Committee.
The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, SCAR, was mentioned in the Library research paper. Some concern has been expressed about the amount of funding that is necessary to keep that organisation going and in good health. The brief states that SCAR has a budget of only £250,000 a year, which, according to the director of the British Antarctic Survey, is peanuts. Perhaps the Minister can say how the funding of SCAR will be handled in the future. What priority will be given to its valuable work ? The Opposition believe that if that organisation is to exist, it should be allowed to have the funds to carry out properly the functions that it considers to be important. The treaty provides for confidence-building procedures, including exchanges of information about Antarctic activities and on-site inspections. How will that work out in practice and what thoughts does the Department have on that matter ?
Several hon. Members have said that they want other countries to ratify the protocol as quickly as possible. They will be interested to learn from the Government what progress has been made towards ratification. All countries responsible need to ratify the protocol for it to be truly effective. We hope that our deliberations are being mirrored by similar proceedings in the other countries involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North referred to the abandoned UK bases in Antarctica. The Foreign Office said that the British Antarctic Survey had recently reviewed all accessible abandoned UK bases in Antarctica with the aim of removing them, transforming them into refuges, or designating them as historic monuments. Will the Minister update that information and say exactly what is happening in that respect ?
There seems to have been some tension within the United Nations between Antarctic treaty states and states that are not party to the treaty but are concerned about the future of Antarctica. Recent accounts in the press say that the tension has diminished in recent times and I hope that that is so. I also hope that the protocol has been a factor in
Column 594reducing the difficulties. It would be useful to have an update on the position and to know how non-treaty states view the latest developments of the protocol.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned fisheries and the need for conservation measures. It would be useful to have an update of information on that. There is worldwide concern about the reduction of fish stocks in the Antarctic region, including the worrying reduction in the number of krill, and it would be good to know that some of the measures that have been taken are having an effect in renewing those badly depleted fish stocks.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the granting of permits to enter specially protected areas. Again, we would welcome any information which the Minister could give us on the procedures for issuing and refusing permits.
The UK supports the concept of a Southern ocean whale sanctuary, which is of interest to the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. It would be helpful if the Minister would respond on that matter, too.
Environmental pollution still causes great concern. The paper produced by the Library says that
"raw sewage is still discharged into McMurdo Sound, and it is alleged that the harbour there is still polluted with oil." What is the current position and what further measures are envisaged to tackle the problem ?
The comments by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale about the huskies will have interested many hon. Members. I am glad that a solution has been found and that the remote possibility that the dogs are harmful to the environment has been dealt with. I understand that there is now agreement in principle on the establishment of a secretariat for the treaty organisation, although details such as its location have not yet been decided. If we are to ensure that the worthwhile goals of the treaty and protocol are adhered to in future, the problems must be dealt with by a well-established secretariat that can work effectively for the long-term benefits of Antarctica.
Those were my most important questions, but I hope that the Minister will also comment on the likely progress of the Bill's Committee stage and say how he thinks some of the issues will be dealt with in detail. Expert advice and opinion are important. If, at some stage, Committee members can be given such expert advice and opinion and can meet some of the people who will be involved in implementing the treaty and protocol, it would be welcomed by hon Members on both sides.
The Antarctic treaty has been described in a Foreign Office publication on the subject as a "trailblazer" in international law. Let us hope that the trailblazing procedure in Antarctica will spur on other forms of international environmental co-operation and ensure that the international environment on which we all depend is safeguarded in the long term. We hope that the goals agreed at Rio will start to be effectively implemented and that the GATT agreement, which we all welcome, will prove to be sensitive to environmental concerns. Many people have wanted a "greening" of GATT.
Although it is situated at the other end of the earth, the Antarctic's environmental health affects us all. It is proof positive that we are all one world, environmentally speaking. I therefore hope that the passage of the Bill, along with similar and speedy ratification processes in all the other countries involved, will ensure that the Antarctic environment is protected in perpetuity.
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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : I am conscious that the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) is waiting to introduce the important Water (Domestic Disconnections) Bill. There were moments in the speech by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) when I wondered whether she was trying to talk it out. That would be extremely unfair of her. I am very anxious that we should give ample time for discussion of that Bill, so I am imposing on myself a self-denying ordinance that I shall sit down at near enough 12.55 pm. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) may catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, before we go on to the extremely important Bill promoted by the right hon. Member for Salford, East.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on his good fortune in the ballot, on choosing this subject and on introducing the Bill. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for taking on the burden of this complicated legislation. He will have to sustain much of the burden in Committee, to which we all look forward. I say in reply to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East that there will, indeed, be a Committee stage, and that I very much look forward to her presence then.
We are also fortunate in that my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who therefore brings to the subject a lot of specialist knowledge. Incidentally, I agree very much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Malone) said in support of my right hon. Friend's other proposal, which is designed to ensure that the habitat of creatures rather closer to home is not disturbed and polluted beyond a particular hour at night. All of us rally behind that proposal and look forward to its early implementation. Britain unquestionably has special responsibilities in the Antarctic, not the least of those being the British Antarctic Territory, our support, as a consultative party, for the Antarctic treaty system, and our commitment to the long-term protection of the Antarctic environment. For all those reasons, and for the reasons mentioned by many other hon. Members, I commend the Bill to the House.
The protocol to the treaty, with which the Bill is mostly concerned, cannot enter into force until it has been ratified by all 26 Antarctic treaty consultative parties. As far as we know, six states have so far ratified : Argentina, Spain, France, Norway, Peru and Ecuador. We understand that most consultative parties intend to ratify by the end of 1994 or by early 1995.
We cannot ratify the protocol until legislation--the Bill--has been enacted. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and others have asked whether we shall press other states to ratify, especially at the Kyoto meeting. The answer is yes. It is important that all states ratify as soon as may be.
The hon. Member for Gateshead, East mentioned the James Clark Ross. When I was Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, I visited the James Clark Ross on two occasions, and I was extremely impressed by the way in which the ship had been built. It was built extremely expeditiously, and it was fitted out to the highest possible standards. I greatly valued my two visits to the yard.