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House of Commons

Friday 18 January 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Antarctic Bill

Consideration ofBill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Cost-benefit analysis

‘The Secretary of State must lay before the House a cost-benefit analysis of the measures in this Act not later than three years after the coming into force of this Act.’.—(Mr Nuttall.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.34 am

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Amendment 2, page 4, line 19, leave out clause 5.

Amendment 1, in clause 15, page 12, line 19 , at end insert—

‘( ) This section shall apply to designated Historic Sites and Monuments anywhere in Antarctica.’.

Mr Nuttall: I am conscious this morning that families throughout the nation might be tuning into our proceedings expecting to hear us talk about the tragic developments in Algeria, but as Members will know, and as you will know, Mr Speaker, under the Standing Orders of the House, a statement is to be made at 11 o’clock. It is appropriate, then, that we deal now with the private Members’ Bills, the first of which is the Antarctic Bill, and my new clause.

I am grateful that new clause 1 has been selected for debate this morning, because it gives the House the opportunity to consider in more depth the likely consequences of the Bill. This straightforward new clause simply calls on the Secretary of State to lay a report before the House, within three years of the Bill’s coming into force, a cost-benefit analysis of the measures in it. Of course, it is in no way a wrecking amendment and will in no way undermine the basic purpose of this excellent Bill. The only purpose of the new clause is to try to improve the Bill and give the House the opportunity to revisit it in three years to check whether what was intended is actually happening. Assuming that the Bill becomes law later this year, I would anticipate that such a review would take place at the beginning of 2016.

We hear a lot in the House about pre-legislative scrutiny, but sometimes an equally important case can be made for post-legislative scrutiny. Some of the Bills

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we pass never see the light of day. I was amazed when I was elected to this place to find out that some Acts had lain on the statute book for years without ever being brought into force. I hope that that will not be the case with this Bill.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I do not disagree with my hon. Friend’s analysis that post-legislative scrutiny is a good thing, but on this amendment, which calls for a cost-benefit analysis—I have no problem with that in principle—will he make it clear whether the analysis would be for the Government alone or take into account the costs of other people as well?

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, because I realise that it might be unclear. I anticipate that it would be both. It is right and proper that the Government review and explain to the House the costs of the Bill to them and, perhaps more importantly, its effects on private companies, research in the Antarctic and those who want to visit the Antarctic or have their livelihoods there. I anticipate that the cost-benefit analysis would apply to both the Government and private individuals and companies.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful clarification. I think that a more wide-ranging cost-benefit analysis would be more appropriate, given the nature of the Bill. Will he confirm that his cost-benefit analysis would not simply be financial, but would take into account other costs and benefits as well?

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful for that intervention, because it is important not to look at the Bill just in financial terms. We need to look at it more widely. The whole purpose of the Bill is to protect the environment of the Antarctic continent. We cannot assess the value of the Bill just in pounds, shillings and pence, as we used to say—I suppose we would say “pounds and pence” nowadays. We have to look at the overall impact of the Bill and ask whether it is achieving what it set out to achieve, which is to protect the environment of the Antarctic. The thrust of the Bill is to bring into UK law the environmental protection provided by the protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty, so the analysis should be wider than simply a financial analysis.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): Further to an earlier intervention, can my hon. Friend explain exactly how we would measure the benefits under his new clause?

Mr Nuttall: That is a very good point. It would be up to the Secretary of State at the Foreign Office to consider what would be the best way. My view is that we would have to consult the scientists who are there now, at the Antarctic bases, and ask the travel companies that want to carry out tourism in the area. We would also need a wider consultation, because others may be put off from carrying out scientific experiments or visiting as a result of the Bill. We are therefore talking not just about those who are doing good, but about those who might be put off, and whom we will have to contact in other ways. In effect, there might have to be a call for evidence towards

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the end of the three-year period, so that we can assess whether people have been put off—although I will mention that later.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am very interested in what my hon. Friend is saying, but I am slightly concerned that the cost-benefit analysis will be so complex that it will itself have a considerable cost. Then we will need a cost-benefit analysis of the cost-benefit analysis. I hope that that will not be the case.

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful for that intervention. Let me immediately put my hon. Friend’s fears to bed. I do not envisage the report being a weighty tome, involving dozens of civil servants conducting a detailed analysis. Clearly there will be a cost involved—that is patently obvious—but in the long run it is better to have the wider benefits of a cost-benefit analysis than not to conduct one, because the important thing is that the Bill is effective in its purpose. As I said in response to an earlier intervention, we cannot really put a price on that. If the Bill turns out not to be effective, we need to know about it as legislators.

Philip Davies rose

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con) rose

Mr Nuttall: I give way to my constituency neighbour from Rossendale and Darwen.

Jake Berry: Did my hon. Friend consider specifying a longer period than three years? Being a lawyer, like me, he will realise that if an environmental catastrophe was not caused by a third party, things could conceivably still be grinding through the courts after three years. Did he consider having perhaps a six-year period or a rolling cost-benefit analysis? It is not beyond conception that in three years no catastrophe would have happened—we certainly hope it would not—so did he consider other time periods?

9.45 am

Mr Nuttall: Yes, I did. Indeed, I am grateful for that intervention because it gives me a chance to say that I was tempted to have a longer period. If there are problems with the Bill putting people off visiting or carrying out scientific work in the region, we need to know about them sooner rather than later. There might be a case for conducting a further review, because—I will touch on this later—there may well not be an environmental emergency in that three-year period. I sincerely hope that there is not, but that would mean that we were unable to assess the effectiveness of some of the provisions in the Bill, because they are relevant only in the event of such an emergency.

My new clause 1 would give the House the opportunity to check whether the expected benefits of the Bill had become a reality. For example, has there been an increase in the effectiveness and appropriateness of the measures being taken to prevent damage from being caused to the precious Antarctic environment? On the other hand, as I said in response to an earlier intervention, have the measures in the Bill proved so onerous in practice that

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there has been a reduction in the level of interest in the region, in terms of either the number of tourists visiting or the amount of scientific investigations and study of the Antarctic region? I think we can all agree that we do not want the obligations on the scientists studying in the area to be so burdensome that they reduce the valuable work they do there.

Clause 6 requires organisers of activities in Antarctica to secure adequate insurance cover or provide other financial securities, such as bonds or guarantees from a bank or similar institution, to cover the cost of taking the response action set out in clause 1, together with any liability to another party to annex VI to the protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty who takes the response action to an environmental emergency in the event that the organising party does not take such action. It is worth noting that “environmental emergency” in this context means

“an accidental event that results in, or imminently threatens to result in, any significant harmful impact on the environment of Antarctica.”

Fortunately, the schedule to the Bill provides for financial limits to the amount of the liability, which varies depending on whether the environmental emergency arises from an event involving a ship. Unsurprisingly, given the international nature of the agreement, the amount of liability is fixed by reference not to pounds sterling, but to special drawing rights, which is the international currency fixed by the International Monetary Fund. Even allowing for those limits, however, given that the nature of such an environmental emergency is almost unlimited and given the understandable caution of the insurance companies, the cost of providing such insurance might be very high indeed. It could be so high that it prohibited visits from taking place and scientific study from being carried out. I appreciate that that is not the intention of the Bill, but new clause 1 would give the House the opportunity to revisit the matter and assess whether the costs involved in obtaining insurance or bonds were proving an insurmountable hurdle for those affected by the Bill.

As I said in response to an earlier intervention, I am sure we all fervently hope that no environmental emergency would arise during the initial three-year review period. Nevertheless, if such an emergency did arise, the cost-benefit analysis would enable the Secretary of State, and subsequently this House, to assess whether the duty-to-inform obligations contained in clause 7 are effective. Although they are backed up by criminal sanctions, the purpose of the Bill is to protect the Antarctic environment, not to give criminal records to scientists. While we need the criminal sanctions to be in place, more importantly we need the reporting obligations to be effective and to work in practice.

In the event of an emergency, the notification must be prompt. New clause 1 will enable the House to assess the effectiveness of a section 7 duty. I reiterate the point that we all hope that no emergency occurs, so that we will not be given the opportunity to test whether that provision is right.

The Bill is intended to prevent accidental environmental damage from occurring in the first place by imposing on individuals organising activities in Antarctica an obligation to take reasonable preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of an environmental emergency. These requirements are set out in clause 5. They are

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fairly onerous. They set out in some detail what is required of a party organising work in the Antarctic, and costs associated with the carrying out of these measures are inevitable.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend will be aware that I have tabled an amendment seeking to delete clause 5 from the Bill. If I were successful in persuading my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael)and the Minister that clause 5 should not be in the Bill, would that negate the need for the cost-benefit analysis?

Mr Nuttall: I appreciate that if the House decided to accept my hon. Friend’s amendment, clause 5 would be deleted. It is not often that I find cause to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but having considered whether it would be appropriate to delete clause 5, I am not at this stage minded to agree that it would. Having heard my hon. Friend’s persuasive arguments later, I might change my mind—

Philip Davies: I doubt it.

Mr Nuttall: The reality is that the duty in clause 5

“to take preventative measures and make contingency plan”

is at the heart of what the Bill is all about. It makes sense for someone visiting the Antarctic region to do some forward thinking and sit down with a pen and paper to produce a plan relating to what might happen if something goes wrong, bearing in mind that the general thrust of environmental protection legislation in this area is to leave the Antarctic environment completely pristine. Nothing should be left behind at all.

Harriett Baldwin: My understanding is that as a result of this Bill, which I sincerely hope will become an Act during today’s proceedings, we will preserve the British heritage in Antarctica, including the historic huts built by Captain Robert Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. Surely such heritage is priceless; for the purposes of the new clause, how can we put a price on that?

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I think I made it clear in response to an earlier intervention that although we will need to assess the financial costs stemming from the Bill, I anticipate that the review should go wider than the financial effects alone. As she rightly says, we cannot put a price on the Antarctic environment. We need to look at much wider matters; indeed, she touched on the historic sites on Antarctica. I shall return to this issue when we look at my amendment 1, which is designed to protect “Historic Sites and Monuments” that are indeed part of this nation’s heritage and need protecting.

Philip Davies: I want to press my hon. Friend. My last intervention encouraged him to say how much he disagreed with my amendment, but I was not asking him whether he agreed with it. I simply asked whether, if I were able to persuade the House of the merits of my amendment—notwithstanding the fact that my hon. Friend would be in the opposite Lobby on any Division—it negated the need for a cost-benefit analysis. Is clause 5 the reason why we need a cost-benefit analysis? That is the point of my probing question.

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Mr Nuttall: I think the answer to that question is simply this: clearly, clause 5 would add to the size of the cost-benefit analysis, but it would not negate the need for such an analysis. Without clause 5, a whole chunk of the analysis would be swept away. As I made clear in my reply to my hon. Friend’s earlier intervention—again, I may be wrong, and he may be able to persuade me and the House that there are very good reasons for getting rid of clause 5—it seems to me that clause 5 goes to the heart of what the Bill is trying to achieve. While it remains part of the Bill—I hope it continues to do so—there will clearly be associated costs for those who have to sit down, carry out these measures and prepare the contingency plans. Sensible as I think that is, it is also sensible for the House to assess whether it is having an adverse effect on those who want to visit Antarctica and carry out their work there. We do not want the Bill to be counter-productive.

There is another matter for the House to reconsider—

Jake Berry: Before my hon. Friend moves on to that other matter, I would like to put a point to him. There has been some discussion about the necessity of clause 5, which is at the heart of protecting this pristine environment. Times move on. I remember my grandfather telling me how he used to have snowball fights with asbestos fibre and think it was a good thing to do. Given that times move on, would not the cost-benefit analysis provide us with the ability to revisit clause 5 to ensure that we have the strongest possible protection for this pristine environment, to look at the effect of modern technologies and to update the provisions where it was felt necessary?

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is not just about whether the Bill is being too effective in the sense of putting people off visiting; it is also about whether it is effective enough in protecting the environment. Indeed, my hon. Friend has presciently looked at my next point. One measure in the Bill is the exclusion of fishing for profit. By virtue of clause 9(3)(a),

“the activity of fishing for profit”

is specifically excluded. A review would give us the opportunity to reconsider that matter and decide whether it is right to exclude it. Under clause 9(3)(b), the

“activities carried out…on a vessel or aircraft travelling to an immediate destination outside Antarctica”

are similarly excluded. I am sure there are very good reasons for these exclusions, but bearing in mind the tenor of the debate, I find it odd that they should continue to be in the Bill.

Jake Berry: My hon. Friend has identified a key issue. Fishing for profit does not, of course, cover all fishing activities: the Japanese whaling fleet, for instance, fishes for “scientific purposes”—if we believe that. I wonder whether a blanket exclusion of all fishing, whether for scientific purposes or for profit, would provide more protection. Perhaps when we return to the matter in three years’ time we could consider updating the provision if the position changes.

10 am

Mr Nuttall: That is a very good point. The House may well need to reconsider. Every visit to Antarctica carries a risk of environmental damage. Every time a sailing ship visits the Antarctic waters, for whatever

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purpose—tourism, carrying scientists into the area, or fishing—damage is likely to occur. Not many years ago, I think in 2007, a ship sank in Antarctic waters. I may say more about that later. It cannot be said that such things do not happen. Ships do sink in Antarctica, because although they have been specially strengthened, the ice is still powerful. It can still penetrate the defences of ships and cause them to sink. We may well have to look again at these provisions to establish whether they are strong enough.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend appears, whether deliberately or inadvertently, to be moving on to the issue of whether the cost-benefit analysis should focus only on UK nationals and the UK Government or cover anyone who visits the Antarctic, from whatever country, right across the globe. Has he had any thoughts about how wide its focus should be?

Mr Nuttall: My own view is that the cost-benefit analysis would be relevant only to the UK. I think that it would be beyond the scope of the review that I have in mind to deal with matters on a worldwide basis. It might be necessary to adopt a wider perspective, but I thought it appropriate for the analysis to be confined to the effect on British citizens, British-led expeditions and British scientists.

Philip Davies: I understand that, but surely my hon. Friend appreciates its relevance to the international treaties and international obligations that we expect other countries to implement. From a purely UK perspective, the costs might well outweigh the benefit, but if we take account of the obligations taken on by other countries, the benefit would outweigh the cost. Surely we should view this from as wide a perspective as possible.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend has made an important point. Given that the Bill’s origins lie in international treaty obligations, the answer may well be for all the contracting parties to the Antarctic treaty to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. The other contracting parties might use the UK’s review as a model or precedent for a cost-benefit analysis applying to the overall use of the Antarctic.

Philip Davies: Surely the danger of allowing each country to conduct its own cost-benefit analysis is that it would take only one country to feel that, for it, the cost was outweighing the benefit for all of them to start trying to wriggle out of their international obligations, and to be deterred from entering into any future such obligations. Might it not be better for the UK Government to conduct an analysis across the piece?

Mr Nuttall: I understand what my hon. Friend means. There is always the risk, with any international agreement, that at some point in the future one of the member states will decide that it wants to leave. I can think of a situation closer to home in which one of the parties to an international agreement wants to leave, but we will not go into that.

The Antarctic convention is, in many respects, a model of international co-operation. It is many decades since the signing of the original treaty, and over the ensuing decade the number of contracting parties, which

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I think was initially 12, has grown considerably. More countries are now interested in protecting the Antarctic environment. I would hope that the cost-benefit analysis would be conducted in the right spirit, and that it would be a question not just of cost, but of the benefit to the world of continuing to protect Antarctica as it is protected at present.

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made an interesting point about the wider obligations of third-party signatories to the Antarctic treaty. We may have rather lost sight of the fact that the Bill rests on treaty obligations created by the UK, and that it imposes obligations on UK signatories only. Is it not a step too far to require the UK Government to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of all the other countries’ obligations under the Bill if they have absolutely no chance of commanding, or persuading, the other legislatures to do anything other than what is provided for in their own legislation? It seems to me that Government expenditure on a cost-benefit analysis relating to matters that the Government cannot control would not be not a good use of taxpayers’ money.

Mr Nuttall: I believe that if we conducted a cost-benefit analysis in the right spirit, it might serve as a model for other countries, which could look again at their obligations and decide whether they too could improve their interpretation of what was agreed in annex VI, although of course the matter would have to be dealt with on an international basis. The fundamental question is this: is annex VI working? Are we achieving what we thought we were achieving? That would be the purpose of a cost-benefit analysis.

Let me now turn to amendment 1. For reasons that I hope will become apparent, I think it vital for the Bill to make absolutely clear that clause 15 does not apply only to historic sites and monuments on the British Antarctic territory. The clause seeks to amend section 10 of the Antarctic Act 1994, which is very short. Subsection (1) states:

“No United Kingdom National may damage, destroy or remove any part of a site or monument designated by regulations as an Antarctic Historic Site or Monument.”

Subsection (2) states:

“Any person who contravenes sub-section (1) shall be guilty of an offence.”

That is very straightforward and very clear, but unfortunately it is so straightforward and clear that there are no provisos, and there thus is no possibility of permits for repair and conservation work.

The prohibition is based on the provisions of article 8 of annex V to the protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty, which deals with sites and monuments. It states:

“Sites or monuments of recognised historic value which have been designated as Antarctic Specially Protected Areas or Antarctic Specially Managed Areas, or which are located within such Areas, shall be listed as Historic Sites and Monuments.”

Any party could propose a site or monument of recognised historic value that had not been designated as an Antarctic specially protected area or Antarctic specially managed area, or which was not located within such an area, for listing as an historic site or monument. The proposal for listing may then be approved by the Antarctic treaty

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consultative parties, through a measure adopted at an Antarctic treaty consultative meeting. The provisions also state:

“Unless the measure specifies otherwise, the proposal shall be deemed to have been approved 90 days after the close of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at which it was adopted”.

Over the years a number of countries have proposed their monuments, and there are now several dozen sites protected under this legislation.

Unfortunately, the section 10 prohibition may have had the unintended consequence of preventing the appropriate conservation and effective management of these historic sites. For example, it may be necessary for part of a monument, or an object within a site, to be removed in order for it to be repaired. Clause 15 allows for a new system of permits to be introduced that would facilitate the necessary conservation or repair work.

It may be of use to the House if I give some details of the types of site that the clause would cover. They range from simple rock cairns with plaques attached to what are, perhaps, the most famous sites of all: the huts used by Captain Scott in his expeditions of the early-1900s. Crucially, these huts are located not in the British claim area of the Antarctic territory, but on the north shore of Cape Evans on Ross island, which is in the New Zealand claim area. There is often some confusion between Scott’s hut and the Discovery hut. Scott’s hut at Cape Evans was erected in 1911 by the British Antarctic expedition which took place between 1910 and 1913, which was often referred to as the Terra Nova expedition. When Captain Scott was selecting a base for that expedition, he could have returned to his previous hut erected during the Discovery expedition between 1901 and 1904, but he did not do so, first because it was incredibly cold, and secondly because his ship got stuck. He looked for a different site, and established the second Scott’s hut, which is the one to which I am referring now.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that yesterday was the 101st anniversary of Scott’s arrival on the south pole before his first expedition, so this is an historic time?

Mr Nuttall: No, I was not aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to the attention of the House. It is, perhaps, appropriate that we are discussing these matters today. It is almost impossible to imagine the conditions Scott and his companions had to endure, but the hut still standing today gives us some idea, and it seems amazing that they were able to carry out these expeditions.

Mr Speaker: Order. For the avoidance of doubt—we would not want to mislead anyone outside the House—may I say to the hon. Gentleman that the fact that this debate coincides with that anniversary is a matter of serendipity, not parliamentary organisation?

Mr Nuttall: It is, indeed, fortuitous.

10.15 am

Jake Berry: My hon. Friend talks about the unintended consequences of the 1994 Act. That point highlights why we should discuss this amendment in some detail, in order to ensure that historic monuments are protected. Does he agree that if a cost-benefit analysis of the 1994

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Act provisions had been conducted, we might have avoided the need for this amendment as we might have changed the legislation in good time, thus ensuring that we could preserve our historic monuments in the Antarctic?

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes a very good point that supports both my new clause 1 in proposing that a cost-benefit analysis be conducted, and my point about having a review. Section 10 of the 1994 Act did not work as intended. We found that in practice it was counter-productive and had unintended consequences. The historic huts, which are enormously important in the history of our nation, could not be protected as intended.

Scott’s hut at Cape Evans was abandoned in 1917. However, there are, of course, consistently sub-zero temperatures there. We can get some idea of what that might be like by simply stepping outside this morning; it was, perhaps, appropriate that it was snowing when I walked into the House today. Because of those sub-zero temperatures, the hut’s contents are remarkably well-preserved even to this day. The hut remained untouched until 1956 when American explorers excavated it from the snow and ice. Although, sadly, some items were removed—perhaps as mementoes—most of the artefacts remain in place. At various times since the 1970s the United Kingdom and our friends in New Zealand have undertaken to restore the hut. Unfortunately, however, bacterial decay is still occurring and there are concerns that the fabric of the hut is being affected by fungal decay. Both Scott’s hut and Shackleton’s hut are included on the watch list of the 100 most endangered world monuments.

There is evidence that these huts need to be repaired. As I have said, they are not all in British Antarctica; they are spread over the entire Antarctic continent. Permits need to be granted, therefore. I am grateful that my amendments have been selected, and I hope I have persuaded the House to agree to them.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I will be as brief as possible, as there are other Bills that we want to debate today, and this Bill has already been fully discussed on Second Reading and passed through Committee with no amendments. The Bill has the full support of the Opposition. It builds on the work of the previous Government, who published a consultation and draft Bill in December 2009.

I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on his new clause 1 calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the measures in this Bill. His response to an intervention asking which costs and which benefits he proposed to measure was unclear and vague, however. As the hon. Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) has said, the Bill implements the annex to the Antarctic environmental protection treaty. It is important that we are committed to doing that and putting it in place as soon as possible. There is a danger of sending out completely the wrong signals if we are already questioning, at this stage, whether this Bill is really of benefit.

I am in some ways reluctant to encourage the hon. Member for Bury North to speak at any more length during today’s proceedings, but does he think that the analysis would be conducted with the possibility of repealing the Act? As I said, the UK has made a

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commitment to the treaty and it is important not only that we are among the first to ratify the annex and to incorporate it into domestic law, but that we send out the signal that the UK is absolutely committed as a responsible guardian of the environment. We should not be seen as weak on this issue.

Mr Nuttall: I want to make it clear that I do not envisage, in any way, a cost-benefit analysis leading to the repeal of the Act—far from it. If anything, the legislation might need to be strengthened. The last thing that any of us would want would be for the Act to be repealed as a result of such analysis.

Kerry McCarthy: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification.

Obviously we have to keep a close eye on the costs that are incurred in any legislative measure, particularly at a time of austerity, but I am not sure how quantifiable these costs and benefits would be. Immeasurable environmental benefits arise from this move; the benefit for future generations of protecting the natural environment in the Antarctic and preserving the continent for scientific research cannot be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis on a financial basis. So, again, I question whether the hon. Gentleman is going down the right path in suggesting that we should have one. Nor can we measure the effect of this Bill on the UK’s foreign relations, but it is clear that the Falkland Islands Government and others believe that the Bill, once passed, will help to uphold the UK’s position in the region and the UK’s tradition of strong leadership in respect of the Antarctic. Again, we need to send out a strong signal in that regard.

I have a few questions about the other amendments. It is entirely sensible that the Bill should contain a requirement that people organising activities in Antarctica should take reasonable preventive measures and make contingency plans to avoid an environmental emergency. I do not see why the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) does not think that such a provision is appropriate, but we will hear from him in a moment. I think it is entirely reasonable to expect these people to take preparatory measures, and I simply do not understand why clause 5 should be removed. Preventive measures are included in article 3 of the liability annex; the subsections requiring contingency plans relate to article 4. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would clarify whether he does not want the UK to implement the annex in full. Alternatively, does he not believe that any party should sign up to this?

I would also be grateful if the Minister would advise us on the extent to which organisers already comply with the preparatory measures. In Committee, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for East Devon (Mr Swire) explained that the existing permit process includes an environmental assessment and contingency planning. I would be grateful if today’s Minister would clarify that.

Philip Davies: First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on getting his Bill to this stage, as it is no mean achievement to get a private Member’s Bill through to Report. He should be

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commended for the customary skill he has deployed in ensuring it has got this far. I do not think anybody in the Chamber today wishes to bury or scupper the Bill; everyone’s motive is, if anything, to improve the Bill. We all wish the Bill well and we are grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing such an important piece of legislation, which is particularly appropriate for the private Member’s Bill route.

I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for once again giving us his insightful views. I also commend the way he critically looks at pieces of legislation. The absolute role of people in Parliament is to scrutinise legislation and make sure that what we put on to the statute book is fit for purpose. To be perfectly honest, without my hon. Friend, many private Members’ Bills would fail the test of proper scrutiny, so he should be once again commended for the way he introduces amendments.

I have tabled only one amendment to the Bill, which, as the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) made clear, relates to clause 5. I intend it to be a probing amendment, and I am hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and the Minister will be able to explain exactly why the clause is necessary. I should make it clear that the reason I propose leaving out clause 5 is not because I do not agree with what it contains; the necessity for the clause is the point of dispute.

I am certain that if the Bill were starting from scratch in terms of protecting the Antarctic, clause 5 would be an essential part of it; my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North said that clause 5 went to the heart of the Bill. But what we are doing in this piece of legislation is, as is stated at the back of the Bill, making

“provision consequential on Annex VI to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty”

and amending the Antarctic Act 1994 in the process.

Clause 5 implements articles 3 and 4 of annex VI—the liability annex. Subsection (2) places a requirement on people who are organising activities to be carried out in Antarctica and which are connected with the United Kingdom to take

“reasonable preventative measures designed to reduce—

(a) the risk of environmental emergencies arising from those activities, and

(b) the potential…impact of such environmental emergencies.”

The requirement must be fulfilled before the person carrying out the activities enters Antarctica, as is set out in subsection (6). Subsection (7) makes it an offence not to comply with the requirement, while subsection (9) establishes that any offence under subsection (7) is punishable by a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both if the person is convicted on indictment. On summary conviction the person may be liable to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, which is £5,000 at the moment but that could be amended. Subsection (3) gives examples of preventive measures that could be taken, including specialised equipment, procedures or training.

Subsection (4) places a further requirement on people organising these activities to make contingency plans for responding to environmental emergencies and other incidents with potential to have adverse impacts on the

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environment of Antarctica that might arise from their activities. Again, the requirement applies only to activities that are

“connected with the United Kingdom”,

as is made clear in subsection (1). That requirement must also be fulfilled before the person carrying out the activities enters Antarctica. Subsection (8) makes it an offence not to comply with that requirement and subsection (9) establishes that any offence under subsection (8) is punishable by a maximum of two years’ imprisonment, a fine or both if the person is convicted on indictment. The same statutory maximum £5,000 fine applies on summary conviction.

Subsection (5) provides examples of what a contingency plan may contain, including plans for taking response action to an environmental emergency or other incident and for informing the Secretary of State of its occurrence. Clause 13(9) defines activities connected with the UK as activities that are

“organised in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or a British overseas territory”

and are to be

“carried out on a British expedition, within the meaning of the Antarctic Act 1994”

or require a permit under that Act.

Mr Nuttall: All those matters to which my hon. Friend has just referred are taken almost word for word from annex VI. The whole purpose of the Bill is to enact in UK law what is said in articles 3 and 4 of the annex. If we removed clause 5, we would destroy a substantial part of the Bill and its whole purpose.

10.30 am

Philip Davies: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I ask him to allow me to make a little progress. He might well be right; he is absolutely right to say what he does about the Bill implementing annex VI. Nobody can doubt that. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain in some detail why the Bill is necessary, given the requirements that are already in place under the 1994 Act. The whole point of that Act was to implement the previous five annexes. We are not starting from scratch; we are building on what is already in place.

The 1994 Act already makes it an offence for a British expedition to enter Antarctica without the approval of the Secretary of State and a permit is required for any member of a British expedition unless they have one from another contracting party to the treaty. A British expedition can include non-UK nationals, but to be British it needs to be organised in the UK or to have the UK as its place of final departure. I believe that would include places such as the Falkland Islands, of course. Specific permits are issued for particular activities, such as the taking of flora and fauna and the introduction of non-native animals or plants. Permits are not needed for ships or aircraft travelling on to an immediate destination outside Antarctica or fishing vessels unless they are linked to an expedition. The permit requirements for British expeditions entering the Antarctic were introduced through the 1994 Act, which implemented the Antarctic treaty’s protocol on environmental protection and its various requirements, covering matters such as waste disposal and marine pollution.

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The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides a comprehensive guide to the requirements for an expedition to Antarctica on its “Planning an expedition” page. What is more, it states:

“All permit applications must be accompanied by a completed Environmental Impact Assessment.”

That is already on the FCO website, which I have taken the liberty of looking at and printing off for the benefit of this debate. It makes it quite clear that:

“All permit applications must be accompanied by a completed Environmental Impact Assessment.”

It has a whole section on environmental impact assessments.

Mr Nuttall: Is it not the case that the FCO has included those provisions on its website and ensured that visitors abide by them because the UK signed annex VI and we have regarded ourselves as being bound by it since 2005?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend might well be right and I look forward with interest to what the Minister has to say on that point. I do not doubt that the Minister is a good man, and very sensible, and I am sure that there are particularly good reasons why the clause is necessary. I am not saying that the Minister has got this wrong and that we should delete clause 5 as a result. My amendment is a probing amendment, as I suggested at the start of my speech, to identify why we need the clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North is more of an expert on these matters than I am—I am a mere layman, but as a layman it was interesting to me that these provisions already seemed to be in place and it seemed that we were, in effect, double legislating and reinventing the wheel.

The advice on environmental impact assessments that is already on the Foreign Office website states:

“Please note we will not normally authorise activities for non-scientific purposes which are likely to have more than a minor or transitory impact on the Antarctic environment.”

The thrust of my argument is that the measures in clause 5 are perhaps already in place. Let us look at what is already in place. Annex I to the protocol is already in legislation as part of the 1994 Act. It is all about environmental impact assessments. When we talk about how important they are and say that that is why clause 5 is necessary, it seems to me that that argument is based on the fact that we are starting from scratch when we are not.

I do not intend to read out annex I—I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you would neither wish me nor allow me to do so—because it would take an awful lot of time, which I would not want to take. If anyone were to read annex I to the protocol on environmental protection, they would see that it is pretty comprehensive. It states that itself and I am not in a position to doubt it.

George Hollingbery: I am not a lawyer, unlike a good many colleagues in the House today. Are the offences specified in clause 5, particularly the penalties detailed in subsections (8) and (9), already specified in a previous Act or are they enactments of punishments that may be used if the Bill is passed that would otherwise not be available?

Philip Davies: To be perfectly honest, my hon. Friend has got to the heart of my amendment. That is not particularly clear. The Bill might go further or the provisions might already be covered—I am not entirely

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clear. That is the purpose of my amendment: I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify what is covered by existing legislation and what, if anything, is new and necessary. It might be the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North suggested, that what we are putting into legislation today is needed to encourage all the other signatories to catch up with the UK Government. I genuinely do not know, which is why I think that amendment 2 is a useful probing amendment to allow the Minister to make it abundantly clear why we need this clause.

Annex V to the protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty, which is already in place, is about area protection and management. That seems to me to be covered by clause 5. Annex V contains several definitions, including (a), which is of an appropriate authority, (b), which is of a permit, and (c), which refers to a management plan. That seems to me to encroach totally on the territory of clause 5. Annex V states:

“‘Management Plan’ means a plan to manage the activities and protect the special value or values in an Antarctic Specially Protected Area or an Antarctic Specially Managed Area.”

It seems to me, particularly from what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North was saying, that that is exactly what clause 5 seeks to do, yet the provision is already part of the 1994 Act.

The objectives in annex V—I reassure you, Mr Speaker, that I am only picking out highlighted parts of this, and I do not mean to go through the whole thing, but it is relevant to the point I am trying to make about why we need this clause—

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Mr Speaker will be the judge of that.

Philip Davies: Absolutely, and Mr Speaker is very capable of making those decisions without the hon. Gentleman’s help.

Article 2 is about the objectives of annex V and states:

“For the purposes set out in this Annex, any area, including any marine area, may be designated as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area or an Antarctic Specially Managed Area.”

It goes on to state:

“Activities in those Areas shall be prohibited, restricted or managed in accordance with Management Plans adopted under the provisions of this Annex.”

Article 3 goes on to discuss Antarctic specially protected areas and article 4 is about Antarctic specially managed areas.

Mr Nuttall: My reading of annex V is that it refers to the protection of areas, rather than to the planning of visits to the area. That is the difference between annex V and annex VI.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right in that regard, but as I said, the 1994 Act already requires environmental impact assessments and people require the permission of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before they are allowed to go to the Antarctic. My hon. Friend is right in the detail of what he is saying but, as a layman, I do not see how that affects the current arrangements because, I would contend, the FCO already has the relevant powers.

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When annex V, which is covered by article 5, refers to management plans, it states in some detail what a proposed management plan should include. I certainly do not intend to take lots of time reading out what is covered, but I recommend that people look at annex V, as my hon. Friend clearly has, and read article 5 on management plans. I think everyone would agree that it is pretty comprehensive and detailed.

Seeing that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is in his customary place, I certainly would not want to argue for unnecessary legislation, and I am sure he would berate me if I did not try to point out that this clause may be unnecessary. That goes to the heart of my reason for tabling my amendment. It may well be that there are very good reasons that make it necessary; but equally, it may well be covered by the existing legislation.

10.45 am

Jake Berry: Earlier, my hon. Friend referred to the new clause including places such as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Has he made any inquiries of the Government about whether the existing legislation would cover those? The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are, of course, popular places to base holiday companies because of their beneficial tax status. He will be aware that in 1993, fewer than 9,000 people visited the Antarctic area on holiday. Now the figure is approaching 26,000. Does he think that the clause is necessary to pull in those holiday companies who are attempting to exploit the Antarctic for commercial gain?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point. That may well be an alternative explanation for why we need clause 5. My understanding is that those places are covered by the existing legislation, but my hon. Friend may well be right and I am sure we all wait with eager anticipation to hear what the Minister will tell us, so that we can all satisfy our curiosity on that point. I have no doubt that he has a good explanation.

Hon. Members may well conclude that because all these provisions are already covered, it does no harm to put them in again, because they are already in there anyway, and if this chivvies other countries along to fulfil their obligations, no harm will be done. That may well be the case. If that is the explanation, I would not have a problem with that; but it has not been made clear to us exactly why the clause is necessary, which is why I tabled my amendment.

I briefly want to touch on the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North. I certainly do not intend to talk about amendment 1, which he went through in considerable detail; his expertise on that clearly exceeds mine. It seemed to be a rather technical matter, and certainly above my knowledge level. But I do want to discuss new clause 1, which would require a cost-benefit analysis.

There are issues, which emerged during my hon. Friend’s speech, about what we mean by a cost-benefit analysis. Would such an analysis reflect the Government’s costs and benefits? Would the costs of individuals from the UK be covered? Should it be more internationally based? There might be a negative cost-benefit analysis to the UK, but a different result might be produced if everyone else’s costs and benefits were taken into account.

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Although there are issues about that, I do not believe they are insurmountable. I felt that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset was uncharacteristically defeatist in thinking that the cost-benefit analysis could become so bureaucratic that it would need its own cost-benefit analysis in order to be justified.

I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North is on to something, because what the Bill sets out clearly, and the reason for this legislation, is that the Government know exactly what they are trying to achieve, so it is not unreasonable for someone to review it a few years down the line. My hon. Friend said three years—I do not know whether that was an arbitrary figure, or whether there was any science behind that choice. I took his point that if there is a flaw in the legislation, it is better to know sooner rather than later. I thought that was a fair point. I do not know whether every three years might have been a better amendment in the sense of the ongoing point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) made, which I think was fair. Anyway, it should not be beyond the wit of people to take a look—it need not be bureaucratic or expensive—at whether the Bill’s aims and objectives have been met, and without prohibitive cost. That would be perfectly reasonable, and I do not think it should be confined to the legislation before us. The Bill might set a trend for conducting that level of post-legislative scrutiny.

Jake Berry: My hon. Friend is talking about a cost-benefit analysis. Would it not be better to talk about a benefit analysis? The shadow Minister asked, “How can you put a price on protecting the most pristine, unspoilt environment we have?” I think that is a valid point; I do not think that we can. But my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) said that the 1994 Act had not done what it set out to do, which was to protect historic monuments. Should we not focus on the benefit test, rather than pricing up environmental protection, which I do not think is possible?

Philip Davies: That is a fair point. I do not have a strong view. I do not see the harm in doing a cost-benefit analysis. It may well be that people wish to focus on the benefit part; I would not have a problem with that. But that is not my point. My point is that if we are passing legislation for a specific purpose, there should be a duty on the Government to review it at some point in the future; whether it is three years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North suggests in his new clause, or whether it is a different time scale is a matter for debate, opinion and judgment. I would prefer to talk about the principle, which is that when the Government pass legislation and tell the House that its purpose is to do such-and-such and this is why it is important and so necessary, there should be a mechanism to see at a future date whether they were accurate in their analysis—whether it has done what it said. I know that Ronseal is a topical metaphor to use at the moment, but Governments should check more often whether the legislation does what it says on the tin. I see no great harm in that. I do not see why the Government should rail against it.

Oliver Colvile: Does my hon. Friend think that we could look at introducing sunset clauses into legislation much more readily, so that we can identify whether something has been successful? If it has not been successful, then get rid of it and start again.

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Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point. There are different ways of doing these things. Perhaps there should be a combination of both. The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, which passed through this House not long ago, had both, owing to an amendment that I tabled. It had a review that took place after three years; it also incorporates a sunset clause whereby, after five years, the Act would expire and would have to be brought back again if it was seen to be worth while. So I think my hon. Friend is on to something. But of course, it would be difficult to justify a sunset clause without a cost-benefit analysis to help us decide whether we wished to extend the legislation or wished it to expire.

Jake Berry: May I caution my hon. Friend against overuse of the Ronseal test? Of course, Ronseal is based in the Deputy Prime Minister’s city of Sheffield. May I remind him that we have Crown Paints in Darwen in my constituency, which are more than capable of doing what they say on the tin? So there is not just Ronseal; other paint types are available.

Philip Davies: As a south Yorkshire boy originally, my allegiance is more to Sheffield than it ever would be to Lancashire. The wars of the roses never ended, in my book. I am afraid my hon. Friend is on a loser with me on that point, but I give him every credit for plugging his own constituency. It is not his fault that it is on the wrong side of the Pennines.

I know that we are coming up to the statement and I do not want be cut off in my prime by the Prime Minister, who has to come to the House on a more sombre matter to go through something that is far more serious and important. Our hearts go out to everybody who has been affected by that incident.

There are some legitimate points for my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud or the Minister to take on board and respond to. I urge them both to set out why clause 5 is necessary. They may say that it is not necessary but it does no harm, which I will accept, but if their point is that clause 5 simply does no harm, perhaps they could explain what harm would be done by encouraging a cost-benefit analysis to be carried out, as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North in new clause 1. Either these things are harmful or they are not. If they are not harmful, let us do them both, and if neither is necessary, let us do neither. It would not be right for the Government to cherry-pick one and say, “Let’s do it because it does no harm,” but also to say, “We won’t do the other one that does no harm because it is not necessary.” That would be a contradictory step for the Government to take.

On that note I conclude my remarks. I hope I have reassured people about the motives behind my amendment. It is not to seek to destroy the nature or detail of the Bill, but to question in a probing fashion why it is necessary. I expect the Minister will be able to reassure me so that I am able to withdraw my amendment.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): First, I should tell the House that I have been to the Antarctic through the British Antarctic Survey and the Foreign Office. That should be noted as an interest.

I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friends for tabling some useful amendments so that the Bill can be properly scrutinised and tested. It is an important piece of legislation and requires appropriate parliamentary consideration.

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Philip Davies: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. With reference to my amendment, it would be interesting to know whether he had to do an environmental impact assessment when he visited the Antarctic, so that we can tell whether this is already a requirement.

Neil Carmichael: That is something I shall have to consult on. I personally did not have to do an environmental assessment, but I shall come to an aspect of that in connection with clause 5.

It is slightly ironic that my constituency, Stroud, is covered in snow, as other constituencies will be, and here we are, discussing the Antarctic.

I shall comment briefly on each amendment and put on record my own views. I tend to think that cost-benefit analyses are unnecessarily bureaucratic at the best of times, but the Bill is financially neutral anyway. That is the first point to make. Secondly, the thrust of the Bill is to encourage operators to behave properly, especially in planning for their activities. The idea is therefore to avoid problems, rather than counter them. The Bill’s overall direction of travel is to encourage that additional responsibility. I know that many operators are already responsible, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) noted, there have been some accidents, when ships collided with one another or sank completely.

Philip Davies: Surely my hon. Friend would accept that if a cost-benefit analysis took place, we could see whether the Bill had had the impact that we all hope for. If it had not had that impact, that could encourage further measures to be taken much more swiftly than if no cost-benefit analysis took place.

Neil Carmichael: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention, but the idea is to ensure that people behave responsibly, and we will be checking that. Clause 5 contains various punitive measures if people do not conduct themselves in an appropriate way. That is likely to be a more effective measure of the outcome of the Bill. Furthermore, the Bill sets out a large number of measurement structures, and these are well addressed in the annexes, to which our attention has already been drawn, so I do not believe that new clause 1 is necessary.

Mr Nuttall: I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said. Does he not accept that, as I said in my remarks, the issue is not just about pounds, shillings and pence? It is also about ensuring the Bill’s effectiveness. Does he not agree that it would be sensible to review the Bill to see whether it is as effective as both he and I would like it to be?

Neil Carmichael: The real demonstration of the effectiveness of the Bill when it is enacted will be when other nation states implement similar legislation. It was

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an implicit part of the original treaty that we should all enact legislative measures to ensure that the measures agreed in the treaty are enforced through domestic law. The real success of the Bill is the leadership role that it demonstrates. Britain is taking a leadership role and saying to other nation states, “We want you to do the same.” When they start doing the same, that will be the real measure of success.

Mr Nuttall: On that point, is my hon. Friend able to update the House on how many of the other contracting parties have ratified the treaty?

Neil Carmichael: Indeed. Seven parties have already done so, which is exceptionally good news. They include countries as diverse as Peru and the Netherlands, so we are making good progress. Our action is the right one to ensure that we are not just building on, but underlining our leadership role. That is why I believe new clause 1 is not necessary, although I accept the sentiment. It is right to make sure that the Bill is scrutinised and tested in the future.

I shall turn my attention now to amendment 2 and the future of clause 5. One of the reasons why I mentioned my trip to Antarctica through the British Antarctic Survey is that while I was there and in preparation for the journey, I noted just how difficult the processes are to cover all the risks that one could encounter. That is why clause 5 is necessary. We have to insist, through legislation, that preparations are properly made and that people understand the risks involved in visiting Antarctica. By insisting that clause 5 remains in place, we are effectively saying, “Look, this is a matter of some importance. The necessary legislation is in place, and if you don’t do what is required of you, measures will be taken against you.”

Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend accept that under the 1994 Act and the measures already in place, that can already happen? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has the ability to give permission or otherwise to people going to Antarctica, and environmental impact assessments must be carried out before they travel. I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, but it does not explain why we need the clause when those provisions seem to be part of the 1994 Act.

Neil Carmichael: That is a good point. However, environmental assessments are one thing, but making preparations to visit a continent as brutal—pristine and vulnerable though it is—as the Antarctic can sometimes be is quite a different matter. Although an environmental assessment is necessary in many cases, including for such visits, it is very important to make sure that operators, visitors and others make every preparation in the proper way.

Proceedings interrupted (Standing Order No. 11(4)).

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11 am

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the hostage crisis in Algeria and the tragic events of the past three days. I am sure the whole House will share my disgust at and condemnation of the brutal and savage terrorist attack that has been unfolding in Algeria. Our thoughts and prayers this morning are with those still caught up in this incident, with their families who are waiting anxiously for news, and with those who have already lost loved ones.

I have this morning chaired another meeting of the Cobra emergency committee and have just come from speaking again to the Algerian Prime Minister. Let me take the House through what we believe has happened, the steps we are taking now, and what this means for our security and the fight against terrorism around the world.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, terrorists attacked a gas installation run by BP, the Norwegian company Statoil, and the Algerian company Sonatrach at In Amenas in south-eastern Algeria near the Libyan border. The terrorist group is believed to have been operating under Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a criminal terrorist and smuggler who has been operating in Mali and in the region for a number of years and who has been affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Maghreb.

In Amenas is some 18 hours by road from the capital, Algiers. It is in the middle of the Sahara desert and one of the most remote places in the world. As a result, it takes time to get a complete picture, and the full details are still emerging. But according to the information we have from the Algerian authorities, the terrorists first attacked two buses en route to the In Amenas airfield before attacking the residential compound and the gas facility at the installation. It appears to have been a large, well co-ordinated and heavily armed assault, and it is probable that it had been pre-planned. Two of those travelling in the convoy to the airfield were very sadly killed, including one British national, and his family were informed on Wednesday. A number of other workers were taken hostage by the terrorists in separate locations both at the residential compound and at the gas facility. The precise numbers involved remain unclear at this stage, but the hostages included British nationals, along with nationals of at least seven other countries, and of course many Algerians.

As soon as we heard of the attack, we initiated the Government’s crisis management procedures in both London and Algeria. Our most immediate priority was to establish the identity and whereabouts of British nationals, to contact their families, and to do everything possible to secure their safe return. I chaired a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, Cobra, and I spoke to the Algerian Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon and then on three further occasions.

From the outset, I have been clear about our implacable opposition to terrorism and said that we will stand with the Algerians in their fight against these terrorist forces, but I also emphasised the paramount importance of securing the safety of the hostages. I offered UK technical and intelligence support, including from experts in hostage negotiation and rescue, to help find a successful resolution; and I urged that we and other countries affected should be consulted before any action was taken. I also spoke

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to the leaders of other countries which had hostages taken, including Japanese Prime Minister Abe, Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg, President Hollande and President Obama, and I co-ordinated further offers of support for the Algerians in dealing with the situation.

During the course of Thursday morning, the Algerian forces mounted an operation. We were not informed of this in advance. I was told by the Algerian Prime Minister while it was taking place. He said that the terrorists had tried to flee, and that the Algerians judged there to be an immediate threat to the lives of the hostages and had felt obliged to respond. When I spoke to the Algerian Prime Minister later last night, he told me that this first operation was complete but that this is a large and complex site and they are still pursuing the terrorists and possibly some of the hostages in other areas of the site. The Algerian Prime Minister has just told me this morning that they are now looking at all possible routes to resolve this crisis.

Last night the number of British citizens at risk was fewer than 30. Thankfully, we now know that that number has been quite significantly reduced. I am sure the House will understand why, during an ongoing operation, I cannot say more on this at this stage.

Our priority remains the safety of the British nationals involved, the repatriation of those killed, and the evacuation of the wounded and freed hostages. A rapid deployment consular team is en route to Algiers, together with other specialists, and the Algerian Prime Minister has agreed to my request to grant access to our consular staff to fly south as soon as possible to support those involved. I have also spoken to Bob Dudley at BP both last night and again this morning. We are liaising closely on BP’s evacuation plans and have put additional civilian aircraft on standby to assist it with its well-thought-through evacuation plans if needed.

We need to be absolutely clear whose fault this is. It is the terrorists who are responsible for this attack and for the loss of life. The action of these extremists can never be justified. We will be resolute in our determination to fight terrorism and to stand with the Algerian Government, who have paid a heavy price over many years fighting against a savage terrorist campaign. This is a continuing situation, and we will do our best to keep Parliament and the public updated. We hope that this will reach a conclusion shortly. There will then, of course, be a moment to learn the necessary lessons. I commend this statement to the House.

11.7 am

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me say to him on behalf of the Opposition that the Government have our full support as they respond to these appalling and tragic events. I thank him for keeping me informed over the course of the past 24 hours or so.

I start by echoing the Prime Minister’s words in offering our deepest concern and sympathy to the families and loved ones affected by this shocking act of terror. The thoughts of the House and the country will be with the family of the British citizen who has died and all those families enduring the uncertainty of waiting for news of their loved ones.

Alongside Algerians and other foreign nationals, those involved are British citizens seeking to earn an honest living far from home and their families. It is appalling

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that innocent, decent people have been targeted in this way. There is not, nor can there ever be, any justification for the taking of hostages. Those who planned and are responsible for this attack must be in no doubt that Britain, along with the international community, stands united in condemnation. As the Prime Minister said, it is the hostage-takers who bear the responsibility for these events, and we must do everything in our power to bring them to justice.

I appreciate that the operation on the ground is ongoing and so the Prime Minister is obviously restricted in the information he can reveal. Bearing this in mind, I would like to ask him some questions. First, the families of those affected will need support and care at this difficult time, so will he assure the House that all necessary support will be provided, either directly here or through our consular services in the region, to the families of those affected?

Secondly, there are a number of other such foreign-owned installations of this kind in Algeria and the wider region. Will the Prime Minister provide some information to the House about how the Government are working with British companies to review the security situation at these facilities?

Thirdly, given that this incident happened in an isolated part of southern Algeria, what is the Government’s advice for UK nationals working, living or travelling in Algeria or the wider region?

Fourthly, at this early stage, what information is the Prime Minister able to share about the motives of the terrorist cell responsible for this attack? More broadly, will he set out the Government’s assessment of the level of threat posed by groups connected to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb operating in the region? Had there been any indication of an increased threat from these groups?

Fifthly, does he agree that this attack, alongside the events in Mali, is the latest indication of a still growing security threat in north Africa and the wider region? Does he recognise that this demands intensified international collaboration, intelligence-sharing and diplomatic activity focused on this part of the world?

For now, all efforts must be centred on resolving this ongoing crisis and ensuring the safety of British citizens. For the families concerned, this is a dark and difficult time. The whole House stands united in support of them, and the thoughts of the whole country are with them.

The Prime Minister: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and his words. He is right that there is no justification for this hostage-taking and we will continue to do everything we can to hunt the people down who were responsible for this and other such terrorist outrages. I will take his questions in turn.

First, it is vital that the families get all the support possible. Police liaison officers are attached to each family and can keep them updated with any additional or new information. BP is obviously doing everything it can to provide support as well. BP has made an important statement this morning, which sets out what it has done to repatriate BP staff from Algeria. Three flights left Algeria yesterday, carrying a total of 11 BP employees.

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We are providing a back-up service to ensure that if there are gaps in what BP is able to do we can fill them.

The right hon. Gentleman’s second question on the security of other installations is vital. We are co-ordinating urgently with British and western oil companies in the region about their security in the light of this incident. All installations in Algeria are on a state of high alert and additional security measures will be put in place where necessary. We have also taken precautions to ensure the security of diplomatic posts in the region, and have given them advice.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions travel advice. That is an important issue. We continue to advise against all but essential travel to Algeria. We also advise against all but essential travel to areas within 450 km of the Mali and Niger borders, and within 100 km of the Mauritanian border. The travel advice has been updated to read:

“A serious terrorist attack has taken place near the town of In Amenas near the Algerian border with Libya… The Algerian security forces have subsequently conducted operations in the area.”

It remains a very dangerous, uncertain and fluid situation.

The motives and precise identity of the terrorists are always difficult to determine at such an early stage. What we know is that the terrorist threat in the Sahel comes from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which aspires to establish Islamic law across the Sahel and northern Africa, and to attack western interests in the region and, frankly, wherever it can.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly asked about the growth of the threat from this part of the world. It is growing and is rightly a focus for us and other countries. Just as we have reduced the scale of the al-Qaeda threat in parts of the world, including in Pakistan and Afghanistan, so the threat has grown in other parts of the world. We need to be equally concerned about that and equally focused on it.

I hope that I have answered the right hon. Gentleman’s questions. There is a great need for not just Britain but other countries to give a priority to understanding better and working better with the countries in this region. The Government held a National Security Council meeting quite recently on this area and I have appointed my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O’Brien) to be a special envoy to the region. The region obviously has a great French influence and many contacts with France, but we believe that it is important in our own national interest to thicken and improve our contacts with these countries. We must do that as part of the lessons to be learned from this exercise.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions and the way in which he put them. It is difficult to answer further questions, particularly on numbers, but I will keep the House and the country updated.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): The Prime Minister will recall Churchill’s remark that north Africa is the “soft underbelly” of Europe. Does he agree that that is true today, and that al-Qaeda-inspired or directed terrorism is as much of a threat to the people of this country and of Europe as to the unfortunate people who live in that region? Given that the United Kingdom traditionally has not had a strong presence in this part

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of north Africa, will the Prime Minister agree that there is a powerful case for a much stronger political, diplomatic and intelligence effort in the region, as part of a co-ordinated strategy with our European and American allies, and the wider international community?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend is right in both regards. Those who believe that there is a terrorist, extremist al-Qaeda problem in parts of north Africa, but that it is a problem for those places and we can somehow back off and ignore it are profoundly wrong. This is a problem for those places and for us. We need to be absolutely clear about that, particularly in our support of the French action in Mali, where it is vital that we do not allow an al-Qaeda-sponsored regime to take over the entire country. He is also right that we need to give proper priority in our strategic thinking and our strategic defence reviews to this area of the world. The Government are now doing that, but I am sure that there is more work that we need to do.

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House. It is appropriate that he reported this grave situation in the way he did and in the tone he adopted. He rightly said that we must give the French every support, and I think the whole House would agree with that. It is important that they prevail in that intervention, which enjoys the support of the whole Security Council and of the UN. Will he confirm that we have responded positively to every request from the French for logistical or other help when we have been able to provide it?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I think we were the first country in the world to ask the French how we could help and then to deliver it. That took the form of two C-17s, one of which has been transporting French troops into Mali. I spoke again with President Hollande yesterday and said that the offer of the continued use of that C-17 was there. We are looking at a range of other things that we can do to help with logistics and back-up.

As I have said, we fully support the French action. The threat in Mali is effectively of a rebel regime, supported by terrorists and al-Qaeda, taking over the country. That is a threat not just to that region, but to the world. Of course, we should be and are encouraging other countries in west Africa to bring troops into Mali to help defend the Malian Government and people, and there are good signs that countries in west Africa are taking that lead and helping to achieve that. We shall continue to work very closely with the French and see how we can help further.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The EU military training mission in Somalia has achieved great success and there are similar plans to support the Malian armed forces with an EU training mission. Do these terrible events demonstrate a wider need for training and support for authorities across the region, both to increase resilience in the face of attack and to improve the chances of successful outcomes that minimise loss of life when such terrible events happen?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. These events demonstrate the importance of training missions and of having good and strong political, diplomatic

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and military relations with countries in the region. The example in Somalia shows the importance of encouraging neighbouring countries to help to provide security and rebuild these countries. As I have said, we support the action that the French Government have taken in Mali, but over time it is important that the countries of west Africa step up to provide stability and beat back terrorism in that country.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. This tragedy is touching families in a great many countries and causing fears for families in many places, including in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that there is the greatest possible co-ordination with the Scottish Government to ensure that those families receive all the necessary support?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), has spoken to Kenny MacAskill on several occasions and I spoke to the Scottish First Minister yesterday. It is important that we work together closely on this matter and we will try to keep the hon. Gentleman updated on all the information.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): This terrorist atrocity was obviously some time in the planning. The terrorists needed to acquire weapons, quartermasters and so on. Does that not emphasise the need for us to work collaboratively with our friends in Europe, the United States and elsewhere to share intelligence to try to ensure that such groups have the greatest possible difficulty in accessing weaponry and that, as far as is possible, they are denied access to the international banking system? The international community is quite rightly imposing sanctions on countries such as Iran, but we also need to do everything we can, through the intelligence services and otherwise, to frustrate such non-state actors in trying to perpetrate acts of hostility against us and others.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We have to do everything we can with our partners, through security and intelligence co-operation, to provide as little space as possible for terrorist organisations, whether in the banking system or in the availability of safe havens. That is what is so concerning about what has happened in west Africa, where parts of Mali have become a safe haven for these terrorists. He is absolutely right in what he says.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Further to the question from the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry), the fight against international terrorism cannot be conducted by one country alone; it has to be co-ordinated. Given that al-Qaeda in the Maghreb also operates in Morocco and Tunisia, what assistance can we give to those countries by way of sharing information, or perhaps giving them counter-terrorism assistance, so that we can contain this issue, rather than let it spread to other countries in north Africa?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We have good relations with countries such as Tunisia and Morocco at a political and diplomatic level. There are obviously opportunities

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for intelligence sharing, and I would argue that we need to add to that a degree of military-to-military talks and co-operation, so that when these regrettable events take place there is a high level of trust and an ability to work together. Obviously, there are some countries in the region with which we have very long, historical relations—Nigeria, for instance, with which we have a very thick relationship politically, diplomatically and militarily, and with counter-terrorism and all the rest of it. I think we need to go through all our contacts and work out how best to strengthen them in each case.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): May I commend my right hon. Friend’s statement? Is this not a sharp reminder that we live in a world of ungoverned spaces and terrorist groups that can strike and create violence at any time? Is it not therefore very important that we maintain Whitehall and our agencies on a wartime footing, ready to respond, as my right hon. Friend is now?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. I think this is a reminder of two very clear points. First, we face a large and existential terrorist threat from a group of extremists based in different parts of the world who want to do the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests and way of life. Secondly, those extremists thrive when they have ungoverned spaces in which they can exist, build and plan. I very much agree with what my hon. Friend has said. Under this Government—as under previous Governments—a lot of priority has been given to the funding of the security services, and there is now a good system for bringing together intelligence and military and political planning through the National Security Council, and in other ways including the emergency committee Cobra framework, which brings people together very rapidly to ensure that all parts of the British Government and state are able to bring their expertise to bear.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): This area is obviously extremely unstable. As the Prime Minister knows, Algeria has just emerged from a civil war and there are failed states on either side of it. Will the Prime Minister say a little more about the diplomatic activity that he is now going to embark on in that region?

The Prime Minister: First, I want to praise our ambassador to Algeria and his staff, who have been working around the clock and have been extremely effective in getting information to us about what is happening. We are expanding our network of embassies and contacts around the world but we must look all the time at how well we are represented in different countries, and where best to thicken the contacts we have. I think we have to do that in partnership with other countries. For instance, there is no doubt that in parts of west Africa the French have excellent connections with countries where we have less-good connections, but likewise there are countries where the opposite applies. We need to work with our partners—I discussed this with President Obama last night—and ensure that between us we have the strongest possible contacts.

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Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement telling us as much as he can about what has happened. May I ask him whether our specialist experts in kidnap and ransom and hostage negotiation are still on stand-by to help in the event of this operation being ongoing, as it seems to be for a small group of terrorists who are holding nationals from this country and other allies?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The answer is yes, hostage negotiating experts are on stand-by with other sorts of technical expertise that we can provide. I have made those offers to the Algerian Prime Minister, and all those offers stand. We do have considerable expertise, but let me make one point clear. We must remember that the Algerian Government are facing the challenge of a massive terrorist attack with lives immediately at risk. While we in this country can be hugely proud of the technical expertise and the brilliance of our security forces and special forces, one can have the ultimate degree of planning and still find that these events end unhappily. We should bear that in mind when thinking about the actions the Algerians have taken.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Obviously, the situation facing those in the gas plant is appalling. What consideration is he giving to greater British military involvement anywhere in the region, including Mali, and what will be the possible consequences for the future of the whole region and the possibilities of long-term political peace?

The Prime Minister: We have offered logistical and other assistance to the French, along the lines I have set out—C-17 planes and other logistical support. We are also looking at the EU training mission and how we could contribute to that. I do not believe that in Mali we are talking remotely about combat troops or that sort of approach; that is not the role we see for ourselves in that conflict. I will say again that I think we should strongly support what the French and the west African countries are trying to do in Mali, which is to push back the rebel forces who are backed by al-Qaeda and ensure that they cannot take control of that country. I would very much caution against anyone who believes that if somehow we stayed out of these issues and just said, “This has got nothing to do with us”, that would somehow make us safer. I do not believe that is the case.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—AQM—is out to harm, kill, maim and do the worst it can against western interests, including British interests, and we have to bear that in mind. We face a terrorist threat that is made worse when we have so much ungoverned space in Mali at the same time.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement to the House this morning. Algeria is one of the biggest and most powerful countries in the region, so will he undertake to maintain the closest possible diplomatic links with it—after all, our relations with Algeria have improved considerably in recent years—to combat not only the immediate short-term humanitarian needs but the emerging jihadist threats in the Sahel and Maghreb regions?

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The Prime Minister: I think my hon. Friend is entirely right. Relations between Britain and Algeria are good, contact is good, but there is always a case for doing more. We have had very good contact over the past few days but I will not hide the fact that we were disappointed not to be informed of the assault in advance. We want to help in any way we can with technical and other assistance, but we should show understanding that the Algerian Government face a huge threat from Islamist terrorists. They were facing a situation in which there was imminent threat to life, and we should bear that in mind in the comments that we make.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and ask him to reiterate the importance of the economic relationships between Algeria and this country? Many homes in this cold winter—not just in this country but in other parts of Europe—are heated by gas that comes from Algeria. Surely the key message is that we will not allow terrorist organisations to break or undermine that economic relationship, which is not just in Algeria’s interest but also in ours.

The Prime Minister: I think the hon. Gentleman puts the point extremely well. One of the most important things about our country is what an open, trading, investing country we are. British citizens live and work all over the world and, as I thought the Leader of the Opposition put particularly well, they are working hard to do the right things and we should support them in that. We must recognise that, as a result, that puts particular emphasis on the importance of our foreign and diplomatic policy, and also our military co-operation with other countries. Part of the role of government is to try to keep our citizens safe wherever they are, and in those terms the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the economic relationship between us and Algeria. We have many companies with huge expertise in the exploration of oil and gas. They are a major part of the British economy and we should be supportive of them. The work they do in Algeria is vital for Algeria and it is also vital for us.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): It is essential that we conduct an urgent review regarding the security of our people working in the region, liaising not just with the appropriate companies, but local Governments, too. Given the possible links between this tragedy and the situation in Mali, which has been deteriorating for some time, was a threat assessment undertaken regarding our interests in the region? If so, what action followed from that?

The Prime Minister: The answer I would give my hon. Friend is that we are constantly updating the threat that we face from operating in any country anywhere in the region. We have known for some time, with the growth of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, that the threat has been growing. However, I would very much caution against any sense that—I am not sure that my hon. Friend is saying this—if we did not involve ourselves by helping the French in Mali we would somehow make ourselves safer. Britain is a country that is open to the world and is part of international partnerships. We should be working with others to help make the world safe all over the place, Mali included, because if we do not, the threat there will grow and we will face it as well.

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Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister referred to an offer of assistance from the consulate. Can he advise whether it has yet been involved?

The Prime Minister: The consulate is involved. We have staff deployed in Algiers who want to travel further south to be closer to the events that have taken place and to help, in all ways necessary, the people caught up in this crisis. We are working very closely with BP, which will be doing the same thing, and with Statoil—I spoke to the Norwegian Prime Minister last night—which will be sending an aeroplane down there to help retrieve people as well.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I associate my colleagues with his condolences and solidarity. Many of my constituents originate from north Africa, including Algeria, and are very hard-working members of our communities here. Will he look again, with our NATO allies, at how we might build on the direction he has set on the Mediterranean dialogue that exists for linking our countries with north Africa? Also, will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hold itself available to inform our people around the world and people resident in the UK, for example those who are from Algeria, who may be more worried than everybody else about what is happening to their country?

The Prime Minister: First, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should keep the travel advice and information updated, and we do. He is also right to say that Algerians living and working in this country make an important contribution. His general point about working with NATO partners to see how we can further improve links and relationships with countries—Libya, Algeria, Mali and other countries in the region—should be a real focus in the months ahead. As I said, it is about diplomatic and political engagement, but military-to-military co-operation and understanding can be a real benefit too.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): As part of the police parliamentary scheme, I spent time earlier this week with CO15, the counter-terrorist unit at Scotland Yard. Can the Prime Minister reassure us that the Government will continue direct funding from the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the excellent work that those officers do to protect us against terrorists at home and abroad? Can he also assure us that the Government will continue their efforts, particularly given Ben Macintyre’s excellent article in The Times today, to close down the space for those who would use religion, whether here or abroad, as an excuse for intolerance at best or violence at worst?

The Prime Minister: I have not read Ben Macintyre’s column, but I will try to do so later today. On policing, we see the work of anti-terrorist policing as absolutely vital and we will continue to prioritise it.

Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for getting his priorities absolutely right. This is clearly a fast-moving and complex situation. Can he reassure the House that families who have a loved one caught up in these events will be able to access

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information about the general situation when information is available, as opposed to having to wait until there is specific news about their loved one?

The Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments. Our thoughts should be with the families. They will have had a truly dreadful few days as they think about their loved ones. I reiterate what I said: all of them have police liaison teams attached to them and they should be able to receive the latest information. I completely understand that the Government always have to strike a balance between making any comment about these events as they continue, and the dangers of doing so. There is so much other information around from other countries and other Governments that it is important to try to give a consistent and clear message about what is happening, the Government’s priorities and what we are doing to help in this very difficult situation.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Shortly before Christmas, the Chief of the Defence Staff proposed that one of the new infantry brigades be formally assigned to do partnership work with the Gulf and Jordanian armies. Will the Prime Minister consider extending that formalised arrangement under Force 2020 to north Africa?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent suggestion. The Chief of the Defence Staff has been looking at whether there is more we can do in terms of military exercises, operations and co-operation with the countries of west Africa. Clearly, with the Mali situation it is key that Ghanaians, Nigeriens, Nigerians and others bring forward troops to help in that country. We should be thinking about what we can do to assist in that process. The strength of having regular strategic defence and security reviews is that we can ask where the threats are coming from and where we can make the greatest difference with the talented and professional armed forces we have. Those are exactly the sort of questions we should be asking.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): May I commend the Prime Minister’s decisiveness, swift action and leadership in a difficult situation? Clearly, we must defend our British citizens abroad, and I very much welcome the support given to the Algerian, French and Malian Governments. Could he say a few words about the continuing role he sees for the United Nations and our role in the Security Council with regard to this situation?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the role of the United Nations, and perhaps that enables me to answer better the question from the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) about the importance of political processes. I profoundly believe, for instance in Mali, that there is a military part to what needs to happen, which is beating back the terrorist-sponsored al-Qaeda-backed rebels. Clearly, in all situations like this, there needs to be political process as well to recognise the deep political problems that many of these countries have. In the United Nations and as a permanent member of the Security Council, we can play an important part, in co-ordination with

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our allies, to help to get these political processes right. However, I caution against people who think that we can find a purely political and diplomatic answer to the Malian crisis. There is also a problem, a clear and present danger, of a terrorist-backed regime trying to take over the whole of that country.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Can the Prime Minister please tell us more about the Government’s assessment of the links between the terrorist groups in Algeria and al-Shabaab and Boko Haram?

The Prime Minister: The best way to answer that question is to say that all of those organisations that are linked to al-Qaeda are therefore linked to each other. Some have a tighter relationship with the senior leadership of al-Qaeda and some slightly looser, but all the groups he mentions, whether al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria or any of the other organisations, are pursuing similar goals of violent extremism, wanting to damage as harmfully as possible the interests of countries such as Britain.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend able to reassure the House that not only European but all north African Governments are united in their condemnation of this terrorist action?

The Prime Minister: I believe that I am. The reaction from all Governments across Europe, north Africa and the wider world has been completely condemnatory of this terrorist attack. It is very important that we speak with a united voice in saying that this sort of terrorism is never justified, and, frankly, it has to be defeated. All of that cannot be done through a political process—a very important robust security response is required.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister has referred a couple of times to the fact that the oil and gas industry is an international industry and that there is a considerable amount of mobility of labour with British nationals working abroad and liaison with British-based companies. Can he say a little more about the assessment that has been made of the number of British nationals working in this industry, not necessarily for British-based or even western companies, who are working directly, or as subcontractors, in that region? What advice and guidance will be supplied to them?

The Prime Minister: First, as I said in my statement, we are working with all the oil companies and talking to them about the importance of greater security. Obviously, all the countries in which they operate will want to provide greater security. It is in the interests of the Algerians, for instance, given that a large percentage of their economy is provided by oil and gas, that those companies should be able to operate properly there. From my experience of this episode, I think that there is perhaps more we need to do to ensure that the companies have a really good, up-to-date record of all the people who work for them and who work for any subcontractors, so that if anything goes wrong, we can have the swiftest possible information about who is involved and who is safe. On this occasion, there were some issues and difficulties around that.

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Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement to the House this morning. He referred to an agreement that he has been able to obtain from the Algerian Prime Minister for our diplomatic mission to go south as soon as possible. He also referred to the remoteness of the region involved. Will he tell us when that is due to happen, and whether he thinks that it will improve the flow of information back to the families?

The Prime Minister: We hope that our ambassador and others in the diplomatic team will be able to travel further south today; the ambassador has a plane on stand-by to do exactly that. I think that that will help us to get more information about what has happened, but we are clearly still dealing with a very fluid and dangerous situation. Part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but the threat remains in another part. Until that is completely sorted out, we will not get the perfect information that we require about the exact number of hostages and the difficult facts about who is safe and who is not. I hope that we will be able to say more later today, but we simply cannot do so at the moment. We will have to wait for the outcome before we can do that.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): May I join others in thanking the Prime Minister for his statement and for his clear understanding of the dilemmas faced by the Algerian Government? Will he tell us whether, in the light of the recent rise in tension in the area, any oil companies operating in Algeria have sought extra security measures either from the Algerian Government or from their home Governments?

The Prime Minister: I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance today. The Government make an ongoing assessment of risk based on the intelligence that comes through and is properly analysed by the joint terrorism analysis centre, and companies as large as BP also spend a serious amount of time thinking about security and risk. The right hon. Gentleman asks a good question, and I will certainly look into that for him.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement. This terrorist attack is likely to have been domestically planned in Algeria, but given the proximity to the Libyan border, what evidence is there of the wider involvement of factions in other states?

The Prime Minister: I do not think we can be certain about where this was planned. We know that there are real connections between Islamist extremist militants in Algeria and those in Libya. We also know that there are very real connections between those in Algeria and those in Mali. The fact is that these are all part of terrorist networks and, as I have said, they use whatever available ungoverned space there is in order to plan, build and thrive. If we look across the region, we can see that we need to back the French and the west African countries that want to improve the security situation in Mali. We also need to work with the new Libyan Government to reduce the quantity of ungoverned spaces there, and to ensure that there is proper security in that country and that weapons are properly accounted

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for. Obviously, we need to thicken our contacts and work well with the Algerians to help them in their long-running battle against terror. If we can do all those things, and probably more besides, we will have helped to make that part of the world safer and more secure, which would be good for that part of the world itself and good for us, too.

Sir Robert Smith: Oil and gas companies might seem big and remote, but the people who work for them are part of a close-knit global family. Many of my constituents commute to countries such as Algeria while their families stay at home. Does the Prime Minister recognise the extra stress that is put on those families when there is a shortage of information and people start to speculate about worst-case scenarios? Would it not be better to keep speculation to a minimum while the information is being sought, so that only accurate and coherent information is given to the families?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many people from this country work in far-flung places to provide for themselves and their families, and we need to support them and think of them as they do that. He is also right to say that we must be careful not to give out information that could be unhelpful in any way. We have to remember that the terrorists watch CNN as well, as someone said yesterday. I also respect the fact that we need to be extremely careful in what we say, because of the families sitting at home worrying desperately about their loved ones. This is a difficult balance, which the Government will always try to get right, because there is so much information being provided in the global news environment in so many different ways. Just as there is a danger in saying something, there is also a danger in saying nothing. We have to try to balance that very carefully, and that is what we have tried to do in recent days.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I also thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. He indicated that additional consular support was on the way. Those in the region might be aware of this statement, so will he tell us how that support can be accessed by those people? Will he also tell us how those at home who do not have a police liaison team attached to them but who might be concerned about people in the region can access information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

The Prime Minister: First, let me be clear that all the families caught up in this tragedy do have access to a police liaison team. That is extremely important. For anyone else who is concerned about loved ones or others in the region and who wants advice, the best place to get it is from British embassies or consulates. The Foreign Office website also has all the necessary travel advice. I should make it clear that, in regard to the travel advice for Algeria, the areas of that country where only essential travel is advised are the dangerous border areas. That should be made clear.

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Following the apparent reluctance of Algeria to receive assistance, is the time approaching when an international force should be developed to respond to terrorist attacks such as these,

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perhaps under the auspices of the United Nations? That could give countries such as Algeria confidence about our intentions.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point, but there are difficulties with this. In the end, we have to respect the fact that different countries have territorial integrity and have to make decisions that they think are in the interests of their own people and their own countries. What we should be doing is trying to ensure that, in every case, there is the best possible contact and relationship between countries such as ours—where, regrettably, for reasons of history, we have had to develop real expertise in hostage rescue and negotiation—and other countries. Obviously, we do not have the resources to have such a relationship with every country, but we should be working with allies such as the French and the Americans and thinking about where best we can add value in those sorts of relationships. For example, we have a very strong relationship with Nigeria on that front. There is perhaps also an opportunity in the G8 and at other international gatherings including NATO to work out how we can all do more, so that when these dreadful crises occur, access to the best available technology, surveillance, advice and help can be more easily delivered.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister on his calm and assured response throughout the crisis. In co-ordinating our response, how many of the Cobra meetings has he had to chair personally?

The Prime Minister: Cobra brings together officials from across government, the Ministry of Defence, our armed forces, the police and the security services, and it can meet on an almost rolling basis in terms of bringing the latest information and intelligence to bear. It meets under official guise very regularly. I have chaired three Cobra meetings so far during this crisis, and there will be another one later today to bring together the latest intelligence and information. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those in the British Government who have been working round the clock to try and get the latest information so that the right decisions can be made.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): To what extent does the intelligence confirm the supposition that the planning for this appalling atrocity must have long predated the French incursion into Mali last week?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend asks an important question. It is difficult to give a certain answer, but given the scale of the terrorist attack on this gas installation in Algeria, the number of people involved and the sophistication of the weapons used, it looks like it was some time in the planning. As I have said, however, it would be ill-thought through to say, even if there was a connection with Mali, that we are wrong to help roll back terrorist advances in Mali because it might threaten us elsewhere. That is entirely wrong-headed thinking. We should be in favour of rolling back terrorist advances in Mali because it will help make us safer elsewhere as we squeeze the ungoverned space and recognise that these terrorists should have no place to hide.

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Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I commend the Prime Minister for his level-headed, energetic and resolute response to these developments. The west will not solve the problem of Islamic insurgency in the Sahara on its own. Given the colonial heritage of the African continent and the fact that this insurgency is taking place across borders, is there a role for both the British Commonwealth and the French Commonwealth within the African Union to ensure that ultimately there is an African solution to this problem?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s remarks. He makes an important point about how France and Britain in particular should work together. Obviously, it is better to find African solutions, whether in Somalia, where neighbouring African nations have played an important role, or in Mali, where we hope that west African countries will play a role, but clearly countries such as Britain and France, with good relations, good contacts, good knowledge of African countries and good partnerships with them, should be working together. There are opportunities to put aside some of the traditional divisions between Anglophone and Francophone Africa and recognise that it is in our interest to boost the capacity of all African states to help deal with these problems. We should work very closely with the French as we do that.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), there might be some concern that the Algerian Government did not take up my right hon. Friend’s offer for the use of British special forces. Does he know why that offer was not taken up, and what assessment have the Government made of the expertise and capability of the Algerian forces to secure the release of the maximum number of hostages, given that so many British citizens are in danger?

The Prime Minister: First, let me be clear: of course, we offered to help and assist the Algerians in any way we could. Obviously, there are limitations on what we can do, given the logistics and time it takes to put teams together and get people to the other side of the world. On the Algerians themselves, we should show some respect for and understanding of the fact that that country has fought a long civil war against the most aggressive and violent form of militant Islam. We should also recognise that, yes, we have expertise and pride ourselves on the brilliance of our special forces, but clearly the Algerians felt that they had to make decisions very quickly and felt that there was an urgent threat to life, so decided to act as they did. As I said, I regret that we were not informed in advance, and of course the offers to help were, and still are, there, but we have to understand that it was about the danger they faced and they felt they had to act.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement this morning and for his calm, assured and dignified leadership at this difficult time. I know the whole country will agree that he has made exactly the right call by being here this morning. It is too early to know whether any families in my constituency have been affected directly, but I know that all their thoughts and prayers will be with those families who have been.

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What assessment has the Prime Minister made of the risk of a similar hostage incident taking place elsewhere in the region?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s remarks. The advice we have received is that there is a realistic threat of other such attacks in the region and against similar types of installations, and we have to guard against that. That is why we have had discussions with the oil companies and with Governments about what more they can do. We have to recognise that we face a terrorist threat across the region and the world, and because of this event we should be very wary and recognise that further such attacks are possible.

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Antarctic Bill

Proceedings resumed.

11.54 am

Neil Carmichael: Following the Prime Minister’s statement, may I add my sympathies to those who have lost loved ones at this difficult time and concur with the thrust of all the questions put to him?

Let me return to clause 5 of the Bill, which we were debating an hour ago. We currently have a good opportunity to test clause 5, because amendment 2 is provoking a constructive debate about its purposes. It is important to bear in mind just how vulnerable some parts of Antarctica are, particularly the Southern ocean, which is of decisive importance to the environment, not least because it absorbs up to 40% of carbon dioxide. It therefore plays a major part in the overall global environment. It is also important to note that the Southern ocean has a considerably more complex food chain than might at first be apparent, so it is all the more important to ensure that it is protected. That is why we are right to support clause 5 as it stands—because it not only ensures that protection is the order of the day, but that action can be taken if something goes wrong. That is implicit in clause 5.

Kerry McCarthy: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the seas in the area. Does he share my disappointment that the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources failed to agree proposals for two marine reserves in the Southern ocean, one in the Ross sea and one in east Antarctica? Does he agree that it is important not just to protect the ice mass, as it were—the land in Antarctica—but to look for environmental protection for the oceans as well?

Neil Carmichael: I am grateful for that intervention. The Bill looks into the marine aspects of Antarctica as well. Obviously we would be building on such measures in different ways, and although the Bill is specific about the provisions that the hon. Lady has already outlined, I take note of what she has said. Indeed, my interest in this area will lead me to discuss later the matter of promoting the protection of the Southern ocean.

Let me emphasise the value of clause 5 in connection not just with preparation, but with contingency planning. That is where clause 5 comes into its own, because it makes it clear that contingency planning is necessary, and it is easy to justify in connection with the rest of the Bill.

Philip Davies: I absolutely accept my hon. Friend’s point, but surely he would accept that under the current arrangements, with the 1994 Act and annex V, people are already required to produce a management plan, which, as I see it, is not greatly different from what is proposed in clause 5. Does he therefore accept that there is still some doubt about whether clause 5 is as necessary as he says?

Neil Carmichael: Clause 5 extends the preparation from simply producing a management plan to contingency planning. Contingency planning requires one to assess risk—to be well aware of what the risks are and how great they can be in the Antarctic. I believe we are

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extending something that is already good, and I am grateful for the suggestion, which we have heard today, that we are building on existing good practice. Clause 5 is a significant step in the right direction in ensuring that contingency measures are taken, because as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) noted, we have had accidents. Those accidents have involved shipping and they have been significantly damaging to the ocean, and we do not want to see more of them, especially on Antarctica.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for introducing this important Bill. Antarctica is one of the last great wildernesses in the world, and it is essential for the world environment to preserve it and not to subjugate it under commercial interests. This Bill can apply only to British citizens and British organisations in the British Antarctic territories, so has my hon. Friend had any discussion with any of the other countries that have interests in Antarctica to find out whether they are thinking about enacting similar legislation?

12 noon

Neil Carmichael: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. Yes, I have had such discussions, and I was quite surprised to find out just how far some other countries have gone. The Netherlands provides a good example. It is already further on than we are in taking legislative action on Antarctica. I met a Netherlands member of Parliament during the climate change conference in Doha, and I was impressed with the level of legislative detail the country had gone into in respect of Antarctica. I have talked, too, to representatives of Chile and noted their interest in carrying out a similar policy. I am pleased to have an opportunity to confirm that there is a memorandum of understanding between Chile and the UK on Antarctica matters. That paves the way for more international co-operation and demonstrates that nation states are taking the issue seriously.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman rises, let me remind everyone that we are debating new clause 1. We are not debating the generality of the Bill, and we have a Third Reading debate to follow.

Bob Stewart: I hope what I am about to say will be about new clause 1, and it will be very quick. Is it not for the United Nations to co-ordinate international action?

Neil Carmichael rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The Bill’s promoter knows that that question has nothing to do with new clause 1, so I would be grateful if he would now get back to new clause 1.

Neil Carmichael: I am grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), which gives me the opportunity to underline the fact

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that there is a treaty, that various nation states have signed it and that they have an interest in new clause 1. New clause 1 is unlikely to be discussed in the United Nations. I am fairly confident of saying that without contradiction, but I take into account, of course, your observation, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr Nuttall: Surely the point is that all the contracting parties will have an interest in ensuring that the treaty works properly?

Neil Carmichael: That is absolutely right. One interesting point about new clause 1—this is one reason why we should not support it—is that more and more nation states are showing an interest in Antarctica. That brings pressure in respect of challenges to the Antarctica environment as well as numbers. Some of the new arrivals are not as interested as we are in making sure that the area is properly protected and that responsible actions are taken. By passing this legislation, we apply international pressure, ensuring that other nation states that need to do the same get on with the process and that the international focus on what is important for Antarctica—the protection of the continent—continually remains a top priority.

Amendment 1 deals with historic sites and monuments. It is an interesting amendment and it is right to discuss it because it provides an opportunity to make a very important point. The point is that the provisions relate to who is doing something, not to where the action is being taken. If we wanted to take action to preserve the hut of Captain Robert Scott and his colleagues, the fact that it is in what might be described as the New Zealand slice of Antarctica would not prevent us from doing so. As we would be going there to preserve the hut, British law would apply to our efforts to ensure that it was looked after properly.

While I have a huge amount of sympathy with the thrust of amendment 1, and while I think that the hon. Member for Bury North is absolutely right to remind us that we need to have the capacity to deal with all monuments and sites of historical interest, it is with the British people, and those connected with Britain, that clause 15 deals, and they are more than welcome to pursue such priorities throughout the continent of Antarctica. I therefore do not think that the amendment is necessary, although I do think that it has given us a useful opportunity to reinforce the point that everyone in our jurisdiction would be covered by the clause. Indeed, as the Bill’s promoter, I have welcomed the opportunity to comment on all three of what I consider useful amendments—not because I think that they should be included in the Bill, but because the House has been able to discuss them all properly and make some important points.

Let me summarise those points. With regard to the cost-benefit analysis proposed in new clause 1, the Bill is financially neutral. I do not think we should add any extra burden of bureaucracy, but I do think we should make it clear that the real test is co-operation between all interested nation states in ensuring that the continent is properly protected, and ensuring that the measures on which we continue to work are properly supported and implemented by all of them. That is the test that I shall continue to press for beyond the passage of this Bill, because I believe it is critical.

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The main issue in relation to amendment 2, which proposes the removal of clause 5, is that we are building on existing measures—and quite right too. It is good that the House has had an opportunity to test the validity of the clause, because it is important. It will ensure not only that there is a line of responsibility for operators, visitors, tourists and so on, but that they must have contingency plans. In the absence of those two measures, such people would make themselves vulnerable to punishment. The clause also includes the important provision that people and organisations should be properly insured for whatever they may do. The clause puts into domestic law a clear set of responsibilities for operators visiting Antarctica.

As I have already made abundantly clear, amendment 1, which refers to historic sites and monuments, is unnecessary, because clause 15 relates to the people who are doing something rather than where the action is taken. However, it has provided another useful opportunity for me to make it clear that we are taking responsible action, and enabling others to take responsible action, in protecting monuments and sites of historical interest.

Let me end by expressing my gratitude for the opportunity that the debate has given us so far to expose and develop some of the elements of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) on getting the Bill to this stage, and I thank him for the time and trouble he took to visit Antarctica and his determination and commitment to securing environmental protection in the Antarctic.

I shall begin by setting out the overriding architecture of the protections currently in place for the Antarctic, as there seems to be some confusion about that. The Antarctic treaty was signed in 1959 by 21 countries. It has several purposes.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. May I say to the Minister, as I have said to other Members, that we are talking about new clause 1 and the amendments, not the wider Bill?

Mark Simmonds: I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your guidance. I was trying to put the implications of new clause 1 into context. The Antarctic treaty has 50 signatories, and the UK is one of the core 28 countries that play a positive role, and we intend to continue to do so.

I shall turn now to the amendments. On new clause 1, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that the Government have prepared and made available a full impact assessment for this Bill. The impact assessment was independently reviewed by the Regulatory Policy Committee, which determined it was fit for purpose and that the costs and benefits of the Bill had been adequately assessed.