HC Deb 25 April 1956 vol 551 cc1759-61
6 and 7. Mr. Pitman

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) what action he contemplates in view of the fact that the Royal Navy has no icebreakers with which to support British claims to territory in Antarctica and to help in the development of such British territories, whereas the Argentine Navy has an ice-breaker and uses it to support the territorial claims by the Argentine which conflict with those of the British Government;

(2) whether he is aware that the navies of certain powers making no territorial claims in Antarctica possess icebreakers; and whether he will consider making the suggestion to the United Nations organisation that they should propose to all the nations now making claims to territory in Antarctica that such claims should be transferred with benefit to the United Nations organisation and invite all member nations having ice-breakers and other ships equipped for the development of Antarctic areas to hold them available in support of such claims by the United Nations organisation to the whole of Antarctica and in providing means for the development of that area.

Mr. Nutting

While I understand the motive that lies behind my hon. Friend's Questions, it is unlikely, as the Prime Minister told the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) on 8th November, 1955, that any proposals to entrust Antarctica to the United Nations would have any prospect of success.

Mr. Pitman

Is it not true that there is the precedent that the United States has pressed some similar treatment for the existing and conflicting claims which may lead to trouble?

Mr. Nutting

I do not think that my hon. Friend is comparing like with like. In 1948 the United States Government proposed an eight-Power condominium for Antarctica. That was rejected by all the countries concerned except New Zealand and the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend is now asking me to put the territory under the United Nations. There is no provision in the United Nations Charter for accepting the sovereignty of this or any other part of the world.

Mr. Younger

Do we understand that there are no international negotiations going on about Antarctica at present? If that is correct, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the amount of expense, trouble and bad feeling which is being caused by the competing claims is very unfortunate, and would it not be worth trying to get some kind of international negotiation to put an end to this absurd situation?

Mr. Nutting

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, for he also played a part in this when he held the office which I now hold, we have made various offers to the Governments concerned—the Argentine and Chile—including the taking of the matter to the International Court, and the United States proposed an eight-Power condominium. All those proposals have been rejected. I fail to see what other offers we can make. Our offer to take the matter to the International Court remains open.

Mr. Usborne

Since the conflicts of imperialism in the twentieth century appear to be likely to be centred around this, possibly, very valuable territory of Antarctica, surely it is a sensible solution, in order to avoid conflicts, that the territory, now disputed and largely unclaimed and unowned, should be vested in the United Nations. Is not that worth proposing? I do not think it has been proposed. Why cannot it be proposed?

Mr. Nutting

It cannot be proposed for the simple reason that there is no provision in the United Nations Charter for the acceptance of sovereignty over the territory of this or any other nature.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While everyone would want to keep the cold war as far as possible out of Antarctica, would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is essential fully to maintain British claims to Antarctic territories?

Mr. Nutting

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We have recently set up four new bases in Antarctica, making the total of United Kingdom bases in that part of the world twelve.