HC Deb 28 January 1964 vol 688 cc257-81

… The Constitution and laws and civil and political jurisdiction of the United States are hereby extended to the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf and to all artificial islands and fixed structures which may be erected thereon … to the same extent as if the outer Continental Shelf were an area of exclusive Federal jurisdiction located within a State."

It goes on to deal with the state position and later says: Any person who knowingly and willfully violates any rule or regulation prescribed by the Secretary for the prevention of waste, the conservation of the natural resources, or the protection of correlative rights shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour and punishable by a fine … or by imprisonment … I would have thought that something along those lines would commend itself to my right hon. Friend. The Government obviously have it in mind, because it was said in another place that this aspect would be considered most seriously.

I want to say a few words about the definition of the Continental Shelf. I fully accept that there are two factors involved in Article 1 of the 1958 Convention. One is that of the vertical dimension of 200 metres, but this, I would have thought, is of little importance because we now have accepted the criterion of exploitability. This was abandoned as a test in 1953 and later reaccepted in 1956. Considering that drilling is now undertaken in between 175 ft. and 250 ft. of water and practically up to between 400 ft. and 500 ft., work in 1,000 ft. of water will not be far off. One realises that the Continental Shelf will be ever receding into the Atlantic. It will be determined, of course, by exploitability, and my right hon. Friend has indicated that that is where he will put the major part of emphasis.

Article 6 deals with the Shelf between neighbouring States. This is the medium line or an area of agreement. It would be quite improper to include either the 1958 Convention in this Bill or to delineate the actual line I have referred to in the two Orders in Council, one for Sarawak and one for North Borneo, and I think that that has been done by the executive simply by taking distances and bearings from light structures and other salient points and linking them up as the frontal line. This can be done quite conventionally by the executive itself and I do not think that there would be any great dispute if these bearings and distances were brought before this House. There is ample precedent for this, and I think that this is the course which should be followed.

I am rather distressed to find that there is no indication in the Bill relating to ancillary rights. Hon. Members may remember that we spent a considerable time upstairs during the discussions on the Pipe-lines Act, 1962 and it seems to be an extraordinary addiction of the Ministry that they would give so little support for the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923. It was argued at length that this Act should be included because ancillary rights were important, and that is particularly so in connection with the Continental Shelf Bill. It may be that the facilities have to be built on land in order to facilitate exploration, drilling and development or to provide storage of anything that may come as a fruit from the earth.

This was the result according to Section 57 of the Pipe-lines Act. "Reference in Section 3(2,b) in the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923 (specifying that ancillary rights may be granted under the Act) to the conveyance of minerals shall be construed as not including conveyance by pipeline." It is extraordinary, too, that with coal, several years earlier, the 1923 Procedure was ruled out. The procedure by application to the High Court is well known to the industry, understood by them and found to be exceedingly practical, yet it has been ruled out of this Bill because no provision is included. Therefore, what happens if a developer requires ancillary rights? It could be provided by incorporating Section 3(1) of the Petroleum (Production) Act, which states: Part I of the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act, 1923 as amended … shall apply … and makes full provision for that, but there is no mention of it here.

I would also comment and ask my right hon. Friend whether he would consider bringing in the powers of the 1962 Pipe-lines Act which we argued at some length. He may say of course that they involve compulsory acquisition. Is he loath to introduce these Measures at this point of time? I would also ask him whether it would not be better to have a Bill which was watertight and satisfactory rather than one which might give rise to disputes at a later date. He may say that there is another way round it, and that the companies concerned in building these installations would have to apply by private Bill procedure, which is long, expensive in time and money and very unsatisfactory because everybody for miles around wants Clauses to be put in, many of which are redundant: Now, when we are debating the Second Reading of the Bill, is the time to give notice to the Government that something should be done along those lines. It seems inconceivable that they could have overlooked those two major matters in this connection.

I welcome the general ideas underlying the Bill. I believe that the prospect of finding either oil or natural gas, particularly natural gas, in the North Sea is very good. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown) said, nothing can be finally determined until the drill goes down and penetrates the formation. At present, it seems that the upper permian zechstein, which is the one currently being looked at, is the formation in which it may be possible to find what is being looked for, but this does not rule out the possibility of other formations in which natural gas or oil may be located in suitable conditions. We in this House have to provide the essential machinery for the work to go on.

Now, a question about pipelines. There is the possibility that the Pipelines Act, 1962, will cover pipelines right up to the edge of territorial waters, and I think that it is clear also that pipelines will be suitably controlled in the area of an installation, within the 500 yards, but what about pipelines beyond and betwen these points?

Next, I have a question about reservations under the Convention. By Article 12 the Minister has power to make certain reservations, upon ratification. Does my right hon. Friend propose, in the name of Her Majesty's Government, to make any reservations, and, if so, what? I hope that he is noting this point because it is rather important.

Next, what will be the conditions of the licences and how will they be determined? My right hon. Friend said that they would be laid before the House and be subject to the negative Resolution procedure. What will he say about areas? Will he lay down any conditions about their surrender after a term of years? Is there to be a fifty-fifty profit-sharing arrangement with regard to royalties? Does my right hon. Friend intend to ask for bonuses such as are prevalent in the Persian Gulf? What will be the conditions? I think that the House is entitled to know at this stage what is in the Minister's mind.

The Soviet Union might be interested in registering a company in the United Kingdom as an English company to bore for oil on the Continental Shelf. This could conceivably give cover for espionage. Does my right hon. Friend consider that he has all the answers to such an application?

I come now to one or two general points. We know that underwater boring is widely used throughout the world; about 18 countries are involved. Its use has been extended up to about 60 miles at sea and to the depths I mentioned earlier. It is no new thing. Underwater boring is going on, or has gone on, on Lake Maracaibo, in the Persian Gulf, the Far East, the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Paria, Trinidad and many other sites. Experience goes well back to almost the beginning of the century. The technology is advancing day by day. Nevertheless, if we do not get the machinery right, and if the Minister is not prepared to consult those concerned, he will give the industry a poor Bill.

There is a sense of urgency in this matter. If the Committee stage is taken on the Floor of the House, it could be dealt with in a day. If it goes to a Standing Committee, it may last for about five sittings. I stress the importance of getting things right at this stage. It is in the interest of all the companies which will be engaged in the search in the North Sea to do so, and I am certain that it will revolutionise the fuel policy of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Hamilton said that his party would like a national fuel policy to be settled. We on this side of the House are entitled to ask, On what terms? If it is to be on a monopolistic basis applied to the whole industry, I could not accept that. We ought to, have a fuel policy in which the consumer has an opportunity to express his view, and, in my opinion, it should have a broader base. If oil should be obtained, and if, as I think it will be, it is brought back within territorial waters, it will then be available to the gas industry.

In answer to a Question which I put, my right hon. Friend said that in 1967 over 50 per cent. of gas in the United Kingdom will be coming from an oil base. If natural gas comes in from the North Sea, I can see that figure rising considerably. The experience we have learned from the United States is that gas will drive out fuel oil and that fuel oil will drive out coal.

What will be the position of Lord Robens' National Coal Board in this eventuality?

Mr. Pentland

What about the miners?

Mr. Skeet

I have every feeling for the miners. I suspect that the figure of 200 million tons productive capacity is likely to be a bit high, and I think that it may well be in Lord Robens' interest at a later date to redeploy and to give his miners the opportunity of a far better job in another industry which is less accident-prone and in which they can have a greater chance of earning a healthy living.

I am very glad that the Bill has been presented today. It is not really out of time. If anything, it is only about six months late, certainly not years late, as has been suggested. I think that it will provide most of the machinery, with the additions which I have suggested, to make effective operations possible.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)

I apologise to the Minister for not being present when he made his speech, and I assure the House that I shall not detain it very long.

As a layman, I am not very happy about the Bill itself, or about some of the principles behind it. The first point which strikes me as somewhat surprising is that we should introduce a Bill of this kind unilaterally without having an international agreement on the way in which the Convention, when it is ratified, is to be applied by the member States. This is the sort of confusion which is bound to arise out of the Convention and this type of action by member Governments.

The 1958 Convention shares out about 10 million square miles of seabed to a depth of 656 feet. So far, it has been ratified by 21 States and we need one more to make the number up. I understand that the Minister said that the Bill does not ratify the Convention and is not intended to do so. If that is right, it answers one of the questions which I wished to ask.

When one considers the ratification procedure of the Convention, on which the Bill depends, the absurdity of some aspects of the situation becomes even more obvious. Several of the States which have so far ratified it and brought us to the stage when we need only one more signature are landlocked and, pre- sumably, can have no direct interest in it. The status of some other signatories is somewhat questionable. Three of them are the Soviet Union, Byelorussia and the Ukraine, which, one would have thought, hardly counted as three.

The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) talked about lawyers making a great deal of money out of the Bill. With respect, Mr. Speaker, I think that history shows that it has been beyond the wit of any Parliament so far to produce legislation out of which lawyers could not make a great deal of money. This Bill, if I may use a more modern expression, will give the international lawyers a "ball" for many years to come.

As an innocent layman who has always steered clear of legal technicalities, I understand the purpose of the Bill as being to enable the United Kingdom to lay down the rules by which the United Kingdom will exploit the resources of the seabed open to it under the 1958 Convention, when that Convention has been ratified.

One point which has arisen is the problem of how one enforces this. Article 23 of the Convention of the High Seas means, I believe, that the pursuit of a foreign ship can only begin not more than twelve miles from the coast. As I understand it, the Convention talks about the "exploitable areas" and applies not only to the actual figures so far quoted, but to any areas where the sea can be exploited by the nations concerned. "Operation Mohole" is at present working at round about 4,000 fathoms. It appears therefore that Article 23 prevents us proceeding to pursue ships which are in violation of British sovereignty at the most 12 miles out, but the Convention enables us to include exploitable areas and it seems well within the bounds of possibility that the exploitable areas could extend half-way across the Atlantic Ocean.

Already there are a whole series of international problems arising out of this. My point is that we are in the position of acting unilaterally, on the basis of a Convention which is not yet ratified, and which shows all the signs of causing more international confusion than anything which we have done in recent years.

Reference was made to the Federal Government of Germany, which at present is engaged in making arrangements for the exploitation of some of the resources off its own coastline. The Federal Government of Germany has asserted its sovereignty unilaterally over part of the North Sea to an area of 150 miles off the coast. This move is clearly designed to keep open the field for her own interests and to keep Caltex a long way away. It is an indication of the sort of battles, economic and legal, which are bound to arise over the present position. Not being an international lawyer, I am in doubt about who determines whether the West German claim to extend her sovereignty 150 miles out is correct. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) would be able to answer this, but the trouble is that it would take some time.

Mr. Hale

Even the international lawyers are in doubt.

Mr. Marsh

I am glad that the international lawyers admit to being in doubt. I feel much more reassured when I know that they admit to that than when they are going ahead drawing up legislation for innocent Ministers without admitting their own ignorance.

I should like to know who has the claim for sovereignty. It is a matter between two Governments. The Federal Government of Germany have stated their position quite clearly. On the other hand, the British Government, which have not yet ratified the Convention, are introducing a Bill laying down the circumstances in which they will implement and defend their sovereignty. Although it succeeds in telling us how, it does not tell us exactly how far out.

Mr. Skeet

The West German Government have gone about it by way of proclamation and up to a provisional medial line so that there is no conflict with us. The question is for the Foreign Office to decide precisely where the line is to go. The West German Government have not been unreasonable. They have worked out a joint zone with Holland.

Mr. Marsh

I accept that the West German Government have a very good argument behind the proclamation. My point is that the present situation provides a basis for an inevitable increase in the whole series of clashes between Governments as a result of the 1958 Convention.

Reference was made to Norway by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West. There is the additional problem that the Norwegians do not like the idea at all. They are not arguing about measurements, they do not like the whole idea. The reason is not difficult to discover. It is that there is a deep trough from the Baltic to the Norwegian coast which cuts off the Norwegians entirely from the United Kingdom Continental Shelf, and so the Norwegians are in difficulties altogether. It has been said already that the Bill does not ratify the Convention. It also does not seem to lay down precisely the limits in which British sovereignty will be exercised.

My hon. Friend raised the difficulty of drawing a legal distinction between the right to exploit the seabed and the rights regarding the sea above it. All these are difficulties which are inevitable in something as new as this Measure. That is all the more reason—because this is a new step—that I think a greater effort should be made to get international agreement before a number of Governments draw up their own little Bills in which they cannot fail to give a frontier line or lay down details. Some Governments act by proclamation and others say they do not want to be in at all. We find that the Convention exploiting the high seas depends to some extent on the signatures of countries which have no high seas to exploit but hope that by adding their signature they may get a share in the "gravy" even though they have nothing to contribute.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) made the point about the possibility of submitting this whole problem to some form of international agreement and eventually giving the rights to this exploitation to some international body. I consider this a sound idea which ought to be examined, because otherwise there would seem to be the inevitability of endless frontier disputes. In my view, the Convention is unjust. It has been drawn up by people with a vested interest. In any case, we have had difficulty in getting the twenty-second signature. Even more important, this seems to me at this stage to be something which is not yet settled, and so a golden opportunity is provided to solve one major international problem which has been in existence for a long time. It is how to set about providing a central world authority with exploitable resources of its own.

We could have long debates about how nice it would be if the United Nations could exercise more authority in the world. There are some hon. Gentlemen opposite who do not think that it should. But the majority of hon. Members opposite, and all hon. Members on this side of the House, would like to see some form of international authority which had power to intervene in international disputes. This the United Nations cannot do for the simple reason that it depends for its power on the major signatories to the Charter. If any big Power refuses economic assistance to the United Nations for any reason, the organisation is completely unable to act.

I submit that the answer is to produce a situation where the United Nations does not have to depend on subventions and donations from member Governments, but has exploitable resources and is able to provide its own wealth and the funds for its own activities. This is a good place in which to start. We do not have to give up anything, because we have not yet got it. We do not have to break any existing international agreements, because there are none. We do not have to cause any enormous difficulties between nations, because it looks as if the international difficulties between nations on this issue are likely to arise out of the Convention and as a result of abrogating the Convention. I cannot help feeling that we are in the position that we were in perhaps 100 years ago, when we discovered unexplored parts of the world and we went in and in some instances provided great benefits for the people who lived there; but we took them over without any discussion with other nations and we laid the seeds for a great deal of international conflict in the years which were to follow.

The arguments about wealth under the sea will be enormous, because that wealth is immeasurable and enormous. As a lay Member of Parliament, I am used to being bewildered by Bills drawn up by lawyers. I suppose that we shall have to continue to have such Bills. The time when I drew up a Bill myself was the only time when a Bill contained parts which I understood. To me and to a large number of other people, it seems unreal that we should be laying down the sort of sanctions we should impose and the economic provisions for the sort of arguments that we have about territories which, so far, nobody agrees that we should have apart from 21 other nations. I hope that we may take this opportunity to make an imaginative gesture. We have our little Bill which does not mean much, because it does not define the areas so far, and we might get over the whole of the business by providing a meeting ground on this and other areas such as Antarctica which we could describe for the first time as international territory. We can then start to ensure that the world has some territory which cannot be the subject of dispute between sovereign nations, because it is not the property of sovereign nations and sovereign nations have no claim to its resources. That territory can also be the first step towards the creation of a world authority with power.

6.30 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

The debate has been one which we would all agree has been extraordinarily well-informed. The House has not been overcrowded, but each speech has had its own characteristics and contained its own contribution to a matter which is obviously of supreme importance.

As one listened, one had a kind of feeling of floating almost imperceptibly into another new and exciting phase of this brave modern world. We take nuclear power as something which is just one of those things. We use the words "automation" and "electronics" without, in the case of most of us, any real understanding of their tremendous significance in the development of the modern world. And here we are talking about the tremendous wealth under the seas. Imagination simply boggles at the figures.

The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) gave us an idea of the type of figures with which we are concerned. Eighteen countries are now carrying out borings up to, I gather, 60 miles from the coast. Twenty big oil companies have been prospecting for two years. Thus, we are obviously faced with a prospect of an enormous new development which, if properly, conscientiously and sensibly used, could add enormously to the wealth of the world and improve immensely the living standards of its inhabitants, both those of the developed countries and, what is, perhaps, even more important, the enormous number of millions who live in the less developed countries and who badly need the help of any new instrument which can make their lot happier, healthier and freer.

I hesitate very much to add to what I might call the "meat" of the debate, by which I mean the information which has been made available to the House by those hon. Members who understand what they are talking about, whether they are looking at the subject from the point of view of the prospector or, as in the case, for example, of my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland), from the viewpoint of the person who may be engaged as a worker in the process of prospecting. I will, pace my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and modestly make one or two observations from the point of view of my profession as a lawyer which may not be wholly irrelevant. Whilst I can well understand the grief and sense of ordeal which my hon. Friend experiences when he contemplates Bills prepared by lawyers, in the many years that I have been in this House I have never noticed that other hon. or right hon. Members are particularly slow to ask the assistance of lawyers in the not inconsiderable number of aspects of the work of the House of Commons in which that help may seem to be of value.

Mr. Marsh

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the main purpose behind the request for that assistance is the knowledge that our hon. and learned Friends can bamboozle and confuse the other side of the House far more efficiently than we can do ourselves.

Sir F. Soskice

I was wholly unconscious that that was the purpose of such addresses as have been directed at me. I modestly thought that I was being of value, but I understand that I was used merely as a foil to try to trick and deceive political adversaries. I am sorry to hear it.

In his references to the part that the United Nations has played in this matter, my hon. Friend did not give the whole and, perhaps, the rather more optimistic side of the picture. He said, and everybody would agree with him, that it would be desirable that any convention which was worked out should, so far as was conceivably possible, provide for the elimination of all sources of dispute in the future. Everybody would agree with that. When, however, one thinks of the enormous labour that went into the working out of the four Conventions—as I know, because I know something of how they were going on—and the measure of achievement which has been attained, I hope that he will think that some of his strictures are capable of slight modification.

One looks at Cmnd. 584, which is headed Report on the First United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea". There are four Conventions which are designed, certainly not to eliminate every possible source of dispute, but to make such modest steps as our human intellect is capable of in the great maelstrom of controversy between conflicting interests to try to work out some sense of order in the partitioning between the various nations of this enormous prospective source of wealth. Certainly, the Conventions are not perfect—nobody would claim that they are—but they are a step forward in the right direction.

I was very glad to read the speech in another place of a noble Lord, which you would not think it right for me to quote verbatim, Mr. Speaker, although I do not think that I would be transgressing the rules of order if I gave something of the substance of it. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, claimed on behalf of the United Nations, as a great instrument of international peace in developing international law, that this was a considerable achievement which should not be overlooked. Here is the United Nations, no doubt frustrated in many respects because of the exercise of the veto and the various disadvantages under which it has had to work in this troubled postwar world, nevertheless in this sphere achieving something really worthwhile and valuable.

Passing from that, although I would not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich in his rather wholesale condemnations, I nevertheless would like to put one or two questions to ascertain the Government's reaction concerning them. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and other hon. Members have mentioned Norway. I do not quite see how the definition of the Continental Shelf which appears in Article I would apply, for example, in the case of a country like Norway, which has deep water more than 400, or even 4,000, fathoms deep right off its coast.

One looks at Article I to see what one is talking about when using the term "Contnental Shelf". It is the sea bed and subsoil of the submarine areas adjacent to the coast but outside the area of the territorial sea, to a depth of 200 metres or, beyond that limit, to where the depth of the superjacent waters admits of the exploitation of the natural resources of the said areas". Clearly, that contemplates a gradual shelf, sloping away from the coast of a country and extending out to a point where the water is about 100 fathoms deep—that being, I understand, the equivalent of 200 metres—and beyond that to any further point where the water is deeper but still not too deep to make it impossible to carry out the work of getting the mineral rights in the subjacent soil

I do not quite see how that description could apply or fit the seas off the coast of Norway, where one gets, I understand, straight into deep water. If a person bathes, he has to be a thoroughly good swimmer. It is no good trying to paddle off the coast of Norway. I do not see how the definition would fit that situation.

Apart from that, the Convention is reasonably clear. It provides that the line of demarcation between various countries is to be either that line which they agree or, if they fail to agree, the median line between them. I suppose that as the Minister said in opening the debate, it could theoretically extend right out to the middle of the Atlantic.

How did these four Conventions come to be drawn up and how, in particular, did the Convention on the Continental Shelf come to be drawn up? I understand that it was in these circumstances that nation after nation in the second half of the 1940s, and in increasing numbers in the 1950s, were making unilateral claims by declaration to parts of the Continental Shelf adjoining their own shores. This was a situation which unless regulated was likely to lead to chaos and conflicting claims. It was in order to put an end to that and to introduce some measure of control and reason that these Conventions were negotiated by the United Nations. The United States put forward a big claim in 1945. Many other nations followed suit and we had this Convention on the Continental Shelf as a result.

In passing, there is another question which has puzzled and rather intrigued me on the definition in Article 2. What one can do in a Continental Shelf is that one may extract the natural resources, and if one asks what they are, they are set out in paragraph 4 of Article 2. They constitute, as one would expect, mineral and non-living resources, but then the Article comes to what is to me rather a conundrum, which was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, in another place. One is also entitled to have the living organisms belonging to sedentary species that is to say, organisms which, at the harvestable stage, either are immobile on or under the sea-bed or are unable to move except in constant physical contact with the sea-bed or the subsoil. This is a very intriguing concept.

The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, was asked what he thought it meant. He gave a terse reply which, as he indicated, in his view was quite ample to explain the whole situation with full illumination to the noble Lords who felt rather puzzled. He said that the simplest way of explaining that definition was to say that lobsters are not and crabs are. When I studied the Bill I pondered a long time on that passage. I took it that as crabs are we may prospect for crabs, but as lobsters are not we may not prospect for lobsters. I hope that when he replies the Minister will be so good as to enlighten the House on the subject, or at any rate enlighten me, because I felt slightly puzzled and I was concerned about the fate of the crabs compared with that of the lobsters.

Mr. Skeet

There are crab fishermen and they will come within the terms of the Bill. What protection would they have if somebody acted as a bandit in their area? This may be an important principle on which it might be possible to encourage my right hon. Friend to adopt some sort of criminal sanction.

Sir F. Soskice

The Parliamentary Secretary will have heard the question and, no doubt, will address himself to the reply.

Passing to the points which I noted to make in my speech, I put it to the Ministers that they owe an explanation of the delay. A number of hon. Members have referred to it. It seems rather curious that we should have this Bill, which we are now told we must pass in a hurry, when the Conventions were negotiated as far back as 1958 and this country is one of the last two who will ratify. The other country concerned is France who, according to the noble Lord in another place, had good reasons, whatever they may be, for being last or next to last. The Parliamentary Secretary should say something about this because, as everybody has said, this is an important Bill.

I pass now to another topic, and that is blow-outs. Considerable concern has been naturally felt over the possibility of blow-outs. This is one of those phrases which terrify people who do not understand the oil industry, and I am one of those persons. To speak of a blowout 100 fathoms below the surface of the sea is terrifying to me. Can one stop it? What are the dangers? And what are the dimensions of the risk of pollution by the escape of oil from the bottom of the sea? If the Minister can say something about this he will considerably reassure people like the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. The council has made representations on this aspect of the matter and is naturally concerned about the possibility of large amounts of oil streaming from a burst in a vein, or whatever the term is, and defiling our coastline. I do not know how far, from an engineering point of view, it is possible to staunch it, stop it or bung it up, or whatever the phrase is. This is a matter for concern.

Considerable criticism has been directed to the Clause which imposes a penalty upon the person operating the process of drilling unless he can show that he took all reasonable steps and did everything he could to staunch the outflow. I ask from an engineering point of view whether it would not be possible to require that certain specific precautions are taken, as a mandatory absolute obligation when drilling is performed, to minimise as far as it is conceivably possible the risk of blow-outs. Obviously they can do a great deal of harm, particularly if at that depth of water it is not easy to stop them once they have begun. I should be grateful for any information the Minister can give.

I was impressed by the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street. He is concerned about the safety of persons working on these installations. This is provided for, if at all, only in Clause 3(2) which contains what I should have thought in itself was a somewhat objectionable power of making, by way of delegation, orders which shall apply the whole of the civil law of the country to installations which may be out at sea in various parts of the Continental Shelf.

It would have been far more satisfactory if the Government had made part of the Bill at any rate the important British statutes which would be made applicable extra-territorially to these installations. Although we have to use delegated legislation a great deal, and valuable use of it is made, it is not satisfactory to be able holus bolus to apply the whole of the civil law by subordinate orders to these installations. And the Government have not used very happy language to do it.

They have said that Her Majesty may by Order in Council make provision for the determination, in accordance with the law in force in such part of the United Kingdom as may be specified in the Order, of questions arising out of acts or omissions taking place in a designated area … They do not say what acts or omissions they are talking about. They do not say, and they ought not to be able by delegated legislation to say, what is to happen if there is an actual omission in these installations and what omissions they are talking about. I make the further point that delegated legislation, anythow, should not be used on this extensive scale.

As has been said, we ought to know, for example, what provisions of the Factories Acts and other Acts, specifically concerned with the safety of the workers in what of necessity must be a dangerous operation far out at sea, are to be applicable in terms for the preservation of their safety. Equally, when one considers the application of the criminal law, are the words in Clause 3(1) apt to make it an offence, for example, not to take the precautions which are enjoined upon factory owners with reference to the safety of persons working in factories? The subsection does not say whether these installations are to be factories within the meaning of the Factories Acts. What has been done is by a single stroke of the pen to try to make applicable a lot of criminal legislation, with the result that there is considerable obscurity which we shall want to probe in Committee. I do not think that Clause 3(1) or 3(2) are satisfactory as designed.

May I ask a question about what was said by the hon. Member for Willesden, East? It looks to me as if what he said is right, if I may say so with respect, on the purely legal point, but I should like confirmation from the Minister. What is the position about natural gas? If it is obtained outside the limits of territorial waters by a developer, can he straightaway export it, or is he bound by Section 52 of the Gas Act, 1948, to sell it or offer it for sale to the Gas Board? What is the Minister's intention? I know that Section 4 of the Petroleum (Production) Act 1934, is incorporated in the Bill by Clause 1(3), and it seems to me that there is some conflict involved between Section 52 of the 1948 Act and Section 4 of the 1934 Act. I will not trouble the House with tiresome legal points because I should no doubt incur comment from my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, but I am not trying to ask trick questions; I am asking questions which I should like answered, and I hope that my hon. Friend believes me when I say that. Perhaps he will believe me because he has not put me up to the questions. They are on my own initiative.

The position seems to be that the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act. 1946 is made applicable and that all coal obtained from the seabed necessarily vests in the Coal Board which can then, if it wishes, export it. But in respect of oil and natural gas, am I right in thinking that a developer outside the territorial limit can get the natural gas and, under licence under the Petroleum (Production) Act in the case of oil, can export both the oil and the gas? Is that the position? I do not know what is the position about crabs, but not lobsters—whether they can be exported or what happens to them when they are got. I do not know whether they have to be sold to any concern in this country. Perhaps the Minister can tell us that.

A number of questions were asked, which I shall not repeat but shall emphasise, about the principles upon which these licenses will be granted under the 1934 Act. In particular, I am concerned about the amenity aspect. Is it open to the Minister—I think that under the terms of the 1934 Act it is doubtful—in considering whether he will grant a licence to a developer to take into account the possible amenity effect of the work which the developer wishes to carry out? I suppose that there will be many designated areas. There are 20 oil companies operating, and we may have a rash of several hundreds of these installations—whatever they look like. They rest on the water, sometimes on legs going to the bottom of the sea and sometimes, I understand—I may be wrong—being anchored. Can the amenity aspect be taken into account and compliance with amenity considerations made a condition of the grant of the licence? I shall be grateful if the Minister will be good enough to tell us.

As speakers from the Opposition often do, not unreasonably, I would say that this is a Bill which we must consider vary closely in Committee. It is a difficult Bill with a number of possible implications. But with that caveat I say, speaking for myself, that I greatly welcome it. It is obviously necessary to try to put into some legal framework the emerging problems which must arise as we proceed to address ourselves in the 1960s and 1970s to the exploitation of the seabed—we as a nation in the comity of nations who are equally concerned in the matter. It is a necessary Bill. Speaking personally, I welcome it very much, as do my right hon. and hon. Friends, but we shall have to press the Minister closely when we consider individual Clauses in Committee.

6.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. John Peyton)

I am obliged to the House for, on the whole, the very friendly welcome which the Bill has received. I thank the hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) for the courtesy of his speech. Despite the appalling reputation which he was given by his hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), far from bamboozling anybody, he put his questions perfectly fairly, and I accept that they are all serious. I hope that he will forgive me for feeling that I have been under fairly close cross-examination for the last few minutes. If I am unable to give him a detailed answer to all the points which he has raised, I am sure that he will not be entirely surprised. It is not because I wish to evade them, but he more than anybody will appreciate the difficulty which we face in treading what is very new ground.

All Governments face an appalling dilemma in choosing their methods of legislation. Either they produce a great book of which no ordinary person can understand one single word, but which is said to comprehend the whole of the scene, or they produce a simple document like this, leaving quite a lot of questions unanswered, it is true, and the criticism comes from a rather different direction.

May I deal with the point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), and by almost all speakers on all sides of the House, concerning the conditions under which the licences will be granted? The short answer is that the regulations under which the licences will be granted will be drafted with a view to securing the efficient and prompt exploitation of whatever resources may be below the seabed in the relevant areas.

I echo what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about the immense labour which went into the framing of these conventions. I thought that the hon. Member for Greenwich was a good deal less than fair to what has been a signal effort of international co-operation, and I suggest that had any attempt been made to establish with completion and nicety all the boundaries between the participating nations who have interests here, the task would have been unending and no progress would have been achieved at all.

May I answer the question about Norway? The Government's view is that the Norwegian Deep is not deep enough to preclude Norway from operating on the subsoil of the shallower waters beyond.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and others roundly charged us for delay. He knows the pressure upon the parliamentary timetable. Apart from that, no serious damage has been caused by such delay as there has been. In fact, preliminary work has been going on, and I understand that it is as a result of the preliminary work that progress has reached a point at which the pressure has made the need for the Bill urgent.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the danger of blow-outs. There is no gainsaying the gravity of this. In opening the debate my right hon. Friend referred to the fact that the Institute of Petroleum was adapting its code of safe practice to working under the conditions contemplated by the Bill. We should like to wait to see what comes out of that exercise, which we think is both important and useful.

I must tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman as clearly as I can the answer to the vital question which he raised about lobsters and crabs. It is such a great relief when one finds that these appallingly complicated questions have simple answers. The answer to this one is delightful; lobsters swim and crabs do not. Therefore, crabs are within the Convention, and lobsters are not.

On the question of the Factories Acts and the transfer and export of the law to cover these installations, I recognise the importance of this matter. The Government have no doubt about its importance. But I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in saying what he did, rather neglected the effect of Clause 3(1). The position of the Government is quite clear, that if anybody can point out a legal gap or flaw here, the Government would be most anxious to remedy it. The Government are not standing pat on a Bill which they state categorically covers every legal loophole, and we shall certainly consider the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) raised.

As to the conflict as to which governs the position, the Petroleum Act or the Gas Act, this point was raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the hon. Member for Hamilton and by my hon. Friends the Members for Esher (Sir W. Robson Brown), Reading (Mr. Peter Emery) and Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet), and this is eloquent testimony to its importance. It is the intention of the Government to introduce a clarifying Amendment in Committee.

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Hamilton for the welcome he gave to the Bill. He congratulated us on the fact that here we were, without a tremor, extending the field of public ownership and I would only say, with great humility of course, that this shows how free of bigotry we are. We simply do a thing in the best way according to the circumstances. I only hope that he will follow that notable example in his own sentiments, though I doubt whether he will have the chance to do so in practice.

The hon. Gentleman also made the point—and it is a constantly reiterated point—that we should work out a fuel policy. Nobody in my Department would challenge the need for a fuel policy. But I ask the hon. Member to bear in mind the lesson of what we are now doing, namely, that any fuel policy which is worked out has got to be at least flexible enough to accommodate such vastly important developments as this. None of us can foresee the future in terms either of discovery or of technological development. Therefore, we should never be the slaves of the kind of rigid policy which one sometimes hears advocated from the benches opposite.

Mr. T. Fraser

Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that in past debates when we have discussed fuel policy he has pushed aside as of no importance the fact that our oil imports exceeded £400 million a year? Now I think he recognises that that fact is an important reason for passing this Bill.

Mr. Peyton

I do not think that I have ever pushed aside as being of no importance this immense volume of oil imports. I would be the very first to state how important they are from the point of view of industry and the balance of payments. I have never been in any doubt about that.

The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East raised the question of the pipelines both inside territorial waters and on land—in other words, the ancillary rights. The Government made a promise, I believe in another place, that they would consider the position, and we have decided to introduce the necessary Amendment in Committee.

I think that I have already dealt briefly with the question of safety, health and welfare of workers. I should like to say in passing that we are not burking this point, nor are we neglectful of its immense importance. Of course, one accepts, in treading this kind of new ground, that extra careful attention must be given to the matter. I ask the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland), who raised this point, to accept that.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Fylde (Colonel Lancaster) rightly drew attention to the fact that if a large discovery did take place, it could have a massive effect upon our economy. He asked—and I understand him doing so—that British oil companies should get a fair crack of the whip. I do not think that I should say anything at this stage which would fetter the discretion of my right hon. Friend in making the regulations. It is important that the Government should be guided, above all, by the consideration to secure the prompt and efficient exploitation of whatever may be there. I would add only this. There is nothing to bar him from taking into account all relevant factors and, of course, that would include the consideration raised just now by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about amenities.

Mr. Hale

I know the hon. Gentleman has tried to deal fairly with the point, but he has not dealt with the real point of the application of the law. It is almost inevitable that with these installations we shall have to have new Orders and Statutory Instruments to make special provision for the workers. There are the Crown Commissioners and the Privy Council with powers in this connection. How do we apply the whole of our common law in relation to accidents, some Sections of our Factory Acts and some new regulations to make special provision for working deep down under water, and some criminal law provisions in respect of accidents? How is it proposed to do that?

Mr. Peyton

I should not like to give an answer "off the cuff." The hon. Member's speech covered matters of great importance, and we shall give them very careful consideration. We are anxious that when this Bill is given a Third Reading we shall produce a workable and satisfactory system from every point of view.

The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), I thought, was slightly unfair in the way in which he dealt with a United Nations document. He complained that it was a great pity that it could not be dealt with on an international basis, neglecting the fact that it was under United Nations auspices that these arrangements had been made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher indicated his broad acceptance of the Bill and he raised the important point of tariffs. He suggested, in particular, that the products should be treated, so far as protective duties are concerned, as indigenous oil and gas, and I see no reason to quarrel with that. I would, broadly speaking, accept it. He made a particular point about sales to the chemical industry—in other words, when the material was not sold for use as fuel. I have already dealt with this point broadly and, as I have said, the Government will be introducing a clarifying Amendment in Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading raised the question of tariffs and asked particularly about the position of foreign plant used in the North Sea. I can only say that the Government are considering amending the law so that so far as possible such plant will be dealt with, for protective duty purposes, as if it were being used in the United Kingdom.

I have already answered my hon. Friend's point about the Petroleum Act and the Gas Act. He also asked the very important question about the licensing system to be adopted, and I hope that he will accept the answer I have already given. I cannot at this stage say what size the designated areas are likely to be; that is very much a matter for later consideration.

Mr. Emery

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that the Ministry has made, or is making, a close examination of all systems of licensing that exist or have existed throughout the world? There is a great need for us to be able not to adopt any single system but to base our system on, for example, what has existed in certain parts of America, Ghana, and other areas, so that we can get the best of all worlds.

Mr. Peyton

I do not challenge the wisdom of what my hon. Friend says, and I can assure him that the Government will not neglect any likely source of wisdom or experience in this sphere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East welcomed the Bill, but took time off to give it a bit of castigation. I do not think that it is quite as bad as he made out, but I do not doubt that after he has given it his attention in Committee it will be considerably and materially improved. He referred, in particular, to pipelines and ancillary rights, and the granting of licences, with which I have dealt.

I do not wish to take up more of the time of the House, and I apologise if I have been forced, in the interests of economy of time, to skate over some of the detailed matters which, in particular, the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised. I do not gainsay their importance, but I appreciate the fact that, in general, the Bill has had a very cordial welcome.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).