HC Deb 14 April 1967 vol 744 cc1589-94

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

2.44 p.m.

Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill was supported on all sides on Second Reading and also in Committee. The real need to preserve wild life and the natural environments has been very much brought to our minds recently. In this Bill we have a chance to ensure that wild life will continue to exist anyhow in the Antarctic.

The freak accident to the "Torrey Canyon" may have killed up to 10,000 birds just at the beginning of breeding time. The R.S.P.C.A. is working round the clock to save Cornwall's wild life. Birds such as puffins, razor-bills, shags and cormorants and rare birds like divers and skuas have been killed or in many cases severely injured. Not only birds have suffered but also seals and shell fish and sea flora. The carnage has been terrible due to that one disaster. It is not only on our coasts; we now have reports that it is happening on the French coast.

The Bill is intendea to enable us to do what we can in concert with the other nations concerned to preserve the natural environment and the wild life in the Antarctic. This is a vital and worthwhile object, and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

2.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)

I have the very pleasant duty to say on behalf of the Government how much we welcome this small but important Bill and appreciate the very great care and skill with which the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) has piloted it through all its stages.

The Bill will enable the United Kingdom to carry out fully its obligations under the Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora which were adopted by the Third Consultative Meeting of the Antarctic Treaty Powers in Brussels in 1964. These Measures are set out in Schedule 2 of the Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is a very limited one, but there has been a large measure of international agreement, and I think that it is a very satisfactory circumstance that we are able to meet here today and, I hope, give the Bill a final blessing before sending it on its way to another place.

2.46 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

The Opposition welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) on his patience and the thoroughness with which he has piloted the Bill. We are also grateful to the Government for the fair wind that they have given to the Bill.

The Bill is admirable, particularly because it achieves two important things. First, it demonstrates how nations can work together on an international basis, for this Bill is the product of the Antarctic Treaty which brought together the Soviet Union, the United States and other nations which at the time it was signed were involved in many parts of the world in the danger of armed collision. Yet here was an example where nations freely agreed to neutralise the Antarctic, and to take a number of other steps, one of which is the preservation of the Antarctic for scientific purposes.

The second major reason for welcoming the Bill is that it will go a long way to protect the essential character and quality of the fauna and flora, and perhaps the beauty too, of the Antarctic continent. Many species of wild life in the world today are in danger of extinction. As my hon. Friend said, the "Torrey Canyon" disaster has focused our attention on the matter in Europe. But elsewhere there are instances where rare species are in danger from the impact of what we call civilisation. Here at least in the Antarctic there is a fair hope that they will be preserved and maintained.

In welcoming the Bill, I should like to put to the Minister two or three points. When other nations agree to the Treaty, I hope that the British Government will stress these points with vigour. First, we hope that an effort will be made to get as many other nations as possible to accede to the Treaty as quickly as possible. I understand that, besides those which originally signed the Treaty, one or two other countries have agreed to accept its provisions, but we hope that Her Majesty's Government will press on other nations the need to lay upon themselves the same obligations as we are accepting under the Treaty.

Also, as was pressed on the Minister in Committee, we hope that the British Government will request other nations to enforce comparability of punishment on their nations if they transgress the obligations which now are to be applied to British nationals, and also to seek a comparability of procedure for the issue of permits allowing exploration of the Antarctic.

Certainly, it would be a sad day if, in attempting to preserve the flora and fauna of Antarctica, we laid upon British citizens more onerous obligations than those laid by other nations upon their nationals. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State, as he undertook to do in Committee, will press this point.

I end by again congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster. How he manages to run so many international gatherings in the House of Commons and still worry about the penguins and seals of Antarctica is hard to understand. I congratulate him very much.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom), but we cannot allow this opportunity to go by without taking note that here we are extending penalties and protections to Antarctica which we sadly lack in the United Kingdom. There is a great demand in Britain for the proper protection of flora and fauna in this country, particularly in places of special scientific interest. The Nature Conservancy movement and the County Naturalist Trust support this Bill and have taken an interest in its passage, but they regret most sincerely that there is not the same protection in Britain as there is to be in Antarctica for flora and fauna.

When we considered Clause 3 in the Standing Committee, we discussed the very important point about the person in charge of an expedition who is to be given permits to issue licences for the gathering, collection and disturbance of rare flora and fauna in Antarctica. It is hard to get people to go on Antarctic expeditions. By the time one has found the medical officer and other usual members of such an expedition, how is one to be certain that it includes someone with sufficient knowledge of flora and fauna to be able to issue the necessary permits and keep the proper record of the activities that have been carried out?

In this Bill, we are dealing, for example, with some of the rarest lichens in the world. We know that they are exposed for short periods only in one special part of Antarctica. I am worried that the necessary scientific knowledge may not be available to the people in charge of an expedition who will have the duty of issuing permits and of keeping a proper record of collecting activities.

This is one of the most interesting Bills of the Session. The Standing Committee proceedings were very interesting. But I cannot go the whole way with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), who thinks that Antarctica might well come within the range of the tourist trade. I do not yet see great expeditions to Antarctica organised by American Express or Thomas Cook and made up of ambitious American tourists. But this farsighted Bill and the even more far-sighted treaty would cover even that kind of expedition. I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill with the caveat that it is sad that we do not have such an adequate and forward system of protection for our own flora and fauna in the United Kingdom.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

I want to make a brief comment before the Bill takes its proper and satisfactory course and, in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom), say that his efforts have aroused great and widespread interest—including, for example, that of the Herefordshire Ornithological Society which does so well—while recognising that the bird preservation side of the Bill is only part of it. It is only right that our country should be taking an international lead in a matter of this sort.

There are many instances where countries have got together in order to preserve wild life. For example, there is the Canadian-American combination. A firm called "Ducks Unlimited" exists. The wild fowl of North America breed in Canada and then follow their various four or five "flyways" to the United States and it is only by a combination of these two countries in international co-operation that certain breeds have been kept going.

On a visit to the United States this year—I had not been there for over 20 years—I was pleased to see that the snow goose and the blue goose were now existing in great numbers. This would not have been possible without international co-operation of the type echoed so well in the Bill.

There is one point on which I cross swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). He could not visualise what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) had suggested—tourist trade to Antarctica. He mentioned the United States.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

They are already going.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Those who know the people of the United States and have had the opportunity of studying them should not be surprised at anything they decide to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds says that people from the United States are already going to Antarctica as tourists. This attitude of mind in going to what we as children would have considered rather a curious place to spend a holiday in, comes from the point of view of the American people. First, America is a dynamic society which is always questing and always trying to find the answers to every problem put before it—and no place, however cold or wet or hot or high or deep is beyond the quest of man's ingenuity.

In the same way as people will increasingly wish to go to Antarctica, they will increasingly take an interest in oceanography, a science in which already we in this country are taking a growing interest and which, indeed, in the New World has been an object of study for rather longer. Great faculties of universities are taking more and more interest in all this.

Secondly, more and more young people of the United States and of our own country, in a world where the population is growing at a frightening rate, are saying, "Where is there a place to which we can get away to be quiet and undisturbed?"

I had not intended to speak so long as this. For the reasons that I have given it is evident that we should take a greater interest in the Antarctic and other similar places. I congratulate my hon. Friend and his colleagues on bringing forward the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third tune and passed.