HC Deb 21 November 1968 vol 773 cc1529-31
Q5. Mr. Tilney

asked the Prime Minister whether, in the context of his Answer to the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) on 15th October on the internationalisation of the ocean bed, the statement by Mr. Hildyard of the United Kingdom Mission in the First Committee of the United Nations on 1st November was made with his approval.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Tilney

Since the Prime Minister said that he did not think that a case had yet been made out for international control over the ocean floor, whereas the leader of the British delegation shortly afterwards said that he strongly held the view that there should be an international régime, is this not a very pleasant change? Should not anarchy over the ocean floor be ended as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister

We must be careful to avoid getting into semantic arguments, particularly on the ocean floor. What I said on 15th October was that there was very real need for international co-operation in this matter. We have made it clear at the United Nations that, in our view, there is an area of sea bed lying beyond the limits of national jurisdiction over which no State may claim sovereignty. Therefore, if no national régime is possible we agreed, and authorised Mr. Hildyard to say, that an international régime is the right answer.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend realise that internationalisation of the ocean bed has got added urgency owing to the extensive explorations not only in the North Sea but also in the Indian Ocean and the accidents and other consequences that follow from those explorations?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, and this is true of many other offshore areas—for example, the recent important discoveries off Australia and elsewhere. This is a matter of great importance and urgency because of the growing series of discoveries of important minerals under the sea bed rather than under the land.

Mr. Lubbock

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the technology of recovering materials from the sea bed beyond the limit of the Continental Shelf is developing extremely rapidly and that this is becoming a matter of great urgency? Will he resolve the Government's policy and present definite proposals to the United Nations on which we can all act?

The Prime Minister

I realise exactly what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. We have been taking this seriously both nationally and in discussions at the United Nations. But we are a considerable way as yet from international agreement on how the control of those parts of the sea bed which do not fall under national jurisdiction should be handled.

Mr. Archer

While appreciating my right hon. Friend's previous answer, may I ask him to say unequivocally that the Labour Government are at least as internationalist on this as the United States?

The Prime Minister

That is our position. But there is a large number of countries with whom it is necessary to reach agreement on these matters. Recognising the long history of disagreement about territorial jurisdiction at sea level, I do not want to underestimate the difficulties about similar problems of international jurisdiction over the sea bed.