HC Deb 23 July 1969 vol 787 cc1772-802

5.34 p.m.

Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)

Only two years ago a debate on this subject, that is, on the future régime of the seabed, would have been greeted with incomprehension and consternation in this House and elsewhere. It would have been thought somewhat similar to asking for a debate on the future régime of the moon and, who knows, we may quite shortly be having a discussion in this House and elsewhere on precisely the subject of the future régime of the moon! Those were the days which have been aptly called in a recent debate in the other place the pre-Pardo days, the days before Dr. Pardo, the Maltese Ambassador to the United Nations raised this vitally important subject in the United Nations.

Because there is now greater public awareness and public knowledge of this problem, I do not propose during the debate to go into a number of aspects of the problem and will concentrate on a single one. In addition, a number of aspects of this problem are now being discussed in different forums outside the main discussion in New York. There is first the question of disarmament which is now being discussed in Geneva. I do not propose today to say anything about that topic of disarmament of the seabed.

Secondly, there is the question of pollution, which has been discussed so far in I.M.C.O. and will be discussed again in the International Conference on the Environment which has been called for 1972. Again, although this is certainly relevant to the régime of the seabed, I do not propose to say anything very much on that subject.

Finally, there is the question of the fundamental international law governing the seabed: above all, the question of the limit of the Continental Shelf which was considered, in a very inadequate way, in the Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1958. There is fairly general agreement in the discussions in New York—not universal agreement but wide agreement—that it would be very difficult to reach any final conclusion on this extremely controversial question of international law, until there is a greater consensus than at present on the question of the régime itself on the seabed.

Until one knows what kind of system will operate in the deep sea it is difficult for nations to decide how much of their waters or of their seabed they would preserve either for their own national jurisdiction or for their own exclusive national exploitation. Therefore, on that aspect again, I do not propose to say very much. I wish to confine my remarks to a single question.

Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Before the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) leaves that subject, could he say how he considers the law to work over this matter? Does he believe that the under-water territory is limited or, as has been argued by many jurists, that it extends, as in the case of St. Helena, to the division of land halfway to the next continent?

Mr. Luard

I think it is impossible to say exactly what the international law is. It is significant that one point on which there has been precise agreement in New York is that there is an area of the seabed which lies beyond national jurisdiction. Therefore, there could be no attempt to interpret the 1958 Convention, as it could be interpreted, to mean that nations could claim exclusive national rights to exploitation up to halfway across the ocean. That is one limited advance. It would not advance us if I were to expound my interpretation of the 1958 Convention or what I think the law should be. A convenient law would be to accept the 200 metre limit contained in the 1958 Convention and use this alone. Unfortunately, it is becoming very late to use such a limit at this stage.

I want to deal primarily with the question of what type of régime shall be established in this acknowledged international area, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction and exploitation. There is fairly universal agreement that some kind of rule or regulation is required to govern this area, although there are very wide differences as to what exactly is implied by this. This has led to an exchange of somewhat esoteric terms, on which there are differences between States. Some nations speak of "internationally agreed arrangements", others speak of "international machinery", and others of "an international régime" or even "international control". They mean quite different things by these terms.

In the ad hoc Committee that was established immediately after the Maltese delegation raised this in 1967, there was considerable discussion of the various "principles" that should be applied in the exploitation of this international area. Two rival sets of principles were put forward. One, put forward mainly by the developing countries came to be known as List "A". The other was mainly formulated by the British delegation, but was subsequently supported primarily by the more developed countries, in later discussions. In many ways these principles do not diverge very greatly though there is one particular principle where they do diverge significantly, with which I shall deal later.

It was not possible to reach an agreed set of principles during the meetings of the ad hoc Committee nor during the meeting of the General Assembly last autumn. At that Session of the Assembly the whole question was remitted to a permanent committee to discuss the seabed. There has been further discussion during the two sessions of the Committee about the various principles, and different nations have put their views forward. It remains the case that so far there is no universal agreement, but it is also the case that on a number of principles there appears to be a considerable degree of unanimity. I say "appears to be" because it may seem a matter of self-congratulation that there is so much agreement already on these various principles; it would not be very difficult, for example, to reach agreement—there may be attempts to do so in the forthcoming meetings in New York—on a minimum set of principles. Unfortunately this is nothing like such an achievement as many people would like to believe, because these principles are of an extremely general and abstract character which can mean much or little.

For example, I said earlier that one of the principles which has been almost universally agreed is that there is an area of the seabed lying beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. It may seem that that is an important advance, at least it means that nations cannot carve out large areas of the seabed and say "This is ours. We intend to exploit it and not to let anyone else do so." Unfortunately this principle does not take us very far. Does it mean that that international area of the sea-bed belongs to anyone, that is that anyone can come along and say, "This belongs to no one and therefore I can exploit it as much as I like. I can sell it as much as I like". That is, first come, first served? Or does it mean that this area does not belong to any single nation and therefore belongs to the international community as a whole and cannot be exploited except under such conditions and according to such regulations as the international community lays down?

There is general agreement that the seabed should be used only for peaceful purposes. Does this mean, as some nations have contended, that it cannot be used for any kind of military purpose, defensive or offensive, or that it can only be used for defensive purposes? For example, are detector devices, designed to detect submarines, permissible in the area? Similarly, there is agreement that the seabed should be used "for the benefit of and in the interests of all mankind". Does this mean that the resources of the seabed and the profits from those resources must be shared equally among all the nations of the world, or does it simply mean that any nation can come along and exploit them, but that in doing so it must pay regard to the interests of other nations in respect of pollution, safety and such matters?

There is agreement that "special regard should be paid to the interests of developing countries". Does this mean that these countries must share directly in the profits of the resources of the seabed, or does it simply mean that any country or company can unilaterally exploit some area of the seabed, but voluntarily make a payment for international community purposes. Again, there is a good deal of agreement on some very general and worthy objectives, for example, that the régime should be an "impartial" one, that it should be "effective" and "non-discriminatory". There is general agreement that it should provide a balance of advantages for all States, whether or not maritime States, including land-locked States. There is general agreement that the régime should provide a firm basis for future exploration and exploitation. But all these principles can be interpreted in a number of different ways. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will not, in explaining the Government's policy, merely repeat, as did his hon. and noble Friend in another place, vague and abstract principles of this kind. He will be aware that if he does so he will be telling us nothing that we do not know already, and nothing which gives any indication of Her Majesty's Government's policy about the régime to be established for the seabed.

I want to refer to two points which are of fundamental importance and on which the House has a right to a clear expression of view from the Government. I said earlier that there was a general degree of agreement about the principles, but that there was one upon which there was great divergence. The first lot of principles put forward mainly by the developing countries, the "A" set of principles, includes a principle that the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof are the "common heritage of mankind". This is a principle which is obviously of fundamental importance, because it goes to the root of the whole problem. It is a very simple problem, but because of the rather esoteric language used throughout these debates it is never confronted. This is: to whom do these resources belong?

The developing countries and some others accept the principle that the ocean floor and the seabed and the subsoil thereof are the common heritage of mankind because they say that these resources belong to the whole of mankind, and although they cannot be exploited equally by the whole of mankind at least the benefits should be enjoyed by the whole of mankind. We have a right to hear whether the Government accept this principle, that these resources, however they may be exploited, are the common heritage of mankind.

If that is denied we really are back in the rather primitive situation of first-come, first served. If the Government accept that these resources belong to nobody, they appear to be accepting that any nation or any company can begin to exploit them on the ground that they belong to nobody and, therefore, can be appropriated by whatever company gets there first. Therefore, it is important to know the Government's position on that point.

The second point on which we are entitled to a clear expression of opinion from the Government is that which will be discussed next month in New York about the type of régime which will be established and the kind of conditions which will be laid down for exploration and exploitation of the seabed.

Everybody agrees that there must be some régime and there must be some arrangements governing exploration and exploitation of the seabed. Indeed, a month or two ago the Secretariat of the United Nations, at the request of the Committee, produced an interesting document setting out a series of alternative possible régimes for the seabed ranging from a simple system of registration of claims by nations or companies hoping to exploit, through a system of licensing by which nations would have to receive some kind of licence from an international body to exploit particular areas, to a system of full-scale international exploitation of these resources.

It will be generally agreed that a system of registration alone would be totally inadequate to the type of problem that we have here. If registration only was required for claims to exploitation, we would again be back in the situation of first come, first served. It would be as if when giving concessions to exploit our own North Sea area we had said to British or, indeed, to foreign companies: "We believe that there are resources in this area. You can all come to this area and whoever gets there first can take the oil or the natural gas. So long as they tell us".

If we think about it, we will recognise that it will lead to total anarchy and chaos. It would perhaps mean that there would be cut-throat competition and a desperate race to reach the most profitable areas first. There would be no way of determining which nations had the right to particular areas because they had registered a claim; that is, that they had notified some authority that they wanted to exploit any one area. Nor would there be any indication that the resources and the benefits of exploitation of the area would be shared equitably among countries. Therefore, I hope that the Government, in the discussions next month, will make clear that they do not regard registration alone as an adequate type of régime for these vitally important areas.

The second alternative, from a practical point of view, is the most likely to be adopted, namely, some system similar to that which we adopted over the North Sea and are about to adopt for the Irish Sea. That is a system under which an entire area of the ocean bed would be divided into different sections, presumably of equal area, and would be allocated either to particular countries which could in turn reach agreements and make concessions to companies, or direct to companies. It would not be necessary to have the same areas for every resource of the seabed. There could be a different grid, or system of allocation, for natural gas and oil, for the hydrocarbons —and for minerals, because often a different sized area might be the most economically efficient to use.

Similarly, different licences might be given for exploration and for exploitation. One way—again as we have done with our North Sea area—would be to give licences for a limited period, but to make provision for the relinquishment at least of part of the area after a certain time. I suggest that this is the type of system which, at least in the first place, the Government should support in the discussions at the United Nations. I hope that we will have some clarification about that at the conclusion of the debate. In this way the developing countries could be given a substantial share in the benefits of these resources. This would depend to some extent on the terms on which the concessions were made, but it would ensure that these resources were retained under the control of the international community. Private companies would often be gaining some profits from their exploitation, but we must accept that, at least at present, only large private companies have the expertise and facilities for direct exploitation of the resources. We are really concerned with where the main profits and control of that exploitation go.

The final method—and again I hope that the Government will not close their eyes to this possibility—is international exploitation as such. It is rather apposite that only two hours ago we heard a statement from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power about the provision, which has been slightly amended, for our North Sea and Irish Sea areas. Some of the things that he said, partly in reply to hon. Gentlemen opposite, were extremely appropriate and relevant to this subject.

For example, my right hon. Friend said that it was not inappropriate for this country, in areas which are acknowledged to be available to it for exploitation—its own continental shelf—to ensure that British companies acquired a major share of the benefits of exploitation. I suggest that it is not inappropriate for the international community to ensure that it gains a large part of the benefit of the areas which it will be apportioning at some time in future.

Another similar point was made by my right hon. Friend. He felt that he had assured, by the decision that he had just announced, a considerable measure of public participation in this exploitation. To make an analogy with the international community, in that case there should be considerable benefit in international participation in the exploitation of this area. I accept that we do not have the international companies and resources which would make this possibility feasible in the immediate future. But, in considering the régime for this area, I hope that the Government will express the wish that some parts of the area might be reserved for fully international exploitation of this kind at some time in future.

In the past the Government have often made clear their concern that any régime for this area should not deter exploration and exploitation. This is obviously an aim which everyone must share to some extent. It is a question of degree.

It was rather interesting that, in the arrangements made for our North Sea area, the Government, in a sense, were rejecting the principle that this should be the overriding concern. They felt that it was important to ensure that the opportunities for exploiting our North Sea area should be fairly distributed among different companies and that the nationalised corporations should have an opportunity of exploring and exploiting. Similarly, in considering the international area of the sea bed, it is not unreasonable to think that the avoiding of deterring of companies from exploiting should not be the sole consideration. Those are the two questions on which I very much hope my right hon. Friend will give us a clear statement of the Government's policy.

In concluding, I should like to reaffirm what I suggested at the beginning, namely, the enormous importance of this subject and of the decisions which may be reached in New York in the not too far distant future. What we are really concerned with here is the future ownership and the future exploitation of the major part of the world's resources. It is true that not all these resources will be exploited within the immediate future, but the decisions that are reached now about the principles which should govern that regime may determine, directly or indirectly, the benefits to be gained from those resources almost as far ahead as we can see.

What really is at issue here is whether those resources will be used primarily for the advantage of those countries that are already most developed, infinitely richer, and best able to exploit them from a purely commercial point of view, or whether those benefits will be shared equitably among all the nations of mankind. I am glad to say that the Government have frequently affirmed their desire to give the maximum possible aid to the developing countries. The Government have recently expressed regret that because of our economic situation they cannot do more to help the developing countries. I believe that this issue will be the prime test of the Government's goodwill in this matter, and of how far they mean to put into effect the noble sentiments which they have expressed on his subject.

I do not think that there is anything which the Government could do which would do more to assist the developing countries than to adopt a generous attitude towards this question of the future régime of the sea bed, because the resources available there are infinitely greater than anything that we shall ever have to offer the developing countries at this time or in future. Moreover, this is a step which the Government can take which will be of inestimable value to the developing countries, but which will cost us very little. It is not a question of any sacrifice of our present standards of living, or our present national income, but only a willingness to forgo some of the benefits which our nation might acquire at some time in the future if we adopt a grasping and selfish attitude towards this important problem.

I hope, therefore, that in replying to the debate my right hon. Friend will make it clear that it is the Government's policy in the discussions in the Committee to give their support to this régime which on the one hand will ensure the fair distribution of the benefits of this vitally important area of the developed as well as to the developing countries, and on the other to do this by the same method that we have adopted in our Socialist Party in this country: by creating publicly-owned resources to be developed in a public way, and so establish perhaps the first productive process which is run neither by a private company nor by a nationalised corporation, but a fully international agency.

6.3 p.m.

Mr. John Taney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) on being so early in the ballot. He started his speech by saying that two years ago it would have seemed almost impossible to debate this subject. I remind the hon. Gentleman that a. year ago, almost to the day, I was lucky enough to have a debate on the Adjournment for the Summer Recess, in which I think he participated, on this very subject. At that time I wondered whether the whole doctrine of the freedom of the seas, one in which we have been brought up to believe, and to think of as paramount for the safety of Britain, should not be questioned because of the developments of technology, and because what we have is really anarchy on the sea bed and in the super adjacent waters, if that is the correct adjective to use. It is not really freedom. To get the production that tie world wants, some sort of law and order, rather than anarchy, ought to prevail.

I think that we can draw a lesson from what man did in this country when most of the land was covered with forests and was also common land. Man was largely a hunter in many parts of the country, as he is in the sea now. There is very little farming of the sea today. A year ago I referred to what the Japanese have done in immensely increasing the yield of oysters. I was told only today that some states on the seashore of the United States are much more backward than the Romans were in their day, because in those States anyone can collect oysters. They cannot be protected. The Romans enclosed some of the bays of Italy so that the oyster beds would fructify. One must have some form of security and certainly of tenure if production is to increase.

The hon. Gentleman asked who these resources belonged to? And whether they should be the common heritage of mankind. That question certainly must be asked, but there is another question, too, and that is how can we increase those resources? I very much doubt whether we can do it without some law and order on the sea.

It seems to me that there are four parts of this problem. First, the deep ocean bed, which may be far from flat, which may contain great mountain ranges which do not break the surface of the sea. Second, the super adjacent waters above that, very undulating, and possibly rugged submarine landscape. Third, the Continental slope, which some nations will say extend very much further than do others, and, forth, the territorial waters.

I think that there is no shadow of doubt that nation states will and must continue to organise these last two. It will be very different to hand them over to an international body, but I believe that the time has come to hand the ocean bed and the great waters of the oceans over to some international agency. It is not much good handing them over to the United Nations, because China, with her huge sea board, is not a member of the United Nations. One hopes that in time she will be, but until then some other form of agency must be evolved. It is vital for all maritime nations to safeguard the right of innocent passage in those waters in peace or war, though one prays that there will not be another great international war.

How important is the question of the main waters and the food in them? I am told—and this is information from the F.A.O.—that the catch of North Atlantic cod could probably be increased if there were half the number of fishermen after it, at half the cost, and that the possible savings could amount to as much as 175 million dollars per annum. This is one of the problems of organising the international fish catch of the world. Following that comes the great problem of what to do with half the fishermen who are now engaged on that catch, and also what would be the claim of all the other countries which at the moment do not have fishing fleets. One recalls that Taiwan has become a major fishing country, whereas 20 years ago it had no fishing fleet. There will be a constant demand for more countries to participate in the catch throughout the oceans.

How, too, can we obtain the necessary capital to exploit or farm the sea, if we cannot have security of tenure? Who would go into a great forest to exploit the lumber if he thought that somebody else would come in and cut down many of the trees on which he had counted for his own revenue? That is the position of the world's fishing industry.

There are three alternatives. First, we can partition the oceans and the seabed by agreement—as suggested by my noble Friend—which would obviously be unfair to the landlocked countries and many other countries which have only very small seaboards. Secondly, we can go bumbling along as we are now, with certain nations trying to grab as much as possible by claiming a vested interest in the exploitation of fishing rights in certain areas of the ocean. That would be reminiscent of the grab for Africa in the last century, and might well lead to as alarming incidents and near-war as the grab for Africa entailed. Thirdly —and much the most sensible line—we can create some international agency, somewhat like the World Bank, to grant licences and to control exploitation, in the way that licences are granted for the protection of the oil and gas in the North Sea or the Irish Sea or, for that matter, Liverpool Bay.

But there will remain quite a large problem for someone to deal with. The House will be aware that not long ago the great blue whale could be numbered almost in hundreds of thousands—certainly in tens of thousands. It is the largest mammal known. I am told that there are no fewer than 1,000. Because of the exploitation of that mammal fishermen first turned to the sei whale, which has also declined enormously in number, and then to the fin whale. It is immensely important for the world to tackle this problem. I am told that now that they are protected these whales may recover, but that it will take about 50 years.

There has been one treaty which is of some interest. As long ago as 1911 there was the Treaty of the North Pacific, which dealt with fur seals. Four countries participated in that, but two of them—Canada and Japan—said that they would not catch any fur seals in the open sea, and they were rewarded for their denial by receiving 15 per cent. of the catch. These are the things that form precedents for action to he taken in respect of food and fish for the future.

Many people say that salmon will become scarce in our waters because of what the Danes are rightly doing off the coast of West Greenland. There is also the problem of tuna. There is the division between what is known as recreational fishing and commercial fishing. Sooner or later someone must decide what the quota should be—who may have to be bought out, and how the situation is to be controlled and policed. The only sensible thing to do is to create an agency which derives its revenue from royalties and licences and which has power to help in the greater production of food for mankind.

The question of pollution has been mentioned. Large areas of the sea are virtually deserts, because they are too dark for the survival of plant life on which the plankton feeds, which, in turn, ultimately feeds the fish. It is arguable that by man's action, artificial humboldt currents can be created. But, equally, if man decides to dump atomic waste on the ocean bed he does immense damage to the production of fish. Nobody controls that. There is no international body which says, "You can dump your atomic waste here, or there." It is anyone's decision as to where the waste should go. I therefore beg the right hon. Gentleman to support the action of the Maltese and others and to press for the setting up of some international agency which will be able to take one small faltering step towards a solution of this major problem.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that this is the second of about 40 debates. Reasonably brief speeches will help.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I accept what you say about reasonably brief speeches for those who are fortunate enough to be called early in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate, Mr. Speaker. My speech takes the form of suggesting a series of points which should be on the agenda for New York. Before dealing with the agenda, however, I want to point out that an informed section of opinion believes that the British organisation of marine sciences is far from satisfactory, partly because 12 different Departments are involved. A genuine Whitehall problem evists. In my view it would be a good thing to co-ordinate within, oddly enough, the Ministry of Defence, because the Navy have the hardware.

I am authorised to say, having had discussions with him both in Washington and here, that the former chairman of the American Marine Sciences Council—Mr. Hubert Humphrey—as late as one month ago, stuck to the opinion that the British effort would be very much more effective if there was one body with which the American Marine Sciences Council felt it could deal. Here is an informed opinion from a man who was a major politician and who took an active interest in his work in a rather esoteric subject. It may be true that fish do not vote, but here is a man who knew what he was saying when he suggested what the Government should do—and the Government should take this to heart. During the Recess there should be some consideration of Ministerial arrangements in this increasingly complex field.

The lawyers have had their say. First, some consideration on the New York agenda should be given to the management problems involved in any major operation on the sea bed. I want to give one concrete example. A real problem arises in connection with the Australian Barrier Reef—whether it should be developed for tourist purposes, for its very rich fish resources, or for scientific purposes. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to make any comment on this point during the debate, but some study, through our excellent representation in Australia—where I have just been—of the problems of the barrier reef would be well worth while. Management techniques must be applied. If we learn anything from the moon project it will surely be that management techniques are vitally important. I put that as my first point on the agenda for discussion in New York, with the Australian representatives.

Secondly, I should like to see a follow up of the first international conference which was staged in marine sciences, that at Brighton, which several hon. Members visited. It would be a pity if this were in any sense to be a unique conference. It should be the first of a, series. It was an example of what international seminars and exhibitions combined can be, and certainly it was the opinion of international industry present that it was extremely successful and worth following up. At New York, would my right hon. Friend discuss, with other representatives there, the possibility of having a regular international conference—I do not say annually, but perhaps biannually?

Thirdly, in the matter of defence, I know that the proposals of Senator Claiborne Pell, of Rhode Island, reside in the Foreign Office. It is within the recollection of my right hon. Friend that he was particularly concerned about the problem of nuclear silos, and particularly silos on the North Atlantic Ridge. The whole question arises of the emplacement of static weapons on the seabed. This is a very serious subject—rather different from Polaris and Poseidon. My right hon. Friend knows that I am one of those who support the Government's policy on Polaris. The emplacement problem is very different technically and it should be urgently raised, because if there were to be any kind of arms race with emplacements on the seabed, it would have an extremely deleterious effect.

The fourth point which l should like to be raised in New York is that of dumping. I do not think that I need to say anything more than that the proposed dumping of chemical weapons in the Atlantic causes grave suspicion to those of us who have had discussions in this field, and I should have thought that both at New York and, may I say, at Geneva there is a place in the discussions for how to get rid of out-of-date chemical—and I hope not biological—weapons, but, in the light of events in Okinawa, perhaps I will say biological weapons, too.

Fifthly, as other hon. Members have said, there is the issue of pollution, which cannot be solved by one country. Pollution knows no international frontiers. If, as some of us would like, considerable penalties are to be introduced against the individual skippers of ships, some of us would like to see them embodied in British legislation, but, goodness knows, they should be applied to other countries whose ships come to our shores, because without that it becomes meaningless.

Sixthly, I should like to follow the point of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) about the Atlantic salmon. We have been given assurances by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that discussions are taking place with the Danish Government on this matter, in respect of the location of the breeding ground off Suukertoppen, near Greenland, but unless something is done within the next two years there will be no Atlantic salmon and it will go the way of the blue whale.

On the blue whale, I recently had the good fortune to be on an official delegation to Japan and to discuss this matter in Japan, and I do not think that there is much doubt that the Japanese have not yet taken effective action in the North Pacific. Soon it will not be a question of 1,000 blue whales; it will be a question of none at all. As a council member of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society and a passionate conservator, I think that this should be raised with the Japanese Government and at New York.

Finally, I should like to make a reference to the statement of the Minister of Power this afternoon. I was delighted to hear what was said about the Minch, for example, but I think that there is an urgent issue as to the extent to which an individual country exploits what might be called even its own waters, because if we are to help the developing countries, I suggest that if the capital is to be forthcoming we must have certain guarantees from those countries that our stake is safeguarded. I am not at all clear that we can do in our waters things on which we might expect the developing countries of the world to yield. Although many of my right hon. Friends are complete, 100 per cent. inter- nationalists—my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer)—for example—in this matter, I must confess a degree of scepticism—I will not say a cynicism—as to the extent to which exploitation of the sea bed can be any kind of panacea to help the developing countries. I do not think that we can escape our obligations by saying that we can do something about the sea bed even if we do little else.

I would ask a few hard-headed questions. First, from where is the incentive and capital to come? Anybody who knows about it knows that in terms of capital these workings are exceedingly expensive, and without normal commercial guarantees I do not see that the capital equipment will be forthcoming. Therefore, when it is hooked to the Pardo proposals and to the idea that developing countries will be greatly helped by the exploration and exploitation of the sea, I must confess to a certain amount of hesitation, and I ask for scrutiny of the question whether this meets up with reality.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

This is not the first occasion on which my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) have placed the House in their debt by inaugurating a debate on this subject and it is not the first occasion, either, on which the informed moderation and respectability of their contributions has modulated in advance the swashbuckling abandon of my own approach to the subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), has contributed his profound technological knowledge to the subject. In obedience, Mr. Speaker, to your exhortations to hon. Members to make short speeches, I will delay taking up his challenge on the international aspect, but I will make a reference to it later. I hope now to make a comment on the problems of law and administration which arise.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford said, we have here two separate problems. The first is which area of the sea bed is to be preserved against national exploitation—preserved, in the words of Dr. Pardo, as the common heritage of mankind. Secondly, when we have decided which area is to be preserved, how are we to administer it? The two problems are inseparable. We cannot decide upon administration without having some idea of which area is to be administered. Conversely, we cannot invite national Governments to renounce their right to appropriation unless they have some idea what is to happen to the area which they have renounced.

I accept that for the Government this is a difficult problem. They cannot proceed faster than the speed at which they can persuade other Governments to accompany them. They cannot proceed in advance of an agreement. If they are too ambitious the whole scheme may fail because no agreement is reached. If they are too modest, such agreement as may be reached will be ineffective.

I appreciate, of course, that this is largely a matter of judgment where we attempt to draw the line, but it is better to err on the side of hope than on the side of despair. There are more examples than one in history of imaginative projects which have succeeded because those Governments which might otherwise have been reluctant to acquiesce have been even more reluctant to expose their natural chauvinism. Even if the worst happened and if we failed to reach an agreement at all—and that hardly bears contemplating—my regard for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is such that I should like him to go down in history as a man who failed because he was ahead of his time rather than because he was a man who did not measure up to the challenge of the time.

May I comment on the question which the noble Lord raised, the criterion of the area in which natural exploitation is limited? It all began with general acceptance of territorial waters combined with a, limited jurisdiction over the remainder of the belt up to 12 miles. That received the seal of approval with one of the Conventions of 1958. But this was not enough for some of the land-hungry and resource-hungry countries, which say an opportunity of exploiting these possibilities. They wanted the Continental Shelf, and the Convention of 1958, in effect, accorded them a substantial jurisdiction over the Continental Shelf, defined as that area of the ocean floor up to a depth of 200 metres or beyond that limit to where the depth of the superjacent waters admitting of the exploitation of the natural resources of the said areas If the criterion had remained at 200 metres, it would have been worrying enough. The territorial waters represent about 3 per cent. of the sea bed, and the 200-metre limit adds another 10 per cent., so already we have renounced the heritage of mankind to an extent of 13 per cent. If we then say that it is possible to appropriate even further than that, up to the possibilities of exploitation, there are two rather worrying aspects.

First, it provides what has been called a gratuitous bonus to the developed countries as against those with less technological know-how. Those in a position to exploit receive an even further acceleration of their standards of living Perhaps even worse, the area which is beyond the possibility of exploitation is diminishing very rapidly. It may very rapidly diminish to the point where it ceases to exist, and then the Convention imposes only one limit. It says that then the State which occupies the adjacent coastline might appropriate up to the median line, until it meets the Continental Shelf of the country opposite.

As I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said in another place earlier this month, this would entail that Pitcairn Island could appropriate an area in the one direction half-way to Cape Horn and in the other half-way to Mexico. I think that the noble Lord this afternoon mentioned the possibilities for an island like St. Helena.

In those circumstances one might have wondered whether already the time had come to call a halt. But now it has been suggested that we might even go further and look at what is called the Continental Rise, which, my noble earlier this month, was recently invented by the University of Columbia.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot refer to speeches in the other place unless they are by Ministers making official statements of Government policy.

Mr. Archer

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and will rapidly return to order.

I hope that it will not appear churlish to make a small complaint about the Report on Marine Science and Technology for which many of us asked repeatedly for a long time. I believe that the diagrammatic profile at the end is a little misleading. The Continental Rise is shown as having a fairly substantial gradient, but the gradient we are dealing with varies between one degree and one-tenth of one degree. To you and me, Mr. Speaker, this would appear to be level, but that is the criterion now suggested as yet a further area of expropriation. We have renounced 13 per cent. of the seabed. The Continental Shelf represents a further 10 per cent. In so far as it is possible to assess the Continental Rise, it is about a further 20 per cent. If that claim were conceded we would have renounced a total of 43 per cent. of the area of the seabed.

As my hon. Friend the Member for oxford said, it appears to be agreed on all sides that there is part of the ocean floor which is not susceptible of national exploitation, but one begins to wonder where it now lies. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will pledge the Government to say on behalf of the people of this country at least that the limit has already been reached and that we shall not give away any more of our children's heritage.

How is this to be administered? There appear to be three major problems requiring some techniques of administration—the question of control of exploitation, the question of defence, and the question of pollution. It would be tempting to follow my hon. Friend on the question of pollution. We had a fearful example only a few weeks ago of 40 million fish in the Rhine being killed by poison from what appears to be one factory in West Germany. Seals are being caught in the Antarctic that contain D.D.T., which must have been poured into the water many thousands of miles away. If ever we needed a reminder that we are members one of another, and that the question can be dealt with only internationally, we have had it in the past few weeks.

My right hon. Friend said something about the matter at Question Time the other day, and we had an Answer from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the subject earlier this week. I will content myself with suggesting that for his vacation reading my right hon. Friend might like to include a pamphlet on ocean pollution by Miss M. Sibthorpe, if he has not already read it. Incidently, I am very grateful to the Committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Morris Bathurst, Q.C., of which Miss Sibthorpe is a distinguished member, appointed to advise the Parliamentary Group for World Government on this question.

I now come to the subject of exploitation. In the debate last year I referred to the possibilities of a bonanza, and was rapidly taken to task by a number of distinguished authorities. In spite of what my hon. Friend said earlier, I am wholly unrepentant. I believe that there are here the possibilities of solving many of our economic problems.

I believe, with Doctor Pardo, that there is the possibility of closing the gap between developed and under-developed countries. I believe, with Lord Ritchie-Calder, that it would be possible in the existing state of knowledge to make enormous inroads on our economic problems. We are not waiting for further technological developments; we already have the knowledge.

I accept that part of the problem is the necessity for capital. Whether that capital is provided publicly or by private companies, it will be necessary to offer some form of security to ensure that some part of the rewards will return to those who provide it. I wholly accept this, and I would not suggest for a moment that the whole of the rewards should be taken away from them. But they must recognise that a great part of the security of which they speak depends on effective international control. One cannot have security in a general free-for-all.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will press for two things here. First, I believe, with Senator Pell, that it is necessary to have enforceable sanctions. I believe in what Senator Pell has called a Seaguard, and to what Miss Sibthorpe has referred to as an inspectorate for pollution.

We are tied to legal concepts associated with freedom of the seas, but even the most technical of us does not seriously believe that freedom of the seas or anywhere else can exist in a power vacuum. We could give meaning to an international offence of stealing or damaging part of the common heritage, though I accept that the expression "common heritage" does not yet have a clearly defined meaning international law. I was delighted to see that the United Kingdom representative on the Legal Sub-Committee of the United Nations tried to deal with this problem on 16th March this year, when he said that it is not a self-explanatory legal concept, but can be worked out functionally in practice in dealing with the various aspects on which it arises and the idea of an international criminal offence is one that many people accepted as long ago as 1948, when we discussed the Genocide Act.

The second thing that I hope my right hon. Friend will press for is a clear international authority. I agree that it will not do to have "internationally-agreed arrangements". We must have an authority, if ony to control the companies which will, we hope, pursue the exploitation, because a company can these days so easily avoid national control according to where it registers its office and the flag of convenience it adopts. I would be the last to under-rate the contribution of the international companies here, and I would not wish to knock them, but I would like to see them answerable to a clearly defined international authority. Such an international authority should be composed of civil servants at least, who do not owe their allegiance to any specific national authority, who are perhaps products of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

There is a great deal more one is tempted to say but I am mindful of your injunction, Mr. Speaker. We are learning a great deal about the administration of legal concepts entailed in international territory. We have discussed the Antarctic and outer space. Now it appears, from the events of the last week, that the possibilities of international territory are bounded only by the limits of space itself. I pay my tribute to the enormous contribution made on this subject by the Government of Malta through their representative, Dr. Pardo. They are continuing to contribute by acting as host this year to a summer school on the question of hydrospace, which will be attended by many distinguished delegates.

But if we cannot solve the problems entailed here on our own planet on the ocean bed, we shall show that we are unworthy to cope with the problems of an expanding universe.

6.41 p.m.

Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) for introducing this interesting subject. We have also had interesting contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) and from the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer). I think that the main point of the speech of the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton was his hope that the Foreign Secretary would succeed in achieving the internationalisation of the sea bed, and this tied in very much with what the hon. Member for Oxford made the theme of his speech.

This is an ambition far easier to make than it will be to implement. The first thing I want the Minister to explain is precisely what is to be internationalised, if anything. After all, ore cannot internationalise anything unless one knows what one is internationalising. The great problem, it still seems to me, is who is the actual owner of the sea bed and where the under-sea territories of countries adjacent to it actually end.

If we turn back to the International Continental Shelf Convention, 1958, again and again we come to this sentence in relation to the sovereign rights of exploitation by a coastal State concerning its natural resources on its Continental Shelf: … the sea-bed and the 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 area. That, I understand, leaves the position very unclear. As I said earlier, when I asked the hon. Gentleman how he interpreted it, it leaves us in rather a void. I hope, therefore, we shall get an interpretation of the precise ownership of the sea from the Minister.

Will the Minister say where the Continental Shelf and other rights actually are? Does St. Helena technically have the right to develop the sea half-way to Africa and half-way to South America? These questions must be sorted out if there is to be any effective internationalisation of the sea bed. Having said that, however, we come to further difficulties. To mix a metaphor, in trying to internationalise the sea and confine the limits of countries, we are in a sense bolting the door after the horse has gone, because the North Sea has already been divided among the European countries to their own and our self-interest.

Mr. Luard

The North Sea is all at a depth of less than 200 metres, so, under the definition the hon. Member has mentioned, it is Continental Shelf. The problem arises over areas more than 200 metres in depth, but which may be, on that definition, exploitable. That is where the ambiguity of the phrase arises.

Viscount Lambton

I was coming to that, but I do not think that the division of the North Sea was strictly in relation to its depth, but rather on geographical factors.

I will give other examples which show how dill-cult it is to make legislation now For instance, the United States Government have given rights of development 100 miles off-shore, the Honduras Government no less than 225 miles off-shore and the Australian Government 200 miles off-shore.

Apart from these promises which have been made, one comes to the military use of under-water territories. As far as I know, it is estimated that the United States has already spent about 400 million dollars on submarine tracking devices, and there is no doubt that it is fearful of surprise from under water.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford proposed that there should be, as it were, international blocks allocated to different nations. But suppose some of these blocks came to 300 or 400 miles from the American coast. Can one conceive the American Government being willing to allow a block to one of the satellite countries within easy striking range of the United States and vice versa? The Soviet Government are equally determined to exploit the under-water possibilities of the sea. We are, therefore, faced with far greater difficulties than is immediately supposed.

I come to what is perhaps a more personal point—the value of the properties under the sea. It has not really been mentioned yet. I understand that the mineral reserves under the sea so far as they are known are variously estimated to be between nine and 170 trillion tons. Some of the nodules found have up to 57 per cent. manganese and a high iron and copper content. The wealth there is so great and so undeveloped that we can be certain that other nations apart from ourselves will want to develop it; and it is likely that there will be scant consideration for internationalisation on an idealistic mould as proposed by the hon. Member for Oxford.

The question which arises out of the debate is what is Her Majesty's Government doing in preparing us to take advantage of this great opportunity of untapped mineral reserves which lies adjacent to our own waters and in areas and waters adjacent to, even in the most strictly limited sense, territories of our dependancies and colonies? What action have the Government taken? This country has been left totally behind in the space race and I sincerely hope that it will not be left behind in the under-water race.

I was rather surprised this afternoon when the Minister of Power, having been asked whether he had consulted the National Environment Research Council about developments in the Irish and North Sea, replied that he had not done so. This is rather curious and it makes one wonder whether there is a cohesive policy being conceived by the Government for this development.

The fact remains that this is the greatest untapped region of reserves in the world. As the use of minerals grows, so will their shortage increase. I hope that the Government are preparing to take this opportunity and not to be left behind. I ask the Minister to elucidate a little further the precise points of supposed ownership.

6.50 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I should like to follow the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) and other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) both on his good fortune in the Ballot, which has resulted in this debate being held at a reasonable hour, and on raising what a short but interesting debate has shown to be an extremely important subject. Certainly, Her Majesty's Government regard it as an extremely important subject and one of enormous potential not only for ourselves, but for the development of world technology.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) asked whether we supported the Malta initiative. We have consistently supported that initiative since it was put to the General Assembly of the United Nations in December, 1967, and followed by the ad hoc committee of 35 States, of which we have been a member. We can claim to have taken an active and constructive part in the work of that committee since it was set up. As the House knows, there was an important sitting of the committee last August in Rio de Janeiro and we hope to make substantial further progress when the committee meets again in New York on 11th August, in a few weeks.

One would be over-optimistic to expect rapid progress, because of the nature of the problems with which we have to grapple. Both the noble lord and my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) indicated the nature of the difficulties we have to face. There is first the problem of defining the area and then the problem of agreeing an international régime. While I agree that these are difficult, in a moderate way I share the optimism of my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford in thinking that these problems can and must be worked out in a proper international way.

I want, first, to make clear Her Majesty's Government's aims in these negotiations. We want to promote the well-balanced development of the sea bed. Already about 17 per cent. of the world's oil comes from the Continental Shelf. I understand that drilling may soon be technically possible beyond the 200-metre depth.

As several hon. Members have said, the sea bed is vital to our defence interests. We have been and still are a maritime nation and we are totally dedicated to the preservation of the freedom of the sea. Our general political interest is to promote the principle of the rule of law in international dealings and to preserve the sea bed for peaceful use. Not only is it in our general interest to take a leading part in these international discussions, but we have done so.

I should like to point out the great difficulty of translating what are admirable general propositions into real international conventions, international agencies, and so forth. We all subscribe—I certainly do—to the proposition that the sea bed should be reserved for peaceful uses, but when one gets down to trying to define what is a peaceful use, one has to say whether cables used by military organisations for messages are peaceful or non-peaceful and what is the deep-sea bed and where national limits end and international limits begin. This, then, becomes an extremely difficult question.

My hon. Friend was a little hard when he said that he did not want to hear about general propositions of a vague character. I noted several, which I wanted to put to him, in the concluding and moving remarks of his own speech.

After all, the position of developing countries, and so on, is very important and I hope that he will not be offended if I state our criteria. We have not approached these questions from any kind of rigid position. This is an extremely important but also an extremely new field of international negotiation, and it will be difficult to get the only kind of con-census that will make an international convention possible.

Understandably, most if not all countries approach all these problems from the point of view of their own national interest, which is what one would expect. There is an enormous difference between the attitude of countries which are landlocked, which have no access to the sea, and those which have a large Continental Shelf. There are other countries which have access to the sea but no continental shelf. They all, naturally, take different views of the important questions which the noble Lord posed.

I want to make it quite clear that we accept that there is an area of the sea beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. We accept the concept of the common heritage of mankind, and this concept was acknowledged at the recent Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference.

But what is extremely difficult is to get international agreement about where national boundaries should end and international boundaries begin. We favour the establishment of an international régime governing the peaceful exploration and exploitation of that area which is international, beyond national jurisdiction, as soon as practicable. While there are substantial problems about defining where the continental shelf ends, and so on, they can be overcome.

I understand that the continental margin is only about 20 per cent. of the total sea area, so that, while this is a substantial problem, it is not as large as the noble Lord suggested.

Viscount Lambton

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will define the meaning of the sentence where the depth of the superjacent waters admits of the exploitation of the natural resources of the said areas."?

Mr. Mulley

I should be happy to do that if I thought that it was within my competence. This issue has been before the International Court of Justice. In a recent case, it was made clear that in the opinion of the International Court the rights of States stem ab initio from the extension of the land mass under the sea. This is an extremely complex, difficult and controversial issue.

This is one of the difficulties which must be resolved and one of the reasons why we have not made the progress which we should. Some line must be drawn which will be internationally acceptable. We cannot go beyond that. We are carefully studying the various points of view, such as that of the International Court, and we must try to get an international consensus. We do not favour any concept of free for all.

I disagree with the noble Lord when he says that we should be preparing ourselves to "enter the race". The last thing we want is a kind of colonial race under the sea, with people rushing to grab this area or that.

Mr. Archer

When my right hen. Friend says that the continental margin amounts to 20 per cent. of the sea floor, will he make it clear that that entails a welcome exclusion of the Continental Rise, which is a further 20 per cent?

Mr. Mulley

I should like to go into more detail on these conflicting questions, but I am very conscious of the time and I think that it is the broad desire of the House to discuss the main issue in the forthcoming New York meetings. I wanted to tell the House the principles which we have already put to the committee and shall try to get accepted by it at that meeting.

We accept that there is an area of the sea beyond national jurisdiction and that in that international area we favour the establishment of an international régime to govern the peaceful exploration and exploitation of that area. I note what my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford said about registration not being sufficient and we would certainly envisage a system of licences. We would expect that there would be payment of royalties, some international supervision, provision for settling disputes and machinery for protecting the sea bed against pollution.

Apart from the other pollution problems, there would be possibilities of pollution as one extended exploration and exploitation. It is also important to preserve the access to the seabed for proper scientific research. This is our approach and we are convinced that the régime must be acceptable to all, or a large majority of, the members of the United Nations. Therefore, it must be equitable, it must offer a balance of advantage to all States, including the landlocked States.

Because of the way in which it has been presented by Malta and the other countries—we support this concept—it must take special account of the interests of the developing countries. At the same time, I endorse the warning of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that it would take an enormous amount of capital to develop these resources and that it would he a mistake for anyone to feel that there is a gold mine sitting on the seabed for someone to plunder.

If the arrangements are so conceived as to put a prohibitive price on the exploitation of these resources, that would be detrimental to the development of our natural resources and, in the long run, to the interests of the developing countries, too. This régime must clearly provide a firm basis for exploration, exploitation and scientific research. It should impose as few restrictions as possible. It must protect the seabed resources from pollution and contain effective provision for settling disputes. We agree very much about the importance of the fishing problems mentioned by the hon. Member for Wavertree, but we do not feel that these negotiations are the best way to deal with them.

Equally, on the broader question of pollution of the sea, as I said at Question Time, earlier this week, we feel that the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation, the specialist agency of the United Nations, is best placed to continue the discussion in this field. I also mentioned that we have recently succeeded in getting, largely on Her Majesty's Government's initiative, an agreement to improve matters within our own North Sea area. This agreement will become effective next month. So we are making progress, but it is essentially slow and difficult progress because of the nature of the problems.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian mentioned arms control and disarmament. We believe that this can and, perhaps, would best be dealt with separately from the peaceful exploitation and exploration and that the Disarmament Committee in Geneva is the more appropriate venue. This matter has been before that committee, I stated Her Majesty's Government's position there, and there are two rival draft treaties before the committee—one from the Soviet Union, which, broadly, seeks to ban all military activities on the sea bed, and one by the United States which is concerned to ban the emplacement or fixing of nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction on the sea bed, to complete, as they put it, a nuclear ban already achieved in outer space and in Antarctica.

We believe that one could find a situation between the Soviet and the American positions. I have made it clear that we could not entertain any arrangements which would prohibit the antisubmarine devices which are essential for our self-defence. At the same time, while supporting the banning of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, we are studying and would be favourably disposed towards any other bans which could be effective on the sea bed, but which would not make our proper warning, intelligence and antisubmarine systems ineffective.

Therefore, I hope that, during the coming weeks even, we may make dramatic progress in arms control. Although it is not without difficulty, it is a rather simpler problem than the whole concept of devising an international agency, with licensing, and so on, for the exploration and exploitation of all the immense resources of the sea bed.

At the same time, there is already, within the Geneva discussions the problem of definitions. The Soviet draft treaty talks about 12 miles from the coast, the rest being subject to the international ban; the United States goes further and talks about the international zone starting three miles from national territories. Even in the relatively more simple arms control area, therefore, there is still a problem in defining the area of the ban. I have made it clear, and I think that it is accepted, that whatever area may be designated as part of the arms control arrangement, this should not be regarded as a precedent, either for law of the sea discussions or for this international committee in New York. Obviously, from a disarmament and an arms control point of view the larger the area over which the ban on weapons can be the better.

I hope that this has given the House an indication of the objectives that the Government have in these very important but fairly difficult negotiations. Out first aim must be to secure agreement on the principles. This may be rather tiresome, but unless we can get international agreement on the principles on which a new régime should be established we cannot make a profitable advance towards that régime itself. So, our aim is to get agreement on the principles and then to get the establishment of a régime through international agreement which will, I hope, meet the desires and ambitions of my hon. Friend, to whom we are indebted for introducing this subject today.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House of the scope of the debate on Second Reading of the Bill. Any questions of administrative policy can be raised which are implied in or covered by the grant of Supply, but questions of taxation and legislation cannot be raised.

I remind the House, too, that this is the third of many debates to be held throughout the night and that reasonably brief speeches will help.

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