HC Deb 09 November 1977 vol 938 cc658-9
11. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Ninth Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting recently held in London, particularly regarding the conservation of marine living resources and exploitation of mineral resources.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Edward Rowlands)

The Government regard the outcome of the meeting as satisfactory. The participants agreed to recommend to their Governments that they conclude before the end of next year a definitive regime for the conservation, including rational use, of Antarctic marine living resources. They also recommended rapid action towards an internationally agreed approach to the exploration and exploitation of Antarctic minerals. I have arranged to place in the Library of the House a copy of the statement released to the Press by the chairman after the close of the meeting.

Mr. Knox

Did the consultative meeting discuss the possibility of an exclusive economic marine zone around the Antarctic land mass, and, if so, what conclusions did it reach about it?

Mr. Rowlands

That was not in itself discussed. However, the general issue of the way in which we intend to deal with the problems of economic resources in the area was central to the whole of the meeting. What was encouraging was the way in which all members of the meeting agreed that they had to have an international outlook, and to look not just at their own interests but to the interests of the international community as a whole. This was an extremely encouraging meeting.

Mr. James Johnson

In this context, does the Minister accept that there are stocks of fish in the South Atlantic equivalent at least to those which we have fished for centuries in the North Atlantic? Will he consider declaring, or is he prepared to declare, a 200-mile limit line from Asuncion, St. Helena, Falklands and South Georgia? Furthermore, is he aware that there is an active South Atlantic Committee which has members from all sections of the industry and Members from both sides of the House and which is backed by the White Fish Authority, and in this context will he be prepared, say, to finance a vessel for a commercial survey in that part of the world?

Mr. Rowlands

The question of a 200-mile fishing zone around the British Antarctic territory is being considered, obviously, but I believe it is vitally important that we do not try to continue to present and promote national interests in this respect. Obviously there are many national interests, but the real value of this meeting of the members to the Antarctic Treaty is that they sometimes subsume their national interest in the greater interest. This is of greater value in trying to deal with the question of their convention for the conservation of fishing resources in the area.