HC Deb 26 June 1991 vol 193 cc984-6
8. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the meeting of the Antarctic treaty nations in Madrid.

Mr. Garel-Jones

There was general acceptance by most parties, including the United Kingdom, of the draft text of an environmental protocol to the Antarctic treaty and of four annexes dealing with marine pollution, waste disposal, conservation of wildlife and environmental impact assessment.

Parties failed, however, to reach consensus on the text of the review article, No. 24, of the protocol. In particular, the United States requested more time to consider the amendment procedure for any minerals ban. A further meeting will be held before October at which we hope that the protocol and its annexes will be adopted.

Mr. Martlew

Included in the Minister's statements in the past has always been the need for consensus between nations on the Antarctic treaty. Will he confirm that the United States Government have moved to a policy of majority voting? Will he confirm also that that is entirely opposed by the British Government? Does he agree that there has been a considerable amount of backsliding by the United States Government? What efforts is he making to ensure that the United States Government sign the treaty that was agreed in April in Madrid?

Mr. Garel-Jones

Fortunately, I do not have to answer at the Dispatch Box for the position of the United States. The hon. Gentleman is right in that the main purpose of the Government's policy has been to seek consensus. He will recall that shortly after assuming these responsibilities I advised the House, with the authority of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, that we were reviewing our policy. It was we who came forward with a proposal to seek consensus around a moratorium, and that has found favour with almost all our treaty partners. I am confident that the United States will find a way of joining the consensus that we very much support.

Mr. Foulkes

Does not the Minister recall that on 16 January he claimed that Britain had led the way on Antarctica? In his euphoric letter of 10 May to all hon. Members he said that he anticipated agreement in June. Did he know then that the Americans were planning to sabotage the agreement? If he did, he was misleading us. If he did not, he was being deceived by them. Will he now do what the director of the World Wide Fund for Nature asked in the letter of 20 May to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, to which the director has had no reply, and put pressure on the American Government to accept the draft protocol, to agree a ban on mining in Antarctica and, to use the Minister's own words in the letter, hand over Antarctica in pristine condition to future generations"?

Mr. Garel-Jones

The hon. Gentleman is trying very hard, is he not?

Mr. Foulkes

Why don't you try harder?

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to my letters, because they make it clear that the British Government, without being over-boastful, have some reason to claim that our initiative before the Madrid conference assisted our treaty partners to return to consensus. One leader of a non-governmental organisation, in an effort—misplaced, I believe—to put pressure on the British Government, told me before we went to Madrid that the United States had agreed to a world park.

The point about the negotiations is that it is not for me to answer at this Dispatch Box for other Governments. The United States knows very well what the position of the United Kingdom is. The United States is studying the protocol at the moment, and I am confident that we shall find a way of returning to consensus.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I regret that I was distracted for a moment and called two hon. Members from the same side of the House. Now I must redress the balance.

Mr. Boscawen

Will my hon. Friend take note of the increasing concern of people who work in Antarctica and the south Atlantic about the future of HMS Endurance? Does he hope very soon to have a concrete answer about what the Government can do in that respect?

Mr. Garel-Jones

As my hon. Friend knows, the vessel underwent a major refit to allow her to remain in commission in Antarctic waters until the mid-1990s. A replacement is planned for that time. No decision to the contrary has been taken.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Does my hon. Friend agree that what the environment of the Antarctic does not need is hot air and grandiose rhetoric? It needs agreements that stick and are signed, especially by nations with appalling environmental records. Such nations should sign an agreement and be kept to it. Are not the Government to be complimented on continuing to work to bring them all together and get them to stick to a line?

Mr. Garel-Jones

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will be aware, as will the House, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was one of the first leaders of any country to welcome the consensus that was reached. I am sure that both my hon. Friend and the House will be interested to know that Her Majesty's Government are already giving close attention to the need for a secretariat to supervise the Antarctic treaty partners and the future of Antarctica.

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