HL Deb 03 December 1963 vol 253 cc924-36

3.50 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words of welcome to this very necessary Bill. I should like to begin by trying to deal with two points made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. He questioned the fact that there was no incorporation in the Bill of the definition of "continental shelf" contained in the Convention. I had exactly the same feeling when I read the Bill for the first time; I was surprised to find that the Convention was not scheduled to the Bill, as frequently happens, and that not even the definition of the continental shelf was incorporated in it. But, on reflection and on examination of the Bill, it seemed to me that on the whole the draftsman was wise in not doing more than he has done, because the moment the Convention or any part of it is incorporated in the Bill it is immediately exposed—if I may say so in the absence of the noble and learned Lords of Appeal—to opportunities of decision by national tribunals, and in that way, if that is so in every country adopting the Convention, one can see that we run a very considerable risk of a whole crop of diverse interpretations being given by the courts. It therefore seems to me quite prudent not to incorporate into the Bill more of the Convention than is actually required.

Another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—or should I say a question addressed to me?—was this: what is the international law on the continental shelf? The answer to that is that the continental shelf is such a new concept that it is difficult to say that there is any international law upon it. It is for that very reason that this Convention is being entered into; thereby we are now engaged in the process of making by agreement new international law to cover a new concept.

Just let me, if I may, go a little further back than the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, did into the history of this matter. The term "continental shelf" was used in a geological and geographical sense as early as the 1870s, but in a legal sense I do not think it was used until 1945, when President Truman published a very important declaration establishing the claim of his country to exploit the resources of a large area described as the "continental shelf" adjacent to its shores. That, I think, was the dawn of this idea upon the legal horizon, and I remember that at the time it was regarded as quite new and unfamiliar. That declaration by President Truman was very naturally followed by a whole crop or rash of similar unilateral declarations made by a large number of countries, notably Latin America countries, and for a time it looked as if the situation was pretty chaotic; that is to say, different countries were making claims of different extents and different legal theories were being evolved as to the exact legal nature of the interest of the State in the continental shelf. Is it property, or what is it?

It was for that reason that the United Nations, in pursuance of its task of the codification and progressive development of International Law, instructed its appropriate organ, the International Law Commission, a body now of 25 persons, I believe, to study this new concept. This body, the International Law Commission, comprises many of the leading international lawyers of the world: and we are, of course, represented upon it. It sits for some eight or ten weeks of the year in Geneva, and has spent many sessions studying the whole question of the law of the sea, including this new concept of the continental shelf. It prepared a report of great value. Thereupon the next stage was that the United Nations summoned an international Conference for the purpose of considering this report and, if possible, embodying it in one or more conventions.

That Conference look place in the year 1958. It was attended by the Governments of 70 States, and although they failed to reach agreement on a point which we considered of great importance—namely, the extent of territorial waters and your Lordships will recollect that there was a very close vote on the question of the six-mile-limit—over a very large area of the law of the Sea, including the continental shelf, agreement was reached and embodied in the Convention to which the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has referred. That was a very important achievement and a useful illustration of the way in which new International Law can be made and of the very essential part the United Nations takes in the making of it.

Turning to the Bill, may I just mention one point? I do not think it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent—indeed, it is irrelevant to the Bill; but it may bring balm to the minds of those of your Lordships who are keen on the Channel tunnel. The Convention contains an Article 7 to this effect: "The provisions of these Articles shall not prejudice the right of the coastal State to exploit the subsoil by means of tunnelling, irrespective of the depth of water above the subsoil."


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, because I am interested in his interpretation? I was wondering whether he is satisfied that putting a tunnel through the subsoil is in fact exploiting it? I personally thought that "exploiting" meant something other than "transiting" through an area.


Well, I cannot claim any responsibility for the Convention, but I should have thought that there would be little difficulty in holding that by making use of the subsoil you were exploiting it for a particular purpose.

Now to come to the Bill. May I venture to make one or two points which may at first sight appear to be more in the nature of Committee points, but which perhaps if raised now can be more easily dealt with at the Committee stage? The first is this: that Clause 2 relates to offences that may be committed as a result of a ship's entering any part of a designated area. My recollection of the oil installations—I think I have seen photographs of them in the waters of the Middle East—is that there are a series of what look like Eiffel Towers sticking out of the water, some of them quite high. I should have thought that low-flying aircraft might present a certain danger to those installations and that it might be helpful if power were taken to stipulate a certain height for aircraft when passing over these installations. I do not think that that is dealt with in the Bill at present.

My second comment on the text of the Bill is this—the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton evidently had some apprehensions on this problem. Where one is dealing with an attempt to exercise criminal and civil jurisdiction over something in this country, or some act or omission outside, careful language has to be chosen in order to make sure that that jurisdiction is vested in our courts. In the case of crime, of course, it is much more important where the crime is going to be committed by a foreigner, because if it is being committed by a British subject then the courts may have a personal jurisdiction over that person. Therefore, on various occasions in our history when we have needed any such powers, we have had to legislate. Take, for instance, the Territorial Waters Jurisdiction Act, 1878, where as the result of a most important decision it was found that there was a certain gap in our law which it was necessary to fill up by making it quite clear that an offence committed in territorial waters was justiciable in the English criminal courts. I need not read the whole of the section, but Section 1 of the Act of 1878 stated directly that An offence committed by a person, whether he is or is not a subject of Her Majesty, on the open sea within the territorial waters of Her Majesty's dominions, is an offence within the jurisdiction of the Admiral. The rest of the clause I need not read. There we get the positive statement that an offence committed within territorial waters is an offence within the jurisdiction of the Admiral.

When I look at Article 3 (I must say that our Parliamentary Counsel are so highly expert that one hesitates to raise any question on their drafting in a matter like this), I would point out that there have recently been some most troublesome decisions on the question of jurisdiction arising under the Civil Aviation Act, 1949. There was The Queen v. Martin and The Queen v. Naylor. I would refer to Article 3, and Article 9(1), the last sentence of which is: and the offence may for all incidental purposes be treated as having been committed in any place in the United Kingdom. I am not sufficiently expert in these matters to go further than to say that I feel that this question of whether the words of the Bill are adequate for the purpose of conferring jurisdiction in crime, and for civil purposes such as an action for damages is very difficult. One must remember that in criminal cases the burden of proof is on the Crown. If there is any doubt about the jurisdiction of the court then the court will not act. Possibly the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and his legal advisers could have another look at that.

One of the difficulties that arose in the recent cases to which I have referred was the question whether a particular clause in the Statute dealt with the creation of a new offence, or whether it related merely to what lawyers call the venue, the locus within which the offence could be tried. I think that is all I need say. I welcome the Bill as an illustration of the task that the United Nations performs in the progressive development of international law: and of course I also welcome the Bill as marking accessibility to a new source of wealth for this country.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome the introduction of this Bill, first of all in view of the expansion of demand, which has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Derwent, in this country for petroleum products, and secondly on account of the increasing demand for higher revenue by the oil-producing countries. In the words of Mr. Fuad Ruhani, Secretary-General of OPEC (the Organisation of Oil-Producing Countries) the aim of that organisation is "getting the most in accordance with equity from our oil for our people." I understand, too, that this organisation is now only three years old, and another of its aims is to put pressure on the oil companies. It is interesting to know that about 90 per cent. of the oil in international markets comes from countries which belong to or are affiliated to OPEC.

To deal with Clause 1 of the Bill, concerning exploration and exploitation of the continental shelf, I can imagine that certain Members of your Lordships' House, or members of the public, at first sight might feel anxiety at the thought of numerous drilling rigs being set up off our coasts involving risks of pollution, navigational hazards and safety considerations. With regard to the risk of pollution and safety considerations, modern practice has to a great extent nullified them by the use, for instance, of what are termed "blow-out preventers." I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the question of blow-outs, and believe that to-day a "gusher," as I believe it is known technically, is a very rare occurrence indeed. Furthermore, there is adequate protection afforded by the penalties which can be imposed under Clause 5.

With regard to the question of safety of navigation, this should be guaranteed by the application of Part II of the Coast Protection Act, 1949; by the establishment of safety zones (which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Derwent and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton) around the necessary installations; and also by the fact that such installations cannot be set up in an area which could cause interference to the use of recognised sea lanes. So that there are a number of safeguards on these safety aspects. I agree that the provisions of Article 5, paragraph 1, of the Convention on the Continental Shelf are also very clear indeed. Offshore drilling is not new to this country for the BP Exploration Company undertook drilling two and a half miles offshore from Lulworth Cove, in Dorset, at a depth of 60 feet below water. I am sorry to say that they did not strike oil, and I understood that they had to abandon operations.

In May of last year your Lordships passed the Pipe-lines Act, and there are two points I should like to raise which may be relevant also to that Act. The first is the question of protection of pipelines under territorial waters—not under the high seas, but under territorial waters. The provisions of the Submarine Telegraph Act, 1885, would appear to cover submarine cables in territorial waters as well as under the high seas. Under Clause 7(1) of the Bill we are discussing, this protection would appear to be extended to pipe-lines under the high seas only. I am wondering whether such protection is afforded to pipe-lines under territorial waters. Assuming that the Pipe-lines Act, 1962, extends to the limits of our territorial waters, I can find no reference in that Act—or, for that matter, in this Bill—to provisions for punishment for damaging pipe-lines under our territorial waters, or for liability to pay compensation for damage. This is surely an omission which deserves consideration, and possibly rectification; for when this Bill comes into effect there will certainly be a number of pipe-lines which will come into our territorial waters.

Secondly, there is the question of compulsory acquisition of ancillary rights. Clause 1(3) of this Bill states that Sections 2, 4 and 6 of the Petroleum (Production) Act, 1934 shall apply, but Section 3 of the 1934 Act has not been incorporated in this Bill. That Section 3 contained provisions enabling a licence-holder to acquire certain rights appertaining, for instance, to the storing of petroleum. Section 60 of the Pipelines Act specially excludes petroleum depots from the provisions of that Act. The type of storage which I have in mind is the storage which would be just by the shore—in other words, where the pipe-line under the territorial waters would end. The result of this lack of rights of compulsory acquisition for the establishment of shore facilities will be to hinder the efficient and economic conduct of offshore operations. Storage facilities for oil, possibly quite extensive ones, would then have to be provided, not on the shore, but off the shore, at very great cost.

It may also not always be possible to provide the necessary facilities for the storage of equipment and machinery on the installations themselves. My noble friend Lord Derwent referred to barges and platforms raised on stilts, but there is a question of the storage of extensive machinery and equipment, and so forth. This could be done only on the shore and in the proximity of, or at the nearest point to, the point where the drilling is taking place. It seems to me that at the moment the only way in which the companies could get round this difficulty would be by going through the expensive and prolonged Private Bill procedure. Apart from this question of the shore storage facilities, it is also economically sound and desirable that the pipe-lines from where the drilling has taken place to the shore should be as short as possible.

There is one final point to which I should refer: I apologise if these are to some extent Committee points, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, would agree that this might be an opportunity to air them now, so that the Ministry may give them consideration. I should like to refer to a point which I feel may not be covered by the provisions of Clause 3 of the Bill; and that is the question of remedies in the case of the criminal violation of such rights as Her Majesty may by licence confer on a company. There would seem to me, my Lords, to be no mention of what action could be taken in the event of secret information, which was gleaned on the drilling site or in the area, being divulged to a third party. It would appear to me desirable, therefore, for Her Majesty's Government to attach a criminal penalty for unauthorised exploration, removal or extraction of resources from a designated area. I can imagine that in the cases we are concerned with now competition can be great, and it may well be that some person may be in a position, through study of the products of the subsoil and so forth, to sell information to some other competitive firm.

I also feel that consideration should be given to the question of conferring upon Her Majesty's ships powers, within the designated area, to intercept, board and inquire upon vessels which Her Majesty's ships may have reasonable cause to believe are carrying out unlawful operations in relation to the exploration or exploitation of the continental shelf. My Lords, if I understand Article 23 of the Convention of the High Seas aright, the hot pursuit of a foreign ship may be started only within our territorial waters, or, at most, twelve miles out; that is, within the contiguous zone. My Lords, I end by reiterating my welcome to this Bill, for, apart from providing greater facilities for the acquisition of fuel and wealth to this country, I feel that it will also provide further opportunities for the development of pipe-lines for the conveyance of oil, gas, feedstocks and the hydraulic transport of coal.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. As all noble Lords have stated, in many cases they have dealt largely with Committee points or, at any rate, partial Committee points—and we are none the worse for that. But it does mean that although I shall answer some of the points now I shall leave some to be answered at the Committee stage. I am certainly glad that those points have been aired, as it will allow me to have a look at them before the next stage of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, went rather fast with his points. I may have missed some of them, and I may wait till the next time to answer some of them, but I feel that on some he went a little outside the scope of this Bill. Many of his questions were directed to the Convention rather than to the Bill. With all respect, I felt that they went a little wide of this Bill because as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, said, there are many points which must be open to discussion still. If you try and put the whole results of the Convention into a Bill, it leaves you no latitude for negotiation. The object of this Bill, of course, is to try to bring in a municipal law, as I believe it is technically called (though the word "municipal" means something different to non-lawyers), so that we can operate the Convention.

My Lords, the first point the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, raised was about an accepted map illustrating the extent of the continental shelf. I suppose he means a geological map. If such a map is available, I will do my best to get one; and if I succeed I will have it put in the Library. But I do not know at the moment whether I can get what he wants.


My Lords, if the Minister is unable to find one, I will provide him with a map. I do not want a geological map: I want a map which shows what the continental shelf is. It is a question of recording depth, and there are suitable maps available.


My Lords, I shall do my best to get one, and have it put in the Library.

May I just say one word about France, which the noble Lord raised? France has not signed, for reasons which she thinks good ones. They have really nothing directly to do with this Convention; but for certain international reasons she is unwilling to sign. She has indicated that, sign or not, she will operate, or intends to operate, the Convention, and our own opinion is that we have nothing to worry about on that at all. I cannot go into further details, but she has reasons of her own, which have nothing to do with us, which make her unwilling to sign and create a precedent.

Perhaps the easiest way of answering this debate, which raised so many points, is by taking them bit by bit. I should first like to repeat again that there are many negotiations to be carried through. Negotiations will be necessary as to the actual de-limitation of the frontier lines—I cannot go further than that to-day. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who raised the question of royalties. The question of royalties is a matter for the regulations which will be issued. What I will say at the moment is that we accept in principle that there shall be royalties, which I think may be as much as the noble Lord wants today. He mentioned the question of visits by members of the general public to these installations. It is the intention that visits to the installations will be subject to immigration control. I think the noble Lord, Lord McNair, and my noble friend Lord Merrivale raised the question of the high seas, the law of the air, and so on. These rights are expressly reserved by the Convention, so that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, about aeroplanes flying over an installation, is in fact covered under existing international agreement.

There was a question about mariners and shipping, which I think was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Merrivale. The installations will be notified in Notices to Mariners, which is the usual way of notifying shipping. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, raised the question of inspection. The inspection will be covered by regulations, on the analogy of those existing under the 1934 Act. There was also a question about these organisms which are tied to the bottom. Perhaps, the simplest way of explaining it to the noble Lord is to say that lobsters are not and crabs are. Without going into greater detail that is probably as near as we can get this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, also raised the question of escapes of oil. I will have a look at what he said, and we will certainly have a look to see whether the penalties are appropriate and adequate. We will go into that question more fully. It is a point that we were looking at, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising it again.

My Lords, I have noted the point about 500 yards and 500 metres. If the noble Lord would leave it with me for a while, I will let him know. There may be some adequate reason, although I have not got it, why it is in yards, but, if there is not, we will have it in metres. I will tell him before the Committee stage whether we intend to do anything about it, and, if we do not, I will tell him why. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who also raised the question of factory laws as they apply in this country. The ordinary law—factory laws, we may loosely call them—could not be applied without a very elaborate scheme of inspection, and what we have in mind is that the licence to the company should include any necessary conditions about this so as to secure safety. I think that is probably the best way of dealing with it.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, for the things he said, and for the support he gave to the Bill. I perhaps might just say this. The provisions for criminal jurisdiction, which are Clause 3, subsection (1), and Clause 9, subsection (1), have been drafted very carefully in order to secure that there can be no difficulty in our courts dealing with offences on installations. We think they are all right, but we should very much like to look carefully at what the noble Lord has said to-day, and if he has raised any doubts in our mind we will certainly take the matter up. But I am grateful for the points that he put.

There were certain questions raised by my noble friend Lord Merrivale, some of which I have dealt with. There was the question of pipe-lines which he raised, and perhaps I can go into a little detail on this. Pipe-lines coming from the continental shelf will be subject to control under the Pipe-lines Act, 1962, from the point at which they enter territorial waters to their destination on land. The Minister of Power will thereby be able to regulate them, if necessary, in the national interest over the area where conflicting claims are most likely to occur—that is, when getting into shallow water. Incidentally, as a result of Clause 3, subsection (1), the Pipe-lines Act also applies within 500 yards of an installation—so that, again, might be in shallow water. Moreover, the provisions of the Act relating to pipe-lines less than ten miles long are not very onerous, and it may be convenient to have available powers to resolve any conflict of interest which might arise over pipe-lines in the neighbourhood of installations. We realise that point. In the intervening space there will be no statutory control as we think there should be room for everybody—that is, in the deeper water. Under this Bill, a licensee will have no right to obstruct the passage of other people's pipe-lines through his licence area, but it will only be within 500 yards of an installation—that is, as you get into territorial waters.

The other main question my noble friend raised was I think about ancillary rights, storage and so on. I think perhaps I might say there that he is quite right: subsection (3) of Clause 1 does not extend Sections 3 and 7 of the Petroleum (Production) Act. That is stated. I think that all I can do at this moment is to say that we will consider the points that the noble Lord has raised and see if we want to take any further steps. We will certainly consider them, and I am glad he has raised the points. I think I have answered all the questions I am capable of answering this evening—at least, I hope I have. I am grateful for your Lordships' general acceptance of the Bill. Doubtless there will have to be alterations on Committee, but they are, I think, definitely Committee points. I hope I have been able to satisfy your Lordships that this Bill should have a Second Reading.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one thing? He did rather chide me with dealing with the Convention rather than with the Bill. Of course, all the "meat" is in fact in the Convention. But I do not think he answered my point. I do not blame him if he does not know the answer on this, but I think we ought to know whether his statement with regard to the median line between Scotland and Norway was correct. This was a particular point on which we pressed him, and he did not refer to it. Because, as I understand it, a non-exploitable area does exist off the Norwegian coast which is certainly far below the 100 fathom line, the 200 metre line.

May I also ask him, with a view to trying to get through a very difficult bit of legislation, whether before the Committee stage he could let those of us who are interested—I realise we could build it up into an enormous Act—know how in fact the Government are proposing to exercise powers of inspection? I should have thought that the 1934 Act was not adequate for this purpose. It would be helpful, therefore, if he could find out—because it would be much better if the Government could do it—whether they ought not to take powers in the Bill to apply Acts of Parliament, or sections of Acts of Parliament, rather than reckon they are going to put the whole thing in the licence. If the noble Lord could let those of us who are interested know before the Committee stage, it would help us to decide whether we have to develop this.


My Lords, I cannot answer the first question, but what the noble Lord asked for in his second request I will most certainly do. We should like to have another look at it all, and we will let the noble Lord know.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.