HL Deb 24 July 1967 vol 285 cc622-6

3.17 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. I do not wish to detain the House on a matter upon which there has been so large a measure of agreement, both in this House and in the other place. However, there are two main points on which, if your Lordships will allow me, I should like to briefly.

I am sure your Lordships will welcome the recent announcement that the Government of the Netherlands have acceded to the Antarctic Treaty. As your Lordships will be aware, the Dutch have a distinguished record of exploration in the Arctic, but have not until quite recently taken much part in the Antarctic. In the closing years of the 16th century the courageous Dutch navigator, Wilhelm Barents, voyaged three times in search of a North-East Passage, and opened up what we now know as the Barents Sea, which is so important to our distant-water fishermen. For the last three years the Netherlands have participated in Antarctic research work in a joint expedition with Belgium, and I am sure that their accession can only strengthen the Treaty and the international co-operation under it.

Perhaps it may be of some interest if I remind your Lordships of the Governments which have signed this Treaty, to which the Netherlands is now added. These are the Governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, the French Republic, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Union of South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America.

The other point I should like to mention concerns a phrase the interpretation of which is of some importance in the objects of this Bill. Under the Agreed Measures, all Antarctic fauna and flora are accorded a considerable measure of protection, but some species of animal and some areas of the Antarctic are specially protected, and in these cases the restrictions on issuing permits are more severe. The Agreed Measures say that an individual of a specially protected species may be killed, or a specially protected area may be entered to carry out biological research, only if a compelling scientific purpose is to be served It is that phrase, "compelling scientific purpose" to which I wish to draw your attention. It is not an exact phrase and therefore it leaves a great deal of latitude for judgment which could result in differing practices by those responsible for issuing permits. The most obvious restriction imposed is that the purpose must be scientific and that all non-scientific purposes such as providing food for men or dogs are precluded. In relation to scientific purposes, it is reasonable to suppose that the purpose would be "compelling" if the required scientific information could not be gained in any way other than by the killing or capturing of individuals of a specially-protected species, and the same sort of thing would apply equally to a specially-protected area.

Let me take as an example the fur seal which is a specially-protected seal. Fur seals are slightly increasing in numbers following extensive slaughter and near-extermination twice in the 19th century. But relatively little work has been done on the general biology of this species. The most recent piece of research has been carried out by our own British Antarctic Survey. We still do not know enough about the breeding habits of this seal to predict with confidence what degree of interference would upset their natural ecology or endanger the existence of the species. Nor do we know much about the parasites of the fur seals which might be a means of introducing diseases in the species and transmitting it to other species. Research is therefore needed in all these facets of the biology of the fur seals which are specially protected. Where it can be shown that it is necessary to kill some seals for the purpose of such research and, ultimately, for the continued survival and propagation of the species, this, I understand, would be justified as a "compelling scientific reason".

If significant differences do arise in national practices as to how this phrase might be interpreted in any given case, there is a further check available. Article XII of the Agreed Measures calls for the exchange of records of permits and statistics concerning the number of each species of native mammal or bird killed or captures in the Treaty Area.". Under Article XII it would be open to any Treaty Power to raise at a consultative meeting differences of national practice in the issuance of permits if it was thought that these differences were contrary to the spirit and purpose of the Agreed Measures. So, it would seem as if this phrase was adequate for its purpose.

My Lords, I would like to close by putting the Bill and its intention into their international perspective. The Agreed Measures to which the Bill gives effect on behalf of British nationals, are much the most far-sighted and large-scale conservation measures for wild life that have ever operated over a large part of the world. In a field where dispute might be said to be the rule rather than the exception, the measures in the Bill have achieved a remarkable degree of agreement among the Governments concerned and, indeed, within this country. They have also been universally welcomed by scientists. In this context I am thankful that the Bill has received strong support in your Lordships' House and has passed through another place without amendment. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That this Bill be now read 3a.—(The Lord Bishop of Norwich.)


My Lords, I will detain you only briefly, but on behalf of the Government I should like to say how pleased we are that this Bill is being passed into law. Once again, I am sure your Lordships will reflect with satisfaction on the stimulating and, at times, unusual nature of this House, that the Bill should be guided through its final stages by someone from the Bishops' Benches who was himself for three years a geologist in the Antarctic. It is somewhat interesting that most of his speech to-day was on biological subjects; but he was a distinguished geologist. I, too, should like to welcome on behalf of Her Majesty's Government the accession of the Netherlands to the Antarctic Treaty. As the right reverend Prelate made clear, they have played an important part in a joint Belgian expedition in the last few years; and this sort of co-operative expedition is very typical of present-day proceedings in the Antarctic. The right reverend Prelate will recall other recent expeditions. There was the Anglo-Swedish and another nation (I cannot remember the third nation) who cooperated together. The Dutch have worked with the Belgians who have a very distinguished Antarctic record. It is interesting that the leader in Belgium to-day of Antarctic exploration is Gaston de Gerlache, who is the son of the great de Gerlache who was first active in the heroic days of exploration.

We hope that other countries will accede to the Treaty and will take part in this very exciting international scientific co-operation. We were interested in the right reverend Prelate's exegesis of the "compelling scientific purpose". Of course, this is not a precise phrase; but I think the strength of the Antarctic Treaty is the spirit in which the Agreed Measures are carried out. To make them too rigid would, I think, have endangered them. I do not think anyone can fail to notice the contrast between what takes place under this Bill and events in other parts of the world. This will enable the United Kingdom to continue to play its full part in the protection of Antarctic flora and fauna. It makes subject to our own law British observers and exchange scientists; and that is as it should be.

It is worth while to recall, very briefly, the developments when explorers like Scott and my father first went to the Antarctic. They went for two reasons, perhaps three: there was some element of personal glory, certainly the glory of their country and there were scientific reasons. I do not think the glory of their work, or the glory that will come, has been diminished by the fact that we are now continuing these affairs on a more international basis. We accept this development. But there has always been in British Antarctic exploration—as indeed in our exploration in all parts of the world—a strong scientific purpose. The great Royal Navy expeditions—like those of Ross and Captain Scott and since—have always had this strong scientific purpose. So, whatever the heroic side, there was the disinterested pursuit of knowledge for mankind.

This will continue. The British Antarctic Survey will continue to do their work. We should certainly pay tribute to those who, like the right reverend Prelate, play a part. There will still be opportunities, both for scientists and for those who wish for adventure; and, in an age when so many people think adventure has gone, it is interesting to note that probably more expeditions are going out from the Royal Geographical Society than ever before in the history of this country. They have certain advantages. An R.A.F. expedition has just come back from the Canadian Arctic where, in two months, in territory where I had originally been, they did twenty times as much work as we were able to do in 15 months. It only remains for me to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on the elegant way in which he has piloted this Bill through, and also Sir Clive Bossom who did the same in the other place.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.