HL Deb 25 November 1970 vol 313 cc152-228

4.8 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, if we may now return to the question of the seabed and to the Motions put down on the Order Paper by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Norwich and by my noble friend Lord Kennet, I should like to say that I am grateful, as I am sure many noble Lords are, to both the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend for putting down these matters for debate to-day. I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the forceful and lucid way in which he has presented this problem to us. It is scarcely surprising that, with his distinguished record as a geologist and explorer, he should have these matters at his fingertips; and I am most grateful to him for the way in which he has introduced this subject to us. There are certain things he said with which I find myself unable to agree, but these are largely matters of detail and not of principle.

This subject is of particular interest to me because when the British attitude to this problem was being evolved I was the Minister responsible for these matters at the Foreign Office. Indeed, I well remember that my first contact with this problem was of rather a strange kind. It was early in my Foreign Office life when I went to New York to a meeting of the United Nations. I was then particularly interested in disarmament, and was making my way to a room in the United Nations building where I thought a disarmament committee was going to sit, only to find my way barred by a United Nations guard who said, "You can't go in there. There is a Standing Committee sitting on the seabed." It seemed to me then that this was obviously a matter which needed further investigation.

My Lords, as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate, there are two major proposals which have been put forward in an attempt to solve this matter on an inter-Governmental basis: the British working paper and the United States draft treaty, both of which were tabled at the United Nations in August of this year. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned (and I think it worth mentioning because it does not, for a perfectly good reason, appear in the Motion of my noble friend Lord Kennet) that there is a French working paper as well which follows quite closely the principles included in the British paper. As my noble friend Lord Kennet will be drawing attention to the two existing proposals, the American and the British, I do not propose to deal at any length with either of them in the form in which they exist at the moment. The United States draft treaty is a monumental work which it is going to take many months to study, and I imagine that Her Majesty's Government are still engaged in a close examination of this paper which contains a great number of detailed proposals and is in the form of a draft international instrument and not simply in the form of a paper.

What I should like to do this afternoon, I hope briefly, is to outline the general philosophy which I believe should underlie our approach to this problem. It is from this general philosophy that the British working paper eventually emerged. I think that one would agree at once with the underlying implications of the speech made by the right reverend Prelate, which is that in this as in other fields of international activity it is the jungle of conflicting national interests that lies at the root of many of our troubles; it is not only a matter of the seabed, it is a matter of many other international problems as well. But I think we must accept that this is the kind of world in which we live at present. The nation-State concept is not only with us but is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations; and it seems to me that if we are going to reach any international agreement on this subject then, as on any other, we must take into account national interests and we must be prepared to make concessions and exact conditions about national interests.

Before going into the actual question of how we might approach this problem, may I say that I propose to confine myself to the matter of the seabed. Although I note that in the Motion of the right reverend Prelate he mentions the "ocean régime" and he makes a real point in his suggestion that the waters of the sea and the bed of the ocean are part of one eco-structure, I think that we shall face all manner of difficulties if in this particular debate we try to deal at the same time with the question of the seabed and the question of the ocean surface and the waters of the sea. I have no doubt that the right reverend Prelate will have realised clearly that both the matters to which my noble friend is drawing attention, the United States treaty and the British working paper, deal with the seabed alone and not with what is sometimes called the superjacent waters.

I think that the first requirement—and here I believe that he and I will be at one—is for some kind of international agreement. We must get away from the possibility, or indeed the great danger, of a commercial jungle in exploiting the resources of the seabed. Whether we need one treaty or several treaties, I do not know; and whether, if we need several, they should be arrived at simultaneously or by a progressive series of international instruments, is a matter for further discussion. I think the one thing we can all agree upon is that if we arrive at such an agreement it will be of use only if it is to a very great extent a universal agreement; that is to say, if it is one to which at least the great majority of members of the United Nations are prepared to accede.

If we agree that we need some kind of international instrument or treaty or agreement, the next question is: what should that treaty cover? We can answer this quite simply, leaving aside for the moment the suggestion that we should include the waters of the ocean as well, by saying that what that treaty should cover are the seabed, the ocean floor and the subsoil of the ocean floor. Then we must ask ourselves this question—and it is one that almost answers itself: What in that particular environment are the resources with which we are dealing? I think we can agree—as I say, it is virtually self-evident—that these are largely mineral resources: hydrocarbons, manganese nodules, phosphates and that kind of mineral. And it is perhaps worth making the point now that we should not exaggerate the possible wealth which lies in and on the ocean floor. I have seen some estimates in newspapers and magazines which in my view are wildly exaggerated. It will be a long time before we can get the kind of wealth from the ocean floor that some people think is possible. But this does not alter the fact that we are dealing with substantial potential sources of wealth. We need an international agreement, one that covers the ocean floor and the subsoil; and we need one that deals with the potential production of the mineral wealth of this environment.

Now, my Lords, we come to the most complicated question; namely, what area should this international agreement cover? I agree with the right reverend Prelate when he says that it is most important that when any treaty comes into force there should be no doubt about the area to which it applies. The boundaries must be clearly defined so that there is no doubt or room for argument. There are various possibilities here. As we are going to find ourselves inevitably involved in political arguments about this aspect, whatever may be the economic and technical arguments, it may be as well to be clear about the possibilities; and I think that before doing that we ought to get clear one or two definitions. A part of the earth's crust or surface or rock is covered by the sea. This is known generally as the Continental Margin. I should like to make the point, before going any further, that it is going to be difficult, without a great deal of argument, to persuade coastal States exactly where their national interest and jurisdiction will end on the Continental Margin.

Before considering this it may be interesting to look at how that Continental Margin, the part of the surface that slopes into the ocean, is divided. It is divided into three main areas. First, there is the Continental Shelf, about which we hear so very much, which is a shallow extension of the land mass that goes down to a depth of nearly 200 metres. That then gives way to the Continental Slope, which is a much steeper descent into the ocean; indeed it goes down to a depth of anything between 1,500 metres and 4,000 metres. Those two, incidentally, the Continental Shelf and the Continental Slope, are, generally speaking, rocky, and similar to the surface of the land mass. The final part of the Continental Margin is the Continental Rise, which is another gentle slope down to the floor of the ocean. This usually is not rocky but consists of sediment swept down from the Continental Shelf and the Continental Slope, and that goes down to depths which average something like 5,000 metres—much deeper, of course, in some places.

Beyond all that there is what we usually think of as the ocean floor—what I think the right reverend Prelate will recognise as the Abyssal Plain. The question is, how much of this Continental Margin, consisting of these three areas, belongs to national jurisdiction, and how much should be available for international exploitation and exploration. Clearly, this is an important question because countries with long coastlines, like our own, for example, have different interests from those with short coastlines or none at all; and as the right reverend Prelate has pointed out (and as many others have pointed it out in the context of this argument) it is quite wrong that landlocked countries should have no interest in, or no benefit from, the resources of the ocean floor.

We have had various attempts to deal with this problem, and it is in some ways analogous to the way in which other problems have been dealt with. If you start off with unilateral claims which become accepted, these claims can be gradually extended, and insidiously extended. In 1945, for example, the United States, I think, was the first to lay claim to the Continental Shelf. This was on the occasion of the Louisiana oil find. Perhaps the most up-to-date and firm guidance that we have on this is the Convention to which the Lord Bishop made reference, the Geneva Convention of 1958, which came into force in 1964. This, as he said, laid it down that the national jurisdiction extended down the Continental Shelf—that is to say, to a depth of roughly 200 metres—but if there were adjacent areas beyond the depth of 200 metres which the coastal country could, technically speaking, exploit, it was entitled to exploit them. But the important matter was that they were to be adjacent to the Continental Shelf and not isolated from it by any distance.

The right reverend Prelate has asked (and I would echo his question, which is also being asked by a great number of people): is this Convention good enough any longer? It has been good enough up to now, I think, because undersea exploration has usually been confined to depths like 200 metres. But we learn from recent publications by the United States National Petroleum Council that even now exploration is possible, and indeed easy, up to a depth of 400 metres. They suggest that within five years this will rise to 500 metres; and they further say that in ten years, if technological development continues on its present graph, underseas exploration of the seabed will be possible, and not too difficult, to a depth of 2,000 metres. It seems, therefore, that the present Geneva Convention is not a good enough basis for the kind of international régime that we are seeking.

We have taken the view—my Party certainly took the view when we were in office, and I think that view has not changed since—that there ought to be a reasonably deep limit to national jurisdiction. We have, for example, certain national interests which I think it right we should take into account in whatever international negotiations we enter into. We have hydro-carbon deposits, for example, round our own land mass on and off the Continental Shelf which we shall want to exploit. But I think that most noble Lords would agree with the right reverend Prelate that we must be prepared to accept that the interests of the international community might, and in many cases will, override our own narrow national interests; and I think that at that stage we must be prepared to concede our national interest to the good of the national community.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned the American idea of a trusteeship zone. This is the basis of the American proposal: that there should be a very narrow area of national jurisdiction on the Continental Shelf, but that between that and the ocean floor there should be a trusteeship zone. I agree with the right reverend Prelate (I think this was his implication) that the objection to this idea is that it would still give too great a power to the coastal State which would be the trustee to decide how that particular zone is to be exploited.

So the first thing to be done, as the right reverend Prelate said—although towards the end of his most interesting speech he made a proposal of a much broader and deeper kind—is that we must negotiate what is the actual area that is to be subject to international jurisdiction. Is it to be a very wide one beyond the Continental Shelf and into the area that has previously been recognised as being one for national jurisdiction? Or is it to be very restricted? Is it, for example, to be outside only the Continental Margin? Is it to cover only the Abyssal Plain, or the ocean floor, as we know it in simpler language? Here I think I would suggest to the noble Earl that the interests of Her Majesty's Government should be as flexible and as open-minded as possible about this and not on any account to let our national interest in terms of exploiting our own hydro-carbon deposits stand in the way of an international agreement, if that is what the majority of the members of the United Nations want.

I was interested to see—indeed, the right reverend Prelate mentioned it and quoted part of this statement—that on August 4, 1970, the United Kingdom representative did say that this country would also be prepared to consider the United States' proposal for a shallow limit of national jurisdiction and a trusteeship zone beyond it, if this idea appealed generally to members of the committee. This may be a little speculative, but I think we shall find that the majority of the United Nations will want narrow limits of national jurisdiction, but that they will not want a trusteeship zone. They will want a much wider area of international régime, and I hope that, if they do, Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to concede of our own national interest in order to achieve this.

My Lords, the next question we have to ask, when we have decided what area and what resources we are dealing with, is how this international régime is to be organised. I believe—and this I think is where the right reverend Prelate and I may diverge to some extent—that the international body which is set up to carry out this task must be an inter-Governmental body; that it must be part of the United Nations. It must have a board of governors drawn from member States of the United Nations. The idea that this can be done by some kind of world government organisation, although attractive to those who believe that the Nation State concept is obsolescent, is for the moment, I believe, unrealistic; and in this we are faced not only with a long-term problem, as the right reverend Prelate rightly said, but also with an immediate problem. The United Kingdom have put forward a proposal that what we should do is to divide the area which is finally decided as being subject to international régime into blocks; that these blocks should be allocated by a system of quotas, and that the blocks should be allocated to States and not to commercial concerns. The States can then sub-licence, if they wish, to commercial concerns for exploitation, and they can, if they wish, sub-licence to foreign firms, so that this will not militate against the opportunities of developing countries to have some part in the exploitation of the seabed.

Tbere are various problems about this subject, complex problems which obviously have to be faced. There is the question of the size of the block that is to be allocated. It must be large enough to be exploited, but it must be small enough to see that there is a share for everyone. We have to decide what proportion of the block goes to each State. We have to decide about licences. We have suggested that there should be two kinds: one for prospecting, which would be a non-exclusive kind of licence and which would give people the right of exploration over a wide area, and the other would be a development licence, which would be exclusive to the State and the concern that was engaged in the exploitation of the seabed.


My Lords. I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but is not this proposal of national blocks an absolute repudiation of the principle of internationalism, which he has previously urged?


No, my Lords, I do not think that it is. I was coming to that later, but it may be for the convenience of the House if I deal with it now. It seems to me that in this matter we have to look not only to the immediate future. when only the developed and highly industrialised countries that exist today will be able to exploit the sea bed, but also to 20, 25 or 50 years ahead, when many of the countries we regard as developing may be highly industrialised and may be able and may wish to have their own national slice of ocean floor exploitation. I merely put forward incidentally the idea of blocks to be issued by an international body to the national States as a proposal, not as any kind of clear-cut and finished plan. It is merely one way of doing this and I have no doubt that when my noble friend Lord Brockway comes to speak he will have other ideas to put forward.

I do not agree that the idea of national blocks is in conflict with the idea of an international régime. So long as we live in a world of nation States and a single international body, such as we have to-day in the United Nations, which embodies the concept of the national State, I am afraid that I am at a loss to see how else we are going to split up the resources of the ocean bed. I suppose there is one other way of doing it. All the products of the seabed, all the profits and revenues from the mineral resources of the ocean, should be split up, not equally but by some kind of agreement on a sliding scale, among all the countries of the world, including the developing countries. This is an interesting international concept, but, of course, it would mean in the end that what would happen would be that the industrial countries would do all the exploration and exploiting and the developing countries would simply be on the end of some aid programme, receiving a proportion of the revenues from the industrial countries. I regard that as being far less of an international proposal than the splitting of the ocean bed into national blocks. But perhaps when my noble friend comes to speak, he will give us his views on that.

There are numerous problems. I will not take up any more of your Lordships' time than I need to and would merely mention one to which the right reverend Prelate referred—the question of verification. Under the system I have outlined, which would be an inter-governmental system in which the allocation of blocks would be to States and not to companies, it would be for their control bodies to hold inspections to make sure that the proper operational procedures were being carried out and that the international agreement was being observed; but it would be the States that would be responsible for what was going on.

There was one point about the right reverend Prelate's proposals which, if I understood him aright, would cause me a great deal of concern—that was his suggestion that this should be somehow decided on a pattern of "Securicor", with the firms themselves being responsible for this kind of international policing. If I have misunderstood him, I hope that he will tell me so. If not, I must say that I would regard this as a very dangerous and retrograde step. I believe that in international affairs we must look to Governments and certainly not to commercial and industrial concerns.


My Lords, the noble Lord is correct in saying what I had suggested. I feel that in respect of the actually interested parties it should be borne in mind that, according to the Borgese proposals, the United Nations is represented. This is not an unimportant factor. Secondly, I would ask: has international peace and agreement been achieved through national agencies?—because it has not. I merely suggest this as a possibility. If we get enough common agreement in what is at stake, the ease with which policing could become feasible is astonishing. Take, for example, the Red Cross.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has underlined what he said and I can only underline what I said. Of course it is true that inter-governmental negotiations have not brought us world peace: it would be foolish to suggest that they have. But I feel the gravest misgivings at the thought that in a matter of this importance we may now be trying, not policing by States and international authority, but self-policing by industrial concerns. To be perfectly frank, this would fill me and a great many of my friends with horror.

May we look for a moment at the Borgese proposals, which the right reverend Prelate has endorsed with such vigour? I had an opportunity of discussing these with Mrs. Borgese when she was in this country recently. Clearly there is a great deal in them which is imaginative and towards which I hope we shall be able to move in time. However, I feel bound to say at this stage that any proposal for an international régime which is based on the concept of a world government is bound to be a very long-term matter indeed. I think that we must still use the tools we have at hand to solve the immediate problem. But let us by no means have too rigid an approach. Let us look ahead for 25, 50 and even 100 years. It may be that in the longer-term context, in the proposals put forward by Mrs. Borgese and argued out in Malta, which have been presented so clearly by the right reverend Prelate to-day, there is a great deal from which we can learn.

Finally, I should like to mention two other important aspects of this problem closely linked with the international régime. One is conservation—that is, preventing the pollution of the ocean floor, and this must clearly be included in any agreement. The second is the question of arms control, the prevention of the sowing of weapons of mass destruction on the ocean floor. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, a draft treaty on this subject is being discussed at the moment in Geneva and in New York. I am sure that he will have noticed, as I have, that as usual the one thing that stands in the way of the successful conclusion of this treaty is the raucous insistence by a number of United Nations countries on their national interests—interests in inspection and in territorial waters. There are some people who are now arguing that their territorial waters should extend for 200 miles into the ocean and even suggest that what goes on underneath those 200 miles is their exclusive concern. It is this over-raucous and exaggerated insistence on national interests that stands in the way of almost any international agreement that is worth having. What we are faced with now is this clear conflict of interest. The industrial countries, especially the coastal States, will not easily give up their national interests. They will not easily give up what they would regard as their territory. They simply say: "This is our territory; it just happens to be under the sea instead of above it." The developing countries are naturally reluctant to see all these mineral resources in the hands of a few.

There is one question that I think must be asked about all this, and it is the question of money. Where is the money coming from? There has been a suggestion that there should be a 1 per cent. levy, as there is for development aid—of course the 1 per cent. for development aid is not really a levy, it is merely a suggested target. That is one way of doing it. But I think it will be difficult to find this money, especially if it is realised that for some time to come the major activities of the coastal States will be on the Continental Shelf, and they will be reluctant to pay out money for the international exploitation of the ocean bed deep down in the Abyssal Plain. I should like simply to say that I think that the ideas so far put forward by the United States, the United Kingdom Government and to some extent, by the French Government are a step forward. But they are only a step forward, and I know that many people would like to see this going much further and much faster. It is not an easy matter.

I am happy to say that since this matter first became one of live concern the United Kingdom Government have taken a lead in trying to find a way through this jungle. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, when he comes to reply to the debate, will assure us that we will continue to play a major role, so that we shall ensure—and I think this would be the wish of us all—that the resources of the seabed shall not ever be the subject of a land grab, either by nations, or still less by industrial concerns out for quick private profit, but that for once, at least, we can ensure that the resources of the world are fairly shared among all those who live in it.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, there is a great deal that I would endorse in both speeches to which we have listened. The subject that the right reverend Prelate has introduced to-day is as important as it is immense, and I, for one, approach it with a real sense of humility, but at the same time with an open mind. I think I should declare my interest as a director of a company which is interested in the exploration for and the development of mineral resources throughout the world, although what I have to say on the subject is a personal expression of opinion, and, I hope, one that will be generally supported by the Liberal Party itself.

I think it is encouraging in many ways that the undefined area outside territorial waters has at last become a matter of serious international discussion and concern. I think this is an important factor which ought to be recognised. I believe that it is easier to define the problems than to provide an instant, acceptable international solution. But the mere fact that we are examining the problems and debating them in depth is surely right. So often in the past these problems have just been swept aside, and it is important that they should be the subject of discussion. I have no instant solution, but I should like to put forward some considerations which I believe deserve attention.

I propose to cover the limited field of mineral exploration and extraction, but before doing so I should like to mention two urgent matters associated with the ocean, one of which has certainly been touched upon by both the speakers who preceded me. It does not affect directly the seabed, so far as I know, but is the question of the pollution of the oceans themselves. Those who travel by sea, and in some cases by air, can see with their own eyes the vast areas of rubbish and garbage on the ocean surface. This summer several American warships went into one of the prettiest bays in Malta, of all places, and after 48 hours the water was a floating garbage and sewage tip. If this goes into the ocean every day in the deep sea, are we certain that it is destroyed; and are we certain that it is not having a serious effect cumulatively on the ecology of the ocean? It is not just the American warships: it could have been any warships, or any other ships. Do we really know what is happening in the oceans of the world so far as that type of pollution is concerned?

I was interested to see that Commander Cousteau gave a Press conference at the Council of Europe the other day, in which he said: A sea polluted throughout its expanses and to its very depth is not a very reassuring picture. Now even the coral reefs are dying. At this Press conference Commander Cousteau cited alarming statistics to stress how limited our planet's reserves of water are. He first explained that efforts should be concentrated on the sea, since all pollution ended up there: for instance, the lead from our car exhaust fumes—at present the percentage of lead in the top 100 metres of the sea is five times what it was fifty years ago—not to mention petroleum, insecticides, aldrine, D.D T., mercury, cadmium, nickel, iron and so on. This is a problem with which we have to deal, and I do not believe that action on this can await the setting up of a new international agency. This is what worries me. I think this is a very urgent matter indeed, and that it ought to be tackled probably as a separate and urgent problem by the United Nations, and particularly by the major maritime nations of the world within the United Nations.

The second matter I wish to mention is the military use or control of the oceans outside the territorial waters. I believe (I am not certain of this) that this, too, ought to be dealt with as a separate issue. I do not believe that it can be solved by dealing with it on the same basis as the development and control of the seabed. The problems impinge on one another, but I believe that their political solutions ought to be kept separate. I am worried that arguments about military problems will hold up the development of a proper ocean régime which should be getting on with different problems. I think that if you put too many burdens on to such a régime you will find that progress will be extremely slow.

To return to the aspect which primarily interests me, which is the resources of the seabed and the mineral potential, I want to make the following points. I think that, first of all, we should try to get our objectives clear. We must decide whether we want to encourage or discourage exploration and development of the sea. We must decide whether it should be done by extending territorial waters (and I hope we shall not), or by setting upon agreed non-national zone controlled by an international authority. We must decide to whom the benefits, if any, of any exploration and development should accrue. We should decide whether existing ventures, like North Sea gas and oil, Alaska, Venezuela offshore operations and such like, should be brought under the aegis of a new authority or not. I can foresee difficulties there. If a new authority is agreed, we should decide what its functions should be. Should it explore and operate on its own account as a monopoly; should it do so in collaboration with Governments or with national private enterprise organisations, or all three, and have a combination of them; or should it merely lay down the ground rules and act as the policing authority to see that those rules are obeyed? Then, again, as I have said, we have to decide who are to be the beneficiaries of this heritage of mankind and how the benefits are to be assessed and distributed. Those are only some of the deep and important questions which have been posed.

I now turn briefly to some tentative answers. First, whatever is done to explore the seabed, we should make sure that we know what we are doing before it is undertaken. Even the act of exploring can affect the ecology of the area in which we are interested; and if we are serious in regarding this part of the universe as a heritage, then let us treat it as such and prevent random and thoughtless development. I was extremely worried by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that we should split the seabed up into national blocks, because I believe you would get varying standards of performance and standards of ethics in dealing with the problem.

Secondly, we should think carefully whether we need to develop or exploit the mineral occurrences at this point of time. I am not convinced on this; I have an open mind on it. But it is a question that ought to be asked. There may well be a place for exploration to discover what is there, and to find out what we are really dealing with, possibly by the international agency itself, certainly under its supervision. You might let the exploration out to contract.

Do we need to look to the seabed for development at this point of time when so much of the world's land resources are yet undiscovered? Just look at the world's resources as we entered the decade of the 'sixties compared with to-day. The thousands of millions of tons of Western Australian iron ore were then unknown; so was the copper of Papua, New Guinea, Canada and elsewhere. The vast bauxite deposits of Brazil and the nickel deposits in Australia have been discovered in the past ten years. One of the things that worries me about a possible rush to develop the seabed is pollution. If processing of minerals is going to take place at sea—and I assume most of it will, because one is not going to bring everything back to the shore—one must not have an operation which merely tips all the rubbish and waste from the process back into the ocean without realising what effect it is going to have on the ecology. That is why I feel that a good deal of research will be required by the international régime before we rush ahead to development.

Thirdly, if we are to encourage development, ought we not to ensure that it is under an international agency which can command respect, lay down the guidelines and protect society from thoughtless development of the seabed? It is in the interests of the mining and development companies themselves to know where they stand and to know that their competitors will be asked to maintain high standards, too. This, again, is an argument against the national block. I am worried about our varying standards instead of having a very high standard which has to be maintained, supervised and policed by an international authority—


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to explain that in the course of what I hope was a comparatively short exposition—I did not have time to go too deeply into this subject—I intended to convey that in the concept that I have outlined there would be a very comprehensive international inspection system, not only to verify that the rules of the international agreement were being adhered to but to do the very thing that he has asked should be done; that is, to ensure that there is a uniform standard of ethics and operating procedures. I have not time to explain all this. This is contained in the concept of the national block.


My Lords, I accept that. I am still worried, however, about the possibility of having 40 or 50 different nations operating in different ways without knowing what the effect of each one of those operations is on the totality of the ecological and other problems of the ocean. The ocean is not like land: the water flows, and other things arise. This is a debate which ought to go on. I am not totally convinced that I am right; I am certainly not totally convinced that the noble Lord has a good case. But this is what has to be argued.

Without an international authority I believe you could get one or two highly unsatisfactory situations. You could possibly get both of these in different parts of the world at the same time. You could get unilateral encouragement of development by individual nations within that block giving inducements which would result in haphazard, uncontrolled and socially undesirable developments, like "picking out the eyes" of the minerals, and just taking the best at the lowest cost. There could also be an outbreak of economic nationalism. Economic nationalism, in my view, has been responsible in many ways for the slower development of the underdeveloped countries. There, again, I believe that an international agency could possibly override these particular things. Some form of international authority, and an agreed system of procedure, is essential. The benefit should clearly not be available exclusively to the country which has a territorial limit contiguous with the ocean.

I like the idea that there should be an international régime which would share out the benefits in an agreed way; that the underdeveloped nations, whether they have a coastline or not, should be allowed to benefit from this world-international heritage. I believe that mere discussion of this problem at this stage in time will bring a new dimension into international political discussion. For that reason I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for having initiated this debate.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful for the opportunity which the right reverend Prelate has given us this afternoon to debate an increasingly important and extraordinarily complex subject. I can think of no one in your Lordships' House more eminently qualified than the right reverend Prelate to initiate such a debate. He is not only a distinguished geologist, he is also the former Director of the Scott Polar Institute, and a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

We are all very grateful for the two very informed and eloquent speeches which we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I find myself very close to the philosophy which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was expressing. I hope he will not think it unholy of me to suggest this "unholy alliance". I rather suspect that when the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, comes to speak he may dispel any illusion of an "unholy alliance" between the Front Benches on this matter.

I wonder whether I may sketch in the background to the Government's stance on this matter. Your Lordships may recall that, only a couple of weeks ago, in answer to a Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I reaffirmed the support of Her Majesty's Government for the principle that the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction should be subject to an international agreement and regarded as part of the common heritage of mankind. I should like again to reaffirm this, because I believe that on this principle we are all absolutely at one. The United Nations Seabed Committee has long accepted the proposition that there is an area of seabed and ocean floor, and the subsoil thereof, underlying the high seas which lies beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. The necessary corollary to this is the need for some international régime. We all know that there is an enormous variety of opinion as to the precise limits of this régime. Be that as it may, only the most extreme advocate of national sovereignty—and I am not one—would claim that national jurisdiction should extend beyond the Continental Margin, or divide the floors of the deep ocean. Here again, we are all at one.

In any event, Her Majesty's Government believe that if progress in this matter is to be made, it will be the result of a long, hard slog in the United Nations Seabed Committee, of which we are founder members and in which Governments of various political complexions have played a very constructive part. Progress in the Committee has been desperately slow, but it would be wrong to expect a speedy solution to what is an immensely complicated matter. In any event, we have worked, and will continue to work, for progress on three central and connected subjects: first, a definition of the limits to national jurisdiction; second, the adoption of a régime which covers the area beyond national jurisdiction, and third, the creation of suitable arrangements to regulate such a régime. We regard these problems as interrelated—as they clearly are, because States can hardly be expected to agree on an international régime for the seabed in the absence of any idea of the area over which that régime should operate, and vice versa.

The proposals which we have put before the Seabed Committee were worked out towards the end of last year, and presented more formally in August of this year. They do not come down in favour of any particular limit, although we have told the Committee that our preference (and here I confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said) is for a reasonably deep limit to national jurisdiction, or a combination of depth and width to give a broad, deep limit. We have until now tended to favour this type of solution as a matter of national interest (we have an undoubted national interest here), and also because we believe that to be realistic an agreement must take due account—I will put it no higher than that—of the interests of coastal States. But, by the same token, we are also prepared to take full account of the views of others, including the proposals which are embodied in the American draft convention. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that at this stage a flexible approach of this kind, in what is an exceedingly difficult matter with an infinite number of national cross-currents, is the only right one.

Our working paper is very much more specific on the question of a régime. The ideas it contains about this proposal are the result of very wide consultations, both nationally and internationally. I would submit that the paper is a constructive and, indeed, important British contribution to the seabed problem; and I think that as such should be very carefully studied, as it has been and will be this afternoon by your Lordships, and in the country at large. But I should like to stress, following what has already been said in this discussion, that this paper is only a working paper. It is not, as I think is almost implied in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, a blueprint for international agreement—though I accept that I have misread the Motion. The American draft convention, on the other hand, is a blueprint. Ours is not; ours is a sketch—a carefully worked out sketch, but a flexible sketch, if that is not a contradiction in terms.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl to say now, in case I forget to say it later, that on the very front page of the American paper there is a note saying, "This is all adjustable and we do not mean, 'Take it or leave it'."


Yes, I accept that too, my Lords. But, as in the case of limits, we remain open to other proposals for a régime.

In addition to the very detailed proposals which have been tabled by the Americans, I would mention the working paper tabled by the French. Like the British and American papers, the French paper figures as an Annex to the Report of the August session of the Seabed Committee. The similarities between the French paper and the British one are not perhaps entirely coincidental, because they offer evidence of the progress being made towards agreement. They demonstrate another significant point: that on this immensely complex issue there is a very large measure of understanding between the States of Western Europe. Given the common dependence on the oceans of that small chunk of the earth which is represented by the Western extension of Eurasia, this is as it should be.

A cardinal point in the British working paper, the point which I should like to emphasise above all others, is that the seabed régime should be established by means of an international agreement.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl, but I should like to ask this question. At a meeting of the Seabed Committee the British representative said that we were inclined to favour a simpler division between national areas and those subject to the international régime. Can the Minister say what were the simpler arrangements the British Government had in mind when that observation was made?


My Lords, I am afraid that on this matter the noble Lord is better informed than I am, as I do not know the precise context in which that observation was made, More simple than what?


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, and it may be out of Order, but as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is going to speak, and as the noble Earl is, by leave of the House, going to reply, would it not be better if this point were answered at a later stage?


My Lords, the noble Lord is not at all out of Order and I think that what he suggests is extremely sensible. I will certainly return to that point when I reply.

I should like to say just one thing. Quite deliberately we do not follow the terms of the right reverend Prelate's Motion and refer to the agreement we have in mind as governing a "world ocean régime", which is the phrase in his Motion. We do not use such phraseology because we believe that such a description might suggest that matters such as the freedom of the high seas, which are already regulated by international law, should be reopened. There are also the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has referred. Such a description might also be taken to mean that work might be suspended on just those matters which are being dealt with successfully in other forums, such as the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament. Pollution is also being handled in other forums. But, my Lords, that said, we are well to the fore among those advocating that an international convention should be created to ensure the equitable exploration and exploitation of the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

There is one particular point on the British working paper on which I should like to dwell for a moment. It has been suggested—it has again been suggested this afternoon; and I think it was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in a supplementary question recently—that because our paper proposes that the international agreement to be negotiated should provide for the allocation of licences to States we are thereby advocating the creation of parcels of national jurisdiction over the seabed. The right reverend Prelate put a number of fairly searching questions to me in that context, and he was clearly worried about the part which, under our proposals, the nation State, with all its self-regarding preoccupations, would play. I take his point, but I must say that I incline to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I should like the right reverend Prelate, and other noble Lords who feel like this, to ask themselves whether there are not, on reflection, obvious attractions in dealing with States in this context, rather than with bodies which do not have as clearly defined a status in international law. Let them consider, too, the advantages in dealing with nation States rather than with other bodies in terms of the possibilities of arbitration and the settlement of the inevitable disputes which will arise.

There is, I grant, the danger to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred: that one would get exploitation of quite different varieties in different national blocks according to different standards. This is, I grant, a possibility. But I also should have thought that if we get the right type of international régime there is no reason at all why that régime, that organisation, should not lay down standard criteria and have means of ensuring that those criteria are followed.

This is something I should have thought could be worked out.

In this connection, I should like to make a further point to the right reverend Prelate. It is one which I should like him, and others, to ponder carefully in the rather idealistic frame—I am not quarrelling with it—in which he has so attractively couched his remarks this afternoon; and it is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has already touched on. The techniques and the skills of really deep sea—of deep ocean—exploration and exploitation are at present the possession of a mere handful of advanced nations. Among these the United States at present holds a preeminent position, although the other leading industrialised nations of the world, including those of Western Europe, are playing an active part. If we accept the principle of some form of licensing system—I repeat, if—but at the same time elbow out the nation State, as I think the right reverend Prelate suggests we might do; if, as I take it he suggests, we issue licences direct to commercial operators, or cut out States, then I would suggest there is a real danger of our freezing and fossilising the present position, where the United States and some other advanced industrialised countries are in the van of progress and where the developing countries have hardly got into the act at all.

We should have to do one of two things. Either the international authority would itself have to undertake these operations, or licences would have to be issued to corporations and companies direct. I believe (I may be wrong about this, because I think we should all suspend part of our judgment here) that the former course would be unworkable; and the latter course, by cutting out the States and licensing operators direct, would confer a great and perhaps permanent advantage on the great American companies or the great international corporations, or indeed the great industrial giants which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has the honour to represent.

I would suggest, therefore, to the right reverend Prelate that our proposals have important advantages for the developing countries. Blocks would be reserved for them, and apart from the operator possessing the necessary technical and financial competence there would be no restriction under our proposals which would limit the means by which the State concerned might in fact exploit the areas for which it holds licences, subject of course to agreed criteria. Thus there would be nothing to stop the developing country from issuing sub-licences to foreign companies, provided the international community had no objection, nor from enabling it to exploit the blocks for which it had obtained licences.

My Lords, precisely because we do not think that the balance here should be tilted in favour of the richest or the most technically advanced countries, our proposals limit the number of blocks which any one State may accumulate at any one time. Thus the gambling vision conjured up for us by the right reverend Prelate of Uncle Sam or somebody else, perhaps, sitting beside a vast and unlimited pile of deep ocean chips is not a realistic one—that is to say, if our proposals or something like them are adopted.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl how he is going to ensure that the underdeveloped nations get a fair share of this? I should have thought that the chances of their being given something which might be a bonanza are fairly remote, because one does not know what is happening until one explores. Would it not be much better if they shared in the totality of the royalties and the revenue coming into the international agencies rather than taking a "lucky dip" attitude and getting the wrong part of the ocean?


My Lords, that is one way, I grant; but it seems to me that it has the disadvantage that there would be very little encouragement or stimulus for them to develop their own skills and techniques in this area.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl will agree that for many years to come people will be dependent upon American and Western European technology. The point at issue is how the underdeveloped nations can benefit from the totality of the royalties.


My Lords, there is a way which I have already suggested: that provided it was acceptable to the international régime the developing country could sub-licence.


If it has anything to sub-licence.


But, my Lords, it has a block and it could sub-licence that block and perhaps bring in some great corporation in partnership. I should have thought that that was a perfectly acceptable and practical approach. I am far from claiming that our scheme, although it has been carefully elaborated, represents perfection. All I would say is that it has not been advanced lightly; it is the result of a great deal of careful consultation and considerable deliberation. It is specifically designed to ensure the equitable distribution of licences and to provide an opportunity for all States to share in the development of the resources of the seabed and not only those who are in the van of progress at the present time.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships for too long, but may I just turn for a moment to the United States draft convention? It is a truly formidable document, and I think it has quite recently been described as something in the way of an intellectual tour de force. It is certainly a massive tour de force, consisting of no less than 78 articles, 5 appendices and the promise of a good deal more to come. For this and other good reasons Her Majesty's Government do not wish at the present time to take up a final decision on the American draft convention. However, we welcomed it when it appeared because we believed it to be an important contribution to the international consideration of seabed problems.

Your Lordships will recognise that the provisions in the draft convention for seabed limits are not those we ourselves originally had in mind. They would reduce the present jurisdiction of coastal States over their Continental Shelves by setting the limit at 200 metres rather than whatever depth beyond that is capable of exploitation, as is the case under the existing Continental Shelf Convention. On the other hand, the draft convention takes account of the interests of coastal States through its provisions for a trusteeship area in which they would enjoy certain privileges by international agreement. I know that those have been criticised in some quarters but, my Lords, we would certainly not wish to rule out this proposal without much further study, because what we are looking for is a solution which will be acceptable to the international community as a whole. All I can say is that I hope—and indeed I expect—that other Governments will be giving the United States proposals the same very careful consideration that we are giving them.

May I just touch on two further matters at this stage? Some noble Lords have already referred to the problem of marine pollution, and I suspect that others will do so in the course of this debate. We are of course going to discuss the problems of pollution next week, but may I just say this? The British working paper comes out squarely in favour of including provisions in any international agreement on the seabed for controlling pollution arising from research, exploration and exploitation, but it does not envisage wider and more comprehensive pollution control measures because we are far from being convinced that this would be the most effective way of solving the problems involved here. I think this is another case where we should be very wise to avoid duplication, because the questions of marine pollution are being handled, and indeed energetically handled, in other international forums like the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation. But, my Lords, let me emphasise that we do not wish in any way to hamstring the controls over marine pollution. On the contrary, it is our sole desire that the control system should be made more effective in this area, and I know there is no one more anxious that this should be so than the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who is the new chairman (having inherited this arduous job from me, and before that from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton) of the Advisory Committee on the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil.

I think we can take some real pride in the fact that we have been in the van of the world community in our thinking about and in taking practical steps to deal with this insidious menace of marine pollution—the progressive fouling up of the oceans which are, after all, one of mankind's most precious assets. We intend to continue to make the international running here, although I think we are right in seeking to restrict the functions of the proposed international régime so that they do not overlap or unnecessarily duplicate those being discharged by other international organisations.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to turn for a second to the question of arms control on the seabed. As your Lordships will be aware, the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly has recently commended the draft treaty banning the emplacement of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction on the seabed outside a 12-mile coastal zone. As my noble friend Lord Lothian said in the First Committee on November 4, this draft treaty is a thoroughly worthwhile and carefully elaborated piece of work which meets the principal needs of all countries.

I should like, if I may, to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for the considerable contribution which he has made in this respect, as in other respects, in the disarmament field. This has been achieved in a remarkable spirit of co-operation which owes much to the negotiating experience of the conference of the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva—the C.C.D. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has just said, we have every reason to hope that the draft treaty will now be endorsed by the General Assembly in plenary session and that it will be open for signature at an early date. I am glad that the United Kingdom, together with the United States and the Soviet Union, will act as a depository Power for the treaty. An important feature of the treaty is that it contains adequate provision for continuing negotiations aimed at forestalling the very real threat of an arms race on the seabed.

I should like to make it clear that Her Majesty's Government, for their part, are prepared to examine on their merits any further proposals which are put forward in the C.C.D., always bearing in mind the essential needs of national security. May I say again that I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that this is, in my view, a matter which is best handled quite separately from the seabed affairs that we are discussing this afternoon. The C.C.D. has the experience and competence to deal in the future, as it has done in the past, with arms control and disarmament questions as they affect the seabed, and I think it would be unwise, as it would be unnecessary, to duplicate its work in any other forum.

May I, in conclusion, say this? I shall hope, if I have the leave of the House, to speak shortly at the end of this debate to answer any specific points which may be raised, or some of them. I should like to emphasise one point. I hope that Her Majesty's Government—in fact I know this is so—approach these matters with a due sense of humility, because they are awesome in their extent, and also with a very considerable degree of flexibility. I remember very well our debate on this subject in July, 1969, initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. I remember his wise words here: that we should be prudent to try to proceed in this matter step by step. I believe that that step-by-step, pragmatic approach is embodied in the working paper the British delegation has submitted: but let me repeat once again that that working paper is intended to be merely exploratory. I hope that the other countries on the Seabed Committee will explore our ideas, as we intend to continue to explore theirs, and not least the ideas incorporated in the very important American draft convention. My Lords, because this is our approach to this whole matter, we shall give very careful attention indeed to the views expressed in your Lordships' House already this afternoon, and the views which will be expressed during the remainder of our debate.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, I am profoundly grateful to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this Motion, and to my noble friend Lord Kennet for associating with it his Motion so that we can fully debate this issue of great importance. I want to thank the right reverend Prelate also for the terms of his speech, with practically all of which I wholeheartedly agree, and I want to assure him that the "practically" in this case is not a knuckleduster in a velvet glove.

I have plunged so deeply into this subject over the last few years that when I surface on an occasion like this I find myself suffering from intellectual diver's bends. I ought also, like the noble Lord, Lord Byers, to declare an interest. My interest is not in a big international metal concern. My interest is in the proposals for the ocean régime which the right reverend Prelate referred to with approbation, the proposals of Mrs. Elisabeth Mann-Borgese and Dr. Neil Jacoby. They are my eminent colleagues at the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara, where I am an Associate Fellow and where we have been working on this issue since pre-Pardo days. I want to express my admiration of Ambassador Pardo who, as spokesman for a nation with a population less than my own native City of Edinburgh, took the initiative at the United Nations and raised this whole matter to the level at which it is being very properly debated.

My main emphasis to-day is on urgency. I am perfectly satisfied that we should, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, has said in the past, proceed cautiously. But we must also proceed quickly as well as cautiously. In this case it is not necessary that we should hasten slowly, but that we should go slowly hastily. As I say, my main emphasis is on urgency. I know that an ocean bed régime and talk about the common heritage of mankind may seem remote from the anguished and menacing headlines in our newspapers, but I assure your Lordships that it is a matter fraught with very great dangers, which we have only indicated or touched on so far in this debate.

Time is not on our side. There has been a tendency, even in the United Nations where they have a standing committee, to assume that the exploitation of the mineral wealth of the ocean bed is still a long way off. I can assure your Lordships categorically that this is not so. The right reverend Prelate has already pointed this out. In our discussions at Santa Barbara at the beginning of this year, and again at the Pacem in Maribus discussions in Malta in July, Dr. John Craven said: It is technically feasible to put men, material and equipment in the deepest part of the ocean, and it will be feasible at low cost in the near future. I can tell your Lordships that Dr. Craven speaks from unique experience, because he was the Pentagon's oceanographic expert at the very heart of the Polaris programme. Why does this give him authority in talking about industrialisation of the seabed?

When we, the peoples in whose name the Charter of the United Nations was invoked, entered upon our common heritage—which has now been accepted by all nations, including the Soviet Union, because at the recent meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at The Hague we obtained the consent of the Soviet Union as well to the idea of the common heritage of mankind beyond the limits of national jurisdiction—we found the military already there. I know that in fact we have had these U.S.A. and Soviet Union proposals (now, we hope, being accepted by the General Assembly) disowning any intention, and asking others to do so, too, of emplacing or implanting any nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction on the ocean floor. I hope that other nations will concur.

I welcome this pact for what it says, and for the gesture it represents. But I would point out that it means that we are now dealing with quite a different concept of deep ocean strategy; namely, that fixed nuclear fortresses on the ocean floor are no longer necessary, nor indeed militarily acceptable. With the increased efficiency of aerial and satellite surveillance, and with the target accuracy of nuclear missiles, fixed land bases have become vulnerable.

The answer had to be sought, and the answer that was found was mobility and concealment. The opaque depths of the oceans offered both, and indeed would have obscured even seabed fortresses. But why be restrictive when submarines and other submersibles—including what Mrs. Elizabeth Young called "creepy crawlies"—could change their sites? Nevertheless, this new dimension in strategy required investigation and intensified the research and technology for operating at great depths. When the military services "pick up the tab" and their appropriations take care of research and development costs, the time scale of technical innovation becomes radically and indeed completely different. The spin-off of an "expense no object" military programme becomes the know-how of civilian operations. Some of your Lordships may have noticed how, with the cutback of the outer space programme, the big boys, the really big boys (maybe Lockheed will get into this as well) in the military and industrial complex in the United States are now diversifying from outer space into inner space: into the depths of the ocean.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned Deep Sea Ventures, a United States corporation, which is now recovering metals, in the form of nodules, from the deep ocean floor beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, and is promising its stockholders that it will be dredging up a million tons a year of these nodules by 1974—dredging out our nodules, the common heritage of mankind. I know with certainty that at least one other corporation has the same intention and, what is more, knows precisely where it can go and get them. It can get them from eleven square miles (as Chairman of the Metrication Board, I should not be using that term) in a precise part of the ocean; in fact in an area less than that of Greater London. The corporation knows exactly where to find the metals for which it is looking—and, by golly! I know it will go and get them.

The United States research ship, "Glomar Challenger", has recently drilled into the sea bottom and has, quite incredibly, re-entered; that is to say, she has removed and reinserted the drill in the hole. It is like threading a needle through 16,000 feet of water. To me, it is as great an achievement as the linking up of Gemini in space. It is a remarkable achievement; and it is still only research. I would remind your Lordships that offshore drilling for oil came into its own only after World War II, and now to-day 17 per cent. of all the commercial oil in the world comes from undersea drillings on the Continental Shelf. Therefore, if there are hydrocarbons at the bottom of the real deeps—that is to say, 16,000 feet or 18,000 feet, or, if necessary, 30,000 feet—then we are only looking forward to the time when the example of the "Glomar Challenger" can be carried out on a commercial basis. Technology grows with the research it feeds on.

One other point I should make but shall not dwell upon is that the dredging of Deep Sea Ventures (I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is not here at the moment, but apropos of what he was saying) represents opencast mining of the ocean floor. As one who has lately been doing a close study of what is known of the biological system which extends right down to 36,000 feet, I say that those who are doing it—Deep Sea Ventures, or anybody else—do not know what they are doing, or what the pollution effects will be in the eco-system. I would remind your Lordships that, in the absence of a régime, no-one—nobody—can tell them to stop.

That brings me back to the urgency of the need for an ocean régime, and I do not qualify that. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that in fact what we are thinking of now is a constituted body, something quite different in character from what we have been talking about so far. I say that with all deference to both Front Benches. The common heritage has been acknowledged, but the lawyers cannot agree about the property rights. In the presence of noble and learned Lords I hesitate to throw legal cliches about, but, as I understand it, you can have res nullius, and say that the common heritage belongs to nobody; or you can have res communis, and say that it belongs to everybody. But suppose somebody decides to exploit it, and says that he knows precisely where he is going to get it, and then gets to work on it. Let us suppose he decides to exploit it because it belongs to nobody—it is res nullius. Surely, the moment he does so, and makes it obvious that the stuff is there, then it becomes res communis, when somebody else comes along and says that it belongs to everybody and proceeds to jostle the claimant. What happens then?

If the operator is a national of Nation A, can he claim flag protection? Surely not, because Nation A, like every other United Nations nation, has said that he is exploiting something beyond the limits of national jurisdiction—something which is the common heritage of all mankind. But suppose it gives him flag protection, and the interloper, in his turn, claims flag protection from his Government, Nation B, what happens? Do they shoot it out? Or go further: assume that the developers are a multi-national corporation—that profoundly interesting and still very puzzling subject on which my colleague Neil Jacoby is working in California. I will not go into the nature of the multi-national corporation, because on a subject like this I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Byers, could give us a great deal of insight and information. A multinational corporation consists of many nationalities, bringing capital and expertise, but obscure in their identities by their very diversification, and with no flag of State and surely no flag of convenience, because even Liberia or Panama could not pretend to cover their operations on the ocean bed. In fact, no flag at all.

No one, as things are, can grant them a concession and ensure what the lawyers call their "quiet enjoyment". So how do they protect their claim? They would have their naval "Securicor"; their own private navy; and you would have a return to the mediæval Barons. That, right reverend Prelate, is why I said "practically", and why, on this count at least, I am with my noble friend Lord Chalfont. I do not like it. I know that in the right reverend Prelate's mind it was based on the assumption that an ocean régime existed and had sanctioned the operations, and I know that many worthwhile institutions began that way—such as when the insurance companies originally recruited and financed the fire brigades. But I do not like private constabularies—and I hope your Lordships will agree with me that at least it is worth suspecting them—any more than I trust interested parties doing their own inspection.

Therefore, anything we are talking about must not only include the custodial function; it must also include the inspectorate. There is an old song, Who takes care of the caretaker's daughter, When the caretaker's busy taking care. This, of course, is only another way of saying, as your Lordships would, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Some other system will have to be devised by which an ocean régime can provide some form of collective security and have its own inspectorate. Meanwhile, just as everyone has warned us about what happens in the interim in terms of pollution, we ought to consider also what is happening when people, like squatters, are getting in there in the present situation, with the possibilities attendant on it.

Apropos of multi-national corporations, whose present and future activities I, for one, accept as inevitable, I agree with Elisabeth Mann-Borgese and with the fundamental endorsement of the right reverend Prelate, that a disinterested ocean régime cannot be constituted only by, or for, Governments. I do not say that it will not be constituted through Governments, but it cannot be by or for them. "We, the peoples" cannot, all 3,600,000.000 of us, meet in elected assembly and appoint our own trustees for our common heritage. It will have to be based on an international convention, arrived at through the United Nations, but remembering that the mainland Chinese and others who are not members of the United Nations are also "We, the peoples". It would be unrealistic not to conceive of Governments helping us create the system, but they also, in any performance of the régime, should, as interested parties (because we are discussing to-day national claims as well) have access. But so should others—and this is where I do join with the right reverend Prelate—such as the scientists, seeking knowledge without interference, and individual or multinational corporations, seeking concessions.

That brings me to my last point out of dozens which I should like to raise, including the international trusteeship zone which the Nixon proposal wants to be administered by the coastal State, or the creeping jurisdiction represented by the Continental Shelf, Slope and Rise, to which insufficient attention has been paid so far. On this I agree with the right reverend Prelate. I was disturbed not to get a more clear assurance from the noble Earl the Leader of the House that the Government are not committed to the absurdity of the grid system. I say that without any reservation or qualification whatever. I am surprised that the Government, inheriting from the Foreign Office this idea which has been around a long time, are committing themselves to this system, which is not a lucky dip; it is bingo—to change the right reverend Prelate's metaphor.

I thought I had disposed of this a long time ago by calling it "two acres and a seacow." It is not only absurd; it is positively dangerous. I keep on thinking of the conference of Berlin and the Powers carving up Africa, and, as a sop to a small country, giving the Congo to Leopold II as his own private property. Perhaps we will give away a few areas in order to grab the rest. Imagine a grid, with landlocked Afghanistan given a block at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific. All right, my Lords, it could grant a concession to some other country or corporation, but to be realistic it would finish up in an agglomerate with the people who would have grabbed it in the first place grabbing it later. You would finish up with a takeover bid by those capable of taking over. This would be oceanbed colonialism. I know that these are evocative words, which we do not often hear in your Lordships' House, but with this form of exploitation a block would finish up. characteristically, in the hands of those who were the strongest.

We must think of allocating resources not by areas, but by resources. In terms of plotting out the seabed, I must ask: what happens when you get overlapping resources? Who is going to supply what? If you have marked out a lot of little plots and you say, "In this area you can bore for oil" or, "You can go somewhere else for copper manganese nodules", where do you finish up? This does not make any sense, and I am very sorry, because it is obvious that the Government and the Foreign Office have given a lot of thought to this. But so have a lot of other people, too, and this does not measure up to any logical follow-through. The exploitation of these resources is for the benefit of all mankind, including the developing countries.

I would remind your Lordships that these mineral resources are a threat as well as a promise to mankind. Countries are underdeveloped in material terms because their natural resources are not developed. Their minerals are their natural capital on which they hope to base their prosperity. At the moment, they can only hope to mine them or quarry them as the raw materials which they sell cheap, in order to buy dear the production goods which they must import from advanced countries, if they are going to develop their own industry and their own prosperity. Marine minerals could well be in direct competition. The equitable way would be to secure that by rent, royalties or sharing in the profits, substantial funds would be available through an international agency to provide the means by which developing countries could acquire the equipment for their own industries to manufacture from their own natural resources.

This is the house that Jack built. You could, in fact, conserve the resources which at the moment are being squandered in many ways, so that with their resources reinforced from the rest of the world they could themselves get into business. I could develop this in great detail. I have taken part in many discussions in all parts of the world when I have heard lip service given, but cynically given, to the idea of the common heritage. I have been waiting for a long time for an imaginative lead, not logic chopping, from my own country, the country of the "Challenger" which started all this a century ago; a maritime country whose traditions can, I hope, make it great enough to be disinterested in the interests of all mankind.

I agree that we have been pretty good. It was once said that we have never put a foot wrong, but we have not put a foot forward. The point is that we have not yet brought to this question the kind of imagination which we must call for from the international lawyers, and from the people who are capable of seeing the enormous possibilities. We need that imagination, because I assure your Lordships that without it we shall be overtaken by events. I ask your Lordships—and this is something which your Lordships' House can do with eminent success—please to consider setting up a Select Committee on this whole matter, because we can bring to this subject the kind of scrutiny and imagination—and I am sure your Lordships have imagination—which will lead to a constructive proposal to back up any advances which this country will want to make.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, because we have been associated in various ways in the past, particularly in the fairly immediate past on the question of metrication. I was very sorry indeed to hear him speak in terms of square miles. He is as aware as I am that even the American documents relating to the seabed refer to 200 metres and certainly make no mention of fathoms or 656 feet.


My Lords, the trouble was that though I realised that I was speaking to people who were extremely literate, I was not sure whether they were also numerate.


My Lords, I accept that from the noble Lord, and I apologise for delaying the House in order to indulge in those little quips with him. I had not really expected to take part in this debate this afternoon, due to some other commitments, and I have done so at very short notice so I have not had very much time to brief myself. What I have to say is therefore, to some extent, somewhat "off the cuff". However, I want to congratulate the right reverend Prelate as well as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for putting down their Motions. I must say that I am tremendously impressed by the immense amount of work which has been done on this subject, not only by the relevant United Nations committees and the organisations to which the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, referred, but by many others.

It is not easy to brief oneself fully on this subject in a short space of time. I thought that our last debate in July, 1969, which was initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, was very useful indeed, although in a sense—it may be that I was partly to blame for this—it was two debates in one; one on the Government Report on Marine Science and Technology, regarding the general contribution of this country to oceanology, and the other specifically on the desirability of establishing an international régime. On this occasion it is clear that we should confine our attention mainly, as I understand it, to international aspects of the problem, and these are, I agree, very important. At the same time—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Byers, would have agreed with me on this point had he been here—we should not minimise the value of our own national effort, especially the contribution which British industry and British research establishments can make in instrumentation and equipment to the overall international effort.

My Lords, I do not think we can make an effective contribution to any international régime unless we have a strong national oceanological base in this country, and, like the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, I believe that as a great maritime nation Britain has as much to contribute as any other country, even if in recent years the efforts of the United States and of France appear to have been greater than our own. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, about the urgency of combating pollution and that this subject should also be dealt with separately from considerations of the sort that we are bearing in mind to-day.

In July last year I discussed what British industry was doing. Many of us had attended the Brighton Exihibition earlier in the year. If it is not thought out of order to-day, I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House may be able to indicate to us—he need do so only briefly—what progress has been made specifically in this country: for example, any recent achievements of the National Institute of Oceanography or the Construction Industry Research Association and also whether there has been any progress in the contracts which were placed with Hawker Siddeley Dynamics, Cammell Laird, Wimpey and possibly others, including the company of which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is a director. I wonder whether the system of development contracts with industry might not be extended further, with a view to providing the right kind of underwater dredgers, submersibles, seabed vehicles, power tools, visual aids and diving equipment, with all their supporting facilities. Personally, with the right reverend Prelate, I am not afraid of disturbing the Leviathan. I think it was generally accepted last year that there was a clear need for a greater involvement of industry in this country, and it was even suggested that it might be desirable to co-opt representatives from industry on to the Committee for Marine Technology. I should be interested to know whether that has now been done.

My noble friend Lord Jellicoe referred last year to the importance of involving universities, too. Again, if this is not irrelevant, I hope my noble friend will be able to tell us whether any progress has been made in these directions, and whether we are to maintain expenditure at the rate of some £l3.4 million, which was the figure mentioned in last year's debate. Although I realise that the rate of growth here, in this research, has been very rapid compared with R. and D. projects in other fields, it is none the less very small compared with United States financial allocations. However, I will not delay your Lordships by discussing in detail our national effort, though I should like to say a few brief words on the main subject of this debate.

Of course, my Lords, we should like to see an international body created, with or without teeth, with or without its international force, or its sea guard. We should like to see an organisation which would administer the seabed, which covers, as we know, 75 per cent. of the surface of the globe. No doubt several of your Lordships in the House to-day would equally like to see an international régime set up which would control all activities on the land surface of the globe, but we know only too well that the United Nations has not yet developed to the point of making this a practical possibility. We do not yet see member nations of the United Nations giving up their sovereignties in the near future and abdicating their responsibilities to international bodies, whether, as I say, with or without teeth. Some people, not only in Britain but also in France, even now still fear what have been described as the "demons of supranationality". Having, therefore, so far failed to achieve an effective world authority on land, can we now achieve it under the seas? I do not doubt the urgency of it.

In our debate last year the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, emphasised that there should be an internationally-administered licensing system to which each State would apply to explore and exploit particular areas. He thought that a good precedent for this, which had proved workable, was the International Telecommunications Union, the I.T.U., which allocates radio frequencies, for which States apply, and which decides between conflicting claims. In replying to the noble Lord I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, then speaking for the Government, made any comments on that specific suggestion; but it seemed to me that it made a great deal of sense. I should like to ask my noble friend whether, in his view, the kind of international authority which was proposed by the United States on August 4 and again on August 7 would have the same kind of licensing powers as the I.T.U. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, may be able to answer that question when he speaks.

I have read the passage on page 3, I think it is, of the statement by Ambassador Phillips concerning the powers and duties of the proposed authority, but I am not clear whether they can be compared with those of the I.T.U. I note that the United Kingdom working paper of August 4, in paragraph 7(a), refers to certain major difficulties. There are going to be many. Clearly the allocation of blocks is going to create great problems. I wonder whether my noble friend could say whether he thinks that some of them may be surmountable. In this House, we should like to have some hope that something will be achieved and that some progress will be made. I wonder whether my noble friend could also say how far he thinks we can now support the American proposals, and how far he thinks we may be able to get agreement, for example, among members of the Commonwealth.

I was interested to note from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, last year that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference was to include a seabed item on its agenda—or it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who said this. I have not heard whether any progress was made on this subject, and I should be interested to know from my noble friend what happened and whether this item will also be included in the agenda of the Commonwealth Conference which is to take place next January. No doubt my noble friend will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the processes of agreement may take many years, as has been the experience in negotiations concerning the Continental Shelf, and particularly the areas which any international régime is to cover. As the right reverend Prelate and other speakers have said, there is no agreement so far on where the limit of national jurisdiction lies. We do not know whether it is going to be 200 metres or whether, in certain cases, Canada's claim of 100 miles may prevail.

I have discussed, with Senator Claiborne Pell in Washington some of these proposals which the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, have raised in their Motions. Only a few weeks ago I took time off rather late at night to discuss these questions with him. I was there on matters concerned with the European Space Conference and the post-Apollo proposals, but I took time off to have a word with Senator Pell, who is, of course, chairman of the Senate sub-committee on these matters and, I think, one of those who led the way in proposing an international convention. I think my noble friend the Leader of the House also has a high opinion of the Senator's efforts in this field. They are as idealistic as those of the right reverend Prelate, and possibly of the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Ritchie-Calder. My Lords, we should respect the idealists; but at the same time we should have no illusions about the difficulties that must inevitably face us in evolving the kind of international régime which most of us have in mind, although there are several variants.

While, therefore, I am not altogether sanguine about the early practicality of concluding an international convention—though I hope I may be wrong—I feel, as I have said, that we must in the meantime make every effort, in this country and if desirable multilaterally, in conjunction with other countries or firms, bilaterally or multilaterally, to produce the necessary advanced equipment which is required for the practical exploration of seabed resources. In our debate last year the question of whether there should not be greater research co-operation and 'industrial co-operation with European countries was raised; and I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that we were working closely with French scientists at the French Oceanographic Centre at Brest. He said that we should no doubt be arranging joint scientific programmes. I should be interested to know from my noble friend Lord Jellicoe—and perhaps he will write to me if he is not able to answer this evening—whether in fact such joint programmes have been arranged.

My Lords, in conclusion, I should like again to thank the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for raising these matters, and to express the hope that rapid progress will be made and that at least agreement may be reached among the principal sea-going nations of the world. If this could be achieved then, in my view, these nations —and I believe that they can be disinterested—could act as trustees for all the coastal States, and even landlocked States, great and small, and ensure that, in consultation with them they would all receive their equitable share of the revenues which should ultimately accrue. I agree with Lord Ritchie-Calder that there must be no grab; yet there are great complications in reaching an agreement when so many States are at present involved. Therefore if agreement could be reached among the principal nations I believe that more rapid progress might be made.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, in adding my thanks to those of other Members of the House to the right reverend Prelate for introducing this Motion and for the way in which he has laid out the work which has been done, I am well aware that a great deal has been said by those who have an expertise in this field which I do not pretend. My own personal acquaintance with the seabed is marginal in the exact sense of that word. I have no technical competence, and what I have to say will necessarily be in one sense at the shallow end, and I reflect that in the stretches of water as limited as those at public baths, most of the noise comes from the shallow end. I do not intend to add to that noise except to offer to my noble friend the right reverend Prelate what I think he would be agreeable to say for himself: that the main value of this debate is to issue a warning which ought to be received with great earnestness and to present a challenge which, formidable as it is, must necessarily sooner or later be faced.

Let me deal with what seems to me to be the main areas in which that warning should be voiced. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Byers, that there is a distinguishable difference between the seabed as a subject and pollution of the oceans generally; but if you want to get to the seabed and the ocean is polluted, you must go through the pollution. Furthermore, it disturbs me to encounter the sort of thing that I read about the other day in preparation for this debate; that lying on the seabed of the Baltic are 7,000 tons of arsenic in corroding canisters deposited on that seabed in 1930 and now about to decompose. I am not a scientific expert; I do not know what the effect of releasing 7,000 tons of arsenic will be; but it seems to me a flippant and, it may be, a lethal exercise in indifference. There is no doubt at all from the admonitory words of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that urgency in dealing with pollution is one of the prime causes for taking the subject of this debate with the utmost seriousness. What causes me greater perturbation is that what we know is frightening enough: but what we do not know may be much more so. And in so far as much of what goes on is carried out in secrecy we may be very disturbed, and I hope we shall be.

I fear also the warning which was voiced as to the use already being made (and which will probably be made more extensively in the future) of the ocean bed as some kind of adjunct and auxiliary to the armament programmes and, therefore, the warlike possibilities of a world which is, in conscience, dangerous enough now. I understand, whatever may be the particular prospect of the kind of negotiations now in progress, that there are already plans for the provision of silos or some kind of pens for submarines which have advanced at least to the stage at which blueprints or first-stage preparations have been made. I am quite sure that in the present state of unrest any access to or availability of military resources which can make use of the seabed will be carried out, unless there are arrangements for cessation of these programmes.

I do not entertain the view that some people hold is reasonable: that we are in less danger, less vulnerable, than we were a few years ago. I think that the situation is still eminently dangerous. But what concerns me most in the matter of warnings is the increased disparity between the "have" and the "have-not" nations. This disparity will tend to become wider if exploitation of the seabed by those in a position to do it further advantages those who have and further disadvantages those who have not. This point has been ventilated this afternoon, and I will not dwell on it further except to remind your Lordships that Brazil is already claiming 300 miles of territory under the sea at her littoral and we have already heard that Canada is making a more modest claim.

It is important that any attempt to serve the interests of peace should be designed to meet these dangers as they now exist in the field of international possibilities of warfare, of exploitation and pollution of the seabed, and above all in those residual elements of suspicion, doubt and fear which reside in the disparity that now exists between the "have" and the "have-not" nations. I may say to the right reverend Prelate that these are more than adequate reasons for ventilating this topic; but to leave it there would be abject. What we are concerned about, my Lords, is the possibility of doing something in this field and I believe that there are two areas of possible action-the one more approximate, and perhaps the more possible, and not demanding the kind of imaginative foresight and revolutionary programme that the longer-term project would necessarily entail. It seems to me reasonable to think that, before we have an international body, or a supranational body, capable of regulating all the issues with which we have been concerned to-day, it might be possible to see to it that the problem of pollution for instance, could, by international agreement, at least be regulated and diminished.

My Lords, I rejoice to hear that there are possibilities of getting the seabed agreed as a kind of neutral zone and that the major nations interested in military and naval operations would be prepared to make a concession in this field. That, I think, would immensely alleviate the fears that most people feel. But it is the larger problem, the problem of getting some international régime, or supra-national régime, that has daunted your Lordships in speech after speech, and should daunt the most adventurous. I have looked at the two competitive programmes: the American one, if it is a programme, and the working paper, if it is a programme, or at least a suggestion for further thought; and I am bound to say that, on balance, I feel that the American one may be preferable. I can find no substance, no sympathy, in and for the proposition of blocks under national jurisdiction. This idea seems to me to be a non-starter; and even if it were to start, I believe that it would end in confusion. It is impossible to operate a kind of "gold rush" on the ocean floor.

Certainly the suggestion that this could be done by arrangement, it seems to me, burkes the whole issue as to who would be in a position of saying, "I want this block", or, "I want that block"; and the kind of gamble for the whole issue is not, in my judgment, even in the initial stages, a profitable adventure. It would lead, I think, to all kinds of uncontrollable and consequential evils. On the other hand, it is perfectly true to say that the trusteeship proposition put forward by the American proposals carries with it almost the same danger. Trustees have a habit of becoming landlords—or in this case "sealords"—and it does not appear to me to be a reasonable proposition that, under the present state of affairs, those who are now trustees would readily yield up their trusteeship at a suitable date. It has not happened on land, in many cases, and I think it is unlikely to happen in the case of the seabed.

In fact, my Lords, are we not confronted with the supreme problem which now very largely restricts and hampers the United Nations, and which has to be faced? And if it is to be faced, what more appropriate place in which to face it than the seabed? And what more splendid opportunity for the imagination which we have not hitherto brought to this matter! The real "evil in the hole", the whole problem, rests on the concept of sovereignty; and so long as the Nation States maintain their individual sovereignty I do not think we can have a sufficiently imaginative programme to deal with this new and tremendous opportunity to pass beyond sovereignty to the common weal; to pass out of the narrow, selfish, predatory and violent habits of the Nation States into something more like what I would call the Kingdom of God—what some people call the classless society—but what, in in this particular and limpid Motion, is the common welfare of mankind.

My Lords, I happen to be a Socialist, and I make no bones about it. I shall introduce the word as frequently as I can, because I believe that it is the right word to use. But Socialists have been, hitherto, on the whole, landlubbers, and we have now to become seafarers; and it may well be that we shall do a better job of seafaring than some of us have done in the field of land apportionment and land control.

What is beyond all question, is that here is a challenge, in a comparatively new field, which if we face it imaginatively, can have two results. It can enable the United Nations, which now languishes, to acquire new prestige and to be a more genuine bell-wether for that World Government which ultimately must take its place. Secondly, if we are imaginative enough, it can enable us to believe that here is a commonalty, a virtue; here is a riches, here is a wealth—I do not know how great. Some doubts have been cast to-day on the actual extent of the wealth of the seabed. I would not know about that. I am somewhat discomforted to find that plankton is not so commendable a diet as I was inclined to suppose. But, whatever may be the immediate prospects of the discovery and utilisation of the resources of the seabed, I would plead, my Lords, that here is a magnificent opportunity, in our thinking and then perhaps in our actions, to go beyond the whole concept of the Nation State which has hitherto bedevilled, and will continue to bedevil, any attempt finally to solve one of the most difficult, yet one of the most profitable, exercises and adventures to which I think we in this generation are committed.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, it is interesting to note how much things have changed since July, 1969, when we last debated this subject. It seems like yesterday, but a great deal has happened. The United Nations Committee on the Seabed has met and has made a good deal of progress. The General Assembly of the United Nations has considered this subject and passed some important resolutions, including the moratorium resolution. We have had the statement of American policy, made by President Nixon in May of this year, and the deposit of the draft United States Treaty in August of this year; and we have the French and British working papers for a régime.

Perhaps just as significant in a different way has been the contribution made by private bodies. There has been the meeting in Malta of the Pacem in Maribus, which was attended by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and others from this country. There was the most significant meeting of the International Law Association in the Hague, in August of this year, at which representatives of many countries, and eminent lawyers, discussed this subject. The prestigious institution of Ditchley Park has held a seminar on this subject, which really shows that it has arrived, and we are full of papers and contribution from all over the world. I myself, if this is progress at all, have become very much less cautious than I was, or am quoted to have been, in July of last year.

It is, perhaps, interesting to ask where we are at this stage. In July of 1969 we were discussing, in quite general terms, the need to have an international régime. People did not then think that it was necessary or that one could be devised, and some of us were putting forward suggestions as to the kind of régime which might be introduced. Some suggestions were made by myself, and others by other people. Now we have almost an embarrassment of concrete proposals and models and suggestions of every kind. We have the drafts put forward by the United Kingdom working paper; we have the very detailed régime in the form of articles from the International Law Association; we have the United States draft treaty with its 78 articles, even if Article 78 is at present a blank.

My Lords, I do not want to comment on the United States draft treaty at this stage; enough has been said about it. It does not represent even an agreed United States point of view, still less one which has received much support internationally. But I think it would be right here to recognise the great amount of constructive thought and effort which has been put into it. It is largely the work of a very distinguished international lawyer, Professor Louis Sohn, from Harvard, and there is a great deal in it which, whatever may be the fate of other proposals, or that proposal, is certain to find its way into international thinking. And it shows—does it not?—the degree of support in the United States for the principle of an international régime over the deep seabed which would have been quite unthinkable in 1967 before the Pardo proposals. I think we ought to be grateful for it.

My Lords, all this is excellent, and I am certainly with those who approve and would commend and encourage the work of the United Kingdom Government and the merits of the United Kingdom working paper, which is fully up to the standard of its previous contributions. But it is all on one level. It is all on the legal, technical and administrative level. It provides models from which we can choose, with blanks in the most important places and, when we try to fill in the blanks, we find ourselves in difficulty and potential conflict. For example, how far out from the coast is the international régime to start?

The right reverend Prelate has given us the present available alternatives. How big are the blocks to be, if it is to be a block system? Is it practical to carve out blocks at all from the geological point of view? No less an authority than Dean Jacoby, of California, has expressed doubts whether it is possible geologically to carve out blocks. If blocks, what is to be the nature of the title over these blocks, whether States or enterprises? What safeguard is there against the blocks becoming a whole lot of little San Marinos in the middle of the ocean floor? What is to be the nature of the sharing out of the blocks between competitors? What is to be the amount of royalties, and who is to get them? What is to be the enforcement procedure?

We have had several pertinent observations on that subject. Frankly, when we get out of the technical and legal level and into the political discussions, and attempts are made to fill in the details, we find that no progress, or no significant progress, is made. As regards the January meeting of the United Nations Seabed Committee, the right reverend Prelate said that it was sufficient to maintain confidence. That was a charitable observation. But a United Nations authority said with reference to the same meeting, that it showed how not to go about working out an international treaty. Not all nations desire agreement. Some obviously promote disagreement and he did not hesitate to say that the meeting was largely a failure.

The reasons for this, and why we do not get on, are obvious. First, there are the difficulties between the developed and developing countries and within the developing countries themselves. This is not caused merely by the split between the selfish and the progressive, for commercial self-interest is not a monopoly of the technically advanced countries nor is equitable sharing always the motto of developing States. There are splits both ways. Then you have the odd man out. Take the South American States. At their meeting at Montevideo in May 1970, only this year, they maintained their claim to a limit of 200 miles out from their coasts. At another meeting at Lima in August of this year, attended by 20 Latin American States, they reaffirmed the inherent right of the coastal States to the exploration and exploitation of the natural resources of the sea adjacent to the coast, and of the seabed and subsoil of the sea in the interests of the development of their economies and to raise the standard of living of their peoples.

We have to recognise that difficulties exist. What about the great unknown, the position of Soviet Russia? They did not turn up at the Pacem in Maribus Conference at all. They sent some representatives to the International Law Association meeting, and their contribution was an interesting but not very reassuring one as to the prospect of agreement. Said one of their professors: If we metaphorically regard the world ocean as a gigantic eternal pie, we could easily know that many of those who sit by the edges of this pie have already unilaterally bitten exaggeratedly large pieces of it. They were certainly reluctant to support any régime of international regulation, and gave as their only constructive suggestion the picturesque one that manganese should be treated rather like mushrooms—anybody who liked could pick them up and convert them from res nullius to res communis.

If that is the position as regards Soviet Russia, what about China? Some speakers referred briefly to that great country. Is it really realistic to contemplate a régime without the participation of these two countries? Then one has the uncertainty with regard to various vital matters, particularly with regard to the limits. The Continental Shelf Convention of 1958 is in existence, but it does not lay down a very precise limit, and in any case is not adhered to by a majority of States. I am afraid that I regard it as rather unrealistic to suppose that this Convention, with its minority support even if buttressed with the judgment of the International Court in the Continental Shelf case, can form a satisfactory consensual basis on which to build. On the other hand, the prospects of a fresh conference on the law of the sea, which is now being mooted by the United Nations, does not arouse much enthusiasm either. I regret being rather pessimistic in this way, but people talk about being realistic when idealistic speeches are made advocating a world régime. We have to be realistic in what is happening under the existing phase of negotiations.

I should now like to work out how we are to get on. Of course, I would respectfully encourage Her Majesty's Government to go on along the lines which they are pursuing. As the noble Earl said, it will be a hard long slog, but I would be glad to encourage them to continue slogging. But if we are going to make a further leap forward, we ought to start, I would suggest, from some statement of priorities. Starting from the bottom of priorities and working up to the top, my order of priorities would be, first of all, defence—for two reasons: first, because the seabed now does not seem to be a practical matter as regards placing nuclear installations on it. As explained by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, the nuclear Powers have found a better way of doing it. Also, I think that there is a lot to be said for putting defence on one side and leaving it out of this particular matter.

Second from the bottom I would put minerals on the seabed, because they are not at present a significant economic problem. I give one more figure, though so many have been given, an estimate made by a Canadian, which no doubt is not absolutely accurate but approximate enough. If we aim at satisfying 50 per cent. of the free world's demand for cobalt, out of these nodules we need only to harvest an area of about 100 square miles (ten by ten). Assuming we can sell all the cobalt and the incidental manganese, copper and nickel which will be produced, we are going to produce a distributive profit of only something in the order of 40 million dollars. So that the problem of open sea mining is not, at this stage at any rate, a major economic problem.

Next up the scale one comes to hydrocarbons. As the right reverend Prelate said, there is some immediate urgency in relation to drilling outside the Continental Shelf, and I agree with him on that; but I would suggest—and I think he would agree with me—that the urgency lies in the pollution aspect rather than in threats to the sea from the economic aspect. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who has a much greater knowledge of industry than I can claim to have, say that the drilling for hydrocarbons of oil outside the Continental Shelf is at present of economic interest. I am glad to see the noble Lord coming in. Nothing I have said in any way disagrees with what he said.

If oil outside the Continental Shelf is not a prior economic consideration at this time, but is of importance as regards pollution, that brings me to the top priority—by far the top priority in my submission—and that is the pollution aspect. Many noble Lords have spoken about this. First of all, there is the seabed itself. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, referred to that, and one could dilate on this subject for a long time. He referred to the Baltic, but one can come even closer, to the North Sea. There are vessels under the Norwegian flag now in the North Sea which are employed by enterprises in this country, in Holland and in Germany expressly to dump containers on the floor of the North Sea. There is one ship which dumped between Iceland and Norway 1,000 tons of chemical waste filled with cement. There was the chemist from the German firm of Bayer who said the other day that very large areas of the North Sea bed are virtually covered with drums of chemical waste. And outside the North Sea there is the terrible case of the "Russell Briggs", with its 12,540 rockets of nerve gas, each of which can kill everybody within a quarter of a mile. The seabed is itself the subject of intensive pollution, both near our shores and further out.

But it is not only a problem of the seabed. What I would suggest is the major defect of most of the discussions on the seabed in the United Nations or elsewhere—this is the right reverend Prelate's third point, and a most important one—is that the discussions tend to proceed as if the sea itself were not there. They talk as if you can isolate the seabed and legislate about the seabed without regard to the fact that it is covered by the waters. One finds, indeed, in most of the papers and in most of the draft treaties references to the "freedom of the seas" and to the "conservation of the environment", but these are usually of a very weak and secondary character. What the papers do normally is to start with an assumed right to exploit and then add on to that something to the effect that in doing so you must not interfere with living resources or with the marine environment.

This is one respect in which I must say I find the British working paper is inadequate. In most of it, it sets out its objectives in the form of propositions with the word "should": The régime should govern the exploration of the seabed and ocean floor "— that is paragraph 2— and of the subsoil and exploration of the natural resources of this area". But when it comes on to deal with control of pollution of marine environment it is much weaker. It says: … to this end could deal, amongst others, with the following questions: the prevention and control of the pollution of the marine environment resulting from exploitation of its natural resources". Similarly with all the other proposals, including the Nixon proposals. I would suggest that it is beginning at entirely the wrong end to say that you may exploit but you must not pollute. It is standing priorities absolutely on their head.

I want to suggest—and this is really the only thing that I want to say and to which I have been leading up—that this problem ought to be regarded, and must be regarded, as essentially, first and last, an environmental problem: and that is the way in which the right reverend Prelate has presented it to us to-day. It is no use talking about the seabed alone without the sea; it is no use talking about nodules when we ought to be talking about life. The facts are all there. We know, even if we are not scientists, that interference with one area—with food supplies; pollutants; disturbances of currents; the injection of heat; seismic disturbances—has rapid effect thousands of miles away. We all know, or we ought to know, that any human activity may, indeed will, disturb to a degree the balance of life in the ocean. Every interference is liable to produce its crown of thorns.

If at present, as I regrettably think is the case, there is something of a legal deadlock in the negotiations, I suggest that the only way to break out of that legal deadlock is through an environmental approach. If you start with an environment, instead of putting the environment last, you are more likely to solve your separate problems than by taking those separate problems in compartments—fisheries, dumping, oil pollution, explosion, placing of arms on the seabed and so on. And I believe that we shall get States—and those States whose agreement we have to get—much more likely to agree. This approach means starting from the principle that it is the duty of man in his own interests to preserve and improve his marine environment, and to establish quite firmly that the ocean régime you are trying to set up is a general purpose régime and not a special purpose régime. It is concerned with all activities within the ocean, whether on the surface, in the water, on the seabed, below the seabed, in the deep sea, within the Continental Margins.

In this conception limits do not matter, and this conception enables you to get rid of and by-pass all the difficulties about limits and jurisdictions. Whatever the area that you are concerned with is, all activities are to be permitted and controlled as a governing principle according to whether they preserve or improve the environment: encouraged if they improve it; permitted subject to strict control if they do not damage it; prohibited, except in very exceptional cases where some really significant general advantage can be shown, where they damage it.

That brings me to the "common heritage of mankind". I used to be sceptical about that expression. I used to think of it, I must say, rather as a United Nations cliché: the sort of words that you would expect to come echoing from the rostrum when a speaker thought it was time for a round of applause or at least a murmur of assent. But I have come to think otherwise, and I have come to think so as a lawyer. I hope that in saying so I shall not be written off as a woolly-minded idealist—though I am quite willing to be ranked as that, too. I now believe that, thinking even in legal terms, this concept is at our present stage in this subject matter the key to advance.

It provides a principle—one might say perhaps a matrix—within which actual practical proposals can be shaped. In relation to the sea it can be given a much more concrete and definite content than in the area in which it was originally applied in open space, because space is far less directly concerned with environment and with life than is the sea. In relation to the sea, you can do what you cannot do in land—and I am meeting a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough—because you have not at present got any sovereignty in the sea and you do not have to worry about the argument as to nations giving up their sovereignty. The whole point is that there is not any sovereignty over the areas of the sea, and therefore you can commit yourself to this much more general approach. And if one fills it out with the thought that all States have this duty to preserve the marine biosphere; that this is not the preserve of coastal States; that a comprehensive régime requires to be set up to cover all resources—fishing, mining and exploration—including the sharing of scientific knowledge; that no individual State or corporation may exploit this environment at the expense of the world community, its owner; that a share in all profits is to go to everybody; that institutions and any legal treaties must reflect this generality instead of being confined in compartments—then I suggest that you have the means to advance.

It has been said that lawyers are lacking in imagination, and that is generally true. It may also be true that our national defect is often to be too empirical, too down to earth and to plan too small. I welcome the right reverend Prelate's approach because it gives us an opportunity to discard those particular weaknesses in relation to this subject. I support him in withholding the merits of the Borgese proposals, not only because of the l per cent. tax, which seems to be a very good idea to start with, but in placing, as it does, the world government of the ocean in individual hands and not in nation States. I hope the Government will recognise the merits of the environmental approach and that they will press on with the efforts which they are making, although I hope that they can recast their paper, perhaps, to alter their priorities. But at the same time I hope that they will direct their efforts towards the protection and improvement of the environment as a whole, particularly the sea environment, and that they will begin right now looking towards the conference on the environment, which, no doubt, will be a critical one, to be held in Stockholm in 1972. My Lords, just because the right reverend Prelate's Motion refers in general terms to a world ocean régime I welcome it enthusiastically, and I hope that your Lordships will do the same.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, I find it almost embarrassing to be following the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, in the speech which he has just delivered, not because of his authority, or because of his knowledge, but because of the quite extraordinary way in which he has embodied immediate political problems with the broad survey of the world which we need at the present time. I hope that during the course of my speech I may be referring to some of the issues which he has raised. I want to say at once how deeply grateful I am personally—and I am sure that is the view of others in the House—for the speech which he has delivered.

That leads me, my Lords, to say something else. Those of us who are Members of this House will look back on the discussion to-day with considerable pride. The debate has been initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, and it has been continued throughout the day by speeches which were seeking not to make partisan points, but to reach the truth about this matter, and contribute something to its solution. In a sense, I am a rebel in this House. I would abolish all its legislative powers to-morrow. But, having said that, I recognise that this House is contributing in its debates, to knowledge and ideas which are of great importance to our country. I suggest that out of the kind of discussion that we have had to-day, which has been so constructive, it might be possible—and I put this to the Minister, although I believe my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder has already made this suggestion—to have a Select Committee of this House further to examine the whole of this proposal, with a view to putting it forward in an authoritative and constructive way.

When we discuss the seabed there are two separate, though co-ordinated, issues. The first is the development of its economic potentialities—so enormous and so hopeful for the world. The second issue is the great danger to the world that the seabed may be used for destruction and war. During our debate to-day, most of the speeches have been related to the former subject; perhaps, before I finish, I may restore the balance a little. I agree with my noble friend (shall I say?) Lord Byers—


Thank you.


—when he urged that the approach to the economic and military problem should be kept separate. There is a great danger that, if all the controversies of the military situation are brought into this issue, economic development can be retarded. There is also a danger, in view of the détente which is now going on in Europe, and, indeed, between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that economic problems might delay some solution of military problems. Nevertheless, they are interlinked, and there must be co-ordination between them in the solution that we make. Unless we solve the military problem it may destroy all the solutions of our economic, constructive proposals. I sometimes wonder, if this nuclear madness in the world goes on, whether the only safe place in the whole of the earth will not be on the seabed. If we are thinking of the future population of the earth we had better begin to recruit some women to our seabed staffs.

To turn first to the industrial problem, we have had the draft convention by the United States of America, and the working papers of the Governments of the United Kingdom and France. I have read them all. The United States of America has proposed an international régime beyond 200 metres in depth of the coastline of the different countries. I want to recognise that at once as an advance and to express appreciation that President Nixon has declared in favour of this heritage of mankind in the oceans. But when I get to Chapter III of the United States convention, I am disturbed because of a proposal made which repudiates the principle of the oceans as the heritage of mankind. The proposal is made that the coastal nations should act as trustees of the continental regions outside their immediate coasts.

There has been some discussion this afternoon as to what the term "Continental margin" means. From the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, we have heard it said that it means one-fifth of the oceans of the earth. I have seen other estimates, one of which was 23 per cent. of the oceans of the earth. There is not much difference. In both cases it is very great in extent, and not only great in extent, but it is richest in mineral resources and, so far as we know, in the living contribution it could make in fish towards the nutrition of the world.

What does Chapter III propose? It proposes that the coastal nations shall not merely share the revenue which comes from this vast area, but actually have the power to impose taxation upon it. Anyone who reads Chapter III of the convention of the United States can come only to the conclusion that it is a form of ocean colonialism. I hope that it will have the utmost resistance from all of those of us who are thinking in international terms.

Having said that in criticism of the draft convention proposed by the United States, I am going to be even severer upon the Report to the Working Committee of the United Kingdom. I asked the Minister, not only to-day but in a Question previously, what were the British proposals, because at Geneva the British representative indicated that there were differences between the approaches of the United Kingdom and the United States of America. He did not reply, but I recognise that towards the end of his speech he indicated what those differences were. So far as I can judge, both from the speech of my noble friend Lord Chalfont, who was the responsible Minister at that time, and from the speech from the Government Bench to-day, the major difference between the proposals of the United States of America and of the United Kingdom is this. The United Kingdom is proposing that national Governments should have control of regions of the ocean, and that they should have the power within that control to lease exploring and operative rights to industrial companies. My Lords, that is appalling. If one is going to look at the future of the oceans of this earth and think that this nation, that nation and the other nation is to control a particular portion, and that nations are to have the right within that control to lease exploitation to private companies, Then the idea of oceans becoming the region of human heritage absolutely disappears.

I admit that there is something in the argument which was put forward by my noble friend Lord Chalfont: that we have a United Nations and that we have national States. But we must break through that position in the world to-day. If we go on thinking in terms of national States, the world is just doomed to disaster. This area of the oceans of the world, where at the moment there is a vacuum, where we can begin to exert the idea of international control, is the area where we can make a breakthrough. I appeal not only to Her Majesty's Government. I appeal to our own leadership; I appeal to all who have any compassion in the world and want to save the world from war; I appeal to all who are looking forward—not to the past—to begin to endorse this idea.

I turn from that industrial aspect to the military aspect. A treaty has been put forward jointly by the United States of America and the Soviet Union. One first welcomes the fact that the U.S A. and the U.S.S.R. have agreed on a treaty of this kind. It has been approved by the Political Comittee of the United Nations' General Assembly, as recently as November 17, by 91 to 2 votes, with only six abstentions. I believe the noble Lord was correct when he said that he had no doubt that the General Assembly will endorse what the Political Committee have approved. But when we look at this treaty we find inevitably, because of compromises which have to be made in the world to-day, how unsatisfactory it is. I welcome it; it is an advance. But what does it do? It bans the installation of nuclear weapons and other means of destruction beyond 12 miles of the coast—nuclear weapons, not armaments. It is quite clear, therefore, that it is a treaty for denuclearisation rather than a treaty for demilitarisation, but when one begins to look at the problem of war one cannot divide the two.

The discussions in the Political Committee of the United Nations indicated particularly the pressure of the smaller nations on the large Powers to continue discussion for wider disarmament. I was glad to hear from my noble friend to-day that he was in favour of continued discussion to obtain that. I do not want to be cynical, but how many times in the forty years since I was first elected to another place have I heard that statement made! And how many times during that forty years have disillusion and disappointment come! Disarmament conferences have been held at Geneva year after year; millions of words have been spoken, and there has been such little achievement! I am asking Her Majesty's Government not merely to give us an assurance in the House to-day. If denuclearisation is to become demilitarisation, then there must be an aggressive and offensive challenge and courage in appealing on the whole problem of disarmament.

The second point I want to make about this treaty is this: it prohibits installations of nuclear weapons and other means of destruction. It does not prohibit other installations. Let me just give one example. One of the great dangers in the seas to-day is the submarine. This treaty does not prohibit the installation of mines on the seabed to destroy submarines. That is only one instance of many other installations for war purposes which could be made.

Thirdly—and I ask the Minister to look at this because I regard it as probably the most important—the treaty does not prevent movement from installations. I do not pretend to be an authority, but I am told by those who are authorities in this matter that to-day nuclear weapons do not just exist on one installation—and that only is prevented in this treaty—but are on moving platforms and can easily go from one depth to another There is no provision against that technical possibility at all.

Fourthly, this treaty only prevents nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction beyond a 12-mile limit of the coast. But within the 12-mile limits of any country in the world present nuclear weapons and missiles could destroy the earth. Therefore, that limitation is of little value. The fifth point I make is that there is no definition at all of weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear, atomic, hydrogen — yes. Biological? Chemical? What are the weapons of mass destruction which are to be prohibited? Sixthly, there is in this treaty no arrangement for international verification as to whether its provisions are kept. Not only that, but any nation which signs this treaty can withdraw without any requirement for arbitration of the dispute which occurs. When one recognises all this one sees how inadequate even this treaty is.

My Lords, I apologise because I have been speaking long although with deep concern. I will try to be brief in my last point, which in a sense is the most important. The right reverend Prelate was right in including in his Motion reference to oceanic construction, because that is the alternative to the destructive policies about which I have been speaking. I was glad that President Nixon referred to the use of the oceans as a source of food in relation to problems of the developing countries. I believe the oceans are one of the two biggest contributions that can be made to ending world poverty. The other is the deserts. But the constructive value of the oceans, their minerals and their food resources—in the next decade the oceans will be farmed for construction just as much as land is farmed to-day—will depend on how far they are removed from national and private exploitation. They must become quite deliberately an effort by the whole world of production to end the poverty in our midst. I think we shall find that as we concentrate upon this we shall begin to solve the problems of economic rivalry and exploitation, of national rivalry and national exploitation, which are the fundamental problems of the seabed to-day.

7.6 p.m.

LORD KENNET had given Notice of a Motion to call attention to recent proposals for an international agreement about the ocean bed, particularly those of the United States dated August 3, 1970, and of the United Kingdom dated August 4, 1970; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the crisis of the environment, by which one means conservation and pollution, can, in all its fields, be overcome only by the enforcement of agreed regulations. We know this on land. The human environment is one seamless whole. Most parts of it are already regulated, or are easily regulable in this respect. Some parts of it are totally unregulated and may prove to be regulable only with very great difficulty. The most obvious such part is the deep ocean and its bed. I take it for granted—indeed, I think all noble Lords take it for granted—that in regulating the extraction of things from the bottom of the sea and in regulating against pollution of the sea above one is doing it for the good of all mankind. Not a voice has been raised against that. This is "We, the peoples"—whether it is res nullius or res communis, it is the same thing. We are all determined that it shall not be unjustly exploited. The question is, how?

Many documents have been mentioned to-day, but one which has not been mentioned is the draft list of principles which may be before the General Assembly at this very moment. In any case it is coming there this week. Those principles are numerous, but they are sensible. I will not detain the House any longer with them, although there are places where I think the wording is obscure and may give rise to dangers later, but I have no doubt those places are just as visible to the Government as they are to me, and if not we can have a word about it later.

There are the proposals of Mrs. Borgese endorsed by the pacem in Maribus conference in Malta, which have been mentioned and praised—and in my view rightly praised—several times in this debate. There is one thing I should like to say in that regard. I cannot recollect who it was, but one noble Lord said that this was world government and therefore it was a good thing; it was one leap into world government on the ocean bed. I am not sure that the proposals would really sustain that interpretation, because they are for a multilateral treaty to be negotiated, signed and ratified by the sovereign States in the usual way. This treaty would then set up a new body, as so many international bodies have been set up in the past. It may be that one could regard it as a step towards world government, but it is not in itself a chunk of world government.

Then we come to the two principal proposals which have been mentioned so often to-day, the American and the British proposals. I think the House now has a clear idea of what is in them, but let me just remind your Lordships in two sentences. The American proposal is to divide the ocean deeps into two parts: the part nearer to the Continental Shelf to be administered by the coastal States as trustee for humanity, and they will pass on a proportion of the royalties to the developing countries through the United Nations machinery. The part beyond that would come immediately under an international régime to be devised. And it is safe to wait for that international régime to be devised because the part beyond cannot be exploited for some years. The American proposals do not specify whether or not at any point the trusteeship area should pass under the direct control of the international régime, thereby eliminating the Trustee State concept which has been so much criticised to-day. If that were part of their proposals, I can see that they would be much more acceptable than if it were not.

Then there is the British proposal which extends the North Sea régime to all the deep sea oceans. There is a three-tier system: the international régime lets off squares to States, and States let off the actual exploration and exploitation rights to contractors, to bodies, personal or collective, of their choice. Both these proposals embody the right principle; that is, the "We, the people "principle, the common property principle. They are means of putting it into force; and you must have a means. I am quite unsure whether even under the American proposal you would not need chequer-board squares. The trustee State would have to let off chequer-board squares to exploiting bodies.

I am going to list some difficulties about the British proposal, though they do not in any way constitute an objection on my part to it. I cannot think of anything better; I have not heard of anybody else thinking of anything better than these two proposals; but there are some bugs to be ironed out. The proposal does not suggest how the chequer-board squares are to be allocated. If it is not to be bingo, it has to be something else. What else? This is difficult. It does not talk very much about the establishment of regulations to be enforced by, as I understand it, the nation State within each square, and particularly it does not talk about how to achieve compatibility of these regulations. Do we have national law of State A applied by the owner of square A, and national law of State B applied in square B? And how do we make sure that they are compatible with the regulations to be adopted by the régime and the regulating body itself.

The British proposal says that the squares need not be the same size for different commodities. Let us look at this in practice and see what it is going to be like. Let us imagine a place on the ocean bed which is a British square for oil purposes and a French square for manganese purposes, and that for the purposes of nickel it belongs to Afghanistan. In that event you will have the British navy enforcing British oil law as made compatible with the régime, the French navy enforcing French manganese law and the Afghan navy (or some other navy because they have no navy) enforcing what is assumed to be Afghan nickel law.

In the superjacent waters you have the nuclear-powered and nuclear rocket submarines of the super-Powers exercising their undoubted right to cruise where they will. There are on the seabed perhaps listening devices, sensors to pick up those submarines, put there by nation States exercising their undoubted right to emplace weapons of less than mass destruction. You also have the navies of the world going to and fro, exercising their undoubted right to verify the fact that weapons of mass destruction have not been emplaced on the seabed, as they are not allowed to be under the treaty of which my noble friend, Lord Brockway, spoke—that is, the treaty equivalent to banning the bolting of aeroplanes to the ground.

Imagine that there is also some natural gas there. It is a very busy scene. The natural gas is coming out into pipelines. Imagine that a pipeline bursts. It has been suggested, with what scientific weight I do not know, but I think with some, that if there is a burst within a big pipeline all the ships within two miles sink because of the bubbles, because a ship is held up by water and if the water is half gas they sink into it. Therefore measures have to be taken to ensure that pipelines do not burst, sinking the warships and merchant ships and verification ships of all the nations going about their legal and proper business. This, of course, means more ships. It is a difficult administrative problem. I hope it can be solved. I do not know how, but I wish the Government good luck in solving it, as I think they must if this proposal is to be maintained as the British proposal.

To turn to the American proposal, the trustee zones are to be large, and this idea is already coming under attack around the world on the ground that it is submarine neo-colonialism. It has been attacked in this House for that reason, and it has been attacked by the developing countries. It is equally fair to say, on the other hand, that it limits the territorial waters. At the moment the coastal States have, under the 1958 Continental Shelf Convention, a right to exploit as far out as they can, and the American proposals would limit that right to the 200-fathom line. It would give coastal States a clear and limited right in a smaller area, whereas at present they have a large and rather indefinite right in a greater area. It certainly contains fewer administrative difficulties than our own proposal, but I believe that it may contain more political difficulties of the nature I have just outlined.

There is another difficulty. Because it is an American proposal, we all start thinking about the Americans themselves as trustees spreading into the Atlantic and the Pacific. We know that an American trustee zone would be administered efficiently, and we also know that British and French zones would be administered efficiently, without corruption. But consider a Mauritanian trusteeship zone—and I take Mauritania as a developing country with a very small population, with no technical resources and very little money. The Mauritanians are not going to be able to police the fact that their leases are being adhered to on the terms under which they are granted. They will have to get someone else to do it. Who? This is another difficulty about the American proposal.

Everybody in this country, and especially I think, by tradition, those represented on these Benches, must be concerned not only that the rule of law be established on the seabed but also that the arrangements made under it achieve social justice for all mankind. But the rule of law depends entirely on enforcement; and enforcement depends in turn upon enforceability. We must, therefore, have an enforceable concept. Let me offer your Lordships a list of principles. It is less extensive than the United Nations list, and I believe it may be clearer than that under debate in the General Assembly at the moment.

I have five principles, or perhaps, to be more exact, four principles plus a rider. First, wealth derived from the seabed is to be justly divided among those now living; this is the apportionment of royalties. Secondly, wealth derived from the seabed is to be justly divided among the generations from now on; this is the conservation of resources. Thirdly, exploitation of the seabed is not to pollute the sea. Fourthly, principles one, two and three are to be enforced, and the peace is to be kept at sea and on the bed of the sea. This fourth principle is no more than a condition of the first three. Fifthly, the rider, present and future arrangements for the non-militarisation or non-nuclearisation of the seabed can most conveniently be verified by the same means as that used to keep the peace at sea and to enforce the exploitation provisions.

The sea and everything below it are really one unit. We have territorial waters; we have contiguous zones; we have high seas; we have a Continental Shelf; we have the proposed American trusteeship zone, and the proposed ocean depths régime. That is political. Physically we distinguish between the Shelf, the Slope, and the Rise; we group them all together and call them "Margin". We have the Abyssal Plain, the Mid-Ocean Ridge, and all the rest of it. But these things have to be dovetailed, and let us look at the degree of success we are achieving, for instance, in dovetailing things at the moment before we get on to the international régime.

Under British law, coal under the Continental Shelf, if it is ever dug up through the seas, or is discovered, is already nationalised. It is there already, pre-nationalised, under the sea. British constables have the same rights and privileges on installations on the Continental Shelf as they have ashore: licensing laws, offences against minors and the rest of it. Under international law, States can set up around installations on their Continental Shelf safety zones, one kilometre across, which passing ships must respect. But under the Seabed Non-Emplacement Treaty anybody has the right to inspect anything anywhere outside the 12-mile limit—and there is plenty of Continental Shelf in the world outside the 12-miles. This is a contradiction.

There is even a contradiction within Continental Shelf law about whether or not countries may carry out research on the Continental Shelves of other countries without the permission of those countries. Natural gas under the North Sea is under Continental Shelf Law, with constables and all the rest of it, until it gets into the pipeline, and then it comes under high seas law. Let us think again about this possiblity of a minor burst in a natural gas pipeline and the problems of bubbles rising and the ships sinking. Is that a matter of Continental Shelf and national law, because the gas was born under national law; or is it a matter of the high seas, and therefore of international law, because at the moment the gas is escaping from a pipeline which uses high seas space?

As a general principle it is easier to invent a régime for the first time, where none exists, than to adapt ancient régimes, where they exist, to modern needs. I am thinking, of course, of the high seas themselves, the superjacent waters which have been lurking in the background of the whole debate. I think we have to take care that the liberty of the seas does not become the licence of the seas. One thinks of recent tanker collisions; one thinks of the great difficulty of relying on even the greatest companies in the world to be sufficiently careful with safety and with pollution—and here I have in mind particularly the extraordinary list of infractions that were made to stick against the Chevron Oil Company in an American court recently.

In modern conditions the freedom of the Queen's highway on land is ensured by voluminous regulation; it is not diminished by it. It may be that in due course the high seas will have to undergo a development somewhat analogous. Freedom to fish in the high seas wherever one pleases is analogous to common land pasturing. When we got beyond common land pasturing and inclosed the commons there was great social injustice, but the production of meat increased. Our present consumption is the higher for our having gone beyond the common land system of agriculture.

All these things have caused the Canadian Government to pass their recent anti-pollution laws. These are the most rigorous that the world has ever seen: they are unprecedented. They are against all that we hold dear as a maritime country, but it behoves us to understand why they have done it. They did it, in their own words, because they failed, during recent meetings of the relevant international body, to get the comity of nations to do something of the same sort internationally. They therefore leapt 200 miles ahead of the pack, set up camp, and said, "Here is what we say. Now let us see who joins us". My Lords, we shall have to see who does join them.

If I understand it aright, the present position of the Canadian Government is that they will not put any of this nationalistic stuff into operation under regulations if they can possibly get an international conference in time, which will give them the protection they need against the pollution of the Arctic, and indeed on their own vertical coasts. They are introducing something of the same sort on their Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Perhaps in time the five principles I have just outlined to your Lordships may come to be found to be applicable to the high seas as well as the seabeds, because "There is meat in them there seas", as well as "Minerals in that there seabed".

The urgency has been stressed, and rightly so. Last year the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution saying that nobody was to exploit beyond the 200 metre limit. That was passed against the united opposition of all the developed countries except Sweden. But the exploitation is now being done, as my noble friend, Lord Ritchie-Calder, reminded us. It was a "Canute" resolution. Wherever you look in the technical literature now you will find technology in bud. Like a wood in early spring, it is hard to tell which tree will flower. There is a haze of green over all underwater technology, and big results will appear. Things will come right in this sphere only if we view this environment as what it is: a series of inter-linked natural systems. The air above, the fresh water flowing in, the sea water, ice, the bed of the sea, the subsoil of the sea, the rife in the sea and on the bottom: it all circulates and it all is intermingled.

How to proceed? One might think of proceeding by one general overall régime, to wrap the whole lot up. But the mind boggles: it would take a thousand years to produce. No single mind would be quick enough to conceive all that is needed. It would be impossibly unwieldy. Or one might continue as we have been doing, by piecemeal agreements on this or that small sector. Here the danger is—and I believe that we are already seeing this danger—that when one small sector is in operation it is found to be incompatible with another small sector in operation. You come round in a circular argument to an all-embracing system.

I think that, on the whole, we shall get nowhere by slavish adherence to customary national vertical rights, or to legalistic horizontal layers of definition. The House will have listened to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, with great attention, and will have given his words far greater weight than it could possible give mine. If one inclines in the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Wilberforce, then one must welcome the proposal of the Counsellor of the United States Mission to the United Nations of November 19 for a general international conference on the law of the sea, meeting during 1972 and 1973, dealing equally with the seabed law, the setting up of an international régime for the exploration and exploitation of the international seabed (subject of to-day's debate), the machinery for this régime, with territorial waters, with conservation and management of the living resources of the high seas, with pollution prevention, and indeed with anything else that the conference itself may find relevant. That is an American ballon d'essai. Anyhow, it is an interesting one.

International lawyers, with the exception of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce—and nobody was ever less legalistic than he was in his approach—may say that this is wrong because there is no consensus, and that there should be a consensus before there is a conference destined to bring forth treaties and conventions. There is nothing like a deadline for a conference to sharpen the mind and to push everybody towards a con- sensus! Such a conference should be dovetailed with the 1972 Human Environment Conference of the United Nations. I hope that the British Government will continue to take a leading part, with the Americans, in the preparation of that conference, and possibly also the sea conference I have just mentioned. There is some hope of Russian agreement, because they have long been pressing for a conference on the law of the seas, but they have not got it; and this could be presented to them as being what they wanted, only better.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one simple question? Does that include the two mighty Asian nations, India and mainland China? Are they invited to this conference, or are they excluded?


My Lords, nobody is invited; it is only the faintest hint of a new idea in American policy. I have not the least doubt that if it came about it would be put forward in a United Nations' framework, so that that would cover India all right. As usual one may hope that one could get China into various ad hoc meetings without membership, but membership would be better still. The noble Lord deprived me of a singularly simple peroration which I was about to utter: that it is one world, both humanly and environmentally—a familiar statement of fact—and that our arrangements must express this truth both in the environment and in human organisations.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, if I may speak briefly, by leave of the House, I should like to take up some of the points made. Before doing so, I should like to say—and this is said sincerely—that I think this has been a good debate. To me it has been a very interesting debate and also a useful debate, because a number of ideas have been ventilated and approaches tentatively explored which will be of use to Her Majesty's Government. All I undertake to do is to see that the thoughts which have been deployed in the course of quite a long discussion are brought to the attention of my colleagues. It has been a debate distinguished by a number of extraordinarily interesting speeches. As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, took us into regions where the imagination tends to boggle. I was deeply interested in the presentation of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in a remarkable winding-up speech; and then we had the pleasure of listening to a really memorable contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce.

I should like to deal briefly with some of the points, because time is getting on. There have been criticisms—fairly put, although sometimes, I think, founded on certain misconceptions—of the United Kingdom's proposals, and I should like to deal with one or two of them. The system of blocks has come in for a good deal of block-busting, if I may make a bad pun. The whole licensing system has been represented as parcelling out packets of national sovereignty, rather analogous to the 19th century land grab in Africa—something which we all wish to avoid in this area, come what may. I believe that those fears, those suspicions, those criticisms are based on a misconception.

The proposed blocks would not be under national sovereignty; they would be areas in which States would, for a limited period, exercise certain limited rights by licence from an international authority. The British working paper envisages that these licences would be equitably distributed. In answer to the question of what is the alternative to bingo, I would say that the alternative is equity, and the whole basis for the equitable allocation—admittedly, it is a rough basis because the British proposals are purely schematic—is of course to be found in paragraph 8 of the British working paper.

There has also been criticism of the enforceability of a scheme, if a scheme were to come into effect based on the British proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, and other noble Lords, said that we shall have entirely different procedures operating in different areas and that this must give rise to every conceivable difficulty. All I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Byers, is that paragraph 7(b) of the British working paper makes it clear that the licences would be operated according to agreed standards and safeguards which could be set out in the agreement, and these would need to be complied with. It may then be asked: how do you enforce those agreed standards'? I would remind noble Lords that the British working paper envisages that the rights which States acquire will be clearly defined, and will derive from an international authority.

Many of the definitions have to be worked out, but we believe that as our knowledge expands it will be perfectly possible to devise a workable scheme which will be compatible with other international agreements. It would, of course, be quite unrealistic to suppose that there would not be disagreements. Of course there would be. But paragraph 6(d), if I may refer to the small print, of the British working paper, envisages arrangements for the settlement of disputes, whether between States, or between States and the international authority. A lot will have to be worked out here, but I believe that if a régime along the broad lines envisaged in our working paper were to come into effect, enforcement should not present too great difficulties. But having said that, let me again emphasise that although we believe that our scheme, which is only in outline, affords a practical, pragmatic procedure, one that is perhaps too slow, perhaps too cautious—I accept that it is step by step—we believe that it would be possible, given good will and agreement to make progress reasonably fast.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl. I wonder whether he can answer a question about the enforcement which, in my mind at any rate, is the real difficulty? If we take a British square under the British system, would the British Navy in that square be able to enforce a United Nations' or a r—gime regulation, without first passing that into British law? That seems to me the nub of the question.


My Lords, I think should prefer the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, to answer that question. May I now turn to the criticisms which have been voiced of the American proposals? I would only repeat again that I believe those proposals, which cover an immense spectrum, are worthy of further study and we shall certainly be giving those proposals further study. They certainly merit it. But having looked at the American proposals I see certain areas, apart from the areas which other noble Lords have pointed out, which create difficulties. There is the criticism of the trusteeship proposals in the intermediate area. I think this is a difficult concept.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who asked me what lay behind the expression used by our representative on August 4, when Mr. Gallagher talked about a simpler division of the seabed between national areas and those subject to the international régime, I have checked on this and his remarks were directed to the American proposal for a trusteeship area. That is, of course, a novel idea and introduces this concept of an intermediate zone where coastal States would have certain entrenched rights by international agreement.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, knows, our working paper does not contain any such idea. and we have felt that it would be administratively simpler and perhaps more effective to have a simple, more clear-cut division between national jurisdiction and the international area. That is what Mr. Gallagher was referring to when he was talking about a simpler division. It was because of the difficulty of defining for oneself this concept of the intermediate trusteeship area. Having said that, I certainly would not wish to rule out this idea and I believe it merits further examination.

I believe that another area of difficulty which merits further examination is the very complex and elaborate administrative arrangements which are foreseen in the American draft convention. They look very heavy to me, possibly hard to work, but, again, this area will merit further careful examination. The licensing arrangements proposed in the American draft convention allow for, and must depend upon, some system of chequer-board squares, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, quite rightly said. Given the fact that they allow for competitive bidding rather than the United Kingdom approach of allocation to States on a basis of equity, they might be held to be inequitable. But, again, this merits further careful examination, and all I should like to emphasise is that we, for our part, will give the American proposals the careful examination which they most certainly deserve.

My Lords, there are, of course, the other, bolder, more imaginative proposals which have been commended to your Lordships—the proposals which are associated with Elizabeth Mann Borghese and with Professor Jacoby—and let me say that I find them very attractive. We all want to do away with wasteful national rivalries; we all want to promote the rule of law, with equity. But I must confess that I am still sceptical about the full Borghese plan, and it would be wrong for me to disguise my scepticism. The socialist "Sea Lords" have argued a powerful case in support of them, but at 7.42 on this particular evening I am not going to be seduced by these particular nautical sirens. I believe, my Lords, that these proposals, taken together, are both unnegotiable and impracticable. That is my view, and I may be wrong; but I say that they are unnegotiable, because I cannot for the life of me see how, in present circumstances, although I would wish it otherwise, certain States (for example, the Soviet Union) would be prepared to submit their sovereignty to the sort of international authority which is proposed in this particular programme. I fear that it is just not "on", and therefore I hold that these proposals, regretfully, are impracticable. The hard fact is that we must work with the world as it is, or the world as it is will work with us; and I do not think that, in the present state of the world in which we live, these proposals are really practicable.

My Lords, I said that I would not detain the House long, and I will not do so. Therefore, if my noble friend Lord Bessborough will forgive me, I will deal only very quickly with some of the points about which he has asked me. I will write to him, and I am able to give him some satisfaction about the progress that has been made under certain of the contracts about which he has asked me. I shall also be able to give him some satisfaction about the progress which has been made in oceanographic cooperation with our European neighbours. But perhaps he could take that on trust for the time being, because I do not wish to detain your Lordships longer.

My Lords, how are we to go on from now? That is the question which other noble Lords have asked, and it is certainly a very difficult one to answer. I found what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, had to say about a broadly based environmental approach very beguiling. I myself believe that we should continue to take the lead, in the international community, in matters of marine pollution. Two important conferences are to be held shortly: a conference under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome in, I think, December; and then the very important Stockholm Conference in 1972, which I hope will allow us to move forward in this whole question of the control, for the betterment of mankind, of the marine environment. But, on the whole, I still believe that, with the exception of those matters of pollution which arise directly from the exploration and exploitation of the ocean bed, it is best to leave that and to pursue a functional approach here, and to pursue these pollution matters in the forums in which they are at present being pursued.

Therefore, my Lords, I feel that in the last resort all we can do is to try to identify those matters which require agreement, and try to give them as much push and as much priority as we can. On the seabed, I suggest that we should continue to give priority to an attempt to get an agreement on limits, an attempt to get agreement on an international régime and an attempt to get an agreement on sensible, workmanlike, international machinery. These are the three subjects which Her Majesty's Government believe need to be considered together.

But, having said that, I must add that I am of course aware that there have been proposals, ventilated very recently in the United Nations, looking forward to the possibility of a wider international conference on these matters. The United States draft resolution to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred is, of course, still being debated, and its terms of reference certainly go rather wider than those which we have advocated. Moreover, the United States draft is not the only draft under consideration. However, our constant aim in the United Nations is to find policies which command general support, and I would certainly not wish to rule out the possibility of our subscribing to a resolution Oil the lines of the American draft.

That said, my Lords, I should like, in conclusion, to turn back to a much more parochial matter. I think that two noble Lords, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and Lord Brockway, suggested that this was perhaps a matter to which your Lordships could continue to make a useful and constructive contribution, possibly by way of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I acknowledge straight away that I think there is a great deal of expertise in your Lordships' House on this matter. There are, as will be appreciated, practical problems involved in that suggestion, but before I sit down I should like to say that I shall be very glad to consider that suggestion with other noble Lords through the usual channels. Perhaps I may leave it there for the time being. Having said that, I would conclude by repeating what I said earlier: that I personally have found this a most useful debate, and I will certainly undertake to see that the suggestions which have been ventilated in what I feel has been a noteworthy discussion are duly and carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government.

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, I undertook the introduction of this debate with very real diffidence and I am most grateful to your Lordships for your indulgence and courtesy, all the more so because I do not find myself able to fly eloquently, as does the noble Lord, Lord Soper, over the ocean deeps, unhampered by notes, as is his custom in debates in this House. But I have been greatly encouraged by the quality and character of the debate which has taken place to-day. I feel with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that it has been constructive, and I am heartened by the way in which the noble Earl the Leader of the House has received it. I feel grateful to one and all who have taken part in this debate; all the more so because they have done so with diffidence on a subject which is immense, and with a lack of dogmatism in the attempt to discuss whether some positive contribution can be made to a matter of consequence to the world now and of greater consequence for the future.

In winding up the debate on Marine Science and Technology in July, 1969, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said that the message which had emerged on the importance of setting up a régime for the seabed could be summed up by three words: urgency, universality and idealism. I should have thought that this debate has endorsed and underlined those words. To these would certainly be added "complexity"; and when a complex problem to which so many solutions have been advanced is coupled with urgency, one is clearly in a difficulty, but a difficulty which will remain capable of resolution only if there is common agreement on the basic principles which are sought not only within this House and in this country but throughout the world.

Is it the national interest of the coastal States or the common heritage of mankind which should prevail? If not the latter, one can only predict an aggravation of international disputes. I believe that the previous Government and the present Government have made a notable contribution. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, opts for a reasonably deep limit to the limits of national jurisdiction; for here I see the common heritage of mankind shrink. Certainly it seems to me that public and private enterprise of different nations collaborate more easily than do their Governments. I am still not convinced by the arguments of the national blocks; but there has been a process of "block-busting" during the course of this debate, and I am encouraged by the noble Earl the Leader of the House when he says that we have not really rightly understood what the Government have in mind here.

Your Lordships would not expect to get much light on matters of enforcement from one speaking from these Benches. Noble Lords, either explicitly or by their silence, have indicated that they have not seen much light on that subject in the speech I made. I should be the first to say that I can speak with no kind of expertise in these matters; but I am still bound to say that if nations are to provide security on present principles of national enforcement, the way in which this is planned will have to be something different from what has hitherto obtained.

The last point I want to make is that I feel that this subject is one of novelty. I hope and believe that novelty has also been a feature of this debate, in the principles presented by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in a very impressive speech which I should myself like to read and digest and certainly do not wish to comment on at this stage. There was novelty also from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, in his most moving and impressive speech, first in regard to setting the matter in an environmental context; and this has been repeated by many noble Lords.

I am uneasy lest we do not think of the oceans and regard the seabed in isolation. If we do that there is a terrible danger that the common heritage of mankind will become the Dead Sea. I gained great encouragement from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, when, as I understood him, he said that while he had started with some doubt in his mind as to whether reality could be attached in a legal form to the term "common heritage of mankind", he feels that as it applies to the seas, this can be given a definite legal content. My Lords, I believe that this is an area in which the idealistic concepts which all of us desire can be wedded to practical circumstances, although with great difficulty. I think it is worth recalling the saying that the map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth glancing at. My Lords, with permission, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.