HL Deb 11 July 1973 vol 344 cc746-802

3.25 p.m.

LORD KENNET rose to call attention to the forthcoming United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are now moving into an age when what we at home call the Queen's peace must be established and enforced throughout ocean space—we can call it the world's peace on the international level. It is time, I think, for Parliament to look again, as it did two years ago, at the policies that the Government are developing and ought to develop towards this great area of international administration for the future of mankind.

Ministers not only tell civil servants what to do; they receive advice from the Civil Service on what to tell them to do. Civil servants will go on doing what they were last told to do until they are told to do something different. Sometimes I think that the Civil Service was last told what to do in this matter in the late 17th century when the views of Grotius were becoming popular. When Ministers ask the Civil Service what it thinks it ought to be told to do next, it will usually ask to be told to go on doing what it was last told to do.

This is not a bad system; it ensures continuity, if nothing else, but it has its dangers. Ministers can sometimes drop into the gentle continuity club for a drink and never come out until that fell sergeant, the electorate, calls, "Time, gentlemen, please!". But there is a warning bell to wake old clubmen, and that bell is Parliament, and if this afternoon we seek to ring it it is not from any wish to deprive the fell sergeant of his only regular pleasure, but because some of us see this Government taking the country into an immediate ambush while fixing their eyes with firm and unflinching idealism on the road behind. This ambush, my Lords, is the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea which is to open in Santiago, in Chile, in April of next year. The road the Government must traverse to get to Santiago in one piece contains the enormous obstacle of the fisheries dispute with Iceland.

The last world conference on the law of the sea was in 1958. It was preceded by a cod war with Iceland which we lost. This one also is being preceded by a cod war with Iceland which I fear we are going to lose. The Government are very set on the course which they adopted in the late 17th century, which has as its banner the freedom of the high seas. But technology changes, and there are various public, social, world disadvantages which will flow from the indefinite extension into the future of this unmitigated freedom of the high seas. There are very many things which have to be regulated on the seas of the world and I should like to take a little time going through what they all are.

Let me start with what may be the most difficult of all—and perhaps it is the least discussed at the moment—and that is the military use of the seas of the world. All nations, and especially a nation like us, depend increasingly on oil imports. Most of the major navies of the world are now studying new types of ships and new tactics for protecting the helpless maxi-bladders, the great 500,000-ton tankers coming in the future, from military or terrorist attack. And how about the maxi-jugulars, which are the oil pipelines which reach our coasts from the North Sea? How are they to be protected—I do not say against an act of war, but protected from terrorist blackmail of some sort? They are not under national jurisdiction; they are under high seas jurisdiction for most of their length. Are the Government prepared to declare, with their hand on their heart, that the British Navy is even now capable of protecting these jugular arteries of our economy, both in territorial waters and beyond? If they are not able to give that assurance, can they share with the House some of their thinking about what could be done to ensure this protection? Can we really go on pretending that the North Sea is still the kind of high sea which it was before we got our life blood through pipes laid along its lawless bottom?

Then there is the question of the little Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union on the avoidance of accidental conflict between navies at sea. This is now more than a year old, and it got as far as having its first protocol added to it two months ago. Almost immediately after it was signed the Russian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Vorshikov, issued a public invitation to third countries to join in that little Treaty. May I now raise for the fourth time in this House, and hope at least for an answer, the question why we have not taken up the Soviet invitation to join that useful little Treaty. The Soviet Union do not extend many useful invitations to us in this field. I think it is remarkable that we should have ignored this rare bird.

Turning now to the question of navigation on the high seas and on other waters, which is really the essence of the whole matter, can we go on for ever denying ourselves the chance of instituting a firm, effective traffic control in the crowded seas of the world? Already in the North Sea, in our sector alone, 18 square kilometres have been closed off to navigation by the safety zones which are permitted round oil rigs operating on the sea bed of the North Sea. Every oil rig that goes up is entitled to a kilometre diameter which ships have to keep out of. These are so many obstacles to navigation. There are 18 square kilometres on our sector. I have not been able to find a figure for the whole North Sea, but it must be sizeably more than that.

The size of tankers is going up. When we get the 500,000 tons super-super tankers, although it is true that per ton of oil imported that will decrease the risk of accident because there will be fewer ships per ton, when there is an accident, the results of it will of course increase. I think this is swings and roundabouts: you will get fewer accidents, but you will get more pollution, more risk of loss of life and more loss of property for every accident as the ship's size goes up.

My Lords, what do the Government plan to do about the scandal of flags of convenience? We all know why shippers have recourse to flags of convenience: it is because the regulations on wages, on conditions of work and on safety standards are either lower than those enforced by respectable countries (I use that word advisedly), or are non-existent. But I wonder how much we are aware in our thoughts of the safety difference of the accident rate between some countries and others. If we take the figures for the percentage of its registered fleet which a country uses each year, this will tell us something. It is an interesting list. In 1971, the Lebanon lost in total by accidents no less than 10 per cent. of its registered fleet; Hong Kong lost 3.4 per cent.; the Philippines 2.6 per cent.; Cyprus 2.16 per cent. and Panama 1.2 per cent. Those are the worst five countries. It is interesting that the Lebanon has headed the league table for 10 out of the last 14 years—a remarkable achievement. But of course fleet sizes vary, and if one loses 10 per cent. of a very small fleet, it is not a grave question for the world. So let us look at the absolute tonnage lost by the wreck of ships belonging to the various flag States. This will perhaps give us a truer measure of what is going on. We find that the results in the last year for which figures are available, 1971, are as follows: the Liberian flag fleet lost 195,000 tons; Greece, 145,000; Norway, 117,000 tons; Panama, 93,000 tons; and Japan, 57,000 tons. I think it is interesting that we should be aware of the very wide spread there is between countries with the worst records, some of which I have enumerated, and countries with the best record which are an order of magnitude or more below the country with the worst.

Let me turn now to the question of fisheries, because this is perhaps the most difficult of all. We live in a world where total fish catches are falling; that is true for mankind as a whole. Concurrently with this fall, it appeared to be the case, though it is difficult to be sure, that the proportion of fish destined for human consumption is also falling, and that the proportion destined for manure and cattle fodder is increasing. It obviously stands out a mile that this is economic nonsense in world terms. Fish is extremely good food for human beings. The human race in general is underfed. Is it not nonsense to be degrading the effectiveness of this food by processing it and using it in a secondary way as manure or as cattle food? Is it not also political nonsense that the rich nations of the North, especially Russia and Japan, should be taking protein away from the hungry world of the South by fishing in their seas in order to use it as fertiliser—for instance, for Russian agriculture? What sense is there in that in international terms?

Four countries alone took one half of the world's fish catch last year. This I find a staggering fact and an immediate indication that something is very wrong. I should like to look for a moment at the special case of two countries, the Soviet Union and Japan, because they appear to be the worst sinners. We can gauge their attitude in an almost emblematic way from the fact that they, being the two principal whaling countries in the world, have refused the proposal for a moritorium on whaling, for the preservation of those magnificent beasts, which came from the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm last year. Let me take the detailed case of the Soviet Union. Last year they took 8 million tons of fish world-wide, no less than 11 per cent. of the total available to the world in its catch. By 1975 they have proclaimed their intention of taking 10 million tons of fish. This, allowing for constant catch, will be 14 per cent. of the total for the world. In recent years they have introduced a vacuum cleaner fleet. This is the system which I have often described to this House—it is fairly horrific—whereby you just suck up in a pump any living thing which is in the sea and squash the lot into manure on board the ship, and you take it back and spread it on the fields. There is no question of preserving fish stock by that means.

The Soviet Union has on order at the moment 900 new fishing ships, including factory ships of the kind I have just described. They have already forced Sweden, Finland and—of all countries—Pakistan to extend their fishery control limits in direct response to the inshore "vacuum cleaning" they are doing in the seas of those countries. If you listen to the Soviet domestic radio—as anybody in this House may do by listening to the monitoring of world broadcasts of the B.B.C.—you will notice what they say to themselves about it. They regularly congratulate their fleets on exceeding the planned catch. Presumably the planned catch bears some relationship to the limits proposed by the various organisations. I doubt whether there is any other country which congratulates its fishermen on exceeding the internationally agreed catch. It is not surprising, in view of its record, that over the last 15 years, while our fishing catch has remained more or less constant that of the Soviet Union has increased by 300 per cent.; and I think it is interesting for the House to know that during that time the fish catch of Iceland has increased by 12 per cent.

The present regional arrangements for the control and conservation of fish stocks for the good of mankind are terribly weak. They need to be strengthened. The zonal fisheries committees have no majority vote; they are only able to give feeble advice to their member-countries. A lot of countries which should belong to them do not. I hope the Government will be able to tell us that they will make it a prime objective to strengthen those arrangements and to put some teeth into the zonal fisheries committees that exist around the world. I know they will tell me that Iceland is stopping them, but that is a special case which I will come to in a moment.

About the question of mineral exploration and exploitation, I shall speak only shortly because I know that my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder, who is one of the greatest experts, not only in this House but also in the world on this matter, will be talking from his own great knowledge later. Let me just make one point: the amount of oil, world-wide, coming from under the sea is going up with amazing rapidity year by year. At present, one-quarter of the world's oil supplies are taken from submarine oil wells. In March of this year a machine was commissioned in the United States—I do not know whether one would call it a platform or a rig, but it is certainly a machine—which is called Sedco 702. I will detain the House for a moment or two to try to describe it, if I may, because it is quite amazing.

This, according to its makers' claim—a grain of salt by all means—is a floating platform for digging oil wells at the bottom of the sea which can at the moment operate in 2,000 feet of water. That is, it can moor itself and put down a drilling rig through 2,000 feet of water and construct an operational oil well. It is planned, by further developments to the same machine, to be able to operate in 3,000 feet of water. One may say, "Very well, that is fine in calm waters but it is not going to interest most of the world—or, at any rate, us—where things are pretty rough and cold." The makers claim that it will operate in winds of up to 100 knots, waves of up to 80 feet and temperatures below freezing.

I turn now from oil to the mineral nodules which lie about on the sea bottom and which we all agree are going to be one of the greatest sources of minerals in the world in the future as land-won minerals increase in price. American firms claim that they are already getting nodules from the bottom of the deep sea beyond the Continental Shelf outside national control. The Soviet Union claims that its own ships are doing the same in the Indian Ocean. French, German and Japanese firms claim to be just about ready to go on this to get an economic return from nodules at great depth. If we are to get a world régime, as I shall argue in a moment, there is very little time to lose here, partly because of the oil matter I was just describing and partly because of the development of deep-sea technology in mineral mining—including, incidentally, strip-mining. The danger is that if we delay we may face established claims in equity, in common human justice. Firms may say, "We have been doing this for five years and nobody has stopped us. We have invested all this money and you cannot deprive us of our just return now." That is the danger. It is important that the nations of the world, expressing the will of mankind, should set up some law to regulate this before that happens. I think that in the setting up of any law we should pay great attention to a ballon d'essai recently launched by the American Government, to the effect that any new conventions should come into force without waiting for ratification; that is to say, if a country signs it is ready to observe. This will speed things up a great deal.

On the question of pollution and dumping I should like to say a good word for the Government—I praised them at the time and I praise them again now—for the North Sea Convention in connection with this matter. We hoped that the North Sea Convention would prove a model for a world Convention and that the British Government had this matter in hand. Since the translation of Mr. Peter Walker to another Department we have not heard so much about it. Is this Convention still alive? We on this side of the House very much hope it is. Even the North Sea Convention itself, as it goes into operation, shows some remarkable holes. What can the Government tell us about the case reported the other day in which the Danish Government licensed a Danish ship, under the rules of the Convention, to deposit a lot of industrial poisons on the Dogger Bank—right over on our side of the North Sea? Could there by any chance be a lack of co-ordination between the signatory States to that Convention, or perhaps even a lack of co-ordination between one Department and another in Whitehall? What is the explanation of that? There will be plenty of pollution of the sea from the mineral exploitation, because it seems very likely that the cheapest way to refine these mineral nodules which are picked up will be on board ship: it may be that the ship which picks them up will be one of a number of floating refineries.

Lastly, I come to the question of research. The present Government always proclaim the importance of the freedom of research, and I think we can all join with them in that and endorse it. But it is important to be consistent about this, and particularly important to insist on the publication of research results, because, if research goes on without the publication of clear and comprehensive results at the end of it, then the developing countries, in particular, will be unable to know whether the research was about commercial exploitation or about military intelligence or (as it should have been) about science. In this context I should like to go back to the Question I put to the Government about 18 months ago, concerning the fact that geological research results obtained by firms prospecting for oil and gas under the North Sea must be published after five years if it is in the Danish and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea. That is under Danish and Norwegian law. British law is not the same. There are many ways whereby firms can keep research results secret after five years. Why is this? Why do we differ from Norway and Denmark in this respect? Is it simply that the British Government, unlike the Danish and Norwegian Governments, feel that commerce is better than science, or is there some other reason; and, if so, what?

Now I should like to turn to the Santiago Conference, which is really what we are talking about to-day. I hope the Government will be able to set as their final aim at the end of the day—not necessarily for this Conference, but over the decades to come—a situation where we have a seamless web of standards which will be in effect in all parts of the sea, whether in national or international control. The administration of course will differ according to whether it is national or international. Let us consider for a moment the distinction between the circles of national responsibility which are growing round the world at the moment—what one might call the world heritage zone; that is, the international property which we hope will be established in the deep seas and under them. We are in the presence of a continuous, creeping extension of national jurisdiction. The Government are very set on 12 miles as the outside limit to that. They are so set that they have sent the Navy in to protect the British fishermen in the waters that Iceland claims beyond 12 miles. They are so set that they have produced the most rigidly one-sided White Paper on the subject that can ever have been produced by a British Government in peace time. They are so set that they appear to be willing to sacrifice Icelandic membership of NATO, and all that goes with it, for the preservation of this principle. They are so set that they ignore the interests of our own inshore fishermen, which are the same as those of the Icelandic fishermen in their country; and they ignore the views of the Herring Industry Board which believes that British control over its fisheries should be extended beyond 12 miles. They are so set in their view that they refused Bermuda permission to protect its own fisheries against a South Korean—of all countries!—fleet off Bermuda. It refused to allow them to go out to 25 miles.

But it is clear how closely the fisheries limit is correlated with the history of British imperialism. In the 17th century the recognised Icelandic fishery controlled zone was 32 miles. The British Navy became stronger and in the 19th century that zone was pushed back to four miles. In 1901 it was pushed back to three miles. Then it had to come forward again to 12 miles as a result of the 1958 world conference. There is an unmistakable correlation with the history of British naval power. When we look at Tonga, we find that it amused us in the 19th century to confirm her claim to 1,000 miles a claim which the British Government of the day repeated to the United Nations within the past decade or so. It is instructive that that claim was not only a claim to fisheries, to territorial waters; it was a claim that waters within 1,000 miles of the kingdom of Tonga were part of that kingdom. There is not even consistency in our stand on the Icelandic dispute. When it suits us we are Groschens; when it does not suit us we may give a king on the other side of the earth 1,000 miles of the sea. That is an imperialistic position.

The noble Baroness, the Minister of State, and her right honourable friend are on a logical position in this fisheries dispute, but it is disappearing. They are on a logical iceberg. More than 30 countries now claim fisheries jurisdiction beyond 12 miles. The United Nations has voted 102 to nought to extend coastal state responsibility for natural resources in waters over the Continental Shelf. I should like the Government to tell us which countries are extending their creeping jurisdiction. Do they not include Iran which, for very good reasons, is our special friend at the moment? Sir Alec paid a most honourable and honoured visit to Iran recently. Did he take up with them the question that they were pushing their jurisdiction beyond 12 miles? I should like to know that.

The list of countries includes many Commonwealth countries, and within the past few weeks friends of ours as close as Canada and Australia have announced that at the Santiago Conference they will support a move for national jurisdiction beyond the 12 miles. The iceberg is melting fast. None of this, incidentally, was in the White Paper on the Iceland dispute; not a mention was made of any of that. I dare to say that there is not the least hope of the Government's getting that iceberg into its destination; it will have melted before. I do not think that they can relish the prospect of standing up and capitulating in the Icelandic dispute. Belgium and Norway have already settled with Iceland in an orderly and honourable manner. Germany is well on the way to doing so. The solution must lie in the regionalisation of control over the waters around Europe; whether we can extend so far as Iceland I do not know. Let us start with the North Sea. In only seven years we are going to have a full economic and currency union in the Common Market. Is it really impossible to get full internationalisation of the control of the North Sea and its bed of the sort that we want; to extend it to the Channel and, if we can, to the North Atlantic? This is the way to settle the Icelandic dispute.

As to the régime which should exist for the deep seas coming out of the Santiago conference, Government policy towards this is a prime example of the Civil Service going on doing what it was last told. The last thing it was told to do about the seabed was to carve up the North Sea into dozens of squares which would be let off for oil exploitation. That is only our part of the North Sea; the other sectors are being handled differently. The Government proposes to extrapolate from the North Sea system to cover all the seas of the world for all purposes and to have no fewer than 400,000 little squares. Our representative on the Sea Bed Committee said in the last paper (which was two years ago now): The international machinery required for the administration of this system would be relatively simple. Four hundred thousand squares, my Lords!—"relatively simple". No United Kingdom paper has been tabled in that Committee since then, and I cannot say that I am surprised.

What we must have in the deep seas is a United Nations authority, and that could be much as the Government propose, but instead of letting it lease out little squares to nation States which would then lease them out to contractors—imagine the Afghan square in the middle of the Atlantic and the intending contractor going to Kabul to arrange his lease !—the authority should hire directly contractors to explore and exploit what it wants them to explore and exploit. One should link explorations and exploitations; because otherwise where would the authority get its capital for the exploitation? Each contractor must have a reasonable expectation of being allowed to exploit what he has explored. The logical order should be: exploration, conservation, exploitation.

The authority ought first to get the exploration done to see what is there; then to settle a conservation policy for the good of the future of mankind; and, thirdly, to allow the exploitation to continue. Some percentage of the profits should be drawn off by the authority and given, through the United Nations family of organisations, to the developing world. The new United Nations Council on Environmental problems must play a major role in all this. The authority should be able to administer clear and certain law for the seamless web of sea administration which we need and which will be updated by conferences on all the matters that we have mentioned to-day. I believe that the frontier between the international zone and what one might loosely call the zone of national responsibility going out from the coast ought not to be tightly drawn for different purposes.

If international jurisdiction is declared in any form by the Santiago conference, this, too, will have to be enforceable, and the means of enforcement will have to be made available to the régime. This fundamental problem is seldom considered, either in this country, or in others. The agenda for the Santiago conference nowhere specifically provides for its discussion. If a régime is unable to call on policing and enforcement facilities, it will be worth little more than the paper its constitution is written on. The present system for the enforcement at sea of internationally approved regulations concerning, for instance, the discharge of oil or traffic separation, is inadequate, as I have argued. The only more or less international policing system in existence is the one implicit in the workings of the international insurance market where a bad record or bad equipment is penalised by the levying of what are effectively fines in the form of heavier premiums. Otherwise, of the three elements of policing—which are, first, the right of entry, or in this case boarding and inspection; secondly, the right of seizure and arrest, and thirdly, the right of penal jurisdiction—the first alone is sometimes operated mutually among participants in fishing agreements. The second and third remain exclusively in the hands of the flag Governments, with whom I started my speech. My Lords, we must look forward to a time when the international authority can take on not only the first but the second and eventually the third elements of enforcement function.

As to the zones of national responsibility, everything inshore, everything which includes inshore waters and the territorial waters, that is at present the contiguous zone (call them what you will), including all the ideas of patrimonial seas, or matrimonial, as they call them when they live in an archipelago—these have to come; the extension is coming. We must not groan too much about it. But there is no reason—and this might make it less painful for a traditional high seas State such as ourselves—why there should be the same width for all countries, and particularly for all purposes. There is a very useful Canadian concept of functionalism here, and I should like to quote a short description of it given by Mr. Alan Beesley, the outstanding legal adviser to the Canadian Government in these matters. He puts it like this: We need a system whereby States assert over various kinds of contiguous zones only that amount and that kind of jurisdiction necessary to meet the particular problem in question". What we need, my Lords, is a system whereby the national and the international can to a certain extent inter-penetrate each other because that is the only way we shall get this seamless web of standards of Ministers throughout the world oceans.

The Government give the impression at the moment—I do not know. What sort of country do the Government think we are? It is a question of identity; this is what it boils down to. In this matter the Government seem to give the impression that we are still a Navy-linked Empire; that we are a distant water fishing country; that we are a natural ally of Russia and Japan, of all countries; that we are more concerned with cod than with NATO and that we are more concerned with cod than with herring. I would say, "No", my Lords. I think we are a trading country, like many others; that we are a regional fishing State; that we are a natural ally, not of Russia and Japan but of the other eight countries in the European Community and of the developing countries, especially of the British Commonwealth; and that we are a country at least as much concerned with alliance arrangements pending disarmament as we are with particular fish at a particular fishing ground, and that we are at least as much concerned with our small, less organised inshore fishermen as we are with our medium-range ones. And Iceland in the modern world is a medium-range fishery.

I should like to end by appealing once again to the Government to look wide, to enlarge the tunnel vision which I still diagnose in them, to see the whole world situation; to see the possibilities of distant fisheries for us; to see that it does not matter too much about the principle of the law with Iceland, and to go on to Santiago not dragging their feet but with the vanguard of our natural allies. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for giving us this opportunity to examine some of the immensely important issues that will fall to be discussed at the forthcoming Conference on the Law of the Sea. He has also given an opportunity to the Government, through the mouth of the noble Baroness, to share with us the Government's feelings about how they should approach these difficult matters. The noble Lord took us on a fairly long journey around a very wide range of issues, and I am certainly not going to follow him step by step. I agreed with a great deal of what he said; I did not agree with it all. But I would approach the matter first from a rather different angle. It seems to me that this Conference provides the world with an opportunity, and it may be the last opportunity—for I agree with what the noble Lord said, that events are moving fast and we may be overtaken by them—to protect the great natural resources of the sea from an international power scramble like that which happened to all the land resources of the world through the centuries, with such devastating and disastrous results.

Once again, we are in a position where but few nations have technological and financial power to exploit the resources of the deep oceans. Most of them have not. Among those that have not are the poorest, who have the greatest need of those resources. And so it seems to me that the fundamental task before the Conference is to have established without question the aim which indeed has been set down already by the United Nations in a resolution—I think it was late in 1970: That the exploitation of resources of the seabed should be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole and that an international régime to this end should be established". When the noble Baroness comes to reply, I hope she will be able to assure us without any doubt that Her Majesty's Government not only accept that recommendation but mean to press for it with all the power that they have.

Of course, this is a difficult thing to do from many points of view. If it is accepted that this is our aim, and the aim we hope of most of the nations assembled at Santiago, how are we to seek to achieve it? What kind of international organisation do the Government contemplate? Are they preparing to bring a proposal before the Conference? —for an international conference of this kind almost inevitably ends in the sand if there are not some concrete proposals to discuss. I do not suggest, of course, that the Government should place before the Conference a cut and dried proposal; it should be, in our terms, rather a Green Paper than a White Paper, because the whole object of the Conference is to discuss. But I feel there should be some initative from our Government to indicate the sort of international organisation which they think—and, after all, we in this country have great experience in these matters—would best work. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to a proposal which I know has been mooted. The fact that we have heard nothing much about it for some time led me to think that perhaps it had been abandoned. But I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that this is a very curious way of setting about to try to do this.

Again, it has been suggested (I think this suggestion came from the United States) that each coastal State should be given control of the adjacent areas of the ocean beyond the area of their national responsibility. The words used, I think, in the document circulated by the United States were that they should "control these areas in trusteeship for mankind". So the spirit is there all right. But I cannot feel that that is the right way to do it. Surely, we must have some international organisation pursuing a consistent policy. We could not have one coastal State perhaps going straight ahead with the extraction of minerals, or with this or that, and another pressing for conservation in an adjacent area; that would make no sense at all.

I should think it was extremely important that there should be established a central authority of some kind—and I will come in a moment to the question of what authority it has; in my first thinking I called it a trust—in which should be vested all the natural resources of the sea. Here I might just mention that although initially the conference was to discuss only the seabed, I think it has been generally accepted (and if it has not, I hope it will be) that one cannot consider the seabed separately from the sea above it. The sort of organisation I have in mind—although I am not at all competent to put forward a detailed plan—would be this international trust in which should be vested all the resources of the seabed and in the sea that are outside national control. This trust should regulate both the development and the conservation. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, put them in the right order —the conservation and the development. No exploitation should be permitted without the consent of the trust. Then public or private corporations could be licensed to exploit any specified areas, both the fisheries—because I think the deep sea fisheries should be controlled by the same mechanism—and the extraction of minerals from the seabed. Here I think I am echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said (although I believe in this I go further than him), that a substantial royalty or rent should be extracted in return for the right to operate in this way and that should be used to build up a trust fund which should be aimed to help bridge the gap between rich and poor nations.

The obvious thing that occurs to anyone who gives a little thought to this is: how can this be enforced? This point was brought out very well by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. We have as yet no international executive power. Even the International Court of Justice cannot enforce its decisions, and very complicated questions of jurisdiction arise on which I hope the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, will give us some advice later on. I have, as an amateur, tried to sketch out the sort of picture I see. First, this international trust should be given juridical personality in each State so that it can sue and, for that matter, be sued. Then the Legislature of each State should pass an Act to ban its citizens from all exploitation of international waters except with the consent of the trust, so that it would be an offence against domestic law to break the rules, if I may put it in that way.

Of course, that would not be completely effective. No doubt there would still be people who would find ways around it, but if we reach the conclusion that those people who break the rules will then be putting themselves in the position of pirates, I suggest they would then be subject to the law in their own country (provided the Treaty has been duly ratified and brought into effect), and in the last resort it may be that these pirates, these wild cats, will have to be dealt with in a fairly drastic way. But I have a feeling that if this organisation is seen to be fair and to be doing what the United Nations Assembly agreed, and indeed what I believe we all agree, that this great wealth of the sea should be used to help balance the terrible gap between the rich and the poor, there would be a general willingness to conform to these requirements. That is a pretty big mouthful, and I think it extremely doubtful whether this could be achieved in 1974. Very many obviously difficult questions are involved. But if it is not possible to reach a conclusion of that kind in Santiago, what about establishing at least the international trust? What about immediately vesting in that trust the resources of the sea and then agreeing on a standstill; that nobody will do anything until we have worked out among the nations of the world this further machinery for controlling the exploitation of these resources?

Again, it seems to me that if the principal nations concerned can be persuaded to do this—the few nations who have the resources to undertake exploration of this kind—and if the developing countries agree that in the long term this is an advantageous arrangement for them, I do not see why we should expect a great deal of "wildcatting" to go on. I hope not, anyway. There could still be within this system some arrangement for the special licensing of research and technological development, simply in improving the techniques, because as I see it there is no reason why that should be held up as there is still a great deal of work to be done in that field which could be done under suitable supervision.

Of course, the effect of this sort of proposal depends enormously on the extent of international waters, and this brings me to refer to the delimitation of the areas of national control, about which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said a great deal and with which I entirely agree. It is a very difficult question, and I think his suggestion that we do not want to have too rigid a formula—that circumstances alter cases—is probably the right one, although one recognises that if circumstances alter cases we have difficult negotiations nearly every time. One thing that occurs to me—and I do not know whether the noble Baroness who is to reply to this debate would like to say anything about it—is that if we are to retain a reasonable balance and not allow the national control to extend too far, we ought to look again and perhaps even to modify the Continental Shelf Convention of 1958, because although basically this extended the national rights up to the 200 metre depth contour, it went on to say that they could be extended beyond that limit where depth of water admits of the exploration of natural resources. As technological advance goes ahead, in the years to come that may take us into the deepest oceans of the Atlantic and the Pacific. That seems to me to make rather a nonsense of the idea of national control. Some of us felt that the Continental Shelf perhaps went a little far, but that at least is a logical point. To go beyond that into any area which you can exploit seems to me to make a nonsense of the whole thing.

I do not want to go through some of the technical matters about which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, spoke. On the point about extraction of minerals, I would much rather wait for the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, who knows such a lot about that subject. So far as fisheries are concerned, I thought I heard a word from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, which surprised me—if I may have his attention for the moment. Towards the end of his speech I thought he said that he did not think we should look for a principle. I may have misheard him, because this seems to me to be a rather unlikely piece of advocacy on his part. I think that is exactly what we have to do. We have to try to seek the sound principle. I know that this is very difficult for the Government at present, and I should not be surprised if the noble Baroness does not want to say anything further at this stage when she is hoping for continuing negotiations with Iceland.


My Lords, may I just defend myself from the awful smear of approaching this matter with lack of principle? We must seek principles, and they are rather easy to find. The difficulty is in finding the practice.


I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord. I thought that was what he said, but it was just a word I caught, and I obviously got it wrong.

My Lords, we should seek sound principles, but without our eyes on Iceland, if I may say so. This is the great difficulty of seeking sound principles at a time when you are actually in dispute, because it is a natural thing to try to find principles that happen to fit in with your own views. But there are obvious conditions. I am speaking not of deep-sea fishing outside national zones, because this I suggested should be dealt with by the International Trust; but within national zones one obviously has to consider first of all the conservation point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the overall limitation of fishing that is acceptable. Then one must obviously consider the needs of domestic fishing. I think there is a case for giving some weight to the needs of fishing fleets from outside the national region which have habitually fished in these waters—although once you get on to that the principle has clearly to be a little flexible. The Portuguese have fished off the Newfoundland banks for centuries, and I hope that nothing will prevent them from continuing that fishing. We have fished in Icelandic waters for a long time. On the other hand, the two nations to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, drew attention, the Japanese and the Russians, have very largely expanded their fishing fleet in far away places fairly recently—the Russians mostly since the war, the Japanese perhaps a little before. And as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned, the South Koreans are now fishing off the coast of Bermuda.

Whatever principles are established, are we really going to say there should be no newcomers? This is a difficult point, I think. One can divide up the available fish, if I may put it that way, between the domestic fishing fleets and the accredited or accepted visiting fleets. But what about anybody else who wants to come in? I think this may quite substantially interest some of the developing countries whom we want to help, so I do not myself feel, with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that it is easy to find this principle. However, I should be interested to know whether the noble Baroness feels that she can say anything about the way the Government are working.

have been talking so far about the resources of the sea, but I would remind your Lordships that not only does the sea contain all these vast resources; it is also a highway, a public thoroughfare through which passes the greater part of world trade. It is vital to all the world, and not least to the developing countries, that it is kept open and free for navigation. Of course, as the noble Lord said, particularly the growth of large oil tankers has necessitated the taking of steps to protect the seas, so far as they can be protected, from pollution; and in a wider aspect there are safety regulations which are necessary to make shipping safe, both to the people in the ship itself and to others on the high seas. I am sure that noble Lords are aware of the very good work being done by IMCO, the International Maritime Consultative Organisation, in this matter, but we must be careful to see that, so far as possible, the requirements imposed on shipping are uniform. It would be quite chaotic if every coastal State demanded a different type of equipment or imposed different manning requirements.

There are cases where it is important (and the noble Lord mentioned these) to have routeing control, traffic control in narrow waters. What has been done up to now in the Channel and the Straits of Dover is a good example of what can be done in sensitive areas if the people concerned get together and work these things out for themselves. That is why I would hope that, whatever organisation is established—my suggested International Trust would have responsibility for the deep sea; luckily, traffic control is not generally a problem in the deep sea—it will pay great attention to maintaining the freedom of navigation under agreed conditions, and that coastal States which have special problems should again attempt so far as possible to do things in accordance with what has been already internationally agreed in other areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, drew attention to the danger zones round oil drilling rigs. This is a very serious matter indeed, although, of course, in the great ocean a square kilometre is not a very large area; and provided the oil drilling rigs are well marked—and they usually are, because they have a great big gantry sticking up above the water—I do not know that they need give rise to any difficulty.

Finally, my Lords, one cannot take part in a debate like this without saying something about ecology. I am perhaps not as convinced a natural conservationist as are some of my noble friends and some other noble Lords in this House. Ever since what we are pleased to call civilisation came, man has always been interfering with ecology: when he started to grow crops, for instance, and certainly when he first went out fishing. I coined the word, I think, but I am myself a "homocentric". I do not know whether it is a moral issue, but if man uses his intelligence to try to preserve his species he is only doing what every other creature does, though he has a wider range of methods of doing it. Of course, he must not wantonly destroy the ecology of this planet, the natural environment. We should all wish that, and I am all for giving every power necessary to prevent wanton destruction. But I find it difficult to believe that when there are millions of people living under the starvation line, or very near it, it can always be wrong to take a step which might bring lasting advantage to people in that position at the expense, perhaps, of a particularly rare bird.

My Lords, our long maritime heritage and our long experience of government lays upon us, I believe, a special responsibility. It also gives us a special opportunity to help in the formulation and establishment of a truly international organisation to control and direct the exploitation and preservation of the vast resources of the ocean. I hope that the noble Baroness, when she comes to reply, will be able to tell us that the Government are aware of that responsibility and are ready to seize the opportunity.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I would first of all thank my noble friend Lord Kennet for giving us this opportunity—and I wish we had a fuller House —to consider again something that I regard as one of the momentous issues of our time. I would say that it is mankind's second chance—indeed, I am not too sure we are not discussing mankind's last chance. A first chance, if you like, was in the creation of the United Nations after the Second World War, in an attempt, I think everyone here would agree, to do something in the framework of the power politics of the day. We failed to grasp imaginatively what had already happened. I have said before in this House that the founding fathers did not know at that time that they were legislating for a world which no longer existed. Only four people among those signing the Charter at San Francisco knew that the atom bomb was going off presently; they knew but they did not understand. Therefore, the Charter they were devising, while conceived with a great deal more sympathy than any other instrument that had ever been conceived, nevertheless left out this dimension which we are considering again to-day—that is, the effect of the changes produced by science and technology, for good or for ill.

What we are discussing to-day is very, very serious. I do not think I am being unfair to Her Majesty's Government; I think I am saying literally what is true, in echoing what my noble friend Lord Kennet said about one generation of civil servants carrying on from the concepts of their predecessors. That is abundantly clear to-day. I hope—and this is the only aggressive thing that I am going to say in this debate—that the noble Baroness, the Minister, when she comes to reply, will give us the assurance that that piece of nonsense which is masquerading as British policy in terms of the grid at the sea bottom is gone, and gone for ever. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said he hoped that the Government would produce a Green Paper rather that a White Paper. All I can say is that I hope they are not going to produce a comic paper. Everywhere I have been discussing this matter—and I spend about a third of my waking time discussing these things—wherever that proposal is raised in discussion, it is dismissed with utter ridicule. It is not merely the fact that it is unworkable. The fact is that if the seabed were divided up into 400,000 claims (the Americans modified that: I think we could get something of the order of 30,000 zones out of the American proposals; this is a modification of ours which they are trying to forget at the moment) we should have the Royal Afghan Navy patrolling an area in the middle of the Atlantic looking after its interests. We should have the Outer Mongolian landlocked republic taking over the bottom of the Marianna Deeps. We should have absolute nonsense.

The more we look at it, the more ridiculous it becomes. In fact some of us have now produced a Christmas dice game. When the present Dean of Windsor was the much esteemed Bishop of Norwich he said in this House that this proposal was bingo. It was not bingo; my Lords; it was tiddlywinks. The fact is that it is worse now, because we have now made it Monopoly. I can demonstrate to any noble Lord who likes to come and play it with me how easily all these things are playing into the hands of the great monopolies, including the monopolistic States. We have got this nonsense and we must get it out of the way, because it is a triviality in the face of a very important situation. The situation is that we have a second chance, an opportunity in this world of belated and increasing nationalism. I may say that I am not anti-nationalistic, in the sense that I have always believed that you have got to have nationalism before you have internationalism, and internationalism before you have supra-nationalism. But we are now contemplating, I think, the end of practical practising nationalism. We are being forced into the situation of recognising that you cannot, even with 135 nations, continually defer to the big Powers, or even to the little ones.

The interests which nations express we should regard and respect. But when it comes to the circumstances that we are now considering there is absolutely no way in which it is possible to solve this problem of the ocean space except, not merely internationally but, I suggest, extra-nationally. I avoid very carefully the word "supranational", because that is regarded as something airy-fairy. But extra-nationalism, I think is a truism. That is to say, once we have got, as we have, a recognition by all the nations now concessions even from the Soviet Union—that in fact the area beyond the limit of national jurisdiction, however we define it (and I will come back to that in a moment), is in fact the common heritage of all mankind, once you have got beyond the jurisdiction of nations, then you are talking not about international law but about extra-national law. And you have then to create a system of law which is capable of dealing with that area in conjunction, or even in confrontation, with international law as it has been built up: the exercise of national policies by other means. This exercise is no longer tolerable. You have got to think again.

I think that the Santiago Conference may go on much longer than next year or the year after; it may last for many years. And I hope that it will sweep away some of the things I see. Anyway, we must get out of this Conference something which is above and beyond the kind of things we are niggling and naggling about now, encouraging people to the greatest avarice—and when it comes to grabbing, the Third World States are just as bad as the big Powers. We have got to get out of this state of mind and see if we can produce something which is not just a cartel of nations, not just a bazaar and mart of trading in which nations will try to buy their interests at the expense of others. Indeed, it is a trusteeship, except that the word "trusteeship" is nowadays rather threadbare. Perhaps we can find another term to describe the régime that would manage the common heritage of mankind, manage the real estate which we have acquired at the bottom of the sea, manage the marine eco-system without which the people of the world will not survive.

I would point out to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, with all deference, that we can be greedy to-day in feeding our hungry millions, if we do it at the expense of the seas in the cynical way we are doing it now. With Peru claiming its 200-mile limit, claiming practically the Humboldt Current, in order to protects its sardine fisheries or anchovy fisheries, it has run this year into a catastrophe which has nothing to do with over-fishing by other people but in fact is a natural catastrophe. It is impossible even to control this kind of situation within 200 miles or any other limit. But remember that the Peruvian anchovies were not in fact going to feed the hungry people of Latin America, or even of Peru. As my noble friend has pointed out, they were for feeding-stuffs or in many cases for manure; and they were going to the United States of America as feeding-stuffs for their animals. At the same time that we had the Peruvian trouble with the fisheries and the decline in availability of anchovies for feeding-stuffs—and I think this is something one ought to note in terms of natural catastrophes, or whatever it is that is lurking behind us at the moment-10 million acres of the United States of America (a fifth of the size of Great Britain in extent) of soya beans were inundated as well. So turning from the fish meal to the soya beans, we find that there are no soya beans either. That may be a reminder to all of us that in the systems we are talking about everything is interdependent.

We have to think of our common heritage and concern ourselves with the management of it. It is an area of great potential wealth for the future. I should like to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, by explaining what in fact happens to the common heritage of mankind when we take the various proposals before us now. Forty nautical miles would leave us 347 million square miles as a common heritage. It would include part of the Shelf, and would retain 41 per cent. of the ultimate potential of 922 billion barrels of total future oil resources. It would include all the mine-grade nodules—that is, the economic grade—as well as the metalliferous brines, where we are also looking for minerals. That would be 16 million square miles added on to the present coastal States. The 200-metre isobath (water depth), which is what we were talking about in the 1958 Conference, leaves 340 million square miles. This would add 22 million square miles to the coastal States, and would leave some of the Shelf, almost all of the slope, and all of the rise—that is the extent of the continental margin. Reserves of more than one billion barrels of oil have already been found in what would be this international zone.

The 200-metre isobath would leave all the mine-grade nodules in the international area. But of course this statement does not take into account that extended right that they were given by the open-ended offer in 1958. The 3,000-metre isobath which has been suggested would provide an international area of 318 million square miles, and increase the holdings of the coastal States to 45½million square miles, leaving 93 per cent. of the potential oil in the hands of the coastal States, but containing most of the nodules. Two 200 nautical miles of patrimonial sea, which has been proposed by the Latin States—and which has been taken up with some sign of deference by the British Government, although not too openly, because 200 miles is very embarrassing if you are promoting it while you are denying Iceland 50 miles—would provide an international area of 288 million square miles, and increase the jurisdiction of the coastal States to 77 million square miles.

As you go through these processes you see the shrinking of the common heritage, and if you look at it very hard you see a shrinking mainly in terms of what the oil men are thinking of; because when we started talking about this subject only a few years ago we received from the oil lawyers a lot of encouragement in the concept of international development of the ocean bed and the management thereof. That was before they discovered that they could go far deeper than 200 metres isobath. At the 200 metres isobath, the depth of water is pretty well taken as the range of the continental shelf. Then we have the slope, and that is what they are after now. Then we have the rise. Even in the rise and the sedimentary rocks of the rise they are expecting—and there is evidence—that there is lots of oil, and technologically they are now capable of getting it. Within three or five years offshore oil fields at depths of up to 400 metres will be normal. The Forties Field in the North Sea has water depths from 90 to 150 metres. By the end of the present decade it is reckoned that it will be possible to operate in depths from 600 to 1,000 metres, corresponding to the depths of the upper part of the continental slope.

This is very interesting, because once you go beyond that you are then in the area of the grid of the British proposal. So far as I am concerned, the interest of the oil man in that can be seen very clearly in that grid. I do not think it is only symbolically, but actually. Once you have got there, you then find yourself losing out again to those whose technology will enable them to go to greater and greater depths with refinements which include actual mining facilities, actual installations on the sea floor at great depth—in fact at practically any depth you like to mention—operated partly by remote control but even by manned vehicles at such depths, because we are transferring from outer space all the ingenuity gained there into inner space. The spaceman in one sense is now becoming a spaceman in another sense.

This raises the question of urgency. One of the appalling things I find in all the discussions of this matter is that people do not realise how urgent it is. We have many discussions about what is possible and what may happen "before the turn of the century", but we are not talking about the turn of the century; we are talking about what is happening now. The industrialisation of the seabed is already happening. One of the publicly owned enterprises is Deep Sea Ventures (an American corporation, to which my noble friend Lord Kennet referred), which is promising stockholders a recovery of one million tons of nodules a year by 1975. The French, the Americans and the Japanese are also moving in. Howard Hughes is now looking for another place to hide—at the bottom of the sea. He has just invested 80 million dollars in a corporation to recover nodules.

However, most of these activities are not talked about. There are the big mining corporations, hedging their bets and exploring the possibilities of developing techniques, ready to move in when circumstances demand. The circumstances can be dictated and will be dictated by political and industrial relations considerations; by an awkward Government in a developing country which may be their present supplier, or strikers in a developed country. Indeed, the vice-president of one of these corporations said, "One more strike in Sudbury in Ontario and we go for our nickel to the bottom of the sea".

And they know precisely where to go; there is no problem. It has to be borne in mind that the oceanic minerals will be competing in the market with land minerals. This constitutes a very serious threat to the developing countries, the main assets of which are their mineral resources. Developing countries at present provide 23.1 per cent. of the world's manganese, 41.7 per cent. of its copper, and 89 per cent. of its cobalt. All these are directly threatened by the minerals from the bottom of the sea. And I repeat—and I cannot repeat it often enough—that the technology exists to do it now.

What are we going to do about the "wild-tatters", once they have got there? My noble friend suggested what, in equity, we do if they are already there. Phooey! my Lords; there ain't no equity. We have already served notice that the rights of those who are now trying to grab will not be recognised. I do not say what will happen in practice, but that is the attitude at the moment. So they are not entitled to be there now, doing this, in terms of the commitments of their countries. I have spoken too long. The issues here are manifest and plain. They are the concern of mankind as a whole, not just in terms of his property but in terms of his actual living future, and we need to do something with imagination which I regret to say has not been demonstrated so far.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, from time to time most of your Lordships are probably called upon to give away prizes, and you know that when you finish the interesting facts and start pointing the moral you lose people's attention at once. However, I think it is my duty, as well as being something that I want to do, to point out that in this whole matter that will be before the Conference in Santiago there are moral consequences of enormous importance for the whole human race. I cannot attempt to emulate the knowledge and cogency of noble Lords who have already spoken, so I can speak very briefly on this aspect of the matter.

Christians throughout the world who knew about it were immensely impressed and thankful that the resolution of the United Nations Assembly on December 17, 1970, affirmed that the seabed—if I may isolate just one aspect of this enormous problem—belongs to the human race as a whole, and that exploitation of its resources should be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole. That seems to me one of the most important resolutions ever passed by a body of men. After all, it deals with 70 to 71 per cent. of the earth's surface, the only area that is left with a great part of it unexplored and unexploited. As has already been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, we are also extremely anxious that the scramble for colonies in the second half of the 19th century shall not be repeated. It is true that colonisation brought some benefits to the colonised tribes as well as to the exploited nations, but since the strong hand of imperialist power has been withdrawn some of those artificially created nations have reaped a bitter harvest. Apart from internal troubles, the colonised areas remain our poor relations, part of the undeveloped and overpopulated Third World.

I am really repeating what has already been said, but it is clear that a scramble for the seabed among the few nations technically equipped to explore and exploit it might easily lead to international conflict, and exacerbate the existing dangerous imbalance between the resources of the poor nations and the rest. I am sure that prudence as well as ethical considerations demand that our Government use all their influence to press the nations at Santiago to implement those resolutions already passed by the United Nations. It will be clear from what has already been said that this is an extremely difficult task, although I would welcome the suggestion, which is new to me, of extra-national law, supra-national power being so suspect. But that is very much easier said than done. Recent treatment of the International Court of Justice, when its decisions conflict with national policies, does not encourage one to be lieve that any world body will be obeyed and respected as able to impose binding obligations on other nations, even the ones which set up the institution.

Your Lordships will be aware that many suggestions have already been made about some kind of extra-national, supranational or international authority to administer this matter. The Polish proposal suggested that until an autonomous agency, international and financed by revenues from exploration and exploitation of the seabed, can be set up, the United Nations itself could be the responsible body, setting up its own agency for this purpose. This suggestion is attractive, because the United Nations already exists. But, clearly, if this extra immense responsibility were laid upon it, other arms, such as a world peace force, would be a necessity. I am interested that two of your Lordships have already referred to the grid plan which has been published by Her Majesty's Government. I was particularly interested not from the point of view of Afghanistan, but from the point of view of a dug-out canoe from Burundi sculling about some 100 miles off Ireland, patrolling its own little patch. I know Burundi fairly well, but I have never seen even a motor boat within that State. It is an interesting but rather bizarre suggestion.

I want to make only two other points. First, no one in this House or outside will question the absolute necessity for the continuing existence of the human race of peace, and the potential of the exploration, conservation and exploitation of the seabed as a means of either conflict or peace. President Nixon, whom I am not really accustomed to quote, spoke in 1970 about this as a, …momentous question which faces mankind, whether the oceans will be used rationally and equitably for the benefit of mankind, or whether they will become an area of unrestrained exploitation and conflicting jurisdictional claims, in which even the most advantaged States will be losers. Secondly, in this complex world of ours it might be of the greatest advantage to the human race to have some common area in which the nations could co-operate and bring together their technical resources for the good of all. It seems to me that the seabed might well provide such an area, not of conflict and destruction but of co-operation growing into peace.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, it seems to me that this is one of the most important subjects before the world to-day, and I think we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Kennet for giving us an opportunity to discuss it. I propose to be very short because my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder has already said pretty well everything that I would wish to say. My own approach is perhaps slightly different. The oceans comprise, I think, 75 per cent. of the surface of the earth, and, so far as pollution and the environment are concerned, are at present lawless. The world cannot afford to allow this to go on. For some time we have had to rely on technology to protect man from the environment: we now have to rely on technology to protect the environment from man. But the environment is not the greatest danger to man. The greatest danger to man comes from man himself. I have no doubt that if you asked men and women what it is they fear most for themselves and their children, they, and particularly but not exclusively those who have already seen two world wars, would say, "A third world war, and particularly a nuclear war".

Now there is only one way, I believe, in which war can be outlawed. I have always supported such disarmament conferences as were going, but I have increasingly had little faith in them. When they feel their security is threatened, powerful Governments will do what they feel is necessary to save themselves without regard to pieces of paper that they have signed. The view that the only way in which mankind can outlaw war is by a World Government, a World Court and a World Police Force is not, of course, an original one. Its prime exponent, I think, was Sir Winston Churchill, followed of course by Mr. Clement Attlee. I was looking last night at what I remembered the late Lord Attlee had said in the debate in this House on December 17, 1964. He was welcoming the appointment of a Minister for Disarmament, but saying that the essential point to attack must be the United Nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 262, col. 588.] He said: …when we formed the United Nations at San Francisco we were still tied and bound by the conception of the absolute sovereignty of the individual nation. He said that we must have a world authority controlling a world force, and added: …I do not think we shall get that with the United Nations as it is". He spoke of how essential is …the control of world sovereignty in armaments, the right to make war. That limitation of sovereignty must be imposed by all on all"; and he thought that …unless within a generation we can get that, the world will inevitably go round to chaos". Of course, this is now officially the policy of every one of the three political Parties; and if any of your Lordships did not know that I should not be surprised, because they keep so remarkably silent about it, particularly when they are in office. But, of course, it is not, I think, accidental that the Charter does not begin, "We, the Governments", or "We, the politicians", but, "We, the peoples"—and it is really the people who have still got to fight for it.

I used to think I would live to see a World Government. At 73, I do not know. It took, of course, the First World War to get the League of Nations; it took the Second World War to get the United Nations; it may well be that it will take a nuclear war or near miss to get a World Government. That we shall do it I have not the slightest doubt. It is the only solution. It is a peculiar reform in so far as most reforms come slowly, and many are the better for coming slowly. I think that probably a World Government can only come overnight. I have always found some difficulty in thinking of half a World Government. But here is a field in which all the nations at the United Nations have agreed that what is 75 per cent. of the earth's surface should be held by an international authority for the benefit of all mankind. My Lords, this is a great conception. If we can do this—and the time, I fully agree, is urgent—and can get nations to agree to a practical scheme, we shall have made a very big advance. While I bear in mind that in the 1970 debate my noble friend Lord Kennet said that this must not be regarded as a piece of world government—and I quite agree with him —we shall at least have got people thinking along the right lines, and wondering, if we can have an international authority for the good of all mankind, with adequate policing, for the ocean, whether we cannot have the same thing for ourselves in the world as a whole.

My Lords, I am sorry to close on a discordant note, in a sense, but I really should not like to close without joining in the condemnation which every speaker has advanced of the Government's present proposals in this field. That matter has been fully developed already partly by my noble friend Lord Kennet and partly by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. But I hope the Government will turn aside from their proposals and take the other views which have been represented here to-day.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I have very much enjoyed listening to this extremely interesting debate raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I think he has advanced a very interesting idea to be put forward at the international conference planned for Santiago, in Chile. But from my own experience as a seaman, and from my knowledge of the sea, I would say that to get things on to an international footing is sometimes not very easy. For example, for all shipping throughout the world we have established the international load-line rules, and also the rules for the prevention of collision at sea. But perhaps I may tell your Lordships a short story about when, some years ago, shortly before the Suez Canal was closed, I was sailing through the Canal. I noticed that tied up to an oil berth was a small ship with nothing more than the bridge, the funnel and the mast sticking out of the water. I said to the pilot, "What happened to her?" He said, "Well, you know the Greeks, with the load-line mark somewhere around the bottom of the funnel. She came in here to take on bunker fuel; they forgot to screw down the crew's portholes aft; they loaded fuel oil; the water came in aft, and she sank to the bottom." I also know from a friend of mine in Hong Kong that exactly the same thing happened with a Panamanian—one of the other flags of convenience.

My Lords, you can have international rules for the prevention of collision at sea, but unfortunately there are still a number of nations which allow people with a master's certificate to sail a ship bought out of a pawnshop. The only way in which I think this sort of thing could really get off the ground would be for us, through the European Economic Community, which is virtually a trading organisation, and the EFTA countries, to set a standard—a standard that will demand that the people who sail in ships or who fly aircraft have qualifications that we accept, and to ensure that if they are not of that standard then the ship is impounded or is banned. It has been possible for quite a small nation to ban ships. An excellent example of this was that of the Egyptians and the Suez Canal. From the time the Egyptians took over the Canal, no ship was allowed to sail through that Canal if it had previously called at Israel. They examined the log book of every ship that arrived to sail through the Canal.

Probably the fines have been amended since I was at sea, but the fine imposed used to be £100 for being overloaded and £100 for every inch you were overloaded. Many an unscrupulous ship owner would think nothing of that when, for every inch that he was overloaded, he was probably making a profit of £1,000 from the extra cargo he was carrying. My Lords, the writing is on the wall. We have had the "Torrey Canyon" disaster and we only need two big oil tankers to collide off the Straits of Dover for half the fishing around the British Isles—let alone Europe —to be ruined. But through the European Parliament—and now, I am glad to say, with Britain also a member of it—we can set the standard for Europe. With the European influence there and through the E.E.C. countries having so many connections with colonies and dominions and ex-colonies and ex-dominions all over the world, we may really get a standard going. What I should like to ask my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir to consider is the possibility when we get to Chile of agreeing with our neighbours in Europe to approach this question from a uniform position so that we are all at one on exactly what we should like to achieve. That. I feel, is going to be much more successful than trying to get something on an international footing.

To give your Lordships another example, there were, and still are, the North American, Mediterrannean and Black Sea grain regulations. These grain regulations are designed to make certain that a ship is loaded in such a way when she carries grain in bulk that the cargo does not shift. The regulations were never agreed internationally because a number of countries refused to join. It is unfortunate that even to-day occasionally ships capsize because they have not loaded the cargo properly. These regulations are a direct safety measure. If, in small details like this, you cannot get international agreement, then I do not think that we shall do so in this field.

On the fishing side, I should like just to draw your Lordships' attention to the awful problem of dumping waste. The last thing I want to see happen—and the U.S. has done this from time to time—is to dump waste down into a deep crack. This is about the most dangerous place to put it. It is almost like having a rather rough kitchen table, stubbing out your cigarette ends on it and putting them into the cracks. Cracks have a habit of opening and shutting and moving: but sand on the sea bed forms just as much a desert as it does on land. If certain areas that are known to be purely of sand could be used for dumping grounds. I feel that this might be a little safer. All the best fishing grounds are on mud or where there is a comparatively rocky bottom and lots of seaweed. In all the finest fishing grounds in the North Sea, any wreck is literally covered in fishing nets. The problem here is that we are ruining the fishing with big trawls. As the name "trawl" indicates, it is an apparatus which is actually dragged along the bottom of the sea. When it is dragged through mud, it is destroying the very spawning grounds that create the fish. So one of the things we might manage to achieve, nationally and internationally, is to turn the best grounds on the seabed into conservation areas where no fishing of the trawl type is allowed to take place.

You can still have (as was quite common around these costs) the herring drifter. The herring drifter has nets that may extend like a curtain some four to six miles from the ship and she lies with her nets streamed out head to wind. These nets can be of a specified size that catch only the fish big enough to get caught in them; so that you are not destroying hundreds of tiny fish that get dragged into the cod end of the trawl. They may get thrown back into the sea —but they are dead, they are finished. And the tiny sardine which starts off in life around the Portuguese coast eventually becomes the herring which is caught in the North Sea. So do not let us destroy the whole cycle.

Russia and Japan, when it comes to fishing, are undoubtedly the two worst offenders; but another nation should not be forgotten—Denmark, which is now catching the salmon out at sea in very large quantities. I should be sorry, because of their efforts, to see the salmon disappearing from British waters. One way in which we may combat, or start to combat. Russia and Japan—and certainly so over the case of the whale—is completely to ban, through the European, North-American and EFTA countries, the importation of any product that comes from the whale. The biggest import from this source at present is whalemeat which mostly goes into tins of cat food and dog food. If those countries cease to use it we might be making some progress. Meat is certainly a problem in Japan at the present moment. I understand that beef there is £12 per pound. Their own fishing grounds within the inland sea of Japan have become so polluted that there are quite large areas where both fishing and swimming are now banned—mostly because of mercury oxides. The only product this country might need to import is the oil that comes from the head of the blue whale. It is still used in very minute quantities and is the finest oil in the world for oiling things like the balance wheel of a wrist watch.

My Lords, I hope that through our entry into Europe we may start to get some kind of standard in the prevention of the pollution of the sea. It is extremely easy to upset the oxygen content of the water. When straight sewage goes into the sea or into the rivers the damage is done by the suspended solids which extract the oxygen from the water, and so the fish die. But a few drops of many of the detergents that are used can be just as lethal to marine life as crude or refined oil. I feel that if the European Economic Community, the Trades Union Congress, through the International Labour Conference, the EFTA countries and the World Council of Churches could press the Governments of those countries likely to impose a standard eventually we might force the rest of the world to follow. If we can achieve a standard within the intelligent countries, and extend it to countries which have a dictatorship, such as exists behind the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain, we may achieve something.

5.22 p.m.


; My Lords, I do not propose to deal with some of the main points which have been discussed this afternoon. That is not because they are not important, but because the subject we are discussing has so many facets that it is difficult to concentrate on the main purpose and principle. But I would not wish this debate to end without rising to speak in support of those noble Lords who have spoken from this side of the House. Perhaps I may be permitted to recall for a moment or two an occasion which was in contrast to the scene in this noble House this evening; an occasion in the General Assembly of the United Nations.

I think that it was in 1967, shortly before the General Assembly met that year, when all the arrangements had been made in the General Committee to allocate the subjects for discussion. The normal dealing had taken place between the Great Powers. Then a very small delegation came forward and said that they had an additional subject which they wished to discuss. This announcement was greeted with great irritation by those who had worked to rig the arrangements for the forthcoming General Assembly meeting. The delegation was from Malta, one of the smallest delegations to the United Nations. What did they want? They wanted to raise the question of the deep seabed. What had that to do with Malta? What did they want to say about it? Malta said they understood that the riches of the deep seabed so far discovered might eventually be found to be more valuable than all the mineral resources so far discovered on dry land. The comment was made that that might be so or it might not, but what had it to do with Malta; and what did they want to say about it?

The Maltese Ambasador said that they wished to propose that the riches of the deep seabed be declared now, by that international community, to be the heritage and the property of all mankind. This statement was regarded as having been made in a moment of idealistic aberation. No one could believe that such a wild suggestion could be put forward. Surely the Malta proposition could be pushed off in a few speeches, and some means could be found to bury it among the many hundreds of other items already on the agenda ! But Malta was not prepared to be pushed off the subject. She gathered round her a group of smaller Powers and middle-sized Powers, and in the end we all realised that we should have to make up our minds and vote on this matter. My Lords, to cut a long story short, the time came when we had to vote. As your Lordships will know, the General Assembly of the United Nations uses colours: green for "Yes", red for "No" and yellow for "Abstention". We could see, on the great boards behind the President's podium, how every country voted, and the totals at the top. I remember sitting in the General Assembly that day and watching anxiously to see what colour would predominate. My Lords, the votes all looked green against the individual countries; and the total vote that day for the Maltese proposal to declare that the riches of the seabed by the heritage and property of all mankind was 99 in favour to nil. That is how it all started. I like to remember that occasion because it showed that one country, a small country, could alter the whole trend of world events; and I am glad that is so. That is how it must be in the international world of the future to which we all look forward when one man, one country, one idea can take a hold.

That was six years ago. Here to-day we are meeting to discuss one of the most narrow, one of the most retrograde and one of the most ridiculous proposals ever put forward by Her Majesty's Government. I wish to support, in the strongest possible terms, what was said by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. It is proposed that we should return to the grabbing era of colonialism. Having, in our time, grabbed areas of Africa and Asia and then come out of those continents, we are now to grab the great oceans, and divide them up into competing areas. My Lords, you have only to look at the map to realise that the whole thing is untenable.

We hope that the United Nations may find solutions to the problems of the Middle East, the racial problems of Africa and the problems of poverty and population. In this case we have a great asset that we propose to carve up into little bits and hand over to the rich and powerful nations, so that they may be able to perpetuate their hold on the poorer nations, when we have an opportunity to ensure that this wealth of the world, properly distributed, could alter the whole prospect of mankind. I have spent some little time in the United Nations and I would say that it is the great Powers who have prevented the United Nations from being effective. It is fashionable to talk about the irresponsibility of small nations and middle-sized nations, but anyone who has served at United Nations will know extremely well that the reason why we have not been able to tackle the racial issues of the world is that we have been prevented from doing so by a small number of rich countries of which, I am sorry to say, the United Kingdom is one.

Now, my Lords, we have an opportunity. We are faced with a test to decide whether the rich are going to perpetuate their hold on the poor and whether the great Powers are to be able to prevent us going forward into a better era. That is the test. If we adopt this fantastic proposal to divide up the oceans and hand them out as concessions of the kind that we knew in colonial days, I believe that we shall be rightly condemned. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, spoke about a World Government. I am not so concerned. The noble and learned Lord may live much longer than I, but I am concerned with what we do in the next 15 years; and I believe that we should make use of the instruments we have. I have always said that there is nothing wrong with the United Nations—except the members. There is something wrong with the members if we are to go back and try to make the oceans of the world a new field for colonial grabbing. This proposal indicates a very serious failure to seize a great opportunity. Malta showed the way and Malta is still showing the way—




Yes, my Lords. If you look at the proposals which are now set out to deal with this issue—which you may not have read—and if you compare the British and the Maltese proposals, I shall be extremely surprised if you do not realise that the Maltese proposal still maintains the idealism necessary to deal with this great world asset. Now we have an opportunity to face this test and go through it with an idea of internationalism which could be effective. This is the asset, the unused asset, and we now have the opportunity of putting it to the good of mankind. It is not for us here in this House to work out immediate and detailed specific proposals. We shall have a reply from the noble Baroness presently—charming as ever, even evasive, although on this occasion I look forward to her reply. I hope she will not say too much. I hope that on this occasion she will agree that the whole matter must be further considered by her Government so that something more respectable, something more acceptable, something with some inspiration in it, can be brought back to this House and to another place.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, first and foremost I must say that I think we should all be grateful to my noble friend Lord Kennet for introducing this fascinating debate. I apologise to noble Lords who have spoken for the fact that I was called out on two occasions, because everything that has been said interested me in a dynamic fashion, including the special section dealt with by the mariner yonder on the laws of navigation, and how to run boats up and down the Suez Canal without getting into trouble about the Plimsoll Line.

To come to the nub of this discussion, I wish that more noble Lords—and this House is full of ability in this direction —had taken part in it. I do not want to reiterate things that have been said by experts, but the forthcoming United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which is to take place in April, 1974, at Santiago, will be a different affair from that of 1958. The vast experience which my noble friend Lord Caradon has had in various parts of the world—and we are all grateful to him for his work in the United Nations—illustrates to the full that, no matter how humpbacked and lumpy this rough animal called the United Nations may be, we must not join in with the yobboes and shout, as moronically as it is thrown across the world by some newspapers and diplomats, that we should get rid of the United Nations. No matter how crude it is we, the members, must struggle to improve it.

And now to-day, with the law of the sea, anybody with any knowledge of the past two great wars, and anybody who has read or travelled in the world, will know that for us to go back once again to a struggle for colonialisation of the seabed would be drastic so far as the world is concerned. One may scoff at the Seabed Arms Control Treaty that came into force in May, 1972. It prohibits the emplacement on defined areas of the seabed of any nuclear weapons or any other types of weapons of mass destruction, as well as structures for launching installations or any other facilities in support. After the conference—some may or may not remember it—34 nations, including the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union, joined in and ratified it. We are grateful that up to now, so far as knowledge is concerned, that treaty has been honestly kept.

I well remember the law of the sea of 1958 where, I believe, under international jurisprudence and international law, no nation has the right to explode an H-bomb or an atom bomb on any of the high seas, so that it is a matter of international piracy for anybody today to explode hydrogen bombs. Unless people are not prepared to support this contention I think it is worth remembering that while we are talking in this Chamber the Japanese still keep in the Pacific Ocean research ships like the "Shikotsu Maru", which is running up and down the Pacific Ocean with a first-class atomic laboratory on it studying the effect on plankton and the effect on sea food and sea animals of the explosions of the bomb. We are still suffering from the first drop-out of the 1954 bomb, to say nothing of what happens with the French one. In the laws of the high seas we must struggle to prevent this. If people make fun about it, as some did who knew nothing of radioactivity and its effects, I would say that the "Shikotsu Maru" has found sea animals and sea fish whose genetic formation has been terrifying: two heads, two bellies, all malformed as a result of the genetic effect of radioactivity on genes.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said that he is homocentric—and he coined the word, a lovely word!—it is the acme of selfishness. Homocentricity implies that man, and man alone, is put at the centre of things. Ruskin, in one of his famous essays, said: There is no wealth but life. I believe in the gamut of creation including the design of the Almighty, that all life, including human, is part of the great design, and Homocentricity— if you are just locking at man in relation to the sea which is the source of life, the source of creation—in itself is not enough for man to ride the ship of destiny to safety.

There are two typical examples of which some people are not aware or which they ignore, and pretend they are not there. When. Windscale cracked the atomic reactor at the Kodak laboratories in London film was affected that very day. When the Chalk River plant in Canada burst and radioactivity was rampant, some 50,000 gallons of heavy water were rushed into the Chalk River. The result was the contamination of the sea, just as we had the contamination of the sea at Windscale. There has been a conspiracy of silence on the effect on plankton, on the effect on sea food, the effect on sea animals and on sea creatures, of man's irresponsible creation of radioactivity; and when the scientists who rush to defend it say that they now measure it, let me point out an elementary scientific fact: that until we had the explosion of the first atom bomb we had no measurements whatsoever of the threshold of radioactivity: consequently no one knows what the threshold is. I hope that at the Santiago Conference once again we shall break this conspiracy of silence about the effect of the explosion of H-bombs over sea areas and get the world to realise that, so far as mankind is concerned, this is a rake's progress that can lead to our destruction.

I want, therefore, having in passing touched on the perils of the nuclear world if we still use the high seas for these explosions, to come to a point that the key issues now about the Continental Shelf and the rights of the coastal States must go further. I believe that, even if some States have no coastline whatsoever, through the United Nations access to the high seas must be available to all human beings even if their countries are landlocked. This is a completely contrary approach to the one of colonial exploitation of the seabed. Navigation rights are the rights of mankind. The seabed (and my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder made the point much better than I could make it) is a source of energy, a source of minerals and of many great assets, so far as the future of mankind is concerned.

We come to another issue that will have to be taken up at Santiago. I do not think anybody has mentioned it to-day, but your Lordships will remember the dispute over the Malacca Strait. Our sailor must know it well; he must have gone through it a number of times, as I have. It is only 24 miles wide and about 200 miles in length. The Indonesians and the Malaysians have made certain regulations about ships which can sail through there. The Malacca Strait is the Clapham Junction of the Pacific Ocean. Here is a clash between national interests and world interests. I think the world, if it used the international cooperation that the United Nations could set up, could ease some of these heavily used seaways. I took a great interest in this when I was in the Far East, and up in Cambodia and around the Kra Isthmus, in Malaysia. I should like to see mankind get together to have a new canal—the idea has been on tap for 50, 60 or 70 years—at the Kra Isthmus. If there were a canal at the Thailand area in the Kra Isthmus it would provide a double entry from the Indian Ocean into the mighty Pacific and the China Seas. This might ease some of the tension between China and the Soviet Union and the great Powers in the Pacific: certainly it would be of great use to the old Commonwealth areas of Australia and New Zealand. In other words, when we come to these discussions on the law of the sea, in some cases an intelligent and constructive approach to the building of new canals to ease pressure in certain places would be of help.

My Lords, I note with interest Canada's action North of the 60th Parallel, particularly so after the search for oil and the contamination of the areas around Alaska. This control must be carried out on a world basis. Canada, in its Pollution Prevention Act 1970, took the unprecedented action of establishing safety control zones for 100 miles seaward over the entire vast Canadian North, North of the 60th Parallel, and fines for polluting can be put on masters of ships amounting to as much as 100,000 Canadian dollars a day. These are formidable penalties, but they are there because of man's inconsideration of the environment in which he lives. This was expressed beautifully, cogently and, as one would expect, constructively by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who in a very simple expression talked about mankind controlling the environment and the environment later controlling man. This is a problem much more important to me than all the buffoonery about the value of the Common Market to the destiny of European man. The value of the sea to the future of civilisation is much more important than the struggle of man to create markets. To neglect this is as stupid as holding a farthing candle in the sunlight to increase the power of light on the earth. The sky is universal. As the right reverend Prelate also said, I believe, the seabed, like the sky, is for all mankind.

Much as I should like to develop another part of this speech, I think it would he wise for me now to sum up by saying that, so far as I am concerned, I should like mankind to drop the irresponsible conspiracy of silence about the effect of radioactivity. Caesium 137, radioactive carbon No. 14, which has an active half-life of 5,600 years—these are much more destructive than Strontium 90. We can now measure the results of this on mankind. I remember having the pleasure of being on a brains trust in Seattle at the International School in San Diego with that famous scientist, whom it was a pleasure to be with, Professor Linus Pauling and discussing what scientists had found in our little Scotland when they found antlers so radioactive that a square inch of the antler lit up for eighty-two days a film with radioactivity. And when Windscale and the Canadian atomic reactor burst, we had created 50,000 times more radioactivity on earth from the time of Madame Curie up to then. This is why I believe that in the law of the sea we must stop using the sea for mankind to play with its atomic and its hydrogen bombs.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me a few minutes. I will try to keep what I have to say quite short. I am afraid this is the second time that I have intervened to-day, and I do so now because more and more I wonder whether my colleagues want to become the next Government. The law of the sea, as I understand it, is a question of how we fish it and how we use it so that we do not make a great mess of it. It is very easy of course for some people to say that you just farm this out to everybody; and it is terrible to think that some leading Powers know rather more about it than some other people have yet learned. But this is so.

I have to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Caradon. I heard him here tonight, but I also had the pleasure of having him instruct me when I was Her Majesty's Secretary of State and he was the Minister resident in New York. What he said here to-night was not quite, if I may say so, in accord with the instructions that he used to give me when I was about to meet the Afro-Asian Group on a Sunday before a full meeting. I remember an occasion when I said I was going to speak very powerfully to the Zambian representative (who has since spent a fair amount of time in prison, but is happily now out) and the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, was much against me doing it because he thought it would destroy relationships. However, I did it, and on the following morning the said representative of Zambia came up and wrapped his arms around me and said, "George, why did you take me so seriously? I have to speak that way in front of them." I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, with all his idealism, is necessarily always right. People who are coming up sometimes require to be guided in order to be helped. They do not like it. They do not approve of it —they cannot in public: it would do them awful harm—yet they know they need it.

I do not think that the law of the sea has much, if anything at all, to do with the bomb at the bottom of the ocean. Perhaps I am old-fashioned—and somebody challenged my socialism this afternoon; but I have been here for a long time and there are an awful lot of "Johnnies-come-lately" up here—but I think it is for some of us who wish for this Government to be replaced by a Government from this side to try to get this side to recognise that they will face the same problems; that all their idealistic talk will be of very little use to them then, because they will still have to face the same problems. As I understand it, we are trying to organise the law of the sea so that no-one is "collaring" too much and nobody is being cheated. The Icelandic problem is part of this—in the part of the debate that I have heard no one has mentioned this: but it is part of it. You cannot "collar" that much so that other chaps are pushed out. It is not just that we are pushing the little fellows out; we are pushing everybody out. No matter whether it is "my" Government or this present Government, I should like the use of the sea—because that is really what we are talking about—being subjected to some rules. That we are called "an Imperialist Power" is of course our problem, but it does not really debar us from pushing some points of view. That the Transport and General Workers' Union inside this country is an old union does not debar it from putting its point of view; and what I hope the Government will be saying is that we must organise this matter so that nobody is taking too much and everybody is being allowed a chance. Further, if anybody takes overly much I hope we shall see that it is put back into a kind of pool. I would honestly say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that I do not think it has much to do with throwing bombs about: I am rather against that myself anyway. I would also say to my noble friend Lord Caradon that I do not think it has much to do with all the Afro-Asian States being nice—because they are not. Many of them are horrid, and many of them are far worse than I think we have ever been, though it is not their fault. It is a question of who can guide such a Conference so that we use the sea and what is in it to our advantage.

I do not know how good the Russians will be about this question. There are also many other chaps who have a strong position in this matter. If my own Front Bench will listen to me they will find they have the same problem, because any Government, whether it is currently Conservative, which I am obviously not very pleased about, or whether it becomes a Labour Government as soon as may be, which of course I should be rather more pleased about, will face the same problems. I hope they will understand that we have—colonialistic or not, imperialistic or not—a very great problem to get the French, the Icelanders, the Norwegians, the Canadians and the New Zealanders to go along with us to sort out how we are to use the sea. Then I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, that we can discuss these matters with the up-coming countries, who may at some time later take over from us—and that is no problem for me —so that we can all act very sensibly about a difficult situation.

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness for having given me a few minutes.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am only too glad that the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, contributed to the debate. He always brings a certain zest and honesty of approach, if I may say so. But I would, first of all, before dealing with the very interesting matters which have been raised to-day, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for having raised this subject now. It comes at a particularly good moment, when we are making the last preparations for this great Conference which will start in April in Santiago. I think we must recognise that it may very well not come to a conclusion in 1974, in which case we might have to go on and have another session in Vienna in 1975.

I am sure that every single noble Lord who has spoken this afternoon has shown how much we all agree on the importance of the 1974 Law of the Sea Conference, because the whole international community will be considering at Santiago proposals covering the regulation of some 70 per cent. of the earth's surface. The resources of the sea and the seabed are bound to provide an ever-increasing amount of the world's needs for food, raw materials and fuel. The oceans will continue to carry the great burden of international trade. Therefore, the régime which we ultimately achieve for the sea and the seabed will profoundly affect the pattern and the success of the future economic development of our own planet.

I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the right reverend Prelate who spoke earlier who asked whether Her Majesty's Government intended to endorse the idea that the deep-seabed and the oceans beyond national jurisdictions are the common heritage of mankind. This, we certainly do; and our proposals, which I should like to come to later, for a régime for the deep-seabed are deliberately designed to try to give effect to this principle. I would also agree, if I may say so, with the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, that as a maritime Power of very considerable experience we have the right to give our views and to have them heard at this Conference. I would also agree that whether it is this Government or a Government formed by the Labour Party—and of course I hope it will be this Government, even after the next Election—nevertheless we shall face the problems concerning the Law of the Sea Conference for many years to come. It is because of the importance of the issues and of the interests that are at stake that, if the questions with which the Conference will have to deal cannot be clearly resolved to the satisfaction of everybody, they will very likely become a major and increasing source of international discord and, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, said, they might even cause wars. Therefore I would say that the first aim of Her Majesty's Government at the Law of the Sea Conference will be to try to secure international agreement on a new Law of the Sea Convention. But agreement, among so many, must mean compromise. It will be impossible otherwise; and if we try to accommodate so far as we can the interests of all the States and the groups of States. I do not think that anyone in any group, or singly, can hope to achieve everything that he wants.

I should like to say to your Lordships that we do not consider that it is wise to take too-rigid decisions now on all the questions at issue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, who said he hoped I would not say too much; but in deference to those who have taken part in this debate I must try to deal with the main questions. We have worked closely in the preparatory work for the Conference, and we have put forward a number of possible solutions to the problems which will confront the Conference, a point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. Copies of the summary records of the proceedings of the Seabed Committee are available in the Library of the House, and I do not intend to repeat in detail what was said there. But there are certain general questions and a certain general approach with which I should like to deal.

First, we believe that law and order should be established, respected and obeyed on and under the oceans of the world. Secondly, and no less important, we are determined to protect the value of the oceans as channels of comunication and trade. As the House knows, the most important subjects to be discussed at the Conference are the following: first, the territorial sea, including rights of navigation; secondly, the jurisdiction of coastal States over the sea and seabed; thirdly, fisheries; and fourthly, marine pollution.

If we take the territorial sea first, we know that there will probably be a general demand that the limit to territorial waters be set beyond what we and many other States acknowledge at the moment—three miles. There are a few nations who, in recent years, have made claims to extend territorial sovereignty over the ocean to great distances from their shore, to as far as 200 miles. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked in particular which countries. They included, for example, eight countries in Latin America and there were others, mainly African, who made claims to almost as wide a territorial sea as 200 miles. China claims only 12 miles territorial sea for herself. She has gone on record in claiming that coastal States have the right to set their limits of territorial sovereignty or economic jurisdiction at whatever distances they choose. This means that unless some agreement could be reached on this matter, there would be absolute anarchy upon the high seas. A proposal has also been put forward for what is called the exclusive economic zone, or patrimonial sea, which has received widespread support among coastal and even some non-coastal developing countries. This is based on the idea of a 12-mile territorial sea and a 200-mile exclusive economic zone. This is to give some idea of the difference of approach to this matter among those who will take part.

Her Majesty's Government have said that we can agree to a limit—this is a territorial limit—of 12 miles as part of the Law of the Sea Convention, provided that there are provisions which ensure that there is no danger to existing rights of navigation and overflight by traditional routes, including straits. I wish to stress that we could not accept any such extension unless there was freedom of navigation through such major international straits; for example, Gibraltar, Malacca —which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek—Bab el Mandeb and Hormuz. I am referring to those which we feel are some of the most important at this moment. I could go on with a long list. Because, as the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, said, we are a major maritime Power, we have merchant shipping interests and defence interests which are absolutely fundamental to us, as they are to other maritime Powers. There is a f…rreat deal at stake here. I suggest that no successful conclusion to the Law of the Sea Conference is possible on the basis of the suggestions that have sometimes been put forward that the world's shipping and trade should be made subject to arbitrary regulation by coastal States. We also believe that nothing must be done by way of extending coastal States' economic jurisdiction, or jurisdiction over pollution control, for example, which will have the effect of making international navigation and maritime commerce more difficult or unnecessarily expensive. I need hardly say that this country will comply with international standards for the safety of navigation, and we expect others also to do so. This was referred to in some detail by my noble friend Lord Balfour, who is not only a master mariner, but is also, in case your Lordships do not know, a Cape Horner.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me about the United States and Soviet agreement on the avoidance of conflicts at sea. This is not a matter that will be dealt with at the Law of the Sea Conference, but we are considering with other States agreements on measures that we can reach together to avoid naval incidents. But our naval vessels comply with international regulations for the prevention of collisions at sea. If others obey these rules, there will not be anything like the danger of the incidents that we have now.

Now I should like to turn to the economic jurisdiction of coastal States over the sea and the seabed. This is one of the most difficult problems of all. We shall all become much more dependent on the oceans' living and mineral resources. We accept that the Law of the Sea Conference is likely to decide on an extension, in some form, of the economic jurisdiction of coastal States over the sea and the seabed. So far as the continental margin is concerned, this will clarify and confirm the provisions of the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf and subsequent decisions of the International Court. Your Lordships will recall that the Convention on the Continental Shelf gives coastal States sovereign rights over the shelf for the purpose of exploring it, exploiting its natural resources, mineral resources and sedentary species of fish. The Continental Shelf was then defined in that Convention as extending to a depth of 200 metres or, beyond that, to the limits of exploitability.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said that surely the common heritage of mankind's limits are shrinking rapidly. This is perfectly true, with the modern technology which we shall see being developed very quickly in the years ahead. Therefore the Conference will have to find a means of reconciling the idea of a common heritage with demands for what will be extensive national jurisdiction. Her Majesty's Government are opposed to any idea that national jurisdiction should extend over the deep seabed.

As regards the seabed beyond the area of national jurisdiction, we believe, as I have said, that we should not have national jurisdiction extending over the deep sea waters. Our proposals, which have been made in the Sea Bed Committee, provide for the exploitation of the mineral resources of the deep seabed by means of licences which would be issued by an international authority. This international authority would issue these licences to States, and the royalties which would come from this issue would be payable to the authority for use as might be agreed by a decision of all the world States. The object of this is to try to ensure that revenues are distributed in such a way as not only to benefit the maritime countries but also to benefit the developing countries. They are also designed to prevent individual States from laying claim to areas of the ocean floor.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, did not seem to like our proposals very much. I would only say that if you had what he was trying to advocate, which was a kind of World Authority or a World Government, you would have a situation where the World Authority would itself, presumably, have to undertake the exploitation and exploration of the deep seabed itself. We feel it might be years before such an Authority first of all could be agreed upon and, secondly, would itself acquire the highly technical and specialised knowledge that would be necessary. The point of the proposals which we have put forward is that they would mean that we should be able to start right away and that those countries which had the knowledge would in fact be able to start exploiting the seabed at once.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness allow me to ask her this question? Her own proposal was 400,000 squares. These squares would themselves be leased by a World Authority. Why should it take any longer to set up the kind of World Authority which could take on contractors direct than it would take to set up the kind of World Authority the Government have in mind which would lease out the squares to nation States?


My Lords, one of the main points is that if you lease the licences to individual States you will of course get royalties, which you will distribute, in proportion, to States which have no sea- board and which are land-locked, and which would therefore have an opportunity to share in these very important marine resources.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness explain to us why the licences should be issued only to States, whose environmental record in relation to land we already know, and not to scientific bodies or non-Governmental organisations?


My Lords, this is a matter of course which can be considered during the Law of the Sea Conference. I am discussing the proposals which we have put forward. We considered that it would be best for these licences to be issued to States because they in their turn will be able to consider to whom they should sublicense the Authority to do the exploration work. We thought this would be more likely to lead to organisations which have the experience—not just any organisation—and that they would come under some kind of control from each State. The State would of course in its own way come under the control of the Authority.

I did not understand why the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said firmly, first of all, that we should lose the Icelandic fisheries dispute and secondly, that our White Paper was very hard. Our White Paper is a clear record of what has happened up to a certain date. It was not concerned with discussing the Law of the Sea Conference. It is called The Fisheries Dispute between the United Kingdom and Iceland. And I think that fisheries themselves will be an extremely controversial matter at the Law of the Sea Conference.

There are certain principles in fisheries which we as a Government definitely accept. We accept that coastal States should be enabled to increase their share of the catch in their own waters, which is exactly, as noble Lords will know, what we have offered to Iceland in the White Paper. But it is one thing for coastal States to negotiate for a fair settlement, giving them advantages and preferences, and quite another for them either to demand or by themselves, with complete disregard to the rights of others, to extend their fishery jurisdiction so that the whole catch in a given area should suddenly be reserved exclusively for them—and this after a period, lasting perhaps centuries, in which other nations have fished those waters. Neither this country nor, I believe, any other distant water fishing nation can simply abandon its distant-water fishing fleets, although of course we are always searching for new fishing grounds and for new species of fish which will be acceptable to the consumer.

The 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas states that the freedom of the High Seas includes the freedom of all nations to fish in them: and the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone does not include the creation of jurisdictional zones stretching further than 12 miles from the base line. Of course, the point of disagreement with Iceland (to re-state it just briefly) was that we both had an agreement in 1961 which provided that if it was felt that the limits should be extended and we could not agree on them, then we should go to the International Court of Justice. Iceland has repudiated the International Court of Justice, and this is one of the main points causing us all difficulty. Quite apart from this dispute, when we go into the Law of the Sea Conference, whatever decisions we may by agreement and compromise arrive at, we shall also have to agree by agreement and by compromise how we can enforce any such agreement. If any State is going to disregard what is in fact the highest Court of the United Nations, it will be very difficult for us to succeed fully in any area.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me in connection with fisheries what we are doing, as he put it, to put more teeth into the regional fishery commissions. We think they are very important and that is why we were very sorry indeed—and we said so in the White Paper—that the otherwise unanimous wish of the members of the North-East Atlantic Fishery Com- mission to give the Commission powers to draw up a catch limitation quota system with preferences for coastal States, was repudiated by Iceland herself. We regard that as very unfortunate. Of course we ourselves agree on limitations on net and mesh sizes, types of gear, catch limitations and area closures.

My Lords, I do not wish to speak for too long, but as both my noble friend Lord Balfour and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, spoke about marine pollution I should like briefly to refer to it. As a country which borders one of the busiest international straits in the world, where we had the "Torrey Canyon" disaster in 1967, we very much feel the effect of the danger to marine pollution in coastal States. We have worked hard within the International Maritime Consultative Organisation for international agreement to control pollution, and we shall continue to do so. I would here thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for congratulating Her Majesty's Government on convening the London Dumping Conference. We shall also be hosts to the Marine Pollution Conference which will be held in London in the autumn of this year.

So far as the Law of the Sea Conference is concerned on this matter, we do not expect it to work out new specific regulations, but we expect to try to work out a framework in international law which will help the development and the enforcement of measures of international pollution control. In order to get this accepted we must have these measures internationally agreed. Otherwise we shall have a situation where a coastal State can make arbitrary regulations of its own choosing, and this would result in a very confusing patchwork of conflicting regulations all over the world and be a great risk to shipping and, indeed, to the environment.

My Lords, I should like to end by referring to someone referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in his opening speech, namely, Hugo Grotius, because, after all, it was he who 350 years ago, first came forward with the doctrine of the mare liberum—the free seas or the open seas. What is interesting to remember when we approach this Conference is that at that time it was a revolutionary idea. It was denounced by contemporaries and by no one so fiercely as our own John Seldon a whole generation later. It was said to be little more than a cover for the mercantile aspirations of the Dutch. But this doctrine founded the freedom of the seas under which we have lived for the past three centuries. I believe that it is no accident that this régime, which was the foundation for the 1958 Geneva Conventions, has coincided with a period of unprecedented growth in international commerce and wealth and in the exchange of ideas; and with a period of historic economic, social and political progress. Therefore I suggest to the House that I believe the nations of the world will do their real long-term interest great harm if, after three centuries, they return to some version of a closed sea. That being so, it is our aim at Santiago to negotiate for agreement which will be both balanced and, I hope, fair.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, as is customary I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting debate, which I believe was worth while. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord George-Brown for re-emphasising some of the points I made before he came in, and my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder for his unparalleled breadth of vision which he always brings to bear on this great problem and—from one thing to another—the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, also for a most useful and down to earth speech which could only have been made by a sailor—and how good it is when one hears one of those in a lofty discussion.

The noble Lord, Lord Caradon, was right to remind us of that remarkable man, Ambassador Pardo, who really started all this. I thought the moral of that was that if you want to affect the world, first be half Swedish and, second, get yourself made the Ambassador of a very small country in the United Nations. You will then have a lot of education and a lot of time and that will help you to change the world.

My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, as President of the Royal Geographical Society, and I, as the political opponent of the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, watch her performance on these occasions from two separate angles: first, as she is one of the Vice-Presidents of the Royal Geographical Society and, second, in spite of her bouquet to Hugo Grotius (or was it a wreath?) I think I detected a change of language in what the Government are now saying. As we have Hansard we shall be able to study it to-morrow morning, but I thought at two or three crucial points there was a change of language which was welcome to many of us on this side of the House. Particularly—to use shorthand—it seems as though the Government are coming to grips with the problem of what you do about lex lata when lex feranda is different, because that is where we stand. I was sorry that she did not find anything to say about the fact that Canada and Australia have now joined the Opposition on these matters. I think that it is an important diplomatic fact; it seems to change the world situation rather crucially for us.

I would say in conclusion to my noble friend Lord Gardiner that I agree with him about World Government. It took us 350 years to get the United Nations, since Eméric Crucé first proposed it as we now know it in 1628. World Government itself has been proposed at least since St. Augustine. I am not sure that he got it right; I think myself that Louis Sohn in the late 1950s came rather nearer the mark but perhaps, as with animals, the greater the good the longer the gestation and we may still have hope. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.