HL Deb 26 April 1977 vol 382 cc515-42

8.50 p.m.

Lord KENNET rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are their objectives in the forthcoming session of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we turn now from a black and white matter which becomes complex the more you think about it to one which was born complex and in which there is nothing but grey. I put down my Unstarred Question this evening in the hope that the Government would take the opportunity of the pause between one session and the next of the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea to share with the House some of their thinking about the objectives they might set themselves in the next session which opens in New York next month. My theme throughout will be that the day of general freedom to do what you want on any part of the sea is passing, and there is an increasing need for régimes and rules to be exercised. Unfortunately, there is no political device yet known to the world which is capable of doing this in any field except the nation State, so we address ourselves here to the Government of one nation State which is a member of the great United Nations Conference concerned.

I should like to start by inquiring something about the structure of the Conference itself. We have read in the Press that there have been some informal meetings recently between certain members of the United Nations, to the exclusion of others, in which this country has taken part. We read also of the Evensen Group. Mr. Evensen is the relevant Norwegian Minister; and the Evensen Group is a gathering of developed countries to try and hammer out a common line of some kind. It will be good if my noble friend the Leader of the House can tell us what is the constitution of the Evensen Group. What are its terms of reference, and why does it appear to be so secret? What is against telling the world what is carried on in that group?

I should like to come immediately to the heartland of the whole matter, that is the control and management of fisheries in waters beyond zones of national jurisdiction; that is, way outside any coastal belt of any kind of jurisdiction of any State. We have to face the fact that the sea fishery commissions which exist here and there in the world have proven themselves manifestly incapable of doing this, of providing the degree of management necessary. The British Government argue the incapacity of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission as one of the reasons for making our own fisheries protection zone 200 nautical miles. That is realistic. The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission is not the worst in the world by any means, and there are plenty of parts of the open sea which are not covered by any such committee at all.

What would the Government like to get out of a United Nations Conference about this matter? This is not half as academic as it sounds. There is quite a world crisis going to come up in this field. We have had the statement of the Soviet Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Ishkov, who has told us that whereas last year the Soviet Union took 13 million tons of sea fish—that is out of a world total of somewhere between 50 million and 60 million tons —about a quarter of the total, in this year 6 million tons will be no longer available to them. That is because it has been closed off in some EEZ or other—ours is one of the very biggest of course.

Japan and Korea are in the same boat. The Korean catch is to be cut from 6 million tons to 330,000 tons in one year. This is because of Russian action in extending their EEZ into the Pacific. Nevertheless, the Soviet fishing fleet continues to grow. They have just placed an order for fishing boats in Poland which is unprecedented in the history of either country. Four years ago, in 1973, the Soviet fishing fleet was 5½ times the size of the Japanese fishing fleet, which was the second biggest in the world. All this is to be turned loose on the international high seas, the seas beyond national jurisdiction.

What do they believe in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union about what is going to happen? I can quote one phrase from an East European analyst of these affairs who described the official attitude in the European Communist Governments as follows: The official view is that further development of marine fisheries cannot be halted by a scarcity of marine organisms". This is either sheer folly or it is nothing at all. It is clearly sheer folly. If you believe that, you are either singularly ignorant or being completely blinded by somebody else for a partial purpose.

The next session of UNCLOS may be the last chance that we shall have for many years to make sense of this. Do the Government hope to get some régime out of it which will extend to fisheries beyond national protection zones? If so, what kind of régime? I profoundly believe that if we do not get something this time round we may run into an extremely severe nutritional crisis and crisis of ecological balance.

This brings me to my second general moral to which I want to point. It is embarrassing, awkward, complicated and, in some lights, unjustifiable to inject new topics into international conferences late in the day. But if a crisis arises during the functioning of an international conference which is within the power of that international conference, and nobody happens to have introduced it, it is better to swallow one's embarrassment and inconvenience and to introduce it as a topic even late in the day than to wait for 15 years—or 20 years on precedent—until the next United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea.

We are very lucky in this House—I have said this before in earlier debates—that it is my noble friend the Leader of the House who is answering these debates. He is not only the Leader and the Lord Privy Seal, but is also the Minister for co-ordination of maritime policy in general in the Government. That is a new and welcome arrangement. We have the best man to tell us the truth because these things cover all fields. Can my noble friend tell us what responsibility the United Kingdom Government undertakes for the protection and management of fisheries in the putative EEZs which do not yet exist of three places in particular—Bermuda, the Falkland Island Dependencies and the British Antarctic Territories? The last two are from where the krill comes. The krill is the last great easily tapped, but so far untapped, source of human nourishment.

Every kind of political, economic and strategic difficulty exists in this problem. Krill rots within two hours of being caught so refrigerated ships have to be used. This again is an UNCLOS matter. The United Nations Conference has to be the place where the legal framework is set within which exploitation can be carried forward. Do the Government hope to get an EEC policy on the exploitation of krill within the 200 nautical mile zones off the Falkland Islands and British Antarctic Dependencies? Will the exploitation be limited to the 12 signatories of the Antarctic Treaty? If not, is there hope of agreement among the 12 about who else to admit? These are difficult questions.

Next, what is our objective regarding the future definition of innocent passage through territorial waters? This is something which is going to get hotter and hotter because, looking into the future, one sees a growing rate of transport of liquid natural gas. An LNG tanker is the biggest form of potential chemical bomb known to the world. The explosion of such a thing could—it is said by those who understand it—in many circumstances be worse than a moderate-sized nuclear explosion. The LNG tankers which are now sailing the world are going to get old; and in due course they are going to constitute a risk of accident by sheer age. Will they continue to have the undoubted right to sail through our territorial waters? I should like to quote from a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Earl, Lord Inchcape, chairman of the General Council of British Shipping. Speaking recently, he said: Without being alarmist I should like to remind my audience that certain types of chemical and gas pollution would pose hazards to the environment far transcending the order of magnitude that massive oil pollution—a confounded and expensive nuisance it is—presents. Those are weighty words. Can we go on for ever?—because, of course, we have no control over pollution of the seas beyond our territorial waters except in the case of oil. Any other poisonous and revolting chemical can go through.

In relation to that, I think the whole House will welcome the initiatives taken by America and aided by Britain in IMCO very greatly to tighten the safety regulations for tankers. President Carter has said that if IMCO does not get a Convention through about this, America will unilaterally deny access to their ports to tankers which do not reach the safety standards they want. Nevertheless, UNCLOS is the place to provide the final legal framework, even for IMCO Conventions, and one hopes that this matter will be taken into consideration in that major United Nations Conference.

Another difficulty at the moment—and I do not know the answer: indeed I doubt whether anybody does—is the blow-out which is going on on the Bravo rig on the Ekofisk field on the Norwegian side of the North Sea. Do the Norwegians have the right under existing international law to close the waters above the Ekofisk field to navigation and peaceful passage? Indeed, would they have the right to close it to military passage by warships belonging to any Power in the world, including the Soviet Union? These matters remain largely undiscussed. I do not think they have come up in UNCLOS. We do not know what the Government want, and I hope they will tell us. What is our attitude towards the carrying out of military manoeuvres and exercises in waters getting closer and closer to our own coasts? It is a fact that NATO has published information showing that the Russian exercises are coming closer and closer to NATO coasts every year. That is under the old doctrine of the absolute freedom of the seas. It is getting a little uncomfortable, on the military side as well as on the ecological, pollution and fisheries side.

I should like to inquire about another topic: about an apparent inconsistency in the British Government's attitude towards other people declaring pollution control zones off their coasts. We read that the British Government objected to Argentina taking pollution control powers in their EEZ of 200 miles, but I do not think we objected to a similar action by Canada some seven or eight years ago; and we all know that we ourselves have taken pollution control powers on the high seas outside the waters which we claim as territorial, narrower though they be than those which Argentina claims. We have to face the fact that pollution is a negative economic factor and, above all, that we cannot continue to allow open access to polluters any more than we can to those dumping noxious chemicals. All that is in the past.

I should like to ask a very general question of the Government. I am sorry that there are so many: probably there will not be time to reply to them all, but there is an essence of Parliamentary life. We have taken up a stance, alongside the Americans and the Russians, in favour of the right of warships to pass through narrow straits, such as the Straits of Gibraltar, of Dover, the Malacca Strait and so on. How carefully do we look at this? Are we sure that it is really in British and American interests to stick to that ancient right and sustain it, in an era when the Soviet naval presence is growing at a colossal rate and our own is static, and knowing as we do that the Soviet Union have two straits to get out through—that is the Gut and the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Strait—whereas we and the Americans have no straits to get out through if we want to reach the high seas. Is it time to re-examine this?

Lastly, I would want to make a plea to the Government and ask them what they are going to do about a rather technical matter; that is, the question of getting amendments to international Conventions through by what we in the British Parliament would call Negative Resolution rather than Affirmative Resolution. It has taken nine years for the 1969 amendments to the IMCO Oil Pollution Convention of 1954 to come into effect. They will come into effect in 1978. Could we not achieve a system whereby, if a Convention is drafted and accepted by the negotiators, it comes into force automatically unless anyone objects, instead of having the present system whereby it comes into force only when enough people have explicitly agreed?

The burden of my Question this evening, and the prejudice behind it, is this: open access by everybody to everything has been reduced, is being reduced and ought to be reduced yet further. It is up to UNCLOS to provide the legal framework within which it may be reduced in an orderly and tension-free manner. Such a reduction is better—welcome as it will be—than the arising of disputes and disasters which we can see coming in the future. Will the Government please go for that in UNCLOS and not be shy about introducing any necessary new topics late in that Conference?

9.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for having put down this Unstarred Question and enabling us to discuss the situation reached at the Law of the Sea Conference at a timely moment—that is, about a month before the next session is due to resume in New York. I look forward to the Government's assessment, which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Peart, will be able to give at the end of this debate. I hope he will be able to tell us what the Government hope may be achieved in this coming Session, which is expected to last for about two months.

In a debate like this, one can touch only on certain subjects. I intend to speak on two of the matters which are before the Law of the Sea Conference and, fortuitously, they do not overlap the ones which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has raised. But I should like to make some general remarks to start with. First, this is a world conference of virtually every nation in the world—about 150 countries—and it is a novel and uncertain way of proceeding in negotiations when there are so many subjects under discussion. What is being aimed at is simultaneous negotiation among all the countries concerned, with the object of a consensus being reached on the text of a single Convention. That Convention is already in draft, and I would point out that there are some crucial matters which are completely missing from it while others are unresolved.

Many of the subjects are related, and one can see that that is a reason why they are being discussed together. For example, the proposal that a coastal State should have rights and responsibilities in a 200-mile economic zone is closely related to the freedom of navigation and the question of passage through straits, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred; and also, of course, to the control of a coastal State over pollution and the prevention of pollution.

But I am not sure whether this is the best way to proceed, and I suggest to your Lordships that this coming session of the conference may well determine whether or not this procedure is to continue. I say that because, if there is little progress at the coming session, there will be pressure for separating some of the main subjects from the others; that is, seeing whether agreement can be reached on some of the subjects, without having to delay conclusions on them until negotiations have been completed on all the others. If, on the other hand, as I hope, there were to be a single Convention covering all these subjects negotiated and perhaps not completed at this session, but in view and coming at a later session, then I can only say—I do not like the American word which has crept into diplomacy—that it would be a package which would surpass all other packages.

Probably the most important subject in the long-term which is before the conference is the question of deep-sea mining. This is a quite new enterprise, because it is only recently that technology has advanced far enough for man to be able to extract from the seabed the valuable metals that are lying there at great depths. But it is on the subject of deep-sea mining that much of the disagreement now exists, and there is clearly a limit to the delay which the United States, and other countries associated with it, having reached the stage where technology can carry out this mining, can endure. Unless there is considerable progress on that subject, the future of the conference as a whole may be in jeopardy. I am therefore very glad that it was decided that the first three weeks of this coming session should give priority to trying to get agreement on deep-sea mining.


My Lords, will the noble Lord agree—he knows a lot more about this subject than I do—that some of the heat has gone out of the deep-sea mining situation, since the world learned that Howard Hughes was not doing that but was raising a foundered Russian submarine for the CIA?


My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to comment on the noble Lord's very interesting speculation. But this is one of the two subjects which I intend to go into, so I shall say a little more about deep-sea mining. But the other question which I should like to deal with first, because it is an urgent one, is that of fisheries. I shall be dealing with a different aspect from the one with which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, dealt, because I start with the 200-mile fishing limits which have now been introduced. The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, knows, because he has been here during previous debates before the noble Lord, Lord Peart, joined us from another place, that for at least two years I have been predicting from this Bench that most of the fishing nations would together, acting in concert, move their fishing limits to 200 miles. This has happened during the last four months, so there is no surprise in that so far as I am concerned.

The question was how Britain would react in that situation. The countries concerned, including Britain, have together put into effect what has been agreed in principle at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference, because the principle of an economic zone extending for 200 miles has been agreed and is now waiting for the Convention, and many of the other matters, to be negotiated for enshrinement. In the meantime, however, the fishing industries of the world have found themselves in great difficulties. There has been a need for conservation without delay. Therefore the main fishing countries acted in concert, in accordance with what had already been agreed at the Law of the Sea Conference. Conservation was urgently necessary and it was agreed that coastal States should take on the first responsibility for it.

Where does this leave Britain? It means that, as a result, the EEC have fishing limits of 200 miles. Urgent action now needs to be taken by the British Government, together with our partners in the EEC, to enable our fishing industries, particularly the British fishing industry, to weather the drastic changes in fishing grounds and patterns which the new limits have caused. The large trawlers from Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood have fished mostly in distant waters—for example, off the coasts of Iceland and Northern Norway. These areas are now closed to them. However, they need not be closed, because it is possible for the EEC to negotiate reciprocal agreements with other countries and so retain at least some of the traditional fishing grounds for a limited number of our vessels.

This has to be an EEC negotiation. For example, I see no reason why there could not be an agreement with Norway, because the Norwegian fishermen fish for many species which are not in demand in our own country. Therefore their requirements are not exactly the same as ours, and it would be possible to negotiate reciprocal arrangements. I admit that it may be more difficult to negotiate with Iceland, but the first point is that it should be possible for the EEC still to negotiate some distant water fishing for our larger trawlers which at present are left in limbo because their traditional grounds have been taken away from them.

The second point is that there should be agreement on a régime within the EEC's 200 mile zone, a very large part of which is around our own coasts. May I emphasise that this concerns the large vessels from Grimsby, Hull and Fleetwood and not the small inshore boats. Our fleets are having to withdraw to their home waters and it is urgent that there should be a régime which can provide them with alternative fishing nearer home. It is also essential that there should be a régime to prevent overfishing not only by ourselves but by our partners in the EEC. Such an agreement should recognise that the United Kingdom has the largest fishing industry within the EEC which is catching fish for human consumption.

Quotas and exclusive coastal bands are necessary. The Government have indicated that they have been trying to get an exclusive coastal band of up to 50 miles in places, varying to 12 miles. But time is passing and this is an urgent matter. With every week that passes, more of the larger vessels in the ports which I have mentioned are being laid up, the ancillary industries are suffering as a result and jobs are disappearing. It may be difficult to bring back the activity and the jobs if an agreement is not reached in a year or two. Therefore, this is the urgent and important business for the British Government which has arisen from the conference so far.

Having been Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has great experience of this problem. I remember the notable marathon sessions in which he participated in Brussels. He knows, therefore, what negotiation in the EEC is all about. May I ask him to impress upon his colleagues in the Government the crucial need for us to act in order to obtain quickly a régime within the 200-mile EEC zone which has resulted from the decision taken so far by the Law of the Sea Conference.

The other subject before the conference upon which I wish to comment is deep-sea mining. It is proposed that there should be an international sea bed authority to administer the areas of ocean beyond national zones or national jurisdiction. It has already been agreed that the substances on the sea bed in those areas are, to use the United Nation's phrase, "the common heritage of mankind". All countries should derive benefit from these resources, whether they be maritime countries or whether they be land-locked countries; but the question of how this authority is to be financed has hardly been discussed at the conference yet, and the question of how much control over the mining operations the authority should have has caused serious differences to arise between the delegations, mainly between the industrialised countries with companies in consortia which are developing the technology and on the other side the under-developed countries. I think it could be said that the United States of America has the greatest interest in this matter. It certainly has the greatest expertise, and we and other countries, such as Japan and Germany, through mining companies are working with the Americans.

The fact that Dr. Kissinger led the American delegation at the last session, and that Mr. Elliot Richardson, a recent Ambassador to Britain, is leading the American delegation at the coming session, gives an indication of the importance which the Americans attach to this subject. Mr. Elliot Richardson has made it clear that the priority for the Americans will be the question of deep-sea mining. That is number one priority for them and virtually the other subjects depend upon a satisfactory result. I would just remind your Lordships that it is mining for nodules which contain nickel, copper, manganese and cobalt, to give the four main substances. These are metals which the world needs badly, and it is thought that there are more supplies of them on the floors of the oceans than can be found altogether on land.

I understand that the preparations by the consortia have had considerable effort behind them and have been costly, and the consortia are ready. Surely it would be folly if the majority of the nations of the world were seriously to delay the start of new ways of obtaining rare and sought-after metals by prolonged argument about the procedures and the distribution of benefits. The question of principle has been agreed. There is no disagreement that all the countries of the world should benefit from these new resources. There are many other subjects before the conference and I have simply chosen two of them because there is certainly not time in this debate to touch on others; but I hope the British Government will support the United States in an effort to obtain soon agreement to enable deep-sea mining operations to start. The world as a whole will benefit from this new source of essential raw materials.

9.23 p.m.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, in this short debate I should like to touch on one or two matters about which noble Lords have already spoken, but I should be most interested to hear from my noble friend the Leader of the House just what is the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the danger of further unilateral action. We have taken unilateral action in consort, so far as we are concerned, with the European Economic Community on fishing, but what we have at the moment I think could fairly be called an EFZ rather than an EEZ: in other words, we have an exclusive fishing zone rather than any clear concept of what the exclusive economic zone should really portend.

Some of us who are interested in matters other than fishing—important as fish may be—are deeply concerned as to what these provisions could be, including of course the possible restrictions on scientific research which I have mentioned before, which could be a damaging attitude on the part of the State concerned. Also there is the matter briefly touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, of pollution control, which could also be used advantageously or very disadvantageously according to the circumstances and attitude of the State concerned.

My noble friend mentioned the fact that the United Kingdom has refused to recognise the claim by Argentina to have complete control of pollution within their 200-mile zone. He suggested that the Canadians had acted comparably earlier on. I think I am correct in saying that the Canadians did so only in respect of certain particularly ecologically fragile zones rather than as a general action. I may be incorrect on this, but my impression certainly was that the Canadians did not claim exclusive rights other than in areas where there was a particular ecological reason for so doing. The whole question of the legal regime within these zones seems to me to be extremely unclear in every matter other than fish, and I am wondering what attitude the United Kingdom delegation is proposing to take.

The other matter on which I would very much welcome some comments from my noble friend is the question of the European Economic Community participation, because I have here—I am sure other noble Lords have seen it—the report of the Legal Affairs Committee to the European Parliament on the question of the participation of the EEC as an entity in the negotiations on the UNCLOS. I have been reading, I must confess for the first time, part of the text of the letter which was sent in September 1976 by the Chairman of the Netherlands delegation on behalf of the Council of Ministers of the Community, in which he draws attention to the fact that future Conventions on the law of the sea being drawn up by UNCLOS contain both provisions which the Member States themselves are empowered to endorse and provisions on questions in respect of which the Member States have transferred their powers to the Community. It is under the latter provision, of course, that we have taken action on the fishing limits, but there are many other subjects, and I wonder in which of them, if any, are we contemplating that the EEC, rather than the United Kingdom as one of the participants, is expected to negotiate or to take action.

This report to the European Parliament spells this out in a certain detail, and it might perhaps be helpful if I read a little further. I am reading from paragraph 23 and following paragraphs of the report: As a result of the fact that powers have been transferred, the Community Member States may not enter into commitments towards third countries in matters that pertain to the Community. It is essential therefore that these commitments be entered into by the Community, which implies that it must become a party to the future Convention simultaneously with its Member States. This demand that the Community be enabled to act independently in certain sectors clearly does not simply reflect internal arrangements for the division of powers between the Member States and the Community; it is also a response to the need to give third countries that are signatories to an international agreement a legal guarantee that they are dealing with an opposite number who is in a position to fulfill all commitments undertaken towards them". The report continues, in paragraph 26: It is essential, however, that the Community's competence in this matter should be confirmed by an EEC clause inserted in the Convention". That is in the UNCLOS Convention, as the subject of the Law of the Sea Conference. Then a form of words is proposed that would not in fact refer directly to the EEC as such, but would refer to, Customs unions, communities or other regional economical integration groupings exercising powers in the areas governed by this Convention …". This may have some particular significance in the matter referred to especially by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy; that is to say, the proposal for the international seabed authority for the exploitation of minerals.

It is further claimed that it is the Community that should be the representative of the Member States on any international seabed authority which might be established and of all organs established by that authority. It would be extremely helpful to Members of this House if my noble friend was in a position to let us know just how we stand on this matter. I have not studied the matter in depth and I would not pretend to judge, but I should like to know to what extent we are taking these matters into account.

As regards the exploitation of minerals, I should also like to know how far we are proposing to pursue the proposal for the parallel system and the banking of particular areas of the seabed on a 50–50 basis—one half in effect going to the industrialised or developed countries of the world and the other half being kept in trust for the areas which are not sufficiently developed to be able to exploit. That has a good deal to commend it, but I do not think that it has commended itself very strongly to the group of 77. If it has not, what practical method can one devise for the equitable, efficient and effective exploitation of mineral resources?

There are a number of other issues which I could, of course, raise but they have been raised before in earlier debates on UNCLOS. As noble Lords will know, all three contributors to this debate so far have close connections with the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution of the Seas. In the past we have pleaded very strongly and have had some influence on Her Majesty's Government in changing the emphasis that they have adopted as regards the matter of port State jurisdiction rather than Flag State jurisdiction in dealing with questions of pollution control. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Kennet referred to President Carter's recent declaration. It is not in a sense port State control because, after all, he was dealing with the domestic harbours of the United States. However, he proposes much more stringent conditions for oil tankers than have been proposed by IMCO. If his propositions are carried out, they will mean a considerable degree of action on the international oil front. I should be very interested to know the attitude that Her Majesty's Government are taking on this as a manifestation of unilateral action taken by one State, if one is unable to obtain satisfactory arrangements, both legal and for enforcement, in the international shipping community.

Those are the main matters in which I am interested. However, I would also ask that we be given some indication as to what line of general policy Her Majesty's Government are taking in view of the fact that it will be almost impossible, however optimistic one may be, to reach anything but the most general consensus on a great many of these matters. Therefore, what alternative policy might the Government be considering? A great deal could be done on a regional basis if one had even the most general international conclusion. That would not apply to some specific things, such as the exploitation of seabed minerals. Therefore, should one try to excise from a Convention certain areas on which one must have much more precise international agreement, and try to work towards a possible consensus over certain matters, which could then be dealt with not necessarily on the full international front but on a regional front? Pollution control is one of the possible areas in which this might be done. We should like to know how Her Majesty's Government are reacting. After all, this is the sixth meeting to be concerned with these affairs. None of us, even the most optimistic, can feel any great confidence that a completely comprehensive consensus can possibly be reached. What alternative methods, therefore, do Her Majesty's Government have in mind?

9.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with others in thanking my noble friend Lord Kennet for opening this subject tonight. He has taught me something about Parliamentary procedure.


I cannot believe it.


It is generally my custom to put questions to the Front Bench after a conference has met, sometimes criticising and sometimes commending. He has taught me tonight how useful it is to discuss an agenda before a conference has met. The last conference was held in October last year. I think generally the impression was one of disappointment. It did not realise all the hopes that we had in mind. It dealt with the subject not only of the limit for fisheries but of the limit of the economic zone. It is quite true, as the noble Lord speaking from the Opposition Front Bench said, that there was an agreement in principle about a 200-mile limit. While there was that agreement in principle, no Convention has been agreed to that effect.

We are now in the rather strange situation that a few months ago we conducted naval action aeainst Iceland for unilaterally deciding its fishing limits; and now unilaterally this country, the European Community and the United States of America have all fixed their 200-mile limit before any international Convention has been signed, accepted, ratified. As we begin to approach this conference next month we have first to hope that the confusion about this situation, both about fishing limits and economic limits, shall be decided in an international manner so that no longer separate nations will be taking unilateral action.

Despite disappointments some progress was made by the conference in October, not only in accepting the principle of a 200-mile limit, but on one subject about which I put many questions and about which I felt keenly; namely, that the nations which do not have any sea borders should also have the advantage of international law in the exploitation of the riches under the oceans. One is glad to know that at the last conference the participation of what are called the landlocked States was recognised. That one appreciates and welcomes. But the major difference at the last conference in October—as was emphasised, almost alone, by Lord Campbell—was on how the vast minerals under the oceans are to be used in future.

The United Nations has laid it down that the oceans should be regarded as the heritage of mankind. If that principle is accepted, the enormous riches under the oceans should also be used for the benefit of mankind. It was on that issue at the last conference that the major difference occurred, and recognition has now been given to that fact by the decision that the first three weeks of the coming conference shall be devoted to this, the most fundamental issue of all.

It was decided at the last conference that an international body should be established and that it should have an operational arm which would seek to process minerals under the oceans on behalf of the developing, the poorer nations of the world. That operational arm was, delightfully, named "The Enterprise". Then the difficulty began. The industrialised nations of the West, led by America, emphasised that the exploitation of the minerals under the oceans should be done by the great multinational companies, which are based largely in the United States. But the 100 developing countries represented at the conference said, in effect, "No. These riches under the oceans should not be exploited for the benefit of private enterprise but for the benefit of mankind as a whole"; and they said that the international authority should itself develop these great mineral resources and that the outcome, the wealth, should be used for mankind as a whole and distributed between the different nations.

That was the issue discussed at the last conference, and that is the issue which will be discussed at the coming conference. I suggest to Her Majesty's Government, a Labour Government, that they should accept the principle that the wealth under the oceans should be operated under an international authority employing the best technical aid in the world, financed by an international fund, for the benefit of the whole world, instead of being operated by multinational companies on behalf of the private profit of great financiers and industrial tycoons.

At the last conference it was suggested on behalf of the United States that the areas of mineral development under the oceans should go half under international authority to mankind, and half under the control of multinational companies to the profit of private companies. I very much hope that the representatives of our Government going into this coming conference will stand for Socialist principles and for international principles, and for the view that the great minerals of the earth should be developed under international authority—yes, employing the best technical advice and executive powers that can be obtained; yes, being financed by an international fund; but, at the end of it all, the wealth which is under the seas shall be used for the benefit of mankind. That is the deep, fundamental principle underlying the coming conference. It is the principle which is behind nearly all the discussions which are now taking place in national and international affairs. Shall the wealth of the world be used for the world, or shall it be exploited by private companies for the benefit of the great tycoons who come from particular nations?

That is the issue that we have to face at this coming conference and I hope that, at that conference, the representatives of Her Majesty's Government—a Labour Government whose principles are Socialist and internationalist—will stand for the idea of the wealth of the world being used for the good of the world.

9.47 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that my noble friend who has just spoken so eloquently will understand that I agree basically with his approach. I think that he was under a misunderstanding. I was putting my notes on the table and preparing to answer in a constructive way.

I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Kennet, for initiating what I thought was an interesting debate. It is a great pity that it did not begin earlier for I believe that this is a very important matter, as he and the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have spoken have recognised. I wish to comment on many matters but, before I do so, I should like to offer some indications of the way in which the Government will approach the forthcoming Session of the Law of the Sea Conference. Indeed, the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have spoken all want to know what will be our approach.

The Sixth Session of the Law of the Sea Conference begins in New York on 23rd May and lasts until 8th or 15th July. The Government's principal objective will be to continue to work hard for the successful conclusion of the Conference and for the adoption—if possible, by consensus—of a Convention on all the subjects before it. And, of course, we shall also wish to ensure that such a Convention accords with the United Kingdom's interests on particular items. We shall be making a special effort to achieve real progress on questions concerning the international seabed regime, and this issue will be highlighted during the first two or three weeks of the Session. We do not want failures or long drawn-out discussions.

This House has taken several opportunities over the past year to consider the question of this important Conference. If I may refresh the memory of noble Lords, an Unstarred Question was put down on 9th March last year, before the Fourth Session of the Conference; a debate on 19th May followed the conclusion of the Fourth Session; as well as questions on 14th July, (before the Fifth Session) and on 11 th October (following the Fifth Session of the Conference). The present debate gives us a further opportunity to consider the question of the Conference, and British policy at it.

As my noble friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said on 11 th October 1976, the overall achievements of the Fifth Session, which ended on 17th September last year, were disappointing. I was reminded of this by the speech of my noble friend Lord Brockway. But we believe that, given realism and the will to succeed on all sides, the main outstanding issues should be capable of solution at the sixth session when it begins next month. We shall be seeking to promote such a will to succeed, and shall be discussing ideas which we hope will achieve this.

As I have already indicated, the issue on which there is the greatest need for progress is the régime for exploiting minerals of the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction. There is agreement on this on all sides of the House. There is an urgent need for progress on this particular item. Accordingly, we welcome the intention of the President of the Conference that the Conference should concentrate on this subject during the first two or three weeks of the sixth session, at head of delegation level.

The present situation can be summarised as follows. The Revised Single Negotiating Text, now before the Conference, provides for the so-called parallel system to which my noble friend Lord Kennet has referred. Under this system, exploitation of the nodules lying on the deep seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, may be carried out by an Enterprise which will constitute the operational arm of the International Seabed Authority. When I refer to an Enterprise I should say that this is the name for an organisation which will itself undertake deep-sea mining operations or will undertake joint ventures with States and/or companies. The Enterprise is yet to be set up, but the name is I think generally understood. Such exploitation would also be carried out by States which are parties to the Law of the Sea Convention and by companies sponsored by those States.

There is also provided what is called a banking system, which is designed to avoid the possibility of the developed countries snapping up all the best sites from the very outset. Under the banking system, any State or company which wishes to mine the deep seabed, will have to put in an application to the Authority, which shall grant a contract for only one-half of the area applied for. The remaining half will be retained by the Authority for subsequent exploitation, either by the Enterprise or by developing countries.

My Lords, while we do not believe that this system is ideal from the point of view of the United Kingdom interests, we have said that we are prepared in general to accept it. In addition, we believe that such a system will offer a number of significant benefits to developing countries.

First, it would establish a principle to which the developing countries attach great importance. This is that the International Seabed Authority should itself, through the Enterprise, undertake deep-sea mining operations. The system would also ensure that good sites were reserved for the developing countries and for the Enterprise. It would have the effect of allowing deep-sea mining to get under way as rapidly and as efficiently as possible. This would offer the Authority the opportunity to become self-financing at an early date on the basis of revenue-sharing between the Authority and the companies and States engaged in deep-sea mining.

In addition, soon after full-scale commercial operations start, the Authority should be able to build up sufficient revenues to share these out among States, notably developing countries. All these points represent matters of major interest to the developing countries, and the Government's willingness to support such a system demonstrates clearly our readiness to negotiate a regime for the exploitation of the deep-sea bed which is in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, stressed the importance of deep-sea mining. This is why I feel this is important as one of our aims.


My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point, may I ask him whether Her Majesty's Government would be supporting the proposal that half of the area of mineral resources under the oceans should be left to the exploitation of private companies?


My Lords, I would not commit myself at this stage, but I take careful note of what my noble friend has said. I should have thought, in view of the fact that I have emphasised the importance of enabling the developing countries to have a share in these great resources which have as yet not been developed, that that would have satisfied him; but, nevertheless, if he still presses I will take note of what he has said. I thought I had been constructive on this matter. I think all these points represent matters of major interest to the developing countries, and, as I have said, the willingness of our Government—my Government and the Government which I know my noble friend supports—to support such a system demonstrates, I think, our readiness to negotiate a régime for the exploitation of the deep-sea bed which is in accordance, as I have said, with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly.


My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend could take this opportunity to explain something which puzzles a great many people. He has described the banking system. Suppose the State member or the company which has one half of the square quite simply goes over and starts exploiting the other half. Who or what is to prevent them?


My Lords, this would be a matter for the Authority, and I think this could easily be coped with. Perhaps I may continue, because I have so much to say and so many replies to make to my noble friend's relevant and very constructive points, and indeed to my noble friend Lady White. I would say: let me get on with my speech. It is very late, and I have many points to make. I will certainly reply to noble Lords and to my noble friend Lady White if I miss any of the relevant points, but I will try to do my best. I am trying to explain the system which is there.

At a series of consultations in Geneva at the beginning of March, the developing countries made it quite clear that, although they were willing to focus the discussions on the parallel system and the banking system as represented in the negotiating text, they had a number of difficulties with the approach. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs attended part of these consultations. May I say to noble Lords that we urged the developing countries to accept the general framework of the system of exploitation set out in the negotiating text, and we made it clear that we were ready to discuss particular points of difficulty that arose within it. Some of the points which were raised were, for example, how to ensure that the Enterprise would secure the necessary technology and finance to be viable at an early date, and what arrangements should be made for a review of the system of exploitation after an initial period of 20 to 25 years.

The Government have since been examining these and associated questions in order to see what policy the delegation should follow at the next session of the Conference. I cannot go into all the details now; I know your Lordships will understand. I have dwelt at some length on the question of the system of exploitation of the deep-sea bed because I feel certain that it will dominate the negotiations at the next session, but there are, as noble Lords know, some other important issues. My survey of the Government's approach to the Sixth Session of the Conference would not be complete without some mention of them. In particular, on the important question of the status of the economic zone, which my noble friend Lady White mentioned, there is still some disagreement. But we hope that the solution of this problem will emerge during the next round of discussions based on the very promising ideas which were put forward at the last session of the Conference. In a nutshell, these would maintain the high seas freedoms in the economic zone except to the extent that they need to be modified by the resource and other rights of a coastal State in the economic zone. These rights are set out in the Convention.

On this, and on other such issues, the Government consider it important that the Sixth Session should build on the agreements which were being approached at the Fifth Session. If all States are willing to approach the work of the next session in a similar spirit of determination to find a satisfactory solution, I am confident that what appear to be significant difficulties at the moment will rapidly be overcome.

I hope that I have said enough to indicate that the Government will be approaching the Sixth Session of the Conference in a positive and realistic spirit. I should now like to turn to some of the points made by my noble friends.

My noble friend Lord Kennet asked me a specific question: What is the membership and terms of reference of the Evensen Group? At the earlier stages of the Conference, Mr. Evensen, the Norwegian Minister for Law of the Sea, whom I know personally, chaired discussions of an informal group of invited juridical experts to consider certain aspects of the law of the sea, notably the creation of economic zones. Subsequently, these informal meetings have been open to participation by experts from all States represented at the Conference and have dealt with a number of other subjects; for example, the Continental Shelf and marine pollution. The most recent meeting chaired by Mr. Evensen was held in Geneva last month to discuss the international seabed régime, when experts from about half of the States participating in the Conference were represented. In order to facilitate the negotiations, most meetings of the Conference's three main committees and their subsidiary organisations are informal and hence off the record. Mr. Evensen is following this practice.

I was asked another question: What is our objective in the control and management of fisheries in international waters, given the manifest incapacity of the International Fisheries Commissions to do it? I would say, with the extension of the fisheries limits, the role of the International Fisheries Commissions must radically alter because the responsibility for the management and rational utilisation of fisheries within waters under national jurisdiction is a matter for coastal States. Organisations such as the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), the International Commission for North-West Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF), have already held a number of preparatory meetings to consider what changes should be made in their constitutions in the light of the general extension of fishery limits. We believe that these organisations will continue to have a useful, though much-reduced, role to play in the conservation and management of resources which are fished beyond national limits, and in reviewing the totality of measures applied to stocks in the conservation areas.

I was asked: What is our objective as regards the future definition of "innocent passage" through territorial waters or EEZ? Would it, when there are such things, be innocent to go through, for example, with a second-hand liquid natural gas carrier? This is an important question put by my noble friend Lord Kennet. Our objective there is to clarify the concept of innocent passage in the territorial sea. We consider that on the basis of the Revised Single Negotiating Text, the likely outcome would be a satisfactory balance between a coastal State's rights to prevent and control marine pollution in its territorial sea and a ship's rights to pass freely through the territorial seas of the world.

The position with respect to the EEZ is different. Innocent passage as such does not apply here, since there should be general freedom of navigation as on the high seas. Here our objective is to ensure that the Convention states that the high seas freedom of navigation exists in the waters. It is, of course, not possible to deal with particular cases here, but we would not wish to see unseaworthy ships sailing anywhere. Therefore the United Kingdom has taken the lead in IMCO to make the enforcement of safety Conventions more effective, with particular emphasis on substandard ships.

With respect to pollution offences, which I was asked about, the United Kingdom has consistently pressed the Law of the Sea Conference that a Flag States' obligations with respect to its own ships should be supplemented by a comprehensive scheme of port State enforcement of internationally agreed discharge rules. We consider that the RSNT broadly reflects the proposals put forward by the United Kingdom at the 1975 Geneva session of the Conference.

Another important matter which has not just been raised by noble Lords but on which I have received representations elsewhere: I have been asked on many occasions what is our objective about the protection of seabed exploitation rights? What has happened to the Dr. Kissinger idea of parallel exploitation? I referred to the so-called parallel system of exploitation of deep sea-bed minerals in my opening remarks. It provides for the exploitation of such minerals by both the Enterprise which is the operational arm of the International Seabed Authority, and by States and their companies. This system, which has been strongly supported by Dr. Kissinger and ourselves on a number of occasions, is incorporated in a negotiating text currently before the Conference. We hope and expect it will form the basis of negotiations at the coming session.

Again, I have been asked: what is our attitude to the regulation of research by foreign vessels within the EEZ's of nation States? What is it towards the registration of intended research with United Nations or regional authorities? Would this be enough, for example? The Government believe that the new convention should provide for the maximum freedom to conduct marine scientific research beyond the territorial sea, subject to the rights of coastal States over resources on the Continental Shelf and in the economic zone. Many developing countries, on the other hand, wish all marine scientific research activities within the economic zone and on the Continental Shelf to be subject to the consent of the coastal State.

Intensive discussion was devoted to this issue at the fifth session, and a number of possible texts were proposed. However, by the end of the session little progress had been made towards a generally acceptable compromise text, and thus we shall be returning to this question at the sixth session. The chairman of the Third Committee of the Conference in his report on the work of the Committee at the last session noted: There is a generally shared understanding that the consent of the coastal State should constitute the fundamental principle for regulating the conduct of marine scientific research in the economic zone and on the Continental Shelf". There are no provisions in the Revised Single Negotiating Text of intended research within the United Nations or with regional authorities. Control of research in the EEZ under the terms of the proposed Convention rests with the coastal State, though it is always stated that consent should not be withheld in certain defined cases.

The Government are satisfied that is right. I was asked also about a matter which affected Argentina's declaration of a 200-nautical-mile pollution zone while we did not object to a similar action by Canada and have ourselves taken pollution control powers on the high seas outside our territorial waters. Dealing with a broad question of that kind, I would say that under international law the sovereignty of a State extends to the outer limits of the territorial sea; but while the Revised Single Negotiating Text envisages a maximum territorial sea of 12 miles, Argentina has claimed for many years a territorial sea of 200 miles breadth. It is United Kingdom policy to reserve our rights when countries attempt to establish territorial seas of greater breadth than that provided for in international law.

I know that this is a very detailed matter, but the British Government also reserved their right on the 1970 Canadian Act to prevent pollution to areas of the Arctic waters adjacent to the mainland and the islands off the Canadian Arctic. I assume those people who have approached me on this matter are referring to that. There are, however, provisions in the Revised Single Negotiating Text on pollution from vessels in ice-covered areas within their economic zones which, if included in a generally accepted Convention, will change international law in this area. I could develop that much further but time is slipping by and I think I ought to bring my remarks to a conclusion.

There is one important matter dealing with archipelagic seas. The question is: is it true, for example, that the Soviet Union have accepted the Indonesian definition, and have we? I would say that the Revised Single Negotiating Text provides for a special régime for oceanic archipelagoes, for example, Indonesia, the Philippines and Fiji. In particular, it provides for special rules for an archipelagic sea lanes passage for drawing baselines. The British and Soviet Governments are prepared to accept as part of an overall package the creation of a special régime for archipelagic States along the lines of the Revised Single Negotiating Text. Some details of the régime are still under discussion, including some amendments desired by the Indonesians. I think we should act robustly. We should back up our policy and state what we wish to achieve. We are doing this, and I think that our stance is right in the circumstances.

I have not dealt specifically with fish tonight, which was a topic raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I agree that it is important that we should establish our rights here. We dealt with the controversy which we now see in Europe over the 50-mile limit around our shores, the 12 to 50 miles, and I know that our fishermen feel very strongly about it. The noble Lord represents an area which is particularly interested in the subject, and when I think of his previous responsibilities as Secretary of State for Scotland I understand why he feels passionately about it. He has our assurances that we shall do all we can to ensure that our fishery position is protected. But in the end we must act internationally.

My noble friend Lady White asked: what is our position now that we are in the Community? I believe that our negotiating position within the Community gives us strength. I have argued that since I first became convinced that we should adopt a Community attitude. On the other hand, we have also sought to protect our own position and I do not think there is any conflict here. So far, none has arisen. But at the Law of the Sea Conference we must be firm and, above all, we must keep those main objectives which I mentioned earlier. I do not want to be put in a defensive position. I want our Government to act constructively, so that we can go ahead and define a common EEC position, even in the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference.

Member States have adopted agreed positions on many of the main issues before the Conference, and the fisheries article is one example, while the EEC has spoken on a number of topics discussed at the Conference, on behalf of Member States. So I do not think there is any real conflict here. Of course, I cannot reveal the details of the Community's negotiating position at this stage. I have tried to indicate our own approach, but, in the end, I believe that being in the Community will give us strength.

I am sorry that I have not covered every point, but I will write to noble Lords who have put questions which I have not answered. Time is getting on and I have been speaking for half an hour. But I have tried to inform noble Lords, and, above all, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Kennet for raising this important debate. It is a great pity that we have not had more present here tonight. We had an earlier debate which was well attended, but I really think that in many ways this debate has been much more important.