HL Deb 21 May 1980 vol 409 cc955-1004

4.54 p.m.

Lord RITCHIE-CALDER rose to call attention to the need for conservation of antarctic marine living resources; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the spirit of short debates I shall keep my speech as short as possible, and I hope that that will be an example to other speakers, too. I set down this issue for debate because I regard your Lordships as the trustees for posterity, because I regard Britain's historic South Polar role and the responsibilities which go with it as being of manifest importance, and because perhaps uniquely in any Parliament of the world, we have colleagues personally and directly concerned with Antarctica. I am especially gratified that my noble friend Lord Shackleton is to take part in the debate.

The timing of the debate may be awkward for the Minister who is to reply, because the Canberra Conference of the 13 Antarctic Treaty powers, which was called to finalise a convention for the conservation of the living marine resources of the Antarctic, finished yesterday— and the signing was to take place then— and the Government may not have had an opportunity to evaluate the outcome. On the other hand, the Minister may be able to give us a stop-press report, and perhaps even some insight into the skulduggery which I gather went on behind the scenes.

I apologise for the inconvenience of the timing, but it was due to the luck of the draw in the ballot, and it serves as a reminder to the Government that Parliament and bodies with legitimate interests have had no insight into, nor opportunity to discuss, the terms of the convention which, I wish to point out, has been in process of drafting since 1977. In that year the Antarctic Treaty meeting recommended to the treaty Governments that a definitive conservation regime should be established before the end of 1978.

The negotiations have proceeded in complete secrecy ever since. In fairness to this country, I ought to say that in 1978 we proposed that the draft should be publicly available, but we were barred by the other members. The latest version was leaked by a delegate, from, I think, West Germany, and appeared in the international law journals, and, making a virtue out of necessity, our Government conferred with interested non-governmental bodies on 2nd April this year— too late for any effective input. On 30th April in the other place Mr. Douglas Hurd answered a series of relevant questions by my honourable friend Mr. Tarn Dalyell, the Member for West Lothian— much too late to modify the British case, had we so wished.

Your Lordships may feel, as I certainly do, that such conspiratorial methods of dealing with issues which concern the whole of mankind— I repeat, the whole of mankind— and not just the club of states which claim squatters' rights in Antarctica, are to be deplored. I contrast that with the regular availability of negotiating texts and with the open sessions of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. All right; I, too, have been exasperated by the long-drawn-out negotiations on the law of the sea— partly due to a right of intervention— but at least all countries, representing all peoples, and the intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations as well, have had their say in how the "common heritage of all mankind" should be managed and safeguarded.

That is not so in the case of Antarctica, which is equally, and crucially, a part of the common heritage of all mankind— crucially because it is not just a hunk of ice, albeit one-and-a-half times as big as the United States, but because it is a powerhouse of climatic forces and oceanic currents and a reservoir of life systems which affect our entire planet.

That crucial role of Antarctica's was recognised in the programme of the International Geophysical Year (1957–58) which was, I may point out, the greatest international scientific enterprise ever undertaken. During the IGY 12 countries— the seven countries with formal territorial claims to Antarctica: Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom; plus Belgium, Japan, South Africa, the USA and the USSR— carried out Antarctic scientific programmes of unprecedented scope. All states working in Antarctica were allowed to place scientific stations anywhere on the continent, irrespective of territorial claims. Over 40 scientific stations were established. The result of this co-operation and exchange of information was highly gratifying and scientifically rewarding. So much so that the United States, in a euphoric mood at that time, 1958, proposed to the other participants that they should join in a treaty to preserve the continent as an international laboratory for scientific research and to ensure that it would be used for peaceful purposes only.

The resulting Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 and became operative in 1961, when all the 12 signatory powers (called "consultative members", as the people originally involved) had ratified it. Later, in 1977, Poland, after establishing a scientific station in the South Shetlands, was admitted as a consultative member. Only consultative members have full voting rights, but (without voting status) Czechoslovakia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Romania, East Germany, Brazil, Bulgaria and West Germany have since acceded to the treaty, and others are trying to get in.

My Lords, let me be clear. Although it is a club— and I emphasise that invidious term, if you want to put it that way— pre-empting a common heritage and exclusively administered by the 13 consultative members, the Antarctic Treaty regime over the intervening period has a creditable record of having ensured genuine scientific co-operation— I know of no breaches— with, incidentally, the right of access of all parties to the activities of the others, and giving a high priority to the protection of wild life.

My Lords, one also recalls gratefully the provisions of the treaty that Antarctica was to be used for peaceful purposes only, and that all measures of a military nature, including the testing of weapons, all military manoeuvres and all questions of the establishment of bases, were banned. Nuclear explosions and the disposal of nuclear wastes were expressly banned; and, interestingly, the USSR and the USA, in this case for the first time, agreed to on-site inspection of the installations as an insurance against unauthorised military activity.

Two developments now threaten the intentions and the integrity of the Antarctic Treaty, and both, if I may say so, are inherent in the convention which has been negotiated in Canberra. One— krill— is explicit; the other— oil— is implicit. The third— exploitation of mineral resources; that is to say, hard mineral resources— lurks round the corner. One of the main concerns of this convention is in fact the krill. Krill is a fascinating subject. I hope it will be developed by others in this debate, but if you want to know all about it and a great deal more about what is happening in the Antarctic, I recommend to your Lordships a fascinating book, The Management of the Southern Ocean, by Barbara Mitchell and Richard Sandbrook.

Krill is a small, shrimp-like creature which abounds in the Antarctic Ocean. It is a base food of whales, seals, penguins and fish. Of its nutritive value, there can certainly be no doubt. Just look at a 100-ton whale! Indeed, in my first enthusiasm for krill, coupled with my concern for the hungry world, I proposed a mechanical whale; a submarine with gaping jaws which would scoop up krill shoals by the ton and digest them into edible protein. It will not be as Jules Vernesean as that, but present-day catchers and existing catchers can supply mother ships which can process krill into table delicacies— krill-tails, like lobster tails; krill-sticks, like fish sticks; krill-mince and krill-paste— and also into krill-meal, which is a highly regarded form of animal feed.

The Eastern European countries have the means of fishing for krill in large quantities. In 1977 the Soviet Union had 133 mother ships of over 10, 000 gross registered tons. New models have been launched and gone into service since. With the difficulties of the 200-mile limits, which have happened in the meantime, and which are restricting their activities in conventional fishing, there would be relatively little difficulty in converting ships of that kind to krill- fishing in the Southern Ocean. Indeed, last year, 1979, 80 Eastern European ships of that kind were known to be operating in the Southern Ocean. Japan's dietary tastes (apart from the requirements of feeding stocks for animals) — Japan's table tastes, if you like— make her an obvious bidder for krill; China is building up a considerable distant-water fishing fleet; and Korea and Taiwan are already active and, indeed, are seeking greater access to Antarctic capabilities. They have in fact applied to be admitted to the club, as I would call it.

With the world population increasing by 170, 000 new mouths to be fed every day— that is the equivalent of 20 divisions of Martians arriving every day without their rations— obviously the need to increase world food supplies is growing and is increasingly urgent. The desperate shortage is in the Third World, and the Third World is not in the club of 13; nor has it the technological capacity to harvest and process the krill of Antarctica. So once again it is a case of "Unto them that hath shall be given", with the developed countries moving in and the really rich countries (including ourselves, whatever we may say about it) getting the krill-meal as their animal feed, as is done with the disappearing Peruvian anchovies, in order to feed their cattle, their pigs and their poultry— to get an additional food value, it is true, but also an additional price for these enhanced commodities. There is no organised way yet in which the Third World can participate now, nor share in the common heritage of krill; and the club of 13 is not accessible to the Third World, so that they can have no share in the management.

Anyway, just how abundant is the living resource of krill? That it is huge cannot be gainsaid, but the estimates vary by orders of magnitude, and the con- centrations and the distributions are considerably speculative. It is assumed that the krill population has increased— and there is some evidence that it has— with the decline of the whale population as we kill them off, but its other predators, I would point out, have increased. In other words, the whole ecology has to be taken into account. It is the balance of the species, not the identification and protection of individual species. One of the commendable features of the new convention was its recognition, at least in principle, of the ecology of this question, but I am afraid to say that that has become dangerously blurred in the draft and, indeed, in the convention, which was signed yesterday. I hope that I can leave others to develop such implications. My concern with the convention in general is that through its proper and desirable efforts at living resource management, it may be opening up the way to other forms of exploitation, managed or un- managed; for instance— and nobody has mentioned the word— oil.

That there are hard minerals in the land-mass of Antarctica is a geological certainty. Indeed, on the Nimrod Expedition (1907–09) which was led by the famous father of my noble friend Lord Shackleton, coal was found and burned by the expedition. But these hard minerals are inaccessible— until we get desperate for them. Not so offshore oil. It surely exists and is scarcely less accessible than the Arctic oilfields. The Daily Express as recently as Monday had a headline "Oil Island Under Siege" and said: The stark, windlashed, Falkland Islands, 7, 000 miles from Britain, is surrounded by Russians, Poles, Finns, Japanese and Americans ". You have to read deep into the article to know that what they were talking about was fishing and how they were coming away with catches which are said to be twice the size of all the rest of the world's hauls". But what the Daily Express was emphasising was that they were not there for the fish but for the oil.


My Lords, would my noble friend allow me to interrupt? There is as yet absolutely no proof of any kind that there is oil in the Antarctic. There is a possibility of favourable structures. That particular article was totally inaccurate.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that information. It reassures me, and I hope that it will also reassure others. Anyway, as I pointed out apropos the terms of reference, the Falkland Islands is not in the jurisdiction of the Antarctic Treaty. I want to point out, however (and my noble friend has conceded this), that potentially there is oil in the Antarctic and on the Antarctic off-shore.

I want to emphasise in advance of these potential discoveries that last year a conference of scientists concerned with Antarctica met at Bellagio in Italy and considered the impact that oil extraction might have on Antarctic wildlife. I make no aplogy when I say this, because I think that the more foresight we exercise in these debates the better: and, after all, my noble friend was my predecessor as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Oil Pollution at Sea which, I hope with foresight, is concerned with these things. At that conference, it was generally agreed that there would be little impact in the exploration and testing stages, but that there would be threats in the production stages from oil spillages, from tanker accidents, from incidents like ruptured oil pipes and from blow outs. This would affect the population of penguins, petrels, albatrosses and skuas. It would also affect the marine life, including the krill that we have talked about; and, if there were a possibility of development onshore, there would be flaring gas.

The scientific significance in these terms of Antarctica as a pollution-free environment, which the Antarctica Treaty anticipates, would be imperilled. I am not anticipating what the noble Lord will tell us in reply about the outcome of the convention which was signed yesterday; but I hope that the convention has been amended (although I suspect that it has not) in certain important particulars. Above all, I hope that the convention will succeed. I hope that the Club of 13 will be extended to include those who will have to be constrained to protect the living waters of Antarctica; and, whether we have a convention or not, that includes all the people who by the terms of the treaty itself have right of access to the high seas around these parts. We want them in. It is the only way to get control. I hope that we will see some recognition in the extended Club of 13 (by whatever means we can achieve it) of the Third World whose peoples ought to be the beneficiaries of the common heritage which is Antarctica. Above all, I want to see the Antarctic base secured against smash and grab by those who have come to regard it as a desirable piece of real estate, real estate with living and material wealth to be exploited and squandered. I ask your Lordships in the name of posterity to have regard to the subject that we are debating today. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.16 p.m.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, for drawing our attention to this important subject and, in the process, inventing a new tongue- twister, "She sells krill shells on the sea shore". Indeed, it is true that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, turned our minds southwards to the great wastes of the Antarctic just in time. If it is too late the blame will lie at our door and not at his. I say "at our door" because it will now be up to us to urge the importance of conservation in this area. It will be up to us to urge a proper scientific control of development in the southern ocean and the continent of Antarctica; it will be up to us to urge mankind to behave as mankind has never behaved before and allow reason to control greed. No longer shall we be able to claim ignorance of the danger which faces us because thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, we ken noo.


My Lords, I initiated a debate on this subject in this House in 1959.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I personally was not aware of that. I had not at that time joined your Lordships' House. But once again we have had brought to us the information which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, first brought to our attention and it deserves the thanks of all of us. Those of us who like me have joined in this kind of debate at a later stage will ken noo.

We know now what the problems are, but I doubt whether many of us are sufficiently well-informed about the problems confidently to suggest solutions. Even the experts are divided over the question of krill. Opinions seem to differ— opinions over exactly what quantities exist or what potential yields can be taken from the species. In the publication which has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, The Management of the Southern Ocean, the authors claim that, Without deliberate action, it will be a long time, if ever, before the international community, in the widest sense, benefits from the Southern Ocean ". They also claim that, In effect, the rapid growth in fish meal production in the sixties and early seventies is at an end despite some recovery in Peruvian output. The increasing need for fish for food will tend to limit the industry from finding supple- mentary sources for meal production ". At the same time we learn that at least 11 nations have planned, or are planning, an experimental programme of krill fishing and Japan, Poland and the USSR are already fishing regularly for krill. Experts also differ on what should be the sustainable krill catch and upon what addition this could make to the world supply of available protein. It is therefore at this point that we— as concerned politicians— should enter the argument and draw the attention of the world to the historical lessons which are there to be learned. We have seen what has happened to the herring shoals in the North Sea. I may not have been old enough to have been in your Lordships' House in 1959 but I certainly am old enough to remember the herring boats packing the harbour at Wick so that one could have walked across their decks, and also the barrels of salted herring going off to the Baltic to supply the Scandinavian taste for salt herring.

Our folklore and folk songs are full of references to the herring. It was the staple supply of protein for the Highlander and for many of the poorer people of Great Britain in the last century and the early part of this one. Yet we have managed with all our political sophistication to fish the herring out of being. We have managed to kill off these enormous shoals which even in my lifetime were around our shores. We have not managed among ourselves to achieve sufficient agreement between nations to restore herring shoals to anything like the sustainable capacity that existed at the beginning of the century.

Are we going to let this happen to krill? Are there not lessons there which we should learn before we turn our greed towards the southern ocean? I suggest also— and people more scientifically qualified than I can comment on this with profit— that krill is too far down the food chain to be the most suitable catch. If we catch it in great quantities we affect the whole food chain which develops from it. We have already heard that it supports seals, fish, squid, penguins, whales, sea- birds and so forth that live around the southern ocean. If we seriously affect the survival of this ingredient in the food chain, we also seriously affect the ability of all these other creatures to survive.

I for one feel that it would be preferable, if we are to predate upon the southern ocean, for us to predate upon a species higher up the food chain like some of the fishes that exist in that ocean, or, by establishing fish ranching on the lines now being done with the Pacific salmon on the West Coast of America and Canada, arrange a means of taking the sustainable yield from this source of protein supply. If we get it wrong and we are taking something higher up the chain, we do less damage than if we harvest something low down at the base of the chain and get the sums wrong.

If we are going to develop the southern ocean, I feel that we should at the same time take the opportunity of developing the communities which live around it. We should not as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has pointed out, allow this to be a place where the rich get richer and the fat get fatter. There are communities around the southern ocean— in particular the Falkland Islands— which could well be developed by increasing fishing and fish processing and possibly even some modest harvesting of krill for the support of fish-producing industries. No doubt exactly the same considerations apply to the southern tips of the African continent and the South American continent and also to Australasia. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that if people are going to benefit from these resources, the Third World should be included in the benefits. The Third World should be in our minds as these sources of food are developed.

Then there looms the threat to the Antarctic eco-system of possible oil and mineral finds. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has told us that the article in the Daily Express which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, is ill-founded. But we know that there is oil in the seas not far from the Falkland Islands and there is thought to be oil—


We do not.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, on the continental shelf near to the Argentine people are actually bringing up oil. So we know that in that very large area there is oil. It would be splitting hairs to argue that it is unlikely that there is any oil in the continental shelf which stretches from around the Falkland Islands to the southern tip of South America. But there is a threat that there might be, and there is a real possibility that ways and means of finding it and developing it will be found.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. The noble Viscount is aware that the Falklands are not in the Antarctic. Indeed, they are the same latitude south as London is north.

Viscount THURSO

My Lords, I feel that in some of these respects we are splitting hairs. There is no Antarctic Ocean. In the northern hemisphere it is simple, the Arctic Ocean is surrounded by land. One talks about the Arctic Ocean. In the southern hemisphere, the Antarctic is a land mass surrounded by ocean, and around that land mass there exists what is broadly referred to as the southern ocean. For the purposes of this debate, I am talking about the South Atlantic, the South Pacific, the South Indian Ocean and the south of other oceans. If one looks at the world from the bottom upwards, as it were, one sees the area of water surrounding the Antarctic. That is what I am referring to as the southern ocean. I may be totally wrong, and no doubt when the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, speaks later in the debate he will demolish my remarks completely. That is what I am talking about at the moment.

There is a possibility that in that area oil will be found. That is thought by many people to be a possibility. If oil exists, and if minerals exist in that continent and in the areas round about, I fear that we shall not succeed in stopping their development once that becomes an economic proposition. Therefore we must find a way to set higher standards for oil developers and for miners before such development takes place. Every day in this country sea birds are dying in large numbers around our coasts and we do not seem to be doing much about it. If that is all we think about our own sea birds, what hope would there be for the penguins? If large supplies of important minerals are shown to be available in Antarctica and it is shown that they could be mined there economically, can we really believe that we shall leave that continent unravished? History leads me to doubt it.

Therefore if we feel sure that predation of Antarctica will take place and if we think it is unlikely to be preventable in the long term, surely the least we can do is to try to control it and to subscribe to conventions and agreements which attempt to control it, so that not only is the least possible lasting damage done but that renewable resources like fish and krill are harvested in sustainable quantities only. Let us also try to use the process of developing these resources as a means of developing the islands and the continents which surround the southern ocean, if such an ocean exists.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I join the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, on having raised this important and topical subject. I also join the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, in hoping that we may receive "hot news" of the Canberra Convention, which was signed yesterday. I join with him also in anticipating what may be said by noble Lords in their speeches during this debate, though I feel it would be invidious to say whose words I shall value above all.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has asked us to speak as concerned politicians. From the very back of these Back- Benches, I wish to speak not so much as a concerned politician but as a concerned biologist with a deep interest in the biology of conservation. At this juncture there appears to be an opportunity for the United Kingdom to participate in an international programme of planned management of this important world resource represented by the living creatures of the southern oceans. I wish to add my voice to those who are urging the Government to pledge in full the necessary scientific resources from this country and to endeavour in all ways to ensure that this time, in these waters at last, the living resources are not over-exploited by man to their perpetual detriment.

I have no particular opinions on the political aspects of the convention which has just been signed. I would only ask your Lordships whether you consider it likely that 80 heads— perhaps I should really say 80 bodies— are more likely ! to agree on policy than 13. Speaking as a scientist, and having consulted other scientists working in the region, I have no evidence that there have been scientific disadvantages in the existing practices which have worked under the control of the Atlantic Treaty Powers. I feel that we can welcome an international body if it provides for co-ordination of scientific effort and if provides additional resources. I am less welcoming to the formation of yet another international body if it proves in the end to create dissention and to diffuse, rather than concentrate, the effort.

Conservation interests are focused particularly on the larger baleen whales. The noble Lords who have preceded me have spoken in some detail about the small organism, the krill, on which the baleen whales are totally dependent for their diet. Both, of course, are elements in an extremely complex ecological system. The baleen whales, because in effect they graze on the large shoals of krill— which, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, is an easier way of putting it than trying to say "krill shoals"— are exceptionally susceptible to over- harvesting of the krill. Speaking as a scientist, in an aside, I might mention to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that actually in energetic terms it is more efficient to exploit the lower end of the food chain than the higher. Nebuchadnezzar was a better user of his resources than are those of us who eat the grass after it has been converted to a cow!

I stand liable to rebuke for being pedantic and so perhaps I may continue, in my role as a biologist, to emphasise the problems that I see as likely to emerge— the purely biological problems. To start with, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie- Calder, has pointed out, the management of the marine resources of Antarctica must be based on the recognition that man has already made a very serious impact on the animal communities of these oceans. The virtual removal of the large baleen whales— because, by overfishing, these whales have been reduced to very low numbers in comparison to their original populations— and this alteration of the animal community has led to compensatory population explosions among the smaller kinds of animals that also rely on krill as the chief item in their diet.

Some of these animals are small only in comparison to the giant whale. The crab- eater seal is now the top predator of krill and has enormously increased in numbers, as have the penguins and as has the lesser rorqual or the Minke whale, which is the smallest of the baleen whales. There has in fact already been a very serious perturbation of the pristine eco-system of the Antarctic ocean. There is no indication that the present situation in any way represents a new equilibrium. Any intensified exploitation of the krill will further disrupt the balance and it is difficult to predict what will happen. Even if the Antarctic seas were now to be declared an inviolate area, the large whales are at a serious competitive disadvantage compared with other predators of krill, all of which have much shorter generation times and hence greater powers of rapid increase in numbers— they can build up very quickly in terms of bio-mass so that they replace and deny space to the larger whales.

Other factors also are operating. There is good evidence that among Minke whales, to which I referred just now, the average age of sexual maturity has been reduced to less than half what it was in the state of pristine ecology as we first knew it: that is to say, they are now breeding at about six years old as opposed to 16 years old. The obvious consequence is that these small whales— they are about 9 metres long— have shown a striking increase in fecundity.

These are the points I wish to emphasise to your Lordships. First, total protection of this environment at this moment is not necessarily to the general advantage of all living creatures in the region. It may even be disastrous for the larger baleen whales— that is, the right whale, the hump-back or the blue whale. At the very least, the situation requires continuous biological monitoring. To date, the United Kingdom's contribution to scientific research, notably through the British Antarctic Survey, has provided useful input. I consider it is vital that levels of participation by British scientists should be maintained, if not enlarged, under the new arrangements.

The difficulty arises if, in the light of scientific evidence, the authorities are forced to take specific action to control certain populations. I believe that the authorities must nonetheless be ready to do that. Such actions may include the requirement for a controlled cull which, in simple terms, is just killing off large numbers of one or more selected animal species, to reduce the populations of one kind so that those of others may survive or increase at least to numbers where they have a hope of survival. In this way, killing one animal can provide for a balanced composition of the total animal assemblage. Such a recommendation, I envisage, might be effected either by direct action of the scientists concerned or through licensed commercial harvesting of an appropriate prey.

Being more political, we must face the fact that if, as is likely, it is penguins, seals or Minke whales that need to be fewer for scientific reasons, there is bound to be strong, if not violent, opposition from sectors of the public to any culling action. As I said just now, conservationists recognise that there are cases when the removal of selected individual animals can be of benefit to the general community of species. In so far as the two aspects can be compared, conservation attaches greater value to the prosperity of animal communities than to the lives of single individuals.

Although I recognise the truth of this approach, I must say that, like, I imagine, all of your Lordships, I cannot deny a strong personal distaste— and this distaste is undoubtedly shared by the scientists who are concerned— for certain methods of killing, especially some of the methods which are used at present on marine mammals. For instance, I understand that it is normal practice to capture the Minke whales by means of the so- called "cold" harpoon; that is to say, an unarmed harpoon which does not explode in their body. It is, more or less, simply a means of attaching them to a rope and hauling them in. The International Whaling Commission has supported research into the assessment of harpooning as a humane method of killing whales, and documents are available publishing this research. They attempted to assess the suffering involved by measuring death time. It is fairly gruesome reading and I rather doubt that this particular line of research is worth pursuing further. But some research is required and the problem must be attacked.

In summary, I stress to your Lordships that the present very low number of large baleen whales throughout the world serves to emphasise all too clearly the effectiveness of selective culling as a means of reducing wild populations. If the same method proves to be needed in a programme of positive conservation in the Antarctic, I am sure, first, that the decision must be supported by scientific evidence which is irrefutable, which is well publicised and which achieves the acceptance of the public at large. I also feel very strongly that, as a further prerequisite, it will be essential to carry out appropriate research into more humane methods of killing large marine animals.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I feel very humble, following the speech which we have just heard from the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, because it was so full of the detailed knowledge of a scientist and biologist which few Members of this House can claim. I can only say, as a layman in that field, that I was fascinated by what he told us. I shall, before I conclude, be referring to the necessity for international action, and I am glad that he stressed that in his speech.

Those of my generation are peculiarly fascinated by the Antarctic. I remember that at school my science master told us of the heroism of the expeditions which, for the first time, had spent their winters in the Antarctic. One can remember, 69 years ago, the excitement of the race to the South Pole between Amundsen and Robert Scott. Since that time during the first half of this century, there has been great rivalry in the Antarctic between different powers for territory.

But a tremendous step forward was taken in 1958, the Geographical Year, when the Scientific Committee on Atlantic Research— generally known as SCAR, because of its initials— was set up. That committee was composed of representatives of 12 nations claiming territory in the Southern Antarctic, and experts nominated by the International Council for Scientific Union. It extended further than the Treaty Powers, later decided for North to 45 degrees South latitude, to the meeting point of the cold and warm oceans. It was this beginning of co-operation which led to the formation of the Atlantic Treaty organisations in 1959.

The treaty, as my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder has said, emphasised very strongly that the Antarctic should be used only for peaceful purposes, and banned all military equipment. This is very important for marine development, because the ban on nuclear explosions and on the disposal of radioactive waste give much greater opportunity for marine life. Unlike SCAR, the Atlantic treaty was limited to the area beyond the 60 degrees South latitude. This meant that there was no conflict between the powers over territory. But North of that area there was dispute between the different powers about sovereignty over the islands, exampled in the conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.

This leads me to put my first question to the Minister. I appreciate that the conference at Canberra ended only yesterday, and one will not expect him to reply in detail; we shall have to await further opportunities for putting questions to him. But I should like to ask him this: It is reported that the Canberra conference agreed to extend the Antarctic Treaty area from 60 degrees South latitude to the convergence of the warm and cold waters at 45 degrees. Can the Minister confirm this, and can he say how the disputes over the islands in this extended area are likely to be dealt with? One does not press for an answer to-day, but perhaps he will have that in mind for consideration in the future.

The 12 original nations in the Antarctic Treaty organisation have since been extended to 15 by the addition of Poland and East and West Germany. All 15 Governments were at the Canberra conference which has so recently been held. Its area was enormous: 14 million square miles. According to reports in the press, it called for the establishment of a convention for the conservation of Antartic marine living creatures. The main object of the conference was to prevent the overfishing of marine life, from the shrimp-like krill to the massive whale. Success is reported today in the press. A convention has been agreed to prevent overfishing by regulating exploitation, and an international commission of experts is to be estabished to study the food chain of Atlantic fish and bird life— a welcome addition, that— and to recommend measures to protect the species. I do not know whether the Minister can confirm those reports in the press. When he has detailed information, we shall have an opportunity to press him further.

Finally, may I make a plea that the Antarctic Treaty organisation and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research shall be broadened and given greater international authority. As my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder said, the Antarctic Treaty organisation is today a club of states. It tends to be exclusive. At Canberra this month the Netherlands and South Korea were excluded as observers from the conference because it was held that they were not engaged in substantial research in the area. At the same time, 30 conservation agencies were forbidden attendance, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. Experience at the United Nations has shown how valuable the contributions of non-governmental bodies can be.

The problem is not one for 12 or 15 Governments. It is a worldwide problem. If, for example, the present convention regarding fishing is extended to minerals or to oil— I shall not enter into the controversy as to whether they will be found there, but it would be a very bold man who said that they will not— it will inevitably involve non-Treaty countries.

As my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder has pleaded, the Third World is involved. The rich food in the Antarctic could be used to meet the hunger of millions. I suggest, therefore, that international status should be given to the Antarctic Treaty states by making their organisation part of the United Nations establishment, throwing its membership open to other nations, including those of the Third World. Similarly, I suggest that it should be linked with the World Food Organisation and the United Nations World Development Committee so that its food potential could be used to meet the demands of the hungry.

So far as the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research is concerned, surely it should be associated with UNESCO so that the splendid work now being done at Cambridge can be supplemented by wider resources and additional expert personnel. I make these suggestions for the consideration of the Minister so that he may reply, not necessarily today but after further thought. We are only at the beginning of the adventure of the Antarctic. To realise all the expanding possibilities of this vast continent, we must establish world responsibility and world dedication.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, for raising this very timely subject. Unlike other noble Lords, I shall not be speaking of the little birds and the little fishes. I shall be speaking of another much more important animal; namely, man. I intend to restrict my observations to the conservation of United Kingdom interests in the Antarctic, interests which are directly affected by the subject which is being debated today.

I am deeply concerned that in concluding the Canberra Agreement Her Majesty's Government have, almost by default, agreed to agree, albeit subject to ratification by Parliament, to abrogate control over the Falkland Island Dependencies, the South Sandwich Islands, the South Orkneys, South Georgia, and also Southern Thule Island, to an international committee. I am puzzled and concerned not only about the fact but also about the way in which Her Majesty's Government came to that agreement— and, indeed, about the effects of the agreement.

May I state at the outset that, as we have heard, the major resource we are talking about is krill. As a result of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation's research study, called the South Ocean Fisheries Survey Programme, it was established, in round figures, that in the southern oceans there are about 150 million tons of krill. That is over and above the amount needed by whales. I hate to throw figures at noble Lords, but the value of this krill is approximately 600 dollars per ton, which, when extrapolated, comes out at 90, 000 million dollars. So in every sense of the word we are hardly talking about chickenfeed.

Article VI of the Antarctic Treaty provides that: The provisions of the present Treaty shall apply to the area south of the 60° South latitude, including all ice shelves, but nothing in the present Treaty shall prejudice or in any way affect the rights, or the exercise of the rights, of any State under international law with regard to the high seas within the area ". Furthermore, by virtue of Article IX of the same treaty: Representatives of the Contracting Parties … shall meet … at suitable intervals and places, for the purpose of exchanging information, consulting together on matters of common interest pertaining to Antarctica, and formulating and considering, and recommending to their Governments, measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty … ". These two articles bring me to two questions, and the two questions are these. First, has the agreement that has been signed redefined the definition of Antarctica for the Antarctic treaty purposes? As I understand it, the draft convention, which has been agreed to, defines the Antarctic as such: This Convention applies to the Antarctic marine living resources of the area south of 60° South latitude and to the Antarctic marine living resources of the area between that latitude and the Antarctic Convergence which form part of the Antarctic marine ecosystem ". My second question is: What is the nature of the agreement signed? Does the agreement have treaty effect? That, of course, must lead to the question as to whether there is any decision regarding ratification of this agreement. I believe that Parliament should know at least what Her Majesty's Government have agreed to agree.

Further, I ask my noble friend whether he is in a position to make a statement on this subject. How far down the line have they committed themselves in eroding our sovereign territories and their waters in the South Atlantic? Furthermore, I understand that the legislation affecting this area (namely, the Dependencies) lies squarely on the Governor of the Falkland Islands and his Executive Council. Were they in any way consulted in this matter?

Am I right in thinking that the borders of Antarctica are to be extended to include British sovereign territory? I should be grateful if the Minister could inform me. How come that his honourable friend in another place answered, inter alia, the conference in Canberra is about the Antarctic region, of which we are a claimant state. It is not about dependencies. They are not included in the subject matter for the conference".— [Official Report, Commons, 14/5/80; col. 1478.] If I am right in believing that they have extended the area of control in Antarctica, then I should have thought that they were. However, I am delighted to observe that further on he said: We do not have a claim to the dependencies; we have sovereignty over them ". This appears to be a strange way of maintaining one's sovereignty, of developing the economic potential of one's sovereign territory, and, above all, of maintaining one's influence for defence purposes by internationalising it, and internationalising it into a body which contains more Warsaw Pact countries than I care for. I suspect that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, while never taking his eyes away from his brief, will bring in the question of cost. He knows better than I do that the cost of setting up these international commissions is extremely expensive, and I shall be grateful if he can indicate in some way how much Her Majesty's Government will be involved in the setting up of this international commission, and indeed how much the policing of that area costs us.


My Lords, time is rather marching on. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for interrupting, but I suggest that we should keep our remarks as short as we can, otherwise some noble Lords may be deprived of the right to speak.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord is speaking to somebody who almost never speaks for more than 10 minutes, and last night it was only eight minutes. My Lords, Britain has played a leading part in conservation efforts in the Antarctic over the years, and it is important that we should continue to use our influence to good effect. After a long period of exploitation, Britain led the way towards the control of whaling and the conservation of living resources ! in the area has become the concern of an ever-widening group of nations ever since, consisting of the Antarctic Treaty Governments. There is therefore now some degree of control and order of harvesting, both from the sea and on land in the form of minerals, among the signatory nations; but this does not stop non- signatory nations from doing as they please in the open seas and challenging the right of the treaty nations to rule the continent.

One matter now of concern, which has been raised by several noble Lords, is the krill, which at the moment is in great abundance owing to the reduction in numbers of the baleen whales through over-fishing. Krill is only marginally viable to harvest on present technology, but the position could arise when it might become cheaper for a shipowner with an empty ship to harvest krill than to lay up his ship. Or a socialist country might decide to catch krill as animal feed, regardless of cost.

As was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, overfishing could very soon distort the feed chain, severely affecting the numbers of many of the animals and fish that feed upon it. Between 1927 and 1931 huge whaling fleets were built to chase whales, and the result was a gross over-supply of whale oil, a drop in the price, and an over-supply of ships, which, when subsequently employed, almost annihilated the whale. Likewise, if krill fishing was thought to have become economic, the harvest could soon be severely over-fished and the short-term benefit to one fishing group or fishing country could lead to the long-term destruction of the cycle of nature in the area.

Indeed the USSR, having helped to wipe out the baleen whale, are large takers of krill, and it is thought that the Japanese and other countries are stepping into the krill fishing in spite of the enormous investment involved. It is necessary, therefore, that the Antarctic Treaty should be ready to cope with any new threat to the ecology of the area, either from its own member nations or from non- signatory nations outside the treaty. It is therefore of particular interest to see the progress made in each of the consultative meetings, the latest of which, as has been mentioned, has just finished; and we look forward to hearing from the Minister in his reply what happened. Previous meetings have covered mineral and marine resources, scientific research, the establishment of a conservation regime, man's impact on the area, oil contamination, and so on.

One thing that is noticeably absent in the Ninth Antarctic Meeting recommendations is any mention of the reduction in cruelty. The thought of the cruelty involved in harpooning a large whale is one that most people prefer not to think about. Great efforts are put into reducing cruelty to animals in this country. There is no reason why it should be more acceptable just because it is on the high seas and out of sight of people who might complain. But it happens— and the cruelty and suffering must be horrendous. The same may not apply to such an extent with the slaughter of seals, as at least their death is quick.

Surely, the Antarctic Committee could pay some attention to finding more humane ways of killing whales. By the cold harpoon it takes up to 30 minutes for a whale to die; by the explosive harpoon it still takes up to 25 minutes, and it is on record that it took five hours and nine explosive harpoons before one whale was finally killed. The aboriginal whaling in the States is worse, and of every 24 struck, only some 18 are landed. The others go away wounded. The British Veterinary Association is reported to have said that, on the information available, whaling is utterly inhumane and that this country should put a ban on whale products.

Can the Minister confirm the cruelty involved; and will he have this item brought up at the next consultative meeting? If there is really no way of avoiding this cruelty to these animals, we should use our best endeavours to influence other countries to cease whaling and we should support a ban on whale meat into this country until some totally new and humane method of slaughter can be found, and, of course, also until numbers can be built up to ensure survival of all the species.

My Lords, that is five minutes.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, both for giving us the opportunity to debate this vital subject and also for the broad sketch he gave us of the current situation affecting the Antarctic Treaty. I hope my views are not regarded by some as excessively conservation-minded or unfashionable, but if that is so it is because, through my experience in television in this country and around the world, I believe that Governments are tending to lag behind public opinion where conservation of wild paradises and wildlife are concerned.

The blind presumption by so many Governments that everything should be exploited that can be is becoming increasingly untenable to the common person. To a growing extent this short-sighted view is not held by the mass of ordinary citizens, and I have plenty of evidence for this from the response to the programmes for which I am responsible which are shown not only here but all over the world. Twenty-five years ago if you walked up to somebody in the street and said, "Conservation", he would not know what on earth you were talking about; whereas today if you said it, whether to young or old, and particularly to schoolchildren, you would probably get a long lecture about the destruction of rain forests or marine pollution. I think that the time may even come one day, if we can persuade the members of the club, the treaty powers, to be a little more open about what they are up to, when perhaps if you go up to somebody and say: "Antarctic Biomass programme" you may get a long lecture about krill.

It is essential, in my view, that matters relating to the Antarctic become under- stood by the public worldwide. Unless public concern and sympathy for conservation is expressed, Governments will be cocooned in secrecy and may reach the wrong conclusions and follow the wrong policies. If ever we needed an example of that, we have Russia, where people do not know what is happening most of the time, particularly over the recent disasters that we are all aware of.

The Antarctic Treaty powers have achieved in scientific co-operation a remarkable achievement since the war, and an example for the world in cooperation. But the member states apparently suffer from secrecy mania. No doubt this is due to one or two notable members. This must somehow now be tactfully overcome. It is not very easy in times of economic uncertainty to question the traditional assumption that natural resources are simply there to be exploited, and to suggest that perhaps for once they might be left alone unless scientifically managed. It usually seems inconceivable to Governments and industry that if there is something to be won and exploited that anybody should ever hesitate to do so. Yet in the case of the bottom part of the globe, which so far has not been seriously interfered with, there seems to be a very good case for at least questioning every case that is made for exploiting the natural resources.

I am not suggesting that the human race should never in any shape of form exploit that part of the world, because I believe that, in the long term and in the interests of our descendants, there are far better ways of doing so. Conservation is never incompatible with rational management, which includes harvesting, based on research. What has to be resisted is what has been referred to as "smash and grab". For future generations— and this is the point I want to make— wildlife and unspoilt scenery will prove to be of far greater economic value as an amenity and as a spectacle because of its scarcity value: a far more precious asset on an ongoing basis than the region can ever be simply as something to be used up and devoured in the short term, leaving a sterile void for those who follow.

I have a nasty feeling that of all generations we are likely to be the most despised in future centuries. What would we have thought of our 19th century ancestors if they had used up all the Old Masters by chopping up the frames for firewood and using the canvases for lagging the pipes? But that is exactly what Governments and industry the world over are doing with precious natural assets, unaware that natural wilderness or an un-spoilt paradise will be priceless assets in the future, a thousand times more valu- able probably than the limited harvest of oil or minerals that can be grabbed in the short term, or the krill and lobster krill that can be scooped out wholesale, with disastrous consequences for the natural communities which depend on them. It may seem as absolute fantasy, my Lords, but I believe that we should endeavour to think of the Antarctic as the first great international park, as opposed to a national park, and thereby of unique value to generations of the future. I am a businessman, not an ecology "nut", and I do ask: are Governments unable to read a balance sheet? Do they only understand the P and L account for the current period?

It is significant and rather alarming to me that the emphasis of interest in Antarctica is tending to swing very noticeably from scientific research to resources and their exploitation; vested interests, as always, have woken up to an opportunity and are sitting like vultures waiting to pounce. Our own position is rather interesting, if somewhat delicate, and perhaps we should capitalise on it. For 150 years the British Government have taken negligible interest in the Falkland Islands, for example, and successive Governments have sought to unburden themselves of the responsibility for them. But now that we are all gripped with oil mania the Falklands have suddenly become headline news. Of course, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for pointing out that all these press stories, in the Daily Express in particular, about oil being available in huge quantities are— I am only too glad to accept his assurance— probably pure speculation. But that, of course, proves the point. It is the mere prospect of exploitation that commands attention today, not the obvious existence of a natural paradise, which already has a vast potential and which could be an incalculable asset to Britain for centuries to come. Frankly, Governments everywhere, in my view, make lousy businessmen.

I realise that it sounds cranky to suggest that a segment of our exquisite planet might ever be spared unscientifically-based exploitation, and I would not expect the idea to be taken seriously in a hurry. But I am far from being unhopeful, because paradoxically the complex and unique political overtones in the Antarctic seem to me to make this a runner. It seems, compared with any other part of the world, to offer a unique opportunity for arriving at a stalemate, with no nation finding it easy to make obviously undesirable exploitation moves in the Antarctic without incurring the displeasure of the remainder. Those outside the club are very suspicious.

There is a long way to go before there is universal accord. This derives from the situation of the claimants and the non- claimants. The claimants are not recognised by the non-claimants, and when the treaty is due for review in 1991 the chance of universal acquiescence in any plan whereby individual states embark on unilateral exploitation, is fairly slim. It seems conceivable that the present reasonably satisfactory scientific blanket imposed on Antarctica might be continued in default of an attractive alternative. If there is the remotest chance of that being available, even if it is only a chance in a million, then leadership is absolutely vital, and the lobby should be started now, with 10 years to go; and this country with the British Antarctic Survey is in the best and strongest position to take the lead. Conservation interests in other nations might then follow the lead, certainly the public will, provided the treaty partners do not keep the whole business under wraps and play it so close to the chest.

Our Government, through the British Antarctic Survey, could take the initiative by paying the minimal costs involved of adequate PR and publicity services. I regret again having to bleat about cuts, as I had to do in the face of the BBC's overseas radio broadcasts, but I am only concerned with cuts applied overseas. The Government have my support in their efforts to reduce public expenditure at home, but it is unsound and illogical, in my view, to apply the same yardsticks and disciplines to expenditure outside in the rest of the world. These are two totally different sets of circumstances; on the one hand there is the viability of the domestic economy, while overseas the future of Britain is at stake in competition with other nations which are not applying the same criteria. If we apply the same rigid restraints, say, to Antarctica as are applied to domestic expenditure, we shall lose out altogether as competitors on innumerable fronts and may never recover our position again.

At this critical point in the history of the human race and this planet— I do not want to put it in too fantastic terms— it is unthinkable that the leader in Antarctic conservation and research, that is to say the British Antarctic Survey, should have its budget cut. The quite inadequate shoestring budget of £ 3.5 million may be cut by up to £ 500, 000. I repeat that I support the Government's measures to make the domestic economy viable, but applying these disciplines in a case like this makes no sense at all, particularly when it could have critical consequences for an entire area of this planet.

This cut will result in less time for research, less information, less surveillance by British Antarctic Survey vessels, and less British leadership. Cuts could endanger the BAS's vital effort and even the year-round safety of those invloved. This can in no possible way be equated with the stirring momentum sustained by our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in enhancing so successfully Britsh influence around the world.

Our activities overseas should be judged. by different criteria from those applied at home; and if that is so, let this Government take the initiative by setting up and paying for a proper information and PR service, because the United Kingdom cannot take the line that we are seriously interested in exploitation prospects when in the past we have failed to take the slightest interest in any prospects at all, other than scientific research. It is odd, really, that we are not more interested in fishing prospects when all of our vessels are today laid up in our own fishing ports, and the fishermen mostly on the dole, while the Russians, Poles, Germans and others— as has been mentioned in the debate— are busy fishing and scooping up blue whiting and krill wherever they wish, and doing their shopping in Port Stanley in the Falklands, where I saw them only the other day.

The strength of the British position in Antarctica resides in the impressive role of the BAS, and this should be turned to advantage. BAS enables us to take the lead in a scientific and conservation movement which has great significance for the next century and longer. Antarctica will not save the human race, even if its resources can make a quick "buck" for somebody. And perhaps the protection of Antarctica could do something to restore man's image in the history books of the future, by perhaps creating the first international park.

Finally, there must be no cuts, therefore, in this flea-bite shoestring area. In fact, the BAS budget of £ 3.5 million should undoubtedly be doubled— so vital is its research and its role— in the best interests of the British people and the world. BAS must remain the dominant influence, and this would be a fatal moment to dilute its influence, even if we were hell-bent on ruthless exploitation, which I trust we are not.

My personal view is more realistic and commercial than it may sound. I believe in building and conserving assets. I am more interested in the balance sheet than in just making a quick buck. It is quick- buck mania which has tended to ravage the environment, usually with no advantage for the populations of the whole in the long-term.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with others in thanking my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder for initiating this debate. I am not sure how convenient or inconvenient the timing has actually proved to be. However, we shall at least have the opportunity to hear from the Minister some fairly up-to-date information; and had the debate taken place a few days earlier, I have the feeling that we would have received a more frustrating reply at the end of it.

I should like to turn first to something which my noble friend mentioned right at the very beginning of his speech at the start of the debate— namely, the input, or at least the lack of effective input, from voluntary organisations in this country, the NGOs, to the process of drawing up the convention. Following the meeting which my noble friend mentioned at the beginning of April, which was held between the Foreign Office, the Nature Conservancy Council and interested voluntary organisations, in my capacity as chairman of the CoEnCo Wildlife Link Committee, I wrote to the noble Lord's honourable friend the Minister of State putting forward the views of the voluntary bodies.

I wanted to take an opportunity, publicly if I could, to thank the noble Lord and his honourable friend very much indeed for the long and extremely prompt reply which I received to my letter. I have a feeling that it must break a number of records for both comprehensive- ness and speed. I was extremely grateful and would be grateful if the noble Lord could pass that on to his honourable friend, and could also say how grateful the voluntary bodies were for the speed of the reply, if not for everything that was said in it.

My noble friend Lord Brock way mentioned the appalling circumstances at Canberra, where it appears that a number of voluntary organisations— and in particular the Antarctica and Southern Oceans Coalition (ASOC) — were excluded from the discussions. I should like to ask the Minister a question which is really even more disturbing than the circumstances which my noble friend Lord Brock- way outlined. There were three Governments which were particularly opposed to ASOC playing some part in the proceedings; namely, the USSR, Chile and— I understand— the Government of the United Kingdom. I very much hope that the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite will be able to tell me that the information which I have received from Canberra has been scrambled in the very short time but long distance that it has had to travel. However, I am afraid that the lack of consultation and discussion— for which this Government are no more responsible, I hasten to add, than the previous Government— with voluntary organisations in the process of negotiating this convention, has left a very bad taste in the mouths of many people and the events at Canberra will certainly not have improved matters.

Besides apportioning blame fairly equally between both Governments, I think that is only fair to say that the voluntary organisations themselves might have been a little better organised earlier on, and the Nature Conservancy Council might have taken a rather more active role in discovering the views of the voluntary organisations and ensuring that they were impressed on officials at the Foreign Office at an early date. The voluntary organisations have an enormous amount to contribute in this country and so do the NGOs around the world. The book— The Management of the Southern Ocean — by Richard Sandbrook and Barbara Mitchell has already been referred to in the debate. There is a great deal of expertise and knowledge available in the NGOs, and I have the feeling that a great deal could have been gained both by the United Kingdom's delegation and internationally, had NGOs played a rather more prominent role during the negotiation of this convention.

Having said that on a rather critical note, I wish to reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord's honourable friend for his detailed reply, and in particular for his offer at the end of his letter of a further meeting between the NGOs in this country and the team of officials that represented the United Kingdom in Canberra. I know that the voluntary organisations concerned would be most anxious that that meeting should take place, because I think that all of us feel that now that the convention is settled— if not yet ratified or in force— we should look to the future. Indeed, it is in that vein that I wanted to make some brief remarks about the scientific committee and the work that that committee in particular will need to do in interpreting the articles of the convention— especially Article II.

As the noble Lord will no doubt know, the voluntary organisations were extremely concerned that Article II contained an inherent contradiction between subparagraph 3(b) and sub-paragraph 3(a).Sub-paragraph 3(a) sets an acceptable harvesting strategy for predators, and sub-paragraph 3(b) sets an acceptable, or at least an adequate, strategy for key prey species such as krill. But, unfortunately, sub-paragraph 3(a) is not itself acceptable with regard to the harvesting of prey species, because it talks of harvesting to the maximum net productivity point for both predators and prey species. That is an internal contradiction, because if the one is harvested to the most efficient point, the other will have to be excluded altogether. For example, in order to maximise prey harvesting it will be clearly necessary to exterminate all the predators; and if the predators are keeping the prey at below their maximum net productivity point themselves, harvesting by man would further reduce their yield.

I hasten to say that the Government, as I understand it, fully accept and recognise this difficulty, and the noble Lord's honourable friend said in his letter to me that the United Kingdom delegation would do its best to secure amendments on this point. As I understand it— and, as I say, my information may not be accurate— the United Kingdom delegation was not successful in securing amendments on this point. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could either confirm that or encourage me with some contrary information. Nevertheless, clearly, this will be a very important and complicated point— indeed, a vital point— for the whales, krill and other species which have been mentioned this afternoon. I suggest to the noble Lord that it will be the first task of the scientific committee to sort out.

If no amendments have been made in the final text, the Scientific Committee will immediately come upon an extremely difficult and serious problem. It is in that area that I would very strongly support the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, about the input which the United Kingdom ought to be making in the scientific field; and I should also like to support what my noble friend Lord Brockway said about the importance of non-governmental organisations being involved in the work of the scientific committee.

As I understand it, the IUCN are likely to be admitted as observers to the Scientific Committee, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to confirm that, if not today at some future date. I hope that they will be admitted as speaking observers, as, for example, they are on the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. However, I hope that the United Kingdom Government, in this vitally important area and vitally important committee, will work to see a role for the NGOs from this country, and from other countries round the world which have an interest. I hope that they will ensure that NGOs— not only through IUCN participation but through direct consultation with the Government— play a major part in ensuring that the scientific committee resolves this question in the way in which the United Kingdom Government have already said they wish to see it resolved— and quite rightly in my view.

Therefore, the conclusion of a final text is by no means the end of the story in this difficult, and what has already been a fairly long, negotiation. I hope that with the conclusion of the final text the Government will be able to look to the future, bearing in mind the importance of a very much closer and more open relationship with NGOs in this country; and I would hope very strongly supporting internationally a stronger and more forceful role for the international NGOs, and in particular umbrella bodies like ASOC, which bring together the views of voluntary organisations in a large number of countries and which, therefore, represent in one way or another enormous expertise.

The judgment on this convention and the work of the United Kingdom Government and other Governments that have been party to it will, I suspect, await events and await the outcome. In particular, people will be looking to see what happens to the level of krill harvested between now and when the convention comes into force; because as noble Lords may know, no interim arrangements, as I understand it, have been arrived at to ensure that there is any protection— indeed, any reliable information— regarding the level of krill harvested until after the convention comes into force.

It would be an appalling tragedy, just at the time when the International Whaling Commission— with, I am glad to say, some very useful and helpful things being said by the British Government (although at this stage not a great deal of action being taken) about conservation of whales— may be reaching the position where whales will be safeguarded and the species which are on the verge of extinction or declining very rapidly (as almost all whales are) will be protected by that Commisison, that the unrestricted harvesting of krill led to the extinction of whales.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those who have already thanked the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, for allowing us to talk about this subject tonight. I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, who has done such sterling work as the chairman of the CoEnCo Committee, bringing together, perhaps for the first time in this country, virtually all the nongovernmental organisations which are interested in natural history and allowing them, for the first time, to speak with one voice. We are very proud in CoEnCo to have him as the chairman of this committee.

This vast fragile area cries out for every form of conservation and control— soils, vegetation, fauna of the land and inland lakes and their communities; littoral life- forms and the oceanic ecosystem. Technological advance and pollution by man will bring serious problems, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said.

But there are vast possibilities. I mention only one that has not been mentioned today. The Antarctic contains 99 per cent. of all the usable fresh water on the earth. If we could tow only 10 per cent. of the annual yield of icebergs to places where the water could be used, it would satisfy the demands of 500 million people. We are talking about a very large area.

We are talking today about marine resources. I am perhaps the first to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on doing so much to advance the cause of conservation in this remote part of the globe. The record of the Antarctic Treaty and our role in it is a fine one. Now we have the new conservation convention. To get as far as this is no mean achievement. The second draft is a particularly important milestone. For the first time a so-called "multi-species approach" to conservation and harvesting is built into the legal text.

I understand from my conservation colleagues that the United Kingdom delegation— and in particular Dr. Richard Laws, Director of the British Antarctic Survey— were the inspiration behind this approach. Some noble Lords present may have heard Dr. Laws speak in July 1977 to the all-party Conservation Committee of both Houses of Parliament under the title "Conservation Problems in the Antarctic".

It is Article II that concerns us when it comes to the practical problems of making such a convention work. In the past most fisheries, and indeed the exploitation of the great whales, have been based on the notion of harvesting no more than that which ensured the so-called "maximum sustained yield" principle. Take too much and the annual replacement by breeding declines; take too little and man loses his catch to increased natural mortality. This basis for management— that is, maximum sustained yield— is arguably sound for top predators in the marine eco-system, but it is an insufficient basis for the prey species, because the predators are also equivalent to fishermen. So, if man takes the maximum sustainable yield and the predators continue to feed, the resultant mortality among the prey is far too high.

The results of this can be disastrous, as in the case of the capelin stock in the North-West Atlantic. Here man and the cod, the predator of this tiny little fish like a whiting, have taken too much, with the result that the capelin stock has now crashed, and the cod will be affected. This must not happen in the southern ocean with respect to krill. It is probable that before large-scale commercial whaling began at the turn of the century, the system was in some form of balance, with the baleen whales fishing, if you can excuse the term, krill to its maximum sustainable yield. Now that man has so decimated the whales— my figures are that blue whales, of which there were 200, 000, are today 2, 000— there should be a lot of spare krill about today. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook talked about the increase in seals and the age of sexual maturity of Minke whales having dropped, so there is no reason for me to make those points again. It is clear that at least some of the so-called surplus of whale food has been taken by the competitors in the system.

So what is the practical problem? It is to find out how much is now left in surplus for man. We must be very conservative here, so that mistakes in our mathematics are guarded against. The consequence of too much krill-harvesting in the wrong places could be the extinction of the whale species. The new principle embodied in the convention effectively says that man should take no more of the krill than is excess to the needs of the predators. That is a sound and very far-sighted principle. But to make it work we shall require a major research effort into the dynamics of the southern ocean system.

One key to this research is the data available to us from whaling, the statistics of how many whales have been caught, their weight, their age, and so on. They are all invaluable to our understanding. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned the World Wildlife Fund. They have not been deterred. They and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which are two voluntary bodies, have, with the help of Dr. Beddington at York University, built the first computer model of the southern ocean system. They are doing a great deal of work. But more could and should be now done. I would recommend, as did the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that the Government explore ways of supporting such work in British institutions. As the International Whaling Commission has headquarters in Cambridge, along with the secretariat of the internationally-based Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research, we have indeed here at home a real opportunity of exploring and then putting into effect this exciting new article.

I was, and I am sure your Lordships were, a bit worried to hear what my noble friend Lord Buxton said about cuts, but this is something we must look at. Finally, I must finish on a note of caution. We are always going to be short of all the relevant facts. Therefore, whatever follows in terms of krill harvesting in the southern ocean must be accompanied by safeguards as a hedge against our uncertainties. An example of such a safeguard would be the establishing there of areas free from any harvesting at all of whales and krill. Only in this way can conservation include, with safety, rational use.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, for introducing us to this subject. I was rash enough to refer to an earlier debate. I have searched in the records, and I find that in 1960 a number of these points were made. Perhaps I was a bit optimistic because I said that I hoped that the Antarctic would become entirely international under the United Nations. We have not quite gone as far as that. It was gratifying to see the enthusiastic support of Lord Lansdowne speaking for the Government, in regard to conservation, scientific work, and the peaceful use of the Antarctic.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, with his admirable memory, for recalling the contents of that Antarctic Treaty, which was one of the really great breakthroughs. I remember even when I was in the Commons urging that the Antarctic should be internationalised and meeting a very unfriendly reply from the Government, which was a Labour Government, as they were afraid that this would bring the Russians down there. Of course the Russians came down and are playing a full, honest, and co-operative part in the Antarctic Treaty.

I am a little bothered by the use of words like "skulduggery" and "conspiracy", as if there is some wicked cabal meeting in Canberra to do the rest of the world down. This has been one of the most strikingly successful scientific and international examples of co-operation to be found in the world today. I should like to deal with it at some length. May I say that I am in entire agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, said in the tributes he paid to British Antarctic surveys.

I would say to my noble friend that I do not understand why the non-Government organisations did not start taking action earlier. It has all been published. They could have read the BIOMASS programme; the report of the British Antarctic Surveys. There is a reference to the 1978 meeting in Buenos Aires to draw up a convention, with a number of people like Dr. Laws, and Dr. Everson (who probably knows more about krill than anyone else) and bodies like the Scott Polar Research Institute, and organisations which are not Government organisations but are serious leading scientific bodies, and which have all been involved.

If only those noble Lords who have now discovered this had bothered to go to Lord Craigton's meetings— I cannot remember what they were called; they were meetings of the all-Party conservation group— or attended the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee going back to the international geophysical year, they would have had this material exposed to them. If I have a criticism of the debate, it is that it did not pay tribute to the really excellent and far-sighted leadership that has been given by British scientists in the Antarctic, co-operating with other countries.

Nor I think has justice been entirely done to the detailed studies contained in this report of Barbara Mitchell and Richard Sandbrook. I picked it up and read it— it is only the short report— with a good deal of nervousness because it might contain aspects dealing with the issues with which I would find myself in disagreement. For the most part I find myself in agreement. Here, again, they could have paid more of a tribute, because most of the biological and scientific work was not originally done by them; this is not a reflection against them, but it was done by British Antarctic surveys and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. I do not understand why the International Council of Scientific Unions, which is responsible for SCAR, should not be regarded as a respectable international body, to which serious scientists have access.

Having made those remarks, I feel strongly that we ought to give credit where there is some success. On this occasion, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, it is not that Governments have been behind public opinion; in this instance they have been far ahead of public opinion, including many people in your Lordships' House who seem not to have been aware of the work that has been done in the past by successive Governments. But I take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Buxton, made that it will be a tragedy if this Government deny the resources for continuous work.

How arc the Royal research ships to be replaced? There is one called "Shackle ton" which is getting a bit long in the tooth. We have heard about the obsolescent Shackleton aircraft, and now we have the ship, but it will probably last for a few more years. There will probably be £ 20 million to spend on a replacement for "Discovery". We are in an area where we have successfully pioneered and given the lead, even if there are defects. I take the point; it is very frustrating for non-Government and Government organisations who want to go to a party not to be invited to that party. But if you compare the work on this convention (and I think my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder referred to their somewhat irritating nature) with some of the discussions that take place on the law of the sea, it is quite striking how effective it has been.

Nor is it a closed club. Access is provided in the convention for those who wish to take part in research, or in harvesting. There is no reason why they should not. What I find sad is the lack of appreciation of the idealism behind what has been done in the Antarctic.

Devoted efforts have been made to conserve, to keep peace and to provide a better order, and those of us who have been interested in the possible harvesting of krill have not been thinking in terms of providing fishmeal for this country. That is simply not true. I believe there was some suggestion that we were harvesting krill now, but alas the British are not harvesting any krill, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, knows. The long-term view— this was the view of my advisers on the Falkland Islands Study— is that this is a major source of protein for the starving world, and there is room for man in the ecosystem of this world. I apologise if I have been rather more healed than I should have been. As noble Lords know, occasionally I "blow my top" a little. However, we should give credit to those who have given such leadership, even though there may be imperfections.

I come to the matter under discussion; namely, the building up of a proper area of conservation, which is an extremely important issue. What is so interesting is the geological feature of the convergence. The Antarctic convergence— this will be known by noble Lords who by now will have looked it up— is the point, not a fixed point, in the ocean where the cold northward-moving currents dip under the warmer south ones, and you will find a complete change of climate. If you go from the Falkland Islands with the same latitude as London— and perhaps I was a little unfair to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, because the Antarctic goes far outside the Antarctic Circle— to South Georgia, 700 miles away, in the same latitude south as Manchester, you go into a different climatic region. The Falklands are like the noble Lord's territory in the north of Scotland— wind, some rain and some sun; very healthy. In South Georgia you find glaciers coming down to the sea. It is a most marvellous and beautiful island, which I hope will also be conserved.

On the south side you have perhaps the richest sea in the world, full of krill, and it is necessary to distinguish between the kinds of krill. As the noble Lord knows, we are talking about euphansia superba, which is quite different from a number of other types of krill, like munida, which I remember blocked the intakes of one ship I was in; it is a sort of lobster krill which is to be found on the other side. The convergence is not on a specific geographical point; it is to be found further south or further north in certain areas, and what they have been seeking to do in this convention is to define these areas and introduce a regime of conservation.

I congratulate the authors of this report in other respects. Some of the economic thinking is extremely interesting. There are certain areas— incidentally, they are swarms of krill, not herds or coveys, or whatever we might call them— where they are to be found in much greater numbers than others. Here I wish to comment on the quantities we are talking about. There may be— as an order of magnitude I do not think it is wrong, although it is not precise— as much as between 500 million and 750 million tons of krill, maybe the figure is even as high as 1, 300 million tons. Birds alone consume approximately 20 million tons of krill, and we are talking— this is what is so interesting in the report— about a maximum, building up over a number of years from the present, something under 200, 000 tons of krill which is taken, to possibly 5 million tons.

I rather share the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, about the killing of whales, and I have been tempted (although noble Lords would perhaps not support me) to say that I would rather take the krill— there are biological reasons for this, which the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, gave— because they are a better source of food than whales, if it meant that we no longer slaughtered those intelligent animals as brutally as we are doing, and it is a horror that this should take place. The whales themselves when at their height— and there were over 1 million, it has been estimated— probably consumed about 190 million tons of krill, 12 million tons of squid and nearly 5 million tons of other fish.

With their reduced numbers, it has been estimated that they are taking about 40 million tons of krill, but as the noble Ear! said, the crab eater seal has increased in numbers. If you feed animals like human beings they become fertile rather younger, and of course the Minke whale has also increased in number. Thus, we do not know what the surplus is and I shall, if I have time, quote from the report the passage in which they advocate a steady, very cautious build-up in the amount of krill that is taken.

I shall be very sorry if we deny the world, and particularly those parts of it which are starving— I am sure this will appeal to my noble friends Lord Ritchie- Calder and Lord Brockway, as well as others— the opportunity of a source of protein which could be very valuable. Nobody has found a really satisfactory way of processing it and those who have read the report will know that it spoils quickly, and so on. Nevertheless, I believe that those of us who are interested— and the Food and Agriculture Organisation have been particularly concerned with this— are thinking of this as a source of food for feeding some of the starving people of the world.

I wish briefly to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said about the Falkland Islands. I believe it a pity— and this perhaps chimes in with the complaints of the NGOs— that there was no consultation or publicity in the Falkland Islands. In effect, it would appear that they may be losing access to a very valuable resource indeed. I doubt whether in practice they are, but none the less that is at least arguable. This is an area to which the Government might give a little more thought and the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, who knows the Falklands, will understand that well.

I promised to give the Minister 21 minutes, so I shall restrict myself to only a few more points. The question of sovereignty— I do not propose to go into this matter in regard to the Falkland Islands— is a very difficult area for settlement and, as we know, we do not see any signs in this respect. After all, if you look at a map, you will find the economic zones which would be available— only a proportion of the area of the Biomass in the Antarctic— and I should rather see a proper conservation regime and, as the noble Lord knows, there are other things which I believe the Government should be doing about the Falkland Islands.

The decision-making procedure in the present convention is consensus, and provision for objection rather than three- quarter majority voting, and neither decision-making procedure will of itself force a State to refrain from doing what it wants to do. But of course the argument for keeping the so-called club was that they knew what it was about, and we have seen examples in international organisations that people do not know what it is about. There is nothing to stop people acceding to the treaty, and that is laid down in the report. I do not believe the membership restriction provisions are in the slightest more restrictive than in the majority of other fishing conventions; they may appear to be so, but practically, I do not believe they are if one really looks at the criteria.

The great point is that the convention and the British and the Antarctic treaty have provided a reliable, peaceful regime, as my noble friend has pointed out. One has always been nervous about the possible exploitation of minerals in particular. One is nervous about tourists as well. One is, if I may say so, even about the noble Lord when he makes his splendid television films, in that he may indeed be encouraging people to go and pollute the Antarctic, though I do not say that he makes them for that purpose. The fact is that man is going to move into the Antarctic, and we simply cannot waste time bringing into effect strong rules which we hope are to be drawn up under the convention. That is the basic case for the convention now.

I should like to end by repeating my tribute in particular to those who developed the biomass programme, which I commend to noble Lords. There is a whole train of names, right back to the pre-war discovery investigations— men such as Mackintosh and others— and it is essential that the British should continue to play a role in which they are in the lead, and for which I believe they are particularly well fitted. If any noble Lords wish to know anything more, they can join the noble Lord's group, and I am quite sure that he will arrange for a repeat. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie- Calder. This has been a worthwhile discussion, and I believe that we should be prepared to congratulate those who have in fact done something constructive and useful in a fairly uncomfortable world.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I confess to experiencing some degree of surprise when I found myself making ready to answer the debate, having regard to the fact— which several noble Lords have mentioned— that the conference in Canberra ended only yesterday, and of course in the short time since then it has not been possible to make a full appreciation of the proceedings there. I appreciate the vagaries of the short debate procedure, in which we are subject to the ballot, but all the same my hands are rather tied.

It is, I fear, too early to assess the full implications; but according to a first report that I have received from our delegation, the conference may be described as a success and the draft convention has been adopted. At this stage, I do not wish to go further into the details of what was said and done in Canberra, but I welcome the opportunity to make clear the Government's position on the matter that we have been discussing. This may be summed up as follows. We support of course the continuance and development of the Antarctic Treaty system; we wish to see appropriate measures for conservation in the area, and to be sure that any exploitation is conducted rationally and with care; and we wish to assist in the recovery of whale stocks.

Your Lordships will be aware that, since it came into force in 1961, the Antarctic Treaty, to which the United Kingdom is a consultative party, has been remarkably successful in achieving its laudable aims. The treaty encourages scientific co-operation, requires the exchange of information about activities, and promotes the free availability of scientific information. It declares that Antarctica may be used only for peaceful purposes and that the area should not become the object of international discord, and it prohibits any measures of a military nature. It provides for the freedom of any of the consultative parties to inspect the Antarctic facilities of any of the others in order to ensure compliance with the treaty. It prohibits the disposal of radioactive waste, and above all, it sets aside, or "freezes", the question of territorial sovereignty for the duration of the treaty (that is, until 1991) by means of its declaration in Article I.

The treaty also provides for the holding of consultative meetings to make recommendations about measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the treaty", which become effective when they have been approved by all the consultative parties.

Twelve countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union, were original signatories of the treaty, and 10 have subsequently acceded. The regime established by the treaty has been remarkably sucessful— this has been commented on by several noble Lords— and the area is currently a demilitarised continent devoted to scientific research. The consultative meetings have led to a series of international agreements to conserve the environment of the area; notably the agreed measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Flora and Fauna (in 1964) and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (in 1972). It is noteworthy also that the convention so recently concluded in Canberra owes its origin to a recommendation made at the Ninth Consultative Meeting of the Antarctic Treaty powers in London in 1977. In all these developments, as in the formluation and negotiation of the Antarctic Treaty itself, the United Kingdom played a leading part.

I should like to turn now to what we mean by conservation, and, equally important, what we do not mean. We do not mean the abandonment of an area to the forces of nature, so that no benefit may be obtained by mankind. That would be an abdication of our duties. We prefer to follow the definition given in the world conservation strategy prepared by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature— namely, The management of human use of the biosphere so that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations, while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations.". These are eminently sensible and practical objectives, and we believe that the convention concluded at Canberra is in full accord with them.

I recognise that much interest in the subject under debate derives from the danger that uncontrolled fishing for the shrimp-like krill, the staple food of the baleen whale— as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, said— may present for the whale's recovery. However, Britain's record in this regard is a good one. Even before there was a realisation of the effect that extensive whaling might be having, or before it became morally repugnant to butcher these leviathans, Britain, through Falkland Islands legislation, had taken steps to ensure that full use would be made of whale carcasses and thus avoid unnecessary slaughter. In 1937 we played a leading role in the creation of the sadly ill-fated Whaling Convention, which was revised in 1946. Britain stopped all whaling in 1963, and in 1973 banned the import of virtually all whale products. I think I was asked about that by my noble friend Lord Gisborough. We are working for a ban on the import of all primary whale products throughout the European Community, and indeed the Commission has recently published a draft regulation to that end.

It is important to remember that through the 19th century a market developed for the very many useful products to be derived from the whale. Later it became irksome and expensive for the users of those products to find substitutes, and thus dealers had a vested interest in the continuation of the trade. Even today, I understand, some manufacturers are hard put to find a substitute for sperm whale oil for softening certain kinds of leather. However, no such market has developed based on krill. Indeed, although it is fished by the Russians, the Japanese and the Poles, there is some doubt as to whether it can be rendered more generally acceptable as a foodstuff. Not only is it difficult to process (as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, reminded us); it also, I understand, tastes rather nasty—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but if he is leaving the question of whales and sperm whale oil, I hope he will accept that for a number of years now the Americans have had a complete ban on the importation of sperm whale oil, and effective substitutes for all the uses to which that oil was put have been found by companies in the United States; and so that excuse for the continuing slaughter which the noble Lord deprecated no longer exists.


My Lords, what the noble Lord says may well be right. I am not informed on the position of the American Government in this matter, but I shall certainly look further into that proposition and see whether I can be more helpful to the noble Lord.

On the matter of krill, as I have said, it does not taste very nice. Furthermore, the expense of its harvesting makes it an unlikely candidate for anything other than a foodstuff. I am sorry that I must pour a little cold water on some of the finer flights of fancy that have been suggested as to the scope and scale of its use. At present, the amount of krill taken is not large. It is estimated that in 1978 129, 000 tons were caught. However, we would not be living up to our standards if we were simply to ignore a possible threat to the recovery of the whale, which now brings me to this new convention.

The Canberra Convention contains several important and novel features. It takes as its limits the Antarctic convergence— that is, the northern boundary of the cold Antarctic waters— thus including the entire Antarctic marine ecological system. It sets out to conserve resources within the system as a whole (not simply a particular species or group of species). Parties to the negotiation include both countries that are engaged in exploiting the resources and countries that are not. But it is not exclusive to the present parties. Any country which is interested in engaging seriously in research or harvesting activities related to the living resources of the Antarctic seas may join. It requires that data be published on the catch and fishing effort, on the marine populations and on factors affecting the harvested species and dependent or related species. It requires that regard should be given to the restoration of depleted species, and that co-operative working relationships should be sought with, among others, the International Whaling Commission.

I am well aware that, while welcomed in general terms by those with a close and in some cases professional interest in conservation, there is criticism of some details of the convention. I do not wish to go too deeply into these criticisms, though those of your Lordships who are interested may wish to know that a number of detailed points were in fact raised and answered in another place on 2nd May. There are, however, two particular questions about the convention which have been asked several times in various forms. They are, briefly: Will the decision-making procedure make the convention ineffective? And: Are the criteria for membership of the commission and the links with the Antarctic Treaty likely to put some potential fishing states off joining?

On decision-making, the convention envisages a consensus procedure. This has been attacked as a weakness by those who believe a three-quarters majority procedure would have been preferable. We should ourselves have preferred a majority system, but we do not see a consensus procedure as a fatal flaw. It is, after all, the method that has been used successfully by the Antarctic Treaty parties for 20 years. I should also remind your Lordships that the International Whaling Commission operated with a three-quarters majority system for 30 years or more, and, sadly, this did not save the whale. Nor, we believe, should the International Whaling Commission, with its large membership, many of them concerned exclusively with conservation, become the pattern for fishing conventions. The usual type of such convention limits its membership to states in the proximity of the area of the convention or actively involved in the fishery. We believe it is right for the membership of this convention to be similarly relevant. We also welcome the links with the Antarctic Treaty, which has been responsible for preserving peace and good order in the area for 20 years. It is only right that states becoming active in the area should accept some of the restraints observed by the Antarctic Treaty powers.

Perhaps I may now turn as quickly as I can to some of the points which have been raised by noble Lords. First, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, asked me (and I think at least one other noble Lord referred to this) why it was that there was so much secrecy attached to these proceedings. Indeed, the British delegation suggested last year that the text should be published, but this met with little support among Antarctic Treaty countries, although, as the noble Lord mentioned, I think it was eventually leaked in any event. But it is usual for the draft texts of international agreements to be kept confidential while they are under negotiation.

Perhaps I will be excused from commenting in detail on the most interesting and fascinating exposition by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook. It would be presumptive, I think, to comment on the remarks which he made, but they certainly contributed much to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Morris, also, referred to the point about the misconception— and it is that— that the recent convention somehow extends the Antarctic Treaty area. I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, explained this fairly effectively and clearly. In fact, the Antarctic Treaty area— that is, the treaty that has existed since 1961— extends from the South Pole to the 60 degrees South parallel, while this new convention extends slightly further, up to the area of the Antarctic convergence, which the noble Lord explained. But there is no question of any change in the sovereignty arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said— and I made a note of his words— that we are abrogating control of the Falkland Islands Dependencies. I must tell my noble friend that he is quite mistaken about that. There is no question of any change in sovereignty arising from this convention. Furthermore, the Falkland Islands fishing rights in the seas around the dependencies remain unaffected by this new convention. My noble friend went on to give some figures for krill population and krill fishing. My information is that these figures are all considered somewhat unreliable, and I would not wish to confirm or press any of them.

My Lords, I think I have dealt with the main concerns of my noble friend Lord Morris. He asked me about the cost of the commission. During the first two years of its existence, the commission is not expected to cost more than £ 10, 000, and thereafter contributions will be limited to the catch of fishing states. My noble friend also asked me, finally, about ratification procedure. I cannot be precise as to how long it will take the United Kingdom to ratify the convention— there are a number of parliamentary and logistic procedures which have to be gone through before this can be done— but it is hoped that we shall be able to ratify the convention within 12 months.

The noble Lord, Lord Buxton, mentioned a number of points, some of which referred to public expenditure. I am sorry to tell him that I really have nothing new to tell him about public expenditure following the debate we had, at his instigation, about the external services of the BBC. I must tell him once more that no area of public expenditure is exempt from scrutiny, and I am afraid that that must include the Antarctic survey. But I will certainly bear in mind what the noble Lord and, indeed, other noble Lords have said.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, put to me a number of detailed points about the convention. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not answer those in detail at this moment, but I will study carefully what he said and will do my best to write to him in due course on this matter. However, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, put some points to me which perhaps I can help him with now, in particular about the omission of nongovernmental organisations from the proceedings in Canberra. There are literally scores of non-governmental organisations concerned directly or indirectly with the recovery of the whale. It was decided that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which has done such valuable work on the world conservation strategy, should be invited to represent the views of all these non-governmental organisations. The IUCN accepted this invitation, and did so effectively.


My Lords, may I make one point? Of course, SCAR itself is non-governmental, although some people think it is.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for pointing that out, and of course he is entirely right. Several noble Lords, particularly, again, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, asked me why Britain was alone in voting against the admission of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Coalition to the conference. I understand that the reports on this matter are in fact not correct. There was indeed no vote at the conference on this issue, but there was a consensus that non- governmental organisations, including ASOC, should be represented by the IUCN.

Several noble Lords referred to the report on the Management of the Southern Oceans by the International Institute for Environment and Development which made some reference to the question of the krill. The report by this Institute takes the view that it seems unlikely that the economies of krill fishing will ever lead to the development of a major industry in the area. The southern oceans are remote and hostile and the krill needs prompt processing, as I and others have already pointed out, in order to be used effectively. Another interesting point brought to my attention is that the shell has a high fluorine content, making it a potential health hazard. How much one is to make of that I am not sure. As an animal feed stock or an agricultural fertiliser, it is uncompetitive with traditional materials.

In conclusion, the main point I want to emphasise is that at Canberra and at the six rounds of talks, we were in negotiation with some countries already fishing the area who are not as responsive to public concern as we are in such matters. We have achieved a convention which, like all other international conservation measures, depends on the goodwill of the participants for its success; and one which we believe will work. To have pressed for further and more rigorous measures would have placed the whole negotiations in jeopardy. As so often in international affairs, we have had to balance the best against the good. In this connection, we have achieved the very good; and that is what we set out to do.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Earl Cathcart)

My Lords, the time allotted for this debate has now elapsed. Does the noble Lord wish to withdraw his Motion?


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.