HL Deb 14 July 1981 vol 422 cc1183-4

7.49 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd June be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe it has been agreed through the usual channels that we should take both the two remaining orders standing in my name at the same time. In order to save more time, perhaps it would be convenient to your Lordships if I were to move these formally now and, later, answer any questions that your Lordships may have upon them. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd June be approved—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

7.50 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, in the brief time available may I make one or two comments and ask one or two questions. The two very important conventions in these orders which we are discussing require international co-operation over the development and monitoring of facilities and natural resources. In the case of the order relating to weather forecasts, forecasts are of considerable economic and financial importance, for they help agriculture, construction, shipping and other aspects which depend upon the weather. Turning to the order relating to the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources, it was agreed in 1980 that all possible steps should be taken to bring the convention into force as soon as possible, so as to harvest the Antarctic marine living resources and to co-operate broadly and comprehensively in their development.

In the moment or so available for discussion of these orders, can the Minister say what progress there has been since the last report was made to the House on these two important conventions and what action has been taken to achieve the respective objectives of these two very important international projects?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston. The purpose of the convention for the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources is in particular to help to protect the stocks of krill, a shrimp-like crustacean which is the principal foodstuff of Antarctic whales, thus reinforcing the protection already provided by the Whaling Convention. The United Kingdom signed that convention on 11th September of last year and it was laid before Parliament on 30th April. There are 15 original signatories, including the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties.

The convention has already established a commission, with its headquarters in Hobart, Tasmania, which is charged with the tasks outlined in the convention. These include measures for the maintenance of stable populations of marine life and of the ecological balance between harvested and dependent populations. The convention keeps open the possibility of exploiting Antarctic marine resources by the British shipping and food processing industries. It is progressing but it has not got off to quite so fast a start as we might have hoped. However, I shall keep the noble Lord and the House fully informed of any progress that is made regarding that establishment.

Turning to the second order, that on the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, I am afraid that I am unable to tell the noble Lord very much except that the European weather centre is now issuing daily for evaluation by its members forecasts for the entire world. The objective of the centre is to provide economically useful forecasts 10 to 12 days ahead. Their current forecasts, which show some skill at five or six days, represent a praiseworthy step forward. So they are getting there. However, one knows from experience of listening to weather forecasts anywhere in the world that they are notoriously unreliable.

The order deals with the pension rights of people serving in the centre. It makes a small extension to the privileges already granted to the staff. Currently, staff who are neither United Kingdom citizens nor permanently resident here are exempted from the payment of contributions to our national social security scheme. This type of exemption is fairly frequently accorded to international organisations which make their own arrangements for social security. The staff are affiliated to what is known as the Co-ordinated Organisations Pensions Scheme which provides common benefits for the staff of a number of European organisations. The object of the exercise is to make sure that they do not have to pay contributions twice. I am not sure whether I have answered in full the noble Lord's question. However, on the assumption that I have, I hope that the House will agree the orders.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. In my remarks, which necessarily had to be condensed in view of the time available, perhaps I should have said that we support the immunities and privileges granted by these two orders. I am sure that the House is grateful for the brief progress report on the conventions.

On Question, Motion agreed to.