HL Deb 15 February 1984 vol 448 cc261-84

3.10 p.m.

Lord Caradon rose to call attention to the situation regarding the Law of the Sea Treaty; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have the privilege of raising in this House a matter of great international importance. We realise its importance when we remember that the oceans of the world make up more than 70 per cent. of the surface of the globe. It is also a joy to be able to refer in this House to an international negotiation which has been going forward for much more than a decade and which has been a very remarkable and most admirable success. The result, as we all know, was that at Montego Bay in Jamaica in December 1982, 118 nations were immediately able to sign the convention which had been worked out in the previous years and give it their full support. It was a remarkable achievement. Some people say there has been no other achievement to compare with it in international negotiation.

So we have before us a set of proposals worked out with the utmost care over a long period, dealing with a whole range of subjects. I cannot deal with them adequately this afternoon. There is a whole range of difficult and complicated questions—the rights of states having their borders on the sea; exclusive economic zones; the rights of navigation; the question of fishing rights; matters of pollution; matters of research. All these complicated matters are dealt with in the agreed report put forward over a period of more than two decades of deliberation, with the result that we have before us now a book of nearly 200 pages setting out the results of the deliberations and negotiations which have been going forward successfully for so long. It is a very remarkable achievement.

If I may, I will go back to my own recollection of the General Assembly of the United Nations many years ago. We were about to go into the annual meeting of the General Assembly, which, as noble Lords know, starts in September each year. The general committee had given thought and care to the agenda for the year, and it was accepted and agreed. But I well remember that at the last moment, when we were about to go into the assembly, the representative of a very small country indeed came forward and said they had a new main matter for the General Assembly. This was greeted with general irritation. Was it necessary to go back and consider again the whole agenda of a year's deliberations on account of a request put forward by Ambassador Pardo of Malta? What was it he wanted to raise?

Ambassador Pardo of Malta said he wanted to raise the question of the deep-sea bed. This was greeted with general consternation. What was it that Ambassador Pardo wanted to say? Ambassador Pardo said he understood there were riches in the deep-sea bed in the resources of the sea. The attitude was, "Well, maybe—who can tell? What do you want to say about it?" Ambassador Pardo wanted to propose that it should be decided by the world assembly on this occasion, and without delay, that the riches of the deep-sea bed should not be used only to make the rich nations richer or merely to bring benefits to the great, rich companies that had the capacity to undertake the exploration. He wanted to propose that the riches of the deep-sea bed should be the common heritage of all mankind.

There was almost disbelief that such a proposal should be put forward. It was thought there would be a few speeches and it would be forgotten. Not at all. Ambassador Pardo was not prepared to be pushed aside. As the assembly went forward in that year we began to realise that we were going to have to vote on this extraordinary proposition. I remember the day of the vote, and I remember the vote very well. A sort of gasp went up. The vote in favour of the proposition put forward by Ambassador Pardo of Malta was accepted by 99 to nil. I thought it might be a very important day in history that the oceans of the world were going to be dealt with in future under a principle never yet accepted—the principle of the resources of the sea being the common heritage of mankind. That was the occasion which I remember so well from New York at that time.

What happened? Following that meeting of the assembly a series of committees were established over a period getting on for 15 years, during which every aspect of the question of the sea and its resources was discussed. The greatest effort was made to reach agreement by consensus. Ambassador Pardo of Malta led the discussions in the early stages. He was followed by Ambassador Aramasinghe of Sri Lanka. He died, and the discussions were followed up again by Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, one of the most influential and effective representatives at the United Nations. I like to think that the work which was done so deliberately, so successfully, was carried out under the leadership of three Commonwealth representatives from Malta, Sri Lanka and Singapore. We owe a great deal to those three remarkable, dedicated men. They pursued this matter with the utmost care, with a readiness to listen to all sides and with a determination to succeed, with the result that we saw the vote which took place at Montego Bay in Jamaica at the World Conference at the end of 1982. That was an historic achievement.

I like to tell the story of this idea—this ideology, if one likes—in regard to the greatest remaining asset of the world. It was attacked and undertaken by three remarkable men from the British Commonwealth who have led the world in establishing a convention, as we call it, which covers every aspect of the use and resources of the seas. I repeat, it was a remarkable achievement.

What happened then? Let us turn now to deal with the challenge which is made from the United States of America. The United States has sought to bring the whole of this enterprise to an end. When it came to the vote in Montego Bay, four countries voted against: the United States, Israel, Venezuela, and Turkey. In the face of those four negative votes against 118 who were in favour, there were 17 abstentions, including, I am sad and ashamed to say, an abstention by the United Kingdom.

Therefore we have a situation in which the work was done by dedicated men in the cause of the whole world. Among the provisions was the most controversial of all—that for the encouragement and control of the mining of the mineral resources of the sea. That was the one item which excited the most furious comment and to which the United States and others objected. So we are faced with the following situation. Are the United States, supported by—or not supported by, but at any rate earning the aquiescence of—the United Kingdom and other states owing perhaps particular allegiance to them, to destroy the conception which arose on that great day, when, by 99 to nil, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided that the resources of the sea should be the common heritage of mankind? Is that to be the result? Are we to see the whole thing come to a disgraceful end?

There are three points that I should like to remember in this respect. What will happen if the United States, with a few accomplices, believes that it can destroy all that has been done and that the enterprise which was brought to such a conclusion in Montego Bay should come to nothing? What will happen if the attempt to disrupt, to destroy the whole of this conception, succeeds, and if, as we have heard, the United States attempts to make a treaty not of all states, but of the few states which would be prepared to work with them? If the United States so intend, as was made very clear at Montego Bay and elsewhere, then they will excite the fiercest opposition from the great majority of the countries of the world. Therefore we wait to see what will happen.

I greatly hope that our country could make a contribution to ending the deadlock. The world has declared, and the United States has denied. It is for us very largely to lead the European opinion because in the vote at least five countries from Europe voted in favour, and nearly the whole of the Commonwealth, including Canada and Australia, also voted in favour. We were struck by the fact that at Montego Bay, when it was clear that the United Kingdom was undecided, Nigeria turned on us and asked, "Is it true that the United Kingdom is to divorce itself from the Commonwealth on a matter of world importance?" Yes, it is a matter of world importance in which our part will be important.

I believe that there can still be time to reconsider because under the provisions of the convention the preparatory commission is to work until December of this year; originally it was given two years. Therefore it is not too late for our country to sign the convention and then to take a full part in the preparations for the establishment of the International Sea-Bed Authority and the tribunal (which is to be established in the Netherlands) to deal with all questions of the law of the sea. I am glad to say that the International Sea-Bed Authority will be established in Jamaica, and the International Tribunal to deal with questions arising from the new treaty, the new law, will be in the Netherlands. That is quite suitable, remembering Grotius and his leadership in requiring that the sea should not be the property of any one nation, but should be to the benefit of all.

So I would hope that our country can make a positive contribution, and I would hope, too, that it may even be possible that the United States will say, "Let us think again, let us be prepared not to deny, to thwart and to frustrate, but to co-operate and to participate". I believe that both of those things are possible, and I hope that when the noble Baroness addresses the House presently she will not rule out the possibility that while there is still time we can make a positive, instead of a negative, contribution.

In considering this matter it occurred to me that it may well be that Britannia no longer rules the waves. But surely we have not come to a stage when we should be slaves to American vetoes. Therefore I greatly hope that in this matter of the future of the seas this country can make a positive, a constructive, and a helpful contribution. I beg to move for Papers.

3.27 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the House is much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, for bringing this question before us this afternoon, and for reminding us of the general shape of the history of this convention, which he himself played such a part in bringing about. Ever since it appeared that the incoming Reagan Administration were going to backtrack on this matter, we from these Benches have been asking the Government to do what they can to cause the United States to desist from that course, and to consider whether they should not sign even without the United States.

This morning I was looking up the record and I turned back more than two years, to December 1981, when, I found, we asked the Government to do what they could, to bring the new American Administration to their senses after what appeared to be a beginner's blunder". The beginner's blunder has not been rectified, and so far our own complicity with that blunder has not been rectified either; our composition of the blunder is compounded.

Now, what kind of convention is this? It has been signed by 132 countries. There is a limited period for signature, and this afternoon it will be my burden that we should jolly well sign before the limited period is up. It is essentially a package of rights and duties. Like all good international conventions, it contains some things for some parties, and other things for other parties; no right without a duty, no duty without a right.

Secondly, it is not just a codification of existing international law—as so many conventions are. It takes entirely new steps in the organisation of human affairs, unprecedented in other fields. The main new step is the one which the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, described so eloquently; and that relates to the authority and the tribunal dealing with mining the mineral wealth lying on the deep seabed. It does not confer any rights on any states. It cannot do that, because the high seas and the ground under them have always been, as lawyers call it, res communis, meaning the property of everyone. They have not been the property of nobody, res nullius. In the case of res nullius, anyone can go along and grab. In the case of res communis, no one can grab without general consent. The high seas have always been res communis. This convention merely declares and confirms that fact. It provides a system of administration whereby states may go along and occupy a bit of the seabed for mining purposes with general consent and to the general good.

Since the convention was opened for signature there has been a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations seeking to put right the present, we hope, temporary deadlock. The resolution calls upon all states, to safeguard the unified character of the convention". That unified character is what I have just described—the rights and duties. It appeals to all states, to refrain from taking any action directed at undermining the convention or defeating its objects". To abstain from signing is such an action. I should like the House to listen to the words of Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, whose role in this matter was praised by the noble Lord, Lord Caradon. He has said that, any attempt by any State, or group of States, to mine the resources of the deep seabed outside the Convention will incur the condemnation of the international community, as well as grave political and legal consequences". Let us think for a moment of what those consequences might be. We will be in a world where the overwhelming majority of members of the United Nations belong to the convention. In due course, when it becomes economically possible, the rich nations want to go and mine. They do not belong to the convention. Out they go. They occupy a bit of the seabed. They commit vast economic, engineering and financial resources to the extraction and the raising of the nodules. The plant is entirely vulnerable. They are on the high seas. If anyone interferes with the operation, the decent opinion of mankind will not be on the side of the mining enterprise. It will be on the side of the interferer. It might be possible—I do not know—it would certainly be plausible if the signatories of the convention, the majority of the human race, were to accuse the mining companies of a sort of piracy against the convention. At any rate, it would be a situation very far indeed from one of political, legal and even military security that will be needed by industry if they are to commit these huge resources to mining. Ambassador Koh's warning is not hot air; it is extremely concrete.

Let me turn now to the other side of the treaty which the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, did not emphasise so much. I refer to the other things in the convention; the other reasons for which we want it. We want it for defence reasons. It would underpin a law that we might make preventing the operation of undersea tanks, or creepy-crawlies as they are called, on our own continental shelf. We have no means of forbidding that at the moment. It would underpin any regulations we might make to compel unknown submarines to surface in our own economic zone. It would underpin the extension of territorial water to 12 miles, which we need partly for defence reasons and partly for environmental control. We also need the underpinning of traditional navigation rights—rights of free passage, rights of innocent passage and rights of passage through international straits. If we do not sign the great embracing document that codifies all that and advances it, let us think in advance what will be our standing in international courts and tribunals compared with that of those who have signed.

It seems to us that the Prime Minister has now begun to re-examine some of the early Reagan policies with an admirably beady eye. To judge by her attitude in Hungary recently, by her emphasis on the value and importance of international law in the Grenada case, and by her way of getting out of the Lebanon, which was so much quieter and wiser than the way chosen by the United States, it seems to us that the time has come when it might be possible for the Government to reconsider their support of the United States attitude on the Law of the Sea Convention. It is the next Reagan policy that should be reviewed. I do not want to use the word "dishonourable"—it was not dishonourable, but it is a fact that after three Presidents before President Reagan had gone into the negotiations, leading from the front with a tremendous appearance of political commitment and with a great deal of specialised knowledge that only very advanced countries possess, the fourth President suddenly turned round, fired his chief negotiator and denounced the earlier commitment. The United States now seems to be grabbing the quids in this balanced arrangement, and withholding the quos.

There is no particular political beauty of wisdom in that attitude. We should not endorse it. Why are the Government endorsing it? Is it possible that they were not getting as wide a spectrum of advice as they might have been getting? There is no point in probing the advice that the Government are getting. One must take their sayings at face value. However, it seemed noticeable at one stage that Mr. MacGregor, the present chairman of the National Coal Board and formerly chairman of British Steel, was having some influence in setting the Government's attitudes. He has expounded his views in public. It was shown subsequently that they were not based on adequate study of the treaty or adequate knowledge of the policies and possibilities of other countries.

There are two main things about seabed exploitation which should give us good reason to go ahead with signing now. The first is that it is certainly not an attractive economic proposition for quite a long time. The words of—who better placed than he—the chairman of the RTZ Deep Sea-Mining Enterprises recently were that it certainly will not pay this century and probably not for several decades. It is hard to see who is likely to have inquired further into the matter than that particular industrialist.

I contend that since there is nothing doing economically for a good many years, it would be wise for the nations of the world, including ourselves, to take the opportunity now of setting up a system, when there is no heat on, getting ready for the time when the heat comes on. Mr. Rifkind made what I thought was a not very impressive speech in the House of Commons two months ago saying that we could not afford to finance the international authority at the moment before there were any revenues coming in. That was a self-defeating argument. If no revenues are coming in, it is because no licences have been issued. If no licences have been issued, there is no work to be done except the setting up of the merest advance guard to get things prepared over the next period of a good many years.

The second reason that we should sign is that which I have already adumbrated. It would be very draughty for the mining exploiters in 20 or 30 years' time if we do not. What protection would be provided by the sort of mini-treaties that the United States is now proposing, not with poorer countries that could benefit, but with other rich countries and mining countries—a network of treaties among the rich and privileged nations of the world? I think it will be rather poor. As I was saying, it would be very much open to attack politically and juridically.

I note that the Japanese Government—who have a habit of knowing on which side their bread is buttered in advanced industrial technology—are already preparing the domestic legislation which they will need when they sign.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, may I just add to the noble Lord's comments on this matter that in my personal experience there is an enormous possibility for technological transfer in this area? I have been personally involved in a project known as "the ocean thermal conversion technology", in which I believe that our expertise in the United Kingdom could add enormously to developing the resources of the deep sea, and in which I believe we shall be—

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the noble Lord asking a question or making a statement?

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I am putting this point to the noble Lord as something that could add to his comments.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord shares my opinion that all this could be better done if we were signatories to the treaty, and I thank him very much for his intervention.

Perhaps when the Minister of State comes to reply she will be able to answer a couple of questions along the line. First, now that the negotiations are over, what has happened to the inter-departmental committee in Whitehall which hacked up the negotiators? Is it still there? In our view it would be a very good thing if it were still there. Secondly, what is the present situation as regards signature and ratification among the European Community nations? On the last occasion when we inquired a year or two ago, they were divided. Is that still the case?

In conclusion, let me say that we believe that President Reagan was wrong in the first place, and he is still wrong. We believe that the Government were wrong to go along with him, and we hope that they will soon put matters right. It is probably in American interests and it is certainly in British interests that we should sign, and we hope that the Prime Minister will point this out to the President with all the clarity for which she is famous. It has been a sad interlude of short sight. Luckily, there is still time to put things right, and I hope that the Minister of State can tell us later this afternoon that the process has already begun.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Caradon, first, for his powerful and moving speech and, secondly, for giving the House, by introducing this Motion, the opportunity to debate the Law of the Sea Treaty. I would also—if I may say so on my own behalf—like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, for his probing speech running to the heart of much what we are to discuss.

It is not the first time for me personally to be associated with my noble friend Lord Caradon on maritime matters. I sat alongside him some years ago on the Security Council when he was our greatly respected Ambassador at the United Nations and he introduced the Beira Resolution in an attempt, by means of the Royal Navy, to enforce oil sanctions against the illegal Smith régime.

As a major trade-dependent maritime nation, Britain has a vital interest in the achievement of a body of international rules for using the sea whose legitimacy is recognised throughout the world. We are one of the countries most vulnerable to the absence of a generally accepted régime of the sea—over three lost "cod wars" have brought that home to us. In the light of that, and of other considerations that have been referred to already, it is deeply regrettable that the Government have failed to sign the Law of the Sea Convention, particularly in view of the fact—as my noble friend Lord Caradon has said—that no less than 118 states have already signed the convention. It is significant that a greatly concerned and well-informed body—namely, the General Council of British Shipping—has stressed that the convention's provisions on freedom of navigation and pollution are a considerable advance on the present régime. The council points out by way of example—and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has identified one or two himself—that they establish the width of the territorial sea at 12 miles. A number of countries claim limits in excess of this, and in some instances 200 miles. They define innocent passage and, most importantly, make it clear that coastal states cannot, unless they are implementing international agreements, make regulations with regard to design, construction, equipment and manning affecting foreign ships in innocent passage. They set up a regime for straits which gives a right of transit which cannot be suspended. They establish a régime for archipelagoes. They impose duties on states to preserve the marine environment. They provide for the settlement of disputes and the rapid release of ships when security is available. Those are all most valuable provisions which are substantially lacking at this time, and which certainly need enforcement. They are all provisions of immense value to all who go down to the sea in ships.

As I understand it, the Government's main ground for not signing the convention is because of its deep seabed mining provisions. This, of course, has been the main concern of the powerful mining lobby in the United States—to which my noble friend Lord Caradon has referred—which has made a great deal of the running in the opposition to the convention.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have kindly supplied us with a note which states—and I hope that the noble Baroness has been supplied with a copy of it—that they: are working to try to obtain improvements at the Preparatory Commission set up to prepare for the deep seabed mining aspects of the convention". However, as I understand it, the difficulty is that, as we have refused to sign the convention, we shall have no vote in the proceedings of the Preparatory Commission. We have, to that extent, diminished our own power to influence the course of the deliberations.

In any event, it is by no means clear that this country's mining and mineral access interests would be substantially impaired by our acceptance of the convention's proposals. Those who are expert in the field seem to think that they will not be impaired. Secondly, there is reason to believe—and I think that the noble Lord. Lord Kennet, touched upon this—that, for economic reasons, deep seabed mining is not likely to be a commercial proposition for a very long time to come. Indeed, the General Council of British Shipping has concluded that the prospect that any mining will take place in this century is now remote. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has referred to the views of the chairman of RTZ on this matter. I was struck to know that both BP and Shell, which are potential miners, consider that safe navigation outweighs any potential mining benefit, and for us, as a seafaring nation, that is a primary consideration; that is where the vital major British interest lies.

We stand to gain rather than to lose by this convention. It represents a very serious effort by the whole international community over the prolonged period from 1973 to 1982 to create a world order in shipping which is already acceptable to the vast majority of states. They have also worked to thresh out an agreed regime governing an important part of the earth's resources. If that attempt proves unsuccessful largely because of the opposition of interested elements in the United States—and I understand that the Administration of that country is by no means unanimous in its opposition to signature of the convention—there is a very real danger that governments will become extremely disillusioned about the possibility of resolving their differences and dealing with some major problems of our planet through negotiation.

The alternative to fulfilment of the convention and acceptance of it is fragmentation of the law in this important field and an increasing slide towards conflict and towards the sort of considerations which, as my noble friend said in introducing the famous motion in the United Nations in 1967, led the ambassador to Malta to do what he did. The attitude of submission to the course of separateness, of refusal to join in this world endeavour, could well spread beyond the confines of the law of the sea. If this great effort, which the vast majority of the nations of the world have joined in, is frustrated by powerful single interests, the future for the world will be very serious indeed.

I am striking a somewhat sombre note on this matter because I think it is right to do so. There is still time for this country—this nation of, above all, seafaring men—to redeem the errors of the past and now, before the end of December, to sign this convention and to take its traditional place as proponents of the international law of the sea and of the rule of law itself.

3.53 p.m.

Viscount Hood

My Lords, I should like to add my words of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, for raising this important subject. It is, indeed, most important, and not the least so because the Law of the Sea Treaty sets out to regulate the development of the vast mineral resources which are known to exist on the floor of the ocean. The noble Lord, Lord Caradon, has spoken eloquently that these should become a common heritage, and who can deny that hope and aspiration? But I fear that the clauses of the Law of the Sea Treaty as currently drafted will effectively deny these resources.

What are the facts? There are immense quantities of nodules in the middle of the Pacific, four-and-a-half kilometres down, containing huge mineralisations-up to some 30 per cent. Unfortunately, nine-tenths of the mineralisation is in manganese, which is readily available in great quantities on land; but the remaining 3 per cent.—nickel, copper and cobalt—represents, in the case of nickel, five times the known resources on land; and the copper and cobalt are of vast world importance.

There are many problems in bringing the metals to market, and the first and most important, and the most difficult, is to get them up out of the sea. The problem has been studied and worked on by five consortia of mining companies and, indeed, nationalised companies. Here I should declare an interest as I am a director of a Belgian company, Union Minière, which is one of the participants in a consortium. They have spent a great deal of money and have made some progress. They have succeeded in lifting about 500 tonnes of nodules, which is no mean achievement, using a method of suction rather like a vast elephant trunk sucking them from the deep. But 500 tonnes is minimal when compared to the requirement for a commercial operation, which is 10,000 tonnes a day or 3 million tonnes a year.

There is a great amount of work to be done. It has been estimated that it might take 10 years of effort and development to get a commercial operation started. But, in fact, all work has now stopped, for which there are two reasons. The first concerns the commercial factors of the market for metals. It would require an increase of some 50 per cent. in the price of these metals, as well as a conviction that this would continue, which is very different from an immediate rise, to make it commercially possible.

Secondly, there are the provisions of the Law of the Sea Treaty. A commercial enterprise is estimated to require perhaps 250 million dollars of development and an investment of one-and-a-half billion dollars. I do not think that any commercial enterprise or group of companies will endeavour to undertake any such thing without the security of tenure which should come from the Law of the Sea Treaty. I do not believe that the limited national companies would give those assurances.

There are four major disadvantages in the Law of the Sea Treaty as at present drafted. As your Lordships know, the Law of the Sea Treaty creates an authority to administer, and the authority creates an enterprise which itself would become a mining company. The first difficulty is that any company or group of companies signing the treaty would be required to turn all their technology over to the enterprise. That is mandatory. Unless they made it available, they would not be allowed to use it themselves.

Secondly, any area which it is proposed to develop would have to be shared with the enterprise half and half, and the enterprise would take the best half—it has a right to choose. Thirdly, there is control of production with the object, in part, to control the market for metals. Finally, there is a very heavy levy based upon the content of minerals, ranging from 5 per cent. to 12 per cent. of their value; or the alternative of a lower levy on the minerals, 2 per cent. to 4 per cent., and a levy on ultimate profits ranging from 35 per cent. to 70 per cent.

I am a commercial man, and collectively these are damning. Although I believe that commercial enterprises can take a long view and that efforts would continue to develop the possibilities of mining from the sea bed, with the Law of the Sea Treaty in its present form nothing will be done. It seems to follow that if the Law of the Sea Treaty is accepted in its present form, it will in effect deny the advantages which the nodules may one day bring to the world at large. Therefore, I believe that Her Majesty's Government are entirely right to withhold their signature from the Law of the Sea Treaty in its present form and to continue in their endeavours to achieve realistic changes in the clauses affecting, in particular, deep sea mining.

3.59 p.m.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships will agree that it was a tremendous pleasure and privilege to listen to the superb speech of the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, whom I shall always associate with his splendid achievements in Jordan and Palestine (as it then was), and subsequently at the United Nations. But this afternoon the noble Lord has asked us to examine this very important convention on the law of the sea, and although I am no expert in international law, for many years of my diplomatic career—in fact, intermittently from 1952 to 1958 and then continuously from 1963 to 1967—I was involved in the delimitation and demarcation of frontiers in an area which some call the Persian Gulf, which others call the Arabian Gulf and which yet others—myself among them—refer to merely as the Gulf. It is in the context of frontier demarcations, and also the settlement of disputes arising from them, that I would give the most warm welcome to this new convention. Above all, I should like to emphasise—and I hope to bring this out subsequently in my speech—that it is a great improvement on its predecessor, the convention of 1958 which stemmed from the first Law of the Sea Conference in Geneva of that year.

Before I start talking about frontiers, I cannot refrain from commenting on two articles in this new convention which immediately caught my eye. They are Articles 99 and 100, which deal with the transport of slaves and the repression of piracy. However out of date such provisions may appear today, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that it was in 1853 that Her Majesty's Government concluded what was called the Treaty of Perpetual Truce with certain states in the Gulf which subsequently became the Trucial States and now are the United Arab Emirates.

That was more than 100 years ago, but in 1953, when I started working in that area, slavery was still quite common; domestic slavery, even a little slave trading, and piracy too. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that it was only a few months ago that slavery was finally abolished in Mauritania. I well remember when I was in the Trucial States, as they were then, that any slave who wanted to claim his freedom had only to go and grasp the flagpole of the British Agency. Similarly, I am delighted to see that in Article 100 of this new convention any slave who boards a ship, no matter what flag it may be flying, can, ipso facto, claim his or her freedom.

I must return to the frontiers. Whereas the Arabs of the Gulf area had clear and well thought-out ideas about their claims to oases in the desert and similarly to islands at sea, nevertheless the Western concept of a frontier as a straight line or a curved line, or even a line at all, was totally alien to their thinking. So it was that whereas in the desert all such settlements allowed the bedouin to roam at will seeking vegetation, grazing for their camels, and so on, similarly at sea the early settlements allowed the pearl divers and the fishermen to work the various pearling banks in the areas of Qatar, Bahrain, and the Trucial States. Similarly the 1958 Saudi-Bahrain seabed agreement provided Bahrain with pearling rights within the continental shelf of Abu Dhabi.

But whereas such arrangements were of course admirably suited to the needs of the bedouin and the simple fishermen and pearl divers, they were totally inadequate when the oil companies—British Petroleum, the Iraq Petroleum Company, and subsequently other companies—started exploring for oil in 1949. A large number of problems arose which I need not deal with now; but it is interesting to note that the problems of those of us concerned with these settlements were to some extent simplified by the extraordinary habit of the bedouin of naming almost every rock and prominent feature like sand dunes, and even trees. I remember on one occasion spending no fewer than eight days trying to determine the ownership of one crucial tree. Similarly at sea certain areas had their names quite apart from rocks, shoals, reefs, and so on.

One of the earliest settlements that was reached was that between Qatar and Bahrain in 1947. This is generally considered to have been an unsatisfactory settlement. I would put to you that it was unsatisfactory because there were no clear guidelines on which to work. Thus, the settlement has been—and I think I am right in saying still is—disputed. Here I come to what I consider another important point, and this was touched upon by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. Among the other admirable provisions in this treaty we see in Articles 186 to 191 and 279 to 299 admirable, comprehensive provisions for the settlement of disputes. There is even provision for the establishment of a seabed disputes chamber. What a splendid idea! By contrast with this somewhat unsatisfactory settlement, the 1969 Abu Dhabi Qatar continental shelf settlement was much more satisfactory, and I think the reason for this was that those responsible for it had the guidelines of the 1958 convention.

In the settlement of all these frontiers the definition of the continental shelf was an important consideration, though not the sole one. There was of course the consideration of the median lines and other similar considerations. But here again I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this new convention is a great improvement on that of 1958. In particular, I refer to Articles 76 to 85. But of course when it came to settle seabed frontiers on the basis of the continental shelf, all sorts of problems arose. For example, there was the island of Sir Abu Na'ir, which although belonging to Sharjah lay within the continental shelf of Abu Dhabi. Indeed, the whole problem of settlements in the Gulf waters was greatly complicated by the presence of a multitude of islands, and I could refer briefly to the problems over the ownership of Abu Musa, Tanb, and Nabiu Tanb, which although lying on the Arab side of the Gulf were claimed by Iran. However, I shall not weary your Lordships with more names of almost unpronounceable islands.

I want now to examine one further area which again was touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and it is another important aspect of this important matter, and that is the breadth of the territorial sea. Under Article 3 of the new convention every state has the right to establish a territorial sea limit extending to 12 nautical miles from the base line, which is defined as the low water line. Traditionally of course this limit has been three miles. I may be wrong in this, but I am told that this springs from the range of land-based cannons firing at enemy warships.

When this question of seabed limits was discussed at the Geneva Conference of 1958, the first Law of the Sea Conference, no agreement could be reached at all because different states had different ideas. This gave rise to all sorts of exaggerated claims. I could perhaps refer to the claim of Libya, advanced in October 1973, to the whole of the Gulf of Sine. This claim would have extended the line to a total distance of 150 miles at its broadest point from the base line.

To return to the Gulf, almost all of the frontiers have now been settled, I am glad to say, with the exception of a small area which lies immediately to the north of the former Saudi-Kuwait neutral zone. This is an area in which the frontiers of Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran lie in close proximity. I feel strongly that if Her Majesty's Government were to sign this new convention, its provisions would be of the greatest help in settling this small remaining area. I would also put to your Lordships that the new convention could be of the greatest value to the Saudi-Sudanese Red Sea joint committee which is now sitting, working out the problems of the exploitation of the Red Sea.

One further point: noble Lords have referred before—and I believe other noble Lords will refer subsequently in their speeches—to the attitude of the Americans. Perhaps I should draw attention to two interesting articles which appeared in the New Yorker dated 1st and 8th August, written by a man who calls himself a lawyer-at-large. This distinguished lawyer, who has examined this new convention in great detail, has come to the definite conclusion that it would be in the interests of the United States to sign it.

I will end as I started by expressing the warmest possible welcome to the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, and expressing the hope that Her Majesty's Government will soon see their way to signing this most important and comprehensive convention.

4.12 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, on his good fortune in the ballot and on his most eloquent speech. He described graphically to us the origins of the United Nations declaration and then the convention which has been negotiated. Speakers in the debate so far have made it plain that the part of the convention on the deep-sea mining regime is the most contentious subject which has been under negotiation. This, briefly, is dealing with the resources of the floors of the oceans beyond the continental shelves and beyond individual nations' claims, such as in exclusive economic zones of 200-miles. We are here dealing with the high seas and international waters.

But that is only one part of the convention. The attempts to attain a treaty by consensus on the whole range of subjects needing codification of the law of the sea has failed. This is unfortunate, but the risk of failure has been apparent for some years, because most of the participants in the United Nations conference have adopted the attitude of all or nothing. They were not prepared to accept parts of the convention dealing with different subjects unless all the other proposed parts were included, too. Progress will now inevitably be slow.

There is a bizarre paradox here. The developing countries, by insisting on unsuitable international regimes for deep sea mining, may deprive themselves and the rest of the world for longer than necessary of a new source of minerals. The most developed industrial countries and their consortia of mining companies, which are those likely to possess the technology in due course, are not likely to embark on major operations in what appear to be unfavourable circumstances dominated by an inappropriate international regime. The paradox is magnified by the fact that all these countries, both industrial as well as developing, have accepted that the value of these seabed resources should be shared among all the nations of the world as international property. Every plan that has been made, including the legislation that has passed through this House, has included arrangements for money to be set aside for the rest of the world.

A great deal of agreement on other subjects has been reached by virtually the whole of the world and by coastal states in particular. The pity is that it may now take time for these agreements to be translated into action.

I should today like to concentrate on the parts of the convention applying to the territorial sea and the related subject of freedom of navigation. These sections are of great importance to this country. We depend upon overseas trade more than any other industrial nation. We are a leading shipping nation, not only in helping that overseas trade but in the cross-trades between other countries. On 15th November last, the President of the General Council of British Shipping, in a letter to The Times, argued that the Government should sign the convention. He argued that the immediate gains from which Britain would then benefit would outweigh the difficulties concerning the seabed regime, for which there was still plenty of time. The Government may see overriding objections to that. If they do, I suggest that they should pursue other means.

In reply to a question from me on 2nd December 1982, when he had been repeating a Statement made in another place, my noble friend Lord Belstead said that the Government could consider the extension of territorial waters to 12 miles freely and that this would not be tied to the convention. However, there is an essential quid pro quo: that is that there should be worldwide agreement on the freedom of navigation within a 12-mile territorial sea. But that has also been satisfactorily agreed within the convention. Those countries who in the past have not been prepared to accept free passage through such international straits have in this convention been prepared to agree to arrangements which are satisfactory to the United Kingdom and also, I believe, to the United States.

Some coastal states now claim 12 miles as a territorial sea. A few claim even more than that; but the United Kingdom does not recognise more than three miles. Nor does the United States. Our ships, as a matter of expediency, must often act as if the 12-mile territorial sea claim is valid when they are sailing in those waters. Thus we have the worst of both worlds. Our vessels have to comply with a 12-mile territorial sea, in effect, when they are in other parts of the world, but at home we have simply a three-mile territorial sea. If we were able to extend it to 12 miles, that would be especially useful to protect our coastlines from pollution.

I will not go into the subject of pollution in detail now. We have discussed it in previous debates in your Lordships' House. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, in its report over two years ago, emphatically recommended—I think it was its main recommendation—that the United Kingdom should extend its territorial sea from three miles to 12 miles. This, together with the change of emphasis in the convention to port state jurisdiction, would enable us to reduce significantly oil slicks and other pollution round our coasts. As some countries are already claiming a 12-mile territorial sea and all the others have agreed to accept this, can this not be carried out by everyone coming into line and treating it as customary law?

I would remind your Lordships that this was done for the 200-mile fishing limit in 1976 and 1977. That was also something that had been agreed during the negotiation of this convention. The fishing, maritime and coastal nations were all in agreement, and the important thing was that it should be done at the same time so that everybody suffered the disadvantages and gained the benefits at the same moment. That was done in extending our fishing limits to 200 miles at the same time as all the other nations of the world. We were anticipating this convention.

It is clear that the same thing could be done for the territorial seas, but it would probably have to be done, too, for the system of freedom of navigation. In the convention that system consists of agreement on a regime of transit passage. This would mean that when the 12-mile territorial sea was recognised, a strait of less than 24 miles would be regarded as an international route. There are even improvements so far as naval countries are concerned. In particular, the convention makes simpler than in the past the passage of warships, particularly submarines, and also the over-flying of aircraft. This is important for the navies of the free world. I presume, therefore, that the Government would wish that the general recognition of a 12-mile territorial sea should take place at the same time as the introduction of an agreed arrangement on transit passage.

It seems that the procedures for the bringing into effect of these arrangements under the convention, including signature and ratification, are complicated and slow. If that proves to be the case, I urge the Government to seek other ways of applying what has already been agreed by all concerned: for example, to examine the prospect of establishing as customary law both the 12-mile territorial sea and the transit passage system. I know that the difficulty here is that some nations are not prepared to apply separate and self-contained parts of the treaty until the international seabed mining régime is also agreed and ready to be adopted; but I believe that that attitude is mistaken. It is not in their interests to delay parts of the convention where everything has been agreed. Seabed mining, as some speakers have already indicated, is unlikely to happen in the near future.

When we were discussing this nine years ago in your Lordships' House—and I remember that well, because I made my maiden speech in this House on this subject from the Opposition Front Bench nine years ago—at that time it seemed that deepsea mining might be much nearer; but because of the recession and for other reasons it is clear that it is some way off. Therefore, there is time for further negotiation and changes. To deny the maritime and coastal states the benefits of agreements already achieved on the territorial sea and the transit passage régime would be detrimental to the interests of most of the countries of the world. That point was recognised in the similar case of the extension of fishing limits in 1976. I hope that the British Government can, with like-minded nations, convince the others that the expected advance in these matters, an important advance, should not be deliberately delayed.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Briginshaw

My Lords, the most important note of emphasis that my noble friend Lord Caradon and my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones struck in their most valid introduction to this short debate was that the matter is of first-rate importance when one questions the future of the oceans of the world. It is important to all the peoples of the world. It is, I feel, of particular importance to the British people because, I submit, the United Kingdom Government have played a somewhat shamefaced role in the matter. That we started off reasonably well in adopting some positive positions is obvious, and it was sensible to follow certain logical paths. My noble friend Lord Caradon referred to his joy at being able to indicate more than a decade of devoted and successful international negotiations.

It was widely welcomed in the world when the result of the work by so many was signed by representatives of 118 nations at the convention for the establishment of a new law of the sea held in December 1982 at Montego Bay in Jamaica. It was a great and unique achievement. In a world where negative and potentially destructive efforts are on occasion lauded to the skies, it was wonderful to act for peaceful efforts and wide agreement. The very essence of negotiation, surely, is much give and take in the interests of gaining great prizes for all mankind. The details set before your Lordships by my noble friend quite rightly traced the early initiatives 17 years ago at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

It is unfortunate that the understanding of the major world issues involved should have been lost. So much has been done by our Governments to diminish our support for the role of the United Nations in its peace-seeking and peace-keeping in many parts of the world. Recent and current events in the Middle East have made it patently clear that British interests are often best served by the positive use of the United Nations' organs. The work put in to establish the law of the sea was a classic example. In my opinion, we have a fresh chance to enhance our standing in the great forum of the nations by seeking to return to our original positions on the law of the sea and to adopt the convention urgently.

My Lords, I have consciously avoided a repetitive journey into the massive detail of the brave efforts of so many to establish the United Nations law of the sea convention and the provisions relating to deep sea mining. I continue to share the view expressed by Mr. Denis Healey on behalf of the official Opposition in another place on 2nd December 1982, when the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Rifkind, had explained the Government's refusal to adopt the convention. Mr. Healey said that Mr. Rifkind's statement was utterly unacceptable; that the Government's decision should be regarded as contrary to international and British interests.

The years of work in preparing and negotiating the convention represent a massive effort and a giant step towards the noble aim of seeking one world. Now, more than ever, we in the United Kingdom need to recast our policy to strike out independently, as has been indicated by a number of noble Lords in this debate, in defence of United Nations efforts to fulfil its fundamental purposes. In this, as in so many other fields, surely, opportunity now knocks loudly. Actions are needed, not negative word play. I commend the Motion to your Lordships.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, may I speak from some experience of international law as it comes before our courts? We had a great question a few years ago as to how international law was formed and how it could be changed. That was the Trendtex case. Some people said that when international law was formed it was static and could not be changed at all, as, for instance, the three-mile territorial limit which was arranged in the 18th or 19th century owing to the length which could be controlled by the guns ashore; and the three-mile territorial limit was founded on that antiquated basis. It was said that that international law, once established, could not be changed.

We held in the Court of Appeal, and I think it has been generally accepted, that international law is formed by a general consensus and can be changed by a general consensus of opinion. Whether it is juries, governments or whatever it may be, it is the general consensus which should form and change international law. That is why I would commend very much that this Government should ratify this convention as a whole, because it is to be the embodiment of a consensus of international law on the most important sphere in which international law operates. Take that three-mile limit: we had to consider it when we had the case from the Gulf, which my noble friend Lord Buckmaster has mentioned regarding the island of Abu Musa and the sovereignty in regard to it—

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, Tanb and Nabiu Tanb.

Lord Denning

My Lords, my noble friend has mentioned it. There it was: was it a three-mile limit or was it a 12-mile limit? All those points came into account, and it is perfectly plain to me, whatever the convention says, that the general consensus of the nations now is for a 12-mile limit. But it needs this convention to give it force. Then as regards passage by sea, our laws have had to be advised by the courts. I hope that they will stand water, but we want them recognised by all countries, and in order to get them recognised by all countries we must ratify this convention.

As regards the continental shelf, how important that could be: and what are the right ways of dealing with it? On all these matters there must be a convention and a consensus in order to form international law so that we do not have these continual disputes between individuals or, as it may be, between the great oil companies or between states. There must be a consensus, a convention, on international law to make it clear for everybody. That is why the great merit of this convention is the overwhelming support which it has had, save on one important topic no doubt—deep mining. How important it is! I would give up all those difficulties in order to get certainty over the whole realm of the law; and here we have the opportunity.

As regards deep sea mining, goodness knows how many years we will have to wait for that! I would urge, if I may, in support of my noble friend Lord Caradon, first, please, ratify the convention at all costs. But if you do not do that, make it plain to the world that this country adheres to all the principles of it except the deep sea mining one. If we all show that we agree with the terms of the convention, it will gradually become international law.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I should like to intervene very briefly and I am grateful for having been allowed a short time to do so. There are two issues here: one is the broad political international issue which was dealt with so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, in introducing this Motion; and secondly there is the commercial and technological issue. Having been involved in some of the technology of producing energy out of deep seas that has been developed in this country, I should like to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she replies to say whether she believes, in this transfer of technology and in using the technology that has been developed here, that we would not be in a better position to do that by signing this convention than by not signing it. We have in Britain a great wealth of expertise. We have explored the deep sea. We have now developed ways in which the deep sea can yield up new resources for the benefit of the world. Would we not be better off if we joined with the rest of the world in signing this convention than if we tried to go on our own? That is the specific issue I should like to raise.

4.37 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I am sure we have all listened with great interest to the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, and to this very interesting debate on the law of the sea. At the beginning, I should like to make clear that the United Kingdom would like to see a comprehensive regime on marine matters which was acceptable to all, and that we had hoped that the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea would produce a text which could be adopted by consensus. As the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, said, there was a unanimous vote of 99 to zero in 1967 for the first resolution on the seabed beyond national jurisdiction; this broad support was maintained in 1970, when a resolution on the principles governing this area of the seabed was adopted. It envisaged that an international regime would be established by "an international treaty generally agreed upon".

On many issues which came before the Law of the Sea Conference from 1973 onwards, a general consensus was maintained and a general understanding that it was appropriate to deal with these issues in a single convention. We are all conscious of the great contribution made by distinguished presidents to whom the noble Lord has referred. But unfortunately, in the late stages, this consensus was not maintained. Agreement was not reached on the provisions relating to deep seabed mining. The text of the convention was put to a vote in which the United Kingdom abstained. In the course of the debate I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, about the numbers of those who had signed the convention: 132 countries have signed the convention and eight states have ratified it.

The United Kingdom's position remains as set out in my noble friend Lord Belstead's Statement of 2nd December 1982, made shortly before the convention was opened for signature. There is much in the convention that is helpful: for example, the provisions relating to navigation, the continental shelf and pollution. But for the United Kingdom the convention's deep sea mining regime is unacceptable as it stands. The United Kingdom cannot participate in the seabed regime on the present terms, and for that reason the United Kingdom cannot sign the convention unless a satisfactory regime for deep seabed mining can be obtained. I listened with great interest to the words of my noble friend Lord Hood on this subject. It has not been our practice to sign a convention where there is not a present prospect of our ratifying the current text.

In the course of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, inferred that we were simply following the United States in this line of argument. I should like to assure him that this is not the case and that as I continue with my remarks I shall set out the reasons why we have taken this view. The provisions which deal with deep seabed mining are highly complex and contain important undesirable features. The proposed seabed regime contemplates a disproportionately weighty structure for the International Seabed Authority. This might have virtually universal membership, with an assembly that would meet annually, a council, subsidiary organs and a secretariat. It would produce an over-elaborate and expensive system for regulating what, in practice, will be a very small number of deep seabed mining operations. The needs of the industry are, in any event, not yet fully understood. The necessary technology is still being developed. Although I appreciate very much the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in his earlier intervention and in his later remarks, that is the advice I have been given. It is therefore difficult to draw up fully detailed conditions for these operations.

The international organisation known as the Enterprise, which would carry out mining operations for the authority, would do so on privileged and costly terms. The initial industrial and administrative costs of the Enterprise would be financed by the states parties to the convention. It would cost at least £1,000 million to set up a full commercial operation, and the United Kingdom share of this would be of the order of £50 million. If the technology for the operations of the Enterprise were not available on the open market. it would be compulsorily acquired from commercial operators. Commercial operators who wished to obtain an authorisation from the authority to engage in deep seabed mining operations would be obliged to provide and explore an additional fully explored mine site for the Enterprise or for developing countries to exploit. The output of operators would be controlled by the authority and high licensing fees would be charged. The undesirable regulatory principles for this regime and the provision for compulsory transfer of technology could set damaging precedents for future negotiations on industrial matters. Another serious flaw lies in the provisions for adopting amendments in a review conference to be convened 15 years after the start of seabed operations. We cannot accept a system that would be open to change, as the convention would allow, even if all states which had a direct interest in seabed mining voted against such a change.

Support for this régime would require a very large financial commitment, not only from states but also from commercial operators. With the seabed mining provisions unaltered and in force, the cost of ratification for the United Kingdom would be between £3.5 million and £8 million for fixed administrative costs and £1.5 million to 1.8 million per annum for running administrative costs, in addition to the cost of the Enterprise's mining site. These figures could increase by 33 per cent. if the United States maintained its position of non-involvement. For the operators, if the return on investment was as low as 5 per cent. the authority, under the present regime, would take 40 per cent. of this. If the return for the operators was 20 per cent., the authority would eventually take 70 per cent. of this—again a point which was made by my noble friend Lord Hood. This burden, and the complexity and over-regulatory nature of the régime, would be likely to discourage investment. Far from producing wealth to be shared out, therefore, the present minng provisions may well prevent any advantage resulting from the potential benefits from the seabed.

What is important is not so much the intention behind the convention's mining system, of sharing among all nations the mineral wealth of the seabed, but whether in practice it would achieve this. Very often, those who put forward adherence to the convention as a factor for stability and a constructive approach to international relations argue on the basis of the non-controversial aspects of the convention—aspects with which, as I have already indicated, the United Kingdom is in agreement—and the intentions behind the mining regime without due consideration of the practical difficulties which this régime could create. As the mining régime now stands, it might remove the incentive to carry out this costly and novel type of operation and remove the profitability on which the sharing of benefits would depend.

I have already indicated that the United Kingdom is not simply following the United States in her policy on this matter. We are not alone in finding these elements unacceptable, because 37 other countries have not signed the convention. Most of the leading industrialised countries, including many Community countries, have objections. One of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, put to me related to the position of the Community countries. I can confirm that five Community members—France, Ireland, Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands,—have signed the convention, while five others—the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg—have not. The other European non-signatories, and several of the signatories, are critical of the deep seabed mining provisions of the convention. These countries, like the United Kingdom and unlike the United States, are attending the preparatory commission. Our involvement with the commission's work shows that the United Kingdom has not turned its back on the convention hut is seeking to improve the the deep sea mining régime. The United Kingdom wishes to work with the international community to achieve a system for seabed mining which is generally acceptable and workable and to bring about generally agreed provisions for regulating marine matters. It is not too late to do this, although clearly it will not be easy. Some solutions may be found through rules adopted in the preparatory commission which has been established to implement the seabed aspects of the convention.

Perhaps at this point it might be helpful if I answered the point raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy about the territorial sea—

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves deep sea mining, may I say that she has used a pretty effective sledgehammer to squash the only sapling which exists? Can she tell the House anything about what kind of mining régime the United Kingdom would welcome?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not think that I could accept the opening statement of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. The points I have made are very real points, which were confirmed in the very interesting speech of my noble friend Lord Hood. I said that we are continuing to work for a solution which would enable deep sea mining to take place, but without the undesirable practical effects which the current suggestions allow.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, what, though, will the solution be?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to go into the details of this solution. However, it is perfectly clear that there is considerable opposition to the present solution. This gives me an opportunity to answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones: the suggestion that some companies believe that the present situation is all right. I am able to confirm that the Government have sought the views of a number of bodies and organisations with interests in the various topics covered by the convention. Some of them have interests in more than one area. Parts of the convention are attractive to them, while other parts of the convention are unattractive to them. However, we are not aware of any United Kingdom body with a deep seabed mining interest which does not consider that Part XI, as presently drafted, is unsatisfactory, and we are not aware of any such United Kingdom body which would wish to operate under the régime established by that part. We have received no request or advice to sign a convention in order that a United Kingdom company with a seabed mining interest might take advantage of the provisions enabling pioneer investors to be registered or otherwise to operate under the convention.

To return to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy about the territorial sea, we are continuing to examine the extension of the United Kingdom's territorial sea in the context of the outcome of the law of the sea conference. The question of territorial sea is only one aspect of the linked questions of the law of the sea.

We have been considering and making preparations for an extension to 12 miles. We hope to introduce this with other changes in the context of a satisfactory outcome of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. This would always have been the most satisfactory context in which to make such an extension—especially in connection with the related questions of the straits to which my noble friend also referred. Extension to 12 miles has the effect that a number of important straits become territorial sea across their whole width, and the convention takes full account of this. Extension of the territorial sea and its implications is only one of the interlinked issues of the law of the sea which we have to keep under review as the situation develops.

Other solutions may well involve a change in what is currently envisaged in the convention, and it may be necessary to find new mechanisms for accomplishing that kind of change. It is our hope that other states will think it worth while continuing to seek solutions which establish a seabed régime that will attract those with the capacity to undertake seabed operations, and which will ensure that within that framework mineral resources are in fact put into circulation.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked one other specific question, which was concerned with interdepartmental machinery. I should like to confirm that interested departments continue to consult on this subject.

With those aims in mind, a United Kingdom delegation attended the two meetings held last year in Kingston, Jamaica, of the Preparatory Commission. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, referred to that body. I should like to confirm that the Preparatory Commission is responsible for working out the technical and procedural provisions on deep seabed mining contained in the Law of the Sea Convention. It is our aim to achieve a realistic, practical and cost-effective regime, and we feel that we can best start doing so in the Preparatory Commission.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, does the noble Baroness the Minister not agree that our standing and power to influence the decisions of the Preparatory Commission are diminished by our failure to sign, and therefore by our failure to enjoy the right to vote on any particular proposal?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am happy to say that I am about to come to that point. As a signatory to the Final Act of the Law of the Sea Conference, the United Kingdom is entitled to participate fully in the work of the commission—although, as the noble and learned Lord has said, not to vote. It is true that we are observers, but we have the right as signatories to participate fully. Our position as observers should not, we believe, be a serious constraint on our work at the commission.

The United Kingdom's representatives have explained to other delegations the difficulties we have with the present mining régime. In 1983 the Preparatory Commission completed its procedural and organisational work. We shall be taking part in the meetings to be held this year, starting in March, when the commission is due to adopt its work programme and start substantive work. We shall continue there with our efforts to secure improvements to the seabed mining régime, working in conjunction with other countries who share our concerns.

My Lords, this has been a very useful debate. I will certainly read it again to note the very important points which have been made. I should again like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, for introducing the debate this afternoon.

Lord Caradon

My Lords, I certainly wish to thank the noble Baroness for her comments and for illustrating the advantages of progressing in negotiation as opposed to the rejection which has been the attitude of the United States Government from the beginning of the present Administration in the United States. If we are to throw away this opportunity after 17 years, throughout which time we have been able to participate, and refuse to sign the convention and to enter the full negotiations which it will open up to us, then we shall be making one of the major mistakes of our time.

I greatly hope that the noble Baroness, for whom I have the very greatest of respect, will be able to convince the Cabinet (and I look forward to the day) that they were wrong to follow the American lead and that it would be better now to sign and negotiate, and to get on with the job in co-operation with the rest of the world, instead of making our country one that follows the United States in the rejection of a great idea which has still to be put into its final form. I hope that we shall be prepared to sign and work, and I believe that the debate which has taken place today has been of very great benefit. I have confidence in the noble Baroness that she will report on our debate and will achieve the results which both she and we wish to see. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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