HL Deb 08 June 1989 vol 508 cc945-6
Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Glenarthur.)

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I do not propose to make a speech at this stage, but I wish to raise one important point with the Government before we complete our scrutiny of the Bill. I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, what is the Government's response to the news that Australia has decided not to subscribe to the convention? Can the Minister tell me whether this will have a detrimental effect on the Antarctic Treaty system and on international regulations on mineral activities in the region? Can the Minister further tell us whether the Australians are proposing an alternative method of regulation?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed about the Australian decision. I can tell the noble Lord that, on 22nd May, the Australian Government announced that they would not sign the convention because they are not satisfied that the convention will adequately protect the Antarctic environment. That was an unexpected turn of events and it leaves the Government to some extent uneasy about the future of the Antarctic Treaty system as the means which we prefer for keeping the peace in the Antarctic, which was very much the theme of our discussions at Second Reading.

Our unease arises from the fact that, for as long as the Australians maintain their opposition to the convention, any of the states which participated in the meeting in Wellington in June of last year at which the convention was adopted, can conclude that the convention will not enter into force in a timely manner. Any state which did so would free itself of the commitment reflected in the Final Act at the Wellington meeting to urge its nationals to refrain from Antarctic mineral resource activities. What would follow would be unregulated activity, with all the consequences for the environment and the peace of the Antarctic to which I have referred.

We do not believe that any of the states which took part in the long and difficult negotiation of the convention will necessarily take such a decision soon or indeed lightly. But future events which we obviously cannot foresee—such as a shortage of minerals caused by political problems elsewhere in the world—may change perspectives and national interests. It would be foolhardy not to recognise that the risk of a breakdown in the voluntary moratorium exists. Neither do we believe that the Australian Government do not themselves recognise the increase in this risk that their decision has caused by putting a question mark over the timely entry into force of the convention.

Clearly, we shall want to discuss this in depth during the forthcoming visit of the Australian Prime Minister to this country. Meanwhile, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt those discussions. In answer to the question whether it is still in British interests to continue with this Bill and what we have set out to do, I believe that it is definitely in Britain's interest to enact this legislation and to be in a position to ratify the convention, in which we firmly believe. The primary British interest in Antarctica lies in ensuring that the peace is maintained and that peaceful activity in the Antarctic has the minimum environmental impact. I am sure that such policies will command support from all Members of your Lordships' House. I hope that that answers the noble Lord's concern.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for his important and constructive response to my question. I do not believe that we can pursue the matter further at this stage in this House, but we are of course aware that the Bill is going to another place.

On Question, Bill read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

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