HL Deb 25 May 1994 vol 555 cc832-48

7.53 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

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

We now move to a less controversial subject at the other side of the world, but it is nonetheless important. I am delighted to have been asked to sponsor the Antarctic Bill in this House following its passage, with a few minor technical amendments, in another place. In that connection I should like to pay a personal tribute to Mr. Michael Jopling, who, with characteristic good humour and adroitness, carried the Bill through to its present stage. That is no mean feat, for Private Member's Bills often come unstuck in the other place.

That the Bill has achieved so much, so far and so quickly is due in no small measure to the all-party support that it has received to date, including co-sponsorship from the Opposition Front Benches. All who have spoken on this subject in another place clearly wish the Bill to succeed and receive Royal Assent as soon as possible. I hope that we can move the cause forward with equal alacrity here tonight.

On a more general theme, in debating Antarctica we should not forget the sheer scale of the continent; it is immense. It covers approximately one-tenth of the globe's surface. It has over 70 per cent. of the world's fresh water locked away in three kilometres' thickness of sheet ice. It remains the most pristine part of the world. We must keep it that way. Therefore the international agreements which make up the Antarctic Treaty system must be made to work effectively.

So this is an important Bill. It will enable us to implement treaty obligations imposed by the 1991 Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty and to ratify that protocol. It is an exciting Bill which will enable mechanisms to be put in place which will safeguard the environment of Antarctica for generations to come. But it is also a Bill about which there is some urgency. The Environmental Protocol cannot enter into force until it has been ratified by all 26 Antarctic Treaty consultative parties. So far nine have done so. It is anticipated that most consultative parties should have ratified the protocol by the end of this year or early next. Enactment of the Bill before the Summer Recess will mean that the United Kingdom is in the vanguard rather than bringing up the rear, as often happens in international affairs.

We are a key Antarctic state. We are fully committed to the Antarctic Treaty system—that unique form of international governance for Antarctica. Through the presence of the British Antarctic Survey we have a significant investment in science programmes there. We were instrumental in the drafting of the protocol and would not wish to lag behind others in its ratification. If we fail to ratify at an early stage, Britain's commitment to the preservation of Antarctica would be brought into question, as would our support for the Antarctic Treaty system which has managed Antarctica for 30 years.

Before discussing the terms of the Bill, it may be useful for me to give a brief background on what the Environmental Protocol sets out to achieve. The protocol is the most significant treaty to be introduced since the Antarctic Treaty itself came into force in 1961. Its antecedents lie in the demise of the Antarctic Minerals Convention in 1989, which was followed immediately by calls from the UK and Chile to begin negotiations on comprehensive measures for the protection of the Antarctic environment plus its dependent and associated ecosystems.

The protocol was the subject of intense negotiations during 1990 and 1991. It was adopted by the consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty in October 1991. The protocol designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science". It sets out the guiding principles for the protection of the Antarctic environment and requires that all activities proposed for Antarctica are subject to environmental assessment before they take place. Such activities include governmental and non-governmental activities, science and tourism. One of the main provisions of the protocol is the indefinite prohibition of mineral activities.

The protocol also introduces a new institution, the Committee for Environmental Protection (CEP), sets out inspection and dispute settlement procedures, and requires that treaty parties introduce emergency response plans for accidents in Antarctica. In four annexes, strict rules are set out on environmental impact assessment, conservation of flora and fauna, waste disposal and management, and the prevention of marine pollution. Taken overall, the protocol and its annexes will provide the tough, comprehensive environmental protection that had originally been called for by the UK.

I turn to the Bill itself. The Bill deals with the main elements of the protocol. One of its main provisions, as with the protocol, is the prohibition of mineral resource activities, while retaining the ability for genuine scientific research to continue. The Bill will require all British expeditions, vessels and aircraft going to Antarctica, and all British stations in Antarctica, to have obtained an environmental permit before undertaking any activities there. The permit system will apply to both governmental and non-governmental, including tourist, operations. Applications for permits will have to demonstrate that the environmental impact assessment procedures of the protocol have been carried out, and that the impact of the proposed activity on the Antarctic environment has been minimised and is considered acceptable. The Secretary of State will have the ability to set conditions on any environmental permit.

The Bill also introduces tough new provisions to protect Antarctic wildlife. The taking or killing of all mammals and birds will be prohibited except by permit. It will also be necessary to obtain permits to enter Antarctic Specially Protected Areas, and there will be a prohibition on damaging, removing or destroying listed historic sites and monuments.

It is important that the House realises that the Bill does not address two matters which the protocol's Annexes III and IV deal with; namely, waste disposal and management, and the prevention of marine pollution. The reasons for that are that it is judged that waste disposal matters will be dealt with more effectively by means of conditions on permits the contravention of which would clearly constitute an offence. As regards marine pollution, the provisions of Annex IV closely track the Marine Pollution Convention—known as MARPOL 73/78. Since existing UK merchant shipping legislation and its subsidiary regulations already address MARPOL provisions, it is felt that there is no need for further primary legislation to cater for UK-registered vessels in Antarctica.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about jurisdiction, which the Bill also addresses. There is one territorial pie-slice of Antarctica, lying between 150 degrees and 90 degrees west which is claimed by no state. It is subject to no territorial jurisdiction. The opportunity has therefore been taken through the Bill to extend UK criminal law to UK nationals when in this sector.

This is a complicated and technical Bill and I hope that I have been able to give your Lordships a good idea, or at least an outline, of what it really comprises. The Bill is a landmark on the road to enhanced protection for the Antarctic environment. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.)

8.4 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, the purpose of this Bill, its background and its detailed provisions have been admirably dealt with by the noble Viscount. I have no wish to go over that ground again except to emphasise the need to ratify, through this Bill, the Environmental Protection Protocol of the 1991 treaty and to note that the measures contained in the Bill to achieve this are straightforward.

I have two reasons for intervening tonight: first, as a former President of the Royal Geographical Society. The United Kingdom, of all nations, has perhaps the longest connection with Antarctica, starting with the historic circumnavigation some 220 or so years ago by Captain James Cook. The Royal Geographical Society's connections do not go back quite as far as that but, directly or indirectly, we do go back about 150 years and we have been involved with most of the notable and historic British expeditions in that continent. We thoroughly support the Bill.

My second reason for intervening is as a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, of which the British Antarctic Survey, to which the noble Viscount referred, is a major part. As noble Lords will be aware, the BAS is the vehicle for UK scientific research in the Antarctic continent and its waters. The British Antarctic Survey also strongly supports the Bill.

Few of us have had the privilege or the opportunity of setting foot in that wonderful and essentially pristine continent. But many of us will have seen and admired Sir David Attenborough's television series "Life in the Freezer". That surely should be sufficient testimony of the most compelling kind of the need to protect this unique environment—and of the need to do so now. I say that because, undoubtedly, one of the most insidious threats to Antarctica, which has only emerged in recent years, is that of tourism. Perversely, the TV series, by its very quality, may well have the effect of exacerbating that threat.

The other point I should like to make is the importance of Antarctica and its surrounding oceans as a unique and pristine scientific laboratory—by far and away the largest in the world. We all know how it was a British Antarctic Survey scientist who discovered the ozone hole. What is perhaps less well known is the wider importance of the continent and its oceans in influencing the rest of this planet's climate. The need to research both past climates and current climates cannot be overemphasised.

The continent is also enormously important for glaciological studies. Fluctuations in the size of the vast ice sheet are the largest unknown factor in future predictions of world sea level and changes of only a few percentage points in the ice sheet would seriously affect all our lives on this globe. This is not the time to go into the fascinating detail of the world-class science being carried out by the BAS, which also covers geology and especially marine biological research. What is important in that connection is to stress that the area covered by the Bill needs stringent protection from man's other activities—the noble Viscount mentioned mineral resource, which is covered by the Bill—so as to allow a continuation of this important research effort by the BAS and scientists of other nations. We need to play our part to this end and the Bill now before us will enable us to do just that.

I end with a note of regret and sadness that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is not with us tonight. Of all Members of your Lordships' House, his knowledge and experience of this wonderful and important continent, of the complex international dimension of that most successful treaty, the Antarctic Treaty, and of the complex politics of CRAMRA were unrivalled. We miss his wisdom and the important contribution that he would have made to this debate tonight. We can be sure that he would have supported this Bill. On that note it remains only for me to wish this Bill a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Morris

My Lords, as with other noble Lords who have spoken, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein for having the courage to take upon himself to move this Bill. The singular inappropriateness of the fact will be quite clear to noble Lords that my noble friend enjoys the privilege of a title whose titular town is even hotter than Antarctica is cold. That aside, his skill at handling the passage of private Bills through this House is well known. Those who decided that he should carry the Bill through this House know very well what they are talking about. We learnt tonight how well he handles that duty. I wish this Bill God speed.

I was particularly pleased with the most eloquent remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, as regards the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I too miss his presence here tonight. I speak as his successor as chairman of the South-West Atlantic Group. This is an area of the world in which we take a particular interest, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, knows.

My noble friend Lord Montgomery has demonstrated with clarity and precision, and, above all, with commendable brevity, the necessity for this Bill. It is quite clearly necessary. But I have two minor caveats. One is of a political nature which I do not necessarily ask my noble friend to answer tonight. I want to raise the vitally important point of the underlying treaty to this Bill, which is the Antarctic Treaty.

Article IV of that treaty indicates quite clearly that no state may assert or support any claim to territory in Antarctica while the treaty is in force. I find it very worrying that one of the original signatories to the treaty, Argentina, is always asserting its claim to its segment of Antarctica even on tourist maps. God knows how it asserts its claim to the children and future generations in Antarctica. I know for a fact that it includes the territorial land mass as part of the square mileage of Antarctica. That is very worrying. Obviously there is no way in which a piece of domestic British legislation can deal with that problem. I raise this matter because it is very important that all signatories to the treaty follow its spirit and intention as the years go by.

I have another very small point to raise which is somewhat arcane. It is also a point which I am sure my noble friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein would have noticed. I am puzzled that in drafting the Bill he did not take the opportunity to repeal the whole of the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989. The whole of it is repealed apart from Section 14. The remaining section of the Act which is maintained on the statute book deals with: Jurisdiction with respect to proceedings under territorial law", namely, that, Her Majesty may by Order in Council confer on any court in England and Wales such criminal or civil jurisdiction… in respect of matters arising under the law of the British Antarctic Territory". I can see the necessity of maintaining that section, but why was it not brought into this Bill? I should have thought that this would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. This matter is really de minimis and a cry for consolidation. If my noble friend can answer that point, and my noble friend the Minister can assist my noble friend Lord Montgomery in answering it, I shall be very grateful indeed. Other than that, I wish this Bill God speed. I thank my noble friend Lord Montgomery for moving the Second Reading.

8.15 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Montgomery has introduced a Bill of great merit and has given us a very clear explanation in so doing. Given that my noble friend has covered the Bill's contents so thoroughly, I will confine myself to emphasising the importance of one particular aspect and the two or three points that arise from it.

In the Antarctic over recent decades there has evolved an international harmony of real substance. Proof of this accord is the Environmental Protocol for whose ratification in UK law this Bill makes provision.

However, the Bill does more than simply recognise what has been achieved to date; it will also protect and enhance the potential for yet greater environmental achievements in the future. That is important. Not only is the Antarctic an invaluable global asset on its own account, but the international co-operation it has inspired sets a precedent for similar co-operation in other arenas where major environmental concerns also have to be faced.

The value of the Antarctic as a global asset is, I hope, undoubted. It is classed as the largest wilderness on the planet, and is indeed so immense that alone it could permanently alter the world's climate and ocean systems to a dramatic extent. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has mentioned that point. I am also intrigued that, in the unlikely event of the whole of the Antarctic ice and snow belt melting or collapsing, other things being equal, sea levels would rise by 65 metres around the world. That would clearly have a fairly dramatic impact on how a lot of people live.

The Antarctic is also seen as a vital outside laboratory given it pivotal global role and its comparatively uncontaminated condition. It serves as a crucial observation point for measuring sometimes complex changes in the world's natural element—the study of high-level ozone and global warming are two such examples.

There may be disagreement among the scientific community about the conclusions that one can draw, but no one doubts that we need both the quality and the quantity of the observations that the Antarctic uniquely can provide. Perhaps more intriguing—and certainly more unique—is the Antarctic's role as a repository of historical evidence that recalls past changes in the world's atmosphere.

Some of the evidence is both fascinating and at times disturbing. The British Antarctic Survey, for instance, can chart from ice and snow deposits how, over the 20th century, the volumes of lead discharged into the atmosphere by petrol engines grew in distant industrialised countries; and how atmospheric lead levels have declined since the advent of unleaded petrol. That is just from the examination of fairly shallow ice cores. I was amazed to read that the Russian scientists down there have drilled an ice core 2.5 kilometres deep in order to document global temperatures over the past 200,000 years.

The Antarctic is an unrivalled source of atmospheric data and trends, past and present. As such, it can act as an early-warning system, the evidence gained becoming the basis for precautionary actions elsewhere in the world on such issues as the atmospheric emission of CFCs or CO2.

The Antarctic is, however, more than a leading laboratory. As other noble Lords have described, it is a vitally important eco-system in its own right which, though very fragile, has been subjected to minimal human disturbance over the centuries. This could change dramatically, not from direct development in the Antarctic itself, which this Bill, via the Protocol, effectively prevents, but from global warming or losses in high-level ozone and a consequential rise in ultra-violet radiation—scenarios to which the Antarctic is particularly vulnerable.

This would affect a vital food chain over a large part of the southern hemisphere that starts with phytoplankton and krill and goes on to fish, birds, whales and so forth. I believe that there is no better summary of the significance of the Antarctic than that which appeared in the Economist late last year. It has been often quoted and I shall quote it again. It states: Science has made this chaste, cruel land its own… Its heart belongs to science; its body belongs to no-one". In supporting this Bill, the final point I would briefly stress is less obvious but is of no less significance in this post-Rio era. The success of international co-operation in the Antarctic is an inspiring precedent for other arenas where co-operation and trust are going to be vital. The Rio Earth Summit and its basket of resolutions and institutions are ample evidence of widely-held environmental concerns, concerns which belong to everyone everywhere, both now and in the future. Multi-national discussions on climate change, bio-diversity, the forests and Agenda 21 are immersed in the problems of science and predictive analysis, the problems of funding mechanisms and technology transfer, the problems of intellectual property rights and the problems of the rights to develop, and so forth.

In a very small way, of which my noble friend Lord Montgomery is aware, I have direct experience of the problems attaching to these discussions on the Rio agenda through being vice-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Committee on the Environment in Geneva.

The exact definition and detail of the challenges we face, let alone their solutions, are by no means completely clear or agreed in all their many aspects. But the essence of what we seek is certain; namely, the need at an international level to establish strategic objectives and recognise sound guidelines in a spirit of sensible co-operation and mutual trust.

It is with this in mind that I believe that the Environmental Protocol and this Bill could do more than protect the Antarctic, critical as that alone is. The protocol offers indisputable proof, to those who need it, that a large number of disparate nations can achieve constructive consensus when faced with overriding environmental concerns. It is indisputable proof that sustainable strategies can be built from co-operation and respect at a global level.

For what the Antarctic is, for what has been and is being achieved there, and for what the ratified protocol would prove, I support my noble friend's Bill whole-heartedly.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, this is another of those Private Member's Bills that we have been getting recently which one can only wish had been produced by the Government. We have the most peculiar spectacle of the Government backing, but not bringing forward, a series of Bills which have almost unanimous support and are regarded as very helpful and useful, while they battle with Bills which arouse immense contention, many of which they have to modify exceedingly. I suggest that if the Government want to win the next election they should take over all the Private Member's Bills and abandon their other Bills, such as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, to Private Members—that is, if they could find any prime Member who would be prepared to take on such a Bill. The result of the Government not doing that is that Private Members have to sponsor these Bills and we are extremely grateful to those who do.

It is slightly ironic that we are indebted to Mr. Michael Jopling for having sponsored this Bill in another place when it was he who single-handedly wrecked the National Parks Bill which we sent back to the other place earlier this month. That is one of those unfortunate coincidences, but it does not mean that our gratitude to him is any the less in this case or, indeed, our gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein.

I have said that I think that this Bill has universal support. It certainly has the complete support of these Benches. Sir David Steel was one of its sponsors in another place and our speaker on Second Reading was Mr. Jim Wallace, who pointed out that if the latitude definition of Antarctica was applied in the northern hemisphere his constituency would be firmly in the Arctic. I think that that shows, almost as much as the very interesting statistics produced by the noble Viscount, how much bigger the Antarctic is and what an enormous area we are considering.

I have nothing particular to say about the main part of the Bill, but I have one specific question to ask about the permit system. As the Bill currently stands, the granting and issuing of permits rests with the Secretary of State or can be delegated to the British Antarctic Survey. No safeguard is provided either that any application made for, or award of, permit will be made open to public scrutiny at any stage of the application procedure. This is a very good Bill in some ways, but as an example of open government it leaves a lot to be desired.

I should like to mention one or two of the problems which arise. Although on the face of it the Bill is drafted in such a way that it appears to be a guarantee of secrecy about everything that happens in the Antarctic, I nevertheless hope that the Government will be able to give us some reassurances on this matter.

It is vitally important that NGOs and others concerned with the Antarctic are able to monitor applications for permits. If they are to make the necessary and appropriate representations or need to mount wider campaigns should any objectionable activity be proposed, they need to know precisely what those activities are. As I am sure that all noble Lords know, it is often the NGOs which alert the world to such dangers.

It is also important to be informed of the reasons why permits have been refused. This would give future applicants a greater knowledge of the practical working of the system and in certain cases enable greater success in subsequent applications. It would also ensure that future governments do not prevent inspection of activities in Antarctica by NGOs whose findings in the past have frequently resulted in criticism of the permitting authority.

Under the delegation system of Clause 16, the British Antarctic Survey will act as its own judge and jury, issuing permits to itself. Especially given the advent of private funding for BAS, which has already received BP funding for activities, it is imperative that the appropriate information is made available for public scrutiny.

An additional consideration is that though the protocol specifies that draft comprehensive environ-mental evaluations should be circulated for comment, only major developments such as the erection of new buildings will warrant a CEE. There needs to be some public monitoring of precisely where the line is being drawn between the lesser requirements for initial environmental evaluations and those for CEEs.

It is not envisaged that there will, in fact, be numerous comments from the concerned public which might overload or block the system. However, the possibility should be kept open as an additional assurance that the UK is in fact conforming to the terms of the protocol. This process of providing additional and transparent assurances is particularly important since only small sections of the protocol are included in the Bill. The rest depends on the crucial Clause 15 which requires only that the permitting authorities "have regard to" the provisions of the protocol, which in our view does not impose sufficiently binding obligations on the Secretary of State.

It is especially important that effective monitoring procedures should be in place at the permitting stage because of the very exceptional nature of Antarctica. It is the remotest place on earth. No indigenous population exists that can "blow the whistle" on undesirable activities. Safeguards which work effectively in different parts of the world will often be ineffective to the point of irrelevance on the remotest of continents, which is the size of Europe and the US combined, which is dark for a substantial part of the year, which has the harshest climatic conditions on earth and which only has a transitory population of perhaps 10,000 people at the most.

Further comment is almost superfluous. In the Bill lies almost an academic exercise in unchecked unreviewable Executive power. I know that it is not the intention that that should be so: it is one of those things which emerges because drafters, civil servants and international bodies do not like a great deal of inspection and the Antarctic is a good place not to inspect if one is going to have anywhere not to inspect.

I understand that the Government have been alerted as to the questions I am asking, and I look forward greatly to hearing positive and helpful replies so that we can give the Bill our unstinting support.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, not only your Lordships' House but, I believe, posterity will be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for sponsoring the Bill tonight and for the clear exposition which he gave of its content. I echo his tribute to Mr. Michael Jopling. I shall say a further word about that, if I may, a little later. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that the debate is the poorer for the unhappy absence of my noble friend Lord Shackleton.

As one would have expected in your Lordships' House, this brief debate has benefited from a wide range of expertise. For myself, I have two reasons for wishing the Bill well and for welcoming what we all hope will be the immediate consequence: the ratification by this country of the Madrid Protocol. The first is that it is vital that the convention should enter into force, and that requires, as the noble Viscount said, ratification by all 26 of the consultative nations. Unless the convention becomes effective in the near future, we may find some countries authorising exploitation of minerals and possibly other kinds of irreversible damage from tourism or sometimes from scientists themselves. The time to protect Antarctica is before the ecosystem is destroyed.

The second reason why I welcome the Bill—it is a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and in a different context by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay —is that it is a major test of our ability to manage human activities on a global basis. We suffer—at least I believe we suffer—from the doctrine that every square inch of the earth's surface should fall within the exclusive sovereignty of a specific nation state and that activities which affect more than one national territory can be managed only by a trade-off between two or more states. I believe that that doctrine is inappropriate to the needs of the 21st century. Even those parts of the continent which fall within national boundaries are so interdependent that only an international regime is adequate to manage them.

It is the areas outside national boundaries to which I should particularly like to refer. There are still three areas in which human activity can take place which are not included within national territory and which represent what has been called the common heritage of mankind: the deep sea, outer space and that area of Antarctica which falls outside national boundaries.

If we cannot agree a regime for Antarctica, then we affirm the doctrine that every state should be for itself, and we imperil not only the heritage of posterity but possibly, as the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, indicated, posterity itself. That is the test of the capacity of the human race to manage its affairs, and if like lemmings we chose a compulsion for disaster, we place at risk not only the Antarctic but we destroy confidence in any other attempt at global management.

There are two matters of concern upon which I should welcome the Minister's guidance when he replies. The first is one which is motivated by Greenpeace. I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that in that area, as in so many others, the trail has been blazed and is still being blazed by the NGOs. NGOs are irritating to government. I have been in government and I know how irritating they can be. There were times in government when I received letters that I had drafted before I was in government in my days with the NGOs. It is infuriating, but may they continue to be so, because we would be centuries back if it were not for the gadflies which exist among the NGO community.

The question I want to raise is this. Clause 1 defines Antarctica—the area to which the Bill applies. It includes the continent, the islands, the continental shelf and in paragraph (d) the sea south of 60° latitude. That excludes a large area of seabed which falls within the Antarctic Treaty area. If mineral exploitation in that area were permitted, the ecological effects could be catastrophic. The explanation appears to be that the areas to which I am referring are included in territory which will, it is hoped, fall within the jurisdiction of the International Seabed Authority when the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea comes into force. It is said that we do not want the two regimes to overlap, although I am bound to say —asking the emperor's clothes kind of question—that I am not sure what catastrophe would overtake us if there were an overlap because I do not see what conflict there would be between the Madrid Convention regime and the Law of the Sea regime.

But the problem is that we are asked to dispense with the braces before the belt is in place, because it is not certain even that the Law of the Sea regime will materialise. There are eight countries, including the UK, which have not ratified the Law of the Sea Convention and, as I understand it, they are negotiating to diminish the effect of the convention as the price of ratification. Meanwhile, they have all enacted domestic legislation empowering themselves to issue licences to exploit the minerals. In the UK we have the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981.

The Bill seeks to exclude from the Madrid regime an important area of deep sea which falls, and was always intended to fall, within the Antarctic Treaty area. I should have liked to set down an amendment to explore that problem, and I shall explain in a moment why I have not done so. I hope that the Minister can offer an assurance that it is not intended to leave those deep sea areas unprotected.

There is another matter upon which the Council on Tribunals has corresponded with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and since I am privileged to chair that council I should to that extent declare an interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was pointing out in a slightly different context a moment ago, the Bill provides that the Secretary of State will grant permits for various activities. Clause 14(1) (e) provides that among other things he may make regulations: for appeals against revocation or suspension of permits, and as to the procedure to be followed in relation to such appeals (including provision in accordance with which such procedure is to be determined)". The council makes three points. First, we believe that a right of appeal which entails establishing what will, in effect, be a tribunal or a court should be contained in primary legislation. The existence of a tribunal or court should depend upon the legislature and not upon the Executive. Secondly, the council points out that provision is made for appeals against revocation or suspension of a permit but not against a refusal to grant a permit. That may be an oversight, but I should be grateful for the Minister's comments.

Thirdly, any body or tribunal for hearing appeals appears to be appropriate for supervision by the Council on Tribunals, and if there is to be public confidence in it, I should have thought that that would be the appropriate step to take. I understand that the Government do not disagree with that. That too would be and should be done by primary legislation, but there is nothing about it in the Bill. If the Government agree that it should be done, it will need to be done by regulation and I hope that the noble Lord can offer an undertaking that it will be done.

I believe that this is one of the most important Bills to fall for consideration in this Session. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, I greatly regret that the importance attached to the Bill by all your Lordships does not appear to be shared by the Government's business managers. I accept that the Government have a good record in relation to the convention in the Antarctic. However, it is wholly deplorable that they seem now to perceive so little importance in the Bill that they have neglected to find it a place in their legislative programme and have had to rely on a handout to a private Member.

That is in no way to diminish the debt which we owe to Mr. Jopling and to the noble Viscount. On the contrary, without the parts that they have played, there would not have been a Bill. But it means that the Bill is a fragile plant. If in this House we venture to introduce amendments, however uncontroversial and compelling, the Bill will require time in another place which may not be forthcoming and we risk losing it. That is an event which I suspect will occasion greater distress to those of us in this Chamber than it may do to the Government's business managers. But to pursue these matters may well endanger the Bill and the best may prove to be the enemy of the good. What matters most is that the United Kingdom should ratify the convention, and that is what we need to ensure. It may be a matter of indifference to the Government's legislative committee but I believe that it will receive the accolade and the gratitude of posterity.

8.42 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I join in the tributes initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and echoed by others, to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, that the debate is very much the poorer for his absence.

It is my pleasant duty to welcome the Bill on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and to give our support and thanks to my noble friend Lord Montgomery. I am also grateful for the cross-party support that the Bill has attracted. Obviously, I am sympathetic to the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, that this should have to be done by means of a Private Member's Bill. Nevertheless, we are giving our full support to the passage of the Bill and wish to see it enacted as speedily as possible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, will know as well as I that if we were to wait for adequate time in the legislative programme, given all the other pressing priorities with which noble Lords will be all too familiar, we might have risked delaying ratification—

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I could suggest some legislation with which we might dispense.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has already done so. I was about to add that I do not believe that he and I or the noble and learned Lord and I would necessarily agree on what legislation could be dispensed with. Obviously, those are difficult matters for the business managers and this appeared to be the best way of taking the Bill forward. I am grateful to my right honourable friend Mr. Jopling and to my noble friend Lord Montgomery for taking forward the Bill.

My noble friend pointed out that the Bill is important, and that has been echoed by all other speakers. The United Kingdom is regarded as a key player in Antarctica, one known to have a long-standing interest in environmental protection there. Indeed, the genesis of the environmental protocol which this Bill addresses was a British initiative. As has been pointed out, the entry into force of the protocol cannot occur until all 26 of the Antarctic Treaty consultative parties have ratified it. To date, nine have done so though very few countries have enacted the kind of legislation that we are debating tonight. Timely ratification by the United Kingdom is therefore very important. I hope that the fact that we are backing up our action by introducing new domestic law, which will ensure that the provisions of the protocol are met in full, is a message that will be picked up by other treaty parties. In order for the protocol to work and to be effective on the ground it needs to be enforced and backed by effective legislation.

Perhaps I may turn to some of the points which may be appropriate for me rather than the promoter of the Bill to refer to. My noble friend Lord Morris asked about the Argentine assertions of the sovereignty to the British Antarctic territory. I should prefer to write to my noble friend if he would accept that. I, or my noble friend Lady Chalker, will do so in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, echoed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, expressed anxiety about the publication of the permits. I can assure the House that transparency of the permits—which are issued under Clauses 7, 8, 9 and 11 of the Bill for the taking of, or harmful interference with, wildlife, the importation of animals or plants into Antarctica or entry into protected areas designated by the Antarctic Treaty, the environmental protocol or the Antarctic fisheries convention—already exists as an international obligation.

The provisions of the treaty, the protocol and the Antarctic fisheries convention conservation measure 18/IX oblige the United Kingdom to inform annually other contracting parties of the details of all permits that it has issued for wildlife and protected areas. It is the responsibility of those parties as the trustees of the Antarctic system to provide the overseeing role and therefore the ensuing transparency. In the unlikely event that the United Kingdom was to be seen to be acting irresponsibly in issuing permits, and thereby falling short of its obligations under the Antarctic Treaty system, we should be held to account for our actions by the other contracting parties. We are of the view that this system of openness within the treaty system provides adequate checks and balances to ensure that those issuing permits do so in a responsible manner.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, expressed anxieties that the Bill as drafted did not extend to the deep sea-bed. Perhaps I should first make it clear that United Kingdom law already prohibits United Kingdom nationals mining the deep sea-bed or exploring for minerals except with a licence. The prohibition is contained in the Deep Seabed (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981, to which I believe the noble and learned Lord referred. The 1981 Act is expressed to be temporary because it looks ahead to the regime which may be instituted by the UN convention on the law of the sea 1982. Part XI of that convention vests the resources of the deep sea-bed in mankind as a whole and establishes an international body—the International Sea-Bed Authority—with sole responsibility for administering the resources of the deep sea-bed. The UN convention will enter into force in November this year. Pending the outcome of current negotiations on an agreement to modify Part XI, no decision has yet been taken about UK accession. If we do accede it is expected that the Deep Seabed (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981 will be repealed. But the regime for the deep sea-bed will then follow that of the UN convention as modified by any new agreement and a permit from the International Sea-Bed Authority will be needed. Until that time the Deep Seabed (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981 will continue in operation—

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, at the risk of being tiresome, I wish to press the Minister. What he has said is precisely the anxiety I expressed. The United Kingdom has not decided whether to accede to the convention and the convention may never come into force at all. Meanwhile, we have the 1981 Act which enables the Government to grant permits. Can the Minister offer any crumb of comfort to those who are troubled about precisely that situation?

Lord Henley

My Lords, what I am saying is that we will still have the 1981 Act which provides the coverage. Does not the noble and learned Lord feel that that is adequate protection?

Lord Archer of Sandwell

No, my Lords.

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I made clear, until we accede to the UN Convention, those provisions will obviously remain in force.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, can the Minister give us any indication of the Government's policy about issuing such permits? That is what is creating the anxiety.

Lord Henley

My Lards, I think that it would probably be wiser for me at this stage to offer to write to the noble Lord on the matter. The issue could possibly be taken up at a later stage of the Bill. I feel unhappy expanding on such items at this stage of the proceedings. However, I understand that we have given careful consideration to the expressions of concern about the deep seabed which were voiced when the Bill was considered in another place. In all the circumstan-ces, it is believed that the concern is unwarranted. Obviously I can give an assurance on behalf of the Government that licences for exploration or exploitation of the deep seabed in Antarctica will not be granted under the Deep Seabed Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981 except for the purposes of scientific research; in other words, only for purposes which would be permitted under the Bill with respect to the continental shelf of Antarctica.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, that is better.

Lord Henley

My Lords, having heard that assurance, I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will be more than happy.

I turn now to the noble and learned Lord's concerns on tribunals. Obviously I listened most carefully to the noble Lord's worries as regards the importance of tribunals being seen to be truly independent. He also declared his interest in the matter. I should like to echo that. Obviously, as chairman of the Council on Tribunals, the noble and learned Lord's words carry great weight.

In deference to the views of the council, we are willing to give an undertaking—and I say this on behalf of Her Majesty's Government—that detailed provision for an appeal body will be included in the regulations. It will not be on the face of the Bill; it will be set out in secondary legislation. That will be made not later than when the permitting provisions come into force. Again, I can assure the noble and learned Lord that the Council on Tribunals will be fully consulted on the regulations. It is accepted that the new body will be brought under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals by an order under the Tribunals and Enquiries Act 1992.

Perhaps I may reiterate that the Government very much welcome and support the Bill. Obviously we must demonstrate, through our timely ratification of the Environmental Protocol, the United Kingdom's strong commitment to the protection of the Antarctic Treaty system. The Government will do their best to ensure that the Bill makes fair progress. Therefore, I very much hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading tonight.

8.55 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who took part in tonight's debate. We have had all-party support, which is what I hoped would happen. That is a matter of great reassurance and comfort. I should like especially to join all noble Lords in echoing the tributes that have been paid to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. He has not been here with us tonight, but he has certainly been here in spirit. As the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, is a distinguished successor to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, as the President of the Royal Geographical Society, perhaps my noble friend would convey the feelings of the House in the matter to him and tell him how much we missed him. I hope that the noble Lord will derive encouragement from what has been said by all speakers.

My noble friend Lord Morris mentioned territorial claims. I am sure that he will be the first to realise that all territorial claims in Antarctica are as frozen as the great continent itself. He may, perhaps, draw some comfort from that fact. My noble friend also mentioned Section 14 of the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989 and asked why it had not been repealed. I understand that there are technical reasons involved. Briefly, it would not have been within the scope of the Long Title of the Bill. My noble friend also mentioned that it might be a matter for consolidation. As he is someone who rather likes the minutiae of legislation, he might like to consider a consolidation Bill in the next Session of Parliament.

Other queries that were raised during the debate have been dealt with fairly effectively by my noble friend the Minister—at least, I hope that that is the case. However, I should also like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lindsay who is a considerable expert on environmental matters. It is gratifying for many of us who know him that he is now vice-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Committee on the Environment operating in Geneva. That is a further demonstration of British commitment to the whole of the management of global issues which was so ably referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. As he rightly said, we are dealing here with the common heritage of mankind. That is something which concerns us all.

The system of international governance which has operated in Antarctica for the past 30 years has been upheld as the model of how to achieve and sustain international co-operation. It is something to which we in this country are dedicated. The introduction of the Environmental Protocol to the existing regulations will significantly strengthen the system and will dispel the criticisms that have for far too long existed that the treaty parties have relied on soft law to achieve regulation. The protocol is a major piece of environmental law. It is, perhaps, the most radical change to the Antarctic Treaty in its 30-year history. The protocol will take us into the next century. The ability to add further annexes or amend existing ones will provide a versatility which should ensure a long life for the protocol. That last part is something which I hope will give further reassurance to those who are worried about certain specific aspects of the Bill.

However, I return now to where we started. There can be no doubt—and all speakers have made this point— that the successful passage of the Bill will enable the UK to ratify the protocol without further delay. For those states which have yet to legislate and ratify, it will provide an encouraging sign. For the system as a whole, timely ratification by the United Kingdom will be seen as a sure indication of our firm commitment to the future well-being of Antarctica. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, said, we cannot brook delays. Therefore, it is important that the Bill proceeds with all haste. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading tonight.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.