Antarctic Bill — Second Reading
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (Crossbench)
My Lords, the Bill, which has come from the House of Commons and was ably piloted through there by the honourable Member for Stroud, Neil Carmichael, now comes to us for further consideration and, I hope, for its passing into law. My interest in the Bill has been compiled entirely from information received from the Polar Regions Department, a very impressive department within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It represents us at the consultative meetings of the Antarctic Treaty system, which take place regularly and regulate, as far as is possible, all activities in that great continent. It is the largest continent in the world and contains no less than 70% of all the fresh water available in it, so it is very important that we take everything connected with the Antarctic very seriously.
The Bill is designed to enhance the protection of the Antarctic environment. This is partly on account of the fact that Antarctic touring during the summer season, which is now-in January and February-has increased considerably, what with yachts, ships, cruise ships and other things all visiting in the very limited period when there are 24 hours of daylight, as opposed to the June/July period when there are 24 hours of darkness.
Part 1 of the Bill, headed "Environmental Emergencies", would implement Annex VI to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty into UK legislation, which is headed, "Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies", and is known as the liability annexe. This annexe obliges the consultative parties to require that Antarctic operators, both governmental and non-governmental, first, to take preventive measures and to establish contingency plans in order to reduce environmental emergencies in Antarctica; secondly,
"to take prompt and effective response action to environmental emergencies arising from",
their activities; and, thirdly, to obtain insurance or other financial guarantees to reimburse another party or pay into a special fund the costs of response action to an environmental emergency arising from their activities, which the operators did not, or could not, undertake to organise themselves. This is a rather detailed and comprehensive arrangement and I have to make apologies for the fact that it seems intensely boring to some of your Lordships. It is in fact of considerable importance to the whole process.
The provisions of Part 1 set out the framework by which those who fail to make effective responses to an environmental emergency in Antarctica would be liable to reimburse the costs to those who take such action. Under the liability annexe, only a state may bring civil proceedings against an operator to recover the costs of response action undertaken. Following the successful passage of this Bill the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will establish an expert advisory group, consisting of UK Antarctic operators and others with appropriate expertise, to advise on what would have constituted "reasonable response action" in order to determine the level of payment which British operators should reasonably be expected to pay.
The intention would be to enable all financial liability matters to be resolved without the need for court proceedings. However, the Bill would provide the framework for such matters to be settled through the courts as a last resort. The Bill will provide protection for operators from double liability by making it clear that any liability under the Bill will be reduced if the operator is also liable for the same costs under Part IX of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which relates to salvage and wrecks.
The Bill will require all those who intend to undertake activities in Antarctica that are connected with the United Kingdom to take preventive measures to minimise the risk and potential impact of environmental emergencies, and to develop contingency plans for responding to any such emergency situation.
The Bill contains an indicative list of preventive measures, which those planning to undertake activities would need to have considered prior to entering Antarctica. This list would not however be mandatory in every circumstance, nor is it exhaustive. The onus would be on the operator to demonstrate that they have taken measures to mitigate the environmental risk arising from an emergency. This requirement for contingency plans would cover both the handling of the response to an environmental emergency as well as the response to an incident that is not an environmental emergency but which may have a potential adverse effect on the Antarctic environment. These plans may include what action should be undertaken in response to potential emergencies or incidents, but it is not necessarily expected that every potential incident would be foreseen at the pre-planning stage.
It is proposed that it would be a criminal offence to fail to notify the Secretary of State of an environmental emergency in Antarctica that an organiser of activities becomes aware of as a result of them, their employees or their agents carrying out activities there. Organisers of activities will be required to ensure that mechanisms are in place to require their employees who become aware of an environmental emergency to ensure that the Secretary of State is notified as soon as practicable. The intention behind this requirement is to report all environmental emergencies that the activity organiser becomes aware of and not just those arising as a result of activities they have organised. This would ensure that the UK Government are in a position as soon as is practicable to notify the other operators in the region, determine the likely cause of the environmental emergency, and consider what response action should be taken, in consultation with other treaty parties. This could result in some duplication of reporting but that would be better than no notification. The Government would use the criminal sanctions for failure to make such a notification only in extreme cases, and particularly where there was a specific intent not to make such a notification.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Whip, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
For the assistance of the House, the most evident environmental emergency was one where an Argentinian ship ran aground in the Antarctic Ocean and lost a considerable amount of fuel oil. That is the most likely environmental emergency with which this deals.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (Crossbench)
I am most grateful. I knew I would get into difficulty sooner or later. The Bill will treat the British Antarctic Survey, which provides a British permanent presence in the British Antarctic Territory, and other parts of the public sector who enter Antarctica on official business, as part of the Crown. It will also have the benefit of exempting those organisations from requiring insurance, as the UK Government provide self-insurance for their operations.
Now I come to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, wanted me to answer. He was just a bit premature. [Laughter.] The Bill defines an environmental emergency as an accidental event that results in, or imminently threatens to result in, any significant harmful impact on the environment of Antarctica. This definition is derived directly from Article 2 of the liability annexe to which I have already referred. The definition of response action sets out the action that operators would be expected to undertake following an environmental emergency arising from activities. The Bill includes a definition of what constitutes reasonable response action. This is also derived from the Article 2 of the liability annexe. Operators will need to ensure that any response action they take meets these criteria.
The proposed amendment to the Act would enable the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to issue permits to non-UK nationals wishing to undertake such activities, for the purpose of education or scientific research, while they are participating in a British expedition. Under the Antarctic Act 1994, it is an offence to damage, destroy or remove any part of a site or monument designated as a historic site or monument. However, in recent years, as a result of the warming climate in Antarctica and increasing access to such sites, it has become necessary to undertake considerable conservation work on historic sites and monuments in Antarctica. The provision to amend Section 10 of the Antarctic Act 1994 would enable a permit to be given for such conservation work including, where necessary, the removal of historic artefacts for their conservation or repair, consistent with environmental protocol obligations.
Annex II to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty sets out the framework for the protection of Antarctic fauna and flora. As a result of a lengthy review, some small changes have been made to that annex and these are reflected in the Bill. That concludes this part of the proceedings. I beg to move.
The Earl of Selborne (Conservative)
As the noble Viscount explained, the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty already has five annexes in force, and Part 1 of the Bill, with the liability annexe, introduces a sixth. I assure the noble Viscount that, boring though the liability annexe may be-and one has to agree with him on that-it would not be boring if an environmental emergency happened; it would be a total disaster that would have untoward consequences without a doubt.
It is highly relevant to note that all 28 consultative parties have approved this annexe, as have the 22 non- consultative parties and observers-various NGOs and United Nations agencies. Perhaps most relevant of all, attending these annual Antarctic Treaty consultative meetings is the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. If you really want an example of how international treaties work at their best, the Antarctic Treaty could be set up as an exemplar. All the parties, whether involved in scientific research, tourism or competing territorial claims, have agreed that territorial claims should be subsumed into this treaty. No other part of the world has ever had such a treaty and such an example of international collaboration.
I was lucky enough to visit the British Antarctic Survey's base at Rothera on the Antarctic peninsula two years ago. At exactly the same time, my noble friend Lord Forsyth was much farther south and much higher summiting Mount Vinson, so I rather lost bragging rights in the Bishop's Bar on that occasion. Nevertheless, I look forward enormously to hearing my noble friend's first-hand experiences of the impact of being in such an astonishing part of the world. All visitors cannot help but be impressed by how all the research bases work together. There are some 80 bases belonging to 28 countries around the Antarctic, and they have to work together not just in times of crisis but in helping each other with fuel caches and in sharing research results. It is a wonderful example of international collaboration, particularly as the relevance of the Antarctic to so many studies of climate change, meteorology, communications and much else comes up the agenda. The updating of this treaty is a heartening example of how so many countries work together.
The preamble of the treaty states:
"it is in the interest of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord".
As we heard from the noble Viscount, the increase in tourism and the amount of research undertaken in Antarctica has demonstrated the need for this Bill. Part 1 contains provisions for the liability annexe, and Part 2 responds to the increasing pressure on the Antarctic environment from human activity. It is particularly relevant here to look at the marine environment. There is an enormous number of quite astonishing organisms in the Southern Ocean and in Antarctic waters. Thanks to modern technology and the ability to visit these remote regions of our planet, we now know a lot more about the remarkable biodiversity and the astonishingly fragile ecosystems.
Reverting to the question that my noble friend Lord Forsyth posed to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, it would not take an awful lot of impact to create a major emergency in the marine environment. It would not need a large Argentinean tourist liner; quite a minor spill could have impacts. We should remember how long some of these organisms take to grow; hundreds of years is not unusual. You do not have to visit Rothera, which is in the Antarctic peninsula at sea level, where they do much of this work on marine organisms. You can visit the British Antarctic Survey's headquarters in Cambridge where you will see some of these marine organisms being further studied. Some of them are remarkable.
Part 2 also refers to historic sites. This country has a particular interest because of its leading role in Antarctic research. I am thinking, of course, of Scott and Shackleton. I pay tribute to the United Kingdom and New Zealand Antarctic heritage trusts, which have protected and conserved the huts of Scott, Shackleton and other explorers from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Part 2 refers to the need to be able to make funds from this country available to help these charities in their excellent work.
I enormously welcome the Bill. I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. If I have one criticism, it is a rather churlish one. It is simply that the Government having produced an excellent draft Bill, which went out to consultation two years ago, it has taken rather longer than I would have hoped for it to come before Parliament. However, thanks to Neil Carmichael MP in another place and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, we can now proceed with the ratification. We will not, alas, be the first this time-I wish we were-but the seventh. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that. This is a most important Bill, and we should be enormously grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for making it possible for us to take it forward.
Lord Giddens (Labour)
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on having introduced this Bill and on his succinct definition of environmental catastrophe. He is one of the few people who could get a laugh from such a thing. It was good to see him deal with it so ably.
I am happy to support the Bill, even if it is slightly surreal, since no one owns any part of the Antarctic, which is as it should be. Seven nations have claimed territory there. The claims are legal according to the laws of the nations in question, which makes this Bill worth pursuing. However, some countries do not recognise any national claims on the Antarctic; others assert their right to make claims in future. The Antarctic Treaty 1959 has been conspicuously successful, so far anyway, in preserving the region as a continent for science, as I think has already been mentioned. Long may that continue. Today, there are more than 40 scientific research stations dotted across the vast continent, attracting scientists from many countries.
I enjoyed reading the debate on this issue in the Commons from
I spoke in the debate in your Lordships' House to commemorate the centenary of Scott's second expedition to the Antarctic. Many of us in that debate took it as an opportunity to oppose the plan to close down the British Antarctic Survey. As with those who spoke in the debate in the Commons, virtually everyone took the same view, I am happy to say. It is a relief that the BAS has been saved, even if there is work to do on the issue.
As has been said, the UK has long been the dominant scientific presence in the Arctic and, if anything, research in that vast frozen land and sea mass has become even more important than it was. Current research spans biology, geology, oceanography, medicine and many other sciences. The Antarctic is a laboratory for the study of climate change, and it is very interesting what is going on there in that respect. Some areas of the Arctic are becoming more frozen, not less, as a result of violent winds that circulate in the centre of the land mass, yet other areas are becoming warmed in a very significant way. The BAS research shows that the level of warming on the Antarctic peninsula,
"is among the highest seen anywhere on Earth in recent times".
It is likely to have a profound effect on the ecosystems in the local area, but more disturbingly-
Lord Giddens (Labour)
My Lords, I stand corrected, although I endorse the quotation, which does come from the British Antarctic Survey. Of course, almost all research in the Antarctic is collaborative, as the noble Lord points out. That is a good part of the British presence there.
I was about to say that the changes going on in the Arctic peninsula and the rest of the Antarctic could also have profound impact on wider world patterns. That is why it is so important to have very strong scientific presence there. The significance of the Bill is that it shores up UK's treaty obligations and makes them part of British law. One clause applies the polluter pays principle to those operating in the Antarctic, and environmental disasters include cruise ships bashing into icebergs, which one or two of them have already done. Numerous other instances could be mentioned. This part of the Bill includes the need for insurance provision in relation to such incidents, while another part helps to provide protection for indigenous flora and fauna, as the noble Viscount said.
I endorse the Bill on the understanding that it is a contribution to the safety and sanctity of the Antarctic as an international zone of peaceful research. I do not support any geopolitical claims that might be drawn from it as giving the UK special rights that other nations might not have.
Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on his skill in introducing the Bill and wish him every success in piloting it through this House, with his long experience and great knowledge of the Antarctic. I congratulate my honourable friend the Member for Stroud on choosing this important subject for his Private Member's Bill and on his skill in piloting it successfully through another place.
The Antarctic is a region of tremendous political, scientific and environmental importance, and I am delighted to support this Bill today. The Antarctic Treaty, and the related agreements described together as the Antarctic Treaty System, is a great achievement, reserving as it does the whole of the land and ice shelves south of 60 degrees latitude for scientific research and excluding all military activity in the region. This was largely a British achievement as my honourable friend emphasised in another place, and we were the first to ratify the treaty in 1961.
Britain not only played a leading role in the development of the ATS, but we continue to provide an effective and powerful contribution to scientific research on the continent for the benefit of mankind as a whole through the British Antarctic Survey. I was delighted when the Government decided, on the basis of solid evidence, rehearsed here and in another place, to maintain the independence of the BAS. That outcome was a good example of Parliament working together with Government to avert a serious error of judgment, and I am pleased to see that the BAS is specifically referred to in the Bill, as my honourable friend the Member for Cambridge pointed out in Committee in another place. If my noble friend the Minister can say anything about the timescale for the appointment of the new director, I am sure that would be appreciated by your Lordships.
This Bill tightens the protection of the Antarctic environment by enabling us to bring into force the mechanisms in the liability annex to the protocol, "Liability Arising from Environmental Emergencies". The simple description of this process is that the polluter pays, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, explained. Every person, public or private, who organises an activity in Antarctica must take reasonable, prompt and effective action to deal with an environmental emergency, defined as an event which threatens or results in significant harm to the environment. Operators are required to insure against liabilities that may arise under this provision. The explanation by the Minister in another place of how the limits on liability in the schedule complement those in the 1996 protocol to the limitation of liability for maritime claims generally under the 1996 protocol was not entirely clear, and I look forward to discussing that with my noble friend the Minister, although I have no intention of delaying the Bill.
The most likely type of major environmental disaster to happen is the loss of, or spillage of oil from, a tourist vessel. The "Nordkapp" ran aground near Deception Island and spilled 757 litres of diesel oil, for instance, while the "Explorer", with 150 passengers on board, sank near the South Shetland Islands in November 2007. Recently, much larger cruise ships have sailed into these waters, and, considering that the UK-occupied sections of the territory are the most popular destinations, I wonder whether the Government would consider imposing a charge for permits based on the number of passengers carried. Looking at the fees charged by the tour operators, £500 per passenger would not be an unreasonable levy, enabling us to accumulate a fund to cover some or all of the clean-up costs that were not within the maximum liability. I dare say the Minister will point out that if other parties to the liability annex did not impose similar levies, the operators would seek permits from state parties where the cost was lowest. Have the Government broached this subject with the other parties and would they take a lead on the matter, bearing in mind their general disposition to recover the cost to the taxpayer of providing all kinds of services?
The larger the volume of tourism to Antarctica, the greater the danger to its fragile environment. That applies particularly to the UK dependencies, which are the most popular destinations such as Deception Island and the South Sandwich Islands. A charging regime such as I am suggesting would help to slow down the growth of the traffic, as well as providing a shield against recovery costs that exceed the limits in the schedule.
Tourism is not the only threat to Antarctica's environment. Large-scale fishing operations have developed in recent years, and my noble friend will be able to confirm that they are not covered by the Bill. The activities carried out in Antarctica which are dealt with in Part 1 are defined in Clause 13(9) as those carried out on a British expedition, defined in turn in Section 3(3) of the Antarctic Act 1994 as an expedition organised or starting from the UK. That would seem to include the tourist ships but not fishing vessels, which are treated separately in the 1994 Act. If my interpretation is correct, does this not leave a gaping hole in the Bill, and presumably in the underlying "liability annex", since fishing vessels are no less likely to have accidents that pollute the environment than tourist ships?
New Zealand discovered the toothfish in the Ross Sea in 1996 and now some 3,000 tonnes of this fish are caught every year and sold as Chilean sea bass in expensive restaurants around the world. The New Zealand NGO, The Last Ocean, has initiated a campaign to ban commercial fishing altogether in the Ross Sea, claiming that it will destroy the natural ecosystem. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, has committed to designating a network of marine protected areas, including the Ross Sea, but according to The Last Ocean, that means allowing commercial fishing, including krill trawlers. The CCAMLR was established in 1982 by an international convention to conserve Antarctic marine life, but that does not exclude harvesting as long as it is sustainable and takes account of fishing's effects on other components of the ecosystem.
The Antarctic Treaty System prohibits exploitation of natural resources on the land mass of Antarctica, but the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources allows for conditional exploitation of marine resources, including krill. The president of the World Bank and the noble Lord, Lord Stern, both issued warnings at Davos last week of far more serious climate change than has so far been predicted. As drought and floods reduce agricultural production, there will be huge pressure to loosen the controls on the abundant source of food in Antarctica.
It seems that there is a possible conflict between the objectives of the CCAMLR and the purpose of this Bill, which is to reduce the likelihood of environmental emergencies anywhere south of 60 degrees latitude, and to provide the resources for dealing with the situation when emergencies do occur. Allowing more shipping into sensitive areas such as the Ross Sea is bound to increase the risk of accidents, in addition to the risk of disturbing the ecosystem if the scientists who advise the CCAMLR get it wrong. Yet the duty to take preventive measures and make contingency plans in Clause 5 does not apply to fishing operators, nor will they be required to notify the Secretary of State as soon as they become aware of an environmental emergency. They may be required to pay compensation for any environmental emergency they cause under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, but not to the Antarctic Environmental Liability Fund, as would be the case if they were subject to the Bill. Can my noble friend explain whether, in the event of an environmental emergency caused by a ship which is not an expedition, that fund receives compensation, or alternatively, how the operators can be made to pay the recoverable costs of the response action? In practice, the costs of recovery will fall on the BAS, and there must surely be a procedure for its reimbursement where ships that are not expeditions get into trouble.
I have a couple more questions about Part 1. What are the criteria that determine the threshold of an environmental emergency? In January 2007, the "Nordkapp", operated by Hurtigruten, hit a rock near Deception Island and, as I said earlier, lost 757 litres of diesel fuel into the ocean. In December 2008, the "Ushuaia", run by Fathom Expeditions, ran aground near Wilhelmina Bay and lost an unreported amount of diesel fuel, and there may well be other similar accidents that I have not been able to identify. Would these events have come under the provisions of the Bill, and what is the limit below which a loss of fuel need not be reported? Who is paying for the clean-up of the pollution caused by marine accidents generally in Antarctica now and until the liability annex comes into force?
The annex will come into force only when all the 28 parties to the protocol have ratified it, and when we have passed this Bill that will make only six out of the 28. My honourable friend the Minister said at Committee stage in another place that we would then encourage the remaining countries to get a move on with their own ratifications. Bearing in mind that it has taken seven and a half years since the adoption of the annex for less than a quarter of the states to ratify it, I hope this does not mean that the rest are going to delay implementation until 2035. If my noble friend can say anything about the prospects for accelerating the process, it might cheer us up.
On Part 2 I shall be very brief. I warmly welcome Clause 14, which allows multinational teams from UK universities to undertake research in a special area, provided the domestic legislation of their home country allows them to do so. My question here is whether this means that only nationals of the other five countries that have already ratified the annex can participate in our university expeditions, or whether any of the others have already made arrangements to grant their citizens the necessary permission.
With regard to the historic sites, I note that there are two that are co-managed with Chile and one that is co-managed with Argentina. Mawson's Huts, remaining from the heroic Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14, described in last Sunday's Observer, are an exclusively Australian responsibility, but Sir Douglas himself was Yorkshire born and three of the 22 members of his expedition were British. Is there some way in which the UK might contribute expertise or resources to the management of Mawson's Huts in recognition of our role in an enterprise which equalled those of Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Conservative)
My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, on bringing this Bill before the House, and to Neil Carmichael in the other place. It is a vital Bill. I apologise to the noble Viscount for interrupting his speech and asking about the definition of an environmental emergency. I hope that the Minister will turn his attention to that matter. It is set out in the Bill in Clause 13(3), which states:
"In this Part, 'environmental emergency' means an accidental event that results in, or imminently threatens to result in, any significant harmful impact on the environment of Antarctica".
Why is it limited to an accidental event? Why is "accidental" included in the subsection? Why does the measure not apply to any event that threatens to have a significant harmful impact? I have no doubt there is a simple explanation for that but it was not obvious to me on reading the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Baker reminded me that my right honourable friend the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, first became enthusiastic about the environment when she was told that a British Antarctic Survey team had discovered the hole in the ozone layer as a result of its work in the Antarctic. That was the origin of her pursuing the environment with the vigour that she did when she was Prime Minister.
As my noble friend Lord Selborne pointed out, I had the pleasure of going to Antarctica at Christmas 2010 to climb the highest mountain there. Almost all noble Lords supported that venture in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care and we raised almost half a million pounds as a result of that visit. I have to say that it was one of the most expensive trips that I have ever taken anywhere. It is very difficult to get there and the costs and difficulties of operating there are immense.
Having been to Antarctica, I have to confess that I did not see any penguins or any animals at all because I went to the interior to climb a mountain and landed at the Union glacier, where it is so cold that no animals or even bacteria can exist. It is a completely lifeless place. For me, it was a quite astonishing, almost spiritual, experience. If you stand on a mountain in Antarctica on a calm day, which does not happen very often, the air is so clear and unpolluted that you can see for many more miles than we are used to doing in other parts of the globe. The thing that is most striking is the silence. There are no birds or airplanes. You look out on a completely unspoilt environment.
I am not noted as a great champion of rigorous regulation but the Antarctic Treaty has been an absolute triumph, as my noble friend Lord Selborne pointed out. Despite the injunctions of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, I shall resist the temptation to compare it with European Union treaties. It has indeed been hugely successful. When I went to Antarctica, I was supported by an organisation run by former members of the British Antarctic Survey. We should be really proud of that body and what it has achieved-it has been immensely successful. The people involved are incredibly professional and understanding of what is required to operate in a very harsh and unforgiving environment. A simple mistake can mean the loss of fingers and toes or other vital parts of your body.
The treaty means that, for example, before you can leave Chile to get to Antarctica, you have to be briefed and you have to be aware of a set of rules. I do not wish to be indelicate but one thing that people always ask me about the expedition is: if the temperature is minus 35 degrees and you are in a tent, how do you manage with your ablutions? Under the rules, everything -and I mean everything-has to be carried back to Chile. It has to be put in a bag, frozen and carried back. Under the terms of the treaty, you are not allowed to take anything out of Antarctica and you are not allowed to leave anything behind. The only things that you can leave behind are your footprints, and the only things you can away are your memories and photographs. This is rigorously enforced.
I can hear my noble friend asking why that is. If people were to pee in the snow, there would be a series of yellow ice stacks up the mountain as the snow was blown away due to the katabatic winds. Therefore, strict control is applied right the way through. The result is that, when you go to Mount Vinson, it is as God left it-it is completely unspoilt. That is in stark contrast to other high mountains in the world such as Everest, Aconcagua or Kilimanjaro, which are completely strewn with rubbish and desperately polluted. The fact that Mount Vinson is unspoilt is entirely due to the operation of this treaty, and therefore I very much welcome the Bill, which takes it further forward.
The other point that I should like to make-this may seem a little hypocritical, having been there-is that when you go to Antarctica you fly from Punta Arenas and land on a natural ice runway in a Russian plane without windows, which is quite a scary experience. As you leave the plane, you immediately find yourself in Narnia: you are confronted with a blinding white light and a completely unspoilt environment. There is a camp there, which has to be set up every year, and it is amazingly well run and organised. Some of the best food and wine that I have eaten and drunk was at Union glacier. When I complained to the organisers that it seemed a bit extravagant to have such splendid claret, he said, "The cost of the claret is incidental. The real cost is getting it here and taking it out again". Therefore, Union glacier is a very comfortable camp.
We were stuck at the camp for several days while waiting to get out and there were all kinds of people there. The most interesting people were of course the mountaineers. The next most interesting were the scientists. There are scientists involved in all kinds of work-from putting in GPS systems to working out the movements in the ice cap, measuring the effects of climate change and working out how many neutrinos are hitting the earth as part of deep space research. Others are involved in drilling into the ice core to try to establish the record of climate change. Several scientists pointed out to me that those who drill into the ice core occasionally find pockets of gas. That is the key thing: Antarctica is rich in natural resources-gas and rare metals-and therefore it is very important that the treaty protects it because it is indeed a very fragile environment.
Also at the camp were several Russian and one or two American billionaires in their seventies who had flown to the pole in a private aeroplane. The pole has now become a major tourist attraction for very wealthy people. I said to one lady, "Why are you here?". She replied, "Well, I've been to the North Pole and I've booked my trip to space, so I thought I ought to come to the South Pole". Good luck to her, but it seems to me that if this very fragile environment is subject to those kinds of pressures, it will be damaged, and damaged beyond repair.
Therefore, I congratulate the noble Viscount on this Bill. I believe that we have much to be proud of in the part that we have played as Brits in the preservation of this special part of the planet. It remains unspoilt and a natural laboratory from which we can do the necessary work in order to pass on to the next generation a world that is better than the one we inherited.
Lord Greenway (Crossbench)
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Montgomery for introducing this important Bill. I shall not wax lyrical about Antarctica like the noble Lord who has just spoken because I have not been there, although I have been ice-breaking up in the Arctic.
As your Lordships would expect, I shall confine my remarks basically to the maritime side of the Bill and, in particular, to cruise ships, which have been mentioned by a number of noble Lords.
Under the Bill, any vessel visiting Antarctica has a duty to have contingency plans in the event of an environmental emergency there. There is also a need to have adequate insurance cover or other financial security to cover liabilities in the event of an environmental emergency. The UK Chamber of Shipping and the International Group of P&I Clubs-that is, protection and indemnity clubs-raised some concerns while the Bill was going through the other place. They thought that it needed to be made clear that the liability limits found in existing conventions which allow ship operators to limit liability, as ratified by the UK, would be respected in implementing this Bill's limits for environmental emergencies. Several exchanges took place and I believe that a ministerial Statement was made in the other place to try to quantify those concerns. I hope that the Minister can confirm that under this Bill the liability provisions will come in only when existing liability provisions, already ratified, have exhausted themselves.
There are a number of maritime conventions to which this country has provided ratification and which cover specific liabilities in relation to oil pollution and so on. For liabilities not covered by these conventions, there is the right to limit liability under the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims-the LLMC-of 1976, to which a protocol was added in 1996. In essence, the right to limit liability for ships or ship-source pollution stems from the need for the risk to be quantifiable, and therefore insurable, with the advantage of prompt settlement of claims arising from such incidents. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that.
I was interested in the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that ships should be charged according to the number of passengers on board. The larger ships which used to visit Antarctica are not doing so so often now. They are mainly smaller ships-including expedition ships, as has been mentioned. A lot of them are former Russian ships which are ice-strengthened, and the Russian masters are very well versed in dealing with ice conditions.
Lord Greenway (Crossbench)
Yes, 260 passengers is a very small cruise ship these days when some of them can take 4,000 passengers. We are talking about fairly small ships. My understanding is that no large British ship has been there for a number of years and certainly no British ship is scheduled to visit this year. Basically, this Bill relates to the UK. Ships that belong to other countries, some of which have not ratified some of these conventions, are a different matter and there is concern about them.
I understand that the International Maritime Organisation is in the process of developing a new mandatory polar shipping code which could be completed next year but we do not know yet whether it will be. That was activated by the sinking of the "Explorer", which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned. These things are not always as simple as they seem. My feeling is that companies feel that it is difficult for the larger ships to visit Antarctica because, quite simply, there are too many people on board to go ashore. That is why smaller ships are being used.
This is a very worthwhile Bill and I think that it should be passed expeditiously.
Baroness Hooper (Conservative)
My Lords, as one of the fortunate few to have had the privilege of visiting Antarctica and seeing its extraordinary beauty and uniqueness at first hand, I am following this Bill with great interest. Although I visited as a tourist, I hasten to assure noble Lords that we travelled on a small British vessel and that the expert lectures on board, and the crew, were genuinely dedicated to minimising any undesirable impact that the passage of our ship or our visits might have on penguin and albatross colonies on shore.
I now realise that what at the time seemed to be over-fussy procedures were the necessary precautions to ensure that an environmental emergency, as defined by the Bill and by the noble Viscount, would not and should not take place. Therefore, I welcome the Bill as a means of making it the norm that all vessels and visitors to Antarctica should abide by strict structures, procedures and training to prevent and avoid accidental damage to the unique and pristine environment of that continent. What I experienced was clearly best practice, but I realise that a clear definition of what is required, complemented by adequate sanctions, will have a more general effect.
The other reason why I follow this Bill with interest, and trust that it will soon pass into law, is as a result of the debate which I introduced last October to celebrate the centenary of Scott's expedition to Antarctica and its scientific legacy. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has already referred to that and, as has been said, that debate highlighted the issue over the future of the British Antarctic Survey, whose work we all admire greatly. I take this opportunity to thank all those concerned now that the problems that existed at that time seem to have been resolved satisfactorily.
My interest in the long-term preservation of the Scott and Shackleton huts, as significant monuments to those great explorers and their expeditions, also results from the campaign that we had some years ago to encourage the British Government to supplement the work and funding of the New Zealand Government in guaranteeing their survival. The huts are located in the New Zealand claim area on the north shore of Cape Evans on Ross Island. In that respect, I also pay tribute to the work of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, its science and conservation and its outreach programmes. It was on a visit to its centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, that I was inspired to pursue a visit to the continent.
Therefore, my intention today and during the later stages of the Bill is and will be to focus on Clause 15 and the preservation and conservation of historic sites and monuments. I understand that an amendment was introduced in the other place to ensure that it was absolutely clear that the protections provided by Clause 15 did not apply only to sites and monuments in the British Antarctic Territory but would apply equally in other areas such as the New Zealand claim area. In view of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the Mawson's huts, it should apply equally to the Australian sector. The mover of the amendment in the other place was sufficiently reassured by the Minister to withdraw it. I hope that the Minister will be able to reiterate that reassurance today so that I shall not feel compelled to reintroduce a similar amendment here at a later stage.
That said, I have only one further question for the Minister and a comment, both of which relate to Antarctica but not directly to the provisions of the Bill. My question relates to the fact that the secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty is based in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. Is my noble friend able to say whether we have regular contact with the work going on there and whether we are able to participate fully in the work of the secretariat? My comment is a reference to last year's British joint services expedition to Antarctica led by Colonel Paul John Edwards. Its vision was to conduct scientific research and exploration in remote areas of the Antarctic Peninsula in the spirit of Scott, seeking to further the bounds of human exploration and knowledge. I attended the report back at the Royal Geographical Society recently and I was most impressed by their tales of fortitude and endurance and by the scientific legacy that they, too, established. In many ways, their experiences were similar to those of my noble friend, Lord Forsyth.
I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, on introducing the Bill. I think it is a good Bill and a necessary Bill, and I wish it safe passage.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton (Labour)
My Lords, I speak in the gap to welcome this Bill. I have been working at the University College London Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling with the BAS for the past 14 years. I would like to emphasise two aspects. As the Antarctic environment is changing, it becomes more liable to artificial risks, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, commented, some of these accidents may well be deliberate. Indeed, a novelist approached me recently to ask for various fiendish methods by which we could destroy the environment, so I came up with some interesting ones, which I will not tell you about.
I welcome Clause 5(2)(a) on the obligation to reduce risk, but Clause 8(1)(a) should surely be modified. Currently, it gives the Secretary of State power to require information about activities that "have given rise" to "an environmental emergency". Surely, the Secretary of State should have power to require information about the risks of possible future emergencies. I believe that that clause needs to be changed. Indeed, I believe that the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the international panel in Buenos Aires and so on, should establish with other countries an ongoing and openly published document or website about future risks, as they keep changing.
Lord Triesman (Labour)
My Lords, I join all other speakers in thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for introducing the Bill. I recall many occasions when he pressed serious questions about Antarctica, as other noble Lords here have done, upon me. It is good to see much of this work coming to fruition. I personally recall the early stages in the history of its discussion. I record the thanks of these Benches to Neil Carmichael in the other place for the work that he has done.
A number of noble Lords speaking in this debate have been concerned with these issues for a long time, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. I congratulate them on their persistence. Plainly, having an involvement in Antarctica comes in many forms. I enjoyed enormously the account of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, of his mountaineering expedition in a most remarkable place, not least because he was doing it in such a good cause. Macmillan Cancer Support is dear to many of our hearts. What he achieved on that occasion was very important.
My final word of thanks is to the FCO team, whom I recall very well. They were a successful and effective team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and was always at the forefront of ensuring that we took these issues seriously, and the environmental issues very seriously. I suspect that the House will already have realised that there is clear support for the Bill from these Benches, just as I am sure there is across the entire House. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has just said, it is a very good Bill.
One of the privileges enjoyed by Ministers who are responsible for the British Overseas Territories-a varied portfolio of elements of world geography-is the role that we in this country have played in the Antarctic and the British Antarctic Territory. As a consequence, I have seen proposals for such a Bill over many years. Indeed, I had hoped that it might be possible to bring one forward while still in office at the FCO. That is one of the reasons that I expressed my delight that the same group of your Lordships are here to debate it today, just as they would have been then.
These long-standing interests in preserving the Antarctic extend well beyond your Lordships' House. I took huge encouragement from the detailed interests so often and so well expressed by Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal. I met many of the British and New Zealand supporters of the great historical exploration sites, whose knowledge matched their enthusiasm. Like the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, I acknowledge that the Antarctic Heritage Trust has played an important role in respect of the historic sites. There were sometimes some vigorous discussions with the New Zealand Government about how we should fund it, and who should bear which part of the cost; but I do not think that we ever disagreed about the importance of doing so.
I have seen a consistent passion for Antarctica in the university community-which I think I know reasonably well-in the scientific community and others, where the dedicated need for longitudinal study is so evident. Of course, I have admired the MPs who have been concerned with Antarctica for such a long time and have had enduring aspirations for a Bill of this kind. They are a very diverse group, ranging from Mr Bill Cash to Mr Jeremy Corbyn; anything which manages to embrace both of them is either profoundly right or profoundly wrong.
What unites all those voices? First, there is a desire to protect a unique environment. It is often and rightly described as "pristine but fragile", vulnerable to the impact of global warming, as is everywhere else, of course, but there, perhaps, particularly so. It is evident that much work has been done to preserve the physical environment, the ice where historic pollutants can be detected. I understand that, for example, that one way of measuring the impact of lead emissions from vehicles has been be looking at the ice cores-fortunately now declining as lead emissions are themselves declining. It has been an extraordinary historical source of the study of pollutants and the history of the climate. To pick up one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about fisheries, it is evident that the remarkable fish stocks in the surrounding seas of the southern ocean are also at risk. Indeed, there are now risks due to whaling, and the pressures being exerted towards an extension of whaling by Japan, Norway and Iceland.
The balance of the flora and fauna demonstrates the interdependence of all of these things. We have a duty to protect them. I do not say this to be sanctimonious, but if we cannot protect these things on our planet then I do not think that we have the respect for our planet that we ought to have. I join the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in mentioning the Ross Sea as an area where we should have some clear concern.
The duties also focus our attention on the emergence of tourism and the risks that are posed by significant increases in maritime transport. The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, was quite right to point out that two months of the year have significant, intense activity. The idea of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, of adding a licence fee to ensure that that work is done better is an interesting proposition. I had not considered it, and I will not pretend that today I have suddenly warmed to it or otherwise, but your Lordships' House would certainly do well to consider that proposition.
That whole environmental question is one of the strands which unites us. The second is the need to ensure that no countries attempt land grabs, as my noble friend Lord Giddens was saying, in pursuit of minerals or any other assets. Two days ago, China and Ukraine announced that they opposed the protection zone around Antarctica being continued. Again, because of the fragility and circumstances on the continent, it is essential that Her Majesty's Government take an inflexible line at the Berlin conference next year, where the protections are scheduled to be renewed. Can we receive an assurance from the Minister today that we will be absolutely rigorous and try to ensure that a kind of modern form of land piracy does not occur? Can the Minister be unambiguous on this?
Thirdly, Antarctica is a treasure trove of knowledge. It is a magnet for great science, as my noble friends Lord Giddens and Lord Hunt have said. Science also needs to respect what it studies. Happily, this has characterised the way in which United Kingdom science, and great scientific institutions around the world, have played their role. There has been a key role for Cambridge University on the continent because of the location of the British Antarctic Survey Board, but more widely, I take the view-as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and my noble friend Lord Hunt said-that the worldwide academic community has been well co-ordinated and has tried to ensure that there is proper co-ordination in this work.
The fourth reason that we are drawn together is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury: this is not an area in which there is a military role or incursion. We should ensure that there never is one. That must be a military-free zone.
The fifth and final reason that all those voices have been brought together is the shared pleasure in the history of the Antarctic and Antarctic exploration, and in the historic sites. It is a story of bravery, of course, but also of intriguing rivalries. We should always note that it is a story of human curiosity, of a desire to collect and understand the things that have happened in the history of our planet. It is a history of the collection of knowledge, and doing so in a fearsome environment, as was described so well by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
The Bill protects the continent from recklessness and environmental emergencies, not least through the liability annexe. The FCO expert group is a vital ingredient in this, and I am sure that it will conduct its work with all of the vigour that, in my experience, it has had in the past.
The Bill is helpful in the protection of historic sites, although I suspect that there is more work to be done between countries to ensure that it is completely successful. The Bill is a mechanism for international co-operation to achieve the protection and preservation of the continent as a whole, bringing together the 28 executive and 20 non-executive parties for that goal. These are all things that we support.
The Bill will help to ensure that people take away everything that they bring. I know the Galapagos rather better than the Antarctic. Both places are beyond compare but so easily destroyed. For that reason, everybody needs to understand that there is an ethical priority in making sure that people take out what they bring in, that they do not wreck or spoil it and that, if they do-deliberately or accidentally-the consequences for them will be very serious.
My final point comes very close to the final comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. Are there any indications of Argentinian willingness to co-operate fully in this? I do not ask that in order to be contentious, or to suggest any concessions that the United Kingdom should make to the more extraordinary and unpleasant objectives that the Argentinian Government sometimes express. I hope that the House will agree that we should seek reassurance that no other political impulses could endanger the Antarctic continent. Whatever we can do to help get consensus about the continent as a pristine but fragile environment must be helpful. We support the Bill.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Whip, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, this has been an excellent and expert debate. It demonstrates that there is a complete consensus on the importance we attach to vigorously defending and protecting the environment of the Antarctic. The Bill allows us to ratify a further addition to the corpus of international law that governs the Antarctic continent. As noble Lords will know, Her Majesty's Government regret-and have for several years-that we were not the first to ratify. However, if the Bill passes-as we very much hope it will-we will be the seventh country to ratify. That answers the question of the noble Earl, Lord Selborne.
So far, Finland, Peru, Poland, Spain and Sweden reported to the most recent Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in June 2012 that they had ratified. Since then, Australia has ratified. When the Bill has completed its passage through both Houses, subject to the will of this House, I know that my honourable friend Neil Carmichael MP is planning a reception to celebrate the Bill and our ratification, to which representatives of the other state parties will be invited. This will provide us with the first opportunity to encourage others to follow us as rapidly as possible in completing the ratification of the treaty. I have just been passed a note stating that Argentina has indicated its intention to ratify the liability annexe.
We maintain absolutely our commitment. It is not just a question of the British Antarctic Survey. We are all aware of how competent and expert the FCO team covering this is. It was a slight shock to me when I met them this morning, having corresponded with them for some time. I had assumed from their level of expertise that they were all about my age and had been studying the Antarctic for 40 or 50 years. To discover that they were about half my age and nevertheless very expert was even more impressive.
I will rapidly respond to a number of points made in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the timescale for the appointment of a new director of the British Antarctic Survey. The Natural Environment Research Council has advertised for a new director. The closing date was
In an extremely interesting speech, the noble Lord raised a large number of interesting points. I am amazed and sometimes appalled by the level of his expertise on parts of the world that often I have to start researching by looking them up on a map. On the question of how we might charge for permits to cover clean-up costs, the Government's consideration on this is that the limits on charges and maximum liability set out in the Bill are already significant. Liability for the smallest vessels is just under £1 million. For larger vessels we are talking about anywhere between £12 million and £30 million. These are generous limits for the potential emergencies that we could envisage. Once the liability annexe comes into force, the Antarctic Treaty parties will review the liability limits. Many consider that they will then need to be raised, for example to come into line with the new limits to be introduced under the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims.
The noble Lord raised the question of protecting Mawson's huts. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, also talked with particular passion about the protection of historic sites and monuments across all Antarctica. The Government are aware of a very extensive Australian restoration programme for Mawson's huts and so do not think that they will fall into disrepair without British involvement. However, if the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust was invited to contribute expertise to that restoration project, I am sure that it would seriously consider the opportunity, which the Government would encourage it to accept. The Bill's provisions on historic sites and monuments apply across all Antarctica, and we are engaged with other signatories in co-operative work in their protection.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also raised the question of marine protected areas and fisheries. I confirm that Clause 9(3) specifically excludes the activity of fishing for profit from all requirements in Part 1 of the Bill. This is primarily because the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty does not cover fishing activities, which, as the noble Lord pointed out, are the subject of separate rules and regulations under the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which I am told is pronounced "Camlar" as an acronym. As a result, they are specifically excluded from this liability annexe. However, they are covered by other existing international laws.
The British Government are committed to the protection of the Southern Ocean from excessive fishing. We note that fishing for Chilean sea bass has rapidly increased. When I am offered it, I will look at sea bass with an entirely different attitude, having read a number of things about it in the past few days. We have demonstrated our commitment to the designation of marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. Earlier this year, the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands announced one of the largest sustainable-use marine protected areas in the world, covering their entire maritime zone. This year we have developed a further proposal to designate marine protected areas in areas of the Antarctic Peninsula that are currently covered by permanent ice.
The UK will also give its full support to the designation of marine protected areas in the east Antarctic and in the Ross Sea during the meeting of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. The Ross Sea is one of the most biologically productive areas of the Southern Ocean. Therefore, as the noble Lord remarked, it is a potentially rich source of global protein. However, it must be fished responsibly and sustainably. That will require international collaboration in policing fishing activities-in which the British, of course, will play a full part.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of environmental emergency thresholds. There is no explicit threshold, either in the Bill or in the liability annexe, for what constitutes an environmental emergency. It is defined in Clause 13(3) as,
"an ... event that results in, or imminently threatens to result in, any significant harmful impact on the environment of Antarctica".
So ultimately it will be down to judgment as to what constitutes an environmental emergency. This is why Clause 8 is so important and is constructed to include a broader set of circumstances than simply environmental emergencies.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Conservative)
I am sure that my noble friend did not mean to misquote the Bill but it does not actually say that. It does not say an event,
"that results in, or imminently threatens to result in, any significant harmful impact on the environment of Antarctica".
It says, "an accidental event". Could he deal with my point as to why the event is qualified by the word "accidental"?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Whip, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
Certainly. I will come to that briefly and I thank the noble Lord for his intervention.
A number of marine-based activities undertaken in Antarctica are currently covered by earlier, existing conventions such as the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims. However, those not covered by such conventions, particularly yachts or land-based operations, are not currently liable for pollution costs. That explains why this extends to the liability set of issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked about non-accidental events. Sanctions can be brought under the Antarctic Act 1994 against those who are deliberately causing environmental damage in Antarctica and any person causing such damage will, by virtue of paragraph 1(5) of the schedule be subject to unlimited liability for costs incurred in responding to it. This reflects Article IX of the liability annex. This is extending existing law to accidents where existing law already covers deliberate environmental degradation.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, asked about liability provisions. Paragraph 5 of the schedule ensures that no shipping operator can be held liable for the same cost twice. This means that liability cannot be sought for environmental clean-up under both the LMMC and the Antarctic Bill. If the environmental clean-up work includes vessel salvage, the operator cannot be liable twice under the salvage convention and the Antarctic Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, asked about UK engagement with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Conservative)
I apologise to my noble friend. I expect that I am being a bit thick, but I still do not understand why this word "accidental" is included in the definition of what constitutes an environmental emergency. I understand the point that he makes about deliberate action which causes damage being covered by other legislation, but it is not clear to me why the definition within the Bill of an environmental emergency is qualified by this word "accidental". There are events that could be an environmental emergency that would not arise from an accidental activity.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Whip, House of Lords; Liberal Democrat)
We are reaching the limits of my expertise on this issue. My understanding is that deliberate environmental degradation-mining, the setting up of flights and the sort of things that the noble Lord has been talking about-would be already be covered by the Antarctic Act. The intention here is to extend liability to cover increases in tourism and shipping and the extent to which accidents, collisions, sinking and so forth happen. This is an extension. Much of what the noble Lord is concerned about is, we understand, covered by existing law. Of course, if I have not given him a full explanation I will write to him. I do not in the slightest consider him thick: I consider him, like my noble friend Lord Greaves, a thorough scrutineer of all legislation that passes through this House. I intend that as a compliment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, talked about UK engagement with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat. I am happy to be able to confirm that we have full and effective engagement with the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat in Buenos Aires. It has international organisation status within Argentina.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that Her Majesty's Government do their best to maintain a relationship with Argentina that is effective for the Antarctic, which keeps that as separate as possible from the current and long-standing differences over the Falkland Islands. We do our best to maintain the difference as far as we can. This is, after all, an important multilateral issue in which a number of Latin American countries, most of all Chile, are involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, asked whether the Treaty parties were also talking about future risks. I confirm that the clause that he referred to in the Bill does not limit in any sense the Secretary of State's powers and liabilities. Of course, we are concerned and we are talking with others about future risks to the Antarctic environment. The suggestion of improving the existing secretariat website to include this information is a matter for discussion with our treaty parties, not for this Bill. We are of course ratifying a negotiated international convention. The UK will consider the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in discussion with other treaty parties.
Finally, I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that we, as with the predecessor Government, are entirely committed to vigorously defending the pristine character of this continent. We have demonstrated today that this is warmly supported across this House. We look forward to the passage and ratification of the Bill. This country is rightly proud of its Antarctic heritage and we want to continue to be proud of it.
We thank the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, for introducing the Bill. We look forward to its speedy passage through this House and ratification. This will help us to demonstrate continued UK leadership in the Antarctic treaty system. I am therefore delighted to be able to give the Bill the Government's wholehearted support today and I encourage all noble Lords to do likewise.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (Crossbench)
My Lords, I am most grateful to everyone who has spoken on the Bill. This has been an interesting and diverse debate. All noble Lords who spoke have come from different angles, so that it has been a particularly well balanced debate, which is as it should be.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for supporting it. To see him back on the Front Bench is very gratifying. He and I had many dealings when he was the Foreign Office Minister, so to see him back in action is a great pleasure.
I just want to single out and mention the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He recounted his amazing walk across the continent for which he raised a great deal of money for a worthwhile charity. I am even more gratified that I was a modest contributor to that cause. To hear him speak today about the experience was very interesting indeed. I will not summarise everyone else's speeches. They were all very useful and complementary in the sense that they balanced each other out. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.