I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 13, line 4 after 'modifications' insert '(including additions or omissions)'.
This, again, is a technical amendment, which I hope the House will believe strengthens the Bill. Clause 34(3)(c) provides that, in extending the provisions of the Bill to dependent territories, the Order in Council may modify those provisions. That will consist mostly in making minor adjustments to take account of the different constitutional and legal situations of the various territories.
For instance, a reference to a Secretary of State is probably meaningless in the Isle of Man or the Channel islands, and would need to be changed in those cases to Governor. The amendment makes it clear that such changes can be made by adding or omitting provisions. It is a technical amendment, which I hope will receive the approval of the House.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
As a Back-Bench Member, it is a privilege to have the opportunity to guide such important legislation through the House. I think that I said on Second Reading that I had been lucky enough to draw a place in the ballot on two previous occasions which resulted in the enactment of two Bills: one in the 1960s that dealt with assistance to parish councils; and, more recently, one dealing with children's seat belts. Important as those were, they were not as important as this Bill.
This is the first time that I have drawn a place in the first six in the ballot, so I am especially happy that such a worthwhile Bill will enable me to complete a hat trick of getting private Member's Bills on to the statute book. I have enjoyed the experience enormously and I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have expressed keen enthusiasm for the Bill
I am especially grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) who contributed so much. I must also mention the extremely distinguished Members from both sides of the House who were kind enough to sponsor the Bill. I suspect that it is a long time since a private Member's Bill received such distinguished support.
I must also express my gratitude to the Foreign Office and especially to the officials who worked exceptionally hard. As the hon. Member for Islington, North said, some of them are in Japan for important meetings dealing with Antarctic matters. They have been a splendid team and could not have given me more help and support.
Our discussions during the passage of the Bill have shown that no Member of the House has, or pretends to have, a monopoly of concern for the Antarctic environment. I have been impressed by the desire of hon. Members on both sides to protect that unique area of the world. Our role is to discover how best to achieve that aim and there are many ways of doing so.
I was very saddened to see a pathetic space filler in this morning's edition of The Independent written by a Mr. Wilkie. It seems to be a cheap and snide way of attacking the royal family under the guise of the most helpful support that the Princess Royal has given to try to preserve the heritage of the Antarctic continent in various ways. I hope that we shall be spared other weasely articles of that sort.
For this country and its citizens, the enactment of the Bill will secure necessary legal protection and it will allow the United Kingdom to ratify the environment protocol to the Antarctic treaty which, as hon. Members know, provides a comprehensive international framework for protecting the Antarctic environment.
The protocol cannot enter into force until it has been ratified by all 26 Antarctic treaty consultative parties. So far, I understand that six have ratified and that most of the others intend to do so by the end of this year. If the Bill is enacted by the summer, this country should be able to ratify by the end of the year and I think that everyone in the House hopes that that will happen.
The advantage of getting the Bill through all its stages today is that their Lordships, many of whom will have a strong interest in it, will have the proper amount of time to discuss and examine it. I am pleased that my noble Friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein will look after the Bill when it arrives in another place.
I hope that we shall ratify the Bill before the end of the year. The United Kingdom was instrumental in introducing the protocol and we should not lag behind others in the process of ratifying. Timely ratification would send a clear signal from this country of our manifest concern for the Antarctic environment. It would demonstrate, as nothing else could, the United Kingdom's continuing commitment to the protection of the Antarctic environment and to the Antarctic treaty system.
Our thorough debates on Second Reading, in Committee and again today have provided considerable opportunity for all of us to debate the Bill. I hope that the amendments that have just been accepted on Report meet most of the concerns of hon. Members and that, once they have had time to reflect, hon. Members will agree that the provisions of the Bill now represent the best means of providing the necessary legal powers to protect Antarctica.
On that note, and expressing once more my thanks to all concerned, I hope that the Bill will be given a Third Reading.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on a remarkable achievement. He referred to his hat trick. As one who, almost eight years ago to the day, had my own Bill receive its Third Reading, I realise that those matters depend very much on luck, but the right hon. Gentleman has displayed a commitment and an ability that say much for him. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has also made a substantial contribution to the Bill, and we thank him warmly for his part.
When I referred earlier to the role of a former Islington Member, it was, of course, in a jocular sense—perhaps heavily disguised. But I notice that Islington has not made the mistake of electing a Scottish Member since that time.
I must defend Islington's history on that matter. The former Member for Islington, South, George Cunningham, was Scottish and the current Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) was born and brought up in Scotland.
I am sure that the House deeply appreciates the tremendous contribution that Islington continues to make—and in climbing the Munros.
The Opposition have said that we support the Bill. Indeed, some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who is very much involved in the environmental matters to which the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred, have sponsored the Bill.
The Bill calls for the highest degree of environmental protection for the Antarctic. The Madrid protocol, which has been waiting for ratification since 1991, deserves that and the Bill takes it a step forward. It reflects the manifest consensus and all-party agreement that has been achieved. I would not chide, as the Minister did, the Liberal Democrats for not being present. In fairness, there are not many of them. If one has a constituency as far north as Orkney, it is not easy to be here, so the Minister would be mistaken to read too much into the absence of that hon. Member.
The Labour party is concerned that we should not encourage exploitation of commercial interests in that area. We have consistently supported the need for the protection of Antarctica as a world wilderness park. We welcome the fact that the Bill makes mineral exploitation and mineral resource activities impossible in that place.
In earlier days, the Government—who seem to have given the Bill a fair wind—were sceptical about the role of Australia and France. They seem to be catching up. The representations that we have all received from our constituents, especially younger constituents, on those matters are a sign that the Government are catching up with public opinion and I am glad that that is happening.
There are problems in respect of the United Nations and the role that some people there see for themselves. That debate should continue and we should encourage nations that are not involved in the treaty and the concord to accept that they also have an important role.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin), when she spoke on Second Reading, asked the Government how they envisaged the development of the secretarial arrangements and I should be grateful if the Minister would give the House more information about that if he is able to do so.
Following the discussions in Rio, the GATT agreement, and the strong representations about the environment from Opposition Members, we should like the Bill to be speedily implemented. We hope that the Government will ensure that the important scrutiny in another place does not delay implementation. In that spirit, I again congratulate the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North and everyone responsible for the Bill, and look forward to Royal Assent as soon as possible.
I have followed the Bill's progress since it began, and I add my words of thanks and congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) for the work that he and other people have done in bringing the Bill to Third Reading and, I hope, to a successful conclusion. I hope that, anticipating its future return from another place, the Bill will complete its stages. It is a very important piece of legislation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred correctly to his successful record, which might be ascribed to fortuity, but also to his skill in drawing the right number in the ballot. Over the years, he has completed what he called his hat trick. That makes me jealous when I think that my last private Member's Bill was quite a few years ago, but at least for a while it was called an Act under one's own name, which is rather a nice thing to do, and other Members have achieved that over the years. If the Bill is called "the Jopling Act" when it completes all its stages, as I hope, would be an even better expression of the achievement of my right hon. Friend.
Over the years, we have had many conversations and discussions together. I have always regarded my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale as a very fair person in the political cockpit, and his objective fairness in the Bill has helped it to gain the support that it now receives from all parts of the House. I heard many hon. Members who were involved in Committee—I was not—commenting on the skilful way in which my right hon. Friend handled the Bill in Committee.
The Bill is legislation dealing with treaty co-operation, which is a wonderful example of international cooperation. It is still in its early stages because we think of that legislation as being for centuries ahead rather than decades, and perhaps there will be further measures in due course. Therefore, I am also delighted that the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), is present to complete Third Reading on behalf of the Government, as he has been on previous stages, showing that the measured incidence of true balanced international co-operation, and all countries working together, rather than one country seeking to gain and score points over other countries, is an example and a lesson not only for the European Union, but for that vital part of the planet. I am sure that that is of special interest to my hon. Friend the Minister of State.
In conclusion, in commending Third Reading and hoping that it will be supported by all parts of the House, I shall refer briefly to a specific, but very important matter. I hope that the Minister of State, and perhaps also my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale if he decides that he wishes to intervene again on Third Reading, will refer to it.
There are anxieties for the future, rather than now, about the control and development of tourism in the area covered by the Bill and the international treaties governing it. The controls seem adequate now and penetration by conventional tourism is extremely primitive and limited, and involves a handful of people—certainly it has not reached levels that would cause alarm. But there is worldwide anxiety among the people who follow the subject closely—experts who represent the industry as well as decent people who represent the global environmental interests of the planet. They are anxious that, although there has been virtually no exploitation in terms of tourism, the area could be threatened in future. I am not saying that it will happen in the foreseeable future. The controls appear to be stringent. The penalties in the legislation would apply not simply to mineral and exploration companies, but to other human commercial activities.
However, the planet is small in the sense that the tourist industry is now virtually everywhere. Everyone complains about the despoliation of coastlines.
In all other areas of the world, such exploitation has reached a high level, and there is even plundering. There is certainly excessive exploitation. I am not straying out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in case you are looking ominously at me. I hope that Antarctica will be spared such exploitation. There is every reason to assume that it will be, provided that intergovernmental controls and international co-operation are adequate for the future. Therefore, if my hon. Friend the Minister can reassure hon. Members, as he did successfully in Committee, I and, I think, listeners and viewers, will be grateful to him.
I thank the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and congratulate him on having had the good fortune to come in the first six in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I have not yet been drawn in the first 60, so I do not know how he succeeds—perhaps he will let me know.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for choosing the subject. It is extremely important to enact the Bill. At the beginning of the Committee stage, we placed on record the fact that we should have preferred it to be a Government Bill, but we now have a Bill which has passed through Committee, which is extremely important. The subject of the Antarctic is hardly ever likely to grab all the headlines in this country, but the Bill is an important piece of legislation.
The Antarctic is an extremely important place. It is the only part of the world in relatively pristine condition. It is the only part of the world to be the subject of a treaty, the opening lines of which state that the Antarctic shall henceforth be a place of peace. That treaty was drawn up in 1959 at the height of the cold war. It is the only place where we can look at what we are doing to the planet. We can study what we are doing to the air and the sea, and the of pollution that we are putting into the air. Therefore, it is an important centre of research.
To achieve those goals, we need legislation—through national Parliaments, international agreement and constant monitoring. The passing of treaties, protocols and conventions is all very well in the rarefied atmospheres around beige tables in expensive hotels in faraway places, but what matters is what happens on the ground. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world has the same benign attitude towards the Antarctic as many of us who are speaking in today's debate.
As I understand it, ratification has been achieved in Australia—just last week—and in Argentina, Peru, Equador, Spain, France and Norway, which is important. It is also important that the Bill is now enacted. I expressed misgivings about some sections of the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee, and I hope that those matters will be further considered in the House of Lords. I mentioned the permit system and its publication. I hope that, even at this stage, the Minister will reflect again on the issue of delegated powers being given to the British Antarctic Survey so that it is able to be judge and jury of its own permits in a limited sphere. I hope that he will also reflect on the current lack of clarity. Perhaps he will tell us about the type of appeals that will be used for those who have been refused a permit. How will he monitor the permits system? It must be effective to ensure that the importance of Madrid is not left behind.
Just this morning, I looked at the report of the 1989 discussions on Antarctica and realised how far we have moved. In 1989, we discussed the measure that subsequently became the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989. That measure would have allowed mining exploration in the Antarctic and it is a tribute to campaigners all over the world that we are now discussing the long-term preservation of that continent and the prevention of mining exploration and exploitation there.
I hope that the Minister will give us some idea of when he expects the Bill to be given Royal Assent. We also need to know the date of implementation. I understand that the Minister hopes that it will be implemented fairly soon. I hope that that is true so that we can join that growing band of nations that approve of such legislation.
The current Kyoto conference is part of a process on the Antarctic and involves Governments and non-governmental organisations. We need to know the attitude that the Government will adopt at that conference and when we shall receive a statement and report.
The lack of inclusion in the Bill of the deep sea bed is unfortunate. We must ensure—
I count that as a yellow card.
I hope that the House of Lords will consider the whole question of future exploration and exploitation of the deep sea bed, because that is important in considering the Bill. Some of us expressed concern about the effectiveness of the Bill in that area. It may be covered by a future United Nations law of the sea conference. Perhaps the Minister would write and tell me whether a UK citizen would be forbidden to mine in that area because of the UN law of the sea, or whether that would be covered by the legislation.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed a trick. His amendment on the deep sea bed was evidently in order in Committee. With respect, I am surprised that it is not in order for the hon. Gentleman to mention it now. However, it is not for me to fight the hon. Gentleman's battles.
I bow to your superior knowledge in these matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise for trying to provoke you.
I make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that United Kingdom law already prohibits United Kingdom nationals from mining the deep sea bed or exploring for minerals unless they have a licence. That prohibition is contained in the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981. Therefore, another prohibition specifically for Antarctica is not required.
I thought for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman had succeeded in cancelling my yellow card, but obviously not quite. I thank him for his comments about the 1981 Act, which is important. However, the legislation that passed through the American Congress and the Australian federal Parliament implementing the Madrid protocol—which the British Government also signed—includes a specific reference to the sea bed, which is rather different.
There may be giant oil reserves under the Antarctic. This morning, I received a lengthy letter from Alan Hemmings, who works for Greenpeace in New Zealand, concerning that gap in the legislation of national Parliaments, the British Parliament's ratification of the Madrid protocol and what is likely to happen with mineral exploration in future.
There are 21 sedimentary basins within the Antarctic continent, so there is a good probability of finding hydrocarbons there. There may be mineral areas outside those covered by the Bill. Although the protocol is likely to remain in force for as long as 50 years, debate on the Bill has been on the assumption that the technology does not exist to undertake deep-sea exploration and mining of Antarctic minerals. In an attempt to pour oil on troubled water—if that is not an unfortunate metaphor—when debating the 1989 Act, the Government often argued, "It doesn't matter very much, because nobody can get down there to mine the oil, even if they had the authority." I beg to differ.
Although the oil is deep under the Antarctic, it is not that much deeper than mining under way elsewhere at present. Two thousand metres is extremely deep water, but production is under way at 900 m in the Gulf of Mexico and exploration wells are being drilled at 2,300 m elsewhere.
Having succeeded in securing the Madrid protocol and making provision in the legislation of national Parliaments, it is essential that we realise that acknowledgement of the fundamental difference between the Antarctic and the rest of the world. We are saying that it is a place of peace, exploration and protection and not a place for mining over the next 50 years or, I hope, any time thereafter. If we acknowledge that, we shall be taking an important step forward.
If, however, we say, sotto voce, "It's okay; at some point mining will be allowed there", the pressure will be on for permits to be granted and exploration that undermines the principles of the Madrid protocol. I hope that we shall clearly state that we mean to protect the Antarctic now and for ever more against mineral exploration and exploitation; its fauna, flora and wildlife; and the sea and what lies below it.
I hope that the other place will return to the question of overflying aircraft which was raised several times in Committee. It is not a minor issue, because the spirit of the Bill could be breached by low-flying aircraft. If an irresponsible operator used an unsuitable aircraft and it crashed in the Antarctic, none of the rescue services or other facilities available in other parts of the world would be at hand. It would fall to the scientific research bases to mount a rescue operation, and that is not their function.
As to tourism, in the context of total preservation of the continent, the ideal would be to have none—but many people have a desire to visit and to see the Antarctic and I understand and share that wish. The people operating the treaty and protocol system must give an assurance that a strict limit will be placed on where tourist operators can go and what they can do. They are already limited, to the extent that tourists cannot touch anything or take anything away. Tourist activities should also be properly financed and equipped. If thin-hulled vessels are used, there will be a serious risk of sinking after colliding with an iceberg, and rescue facilities will be minimal. The crash of the Air New Zealand aircraft shows just how serious it is when any kind of accident takes place in the Antarctic.
The preservation of the flora and fauna of the Antarctic is very important. The whale population of the Antarctic waters has been most disgracefully depleted over decades. Indeed, for a long time, whaling was part and parcel of the British fishing industry, based in Whitby and many other places. We did achieve—everyone who is concerned about these things—the principles of the international whaling convention, of controls on numbers and of protection. Tragically, many countries lied about what they were doing. The Soviet Union lied about the number of whales that it was taking. Japan has consistently sought to undermine the international whaling conventions by the use of what it calls "scientific whaling", which ends up on dinner plates in expensive restaurants in Tokyo. Norway seems to think that it is okay to continue whaling in the northern hemisphere. We must recognise that we are dealing with a precious and highly intelligent mammal. They should be protected for all time, not only in the Antarctic waters but in the rest of the world. Any pressure that we can put on the Japanese and Norwegian Governments to cease their disgraceful practice of whaling will be an extremely important step forward.
This Bill is important. It is a great advance in many respects. I have outlined my areas of concern—the permit system, the deep sea bed and the overflying of aircraft in that area. I hope that, when the Bill goes to the other place, further consideration will be given to those matters. I hope also that we in this House will be prepared to come back and consider it again when regulations are proposed, and when the Government make a statement about what has gone on at the Kyoto conference, because if we are serious about protecting the environment, we must be vigilant. We might have good intentions, but an awful lot of money might be made by people who have nothing but bad intentions towards that continent. The damage that has been done to the whale population is testament to that.
I put on record my thanks to those organisations and campaigns all around the world that changed the atmosphere after 1989, including the World Wide Fund for Nature and Greenpeace, but more personally to Jagdish Patel, who used to be Greenpeace's co-ordinator on the Antarctic—it is now Ian Reddish—and Sandy Philips from the World Wide Fund for Nature for her work and advice in drawing up pieces of legislation. Without those campaigns, Parliaments around the world would not now be passing this legislation. We would not now be looking at—to the degree that it almost is—the world park in the Antarctic. Instead, we would be looking at something rather worse. I congratulate them and the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale on being able to introduce this piece of legislation and, I hope, get it through.
The Bill has the Government's full and enthusiastic support. It is worth reminding ourselves of its importance and, indeed, of the huge extent of the area about which we are legislating. It is not often that the House of Commons has an opportunity to legislate on an area that is the size of Europe and the United States combined. Indeed, the Antarctic, with its surrounding seas, covers an area of about one tenth of the size of the globe. It is also the largest and most pristine wilderness on earth. It is the coldest, the windiest, the highest, the driest and the least inhabited of all our continents.
Although it sounds a rather inhospitable place, that very fact makes Antarctica of enormous interest scientifically. It is because of its pristine condition that it provides good conditions for the study of subjects such as global warming, the rise of sea levels, atmospheric pollution and ozone depletion. It is covered with a very deep and thick ice cap. Indeed, the Antarctic is thought to contain some 90 per cent. of the world's ice and some 70 per cent. of its fresh water, so today we are considering a matter of great importance. It is right that this country has played such a leading part in the setting up of the Antarctic treaty and now its environmental protocol, which we hope to proceed to ratify as a result of the Bill.
If hon. Members have any spare time, I hope that they will take an interest in the present scientific work, especially that conducted by the British Antarctic Survey. I am sure that they would also be very interested in the early years of this country's scientific engagement with Antarctica and in the extraordinary stories of exploration and heroism. We have today discussed nature in terms of its being a fragile and delicate flower, but, to the men of the early expeditions, it was something to be struggled with, often in conditions in which their very survival was in doubt.
In view of our early engagement and interest in that continent, it is right that we were the first to sign the environmental protocol and, as a result of the Bill, we hope to be ratifying the treaty before the end of this year. I agree with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) about the need to get as many other countries as possible to sign the Antarctic treaty. I do not wish to be negative, but only realistic, when I say that the Bill would apply only to the United Kingdom and, once it had been extended to them, to our dependent territories. That is perhaps an obvious point, but it is important. We cannot legislate for other states. We cannot apply our laws to the nationals of other states except when they are in our territory, and we have to recognise the Bill's limitation in that respect.
There are more than 180 sovereign states in the world, but only about 40 are party to the Antarctic treaty. They may include the biggest and most populous states on earth, but many states are not party to the Antarctic treaty so our ability to control their activities and those of their nationals in Antarctica is inevitably limited.
I wish to respond to two points of detail. I shall be brief because I am aware that the House has other legislation to consider. The Opposition spokesman, the hon. member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), raised the issue of an Antarctic treaty secretariat. We have long supported the creation of a secretariat and it is one of the issues being discussed in Kyoto, probably even as we speak. It is certainly on the agenda. In due course, we hope to get agreement between the treaty parties about the siting of a secretariat.
I deal now with tourism, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). It does not have a specific annexe to the protocol, but it is referred to explicitly in it. The very advantage of the Bill, and the protocol to which it relates, is its flexibility. If, in due course, tourism were to become a serious threat to the environment of Antarctica, it would be possible to add a specific annexe to deal with it. At the moment, I am satisfied that the controls over tourists and their expeditions to Antarctica are adequately covered in the legislation.
I am aware that other points have been raised today. If they have not been debated in Committee and if I have not covered them, I am willing to write to hon. Members or to have them raised specifically in another place in due course.
I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on his skill in piloting the Bill this far. I thank him for his tribute to officials in my Department and to the work that they have done. His tribute will be much appreciated. I give my full support to the Bill's Third Reading.