Order for Second Reading read
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.I am glad to say at this hour of the evening that the Bill which I ask the House to approve is a mercifully short and uncomplicated piece of legislation, and so I may be fairly brief in my remarks. The purpose of the Bill is to incorporate the Island of Rockall in the United Kingdom, more specifically.
I do not imagine that there are many Members in this House tonight who have seen the Island of Rockall. There may be some, and I hope that if there are we may hear from them. In the words which you yourself, Mr. Speaker, use when you report to us at the beginning of every Session that the Queen has made a speech opening it and you say that for the sake of greater accuracy you have obtained a copy, I would say that I think it may be helpful to the House tonight if I represent Rockall in every way by bringing into the House a part of Rockall so the House may know what it is we are talking about. As the House probably knows, the Island of Rockall, which is situated some 200 miles west-north-west of Barra Head in the Hebrides, was annexed on behalf of the Crown in 1955. The effect of this annexation which was carried out by a naval landing party from H.M.S. Vidal acting under instructions contained in a Royal Warrant dated 14th September, 1955, was to make the island part of Her Majesty's dominions. The island, however, does not at present form part of the United Kingdom and is not subject to any administrative or legal system. I am sure the House will agree that this is not a wholly satisfactory situation. The Government have therefore concluded that the time has come to make Rockall an integral part of the United Kingdom, subject to the jurisdiction of our courts—and I am glad to have beside me tonight my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate—and this is what the Bill does. To deal with the matter in practical terms, the Bill will have the immediate effect of bringing Rockall within the scope of any legislation enacted by Parliament which applies to Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Once the island is incorporated in the United Kingdom, it will become subject to the provisions of the Fishery Limits Act, 1964. It will also he possible for an Order in Council to be made under the Continental Shelf Act, 1964, should my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in due course consider it desirable to designate this area for purposes of exploration and exploitation. Perhaps, in even more practical form, the Government are mindful of the fact that Rockall and its adjacent reefs present a hazard to shipping in its waters and steps have already been taken to establish a navigational light on the island. I am glad to tell the House that this work will be completed next year as soon as weather conditions in that area permit, because it is well known that weather conditions in that area are not always particularly kind. With that explanation, I hope that the House will accept the need for this small but nevertheless useful Measure."into that part of the United Kingdom known as Scotland".
I welcome the Bill. It would appear to be correct that a Bill should be passed to formalise the claim of Scotland to the Island of Rockall. I would not altogether agree with the history of the matter put forward by the Minister. If he goes to the Western Isles and perhaps to the pubs there, he will find there has been a continuing claim that the Island of Rockall and the banks adjacent to it are Scottish and always have been—ever since the Battle of Largs when the Western Isles as a whole were taken from the Norsemen. That is a claim I would not depart from, but the material significance of the formal annexation of Rockall to the United Kingdom has been hinted at by the Government Front Bench spokesman.Clearly, it is important that our fishery limits should be established in face of entry into the Common Market. Indeed, the Government should take note that Rockall is inhabited entirely by in-shore fishermen—the birds that live there! The claim to any undersea minerals that may lie there is very important. It may take the limits far beyond the limits which appear to have been agreed in the Common Market negotiations at the weekend. For all these reasons, this is a very important piece of land. I am glad to note that the Government are prepared to put a light on the island to warn shipping. At this point I wonder whether the Bill goes far enough. It claims to apply the law of Scotland to Rockall, but I have always understood that the law of Scotland and the United Kingdom was that lighthouses in Scottish waters come under Section 634 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, under the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. I was astonished to discover on 29th November the following Written Answer by the Department of Trade and Industry to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). The right hon. Gentleman
The Minister replied:"asked … what organisation will be responsible for the lighthouse on the Scottish island of Rockall."
Under what legal authority is it proposed to carry out this necessary function? While I welcome the putting of the light on the island of Rockall, I would like to know if the Government are in order in seeking to administer and install it. Is it not the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses who should carry out this difficult and dangerous task?"By arrangement with the Commissioners of Nortnern Lighthouses and Trinity House, the navigational light on the Island of Rockall will be installed and maintained by Her Majesty's Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1971; Vol. 827, c. 16.]
I have never landed on Rockall, but I have seen it. Those who sail in the vicinity of this rock are advised by the Admiralty Pilot to navigate with care because of a local magnetic anomaly. It seems, however, that this is not the only anomaly associated with the rock. Six months ago I put a Question to the Prime Minister asking him to pay a visit to Rockall with a view to substantiating our sovereignty to the area. He answered in the negative and said that Her Majesty's sovereignty over Rockall was not in dispute. Why, then does it become necessary, a few months later, for the Government to produce a Bill putting our claim to this area beyond dispute?Another oddity about this Measure is that Rockall is described as the "Island of Rockall", whereas normally it is called "Rockall", occasionally "Rockall islet" and even more occasionally "the sea rock of Roaring". But the use of the term "island" gives us a clue to the reasons why the Government have produced the Bill. The first recorded landing on this rock was achieved in 1811, and since we took formal possession of this islet in 1955 there has been no dispute whatever as to the sovereignty over it. However, in dispute is whether our possession of this rock gives us exclusive rights to explore and exploit the resources of the seabed in the submarine areas adjacent to it as determined by the Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf, 1958. That Convention states explicity in Article 1(b) that the conditions of the Covention extend to submarine areas adjacent to the coasts of islands. No mention is made, however, of rocks, islets or reefs. Thus, by calling it an island and by attaching it firmly to the United Kingdom, the Government hope to put beyond dispute our claim to the sea bed in the area. If this legal stratagem works, we shall have possession not simply of a fastness 70 ft. high and 80 ft. round at the base but control of not less than 150,000 square miles of the sea floor that would otherwise belong to the Republic of Ireland, Iceland and Denmark. This area of the sea floor is of military significance and is also of oil-bearing potential. But the ramifications of this little Bill go far beyond that. This country is still in possession of a large number of islands dotted around the world's oceans. In the Atlantic Ocean they include Bermuda, the Leeward and Windward Islands, Cayman, Turks and Caicos, Ascension, St. Helena, Tristan Da Cunha, Inaccessible, Nightingale, Gough Island, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Orkneys and South Shetland. In the Indian Ocean we have the Seychelles Group, Aldabara, Farquhar, Des Roches and the Chagos Archipelago. In the Pacific we have the Gilbert and Ellice Group, Ocean Island, Phoenix Island, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, Oeno, Starbuck, Malden, Vostock, Caroline, Flint, Fanning, Washington, the Christmas Islands. Christmas is coming, so will not also enumerate the myriads of islets, reefs, atolls and rocks that are also under our control. The point is that with this Bill we are in danger of setting a precedent; and thereby asserting the right to control an area of the sea floor which is equal in extent to about 12 million square miles, which is exactly equal to the size of the British Empire at its height.
"Wider still, and wider."
I congratulate the Government on this new expansionist policy, but I wonder whether this is the wisest way of attempting to divide up the ownership and management of the marine environment. Some hon. Members may have noticed that mention was made in the Gracious Speech of the International Law of the Sea Conference in 1973. One of the objectives of that conference is to discuss these problems and, in particular, whether rights should attach to oceanic islands, in the same way that they do to countries with very long seaboards, in relation to exploitation of the Continental Shelf and the sea floor beyond it. Perhaps the time is now opportune for the Leader of the House to give time for a thorough debate of the Government's policy on this matter, instead of springing a major new policy on us in a two-Clause Bill in the middle of the night.I dare say that if I enlarged on the argument about how we should manage and exploit the sea floor and the world oceans I should be ruled out of order very quickly, but it is not difficult to demonstrate that it would not be in the national interest to pursue the policy that appears to emanate from the Bill because France, for example, would do rather better than the United Kingdom. But I hope that before we conclude the debate I shall have a clear undertaking from my hon. Friend that Rockall and the Bill are an exception, and that what we have agreed to do about this particular rock will in no way compromise or prejudice the negotiations that are to be held at the International Law of the Sea Conference in 1973.
When an English Member interferes or intervenes in a matter which at first sight might seem to be solely concerned with Scotland, he should either seek the leave of the House or the protection of the Chair. When the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) intervened he was greeted with some noise from the Scottish magnates on the Government Front Bench. I should not like to say whether that was encouragement or discouragement, but he showed an independent spirit. I shall be less lengthy than he was, though I support what he said. The Under-Secretary asked if anyone had seen the Island of Rockall. I saw it in rather exceptional circumstances. It was during my first service at sea back in 1942 when I went from Lancashire to join a ship of the Glen Line out of Glasgow. By some strange chance we got rather near to Rockall. At that time I had left home with a fairly good Lancashire accent, but when I came back after six months at sea with a wholly Scots crew my parents could not understand a word I was talking about. That is my excuse for joining in the debate.I ask two questions. The "Island of Rockall" is the phrase used. I hope that this term in legal language means not only that part of the island above the water at normal tide but that part which extends 100 fathoms deep, because it is that part of the sea bed which is of real interest to us, the value and wealth of the Continental Shelf, which we should be able to exploit. I am delighted that a navigation light is to appear on the island. I take it that it will not be contracted out to Wimpey—possibly Laing, or, more likely, Sir Robert McAlpine, will be doing the work. The main object is not only to secure the island but the sea bed is to be incorporated into the United Kingdom. I thank Scottish Members for their forbearance.
This is by no means the least important of today's many debates. The hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) pointed out that the Bill, though small, was not quite so uncomplicated as it might seem. Incidentally, I consider this to be a reasonable hour for us to be considering business that is so closely related to Scotland. Usually we are relegated to the middle of the night, but we never worry about that because if we are interested we are here.I trust that the Bill's importance is such that it will not be relegated to the Scottish Standing Committee. I shall be disappointed if, when the Bill receives its Second Reading, the Government Whip does not move that it be considered by a Committee of the whole House. The Under-Secretary is lucky in that the important task of moving the Second Reading of the Bill has fallen to him. The hon. Gentleman is straight back from his failures in Brussels. Having given away the fishing industry of Scotland, he is now annexing a hitherto seemingly unimportant part of the Atlantic Ocean. During the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton, East, we were reminded of the phrase—
That almost used to be the Tory Party's theme song. What was Pomp and Circumstance is better known today as "Pompidou and Circumstance". I am glad that the Under-Secretary brought with him a sample of Rockall, but he did not tell us what it was. There is a certain measure of doubt about what it was. For a long time it was called "Rockallite". Then a later expedition discovered that it was something else. The first sample, which was brought back by the French expedition, was different from what was available when James Fisher brought back his 21-lb. sample from the area. We are delighted that a navigational light is to be placed on the island. It has taken a long time to get this done. About 70 years ago a Clyde-built Scandinavian ship—the "Norge"—was wrecked there with the loss of 80 lives. Even at that time a gentleman whose name is not unknown in relation to lighthouses— Stevenson—suggested that an automatic light should be put there. That suggestion was turned down because of the difficulties of maintenance. If this island was annexed to the Crown by formal commission of Her Majesty when the aptly named H.M.S. "Vidal" went there in all formality in 1955 under Commander Connell, the obvious question to ask is: why now? We all know why it was done at that time. This started in about July, 1955, when a very distinguished Minister of Defence, whose name was Selwyn Lloyd, presently Mr. Speaker, announced that there was to be sited on South Uist an experimental missile station. The feeling was that it would be appropriate and advisable and would save us from any possible embarrassment of claims from someone else if we took this over to prevent anyone else putting any monitoring devices upon Rockall. I do not think that even at that time there was much talk of it as an island; it was still just a rock. But it has grown in importance since that time. I should like to know why for all this time we did not require to take any action to incorporate it, to subject it to some legal system and annex it to the District of Harris in the County of Inverness. If we had waited a year or two, there would probably be no District of Harris, and I doubt whether the County of Inverness as a unit will remain because we are going to have considerable local government reform, and even reform in relation to shrieval divisions of Scotland as well. So why this lapse of time? Is it true that it was some university student who was doing some digging and found that here was a part of the United Kingdom which was not subject to any legal or administrative system? It would be very interesting to know what prompted this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) mentioned the traditions of the Western Isles. They probably had some contact with events around that part of the world, although they go pretty far back. After all, Rockall is just a speck in the ocean, probably about the loneliest of lonely spots. I do not know whether it is true that we have decided to take it on. because we realised that within 10 years we would make some drastic changes in relation to our fishery waters and that in 10 years we shall have developed this new fishery area under the protection of legislation that has been presently mentioned—the Fishery Limits Act—which is going to apply there. This is the last sea-eroded relic of a submerged mountainous island, part of the ancient barrier lands between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, and even geomophorgraphically it is not related to Britain but rather to the Arctic lands."Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set".
I think that is not the case. Rockall is part of the European Continental Shelf, and so is Greenland. It broke away millions of years ago as a result of the continental shift, but in the process of the drift Rockall got left behind between Greenland and Scotland.
I am not so sure about that, but certainly the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that it is part of the barrier lands between the oceans.It even eluded cartographers for centuries. It was so like a sailing ship by its very configuration, because it is just a peak tipped over out of the sea that it must have been as elusive to seamen as the "Flying Dutchman". They say it, and then they did not see it. And even when the first landing party got there—I think that my hon. and learned Friend will bear me out—they quickly lost their ship, and they had to turn back when they thought they were on the way to their ship. That was back in 1811. Incidentally, it is right that Rockall should be annexed to Scotland if only because the man in command of that landing party was a Scotsman who came from Edinburgh. We had better find out whether anyone else wants Rockall, if it proves to be as valuable as has been suggested. We might discover that the French have a claim. They knew about it; they were probably the first people to put it reasonably close to its real position on the map. It was not. I think, till about 1745 that a Captain Coats, travelling between Hudson's Bay and Britain, reasonably accurately fixed it.
My right hon. Friend is being less than fair to the Norsemen. In their earliest maps of the North Atlantic, the Norsemen marked a large area called Friesland, which meant a low area of shoals. There is not much doubt that that was the Rockall shoal.
I think that there is considerable doubt. Going further back, it may be that the Irish have a claim through St. Brendan, who was said in legend at least to have landed there. We are in trouble when we go back as far as that. The first landing without doubt was in 1811—unless the Spanish and French sailors who arrived in St. Kilda back in the 1680s had themselves landed there.It is not really an island. There is more than one rock. There is the Hassel-wood rock as well, which is just about a cable's length from the rock hitherto known as Rockall. It has always been dangerous to shipping, to whalers and trawlers. I hope that we do not run into trouble. It may be that the Faroes think that they have traditional fishing rights there, and many other people, too. A survey was made in 1831 by H.M.S. "Pike", commanded by the man whose name is commemorated in the ship which did the final helicopter landing and claimed the island for Britain—Captain Alexander Thomas Vidal. That was the first complete survey, in 1831, and we can appreciate the importance of it. It is not just a rock. It is part of a shoal, and that shoal is the shallowest part of a much larger Continental Shelf area. There is a shallow bank stretching 280 miles long, 100 miles broad at the northern end, tapering and curving away, with depths of 200 fathoms or less; and the northern half, an irregular oblong, is shallower, at 100 fathoms or less. So we have there a truly Continental Shelf 100 miles long and 50 miles broad. So the hon. Member for Bolton, East is quite right. The definition is important, and I hope that the Lord Advocate will help us with the definition of Continental Shelf. We shall have no sovereignty over that part itself, but we do have rights through international agreement if this island is ours and we measure the Continental Shelf from there. We have our rights in relation to the exploration and exploitation of the sea bed over a considerable part of the ocean. Is that why we are formally annexing it and applying certain administrative procedures to it? There is nothing on Rockall except birds. More people have landed on the moon than have landed on Rockall from the sea. The people who landed in 1955 to annex it landed by helicopter. One or two have landed since by helicopter to replace the Union Jack and see whether the plaque which was put up is all right. What about the Irish? Have they a claim to it? It is not all that far from Ireland. I reckon it is nearer Londonderry and the Bloody Foreland than it is part of the mainland of Scotland. We may well have trouble in controlling the area. Just before we came to this Bill we recognised the freedom of Sierra Leone and made it a republic. No doubt one day we shall have the Republic of Rockall Bill.
And we shall make the right hon. Gentleman President.
I hope that the first visit by a Scottish Minister will be by the hon. Gentleman.
I have been there.
I know. That is why this is being done. I can see the hon. Gentleman's influence.It is a pretty dangerous reef. There are submerged rocks for many miles. Now that we have responsibility for it we must accept responsibility for safety. Will that involve us merely in putting one light on Rockall? It will not always be easy to see that warning light. What flag will be flown? I understand that the Minister of State said in another place that the Government are considering whether it should be the Saltire instead of the Union Jack. Something as important as that should be announced in this House. It is said that it was because the Scottish Office was anxious to have a place where there was no unemployment, and somewhere that the Prime Minister could visit without meeting a protesting delegation, that it decided that it had to annex Rockall. Have we any other territorial claims to make in the Atlantic? We may well be starting out on something of greater importance than we imagined. We have going through the House the Mineral Exploration Bill, under which the Government have set aside about £35 million to meet part of the cost of initial surveys and exploration of not just areas of land but the seabed as well. The Minister for Industry told us on Second Reading that that included exploration of the Continental Shelf. Does that mean that this part of the Continental Shelf from this part of the United Kingdom could be included? We must appreciate that we are only at the start of the exploration and possible exploitation of the seabed. There is evidence of considerable interest in developing the techniques of extraction of metals and their exploitation, and the exploration that precedes the exploitation. Was the Mineral Exploration Bill drafted in order to cover the Continental Shelf and all its possibilities? If that is so, one begins to understand why, six years and more after the formal annexation, we are getting this Bill giving us some legal control over the rock and that area. Has the hon. Gentleman been in communication with the Faroes, with Iceland or with Ireland over this matter? How does he see it developing? The Continental Shelf is where the waterline is 200 metres deep, and goes even further. We are only at the frontiers of knowledge about sea bed exploration. The Institute of Geological Science, according to the Government, is actively engaged on a geological survey of the whole Continental Shelf. Does that include the Continental Shelf around Rockall? These are very important matters.
There has already been a university expedition there, and there is sizable evidence of important oil-bearing strata.
That is interesting to know. We should be put in the picture about this important thing that is happening to Scotland. Why does the Bill use the phrase
There was a Scotland before there was a United Kingdom. The noble Lady the Minister of State suggested that the words were used because they were in the Act of Union. She used the unhappy expression that they had been "hallowed" by being used in the Act of Union. That is not a sentiment which will find an echo in many parts of Scotland. I hope we shall be given tonight a far better reason for the use of these words. I hope the Government will look with favour on possible Amendments in the Committee stage, which, for a Measure of constitutional importance, must be on the Floor of the House."… that part of the United Kingdom known as Scotland …"?
By leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I will reply to the debate.The meanderings of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) through history were most interesting, and I congratulate him on the knowledge he has shown, which is almost as great as mine. I commend it to anyone. It is easily obtainable by a few hours study of a book entitled "Rockall" by James Fisher. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the hours he has spent reading it.
There are more books than that on the subject, and I have read them all. My disappointment came when I discovered that the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Gazetteer do not mention it.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will put that right by approaching the editors.The right hon Gentleman asked why we are doing this now. I ask him, why not? His Government had the opportunity, but it was one of their many omissions. They could have done it, but did not.
The right hon. Gentleman was giving precedence to the Hunter Report.
The right hon. Gentleman was so taken up with study of that little book that all else was excluded from his mind. I am glad that we have now given him the opportunity to study something else.One of the things the Bill introduces is the exploration of the Continental Shelf and Rockall. I thought I had made that clear already. The right hon. Gentleman asked about various distances. When he was referring to the Gazetteer and the Encyclopaedia Brittanica he might have carried his studies that little bit further and done a little more measurement. He would then not have had to ask me. Greenland is more than 1,000 miles from Rockall. Iceland is 402 miles from Rockall, and the Faroes 322. The Bloody Foreland, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman has visited, as I and my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) have, is 226 miles from Rockall. The nearest part of the Western Isles. Barra Head, is 200 miles away, and Rockall is 165 miles west—
My question had nothing to do with distances. I asked whether Iceland and the Faroes had traditional fishing rights.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what were the nearest points to Rockall, but when I give him the information in typically ungrateful way, he refuses to acknowledge it. The 1964 Fishery Limits Act will apply to Rockall, and so far no historical fishing rights have been established.The right hon. Gentleman referred to the use of the words
As he knows perfectly well, this is entirely customary use, and if they do not give the correct description, I do not know what does. I believe that the description is hallowed, and properly hallowed, in the Act of Union, and I am proud to use it. I would not be at all surprised if it were not used in some of the legislation for which the right hon. Gentleman was responsinble when in office. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we would consider putting lights on other rocks there. We do not propose to do so, because most of the other rocks are at some part of the tide, covered by water and the fixing of lights on them would be extremely difficult. We believe that with the tremendous prominence of the rock—and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) may bear me out—the light there will be very obvious to mariners in an area where they would not expect to see a light. They will thus know where they are and will steer very clear of the island. The right hon. Gentleman referred to recent discussions in Brussels about fishing, but his reference to the sixth century St. Brenda and the rock is about as apocryphal as the interpretation he sought to put on the very successful results of the negotiations. If he were more in touch with Scotland and its fishing industry than with the history and background of Rockall he would be here with a very different story. I assure the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) that the only fishermen of Rockall, being birds, are not subject to the 1964 Act. The hon. and learned Gentleman was quite correct in saying that in the normal course the responsibility for the maintaining of lights in Scottish waters rests with the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, but I am glad to be able to tell him that the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act do not preclude the Crown from establishing and maintaining a light in these waters. Taking the matter one stage further, the arrangement which has been made about the fixing the maintenance of the light being the responsibility of the Government has been done with the full agreement of the Commissioners for Northern Lighthouses and Trinity House. I am glad to have sitting beside me my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, who is one of the Commissioners, and he will confirm that this has been arranged by agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Laurance Reed) raised a number of interesting points about the Continental Shelf, how it applies to the law of Rockall, and how he sees it working. Of course, the sovereignty of the island of Rockall has never been in doubt, and certainly it is not in doubt now. The Bill is purely a domestic Measure designed to bring the island under United Kingdom law. Rockall is an island, of course, and what we are proposing is nothing dramatic or new. It is a natural development from the annexation which took place in 1955. As for the international implications, there is no doubt that Rockall and its Continental Shelf fall within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. We shall stand by the limits laid down, either as they exist under the 1958 Continental Shelf Convention or as they may be decided at the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference in 1973. My hon. Friend raised a number of important issues which lead up to the Law of the Sea Conference, and I assure him that we take the Conference very seriously. It is a very important one for Britain, as it is for other nations, and we intend to play a full part in it and the preparations for it. I hope that I have managed to reply adequately to the debate. This is a small Bill but, as the right hon. Gentleman said, an important one. I am glad to be associated with it."… that part of the United Kingdom known as Scotland…"
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, is he in a position to give the House any further information about what was suggested in another place with regard to the flag?
Our flag is the flag of the United Kingdom, which is the Union Jack. That is the flag which is used, as Rockall is part of the United Kingdom.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Goodhew.]