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Deep Sea Mining Bill (Ways and Means)

Volume 568: debated on Tuesday 15 October 2013

I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Deep Sea Mining Bill, it is expedient to authorise:

(1) the imposition of charges in connection with licences granted as a result of the Act, and

(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.

The House debated the Bill on Friday 6 September and it received its Second Reading unopposed. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) for her work on the Bill thus far and to Members from across the House who took part in the debate. The former Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), signalled the Government’s support for the Bill on Second Reading, and in order for the Bill to progress to Committee it is necessary for a Ways and Means resolution to be agreed by the House.

As I have said, this motion allows for charges to be imposed in connection with licences granted as a result of the Act. Under the Act, licences would be granted for the exploration or exploitation of any of the certain mineral types for which the International Seabed Authority has regulations—currently, those are polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and ferromanganese cobalt-rich crusts. The licence would be specific to a particular area of the deep sea bed and it would not have effect until the ISA issued a corresponding contract to the same applicant. The application fee for an exploration licence currently stands at £10,000.

Have mining companies expressed any interest in exploiting the deep sea bed around the coast of Northern Ireland? The Bill extends to Northern Ireland but not to Scotland, as is helpfully explained in the explanatory notes.

I am not aware that there has been any such interest, but, as the hon. Lady says, the new licensing regime applies to Northern Ireland as much as it does to anywhere else. Of course, all this motion is doing is committing the Bill to Committee, where she will have a chance to use her forensic powers of examination to tease that and other information out.

As I was saying, the application fee for an exploration licence stands at £10,000. The company then pays an annual fee for three years to continue to hold the licence; those fees are £15,000 for the first year, £25,000 for the second year and £25,000 for the third year. Those are substantial sums; indeed the fee for an application to the ISA is $500,000. Those involved are not small-scale companies but businesses that are prepared to make significant investments in the search for minerals on the deep sea bed. Two licences have been issued under the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Act 1981, and should this Bill become law we hope it will encourage other companies to apply. The fees go into the Consolidated Fund. The ability of the UK Government to issue these licences, in a manner that is fully compliant with international law, will ensure that British companies benefit from the opportunities available in this new industry. The country as a whole will benefit, too.

I was particularly struck by the Minister’s phrase that the Bill will benefit “British companies” and allow them to exploit the deep sea bed. The Bill runs to only two clauses, but does it contain a clause that I have not noticed which reduces those who can mine the deep sea bed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland—but not Scotland—to British companies only?

Order. Before the Minister answers, it may be helpful if I remind the House that we are not discussing the Bill. This is about the charging regime for the licences; the debate is on the Ways and Means motion. I fear that we are in danger of debating the Bill, which would not be in order this evening. I know that the Minister is trying to keep in order.

I am most grateful to you for that ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would normally give the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) as straight an answer as I possibly could, but your injunction prevents me from doing so, so I will continue my speech.

The country as a whole will benefit, too, from the associated revenue, supply chain jobs and science and technology development. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

I had hoped to intervene on the Minister before he sat down. I shall keep closely to the parameters you have outlined, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have a question about the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill will extend to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Has there been any interest from companies in Northern Ireland to obtain licences for deep sea mining and will there be close control from the Northern Ireland Assembly?

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman but I fear that I would be under the same injunction from you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were I to debate exploration around the sea in Northern Ireland. There will be an opportunity to explore these matters further in Committee; the motion is about allowing the Bill to proceed in Committee.

Mr Shannon, if you could stand up and thank the Minister for his intervention and clarification, that would help us.

Thank you for your assistance, Mr Shannon, as the Minister would otherwise have spoken twice.

Question put and agreed to.