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Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Bill Hl

Volume 417: debated on Thursday 26 February 1981

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3.30 p.m.

Read 3a .

Clause 2 [ Exploration and exploitation licences]:

moved the following amendment:

Page 3, line 17, at end insert (" and in determining whether to grant a licence in any case he shall have regard to any relevant factors including in particular the desirability of keeping an area or areas of the deep sea bed free from deep sea bed mining operations so as to provide an area or areas for comparison with licensed areas in assessing the effects of such operations.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, when he introduced the discussion on the merits of what are called stable reference areas in a very interesting debate at the Report stage, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, suggested that it would be a sign of grace and enlightenment if the Government would concede the point that he was trying to make. At that stage I was able to do no more than say I would consider the matter with a view to moving a Government amendment at Third Reading. I stand before you today therefore in a rather unaccustomed guise—that of the Minister of Grace and Enlightenment.

The amendment to Clause 2 seeks to meet the noble Lord's concern. It differs from his own suggestion of requiring the Secretary of State to seek to negotiate these arrangements with reciprocating countries, because he does not need specific authority to do that. Indeed, we know from corresponding legislation in the United States that they are committed to negotiate on this topic with reciprocating states, which definition of course should include the United Kingdom.

This amendment differs, too, in that it goes much further than the original suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, in that it requires the Secretary of State, when considering licence applications, to have regard among other things to the desirability of keeping an area of the deep seabed free from deep sea mining operations to provide a stable reference area. For the reasons I gave at Report stage, it would be difficult to be too precise at present when so very little is known about the qualities of different areas of the deep seabed; but I can repeat that the Government fully accept the merit of the case for stable reference areas and I recommend to the House the amendment which stands in my name. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Moved, That the privilege Amendment be agreed to.—( The Earl of Gowrie.)

On Question, an Amendment (privilege) made.

Moved, That this Bill do now pass.—( The Earl of Gowrie.)

My Lords, before we say goodbye to the Bill, could I make two or three remarks to the Government about it? This is a Bill which many people think the Government will have to watch with unusual closeness as regards its operation. It is striking out into completely new legislative territory; there has never been any national legislation which purported to do anything like this before. We already have the case of a citizen of Texas called Grimm, who has staked a claim, no less—he has not sought anybody's permission—to an area of the North Atlantic deep seabed. The nearest country is Canada but he is not Canadian; he is American. What is going to happen? Presumably somebody will pursue him. Will it be the American Government or the Canadian Government? I hope that the British Government, at any rate, will take the trouble to have the case very closely followed, in whichever judicature it comes up. They will be making law.

Is there any forum for conversation with the Soviet Union about these provisions? The Soviet Union has been researching and developing the kinds of ships which can bring up nodules from great depths and it also has a strong interest in the Indian Ocean: it is likely to operate there. It hardly needs pointing out that, if Siberia turns out to be impossibly hard frozen so that minerals cannot be got there cheaply, its interest in the Indian Ocean is going to increase and increase. Technology might force it that way. Does it need national legislation like this? Probably it would say: "All our ships are state owned so we do not need to get anybody's permission: we are a sovereign Government operating on the high seas".

Is this acceptable to democratic states such as America and ourselves, and so on? Poland is introducing legislation. What is the need for legislation in a communist country? These things, I think, might even justify a specific charge being given to somebody somewhere in Whitehall to keep a very close eye on its development, and the Government should not just stand back and hope that our own mining consortia are able to report everything that is relevant to the Government, because they will not be able to do that. They will report many interesting and relevant things, but not everything.

Finally, on behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House, perhaps I could say how glad we are that the stable reference zones have been carried into the Bill, and that one or two other minor improvements have been achieved.

My Lords, the Government are to be congratulated in bringing in this Bill at this stage. It will certainly show to the developing countries that this Government, like the American Government, are prepared to share the commercial results of this kind of deep sea mining. The second count on which the Government are to be congratulated is that they have accepted the general theme of the amendments that I proposed regarding the safety of personnel. It brings to notice the great dangers to personnel arising from new industries which require individuals to go well below the sea level in their business activities. I am very grateful to the Government for accepting that amendment.

My Lords, I can do no more than thank both noble Lords for the way in which they have received the proceedings on this Bill. It is of course uncharted territory, and we are in deep water, literally as well as metaphorically, here. I think it might be worth pointing out to the House that it seems an admirable idea to introduce more Bills in this Chamber because more amendments find themselves to be acceptable to the Government, being introduced in sensible and non-doctrinaire ways. I hope that we can keep up this good record.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.