HL Deb 25 July 1966 vol 276 cc597-9

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to set up a National Council for Oceanic Resources with wide powers, in view of the importance of research and development in the oceans of the world.]


My Lords, the functions and powers envisaged for a National Council for Oceanic Resources are already catered for in the Natural Environment Research Council, which is responsible for supporting and coordinating research in this field. It has set up two specialist Sub-Committees, for Oceanography and Fisheries and for Geology and Geophysics. This Council is the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Exploration for oil and gas is carried out under licences granted by my right honourable friend the Minister of Power, and information obtained by the licensees in the course of their operations must be made available to the Natural Environment Research Council's Institute of Geological Sciences.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply, but does he really think that a Research Council which has responsibility for forestry, geology and quite a number of other things is adequate to carry out the immensely important research and development on the bed of the oceans of the world? Does he not think that this country, with its great maritime record, ought to devote far more attention to this very important matter? Is he not aware that we are only hunting the seas as our forbears hunted the forests, and does he not think that a great deal more attention ought to be paid to the exploration of two-thirds of the earth's surface?


Yes, my Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of this work, but I think the development of the Natural Environment Research Council is a most important step in the direction in which he wants this country to go: it brings together all the interested parties. The Oceanography and Fisheries Committee includes the Fisheries Departments, representatives of the Hydrographer, the Admiralty Research Laboratories, the British Ship Research Association and the Ministry of Overseas Development. He is aware that certainly on the marine biological side it is very strong indeed. In fact, my noble friend Lord Bowden suggested that we were about to embark on the golden age of oceanography, and I would assure the noble Lord that very real progress has been made in the direction he wishes us to go.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether any international co-operation is being organised to deal with this problem? Are we co-operating with other countries, in view of the fact that this Question relates to practically the ocean beds of the world?


My Lords, this is a field in which there is a great deal of international co-operation, of which I have had some experience. There are the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which is mainly concerned with the North-East Atlantic, the Inter-governmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, not to mention other Special Agencies. So there really is a great deal of co-operation. I must say that I am very encouraged by the progress that is being made. A great deal has been done in the past, but a great deal more is being done to-day.


My Lords, whilst I am glad to hear that a great deal of progress is being made, would not the noble Lord agree that a great deal more progress in this field should be made by this maritime country? Would he not agree that the exploration of the North Sea gas, for example, highlights how far behind we are, as a country, in underwater technology? Could I also ask when we may expect publication of the first Report of the Natural Environment Research Council?


My Lords, I cannot say when the first Report will be made available. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Earl that the exploration of the North Sea suggests that this country is very far behind. This was a development of a particular technique of which we had not had direct experience, but I think that it is being brought into operation very effectively. I want to say again that I amgenuinely encouraged by the progress that is being made.


My Lords, on that point would the noble Lord not agree that, both in regard to laying the pipeline under the water in the North Sea and its maintenance, we are likely at present to be dependent upon foreign technology?


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord wants me to go into further details. It is not unknown for one country to cooperate with another.

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