§ 3.4 p.m.
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (The Earl of Gowrie)
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Trenchard I beg to move that this Bill, the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Bill, be read a second time.
Some noble Lords may well wonder what deep sea mining is all about and why this Bill is described as a temporary provisions Bill. What we are presenting is in fact a Bill to regulate the mining of what are usually described as the "hard" mineral resources found on the seabed of the world's oceans. The provisions are only temporary because there is, and has been for many years, a United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea that is trying to agree to an international regime to cover such mining. We hope that when agreement is reached this international régime will supersede our national measures, but in the meantime we need this Bill to encourage our own industry to maintain their vital programmes of research and development.
Before discussing the general principles and the detail of the Bill, I think it would assist your Lordships to consider the background against which it is set. The United Kingdom's industrialised economy is critically dependent on imports of many hard minerals. We have therefore a major interest in securing access to supplies not controlled by other countries. Beneath the two-thirds of the world's surface which is covered by the sea there lie vast and untapped quantities of hard minerals and other resources.
As long ago as 1874 a scientific expedition by HMS "Challenger" discovered and recorded the presence on the seabed of deposits and nodules containing significant quantities of iron, manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and other minerals. At the time these were regarded merely as a scientific curiosity but we now 249 know that the world community has practical cause to be grateful for the discovery made by that United Kingdom expedition. By the 1960s it had become apparent that there was commercial potential in gathering these nodules and recovering their useful metals.
It may be helpful to explain a little more about what these nodules are and where they are found. Nodules are potato-sized lumps containing significant quantities of manganese, nickel, cobalt and copper. They lie on the seabed in a single layer one nodule thick. We do not fully understand how they are formed but it is clear that they require the undisturbed conditions that are found only in areas of the deepest oceans. Although nodules have been found in various parts of the world's oceans, it is only in the North Pacific that the deposits are rich enough to justify pioneering commercial operations. The prime area lies in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, between Hawaii and California, which is an area of some 3 million square kilometres far away from any land, where the sea is about five kilometres deep. Being right in the middle of the ocean these are resources of the high seas and, according to the doctrine of the freedom of the high seas, all countries in the world enjoy freedom to recover them.
In 1970 the General Assembly of the United Nations called for a Third Conference on the Law of the Sea to be convened and adopted a resolution stating that the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, and its resources, was the common heritage of mankind. Even before these principles were declared, work towards an international regime for the peaceful uses of the seabed was in hand and since 1973 the conference has been trying to negotiate an international system of regulations for seabed mining as part of a comprehensive new convention of the Law of the Seas. We hope the tenth session of the conference, in March and April of this year, will be the last, but, even if it is the last, several years are likely to elapse before an agreed convention comes into force. At present no one can tell exactly when an international régime will come into being.
In the meantime, while international negotiations have continued, mining companies from many countries have formed consortia to assess the practical possibilities of making use of the seabed resources, and to develop the methods and equipment needed to recover nodules. There are now six consortia which include companies from the United States of America, Canada, Japan, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy as well as from the United Kingdom. Since the 1960s these companies have between them invested well in excess of £150 million. They made this investment in the expectation that by the time they had resolved the huge technical problems of developing this new industry the Law of the Sea Conference would have worked out an internationally agreed set of regulations under which they could operate. But that work has proceeded very slowly and although some progress has now been made the pace of work has not kept up with the development of mining technology.
That clearly leaves the companies in a difficult position. In this industry the normal commercial hazards of a completely new activity requiring as yet unproven techniques are compounded by international political and legal…uncertainties. The companies 250 need to embark on a second stage of development, which will have to concentrate on specific sites, but of course they hestitate to invest additional funds of up to £100 million for each project while they have so little assurance of a guaranteed site or any return on their investment.
So it is that, pending international agreement, the companies have turned to their own Governments to seek national measures which will go at least some way towards providing the framework for development which they require. Since 1971 the United States Congress has considered a number of deep sea mining Bills and in June 1980 passed a Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resources Act which is broadly comparable in terms of United States legislation to the Bill we are considering here today. The Federal Republic of Germany also passed a similar measure last year in support of German companies' interests. Once again our companies seek equivalent support.
Your Lordships may ask what national legislation of this kind can do for companies. We do not claim that the resources of the deep seabed belong to us; nor are we imposing any conditions or restrictions on the behaviour of citizens or companies of other nations. However what we can do is to provide a framework which would ensure that the activities of United Kingdom citizens take place in an orderly manner. Without legislation there would remain an unregulated free-for-all which would benefit no one here, and without legislation in this country our United Kingdom mining companies would be at a disadvantage compared with their counterparts in other countries. We think that the interim regulation set out in this Bill should give the companies sufficient assurance to justify continuing their development and expenditure so that they are in a position to take maximum advantage of the new international regime when it emerges.
I must emphasise that the Government remain absolutely determined to achieve a satisfactory outcome to the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. This is the long-term solution for deep sea mining and this Bill in no way diminishes our commitment to that long-term solution. Nor does it attempt to preempt what may be decided at the UN Conference. So a moratorium is imposed on the commercial recovery of these nodules until 1988 to allow reasonable time for the international convention to come into force before actual mining takes place. There is also in the Bill a provision for taxing any production under this legislation so that a proportion of the benefits may be shared with other countries of the world when an international authority is set up—a kind of levy. The proposed convention includes rigorous requirements for payments of this tax or levy to the authority.
As part of the transitional arrangements towards an international regime we believe that the convention will need to include some safeguards for the early investment of the pioneering mining companies. With satisfactory transitional provisions, the Bill and the international convention will together form a firm statutory basis on which the development of the industry may continue in both the short and long term.
I hope this has given the House at least some idea of how this Bill complements the industrial and the 251 international framework. I turn now briefly to the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 prohibits United Kingdom nationals from exploring for or recovering the mineral resources on the deep seabed without a licence. At present these activities may be carried out as part of the freedom of the high seas but, as I have explained, companies are unwilling to invest vast sums of money without more specific legal arrangements. Clause 2 outlines the arrangements for licences that will authorise exploration or exploitation in specific areas of the seabed. Licences will contain a number of terms and conditions in order to control the standards of operations and safeguard the marine environment.
The Bill provides in Clause 3 for taking account of the licences or other authorisations for deep sea mining granted by the other states which pass similar legislation. This arrangement will enhance the rights that attach to any licence issued by the United Kingdom, since it will, in our view, lead to recognition by other states. Recognising the licences of other countries with similar aims and standards will effectively contribute to the orderly development of the industry, and to properly controlled and co-ordinated exploitation of seabed resources. This clause lays the foundation for reaching beneficial agreements of that kind.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to the provisions made in Clause 5 for protecting marine creatures and plants and their habitat. While we cannot yet know the full effects of the new mining techniques, this clause is supplemented by the powers to make regulations preventing mining methods that may be harmful to the marine environment and to include conditions in licences as they become appropriate.
Clause 8 is an unusual but necessary provision. It gives the Government the power to take countervailing measures against another state that discriminates against United Kingdom registered ships in connection with deep sea mining. United States legislation includes a provision restricting US licensed explorers and miners in their use of foreign vessels. This is clearly against the interests of our shipping industry and we wish to be in a position to retaliate against such protectionist policies, though of course I hope that, by international agreement here which we could work out, such retaliation would not be necessary. I have already mentioned that there will be a levy on production to be paid to the international authority when it comes into being. This is dealt with in the Bill in Clauses 9 and 10.
I hope that I have made it clear to your Lordships that the fundamental objective of the Bill is to provide a temporary statutory framework within which our mining companies can continue their valuable development work in this new and important industry. It looks forward to the entry into force of a satisfactory international convention, which we are determined to achieve within a reasonable period. In the interests of continued United Kingdom participation in deep sea mining and the orderly development of the industry I commend the Bill to the House. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Gowrie.)252
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, the noble Earl was exemplary in his brevity in introducing this Bill and I think we all recognise that the search for brevity has compelled him to refrain from mentioning some of the background of United Nations politics which must affect the judgment of the Government and of Parliament in the decision on what to do about this Bill. As the noble Earl said, this is the third Bill of its type to appear in the world: first, the American; then the German, now us. The noble Earl gave a list of countries which were involved in consortia to carry out the deep sea mining before the UN arrangement comes into effect. He started with Canada, Japan and France. It would be of some interest if he could tell us, at the end of the debate, whether any of those countries—or indeed any others—are also considering interim national legislation of the type that we have before us today.
Before coming on to my major misgivings about this Bill—I find that the longer one stays in politics the more misgivings one has about everything, but they are certainly quite strong—I should like to run through some minor obscurities which may or may not be blemishes, because it is a little difficult to see exactly what the Bill is saying in some places. The first question is mud. The Bill is drafted as though the only way you can get minerals off the seabed is in the hard nodules. This is not the case. There is another deposit which is on the bottom of the deep oceans which is highly metalliferous and this is certain muds, principally to be found in the Red Sea, but also now in the deeps of the Pacific Ocean. They are just about as rich in metal ores as are the nodules. It is a little bit harder to get them because they are hot and bubbling and they tend to be at greater depths. Let me first of all ask, why does this Bill deal only with hard minerals, that is to say nodules, and not with metalliferous mud?
The answer may be that the best known deposit of hot metalliferous mud is in the Red Sea and it falls entirely within the exclusive economic zone of either Saudi Arabia or the Sudan; it is therefore, as it were, nationally justiciable in their courts and by their law, and therefore we need not bother about it. But the deposits which are being discovered at the moment in the Pacific Ocean, although they lie at greater depths, are not in anybody's exclusive economic zone. It seems to me that in a Bill designed to last at least eight years it would be good to cover them as well. It might be possible to think of an amendment to do this, though it is not something I would like to take the lead in doing without taking advice from the Government and friends in the industry.
Secondly, a small matter, but one that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, at any rate, is that to do with the penalties. If I read the Bill and the schedules rightly—and I am not sure I have read them rightly because to read the ping-pong match of meaning between the clause and the schedule is always rather difficult—if a company or consortium were to fail to pay its interim levy to the Government into the fund it could be fined but no director could be imprisoned. If, on the other hand, anyone, any little person, including particularly a Government inspector, were to disclose any information which he had obtained through the operation of this Bill he could be not only fined but also imprisoned. So we would have the situation where a man could be 253 imprisoned for divulging that a great company had failed to carry out its duty in a way for which it was not liable to imprisonment. That slightly sticks in my gorge, if I have for the reading right. I think the House would be grateful for guidance from the Minister on this point.
I turn now to the surrounding dubieties. The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea has at last virtually agreed upon a text. It is of immense complication and covers a very great many things besides deep sea mining. It will be months, if not a year, before that is signed. I do not know what the current signals are about this, but it is not going to be signed tomorrow, and it may very well not be signed before this Bill is passed. After that, to judge on the precedent of similar conventions, it will be about 10 years before it obtains enough ratifications to come into effect. That is the period this Bill is designed to plug.
The question the Government have to answer, and no doubt it is a question they have asked themselves with great heartsearching, is: why is deep sea mining deserving of being picked out of all the other things and passed into interim national legislation? The noble Earl has spoken of the need of the companies for some guarantee for their investment. Of course, they are very big companies and the guarantee the Government are able to offer is rather small so far, so it is not an enormous weight in the scales in favour of this Bill.
In my opinion and in that of many in this country it would be of very much more national benefit to pass into national law now the 12-mile limit on territorial waters which is in the UNCLOS text. It would be of greater national benefit if we were to pass a Bill taking port-state jurisdiction, which is in the UNCLOS text. It would be of considerable benefit, though I do not necessarily say greater, if any of the 57 environmental protection provisions in the UNCLOS text were now to be passed into national law. Are we quite sure that this one is so important that it has to be pulled out and rushed through, because it does risk upsetting the apple cart?—and this is my last and gravest doubt about the whole thing.
The noble Earl the Minister mentioned the 1970 Declaration of the United Nations which made the deep seabed the property of mankind. Two other documents have appeared since then. One is the Declaration of the Group of 77—that is the Declaration of the non-developed countries—in 1979, that it would not recognise unilateral national legislation on this subject, on the matter of deep sea mining. The deep sea mining is still, of course, the hottest topic and the most likely to prevent agreement on the UNCLOS situation. We have the Declaration of the Group of 77 that it will not recognise any national laws about that before the UNCLOS Convention is passed. The Declaration says that members of the 77 would contest the application of such laws in their own courts. It looks like a guarantee of non-reciprocity in the terms of this Bill and possible litigation going on and on. This could amount to a virtual boycott by a majority of countries in the world of the operation of any of these national laws, American, German, British and so on.
We had a second document in 1980, a perfectly 254 specific declaration headed Legal position of the Group of 77 opposing the United States law. This declaration says that the UNCLOS text and all its terms are already customary international law and should become more and more customary and more and more binding until the convention comes formally into effect, and for that reason it specifically denies validity to the United States law, which one has already seen, which has been passed by Congress.
The main bone of contention is this—because everything can be brought down to practicalities in the end. It is the matter which appears in Clause 9 of the Bill; that is the levy, and specifically the level of the levy. Clause 9 sets out two different ways under which a company can calculate the amount of levy it has to pay on its operations: one on the value, agreed or estimated or deemed value, of the nodules as such, and the other on the value of the actual minerals obtained by refinement of the nodules. I think it is easy to see why companies want both. There are all kinds of advantages of convenience and indeed of justice in having both systems available. But those percentages—3.75 and 0.75—are copied from the American Act; they are identical with those which appear in the American Act.
The Group of 77 has alleged that the level calculated this way would work out a great deal lower than by the method of calculation given in the United Nations text, and that therefore interim national levies would be raking in only half of what the United Nations system would rake in, and would at the end of the day be turning over to the United Nations only half of what ought to be done in justice if the national levies are supposed to be a true stopgap. I understand that during the debates on the American Bill in Congress the administration spokesmen admitted that this was the case and that the shortfall of the American proposed level on the UNCLOS proposed level might be as much as 50 per cent.
My major political question to the Government is as follows: Are they sure that it is worth endangering the speedy signature by sufficient Governments of the UNCLOS text by going along with America and Germany in this matter? Of course, the first burden of responsibility must fall on the United States which took the first national step. It may be argued that Germany added little to that; that we add even less and, if France and Japan come in, that they will add still less. Are the Government sure that it is worth it? If by chance they were to have any doubts about this, on second thoughts, I believe that there is a course which the House could help them to take, which would remove quite a lot of the risk without going back on the whole principle of the Bill. The subsection actually setting out the calculations of the two methods of payment—Clause 9(1)—and anything that stems from that later in the Bill, but particularly Clause 9(1), should be deleted in Parliament and there should be substituted for it a provision that the Secretary of State could settle the level, settle the incidence of the levy, by regulation, by positive procedure order, subject to the approval of both Houses.
If one reads the Bill, it jumps to the eye that none of this will come into operation for eight years in any case, and since we have that much time leeway why not leave the amount a little vague in order to be able 255 to say to the third world, "Well, you see, we are adopting the principle, but we are not among those who are determined that the interim national levy shall only be half as big as the United Nations' levy which you are looking forward to ". Let us leave it vague.
I am fortified in that suggestion by knowing that American Government spokesmen have said that their choice of level was partly chosen deliberately in order to bring pressure on the Group of 77 to lower the level which they are insisting on in the UNCLOS draft. I am not at all sure that that is a worthy aim, and if we were quietly to dissociate ourselves from it I think that it could only add to the chances of success.
I should like to make a few comments in conclusion. It is hard to know what to think about this proposal at this stage. The Government must also have found it extremely hard. It is the beginning of something which will, without doubt, become very big. As the cost of land-won minerals increases over the decades and centuries, so the cost of sea-won minerals will relatively decrease and we can expect them to fill an ever increasing part of the market in the lifetime of our children. It is not important to rush to detailed figures, to two decimal points, in the very first year of a new era. It is important to adopt sensible frameworks and to fill in some of the details later. Having said that, I do not need to say that I do not urge my friends to divide the House against the Bill, but I hope that it will be possible to improve it in Committee.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Erroll of Hale
My Lords, may I begin my contribution to this important and interesting debate by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, for his extremely lucid explanation of the Bill, which at first sight might seem to be very complicated, and also congratulate him for being able to do so in such a relatively short space of time.
I feel that at the outset I should declare an interest by reminding your Lordships that I am chairman of a company, Consolidated Gold Fields, which is a member of an international consortium exploring the possibilities of deep sea mining. I thought, therefore, that your Lordships might like to hear a small contribution from me on this very important topic.
Her Majesty's Government are to be congratulated on the part that they have played in UNCLOS over the last seven years. It is perhaps worth remembering that UNCLOS has been considering many matters relating to the law of the sea of which deep sea mining is only one, so it has not been spending seven years on just this one topic. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, pointed out, there are, in his opinion, other matters which deserved a higher priority. But I would simply say that the great thing is to get on with the job when one can, and if the Bill is now ready to come before your Lordships, why delay it?
Referring to the draft convention, Part XI of the draft convention leans heavily in favour of the Group of 77, as it is called—that is to say, the developing countries. Without modifications to the convention, there is really very little encouragement to invest in exploration or in the second stage, namely, exploitation. I need perhaps need hardly remind your Lord 256 ships that this is not a bonanza situation like North Sea gas or oil: it is a very different story. As the noble Earl explained to your Lordships, it concerns at present an area in the deep Pacific between the mainland and Hawaii 10,000 feet deep or more—a shallow bed of nodules which have to be scooped or grabbed from the bottom of the sea. It was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, refer to mud as an alternative, but as he pointed out the mud is bubbling away down at the bottom and it will be very difficult to bring it up in payable quantities.
We are also dealing only with certain minerals—those listed in the Bill—and not with a very wide range of minerals. Although the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to the rising costs of mineral exploitation on land, the costs will rise similarly with exploitation on the seabed. There is mention of nickel, copper and cobalt. Very few minerals are in fact within the purview of the Bill or, indeed, within the purview of those who are actively engaged in exploration.
Perhaps I might refer for a moment to the consortium of which Consolidated Gold Fields is a member, in order to give noble Lords an idea of the sort of sums of money which are involved. It is a consortium consisting of six partners and so far already nearly 50 million dollars have been expended on exploration. My own company has already spent £2.4 million on what we have done so far.
What have we achieved so far? We have located several mineral sites which we believe are as good as, and possibly better than, those found by others. We have developed the technology of mining and processing to a point that it needs only confirmation and optimisation. But that will require expensive and large-scale test work, and that will involve a very big figure indeed. We have also investigated potential processing plant sites on the Eastern seaboard of the Pacific. But a great deal of further work is required, and that further work could cost in the nature of 150 million dollars to go forward to planning the necessary extraction process, to bringing forward a commercial operation, which we reckon, in order to optimise the plant and the extraction rate, would require an investment of about 1,500 million dollars in order to achieve the extraction of ore from about 3 million tonnes of nodules per year. I give those figures to your Lordships merely to give an idea of the sort of figures and dimensions which are involved.
In our opinion demand for nickel, upon which the economics are primarily dependent, is unlikely to justify a commercial nodule operation before about 1990. The possibility of low growth in demand for nickel, and of some lower-cost land-based sources for further nickel production, might indeed postpone nodule mining until around the year 2000. So, while this is an important and worthwhile venture, it is very much long-term and is beset with substantial and considerable risks. Nevertheless, I should like to say that I support the Bill, and particularly the form which it takes. It is essentially an enabling measure, which I would suggest to noble Lords is probably the best way of dealing with an ongoing situation of this sort.
There are several important considerations to be borne in mind. First, there is the importance of the reciprocity of national legislations. Perhaps I may 257 go part of the way towards answering the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. Surely, whatever the Group of 77 may say, it is only right to proceed with some national legislation so that some work can go ahead, rather than to sit back, Government by Government, doing nothing and leaving those who are prepared to get into the practical work of exploration with no sort of framework with which to go ahead; bearing in mind that this is essentially a transitional arrangement until the convention is signed arid until United Nations legislation is operating.
I think that it is worthwhile 'to ask the noble Earl to which nation an international consortium would normally apply for a licence. If it is an American, Japanese and a British consortium, would it come under Japanese law, American law or British law? It would be helpful if that point could be included in the Bill at the Committee stage.
If I may say so, there is a very serious shortcoming in the Bill, which I generally support; it is what is called "protection investment policy", or, colloquially, "grandfather rights". In introducing the Bill, the noble Earl referred to the importance of transitional arrangements when the national law is superseded by what one might call United Nations law. But there is nothing at all in the Bill about this. It would be a severe handicap to a company or consortium proposing to go ahead further if it did not have some fairly clear assurance that such work would be protected and would not be thrown away when United Nations law takes over from the national law. At the moment, there is very little information on this; indeed, the United Kingdom Bill is entirely silent on it.
As regards the United Kingdom levy, which is dealt with in Clause 9, of course the size of the levy is open to argument. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has advocated the higher levy proposed by the United Nations.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, on a point of correction, I advocated deleting any level of levy and leaving it to the Secretary of State to propose it, by order, later.
§ Lord Erroll of Hale
My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon; that is quite correct. But I had the impression that he was in favour of the United Nations levy of more than double the figure proposed in the Bill. By all means, have a levy; but if it is too big, it will act as a severe deterrent to exploration and exploitation. Therefore, at this early stage, if there is to be a figure—and, personally, I should prefer to see a figure so that we know what we are working on—then let us make it a low figure, at any rate to begin with.
Even so, there is one matter, which is perhaps a Committee point, which is worth raising at this stage. It seems unreasonable to charge interest on a levy which arises only when formerly unused material is in fact processed and sold. Indeed, if that situation were to arise over a period of several years, the back interest might be such as to prevent the worthwhile extraction of the final mineral from unused residues.
Again, I revert to what I call the "grandfather rights". I think that it is most important that we ensure that any licences granted under this Bill must continue under any United Nations convention which 258 may ultimately supersede this Bill. The more this can be written into the Bill—and I appreciate that it is perhaps difficult to put in legal terms—the better it will be for the success of any operations in the meantime.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, in his view what would happen if licences had been given by more than one country for the same staked-out area?
§ Lord Erroll of Hale
My Lords, that is really a question for the noble Earl to answer, but from my own reading of the Bill I think that there would be reciprocal arrangements to ensure that there was no overlapping of licences. However, I would prefer the noble Earl to answer the noble Lord's question.
If this Bill becomes an Act, in present circumstances the consortium—and I can speak only for the consortium to which I have referred—would be unlikely to go ahead with exploitation as distinct from exploration in advance of a United Nations convention and in advance of us knowing exactly what was in that convention.
It is very important to understand the point of view of the Group of 77. I do not want noble Lords to think that I am hostile to their aims and aspirations. Nevertheless, it is only right to say that although the prospects ahead are extremely interesting, they are not dazzling. This is long-term and involves a great deal of hard work and the expenditure of a great deal of money which must be sunk in such risk ventures, with possible returns only many years later. It is the developed countries which will carry these risks and which will do the work. Therefore, 1 would urge all those who have the best interests of the Group of 77 at heart—and, indeed, the best interests of those who wish to exploit natural resources without damaging the environment—to bear in mind that they should not make the conditions too onerous or too hard, for otherwise, if those conditions become too onerous, the nodules will stay where they are, at the bottom of the ocean; and on their own the Group of 77 will never bring them to the surface.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Lord Ritchie-Calder
My Lords, I very much doubt whether we are entitled to be discussing this Bill at all. Noble Lords will see that we are talking about the deep seabed, which means:that part of the bed of the high seas in respect of which sovereign rights in relation to the natural resources of the seabed are neither exercisable by the United Kingdom nor recognised by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as being exercisable by another Sovereign Power …".As the noble Earl has pointed out, we are talking about what we define as the "common heritage of mankind "; that is to say, the resources of the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. We are now proposing to claim, in some way, a national jurisdiction over something for which we do not even possess a right to recognise. I say this with some feeling and some force because I have been involved in the question of the manganese nodules or the hard minerals, as we now call them, on the seabed since 1965, when they were recognised as something which had been revealed by the International Geophysical 259 Year; and, indeed, by the Scripps Expedition during the I.G.Y. which took place very much in the Pacific area where we now recognise that these minerals are abundant: there was viable evidence which showed the seabed more or less cobbled with these manganese nodules which had been generally regarded as in scarce supply.
It is now obvious that we can recover them and it is obvious that they are economic. At that time some of us realised that these commercial considerations would produce exactly the kind of arguments that are being advanced today; that is, that there would be a smash and grab, and some of us foresaw—and I still foresee this—the equivalent of the Congress of Berlin, at which the great powers divided up Africa and grabbed the resources of Africa. En the same way, we shall expropriate the common heritage of mankind beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.
We have been wrestling with this problem in the Law of the Sea Conference to the point where the question of the recovery of minerals from the seabed has now become not only most important, but probably has culminated in the question whether we shall ever reach an agreement on the law of the sea, with all its many other aspects, if we fail to restore it. I want to be very frank with your Lordships. This is part of a game which we have watched develop over the last few years led, if I may say so, by the United States, who have got very restless and fretful about the delays in the law of the sea discussions—and so did we all. Meanwhile there was wildcatting. There was a great deal of activity involved in going out into places, furtively in many cases, to find whether there were these resources which were capable of commercial exploitation.
We have been waiting, as somebody said, or mentioned, the Committee of 77 which is now a Committee of 137 developing countries. They have been watching with misgiving, or at least suspiciously, the activities of first of all these free enterprises, and now those who are trying to find and get governmental support for these activities. Involved in this is not only the question of who are going to be licensed to go ahead if we ever get an international agreement under an international authority, but there is something which has not been mentioned, and certainly not involved in this Bill; that is what we call "the Enterprise".
The Enterprise involves not only the people who have now got the money and resources and, if I may say so, the avarice; not only those who have the capacity to exploit; but the Enterprise would make it possible for the developing countries through the United Nations, through the international bodies, to go alongside and develop areas of the seabed for themselves. That would be one way of meeting Lord Errol of' Hale's point about "the 77 could not go it alone". Of course they could not. They are looking, and we are all looking, for the kind of material resources and expertise which it is perfectly true only the highly developed countries possess.
What surprises me at this late hour in the Law of the Sea Conference and certainly coming into this House at this moment, is this Bill, in the sense that I do not see that there is any greater urgency, or indeed that it affects the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, at 260 all. If we do not get agreement on the law of the sea in the next session in March, then we are in for a bleak period, and not only in terms of the development of the hard minerals but in every other aspect as well, because we arc looking for agreements which involve in every respect the co-operation of the less developed countries.
The common heritage of mankind is just that. It does not mean that the capacity to exploit or develop the sea belongs only to coastal states or to the people who have the capacity to develop the resources of the seas. It belongs to the landlocked countries; it belongs to the less developed coastal countries; and eventually the benefit should belong to everyone in the world. There can be only one way of coping with that, and that is through a genuine trusteeship of these resources.
What we have been doing over the years, if I may say so with some bitterness, is eroding the whole concept of the common heritage, not only by the kind of thing we are doing now through querying how it is going to be handled, but by the fact that the whole extension of the economic zones and the extension of the Continental Shelf has meant a shrinking of what is "beyond the limits of natural jurisdiction ".
We are now faced with the question, who is going to decide? It is not a function of the United States Congress; it is not a function of the Parliament of this country; it is not at the discretion of the Federal Government of Germany; and it is not going to be at the discretion of anyone who likes to pass the kind of laws we arc passing here now—by which we are going to exercise what? We are presumably going to license something we are not entitled to license. It does not belong to us. It does not in any sense belong to us.
We are not going to distinguish what the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, mentioned. Who is in fact being licensed? Who is involved in this? If you have a consortium of five different nationalities how do you provide, or legislate in whatever way you think, for the exercise of some sort of control over your nationals, as it were, within these consortia? To whom do you turn for this licence? How do you secure it? You can only do it by reciprocal arrangements, which simply means that they are going to have something which is already in evidence, which already exists, and it is called the "group of the like-minded". The like-minded, I may say, are the countries, mainly European and American and Japan, who have the capacity to go in with the technical processes to do just this, and who are now in a sense trying to create a treaty within a treaty. Here, within these terms today, we are aiding and abetting. We are helping to create a treaty within a treaty.
I assure you, from a long experience of the Law of the Sea Conference and of what goes on there, that we are building up a reaction which we are going to regret. We are in fact going to create a situation in which we have less chance as from March onwards of securing agreement on the law of the sea because we have aroused and substantiated the suspicions of the less developed countries, and the countries that will go along with them, in the decisions about the law of the sea.
I cannot see why at this moment we have to bring this matter forward when, as I say, we are within sight of agreement. We could have got agreement if we 261 had not in fact poisoned chances of getting it by our own actions. If we had got an agreement we could be discussing then what we would do in the interim: the interim in that case being after the agreement. How long does it take to create the machinery once we have the agreements in principle?
I have a lot of other things to say about this Bill, which I do not like. There is very little recognition in the Bill of the enormous implications to the environment of the indiscriminate development of deep sea mining. We do not know. It is not a question of pretending. It is true that we do not know what the environmental consequences might be, first of all, through the disturbances of the seabed and in other ways beyond that into ancillary activities in which you can have—and this Bill indicates you can have it—the refinement of the deep sea minerals at sea.
What do we do with the waste? We have it here in the Bill. We are going to have to do something about the waste. We do not know what to do about the waste, because we have no idea what the nature of that waste is going to do in the food layers of the sea. At this moment we should be going very tentatively, very carefully, and seeing what to do. We have not written into this Bill—and I have read it carefully and I know a good deal about the background—the precautions which we should impose, if we are going to get away with it at all, on the people we are going to license.
I do not want to say much more. I am rather worked up about this, because it is something which some of us have been watching with great misgivings over a number of years, and not just in terms of the exploitation. In the terms we are talking about now, this is going to be another carve-up—as with the Continent of Africa—of resources which should be available to everybody. We are neglecting the precautions we should be writing in to prevent the misapplication of technology in the sea, remembering above all the risks to the last of our great resources, the oceans.
I conclude by reiterating what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, about the less developed countries and the concern that he felt about them. Indeed we should all be concerned about them, as they are concerned about themselves, because, as is clear from the Minister's statement, we are looking for the kind of resources which in other forms exist in deposits in the land masses of those countries. When, therefore, they talk about the resources of the sea bottom, it is not something from which they will just secure a dividend; it is an alternative which is positively threatening their capacity to earn a living. These considerations have not been adequately recognised. We are dealing with the last of the earth's great resources and we should be facing up to this challenge in the way it deserves, with the positive development of those resources for posterity.
§ 4.1 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Gowrie for introducing the Bill so clearly and concisely. I welcome the Bill as a temporary enabling measure. We are considering new sources of certain raw materials which will be needed in the world. Some scientists think there are more of some of these important elements in nodules on the 262 deep seabed than are available for mining on land— that is, in all the continents of the world put together—and that is good news for the human race in the long term.
It has been agreed internationally that in areas of sea beyond the jurisdiction of states these minerals are the common heritage of the whole world. However, the formulation of an international regime with institutions, procedures and finance is taking time. Sessions of the United Nations Law of the Sea Conference every few months have produced agreed drafts on most of the other subjects—and there are many subjects being discussed at that conference by all the countries which are members of the United Nations, and there is general consensus on those—but agreement has not yet been reached on provisions for the proposed régime for winning mineral-bearing nodules.
This negotiation is going on in Committee One of the conference and there is still much to be worked out and agreed. Before then, consortia from nations with most advanced technology are likely to be ready to start. Fortunately, that includes the United Kingdom. Exploration is therefore to be licensed by the nations concerned for their nationals in co-ordination with each other. As my noble friend pointed out, there is to be no exploitation—that is, no mining—before 1988 at the earliest. The Bill also has provisions for a fund which will be transferred to an international organisation in due course when there is United Nations' agreement and that enters into force for the United Kingdom. The Bill is consistent with the main points already agreed at the United Nations conference while avoiding delay.
Time has been passing with disappointing rates of progress and this is illustrated by the fact that we had a debate on 19th May 1976, initiated by me on a Wednesday, which was over four and a half years ago. The position on deep sea mining, which was part of the discussion of the law of the sea in that debate, as described in columns 1403–04 of Hansard in particular, is much the same now as it was then. Progress is slow, but that is not altogether surprising because the elements of an international régime are important and complex and it may take another seven years to complete the agreement and set up the international institutions, and no doubt that is why the year 1988 has been agreed upon in this legislation and in the American legislation. I hope it will not take as long as that, but I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that it could take even longer.
The world should not be denied this new additional source of certain materials. The preparations for exploration and development will also take years, but the exploration and the preparations for that can be started within the next few years, as my noble friend Lord Erroll pointed out. The Bill provides the United Kingdom part of an interim arrangement which conforms with the principles of the scheme before the United Nations conference and does not prejudice decisions on a permanent régime. Moreover, there will be money in the international kitty earlier than there otherwise would be. With exploration going ahead and not being held up, the wealth from the oceans' floors will be available to the world probably several years sooner than it otherwise would have been.
263 The countries which are not able to take part in the mining, because of the advanced technology and resources required, together with the developing nations, will benefit through the related funds arising from levies on the minerals mined. I note that the same formula has been adopted for the levy rate in this Bill as appeared in the United States legislation last summer, and while listening to what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said about that and his suggestion for allowing the rate to be governed by orders presented by Ministers, I would point out that at this stage it would seem natural for the rate which we should adopt to be the same as the one in the American legislation.
During the debate in May 1966 in your Lordships' House some of us were pointing out that the most urgent subject at that time was fishing. Indeed it was, and action was taken before the end of that year, not only by this country but by the other leading fishing countries of the world. The action taken on sea fisheries was taken in anticipation of the Law of the Sea Conference reaching agreement and finally a treaty entering into force. But the maritime and fishing nations of the world extended their fishing limits to 200 miles at the end of 1976 and the beginning of 1977. Our own legislation was passed through quickly; it was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, and I did everything possible from the then Opposition Front Bench to assist him in getting that legislation through.
As a result, our legislation entered into force on 1st January 1977. That fishing legislation has not yet been enshrined in an international treaty—the Law of the Sea Conference still continues—but there was general consensus on the question of extending fishery limits. As a result, the 200-mile fishing limit is now effectively in force throughout the world. All the principal fishing nations, including the Soviet Union, accept the 1977 change, so that change has been made in international law de facto in anticipation of what is expected to be in the treaty in due course. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that that is an example of where a subject has been picked out over three years ago, even though people at the time were saying that it would cause trouble and antagonism in the conference. It has been accepted internationally, and there has not been antagonism in the conference. There have been difficulties, but not provoked by that. There was agreement among the nations and it was carried into effect.
As regards deep sea mining, the first is likely to be exploration in the Pacific. There must be some control by Governments working together. What is required is a basic licensing system, as in this Bill, with the recognition of licences issued by other Governments. In this way duplication and confusion can be avoided; and firms lacking the necessary resources and technology cannot stake a notional claim and sterilise a site or block.
Not only will the world need these minerals from the ocean floor; the United Kingdom will need them, too. British industry has the capacity, as my noble friend Lord Errol of Hale, has pointed out, and we can play a significant part in winning them. At a time of world recession we can view with some optimism this new opportunity for action in due course and for expansion. 264 Development of this infant new industry should produce jobs in the United Kingdom and work for British companies at home and abroad.
It cannot be in the United Kingdom's interests to allow delay by default or inaction. Furthermore the first exploration licensing by this and similar legislation will constitute a pilot scheme, which can be helpful to the working of the permanent scheme which is to follow. Consortia, and United Kingdom firms in international consortia, will require the assurance that they can work with a licence on an allocated site without interruption and without others contesting their allocation; and this assurance should be over an appropriate period.
The financial institutions whose support will also be required if this work is to be carried out, will also need confidence from that assurance before money is invested. The question which I should like to put to my noble friend about this enabling Bill is on the co-ordination between the licensing governments; and it has already been touched on by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn in his intervention. In Clause 3 there is a reference to reciprocating countries, which are presumably the other countries which will have domestic legislation and issue licences. But there is the question that my noble friend Lord Errol has asked as to which of the members of a consortium coming from different countries should be the applicant? Should the applicant be the operator? Should there be more than one applicant in regard to different countries? That is the type of question that needs to be clarified.
Then if applications for the same site are made to different governments by their nationals, but for different operations and from different consortia, how will such possible conflicts be settled? It is clear that very close consultation and co-operation will be needed between the reciprocating countries, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us more, either today or at a later stage.
The noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Ritchie-Calder, were worried that the Group of 77 at the United Nations' conference would not recognise domestic legislation which anticipated the treaty. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, was also worried that this Bill might antagonise some of the countries at the conference. I suggest, and I hope, that as a temporary measure those countries will accept the Bill, and its counterparts in other countries, in the same way that they have come to accept the fishing legislation which has also pre-empted the final draft agreement of the conference.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned metalliferous mud, and referred to the main area where that has been found—the Red Sea. I understand that the states on each side of the Red Sea have made sensible agreements outside their territorial waters, but anticipating international agreement at the United Nations' conference on EEZs—exclusive economic zones. The Group of 77 should accept that as a sensible arrangement in anticipation of the final agreement and the entry into force of the treaty.
The sea areas of the world beyond states' jurisidiction are somewhat like the moon; they do not belong to any individual nation; but that need not stop or delay exploration. There is a store of minerals on the deep 265 sea bed waiting to be won by man and put to good use. That store is likely to be of more interest and benefit to the human race than any material brought from the moon. This is a new frontier which we must be ready to move across. The Bill is a sensible interim measure to enable the United Kingdom Government and British firms to play a useful role.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord Energlyn
My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Earl on the way in which he introduced the Bill. He has given your Lordships a very vivid picture of the backcloth to what lies hidden beneath the waves that cover the largest part of this earth. There you have a hidden world of wealth; the only part of this earth from which wealth can be derived on a replenishable basis. The sudden importance of manganese nodules and suchlike marine nodules became of international significance and made necessary Bills of this kind only when the far-sighted people of the world realised that we are moving into a period in which there are certain substances of great strategic importance; and manganese, cobalt and nickel are three good examples.
With your Lordships' permission, I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that this Bill might be followed by another Bill with a title relating to submarine mining of those areas within our jurisdiction, because, if one looks at the areas that are accessible to us, and are mineable, one sees that there are very few of them which contain the attractive deposits that lie at great depths in the Red Sea and the Pacific. On the other hand, within the areas which are still under our jurisdiction there are areas of deep sea mining; depth is really a relative matter, and it might perhaps interest your Lordships to look at that picture. For example, in the Bristol Channel we have an almost unique situation in the realm of sedimentation, where minerals have not moved from the point into which they were discharged for the past 20 million years, and they have been sorted and resorted. From surveys that we have done we can show that per acre of the sea floor beyond places such as St. Ives there is as much tin per acre of those sands as there is in Malaya.
All that is quite academic up to a point, until one realises that the tin could become an exceedingly important strategic metal to us. It is absolutely vital to the Americans. We have in being on a laboratory scale the technology of abstracting these tin minerals from sands of this kind; and not just abstracting them as cassiterite minerals, but taking them straight into the metal tin. The technology is now in embryo, but is ready for commercial exploitation.
Turning perhaps to other strategic metals involved in submarine nodules, one thinks principally of manganese. We have the manganese shales exposed in the mountains overlooking the Barmouth estuary, which have been eroded for millions of years. We have an estuary full of mud which probably, if exploited, has a source of manganese—and, nay! of gold and other metals which are worth recovering. Is this deep-sea mining? It is certainly marine mining.
One then turns to the other part of this Bill, which talks about hard mineral resources as being only those things related to the superficial deposits upon the sea 266 floor—namely, the nodules. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to remind you of the process of modulation. Nodulation is a process whereby chemical compounds are attracted to centres of crystallisation, and the conditions in certain parts of the Pacific are such that this happens fairly rapidly. But it can be induced. It can be induced by scrap iron in the sea. We have knowledge of certain types of minerals which will form kernels which will accrete manganese, cobalt and vanadium from the sea. In fact, at the end of World War I a German professor set out to extract gold from the North Sea, and he nearly succeeded in producing enough to have a look at the war debt. Today we know far more about the processing of dilute solutions, because we have been studying marine farming. We know, for example, that the squid can abstract vanadium in an immensely rapid manner. We now know the biochemistry of that process, and it can be extrapolated into an industrial process.
My Lords, again, 1 make no apology for using this Bill as an excuse to present Her Majesty's Government with some of these views, because if you are talking about enterprise zones then the sea is your greatest enterprise zone. In the middle 'thirties we owned 30 per cent. of the known mineral resources of the earth. Why?—because we were the foremost mining engineers and geologists in the world. We knew what we were looking for, and we knew how to exploit it. Why not now set out and repeat that example, and be the finest under-sea technologists in the world? We have it within our capacity. We have the young men thirsting for adventure and looking for attractive things to do. Here is a big area.
It may sound as though I am treating your Lordships to a lecture on geochemistry. I make no excuse for that, but let me also put this point of view to your Lordships. We have become tremendously expert, and have gained the admiration of the world, in building oil platforms. We can send them out horizontally into the North Sea, tip them up on end and put them on a borehole a yard in diameter with absolute accuracy. These are the pitheads of marine mining in the future. Let me give your Lordships one immediate example of how these could be used. During the latter part of the 'thirties there was a search for a missing bomber, and eventually parts of it were discovered in St. Bride's Bay, Pembrokeshire. I was involved in that, and the geophysical results we obtained indicated that beyond St. David's Head, a matter of about 15 to 20 miles out, there is unquestionably a deposit of magnetite as big as that which occurs in Sweden.
My Lords, what a venture! Take one of these platforms, and there you form your new mine. The problems of British Steel so far as rich iron ore is concerned would be solved for the next 50 to 100 years. To take another example, we know that beyond Land's End there are very rich veins containing rather exotic minerals in addition to tin. These are now accessible by using platform construction for under-sea pitheads. This, I forecast, is the mining of the future, because it is on the sea floor that the new mineral deposits of the world are to be found. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, would agree, his company is constantly 267 looking at the sea floor and any accessible deposits which can be made available to the mining engineer.
A lot of these political thoughts about stretegic metals and so on are very good, but they only emphasise one thing: that is, that there are those who have and there are those who have not. This country must see to it that it has the strategic metals that will enable its industry to prosper, will enable its industry to thrive, and will enable its industry to diversify. For example, we do not produce any cobalt in this country at the moment, and if we were denied cobalt tomorrow there would be a tremendous closure of areas of industry in this country. The minerals of today and, particularly, the minerals of tomorrow are not the source of crude metals: they are now the source of exotic substances, and, in particular, catalysts. So that an ounce of metal today is very often more valuable than a ton of that metal even 15 years ago. Take cobalt. Five years ago you could have had a ton of cobalt for about £2,000 or £3,000 a ton. Today, if you go into the market you will have to pay between £20,000 and £30.000 a ton for it. Why?—because of its strategic importance in the chemical industry.
So I make no apologies to the noble Earl. I congratulate him and his Government on introducing this Bill, and I hope this will he the first Bill which will take us once again not on the seas but under the sea, into the world of mining of tomorrow.
§ 4.27 p.m.
The Earl of Cowrie
My Lords, it is, I think, inevitable, given the way our interesting Constitution works, that from time to time this House should entertain feelings of inferiority to another place. But I must say that I do not think we need do so this afternoon because we have introduced this Bill into this House and I think that, however interesting the Second Reading debate in another place may be when it gets there, it will be very unlikely to include contributions from somebody so expert in mining engineering as the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, who has just spoken; or somebody who is so involved in the practical logistics of the exploitation of mineral wealth of this kind as my noble friend Lord Erroll; or, indeed, somebody who has spent such time and studied so closely issues connected with the law of the sea as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—and may I take this opportunity to welcome him back to the Labour Front Bench, which he used to adorn both as a Labour Minister and as an Opposition spokesman? In the latter capacity, certainly, I hope he remains in his present position.
I welcome the general reaction that has been given to this Bill. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, but I think it was a bit negative and certainly in strong contrast to the spirit of adventure which was summoned up by the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, and by my noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Erroll of Hale. Certainly that is the kind of taste in the mouth (to adapt a phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet) that I hoped the introduction of the Bill into this House, and its Second Reading would in fact leave us with.
I think it has been a real debate, in that many of the points which individual noble Lords made to me as the Minister sponsoring the Bill were actually taken up and 268 answered by other noble Lords who spoke; so I do not think I shall go over the general considerations again. However, I would urge noble Lords on all sides of the House to read particularly the contributions of my two noble friends on the Privy Counsellors' Bench, because I think they made very expertly and eloquently some of the general points that I should like to make. I shall therefore try to deal merely with the individual questions which were put to me.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked me whether countries other than America and Germany were considering a national legislation. We understand that the French are likely to bring in a Bill of their own shortly and that the Belgians and Italians are in process of preparing legislation and may bring in their legislation shortly as well. The noble Lord asked why the Bill dealt only with hard minerals. He really answered his own question. My advice is that, as he said, the most important reserve of metalliferous mud is in the Red Sea, which comes within exclusive economic zones and areas of national jurisdiction. My advice is that there are no muds of economic interest elsewhere although within our own area of national jurisdiction the noble Lord. Lord Energlyn, has drawn our attention to deposits which no doubt we should investigate, but not, in fairness to this Bill, under the limits of this Bill. I would remind the House that the Bill is a temporary provision and is not intended to deal with all possible long-term developments in undersea mining, interesting and important though these are.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked why there was liability to imprisonment for disclosing information as distinct from fines only for other offences. This is apparently standard Home Office policy and Clause 13 follows statutory precedent. It underlines the particular need to protect the commercially-confidential information.
The noble Lord Lord Kennet asked why deep sea mining was being picked out for national legislation of this kind, and, in a sense, what the hurry was. That question, I think, was echoed by his noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder. That is another point which I think was most effectively answered by my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale when he pointed out the very high development costs and very long lead times to any profit being seen as a result of that research and development. Deep sea mining is at a crucial stage and substantial investments are at stake. Without some action now, this valuable development will slow down or cease altogether. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy gave us some painful illustrations of the delays which have already taken place. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and to Lord Ritchie-Calder especially in talking about the interests of the Group of 77—which we must bear in mind for we consider this the common heritage of all mankind, the underdeveloped as well as the developed countries—that surely the developing world has an enormous interest in the continued growth and wealth creation taking place in the developed world? Without that development and if you look at the effects which the present recession in the West and the developed countries is having on the Third World, I think it would be shortsighted of them if they objected to our trying to get on with development as quickly as we can, albeit 269 within the context of seeking the kinds of international agreement that I have mentioned. There is, too, the earnest of good faith implicit in the existence of the levy in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked why the levy was set so low. Again, as my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale has said, the companies regard a higher rate as a significant disincentive. We will look at the proposal for the rate to be set in regulations; but it is not, in our view, in the companies' interest to be faced with further uncertainty of this kind, given the context that the whole of the legislation may in any case change after 1988.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale asked why interest was charged on deferred payment of the levy. As he himself said, this is a matter for discussion in the Committee; but 1 can assure him that the provisions in Clause 9 would not put miners operating under United Kingdom licences at a disadvantage compared with those operating under licences of other countries. In an interjection, my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn wondered what would happen if more than one country licences the same site. I think that this is a difficulty, but I would remind my noble friend that we arc talking about an area of some three million square miles and five kilometres deep and we are also talking about a very preliminary stage of exploration rather than exploitation. I do not imagine, certainly in the testing and exploration stage, that there would be a great deal of clash of interests. It is intended that by recognising other countries as reciprocating states, as the Bill does, we can avoid such damaging conflicts; nevertheless, my noble friend's interjection directs our minds to the importance of continuing to work with the United Nations to attain international regulation and agreement of the kind which will ultimately make altogether redundant licensing legislation of this kind on a national level.
My noble friend Lord Erroll of Hale asked about "grandfather rights"—which I take to mean the absence from the Bill of provisions which protect rights acquired under it, in the sense of the perpetuation of licences and so on. The point here is that when the convention takes over, then the United Kingdom as well as other national reciprocating licences will no longer be the relevant means of control. That is why the Bill, in Clause 18(3) provides, as I have already suggested, for its repeal after that time. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder asked about progress at the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. The Bill should not jeopardise our chances of making progress at the UNLOSC. We should remember that substantial progress was made at the last session of the conference despite the introduction of United States and Federal Republic of Germany legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, asked about the effect on the environment. I do not think he quite took up the point I made in my original statement to the effect that we are conscious that the full effects on the marine environment are as yet unknown, and that is why there are a number of provisions in the Bill permitting regulations and licence conditions to be introduced by order to safeguard the environment. We think that it would be counter-productive to lay down unchangeable rules at this stage. We need to keep a close watch on development and to monitor 270 the effects of any exploration activities to expand our knowledge in this field. The noble Lord was perhaps talking on the assumption that, within a few moments of this legislation passing, so to speak, an immense spate of activity would descend upon this area of the ocean. On reflection. I think he will see that that will not be the case.
Nevertheless, that brings me to the final point which was underlined by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. There are great possibilities here; they are quite a long way off but unless we get moving now it is likely that the possibilities will recede. We do not consider that this legislation in some way permits us to drag our feet at the United Nations Conference. We shall pursue our efforts there as vigorously as ever. We think that in a modest way the Bill comes into line with competitor countries and gives a series of national frameworks within which these big decisions and large sums of money may be invested—obviously in the interests of this country and of this economy hut, surely, also in the interests of both the developing and the developed world.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.