Scotland handed power over Antarctica – by mistake

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The British Antarctic territory now falls under Scottish jurisdiction

SCOTS ministers are locked in a bitter battle with Westminster over Antarctica after it emerged power over the area had been devolved by accident.

David Cameron is fighting to get full control over Britain’s 660,000-square mile territory on the chilly continent after responsibility was handed to the Scottish government by Labour in 1998.

Tony Blair’s government reserved regulation of activities in outer space to the UK parliament but forgot about the Antarctica.

It means Alex Salmond could decide whether to allow expeditions and research projects to set out from Scotland.

And it also gives him the power to veto legislation going through the House of Lords to hand back that power to Westminster`

Additionally the SNP would not automatically agree to let the UK assume sovereignty over the territory, which could hold vast reserves of oil and gas.

Nationalists have already laid claim to Rockall, which sits on top of untapped natural resources, as part of an independent Scotland.

Principle

Lord Sewel of Gilcomstoun, a former Labour Scottish Office minister, hit out at the mistake in a Lord’s debate last week.

He said: “It is a disgrace that, because of the incompetence of ministers in 1998, wh have had to re-reserve Antarctica.”

Cameron hopes to correct the mistake with the Scotland Bill which is currently going through parliament.

A source close to Alex Salmond said ministers would resist returning any responsibilities currently within the competence of the Scottish government “as a matter of principle”

While they are prepared to allow the Foreign Office to grant licences for research expeditions they insist ultimate responsibility should stay with Scotland.

Mr Salmond has the power to put the brakes on the Scotland Bill, something he is actively considering as he is sceptical of the benefits of proposals to devolve limited extra financial powers.

The party is worried that UK ministers are trying to claw back several of Holyrood’s powers.

And they could stake a permanent claim on the continent if Scotland votes for independence in 2014.

The Holyrood source said: “In terms of independence, there will be a negotiated agreement between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK on all relevant interests, assets and liabilities.”

A spokesman at the Foreign Office said it was a mistake to devolve Antarctica to Holyrood.

He said: “The Antarctic peninsula is one of the fastest-warming and therefore most rapidly changing places on the planet. There are serious challenges ahead, as the ice melts, accessibility increases and the climate becomes more welcoming to new species, carried there either by natural means or by humans.

“The UK will remain at the forefront of these challenges, and in the spirit of Captain Scott in the centenary year of his reaching the pole, however difficult things get, we will strive for success.”