HC Deb 06 April 1970 vol 799 cc12-5
4. Sir R. Russell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will state the latest position regarding the draft Convention for the prevention of hijacking of aircraft drawn up by the Legal Committee of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Mr. Luard

The draft Convention has recently been approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation Council and is being remitted to member States for consideration and comment. It is to be considered by an international diplomatic conference at The Hague in December when we hope that the text of the Convention may be agreed.

Sir R. Russell

First, does the Minister think that December is early enough to deal with this problem in view of what happened last week and the fact that we have eight months to wait? Secondly, in view of the action taken by the North Korean Government in returning the plane, passengers and crew but not the hijackers, what is the attitude of the Communist States to this Convention?

Mr. Luard

On the first part of the supplementary question, we regret as much as the hon. Gentleman does the delay which is inevitable before this conference can meet. But this arises from the rules of procedure of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which require an interval of at least six months during which member States may examine any proposed Convention after it has been drafted.

On the second part of the supplementary question, I am afraid that it is not for me to answer for the Communist countries concerned, but naturally we hope that they will become parties to this Convention, like other member States.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Is not my hon. Friend aware of the very serious state of this problem? Will he persuade the President of the Board of Trade, following the recent European conference, to put forward interim proposals for immediate agreement?

Mr. Luard

Her Majesty's Government certainly share the concern felt in the House and elsewhere about this very pressing problem. I think that my hon. Friend refers perhaps as much to the question of the sabotage of aircraft as hijacking. He will probably know that there is to be a conference on this subject in Montreal in June. It is our hope that some progress will be made there to reaching agreement on the measures to be taken against attacks of this kind.

Mr. Sandys

Will the Government consider asking all other Governments to refuse landing rights to the aircraft of countries which give asylum to hijackers?

Mr. Luard

That is one of the possibilities to be considered, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman will know that under the terms of the proposed Convention hijacking will become an offence and it will be open to countries to extradite hijackers from other countries, whether the offence has been committed in that other country or in a State in which the aircraft lands with the alleged offenders still on board.

Sir B. Janner

Does not my hon. Friend realise that the delay in taking effective measures is conducive to the situation escalating? Why has he not learned the lesson of cases in which planes were blown up, indicating the kind of thing which may happen throughout the world? What will he do immediately about the matter?

Mr. Luard

My hon. Friend can be assured that we have learned the lessons of the recent incidents, and we are as concerned as he is to make rapid progress in this matter. But I have already explained why it is not possible for the conference to take place earlier. Under the rules of procedure of the I.C.A.O. six months must be allowed to enable the proposed Convention to be considered by member States.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the British Government bear a very heavy responsibility in this matter? The first serious hijacking was of the H.S.125 with Mr. Tshombe on board, and the Government did nothing whatever about it. Is he to leave this matter until the end of the year? If so, he can reckon on the Federation of World Pilots taking action of its own accord. Surely he must give a lead.

Mr. Luard

The hon. Gentleman knows that we did everything which it was in our power to do over the hijacking of President Tshombe. What we are considering now is not a unilateral measure by the British Government but an attempt to bring about an international agreement. I am sure that the whole House will agree that this is what is required, and not some particular step by Her Majesty's Government. It is not in our power to ensure when a conference on an international Convention takes place. We should like the conference to take place as early as possible. It has been arranged for December, and it is not possible, under the rules of the I.C.A.O. for it to take place earlier.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The hon. Gentleman has sensed the feeling on both sides of the House about this extraordinarily dilatory procedure. Surely, with an emergency of this kind, the rules could be bent by common consent of the countries concerned to serve the purpose of stopping this hijacking.

Mr. Luard

The right hon. Gentleman is condemning a dilatory procedure, not of the Government but of the I.C.A.O. His criticism should be directed at that organisation. We would welcome an earlier conference, but it is not possible for us unilaterally to alter the rules of procedure of this organisation.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am not asking the hon. Gentleman or the Government to alter the rules of procedure, but surely they should get together the leading countries concerned to see whether the rules can be altered by consent.

Mr. Luard

I am willing to give an assurance that we shall look into this matter to see whether it is possible, with the agreement of the other members of the organisation, to arrange for the conference to take place earlier.

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