HC Deb 11 July 1973 vol 859 cc1601-24

(1) The Secretary of State shall, on or before 31st January in each year, lay before each House of Parliament a report stating the number of notices served by him under section 8 and the number of directions given by him under sections 9, 10 and 11 of this Act during the period of twelve months which expired with the preceding December.

5 (2) Each such report shall deal separately with notices served under section 8, directions given under section 9, directions given under section 10 and directions given under section 11 of this Act, and, in relation to each of those matters, shall show separately—

10 (a) the number of notices or directions which, during the period to which the report relates, were served on or given to persons as being, or as appearing to the Secretary of State to be about to become, operators of aircraft;

(b) the number of notices or directions which during that period were served on or given to persons as being, or as appearing to the Secretary of State to be about to become, managers of aerodromes; and

15 (c) the number of notices or directions which during that period were served on or given to persons as being, or as appearing to the Secretary of State to be about to become, authorities responsible for air navigation installations.

(3) In this section any reference to section 8, section 10 or section 11 of this Act shall be construed as including a reference to that section as applied or modified by section 18 20 of this Act—[Mr. Onslow.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.11 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

With new Clause 1, I understand that it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a), in line 2, after 'report', insert 'in a statutory instrument'.

Amendment (b), in line 2, after 'stating', insert '(a)'.

Amendment (c), in line 4, at end insert:

'(b) the effect of each such notice or direction;

(c) the person upon whom each such notice or direction has been served; and

(d) the duration of each such notice or direction'.

Amendment (d) in line 17, at end insert:

(d) in respect of each notice or direction to which reference is made in this subsection, the effect of such notice or direction, the person upon whom the notice or direction has been served and the duration of each such notice or direction.'.

New Clause 2—Notice and directions to be confirmed by Statutory Instrument.

New Clause 3—Annual report on notices and directions.

Mr. Onslow

I am sure that that selection will meet with the convenience of the House.

In Committee, the Government undertook to consider the possibility of making an annual report to Parliament indicating the extent to which notices and directions had been given under these provisions. I am pleased now to be able to move this clause to fulfil that undertaking. Its terms are self-explanatory. and I need not reiterate them.

I recognise that the clause does not go quite as far as some hon. Members might wish. But it is our view that to go further and specifically to disclose details of the notices and directions, even though in some cases it might be 12 months after they had been served, would be to make available information about our security effort which I believe it would be totally wrong to make public.

I appreciate that the Opposition have sought to meet this point by proposing that the annual report of the Secretary of State should omit information affecting national security. I have to say that I do not think that that would help. An aircraft hijacking or sabotage would not necessarily threaten the State or its security. But I believe that none of us would wish to disclose information which would assist hijackers and saboteurs, whether or not it placed national security at risk. Bearing in mind the purposes of Part II, to which notices and directions must be related, any notice and direction must involve security considerations. In practice, I do not think that it would he possible to give details of notices and directions without disclosing information of potential value to terrorists and criminals.

I feel, therefore, that the clause goes as far as it is possible to go within the limits by which we are bound.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

I rise to move the Opposition amendments and particularly new Clauses Nos. 2 and 3.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. The right hon. Member cannot move them until we reach them.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Mason

I rise to speak particularly to new Clause 2.

I think that the House welcomes the Bill back on Report. As the Minister no doubt remembers, when the Bill was in Committee the Government gave the impression, especially from what was said by the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping, that the Bill was wanted in a hurry. The Government wanted to get it through almost without considering any amendments. But despite their haste and their efforts to pressurise some of my hon. Friends to get the Bill through as quickly as possible, on two occasions the Opposition saved the Bill because we kept the Committee in being by providing a quorum.

The Bill has changed considerably since its inception. When it was introduced in another place it was a small Bill. The Minister in charge of it was so pressured by the authority and expertise of the Members in the other place that he had to take it back. It was redrafted and returned to the other place and again amended, and we now have the Bill before us after it has been still further amended.

I am pleased that the Minister has acceded to the minimum of our requests for parliamentary accountability. The clause goes some way towards recognising our case, but all that it suggests is that the Government are prepared to report annually to the House, first, giving the number of directives and notices to all the persons concerned with aircraft and airport security, and, secondly, that it shall be a calendar year of directives to be revealed within a month of the year ending.

All that we are to get is information about the numbers of directives and the persons involved. It is to be a statistical report and not a Statutory Instrument, and consequently there will be no debate upon it. In other words, there will be 12 months of secret issues of directives and notices, but there will be no information to Parliament and no parliamentary or public accountability. There will not even be a debate after one year's use of the Minister's powers to issue directives.

The powers to issue directives are extraordinary. By means of a directive the Minister can ground all aircraft, detain all passengers, search everyone at the airport, establish guards at every aircraft door, direct persons employed for specific duties—constables or security guards—to carry out searches and other measures, and authorise the carrying of firearms. The Minister can also issue directives to all aircraft operators and airport managers.

We recognise the need for these powers to enable the Minister to act effectively and swiftly against hijacking and aerial sabotage, but we must be satisfied that there will be some form of parliamentary control over the possible use of these massive powers. A ministerial directive is a strong reserve power. It should be a rarely used weapon. and the public and Parliament are usually informed when it is used.

The Minister's intention is to issue secret directives without Parliament's being informed. Who can challenge their fairness? Who can determine the extent to which this directive power is possibly being abused? Where lies the dividing line, and who will be able to judge, between a ministerial directive issued for passenger safety and a dictatorial act forcing airline operatives or airport managers to act against a previously democratically agreed airline and airports policy?

Is not the Minister sensitive about the extent to which he is taking upon himself such sweeping dictatorial powers which he can use secretly and leave Parliament in ignorance of his acts or deeds? Who is to determine what is reasonable or unreasonable pressure via a notice or directive upon an airport manager, upon all British Airport Authority airports and upon local authority airports? If an airport manager disagrees and consults a lawyer, and consequently there are leaks to the Press or Private Notice Questions, that will shatter most of what the Minister wants to achieve.

We believe that parliamentary knowledge shortly after a directive has been given may well serve the Minister's intent to forestall a hijacking scheme or to tighten security at airports and avoid charges of dictatorship and the maltreatment of persons. In most cases the act by directive will have served its purpose, and knowledge of it seven days later, as the new clause suggests, will not matter.

We have always recognised that it might be necessary to act urgently, and a directive gives the Minister the necessary speed and authority. Also, the dangers inherent in hijacking, aerial sabotage and damage to navigation aids endangering passengers and aircraft require a swift authoritative reaction. We have recognised all that, and Parliament is likely to grant the Minister the authority to act, but Parliament will want to know what has been done and we must, therefore, press for regular reports.

The Minister's annual digest of statistics, with no other information, is not satisfactory. First, I do not think that the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping intends to be either satisfactory or helpful. When we were discussing this matter in Committee I said to the hon. Gentleman: He"— that is the Minister— said that if a notice or directive were revealed it would suggest to the enemy, the hijacker or the saboteur, the areas of concern and he could not see that it would serve hon. Members. The Minister replied: I said that there was a balance. Any extra information is of value to Members of Parliament and that would be a bonus from the amendment, but I also said that there would be an added danger to the constituents of hon. Members in giving information that is the balance. I retorted: There is no balance. It is all one way, completely so, dictatorially so", to which the Minister said: Yes", following which I said: That is what is causing concern to my hon. Friends. Later, when we pressed the Minister about the annual report, he said: I can see no objection at present in principle to issuing an annual statement on the number of occasions upon which directives have been given. Frankly, I do not think it adds up to any real parliamentary scrutiny. That reveals, first, a dictatorial attitude, and, secondly, that the Minister does not intend any real parliamentary scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman's utterances have revealed the mind of the man. He is either politically naive—which I begin to doubt—or, more likely, there is a dictatorial streak in his make up that is gaining satisfaction from taking this unparalleled ministerial power.

The Minister said on Second Reading, and he repeated it in Committee: we were taking powers more extensive and comprehensive than anyone had taken in similar circumstances, certainly in peacetime."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 10th May 1972; c. 210–14.] The Government are taking unparalleled secret directive powers, with no checks, no parliamentary surveillance and no accountability of any kind. I think that that should be most frightening to a democratic assembly.

Mr. Onslow

I should tell the right hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping is prevented from being present today because of the need to attend a meeting in Brussels. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider what he said if he is suggesting that my hon. Friend has a natural predilection for taking powers of this kind.

The right hon. Gentleman described these powers in a colourful way, but I hope that because of his natural desire to be fair he will recognise that they are being taken in response to an unprecedented situation and that the House as a whole will realise that the situation requires us to act in this way. This is no preference on the part of my hon. Friend. He would be as happy as anyone if we were able to do without these powers.

Mr. Mason

I applaud the hon. Gentleman for rising to the defence of his ministerial friend in his absence. All that I was doing was quoting the Minister. When he said that these powers were wide, and "dictatorially so", he said, "Yes". He also said that the Government would get, through this Bill, more extensive and comprehensive powers than ever before in peacetime. I am not exaggerating, simply reminding the hon. Gentleman what the Minister said.

I should like to ask the Minister about these powers. What if Members of Parliament periodically ask preliminary questions about his use of them and do not wait for the annual digest of statistics? Will he reveal when these powers were used and for what purpose? Will the Parliamentary Commissioner be empowered to examine any alleged maladministration arising from the Minister's directives? Will constituents adversely affected by an airport manager accepting a directive be free to write to their MPs with a legitimate constituency grievance? What if lawyers are consulted by those suffering the effects of a directive? Can they seek the guidance of their MPs or parliamentary assistance? In brief, do not these massive secret powers stifle all our democratic processes and frustrate those who might disagree or feel aggrieved? Those questions need answering before we can allow the Bill to proceed further.

I repeat: the Minister has been granted unparalleled powers of directive and they are to be operated by secret notices. Our view is that Parliament should be informed. We would not expect security details to be revealed, but there is no reason why, within seven days, Parliament should not be aware that a directive power has been used, and should not be informed which airports or aircraft operations were involved. This could be done after the fact, so as not to jeopardise any action. It is essential that these powers are not abused and only by periodic parliamentary scrutiny can the Minister be held in check. That is the purpose of our new clause and I hope that it will receive the support of the House.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

On Second Reading, I gave the Government almost unqualified support. In Committee, I did likewise, frequently to the chagrin of my party. I do not apologise for that, because I want the Bill. I am sure that I share that desire with the whole House and with all responsible people.

However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) put forward reasonable objectives to what I agree are sweeping powers. The word "totalitarian" seems harsh and can hardly apply to a British Minister, but I use the word "sweeping" deliberately.

We should look at what we are sweeping away.

Under these powers, is it not true that surveillance at our airports will be conducted by special people—not even our own police force? This is a departure which can be agreed upon only after close scrutiny. I do not like any departure that sets up a police force separate from the constitutional one agreed through the ages by the House. Therefore, the Minister might stop and ponder.

My right hon. Friend asked what the position would be of our constituents involved in any delay at airports which are likely to be suspect, who might possibly—I am using moderate language—be mucked up. Are we to leave our constituents defenceless in those circumstances? Surely we must have the right to ensure that their interests are protected.

This is not a remote possibility. The travelling public has increased almost immeasurably and many people are comparatively naïve about air transport. People who are seeking no more than a holiday abroad could easily become involved with the sort of characters that we are so keen to outlaw. The question imposes itself upon us—how do we protect the interests of those who are our reason for being here?

My right hon. Friend also mentioned the Parliamentary Commissioner. I can speak with some small authority on that subject, since I have been working with that very valuable gentleman for some years now. Only today, we have been discussing extending his powers to investigate other than ministerial matters. Is he to be similarly immobilised under these provisions?

I am as anxious as I was months ago to get the Bill on the Statute Book, but one cannot lightly pass over the sweeping powers which amount to an almost total disregard of Parliament. My right hon. Friend should have the support of Conservative Members, too, if they are truly jealous of the preserves of this House. We must reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are precluding ourselves from a very important function.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I am always suspicious of reports. We included in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act—introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris)—a clause providing for an annual report describing what was being done technologically to help the disabled. We have had two such reports, both valueless. If we want to protest about them, we have to persuade the Opposition to provide time for a debate. I am sure that the Minister is not anxious to do that. Why can he not accept Amendment (a) to allow us the right to debate the reports that he will be producing?

Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)

In view of the importance of the new clauses and the amendments, it is surprising that more concern has not been expressed about them. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has said, the clauses about which we are particularly concerned, Clauses 8 to 12 and others, give the Minister massive powers. In addition to referring to the new clauses we refer to the use of the terms "constable" and "other authorised persons".

I should like to deal briefly with that aspect. This is a very important measure which is agreed between the two sides of the House. Those of us who served on the Standing Committee expressed some concern about the use of the word "constable" without the prefix "police". We referred to this in our amendments. The Minister refers to "constables" in the context of the personnel who will carry out the duties involved in these powers and who will have to comply with the directives. There are various meanings of the word "constable", and without the prefix "police" there could well be misunderstanding.

We need to define not only the word "constable" but also the other persons authorised to act and to carry out the directives. Who are these constables to be? If they are to be police constables one presumes that the Minister would have tabled an amendment, or that at least the Under-Secretary would have indicated that he would be prepared to accept such an amendment.

Mr. Onslow

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am not sure about the amendment to which he is speaking. There are later amendments about police but I am not sure that they can be taken with this debate.

Mr. Bishop

It is still relevant to refer to the word "constable" and to "police constables" because we are talking about the powers that the Minister is seeking. It was because of the doubts of the Opposition and some hon. Members on the Government side of the House about who these mysterious people were to be that concern was expressed about how the powers were to be operated.

Clause 12(5) states: In so far as a direction under any of the preceding provisions of this Part of this Act requires searches to be carried out, or other measures to be taken, by constables, the direction may require the person to whom it is given to use his best endeavours to secure that constables will be duly authorised to carry, and will carry, firearms when carrying out the searches or taking the measures in question. On Second Reading the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping said that only policemen——

Mr. Onslow

The hon. Gentleman is referring to Clause 12. This new clause makes no reference to that clause. I have a strong suspicion that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating a later debate—at least. I am fairly certain that he is not exactly within the bounds of order at present.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I respectfully suggest that the Minister is not the person to decide this? If there is doubt whether my hon. Friend is in order, may I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rule whether we can discuss this matter now or whether we should leave it until later? I wish to take part in the debate on this issue. I am speaking now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to give you a chance to take advice on this matter. If my hon. Friend is to be ruled out of order and we have to discuss this matter later, we may miss the boat. Perhaps we may have your ruling.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

What the hon. Gentleman will do later is for him to decide. I was expecting that the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) would not dwell too long on this point in this particular debate.

Mr. Bishop

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was saying that because of fears which may be expressed when we discuss later amendments, the Opposition feel very strongly on the matter which is now before us. I end my brief reference to security forces and constables by saying that on Second Reading the Minister said that only policemen would be armed. One presumes, therefore, that he meant "police constables" and not "constables".

Be that as it may, the fact remains that, because of the massive powers which the Minister seeks, quite rightly, and the ways in which he is seeking to have the directives carried out, the Opposition feel strongly that the new clauses and the amendments should be thoroughly debated.

The Minister is given massive powers by the Bill. We consider the amendments necessary in order to safeguard the rights and property of millions of people who travel by air. We want to assess the extent of the powers and the need for proper accountability. Where there is power of this dimension there should be accountability to Parliament. Safeguards should be written into the Bill.

The Bill makes it an offence for any person to perform an act of violence likely to endanger an aircraft in flight or to damage an aircraft or facilities, or to pass on false information likely to endanger life or an aircraft or installations. There are severe penalties. The Bill also provides for arrest and for the extradition of offenders between contracting States and it requires such States to prosecute if they do not extradite those concerned.

Clause 8 and the succeeding clauses are very important. Clause 11 gives power to give directions. Clause 15 gives power to override a contract, Act or law to the contrary. That is a massive power. We are giving power to a Minister to make it necessary for people to break contracts to which they are committed and to exercise power under the Minister's directive in order to override Acts of Parliament. We contend that this alone requires and justifies the Minister reporting to the House about the use of his powers, especially if his powers are delegated to others.

The references to "police constables" and "constables" were an example of the kind of concern which justifies the need for the accountability which we wish to write into the Bill. To override a contract could mean the loss of a job for someone or the loss of work for a firm or an airline. Broken contracts could cost many thousands of pounds in compensation. At present it seems that they could be broken without fear.

Those are some illustrations of the kind of power that the Minister seeks. My right hon. Friends and I are not quarrelling with his demand for such power, but we shall part company with him unless he accepts our amendments. There should be far more accountability to Parliament than is provided for at present. Although the consequences to the person under the contract may not be serious, if there is protection for him under the Bill one can rightly ask what will happen to the other party who may be affected by a failure to comply. If it means the breaking of a contract, what right of appeal will there be?

These questions arise from the need for proper accountability. The Minister may say that this has been taken care of. He went to some trouble in Committee to claim that compensation and the right of appeal were adequate for these situations, but surely that is not so. As some of our later amendments point out, changes are required to do justice to those who may be affected in consequence of the Minister's directions being carried out by those authorised to do so.

The Minister has admitted that these powers are serious. We do not argue about that. But surely the most serious matter of all is that the Minister asks the House to accept only an annual report, and a report which does not necessarily break down in any detail the powers that he has used or the effects on those concerned.

The Bill gives powers to unspecified persons. It refers to "authorised persons", and they need not be answerable to a Minister or to the Secretary of State. If the Minister is to exercise power through private security firms, there will be no control or answerability to Parliament. If he employs police officers answerable to a chief constable and the Home Secretary, there is accountability. With private security firms this is not the case.

7.45 p.m.

Our concern was echoed in Committee in another place by Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who is not a member of my party, when he said this: I am sorry to be persistent, but I am getting exasperated. I have twice asked the Minister whether he will kindly explain to me the position when these powers are used by daily routine, which they will be. I am not talking about the emergency where everybody will accept that anything can be done, but about the daily routine. What redress, what machinery, what provision is there for the harassed, oppressed operator who finds the conditions under statutory rights very different from voluntary working? The Executive is asking for a blank cheque, without any undertaking that in the distant future it will not be used in an oppressive and even obstructive way. The question I ask again is: what will the Minister provide in the way of assurance that there is some machinery for redress or appeal, whatever you call it. I suggest that if the Committee is being asked by the Government to give a measure of power to the Executive without any safeguard to the citizen it will be very much better if the Minister takes this Bill back and thinks again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 26th February 1973; Vol. 339, c. 403–4.]

The misgivings which were expressed in the House of Lords and which resulted in the Bill being taken back and redrafted are still apparent and justified today. We must bear in mind not only the factors to which I have referred but also that those involved in the use of these massive powers must work as a team. There must be close liaison between many bodies and many people in Government Departments, at airports, in the Civil Aviation Authority, in the police, the airlines, pilots, cabin crews and many others. For that reason the National Aviation Security Committee was set up. There are many security committees at our airports and elsewhere.

The basic reason for our tabling the amendments and the clause requiring the Minister to bring statutory instruments to the House seeking approval of the use of the directives is the concern felt by the Opposition and by members of the Conservative Party. I wish that those Members were here tonight to express some of the misgivings which they voiced in Committee. It is the concern we have about the use of the powers by constables and private security firms which necessitates these safeguards.

We believe that those operating these directives and powers under the Minister's command should be answerable to Parliament. We can ask: to whom will a member of Securicor or other private security firms be answerable? I shall be surprised if the hon. Gentleman accepts new Clause 4, which would enable him to set up a security force under his control—a force not privately run but answerable to him and, through him, to Parliament. It would be surprising because it would mean the end of hiving off the functions which should be carried out by the police. Doctrinal party considerations are making the Government put public security and safety into private, unaccountable hands——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is not the hon. Gentleman discussing new Clause 4?

Mr. Bishop

I am discussing new Clause 4. The basis of my charge against the Government is that if these firms were under the control of a Minister or a Secretary of State——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

But the House is not discussing new Clause 4.

Mr. Bishop

Very well. If I cannot proceed on that line, I do not wish to anticipate a later debate. I should have thought it was obvious by now that it is the way in which the powers will be exercised that causes us these grave misgivings. If the police themselves, who are answerable to the chief constables and to the Home Secretary, were the people to carry out these directives, the fears of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I on this score would be allayed.

If the constituent of an hon. Member is detained against his will or searched against his will or treated in a way which he thinks is unreasonable, albeit by private security forces or by the police, what remedy has he? It is true that some safeguards are stated at the end of the Bill, but before these can be brought into play—at considerable cost to the aggrieved person—there is bound to be delay and possible hardship, some personal or business loss sustained, and there will be a loss of time and money.

If there is to be only an annual report to Parliament, which incidentally could be issued six months after the year has expired, have the public the right to ask their Members of Parliament to bring the matter before Parliament? Can we seek to put Private Notice Questions? Can we table Questions asking about a situation which may have arisen at an airport or which may follow the use of the directives?

The Minister may say, with some truth, that matters of national security are involved in which he would not wish to have these powers exercised. I had better not mention security firms too often, so as to avoid anticipating our later debates. If someone is knocked down by a guard dog or is bitten or his clothes are torn, can the matter be raised in the House of Commons by that person's Member of Parliament?

If an aircraft is detained and it is afterwards thought that the detention was unnecessary, and if the airline suffers heavy loss through the aircraft being out of use for a few days—in the case of powers exercised under Clause 7, it may be necessary for the airline to charter another aircraft to enable it to carry out its obligations—can the matter be raised in Parliament? The Minister has a duty to tell the House to what extent he will be accountable to Parliament for the use of the directives.

The Minister has moved a new clause which goes some way towards what we want. I suggested on Second Reading that these massive powers should result in much greater accountability to Parliament and that as a very minimum there should be an annual report to Parliament.

Tonight we are suggesting that the Minister shall be required to bring forward a statutory instrument, albeit seven days after directives have been tabled, so that Parliament shall know what is going on and be able to say what it thinks. At present, although an annual report will be made, there is no guarantee that the House will be able to debate it.

The only other way of raising a matter which may aggrieve one of our constituents is to try to get a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. If we wait until, say, debate No. 17 on the night of the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, we might succeed in catching Mr. Speaker's eye and in securing the Minister's presence here at 5.15 in the morning to do justice to the aggrieved constituent. This does not tie up with the Government's claim for more open government.

On Second Reading the Minister said this: No nation is more rightly proud of the fundamental right of its citizens than we in Britain. No Parliament is more jealous of the protection traditionally afforded to individuals to pursue their lives, fully protected from the arbitrary use of power by civil or military authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April 1973; Vol. 853. c. 453.] That comes very well from the Minister when he has said that there is no guarantee that the safeguards we seek will be forthcoming.

We could be sure that under the rules and procedures whereby we employ our police some of our misgivings would disappear or decrease. Our difference of view relates to security personnel who are not under such control. I refer to "cosh and carry" people with the private security forces who are equipped with weapons and who follow procedures which are not within the control of this House. I refer also to a code of conduct such as that which was sought by a Conservative Member who wished to bring in a Private Member's Bill to introduce a code of conduct.

If the Minister is sincere, as we believe he is, in stating that he wishes to ensure that our citizens are protected in their fundamental rights, I hope he will say that the Government are prepared to agree to these amendments, and are prepared not only to exercise the powers which we think they should have but also to exercise a justifiable and necessary degree of accountability.

Mr. Onslow

I fear that I shall have to disappoint the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop). One point which he made is a point which I had hoped the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) might care to echo, and that is to remind the House of how my right hon. Friend stressed the jealousy with which we in Parliament protect the liberty of the subject. I do not believe there is anything in this Bill which is likely to make Members of Parliament any less zealous protectors of the interests of their constituents or the freedom of the individual.

It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman cast himself in the role of a power- less mute unable to defend his constituents, unable to receive representations from them, and unable to seek by various devices, ingenious and unorthodox, to raise matters of importance and urgency on the Floor of the House. This kind of denigration does us little good because it is so far from the truth.

One need spend no more than 24 hours in the House to find out how anxious Members of Parliament are to stand up for the individual. To say that the individual ins being downtrodden and is denied redress is a gross distortion.

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's giving way. This is a very important matter. If the Minister says that he is not prepared to accept our recommendation that a direction should be confirmed by statutory instrument published within seven days of the service of the notice or direction, he will undermine his case. In a situation of an emergency or of some incident which is likely to cause grave national criticism or personal attack on the freedom of the individual, if he says that Private Notice Questions can be asked or that the matter can be raised in the House in various ways and that he is prepared to give information which he is not prepared to give as a matter of routine, he is undermining his case. His case is that he does not want to give the directives from time to time because of national security. If that is the case, it means that when Members raise matters affecting their constituents they will not receive a satisfactory reply.

Mr. Onslow

The hon. Member appears to have failed to listen to what I said. I was about to say to the right hon. Member for Barnsley that I thought that in quoting remarks made by my hon. Friend he was guilty of taking them out of context in a way which we should deplore. My hon. Friend was frank. He made no attempt to conceal the fact that the powers in this Bill are unprecedented. He did not revel in the fact that these powers had to be taken, but he did not seek to hide the fact that they had to be taken. No one will be happier than my hon. Friend or myself when these powers are no longer needed on the Statute Book. I thought it was unfortunate and unfair for the right hon. Member for Barnsley to get so excited and so personal about this, because there was no justification for it, and I am sure that, on reflection, he will see the truth of what I have said.

May I go straight to a point raised by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). I will leave most of the points raised by the hon. Member for Newark because they will come up in later debates. I have carefully noted his points, so he need not repeat them, but I will certainly deal with them then. The hon. Member for Eccles asked about statutory instruments. I do not believe that the first amendment in line 2 to insert "in a statutory instrument" has been selected. However, it has been debated so I dare say that I shall be in order in speaking to it.

Mr. Carter-Jones

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. The second amendment, after "stating", insert "(a)", covers the first amendment, and that second amendment is on the Paper.

Mr. Onslow

I know that that amendment is on the Paper. I will give the hon. Gentleman the answer to his point about statutory instruments. We do not think the amendment serves any useful purpose. There are means of laying reports as set out in new Clause 1 but it would not be appropriate to present such a report in the form of a statutory instrument. Section 1(1) of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 defines "statutory instrument" for the purposes of that Act or any subsequent Act so that the expression is confined to documents exercising a power conferred upon Her Majesty in Council or any Minister of the Crown to make, confirm or approve orders, rules, regulations or other subordinate legislation". A report as envisaged in the new clause is not within this definition and, therefore, would not be appropriate in the form of a statutory instrument.

8.0 p.m.

May I now turn to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones)? I am grateful for his support and for the succinct way in which he expressed it. He has done his best to help us and I thank him for it. There is nothing in this Bill which prevents the normal processes of Parliament or prevents constituents approaching their Members of Parliament or Members of Parliament approaching a Minister. The response in each case must depend upon the circumstances, in the same way as whether a given Private Notice Question or a motion is in order must depend upon circumstances which may vary from case to case, which cannot be predicted.

On the point about the Parliamentary Commissioner, I should expect that the same normal situation would apply in the case of any approach to him, but that there must be a need to safeguard security.

The hon. Member for Newark mentioned the issue of national security with which I had dealt in my opening remarks. I sought to put the onus of responsibility upon the other side of the House to justify the release in some detail of other information which did not fall within the category of threatening or affecting national security, but which nevertheless could affect the safety and security of individuals, which is important, though not the same thing. Therefore, since this point has been left unanswered I have to say that nothing has been said from the other side of the House which convinces me that our position is wrong.

I have also to say when we come to new Clause 2 that the great objection that I find to that clause is that I do not believe it would work in practice. The act of hijacking or sabotage against aircraft does not necessarily threaten the State and therefore national security, and yet we would all agree that the security of innocent passengers and aircrews, which is the purpose of this Bill, should be protected. Merely to permit the Secretary of State not to publish information deemed to be contrary to the national security, in a strict interpretation of that term, would not go far enough.

In practice, and bearing in mind the purposes of Part II of the Bill as set out in Clause 7, all directions and notices must involve an element of security, if not national security, in the objective of protecting aircraft, aerodromes, air navigation installations, passengers, aircrews and other persons against violence.

To seek to eliminate the security aspects in notices and directions before publication would make them largely meaningless and certainly provide insufficient information on which Parliament could decide whether they should be annulled. The exercise is therefore somewhat otiose. Fourthly, security against violence is a continuing problem as hon. and right hon. Members on the Labour side must recognise.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

The Minister says that if we were to have statutory instruments or some other form of documentation placed before the House from time to time it would be largely otiose because the information would not be available. Does he not concede, however, that we should at least know the incidence with which the Minister is invoking the Act? Otherwise we shall have to wait for a year and from year to year to know what is the incidence.

Mr. Onslow

Perhaps I may come to that in a moment. The crucial point in this whole debate is that security against violence is a continuing problem. It is not a seven- or nine-day wonder. It is not a matter of giving a direction which after seven days will no longer be applied or the security considerations will no longer be relevant. The Opposition know that and I hope on reflection that they will realise that it invalidates their argument.

If I can give an example perhaps I could cite the case of the recent threat by the IRA against Aldergrove Airport. This has necessitated wide-ranging additional security measures in Great Britain and Northern Ireland which might have been subject to directions had the Bill been law. It could be argued that not all these measures were strictly relevant to national security but they would be relevant to civil aviation security and it would therefore be wrong to disclose now, in seven days time or at any time while terrorism persists in Northern Ireland, the nature of those directions. I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that this argument is so strong that it underlines as few others could that security and secrecy are often quite inseparable.

Amendments (b), (c) and (d) are not acceptable. To disclose the effect of each notice or direction would be tantamount to publishing the notice or direction and this would seriously embarrass our security and be of immeasurable value to potential hijackers and saboteurs. To give details of the person receiving the direction will be of assistance to the wrongdoer who will simply transfer his attention away from the airport or airline which he knows has been given a direction to one which he knows has not. It would not be practicable to state the duration of all notices and directions, but where it was, the hijacker or saboteur would merely have to wait until the direction had expired.

I have no doubt, and no one who approaches this matter with an open mind could believe otherwise, that the disclosure of such information, even though it might not be contrary to national security, would not be in the interests of the safety of airline passengers and air crews. This must be a guiding principle. I hope that the Opposition will withdraw their amendments because they seem to serve no purpose. They do not impute any wish on the part of the Government to exercise without answerability to Parliament dictatorial powers. They represent a reaction which we have had to make to a threat which we regret. The clause is a genuine and necessary attempt to meet the anxieties which were expressed in Committee.

Mr. Dan Jones

It is not quite good enough for the Minister to speak in those terms. This legislation waited for an interminable period before coming to the House, and I do not know how long it will take to get on to the statute book. During all that time the situation has been as was outlined by the Minister. With all due respect to the need to apprehend these unprincipled international louts, surely the Minister is not saying that there is no parliamentary procedure by which this House can be informed without conceding vital information to the people he has in mind?

Mr. Onslow

I am not telling the hon. Member that. It is a great mistake to allow oneself to be interrupted in mid-peroration. The provisions of the clause represent the furthest we can safely go towards giving Parliament information relating to the actions that we take under the Bill. In the interests of the security of those whom we wish to protect, we do not believe that we can safely go further. If we could I can assure the hon. Member that we should not hesitate to do so. I hope that the Opposition will withdraw the amendments and I hope we shall have the unanimous support of the House for the new clause.

Mr. Clinton Davies

Is the Minister saying that there is no conceivable way in which Parliament can determine the incidence with which the Minister is invoking this Act, that Parliament therefore has to wait from year to year to get any information about it in toto?

Mr. Onslow

I shall remind the hon. Member that I have dealt with his point. The ingenuity and persistence of Members of Parliament is the true measure of Parliament's freedom. It is no good the hon. Member arguing about that because it is true, and few know it better than he does. He asks whether Questions can be asked once a session, whether the matter can be raised under Standing Order No. 9, or on the Consolidated Fund Bill, or whether some other means can be found—for example on business questions. I cannot give a ruling on these matters but any Parliamentarian worth his salt knows that there are ways which can be tried.

Anxieties have been expressed about broken contracts, and about infringements of freedom and so on. They do not represent any concern which has been expressed to us by those who earn their living in these matters. The airlines and

their aircrews have not made representations. I deeply regret, however, that for some reason which escapes me the Opposition seem anxious to promote bogus conflict.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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