HC Deb 24 June 1974 vol 875 cc1117-24

Order for Second Reading read.

9.39 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

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

The Bill was foreshadowed in the announcement which was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 29th April. He told the House that after consideration with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade he had agreed that the Metropolitan Police should assume the responsibility for all policing at Heathrow. He also said that legislation would be introduced in the near future with enabling powers to provide for the transfer of police responsibility at other airports should this become necessary.

Over the last few years there has been a marked increase in the extent of terrorist violence against civil aviation. Apart from the hijacking of aircraft in various parts of the world, there have been a number of ground attacks at civil airports. These incidents have not been confined to those parts of the world which have been in a state of conflict; there was a serious occurrence at Rome airport in December last year.

Although there are a number of international airports in the United Kingdom, Heathrow is by far the biggest and most important. Indeed, in terms of international traffic it is the busiest airport in the world. It is at Heathrow that the biggest risks exist.

The British Airports Authority Constabulary—the BAAC—is responsible for the policing of Heathrow Airport as it is for the other airports belonging to the British Airports Authority. This force was not, of course, set up to deal with the sort of situation that we now find ourselves faced with, and it has, therefore, had to receive assistance from elsewhere. In saying that, I should make quite clear that I mean no criticism whatsoever of the force or of any individual members of it. It is simply the case that a force established to deal with what I might call the ordinary policing of this and other airports has found itself in the front line in dealing with one of the most dangerous problems of our time.

As a result, for a number of years now members of the Metropolitan Police, some of them armed, have helped the BAAC at Heathrow. In addition, the Metropolitan Police have provided a considerably increased degree of policing in the areas for which they are responsible around the perimeter of the airport and there is a contingency arrangement for the Metropolitan Police to obtain the assistance of the Armed Services.

Hon. Members will remember that in the recent past there have been emergencies at Heathrow. Last Christmas the threat was judged to be one requiring the assistance of the Army. This operation was an occasion on which use was made of the arrangement whereby the Metropolitan Police assume overall control, including control over the BAAC. Quite apart from the experience gained, it was an example of the need in the face of an emergency for there to be a co-ordinated, unified system for controlling security in the airport and in the area around the perimeter. More recently, in the middle of last month there was a bomb explosion at Heathrow, which again emphasised the risks with which we are faced and the need for there not to be any delay in responding to them.

The policing situation at Heathrow has, therefore, been the subject of a very thorough review. I should make clear, since this is not a Bill on which I think there will be, or ought to be, any substantial difference between the parties, that the review had been set up by the Conservative Government. The review made a number of things quite clear. It showed that in the foreseeable future there is no realistic probability that the sort of terrorist threat with which we are now presented will substantially diminish, so that it is not one where we can rely on ad hoc arrangements. Although the strength of the BAAC has recently been increased in the light of the terrorist threat, it was apparent to those concerned, including the BAA, that the arrangement whereby the BAAC and the Metropolitan Police shared responsibility for antiterrorist measure was not satisfactory.

My right hon. Friend agreed that the most satisfactory solution was for the Metropolitan Police to assume full responsibility for all facets of policing at the airport. In reaching this decision, he naturally took account of the views of the commissioner. It was not thought possible to dissociate the responsibility for ordinary policing from that for providing protection against terrorist attack. It was this decision that my right hon. Friend announced on 29th April. I should make it clear that the decision relates to the responsibility for policing. It does not affect the arrangements for military assistance in the event of an actual emergency, nor the criteria which govern the number of armed officers who are regularly available at the airport for security duties.

Legislation is necessary to implement the decision. I should make it clear at this stage that Heathrow, or any other airport, although clearly a place frequented by the public, is private property, as is any comparable undertaking; and in ordinary circumstances the police do not, therefore, have full right of access. Also, there is a statutory provision under the Airports Authority Act 1965 for the BAA to maintain its own constabulary, which of course, it does at Heathrow and its other establishments. To transfer the responsibility for policing from this force to the Metropolitan Police requires legislation in order to regularise the position of the commissioner of the airport and to establish beyond doubt where powers, duties and responsibilities will lie in the future.

The Government thought it right to seek a power whereby responsibility could, if necessary, also be transferred at other airports, besides Heathrow.

The threat of terrorist incidents is not one which can easily be anticipated. We could find ourselves faced by a comparable threat at some other airport, with all the problems that that would create for providing adequate policing and security measures. The Bill therefore provides for the Secretary of State to transfer policing responsibility at any air port subject to certain conditions and parliamentary procedures which I will mention in a moment. It remains to be seen, of course, how far it will be necessary to exercise this power other than at Heathrow. We hope that the situation at other airports will not create problems that have unavoidably arisen at Heathrow.

In this context, my right hon. Friend is aware of the BAA's view that the proposed transfer at Heathrow will not leave its Constabulary as a viable force and that therefore other BAA airports should be dealt with in the same way. My right hon. Friend has taken no decision to exercise the powers other than at Heathrow, and hon. Members may have noticed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already told Parliament that he also has no plans at present to exercise the intended powers in relation to airports in Scotland. But full and careful consideration will of course be given to any proposals that the BAA might make to the Home Secretary. In relation to each particular airport there would, of course, have to be consultation with the chief officer of police and the police authority concerned. I would now like to turn to the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 provides the power to make orders as a result of which the responsibility for policing an aerodrome would be transferred to the chief officer of police for the police area in which that aerodrome is wholly or mainly situated. It is proposed that the Secretary of State should be able to make an order in the interests of the preservation of the peace and the prevention of crime. Although the meaning of these two phrases may in some respects overlap, they allow the Secretary of State to look at the policing problem in its totality and to give due weight to both the threat of terrorist activities and the problems of "ordinary" crime. The lesson that has emerged from threats posed at Heathrow is that the preservation of the peace cannot be compartmentalised but must be judged as a whole.

The clause also provides for the circumstances in which an airport is situated in more than one police area. It would make nonsense of action under this legislation if two or more chief constables assumed responsibility for policing an airport simply because it crossed their boundaries.

Clause 1 also lays down the formal process of consultation and the parliamentary procedure to be followed before the airport can be designated. Designation would clearly affect the interests of both the airport and the police authority, and the Secretary of State would also need to be guided by the professional view of the local chief officer of police. He is therefore required to consult all these people. If an order that is subsequently introduced contains a statement that it is made with the consent of the police and airport authorities, it is proposed it should be subject to annulment in either House.

It is to be hoped that in practice such an order would be acceptable to both authorities, and indeed it would be difficult to attempt to designate an airport against their interests. If they do agree, however, there is advantage in the designation being smooth and quick. The Clause provides full protection for the interests of authorities who do disagree with a proposed designation, since, if the order does not contain a statement indicating agreement, it is subject to the affirmative procedure and either party would therefore have the opportunity to have its view debated.

I hope that the House will agree that these provisions provide both a proper degree of protection to the local and private interests concerned and a proper means for quick action when there is no disagreement. In addition to the formal consultations there would also be informal consultations with the unions and representatives of the whole range of officials and employees who might be affected by designation. The precise scope of these consultations would depend on the circumstances at the particular airport. In respect of Heathrow, for example, the commissioner has held discussions with the unions, who are also to be involved, with the Metropolitan Police and others on a crime prevention consultative committee. There is also provision for revocation of an order, and for such revocation to be subject to the same consultative and Parliamentary procedure.

Clause 2 deals with one of the points that I mentioned a moment ago. The difficulty is that while the airport is private property some places are more private than others. The clause therefore requires the airport authority to allow a local constable access to the airport but leaves unaffected the rights of, for instance, a bank or an airline which controls property within the precincts of an airport or terminal. Although constables should be able to move freely around the airport it is not thought right that they should be any more able to enter a branch of a bank there than in the High Street. The clause also makes the necessary provision for ensuring that any existing airport constables shall no longer operate after designation.

The second part of Clause 2 contains financial provisions which I would like to take with Clause 7. The airport and police authorities should settle between themselves the financial implications of designation, and the implications, for instance, for accommodation for police officers, and the airport authority should pay the police authority the figure that they agree. In the event of failure to agree the Secretary of State may determine the figure. The Bill will involve additional expenditure for neither the Metropolitan Police—that is the taxpayer and the ratepayer of London—nor the British Airports Authority. The Metropolitan Police will be reimbursed for its expenditure and while the BAA will have to make payment it will, of course, no longer have to meet the cost of maintaining its own constabulary at Heathrow.

I should, however, qualify what I have said by explaining that Clause 7 allows the Secretary of State to reimburse the airport authority as he thinks fit for expenditure incurred under the Bill. The effect of this provision is that, while the airport authority would bear the cost of ordinary policing it might not be reasonable to require it to meet the once-for-all costs involved in designation. It will be for the chief officer, in conjunction with his police authority, to decide the level of policing required at any airport that might be designated. This will be a new situation for an airport authority that had previously maintained its own constabulary.

From the point of view of the police authority the situation will therefore also differ from the normal one in that the cost of policing the airport will not fall on the police fund. The airport authority should therefore have the chance to make known its views about the level of policing and hence the cost that it will be called upon to bear. The commissioner intends that this should be the case in relation to Heathrow, and discussions will take place at an appropriate time each year. The final decision for that airport will rest with the Home Secretary, as police authority for the Metropolitan Police.

I should like now to turn to Clause 3. The powers which this clause proposes should be conferred on members of an incoming force are precisely those which are at the moment conferred on members of the BAAC—no greater and no less. As I indicated a short while ago, theft could be a factor that the Secretary of State would have in mind in deciding to make a designation order. It is not, of course, necessarily the case that the incoming force would wish to exercise these powers, which, in so far as they relate to the searching of people, may be exercised only where there are reasonable grounds for suspicion. Parliament has thought these particular powers in relation to the policing of BAA airports. The Clause also provides that these same powers should be available to the incoming force whether or not the airport belongs to the BAA.

Clause 4 makes various provisions in relation to airport byelaws. Clause 5 makes various necessary adjustments to road traffic provisions at designated airports.

Clause 6 empowers the Secretary of State to make a supplementary order containing various provisions necessary to give effect to the main designation order. The clause allows by order the amendment of any local Act or aerodrome byelaw that is necessary in the light of the designation, and it makes full provision for the transfer from the airport authority to the incoming police authority of existing airport constables, traffic wardens and civil staff employed for police purposes. The commissioner hopes that as many as possible will transfer at Heathrow, so that the change should not exacerbate his existing manpower problems. Yet any system must ensure that the rights and interests of airport constables and employees are fully preserved. The arrangements to be applied at any individual airport would clearly be a matter for discussion at the time between those concerned, in the way that, for instance, the commissioner, the BAA and representatives of members of the BAAC and the Police Federation are currently discussing the implications of the transfer at Heathrow. There will, of course, be no obligation on any individual to transfer but, subject to the necessary consultations and procedures, the Secretary of State proposes to make certain adjustments to the Police Regulations so that the service in an airport constabulary of officers transferred could be counted for pay, probation and annual leave purposes in their new force. These changes will complement the provisions in this clause.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Kingford)

The right hon. Lady emphasised "could be". Should not the phrase be "would be"? The right hon. Lady must consider the position of what one might call the rump of police officers who will not come within the Heathrow arrangements.

Dr. Summerskill

I did say in my preceding phrase that this would be subject to the necessary consultation and procedures. As these consultations and procedures are now taking place, I thought it might be too emphatic to say "would" and I said "could". The intention is that it will happen as a result of the consultations which are necessary and desirable.

Before making an order under the clause, the Secretary of State will be obliged to consult the two authorities and the chief officer concerned.

The remaining provisions of the Bill deal with its application to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and with matters of interpretation. As I have implied, we envisage that in practice it would be the Secretary of State responsible for policing in the area in which the airport is situated who would exercise the powers under the Bill.

In conclusion, I wish to remind the House that the Bill addresses itself to the question—

It being Ten o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER Interrupted the Business.