HC Deb 24 June 1974 vol 875 cc1125-69

Question again proposed.

Dr. Summerskill

The Bill addresses itself to the question of ensuring that there are no avoidable obstacles to efficient policing and security arrangements at an airport. The situation with which we now regrettably find ourselves faced has substantially changed the circumstances at Heathrow, and could similarly change the circumstances at any other airport. These new circumstances seem to the Government to require new provision, and it is that provision which the Bill seeks to make. I commend it to the House.

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

The immediate context of the Bill is terrorism. The Opposition will always give support to measures designed to meet that threat. I think that the time has come for us all to recognise that we live in an age of the terrorist and the urban guerrilla. We must also recognise that the terrorist threat knows no boundaries. The terrorist is as likely to strike in Tel Aviv as he is in Munich, or in Belfast as he is in London. We must accept that the threat is likely to be with us for some time to come. It will not simply go away, for modern society provides the terrorist with a list of vulnerable and tempting targets.

The list seems almost endless. Last week a bomb was placed in the Palace of Westminster, but it could as easily have been aimed at an embassy, a television studio, an art gallery or an airport. It must be right that the Bill should aim at improving security at airports in Britain, and particularly at Heathrow. We welcome the aim of the Bill and support it.

Let us be clear at the outset what we can achieve by a policy of improving security alone. The long list of terrorist targets makes one point inevitable, and that is that there are not enough policemen in Britain or in any country to guard them all. Therefore, an antiterrorist policy must go much wider than purely physical security measures. Unless it does so, all security measures in the world will not suffice.

The Government have rightly identified the terrorist threat as the main reason for introducing the Bill, but I hope they will also use the opportunity to make absolutely clear that they will not be moved or influenced by the tactics of terrorism, that they will not give in to the intimidation of violence, that they will rule out bargaining and deals with terrorists, whether they are still at large or convicted and serving sentences of imprisonment. Nothing is easier than to give way to terrorist pressure, and nothing could be more harmful to the long-term interests of the country.

Given that that is the view of the Government, and I hope it is, it is right that security measures should be improved at our airports. If it makes sense to improve the security at Westminster, it makes sense, too, to improve security at Heathrow. Indeed, it probably makes more sense, because of the greater number of people involved. One of the best security steps must be to put airports under the jurisdiction of one of the best and most experienced police forces in the world, the Metropolitan Police.

Let me make it clear also that to say that is to make no criticism of the British Airports Authority's police. Their standards are in no way in dispute by this Bill. But times have changed, just as times have changed over the past 25 years to out-date those small but in some ways admirable borough forces in police amalgamations.

The British Airports Authority's police force at Heathrow is only 370 strong. A force of that size cannot hope to develop the specialist skill or to have the reserves or the resources necessary to combat the modern terrorist. Yet they guard what is potentially one of the most obvious targets in this country for the terrorist. In short my view is that the amalgamation recognises the inevitable, and the Metropolitan Police already support the British Airports Authority police and take command during an incident.

The Government thus intend to improve the anti-terrorist measures to guard Heathrow. As this is their intention it is right for them to set out in more detail exactly how they intend to do this and on this aspect I should like to ask the Government a number of specific questions.

First, it is clear that Britain is not the only country in the world which faces this threat. It is clearly a world-wide threat. What studies have been made by the Home Office of the measures taken abroad by other police forces? For example, the Germans have a specially trained force which guards all airports. I do not say that that is necessarily the right force, but it must make sense in this kind of international situation to pool all knowledge.

Second, I should like to know the Government's attitude to the latest proposals of the International Air Transport Association. The Executive Committee of IATA has just compiled a list of minimum security procedures for international airports. Some of these vitally affect the police and the conduct of police at Heathrow. The committee recommends that uniformed armed officers should be assigned to security screening areas as a back-up to and separate from guards conducting searches. It proposes that there should be uniformed armed officers at key points in the ramp area where aircraft park and at access points to that ramp. It proposes that uniformed armed officers should be at each aircraft boarding door.

Traditionally, the British police have been an unarmed service. Regrettably, in the past few years this has not always been possible. But these proposals by the IATA committee seem to go considerably further than we have hitherto gone in this country. As I understand it, the committee is saying that uniformed police should be obviously armed to act as a deterrent to the would-be terrorist and the would-be hijacker. In other words, the argument is that not only should policemen be armed but they should be known and seen to be armed. Clearly, there are very important policy issues at stake here. All that I should like to discover at this stage is exactly what is the Government's view on this very difficult question.

My third question concerns the Government's policy for improving their antiterrorist measures and the police strength which is to be deployed. Under the Bill the British Airports Authority police will be brought into the Metropolitan Police. But the Metropolitan Police force at this moment faces what I can only describe as a crisis of undermanning. According to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, in his annual report published earlier this month, the shortage of men is by far the most serious problem confronting London's police. Yet we are adding to their tasks when the numbers of men and women leaving the force are at their highest point for almost 20 years. We are also adding to their tasks at a time when the shortage of policemen in London is officially put at 5,000 by the Home Office, but which, by any realistic assessment, must be much nearer 10,000. This shortage must be made up.

I think we are entitled to ask how it is to be done. Unless it is done, the shortage will undermine the very policies that we are putting forward.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

The hon. Gentleman will realise that the main purpose of this exercise is to enable the British Airports Authority Constabulary to be absorbed within the Metropolitan Police. That is the immediate task. We must look at the situation after that.

Mr. Fowler

I will come to that point. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will tell him why I do not agree with what he says as I develop my argument. I will return to the point about under-manning in the Metropolitan Police and explain why this is relevant to the argument.

In my view, for too long we have been confined to a national pay scale for the police. It is a pay scale which supposes and presupposes that the job of the police is the same throughout the whole country and that the difficulty of getting recruits is the same. It is my belief that in London, which undoubtedly faces much greater problems than other areas, a special rate above the national scale should be paid.

Mr. John Tomlinson (Meriden)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is carrying out a superb demolition exercise on the effectiveness of the previous Government's incomes policy, which was largely responsible for so many of these shortfalls in public sector employment?

Mr. Fowler

No. This is not the time, when we are trying to help the Government by putting forward constructive suggestions, to play party politics. There will be many hustings soon at which the hon. Gentleman can do that. This matter is concerned with a structural weakness in the police pay scale which has been present for far to long.

It can also be argued that this amalgamation does not affect the staffing situation in any event. According to the Under-Secretary of State, we are simply putting an existing force under the Metropolitan Police authority. That point would be valid if the strength of the British Airports Authority police was sufficient. Frankly, I doubt whether that can be considered to be the situation.

Heathrow airport employs a total of 51,000 people. Last year over 20 million passengers passed through the airport. In addition, several million more people came to the airport as visitors or spectators. By any standards that is an enormous total. Yet the task of policing that airport is carried out by a force with a total strength of 370. I suggest that that force is already overstretched.

Apart from terrorism at London Airport there is also the acute problem of general crime. There is the problem of theft. An enormous amount of goods is lost or stolen in transit, and the same is true of luggage. There is the problem of smuggling—anything from drugs to pornographic material. The problem is so great that it led the Sunday Telegraph to declare that thieving was the airport's second industry. It is clear that the Government take the threat very seriously, because if that were not so they would not have retained the existing stop-and-search powers.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

Is my hon. Friend aware that losses per annum from theft amount to between £5 million and £10 million?

Mr. Fowler

It is difficult to make any realistic estimate, and one of the pities is that no official figures have been issued of the amount that has been lost in that way. That is one of the difficulties not only about losses in transit in this area but in transit generally. We have very little idea of the scale of the problem, but I agree with my hon. Friend that a large amount is involved and I am sure that that would be confirmed by any realistic assessment of the situation.

The stop-and-search powers are extremely wide. They include the power to stop and search staff without a warrant, and to stop and search persons leaving cargo areas. At other times such powers might have been considered controversial, not least by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade. We must, therefore, take it that, whatever reservations there may have been in the past, the Government feel that these powers are necessary to meet the crime threat at Heathrow Airport.

What I am less certain about is that, although the Government are taking these powers to meet a crime threat, the present strength of the CID at Heathrow is adequate. As I understand it, the present strength of the CID is all of 16. Surely that number cannot conceivably be considered adequate for dealing with the kind of problems with which Heathrow has to cope. May we therefore take it that it is the Government's view and policy that the CID establishment will be increased substantially after the amalgamation?

In Committee we shall deal with conditions of service of the BAA police. Suffice it to say that we shall want to be satisfied that their interests are safeguarded, but there is one general point which I propose to raise now and which was touched on by the Minister.

The Home Office has made it clear that it wants the Metropolitan Police to take over responsibility for Heathrow, but that, as the Minister said, is not the only airport served by the BAA police. In addition to Heathrow, there are Gatwick, Stansted, Prestwick and Edinburgh. All told, about 80 policemen are employed at those airports, and the intention seems to be to leave those staff in some kind of limbo. The power exists to bring them into the bloodstream of the normal police, but we have no guide as to when or whether that power will be exercised. I cannot believe that that is in the interests of the men themselves. There cannot conceivably be much of a career structure for anyone serving in a police force totalling 80, and they will be left in considerable doubt about their future. That does not seem to be in the best interests of the men themselves; nor, because of that, can it be likely to lead to a satisfactory or happy force.

There is a strong case for immediately taking all these men into the police service and putting all the airports under police jurisdiction. I say that because we are aiming here to combat terrorism—otherwise we would not be debating the Bill at present—and the threat of terror- ism is not confined to Heathrow Airport. If the terrorist thinks that it is easier to hijack an aircraft or plant a bomb at some other airport he will transfer his attention. Indeed, the fact that security is being tightened at Heathrow may lead him to that particular course.

The Government should, therefore, now seriously consider announcing that they are to extend their policy immediately to other airports so as to ensure that we guard an airport like Gatwick as well as we guard an airport like Heathrow.

With that proviso we welcome the Bill. The terrorist threat exists in this country and we would be failing in our duty if we did not do all in our power to tackle it.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)

I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) said at the beginning of his speech about the security arrangements at London Airport. One appreciates the secret aspect of many of these arrangements and the fact that by their nature they must remain fairly private to those who administer them, but the hon. Gentleman put a number of questions regarding security on which the Government's reply will be awaited with a good deal of interest.

In recent years I have been a persistent critic of the policing at Heathrow, and for a long time I have advocated transfer of control to the Metropolitan Police, which is now embodied in this sensible Bill. I am bound to recognise that the decision has finally been prompted by security considerations rather than by other reasons which I have advanced from time to time. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can be assured of the satisfaction that the Bill will give to thousands of my constituents living near the airport who will sleep a little more easily because of this change in control, and the proposals will be strongly approved and supported by the work force at Heathrow, which is over 50,000 strong and is increasing all the time. Representatives of the work force have pressed for the change now proposed because they believe that it could have a marked effect for the better in industrial relations at the airport. Heathrow is, after all, a massive industrial conurbation. Those who merely arrive at and depart from the airport—

Mr. Mather

I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that the change proposed would improve industrial relations. Why does he say this? In what way could the change help industrial relations?

Mr. Sandelson

I am grateful to the hon. Member for posing that question. If he will be a little patient and allow me to develop my speech he will find that I shall touch on that theme, and I hope that what I have to say will satisfy him.

As I was saying, Heathrow is a massive industrial conurbation, and the travellers who arrive at and depart from the airport merely touch the glossy surface of a vast and complex industrial zone which has unique characteristics involving special relationships between trade unions, the employer companies and the British Airports Authority management.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

My hon. Friend says that the workers' representatives—I presume that he alludes to the trade unions—are in favour of this transfer. Will he tell the House to which of the trade unions, particularly their leaders, he is referring?

Mr. Sandelson

Certainly. Over the last three years I have been in constant touch with the liaison committee—the London Airport Joint Shop Stewards Consultative Committee—in regard to these matters concerning policing at Heathrow. It is because that committee, on innumerable occasions, has criticised the existing policing arrangements at Heathrow that, very much at the committee's behest as well as a result of my inquiries into the situation at Heathrow, I have been not only a persistent critic of the existing police arrangements but a persistent advocate of transfer of police control to the Metropolitan Police. It is, therefore, with some personal knowledge of trade union feelings on this subject that I am able to say that they welcome the transfer of control. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Gentleman cites the opinion of the shop stewards liaison committee, which has from time to time run into little troubles at Heathrow of an industrial nature. Is it also the opinion of the more representative body, the National Joint Council for Civil Aviation?

Mr. Sandelson

I cannot speak from personal knowledge of the views of that council, so it would be wrong of me to attempt to do so. But in this short debate—I hope that it will be short—I can only express the feelings and views of those with whom I have been in close touch in recent years, namely, the London Airport Joint Shop Stewards Consultative Committee. As the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) has just alluded to this matter, may I say that there have been unfortunate occasions when the BAA Constabulary has found itself in the middle of industrial disputes at Heathrow. Rightly or wrongly, its members have sometimes been blamed for exacerbating relations on the industrial front, and this has caused resentment and ill-feeling which has not assisted police administration.

At this stage, it would be churlish to dwell too much on incidents in the past of the kind to which I have just referred. But certainly in recent years the vesting of control in the hands of a special constabulary appointed by the management and ultimately responsible to the management has been a hindrance to good industrial relations generally at the airport.

The BAA police were placed in a most invidious position in being regarded as agents of the authority, and an impossible burden was, therefore, imposed on them. I hope that many of the BAA Constabulary will, however, continue to serve at the airport as members of the Metropolitan Police. As I understand it, they will have to match up to the standards of entry into the Metropolitan force. Even bearing in mind the manpower shortage to which my hon. Friend the Minister alluded, I hope that the Metropolitan Police will not lower those standards of entry simply in order to increase recruitment from the present constabulary, because it is on precisely those high standards in the regular force which will be operating in future at the airport that we shall rely for a much better police administration than we have had previously.

Inevitably, this major international centre of freight and passenger transportation generates a certain amount of crime. I do not think that there is any evidence to suggest that crime at Heathrow is out of proportion to similar types of crime at other major airports in the world; but, inevitably, vast quantities of cargo, luggage and valuables are constantly in movement and, therefore, there are thefts on a considerable scale. Airport employees sometimes come under suspicion. Searches have to be made of the person and of the home. These are very personal processes. It is all to the good that henceforth they will be conducted by the regular police, with all their experience and training in these matters.

It will also mean a great deal to those working at Heathrow that in future they will be dealing with police who are independent of any other part of the airport administration and who can be called to account should they go beyond normal police powers and procedures. This will be a new and welcome state of affairs at the airport.

I make an urgent plea to the Minister. There is a vital necessity for formal consultative machinery at the airport between the new police administration, the trade union representatives and the management. My hon. Friend the Minister told us that informal discussions had been taking place between the Metropolitan Police and the trade unions. I must tell her that again in regard to this matter the Joint Shop Stewards Consultative Committee has been in touch with me. It cannot pretend that at this time it is at all satisfied that sufficient consultation of a formal, satisfactory and genuinely productive nature has been agreed on and is likely to come into effect.

Therefore, I urge on my hon. Friend the need for formal consultative machinery. Trade unions at Heathrow work through this committee. It is a key body which it would be extremely rash for the police to ignore in the course of assuming their new administrative controls. The trade unions are anxious to enter into consultative arrangements with the police at an early stage. It would be to the advantage of all concerned, in both the short term and the long term, if the police were to agree to the setting up of a formal consultative body which could meet regularly to discuss the special problems they will certainly encounter when they assume control.

The police are entering not just new territory but a special industrial field, a rather sensitive one, with work codes and conventions peculiar to itself. I assure the commissioner that there is a great deal of good will towards the Metropolitan Police at this stage on the part of the trade unions at Heathrow. I know personally the two officers principally concerned in the transfer arrangements—Commander Payne and Chief Superintendent Moore—and I have every confidence in them. They are police officers of the highest calibre. I am sure that their task would be made much easier now and in the future if they would make the trade unions participants in this new police venture and, by regular consultation with their representatives, gain the immediate confidence of the huge work force which is present at Heathrow at all times of the day and night.

That is my plea tonight to the Minister. I hope that this proposal will not be rejected simply on the ground that it would involve a novel departure from normal police procedures. The police are assuming duties which are, as they will soon realise, if they do not already appreciate it, of a most unusual nature, and an innovation of this kind would be a practical and worthwhile step.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

At the outset I should declare two interests which I have in the Bill. One is a financial interest as the adviser to the British Airports Police Federation. The other is an interest which is still very much in my heart—that of securing air commerce against terrorism.

I greatly regret the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson). I thought that during it he used the right word himself—"churlish". His was a churlish speech. The implication was that there were members of the British Airports Authority Constabulary who do not, or could not, measure up to the standards of the Metropolitan Police.

Mr. Sandelson

That is right.

Mr. Tebbit

That is not true.

Mr. Sandelson

Yes it is.

Mr. Tebbit

If the hon. Member says that it is true, perhaps he will list the names of the gentlemen he says are not up to standard, and on what grounds they are not up to standard.

Mr. Sandelson

That would be churlish.

Mr. Tebbit

It is even more churlish to make a wild generalised accusation without having the courage to particularise it.

Mr. Sandelson

The hon. Member is entitled to a more serious reply than I have so far given him. I remind him of one incident, although I do not want to dwell on history in any detail. I could relate a number of incidents and a number of people, but I do not think that the House is particularly interested in spending overlong on this aspect of the matter. There was a demonstration at Heathrow on 1st November 1971 which resulted in the BAA Constabulary allowing dogs, supposedly under its control and certainly in its charge, to go for workers who were engaged at Heathrow in a peaceful industrial dispute. As a result of that action on the part of the BAA Constabulary it was felt necessary to set up an inquiry. That was conducted by the Chief Constable of Surrey, Mr. Matthews. His report would make very interesting reading for the hon. Member. He took a strong view, certainly in personal conversations with me, about the behaviour of the BAA police on that occasion.

Mr. Tebbit

I notice that the hon. Member has to bring in a private conversation as part of the evidence in this matter.

Mr. Sandelson

It is true, none the less.

Mr. Tebbit

I take it that the hon. Member will not be satisfied unless some members of the constabulary are excluded from employment.

Mr. Sandelson rose—

Mr. Tebbit

I do not think we should proceed further in this direction. The hon. Member suggested that the consultation should be with the shop stewards liason committee. That organisation does not represent anything like all the workers concerned, whereas the national joint council is representative of all the workers. If there is to be any consultation, I trust that it will be with the official body and not with the unofficial one. On more than one occasion the unofficial body has been in conflict with the official bodies.

Having got that off my chest I come back to the main point of the Bill. The damnation of faint praise is well known and I shall have to give the Bill the cool welcome which, if it does not condemn it, at least implies that I am not overexcited about it. I accept the need for the Bill. It springs not only from the rise of international political terrorism but from the way in which that terrorism has been handled, the way in which it has been nurtured and nourished by the habitual capitulations of Governments to terrorism. All Governments have fallen into this trap, and I make no partisan point.

There has also been a serious level of conventional crime at Heathrow—the place is occasionally referred to among shippers by the unhappy name "Thief-row"—and that crime has undoubtedly been encouraged to no small extent by the attitude of many employers who have preferred pilferage to develop into the sort of plunder that is endemic in some seaports rather than risk industrial disruption that could be fomented by changes of working practice designed to act against the conditions that allow that crime to develop.

One does not have to accuse those who practise industrial disruption of being involved in the crime, but any change in these work patterns, let alone dismissals of men, is a good enough cause for disruption. To recognise, as the Bill does and as the Minister did, that a small force of only 500 men is increasingly in need of support in dealing with these problems is not to criticise the men of the force or the original decision to set up the force, a decision made in very different circumstances from those the force now faces. It would be unwise to start to debate the weakness of the defences against terrorism at Heathrow or anywhere else. I know some of them, and the Under-Secretary of State for Trade is probably familiar with most of them. We would make nothing easier by trading those stories across the Floor.

I am not sure that it is right to assume that the threat is much greater at Heathrow than at other airports. If I wished to indulge in that form of terrorism I might well choose to go to the easier airport to bust into rather than the most difficult one. Therefore, we cannot assume that Heathrow is the only one under threat.

Subject to the clearing up of some matters which are minor to the Bill but major to those people affected, and subject to a few matters of more general concern, I intend to help have the Bill on the statute book before the recess. After all, we might have a General Election during the recess, and I should not like to deprive the Under-Secretary of the pleasure of helping to get one Bill on to the statute book before his ministerial career is cut short. Therefore, we must make haste.

It is matter of regret to me only that the Home Office and the Scottish Office have not been able to help put the Bill on the statute book as much as I intend to do. I wrote to the Home Secretary about the serious problem raised by the Bill for the men involved, not at Heathrow in particular. I wrote on 15th May and received a reply on 13th June. There is a Latin tag familiar to the more learned hon. Members about justice needing to be swift. The Home Office might reflect on it. The speed of its reply was not impressive, but the reply was understanding and courteous. I was invited to discuss the problems with Lord Harris, who was as helpful as he could be, and the reply was from the Secretary of State himself.

But my letter to the Secretary of State for Scotland received treatment that must be meat and drink to any Scottish Nationalist. I wrote on 21st May in terms designed to let the right hon. Gentleman clear up the uncertainty which had been caused by his reply on 16th May to a Question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart). It took another Question to get any response at all. Eventually, on 21st June, precisely a month later, I received a letter that told me of the existence of the Bill—which I had noticed—and reiterated the reply to my right hon. Friend which had caused the uncertainty in the first place.

Nor did any inquiry about possible redundancies caused by direct Government action merit the attention of the Secretary of State himself. He passed it on to a junior Minister. Are we determined to get rid of Scotland from the United Kingdom? Where are all those fine deeds to go with the fine words about consultation with the workers? Is the Bill what one could call the thick edge of the Wedgwood-Bennery?

The BAA Constabulary has about 500 officers, of whom close on 400 are at Heathrow. The general position of those men is clear. Although there are serious matters still to be agreed, their transfer to the Metropolitan Police should not be too difficult. But the remainder of the men—the 100 or so scattered over another four airports—do not know what will happen to them. They were not asked whether they wished this change to be made. They have been consulted in a roundabout way after the event but not before. We now understand the need to act quickly, but surely there must be something which can be said more positively than was said this evening. It is clear that the BAA could not operate a force of less than 100 men, and it is clear that those men are threatened by redundancy. Will the Secretary of State be able to direct himself under Clause 1, which is quite restrictive, to bring those men into their local police forces? The Bill says that he can do so if he considers that the policing of that aerodrome should, in the interests of the preservation of the peace and the prevention of crime… It does not say "in the interests of preserving the jobs of the men involved".

Will the Secretary of State be able to direct that it is in the interests of the preservation of the peace and the prevention of crime that the four other airfields should become designated airfields? Surely he must know that now. If he does not, should he not have taken steps to find out before tonight? I seek at least the assurance that the Secretary of State will guarantee that these men will be offered continuing employment on terms no less favourable than those which they enjoy today and which would not be in any doubt but for the Bill.

There are a lot of detailed matters where the Bill might run into a little rough water. I shall undoubtedly have to raise the use of the word "may" in Clause 6(2)(c), (d) and (e).

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) has raised a number of serious points about security. In the interest of brevity I shall refrain from pulling the leg of the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State on the issue of civil liberties, about which he waxed so strongly during our debates in Committee on the Protection of Aircraft Bill. I hope that he enjoys reading some of the briefs from his advisers who wrote the briefs for my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), particularly on the matter of what is or is not a constable. I am glad that we shall all be able to agree on that this time.

There is one other matter that must be raised which is particularly a Home Office point. The new Metropolitan division which will be formed as a result of the Bill will cover more than Heathrow. It will have, as I understand it, a force of some 200 men outside the airport as well as those on the airport. I understand that it will be in every respect a normal police division. Will the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis use the division for such purposes as controlling demonstrations and for cup finals? It will be tempting so do so, because, if the airport has a police force which is adequate to defend itself against the terrorist threat, for most of the time the airport will be over-policed. There will be a perhaps near-irresistible temptation to pull out men from the airport to an embankment demo whenever that arises. Of course, that would be just the time when any intelligent terrorist would strike.

I wish to refer to the costs of policing and how the Bill will affect the British Airports Authority. At Heathrow the Home Secretary will have power to fix charges for the policing by his own police force. I would be grateful if the hon. Lady would give some other examples of a similar nature.

Dr. Summerskill

One example is the policing of football grounds. They are private property, and if the football authorities want the police to be there in case a disturbance arises, they pay the police for the service.

Mr. Tebbit

I thank the hon. Lady for that example, but it is not an exact parallel, because the Home Secretary has not directed that they shall have this particular police force to carry out that operation or arranged the scale on which it should be carried out. There is a little doubt there, and it is causing concern to the British Airports Authority.

With those reservations—and others which I shall seek to raise, I hope, in more detail in Committee—I think the Bill can be given a cool welcome.

It is a cause for some concern that police forces are being brought into a large industrial complex—a force which is not particularly adjusted to operating in the day-to-day atmosphere of industrial relations.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

My hon. Friend will recognise that it is not simply a question of ordinary, everyday crime with which we are dealing here. There is the constant menace of terrorism and sabotage that makes it different from other industrial complexes.

Mr. Huckfield

I absolutely agree. This is my next point. Irrespective of the fact that the prime motive in this transfer of authority to the Metropolian Police is to deal with terrorism—I do not question the need to deal with such activities at all—we cannot escape the conclusion that in its activities to counter terrorism the Metropolitan Police will become involved in day-to-day industrial relations at Heathrow.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I must say that, unlike my normal attitude to the remarks of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), on this occasion I agree with a great deal of his speech on this Bill. I speak as a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union, which has the negotiating rights for the majority of workers, particularly industrial workers, at Heathrow.

The official union view, I say advisedly, is nowhere near as favourable to the transfer as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) would have the House believe. There is a great deal of concern about this transfer, not only because of the manner in which it has been carried out, but because of some of the far-reaching consequences which it ultimately could have. There is a recognition that the chief constable in the areas concerned will ultimately have responsibility, and there is also a recognition that there will be some recourse to the Secretary of State.

There is a great deal of wonderment and bewilderment as to whether this kind of machinery during the transfer process will satisfy all the questions asked and all the issues raised. Surely it is during the transfer, and not after it, that a great many of these issues will have to be sorted out. Although consultative machinery will be established at Heathrow after the transfer has taken place, it is while the transfer is going on that there is a great deal of concern and dissension.

Heathrow is not just the busiest international airport in the world. It is also a very busy industrial complex. It employs some 51,000 workers. I wonder, for example, whether Ford's of Dagenham, or any other large industrial concerns, would admit the Metropolitan Police with the degree of equanimity which has been displayed by both Front Benches in this debate.

There will have to be a number of security precautions taken, a number of interviews, discussions, negotiations on work practices, about standing in certain positions when people come on to aircraft and leave aircraft. These are already part of established work practices, and I cannot see how the Metropolitan Police, even though it may be concerned with the more global, international aspects of terrorism, can avoid these day-to-day, routine, workplace operations.

Although some of the workers may regard the BAA police as part of the management at Heathrow, many of the workers there recognise that the BAA police have negotiating machinery with the management alongside their own. Just as the majority of workers at Heathrow see themselves negotiating with the management, they recognise that the BAA police have to negotiate with the management. To that extent it cannot be said that the workers at Heathrow see the police as a direct agent of the management. One of the features which have emerged, thanks to those who have done some forward thinking in the General Workers Union, is that in the event of any kind of dispute or major query there is the right to go straight to the top of the British Airports Authority and see the Chief Executive and Chairman.

This has eased the difficulties which arose, for example, during the dog-handling incident over the GAS dispute at Heathrow. I wonder whether the trade union negotiators or national officers responsible would have had the same ease of access to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Mr. Sandelson

I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware that on the occasion of the dog-handling incident it was not only the trade unions who were able to have access to the top management of the BAA. A number of others, outside the trade union structure, because of the seriousness of the incident, made immediate representations to the Chairman of the BAA. In the event of a similar incident occurring those same people, and I include Members of Parliament, would have equal access to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Mr. Huckfield

Sir Robert Mark is a busy man. I admire him for his business. He has done a great deal for the metropolis since he took over. I cannot see him having sufficient time to pay the same meticulous attention to detail as the Chief Executive and the Chairman of the BAA paid to that incident. It was their job.

To make this transfer at a time when the manpower of the Metropolitan Police is severely stretched by incidents such as the one which occurred in this House a week ago, by demonstrations and additionally imposed duties, only adds to the burdens of the Metropolitan Police.

According to the Front Bench, the transfer will be fairly smooth, but the medical examination for the Metropolitan Police is stricter, the discipline of the Metropolitan Police is stricter and the career structure is slightly different. Will the people who have got fairly high up the BAA structure be allowed the ease of transfer which has been described from the Front Bench? The easy way out for some experienced senior BAA police may be to join one of the private security organisations. There may be ease of transfer for a man who has not been in the BAAC for long, but there will not be for a man who has given almost a lifetime's service to the BAAC.

Anyone who has had constituency cases involving the transfer of police pensions—whether Palestinian police, Scottish police or even police cadets—knows that this is a very complicated matter.

Mr. Tebbit

This difficult question is easily solved if we all agree that service counts year for year in either police force. I hope that the Minister will be able to give that assurance. That would not be terribly expensive, and it would be wise to have that arrangement to ensure that the transfer is made smoothly.

Mr. Huckfield

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point, with which I agree—that is not a frequent practice of mine. Despite these queries and objections, the Transport and General Workers' Union realises that the transfer is taking place, and everyone at the airport will do his best to facilitate the transfer.

A major bone of contention with regard to security at Heathrow is the employment of private security organisations. One organisation—for want of a better word—was supposed to be protecting certain parts of the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. The members of that organisation have been far more in evidence after the bomb than they ever were before. I am led to believe that at Heathrow they are much more in evidence after an incident than they were before.

Bearing in mind how private security organisations get recruits, the minimal training given to those recruits and the complaints procedure, which is almost non-existent, I feel very uneasy, as do the majority of workers in the Heathrow complex and in airports throughout the country, about the continued use of private security organisations at Heathrow, not only for Home Office work hut for baggage checks and even searching passengers.

If there is one thing which has really led to continuation of some of the major grievances at Heathrow, it is the fact that there still exist there a substantial number of private security organisations which have to be depended upon but do not enjoy the same standards of recruitment, conduct and discipline. I hope that my hon. Friend will have more to say about what is to happen to the private security organisations, since neither Front Bench mentioned them in opening the debate.

The whole raison d'étre of this Bill is that there seems to be some lack of coordination between the Metropolitan Police and the BAAC. Is my hon Friend saying that the top policemen do not talk together? Is she saying that they do not get together? Is she saying that the Metropolitan Police have a certain range of skills which the BAAC could not possibly possess even if it tried?

It is my experience, in the light of the major concern at Heathrow recently—major operations such as the ringing of the airport by the Army and the police and other anti-terrorist operations—that there is a great deal of co-ordination, particularly at the top. I am dubious about the claim of lack of co-ordination which my hon. Friend seems to think exists. Surely there is great scope for the men of both police forces, particularly at the top, to get together without all the difficulties and problems involved in the complete take-over of Heathrow by the Metropolitan Police.

I stress again the need to involve all the unions at the Heathrow complex. One cannot get away from the fact that Heathrow has not had an entirely continuously happy industrial record. There have been difficulties. All sorts of accusations are flung around. In the atmosphere of recrimination which still tends to exist from time to time, this is a particularly tricky moment to transfer most of the policing duties from the BAAC, which the men know in the main, to the Metropolitan Police Force, which the men do not know.

As I have said, the T & GWU accepts that this transfer will go through, and I am sure that during the transfer and once it has taken place all the workers will do their best to facilitate the arrangements for the future. But I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us rather more reassurance than we have had so far, particularly about the future rôle of private security organisations.

11.4 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) expressed surprise that from neither Front Bench had he heard reference to the use of private security forces at Heathrow. He will not be surprised that it was my intention, on behalf of the Liberal Party, to refer to the subject.

I agree with the Under-Secretary of State that the Bill is not fundamentally one of contention between the parties, and it will enjoy general support. I am happy to give a general welcome to it.

I welcome the Bill on two grounds. The first is the concern of everyone to improve airport security in the context of violence and terrorism in particular; the second is that it is generally undesirable to make widespread use of what I might call secondary police forces, not accountable through the channels through which public police forces are accountable, in areas where the public is frequently involved and to which it has access. To that extent, the fact that Heathrow Airport is private property seems to me to take second place to the far more important point that an airport, like any transport undertaking, is a place to which the general public has frequent access in very large numbers. That again is a point to which I shall return.

I deal first with airport security and primarily with Heathrow, to which most reference has been made so far, especially because that is a decision which has already been announced. It has been indicated that this power will be used at Heathrow. However, many of the same security considerations apply to other airports, some of which come under the jurisdiction of local police forces and others of which are outside the jurisdiction of the British Airports Authority and have their own small local airport police forces.

We have been interested to learn how far the Minister is prepared to go to deal with the remnants of British Airports Authority police left at other airports, but there are airports with increasing international traffic which are under the control of local authorities, to which this Bill can apply, and in which these security considerations are no less important. It has been pointed out that to leave these places without adequate security would be an invitation to terrorists to divert their attention from Heathrow.

I do not suggest that adequate security cannot be provided by means other than the use of public police forces, but if that is argued in relation to Heathrow the same must be argued in relation to other airports with international traffic. There is a strong case for a general review of security at all British airports, and it needs to be undertaken at a fairly high level.

To return to Heathrow, surely it is important in the future that there should be only one authority there in charge of security. At present, the airport suffers from having four different kinds of security force. It has the British Airports Authority Constabulary. It has the Metropolitan Police Force, in so far as it has been involved when there have been major incidents or generalised security risks. It has the security men employed by individual airlines. Then there are the private firms involved there. The result has been a lack of overall supervision and coordination of security, and, as has been pointed out already, security cannot be compartmentalised.

There is general agreement that a single control of security such as that which the Metropolitan Police could provide is highly desirable. It is to be hoped that when they assume these duties, as seems likely, they will be able to further the review of security in some detail and that it will be possible to spend a good deal of money and effort on the review. The British Airports Authority, creditably, earns a great deal of money for the country, but, unless some of it is spent on security, the profits will be earned at the expense of the safety of the public and of its employees.

What has been tried so far, and the experiments which have been conducted have illustrated it, is that we have to go a great deal further. We have had the show of strength about how we might deal with a major terrorist problem. We have had snap checks on cars and people entering the airport. But a snap check on a single entrance to the airport is very unsatisfactory when people can see what is going on and simply move to another entrance. What we need is a really extensive security review.

Anyone who considers airport security is bound to reflect on his own experience in travelling abroad and looking at airports elsewhere. In Brussels and Amsterdam, for example, it is the police who carry out searches of people getting on to aircraft. It is the police who carry out checks on passengers, and not members of private security services.

That leads me to the second reason why I support the Bill. It is the desirability of entrusting security dealings with the public to a publicly accountable police force so far as possible. It is desirable that any aspect involving the policing of the general public should as far as possible be carried out by a public police force. It is generally undesirable to have people who are dressed like policemen, who look like policemen and who are thought to be policemen, but who are not in the same legal position and the same position of accountability as the police, dealing in a widespread way with the general public. The rights of the public to accountability and the kind of complaints procedure that many of us hope will be improved in the police service are involved. The confidence of the public in the people with whom they deal on security matters is also involved. It is difficult for any member of the general public to repose the same confidence in the representative of a private security organisation as in a policeman subject to normal accountability.

On grounds of co-ordination there are strong arguments for policing not to be placed in the hands of secondary police forces. There are also problems for the policemen themselves in being treated as second-class policemen. Members of quasi or secondary police forces often have cause for complaint about pay and conditions. I was recently involved in representations on behalf of Ministry of Defence police over the vexed question whether they could get parity with the public police on pay and conditions.

Obviously, there are advantages where work is of a highly specialised character or is internal in having a separate and specialised police force. But there has been a trend away from this kind of police force. For example, in the North-East the River Tyne police, once a separate force, are now part of the local police in the area. The Bill carries on that trend.

It was disturbing to some of us recently, in the Committee on Unopposed Bills, to be asked to grant an extension of powers almost identical to those in Clause 3. It is astonishing that anyone should express great surprise at the nature of powers when they are a standard feature of certain other areas of legislation, but we were asked to extend the powers of the British Transport Commission's police force in a Private Bill dealing primarily with the British Transport docks. I should have thought that this legislation, dealing in effect with transport policing, would have been the proper place to provide the powers of search and detention of vehicles by private police forces. It might have been desirable to bring other transport undertakings under the public police force if the same powers had been provided to them as are proposed for the airports. Indeed, it might have been desirable and not altogether difficult to consolidate the policing of all transport undertakings in this Bill instead of in undesirable private legislation by giving similar opportunities for the jurisdiction of the public police force to be extended in that direction.

I would not go so far as to suggest that this Bill dealt adequately with the whole problem of private security organisations. However, it would not be right to allow this opportunity to pass without asking the Government to look carefully at those organisations, to consider their position when the Metropolitan Police Force takes over responsibility at Heathrow, and to consider their position if similar provision is not made at other airports.

Mr. Tebbit

I certainly recognise that the Government will no doubt look at the position of security organisations, and they will be right to do so. But it is important to emphasise that the routine search of passengers and baggage is the kind of task that the policeman, as we know him, detests. It is wasteful of the particularly high qualities in the men normally engaged in the police force. It is a difficult problem.

Mr. Beith

I recognise and appreciate the point made by the hon. Gentleman, particularly in the context of police manpower shortages. The answer to the problem may lie in the development of a force which is more under the control or supervision of the police than private security organisations now are and which, at the same time, recognises the difference in skills required for specific baggage check operations and those for the wider range of duties which normally fall to a police constable.

I ask the Under-Secretary of State to deal with that aspect and with the wider question of what will happen at other airports, and to give the Government's view about the secondary police sector and the existence of a separate transport police force. I ask the Minister to bear in mind that the notion that airports and places of public transport are private property must always be seen in the context that they are places to which large numbers of the public have frequent resort and at which they are exposed to considerable danger.

11.21 p.m.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

I think that I am the only Member tonight, apart from the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who has no direct interest in the Bill, and particularly Heathrow. I am, as it were, an outsider looking in. I live near the airport on one side and my constituency lies very near it on the other, and we suffer from the airport for different reasons from those in the Bill.

If I understood the speech of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson), he was saying that Heathrow is a no-go area for police operations if those operations do not concur with certain requirements which are laid down by the joint shop stewards committee.

Mr. Sandelson rose—

Mr. Mather

That was the impression that the hon. Gentleman gave, and perhaps he will allow me to continue and intervene later if he still feels it necessary to do so.

I think that the BAAC has been fighting a losing battle over the last few years against increasing odds of one sort and another. The airport has an employed population of 52,000 and has to deal with 20 million travellers or visitors every year. It is equivalent in size to Slough, and the crime rate is appalling. With all that, it has its own private police force, the BAAC. There is nothing wrong with that, but over the years it has been overwhelmed by odds of various kinds, and the first one that one thinks of, apart from the terrorist aspect, is that of crime. Official figures put the losses at about £1 million a year, but unofficial estimates say that losses from thefts amount to between £5 million and £10 million. The airlines themselves, unfortunately, have not been as cooperative as they might have been with the BAAC. Their interests lie elsewhere. Apparently they have their public image to think of, and losses from thefts can be recovered from insurance.

Everyone knows the nature of the thefts. There are the ordinary bag thieves, those who pinch people's luggage in transit or from aircraft. There are those who plunder the freight sheds, apparently with great success and with little difficulty. Finally, there are the smugglers of drugs, literature and arms. It is a tall order to ask about 400 men to cope with all those problems.

The police are also fighting union militancy at Heathrow, which is one of the worst in the country. The subject of industrial relations has been of great concern to the BAA, and the worst aspect of it is the direct confrontation between workers at London Airport and the police. As so often happens, the police do their job, the unions object for one reason or another, and before one knows what is happening there is a strike situation. The police are castigated as creatures of the BAA, but that is entirely untrue, because once they have taken the oath of allegiance they are officers of the Crown. They have been subject to pressure not only from below but from above. There are, below, the shop stewards going in arguing the toss whenever one of their members is detained for questioning and, on top, the employers inquiring what has happened to the man concerned, who may be involved in a vital operation. Therefore, there has been pressure on the constabulary from two quarters. There is a likelihood in some cases that unions might go on strike, thus causing major disruption at the airport, affecting flight schedules and passengers. Thus, the pressures on the constabulary for a quiet life are very high. Their devotion to duty, under these circumstances, has been exemplary. Blackmail or pressures from the unions on the employers, the British Airports Authority, can indeed be a potent weapon.

The most important aspect is that of terrorism and its escalation over the years. The airport constabulary was formed only in 1966, in circumstances very different from those of today. One would never have believed then, or even up to two or three years ago, that terrorism would at all be a factor to be considered, or that it would have escalated in the way it has, involving hijacking, massacres at airport buildings, bombs in airport car parks, or the latest attempt by terrorists to launch a missile from the area of the airport surroundings. In those circumstances it is right that the Metropolitan Police should now be involved and should take over duties at the airport, but this will not necessarily stop the activities of terrorists until such times as Governments internationally decide to stand up to terrorism and are prepared to take the short-term consequences in looking to the long-term considerations, including the lives which may be saved. Until this happens and until there are proper penalties against terrorists, terrorism will continue.

I certainly support the death penalty not only for death caused through terrorist action but for acts of terrorism on their own, but I realise that other people do not agree with this. However, if there cannot be international agreement on these lines there can, at least, be national example.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) referred to the difficulties of security in places like Heathrow Airport, where there are thousands of acres, an enormous perimeter and much desolate land surrounding the airport area.

Security operations began at Heathrow Airport on 4th January against the supposed use of a missile by terrorists. I must declare an interest because I live within the area concerned. The security operations were on a massive scale, and I do not think that there can be too much praise for those who took part in them for many weeks. But I said at the time to the then Government, and I say it again now, that there ought to be more public information about what is taking place during such operations. There were a lot of wild rumours and Press reports when the security operations were taking place. Nobody knew what was happening. People saw tanks charging around the airport. They were not told why the tanks were there: that this happened to be a battalion on stand-by duty, an armoured battalion, which accounted for the tanks. It would be to the public good if more information were made available as to exactly what was happening on such occasions. There is a lesson here which would help in taking action against terrorists. If we are to fight against and defeat terrorism, we must enlist the aid of the public. We have seen this sort of lesson throughout history.

I make two practical points regarding the terrorist threat. In respect of the IRA, it would be very simple to institute travel documents for people from both the South and the North of Ireland. It would have to be done simultaneously. It would not necessarily mean carrying passports or identity cards—although I believe that to be desirable. All that is necessary is that embarkation cards be completed by passengers from the north and the south of Ireland arriving in England. This has been done without comment for a period of about a month at Gatwick. This practical step could easily be instituted.

My other point concerns the chain of ministerial responsibility. There is a division here. I understand that the Department of Trade is responsible for security at London Airport but the actual police operations are the responsibility of the Home Secretary. If it came to a major terrorist attack at London Airport in which hostages were taken and quick decisions had to be made, which Minister would have ultimate responsibility? The time during which such decisions would have to be taken would probably be very short. It must be known now who has the immediate responsibility for taking such decisions.

When considering the BAA, another aspect of airport security which we ought to consider is the large number of unlicensed airfields up and down the country. If we are plugging the gap at the BAA airports, we are leaving many holes open at other airports which are available to light aircraft. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise has various categories for these airports. The main one is Category A, at which there is a 24-hour customs watch. Category B involves a 12-hour customs watch, or one can give 12 hours' warning of arrival or departure. Category C involves no customs coverage, except when 24 hours' warning is given of arrival or departure. These airfields are not guarded, neither are they under direct surveillance.

Apart from those categories there are concession airfields, or what used to be called "business user airfields", of which there is a large number where, again, no one is in attendance. The 24-hour warning system is used, as with the other category. These airfields are used by many British firms. Commonwealth citizens who are members of British firms can use them for leaving this country and arriving here. There are also disused airfields and private airfields. This is a great problem. As the Minister knows, these airfields are used every day illegally to fly people in and out of this country without let or hindrance and without surveillance. This is a great and additional problem.

In addition, there are 20,000 British pilot's licences, mostly for light aircraft. There will be 60,000 by 1980. There are about 4,000 renewals of these licences annually. It is not generally known that holders of British licences can be of any nationality. Numbers of present holders of British licences have had their training in the USSR and have converted to a British licence. People ought to be alerted to these facts, and it ought to be known that these are being used daily for the very purposes in respect of which we are now plugging Heathrow.

Mr. Sandelson

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. As he referred earlier to some remarks that I made during my speech, I should like to comment on the matter if he will allow me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order, I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not about to make a second speech. This is a Second Reading debate, and he has exhausted his right to speak.

Mr. Sandelson

I take your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish simply to correct one point which the hon. Gentleman made. He suggested that I said that Heathrow was essentially a no-go area for the police, save with the permission of the Joint Shop Stewards' Consultative Committee. I made no such suggestion. What I was saying—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry, but we heard what the hon. Gentleman was saying the first time. If he is asking a question of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), that is one thing, but it would keep us here until the morning if every hon. Member went on to make further observations.

Mr. Sandelson

That is the last thing I would wish, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall perhaps have further opportunities to raise these points in Committee.

Mr. Mather

I said that that was the impression which I gained from the hon. Gentleman, and I am glad that he has cleared up the matter.

Anti-terrorism is not a job for the police alone. The public must be educated and their help enlisted. The effort of all the people is needed to beat terrorism, and the lessons of history have shown this. It cannot be beaten without the help of all the people. This Bill is an inevitable step, and a step in the right direction.

11.37 p.m.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

The ground has been well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) and by others. I echo the questions to the Government asked by hon. Members on this side of the House, particularly about the Government's plans for any necessary strengthening of the Metropolitan Police at Heathrow and about the relationship between the new division which will cover Heathrow and the rest of the Metropolitan Police's work. Pertinent questions have been asked about the rights of the individuals concerned, on which we should like further assurances. We should also like assurances about the Government's intention to continue standing absolutely firm in the face of terrorism and to ensure that there is the maximum information to and maximum co-operation with the public in any emergency.

I hope that we shall have clarification of the important point about ministerial responsibility, which, I understand, in a major terrorist emergency rests with the Home Secretary. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State would say something on that.

We support the Bill, and we should like to pay tribute to the steps taken in recent years by the British Airports Authority and to the work done by individual members of the BAA police.

While we are making a job of this, let us be thorough about it. These are unprecedented times. There is the growth of terrorism, of drug traffic and of illegal immigration in addition to the increase in theft. Our response to all these unhappy trends must be effective and must be seen to be effective.

I give two examples of what I have in mind. First, I underline what has been said by a number of hon. Members. In addition to dealing with this problem in relation to Heathrow—perhaps we have been over-concerned with Heathrow, important though it is, in the debate—let us consider other BAA and non-BAA airports where similar threats may arise.

The hon. Lady said that the Government were waiting to consider proposals from the authority on which other air ports might be designated. This is not good enough. It is for the Government to make a full assessment of the potential threat from terrorism and other sources at any airport in any category in the United Kingdom, and then make up their minds as rapidly as possible about which airports—BAA and others—should be designated in the first list. If in doubt, the Government should designate. While we are at it, what about the airports in Northern Ireland, particularly Alder-grove? I hope that—if not this evening, at any rate before the Bill leaves this House—the Government will be able to go much further than they have tonight in making clear what are their immediate intentions about designation.

My second example of maximum throughness is more a point of detail, arising chiefly on Clause 3. Are we absolutely satisfied that the powers of search are sufficient? I know that we are transplanting into the Bill some parts of the 1965 and 1968 Acts, but the precise arrangements and wordings of those Acts may not necessarily be adequate to the present situation. Probably the powers of search are already adequately covered by general police powers which the Metropolitan Police or any police authority concerned will be able to exercise. However, it is surely a matter not just of search on suspicion of theft, which is the context in which these powers are mentioned in the Bill, but of general powers of search. We must be quite clear that the powers are adequate. We shall certainly wish to return to this point in Committee.

Next I turn to the steps that should be taken in the transition period for the personnel concerned. The Under-Secretary said that the rights of individuals must be fully safeguarded. She and her colleague have heard the concern expressed on both sides of the House. The transition must be made as smooth as possible. The terms must be absolutely fair for those involved. The consultation must be rapid but also comprehensive. If the Minister is able to go a little further in the light of the debate, I am sure we shall all welcome it.

My last point concerns the general position of the Metropolitan Police. Here I come back to the immediate Heathrow concern—but I emphasise again that we have perhaps concentrated too much on Heathrow, and I hope that the Government's vision will be very broad as they make their dispositions and use their powers under the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield said, the Metropolitan Police are being given an additional responsibility. This is a good time for the House to say that it has taken careful and sympathetic note of what was said by the commissioner in his recent annual report.

As we have all been reminded in this place within the last week, the Metropolitan Police are the front line now of the defence of our society and of the democratic values that we have taken for granted for so long in this country. They must be able to count on the absolute support of the House. Any further steps that the Government may be able to take or announce in the near future to bolster and encourage the Metropolitan Police will be backed by this side of the House.

Compared with only a few years ago, there has been a great increase in the problems of countering terrorism and violence by terrorists, illegal immigration and drugs, as well as the more conventional crimes. All this has steadily grown, particularly at our airports, not only Heathrow. On all of these fronts our counter-measures must be adequate. The Opposition therefore want to give the Bill a swift passage, but we want it to be thoroughly scrutinised because we owe it to the public that the legislation must match the threat, and more than match it, not only today but in the years immediately ahead.

11.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

This has been a wide-ranging and most useful debate. The whole House is united in its detestation of terrorists and terrorism and is united in its resolve that all essential steps should be taken to extirpate these foul crimes which endanger so many people and are a constant menace to our whole society. The Bill represents part of the general strategy of dealing with the constant dangers that beset us. I have a number of general points to make in this context.

All aviation security measures are kept under constant review, and if there has been any suggestion in the House tonight to the contrary I wish to make the matter clear. We are certainly concerned to listen to any methods that may be suggested for improving these security measures.

One of the principal ways in which this is done is to consult all interested parties represented on the National Aviation Security Committee. On that are represented Government Departments, the police, the Civil Aviation Authority, the airlines, the airport authorities and trade unions, including the British Air Line Pilots Association. I have attended a meeting of the committee and it was immediately plain to me that the system of effective voluntary co-operation which applies in this sphere, as evidenced by the work of the committee, is one of the most important safeguards we have.

In a sense the committee is only a formal expression of the very close day-to-day working relationship which exists between the security advisers in the Department of Trade and their counterparts outside, the Government and the advisers in the Home Office—and I shall be alluding to the points raised about jurisdictional problems.

Basically my Department at the moment provides advice and guidance to airlines and airport authorities on the current threat and on the necessary countermeasures which have to be taken. The security advisers in the Department have completed a programme of security surveys on all our international airports and they make regular visits to monitor the implementation of their recommendations and the maintenance of existing precautions. We have extended our contacts with overseas airlines which use our airports. Very soon after I became an Under-Secretary it was clear to me that this was something which should be looked at. There were certain airlines which in my judgment were not carrying out their duties as effectively as we wanted. I am glad to say that at Heathrow these airlines have now fully accepted and complied with the requests made to them by us and, indeed, by the previous Government, and there are now 100 per cent. searches of passengers on international scheduled flights, which had not been the case before. I am glad to say, therefore, that we have received their co-operation in that respect, and I am sure that this will continue. It has been done on a voluntary basis.

I have spoken of the co-operation of all the organisations concerned with aviation security, but it is right above all to pay tribute to the full co-operation that has been forthcoming from the public. The travelling public have to face inconvenience, but they do so willingly and I know of very few instances where people would wish to avoid that inconvenience. The balanced, mature and understanding view on the part of the public has made the work of the security organisations that much easier and more effective. I have said that because I am most anxious that it should not be thought that the Government are in any way complacent about security matters. It is right that hon. Members should have referred to the constant menace.

I turn to the speeches made by hon. Members and I start with that of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). His first point was that the Government should not give in to intimidation and violence. I support that view. I rather thought that the hon. Gentleman was seeking to make a party point about that at the beginning of his speech, and I could not help reflecting that the case of Leila Khaled was not a happy augury, because it was not the present Government who surrendered to intimidation and violence.

The hon. Gentleman asked what studies were taking place abroad and by other police forces. There is a constant exchange of information and experience by the police and the security side of the Department of Trade and the Home Office.

On the question of international action, it is sad that the proposals initiated by the hon. Gentleman's Government at Rome, for sanctions against States harbouring aviation terrorists, did not achieve the international support that we would all have desired. I give the undertaking that this Government will continue efforts to achieve an international strategy for dealing with the matter. We shall do that through the International Civil Aviation Organisation or by direct contact, perhaps on a narrower and more isolated basis, with other countries.

The hon. Gentleman asked what was the Government's attitude to the IATA proposals. Those proposals were made quite recently. My Department and I have studied them, and we have already implemented a number of proposals in advance of the IATA proposals. We are also considering the relevance of the IATA proposals to those airports which essentially deal with charter flights. I cannot go into specific detail on matters which affect security in this way, because it would not be helpful to do so. It is the practice of successive Governments, rightly, not to deal with matters of security in specific terms on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Norman Fowler

I was asking the hon. Gentleman about three specific proposals in the IATA eight-point plan on the employment of uniformed and armed officers. I accept that one does not want to discuss security questions on the Floor of the House, but as the whole point of the proposal is to have police obviously armed I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has given a full explanation or answer. All I want to know is whether the Government are considering proposals in that regard.

Mr. Davis

We are, of course, considering recommendations that are made after considered judgment. I have already indicated a number of recommendations that were implemented before they were made by IATA. For example, there is an armed presence at London Airport as far as the police are concerned. We have no intention of abandoning that situation.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred to the police strength which was to be deployed at London Airport and the undermanning of the Metropolitan Police in general. He will forgive me if I as a junior Minister in the Department of Trade do not become very much involved and do not trespass upon the jurisdiction of my hon. Friend in matters involving the undermanning of the Metropolitan Police. Nor do I feel that it would be appropriate for me to become engaged, as the hon. Gentleman invited me rather provocatively to do, in questions concerning police pay. He will recognise that these are matters which the Pay Board is considering. I am surprised that he referred to police pay in such circumstances.

Of course, these matters cannot be considered in isolation from all sorts of difficulties and problems that relate to pay in general terms. The hon. Gentleman said that the Metropolitan Police were overstretched. He is right about that. It is true that they have to deal with problems of terrorism as well as general crime, smuggling and other matters. When the Metropolitan Police take over responsibility for London Airport, as I feel confident they will with the support of the House, there are certain matters that they will have to consider. No doubt they will report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and he will consider the situation. It would be premature for me to make any judgment tonight about that.

The hon. Gentleman asked some questions about the powers of search and arrest. They were also referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) twitted me about my passion for civil liberties. I assure him that that passion has not abated because I have taken office. I care as much for civil liberties now as ever I did in the past. The Bill is doing no more than provide, as my hon. Friend said at the outset, the Metropolitan Police with precisely the same powers as were enjoyed by the BAAC. It is right that that should be the case. It would be futile if the Metropolitan Police were to go in and not be able to enjoy those powers.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield then asked a question which was raised, for example, by the hon. Member for Chingford and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) about what is to happen to the rest of the BAAC. Some people described it somewhat inelegantly as a rump. We have no intention of leaving the situation in limbo. It would, however, have been impossible to have designated other airports at this stage. To do so would have meant that we would have had to engage in long and somewhat arduous consultations with a whole variety of authorities, which would have meant the postponement of the Bill. I cannot believe that that is something that; the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield would have elected to do.

I recognise that there is a real problem which must be dealt with, and it will be dealt with as humanely and realistically as possible. It cannot be that a group of some 80 people can be a viable entity in the long term. They would have no real opportunity for a career structure, and we recognise that there has to be consultation with police authorities and the British Airports Authority. I have had long discussions with the authority about this matter and this is part of a continuing procedure. The power of designation has to be a matter for Parliament after these discussions have taken place. It would be wrong for us to say "We are prepared to designate generally. Give us the power and you will have no opportunity, apart from Question Time, to question any decisions that are made." We say that a right must be reserved to Parliament to say whether a decision which we are making is justified in the circumstances. This matter has been carefully considered by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Police regulations will be amended so that BAAC service may count for pay, promotion and annual leave purposes. These are matters in the first instance for the commissioner to consider. He is now doing that in the light of his earlier undertakings that those who transfer will have security of tenure at Heathrow, will not be required to move their place of residence, will automatically assume the entitlements and promotion opportunities available to all metropolitan officers, and will be able to make themselves available for transfer within the force if they wish to do so. We hope that members of the BAAC will have no hesitation in accepting the situation.

Mr. Tebbit

The Minister rightly says that if a designation order is to be made it must be laid before the House so that the House may debate it. What gives us some concern is the way in which, under the Bill, we cannot debate the fact that a designation order has not been made. The worry I am putting to the hon. Gentleman is that there appears to be no way in which we can raise that matter.

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman must look at the Bill again; it is a point which he is entitled to raise in Committee. My understanding is that one can do both those things. If I am wrong, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will not be slow to criticise me, as he has done in the past on numerous occasions.

I turn to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson). I do not want to enter into any criticism of BAAC. I do not think that would be helpful and I think that by and large over the years it has done a good job. There are criticisms that can be made of any police force—as my hon. Friend, who is a barrister, and I as a solicitor, know only too well. As with any force the majority of its members, perhaps with the exception of black sheep who inevitably are to be found in any organisation, carry out a difficult and sometimes thankless job, sometimes in most arduous conditions. I do not think the BAAC is an exception to that rule.

My hon. Friend rightly said that the decision should be supported by the work force at Heathrow. That was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton. He was anxious that industrial relations should not be impaired by the steps taken in the Bill. He pointed out how necessary it was for there to be adequate consultative machinery involving the work force, the management and the police.

I wish to refer to a number of facts. On Sunday 28th April, immediately before the public announcement, I met John Cousins, the chairman of the joint consultative group, and I believe that I did a great deal to assure him that the anxieties which had been expressed were misplaced. I was anxious to point out, because this is a sensitive area, that the interests of the members of the unions would be safeguarded. I think that when he went away he was satisfied, though I do not claim to have dispelled all his anxieties.

Since then there have been meetings between trade unions and the Chairman of the BAA and Sir Robert Mark. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade will be meeting the unions shortly. Sir Robert Mark held a meeting to explain his policies and intentions on 15th May with the staff side representatives on the joint council.

In the announcement by Sir Robert Mark of the appointment of Commander Payne as commander-designate of the Heathrow force, he gave an assurance that continued trade union participation in the Crime Prevention Committee would be welcome. Commander Payne has also participated alongside the present BAAC Chief Constable in regular joint meetings between management and unions on these matters.

In particular, one of Commander Payne's first appointments has been a superintendent for industrial and commercial relations who will have prime responsibility for the continuing smooth working of the new organisation in its relations with the unions. That appointment is comparable to the rôle that so many police officers play in community relations in many of the London boroughs. I hope that that evidences the bona fides not only of the Government but of the police too. I hope that it will help dispel the anxieties which may have arisen.

There are no additional powers given to the Metropolitan Police over and above those given to the BAAC. I can see no reason which supports the suggestion that what is happening will impinge on the legitimate rights of the employee.

I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Chingford. I do not often agree with him but I concede his expertise on this subject. I suppose I ought not to begrudge him it on this occasion because he gave us general support, although that was a little grudging. I ought not to object if he wants to do a little political whistling in the dark to keep his spirits up. I think I shall be here in November, December, and January—until the Prime Minister thinks that I have served my purpose.

The major crimes to which the hon. Member referred, pilfering in particular, are not matters in respect of which anyone has capitulated. I do not think it is helpful to give that impression. Heathrow does not suffer from this form of crime any more than other international airports. The hon. Member went on to say that he hoped that the division at Heathrow would not be used for ancillary purposes. I have no evidence to suggest that it will be. I am sure that his observations will be borne in mind by the Metropolitan Police. He went on to suggest that at times the airport would be over-policed. The cost of policing was explained by my hon. Friend. It is a complex matter and the hon. Member can raise the subject again in Committee if he wishes.

I have dealt with most of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton on the need to bring in the Metropolitan Police. I emphasise that transfers will be undertaken with humanity, understanding and consultation. It is unfair to compare the situation here with that of other large industrial complexes, because it is exacerbated by terrorism.

On private security organisations, I thought that both my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) cribbed the speech I made on the Protection of Aircraft Bill when, quoting from the New Law Journal, I said: Security firms have become big business and have established an immunity which is incompatible with the rights of the individual. It is time they were cut down to size."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July 1973: Vol 859. c. 1668.] I still take that view.

For that reason, soon after I became Under-Secretary of State my right hon. Friend and I decided to ask the Department to carry out an investigation into the rôle of private security firms in searching passengers and baggage at airports. The report has now been presented to me. It will not be for publication because it relates to security matters which we cannot divulge, but we are looking closely at the observations contained in the report. I see no reason to change my view that there should be a gradual phasing out of private security firms from what is essentially a public domain. But there are problems here which it would be folly to ignore. We have to determine which options are open to us out of a number of options that may be available.

This is not an area in which the police should undertake the searching. We shall have to devise some other means of dealing with it. I cannot promise that this can be dealt with with great rapidity because the most important area of consultation must be with the Metropolitan Police, and I do not want to prejudge their views. I am not happy about the rôle of the private security firms in this respect. I would wish them no longer to fulfil that duty of grounds of accountability, training, selection and so on.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed went on to speak of the division of responsibility between the Department of Trade and the Home Office. That is what the Bill is about. It is to secure unity of command at Heathrow. There will still be a separate rôle for the Department of Trade in that it will still give guidance on a number of matters in which it has expertise, and that works satisfactorily. The essential reason for the change is to secure unity of command at Heathrow. We shall take into account what the hon. Gentleman said about unlicensed airfields elsewhere, which is a matter we keep under constant surveillance.

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) had an overwhelming, compulsion, as he frequently does, to denigrate trade unions. That has not been of assistance in the debate. What he said about militancy at Heathrow naturally—coming from him—was exaggerated. To speak in the way he did does nothing to promote a more peaceful atmosphere. I am not sure that he really wants it.

We are fully aware of the escalation of terrorism, as I have been at pains to point out. I do not propose to enter into the argument about the death penalty, for which the hon. Member has long campaigned. Suffice it to say that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. the Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and I all take the view that the imposition of the death penalty is totally unacceptable and would in this context provoke more problems than it would resolve.

The hon. Member for Cambridge asked about the position at Belfast, including whether the powers of search were sufficient. We believe them to be, but we review the position constantly. Searching there falls into two broad categories. The first is in respect of anti-IRA violence; the second is in respect of anti-hijacking measures. We believe that it is done reasonably in very difficult circumstances.

It is difficult for me to embark on an explanation of the methods employed because that would give the game away, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that this is a matter which the Government examine constantly. If he or any of his hon. Friends feels that there is any laxity, no doubt they will inform us. We are very anxious to listen constantly to any reasonable proposals to make the system work better.

Mr. Lane

I raised the question of Northern Ireland in a rather broader context and not simply that of searching. I urged the Government not to overlook the position in Northern Ireland in the wider sense of taking over designation generally, not to confine themselves to Heathrow or other BAA airports but to include Northern Ireland as well.

Mr. Davis

I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

I am sorry if I have been rather longer than I intended but a wide variety of points were raised and on a matter of this importance I thought that they should be answered. I hope that I have done so, if not to everyone's satisfaction at least as fully as is reasonable in the circumstances.

I believe that the Bill will enhance the efficiency of crime prevention at Heathrow. I believe that it will make a major contribution towards the extirpation of this mad, demonic activity on the part of terrorists and saboteurs, with their total unconcern for human life and total recklessness of the consequences of their abominable and cowardly deeds. For these reasons I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).