HC Deb 10 January 1990 vol 164 cc956-94

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that this business will be interrupted at 7 o'clock by opposed private business. Many right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate, so I hope that they will bear in mind the basic time limit when they make their speeches.

4.17 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Cecil Parkinson)

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

One of the hallmarks of this Government has been their determination to stand firm against the terrorist. We have never shied away from taking the measures necessary to crush the threat of terrorism—be it on the international stage or at home. This Bill will be another valuable weapon in the battle. It will help to combat international terrorism in the sky and at sea.

The Lockerbie disaster was further evidence of the depths to which these cowardly people will sink. It was an appalling manifestation of the growing scourge of international terrorism against aviation and increased the terrible toll of sabotage attacks causing the total destruction of aircraft. In the four years before Lockerbie there were three bombing incidents on international flights. Since Lockerbie a UTA aircraft and an internal flight in Colombia have been destroyed by bombs.

Passenger ships have suffered, too. In both the Achille Lauro and the City of Poros incidents we saw terrorists murder passengers in cold blood.

Conventions to deal with attacks on civil aviation have been in place for many years. The International Civil Aviation Organisation has now established standards for aviation security. More recently, through the International Maritime Organisation, the Rome convention now deals with the prevention of terrorist attacks on ports and shipping.

It is the responsibility of individual states to put those international agreements into effect. The Aviation Security Act 1982 consolidated previous legislation that has provided the framework for aviation security in this country. The time has come to review and to enlarge its provisions, and to extend them to maritime operations.

We have been determined to learn all that we can from the Lockerbie disaster. As my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate said recently, remarkable progress has been made by the international investigation team which is seeking to identify the perpetrators of this appalling terrorist outrage and to bring them to justice. The chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway and his predecessor have made impressive progress, with the help of outstanding forensic work and unprecedented international co-operation. The police have taken more than 14,000 statements and recorded about 16,000 items of property. More than 35,000 photographs have been taken. Vehicles used by the police in the investigation have travelled more than 1.5 million miles. The cost so far has exceeded £7 million.

The air accident investigation branch has reconstructed a large part of the aircraft and the baggage container in which the explosion took place. As a result of its outstanding work, it has pin-pointed the precise place where the bomb blew up.

The meticulous work of those investigations continues. In addition, my noble and learned Friend recently announced that he has concluded that a fatal accident inquiry should be held into the circumstances of the deaths in the Lockerbie disaster. There are obvious difficulties in holding such an inquiry while the criminal investigation is still being actively pursued, but he will now set in hand preliminary preparations. The scope of the inquiry would be a matter for the sheriff or sheriff principal who would have regard not only to the cause of death but to the reasonable precautions by which the disaster might have been avoided. He will have the power to mount a far-ranging inquiry.

In the year since Lockerbie much has been achieved. There has been a major review of aviation security by my Department, as well as a constructive inquiry by the Transport Select Committee. I am pleased to say that the Government have been able to respond positively to the overwhelming majority of the Committee's 28 main recommendations.

My predecessor took important initiatives in the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and had full discussions on aviation security with the United States Secretary of Transportation, Mr. Samuel Skinner, in Montreal in February 1989 and in London in April 1989. I shall be meeting Mr. Skinner in Washington tomorrow to continue those discussions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Parkinson

A different Mr. Skinner.

The British Government have pursued aviation security matters vigorously with our partners in Europe and in the Group of Seven. More importantly, we have persuaded the International Civil Aviation Organisation to adopt Britain's eight-point action plan for international work on aviation security.

At home, action has been taken to reduce further the risk of terrorist attack.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Before the Secretary of State leaves the international aspects of this matter, will he consider whether there is any merit in this country, along with other high-technology countries, providing sophisticated equipment to those countries whose airports do not have such equipment? If such nations had that equipment it might benefit the rest of the world.

Mr. Parkinson

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and constructive point. One of the difficulties of putting sophisticated equipment in developing countries is that sophisticated equipment often needs sophisticated operators. Interlining baggage that is fed into the system can cause major accidents, but that is an interesting point which is worth considering.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the movement is to step up personal security and inspect hand baggage and so on when passengers travel on airlines, the luggage that goes into the hold is still not searched? Therefore, while the individual is being searched more and more, and checks are made on electric razors to ensure that they do not contain bombs so that the system grinds to a halt, none of the luggage which goes into holds at British airports is screened. That is a serious indictment.

Mr. Parkinson

My hon. Friend's assertion is incorrect. All hold baggage to be carried by American airlines to America from our airports is checked 100 per cent. A proportion of all hold baggage is checked. Aircraft are selected on a random basis and a proportion of the hold baggage on the aircraft is examined. Later, I shall talk about our proposals for extending the examination of hold baggage because I agree with my hon. Friend that our objective must be a 100 per cent. search of hold baggage. However, that is much more easily said than done.

I shall give a few examples of the action that has been taken at home since the Lockerbie disaster. Immediately after Lockerbie we tightened security for United States' airlines operating from this country; in this we worked closely with the Federal Aviation Administration. We brought in new security procedures dealing with electrical equipment carried by passengers.

More than 80,000 employees, as well as thousands of vehicles, have necessary access to the restricted areas of our four major airports. We have tightened up the whole pass system: there are tighter checks for the issue of passes, the control of vehicles, the searching of staff and vehicles, and the control of passes at the gate. By next April, there will be electronic checking of all passes at our airports.

The Department's aviation security inspectorate has been doubled. We have introduced new requirements for recruiting and training security staff; there has been a substantial increase in the number of security staff. We have doubled the money for research and development into equipment and techniques.

These steps have already been taken. But we must go further. As I have mentioned, we are working towards the screening of all hold baggage on all international flights from our airports, the physical separation airside of inbound and outbound passengers and tighter security requirements for cargo, mail and courier consignments.

Despite all that, we need to strengthen and augment the powers in the Aviation Security Act 1982. I am already able to issue directions to operators of airports and airlines. Directions under the 1982 Act have been in force for many years. Improvements in security last year were made using these powers. But further powers are needed, first, to give the aviation security inspectors more flexible and effective means to enforce directions so that deficiencies in security can be remedied on the spot, if necessary stopping operations until that has been done; secondly, to enable directions to be made to businesses other than airports and airlines which have access to aircraft; and, thirdly, to make it an offence for individuals to do certain things which are prejudicial to security. Passengers and staff must observe security requirements.

Because the proposed legislation builds on the 1982 Act, the aviation security provisions of this Bill are framed as amendments and additions to that Act. The 1982 Act and the measures to improve aviation security in part I need to be read together and to be taken as a whole.

Clause 1 deals with what are essentially terrorist acts at airports. It enables the Government to ratify the International Civil Aviation Organisation's Montreal protocol of 1988, which we signed in October that year. The protocol commits us to making it an offence under our law to carry out armed attacks at international airports and to cause damage or disruption at such airports. The protocol provides for severe penalties for these offences. In relevant cases offenders can also be extradited.

Part I widens the category of persons to whom I can give directions. In future, as well as giving directions to airport and aircraft operators, I will be able to give directions to other businesses which go on to airports. In practice, that means that catering suppliers, cleaning firms, aircraft maintenance and servicing firms and suppliers of aircraft stores will all be brought within the scope of the Act. It will be possible under clause 2 to direct all those undertakings to carry out searches of persons or property entering the land under their control; and, under clause 3, to direct them to take other aviation security measures.

Clause 4 gives powers to the aviation security inspectors to issue enforcement notices when there is a failure to comply with a direction. The person served with an enforcement notice will be required to carry out remedial action. The notice could result in certain operations having to be stopped until that action has been taken.

There have been suggestions that these notices should be published. I believe that it would be a gift to the criminal to highlight weaknesses at a time when they have been spotted but before they can be remedied. I am much in sympathy with the need to report to Parliament and, subject to the overriding priority of security, I intend to call on the inspectorate for an annual report on directions and enforcement notices which I shall lay before the House. Security must be the top priority, but I believe equally that Parliament has the right to know how the laws that it has passed are being enforced.

Clause 5 creates new offences relating to security at aerodromes. It brings individuals within the scope of aviation security legislation so that certain acts prejudicial to aviation security become offences. It will, for instance, be an offence for a person to give false information in answer to questions relating to baggage, cargo or stores, because airports and airlines must be able to establish, among other things, whether a dupe may be unwittingly carrying a bomb planted by someone else. It will be an offence to give false information in relation to an application for or the holding of an identity document. It will an offence to be in a restricted zone or to go on board an aircraft without proper authority, or to refuse to leave a restricted zone or aircraft when requested to do so.

It was suggested in some parts of the press that this section was aimed at them; that is not so. We are determined to ensure that those who work on our airports have properly authorised passes, properly obtained, and it would be quite impossible to enforce what I am sure the House will agree is a sensible law if it excluded the press. If a press man, like any other person, lied to obtain a pass so that he could get access to an airport, he must face the consequences of the law. It would be absurd for us to claim that this is a serious law while authorising the press to ignore it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I recognise some of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments and obviously any measure that will help in the fight against terrorism will be most welcome. Obviously the Opposition will not vote against this measure. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in certain cases newspapers—I am not the first to defend their record—have done a public service when their reporters have gone to airports and discovered that security is lax? They are letting the public and the authorities know, and that is to be welcomed. If the Bill undermines the role of the press in alerting the authorities to measures that need to be taken to strengthen security at airports, it is to be deplored.

Mr. Parkinson

I do not think that that is the case. It is important to remember that 50,000 people work at Heathrow every day. We are instituting a system that will mean that everyone who works there will have been investigated and will have been issued with a pass that has been properly obtained. We must be sure that only authorised people have access to airports. How are we to make a law that distinguishes between the villain who gives false information with ill intent to obtain a pass and the reporter who is just seeking to obtain a story? We cannot.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about reporters playing a valuable part, but it was they who made it clear that we must enforce tighter security at our airports. That is what we are doing. The Bill is in no way aimed against reporters and we are indebted to them for some of the revelations that they have made.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Parkinson

No, we are short of time and the debate began late.

This part of the Bill, together with schedule 1, provides for revised information-gathering powers under section 11 of the Aviation Security Act 1982 and for daily penalties to be imposed for continued refusal or failure to comply with a direction after being convicted of the offence. The procedure to be followed for designating the restricted zone of an aerodrome is set out in the schedule.

The Bill makes no provision to revive the aviation security fund, which was wound up in 1983 because it was bureaucratic, costly and unnecessary. Nor does it seek to create a new organisational structure. There is no doubt in my mind that responsibility for security cannot be offloaded by the Government on to some supposedly free-standing body.

Part II enables the Government to give effect to the International Maritime Organisation's convention on terrorism at sea and its linked protocol on fixed platforms. The Bill makes it an offence to hijack any ship or unlawfully to seize or exercise control of a fixed platform.

Part III, although the longest part of the Bill, simply extends to maritime activities powers comparable with those available under the Aviation Security Act 1982 or proposed for aviation security in part I.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

An undertaking was given to the shipping industry that the legislation would go no further than the International Maritime Organisation's convention. However, part Ill does go further.

Mr. Parkinson

I know that parts of the industry believe that the legislation is unnecessary. I have no doubt that many of our best companies are already complying voluntarily with the convention, but it is being observed in a patchy fashion and some companies do not observe it. The Bill gives the Government reserve powers to enforce what everyone recognises are necessary measures. It does not go any further than it needs to, but it is necessary for it to go as far as it does.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Parkinson

No, we are very short of time.

We are seeking those powers because there is no legal framework for ensuring that adequate security precautions are taken to counter terrorism on ships and in ports.

The terrorist threat to shipping is not as high profile as that to aviation, but it exists and the level of risk can escalate at any time. The Achille Lauro and the City of Poros incidents are only two of over 50 terrorist attacks on shipping in the 1980s alone. So we are discussing not a small but a very serious problem.

At present, as I said, the problems are being tackled by voluntary co-operation with the industry, and I hope that that will continue. But we also need a framework for setting out and enforcing standards for the protection of the travelling public, the crews of ships and others engaged in the maritime industries. The provisions of part III are intended to provide that framework. They will aim to achieve a level of security appropriate to the threat to shipping.

Mr. Wilson

Many people regard one of the great acts of treachery against this country by the Government to have been the virtual destruction of the British merchant navy, so we are cautious of anything that further discriminates against British-registered ships. In the light of that, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain why clause 19(2), which gives the Secretary of State the right to give a direction in writing to the owner, charterer or manager of a … ship", is restricted to British-registered ships and, unlike clause 19(1), does not cover foreign-owned or foreign-flagged ships in British ports?

Mr. Parkinson

Because we want to make it clear that the Bill applies to British ships whether they are here or operating abroad; it applies to them wherever they are. A wider duty is imposed on them as a result of the Bill. We do not accept the hon. Gentleman's description of this Government's attitude to merchant shipping. Indeed, the Government who did the real damage to shipping were the Government who keeled over on every occasion to the trade unions and destroyed the economy. That did the damage to the British maritime fleet.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fears that have been expressed—for example, by the Milford Haven port authority, which is responsible for Milford Haven and Pembroke dock, and by the Dyfed-Powys police, who have the special branch responsibility for Fishguard and Pembroke dock and therefore for two lots of Irish ferry traffic—that the costs of part III will be horrendous? Will my right hon. Friend discuss the matter with the Home Secretary to see whether some arrangement can he made between the two Departments to enable port and police authorities which will be concerned with the implementation of part III to receive additional resources and assistance?

Mr. Parkinson

As I have pointed out, these are reserve powers which the Government will invoke if voluntary co-operation does not develop. But I shall look into the matter because my hon. Friend makes an important point.

Part IV contains miscellaneous and general provisions. In particular, the Civil Aviation Authority will be enabled to inspect any document relating to suspected or declared dangerous goods. It will also be able to examine and send for analysis the contents of any package or baggage which it believes contains dangerous goods.

I have explained what has been and is being done. The House should not underestimate the scale of the task in hand. In the peak last year, Heathrow alone handled over 1,000 aircraft movements a day. More than 142,000 passengers a day pass through the airport's terminals. The airport typically handles over 160,000 items of baggage every day of the week. Manchester airport already handles more than 50,000 passengers on a peak day with perhaps 65,000 items of baggage, and the figures are growing every year. The port of Dover handles over 100,000 passengers and 10,000 vehicles a day.

We are committed already to levels of security which are appropriate to the perceived threat. We must distinguish between a real threat and spurious warnings. The House may be interested to know that last year alone over 460 hoax warnings were made in relation to United Kingdom airports and airlines. It is a sad reflection on some sick minds that the number has increased substantially since Lockerbie.

We never can be complacent about security, but I am confident that the measures in the Bill will improve aviation and maritime security still further. With the backing of the industry and the police, the Bill will be an effective weapon in our armoury against the terrorist. I urge the House to give this vital measure a Second Reading.

4.44 pm
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Forces in the House will be aware of an agreement that there would be no ministerial statement before this debate, in view of the limited time available for it. I regret, at the outset of my remarks, that I must record that the agreement has been broken. The result is that some hon. Members will not have an opportunity to take part in the debate.

Occupants of the Front Benches were asked to co-operate, and perhaps I should make my point absolutely clear by stating that the Lord President, who was involved in the deal, apparently forgot about it. If that represents the performance of the present Lord President, particularly in view of what happened yesterday—remembering that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the deputy Prime Minister—he must be Britain's answer to Dan Quayle.

Mr. Steen

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have some guidance from the Chair? I understand that this debate can continue after 10 o'clock, and hence the point that is being made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is not correct.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Perhaps I can assist the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). If the debate does not finish by 7 o'clock, it will be interrupted by private business and will then resume after 10 o'clock or when private business has been concluded.

Mr. Prescott

I am sure that the normal channels were aware of that bit of basic information. It being the Second Reading of a Bill, it was agreed to abide by the normal practice and not have a ministerial statement. Normally, such statements are not made prior to a Second Reading debate which is likely to be interrupted at 7 o'clock for private business.

The House will welcome the Bill, which attempts to improve security for shipping and aviation and to make it more difficult for cowardly acts of terrorism to occur or for bombs to be planted on aircraft and planes—devices like those which have already killed hundreds of innocent passengers. For that reason, my hon. Friends and I welcome the legislation, particularly as it is based on international conventions for international transport.

I have read the reports of previous debates on such conventions and legislation that have taken place since the early 1970s. At no stage, whether a Labour or Conservative Government have been in power, has the House divided on such measures. That is a precedent which my hon. Friends and I do not intend to break, so we shall support the Bill tonight.

But I have some serious criticisms to make about the measure, and I would not want to disappoint Conservative Members about our attitude towards safety. It is often agreed between both sides of the House that safety issues must be put at the top of the list. The question is how safety is achieved, and the way in which the policy is implemented is the point that I shall address in particular.

The major flaw in the Government argument on this issue, and the way in which they approach it, lies in the fact that the conventions on the subject refer to the responsibility of "the competent authority". I accept the importance of having conventions, but they must be correctly implemented and the competent authority must be sure that the policy agreed in an international convention is carried out.

Unfortunately for us, the competent authority is defined as the Department of Transport. That Department has a lamentable history of failing to carry out its safety responsibilities in nearly all forms of transport in Britain. That is not only the view of workers and others involved in the industries concerned. It is the view of consumer bodies and groups representing travellers, and it applies to every mode of transport, be it the railways, shipping, aviation or the roads.

I call in aid more fundamental support for my contention that the Department has been totally inadequate in carrying out its responsibilities for safety. I cite the reports that have been commissioned by the Department following the terrible tragedies that have occurred in the last few years. Consider, for example, the awful shipping tragedy in the loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise. In that case, the Sheen report identified a conflict of interest in the Department, a laxity that failed to check a sloppy shipping management that undoubtedly ignored all the warnings and contributed to that terrible tragedy.

Both the Fennell and Hidden reports on the terrible tragedies at King's Cross and Clapham again exposed the Department's inept handling of safety matters. They said that the independent railway inspectorate, which is the kind of inspectorate that the Bill envisages, failed in its responsibilities, was not a satisfactory body, was under-resourced and failed to use its existing powers. How else could one explain the inspectorate's refusal to accept the reports from fire departments about the many thousands of fires that were occurring on the Underground? The reason is simply that the inspectorate was undermanned and decided that it did not want to accept the reports. All that is documented in the reports and is an indictment of the Department's handling of safety in shipping and on the railways.

In terms of aviation, I am afraid that we have to rely on the reports of the Select Committee. Anybody who has read those reports will recognise that the Committee is to be congratulated on its depth of analysis and on its approach to safety. It can honestly claim to have looked ahead at the problem and to have made recommendations that were pertinent to the problem of aviation security. Unfortunately, those recommendations were ignored. I shall deal with that later. I am sure that many hon. Members join me in congratulating that Committee on its excellent work.

I am sure that when we consider aviation we shall all have strongly in mind the terrible tragedy at Lockerbie which occurred a little more than 12 months ago. I should like to be identified with the Secretary of State's remarks about the police authority investigation and the work of the forensic science departments. They showed tremendous ability and one cannot but be impressed by their detailed and painstaking work. I am sure that we are all sorry that that has not led to a conviction, but that is no fault of the police or the forensic science departments.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I should like to be associated with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and those of the hon. Gentleman. The people of Lockerbie are extremely proud of the local police force, its chief constable and the inspector in Lockerbie, both of whom were honoured in the new year. They have carried out a wonderful job and we all hope that it produces results in the not too distant future.

Mr. Prescott

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who has a close and active association with the matter.

There is a great danger that by passing the legislation we will assume that we have vastly improved aviation safety. That depends heavily upon the abilities of the Department of Transport, which is the competent authority. If it does not carry out its work effectively and ensures that we do exactly what is agreed in the conventions, the legislation will be meaningless. At the heart of the argument is just how competent the Department of Transport is to implement any convention.

The charge that I wish to substantiate is that the Department of Transport is inadequate and does not have the resources, the commitment or the will to deal with the kind of problem that it faces. I admit that I am a long-time critic of the Department, and my criticism goes back to Labour Governments, as former Labour Secretaries of State will confirm. The evidence of the coastguard inquiries points to a completely incompetent Department that was constantly criticised. I could continue ad nauseam about the Department.

The Bill is complicated and deals with shipping, oil rigs and aviation. I should like to deal briefly with its maritime provisions. Everyone accepts that we have witnessed a massive decline in the Merchant Navy. Select Committees have made clear that the very defence of the country is now threatened because we do not have a Merchant Navy of an adequate size. That was not contested until we heard the Secretary of State making ideological remarks that are completely divorced from the facts. He is becoming famous for that.

The convention advocates the authorising of people to integrate, arrest and search. Those people are not members of the police, and that causes me some concern. I hope that in the winding-up speech we will be told who these people will be. They will clearly not be police, but they will have the powers that we normally associate with the police and that is alarming.

Secondly, in their maritime provisions the Government are going further than the convention. I have always advocated standards higher than those set out in the convention if necessary, and I am always prepared to consider such steps. The Department of Transport and the Secretary of State tell us that the stability standards for our ferries go farther than international standards. After the loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise, the Department is advocating voluntary standards that will not be imposed by law. The Minister of State probably knows that that is true. Why are the Government not prepared to be ahead of the convention and implement by legislation stability standards? The Government use the excuse that the standards cannot be agreed internationally and that they are not prepared to do that. However, in the case of powers for inspection on ships in our harbour areas they are prepared to go beyond international standards, although that applies only to British vessels. That is discriminatory and is causing some concern in the industry. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will give us some information on that.

We are concerned about attack by terrorists, but many merchant seamen lose their lives because of inadequate safety standards on vessels. The Government do not appear to be greatly concerned about that. A constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) was in a vessel that was lost on 12 December. The vessel was hiring crews registered in the Bahamas and people who had never been to sea. The 16-year-old youth from Jarrow, who had no sea-going experience and was expected to do watch-keeping duties, was picked up at a job centre and offered a job at £70 per week. Those are the sort of safety problems faced by the maritime industry, and such matters are as important as the terrorist aspects of safety.

Mr. Barry Field

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prescott

No, because I am pressed for time. The major is used to addressing squaddies in such language, but the hon. Gentleman must accept that I am not prepared to give way.

I shall now concentrate on aviation. In the 1970s the convention and legislation were largely concerned with the problem of hijacking. They sought to harmonise matters to make sure that hijacking was a serious offence and they established funding for security machinery. We see such machinery at airports and it is expensive and requires proper funding. We also introduced better police control. Those things helped to reduce the problems, and we entered the 1980s with threats not from hijacking but from explosives in the luggage, which is the real problem now.

The Aviation Security Act 1982 dismantled the fund set up to pay for the machinery that was brought in in 1978. It removed the police controls and advocated the bringing in of what we are now witnessing—the privatisation of security. Not long after that we had the terrible tragedy of Pan Am flight 103 on 21 December with the loss of 270 people. The Select Committee on Transport was concerned before that tragedy and feared such an incident after we witnessed the loss of the Air India aircraft that was blown out of the sky in 1985. The Committee had the foresight to say that we should look at air security in Britain and asked whether we were doing enough to prevent explosives being placed in the luggage.

The Committee produced its fourth report in 1985 and the conclusions were very alarming. The Select Committee took the view that not enough was being done about airport security. It said: Airport security has made an art of passing the buck. Anyone reading that report in the light of recent events will know that that applies today.

The Select Committee then made the point that something should be done about luggage in the hold. It recommended a banding of luggage. The Government's response was, first, that that is expensive; secondly, that there is not much space; and, thirdly, that there are not many power points to allow that to be done. That was not an adequate response to the problem of explosives in luggage.

The Select Committee recommended that the aviation fund should be re-established. It believed that not only were funds necessary to provide machinery, but that it was important for security that all the links of the chain should be equally strong. Therefore, small airports that could not afford the necessary machinery could finance such spending through cross-subsidisation, with the bulk of the money coming from the major airports. It is important that baggage should undergo the same security checks whether it comes in through Humberside airport, Heathrow or Gatwick. That was the object of the fund.

The Secretary of State was asked what would be done about countries that had neither the means nor the people to carry out such checks, and said that that was a useful point that we most bear in mind. But the same applies to Humberside and Leeds airports, or any small airport with connections with international flights. They do not have the money to fund such expenditure, so the aviation security fund is essential. However, the Government rejected that.

The Select Committee recommended an independent aviation security inspectorate. The Government, not wanting to appear to reject that, took the good old Civil Service approach and set up a working party. That sat for about three years, was lost in the Home Office and was revived in the face of the embarrassment of the Lockerbie disaster. Up to that time, no report had been published.

After the Lockerbie disaster, the previous Secretary of State assured us from the Dispatch Box that the greater majority of the Select Committee's recommendations had been implemented by the Government. That was wrong. What he really meant to say, as the Select Committee pointed out, was that the majority of recommendations were accepted by the Government. That is quite different from implementing them. Anybody who doubts that need only look at the Select Committee's third report on airport security , in which it considered how effective the Government had been. I was going around saying that the Government had not implemented eight of the 20-odd recommendations, and, not unusually, there was a dispute between me and the previous Secretary of State.

I rest my case on the Select Committee's conclusion. In its third report, published on 18 July 1989, it says: Accepting recommendations is one thing, implementing them another. Paragraph 3 goes on to say: The call for new powers has tended to obscure the fact that existing ones were poorly used; there was laxity in approach to security which gives us severe doubts as to whether our recommendations were fully implemented. That proves the point that I was trying to make at the time. The previous Secretary of State has moved on to other things, so we cannot call him to account now. However, the Select Committee's report is undoubtedly another indictment of the Department of Transport's handling of security.

It is interesting to look at the Select Committee's recommendations. Recommendation 11 was that all hold luggage on international flights should be screened and that there should be a clear policy on that. The Secretary of State said that he wants to see that and to work towards it. As usual, the Government's response is, "Yes, something more should be done but consultations will take years, things cannot be done immediately and it all depends on whether space is available."

Airport authorities are already advertising space for the sale of goods. Money is available to sell goods to make a profit but not for machinery which only ensures security. That is a good example of the conflict between commercial priorities and the need to provide safety at our airports.

The Department of Transport says that such things take a long time, but does anybody doubt that if safety became a priority it could be achieved quickly? It cannot be done overnight, but the Government are still using the kind of language that they used to respond to the Select Committee's first report a few years ago. No doubt we will get the same response again and nothing will be achieved.

The American Federal Aviation Administration has always required the examination of hold luggage on American aircraft. It knows the limitations of machinery, but it demands that, if necessary, examinations be carried out in some other way. Britain has had to apply for exemption from the FAA ruling, so American airlines coming into Britain will no longer have to conform with what they believe to be the safest form of luggage examination. That is one heck of a comment on our ability to provide adequate safety checks

It could be argued that the public have a right to know which airlines are inspecting luggage. Why is that not put on the board? Let it be clearly said that all the luggage going in the hold is inspected so that people who think that those airlines will be safer can use them. The public are increasingly demanding such information. As soon as airlines have to start putting such information on the board, they will find all sorts of reasons to inspect all the luggage going into the hold. We know how it goes. But the people who are putting the lid on that are the airport authorities which do not want to spend money on providing extra space over a short period of time. It always comes down to money. Hon. Members constantly have to argue that safety must have a high priority because we know that, when there is a conflict between commerce and safety, often the commercial priorities prevail.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

The hon. Gentleman is expounding utter nonsense when he says that commercialism gets in the way of safety. If he disbelieves me, I advise him to look at what happened to Pan Am's ticket sales in the light of a lapse of security. Commercialism demands the highest safety standards.

Mr. Prescott

People need to know what a company is doing and how. That is the basic point I am trying to make. The hon. Gentleman often appears on television as the Government's apologist when they find themselves in difficulty. He is well known for that. My argument is that airlines should say whether they inspect the luggage in the hold. That basic piece of information should be readily and easily available.

The Select Committee's recommendation 15 was that an aviation security fund should be established, paid for by a levy on passengers. There is a dispute between the Opposition and the Government about whether there should be an overall fund to achieve strong security in all our airports. Again, the Government's response is that that is bureaucratic and complicated. Yet at the same time they say that we should not worry because there will be no problems in funding safety. If that is the case, how will the money be provided? It will be highly expensive. Will it simply be left to the British Airports Authority to look after its own and for Humberside and Leeds to look after their own? If so, an acceptable expenditure at Heathrow will be an extraordinary expenditure elsewhere. That is the reality. I know that cross-subsidisation sticks in the craw of many Conservative Members, whether it be in relation to buses, railways or airports, but it is the best means of providing adequate machinery and the specialists required to maintain high safety levels.

Mr. Barry Field


Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Prescott

No, leave the major alone.

I wondered about the history of the matter and I checked to see whether the House had ever divided on the matter of the aviation security fund. I was curious to know the reaction of the then Conservative Opposition to those Labour Government proposals. Their Front Bench spokesman, the then hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South—now the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson)—commented that the financing of security measures must be put on a more permanent and sensible basis. It is our considered view that there are even stronger arguments in favour of transferring the cost—some £19 million—from the taxpayers generally to those who benefit from the service provided, namely, those who travel by air … there is no such thing as a free lunch … There are many precedents for making the charge on those who use the service."—[Official Report, 16 January 1978; Vol. 942, c. 78–79.] I fully endorse those observations of the now Secretary of State for Transport. He supported the fund, did not vote against it, and even had a difference of opinion with the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), who intervened in his speech. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State once supported the position taken by the Labour party. That may have changed, but what has not changed is the fact that a great deal of money is still needed to fund a high level of security, which must be achieved by cross-subsidisation.

Mr. Barry Field

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene now?

Mr. Prescott

Yes, I shall allow the major to speak.

Mr. Field

I was a squaddie once, and I only won promotion by listening to people.

What is Labour party policy on the maintenance of frontier and interstate inspections at borders, given that the Government want to maintain them within the EEC in order to prevent terrorism?

Mr. Prescott

We have great sympathy with that objective and believe that there is a special argument for maintaining those inspections, which are required in respect not only of terrorist activities but for the weighing of lorries at ports. The present proposals will mean that the port state issue will be weakened. Fewer inspections will not only increase the risk of terrorism but reduce safety. It will be interesting to see what action the Government take. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to the Secretary of State, and I join him in asking the right hon. Gentleman to bear that point in mind.

Recommendations V, VI and VIII of the Select Committee's third report make it clear that the Secretary of State had reached the view that there should not be an independent police authority. That is in line with the Home Office report and the change of mind among chief police officers who said that they were willing to go along with an aviation security inspectorate. The Select Committee commented that if the Government intended to adopt that proposal, the inspectorate should be given the correct status and independence and should not become lost within the Department but be allowed to speak freely in the name of safety. The Select Committee recommended that the head of the inspectorate should be appointed at the level of a chief constable and be given independent access to the Secretary of State for Transport and powers similar to the Health and Safety Executive to report independently.

The Government's response was to deny independent access to the Secretary of State. Instead, the head of the inspectorate will be appointed at grade 6. It is interesting that someone appointed at grade 4—a higher post—is the chief inspector of air accidents, who does have direct access to the Secretary of State because of the special nature of such investigations and the desirability of maintaining his independence. If that chief inspector has any concerns, he can approach the Secretary of State directly.

Why should a person in charge of aviation security be so different? Why should the aviation inspector be required to report first to an assistant secretary, who reports the matter to an independent intermediate, who reports to an under-secretary, who reports to the deputy secretary, who finally reports to the permanent secretary—presumably Sir Humphrey, who might then tell the Secretary of State what is going on?

What if the inspectors, who will serve as a kind of SAS in making assaults on the system to establish whether it is secure, find that it is inadequate? Will they follow the example set by journalists in exposing that inadequacy in the press, which would probably have more effect on the Department, or will they merely produce an internal memo? If they do the latter, that memo will be smothered by the Department, and no one will know what is going on. Yet again, the Department has won.

I understand that the Department made some changes in the aviation security division, which will no longer be directly involved in policy. Nevertheless, it will still be locked into the Department's policy requirements. In that respect, it will find itself in the same situation as the railway inspectorate. Policy requirements relating to cutbacks in resources affect safety, but if any complaint concerning safety is made it will be lost within the Department's bureaucracy. That illustrates more than anything the motive behind the Government's action in prosecuting a few journalists who did a good job of exposing certain security inadequacies—or, more to the point, the then Secretary of State's inadequate response to demands for improved safety. All kinds of assurances were given to this House, but they were not honoured, as we know from the journalists' expose.

The Secretary of State remarked that one cannot differentiate between journalists and those who may be attempting to perpetrate a serious offence. The courts take into account serious intent—but leaving that aside, why did the Department ban air-side journalists after the former Secretary of State for Transport was photographed walking down the steps from an aircraft before making his way to the private exit carrying his bag of duty-free goods after returning from Mustique? Why did the Department perform that act of petty vengeance, which did not serve to improve security but was merely indicative of its desire to deflect public attention from its inability to deal properly with security?

Mr. Parkinson

I will put a simple question to the hon. Gentleman, and I would like him to give a straight answer. Does he agree that it is important that when people are questioned and, on the basis of the answers they provide, are issued with passes they should be prosecuted when it transpires that they told lies? Would he be in favour of exempting journalists from prosecution? I think not.

Mr. Prescott

No, I do not think that one should exempt journalists. One cannot draw such a distinction, which illustrates the importance of proper vetting procedures. Nevertheless, the Department took action against journalists who exposed inadequacies that existed despite the many assurances that had been given to the House. Why was action taken against the air-side journalists who only took photographs—who were subject to security vetting and cleared, who do not represent a threat to the nation's security, and who are traceable? That action by the Department was just another example of hiding the loopholes exposed by press attention. All that suggests that the Department is not competent to deal with such matters.

The Select Committee concerned itself also with the question of threats and warnings, particularly in relation to the Lockerbie disaster. There has been no investigation into the way in which the Department handled that particular incident. It received a warning about the possible loss of an American aircraft that included the information that it would probably be a Pan Am flight, the route, approximate time, and that a radiocassette bomb was the likely device. The Department circulated that warning on 19 December, which was two days before the disaster. That warning was lost in the Christmas post and most interested parties did not receive it until after the tragedy had occurred. The same Department issued the advice that airlines should watch for a radiocassette bomb, and that any item of which they were unsure should be put in the hold of the aircraft. How can one trust such a Department to be in charge of aviation security?

There is documentary evidence of the way in which the Department dealt with that most serious matter, which is why the relatives of those who died in the Lockerbie disaster have demanded an independent inquiry. I believe that the Secretary of State was of a mind to commission one. He has shown in his letter that it is Government policy. I think he argued the case, but the Government do not want an inquiry into Lockerbie. We are told that that is because there is a criminal inquiry under way, but in America a criminal investigation has not stopped them having a presidential inquiry, and they have fined the company involved.

When the Secretary of State rushed out all those things just before the anniversary of the Lockerbie tragedy; when he forgot that there would be a fatal accident inquiry; when he announced that there would be a fatal accident inquiry, or perhaps I should say that the Crown Office for Scotland made that announcement—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is looking shocked, but he talked to the relatives about the inquiry before it was announced, so he must have been a party to the understanding.

Mr. Parkinson

This is a matter entirely for the Lord Advocate, in his capacity as the chief law officer in Scotland. He knew that I was meeting the relatives. I told him. He knew what I was going to say to them. He authorised me to say that he was seriously considering holding a fatal accident inquiry. That decision was entirely independent of me. He announced the inquiry 10 days later and it was his decision as a law officer—and not mine—as part of the Government.

Mr. Prescott

I fully accept what the Secretary of State has said. I did not doubt that it was not his decision. I said that he was aware that that offer was going to be made to the relatives. That is fine, but there is one difficulty. As he told me in his letter, the fatal accident inquiry can look at the defects, if any, in any system of working which contributed to the deaths or to the accident.

One would assume that the way that the Department of Transport handled the information and the warning is pertinent to the matter, and the Select Committee talked about that. The Committee said that it believed and hoped that the Department had a more sophisticated way of dealing with it. In reality, we do not know, because we do not know what the mistakes were, as that kind of inquiry is prevented. The fatal accident inquiry cannot investigate those pertinent matters. I have evidence from the law officers that makes it clear that the inquiry cannot sit in secret. Therefore, it cannot deal with confidential information, or information on security. Also, it cannot receive evidence outside the United Kingdom, although America and Germany are involved. The evidence also states that: In any court proceedings, public interest immunity may be claimed by a Government Minister in respect of production of documents or articles or the giving of any evidence where it is considered by that Minister that it is not in the public interest to make the evidence available. The Department of Transport could make the case to the inquiry that it would not provide it with the kind of information that would be pertinent to the argument—for example, whether it had the information in time, or whether it passed it on properly.

Will the Secretary of State say now that he will co-operate with that inquiry by giving details about every kind of action that took place? Will he give all the information that is available, so that the fatal accident inquiry can make some assessment of whether the Department of Transport was competent in its handling of the threatening information that was so correct about the Lockerbie tragedy? Will the Secretary of State say now whether his Department will give its full co-operation in that inquiry?

Mr. Parkinson

I cannot anticipate what the sheriff principal will want to ask, or whether I will be able to answer it. The fatal accident inquiry is being set up, and we shall have to see how the sheriff principal conducts his inquiry.

Mr. Prescott

I am afraid that is the kind of language that we have learned to live with from the Department of Transport. It will not hold an inquiry into the way that it has handled matters that are pertinent to this issue.

Our case is that, while we welcome the legislation, we have no confidence in the Department of Transport to carry out its responsibilities under it. We shall try to change the Bill in Committee, but we want to make it clear now that safety is our top priority. We mean it. We make recommendations for change, and we pursue them. The Government's stance is just rhetoric, and that has been particularly exposed in this legislation.

5.23 pm
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on bringing forward the Bill, as any improvement in security is to be welcomed, particularly when it concerns aviation.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was not on the Select Committee on Transport, so he is not aware of the Contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's predecessor, who was so honest about the Lockerbie incident. He came to the Select Committee and was honest and open with his information, and I have no reason to disbelieve anything that he said. I am certain that he did not hide anything from us. The handling of procedure by the Chairman of the Committee was exceptional, and tribute must be paid to him for the way that we got to grips with the situation.

I should also like to praise the British Airports Authority, although I know that that is unusual for me, and the airlines. They have all made some efforts to improve security at Heathrow, in particular.

The Secretary of Suite has had power of direction since 1982, and he is now going to extend it. Will he assure the House that he will use those directions to ensure that airline operators will make space available for those airlines which want to do more comprehensive baggage searches? The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East touched on that issue.

We know that there have been instances at Heathrow and elsewhere when the facilities that airlines have requested have not been granted for various reasons. My right hon. Friend should consider that. It is not fair for the operators to say, "I am sorry, we haven't got the space", when, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East pointed out, there is plenty of space available for shopping in the terminals. The BAA is now advertising and saying, "Come and shop in our terminals even if you're not flying out of there". There is enough congestion at Heathrow airport now, without encouraging people to shop there. I hope that my right hon. Friend will use his powers, if they are applicable, to ensure that, if an airline wants to do a more intensive baggage search, it will be able to.

My right hon. Friend should also consider the fact that customs and immigration officers are not subject to full security checks at Heathrow. Perhaps they feel that they are too important and that they are above the normal security checks—I do not know. In the past, they have been excluded from the full security checks in directives. I do not believe that a customs or immigration official should be excused security checks for covert operations or for any other activities. Some of them strut around Heathrow as if they own the place, but they are there to serve the travelling public.

Mr. Wilshire


Mr. Dicks

I will not give way, as it would not be fair, but I apologise to my hon. Friend.

There are still instances at Heathrow when passengers boarding planes come into contact with passengers who have just arrived. That must be a major security risk. Although that probably requires a long-term change in the structure of the terminals, we must not forget the importance of the issue, and the ease with which something could be passed from a passenger getting off a plane to someone boarding one. It is quite frightening.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East also mentioned media passes at Heathrow. To some extent, I must take the blame for the reduction in the number of such passes.

Last summer, I got off an aeroplane just behind a famous film star—Gregory Peck. As he walked out of the door of the aeroplane, he was surrounded by seven or eight cameramen, and about 20 reporters. Later, I made some inquiries but I could not understand why he had to be interviewed airside rather than landside. I asked the BAA how many media passes it had issued. It took half a day to answer, and told me the number was more than 300 and less than 400. Two days later it told me that there were 347.

I hope that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East will agree that there is no justification for the media having 347 airside passes, some of which are never used for long periods, while others are used only to take photographs of travelling passengers. There is no need for the media to go airside, and there is no need for Ministers or Prime Ministers to be interviewed airside when there are widespread opportunities for interviews elsewhere.

The BAA is to be congratulated on drastically reducing the number of passes, and I think that the travelling public will be happy about that.

I share the concern of the hon. Member about the effectiveness of the Department of Transport, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not be too upset about that. We all know of instances of problems there. When officers came before us, and I questioned them about how many inspectors at airports had had experience of working in airports, I was told that one had trained for a time as an air traffic controller. None of the other inspectors had ever worked at an airport before, or been involved with airport security. I hope that there are now more inspectors with detailed knowledge of airports and how they operate.

I think that I was the only member of the Select Committee to stress that, at Heathrow in particular, if there is a security scare a meeting has to be called to decide how to handle it. The meeting will be attended by representatives of the BAA, the airline and the police. I still maintain that the police should have overall responsibility for airport security. In 1985 or 1986, the police said that they wanted such responsibility, but when the Association of Chief Constables came before us recently it had changed its tune.

The police should not be allowed to pick and choose their areas of responsibility. One person should clearly be at the top of the chain of command at each airport, responsible for security at that airport. I find it ludicrous that a meeting of three, four, five, six, seven or eight people should have to be called to discuss how to cope with an immediate security problem. The sooner the police start operating at airports again and some of the private security firms cease to do so, the better, and the man at the top should certainly be from the police.

I welcome the Bill. As I have said, we must all welcome any measure that will make the life of the terrorist more difficult and will tighten airport security. Despite the sometimes antagonistic approach of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, I am glad to say that I accept much of what he said, and I share his concern about the effectiveness of the Department in dealing with the problem.

5.31 pm
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Thank you for allowing me to take part in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am especially interested in the subject, for two reasons—first, because, sadly, one of my constituents died in the Lockerbie crash, and, secondly, because I have received some disquieting correspondence from an airline pilot who, although he operates out of Aberdeen, lives in my constituency.

My constituent who died did not have an opportunity, as did the staff of the American embassy in Moscow, to receive a warning, and had no chance of withdrawing from the flight. He was a very young man, and his widow and 18-month-old son are left grieving. The widow went immediately to Lockerbie to find out whether her husband's body had been traced, but was not treated very sympathetically; she complains not about the behaviour of the local police, but about that of a number of other agencies. She was sent away, and 12 days passed before she was informed that her husband's body had been found. It turned out later that—according to reliable information—the body had not been mutilated, and that her husband's face was recognisable. His pocket contained an identity card with a photograph and a thumbprint. I inquired into the matter, but have received no explanations that satisfy me or the family of my late constituent.

I shall not pursue the subject of Lockerbie further, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has taken it up a number of times. Let me instead deal with the questions raised by the airline pilot.

First, the pilot complains that several of the security arrangements that have been made so far are purely cosmetic. He says that he and his colleagues understand the need for some cosmetic arrangements: the public must see that the Government are concerned and are doing something. Nevertheless, he complains that security staff are spending most of their energies checking on the wrong people. He points out that Members and staff of the House of Commons who are well known enter the building without security checks, but that visitors are all carefully checked: hon. Members are not treated as potential terrorists. The plane that he flies is small, he says; it carries only 48 bags, only three of which are checked—and they are the three belonging to the crew. He also complains about the pavement searches of the crew's belongings, which are conducted outside the perimeter fence, in full public view. He finds that harassing and offensive.

A letter sent to me by this constituent from the chief pilot, Highlands division, Glasgow airport, demonstrates that those complaints are justified. The letter mentions that work is to be done, hopefully this weekend, on the floor of the portacabin. It was the vibration in the floor which was causing every single person to trigger the warning on the security arch. It goes on to say: They are providing screens for the girls to be searched behind and I have also requested that the security ladies are given more training in body searching and make their searches less intimate and brusque. It seems that crew and staff are not being treated respectfully. I do not think that a pilot should have to write to a Member of Parliament to ask for a curtain to be provided behind which intimate body searches can be conducted, yet that pilot has had to do so. He also complains that it has taken the Department of Transport nine months to answer his letters of complaint.

I think that everyone will agree that perhaps the greatest danger at airports is caused by baggage being left surreptitiously in passenger terminals, or baggage in aircraft freight holds that is not reconciled with passengers who have checked in. It seems to me that the airline staff, particularly check-in staff, are in the best position to spot unusual behaviour on the part of passengers, and to note the time that elapses before bookings, the method of payment—whether the ticket was bought with cash or a credit card, for instance—and people whose nationalities are unusual on a particular airline. All these measures can help to identify a bona fide passenger.

It is plainly important for the expertise of staff to be used and respected, but my informant says that the measures that the Secretary of State has introduced have demoralised them"— that is, airline staff— to the extent that they have become very apathetic towards security. I hope that that is not true, but I feel that the Secretary of State should look into it.

The pilot suggests a number of measures that I think are worth considering. He would, he says, like to see a review of the whole issue of Airport Security with proper consultation with all Trade Unions in the industry. I feel that I must give that proposal my wholehearted support, for I believe that full consultation with those at the sharp end of any industry—those who actually work in it—would greatly benefit society in general and that the knowledge, talent and experience of such people should be used and respected.

The pilot would also like to see resources directed towards training of airline personnel, and especially check-in staff to identify potential terrorists. This should be funded by the Government.

The pilot wants all staff to be issued with valid identity cards; that has been discussed today. He also raises the question of fraud. On 11 December, an ITN news broadcast revealed that a bag had been left for 25 minutes. The pilot feels that fraud, especially on the part of the press, should be "dealt with severely." I am not wholeheartedly with him on that, however, because I feel that television did a service by demonstrating the dangerous lack of security that still exists—although I feel that frivolous interventions for the sake of publicity or entertainment should certainly be dealt with severely.

The pilot wants far greater resources directed towards making sure that, once baggage has been checked in, it is loaded along with its owner". It strikes me as dangerous that someone should be able to check in baggage, show a ticket to ride and perhaps never get on the plane. According to my informant, there are new baggage tags which are generated by a baggage tag printer along with a number and its equivalent bar code. He feels that that may solve the problem. I have not enough technical knowledge to know whether that is true, but I hope that the Secretary of State will look into it.

Finally, he asks for more stringent checks on vehicles entering the restricted area. He also says that he would like security personnel to be gainfully employed in surveillance activities inside the passenger terminal areas of airports. Those are all useful suggestions. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Committee that is to consider the Bill will take them on board.

5.39 pm
Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham)

I had been hoping for some time to be called to speak in the debate, especially after flying up to my Hexham constituency to visit the site of a mid-air collison between two RAF jets. The sight of the wreckage and the damage done was horrific. It taught me something that I shall never forget. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for introducing the Bill at this time. The sooner that it is passed, the better.

In the limited time available to me, I shall concentrate on the aviation aspect of the debate. I warmly welcome the Bill and the increased security proposals announced this afternoon by my right hon. Friend. Although the extra security arrangements announced after the Lockerbie disaster answered a number of the security questions that were asked, widespread concern about the lack of screening at airports remains.

The Sunday Times claimed in an article on 9 July 1989, six months after the Lockerbie disaster, that packages that have not been searched or screened for explosives are being sent aboard passenger aircraft by commerical courier firms. The newspaper sent a package, which could easily have contained explosives, from London to New York via Brussels, apparently one of the most secure air routes. The contents were not checked, either by hand or X-ray. When the package arrived in New York it had been neither opened nor screened. Although the airline responsible said afterwards that this type of incident should not happen, the fact is that it did. The worrying question is how many more times it has happened since.

I am aware of only one airline, E1 A1, that tests the security of its airline anonymously. In its third report on aircraft security, published in July last year, the Select Committee on Transport suggested that the best method of testing the effectiveness of security methods was for inspectors to check the system in the same way as some journalists managed to do with ease and success last year. Reference was made to that point earlier this afternoon. I have no doubt that unannounced security checks of this nature would test security measures to a far greater degree than happens at present. It would certainly help to keep security staff alert.

The Select Committee recommended that inspectors should test the system by means of spot checks and by posing as would-be terrorists with inert devices. Any airline that wishes to provide its own additional security should be allowed to do so within a framework that is co-ordinated by the Secretary of State to ensure the best possible use of resources in terms of manpower and space at increasingly congested airports.

Following Lockerbie, aviation security advisers were reconstituted as an inspectorate, a move that I very much welcome. As the security research and development budget is being doubled, a move that I also very much welcome, my right hon. Friend may wish to consider the realistic assessment of airport security systems while the Bill is before the House. Proper and adequate screening is vital in any security system. However, if it is to be an effective means of countering terrorism, there has to be far greater co-operation between the British Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, the airlines and any other bodies that may be involved.

I have travelled extensively throughout the United States and many other countries, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I would recommend you to do so because it is very rewarding and most enjoyable. However, I have never experienced the same discomfort as I regularly suffer at terminal 1 at Heathrow any day of the week. In every airport that I have used in America, security controls have been well manned and well staffed. They have more than enough machines to cope with large influxes of passengers. The management at Heathrow would do well to consider ways of reducing the widening differences in standards of security management. Having regularly experienced the assault course that security control has become at Heathrow's terminal 1, I can only be pessimistic. We shall not attain better standards until the management work towards long-term goals rather than short-term realities.

Mr. Wilshire

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Amos

I should like to give way to my hon. Friend, but as time is limited I feel that I must continue my speech. I apologise to him.

I raised the issue with the general manager of terminal 1, Mr. Michael Bell. I congratulate him on admitting honestly in his letter to me concerning attempts to overcome inconvenience, crowding and delays at the security checks that clearly we failed to overcome those problems. He also agreed that 1989 has not been a year we can be proud of in terms of the service we have delivered to passengers waiting for security checks. That was a very honest admission. I hope that it will be of some use to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Amos

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not giving way; I really must get on with my speech. A number of hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.

We are constantly being promised more machines, more staff and better facilities at our airports. We have heard it all before. Will my hon. Friend the Minister give us some idea of when he hopes there will be more staff and more machines? Terrorists thrive on promises. We must have machines and men in place on time. The art of good management must be to plan ahead to prevent difficulties rather than just to react to crises.

The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr Patrick McLoughlin)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Amos

I must give way to my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. McLoughlin

I should like to put on record the huge increase in the number of security staff that have been deployed at airports since 1988. At the major airports the number of security staff has increased from 2,384 to 3,599—an increase of over 51 per cent. That is commendable. Under our direction, airports have increased the number of their security staff to meet the requirements that we have imposed upon them.

Mr. Amos

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information, and I am happy to be the first to accept it. I have had discussions with the British Airports Authority. I know that it is doing a good job and that it is trying to get more staff, but it is not good enough. Matters must be improved. I ask BAA to reconsider its recruitment procedures. Exactly the same problem arose with London Underground. I was told that the problems there were caused by staff shortages. London Underground has now looked into its recruitment and retention procedures and says that it can now attract staff far more easily than was the case previously. There is room for improvement, but I acknowledge and accept what my hon. Friend says.

Time after time at Heathrow, inadequate numbers of security staff have to deal with increasing numbers of passengers. It is time that we had enough machines to cope with the demand and with the technical difficulties associated with detecting present-day terrorists, who are sophisticated and well organised. Although the machines at Heathrow are used extensively, large numbers of hand searches are still carried out. In my opinion, that is inefficient and slow and poses its own security threat as queues build up. There is no doubt that terrorism is helped by chaos and disruption.

Mr. Wilshire

My hon. Friend appears to be suggesting that machines are better than the hand searching of luggage and people, but the technology does not exist. Hand searching is still by far the best way to detect certain items.

Mr. Amos

I agree. But if hand searches are carried out on only a certain number of people, there is still a risk. The majority get through without being hand-searched.

Airports must introduce up-to-date, state-of-the-art technology to enable all baggage to be screened effectively. That would end the current haphazard, hit-or-miss system. We must act to prevent a repetition of the ridiculous situation that occurred in November 1988. It was reported in the national press that the six American carriers flying from Gatwick asked for permission to install state-of-the-art colour x-ray machines, capable of detecting plastic explosives such as Semtex. It took seven months to get permission for a trial, but the airlines were told that if they caused too much congestion they would have to withdraw them. Cargo handling is also a major potential area of terrorist activity, where the opportunities are perhaps even greater for the planting of devices. Again I welcome the extension of the powers to be given to my right hon. Friend to help to deal with threats to secure areas. By giving more powers to the Secretary of State, we shall more easily be able to co-ordinate and direct the efforts of the very large number of agencies involved in airport security. However, I suggest to him one or two areas that he should carefully consider. It was claimed in a national newspaper that "last year"—1988— nearly two-thirds of Britain's 1.2m tonnes of air freight went from Heathrow, but handling firms at the airport said the bulk of this was loaded on to planes with no checks at all. The Select Committee was also concerned about that problem. It must be resolved.

I readily acknowledge that it would be extremely difficult to screen all hold baggage and cargo, but we must work towards that objective. I welcomed the announcement by the former Secretary of State for Transport on 24 April last year that he had set the security objective of screening all hold baggage on flights at higher risk, and I urge my right hon. Friend to consider extending that screening process to all hold baggage on all international flights. The list of higher-risk flights and airlines seems to be growing every month.

In conclusion, I fully support the provision in clause 1 to introduce life sentences for terrorists. I hope that a life sentence will mean life imprisonment and that the sentences will not be discretionary but mandatory. It is essential to increase co-operation among countries on the extradition of terrorists. The system of extradition must be made quicker and easier so that terrorists will be left in no doubt about the punishment that they can expect. Those countries which refuse to co-operate, thus putting at risk the lives of every air traveller, should be prohibited and prevented from being allowed to participate in international air travel and cargo handling.

5.50 pm
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

I welcome the measures contained in the Bill as far as they give effect to the Montreal protocol, the Rome convention and the fixed platforms protocol. Of course, in an ideal world none of these measures would be necessary, but we do not live in an ideal world, so certain precautions must be taken to maintain the safety of the travelling public. The safety of persons travelling within and to our country, whether they are passengers or crew, and the safety of the public at large must be one of our major concerns and in the forefront of our minds. Yet I am extremely worried by some of the provisions of the Bill. They give the Government of the day through the Secretary of State far-reaching powers which many years ago would not have been granted except in times of war or national emergency.

Many of the powers in the Bill are an extension of those already available through the Aviation Security Act 1982. However, the vast expansion of ground to be covered, the massive increase in the numbers of persons affected—including those authorised to carry out the powers and those on the receiving end of them—and the huge amount of property involved cause me to stop, think and scrutinise.

Britain has always prided itself on the freedom and democracy that its people enjoy. It is one of those strange anomalies that to protect the freedom of our people—in this case, the freedom of movement—we give the Government and other designated people the very powers that in different circumstances could be used to take freedom away.

In the past 10 years, there has been a significant erosion of our civil liberties, much of it without cause. Although I call for an increase in security at our airports and harbours, it is imperative that before we pass the Bill we are sure that we know the full consequences of the actions contained in it and that we ensure that there are satisfactory methods for monitoring security and built-in safeguards against the possible abuse of any of the powers contained in the Bill.

I intend carefully to scrutinise all the clauses in Committee, but I hope that today the Minister will be able to put my mind at rest on one or two issues that cause me most concern.

Clause 21(3) states: persons who may be specified in a direction … as the persons by whom any searches are to be carried out include members of any body of constables which the harbour authority has power to maintain in the harbour area, but not any other constables. I understand that private security forces are included in the authorised body of constables that harbour authorities have the power to maintain. If the authorities are to fulfil their duties under the Bill, the number of private security personnel they employ will increase dramatically.

Mr. Shersby

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue that he has just raised is extremely serious? Is he aware that those constables are sworn by two justices under a Victorian Act of Parliament, the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847, and that in effect a private police force is operating in those harbours which is not accountable to the public in the same way as the regular forces?

Mr. Fearn

I was not fully aware of that, but I am now.

Clause 23(4) states: In so far as a direction under any of the preceding provisions of this Part of this Act requires searches to be carried out, or other measures to be taken, by constables, the direction may require the person to whom it is given to use his best endeavours to secure that constables will be duly authorised to carry, and will carry, firearms when carrying out the searches or taking the measures in question. Can the Minister assure me that the two clauses I have mentioned will not mean that private security forces will carry arms or be authorised to use arms, particularly when our own metropolitan and county police forces do not carry firearms and are still restricted in the authorisation of their use? It is worth noting that the Port of London authority police do not carry arms and have given up their firearms certificates.

To enable them to carry out duties under the Bill, constables would have to apply for and be issued with firearms certificates. I think that they will be reluctant to do that. Whatever reply the Minister cares to give, will he also give his assurance that the two clauses will be reconsidered and that clause 23 will at least be drafted more tightly so that there is no room for loose interpretation?

It is clear that more security personnel, private or otherwise, will be employed and more people will be searched as a result of the Bill. It is worth mentioning that the measures and directives in the Bill extend to the owners of any business that may be sited or conducted in a restricted zone. Our harbours do not have sophisticated technical equipment such as that at Tilbury which allows for the easy and efficient search of cruise passengers and their luggage. It is unlikely that money will be made available for extensive provision of such equipment, so many of the searches will be superficial or will involve body contact.

I understand that the current requirement at airports is that one in three persons must undergo a body contact search and that those searches are carried out by private security personnel. Given that the numbers of people undergoing searches will vastly increase as a result of the measures in the Bill, will the Minister say what rules and regulations he intends to make, other than those given in the directions, to cover the conduct of those searches to ensure that there is no abuse of power, and whether there will be any directions as to the number of female constables to be employed?

I have already taken up more time than I intended, but before I leave other matters of concern to be considered in Committee, I shall make one final request of the Minister. If my reading of the Bill is correct and its implementation will result in increased use of private security personnel, will he consider introducing legislation to regulate and control such forces and will he ensure that the Bill makes it quite obvious where the lines of responsibility lie in respect of security personnel? At the moment it is far from clear who has the every-day responsibility.

Taking those matters into consideration, and in good faith, I give my and my party's qualified support to the Bill in the interest of preventing further disasters such as Lockerbie and the Italian cruise ship hijack.

5.58 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

As the House knows, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation and wish to declare that interest. I welcome the Bill and its provisions for securing more effective implementation of aviation security measures.

My constituents live close to Heathrow airport, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), and strongly support the measures to improve airport security. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the legislation promptly. We in Uxbridge believe that it is vital to suppress unlawful acts against the safety of civil aviation.

It is certainly time that Britain gave effect to the Montreal protocol. It must he right that the maximum penalty of life imprisonment should be available to punish offenders who intentionally, by means of any device, substance or weapon, commit an act of violence at aerodromes serving civil international aviation. Lockerbie demonstrated the need for that; the Government responded commendably to the challenge that it presented, and for that reason I welcome those parts of the Bill dealing with civil aviation.

However, I express the concern of the police about some of the powers to be conferred by part III, which deals with ships and harbour areas. In particular, I seek clarification of the powers in clauses 20 to 23, which empower the Secretary of State to give harbour authorities directions requiring searches to be carried out by constables or other specified persons. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fern) referred to those clauses in his perceptive speech, and I am delighted to be able to follow him in seeking clarification of them.

It appears that those clauses will enable the Secretary of State to ensure increased security at ports, but they will allow persons other than constables to enforce the provisions of the Bill relating to the protection of ships and the security of harbours.

Clause 21 contains powers to require other persons to promote searches in harbours. The hon. Member for Southport rightly asked what subsection (3) means. I can only assume that it means that harbour undertakers can rely on special constables who are sworn under the provisions of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. A few days earlier, those constables could easily have been employees of a private security firm, but suddenly they would become a harbours, docks and piers police force. They could operate inside the harbour or dock or one mile outside it, but they would not be accountable to the House or the public in the same way as the regular police force. I have been corresponding with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessor about. that for the past six months.

I draw the House's attention to the powers contained in that Victorian Act of Parliament, which are being used by major harbours, docks and piers operators, most recently at Parkeston quay. I believe that the House should turn its attention to that, because it is unsatisfactory for powers conferred by Parliament in 1847 to be exercised in that way. It is wrong in the light of current police practice. I did some research and discovered that that Act was passed by the House without debate, but it is high time that it was debated again.

The Bill sets out a series of new offences, but the new powers granted to my right hon. Friend and his successors must be examined in detail in Commitee. I shall comment briefly on a few of those powers. Clause 21 grants the Secretary of State power to require a harbour authority or operator of a ship to allow searches of persons or property of ships before taking on board the persons or property concerned or putting to sea. Clause 22 allows the Secretary of State a more general power to require a harbour authority to use its best endeavours to conduct searches of the harbour area or any ship, property or persons in the harbour.

Clause 23 allows the Secretary of State another general power to give directions to a harbour authority or operator of a ship and sets out in general terms the Secretary of State's requirements for ensuring the safety of the harbour area and ships.

The searches that may be required pursuant to clauses 21 and 22 may be conducted by constables or anyone specified in the Secretary of State's directions. What does that mean? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me when he replies to the debate, because those powers are supplemented by clause 24, which allows the Secretary of State to specify the qualifications of a person carrying out a search and, in particular, states that the Secretary of State may require such a person to have specified training and experience. Will my hon. Friend say what sort of training and experience will be required by those persons, who apparently will not be members of the regular police force?

Two matters are reserved to police constables. First, in clause 16, a ship's master is empowered to arrest a person whom he believes has committed an offence under the Act, but he must then deliver that person to a police constable or an immigration officer. Secondly, the effect of clauses 25 and 24(4) taken together is that only police constables may bear arms. That point was made by the hon. Member for Southport.

Additional powers are given to the persons designated to conduct a search. I draw the House's attention to clause 22(5), which makes it an offence to obstruct such a person exercising his powers under the Bill. Someone doing so will be subject to arrest under the present so-called citizen's power of arrest. Clause 25(4) entitles a designated person to use reasonable force in exercising his powers under the Bill, and clause 33 makes it an offence to give deceptive or misleading statements to any employee of the harbour authority or the operator of a ship.

Further powers are granted by clause 32 to a person authorised by the Secretary of State to conduct an inspection of any ship or harbour with a view to deciding whether the Secretary of State needs to exercise his other powers under the Bill.

The powers granted to the Secretary of State by the clauses to which I referred briefly allow him to lay down a complete code for the policing and security arrangements at any harbour in the country. I hope that when the Committee considers those clauses it will ask penetrating questions about the codes of practice for policing that can be laid down by the Secretary of State. The Bill does not specify how the Secretary of State must use those powers, and, in particular, does not specify whether the powers of search referred to in clauses 21 and 22 must be exercised by a constable or some other person designated by him. In this country, we are used to such powers being exercised by properly trained and responsible police officers, who are accountable to their county police forces and ultimately to elected representatives on local authorities and in the House. Before we contemplate moving away from that long-established procedure, those powers should be more carefully investigated.

The directions that the Secretary of State may give in accordance with clause 23 are, so far as I can see, open-ended. He could give directions requiring the harbour in question to be policed by police constables appointed under the Police Act 1964. Alternatively, he may permit the harbour authority to entrust the harbour's security arrangements to a private security company and then make further directions for the organisation of the private security firm, including, if he thinks fit, directions regarding the qualifications, experience and training of the security guards in question. Those are substantial powers, and I am sure that when considering the drafting of the Bill my right hon. Friend felt it necessary to take them.

The Bill does not cast in stone the arrangements that must be made for policing harbours. Everything will turn on the directions given by the Secretary of State for a particular harbour or for all harbours in the country. However, if the Secretary of State intended to entrust the policing of all the harbours to the regular police service there would be no necessity for the additional powers in the Bill.

If a private security firm is to be used, the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to lay down the requirements which it must follow. That power will supplement and replace the requirements of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to which I have referred and of similar legislation which merely requires two magistrates to appoint any constable and to be satisfied as to his fitness.

The real question raised by this part of the Bill is the content of the Secretary of State's directions. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will reassure me and the police service that the provisions have not been included to expand the provision of private police forces or security guards at harbours and docks in the United Kingdom.

I am grateful to have had this opportunity to participate in the debate. I hope that the important points that I have made will be investigated carefully in Committee.

6.10 pm
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

The debate so far has focused mainly on airport security. That is inevitable, given the dreadful Lockerbie disaster. However, I shall concentrate on offshore installations, which are covered in part II, and particularly the provisions of clause 8. I shall do so not simply because I am a lawyer and lawyers are inevitably pedantic. It strikes me that clause 8, with its subsequent interpretation clauses, raises a serious issue. I have no quibble with the fact that oil platforms and offshore installations have been included in this measure. Clearly, they are isolated and vulnerable and the sort of target that could be the object of terrorist activity. It is important that such installations are included in the Bill.

I am worried about the apparently wide powers which the Secretary of State has included in the Bill. Clause 8 provides: A person who unlawfully, by the use of force or"— these are the important words— by threats of any kind, seizes a fixed platform and exercises control of it, commits an offence". The clause goes on to say that that offence is punishable by possible imprisonment for life.

Offshore installations are not like ships or airlines. They tend to be fixed and they are the ordinary workplace of some 25,000 offshore workers. Like every other workplace, they have been and inevitably will be the subject of industrial action. I am worried about the implications of the clause for future industrial action. An industrial dispute about a year ago involved a sit-in. In such circumstances, it is difficult to see that the Bill would apply.

Unfortunately, offences occasionally occur in industrial disputes. The definition of "unlawfully" in clause 8 is the commission of an act in the United Kingdom which constitutes an offence under the law, in whatever part of the United Kingdom. The clause makes no attempt to define the gravity or the nature of that offence. The serious consequences of clause 8 could come into force simply by the commission of a breach of the peace or from disorderly conduct on an oil platform as a direct consequence of industrial action. That worries me.

I said in my defence earlier that I did not wish to be seen as a pedantic lawyer. The Minister smiles—I shall not repeat that phrase. I do not pluck my interpretation of clause 8 out of the air. In two incidents in the North sea recently, the work force were threatened with criminal action during industrial action. The first incident involved two full-time trade union officials. I cannot go into the detail of this case, because a report has been made to the procurator fiscal. I shall not name the officials involved. They were officers of the International Transport Workers Federation entitled under International Labour Organisation conventions to board vessels to inspect the quality of vessels. They boarded a ship in my constituency. They were invited on board by the crew because of industrial action about the conditions on the vessel. The response of the master of the vessel was immediately to call the police. Despite their office and the powers given to them under the convention, the officers were arrested and charged. The matter is now before the procurator fiscal.

Another more serious case involved the vessel the MSV Stadive. It is an emergency response vessel covering the red sector of the North sea, which is the Shetland basin. The crew had been employed for some eight years by Seaforth Maritime. The operating company, Shell, decided to change the contract. It gave it to a new company, Deitsmann. All the officers and employees on that ship were involved in every action which the ship undertook.

In particular, the crew had the distasteful task of collecting the bodies after the Chinook disaster. They were also the crew that responded to the Ocean Odyssey tragedy. Despite the danger, the vessel was placed over the well drilled by the Ocean Odyssey, which had blown. It was there for three weeks while the well was capped. The crew are dedicated and highly experienced. Its whole future was placed in jeopardy because the oil company decided to change the contract, for whatever reason.

The previous employers said that no redundancy payments would be made because it was transferring its undertaking and the new employers refused to take on the obligations. Industrial action followed. The immediate consequence was that every member of the crew involved in the industrial action was threatened with criminal proceedings. They were threatened by the owners of the vessel that unless they gave up their industrial action they would be subject to prosecution under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 and liable to a maximum penalty of a £2,000 fine.

I do not raise the interpretation of clause 8 lightly. The problems that I envisage already occur in the North sea. I have given two specific examples of how the law is used to threaten and intimidate the work force.

I welcome the legislation, and I believe that it should apply to offshore installations. It has a serious purpose, which we all support. However, in achieving that serious purpose, it is important that we do not create other difficulties. The potential difficulties that I have identified would have a serious and damaging effect on industrial relations law. I have highlighted the effect in the North sea.

If operated in an oppressive way, the legislation could bring the law into disrepute. That is something that we all want to avoid. I look forward to a clear and unequivocal statement from the Minister confirming that that is not the intention of the legislation. If it is not, and the Government's intention is to fulfil the aims of the convention and deal with the serious problems of terrorism, I look forward to their supporting a suitable amendment to rectify the potential difficulties that I have outlined.

6.18 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I have listened intently today, because I hoped that the views of the many port directors in the United Kingdom would be more adequately expressed. The Bill ratifies the International Maritime Organisation convention for the suppression of unlawful acts, but the Government's drafting of the Bill seems to be overkill.

To take an average port in the United Kingdom such as Southampton, how on earth can 100 per cent. security of operation be achieved in a port which not only stretches for several miles but has been rebuilt with marinas, yuppie housing, several factories and even ancillary industrial units? That category of building is increasing all the time.

I am aware that perhaps a mistake was made some years ago when the British Transport docks police were disbanded. Associated British Ports no longer wanted that force, and it took on security officers. If the Bill goes through, I am sure that that will be the practice in the future. I cannot imagine that the police force could possibly recruit the numbers necessary to supervise the security of the 19 ports owned by Associated British Ports, let alone the security of the many other ports besides those.

Mr. Shersby

On what does my hon. Friend base that statement? I am certain that the police could be made available, and surely it would be better to recruit regular officers than a private security force.

Mr. Hill

The problem is that the police are always desperate for further manpower, and one must not forget that they have their normal duties to undertake. I believe that the recruiting programme for the police force is geared to a budget from the Home Office. I do not believe that the Home Office would increase that budget to ensure that every port in the United Kingdom was covered by the police.

No one has mentioned the recruitment of people with great expertise. I should have thought that many officers of the Special Air Services could be recruited to become what I would describe as the "el supremo" of security. I was horrified earlier when someone said that, when an emergency arises at a major airport, three or four different organisations are involved in dealing with it. I am sure that the same thing would happen should an emergency arise at a major port. If highly trained people were employed at the top, it might mean better training of the security staff. When going through Heathrow or Gatwick, I have never had a great deal of faith in the ability of the security staff to meet a real emergency should it arise.

The main source of danger has never been tackled. I have often thought of the Nigerian aircraft that was carrying a Nigerian ex-Minister in a box. I am sure that the Secretary of State remembers that incident. Naturally, that could not happen in this country, although we would not necessarily want such Ministers back. Diplomatic cargo and diplomatic bags have never been scrutinised to any degree. Perhaps some scrutiny is undertaken, and good luck to those who do it, but the lack of proper scrutiny of such cargo and bags represents one of the big weaknesses of our security operations. Any small country with 20 or 30 diplomats can invariably get its baggage on to an aircraft and in or out of the country without scrutiny.

The expense of providing massive security at a port such as Southampton can be paid for only by those who use that port. Such a cost could be a great inconvenience to the people who work in that port and, at the end of the day, those extra charges will be reflected in the cost of goods throughout the country. As a word of caution, my right hon. Friend should go softly, softly on the maritime side, but he deserves a 100 per cent. mark for all his efforts on aviation.

6.24 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

There is, unhappily, a constant freemasonry of terror. There are nations that, when they feel that they are losing the political argument, will not hesitate to use other nations' civilians as bargaining pawns. The nation that decides to blow 500 people out of the air is not particularly committed to democratic ideals or interested in the general security of the travelling public. For that reason, the Bill is tremendously important.

The Secretary of State will know that the Select Committee on Transport was careful in the evidence it took not to highlight certain areas. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of all sorts of questions that I do not believe it would be politic or sensible to discuss in the House. I must stress to the right hon. Gentleman, however, that I am not convinced that the present security arrangements at the most used airports in this country, or even at the smaller ones, are even beginning to be adequate. At one of the busiest airports, Heathrow, I saw to my considerable horror that things have reached the point where at least one major airline interprets the need to question travelling passengers about security as acceptably dealt with by having those questions pinned to the check-in desk.

E1 A1 is one of the few international airlines that is capable of offering safe transport to its passengers. The Secretary of State knows that it was able to find and to identify the girl, the dupe, carrying the Semtex because of its profiling techniques and its highly trained employees. Those employees were not only on the ball, but found out immediately about the problem. They did so by taking the time to question and because that airline had put security at the top of its list, not at the bottom.

All airlines, particularly the large international ones, make the constant plea that they will never have sufficient time to undertake the profiling techniques necessary because their passengers demand constant and rapid movement from the airport into the aircraft. Those of us who constantly travel on airlines realise that the speed of transmission from the land to the air is becoming slower and slower—often for acceptable reasons. What is not evident, however, is that a high level of security checking is carried out by airlines. A lot of luggage is never checked and a great deal of cargo should be subjected to much tighter security procedures.

The travelling public need better and stronger security measures. If there are no machines capable of identifying Semtex, only hand searching and profiling will do. If security machines are used to screen baggage, the people using them must be trained. It is not good enough to have someone sitting in front of the screen for 25 minutes looking at moving lines of luggage with no idea what he is identifying and no ability to do anything effective about the speed of his work. Machines must be properly calibrated and the staff must be properly paid and trained.

Above all, airlines must stop saying that passengers are not prepared to pay for safety and are not prepared for time to be taken to check their luggage properly. All sensible travellers want to get to the other end in one piece—that should not be too much to ask. When I get on a plane with my family, I want to get off with all of them with me, having been safely carried to our destination. That means that proper cargo space must be provided and that proper screening machines should be used by all the major airlines.

The Secretary of State must allow his new inspectorates direct access to him. That is the only way in which the inspectors can communicate their point of view. They could then tell him that they have checked an airport, that it will not do and that something must be done immediately. That point has been made time and time again to Secretaries of State for Transport by the Select Commitee on Transport and by others.

It can take an hour to get a perfectly ordinary bag into or out of an airport. On Monday, the absolutely unimaginable was achieved at terminal 2 and it took an hour and three quarters to unload the baggage because three major planes arrived at the same time. That shows that passengers spend time in airports. However, time is not usefully deployed by those who should have passenger safety at the top of their list.

6.29 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Before I come to my main points, so much nonsense has been spoken this afternoon by hon. Members who have not researched their facts that I should like, first, to refer to that. The point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) cast a slur on a fair number of my constituents who watch the X-ray screens and check the baggage at airports. They are highly trained and skilled. At Heathrow airport alone last year, about 250,000 items were detected by such skilled people, and to suggest otherwise is grossly unfair and something that I cannot accept.

I hope that all hon. Members share my enthusiasm for the principle of better security. I also hope that all Conservative Members share my contempt for some of the cheap, party political point scoring that has been going on since Lockerbie among the Opposition.

In the few minutes left in this debate, I wish to look beyond those principles and the search for scapegoats or apportioning blame. If we are to take full advantage of the opportunity provided by the Bill to make still more progress, we must look ahead. If we are to make progress and ensure that we do so, we need to establish some tests to use to determine whether the Bill and its principles will achieve what we seek.

There are three tests. First, will the Bill lead to practical proposals? Secondly, will the proposals that come from the Bill look to the future rather than the past? Thirdly, will the Bill's proposals involve everybody and everything, rather than, as suggested earlier, lead to another bout of buck-passing and attempts to pass the responsibility on to someone else?

Clearly, first and foremost we must ensure that the proposals are practical. Raising expectations which lead nowhere is no way to treat the travelling public. Announcing—as the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington did after the Lockerbie tragedy—a six-point action plan that was incapable of practical implementation is inexcusable. Calling for more and better equipment for checking people and luggage when technology cannot cope is irresponsible. Pretending that such equipment exists elsewhere is even worse. The new American TNA detection machine is huge, heavy and slow, its safety has yet to he proved, and there are only two in operation in the world. The American Government and the public have not yet determined whether the gamma radiation emitted by such machines is safe.

With all this in mind, it is important to understand that a Bill that simply gives powers to the Secretary of State is no guarantee for effective action. For the Bill to pass the first test, the Government need to spell out how they will use the enabling powers. When the Government come to use those powers, they must state what steps must be taken to comply with their directions. It simply will not be good enough to fall back on saying that it is for the person to do it and for the courts to interpret what that direction means.

We must also ensure that there is a sensible and flexible balance between effective security and convenient travel. Security of 100 per cent. will always be impossible unless we ground all aircraft and close all airports. Applying ultra-stringent security rules to all airports is not practical, because the travelling public will not tolerate it. Therefore, it is important to remember that, whatever changes the Bill might produce, risk assessment will remain a vital part of the future of aviation security.

The second test is whether the Bill's proposals look forward rather than backward. An all too common and unfortunate British habit is that, when faced with a tragedy, we search for a scapegoat and, with hindsight say, "If only this, that or the other had been done, the tragedy would never have happened." Opposition Members have absolute mastery of such skills. No fact is too obvious, no bereavement too tragic, for somebody to go in for a bout of finger pointing and point scoring.

Unlike the Opposition and their attempts to score cheap points, terrorists look forward, not backward, and ask what new methods they can use because everyone seems to be trying to close the loopholes that previously existed. If the Bill simply focuses on the past and on ensuring that another Lockerbie does not happen, terrorists will come up with a novel way to carry out their particularly nasty activities in the sky.

The hue and cry that has come out of Lockerbie smacks of looking back rather than forward. Of course we must guard against tragedies such as Lockerbie, but we must try to think like the terrorist and ask ourselves, "What next, where next and how next can we do something differently?".

In this context, I join other Members in drawing the Government's attention to the potential loopholes that exist in the cargo operation. There is an urgent need to re-examine that activity. Looking to the future also means trying to best-guess the technology that the terrorist will use in future. There is little to be gained from finally deciding how to discover Semtex, just as the terrorist moves on to another type of explosive.

The third test is simply to ask whether the proposals involve everyone and everything. In a global activity such as aviation, unilateral action can never be wholly effective. The Bill cannot hope to provide a total cure; only international co-operation can do that. What is the use of a super-secure Heathrow when Athens airport still holds about as much water as a colander? To ensure that the proposals involve everyone, the Bill must also have a domestic dimension. To deserve support, it must. ensure that it catches everyone in its net and requires the participation of everybody in the industry and the travelling public.

Therefore, I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) about the control authorities being exempt. They must be caught in the checking requirements, for no other reason than that they are open to blackmail to take items airside.

If we are to involve everybody, we must include the Government on a long-term basis. They must avoid the trap of regarding the Bill as the way to discharge their duty to help improve aviation security, and of believing that, having done so, they need only revert to directing and testing. However many Bills the House passes, and however many new measures are introduced at the airports, terrorism will never be eliminated while the causes that motivate the bomber still exist in the world. I am sure that the Government need little persuasion to play their part in ensuring that terrorism is made unnecessary by curing international problems.

There must be tests to ensure that the Bill is right and leads to practical proposals. Will it ensure that its proposals look forward rather than backward? Will it ensure that the proposals involve everyone and everything? If it will, it deserves the support of us all.

6.39 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

First, I pay tribute to the young policemen among my constituents from Whitburn, Livingston and elsewhere who, day after day, went to Lockerbie and had the gruesome task of trying to clear up the mess. What those young people went through was formidable.

Secondly, to save time, will the Department look at my speech on the Consolidated Fund just before Christmas, in which I outlined in detail at 5.30 am various International Air Transport Association problems in relation to the importation of birds and other livestock into this country? Everything that I want to say is in that speech and I hope that the Department will reflect on those matters.

Thirdly, some of us believe that the laws—difficult though they are—on the immunity of diplomatic bags must be changed because, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) said, abuse is going on.

Fourthly, I interrupted the Secretary of State earlier to refer to an answer of 14 December on airport security. I am not wholly convinced. Of course there are difficulties about providing sophisticated equipment for developing countries if there are not enough people to operate it, but the matter should be reconsidered because it is relatively easy to put lethal baggage on at some rather remote airport, and once it is in the system it is much more difficult to identify it when it is transferred from aircraft to aircraft.

I undertook to sit down at 6.40 pm.

Mr. Speaker

I call Mr. Snape.

Mr. Steen

Mr. Speaker, I have been waiting all day to speak—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have called the Front-Bench spokesman.

6.40 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

It is a sad and frequent occurrence on these occasions that hon. Members from both sides who want to participate in debates do not, for various reasons, have the opportunity to do so. I and the Minister agreed to take the minimum possible time and I can only apologise to hon. Members who have had to truncate their speeches or who have not been called.

The Bill will strengthen security at Britain's air and sea ports. The Opposition will support it, as we would support any Bill with such good intentions. We welcome the Bill, but as we have made clear in the debate we believe that it has a number of fundamental defects that must be remedied. I give notice to the Under-Secretary of State that we shall seek to deal with those defects and flaws in Committee.

The Bill does not go far enough in its attempt to curtail the threat of activities likely to endanger aircraft, ships, their crews and the travelling public. Our main objection to the Bill has to do with funding. There is no significant increase in funding and no proper provision for the security that we would like at our airfields and sea ports.

Whenever the Opposition suggest that the Government are not doing enough, Conservatives ask, "Who will pay?" They always ask where the money will come from. We have made it plain, as did the Select Committee, that the restoration of an aviation security fund would go a long way towards providing the necessary money properly to protect passengers and crew.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, the Select Committee agreed with us. In paragraph 30 of its third report it pointed out: The levy did provide a means whereby airlines and the travelling public could see how much they were paying for security and make a judgment as to whether that represented value for money"— a key phrase that should appeal to Conservatives, who always talk about value for money. This Select Committee, with a Conservative majority, emphasised that point and made a recommendation that we wholeheartedly support.

The Select Committee also made a number of criticisms about inadequacies that it perceived in aviation security, and went on to point out in paragraph 31: The whole ethos of financing security appears to be reactive: to provide funds to tighten up loopholes after terrorists have demonstrated their existence. It is the custom for those who wind up debates to refer to speeches that have been made during them—a custom that I have always supported and tried to follow. With only six minutes left I am in some difficulty about doing so today, but I want to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), who made the last and worst speech from the Conservative Benches, to the Select Committee's recommendations.

Mr. Wilshire

I take that as a compliment.

Mr. Snape

The hon. Gentleman would; that illustrates his mental capacities. Pomposity in one so young is not a particularly attractive trait, but added to self-delusion it gives me even more cause to worry about what I hope will be the hon. Gentleman's short career in the House.

The problems and inadequacies in security that we have pointed out, especially since Lockerbie, have needed to be pointed out to the Government—we make no bones about that. It is the purpose of the Opposition to point out perceived inadequacies of the Government, and we shall go on pointing out shortcomings in aviation and maritime security and suggesting alternatives and how they might be funded.

The Government are not willing to commit extra funding to the relevant security services and the other authorities that will need it. For instance, the Bill does not mention extra resources for Customs and Excise, whose officers will presumably have some part to play in administering the extra security that we want. I hope that when the Committee of Selection decides the membership of the Standing Committee to consider this Bill it will examine some of the contributions from Members today and select accordingly. I hope, for example, that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), to whom I always refer as representing the intellectual wing of the Conservative party, will be a member of the Standing Committee, because his Select Committee has made a valuable contribution and we should value his expertise during the passage of the legislation.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington pointed out that when Mr. Gregory Peck left an aircraft at Heathrow he was met by a great number of journalists, which must have caused him enormous concern. I hope that he managed to break the habit of a lifetime and toss them the odd crumb of news as he made his way down the gangway. But the serious point about the Government's attitude during the past year, as the Select Committee said, is that the Government's proposals to tighten security at Heathrow are aimed at least as much at journalists as at terrorists. Some Conservative Members did not like it, but my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East rightly said that the first people to have punitive action taken against them and to have airside passes removed were those guilty of taking photographs of a previous Secretary of State leaving an aeroplane. That is no way in which to instil confidence that the Government's intentions are honourable.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) rightly reminded us that some clauses refer to maritime safety and the ports. He and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) pointed out the problems that arise now, and are likely to arise in the future, in the recruitment of security staff with some of the duties of constables but with none of their responsibilities. Both hon. Gentlemen know the reasons behind such recruitment. Security staff working 70 hours a week for £1.75 per hour are cheaper than police constables whose pay is nationally agreed and whose conditions of service are laid down. When Conservative Members point out the deficiencies, I wish that occasionally they would point out to their Front Bench spokesmen that public sector expenditure is not necessarily a bad thing. Reducing public sector expenditure by cutting the number of police constables employed at Britain's ports in no way demonstrates the Government's concern about the safety and future security of such installations.

The Bill does not go far enough, and in Committee we shall attempt to persuade the Government of that. I hope that when the Minister is in an environment where a little more time is available, he will be better prepared to listen than has been the Secretary of State or the previous Secretary of State. If he is prepared to listen, improved security at our airports and sea ports can be achieved. That is the desire of both sides of the House.

6.52 pm
The Minister of Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

I am pleased to note that basically all hon. Members have given a warm welcome to the legislation. It is important that as much as is possible we have total unity in our attempt to ensure that the security at our airports and ports is as good as is expected.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was, yet again, clutching at straws. There have been a number of changes during the past 12 months. The amount of money now spent by airports on security has vastly increased and the number of people they employ in carrying out security checks has also increased. The British Airports Authority employed 2,000 people in December 1988; the number increased to 2,981 by January of this year. That significant improvement is because of the directions issued by the Department of Transport. The authority realises that security is vital not only to the House but to the industry and to the travelling public. It is in the interests of both the airlines and the airports to ensure that they are used as safely as possible.

Neither I nor the Government accept the idea that there must be a central collected fund to ensure that those improvements are administered. The best way to ensure that security is implemented by the airports is by direction. If they fail to carry out our directions, we shall take the action that will he available to us under the legislation. If airports fail to carry out our directions, they can expect to be prosecuted. I assure the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that the Government will prosecute where it is necessary.

Of the Select Committee's 28 recommendations last year, the Government accepted 21, and we hope that they will be implemented as soon as possible. However, they cannot be implemented overnight, and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East accepted that.

A number of interesting points were raised during the debate but I cannot answer all of them as we have only a short time. I shall write to those hon. Members that I have not answered. We will have a number of opportunities during Committee to discuss the Bill in greater detail and to consider some of the arguments. I hope that we can also deal with some of the fears expressed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) expressed his concern that the searching of customs and immigration officers should not be excluded. I assure him that we gave careful consideration to that point, and only those with warrant cards will be exempt. If there is still a difficulty, a senior officer can be called. That was one of the recommendations of the Transport Select Committee, but apparently not when those members were responding to emergency calls. A better clarification of our system would be to have a policy wholly about warrant officers and people carrying warrant cards.

The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) made some strange comments at the beginning of his speech. He suggested that the Bill would give us too many powers. I am not sure how we can have too many powers when we are trying to defeat terrorists. In some cases those powers are reserve powers. On the marine aspect we are merely setting up a body similar to that which already exists for aviation. That does not mean that we can mirror-image everything that we do on aviation, but we shall consider individual ports, and to have the power of direction at some ports is welcome.

I hope that that goes some way to answer the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill). Some ports have already taken many of the precautions that we desire. An article in this morning's Lloyd's List welcomed us having those powers if the need arose. It would be irresponsible if the legislation were passed without introducing those powers.

I understand the comments and concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and in Committee we shall carefully consider his points. Concern was expressed that private security firms could carry firearms. That will not be the position. We are in discussion with the Home Office on the future of the docks police force. I hope that I can arrange for my hon. Friend to receive a good answer to his outstanding correspondence, and that we can erase some of his fears during Committee.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) expressed some fears about whether clause 8 could be used in an industrial dispute. Although I accept that the powers are widely drawn, it is because of the background of terrorism. Anything that we do under those powers would need the permission of the Attorney-General or the procurator fiscal in Scotland. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman need not be too worried about the use of those powers.

The speeches of hon. Members on both sides have clearly supported the Government's determination to continue to develop and improve our security against international terrorists. The legislation will enable the Government and the aviation and maritime industries, as partners in a common cause of protecting the passengers and crew of aircrafts and ships, to develop and improve the security measures at our airports and seaports.

The new legislation, taken together with the Aviation Security Act 1982, will provide the vital regulatory framework for security. However, to have effective security, we must look to the security staff at our airports and seaports, to the airline and shipping operators, who are in the front line. It is also vital that all who work at airports should be aware of the constant need for security, and should co-operate in playing their part in the security procedures. Security also requires the co-operation, patience and forbearance of the passengers. The year since Lockerbie has shown the readiness of passengers to help with the security procedures. I hope that the Bill receives the support of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).