HC Deb 16 May 2003 vol 405 cc620-39

12.3 pm

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 9, leave out "or".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 11, at the end add or (c) a provision which prohibits specified behaviour by a person, being behaviour which is likely to endanger an aircraft, or a person in an aircraft,".

Mr. Roy

I am pleased to bring this Bill back to the House. I gave notice of both amendments in Committee. They seek to close a loophole in the Bill regarding police power in Scotland. Clause 2 amends the Civil Aviation Act 1982 to raise the maximum possible penalty to five years for the specific offence of endangering the safety of an aircraft or a person in an aircraft, thereby allowing a subsequent change to the air navigation order.

For England, Wales and Northern Ireland, raising the maximum penalty to five years carries the advantage of making the offence automatically arrestable, in accordance with section 24(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the equivalent provision in Northern Ireland. However, as there is no equivalent in Scotland, the offence would not be automatically arrestable in the north.

In Scotland, a police constable has a common law power of arrest, which must be justified according to the circumstances in a specific case. Although it may be possible to justify arrest for such a serious offence, I have been advised that it would be preferable for legal certainty to create a power of arrest in statute. The amendments achieve that by adding the penalty to the list of offences in clause 1(3), which is to be inserted after section 82(3) of Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. The offence would thus become automatically arrestable without a warrant in Scotland.

The amendments are technical and ensure that the police throughout the United Kingdom have the same enhanced powers to tackle the alleged incidences of disruptive behaviour that are most commonly known as air rage. Members of the Committee and the Under-Secretary were kind enough to say that they supported the amendments in principle. I hope that hon. Members will accept them today.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I support the amendments and I congratulate the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) on his excellent drafting. Hon. Members will recall my declaration of interests on Second Reading, to which they will be pleased to know that I have nothing to add.

I sought assistance from the Library in preparing my response to the amendment. I want to record my disappointment that the annotated version of the Anti- terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 is not yet available. I am sure that that will be rectified as soon as possible.

The amendments are eminently sensible and, as the hon. Gentleman said, flow from discussions in Committee. He gave us notice of them and we support them.

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

We, too, support tightening the measure to ensure that it is effective in Scotland. Of course, we also support the principles of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

I indicated the Government's support for the amendments in Committee. Clearly, it is important that the police have the same power to deal with serious incidents wherever they happen in the United Kingdom. It would be unfortunate if an offence was tackled less effectively simply because an aircraft had landed in Scotland. I commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 2, in page 2, line 11, at the end add "or" (c) a provision which prohibits specified behaviour by a person, being behaviour which is likely to endanger an aircraft, or a person in an aircraft,".—[Mr. Roy.] Order for Third Reading read.

12.7 pm

Mr. Roy

During the Bill's passage, I have been gratified by the amount of support from hon. Members throughout the United Kingdom. The aviation industry has also given me much support. It recognises the need to tighten the law and that the phenomenon called air rage is a modern-day problem that will unfortunately continue to plague many aircraft passengers who are travelling on business or on holiday.

I tried to sum up the reasons for the Bill's importance on Second Reading. We have all witnessed incidents in pubs, clubs, streets or restaurants. For many people, the natural reaction is to stand back and get out of the way. That is easy in a taxi queue, restaurant or pub. However, it is totally different in a steel tube that is flying over 30,000 ft at more than 500 mph. The fear factor is vastly increased. There is nowhere to go or to take one's family.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Rosemary McKenna) described how she had witnessed an incident and said how frightening it was for her and her family, simply because of the dangers associated with being on the aircraft. That shows why the Bill is needed: air rage can be traumatic for the victims, so we need to take action against it. Fortunately, serious instances are extremely rare, but even lower-level antisocial behaviour can be unpleasant for passengers. Many passengers have a natural fear of flying and are already nervous, so air rage and disruptive passenger behaviour is the last thing that they need.

It is important to acknowledge that cabin staff, by virtue of flying so often, are more likely to encounter air rage. The cabin staff unions support the Bill. People trying to earn a living as cabin staff should not have to put up with such behaviour. If they have to put up with it, they need to know that it can be dealt with as quickly as possible. When an aircraft lands, the police should be able to deal with offenders as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that is not happening now. Cabin staff have told me that they sometimes have to deal with offences in the air, only to find that, when the aircraft lands, the offender can walk away. If police investigations occur much further down the line, the action taken against the offender is often not serious enough. Cabin staff certainly welcome the Bill.

The police also welcome the Bill. As the law stands, the police can waste vast resources following up the sort of air rage incidents that we have all read about in the newspapers. On Second Reading and in Committee, I mentioned the example of what happened on 13 December last year when a plane load of Celtic football supporters were returning from a European game in Vigo. The day after the game, an incident took place on the plane and the cabin crew were worried that they were losing control. The pilot decided to send out a mayday and divert the plane to Cardiff airport. When the plane landed there, the police took some statements but the men involved were allowed to return to their homes in Scotland and the north of England. The Cardiff police then had to travel the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to take further statements from them. I am sure that the Cardiff police have enough on their plate without having to travel to the north of England and Scotland to take more witness statements about the incident. Three or four people were finally brought to court just a few weeks ago and found guilty. The case illustrates how much police time was wasted and the Bill should stop that happening for ever.

For the record, I do not want to be unfair to all the Celtic supporters on the flight. I have spoken to many of them, and they have read my remarks. This season alone, Celtic supporters have flown on aircraft to Basel, Lithuania and Stuttgart in Germany. They have even been to Blackburn and Liverpool, and, a few weeks ago, to see Celtic play Boavista. From today, they will form part of the biggest-ever exodus of football supporters from the United Kingdom, when about 50,000 of them travel to the UEFA cup final in Seville next Wednesday and I hope that they will be on their best behaviour. Indeed, I shall be there to monitor their behaviour—if for no other reason—like some of my hon. Friends whose names I shall not mention.

It has come to my attention that between 8,000 and 10,000 of those supporters will leave from UK airports on Wednesday morning alone to fly to Seville, Faro or Jerez, returning immediately after the game. We need to be aware of the problems that could be caused by such a massive number of people flying from, for example, Glasgow airport at 6 am, being in the centre of Seville during the day, attending the game at night and travelling home at about 4 o'clock the next morning. As hon. Members know, Glasgow people are not famous for partaking of tea and coffee when they attend sporting functions abroad—

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Or in Lanarkshire.

Mr. Roy

Indeed. Many of those fans will take drink during the day and, unfortunately, some of them will be drunk by the time they get back to the airport. Regardless of how their team fares, they will have been out of their beds for 24 hours, they will be tired, they will have had a drink and could be intoxicated when they try to board the plane home. I suspect that when about 10,000 people are going through the doors of the Spanish airport in the space of three hours, they will be herded straight on to planes and returned to Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Belfast or Glasgow. That could cause problems.

I have constantly raised such problems and will continue to do so. The football authorities must ensure that they keep a grip on things.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley)

Of course, we want to crack down on drunken football hooligans, but how does the hon. Gentleman define "drunk"? I am worried that people who may merely have had a couple of glasses of the in-flight booze could be caught under the terms of the Bill, and that we are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Mr. Roy

I should have made it clear that the flights will not be selling drink. All the football clubs and the football associations run drink-free flights, which I welcome. There is nothing wrong with people having a drink; I am certainly not anti-drink. I am talking about people who are obviously drunk and who would be incapable of escaping quickly from an aircraft in an emergency. Someone who has been up for 24 hours, who has been drinking and who has been waiting for several hours for a flight that leaves at 3 o'clock in the morning is likely to go into a deep sleep when they get to their seat. If they are intoxicated that can cause problems.

My fears about these problems began several years ago, when football supporters started going on away-days. Everyone—the clubs, the airport authorities and the travel agencies must ensure that fans are aware that they should act as responsibly as if they were going on holiday with their families or on a business trip.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

To pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), we entirely understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He used the example of football supporters who are obviously drunk. One could give similar examples in respect of holidaymakers coming home after two weeks away. However, the Bill merely refers to a provision which prohibits a person from being drunk in an aircraft". Theoretically, that could apply in all cases, so the definition of "drunk" is important. How, precisely, does the hon. Gentleman intend that word to be defined?

Mr. Roy

Before I came to this place, when I was a student, I worked in a bar at night, and I used to define people as drunk who were not capable of making intelligible conversation or who did not have their faculties about them. If you are a barman and someone who is drunk asks you for a drink, you say, "I am sorry. Quite frankly, you have had enough and you are not going to have any more. It is time to go home." The two situations are comparable, and I want someone at the airport to say, "You cannot board the plane because you do not have your faculties about you."

Mr. Beith

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is bearing it in mind, particularly in view of the news that we had last night of threats to flights to Kenya, that airport staff, aircrew and fellow passengers will have as their primary concern and anxiety the possibility that someone might have boarded an aircraft or be trying to board an aircraft who poses a security threat to that aircraft. In that situation it is very important that this legislation helps to deter anyone who, out of sheer irresponsibility, distracts cabin staff and has to have a lot of time and attention devoted to dealing with them, when there are serious threats from those who would imperil all the passengers on the aircraft. The legislation is important and valuable.

Mr. Roy

I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman; he puts that point very straightforwardly. People need to realise that the behavioural patterns of those who travel on aircraft have totally changed and that we expect people to behave in a certain manner nowadays because, unfortunately, we live in changing and dangerous times. I hope that the Bill will signal that we realise that there is a problem and are determined to go some way to tackle that problem, as the airline industry and the police have said.

I do not want people to think that this is just a football problem; it is not. I highlighted that aspect because of events in recent weeks. The airline industry has told me that it is not only a holiday charter problem, or indeed an economy seat problem, because often the business man or woman in first class has proved thorny—and obnoxious, according to reports that I have had from the airline industry. The Bill is not aimed at just one section of the travelling public; the problem occurs on all types of flights, chartered or scheduled, and in business and economy class.

To recapitulate, the Bill would introduce automatic powers of arrest for the three most serious existing offences of disruptive behaviour—that is, air rage—on board aircraft: drunkenness, acting in a disruptive manner and endangering the safety of an aircraft. It would also allow an increase in the penalty for the latter offence—obviously the most serious of the three—from two years to five years. These are modest measures but they would undoubtedly make enforcement of the law far more effective. The Bill commands the support of all parts of the industry and, of course, the vast majority of the travelling public.

I place on the record my thanks to the hon. Members from all parties who have spoken in support of the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and today. I thank the police for their help, and the airline industry—the companies and the trade unions—that helped me to prepare the Bill and gave me fantastic background information.

This is truly a United Kingdom Bill, and I am grateful to hon. Members from throughout the United Kingdom who have taken part in its scrutiny. I mention the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) and for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the hon. Members for East Devon (Mr. Swire), for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), the hon. Member for the Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), who spoke at length and very interestingly on Second Reading, and the other Opposition Members who spoke today. I also mention, from the Scottish constituencies, the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) from the north, for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) from the south, for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) and for Ayr (Sandra Osborne), the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) from the west coast and, from the central belt constituencies, my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Rosemary McKenna) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris). I also thank those hon. Members who have supported the Bill today.

Finally, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and his officials for their help in drafting the Bill. I was on the phone an awful lot, and they answered and got back to me very quickly. They were patient with me when they had told me the same thing two or three times and I asked them to tell me for a fourth time to make sure that I understood.

The Bill is much needed. We have all been on flights and we all know how traumatic such incidents can be, although many of us have never witnessed them. I am pleased that the Bill has met with universal support, and I look forward to it being passed in the other place.

12.25 pm
Mr. Francois

I should like to declare something of a constituency interest in the Bill: Southend airport—a regional airport—is near my constituency. It is in the neighbouring constituency—Rochford and Southend, East—and the boundary is only a few hundred yards from my own, so I am not the MP for Southend airport, but I am what is often called a travel-to-work MP because a number of my constituents travel to work from that facility.

Of course, as an Essex Member of Parliament, I wish to say that Stansted is in the county of Essex. I have sometimes heard Southend airport lightheartedly referred to as "Essex domestic" and Stansted airport as "Essex international". I simply enter that fact into the record.

Turning specifically to the Bill, I understand what the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) is attempting to achieve. Overall, the thrust of the Bill is laudable. The events of 9/11, tragic as they were, show us that an aircraft is not merely a mode of transportation any more. In the most extreme circumstances, a passenger aircraft can become a weapon—those people in the twin towers were on the receiving end of that—so this is an important measure.

The United States has taken airline security so seriously that it now deploys armed sky marshals on a number of its flights to provide protection. There is also some debate in the United States—I do not think that the hon. Gentleman suggests this in the context of the Bill—about whether or not cabin crew should be armed to allow them some defence against anyone who, for whatever reason, seeks to take over an aircraft. A propos all that, it is interesting that a number of pilots in the US are ex-military, and I understand that, funnily enough, they have requested the right to be armed, in ultimate defence of the cockpit. So we need to acknowledge that the Bill touches on a very serious matter. Incidentally, the Israelis have legendary experience in airline security, and I might return to that a little later in my remarks.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that bad behaviour on an aircraft can be antisocial, and he is quite right. I endorse his point, particularly about those who are nervous about flying. They find the whole experience difficult enough as it is, and they may even face that fear simply getting on an aircraft. Their fear is made worse if people on that aircraft behave in an extremely rowdy manner. Someone who is nervous can be made more anxious, perhaps even before the aircraft has left the runway.

I am currently serving on the Standing Committee that is considering the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, by means of which the Government are seeking to introduce measures that can curtail antisocial behaviour in a variety of circumstances. In the experience of those of us who are serving on that Committee—I believe that this is germane to the Bill before us—such matters involve some interesting and difficult problems of definition. When using certain terms in legislation, how do we define them, particularly if it might ultimately lead to a prosecution? The way in which we define an offence may be important when the Crown Prosecution Service ultimately attempts to achieve a conviction for it before a court. It is for that reason that I asked the hon. Gentleman in my earlier intervention how he would define "drunk". I assure him that I am not attempting to be obtuse, but if we are to prosecute someone for being drunk, as the Bill implies, it is necessary to define what constitutes drunkenness.

I take on board entirely the hon. Gentleman's point that if one has had his anecdotal experience of being a barman, one can tell quickly when someone has had one over the eight and ought not to drink any more. I see what he is saying, but in a pub situation a member of staff behind the bar can say, "You're obviously drunk. I'm not going to serve you any more alcohol." If one is trying to prosecute someone for being drunk on an aircraft, however, one will have to prove later in a court of law that that person was drunk. In that circumstance, my question to the promoter of the Bill—as I presume that one would want justice to play its part—is how would it be proven to the satisfaction of the court that the person had been drunk. He could say, "Well, I had had a few, but I wasn't actually drunk." It might then come down to the word of the captain of the aircraft against the word of the defendant. In relation to clause 1, therefore, it is important to ask the hon. Gentleman how drunkenness would be defined for the purposes of the proposed legislation.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point, which was raised on Second Reading. An offence already exists in Scots law—I am not sure whether it is in English or Welsh law—of being drunk and incapable in a public place. In that case, the witness statement of the arresting officer is satisfactory to the court, and no measurement has to be taken of the blood alcohol level. I assume that a similar judgment can be made in this case.

Mr. Francois

That sounds to me to be a relatively practical suggestion. In a sense, I ask the question because I want clarification. The right hon. Gentleman has been of some assistance, and I see that the promoter of the Bill wishes to intervene.

Mr. Roy

To answer the hon. Gentleman's question, I know that the Minister has a written definition of being drunk, and I know that he will say exactly what that definition is when he speaks.

Mr. Francois

In that case, I certainly look forward to the Minister's summing-up speech.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful if the Minister could intervene on him on this matter? Clearly, alcohol is liberally available on most commercial flights, and, depending on the definition, we could find that half the passengers were drunk.

Mr. Francois

I know that my hon. Friend also has an interest in these matters because of the proximity of Manchester airport to his constituency. No doubt he has received correspondence on some of these matters, too. I would be willing to give way to the Minister if he would like to pop up and clarify this point beyond peradventure.

Mr. Jamieson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to clarify the point. I must say that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) sometimes looks as if he might be drunk on a couple of wine gums. Clearly, the hon. Members for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and for Henley (Mr. Johnson) have led more sheltered lives than you and I, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the legal context, in the Criminal Justice Act 1967 the words, "while drunk" have been held to mean, while deprived of self-control by intoxicating liquor". I hope that that puts the lid on the issue.

Mr. Francois

I thank the Minister for that clarification. I hope that he understands why I sought to gain it. It would be important in the context of the Bill that people realised that there was a real deterrent. There would not be a deterrent if they felt that they would be likely to get off on a legal technicality when the matter came to court.

I said earlier that I would speak briefly about the experience of the Israelis in security screening. It is different from what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to achieve, but were one to plot such measures on a spectrum, for obvious historical reasons, the way in which El Al deals with some of these issues is absolutely at the furthest end of the spectrum that one could practically contemplate. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman wants to go that far.

People travelling on an El Al flight are normally required to arrive two to three hours before the flight departs. They then go through a physical search and an exhaustive screening process in which the airline's security officers put passengers into three categories of risk. They will interview them depending on the risk category that they assess the passengers to be in. The people in the highest risk category—they meet certain criteria which experience has shown El Al might make them more likely to attempt to do something to disrupt the flight—will go through an extremely intensive interview that almost borders on interrogation before they are allowed on to the flight. If there is any doubt at all in the minds of the security officers, they will refuse a person the right to get on the plane. Under Israeli law, they have the right to do that.

I do not think for a moment that the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw is suggesting that the Bill should go that far. Having to triage and interview extensively everyone at terminal 4 at Heathrow on a busy Saturday morning before we allow them to board an aircraft would cause massive disruption. However, it is an example of how far one can go. The hon. Gentleman has come up with sensible compromises in the Bill that would allow for greater confidence for passengers and improve passenger safety without necessarily being over-restrictive

I commend the hon. Gentleman's efforts on the Bill; it is worthy. We may never know the overall effect of what he seeks to do. It is just possible that, in putting the Bill before the House of Commons, he may, in future, save the lives of people whom he has never met. He may have performed a valuable service. With that final word of congratulation, I shall conclude my remarks.

12.37 pm
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) on introducing the Bill. I was present at Second Reading, but did not have an opportunity to speak. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity to contribute now. My hon. Friend joins a long list of lawgivers from King John and Moses to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns).

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw on the experience and knowledge that he brought to his description of the combined effects of alcohol and sleep deprivation on the human body. He obviously spoke with some feeling on the subject and from personal experience.

The Bill has clearly struck a chord not only in the House but among the wider public. When I worked as a reporter on the Paisley Daily Express between 1988 and 1990, one of my regular duties was to cover the local sheriff court. Almost every day I attended, cases were brought before the court from Glasgow airport, an area over which the court had authority. Day after day, business men and people from all walks of life were brought before the sheriff and fined and jailed for some of the most appalling deeds of misbehaviour that one can imagine. That was not bad news for me, because I regularly sold the stories on to the national newspapers and made quite a nice profit.

"Air rage" is one of the phrases much beloved of tabloid headline writers. It is made up of two very short words that fit into headlines. We seem to be complacent about the issue, but it has a number of causes. I understand and accept my hon. Friend's reluctance on Second Reading to introduce any ban on airlines selling alcohol on board flights. I completely understand the reasons for that. However, the House has to make a stand and make it clear to companies that if passengers who turn up to board a plane are clearly already inebriated and incapable of behaving themselves and of completely controlling their facilities, they should not be allowed to board.

I can speak from personal experience. The first time I ever flew on a plane I jumped out when it reached 3,000 ft, although that is not entirely relevant to the debate. I can confirm that I was wearing a parachute, and I mention that experience only because I suspect that few people have done it. However, my first experience on a commercial flight was on a journey from Glasgow to London. I was employed as a press officer by the Labour party in Scotland at the time and I had to attend a meeting in London during my first week in the job. On my return journey, I was seated in front of a gentleman and as soon as he entered the plane and sat behind me, I could smell the stink of strong alcohol on his breath. Being a novice of airline flights I said nothing until, at about 30,000 ft, he threw up—mostly on the seat, the back of the seat in front of him and the floor, but a good portion hit me on the shoulder.

That experience did not put me off flying, but it is ironic to note the response of the British Airways cabin staff. Although they first apologised and offered to clean my shirt and jacket, the compensation that they offered to try to cheer me up and to persuade me not to make a formal complaint was a large bag of miniature bottles of spirits—whisky and vodka. I did accept them, before anyone asks. Airline companies clearly have a failing because I could see that the man was clearly incapable of behaving himself as he walked down the plane corridor, so the staff must have been able to see that as well. We must ask airline companies why they do not prevent such people from boarding planes.

We have to accept that alcohol will be sold on planes. My wife would never get on a plane without having at least one G and T beforehand because she is not a good flyer. We travel separately, of course, so I do not know whether she has ever been involved in an air rage incident—she probably would not have told me if she had.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) talked about the type of passengers who cause such incidents, and my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw referred to that today. My hon. Friend is right that such people are not only those who pay for economy seats. An incident occurred on a Virgin Atlantic Airways transatlantic flight a few months ago involving the rock star Courtney Love. According to all reports, her behaviour was truly appalling. She swore at, and threatened violence against, the staff on the flight. The owner of the airline, Richard Branson, treated the incident as a joke and offered her four free first-class flights on the same route in the hope that the pop star, who is presumably well known by hundreds of people, would continue to use the company. Given his standing as one of the country's leading business men, such complacency and such an irresponsible attitude to his staff is entirely inappropriate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw hit the nail on the head when he explained the differences between such incidents and a drunken fight in a pub in Glasgow or Lanarkshire. One may leave the area in which such a fight is taking place, but being involved in a situation on board a metal tube that is 35,000 ft in the air must be a truly terrifying experience. I have not had to deal with such an experience but I know that many people have.

The golden rule should be that passengers on any flight must do what they are told. They should not argue with the staff about whether using a mobile phone is safe or not. If passengers are told to switch off mobile phones, not to smoke in the toilets and to sit down when the seatbelt sign is on, they must do it. They should not enter into a debate with the staff on whether that is the most appropriate course of action. If a stewardess tells a passenger to sit down, he must sit down. There should be no question about that. The Bill kicks in if someone argues with the staff—and that is not before time.

I am disappointed that a matter of such importance to people in my constituency and throughout the country is nevertheless not important enough to persuade members of the Scottish National party to bother to attend on a Friday. That is a disgrace, but it is exactly what we have come to expect from members of that ever-diminishing party.

12.45 pm
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I support the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy). It is a useful measure.

I spoke on Second Reading and appreciate the fact that the Bill is making progress. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) rightly said, it deals with bad behaviour by people who drink too much and are disorderly. The Bill is not about terrorism and security, but at a time of heightened tension because of the security risks and threat of terrorism, people should understand that any disorderly behaviour that could cause other people alarm or make them feel threatened is a much more serious issue. Such behaviour is antisocial enough in its own right, but it adds another dimension to the problem because it could divert the crew, be frightening and, in some circumstances, lead to an overreaction.

I am slightly worried about the intrusion into the debate of the rights and wrongs of arming air crew. The idea of bullets flying around a plane does not enhance the prospects of security. That issue has to be addressed in a sensible, measured and practical way. The Bill has the merit of being specifically targeted at the type of behaviour that has received a lot of media coverage. Eager young reporters are clearly anxious to get such stories disseminated.

Mr. Francois

The hon. Gentleman picks up on something that I said earlier. For the avoidance of any doubt, I want to make it clear that I was not necessarily advocating that course of action. I was simply making the point that it is under active consideration in the United States.

Malcolm Bruce

I accept that. In many ways, the US has much to do to catch up with airport and airline security.

Like every other Scottish Member, I have an interest because we fly an awful lot. In addition, Aberdeen airport was in my constituency for 14 years. It is just outside it now, but will be part of it again under boundary commission proposals. People who fly are worried that they might confront disorderly behaviour.

The Courtney Love incident, which I mentioned on Second Reading, is worth repeating. I am not aware that Richard Branson has apologised or retracted his comments. He has not shown the slightest regret or remorse. Quite the contrary, in fact. He said, "I have made my money out of the pop industry and, frankly, I don't mind how pop singers behave on my airlines." Whether Richard Branson minds or not is not the point; what matters is whether the other passengers mind and feel fear, alarm and concern. To my mind, that shows a proprietor of a business who has a high disregard for the vast majority of his fare-paying customers. He offers the privilege to misbehave to a few celebrities. That is an appalling example and I should like Richard Branson, who is happy to take accolades for his supposed business acumen—although not all his businesses are equally successful—to acknowledge that that behaviour was appalling.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) said that rules are there to be obeyed and not argued about. He made it clear that when a plane is in flight, people should do what they are told by the crew and argue about it on the ground later. People must understand that if they are at all out of line, they face arrest or even imprisonment. That might make them realise that the regulations exist for a purpose.

I recall flying with Balkan Airways shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the plane was coming into land, I was more than a little astonished that people started to stand up, get down their bags and walk down the aisle to the front of the plane—we were still about 2,000 ft up in the air. The crew were remonstrating with them, saying, "Sit down. You shouldn't be moving about." Everyone was anxious to be the first off the plane, however, and they said, "We've had enough of these Communist regulations and we don't have to obey them any more." That demonstrated a lack of understanding that the rules were there for good reason, despite the fact that it was the bad guys who made the rules.

That illustrates the serious point that the number of incidents has increased in recent years, and the lack of punishment has made people feel that such behaviour is a joke, a bit of fun. Yet there have been incidents in which crew and passengers have been caused serious fear and alarm. Regrettably, many of these offences are committed by women—Courtney Love being a case in point—who seem to have the same capacity to imbibe and behave badly as the men. I suppose that that is just a matter of equality, but there is no apparent difference in the likelihood of misbehaviour.

Reference has been made to the fact that some people like to have a drink or two to calm themselves and to relax because flying is stressful. We must recognise that having a drink or two in that scenario is quite different from getting completely drunk, to the point at which, in the Minister's definition, one cannot control one's behaviour.

The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw has introduced a timely Bill that deserves the support of the House. I do not know whether it is by design or coincidence that we have a little package of Scottish-led Bills passing through the House today, but in those circumstances it is slightly surprising that the Benches behind me are completely empty. One would have thought that one of those Members could have found the time to be here, but that is a matter for them. Those of us who are here recognise that the Bill is worth while, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing it to the House.

12.52 pm
Mr. Boris Johnson

I, like other Members, rise in full support of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy). It is an excellent measure in so far as it is intended to crack down on louts and people who endanger the lives of others in aeroplanes. We have heard some vivid accounts of people who had clearly drunk too much, were the worse for wear and should not have been on the plane in that condition.

We are paid to be precise in our use of language, and I want to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) in turning to the question of what constitutes drunkenness, not because I think that it vitiates the Bill, but because the Bill would benefit from some refinement and reflection. The Minister intervened on my hon. Friend and said that he would define drunkenness as being a lack of self-control caused by taking alcohol.

We have to face the fact, however, that we are proposing to make it an offence for which one can be arrested, without a warrant, to be drunk—that is all on an aeroplane. We have to be very cautious about what we intend by that, because as I understand it, there is no intention to have any system of breathalysers on board aeroplanes, to verify a person's blood-alcohol level, or to demonstrate beyond peradventure that someone is drunk. No one seems to have thought about whether the airline itself will be accessory after the fact to making a person drunk on board a plane. After all, they ply you—not you, Mr. Deputy Speaker; they ply one—with alcohol from the moment of take-off.

Mr. George Osborne

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point to which the Minister may wish to respond. If an airline or a steward or stewardess are aware that someone is drunk and continue to supply that person with alcohol, how will they be affected by the Bill? Will they be guilty, as my hon. Friend suggests, of being an accessory to a crime?

Mr. Johnson

My hon. Friend amplifies the very point I sought to make. The legal position of the airline that supplies the alcohol to the passenger in flight is not clear.

We must accept that people have different susceptibility to alcohol, particularly when they have not eaten. It depends on their body size, and all the rest of it. People may, to all intents and purposes, become drunk under the definition in the Bill without drinking before they board the plane.

I recall a recent long flight to sub-Saharan Africa in the company of various representatives of UNICEF and a senior BBC figure, whom I shall not name.

Mr. Osborne

Go on.

Mr. Johnson

No, I shall not. He is a nice, distinguished man, and a passionate smoker, devoted to nicotine. He used to rely on nicotine to get him through the stress of a long flight, but, there being no possibility of smoking on our plane, he was driven to have a few, which calmed him down a great deal and was highly beneficial. I put it to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw that one reason why people increasingly seem to be slightly the worse for wear for alcohol on board planes may be that so many flights are completely no-smoking flights. Might the Minister reflect on that, thinking whether, if there is to be a total ban on being drunk on a plane at any time, it may be necessary to consider some compensatory measure to bring back smoking sections on aeroplanes? Many people frankly find it difficult to put up with the rigours of a long flight without the sustenance and reassurance of a smoke. Indeed, one cannot even get peanuts nowadays on aeroplanes, because they have been banned. They will not serve me peanuts at all.

Mr. Osborne


Mr. Johnson

It is because of nut allergies. One cannot smoke, and one is now not to be allowed to be drunk, without there being any definition of drunkenness in the Bill.

Mr. Osborne

An infringement of our civil liberties!

Mr. Johnson

I do not mean to say that that is necessarily, as my hon. Friend says from his sedentary position, an infringement of our civil liberties, but it may be. Without adequate definition, and without a more rigorous approach to the language, there is a risk that good people, who are simply trying to calm themselves down aboard an aeroplane, may find themselves caught by the terms of what is otherwise an excellent and well-intentioned measure.

12.57 pm
Miss Anne McIntosh

It gives me great pleasure to respond to the debate on behalf of Her Majesty's official Opposition. I remind the House of the declaration of interests that I made on Second Reading, and I offer my heartfelt congratulations to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) as promoter of the Bill. I commend the extremely hard work that he has put in on the Bill, which is a welcome one.

We have heard several excellent contributions today and at earlier stages of the Bill's passage. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon) served in Committee, and he would have liked to be here today, had he not had to be in his constituency. The same goes for all my colleagues who spoke on Second Reading, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), and my hon. Friends the Members for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), for East Devon (Mr. Swire) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I very much enjoyed today's contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and for Henley (Mr. Johnson), and the excellent interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne).

I do not want to intrude on private grief, but we lament the absence of the Scottish National party even as we welcome the humorous contribution made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) and the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce).

Our official position on air transport is that we want a fair deal for everyone. No passenger should be left behind and no plane held back because of air rage or any other condition. We enthusiastically welcome the Bill's creation of a serious, and potentially dangerous, offence, which needs to be tackled, not least in Scotland, which is why the amendments extending the provisions of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 to Scotland are so valuable

It would have been difficult if Scotland had been left behind, as the promoter of the Bill and many other hon. Members have connections north of the border. It is therefore timely to make that behaviour an arrestable offence by increasing the penalty from two to five years. However, at some date, we should explore the implications of the change.

I am delighted that the Under-Secretary is in the Chamber, as we enjoyed many happy hours discussing the Railways and Transport Safety Bill. He knows that I never miss an opportunity to ask why the provisions in the Aviation (Offences) Bill were deemed unworthy of inclusion in the railways measure. We obviously do not want to deprive the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw of his moment of glory, but these are pressing matters. Incidents reached a peak in the reporting period 2000–01, when there were 1,250 offences, up from 1,205 in the reporting period 1999–2000. Perhaps because not as many people are travelling by air post-11 September, the figure reduced marginally in 2001–02 to 1,055. It is noteworthy that 77 per cent. of incidents involve male passengers, and that figure has remained almost constant in the past three years. The majority of offenders are in their 20s, 30s or 40s, and about one third of incidents involve people travelling alone.

In the context of comments by the promoter of the Bill about people travelling to support football teams, I should specifically like to mention the fact that in the most recent reporting period, 21 incidents involved groups of 10 or more. I am sure that the Government will want to monitor that. About 5 per cent. of incidents occurred in business or first-class seating, in common with previous years. A huge amount of work has been done on the subject, largely because it was felt that some airlines and, in the past, the Government were not taking it seriously enough. I pay tribute to the impressive work in the field, not least by the Select Committee on Transport, on which I have had the honour of serving.

Before I get carried away with our enthusiastic endorsement of the Bill, I should like to highlight issues that have been brought to our attention by the industry. In particular, there is nothing in the Bill relating to passengers being under the influence of drugs, and I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary would explain whether there is specific reason for that. Such a provision was not included in the Railways and Transport Safety Bill, which dealt successfully with other matters. Indeed, it is gratifying that a number of our amendments were accepted by the Government, for which I thank the Under-Secretary. When we were dealing with the level of alcohol in the blood of aviation personnel, why was it not deemed appropriate to include provisions now incorporated in the Aviation (Offences) Bill? Will the Minister tell us whether there is a specific reason for the omission of drugs from the legislation? As the Bill is about to go to another place, perhaps schedule 1A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 can be amended to include the following wording: a provision which prohibits a person from being drunk or under the influence of drugs in an aircraft, in so far as it applies to passengers". Such an amendment would be welcome throughout the industry.

Like a number of hon. Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Henley spoke about the need for a definition. I note that the Minister helpfully gave us a different definition of intoxication. We discussed what constitutes air rage on Second Reading. I wonder whether the Minister is convinced that the Bill is clear on that.

I shall raise two or three other issues. One is the legal position, which was referred to this morning. of those passengers who take their own drink on board. About 40 per cent. of those involved in the offences that we are discussing do that. It is a rather alarming fact that 42 per cent. of passengers involved in aviation offences such as air rage were drinking alcohol heavily before boarding. The Bill remains silent on that, and we would like our disappointment in that regard to be noted. It would be welcome if the Government revisited the issue, given that the promoter has done so much excellent work in other regards.

The unions and the workers involved—I am sure managers as well—tackled the issue vigorously with the Deputy Prime Minister when he was responsible for the Department in the year 2000. They requested that there should be an international aviation treaty on air rage in a global context.

I welcome the fact that the House is legislating in respect of passengers boarding UK flights, or those flights departing from or arriving at UK airports. However, I have been asked to raise an issue, and I urge the Minister to take it on board so as to do proper justice to the Bill. The provisions in the Bill appear to solve the issue of passengers arriving in the UK or departing from it. However, the extent to which the Bill tackles the issue of passengers on UK-registered planes en route elsewhere is not clear. Presumably the Minister will be able to confirm that reciprocal arrangements will be available with other countries, or that the Govrtment are negotiating an international treaty.

I congratulate the promoter and thank everyone who has participated in an extremely interesting debate today, on Second Reading and in Committee, which I was unable to attend. With the proviso that we get some satisfaction on the points that we have raised, we wish the Bill a fair wind.

1.7 pm

Mr Jamieson)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) on the way in which he has conducted the passage of the Bill through the House, on Second Reading, in Committee and today on Report. He has spoken with quiet determination and resolve. I am aware of the persistence that is needed to take a private Member's Bill through the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way that he has done that.

It gives me considerable pleasure to speak in this debate. Sadly, because time was running out, I did not have much time to speak on Second Reading. If I do not bear down too much on your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I might have an opportunity to make a few more remarks today.

The Bill would reinforce the message that disruptive or drunken behaviour on board an aircraft is unacceptable and will be dealt with severely. I hope that I did not upset the hon. Members for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) too much. It seems that they have left the Chamber. I beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Rayleigh, who is in his place. The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) is not present. It seemed from their boyish countenances that they did not know what drunkenness was. However, the hon. Member for Henley looks as if he has been about a bit, and seemed to be more familiar with the term drunkenness. In all seriousness, I think that anecdotally, and in an everyday sense, people might find it difficult to define the condition. However we all know drunkenness when we see it. To reinforce the point that I made in my intervention, it is held to mean that someone is deprived of self-control by intoxicating liquor. That would usually be combined with antisocial behaviour or behaviour that caused alarm or disturbance to other people, thus putting the aeroplane at risk. Equally, somebody who is drunk could be quietly sleeping on an aircraft and not drawing attention to themselves. I do not think that that would be a matter of concern. Indeed, some people might see that as a good thing and will have had a few jars beforehand to help them on their way. I appreciate that some people need that because they have a problem with flying.

The hon. Member for Henley mentioned smoking, which is a danger in itself on an aeroplane and is also injurious to the health of others. We certainly have no intention of introducing any measure that would encourage or allow people to smoke on aeroplanes.

Mr. Francois

The Minister implied that he appreciates that the definition is a relatively serious issue. What would be the legal position of somebody working for BAA in an airport bar who sold someone sufficient alcohol for them to become inebriated before boarding?

Mr. Jamieson

The position is akin to that of a staff member at a pub. Clearly, it is unwise to carry on selling or providing drink to somebody who is clearly already suffering as a result. Of course, the police exercise discretion in each instance, and I think that the same would apply to airport staff either on the ground or in the air. A steward on an aeroplane would be ill-advised to carry on providing drink to somebody who is clearly becoming out of control. I dare say that the airports and airline staff would be given guidance to ensure that that did not happen. It is sometimes a problem that disruption starts to happen when a person is denied access to further alcohol.

The issue rightly became the subject of increased public concern following a particularly nasty incident in 1998 in which a stewardess was attacked and injured on board a United Kingdom aircraft. Following that incident, the Government took action in two ways. First, we set up a disruptive passengers working group chaired by my Department and including representatives from the Civil Aviation Authority, the Home Office, the police, airlines and trade unions. The group, whose remit is to advise Ministers on measures to minimise the frequency and potential impact of disruptive behaviour on board aircraft, continues to meet regularly, and it supports the Bill.

Secondly, on the advice of that group, we introduced a standardised reporting scheme for incidents of disruptive behaviour on board United Kingdom aircraft. At the time, little hard evidence was available. It was agreed that statistics were necessary to establish the nature and scale of the problem.

United Kingdom legislation on disruptive passenger behaviour on board aircraft is already recognised as among the most comprehensive in the world. In addition to normal criminal law, which applies on board all United Kingdom aircraft—I hope that this answers the question that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked me earlier—wherever they are in the world, a number of offences in United Kingdom law relate specifically to behaviour in aircraft. Powers also exist to act against offenders on board non-UK airlines whose next destination is the United Kingdom—a point that we covered fairly thoroughly in Committee—provided that the act committed is an offence under both United Kingdom and the law of the aircraft's state of registration. We have taken steps at an international level to encourage more states to enact such laws where they do not already have them, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation has passed a resolution to that end. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Lady.

The Bill would complement existing legislation by ensuring that the police have the powers that they need to ensure effective prosecution of the offenders and that appropriate penalties are in place. The police have expressed concerns that their powers are not always sufficient with regard to some of the offences, and I can confirm that that sometimes prevents them from taking effective action. As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw said, the cabin crew or passengers who have been victims of disruptive offences would find it unacceptable if the offender were not prosecuted because of difficulties in gathering evidence long after the incident had happened.

I reiterate that disruptive behaviour on aircraft is not as widespread a problem as media reports sometimes suggest. It is right that such incidents should be reported thoroughly, but it is important that the attention that is rightly focused on tackling the issue does not lead to exaggerating the problem or spreading alarm among the travelling public. We all agree that the last thing the airline industry needs is another reason for passengers to avoid flying. I therefore take the opportunity to place it on record again that the chances of any passenger encountering a serious incident or disruptive behaviour are slim.

By "serious", I mean incidents classified by the Civil Aviation Authority as threatening flight safety or personal safety or having the potential to do that if a situation escalated. In 2001–02, 52 of only 1,000 reported incidents on United Kingdom aircraft were classed as serious. That equates to one serious incident for every 2 million passengers, or one serious incident for every 22,000 flights. Figures for 2002–03 should be available next month and will be published on the Department's website. We hope that they will show such incidents becoming even rarer.

Although serious incidents are rare, that does not undermine the rationale for the Bill. If only a handful of incidents occurred each year, it would be important that the police could effectively follow up every one. Although drunkenness or being abusive to the crew may not be classified as serious, such incidents are more common and it is right that the police should follow up such offences.

The police have identified several practical difficulties that result from their lack of powers that can sometimes prevent them from taking effective action. That should be tackled as soon as possible. Any antisocial behaviour, however serious, on board an aircraft can be unpleasant and frightening for those affected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw said in his opening remarks, the cabin crew are at much greater risk of harm than the average passenger because of flying more frequently and the nature of their responsibilities.

Any sort of disruptive behaviour is unacceptable and we want to ensure that such incidents become rarer in the future. By allowing an increase in the maximum penalty for the most serious offences and ensuring that the police have the powers to prosecute offences more effectively, I hope that the Bill will deter such behaviour and lead to a reduction in the number of incidents.

I have not yet covered the point that the hon. Member for Vale of York made about people who are clearly drunk before they board an aircraft. When airline staff see such people, who could cause difficulties, trying to board, it is not unusual for them to prevent them from doing so. They have the powers to do that and I hope that they would use them effectively for the safety of the aircraft and the comfort of passengers.

Again, I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill and for all his work in ensuring its passage. It is eagerly awaited by the police and those who work in the airline industry, and I hope that it will receive a favourable hearing in the other place. I also want to place on record my thanks to the officials in my Department who have provided such effective help in preparing the Bill.

I commend the measure to the House.

Mr. Roy

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all hon. Members who have taken time—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman needs to ask the leave of the House.

Mr. Roy

With the leave of the House, I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all hon. Members who have turned up on what is normally a constituency day. The Bill is important and it has been a privilege to introduce it. I wish it a fair tail wind in another place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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