HL Deb 29 April 1970 vol 309 cc1041-84

2.48 p.m.

LORD TWEEDSMUIR rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to concert action, with other countries, to meet the growing threat of hijacking of aircraft and the kidnapping of diplomats; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I ventured to put down this Motion because the two subjects to which it refers have to my mind now achieved an importance where they would be the better for discussion in your Lordships' House. The two subjects may seem extraordinarily dissimilar, but as we are now passing, and have since the middle 'sixties been passing, into an era which one might call an era of international violence, these two things are aspects of the same matter and I have ventured to put them down within the same Motion.

The Institute of Strategic Studies, in their Annual Report for 1969, said this: 1969 offered evidence of a new style appeal by rebel movements and frustrated individuals to an international audience.

That is true of both the matters that I am bringing up in this Motion. I do not know whether "hijacking" has got into the Oxford Dictionary under its new meaning, but the Encyclopædia Britannica describes it as: The seizure of a ship or aircraft by pas-sengers or other unauthorised persons. It is tempting to talk about "aerial piracy". As a matter of fact, you have to be a little careful about the use of the word "piracy" because in all the hi-jacking incidents that have taken place nobody has ever yet robbed a passenger, nor has the hijacker himself shown any sign of wishing to deprive the rightful owner of the aeroplane permanently of his property. I am keeping well away from legal technicalities to-day. I consulted a noble Lord learned in the law on a legal point about which I was con-fused. Five minutes later I was much more confused, but on a very much higher level. So I thought that I would leave the law on one side.

Hijacking is a very easy thing to do, and a very hard thing to prevent. Last year 81 attempts were made, 70 of which were successful. The weapons used varied from dynamite, machine guns, swords bought at a souvenir kiosk in Tokyo, a toy pistol and, in one particular case, a Schick razor blade. It is, as I say, difficult to prevent hijacking. The hijackers themselves represent a very broad spectrum of the wicked and the feeble-minded. It was a great latterday miracle that, of the 5,000 passengers on board the hijacked planes, only five per-sons lost their lives in the whole of last year, and three of these were hijackers themselves.

Until halfway through last year the destination of nearly all hijacked planes was Cuba: in fact, in 42 attempts to hi-jack planes in the first half of last year, 40 had Cuba as their destination. But this pest then proceeded to spread like an epidemic to other parts of the world. In the last half of the year there were 16 attempts to hijack planes with destinations other than Cuba, and as it became embroiled in the Arab-Israeli feud, six attempts were made to hijack planes bound for Arab countries.

We in Britain have rather taken the line that it cannot happen here. But, my Lords, it can happen to-morrow, with the greatest ease. The Japanese took the line that it could not happen to them. The Tokyo Convention is much the most sensible international instrument to be drawn up in recent years, but the host country, Japan, was the most notable absentee as a signatory when the Convention was prepared. But later, when she discovered that hijacking could hap-pen there—when some Japanese students, with, as I say, swords bought at a souvenir kiosk, held up a plane and took it to Korea—Japan had a rapid change of heart, and now wishes to sign that Convention as soon as possible.

Who are the hijackers? They are really of four different kinds. The first are the hard, calculating political con-spirators, such as those who shanghaied the late Moise Tshombe—very realistic men indeed, who could be deterred by law. The next kind is rather more un-common, the escaping criminal. The third is the man who complicates any kind of international agreement in the most admired way, and whom every country has always retained the right to welcome if he knocks on the door; that is, the man claiming political asylum, and he may be the best of men. But if you are to make an international agreement about returning hijackers, at is difficult to make an exception of those who are seeking political asylum. This is one of the principal complexities of the whole thing.

Recently, two young Poles hijacked a plane to Austria. Two young Germans, having made many attempts to get out of East Germany and finding it impossible to negotiate the Wall, made a short hijack of an East German plane and landed in West Berlin, where a French military court imposed a nominal two years' sentence. The last category is the sometimes almost demented desperado, who in the present-day paranoia of pro-test represents the peak. Those whom we see and hear protesting in this country merely inhabit the lower slopes, but this man is the absolute paranoiac and a person not easily deterred by any threat of any kind.

lnterpol, the International Police Organisation, held their annual conference last autumn. They rather shied away from hijacking, because they found it too political for their liking—and, in-deed, they should keep away from political subjects. But they made a rather useful analysis of 45 attempts at hijacking, of which only 34 were successful. They found that each of the hijackers claimed a political object, but they also said this: The hijacker's main aim, even more than the success of his project, is to hit the head-lines. Hijackers must now be finding it progressively hard, because, if your Lord-ships read your papers on Monday, you will have seen somewhere about the fourth or fifth page of The Times, one small paragraph to the effect that a Brazilian Boeing had been hijacked to Cuba. It gave no details, except that saying that the hijacker was a very "polite" man. So getting the headlines is becoming a little harder than it used to be. But it is that kind of paranoiac, who feeds on such publicity, who is a very difficult antagonist.

I think it is probably fair to say that the air age in which we now live started about 1919 when the first persons or packages were transferred by air for money. The ancestor of B.O.A.C. who used to fly to Paris and were the first trans-salt-water service we ever flew from this country, used in the main to keep their schedules going quite well. But sometimes they did not, and one London to Paris flight took 48 hours, with 33 forced landings. But the massive growth of civil aviation has taken place since the last war You cannot say that it has exactly grown unnoticed—although it has for some—for those who live within earshot of airports have to struggle to retain their sanity. But now we have got to the point where the size, speed, power and ceiling of planes have spiralled steadily upwards, and if you cross the Atlantic now in a Boeing or a VC10 you are travelling at exactly the same speed as a Colt revolver bullet. All those things continue—faster aero-planes, higher and larger and carrying more.

But the size of the airports and the international regulations for the air limp along slowly in their wake. The Inter-national Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was founded in 1944 when there were fewer than 9 million air passengers in the whole world. I would claim that its rules now call for drastic revision, because the size and scope of air travel is something that your Lordships would have to think hard about to take in. Probably some of your Lordships last Saturday saw the soccer match between England and Scotland at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Hampden Park is the biggest soccer ground in Britain; it can hold 130,000. To accommodate the passengers who travelled by B.O.A.C. alone last year you would require a ground a thousand times the size of Hampden Park, and even then there would not be enough room.

Aircraft sabotage made its ugly appearance early on in the history of aviation, and, like all freakish crimes, came in short-lived waves. But violent crime kept off the airlines until hijacking started. It occurred first in 1967 and it has doubled every year since then. Most European lines think that it will not happen to them. In Eastern airlines aeroplanes have been hijacked a great many times to Cuba, and they know that there is too good a chance. It has a curious effect on passenger traffic. After a hijacking the number of passengers from New York to Florida falls; but they always come back again after two or three months.

Last December matters were getting to crisis pitch, and a great effort was made to operate some diplomatic machinery which was never really meant to be worked at speed. The Tokyo Convention, which recognised the unlawful seizure of an aircraft as an offence, was at last ratified, but it left the definition and the punishment to the signatory Powers. The very next day the Sixth Committee of the United Nations passed a helpful resolution, and a week later the General Assembly also did so. All the machinery that can be used was used to try to get a move on. On December 16 the United States convened a conference with 13 countries who had major air lines, to support the Tokyo Convention. The International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations, who are an enormously powerful body, themselves convened a meeting, in case Governments would not be able to take an effective stand against what they called "hijackers' havens"; in other words, countries where hijackers could feel secure and from which they could issue out to carry out their crimes. One of the conclusions that came out of that conference was that it is now no longer a matter for the airlines, but one for Governments.

I should like to ask two questions: does all this international machinery keep pace with the needs? I would claim that it did not. Does it need a drastic over-haul now that we have passed into this era? It took six years to ratify the Tokyo Convention, and during that time air traffic had risen from 135 million passengers a year to well over double that number. In other words, while it was waiting to be ratified a completely new world came into existence. I am glad to say that there is going to be an extra-ordinary session of ICAO in Montreal in June which will deal with criminal actions against air transport and the bringing of such criminals to justice. At The Hague there will be another conference in December which will deal with the havens of the hijacker and their elimination. It seems to roe a very long time to wait. It is only six weeks to the holding of that conference in Montreal, but at the present rate another nine aircraft will have been hijacked by that time.

No airline can regard themselves as immune. Whatever treaties are signed, they must have reference to the extra- dition of the criminals. So far as any rule in the air exists on this problem, it is extraordinarily lopsided. We must also take account of the very thorny problem of those seeking asylum. So far as law goes, you may deter the cold-blooded conspirator or the escaping criminal, but you will never deter the half-demented desperado with a gun. You must then pass to the other side of prevention, which is detection. If United States technology is challenged, it is not very long before they come up with some kind of answer—and probably several of them. If any of your Lordships have travelled by T.W.A. recently from London Airport you will—possibly with-out knowing it—have been through a device called a "Friskem". This is a metal detecting device which makes allowances for the fact that you are carrying a pen and have buckles on your braces or belt. If you give a stronger reaction than that, they would like to know what metal you have on you. That is the first of the detecting devices.

The Astrophysic Research Corporation is working on a much more complicated and esoteric line, which is putting a trace element in cordite and gunpowder—the fillings of either a pistol or rifle cartridges—which will give a reaction that can be picked up on a sensitive reactor, and if any man is carrying a pistol which has this ammunition he can be detected. That is only the beginning of detection. This detection is a grand idea, and I believe that T.W.A. get a tremendous number of letters from their passengers thanking them for the very great extra care that they are taking. There is only one thing wrong: it ought not to be done by an airline at all; it ought to be done by the airport, under the aegis of Government. Every single international airport should be doing it.

I should like to put two questions to the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government. Will he take that point up: that these detecting devices should be made mandatory by the signatory Powers of the Tokyo Convention and, indeed, if possible by all the members of ICAO, and as they are invented installed at every international airport. Secondly, will he take up the question of the machinery, which is undoubtedly moving too slowly with regard to ICAO and many of the other associations of the air, whose rules were drawn up in the days when things moved much more slowly.

The second half of my Motion I will touch on very briefly because I see rows of most experienced diplomats in your Lordships' House to-day, two of whom I am happy to say are to speak. I want to state the brief facts that are known only too well to everybody. On the question of kidnapping and ransom, one cannot help being reminded of the difficulties we used to have in the old days when the Danish invasions used to come, and we hit on the idea of paying them with gold to go away. We ensured one thing absolutely: they came back the next year. As Kipling said in his poem: If once you have paid him the Dane-geld You never get rid of the Dane.

There was the murder of Count von Spreti, whose kidnappers asked for 700,000 dollars and twenty-five hostages. In Brazil the previous September they had been paid off at a very much lower sum with only fifteen hostages, but that emboldened them to go on.

This problem is going to be with us for a very long time. This is part of appealing to the international audience which I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. If your Lordships look in the Library you will see a brilliant red-coloured periodical called the New Left Review, Number 59, which covers January and February, 1970. This has an article which is reported to be a translation—and I am sure that it is— of a Latin American guerrilla's remarks commenting on the kidnapping of the American Ambassador in Brazil last September, in which he says: Armed struggle in Brazil has won inter-national notoriety with the kidnapping of the American Ambassador in Rio de Janeiro in September, 1969. It was not so much the action itself as the successful political resonance, that has made it a decisive advance in the development of the armed struggle in its present phase ".

It has happened before, and if one thing is absolutely clear it is that we are going to have to live with this problem. I read somewhere that we have 200 diplomats in Latin America. I am sure that we must have many more, when all those that we have in Embassies are included. So far as I know, an Embassy in a foreign country is part of your own country, so that within it you may protect yourselves. The American Embassy is always protected internally by United States Marines. I believe that when the Russian Embassy in Washington caught fire there was a frantic diplomatic exchange before the firemen could be given the extra-territorial rights to put the fire out.

I am not quite sure whether it is possible to protect one's nationals out-side the Embassy. The onus of that lies fairly and squarely on the country concerned. It bristles with the most obvious problems, because there is the difficulty of exerting any sanction which is not just as valuable, if not more valuable, to kidnappers than it is to possibly bringing a country to a better frame of mind. It is harder to kidnap somebody than to assassinate him. A sufficient entourage ought to be able to prevent absolutely someone from being kidnapped, although it may enormously circumscribe his activities. I am not going to say any-thing more about this subject, for we have two very distinguished ex-diplomats speaking. However, I would ask the Government my third question: have we received an assurance that these countries in South America which are rather particularly threatened accept their responsibility for the full guarding of our representatives? My Lords, I promised to be brief and I have done my best to sketch the position. I have asked three questions, and I hope that the noble Lord will see his way to answer them. I beg to move for Papers.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I had not realised that this was a Motion; I had it down on the Order Paper as a Question. But I am very glad to see that it has been transformed into a Motion. We are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord for having moved it. And that is not just a form of words, as it is sometimes thought to be. It is clearly right that this House should now discuss the growing threat to our society in the hijacking of aeroplanes and the kidnapping of diplomats. Both, as I believe the noble Lord implied, are manifestations of the growing lawlessness of our society, and both are obviously most dangerous. Clearly, unless they are checked both may have grave effects on international relations, already imperilled, by revolutionary movements all over the world, and not least by the dreadful situation in the Middle East.

Of the two, however, I myself would suggest—I do not know what your Lordships think—that the so-called hi-jacking of aircraft, which the noble Lord, for reasons we can appreciate, did not want to call "aerial piracy", is the lesser of the two evils. The noble Lord gave the actual figures for the hijacking of air-craft during the last year and mentioned, which I think is very significant, that the total number of people involved was 5,000, all of whose lives of course were endangered to some extent, but far the greater part of whom escaped without any damage to themselves, only five people being killed during the year, three of whom were themselves hijackers. Up to now, therefore, this has been perhaps more of a major nuisance than a menace, though if it goes on there is a strong risk of a major air disaster; and we must also presumably take account of the bad effect which hijacking has on the fortunes of the air companies and, indeed, on air travel generally.

As we know, and as has already been said, the 1963 Tokyo Convention, which was the first effort to cope with this situation—it is called a "Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts committed on Board Aircraft"—has unfortunately done little to ensure the prosecution of those responsible for the hijacking. Nor can it do much, because it leaves the exact definition and punishment of what is called "unlawful seizure" to the domestic law of the signatory States. Since the majority of the characters who seize aero-planes, apart from the occasional lunatic, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, said, are, or think they are, in some way politically motivated, it must be clear that as often as not the country in whose territory they land the aircraft will not be prepared to extradite them on demand. Therefore progress towards complete international agreement on the extradition of such persons on demand, which would certainly be the best solution (I entirely agree with the noble Lord on that) must inevitably be slow.

It is also questionable, I suppose, whether even we in this country (again this is a point made by the noble Lord) would be prepared to extradite in all circumstances someone who had seized a foreign aircraft and landed it in Great Britain—I mean a British subject. Suppose, for instance, it was a British subject who was being carted off into some Communist country and managed to overcome the guards. I admit that that is a James Bond situation and not very probable, but there are other possible circumstances which may come to your Lordships' minds.

So if this line—the line of patiently progressing towards agreement on extra-dition—is lot very hopeful, what about sanctions? These have I think been mentioned by some people. How about a complete boycott of aircraft to or from an offending State? And by "offending State" I mean a State which refuses (shall we say?) to restore an aeroplane or passengers and crew, even if it does not surrender or extradite the hijacker. The difficulty here seems to be that even if we got agreement on such action it would obviously do little to stop the hijacker. Most hijacked aeroplanes are returned in any event, with their passengers and crew, so there would be little point in providing for sanctions in the event of a failure in this respect only. No doubt, if a convention providing for extradition were possible, there might suitably be sanctions—there presumably would be sanctions in such a convention—in the event of its violation. But otherwise sanctions would be rather useless and in any event they would be difficult to organise in practice.

So what should be done? As I under-stand it (and again I think the noble Lord mentioned this) ICAO is now preparing, or has now prepared, a new convention which is said to be a considerable improvement on the Tokyo Convention. It will, with luck, I am told, be open for signature at the end of the year. That seems to be terribly slow motion, but these international conventions are very difficult in the first place to negotiate, then to get signed, and finally to get ratified.

However, under this convention, if it ever comes into operation, signatories, as I understand it, will be bound either to return the hijackers or to prosecute them in accordance with their own domestic law. It does however, as I believe, lay down that in principle the hijacker should be returned; although exactly where he should be returned to may of course be a very difficult problem to determine under international law. Supposing the hijacker hijacks the aeroplane when it is 10 miles over the Atlantic. Under which jurisdiction does he fly, and to what country should the aeroplane be returned, and so on? All that arises. Whether this new convention will be signed even by a sufficient number of States is open to doubt, though we must hope that it will be. In particular, whether it will be signed by the Arab countries, to say nothing of Cuba, I should think is open to considerable doubt.

Is it possible, then, to think of anything else that might be done in the interval? The noble Lord made one suggestion; namely, that it war, publicity which drove on a good many of these hijackers, and that if they got no publicity there would be less inducement to perform the operation. It would obviously be a good thing if not only all the newspapers but all the media, as they are called, in the free countries did not publish any details at all of any hijackings. It is true that the bandit who seizes an aircraft is inspired, as often as not, by thoughts of glory and self-advertisement, and if there is no chance of that then it may be that the desire to strike will be less. But again I fear that if we look into this it seems to be a pretty impossible suggestion, because there is no doubt that hijacking as such is news, more especially if there is some incident on board involving the passengers. One cannot prevent it from coming out, and therefore it would be impossible to suppress it. One might as well say that the Press here, or the other media, should suppress all mention of incidents concerning drug takers. Unfortunately, if they did anything so sensible and public-spirited, they would probably all "go bust" in a fortnight; so that is unlikely, too.

Thus we presumably come down to the only likely deterrent, as I see it; namely, extra precautions by all the air companies concerned. I certainly would support the noble Lord in saying that there should be not only precautions by the air companies but suitable precautions taken by the airport authorities. Of course, if the precautions are to be taken by the airport authorities, it will presumably mean Government expenditure on a considerable scale. But if this practice continues I think that the Government will be com- pelled to face this possibility. I believe that El Al, for instance, the Israeli line, on all its flights now carries an armed detective who has in one case been known actually to shoot. Such a system must be expensive in itself, but I suppose it is possible that some sort of similar system, organised by the companies themselves, will, if hijacking continues, have to be applied, at any rate by all the major airlines; and it might even add 1 or 2 per cent. to the fares. Further than that I do not see where we are likely to go. It is of course conceivable that the whole thing is a bit of a craze and may even die down to some extent in the nature of things. Let us hope so.

I pass now from a subject of which I know extremely little—infinitely less than the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir—to something of which I have luckily had no personal experience, but which I might be deemed to know a little more about, the kidnapping of diplomats. I think I said at the beginning of my remarks that I consider this to be an even more dangerous phenomenon than hijacking, and this is not only, I can assure your Lordships, because I am an ex-diplomat. It seems to me that if this practice really becomes widespread (and it may) the whole system of international relations may be endangered, with much more unfavourable consequences to all of us than the occasional diversion of a civilian aircraft.

As I see it—and here I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, said—the only practically certain way of stamping out this horrible practice would be if all Governments could announce that while ransoms, as in the case of ordinary kidnapping, would no doubt have to be discussed, they would in no circumstances release any prisoner in exchange for a kidnapped diplomat. If this rule had been observed from the outset; that is to say, if the Brazilian Government had announced it when the American Ambassador in Rio was kidnapped, it is quite likely that there would have been no subsequent incidents, because the whole thing would have been, as it were, depoliticised. It is true that the unfortunate Ambassador might have been murdered, like his more unfortunate colleague in Guatemala. But if he had been, or alternatively if the revolutionaries' nerve had failed them and he had been released, it would at least have been made quite clear that no political end could be gained by what, after all, is a pretty risky operation in itself.

My Lords, in revolutionary countries—though presumably not in countries where the rule of law still prevails—I suppose it might in theory also be desirable for a Government to declare, not only that they will not surrender any prisoners in return for the liberation of a diplomat but, on the contrary, that in the event of the latter's murder, such prisoners would be instantly executed. However, as in the case of hijacking such proposals are really impracticable—they have been widely canvassed but they are impracticable—since it is entirely probable that both public opinion and the possible reaction of foreign Governments would simply not allow a Government in a revolutionary country to take up such a tough line in advance. In other words, the chances are still that they will, in such circumstances, release political prisoners. If that is the probability then perhaps we should not worry too much about the safety, as opposed to the convenience, of our representatives in such a country. However, I think it would be desirable for us to ask any Governments who might be in the same situation as that of Brazil what in fact their line was going to be in the event of the kidnapping of one of our diplomats.

If, on the contrary, there is reason to suppose that any Government in a revolutionary situation was going to take as tough a line as that of Guatemala, then we must face the unfortunate fact that, unless the tough line is going to be taken up by all countries—which seems quite improbable—as I said at the beginning of my remarks no Ambassador to any such country in which there is a revolutionary or even a potentially revolutionary situation has much real security at the present time. Therefore, in the event of further kidnapping it might be best to have small diplomatic relations with any country taking up what might be called a "strong attitude": in other words, any country which refused to give an assurance that in the event of the kidnapping of our representative or a member of his staff it would be prepared to meet the demands of the revolutionary kidnappers.

It is of course possible that as a result of security measures taken by all Embassies following the Guatemalan murder there will be no more incidents of the kind. That is possible. But if there are, and in the event of our not getting any satisfactory assurances of the kind suggested, there would seem to be only two practicable policies. The first is to reduce the Embassy in such countries to a skeleton staff, the Ambassador himself never going out except under guard, and the second is to withdraw the Ambassador, leaving what I think is called a chargé des archives, or a mere caretaker, and to conduct all business with the country concerned through the latter's mission in London, which might be suitably reinforced for the purpose.

Of the two alternatives, I should prefer the second, but I should be most interested to hear what the Government think of both of them. Obviously this would be a last resort, but in the event of a renewal of the kidnappings of one or more of our own people it would have to be considered. But, of course, any line which we may take up here may have some bearing, I suppose, on our own line in the event of any similar incidents occurring in this country.

I hear that there was a successful April fool's story in France this year. It was said, and widely believed, that M. Jean Monnet had been captured by British parachutists who were anti-Common Marketeers and who were threatening to shoot him unless Mr. Wilson withdrew our application to join the Common Market. It was believed by some, but it was of course a joke. But it is conceivable that unpleasant things could happen even here, and I think we should be attempting to make up our minds what in fact we should do if, as is reported in the Press, Lord Linley were to be kidnapped and threatened with assassination unless the Government liberated the Kray murderers. Presumably this sort of situation would be quite unlikely to arise since the Krays are not political prisoners and there is probably nowhere abroad where they could obtain asylum. But what would happen, if, for instance, the disgraceful Paisley were again committed to gaol and a member of the Royal Family was kidnapped and threatened with death unless Paisley was liberated and allowed to pursue his deplorable activities? What should we do?

All these thing may be most improbable, and I hope sincerely that they are. But kidnapping does seem to be a growing menace, and in principle—and here I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir—there is no doubt that a determined line announced in advance is the best way of coping with it. The difficulty lies in applying the principle rigorously where, as for instance, in Brazil, immense pressure is exerted in a contrary sense. Maybe, as with hijacking, the only practical answer will lie in ourselves providing additional security locally for our diplomats at great expense, perhaps even going so far as to locate a reduced staff in a compound. But in all the circumstances it might perhaps be thought best either to raise the matter in the United Nations, or for some special conference to be held so that the majority of States, at any rate, can adopt a similar line in regard to such phenomena. In any case, as a result of this debate it is conceivable that some fruitful ideas may possibly emerge which the Government might propose or adopt in any such conference.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the indulgence normally extended to those speaking in your Lordships' House for the first time. We are very much concerned with the problem of hijacking, and I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, for bringing this Motion to our attention. International air travel is to us what the great shipping routes were to the 16th century traders, and, alas! we now suffer from much the same problem; that is, piracy. I will list a few of the hazards that face the airline pilot during a normal flight; and they may occur at any time without warning and they need vital action. Risk of contact with other aircraft, as we have all read in our newspapers, happens all too frequently. There is the possibility, among many others, of power failure, mechanical failure, instrument failure and fire.

To add to his burden the pilot is now faced with an armed and dangerous passenger whose instructions, however impractical, must be complied with. This is just the beginning of the unhappy story. First, can the hijackers' demands be met? Can the captain persuade this terrorist that it is impossible to do what he says? I believe the hijacker will not easily be persuaded so. But can the crew then be sure that the new destination really is within range? Will the runway be long enough? Does it have proper approach radar and landing facilities and so on? And what about the passengers? What about those with delicate health, or those who need drugs or treatment? How long might they be detained? There is no end to the extreme inconvenience these perfectly innocent travellers have to suffer, and this is the best that can be hoped for following a hijacking. I do not want to dramatise the situation, but it is only a matter of time before the hijacker throws his bomb, when the result could be a tragic disaster, causing grief for hundreds of others, bitterness between Governments and civil aviation bodies, as well as hastily conceived security measures that are sure to delay future passengers.

Political asylum is recognised by most people as being sacrosanct, and the man who seeks refuge in the country which shares his political ideals is entitled to its protection. But surely endangering the lives of innocent people in achieving this aim deserves severe punishment. It must be the clear intent of every country that boasts any form of law and order to let it be known that the hijacker forfeits this privilege of asylum and is dealt with as a common criminal.

We have heard with much interest what can be done at national level, and I should like to dwell on the steps that an individual pilot can take to safeguard his crew and passengers. They are in fact very few. Prior to take-off, he can, of course, examine any baggage or cargo, and he can order a passenger off the plane if he feels that he will imperil the safety of those on board. He can, with his crew, refuse to fly the plane at all. However, in the air there is precious little he can do. He can lock the door to the flight deck, which will at best give him a few seconds to transmit a distress signal. I understand from the executive Secretary of the International Federation of Airline Pilots that this is standard practice on most American air-lines. However, a really secure, and perhaps bullet-proof bulkhead in the door of the flight deck, which has been suggested, would be of little use and might even be a danger if the aircraft has to "ditch" or force land. For there is no door from the flight deck other than that through the front passenger compartment. To stop air piracy, I think there is a need for action at the highest level, for no country can "go it alone", and certainly no pilot or steward should ''have a go". It is up to the civil aviation bodies to press for concerted action to make hijacking plainly unprofitable.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, it is my agreeable task to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Tunis, on an interesting and admirable maiden speech. This gives me particular pleasure because for so many years I had a profound admiration for the character and achievements of his father. I hope the noble Earl will be encouraged to come often to this House and take a full part in its proceedings.

My Lords, I hesitated to intervene in this debate partly because, like the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I have had, fortunately, no practical experience of the subject matter, and partly because I have really no original thoughts as to the remedies for what is an increasingly alarming situation. I will speak only to the second part of the Motion. Immunity of diplomatic missions has been for centuries the basis of secure communications between Sovereigns and sovereign States. True, there have been breaches of that immunity, but they have been rare. There is an old and probably apocryphal story of a Consul-General in China who concluded a dispatch to the Foreign Secretary of the day: The rebels are now hammering at the compound gates. Some are already beginning to scale the walls, and in a few moments, my Lord, I shall cease to have the honour to be your Lordship's humble and obedient servant. Some recent events in Peking have brought that tale rather near to the bone, but these events were brought about at the instigation, or at least with the toleration, of the Government of the day and were controlled by them. Even so, diplomacy is becoming an increasingly dangerous occupation.

The new type of lawlessness and blackmail for political ends attacks the diplomat because he is a useful pawn in a political struggle. The kidnapping may not even have anything to do with the unpopularity or the actions of the Government he happens to represent. Moreover, the disease is extremely infectious and very difficult to treat. It is, like hijacking, too, for that matter, one more manifestation of the violence and the disregard for human life by certain types of criminal which has become a feature of society in advanced industrial States.

No doubt something can be done by intensified international action, though I think that this is more likely to be effective in cases of hijacking than in the case of diplomats. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, made a number of interesting suggestions as to various things which might be attempted, but I am not sure that he had very much confidence in the efficacy of any of them. And, of course, the difficulty is in trying to get a code of behaviour agreed between Governments; that it is so very hard to hold them all in line.

It seems to me that the main remedy at present to hand consists of intensified intelligence and police action in all countries. But this, in itself, creates serious problems involving additional strain on already stretched and over-burdened security and police forces. I believe that in Washington, a city where crime and violence have increased very much in recent years, the task of protecting the enlarged diplomatic community is now creating a grave problem for the local police. At home this particular situation, though far from good, has by no means reached these proportions, but the police have many extraneous tasks, such as coping with the incessant demonstrations by students and others which have become a kind of national pastime. There is also the question of penalties, which is already in the minds of many people, and indeed on some of the front pages, in connection with crimes of violence generally; but this not the moment to debate that matter.

I hesitate to talk about a general subject of which I know very little, but the question that is in my mind in relation to both hijacking and kidnapping is what, if any, further action the Government have in mind to strengthen the police and the security forces to bring them up to full complement and to attract into them entrants of the highest intelligence and attainments; qualities needed to deal with novel and sophisticated crime. There are obvious difficulties in trying to improve security in our foreign missions. That requires increased resources in men, and everybody who has had experience of life overseas will realise the problems which are involved. There is the further question of international collaboration in this matter between police and security forces, and I have no doubt that, as in so many professional fields, this is already at a high level within the limits of the possibilities. I suppose that improvement will depend on the capability which would come from increased numbers and efficiency in the forces concerned, both in this country and in other countries. I too shall be very interested in the views of the Government on these two intractable subjects.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those of the noble Lord who has just sat down to my noble friend Lord Alexander of Tunis on his admirable maiden speech. It had the great merit of brevity, and it also included in its short five minutes a great deal of common sense and a very practical point of view. I am sure I can say on behalf of all noble Lords that we look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future on this or on other subjects.

In approaching this subject, which is rather off my familiar beat of economics and trade matters, I come before your Lordships as very much an individual, without any personal experience either of being hijacked or kidnapped. Also, as my noble friend who introduced the subject himself admitted, I too have no special legal knowledge of what must be a very difficult subject from an inter-national legal point of view. In looking at the matter I have tried to consider what practical steps Her Majesty's Government might take, and to offer suggestions and what, I hope, will be some helpful comments. I think there is a danger, not just on the part of Her Majesty's Government but on the part of us in Britain, of being somewhat complacent in this matter. It does not happen to B.O.A.C.; it does not happen to B.E.A.; our diplomats have not been kidnapped, and our Embassies in London, so far, have fortunately been free from suffering kid-napping by extremist groups in this country.

Therefore, it would be all too easy for us to take the lofty view and say, "This is an international question, and we can leave it to the other members of the inter-national community to take the lead in this matter". But I think that would be a dangerous course, because hijacking, which was formerly more or less a Latin American activity, is now extending into other countries as well. Noble Lords might like to know that the first recorded case of hijacking of an aircraft occurred as far back as 1930 in Peru. It was not considered a very serious problem before the 'forties, but the number of cases has been mounting rapidly in the last few years. An estimated 6,500 air passengers and no fewer than 750 crew members have had their lives jeopardised by such acts, and a number of airline crew members have been killed or injured. No fewer than 20 large commercial transports have been destroyed or damaged on the ground or in the air as a result of hijacking. There is no doubt that a dramatic increase in the frequency, international scope and seriousness of civil aviation incidents took place in 1968 and 1969, and it is clear from what we read in the papers that the increase is continuing in 1970.

My noble friend who introduced the debate attempted an estimate of the reasons behind the actions of the hijackers, and I should like to add one consideration, which is that the hijacker nearly always gets to his destination. If hijackers are to be deterred—and this is essentially a specialised form of crimi-nality—surely it must be made abundantly plain that they will not remain at their preferred destination, whether or not they are to be punished on arrival.

I understand from questions and answers given in another place, and indeed from the comments of earlier speakers in this debate, that there is a good deal of international work going on in the matter. It is very tempting for Her Majesty's Government of the day when confronted with an international problem, to say, "We must await an inter-national solution". The trouble is that international solutions can take a long lime to bring about, and while I should naturally deplore the time it is likely to take before there is an international solution, I accept the great difficulties of operating speedily in an international framework. I think the ICAO meeting is only due to take place in December this year, although I understand that the spokesman in another place said that he would do his best to bring forward the date. But even if the meeting takes place and agreement is reached, the Convention can become effective only when it is ratified. Our own Government very properly take the view that one cannot sign a Convention until one has passed the necessary domestic legislation to enable it to be carried out. It all can take time, so even with the best will in the world it might be nearly two years before a suit-able international convention could be said to be fully operative.

For that reason I should like to make the suggestion to Her Majesty's Government that in the meantime, and as a temporary measure, it might be possible to proceed on a bilateral basis, rather like double taxation arrangements. Her Majesty's Government could approach each country individually and say, "Will you do a deal with us that if one of our aircraft is hijacked to your country you will return not only the aircraft and the passengers"—because, as my noble friend has pointed out, they are usually returned—"but also return the hijacker to his point of departure, back to this country, and let us deal with him? We, for our part, will undertake to do the same." I should have thought that that would be a substantial deterrent to those hijackers who really want to get to some other country. I appreciate the problem referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, of offering political asylum, but when the matter is so serious, such as the hijacking of aircraft, the rights of political asylum should take second place.

We might not be able to get agreement with all countries, but if we made a start and got 20, 30, or 40 countries to agree with us on a purely bilateral basis we should be making progress and setting an example to other countries where the problem is more serious, so that they might do the same. I do not think that this would in any way imperil or inhibit the development of a fully fledged international convention. It is important, I believe, to demonstrate to the hijacker that he will never get to his chosen destination and remain there. Indeed, the news value is one of the problems of modern journalism referred to by an earlier speaker; it is news while it is going on, but we are very rarely told what happens to the hijackers after they have reached their destination. There was that highly dramatic case of the Japanese aircraft going to North Korea. We were told that the hijackers were given dinner on arrival in North Korea, but I certainly have not noticed in any newspaper since what their sub-sequent fate has been. Have they been feted? Did they go off to prison? Are they now fully fledged members of the North Korean Trotskyist Party, or what-ever it was that they were so keen about? We never learn the ultimate fate of these hijackers.

One also remembers the case of the American soldier who successfully hi-jacked an aircraft to go all the way from the western side of the United States to Italy, ostensibly because he wanted to see his daddy. He got to Italy, and I think he was arrested. What has happened to him since? Perhaps he has seen his daddy and is now back in America. It would be a great help if we could sometimes know what the end of these unauthorised expeditions to foreign parts may be. If only he had known that he would never be allowed to stay in Italy, he might not have started on his journey. So I suggest that the best deterrent of all is to make it widely known that whoever attempts a hijack will be returned to his starting point, there to await the punishment that that country is authorised to inflict.

I think that there is some responsibility on the airlines themselves to ensure a degree of in-flight security. I agree that armour-plated flight decks are probably out of the question because of weight and for other reasons, but it astonishes me, on reading about these matters, how extremely easy it appears to be to get on to the flight deck without having a pass to go there. Surely there could be some improvement in the control of passenger movement, which apparently makes it so easy for somebody to wander up to the captain and press a revolver into the back of his neck. Could not some-thing more be done to improve security? I do not expect that Her Majesty's Government would wish to reveal any investigations that may be going on to ensure a higher degree of in-flight security, but if we could be told some-thing in general terms I think it would help to reassure us.

For example, in the field of medical gases, is it possible to develop systems of sleeping gases which might be instantly released, with the crew being suit-ably prepared or protected against the effects of such gases? Many other suggestions have been made. An earlier speaker referred to the hundreds of letters that T.W.A. receive on the subject, so I shall not detain your Lordships by embarking on any of my own amateurish suggestions on this topic.

As regards pre-flight precautions here, surely we in this country could set an example to make sure that at all our air-ports suitable, though discreet, precautions are being taken. After one recent case when there was a bomb scare, I think the British airline concerned installed an investigatory machine which revealed something suspicious in an individual's luggage. It was promptly detained. A metal cylindrical object in a suitcase on being opened was found to be a tin of biscuits. So that there are problems in detection, whether of biscuits or of bombs. However, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give us all the information that they feel expedient, consistent with national security.

We talk about the passengers. Before leaving this subject I should like to remind your Lordships of the great and harassing hardship suffered by wives and relatives of passengers on hi-jacked air-craft. It is not only the passengers who suffer. I can speak from close personal experience of this, because the wife of a great friend of mine suddenly learned that her husband was on a hijacked air-craft, which, incidentally, had left England and which turned up in Cuba. All was well, but she had a very painful and difficult 24 hours before learning of her husband's subsequent safety.

Turning to the question of the kid-napping of diplomats, I think my noble friend Lord Sherfield put it very well when he said that there is a tradition of diplomatic immunity which, by and large, is wonderfully observed throughout the world, but which is from time to time broken. The kidnapping of diplomats represents the latest lapse from good manners in this field. My noble friend referred to the recent difficulties which beset our Mission to Peking, but I might remind him and your Lordships that our representatives in Peking suffered similarly, and perhaps more severely, at the time of the Suez crisis, when the old compound was surrounded by many thousands of yelling Chinese demanding the blood of the British imperialist dragons.

Let us not forget the appalling disaster which befell our Embassy in Bagdad in 1960, when it was razed to the ground by a mob. Our diplomats fought very well, but I think two were wounded or killed in the incident. After that there occurred the seige of our Embassy in Jakarta, where the massed Indonesians were slightly dismayed and surprised to find that, instead of being frightened, our Ambassador simply walked up and down the Embassy grounds blowing on his bag-pipes. This so confused the mob that it went away in shame.

So far as our British representatives abroad are concerned, this is one of the greatest difficulties confronting the Foreign Office: we do not take kindly to showing cowardice, whatever we may feel inside. In a difficult situation we would be the last to run away or to give any appearance of being intimidated. It would be quite useless for the Foreign Office to say to our diplomats in a difficult country, "You must stay inside a compound or a ghetto. You must go out only in an armour-plated car". Immediately all the Third Secretaries would dive into the most doubtful Left Wing clubs in the country, in order to gain personal experience for themselves.

It is a peculiarly difficult matter for Her Majesty's Foreign Secretary to give advice to Her Majesty's foreign representatives abroad, but I should like to make one or two suggestions. I suggest that the Foreign Office might com-pile a list of, what I would call, "sensitive" countries. Rather than try to deal with the problem on a world-wide basis, pick out the ten or twelve countries which are most sensitive to political or diplomatic kidnapping and which plainly have what one might call political prisoners. Without seeking to define the term. I think your Lordships will know what I mean. Having picked out those countries, offer special methods of protection—discreet ones, of course—for our representatives there. For example, it would not be very expensive to fit the cars of those diplomats with radio phones or radio devices, which would enable them to give warning to a control point in the Embassy in the event of any trouble or difficulty. They might be persuaded to report on their movements, and always to return home by an agreed and well-policed route, as well as to use two oars instead of one when going out into the country, so that if one were taken the other would be able to raise the alarm. Here, again, I do not expect the Minister to give us details in his reply, because these are clearly matters which must remain confidential, but anything that he can tell us will be of considerable reassurance to noble Lords. Indeed, I hope that this debate will serve to show our devoted diplomats abroad that we have a very real feeling for their position, and are showing a proper concern for their safety and welfare.

As an earlier speaker said, this is not merely a matter of our diplomats abroad. Here in London we probably have one of the largest diplomatic colonies of any capital in the world. But there are not only the diplomats in London; there are all the consular posts throughout the various provincial centres of the United Kingdom. Here, again, there is a danger of complacency on our part, because, fortunately, we have so far been free from this sort of incident. But we have had some ugly incidents outside the United States Embassy, and there was an even worse incident when the Greek Embassy was invaded. Because of our freedom of entry, we have here so many different factions and groups, of Right and Left Wing varieties, that anything could happen; and what makes the problem particularly difficult is that the kidnappers do not necessarily select a diplomat from a country which they dislike. They may very well select some poor innocent man from a third country which has no part in the quarrel at all. Indeed, this was the case in Guatemala, where the German colony has behaved, I am told, with exemplary dignity and correctness in its relations with all shades of Guatemalan opinion, and the un- fortunate Ambassador was done to death nevertheless.

I thought the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was a particularly good one if it could be brought about; namely, that Governments in sensitive countries should state clearly in advance that in no circumstances will they release any political prisoners as a result of kid-napping. Whether they could be brought to the point of actually saying so is another matter; but undoubtedly we have seen that the kidnappers usually win the day or else carry out their threat. If this terrible state of affairs should come to this country, I think we can take comfort from the fact that our police are extremely efficient and are backed up by a very efficient system of intelligence. Therefore, if there was to be such an incident, with luck the perpetrators would be rapidly brought to book, although we have to remember how very difficult the case of Mrs. McKay has been, where considerable forces of police were deployed. So we are here very much at risk.

Here again I should like to offer a small suggestion to Her Majesty's Government, if not already being acted on; that is, that I would hope that the Embassies in this country would make avail-able to our police forces, through the Foreign Office, all possible information they may have on groups of one sort and another who may be in this country or who may be proposing to come to this country for subversive purposes. In that way, forewarned, we would to some extent be forearmed. In the last resort, my Lords, we are dealing with very difficult problems because we are dealing with crimes, albeit of a very specialised nature; and while we should like to say there shall be no more crime, it is very difficult to know where it will strike next. So I would not expect Her Majesty's Government to be able to give us a simple, complete answer this afternoon. Nevertheless, I hope that Her Majesty's Government can show that they are not only fully alive to these twin problems but are pursuing solutions with rapidity and energy.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those already offered to the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Tunis, on his maiden speech. I can speak with some feeling, having so recently myself emerged from that stage. My own intervention in this debate will be brief and confined to certain aspects of the problem of hijacking. This has become an international problem. I think the attitude which has been expressed, "It couldn't happen here", has dangers, and it is for this reason that I shall venture to suggest one or two ways in which we might take a lead in this field.

Analysing the features of the hijackings which have recently taken place, I find that they have several things in common. The first is that robbery, either of passengers or of cargo—remembering that these aircraft often carry large quantities of gold and other very valuable cargoes—is seldom, indeed probably never, the motive. Secondly, the air-craft itself has always been returned ultimately to its country of origin. Thirdly, to date, 36 airlines have been involved in hijack incidents, and although, as has been pointed out, no passengers have yet been killed in these incidents (the dead, apart from the three hijackers, are a captain and a first officer of Eastern Air-lines) it is inevitable, unless this tendency is stopped, that a major incident will occur involving disaster to an air-craft.

The fourth feature is that, to date, the hijackers themselves have seldom been returned to their country of origin. This presents a considerable problem unless there is a universal agreement covering this point. It seems to represent an impossibility in the present climate to get a consensus of definition of the conditions in which the hijackers would be returned from the countries to which they are liable to wish to divert the aircraft. It is, however, interesting to note recent experience on hijackings to Cuba. In the period from January to April of 1969, 14 aircraft were hijacked from the United States to Cuba. In the equivalent period this year, the number is only three. It is tempting to draw a conclusion here from the fact that Castro has taken to sending back a large number of the hijackers. The alternative, in certain cases, has been to put them to work for 18 hours a day in the sugar fields; and this message certainly seems to have got home.

These hijacking risks are beginning to affect the commercial operation of air-lines. They do affect passenger decisions. Those of us who fly a great deal will I think agree that we tend now to inquire into the transit stops made by the aircraft in which we contemplate flying. Piracy has been mentioned, and it is tempting to suppose that by invoking the piracy law something could be achieved. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, I have discussed this aspect with two international lawyers; and, like him, I emerged completely confused. The distinction, as was explained to me, of piracy from other laws is that it is a crime not against the State but against humanity. There-fore, if its provisions can be invoked it is truly universal, and this, I feel, is a point which merits further attention.

Now a word about possible remedies. Penalties, of course, should be mentioned. The equivalent tendency in the stage-coach days in the West was quickly checked by the use of armed guards, and by summary, hanging justice. Although armed guards are used on certain airlines, this practice, for obvious reasons, both political and physical, is hardly a real possibility. The second deterrent is a strong possibility of detection. Here, the Americans have achieved a considerable amount by the use of what they call a "psychological profile" on the hijacker. They rightly decline to reveal their criteria, but it has emerged that the typical hijacker is a young man, usually of the labouring class and of a nervous disposition. It has also been remarked that a high percentage of hijackers have beards. The conclusion from that was that anyone who was young, male, nervous and bearded would be liable to delay if he sought to travel on an American airline. Of course, we do not know how successful these techniques are. If, on the ground, a hijacker is foiled in a potential attempt, this receives no publicity. Indeed, it is impossible to infer from the mere fact that he is carrying a weapon which could be used in a hijacking that he is a potential hijacker. I have no doubt that there is an exchange of information among airlines, and indeed among Governments, on these subjects. It would be interesting if we could have confirmation on that point.

My Lords, I now come to the main point that I wish to make: that when an aircraft is in flight the hijacker, of course, by definition, is detected; and here the characteristics are as follows. The willingness of hijackers to "have a go" will depend upon their assessment of the chances of success. Roughly one-third of 200 hijack attempts in the last ten years have been foiled. If it becomes known that this percentage is rising, and rising sharply, then one may hope that the total number of attempts will correspondingly decline. In the first place, these hijackers are usually unable to fly the aircraft which they seek to divert. Secondly, more importantly, they are in a position that if they take such action as to destroy the aircraft they must also in the process destroy themselves. Third, they will have lost the game if the air-craft lands anywhere except at the destination of their choice. This leads me to believe that we might seek a solution in the country of origin of the flights rather than concentrating, as speakers hitherto have done, on the country of destination.

I would suggest four things that might be done. First, I would reinforce the plea that the use of detection devices should become mandatory, and I believe that some consequential delay to passengers would be acceptable. Secondly, we should encourage the ratification of the Tokyo Convention. Thirdly (this is a point that has not been made, but I regard it as most important) there should be the widest possible declaration that pilots from all the countries whose aircraft are liable to be hijacked are instructed to keep their flight deck doors locked during the flight, and, further, are enjoined to refuse to divert from their planned destination for what-ever cause, no matter what happens in the cabin behind them. We should remember that the pilot, who must have the ultimate say in this matter, is carrying a tremendous load of responsibility when he discovers that there is a threat to his cabin crew or passengers. If he is thus encouraged (and I am sure that the international pilots' brotherhood would welcome this: it is a very strong body, there is a very strong fellow-feeling between pilots) to take the view that he is not to be diverted, I think it would make his decision easier; and the publicity given to such pronouncements would, one hopes, deter many would-be hijackers. Finally, I believe that publicity to these attempts at hijacking, and to successful hijacks, should be discouraged by any means available.

I have one further point, my Lords, that I should like to make on the question of insurance. There is an unsatisfactory situation at the moment whereby in most standard policies in this country hijacking risks are now excluded from war damage cover, and there is a further limitation to 14 days of the cover available on the ground in the event that a hijacked airliner lands safely but is not speedily released by the country to which it was diverted. This is having a very detrimental effect on the attempts of several airlines to raise finance for new aircraft, and it is, I think, a problem that will grow unless we can find a solution to it.

I would make one point on the question of diplomats, and that is to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, that the only solution to this problem, and indeed also to the hijacking question, if one accepts that the ultimate aim must be to protect the innocent majority, is to see that it is made known as widely as possible that those who are subject to this pressure will not yield to it.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I join with other speakers in congratulating my noble friend Lord Alexander of Tunis on an excellent maiden speech. Any maiden speech in this House, even to the most seasoned campaigner, is somewhat of an ordeal, and I think that my noble friend came through that ordeal with considerable success. My noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir has raised two very important issues in his Motion. I should like to mention again the hijacking issue. We have heard with great interest two ex-diplomats on the question of kidnapping; and I am glad that neither had personal experience of it. I would agree in the first instance with other speakers that whatever preventive steps are taken, either by Governments or airline operators, it is very difficult in present conditions completely to stamp out hijacking to-day. Nevertheless, I believe that the present apparent increase in hijacking could be considerably reduced if certain steps were implemented.

The first step, and one which my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir has already mentioned, is the obvious need for firm international agreement between Governments. Here I believe that Her Majesty's Government have not been as active as they could have been to seek the now urgent requirement for international sanctions against hijackers. I agree with my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir that ICAO is really proving too slow a body to move with the present trend of hijacking.

When a Government Statement on hijacking was made in both Houses last February, the Government were pressed whether they intended to take the question of international agreement to the United Nations. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, replying that day on behalf of the Government, said that that form of suggestion would be studied with care. He went on to say that he personally had sympathy with it. He also said at that time that only a few days after the Statement an emergency meeting was to take place among the European civil aviation administrations. I should be interested to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when he comes to reply, what proposals came out of the emergency meeting and whether the Government are intending to pursue this matter at the United Nations.

I should like also to ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government agree that under any international agreement there should be two principal objectives. Both, I know, are being pressed by BALPA and I.F.A.L.P.A., the Inter-national Airline Pilots' Association. The first is the immediate safe return of all the crew, passengers and aircraft to the country of origin; the second, either the return of the hijackers, if there is no political motive, or, if that is not accept-able, some positive punitive action against the hijackers. My noble friend Lord Alexander of Tunis mentioned recent cases where the hijackers became some-what hero figures by being able to sell their life stories and even by being offered film contracts. Such cases I believe are deplorable and add to the importance of pressing for positive inter-national agreement.

As to the question of what airlines can do to prevent hijacking, the answer must lie in preventive measures on the ground. The difficulty facing any air-line or port authority is to strike a balance, a happy medium, between maintaining a civil airport with all the normal freedoms while at the same time increasing unobtrusively the security arrangements. A further difficulty with checking both passengers and baggage for weapons and bombs is the delay that results. We know of certain screening equipment which, as my noble friend Lord Tweedsmuir has already mentioned, is being tried out in Switzerland and America. My noble friend mentioned the Frisk'em; and I have been told of the decompression chamber in Zurich for testing baggage against bombs. In America there is the magnetometer which is used for the testing and screening of passengers. One hopes that these and other screening equipment will be introduced in time to add to the safety and security of passengers. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, whether, without giving away any secrets, he will be able to tell us to-night what studies Her Majesty's Government are giving to the introduction of screening equipment.

I would also in passing mention the question of the security of airports, particularly Heathrow, although one appreciates that this is a matter of some delicacy. It was disturbing to read recently in a Sunday newspaper a report of a member of BALPA who tested out the security arrangements and found them, to put it mildly, not very alert. This, we appreciate, was some months ago, and one hopes that it has now been put right. There is one matter of the security at Heathrow which a number of people find very puzzling, namely, the dual re-sponsibility between the British Airports Authority and the airlines. I think I am correct in saying that the airlines have the responsibility for security in their maintenance area and the British Airports Authority are responsible for the remaining parts of the airport. I understand that no other international airport has this dual arrangement. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, could confirm whether Her Majesty's Government are considering making this the sole responsibility of the Authority in future.

My Lords, we have been very fortunate in this country in not having experienced a single instance of hijacking. One has heard of the case in America, on a domestic, New York to Miami, run where a passenger pushed his way forward and pointed a gun at the pilot and said, "Take me to Miami". The pilot, some-what surprised, said, "Don't you mean Havana?". The passenger replied, "No I don't, I mean Miami. I've been on this trip twice before, and both times I landed at Havana". One hears of other cases on domestic routes in South America where passengers are advised to carry their passports. Whether those examples are true or not, I believe they illustrate the necessity for urgent, firm action by Government with Government to help check this increasing and intolerable threat to civil air transport. I hope that to-day the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able to assure us that Her Majesty's Government are taking positive steps, because I believe that they cannot afford to be complacent about this very serious and hazardous issue.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, has raised two matters which are of very deep concern to Her Majesty's Government and, I believe, to the general public. Before dealing with this highly complex subject I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Tunis, on his maiden speech. The House always looks forward to maiden speeches. Noble Lords are always with the maiden speaker when he is making his speech and hope for his success. I am certain that all of us who had the privilege of hearing the maiden speech this afternoon will rank it as a success. Most of us who knew the noble Earl's father will be pleased, too, because not only was his father held in high esteem in this House but he was also a much beloved personality to those who knew him.

My Lords, we have recently seen emerging what one might call the related threats of attacks on aircraft on the ground and, worse still, the sabotage of aircraft, leading to their destruction in the air, with tragic loss of innocent lives. These problems are undoubtedly inter-national. I will take note of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Enroll of Hale, who said that when things are difficult, Governments refer to them as "international problems". Anyone who looks at some of the recent cases of hijacking will see how truly international they are, certainly from the legal point of view. The passions that sometimes warp the minds of men and move them to seize control of aircraft know no frontiers. Not long ago there was an outrage which affected a, number of countries. Two men of different nationalities conspired, in a third country, to board, in a fourth country, an aeroplane registered in a fifth country. They seized control of it in the air space of a sixth country, and forced the pilot to land for fuel in a seventh; and, finally, to convey them to an eighth country.

Anyone who knows anything about international law will see that this is a highly complex problem. The rights, obligations and policies of all these countries may conflict and create a grave situation of legal complexity. There are, therefore, severe limits on the effective-ness of the action that any one individual country can take. The measures to be taken to prevent incidents, or to deal with those responsible for incidents, must be concerted on an international scale. As the House will be aware, this whole complex of connected problems is to be considered at an Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation to be held in Montreal in June, at the request of ten European member States, including the United Kingdom. We intend to exercise all the influence we can to secure inter-national agreement on the measures required to reduce the risk and, we hope, in the end, to eliminate these menaces to the safety of the world's airways.

We regard ICAO as the most appropriate forum for the international consideration of these issues. As the Special Agency of the United Nations dealing with civil aviation, it has a great store of experience and technical knowledge in this field; and it has a membership of some 119 countries. To its credit, ICAO has already achieved much in this connection. In 1963, under its auspices was concluded the Tokyo Convention on Offences Committed on Board Aircraft. This Convention is the basic inter-national instrument for dealing with criminal jurisdiction over aircraft and the authority of their commanders. It also contains valuable provisions for the return of hijacked aircraft and their passengers and crew. The United Kingdom was among the twelve countries whose ratifications brought the Convention into force at the end of last year. The number of signatories to the Convention has since risen to 21. We hope that many other countries will accede to the Convention, and that its provisions will become the accepted practice all over the world.

The frequency of hijacking has in-creased at an alarming rate over the years since the conclusion of the Tokyo Convention. In face of this mounting threat ICAO has done a great deal of patient, detailed work, especially over the past year. It has made a two-pronged attack on the problem. On the one hand, it has provided information about the precautions which Governments, airport authorities and airlines (which are, in the end, responsible) can take to make the task of the potential hijacker more difficult. On the other hand, members of ICAO have considered together the problem of punishing hijackers and thus deterring others from following their example.

To take first the precautions, early in 1969 ICAO set up a Committee on Un-lawful Interference with Aircraft. This Committee collected evidence from interested parties, including the inter-national organisations representing the airlines and their pilots, as those most directly concerned. As a result, a report based on the accumulated experience of the problem was circulated to member Governments for their guidance. It covers a wide range of topics, such as national legislation, publicity to increase public awareness of the problem and to deter the potential hijacker, and methods of screening and checking of passengers to detect those intending to hijack an aircraft.

The extent to which particular recommendations are relevant necessarily varies from one country to another. Some of the security measures recommended were already in force in this country, but the airport authorities and the airlines, on whom the primary responsibility rests, have recently, in consultation with the Government, tightened considerably the security measures at our airports. Valuable work has also been done on a regional basis in Europe, under the auspices of the European Civil Aviation Conference. We believe that the development of such precautions on an inter- national basis will steadily reduce the risks of hijacking and the sabotage of aircraft on the ground and in the air. But I think that we must be frank with ourselves. The process cannot by its nature be spectacular, and it would clearly not be in the general interest to describe the details of what the British Airports Authority and the airlines in this country are doing. I should have liked to respond on this point, but the advice that I have been given is that the less said about it, the better.

At the same time, ICAO have been pursuing the complementary line of attack on the problem of hijacking by providing a framework within which those responsible can be brought to justice. It has become clear that the Tokyo Convention, to which I referred at the beginning of my speech, although an important step in the right direction, does not go far enough because, although it provides for the return of aircraft and its passengers, it does not touch the hijacker himself. To deter the potential hijacker, we clearly need to establish machinery to bring him to justice. I have no doubt that many hijackers would be deterred if they did not set out confident that they would escape scot-free after they had forced the aircraft to land in the country of their choice.

For this reason we greatly welcomed the decision of ICAO to set up a Legal Committee to draft a convention on the unlawful seizure of aircraft and we took a leading part in its deliberations. The Legal Committee of ICAO finished its work on the new convention last month and it has now been endorsed by the Council and circulated to Governments. The main provisions of this document are as follows. Each party would under-take to make hijacking an offence subject to severe penalties. Each party would also become obliged to establish jurisdiction over the offence where it was committed, on board an aircraft on its register, or where the hijacked aircraft lands in its territory with the alleged offender still on board. Each party would also undertake to take the alleged offender into custody or take steps to ensure that he did not get away pending possible criminal or extradition proceedings. Under the draft convention, hijacking would have to be treated as included among the offences listed in existing ex-tradition treaties between contracting States, who would also undertake to include it in any new extradition treaty.

The important thing is that the country where the hijacker lands should norm-ally have power to deal with him, so that extradition need be resorted to only when the country does not or cannot exercise its own criminal jurisdiction. If, however, the question of extradition should arise, it is implicit in the draft convention that it would be effected in accordance with the national law of the extraditing State. Thus, in this country, it would be open to an accused person to plead that he should not be extradited because he was wanted for a crime of a political character. Similar considerations would apply in many other countries. Therefore, it has been suggested in some quarters that this defence should be disallowed and no exception made for political offences. Grave, however, though the offence of hijacking is, it was not generally considered by the countries engaged in the preparation of the draft convention that it would justify a departure from the political safeguards customarily included in extradition law.

A much milder variant was put for-ward and discussed during the negotiations—that extradition should be automatic unless the accused faced capital or other severe penalties for political offences in the country which had demanded his extradition. Even this proposal received little support. It is important to note that because a State decides to extradite a hijacker, it does not mean that he will necessarily get off scot-free. Under the draft convention, the State where a hijacked aircraft lands with the hijacker still on board will have jurisdiction and can deal with him.

A convention on the lines now pro-posed should do a great deal to make hijacking less attractive to the potential offender, provided that a large number of States become parties. Our next objective, therefore, must be to achieve widespread agreement on the text, with the aim of bringing the convention into force by as many countries as possible and as quickly as possible. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said that the Government have not reacted quickly enough and I believe that view was expressed in another place. But anyone who has studied the ICAO rules of procedure will see that Governments must have at least six months to study a draft convention, after it has been approved by the Legal Committee and circulated to Governments, before it is considered and concluded at a diplomatic conference.

This conference has now been convened to meet at The Hague on December 1, at the invitation of the Government of the Netherlands. In view of the urgency of the problem, we have been taking soundings to see whether it would be possible to hold the conference earlier by general agreement. The House will realise that in considering this question we have to bear in mind that a conference of this kind needs a great deal of preparation to give it the maximum chance of success. Many Governments, which do not send representatives to the Legal Committee, are now seeing the text of the convention for the first time and naturally need time to study it in detail. Some of these have small staffs to deal with problems of this kind and it was partly with them in mind that the six months was originally instituted. The draft convention breaks a good deal of new ground and it is of the first importance that we should secure as wide a measure of agreement as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, also raised the point about whether we are doing sufficient and doing it fast enough. The problem is, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, under-stood, that when we are dealing with a large number of countries, each having a different attitude and sometimes a different interest, it does take time to bring them together. It is the view of Her Majesty's Government that it is of little use to hasten the consideration of the final text, if the result is that many countries do not attend the diplomatic conference or, having attended, fail to sign and to ratify. What counts in our minds is to get the final convention into force as soon as possible over as large a part of the world as possible. We shall have that aim constantly in mind in our consultations, which are still continuing.

Nearly all the activities I have described so far have been centred on ICAO but we have been active elsewhere. A British delegation took part in a meeting of the 13 member States which are the leading providers of air transport, held in Washington in December. The pro ceedings were confidential to permit a full exchange of views between the Governments concerned, who were all deeply anxious about the hijacking threat to the world civil aviation. They discussed the need for an early and wide-spread ratification of the Tokyo Convention and the early bringing into force of the Hijacking Convention. They also discussed the difficult problems of extradition and co-operation between Governments on security measures.

The United Nations General Assembly, as the premier forum for considering international problems, rightly also concerned itself with this problem at its last Session. We gave full support to an important resolution which called upon States to ensure that their national legislation provides an adequate framework for effective measures against unlawful interference. The resolution also urged States to ensure that hijackers are prosecuted. In this connection, Her Majesty's Government will of course introduce any legislation that may be necessary in this country when the text of the Hijacking Convention has reached its final form. The resolution also urged full support for the efforts of ICAO in preparing the Hijacking Convention and invited States to accede to the Tokyo Convention. At its next Session the Assembly will no doubt take stock of progress in ICAO and consider the new threats that have emerged during the year, especially sabotage of aircraft.

There has been some suggestion that, pending the outcome of the diplomatic conference in December, no work is being done on these questions. This is, of course, far from the truth. Her Majesty's Government attach the greatest possible importance to the Extraordinary Assembly of ICAO which is due to meet in Montreal in June. We hope that it will be widely attended and will pro-duce constructive proposals. We are planning ourselves to contribute some suggestions for a possible international instrument to deal with other forms of attack against aircraft similar to the Hijacking Convention, and hope to circulate our proposals to the members of ICAO very soon.

Although many of the problems which we have been discussing this afternoon have their roots in intractable political differences which, unfortunately, are not likely quickly to be solved, I hope that I have convinced your Lordships that hijacking and aircraft security generally can and should be dealt with primarily as a civil aviation problem, with which the International Civil Aviation Organisation is peculiarly well fitted to deal.

The noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, asked whether devices should be made mandatory, and also whether Governments should be responsible for them. I will look into this matter, but I think it would be difficult; and I am not certain whether, in the end, the airlines would find it satisfactory. Some of our airports in this country of course are under public authorities, and some are privately owned; and certainly in the United States there are many that are privately owned. I think it would be difficult to ensure that all airfields have a standard field of detection. But in the end this is, I suggest, a matter that needs to be considered by airlines themselves, who must have the primary responsibility to their passengers and also to Governments and the other various authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Erroll, asked whether we could not undertake bilateral treaties with countries. On the face of it, this may appear to be a short cut and therefore attractive. But I cannot help feeling, considering the large number of countries with which we should have to negotiate, and certainly seek to have a standard treaty, that in the end it would be quicker to do it in an international forum rather than to seek to do it on a bilateral basis. However, this is a point that I will consider.

I turn now to the problem of the kidnapping of diplomats. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, said that diplomacy is becoming an increasingly dangerous occupation. This is a new threat, al-though it has happened before: it is new perhaps for the implications that lie be-hind the kidnapping. I can only say to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, that I have been in touch with our Diplomatic Service overseas, and particularly in South America, and they are taking their traditional view of the situation and are not unduly concerned. Although so far the kidnapping has occurred in a limited number of countries, I think it right that we should recognise that it could well occur in many other parts of the world. And while the activities of kidnappers have so far been directed against Ambassadors and senior diplomatic or consular staff, we cannot exclude the possibility that attacks of this sort might be made on junior staff, or even on wives and families of our diplomats.

The responsibility for the safety of an Ambassador and his staff lies with the host Government. This is stated clearly in Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and is also established by long international tradition and precedent. Indeed, it is the basic to the efficient conduct of inter-national relations that accredited representatives should be free and secure to go about their business. I believe that virtually all Governments in the world are aware of and accept their responsibility. I am equally sure that the great majority take appropriate measures to protect the diplomats stationed in their countries.

At the same time, we have to recognise that, with the best will in the world, no country can give complete and absolute protection against the kidnapping of diplomats any more than against other forms of crime. In the last analysis, if inadequate protection is afforded to diplomats by the authorities in the country concerned, the only complete solution lies in the drastic reduction, or even total closure, of the diplomatic Missions concerned. Action of this kind would obviously be taken only in the very last resort, if it appeared that there was no other way of ensuring the safety of our diplomatic staff in a given country.

The problem is made all the more difficult by the readiness of kidnappers to seize hostages at random. The late Ger-man Amabassador to Guatemala, as the noble Lord, Lord Erroll, said, seems to have been seized by his kidnappers simply because he was a prominent person whose capture would, they believed, ensure them the bargaining power and publicity that they desired. It is thus necessary for a Government to provide adequate protection not just for the representatives of countries with whose policy the kidnappers may be assumed to disagree but for all diplomatic representatives, irrespective of the policy of their countries.

Although, as I have said, the host Government has the full formal responsibility for ensuring a diplomat's safety, we think it right that we should also take care to ensure that our staffs overseas are pro-vided with any additional help from our own resources which may seem practicable and desirable in the light of local circumstances. We had in fact issued guidance to all our overseas Missions last year on precautionary measures which might be taken to reduce the risk of kidnapping. More recently we have consulted many of our posts on the need for any additional measures. For obvious reasons, I cannot reveal in detail what these measures are, but I can assure the House that we are very concerned at the danger and have been active in trying to reduce it.

A security expert from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is at present touring a number of our missions in Latin America to assess the situation at first hand, to advise missions on what further precautions should be instituted immediately and, where necessary, to make recommendations for action in the longer term that would reduce the risk to a minimum. I have seen the "shopping list"; I have also seen the action taken and would assure the House that where requests have been made action has been taken. We are also issuing further guidance to all our posts overseas, based on the lessons learned from recent events in Latin America. I sincerely hope and trust that no kidnapping attempt will be made against any member of our missions overseas. But if an attempt were made, they are as ready for it as they can possibly be, taking into account what their duties are. An overseas mission that is confined to its compound might as well not be there at all. The purpose of a mission is to be able to move around, not only between embassy and Government buildings, but also to sense what is going on in the country as a whole.

I need hardy add that Her Majesty's Government are also giving due attention to the protection of diplomatic representatives in London. Again it would be unwise for me to go into detail, but the House may wish to see the size of the problem. We have some 7,000 people, with their families, representing diplomatic missions. It is a very sizeable problem, but I have no doubt that Scot-land Yard, who have special responsibility, are fully aware of the dangers and are taking the necessary action.

So far I have dealt only with the immediate question of how to avoid or deter potential kidnappers. While we have been taking action on this matter we have also been considering what measures would be taken internationally to put an end to this threat. Immediately after the murder of the German Ambassador to Guatemala we initiated consultations with a number of Governments who faced problems similar to our own. We have exchanged ideas, both on the immediate problem of protection and on the possibilities of a longer-term solution. We are anxious to ensure that all useful ideas are fully considered. It would, however, be wrong to suppose that any form of international action or agreement is likely to produce effective results in the short term. The legal position is already perfectly clear. Virtually no Government condones attacks on diplomats accredited to it or refuses to recognise kidnapping as a crime. The problem is therefore not to establish a legal basis for action against the kidnappers, but to find means of deterring kidnappers from violating existing laws.

Various ideas have been suggested. For example, there is the proposal to obtain international agreement that prisoners released as a result of kidnapping should not be granted political asylum in a third country. That idea has obvious attractions, but I am not at all sure that it would command universal acceptance. Leaving aside those countries which are ill-disposed towards the West and whose attitude towards kidnapping of a Western diplomatic representative elsewhere might be doubtful, many countries have long-established, honourable traditions of granting political asylum and might well be reluctant to limit their traditional freedom to decide for themselves in any individual case.

To sum up, I believe that there are two things that we should be doing and which we are doing. We are taking all possible measures to ensure the safety of our staff overseas. And we are exploring with our friends and allies all ideas that could help to solve this problem. But we have to recognise the very real difficulties of effective international action. Each case is different and each case involves a human life. We must there-fore take care to avoid any action that is of doubtful value but that might tie our hands if a British diplomat were kidnapped.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, in withdrawing my Motion I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate and have thought out this abstruse subject in such depth. I would add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Alexander of Tunis, for his maiden speech. The reception he received was not only because we held his father in such respect and admiration but because of the thoughtful and interesting speech that he himself made.

I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his full answer. There is much more that we should have liked to hear, but the House realises that there is a great deal that the noble Lord can-not say at this stage. I wish his delegation luck at the ICAO Conference in Montreal. I am full of admiration for the achievements of ICAO, but I still maintain, as I said in my speech, that the machinery that operates was constructed to work in a much slower gear. If they ever see their way to speeding it up to meet modern conditions, I shall be the first to cheer them. I should like to thank the noble Lord for going into such detail in his reply and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.