HL Deb 25 February 1970 vol 308 cc75-9

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, it would probably be convenient if I were now to repeat a Statement made in another place by the President of the Board of Trade. It is as follows:

"The successive acts of violent interference with civil aviation—hijacking, attacks on aircraft on the ground and on ground facilities, and sabotage, in various parts of the world and from different motives, have deepened the gravity of this international problem. The nature of civil aviation makes these essentially international problems, which can only be tackled effectively by concerted international action. Her Majesty's Government have consistently supported and played their full role in such international action.

"The main centre for international action has been the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to ratify the Tokyo Convention on crimes in aircraft, and is seeking adherence to it by other States. The United Kingdom has played a full part in preparing the proposed new draft international convention against hijacking, which it is hoped will be put to a full diplomatic conference this year. The United Kingdom supported and has been active in the work of the Committee of ICAO specially set up on unlawful interference with international civil aviation and its facilities.

"The Swiss Government yesterday asked ICAO to call a conference on the issue of safety, and the United Kingdom member of the ICAO Council has been instructed to give full support to this Swiss proposal, so as to get an urgent meeting of Governments in the most useful form. An emergency meeting of European civil aviation administrations has also been arranged, to begin on March 3, in which the United Kingdom will take part at senior level.

"In this country all practical measures are being taken by the British airlines and airport authorities, in close liaison with the police and other Government services concerned, to extend and tighten security safeguards applied to aircraft, passengers, baggage and cargo. Nevertheless, with the volume of movement through the world's airports and on international airlines, there can be no absolute guarantee against violence.

"I explained to the House on Monday the temporary precautions which B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. had taken, affecting cargo traffic, while they took stock of the security situation. This was a matter of their primary responsibility for the safety of their passengers and aircrew. The airlines have vigorously pursued the improvement of security.

"In the case of B.E.A., they are not due to send another flight to Israel until Thursday. They are well advanced with their security measures, which are being discussed with the staff. They then hope to be open again to accept cargo and letters. B.O.A.C. have similarly reviewed and improved security arrangements. They have been discussing these with their staff, including air crew, concerned, and they then also hope to be open again to receive cargo. The interruption to flight handling services for aircraft of a number of foreign airlines at Heathrow by B.O.A.C. staff action has now, I understand, ended, and normal handling has been resumed."


My Lords, I am sure the whole House is most grateful to the noble Lord for repeating that Statement on the recent attacks on civil aircraft. I am sure the House will also be glad to hear from Her Majesty's Government the steps they are taking to tackle, through international collaboration, the urgent and serious problem that these attacks present. In view of the great urgency of the problem, could not Her Majesty's Government have gone a little further today in this Statement than taking the matter to ICAO—perhaps to the United Nations? With all the recent history of hijacking, and now of the increasing attacks on civil aircraft, both in the air and on the ground, is it not time to call upon countries at the United Nations to outlaw immediately any such action carried out by a subject of that country. Such action is surely a matter that no country can but deplore.

On the question of the position of both B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., I am sure that Members of the House will note with some degree of comfort that every care and security is being taken both by the airlines and by the airport authorities. Can the noble Lord perhaps say today whether the 24-hour cargo embargo will continue to operate?


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for having repeated that Statement, and while recognising the grave difficulties in dealing with these matters, I would ask him whether he will bear in mind that the banning of flights to one country, Israel, could in fact precipitate further attacks? Would it not be possible to recommend to the International Conference of ICAO that they should agree that if there are any repetitions of attacks against Israel there will be an immediate ban on all flights to Arab countries; and, if necessary, vice versa?


My Lords, to answer the first question put by the noble Earl, I think he will agree that immediate action has to be taken by airlines, and that that is best taken through the international airlines organisation. To that extent, therefore, I am sure that he will agree with what has been done. As to the possibility of other political action— for example through the United Nations —I personally agree with him that there is a case for some kind of protocol, agreement or convention by which each country can solemnly outlaw individuals committing actions of this kind. This is the sort of point which I will endeavour to see is considered. The 24-hour delay is continuing for the time being. As for the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, I would point out that it is not the fact that there has been an embargo on one country only. In any case, as I have stated, B.E.A. have not another flight to Israel until next Thursday, and discussions are taking place about that. The delay on cargo is one which is applied to all countries.


My Lords, I think perhaps the noble Lord may have misunderstood me. What I was suggesting was that there might be a recommendation by the International Conference that, in the event of any further attacks of this kind, there would be a ban on flights to all Arab countries. This, I think, would be most effective.


My Lords, I was replying really to the other question put by the noble Lord, in which he couched in interrogatory form the point that it was unfair in this case to single out Israel. I was putting to him that in fact there has not been this discrimination against Israel only. As for the other point, I agree with him: it is an idea that ought to be pursued. There are, however, several snags about it—for example, in identifying the country from which these people come.


My Lords, as there has been criticism in some quarters of the actions of B.E.A. and B.O.A.C, and their unfortunate effect on Israel, will the Minister endorse that it is the absolute responsibility of the Corporations to ensure to the maximum degree the safety of their passengers, irrespective of the effects of any steps they take in the interests of that safety?


My Lords, one understands the feelings that have been expressed by Israel, but I agree, and Her Majesty's Government agree, with what the noble Lord has just said; namely, that there is an obligation upon the airlines concerned to take elementary precautions to safeguard both their passengers and their aircrews.


My Lords, in view of what my noble friend has said, that there is no discrimination at all between cargo to Israel and to Arab countries, may I ask him whether this applies also to mail?


Yes, my Lords: it applies also to mail.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether action is being taken to control the presence or entry into this country of persons known to be members of guerrilla bands of any kind?


My Lords, that is a fairly wide question, and I think I shall have to consider that.


My Lords, considering the difficulty that people with British passports have in getting in, surely the answer is that there must be.