HL Deb 14 November 1972 vol 336 cc605-44

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is brief and, I believe, will command a wide measure of support. It is a further step in the development of an effective international legal framework to deal with the violence which afflicts the peaceful operation of civil aviation at the present time, and of which we have a further example in America this last weekend. Your Lordships will appreciate that this Bill is not itself concerned with hijacking but with the equally serious problem of sabotage. As for last weekend's outrage in America and the equally horrifying hijacking of the Lufthansa jet from Beirut, these incidents have aroused the greatest concern and revulsion in us all. I am sure I speak for all your Lordships in saying that our sympathies go out to the crews and passengers who have been subjected to the intolerable pressures and dangers which these incidents occasion. Hijacking, however, is dealt with in the Hague Convention, and I shall refer later to this and more particularly to the Government's policy on aviation security.

The purpose of the Bill is to enable the United Kingdom to give effect to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the safety of Civil Aviation which was concluded at a diplomatic conference in Montreal on September 23, 1972. The first objective of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (to which I shall refer as ICAO) as set out in the Chicago Convention of 1944 is to ensure the safe and orderly growth of international civil aviation throughout the world. There had, of course, been isolated acts of violence from the quite early days of commercial aviation; indeed the first record of an aircraft hijacking is in Peru in 1930. But when ICAO was established in 1944, it can never have been envisaged that air transport would have to face, and innocent passengers and crews to endure, the evil and shocking forms of violence for criminal and so-called political ends which we have seen in recent years.

Before explaining the objectives and form of the Bill which is now before the House, I think that in view of recent events in the Middle East, in Germany and elsewhere your Lordships would expect me to say something about the Government's approach to aviation security. It has three main objectives. First, to provide that the necessary organisation is available and that procedures are developed to combat possible acts of violence against our civil aviation and to respond to any incident involving the United Kingdom. Second, to ensure that appropriate and effective security measures are taken at our airports and by our airlines. And thirdly, to support and contribute to international action in the United Nations, ICAO and elsewhere.

The struggle against violence directed at aviation involves many interests and organisations—Government Departments, the Civil Aviation Authority, the police, airlines, airport authorities and especially the pilots, cabin crews and ground staffs who are the most immediately and directly involved of all. It is vital that there should be the closest liaison between all these bodies. It was for this reason that the Government set up the National Aviation Security Committee, on which they are all represented, to advise it and the air transport industry on aviation security. This national committee is in turn complemented by airport security committees at all our major airports. These committees have had an important influence on policy—for example, in relation to the decision by the Government last June to meet the costs of searching passengers and baggage and as sponsor for a comprehensive programme of detailed security surveys of our airports. So the organisation is there both to coordinate all the interests involved in the prevention of violence and also to respond to any incident with which we might be faced in the United Kingdom. I hope I shall not be asked to give details about the form the response would take. For obvious reasons, all I can say is that the plans have been made; they are under continued development in the light of experience, and they are kept closely under review.

From the outset the Government have provided our airlines and airport authorities with advice on the threat to their operations and with guidance on the measures which might be taken by airlines and at airports to combat possible hijacking and sabotage attempts and other acts of violence. To do so virtually on a day-to-day basis is part of the close liaison which has been evolved. Our basic approach to actual security measures is influenced by two main considerations. First, the hijacker must be prevented from joining an aircraft, or the saboteur from placing his bomb, or whatever it might be, on board. And secondly, security measures should be related to the threat and should be concentrated on those operations most at risk. Some of these measures, notably the searching of passengers and their baggage, will be familiar to those of your Lordships who are regular travellers. Noble Lords will understand why I do not intend to list all precautions that are taken. I would just say that they vary in intensity as between different airlines and between individual flights—the measures taken on flights to certain destinations are not necessarily taken, for example, on domestic or other short-range services.

However, Government activity is not confined to advice and guidance. The Government have made a tangible and important contribution to the effort to contain violence by meeting the costs of both British and foreign airlines in search- ing their passengers and baggage at our airports. This has been widely acknowledged both by the air transport industry in the United Kingdom and overseas. It was originally estimated to amount to about £1 million a year. We are also undertaking comprehensive security surveys of British airports. These are intended to review existing security measures, to consider whether improvements are required, and to recommend the action which might be taken to effect such improvements. All the principal airports have been surveyed, but this is a continuing process requiring constant vigilance.

So much for national action. I now turn to international action and specifically to the legal framework, on which I should like to say something about the main instruments involved so as to put this Bill in perspective. There are three international Conventions and work is proceeding on a fourth. First, there is the Tokyo Convention of 1963 which deals generally with crimes committed on board aircraft, setting out the jurisdiction and duties of States and describing the powers of the aircraft commander in relation to such crimes. In 1963 hijacking did not present the international problem that it does to-day, and was mainly confined to persons fleeing from one country to another generally in order to seek political asylum. The Tokyo Convention therefore was concerned more with the return of the aircraft and its passengers than with the hijacker. The enactment in 1967 of the Tokyo Convention Act enabled the United Kingdom to be among the first to ratify that Convention, which is now in force for 57 countries.

Secondly, there is the Hague Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, which is concerned with the hijacking of aircraft. Towards the end of the 1960s a sinister new development was the hijacking of aircraft to bring political pressure to bear on States, particularly in the context of the Middle East conflict. It was clear that the brief references to hijacking in the Tokyo Convention were inadequate to deal with this new menace, and there was strong support within ICAO for a convention specifically concerned with hijacking which would provide for the apprehension and punishment of the hijacker. This led to the conclusion in December, 1970, of the Hague Convention. It was given effect in the Hijacking Act 1971, under which anyone who commits the offence of hijacking is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life. Again the United Kingdom was among the first to ratify the Hague Convention, which has now been ratified by 42 States.

Thirdly, there is the Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation, concluded in September, 1971, and specially aimed at sabotage and similar acts other than hijacking. It complements the Hague Convention on hijacking and is similar to it in general form. The Hague Convention was concerned only with hijacking, but in 1969 and 1970, following the sabotage of aircraft in flight and attacks against aeroplanes on the ground, work began on the Montreal Convention.

My Lords, before going on to describe the Montreal Convention, I should refer briefly to the fourth instrument, which is the proposed Convention on Joint Action against Acts of Violence to Civil Aviation; or, in simple terms, sanctions. This is related to situations in which States might not have acted in accordance with the Hague and Montreal Conventions. Last September in Washington a subcommittee of the Legal Committee of ICAO prepared a report based on proposals by the United Kingdom delegation for a fact-finding commission to determine whether the conduct of a State constituted a threat to the general safety of aviation and to recommend to the State concerned the steps which might be taken to remedy the situation. This met with substantial support. We then cosponsored, with the United States, Canada and the Netherlands, a proposal for determining the steps to be taken if the State failed to comply with the recommendations. The ICAO Council considered this report on November 1 and decided to convene a special session of the Legal Committee in January 1973 to consider the report of the sub-committee. The Council also decided to convene a diplomatic conference on aviation security in August and September 1973.

The steps that could be taken under the new proposals would include such sanctions as the withdrawal of air ser- vices to and from States found to be in default. The need for widespread agreement on such a course is obvious. The impositions of sanctions by only a few countries would be unlikely to hurt the defaulting State or influence its attitudes, while the countries imposing them could themselves suffer disproportionate losses through action taken against them—or indeed through loss of services. Your Lordships will have noted that Her Majesty's Government have been very active in the development of these various legal instruments and have taken early steps to ratify them. In particular the Montreal Convention was put in hand, largely at the instigation of the United Kingdom at the Extraordinary Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which was convened in June 1970 especially to consider all these matters affecting the security of civil aviation. It was signed on its conclusion at Montreal by 31 countries including the United Kingdom, and since then there have been another 21 signatories, making a total of 52. It has been ratified by 11 countries, and we know from the initiatives we have taken to encourage States to adopt both the Montreal and Hague Conventions that many other countries are preparing to ratify.

The Montreal Convention will come into effect between ratifying countries 30 days after the tenth ratification has been deposited by a State which was present when it was concluded. The considerable and growing number of States that have signed it suggests that the right balance has been struck between two sometimes conflicting objectives which those who prepared the Convention had before them. These were, to produce a Convention which had enough teeth to be effective to deal with sabotage and the like and, at the same time, one which would attract widespread adherence. What the Convention does, in brief, is to require contracting States to make it an offence for any person to perform an act of violence against a person on board an aircraft in flight which is likely to endanger the safety of that aircraft; or to destroy or damage an aircraft in service, or air navigation facilities, or to place on board an aircraft a device or substance likely to endanger aircraft in flight; or to communicate false information thereby endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight. These offences are to be punishable by severe penalties. The Convention provides for arrest, facilitates the extradition of offenders between contracting States, and obliges any contracting State where the offender is found to take jurisdiction to prosecute him if it does not extradite him. We believe the Convention to be an important additional weapon in combating violence. It has been welcomed by all sides of the air transport industry in this country, that is to say by airlines, airport authorities and employees, many of whom have urged us to ratify as soon as possible.

The main purpose then of the Protection of Aircraft Bill now before your Lordships' House is precisely to enable us to ratify the Montreal Convention. Not all the provisions of the Convention need to be reflected in the Bill, since effect can be given to them administratively and no legislation is required to implement them. The Bill is therefore quite short. Nevertheless it does cover two points which were excluded from the Convention, but for which we think provision should be made in our own law. These are, first, offences involving military, customs or police aircraft, and second, the provision of powers to a constable to prevent a person from travelling on an aircraft if the constable has cause to suspect that the person intends to commit an offence under the Bill or under the Hijacking Act 1971.

The Bill contains only ten clauses but I need mention only the first five, which are also the most important. Clause 1 implements the Montreal Convention by making it an offence to destroy or damage an aircraft in service, or to commit on board an aircraft in flight any act of violence likely to endanger its safety in flight, or to place on an aircraft or to conspire to be placed on it any device or substance which is likely to destroy an aircraft or render it unsafe in flight or incapable of flying. It makes no difference to the offence where it is committed or what is the nationality of the offender or the State in which the aircraft is registered. This otherwise all-embracing provision is qualified in the case of offences involving military, customs or police aircraft, which are outside the scope of the Convention and where the extent of our jurisdiction must therefore be less.

Clause 2 gives effect to the provision in the Convention which requires contracting States to make it an offence to destroy or damage or interfere with the operation of air navigation facilities so as to be likely to endanger the safety of aircraft in flight, or to communicate false information thereby endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight. Under Clause 3 anyone commits an offence if, in the United Kingdom, he induces or assists in the commission of an act outside the United Kingdom which would be an offence under the Bill if it were committed here. Clause 4 provides that for all offences under the Bill other than those involving the communication of information the offender shall be liable to imprisonment for life. The communication of false information which endangers the safety of aircraft in flight, or assisting or inducing the communication of such information, is punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.

Clause 5 makes those amendments to the law which are necessary in order to implement the provisions of the Montreal Convention relating to the extradition of offenders between contracting States. It does this by amending the Extradition Act 1870 and the Fugitive Offenders Act 1967 so as to provide that the offences created by the Bill are extraditable offences under the 1870 Act and relevant offences under the 1967 Act. It also provides that where there is no bilateral extradition treaty with a State which is a party to the Convention, an Order in Council may be made under Section 2 of the 1870 Act as though the Convention constituted an extradition treaty with that State. I do not think I need mention the remaining clauses. I will say only that having played a leading part in the making of the Montreal Convention, which we believe will contribute to the safety of international air transport, we are anxious to ratify it as quickly as possible. The passage of the Bill will enable us to ratify, and I therefore commend it to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for explaining the purpose of the Bill and the back- ground to the problem with which it deals. I appreciate the promptitude with which Her Majesty's Government have laid this legislation—it is so infrequently that I have the opportunity of praising Her Majesty's Government that it is a pity that when I do so Her Majesty's Ministers should direct their attention elsewhere—prior to the ratification of the Montreal Convention. As the noble Lord told us, we have now had the Tokyo Convention and the Hague Convention and we are about to ratify the Montreal Convention, though it is still a fact that we have not yet come to grips with the problems we are discussing. As he said, until we have widespread agreement among countries, until we can get sanctions and until we can put some teeth into this Agreement we are unlikely to see effective steps being taken. It would now seem that the principal hope rests on the Legal Committee of the ICAO, and again I appreciate what Her Majesty's Government have done in facilitating those discussions.

I do not wish to be misunderstood, and certainly I do not intend to criticise unfairly Her Majesty's Government in anything I say. Indeed, having listened to the noble Lord and having had the privilege this morning of listening to his right honourable friend Mr. Heseltine in another forum, I wish to pay tribute to the initiatives which the Government, through their Ministers and officials, have taken. Nevertheless, although I recognise that much is being done, it is necessary to urge to-day that still more be done. August, 1973, for the meeting of the Legal Committee seems to be too leisurely an approach to a problem which really is one of great urgency.

In a sense I have an interest to declare as, like the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, whom I see in his place opposite, I am Vice-President of BALPA; but if I have a special interest, looking at it from the pilots' point of view, it is identical with the public interest, and I wish to emphasise the need for urgency from the pilots' stand point. So far the pilots of these hijacked aircraft have always contrived to bring the aircraft down safely. They have displayed an almost incredible standard of professional efficiency. But I say seriously, and without exaggeration, that if this lawlessness continues, a major tragedy is inevitable. I do not mean by this a tragedy as the result of deliberate sabotage—for example, a bomb exploding or a grenade being thrown in flight—but because these pirates are demanding that pilots operate in a quite intolerable environment.

Two factors are essential for the safe operation of an aircraft. First, the pilot needs to prepare his flight carefully, thoroughly and completely; yet we see flights ordered by these pirates without any possibility of securing or assessing the elementary pre-flight information. The second cardinal principle which is breached is that of aircraft command. Safety demands that there shall be no equivocation and no doubt at all as to who is in authority; the command of the aircraft should be absolutely unchallenged. Yet in these piratical acts we see that decisions affecting the serviceability of aircraft, the fuel state, landing aids, weather conditions and suitability of the runway at the proposed destination are all imposed on the legal commander of the aircraft by the pirates concerned. One day there will be an argument as to whether the outboard engine is or is not unserviceable. The pilot will require to make one decision and the hijacker will endeavour to impose on him another, and in a condition of that kind there will be a tragedy.

May I add one more word about the pilots? As I said, so far their supreme professional skill has averted catastrophe, but let us not be misled by the pictures of some of these men when they emerge from an incident of this kind. Sometimes I have seen on television an apparently unperturbed captain relating his experiences and one would imagine that there had been no effect upon him. Yet it is quite impossible for a man, such as the Southern Airlines pilot flying for 21 hours at the direction of these people, to emerge from that kind of experience without some scar. It is certain that there are individuals who have gone through this experience who have suffered and who will suffer for the remainder of their lives as a result of the strain that has been put upon them. I myself can think of one case where, apparently, the premature retirement of the captain was caused by the experience which he had undergone. There is a human tragedy, but, apart from the individual—


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but may I say that it is almost impossible to hear him because of what is going on outside? I do not know whether it is bombs or something else, but perhaps something could be done.


My Lords, I am sorry. I thought I had raised my voice to the limit. If there is a certain amount of sabotage behind the noble Baroness, then I am afraid that it is for other authorities to deal with.


My Lords, I have sent a message to Black Rod to see whether he can stop all this banging and thumping, but perhaps the Government Front Bench will join in the protest behind the scenes, because it is rather intolerable.


My Lords, I am sure that it is being attended to, but we shall try to hasten it.


My Lords, here is another reason why I think an extra effort should be made by Her Majesty's Government to get international agreement on action for sanctions which will mean that this kind of crime does not pay. That is really what we are seeking. We are trying to show that those who engage upon these acts will not benefit from them, and this will be possible if we can secure sufficient agreement among the members of ICAO. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, told us that 57 States have now ratified the Tokyo Convention and 42 have ratified the Hague Convention. I understand that some 11 have already ratified the Montreal Convention and the noble Lord has indicated that he expects more ratifications to follow. What I now ask him is: are we to wait until there is universal ratification of the Legal Committees proposals or can we assume that there will be a point of time when there will be sufficient States ratifying to ensure that sanctions can be applied? The situation we want is where sufficient major nations of the world will withdraw from any nation which does not implement these conventions the facilities which airlines must have in flying about the world. Navigational facilities of one kind or another ought to be denied to those States which do not implement these conventions. I accept that it is quite impossible for unilateral action to be taken by Her Majesty's Government, but I wonder whether the noble Lord can indicate the kind of number of States that he would wish to see ratify before teeth can be put into these agreements.

I want to make just one other point. In our debate on July 21, 1971, I called attention to the fact that problems of this kind can affect transport on the high seas, and since then we have had the QE 2 incident. If there were a need for any evidence to support the point which I made, that evidence was supplied by the QE 2 incident a month or two later. In July, 1971, when I asked why the provisions of these conventions could not be applied to shipping, the noble Lord said: … we had to balance the desirability of getting this Bill through as quickly as possible with the desirability of including provisions dealing with hijacking of ships. That would have delayed the Bill. The matter is under consideration, however, and I hope that legislation on this matter will not be long delayed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 21/7/71; col. 1064.] That was in July, 1971. I wonder what sort of definition can be given to the phrase "not be long delayed". Has there been consideration and, if so, what was the result of that consideration? Is there any reason why shipping should not have been dealt with in this Bill?

Although I have praised the noble Lord and his Government for the promptitude with which they have ratified these other conventions, I might remind him that a little while ago we discussed the Geneva Convention on the mortgaging of aircraft, the ratification of which is still outstanding, but I think I am right in saying that we signed in 1947. Therefore there is a choice of time scale. We can have promptitude of this kind or we can delay matters for some decades. Therefore, I am asking whether the noble Lord is able to assure us that this problem of shipping is one which will be dealt with in the near future. In the meantime, I again thank the noble Lord and his Government for the promptitude with which they have acted in this case; and for our part, certainly, we shall facilitate putting the Bill upon the Statute Book.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in supporting this Bill. Also, I should like to associate everybody on these Benches with what he has said, and particularly with what he has said about the ordeals that face these crews when crimes are committed in their aircraft. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for so clearly explaining the details of this Bill, the purpose of which is to enable us to ratify the recent Convention in Montreal for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation. If I may say so, the Bill comes none too soon. Only a few hours ago, we heard of another outrage. I think we can call these outrages the scourge of our modern aviation transport.

If I read the Bill correctly—and here I must speak with care, as I cannot claim any legal knowledge—it covers, both in our laws and in our extradition treaties, those who engage in this kind of sabotage, and it provides for certain penalties. It may be questioned whether these penalties are severe enough at least to provide a deterrent for those who may be tempted to engage in these acts of terrorism and sabotage. A considerable problem arises on the question of the deterrent, because although the penalties envisaged in the Bill may act as a deterrent for those who may be tempted to engage in these crimes purely for the purpose of robbery and financial gain, what about those who engage in these crimes for purely ideological reasons? It seems that the latter category are often largely indifferent to whether or not they lose their lives or their liberties in the process.

The Bill seems to cover all acts of sabotage in British-registered civil aircraft, wherever they are, and also aircraft within our territorial limits on land, sea or in the air. It also enables a police officer to prevent an individual from boarding an aircraft, if the officer has reason to believe that the person is doing so with the intention of committing sabotage. Therefore the Bill provides for the situation after the act of sabotage has been committed; but apart from the powers given to a constable, it does not seem to make any specific provision for preventive action. At the moment, it is left to the airlines and airport authorities to implement such searches and preventive action as they may devise and as they may decide upon, either individually or collectively.

But what about those who aid and abet? In this category, surely, come those States and organisations which pro- vide asylum for these criminals, notably some Arab States. Cuba, I think, was an offender, but seems to be having some remorse. I suggest that if these asylums can be eliminated, then we shall have gone a very long way to cure the ill. We now know that the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organisation's Legal Committee is to meet in Montreal on January 9, and in August next year there are to be, probably in London, high diplomatic discussions to produce an international Convention. But next August is a long way off, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has drawn to our attention, and in the meantime it may well be that there will be other acts of sabotage, and indeed loss of life. Cannot Her Majesty's Government now take the initiative in stirring up international legal action, as opposed to just Conventions? These are matters which surely we must all agree are of the most urgent character. Meanwhile, we on these Benches welcome this Bill as being a step in the right direction.

3.42 p.m.


I should like to apologise at the start for being unavoidably absent at the beginning of the Second Reading of this Bill. I should also like, with other noble Lords, to welcome this Bill briefly, and to add my congratulations to the Government on their promptness in ratifying the Montreal Convention. The more one talks to experts in the field of hijacking, the more it seems pretty clear that, whatever other steps are taken to try to contain this disease, the main objective is to get international agreement. I must say that I felt a little dispirited to find that, of the participants in the three Conventions we have so far held—Tokyo, The Hague, and now Montreal—less than 30 per cent. of the countries have felt able to sign the Conventions and so accept the discipline of them.

One of the reasons for some countries hesitating on this matter of signing must be, one assumes, that to return a hijacker who has sought political asylum in a particular country would be unacceptable, particularly if he came from a country totally opposed to their political system. If this is correct, and accepting that extradition agreements may at present be unenforceable between certain countries, one wonders why the category of the political asylum hijacker could not be separated from the other categories of hijackers under the Convention statutes. If this were done, it would seem possible for all civilised countries, whatever their political colours, to treat air pirates as criminals whose fate would be determined by the country whose airline they had plotted against. If this was not acceptable, perhaps on the grounds that some countries have the death penalty and others do not, surely it would seem possible to agree that, from whatever country a criminal or ransom hijacker sought refuge, there would be a mandatory sentence awaiting him on his arrival. Perhaps this is one avenue which is at present being explored by ICAO; I do not know. But it is astonishing to note how different countries treat hijacking at present. One sees from evidence one has been able to obtain that this varies enormously: from America, where in one case a hijacker received a sentence of 50 years, to another in the Lebanon, where a hijacker received only nine months; from Russia, a death penalty sentence which was commuted to 15 years with hard labour, to Sweden where a sentence of only 22 months was given. From the information that I have been able to obtain, the majority of countries appear to sentence hijackers to between five and seven years—a sentence which does not seem either a strong enough deterrent or to reflect what a serious criminal offence it is.

Besides the international agreement which is so essential in tackling this problem, clearly another vital preventive is airport security. It is, one knows, a matter which, in the case of the British airports authority, has been tackled with great skill and with silent skill. It is, however, a matter which I believe many British airline pilots are concerned about on airports abroad. I understand that while some countries have first-class security facilities, others appear not to tackle the problem with sufficient seriousness. It will be interesting to learn whether, in these cases, the Government take up the question of airport security. At a time when hijacking is occurring so frequently—eight cases in the last five weeks—there is indeed a great deal of responsibility and a very high stress, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, mentioned, on the pilots and on their crews, as well as, of course, on their passengers, and I believe they deserve very special sympathy and support. I hope that the Government feel able to take up, and are in fact taking up, cases where the British pilots report a lack of security at certain foreign airports. Perhaps my noble friend could deal with this point when he comes to reply.

My Lords, in any discussion on hijacking the subject clearly falls into two parts. The first is on preventive measures and the second is on how to deal with a hijacking case which in fact exists. In recent months we have seen, as I have said, a very disturbing increase in hijacking. Indeed, when the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, says that hijacking should not pay, again from the figures which I have been able to obtain I think, sadly, that at the moment hijacking does pay; and I hope this trend can soon be reversed. In nearly all hijacking cases, the negotiations which have been conducted appear to have taken place, regrettably, in the air; and it always seems to me very strange that at the time of refuelling on the ground, perhaps before they go up again to carry out further negotiations, the pilot or the captain is not able to push some button to put the aircraft out of service. This is perhaps a slightly amateur suggestion, but I believe it is worthy of consideration.

One of the factors about which I have been unable to obtain any information—and again it is a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, mentioned—is that of the appalling stress caused to the captain and his crew in such situations. In the case of the captain and his crew, one wonders what compensation, if any, is to be paid where, due to the stress, early retirement has occurred. Is it a matter to be left to the airlines alone, or is it a matter to be taken up by the Government, and indeed by other countries which have been involved in hijackings? I should like to end by again congratulating the Government, who have given, I believe, a welcome lead and shown an example in ratifying the Montreal Convention, and I wish them every success in persuading other countries to follow in an attempt to cure what clearly is the worst disease which at present plagues the civil air transport industry.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all of us were glad to see that the Bill which we are now considering will enable us to ratify the Montreal Convention, and we are grateful for this further step in the direction of an attempt to deal with the scourge of hijacking. I should like to congratulate the Government on the step which they have taken; and I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, on the concise and precise way in which he has presented the Bill to us. It is, however, a pity that there has been some delay in ratifying the Convention, which was signed a year ago; but I am bound to say that the Government have been very much speedier in this matter than they, and other Governments, have been with regard to ratifying other Conventions. I remember that the Genocide Convention took some 15 years to be ratified, so perhaps I should congratulate the Government even on the time they have taken.

My Lords, we are dealing with what I have previously, and I believe aptly, described as a cancerous growth on civilisation. May I say at this stage to the noble Earl who has just spoken that even in war there are certain actions which the contending parties accept as being uncivilised, inhuman and not permissible. If the noble Earl consults the Geneva Convention he will see that that is so. Here, as I have said, we are dealing with a scourge which I have previously described as a cancerous growth on civilisation, a cancerous growth whose menace continues to spread. The Conventions that have been ratified and all the appropriate steps that have been taken up to now have apparently brought some measure of relief; but the intensity of the growth increases. Even the ratifying of the Montreal Convention cannot possibly result in its destruction. It must be cut out by a major surgical operation by the civilised nations of the world—and I emphasise the word "civilised".

I would draw the attention of noble Lords to the shameful submission to blackmail by the West German Government on October 29 last, when no attempt at all was made to frustrate the hijacking plans for the handing over of the Munich murderers whose action horrified the world. No attempt at all was made to prevent that handing over. The escalation of this horrific crime was evident as recently as Saturday last from the hijacking of a civil aeroplane and the terrible strain experienced by the crew and passengers before they were eventually released from their anguish. I, too, should like to pay a tribute, as I am sure would everybody, to the courage of the pilots who, during these terrible experiences, have acted in a manner which is to be highly commended. The one important lesson that has emerged from this crime is that if these pirates of the air could find no landing place in a country which would give them asylum, they would have no alternative hut to land in a country where they would be compelled to surrender to the authorities to be dealt with under such international and national laws as that country had accepted for punishing them. Reference has already been made to Cuba; but in this instance, so far as we know, Cuba has acted in a manner in which we should like all the countries of the world to act. I do not know whether they have yet returned the ransom but it is to be hoped that they will do so.

I have appealed on many occasions to this Government and to previous Governments to realise that the only effective way of stopping these pirate murderers and assassins is to bring pressure on the countries which are still prepared to harbour them, to give them facilities for training or to finance them. This pressure should take the form of imposing appropriate sanctions on those uncivilised countries. Air services to those countries and landing places for their planes should be refused them by the civilised world. In this age of communication by air, nothing could be more effective than to deprive offending nations of these facilities. Endangering the passengers and crews of other nations (as well as, in some cases, of their own) through their total disregard of the elementary rules of humanity cannot be tolerated. The knowledge that no country would harbour them caused hijackers to surrender in Spain and in Turkey, for example. I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that steps are being taken to deal with some of the features to which I have referred in coping with the situation.

My Lords, there is another method of dealing with this curse of hijacking which I think should not be overlooked. Pending the adoption of the measures to which I have referred, or running concurrently with them, this other method is to flush the criminals out of their training dens. In this respect I cannot understand why the Government take every opportunity of attacking Israel when she undertakes that operation. Surely, no one can expect Israel to wait for the criminals to be prepared and trained for killing men, women and children of all nations in general and her own in particular, when she knows that the assassins are being schooled in places close to her own border, and with the full knowledge and approval of the responsible national Governments there. The hijackers know very well that it is their bases which Israel attacks. If they surround those bases with civilians, it is they who commit the additional crime of using innocent people as a shield while preparing to kill other innocent people. The States harbouring the murderers are accessories to their crime and are not in a position justifiably to complain if their potential victims, knowing the location of the training centres, refuse to allow themselves to be slaughtered by vicious men and women who plan their destruction there. Everybody knows these facts and I cannot think that any noble Lord could believe them to be otherwise. It is with the knowledge of these States that these dens are being used. The encouragement this brings to the hijackers is something that we should not tolerate. Ultimately, one cannot fail to realise that it is not Israel alone who suffers; it is the world as a whole.

I understand too that at the present time in the United Nations the U.S.A. is putting forward to the General Assembly for consideration proposals similar to those to which I have referred. I sincerely hope that the Government will support them wholeheartedly in this respect. Again I should like to thank the Government for the step they have taken. Time is running heavily against the civilised world. We cannot allow this hijacking to go on. All the excuses made about "protecting" these people or about allowing people to hijack because of their alleged political ideology is sheer nonsense when it comes to dealing with a grave situation of vice by which the civilised world is threatened.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I welcome the Bill now before us and I should like briefly to consider a few points from it. First, I would take up a point made by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. He pointed out the discrepancy between the penalties provided for in some countries and those laid down by others. I wonder whether the proposed penalty of ten years that is laid down as the maximum to be imposed in the United Kingdom courts is sufficient. I can easily conceive of a situation where nothing short of life imprisonment would be sufficient. I should also like to echo a thought which several noble Lords have voiced: that the disease being what it is, and growing at the rate it is, as many nations as possible ought to be encouraged to ratify this Convention at the earliest possible moment.

There is a further omission from the Bill which I should like to raise with the noble Lord who is to reply. I refer to the situation that may arise in which, for one reason or another, those who hijack a United Kingdom-registered or other registered aircraft outside the United Kingdom end up here. From my reading of the Bill it seems that they are not specifically covered and that we should have to rely on extradition arrangements with other nations, if they existed, to be able to prosecute such people—does the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, wish to intervene?


My Lords, I was wondering what it was the noble Lord was asking me to reply to. If an offender is in this country already, there can be no question of extradition.


Or lands here.


I did not quite understand the point.


My Lords, I am thinking of a situation in which a crime is committed outside the United Kingdom—


That is covered.


My Lords, I am told the point is covered, in which case I will not labour it.

The next question is the matter of the generality of political or so-called political hijackers, or saboteurs, who claim exemption from the rigours of the law by virtue of the fact that they are seeking political asylum. I believe this to provide too large a loophole which will lead to a situation whereby the law is brought into disrepute because all and sundry will claim political exemption, usually quite unjustifiably.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and to give it as much conviction as I can. It is only a matter of time before there is a catastrophe of incredible magnitude. One can imagine a Jumbo-jet crashing with 300, 400 or even 500 passengers and the whole lot being killed. Do we want to see that happen? I am sure that we do not. Therefore let us use every means in our power to secure world-wide ratification of this Convention and see that this law is put on the Statute Book as soon as possible.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I have to declare an interest as I am, with him, a joint Vice-President of the British Airline Pilots' Association. It is an honorary post, and while the duties are not very onerous at times they are rather worrying. I am also a director of an air freight company. Here, too, although we do not have the same problem as with passengers, there are risks involved. I would remind your Lordships that up to the beginning of the war cargo and passenger ships plying up the China coast from Hong Kong to Shanghai were frequently pirated. The superstructure was protected by grills, and Indian guards were based at either end with rifles. I, too, would like to see shipping covered at an early date by a similar Bill. We had the experience of the Q.E.2 a few months ago, and I think that shipping ought to be covered.

Already, my Lords, these hijacks are far too frequent, and they will not cease suddenly because of legislation. While this debate is helpful and I have no doubt the Government have taken the lead and done all that they can do, I stress that it is a matter of urgency to persuade other countries to come into line, and is not something which can possibly wait until next August. Most hijacks originate in the United States and usually they involve aircraft of domestic airlines. That is a matter for the jurisdiction of the United States Government. About three months ago I was flying with another Britisher from New York to Puerto Rico. I said, "They do not seem to know much about searching baggage, flying down to the Caribbean." I made inquiries and I was told, "No, we do not search the baggage; it would delay all the domestic flights." Well, my Lords, we had been out of New York about 50 minutes when the aircraft began to behave in a rather extraordinary way. I saw that fuel was being dumped and I made inquiries, and I was told that there had been a message that there was a bomb on board. I told my colleague what had happened. He said, "What do we do?" I said, "Nothing except have a large brandy and soda and then have another one." Such experiences are very unpleasant because you feel so helpless.

In the last three years, some 20,000 passengers and air crews have been involved in hijacks. That is a great number of people. As has been said, in the one last Saturday the aircrew went through the terrible ordeal of flying an aircraft for something like 20 to 22 hours. What with postal bombs, we are living in a very troubled world. It is fashionable now to live in this torment. But we have to tackle this problem: there is no doubt about that. The difficulty is, what do we do? I think we need at a very early date to get agreement among the Powers. The British Government have given a lead. The Bill that we are discussing will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the international Convention of Montreal for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation. These measures will not solve the problem. Many countries have not recognised that Convention. We know who they are, without mentioning names, and there is a very good reason why they do not recognise it.

I would remind your Lordships that four or five years ago a British registered H.S.125 jet executive aircraft was chartered by Mr. Tshombe. As we well know, it was hijacked to Liberia. To the best of my recollection it was several weeks, if not months, before the crew returned, and the aeroplane was detained there for very much longer. We know what happened to Mr. Tshombe; he died in that country. But we were never told the circumstances. I raised this matter on several occasions in another place at the time, and I think that the Government of the day were flabby and weak in dealing with the problem. A man had died. No urgency was put into the matter and we did not set an example to the rest of the world over one of the first important hijackings in the history of Western Europe.

The British Airline Pilots' Association are conducting a referendum of their members to see what support they will get for the International Federation of Airline Pilots. We have already been told what ICAO is doing, but we do not know what will happen with the International Federation. They are to have a conference on December 12 and 13. There are 64 different known pilots' associations throughout the world. One recommendation is to have a world strike of 24 to 48 hours of pilots to show the importance of this matter, or to bring sanctions against the offending State. It is tempting to say to the pilots, "You take this matter into your own hands". Frankly, I do not think that will do. Pilots and individuals cannot take the place of a Government in bringing about sanctions. That is a matter for Government and not for aircrews, who have their own job to do. That is something the aircrews must leave to the politicians.

Many of these matters are complicated by some countries giving asylum to people from any country. No matter who they are, or what they do, they get asylum, although it is encouraging to see in Press reports of the last day or two that the three men who hijacked the Douglas D.C.9 in the United States will get imprisonment for life. We do not know, but we hope that they may be returned to the United States. If they are, not, we hope that President Castro will deal with the matter in his own way. We are told that the money involved is in the hands of the Swiss Embassy. That shows some progress. If the pilots themselves were to take action there could be sanctions taken against aircrews by other countries. There could be closures of air space and harassment of foreigners leaving those countries. But the British Airline Pilots Association say that it is the duty of the Government to try to solve this problem.

The spasmodic searching of passengers is not useless; it has done a certain amount of good. B.O.A.C. has collected many weapons—knives and so on. But one search a day is not enough. On the other hand, if you carry out continual searches you disorganise the whole timetable of the air fleet, and with plastic weapons it is even more difficult going through the geiger machine at the entrance pit. This puts a tremendous responsibility on the captain and on the ground staff. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, referred to one captain, whose name I will not mention, who was involved in an incident. But this man was very sick. He hopes to return to flying at a future date, but it is very questionable whether he will. This is a working man's career. We do not know where all this is going to end.

But the danger, my Lords, is not of a hijacker taking a pin out of a hand grenade and blowing a hole in the aeroplane. The danger is that hijackers will give directions to the captain to fly to a place where the runway may be too short, or where there may be insufficient aids at night. There may be a genuine technical fault in the aeroplane, and even if the hijackers are told by the captain they will not believe it. Then the captain will be confronted with the prospect of making an emergency landing. Those are the circumstances in which we are likely to get a disaster rather than from an explosion in the aeroplane.

Of course there are many suggestions going around, and it is very easy to make them. It was suggested to me yesterday evening by an eminent doctor that one way of coping with this situation was, when the aeroplane lands on the ground to pick up the ransom or to refuel, to have in the luggage rack apparatus whereby you can anaesthetise everybody, including the air crew. I do not know whether that is a possibility. Then you have to consider whether it is advisable to carry armed guards. I believe that Lufthansa are now carrying them, El Al, the Israeli Airline, and I believe the American International air lines carry one armed guard if not two. That may be worth considering. Whether B.O.A.C. carry armed guards, I do not know: they probably do, but have not made an announcement. All these matters should be considered.

I conclude, my Lords, as I started, by saying that it is the responsibility of Governments to try—and the British Government have already given a lead—to get an early agreement between as many nations as possible; and having got that agreement from the maximum number within a given, fairly short period, then, if the offending State does not extradite or punish the hijackers and return the aircraft, sanctions must be imposed by withholding aircraft mail, freight and passengers. To-day, most countries confronted with that situation would, I think, soon come into line and conform with what we are trying to achieve.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, in what is a debate of great gravity, on a situation which I think has worsened in the last few hours, I make what may seem to the House to be a purely verbal point. I should like to make it, because President Pompidou did try to defend the French language, and I learned with some regret of the incorporation of the language of the bootleg barons on the Statute Book of England. It would ill become me to criticise those of your Lordships who were diligently labouring in the legislative vineyard while I was chewing the cud in the political pound. The noble Lord on the Front Bench apologised at the time for coining the word "hijacking". I know that it came from a convention; I know that that was the explanation given. But the word "mugging" appeared on the Order Paper only last week. I am interested in the interception of telephone calls, which will presumably become known as "bugging" when the Government decide that bugging's turn is next. I view with some horror the possibility of having the Hijacking (No. 2) Bill, the Mugging Prevention Bill, the Bugging Extension Bill and the Weenyboppers' Protection Bill; "La Reine le veuet", and, Milton, thou should'st be living at this hour. This is a great debate, my Lords, and I certainly do not want to give it what appears to be anything approaching a touch of frivolity. I disagree profoundly with what the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said in his criticism of Chancellor Brandt. I think Chancellor Brandt gave every evidence of doing his best; of taking over what was a dreadful position and assuming a dreadful responsibility. Whether he did the right thing or not is not for anyone to say. In this kind of situation one can only do one's best.


My Lords, does the noble Lord know how long elapsed before a decision was made, and whether the West German authorities had any knowledge of the possibility or probability of such an event?


My Lords, I must assume the truth of what we are told by friendly Governments. I am told that they had not. If the noble Lord goes into that, we had to face a comparable situation in the case of Miss Leila Khaled. The British authorities had there to decide whether to release her in exchange for the lives of the pilot and crew and a number of the passengers on an aeroplane. Nobody will ever know whether we took the right decision. I know that I should not wish to criticise those who shoulder such a responsibility, or those who have to decide whether to allow a kidnapped man to be murdered or to pay a ransom. These are dreadful decisions to have to make. Of course one could take a quite simple argumentative line and say we must establish a custom, we must establish an international law. But all of us know that the conditions are not there.

While the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, is still here, and while I have the benefit of the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I, who know nothing of these things, but do at least have a fighter pilot in the family, would like to make one small suggestion, which the noble Lord can rise and shoot down in a moment. We were considering this point when a suggestion appeared in The Times on November 10, and which itself seemed to be shot down on November 12, because it presented one obvious weakness. But is it not possible to make the pilot and crew of a large modern aeroplane, even if it means sacrificing the front row of seats, absolutely incommunicado? I am told that it would not affect the safety of the plane. I am told that if there were to be a bullet-proof partition which made the crew incommunicado, the pilot would still be, as he always is, in charge of the planed in charge of the safety of the plane, communicating with the instrument panel and so on, on flights which nowadays do not often last for more than a few hours, and he alone communicating with the other aerodrome. This of course is likely to meet a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. It is difficult to know why nothing can be done when the aeroplane gets on the ground. The reason is that the pilot has been compelled to radio instructions that the personnel normally on the ground shall be away, that no one shall approach the plane and so on.

The point I am making is a quite simple one—and if the noble Lord thinks I am talking nonsense, I should be happy if he would say so at once: that if the pilot is incommunicado he cannot be made to give the instructions which arrange for immunity of the pirates on the ground. I know that noble Lords will think of the possibility of some accident to the rear of the plane—of an engine burning itself out or landing apparatus not working; but I am told that to-day all that is in the hands of the pilot and his instrument panel; that it is dealt with in that way. If a little extra visibility to the plane itself is required, that does not present any problem. I make that suggestion quite humbly. It may be nonsense. It is made after much hesitation, but I think that it might deal with some of the problems of the immediate situation.

What I had intended to say, and will say now, is this. We are faced with a problem which involves three clearly defined types of people. There is first the professional criminal who thinks the gamble worth the taking. He can be dealt with at any rate by making the gamble not worth the taking; and if he knows that he cannot communicate with the pilots he will turn his activities to an easier or more profitable type of crime. Then there is the case of the psychotic. This is a much more difficult problem. To some extent the crime of the psychotic is an imitative one. Every time one of these events gets publicity other people to start to think of the possibility of attracting, mainly, notoriety; what they regard mainly as fame and as a great adventure.

But here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Janner: we are dealing with something else; we are dealing with the indoctrinated political warrior who knows no fear, and will know none, and will not be deterred. It is known that, whatever the faults of Israel and whatever the faults of the Arabs, there are Arab countries now where young lads are taught that hatred of Jewry, that vengeance on Jewry, that punishment and assassination of Jewry, is the highest religious duty. All wars, of course, are religious—you never get an agnostic war—and the flames of fanaticism are fanned. The world has seen this before, and we paid 10 million lives as the penalty for ignoring it. I think it was Giles Playfair who wrote a very sensitive book, which is worth reading again. This showed how a little girl of fifteen, who was a Roman Catholic teacher in a Sunday school, developed after three years of indoctrination into the beast of Belsen. And this happened. It happened in Germany; it happened to one of the most civilised people in the world. It happened on a vast scale.

The Arab countries to-day are countries of increasing power and wealth. There is very little evidence that any of them have a desire to condemn this attitude; indeed, there is clear evidence that some of them are actively encouraging it. I say, with regret, that I do not believe that the United Nations can deal with this problem. It cannot be dealt with on the basis of a vast organisation which contains many countries that have no interest in this matter and no urge to stop the practice. Some of them have every desire to keep out, but some countries are known to participate. So, though I welcome this Bill, which is a perfectly good Bill, and links some of the legal problems, it remains the fact that it is almost irrelevant to the world situation. It remains the fact that you have to take Mrs. Beeton's advice and "First catch your hijacker". It is not easy, and all the talk about extradition and all the provisions for making a trial possible are taking place in a world in which there have been very few trials.

There is one thing that could be done. We are told that the men who landed in Cuba are in durance vile and will remain there. We are told that the men who used to go to Algeria are kept in durance vile. Well, I hope that that is true. We ought to have more publicity on that aspect, because that publicity would deter others—at any rate, the criminal class, and also, perhaps, some of the psychotics. This is a world in which we have seen violence in continual escalation. We have seen murder. We have seen it in Northern Ireland, where surely an ecumenical society could and ought to be making a contribution to peace. We have seen a fairly casual treatment of political assassination. We have seen outrages on children. We have seen the ordinary process of the post being used for the purpose of anonymous assassination. What is required is an effort by people of good will of every country, for these are words and these are phrases: they mean so little.

I hope that the noble Lord on the Front Bench will take as the message from this House the fact that we congratulate him on the steps he has taken but urge him to take every possible step to impress upon the countries with whom he is negotiating the extreme urgency of these deliberations and the fact that they should not be unnecessarily delayed. I would also stress the extreme urgency of using these powers collectively, and using them to the fullest possible extent on those countries which are found guilty of taking part in the fomentation of violence or in the assistance of outrage.

House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, it is one blessing to have one's name down at the end of a debate, because so much of what one might have said has already been mentioned. I certainly add my welcome to this Bill and particularly to the words of my noble friend Lord Harvey for having been able to give us some first-hand account of what it is like to be in a threatened aeroplane. Because of the world-wide news sensation of the latest hijacking attempt, the Bill we are debating to-day will bring considerable peace of mind to travellers and all air- lines who will benefit from its protection when it becomes law. To increase security and to minimise the risk of one of these hateful incidents occurring will require patience and co-operation in passengers. I believe that most of them—and I have heard some accounts of what they have had to go through—are willing and grateful to give the necessary time for all the checks. The attitude of some of our British passengers may be like that of the middle-aged couple, in a leading humorous magazine, who calmly went up to the information officer saying, "Please, where do we go to get frisked?"

However, in the event of one or more criminals managing to evade the restrictions and carrying out a hijack attempt, we are faced with what has been mentioned already—a modern version of piracy. All this legal business, although extremely welcome, will take time. We must find some way of discouraging as quickly as possible the intending hijackers. If my memory serves me correctly, an honourable Member in another place a few months ago gave a radio interview in which he stated that he would like to see legislation to make an act of surrender to a hijacker illegal. This would make any hijacker pause and consider. The chief weapons of the aspirant hijacker is fear. Fight that fear with a show of willingness to stand up to his threats and call his bluff, and that weapon is reduced in effectiveness.

The usual object of a hijacker, as we know, is to get money or a free ride to some destination—often both. We want to remove or reduce the likelihood of their getting what they want. And then just how fanatical are they going to be? I would gladly support any legislation to make it illegal to surrender to the demands of a hijacker, but if there were such a law all passengers should be given full warning of its existence and every opportunity to take out all possible insurance. Some might be put off, but I do not think very many would. There is always the psychology that the unpleasant thing is going to happen to somebody else.

In the days of piracy at sea, trade still, went on and finally piracy was suppressed. Those who were not captured realised that there was no further percentage in the business. It is easy to discuss such legislation here in the safety of your Lordships' House, but each hijack attempt has its own peculiar problems and situations. In the air the captain has the absolute responsibility for everything that happens, and he must take decisions that may even involve breaking laws to ensure the safety of his passengers. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, paid great tribute to the strain on a captain. We are very grateful that so far most of the hijacking attempts have not involved many British aircraft; but from each attempt we can learn something and make our own airliners and airports more secure. At present I can recall only one incident of a British aircraft being involved; it was a rather unpleasant unsavoury political situation in the Middle East.

In some situations, as in the recent one in America, there has been a demand for parachutes. Airlines do not usually provide parachutes. Where do the parachutes come from? Who makes them available? If parachutes are handed into an aircraft, usually accompanied by a ransom, it would be very nice to make the hijacker worry a bit about the serviceability of the parachute. A parachute can be inspected only by undoing a flap on the pack in order to see that the rip cord is installed and the locking pin correctly placed and not bent. There is also some coloured cord which prevents the pack opening at the slightest touch on the rip cord, yet anyone who has to use it can open it with a sharp, determined pull which does not require much strength. The harness can be inspected: you can untuck the corners of the pack and see a little bit of nylon, but only the good Lord, those responsible for the packing and, finally, the user, can tell if that pack really contains a parachute. I believe that any hijacker who demands a parachute should be handed a pack containing a bundle of old laundry.

Let us leave hypothetical cases. Clearly, the real security is on the ground, and the greater the prevention the less likelihood of having to seek any drastic cure. The greatest precautions are necessarily prepared before take-off. What happens when an aircraft lands is another matter. I should like to take this opportunity, in connection with the recent hijack attempt, of saying that the attack on the F.B.I. man who had the courage to take a shot at the aircraft is totally regrettable. He must be suffering enough in the knowledge that the gamble that he was brave enough to take failed and that the copilot was shot. But it did not altogether entirely fail; it rattled the hijackers and they realised that someone was going to stand up to them. That F.B.I. man should suffer no condemnation for his action. I have every possible praise for the police and security personnel who have the courage to make an attempt to capture the perpetrators of revolting crimes. It is also true that one or more persons may have been hurt or even killed. There was an incident in the U.S.A. when the police stormed an airliner and a man was killed. That was a horrible occurrence; but the hijack attempt failed, and the criminals were either shot or captured. When such an attempt is made with success, and other passengers get away safely, those who suffer, or have to suffer the loss of someone important like a husband, should know that they do not suffer in vain. Any further legislation that can provide compensation for them should certainly be considered.

I may seem rather outspoken in this matter. Every hijack that I read or hear about fills me with such fury that I have, deliberately taken the opportunity to express my views in your Lordships' House in this debate. Wherever this Bill applies it will make it more likely that in any emergency good reason and common sense will prevail. Such a situation is usually brought to a satisfactory close, and we are hoping that in future it will be brought in in such a manner that will be a good example for the rest of the world to follow. Should all reason and peaceful efforts fail, and a situation arise in which, unfortunately, more forceful measures must be used, I for one shall have all possible sympathy for any member of aircrew, airport staff, police, security personnel, or, for that matter, passengers, who, in the vernacular, "has a go".

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies, may I say that I am sure that the Government have the thanks of this House for bringing forward this Bill. We are very grateful. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has spoken of the problem for pilots. It is a deep problem. Their courage gives us great confidence in the very wide margins of safety in which all commercial airlines are run. Otherwise, indubitably, there would have been an extremely serious accident arising from what has happened recently. Secondly, the crews of our commercial aircraft have great courage and a very high standard of competence. But do we go far enough in this Bill? I have only two small points to raise on this matter. For instance, it is an offence to interfere in any way with the management of an aircraft. Surely it should also be an offence to threaten to interfere. We know that some hijackers have been successful using a pencil instead of a revolver. I should like to go into this point during the Committee stage. In Clause 8, I wonder whether the definition of "in flight" as being when the doors are closed is sufficiently wide. Violence can occur when passengers are aboard and the doors are not closed. That is a Committee point which I shall perhaps take up at a later stage.

I was interested in what the noble Lord said about the National Aviation Security Committee. I know that the noble Lord will not want to talk about it, and I know nothing about this matter at all, but may I take this point: this should be, not as the noble Lord said simply a co-ordinating body, but something very near a military staff, with people accustomed to dealing with acts of violence, with a full source of information, drawn on what is happening and what could happen. It should have powers of execution—I mean "execution" in the fullest sense. They should be able to take charge of a situation with authority and with the knowledge that they have authority to carry out bargains with desperate men. I should like to think that some organisation of this sort is already in being, or in the minds of those who are in control, because if any action takes place here and there is hesitation in the control and execution, I think the security will take a very bad view of it.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for arriving late and for saying something which I hinted at recently. The noble Lord, Lord Hale, has already taken most of the words out of my mouth. It appears to me that hijacking needs to be made impossible, and having an impenetrable bulkhead between the cockpit and the passengers should go a long way towards that. There could be a bell, as there is in a bus or a train, which could be rung and would merely mean, "Please stop at the next convenient opportunity". The pilot could then contact by radio whatever aerodrome he liked and say, "I think there is some bother at the back; please take precautions". On arrival, obviously the bandits must be prevented from presenting an ultimatum while the passengers are still on board and the machine is vulnerable. That could be overcome by having nothing except a communication by loudhailer from the ground to the stationary aeroplane, and an emergency exit for the passengers. One could then get everybody out on the grass and any hijacker could be dealt with piecemeal. Obviously that would lead to considerable inconvenience for passengers, but surely anything is better than continuing as we are at present.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the reception you have given to this Bill: I do not think there have been any dissentient voices. We have received a great many suggestions on which I am not competent to pronounce, but I can assure your Lordships that notice will be taken of them. We have also received a good deal of advice. I suppose it was inevitable that, in spite of the fact that this Bill deals mainly with sabotage, destruction of aircraft in service and so on, speeches should have been concerned mainly with hijacking. I do not complain about that and the advice that has been given has made the debate well worth while.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for what he said to start with and for the tribute he paid to initiatives taken by Her Majesty's Government. I am sorry I was distracted at the opening of his speech, but the noble Lord knows that this tends to happen when one sits down. He raised one or two points with which I should like to deal. I should like to endorse strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. my noble friend Lord Harvey of Prestbury and my noble friend Lord Selkirk, and others, have said about the skill of the pilots and their enormous courage in dealing with hijacking. We must bear in mind that the pilot sees his main responsibility as one to his passengers for their safety. I am not certain that I would go all the way with the noble Lord who suggested that, come what may, it should be an offence to give way to a hijacker in any circumstances at all. What is quite plain is that, if we are to secure the safety of passengers, we must make certain so far as we can that the would-be hijacker does not get on to the plane in the first place. This must inevitably be the first task.

I have said that surveys of security are being carried out progressively over the whole of the 25 airports in this country that have international traffic, and considerable progress has been made already. This is the right way to tackle that problem. And, of course, along with that goes, by the same token, constant vigilance to ensure that not only does no passenger take on board anything that could damage the aircraft, but nobody else does, either. It is not always an easy task, but this is something which, as I see it, must be undertaken by every contracting State that adheres to this Convention. I think it was my noble friend Lord Kinnoull who referred to this point. ICAO have prepared a security manual to which Her Majesty's Government have made an important contribution, and this has been circulated to all 120 members of ICAO. It provides advice and guidance on security measures which might be taken to combat hijacking and sabotage. The threat varies between States, but many countries are acting on the advice contained in the security manual, and we shall certainly be prepared to consider any case of difficulty which might be brought to our attention by the pilots (or airlines) on their voyages abroad. My noble friend also made suggestions about combatting hijacking. I would emphasise that a good deal of scientific effort is at the present time being devoted to developing ways of dealing with hijacking, although your Lordships will appreciate that I cannot go into any details of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, asked about the number of ratifications obtained, because that will give an almost direct measure of the efficacy of the Con- vention. It is our wish that as many States as possible should be persuaded to join. We are reasonably confident that we shall be able to persuade more and more States to join, and we are not disappointed by the fact that only 57 have so far adhered to the Tokyo Convention. At the same time, we do not want to delay the coming into effect of the Bill and would look for a similar measure of international support as has been shown for the earlier Conventions when a satisfactory Convention has been agreed between States.

Several noble Lords, starting with Lord Beswick, said that to contemplate the Convention on sanctions next August is to take things at too leisurely a pace. The point here is that not only is widespread agreement essential but one must arrive in the end at a Convention which is meaningful and has teeth, and at the same time is acceptable to a wide spread of nations. There are very complex questions of international law to be considered by every State that intends to adhere to these proposals, and it is right that the provisions in ICAO's rules of procedure should be made to allow States due time to consider them. The point here is that, under ICAO rules, between the time when the Legal Committee reach their conclusions and the subsequent diplomatic conference which arrives at the Convention there must be an interval of at least six months. Much as we should have liked to hurry this matter on, we could not to any considerable degree reduce that period. We suggested, as I believe I indicated in my opening speech, that the Legal Committee's proceedings should take place a little earlier, not in January of next year but in November of this year, but unfortunately that was not acceptable.


My Lords, would the noble Lord say whether it is possible (I appreciate his point about the rules), in view of the dangerous state of affairs that exists, to try to get the rule altered so as to have a shorter period between the various stages?


My Lords, the difficulty is that one cannot compel States to adhere to the Convention. In other words, we have to seek a Convention which will attract the maximum support; and this must, in the nature of the case, be particularly so at a time when one is considering sanctions exercised over States.


My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord was saying, The point that I tried to make was, first, Whether it was at all possible to bring the August meeting forward. Secondly, let us not take it for certain that one must get a majority of the ICAO members to agree before we can put these sanctions into operation. I was suggesting that if we could get twenty or thirty of the major countries who are prepared to apply sanctions, that in itself would probably have a very powerful policing effect.


My Lords, I am not quite certain whether the noble Lord is suggesting we should do that outside or within ICAO, but I quite take his point. If we are doing it within ICAO we are still in the same position as regards the timetable.


My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene again? The noble Lord was putting it forward almost as an excuse—and he was not really doing himself justice because I know that he and his colleagues are striving to get this brought forward; and I pay tribute to them for that—that it is necessary to wait until a majority of the nations agree on the application of sanctions. I am saying that we should settle for 20 or 30 major States who could themselves police a thing of this kind.


My Lords, if I gave that impression I did not intend to do so. First, it is necessary to get the Convention, and then you have to get a number of ratifications in order to bring that into effect. Eleven ratifications are sufficient to enable the Montreal Convention to be brought into effect, Obviously, the more States induced to adhere to the Convention, the more effective it is, because the greater the number of countries that will apply it, But one has to say that there are court-tries who, though they have not actually ratified the whole of the Convention, may act along its lines.

The noble Lord asked about the extension of the Hijacking Bill to shipping, By a curious chance, the day after I spoke in this House on the Hijacking Bill a case arose in Scotland on this very issue, and the High Court of Justiciary in Edin- burgh gave judgment in the Cameron case. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, there said that he disagreed with the submission made by counsel for the applicants for leave to appeal against a conviction for piracy, that the Tokyo Convention Act 1967, and in particular paragraph 4 of the Schedule, superseded the existing law of Scotland (and this was the point at issue) and restrictively redefined it. He said that at the most these provisions were merely supplementary to the existing municipal law and did not supersede it.

Quite obviously, this reduced the urgency of having to deal with this, and the Scottish decision thus supports the view that the law remains undisturbed and that no legislation is necessary. All the same, the question is still under consideration of whether the opportunity should be taken to bring the law up to date and to enact the law relating to piracy in statutory form. The Law Commission are considering this issue as part of their review of the territorial and extraterritorial extent of the criminal law, with an eye to its codification. I hope that that answers the point made by the noble Lord, at any rate for the time being.


Except, my Lords, that I did ask for a definition without undue delay. What sort of time span has the noble Lord in mind?


My Lords, what I said at that time was that we had to balance the desirability of getting this Bill through as quickly as possible with the desirability of including provisions dealing with the hijacking of ships. I said that the matter was under consideration, and that I hoped that legislation would not be long delayed. I am now saying to the noble Lord that it is not absolutely certain that legislation on this particular matter is needed but that the matter is being looked at, and in due course the Law Commission will doubtless report.

My noble friend Lord Kinnoull raised the question of the political safeguard of extradition, as he called it; and other noble Lords have also referred to the possibility that people may escape the net because theirs can be treated as a political crime. The point about political crimes is that those who have committed them are not normally subject to extradition. But that of course does not in itself in any way prohibit them from being brought to justice in this country. This would be a matter of the evidence in any particular case: if the evidence is available then the Convention seems to involve an obligation on all contracting States not to allow the offender to escape but to see that he is brought to justice in that country, unless he is extradited.

The noble Earl also asked whether there should not be sonic means of ensuring that severe penalties are imposed. I would say to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne that the sentences in the Bill are severe: a life sentence is a severe sentence. It is only for the information offences that the maximum penalty is only 10 years, but it is always up to the court to decide what the penalty should be in a particular case. I was also asked about the number of adherents to the Conventions. All I can say is that the Government have joined with others of like mind in pressing for wide support of these Conventions and we are continuing to use our diplomatic influence to this end. There is no particular number of States, of course, that would warrant our ratifying: we ratify on the merits of the case, and the same goes for other States. Once that number of States have ratified, then automatically the Convention comes into effect.

The noble Lord, Lord Janner, and the noble Lord, Lord Hale, made almost passionate speeches. I am not certain that I can find very much to disagree with in what they said, particularly in their tributes to the courage of the pilots, as the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has said, and in what the noble Lord, Lord Hale, said when he made a proposal for the segregation of pilots from passengers. This and many other suggestions for dealing with hijacking have been considered in the past, and scientists, both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, are working on these matters. There are technical problems involved in separating the pilot from his passengers and there is, of course, the responsibility of the pilot, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has draw attention. There are also methods of hijacking and bringing pressure to bear in which the cutting off of the pilot would be irrelevant. The Government are acutely aware of the difficulties of which the noble Lord, Lord Hale, spoke, but we must not let them deter us from pursuing our course, and pursuing it with urgency.

The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, and my noble friend Lord Fortescue made further suggestions, with considerable emphasis, if I may say so; and these also will be carefully considered, although I am bound to emphasise once again the great responsibility, which is exercised very responsibly indeed, of the pilots themselves. I hope I have said enough for the Second Reading of this Bill; and with these replies, in which I hope I have answered most of the questions which have been asked to-day, I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he be good enough to say whether he is following the line that the American representative is taking at present at the United Nations? It is a very strong line and apparently coincides with the view that the noble Lord himself holds and that the Government hold. Are the Government strongly supporting the plea made by the American representative?


My Lords, the noble Lord is, I understand, now referring to the line which is being taken in the United Nations. I am not in a position to answer that Question and I would only say that so far as the proposed new Convention is concerned, the United States and ourselves are working absolutely hand in hand.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.