HL Deb 23 July 1974 vol 353 cc1643-58

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. The Bill that we are considering to-day is designed to make it possible for a local police force to assume in full the policing responsibility at an airport. The Bill therefore represents a considerable departure from the arrangements for the policing of private property—for such is an airport—that we have hitherto followed, and I should like first of all to say a few words about the general situation in which this Bill has been thought necessary.

Acts of violence against civil aviation have, as has become all too apparent, increased over the, last few years. Aircraft have been hijacked and there have been other serious incidents at major airports. As a result the Government and their predecessors have devoted close attention to the general problem of civil aviation security. The Protection of Aircraft Act 1973 confers on the Secretary of State considerable powers to meet the situation that now confronts us. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade is well aware of his responsibilities to review and inspect very closely the security arrangements at airports which carry an international traffic. And, as has been apparent from recent exercises, the Government in conjunction with the police are ready to respond to threats that may arise—which means in particular in present circumstances at Heathrow. I mention these points not because it is our purpose to-day to discuss aviation security in the widest sense but so as to emphasise the point that this Bill fits into a broad context of measures, some of them executive and some of them statutory.

The measure we have before us now has been prompted by one very precise situation. Heathrow is not only by far the biggest and more important in the United Kingdom. It is also the airport with the busiest international traffic in the world. It has therefore been the subject of very special risks to meet which special measures have proved necessary. At the moment Heathrow is policed by the British Airports Authority Constabulary—the B.A.A.C. This force is set up under aviation legislation and was intended to deal with what might be called the ordinary crime problems of an airport, which in themselves are quite difficult enough. The special circumstances that have arisen over the last few years as the result of the threat of terrorist attack have created a new situation at that airport, and one which it was never anticipated that the B.A.A.C. would have to meet. As the result of this situation members of the Metropolitan Police, some of them armed, have for a number of years been helping the B.A.A.C. at Heathrow and. in addition, the Commissioner has considerably increased the attention that he gives to the areas around the airport. There is also a contingency arrangement for the Metropolitan Police to obtain the assistance of the Armed Services.

The risks that there were judged to be at Heathrow, and the need for special measures to meet them, prompted a thorough review of the policing situation at Heathrow. This review was initiated by the previous Administration, and it made a number of things clear. Not only is there no realistic probability that the threats which now exist would substantially diminish in the foreseeable future, but we would not be right to rely permanently on an ad hoc arrangement to deal with them. At the moment, as I have indicated, the Metropolitan Police assist the B.A.A.C. in providing the necessary anti-terrorist protection. But this shared responsibility is, frankly, unsatisfactory in a number of ways-Not only is it difficult for two forces to work alongside each other; but there is a need to ensure that the reaction to an incident is prompt and co-ordinated. The contingency plan whereby the Metropolitan Police assume full control in the event of a major incident did not on examination seem to be in the long term the most satisfactory way to deal with this problem.

In the light of this examination, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary decided that the most satisfactory solution was for the Metropolitan Police to assume full responsibility for ail aspects of policing at Heathrow. In reaching this decision he of course bore in mind the views of the Commissioner and those of the British Airports Authority. I have so far largely confined my remarks to the situation at Heathrow. But noble Lords will be aware that this Bill is not confined to Heathrow. It provides for the Secretary of State to transfer the policing responsibility at any aerodrome in the United Kingdom, subject of course to certain conditions and to Parliamentary procedures which I will describe in a moment. We very much hope of course that the difficulties which have arisen at Heathrow will not arise at other airports, whatever their size. But the very fact of exercising these powers at Heathrow creates a fundamentally new situation for the British Airports Authority and its constabulary.

Some four-fifths of the British Airports Authority's force is stationed at Heathrow and the Commissioner hopes that these officers will transfer to the Metropolitan Police, and indeed arrangements are at a fairly advanced stage to bring this about. The remaining part of the B.A.A.C. is stationed at the Authority's four other airports—Gatwick, Stansted, Prestwick and Edinburgh. The Government are aware of the view of the British Airports Authority that the force will no longer be viable after the designation of Heathrow, and I am, of course, well aware of the fears that have been expressed about the opportunities that will be open to these remaining officers in the British Airports Authority Con- stabulary. The Government are now having consultations with the appropriate authorities at four airports about the use of the powers in this Bill in respect of these establishments. It is not the intention of the Government that these consultations should be allowed to drift, although clearly the Government must be much influenced by the importance of obtaining agreement between the parties concerned.

My Lords, I should now like to turn to the substance of the Bill, having described the broad circumstances in which the Government have thought it necessary to introduce it, and the way in which the Government are considering the use of the powers that it would create at airports other than Heathrow. The essence of the whole Bill is in Clause 1. This clause creates the power by which the responsibility for policing an aerodrome can be transferred to the chief officer of police of the police area in which that aerodrome is wholly or mainly situated. it allows the Secretary of State to make an order in the interests of the preservation of the peace and the prevention of crime. These phrases in some respects overlap each other but they allow the Secretary of State to look at the policing problem in its totality, and therefore allow him to give due weight to both the problems of ordinary crime and the threat of terrorism. The object of these measures would be to create a policing system which was not only efficient and unified, but also capable of integration into the policing of the surrounding area. These criteria will allow the Secretary of State to do this.

In addition to establishing the main power in the Bill, Clause 1 also provides the necessary protection by establishing the Parliamentary procedure to which the orders shall be subject and the formal process of consultation that will be necessary. It must clearly be the intention of any Secretary of State, if he proposes to transfer the policing responsibility at any airport, to obtain the agreement of the chief officer and the authorities concerned. It would be exceedingly difficult to designate an airport against the wishes of one or other of them.

On the assumption that there is agreement, however, there seems to the Government to be clear advantage in ensuring that the designation is smooth and speedy, and the clause allows for the order to be subject only to annulment. But, conversely, it provides for full protection of the interests of the authorities should there be a difference of view about the proposed designation; an order that did not contain a statement indicating agreement would be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure and either party would then have the opportunity of having its views aired. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these provisions combine the necessary protection to the interests concerned with the means of making possible prompt action should that be appropriate.

In this context, I should like to say a word about consultations. There would clearly need to be informal consultations with trade unions and representatives of a whole range of officials and employees who might be affected by designation. For example, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has held consultations with employees' representatives in respect of Heathrow, and we would in practice envisage that equivalent steps would be taken should the powers be exercised elsewhere.

Clause 2 deals with one of the matters that I referred to a short while ago; namely, the fact that an airport is private property and that there may be aerodrome constables there in their own right. It therefore confers on the incoming force rights of access and ensures that aerodrome constables may not continue to exercise their powers after designation. The second part of Clause 2 deals with the financial arrangements at an airport, which I should like to take with Clause 7 as I think this forms the basis of a few remarks one would wish to make about the subject. The purpose of this part of Clause 2 is that the airport and police authorities should settle between themselves the financial implications of designation, and that the airport authority should then pay the police authority the figure that they agree. In the event of there being any disagreement between them the Secretary of State would have the power to determine the figure.

It is not the Home Secretary's intention that the designation of an airport should lead overall to any additional expenditure falling on the local police fund and therefore on the local ratepayers. But just as, to use the example of Heathrow, the Metropolitan Police will not be involved in additional expenditure, so the British Airports Authority will of course save the expenditure it at the moment makes on its own constabulary. Clause 7 allows the Secretary of State to reimburse the aerodrome authority for certain expenditure that it has incurred as a result of designation. Although it is not intended that this power should be exercised in order to reimburse that authority the cost of the ordinary policing at an airport, or expenses that it currently meets, there may well be circumstances on a once-for-all basis, where it is appropriate to subsidise. But these payments are not expected to be large, or to involve an on-going commitment at any particular airport, and clearly the details of them and of the other financial arrangements can only be determined in each individual case.

Clause 3 confers certain powers in relation to the prevention of theft on members of the incoming police force. These powers are identical with those at the moment conferred by aviation legislation on members of the British Airports Authority constabulary. It seems right to the Government to assume that an incoming force should have available to it powers at least as great as those available to the British Airports Authority constabulary. I need not detain noble Lords long over Clauses 4 and 5, which make necessary adjustments in relation to bye-laws and to road traffic provisions at designated airports. In particular. Clause 4 allows the incoming force to have the same authority to enforce bye-laws as the B.A.A.C. does at the moment, and Clause 5 confers on the appropriate chief officer the responsibility for the control of traffic wardens.

Clause 6 empowers the Secretary of State by order to make various supplementary provisions that are necessary to give full effect to the main designation. The clause specifies various provisions which may be made to effect the transfer from the airport authority to the incoming police authority of existing airport constables and supporting civil staff. So far as Heathrow is concerned, the Commissioner has made very clear that he hopes as many as possible will transfer. This is not only desirable from the point of view of allowing people to continue in their chosen career, but it also makes it possible to avoid the difficult situation already arrived at in London where there is a severe shortage of policemen and it is highly desirable not to increase the already serious manpower problems of the Metropolitan Police.

The remaining clauses of the Bill deal with its application to Scotland and Northern Ireland and with matters of interpretation. In this context, I should just like to make clear that in practice we envisage that it would be the Secretary of State, responsible for policing the area in which the airport is situated, who would exercise the powers under this Bill. But once again he would of course only do so in consultation with the Secretary of State responsible for aviation as well as all the other authorities and people to whom I have already referred. I commend this Bill to your Lordships as a measure necessary to combat the situation which now confronts us. These powers are required urgently and I very much hope that you will agree to the passage of this legislation. This Bill provides us with an important weapon in our struggle against the threat of international terrorism. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot summon up the same enthusiasm for this Bill as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has so eloquently conveyed to us this evening. Having said that, the Bill has been passed by another place and so far as I can understand it—although I have not had access to their Hansard—they did not make any amendments to the Bill. I therefore wonder with what care they were able to look at this measure. There are a few short observations that I should like to make, with your Lordships' permission, and I hope that the points that I raise can be answered by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in a moment.

The first point I should like to make is this. Why is it that this Bill takes in every single airport in the country? I have been told that there are some legislative reasons for this and, if that is so, I should be glad to hear them. But it seems to me that we are creating a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I am not aware of any major security problem that exists outside the major airports of Heathrow and perhaps Gatwick. But perhaps the noble Lord will be able to help me with that point. It could be, of course, that it is envisaged that temporary designation will be effected for any airport, even a small one, where, for example, a series of particularly sensitive flights, say to a Middle Eastern country, was arranged and it was thought that there was a particular risk for a specific period of time. It may be that the noble Lord's right honourable friend envisages temporary designation of airports to overcome that problem.

Tied up with that is the question of the financial burdens that will be imposed on these smaller airports if they find themselves designated. I accept what the noble Lord has said that designation will be made only with the approval of these smaller airports, but there is provision in the Bill for designation to be made without their approval. Admittedly, it will need an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses which perhaps in those circumstances would be difficult to obtain. But it may well be that so-called "approval" could be obtained under some pressure from these smaller local airports, thus obviating the necessity for the Affirmative Resolution and imposing a financial burden on these airports which may or may not be covered by a grant from the Home Office. It is a problem which I hope the noble Lord will at least bear in mind, even if he is not able to give any positive assurances.

The attempts in Clause 3 to control theft at airports is very welcome. The thievery that has been going on at London Airport over the last few years is a national scandal and I am glad that the Government are endeavouring to take this in hand and do something about it. But I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the principal additional controls that the Government have taken under this Bill apply to what they are calling the cargo areas. A great deal of thievery that goes on at London Airport occurs in passengers' baggage which goes nowhere near the cargo area. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us what new steps are being taken to overcome this problem, particularly at Heathrow. Just changing the cap badges of the policemen will not have any great effect.

There is one final problem that arises out of this Bill and that is the present morale of the members of the British Airports Authority Constabulary. The noble Lord has explained that most of them will no doubt transfer to the Metropolitan Police. In that connection, I gather that a great many of them started life in the Metropolitan Police so they are going back. Why they changed in the first place is interesting food for thought. But those who do not transfer to the Metropolitan Police seem to have a very bleak future ahead of them and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give some assurances that very adequate compensation will be paid to those people who, for one reason or another, do not remain either with the Airports Authority Constabulary or transfer to the Metropolitan Police.

Those are the only specific points I have to make on this Bill but I would make this general point to the noble Lord. I do not think that he was a Member of your Lordships' House this time last year when we considered the Protection of Aircraft Bill when we met a similar problem in that the Bill came to us very late in the Session. The noble Lord has said that quite probably if we carry Amendments at the Committee stage next Thursday, then there would be no more Parliamentary time and the Bill would be lost. Quite naturally, his right honourable friend would then be in some difficulty about designating Heathrow in the near future as he intends to do. Perhaps the noble Lord can offer some hope that he will be able to look favourably upon amending legislation, if that proves necessary, and should he find himself on the Government Front Bench in the autumn. Having said that, let us now agree to a Second Reading for this Bill.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will enjoy with all of us many another July in your Lordships' House, because that is really the problem to which my noble friend has just referred. Possibly if we had had a little more time to consider the Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill and one or two other measures currently going through at very high speed indeed, all of us would have been a great deal happier.

I wonder whether my noble friend is really on to a very good point when he refers to all the other airports that could be designated, because it is probable that the policing of them, in so far as it is necessary, is done by the local police force in any event and it is only where one has the special constabulary in the four airports which were mentioned in the noble Lord's speech that one needs to use the designating powers if one has the agreement to do so. It may be, therefore, that we are talking about four airports only.

At any rate, the case that the noble Lord deployed about the need to be able to co-ordinate action in an emergency in the most efficient and speedy fashion is one that I would heartily endorse. I do not want to rake up anything that might be considered to be a mistake of the past, but when there was that horrid bomb at the Old Bailey, there was at the time some discussion as to whether liaison between the Metropolitan Police Force and the City of London police might not be improved, and I think subsequently it was. That was an example where two separately controlled and officered police forces, with separate communications systems, were involved in a series of events taking place over the area of Greater London.

Certainly I should have thought that if we were involved in a major terrorist attack—and I take the context of this Bill in the wider sense that the noble Lord mentioned—we could easily have a variety of forces, police and possibly military, involved in trying to control and contain the situation. If that is so, then there is the need for the closest possible co-ordination. That presumably can best be done if there is only one chain of command, at any rate on the police front. From the general points of view I very much agree with what the noble Lord is proposing in the Bill.

The staff are rightly singled out for a considerable amount of attention. Certainly, one would not wish to do anything whereby those who are currently serving in the British Airports Authority Constabulary decide to give up their jobs. If they transferred to the Metropolitan Police, I suppose that they would probably wish to be based in an area which bears some resemblance to the duties which they have previously been doing. The Metropolitan Police area is a very large one, and if one has entered the British Airports Constabulary on the basis that one was to be serving at Heathrow and one is then transferred to Romford, or somewhere else, it may possible induce one to resign from the force because one's house is in West London. That is exactly the way in which a wastage of very valuable police power can take place. I hope that everybody will be sufficiently sensible to see that that does not happen. It is one of the factors that, on an amalgamation of police forces, is always uppermost in the minds of senior officers who think they may lose valuable constables and other more senior officers in this way. I hope that there will be no question of that occurring.

I suppose that if the question arose, perhaps, at Prestwick we could have even more difficult problems because the Ayrshire Constabulary—or indeed it may be a larger area still, probably covering the whole of the South-West of Scotland—could be even more afflicted by this type of posting. Therefore no doubt this will be the subject of consultation. I very much approve of the subtle procedural device whereby the Parliamentary Orders may come either under the positive or negative procedure. I do not think I have ever seen this done before. There is no end now (is there?) to the ingenuity whereby one can draft these provisions for subordinate legislation.

If one wants a really recondite point, may I leave the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, with this: I suspect I am right in saying that members of the British Airports Authority escape jury service under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1972 on the grounds that they are a police authority. If all their airports are designated and taken over by local police force, they will no longer be a police authority. I regret to see that there is no power in the order making procedure under Clause 1 to amend the Schedule to the Criminal Justice Act so that all members of the British Airports Authority can in future serve on juries.

7.52 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask for clarification about Scotland's airports? In the Bill there is a miner reference to Scottish airports, but what con- cerns me is the fact that, as I read the Bill, it is an English Secretary of State (who has no writ whatever in Scotland) who will be designating the Scottish airports. There should be an Amendment to ensure that it is the Secretary of State for Scotland who designates the airports in Scotland which come under the Bill. In reference to something which my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross said about policing airports in Scotland, subject to correction by the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, my impression is that the police at Turn-house Airport, Edinburgh, are authority police and operate inside the airport terminal.

7.53 p.m.


My Lords, I will try to deal with the substantial number of points that have been raised by noble Lords. Before doing so, I should like to express my gratitude to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I am grateful for their general welcome, even though the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has a few reservations on some of the proposals in the Bill. May I first reassure the noble Lord, Lord Balenno, that, as I tried to indicate in my speech, the Secretary of State for Scotland will, if that situation were to arise, designate the Scottish airports. It would not be the Home Secretary. I hope that meets his point.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, raised a number of points. I have tried to take note of them all. He gave me notice of some and he raised some others, and, of course, I make no complaint about those. If by chance I inadvertently miss out one, I will study Hansard or cause it to be studied carefully.


You will be lucky!


Well, I will try to get a proof of Hansard, or look forward to that happy day when we shall see it again!

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, did slightly less than justice—although I make no complaint about this—to the debate on this matter which took place in another place. Admittedly, there is the same problem for the same reason, we have not been able to see the Hansard from the Standing Committee. It was a considerable Committee stage for what is a fairly non-controversial measure. A substantial number of points were raised by the noble Lord's honourable friends in another place and some of my honourable friends in another place, particularly concerning the circumstances of the transfer of airports other than Heathrow.

All the pressure to which the Government were subjected in another place was exactly the reverse of the pressure he was applying to us to-day. The point raised by the noble Lord's honourable friends in another place was that there should be more rapid movement in designating airports other than Heathrow, for which there is a perfectly reasonable case to be made; whereas he is rather apprehensive about the powers which the Bill confers on the Secretaries of State for the Home Office and for Scotland. I hope I will be able to reassure him that there is no desire, either by the Home Office or Scottish Office to start empire building with airports all over the country. It would be a formidable undertaking.

I have caused statistics to be obtained, following the noble Lord's speech. There are 126 licensed aerodromes, of which 27 have international services. In addition, there are 500 or more that are unlicensed. Given the present calls on police manpower, there is no likelihood of either the Home Office or the Scottish Office taking steps to pressurise the chief officers of police to take over airports. Frankly, there are not the resources available to do it.

Within the Bill, we want to deal with the central problem of Heathrow and confer upon the Government the power, if this becomes necessary, to take over other major airports. There is a problem for the Parliamentary draftsman of Parliamentary procedure. I do not altogether understand this; the noble Viscount may have a clearer understanding of the difficulties than I do. There is a problem of hybrid legislation involved and that is why the Bill has had to be drafted as it is. The objective of the Government is first to deal with the problem of Heathrow.

Secondly, we are having consultations over the fate of the other four British Airports Authority airports. However, beyond that, although I could give no guarantee that we would never consider any other airport—obviously it would be foolish to do so—there is no present intention of doing so. As the noble Lord indicated, if there was a disagreement in the matter the Government would have to go through the substantial Affirmative Resolution procedure which might also, incidentally, have some hybrid problems related to it in the event of disagreement. If there was disagreement the problems of doing this would be most formidable. There is no prospect of this Government, or any possible successor Government, ever behaving unreasonably in this matter—quite the reverse.


My Lords, I understand the problem about hybrid legislation. Are there other private police forces set up by local Acts, for instance at Manchester or somewhere like that, which would otherwise have to be dealt with in the hybrid fashion?


My Lords, there are indeed a number of private police forces in a number of these airfields, special constabularies set up by local Acts. That. I hope, will reassure the noble Lord. The point he raised was basically: Why every airport? Frankly, the answer is that only the airports I have indicated are the ones in which we are contemplating taking any action. Even in the case of the other four British Airports Authority airports we were initially reluctant to go so far as we are now going simply because of the problem of police manpower, which is a serious problem in many areas of the country.

Regarding temporary designation, I do not think it would be desirable to go in for temporary designation. One cannot chop and change. If one moves to a new system of policing, it will be a permanent one. Because of some temporary situation of the kind envisaged by the noble Lord you cannot move to a situation where you temporarily make an airport the responsibility of a chief officer of police and then, a few months later, change the position. Once airports are designated, as in the case of Heathrow and other airports to which I have been referring, they will, for all intents and purposes, be the permanent responsibility of the new police authority.


My Lords, can the noble Lord suggest how a small airport may cope with this problem when they are suddenly faced for a comparatively short period with, say, a series of flights from very sensitive countries?


My Lords, I am sure that in a situation of that sort special arrangements would be made with the local chief officer of police to deal with the problem.

Thirdly, the problem of finance was raised. We have approached this matter reasonably. What we are saying is—and policing at airports costs the British Airports Authority a fair amount of money—this money should now be paid into the appropriate police fund, so that the already rather heavily burdened ratepayers in the area concerned should not have to pay additional monies simply because the local police force has taken over a particular airport. That is the only purpose of this proposal and I think it a reasonable one. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, also discussed the general problem of Heathrow which is a very serious one, as he correctly stated. I know that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner is well aware of this problem and there has been discussion of it. I hope that it will be tackled as a result of the new proposals which we are putting before the House.

I am bound to tell the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, that with his consummate skill he has identified a major flaw with regard to jury service by the British Airports Authority Constabulary. I am sure that the Home Secretary will be mortified when he discovers this error and I shall take the greatest pleasure in drawing it to his attention. Other than that, I think I have answered all of the points which the noble Viscount raised, subject to one point. He raised the issue of security of tenure of an individual member of the British Airports Authority Constabulary at Heathrow and asked whether such a person would be sent to Romford or somewhere like that. The Commissioner has undertaken that if a man has served at Heathrow and wishes to stay there he can do so. I hope that that will solve the problem. If we face the same difficulty in other areas, I hope that the same attitude will be taken by the chief officer of police. On that basis I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

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