HL Deb 06 June 1978 vol 392 cc1062-5

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on the steps which have been taken in conjunction with other nations to combat the growing dangers of terrorism and of hijacking.


My Lords, the Government are playing a full part with our partners in the European Community, in the United Nations and in other international organisations in improving the means to put an end to all forms of terrorism, including the hijacking of aircraft.


My Lords, is not my noble friend thoroughly upset about the present situation in view of what has happened in places like Italy and more recently, for example, in Jerusalem, where the PLO, which is one of the arch criminals in this connection, is boasting about the fact that it is blowing up passenger-carrying buses? Is he satisfied that we are taking all the necessary steps? Furthermore, as regards hijacking, is it not essential, in view of what happened at Orly Airport some little time ago, that the Montreal Convention should be strengthened to cover people who are travelling as passengers or crew towards an airport or towards the place where they have to embark an aircraft so that they also will come within the terms of the Convention itself?


My Lords, I take note of what my noble friend has said about the inclusion within the intentions of the Convention of the steps which he has described. As to his expression of concern about the situation, we all share that. As regards the steps we are taking, we are taking all the possible steps that we can in association with our partners in the EEC and, indeed, through-out the world—through the United Nations and other organisations, including the ICAO—to secure the worldwide ratification and implementation of The Hague, Montreal and Tokyo Conventions, which between them would go a very long way to deal with the incidence of terrorism in all its forms. As regards the further steps which we are taking, we have instructed our embassies in every part of the world to talk to the Governments to which they are accredited with a view to the fullest possible implementation of the recommendations of British Airways as to safety in the airports of those countries.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, would the Minister agree that international conventions and national legislation are quite useless unless the police forces are strengthened in our democratic countries and given support both by the Government and by the people?


My Lords, this is, of course, not the first time that the noble Baroness has inserted the question of the treatment of the police force of this country into somewhat recondite questions. She and her Party have not a monopoly of concern for the future of the police force of the United Kingdom. She can rest assured that this Government will deal honestly and fairly with the police force as with all other sections of the community.


My Lords, in answer to the previous question and the criticism of this Government, will my noble friend mention the actions of the previous Government in the case of the well-known terrorist, Leila Khaled?


My Lords, I take what my noble friend has said as a supplementary answer to the noble Baroness.


My Lords, will the Minister say whether any progress has been made as regards a question that has been raised here before; namely, that the national airlines of countries that harbour hijackers should be prevented from landing at airports of democratic countries? In other words, would he not agree that it is not very popular with the majority of people in this country that Libyan Airlines should have a brand new airline office in Piccadilly, as Libya harbours terrorists?


My Lords, I think that I am speaking for the entire House and most people throughout the country when I say that there is considerable sympathy with the view which the noble Earl has expressed. There are, however, very real difficulties. Anything which smacks of unilateral sanctions raises more problems than it seeks to solve. I shall not address myself at this moment to the specific case and the specific country to which the noble Earl has referred. However, I assure him that the point he made in the first part of his supplementary question continues to have our very serious consideration.


My Lords, will the Minister say when the Government last had discussions with the British Airline Pilots' Association? Have its views been taken fully into account as regards this difficult problem?


My Lords, as regards the second part of the noble Lord's very informed question, I assure him that we are in constant consultation with the airline pilots' organisation, especially regarding the steps which it is proposed should be taken for presumed security on aircraft. It has its expert views to which we have deferred. I need only refer to the suggestion, which has its superficial sanction, that personnel should be armed. The noble Lord will know that there are very grave difficulties and dangers attending on that matter. As to when we last had formal discussions with the Association, I could not answer. I think that we have very frequent discussions. I shall endeavour to let the noble Lord know when last we had an inclusive discussion with the Association.


My Lords, would the noble Lord consider it in order, and helpful, if I suggested that perhaps in some suitable way the Government could insert the latest figures of ratifications of the Conventions in our record?


My Lords, yes, indeed. Among other things, my noble friend has experience of the technique of the Question for Written Answer. I invite him now to put down a Question for Written Answer which will elicit precisely and fully that information.


My Lords, while appreciating the anxiety and concern of my noble friend and all Members of this House and, indeed, all civilised people about this matter, is my noble friend aware of the fact that the PLO, which is one of the main international bodies for the purpose of creating terrorism throughout the world, has actually been given observer status at the ICAO? Will he ensure that this serious position is remedied in so far as he can help?


My Lords, I shall certainly look into the reasons why the ICAO—which is a body of international reputation and neutralism —saw fit to do what my noble friend suggests. As to the role of the PLO, of course it is a matter for consideration precisely what activity of the PLO or its satellites comes within this Question. I take his point about the ICAO. I shall seek to elicit the information that he needs.