HL Deb 28 June 1985 vol 465 cc905-7

11.19 a. m.

Lord Molloy

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the international arrangements for preventing acts of terrorism against airlines; and whether they will initiate discussions with other leading countries of the world in order to pool intelligence in this field and to establish an international body of experts trained to detect and prevent such acts.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, we can never be satisfied while these wicked acts continue. We are supporting initiatives in several international fora, notably ICAO, and we are pressing for the fullest compliance with the relevant conventions. In the long term the solution lies, we believe, in ensuring that criminals understand that we never give in to demands backed by terror or murder.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. I think the current situation requires that if absolutely innocent people are not to be done away with, we must, somehow or other, negotiate. The very fact that there are so many successes by these appalling terrorists must indicate that, somewhere along the line, we are inefficient. Is the Minister aware that while the top countries have all the advantages of modern science and might be able to improve facilities at airports, these are not available to poorer countries which have airports as well? What are the current arrangements for this country?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we clearly need to keep our national arrangements under careful scrutiny at this time. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport yesterday met representatives of the major airlines and airports who attend the National Aviation Security Committee to review security measures at United Kingdom airports. I understand that the committee itself plans to meet "next week.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend contemplate introducing into these important discussions the concept of applying to air piracy what has been international law for centuries in respect of sea piracy, namely that any power able to apprehend the pirates is entitled to take them, try them and, on conviction, execute them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure about the last point. I am persuaded to think that the real solution to this problem is to ensure that the terrorists never get what they want. If we can achieve that, this problem will die away.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, while I fully appreciate the difficulty of dealing with the problem, do the Government think that the vast amount of publicity given to terrorist acts is helpful? Does it not only achieve one of the objects of terrorists but also make the business of controlling terrorism more difficult?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord has a point, although I am not quite sure how we get around that difficulty because, in this country at least, we have a free press.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, have the noble Lord the Minister and the Government considered the possibility of taking the initiative in getting as many countries as possible to agree that, in the event of any hijacking or any act of terrorism, no harbouring will take place; that if there is an offending country that harbours or encourages terrorism or hijacking, that country's airlines will not be permitted to land in the countries which have observed this convention; and that, if there is to be no landing at our or those countries' airports, in exactly the same way those countries willl not participate in any airline traffic with the country that offends?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the point of view of the noble Lord in this matter but the problem has always been to ensure watertight international compliance with these conventions. It is our task to see what we can do to improve that situation. That was one of the things in the mind of my honourable friend Mr. Spicer, who is currently attending the ICAO meeting in Montreal which is addressing these problems.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Minister not agree that it is not impossible that in modern airfields the equipment at the disposal of some of the top flight countries, if I may so describe them, could to a degree prevent the terrorists getting on board the planes? But what seems to be the position is this: the airports that do not have this equipment are where they seem to get on first of all. The conference that I envisage would make certain that even poorer nations or all airfields would have the same abundance of efficient equipment in an endeavour to stop terrorism. Finally, will he also agree that the political answers must also be pursued in an endeavour to eradicate the bitterness and frightful hatred which exists which are created by political situations and which allow sympathy for these people to some extent in parts of the world which does not fully understand the ruthlessness of their behaviour?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the last point may go a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper. With regard to the provision of equipment, I fancy that the problem is not so much the provision of equipment (although I must say in parenthesis that there is no technical panacea to these problems) as the will to use it effectively. I fancy that many of your Lordships will have seen X-ray machinery attended by a man doing a crossword. As far as the United Kingdom is concerned, we will never give in to the demands of these terrorists, and if they come here they will go no further.

Lord McGregor of Durris

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Minister agree that there has been nothing incompatible between the maintenance of a free press and the recently achieved informal agreement among chief constables and editors in respect of kidnapping and terrorism within these islands? Might it not well be worth considering international action in respect of the reporting of such events?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that domestic action of the kind described by the noble Lord is a good deal easier to achieve than international action, which is what is necessary if we are to achieve the end which the noble Lord has in mind in this matter. To achieve a worldwide blackout on events such as the ones we have been witnessing recently is a very difficult thing indeed.