HL Deb 18 May 1988 vol 497 cc319-22

2.44 p.m.

Lord Gridley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether an investigation has been completed to ascertain how and where terrorists were able to board the Kuwaiti Airways jet hijacked on 6th April 1988, and whether they consider that adequate international co-operation is forthcoming.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, the Airports' Authority of Thailand officially announced on 28th April that its investigation had shown that weapons used to hijack the aircraft were not taken aboard the plane at Bangkok Airport. We are pressing in ICAO, Summit Seven and the EC for a team of international experts to be set up under ICAO auspices to investigate future hijackings. We always seek to improve international co-operation against terrorism. The five-point plan which my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign Secretary put forward on 25th April contains concrete proposals to that end.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. With reference to the recent hijack, will he accept that there is considerable anxiety among business people who have many miles to travel by air on duty and among others who travel? They wonder whether they might land up in a difficult situation. I accept what my noble friend says and I am grateful for the information he has given to the House.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I appreciate that there is anxiety but I hope that he will realise that we are doing what we can. With our EC colleagues and in ICAO we have put forward the five-point plan to which I referred of proposals to strengthen international obligations and procedures in relation to hijacks. I hope that it meets with success.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, arising from the Minister's reply, do the Government feel able to push a little further with ICAO in suggesting that a report on security at all airports throughout the world could usefully be published for the benefit of travellers and airlines alike? Does he feel that the Government could put this forward at the next meeting of ICAO?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that two of the proposals in my right honourable and learned friend's five-point plan are aimed at strengthening airport security. The difficulty is that it is essential to secure international agreement if any of the provisions are to work. We are striving for that at the moment, but that is precisely why our efforts must lie in ICAO. I cannot say whether it will be possible to put this forward at the next meeting but certainly those two factors go a long way towards meeting the noble Baroness's point.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the terrorist incident in Kuwait shocked the whole civilised world. Is he aware that one of the most shocking parts of the story is that the terrorists involved seem to have got away scot-free? What has been done to find out who they were, and what will happen to them?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, we understand the motivation of those who wished to save the lives of the people on the aircraft, and we were relieved that the remaining hostages were freed unhurt. However, we regret that the terrorists seem to have been allowed to go free.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we support the Government's stand on this matter generally and also the five-point plan to which he referred? Can he say what response the Government have received from our EC partners to the five-point plan? Can he further say where there is any chance or hope that Algeria will sign the 1975 Hague Convention and whether France will support Her Majesty's Government in the five-point plan and in persuading Algeria to do that?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, we shall have to hope that the last point of the noble Lord's supplementary question is achieved. On the outcome with our European Community colleagues, Foreign Ministers of the Twelve agreed on 25th April that counterterrorism experts should meet soon to examine the hijacking and its aftermath. Our proposals were discussed by an ICAO sub-committee on 29th April and 11th May. The United Kingdom representative was asked to provide a paper for further substantive discussion in early June, and we shall follow closely discussions in ICAO and are pressing EC and Summit Seven partners to support our proposals.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, have the Thai Government offered any explanation of how weapons got on to the aeroplane before it reached Iran? Surely the staff on the aeroplane must have had some information about where they came from.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Airports' Authority of Thailand carried out an investigation which showed that the weapons used to hijack the aircraft were not taken on board the plane at Bangkok Airport. I am afraid that I can go no further than that.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, if the weapons were not taken on board in Bangkok, will the Minister remind us of the other possibilities?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I should imagine that they are legion. However, I can only report the result of the Thai authority's investigation.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I gather that the Minister is in some doubt as to the outcome of the investigation in Thailand. What kind of international authority can we have to ensure that international airports throughout the world, which are under the control of their own governments, are in fact secure?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that my right honourable and learned friend's five-point plan goes a long way to addressing that particular matter. However there are already a number of relevant international conventions to deal with international co-operation on aircraft terrorism; such as, the 1963 Tokyo Convention, which required states to take all appropriate measures to restore unlawfully seized aircraft which land within their territory to lawful control. There was also the 1970 Hague Convention and the 1971 Montreal Convention which are also concerned with ensuring that offenders are brought to justice. The International Civil Aviation Organisation also produced guidance on responses to hijacking.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, the Minister is reading from his brief but the fact of the matter is that, somewhere along the line between Bangkok and Kuwait, all those conventions did not work. Is that not the case?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. It is all very well having such conventions but of course it is most important that they should function properly. That is precisely why my right honourable friend put forward a five-point action plan which covered many of the matters which concerned all of us and which we hope will lead to preventing the repetition of such a terrible incident.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, does the Minister agree that although security measures on boarding an aircraft lie at the heart of the matter even if they are agreed internationally they are not really enough unless there is some further dimension, or further convention, to allow for some form of entirely new international verification that they will be carried out?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that is what the procedures are designed to achieve. There are a number of different possibilities which we encourage all those with whom we have dealings—whether within Europe or elsewhere—to improve, build upon and to think further about. I can assure my noble friend that we do not cease to press where we can in that regard.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, can the Minister say whether there is any truth in the rumour that the weapons might have been put into the plane with the food?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I can go no further than to say that the investigation in Thailand showed that the weapons used to hijack the aircraft were not taken on board in Bangkok.