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Further Amendments Of The Aviation Security Act I982

Volume 168: debated on Monday 5 March 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendment made: No. 9, in page 56, line 11, at end insert—

'17A. In section 37 of that Act (offences by bodies corporate) for "or under regulations made under section 33" there is substituted "(including any provision of Part II as applied by regulations made under section 21 F of this Act) or under regulations made under section 21G.".'.—[Mr. Portillo.]

Order for Third Reading read.

6.41 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

A number of hon. Members wish to speak on Third Reading, so my speech will be brief. The Bill has received general support throughout its stages. We had an interesting Second Reading debate on a number of matters relating to aviation and maritime security. However, there were no significant differences of opinion about the Bill's proposals. Harmony continued throughout the Committee proceedings.

Today, we have had our most serious disagreements. The positions adopted by the Government and the Opposition have been typical. Our response, predictably, has been that we should minimise the role of Government where it is unnecessary to extend it. The Opposition's response, predictably, has been that the establishment of a central fund to recycle money could add to security. I did not expect the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) to agree with me, but I am pleased that it was only a rare moment of disagreement between the two sides.

Outside the House, the Bill's proposals have been widely welcomed, certainly by the aviation industry and the police. However, they have been given a less warm welcome by the maritime industry, which believes that the existing voluntary arrangements are working satisfactorily. I can reassure the maritime industry that the legislation will ensure that security measures are applied even-handedly to foreign as well as to British ships. The Government believe that voluntary action is no longer adequate and that standards should be set and enforced throughout the industry. I assure the House that the legal sanctions will probably be used infrequently. However, it is important that reserve powers are available to be used if needed.

I believe that we have made important progress towards establishing what I hope will become an Act of Parliament which will enable us to tighten up our defences against terrorism in the aviation and maritime industries. I commend the Bill to the House.

6.44 pm

I made it clear from the outset in Committee that I support all moves to strengthen security arrangements at our airports and seaports. I was concerned about the extent of the powers contained in the Bill, as first printed, but I am pleased to say that many of my fears were allayed in Committee. The Minister knows that I have always been concerned about the strange anomaly that, to protect the freedom of our people—in this case, freedom of movement—we are giving the Government and other designated people the very powers that, in different circumstances, could be used to take freedom away.

Although we have uppermost in our minds the fact that we are endeavouring to defeat terrorism, the extensive powers of searches of persons and property—which are to be authorised by the owners and operators of our aerodromes, ports and the ships and aircraft that use our ports and by certain other categories of person under directives from the Secretary of State—are still very wide.

As drafted, the Bill makes it clear that most of the searches will be carried out by private security personnel. In the case of our harbours, the searches are likely to be conducted by hand. There is still no code of conduct or set of standards to cover such searches; nor is there any mechanism to monitor the process or to set up a complaints procedure. I mentioned that point in Committee on two separate occasions. I still consider such a mechanism to be essential. I am still worried about the extensive nature of this power of search, which can reach land, property and personnel far removed from any airport or harbour.

In Committee, I tried to amend the clause relating to the use of firearms. I am mindful that, in reply, the Minister said:
"I advise the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) that his amendment No. 99 has considerable attraction. I intend to reconsider the phraseology of this part of the Bill, although I am not sure that what he proposes is strictly necessary. it is clear that the mechanism for securing searches by armed constables would operate when a person receiving a direction got in touch with the chief constable of a local police force, who would ensure that arms were carried by the policemen. That would happen in any case, but there maybe advantage in reviewing the wording.
A specific fault in the hon. Gentleman's wording is that it would require constables to be authorised to carry firearms, but that is not enough. We want to ensure that they actually carry them if that has been specified in the direction. For that reason, I shall not accept his wording. However, I should like to review it to see whether we can provide something better."—Official Report, Standing Committee A, 15 February 1990; c. 139.]
I see no evidence of that reconsideration, or of a review or of the provison of something better. Perhaps the Minister could say why.

As I have already stated, with the exceptions that I have mentioned, I feel that this is a good Bill. I therefore support it, as it will be an effective vehicle to combat terrorism.

6.47 pm

I was pleased to welcome the Bill when it was given its Second Reading. Both in Committee and on Report, it has been further strengthened by the changes that have been made. However, I do not believe that the process should stop here. My hon. Friends the Ministers for Public Transport and for Aviation and Shipping are well aware that several matters still need to be considered. When the Bill reaches another place, I hope that it will be possible to introduce further changes.

The Bill improves security both at airports and at seaports. It clarifies responsibilities that have never been clarified before. The Secretary of State's role is defined. The Bill provides him with new powers to carry out his responsibilities. It ensures that everyone with access to airside at airports and with access to ships is responsible for public safety.

The Bill also improves the checking and monitoring of security. The powers of the inspectorate at airports are to be strengthened. The Bill will provide it with greater powers to carry out checks. However, the suggestion that, because there will be more inspectors, there will, for the first time, be random tests of the system is far from the truth. All sorts of people have been trying to test the system for a long time, but more inspectors will be a welcome addition. One of the most important improvements made in Committee was the insertion of the requirement that all future lapses in security must be reported.

The Bill provides effective sanctions that will enable enforcement to take place properly. It activates the Montreal protocol and creates new offences; the entire Committee agreed that that was about time too.

The Bill closes some loopholes that have existed for some time. In future, businesses that operate at an airport but also have premises away from the airport will find that security will catch up with them wherever they may be operating. That is not before time.

In Committee, it was also made clear that the cargo procedures, particularly at airports, would be tightened up. I welcome that, as does the entire aviation industry, but there is still some way to go; more thought is necessary before we can be absolutely certain that we have done everything possible to improve our existing cargo systems. Although the Bill contains all those worthwhile provisions, we have to remember that no Bill will ever be a cure-all for security, as 100 per cent. security is impossible. However many Bills go through the House, the personal responsibility of every passenger and employee and the eternal vigilance of all concerned are the only ways to maximise security, even when the Bill is enacted.

When we pass the Bill, we need to avoid three traps. First, we must not pretend to the public that we can achieve a level of security that cannot be attained, because we do not have the technology. Secondly, we must beware of bringing the system to a halt by demanding too many checks on huge numbers of people. Thirdly, as I said on Second Reading, we must avoid always looking backwards to try to close loopholes after a terrorist has found them. Having said that, I wish the Bill well. I believe that it is a practical response to a deeply worrying problem for the public.

6.52 pm

Earlier in our deliberations, the Minister of State said that, at every stage of the Bill, the debate has been fairly harmonious and good-tempered. We endorse those sentiments. Right from the outset, the Opposition have been in a somewhat unusual position. Normally, we oppose Government legislation, but on this occasion we felt that there was much to be said in favour of the Bill, although we were unhappy with some aspects of it and felt that some loopholes should be closed. We have not been successful in closing those loopholes, but at each stage we were grateful to the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State for listening to the arguments, and for responding positively when they were able to do so and courteously when they were not. That is not always the case on such legislation.

From the outset, the Opposition believed and insisted that there should be a time schedule within which all aircraft baggage for transfer and in hold, as well as that carried by passengers, should be properly screened. We have not yet reached that laudable objective, although we have secured a pledge from the Minister of State that the Government will work towards it and, hopefully, it will be achieved sooner rather than later.

We remain of the view that the major obstacle to achieving that desirable goal is money. Notwithstanding the views that have been expressed this evening, we firmly believe that an aviation security fund will be necessary to fund security adequately at Britain's airports.

In Committee, we introduced the concept that a threat to damage or interfere with the safe passage of an airliner should be an offence. That view was shared by many Members on both sides of the Committee. Perhaps the Government's attitude will change. The perceived threat to airlines and airliners is often worrying to passengers. All too often, those who make such threats are aware that some people feel terrified, or at least uncomfortable, when they board an aircraft. The examples that we discussed in Committee showed that the threats themselves caused enormous concern to passengers and led to heavy delays and extra expense for the airlines involved.

Most of the maritime clauses of the Bill have been dealt with more than adequately by my hon. Friends the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran). We remain concerned and unhappy about the amount of private policing that takes place and will continue to take place around our docks and harbours.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) is not present, although I am sure there are good reasons for his absence. Some of the amendments that he tabled in Committee left us in no doubt about the concern of the Police Federation that so many policing duties are bring carried out by private security firms. In Committee, the Opposition attempted to do something about the principle of non-police officers doing work that should be carried out by the police.

We attempted to persuade the Minister to accept amendments that would have laid down minimum standards of pay and working conditions within the private security industry before those private security firms were employed at docks, harbours or airports. As we were unsuccessful in our attempts to persuade the Government that such amendments were necessary, we hope that their refusal to accede to those eminently reasonable demands will not rebound on them in the form of further breaches of security particularly at our docks and harbours in future.

We believe that the Bill is basically good. All right hon. and hon. Members are anxious that security at our airports, harbours and docks is the best that money can buy, regardless of where that money comes from. The fact that there was so much harmony in Committee illustrates the depth of feeling and concern, which crosses party lines. We do not whole-heartedly support every clause. We tried to close one or two gaps in the Bill, and the fact that we were unable to do so causes us concern. The parts of the Bill that must be strengthened will be considered in another place, so I conclude by expressing the Opposition's thanks to the Minister for Public Transport and the Under-Secretary for a courteous and informative debate, and I hope that they would reciprocate those sentiments.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.