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Hijacking: Airport Security Precautions

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 9 November 1977

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the failure of international agreements (including the Tokyo Convention, The Hague Convention and the Montreal Convention) to prevent criminals from hijacking aircraft, what steps they are taking or will take in co-operation with other nations to stop air facilities from being afforded to countries which are not prepared to take adequate precautions to examine all air passengers before they embark and/or those which harbour hijackers and/or those which are found to be training people for the perpetration of hijacking.

My Lords, the Tokyo, Hague and Montreal Conventions provide for the prosecution or extradition of all hijackers and are thus necessary instruments in the fight against hijacking. Unfortunately, these conventions have not yet been ratified by a number of States. Her Majesty's Government are working with their friends to secure universal ratification. Sanctions such as my noble friend has in mind can be decided only at the international level. When the international community is ready to agree effective joint action, Her Majesty's Government will wish to play a leading part.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that it is no use going to the United Nations on this matter and that, despite the years during which hijacking and terrorism have been continuing, it has never been raised on one occasion in the Security Council as a special item? Should we not be getting together with the pilots' associations and all civilised nations to see whether we can do something which will prevail in spite of those members of the United Nations who, according to their agenda, apparently have nothing else to do but attack Israel? Will he ensure that we bring people together and that we stop giving facilities to any country which does not obey civilised rules?

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend—and I think I have done so on more than one occasion—that we are in constant touch with the organisations he mentioned in his supplementary question, particularly with pilots' organisations, the ICAO and with other countries who, like us, wish to have a joint effort to counter all forms of terrorism. As to action in the United Nations, the United Kingdom was itself co-sponsor of a resolution passed last week in the United Nations calling once more on all States to take all necessary steps, including the improvement of security arrangements and other related questions, to prevent hijacking. We lose absolutely no opportunity with organisations like the United Nations, with professional organisations and with other countries, to press forward in the sense and with the objective which I described in my Answer.

But does my noble friend realise, my Lords, that what I said is true; that is, that the Security Council itself has never dealt with this problem, that one cannot rely on a large number of those who are at present at the United Nations and that the pilots' associations did not proceed with their strike on the undertaking that this matter would be dealt with immediately? Cannot we get the nations which are civilised to deal with it, together with ourselves, in that category, to ensure that something is done rapidly?—otherwise the position can deteriorate into utter chaos.

My Lords, I must emphasise the need for a comprehensive international attack on this problem. It is impracticable to make progress if some countries have not ratified any or all of the three conventions I described; they cover hijacking, criminal activity at airports and interference with air travel in many respects. Between 80 and 90 countries have so far ratified these conventions. That leaves a great many other countries, which no doubt my noble friend would describe as uncivilised, which have not yet ratified. It is our task and duty to get everybody to ratify these conventions so that they can be universally applied. The nature of the problem is that it is international and can be effectively countered only internationally. As to the role of the Security Council, I would be very glad to discuss with my noble friend how any intervention by the Security Council could add to the efforts already made to solve this problem.

My Lords, is any progress being made with regard to the International Airline Pilots' Association? If there could be agreement within the Association not to fly to any countries which had not ratified, then it would seem natural that that would be likely to accelerate the process of ratification.

My Lords, that is certainly a thought for the airline pilots' associations. There are a number of considerations which they, like we and other Governments, would have to bear in mind before such action was decided upon.

My Lords, may we have an assurance that the Government are giving full co-operation to organisations such as Interpol, which are, after all, very deeply concerned in the prevention, as well as the aftermath, of international terrorism? Are they making adequate contribution to the work of that organisation?

Yes, indeed, my Lords. We are in close and constant touch with organisations such as the institution which the noble Baroness described. When I said we were in close touch with other Governments, that is to be seen as including international organisations which are also subject to local Government supervision.

My Lords, would the Minister agree that, given the nature and realities of this problem, even if everything that has been asked were done in the best possible world, it is really the carrier who is ultimately responsible for the safety of the passenger? Would he also consider putting some of the onus on the carriers to make sure that security precautions are taken at some of the airports which do not or will not conform to the suggestions put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Janner?

My Lords, I think I would go along with the noble Lord on that, if he would also agree that there is a statutory duty on Governments, as being responsible for airports, to play their part, and it is a very important part indeed. I am sure the noble Lord would not wish to place a kind of monopoly of obligation on the carrier himself; he has his role to play and well he plays it in co-operation with Governments like ours.