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Column 977of testing the effectiveness of security methods was for inspectors to check the system in the same way as some journalists managed to do with ease and success last year. Reference was made to that point earlier this afternoon. I have no doubt that unannounced security checks of this nature would test security measures to a far greater degree than happens at present. It would certainly help to keep security staff alert.
The Select Committee recommended that inspectors should test the system by means of spot checks and by posing as would-be terrorists with inert devices. Any airline that wishes to provide its own additional security should be allowed to do so within a framework that is co-ordinated by the Secretary of State to ensure the best possible use of resources in terms of manpower and space at increasingly congested airports.
Following Lockerbie, aviation security advisers were reconstituted as an inspectorate, a move that I very much welcome. As the security research and development budget is being doubled, a move that I also very much welcome, my right hon. Friend may wish to consider the realistic assessment of airport security systems while the Bill is before the House. Proper and adequate screening is vital in any security system. However, if it is to be an effective means of countering terrorism, there has to be far greater co- operation between the British Airports Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority, the airlines and any other bodies that may be involved.
I have travelled extensively throughout the United States and many other countries, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I would recommend you to do so because it is very rewarding and most enjoyable. However, I have never experienced the same discomfort as I regularly suffer at terminal 1 at Heathrow any day of the week. In every airport that I have used in America, security controls have been well manned and well staffed. They have more than enough machines to cope with large influxes of passengers. The management at Heathrow would do well to consider ways of reducing the widening differences in standards of security management. Having regularly experienced the assault course that security control has become at Heathrow's terminal 1, I can only be pessimistic. We shall not attain better standards until the management work towards long-term goals rather than short-term realities.
I raised the issue with the general manager of terminal 1, Mr. Michael Bell. I congratulate him on admitting honestly in his letter to me concerning attempts to overcome inconvenience, crowding and delays at the security checks that
"clearly we failed to overcome those problems."
He also agreed that
"1989 has not been a year we can be proud of in terms of the service we have delivered to passengers waiting for security checks."
That was a very honest admission. I hope that it will be of some use to my right hon. Friend.
We are constantly being promised more machines, more staff and better facilities at our airports. We have heard it all before. Will my hon. Friend the Minister give us some idea of when he hopes there will be more staff and more machines? Terrorists thrive on promises. We must have machines and men in place on time. The art of good management must be to plan ahead to prevent difficulties rather than just to react to crises.
Mr. McLoughlin : I should like to put on record the huge increase in the number of security staff that have been deployed at airports since 1988. At the major airports the number of security staff has increased from 2,384 to 3,599--an increase of over 51 per cent. That is commendable. Under our direction, airports have increased the number of their security staff to meet the requirements that we have imposed upon them.
Mr. Amos : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information, and I am happy to be the first to accept it. I have had discussions with the British Airports Authority. I know that it is doing a good job and that it is trying to get more staff, but it is not good enough. Matters must be improved. I ask BAA to reconsider its recruitment procedures. Exactly the same problem arose with London Underground. I was told that the problems there were caused by staff shortages. London Underground has now looked into its recruitment and retention procedures and says that it can now attract staff far more easily than was the case previously. There is room for improvement, but I acknowledge and accept what my hon. Friend says.
Time after time at Heathrow, inadequate numbers of security staff have to deal with increasing numbers of passengers. It is time that we had enough machines to cope with the demand and with the technical difficulties associated with detecting present-day terrorists, who are sophisticated and well organised. Although the machines at Heathrow are used extensively, large numbers of hand searches are still carried out. In my opinion, that is inefficient and slow and poses its own security threat as queues build up. There is no doubt that terrorism is helped by chaos and disruption.
Mr. Wilshire : My hon. Friend appears to be suggesting that machines are better than the hand searching of luggage and people, but the technology does not exist. Hand searching is still by far the best way to detect certain items.
Airports must introduce up-to-date, state-of-the-art technology to enable all baggage to be screened effectively. That would end the current haphazard, hit-or-miss system. We must act to prevent a repetition of the ridiculous situation that occurred in November 1988. It was reported in the national press that
"the six American carriers flying from Gatwick asked for permission to install state-of-the-art colour x-ray machines,
Column 979capable of detecting plastic explosives such as Semtex. It took seven months to get permission for a trial, but the airlines were told that if they caused too much congestion they would have to withdraw them."
Cargo handling is also a major potential area of terrorist activity, where the opportunities are perhaps even greater for the planting of devices. Again I welcome the extension of the powers to be given to my right hon. Friend to help to deal with threats to secure areas. By giving more powers to the Secretary of State, we shall more easily be able to co-ordinate and direct the efforts of the very large number of agencies involved in airport security. However, I suggest to him one or two areas that he should carefully consider. It was claimed in a national newspaper that "last year" --1988--
"nearly two-thirds of Britain's 1.2m tonnes of air freight went from Heathrow, but handling firms at the airport said the bulk of this was loaded on to planes with no checks at all."
The Select Committee was also concerned about that problem. It must be resolved.
I readily acknowledge that it would be extremely difficult to screen all hold baggage and cargo, but we must work towards that objective. I welcomed the announcement by the former Secretary of State for Transport on 24 April last year that he had set the security objective of screening all hold baggage on flights at higher risk, and I urge my right hon. Friend to consider extending that screening process to all hold baggage on all international flights. The list of higher-risk flights and airlines seems to be growing every month.
In conclusion, I fully support the provision in clause 1 to introduce life sentences for terrorists. I hope that a life sentence will mean life imprisonment and that the sentences will not be discretionary but mandatory. It is essential to increase co-operation among countries on the extradition of terrorists. The system of extradition must be made quicker and easier so that terrorists will be left in no doubt about the punishment that they can expect. Those countries which refuse to co-operate, thus putting at risk the lives of every air traveller, should be prohibited and prevented from being allowed to participate in international air travel and cargo handling.
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport) : I welcome the measures contained in the Bill as far as they give effect to the Montreal protocol, the Rome convention and the fixed platforms protocol. Of course, in an ideal world none of these measures would be necessary, but we do not live in an ideal world, so certain precautions must be taken to maintain the safety of the travelling public. The safety of persons travelling within and to our country, whether they are passengers or crew, and the safety of the public at large must be one of our major concerns and in the forefront of our minds. Yet I am extremely worried by some of the provisions of the Bill. They give the Government of the day through the Secretary of State far- reaching powers which many years ago would not have been granted except in times of war or national emergency.
Many of the powers in the Bill are an extension of those already available through the Aviation Security Act 1982. However, the vast expansion of ground to be covered, the massive increase in the numbers of persons affected--including those authorised to carry out the powers and
Column 980those on the receiving end of them--and the huge amount of property involved cause me to stop, think and scrutinise.
Britain has always prided itself on the freedom and democracy that its people enjoy. It is one of those strange anomalies that to protect the freedom of our people--in this case, the freedom of movement--we give the Government and other designated people the very powers that in different circumstances could be used to take freedom away.
In the past 10 years, there has been a significant erosion of our civil liberties, much of it without cause. Although I call for an increase in security at our airports and harbours, it is imperative that before we pass the Bill we are sure that we know the full consequences of the actions contained in it and that we ensure that there are satisfactory methods for monitoring security and built-in safeguards against the possible abuse of any of the powers contained in the Bill.
I intend carefully to scrutinise all the clauses in Committee, but I hope that today the Minister will be able to put my mind at rest on one or two issues that cause me most concern.
Clause 21(3) states :
"persons who may be specified in a direction as the persons by whom any searches are to be carried out include members of any body of constables which the harbour authority has power to maintain in the harbour area, but not any other constables."
I understand that private security forces are included in the authorised body of constables that harbour authorities have the power to maintain. If the authorities are to fulfil their duties under the Bill, the number of private security personnel they employ will increase dramatically.
Mr. Shersby : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the issue that he has just raised is extremely serious? Is he aware that those constables are sworn by two justices under a Victorian Act of Parliament, the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847, and that in effect a private police force is operating in those harbours which is not accountable to the public in the same way as the regular forces?
"In so far as a direction under any of the preceding provisions of this Part of this Act requires searches to be carried out, or other measures to be taken, by constables, the direction may require the person to whom it is given to use his best endeavours to secure that constables will be duly authorised to carry, and will carry, firearms when carrying out the searches or taking the measures in question." Can the Minister assure me that the two clauses I have mentioned will not mean that private security forces will carry arms or be authorised to use arms, particularly when our own metropolitan and county police forces do not carry firearms and are still restricted in the authorisation of their use? It is worth noting that the Port of London authority police do not carry arms and have given up their firearms certificates.
To enable them to carry out duties under the Bill, constables would have to apply for and be issued with firearms certificates. I think that they will be reluctant to do that. Whatever reply the Minister cares to give, will he also give his assurance that the two clauses will be reconsidered and that clause 23 will at least be drafted more tightly so that there is no room for loose interpretation?
Column 981It is clear that more security personnel, private or otherwise, will be employed and more people will be searched as a result of the Bill. It is worth mentioning that the measures and directives in the Bill extend to the owners of any business that may be sited or conducted in a restricted zone. Our harbours do not have sophisticated technical equipment such as that at Tilbury which allows for the easy and efficient search of cruise passengers and their luggage. It is unlikely that money will be made available for extensive provision of such equipment, so many of the searches will be superficial or will involve body contact.
I understand that the current requirement at airports is that one in three persons must undergo a body contact search and that those searches are carried out by private security personnel. Given that the numbers of people undergoing searches will vastly increase as a result of the measures in the Bill, will the Minister say what rules and regulations he intends to make, other than those given in the directions, to cover the conduct of those searches to ensure that there is no abuse of power, and whether there will be any directions as to the number of female constables to be employed?
I have already taken up more time than I intended, but before I leave other matters of concern to be considered in Committee, I shall make one final request of the Minister. If my reading of the Bill is correct and its implementation will result in increased use of private security personnel, will he consider introducing legislation to regulate and control such forces and will he ensure that the Bill makes it quite obvious where the lines of responsibility lie in respect of security personnel? At the moment it is far from clear who has the every-day responsibility.
Taking those matters into consideration, and in good faith, I give my and my party's qualified support to the Bill in the interest of preventing further disasters such as Lockerbie and the Italian cruise ship hijack.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : As the House knows, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation and wish to declare that interest. I welcome the Bill and its provisions for securing more effective implementation of aviation security measures. My constituents live close to Heathrow airport, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), and strongly support the measures to improve airport security. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the legislation promptly. We in Uxbridge believe that it is vital to suppress unlawful acts against the safety of civil aviation. It is certainly time that Britain gave effect to the Montreal protocol. It must be right that the maximum penalty of life imprisonment should be available to punish offenders who intentionally, by means of any device, substance or weapon, commit an act of violence at aerodromes serving civil international aviation. Lockerbie demonstrated the need for that ; the Government responded commendably to the challenge that it presented, and for that reason I welcome those parts of the Bill dealing with civil aviation. However, I express the concern of the police about some of the powers to be conferred by part III, which deals with ships and harbour areas. In particular, I seek clarification of the powers in clauses 20 to 23, which
Column 982empower the Secretary of State to give harbour authorities directions requiring searches to be carried out by constables or other specified persons. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fern) referred to those clauses in his perceptive speech, and I am delighted to be able to follow him in seeking clarification of them. It appears that those clauses will enable the Secretary of State to ensure increased security at ports, but they will allow persons other than constables to enforce the provisions of the Bill relating to the protection of ships and the security of harbours.
Clause 21 contains powers to require other persons to promote searches in harbours. The hon. Member for Southport rightly asked what subsection (3) means. I can only assume that it means that harbour undertakers can rely on special constables who are sworn under the provisions of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. A few days earlier, those constables could easily have been employees of a private security firm, but suddenly they would become a harbours, docks and piers police force. They could operate inside the harbour or dock or one mile outside it, but they would not be accountable to the House or the public in the same way as the regular police force. I have been corresponding with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessor about that for the past six months.
I draw the House's attention to the powers contained in that Victorian Act of Parliament, which are being used by major harbours, docks and piers operators, most recently at Parkeston quay. I believe that the House should turn its attention to that, because it is unsatisfactory for powers conferred by Parliament in 1847 to be exercised in that way. It is wrong in the light of current police practice. I did some research and discovered that that Act was passed by the House without debate, but it is high time that it was debated again.
The Bill sets out a series of new offences, but the new powers granted to my right hon. Friend and his successors must be examined in detail in Commitee. I shall comment briefly on a few of those powers. Clause 21 grants the Secretary of State power to require a harbour authority or operator of a ship to allow searches of persons or property of ships before taking on board the persons or property concerned or putting to sea. Clause 22 allows the Secretary of State a more general power to require a harbour authority to use its best endeavours to conduct searches of the harbour area or any ship, property or persons in the harbour.
Clause 23 allows the Secretary of State another general power to give directions to a harbour authority or operator of a ship and sets out in general terms the Secretary of State's requirements for ensuring the safety of the harbour area and ships.
The searches that may be required pursuant to clauses 21 and 22 may be conducted by constables or anyone specified in the Secretary of State's directions. What does that mean? I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell me when he replies to the debate, because those powers are supplemented by clause 24, which allows the Secretary of State to specify the qualifications of a person carrying out a search and, in particular, states that the Secretary of State may require such a person to have specified training and experience. Will my hon. Friend say what sort of training and experience will be required by those persons, who apparently will not be members of the regular police force?
Column 983Two matters are reserved to police constables. First, in clause 16, a ship's master is empowered to arrest a person whom he believes has committed an offence under the Act, but he must then deliver that person to a police constable or an immigration officer. Secondly, the effect of clauses 25 and 24(4) taken together is that only police constables may bear arms. That point was made by the hon. Member for Southport.
Additional powers are given to the persons designated to conduct a search. I draw the House's attention to clause 22(5), which makes it an offence to obstruct such a person exercising his powers under the Bill. Someone doing so will be subject to arrest under the present so-called citizen's power of arrest. Clause 25(4) entitles a designated person to use reasonable force in exercising his powers under the Bill, and clause 33 makes it an offence to give deceptive or misleading statements to any employee of the harbour authority or the operator of a ship.
Further powers are granted by clause 32 to a person authorised by the Secretary of State to conduct an inspection of any ship or harbour with a view to deciding whether the Secretary of State needs to exercise his other powers under the Bill.
The powers granted to the Secretary of State by the clauses to which I referred briefly allow him to lay down a complete code for the policing and security arrangements at any harbour in the country. I hope that when the Committee considers those clauses it will ask penetrating questions about the codes of practice for policing that can be laid down by the Secretary of State. The Bill does not specify how the Secretary of State must use those powers, and, in particular, does not specify whether the powers of search referred to in clauses 21 and 22 must be exercised by a constable or some other person designated by him. In this country, we are used to such powers being exercised by properly trained and responsible police officers, who are accountable to their county police forces and ultimately to elected representatives on local authorities and in the House. Before we contemplate moving away from that long-established procedure, those powers should be more carefully investigated.
The directions that the Secretary of State may give in accordance with clause 23 are, so far as I can see, open-ended. He could give directions requiring the harbour in question to be policed by police constables appointed under the Police Act 1964. Alternatively, he may permit the harbour authority to entrust the harbour's security arrangements to a private security company and then make further directions for the organisation of the private security firm, including, if he thinks fit, directions regarding the qualifications, experience and training of the security guards in question. Those are substantial powers, and I am sure that when considering the drafting of the Bill my right hon. Friend felt it necessary to take them. The Bill does not cast in stone the arrangements that must be made for policing harbours. Everything will turn on the directions given by the Secretary of State for a particular harbour or for all harbours in the country. However, if the Secretary of State intended to entrust the policing of all the harbours to the regular police service there would be no necessity for the additional powers in the Bill.
Column 984If a private security firm is to be used, the Bill will give the Secretary of State the power to lay down the requirements which it must follow. That power will supplement and replace the requirements of the Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847 to which I have referred and of similar legislation which merely requires two magistrates to appoint any constable and to be satisfied as to his fitness.
The real question raised by this part of the Bill is the content of the Secretary of State's directions. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies he will reassure me and the police service that the provisions have not been included to expand the provision of private police forces or security guards at harbours and docks in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to have had this opportunity to participate in the debate. I hope that the important points that I have made will be investigated carefully in Committee.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South) : The debate so far has focused mainly on airport security. That is inevitable, given the dreadful Lockerbie disaster. However, I shall concentrate on offshore installations, which are covered in part II, and particularly the provisions of clause 8. I shall do so not simply because I am a lawyer and lawyers are inevitably pedantic. It strikes me that clause 8, with its subsequent interpretation clauses, raises a serious issue. I have no quibble with the fact that oil platforms and offshore installations have been included in this measure. Clearly, they are isolated and vulnerable and the sort of target that could be the object of terrorist activity. It is important that such installations are included in the Bill.
I am worried about the apparently wide powers which the Secretary of State has included in the Bill. Clause 8 provides :
"A person who unlawfully, by the use of force or"--
these are the important words--
"by threats of any kind, seizes a fixed platform and exercises control of it, commits an offence".
The clause goes on to say that that offence is punishable by possible imprisonment for life.
Offshore installations are not like ships or airlines. They tend to be fixed and they are the ordinary workplace of some 25,000 offshore workers. Like every other workplace, they have been and inevitably will be the subject of industrial action. I am worried about the implications of the clause for future industrial action. An industrial dispute about a year ago involved a sit-in. In such circumstances, it is difficult to see that the Bill would apply. Unfortunately, offences occasionally occur in industrial disputes. The definition of "unlawfully" in clause 8 is the commission of an act in the United Kingdom which constitutes an offence under the law, in whatever part of the United Kingdom. The clause makes no attempt to define the gravity or the nature of that offence. The serious consequences of clause 8 could come into force simply by the commission of a breach of the peace or from disorderly conduct on an oil platform as a direct consequence of industrial action. That worries me.
I said in my defence earlier that I did not wish to be seen as a pedantic lawyer. The Minister smiles--I shall not repeat that phrase. I do not pluck my interpretation of clause 8 out of the air. In two incidents in the North sea
Column 985recently, the work force were threatened with criminal action during industrial action. The first incident involved two full-time trade union officials. I cannot go into the detail of this case, because a report has been made to the procurator fiscal. I shall not name the officials involved. They were officers of the International Transport Workers Federation entitled under International Labour Organisation conventions to board vessels to inspect the quality of vessels. They boarded a ship in my constituency. They were invited on board by the crew because of industrial action about the conditions on the vessel. The response of the master of the vessel was immediately to call the police. Despite their office and the powers given to them under the convention, the officers were arrested and charged. The matter is now before the procurator fiscal.
Another more serious case involved the vessel the MSV Stadive. It is an emergency response vessel covering the red sector of the North sea, which is the Shetland basin. The crew had been employed for some eight years by Seaforth Maritime. The operating company, Shell, decided to change the contract. It gave it to a new company, Deitsmann. All the officers and employees on that ship were involved in every action which the ship undertook.
In particular, the crew had the distasteful task of collecting the bodies after the Chinook disaster. They were also the crew that responded to the Ocean Odyssey tragedy. Despite the danger, the vessel was placed over the well drilled by the Ocean Odyssey, which had blown. It was there for three weeks while the well was capped. The crew are dedicated and highly experienced. Its whole future was placed in jeopardy because the oil company decided to change the contract, for whatever reason.
The previous employers said that no redundancy payments would be made because it was transferring its undertaking and the new employers refused to take on the obligations. Industrial action followed. The immediate consequence was that every member of the crew involved in the industrial action was threatened with criminal proceedings. They were threatened by the owners of the vessel that unless they gave up their industrial action they would be subject to prosecution under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 and liable to a maximum penalty of a £2,000 fine.
I do not raise the interpretation of clause 8 lightly. The problems that I envisage already occur in the North sea. I have given two specific examples of how the law is used to threaten and intimidate the work force.
I welcome the legislation, and I believe that it should apply to offshore installations. It has a serious purpose, which we all support. However, in achieving that serious purpose, it is important that we do not create other difficulties. The potential difficulties that I have identified would have a serious and damaging effect on industrial relations law. I have highlighted the effect in the North sea.
If operated in an oppressive way, the legislation could bring the law into disrepute. That is something that we all want to avoid. I look forward to a clear and unequivocal statement from the Minister confirming that that is not the intention of the legislation. If it is not, and the Government's intention is to fulfil the aims of the convention and deal with the serious problems of terrorism, I look forward to their supporting a suitable amendment to rectify the potential difficulties that I have outlined.
Column 9866.18 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : I have listened intently today, because I hoped that the views of the many port directors in the United Kingdom would be more adequately expressed. The Bill ratifies the International Maritime Organisation convention for the suppression of unlawful acts, but the Government's drafting of the Bill seems to be overkill.
To take an average port in the United Kingdom such as Southampton, how on earth can 100 per cent. security of operation be achieved in a port which not only stretches for several miles but has been rebuilt with marinas, yuppie housing, several factories and even ancillary industrial units? That category of building is increasing all the time.
I am aware that perhaps a mistake was made some years ago when the British Transport docks police were disbanded. Associated British Ports no longer wanted that force, and it took on security officers. If the Bill goes through, I am sure that that will be the practice in the future. I cannot imagine that the police force could possibly recruit the numbers necessary to supervise the security of the 19 ports owned by Associated British Ports, let alone the security of the many other ports besides those.
Mr. Shersby : On what does my hon. Friend base that statement? I am certain that the police could be made available, and surely it would be better to recruit regular officers than a private security force.
Mr. Hill : The problem is that the police are always desperate for further manpower, and one must not forget that they have their normal duties to undertake. I believe that the recruiting programme for the police force is geared to a budget from the Home Office. I do not believe that the Home Office would increase that budget to ensure that every port in the United Kingdom was covered by the police. No one has mentioned the recruitment of people with great expertise. I should have thought that many officers of the Special Air Services could be recruited to become what I would describe as the "el supremo" of security. I was horrified earlier when someone said that, when an emergency arises at a major airport, three or four different organisations are involved in dealing with it. I am sure that the same thing would happen should an emergency arise at a major port. If highly trained people were employed at the top, it might mean better training of the security staff. When going through Heathrow or Gatwick, I have never had a great deal of faith in the ability of the security staff to meet a real emergency should it arise.
The main source of danger has never been tackled. I have often thought of the Nigerian aircraft that was carrying a Nigerian ex-Minister in a box. I am sure that the Secretary of State remembers that incident. Naturally, that could not happen in this country, although we would not necessarily want such Ministers back. Diplomatic cargo and diplomatic bags have never been scrutinised to any degree. Perhaps some scrutiny is undertaken, and good luck to those who do it, but the lack of proper scrutiny of such cargo and bags represents one of the big weaknesses of our security operations. Any small country with 20 or 30 diplomats can invariably get its baggage on to an aircraft and in or out of the country without scrutiny.
The expense of providing massive security at a port such as Southampton can be paid for only by those who use that port. Such a cost could be a great inconvenience
Column 987to the people who work in that port and, at the end of the day, those extra charges will be reflected in the cost of goods throughout the country. As a word of caution, my right hon. Friend should go softly, softly on the maritime side, but he deserves a 100 per cent. mark for all his efforts on aviation.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : There is, unhappily, a constant freemasonry of terror. There are nations that, when they feel that they are losing the political argument, will not hesitate to use other nations' civilians as bargaining pawns. The nation that decides to blow 500 people out of the air is not particularly committed to democratic ideals or interested in the general security of the travelling public. For that reason, the Bill is tremendously important.
The Secretary of State will know that the Select Committee on Transport was careful in the evidence it took not to highlight certain areas. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of all sorts of questions that I do not believe it would be politic or sensible to discuss in the House. I must stress to the right hon. Gentleman, however, that I am not convinced that the present security arrangements at the most used airports in this country, or even at the smaller ones, are even beginning to be adequate. At one of the busiest airports, Heathrow, I saw to my considerable horror that things have reached the point where at least one major airline interprets the need to question travelling passengers about security as acceptably dealt with by having those questions pinned to the check-in desk.
El Al is one of the few international airlines that is capable of offering safe transport to its passengers. The Secretary of State knows that it was able to find and to identify the girl, the dupe, carrying the Semtex because of its profiling techniques and its highly trained employees. Those employees were not only on the ball, but found out immediately about the problem. They did so by taking the time to question and because that airline had put security at the top of its list, not at the bottom.
All airlines, particularly the large international ones, make the constant plea that they will never have sufficient time to undertake the profiling techniques necessary because their passengers demand constant and rapid movement from the airport into the aircraft. Those of us who constantly travel on airlines realise that the speed of transmission from the land to the air is becoming slower and slower--often for acceptable reasons. What is not evident, however, is that a high level of security checking is carried out by airlines. A lot of luggage is never checked and a great deal of cargo should be subjected to much tighter security procedures.
The travelling public need better and stronger security measures. If there are no machines capable of identifying Semtex, only hand searching and profiling will do. If security machines are used to screen baggage, the people using them must be trained. It is not good enough to have someone sitting in front of the screen for 25 minutes looking at moving lines of luggage with no idea what he is identifying and no ability to do anything effective about the speed of his work. Machines must be properly calibrated and the staff must be properly paid and trained.
Column 988Above all, airlines must stop saying that passengers are not prepared to pay for safety and are not prepared for time to be taken to check their luggage properly. All sensible travellers want to get to the other end in one piece--that should not be too much to ask. When I get on a plane with my family, I want to get off with all of them with me, having been safely carried to our destination. That means that proper cargo space must be provided and that proper screening machines should be used by all the major airlines. The Secretary of State must allow his new inspectorates direct access to him. That is the only way in which the inspectors can communicate their point of view. They could then tell him that they have checked an airport, that it will not do and that something must be done immediately. That point has been made time and time again to Secretaries of State for Transport by the Select Commitee on Transport and by others.
It can take an hour to get a perfectly ordinary bag into or out of an airport. On Monday, the absolutely unimaginable was achieved at terminal 2 and it took an hour and three quarters to unload the baggage because three major planes arrived at the same time. That shows that passengers spend time in airports. However, time is not usefully deployed by those who should have passenger safety at the top of their list.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : Before I come to my main points, so much nonsense has been spoken this afternoon by hon. Members who have not researched their facts that I should like, first, to refer to that. The point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) cast a slur on a fair number of my constituents who watch the X-ray screens and check the baggage at airports. They are highly trained and skilled. At Heathrow airport alone last year, about 250,000 items were detected by such skilled people, and to suggest otherwise is grossly unfair and something that I cannot accept.
I hope that all hon. Members share my enthusiasm for the principle of better security. I also hope that all Conservative Members share my contempt for some of the cheap, party political point scoring that has been going on since Lockerbie among the Opposition.
In the few minutes left in this debate, I wish to look beyond those principles and the search for scapegoats or apportioning blame. If we are to take full advantage of the opportunity provided by the Bill to make still more progress, we must look ahead. If we are to make progress and ensure that we do so, we need to establish some tests to use to determine whether the Bill and its principles will achieve what we seek.
There are three tests. First, will the Bill lead to practical proposals? Secondly, will the proposals that come from the Bill look to the future rather than the past? Thirdly, will the Bill's proposals involve everybody and everything, rather than, as suggested earlier, lead to another bout of buck-passing and attempts to pass the responsibility on to someone else?
Clearly, first and foremost we must ensure that the proposals are practical. Raising expectations which lead nowhere is no way to treat the travelling public. Announcing--as the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington did after the Lockerbie tragedy--a six-point action plan that was incapable of practical implementation