16 Mar 1995 : Column 923

House of Lords

Thursday, 16th March 1995.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Crimes Aboard Aircraft: UK Powers

Lord Brabazon of Tara asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will amend the law to give British courts jurisdiction over persons landed here who have committed crimes outside United Kingdom airspace on foreign aircraft bound for the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, the Government understand the concern that aircrew and passengers may be left without effective legal protection. We are currently considering whether the problems which have been identified can be overcome and we expect to discuss the matter shortly with the Board of Airline Representatives of the United Kingdom.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that encouraging reply. However, is she aware that there have been a number of serious incidents recently, including the attempted rape of a stewardess on a flight from Hong Kong, an assault on a flight service director resulting in serious injury on a Quantas flight from Australia and, more recently, a fight among three British passengers on a Royal Air Maroc to Manchester which resulted in grievous bodily harm? In each case, when the aircraft landed here the police were not able to do anything because the incidents took place on foreign registered aircraft outside United Kingdom airspace. Had a similar incident taken place on a British aircraft going to Australia, Canada or the United States the police there would have been able to act because those countries have taken powers to enable them to do so.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am aware of what my noble friend is saying. It is precisely because of these problems, which are increasingly concerning the Government, that discussions are now taking place with all interested parties. We shall be talking to the Board of Airline Representatives. It may be helpful if I give the statistics. Between 1992 and 1994 there were approximately 80 incidents, of which 70 involved United Kingdom registered aircraft and over which we have jurisdiction. Of the remainder, four occurred on flights en route to the UK and, as my noble friend said, we were powerless to act.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, since we know from surveys that both the incidence and severity of offences on aircraft are increasing and that in the 12 months to July 1994 there were 10 offences on aircraft coming into Heathrow alone when it was impossible to arrest the offenders, and given that next

16 Mar 1995 : Column 924

year we are hosting the European Championship finals, can the noble Baroness try to ensure that the Home Office does not wait for the cloudburst before it addresses its mind to building the Ark?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, at the risk of being repetitive, it is because of those concerns—and, as I said, those concerns are increasing—that we are considering the matter. I shall report again to the House at a later date.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, is it not within the powers of this Parliament to pass legislation attracting to the courts of this country what is called technically "exorbitant jurisdiction"? The law of piracy would be one example. I believe that yesterday the House gave a Second Reading to a Bill with which I do not altogether agree but which would give exactly that power in another case of exorbitant jurisdiction.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is because of the attraction of doing something about a matter which is of concern to everyone that these discussions are taking place. Discussions will take place between us and the airlines concerned. Perhaps I may say to my noble and learned friend that there is some confusion. The confusion arose in my mind literally a matter of minutes before I came to answer this Question. Under the Aviation Security Act 1982 jurisdiction extends in all of these situations for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, culpable homicide or assaults and offences under Sections 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28 and 29 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. I understand that wounding with intention to cause grievous bodily harm, inflicting bodily harm, choking, suffocating, strangulation and poisoning are included. I am anxious, as an individual who has to come before the House to explain these matters, to see whether there is a read-across here and whether that Act of Parliament could be invoked in these instances.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the answer the Minister has just given is most encouraging. If she can integrate it into her earlier answers, that would be even more encouraging. However, does she not agree that there is a conflict between the encouraging answers she is able to give today and the discouraging answers she gave last night on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill when, despite the advice of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Wilberforce and Lord Ackner, who argued that there was a case for extra-territorial exorbitant legislation, she contended that that would not be a proper procedure and used that as an argument for not supporting the Bill?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I gave all the practical reasons for not supporting the Bill. I also told the House that I was deeply sympathetic to the aims of the Bill.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, in view of the importance of this issue, which is recognised by

16 Mar 1995 : Column 925

the noble Baroness, does she believe that she will be in a position to indicate the Government's decision on the matter before the Summer Recess?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot be certain about that. The discussions around Whitehall have taken place but the discussions with the airline representatives have not yet taken place. Therefore, I cannot pre-empt either the timing or what the considerations will be. I shall report to the House as soon as I am able to do so. In the light of the point I made about the Aviation Security Act 1982, it was a bit of personal detective work and I therefore make the caveat that I shall have to go back and complete my research.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, in her consideration of the matter, will my noble friend bear in mind that under the Merchant Shipping Act it is possible to arrest a British citizen on a foreign-owned vessel? In her, I hope, favourable consideration of extending a full remit to aviation, will she extend a full remit to shipping as well?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it would appear that laws in the air have not caught up with laws at sea. That certainly will be material in our thinking when we come to consider this matter.

Lord Ennals: My Lords, there is a certain link between the issue we debated last night and the issue we are debating now. Can the Minister say what is the significance of the last words of her speech last night, which she has repeated today, that she personally has sympathy with the legislation? Is there not all the difference in the world between personally having sympathy and having declared that the Government are virtually opposed to the Bill?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I said that I was personally deeply sympathetic to the aims of the Bill. I also had to indicate, and quite properly put on the record, the enormous practical difficulties there are in bringing people to book. I was recording that. It is a Private Member's Bill and therefore the Government will remain neutral. As the noble Lord will know, the Bill received a Second Reading in the House last night.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I am sure she is—that under Article 3.3 of the Tokyo Convention 1963, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory, it is expressly stated that the convention does not exclude any criminal jurisdiction exercised in accordance with national law? Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Brabazon said, the United States is already exercising such jurisdiction. Does the Minister not believe that it would be eminently sensible for primary legislation to be introduced to give jurisdiction to British courts in this sort of instance, well within the remit of the Tokyo Convention?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the United Kingdom has indeed implemented the Tokyo Convention

16 Mar 1995 : Column 926

through the Tokyo Convention Act 1967 and the Civil Aviation Act 1982. These permit the commander of an aircraft wherever registered to detain an alleged offender until the police are able to take him into lawful custody pending extradition. The difficulty arises if there is insufficient time for the state authorities concerned to be contacted and to indicate whether they intend to apply for extradition.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, in consulting with the Board of Airline Representatives, will my noble friend also study the legal situation in Australia, Canada and the United States to see if we can learn anything from them? After all, they are probably the three countries in the world with which we have most in common.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I can give that assurance. We shall also take into account the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, which was prepared for Quantas.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page