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House of Lords

Tuesday, 6th June 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Guildford.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I am to chair the 23rd European Ministers of Justice Conference in London on Thursday 8th June when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust the House will grant me leave of absence.

Hijacks: Airport Contingency Plans

2.35 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the outcome of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' review of the use of Stansted airport as the Government's preferred airport for dealing with hijacks, following the major hijack incident involving an Ariana Boeing 727 in February.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, as noted in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, on 15th February, all UK airports must be capable of handling hijacked aircraft. Policy on handling of hijacks is reviewed as a matter of course after an incident such as that at Stansted. The review is well under way but, for security reasons, the results will not be made public.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I hope that the review will take account of the fact that when Stansted first became the preferred location for dealing with hijacked aircraft there were fewer than 250,000 passengers a year using it. Is the Minister aware that the figure is now close on 10 million a year and that statistics published over the weekend demonstrate that, with an increase of 37.5 per cent, Stansted has the second biggest increase in throughput of passengers in the world? Is it not time to choose an airport where hijacks would cause far less disruption, fewer diversions and fewer cancelled flights? These incidents are an enormous inconvenience of the travelling public.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for reminding us of the increase in traffic at Stansted, an airport which has advantages

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over other London airports because it is easier to reduce disruption to air traffic and to isolate aircraft more effectively. The United Kingdom has a national aviation security programme which recommends that all airport managers should produce and develop contingency plans for an aircraft hijack in consultation with local police authorities.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is absolute nonsense for the Government to declare that a particular airfield, aerodrome or airport is to be used for hijacked aircraft? Would not terrorists regard that information as most useful? Should not the Government continue to utilise the airports which are most convenient for planes which are hijacked rather than designate a specific airport?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I am grateful again for that intervention. I stress that the Government have not singled out any one particular airport. All airports are required to have in place security programmes as recommended through our national aviation security plans.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the Minister referred to requirements placed on all airport managers. Do they include military airports? On the assumption that one of the priorities in dealing with a hijack is to minimise inconvenience to the public, the use of a military airfield to receive a hijacked aircraft would have many advantages over a civil airfield.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the primary consideration clearly is to ensure the safety of the people on the aircraft and on the ground. It might not be conducive to that if hijackers feared they were flying into a military airfield. Our plans cover commercial airports.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, having access to an understanding on how to influence the Taliban is a principal challenge. What is being done in that regard? And who were we dealing with in matters relating to the hijack?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I sit beside my noble and learned colleague Lord Williams of Mostyn who no doubt would confirm that the issues in this case are now sub judice.

Oath of Loyalty: Northern Ireland Queen's Counsel

2.40 p.m.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action the Lord Chancellor proposes to take about the oath of loyalty to the Queen traditionally sworn by Queen's Counsel in Northern Ireland.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Lord's Question assumes that, at present, new Queen's

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Counsel in Northern Ireland swear an oath of loyalty to Her Majesty. That is a false assumption. In fact there has been no such requirement since 1995 when the previous administration decided that the oath would no longer be administered but that a declaration should be made in the same terms as that made in England and Wales.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that clarificatory Answer. However, I have read of the recent court ruling about the so-called oath taken by Queen's Counsel and reports of the attitude originally taken by the Lord Chancellor. Therefore perhaps I may congratulate the noble and learned Lord on his wholly admirable, wholly robust and characteristically firm ruling on this matter.

Is he aware that many people have been worried, for example, about the recommendation of an official report that symbols of royalty should be removed from courts in Northern Ireland; and about moves on other symbols such as the name and the cap badge of the RUC. Whatever decisions come before the noble and learned Lord to be considered, may I ask him to bear those considerations in mind because they cause anxiety?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, yes.

UK Foreign Language Needs

2.42 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they propose to respond to the final report of the Nuffield inquiry into the United Kingdom's foreign language needs over the next 20 years.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, we regard it as very important that we have the right level of language capability to help us compete in global markets. The Government will consider the recommendations over the coming months and a cross-departmental working group will reflect views across Whitehall.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. While the report duly acknowledges that in this country, including our industry, we neglect other languages partly through an exaggerated perception of the current world-wide status of English, will the Minister agree that it makes some valuable suggestions on a wide range of matters such as the training of teachers and the needs of business in languages far beyond the standard fare of GCSE French?

Will the Minister (though I recognise that this is outside his normal bailiwick) comment on the Government's likely reaction to one particular recommendation in the Nuffield report which seems to

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me to be of special interest? It is to create a new category of primary schools, perhaps 1,000 in all, which will specialise in foreign languages and enable parents to have a choice of their children learning German, Russian or even Mandarin; and to have that target language, whatever it may be, the medium of instruction from as young an age as perhaps six or seven?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we agree that the Nuffield report makes some valuable suggestions and we shall review them with a cross-departmental group over the coming months. As regards teaching children in primary schools, the research on early language learning suggests that benefits are mixed and that children introduced to a formal learning structure at secondary level achieve results on a par with those who have studied at primary level.

However, our Early Language Learning Initiative, which is managed by the Centre for Information on Language, Teaching and Research, will give practical help to primary schools in teaching languages. Over two years, the project will develop high quality curriculum materials for teachers, develop and disseminate models of good practice and establish a network of practitioners.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, why is the Minister so confident that the English state is right in teaching languages only at secondary level, whereas in every part of Europe they are taught at primary level? Should he not advise his noble friends that we might be wrong and that the French, the Germans, the Hungarians and everyone else might be right and that languages should be taught at an earlier level? And I remind the Minister that when he was at an independent school, it did!

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, if that were the case, it was a prime example of why such a policy failed! As I hope my original Answer made clear, we are not rejecting the proposals. We have examined the evidence and are taking initiatives to encourage such teaching on a wider scale.


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