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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's clear statement but, obviously, I should like to consider it when I read it in Hansard. Before she moves on perhaps I may ask one question. The Minister raised the possibility of limiting the scope of the Bill with a requirement of double criminality. My concern is that if the law of the state of Ruritania, for example, must be ascertained before a prosecution can take place a great deal of delay may well be caused while witnesses are within the jurisdiction. Is that necessary? Have any of the other countries--for example, the United States, Canada and Australia--which have asserted territorial jurisdiction limited themselves in that way rather than sensibly saying, "Our law will apply only to serious criminal offences which we will define". Presumably all nations would find them criminal. Every nation would regard assault, battery, rape and so forth as crimes of one kind or another. Therefore, is it necessary to include the provision for reasons of international diplomacy or otherwise? Is it not self-defeating and are we not frustrating the object of the Bill by introducing such limitation?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not have the information about all other countries. That is an important issue in respect of which I shall undertake work and return to the noble Lord. Dual criminality is a principle that we regard as important, other than transporting our own version of what is or what is not an offence for these purposes. All we would have to ascertain is whether an offence is an offence in another country. How the offence is dealt with in another country would not be material. It is a question of whether an act is an offence both in this country and in the country of registration. It is an important question and I wish to return to it.
I conclude by warmly welcoming the Bill and its introduction by my noble friend Lord Brabazon. On behalf of the Government, I wish it well through its remaining stages in your Lordships' House and in another place.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I am most grateful for the response that the Bill has received tonight. In concluding my opening speech I said that I hoped that Members on all sides of the House would give it a rousing endorsement and that it would become law fairly quickly. However, I did not expect quite such a rousing endorsement, including that from my noble friend the Minister.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, for her words of support. She was right to say that existing law applies only if the safety of the aircraft is endangered and that we were all right in that regard but not as regards the type of offence that has been described tonight.
As noble Lords will know, I am a great fan of the aviation industry and I do not wish to cause too much alarm and despondency by implying that such incidents happen on every flight every day. They do not. However, there are a sufficient number to make what we are tying to do tonight worthwhile. Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said how difficult it is to try to deal with the problem through extradition. Obviously, that has been difficult because it is just not happening at the moment. Therefore, that problem is self-explanatory.
I very much enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and particularly his reminiscences of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, said some 33 years ago. As the noble Lord said, aviation has moved on an enormous amount since then. The size of the aircraft has doubled and the distances which can be travelled non-stop have probably more than doubled. Nevertheless, what was said all those years ago is just as relevant today, if not more relevant than it was then. The noble and learned Lord, Lord, Lord Wilberforce, showed a great deal of foresight in saying what he did.
I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, for his support. He brought out the point that before very long we shall have non-stop flights halfway round the world, and the opportunity for this type of incident to occur on such a flight is obviously even greater.
I referred to the opinion which my noble friend Lord Hacking, with others, prepared for Qantas. I was grateful to him for giving the background to that opinion. There is the Tokyo Convention and other measures but this provision seems to me the simplest way of dealing with the problem. To amend the Civil Aviation Act 1982 by changing just a few words is the simplest and, I hope, the best way to deal with the matter.
My noble friend Lord Mountevans was kind enough to say that in recent years, since I left the Government Front Bench in 1992, I have had some success in getting Private Members' Bills through this House. I must confess that although I have managed to get a Bill through this House every year until now, they were all government hand-out Bills which started in the other place through the ballot. Therefore, that was not too difficult. If this Bill is passed, that will be the first time that I have managed to steer through a Bill which started
I am grateful to all those who have spoken, and particularly to the Minister. My noble friend agreed that there is an anomaly which needs addressing. She pointed out the possibility that the Bill may need to be amended in relation to dual criminality, and there was an interesting exchange between my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I am not a lawyer; if that is required in order for the Bill to reach the statute book, I am happy to take that on board.
Finally, I reiterate what I said at the end of my opening speech, to which my noble friend Lady Blatch referred. It is very frustrating for the police, witnesses and, in particular, victims of these crimes when there is no power to do anything about the crimes and the offender gets off scot free. As one noble Lord said, if I go into a pub on the way home this evening and there is a fight taking place I can walk out, but I cannot do that if I am on an aeroplane at a height of 35,000 feet. I can do nothing in that situation. I hope that this Bill will go some way towards addressing that problem.
Lord Hacking: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, could I intervene? In his speech he referred to dual criminality and indicated that he would be happy to include such a provision if that enabled the Bill to pass through both Houses of Parliament. I wonder whether my noble friend and my noble friend the Minister could consider that issue more carefully. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, put his finger on the difficulty. I have examined the laws of Canada, Australia, and of the United States of America. I can tell your Lordships that none of those laws has a dual criminality requirement. I venture to suggest that that would be an unwise inclusion in the Bill. It would be very much better to rely upon our own law.
After all, the invitation has been made to us by overseas airlines, and effectively by overseas countries, in order to help them. To add the extra complication of having to apply the laws of other countries as well as our own is, in my view, unnecessary. Perhaps my noble friend would also comment on the fact that there is already protection in the system under the Bill; namely, that no prosecutions can be brought without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions? That prevents the prospect of the trivial type of offences coming in. Therefore, that mechanism is already available. I wonder whether my noble friends would agree to reconsider the principle of dual criminality.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I had not in fact thought about dual criminality; indeed, it was suggested by my noble friend the Minister. I merely said, perhaps naively, that if that was what was required to get the Bill through, then I would be happy to accept it. However, it is a Committee point. If amendments are tabled at that stage, then obviously that would be the time to debate the issue.
I take the point that my noble friend Lord Hacking made that, at the beginning of the whole process, it is up to the police to decide whether to take action and that, following on from there, it is up to the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to do so. Indeed, action will not happen on its own; it is up to the relevant authorities, when the aircraft lands, to decide whether to take matters forward. That is a most important point. As I said, that is a matter which we can discuss in Committee. I shall of course be in touch with my noble friend the Minister or with her advisers on the matter. We shall see what transpires as a result.