HC Deb 11 July 1973 vol 859 cc1625-60

The Secretary of State shall have power to establish, or to authorise the establishment of, a special security force for the purpose of executing all such acts as are required to be done pursuant to any notice or direction served under this Act.—[Mr. Mason.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Mason

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House if with this clause we discuss the following amendments:

No. 9, in Clause 9, page 8, line 36, after first 'by' insert 'police'.

No. 10, in page 8, leave out line 37 and insert: 'members of the special security force'. No. 11, in Clause 10, page 10, line 16, after first 'by', 'insert police'.

No. 12, in page 10, line 16, leave out: 'or by other persons of a description specified in the direction'. No. 17, in Clause 13, page 13, line 9, after 'a', insert 'police'.

No. 18, in page 13, line 10, leave out 'other person' and insert: 'member of the special security force'. No. 22, in Clause 19, page 19, line 1, after 'constable', insert: 'or a member of the official security force'. No. 23, in page 19, line 9, after 'constable', insert: 'the member of the special security force'. No. 24, in page 19, line 16, after 'a', insert 'police'.

No. 25, in page 19, line 17, leave out: 'any other person specified in the direction' and insert: 'a member of the official security force'. No. 29, in Clause 25, page 23, line 38, at beginning insert 'police'.

No. 30, in page 23, line 39, after 'a', insert 'police'.

Mr. Mason

We are prepared to consider these amendments with new Clause 4, dealing with a special security force.

In our view, it is likely that private security organisations will benefit considerably from the Bill. According to the Bill, the cost of searching passengers and baggage at United Kingdom airports is already running at an annual rate of £600,000. If we take into consideration other security measures, the figure is probably at least £1 million a year. With the passing of the Bill another £50,000 at least is likely to be spent on guarding aircraft on the ground, but it could be much more.

Clause 23, which is discretionary, allows for Government reimbursement of moneys expended by airlines or airport managers if incurred as a result of a ministerial directive. The explanatory memorandum states that it is not possible to forecast what further expenditure might arise which under the terms of Clause 23 the Government may reimburse. That is like granting the Government a blank cheque. Practically the whole of the extra expenditure for airline and airport security will be spent on private security forces and will further the growth of private security organisations.

The new clause seeks to establish a special security force, especially at our airports. It will be a body which will be used when the Minister is issuing his secret directives to protect an aircraft, an airline or an airport from piracy or sabotage. It will be a special security force which will be properly trained and qualified. It will be subject to public and parliamentary accountability.

The Opposition do not think that that is a job for the Securicor type of organisations. We are concerned that the Minister has that in mind. The Bill constantly refers to "constables" or "by other persons". It refers to the powers to be granted to constables or to other persons. Incidentally, it does not mention police constables. Although the Minister suggested in Committee that they might be airport constables, we are still worried about that loose terminology. Perhaps the Minister might be able to explain.

We think that constables should be established as at least police constables. We are worried about the phrase "other persons" because constables or other persons will have the powers to search aerodromes, aircraft, persons or property. They will have powers to guard aerodromes, aircraft, persons or property.

The Minister, in his directives, will he able to specify the search, the qualification of those empowered to search, the manner of the search and any apparatus, equipment or other aids for the purpose of the search and even if necessary, authorisation for constables to carry firearms. Nothing shall restrict the use of force.

Constables or any other persons specified in the order may arrest without warrant and detain for as long as necessary. That strongly infers that other persons—namely, Securicor, Chubb, Group 4 or Security Express—may well be in line for new Government contracts and, what is most disturbing, for increased powers in their airport operations. Most of those powers will be given through a secret directive by the Minister. That is a most disturbing development.

Because of the strict security which must be maintained at our main airports, it is our contention that the Minister should appoint a special security force. It should be a highly-trained, qualified and properly vetted force which will be accountable to him and to Parliament.

Mr. Onslow

I rise to try to deal with the matters which the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) finds so disturbing. If the situation were as he described it, I, too, should be disturbed. Clause 10, taken with Clause 19(2) invokes in respect of private security organisations only the powers of search. The use of firearms does not arise. That is not in the Bill and it should not be suggested that the use of firearms is concerned.

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman is not listening to what I say. I purposely said, "even, if necessary, authorisation for constables …. "We do not know whether the constables will be airport constables, police constables or any other type of constable. The Bill just refers to "constables". If the hon. Gentleman had listened he would have heard me say specifically, "even, if necessary, authorisation for constables to carry firearms." It is in the Bill that constables or any other person specified in the directive may arrest without warrant and detain for as long as necessary.

Mr. Onslow

The right hon. Gentleman has mistaken my point. He was seeking to suggest that under what he is pleased to call secret directives the Government might intend to confer upon private security organisations powers which, he inferred—I think that that is the right word to use—might go as far as the use of firearms. I wanted to quash that canard instantly.

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman will not listen and he will not grasp the point. I tried to point out specifically that constables may by directive be allowed to use and to carry firearms. I have also mentioned the other terminology which is used in the Bill—namely, "other persons specified". Those persons may arrest without warrant and detain for as long as necessary. That is an extra power for a private force, for Securicor or any other body operating at an airport. It is that which causes us some concern.

It is already causing public concern that private police or private security forces are on the increase. About 100,000 persons are now engaged in the security industry. The turnover of these private companies is between £72 million and £80 million a year. Their operations are extending in many directions and when they are employed by Government Departments—especially the Home Office—Ministers refuse to reveal the payment for the contract or the nature of the contract.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The Under-Secretary of State said that it is not intended to allow these "other persons" to have the use of firearms. Let us suppose they come up against people who have firearms in their possession. What then will their position be?

Mr. Mason

In the Bill, constables will be by directive allowed to carry firearms. The "other persons" will not be granted that, but they will be granted the extra powers to be able to arrest and detain indefinitely.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Under-Secretary of State has excluded firearms but we all know that the Securicor people already carry big truncheons. Is it not possible that these "other persons" could carry truncheons?

Mr. Mason

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Minister will be able to specify the search, the qualifications of those empowered to search, the manner of the search and … any apparatus, equipment or other aids to be used for the purpose of carrying out any such search. That is a wide power and it may well cover the point which my hon. Friend raised.

What we have here is a new dimension—that there is likely to be a further major contract, secret in its scope and empowering these "other persons" by directive to arrest without warrant and to detain indefinitely. If the Minister intends to traverse this path, it is incumbent upon him to take ministerial control over all these persons and, in our airports, to have a properly trained security force which will be accountable to Parliament and the public. We are all aware that our official police forces are so restrained, and so should these "other persons" be restrained—persons to whom the Minister is granting these wide new powers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain whether the official police have been consulted on the Bill and on the likely increase in the powers of private security forces at the airports.

I repeat the question which we posed in Committee: why not consider establishing by recruitment a full-time public sector extension of our own police force—in other words, a specialised airport security police? Surely the Minister would thereby be more content about the type of person recruited, the training and qualifications, the use of the powers and the prospect of tighter security at our airports. Above all, he would be giving visible warning to potential hijackers and saboteurs and greater assurance to the travelling public.

I have been brief and concise. I have tried to give the general purport of our proposals and I hope that in debate the House will gradually concede that this is what should be done, because, under the Bill, a new dimension is being granted to private security forces which, at our airports, could create gradually a more alarming situation than there is today.

Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)

Many people who are deeply concerned about the increase in violence and the potential attacks on law and order with which this Bill is aimed to deal are also deeply concerned about the growth in general of what are sometimes referred to as private security forces. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary, in replying, would deal with some points arising from Clauses 10 and 19. I take the points rather more narrowly than did the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with a matter which arose when the right hon. Gentleman inferred that the power, under Clause 19(1)(b), of arrest without warrant and detention for as long as period as necessary, would apply to the persons described in Clause 10(1) as— other persons of a description specified in the direction". It would appear from the wording of Clause 19(1) that the word "constable" alone is used in that respect.

I hope that my hon. Friend can reassure the House that there is no question of persons other than properly sworn constables having these extremely Draconian powers. I hope that my hon. Friend can be specific about whether the word "constable" is intended to have anything more than its normal common law meaning. What would be perverse would be to see an extension of more than common law powers to other than properly sworn and attested constables.

What concerns the House is the definition of the right of search to other persons of a description specified in the direction. I hope that my hon. Friend can give an assurance that this will be limited to a properly approved body. I should like my hon. Friend to consider this suggestion.

One of the rather endearing features of the major airports in this country is that, for a reason which I cannot comprehend, they are administered, for prosecution purposes, by the Director of Public Prosecutions and not by the Metropolitan Police. At present even the smallest motoring prosecution at London Airport is initiated by the Director. Will the Minister consider seeking the approval of the Director for any body before it became a body which included persons of a description specified in the direction? There is cause for concern that before the system of licensing which has been advocated by private Members on both sides goes through searches could be carried out by persons whose characters have not been officially checked, and possibly carried out by persons with a criminal record. This gives rise to deep public concern and is counter-productive to the purposes of the Bill. I hope my hon. Friend will give an assurance that the approval of the Secretary of State will be limited to such bodies which satisfy him that they are the right people to have the powers to carry out the kind of search specified under Section 10. I suggest that the only people who have the right character to be given these powers are those who could be sworn or attested as constables—in other words, people who have the normal character requirements for membership of the Metropolitan, or any other police force.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I implore the Minister not to mistake the strength or seriousness of the opposition to this provision which new Clause 4 seeks to correct. As is known, I act as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, which gives me a special interest in the new clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) said earlier that there were grave misgivings about some parts of the Bill. We are discussing what is perhaps the most disturbing feature of all. We accept that the Minister needs adequate powers to deal with aerial piracy and terrorism. We feel that he should report to Parliament on the use of the directives.

The principal question is how and by whom these powers shall be exercised. The principal concern among police officers is that there are more and more people in contemporary Britain who look like policemen but are not policemen. The attitude of the Home Office to the role of private police was first stated on 22nd September 1970 in terms which have now become all too familiar. The Home Office stated that it wanted to relieve the police of, tasks which distact them from their primary functions of preserving the peace and bringing criminals to justice. There will be hon. Members who feel that persons other than constables will now have increased powers to deal with the problems of preserving the peace and bringing criminals to justice.

The Home Office argument appears to be that the police are overworked and must not be burdened with trivial tasks. The question must be asked: Where does the argument that this is not police work stop? How many other activities are to be hived off to unregulated and unlicensed private security companies?

There is a manpower crisis in the Metropolitan Police Force. The way to deal with that is to improve the pay, conditions and status of police officers. It is no solution to hive off work to private security companies whose selection criteria are much less rigorous than those of the police. The National Council for Civil Liberties has said that, in its view, parts of the Bill are deeply alarming. The Minister must not seek to brush aside the serious criticisms that have been addressed to him.

I find it deeply unsatisfactory that private security companies are able to recruit members of police forces with specialised skills by offering them higher salaries than those paid by regular forces. It will disturb the House to learn that, if we took every police officer from Manchester and Leeds and transferred them to the Metropolitan Police, there would still be vacancies in the metropolitan area. When I use the term "manpower crisis" to describe the situation in the metropolis, it can hardly be said that I am exaggerating.

8.45 p.m.

In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Newark referred to a statement made by the head of Al Security, who spoke of the steps which he would have taken to clear Hornsey College of Art. He said that dogs should be used so that If the students tried to get in or out my dogs would rip them to pieces".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 15th May 1973; c. 274.]

Is that the sort of organisation to which we wish to entrust new responsibilities?

I said that I had a special interest in this debate. I believe that the public interest requires all of us to look very carefully at the new powers being sought by Ministers. I notice a new face on the Government Front Bench at this stage of the proceedings on the Bill. Another Minister replied to my hon. Friends the Members for Newark and for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) in Committee. I hope that the new face implies a new attitude.

The Minister must not mistake the strength or seriousness of our opposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) asked the Minister what consultation there had been on this important matter with the national representatives of the Police Federation. Police officers are all too often denied consultation by Ministers on matters about which they have helpful advice to give.

Mr. Onslow

The hon. Gentleman is being perfectly frank about his interest.

May I put a straightforward question to him? Has he at any stage of the Bill's progress through the House, in his capacity as employee, or whatever it may be, of the Police Federation, sought to make these points in representations to anyone in charge of the Bill?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

They were made in Committee.

Mr. Morris

I was not a member of the Standing Committee, as the Under-Secretary of State knows very well. The case against these provisions was argued with great force and clarity by my hon. Friends the Members for Newark and for Hackney, Central. If the Under-Secretary had done his homework, or if he had a closer rapport with the Box than he appears to have had tonight, he would have noticed that I have tabled a Parliamentary Question on this matter. He knows that police officers cannot be directly represented in the House. He knows that that is why his hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) were my predecessors as parliamentary advisers to the Police Federation.

Instead of scoffing at my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, the Minister would do well to address himself to what is an extremely serious matter from the point of view of most people in this country. Instead of hiving off to the private sector and increasing the profits of the private sector, we should ensure that the public sector is properly manned. We all know that the public sector is not property manned. There is deep concern about this matter among police officers, as there is among other people.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)

As a London Member I have deep sympathy with the police and their problems, as we all have. However, will the hon. Gentleman clear the record and say what advice he gave his federation about how it should approach my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself and others who served on the Standing Committee in order to make the points which he is making tonight—not generalised points about security organisations, but specific points about the opposition of police officers to the Bill?

Mr. Morris

When the Government want to consult the National Farmers' Union, they do not wait for Sir Henry Plumb to knock on the door of Whitehall Place.

Mr. Tebbit

What advice did the hon. Gentleman give?

Mr. Morris

They make contact with organisations which they believe to be affected by the provisions they intend to make in any proposed new laws. I was in frequent contact with my hon. Friends, as they will attest, during the Committee stage. I was not a member of the Committee, and this is my first opportunity to make what I regard as a serious case on behalf of those who would argue that new Clause 4 is essential and ought to be supported by both sides of the House.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

There was no need for my hon. Friend to go to the Minister on behalf of the Police Federation. The Minister knew, and all members of the Committee knew, as did the police, that every point which my hon. Friend is now putting was put and argued in Committee, and it was up to the Minister, having heard the arguments, to consult the Police Federation and to come here prepared for this debate.

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend is eminently right. The points which have been argued tonight were repeatedly emphasised in Committee. In my view, my hon. Friends the Members for Newark and for Hackney, Central did not receive the replies which their arguments merited. The Under-Secretary of State seems to imagine that a Report stage is hardly necessary and that what was not said in Committee should not be said at all. He does not seem to understand what the Report stage is. Earlier, he posed as an expert on parliamentary procedure, telling us what we could do in relation to the Table Office, what we could do regarding Standing Order No. 9 debates and what we could do at business question time.

Mr. Carter-Jones

On an important matter like this, did not the Under-Secretary and his ministerial colleagues consult the Home Office? Are they dependent upon a back bencher for information?

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend refers to the Home Office. The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) was referring to the Police Federation. It is felt—I hope that this will be taken seriously by the Departments concerned—that the Police Federation, consulted 100,000 people, is not adequately represented on a wide range of issues at present.

I hope that the Minister will carefully note what has been said from both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) expressed some concern from the Government back benches. I want the Minister to give proper consideration to the compelling arguments raised by my right hon. Friend and I hope that he will give a constructive response. If he does, he will, I believe, be serving the public interest.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Minister had the audacity, the cheek and the impudence to intervene during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) to ask him, as he represents the Police Federation, why he never came forward to put the Federation's case. The truth is that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) and others of my hon. Friends consistently—almost day in, day out—put the case which my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe has advanced tonight. They emphasised all the issues, and they explained them in detail.

It was surely incumbent on the Minister in the earlier debate to have said "We shall not turn down the proposal, but we shall consider it. We shall go away and ask the Police Federation to discuss the matter. We shall take advice from the Home Office and the interested bodies and then, on Report, we shall see whether we can do what the Opposition have in mind." That was the correct way of going about the matter. I remind the Minister that this is no laughing matter. It is very serious. It is not too late even now for the hon. Gentleman to say that, although for drafting or legal reasons he may not be able to accept the clause, he can accept the principle underlying it and will arrange to deal with the matter in another place.

I have tried for many years to emphasise the dangers involved in some of these security firms. What I have said has been pooh-poohed, but gradually people are coming to see the dangers inherent in the development of some of these firms. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) rightly pointed out that some of these security forces are unscrupulous organisations. I am talking not about the large organisations but the fly-by-night concerns. I am told on pretty good authority that the police have doubts whether some of the organisations are not in league with criminal organisations, and indeed that they may even have arrangements with them.

The facts are that there is no check whatever on these organisations. A criminal, having served his 20 years in prison, can be released and then take a job with the XYZ security force. A reputable firm, even a bank, not knowing these things could employ that individual and his firm to protect the wages deposited in the bank. Is it not ridiculous that a criminal can be invited into a bank and can then commit whatever misdemeanour he likes?

These are the sort of firms which might be employed by the Minister, because he does not know the sort of people who are employed. They might have criminal records. One of the top firms has said that it does not employ anybody with a criminal record. But how does it know? If Bill Sykes changes his name to Bill Smith and goes to a security firm for a job, that firm may well take the view that he is a good man for the job. That man will not go to the firm and say "I declare that I have served 20 years' imprisonment, I have just come out and I expect to get a job." Of course he does not do that. He says "My name is Bill Smith. I have just come from New Zealand where I have spent the last 20 years. This is why I have not got my insurance card." The firm will say "Very well, you look a nice respectable sort of chap. We shall employ you." How does a firm know whether the man has a criminal record? Are these firms in touch with the police, and are they advised by the police?

I suggest that we should be given more information about the organisations which will be employed at fees which have been undisclosed. The Minister has refused to disclose how much money they will get. Employees of these organisations will be able to search and have all the powers one expects of the police.

Mr. Onslow

That is not right.

Mr. Lewis

The one exception is that they will not have the right to have guns.

9.0 p.m.

As I understand the position when the Bill left the Committee, there is nothing to stop these other bodies under directives from the Minister acting in association with police constables and taking part in searches and other activities. It is true that employees of these companies will not be able to carry guns. But what is there to stop them having truncheons? After all, they have them now. These organisations break the law day in and day out, and no action is taken.

I can explain how the law is being broken. I have asked the police to take action and they have refused. On any day of the week it is possible to see a Securicor van pull up on a double yellow line and stay there for as long as three-quarters of an hour without any police action being taken. If a commercial traveller carrying valuable goods stops on a yellow line for 10 minutes the police will have him, and quite rightly. I do not blame the police. But these security firms are allowed to get away with it.

Standing beside the security van there will usually be seen a uniformed man who looks very much like a policeman. On a warm day he will have removed his jacket or jerkin and he will be standing there wearing a blue shirt which is absolutely identical to that worn by the police in the metropolitan area. He will be wearing a dark blue tie. He will have a crash helmet on his head identical to that worn by a police motor cyclist. The other day I heard an old lady in Wood Green High Road say "There is a policeman standing outside that bank with a truncheon." She looked with fear at him. I said to her "He is not a policeman, dear." She replied "Oh, yes. He is standing there with his truncheon." What a truncheon it was! It was about three feet long—

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)

Like a baseball bat.

Mr. Lewis

Yes, it is like a baseball bat. It is a much more offensive weapon than anything that our police are allowed to carry, and we have some control over our police. But they have only little ones about a foot long.

The employees of these security firms are in no way responsible to this House. But these are the sort of people who will be allowed to act above the authority of the ordinary police because they will have more power and more authority. If I am in the Wood Green High Road and I see a police constable who in my view is misbehaving, I can take his number, report the circumstances to the Home Secretary and the matter will be investigated. If the police officer is found guilty of some offence, he may be reprimanded. But in the case of the employees of security firms there is no means of identification and no possibility of reporting any misbehaviour to the Home Secretary. What is more, there is no provision in the Bill for a security officer accused of misbehaviour to have any right of appeal.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that an hon. Member can raise a matter of this kind under Standing Order No. 9. He knows that Mr. Speaker, with all his kindly generosity, would never grant a Standing Order No. 9 application, even to me. If I were to raise a matter concerning a man wearing a uniform resembling that of a policeman who was insulting a passenger at an airport, Mr. Speaker would laugh me out of court. What is more, even I would not have the nerve to ask Mr. Speaker for a debate on the matter under Standing Order No. 9.

Mr. Money

I have been listening with considerable interest and not a little sympathy to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. Would he not agree that this is the strongest reason for checking and improving the character of the security forces concerned? The inherent difficulty, which arises from what was said by the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), is that the Metropolitan Police are substantially under strength, and manning a special security force is not likely to solve that problem.

Mr. Lewis

The undermanning of the police force is to be debated tomorrow. There is something to be said about that.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have rightly suggested that there should be a highly-organised and trained force responsible to the Minister—or Ministers—answerable to this House. I suggest that there is nothing to prevent the establishment of such a force provided the Government offer good wages and proper working conditions.

If the XYZ security firm can pay double or treble the wages paid to the police, there is no reason why that kind of security force should not be set up, controlled and paid for by Parliament. If a security firm can get staff, why cannot we set up a police force—it can be called the Air Ministry Security Force if one likes—and pay proper wages? If staff cannot be obtained at the rates offered, they should be offered more. I am not particularly concerned about that aspect of the matter because that is the Government's problem. If we think that the principle is right, namely, that this sort of thing should not be left in private hands but should be dealt with in a properly organised way, it is up to the Government to see that they get the necessary personnel.

If the Government want extra men in the Royal Navy, the Army or the Royal Air Force, they do not leave things to private enterprise. They do not say that they will allow the XYZ private army, navy or air force to step in and make a profit. The Government offer good wages and salaries to Service personnel, but if they find that they are not getting a sufficient number of recruits they improve the wages and conditions. That is what they should do in this instance.

There is another aspect of the problem, and here I may tread on some corns. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central asked a number of questions to which he received no answers. I wonder why. He asked in the House how much money was paid to one security firm for a contract, and the Home Office refused to give the information. Why was that? There can be no security reason for not giving the information.

Could it be that this security firm is in the habit of having on its board of directors prominent people connected with the establishment and with political parties in both Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that he is going rather wide of new Clause 4 and the amendments.

Mr. Lewis

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not think I am. The clause suggests that a proper force should be established, and I am suggesting that perhaps one reason why the Government do not want such a force is that the directors of the firm which they now employ are connected with certain Ministers of the Crown.

I go on to say that one reason why the Minister is not in favour of the clause is that the Home Secretary was a director of the firm about which the Home Office refused to give information. I am developing the case. This is another aspect——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is getting very near to a point that is not acceptable, and I hope he will not pursue that line.

Mr. Lewis

Mr. Deputy Speaker, are we, or are we not, discussing a list of amendments and new Clause 4? Does not the clause suggest that a special security force should be set up? Is it not the case that we are trying to persuade the Minister to accept certain amendments? Am I not entitled to suggest that one of the reasons why he will not accept our proposals is that private forces already in existence and to which we object are doing this very job? Am I not entitled to suggest that I want to see these private organisations done away with because I object to the fact that they have on their boards directors who are members of both Houses of Parliament and include ex-Ministers?

The Chair, the Minister or the House may not like it but it is true. It may not be something that one would expect to be said in the House, but that is for me to decide if I want to say it. It might be that the Government would like to leave the work in private hands because it is one of the unsavoury sides of capitalism, or whatever term the Prime Minister used. We have an ex-Minister, Ray Gunter, who is also associated with the private force, so I am not being party political in my criticism.

This private force will have much more power and authority than our legitimate police force. It will not be responsible to or controllable on a day-to-day basis by this House. My hon. Friend pointed out that its members have power to arrest without warrant. A constable has power to search while these other people can aid and assist under any directive which the Minister might issue, virtually anything can be done. But the ordinary policeman, whom we call the bobby on the beat, has to go through certain procedures. If he has a suspicion, he has to obtain a warrant. He is controlled. If he is rude or offensive, there are a hundred and one ways in which a complaint can be raised. We could go to the Commissioner or to the constable's chief officer and, if need be, ask Questions in the House or raise the matter with the Home Secretary. The Minister said that we could ask Questions upon the annual report being issued, but it would not be issued until 12 months afterwards and, frankly, who would then care what had happened 12 months earlier? I support my hon. Friends with the clause and the amendments.

Mr. Tebbit

It is worth commenting, first, on a couple of speeches by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), I understand, said that while, in his capacity as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, he advised his hon. Friends, he did not at any time advise those of us on this side who sat on the Committee on the same Bill.

Mr. Alfred Morris

What I said was that serious reservations had been expressed by police officers about the Bill and that the Police Federation, representing 100,000 constables, sergeants, inspectors and chief inspectors, was not given consultative status. I argued as well that other Departments of State—for example the Ministry of Agriculture—should get the viewpoint of such organisations as the National Farmers Union. The onus is not on the federation. The onus is on Ministers to see that they are consulted——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has made his speech.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Tebbit

I will leave the point by saying only that if I were the parliamentary adviser to the National Farmers Union and I thought that it was not being adequately consulted, I would make sure that hon. Members on both sides, not only one side, knew it.

As for the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), we have seen him in two of his guises this evening. One of them was an unaccustomed guise, that of protector and friend of the police force. I am sure that this will cause a good deal of amusement to many of the constables whom I know in the Metropolitan Police Force and others.

As for the way in which the hon. Member spoke about security forces and about personal interests [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr) wants to make a speech, he should make a speech, but he had better not start his sedentary interruptions, please.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North was going on about undue influence. We can presume from his remarks tonight that he has not a public relations contract from any security force in this country at any rate. On that, I will leave the hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) encapsulated this new clause, as I recollect his words, by saying that there should be set up a new public security force to ensure safety at airports.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me?

Mr. Tebbit

No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order. Before you took the Chair, Mr. Speaker—Mr. Deputy Speaker was in the Chair and will verify this—the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit), in an aside, made an innuendo against me. I understand that, under the rules of the House, innuendoes and aspersions on a Member's character must not be made. The implication of the hon. Member's remark was that I had a public relations position. I have no public relations job of any sort with any organisation, whether the police, Securicor or any other private firm. As hon. Members were present and know that this innuendo was made, I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it. I have no public relations job at all with any firm.

Mr. Tebbit

If it will help the House, I will repeat what I said. I said that it was quite clear from what the hon. Gentleman had said that he had no public relations contract with any security force.

Mr. Russell Kerr

It was an innuendo, and the hon. Member knows it.

Mr. Speaker

I am asked to rule on a point of order arising from matters which I have not clearly heard. I think that we had much better go on, had we not?

Mr. Tebbit

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Russell Kerr

It must be a relief, too.

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. Member for West Ham, North asked me in essence to withdraw. In essence, I have repeated what I said and I think that that had better remain as it is on the record.

I was saying that the right hon. Member for Barnsley had said that there should be set up a new public sector security force to ensure safety at airports. This is something that has been echoed by other hon. Members. I have news for all right hon. and hon. Members: one was set up some years ago, and is called the British Airports Constabulary. I do not know what else they want. Certainly, this is a pretty glib, quick new clause—three lines to set up a new police force when one already exists. However, let us discuss—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Barnsley thinks that this is funny.

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman said that he had news. He told us history.

Mr. Tebbit

The right hon. Gentleman could not have been aware of it, otherwise he would not have suggested setting it up. He would not have wanted to waste the time of the House.—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Ham, North has made his speech this evening, and I should be grateful if he would allow me to make mine.

Let us think of the practicalities of the new clause, of setting up this new police force. The key would be this: what would be the conditions of service of those employed? There are only three possibilities. They would be better than, the same as or not as good as those of the existing police forces, including the British Airports Constabulary.

We do not have to have regard to whether those conditions of service and payment are adequate. For the purposes of this argument, that is beside the point. What is clear is that if the new force which the right hon. Gentleman wants to set up alongside the constabulary at the airport had better terms and conditions, it would take men from that force. If the conditions were worse, they would hardly be likely to recruit men of the calibre required who would not go into the British Airports Constabulary. If they were the same, I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman has to propose a new clause merely to duplicate what already exists.

The essence of this matter is that the work of these people is not the same as ordinary police work. It is work which is done to some extent not merely by private security forces of the contracted-out sort but also by employees of airlines. It is dull, dreary and boring work. Happily, they are seldom called upon to do anything in the nature of an executive action by a policeman or to do work which is anything like that of a policeman. Probably most hon. Members have been frisked in some way at our airports by people who are very often employees of the airline concerned. As far as I know, this practice is not subject to abuse.

One need hold no brief for the way in which some security forces in this country are run. One need not argue about whether there is a need for legislation to control them. As it happens, I think that there is a very good case for legislation to control them. But that has nothing whatever to do with what the Bill seeks to do, and it has nothing to do with what the new clause would do to the Bill.

Mr. Carter-Jones

I am very rarely surprised at what takes place on Report, but what I find intriguing now is that the background to the Bill was prepared in such a slovenly manner and that so few people who ought to have been consulted were consulted. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us clearly that the clauses referring to security were cleared totally by the Home Office, by chief constables and by the Police Federation. I assume that those consultations took place and that, therefore, the Under-Secretary spoke with both knowledge and full approval.

The second thing that concerns me is that the Under-Secretary is now encouraging the lump in security. We discussed the lump generally quite recently. Apparently one does not recruit people properly for security but grabs a lump of people, without the necessity for them to be completely vetted and cleared by authorities. That is an extremely important factor. If there is a shortage of police and if private security forces contain reputable men, we should recruit those reputable elements into the public police force. Those who will not or cannot stand examination should be slung out. Those in security forces should at all times be completely above suspicion.

It is disgraceful and despicable for the Bill to encourage the lump. Last night the Government said that they did not like the development of the lump, whether in contracting, in lorry driving—or now in the more sensitive area of security.

The Under-Secretary should note the observation of the National Council for Civil Liberties: Why has no consideration been given to establishing branches of the police force —this meets the case put forward by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit)— to cope with particular types of police work which might necessitate different kinds of recruitment and training but would still be under the overall control of the police and therefore subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny? That is our point tonight.

The hon. Member for Epping says that such a force exists already. That force does not cover all the cases envisaged by the Bill.

It is strange that we are trying to get security in aircraft and at airports and at the same time, paradoxically, we are trying to improve Britain's image as a tourist attraction. Tourism is an important foreign currency earner. Yet visitors to this country are to be searched and screened by people who have not themselves been screened. Imitation police without responsibility or accountability are to examine visitors. This gives a totally false impression of British justice and the manner in which we conduct relations between security forces and the public.

There will be difficulty about hon. Members raising matters concerning this type of security force in the House. The Under-Secretary talked about the trickeries, devices and schemes we sometimes use in seeking to get past you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman should not encourage us in trickery. We should be able to raise these matters as of right. If the Under-Secretary, along with the Prime Minister, believes in open government, he should practise it and allow us to question Ministers about these people.

Where there are private security forces without accountability there are the seeds of Fascism. We should guard carefully against the upsurge of Fascism to ensure that the motives and behaviour of these people can be questioned in the House.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

I was very upset by the way in which the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) approached the problem of communications from the Police Federation to hon. Members, because it concerns me that an organisation like the police, who without doubt have very important views on a subject such as this, do not make certain that their views are given to Members on either side of the House who are interested in their well-being and in ensuring that the police are able to give the best service they can.

I know that the hon. Member does a good job for the police, but I hope he will take note of the fact that it would have been a welcome addition to our debating material in Committee if we had known what the Police Federation was thinking about this problem.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The hon. Gentleman is very kind and considerate in his comments, but he will appreciate my difficulties. I followed very carefully all the proceedings in Committee. It seemed that this was my opportunity, on the Report stage, to say something about the reservations which had been expressed to me.

Mr. Warren

I am grateful for that intervention. I will conclude the point by saying that never once between 17th April and 17th May, when we considered the Bill in Committee, was the expression "Police Federation" recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT. This draws attention to the need to know about the police views in our debates on the Bill.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

A point which must be made is that it is the normal custom for any Minister to consult the interested parties. For example, the Prime Minister is inviting the TUC to discuss phase 2. Surely it was up to the Minister to invite the Police Federation to come along.

Mr. Warren

The Minister can well answer for himself on this point and I will leave it to him.

Throughout the debate on Clause 4 in Committee this point never arose. Certain points relating to this matter were raised on Clause 9. The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) referred to the problem of the security people and of the police, and said: Many police officers in London and elsewhere look like the Walls ice cream men as we knew them before the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 10th May 1973; c. 250.] Later he said that he did not believe that Securicor or other private bodies should enter into contracts with the Government. That was the nearest we ever got to this point.

To sit here and listen to the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) casting some pretty nasty slurs on the standards of conduct, reliability and good nature of the members of the private security firms and of the airlines, who, on a 24-hour basis, seven days a week, 365 days a year, give to the travelling public a sense of safety and security which they have every right to expect——

Mr. Carter-Jones

I did not launch an attack on the airlines or on those employed by the British Airports Authority. The basic point is that they are completely vetted and there is a distinct line of answerability. This does not exist in Securicor and other similar organisations.

Mr. Warren

I am sorry, but I think that the hon. Member for Eccles is speaking with a considerable lack of knowledge of the subject. There is a far greater likelihood that the members of the private security firms have been screened than even the staff of the airlines. The staff of the airlines have to take this job on and they do it extremely well. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been an occasion recorded in this country of anybody, except one Arab gentleman, complaining that he was to be screened by these people. The tremendous number of searches which they have carried out have never led to any general protest. The number of arms and dangerous weapons which they have managed to pull out of passengers' baggage has been a mark of the assiduousness with which they carry out their difficult duty.

Whatever Labour Members may say about them, I think that those people have for a long time done a very difficult job very well. I should not like hon. Members to leave it on record that there was any doubt about the character or integrity of these people, who, while carrying out their normal duties, render the public a considerable service.

Mr. Clinton Davis

May I put the record right? As reported at column 283 in Committee, I referred to the attitude of the police in these matters, and this fact was repeated throughout the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) and myself in the debates.

Mr. Warren

But that was getting on a bit and by that time we were well past Clause 4. The clause numbers were then in double figures. I hope that the House will not accept the clause, which I consider to be superfluous.

Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

We are here discussing a narrow issue. The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) says that a civil airports police service is already in existence. The Opposition have not overlooked that fact, but that is a statutory force publicly-controlled and publicly-paid. The issue we are debating is whether duties which are set out in Clauses 10 and 19 should be carried out by a private force, privately controlled and run for private profit.

Mr. Tebbit

The hon. and learned Member is not correct. The House is discussing new Clause 4, which is designed to set up a new State police force.

Mr. Archer

No doubt the hon. Member will direct his attention to the issue as he sees it.

We are concerned with the issue which we have formulated more than once. I am tempted to take up the arguments as they were made in Committee and as they have been ventilated tonight. They have all been fully ventilated. As I understand it, it is not challenged that the official police force is the force best qualified to carry out those duties in dealing with the public in the situations envisaged in the Bill.

It is not challenged that the official police force is more amenable to control by the public authorities and this House. It is not challenged that, if only limited finance is available, it should go into the pockets of the men doing the job and not into the pockets of shareholders of private security firms. It is not challenged that any shortage of police manpower is best met by paying reasonable salaries and offering reasonable working conditions.

As I understand it, the Government are left with only one argument, the argument used by the Minister in Committee when he spoke of the "peakiness" of the problem. Some of us who have come here tonight with open minds would like to hear him develop that argument, because these questions remain unanswered. First, we know that there are a number of problems with which the police forces are regularly concerned which are peaky in precisely this sense. It is not unusual for a particular situation to make demands upon reserves of manpower in a police force, and in these circumstances men are drafted from more routine duties to attend to the demands of the moment. We should like to know whether the Government believe that police organisation is so inflexible that the police forces are not capable of drafting men in that kind of situation.

Are the police organised without any reserves so often that, when there is a sudden call on manpower, they are incapable of dealing with it? It might assist the House if we were told how many men are likely to be involved in these duties. How many massive divisions are the police required to draft to carry out the limited searches envisaged in the Bill?

The Minister chided my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) for having failed previously to make representations to the Government on this matter. Perhaps we might be told whether the Government have carried out the obvious exercise of asking the police authorities about this matter. Have they asked the police authorities how many men they envisage are likely to be needed? Have they asked whether their organisation is sufficiently flexible to cope with a seasonal demand? Have they received any answers on this matter from the police?

I can be extremely brief on the second question. If demand is peaky, in the sense in which the Minister used that word, are the private security agencies any better qualified to cope with it? How many men do they have standing idly by waiting for a seasonal demand? If they do not have reserves waiting idly by for this purpose, how do they deal with a sudden demand for manpower? Do they suddenly recruit more men? If they have to recruit suddenly in response to a particular demand, are they in a position to carry out the scrutiny of their recruits which work of this nature obviously requires? Are they in the best position to recruit the right personnel at such short notice?

The question that the Minister must answer to satisfy the House is why the private security organisations are better qualified than the regular police to meet a peak demand. If he fails to answer this, he is left with no argument at all.

Mr. Onslow

The hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) made some assertions which I challenge. He said that a number of propositions were going without contest. I contradict him at once. They are challenged and I will challenge them——

Mr. Peter Archer


Mr. Onslow

—if he will allow me to get to that point.

This has been an important debate and I should like to deal fully with the substantial issues which have not been touched upon by all hon. Members who have taken part.

There are two comments that I must make. The first concerns the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) who is so sensitive of his honour and so quick to reject any possible aspersion or innuendo. Would it not be a pleasant change if he showed the same sensitivity when he levels charges at others? Why must he remind us that it is possible to leave a trail on the pages of HANSARD without moving from one's seat? Why must he make accusations, which he knows to be baseless, and resent so bitterly when hon. Members take exception and retaliate?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

What accusations?

Mr. Onslow

If the hon. Gentleman rereads his speech, as I dare say he will, and understands what he said, he will know what I mean.

Mr. Lewis

I made a statement of fact. I said that there are directors of these firms in both Houses.

Mr. Onslow

I think it is within the recollection of every hon. Member in the Chamber that the hon. Gentleman went a great deal further than that, and a great deal unpleasantly further. I have no wish to dwell on what he said. It has been said, it should not have been said, and it is best left.

I address my second comment to the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris). I will come to the matter of consultations with the police later. I repeat the sense of my question to him. If he now claims, on behalf of the Police Federation, to raise matters which are relevant, it is leaving it a bit late. After all, it is possible to write a letter to a Minister. If an hon. Member cannot find an opportunity on the Floor of the House to make his point, if he is not fortunate enough to be called on Second Reading or selected to serve on the Committee, it is not beyond the wit of man to put pen to paper and pass on a message.

Mr. Alfred Morris


Mr. Onslow

What the hon. Gentleman said tonight would have carried more conviction with me if I had not recognised that more than one passage was a verbatim quotation from a document issued by the National Council for Civil Liberties.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman must understand that I was making the general point about a lack of proper consultation with the Police Federation on a whole range of matters. I was satisfied on reading the reports of the Committee stage that the reservations of policemen were being argued with compelling force by my hon. Friends. I hope that the Minister will accept that this was my first opportunity to intervene directly.

Mr. Onslow

It may have been the first opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has had to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. I will concede him that, but nothing more. However, if it is the first opportunity that he has found, he has not been very diligent in his task.

I turn to the matters of substance with which the clause is concerned.

9.45 p.m.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) was guilty of some exaggeration. It is not true that there is any power likely to be conferred upon members of private security organisations to hold people indefinitely in arrest. He is wrong about that as he is wrong in suggesting that the Government employ any members of security organisations in connection with any of the work of aviation security.

I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit). My hon. Friend made a constructive and successful attempt to put the issue in perspective. I hope that there is general agreement on both sides of the House that there are not enough police available to carry out all security duties at our airports and specifically the searching of passengers and baggage, that searching is a wasteful use of highly-trained police resources, that the police do not like searching duties which they do not consider are duties proper to police officers—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe wishes to contradict that statement I shall give way to him. I hope that there is general agreement that some alternative non-police resources are required to undertake the security measures, such as searching of passengers and baggage, guarding of property including aircraft and controlling access, at our airports which are essential to protect passengers, aircrews and property from hijacking, sabotage and other acts of violence.

So that there may be no doubt about the matter, in the preparation and discussion of this legislation there was consultation throughout with the police, both through their representatives on the National Aviation Security Committee and by the Home Office. The Home Office's contact has been with the Association of Chief Police Officers. No representations have been made to the Home Office by the Police Federation. It is reasonable to infer from that that it had no representations which it wished to make.

At the present time the searching of passengers and baggage at our airports is undertaken in large measure by private security organisations employed by British and foreign airlines. The powers of members of these organisations to search or arrest or to use force are exactly the same as those of any other private citizen. The searching which is undertaken at the present time does not depend upon any powers available to private security organisations but is carried out with the agreement of passengers and with the backing of the conditions of carriage of the airlines which can decline to carry a passenger and his baggage if he refuses to be searched.

There is in my view no threat to civil liberties. All the airlines are saying is, "If you come on our aircraft you must be searched because we believe on the advice available to us that this is necessary in the interests of all our passengers and aircrews as a precaution against hijacking and other acts of violence." There is no compulsion. There is no more compulsion to do so than there is to ride a motor cycle or perform any other act. If a passenger considers his civil liberty to be threatened and he does not wish to be searched he is free to walk away and to try to find another airline which will carry him without requiring him to be searched. But as there is no compulsion on him, nor can he expect the airline to waive the searching process in his case, thus possibly placing at risk the other passengers who were ready and willing to be searched in the interest of their own security.

Mr. Peter Archer

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that passengers have a choice because they can either submit to being searched by a private security organisation or not be carried on the aircraft?

Mr. Onslow

No, it is not invariably that way. They may be searched by employees of the airline. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman draws such a distinction. Being a passenger in an aircraft involves accepting certain conditions such as not smoking, fastening seat belts or being searched before going on board. These are facts of life, and in many respects welcome facts of life, in civil aviation.

Under the Bill as drafted there will be no material change in the existing routine searching of passengers and baggage. As I have emphasised on many occasions the present voluntary system will continue, but where a direction is necessary and is given under Clause 9, it cannot compel the searching of passengers. All the direction can do is to require that passengers and baggage shall not be allowed on board the aircraft unless they have been searched. The Bill confers no powers on anyone to undertake a search following a direction under Clause 9. No direction given under the Bill can give a private security organisation special rights of search or arrest except that any persons who are specified in a direction given under Clause 10, in accordance with that clause, may exercise the special rights conferred upon them by Clause 19(2) involving the compulsory searching and detaining of persons and property on aerodromes, and the right of entry by force, where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a dangerous article is on, or is to be brought into, the aerodrome.

I agree that such persons could include the employees of private security organisations if specified by the Secretary of State, but in practice they would almost certainly be policemen. Directions to undertake random searches are likely to be necessary only in response to specific threats. They would be on an ad hoc basis and we could reasonably expect that the police would be able to undertake such searches, which present a vastly different proposition from routine daily searches of large numbers of passengers and baggage, which would be beyond the resources of the police.

However, it is conceivable that circumstances could arise—for example, a number of consecutive bomb threats involving random searching—in which the police could not meet the demands made upon them, and in those circumstances it might be necessary for the Secretary of State to authorise the use of private security organisations if civil aviation were to be kept going at all. We think it prudent to seek such a power, but I can assure the House that it is not the Government's intention to give directions to permit the use of private security organisations on random searching other than in the most exceptional circumstances.

It is against this background that the proposal by the Opposition to establish a special Government security force, needs to be considered, and specifically how such a force would improve on the existing system, which I believe should continue.

First, there is no significant evidence of which I am aware that the private security organisations are inefficient in the three main categories of duties—searching passengers and baggage, guarding aircraft and installations, and controlling access—which they are carrying out at our airports, or that a Government security force would be any more effective.

I admit that there has been one case recently where someone seems to have been asleep at his post. But anyone who has ever been responsible for turning out sentries in the Army knows that a man may fall asleep at his post, and it makes no particular difference by whom he is employed. Whilst I am no apologist for any particular security organisation, I think it is fair to see the perspective of the whole situation. Certainly, where failures occur, they must be investigated and action taken, but it is wrong to draw general conclusions from isolated events.

This brings me to my second point, which is that the main requirements in searching are that it should be done efficiently and with courtesy. The House has already been told, but perhaps I can remind it, that in over two years my Department has received only one com- plaint about searching by non-police personnel. The complaint was concerned essentially with the principle and related not to the personnel of a private security organisation but to airline security personnel.

This statement, when made to the House before, received some publicity and hon. Members will agree that it could have attracted correspondence if there had been any general sense of grievance. In fact, since the Committee stage, we have received only two further complaints and both were concerned with the principle rather than with the way searching was carried out.

Mr. Alfred Morris

This is an important point. May I——

Mr. Onslow

Then let me finish it. About 3 million airline passengers have been searched already this year and the vast majority have been searched by employees of private security organisations.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman was on an important point. He says that people must be dealt with courteously. Supposing a passenger feels that he has not been dealt with courteously by the private policeman or the security personnel. Will there be a complaints procedure as there is in the case of the police force? Does the hon. Gentleman envisage something of that sort in this case?

Mr. Onslow

I know that the hon. Gentleman is doing his best to make a comeback, but he should be able to do better than that. If he does not know how to complain and cannot write a letter to the airline concerned, or find some other way of making his grievance known, he can take the last resort and write to the Department of Trade and Industry. As I was saying, we have had three complaints during a period in which 3 million people have been searched.

The third point I wish to make touches on the matter raised by the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton. The need for searching varies in intensity from time to time and it is therefore necessary to be able to adjust the number of personnel engaged on searching both upwards and downwards according to the circumstances. Inevitably private security organisations are in a much better position to adjust to the demand than would be the case with a Government security force or a police force. If the hon. and learned Member suggests that a Government security force should employ on an established basis so many personnel, men and women, that it would be able to meet any possible contingency, not only would it be extraordinarily expensive but many of those employed would have nothing to do year in and year out other than sit on their hands. Flexibility is an important factor in responding to the threat to our civil aviation and one which the private security organisations are well suited to meet.

As the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has said, we are concerned with the protection of passengers, aircrew and ground crew, our constituents and foreign visitors, from attacks of violence by terrorists and criminals. Some hon. Members have forgotten that. I have not been as aware as I should have wished that Opposition Members understand the nature and seriousness of the threat.

Mr. Dan Jones

We do.

Mr. Onslow

I give the hon. Member for Burnley his due: he understands it. I have also not understood that every hon. Member understands how boring is the work of searching passengers. It is infinitely more boring than listening to the speeches of the hon. Member for West Ham, North. The people doing the searches have to grub around among dirty shirts and socks and pry into sponge bags and feel inside shoes. This is the situation, and the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) knows it.

This is an appropriate moment to turn to the question of the definition of the word "constable". I was about to come to this. The effect of the Opposition's amendment is not quite as straightforward as has been suggested or as they think.

In modern legislation the word "constable" is used without the qualification proposed in the amendment. There are many examples of this, including Section 37 of the Civil Aviation Act 1949, various sections of the Police Act 1964 and Section 31 of the Civil Aviation Act 1971. In practice the term covers all members of any rank of the regular police forces and special constables maintained under the Police Act 1964, and also members of such special forces as the British Airports Authority Constabulary. It does not extend wider to cover persons such as the employees of private security organisations who are not policemen. The Bill does not and cannot create constables.

If the expression "police constable" were to be used in certain parts of the Bill, the courts, if the matter went to them, would have to attribute some meaning to it. It is possible that they might interpret it as meaning only a person of the rank of police constable. At any rate, they would probably reason that Parliament must have intended the word "police" in this context to have some limiting or qualifying effect, so that "police constable" must be narrower in scope than the word "constable" taken by itself.

One possible result is that the courts would hold that in the Bill "police constable" was limited to members of the regular police forces maintained under the Police Act 1964 and did not include other constables such as members in the constabulary maintained under the Airports Authority Act 1965—the British Airports Authority Constabulary——

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.