Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 833 - 839)




  833. Good morning, gentlemen, and thank you for coming. You probably did not think in your career you would appear before the Defence Committee, but life is strange. I did write to my colleague, Gwyneth Dunwoody, saying that we would be holding one session, in fact two sessions, on aviation security because we feel that the role of the military is not a peripheral role in aviation security and we wish to look at what kind of organisations they were linking into and, therefore, we feel justified in stepping, albeit temporarily, into the field that is more for the Transport Select Committee, which has produced some excellent reports over the years. Some of the issues we will be asking questions on will be very, very sensitive, some pale grey and others are questions which perhaps can be dealt with in private, so should you feel the slightest inclination to ask us to deal later with those questions, then we will keep score and we can ask the public to leave before coming back to those questions. Once again thanks so much for coming. Perhaps I could just kick of with a general question. I was reading Wilkinson & Jenkins' book on aviation security and it spoke of a period in the early 1990s when it said of Transec that it "fell to the Treasury sword", and it talked about staff levels of 120 in the 1980s, dropping down to 78 staff in 1998. Now, I am not suggesting there is a direct correlation between the quality of your output and the number of staff, but could you give us an indication of which way your staff levels have gone before 11 September and after 11 September and what the projected numbers of staff would be for perhaps a year from now, whichever figures you think appropriate?

  (Mr Devlin) Thank you, Mr Chairman. I am very happy to do that. I think, going back into history, it is a bit before my time, but Transec was set up in 1991 largely as a result of the Lockerbie disaster and the work that ensued from that as a result of decisions made in the international civil aviation organisation and certain commitments that we made to improve security at that time. I think before Transec was set up there were something like nine people dealing with aviation security within the then Department of Transport and, as you correctly said, the number then went up to 120 or maybe even 130 in the early 1990s. There was obviously a great deal of work to be done at that time with the introduction of hold-baggage screening, reconciliation of hold bags, the searching and screening of passengers and their baggage, much of which had happened before, but not to as high a standard, and in the mid-1990s it is true that the number of staff in Transec fell to around about the 80 mark and has, I suppose, crept up slightly in recent years and today stands at about 90, but we have ten more staff in the pipeline at the moment. We are recruiting ten more staff as I speak, so it will go up over 100 very shortly. It is difficult to put a figure on it, but in the course of this year we will certainly be up to 100 and we are already looking at the possibility of going beyond that. It is difficult to know where we will finally stop, but we are certainly increasing staff levels at the moment and we have increased since 11 September our establishment by around about 15 per cent.

  834. How about your budget?

  (Mr Devlin) Our budget, well, is increased accordingly. Before 11 September it was roughly £6 million of which £4 million was running costs and £2 million was R&D and other capital costs. Our budget will increase according to the increased number of staff and that has been agreed. In R&D, we have had a small increase, but it is open to us to ask for more, but in fact we do not feel that we need more for research and development at this time because we feel we are quite effective in the way that we use the R&D budget that we have got. I suppose the American term would be "leverage", and we tend to get as much out of our budget by getting the industry to help us and also our allies. The Americans obviously are leaders in many of these areas of research and we are very closely plugged in with them, so if we need more R&D money, we can ask for it, but in fact we are getting what we need from our relationship with the Americans and the good relationship we have with the industry. I think it is worth perhaps just saying a little bit more about the relationship with the industry. I am thinking here not only of the security industry and the manufacturers of security equipment with whom we have good relationships and very close working relationships, but also with, for example, the airports who assist us in trialing equipment and giving us opportunities for live trialing at no cost to the Department, and we have had a lot of co-operation with them in trialing new techniques of passenger screening, for example, which is invaluable and we have a number of trials going on at any one time.

  835. What would the size of your inspectorate be? Would there be separate inspectorates for aviation, rail, maritime, or an integrated inspectorate and what is the size of it?
  (Mr Devlin) The size of the inspectorate is roughly half of our 90 staff and it is divided between the different modes of transport. We do find that it is beneficial to have inspectors who specialise in particular modes of transport, get to know their way around airports or railway stations or the Channel Tunnel, whatever it happens to be, and there are also health and safety reasons for that because these places tend to be quite dangerous, particularly if you are in the sort of working end of an airport where there is a lot of baggage moving around and conveyor belts and trucks moving around carrying baggage, so they have to pass certain health and safety tests. So, as I say, roughly half of our staff are inspectors. About 24 of those are aviation inspectors and the rest are divided between the other modes, maritime inspectors and railway and Channel Tunnel inspectors.

  836. If an airport and its security fails to meet the standard you regard as acceptable, what sanctions can you apply? Without publicly naming the airports, can you give us for Airport X what you actually did to ensure that they met the higher standards?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes. The ultimate sanction is prosecution under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act. We have almost never used that power. I think it has been used once, but that was in a rather unusual case. We adopt a stepped approach to enforcement. Our inspectors carry out a range of forms of inspection. These inspections vary from fairly quick inspection which might be one or two inspectors spending a day at an airport to more thorough surveys which might involve a team of four to six inspectors spending a week at an airport and going through every aspect of security in great detail, looking at the books, looking at records, checking that everything is being done properly, so we have a combination of those things to try and ensure that our inspectors spread themselves as widely as possibly around the country and inspect airports as frequently as they can. If they find a deficiency at any stage, the first step of the stepped approach is to bring this to the attention of the local management, so if they see, let's say, a body searcher who is not doing body searches correctly and not as thoroughly as they should be done, then the inspector would have a word with the supervisor and try to ensure that that was corrected. They would follow that up either the same day or at a later inspection and ensure that the correction had been maintained. We have what we call our feedback system of inspection. What that means is that when inspectors have completed an inspection, they write a report and they feed it into a computer back at our office and any deficiencies that have been found are recorded against that airport, so that the next time an inspector is going there, he will check the computer and see what issues have arisen in the past, so he will not be going in blind, he will be going in knowing that there is a history of perhaps a certain weakness at a certain airport. So the first step, as I say, is just to raise the issue informally, I suppose, with the local management and obviously that would only be done in the case of a fairly minor deficiency. If the inspector saw what he considered to be a major deficiency, perhaps an X-ray machine which was not working properly or which was not being properly manned, then that would be reported formally and a deficiency notice would be issued. Deficiency notices are a formal notification to the management of the airport that there is a fault and it gives them a certain period of time to correct that fault. It would depend what it is as to the period of time. If it is something which could be corrected immediately, then they might be given a day to correct it. If it is something which requires the purchase of new equipment, they might be given a slightly longer period, but they might have to take certain other steps in the meantime to cover that deficiency. So a deficiency notice is issued and that is followed up and the airport manager is required to write to us and say what he has done to correct the deficiency. The next stage if a deficiency is not corrected or if we have an airport where there are a series of deficiencies, let's say, over the period of a month, we have two or three deficiencies and perhaps they are all relatively serious or all in the same area, then we can issue an enforcement notice. The enforcement notice is formal notification of intention to prosecute and what we are saying is that we will prosecute unless the deficiencies that we have already drawn attention to are corrected and again we give a period of time to do that. Now, we have always found that the issuing of an enforcement notice has brought about the corrective action that we require. I should perhaps mention that the other thing that we do in parallel really with an enforcement notice or possibly before it is issued is to call in the airport manager, the most senior person available, usually the chief executive of the airport, but it depends on the airport itself, and this could apply to airlines as well, we call in the chief executive of the airline and explain to him the nature of an enforcement notice, what it means and what the implications are. If this is before the enforcement notice has taken place, we again very often find, in fact usually find that corrective action is taken before it is even necessary to issue an enforcement notice. Obviously the airports and the airlines do not wish to be publicly labelled as deficient in security because it is obviously an important part of their business and sometimes what has happened is that there has been a breakdown of communications within the company and for some reason the security manager has not made it clear to the chief executive how serious the issue has become. When the chief executive understands that, he can take corrective action. As an example, there was about a year ago an example of an airport where we were having problems with baggage reconciliation and that is in fact an airline responsibility. It is the airlines' responsibility to ensure that only bags which are associated with people on a particular flight travel on that flight, so unidentified bags must not fly unless they are subject to special higher security checks than are applied to normal bags, so in fact this was an airline problem and a particular airline was having some difficulty partly I think for administrative reasons. For bureaucratic reasons, they were having some difficulty in demonstrating to our inspectors that they were complying with this and that only bags that were associated with passengers were actually flying. In that case, the issue had arisen on more than one occasion, so deficiency notices had been issued and I wrote to the Chief Executive of the airline drawing his attention to this and pointing out that if there were any further breaches, and we were going to be looking at this very closely, then the result would be an enforcement notice and prosecution. I am pleased to say that very quick action was taken within 24 hours. The airline reviewed its procedures and when we carried out a very thorough inspection of that aspect of security the following week, we found the performance was satisfactory.

  837. Can you target the security companies, the airlines, the British Airports Authority or do you have to go through the airport manager who then is sub-contracted to sanction the security companies for lapses?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes. The directions that are issued by Transec, by me on behalf of the Secretary of State are issued to usually the chief executive of an airline or usually the chief executive officer of an airport, so they are the accountable persons, if you like, and they are the people who would be subject to prosecution. Now, they may choose to sub-contract to security companies an aspect of the security management of their airline or of their airport, but we in fact direct the airport's and the airline's management and not the security company's, so if there is any prosecution to be done or if there is any enforcement action, it will be taken against the airline or the airport, not their agents who are the security company, but obviously there is a contractual relationship between the airports and the airlines and the security companies which would require them to meet our standards.

  838. There have been some pretty spectacular failures certainly in the United States and some well-publicised failures here. Are you satisfied that the way in which the security companies are hired, are trained, the staff are paid meets your standards or meets the standards of the various international organisation conventions?
  (Mr Devlin) We are satisfied—well, our inspection effort is aimed at ensuring that they meet our standards and on the whole they do. Our standards exceed in almost all respects those required under the Chicago Convention internationally or even European standards. We do set standards for the selection and training of security staff and employees of security companies have to meet these standards. There are certain checks made into their background, including counter-terrorist checks, and there are also training requirements that we set down which the airports and the airlines enforce and the security companies must comply with, so although we direct the airports and airlines, the security companies are required to meet the national standards, if you like. In terms of competence, we also are working at the moment on a national scheme for the certification of X-ray screeners where we believe it will be to the benefit of security employees and security management that people will have recognised standards of performance to meet and they will have a certificate which will enable them to transfer from one company to another, so we think there are ways in which performance levels can be improved and maintained and we are always looking to do that, but we are satisfied that on the whole the companies meet our standards. May I just say one thing about the security breaches which have occurred from time to time. Obviously we do not welcome this and we take it very seriously and we always investigate any such breach and try to see if there are any lessons to be learned. One of the issues is individual performance and I think that is what you are asking about, how can we keep up the performance of individuals on the day. It is all very well, they can be trained, they can be selected, they can be judged to be suitable for this type of work, but how can we ensure that on the day they will be alert and they will be doing their best to do their duty and to find any suspicious items? Well, there are a number of things that we do. We set limits, for example, for the time that X-ray inspectors can operate X-ray machines, I think it is 20 minutes at a stretch, because we believe that beyond that their attention is likely to wander. We have introduced a major programme, in fact we are rolling out a major programme at, I think, roughly 40 airport terminals at the moment in the UK, introducing a new form of X-ray screening. This is a system called TIP, which is threat image projection. It is something which was developed initially in the United States, but it is something that we have taken on with assistance from DERA and its successor organisations. We have developed a very sophisticated form of threat image projection. What that does is that security screeners sitting in front of an X-ray machine might go through their whole career and never see a bomb, never see a gun, apart from perhaps on training courses, so they can become complacent. They see all sorts of things which are not weapons, which are not threats and rationalise in their minds why they are not threats, but they very rarely will see the real thing. What threat image projection does is to present them with images of the real thing. It is done electronically and what it does is project on to bags that they are screening suspicious devices, so an improvised explosive device or a weapon, a knife or a gun will actually be projected into the bag, it will look, to all intents and purposes, as though it is inside the bag and the screeners are required obviously to detect that and to stop the bag and send it for hand searching. The advantage of this system is not only that they will see this perhaps once a shift on average, they will detect something, but also they will—I am sorry, I have lost my thread.

  839. Do they get disciplined if they miss it?
  (Mr Devlin) They will. We will have a record of their performance—that is the point I was making—we will have a record or the airport management will have a record of their performance and if someone's performance is not up to scratch, they will be retrained in the first instance and I suppose ultimately they would have to be taken on to other duties, but whereas in the past we have not had any way really of judging whether someone was doing their job correctly, we now have a system which will actually record whether the job is being done correctly.

  Chairman: Okay. I am sure we will come back here at length in some of our questions.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 24 July 2002