Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 840 - 859)



Mr Jones

  840. Can I just pick up in terms of the rules regarding inspections. Are these inspections actually announced in the sense that people know you are actually going in or do you actually do it random, spot, and turn up on the day or do you actually do what they usually do in the United States which is actually testing the systems in terms of not making the airport aware that people are actually testing the systems, for example? Your response in terms of the sanction against airports or operators seems again to be the typical British approach in the sense that it is a step-by-step approach, whereas in, for example, the United States we have had a lot of publicity recently about threats to close airports down if they did not actually improve some of their actual procedures. Have we ever actually used that threat or the idea of publicity as a way of actually making sure that airports do take it on board and take this very seriously? Another issue is about airport staff and you were talking about screening staff. I know certain airports are very busy, certainly smaller regional airports, very busy during summer peak periods and they do take on casual staff to cover those peaks. Are you satisfied that those casual staff are trained to a higher level to ensure that the highest standards which you actually want are actually maintained?
  (Mr Devlin) Particularly on casual staff, casual staff will not be employed on security duties unless they have met the standard in terms of background checks and also standards in terms of screening. It is possible for casual staff to be employed on security duties, certain security duties, but these will not be the sort of front-line, hands-on security duties that require the background checks. For example, a security duty in which a casual person might be employed would be feeding bags into an X-ray machine, which does not take any particular skill. They might be involved in shepherding queues going into the search arrangements at the airport.

  841. But the important thing there is that they actually have access, do they not, like other airport security staff, to the secure area, the airport-side security?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, that is right. At the moment only security staff who are employed directly on security duties are subject to full background checks.

  842. Do you think that is a deficiency? Certainly it has been highlighted in the United States, has it not, that quite a few people would not have actually passed that rigorous checking, so are you saying that there is an obvious gap there in the United Kingdom where these people should have stronger checks?
  (Mr Devlin) Well, as a result of the recent events, in fact the robberies at Heathrow, we have been looking again at the checks that are carried out on people who have access to the restricted zone and we are actually increasing those and we are going for further background checks and we will be having criminal record checks for everyone who enters the restricted zone in the future because there is a potential weakness there.

  843. Yes, but really you can have all the training, all the expertise and all the machinery you like checking bags, but if you have got somebody who has actually got access to the restricted zone, as you call it, who has not got the checks, they could pass things on to people who have gone through the checks.
  (Mr Devlin) Well, the point about the restricted zone is that everyone entering the restricted zone is searched, screened, and that is different from what happens in the United States, for example. In the United States airport staff and airline crew usually, they do not have a restricted zone, as such, but usually can get into the sensitive areas of an airport without being searched and screened. We have always insisted that they should be searched and screened, therefore, in theory it does not matter who the person is or what checks they have had; they should not have any items that they should not have in their possession.

  844. I do not accept that. Are you trying to tell me that everyone who goes into the restricted zone has actually been searched and goes through a checkpoint at Heathrow Airport?
  (Mr Elbourne) They are screened and not necessarily hand-searched, but they will pass through an archway metal detector.

  845. I am not sure that actually happens at all airports. Having been a director at Newcastle Airport for five years, our board meetings used to take place on the other side and we never used to go through screening, but we just used to have a pass and went through. I was not aware that everyone on the airport side actually went through an archway metal detectors.
  (Mr Elbourne) They should do. If that is a deficiency at a certain airport, we can certainly look at it.
  (Mr Devlin) If they are going into the restricted zone, it is just possible that there is a difference here between the restricted zone and the controlled zone. The restricted zone is obviously behind the search zone and includes the areas where the aircraft are loaded. The controlled zone is the rest of the airport within the perimeter. That is left really up to the airport's discretion and it is not necessary to be searched to go into all areas of the airport, but certainly the restricted zone it is.

  846. That is the point I am making, that you have a restricted zone where you have baggage which is being checked, but if you have actual access to the airport side near to the aircraft or anywhere past that, it really defeats the object, does it not, of us having well-trained and entitled staff checking baggage, et cetera, here if someone can get access without having the stringent background checks that the security staff have as they could be passing something on to people once they have gone through all these checks?
  (Mr Devlin) Still when they go into the restricted zone they should be screened and aircraft, for example, which could be moved into the restricted zone will be searched so that if something is put on the aircraft outside the restricted zone because it has been out for servicing, it will be searched before it is brought into the restricted zone.

Mr Hancock

  847. You go into a number of issues there really. I am interested because I know that in Hampshire, to get a security clearance to work as a teacher or a teaching assistant, it takes between six and eight weeks, whereas if you were recruiting temporary staff at a busy regional airport, like Eastleigh, for example, I would be interested to know when they started to recruit staff for this summer because if they were going to get full security clearance, far more than they would to satisfy the local LEA's regulations, they would have to start their process probably at Christmas for them to be in place by Easter and I simply do not believe that happens. I think some people are employed while the security checks are being carried out. I would like you to give us an assurance today to say that that simply cannot happen.
  (Mr Devlin) Up until now or up until recently people who are employed in security duties have to go through the full criminal record checks and counter-terrorist checks.

  848. Before they start to work?
  (Mr Devlin) Before they start to work, unless they are supervised at all times by someone who has these.

  849. How can you prove that they are?
  (Mr Devlin) Well, that is one of the things that our inspectors check on.

Mr Jones

  850. Can I come in because that is what the issue is, that you have your actual staff who are doing security checks and are actually screened and background-checked, but if you have actually got people, casual staff, perhaps more casual staff taking on other duties around the airport who have access to the airport side of the airport who have not been through these stringent checks, it really is defeating the object of having this, let us say, vigorous system of screening bags, if you have somebody who has not had a background check who then can gain access to the aircraft and other parts of the airport and can pass things on to somebody who has actually gone through all these checks.
  (Mr Devlin) Well, first of all, we are increasing the criminal record checks, extending the criminal record checks to everyone who goes into the restricted zone, but also anything which goes into the restricted zone or anyone who goes into the restricted zone should be being screened and checked.

Mr Hancock

  851. Does that cover staff working in duty-free outlets in airports?
  (Mr Devlin) It covers all staff, including staff working in duty free, staff working in newsagents, WH Smith, all staff and all the material that is going in. All the goods that are going in are screened as well, newspapers, et cetera.

  Mr Hancock: Are you telling me that when I am at Gatwick and somebody comes up to me, a demonstrator, trying to sell me aftershave, that person has been through—

  Chairman: They are wasting their time!

  852. They know I do not shave, but they know I like to smell nice! They are trying to sell me aftershave and they are there today and they are in Debenhams the next day selling the same product. Are you telling me that that person has been subjected to thorough security checks and she is button-holing me as I am walking down the corridor to get on the plane? I simply cannot believe that.
  (Mr Devlin) I think I misunderstood you. They will have come through the security screening process that will go on before starting work.

  853. But they themselves will not have been screened?
  (Mr Devlin) They themselves at the moment will not have been screened, but in the future in order to work airside, they will have had to have a criminal record check
  (Mr Elbourne) If I can just try and clarify, if I may, Chairman, currently anyone who is in possession of a permanent restricted zone pass has had their identity checked and has had personal referees followed up. We have concluded that that is insufficient and over the next two or three months we will be introducing requirements for everyone who is issued with a permanent restricted zone pass to have a full criminal record check. That is something we are in the process of organising. So those are the sort of checks on individuals, on ID and background. Everybody who enters a restricted zone at an airport, be they a passenger, member of staff, flight crew, shop assistant, aftershave salesperson, goes through the same level of personal security screening and checking of both themselves and anything they are carrying.

  854. Yes, I understand that. It is about the individual who decides they are going to be involved because I am interested in the goods that are sold at airports and I am interested to know whether cartons of cigarettes, for example, are put through a screening process and I would like to know that they were because if the staff there, the casual staff who are employed on the wrong side of the airport who can approach passengers and persuade them to take stuff on the plane are not screened because they have day passes, are the goods that they are pushing put through a proper X-ray process?
  (Mr Elbourne) Well, they are all subject to appropriate security checks. I could not honestly say to you that every single item is X-rayed. For example, if you are talking about cigarettes which I think are generally regarded as bonded goods, they will themselves in some respects be secure because of where they come from and the manner in which they are handled. One of the changes we did introduce after 11 September was to make it very specific that all items entering restricted zones, including items for sale, should be subject to security checks.

Mr Jones

  855. This is really just arising out of the random inspection thing. You mentioned about criminal records, but let's say Mr Mercer who has probably got no criminal record at all, as far as I know, decided to become a terrorist. He is not going to show up, is he, in that system? What other background checks will you look at for people rather than just criminal records? I am sure if you actually went through some of the people involved in 11 September, they would never show up if you actually did random checks for criminal records. It is one of the issues which Mike Hancock has raised in terms of teachers where what they are doing now is not just looking at criminal records with teachers in terms of possible offences involving children, but they are actually looking at other records as well, so really a criminal record is not going to be very helpful, is it?
  (Mr Devlin) The criminal record is helpful, but it is not definitive, yes, you are right. It might indicate that someone has convictions for acts of violence or it might suggest that they are corrupt or corruptible, but that does not take you terribly far, I admit, but then there are not really any record checks which will take you that much further. Yes, counter-terrorist checks will check names against indices of known terrorists, but that probably is not going to get you very far because the majority of terrorists will be new faces or they will be using new names. Again it all helps to build up security, but it is not the whole answer. That is why we screen people and that is why we think that countries that do not screen individuals every day, day in, day out, whether they are wearing a uniform or not wearing a uniform are taking a risk. To go to your other question, which was about the inspections and how we conduct them, yes, they are unannounced. Our inspectors do not declare themselves. Usually they will appear and they will carry out initial inspections without declaring themselves and then at some stage they will declare themselves to the management. Their faces do get known, so if we really do want to test security, we will use someone who has not been to a particular airport before or we might use someone from the Department who is not actually an inspector, so we can use people who are not going to be recognised, so yes, we do. Our inspections are not random in the sense that, as I mentioned before, we have this feedback element and we tend to direct our resources where we think there is a problem, but there is a random element to that where we will try to visit all airports within the programme certainly several times a year, but we certainly do not announce the fact that we are coming.

  Chairman: Perhaps you could drop us a note please or send us copies of any documentation on screening, vetting, what goes on in the cargo as well because there you are transferring a lot of responsibility to cargo companies to make sure that their stuff which goes into your system is secure. I would be interested to know how you vet cargo.[1]

Mr Hancock

  856. Just on that one thing about staff, do you know, for example, if somebody had recently been in Pakistan for the last six months?
  (Mr Devlin) The background check involves checking a person's employment history for five years. Therefore, we would—

  857. Passport?
  (Mr Devlin) They are required to produce a form of identity which may be a passport or it may be something else. Not everyone has a passport.

Rachel Squire

  858. I want to touch on a rather more tedious subject really of your relationships with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat and other government departments. On the one hand, it seems that your responsibilities, Transec's responsibilities are directed more at prevention and consequence management, although your mention of the recent robberies at Heathrow makes me think, well, obviously, as you said, you came in to review just why and how that had happened. Can I ask you what your relationship with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat is, what contact you have had with them as their focus is primarily on emergency planning and dealing with an actual incident once it has occurred?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, you are right. We see our role as being separate from that of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. We do have some contact with them. They are members of the Official Committee on International and Domestic Terrorism, as we are, so we do see members of the CCS there, but our role is very much on the preventative side and all our measures, and perhaps I should have taken the opportunity to say this at the beginning, but our measures are designed to protect the travelling public and to protect people who work in the transport industries from acts of violence essentially, so all our protective measures in all of the modes of transport are really focused on stopping and preventing things from happening. Obviously the CCS's role comes in mainly when something has happened, dealing with the consequences and then managing those consequences. Our main contact then is through the Official Committee on Domestic and International Terrorism.

  859. The head of CCS, Mike Granatt, told this Committee that one of the functions of the Secretariat was "horizon scanning" in which they try to spot trends which may lead departments to think about whether there are cost-cutting issues or issues which contribute to form cost-cutting problems. Can you say whether you have been involved in that type of horizon scanning?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, we have. In the immediate aftermath of 11th September, we set up three working parties to look at security issues. Two of those working parties looked at aviation security issues. One looked at pre-flight issues, what could be done on the ground before a plane takes off and another group looked at what could be done after a plane takes off to protect it in the air. Some of the issues that those committees addressed were sort of blue skies issues in the sense of was it possible, if terrorists attempted to take over control of a plane, to control the plane from the ground and bring it back to a safe landing, very much sort of blue skies, future-scoping issues. That is one aspect. We also had a third working party which looked sort of across the board, but at the wider range of transport industries and fed in directly to the CCS thoughts on possible future security issues. This was known as the Blue Skies Group and again looked across the board at security issues, whereas the other two were focused very much on aviation security issues, so we fed in in that way as well to the CCS.

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