Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 860 - 879)



  860. Are you generally confident, apart from what role CCS is playing, that the co-ordination of efforts across the government departments is satisfactory?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, I think so. We have had in the past a fairly free-standing role. Transec's role, as I mentioned, was to protect travellers and employees of transport companies and we have been pretty free-standing in that in the past. Since 11 September, it has been necessary to take a wider view. Since aircraft in this case were used as weapons of mass destruction, it has been necessary to look at wider aspects of transport security, what might be done in the area of transport, what the threats might be and that has largely been co-ordinated by the Committee I have mentioned. That is chaired by the Home Office and brings to bear the Foreign Office, the Home Office, the Cabinet Office, MoD and other departments as necessary, Health, Trade and Industry, so I think there is a good mechanism there for co-ordinating the preventative side. The other aspect of course is the Civil Contingencies Committee which deals with the risk management, dealing with the aftermath of incidents and also there is a committee structure for that too.

  861. Just finally in this area, can I ask you about what impact devolution has had on your work, particularly in relation to Scotland? How is it managed now given that transport and so on is primarily the Scottish Executive's and the Scottish Parliament's responsibility?
  (Mr Devlin) It certainly has not given us any problems. It is something that we have to bear in mind if we are amending legislation and we did, in fact, contribute to the Anti-Terrorism Act which was brought in just before the end of the year. We introduced some additional measures in that Act and we had to take account of the devolution aspects and consult the devolved authorities, but it has not presented any problem for us.

Mr Hancock

  862. Can I ask you about your responsibilities with regard to ensuring that the United Kingdom's obligations under various treaties and agreements are honoured. To what extent do the security regimes that you are currently operating within the UK reflect those international agreements?
  (Mr Devlin) The main international basis for our security regime is Annex 17 of the Chicago Convention which deals with aviation security. We are entirely in compliance with Annex 17, as you might imagine, and in some areas we have exceeded the requirements of Annex 17. We are very prominent members of ICAO, in particular the ICAO AVSEC Panel, as it is known, which is a panel of security experts from a small number of ICAO countries. There are 187 members of ICAO and 20 countries represented on the AVSEC Panel. The United Kingdom has been one of the most active members of that group in trying to ensure that international standards meet the requirements and the changing requirements of aviation security. There have been two urgent meetings of the AVSEC Panel since 11 September and a number of changes and increases in the requirements have been introduced as a result of 11 September. So we are in compliance with the Chicago Convention and we are also in compliance with the European Civil Aviation Council (ECAC) regulations. ECAC has a document known as Document 30 which sets out security regulations on a European-wide basis. I think there are 38 members of ECAC.

  863. To save you going through all that could you send us that detail about the compliance as far as the UK is concerned. How important then is it in your role to ensure that our international partners are equally compliant, because planes coming into the United Kingdom are as big a threat to us as the ones leaving?
  (Mr Devlin) Absolutely. The main reason for our involvement and participation in ECAC and ICAO is that we want to see international standards raised to the highest practicable level for the very reason you mention. There is a danger of hijack from overseas and bomb attacks or other attacks on British aircraft operating from overseas' airports. We are always pressing for higher security measures and security measures that come up to the standards that we require in this country. How do we do that? Since 11 September ICAO has adopted a policy of mandatory audit of security programmes.[2]

  864. Who polices that?
  (Mr Devlin) It will be policed by ICAO itself with aviation security experts from ICAO and member countries, so we will be contributing to that. In the past ICAO provided advice, support and finance to countries that required it. If a country was poor or did not have the expertise they could go to ICAO and there was a programme for assisting them but it was voluntary. Since 11 September a mandatory programme of audit is being introduced (it is not in place yet) and we are very much supporting and making available our inspectors who have international experience to support that.

  865. If it has not been amended, is it right that aircraft flying from those airports should be allowed to land in the UK?
  (Mr Devlin) All of our security measures are risk-based. We are in the business of risk management and the starting point for that is the threat information that we are given by the security service. That threat information is related to the various modes of transport that we cover (so there are separate threat assessments for each mode of transport) and it is also related to the countries that British aircraft fly to, for example. So we are aware of the security service threat assessment for a whole range of countries. Where the threat is assessed to be "high" or "significant", in countries where there is an above average threat, if you like, we send our inspectors to those countries to check on the security measures that have been applied to British aircraft primarily but also to check on the general standards of security and to advise on general standards of security in that country. We have had quite good results from that in the sense that a number of countries have taken the opportunity of our visits to improve their security measures or to buy in equipment that we recommend. On some occasions we have even been able to provide them with equipment that they have not had. But you are right, we cannot be everywhere and there is a risk.

  866. I want to ask some questions and I have not got a lot of time. I am interested to know that can you guarantee to me as a regular traveller that every bag going on any plane in the United Kingdom, irrespective of whether it is hand luggage or hold luggage, is X-rayed?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes.

  867. You can? Are you absolutely sure that that happens?
  (Mr Elbourne) As sure as anybody can be.
  (Mr Devlin) That is the requirement.
  (Mr Elbourne) You can never give absolute guarantees.

  868. Any baggage travelling on any aircraft goes through an X-ray process?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes.

  869. I think that is important for the record because it is not the case elsewhere, is it? The next quick question is about reconciliation of baggage to passengers. Has there been a significant improvement in that since 11 September and is there now a greater insistence on airlines demanding that bags do travel with their passenger and not unaccompanied?
  (Mr Elbourne) I am not sure whether I can say there has been a great improvement since 11 September because it has been something we have been particularly keen on seeing since Lockerbie and the Pan Am 103 incident—

  870. Not very effectively, I might add.
  (Mr Elbourne) Our system of reconciling passengers and bags, making sure that bags do not travel unaccompanied unless they have been subject to specific security measures is as good as anywhere in the world, if not better, but, as with all security regimes, there are no absolute guarantees. Things can go wrong. You cannot give 100 per cent guarantees. Indeed, we know that bags do travel without passengers—

  871. Mine has done it often.
  (Mr Elbourne) Anyone who travels knows that bags get lost, which is why we have a system that requires any unaccompanied bags that are travelling are recognised as being unaccompanied and are subjected to additional security.

  872. I want to give you two instances, one involving the whole of this Committee in the United States. We were flying back from Washington and we were at the British Airways check-in. As we were checking in there was a fairly substantial wait and there were 20 or 30 bags completely unattended alongside the check-in. I was rather surprised. When I got to the check-in there was one person standing at check-in with a whole handful of tickets who was checking all these tickets in. I said to the British Airways clerk, "How can you do this? This is completely out of order. There is one person checking in 30 or so people with all of their baggage here." She said, "They are all VIP travellers." I said, "I do not care who they are. They are on the same plane as me and if I have to stand here and you have to ask me questions about my bags, why are you not asking them." This happened to us. I took this complaint further and asked to see a British Airways manager. He was too busy with the VIP guests to discuss this matter. When I returned to the UK I took this matter up with the Head of BA Security who then investigated. It was a very busy time, there was a number of VIPs travelling in Washington, one of whom was a President of an African state and all of these bags belonged to members of his staff who were flying on the plane. None of those bags were guarded. Security said to us there was a security team with those bags the whole time they were at the airport. Absolute rubbish. There was nobody with the bags. The Head of BA Security also told me that all of those people were individually checked in at the desk. Absolute rubbish. There was one person standing at the desk checking in all the tickets. I tried to take it further. They did not want to know. They said they were satisfied that all the procedures had been dealt with properly. Absolute rubbish. That plane then came to the UK and was probably in transit and they went on another plane that flew to Africa. There is every possibility that none of those bags was ever reconciled to the person whose bag it was on two flights, one in and out of Heathrow, one from Washington and one to their final destination. I find that amazing, to say the least. I was very, very disappointed with the rather complacent e-mail response I got from British Airways and the conversation I had with their Head of Security about that. I was alarmed that transit passengers could have their bags brought into Heathrow. I want to ask whether transit passenger bags are put through screening processes at Heathrow when they are taken off a British plane and put onto another British Airways plane? It is different if they are moving terminal. I want to know if a plane leaving from the same terminal with baggage in transit goes through a screening process at Heathrow?
  (Mr Elbourne) All transit baggage is screened at Heathrow. That was one of the main measures after Pan Am 103.

  873. There is a second incident I want to put on record. I flew home from Istanbul, Turkey on a British Airways' flight. I checked my bags in earlier in the day and returned to the airport two hours later to catch the flight home. I was travelling with my wife. When I got out to the plane all the bags were on the tarmac and we had to identify our baggage. Surprise, surprise, my case was not there. More interestingly, there were five bags on the tarmac which no one claimed. Those bags were loaded onto the aircraft and I said to them,"How can you load those bags onto the aircraft? The passengers have not identified these bags. You would not allow anybody to get on a plane. My bag is not here and you are not bothered about that." Because I caused a fuss the pilot came down and I was threatened with arrest by the Turkish authorities because they were going to lose their slot. I either had to go back to the terminal under arrest or get on the plane and fly with unaccompanied, unidentified baggage. In the end I flew. At Heathrow I reported my baggage lost only to see my red bag standing in lost luggage. My bag had arrived on a flight from Istanbul two hours earlier. So not only did I fly with unaccompanied luggage, people on another plane flew on an aircraft with my bags, which had not been reconciled to me. I made a complaint to the Deputy Prime Minister, I asked questions in Parliament, I took it up with Turkish Airlines. I tried to get Turkish Airlines banned from flying into Britain until we were satisfied and I was told, "Absolute nonsense, it happens all the time." I got absolutely nowhere trying to pursue that. You are trying to tell me now that everything is alright, all bags are checked and that lots of these things do not happen. There are two incidents, one involving the whole of this Committee who were all witnesses to it involving British Airways, and one involving myself which is well documented because I wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister because he was in charge at the time about the procedures and I wrote to the airlines concerned and I got nothing but gibberish from any of them, including from your organisation.

  Chairman: We have to move on. I am sure Mr Hancock's picture is going to be in every airport in future to make sure that he and his bags are reconciled! If you do wish to write to Mr Hancock and send a copy to this Committee, it would be very helpful. We have to move on quickly. Syd?[3]

Syd Rapson

  874. I go on to your legal powers. The legal basis of your work is set out in a raft of Acts and Regulations, the Aviation Security Act, and also, for example, the Channel Tunnel Security Orders, 1994, etcetera, etcetera. Does the range of legislation give the Government sufficient powers to properly regulate security in all the areas for which you are responsible?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes. I have a wide range of powers on behalf of the Secretary of State. We have not found that there is a problem. We do not feel we need any more powers. As I mentioned, we did take some additional powers under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act at the end of last year. They were to do with specific issues mainly about security at airports in restricted zones and the powers of police to make arrests, and filling some loopholes that we felt existed. The powers are wide-ranging and we have not used all of the powers. If we did feel that we required additional powers then we would not hesitate to propose primary legislation, but we have not felt that a problem until now.

  875. You are satisfied that the range is there; it has just got to be tightened up?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, the powers are very wide-ranging.

  876. On your web site there is specific legislation quoted on aviation, rail and the Channel Tunnel. They pick those out in particular but there is nothing in respect of maritime. Is this an oversight or do you have legally enforceable powers in the maritime area?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, we do have enforceable powers. They are very similar to those for aviation and they were picked up in the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, which added to the previous Aviation Security Act and brought maritime into the frame as well. We do have extensive powers there. We have a similar security regime although it is not as developed as the airport security regime because the level of threat and nature of threat is different, but we certainly have the powers, yes.

  877. So maritime is covered. In the Transec document in response to the terrorist attacks on 11 September and what happened after it, you issued instructions to the aviation industry—understandably, that was the focus—but only advice to the other areas that you cover. Am I being rather too finicky? Is there a specific difference? You came out with the specific instructions they had to carry out in the aviation industry but the others were just advised them.
  (Mr Devlin) I think it is just the way that it reads. In some areas we issued instructions in the sense that all modes of transport that we regulate—maritime, railways and Channel Tunnel—had their security measures increased as a result of 11 September. They were all required to step up their security measures, so it was not just advice. What we have also done is to extend the advice that we give into areas that we have not previously regulated. What I am thinking of here is the maritime industry where all our regulations have been focused essentially on passenger shipping, ferries and cruise chips, protection of the passengers and the crews, as I have mentioned. Post 11 September, looking at the possibility of a wider range of forms of attack against a wider range of transport, we have extended our advice to cargo shipping, so the same sort of advice that we give to protecting ships we have extended to areas that previously we have not touched. That may be the reason why it refers to advice rather than direction.

  878. Do I take this as a priority list? The urgency was aviation and you concentrated on instructions straight away and you are working through on giving advice and tightening up instructions in maritime?
  (Mr Devlin) I would not say that it is that. We took immediate action on all modes of transport. We stepped up aviation to the highest possible level of security on 11 September but that level of security had previously only been applied to one or two airlines for a very specific short period of time and it was completely impossible for the airports and airlines to meet that level of security for more than 72 hours. On 18 September we issued more specific directions based on consultation with the aviation industry which they were able to sustain. We also on 11 September raised the levels of security on the other modes, so there was an immediate response, but I think it is true that since then we have been looking more widely outside the area that we regulate. That has been a more gradual process, that would be right, so bringing in, for example, the cargo shipping companies and explaining to them our security regime and what recommendations we have for making the ships secure, probably did come up a bit later.

  879. In summing up, your powers are adequate and consistent across all areas?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes, we are satisfied with the powers that we have.

2   Ev. 168. Back

3   Ev. 169. Back

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