Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 900 - 914)



Mr Cran

  900. Mr Devlin, a long time ago I took down that you said UK standards exceeded the Chicago Convention. I have no doubt whatever that that is true. I think it is probably equally true that security at airports is the responsibility of a number of elements—the airlines certainly, Immigration, Customs, the airport operator and so on and so forth. Notwithstanding the fact that we have high standards, it is at that operational level that we need to know how well they all fit together because if they do not fit together at any point in time, and it is the wrong time, we have a problem.
  (Mr Devlin) Interestingly, that was one of the issues that was highlighted by these recent robberies and it is an issue that we are now addressing. For many years the control authorities—the Police, Immigration, Customs & Excise—have been members of the National Aviation Security Committee which meets, as I have said, twice yearly, which addresses aviation security policy issues, but that has probably not been reflected at the airport level. There is also a requirement under our security programme for all airports to have an airport security committee and that airport security committee brings together all the people you have mentioned—the airports, airlines, the control authorities, but also the users of the airport. It might be security companies, it might be commercial organisations. These airport security committees are a useful body. They are useful for communicating concerns about security, for example. What we probably have not done is take a strategic look at security at airports and to co-ordinate the work of the control authorities, and this is something we are looking at at the national level. The next time the Aviation Security Committee meets, which is on 6 May I believe, we will be setting up a sub-group from the Aviation Security Committee just for the control authorities, and that will be to provide strategic co-ordination for the control authorities for what they do at airports. To mirror that, we will be requiring airports to have a control authority group which again at the airport level will co-ordinate what the control authorities do. At the moment, you are right, there are requirements, there are police requirements, immigration and customs, and some people have CCTV cameras installed for a particular purpose. CCTV is a good example where, if we were better co-ordinated, the standard of the CCTV equipment which was installed would meet the requirements of all the agencies and, where possible, where CCTV could meet the requirements of more than one agency, then it could be installed in a way which did that rather than just meeting the requirements of the particular agency which is installing it. So, I think you are right, a more strategic approach is required both at the airport and at national level.

  901. And because that is probably correct, because the standards can be as high as they like, if we do not get all this right down below, it is just a waste of time. Can you let the Committee know if you have a particular time frame for the implementation of this rather more strategic view at the operational level?
  (Mr Devlin) As I say, next month the new sub-group will be set up. I do not think we have a specific time.

  902. Because it is a serious issue you must regard it as being something which should have a fairly short span of time before you come to some conclusions about what to do?
  (Mr Devlin) Absolutely. These groups can be set up virtually right away and therefore they can start doing the co-ordination that is required virtually right away.

  903. Why not now then?
  (Mr Elbourne) There is work going on now that the Metropolitan Police are leading on to, first of all, establish national standards for CCTV. The first step is to say, "What is the national standard, what is the standard which all installations need to meet", and that should be achieved by the end of May. Once that has been achieved, that is the first step to then say to the industry, "These are the national standards, now sort yourselves out at each airport and come up with proposals on how you are going to implement these standards at your airport", and we will need to set a deadline for each airport to come up with their proposals. So it will happen by the summer, I would think.

  904. So you regard it as a matter of some urgency?
  (Mr Elbourne) It is something which is being brought forward as quickly as we can.

  905. We have seen kites being flowing in the national press about the fact that a new national government agency, very similar to that as I understand it which has been established in the United States, is being considered here. Is that just a press story or is there substance to that?
  (Mr Devlin) I think it is a press story in the sense that the national agency which has been set up in the United States, the Transport Security Agency, is in fact a mirror of Transec. It is a cross-modal agency within the Department of Transportation. So the Americans have taken aviation security out of the FAA and put it into the Department of Transportation and made it part of a cross-modal organisation, so they are doing what we have been doing for a very long time. In fact I have the head of the Transport Security Agency, Mr John Magaw, coming to visit me on Friday to discuss issues and to describe to him how we do it in this country.

  906. So the press story is nonsense? There is no agency, it is all going to be down to you from now on?
  (Mr Devlin) As far as I am concerned, yes.

  Chairman: Please be careful about your comments on the US. A very good friend of mine, a Congressman, has just walked in and he may be offended! He is on the Intelligence Committee so if you want any additional advice, I think you could ask Congressman Hastings.

Patrick Mercer

  907. I will make sure I do not even mention our allies. We are aware of the fact, gentlemen, that our own armed forces have contingency plans particularly for Heathrow Airport, though I am less certain about other airports, and clearly there are contingency plans involving our special forces. What should the role of the armed forces be in airport security?
  (Mr Devlin) Up until 11 September, there was very little involvement of the MoD in transport security issues. Since then we have had to look at a wider range of potential threats.

  908. Can I stop you there? I vividly recall sitting outside Heathrow Airport for many hours in the 1980s, if not the 1990s, and mighty bored I was too. Surely there has been a very heavy involvement by the Ministry of Defence?
  (Mr Devlin) There was on the occasion of the IRA attacks at Heathrow.

  909. No, it was a standard operation, a standard exercise. I cannot remember the name of the operation but Household Division troops were used on a frequent basis to practise the defence of Heathrow Airport.
  (Mr Devlin) In terms of exercises, maybe, but not live, apart from after the IRA attacks.

  910. But there was a very deep involvement in the planning process.
  (Mr Devlin) There must have been, yes.

  911. If you are suggesting that in recent years has ceased, I would be very surprised.
  (Mr Devlin) I should point out that this is the responsibility of the Home Office and the police, and the military in those cases would be acting in support of the civil power which is separate from what we are doing within the airport, which is the protection of areas and operations, so we do not really get involved with that. Certainly in the past we have not got very much involved. Obviously if aircraft are going to be used as weapons, there may be a role for the Royal Air Force, so there has been more involvement of the MoD in aviation security and in maritime security as well.

  912. We are aware of a well-worked-up exercise that the Royal Air Force has to deal with rogue aircraft, how closely have you been involved in that?
  (Mr Devlin) We have been closely involved because our role in any event like that is really a communication and facilitation role. We are probably the part of Government which would first hear about the problem. It might not be, but if there is a hijack or an attack on an aircraft there is a requirement to report to Transec, so we will be the first people to hear, and our role is to pass that information on to central government to start the machinery moving. Once the machinery is moving, our role is to provide a link to the industry to provide as much information as possible about the incident, where it occurred, what was the aircraft involved, how many passengers, what nationality, all the vital information that is required in the course of a terrorist incident. That is mainly where we come into play, with the Home Office being responsible for the management of the incident if it is in the UK, or the Foreign Office if it is overseas.

  913. And you have been involved in the rehearsals for that?
  (Mr Devlin) Yes.


  914. Thank you. At this stage we will finish. We did have questions to ask on maritime issues, railways, London Underground, the Channel Tunnel, funding, but that would take us to about 4 o'clock this afternoon. However, before you think you have got away with it, may I offer two alternatives and perhaps we could negotiate. One is we will write to you to elicit information in a letter and/or I think it would be really helpful—and I visited your predecessor but two—if perhaps myself and any of the Committee members and certainly a member of staff could come along and have an informal meeting with you without any transcript being taken, because this is obviously an incredibly interesting subject. Our lack of ability to talk about the Channel Tunnel does not reflect any indifference to it but constraints of time. Thank you very much for coming. If there is any documentation you think you could send to us, like annual reports, that would be very helpful. I wish you well.

  (Mr Devlin) Thank you.
  (Mr Elbourne) Thank you very much.

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