Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1380 - 1391)



Patrick Mercer

  1380. We have become accustomed over the years to having armed forces at airports in certain circumstances and there are contingency plans at British airports. Should the role of the armed forces be an integral and expected one and perhaps might the Reserves be involved in that? What is your opinion? I encourage brevity.
  (Mr Hutcheson) I have some previous experience of this from my time in the police service. I think it is quite difficult to take regular military out of their normal role and just put them in an airport because the equipment they carry is not conducive to the environment in which they are working. I am talking about their firearms power, it is too powerful. The tactics at an airport are very different from what the military are used to. When the review was carried out the consensus was that the police were better equipped to carry out that role than the military. There is a bit about public reassurance seeing soldiers at key points within the airport but to actually deploy them in anger, there was some indecision about the training, their weaponry, and the familiarity of working in an airport. An airport is a very live environment and in a short space of time it changes for all sorts of reasons. I would say knowing the territory is a fundamental part of any response team.

  1381. Presumably you are not referring to Special Forces in this?
  (Mr Hutcheson) I am not referring to Special Forces. They have a very key role in responding to specific instances which are clearly defined and well written in the contingency plans. I was talking about going back to the 1970s almost with the ring of steel where you would have the Guards Division patrolling in light tanks and all sorts of things.

  1382. I remember it well.
  (Mr Hutcheson) I think in a modern day airport that perhaps there is not any room for that. There may well be a point where military aid to the civil power needs to be activated. Certainly before I retired from the police service I was confident that there were sufficient arrangements in place to deploy the military in certain scenarios, but it was not in a counter-terrorist role.

  1383. We have had some very sensitive and extensive briefings on the armed forces' response to a rogue aircraft. How much involvement did you have in that process?
  (Mr Hutcheson) Very little.

  1384. Any?
  (Mr Hutcheson) I have been to a couple of meetings where it was discussed. Are you talking about intervention?

  1385. I am talking about a hijacked aircraft which is flying towards London and has to be dealt with by the armed forces.
  (Mr Hutcheson) Very little. That is not seen as an airport issue. I was at a meeting where it was initially discussed but then it was taken up in other forums.

  1386. Thank you. What views have you got about any other roles that the armed forces could play in aviation security, if any?
  (Mr Hutcheson) I am kind of stuck for an answer really because I think if you are going to use people in aviation security they almost need to be used on a daily basis. I also believe that the armed forces have got fairly finite resources and it might not be the best use of those resources to put them in airports except in extreme emergencies.

  1387. And highly specialist roles?
  (Mr Hutcheson) Yes.


  1388. And reassurance in the event of a major crisis?
  (Mr Hutcheson) There may well be a stage where to reassure people that the airport is a safe environment you might have to deploy them at key installations. If you go back to the Gulf War, I do not think the military were deployed at the airport then. The last time the military was seriously deployed at Heathrow, for example, was in 1985-86 following the incidents at Rome and Vienna airports when there were the spontaneous attacks on Israeli passengers at both Rome and Vienna. At that point it was considered that the police presence at Heathrow was inadequately armed to deal with a spontaneous armed attack so the military were called in to give cover for three months whilst the police service were completely rearmed and taught brand new tactics. I remember that because I was responsible for it all. I can see that in set circumstances there are roles. The military are very adaptive, very versatile in what they do, and I would not be as arrogant to say that they have not got a role in an airport but I think it is in very specific and clearly defined circumstances.

Syd Rapson

  1389. Do you believe that the principle that the aviation industry should pay for the security measures required by the Government has been challenged since 11 September? As a second half, an insurance question, who should underwrite terrorism cover and should national governments get involved in that?
  (Mr Jack) If I can respond to the question of Government funding, I mentioned that issue earlier. I think 11 September demonstrated that there was a Government responsibility to protect citizens on the ground as well as in the air. Remember also that there were people killed on the ground at Lockerbie. The industry has been required to pay for all the measures to counter the threat, which actually is not a threat against the industry but is a threat against the state, and I think that is quite unreasonable. There are anomalies between States where some States do make contributions and others, particularly the United Kingdom, do not. In the European scenario the Parliament are debating on Monday and one of the issues there is that of State funding. If that is not carried through and the anomalies remain the Commission is sensitive to the fact that there will be claims for unfair competition from the industry because some States are contributing and others are not. Given the scenario of protecting citizens both in the air and on the ground the industry view, which I went through earlier, is very clearly that it should be a State responsibility.
  (Mr Hutcheson) Just adding to what Iain said. If that argument is not an acceptable argument I think there could be an argument that says as we operate those businesses there is a responsibility, legal and moral, that we should provide a level of Safety and Security that reassures our staff and our passengers but you get to a level as to how much can a private industry support. If you look at the policing of airports in the UK that is particularly an issue in that BAA currently pay £40 million for the policing at UK airports and that is driven by legislation that was first passed in 1974 and brigaded up into the Aviation Security Act of 1982. I think there comes a point where reasonableness must actually apply to say how much more can a business sustain because there is no exemption from the business rate. The Department of the Environment and the Treasury view is that the business rate is a national tax and you cannot equate a national tax with the provision of services. If you would like to look at it from the business point of view it is a double-whammy, we pay a tax for services that other industries get that we do not get, we have to pay for. It applies to things other than policing, refuse collection for example. I do believe there comes a point where funding is almost critical, that you reach a level of expenditure that might be beyond a business. I am not specifically talking about BAA here, I am talking about other airports. Expenditure for security reaches a point where it almost becomes a disincentive to continue to operate. I think there is a level at which the threat, which Iain says is a manifestation of the threat against the state, should be picked up by the state. Where that level is could be a matter of debate. I am conscious that these issues have been raised by David Veness within Cabinet Office forums. I was told this afternoon that there is to be a review of the policing of airports. Policing of airports is only one element of the overall security cost. Where we see ourselves disadvantaged is not in having to pay the cost, it is that we as the leading airport in the UK, ie Heathrow, are competing with Charles de Gaulle, Schipol and Frankfurt where there are high levels of state funding, so we may be disadvantaged in fighting for the rights of UK plc in that arena. That is all I would like to say about that.

  1390. It must involve European legislation as well.
  (Mr Hutcheson) The European legislation is where it is hung up at this moment in time. The Parliament and the Commission are agreed that the funding of aviation security should be state funded but the Council of Ministers, led by the UK, disagree with that view. My understanding is that there is a plenary session next Monday and if they cannot reach some form of compromise it will have to go to conciliation. In many ways the funding issue is holding up the deliverance of EU legislation.


  1391. Gentlemen, thank you both very much, that was really very interesting indeed. If you have any additional information or points of view that you would like to pass to us please do so. There are some areas of interest in terms of conditions for security staff, training, which would be really helpful, so perhaps we can come back to you. Good luck, Mr Jack, in your new career. I suppose there must be another one afterwards. You really are collecting careers like some footballers collect football clubs.
  (Mr Jack) I commend a new career to you, it gives fresh impetus.

  Chairman: I am sure it does. Thank you both very much.

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