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10 July 2007 : Column 353WH—continued

9.57 am

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Donohoe) on his success in initiating this debate; it could not come at a more appropriate time. Perhaps we should refer to him as Sergeant Donohoe now that he has declared his interest. I congratulate him on personally contributing to the safety of people who travel, and I also congratulate all those who were involved in defeating the terrorists at Glasgow recently; they did an amazing job. The public worked together with the security forces and demonstrated that we will not be cowed by those who wish to terrorise us and make our lives more difficult. I sympathise with the Ministers who have to introduce policies to ensure that everybody will be secure when they travel. However, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we must also remember that passengers are customers, not cattle. People should not be prodded around and made to feel that travel will be impossible or incredibly difficult for them.

I was at Heathrow airport in August following the security scare of that time and the queues were enormous. Terminal 4 was an absolute circus and people were turning up and being told that they could not even enter the airport until the flight was announced on the Tannoys. People could not hear the Tannoys in the car parks and no one seemed to know what was happening. I am sure that many people missed flights on that day and indeed over the following days. It took considerable time to sort things out. Of course, people wanted to ensure that they were travelling safely, but the way that security checks were carried out on the day that I travelled seemed to show that there could have been a little more urgency in dealing with passengers. The attitude almost seemed to be that passengers at the airport were an irritant and that the airport would perform more smoothly if they were not there. Clearly, that must not be the case.

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The hon. Gentleman made an important point about airports in the United Kingdom having to compete with a number of airports throughout Europe. A lot of passengers who use Heathrow or other UK airports as hubs can choose from other hubs. If Schiphol, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle are more efficient, they will choose those airports, so we must get this absolutely right. Furthermore, he talked about the fact that passengers can use trains in the UK. Terrorists have shown that they look for the weakest link. We know that they do that, which is why they moved from airplanes to airports, and, of course, security around airports is now being tightened. The other day, I was at Manchester airport, where they have stopped vehicular access to terminal 1 to prevent the ram raiding tried at Glasgow. As I said, terrorists look for the weakest link.

This week, I received a letter from a constituent, Mr. Andrew Moore, who used Manchester airport. On Sunday 17, he travelled from Manchester to Faro, but it took him a considerable amount of time to get through. I know that, on 10 June, they had a problem at Heathrow terminal 4—I actually asked a parliamentary question about it. It is all right for those going through fast track, although, these days, I would call it, relatively faster track. Fast track is important because we want to win the support of business passengers; we want them to use British airports. It is important that money is spent in the United Kingdom to ensure that that happens.

I am afraid, however, that if people can get through relatively-faster track in 10 minutes, why should those travelling on economy tickets have to wait an hour and a half? That is a real issue, although Manchester had a blip on that day, and BAA was good enough to send me a graph showing that, for most of the day, people were getting through in under 10 minutes, but that then there was a four-hour period during which the queues at terminal 4 were outside the door and virtually on to the car park. Clearly, that is unacceptable and they need to ensure proper manning levels at security arches. Nothing is more frustrating for passengers who, having waited an hour, find, when they are finally searched at the security arches, that some of them are closed. They think, “Well, why are they not all open? Why are they not properly manned? And why has the delay taken so long?” That needs to be looked at.

I know that BAA and, indeed, all airports are spending an enormous amount of money on extra security and manning levels. BAA representatives were in Parliament last week telling us that they had employed an extra 1,400 people at Heathrow to increase the level of throughput. I suspect that there is a problem with predicting when planes are going to take off. We all think that the schedule is there to tell us when planes take off, but delays can result for all sorts of reasons. The hon. Gentleman mentioned passengers who do not get to their plane, but whose bags do, which results in a one hour delay, before the plane takes off, while their baggage is removed. That means that when that plane arrives back at Heathrow, it is probably one and a half, or two hours late taking off again. Congestion will result at airports, which is another reason for huge delays in getting some passengers through.

I understand that in the make-up of every ticket there is an element for security. It is a few pounds. Will the Minister assure us that all of that money is now
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being invested? I would like to know to whom the money goes. I know who is paying the money, but where is it going? Is it all being invested in new security measures? The hon. Gentleman talked also about ensuring a level of common sense in the measures being introduced. I agree with him on that. He mentioned the point about knives and forks. It was always ludicrous that at one stage we were using plastic cutlery, but that at the same time, if we ordered an alcoholic drink, it was served in a glass. A glass is a lethal weapon. Also, when airside, it was possible to buy a bottle of wine. Well, my goodness, a bottle of wine is a lethal weapon, I would have thought. So, there seemed to be a few inconsistencies in the security measures being introduced.

The same applies to the 100 ml limits on all liquids and gels, and all of that sort of stuff. We cannot fail to go through airport security without seeing huge supplies and bins of stuff taken off people who unwittingly, perhaps, brought it with them. Maybe they travel only once a year, and are not following the security measures, unlike those who travel more frequently, who know what they can take. I think that, now and again, extra publicity would be worthwhile to tell the public what the limits are, why they are in place and whether they are the same throughout the world. I know that Britain is a terrorist target; more so than some other European countries. We must accept it. But at the same time, we need to explain to passengers why these measures are in place.

Let us consider some of the new and old technologies. I mentioned the procedure in use in Armenia, which, quite frankly, I thought was excellent. Perhaps that could be rolled out in other countries. I suspect that it was done to ensure that those getting on the aircraft were those who had bought the ticket. It was trailed all of the way through. Also, it prevents people from saying, “I haven’t got a passport. Somehow I lost it on the plane.” We know what is happening. But if there is an electronic version of that passport, at least we have information about that person. Let us look at the technologies available to ensure that everything is done as quickly as possible.

I spoke to the chief executive of Manchester airport, Geoff Muirhead, who told me about issues that they have. A number of British airports were built in the 1960s and 1970s, when security measures were different—one could almost swan on to an aircraft without showing any identity. Now we have to show identity and be searched at regular intervals. With terminal 5 coming on, I assume that a lot of thought is being put into security at the design level. It will be a lot easier for Heathrow T5 to get people through more quickly with the new equipment.

Geoff Muirhead explained that we have some old airports and that the problem was not simply with moving some shops out of the way to make room for extra security, but with ensuring that the equipment and manning levels are available. He said that there will always be delays at certain times. That is what we must iron out as much as we can. If people are told that, when going to an aircraft, the security will take a quarter of hour, at least they can factor that into their timetables. The problem arises when they turn up at an airport and see a queue going out of the door and on to the car park. If they have a flight to catch in an hour, it becomes impossible for them.

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I have every sympathy with the Minister, but we must not let the terrorists win. We must ensure the right level of security, and that people feel secure, including staff at airports and on aircrafts. For whatever reason, these terrorists despise our country and are doing all that they can to terrorise its people. Quite frankly, I wish that they would all get on an aircraft and go to a country that they would prefer, rather than stay here and terrorise us. If they want to go to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, or wherever, I am sure that, if they ask nicely, we will assist them in their passage. But we do not want them terrorising British people living in this country, which is why not only must we fight them, but we must not allow them to destroy our quality of life. Let us ensure the right level of security, and support airports and airlines to ensure that the terrorists do not win, but let us remain also on the side of the passenger to ensure that their quality of life is not diminished. I wish the Government great success in their efforts to ensure that the British travelling public can get on with their daily lives without hindrance, and be secure in doing so.

10.9 am

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). I enjoyed his speech—especially the part in which he said that he would be happy to ship out all the terrorists who think that some other part of the world is better. People who think like that should be shipped out immediately and I will happily help in the security arrangements and in deporting them. They have made life a misery for all of us and we must not allow them to defeat what we are trying to do, so I strongly concur with the language and the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. My father’s generation fought hard to create a good society and to play their part, and such people are wrecking everything that was built in the spirit of multiculturalism. I find what they are doing offensive and I fail to understand their thinking or logic. However, I do not wish to be called to order for straying too far away from the subject of the debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Donohoe) on securing the debate, and I join him and others in praising the staff of Glasgow airport and all those others who were involved in tackling the terrorists for their courage in defeating them. I praise the Government for all that they have done so far in public protection. They should be credited for making public protection their first priority. I want to raise a number of issues about my own local airport, Durham Tees Valley. It is not a major league airport by the standards of Glasgow or Manchester, but as the primary airport for the north-east, with routes to key European destinations, it is an important and busy centre in its own right. Some 1 million passengers a year generally pass through it.

Although it is primarily a civil airport, the security issues that I wish to raise stem from its use by the military. It is the nearest civilian airport to the large army camp at Catterick, about 15 miles away. In consequence, it has frequently been used for military charter flights for soldiers departing for, or arriving from, operational duties in the middle east. That is hardly a military secret; the sight of troops in uniform
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marching through the departure lounge is a regular feature witnessed by many travellers.

There are three points that I wish to make about such use of the airport. First, there is a question as to whether the security level at the airport is sufficient for military use. It is a particularly pertinent question, given that its military use might enhance the airport’s appeal as a target for terrorist attack. The recent events in Glasgow show that such an eventuality must be considered, and the security in place around military facilities in the UK stands testament both to the heightened risk and to the necessity for enhanced measures that surround our military personnel. I should like to ask the Minister whether, given the military use of Durham Tees Valley, extra security measures have been introduced. Will he tell me also whether any reassessment of the situation has been made following the events in Glasgow?

Two security measures that I wish to propose would address the issue. First, I wonder whether the Ministry of Defence, in conjunction with both the airport management and the charter flight operators, might consider whether military flights can be made outside the airport’s normal operational hours. That would have the security benefit of allowing measures to be concentrated at certain times and, crucially, would allow them to be implemented when members of the public were not using the airport. That, in turn, would have obvious advantages both to public safety and enhanced security.

The second possible measure is to use the RAF airfields in the region for such military flights. Leeming and Church Fenton are both operational, and are less than one hour from Catterick. The airfields might be unable to handle large passenger aircraft for engineering reasons, and, if so, I will gladly stand corrected. I know, however, that Leeming was used for Tornado fighter bombers for a long time and I imagine that its runway is of adequate length. If one of those airfields was available and suitable, it would be likely to provide a far higher level of security than a civil airport. The fact that members of the public cannot access RAF facilities would clearly be advantageous in that respect. I emphasise that my remarks are intended to be constructive and I make them in a spirit of co-operation with the Minister. I believe that there are genuine security issues for members of the public and for military personnel who use the airport, and I hope that he will consider my suggestions.

My final remarks diverge somewhat in their subject matter and concern a security issue that applies generally to UK airports. Last November, in the light of intelligence that had been received, the Government altered the regulations on hand luggage and prevented passengers from taking liquids and certain items through security gates into departure lounges and on to flights. However, there seems to be a disjunction between the items that are prohibited under those regulations, which were mentioned earlier, and the items that are banned from restricted zones such as departure lounges and airport shops. The result is that cigarette lighters cannot be taken through security into a departure lounge, yet can still be purchased from
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shops in the restricted zones and taken on to a plane. The only ban on purchase is on cigarette lighters which are

I know of at least three UK airports where there has been a problem with that, and it seems to present an anomaly in security.

On its own, a lighter has a certain, albeit limited, potential to cause harm or damage. The worrying point is that lighters are sold in airports alongside a range of flammable substances such as aerosols and alcohol. It is easy to imagine that, in a confined space such as an aircraft cabin, such items could be used to deadly effect, so I ask the Minister to re-examine the regulations, because inconsistencies were mentioned also by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley.

The points that I have made have all been offered in a spirit of trying to help the Government in their efforts. So far, they have done a tremendous job in tackling the terrorists and we must not let go—even by a millimetre. I hope that the Minister will take up my concerns in that spirit.

Several hon. Members rose

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. I should like to tell the two Front-Bench spokesmen that I shall call the Minister no later than 10.45 am.

10.15 am

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. As we are tight for time, I shall try to truncate my remarks. If I have questions, I shall direct them to the Minister in writing, because that might be easier. Before the debate, I thought that I had defeated stomach flu, but I am now less certain. I think that I will be okay, but, if I leave the room fast, I hope you will not see it as an act of discourtesy.

I join in congratulating the many people who reacted so effectively to the events at Glasgow airport. Rather than reiterate what has been said, I shall say only that I think the most important part of that reaction was the message that it gave to anyone with terrorist intentions. They will not find that the British public, airport staff, police or anybody else will shy away from them; they will be tackled and confronted. That gave great heart to all of us who know that one day could be our unlucky day and that we could draw the short straw.

Obviously, airport security must have the highest priority. In preparing for the debate, I took a quick look at an extract from the airport policing report by the right hon. Sir John Wheeler, which has been debated in Westminster Hall. Essentially, the report underscored the fact that although the Department for Transport is at the heart of aviation security arrangements, responsibility remains fragmented among DFT control authorities and airport authorities. Putting together a package of effective airport security measures is therefore extremely complex, and I hope that the Minister will address the issue and tell us how co-ordination has been significantly improved since Sir John’s original report.

The Department has accepted the report’s main recommendations, including, in particular, that the MATRA approach—the multi-agency threat and risk
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assessment approach—should be best practice at all airports. That approach, however, relates to risk assessment, and there is obviously also a requirement to respond—although assessment matters, so too does the co-ordination of the response. A review of legislation was to go ahead to clarify stakeholders’ responsibilities for airport security, but has it made any progress?

The report included recommendations on eliminating the system of designation. The issue of policing costs is fairly interesting, and I happen to come from the school that thinks that policing and security costs should remain with the airports and the airlines and should not fall on the taxpayer, although the United States takes a very different view. By not charging fuel duty and VAT on fuel, we effectively give the airline industry a £9 billion subsidy, and it would not go amiss if the industry spent some of that money on adequate security. The industry has not been abandoned—indeed, in comparison with other forms of transport, air travel is being supported—and one way effectively to use such money would be to spend it on security. I would be interested to know whether the Minister has discussed whether airport authorities should have more flexibility to charge the airlines additional fees for providing security. I understand that the Civil Aviation Authority has been considering the issue, but I am not sure what conclusions it has reached.

Mr. Evans: On the question of who will pay the VAT or the aviation fuel duty, it is the passenger who will pick up the bill at the end of the day. However, one airport also suggested that passengers pay an extra £3 so that they could get through the airport quickly. I do not think that we should have such fast-track measures; instead, an element should be incorporated in the ticket price to ensure that everybody pays the same and is guaranteed to be able to get through the airport as quickly and securely as possible. The costs incorporated in the ticket price should, however, be transparent.

Susan Kramer: I fully agree that costs should be transparent, and we should know whether we are in the group that is paying and not getting the service or the group that is paying and getting priority service. People would find that information very interesting. I should say, however, that the drive for ever cheaper flights to boost numbers and fill planes is somewhat countered by the need to ensure that adequate money is spent on security. Nor is turning to the taxpayer to ensure that we continue to boost ticket sales the right strategy, although that works rather well with broader environmental goals. The burden of providing security should fall on the airport authority and the airlines, not the taxpayer.

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