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18 Dec 2007 : Column 214WH—continued

That, in my opinion, is a common-sense way forward. The current service for airports provides no such structure. A new development in the security situation would have
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to be communicated to all local authority forces, then filtered down to the officers in question. I do not believe that to be a very effective way forward. However, if there were a single national police force with those powers, there would be only one chain of command.

There are specific issues relating to Scotland. As hon. Members will know, policing is a devolved matter in Scotland. That places a further level of bureaucracy between the information held at the centre of national organisations and officers. We now have national agencies that do not just co-ordinate their work through the local police authorities as they do in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; they also have to be mindful of the devolved Parliament in Scotland. That is an additional level of bureaucracy that they could well do without.

Mr. Donohoe: There is one other aspect of the policing of airports that perhaps my hon. Friend has missed. Glasgow Prestwick and Stansted are designated as the airports where an aircraft hijacked in the air will land. Such aircraft will land at either Prestwick or Stansted, and the police resources required for that run into the hundreds if not the thousands.

Mr. Hamilton: I was unaware of that and I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the fact that two airports have been assigned for that purpose in the UK.

On “The Politics Show” on BBC television on Sunday 16 December—I imagine that it was the version shown up in Scotland—Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in the minority Administration in Scotland, spoke. During the programme, reporters showed segments in which they highlighted the following. Under anti-terrorism legislation since July this year, British Transport police in Scotland have stopped and searched 14,620 people and vehicles. However, throughout the rest of Scotland, where there are eight police authorities, only 135 people and items were searched by the police. Therefore, each of the British Transport police officers conducted about 73 stop and searches, while on average one in 12 Scottish local authority officers would have conducted a search. I must point out that 75 million people use Scotland’s railways every year.

Mr. MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Minister, referred in an interview to the transport police allegedly harassing and interrogating the public by diktat from London—I assume that he means Westminster. He made the point about 14,620 stop and searches by the British Transport police in Scotland and only 135 by local authority police, but he forgot to mention that about 20 million people go through Scotland’s airports, all of whom have to go through a search system. He forgot to mention that extremely important activity in which the police are directly involved.

I believe that the real reason for Mr. MacAskill attacking the transport police was that he believes that they should come under the Scottish Parliament. He is therefore trying to politicise the issue, which I believe is unfortunate and quite disgraceful. He even said that he would be pulling in the transport police to explain themselves to him. That is how he finished his comments
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on the programme: they have to come and see him to explain themselves, although he has no direct responsibility for the transport police in the UK.

It is clear that specialist policing will be put on the agenda. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary for Scotland said in his recent annual report that

I suspect that that statement could be made by any chief inspector throughout the UK.

My purpose in initiating the debate is to highlight the fact that sometimes the simplest way of doing things is the right way. In this fast-moving world, we should be eliminating potential conflicts. Maintaining the status quo is not acceptable post 9/11. If it makes sense for all our agencies to work under a national umbrella, that principle should also apply to our uniformed police at airports and ports and on railways. I hope that the Minister will give the points that I have made due consideration.

11.14 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Hamilton) on securing this extremely important debate. I also welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Donohoe) and for Livingston (Mr. Devine) and the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt).

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian at the outset, in case I do not get to this at the end of my remarks, that I am perfectly happy to meet him to discuss the issues that he raised, with any of his hon. Friends whom he wishes to bring along who also wish to raise matters. That will enable us to discuss this issue further with officials at the Home Office and play a proper, constructive role in taking forward all the various points that he made in relation to trying to improve security at our airports. This should not be a party political matter; we all have an interest in ensuring that our airports are secure and safe from terrorist and other threats.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian made an excellent speech that showed his wide knowledge of the issue, and we certainly need to address some of the points that he made. I hope that I will be able to address many of the points made by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. If not, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian will intervene at the appropriate time. That said, I think that the meeting that I propose would be a good way forward.

The Home Office deals with the funding of policing at airports in England and Wales; Scottish airports, as my hon. Friend will know, are dealt with by the Scottish Executive. Policing of UK airports is undertaken by both uniformed officers and special branch officers. Separate arrangements are in place for the funding of each. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the importance of policing at airports and the need for co-ordination, which we try to achieve. It is also important to ensure that the funding for all that is adequate and appropriate.

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I shall give some general context for my remarks. The police have a multi-faceted role at the border, leading on intelligence work for counter-terrorism and serious crime, providing protective security and carrying out the policing of ports, the largest of which are sizeable communities in their own right. That is a significant deployment. My hon. Friend asked about this. There are 1,575 special branch officers at ports engaged in intelligence work alongside approximately 1,260 uniformed officers. I hope that that is helpful information for my hon. Friend.

The effect of that police deployment will be maximised through partnership working with the other border agencies. The creation of a new UK border agency, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 14 November, therefore provides a unique opportunity to improve the processes through which the police interact with their partners.

Lorely Burt: As I understand it, when the unified border force was introduced, it involved the Border and Immigration Agency, Revenue and Customs and UKvisas. Can the Minister explain why the police have not been specifically included in that unified border force?

Mr. Coaker: I will come to a couple of the points that the hon. Lady mentioned. We made the judgment that the matter was better dealt with if the police were separate, but we would expect to see very close collaboration between the police and the new UK border agency. I will come to that specific point in a moment.

The police will be closely involved in the governance, development and tasking of the new agency, including the appointment of a senior police officer to its executive board. However, there is potential for further integration. We will discuss with senior police officers across the country the possibility of deeper police integration at the border, including the potential in due course for integrating the police and the UK border agency structures, but there is much to be gained from the initial step that we have announced, and we will not allow longer-term possibilities to impede that. That goes part of the way towards addressing what my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian said about the need for the police to be closely involved at UK level with the various policing options.

Mr. Donohoe: One of the problems that my hon. Friend the Minister has is that he has no responsibility for the British Transport police, which has of course come under the auspices of the Department for Transport.

Mr. Coaker: That is one of the options that we must examine to consider how best we can use all the policing resources available to us, in order to integrate them at airports. My hon. Friend will know that one of the factors that we must consider with respect to the British Transport police is that currently they are not armed. Therefore, there is an issue about their deployment at airports. There is a range of different issues to consider. He and my other hon. Friends have made some important points that contribute to the debate, and we need to see how best we can take matters forward.

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The UK border agency will be up and running, albeit in a shadow form, from January 2008. The public are already seeing a difference in our border controls, with a visible, uniformed presence at ports of entry across the country and the beginning of the roll-out of new UK border branding. Biometrics programmes, such as Project IRIS—iris recognition immigration system—are making a difference by automating border entry for legitimate travellers. IRIS has more than 140,000 British citizens and foreign nationals enrolled in the scheme and operates at nine terminals, with more than 600,000 crossings.

The single primary line is a combined checkpoint for passport control and customs, and it will be the focal point for border activity on arrival in the UK. Trials of the single primary line are under way at six sites. Based on the lessons that are learned from those pilots, the models will be rolled out nationally, with consistent UK border branding, throughout 2008.

Border and Immigration Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff are already working closely together, enhancing staff awareness of individual roles and integrating checks to strengthen effectiveness at the border. Again, that relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian that policing at airports is not just a police responsibility. There are a lot of agencies involved in providing security at airports. Agencies such as BIA and HMRC are important in that they work with the police to ensure that we have proper security at our borders and in our airports.

Lorely Burt: The Minister may recall that we had a number of security alerts at BIA during the summer. BIA’s management has now got together to monitor all subcontractors on their sites to ensure that they are fulfilling their role. Is that initiative that is being rolled out countrywide, or is it exclusive to BIA?

Mr. Coaker: There is a national aviation security programme, which, as the hon. Lady will know, is the responsibility of the Department for Transport, and it is known as TRANSEC. No doubt the Department is considering the type of initiative that she has just outlined, along with a range of others across the country.

Some other important progress is not necessarily so visible. The freight targeting system is providing real-time risk assessment of freight movements. Launched in 2007, FTS 2 has contributed to the seizure of more than 9 million cigarettes, 20 kg of heroin and more than 2.5 tonnes of cannabis.

I would also like to remind hon. Members that an independent review of airport policing was completed in July 2006, the broad thrust of which was accepted by the Government. The key issue identified by the review is that uniformed policing is part of the wider airport security context and that all stakeholders at an airport, not least airport operators—again, that is a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian made very well in his speech—have a role to play in coming together to address the threats and risks at each airport. There is no point in looking at policing in isolation from all those other bodies.

Government and industry representatives have been working together to agree both the overall approach and the details of a workable system for strengthening security at airports and the underpinning funding
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arrangements. Part of that work is the identification of police roles and responsibilities. Therefore, our focus must be on airport security as a whole. The costs of the necessary policing resource are an integral part of establishing the wider security context at each airport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian made the point about the importance of co-ordination. Nationally, representatives of industry, the police and police authorities, and Government have been holding discussions on the way forward on policing and airport security. A shared security vision for UK airports has now been agreed, along with the key principles that will be used to develop the airport security plans to achieve that vision.

Mr. Devine: I do not think that the views of my hon. Friend the Minister are far away from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian. However, there is one thing that I do not understand. We already have in place a structure whereby, for example, if football fans were travelling from Edinburgh or Glasgow to London, British Transport police would accompany them all the way from Scotland to London and indeed to the football ground. Given that we already have this structure, which is unique, why do we not just add to that?

Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. Part of the purpose of this debate, and this is also why I am suggesting that I have a further meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian, is that we need to examine whether we can learn from some of the existing structures and systems—for example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston points out, those of the British Transport police—so that we do not reinvent the wheel and so that, if we have something that works, we can build on it.

However, we need to see how a structure such as that of the British Transport police would impact on other aspects of airport security. For instance, as I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire, such a structure is fine in some regards, but it would be inappropriate to consider involving the British Transport police in aspects of airport security, because, for example, they are not armed, as I said previously. Therefore, there is an issue about how we put together the various structures, so that we have a meaningful overall structure that works both in the type of situation that my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston described and in relation to aspects of airport security. We are developing this plan and this vision for the future so that the different structures are integrated and the overall structure works.

We are now working on establishing the framework for a strengthened security system, taking account of the threats and risks at each airport. As we do that, I will obviously bear in mind my hon. Friends’ comments. That framework will build on the good work completed in 2002 by Sir John Wheeler, who devised the MATRA—multi-agency threat and risk assessment—system, which, in turn, will lead to the production of a clear airport security plan. We are trying to identify a suitable legislative slot to take forward those aspects of the plan that will require primary legislation. Of course, that process will require amendment of the existing civil aviation legislation, as well as setting out what is needed for the future. We
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will therefore try to legislate to deal with some of the issues that my hon. Friends have raised.

Complementary work has also been taking place, as my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Solihull will know, at the nine designated airports. Under section 25 of the Aviation Security Act 1982, nine airports are designated for policing purposes, which means that at those airports the airport operator funds the permanent uniformed police presence that is agreed with the police. The following airports are designated: London Heathrow; London Gatwick; London Stansted; Aberdeen; Edinburgh; Glasgow International; Glasgow Prestwick; Birmingham; and Manchester.

More recently, the Civil Aviation Act 2006 required those airports to agree a formal police services agreement to determine the uniformed police complement. Where agreements are not yet signed at designated airports, negotiations are ongoing and, in most cases, they are at an advanced stage. If an agreement cannot be reached, the parties involved can request that the Secretary of State initiate a process of expert determination to resolve the dispute, but we have received no such requests to date.

Where an airport is not designated—the hon. Member for Solihull made the point that some are not—it has either a permanent police presence or the police attend where there is an operational need to do so. The police authority is normally required to meet the cost of the permanent police presence. However, in keeping with the conclusions of the 2006 independent review, we are working towards an outcome in which the system of designation will be abolished and any agreed policing costs are passed to the airport operator. That will bring the funding of policing at airports in line with other industries that require a permanent police presence. However, the Government do not underestimate the concerns that that has caused to the industry.

As well as uniformed police officers, there are also special branch officers at all airports. Those officers are also drawn from the local police force area. Special branch officers in England and Wales are part-funded by the Home Office through the ports element of the dedicated security posts funding. Each year, police forces in England and Wales submit a bid to the Home Office, outlining their dedicated security posts requirements for the following financial year. Those in Scotland are funded by the Scottish Executive and therefore separate, but broadly comparable arrangements apply.

May I conclude by again congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian on securing this debate? He has raised some extremely important issues. Millions of people travel through our airports across the UK. They want to do so as quickly as possible, but they also want to do so securely and safely. The points that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have made this morning will help us to develop our programme of airport security. As I said to my hon. Friend, we can sit down and have a meeting early in the new year, and he can also talk with the relevant officials about our plans, feeding into that process. In that way, I think that we can all be reassured that the plan that eventually emerges will be as good as we can possibly make it.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o’clock.

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