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Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order. When we agreed to take it along with other orders tonight in the dinner break we were not aware of the concerns of the aviation industry. We shall not oppose the making of the order and we would not wish to oppose something that the Government, on advice, believe may help to combat terrorism, but we would like to place on the record that the aviation and tourism industries have
The problem seems to be that the Government have handled the consultative process on the order badly. I have read the proceedings of 15th July in Standing Committee of another place. I accept that the order is only an enabling measure and that the Government have now given a commitment to continue consultation with the industry at a meeting in September. Will the Minister confirm that the meeting will definitely go ahead?
Will the Minister give a commitment that in addition to continuing to consult the airlines, the Government will consult with tourism; for example, the British Incoming Tour Operators Association, the Tourism Alliance and the British Tourist Authority? The BTA of course needs to be in a position to fulfil its statutory role as adviser to the Government on tourism. Will the Minister assure the House that no requirements will be imposed under Schedule 7 that will impact on the international competitiveness of the UK transport sector? Will he assure the House that requirements will not be imposed under the schedule without compelling evidence that the most proportionate means of implementation has been selected, following on from consultation?
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the fact that we are discussing the serious threat of terrorism does not mean that we have to take everything that is put in front of us as carte blanche. The only thing blanche that I can find about the order is the large amount of salt that will be required for its digestion.
Every now and then, we find some information or proposed legislation that, in the words of my noble friend Lord Peyton, makes our nerve ends twitch. That happened to me when I first saw the order, which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, has so thoroughly explained to us. When I received not one but two letters of complaint about the order, my twitching got considerably worse.
My original concern was the normal one for a Member of your Lordships' House: will the information on the schedule, to be demanded from the ports and airlines, actually work? I noted that the Minister was under a misapprehension. The police requests that may or may not follow from the order are not the problem. The problem is the need for the airlines and the port authorities to gather that information. The police requests, if they are made, will come after that.
In the words of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the first order that the House discussed a few moments ago: is it a case of wanting to know rather than needing to know? Clearly, the provision cannot stop terrorism
However, many is the time that I and members of my family have travelled under an assumed name. Were I a terrorist, that could not help the police one jot. Nor would the false address, car number and other details that I would give to the airline. If I would deceive on that, how much more likely would it be for me to invent a fictitious cargo, for example?
I understand that the police tried to collect similar information in July 1999. Within a month the operation was discontinued. Yet here it is again in an even more comprehensive guise. Whether it was dropped for the obvious reason that I have just given or because the airlines made a stink I do not know, but what I do know is that the airlines and ferry companies are making a fuss now, of which the Home Office is well aware and on which the Minister, in his inimitable fashion, has just remarked.
Home Office officials sent a letter to all the potentially affected firms, which were to be adjured to collect even more than the information currently on the schedule to this order, on 1st March this year. As the Minister has said, that resulted in a meeting, which was held on 12th April. I understand that it was attended by all the industry bodies. It is a curious example of the Government's much flaunted concept of joined-up government that the Department for Transport was not involved or, as far as can ascertain, even informed that the proposals were about to be, or had been, issued.
Home Office officials were certainly unaware that the subject was under discussion internationally and that a meeting with United States officials was due soon. I understand that it is fixed for tomorrow, when the Department for Transport will complain to the United States authorities about their much milder plans than are to be found in the schedule to this order.
Were the Foreign Office or the Department of Trade and Industry informed? I have tabled a couple of Questions for Written Answer, which the Minister can now answer verbally. To be fair, there has been no time for written responses.
All that is bad enough, but the plot thickens. At the 12th April meeting, the airlines naturally supported the Government's intentions to prevent terrorism. However, there was and remains a mega problem. The data expected of them are not currently available. Much of the information can be neither scanned electronically nor verified by the airline. Under these proposals, operatorspresumably check-in staffwill have to input it manually. It does not take much imagination to realise what that will do to check-in times, eventually leading to a loss of capability at a time when airlines are fighting to remain competitive gateways in the air industry. At worst, I am told, check-in times may have to be extended to up to four hours.
It also does not take much imagination to realise that airlines' costs will increase significantly. Has any cost/benefit analysis been done? I was intrigued to see, rather late in the day, a Home Office memorandum in the Printed Paper Office accompanying the order, but I do not call that a regulatory impact assessment and I certainly do not call it a cost/benefit analysis.
I shall not weary the House by going through the airlines' concerns one by one. I am sure that other noble Lords have points of concern. Suffice it to say that the Minister's officials were more than a little surprised at what they had been told and that the industry representatives left with the strong impressionI am being kind to the officials; my airline correspondents called it a promisethat a further meeting would be held before the order was laid. There was no such meeting. It was not until later that Ministers took a grip on the situation and the Home Secretary and the junior Minister responsible held such a meeting. I do not know whether it was then or originally that the police representatives said that the information would hardly ever be used. However, what we all know is that the Minister handling the order in another place said that it would not be used on the first day permitted. The noble Lord has repeated that this evening. The order does not say so, but the Minister did, at col. 4 of the Official Report of the Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation on 15th July. She went on:
Putting the cart before the horse is not the way to legislate on any matter, let alone one as serious as this. The Minister should withdraw the order and come back to us with a properly thought-out proposal that is workable, has a cost/benefit analysis attached and will be useful and used.
Lord McNally: My Lords, one of the great values of this House is when a Member such as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, gets his teeth into a subject and will not let go. I pay tribute to the way in which he has championed the cause in the House. I shall not delay the House long with my comments.
When I was a lad and we used to play football and cricket in the street, if we broke a window we used to send the most innocent, mild-mannered and angelic of our number to get the ball back. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, fulfils that role among Home Office Ministers.
Not for the first time, the Home Office has over-extended itself, rushed its fences, under-consulted and then found itself in a mess. It is interesting that these powers were first contained in a 1989 Act, but prudent government and experience showed that they were not to be used.
Airlines with experience of these matters such as Britannia and Virgin have expressed great concern at the consequences if the measures were rushed through and have expressed doubt as to whether the powers requested will have real effect in the war against terrorism. Virgin Atlantic provided an excellent brief containing 10 specific objections. The most striking was that the order is out of kilter with measures in the United States and elsewhere in Europe. It seems odd that international consultation has not taken place.
After Virgin, Britannia and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, started mobilising, all of a sudden the Home Office clanked into action, a meeting was held and various assurance were given. If anyone doubts that the department is in retreat, I can only quote The Guardian report on the Home Office briefing after the 11th July meeting, which quoted a Home Office spokesman:
We all recognise that comment as code for "We are fast in retreat and will try to sort this matter out". I welcome the Home Secretary's belated promises on 11 July of further consultations, of staging if the measure is introduced and acceptable trigger mechanisms.
There is a temptation for Ministers to say, "If only you knew what we knew" or, even worse, "So you are in favour of terrorism, are you?", whatever the nature of the measure. There is an onus on Ministers and on the rest of us to test the powers that the security services require. The security services have a voracious appetite for more information and power. Within a democratic and free society, Ministers must, as part of their responsibilities, serve as a check and balance on the security services when they go too far.
I am not sure even now that the powers being requested will be practicable in any meaningful war against terrorism. But because a fuss has been created and the absurdities of the original proposals have been revealed, there is time for the Home Office to consult properly and to examine the impracticalities that have been exposed.
We will not divide the House, but if the 11th July meeting had not taken place and the Home Secretary had failed to give assurances on that occasion, we would have done so and sought support. Not for the first time, the Home Office has not listened carefully enough but rushed its fences. The Minister has promised a period of further consultation. I can promise the Minister a further period of close monitoring of that consultation in making a judgment on whether the Government listened and got it right.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, utility was one of the challenges mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. One must to some extent listen to the police and security services when they make a request. The processes or measures in question are not a result of civil servants saying, "We think this would be a jolly good idea", but are the consequence of requests from the police or security services.
The facilities sought will provide the police with accurate information that they will be able to check against a database of known or suspected terrorists and to build profiles of suspectsthus leading to effective intelligence-led policing operations. To some extent, we are talking about the development of new surveillance systems that do not currently exist fully developed anywhere but which are being incrementally developed by a number of countries. All countries who are concerned about the security of their subjects are gradually experimenting and feeling their way.
The implementation timetable could be two or three yearsin some cases, even longerbecause of the need to develop a proportionate and targeted approach. The Government could say, "We will not take any powers but let the discussion process move on. When we think things are right, we will put those powers in place". Or the Government can do as we have donegive the powers, recognise that there will be a complicated process of progressive implementation and development with the industries involved, reinforced by the authority that the order gives. We are right to have chosen the latter course because it signals to everyone that progress must be made, albeit in a proportionate way.
To answer the noble Baroness, the 13th September meeting will be going ahead. We will consult with the tourism industry and any others that think they are affected. Competitiveness between industry sectors is clearly an issue of which we are awareBA raised that point with the Home Secretary at the 11th July meeting. I totally agree with the noble Baroness about listening to what the police and security services have to say and deciding the most important information for them to have earlyand the most proportionate means of providing it. There must be a partnership between the Government, security services and industry. No one knows exactly the right answers. There must be a continuing dialogue to test which information is crucial, whether it can be obtained in a different way and whether it can be put in a different timeframe to make industry compliance much less expensive and difficult.
The situation is not that the Government are saying "Do that" and waiting for industry to complain. Instead, there will be constant dialogue between various sectors about utility, proportionality and best means.
To answer the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, carriers will need the capacity to collect information but not to gather all the information until there is a requestalbeit that requests can be made in respect of future journeys. For example, carriers might be requested to collect information on flights to destination X over the next three months.
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