Thirdly, the Civil Aviation Authority has always had rather a light touch on regulation of these things, partly because in the past they were not really such an issue. It stresses that small drones,

“with an operating mass of 20 kg or less are … exempt from the majority of the regulations”,

which is quite worrying.

There is also an increased public interest and concern in the potential for misuse of small drones. That was shown very well in the Independent on Saturday, which gave a lot of examples that have also come out in the media elsewhere. There was a small quad copter flying within 25 metres of a passenger aircraft at Southend and the co-pilot assessed that its conduct was deliberate. The drone was flying at it and there was a very high risk of collision. At Heathrow, an Airbus A320 suddenly realised that it had a UAV very close to it when it was at 700 feet. The drone had not shown up on air traffic control, not surprisingly, because it is so small. That was reported with an incident rating risk of category A, which is the most serious risk of a major accident. There are numerous examples, in France particularly, of these things flying over nuclear power stations and the like. There is a worry.

My reason for tabling the amendment is that there is no specific criminal terrorism offence regarding unmanned aerial vehicles as there is for aircraft, outside of very general Civil Aviation Authority restrictions under ANO 2009. In particular, drones are not covered by Section 4 of the Aviation Security Act 1982, entitled “Offences in relation to certain dangerous articles”,

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which has been used as a precedent. That is a worry. We are not grasping this and including it in our legislation. I am not a great one for legislation—I hate legislation—but we need to look at this.

Similarly, while there are some no-fly zones around the UK, we need to identify, consider and regulate them in the sense of being aware of these very capable small drones and their use, particularly in the context of counterterrorism. I have given a lot of examples already, but someone in the aviation field got in contact with me today and said that they were worried that if a number of drones—something like 10 or so—were flown at the ILS system at an airport when the weather was not good, it would shut down the ILS system. Noble Lords can imagine the impact that that would have on an aircraft that was landing.

When the Birmingham Policy Commission conducted a study on the security impact of drones, which was chaired by Professor Sir David Omand, it examined specific risks that he felt needed to be addressed by legislators such as the use of drones carrying improvised explosive devices. They would be easy to make because you need only a very small amount of explosive or a chemical or biological agent. These are things that we have not had to focus on much recently and we hope that we never have to, but they are a real danger. Certainly, for part of my time as a Minister, I was constantly looking at concern about the use of these. Indeed, going back into the late 1990s, we stopped an attack on the north London water supply with ricin, so these are very real dangers that we need to think about.

The public are now becoming aware of drones. A drone strike would probably have more symbolic influence and effect on the public’s morale than the impact of what it did. Bringing down an airliner would be bad, but any incident would have quite an impact on the public.

There is a need for much more informed and open debate—outside the cross-government RPAS working group—on the risks and the response. I am not impressed, I say to the Minister, that the result of our bids for FOIs and information from that group has been very poor. There needs to be more open debate and transparency.

We have been in touch with the CAA. We know that it has very well known difficulties enforcing even the current light-touch regulation to do with drones, but it said that it would quite welcome specific criminal offences because this could supplement its work on reproducing its controls on aircraft. We think that it would acknowledge that its regime was designed before what I call the Maplin factor, and that therefore it does not really address counterterrorism. For those reasons, my amendments are necessary: we need to do this. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I saw that report in the Independent, and, living quite near to Heathrow as I do, I felt it particularly vividly.

The noble Lord’s concerns are well founded. I wonder, however, whether it is not simply a matter of designating areas where the flight of drones is restricted, period, rather than dealing with the burden of proof—whoever carries it—regarding whether a drone is being

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flown for the purposes of terrorism. I suspect that the answer will be: “Thank you for raising it and a lot of people are looking at it”. I hope that that last bit is true. My comment is that it might be better to deal with it over the wider point and not to get into the confusion of whether it is terrorism related. The outcome could be pretty similar whatever the purpose.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, unmanned aerial vehicles, as has been said, are used in a military context and by public bodies in the UK, and for surveillance, among other uses. Surveillance UAVs are regulated, although, as my noble friend Lord West of Spithead has said, some people question how effective this regulation is.

I will comment in particular on the use of small non-surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles. UAVs weighing under 22 kilograms are entirely unregulated. They can be bought and sold freely. There is no tracking mechanism. Perhaps most importantly, they can easily be purchased for self-assembly, which makes them easy to modify, perhaps for the kind of purposes set out in my noble friend’s amendment. There is a big concern around airports. As has been said, a UAV got within a few feet of an Airbus jet leaving Heathrow. Even a small UAV could cause engine failure in a jet, in the same way as a bird strike, even if not being used for obviously hostile purposes. While airports have extensive protection from lasers, and even from surface-to-air missiles, there is no specific provision, as I understand it, for UAVs. Apparently, this is a concern of the British Airline Pilots Association and air traffic controllers, and suggestions have been made for UAV no-fly zones around airports.

I hope that, in their reply, the Government will be able to show that they have assessed the risks and are taking appropriate action because, subject to what the Minister says in response, it is not obvious that there is a coherent direction of policy, at least on smaller UAVs if not larger ones, with the light-touch regulation to which my noble friend Lord West has referred.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord West, for bringing his particular experience to bear on this important issue, which I certainly agree is a matter of growing public concern. The noble Lord particularly mentioned the effect on the public of something going wrong, and it is clear that people are taking an interest.

The growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles is being driven by their increasing versatility and affordability, as the noble Lord mentioned. Their use raises a number of issues, including those of safety, privacy and the potential security threat which they could pose. A good deal of work is going on with the Government at the moment. As I think the noble Lord mentioned, the Government have established a cross-Whitehall group co-chaired by the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence, and including the Civil Aviation Authority, which has responsibility for the regulation of UAVs, to look at the safety, privacy and security implications. If the group identifies any issues where new legislative powers are necessary, they will be addressed. However, I have noted the noble Lord’s comments about information being made available and I will take those back.

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I can reassure the Committee that, from a legal standpoint, there are already air navigation rules in place to regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Existing restrictions include, for example, that an unmanned aircraft fitted with a camera must be flown at least 50 metres away from a person, vehicle, building or structure. It must not be flown without permission within 150 metres of congested areas or any large group of people, such as a sporting event or concert. Unmanned aerial vehicles are not permitted to fly in areas where they may cause danger to manned aircraft and it is prohibited to drop an article from a UAV so as to endanger persons or property.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned blanket bans on certain areas rather than making this specifically terrorist related. I agree with her. There are specific powers under the Air Navigation Order 2009 which enable the Secretary of State to impose restrictions on flying in particular areas, including for safety or reasons in the public interest, which could include security. That will take into account the example mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord West, of areas close to an ILS system at an airport. Crucially, the 2009 order makes it an offence to contravene any of the air navigation articles. A number of additional offences would currently apply to the arming of an unmanned aerial vehicle for the purposes of terrorism. These include offences related to the use and possession of firearms, weapons or explosives, or the preparation of terrorist attacks.

All that being said, the use and potential misuse of unmanned aerial vehicles is an area that the Government are monitoring closely. We will continue to consider whether it is necessary to introduce new offences related to the use of UAVs. I thank the noble Lord once again for raising the issue and thus allowing me to provide these reassurances. On the basis that the existing legislation is sufficient and that any potential gaps are being considered by the cross-government group, which I am sure will take account of this short debate, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

9 pm

Lord West of Spithead: I thank the Minister for his response. Before I come to that—because I was a little disappointed—I will say that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is absolutely right. We have to be quite

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careful about how we go about this. Indeed, I have got no praise for the way I have put my amendments, but I believe that this needs to be looked at. The Minister makes the assumption that we are happy with current legislation, but current legislation is not adequate. Certainly the Civil Aviation Authority and the airline pilots association do not think it is. We need to think hard about this. Overall, the noble Lord was on side with my worries, but—

Lord Ashton of Hyde: Again, I am sure that the cross-government group that is considering gaps in legislation will take account of this debate, including the noble Lord’s comments.

Lord West of Spithead: I thank the noble Lord for that. At the moment, some of these things are slightly opaque. That is the problem. It is very difficult to find out what is going on. It would be much better if we had a clearer view with a more open debate about it. It is interesting, for example, that the Military Aviation Authority has just published RA 1600, which is a reclassification of some drones and it is paving the way for much greater use of military drones in UK airspace. So when we have a lot of military drones operating there, again, the risk of these other drones becomes even greater. This is something we have to get our mind around.

Interestingly—I had not thought about this before—the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned tracking mechanisms, which of course are making huge leaps and bounds in technology. You can get ones that are really tiny. Maybe that would be a way, if the drones showed up on secondary radar, for example. I do not know whether that has been looked at—and the reason that I do not know whether it has been looked at is that there is no openness in terms of discussion, which worries me.

I will need to reconsider the Minister’s comments and think about them and look at Hansard. Until I have done that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 103 withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.02 pm.