§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is ready to report the outcome of his review of aviation security; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Channon
The purpose of aviation security is to protect passengers and aircrew from attacks by terrorists and other criminals. At the same time every effort has to be made to facilitate the smooth operation of airports and air services. I have to judge this in the light of the changing threat to civil aviation and of security incidents such as hijacks and sabotage. The Lockerbie disaster marked a trend for terrorist bomb attacks on airliners to become increasingly severe. Even tighter security measures are necessary even if this is at the expense of some cost and inconvenience to passengers.
My aviation security review is a continuing one. I have already discussed progress on it with the Transport Select Committee. The Committee's report on its current inquiry into airport security will he of further help to me as my review goes forward.
Immediately after Lockerbie increased security measures were ordered for United States airlines, particularly for hold baggage. I attended an emergency meeting of the National Aviation Security Committee on 5 January in the light of which I decided to bring in further measures for United States airlines in relation to cabin baggage, hold baggage and cargo. I ordered new rules for the issue and use of passes at all United Kingdom airports and on 6 April I announced the introduction of a package of measures for all our major airports that should provide better security for restricted areas and for aircraft, passengers and baggage in those areas.
I have now set firm objectives for a further tightening of security. They are:
- (1) closer examination of the items taken on board aircraft, such as radios and computers, which might be used to conceal explosive devices;
- (2) screening all hold baggage on flights at higher risk;
- (3) further tightening of the security requirements for cargo, mail and courier consignments;
- (4) tighter requirements for the physical separation of inbound and outbound passengers. (This may require structural alterations, or equivalent safeguards, at some airports.);
- (5) changes to the design and construction of aircraft interiors to make it harder to hide weapons or explosives in them, and to make them easier to search. Achieving these objectives will take time. They require careful co-ordination, more staff, more equipment, further training and close co-operation with our aviation industry and with other likeminded countries.
It is not enough to lay down security requirements; we must check that airports and airlines carry them out. I now intend to more than double the strength of the aviation security division. My team of aviation security advisers made 190 visits to airports last year. They will now be able to carry out more inspections and spot checks, as well as special surveys to determine whether new measures are needed. To emphasise their monitoring role they will be reconstituted as the Aviation Security Inspectorate. Each of the 20 or so larger airports will be visited frequently, and will be inspected formally and comprehensively at least once a year. Other airports will be formally inspected at regular intervals. Inspectors will also make overseas visits to ascertain that the security afforded to British airlines is satisfactory. They will be involved, as the advisers are now, in advising on the appropriate measures to counter the threat, in the development of new security measures and policies, and in the day-to-day response to security questions as they arise.
Under the Aviation Security Act 1982 I have certain powers to direct airport managers and aircraft operators for the purpose of protecting aircraft, airports and air navigation facilities from acts of violence. My aviation security advisers have the power to enter and inspect aircraft, and to detain them if necessary for that purpose, or enter and inspect any building or part of an airport.
But there are certain areas where my powers are more limited than I should like. I shall therefore seek new powers from Parliament to secure more effective implementation of security measures.
Over the last two years my Department has put together a clearly defined programme to carry out research and development into aviation security equipment. It has made arrangements with the Home Office's scientific research and development branch and the Ministry of Defence's Royal Armaments Research and Development Establishment to develop new detection techniques, and to conduct trials of commercial equipment for airport use. The budget for this work is about half a million pounds a year.
I now want this work stepped up, and I am doubling the budget for the current financial year. The research establishments will bring in extra staff and the work will be co-ordinated by a full-time project officer—a scientist—in the aviation security division of my Department. The projects will include the continuing examination of commercially available equipment for explosives detection, to assess the suitability of the new generation of advanced X-rays and explosive vapour detectors and other systems in this field. We shall also sponsor work on new techniques for the bulk detection of explosives in baggage and cargo.
We are keenly interested in the thermal neutron analysis (TNA) machines now being developed in the USA and in the United Kingdom for detecting explosives in baggage. The American project is sponsored by the FAA, 448W and we have now received its formal proposal to install one of the six production machines at Gatwick or Heathrow later this year. We are examining the practical considerations with BAA and expect very soon to be able to reply favourably to the FAA proposal.
In this country work is being carried out under a contract between the Atomic Energy Authority's Harwell laboratory and a private company. We have kept in touch with progress on this project and are discussing with its sponsors the possibility of funding further work.
But it is too soon to know whether TNA can by itself solve all the problems of screening baggage and we must continue to look for additional techniques.
Aviation security is a matter of international concern. The standards and recommended practices which govern aviation security are set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). It is important that security worldwide should be co-ordinated so that it is everywhere in line with the threat to civil aviation.
In February I attended a special ministerial meeting held by the Council of ICAO to discuss the implications of the Lockerbie disaster. I reported the successful outcome of this meeting to the House on 21 February. An ambitious programme of work began at ICAO designed to improve security standards worldwide. A meeting of the ICAO aviation security panel has been convened for May to take matters forward. Meanwhile, I look forward to a further discussion with United States Secretary of Transportation Skinner when he visits London later this week.
My aim is to introduce sound and practical measures that give a high level of security but interfere as little as possible with the operation of our airports and airlines and so with the travelling public. Such measures need careful preparation in close consultation with the industry and others. I am determined to press ahead with this work so as to achieve worthwhile and lasting improvements to aviation security in this country.
§ 36. Mr. Menzies Campbell
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport by what date he expects the full availability of thermal neutron analysis machines for airport security at British airports.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I refer the hon. Member to the answers given by my right hon. Friend today to the hon. Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans) and to the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith).
§ 45. Mr. Prescott
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many security breaches have occurred at British airports since 21 December 1988; how many reviews of security he has called for since then; and what action he is now taking to improve security.
§ Mr. Channon
Fourteen security incidents have been notified to the Department. Nine of these involved breaches of varying degrees of seriousness in the requirements of the aviation security programme. Two other cases are still under investigation. On the latter parts of the question I would refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave to my hon. Friend, the Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith).