Airport Security (People with Disabilities)

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 1 February 2012.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:34, 1 February 2012

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require security search arrangements at airports to ensure that appropriate levels of privacy are provided for people with disabilities;
and for connected purposes.

The Bill would require Her Majesty’s Government to take measures to ensure that the dignity of stoma bag users and other disabled people is protected at airport security checkpoints throughout the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Many people who face life-threatening health conditions such as bowel and bladder cancer and Crohn’s disease must undergo surgery, such as colostomies and urostomies. Such surgery should not end their right to travel, whether it be for business, for pleasure or to see friends and family, nor should it end their right to be treated with dignity while doing so. Unfortunately, that is what often occurs.

One of my constituents who has had cancer and who requires the use of both urostomy and colostomy pouches attended my surgery to tell me of the humiliation that she has faced at several airports throughout the European Union. She requested my assistance in preventing future such occurrences. She explained that the security personnel at Budapest airport were far from sympathetic. After a pat-down search, they wanted to examine her underwear, despite her attempts to explain that she had colostomy pouches. She was required to attempt to explain that to them in public, in front of fellow holidaymakers in the security queue—an experience she described as “totally degrading”.

Sadly, such practices and such a lack of sympathy are not unique to that case. My constituent told me how she had faced poor treatment at an airport in the north-east. A rudimentary internet search reveals similar instances at airports throughout the world, including at John F. Kennedy airport in New York and Tampa in Florida. At John Lennon airport in Liverpool, a colostomy bag user from Ballymena faced a public search. Although it is vital to ensure that aerospace flights are secure, one would hope that in such circumstances, airport security staff would act with compassion, humanity and common sense.

My constituent had a card and a doctor’s letter, with an explanation of her situation in several languages. She faced problems because she was separated from them when her hand luggage was scanned. The man from Ballymena also had a letter signed by his doctor and even offered to be searched privately. His letter and request were apparently ignored by the Securitas guard. Such practices must surely be regarded as a violation of a passenger’s fundamental and inalienable right to be treated with dignity, and they must cease.

The Bill would address those problems. The British Government would be compelled to ensure that all airport security staff in the United Kingdom with responsibility for searching passengers were trained in preserving the dignity of stoma patients while maintaining our security. Furthermore, the Bill would address these issues throughout the European Union by compelling the Foreign Secretary to urge the European Commission to amend regulation No. 300/2008 on common rules in the field of civil aviation security to require all airport security staff in the EU to be so trained. The Government would also be expected to lobby for such training to be mandated worldwide by the International Civil Aviation Organisation through the Chicago convention.

This issue must affect thousands of British citizens every year, but sadly it attracts little attention. I hope that Members recognise that granting this Bill a Second Reading is an opportunity for this House to make a difference to people’s lives by ensuring that their right to dignity is respected.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Tom Blenkinsop, Steve Rotheram, Nic Dakin, Yvonne Fovargue, Mr Iain Wright and Jim Shannon present the Bill.

Tom Blenkinsop accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 March, and to be printed (Bill 301 ).

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on the written ministerial statement laid today by the Ministry of Defence on the White Paper, “National Security Through Technology: Technology, Equipment, and Support for UK Defence and Security”, and on the reference that was made in Prime Minister’s questions to BAE losing the Typhoon order from India. Is it possible for a Defence Minister to come to the House to address both those issues as they are of such importance to many Members of Parliament and their constituents?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

As the hon. Lady knows, the manner in which the Government make statements is a matter for those on the Treasury Bench. Specifically, it is for them to judge whether there should be a written or an oral statement. Her point of order will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and will doubtless be transmitted to the Leader of the House and his deputy. Moreover, the hon. Lady is an assiduous attender of Question Time each day and will be conscious that tomorrow there will be business questions, where she may make an appearance to pursue this point further.