Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Amendment 31

Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 12th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Randerson:

Moved by Baroness Randerson

31: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—“Review of existing legislation relating to unmanned aircraft(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a review of the protections surrounding unmanned aircraft in existing legislation, and whether those protections are sufficient.(2) The review should make reference to, but is not limited to—(a) whether existing privacy legislation is sufficient to cover threats posed to personal privacy by unmanned aircraft;(b) the merits of introducing mandatory remote identification;(c) the merits of introducing mandatory geo-fencing;(d) whether existing criminal law sufficiently protects against—(i) the modification of unmanned aircraft; and(ii) the weaponisation of unmanned aircraft;(e) whether there should be a minimum age for the purchase and operation of unmanned aircraft.(3) The review must make a recommendation as to whether the Government should bring forward further legislation in light of its findings.”” Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would require the Government to undertake a review of existing legislation relating to unmanned aircraft, and to recommend whether further legislation is required to ensure sufficient protections.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lord, when I became Lords Transport spokesman in 2015, the first major piece of work I participated in related to drones. Work had already been done on that by one of the European Union sub-committees and a good report published. Then, and ever since, I have urged the Government to grasp this issue. Despite many opportunities, they have refused stubbornly to do so. They have refused to be hurried. Above all, they have refused to look ahead at rapidly developing technology.

Since 2015, a range of Ministers has been sitting opposite us answering on transport issues, but from one after another we have heard the phrase, “We lead the world in drone technology.” They have failed to grasp that if you are going to lead the world in the technology, you need to lead it in its regulation too. In preparation for today, I looked again at briefings we had a couple of years ago on legislation on drones. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we received a briefing from DJI, a leading UK drone manufacturer, which specified what its drones can now do. I compared that with what we were told drones could do a couple of years ago. In that short period of time, there has been a leap in technological capability. Here we have a Bill to update the law, yet the government response is limited to falling back on a few long-established police powers.

I cannot emphasise enough that that is a huge missed legislative opportunity. The Government should be looking at what drones can do now and indeed be anticipating what they will be able to do in a few months’ time, not even in a few years’ time, because it takes that long to get legislation on to the statute book and in that time there will be another step forward in drone technology. I argue that we owe it to pilots and passengers, whose safety is at risk. We owe it to airport operators who, at great cost, have to deal with the threats from drones, and we owe it to drone manufacturers and users to provide the framework for safe drone usage. I take issue with what the Minister said earlier about being proportionate, not overreacting and so on. Rather, drones need a good reputation. To achieve that, they need a good, modern and strong legal framework, which this Bill does not provide. Nothing could be worse for the drone manufacturing industry and for our technological base in it than to suffer disasters associated with drones which happened as a result of the fact that we have inadequate legislation.

Modern, adequate legislation does not have to be draconian, it just has to look at the ways in which drones operate and to take them into account. Amendment 31 is designed to open up the discussion and to encourage the Minister to go back to her department and press for firm measures to be incorporated in the Bill on Report. We are asking for a review, which is the very least that is needed. I would prefer some action now. I would like a much tighter legal framework, but to help the Minister I have specified some of the key issues that those in the industry— whether BALPA representing pilots, those in the drone manufacturing industry or those in the aviation industry—believe need to be addressed urgently.

For example, a recent opinion poll showed that 60% of people are concerned about the privacy implications of drones. Earlier, the noble Viscount referred to the issue of drones being flown over gardens, and there are other issues associated with the use of drones being used to spy on neighbours in a very unpleasant manner. Is the current legislation comprehensive enough to deal with the invasion of privacy implications of drone use? I doubt it.

The issue of the minimum age also needs to be addressed. In the wrong hands, a drone can bring down a plane, so it is only sensible to set a minimum age for flying them. They are not children’s toys, although they are often bought as such by badly informed parents. Last Christmas I noticed that one or two retailers stated that they were ceasing to sell drones because they realised the level of responsibility that goes with them.

The technology now exists for the remote identification of drones, something the Minister referred to earlier, but setting that aside, as some would have it and some would not, all should now have remote identification. It is reasonable to expect that it should always be switched on. It was explained to me that it should work like registering a car. I am registered as a driver and my car is registered as my property. If I drive badly, the police can take note of that, take the number plate, trace the car to me and rightly approach me to ask whether I was driving that car on that day and, if not, who was.

The same principle should apply with drones. Remote identification is an inexpensive way for the police and airport authorities to monitor drone usage. If a drone is flying too low or too close to an airfield and it has remote ID, the authorities can identify who owns it, find the owner and stop it flying there. If the drone’s ID is switched off, they know immediately that the incident is much more serious. They know that it is not a case of a youngster, or even a middle-aged person, behaving carelessly, but someone is deliberately intending to avoid being caught, leading to a potentially serious incident.

It should be an offence to switch off the remote identification of drones. There must of course be exceptions, which should be allowed as part of a regular process by the CAA. There are organisations and people who have very good reasons not to obey this identification process. Obviously, it should also be an offence to modify or to weaponise—that is, to arm—a drone. I do not know whether the current legislation would cover that. It was put to me that it would not.

Geofencing also needs to be widely rolled out. That would involve updating drone software regularly. It could be done with the annual registration process, just as with an electric or an automated vehicle in years to come, when software will need to be regularly updated. It also needs to be done for drones.

I have been talking about airports but all of this applies to prison authorities as well. If it were to be applied to drones through legislation at this time, it would help prison authorities considerably, as well as assisting in the safety of airports. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s words were tempting in some ways because ever since drones first appeared, we have been way behind the game in dealing with their potential dangers. They should never have been made available for the general public to buy and should have required a licence from the very beginning. All those things should have been done early on. So there is a temptation to support the noble Baroness in what she said, but when you think about it a little more, you realise that if we legislated in the way she asks for we would almost certainly be behind the game again. It is better that we leave things as they are drafted in the Bill so that we can take action much more easily in those circumstances when we see what is happening.

We cannot go back and undo those mistakes made at the very beginning because most people thought that they were toys. I remember that I in particular warned against the dangers of them being used, for example, as weapons launched at this building from a boat going up or down the river outside this place on to the Terraces, where people sit outside. That danger is still there. We need, all the time, to make sure that our powers are as flexible as possible—in the Bill now, I believe that they are—to deal with those threats as they arise.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 5:30 pm, 12th February 2020

My Lords, I only wish that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, had been here during earlier proceedings on the Bill because we dealt with the issues that he referred to.

I wonder whether Ministers have considered the 22nd report of the Commons Select Committee, entitled Commercial and Recreational Drone Use in the UK, and its recommendation. I want to read that recommendation out because it is at the heart of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness from the Liberal Democrat Benches. The committee said that they are

“concerned that there are differing accounts within the aviation community about the likely severity of damage of a drone collision with an airplane. Furthermore, there are differing accounts of the number of near misses and the reliability of airprox reports has been disputed. The Committee is concerned that there is no agreed position on the likely consequences of a drone-airplane impact. The Government should complete a substantive risk assessment”— exactly what the noble Baroness said—

“by the end of 2020.”

That is the end of this year. The report went on:

“If it is not possible to publish the result of this assessment due to security concerns, the Government must provide this Committee with evidential assurances that this work has been done.”

Well, it has not been done. The Select Committee recommendation has been ignored.

To go back further in the committee’s evidence, the CAA said that

“It is considered unlikely that a small drone would cause significant damage to a modern turbo-fan jet engine”.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, will be interested in what the report then states because he was a BALPA airline pilot, if I recall correctly:

“Captain Tim Pottage, representing BALPA, voiced caution about the CAA’s position. Captain Pottage said that he was … ‘Concerned that the CAA had that view. There has been no testing of a drone against a large commercial high bypass jet engine—none at all. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it would cause a catastrophic failure, causing a blade to shed and not to be contained within the engine cell.’”

That is what is worrying us in the House. We will have a lot of people telling us not to worry about it and that it will not happen, but if it does happen, who will be held to blame? I believe that it will be this Government.

Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative

My Lords, the House should thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for introducing her amendment and enabling a discussion about, essentially, attempting to future-proof this legislation, which is extremely difficult to do.

I am afraid that I follow my noble friend Lord Tebbit’s analysis of the situation. We have to draw the line somewhere. It is important to move ahead with the legislation more or less as drafted—that is, as it appears before the Committee. It is difficult to legislate for future technical solutions, such as geofencing and reliable, low-cost, low-weight but high-power transponders that would have to be developed to be included in every single drone. Lightweight transponders exist at the moment—light enough to be put into gliders, for example—but they have relatively high power requirements. There is also the requirement for them to have very high integrity. If these drones are carrying a transponder and giving false information because the transponder costs £5, for example, air traffic control could be disrupted perhaps worse than by the original offence relating to where the device is being flown.

While I welcome the debate that the noble Baroness has facilitated through her amendment, I am sympathetic with my noble friend the Minister in trying to produce legislation that, as far as technologically we can, tackles the situation as it prevails at the moment while attempting to future-proof—often through the use of Henry VIII powers, which was the subject of the previous debate on Schedule 10. We need that flexibility. Some compromise is required to achieve that, and I suggest that that compromise is the use of delegated powers. It seems entirely clear that we will have to revisit this in the not too distant future, even after this Bill becomes law.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, I too am most grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this amendment. Even taking on board the reservations that two of my noble friends on this side have expressed, proposed new subsection (1)—a continual review each six months—certainly ought to be incorporated somewhere in this Bill. I do not know whether this is the right place, but that is for the Minister—not to respond to tonight, but certainly to take on board and come back to us on Report.

I see absolutely nothing wrong in having a minimum age. For heaven’s sake, it was done for motorcycles and other vehicles on the highway, and this is no different—it just happens to be in the air—so it seems absolutely right to have a minimum age.

I have worked with my noble friend on the Opposition Benches on many things. Having flown light aircraft in Pakistan and Canada and in the Royal Air Force, I am deeply worried that something will happen. I see a responsibility to say to my noble friend on the Front Bench, who I do not think has had the privilege of doing either of those things, that there needs to be forestalling of a potential huge accident. I very much hope that the department takes that on board in this legislation.

Photo of Lord Trefgarne Lord Trefgarne Chair, SLSC Sub-Committee A

My Lords, I am not without sympathy for the thoughts behind the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, but there are some important complications, which were referred to by my noble friends Lord Tebbit and Lord Goschen. For example, electronic identification for each and every drone would be a considerable undertaking. It may in the end prove necessary, but it is not straightforward.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, unnecessary conflict has developed in this debate. I declare that I am the vice-president of BALPA, whose position, broadly speaking, is to support this Bill as far as it goes and strengthen it where we can, but also to recognise that there will be subsequent information and knowledge, and that regulation will be required as the impact of the technology changes. The noble Baroness’s amendment—building into this legislation the fact that we continuously review the specifics that she outlines, but also any other changes in technology—is the most sensible way to do it. We are not going to complete in the next few days a Bill that will last very long in its totality.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, with whom I sat on the same committee, knows that five years ago the technology was very different. Some of the concerns were the same; some have been overcome. Hopefully, we can develop a situation in which we have a continuous review, but the request that that should be built into this Bill does not seem to me unreasonable. For the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours spelled out, and as I spoke about at Second Reading, we already know about the lack of testing on the effect of drones going into jet engines. We need that testing before we can effectively legislate. It is a potentially serious issue. We need a next stage built into the legislation. If the noble Baroness’s amendment is not accepted in total, I hope that its spirit will be taken on board by the Government.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Amendment 35 in this group is on much the same theme as the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, except that it calls for the Secretary of State to,

“prepare a strategy for reviewing legislation relating to unmanned aircraft.”

At Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, referring to the rate at which technology surrounding drones has developed, said:

“It is possible that this legislation already falls behind recent developments. It seems to ignore the dangers that could arise from drones that fly beyond lines of sight. Ultimately, this legislation must be prepared to deal with the drone technology of the future”.—[Official Report, 27/1/20; col. 1270.]

My noble friend Lord Whitty referred at Second Reading to the Select Committee report from 2015 on drones—or, as I think they were known then, remotely piloted aircraft systems—and said that a range of issues raised in the report had “not been fully addressed” and were not really addressed in the Bill. Some related to the safety of other users in the air and on the ground, but there were also issues of insurance, licensing, privacy and liability and the question of how far the multiple operation of drones by one programme and one operator is compatible with our current regulations. He also spoke about changes in the air traffic control regulations to ensure adequate separation; strengthening the enforcement and checking system; removing built-in safety features from drones; the deliberate weaponisation of drones; and licensing of individual machines. The Airport Operators Association has called for mandatory geofencing software in drones and the mandatory identification of drones to help airports to identify genuine threats to safety.

I am sure that the Government recognise the need to keep reviewing legislation relating to unmanned aircraft. The incident at Gatwick Airport in December 2018 and other incidents and the subsequent emergence of the Bill suggest that someone or somebody had not kept their eye fully on the ball regarding the relevance of legislation by ensuring legislation continues to reflect current realities and technological developments. It is not unreasonable to suggest that a strategy should be drawn up for reviewing legislation to ensure that that does not happen again. At Second Reading, the Minister, speaking for the Government, said:

“Of course, the world of drones and airspace change never stops, so we will continue to review the legislation to ensure it remains fit for purpose, particularly for drones.”—[Official Report, 27/1/20; col. 1292.]

As I said, I am not sure that that has been the case in the light of the Gatwick incident in the sense of updating the legislation in time.

Will the Government’s strategy for reviewing legislation relating to unmanned aircraft be conducted in a piecemeal manner, responding to problems and issues as they come to light, or will we have a comprehensive review of all aspects of legislation relating to unmanned aircraft, as some have called for? The Airport Operators Association says in its briefing—which I am sure a number of noble Lords will have received—on Part 3 of the Bill on unmanned aircraft: “We are, in addition, disappointed that the Government have not taken the opportunity to include other elements called for by the majority of the industry and achieve one comprehensive piece of legislation on drone safety and usage.”

The piecemeal approach would appear to be in vogue at the moment. Even with this Bill, the Government have taken the line—and it has been repeated today—that this is about police enforcement powers and that, in their view, it is inappropriate to use this Bill for further unmanned aircraft regulation. There are also the Henry VIII powers in the Bill, which we have discussed. They provide for the creation of new offences by the Secretary of State, by regulation on an ad hoc basis, and for the addition of offences by the Secretary of State by regulations on an ad hoc basis. That again suggests a piecemeal approach by the Government to their continuous review of the legislation on unmanned aircraft to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. If legislation affecting unmanned aircraft is reviewed on a piecemeal basis, then when a problem or deficiency is exposed, we risk the equivalent of a second Gatwick incident.

This amendment calls for a strategy for reviewing legislation relating to unmanned aircraft—a strategy which, based on the evidence, frankly, is needed—and for that strategy to be prepared by the Secretary of State. I await the Government’s response.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 5:45 pm, 12th February 2020

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to what has been a very interesting debate. It has been more wide-ranging than I anticipated.

The Government are listening to everybody contributing to this debate—within this Chamber and beyond—about what they should be doing. Something needs to be done, but there is no silver bullet. Standing here now, I can absolutely say that there is no magic bullet, no single solution. We cannot legislate our way out of the issue facing us unless we completely ban drones. There was mention that perhaps we should have had a registration system at the outset, but we have had model aircraft for years. They have not had anything, and they too have been involved in incursions over airports. We cannot lull ourselves into a false sense of security. We cannot say that the Government are not doing enough, that something must be done and that this is all so terrible, because what in this Bill would have prevented Gatwick, for example?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Potentially, a transponder, but we knew where the drones were. We could see them flashing above the runway. What could we do about it? All the legislation in the world could not have done anything about that. It comes down to technology, and the work that we are doing with the CPNI to develop the counter-UAV technology. That is what we need to spend money on, and we intend to. The legislation before us is a series of things that have already been put in place under the air navigation order. The noble Baroness may criticise the approach as piecemeal, but essentially, it is keeping up with technology.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

Does the Minister accept that Gatwick was an outlier in a range of events, and that it would have been caught by noticing that, “They’ve switched off their electronic ID, so we have a real problem here”? That would not have caught the drones but it would have alerted the authorities. Does she accept that most of these potentially dangerous incursions are accidental or careless, and that having some form of compulsory electronic ID would enable the authorities to act quickly and easily? We are not talking about new technology that is way over the horizon. It is here now.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Baroness makes a couple of very interesting points, including that in many cases, people do not intend to commit these offences and if given a slap on the wrist and a fixed-penalty notice, they probably would not do it again. When the noble Baroness asked if I wanted to make an intervention, I was listening intently because I want to hear ideas about what we should be doing that we have not done already, and where the deficiencies are.

Let me address some of the ideas of noble Lords; others we will take away and look at further. My noble friend Lord Naseby said that there must be a minimum age. There is a minimum age: you must be over 18 to operate a drone. You must also pass a competency test to be a remote pilot, but the operator of the drone is the person responsible. I think we can agree that the minimum age issue has been dealt with.

On remote ID and electronic conspicuity, the delegated Act is in UK law. The noble Baroness suggested demanding that every drone has electronic conspicuity. We do not want to favour one drone manufacturer over another. We want to ensure that the technology we receive can develop naturally. It was agreed among EU members that a three-year transition period would be appropriate, but electronic conspicuity is in British law. It will be coming over the transition period, as we agreed with our colleagues in the EU.

The noble Baroness also asked why the process is not like car registration. It already is. One must register a drone, and it has a number on it, like a car number plate. So we already have registration and competency testing; these things are already part of UK law. I am therefore still looking for what it is we should be doing better. Geo-awareness and geo-fencing, like electronic conspicuity, are in the EU delegated Act, so they are in UK law.

Forgive me—I cannot recall which noble Lord mentioned BVLOS, but we already have drones that can fly beyond the visual line of sight. It is illegal to do so; that is already within our legislation. It cannot be done without permission.

I am slightly at a loss as to where we can take this further. Noble Lords mentioned areas that stray into other parts of the law, but on privacy, for example, which the Government take extremely seriously, we want to stop invasions of people’s privacy, but we consider the existing legislation sufficient. Article 95 of the air navigation order specifies that equipment must not be flown over or within 150 metres of a congested areas or an organised open area assembly of more than 1,000 people, within 50 metres of any third person, or within 30 metres during take-off and landing. The 50-metre limit also applies to structures, including houses. Capturing an image from over 50 metres away is possible, I suppose, but then the GDPR regulations and the Data Protection Act come in to protect people’s privacy. Other criminal legislation which noble Lords considered more recently around voyeurism includes the Sexual Offences Act 2003. So, there is existing legislation which protects privacy. Again, I am happy to listen to opinions on where the legislation is deficient and how it specifically relates to drones, rather than just general privacy information.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Perhaps I can answer the Minister’s question. She asked what can be done. Very simply—if she has listened to the debate she will know—confiscate any drone that enters one of these zones.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am aware that that is the noble Lord’s position, but I am not sure that evidence exists that if confiscation becomes part of the Bill, it automatically means that nothing bad will ever happen to drones—or that it will make any difference at all—given that the penalties are already far higher than the cost of a drone.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

I come back to the point that the purpose is its deterrent value. It would also have a public relations value. Rather than telling the owner of a drone that he or she may not fly it in a particular way, confiscation would have a deterrent value. This would encourage good behaviour and be a public relations exercise to show that the Government are taking seriously the possibility of a catastrophic accident if a drone were to hit a civilian airliner.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I agree with the noble and gallant Lord. The Government obviously take seriously the potential of a catastrophic accident. For those kinds of offences, the deterrent is far greater than having one’s drone taken away: it is a lengthy prison sentence and an unlimited fine. I remain unconvinced at this time that the confiscation or forfeiture of a drone is an additional means of deterrent.

I am trying to think of an example of an item being forfeited purely to provide that kind of deterrent effect. I will ask my officials to look at the issue and perhaps that will produce more convincing evidence.

Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative

One can think of the example of the seizure and destruction of untaxed vehicles by public authorities. The specific deterrent is the loss of the vehicle in addition to any financial penalty.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my noble friend for that good example. I am not against this; I just wonder what the evidence is. I shall ask my officials to look for more examples and to see whether it is likely to be proportionate and a deterrent, and whether the existing penalty system is sufficient to deter not only minor offences but the most serious.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

The noble Viscount referred to seizure as against confiscation. Perhaps we should simply substitute confiscation for seizure.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Perhaps I may be of help. It was pointed out to me that if I did not re-licence my shotgun within the statutory time limit I was given, the gun would be taken away from my premises. I do not know whether that would be for ever, but it would certainly be taken away for a long time.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank my noble friend for his additional data, to be added to the information I will be collecting before too long.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

It is a sobering thought that, as I understand it, the Government have said that no legislation could prevent what happened at Gatwick happening again or even reduce its likelihood. That seems to be the Government’s stance. I apologise for my ignorance in advance, but can the Minister confirm that there is a report into the incident at Gatwick Airport in December 2018, and can it be made available?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

What I said about Gatwick is that there is no silver bullet; there was not one piece of legislation that would have stopped Gatwick.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

As a result of what happened at Gatwick, steps have been taken. So, it is not a case of just legislation stopping or not stopping it. Additional measures have been taken which make it less likely that the problems at Gatwick will arise again. At least, I hope that is the intention of the steps that have been taken.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble and gallant Lord is right; a number of steps have been taken. On the legislative side, we have looked carefully at what we can include. One of the steps taken as a result of Gatwick is that we asked CPNI to step up its work on counter-UAV technology and it has been carrying out tests. It did a call-out to industry; industry sent it whatever it had in detect, track and identify technology; and CPNI has been methodically working its way through it to see whether the technology works. Some of it does not.

We are looking carefully at providing a catalogue for airports to say to them, “This is the technology that works. We at CPNI, since Gatwick, have checked this technology and it works.” Those are the kinds of things we have been doing.

On the legislative side, what we heard from the police post Gatwick was that they needed the police powers to put into place the offences that are already in regulation. That is what I am trying to tease out from this: what is missing from the regulations that will make our entire nation safer? We will look at that.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 6:00 pm, 12th February 2020

Looking at what would make us safer, when the Minister has had the opportunity to read the record, will she write to us to clarify the position? I believe she said to us categorically that you have to be 18 to operate a drone. The CAA has pages and pages about how to register as the flyer of a drone if you are under 13. An operator of a drone has to be 18-plus, but it is quite clear that an operator of a drone is not a flyer. The CAA states that you are an operator if

“you’re the adult responsible for an under 18 who owns a drone”— under-18s cannot just fly a drone or a model aircraft, they can own them too—

“you’re responsible for a drone that someone else will fly” or

“you already have a flyer ID, or an exemption, and you only need an operator ID at the moment.”

It is very lax. The point I am making is that there are things the Government can do—with all due respect, my amendment asks only for a review—without breaking new ground. The idea of registration is pretty straightforward and well established in other situations.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has just repeated back to me what I have already said. There is a registration system. It is in existence and it is very straightforward. There are two types of people who can use the registration system. The first is a person who is over 18 and is the operator of the drone. That person is responsible. The second person might be, but does not have to be, a remote pilot. Why did we do this? Why does the remote pilot thing exist? It is to make sure that people aged under 18 can fly drones. How are we going to get our young people interested in aviation and in flying model aircraft? This is not just about drones.

Sometimes I am very struck. The Liberal Democrats sometimes come across as being very illiberal and on other points they come across as being very liberal indeed. I am slightly confused because the noble Baroness has literally just said back to me what I said to her earlier: that is already in place. The operator of a drone is the person who is responsible for it. That person has to register that drone, just like a car, with the CAA. I do not want to stop young people who are competent. Every young person has to take the test. I took the test; they have to take the test. At that point, they can fly a drone.

I do not want to prolong the discussion today, but perhaps afterwards the noble Baroness will describe to me exactly what she thinks is missing from that system, because it comes from the EU regulations. I believe the Liberal Democrats like the EU. Those are the EU regulations. They are agreed with the EU and therefore they are consistent across Europe. They make sure that there is responsibility for the drone and that young people can fly if somebody else is responsible. The noble Baroness shakes her head and says no, but I really do not want to detain the Committee any longer on something which is not wholly relevant to this amendment. We can perhaps discuss it in later groups.

I believe that I have gone into some of the details, and I hope I have been able to demonstrate that we are listening. We want to hear about what specifically we can do to make things better. The noble Baroness mentioned DJI. We, too, have been in touch with DJI and I believe it has sent a briefing to several noble Lords. It is very clear that the Bill should remain a means of ensuring safety and compliance with existing regulation because that regulation includes the EU’s implementing and delegated regulations, which UK officials helped shape. These have come into force and are in UK law.

The Government will continue to review the effectiveness of all the legislation on unmanned aircraft. It is critical to us. We will always listen to new ideas from noble Lords and stakeholders. It is important.

The Science and Technology Committee’s report Commercial and Recreational Drone Use in the UK was mentioned. I note for the record that my department stands ready to provide a response to the report—we have not yet responded—which will include references to the applicability of legislation. We will do that once the committee is reappointed.

On the basis of that explanation I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I emphasise that my amendment simply asks for a review of the current situation. While the debate has been going on, I have looked through the specifications of modern drones; they include geofencing, altitude limits, return to home, sensor-avoid technology and ADSB in all drones weighing more than 250 grams. There are various ways of controlling them, including not just an app or traditional remote controllers but even hand gestures. We are at a very important point in the development of drones.

On the analogy with registering a car, which I initiated and the Minister took me up on, looking through the CAA’s pages there does not appear to be a requirement for the registered operator to be present when a drone is flown by a child. With all due respect, larger drones, as the noble Lord said earlier, are not toys and have a huge potential impact. I think the Government are guilty of some complacency; they are certainly guilty of being behind the curve. A review would provide a good opportunity for them to come up to speed. However, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 31 withdrawn.