The two amendments in this group would require the Secretary of State to consult those involved in or affected by the incident at Gatwick Airport in December 2018 and to report on the consultation to both Houses of Parliament. What has driven these amendments more than anything else is that I am still not clear about the extent to which the Government went back to consult those who took part in the original consultation, to see whether they had anything useful to add in light of their experience of what happened at Gatwick in December 2018 that might have had relevance for what appears in the Bill we are considering today. As we know, two public consultations took place prior to this Bill and, indeed, prior to the incident in December 2018.
My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe referred to this at Second Reading, when he asked whether there had been any consultation on the legislation with those involved in the Gatwick incident. The Government’s response was less than explicit. They said only that there had been contact with the police force
“around Gatwick and … all over the country” and meetings with
“other stakeholders to discuss these matters in general.”
The Government also said that
“a cross-government working group … looked at stop and search powers” and
“agreed that the focus of the powers should not only be directed towards aviation and airports but be applicable to other areas such as prisons”.—[
In conclusion, they said they could not “delay any longer”. One might draw an inference from that comment that few of those organisations or individuals involved or affected by the Gatwick incident were consulted so that their potentially useful recent information or experience could be taken into consideration when determining the provisions that should be in this Bill or what provisions of a non-legislative function might be taken.
Amendment 37 lists a number of bodies and organisations which it is suggested should be consulted. It would be helpful if the Government could indicate in response which of those bodies and organisations were or were not included in any consultation that took place. I hope the Minister can give a clearer response than we have had so far on whether the Government went back to people who had been consulted in the first two consultations to see whether their experience of what happened at Gatwick had either changed their view or enabled them to put forward helpful suggestions or ideas on how a similar situation might be avoided, or at least the risk of it minimised, in future.
I add a further question I asked earlier when the issue of Gatwick was raised by the Minister: is there a report in existence on the December 2018 Gatwick incident, and is it available to Members of this House? I beg to move.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for giving me the opportunity to share as much information as I have with him. I will certainly share more if he is still yet to be convinced. As to whether there is a report on Gatwick—my apologies for not covering this earlier—I do not know but will investigate and return to it in a letter to him.
This amendment is on consultation. Ministers and officials from the Department for Transport and the Home Office have engaged with a range of stakeholders throughout the development of this Bill, including but not exclusively those listed in the amendment, and will continue to do so to make sure that our legislation remains fit for purpose, ensuring that lessons learned from those directly involved in responding to unmanned aircraft incidents, whether Gatwick or others, are considered and acted upon.
In the aftermath of the Gatwick incident, the Government worked with the police, the airport and other relevant organisations to learn lessons from the response. There were debriefs, workshops and future planning meetings so that we could look at and extrapolate from the event. Since Gatwick, the counter-drone community has moved forward at pace. We have a broader understanding of the threat posed by drones—hence our work with the CPNI on detecting, tracking and identifying equipment and how that might be deployed. We also continue to consult widely. For example, the UK Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Strategy, our main focus following Gatwick and prior to this Bill, was published in October 2019 and followed ongoing engagement with both those on and not on the list because we wanted the widest input we could get.
I turn to some of the specific bodies: first, the police. For the first few months after the Gatwick incident, the counter-drone unit in the Home Office, which worked jointly with my department on this Bill, had an embed in its team from Sussex Police who was involved with Gatwick. That was extremely helpful. Since May 2019, a chief inspector from the National Police Chiefs’ Council has been embedded in this team with the national police lead for counter-drone systems, providing operational advice on how the provisions in the Bill will be put to use on the ground.
We see Gatwick Airport regularly and seek regular input from all airports because it is often the case that the larger airports will be able to react in a very different way to the smaller airports—something we have not really touched on today.
At the time, a key issue revealed by Gatwick was the question of who was responsible for the operation of equipment. That has been clarified, as the Minister has indicated, in relation to the larger airports. Have the Government yet reached agreement with smaller airports, police services and the Army throughout Britain on who is responsible for ensuring that appropriate equipment will be deployed at smaller airports if such an incident happens there?
The noble Baroness has hit a particular nail on the head. That is why the catalogue of equipment is being developed by the CPNI. It is encouraging the leasing of equipment. Airports are responsible for safety and security within their boundaries, so they are being encouraged, where they feel it is appropriate, to lease appropriate equipment. Not all airports are the same, because of different sized sites and all sorts of different reasons. There is always ongoing engagement with the Ministry of Defence and the police. Every incident is dealt with on a case-by-case basis because, interestingly, no two incursions are the same. Some can be dealt with extremely easily and others require a different approach. We are well aware of the difference.
It is not just the different sizes of airports. There are various other bits of critical national infrastructure that fall under this entire threat picture. We are cognisant of that; it is part of the work on the strategy to make sure that we have the appropriately flexible response to make sure that we can deploy resources in the best way.
We have also been engaging with the Ministry of Defence. Along with the Home Office, my department works closely with the Ministry of Defence to share learning from its military work overseas and how best to work with the counter-drone industry. We work closely with the Civil Aviation Authority, including on the development of the drone code and drone registration scheme. Since Gatwick, the code has been reviewed and the drone registration scheme has come into existence.
We have regular meetings with BALPA, which is always a pleasure, and we are very interested in what it has to say. We also see a wide range of other bodies, either regularly or on an ad hoc basis, which includes the drone and counter-drone industries, regulatory bodies, airports and other critical national infrastructure sites, academia, and in particular international partners— this is not just a UK issue, and we speak to our international colleagues about it. I had a meeting with people from the States just a couple of weeks ago; they are facing the same problems, and we should not think that we are behind the curve, because we are certainly not.
I hope that, based on that explanation, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.