Clause 78 - Aviation security directions etc

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 8th March 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham 10:15 am, 8th March 2012

I want to speak on clauses 78 and 79, which cover the transfer of security functions from the Department for Transport to the CAA. The proposed transfer is a significant shift,  which did not receive proper pre-legislative consultation and scrutiny, because it was included in the Bill only at a very late stage. I want to ask the Minister a number of questions, which she needs to address because concerns have been raised at a number of levels—not only within industry, but within the Transport Committee. That Committee tells us:

“At the time of the Queen’s Speech, it was not envisaged that the bill would include security measures. Indeed, these did not form part of the DfT’s consultation and industry witnesses told us that they had not been consulted on this aspect of the draft bill. Dr Humphreys…told us that there was a lack of clarity and consultation on the proposed division of responsibilities between the DfT and CAA. There was also concern about the additional costs that the aviation industry would face.”

My hon. Friends have discussed that in detail this morning.

Will the Minister explain the major shift in responsibility? Why has there been insufficient pre-legislative scrutiny? Why was the industry not consulted on the measure? Why now? I want to focus on the most important question, which is how will the change be made without causing major disruption to the system and a security gap for passengers?

Of paramount concern is the potential fragmentation of responsibility between security policy and direction, which will remain with the Secretary of State, and security functions, which will be transferred to the CAA. The measure risks changing a security system that, as we have heard, has worked well since the Lockerbie tragedy, which led to our present arrangements. I have spent most of my career looking at things that work adequately and trying to improve them. I am not against change if it will lead to improvement, but we must consider the provisions’ consequences, some of which will be unintended.

We should not forget how and why we arrived at the present system. We should not move lightly from an approach that has existed as a result of such tragic loss of life, particularly as, according the impact assessment, the clear stated purpose is to

“Reduce the costs to the taxpayer” in line with spending review commitments

“by introducing the user pays principle.”

I am not necessarily against that aim, but it should not be the underlying reason for changing a security system that has served us well for many years.

Although the Government do not propose major changes, they will, for example, pass to the CAA the obligation to

“make arrangements for carrying out that vetting, including… arrangements for renewing and withdrawing clearance”.

In addition, the CAA rather than the Secretary of State must maintain the list of persons approved to provide particular aviation security services. For almost all my career, until I came here, I worked in education, and that list sounds very much like our list 99. I know about and understand the security and sensitivity around list 99; the very idea of transferring responsibilities for maintaining a similar list from the Secretary of State to the CAA is simply unacceptable. Will the Minister explain why she believes that the Department for Transport should no longer bear responsibility for keeping the list? What will be the Secretary of State’s role in reviewing or maintaining it, as the Bill removes all such laws?

Concerns have been raised by staff representatives. Mr Moloney, who represents the Department for Transport trade union side, warned against changing a critical system developed in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing, which has proved its effectiveness over the years. He argued that the division between policy operation is not always clear cut, that the division between the two organisations would be a recipe for confusion and delay and that there would be a danger of things falling between two stools.

Again, I bring in my background in children’s services. We know that tragedy and disaster lie in that gap. Where there is confusion and where no one is sure whose job something is—that is where disaster lies. We must ask the Minister strong questions about how the transfer will be implemented. She must set out precisely who will be doing what, and how policy decisions will be implemented, because there is confusion about the matter.

The Minister tried to reassure us that the separation of policy making from operation is not unusual. She cited the example of policing, in which policy is set by the Home Secretary and operational decisions are made by the chief constable. She denied that ministerial accountability for aviation security would be reduced when the Bill is enacted. However, I remain concerned that the provision to transfer aviation security regulations and functions from the Department to the CAA was made at a late stage.