Clause 78 - Aviation security directions etc

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West 1:15 pm, 8th March 2012

I thank the Minister for that intervention. We are in agreement, because it is about the “how”. I absolutely agree that some people should not be treated better than others, but we need to work out how to deal with this issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton has mentioned Manchester airport, and I want to talk about the scheme in place there and the concerns that have emerged. Since 2009, Manchester airport has been trialling body scanners that use backscatter X-ray technology, which has not yet had EU approval. The radiation from a body scan is equivalent to cruising for two minutes at altitude, and the scanners have been approved by the Health Protection Agency. However, when the trial ends in October 2012, unless there is an extension, the airport will not be able to continue using those scanners.

The passenger approval rate for the body scanner is 95%. People much prefer it to the old-fashioned pat-down search, as do security staff. It avoids the need to touch the passenger, and for a lot of bending and stretching. Not everybody goes through the body scanner, but everybody goes through the first security phase. Then, a door opens and people either go through the body scanner, or they go straight ahead. The system has worked, but the concern is that if the EU does not approve it, the investment will be wasted.

On the outcomes-focused, risk-based approach, the Minister seems to be saying that the Bill gives airports the chance to innovate and to look at other ways of reaching the same solution. However, that approach is not working for Manchester airport, because it will not be able to continue using the scanners unless the Government can agree with the EU that that system should continue. That raises an ongoing issue: will airports be less likely to want to innovate? Will they be less likely to want to invest their own money in different security systems—which may reduce costs or be more efficient, for example—if they can be prevented from using them? Even if the outcomes that the Government desire were being achieved, a different input method would be being used. My worry is that there is not a clear enough picture of how we achieve the outcomes-focused, risk-based focus.