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 Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 1:15 pm, 8th March 2012

I am grateful for the opportunity to have a wide-ranging debate on an important issue. I will run through a number of the points made by hon. Members before looking at the wider issues concerning the transfer of functions to the CAA and the nature of the complementary reform, which is a move to an outcomes-focused, risk-based approach to aviation security regulation. In response to points made by a number of Members, including the hon. Members for Barrow and Furness and for Strangford, I can confirm that security is paramount. That is the case under the current system and will remain so under the reformed system. Matters such as cost and passenger convenience are significant ones to consider, but keeping passengers secure will always be the paramount consideration.

The Government would not be putting forward the changes set out in the Bill if we believed they would in any way jeopardise the current high levels of security that we deliver in the UK aviation sector. As I will explain, we believe that combining safety and security regulatory enforcement functions in the same body, and the move to outcomes-focused, risk-based security, have the potential to improve high security levels still further.

In response to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton, yes, it is acknowledged that transferring regulatory enforcement functions to the CAA will mean that the cost of the system is transferred to the aviation industry. That will add some £4.8 million to industry costs, but that is significantly outweighed by the reduction in regulatory costs provided by other parts of the Bill. As I informed the Committee last week, the Bill will deliver a reduction in costs for the aviation sector of approximately £150 million net present value over 20 years. That does not include any potential savings the industry might make as a result of a move to outcomes-focused, risk-based security.

The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton also referred to the 1p and 2p figures in the impact assessment. The net cost per passenger is 1p, and for freight owners the net cost per kilogram of cargo is 0.001p. Where the cost is applied only to passengers, it is 2p. The hon. Gentleman also expressed concern—as did the hon. Member for Bolton West—that the aviation industry had to pay for the costs of security, and he asked for examples of the approach taken overseas. Like the UK, most European countries apply the “user pays” principle. We believe that it is fair to ask those who use and provide aviation services to meet the costs of keeping them secure. The last Government did not propose to change that approach during their 13 years in office; if the Opposition now propose doing so, that would involve a spending commitment of some £1 billion.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned APD. Tempting as it is to trespass on to that turf, taxation matters are of course a matter for the Chancellor, as he will appreciate. He also highlighted the cost of computers, referring to an estimate of £1.5 million. That figure includes some transitional costs, but his point is well made and it will of course be important for this project to be properly managed and scrutinised, as arrangements for the transfer of functions develop. The Department will be making those arrangements with care. The Government take seriously the need to improve the track record we inherited from the previous Administration on IT projects whose costs spiralled out of control.

Both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bolton West mentioned the very successful security scanner scheme run by the Manchester Airports Group, involving backscatter technology. As I said in an intervention, the Government have been very impressed by the results of the pilot, although it is currently just a pilot and not authorised as a primary screening method for the purposes of EU regulation. The issue is still under discussion and has been referred for further expert consideration. We continue enthusiastically to support the approval of this type of scanner as a primary screening method for the purposes of EU regulation.

A number of Members—the shadow Minister, and the hon. Member for North West Durham in particular—talked about how the split of responsibilities between  the CAA and the Department for Transport will work in practice. It is an important issue, which is one of the reasons why the Department has circulated a note to Committee members giving them further insight into our approach. I emphasise that the policy and the giving of directions will remain the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Transport. The CAA will be given responsibility for enforcement and for providing advice on policy and directions.

The shadow Minister mentioned the introduction of the rules on liquids and the circumstances that led to their introduction. Under the new system and the proposed transfer of responsibilities to the CAA, such changes would still be decided by the Secretary of State. They would be advised by the CAA, which is the expert regulator dealing with the front line and enforcing the provisions, but the Secretary of State would decide whether additional rules on liquids, for example, were required.