Clause 78 - Aviation security directions etc

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport) 1:30 pm, 8th March 2012

Thank you, Sir Roger, for indulging me a little bit further in setting out our general concerns about the clause. I ought to have done so in my first speech, but foolishly I had not anticipated that we would not have a stand part debate.

First, I am disappointed that the Minister rejects our amendment’s proposals for a sensible, greater level of parliamentary scrutiny for the move to a risk-based system. Such scrutiny could be a sensible way to ensure greater confidence in the measure and tease out any further, as yet unknown, problems with the proposal. We will not force the amendment to a vote, but we hope that the Minister will give it serious thought before Report and return with something a bit more measured—I do not suggest that she has not been measured; Committee members know what I mean.

My hon. Friends have mentioned concerns about the clause, but it is worth stressing the manner in which the changes have appeared, which increases our concern about the process and therefore, potentially, the outcome of the changes. The proposal to transfer security is one of the most significant changes in the Bill, so we are slightly at a loss about the haphazard way in which it has evolved. It is worth stressing that, at the time of the Queen’s Speech, the Government had no intention to include security in the Bill. The pre-legislative scrutiny report makes it clear that industry witnesses told the Committee that there had been no discussion with them about that aspect of the Bill.

Thus far the Minister has not adequately explained why the Government have chosen to go about the process in so rushed a way. Why does she believe that now is the right time to make the change, given that, as we have already discussed, a consultation is under way on moving to risk-based security? How will the new system overcome the challenge of increased fragmentation in moving security functions to the CAA, while retaining security policy and direction with the Secretary of State? That is important.

Again, we are not necessarily opposed to such a move. As the Select Committee mentioned, there may be welcome synergies in placing safety and security  functions under one regulator, but the case has not yet adequately been made. All Committee members should be clear that these are big changes. For example, shifting vetting, renewing and withdrawing security clearance to the CAA is a remarkable expansion of its capacities and we should leave no room for doubt about its ability to undertake the new responsibilities.

The Minister rightly suggested that there would be greater discussion about this matter in debates on future clauses, but there are widely acknowledged difficulties to do with the staff transfer involved. I hope that she can tell us, either now or in future debates, how she has such apparent confidence—at the moment, frankly, we do not share it—in the ability of the Department and the CAA to manage the process of transfer effectively so that we end up with the right result.

The concerns of the trade union representative have been well set out, and it is worth adding a flavour of similar concerns that airline and airport representatives have expressed about the lack of clarity. For example, David Hart of British Airways told the Transport Committee:

“There is a lack of clarity for us, as an airline, about exactly who will be doing what and how the policy decisions will be filtered down and implemented.”

In the light of all that, I press the Minister to set out more convincingly how she can be confident that the proposed division of responsibilities is sufficiently robust and clear.

My final point concerns timing. On Second Reading, the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), raised concerns about the proposed time scale for the transfer. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), responded to the debate, because it was on the day or just after—