Clause 78 - Aviation security directions etc

Part of Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:00 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham 1:00 pm, 8th March 2012

I will quickly recap what I said this morning, but I will not start from the beginning as I have entertained the Committee enough.

I talked about the concerns raised by the Select Committee on Transport, the industry and, latterly, the staff. I was fair to the Minister by saying that she had pointed out that separating policy making from operation was not unusual and had cited the example of the Home Secretary, whereby the chief constables make operational decisions.

I remain concerned, however, that the decision to transfer aviation security regulatory functions from the Department for Transport to the Civil Aviation Authority was included at a late stage and has not been subject to sufficient pre-legislative consultation or scrutiny. I am  also concerned about clarity on who is responsible for what, which is always a recipe for disaster, and on which staff will transfer.

We have been told that 85 staff will transfer, but that involves some major assumptions. Do they all want to transfer? Have we asked them? How many are of an age to choose early retirement? How many will, in the run-up to April 2014, choose to transfer to other Departments rather than be forcibly transferred to the CAA?

We have heard that staff are worried about the terms and conditions, status and redundancy rights that they have built up and may lose in the transfer. I do not think we can safely assume that 85 staff will simply transfer because the Government wish them to.

We should also remember that the staff cannot easily be replaced. I am told that they are highly specialised and experienced—we are not talking about the upstairs maid—and cannot be replaced. Such staff do not hang on the back of doors waiting for us to pick them up. At the risk of stating the obvious, any of us who has worked with and managed large numbers of staff knows that staff simply do not do what we might wish. Even if the Government wish the staff to transfer as a block, slavery has been abolished. Those highly skilled and experienced staff have many other options. We have to accept that any transfer will create gaps. How do the Government plan to fill those gaps?

Before the Bill proceeds, the Minister needs to explain not only to the CAA, but to the aviation industry and others, the detailed division of security responsibilities, how the transfer will happen and how it will operate in the public interest. She has not yet made the case for that transfer, so will she explain how she intends to ensure that ministerial responsibility for aviation security will not be reduced if the Bill is enacted in its current form? What action, if any, has she taken on the Transport Committee’s recommendations? How does she envisage the division of security responsibilities working in practice?

Going back to what I said this morning, I know from my experience of working in children’s services and child protection that tragedies and disasters happen in the gaps between responsibilities. They do not happen in those areas where everybody knows what they are doing; they happen where it is nobody’s responsibility and everybody thinks that somebody else is doing the relevant thing. How will the division of responsibilities work in practice? What evaluation has been made of the risks? What are the Government’s plans for the potential loss of expertise and experience? Finally, how will the proposed detailed division of security responsibilities operate in the public interest?