Clause 80 - Advice and assistance in connection with aviation security

Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:00 pm, 8th March 2012

I beg to move amendment 32, in clause 80, page 49, line 31, at end insert—

‘(2A) The CAA may also provide advice and assistance to such persons in connection with maintaining the dignity of disabled users of civil air services who are subject to security checks.’.

The amendment is in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop), who, on 1 February, introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on the subject, drawing on his constituents’ experience.

Air travel is now commonplace for many people, but it is still stressful, whether they are travelling for leisure or business. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham told the Committee of her family’s experience of how such stresses may manifest themselves from time to time. Treating people, whatever their particular needs, with courtesy and dignity, and as individuals, is crucial, and they should be respected by airport security personnel when those personnel are carrying out their proper and important duties.

Security and individual needs need to be balanced, so that both imperatives are properly delivered. Earlier, there was a useful exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West and the hon. Member for Daventry that, in a sense, illustrated the need for both requirements to be well met. We were treated to more information than we really wanted on the trials and tribulations of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness. Security personnel should handle issues appropriately and properly, so as to allow dignity to be recognised while security needs are met.

Amendment 32 would allow the Civil Aviation Authority to provide advice to ensure that the dignity of stoma bag users and other disabled people is protected at airport security checkpoints throughout the United Kingdom and the European Union. I will draw heavily on the information provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. In his ten-minute rule Bill, he drew attention to the fact that many people who have faced life-threatening health conditions, such as bowel cancer, bladder cancer and Crohn’s disease, have had to undergo colostomies and urostomies. Such surgery should not, and does not, end their right to travel, whether for business, pleasure, or to see friends and family. Nor should it end their right to be treated with dignity while travelling.

Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong—perhaps more often than we would wish. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland drew attention to the experience of one of his constituents, who had cancer and now requires both urostomy and colostomy pouches. She was humiliated by her experience in several airports. At Budapest airport, she explained to security personnel that she had a difficulty. They were far from sympathetic. After a pat-down search, they wanted to examine her underwear, despite her attempts to explain that she had colostomy pouches. She was required to attempt to explain to them in front of fellow holidaymakers in the security queue, and she found the experience, as we all would, totally degrading.

Sadly, such practices and such a lack of sympathy are not unique. The constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland described similar poor treatment at an airport in the north-east. The purpose of the amendment is to address these concerns. Despite the fact that my hon. Friend’s constituent had a card and a doctor’s letter with an explanation of her situation in several languages, she none the less encountered difficulties. She was also separated from her hand luggage, which added to her problems. A man from Ballymena also had a letter signed by his doctor, and even offered to be searched privately. His letter and request were apparently ignored by the guard. Sadly, those are the sorts of practices that take place, and we would all agree that they need to be addressed properly.

The amendment would enable the CAA to give

“advice and assistance to such persons in conjunction with maintaining the dignity of disabled users of civil air services who are subject to security checks.”

I am sure that the Minister will reassure me that the matter will be taken seriously as the Bill proceeds, so that we can address the concerns of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland and others, and ensure that this does not happen in future.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman on the crucial importance of ensuring that passengers are treated with dignity in their journey through the airport and onwards. Of course, that includes those who have disabilities and those with medical conditions requiring stoma bags and so on. The incidents he described are distressing, and involve behaviour that falls well below the standards that we expect from those running airport security systems. I fully agree about the importance of the matter for passengers with disabilities or reduced mobility. I hope that I can provide the Committee and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe with some of the reassurance that he sought: the goals that the amendment is designed to achieve are delivered by existing legislation.

Airports are regulated by European and domestic regulations when it comes to undertaking security checks on all passengers. It is the responsibility of airports to ensure that their customers are treated with respect and dignity. Some passengers may well worry about security checks and feel uncomfortable at being subjected to searches. It is important that the searches are conducted in such a way as to maintain the dignity of the passenger. It is important that such searches are carried out if security is to be maintained in the face of a real and continuing threat from terrorist groups that seek to do us harm. European regulation 1107 of 2006 covers the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility when travelling by air. It imposes legal obligations on airports and airlines, and penalties may be imposed for non-compliance.

The Civil Aviation (Access to Air Travel for Disabled Persons and Persons with Reduced Mobility) Regulations 2007 provide for the enforcement of regulation 1107 by the CAA. In addition, the Department for Transport has produced a comprehensive code of practice, which aims to provide assistance and guidance to the travel and aviation industry in meeting its obligations under  regulation 1107 and, of course, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The code has a chapter on security at airports and includes detailed guidance to staff on the handling of security checks involving passengers with reduced mobility.

Moreover, clause 80 of the Bill inserts a new section, 21I, into the Aviation Security Act 1982 which requires the CAA to provide aviation security advice to airports, airlines and other groups set out in new subsection (3). In giving such advice, the CAA has to have regard to the purpose of Part 2 of the 1982 Act, which, broadly, is the protection of civil aviation against acts of violence. If the CAA considered it appropriate, that certainly could include advice about passengers with disabilities, mobility issues or the conditions referred to by the hon. Member for Scunthorpe. For example, it could relate to the Department for Transport’s code of practice on security checks.

I hope those comments reassure the hon. Gentleman, whose arguments I have listened to carefully. The Government place the same importance on ensuring that passengers are treated fairly and with dignity through airport security checks. There are provisions in the Bill and in previous legislation to provide appropriate protection.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. I am sure that between now and consideration on Report, there will be the opportunity to reflect on all the assurances she has given, and in particular on how, through proposed new section 21I, the CAA can ensure that the advice that the amendment would have led it to put place will be put in place and monitored. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 80ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.