25 Apr 2012 : Column 973

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): One of the more bizarre revelations has been the taste in classical music and ballet of the Secretary of State. I believe we may just have witnessed his swan song. Why, in response to a parliamentary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis), did he say that he had no locus to intervene when the Business Secretary was dealing with the matter, yet today he told us that he did offer to help? Which is it?

Mr Hunt: I made absolutely no interventions seeking to influence a quasi-judicial decision that was at that time the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Business. However, it is my responsibility to understand what is going on in the media industry and the impact of this very important sector, which employs thousands of people. That is why I was interested to find out what was going on.

Mr Speaker: Order. For the benefit not of the House, but of those who are listening to and interested in our proceedings, I make the factual observation that a request for a statement by the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport very properly comes from the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, rather than from the shadow Secretary of State for International Development.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The very many people throughout the country who wrote to us when the responsibility for the decision was transferred to the Secretary of State will now feel that they were absolutely right and the Government were absolutely wrong. Can the Secretary of State explain why he is such a poor manager of his staff that he did not know what messages were going out under the authority of the special permission to communicate?

Mr Hunt: I manage my staff closely but I do not know every—[Interruption.] Excuse me. I—

Mr Speaker: Order. The proceedings are becoming rather rowdy. [Interruption.] Order. The Secretary of State’s answers must be heard with proper courtesy.

Mr Hunt: I do not know every single text message and e-mail that every single person in my Department sends. When I found out yesterday about the text messages that were sent, it was a matter of profound regret, which is why Adam Smith has taken the decision to resign today.

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I believe that my right hon. Friend is a man of exceptional talent and integrity. Does he agree that in this House we should believe that people are innocent until proven guilty, and the right way to get an answer to this issue is through the Leveson inquiry?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When it comes to the behaviour of special advisers, we will take no lessons from the Opposition, having seen the infinitely worse behaviour of Damian McBride.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Who suggested to the permanent secretary that Mr Smith should have the role of the go-between between the

25 Apr 2012 : Column 974

Department and News Corporation? Presumably a submission went to the permanent secretary and to the Secretary of State. Will he put that submission in the Library? Did he have any conversations with the permanent secretary about the appropriateness of a politically appointed special adviser having that role, and not a civil servant?

Mr Hunt: I have already answered that question and will take no lectures from the Labour party on how to manage special advisers, such as Damian McBride.

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he is a godfather to any of Mr Murdoch’s children and whether he agrees that the Labour party is showing a fair amount of brass neck?

Mr Speaker: Order. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman and as a reminder to the Secretary of State, I point out that the statement the Secretary of State has offered the House is on the Leveson inquiry, not godparents. I think that we are clear on that.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers rests with the Minister. Will he admit that he showed poor judgment and failed properly to manage Mr Smith in such a sensitive role?

Mr Hunt: I will take no lectures from the hon. Lady or anyone in the Labour party on the behaviour of special advisers. With the exception of this particular incident, the behaviour of my special adviser was exemplary.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): The issues raised by the statement go to the heart of the important matter of media regulation. My constituents watching today will have seen a Minister with an unblemished record and the highest integrity carefully answering questions at the Dispatch Box without bravura in the spirit of transparency, in stark contrast to the hysterical, populist and demeaning behaviour of Labour Front Benchers, who have everything to be embarrassed about when it comes to their 13 years in office.

Mr Hunt: I thank my hon. Friend. I am not quite sure what the question is, but let me say in response to an earlier question that I think I have comprehensively blown my chances of becoming a godparent to any Murdoch.

Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State take this final opportunity to throw light on a critical question: what discussions did he have with his permanent secretary, and what advice did he offer, on the appointment of Adam Smith as the key contact?

Mr Hunt: I have told the House many times that I am aware of no discussions about specific roles in relation to what Adam Smith did, but what we ended up with was something that was sanctioned by the permanent secretary, which is about as independent as it gets.

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Points of Order

1.41 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, in answer to a parliamentary question, the Government revealed that, despite rejecting nearly 30,000 families who applied for help with insulation through Warm Front—[ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. It would be helpful if Members had the courtesy not to yell “Well done” when a point of order is being raised. People cannot complain about other people’s parliamentary manners on the one hand and then display a deficit on their own part on the other. Let us have a bit of order.

Caroline Flint: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

This is very important for families across the country facing high energy bills. The Government revealed that, despite rejecting nearly 30,000 families who applied for help with insulation through Warm Front, there was an underspend of over £50 million last year. That comes on top of information I obtained last week showing that the energy companies will not meet the obligations Labour put on them to help households with energy efficiency. Given that the House might prorogue before Energy and Climate Change oral questions next Thursday, is there any indication that DECC Ministers plan to come to the House and explain how they have left Warm Front in such a shambles?

Mr Speaker: I have had no such indication. The right hon. Lady and I came into the House together in 1997 and, on the strength of knowing her for 15 years, I know that she is not inclined to let go of the bone.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last July the Prime Minister—I tried to warn him that I would raise this point of order; obviously he has now left the Chamber—published a list of all the meetings he had had with proprietors, editors and senior media executives between May 2010 and July 2011. It details only one meeting with Rupert Murdoch between May and July 2011. However, this afternoon Rupert Murdoch—this has been published by the Leveson inquiry—made it clear that there were meetings with the Prime Minister on 18 May, 25 May, 21 July, another on 21 July, and 22 July. My point of order is to ask you whether something that is laid in the Library of the House is just as much a matter of privilege as something that is said. In other words, if someone has tabled something in the Library that has misled the House, is that just as serious a matter as something said in the Chamber?

Mr Speaker: All Members, including the Prime Minister, are responsible for the accuracy of what they say to the House, and my implicit assumption is that that includes material lodged with the House. I am happy to take further advice on that, but there is an encouraging nod from the Clerk of the House from a sedentary position, and that provides me with succour. Beyond that, I simply say that Members should be careful what they say if—I emphasise if—they are not asking a question, but making an accusation. I say that simply for the general knowledge and enrichment of the House. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order.

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Suicide (Prevention)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

1.45 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to set up a body to establish a public initiative for the prevention of suicide and self harm, to work with internet providers and others to reduce access to information on the internet and through other sources on methods of suicide and to develop a system of alerts and blocks for internet searches relating to suicide; and for connected purposes.

After choosing suicide prevention as the subject of my ten-minute rule Bill, I was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) to the Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide and Self-harm, an organisation, based in Duncairn gardens in Belfast, that endeavours to work with those who have attempted suicide or are contemplating suicide and the loved ones of those who have done so. I have been deeply humbled by the dedication of this organisation and am happy to work with it, and indeed others like it, to do all I can to make a difference.

It is true that when someone loses a loved one to depression and suicide, little can be said that will really comfort them. The pain of such a loss is unimaginable and the hurt is inexplicable, and only those who have walked that lonely road have any real understanding of the multiplicity of feelings that wreck the mind. Many families bereaved through suicide regret that they did not recognise the signs that something was wrong and, therefore, carry guilt for many years. To such people we must bring a message of hope. Although their intense feelings of grief can often be overwhelming and at times frightening, it is true that healing can yet come.

The words that sum up the work of PIPS are “planting the seeds of hope”, and I trust that my Bill will play at least a small part in forwarding that worthy cause. The main thrust of the Bill is to gain help for those who feel suicidal and are vulnerable to the influence of others. Sadly, there is a great need for a change in public attitudes, and we as parliamentarians have a part to play in increasing awareness and understanding about suicide as a major public health problem. For too long this subject has been hidden and few desire to talk openly about it, as if silence on the subject will make it go away. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need openness and we must do everything we can to help prevent suicide and provide urgent help and hope for those who are contemplating it.

Therefore, let us consider suicide and depression and its impact on the community. No matter what community someone says they come from, the pain and the question “Why?” will hurt just the same. Statistics show that people living in the most economically deprived areas are at a high risk of depression, self-harm and suicide. To take an example from Northern Ireland, the number of suicides has increased by more than 60% in north and west Belfast.

Through its experience of working in the area of suicide prevention, PIPS has been able to identify some key themes associated with depression and suicide in our community. With the economic situation and the

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downturn, many people have experienced the pressure of mounting debts and the threat of bankruptcy or repossession. The recession has made that worse, with rising unemployment, and it is often those experiencing the highest levels of economic deprivation who are hit hardest. The credit crunch is also likely to affect young people from deprived backgrounds, as those who are academically unqualified will have greater difficulty than ever getting jobs in this new climate.

Other issues that affect the emotional well-being of our young people are a lack of coping strategies and a lack of communication skills. Instead of spending time talking to family and friends, so much of the communication of our young people nowadays is non-verbal. There is texting, Facebook, chatrooms, e-mail and internet gaming instead of face-to-face communication, and that may leave some young people unable to express their feelings when they experience the difficult times that we all encounter.

It is therefore important for us all to recognise the signs in our family and friends which could signal that something is deeply troubling them—that they may have a problem. People need to know that they are not on their own and where they can get help. We need to be more aware, to ask, “Are you okay? Do you want to talk?” and, of course, to be there for them when they desire to talk. I remember a young man at 2 o’clock in the morning in a hospital bed, saying to me, “I wanted to talk, but nobody wanted to listen.”

The end of personal relationships and the breakdown of the family unit all take their toll in today’s society. Depression, suicide and self-harm are issues that do not discriminate; they affect everyone and touch whole families and entire communities. Suicide occurs in persons of all ages and backgrounds, but certain groups of people are at an increased risk of suicide attempts. These include persons with a psychiatric illness and those with a history of attempted suicide.

Almost 1 million people worldwide die by suicide each year. That is more than in all the wars that take place throughout the world. Every year there can be anywhere from 10 million to 20 million suicide attempts, making suicide the 8th leading cause of death in males and the 16th leading cause of death in females. Those statistics are most prevalent among teenage boys aged 15 to 19 years old and men of 20 to 24 years of age. The devastation that it creates makes it a public health issue.

In Northern Ireland last year, 59 people died on our roads, yet 313 people died by suicide. What if that had

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occurred on our roads? What would the professionals, the politicians and the general public have to say then? Suicide is not universally preventable, but it has been estimated that up to 80% of suicide victims display some warning signs or symptoms.

Many turn to the internet to seek the comfort and guidance that they cannot find in their daily lives, but, although we must recognise the internet as an important resource in today’s society, we must be mindful of the fact that there are websites and chatrooms which encourage the vulnerable, the lonely and the depressed to consider taking their own lives.

Many young people talk about “catching the bus” when they refer to seeking information on the internet about suicide. Organisations such as PIPS believe that, when certain terms are used to access information on suicide or self-harm, a “pop-up” should appear, informing the individual of the help and support that is available. A gatekeeper or guardian should be in place to monitor websites, and they should have the power to forward information to the appropriate authority with a view to having the website closed down. A complaints procedure should also be in place. I feel that as young people today are becoming more insular and relying more on computers to interact socially, that would make a significant contribution to lowering the levels of suicide and of self-harm which are sadly prevalent in today’s society.

In conclusion, there is no single approach to suicide prevention. It requires a co-ordinated approach and a combined effort not only from public services and organisations, but from the private sector, voluntary groups and individuals. I believe, however, that this Bill can represent a significant step in addressing a complex issue that devastates too many families and claims too many young lives. The challenge is now before this House and this Government to do something in response to the call for action. For too long, too many have passed on by because the sorrow and grief of suicide has not touched their particular family. I have pleasure in presenting this Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Dr William McCrea, Ian Paisley, David Simpson, Lady Hermon, Ms Margaret Ritchie, Naomi Long, Kate Hoey, Fiona Bruce, Andrew Percy, Mark Pritchard, Paul Goggins and Mr Frank Field present the Bill.

Dr William McCrea accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April and to be printed (Bill 333).

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Civil Aviation Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

1.55 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I beg to move,

That the Order of 30 January 2012 (Civil Aviation Bill) (Programme) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken on two days in accordance with the following provisions.


3. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on the first day and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

Third Reading

4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken on the second day and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement.

If the House agrees to the programme motion, consideration of the Bill will be taken today, and Third Reading will take place after the Queen’s Speech and last for up to two hours. The reason why Third Reading will take place on another day is that this is a carry-over Bill, and, if it is to be successfully carried over, this House must retain ownership of it until after the Queen’s Speech and pass it on to the other place in the next Session.

The proposals in the Bill were subject to extensive consultation, and to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committee on Transport, for which I am grateful. The Bill also received very thorough scrutiny in Committee, and I thank Members for that. I also welcome the extent of cross-party support for much of the Bill, and I am confident that today’s debate on Report will maintain the high standards and the well-informed contributions that we have seen in the House throughout the Bill’s consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

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Civil Aviation Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.

New Clause 2

Access for disabled and reduced mobility air passengers

‘(1) The Secretary of State and the CAA will produce an annual report on disabled and reduced mobility air transport passenger experiences of airport operation services and air transport services which must include evidence on the extent to which airport operations and air transport services are compliant with relevant legislation, regulations and codes of practice for the time being in force.’.—(Jim Fitzpatrick.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

1.56 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 8, page 13, line 17, clause 18, at end add—

‘(3) A licence must include an obligation on licence holders to procure and publish annual surveys of passenger satisfaction, including but not limited to—

(a) baggage handling services, and

(b) arrangements for delays affecting air passengers.’.

Amendment 9, page 13, line 17, at end add—

‘(3) A licence must include provisions requiring the holder of a licence to develop passenger welfare plans.’.

Amendment 10, page 13, line 17, at end add—

‘(3) A licence must include provisions requiring the holder of a licence to provide support for stranded passengers at airports.’.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure to see you still in the Chair. I think we can promise you a quieter ride than you experienced earlier in this session—[ Interruption. ] And it is a pleasure for me to welcome Mr Deputy Speaker to his place. It is nice to know that Mr Speaker left as a happy individual.

New clause 2 and amendments 8, 9 and 10 relate to the passenger experience and to the licensing system. On the Minister’s words about the programme motion, I note the great consensus on the Bill. There are still a few areas of disagreement, but I am sure that the House will generally welcome the Bill; Opposition Members certainly do.

New clause 2 deals especially with those with disabilities, and its provisions were ably spoken to in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin). The Civil Aviation Authority’s briefing on Report was sent to us by its Government relations officer, Ms Sandra Webber, and it states:

“The licence regime should minimise the distortions associated with regulatory intervention. In response to a request for advice from the Secretary of State, the CAA published an indicative licence to assist Parliament in its scrutiny of the Bill. It illustrates, for example, one possible approach whereby a licence could include provisions aimed at strengthening airports’ operational resilience to ensure they are much better prepared to avoid the passenger disruption previously experienced during severe weather.”

We very much agree with that approach.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe, as I have said, led in Committee on the provisions of new clause 2, and we heard a number of moving speeches by colleagues on both sides of the House, relating to the embarrassment, difficulties and indignity experienced at airports here and abroad by constituents with disabilities, and encouraging the Government to address those issues and to ensure that best practice is rolled out right across the piece.

Amendment 8 states that a licence

“must include an obligation on licence holders to procure and publish annual surveys of passenger satisfaction”

on “baggage handling” and “arrangements for delays”. We included the words “but not limited to” because in Committee, the Minister rightly drew attention to the fact that the UK Border Agency is subject to the Home Office and would therefore have been outwith the scope of our original amendment. We have omitted that suggestion. However, we hope that the phrase

“including but not limited to”

will give licence holders the opportunity to collate the data that the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) said it would be appropriate for the CAA to publish on behalf of airports or for airports to publish on their own behalf because they would be of interest.

2 pm

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of the long debate that we had in Committee. Does he agree that recent news stories about delays at Heathrow have only strengthened the argument that it would be in the airports’ interest to publish those data, so that passengers know whose fault the delays are?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I could not agree more. I will discuss previous experience, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, recent experience underscores the expectation that the Government, the authorities or the airports will have to deal with the experience of passenger delays. The horror stories that are starting to come out about passengers experiencing delays of some hours because of shortages of immigration staff and the article in The Daily Telegraph on Monday or Tuesday of this week in which the previous chief executive of UKBA offered some analysis of the problem underscore the fact that there is an important matter to be addressed.

Amendment 9 is the generic proposal. It states:

“A licence must include provisions requiring the holder of a licence to develop passenger welfare plans.”

That is an all-encompassing proposal that we think would cover all the matters that passengers would expect airports and airlines to deal with, including stranded passengers, resilience, delays and all manner of difficulties that passengers might experience. Amendment 10 looks specifically at the position of stranded passengers and suggests that something should be done for them.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): As ever and as was the case in Committee, I am following the logic of my hon. Friend’s contribution. Will he expand a little on why it should be the owners of airports who provide provision for stranded passengers and not the airlines, as has previously been established in law?

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Jim Fitzpatrick: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Amendment 9 states that it should be incumbent on the licence holder to “develop passenger welfare plans”. That does not necessarily mean that the licence holder has to be totally responsible for delivery. There should be engagement with the airlines and a collective approach to that matter. Obviously, the CAA and the Government should be involved in that. I was not narrowing down the responsibility in the way that I misled my hon. Friend to believe.

Passenger welfare plans were a recommendation of the Select Committee on Transport in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. In Committee, the Minister did not give a good reason why she does not believe that those plans should be included in the licences for airports. She said that the CAA will draw up the licences and that it will be a matter for that organisation. We do not think that that provision is strong enough. Given that the primary duty of the Bill is to the passenger, as we have discussed for some months, we believe that the development of passenger welfare plans would reinforce the focus on giving passengers the best experience possible at our airports. They have clearly not had that in previous winters.

The Transport Committee also stated in its pre-legislative scrutiny:

“Where possible, airport licences should be structured so that they address key areas of passenger dissatisfaction.”

I do not need to repeat the statistics on the misery that has been experienced by passengers at difficult times over a number of years. The reports, particularly the Begg report, on what happened to passengers at Heathrow during the disruption of December 2010 make alarming reading, even if one looks only at the headlines. Nine and a half thousand people were sleeping in the terminal, passengers were seeking refuge in subways, a lorry carrying blankets for passengers had to turn back on the M25 because of traffic conditions and very few passengers were provided with water or refreshments. It was absolute chaos and confusion. I am not blaming anybody for that. It is matter of record and fact, and we all want to avoid it happening again.

I anticipate that the Minister will refer us to clause 83 on the collection of information and data, which we discussed extensively in Committee. We accept that clause 83 is drawn widely enough to include the proposals in new clause 2 and amendments 8 and 10, because the airports could be responsible for providing the relevant data. However, given the experience of recent years, we believe that amendment 9 should be a basic licence requirement. The fact that the CAA has suggested that such a requirement could be incorporated and has included it in the example for the Heathrow licence suggests that it thinks that it will do that anyway. We think that the Government should make it a duty on the CAA to make passenger welfare plans a licence requirement.

Nigel Mills: Presumably, the hon. Gentleman accepts that clause 83 will apply to all airports and not just to the three that are likely to have a competition licence. Amendment 9 would not be of any use to a load of passengers who do not use Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I accept that point. I suggested in Committee that there should be a delineation of the differences between licensed airports, given that all airports

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have a licence of some description. Given that the most difficult passenger experiences of recent years have been at Heathrow, given that an indicative licence has been published for Heathrow and given that Heathrow is the market leader and our only hub airport, whatever Heathrow does will be examined by everybody else. If the CAA says that it expects Heathrow to do something, that might be adopted by other airports. We therefore do not think that it would be inappropriate to include this requirement in the licence, even if it applies only to Heathrow, because it would be copied as best practice by the other first-class airports around the country.

We all want to ensure that there is a good passenger experience, especially for those with disabilities, as was discussed in Committee and as is outlined in new clause 2. We hope that the situation will be better as a result of the Bill and are confident that it will be. We congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. However, we think that it would be much better if, in addition to more and clearer data being published on the passenger experience, there was a simple licence requirement, as outlined in amendment 9. We will seek the view of the House on that if the Minister is not able to reassure us in the course of the debate.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): This group of amendments draws attention to the importance of the passenger experience. The Transport Committee has looked at that theme a number of times over the years. Some improvements have been made, but there are still major questions, some of which are raised by the amendments.

Overriding the specific points made by the amendments is the general question of who speaks for passengers. The previous organisation, the Air Transport Users Council airport consultative committee, stopped being responsible for airing passengers’ views. It was suggested that Passenger Focus might take up that responsibility, but that did not materialise. When the Transport Committee questioned the CAA in our pre-legislative scrutiny, it told us that it was setting up a panel. When we asked what form the panel would take, how its members would be chosen and how it would operate, the answers were unclear. There is still a big question mark over whether there is effective representation for air passengers. Such representation does not seem to be enshrined in the Bill. I would like to hear the Minister’s comments on that.

Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend is making a very good point about who represents passengers. Does she agree that a flaw in the Bill is that it does not state not only who represents passengers but what the interests of passengers are? If that major flaw is not corrected today, I hope it will be corrected in the other place.

Mrs Ellman: I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to some important points. I agree that the matter needs further thought, and I hope that the Minister can respond on it.

The Select Committee’s work also drew attention to some problem areas in the allocation of responsibility for looking after passenger experiences. Key passenger concerns, particularly about passport and immigration

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issues, the time it takes people to get into the country and baggage handling, are not necessarily the responsibility of the airports, but they are, in reality, seen as responsible for them. We have heard examples recently of long queues, which are the responsibility of the UK Border Force, yet happen in the airport and are part of the air passenger’s experience. There do not seem to be any means of addressing that dual responsibility in the Bill, and that needs attention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) referred to the Select Committee’s earlier work on the implications of bad passenger experiences and the need for passenger welfare plans. The problems that air passengers experience at times of disruption during otherwise fairly normal periods are a long-running issue, and there has also been the near-breakdown of the service in situations such as very bad weather. We produced a report drawing attention to the matter and Ministers told us, or certainly implied, that the new licence conditions could contain requirements for passenger welfare plans to be put into practice, so that there would be clear responsibility for looking after passengers and giving them information in times of severe disruption. That does not seem to be happening in the Bill.

I know that the Civil Aviation Authority, in laying down what I think it calls its indicative licence conditions, has said that passenger welfare issues are part of the licensing process. However, it is extremely unclear whether the conditions will be enforceable, how clear they will be and whether there is to be a further consultation period before any such conditions are laid down. That is another area of concern.

All the points that I have made relate to the amendments, and I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response. The experience of passengers travelling by air is extremely important, and it is time that it became a focus of our attention.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I wish to make a few comments, mainly about Edinburgh airport, which is obviously of particular interest to the residents of my constituency and has recently been purchased by a new operator following the earlier competition decisions. It has been taken over by the operator of Gatwick and London City airports among others.

By and large, the passenger experience at Edinburgh airport is good. Most of the time, people can move fairly smoothly through the airport. Nevertheless, the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) made apply at certain times of the day. My constituents frequently enter the UK at Heathrow or other airports in the south and then travel up to Edinburgh, and I know from personal experience about difficulties such as long queues at immigration and at security. Sometimes only one or two search points seem to be open even though eight or nine are available. We all experience that, and if the Bill can make the situation better, I will certainly welcome it.

Such problems are not generally the experience at Edinburgh airport, but two aspects of passenger welfare standards need to be addressed there and elsewhere. The first is the issue of international flights in particular arriving late in the evening, when either the UKBA facility or the airport handling facility is apparently

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unable to cope with arrivals, particularly if planes are slightly delayed. As a result, I have had many complaints about people having had to wait for long periods before they could get off the plane or get past a locked door into the terminal building. I hope that the Bill will lead to an improved service for passengers, both in general and through the new standards that it will bring into effect.

2.15 pm

I also wish to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) about the welfare of stranded passengers. Anything that the airports can do for such passengers is welcome, but we all know either from direct experience or from experiences that have been recounted to us that the clear requirements in European legislation laid down on airlines in times of delay do not always seem to be operated with zealous enthusiasm. Passengers are not always given the support that is their right, and they are not always given compensation or told how to apply for it as they ought to be. I hope there will be a joined-up approach between the requirements that the Bill will make on airports, those that the amendments would make on them, and the requirements laid upon the airlines.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): I say at the outset that overall, this is a good Bill. It was drafted by the previous Government and taken forward by the current one, and I agree with much that is in it, but I still have some concerns about a number of issues, one of which is passenger welfare. I was a member of the Public Bill Committee and I raised the issue, but I did not receive sufficient assurances from the Minister that the Government were taking it seriously enough in the Bill.

The Minister was unable to satisfy me on three key issues: first, whether airports will be required to take seriously enough the issue of passenger welfare when things go wrong; secondly, how the Government will routinely measure passenger satisfaction; and thirdly, how, having measured passenger satisfaction, they will make systemic changes to improve passengers’ experiences.

The Transport Committee has recommended that the Government structure licences specifically to address key passenger satisfaction issues, including those relating to immigration and baggage handling. We are all familiar with the frustration, anger and stress that can be caused at airports when our luggage is lost or sent to a different airport, or when we are close to missing a flight because of a long queue at security. I was able to relate to the Public Bill Committee an occasion when I was held in a long queue at security. As the flight time got closer and closer, the anxiety that that caused me was made much worse because I was travelling alone. In the current economic situation, many families are having to prioritise what they can afford and consider whether their finances will stretch to an annual holiday. When they have saved hard all year for a well-earned break, they deserve better treatment and a better experience at our airports.

The Government have cut 6,500 staff from the UK Border Agency, with 1,500 going from the UK Border Force, including more than 800 this year alone. We have heard the concerns that have been raised about the relaxation of security checks at our borders to avoid

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chaos at security. The chaos at the UKBA last summer meant the abandonment of checks on potentially hundreds of thousands of people, and we—least of all the Home Secretary—still do not know who came in through our borders. The relaxation of controls was a direct consequence of the reduction in the number of staff, and although that is primarily the Home Secretary’s responsibility, it has a significant negative impact on the passenger experience. The public rightly expect proper immigration controls to be in place, and passengers expect there to be sufficient staff to prevent massive delays at airports.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): I am, of course, very interested in matters related to the UKBF, but if the Opposition are so concerned about the issue, I am puzzled that they did not table an amendment on it.

Pat Glass: We did table amendments on the issue in Committee and considered it in some detail, and I was not happy with the responses that I received. That is why I am raising it again.

Mrs Villiers: If the hon. Lady was so unhappy with the response given in Committee, I am surprised that an amendment has not been tabled for consideration today.

Pat Glass: The proposal is part of this group of amendments. The Minister can say what she likes, but the passenger experience at our airports, which involves standing for hours in long queues because of cuts in UKBA staff, is simply not good enough.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition took the Minister’s advice that UKBA matters were for the Home Office, which is why we have decided to focus on passenger experience and welfare? As we have said, Mr Deputy Speaker, we would like to press those proposals to a Division if the Minister cannot reassure us. That is why UKBA has not been mentioned, and I am sure it is also why my hon. Friend did not table an amendment on UKBA.

Pat Glass: I said earlier that although UKBA cuts are primarily a matter for the Home Secretary, they have a significant negative impact on the passenger experience.

I agree with the premise in the Bill that the passenger must be put at the heart of the regulatory regime. The Bill is right to give the CAA a primary duty on air transport users. The Bill is not specific enough on how that objective will be met, whereas the new clause and amendments would provide such specificity.

Delays caused by UKBA checks, baggage handling and adverse weather cause huge passenger dissatisfaction and are made that much worse in times of crisis, whether that is caused by adverse weather conditions for which there should have better planning, or by volcanic ash—in the last such crisis, the needs of passengers hit an all-time low.

An Office for National Statistics omnibus survey conducted in February 2010—it came hot on the heels of the crisis caused by adverse weather conditions at Heathrow—revealed that although most passengers are largely satisfied with their experience at airports, they have different views on different aspects, and were not equally satisfied with all aspects of service. The aspects

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of least satisfaction included information provided on bringing goods into the UK, on which there has been some improvement; information on destinations served by the nearest airport; baggage collection; and the cost of flights.

The CAA discovered in its own survey of passenger satisfaction at airports that waiting at immigration was a concern. Fewer than 70% of passengers at London’s three major airports were satisfied with immigration services, and 8% of surveyed passengers waited more than 20 minutes. That impacts on our international reputation. I agree that the primary duty should be to promote the interests of passengers, but passengers are telling us that that does not always happen; that it happens better in some aspects of the service than in others; and that it can break down completely in times of crisis.

Following the Transport Committee inquiry into the failure of both the Government and the industry adequately to prepare and respond to the severe winter conditions in December 2010, the absolutely appalling experience faced by many passengers, particularly at Heathrow, demonstrated the need for the sector significantly to up its game in relation to passenger welfare. The Bill fails to deliver on that.

“Keeping the UK moving”, the excellent Transport Committee report on the impact on transport of the winter weather in 2010, recommended that airports

“be required to develop passenger welfare plans and to provide”


“support to stranded passengers during periods of disruption.”

It is disappointing that the Government do not take the same view. Is the Bill not a perfect opportunity to ensure that airports provide assistance to passengers, even if only for elderly or disabled passengers, or for those travelling with small children, who could be stranded in airports for days at a time?

The UK’s reputation was damaged by scenes of thousands of stranded passengers in airports over Christmas 2010, and equally damaged by the aftermath of the Icelandic volcano eruption. I was contacted by a number of constituents, as I know other hon. Members were, who were trying to get back from airlines the vast amounts of money that they had been forced to spend while stranded. Members of the Bill Committee will remember that I entertained them with my family’s experience. I was trying to help my elderly and disabled parents who were stranded in Barcelona. Their experience was perhaps extreme, but it was by no means unique, and the Government need to ensure that in future, passengers—disabled or not—do not experience such a shocking lack of care.

In the light of such fiascos, the Bill is an opportunity to place obligations on airports to provide help for stranded passengers in similar situations, and to prevent a repeat of the past. The need for early, decisive action on whether to cancel services is particularly important. There has been some improvement in that respect. I was due to fly out of Heathrow a couple of months ago when planes were again stranded by snow. I got a text and then a phone call from the airport telling me that my flight was cancelled, which saved me trailing up to the airport and standing around all day. We should

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recognise that vast improvement. The value of knowing sooner rather than later whether a flight is cancelled should not be underestimated. It could mean that fewer passengers are forced to endure hours, and possibly days, in an airport. If they know earlier, they can make alternative, more comfortable arrangements.

The problems also included the supply of de-icing and anti-icing products, and road salt. We should ensure better liaison over the treatment of the appropriate public road network between airports and local highways authorities. There has been some improvement on that, too. In 2010, my local authority properly prepared for the winter weather. It bought and arranged delivery of salt, but at the last minute, in an absolute panic, the Government effectively took salt that had been paid for by local authorities and transferred it to parts of the country that had failed to plan. However, we must accept that there has been some improvement on that situation.

During the 2010 crisis, the then Transport Secretary, the right hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), promised urgently to legislate to penalise airport owners for bad service, but passengers are still being left without the added protection such reforms should have brought. Airlines and airports are quick enough to take passengers’ money, but much less keen to step up and help in times of crisis. Damage has been done to our international reputation and to the needs of the air-travelling public, whether they are disabled or not, and it is time for the Government to step in and put passengers first.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I want to make just a couple of comments. I congratulate the Minister and the shadow Minister on how well the Bill Committee was run. All members of the Committee contributed to the Bill and the best way forward.

As an elected representative for Strangford in Northern Ireland, I have been contacted by three airports in Northern Ireland—Belfast City, Belfast International, and Londonderry—because they want to ensure that the regulatory system is efficient. Some perceive inefficiency and say that the regulation is burdensome, and that the system clearly needs reform. In some ways, the Bill Committee tried to ensure that we can provide an efficient, flexible system that works well. If we have done so, it is good news.

New clause 2 refers to an

“annual report on disabled and reduced mobility air transport passenger experiences”.

Many hon. Members have been contacted by constituents —this point was made in Committee—who have particular and specific, but not unique, personal medical and health circumstances. They might have had an operation and now carry a colostomy bag, or they might have had metal inserted into their body to protect their spine or shin. As a result of wars all over the world, many people have lost limbs, and many soldiers and civilians have prosthetic limbs, yet when it comes to improving their experience in airports, we find that the process seems to be inflexible. I have heard complaints on that.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on such problems, so the matter has been talked about before. I would like to know how we can

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improve the experience of airports for those people, who have made it clear to me as an elected representative—I suspect they have made it clear to other hon. Members—that their experience was not the best and asked how we can make it better. I believe that we can. I know that the Minister will assure us on that matter, and I look forward to her comments.

2.30 pm

Amendments 9 and 10 relate to the welfare plans and support for stranded passengers at airports. The shadow Minister mentioned the experience when an airplane does not go, passengers have to take a bus from A to B and they have no water and so on. A great many people have told me how their holiday turned out to be the opposite of what it should have been. There is a programme on Sky television about holiday nightmares. I do not know whether many people watch it. Those who watch television after midnight probably do. There have been many examples of such problems occurring. For ordinary people, our holiday is our chance to get away for two weeks, wherever it might be across the planet. It is an escape from the humdrum of life. But suddenly people find themselves catapulted into airport queues, the flight is an hour late and so on.

That reminds me of the holiday package scheme. That is also part of the experience. People have told me that when they booked their holiday they felt it looked like a horse and smelt like a horse—if I may use that terminology—but that it turned out to be donkey. That might not be the best illustration in the world for air travel, but it explains, I hope, exactly where the issues lie. I am therefore seeking assurances from the Minister on traveller welfare and the necessary passenger commitment to ensure that travelling through airports is an experience people can enjoy as part of their holiday. I always think, when I go on holiday—I go once a year for two weeks—that my holiday starts when I leave the house, and it is the same for many others. The experience at the airport is part of the holiday, which is why we need some assurances.

Nigel Mills: I had not planned to speak to the new clause and amendments, but I was tempted by the exchange on border services to relive some of our Committee debates.

I cannot support the shadow Minister’s amendments. I am not convinced that the licence dealing with the economic regulation of airports is the right place to impose conditions that ought to apply to every airport. I would hope that all airports operating in the UK would recognise that all these extremely sensible and worthy things were natural obligations that they ought to fulfil anyway, and that we should not need to legislate for them. If we do, though, we should legislate for them all, not just the one, two or three airports that happen to be economically regulated.

Clause 18, to which the amendments relate, allows—possibly even instructs—the Civil Aviation Authority to include conditions it thinks

“necessary or expedient having regard to the risk that the holder of the licence may engage in conduct that amounts to an abuse of…market power”.

If it was felt that an airport such as Heathrow was giving a particularly poor passenger welfare service because it could away get with it—because it has market

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power and people have to fly from there on certain routes—it would be perfectly fair for the CAA, recognising that risk, to impose conditions. We would all want the CAA to do that, if it saw those risks to any part of the passenger experience.

I want to touch on the experience of getting through passport control. Having been through four UK airports this week on Northern Ireland Select Committee duties, I was obviously spared having to go through passport control both in Northern Ireland and at Gatwick on Monday evening, so I have no recent miserable experiences to recount. However, this issue is becoming a reputational risk with people arriving in the UK on holiday or business, so we need to get it right. There is no particular magic to getting it right. The airports and the UK Border Force all have a role to play. As was said, it is a matter of getting resourcing to match the volume of passengers and flights, knowing when passengers are coming from jurisdictions that could make border control more complicated, and making available all the facilities that the Border Force needs, such as rooms near the passport checking station and so on. Airports could invest in electronic scanning devices as well. We need to encourage airports and the UKBF to work together pragmatically to make the service the best it can be.

The Minister asked why no amendments were tabled on this for Report stage. I moved one in Committee, of course, and I was tempted to bring it back on Report to get the wider view of the House, but I was not sure that the Whips would welcome my being tempted down that line. Nevertheless, we need to find a way of getting the UKBF to recognise its responsibility and to publish all the data on the length of queues by airport so that passengers and airports can know what the situation is likely to be. When the transparent data are made available, all involved will have the motivation to get those queues as short as possible by making the most effective use of the resources available.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills). He said that he could not support the Opposition’s amendments because airports should be doing these things anyway. If they were, we would not need the amendments, but because they are not, the amendments are important. That is particularly so for UK plc, given that, so often, the first and last impressions that overseas visitors get of the UK is of the airport.

Nigel Mills: For clarification, my point was that all airports should be doing this but that the amendments would apply the measure to only three UK airports.

Julie Hilling: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his clarification. I absolutely agree that all airports should be doing it, but the Bill enables us at least to put the obligation on some; we would then hope that the others would follow. If airports want to attract business from passengers and other businesses, their standards need to be as high as those of the others. It is important, therefore, that we set down what we expect from our airports and airlines.

As we heard, the Transport Select Committee undertook the inquiry “Keeping the UK moving: The impact on transport of the winter weather in December 2010”—a very long title. That in-depth report looked into all

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elements of transport—not only aviation but the road network and how transport links together—and recommended that passenger welfare should be at the heart of airport operations. It also agreed with the recommendation of the Begg report that Heathrow and other airports should develop welfare plans for passengers during disruption. The report stated:

“Passenger welfare should be at the heart of airport operations. We concur with the recommendation of the Begg report that Heathrow should develop a welfare plan for passengers during periods of disruption: other airports should do the same. It is unacceptable that such plans do not already exist. If airlines fail to meet their obligations to accommodate stranded passengers, airports should be prepared to step into the breach. We would support measures by which airport operators could reclaim the costs of providing support to stranded passengers from airlines which had not discharged their legal responsibilities and we recommend that the CAA investigate how this can be achieved.”

The Government responded:

“However, the legal responsibility to provide care and assistance to passengers remains that of airlines. It is important that any initiatives to bolster the provision of passenger welfare during periods of disruption, for instance through passenger welfare plans, do not create any uncertainty in this area.”

The Committee welcomed the Bill, about which the Government response said:

“The CAA would have a new primary duty that would put the interests of passengers unambiguously at the heart of the regulatory regime.”

It is disappointing, then, that on Report we are still urging the Government to put in the Bill the obligation for airports to develop welfare plans.

Mrs Villiers: I hope that I can reassure the hon. Lady. Our concern is not about the amendments’ content but that we can trust the CAA to put these kinds of issues in the licence system. The best way to ensure effective regulation is to give the regulator the decision on exactly how to focus on passenger welfare. The hon. Lady can be confident that even if the amendments fall today, the CAA will ultimately put exactly this sort of thing in the licences, on which it will consult as soon as the Bill becomes law.

Julie Hilling: I thank the Minister for her intervention, but I have to say that I am not reassured, because if we believe that those things are fundamental, I do not see why we should not put them in the Bill. She reassures us that the regulator will ensure that those things are in place, but let us tell the regulator. Let us say, unambiguously and up front, that we expect those things to happen and that the regulator will ensure that, rather than allowing the regulator to make those decisions for itself.

I want to talk, as others have, about what happened at Heathrow in the winter disruption of 2010. The point is worth reiterating, because the Begg report made alarming reading. Let us look only at the headlines: 9,500 people sleeping in the terminal; passengers seeking refuge in subways; a lorry carrying blankets for passengers having to turn back on the M25 because of the traffic conditions; very few passengers provided with water and refreshments; absolute chaos and confusion. As the Begg report found:

“Confused and contradictory messages caused incorrect signals to go to airlines, to passengers, and from airlines to passengers”.

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Passengers were given laptops to try to rebook their flights—the laptops were around the terminal. That is fine for regular travellers and regular internet users—perhaps they could find their way around the system—but many passengers would clearly not have had the first clue about what to do. There seems to have been an absolute lack of care and concern for passengers at that point. Indeed, there was no contingency plan in place to ensure that those with medical conditions, who are more vulnerable—for instance, those with diabetes—had access to food, water and other things they needed. There must be a system in place and a channel of support for those who need medical support at times of disruption.

It is true that we all get those messages on the television or radio: “Do not travel unless your journey is absolutely essential.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of us always believe that our journey is indeed absolutely essential. People set out in their cars or other modes of transport when, if they had stopped to think about it, they would not have done so. Airports face that difficulty in dealing with us—that even when it is snowing or there is thick fog, we believe that our flight is going to take off. Airports have to accommodate themselves to the fact that we are not always sensible. Living in a country that does not often have severe weather, we are perhaps more naive about when we should travel and when we should not. However, we also have to recognise that many of those travelling to airports set out the day before or when it is not apparent that there will be bad weather later. Again, we have to consider not only human nature, but the fact that people will set out before conditions worsen. That is particularly true when we think about volcanoes erupting and other things that can happen unexpectedly.

Going back to the winter problems, particularly at Heathrow—I acknowledge that other airports dealt much better with the weather—it is unacceptable for passengers to have such an experience. It unacceptable not only for them, but for UK plc. Our airports are our gateway to the rest of the world. We need airports with first-world standards, not standards one would expect in a developing country.

There did not seem to be a huge amount of improvement at Heathrow this year. Perhaps I could be criticised for saying that not enough information was given on previous occasions, but when there was a threat of snow, a quarter of the flights were cancelled. The report states that flights should be cancelled and information given in advance if such disruption is feared. Perhaps the Minister has better information than I do and will be able to respond, but four inches of snow were threatened—the threat was of snow being dumped, rather than falling long term, over days or hours. Considering that we are supposed to have had this great investment in snow clearing and other things to keep our airports moving, cancelling a quarter of the flights feels like a knee-jerk reaction.

Yes, airlines are responsible for the treatment of passengers, but it is not good enough for different airports to have separate passenger welfare plans. A passenger needs to know what support they will get at any airport, because it is the airport, not the airline, that will be blamed if there are problems. Whether a passenger has booked with Virgin, British Airways or whoever, they will blame Heathrow, Manchester or Gatwick for

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their bad experience and lack of support, rather than the airline that should be providing that support. Airports clearly need the power and responsibility to have concerted passenger welfare plans, and the CAA needs the authority to ensure that that happens.

2.45 pm

Mrs Villiers: It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would like to echo the comments of the shadow Minister for aviation to the effect that our experience in the Chamber today shows something of a contrast. It shows the great strengths of this Parliament—that we can embrace both the aggressive exchanges that we heard earlier and the detailed and considered scrutiny of legislation that we are undertaking now.

I also very much welcome the words of support that the shadow Minister has expressed—both today and throughout the scrutiny of the Bill—for the broad thrust of the framework put before the House. This is a Bill that started its life under the previous Administration, so although it is being put forward by a coalition consisting of Conservatives and Lib Dems, it owes much to our Labour predecessors. That degree of cross-party involvement has strengthened the Bill, as have the extensive consultation done by the previous Government and the further work with stakeholders done by the current Government.

Before I deal with the amendments in detail, I want to make a general point about the passenger experience. I completely agree that a key aim of the Bill is to ensure that we improve the passenger experience at our regulated airports, because it is important both for passengers and for our economic competitiveness, the quality of our airports and making passengers the central priority of our regulated airports. That is essential. Although Opposition Members have expressed concern and called for changes in the Bill to reflect that, I hope they will agree that what is already in the Bill will be a significant overall improvement on the current system, which essentially leaves the CAA with few levers at its disposal in the five-yearly price control process. That process is important, but the Bill enables the regulator to opt for real-time regulation, so that it can intervene when passengers need it, in a flexible and targeted way, to address just the sort of issues that so many hon. Members have raised today. Although we may differ on the precise drafting of the Bill on some issues, I hope that we can uniformly agree that it will be a significant step towards achieving a better experience for passengers at our airports.

Let me deal first with the amendments; I will come to the new clause in a moment. There can be no doubt about the importance of these issues, whether it is baggage handling or the protection and safeguarding of passengers in the event of disruption. I have huge sympathy with all the passengers who were subjected to hassle and inconvenience during the various incidents outlined by hon. Members today. It is clear that the aviation sector as a whole needs effective means to deal with passenger welfare during such incidents. The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) gave us a timely reminder that this is not just a matter for airports, but that airlines have a number of important and legally binding duties in respect of passenger welfare. However, it is clear that airports have an important role to play as well.

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Although I can understand and agree with the sentiment behind much of what has been said today and the general aims of the amendments, I cannot recommend accepting them. The Bill provides a far more effective means of protecting passengers in relation to the matters raised. Clause 18 and the licensing regime will give the CAA the flexibility to tailor licence conditions to the specific circumstances facing individual airports. That flexibility is important as a means of minimising distortions associated with regulatory intervention and ensuring that the action taken by the CAA is proportionate and tailored to individual circumstances. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), giving the independent expert regulator flexibility and discretion in deciding the content of the licence is a more effective way to protect the interests of both present and future passengers. If Parliament chooses to use the legislation to hard-code certain points into licences, that would constrain the regulator’s freedom to decide what priority should be afforded to different passenger concerns and what costs should be allowed for the delivery of competing consumer priorities.

The amendments would make the licence system unbalanced because there is a wide range of different issues that passengers care about. Moreover, a prescriptive approach in the Bill is likely to make it more difficult for the regulator to adapt its approach to the changing concerns of passengers. If we adopted the amendments we would risk obliging the Civil Aviation Authority to give greater weight to the factors listed in the amendments than to matters that might become equally or, indeed, more important to passengers in future.

I hope that I can provide some reassurance to hon. Members on the matters that they have raised. They can be confident that the CAA would use the new licensing powers proposed under the Bill to address the issues that they have raised in the amendments. As we discussed in Committee, in response to a request for advice from the Secretary of State, the CAA has published an indicative licence to assist Parliament in its scrutiny of the Bill. A copy was sent to the Library and, at the request of the Department for Transport, the draft licence includes provisions on operational resilience which, I agree, are crucial for an airport to be effective.

The proposals in condition 7 would require the licence holder to operate the airport efficiently and to use its best endeavours to minimise any detriment to passengers arising from disruption. It would also require the airport to draw up, consult on and gain the CAA’s approval for an annual resilience plan setting out how it would secure compliance with its obligations under the condition. The licence holder would then be obliged to comply with commitments it made in its resilience plan. I hope that reassures hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling).

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister confirm that if the amendments are not accepted, the current insufficient resilience safeguards might be something dealt with in a licence issued by the CAA?

Mrs Villiers: If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, yes, it is clear that the Bill provides the CAA with flexibility to include provisions in the licence on baggage handling and passenger welfare. Our rejection of the amendments should not be taken as an indication

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that matters are not sufficient; it is simply that the Bill already provides the tools for the CAA to deal with those them.

Gavin Shuker: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way again. She it talking about the provisions positively. Is it her view that the CAA should issue licences with provisions on those particular points?

Mrs Villiers: As I believe I said, the previous Secretary of State had already indicated to the CAA that resilience and passenger welfare were issues that should be addressed in the licence.

Nigel Mills: Something that is missing from the indicative licence is a requirement to measure or try to improve people’s experience at border control, although that is understandable, given that it is not within the remit of the CAA to deal with that. Has the Minister had any discussions with the Home Office, given the recent problems at Heathrow and elsewhere, to see whether more data can be published to try to improve that experience?

Mrs Villiers: I am very much aware of my hon. Friend’s interest in the UK Border Force, and I shall come on to those matters. However, on various occasions, I have had discussions with Home Office colleagues on those matters.

Mrs Ellman: On the same topic, how will passport control matters, which are the responsibility of the Home Office, be addressed under the licensing regime?

Mrs Villiers: As I shall come on to explain, I do not believe that the licensing regime is an appropriate mechanism to address issues relating to border controls.

The CAA sought initial views from industry in drafting the indicative licence. However, Parliament has not yet concluded its consideration of the Bill, so the CAA has not yet begun to consult on proposed licence conditions for each airport that will be subject to regulation. Until consultations have taken place no final decisions will be taken about what goes into the licence. However, if the Bill is passed as drafted the CAA will consider the extent to which it is necessary to include conditions on resilience and passenger welfare in the licence. The CAA expects activities that may be part of the new licence regime to include taking into account other obligations on service quality standards, and the success of codes of conduct and voluntary arrangements adopted by the industry. As the body with the relevant operational expertise, the CAA is well placed to determine appropriate and effective licence conditions. The amendments could undermine our goal of giving the specialist regulator a flexible toolkit to protect the passenger, so I hope that the Opposition will not press them to a vote.

Graham Stringer: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. As ever, she is generous with her time in answering questions. My question is slightly rhetorical. Does she accept it is much more difficult for such airports as Heathrow, which operates at 99% capacity, to be resilient?

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Mrs Villiers: Whether in our rail system or at our airports, there is a trade-off between capacity and resilience. If a system is intensively used, it is often more difficult to maintain appropriate reliability, but I pay tribute to the work done at Heathrow in recent years to improve reliability. In my opinion, its record stands up strongly in comparison with that of its European competitors.

On new clause 2, the Government of course agree that it is hugely important that airlines and airports should be sensitive to the needs of disabled people, and that they comply with the regulation that has been introduced to protect the interests of people with disabilities. I agree about the benefits of publishing information on compliance with obligations relating to disabled passengers. However, I do not support the new clause.

My first concern is a practical one, as the provision is so drafted that it would put the obligation to produce an annual report on the Secretary of State and the CAA jointly. I have significant doubts about linking the CAA and the Secretary of State in that way. The aviation regulator and the national enforcement body for European aviation consumer legislation are separate from the Secretary of State in respect of ensuring compliance with EU law, and the amendment could be seen to compromise the CAA’s independence in that role. I am concerned, too, about the impact of the provision, and I believe that there are effective mechanisms already in place to secure the result that it is intended to achieve.

The CAA publishes an annual report and corporate plan, and it makes a considerable amount of consumer information available on its website. An extra annual report on a specific area of legislation, on top of those more wide-ranging reports, seems disproportionate. The CAA is committed to the principles of better regulation, and it aims to be as transparent as possible in all its work, including in relation to compliance and the enforcement of legislation relating to consumers and disabled passengers.

Jim Shannon: Further to that point, and to what I said earlier, I am aware of many people, particularly people with disabilities, who are subject to a strip search every time they go to the airport. Is it necessary to go to that extreme every time someone who clearly has a disability appears at the airport?

Mrs Villiers: The airports have an important obligation to ensure that all security checks are carried out appropriately, but it is enormously important that they do so as sensitively as possible, particularly in relation to the needs of disabled passengers. I have a great deal of sympathy with the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

The CAA continues to develop capacity to help consumers, and is at an advanced stage of setting up a new consumer advisory panel to act as a critical friend of the regulator as it proceeds to put the consumer at the heart of its regulatory effort. I hope that those provisions give the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) the reassurance that she seeks. The new consumer panel, which will replace the Air Transport Users Council, is a step in the right direction. It will provide the CAA with an important insight into how it can best serve the consumer’s interest. It will have internal independence from the CAA, which will enable it to provide an effective challenge. It will have the scope to make public statements and it will publish an annual report.

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3 pm

The panel has recently appointed a new chair, Mr Keith Richards, who has considerable experience of disabled air passenger issues, having been chair of the aviation working group of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee for many years, as well as the former head of consumer affairs at the Association of British Travel Agents. Clearly, the CAA and the new panel chair will need time to develop their relationship, but it would not be unreasonable to suppose that the passenger experience of disabled people at airports and on planes would be of considerable interest to the new chair. I suggest that it would be better to allow the new CAA consumer panel to have the space to develop, and to determine how it will go about its work and how best it can support and inform passengers, rather than to impose an obligation along the lines set out in the new clause.

The Select Committee Chairman asked how licence conditions would be enforced. That is set out in clauses 31 to 47. They include measures on enforcement orders, which could require a licence holder to take action to comply with a condition. Penalties may also be imposed. As I have mentioned, licence conditions will be consulted on in due course.

In response to the points made about the UK Border Force, I fully agree on the importance of ensuring efficiency at our borders. This is a matter that the Home Office and the UKBF take very seriously. Hon. Members who attended the Committee debates will recall the list of actions that I set out, and my describing how new technology and reformed working practices were being deployed to improve efficiency at our borders. However, I cannot accept that a system designed for the economic regulation of airports would be appropriate for the regulation of the activities of the UKBF. The UKBF is accountable to Ministers and, through them, to Parliament. That is the appropriate way to hold it to account, and we do not believe that the UKBF should be included in the Bill in that context.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) that I have engaged regularly with colleagues in the Home Office on the importance of efficiency at our borders. I will continue to do so. With that, I must ask the House to oppose the new clause.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Those who have been listening to the debate will realise that the Minister and I are not a million miles apart on the new clause and the amendments. Clearly, we have the joint objective of improving and protecting the passenger experience. However, as the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) said, the UK Border Agency and UK Border Force experience has not improved over the past few months and years. I recognise that that is a Home Office matter and is not covered by the amendments, but we accept that clauses 83 and 84, which cover the CAA’s requirement to procure information and publish the data on the passenger experience, could deal with the matters that we have raised in new clause 2 and in amendments 8 and 10.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) said in an intervention on the Minister that resilience was absolutely critical at airports such as Heathrow that operate at 99% capacity. The CAA has published the indicative licence—a copy is in the Library of the House—and it incorporates a requirement to address resilience and passenger welfare plans. That

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completely satisfies us that the CAA understands that it ought to be part of its requirement to monitor those elements, and that requirement should therefore be part of the licence. Given the experience of recent years, we do not believe that our proposal would be over-burdensome in terms of bureaucracy or application. It should therefore be incorporated into the Bill. We will seek leave to withdraw new clause 2, but we are unconvinced that the Minister has given us adequate reassurance on amendment 9, so we shall take the view of the House on that at the appropriate time.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Risk-based aviation security regime

‘(1) The Secretary of State may direct the operators of airport areas to implement an outcomes-focused, risk-based aviation security regime to govern the exercise of their functions in relation to aviation security.

(2) When making directions under this section, the Secretary of State must by order set out the framework for the introduction of the outcomes-focused, risk-based aviation security regime.

(3) An order under this section must be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’.—(John Woodcock.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 11, page 49, line 31, clause 80, at end insert—

‘(2A) The CAA may also provide advice and assistance to such persons in connection with security checks performed on users of civil air services who have religious clothing requirements in order that their dignity be maintained without compromising the rigour of those security checks.’.

Amendment 13, page 51, line 10, clause 82, at end insert—

‘(3A) Before making a scheme under this section the Secretary of State must review the impact of such transfers on the security functions of the CAA.’.

Government amendments 17 and 18.

John Woodcock: I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise a number of issues relating to aviation security. This is an immensely important subject, and one on which the Bill before us has something to say, but we believe that additional safeguards are strongly in the public interest. There are questions that my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State raised on Second Reading, and that I and other Labour Members raised in Committee, to which we have not yet had satisfactory answers. We believe that this proposal provides an opportunity for increased safeguards and scrutiny, and that is why we seek to amend the Bill today.

The UK has a relatively strong record on aviation security. The current arrangements have evolved to meet the threats that have faced the UK from Lockerbie onwards, through the various plots that have emerged since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As terrorists have increased the sophistication of their efforts to cause death, destruction and disruption, so the UK aviation security system has, generally, shown an ability to adapt and stay one step ahead.

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The Bill proposes a major change in the security regime, shifting responsibility for overseeing security arrangements from the Department for Transport to the Civil Aviation Authority. A number of issues flow from that. The first involves staffing. Although the move has broadly been welcomed by the industry, we raised concerns in Committee regarding the transfer of specialist security staff from the Department for Transport to the CAA. The Minister has not yet fully addressed those concerns, but I hope that she will do so shortly. Under the terms of the Bill, 85 members of staff will be transferred from the Department for Transport to the CAA. There is concern that some will choose not to transfer, and will instead leave public service. That could represent a serious loss of expertise in an area where finding suitable replacements could be difficult. To ensure the security of our airports and planes, we need to retain that experience.

On Second Reading, the shadow Secretary of State asked the Government to consider seconding at least some staff, rather than transferring them. The Transport Committee has also made that recommendation. In Committee, the Minister told us that it was possible that some staff would be seconded. Our amendment 13 would require the Secretary of State to assess the impact of staff transfers before she gave the go-ahead to move responsibilities to the CAA. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to inform the House of the Government’s current position on secondments, and to tell us whether they have got beyond the stage of simply hoping that staff will not walk away.

We have also tabled new clause 3, because we again want to give the Government the opportunity, which they passed up in Committee, to subject to parliamentary scrutiny their proposed shift to an outcome-focused, risk-based approach to aviation security. Without our new clause, the move to risk-based security would not be mentioned in the Bill at all. We should be clear about what the reform will entail. Under the Government’s proposed new security regime, rather than directing specific measures that airports must undertake in order to maintain security, Ministers will instead specify a number of key risks that need to be mitigated. It will then be for the airports themselves to undertake their own risk assessment. They will be tasked with analysing their local vulnerabilities, and with designing and implementing appropriate mitigating measures. I know that the Minister will agree that this represents a major change to the UK’s aviation security regime.

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend presents a picture of changing security regimes under this Government, but does he accept that there are also changes coming through from Europe, particularly on issues such as liquids? Is not the best way of looking at security and exercising correct parliamentary oversight of it to look at the issues in more detail as the picture becomes clearer after the Bill has been introduced— exactly as the new clause outlines?

John Woodcock: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I intend to touch on Europe shortly.

Carrying out such an approach presents a challenge to the industry. Directions from Europe, with which any UK regime will have to comply, usually mandate a

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blanket approach. As my hon. Friend says, that may well be changing. Through the new clause, we seek to require parliamentary scrutiny and approval before Ministers are permitted to undertake what would be one of the most significant reforms to aviation security in the past two decades.

In Committee, the Minister suggested that Labour Members have set our face against moving towards a risk-based approach. That is not the case. We simply believe that any such move is serious enough to require parliamentary scrutiny—at the point and in the circumstances where the Government seek to make it.

The Government’s impact assessment predicts significant reductions in regulation and costs. If they were to emerge in practice, they would, of course, be welcome—provided they did not result in security being compromised. There is support for such a reform from airlines and airport operators, and we have listened carefully to their opinions.

Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend accurately relates what the Government’s regulatory impact statement says. Will he acknowledge that, as we debated in Committee, Manchester and other airports strongly dispute those figures and believe that there will be a huge increase in the regulatory burden on airports?

John Woodcock: My hon. Friend raises a good point and accurately reflects some of the concerns that cast doubt on the impact assessment, which I know will have been thoroughly engaged in and scrutinised by Ministers and others across the whole Department, as it is now in Whitehall. There was much debate in Committee over whether the assessment thus far made presents an accurate picture.

On an issue that is literally a matter of life and death, it would be deeply irresponsible to make such a major decision on the grounds of cost and regulatory burden alone. Ministers must make it clear how such a move would enhance Britain’s capacity to keep aviation secure.

In their impact assessment, Ministers have argued that a move to a risk-based regime is consistent with the principles of better regulation. The drive to improve and lessen regulatory burdens, where appropriate, is one that we pioneered in government and continue to support now. However, moving away from the current “direct and inspect” regime for aviation should not automatically follow from that. Requiring specific parliamentary approval for this reform would give Members the opportunity for more detailed probing of some of the claims made by Ministers for this change, and how they would fit with EU directions at the time the change is proposed.

In Committee, we did indeed question the reliability of the predicted costs of the reforms—supposedly £23.7 million over 10 years. Parliament should have the opportunity to consider the reliability of those figures in the light of consultation responses. Furthermore, adopting a risk-based approach will inevitably create variation within security procedures adopted at different airports—again a major step change from the present.

Jim Shannon: One thing brought to my and perhaps others’ attention is the different focus on security at different airports. Security might be frustrating for some, but it is necessary for us all. Does the hon. Gentleman

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feel that with the legislative changes ahead, the focus on security will be similar across all the airports, which is vital?

3.15 pm

John Woodcock: Of course the aim of the Government’s reforms is to have a similar focus on security. It might be carried out in different ways, but it will maintain the same effect—that we keep the country and our passengers secure. The cause of our questioning these measures and of our seeking extra scrutiny of the process is that the Government have not yet been able adequately to make the case that that effect will follow.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): As a regular traveller, like my friend from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I know that the inefficiencies of the service are such that there is a crying need for a universal approach to security. In circumstances where the airport that passengers go through has a different regime in place, should not the regulation be attached to the idea of having uniform security across the whole of the airport system of the United Kingdom?

John Woodcock: My hon. Friend has a lot of experience in this matter. One issue that the Government have not yet set out—and if they do not accept the new clause, they might not be required to do so before the House—is how the changes they seek to implement will not lead to increased fragmentation and a potentially less effective system as well as a more burdensome one for passengers.

Nigel Mills: But would the hon. Gentleman not accept that having every airport doing exactly the same thing all the time might be quite risky and that we might be better off having airports doing things a little differently, using different processes and techniques, which would make it harder for people trying to break the system to know exactly what they will be subjected to?

John Woodcock: As I have said, we have not set our face against the idea of a risk-based approach, but the Government have not yet done enough to set out how it would work in practice or how it would fit in with a potentially conflicting or contradictory approach from Europe. Ministers are not saying that they want to move to this approach now; they say they want the freedom to do so at some point in the future. At this stage, we do not know what the regime emanating from Europe will be. If the Government seek to press ahead with such a move, it is right to debate and scrutinise it at the time it comes into force when we should know what the European regime is likely to be. That is better than its going forward without scrutiny, which has been the position up to now. I hope that the Minister will seek to change what has been her preferred option.

Those who seek to disrupt, maim and kill users of air transport and innocent people on the ground are constantly testing the defences that the country has put up. That is why we need Ministers to explain to this House the basis for their confidence in individual airports’ ability to assess and counteract risks adequately. In moving away from the current one-size-fits-all approach to security, we cannot permit there to develop a soft underbelly of smaller airports, where defences are lowered because

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they self-assess their risk to be low. Those intent on doing us harm will always look for opportunities. We currently see that on our television screens daily in the testimony from Oslo. We know from bitter experience that Britain is a nation with a heightened risk of terrorist attack. There can be no grounds for complacency, and I know the Minister agrees.

We also need real consideration of the ability of a risk-based system to implement the necessary response to specific and sudden threats, such as the example of the liquid bomb plot in the summer of 2006. The discovery of this credible threat led Ministers to take the decision to ban liquids, and for a while most hand luggage, from flights to and from the UK. There is no suggestion that Ministers would lose the ability to take such steps in an emergency if they considered that to be necessary, but questions do arise about whether the ability of airports to carry out such emergency procedures might be hindered by their abandonment of uniform security provision. If each of more than 60 airports in the UK operates its own security regime, how straightforward will it be to ensure that emergency measures are adopted with uniformity, rigour and speed should circumstances render that appropriate?

Major changes in aviation security policy cannot be undertaken lightly. I know that the Minister will cite the broad support of airlines and airports for the proposed shift, but it would be wrong if this were Parliament’s only opportunity to debate such a major change in the context of an Opposition amendment, and to seek ministerial assurances.

The Minister will, I am sure, agree that cost and the principle of lessening regulation are not in themselves sufficient justifications for a root-and-branch reform of aviation security. The public rightly expect their elected representatives to maintain their security and safety in the skies. Ministers are proposing not a mere technical change, but a major overhaul. New clause 3 would require them to explain their proposals to both Houses, and to secure approval for a change when they wish to make it. I urge Members to support this extra safeguard.

I want to say a little about amendment 11. The subject of ensuring the dignity of passengers with specific religious clothing requirements was touched on in Committee, and I am pleased that we have an opportunity to debate improvements now. I am well aware that the subject has been of particular concern to the Sikh community, and that Members on both sides of the House have pushed for guarantees of better treatment for their constituents. I am particularly grateful for the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) have pursued the issue in recent months.

Aviation security is always paramount, and we make that clear in the amendment, but we believe that it is possible for a rigorous security regime to exist alongside dignity for passengers with specific religious clothing requirements. The way in which security staff treat the Sikh turban is a particularly good example. In 2010, the European Commission introduced requirements for religious headwear to be subject to manual searches. It has been suggested that, given that the UK is the only EU member state with a substantial Sikh community,

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Europe failed to understand the specific sensitivities of the turban: that it should not be touched by another person, and that its removal should not be required.

The UK reached an agreement with the Commission enabling airports to opt into a trial allowing the swabbing of turbans for explosive residues, a compromise that was broadly welcomed by the Sikh community. However, a number of UK airports have chosen not to opt into the trial, which has caused significant distress and anger among Sikhs. We want to see a more consistent approach which would ensure that people with specific religious requirements, whatever their faith, are treated with dignity.

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend is making some compelling observations about the Sikh community and security, with which I entirely agree. Does he agree with me that—as is demonstrated by, for example, 1970s legislation on motor cycle helmets—political leadership is sometimes required to bring about action on issues that are vital to communities represented in constituencies throughout the House, and that bureaucrats may not always be able to make the necessary judgments?

John Woodcock: As ever, my hon. Friend has made an excellent point, and the amendment presents an opportunity for such leadership to be shown.

Mrs Villiers: Perhaps I can illustrate that by reminding the House that as soon as the problem began to emerge, when the new EU rules were introduced, the former Secretary of State for Transport instructed airports to stop applying the EU rules and revert to the old rules until a trial was developed. He took decisive political leadership then, and we will continue to adopt that approach.

John Woodcock: The Minister is right to point out that action has been taken in this regard. The point that we are making today, with which I hope she will agree, is that some airports are still not applying sensitivity as we would wish them to do. That remains an issue, but we now have an opportunity to do something about it.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an issue which I think is understood by Members on both sides of the House. On Sunday a constituent told me that, at a European airport, her husband had been asked to remove his turban in front of others, which caused great distress to him and his children. What does my hon. Friend think could be done to ensure that people are treated with dignity, not just through processes but through staff training and the increasing of awareness?

John Woodcock: Training is an excellent example. We believe that the amendment would empower and encourage the Civil Aviation Authority to take the necessary action in its regulatory role. Too often we find that airports are lacking in this regard, owing mostly to ignorance.

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. Can he confirm that if new clause 3 and amendment 11 and were not passed today, the House would have no further opportunity to express its views about the security regime in relation to particular items of religious headwear?

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John Woodcock: I believe so. That is why it is so important for our amendment to be accepted, and for the Minister to provide substantive reassurances.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the UK, for historic reasons, has the largest Sikh community. That confers a particular responsibility on Ministers and officials in the Department for Transport to ensure that these sensitivities are understood in European discussions. Does my hon. Friend think that the passing of the amendment would reinforce their ability to ensure, in such discussions, that other countries with less experience of the issue appreciate its significance?

John Woodcock: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Passing the amendment would send a strong signal to our European neighbours that the UK attaches great importance to the issue, and would empower our Ministers and officials to go out to Europe and secure the necessary safeguards.

Our amendment seeks to write into law the role of the CAA in providing airports with advice and assistance on ensuring that dignity is maintained. Any move to a risk-based system reducing the uniformity of security provision between airports would make that all the more important. I hope that the amendment will be supported by Members throughout the House. If our aviation security regime is to command the confidence of all communities in this country, we must do more to ensure that they can be certain of being treated at all times with fairness, dignity and respect. This is a simple amendment, which I believe will help to achieve exactly that.

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have heard today that the Deputy Prime Minister may be planning to visit my constituency. That has caused me to make various inquiries. I began by ringing the Deputy Prime Minister’s departmental office and I was told that if he is visiting Hull East tomorrow, it will not be on ministerial duties. I then received a phone call from Lib Dem HQ, telling me that they were very sorry and that there had been some sort of mistake as the Deputy Prime Minister will, indeed, be in my constituency tomorrow.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): This is a political point.

Karl Turner: I wonder whether you can advise me on this matter, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Chris Heaton-Harris: The hon. Gentleman is going on a bit.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Mr Heaton-Harris, you should know much better, as you have many years of experience in Europe in addition to your time as a Member of this House. I am sure the point of order is coming to an end, and when it does I shall give a quick ruling.

Karl Turner: I am always very glad to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister to Hull East. Indeed, if he is visiting in order to campaign, I am sure he will do very well for the Labour party. What is the convention of this House, however?

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Mr Deputy Speaker: Let me say that it is a customary courtesy for any Member visiting another Member’s constituency to inform them of that visit. There may have been an oversight in this instance, and I am sure that that is now in the process of being corrected, perhaps via the Deputy Prime Minister’s political office, and that the hon. Gentleman will be contacted sooner rather than later.

3.30 pm

Mr Spellar: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have huge regard for your qualities, and the abilities you bring to your office. I was therefore astonished at the recent intervention by the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), seeming to imply that you would not know whether a Member was in order. I hope the hon. Gentleman realises that, and that in future he will treat your office, Mr Deputy Speaker—and, indeed, yourself—with greater respect.

Mr Deputy Speaker: I am sure we can now make good progress.

Mrs Ellman: Security was one area on which the Select Committee expressed concerns and raised questions. Some of those concerns are touched upon in some of the amendments. The change in security arrangements—responsibility in part moving from the Department to the CAA—is linked to a change to an outcome-focused, risk-assessment regime, but that basic change of policy has not been fully debated. The Committee did not address the subject in depth; instead, we looked at certain specific issues, which are in the Bill.

The shift in responsibility from the Department to the CAA will result in increased costs to the industry. While industry generally supports the changes in the Bill, it is concerned about costs. It has been stated that the cost will be £5 million a year, but I understand that, in fact, the figure could be a great deal higher.

Another issue is how the division of responsibilities will operate in practice. Under the proposed changes, the Secretary of State is to have responsibility for policy and the CAA is to have responsibility for operational matters, but it is unclear how that division will be made and how that would operate, particularly in emergency situations when swift decisions may be required.

That issue is linked to the concern we expressed about staffing, and the possibility of staff in the Department who have expertise in this area not moving to the CAA and therefore not being available to deploy their expertise where and when it is most needed. We have not received any clear answers on that. We suggested there might be secondments. I understand that the Department is not very supportive of that idea, and does not accept that it may solve the problem. We remain concerned about this possible loss of expertise.

I understand that the CAA will be undertaking its new responsibilities by 2014. That is not a long time in the future. It is important that the issues I have raised are addressed. There is also the question of whether the move to an outcome-focused, risk-assessment approach will, in fact, maintain—or, indeed, increase—vital levels of security.

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Graham Stringer: I wish to make one general point and two specific ones. The Minister will know that although I accept the basic thrust of the Bill, I have never accepted the regulatory impact assessment and I believe that, throughout the Bill, extra burdens are being introduced for the aviation sector. I have been surprised and disappointed that she, as a Conservative Minister, has not explored more of the market-based solutions to some of these problems.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said, any assessment of the security costs is unlikely to be accurate, because many of the security regulations will be made at the European level. Making any such assessment is always going to be difficult, but it is close to impossible in this case. I am not going to repeat the discussion that we had in Committee, but I will say that Manchester airport is very concerned that the very expensive scanners that it has put in place may be outlawed by the new European regulations. That is the background to my position; I am unconvinced by the Government’s figures.

The first of my two specific points relates to security and follows on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) said. I am firmly of the school, particularly on security, that thinks, “If it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?” There is no evidence to suggest that TRANSEC is not doing a good job. It is integrated with other security services and, more importantly, for transport matters it is integrated with other transport areas apart from aviation. In short, it is doing a good job, and it seems to me that the real motive—the real driver—for moving security on to airports is primarily cost. That is not a good reason, particularly given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) said, this will not have received the scrutiny that it deserves before the Bill goes through. Why take a risk? Why stand a chance of losing experienced and well-qualified members of TRANSEC, who may not want to move into airports? This proposal is unnecessary and the justification for it is weak.

I come to my second and final point. The Minister will recall that when I asked her in Committee whether other airports in the European Union had the costs of their security paid for by their Governments, she said that she thought they did. She then wrote to me and said something, and I followed it up with a parliamentary question, which she was good enough to answer fairly quickly. Her response showed that either she was not telling me—I do not believe that she would do that; I am sure that if she knew, she would tell me and other Members of the House—or, as I think, the Department did not know which countries and which airports paid for their security and which did not.

So not only are we being driven by cost, with a lack of scrutiny, to change a security system that works, but, as with other parts of the Bill, that is going to put a burden on UK airports that is not shared by some of their continental competitors. We know that the larger airports in this country—this does not apply to the tiny airports—such as Stansted, Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham, and possibly some others, are competing as hubs for traffic throughout Europe, particularly for incoming traffic. Yet the Minister is unable to tell us, after a long debate in Committee and after a parliamentary question, whether we are being put at a competitive

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disadvantage, because she does not know which of those airports have their security paid for by their Governments. So I would like her to answer as thoroughly as she can on this matter. I do not believe that the case has been fully made, and I do not believe that the impact on the competitiveness and success of our airports has been judged properly and accurately.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): I want to say a few things in support of amendment 11 on security checks. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said, the amendment calls for maintaining the rigour of those security checks while carrying them out in a manner that preserves religious dignity. Obviously, we need strong security at our airports—of that there is no doubt. The terrorism threat is very real—we have had the shoe bomber and we have had the underpants bomber—and the travelling public expect the Government and the airport authorities to do all that they can to ensure their safety. It is therefore not a surprise that security is a high concern in the Bill and a strong concern at a European level.

I and a number of other MPs who have large numbers of Sikh constituents have had many representations about the matter over the past year or so. In particular, we received representations about the way in which new European rules were being implemented, a concern that focused on the question of the physical searching of the turban, or, as Sikhs call it, the dastaar. I believe that the Sikh community, like any other part of the UK, accepts the need for strong security and understands that there is a terrorist threat, but it wants security to be implemented in a way that maintains religious dignity, which is what amendment 11 calls for.

I thank the Minister for listening to the representations from MPs and organisations representing the Sikh community on this issue. As she said in her intervention a few moments ago, the Department for Transport, in response to those concerns when they were at their height, organised a trial using swab and wand technology at our airports. That trial is still in progress. I believe that it was due to finish this summer and I want to ask her a few questions. Following the transfer of responsibility for some of these matters from the Department for Transport to the Civil Aviation Authority, how will MPs make representations on such issues in the future? It is important for us to have direct access to Ministers and officials in the Department for Transport; will we still be able to reflect the views of our constituents in the same way under the Bill?

Will the Minister also tell the House what will happen when the trial involving the swab and wand technology comes to an end? Will there be a formal report or a statement to the House in written or oral form about how that trial has gone? Importantly, do the UK Government intend to report the results to the European Commission, which drafted the new rules in the first place?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) said a few moments ago that the United Kingdom had by far the largest Sikh community in the European Union. That is true. It also has the longest experience of having a Sikh community and we have been through these arguments, whether they are about

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the right of Sikhs to wear their turbans when riding a motorcycle, the right of bus drivers to wear them or the right of serving police officers to wear them. We have been through the arguments time and time again and different UK Governments have proven to be responsive to the concerns, which has enabled us to reach an accommodation. As my Sikh constituents often say to me, if wearing a turban was good enough to fight in the trenches, why is it not good enough to be worn in other walks of life?

The flexibility that the UK has shown through the trial is to be commended. I am not saying that the trial is perfect. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness said, it has not been implemented everywhere. Has the Minister received representations about problems in airports that are not taking part in the trial? Importantly, the fact that the Minister has written to Transport Ministers in other EU member states to outline the British approach has been a good initiative, but problems remain, especially outside the UK. We have had a number of Sikh constituents reporting aggressive and highly distressing searches, particularly at Italian airports, which have shown little regard for religious dignity. Some of us have made representations to the Italian embassy about those.

3.45 pm

Our security regime must work with our population. It must be compatible with the free movement of people, which is one of the founding principles of the European Union, and if a section of our population feel that they simply cannot travel, we should be highly concerned. If we have ill thought-out regulations, which do not command support and simply restrict the movement of people, I do not believe that that enhances security.

I and my hon. Friends are not arguing in any way for a diminution of security at our airports. As I said at the start of my speech, such security is a very important requirement, and the terrorist threat is real and apparent to us all. We are arguing for a regime that takes into account the reality of the UK today and the reality of who makes up our population. We are arguing for the UK Government to use their influence to try to convince the European Commission and other member states to look at the approach that we have adopted and, importantly, to consider the results of the trial that we have carried out. I very much hope that that trial shows that there has not been a diminution of security with the approach that the Minister has authorised in the airports. In that way, we can have security with consent and we can maintain freedom of movement for every part of our community. That is an aim that we should support, and that is precisely the aim of amendment 11.

Julie Hilling: I start by expressing concern about the “user pays” principle. We do not apply that to the police or other safety and security issues and services. I will expand on that in a moment, but first I want to express my concern about the outcome-focused, risk-based approach to security. The terrorist has only got to get through once; we have to be 100% successful at stopping the terrorist. I am still not convinced that a focus on outcomes will achieve the necessary ends. I therefore believe that the Government must be extremely clear about what they are saying about the risk-based focus. I am still not convinced that just specifying the end result will be adequate.

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To return to the costs, the Government say that the freedom of airports to devise their own systems could lead to cost savings, and that worries me hugely. Will that mean that, potentially, airports will be looking at how they might cut costs, and therefore will cut corners? I am concerned that some airports might be less rigorous than others. Our biggest concern in the past few years has been around transatlantic services, which of course have high prestige for the terrorist. However, any attack on any airport or airliner—or, in fact, train, ship or anything else—would be significant and would produce that wonderful splash of publicity that terrorists want to see. If we do not prescribe what airports should include in their security services, is there not a risk that we shall not be able to monitor them properly? I am concerned that some of those smaller airports may then become soft targets for terrorists.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): When we are looking at security, we can take no shortcuts whatever. We say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but terrorists spend their time trying to work the system that they are viewing, so that approach does not work in security. We have to try and change the system to throw the terrorist. I think the hon. Lady probably agrees with me on that.

Julie Hilling: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention because I absolutely agree with him. That is why I am very concerned that if cost is a driving force within security, airports may look to see how they can reduce costs rather than, as the hon. Gentleman says, continuing to be innovative. As he so rightly says, it is not enough to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted and say, “They got through there but we can stop them next time.” We have to stop them the first time—an incredibly difficult task.

Nigel Mills: Will the hon. Lady join me in welcoming the full body scanners that have been installed by Manchester airport? The evidence is that not only are they cheaper to run and much preferred by the passenger for being less intrusive—there is no need for the physical pat-down—but they maintain all the security features. That is the kind of security innovation that we would like to see, and it is a crying shame that there is a threat from the European Union that the use of those scanners will not be allowed to continue.

Julie Hilling: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has already seen my speech. I shall go on to talk about Manchester airport.

We have heard about the profiling of potential offenders. I am concerned that people with brown skins are more likely than others to be pulled over for more rigorous security checks, and I am not yet convinced that that will not occur. We have seen what happened with stop and search on the streets. Will that be replicated in our airports? The percentage of black and minority ethnic people who are stopped and searched by the police is much higher than that for the white population, and the police can argue, as can any security service, that certain people are more likely to be involved in street crime and gang-related violence, but the result is the capturing of everybody of a certain colour or ethnicity, which can become very worrying.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), who is no longer in her place, spoke about the Sikh gentleman who was asked to remove his turban. We must ensure that people will not be targeted because of the way they look or because they come from a certain background. We need to ensure that people are treated the same and that people who meet certain criteria are the ones who are picked out.

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend mentioned the statistics associated with police stop and search. I am unclear about the current statistics in relation to people subjected to personal or invasive searches in airports. Does that not support the case for a full assessment of aviation security to be carried out by the House through a further instrument?

Julie Hilling: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I agree with him.

We were told in the Select Committee and in the Public Bill Committee that risk-based security was based on an analysis of people’s behaviour—how they purchase tickets, what insurance policies they have, and so on—but a certain group of people are still more likely to commit an offence. I hope the Minister can reassure me and colleagues that the proposals will ensure that people are caught and are not able to commit atrocities in our skies.

Aside from the race element, there has been an increasing number of complaints from disabled people about how they have been treated at airports, especially from people with colostomy bags or other physical attributes, who have been subjected to pat-down searches. Again, we must consider how to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against and that they are treated with no less concern for their dignity than other people, even if that means that they may have to go through another door for certain other investigations. Those investigations must not be intrusive or discriminatory or interfere with people’s dignity.

As we heard, at Manchester a scheme has been in place since 2009. Body scanners have been trialled that use backscatter X-ray technology which does not yet have EU approval. I am informed that the radiation from the body scanner is equivalent to cruising for two minutes at altitude and that the scanners have been approved by the Health Protection Agency. However, when the trial ends in October, unless there is an extension, the airport will not be able to continue using them.

The passenger approval rate is 95%. People much prefer it to the old-fashioned pat-down search, as do security staff, because it avoids the need to touch and the bending and stretching that they would otherwise have to do. Not everybody goes through the body scanner. Everybody goes through the first security phase, then a door opens and they either go through the body scanner or go straight ahead. The system has worked, but the concern is that if the EU does not approve it, the investment will have been wasted. More worryingly, what incentive will airports have to be innovative in future? As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) suggested, we must continue to ensure that terrorists do not find any loopholes in our security system.

On the outcome-focused, risk-based approach, the Minister seems to be saying that the Bill gives airports the chance to innovate and look at other ways of

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reaching the same solution. That approach is not working for Manchester because it will not be able to continue using the scanners unless the Government can agree with the EU that the system should continue. Will airports be less likely to invest their own money? Even if the Government’s desired outcomes are achieved, a different input method would be used. My worry is that there is not a clear enough picture for how we achieve the outcome-focused, risk-based approach.

Of course, this is a worldwide issue. We need to ensure that passengers returning to and departing from the UK have stringent security checks. Whether across the European Union or globally, we need systems in place that we can all live and work with. I hope that the Minister will return to the issue. As I have said, I am not convinced that an outcome-focused, risk-based approach will allow innovation and ensure that our airports all have the same level of security.

Finally, I want to talk about the staff transfer issue. As hon. Friends have said, the trade unions, the Transport Committee and the Public Bill Committee have all expressed concerns about losing expertise through the transfer of staff from the Department to the CAA and fear that current employees will look for other opportunities in the civil service. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), wrote to me on that point and stated that the Department could look at how secondments might be used but was committed to ensuring that the costs of regulation are transferred to users and away from taxpayers.

The Minister also said that seconding Department staff to the CAA, rather than transferring them with a function, is unlikely to help ensure that experienced staff remain with the CAA when secondments end. I feel that the Minister has missed the point. Many civil servants are seconded to outside agencies and the cost is transferred to those agencies. While the function that the civil servant fulfilled is transferred, they would stay with the agency within their role. It is not the case that they would be transferred for a fixed period of time and then come back; they are transferred with that function. That means that the individual would retain their terms and conditions and, most importantly, their pension rights. We know that that is of great concern to the employees and that that is why we are most likely to lose that expertise, because they say that they do not want to lose those things and so want to stay within the civil service to look for other opportunities. I hope that the Minister will rethink the decision and not risk the flight of staff and the loss of expertise and, with it, the resilience in our security system.

Mr Spellar As a former Transport Minister, I particularly welcome amendment 11. It will also be very much welcomed by the Sikh community, especially, and fortuitously, at this time of the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi, which Members of Parliament from both sides of the House celebrated with the community last night here in the Palace of Westminster. As colleagues have said, the Sikh community has historically served this country very well and is now an enormously important and dynamic part of our community, both in business and in many of the professions.

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The Sikh community have expressed their concerns, particularly about the handling of the turban at airports, but throughout these discussions—I was involved as a Minister in previous iterations—they have always made it clear that they fully accept the need for security and, therefore, ask, “How do we achieve that?” within the sensitivities of their religion.

4 pm

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) highlighted how in this country we have approached the matter intelligently, and, whether in relation to motorcycles, the police, the Army or a number of other areas, we have obtained an accommodation at the same time as maintaining a necessary and appropriate standard. Wand and swab technology has also been mentioned, and that would enable us to achieve exactly the same position—achieving and maintaining not only security but a sensitive approach.

The Department’s officials have a long history of wanting trials and experiments to go on for far too long—we saw it with hard-shoulder running—but, if the current trials are showing a positive outcome, I hope that we can report on them early and look at any necessary roll-out.

I recognise the particular difficulties that we face, however, and they have been alluded to in other contributions. In European countries with relatively small Sikh populations, the community’s concerns do not register, so there is a particular responsibility on this country, on its civil servants and on Ministers to be alert to that at an early stage.

On several occasions, we have had to respond to regulations that have been introduced and, then, to try and unravel them. It is much better if we look at the issue at an early stage and ensure that any regulations that are introduced do not impact negatively on the community.

As I said in an intervention, new clause 3 would not only provide focus in the Department, but reinforce the arguments that it, of necessity, has to have with Commission officials and its counterparts in other countries in order to ensure that the very real and genuine concerns of this very important community are understood and acted upon.

Pat Glass: I wish to speak in particular to new clause 3.

We have heard that the Bill will move the responsibility for security functions from the Department for Transport to the Civil Aviation Authority, and new clause 3 in particular is concerned with another change in aviation security: the move from the current direct-and-inspect regime to an outcomes-focused, risk-based one.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) has already told us that Labour does not oppose the principle of a risk-based approach—an approach to reforming regulation that the party promoted in government and continues to support—but the life and death nature of aviation security means that such a significant shift must be subject to proper scrutiny to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place. Although reductions in cost and in regulatory burdens are of course welcome, in aviation security, as perhaps in no other area, such decisions cannot be based solely on cost and on slimming down regulatory systems.