HL Deb 06 February 1979 vol 398 cc673-9

6.41 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I beg to move that the Aviation Security Fund (Amendment) Regulations 1979, a draft of which was laid before this House on 14th December 1978, be approved. These regulations, to be made under Section 2 of the Civil Aviation Act 1978, amend the Aviation Security Fund Regulations 1978 and will come into operation on 1st April 1979.

The House will recall that Section 2 of that Act empowered the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring certain aerodrome authorities to pay contributions to an Aviation Security Fund, out of which he may reimburse the cost of security measures that fall to be made under the Protection of Aircraft Act 1973 and the Policing of Airports Act 1974. The first amendment changes the date in Regulation 2(l)(a)(ii) to 1st December 1978 being the latest practicable date prior to the Regulations being laid. The second amendment changes the date in Regulation 2(1)(b) from 1976 to 1977. Neither of these amendments alters the list of authorities of the 28 aerodromes required to make contributions to the Fund. The third amendment seeks to increase the levy in Regulation 2(1) from 80 pence to 85 pence. This increase in the levy follows consultations with representatives of the air transport industry and is based on the latest estimates of expenditure and passenger traffic growth. The latest estimate of aviation security expenditure for 1979–80 is just over £24 million, which represents an increase of 26 per cent. on the current year's forecast. This is partly due to inflation but also to an expansion of passenger searching facilities at major airports in anticipation of increased traffic growth. This expansion of facilities includes the introduction over the next two or three years of x-ray devices at the search points in major airports.

The fourth Amendment seeks to raise the weight limit in Regulation 2(2)(e) from 5,000 kilograms to 10,000 kilograms, and is intended to overcome a problem facing helicopter operators, particularly those servicing North Sea oil rigs. In this instance the security measures which are applicable to oil rig helicopters under the Protection of Aircraft Act 1973 are very small in relation to those measures required by the Department of Energy and the oil industry itself. Thus, such helicopter operators face substantial expenditure with regard to security and receive little or no reimbursement from the Aviation Security Fund in respect of measures recommended by the Department of Trade.

Representatives of the air transport industry have recommended, and the Secretary of State has agreed, that the weight limit of 5 tonnes for the exemption of passengers arriving in small aircraft in Regulation 2(2)(e) of the 1978 regulations should be raised to 10 tonnes. Finally, the fifth Amendment is necessary to remove the words the first period beginning on 1 April 1978 from Regulation 3(1), which were put into the 1978 regulations to permit retrospection. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Regulations, laid before the House on 14th December 1978, be approved.—(Baroness Stedman.)

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful, as always, to the noble Baroness for explaining these short regulations so helpfully. As the noble Baroness may recall, although it was not her duty to steer the original Bill through Parliament, we had a somewhat nerve-wracking afternoon with the Committee stage of the Civil Aviation Bill last year. However, having now reluctantly conceded the principle defined in the Bill we could not, and would not, wish to oppose this order.

I think the provision to raise the weight limit of aircraft to be subjected to these charges from 5,000 kilograms to 10,000 kilograms described by the noble Baroness is welcome, and will help not only the North Sea oil helicopters, to which the noble Baroness referred, but also a number of operators of air-taxi type aeroplanes who might otherwise have found these regulations somewhat irksome.

There is one related matter to which I would refer. We all hope and expect—and these sentiments were certainly expressed forcibly during the passage of the original Bill—that these measures which are now deemed necessary (and I would not dispute that) are nonetheless of a temporary nature. It would be hoped that as the risk dimishes it will be possible gradually to lower the facilities that are used without perhaps relaxing our vigi- lance too much; but certainly it might not be necessary to continue indefinitely with the very expensive facilities now being created.

Having said that, I would go on to say that I therefore view with some trepidation the creation of this vast army of personnel to see to these tasks. The British Airports Authority now employ no fewer than 1,500 people at the airports for which they are responsible, purely and simply for security purposes. This amounts to something like one-third of their total workforce. This increase has been effected almost wholly in the last 12 months, or perhaps 18 months. The Authority took over responsibility from the airlines and from some of the other authorities for the tasks that were originally performed to a large extent by contractors; but now almost all of these personnel are employed by the British Airports Authority itself.

I wonder whether it really is clear to these new employees that the task may indeed be a temporary one. I wonder, therefore, whether it would be possible to run down this huge private army—and I can call it nothing else—as and when the time comes. I cannot say when that will be. It may not be this year or next year, or even the year after, but I would not hope that it would go on much longer than that.

There is one other point I want to make. As the noble Baroness said, the original regulations defined an aerodrome as one catering for more than 50,000 passengers per annum. A list of the airfields therefore affected was published at the time, I think as an Explanatory Memorandum. It was certainly not included in the 1978 regulations, and I do not think it was included in the Act itself. Does the list of airfields published at that time remain accurate? Can the noble Baroness tell me whether any additional airfields have now been added to the list, or indeed whether any have been deleted from the list?

We are anxious to ensure that the facilities provided and the impost therefore placed on airlines and passengers are no greater than they need be and are not continued for a moment longer than is necessary. If the noble Baroness will give me a reply, either now or in correspondence, that will perhaps set at rest some of my fears. Having said that, and having raised those two points, I hope the House will agree to the regulations.

6.50 p.m.

The Earl of KINNOULL

My Lords, I do not share my noble friend's hopefulness that this private army, as he called it, of 1,500 people will diminish over the next few years. I should have thought that when an airport is handling 26 million people a year, 1,500 people operating a 24-hour security service is not all that great a number. I should like to know whether cargo is also charged. Heathrow has a spectacular reputation for losses suffered in cargo thefts, and I hope the noble Baroness will comment on that aspect.

Secondly, the increase being from 80p to 85p, is this figure likely to increase again, bearing in mind the 15 to 16 per cent. increase in passenger put-through annually at the airport? It was a worry and a heavy burden to be carried when the Civil Aviation Act went through. Can she say whether the 85p will last for a certain period of time?


Perhaps I might clarify one point, my Lords. My noble friend said I was complaining about the number of people. I am not complaining about the present number. I regret they are necessary and I agree they probably are necessary, but I hope the number will be reduced as and when the scale of the risk diminishes.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am grateful to the two noble Lords opposite for their remarks and for the way in which they have received these regulations. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, raised the question of cargo. I understand no levy is charged so far as cargo is concerned, though some of the security staff have been diverted to help look after cargo. That may meet the point he raised.

We also hope this is a temporary measure; but as for the word "temporary", his guess is as good as mine as to how long "temporary" will be. Obviously it will last as long as the need is there for it. In the same way, so far as future increases are concerned, I cannot guarantee what will be the position in 12 months' time if these regulations have again to be put before the House. I cannot say whether there will need to be another increase then.

What I can say—and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgame, was kind enough to tell me he was concerned about the question of the security staff—is that the number of security staff paid out of the Aviation Security Fund over the whole field of security amounts to 24½ per cent. of BAA's staff, and I understand that those actually engaged on the searching side of security amounts to some 19 per cent. of the staff. That may seem a large number of people, and the noble Lord asked whether they were aware of the fact that we hope perhaps that at some future date there may not any longer be the need for their service.

We had complaints about conditions at Heathrow; in October we had problems at Terminal 3 which were caused by a temporary insufficiency of security staff, despite the numbers, and we could not carry out quickly and efficiently the searching of passengers or their baggage. That was because the BAA had been placed in the position of having to take over from the airlines, some three months earlier than they had planned, the searching responsibilities because the private security firm involved was no longer able to provide the adequate cover we wanted.

I understand that we are at present in discussion with the BAA about an increase in security staff to cope with the expected growth in traffic during the 1979 summer period. I think we would all agree that conditions at Terminal 2 are far from satisfactory, but the BAA is trying to ensure that inconvenience to passengers is kept to a minimum, and we are trying to improve the passengers' lot. While the security arrangements at the entrance to Terminal 2 are by no means ideally situated, there has been no reduction in their effectiveness and we are assured that this is a very effective security organisation in so far as we are able to provide one.

We have looked into complaints we have had about delays in passenger searching, and we have established without doubt that they are minimal compared with other reasons for delays. So far as the order is concerned, it must come before the House every year. It will be a question for the House to take a decision in the light of the circumstances existing in 12 months' time; but on this occasion I am happy to think we have the support of noble Lords opposite for this order.