HL Deb 16 January 2002 vol 630 cc1065-7

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take further steps to increase security for passengers and crews of British civilian aircraft.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, we already have measures in place to deter the hijacking of passenger aircraft. They were substantially enhanced on and following 11th September. Following the attacks in the United States, the Cabinet Office commissioned through the Committee on Domestic and International Terrorism an urgent and wide-ranging review of aviation security. As a result, a number of issues have been identified that may well result in further additional security measures being imposed upon airports and airlines.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his answer. Is he able to give more details of the action the Government propose taking to give aircraft passengers a much greater sense of security and safety? Specifically, are the Government proposing to implement any new measures following last month's attempt by the shoe bomber on the flight from Paris to the United States? The attempt has given rise to very great apprehension.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, although it would be wrong for me to go into too much detail about the precise action being taken, the committee that I mentioned is considering matters such as systems to check passport validity, acceleration of work on security equipment, extended background checks on airport employees and revised aircrew security training. Those are only some examples.

My noble friend asked about the consequences arising from the shoe bomber incident. I should make it clear that we have both the physical and technical means of detecting whether a shoe has been modified, and those security measures are in regular use at UK airports. Since the incident, UK airports have been paying particular attention to footwear during the security screening of passengers.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, has any addition or alteration been made to flight deck security? As I have said previously, only on Israeli airlines is the door to the flight deck locked before departure and unlocked only after the aircraft lands. Consequently, if any terrorist sought entry, threatening, for example, to blow up the plane unless the door was opened, the threat would be ignored. Have we in place any proposals to improve the current situation in which there has been free and very liberal use by passengers of the invitation to visit the flight deck?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the Civil Aviation Authority, with United States and European colleagues, is urgently examining the design of cockpit doors to determine which types of hardening and locking mechanisms are most compatible with safety standards. As an interim measure, the CAA issued a fast-track procedure to enhance in-flight security, allowing modifications to aircraft cockpit doors to be made to prevent unauthorised access without endangering aircraft safety. The CAA required all UK operators to lock cockpit doors with effect from 18th September. No visits to the flight deck are allowed.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of British Airways. As the Minister said, the CAA now requires all British aircraft to lock cockpit doors. Will the Government put their weight behind that and say that it is a statutory requirement?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, the current CAA guidance is clear to all who must follow it. As for the Government's position, the review to which I referred will advise us on its conclusions. Our position will subsequently he made clear.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, bearing in mind that those boarding transatlantic flights at Kennedy airport currently have to remove their shoes for inspection before entering the departure area, but that those boarding transatlantic flights at London Heathrow airport do not, will the Minister confirm that all inquiries have been made to ensure that the British security equipment is able in all cases to detect every known explosive or explosive device that could be concealed in a shoe without the shoe being removed and put through the X-ray machinery?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, one can never give absolute guarantees on security, and I would not seek to do so in any answer that I gave. As I indicated in answer to the initial Question asked by my noble friend, Lord Janner, we have the physical and technical means to detect modification, and guidance has been given. The implication of the noble Lord's question is that we are not doing as well as, for example, the United States. The advice I have is that we believe that such detection is more likely in this country than anywhere else.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, is this not yet another argument in favour of the introduction of national identity cards which contain much data?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am reluctant to be drawn into that argument. It is a long step from bombs in shoes to identity cards.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, will the Minister tell us how many recommendations the Government have received from the Civil Aviation Authority and how many have been implemented? Do they expect to receive more recommendations from the CAA?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I cannot give an answer as regards the number of such recommendations. However, I should make it absolutely clear that the CAA is engaged with government—that is exactly as it should be—in trying to identify what specific further measures should be taken in addition to those adopted in the immediate aftermath of 11th September and since 11th September. I shall write to the noble Viscount as regards the specific questions he asked.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, how good are the arrangements for checking heavy luggage carried in the hold? In the days before September 11th, if a passenger with checked-in luggage did not turn up for the flight great efforts were made to remove his or her luggage in case it contained a bomb. However, if certain passengers want to be blown up, that precaution is meaningless. Therefore, it is necessary to examine with great care luggage that is carried in the hold.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, that important point about luggage is being considered by the committee to which I referred. I shall write to the noble Lord with details.

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