HL Deb 11 March 2002 vol 632 cc521-3
Lord Clinton-Davis

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps have been taken following the theft of some £4½ million at Heathrow airport on 11th February.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Secretary of State for the Home Department ordered an immediate review of airside security and its interface with landside security at UK airports. A government working group is now considering the issues and will report to Ministers in April. The robbery is, of course, also the subject of an ongoing police investigation.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, can he assure the House that the implications for security described in the House will be taken careful note of in the review to which he referred? Can he say anything about the efforts that are being made to retrieve the £4½ million that were stolen?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I can give my noble friend the assurances that he seeks. That is exactly why the working group, chaired by DTLR and including representatives of the Home Office, the police, customs and the immigration service, is working to advise Ministers on what can be done in the light of the robbery.

Although it was a robbery, not a terrorist attack, it was carried out either by unauthorised people who had access to the restricted zone or by authorised staff who were themselves criminals. It must have been one or other of those. As noble Lords would expect, the police are pursuing the people who stole the £4½ million.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, can the Minister tell us who is involved in the government working group? Does it include representatives from the industry, for example the British Airports Authority, or representatives of the airlines? Does the Minister agree that it is particularly worrying, in view of the stringent regime at Heathrow for combating terrorism, that such a thing could happen?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, at this stage, the working group consists of officials of the departments that I mentioned. Undoubtedly, there are considerable implications for BAA and other airport authorities and for all the airlines that operate out of the UK, as the noble Lord said. I am confident that there will be liaison with the relevant parts of the industry, as things move forward. There has, of course, been substantial liaison with and joint involvement of such interested parties since 11th September.

I agree that it is of concern. Despite the United Kingdom's reputation for strong airport security, we must never treat that as sufficient. We must always assume that our security systems are not adequate, without, of course, going so far as to make Heathrow or other airports not commercially operable.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, on occasion, such offences involve people working on the inside, as it were? Does he believe that things should improve dramatically, once we regulate fully the private security industry in this country? Are the Government in a position to announce the appointment of the chief executive and chairman of the new Security Industry Authority, which will speed up the process of improvement?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, at this stage, the police do not know who carried out the robbery. As my noble friend Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate implied, it was either inside people or robbers who penetrated the security zone. There have been one or two other issues relating to security—or robbery—at airports that involved inside knowledge, and, to an extent, one would always consider that to be a possibility in such cases.

The Government are in the process of moving, under the Terrorism Act 2000, to bring in regulations requiring the registration of all firms providing security services at airports. We are also considering other measures, including the extension of some counter-terrorism checks and employment checks on people who work in all or part of restricted zones.

I have no information for the House at this stage about the chief executive of the new security authority. No doubt a statement will be made in due course.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister assure the House that the European Community will be fully consulted? It is important for our security and that of other member states of the European Union that they be fully consulted about the implications for security beyond the British Isles.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, yes, I am sure that all appropriate consultations will take place. I would hope that the UK was seen as a strong source of advice in some of those respects. The issues which arise as a result of the robbery point not only to the need to have good regulations but, as always, to try to ensure that they are effectively enforced not only at Heathrow but at airports throughout the country.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, can my noble friend help the House by saying how much is the budget for the police and security staff at Heathrow and who is responsible for managing them and ensuring that they operate effectively?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, in answer to my noble friend's first question, no, but I will write to him. As regards his second question, the police in the airport, whether land side or on the airport side, are the direct responsibility of the police authorities. I am sure that in these circumstances they must be the Metropolitan Police. No, I am not sure and I will check that last point. As regards their normal line of command, they do not come under the command of British Airports Authority management or airport management elsewhere.

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