HC Deb 04 July 1989 vol 156 cc98-100W
Mr. Devlin

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the findings of the working party established to review arrangements for the policing of airports.

Mr. Hurd

The working party on the policing of airports was established, under Home Office chairmanship, as part of the Government response to the report of the fourth session of the Transport Select Committee.

The working party comprised representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland), the Aerodrome Owners Association, the Joint Airports Committee of Local Authorities, BAA plc, Heathrow and Manchester airports, the Department of Transport, the Ministry of Defence, the Scottish Home and Health Department, and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Their task was to examine arrangements for policing airports, including the way costs are met, and to consider whether any changes should be made.

The Transport Committee's inquiry covered the whole field of airport security, currently governed by the Aviation Security Act 1982. Many of its recommendations dealt with the arrangements for checking passengers and baggage which are not direct police responsibilities at airports, and which were not therefore addressed directly by the working party. Part of the Transport Committee's study necessarily focused on the role of the police at airports, in particular the relationship between the functions performed by the police and the national aviation security programme administered by the Department of Transport. The Committee recommended that means be found to employ the undoubted expertise of the police to the best effect in airport security procedures, and that the present system of designation, under the Aviation Security Act, be abolished and replaced with one which allows flexibility of response without imposing uncontrollable financial costs on airport operators. The working party therefore concentrated on these two issues.

The main recommendations of the working party are for a better-informed means of assessing the need for, and nature and level of, policing at an airport; the provision of a suitable forum in which policing issues can be effectively discussed at airports; and a central arbitral system to assist in the resolution of any differences which cannot be resolved at the local airport level.

The working party examined, but rejected, the idea that the first of these matters could be based on mathematical formulae; the nature of, and variation between, airports, as well as the nature of policing itself, make such an approach unworkable. It did, however, conclude that there was some scope for the introduction of more objectivity and consistency in assessing an airport's policing needs. The report contains a list of considerations upon which such assessments should be based and recommends that, using this list as guidance, police and airport managements should jointly draw up an "airport policing profile".

The working party also proposes a more effective formal means by which policing issues can be fully aired at airports by means of small committees comprising representatives only of police and airport managements. These should not be bound by rigid terms of reference but should be able to discuss any airport policing matters including costs and should be able to meet as frequently as necessary at the instigation of either party.

The working party recommends that in the event of unresolvable local disputes between airport authorities and police the professional advisers of the two principal Departments concerned—Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary and the Department of Transport's chief aviation security inspector—should provide the airport policing committee with an indication of the advice they would give to the Secretary of State in the event of a request for designation, de-designation or a determination on policing costs. If agreement still proves impossible either side is left with the option of an appeal to the Secretary of State.

Following the Lockerbie disaster, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I invited the working party to reconvene to consider whether, in the light of that tragedy, any changes should be made to the proposals or any further recommendations made. After careful discussion, the working party has concluded that the original proposals should stand. The working party was concerned with the relationship between the responsibilities of police and airport managements. It was neither composed nor tasked to assess detailed physical security arrangements, about which the Lockerbie incident raised questions which are being addressed separately by my right hon. Friend.

The working party's proposals are aimed at practical improvements in co-operation between police and airport authorities. They do not require new legislation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I commend them to chief officers of police. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will similarly commend them to representatives of the aviation industry.

I have today placed in the Library of the House a copy of the working party's report and supplementary note.