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Passenger Security (Screening)

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

6. Whether he plans to add profiling to the passenger security screening measures in place at UK airports. (313715)

Security staff at Heathrow are undergoing training in behavioural analysis techniques, whereby passengers are selected if they are behaving suspiciously. We will review the effectiveness of that trial before deciding whether it can be rolled out more widely.

Following the recent alleged attempt to bomb the plane that was destined for Detroit from Amsterdam Schiphol airport, it has been suggested that UK airport security could be stepped up through passenger profiling, which is perhaps what the Minister was talking about. Will it make passengers’ journey through security and travel safer? Will it, in fact, be effective?

All approaches to security have one underlying aim, which is to make sure that those flying to, from and within the United Kingdom are safe and able to go about their business knowing that all agencies and all parts of the industry have taken the necessary steps. Profiling has certain considerable limitations, which is why aviation security is multi-layered. Behavioural analysis techniques mean that one can profile against the norm; therefore people behaving people suspiciously will require further security checks.

Does my hon. Friend have sufficient power to assure himself that a variety of security measures are deployed to respond to changing intelligence information?

Yes, I believe that we do. We have an arrangement whereby a range of security and intelligence agencies come together to advise Ministers, agencies and airlines on the operations that they need to undertake.

We all know that there can be large queues at airport security points, but will the Minister explain why passengers, when travelling to Scotland through Heathrow terminal 5, have to get through security 35 minutes before departure, while at London City airport a more sensible approach is taken, with no time limit so long as the passenger can make the flight?

I shall certainly look into the specifics of that issue, but our role is to set the required security standards; the airport operators need to ensure and manage the necessary processes, including queues.

Kromek is an award-winning company in my constituency, and its chief executive officer, Arnab Basu, was awarded the title of entrepreneur of the year. It is developing a scanner that can identify whether liquid in a bottle is explosive, and the product is being trialled in the United States and other areas. Will my hon. Friend meet me and the company to see what we can do to promote that great British invention?

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) is a strong campaigner for his constituency’s industries and, particularly, for Kromek. I assure him that members of my Department, along with the police and the Home Office, have been collaborating closely with Kromek and, indeed, other companies to take forward that work and ensure that our security systems are ahead of the threat that we face. However, I am always more than willing to meet organisations.

I fully appreciate that the extreme sensitivity of this issue puts real constraints on the detail that the Minister can share with the House, but can he help me with the following question? The Israelis have used behavioural analysis for some years to spot suspicious behaviour within a perimeter that stretches out as widely as airport car parks. Does he see any scope for using such techniques in the UK to address risks that arise before the security check stage to guard against attacks of the sort that we saw in Glasgow in 2007, which are targeted on people queuing?

The hon. Lady is right that it is not possible to go into operational details. As regards the techniques that are available to us, we continue to receive information and consider opportunities through the intelligence agencies as to what is possible. Behavioural analysis techniques are being trialled at Heathrow with the BAA and UK Border Agency staff based there. I saw that for myself earlier this week when I visited Heathrow and discussed it with the operatives. We keep all these opportunities under review.

There is clearly scope for a consensus to emerge on an intelligence-led approach to security, which is welcome. However, the Minister will recall the Prime Minister’s 2007 promise to deliver a data system to identify and stop terror suspects before they board a plane to come to the UK. Why have the “authority to carry” provisions that are necessary to deliver that not been put in place, given that countries such as Australia have had those systems for some years? Will the Minister admit that the e-Borders programme is expensive, late, and leaves us behind other countries that have better systems that are already in operation?

The hon. Lady will be well aware of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary earlier this month, and of the Prime Minister’s statement to this House on 20 January, clearly taking forward the options and rolling out further the e-Borders programme, as well as the watch list and no-fly list, which we are working on. We are in discussion with other countries, and working together where there is a security threat, before these people board flights to the UK or elsewhere.

Any additional security requirements at airports are likely to be very expensive for airport operators. What assessment has the Minister made of the financial impact on regional airports, which have already been particularly hit by the recession?

The requirements for security have always been very clearly known, and meeting the costs involved is a matter for the business that is running the airport. However, we have regular discussions, and we have obviously had substantial discussions since 25 December last year with airport operators to discuss the roll-out and mechanics that are required. The costs are an operating cost that falls against the business of running an airport.