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Aviation Safety: Drones

Volume 614: debated on Thursday 15 September 2016

The safety of the public is our top priority. We are working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and industry to understand and address the safe use of drones. We are continuing to adapt and strengthen the regulations as the use of drones evolves. The current regulatory framework balances clear rules on safety and strong penalties for misuse, with a commercial permissions system that ensures responsible use of this emerging technology.

But I asked the Minister what assessment he had made of the effect on aviation safety. How real is the risk? I know that he knows that it was discussed this week at the Trades Union Congress conference and that there is great concern about the matter. We need to know what the risk is and what steps the Government are taking, before we end up with the inevitable ministerial statement about lessons learned.

The hon. Gentleman is right about the TUC discussing the issue yesterday. We had a word about that earlier. The TUC is right to raise it because it is an emerging technology and the risk is dynamic. We constantly need to have analysis in place about the risk that poses. It is not just irresponsible use; it could be malevolent use that poses risk. Drones could be used by all kinds of agents to do all kinds of things. The assurance I give him is that I will ensure that my Department is continuing that analysis and makes sure that the regulatory framework is fit for purpose having done that analysis. The best thing to do is for me to come back to the House to give regular reports on how that is going. He always takes a diligent interest in the affairs of the House. He has raised an important issue, which I think is entirely bi-partisan and which we need to take seriously.

My constituent Lesley Smith administers Tutbury castle and she tells me that drones are not only a danger to aircraft; they also affect privacy. They affect copyright law. They are also a danger to people who may be visiting the castle: the drone may run out of power and fall on to their heads. When will we see tighter instructions and education about how to use drones? Incidentally, Mr Speaker, intellectual property rights was the phrase I was searching for.

To be absolutely clear, we take drones very seriously, as I said in answer to the previous question. Anyone who “recklessly or negligently” causes or permits their drone to endanger any person or property can face a fine of up to £5,000 or two years’ imprisonment, so we are not taking the matter lightly. The point that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) make is that, because the technology is evolving, it is important that we do proper work to look at the scale and type of danger we face, and then the regulatory framework can be fit for purpose.

I wonder whether there has been co-operation between the Department and the Ministry of Defence in relation to security and the threat that drones pose to the security of the nation.

Indeed. I have recently arrived back at the Department for Transport from the Home Office, where I was Minister for Security, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office take this matter very seriously. He can be absolutely sure that, across the Government, we are looking at this issue. As I said earlier, it is not just about irresponsible use; it might also be about malevolent use of the kind that he has described.