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Airports: Luggage

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will take urgent action to persuade United Kingdom airports and carriers to adopt a single onboard luggage policy.

My Lords, 22 airports have been given permission to lift the one-bag rule, having demonstrated sufficient screening capacity while also maintaining our security standards. We expect all airports to be ready in due course. Cabin-bag policy is an operational matter for individual airlines.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Choice and competition are important and this is a private sector matter, yet security pressures and just plain common sense indicate that an official or government-led initiative would bring results here. Airport passengers and travellers are already bullied, harassed and overstressed, and they find it hard to get through these difficult circumstances, particularly in large airports such as Heathrow. Would it not make sense for everybody to know that the same limit applies, particularly for short-haul flights in economy class?

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord’s point, but we made it plain at the outset when we implemented the one-bag rule back in November 2006 that we hoped that it would not be for a lengthy period. Of course passengers want to be able to take more of their close personal possessions on to aircraft, which is why we have relaxed the restriction. Since the announcement was made and implemented in the 22 airports that have been given permission to lift the one-bag rule, things so far appear to be working pretty well. The simple advice that I would give to passengers at different airports is to check with their airlines what restrictions apply and how the airline is intending to operate them.

My Lords, is it simply a coincidence that the restrictive one-bag rule is being retained in all airports in Northern Ireland?

My Lords, the baggage restrictions will be relaxed where an airport can match the standard of being able to carry out effective and efficient checks on bags with the new technology and so on. That will happen once we have made an assessment and are satisfied that the airport can conduct its security checks with proper care.

My Lords, to go back to the Minister’s first Answer, there is a wide range between what appears to be acceptable on one airline and what appears to be acceptable on another. Is enforcement a matter for the individual airline or is it in accordance with rules laid down by the Civil Aviation Authority?

My Lords, it is for the airport itself to carry out the security checks. Individual airlines operate different policies. For instance, both easyJet and Ryanair had a one-bag rule before we introduced the security measures back in 2006, presumably for what they considered to be the best commercial reasons.

My Lords, women wish to have a handbag for their possessions. They do not automatically have all the pockets that men have and they need to be able to carry their passport and things in a handbag. Under the one-bag restriction, you have been obliged to put your handbag inside whatever other bag you have, which has been extremely inconvenient, to say the least. I thought that the one-bag airlines, such as Ryanair, had always allowed women to carry a handbag as well; I do not think that it had to be included in your one bag in the past.

I was coming to that point, my Lords. I was about to say that my dearly beloved partner is of course a handbag carrier—and don’t I know it. The noble Baroness may well be right, but I will check.

My Lords, the noble Lord’s Question is about on board luggage. I declare an interest, having arrived at Heathrow this morning from India. Given the state of facilities at Heathrow at the moment, you are lucky even to get on board. In spite of the fact that Terminal 5 will soon come on board, what will the Government do to improve the facilities at Heathrow? Heathrow is in many cases the global airport, and it affects our competitiveness. Yet, whether in baggage handling or any other aspect, it is deteriorating rapidly.

My Lords, that question has much exercised your Lordships in the past. Of course, it is something that BAA at Heathrow is working on. BAA is improving facilities; it has an improvement programme that runs to 2012, and I know that it is keen to continue with that upgrade. I understand that some facilities at Heathrow have improved during the past few months. Let us hope that that improvement continues. To go back to the main subject of the Question, at Heathrow the rule on hand luggage has been relaxed, and passengers are now able to take on two items of hand luggage.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned new technology. When will the technology have developed to the extent that it is able to distinguish between a bottle of Armagnac and a bottle of high explosive, so that, living in Armagnac as I do, I will be able to bring a bottle of Armagnac into this country as hand baggage?

My Lords, perhaps when it gets to that point the noble Lord will share the Armagnac with others in your Lordships’ House.