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Airport Security

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are satisfied with the level of airport security at major business and tourist destinations worldwide; and if not, what steps they will take to ensure the safety of United Kingdom citizens.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government’s first priority is the safety and security of British citizens. We keep aviation security arrangements under close review and we will act where we need to, as we have done in the case of flights from Sharm el-Sheikh. Of course, the noble Lord will appreciate that we do not comment in detail on security arrangements.

I declare my interests in security, as recorded in the register. I thank the Minister for his Answer, but in 2009 we were very concerned about security at foreign airports, and I put in hand work with the OSCT and the Department for Transport to identify all the airports at risk and what we could do to sort things out. We may be getting safer here, but there is no point to that if people are killed on their way back into the country. Can the Minister tell us whether we have that list? Have we put in hand the work to correct the problems in those airports? Are the Government fully involved with the 30 foreign groups that are coming to the transport security exhibition at the beginning of December so that they can be part of it, including, for example, the Egyptians who are coming en masse?

I assure the noble Lord—indeed, the whole House—that we continue to identify and work with airports across the world in not just minimising but ensuring that we seek to eradicate any security and safety risks for all passengers. Our first priority, however, is UK citizens, and we continue to work extensively in that regard; we did so even prior to this incident. On the noble Lord’s second point, of course we work with many Governments across the board, and in this case with the Egyptians. The Prime Minister, in his meeting with President Sisi last week, again indicated that Britain will offer full co-operation in whatever respect it can.

My Lords, Athens used to be the worst major airport in Europe from the point of view of security—at least, it was when I was Minister for Aviation. Is it still?

Again, as I am sure my noble friend will appreciate, I shall not go into specific names of airports. The appropriate response is that we are looking at security risks across the board, and it would be right and responsible to do so, to ensure, as I said, that we seek to eradicate any risk to safety. In the action that we took on Sharm el-Sheikh, the British Government’s view is clear. If we perceive that there is a risk to the safety and security of UK citizens, we will act—and we have done so.

Does the noble Lord agree that better intelligence on and better control over airport workers are far more important than ever tighter checks on British travellers?

I agree with the noble Lord, but I add that it is appropriate that we look at increasing security when necessary on all passengers. Underlying the points that he has raised, there is also the importance ensuring that those who carry out the screening of passengers and baggage are fully and effectively trained.

My Lords, can the Minister explain or give us information on the specific situation at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport? Much anecdotal evidence is now emerging of long-standing security concerns there. Can the Minister explain whether the British Government have been involved at this airport previously, or whether their involvement is occurring only now?

I think I have already answered the question. The British Government have been, continue to be and will in future be engaged with countries and airports across the world to ensure that we address safety concerns. The noble Baroness asked about the situation on the ground in Sharm el-Sheikh, but I am sure she has also been following the fact that the British Government, working together with airlines—I commend their actions in this respect—has already resulted in more than 7,700 UK citizens returning to the UK over the last few days. We continue to work with the Egyptian authorities on the ground and with the airlines, so that all other remaining passengers who wish to return are returned to the UK as soon as possible.

The Government said last Thursday in this House:

“We have continuing arrangements with authorities across the world to review aviation security arrangements in airports regularly to ensure that they are meeting required standards”.—[Official Report, 5/11/2015; col. 1805.]

In the light of the last question, when was the last review of the airport at Sharm el-Sheikh, and did it reveal that the security arrangements met the required standards? If it did so, what confidence can we have in these reviews, in the light of the recent apparent outrage and the Government’s no doubt justified decision to suspend UK-operated flights to and from Sharm el-Sheikh? Finally, will future reviews of airports across the world simply look at trying to ensure that existing security arrangements work properly, or will they look at introducing new features to enhance security?

Again, I shall not go into specific details of security arrangements, but the Government, as I am sure that the noble Lord is aware— and as the whole House is aware—continue to work on the ground with the respective sovereign authorities and airlines to ensure that we not only minimise but eradicate the risk and ensure the safety and security of all passengers. We will continue to do so.

My Lords, I wonder whether Her Majesty’s Government’s plans are progressing regarding possible voluntary profiling for passengers at airports.

I think my noble friend is alluding to the issue of passenger profiling. Some operators—indeed, the American airlines—engage in passenger profiling. That is certainly something that has been reviewed and I am sure, in light of the recent incident, we are looking at all measures to ensure that we have the most effective procedures on the ground, wherever we are in the world, to ensure the safety and security of all passengers.