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Airport Security

Volume 767: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which airports used by flights to and from the United Kingdom have been the subject of a security review leading to enhanced security arrangements since the end of October.

My Lords, since the tragic loss of the Metrojet aircraft we have been urgently reviewing security at a number of airports with flights to the UK and we are working closely with the countries concerned to address any shortcomings that we identify. Noble Lords will of course understand that we do not comment in detail on security arrangements.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, and obviously I accept what he said about not revealing details of security arrangements. However, can he say whether these reviews that are carried out are related simply to whether required procedures and processes are in place or do they also look at whether in reality those procedures and processes are being thoroughly adhered to and properly carried out? Obviously, the effectiveness of security arrangements at airports is also dependent on the attitude and approach of the people responsible for applying and implementing them. Secondly, are these reviews of security arrangements at airports around the world, which the Government have said are conducted in conjunction with the sovereign authorities, done on a pre-announced basis as far as the airport is concerned or on an unannounced basis?

The noble Lord raises an important point about the details of the checks. I assure him that we work very closely with all sovereign authorities on security and security arrangements across the board. He raised the question of culture and people, and that is an important element of our reviews of those countries. We work very closely with the authorities concerned because we are dealing with sovereign nations, which are primarily responsible for the security of their airports.

My Lords, Monarch Airlines and Thomson Airways have recently extended the cancellation of their flights until towards the end of January. Can the Minister give us an outline of the discussions that the Government are having with the UK airlines that would normally fly to Sharm el-Sheikh? Do the Government have any knowledge of when it is likely that flights of this nature will resume?

I assure the noble Baroness that we are working very closely with UK airlines. Indeed, I pay tribute to them for the extent to which they co-operated to ensure that more than 16,600 UK citizens left Sharm el-Sheikh efficiently and effectively over a small period of time. We continue to work with them. We are also ensuring in all respects that we work closely with the Egyptian authorities to resolve the security issues at Sharm el-Sheikh as soon as possible.

Can my noble friend assure the House that the review and the discussions that his department is having with airports in this country include the smaller regional airports, which have a reputation of being somewhat porous?

We have a very strong regime in terms of our security arrangements. The events at Sharm el-Sheikh raised issues on an international basis, but I assure my noble friend that we continue to review our arrangements not only internationally but, as he was right to refer to, domestically across the airport network in the UK.

My Lords, of course the Government are right not to share security information, but can my noble friend tell your Lordships what arrangements are in place to brief airlines that fly into international airports on any findings that might be helpful to them in determining whether they should continue those flights?

My noble friend raises another important point about the relationship with airlines. I assure him that we work very closely with all international partners and, where we can, we share important information with the airlines. They play an important role in areas such as advance passenger information, which in the UK is also shared with, for example, the Border Force.

My Lords, does this scrutiny extend to private airports and heliports? I was looking at the Channel Islands, for example, as a place which, formally speaking, is within our borders. Some months ago I looked at the helicopters flown between Brecqhou and Monaco. I am not aware that the Guernsey police ever visit Brecqhou, for example, but when passengers arrive there—it may just be the Barclay brothers and nobody else—there are no border controls. Do we make sure that private flights are covered? A considerable number of these come in and out of the United Kingdom, both to the mainland and to the Crown dependencies.

The noble Lord raises an important point about private flights. I assure him that security arrangements are in place at those airports. I will write to him on the specific airports that he mentioned.

My Lords, with regard to the concentration of interest on Sharm el-Sheikh and on Egypt more widely, it was recently reported that the preliminary investigation into the incident that gave rise to the most recent security anxieties showed that it was unlikely that that incident was caused by a bomb on board the aircraft. Can the noble Lord give the House the latest information on the status of the investigation into that incident?

The noble Baroness is, I believe, referring to the recent reports of the provisional investigation by the Egyptian authorities. Certainly we are clear that the Russian authorities have retained their view that it was an explosive device, and our actions were based on our own assessment and the intelligence reports we had, to ensure that we took effective action to ensure the safety and security of UK citizens. We continue to monitor the situation and we will not restore flights until we are satisfied that new arrangements are in place.

I inquired whether the reviews of security arrangement at airports around the world, done in conjunction with the sovereign authorities, were done on a pre-announced basis as far as the airport itself is concerned or on an unannounced basis. I do not think that the Minister responded to that point.

What I was alluding to is that we are dealing with sovereign authorities. Of course we will work in conjunction with how they see fit to monitor their airports. It would be inappropriate for a UK agency to demand access based on unannounced procedures that the sovereign authority had not agreed to.