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Aircraft: Laser Pointers

Volume 769: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take to safeguard aircraft from laser pointers.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I acknowledge the comments that have been made to me by many noble friends—that it might have been better if all four Questions today had been about International Women’s Day.

The Government are urgently drawing together a plan to tackle the issues relating to the noble Lord’s Question to ensure the safety of both consumers and aircraft, including consideration of legislative options. However, people have recently been sentenced to prison terms under existing legislation for the misuse of lasers in connection with aircraft.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what it is about these lasers that makes them a legitimate and legal item to be available for sale? Does she not agree that anything so dangerous that it could bring down an aircraft should not be available for sale and capable of entering the hands of either idiots or people with malice—that is, terrorists?

I agree with the noble Lord. There are of course many legitimate uses for laser products in the professional field—for example, in research and construction—and indeed in consumer products, but our primary concern, as I think is the noble Lord’s, is laser pointers, where we agree that the need for powerful lasers is questionable. We will take that into account in looking at legislative options.

My Lords, is not the problem that the lasers to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred are in fact not for sale legally in this country? They are powerful, but there is nothing wrong with the not-powerful ones. The problem is that they are bought on the internet. Should we not look at a way of making it illegal to buy them?

My noble friend is right: it is illegal to sell unsafe laser pointers to consumers in the UK. Of course, the internet, which brings huge opportunities, also brings problems of control. That is why we have recently been looking across the board at the different aspects—the sale, use and possession—of these dangerous lasers to see whether we need to adjust the legislative framework that we already have in the areas of consumer goods and aircraft.

My Lords, as somebody who has worked all his life in all modes of transport and was responsible for safety in many of them, might I ask the Minister to take very seriously not only lasers but drones? We are almost at the point where drones could readily deliver explosives into this building, and it will certainly be possible for them to do so within a year or two. This is not a matter to be discussed at a fairly low level; it is a threat that should be addressed urgently.

I thank the noble Lord and will certainly pass on his comments about drones. Of course, sadly, there is always a risk with these potentially dangerous objects, whether they are drones, guns or lasers, and you need to look carefully at the regime and at whether their sale, possession or use is being regulated in the right way. Most importantly, you need to look at whether the law is being enforced, and we are trying to focus on that as well.

My Lords, of course technology exists to counter laser dazzle and it has been used by the military for some time. I saw a report that Airbus was examining the use of protective film on its aircraft windscreens last year or perhaps the year before. Can the Minister update the House on where this technology has got to and its applicability to civilian aircraft?

We are also looking at this technology for exactly the reasons that the noble Lord suggests. The possibility of putting film on aircraft windows and/or using such film for goggles or spectacles is being progressed by a number of operators. We are very interested in that and are looking at it as part of the work we are doing on finding the right regime for these dangerous lasers.

My Lords, we support the measures being taken by the Government to look at this very serious issue. However, I am a bit surprised that the discussion so far has been limited to aircraft. Is not the problem one that also affects trains, goods vehicles and private cars, and therefore a wider scope is required? It is only a matter of time, we think, until somebody dies as a result of this.

The noble Lord is right and, under general product safety regulations and transport legislation, we of course look at all these areas. Clearly, there have been recent incidents involving aircraft, which have concerned us all, but, equally, this could apply to trains, lorries or even cyclists, I suspect.

I think that my noble friend Lord Naseby has given way to my noble friend, who was the chair of the Select Committee that looked into this matter.

Thank you. The real problem is that although the Government reacted very positively when the Select Committee made its report on drones and an action plan was created, nothing has happened. While nothing is happening here, we may be sure that everything is happening in those other countries that are manufacturing drones. Will the Minister try to get some oomph into this, otherwise we really will be in a sad situation?

My Lords, I always like a challenge and I will certainly take that challenge back. Of course, it is important in these areas to work at an EU and global level because there are now no boundaries and safety has to go beyond the UK.