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Volume 787: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to bring forward legislation to control the use of drones; and if so, when.

My Lords, following the public consultation on this in July, I can confirm that the Government intend to bring forward legislation with regard to drones. As set out by my predecessor, we hope to bring legislation forward as soon as possible next year, including an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016. I will be setting out further details on the content and timing of that legislation in the coming weeks.

My Lords, hundreds and thousands of drones are now in operation, and over 50 near misses involving aircraft were reported this year alone. Is the Minister aware of research by the British Airline Pilots Association showing the risks and dangers of a serious accident as a result of a drone strike? Does she accept that the Government need to develop a much greater sense of urgency in dealing with this serious problem, which will lead to an accident if it is not controlled?

My Lords, I am indeed aware of the evidence put forward by BALPA on the danger that drones can pose to aircraft and helicopters. I understand the need to move on this and we are taking action. Since the consultation response, we have been assessing the best way to implement the legislation, which will include the registration of drones and leisure pilot tests. We are engaging internationally on developing the best practice for drone rules, and we are reviewing and exploring the other possible policies that we set out for further consideration.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register as vice-president of BALPA, which is very pleased with the Government’s response. This issue was debated during consideration of the Space Industry Bill when both the present Minister, who was then a Whip, and her predecessor gave undertakings. BALPA is looking forward to the Government producing the due legislation at a very early stage, as they have promised to do, as we know the Government wish to avoid any accidents.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, this report was into passenger airliner and helicopter windscreen vulnerability. We are very grateful to BALPA and the Military Aviation Authority for their work on this. The results are concerning, and we have asked the CAA to consider the evidence. It will be publishing a report on the risk analysis by the end of the year. Of course, we use this evidence in developing legislation and influencing international regulations.

My Lords, will legislation be needed to establish exclusion zones protecting airports’ landing and take-off paths, or could this be done by administrative means? I have been asking for this for the past two years.

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer that question directly. We are exploring the possibility of restricting drone use near airports and are looking at a combination of primary and secondary legislation. I will attempt to clarify that and write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, welcomed legislation coming at an early stage, but I thought the Minister said that legislation would come some time next year, which does not seem to me to be “at an early stage”. What is the Government’s current assessment of the possibility of a drone being involved in a major incident resulting in loss of life or serious injury? Is such a major incident becoming more or less likely as each day passes?

My Lords, I am aware that the expectation of an incident is high. Of course, there has not been a significant incident yet—

But obviously, more drones are being sold every day, so we are very clear on the need to take action on this. We will be setting out the legislation as soon as we can and, as I said, in the next couple of weeks I will be able to write to noble Lords to update them.

Bearing in mind that I asked questions on drones well over two years ago, is my noble friend aware that her news is extremely welcome? However, what has happened to the pathfinder programme, which involves the commercial use of drones, particularly maritime uses such as coastguards and air sea rescue? There, the issue is of some urgency and does not require legislation.

My Lords, I will have to come back to my noble friend on the detail of the pathfinder scheme. As I said, we trying to take action on this as soon as possible, and I will lay out some of the things that we have done since this issue was raised. We have launched the drone code, which is an education awareness campaign, and the drone assist app, both of which will help to improve safety.

My Lords, do the Government intend the legislation to cover illegal uses of drones such as the reported taking of illicit drugs into prisons and other associated illegal activities?

My Lords, we will be looking to expand police powers in the Bill. I am of course aware of the issue of smuggling illegal substances into prison and obviously, the Ministry of Justice is determined to tackle this. It announced a £2 million investment to ensure that every prison has access to mobile phone detectors and is working with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to ensure that it is analysing drone use and acting on it.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has twice said that she would reply to noble Lords who have asked questions. Would she go further and make a statement when she has made up her mind, or put a copy of her reply in the Library?

My Lords, I welcome the legislation announced by my noble friend, but will it deal with the recent menace of lasers directed at the cockpits of aircraft?

My Lords, shining a laser at pilots or drivers is of course incredibly dangerous, and we are looking at how to address that. The legislation I am discussing today refers solely to drones and not to lasers.

My Lords, can the Minister explain to the House who is going to catch the perpetrators who fly drones illegally? What are the Government going to do about it, and what kind of penalties could there be? There are so many flying around today—who is going to identify and catch them?

My Lords, as I mentioned, we will extend police powers in the legislation. I am sure your Lordships understand that it is sometimes a challenge to link an operator to a drone. We are trying to help address that by introducing a registration system, and we are investigating electronic identification. We are looking at putting powers in the legislation for the police to require drone users to produce registration ID and documents and to land their drones, and to search for and seize a drone when there is reasonable belief that a crime has taken place. We very much hope that that will enable police to capture people who are misusing drones.