Two representatives of the BAA came to a Lords Committee Room yesterday to hear the comments of Parliamentarians and to answer our questions. I would like to thank them for coming.
I asked them why they had allowed such chaos in our leading airports following the change of security requirements. I pointed out that the queues were unacceptable, and reflected badly on them There were not enough security screening devices, too few lines to queue in, and a set of procedures which are comples but not necessarily helpful to achieve greater security.
They replied that service had been poor immediately following the new regulations, but felt that it is now better at their airports. They said at the beginning they lacked staff, and were now recruiting more. They claimed they were now freeing more space for more lines and machinery. In discussion it emerged that the worst delays now were caused by government services for Immigration on the way into the country, and we were reminded that the security requirements were designed by the government rather than by the BAA.
Their latter points were carefully phrased as they understandably have no wish to have a row with the government. What we do need is a sensible discussion between government and Airports over the following:
1. Will the government place enough staff and enough desks in the Passport Control area to make sure we have properly policed borders, whilst allowing most people rapid entry or exit from the country? Apparently if two jumbos land at the same time it can take 45 minutes to clear Passport Control at Gatwick.
2. Will the government review the requirements for the security checks? Why do they insist on such complex checks before getting onto a plane, leaving so many people vulnerable to terrorist attack in the departure hall before security? Have they taken on board the fact that the last terrorist incident at an airport was an attempt to burn people in the departure area by driving a vehicle at the doors and igniting it?
3. Will the government review why they have such elaborate checks for flights and no checks at all for train travel? Have they taken on board the horrendous terrorist attacks on trains on the continent?
4. Will they ask why it is necessary for most people to have to take off shoes, and for all to have to show their after shave or face cream in a plastic bag at an airport? Will they exmaine how effective the video technology assisted baggage search is, in the light of findings in the USA that in some airports too many planted devices went undetected when they tested the system? Can’t more be done by the technology? Couldn’t more be done by random sampling rather than making everyone go through the same checks?
The truth is we are more likely to intercept terrorists by surveillance, infiltration of their networks, eavesdropping and by being observant and alert. We should be concentrating on those where the authorities have reason to think they might be terrorists, rather than on most people who just wish to get on with their lives and go about their business.