On Monday, the UK Parliament’s first day back at work since the Gatwick Airport disruptions, the Government published its official response [PDF, 72 pages] to its public drone consultation last year, “Taking Flight: The Future of Drones in the UK”. Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling presented the key legislative proposals in the House of Commons and called — twice — for a sentence of life imprisonment for the person or persons who flew drones over Gatwick.
Over 5000 comments were registered during the consultation which was open between late July and mid-September. Surprisingly, only about 2% of the respondents were companies or organizations in the drone industry.
- Police will have expanded powers to require landing, confiscate and search drones, controllers, and memory cards, and to obtain documentation within 1 week from pilots including proof of registration and test proficiency (which will begin in November).
- Government will assist sensitive sites such as airports and prisons to deploy counter-drone technology to detect, track, and interdict flights, and will work with drone manufacturers on geofencing and remote identification standards within the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommendations and framework.
- Airports will have enlarged exclusion zones for drone flights, in particular extending from runway ends, comparable to the existing French exclusion zones.
- Some exemptions to current regulations will be extended to model aircraft flyers who belong to one of four UK clubs.
In a sparsely-attended debate at the end of a long day in the House of Commons, Chris Grayling responded to MPs’ questions concerning the Gatwick débâcle and the government’s new measures. Political sparring and grandstanding aside, the questions reveal the incredulity of MPs that anti-drone technology, even just for detection and tracking, had not previously been deployed in the UK outside Heathrow. Several MPs voiced concerns at the vulnerability of airports or other sites to terrorism, with one calling out a BBC journalist’s experience in Iraq. The transport minister asserted several times that “off-the-shelf” technology is not available; the distinction was not made between detection and tracking systems and interdiction or mitigation systems. Today, it is clearly easier to detect and track a drone than it is to force one down.
Less than 24 hours after this debate, a drone was spotted close to Heathrow Airport after dark; the airport was closed for an hour, delaying 40 flights.
The C-Drone Review has prepared a full transcript of the debate, published under the Open Parliament Licence, from the video recording available on the Parliament TV website, Parliament’s Hansard archive, and the mySociety They Work For You website from the nonprofit charity UK Citizens Online Democracy. It’s a long read, but in our view worth the effort, particularly as one MP suggests that the UK’s legislative and technical approaches serve as best practices internationally.
United Kingdom House of Commons, Monday January 7, 2019, 8:04PM
Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, Chorley, Labour, Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker: The Secretary of State for Transport.
Chris Grayling (Secretary of State for Transport): Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker. With your permission, I’d like to make a statement about the action the government is taking, our future policy on drones. And let me start by saying, Mr Deputy Speaker, the disruption caused by drones to flights at Gatwick Airport last month was deliberate, irresponsible, and calculated, as well as, Mr Deputy Speaker, illegal. It meant days of chaos and uncertainty for over 100,000 passengers at Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year. Carefully planned holidays were disrupted, long expected reunions between friends and families missed. Families were forced to spend hours in the airport not knowing if or when they would reach their destinations. Completely unacceptable and utterly illegal, Mr Deputy Speaker, and can I pay tribute to all of those both at Gatwick and at other airports who worked very hard to make sure people did get away, albeit belatedly for their Christmas breaks. I could also thank all of those in the defence world and in the police who worked hard to get the airport back together again. And of course, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sussex police are now leading the investigation into this criminal activity. I’m very clear that when caught, those responsible should face the maximum possible custodial sentence for this hugely irresponsible criminal act. And I want to assure the House that my [department] is working extremely closely with airports, the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority], and the police to make sure our national airports are fully prepared to manage any repeat of what was an unprecedented incident in future. I spoke personally to the heads of the major UK airports before Christmas. Later this week, the aviation minister, Baroness Sugg, will meet them again for an update on progress [Ed.: this meeting took place yesterday, January 10]. And in the meantime, the Ministry of Defence remains on standby to deal with any further problems at Gatwick or any other airports if required. But this incident was also a stark example of why we must continue to ensure that drones are used safely and securely in the United Kingdom. Today, I’m publishing the outcome of our recent consultation, Taking Flight to the Future of Drones in the UK. We received over 5,000 responses to this consultation, reflecting a broad range of views. These responses underlined the importance of balancing the UK’s world-leading position in aviation safety and security with supporting the development of this emerging industry. Mr Speaker, I’m clear the government is taking actions to ensure that passengers have confidence their journeys will not be disrupted in future, aircraft can safely use our key transport hubs, and criminals misusing drones can be brought to justice. The UK is where technology companies want to build their businesses, investing in innovation and use science and engineering to bring immense benefits to this country. Drones are at the forefront of these technological advances that are already being used in the UK to great effect. Our emergency search and rescue services use drones on a regular basis. Drones can also reduce risk for workers in hazardous sectors such as the oil and gas industries. And this technology is also driving more efficient ways of working in many other sectors, from delivering medicines to assisting with building work. However, the Gatwick incident has reinforced the fact that it is crucial our regulatory and enforcement regime keeps pace with the rapid technological change. We’ve already taken some big steps towards building our regulatory system for this new sector. It is already an offense to endanger aircraft. Drones must not be flown near people or property and have to be kept within visual line of sight. Commercial users are able to operate drones outside of these rules, but only when granted Civil Aviation Authority permission after meeting strict safety conditions. Education is also vital to ensure everyone understands the rules about drone use. This is why the CAA has been running it’s longstanding Dronesafe campaign and Drone Code guide [PDF], work which is helping to highlight these rules to the public. And it may be worth remembering, Mr Deputy Speaker, that on the 30th of July last year, we introduced further new measures, firstly to bar drones from flying above 400 feet and secondly, to prevent them from flying within one kilometer of protected airport boundaries. In addition, we’ve also introduced legislation and passed legislation that will mean that from November, all drone operators must register and all drone pilots must complete a competency test. However, we now intend to go further. Today’s measures set up the next steps needed to ensure that drones are used in a way that is safe and secure and that the industry is accountable. And at the same time, these steps will ensure we harness the benefits that drones can bring to the UK economy. A common theme in those 5,000 consultation responses, Mr Deputy Speaker, was the importance of the enforcement of safety regulations. The government shares this view. The majority of drone users fly safely and responsibly, but we must ensure that police have the right powers to deal with illegal use. We will therefore shortly be introducing new police powers, including allowing the police to request evidence from drone users, whether it’s reasonable suspicion of an offense being committed, as well as enabling the police to issue fixed penalty notices for minor drone offenses. These new powers will help to ensure effective enforcement of the rules. They will provide an immediate deterrent to those who may misuse drones or attempt to break the law. My department has also been working closely with the Home Office on the legislative clauses which will deliver these changes. It’s of course crucial our national infrastructure including airports and other sites such as prisons and energy plants are also adequately protected to prevent incidents such as that at Gatwick. We must also ensure that the most up-to-date technology is available to detect, track, and potentially disrupt drones that have been used illegally. So we’ve also consulted on the further use of counter-drone technology. Those consultation responses will now be used by the Home Office, to develop an appropriate means of using this technology in the UK. Of course, aviation and passenger safety is at the heart of everything we do and while airlines and airports welcomed our recent airport drone restriction measures, they also asked for the current airport rules to be amended to better protect the landing and takeoff paths of aircraft. We’ve been listening to these concerns. We’ve been working with the CAA and that’s to develop the optimal exclusion zone that will help meet those requirements. It’s important to stress that any restrictions, though, would not have prevented a deliberate incident such as that at Gatwick. Now it is right that proportionate measures are in place with airports to protect aircraft and avoid potential conflict with legitimate drone activity, so we’ll therefore introduce additional protections around airports with a particular focus on protected exclusion zones from the runway ends alongside increasing the current area of drone traffic and zone restrictions around airports. Drone pilots wishing to fly within these zones must only do so with permission from the aerodrome air traffic control. We will amend the Air Navigation Order of 2016, Mr Deputy Speaker, to implement these changes. Finally, Mr Speaker, let me address some of the rather ill-judged comments that have come from the party opposite, and remind them of three things. Firstly, the event at Gatwick Airport was a deliberate criminal act which can carry a life sentence in prison. Mr Deputy Speaker, you can pass new laws until the cows come home, but that does not stop people from breaking them and the law is as tough as is necessary to punish the perpetrators of an attack like this. Secondly, this was an entirely new type of challenge. It is noteworthy, Mr Deputy Speaker, that since the events at Gatwick, we have been approached by airports around the world for our advice on how to handle something similar. And thirdly, the issue was only solved by some smart and innovative use of new technology. I’m not, Mr Deputy Speaker, for security reasons, going to give the House details of how this was achieved, but I want to extend my thanks to the Ministry of Defence for moving rapidly to put a new kind of response into the field. Mr Deputy Speaker, there is no question that lessons have to be learnt from what happened at Gatwick. Passengers have to be able to travel without the fear of their trips being disrupted by malicious drone use. Airports must be prepared to deal with incidents of this type while police need the proper powers to deal with drone offenses. But we’ve also, Mr Deputy Speaker, got to be ready to harness the opportunities and the benefits that the safe use of drones can bring. The motions I’ve announced today, the response to the consultation, I believe will take us forward on that front and I commend the statement to the House.
Deputy Speaker: Shadow Secretary of State Andy McDonald.
Andy McDonald MP (Middlesbrough, Labour, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I’d like to thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of half of his statement. That’s a new trick on me, just giving me some of the pages. But I’ve got to say to the right honorable gentleman: is that it? Announcing the end of a consultation exercise doesn’t constitute action, nor does it go anywhere towards restoring confidence in his capabilities. Neither does it go anywhere to addressing the justified anger of the hundreds of thousands of passengers who had their travel plans thrown into chaos ahead of the festive season after the malicious and sustained drone attack at Gatwick Airport. In fact, his statement only serves to highlight the damage which his dithering and delay has caused. And it’s not simply Labour who were critical. Colonel Richard Kemp, the former intelligence chairman of the cabinet’s emergency Cobra Committee, said:
It’s amazing that this kit, the kit to defeat drones, wasn’t in place and that we’ve had to wait two days for it to be installed. This drone incident is hardly a surprise. They’ve been known about for years.
And Lord Dannatt, former head of the Army, said:
By any analysis, the fiasco at Gatwick over the last few days has been a national embarrassment of near biblical proportions. With most of Europe already sniggering at the United Kingdom over our Government’s inept handling of Brexit, we did not need to add more lines to the pantomime script.
And of course, right honorable and honorable members will vividly recall the Secretary of State describing the ennoblement of General Dannatt as a “political gimmick” by the Labour party, only for him to then realise that the former Army chief was in fact ennobled by the —- you’ve guessed it —- the Conservative Party. But it’s good to learn that the government might finally listen to the advice of industry on extending drone exclusion zones around airports to some five kilometers. It’s unfortunate this advice wasn’t considered sooner. It’s also unfortunate that the drone incursion at Gatwick Airport in July 2017 didn’t serve as a warning to him. He clearly learned no lessons from this incident and he was totally negligent in failing to bring forward measures to better protect national infrastructure. The government’s approach to drones has been chaotic and the industry clearly has no faith in his ability to deal with serious incidents. And it’s no surprise to learn from the media that, during the Gatwick incident, the Secretary of State was stripped of his command by the security services due to his inaction. An effective Transport Secretary would have taken decisive action once the threat was known and understood. Earlier and clearer direction from the minister would have given airports the confidence to invest in anti-drone technology. His prevarication has delayed investment in detection and prevention measures. Why did he not ensure proposals were brought forward to universally license such technology for use at airports? Labour has repeatedly warned DfT [Department for Transport] Ministers over the last several years that they needed to take action on drones, yet nowhere near enough has been done. The drone consultation closed five months ago, yet the Gatwick fiasco still happened, and it’s abundantly clear that his department is totally distracted by having to deal with his Government’s chaotic Brexit, including extending the duties of DfT staff to handing out blankets, sandwiches and hot drinks to lorry drivers who find themselves trapped on the M20. Following the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which fell before the last election, the Government has found the time to legislate on space flight, ATOL [air travel organisers licences], vehicle technology and lasers in this Parliament, but its failure to bring forward detailed plans on drones has had disastrous consequences. Mr Deputy Speaker, it is frankly astonishing that there were no plans in place across Government departments to deal with the drone attack. Why was there no urgent, clear and effective response? Seemingly, the drones bill will include powers for police to enforce any new laws or regulations relating to drones. Greater police powers are welcome, but they are meaningless without more resources. What arrangements does he [the Secretary of State] intend to set out for airports to act urgently in the event of a hostile drone incursion in the future? What steps will he take to give confidence to airports that their actions will be permitted and lawful? Drone licensing and registration are not due to come in until November 2019. In all the circumstances, shouldn’t the Secretary of State accelerate the introduction of such provisions? Developing drone technology presents huge public policy challenges which demand a sweeping, cross-departmental response across Government. Mr Deputy Speaker, my fear is that the rhetoric we have heard from this Government today is many, many miles away from reality, and isn’t it stark-staringly obvious that this Secretary of State is not up to the job?
Chris Grayling: Mr Deputy Speaker, isn’t the rhetoric we’ve heard today as many, many miles away from reality his rhetoric? Let me restate the points ahead. This was a crime. It was an illegal act. It has nothing to do with the laws that are in place. Somebody deliberately decided to disrupt Gatwick Airport. It was a crime which carries, Mr Deputy Speaker, when that person is caught, a potential sentence of up to life in prison. So I simply put it to the House that the maximum penalty available is, in my view, appropriate for the crime. This is not a question of the laws not being in place, it is a question of catching the person who did that. And Sussex police amply supported by the Met [Metropolitan Police] and our security agencies are working very hard to achieve that. The second point he made was about technology. Let me explain to him gently. The technology that was brought out with the grateful help of the Ministry of Defence to tackle this problem is new. It is not available elsewhere in the world. Now, we are at the forefront in this country of developing systems that can combat this kind of issue. A huge amount of work is currently taking place to find what is on the market and assemble new kinds of systems. But there is simply not an off-the-shelf solution available to airports tomorrow they can buy that can provide protection against this kind of attack. And a huge amount of work will now take place to make sure that could happen. But he is simply, I’m afraid, ill-informed if he believes there was some magic solution that was not put in place. And the third point, I’ve noticed a huge amount of focus now from other airports to make sure this can’t happen again. But above all, what we’ve done is to put in place, centrally, the mechanism to redeploy the MoD capability should such an event occur again. I hope it won’t. We now have to deal with it if it happens again. Other airports around the world are coming to us saying, what do we need to do? That’s the reality what’s happening, not the nonsense we’ve just heard from him [the opposition].
Deputy Speaker: Henry Smith.
Henry Smith MP (Crawley, Conservative): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As the member of parliament for Gatwick Airport, I’d also like to extend my thanks to everybody who worked so hard on the 19th and 20th of December to mitigate the deliberate criminal acts that the Secretary of State has correctly identified. One of my concerns was that the Ministry of Defence wasn’t brought in until some 18 hours after the incident started on the Wednesday evening, and can I seek assurances that there will be much more rapid deployments of the military, the technology to take down such an attack, were such an attempt forthcoming in the future?
Chris Grayling: Well, can I say I’m very grateful to reiterate [my thanks] to all of those in and around Gatwick who worked so hard, what was an extremely difficult time for the airport? So in terms of the deployment of the technology, I think the first thing to say is that it was not immediately apparent that we were dealing here with anything more than the previous experience of irresponsible drone usage close to an airport, which has happened many times over the past few years. By the time this became clear that this was a malicious attack, the government machine and the Ministry of Defence moved as quickly as possible to deploy the new kinds of response to dealing with the issue. There are now clear protocols in place that would enable that system to be deployed quickly. I hope it won’t have to happen again.
Deputy Speaker: Alan Brown.
Alan Brown MP (Kilmarnock and Loudoun, Scottish National Party, Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Transport and Energy): Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker, and I’d like to thank the Secretary for sharing the parts of the statement he felt like sharing in advance. Mr Deputy Speaker, the Secretary was previously warned for the need for tougher legislation by my predecessor [as SNP spokesman], the honorable member for Inverness, Nairn, Strathspey and Badenoch [Drew Hendry], the shadow Ministers, myself, BALPA [the British Airline Pilots Association], so why has he ignored those warnings and delayed in legislating in this area? What new evidence has actually emerged from the consultation confirming the need for additional enforcement powers, other than as a blatant reaction to the Gatwick incident? How many of the 5,000 responses to the consultation related to enforcement? I’d like to ask him, how much overtime was spent over the holiday period getting the consultation response document ready for the first day back to pretend he’s suddenly in charge of this? How, previously, did they [the Government] come up with a 400 foot high, 1 kilometer wide exclusion zone? And it should be pointed out, using two different methods of measurement is a complete recipe for confusion. [Ed.: in air traffic management, airport visibility distances are commonly expressed in meters while altitudes are in feet… except for China.] And at that time, what consultation was undertaken? What was BALPA’s view? What was the view of the CAA and NATS when they had the previous exclusion zone, and how has he now suddenly arrived at a 5 kilometer exclusion zone? Why did they [the Government] not meet the stated target of a draft bill by summer 2018? What updates on that lack of progress did they ever give to Parliament? Now going forward, given that legislation regarding the use and deployment of drones is reserved to Westminster, what support will the UK Government offer to Scottish airports to allow them to comply with any changes? And will this include financial support? Now in his statement, he mentions that the Home Office is legislating and developing the appropriate means of using these technologies, so who is actually the lead Department? And will all legislation fall under one new bill? And how do we know that the planned timetable will be met? Mr Deputy Speaker, under this Secretary of State’s watch, we have had the East Coast mainline bail-out, the Northern Rail fiasco, the Thameslink rail fiasco, HS2 [High Speed 2] delays, contracts awarded to Carillion, and a ferry contract awarded to a company with no ferries. Today, his Department could only muster 89 lorries out of 150 planned for a pretend no-deal scenario planning exercise. When we factor in the drone legislation fiasco, when is he going to move aside?
Chris Grayling: Well, it is difficult to tell whether we have got more nonsense from the SNP or more nonsense from the Labour Party’s speaker. He appears not to have noticed that we legislated last summer to tighten up the rules around drones. He asked whether we’d been working overtime over the Christmas period. I have to say that the consultation response was finished before Christmas, that work is substantially completed on draft clauses for the drones bill, and we have now brought forward this, which was well prepared over a period of many months, so that’s nonsense as well. He talked about the nature of the approach to airports, the exclusion zone. We judge that it is necessary to provide as much protection as possible to the flight path into and out of an airport, which is why you end up with something that looks more like the London Transport sign, with bits sticking out either side, than a pure circle around the airport, to provide extra protection, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the approach and landing. And on the question of Scottish airports, Scottish airports have been a part of the discussions that I have been having over the Christmas period and that Baroness Sugg will be having later this week.
Deputy Speaker: Julian Lewis.
Julian Lewis (Chair, Defence Committee): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I fully accept what the Secretary of State says about the adequacy of the laws and the deterrent effect of the potential sentences, but at the moment it would be possible for anybody to go on the Internet and buy a simple but substantial device which they could use maliciously, not as in this case, to try and close down an airport, but to fly into the engine intakes of a plane that was landing or taking off. Now what can he tell us about the future in terms of registration perhaps, but more importantly, capability to prevent such an attack maliciously being mounted by someone who might well belong to a jihadist organization that isn’t going to be deterred by death, let alone by long prison sentences?
Chris Grayling: Mr Deputy Speaker, this is a very serious point, one that we’ve been working on, the security services been working on, we’ve been in conversation with airports about, for some considerable time. There are two things happening on that front. First of all, we have in this country, moved to introduce a drone registration scheme that will start later this year. But more significantly, at a European level, EASA is moving towards a requirement, that I expect to take place within two to three years, for all drones to contain technology that allows them to be tracked and potentially for them to be stopped in critical areas.
Deputy Speaker: Lilian Greenwood.
Lilian Greenwood MP (Nottingham South, Labour; Chair, Transport Committee): Mr Deputy Speaker, I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but I wonder whether it closes the gate even after the horse has bolted. The British Airline Pilots Association has been warning about the rise in irresponsible use of drones for — close to aircraft and airports — for literally years. An incident of this sort was surely foreseeable, and I’m not sure whether the Secretary of State is saying that he was satisfied that the airport had proper and adequate plans to respond to such a risk, but changes in regulations will mean nothing if we’re not able to stop, catch and prosecute offenders. What assurances can he gave the House that if a crime of this sort was perpetrated in the future, that it couldn’t lead to such a disruption to services?
Deputy Speaker: The Secretary of State.
Chris Grayling: Well, first of all, the points she makes about BALPA. We of course did legislate last summer to make certain activities around airports illegal, that included the height at which a drone could be flown and the restriction around an airport within which a drone could not be flown. Now she’s asked about what’s happened in an instance like this in future. We have got right now protections in place, protocols in place to deploy the same equipment that was used at Gatwick. If an attack like this is repeated, the airline industry, the airport industry is working intensively to try and assemble mechanisms that could protect, prevent an attack from happening again, but the reality is, there is not and has not been an off-the-shelf solution to prevent this from happening. That is now being done. The technology is being assembled, systems are now being integrated. But there’s no simple off-the-peg solution right now beyond the capability we have in place to protect UK airports.
Deputy Speaker: Justine Greening.
Justine Greening MP (Putney, Conservative): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Certainly my constituency which is under the Heathrow flight path has a significant concern on aircraft safety and he’ll know that I’ve written to him in the past prior to this incident about my concerns on drones and does he not recognize that the lack of attention outside of airports in relation to risk is far significantly reduced compared to the attention to mitigating risk inside airports themselves, and that it is sheer folly to get on with expanding Heathrow and increasing the risk to communities like my own with more flights over them whilst this is a clear risk that continues. And does he not agree that we should seriously consider whether that is a sensible approach to have over such a densely populated area, well as is he saying himself, actually the technology that can provide greater safety simply does not exist at scale at the moment?
Chris Grayling: Well Mr Speaker, I know how strongly she feels about this. Of course the issue would arise whether expansion took place at Gatwick, Stansted, or Heathrow. The reality is that Heathrow actually has been a further ahead than most other airports in providing protections against drones. Even Heathrow has not has the perfect solution, and it’s why the systems we have now in place could be deployed in Heathrow at short notice to provide protection for that airport.
Deputy Speaker: John Spellar.
John Spellar MP (Warley, Labour): Mr Speaker, was it Robert Peel who said it was the absence of crime, not the apprehension of criminals, that was the test of a good force? What the hundreds of thousands of travellers wanted was this [the disruption] stopped. So can I ask some very specific questions? Were there contingency plans already agreed with the MoD [Ministry of Defence] and the Home Office to protect our airports from drone and other incidents? And if not, why not? And if there were such plans, why didn’t they work? Or were they not activated in time due to dithering, and was that the fault of his [the Secretary of State’s] Department, Defence, or the Home Office, or indeed, the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary in N° 10? Which is it?
Deputy Speaker: The Secretary of State.
Chris Grayling: Well Mr Speaker, as were hearing from around the world, protections against a deliberate disruptive attack of this kind are few and far between. The reality is, the government’s different departments, the MoD, moved very quickly to assemble a different kind of response to one that’s been used anywhere else before, and did so in a way that is now being looked at very carefully around the world.
Deputy Speaker: Maria Miller.
Maria Miller MP (Basingstoke, Conservative; Chair, Women and Equalities Committee): My right honorable friend is absolutely right that what we saw at Gatwick was criminal activity, and I welcome the actions that he has already taken. My constituents are surrounded by airports at Southampton, at Farnborough, at Lasham, at the Odiham RAF [Royal Air Force] base. What discussions has my right honorable friend had with these smaller airports, who really have got their challenges in trying to make sure that they take measures to protect themselves from these sorts of malicious attacks? Because as my right honorable friend the member from Putney [Justine Greening] has already said, these sorts of attacks not only threaten safety in the air, but also residents on the ground too.
Deputy Speaker: The Secretary of State.
Chris Grayling: Well, Mr Speaker, this is why the measures we introduced last summer to make it illegal to fly a drone close to an airport, to put restrictions on the height above which you could fly a drone were applicable to the experience that has been mostly the case when drone incidents have occurred, which is irresponsible usage close to an airport. There were 97 such instances last year, they were all essentially irresponsible uses close to an airport. We will be sharing the experience of Gatwick and indeed the technological developments with airports like Southampton for example, there’s some of those other airports may want to take similar steps to the bigger airports to protect themselves. Just say this is an emerging technology.
Deputy Speaker: Jamie Stone.
Jamie Stone MP (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Armed Forces): Mr Deputy Speaker, it was, as the House knows, pretty damned scary, what happened at Gatwick. It’s the same wherever you take off from, wherever you travel in the world, passengers have an equal right to confidence and safe travel. So let’s hope that the UK, we, get it right on the legislative framework and eventually how to take down these drones when they’re hostile. For that reason, can I suggest to the Secretary of State that it would be in the best interests of travellers all over the world that we share our knowledge, and that perhaps we work towards some sort of international treaty governing the use, and the administration, and if necessary, the stamping out of drones when they are in bad use, right across the world?
Chris Grayling: So we agree with that, and we are already seeking to share knowledge and experience of what we have, I expect that it’s something that ICAO [the International Civil Aviation Organisation] will also want to pick up on… [inaudible] Once again, the shadow minister from a sedentary position is rabbiting on about EASA. It is Government policy if we are able to remain part of EASA, because in areas like international aviation safety, we believe it is sensible to work internationally across borders.
Tim Loughton MP (East Worthing and Shoreham, Conservative): Mr Deputy Speaker, the oldest commercial airport in the country is in Shoreham, in my constituency, so it’s not just the larger airports, commercial airports, it’s the smaller ones too. Sussex Police were greatly stretched when the incidents happened, and I know that they welcomed greatly the offers of help they had from around the country. But there was concern about confusion as to who the lead Department on this was. Was it Transport? Was it the Home Office? And of course, later the Ministry of Defence was brought in as well. So what assurances can he [the Secretary of State] give that in future there will be a much better immediate, co-ordinated response? And he’s also spoken about the need to legislate, about registering drones, and so on. The trouble is, most of them come in from China but increasingly, a lot of them can be DIY [do it yourself] built as well. And the people who do that don’t register, don’t have any regard for regulations, and certainly won’t have some of the devices on them that would disable them, so that they wouldn’t be harmful near airports. What’s he doing about that?
Chris Grayling: This is precisely, Mr Deputy Speaker, why the technology becomes so important because for all the requirements one puts into law, whether it’s around the technology that goes into drones, ultimately, if people choose to act in a deliberate, disruptive and illegal way, the technology needs to be there to stop them. In terms of the responsibility of the actual lead gold command with Sussex Police, supported by the Metropolitan Police and the security services within government, my department took the lead.
Deputy Speaker: Drew Hendry.
Drew Hendry MP (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, Scottish National Party Shadow Spokesperson for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy): Mr Speaker, the document the Secretary of State refers to is called “Taking Flight”, but isn’t it true that his Government has “taken flight” over this issue? This isn’t a new thing that’s suddenly arrived. BALPA have been arguing for greater protection for years. And indeed, almost three years ago I raised this matter with the Minister for State, when I said:
We have the current issues of drones near aircraft, which needs to be addressed in an air strategy. I hope that the Minister will do something about that before there is a critical problem.
The Minister of State said at that time, in that debate, that he didn’t want to stray into those issues, he was “wise enough not to”. Is it still wise to have not done anything for over three years?
Chris Grayling: Well, it might be if we hadn’t. But of course, we legislated last year.
Deputy Speaker: James Cartlidge.
James Cartlidge MP (South Suffolk, Conservative): Just prior to Christmas, I held a rural crime summit in Lavenham in my constituency. And a key issue was hare coursing. And I was pleased to learn that Suffolk constabulary had purchased a drone, which will be used to gather intelligence and greatly enable us to fight back against this real menace in rural areas. And so does he [the Secretary of State] agree with me that whilst this incident highlighted — you know — this was a criminal incident with drones, that this technology offers great potential for fighting back against criminality, particularly those which we’ve struggled to deal with historically?
Chris Grayling: I quite agree, and that’s why this strategy is both about meeting the challenge of either careless or illegal or inappropriate use of drones, but also setting a direction to ensure that we allow the kind of usage that he’s talking about in a whole raft of ways, in inspecting infrastructure, policing, and a whole variety of other ways in which drones can be a positive for our society.
Deputy Speaker: Kevin Brennan.
Kevin Brennan MP (Cardiff West, Labour; Shadow Minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; Arts and Heritage): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. And he’s right. This was a crime, but it was an entirely foreseeable crime. I asked the question to the previous aviation minister two and a half years ago about this as well. Isn’t the truth that really this matter should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence? Because the consequences of bringing down a civil airliner of this kind are so huge and it’s really beyond — and it may or may not be his fault — it’s beyond the competency of his department. This is far too serious to be dealt with by the Department for Transport.
Chris Grayling: Well, I don’t think it’s a question of one department or another. We have to work as a team. The truth is the Ministry of Defence has and did have a really important role. The Home Office has a really important role in enforcement and licensing, so for transport managers, the use of airspace, it’s an area where government needs to work as a team, and my view is that the response which actually brought three governance departments together was the right approach.
Deputy Speaker: Bill Grant.
Bill Grant MP (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, Conservative): Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. In my 30 years in the fire service, I’ve attended two major aircraft incidents, one of which was multiple fatalities. I think this whole House and the nation can be grateful for the actions taken at Gatwick Airport, where no loss of life occurred and no loss of aircraft. It’s the same as despite the chaos to the travelling public, when there was no loss of aircraft and no loss of life, that has to be measured as being good in the circumstances. However, in the light of the events at Gatwick, what discussions has my right honorable friend had with the airport operators across the United Kingdom to mitigate or prevent the malicious — and I underline, malicious — incursion of drones into operational airspace? Bearing in mind those intent on bringing chaos and death to the air-travelling public will not respect exclusion zones, so an exclusion zone itself will not stop the drones.
Deputy Speaker: The Secretary of State.
Chris Grayling: Well, this is the central point, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we could have done everything imaginable in legal terms, but if somebody is determined to cause an attack of this kind, they will do so. So it’s very much now about understanding what technology can make a difference. This was very much, in technological terms, a learning exercise because there wasn’t simply an off-the-shelf system available to deal with it. It took a lot of efforts to work out what competencies were there and to assemble them in a way that can work. Now, that was the first time this had been done anywhere else in the world. We now, I think, understand more clearly how to deal with an attack like this and others will, I hope, learn from us. So the kind of terrible events that he’s talking about can never happen in this kind of situation.
Deputy Speaker: Luke Pollard.
Luke Pollard MP (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, Labour/Co-operative): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can I first declare an interest because my boyfriend was one of those people who were supposed to land at Gatwick. And although he landed a few days later, he landed so safely and that was appreciated. It’s right that technological solutions must keep pace with the threats that we face. Can I ask the Secretary of State what consideration he’s given to live update geofencing to make sure that for those people that might be accidentally flying [a drone] near a restricted airspace — airports, but also defence installations — that there can be an inability of that drone to access to that airspace, that can be live updated by the authorities to make sure that drones do not enter any restricted airspace?
Chris Grayling: Well, this is one of the areas that’s kind of been worked on at a European level. We are working with EASA on this and of course we would expect regulations to be coming forward during the implementation period that we would want to be part of in any case, because these are technologies not just made in one country. So the point about geofencing is an important one. Likewise, the ability to include technology that enables you to track a drone, to know which drone it is. But of course my honorable friend for Worthing [Tim Loughton], made the very real point that a lot of these machines are assembled by amateurs on a fair scale. And that’s why we need the technology to take them down as well.
Deputy Speaker: Jeremy Lefroy.
Jeremy Lefroy MP (Stafford, Conservative): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Who is responsible for inspecting airfields and airports for their security in such matters as this? And could we perhaps have a report — I appreciate that not everything can be disclosed — but a report in a few weeks’ time which says that all major airports in the country have been inspected and have put in place the right measures to prevent or deter an incident such as that at Gatwick?
Chris Grayling: Most immediately, the security of the airport is the responsibility of the owners themselves, supported by my department, supported by the national security agencies. Those discussions are already happening — they were happening within a matter of hours of the incidents at Gatwick. I can assure the House that every airport is now taking active steps to look at what measures it can put in place. But the reality is, as I said, that these are experimental systems; they are not universally available yet. It will take a bit of time for other airports to get them in place. And in the meantime, the Ministry of Defence capability is there if necessary.
Deputy Speaker: Madeleine Moon.
Mrs Madeleine Moon MP (Bridgend, Labour; Chair, Defence Sub-Committee): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can I ask the Secretary of State to look at the report by the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who shows how drone attacks using commercially available drones, have been using chemicals and explosive devices on the battlefields of Mosul. We were fortunate — we were darn lucky in many respects — in that we had a wake-up call at Gatwick. Can I suggest the Secretary of State not only talk to the MoD, but also talk to NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] where there’s a huge level of expertise about the use of drones on the battlefield that can be bought commercially and used here by terrorists who want to attack us?
Chris Grayling: Well, can I assure the honorable lady we’re very well aware of that and indeed have been providing the security services, we’ve provided advice to airports, about this for some considerable time. We provided advice specifically based on some of those experiences in the Middle East. And this is something we worked with them continuously on.
Deputy Speaker: Nic Dakin.
Nicholas Dakin MP (Scunthorpe, Labour; Opposition Whip, House of Commons): Thank you, Mr Speaker. There was speculation in the press at the time, that there may not have been any drones involved in this incident. Can the Secretary of State confirm how many malicious drones brought all this disruption to Gatwick? And can he tell us what the plan is, what he is doing to make sure his department supports airports around the country in getting their contingency plans updated in the light of this experience?
Chris Grayling: Now, well, firstly, the reports of there being no drone, I think, was a misspeak by a police officer. I’ve spoken to the chief constable since, and to the airport chief executive, we’ve talked regularly. There’s no question there was a drone or a small number of drones. Nobody’s quite sure whether it was one or two or three, but it certainly wasn’t a large number, probably only one. But it made a return on a regular basis on many occasions, Mr Deputy Speaker, just as the airport was about to reopen. In terms of contingency work, I spoke to the operators of all the major airports on the day after this happened. They have put in place, within a matter of a short period of time after us understanding what the issue was, police around the country. We’re carrying out its additional patrols around those airports. We’ve had regular discussions since. Baroness Sugg is holding a further meeting with them in a few days time to get an update on their plans. All of them have been briefed that we can provide the kind of support the MoD provided to Gatwick if something happens there.
Deputy Speaker: Christine Jardine.
Christine Jardine MP (Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Scotland): Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was actually one of those tens of thousands of people whose journey was disrupted that day. And after the initial relief that it had been so orderly rearranged for me to get home to Edinburgh — which also had to cope with the knock-on effect — I was aghast that one of our major airports could be so vulnerable and that it took so long to get it back in play. And I think that is an issue which, with respect, the Secretary of State will have to pay attention to and address. You said a few minutes ago that these incidents are few and far between, but with respect, it would take only one to create a catastrophe and there’s been an undermining of public confidence in the safety at our airports. Will he bring forward some report, some work to reassure the public? And, without in any way sort of undermining security, detail how our passengers are going to be protected, and our airports?
Chris Grayling: Well, Mr Speaker, I’m happy to do that to some degree, Mr Deputy Speaker, but the reality is the response by the Ministry of Defence included some highly sensitive, confidential secure equipment. Now, that equipment is there to be deployed at other airports at short notice should the need arise and given an undertaking that we are talking to all those airports about what additional measures they can — and they are already — putting into place to make sure this can’t happen again. Up to now, all of the experience around the world of drone incidents has been of irresponsible drone usage. This is the first time a drone has been deliberately used in a very clever way, over a sustained period of time, to disrupt an airport. And airports now need to make sure that they are ready, to make sure that can’t happen again.
Deputy Speaker: Martin Docherty-Hughes.
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (West Dunbartonshire, Scottish National Party Shadow Spokesperson for Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies): Mr Deputy Speaker, it should come as no surprise to — I hope it is no surprise to the Secretary of State that I am now the fourth member of the Defence Select Committee to rise in this statement. It comes as no surprise to the four members of that select committee within this chamber that this situation has arisen and that nothing was planned to deal with the consequences other than calling the Ministry of Defence, who I’m disappointed to see are not also on the front bench. Now as a constituency MP like many others here, who have airports within distance of their own constituencies, I wonder if the Secretary of State can make some assurances to my constituencies, specifically in Whitecrook in the burgh of Clydebank — and that’s B-U-R-G, for Hansard — first of all, does he recognize that disruptive technology is not new? That it is not just about — and with all due respect to my honorable friends and colleagues who were disrupted during the travel episode — it’s not just about the traveller, it’s about the person living on the ground. If a tragic event should bring down a liner on top of a community to which any of us should represent — and fundamentally it’s not just about airports or airplanes. What should happen as the chair of the select committee himself said, if someone should use it to attack a piece of infrastructure, whether it be in a refinery, an oil refinery, an oil rig or a large drone hitting the front of a high speed inter city train. The Secretary of State must recognize the consequences of the situation and the impact on people’s lives if nothing is done about it.
Chris Grayling: Of course, and the reality is, Mr Deputy Speaker, there are many people around the world looking to find the perfect anti-drone solutions. The reality is, as Gatwick Airport discovered, those technologies are still embryonic. We have now in place, I believe, an assembly of systems that would enable us to deal with an incident like this again, but there’s a lot of work to be done; a lot of work is being done.