Clause 9 - Power to designate a cordoned area to secure defence aircraft

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 12 Gorffennaf 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Ceidwadwyr, North Wiltshire

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Clauses 10 and 11 stand part.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

The power set out in clause 9 allows a constable to designate a cordoned area around a military aircraft, part of an aircraft or related equipment. Regrettably, there have been several aircraft crashes over the past several years, including an F-15 aircraft crash in Lincolnshire in 2014. In such cases it is common for sensitive technology or material to be dispersed, and a specific power to cordon an area will ensure that such material is sufficiently protected until it can be removed.

Under the clause, a constable may designate an area under the cordon power only if they consider it expedient for the purposes of securing an aircraft, parts of an aircraft or equipment relating to such an aircraft, used for military purposes. The clause goes on to describe the process for designating a cordoned area this power, including ensuring that the boundary is appropriately marked and that a written record is made of the relevant decisions.

Members will appreciate the interest that hostile actors would have in accessing military technology. A cordon power that allows us to protect sensitive military aircraft technology beyond prohibited places—for example, in the event of a crash—is a tool that our armed forces and police can use to prevent harmful activity from taking place if sensitive technology is exposed and becomes vulnerable to access or inspection.

Clause 10 sets out the duration for which a designation of a cordoned area made under the clause 9 power may have effect. The end of the cordon must be specified in the designation, and initially an area can be cordoned only for a maximum period of 14 days. The initial period of the cordon specified in the designation may, in many cases, be adequate for the secured military aircraft, parts or related equipment to be safely removed. Should the process take longer—for example, if more time than originally anticipated is required in the event of a criminal investigation or an investigation by the Defence Accident Investigation Branch—the duration can be extended up to a maximum of 28 days from the point of the initial designation. Setting out the duration for which a designation of a cordoned area may have effect is an essential provision as part of the wider military aircraft cordon power. It prevents the provisions from being implemented for longer than is justified or proportionate.

Clause 11 provides the police with the powers to enforce a cordoned area that has been designated under the clause 9 power. The powers are similar to those that the police are able to use to protect prohibited places under clause 6. They include requiring a person not to carry out specified conduct, such as entering or inspecting a cordoned area; requiring a person or persons in charge of a vehicle or device to leave a cordoned area or an adjacent area immediately; and arranging for the movement or removal of a vehicle from a cordoned area.

It is especially important to have powers in relation to an area adjacent, given that people are able to take photographs, videos or other recordings of a crashed aircraft that is within a cordoned area from outside the cordon perimeter. The powers to prohibit such activity allow for enhanced protection against the threat that may be posed when sensitive technology or information is exposed—for example, hostile actors may still be able to gather potentially damaging information from outside a cordon through the use of long-range cameras, or may use photos and videos obtained by others and posted on social media.

Alongside the powers I have outlined, clause 11 will make it an offence to fail to comply with an order given by a constable under the powers. There may well be instances in which a person has a reasonable excuse for failing to comply with such an order, so the clause includes a defence to protect those who have a legitimate reason to be within a cordoned area.

The police powers in relation to a cordoned area in clause 11 are crucial, as they give our law enforcement agencies the tools needed to deter hostile actors from accessing the sensitive defence technology or material that may potentially be exposed—for example, following the unfortunate event of a military aircraft crash.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Clause 9 provides a power for the police to create a cordoned area around a defence aircraft, presumably, as the Minister outlined, if it has crashed or had to make an emergency landing outside a prohibited place. We agree that the powers in clause 9 are entirely appropriate and that the ability to cordon off scenes of that kind is necessary to ensure that the aircraft and any equipment or material relating to it can be sufficiently protected until removal has been completed. Under subsection (2) a constable may designate an area under the cordon power in subsection (1) only if they consider it expedient for the purposes of securing an aircraft used for military purposes, or part thereof, or equipment relating to that aircraft.

I have explored this clause with a recently retired senior police officer, and I will relay his query. Why is this provision needed, given that the police already have the ability to cordon off such areas through common law powers? Where is the gap that needed to be closed by the clause? What does it do that was not there previously? The Minister may outline the differences we have missed; further to that point, the explanatory notes make it clear that the power will not be applicable to aircraft other than those used for military purposes. Say, for example, a civilian fixed-wing light aircraft has raised espionage concerns, having flown over a prohibited place without clearance before making an emergency landing: although it would not be a military aircraft, I would be quite comfortable with clause 9 powers being used in such circumstances. Will the Minister consider that in his response?

The clause and the explanatory notes are not explicit about whether the clause applies only to British military aircraft and equipment, or whether it applies also to foreign military aircraft, should we find ourselves in that worrying position. Will the Minister confirm that for the Committee?

Clause 11 outlines the powers that the police will have in relation to a cordoned area. They include the powers to require a person not to carry out specified conduct, such as entering the cordoned area; to require a person to leave a cordoned area immediately; and to arrange for the movement or removal of a vehicle from a cordoned area. Subsection (2) clarifies that inspection of a cordoned area can be undertaken by way of taking or procuring photos, videos and other recordings. Subsections (4) and (5) provide that it is an offence to fail to comply with an order under subsection (1).

Again, nothing in clause 11 explicitly allows a constable to seize a device that has been used to photograph, film or record details of the cordoned-off area. That, too, would require scrutiny and consideration, and a proportionate balance would need to be found, but that seems to be an omission that I cannot see addressed elsewhere in the Bill. Could a person be instructed to leave an area, but potentially take footage or photos away with them? Will the Minister confirm whether that is the case? We are minded to consider the matter further. For the avoidance of any doubt, we are comfortable with clause 10 and the designation of a cordon.

Photo of Antony Higginbotham Antony Higginbotham Ceidwadwyr, Burnley 2:30, 12 Gorffennaf 2022

I wish to speak briefly to the clauses. In Lancashire, we are home to BAE Systems Air, in Samlesbury and Warton. That is a significant manufacturing and assembly location for the fourth generation Typhoon aircraft, the fifth generation F-35 and, looking ahead, potentially the sixth generation of the future combat air system. Manufacturing and assembling those aircraft brings a requirement to test them and put them in the air. With any new aircraft, we run the risk of some kind of emergency landing, so the clause is entirely necessary and proportionate to allow the police to put a cordon in place, should that be required. We have to remember the highly sensitive nature of some of the aircraft, recognising in particular that many contain not just UK technology but technology from our friends and allies around the world.

Not that long ago, as we may all remember, one of the F-35s fell off the deck of the Queen Elizabeth carrier as it was meant to be taking off. On the news, we all saw that other allied warships had to go towards the area to ensure that unfriendly or hostile states could not go to find that aircraft on the seabed and try to take some of its technology. The clause seems to do something similar: it will ensure that in the event of an emergency, we have the ability to protect a site so that we can clean it up and investigate it in a controlled way. That control is important, because hostile states are always looking at ways to take advantage of unforeseen circumstances.

Will the Minister confirm that the area where the cordon is put in place will be as tightly defined as possible? We must recognise that in Lancashire, for example, where such events might happen, there is a significant amount of farmland and land used for other things, so we must try to find a balance. It is about proportionality and recognising that although a site is controlled—not just in terms of where it is but recognising that parts might be spread over a significant area—the land might have another use. Will the Minister confirm that the Government expect there to be a balance and that an area will not be so widely defined that it becomes unusable for a significant number of people?

I was pleased to see that there is a 14-day limit for the cordon zone in clause 10, with the potential to expand it to 28 days if needed. That properly tries to balance the different access requirements that the police will have during the clean-up. We all recognise that these will sometimes be complex sites to try to clean up. I very much welcome the clause. For an area such as Lancashire, which has aircraft test flights all the time because of BAE, it will put lots of residents’ minds at ease that if the worst happens, there is a controlled, legislative way to make sure that the site is managed.

Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful contribution. The maximum time period is 14 days because we are trying to put in place a limit. The idea is to restrict the areas as tightly as possible to protect the sensitive material without having an impact on other issues. A cordon around the military area will cover a much tighter area. There are already other cordoning factors, which is why the provision is not wider in scope.

The clauses have been drafted because of the experiences in Lincolnshire with the crashed F-15 aircraft in 2015, and the gaps during that period. My understanding is that the pilot lost control of the aircraft, successfully ejected and crashed into farmland adjacent to a village. Once the fire was extinguished, because there were no fatalities Lincolnshire police left it to the relevant military teams to run the area. As result, potentially sensitive debris was left vulnerable to harmful hostile actors over quite a wide range of areas. The purpose of the clauses is to address the direct experience of what happened during that unfortunate aircraft accident.

The hon. Member for Halifax asked a range of questions, including one on civilian light fixed-wing aircraft. The answer is that the provision currently applies only to military aircraft and does apply to foreign aircraft. The powers in the Bill enhance the powers in common law to try to compensate for what happened with that F-15 aircraft. Although the hon. Lady made an incredibly good point about search and seizure powers, as it stands they are not included in the clauses. I will go away and think about that point and ask my officials to look into it in more detail.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 10 and 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.