Labour has accused transport secretary Chris Grayling of ‘negligence, dithering and delaying’ after ministers announced plans to give police new powers to tackle drone misuse.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has published its response to a consultation on drones, which preceded last month’s serious disruption at Gatwick Airport.
The DfT said new legislation will give police the power to land drones and require users to produce the proper documentation.
Police will also have the power to search premises and seize drones — including electronic data stored within the device — where a serious offence has been committed and a warrant is secured.
The Home Office will also ‘begin to test and evaluate the safe use of a range of counter-drone technology in the UK’.
The DfT said this will detect drones from flying around sensitive sites, including airports and prisons, and develop a range of options to respond to drones, ‘helping to prevent a repeat of incidents such as that recently experienced at Gatwick’.
Safety proposals being taken forward include extending to 5km the area around airports and runways in which drones are banned from being flown. The current restriction is 1km away from an airfield.
In a statement in the House of Commons on Monday evening, Mr Grayling said: ‘Today’s measures set out the next steps needed to ensure that drones are used in a safe and secure way and that the industry is accountable. At the same time these steps will ensure that we harness the benefits that drones can bring to the UK economy.’
Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said: ‘Announcing the end of a consultation exercise does not constitute action,’ adding that Mr Grayling’s statement ‘serves only to highlight the damage that his dithering and delaying have caused’.
He added: ‘It is good to learn that the Government might finally listen to the advice of industry on extending drone exclusion zones around airports to some 5km, but it is unfortunate that this advice was not considered sooner.
‘It is also unfortunate that the drone incursion at Gatwick airport in July 2017 did not serve as a warning to the secretary of state. He clearly learned no lessons from that incident, and he was totally negligent in failing to bring forward measures to better protect national infrastructure.’
Under the Government’s plans, the police will also be able to issue fixed-penalty notices for minor drone offences to ensure immediate and effective enforcement of vital rules. Fines of up to £100 could be given for offences such as failing to comply with a police officer when instructed to land a drone, or not showing their registration to operate a drone
Users who fail to register their drones or who fail to sit the competency test can already face fines of up to £1,000.