Ministerial support for the value of public dialogue to inform government policy on drones
On 1 December 2014, Robert Goodwill (relevant Minister in DfT) gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee inquiry on the Civil Use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in the EU. The Minister gave a commitment to establishing a public dialogue on RPAS / drones (depending on the election in May 2015).
The Minister explained the establishment of a cross-Whitehall group on RPAS to inform government and develop policy in this emerging aviation sector, and to develop a cross-government vision and strategy for the area. He also said:
• The key objectives of this group include "to engage in a public dialogue - this is probably the most important [objective] at this stage - on the use of civil and military remotely piloted aircraft systems in the UK ... we anticipate that this public engagement will take place during 2015."
• Lord Fearn, a Committee member supported the idea, saying "Government officials told use that the time is drawing near when we have to look at some sort of public dialogue with the general public on the use of RPAS and what they think."
• The Minister went on to say "The Government recognise that it is a good time to go to the general public to ask their views on the use of unmanned aircraft, and I am please to be able to confirm that the cross-government working group on RPAS has initiated a programme of work that will result in a series of public dialogue events next summer, as I have already mentioned, to better understand the public's perceptions and their concerns about the use of unmanned aircraft in the UK. We are at a very early stage of planning these events, but I anticipate that a series of events will be held in several locations around the UK, drawing on a wide range of people from all walks of life to discuss the prominent issues with operating these systems in the UK. This work will help to shape and inform future government policy in this area."
• He also identified the potential for a digital element, alongside face-to-face events, saying "We do not anticipate a large number of events. There will be a small number of events across the country that will engage with people from a diverse range of communities. I think we should ensure that we look at some of the rural issues as well as some of the urban issues ... I am sure that using web-based portals to encourage people to feed in as well will be particularly important. Indeed, without using that method of engaging with the public, it would be almost impossible."