This report focuses on passport queues because of our concern over the chaotic scenes witnessed at major UK ports this year, including Heathrow, the Olympic host port.
It also highlights Border Force's refusal to provide Parliament with data about drug seizures, alerts from the National Border Targeting Centre and abuse of the 'Lille loophole' that would enable this Committee to monitor its performance in these key areas.
The Committee found that passport queues have been too long at major national ports for the last year.
- Monthly maximum queue times nationwide (for both EEA and non- EEA) passengers have been between 1 hour 55 minutes and 2 hours 55 minutes since June 2011. Border Force missed their target for processing non-EEA passengers within 45 minutes at every Heathrow Terminal in April 2012.
The Committee concluded that:
- Maximum queue times have been consistently too high for the last 12 months. It is unacceptable for these long queue times to recur on a monthly basis
- Some carriers are resigning themselves to reducing their revenue because the Border Force does not have the capacity to provide them with an adequate service
- Many airlines have years of experience in providing advanced passenger information to the United States and are now obliged to provide advanced information to e-Border before departure. Border Force do not always use this information as best they could
Recommendations for improvement
The Committee has recommended that Border Force take the following steps to resolve the problems:
- Adopt a target for reducing the maximum queuing time at the border, applying to all ports of entry, in addition to its existing service standards
- Adopt, in consultation with port operators, a more frequent measurement of queues in order to improve accuracy and to inform staff rostering decisions more fully. Maximum queues lengths should be measured and published on a monthly basis for all UK ports
- Border Force should install "waiting time" boards in all arrivals halls at major ports
- If the control room at Heathrow continues to be a success then the model should be adopted at other major ports where appropriate
- E-gates must remain operational at all times when flights are arriving
The Committee has recommended that the Home Office:
- Immediately reintroduce the risk based entry check pilot that the Home Secretary suspended in November 2011
- Immediately carry out a full reappraisal of the number of Border Force staff needed across the UK if it wishes to persist with 100% entry checks for all passengers
- Bring forward the reinstatement of ‘smart zones’ as a matter of urgency
Border security – a worrying lack of data
Border Force has been unable or unwilling to provide data to this Committee on three key areas of border security:
- Comparable data on the number of drug seizures carried out by Border Force in April 2011 and April 2012. The Government should publish in full such data as is available to it about the estimated proportion of drugs which are seized by the Border Force as they are smuggled into the UK, and the year-on-year performance overall
- The number of passengers about whom security alerts were issued to the Border Force that were actually encountered trying to enter the UK
- The number of illegal migrants trying to enter the UK through the ‘Lille Loophole’
Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"I am very pleased to see that the Minister for Immigration has kept his promise to the Committee that during the Olympics every kiosk at airports in the South East would be manned.
However, as the Olympics finish international students will begin to arrive. We must ensure that the situation does not revert back to that witnessed prior to the Olympics.
Border Force needs to go for gold. It must start taking the actions necessary to ensure passengers clear immigration in a timely manner and that queues are measured accurately.
The Home Office must immediately reinstate the risk based pilot for entry checks that was abandoned by the Home Secretary last November."
Image: Parliamentary copyright