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Immigration Checks (London Airports)

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

6. What recent representations she has received on the time taken to complete immigration checks at London airports. (199726)

We have recently received a number of representations from a variety of stakeholders about the time that it takes to complete immigration checks at London airports. Records show that, in the past 12 months, there have been 19 parliamentary questions relating to queuing times.

Whatever the Minister might say about the average time taken to get through immigration being below the target level, the truth is that the situation is getting worse. That is creating a bad impression and undermining the reputation of a world-class city. What is the reason for that? What is going on? What steps is the Minister taking to improve the situation?

The growth in passenger numbers between 2005 and 2007 was about 5 and a bit per cent. Over the same period, the number of immigration officers increased by about 33 per cent. Obviously, that growth is now spread around a lot of different airports, so there are particular pinch points, and I think that Heathrow has become one of them. This is exactly why we have said that we will increase the budget for border control by 10 per cent. this year. That will mean 300 extra staff, and I am pleased to be able to say that 150 of those will be for Heathrow.

What evidence is there that some of these hold-ups are caused by females of a particular religious sect who cover their faces and refuse to reveal them as they go through immigration? Is there any evidence that that is causing problems?

There is no evidence of that. Everyone is required to identify themselves as directed by an immigration officer. If an identity is ever in any doubt, immigration officers will not hesitate to check a person’s fingerprints as well.

Would not the time taken to carry out immigration checks be speeded up if fewer work permits were issued for overseas workers to come to this country, and if the Government heeded the central conclusion of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which states that

“we have found no evidence for the argument, made by the Government, business and many others, that net immigration…generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population”?

That blows out of the water the case that has just been made by the Home Secretary, although I have no doubt that it will not stop her making it. Will the Government actually listen to the evidence that has been produced by that expert Committee?

I am not sure whether that was a call by the Conservatives for a policy of zero immigration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have a chance on Thursday to unpack some of those comments in greater detail.