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Fast-track Border Controls (Airports)

Volume 574: debated on Monday 27 January 2014

Border Force is committed to improving the experience of all passengers at our ports in support of the Government’s long-term economic plan, including the delivery of value-added services such as fast-track queuing. When such a service is delivered, it is appropriate that, at the very least, the costs of such a service are met by the passengers or airlines that receive the benefit.

What seems to be emerging from this Government policy is a class system for going through airports. My ordinary constituents have to wait in long queues, and sometimes very long queues, whereas people who are wealthy—bankers, Mr Abramovich and people like that—have a special relationship that means that they do not go through security and are fast-tracked. I know that that is going on and it is a class system for who comes in and out of this country. What is the Minister going to do to reassure my constituents that that is not happening?

It is difficult to know where to start; there were so many inaccuracies in that question. First, in the case of 99.6% of passengers, we meet our queuing requirements and we have now largely fixed the problems we inherited with Border Force and queuing. Secondly, everyone who comes through our airports has their details checked and it is clear in the operating mandate that 100% should be checked. We have fast-track approaches where people pay fees that provide extra resources so that we can deliver that service without damaging the service received by everybody else.

London Gatwick airport in my constituency introduced automatic e-gates for departures for all passengers some time ago. May I seek assurances from my hon. Friend that Gatwick will be included in future fast-track border entry, which will be great for local business and great for that important gateway into the UK?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He will be aware that I recently had the opportunity to open the e-gates at the south terminal at Gatwick that mean that British citizens and European economic area passengers can get access to the United Kingdom more quickly with their chipped passports. We are looking into developing a range of services so that those who bring value, business, growth and jobs to the country can get here more efficiently. That is something that all Members should welcome.

For many years, the Home Office, and before that, the UK Border Agency, have offered people premium or priority immigration services, with set timelines, but they have not always managed to meet those timelines. What progress is the Minister making on being able to deliver all immigration services within the time promised?

As a member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, my hon. Friend will know that the latest data, provided to that Committee, show that we have made considerable progress in reducing the backlog of applications. He will also know that we have published our new service standard—I will write to Members shortly, setting that out—which gives customers much clearer, more transparent expectations about how long they should wait for their immigration applications to be dealt with. That will be a considerable improvement in customer service standards.