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Passports

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will require details of all non-British passports held by British passport holders to be registered with the Identity and Passport Service.

My Lords, British citizens who hold passports issued by other countries are not required to register those details with the Identity and Passport Service, as being a dual national has no bearing on the eligibility for a passport. While British passport applicants are asked to submit with their application any uncancelled passport, including foreign passports, this is simply to assist with identity verification.

My Lords, I thank the Minister. Is it not absurd, at a moment when we are asking people to lose their lives in Afghanistan, in the words of the Prime Minister, to keep terrorism off the streets of Britain, that we are not doing everything that we possibly can in this country to protect ourselves here? Is it not dangerous, now we have this expensive e-borders system—belatedly, but it is now in place—that immigration officers are not able to know, when a British passport is swiped, that the holder may have switched, or may be about to switch, to a different passport for other trips while abroad? That is a real security risk, and I cannot see why the Government do not urgently make it mandatory for the Passport Office to know when passport-holders hold other passports as well.

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has had a particular interest in this area. It seems at face value that there is a definite point to what he says, so I have looked into it. It is clear that, because of e-borders and because we are getting biometrics on all these things, that loophole is being closed.

Since the beginning of 2007 we have ensured that someone cannot have a certificate of entitlement for them to be in this country, which would be registered in their foreign passport, if they have decided that they wish to have a British passport; they can have either one or the other. So that has been done as well.

In the past there was the possibility of using different names to try to fool the authorities, but if the name, date of birth and so on are the same then there is no possibility of getting through. Once we have biometrics, which are coming in very fast, we can bowl these things out easily, and that is the way of getting around the problem. Trying to stop people getting another passport and trying to register it—on the day of registration they might not have a foreign passport, but the next day they might have one—is too complex. We are closing all the loopholes, and I believe that this has gone away. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, although I am willing to talk with him at greater length about this as I am aware of his concern and I have specifically looked into it.

My Lords, in March 2008 the European Union Committee of your Lordships’ House published a report on e-borders, in which it declared itself astonished that there was then no way in which the UK Borders and Immigration Agency could know who was in the country, since there was then no routine recording of entries into the UK or departures from it. One of the most basic requirements of a border control is the ability to count people in and out of the country. Was the Government’s undertaking met—namely, that by December 2009 screening systems would be in place to deal with 60 per cent of all passenger and crew movements into the UK? Will their target of 95 per cent by December this year be met?

My Lords, I could not have put the initial part of that question better myself. This is something that we decided we would do; in the past, we did not check people out. This was done with the previous Administration, for whatever reasons. It is absolutely right that we check people in and out, so we know exactly who is here. On those precise figures, I shall have to come back in writing, because I am not sure exactly where we have got to on that. We are still aiming for 100 per cent in time for the Olympics, and we will be a lot more safe and secure.

With the pilot schemes that we have run, we have already bowled out an awful lot of people when there have been lost or stolen passports. Again, the noble Lord who spoke previously is very interested in that issue. We have been able to arrest those people who have been using them falsely.

About 18 months ago, I asked a question of the noble Lord considering the smaller, private airports and the fact that there was no official passport control in those situations. Will they be covered by the 100 per cent target?

My Lords, the intention is that they will be covered. Indeed, there are issues about boats going backwards and forwards across the Channel, and that sort of thing. There are some real complexities. Clearly, those will be the areas that are hit last; I have flown a number of times in a private jet and at Farnborough, in the private jet area, one is checked very admirably. The only difficulty is with making sure that the chaps are in uniform.

My Lords, last week we were told of the introduction of no-fly lists and other enhanced screening measures, including enhancing the watch list. Will the Minister confirm that the details of passport holders who have dual nationality are there to be cross-referenced against these new lists when they are set up? Could he also give us an estimate of how long it will take before all British citizens have biometric passports?

My Lords, I shall answer that in reverse order of sequence, starting with the fully biometric passport. Passports are slightly biometric obviously, through facial recognition, but they will have fingerprints as well by 2012. That will be a process from the beginning of that year—people will start getting fingerprints on their passports, and that is how that will be done. As for matching passports, people who come into this country through e-borders and getting their visas will have to give biometrics. There will be biometrics on our passports, so it will be impossible to have two names. You might have a passport under a different name, but it will immediately flag up, and that will be a reason to ask straightaway what is going on and to move forward and do something about it.

Can the Minister tell the House what progress has been made in dealing with the land border with the Republic of Ireland, where we have a distinctive set of problems?

My Lords, the position there is that there are no controls for passports going across there. This is intelligence-based, and we have been doing more operations there on an intelligence basis, but there is nothing further on that. There was some debate in this House about the common travel area, and I think that that will have to move forward in a further Session.

Will the Minister say whether the Government have implemented the provision in the Identity Card Act 2006 which requires those applying for or renewing passports to be registered with the national identity register? If they have not done so, what is their intention?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have the answer at my fingertips. I shall come back in writing on that point, if I may. What is interesting with the identity card is that 3,500 people have them already and another 25,000 have applied for them. They are proving a huge success—there is a big rollout happening in London. I have one myself, and it is actually quite useful, I have to say.