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Electronic Travel Authorisation

Volume 831: debated on Monday 17 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the merits of their proposed Electronic Travel Authorisation as compared with the proposed European Travel Information and Authorisation Service.

The United Kingdom’s electronic travel authorisation scheme, or ETA, and the EU’s European travel information and authorisation system, ETIAS, will require travellers to obtain authorisation prior to travel. In both cases, travellers must complete an online application form and receive electronic permission to travel, which is verified by carriers before boarding. The ETA scheme will collect biometrics upstream, away from the United Kingdom border. This will enable us to increase automation of passenger clearance at the UK border.

My Lords, this new system will also require all passengers transiting through UK airports to have an ETA. The EU equivalent system has no such requirement. This means that more than 20% of passengers—and that was 20 million people in 2019—who go through airports will need to pay £10 a head for an ETA, despite the fact that they will not even leave the airport. Do the Government really believe that a family of four is going to choose to pay £40 to transit through a UK airport when it can transit through an EU airport for free?

It is the intention of the policy to apply to those transferring in British airports. This makes Britain a more secure country.

My Lords, following the regret Motion debate on 23 May and subsequent amendments in Committee and at Report on the Illegal Migration Bill in respect of ETAs, what further discussions has the Minister had with his ministerial colleagues in the Home Office regarding further exemptions to ETA to ensure that the tourism industry in Northern Ireland is not further undermined as a result of such requirements?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question, and I can reassure her that work continues on the guidance discussed during the previous debate. The Government remain committed to the Good Friday agreement and ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. In line with our commitments under strand 2, the Government are committed to working with Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland to ensure that the ETA requirement is communicated effectively through targeting messages and a variety of channels. That would include Tourism Ireland, as a crucial body established under the north/south provisions.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests as the chairman of Airlines UK. Does my noble friend understand that putting Britain at a commercial disadvantage in such an international industry will do us no good whatsoever in the long term? Perhaps the Government should look at how our airlines are able to compete internationally with others.

I thank my noble friend for that question. I must say, however, that the cost of an electronic travel application in the UK is only £10. It will be €7 for an ETIAS, whereas among our comparators overseas—in the US, for example—the equivalent ESTA costs $21, which is £16 in today’s prices. In Australia, it is 20 Australian dollars and in New Zealand, it is 23 New Zealand dollars if completed online and 17 dollars if completed on a mobile app. By any measure, the price to be charged for a UK ETA is very reasonable.

My Lords, the Minister has been extremely well briefed, to missing the point. Is he not aware that the tourism agencies in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have expressed grave concern at the catastrophic impact this will have on tourism across the island of Ireland, which is very important to both? Can we have some sense of action this day from him, rather than a few more meaningless statistics?

I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord that the views of the tourist authorities across the island of Ireland have not been taken into account. Engagement has been deep and thorough, and it is for that reason that an agreement has been made that particular circumstances will apply in Northern Ireland. I simply do not agree with him that the impact of the introduction of ETAs will devastate the Irish tourism industry.

My Lords, will these rules apply to those with full residency in the European Union—to British nationals entering the European Union? I declare that I am a full resident in Portugal. Are the Government aware that EU citizens can avail themselves of the opportunity to go through the UK’s electronic gate immigration system? However, as a result of Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, those with residency, when entering the EU, are consigned to third-country status. Would the Minister consider engaging with his EU ministerial colleagues—it has been suggested by EU immigration authorities that they would welcome this—to have this anomaly corrected?

I thank the noble Viscount for that question. He makes an important point. As I have said before in this House, we endeavour to operate our e-gates policy on the most welcoming basis we can, and this includes allowing EEA nationals to use our e-gates. It is perhaps unfortunate that the same privilege has not been extended reciprocally so far, but this is something officials continue to work on. I reassure the noble Viscount that my understanding is that the Schengen border area negotiations resulted in an agreement that there would be exemptions for residents and family members of EU citizens from ETIAS, although it is a little unclear what those are and how they will be affected at this stage.

My Lords, is it not the case that, whatever systems are used at the border, staff are needed to oversee the border and the e-gates? Can the Minister comment on the recent Daily Mail article, which said that the Defence Secretary

“has refused the Home Secretary's request for 750 troops to be deployed to plug gaps in the UK’s Border Force—claiming that Ms Braverman should have made contingency plans for the shortages, rather than expecting him to act as a last-minute stop-gap”?

The Home Secretary has said that, without those 750 members of the Armed Forces

“to help man immigration posts to cover for striking or absent Border Force officers, then British travellers could face long queues”.

What does the Minister say to that?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. It is quite a long way from comparing ETIAS and ETAs, of course, but the short answer is that the figures that appeared in the Daily Mail article relate to the military aid to civilian authority application, which was made in order to make up for shortfalls in Border Force staff during strike action. I am glad to confirm for the House that there is no strike action planned during the peak of the summer season. I can also confirm that the Border Force strikes at Christmastime saw the effective deployment of soldiers; I am sure that Members of this House are grateful to them for their excellent work on that occasion.

I can assure the noble Lord that we have trained and are ready to deal with situations relating to a shortage of Border Force staff. We have recruited more staff, cancelled some leave and trained staff to address more front-line roles, so the noble Lord should be satisfied with that.

My Lords, I voted for Brexit because I thought that it would result in making our country more competitive and reduce the burdens on people. Is this not a classic example of going in the opposite direction, and should we not abandon it?

I agree entirely with my noble friend as to the sentiment behind the decision that we as a nation took. I can reassure him that the ETA system is as unbureaucratic as it can be and is not linked in the same way that ETIAS is to a burdensome requirement for biometric and fingerprint recognition on entry into and exit from the European Union. The British scheme simply requires the taking of a photograph when someone applies for an ETA on their phone. It will be much smoother and much less burdensome and as a result, economic benefits will, I think, accrue to our country.

My Lords, the Minister referred to fingerprinting. Can he update the House on what plans, that he knows of, are being prepared to force UK citizens travelling to Europe to be fingerprinted at the point of departure, whether it is Dover, Folkestone or St Pancras? If discussions are happening, can he tell us what steps the Government are taking to enable the infrastructure in those three locations to handle the large volumes of people who would need to be fingerprinted?

The noble Viscount makes an important point. Obviously, a vital part of the ETIAS system on which the EU will rely involves the implementation, six months before the introduction of ETIAS, of something called the European entry/exit system, which will require all non-EU nationals entering the EU to be photographed and to provide their fingerprints on both entry and exit. This is the topic of ongoing negotiations between our Government and that of the European Union and the member states themselves. Clearly, discussions are ongoing about the impact this will have at our ports and the border. I can reassure the noble Viscount that these things are being speedily considered, and it is hoped that changes may be made.