Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)



  200. That does not add up to £3.5 million. Did you say £2.75 million for fraud?
  (Mr Highley) In fact, the total of £3.5 million, which was in our paper, was the total amount levied. There is then an appeal process but the figures for British Airways are that we pay £2.6 million in actual fines, although £5 million is levied on us, but half of that disappears in the appeal process. On top of that we pay about £200,000 in detention costs. We have a training bill of £500,000.

  201. Half a million pounds of training? To train your staff in how to do the checking job, home and overseas?
  (Mr Highley) Yes. We believe the solution to the visa problem is training, training, training. This is because we get a constant turnover of our staff at overseas locations and it is rather like painting the Forth Bridge. You have to keep at it all the time.

  202. You said that the Airline Liaison Officer proposal has worked out very well. Can you tell us how many of your overseas stations you have, Home Office provided and presumably paid for, ALOs.
  (Mr Highley) I will let Mr Forster answer that.
  (Mr Forster) Currently we have in the region of 15 airline liaison officers posted on what we call the problem ports overseas, locations such as Nairobi, Lagos, Accra, and some points in the Far East and Middle East, which are staging points for passengers seeking illegal entry to this country.

  203. May I go back to your costs again. What about the costs of repatriation? Is that included in your £3.5 million as well? That is, the cost of repatriating back to the airport of embarkation, someone who has been refused admission to the United Kingdom because they are not properly documented.
  (Mr Highley) The costs of repatriation are fairly minimal because in most cases we are able to use our own services. It is included in the figure of £200,000 which I gave you for detention costs. That should be detention and repatriation.

  204. In terms of this £500,000, which you spend training people in those overseas locations, (which must be quite a substantial number), can you tell us, either of you, whether other airlines, which are providing services to the United Kingdom, are as diligent as British Airways in the way in which they both train their staff and examine the documentation of the travelling public.
  (Mr Forster) I am sure that most carriers are responsible in their obligations in meeting the Carriers' Liability Act. Where we differ from other carriers is that we have such a huge network. We are operating from 150-plus airports around the world. Of course, there is a need for us to keep our staff trained and up-to-date with the latest regulations and requirements at all those points. If you take another carrier—let us take the example of Ghana Airways—they are simply operating from one point, Accra. Therefore, their obligations, in terms of trade and the costs associated with that, are much less than those of British Airways which has to cover the world. I should also add that this figure also accounts for the administration that is required in administering the Act itself, in that we appeal each and every immigration charge which is levied against us. In 50 per cent of occasions they are cancelled.

  205. You appeal against every single one?
  (Mr Forster) Where there is justification to do so. If we are clearly guilty and we have made a clear error, then no, we will not waste anybody's time. But where we believe there is a defence we will appeal, and our records show that half of the charges are cancelled following the appeal. Now there is a huge bureaucracy tied up here. I would question why these charges are served in the first place. For example, if a forged document is presented by a passenger on arrival, why is a charge raised there when clearly the airline member of staff could not identify that document as a forged document?

  206. Can I draw you on the point you made in your submission to us, Mr Forster, at paragraph 3.4. You say that the law of 1987 requires a "... carrier to check the travel documents of passengers travelling to the UK. However, there is increasing pressure on airlines to reduce the number of inadequately documented arrivals by not just assessing the passenger's travel document, but by assessing the passengers themselves." You then say: "We are most concerned about this, as it could leave the carrier vulnerable to charges of discrimination." Can you amplify that.
  (Mr Highley) Could I answer that, Mr Howarth.

  207. It is the legal department, is it, to answer that one?
  (Mr Highley) Since you have mentioned legal issues, it is important to remember that we deal with this checking overseas, not under the umbrella of statute but on the basis of contract. You can go into a travel agent and buy a ticket and you then have a contract with us. We can only get out of that contract if we have the legitimate grounds to do so. One of the legitimate grounds is obviously that you do not have the right documentation to travel where you want to go. I am sorry. I have lost the thread of your question.

  208. You say you are most concerned that basically it is not just a question of examining the documentation, but you now feel you have to resort to examining the passengers themselves. I take it you look at them and say, "I think this looks a bit of a dodgy one. The papers are technically in order but we think this one will land us with a penalty when he or she arrives at the United Kingdom. We could, therefore, be open to a charge of discrimination."
  (Mr Highley) This is the reason why—because in the information which was given to us by the Immigration Service, there were suggestions at one time that we should engage in profiling; the suggestion that profiling should occur—it has now disappeared from the documentation. As we do not like profiling and we do not want to do it, we have tried to stop doing it. I think the issues that are raised by profiling are: first of all, that we have concerns about discrimination and, indeed, a perception of discrimination in many cases is almost as bad. Secondly, we are experts in customer service, not in profiling passengers and making value judgments about what they are going to do when they arrive, or fail to arrive, in the United Kingdom.

  I think this is a very difficult and sensitive subject and if it would help the Committee we would be glad to submit a confidential memorandum on the whole issue so that you could have it set out in written form.

  Chairman: That is kind of you, Mr Highley.

Mr Howarth

  209. Two other questions. The first relates to the Direct Airside Transit Visa arrangements. Perhaps the best thing is if you explain what this new arrangement requires.
  (Mr Highley) It requires certain nationals, of whom the Chinese are an example, to obtain a visa even though they may be transiting a UK airport without going through passport control. I think at the moment there are 19 nationalities which require this.

  210. What you are saying is that the effect of this is to deter passengers from using British Airways and transiting via London because of the requirement to obtain this visa which would not apply if they transited through Holland or Germany, and this is costing you £30 million?
  (Mr Highley) Exactly that and if you are a business passenger and you are going on a long-distance trip and you have the option of transiting through either Heathrow or Frankfurt, why on earth should you waste time going to the embassy to get a British visa when you do not need to do it.

  211. So what is the solution? You have proposed an exemption scheme but it has not been supported by the Home Office.
  (Mr Highley) We accept on transit visas that the Home Office have got a case for such visas. What we would say to them is, first of all, be sparing in the nationalities you put into the list but, secondly, please try and learn from the practice of some other European states who do allow exemptions. The sort of exemptions which apply for example would be if somebody had a US Green Card, they would fall into an exemption category; if somebody had a visa for another EU country, they would fall into an exemption category. What we say to the Home Office is that we accept you need this as a back-stop, but please be proportionate and please investigate the realities of the situation.

  212. So what you are saying is if a traveller from Nigeria, travelling from Lagos via Heathrow to, let us say, Germany, were in possession of a valid visa to enter Germany, then that passenger should be exempt from applying for a British transit visa?
  (Mr Highley) Exactly.

  213. You are quite certain that would not result in abuse?
  (Mr Highley) You can never say you are quite certain it would not result in abuse, but you can take a judgment on it and I do not think the Government would suffer greatly from making those sort of concessions, particularly if other EU countries are prepared to make them.

Mr Fabricant

  214. You heard me earlier on asking about the whole question of imbalance between what we impose on our ports compared to those of other EU countries, and I want to ask a similar question of you. Do you know of any other European country, whether a member of the European Union or not, which asks its carriers to undertake the sort of checks prior to boarding which you are asked to do?
  (Mr Forster) Yes, there are a number of EU countries which have similar carriers' liability legislation to that of the UK. However, most of those EU countries do not penalise carriers as the UK Immigration Service penalises carriers in this country. Let me give you an example, British Airways and many other carriers has signed a memorandum of understanding with the German authorities and within that it obliges carriers to conduct certain activities prior to boarding flights to Germany. So at Heathrow Airport, for example, if you are taking a flight to Frankfurt, you will undergo a second passport check at the departure gate. The German authorities recognise that British Airways is doing all it can to ensure that passengers are properly documented before they reach that country and they therefore do not serve penalties on us provided we undertake those responsibilities, keep our staff trained at regular intervals, just as we do with staff at airports serving the UK.

  215. Do any of these countries ask you to do the sort of customer profiling which Gerald Howarth was mentioning to you?
  (Mr Forster) It is my belief that there is a general expectation that we should stop incorrectly documented passengers getting on aircraft.

  216. I am not talking about documents, I am talking about identifying passengers, regardless of documents, who meet a specific profile whom you are expected by the British authorities to recognise might not be bona fide?
  (Mr Forster) I can talk about North American countries in that respect, not European countries, because the dialogue we have with EU countries is not that close, other than the memorandum of understanding I have just mentioned, however with the USA and Canada they are quite clear that we should be checking all certain passengers. In fact their guidelines to us are quite clear, they name nationalities, for example, that we should pay particular attention to, so they instruct us in that respect. That is not the case here and in the EU.

  217. Moving on from that, in your memorandum you mention that there is an increasing number of passengers who arrive in the United Kingdom with forged passports, yet earlier on you say you would like to see the fastest possible flow of EU nationals arriving at UK airports. When we were speaking to the port authorities they said that they would like to see us entering into the Schengen Agreement where passports do not have to be shown at all. Is that what you are saying?
  (Mr Forster) No, British Airways is neutral on Schengen.

  218. So how would you increase the flow of EU nationals arriving at UK ports?
  (Mr Forster) I think that EU customers expect to move through our airports in a fast and efficient way, and if the UK is to maintain border controls, as I understand we are, then I think we should be serving EU residents in a proper fashion if we expedited their movement through the immigration controls.

  219. I am very curious. How do you suggest this be done? We have all entered Heathrow Airport and Gatwick, we just wave a passport and, more often than not, whether it is a British or a French passport, we are nodded through and that is it. How can you be any faster than that?
  (Mr Forster) In a previous submission on this subject to the Home Affairs Committee we mentioned that perhaps some form of selectivity or flexibility could be introduced with EU passport holders. Perhaps not everybody would have to show their passport, for example, but on a selective basis perhaps others would.

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