Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200
TUESDAY 20 JUNE 2000
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
(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 carrierlet us take the example of Ghana
Airwaysthey 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
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
(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
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
(Mr Highley) This is the reason whybecause
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 occurit 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.
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
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
(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
(Mr Highley) Exactly.
213. You are quite certain that would not result
(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.
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
(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.