Passport e-Gates Network Outage

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Monday 13th May 2024

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that, and I am delighted that he did not get caught in the disruption last week. As I said in my opening answer to the Front Benches opposite, the Government are doing everything that we can to prepare for the implementation of EES and mitigate its impacts on British travellers, which particularly applies to the juxtaposed border controls. As I mentioned, the director-general of the Police aux Frontières visited Dover, St Pancras and Folkestone last month. I cannot speculate on what physical changes may be required at St Pancras to accommodate the new systems. My noble friend mentioned the ETA system, but I do not think that that is what he meant; I think that he is talking about the EES. I suspect that the ETA system will not have much impact at all at St Pancras. As soon as I am in a position where I can give an update on any physical or infrastructural changes required in and around St Pancras—and, indeed, at the other juxtaposed border controls—I will be very happy to come back and explain them.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, on the point about outage, the same thing happened 12 months ago. It was not necessarily the same issue of capacity but, nevertheless, it is not good enough. We rely so heavily now on numbers to make sure that these eGates work. We work on reciprocity. Reciprocity means that we welcome people from other countries into the UK, inbound, and they can use eGates—not all of them, but we have agreed with a number of countries that this can take place.

That is not the case now when, as UK passport holders, we go to places where we could formerly use eGates. We are fine in Spain and one or two other countries but, when we travel to other places, which are not off the map, we find that we are not allowed to use eGates. Can I ask my noble friend to look into this? It is a matter of fairness that, if we are willing to welcome other countries’ citizens into our country using eGates, it should be a reciprocal arrangement.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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First, I say again, for the record, that this was not an outage that we have seen before but a unique situation; I say this just to shoot that particular fox. My noble friend makes some very good points. These are matters of high-level diplomacy but I will, of course, look into the reciprocity arrangements that she talks of and see whether there is any more that I can say about that. I suspect that negotiations are ongoing and I imagine that they form part of much bigger discussions.

Protest Measures

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Tuesday 13th February 2024

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord asks a very good question, because this is about, effectively, reasonable excuse. The Ziegler judgment held that obstructive protests that intentionally cause disruption can be protected by Articles 10 and 11 of the ECHR. That means that those who purposefully disrupt the daily lives of others can escape justice under the guise of protest. Our amendments will mitigate the impact of this judgment and ensure that those who deliberately disrupt others by obstructing the highway cannot rely on protest before the court as a reasonable excuse using the definitions defined under the PCSC Act.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, most of us have witnessed and been involved in protests, and even though some have been quite violent and very disturbing, what we have seen over the past four months with the pro-Palestinian marches and protests in London has been on a completely different level. The police have had their hands tied behind their backs, not least because they have been unable to identify so many of those involved who have been wearing face coverings, and with huge crowds the police have been unable to see exactly who they are. Notwithstanding that the police have made some arrests and have charged and prosecuted certain individuals, the numbers involved are limited and small. Month on month, people have been allowed to protest, calling for the death and destruction of Jews and Israel, and to show Nazi symbols, with Islamic extremists who have been involved with Hizb ut-Tahrir. Permitting them to carry on like this is not acceptable. I fully support this proceeding to make sure those individuals are dealt with properly.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend raises some very good points. She is right that the simple fact of the matter is that recent protests have upped the temperature of protest. However, we have to remain proportionate, and I think this strikes the right balance.

Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Wednesday 29th November 2023

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I too asked this question on 15 November in the King’s Speech debate on foreign affairs and defence. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a death cult run by psychopaths who think nothing of the rape, torture and beheading of civilians in Iran should they dare to dissent. It is they who pull the strings of Hamas and other terrorist groups and who share responsibility for the attack on Israel on 7 October. Can my noble friend tell us when the United Kingdom will join the European Union, the United States of America and other countries in proscribing them as such?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid I have to say to my noble friend, as I have already said a couple of times, that the Government keep the list of proscribed organisations under review. We do not comment on whether a specific organisation is or is not being considered for proscription.

Electronic Passport Control Systems

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Wednesday 7th June 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point. I will certainly look into that.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, unfortunately we are going to experience, by all accounts, a summer of discontent which will come from the security staff at airports; notwithstanding that the airlines and airports—the entire industry—suffered terrible hardships throughout Covid, this is pretty bad news. It is therefore not acceptable that we then have a repetition of these technical failures at e-gates. It obviously concerns inbound passengers and some who are on transfer but, in large airports, the backlog causes damage to our reputation among tourists and people travelling into the UK. Will my noble friend please speak to the Home Office and give us some assurance that we can minimise any of these failures in the future?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. The Home Office is not responsible for security facilities at the airports beyond those provided by Border Force. I reassure her that Border Force takes seriously maintaining the operation of the e-gates during peak periods. As I have said, we have certainly learned lessons from what happened last week.

Counterterrorism: Martyn’s Law

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, while we wait for this proposed legislation to pass through this House and the other place, can we be assured that one of the main failures that was a contributory factor to the Manchester bombing was the lack of joined-up thinking and joined-up work by the emergency services? Can we at least have the assurance that that is in hand and that all venues, small or large, now have proper contingency planning while we await the legislation?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend makes a good point. I am, of course, happy to try to give that assurance from the Dispatch Box but, as we know, all police forces and emergency services remain operationally independent to some extent. The fact is that they have access to the various services I have outlined, through Contest.

Police: Vetting, Misconduct and Misogyny

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd November 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I have no idea what the Prime Minister knew or did not know.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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What is the role of the police and crime commissioners in dealing with a matter such as this?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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As my noble friend will be aware, and as we debated extensively earlier this week, police and crime commissioners, along with chief constables, are responsible for setting out individual forces’ ways of dealing with and performing on these matters.

Rwanda Asylum Partnership

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Wednesday 19th October 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, most of the—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Foster!

Lord Cunningham of Felling Portrait Lord Cunningham of Felling (Lab)
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She is just reading her question out!

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, most of the Rwanda Cabinet were refugees and understand the difficulties that people face, particularly coming from war-torn countries. Rwanda has moved forward massively from the days when it suffered war and genocide. Does my noble friend agree that we need to kickstart this process for illegal immigrants as soon as possible as we cannot sustain the levels as they stand and be seen to support people traffickers, who continue to make money on the backs of human misery?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question and I agree with her. The point of this policy is to break the vile criminal enterprise that operates in the channel. I think most noble Lords would approve of that aim. As to whether Rwanda is safe, which is the essence of my noble friend’s question, I say that it is a fundamentally safe and secure country with respect for the rule of law. She is right to point out that the majority of the Cabinet were refugees, and it is also worth pointing out that Rwanda has one of only two, I think, Parliaments in the world that has a majority of women sitting in it.

Civil Servants: Reduction in Numbers

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The security of our people is the number one priority for this Government, and the security and intelligence agencies will have the resources they need to do their job.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, the three bodies that have been mentioned—the Passport Office, DVLA and UK Visas and Immigration—all handle hard-copy sensitive documents. Therefore, on the point my noble friend made about working from home, there would indeed be a problem in that respect. Will the Minister please tell the House what proportion of employees in these three areas are now back in the office and no longer working from home?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I really do not know the details of those figures, but I can find out for my noble friend.

Passport (Fees) Regulations 2022

Baroness Foster of Oxton Excerpts
Monday 23rd May 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend on bringing these regulations forward. I have just one or two points of clarification. The government website states that

“There is no backlog in passport processing as a result of the coronavirus … pandemic. However, we are now seeing unprecedented demand as more than 5 million people delayed applying for passports”.


First, presumably the Home Office would have been aware that, as there were no flights, people were not travelling and a lot of cruises had also been paused, travel would resume at some time and there would be the fluctuation we are seeing. At the end of 2021-22, say, what measures did the Home Office put in place to speed things along?

I have been corresponding on my second point through Written Questions to my noble friend. I will take this moment to explain the problem. My husband and I took our first trip abroad since coronavirus at the end of March to the beginning of April. My husband has one of the new passports—I think this is called the Brexit dividend—which is blue-faced as opposed to beetroot-faced and, sadly, is not made in this country. On our return, he was delayed by half an hour because the e-gate would not accept his passport. A host of others were in the same category, in addition to those who cannot go through if their young children do not have their own passport. The border guard informed my husband that they are aware of the problem; the passport page is simply too glossy and is not being read by the e-gates. I compared it to my passport and I could see why; the former passports have stuff over the photo that prevent it from being glossy.

There are two ways around this: ask whoever is making the passport to put something on it to make it the same as the old passports; or introduce, presumably at some considerable cost, a new machine to read these passports at existing e-gates. If, when our current passports expire, we all have to replace them with the new ones, that would be a good investment, because the existing gates do not work with the new passports. I understand the chip is working perfectly well—that is not the issue. The issue is simply that the photo page is too glossy. It is driving passengers and border guards to distraction, because it is causing queues. This was a quiet day and there was a 30-minute delay.

Is my noble friend is aware of this problem? I do not believe she is, but border guards and passengers are. Could we find a compromise to make sure this is speeded up? With those two points, I support the regulations before us.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, I echo some of those points. I used the blue passport through an e-gate in Brussels, and it was fine. It depends on the type of technology and the gates they are using at individual places. This is just to clarify that point.

My second point is also for clarification. We were told that a lot of the backlog was due to people who could have applied online but did not—they applied physically and there was an overload—but I am not sure about that and would like some clarification. There clearly has to be a presence. While a certain amount of work can be done online, such as processing, security is a huge element of sending out a passport to somebody, whether a new applicant or somebody who has changed their name, as they will need hard-copy documents. Is my noble friend satisfied that there are enough people working in the Passport Office, not from home, who are present to facilitate all this?

The backlog is now becoming quite appalling. People are missing business trips, losing money on holidays and various other things. Often, that will not be covered by insurance whereas Covid may have been. Something may have been put in the insurance for that, but you will not get travel insurance to cover your passport not being returned to you, particularly when you have put it in for replacement in advance.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations, and I note that the fee amounts are the same as those prescribed by the 2018 regulations. Overall, we welcome these regulations. I start by declaring an interest in so far as my husband lives in Norway, which involves me in frequent foreign travel to the extent that I will—if I can get an appointment—have to use the Passport Office premium service when my passport comes up for renewal next year.

Secondly, in case anyone uses the Official Report as a reliable source of information, in answers on an Urgent Question from the other place on 12 May, a number of noble Lords, including the Minister, stated that EU/Schengen area countries required there to be six months unexpired on a UK passport for entry. This is not the case. There must be three months left on a UK passport from the anticipated date of exit from the EU/Schengen area, in addition to the UK passport being no more than 10 years old. I am very grateful to the BBC’s “Morning Live” for confirming this. I looked online as well, and the passport must be valid for three months from when you intend to leave the EU/Schengen area, rather than three months from when you enter. So, you should be questioned at the border about how long you are going to stay, and they will then check that you still have three months left from when you intend to leave.