26/07/2012 04:44 BST

UK Border Row: 'Risk-Based' Security Checks Should Be Brought Back To Ease Queues

Risk-based checks at the UK's borders should be brought back to help ease queues, MPs have said.

A pilot scheme, scrapped in the wake of last year's row over the unauthorised relaxation of security checks, should be brought back.

They could help process large groups of low-risk school children through immigration much more quickly, a report said.

But the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee warned that risk-based checks must not be allowed to become queue-based checks, where stringent security measures are dropped simply to ease long waiting times.

It also called for the introduction of so-called smart zones, where passengers on low-risk routes are screened before they arrive on the basis of information provided by carriers, to be brought forward from December this year.

The MPs warned that some carriers were "resigning themselves to reducing their revenue because the Border Force does not have the capacity to provide them with an adequate service".

"Any impact on the capacity of goods and passengers to enter the country could have implications for the wider economy, not just the travel industry," the MPs said.

"It is imperative that the problems are resolved before more companies find themselves facing the same choice."

They went on: "We believe that it is perfectly possible to maintain robust border controls while operating a risk-based model.

"The Home Secretary (Theresa May) should start by immediately reintroducing the pilot she suspended in November 2011.

"The pilot was very limited in terms of which checks it authorised officers to drop at their own discretion but would nonetheless have been effective in processing large, low-risk parties such as schoolchildren through immigration much more quickly."

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the committee, said: "Border Force needs to go for gold.

"It must start taking the actions necessary to ensure passengers clear immigration in a timely manner and that queues are measured accurately.

"The Home Office must immediately reinstate the risk-based pilot for entry checks that was abandoned by the Home Secretary last November."

Under the scheme, Border Force officials could waive checks against the Home Office Warnings Index (Howi), a database of suspected terrorists and those with adverse immigration histories, for children from the European Economic Area (EEA) when travelling with their parents or in school parties.

Officials were also authorised to use their discretion over whether or not to open the biometric chip, containing a second photograph, in the passports of EEA nationals.

While initial assessments were positive, with a 10% increase in arrests, a 100% increase in firearms detection and a 48% increase in the detection of forged documents on the same period the previous year, it was scrapped following last year's border security row.

The MPs also said they were concerned that more than 450 staff cuts at the Border Force, from 7,790 in March last year to 7,333 a year later, "were not predicated on the current mandate to carry out 100% entry checks on all passengers".

If risk-based checks are not brought back, more staff may be needed, the committee added.

The committee added it was also "alarmed" that maximum waiting times have been "consistently very high for the last 12 months".

"Maximum queue times of two hours or more should be a rare occurrence, corresponding to extraordinary levels of traffic, a security alert or a problem at one or more major ports," they said.

"It is unacceptable for these long queue times to recur on a monthly basis."

The maximum wait fell below two hours in only three of the previous 12 months, varying between one hour 55 minutes last November to two hours 55 minutes last July, figures showed.

The MPs also called for a better, more consistent way of measuring the queues.

And it raised fears that the situation at ports would "deteriorate over the Olympics, as more staff are moved to Heathrow", and in the weeks following the Games "when staff are finally able to take their leave".

Border Force head Brian Moore agreed that it must keep up an improved performance "but failed to offer any suggestion as to how it would do so", the MPs said.

Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said: "Recent queues at our ports have been unacceptable and the Government has presided over an unnecessary shambles of late, with lengthy queues due to lack of staff and poor management from the government.

"With the temporary staffing posts in place for the Olympics, which we all hope will be a great success, my concern remains about the long-term staffing at our ports.

"We need to start thinking beyond the Olympics and start considering what will happen once all the auxiliary staff have left and permanent

"Immigration officers begin to take their annual leave, just as students begin arriving in the UK to begin their studies.

"We need to ensure that appropriate staffing levels and security at the border can be maintained, not only for the Olympics but into the future too."

A Border Force spokesman said: "The action we have taken to cut queuing times and keep the border secure is already paying dividends and, despite the surge in Olympic visitors, queues at Heathrow in the last week have been almost non-existent.

"We're also ready for the post-Olympic period - we've been recruiting more officers for several months and our new central control room at Heathrow means mobile teams are now being rapidly redeployed across the airport, wherever they are needed most."

He went on: "This summer the Border Force is conducting a pilot of measures to deal with children arriving in the UK as part of an accompanied and organised school group."