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Damian Green to make statement on Heathrow queue delays

Category: England

Published: 30th Apr 2012 15:56:14

Immigration Minister Damian Green is due to make an emergency Commons statement on the lengthy immigration queues seen at Heathrow.

Speaker John Bercow has granted an urgent question to Commons Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz.

Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson has voiced his "serious concern".

The prime minister's official spokesman said the UK's Border Force was working on the problems after non-EU passengers spoke of three-hour queues last week.

Mr Green is due to give his statement to MPs at about 16:30 BST.

Mr Johnson has written to the home secretary, saying the situation gives "a terrible impression of the UK" and that the country's main port of entry is "gaining such a poor reputation".

The mayor told Home Secretary Theresa May that he was looking forward to "hearing what measures the Home Office and the UK Border Agency plan to take in order to rectify the situation both for the [Olympic] Games and for usual passenger numbers".

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: "We don't want to see long queues at airports, we want to keep queues to a minimum but we will not do anything to compromise security."

The spokesman said the home secretary would meet representatives of the British Air Transport Association, which represents UK airlines, soon to discuss the situation.

Additional staff had been deployed to help deal with the delays and a contingency force would be used during the Olympics, he said.

The spokesman said "severe weather conditions", causing delays to some flights, were partly to blame for the disruption.

He added: "It is not purely about staff numbers. It is about how you deploy your resources effectively and better management of those resources, better prioritisation of those resources, so we are using them as effectively as we can."

The Immigration Services Union (ISU) said that about 10 officers who turned up for work at Manchester Airport on Monday were flown down to Heathrow to help ease the situation.

ISU deputy general secretary Lucy Moreton said: "This is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Manchester is as short-staffed as Heathrow. It's simply a reaction to the problems at Heathrow."

The Home Office has reportedly ordered Heathrow Airport operator BAA not to hand out leaflets to passengers apologising for "very long delays".

The Daily Telegraph said it had seen emails in which UK Border Agency director of operations at Heathrow, Marc Owen, said the leaflets were "inappropriate" and threatened to "escalate" the matter with ministers.

Passenger Leo Lourdes says it was the longest queue he had ever seen

Mr Owen was said to have written: "The leaflet... is both inflammatory and likely to increase tensions in arrivals halls especially in the current atmosphere.

"It is inappropriate in that it is not for you to display how to complain on our behalf.

"Please refrain from handing out [the leaflets] or I will escalate [the matter] with ministers who are likely to take a very dim view.

"I know there are copies in the hall and your troops are ready with them."

It was also reported that Mr Owen told BAA to stop passengers taking pictures of queues in the arrivals halls.

Labour's aviation spokesman Jim Fitzpatrick said this was a "pure cover-up".

"I can understand people wanting to take pictures of the queues. This is further evidence of Border Force trying to hide the severity of the problem," he said.

A Border Force spokesman said: "We are flexibly deploying staff in the right numbers at the right times, meaning that the vast majority of passengers pass through immigration controls quickly.

"We will not compromise border security but we work closely with airport operators to keep delays to a minimum.

"However there can sometimes be disruption caused by factors out of our control, such as incorrect flight manifests or arrival times impacted by severe weather."

In a joint statement earlier, the Border Force and BAA said they "think it's important passengers are given the full picture".

Brian Moore, head of the Border Force, said at the weekend that it was "fully prepared to manage busy periods" such as the Olympics.

The longest delays were reportedly seen at passport control last Wednesday.

Queues have been seen over the past month, with some UK and other European Economic Area passengers said to have experienced waits of up to an hour.

This is more than double the 25-minute "service standards" target set by the Home Office.

Have you been stuck in the immigration queues at Heathrow? Do you work at the airport? Are you a passenger worried about delays? Please share your comments, experiences, pictures and footage.

Send your pictures and videos to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or text them to 61124 (UK) or +44 7624 800 100 (International). If you have a large file you can upload here.

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BBC News, 2012. Damian Green to make statement on Heathrow queue delays [Online] (Updated 30th Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1425514/Damian-Green-to-make-statement-on-Heathrow-queue-delays [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]

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