Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour) rose on the floor of the House of Lords to slam the recent chaos in the passport office.
Baroness Smith said:
“My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, those of us who have in the past renewed our passports, and were very impressed at the speed and efficiency of the passport service, are really shocked and appalled that it is now in chaos. Do the Government understand the impact that this shambles has had on those whose passports have been seriously delayed? The Statement mentions holidays, but it is not only holidays and honeymoons that have been wrecked—people have also missed crucial business appointments and family engagements. The Government’s excuses and denials have changed daily but the problems remain. I just wonder how on earth we got to this point after having such an efficient and effective service.
Why did the Home Secretary say that it was not true that staff had been cut when official government figures from her own department show a cut of 600? Why did Ministers not know that security checks had been dropped, and why did the Government insist on transferring overseas citizens’ passport renewals to the Home Office from our embassies in the face of evidence showing that it was not working? Will the Minister please also apologise to those who have suffered?
Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative)
The Government are clearly aware of the impact of passport delays on customers; that is why my right honourable friend gave the Answer she did, which recognised that situation and has dealt with it. I think that the noble Baroness will know that my right honourable friend means business in this respect. The noble Baroness is wrong to say that there have been cuts in staff: 3,104 people were working in the Passport Office in 2012; 3,260 in 2013; and 3,444 full-time equivalent staff on 31 March this year. It is not true that there have been cuts in staff, but it is true that there has been an unprecedented surge in demand. Between 1 January and the end of May this year, HMPO has received 3.3 million applications. That is 350,000 more applications than in the same period last year. It is the highest volume of applications received in this period in the past 12 years. Indeed, in both March and May, HMPO recorded the highest level of applications received for any month over the past 12 years. These are extraordinary circumstances but the Government are taking real steps to make sure that people are not inconvenienced by them.