The time taken to deal with straightforward non-urgent passport applications at the five largest passport offices ranges between 13 working days at Liverpool and 54 working days at London. Urgent applications are given priority at all offices, and strenuous efforts are being made to meet every applicant's travel needs.
I announced on 31 March a number of special measures to reduce the delays, in advance of computerisation of the passport-issuing system, which should help to avoid similar problems arising in the future.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the majority of my constituents seem to be waiting for two months, which is causing some considerable inconvenience? As the delay seems to be a constant two months, and is not getting better or worse, could he not draft in some temporary staff to reduce the backlog and reduce the delay to about three to four weeks? Finally, will my hon. Friend please thank the staff in his private office for the help and courtesy that they have given me on every occasion when I have contacted them?
I thank my hon. Friend very much for his kind comments, which I shall pass forward. Because of the great increase in the demand for new passports, we took the decision two years ago to computerize—a process which starts with the Glasgow office in July. Since the beginning of this year we have recruited over 200 more staff, permanent and casual, to the passport offices—another 34 alone on a casual basis in the London office last week.
Is the Minister aware that, from his annual report, this increase in demand for passports could have been predicted as far back as 1985? Why has the Minister not taken appropriate action before now to prevent this administrative shambles? He has had plenty of time to deal with the problem. Is he aware that, because of the chaos at Lunar house and now at Petty France, the stench of administrative incompetence is emanating strongly from the departments for which he is administratively responsible?
The hon. Gentleman's comment is a very unfair slander on the work of the trade union staff side at Clive house and Lunar house. Because of the great increase in demand, we took the decision about two years ago to computerise. The computer programme starts in Glasgow in July and, we hope, will be completed by the end of 1989. Many of the delays which we are experiencing, and which I very much regret, will then be overcome. We are looking at the possibility of giving the passport offices executive agency status. That, too, should improve the management structure and make the responsibilities clearer.