We give priority to urgent cases, where they are identified. The present time for processing postal applications at the London passport office is 20 working days compared with 51 last year; at Liverpool 59 compared with 15; and at Peterborough 33 compared with 30 a year ago. Most applications are processed well within those periods. The Liverpool backlog is a serious problem and, to help to reduce it, I propose, for a period of three months, to extend by two years the life of passports which have expired within the past five years and which are submitted to the Liverpool passport office for replacement. There will be no charge for this service.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the London figures, and recognise the greatly increased demand for passports, both for business and for pleasure, which is a symptom of a healthy economy. What contribution has the common format passport made to reducing the time scale for passport renewal applications in London? As a matter of urgency, through the common passport, will he increase computerisation throughout the United Kingdom?
On the whole, after many years of discussion, the common passport has been well received. Passport offices are now in the throes of computerisation. It has begun well in Glasgow. One reason that the London performance is so much better than it was a year ago is that many postal applications to the London office are now diverted to Glasgow and dealt with there.
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to speed up the issue of new passports in all passport offices? The news of renewals in Liverpool is welcomed by tourists and business people in the north-west of England. As we approach the holiday period, will my right hon. Friend give some assurances about our prospects for the early issue of new passports?
We are just about at the peak of the passport-issuing season—the middle of May. The measure that I have just announced to help Liverpool with passport renewal applications will mean that staff will be available to deal with new passports. 1 hope that that will help 10 relieve an undoubtedly serious problem.
I congratulate the staff at all the passport offices mentioned by the Home Secretary on reducing waiting times. Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the tremendous anxiety of some people who get in touch with their Members of Parliament because they do not know whether their passports will arrive in time for holidays for which they have paid? While the short-term improvement that is proposed by the Secretary of State is welcome, can we look forward to a long-term improvement which should bring about a turnround in applications of less than, say, 10 days?
I very much hope so. Computerisation should be completed in all passport offices by the end of the year. If our experience so far is any guide, that will give a consistently better service to the public.
While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the measures that he has taken to speed things up, I ask him how those people who have had to buy temporary passports at a cost of about £7·50, because their applications for passports have not been granted, can get their money refunded when they finally receive their proper passports.
Will the Home Secretary warn all overseas nationals living in this country, who require re-entry visas, to ensure that they obtain them before they leave Britain? Will he especially look into the case of Mrs. Shahnaz Akhtar, my constituent, who went on holiday to Pakistan with her husband? She has been refused permission to return to her home and her husband because of bureaucratic red tape in Islamabad. Will he do everything to ensure that my constituent can return to this country, so that she can have the baby that she is expecting in safety in Bradford royal infirmary?
I see that the questions refer to London, Peterborough and Liverpool but not, as far as I can tell, to Islamabad. The hon. Gentleman has made his point and, if he wishes to pursue it with me in greater detail, of course I will look at the matter carefully.
The Home Secretary said that it was expected to take four weeks to issue a passport in London. When one telephones the passport office, the announcement also says that it will take four weeks. However, when I eventually spoke to the people working in the office, they said that it would more likely take eight to 10 weeks. When I telephoned the Peterborough office, I was told that it would take seven weeks to three months. Does the Home Secretary accept that there are still substantial delays in processing passport applications? Does he accept that in Glasgow last year—where computerisation is well advanced—there were problems? Does he further accept that the real reason that there were delays and are likely to be delays this summer is because there is substantial under-staffing throughout all passport offices within the United Kingdom? Unless the Home Secretary deals with that problem, we will continue to face inordinate delays in processing what is a comparatively simple application.
If I may say so, that is a very old-fashioned question. The reason why, last year especially, there was a delay, and this year in some places the public is still not getting the service that it deserves, is that the demand for passports has built up very fast and the offices have not been computerised. However many staff we employ would be no substitute for the kind of computerisation which is now working in Glasgow and producing the improvements that I have described. The secret is to get computerisation into place by the end of this year.