Alison Thewliss – 2022 Speech on the HM Passport Office Backlog

The speech made by Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP for Glasgow Central, in the House of Commons on 14 June 2022.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This passport chaos is, to borrow the phrase used recently by one Minister, “absolutely godawful”. The scale of the delay really is quite worrying. Ministers may not know the extent of the problem, or perhaps they just want to keep it to themselves rather than admit to the scale of the crisis. I have a lot of sympathy for Passport Office staff, many of whom are based at Milton Street in my constituency. I know they are doing the best they can in the circumstances; it is Ministers and lack of investment in the service that are letting them down.

Nothing the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), said gives any comfort to the people who are queuing in a panic outside the Passport Office in my constituency, or waiting by their letterbox day after day for passports that have yet to arrive. One constituent, Scott, experienced significant delays: he made his application on 25 January and his passport was finally delivered on 9 April—to the wrong address. He has yet to receive a response to his complaint about this. It is a serious data breach if passports are indeed being delivered to the wrong person, as other Members have highlighted.

These delays and lack of response are not uncommon. Even I, as a constituency MP, am still waiting for responses to cases that I or my office raised in April, so I do not have an awful lot of confidence in the system. As I mentioned in an intervention, my constituent, Henry, has some issues with TNT, which failed to deliver his passport on three occasions; it got sent back to Peterborough. As of Sunday, he was still waiting for his passport. It is hugely frustrating to know that he could have had his passport had TNT not messed up the delivery.

My constituent Jennifer contacted me on 28 May and said:

“I am writing to you as I have a real dilemma trying to get my daughter her first adult passport. I have been trying for days to get a fast-track appointment, but no chance. I have literally sat for days refreshing the website on the off chance that I will get an appointment, even setting my alarm for midnight to try—no chance. I have a flight to Poland on 4 July. My daughter is going to see her dad whom she has not seen in three years. This is devastating for her.”

I contacted Jennifer today and she emailed me to say that the passport application has been approved, but that there is still no sign of the actual passport. She says that she has called several times. She has been put on hold, been passed about and been cut off. It is an absolute shambles. I have yet to have a response to the complaints that my office has put in on this case and on many others. Those complaints are still coming in.

I spoke to taxi driver Martin on Monday morning on my way to the Chamber. He will lose thousands of pounds if the passport for his child does not arrive within the next week or so. I urge the Minister to consider the fact that Scottish schools break up for the summer holidays next week, so there is a real and pressing case to prioritise passport applications for people in Scotland and in other parts of the UK who may go off on holiday a little earlier. Many of those families have already rebooked because of covid. They have had lots of delays, and any further delay could mean families losing thousands and thousands of pounds.

My constituent, Lisa, has documented in great detail the lack of response that she has had from the Home Office and the stress that it has caused. Her son’s first passport arrived on 10 June, but she had applied for passports for her whole family on 1 March. The other members of the family got their passports, but there was nothing for her son. The family could hardly go on holiday, leaving one member of the family behind. That is just not practical—I am sure that Ministers would not want them to so in any event.

It is incredibly distressing for families to go through this stress, not knowing whether a passport will arrive, not knowing whether they should cancel their holiday on the off chance that it does not arrive or whether they should wait in the hope that it arrives just in time. There is really no reassurance for the waiting families.

My constituent Wafa was in touch with me. A glitch in the system at the Home Office meant that his application was not processed. My constituent, despite many attempts to get in touch to resolve this issue, has only just got an appointment with the Home Office to get his passport application under way. There is no recognition from the Passport Office that this delay was its fault. It was the fault not of my constituent but of a glitch in the system that my constituent attempted on many occasions to resolve. They do not yet know whether they will get their passport in time to travel. That is just not fair.

All of this backlog is not exclusive to the Passport Office part of the Home Office. I see significant delays in other areas of the Home Office, week in, week out. I have the case of a husband who is not able to be here for the birth of his first child, because his paperwork has been delayed by the Home Office. It is a relatively simple visa case, but my constituent may not be able to be present for the birth of their first child. If the Home Office does not get its finger out, the mother will give birth on her own without the support of her husband.

There is a lot of talk from the Government about the cost of the immigration system and the cost of keeping people in inexpensive hotels and temporary accommodation. That is entirely due to the Home Office’s own incompetence and delays. The costs are significant and people are left waiting indefinitely with only an impersonal standard response from Ministers, if, indeed, they get a response at all.

What is the response to all of this? It is a yet more expensive plan—a white elephant—of sending people to Rwanda through state-sponsored deportations and state-sponsored trafficking.

This is nothing that my constituents in Scotland have voted for. When we have a passport system of our own—I hope that that day will come very soon—we will look at Westminster and say, “Good grief, we cannot do any worse than this mob.”