Imran Hussain – 2022 Speech on the HM Passport Office Backlog

The speech made by Imran Hussain, the Labour MP for Bradford East, in the House of Commons on 14 June 2022.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) on securing such an important debate and making such an excellent contribution. I join him and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), who sees this from a constituency angle, in paying tribute to the hard-working staff at our passport offices. None of the contributions from Opposition Members is designed in any way to attack the work of hard-working staff. This is about the direction of political leadership.

Like many Opposition Members, I am inundated with cases of constituents who have waited weeks and months for their passport and now face missing holidays, funerals and weddings as a result of the Government’s failings. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been lost because of the Government’s mistakes, and the human cost cannot be quantified in numbers.

As has rightly been said time and again, and like many of the crises on this Government’s watch, the passport crisis was entirely foreseeable. I have heard Conservative Members make the case today that somehow, because of the covid pandemic, the crisis was not foreseeable. Anyone could have predicted that, following two years of lockdown in which foreign holidays were ill-advised if not banned outright, there would be a surge in passport applications. It was inevitable and clear for everyone to see, except for Ministers huddled around the Cabinet table who failed to prepare, to anticipate rising demand or to ensure sufficient staffing levels.

Once more, it is not this Government but ordinary people up and down the country who are going to suffer. The Government have not learned lessons and have not realised that moving nearly all their staff from one crisis to the next—the Afghan refugee crisis, the Ukrainian refugee crisis and, now, the Passport Office crisis—is simply not sustainable.

The Government are now pressing ahead with more staff cuts that will see 20% to 40% of Home Office staff cut by 2025. Those are not my figures—my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon quoted them earlier, and Conservative Members disputed them—they are from the Government’s own documents. The Minister says the Government do not intend to make those cuts in the Passport Office. Where is the guarantee? Frankly, this Government say one thing one day and change their mind a week later. How can we trust a word that is spoken here unless it is written on paper? At the moment, all that document says is that there will be cuts of between 20% and 40% in the Home Office.

Given what has happened in the Home Office over the last year alone, making cuts is absolutely mind-boggling. It seems that, after every crisis, Home Office Ministers suffer sudden collective amnesia: they are unable to remember what went wrong and incapable of putting it right as a result.

This point has perhaps not been made as much here today, but we must not kid ourselves that this is the only crisis the Home Office has overseen, because backlogs, delays and excuses are nothing new in the Home Office. We all know this as constituency MPs. This debate weaves together many of the backlogs right across the Home Office. As I said, the performance of political leadership lacks compassion, humanity and decency.

When I look at my constituency casework with regards to the Home Office, people are waiting not weeks or months, but years for a decision on their case as Home Office officials drag their feet, leaving my constituents in a state of uncertainty and near permanent limbo. How any Home Office Minister or official can justify or allow this near torturous experience is simply beyond me, yet it still continues.

I could outline case after case but, time not permitting, I will highlight just two or three. A constituent of mine has been waiting more than a decade for a decision. For the last year, he and I have been making requests so he can see his elderly mother, who is in the last stages of her life, yet he is unable to do so. I have a case where the father is here with his disabled children and the mother has been separated from the children while she waits for her passport. The father has been left alone here looking after their disabled children. I have had cases where there have been refusals because of a 1p discrepancy between the wage slip and the actual salary paid. Again, the reality is that that points towards a lack of compassion, decency and humanity from the Home Office.

Then there are the extortionate fees that people are made to pay. At a time when working families are struggling to put bread and butter on their table during a cost of living crisis that is a direct result of this Government’s incompetence, ideological austerity cuts over the last decade and mishandling, the Government want to charge working families tens of thousands of pounds for a simple application. That is the reality of where we are.

It could not be clearer that, under this Tory Government, the Home Office is lurching from crisis to crisis and leaving nothing but carnage for ordinary people in its wake. This is a Home Office that cannot get through a week without another scandal, another failing and another human rights disaster. Frankly, this Home Office is simply not fit for purpose.