The speech made by Mike Amesbury, the Labour MP for Weaver Vale, in the House of Commons on 14 June 2022.
It is an honour and a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), who spoke very powerfully.
Like other hon. and right hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon, I have been dealing with this surge in missing passports. Constituents are generally only contacting me—I am speaking facts here—after waiting 10 or 12 weeks, or more. That is double what the Prime Minister referred to at that very Dispatch Box at the end of May when he said “four to six weeks”. The fact is that that is just not the case.
This week, I put one of many written questions on waiting times to Ministers, and yesterday I received only a holding response to one of my questions about the number of people waiting, in reference to what the Prime Minister said, six weeks or more. This was the second question answered, after my first one tabled last month, which asked how many people have been waiting longer than four, six, eight or 10 weeks. I have simply not been given a straight answer, and I fail to understand why the data requested was not provided at this time. What have Ministers got to hide? Where is the transparency? As hon. Members across the House have said, particularly Labour Members, what is the backlog? Give us an answer! It is very important to our constituents.
My office has been inundated with calls and emails since well before March. I have a young constituent who has missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent his team abroad. Many have missed very important reunions after the covid pandemic, which indeed the Minister mentioned. Given that very covid pandemic—let us have some common sense here—we would have thought that resources would have been put in place to plan for what was coming down the line. These are basics—basics! Some constituents have travelled halfway across the country to pick up passports the day before flights. Indeed, the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), mentioned people travelling to Belfast from London. That is crazy—crazy!
Another contractor, contracted by the Passport Office obviously, is TNT. There have been many cases of it losing passports, and I ask the Minister: will this incompetency be rewarded with TNT losing that contract? To me, that would be a solution and common sense. The Home Office was warned about the surge in passport applications that would be seen after many people cancelled holidays, including my own family. Forward planning was needed, yet here we have Captain Chaos at the helm of this Government—the dead political man walking, who does not even have the backing of 148 of his own Members.
On the more serious and urgent cases that hon. Members have referred to, there are no means for MPs genuinely to escalate those. We are simply provided with an update and told that the case cannot be expedited any further. I have not had responses for the many cases I emailed about weeks and weeks ago, as again has been mentioned by Labour Members. Over the weekend, I received an email from one constituent who had tried to contact the Passport Office on 12 occasions through webchats, online forms, attempts to book appointments and phone calls. None of those methods resulted in updates or an escalation of their case, despite what has been said by some Conservative Members—and obviously at the moment the Minister is not listening to me or others at all.
The additional recruitment of staff—they are undoubtedly working their socks off—is still resulting in calls not being answered and certainly in our advocacy not being responded to. We are not making this up. This is not whingeing from the Opposition Benches; this is reality. This was all predictable, as has been stated. In fact, the PCS has pointed out—the hard-working staff on the frontline—that the Government have only recruited about 60% of the staff needed, and many are agency staff who do not have sufficient training.
I look forward to the Minister informing me and, very importantly, other Members across the House how the Government are finally going to get a grip of this situation—this crisis—and deal with backlog Britain.