I had hoped, following my question to the Prime Minister last week, to be able to deliver this speech in today’s debate on passport delays.
Sadly, this morning I tested positive for COVID-19 and so will be unable to be in the chamber. However, you can read what I would have said below:
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Many of my constituents are looking forward to their first holiday after two and a half very difficult years. Some are looking to visit family for the first time since before the pandemic. Others need to travel for work.
Like members across this House, I have noted a significant increase in correspondence from constituents regarding Passport Office delays.
I was pleased to be able to raise this directly with the Prime Minister last Wednesday. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not offer sympathy or any help to my constituents.
Usually when a member raises issues on behalf of constituents in this House, we’re contacted by relevant Ministers or officials to see if those cases can be quickly resolved.
This time, however, was different.
After 10 pm that night, I received a letter from the Home Secretary.
The contents bordered on surreal, where the Home Secretary accused me of “scaremongering”, “unnecessarily worrying” the public, and said that I had “deliberately sought to mislead”.
And I must say, Mr Speaker, in all my time in politics, I have never read such a rude and condescending letter sent by a senior cabinet minister, let alone a Home Secretary.
The Home Secretary’s stunning response will not deter me and I will continue to raise my constituents’ legitimate concerns.
I am also unsure how quoting the official report of this House or her own department’s service standard can be classified as misleading.
Perhaps the Home Secretary was too busy shouting across the Chamber to hear my question in full. But for the avoidance of doubt, I quoted the words of the Prime Minister in this House on 25 May when he said “to the best of my knowledge, everybody is getting their passports in four-to-six weeks”.
But as the Home Secretary helpfully clarified in her letter, by that point the Passport Office was already informing applicants that, “they should allow up to 10 weeks when applying for their passport in order to factor in the increase demand”.
We can therefore assume that the Prime Minister was not in possession of all the facts about the on-going dysfunction of the Home Office. Given the Home Secretary repeatedly shouted “not true” at me across the Chamber last Wednesday, I can only assume she isn’t it either.
So can the Minister tell me when the decision to change the service standard was made, by whom was it made, when was the Home Secretary told, and when was the Prime Minister told?
Mr Speaker, I want to draw attention to one constituent who works in the National Health Service. She applied for her son’s passport in April before the change in service standard. She waited over six weeks and tried to contact the Passport Office via telephone more than 56 times, waited on hold for hours, and was on more than one occasion disconnected when talking to an advisor. She was promised a call back from the upgrade team which never came.
I’m sure she will be comforted to know that she was only of the 9% that the Government claim did not receive their passport in six weeks.
Another constituent applied for her daughter’s passport in February.
And another constituent applied in March for her son’s passports and needs to visit her sick mother-in-law. She was told last week by the Passport Office that processing hadn’t even begun on one of the applications.
The Government’s empty rhetoric offer her nothing. How can I tell my constituents that they are “unnecessarily worried”?
Or that they are “inappropriately scaremongering?”
In her letter, the Home Secretary disputes the report of Economic and Business Research (CEBR) that passport delays could cost the British economy up to £1 billion this summer, saying that it made “unfounded claims” and used “unverified figures which are not grounded in reality”.
For reference, Mr Speaker, CEBR is an independent research consultancy whose board includes a former senior Home Office civil servant, a former joint head of the Government Economic Service, and the former Chief Economist of the CBI who also advised to George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.
Can the Minister tell us what impact passport delays has had on the economy?
Finally, the Home Secretary finished her letter by implying I had attacked “hard working-officials who have been working tirelessly to deliver passports for members of the British public”. This is an attempt at deflection from her own failures as Home Secretary. To be clear, I have the upmost respect for our civil servants and the hard work they carry out.
Personally, I believe that responsibility for failure begins and ends with Ministers.
From Windrush to the English Channel, the Home Office lurches from one crisis to the next.
Maybe Ministers would be better served getting a grip of their own failures rather than directing officials to send rude, partisan, and frankly bizarre letters in the middle of the night.