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Volume 130: debated on Thursday 31 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how long it is now taking his Department's office at Peterborough to process legitimate passport applications.

Correctly completed non-urgent applications are now being dealt with within 26 working days. Urgent applications are given priority.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many requests for the urgent return of passports were received by his Department during February from people whose passports had been sent to the Home Office before 31 December 1987 in connection with applications for British citizenship.

No comprehensive statistics are available concerning the number of such requests. The practice is to undertake searches when urgency is established.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there has been an increase in demand for passports; what action is being taken to avoid delays in the handling of passport applications in advance of computerisation of the passport offices; and if he will make a statement.

So far this year overall demand for new passports and for amendments to existing passports has been over 25 per cent, up on the corresponding period of 1987. In anticipation that this heavy demand will continue throughout the summer months a number of special measures are being taken to help reduce delays at the passport offices. These include:

  • (1) the recruitment of additional staff at all offices;
  • (2) overtime working at weekends;
  • (3) the immediate grant of free short-term extensions to expired passports for personal callers;
  • (4) issuing emergency travel documents to personal callers whose postal applications cannot readily be traced.
  • In addition, Governments of countries to which British citizens travel most frequently have been approached and invited exceptionally to accept travellers using uncancelled United Kingdom passports which have expired within the last five years, or British visitor's passports, where these are not already accepted. British visitor's passports, which are already accepted by all countries in Western Europe, are currently available from the 1,500 main post offices in Britain from Monday to Friday only. It is hoped to extend this service shortly to Saturday mornings.To date, the following countries have either agreed, or have indicated their willingness in principle, to accept expired passports and British visitor's passports under these arrangements:

    • USA
    • Israel
    • Netherlands
    • Hong Kong
    • Antigua and Barbuda.

    Information about these arrangements, including the operative dates of agreements with other countries, will be made available through the travel trade, on Prestel, and through the media.

    The phased programme of computerisation of the United Kingdom passport offices is due to begins in July this year. Glasgow will be the first, and arrangements are in hand to disperse work on postal applications now done in London to that office as soon as practicable following computerisation, to relieve the pressures on the London office. Computerisation of the remaining five passport offices should be completed by the end of 1989.

    Computerisation is designed to enable the passport offices to cope with the anticipated rises in future demand for passport services without the excessive and unacceptable delays that have arisen in recent years with the present outdated manual system of passport production.