7. What steps she is taking to improve the service offered by the Passport Office. (905429)
I have today issued a written ministerial statement which confirms that, with effect from 1 October 2014, Her Majesty’s Passport Office ceased to be an Executive agency of the Home Office and now reports directly to Ministers. That follows a review I commissioned and it has been done so that there will be more effective oversight, robust forecasting and the right level of trained staff to ensure that families and business people do not face the same problems as this year.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her answer. Like many other right hon. and hon. Members, I received a large number of complaints during the summer about delays in obtaining passports. My staff found the experience of using the MPs hotline very frustrating. They often had to wait ages for the phone to be answered and when they did get through the person who answered said that they would ring back and never did. Will she take steps to ensure that if there is to be an MPs hotline, the staff answering the phones are properly trained to respond in a timely and helpful fashion?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. Following my statement to the House in June, we introduced more staff and more telephone lines for the MPs hotline. A number of MPs were complimentary about the service they received, but I recognise that he had a different experience. We want to make sure we learn all the lessons necessary for the future, and we will be reviewing the service.
I warmly commend the Home Secretary for her decision to abolish the agency status of the Passport Office, which occurred 10 days after it was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee—we look forward to her accepting our recommendations on other matters as promptly. Last month, however, it emerged that officials at the Passport Office received £674,000 in bonuses, whereas citizens had to pay £103 for a fast-track passport before she allowed that process to be free. Will she stop those bonuses and instead give the money to those who suffered so badly over the summer?
As I pointed out in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson), I did commission a review of the status of the Passport Office. I think that the report of the right hon. Gentleman’s Home Affairs Committee came between considering the response to that review and the decision, but we are at one in thinking that the correct action was taken. A number of people did receive some financial help. Following my statement to the House, people whose holidays were in danger of being cancelled as a result of the problems at the Passport Office received free upgrades in relation to the handling of their passports. It is important that we ensure that the forecasting at the Passport Office is right and that the office is able to deal with people in an appropriate time scale, so that we do not see a repeat of the problems that we had this summer.