asked Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the introduction of personal interviews for first-time adult passport applicants.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I appreciate the opportunity to draw up certain matters causing concern regarding the personal passport interview offices. The House might not be quite as full as it has been earlier this week, but I am sure that those who are here and those who might read in Hansard the report of the debate will realise that this is an important matter. Noble Lords will be aware that a number of Questions for Written Answer on it have been answered; it has also been raised on the Floor of the House in shorter questions.
Clearly, the proposals relate not only to passports but also to the proposed plans for identity cards. The steps taken regarding passports and the network to be established will ease the way for the introduction of identity cards. We have opposed ID cards on the Liberal Democrat Benches, believing that the cost could soar to many billions and that the money could be far better spent—partly, on more and better policing. That is still our position, but the Government in their wisdom or otherwise press on. With my best regards to the Conservative Party, I am not quite sure where it stands on the introduction of ID cards.
The proposal is that we have 69 passport interview offices whose purpose will be to verify the identity of the individual applicants. Every adult making the first application will be required to have a personal interview. There will be 69 full offices dealing with about 600,000 applicants a year; they will have 200 interview positions and a staff of about 600.
My first concern is about staffing. Following the release of an IPS document of May 2006, an Answer by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, on 12 October stated that,
“454 staff have been recruited and a campaign to fill the remaining 151 positions has started”.—[Official Report, 12/10/06; col. 360.]
Yet in a Written Answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on 6 March—that is only a week ago—I was told that only 55 people had been recruited and offered work. What has happened to the missing 400? Was the recruiting for the remaining 151 posts completely unsuccessful?
We know that the posts were advertised last summer; presumably those appointed, be it 55 or 500, have received salaries, while not one of the 69 new offices is functioning at present. In addition, there is the expense of office accommodation and equipment; this must have been paid for. We must know the cost of these developments. I know from the Written Answer only last week that the salaries for the 55 already appointed amounted to some £607,000—just over £0.5 million—and the offices have not yet been opened.
My second concern relates to those applicants who live at a distance from the nearest passport interview office. We are told that there will be a remote facility in 22 areas where interviews will be conducted by webcam. The nature of these interviews also causes me concern. To begin with, they will require only facial recognition—a photograph will be needed. Gone for the time being are the original requirements for fingerprints and iris scans, but only for the time being. In the next two years, as the centres are used for identity card purposes, this biometric detail will be needed. How is it possible by webcam to obtain fingerprints or iris scans? Eventually will not the remote areas, if they are to fulfil their function, need to be complete personal interview offices, or have we devised a new sort of webcam that the rest of the world knows nothing about?
Noble Lords were told by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General on 2 February 2006 that the location of the offices had been designated such that the average travelling time for all one-way journeys was 19 minutes. I suggest that you cannot calculate an average in that way. If you live in Westminster there might be an office just three minutes down the road; if you live on the Western Isles or the Isle of Skye or the Orkneys and Shetlands it will take a wee bit longer than an average of 19 minutes. Tell that to the people in the Western Isles or the Lleyn Peninsula. But even on 12 October 2006 we were told that fewer than 4,000 people were likely to be more than an hour away. I question that. We were also told that the cost for travel would be at the most £3 to £4. Have the Government any idea for someone without his own private transport of the frequency of public transport in our rural areas? In some areas, if you miss the bus this Wednesday you may have to wait until next Wednesday to get the next bus—or if the ferry for some reason keeps an island isolated, you can be isolated yourself for two or three days.
The designation of remote areas itself leaves something to be desired. Aberystwyth, with 1,223 applicants last year, has a full office. Anglesey and north Gwynedd, with 1,265 applicants—more than Aberystwyth—is designated a remote area and has no office. There are other similar examples. What are the criteria when there can be such disparity regarding the provision of these offices? Why are the Government refusing to help with the travel costs of those who have to go to these offices?
Many of the first-time applicants for passports are youngsters on low incomes, or students at technical colleges or universities with low incomes, yet, in some places, they will be paying far more than £3 or £4 in order to reach a passport interview office. Is it not possible to give some help to them? I would ask—this is where my Welshness comes out—that where, in a Welsh community, there is need for passport interviews in the Welsh language that that provision be made certain.
In answering, the Minister might be able to tell us when the network of offices and interview arrangements will be under way. Last year, we were told that by the autumn of 2006 the offices would be functioning. At the beginning of 2007 we were told that it would be April 2007. This is a repetition of things we have said in the Chamber regarding other proposals; they seem to be dragging their feet, they seem to be delayed, they seem to be behind time on these things—Have the new applicants, the adults, who are supposed to have a personal interview, been informed of the starting date and the new proposals for applying for passports? Yesterday I went on the internet and found the following information:
“The requirement to attend an interview is to be introduced gradually, starting with a limited service in April, and not all first-time adult customers”—
called “customers” there—
“will be called for an interview initially”.
Neither will they have a choice of interview offices. This approach is gradual: it is as if in Wales we had decided that we would remove travelling on the left-hand side of our roads to travelling on the right-hand side but that we would do it gradually by taking the heavy trucks first, then the buses, the cars. You either do a thing properly or not at all. It is unfair to ask some people but not others to attend a personal interview. If I live in Swansea, where there is going to be a new passport interview office, they might say, “You have to come for a personal interview, but perhaps not if you live in Aberystwyth”. Does this not mean that, contrary to what we have heard before, the whole network is not ready? Does it not mean that they are just discriminating between people? And it does involve discrimination to say that one person should come for a personal interview and another does not have to perhaps because of their location or, more worryingly, their background or surname. How are the applicants to be chosen?
We were informed last year, again in an Answer from the Minister, that the interview will take 10 to 20 minutes , but yesterday I was told that the interview will take about 30 minutes and will be conducted—this is on the internet—“in a friendly manner”. I am delighted that it will be conducted in a friendly manner; that is some consolation. But very different numbers of appointments are possible in 10 or 30 minutes and the nature of an interview lasting 30 minutes is different from an interview lasting 10 minutes. A person may feel that they have other concerns but have to remember that they were allowed only 10 minutes and not 30 minutes.
The assurance we need is that this whole scheme, if it needs to be introduced at all—especially the identity card element—has been thought through thoroughly, is fair to everyone and can be effective. From what I have learnt, I do not think that that is the case.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on raising this matter and giving your Lordships an opportunity to consider an important development, the introduction of passport interview offices, at which all first-time applicants are to be interviewed. I understood that that was to start next month, although my noble friend said that the process would be phased. When the Minister replies, we look forward to hearing over what period that will happen, how it is to be decided what offices will be opened, in what order and on what dates, and how people will know in advance when they apply for a passport that they will be subjected to an interview. I wonder whether it is feasible to adhere to anything like the original timetable, in the light of my noble friend's observations about the recruitment of the workers who will process the interviews and the large number who still have to be taken on compared with the complement needed to conduct all the interviews.
My noble friend referred particularly to the problems that would be encountered by people in remote areas, and to what is likely to happen once there is a requirement for biometric identifiers, such as a digitised fingerprint or iris scan also taken from applicants, to be included in the passport. I approve of the proposal to conduct interviews over a webcam; that is useful as far as it goes but, if there are doubts about the 69 offices and the personnel, there are still more unanswered questions about the “partner organisations” which are to be engaged to run the remote webcam links. In an area such as Anglesey and north Gwynedd, for instance, we have no idea how many remote facilities there will be, or where they are to be located. If branch post offices were allowed to bid for the provision of those services, that could provide them with an additional income, especially for those otherwise threatened with closure. However, my noble friend sent me a note to tell me that, according to an answer given to my honourable friend Danny Alexander, the post offices are to be prohibited from competing, for some reason. That seems a bizarre decision and I would like the Minister to explain it, because it could be the way to keep some post offices alive in rural areas that would otherwise have to close.
My noble friend has also drawn attention to how fingerprints or any other biometric data will be taken when this information has to be digitised and added to the passport. It would be extremely foolish to set up remote facilities if, in a few years, perhaps when we join the Schengen system or find other ways of exchanging immigration data with other EU countries, we have to close them all down and require applicants to report to the main offices, where the biometrics can be technically more easily collected. We are owed some explanation about that from the Minister. Of course, as my noble friend has also pointed out, that is connected with the ID cards that are coming down the track. If it were the intention to establish a network of local offices to collect the biometrics needed for that purpose, would that network take over from the remote facilities now being planned for passports alone? Alternatively, as my noble friend hinted, will the passport offices be expanded to undertake the work for the ID cards when they come into operation?
To conform with US requirements, all new EU passports are required to include a digitised photograph, which will be stored in a chip. Will that be taken via the webcam? If so, will the Minister be good enough to explain how that technology works? I have never heard of such a facility being available.
In the recent report by the European Union Sub-Committee F on the Schengen Information System II, reference is made to the problem of lost and stolen passports, which are to be recorded on that system. The evidence given to the sub-committee was that there were 13.7 million lost or stolen passports in the EU in 2006 recorded on the existing Schengen system. In the same year, the Identity and Passport Service processed 291,000 reports of lost or stolen passports in this country and issued 298,000 replacements. As far as I can see, the proposed system does not afford any protection against the misuse of those documents. Will the Minister comment on that? What are we doing this for? Is it going to give us some protection against the misuse of lost or stolen passports, and if so how does that work?
My noble friend is naturally concerned about the civil liberties implications of the interviews and of the biometrics that are to be collected later. What data protection regime applies to these operations? Have the Government asked the Information Commissioner to comment on those provisions? How will the interviews be stored, and for how long will the videos be retained and by whom, under what authority? Will that be under the passport service, or will some separate authority hold the DVD or whatever medium is chosen for the interviews? What guarantee does the applicant have that in the future the Government are not going to make the recordings available to other public bodies, such as Revenue and Customs or local police forces? As I understand it, the European Union has already agreed to standards that are to be applied for fingerprints for passports and identity cards used for travel purposes. Have we any scope for national decision-making on those matters, or when the time comes for us to process fingerprints for passports are we bound to follow the EU rules that have already been enacted?
As the Minister is no doubt aware from his own correspondence, there is dissatisfaction with the location of many of the 69 offices. The Lib Dem AM for South Wales West, Peter Black, has objected to the location of the office in Swansea because it is difficult for people to access without a car:
“This is a badly thought-out location … Public transport to the Enterprise Park is neither plentiful, or cheap”.
He asked why the office could not have been located in the centre of Swansea. I generalise from that and say that it appears to me that the location of the offices has been decided by someone in Whitehall without any local consultation whatever. I refer the Minister to the remarks made by my honourable friend the Member for Taunton last week about the absence of any office in the county town of Somerset, Taunton. How many people from Taunton will have to travel to Yeovil, Bristol, Exeter or Barnstaple? If the number is very much larger than that quoted by my noble friend, for example, for Anglesey and north Gwynedd, why cannot it have a webcam? Is it impossible to put one in Taunton so people do not have the hassle and expense of travelling all that distance?
Will the Minister say more about the methodology of deciding what towns or villages will have the facility of the webcam? In Anglesey, will there be one only in Holyhead, or will there be one in Llangefni, Amlwch, Rhoscolyn, or Trearddur Bay? It is important for people in those areas to be told whether they will have to travel a long distance. My noble friend has pointed out that no help will be given to people, even if they are on benefits, to undertake those journeys. Does not the noble Lord consider it unjust to heap these additional expenses on them when the cost of getting a passport is already £65 and rising? Does he think that it is fair to people with children, in particular, who will need to accompany the children to the interview and will face an even larger burden?
It appears to me that there has been inadequate consultation on these proposals. As there must inevitably be a delay before they are put into operation, the Government could make a virtue of necessity and use the delay to improve the network with a view to reducing the inconvenience and expense to which they are about to subject millions of our citizens.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, on securing this important, if very select, debate. The noble Lord has made a strong case for Her Majesty’s Government to review the introduction of personal interviews for first-time adult passport applicants. However, the first thing that I want to do is to assure the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that my party is, and always has been, wholeheartedly against ID cards. We agree that there are important points to be considered, and I shall try not to reiterate too much of what has already been said.
We on these Benches want to push the Government to reconsider the link between passport interviews and the national identity register and the subsequent ID cards that will come with it. In this speech, I shall look to address some of the wider related issues, as well as how the current proposals are to affect young adults.
There is no doubt that identity fraud causes real concern for those of us at risk and real problems for the victims of the fraudsters. Sadly, shredding personal and financial documents does not seem to be enough. Identity fraud costs this country more than £1.3 billion a year. I need not remind your Lordships of the débâcle last May when the personal identities of 13,000 civil servants were stolen from databases in the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. That example only adds to ongoing concerns about this Government’s record on delivering IT databases on time, on budget and with adequate security.
If we look at passports in particular, 90 per cent of passport applications are currently made by post, and that leaves scope for fraudulent applications. Some 1,700 attempted fraudulent postal passport applications were made last year, of which the Identity and Passport Service—the IPS—states that three-quarters were in the first-time adult applicant category.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, outlined how the new interview system is to work, and it does not sound too promising. When you apply for a passport, within eight days you should receive a letter asking you to arrange to attend an interview. As the noble Lord said, this interview is meant to take 30 minutes and be conducted in a,
“friendly and non-threatening manner”.
As Philip Johnston stated in the Daily Telegraph this week,
“isn't that nice to know”.
The interview is to elicit a range of personal facts from the applicant, such as previous addresses and bank details. The Government hope that the interview process will make people think twice about committing passport fraud.
As I understand it, interviews will be introduced from April onwards in a gradual manner, meaning that not all applicants will require an interview. How will it be determined who will have one and who will not? Will it be based on set criteria or just on every third application received? What, too, is the Minister’s response to the further comments by Philip Johnston where he asks,
“what if a mother is reluctant to reveal her true year of birth, or a father had long pretended to be a foundling from Venice?”
What is to happen if someone fails their passport interview? The NO2ID campaign highlights that the UK IPS estimates that one in four people will have to cancel their travel plans because they will not get their passport in time. Will travel insurance companies pay if that is due to a delay in the application process or if a passport is refused? What appeals process is there if a genuine person fails the interview?
Of the first applicants for this process, 300,000 are expected to be young people—the guinea pigs of the system. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said that 151 had been appointed and that 454 were outstanding, but I understand the figures to be the other way round, as stated by the Minister in his response to a question last year. No doubt the Minister will tell us. Even if 151 positions are not yet staffed, can the Minister inform the House how many of those individuals have had Criminal Records Bureau checks? That is vital if they are to handle data, particularly data of those aged between 16 and 18. Can the Minister assure the House that those interviewing under-18 year-olds will have had the appropriate young person's training, and that there will be at least one person with such training in each centre?
Section 4 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 will enable passports to be listed as a designated document. In response to the Written Question from my noble friend Lady Anelay last month, the Minister stated that,
“No precise date has yet been set for the designation of a passport”.—[Official Report, 1/2/07; col. WA 75.]
I hope that the Minster can update us if there has been any change in this situation. Can he also confirm that, if people choose to renew their passports prior to the designation of passports, they will have a full 10 years to run?
There is also some confusion over whether the Government intend to adapt the passport system into the national identity register; whether a separate NIR will replace the passport system; or whether the two will co-exist, particularly in light of concerning indications that the remit seems to be extending beyond promises made during the passage of the Bill.
The costs, or rather lack of complete costing, for the NIR and ID card scheme remain a bone of much contention. The ever-increasing cost of passports is linked to that. A baby's passport is now £45, an e-passport is £77 and next year the combined passport and ID card will be at least—and probably more than—£93. Considering that in 1995 a 10-year adult passport cost £18, it is clear that passport inflation has a life of its own—a five-fold increase over that period.
On top of rising costs the National Audit Office report, released last month, states that the warranty deal that the Identity and Passport Service struck to cover the passport chips in e-passports will last for only two years, even though at present UK passports have a lifespan of 10 years. It also said that many UK ports of entry are not yet fully equipped to deal with the new technology. None of that news instils confidence in the Home Office’s approach to combating passport fraud or wider identity fraud.
I hope that the Minister will also be able to set out in his reply the situation with regard to individuals who have permanent leave to remain in the UK. I declare an interest as I have a Ukrainian daughter-in-law who has been married to my son for 12 years. She has exceptional leave to remain and is happily settled, bringing up our granddaughter in the UK, but as the only child of her widowed mother, she is a frequent traveller to Kiev. I am concerned by the lack of transparency in this area and the ever-changing ground rules. How much will this all cost to applicants and will they have to travel to the interrogation centres?
We on these Benches recognise the dedication of the people in the Identity and Passport Service. We thoroughly applaud what they have achieved despite the huge difficulties they have faced. However, there are still significant outstanding concerns about the introduction of interviews of young adults, the wider system as a whole and especially its future interaction with ID cards.
It is important that we take steps to protect our personal identity and work to reduce its fraudulent use, but this should not be at the cost of our freedoms and liberties. It should not require a “Big Brother” culture, a theme that seems to run through all government legislation. We on these Benches strive to ensure that personal data will be collected and used only in a proportionate and reasonable manner.
My Lords, although the debate has not been well attended, noble Lords have contributed to an interesting discussion. I am most grateful for the contributions that have been made, although noble Lords will not expect me to agree with everything that has been said.
I cannot agree with the suggestion that the Government should review their policy on the introduction of interviews for first-time passport applicants. It is an important process. As noble Lords will know, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has introduced many measures to improve the security of the passport, including the successful introduction of the e-passport last year. The current process of applying for a passport by post dates from times when identity fraud, as we all accept, was not a widespread problem, there was no serious threat from international terrorism, and illegal immigration was rare.
As one can apply by post, the identity criminal or terrorist remains hidden from view while the application form and photographs they have sent in are examined. The photograph sent in might, in fact, be a person outside the United Kingdom seeking to enter illegally. It might be the intended passport holder’s own photograph, but with an application form showing the personal details of an innocent victim whose identity he is trying to steal. The application might be one of several the terrorist or criminal is submitting in different identities. If this attempt at fraud is detected, they can always try again.
The Identity and Passport Service has various ways of detecting fraud of which your Lordships would not expect me to give graphic details. But, given the increasing threat of identity fraud and theft, it is plain common sense for the Identity and Passport Service to check that a person really exists simply by seeing him or her. It is a pretty basic and fundamental concept. Without seeing the applicant in person, however, the IPS cannot be certain that it is issuing passports to the right people. What is certain is that more and more people are attempting to get passports in false identities.
It is also hardly a radical approach, as the United Kingdom is currently one of very few western countries that do not require an in-person first-time passport application; those that do not include Estonia, Macau, Malaysia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. I argue that we must get into the real, modern world; if we do not, the problems of identity theft can only multiply in a form that will be increasingly hard to check.
The key benefits of the changes will be to help us fight passport fraud and forgery, help protect the UK and its people from identity theft and ensure that the British passport stays one of the most secure and respected in the world. The introduction of passport application interviews will mean that all adult customers applying for a passport for the first time must attend an interview with the IPS in person to confirm their identity. I stress that these changes do not currently apply to people wanting to renew their existing passport. The requirement for an interview will apply only to those adults who have never previously held a British passport in their own name. This is estimated to affect approximately 609,000 customers per year.
Many questions were asked during the debate and I will endeavour to focus on those towards the conclusion of my comments. One recurring theme related to the interview process. What has been arranged is that normally a 30-minute slot will be provided for an interview; the interview may be as short as 10 minutes and perhaps take a maximum of 20 minutes. At the interview, customers will be asked basic information about themselves—not deeply private information, but information only they will know that can be checked to confirm their identity. I should make it clear that people applying for passports will not have to give any more information than they do now. The application forms will be unchanged and the interview is not about gathering information. The information used in the interview will be deleted from IPS records shortly after the passport is issued. The requirement to attend an interview will be introduced gradually, as noble Lords have noted, and the Government will be making further information available about this in another place later this month.
The IPS is opening 69 local interview offices across the United Kingdom and the majority of customers will be within 60 minutes’ travelling time of an office from either their home or workplace. The network of 69 interview offices has been designed to provide an interview office within 15 minutes’ travelling time via public or personal transport for just over half of the population of the UK. More than 95 per cent of the population will live within an hour’s travelling time via public or personal transport of an interview office.
The interview offices will not be new passport offices. They will be used only to conduct interviews and will not handle general inquiries or take delivery of passport applications. The size of offices is related to the estimated number of interviews to be carried out at each location. Most will have three interview positions or fewer and some will not be open every weekday, but all will be open on Saturdays. For each day that an office is open, it will open at 8 am and close at 6 pm, except for the seven smallest offices which will only open two half-days per week.
Deciding on the location of the new offices was a painstaking task, needing to balance customers’ wishes for the lowest possible additional increase to the passport fee and convenient locations. Customer research was carried out in March and April 2004 and again in July 2005. The results of both surveys showed that the majority of respondents felt that a one-way journey of approximately 20 miles or approximately half an hour once every 10 years was reasonable. This research also identified that in more rural parts of the United Kingdom this expectation increased to approximately 40 miles or approximately one hour’s travelling time.
The IPS used mapping software and census data to model an office network which, over several months, was subjected to independent verification by a specialist company and to local consultation with authorities responsible for more sparsely populated areas. The work used a range of data from the 2001 census, including the distribution of people aged 16 to 34—which is the age range when most adults apply for their first passport—broken down by local authority wards. Journey-to-work data was analysed, showing the proportion of people who would use each mode of transport in different areas of the United Kingdom.
This was combined with data on travel costs and times to model journeys from a total of over 220,000 population centres of about 250 people each to 264 potential locations. The aim was to design a network that optimised the number of offices to minimise costs and maximise operational efficiency through, for example, lower fixed costs and overheads and greater staff flexibility to handle the peaks and troughs of demand, while selecting locations that maximised the proportion of UK residents who would need to travel no more than 20 miles to their nearest interview office.
From the conclusion of this research and consultation, the IPS identified 69 locations that provided the right trade-off of efficiency, public travel expectations and the needs of sparsely populated parts of the UK. More than 82 per cent of the population lives within 20 miles of an office in the network, and more than 84 per cent within a 30-minute journey. All interview offices are pleasant, modern places that comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and have wheelchair access. Our normal assumption is that an individual who is sufficiently mobile to require passport facilities can travel to an interview office. However, if the passport is required for, for example, medical treatment abroad and the applicant is too ill or insufficiently mobile to attend an interview, the interview may be waived if evidence is provided.
As I indicated, a small number of potential first-time passport customers, estimated to be less than 0.7 per cent—or 4,000—live more than an hour’s journey from an interview office. This mainly affects people living in rural Wales, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, and the Scottish highlands and islands. To reduce the travelling time for this group, IPS is putting in place secure video-conferencing facilities where customers will be interviewed by visiting the premises of a partner organisation, such as a local council. IPS plans to have remote interview facilities in 25 locations. However, consultations with regional stakeholders are continuing, and I think we can take it that there may be some variation as a result.
The interview offices will not initially be used to record biometrics, but they have been planned with sufficient space to allow for the future recording of fingerprints. This will be necessary for the second generation of biometric passports, which are expected to be introduced from 2009 in line with new EU standards for passport security. It will also allow passport interview offices to be used for future enrolments to the national identity scheme. The volume of first-time adult passport customers is a fraction of the volume that will need to be handled for recording fingerprints for the second generation of biometric passports, and later for ID cards. Some offices in the new network will have room for expansion, but it is clear that further premises will be needed to support these developments. Decisions on the number and location of extra offices have yet to be taken. To ensure that IPS is not burdened with premises that might prove unsuitable for the long term, premises for the first-time passport applicant interviews will be occupied on licences of three years, extendable to five years.
The majority of offices have now been acquired. All offices will be open on Saturdays. IPS is informing local MPs as interview offices are acquired, giving them details of the location and estimated number of customers. This necessary change to the application process means that first-time adult customers will need to allow more time than in the past to attend an interview and get their passport. IPS will conduct a publicity campaign to ensure that its customers are aware of the need to allow six weeks to obtain their passport and, as now, not to book any travel arrangements until the new passport is received. These measures are essential to protect our citizens from identity theft and to ensure that the British passport remains one of the most secure and respected in the world.
My time is up. With the leave of the House I will happily put on record answers to some of the questions asked. Will there be interviews in the Welsh language? Interpreters will be available to assist with passport interviews. I think I have dealt with the time available for interviews. The interview may take between 10 and 20 minutes. We have recruited some 55 staff, who are in post and are working in the project testing and trialling its development. We have a further 539 staff, both full-time and part-time equivalents, who have been recruited and will join as offices roll out throughout 2007.
I reassure noble Lords that the Data Protection Act will apply to any personal information held as the result of a passport interview, just as it does now to information provided by postal applicants for passports. The Information Commissioner’s Office has obviously been consulted, and it is happy with the arrangements. On remote community partner organisations, it is intended that local councils should provide the location for the video-conferencing interview. The number of first-time applicants in remote communities is small. We expect some 91 applicants a year from the Isle of Skye and as many as 52 a year from the Isle of Bute; so we should be able to fashion our arrangements to suit their needs.
The roll-out will be gradual, and we envisage that not all first-time customers will be called for interview during the initial introduction. We will choose people who live within a short travelling distance of the office, to minimise inconvenience during the early stages of it. There will be an inbuilt preference for those who live quite close.
I have probably answered the main questions. There was another about the security of staff. All ID and passport service staff, including those recruited for the local interview offices, will be security checked. That has, I think, answered the main points. If there are others that I have not responded to in detail, I will check the record and ensure that noble Lords are supplied with a full, written response.