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Passports: Interviews

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress has been made in implementing the proposal for 69 passport personal interview offices.

My Lords, further to the Written Ministerial Statement made by Joan Ryan, the Minister responsible for immigration, nationality and citizenship, on 20 March 2007 in another place, I can confirm that passport interviews have started in two locations. Passport interviews will be introduced at the remaining 67 offices progressively through to the end of 2007. We are working to make interviews available in remote communities via secure telecommunications from early 2008.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I looked at the website and saw that only two offices are operating at the moment—in Glasgow and Belfast. How can the Minister reconcile that with the Answer that I received on 12 October 2006? It stated:

“good progress has been made to establish the 69 passport interview offices: 21 interview offices have been delivered and provision of the remainder is on schedule; 454 staff have been recruited and a campaign to fill the remaining 151 positions has started”.—[Official Report, 12/10/06; col. 360.]

Secondly, if the Home Office is unable to put together the 69 passport interview offices, is it not time for the identity card scheme, to which they are linked, to be totally scrapped?

My Lords, absolutely not. Noble Lords behind me wholeheartedly agree. The noble Lord will know that this system must be rolled out appropriately and in a measured way. We must secure the correct addresses. We have done all that. I assure the noble Lord that very soon we will have a further roll-out, which should satisfy everyone—even, I hope, the noble Lord.

My Lords, does my noble friend recall the questions that I asked when this was proposed about the use of Crown post offices for the purpose? Does she agree that it would be much better to give the Post Office some work back, rather than to keep taking it away, as the Government do?

My Lords, we all believe in the importance of the use of post offices. My noble friend will remember that the Post Office was able to bid for this work. I say nothing about why it did or did not do so, but post offices are a very valuable resource and nothing that we do about the interview centres will in any way impinge on or detract from that value.

My Lords, passports and identity are serious matters for fraud in this country. The new UK Borders Bill will put further pressure on people applying for new passports. Is the Minister satisfied that the remaining 67 passport offices will be fully operational by the time the UK Borders Bill, which we will debate tomorrow, is on the statute book?

My Lords, the most appropriate question to ask is whether they will be ready by the time that they need to be used. Noble Lords will know that the UK Borders Bill will be the last part of the jigsaw that will put the system in place, but the implementation will be very important. Fifty-nine offices have now been acquired—10 are still under negotiation—but we are well on track and confident that those processes will continue at a proper speed.

My Lords, will be noble Baroness be giving the same answer to the House on identity cards in three weeks’ time, when we have a new Prime Minister?

My Lords, I am in the comfortable position of speaking on behalf of the Government. To the best of my knowledge and belief, there will be no change of government in the next three weeks.

My Lords, will the data on identity cards be shared with all the other countries of the European Union, in the light of the agreement that is about to be made on data-sharing?

My Lords, I commend the noble Lord on getting Europe into this question. This procedure has not changed any of the things that we have said from this Dispatch Box for the past 10 years.

My Lords, when we debated this matter a few weeks ago, the noble Baroness mentioned interviewing from remote locations by means of webcams. I referred to the particular case of Anglesey and expressed the hope that there would be facilities in Llangefni, Amlwch, Trearddur Bay, Holyhead, and so on. I now understand that there will not be remote interviewing facilities in any of those places and that the residents of Anglesey will all have to travel to Bangor for interviews. How will they be able to afford those expensive journeys?

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Bassam said in response to our earlier debate, we are looking at the average price of travel. The remote locations are being worked out carefully with local authorities to make sure that people do not have to travel inappropriate distances. All of that work continues, and we still believe that we have made appropriate provision for those who will need to travel.