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House of Commons

Thursday 13 July 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


International Westminster Bank Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Order read for consideration of Lords amendments.

To be considered on Thursday 20 July.

London Docklands Railway (Beckton) Bill [Lords] (By Order) Order read for consideration of Lords amendments.

To be considered on Tuesday 18 July.

Associated British Ports

(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question--[23 May] --That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Debate to be resumed on Thursday 20 July.

British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Thursday 20 July.

Buckinghamshire County Council Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Local Authorities Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

British Railways Bill

(By Order)

Bromley London Borough Council (Crystal Palace) Bill

(By Order)

Orders for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 20 July.

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

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British Film Institute Southbank Bill

(By Order)

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 20 July.

Hayle Harbour Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Queen Mary and Westfield College Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

Read a Second time, and committed.

King's Cross Railways Bill

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Promoters of the King's Cross Railways Bill shall have leave to suspend proceeding thereon in order to proceed with the Bill, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament, provided that the Agents for the Bill give notice to the Clerks in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present Session of their intention to suspend further proceedings and that all Fees due on the Bill up to that date be paid ;

That on the fifth day on which the House sits in the next Session the Bill shall be presented to the House ;

That there shall be deposited with the Bill a declaration signed by the Agents for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the present Session ;

That the Bill shall be laid upon the Table of the House by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill has been presented and, when so laid, shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) ;

That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the present Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the next Session ;

That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the present Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business ;

That in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)' were omitted ;

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the present Session ;

That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

Debate to be resumed on Tuesday 18 July at Seven o'clock.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Gaelic Broadcasting

1. Mr. Macdonald : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further discussions he has had with broadcasters in Scotland on future options for Gaelic television.

3. Mrs. Ray Michie : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met Comunn Na Gaidhlig to discuss Gaelic television.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : I have had a number of discussions with broadcasters in Scotland during the course of this year, and with Comunn Na Gaidhlig in September of last year, about the provision of television and radio programmes in the Gaelic language. More recently, officials have met Comunn Na Gaidhlig and other interested parties to discuss this subject.

Mr. Macdonald : Has the Minister had time to read the System 3 poll in today's issue of The Scotsman, which shows support from two thirds of the people of Scotland for increased Gaelic broadcasting? Does he recognise the support that there is from Scottish Members on both sides of the House for the principle of a Gaelic broadcasting council, as suggested by Comunn Na Gaidhlig, and modelled on the Peacock recommendations that so influenced the Government's own plans? Will the Government take up Comunn Na Gaidhlig's imaginative idea and establish a Gaelic broadcasting council that will put Gaelic broadcasting on a new footing for the future?

Mr. Renton : Yes, I read the result of that poll in today's issue of The Scotsman, and I am well aware of the many comments made by Scottish Members in the broadcasting debate in the Scottish Grand Committee two days ago. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will consider carefully current views about increased Gaelic broadcasting, be it television or radio.

Mrs. Michie : I am delighted that the Minister met Comunn Na Gaidhlig. When he next visits Tiree, will he discuss with the people their support for the provision of Gaelic television broadcasting? Does he accept that 10 hours a week is the absolute minimum for a basic Gaelic television service? Will he take a bold initiative to secure the future of the Gaelic language?

Mr. Renton : I expect that the next time that I am, with permission, in the hon. Lady's constituency and on the isle of Tiree, I shall hear representations about the provision of Gaelic broadcasting. When I was last on Tiree I received particular representations about the use of Gaelic in Schools, and I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is making available £850,000 this year for that purpose. I point out to the hon. Lady, who is very interested in the subject, that the 1988 report of Scottish Television--the largest independent television company in Scotland--comments :

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"One in 100 of our viewers is a Gaelic speaker, and we maximised our service to them by showing programmes made by both Grampian and ourselves."

If Scottish broadcasters are really convinced of the need for more Gaelic programmes, one would have thought that they would go out of their way to produce them.

Mr. Holt : Will my hon. Friend say exactly how many Scottish Members can speak Gaelic?

Mr. Renton : I can say to my hon. Friend "ceud mille failte", which means a hundred thousand greetings. That is about the limit of my Gaelic. Opposition Members must tell the House how many of them speak Gaelic. Only 82,000 of the Scottish population of 5.2 million speak Gaelic, which is about 1.5 per cent.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Does the Minister accept that this is not merely a matter of who does or does not speak Gaelic? The Scottish community is united in wishing to see the regeneration of that part of our culture. Does he also accept that as £13 million has left Scotland to fund the Welsh channel and as our Welsh counterparts would not wish their advantage to be our disadvantage, a similar level of investment in Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland would ensure that we could regenerate our language?

Mr. Renton : I understand what the hon. Lady says and I should be the last to belittle Scottish interest in regenerating the Gaelic language. There were some 1,400 hours of radio broadcasts in Gaelic last year, although the number of television hours fell from about 114 to 77. The broadcasters must have their fingers on the pulse--that goes for the BBC as well as the independent companies--of Scottish requirements. If they thought that there was a strong need, particularly for more television in Gaelic, they would go out of their way to satisfy that demand.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Am I right in estimating mathematically, from what my hon. Friend has said, that there are about 150,000 Gaelic speakers? That compares with several million cockney speakers. What will he do to arrange a separate television channel for cockneys?

Mr. Renton : That is an extremely dangerous question for a Member like myself who lives in Sussex to answer. Many ethnic minorities in Scotland would be interested in programmes in their languages, particularly with the development of community radio. The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) did not say that we are looking into the arrangements for S4C in Welsh.

Mr. Darling : Does the Minister realise that over the past few years great strides have been made in promoting the speaking of Gaelic, not as some special obscure subject but as part of day-to-day life? Does he accept that television is one of the greatest influences on culture and that there is a need for a structured Gaelic broadcasting council, as proposed by Comunn Na Gaidhlig, to promote Gaelic? Or, is his attitude that Gaelic broadcasting should be shuffled off into the night hours as a result of the pressures of the market place and that if it cannot be made to pay, it does not matter?

Mr. Renton : I have in front of me the Labour policy document on broadcasting, "Broadcasting in a free society", which has just been produced. I see nothing in it about broadcasting in Gaelic. Doubtless the hon. Gentleman played a considerable part in writing it.

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Police Stations (Metropolitan District)

2. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received concerning the physical condition of police stations within the Metropolitan police district.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : The receiver for the Metropolitan police district wrote to the Home Department on this subject on 26 June 1987. The Metropolitan police estate was also the subject of a report published by the National Audit Office on 22 June 1989.

Mr. Evennett : I thank my hon. Friend for his response. Is he aware of the poor physical conditions of several Metropolitan police stations, particularly Bexleyheath station, and that such poor facilities could result in a lack of efficiency and morale in the police force?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend is right to focus on Bexleyheath. I accept that it is coming to the end of its useful life. I hope that we shall be able to provide capital allocations for the purchase of a new site in due course. My hon. Friend put the question persuasively.

Mr. Cox : Is the Minister aware of the importance of this question? Despite repeated promises by him and other Ministers in his Department, remand prisoners are still kept in police cells and women prisoners in particular are kept in the most deplorable conditions, lacking washing and exercise facilities. That should be of great concern to the Minister.

Mr. Hogg : It has indeed been a problem. I am glad to say, however, that we have substantially reduced the number of prisoners in police cells in the south-east. The precise figure is not in my head, but it is between 20 and 40.

Crime Prevention

4. Mr. Hind : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the work of the ministerial group on crime prevention.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : The ministerial group on crime prevention manages our successful crime prevention strategy. Its recently published progress report records how it does this : the prototype crime-free car, the reduction by over a third in the number of coin meter break-ins and the programme of Government-funded security measures for passengers on the London Underground are just three examples of initiatives which it supervises.

Mr. Hind : My right hon. Friend's ministerial group is doing excellent work, and many Conservative Members have noticed the drop of 6 per cent. in recorded crime in the past 12 months. Will my right hon. Friend remember, however, that crime prevention can be achieved in a number of ways?

There is widespread concern in the north-west following the trial of David Evans at Chester Crown court and his conviction for the murder of a 15-year -old girl. Evans had been released from prison after serving seven years of a 10-year sentence for rape : he received full remission. My right hon. Friend will be aware of Lord Carlisle's excellent report on the review of the parole

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system. Will he look carefully at the recommendations for supervision of prisoners released on remission after being sentenced for serious offences, in an attempt to prevent the repetition of cases such as that of David Evans?

Mr. Hurd : Yes. Personally, I have considerable sympathy with that recommendation by the Carlisle committee. We are examining the recommendations coherently and as a whole, and of course a change in the law will be needed.

My hon. Friend will know that offenders are already placed under supervision if they are released on parole. David Evans was refused parole, as are nearly all serious offenders serving five years or more ; he was released when he could no longer be lawfully held in prison. The case certainly adds weight to my hon. Friend's suggestion, although it should be realised that supervision is not and cannot be a guarantee against a new offence being committed.

Mr. Bermingham : Does the Home Secretary agree that crime prevention is wider than the simple act of dealing with matters such as break-ins? Does he agree that experience in America has shown the value of educational programmes, particularly in respect of crimes connected with drug abuse? Might not such programmes, perhaps funded by the Home Office supported by the Department of Education and Science, be explored as a means of preventing young people from becoming involved with addictive drugs?

Mr. Hurd : Indeed, they must be explored. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. It is not simply a matter of enforcing the law, although that is very important : a reduction in demand for drugs--heroin, cocaine or "crack"--through education of the young in particular is crucial, perhaps even more important than law enforcement.

Metropolitan Police

5. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress his Department is making towards securing greater value for money from the Metropolitan police service.

Mr. Hurd : My Department and the Metropolitan police are working hard to improve the use of resources and to secure better value for money. Measures have included a continuing programme of civilianisation, efficiency scrutinies and contracting-out of services, and Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary will now conduct independent inspections of the Metropolitan police.

Mrs. Gorman : Can my right hon. Friend give us some idea of the progress that has been made in the past three years in civilianising clerical jobs in the Metropolitan police force and contracting out other non-police work? According to the audit report, less than 25 per cent. of police time is spent policing out on the job, in the case of inspectors the figure is as little as 40 per cent. Most of their time is spent in the station doing clerical work.

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right. Much has been done, and much remains to be done. Between 1 April 1985 and March this year more than 400 police officers were released for operational duties because of civilianisation,

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and I have authorised 200 additional civil staff this financial year to release 200 more officers. There is a similar story on contracting out. One result of such activity is that the hours spent on street duty by London's uniformed police officers rose by 9 per cent. last year.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Has the Home Secretary read the National Audit Office report which outlines innumerable examples of poor estate management by the Metropolitan police? What action does he intend to take, or must policemen in the London area still work in Victorian conditions without any understanding by the Home Secretary of their problems, with the resultant effects on morale?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has already answered a question on that precise point. We have a programme for improving and modernising police stations, particularly in London. I hope that some of the new capital spending arrangements that are coming into effect will enable the Met to do more than it has done already.

Mr. David Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the number of fingerprint officers were to be increased, the crime detection rate would be higher? Is he aware that only 40,000 out of 2 million crimes where fingerprints were left behind were solved in that way?

Mr. Hurd : There has been concern about the pace at which the new techniques are being introduced. It is something that I am reviewing.

Mr. Hattersley : Is the system of screening, by which the importance of 999 calls is assessed before they are answered, intended to make the Metropolitan police force more cost effective? What proportion of 999 calls are not answered as a result of screening?

Mr. Hurd : I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's latter point without notice, but I shall certainly let him know. I am glad to correct a misleading figure that has appeared in the newspapers--that only 15 per cent. of reported crimes are screened in. The figure is just about double that--30 per cent. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman would disagree with the principle that the police should devote resources to solving crimes where they have a reasonable chance of locating the criminal because there are clues. No crimes are screened out by category. Crimes are screened out when there is no particular clue or reason to suppose that the offender can be located. I think that the public understand that.

A Criminal Code for England and Wales"

6. Mr. Maclennan : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the report of the Law Commission No. 177 : "A Criminal Code for England and Wales".

Mr. Douglas Hogg : The Law Commission's report has only recently been presented to Parliament. The Government are at present studying its proposals.

Mr. Maclennan : The Minister will be aware that his father was not satisfied with that answer in another place. Does he acknowledge that these proposals, conceived when my right hon. Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead was Home Secretary 21 years ago, have truly come of age?

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Does he accept, in the words of the Law Commission, that it is crucial to the liberty of the individual and the protection of society that people should easily have access to the criminal law? Does he also accept that their implementation would save time and money and would modernise the criminal law by making it more accessible, comprehensible, consistent and certain?

Mr. Hogg : I certainly agree that the report was produced by a team of extremely distinguished contributors, both lawyers and academics. The report deserves the closest possible consideration by the Government, which it will be given. There are undoubtedly a substantial number of advantages in codification, but there are also some objections to be considered. We have to come to a balanced view, after full consideration.

Mr. Stanbrook : Will my hon. Friend remember that whereas the existing corpus of criminal law is, for the most part, pretty clear and understandable, the introduction of a totally new code, using new language and new concepts and even introducing changes of substance, as has been suggested by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), would lead to fiendish complexity and give employment only to the lawyers?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend has identified some of the problems that are foreseen. One could never codify the criminal law in its entirety. It is at least possible that one might inhibit the courts in their development of the criminal law. However, it is a distinguished report which deserves careful consideration.

Victims of Crime

7. Mr. Patnick : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what resources the Government currently make available to those organisations concerned with counselling the victims of serious crimes against the person.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : This year we are providing nearly £4 million to victim support, chiefly to enable local schemes to employ staff to organise their services. The schemes help the victims of a wide range of crimes, including serious crimes against the person. I understand that the Department of Health will this year give £25,000 to the London rape counselling and research project to support the national element of its work. Other organisations which receive Government grants may help victims of crime, but not as their primary function.

Mr. Patnick : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. In considering non-custodial offences, will the Government give priority to offenders having to pay victims?

Mr. Hogg : I regard this as an extremely important suggestion. As the House will know, the criminal law already makes provision for compensation to be paid by offenders in appropriate circumstances, and the courts will bear that consideration in mind.

Mr. Winnick : Although I believe strongly in bail, remission and parole, and have not changed my mind, is it not absolutely essential that careful consideration is given by the authorities before any of those apply to people charged with or convicted of violent offences, including rape? Bearing in mind what the Home Secretary

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said a few moments ago, does the Minister recognise that the public needs to be reassured about these matters, after some very disturbing cases?

Mr. Hogg : Unusually, I am in considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. The criteria set out in the Bail Act 1976 are about right and certainly take account of the anxieties that he has expressed.

Mr. Greg Knight : With serious crimes, is there not a good case for ensuring that the criminal is subject to effective supervision when he is released from prison, as was identified in the Carlisle report?

Mr. Hogg : That is an extremely interesting suggestion which deserves the fullest consideration.

Free Television Licences

8. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further representations he has received seeking legislation to provide free television licences for all retirement pensioners ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Renton : Since I last replied to a question from the hon. Member on this subject on 7 June, we have received one letter, referred to us by an hon. Member, seeking free television licences for retirement pensioners.

Mr. Skinner : The truth is that the many pensioners involved in this almighty muddle, with a few receiving free television licences and millions not, are tired of writing to the Government because they know that they are so hard-hearted that they will not respond, so they ask Labour Members of Parliament to raise the matter in the House of Commons. Is the Minister aware that in the past 10 years pensioners have been robbed of £600 a year by the Government since they broke the link with earnings? That would pay for nearly 10 television licences. When the Home Secretary gets the sack from the Prime Minister, he will pick up £7,000. He will be able to pay for televisions and licences for the rest of his life.

Mr. Renton : This is the fourth time that the hon. Gentleman has asked me that question this Session. He sounds increasingly like a cracked record with the needle stuck in the groove. I give him the same answer as before. We do not believe that television licences are a proper instrument of social policy. Free television licences for pensioners would cost about £400 million, which would mean an increase of about half for everyone else. Many in need would not benefit. The right way to help those in need is through the pensions and benefits system, not through television licences.

Mr. Kilfedder : A real sense of grievance is felt by pensioners who have to pay the full television licence fee when they see their neighbours paying the lesser fee. Is the Minister aware that the problem has been worsened as in some cases pensioners who live in accommodation under the control of a warden have to pay the full licence fee, whereas their predecessors paid the smaller fee?

Mr. Renton : I am aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend refers. As he knows, last year we considered the adjustment of the concessionary licences. We produced a scheme that was intended to go back to the original intention--helping those in residential nursing homes or

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accommodation attended by a full-time warden. At the same time we continue to give the concession for all those who previously benefited from it. It is not perfect, but it is the best that could be devised in a scheme that was increasingly becoming full of holes.

Mr. Vaz : Is the Minister aware that, on 23 June this year, the day that the Home Secretary visited Leicester, the 3,000th Leicestershire pensioner signed a petition--which, incidentally, was launced by my mother, who is a pensioner--calling for free television licences for pensioners? As Minister with responsibility for broadcasting the hon. Gentleman has access in his offices to television sets without having to pay for a licence. Television is the only form of entertainment for many pensioners. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his meanness in denying them a free television licence means that they are denied their only form of entertainment?

Mr. Renton : Of course, everyone realises that pensioners, like many others, depend a great deal on television, but the hon. Gentleman is echoing the nonsense in the Labour party's proposals for broadcasting. The Labour party says, and I assume that the hon. Gentleman supports it, that the licence fee should remain the main source of the BBC's income. At the same time, however, the hon. Gentleman suggests that low-income groups and pensioners should be exempted from the licence fee. That would mean that the licence fee would have to increase by at least half for everyone else-- from £66 to over £101. That is Labour party policy. It is not just an election bribe ; it is a penalty.


10. Mr. John Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made with his proposal to create an executive agency for the issuing of passports.

Mr. Hurd : Draft proposals have been prepared as a basis for consultation with other Government Departments and the trade unions concerned. A change of status would make it easier to incorporate relevant private sector experience, and I am keen to see this done to the maximum possible extent.

Mr. Greenway : Is my right hon. Friend aware that delays in issuing passports in Liverpool have caused applicants in the north considerable inconvenience and anxiety? The prospect of executive agency status, which would bring a much clearer definition of executive responsibility, has been on the agenda for over a year. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House when he expects to set a timetable for implementation of this policy and what part setting a deadline for the computer system to be fully operational will play in that?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right about the delays, which were made much worse in Liverpool by the recent strike, which, I am happy to say, is now over. The staff concerned are now working to reduce the arrears. I should like to set this agency change in hand as quickly as I can. Certain consultations must take place, and they are being undertaken. My hon. Friend is right--computerisation throughout the passport offices and a change to agency basis are two long-term solutions to this problem.

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Mr. Worthington : Year after year, we have long delays at the passport offices and, year after year, we have promises that this will end, but that has not happened this year. Again there were long queues in Glasgow. It is impossible to get through by telephone to the Glasgow passport office. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that there must be an expansion of staff resources--never mind computerisation--to deal with the predictable surge in passport demand every summer?

Mr. Hurd : It would not have been sensible to do what the union required, which was to employ large numbers of extra permanent staff for a service that ebbs and flows. We have reached agreement with the union on that aspect. I agree that the service to the public must be substantially improved. A long-term solution depends upon a mixture of two things-- computerisation, which has started in Glasgow, and a change in the nature of management, bringing to the greatest possible extent the relevant experience of the private sector to the passport offices.

Mr. Gow : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, apart from the recent industrial action in the passport offices, the system of issuing passports and dealing with queries has been massively incompetent for years? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if he applied his formidable intellect to resolving the existing problems, which are certain to continue unless his reforms are implemented, this matter could be put right once and for all within three months?

Mr. Hurd : I do not think that my hon. Friend is quarrelling with the ultimate objective or with the two ways that I have suggested of meeting it. Certainly, they are preferable to continuing as we have in recent years. The immediate task is to clear up after the recent industrial action and to reduce the arrears. We are doing that partly by overtime, partly by employing extra temporary staff, and partly by a limited increase in the number of permanent staff. In the short term, that is the only way of improving the service to the public. In the longer term, we must act more drastically, as I have suggested.

Mr. Randall : The whole House, as well as the public, could almost certainly have anticipated the problems that we have had this year. Home Office figures in the past have demonstrated the way in which demand has been outstripping the capacity to deal with them. Does the Home Secretary agree that this is a serious example of bad management in the passport office? During the introduction of the computer system, should he not have ensured that enough staff were available to deal with any contingencies and delays?

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