The Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth applied for the debate – which took place on Tuesday afternoon (November 19) – after acting on behalf of a number of constituents who have been affected by the problem.
Documents such as passports, birth certificates, identity and biometric cards, marriage certificates and driving licences are among those on the lost list, with the knock-on effects including delays in applications for visas and travel documents, the inability to work, short and longer-term financial hardship – and in some cases serious legal implications for both constituents and their employers.
Speaking prior to the debate, Stephen said: “When people apply for leave to remain in the UK to live or work, apply for travel documents or other permits, or in some cases simply support other people’s applications, they quite rightly have to submit a great deal of information, including original passports and other forms of ID, to the Home Office.
“Those documents may be the only recognised form of ID that the person has, and they can be crucial when it comes to working, travelling, and just getting on with everyday life.
“But in the last year I have dealt with a number of cases where these vital documents have been lost – either between departments at the Home Office, or by being returned to incorrect or old addresses.
“It is shocking that documents so crucial to a person’s life in this country could be treated with such a lax attitude – and I hope this debate will focus on the problem and prompt the Home Office to look at tightening up its procedures.
“At a time when numerous concerns are being raised about the integrity of our immigration system, these cases hardly inspire confidence,” added Stephen.
“And when increasing measures and investigations are rightly being taken to ensure, for example, that people have the right to work in this country, then to open the risk of stigmatising people who do in fact have the right to be here, but are missing crucial documentation, is unfair, unjust and risks diverting resources and attention away from tackling those who are attempting to abuse the system.
“We need an immigration system that people have confidence in and that treats people with dignity and respect. These numerous cases suggest the Home Office needs to up its game urgently.”
At the debate the Immigration Minister committed to looking in detail at a number of the issues Stephen raised. Also, in the case of one of Stephen’s constituents whose documents had been lost and who had yet to be compensated or replacement costs covered, the Minister admitted: “Frankly it has taken us too long to come to an agreement in terms of compensation. We will be despatching today a letter with… a much more reasonable offer.”
David Hanson MP, Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister, commented: “It’s simply unacceptable on Theresa May’s watch that the waiting time for visas for entrepreneurs and investors has nearly tripled to 83 days, and the backlog at the Home Office now might take 37 years to sort out.
“The Home Secretary needs to get a grip and take effective action to sort out delays, incompetence and inaction of the Home Office when faced with these delays and backlogs which are costing the taxpayer money. It’s crucial that people can have trust in an immigration system that works, but unfortunately this Government relies on gimmicks when it needs effective action and reform.”