HC Deb 28 October 1997 vol 299 cc694-5
5. Fiona Mactaggart

On what dates during 1997 the computer system at Islamabad has failed to operate properly; and how applicants for entry clearance have been informed of the consequences for their applications of problems caused by computer failures. [12116]

Mr. Fatchett

During 1997, the computer system at Islamabad has failed to operate properly between 2 and 20 May and between 16 June and 13 July. Applicants for entry clearance were informed of the consequences for applications by means of advertisements placed in the national newspapers. Where interviews were imminent but had to be postponed, applicants were informed by letter. A new system was installed in September and is working well.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank the Minister for that reply and congratulate him on the fact that a new system has been installed. Frankly, it was desperately needed. Many of my constituents have suffered as a result of the delays caused by the breakdown of the previous system. It occurs to me that, since the installation of the new system, there has been a reduction in the number of applications and fewer people have been able to visit their relatives here. Given the difficulties that people have faced and the fact that Islamabad is the largest visa-issuing post for Britain, does the Minister have any proposals to make the process easier?

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the situation that we inherited in Islamabad was far from satisfactory. I am delighted to say that we have taken immediate action in respect of the information technology. We have additional good news in that there are five new entry clearance posts, which we expect to be filled by next January. That should facilitate the process and ensure that individuals get a proper deal.

Mr. Swayne

Oh joy, joy!

Mr. Fatchett

If the hon. Gentleman feels that people should not be given justice just because they come from Pakistan, that shows how out of touch he and his party are. To finish the litany of good news, my colleague Baroness Symons now has two additional posts in her private office to ensure that correspondence from hon. Members is dealt with more quickly.

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