HL Deb 25 October 1973 vol 345 cc742-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many staff were employed in the Telephone Inquiry Bureau of the Immigration and Nationality Department at Croydon on January 16, 1973, and as at the latest convenient date; what is the full establishment of the Bureau; and what steps have been taken to recruit additional staff so that all the incoming lines are manned.


My Lords, on January 16, 1973, 15 staff were employed in the Telephone Inquiry Bureau of the Immigration and Nationality Department at Croydon. The current number is about the same, although there is some variation from day to day. An increase of ten staff will be needed to man all the 25 lines which are available. Every effort has been made to recruit and train adequate staff, and these efforts will continue; but experienced staff are needed for the Bureau. I much regret the inconvenience which is caused by shortage of staff.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that on January 16, 1973, the date mentioned in the Question, the Under-Secretary of State wrote to a correspondent saying that he hoped shortly to have the number of staff required to man all the incoming lines, up to the figure of 25, which the noble Viscount mentioned? Is the noble Viscount aware that this shortage causes the utmost inconvenience, not only for individual inquirers but for the many organisations, such as the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, who several times have been in correspondence with the Home Office on this matter, and that it is necessary to wait two months even for a reply?


Yes, my Lords, I am very well aware that under-staffing in Croydon does cause a large number of difficulties to a lame number of people. It is interesting to note that the correspondence at the moment is running at the rate of 20,000 items a week, which represents a million letters a year. This shows something of the pressure that the staff are under. I can say this: I was talking to my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary this morning about this matter. He is personally involved and is very much concerned about it. We are by no means complacent but, certainly on the telephone side, we cannot just employ anybody. These must be experienced and skilled people: otherwise they may do more harm than good. We are trying very hard to obtain people to do these jobs.


My Lords, would the noble Viscount agree, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, and in view of the fact that there is a large amount of alternative office employment in and around Croydon, that Croydon was the wrong place to put the Telephone Inquiry Bureau and that perhaps he ought to reconsider the location of the office?


My Lords. I know that there is a great deal of competition in Croydon, but I believe that the suggested alternative is Plymouth. I do not think that it would be any easier for people to inquire there than it is in Croydon.