The Minister will be aware of the concern among supporters of every party in this House and none about the prospect of a British passport being printed by a Franco-Dutch company. The Government cannot be allowed to hide behind EU procurement rules. They must take responsibility for the potential fallout on workers, their families, the community and the Government’s wider industrial strategy. Does the Minister accept that it was wrong that the workers at De La Rue were not directly informed of the Government’s decision, but instead heard from the media that their jobs were at risk? Is this what senior Ministers in the leave campaign meant by “taking back control”?
Far from taking back control, it seems we cannot control where our passports are printed. We understand that passports may be manufactured partially in the UK, but it is telling that for security reasons—security reasons that the Minister does not appear concerned about—in countries such as France state-run companies make the passports. What is the total cost of the switch to blue passports? We read reports of savings of £120 million made in the allocation of the contract. Last December, the then Immigration Minister estimated the cost to be £500 million. We are now told that it is £490 million, so the original estimate seems to have been almost exactly correct.
Finally, the Minister must understand why the public see this whole episode as a farce. Labour Members call on Ministers to re-examine this decision and to meet De La Rue, the trade unions and others to ensure that this industry, the quality of the jobs that come with it and our security are protected. Ministers have to understand that the cheapest is not necessarily the best.
I gently point out to the right hon. Lady that it was in 2009 that the rules were changed to enable the British passport to be made overseas and that 20% of blank passports are already printed abroad—[Interruption.] She refers repeatedly from a sedentary position to taking back control. Yes, we are: we are taking back control by awarding a contract within procurement rules—WTOrules as well as EU rules, which are embedded in UK law—and it is imperative that we have the most secure and up to date passports at the best value for money.
I am concerned for the De La Rue plant in Bathford in my constituency, which produces the very high-quality security paper used in Chinese passports, among others. Would it be possible for the Franco-Dutch consortium to buy its secure paper from Somerset, which would of course be De La Rue paper and of very high quality?
My hon. Friend has done well to point out that De La Rue already prints documents for many different countries. Quite rightly, as with any British company, we wish it to be outward looking and global in its perspective. He makes an important point about paper milling in his constituency that I am sure the successful bidders will have heard.
John BercowSpeaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee
I am sure that everything in North East Somerset is of the very highest quality, and often rather refined.