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Fast-track passport fees are dropped amid delay chaos

FAST-TRACK fees costing £55 for those with an "urgent need to travel" are to be dropped in a bid to assuage the mounting public anger over delays to up to 30,000 passports.

And people applying to renew passports overseas for travel to the UK would be given an automatic 12-month extension.

The emergency measures were announced by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, in a Commons statement. She insisted the UK Government was doing everything it could to clear the backlog, including drafting in extra staff.

While she said the additional measures would help ease the pressure, she warned there was no quick "big bang, single solution" and Mark Sedwill, the Home Office Permanent Secretary would carry out a series of reviews into the way HM Passport Office was operating.

But Labour claimed the Secretary of State had lost her grip and called on her to apologise.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, told MPs: "This has been a sorry shambles from a sorry department and a Home Secretary who can't even bring herself to say the word."

But hours later, asked if David Cameron thought Ms May should apologise, his spokesman said: "I would put it differently and say that, of course, if people's passports have been delayed and people have been inconvenienced, of course, the Government is sorry for that."

Asked if the Prime Minister still had "full confidence" in the Home Secretary, he replied: "Of course."

The central fear is that many thousands of people could lose their foreign holidays because they will not get their passports in time.

Pete Wishart, the SNP's home affairs spokesman, pointed out that many Scottish families were likely to be particularly affected as the school holidays in Scotland started earlier than in England.

This, he insisted, made the "passport fiasco much more pressing in Scotland", which the Secretary of State had failed to acknowledge.

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