UK passport
Passport backlog: office head Paul Pugh apologises.Reuters

The head of the UK passport office has apologised for the crisis which has seen a backlog of almost half a million unresolved applications and admitted he considered resigning over the affair.

He was also ordered to appear back before a Commons committee to show concrete evidence he had reduced the backlog and eased people's fears over their outstanding applications.

The agency's chief executive, Paul Pugh, appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee after the crisis over outstanding passport applications revealed thousands of people's holidays, business trips and family visits were under threat.

Home Secretary Theresa May was thrown onto the back foot over the allegations and forced to take emergency measures to deal with the crisis which, Pugh told the MPs, should help him reduce the mountain of outstanding applications.

He was also pressed hard by members of the committee to accept responsibility for the crisis and apologise.

Committee chairman, Labour's Keith Vaz, said he had a "sheaf of letters from members of the public, from members of parliament, who are very, very angry", adding: "You don't seem to recognise the fact that people are very upset and angry. Would you like to apologise?"

Pugh said he absolutely recognised the "anger and distress" people had suffered and added: "I would like to put on record that yes, in every case where we haven't met our service standards, where we haven't been able to meet the customer's needs, yes, certainly, we are sorry for that."

Pushed further by Vaz, he said: "That is an apology."

Pugh also told Vaz: "Of course I have considered whether it would be right for me to step down, whether it would be helpful. But my job is to lead the agency through tough times. That is what I intend to do."

Pugh was responding to an extraordinary revelation by Vaz that he had been forced to ring Home Secretary Theresa May to personally sort out the urgent case of a constituent when he could not raise Pugh's office on the phone.

His constituent was told to travel from her home in Leicester to Durham, to collect her passport so she could go on holiday but, when she arrived, was informed it was not available.

Vaz said she approached him and he rang Pugh's office directly but no one answered the phone. The only way he could resolve his constituent's urgent problem was to call the home secretary direct to resolve the issue so the constituent could take her holiday.

Pugh said he was surprised and admitted "that was not right. It should not have happened".

He admitted that he had estimated, a year ago, that applications would surge by as much as 350,000 this summer because of overseas embassies shutting their passport desks and transferring operations to Britain.

Pugh then admitted that he realised this forecast was incorrect and that the actual figure was likely to be closer to 400,000.

There are now some 480,000 outstanding applications his staff are attempting to deal with, he has said.

But, in the wake of the backlog, he has repeatedly resisted alleged calls from MPs, led by Labour's Paul Flynn, to resign as a result of the "chaos".

At the end of an intense hearing, Vaz told Pugh he expected updates on the progress in clearing the backlog on a weekly basis and ordered him to re-appear before the MPs in a month's time, when he expected to see significant progress in reducing the backlog.