THE Passport Office, heavily criticised after last year’s backlog crisis, faced fresh vilification today after unveiling a new design celebrating only two women among Britain’s cultural and creative heritage.
Mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace and architect Elisabeth Scott are depicted in the latest version of the travel document.
By contrast, seven men including William Shakespeare, artist John Constable and sculptor Anish Kapoor are represented either in portraits or through their achievements.
The new 34-page passport’s theme is “Creative United Kingdom”, which official literature said features “some of the best achievements of the last 500 years in Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
Asked about the omission of female icons such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, Mark Thomson, director general of the Passport Office, said: “Whenever we do these things there is always someone who wants their favourite rock band or icon in the book.”
He added: “It wasn’t something where we said let’s set out to only have two women.
“In trying to celebrate the UK’s creativity we tried to get a range of locations and things around the country to celebrate our triumphs over the years, so there we are.
“We’ve got 16 pages, a very finite space. We like to feel we’ve got a good representative view celebrating some real icons of the UK- Shakespeare, Constable and of course Elisabeth Scott herself.”
Scott designed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, which opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1932.
The designs were said to have been developed by the Passport Office in consultation with designers and printers and authorised by ministers.
As well as Shakespeare, Constable and Kapoor, the new book features architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, artist Sir Antony Gormley, computer pioneer Charles Babbage and John Harrison, a clockmaker who invented the marine timekeeper.
Other pages are devoted to Stephenson’s Rocket - the world’s first modern steam locomotive, the London Underground, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and cultural festivals such as Caribbean carnivals and Chinese New Year.
A portrait of Shakespeare is used for the security watermark on each page.
The new design sparked allegations of sexism.
Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweeted: “Here we go again - new UK #passport has 7 men featured and just 2 women.”
Presenting the new passport at Shakespeare’s Globe in London today, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said it will “showcase the great successes of UK culture”.
Meanwhile, officials said the new passport was the most secure ever produced.
A new passport is launched in the UK every five years, with work on the new design starting more than two years ago. It has been produced as part of a 10-year £400 million contract.
After last year’s backlog crisis reached epic prorportions, Home Secretary Theresa May said she was considering stripping the Passport Office of its “agency status” and bringing it under the direct control of the Home Office.