HC Deb 23 March 1858 vol 149 cc575-603

said, he rose to claim the attention of the House to the vexations to which British subjects are exposed by the late alteration in the passport system in France, and to move for the following papers:— Copies of Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and that of the Emperor of the French on the late alterations in the Passport System. And of the several Regulations respecting Passports issued by the Foreign Office since 1815, with the fees charged on their delivery. The grievance to which he was about to call their attention rather concerned those whom they represented than themselves. It was not probable that any Member of that House, or persons residing in London, with every convenience for making their arrangements, would experience any great embarrassment from the alteration which had taken place in the passport system in France, and in the corresponding alteration in the delivery of passports in England; but the question excited considerable interest out of the House among large classes who considered themselves annoyed by the change, and who were earnestly desirous that some modification should be made. The whole matter of passport regulations was uncongenial to Englishmen. In different parts of the world the system prevailed with different degrees of intensity, hut perhaps it was carried to its extreme in the Chinese empire. The city of Canton was the model and the victim of the passport system. The inhabitants would allow nobody to go into Canton, but nevertheless the French and English armies were now in occupation of that city. Owing to political circumstances, with which Englishmen had nothing to do, the passport system had long been established throughout Europe, and it was strongest in those countries which savoured of an Oriental character. Thus, among the countries of Europe, Russia was the one most hampered by the passport system. There were other countries in which the passport system had been carried out with great vigour, and caused much inconvenience to strangers. One of these was Austria. In that country, however, the passport regulations had been considerably relaxed. No inconvenience was now occasioned to any foreigner the moment he passed the frontier, for then he might go from one part of the Austrian empire to the other without showing his passport. As respects the subjects of Austria, the system of passports was now reduced to a simple card called a "Legitimations Scheme," which was nothing more nor less than a card of identification, declaring who the holder was. With that card the person to whom it was given was perfectly free to go to any part of the Austrian empire. The whole system of passports was one which, he would admit, turned on the principle, not merely of establishing regulations for the admission of foreigners into the country, but it had reference also to the natives of the country. Now, it was the good fortune of this country that there was no historical record of any bar or hindrance like that presented by the passport system being thrown in the way of the movements either of British or foreign subjects here. There was certainly one practical evil connected with the entire freedom of this country on this point. It had been the habit of late years of foreign Governments to land per- sons whom they did not wish to remain in their own countries on our shores. The French police had frequently brought persons whom they considered too suspicious and dangerous for France, and forced us to receive them. They were often persons of strong opinions and desperate feelings, and they were frequently landed in a state of the utmost destitution, and thus was most unfairly thrown on this country the obligation of protection and guardianship with regard to them. This, however, was an incident to which Englishmen must submit in consequence of their general freedom. He would not now discus3 the general use of the passport system, though he had no doubt that many persons would be able to tell some most amusing' stories on the subject, and to narrate how the rogue always had his passport most accurately visé, and how the honest man alone was troubled. Some one — at a diplomatic dinner — told the Foreign Ministers who were present that he would undertake to produce passports in a false name from their own offices, and signed by themselves in the course of the week, and did it accordingly. An increase in the rigour of the system between this country and other Continental nations would, no doubt, check commerce to some extent, and impede the intercourse between man and man, but it would not inflict any wider injury either on themselves or upon this country; but he could hardly conceive a more serious practical evil than any system which would check the intercourse between two such nations as Eng-land and France. It was, therefore, chiefly as respected intercourse between this country and Franco that the passport system became of grave interest to Englishmen. As lung as France and England continued at peace they ought to be considered but one country for all purposes of commercial and individual communications. Ever since 1815, until just recently, the French passport system between England and France had been conducted on the part of the French Government with very great liberality. There used to be different species of passports,—some issued by the Foreign Office and by the foreign Ambassadors, called passeports de Cabinet, which were given to all persons of considerable importance freely. There was also, as probably most hon. Members recollected, an office in Poland Street, to which on any Englishman going, he was perfectly certain to receive, within twenty-four hours after writing down his name and residence, a passport, without fee, by which he could travel to every part of France. Even this delay of twenty-four hours was excused in the case of a Member of Parliament or magistrate, or of illness or urgent business. There were also delivered passports by the French Consul on the payment of a small fee. The same system continued under Charles X. and Louis Philippe. He regretted to say that it was only in later days, when they might have hoped that a long period of communication had produced the best feeling between the two countries, that any hindrance or bar had been placed on the intercourse between England and France. On the establishment of the French Republic the passeports de Cabinet were abolished, as was also the office in Poland Street, the passports of the French Consulate alone remaining. The distinguished individual who became President of that Republic, and who was still at the head of affairs in France, had resided in England, and it was no secret that in the opinion of the Emperor of the French — for he had written on the subject—this passport system was not a useful system, and that as between England and France, at least, it ought to be abolished. Nor was it any secret that a French commission had been issued to inquire whether it was possible to abolish the passport system in France; but it had produced no effect. The passport system, indeed, employed an enormous number of persons, who of course were all interested in maintaining it, and no blame could be imputed to the Emperor for not having carried out his intentions, seeing the obstacles he had to encounter. If things had remained as they wore there would not have been much fault to find with the system, for besides other facilities of intercourse there did exist the habit of free communication, which, though not positively established by law, was sanctioned by custom, between the ports of England and France. The English people never thought of obtaining passports when they went over to visit the ports of France, and, indeed, natives of this country who resided on the French coast were generally unprovided with passports. The communication between the French and English coasts was so entirely free that since the establishment of excursion trains some 100,000 persons had gone over from this country every year to enjoy themselves at Calais and Boulogne for a few days, and their visits had been a source of considerable profit to the inhabitants of those towns. Great changes had, however, now taken place in the passport system. On the 18th of February, 1858, the following notice was issued from the Foreign Office:— Her Majesty's Ambassador at Paris having, in pursuance of instructions from the Earl of Clarendon, inquired of the French Government whether British subjects will be permitted to land in Franco without passports when they have no intention of proceeding into the interior, and also whether Her Majesty's Consuls will have power to grant passports to such persons to proceed to Paris or elsewhere, his Excellency has been informed by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs that no person whatever will be permitted to land in France without a passport, nor will a Consul's passport be given to any one who may have landed without one be recognized. The effect of this proceeding was that the free communication without passports between the coasts of France and England, of which multitudes of persons had availed themselves, was at once stopped, and no British subject was permitted to land at a French port without an English passport. Another effect of the regulation was, also, that British subjects resident at Boulogne and other places on the French coast were deprived of the facilities which had previously been afforded them for visiting the interior of the country. He was anxious to ascertain—and that was one of his objects in moving for the production of these papers—what was the real meaning of the document he had read and what was the nature of the communications which passed between the French and English Governments previously to the issue of the notification. He thought Parliament was fairly entitled not only to demand that those communications should be laid upon the table, but also to inquire whether any remonstrance against the change had been made on the part of the English Government, and also be placed in possession of the manner in which this and other changes had been imposed on the British people. It was not for him to speculate upon what motives had induced the Government of the Emperor of the French to adopt such an important change, but he could not believe that so intelligent a Government could consider that these changes, involving almost the destruction of communication between England and France could in any degree tend either to the security of the Emperor's person or to the general advantage of France. He was rather disposed to attribute the measure to the inconsiderate zeal of subordinates, who with the very best motives might commit most foolish and injurious acts. The restrictions placed upon the communication between France and other countries since that melancholy and wicked event, the attempt on the life of the Emperor, had not, however, been confined merely to passports. He had heard most ludicrous stories of the manner in which the Custom-house regulations were carried out. He had been told, for instance, that a lady was detained at Boulogne for twenty-four hours by the sage officials there, in order that the tooth-powder in her dressing-case might be carefully analyzed with the view of ascertaining whether it contained any detonating matter. The Emperor of the French had undoubtedly, like every other potentate, a perfect right to make any regulations he pleased respecting the admission of foreigners within his territories; but he (Mr. Milnes) thought the people of this country were also entitled to ask why fresh restrictions had been placed upon their intercourse with France. If the French Government were as desirous as they professed to be, and as he believed they really were, of maintaining friendly and intimate relations with the British Government, — if there was no desire on their part unnecessarily to annoy us,—if there was no good reason for preventing Englishmen from visiting Franco on pleasure or on business as they had been accustomed to do,—he thought the people of this country were entitled to ask whether the restrictions recently adopted by the French Government were friendly and neighbouring acts, and were likely to increase the amity of the two nations. The effect of these regulations would undoubtedly be to subject the French themselves to considerable pecuniary loss. Although the restrictions had only been in force for a few weeks, they had been attended with most disastrous consequences with regard to the communication between the two countries. The return of the number of passengers between Dovor and Calais during the last six weeks, as compared with the corresponding six weeks of last year, showed a diminution of no less than 1,167, and the rapid and admirably managed steamers plying between those ports were not now carrying, on an average, more than nine passengers a day. A large number of persons who had left this country unprovided with passports, have been sent back, without money, and without their luggage, which had been carried on into France. He regretted to say that many ladies and children had been sent back, in this helpless condition, to Dover and Folkestone. This evil was every day increasing, and felt more and more painfully; and, in his opinion, the subject required immediate action on the part of Her Majesty's Government. He had now to refer to the course which had been taken by the English Government with respect to this question. He was aware that just decorum would be observed by the present occupants of the Treasury benches in criticising the conduct of their predecessors, and that it was quite unnecessary for him to appeal to their feelings of delicacy with regard to the disclosure of the proceedings of the late Government. He believed they would execute that duty without favour to their predecessors, and as conscientiously as if they had themselves been responsible for the course that had been pursued. Some time ago, passports issued by the Foreign Office were extremely expensive, and were generally procured by persons who wished to produce an impression of their personal importance. Such passports were issued to officials, but they were paid for at a high rate by those who wished to assume a similar character. He was not aware, from his own experience, that these passports wore attended with any peculiar advantage. He certainly remembered hearing of a gentleman who travelled with a Foreign Office passport, signed by the noble Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), and who, on presenting the document at the gate of a small town in the south of Italy, was immediately seized and carried before the police, the captor believing that he had caught the redoubtable Palmerston himself. Those passports were very sparingly issued, and were not much in demand, the intercourse with the Continent being carried on chiefly by means of the ordinary French passports. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), however, fulsome reason, cheapened the price of the Foreign Office passports, and rendered it possible for almost any man to procure them, at very small cost and trouble. He had no doubt the noble Lord had acted with the best intentions, probably thinking-it right that every Englishman should possess a guarantee of his nationality from his own Government. He (Mr. M. Millies,) however, considered this a mistake, as it was the beginning of the passport system in this country. Until passports were is- sued from the Foreign Office, they were always received from foreign consuls, and the English nation had nothing to do with them. The effect of the new regulations had been entirely to alter the system, with regard to the issue of passports by the Foreign Office hero. It was not necessary to read to the House regulations which were in everybody's hands. At the first glance, they appeared to be more liberally conceived than those formerly issued. Such passports used only to be granted to persons known to the Foreign Office, or recommended to it by bankers, while the present regulation extended the power of recommending to every mayor and every magistrate in this country. This liberality, however, was in appearance only. Hon. Members who acted as magistrates had probably received a communication, desiring that their signatures and their seals should be forwarded, with a view to the identification of any person recommended by them to the Foreign. Office. Now, he did not consider this was a proper use to be made of the magistracy of England. The unpaid magistrates were already called upon to discharge very laborious functions, and the Government had no right to impose on them any other duties than those which the interest of the country fairly demanded. It was most unjust to force the magistrates, as the present system virtually did, to furnish a guarantee for the respectability of every person whom they recommended for a passport. With such a demand he, for one, would not comply, and he believed that a large body of the magistrates were similarly disposed. Suppose, for example, a person unknown to him, but who had recently obtained a very unenviable notoriety in this country, had come to him and asked him for a recommendation. Suppose this person had described himself as a man of letters, as an intimate friend of Coleridge and other literary men, he (Mr. M. Milnes) should have given such a person a passport at once; and then, when it turned out to be Mr. Allsop, it would have been at once asked at the Foreign Office, "Who recommended him?" No gentleman would like to be fixed with such a responsibility, or to find himself in such a position. As to the sending one's seal to the Foreign Office, this perhaps was no great requirement; but it was not every magistrate who could produce such a thing. He lately read in the biography of a distinguished literary man, who conceived that his genius raised him above all the parade of rank, that, on being applied to for his coat of arms, he said he never carried any about with him, for, as far as he knew, from time immemorial all his ancestors had sealed their letters with their thumbs. He (Mr. Milnes) did not know whether the use of this ancient and simple process was customary among any of the magistracy, but to require their seals in this way was certainly a most novel regulation of police in this country. He wished to know what were the causes which had led to the introduction of all this apparatus for the purpose of providing Englishmen with what was nothing more nor less than a mere card of identification on going to the Continent. Everybody knew that this elaborate contrivance was producing the most extreme inconvenience here. A person had now to obtain a recommendation from a magistrate, then to go to the Foreign Office, then apply to the French Consul, and at all these stages necessary delays took place. The case of a young officer who arrived lately in town from the seat of war in India would present these inconveniences forcibly to the minds of hon. Members. This gentleman having been absent for a considerable period had but few acquaintances in London. On a certain Thursday he received a letter from a stranger, telling him that his father was lying at Boulogne at the point of death, and that every hour was of importance. He applied to the Foreign Office for a passport, but was told there was no resource for him, except an application to a magistrate. It was in vain that he represented that he had no friends in London, and that he had only just arrived from India; there was no resource for him. The result was, that he passed the whole of Friday in the endeavour to find a magistrate who would grant him a recommendation, but without effect. In the evening of that day he was fortunate enough to meet a relative who remembered that he had once dined with a police magistrate, and who gave him an introduction to that personage, and so he obtained the necessary recommendation. Next day (Saturday) he went to the Foreign Office, where he got the passport after waiting a certain time, and then proceeded to the French consul's, where the proceedings were completed. Owing to these delays he arrived at Folkestone too late for the boat, and it was not until the Sunday that he could pass to the opposite coast, having been detained no less than four days, by reason of these frivolous regulations, from the dying bed of his father. In another instance a gentleman wrote to him to say that he was summoned one Friday to see his child, who was lying ill at St. Omer. He received the telegram at half-past two, went to the Foreign Office just before four, was desired to call next day at twelve, lost in this way much precious time, and arrived at St. Omer just four hours too late—his poor daughter was dead. Here were cases which had occurred within the last six weeks, and they were only the first fruits of these unhappy passport regulations. The Lord Mayor of London had declared that it was impossible for him to grant all the applications made to him, and that it was his determination in future to limit his recommendation to those whom he personally know, or to persons resident in his district. The police magistrates stated that it was impossible for them to go on with their ordinary duties, and at the same time perform the new functions with which they were so unexpectedly clothed. As to the inconvenience felt by the commercial classes in this country, it was hardly to be told. Every shipowner was in continual fear that a ship of his might be stranded on the coast of France, and that, whereas a surveyor would formerly be able to go at once to the spot, the probability now was that the ship would be lost and the cargo destroyed, long before he had any chance of reaching it. Another disadvantage, surely worth consideration, was that practically every passport must now be granted in London; because, although the authorities at the Foreign Office said they were perfectly ready to send a passport into the country by return of post, on receipt of a proper recommendation, everybody acquainted with the machinery of a great public office must know that it was impossible for them to do so. Thus, a lady wrote to him complaining that she sent for a passport on the 24th, and only received one on the 28th, which happened to be a Sunday, so that it was not available until the 29th. Such instances were not to be wondered at. They must occur every day; and, as he was informed that all the duties in connection with this system devolved on two clerks, he thought it quite impossible that the business to be done at the Foreign Office should be performed even in such a way as would carry out the tenour of the present regulations, illiberally as they were conceived. The question for the con- sideration of the House was, what description of passport should he given to an Englishman so as to enable the Government to guarantee that the person possessing it should travel under the protection and œgis of this country throughout the world. The word "passport" was one of which it was somewhat difficult to give a definition, but in his opinion it ought to he held to mean nothing more than a mark of identification, entitling the holder to the protection of England. It was absurd for the English Government to think of making the passport a certificate of morality or respectability; and so far as our Government was concerned the whole matter turned upon the point, not whether a British subject should leave the country or not, but with what privileges he should travel in other lands. They had no right to refuse a passport to a convict discharged from gaol yesterday if he wished for it. In three cases only could they refuse—if they doubted whether the man was an Englishman; if he was under the immediate action of the law; or if he was endeavouring to evade the law of bankruptcy. These were the only cases in which the Government had a right to say you shall not travel. We were bound to afford protection to every Englishman who behaved himself with propriety upon the Continent, and who obeyed the laws of the nation in which he happened to sojourn, no matter what his antecedents were. He might also observe, that it was extremely desirable that the passport system should no longer subsist in connection with our Foreign Office. No other country did so, and in his opinion that connection had led to a great deal of confusion and abuse. The investigations of the Committee to inquire into the consular service, which had been moved for on the previous evening, would, he thought, servo to show that facilities had been afforded to the members of that service to lay unnecessary fees upon English travellers. Indeed, a case had lately been brought under his notice in which, although the passport had been properly visé, both as regarded England and the country in which the holder happened to be travelling, yet expense had been incurred which need not have been entailed. Under these circumstances it would, he maintained, be extremely desirable that the Government should direct their attention to the question, whether the whole passport system might not with advantage be transferred from the Foreign Office and attached to the Home Department, and whether the onus of refusing a passport should not be thrown altogether upon the shoulders of the Government of the day. The Executive might, through the agency of the police, become acquainted with almost every person who could not be safely trusted to bear the English name abroad, and he would have the refusal given in the case of any such person so recorded, that if the individual felt himself aggrieved, he might be in a position to appeal to public opinion. This was a question which he humbly placed before the notice of Her Majesty's Government, and asked them to consider it. They were in a particularly favourable position for doing so. They were not bound by the conduct of their predecessors, and it was in their power to remedy the matter in a great degree. The course of action of a foreign country with regard to passports was a question of policy, with which we Englishmen had nothing whatever to do. If the French Government, or any other, chose to throw obstacles in the way of their best customers travelling within their dominions—if they chose to deprive their innkeepers of the profits which were to be acquired by the outlay of English tourists, and their merchants of the benefits of English dealers, it was beyond all doubt in their power to carry that object into effect. It only remained to us to pursue our own course, and, with the aid of that constitution and that liberty which we had the happiness to possess, to realize the vision of the prince of lyric poets who, in the olden times of Greece, sung of A certain island set apart by fate, The sea its frontier and the shore its gate; Where every stranger with free foot can stand,— May Time ne'er shake the columns of that land! The hon. Member concluded by moving for Copies of Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and that of the Emperor of the French on the late alterations in the Passport System. And of the several Regulations respecting Passports issued by the Foreign Office since 1815, with the fees charged on their delivery.


said, that in rising to support the Resolution which his hon. Friend had just moved, he should feel it his duty to trespass for a few moments upon the indulgence of the House, while he briefly stated the reasons which appeared to him to render it expedient that Her Majesty's Government should at the present period make some effort to mitigate the grievance to which his hon. Friend had called their attention. The question involved in that grievance was one which, although somewhat new to the debates in that House, required no apology to be made for its introduction to its notice, for of all those subjects connected with our relations with foreign countries there was not one which concerned Englishmen individually so closely or which so materially affected our personal comfort and convenience. He must also observe that he regarded the present moment as one which was not altogether inopportune for bringing a subject so important under the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers. The French Government had in the first place, by their own act, abdicated that responsibility, which they had hitherto undertaken, of issuing passports to British subjects, and permitted it to devolve exclusively upon the Department for the administration of foreign affairs in this country. That step had of course, brought the matter more immediately under the notice of Her Majesty's Government, and had, in his opinion, imposed upon them a corresponding responsibility as to the mode in which they should fulfil the duties which had been recently assigned to them. Fortunately for the country, we had at the present moment at the head of the Foreign Department a Minister who appeared to possess the knack of writing conciliatory letters, and who, as he had been the means of removing the misunderstanding which existed between England and Franco, might very properly be looked to to frame such a despatch as would, without running the risk of creating a fresh misunderstanding between us and our ally, have the effect of mitigating the grievance which the House was engaged in discussing. The age in which we happened to live was one in which the prophecy that "many will run to and fro" was being fulfilled. It was an age of travelling — an age in which capital combined with science and industry appeared to be associated for the purpose of rendering locomotion as great a luxury as it had formerly been a misery. We now possessed increased facilities for moving from one place to another, whether in the pursuit of health or business, and were enabled to fulfil the designs of Providence by the promotion of a spirit of friendly inter- course with other countries, while the several provinces of our own country were brought into closer contact with one another. Could anything be more provoking than that at such a period as this the perverse ingenuity of man should be employed in throwing every possible obstacle in the way of free social intercourse? The House might depend upon it that so long as the passport system continued, no matter what diplomatic alliance might subsist between this country and France—no matter whether we should for a time be bound up with her in a contest against some third power—we never could realize that cordial friendship with France which every Englishman desired to see prevail. When Englishmen went abroad they were, generally speaking, disposed to enter a foreign State in a spirit of the utmost good feeling, and to quit it in a spirit of gratitude and kindly sentiment. He must, however, for his own part say—and in entertaining that feeling he believed he was by no means peculiar—that he never set his foot upon French soil without a sense of indignation at being obliged to submit to a system of interference which was, he thought, as useless as he knew it to be offensive. With the permission of the House he should for a few moments call its attention to a statement of the nature of that system, and as his own feelings might lead him into the use of language which might wound the susceptibilities of our neighbours across the Channel, he should prefer taking the description of it from writers of their own. The only system in this country which was parallel to the passport system of the Continent was that to which it had been found expedient to resort in order to protect society against convicted criminals. He hoped the House would permit him to read an extract from an article in the Encyclopédie du Langage et des Sciences Politiques, under the head "Passeports." The writer said:— In a financial and political point of view passports are at once vexatious and useless—vexatious, because the faculty of moving about and travelling being one of common right, and essentially affecting individual liberty, it is a violation of that liberty to force citizens to give the description of their persons (signalement), and to inform police agents of the place to which they happen to be going. It is useless, because reason and justice require that a tax should give to those who pay it some advantage towards their wellbeing and security. The tax on passports affords no such advantage. In spite of the rigorous prescription of the law which looks upon those who travel without passports as rogues and vagabonds, it is certain that a precautionary measure of the kind very rarely attains its end. Persons without any honest calling or livelihood, those who are within reach of the Penal Code, know perfectly well how to procure for themselves faultless passports. Sharpers, bankrupts, and many others whose occupation consists in getting into their hands other men's purses and property—all such voyageurs forces have never been found in want of passports (feuilies de route) which enable them to evade justice. Passports do not exist in England. There the citizen who travels has no need, in order to traverse the three kingdoms, to obtain the permission of a police magistrate. There commerce and industry are not exposed to such impediments, but are perfectly unfettered. There people go, and come, and stop, as it suits them, or as it pleases them. The roads and streets are free from all police inquisition. Those were rather strong terms for a French writer to use in speaking of a domestic institution of his country, and if they had been penned by an Englishman they would probably have been condemned as exaggerated and unfair. But he had a still stronger passage from the works of a very eminent French writer, who was perfectly acquainted with the subject. That writer said: — No inhabitant of Great Britain, excepting convicts, can be expelled from the United Kingdom. Any infraction of this clause (the Habeas Corpus Act) would be visited with the severest penalties. After describing the Habeas Corpus Act, be continued:— In England those violations of a citizen's domicile, so common in France under the name of domiciliary visits, are unknown. In England the secrets of families are respected, and correspondence remains intact. In England the first of all liberties, that of going where you please, is never disturbed, for there no one is asked for passports— passports, the oppressive invention of the Committee of Public Safety, which are an embarrassment and an obstacle to the peaceful citizen; but which are utterly powerless against those who wish to deceive the vigilance of authority. The House would doubtless wish to know who was the author of those remarks. It was no less a person than the present Emperor of the French, than whom no man had had more experience of the passport system, or was better able, from personal experience, to speak as to its utter inutility. It was unnecessary to refer to cases of annoyance and inconvenience which were of daily occurrence under the present passport system, and which must be familiar to every hon. Member; but he might be allowed to mention one instance that had come to his knowledge, in which no less distinguished a person than Sir Hamilton Seymour, then Minister at Brussels, having received an invitation from the Court to attend a great state ceremony at Ostend, accidentally left his passport behind him, and, notwithstanding his card of invitation, was arrested by the police, and was very near being taken to prison for travelling without a passport. It might perhaps be said that passports were a domestic institution of the French nation with which we had nothing to do, and that if we did not like the arrangements we could keep away from the country. He should like to know how far hon. Members were disposed to carry that argument, as it appeared to him to be capable of a reductio ad absurdum. They had recently seen in this country the Ambassadors from two Foreign Sovereigns who had peculiar notions as to the proper attitude in which to approach the presence of Royalty, and some amusing illustrations had shown the manner in which those Ambassadors crawled upon their bellies into the presence of the Queen. Now, supposing that in the country whence those Ambassadors came an Englishman should be charged with a mission to the Sovereign, would it be imperative on him, or consistent with the dignity of the country he represented, to adopt a mode of address so repugnant to our feelings, although to the natives of that country it might not appear at all degrading or unworthy? To take another case nearer home, it was said to be a custom that persons who were presented to the Pope should perform the ceremony of kissing his great toe. He (Mr. Walter) did not quarrel with the ceremony, but if it were compulsory, instead of optional, would Englishmen travelling in Italy be content to comply with such a requirement, or would they not remonstrate upon what they might consider to be an outrage upon the national dignity? Therefore he thought the argument that passports were a domestic institution of France, with which we had no concern, might be carried too far. Indeed, it was a matter upon which we were not altogether free to choose for ourselves, for nature had established certain geographical relations between this country and Franco that could not be got rid of, even if we wished it. Although it was perfectly competent for any nation to exercise its legal rights and to adapt its laws and customs in such a manner as might become offensive and disagreeable to its neighbours, yet it was a question of prudence and expediency us well as of good feeling how far it was wise to enforce such laws and customs. He wanted to know what it really was that the French Government desired or expect- ed to obtain from the passport system. Was it their object to exclude Englishmen from travelling in their country? If so, the simpler plan would be plainly to tell us so. Was it wished to make travelling as disagreeable as possible? He could hardly imagine that to be the motive, for, if it were, the easiest plan would be to tell us that our company was not wanted. The only object could be to provide such securities for their laws and their ruler as might be consistent with ordinary reason and common sense. How far any passport system, however rigorously enforced, could give such security might be a fair subject of doubt. For himself, he did not believe that any conspiracy or attempt at assassination could be prevented by any system of the kind. It appeared to him that all a foreign Government was justified in exacting from the British Government was that each British subject travelling abroad should be furnished with a certificate of identity and nationality, sufficient to satisfy the police of the country that the bearer was the person therein described. He also wished to know who was the person responsible for the concoction of the present form of passport. He held in his hand a document familiar to all—a passport signed by the Earl of Clarendon, containing a long rigmarole enumerating all the titles and marks of distinction possessed by that noble Earl, and concluding with a flaming illustration of his coat of arms. If the late Duke of Wellington had been Foreign Minister, and the same form had been followed, the document must have been a yard long to contain all his titles and distinctions. All that was very immaterial to the French Government, and afforded no security against ill-intentioned visitors. Perhaps he might be allowed to make a practical suggestion that the best form of passport would be a simple card, something similar to a Crystal Palace season ticket, containing on one side the date, the signature of the bearer, with the declaration that he was a British subject; and on the other side there should be the Government stamp. All that foreign Governments had a right to require was that every Englishman leaving this country to travel in their territories should be marked as such; although, indeed, it might be said that Englishmen were stamped by nature and needed no Government identification. The plan he had suggested appeared to him to be the simplest and the most sensible, if any passports at all were necessary. He did not think that visé's should be required, for it was a disgrace to England that after the Government had given a certificate of identity and nationality it should require the visé of any foreign Power. Pie submitted those suggestions to the consideration of the Government, and he would only add, in conclusion, that the Minister who succeeded in abolishing or even in mitigating this offensive system would be more entitled to the thanks of the country than many Ministers who claimed credit for more important successes. He cordially seconded the Motion of the hon. Member for Pontefract.


was understood to say, he hoped he should not be regarded as having treated the House with disrespect if, on a question which had excited public attention to a considerable extent, he occupied only ten minutes in replying to speeches which had occupied upwards of an hour. The question was one of a very practical character, and it should receive a practical reply from the Government; and therefore he would not follow the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) and the hon. Gentleman who succeeded him in their quotations from distinguished French writers, neither should he allude to the opinions of the present Emperor of the French with respect to the value of the passport system. As regarded the general question of the use of passports and of the desirableness of maintaining the passport system, it must be remembered that that was a matter of internal regulation on the part of the French Government, with which they had nothing whatever to do. If for the convenience of travelling in France it was requisite that British subjects should have a certain authority to travel—he did not mean in reference to their character, but merely a statement that they were British subjects, and as such entitled to considerate treatment abroad—and that was all that was required—the regulations which our own Government made on that subject was the grand point for consideration. That was the point to which he should direct the attention of the House; that was the point to which Her Majesty's Government were bound to direct their attention, and not the regulations which, whether rightly or wrongly, whether advantageously or otherwise, foreign Governments had thought it necessary to establish. Now, the hon. Gentleman who made this Motion had complained that great impediments were, by the arrangements at present made by the French Government, thrown in the way of British subjects travelling abroad. He could not but think, however, that the hon. Gentleman had spoken without that information on the subject which he might easily have acquired; and that the House would acknowledge, when he had submitted to them the manner in which this matter had been put by the French Government to the British Government, and the manner in which they were prepared to deal with the question, that, so far from this country having any cause of complaint against the French Government on account of the course which they had adopted, it had in fact been treated by that Government in a liberal and generous spirit. ["Oh! oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen would, perhaps, be kind enough to wait until they had heard the information on which his opinion was founded, and not interrupt him in ignorance of the facts. Now, the position in which the matter stood was this. The French Government had, as was stated by the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion, been in the habit of permitting their consular authorities to issue passports to British subjects desirous of travelling abroad. It was perfectly true that that permission was withdrawn, but it was withdrawn with a distinct declaration on the part of the French Government that they were not only willing, but bound to admit any regulations which the British Government might establish in reference to the issue of passports to British subjects, and consequently it was perfectly clear that if any fault was to he found with the restrictions attached to our passports, it rested with the British Government and not with the French Government, who said they were willing to accept British passports under whatever regulations they might be issued. Well, one result of the late regulations had, doubtless, been considerable inconvenience to travellers. The matter having early attracted the attention of Her Majesty's Government, as he had no doubt, and indeed he had reason for believing, it attracted the attention of their predecessors in office, they had considered by what means they could best meet and remedy the inconveniences which had arisen. The practical question which they had to determine was, how they could best devise such passports as the French Government would be willing to accept. Now, Her Majesty's Government consider- ed that in issuing passports they were not entitled to inquire in any way what were either the political or the moral antecedents of those who demanded them. In their eyes a passport was a certificate of citizenship—a certificate of the fact that the bearer was a British subject—and the Government did not consider themselves entitled to go beyond that. Still, in order to obtain an assurance that a person was a British subject, there must be some formality, and at the present moment the Department with which he had the honour of being connected, was engaged in considering how they could afford the greatest facilities for the issue of passports consistently with the identification of the bearer as a British subject. It appeared to them a great inconvenience that London should be the only place where passports were issued. His hon. Friend who spoke last said it was a new feature that passports could only he issued in London. Practically that was not the case, inasmuch as the return showed that as much as 80 or perhaps 90 per cent of all the passports granted by the French consulate were issued in London. With a view to providing a remedy for this evil, he might state that it was in contemplation by Her Majesty's Government to establish in some of the principal ports of this country offices where passports could be readily obtained by British subjects. Such offices would probably be established at Dover, Folkestone, Newhaven, Southampton, and Liverpool. In fact, suck arrangements would be made as experience showed to be most calculated to prevent inconvenience. Another difficulty had been pointed out by his hon. Friend who preceded him —namely, that connected with the visé, of passports in France. Now, in reference to that he was bound to say that, having seen a statement in the papers — indeed, he believed it had been officially communicated—that British subjects had been sent back from Boulogne in consequence of their passports not having the visé of the consul-general in London, Her Majesty's Government asked for explanation, and they were distinctly informed that if any such case occurred, which appeared doubtful, it must have arisen from some misconstruction of the instructions on the part of the authorities at Boulogne, it being an instruction from Paris that the French consul at any British port might visé a passport. He had, he said, the authority of the French Government for saying that if any such case occurred it must have been a solitary one, and the result of misconception, the fact being that French consuls, being Frenchmen, in any port of this country might vise. British passports. In order to give a further exemplification of the spirit in which Her Majesty's Government had been met by the French Government, he might state that, it having been communicated to the French Government that it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to establish passport offices at some of the principal ports of this country, they at once said that, in order to meet them half way, they would themselves establish at those ports French consular agents, who should have the power to visé passports issued there, so that no inconvenience might arise afterwards. The sole object of Her Majesty's Government as regarded the regulations for the issue of passports was to prevent, as far as possible, inconvenience to the public. One inconvenience which had been complained of was that the amount now charged for a Foreign-Office passport was too largo; that whereas previously a passport could be procured from a French consul for a very small sum, at present it could only be had from the Foreign Office on payment of a fee which pressed severely on artisans. On this point he could not say what course his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer might feel it his duty to follow, but this he did know, that it was the earnest desire of the Department with which he had the honour to be connected that such a reduction should be made in the charge for Foreign-Office passports as would place them within the reach of almost any one of Her Majesty's subjects. He thought he had now stated all that it was necessary for him to state on this subject. He had desired to deal with a practical subject in a practical manner, and he trusted the House now felt that, so far from there being at the present moment any reason to complain of the course pursued by the French Government on this question, that Government had manifested a desire to mitigate, as far as possible, any inconveniences which the passport regulations had occasioned.


said, he had one suggestion to offer, by which he thought they might avoid establishing new Government offices in the various towns. He would suggest that the Mayors of Manchester, Birmingham, and all the large towns, should be empowered to issue passports. He believed that the Lord Provost of Edinburgh had long been in the habit of issuing them, and he believed also the Lord Provost of Glasgow. All that they wanted to know was, that persons were British subjects, and that they were respectable people; and the magistrates of towns were likely to have the best information as to that. He would also suggest that the fee should be reduced to a shilling.


said, he thought there was a doubt which ought to be cleared up. He thought the House had a right to ask in what manner this change in the passport system had been brought about. If it had originated with the present Government he could have understood it. because they might be supposed to have sympathies with the continental Governments; but when he remembered that the change was made by the late Cabinet he could only conclude that it had been suggested to the noble Lord by some persons who knew very little of the feelings of this country. He would warn the Government that if they were prepared to enter into a complicated arrangement with the French Government, and for the purpose of assisting them in carrying out their new system, to regard a passport as a guarantee for the good behaviour of every person to whom they granted one, they would place the country in a very dangerous position. As, however, the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs hardly seemed sufficiently aware of the inconveniences of the new regulations, and the magnitude of the evils they occasioned, he would beg to recall to his recollection facts which had appeared in the newspapers daily for some time. The Lord Mayor had last month stated on the bench that, however anxious he was to facilitate the issuing of passports, he found the number of applications quite intolerable; and many persons applied whom he did not know, and letters stating who they were, were of no avail. On the same day Mr. Arnold, the police magistrate, had made a statement to a similar effect, and had said that he would not recommend any person to come to him. These cases showed that there was no uniformity of practice in London, and if the practice was not settled here how much more uncertainty might be expected to exist in the country? The only safe and dignified course for the Fo- reign Office to adopt was not to pretend to answer for the character of every person who obtained a passport, but to grant freely to every British subject the protection to which he was entitled.


As far as the late Government are concerned they can have no objection to the production of the papers in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has agreed to them; but I would suggest an addition to the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Moncton Milnes)— namely, copies or extracts of any correspondence that may have been received at the Foreign Office from British Consuls on the coast of Fiance—say within the last two years—on the subject of the inconvenience caused by British workmen arriving in France furnished with passports given to them by French consular agents in Great Britain. It has often happened that British workmen have been induced to go to France by means of passports granted by French consular agents in this country, templed to proceed thither when there was no real demand for their labour, and they have frequently been exposed to great inconvenience, while the public has incurred considerable expense, by their being sent back as distressed British subjects, unable to procure their own means of transport. The addition which I have suggested will complete the view which my hon. Friend wishes to lay before the House with respect to the passport system. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that the passport system is an internal and domestic regulation of the French Government with which the British Parliament has really no right to interfere; and I quite differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes) in the opinion which he expressed, that the late Government, by enlarging the facilities for getting passports, established a passport system in this country. They did no such thing. The passports issued from the Foreign Office had nothing whatever to do with any internal regulation hero, but was merely given to a British subject for the purpose of enabling him to travel without interruption on the Continent. My hon. Friend blamed the Government for reducing the price of passports, but he ought to have recollected that the reduction from £2 16s. to 7s. 6d. was made in compliance with the expressed wishes of this House. It was not at all a spontaneous act on the part of the Government; on the contrary, it was attended with a good deal of departmental inconvenience, and was resolved upon in deference to the repeated wish of Parliament that British subjects should be enabled to obtain at a small cost that sanction of their own Government which would secure them from molestation when travelling on the Continent. I quite agree, however, with those who hold that the passport system is, in truth, of very little value. The only real effect of it is to embarrass innocent travellers, and to cloak the proceedings of those who go about with mischievous intentions. I am able to state an instance of each kind. Many years ago (not in the reign of the present Emperor, not in the reign of Louis Philippe, but in that of Charles X.,) I was travelling from the north to the south of France, and one evening, when I arrived at my inn, an officer of police came to inspect my passport. Having looked at it, he said, "Sir, if I did my duty I should arrest you." "I am sorry to hoar it," I replied, "but I hope you will do no such thing. Why?" "Because your passport has not been visé since you landed at Havre." I told him that was the fault of the French officials. But here was a harmless traveller threatened with arrest because his passport was not in the condition required by the French regulations. Take the other instance. Orsini, who lately suffered for the attempt upon the life of the Emperor of the French, was actually travelling with one of my passports. He had obtained possession of a passport which was given, not by myself, but by the officials at the Foreign Office when I was Secretary of State, to a British subject named Allsop. The passport was procured on the recommendation, of a very respectable mercantile firm in London, and having been given to Allsop was handed over to Orsini, who, although he did not carry upon his features that stamp of nationality which the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Walter) thinks would be sufficient to identify a British subject, had nevertheless that stamp of nationality which is implied in the possession of a passport granted to a British subject by his own Government. Does not the case of Orsini show that passports are of no real use for the purpose of impeding the movements of dangerous characters on the Continent? It shows also that no regulations which the British Foreign Office can establish for the purpose of identification can be effectual, because great may be the care taken to confine the passports given by them to British subjects there is no means by which you can prevent them being transferred to foreigners, and then all precautions fail, and the whole system becomes a useless restriction on the motions of those who have no bad intentions, and who go to the Continent only for the purposes of business or of pleasure. But, as I said before, these are matters which foreign Governments have a right to regulate according to what they deem necessary for their own internal security. At the same time, if passports are required—not for British but for foreign purposes — by British subjects, I quite admit that every facility ought to be given to British subjects for obtaining the papers necessary to enable them to travel on the Continent. It is quite true, as stated by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that the inconveniences resulting from the recent regulations were felt by the late Government. Those regulations were established experimentally and provisionally, in consequence of the French Government having forbidden their agents here to give passports to British subjects; but I have no doubt that when the matter is looked into, and with the new regulations which the Under Secretary says the Foreign Office is about to establish, many of the inconveniences which are the necessary result of arrangements made in consequence of the action of another Government will be removed, and greater facilities will be given to British subjects wishing to travel abroad. I have only to say in conclusion that if my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract has no objection to the addition I have suggested, it will, I think, complete the case by showing the representations which have been made by British consuls in the French ports, of the inconvenience to individuals, and the expense to the public, occasioned by the facilities which were formerly afforded by French consular agents here to tempt British workmen to go to France, when there was no real demand for their labour, and when, having nothing to do when they arrived there, they were compelled to be sent back as distressed British subjects.


I think the noble Lord was in error when he stated that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract had found fault with our Government for reducing the price of passports. I rather think that the hon. Gentleman, on the contrary, is one of those who think that passports should be as cheap as possible. The question of the price has nothing to do with the objects for which they are granted. I have listened to the discussion to-night with great satisfaction, and I am sure the country will receive with pleasure the observations which the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has addressed to the House. There are two things which our Government can do. In the first place it can make friendly representations to foreign Powers for the purpose of prevailing upon them to lessen as much as possible the difficulties which are interposed in the way of a traveller on the Continent. It can do nothing further with foreign Powers, because I take it for granted that we are bound to submit to any internal regulations on this matter which a foreign Government may make; but with respect to the second point—in relation to our own country, it can do almost anything. Our Ministers do not care a straw, I presume, what Englishman travels abroad, where he goes, or how long he stays away; they give him a passport merely because foreign Governments will not admit him into their territories without one. But foreign Governments do not ask that we should charge 7s. for our passports. They do not ask that we should bring men from all parts of the country to any particular city for the purpose of getting passports, nor do they require that poor people, who have no influential friends, who do not know a banker or a Member of Parliament, should find it almost impossible, as we have recently seen proved in the newspapers, to obtain a passport at all. The inconveniences, of which so much complaint is made, are owing to the conduct of our own Government and to the want of common sense in these matters manifested by the Foreign Office in past times. I agree with the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. J. B. Smith) that it would be very undesirable to establish passport offices in the various towns throughout the country. We know what a passport office would become. First of all there would be a considerable amount of patronage. All Members of Government, it is true, when they speak of patronage profess to care nothing whatever about it. At the same time, whenever any measure creating patronage comes before Parliament, I observe that as much patronage is provided for as can he conveniently put in an Act of Parlia- ment. If you were to have passport officers in Liverpool, Hull, and other large towns, the passport officer would not have enough to do, for the few persons he would have to attend to would not give him more than one or two hours' employment a-day, and he must be a respectable person and have a competent salary. My hon. Friend (Mr. J. B. Smith) proposes that the mayors of the different cities should have the power to give passports; and I have no doubt whatever that that would be a convenient arrangement. The Mayor has the confidence of his fellow-townsmen, otherwise he would not be in that position, and a very small fee would cover any expense he might incur. What object could there be in charging for a passport more than 6d.? You do not want more money than would just pay the expense, and that might be provided for by a vote of that House, or by some small fee, for we do not want to tax our countrymen going abroad. If it were not for foreign countries we should have no passports; and therefore, being compelled to have passports, it is the duty of the Government to make the infliction as little as possible. Acting upon that principle, any two men in this House might sit down, and in half an hour draw up a scheme by which all the difficulties would be removed, and which would be satisfactory to the country. I hope the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs will not conclude from these observations that I am dissatisfied with what he said. I think that what he has stated shows that the Government are paying attention to the subject, and I hope that as long as he occupies his present position the House may be as well satisfied with any explanation he may have to give in future as with that he has just offered.


said, that he would not detain the House for more than three minutes, but that he wished to correct one error in a matter of fact into which the hon. Member who had just sat down had fallen. It was quite a mistake to suppose that foreign Governments did not care from what particular office a passport was issued. The possession of a Foreign Office passport made all the difference in the world to the comfort of a traveller. He would relate one instance of this within his personal experience. He was travelling in Hungary before the effects of the revolutionary war had quite passed away, and when the authorities were much exasperated against England. He arrived in Semlin simultaneously with a young Eng- lishman, who was going to Bucharest on commercial business of great importance. He had a Foreign-Office passport, signed by the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), and to this the Austrian military authorities paid the greatest possible respect; while they treated as little better than a more nullity the perfectly regular passport granted to the young Englishman by Colonel Hodge, our then representative at Hamburg. He (Mr. Duff) was offered every facility for the prosecution of his journey, while the bearer of Colonel Hodge's passport was forbidden to proceed to Bucharest, at which place, for all he (Mr. Duff) knew to the contrary, he may not yet have arrived.


It appears to me that the observations which have fallen from the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) are like those that usually fall from him, well worthy of the consideration of the House. I feel, as I think the House must feel, that we have two objects before us—namely, to make the obtaining of passports both easy and economical. The office with which my hon. Friend is connected has the subject before it, with the intention, if possible, of accomplishing these two objects. The mode which he has intimated is not one which has been definitely fixed upon. we are only so far pledged that we are desirous, if possible, to carry out the objects to which I have already alluded. Some difficulties have been started by the municipal bodies; but I feel sure that, after some little discussion and arrangement, those difficulties will be overcome. The great object is, so to arrange that in future Englishmen, who wish to leave the country, will find that the preliminary process, instead of being expensive and difficult, can be entered upon at a moment's notice, and with little or no expense. The proposition of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) with regard to an addition to the Motion, appears to be one to which no objection can be made. I trust that the result of this discussion will be the bringing about of a system more satisfactory to the country.


replied. He certainly thought that the reduction of the price of Foreign-Office passports had, though unintentionally, a bad result, for it had induced people to use English passports instead of keeping to the old foreign passport system, which kept the English Foreign Office free of this matter. He begged to thank the hon. Gentleman oppo- site (Mr. S. FitzGerald) for his statement, in which there was but one point omitted, and that was the consideration of the enormous number of people who had been in the habit of frequenting the ports of France without any passports whatever. That was a custom of thirty years' standing, and the sudden abolition of the privilege was a fair matter for complaint. With regard to the suggestion of his noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston), he had no objection to extend the terms of his Motion, so as to include those further returns which his noble Friend desired to have.

Motion agreed to.

Address for — Copies of Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and that of the Emperor of the French, on the late alterations in the Passport System: Of the several Regulations respecting Passports issued by the Foreign Office since 1815, with the fees charged on their delivery: And, Copies or Extracts of any Communication received at the Foreign Office since the 1st day of January, 1856, relative to the inconvenience sustained by British Workmen who had arrived in France with Passports given by French Consular Agents in Great Britain.