Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £10, he granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs including the Foreign Claims Office, Foreign Trade Department, War Trade Statistical Department, and News Department.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Foreign Office (Colonel Sir Hamar Greenwood) sets such a good example that it is with the greater reluctance that I press him on the point which was raised last Thursday in regard to the system of passports and visés. Some of us on that occasion suggested that the Government should do everything in their power to abolish the visé system. We pointed out that it was a war-time restriction on freedom of travel and that so far as we were aware there was no necessity for it even under the Aliens Act, and we suggested that the Government should make representations to foreign governments in order to abolish the system as soon as possible. I hope he will not adopt the non possumus, adamant attitude that he adopted last Thursday. The right hon. Member for the Camborne division (Mr. Acland) asked him to take away from the Debate the impression that there was a sincere desire on the part of this House to bring this system to an end. I believe there is that sincere desire, and I hope he will be able to inform us that the Government will do what lies in their power to bring it to an end, and that they will approach foreign governments with a view to the abolition of the visé system as soon as possible.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I wish to reinforce the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member. I heard with great deal of astonishment on Thursday from the hon. and gallant Member (Sir Hamar Greenwood) that we kept this system on because the United States Government insisted upon it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Member shakes his head. I understood that, and also that the United States Government are as keen as we are on keeping this system going. During the week-end I had a conversation with an American gentleman who travels a great deal, and he said, "We have the same complaint in the States. We are told that it is the English Government that insists on this system being kept on." No doubt if I spoke to softie of my French friends they would say the same thing. After the expressions of opinion from all parts of the House I hope we may have some assurance from the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he is going to press this view upon the Cabinet. The country is very much annoyed at what they consider to be these unnecessary restrictions. Business men going abroad in the interests of the trade of the country are hampered and woried by having to get these visés. Let them carry their passports if necessary for the next few months, but do get rid of the visé system. and the country will gain and not suffer by it. As for the other reason that was given, that it is necessary to keep on this system because of the Aliens Act, I cannot see how that argument applies. We had an Aliens Restriction Act before the War, and there were restrictions on aliens coming into the country. That Act was exercised quite efficiently, as every fair-minded person will admit, and I do not see why we should be condemned all our lives to this visé system for the sake of keeping a few Germans out of this country. We used to be told in our youth that any Russian under the Tzarist regime consisted of three elements—body, soul and passport. That was a great joke and we laughed at it and thanked our stars that we were born in free England. Let us get rid of that indeterminate part of our body, the visé on our passport. It is quite useless for keeping out people you want to keep out, because there is nothing easier than to get forged passports and forged visés and to come into this country if you know the way to do it.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I would not have intervened if it had not been for the dissent 993 that was physically expressed by the hon. and gallant Member (Sir Hamar Greenwood) when my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Colonel Murray) stated that the excuse given by the Government was that the continuance of this system was due to the fault of the American Government. The hon. and gallant. Member dissents again. I always like to convict this Government out of their own mouths. I have repeatedly written on behalf of persons anxious to go to America who complained of difficulty in regard to these visés, and the answer I have invariably got has been that it was the fault of the American Government and not the fault of the British Department dealing with the question. Therefore, I cannot see how the hon. and gallant Member can dissent from the view put forward—I associate myself with the protest which has been made. The whole thing is a humbug and a fraud. It does not keep people out of America who want to get there. The wrong people, if they want to get there, can go. This is another of the irritations which make people very angry, which are caused by these restrictive administrative Acts. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman as he is now disposed to blame other Governments, will get up and say that the question has been solved by the withdrawal of the necessity for the issue of these visés.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I invited the hon. and gallant Gentleman to go to Paris without his white passport and travel with an ordinary passport for a change, and see what it is like. I am afraid that he has not followed my advice. It is so easy for a Member of the Government to take a white passport and travel in comfort, that he does not realise what the ordinary traveller has to put up with. The ordinary traveller who crosses the Channel spends at least one hour, and probably two, packed like a sardine, on each side of the Channel, in order to have his visé examined. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have crossed quite recently, and that is my experience; first on leaving England, and then on arriving in France. I crossed from Southampton to le Havre, and the examinations both on this side and that were interminable. That is going on perpetually. That all arises from the fact that different governments persist in having a visé before anybody is allowed 994 to enter their country. It is easy for the hon. and gallant Member to say that we do not require a visé on any British subject coming into this country. Of course he does not, but he requires a visé on the passport of every foreigner coming into this country. Naturally, so long as we require a visé on the passport of every foreigner coming into England, so long will foreign countries require a visé on the passport of the British subject who goes abroad to any country.
If we were the first to abolish the custom of requiring a visé on the passport of every foreigner coming into England, the other countries would follow suit, and travelling would got back to the old comfortable conditions which prevailed before the war. At present this is doing most harm in America, because nothing puts an American's back up more than being treated in England as though he were a foreigner and badgered about from pillar to post with passport Regulations. I am certain that the abolition of the visé system for us would be one of those little things which would make the relationship of ourselves and America infinitely better than it is at the present time. There is a large body of people in this country who believe that the passport system is kept on in its present complexity to continue to provide jobs for passport officers, and while we are complaining about waste we have these unnecessary departments making things difficult for the Englishman who has to travel on commercial business abroad. Personally I always found the passport officers extremely civil and very helpful, but when you are a foreigner you often find very different conditions.
The case of Madam Litvinoff is one which has done this country no end of harm. Mr. Litvinoff was allowed to come to Stockholm to meet our representatives. Obviously if anything was to become of these negotiations, things should be made as comfortable for him as possible without committing the country to a step of which it might not approve. Madame Litvinoff wanted to go from here with her child to Stockholm to visit him. She is an English born woman and merely wished to see her husband after being separated from him for 18 months. The passports office hung up the matter for 14 days-most of the time Mr. Litvinoff was in Stockholm—before Madam Litvinoff was 995 allowed to go. That sort of conduct can do no possible good. It makes it much more difficult to deal with a foreigner if his wife is not treated properly in her own country. A little action of that sort by the passport office does more harm than you can possibly do good by keeping out undesirable aliens from this country. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that we must continue to have passports for every foreigner coming to England, visés because there is no other way of carrying out the Aliens Act. How was the Aliens Act carried out before the War? These visés were not necessary then and apparently they are necessary now only because we have established a vested interest in a large number of passport offices and clerks and must keep the system going. I ask the Committee to register a Vote against the way in which our passport system is most extravagant and is mediæval in character.
§ Mr. ACLAND
It may help the Committee if one makes a distinction between a passport system and a irisé system. I do not think that any foreign government would be suspicious of anyone travelling from England, purporting to be a British subject, with his photograph on his passport. Anyone for instance who takes a Cook's ticket and is a British subject can get a passport through Cook's. I think that you pay something like 6s. for it and hand in a form of application which has to be signed by a Justice of the Peace or a Minister of religion or somebody like that. So that there is very little difficulty in a British subject who wants to travel in a foreign country providing himself with a British passport. If a foreign government wants to object to a British subject it has got to look beyond the passport. That cannot be the real guarantee that we are only allowing out of our country at the present time persons who have a proper and adequate reason for going out of this country.
Before the war a few people took out passports in case they got to some place where they might be useful. Generally the way you were treated by officials and so on in other countries depended on who you were and not on the accident of whether you happened to have a British passport or not. That did not guarantee you anything special in the way of treatment or consideration, but it seems to me that in this matter of passports our hands may 996 be tied by the Aliens Act which we passed last year. I think that it is a great pity. Some of us did our best against it when it was before the House, but under that Act we have required aliens wanting to come into this country to be provided with passports from the country in which they come and we wish to examine those passports. If that is so it is very difficult for us to say, "Let us now ask other countries to let us go into their territory without being provided with passports on our side." I think that it is unfortunate that in this matter of passports we are tied by the legislation of last session, and I hope that the Government will consider it with a view, perhaps not this year but later on, to a revision of that legislation so that in time we may get back to the old principle of not bothering about these paper identifications, which after all are very little guarantee, of the people getting about.
§ The question of visé is different. What happens now is this. A person wants to go to Switzerland; he gets a passport through Cook's. That is simple enough. Then he provides himself for some curious reason with six photographs of himself and five of his wife if she is going to travel with him. Then he has to visit two places in London, to get the visé of the French Consulate and the Swiss Consulate. It has to be in a certain order. If he goes to the French Consulate before going to the Swiss Consulate that is no good. When I was going to Switzerland I waited at the French Consulate for several hours in December on a cold morning before I finally reached the sacred room, and I was then told that I must go to the Swiss Consulate first. It was necessary to go to the Swiss Consulate between certain hours. I could not go between these hours, but the Commissionaire at the Consulate happened to be a West Countryman coming from the same parish as myself, and but for that fact I might have been waiting at the doorstep still.
§ That is a very vexatious proceeding, and there is this little pinprick in it, that when you have to pay 10 francs on your French visé you must do it at the pre-war rate of exchange, which was 25 francs to the £, and you have to pay BE. instead of 4s., which is all the French Government is justified in asking you to pay. But that system could be modified by common consent. Is it really necessary for us that before foreigners 997 come to this country they should obtain the visé of the British Consulate in the foreign country? Because if we do not require that then we have something definite to go on. We would be able to say to foreign countries, "We are willing to take your people without requiring a visé of our Consulation the passport, and therefore we suggest that you should take our people without requiring the visé of your officials on their passports." That is the vexatious thing which must be got rid of. But as long as we say no foreigner can come here, say from Switzerland, without having a visé of the British Consul at Geneva, or Berne, or some place of the kind, so long as it is a thing which produces revenue—the hon. Gentleman said that the revenue produced by the passport system paid the War bonus of the Foreign Office and certain other expenses of the messengers—so long shall we be plagued by having to obtain a visé from foreign Consulates. Even if on the present legislation we are bound to the passport system, cannot my bon. and gallant Friend, by mutual arrangement, do away with this very vexatious system of visé?
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I have had the unfor-tunate experience of dancing attendance for seven weeks on a foreign Consul and of being unable at the end to got my visé. That made it absolutely impossible for me to keep my engagement on the Continent. The humbug of this visé system is patent to all who have had to deal with it, particularly since the War. On behalf of those who, like myself, have to visit the Continent, I want to appeal as strongly as I can to the Foreign Office to abolish the visé system. There may be some reason for a passport, but I can see nothing that a visé can give that a passport does not give. The visé in itself is the principal cause of discomfort and of delay to the travelling public. I think that almost everyone who has travelled on the Continent since the War will agree that the greatest difficulty is experienced with this visé system. I had undertaken to meet representatives from different nations throughout Europe to discuss matters connected with the textile trade, but I had to cancel the arrangement because I could not get my visé through. Business relationships are seriously handicapped by the system.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I have listened with great interest to this Debate. I want to clear up at once one misconception in the minds of several hon. Members. The British Government neither issue passports nor impress visés on the documents of foreigners leaving this country. Americans and all other foreigners, as far as the Government are concerned, are free to go from these islands wherever they will. Foreign countries, however, and, indeed, the countries of these departing foreigners, will not allow these ladies or gentlemen to land unless a Consular officer of the foreign country to which the foreigner is going has viséed his passport.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY
Those foreigners have to get our visés before they can get into this country.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
That Is another question. We must start this discussion somewhere, and I am starting at another point.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
How long is it since this arrangement was made; because I know a ease of American ladies who came over to see dying relatives, and there was the greatest possible difficulty in getting these visés.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I am more than sorry if my hon. Friend has had any difficulty, especially in the case of a person on such a sad errand; but I cannot imagine where the difficulty comes in since the War. During the War there was a very stringent system for dealing with people coming into and going out of this country, but certainly for a long time past no foreigner has been stopped by the British authorities from going home. Thousands were here before the War, and before the present passport system was set up. I want to clear up the point made by the hon. Member for the Falls Division (Mr. Devlin) for anything affecting America and our relations with America is important. There is not the slightest inconvenience imposed on, or any regulation dealing with, departing Americans or foreigners. All countries in the world insist upon examining incoming passengers, 999 and the incoming passenger, for his own security and on his own behalf, travels with a document issued by his representative in the country of his departure I will give the case of an American who has resided here, say, for 20 years. He wishes to visit the home of his fathers in the United States. He does not bother any British authorities. He goes to his Consul-General. We put no troubles in his way. Let me clear up another impression. This country is the pioneer in freedom in the matter of passports and visés. British subjects in all parts of the world require no visé from a British authority to come back to England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. The visé is abolished as far as the British Consular Officer abroad is concerned. Arrangements have been made with the French and United States Governments whereby British subjects can now obtain visés to enable them to travel to and fro, and negotiations with the Swiss Government are proceeding on similar lines. His Majesty's Government are prepared to enter into similar arrangements with other Governments. That does away with a good deal of the criticism I have heard.
This passport system has changed entirely during the past year, Hon. Members who travelled abroad just after the Armistice may have found great difficulty, but if they travel now they will be given facilities as far as passports are concerned. The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyne was incorrect in one of his statements. There are about 15,000 passports issued every day. About 14,000 of them are issued within 24 hours of the application and 300 are issued as urgent cases within an hour of their presentation. There is much talk, not in this House, but outside, about bureaucracy, I should like to know what business firm would do things better than that. There; are every day about 100 passport applications that have to be examined much more carefully, generally for reasons of negligence. For instance, a man puts his wife's photo on his own passport form, or by some other act of negligence makes ft impossible for his passport to be dealt with promptly. I submit that the system is now much improved. At the same time it enables us to maintain control of alien immigration. Every country insists upon checking the persons coming into that 1000 country. In that respect I submit that we still remain the freest country in the world. It is practically impossible efficiently to administer the Aliens Act of last year unless you have a passport system, that is to say, unless you have British subjects in possession of a British passport and unless the alien coming to these shores has his alien passport visé by the Consular or Passport Control Officer in the country of his nationality from which he departs. Under the Aliens Act every person coming to this country must be examined as to his nationality. That is the law. Do not blame the Foreign Office for administering the law.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has his own way of dealing with Governments I sometimes envy him his freedom. The Foreign Office is compelled to administer the law and to help the Home Office, which is particularly responsible in dealing with the Aliens Act. When an alien departs from some country, he gets a passport from his own local authority and this is visé by a British Consular Officer or British Passport Control Officer who, living in the country of the departing alien, can alone visé with authority and knowledge the document that is essential for that alien to enter this Kingdom. It is not possible, as far as I can see at the moment, though I hall consider this Question, to avoid insisting upon the visé on an alien passport being impressed in the country of departure. A passport now can be made valid in more than one country, and the holder can travel about within the period for which the passport is valid, which in this case is two years.
I can conclude only by assuring hon. Members who have spoken that everything possible has been done, and will be done, to make the issue of these passports and the visés of passports in foreign countries to persons who are bona fide travellers, for business or other good purposes, as easy and as expeditions as possible. I would like to see this country maintain the name of being in this connection the freest country in the world.
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said a great many thinks with we all agree, about this country being the freest 1001 country in the world, but that does not match at all this Estimate. He says that 1500 passports are issued daily, and that a hundred of them have to fee specially examined because people put wrong names or photographs on them. A great many of us think that the whole thing, as far as foreigners coming into this country are concerned, is a bad thing. We think it is a restraint on commerce, and also that it is utterly opposed to the spirit that should prevail in the world now that the War is over. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is our opinion. The Committee, is asked now to vote the money for the luxury of passing the Aliens Act.
Is he really compelled by the Aliens Act to make it incumbent on foreigners to have either a passport or a visé? The first Section of the Act says that the power exercisable under the 1914 Act shall be exercisable for a further year under the Act. It would appear from that that it is an option and not an Order on the Foreign Office to do this. Is it really necessary? It creates friction and suspicion, particularly between the United States and ourselves. There was an Aliens Act before the War which was perfectly satisfactory from the criminal point of view, and this proposal represents the interference by a number of clerks with the liberties of Americans and other foreigners coming to this country. If it is an option I suggest that it would be very much in the interests of this country and world peace that the whole passport system should revert to the state in which it was before the War, which was perfectly satisfactory, whereby foreigners were permitted to come to this country, and reciprocally we were permitted to go to other countries without all this interference.
Captain STANLEY WILSON
I cannot agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, and I think it is absolutely essential to have passports. If we had not there would be a large influx of aliens, and I think they should be kept out for some considerable period of time. I congratulate the Minister in charge on the immense improvement which has taken place in the passport office during the course of the past year. I have had occasion to go there several times, and the work done there is very great, and done very rapidly, and every 1002 facility possible is given. I would ask the hon. Gentleman if he cannot manage to persuade other countries, and particularly Switzerland, to follow the example which we are now setting, and to give facilities not only to enter the country, but also for getting home. A few weeks ago I was in Switzerland, where the difficulties of getting in and out are immense, and partly on account of the French authorities, who stop you at the French frontier, where recently a Member of this House was searched by the French authorities. A few minutes afterwards we reached the Swiss frontier, where you have similar sort of nonsense. You are kept there for an hour or so, horded into a small apartment, with the utmost discomfort. When I wished to return there was the utmost difficulty in getting a visé on my passport. Unfortunately, I had not got the aller et retour visé, which would have allowed me to go backwards and forwards with ease. The difficulties also of getting a French visé on the Swiss passport were immense. The trouble that was given to every British visitor there was so great that I very much doubt if they will particularly wish to visit Switzerland unless beter facilities are given.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. GRIFFITHS
I join with my hon. and gallant Friend in congratulating the Foreign Office in the vast improvement on the passport system. I had recently to send some dozen men abroad, and the evening of the day on which the application was made I had their passports complete with photographs. The hon. Member for Leith (Captain Benn) advocated the abolition of the passport system. If an Englishman leaves without a passport he will get hung up at the first foreign port he comes to. The passports I obtained for the men I mention were not at the request of the British Government, but because I could not get the men to their destination without a passport.
§ Sir J. GRIFFITHS
A passport was necessary in the majority of foreign countries. When the abolition of the passport system is advocated, let me remind the Committee I was sent here to represent Wandsworth, pledged to stop foreigners flocking into this country. This House of Commons in deference to that expressed wish throughout the country was sent here in a huge majority to see that foreigners did not swarm into this country while we had 350,000 discharged soldiers awaiting employment. I am perfectly sure this House has no mandate to alter or amend any law which would allow that to happen, and which would be the case if we abolished the passport system. I hope it will be maintained. In Paris the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City approached the French authorities to try and improve the difficulties there. He was successful and worked wonders, so that the position in this respect is much easier there. If the Foreign Office could follow that excellent example in the case of the Swiss and other Governments and ask them to make it easier for those engaged in trade and commerce and other people, I think we should find all the difficulties which exist, not in this country but in others, would practically disappear.
§ Sir HERBERT NIELD
I note the ironical cheers with which I am greeted by some hon. Members who are friends of the alien, but I will take the platform in any part of this country as against those unpatriotic Members of this House who are seeking to undo all that we did last year with the full support of the country behind us. I am not the less desirous of joining in the appeal that has been made to the Under-Secretary in the hope that the Foreign Office may induce France and Switzerland to alter their conditions so as to permit possibly of some modification. But can you wonder that France objects? She has boon overrun by spies and undesirables of every kind. She has had attempts made to upset her Governments by those mischievous operations and disreputable people. As for Switzerland, she has been choked from the first moment of the War by the very worst type, and a type one may describe with distinct emphasis as the scum of the earth. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith would be only too glad to see that very scum back amongst us. Really the 1004 traditions of the Liberal party are past finding out. How they can call themselves the mirror of the people's mind, as they have done in my recollection from this very Bench—
§ Sir H. NIELD
In 1906, when it was suggested that that election was the mirror of the people's mind, and when I took occasion to point out that in that mirror there was the face of a Chinaman. Do not let us get into any maudlin sentimental nonsense with regard to this matter, because hon. Members or their constituents or friends do not like to have a little trouble. If a man is on his own private business he ought to be provided, and probably is, with a passport. During the time I went backwards and forwards I had a passport and had no trouble. During the War it was necessary to produce the passport at any time. Even in the present condition of things it is impossible to call this a state of profound peace. The whole of Europe is seething exactly in the same way it was seething from 1810 onwards, when the result of the great operations of Napoleon left it uncertain which country he was going to attack next. There was no doubt then temporarily a state of peace and people were moving about and transacting business. The same conditions prevail to-day. There is no doubt that if there were any relaxation of this passport system people would come into this country who would be detrimental to the national interests and the national welfare. [Laughter] Hon. Members may laugh, but they know perfectly well what would happen. Lenin and Trotsky, for instance, have got emissaries, and I have no doubt some hon. Members would receive them with open arms. I do urge, if persons are to travel for pleasure, or even for health, it is incumbent on them to take a little trouble in order to smooth their journey by getting the proper visé and the right passports. I do not desire to go to Switzerland. I prefer to do national work at home, whether in session or out of it, rather than spend money abroad for the benefit of the foreigner, or to look upon a foreign place as necessarily a health-giving resort when we have got our own coastal towns, such as Torquay, Bournemouth, &c., to go to. I protest at these covert attacks which are 1005 being made upon the Aliens Act, and all this nonsense which is being talked about the freedom of the country. It reminds me of Sam Weller's famous remark at Ipswich, when he was confronted by a constable and his crown on the top of his staff. "Very pretty," said Samuel, "but it is not what I care about." This talk about freedom and about not taking a little trouble is really beneath contempt. It is no use boasting about freedom. Let us do unto others as we are done by, and inasmuch as the Continent is to-day the most exclusive place, and quite rightly—those portions of the Continent that it is worth putting your head into are exclusive—then I say we ought to remain equally exclusive until, by common consent, the restrictions can be removed and people enabled to travel about freely if they so desire. For my own part, I venture to think that the less people travel just now the better it will be for the good of their fellow-countrymen and themselves.
§ Mr. HOLMES
We have listened to some interesting speeches, particularly the last, and I am sure it will be a delight to certain seaside towns in this country to hear that the hon. Gentleman has not been abroad and does not intend to go abroad, and that he advocates that people should go to such health resorts as Torquay, Bournemouth, and Silvertown. In the course of his speech he answered a point raised by the hon. and gallant member for Holderness (Captain Wilson), who stated that he had great difficulty in getting across France to Switzerland. But why? The hon. Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield) answered it. He told us that Switzerland had been packed during the war by the scum of the earth, and that they did not want any more. So the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness, when he next wants to go to Switzerland, must not mind if he has a little trouble in getting there. The hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Government said we had done all we could and were really dependent, so far as facilities abroad were concerned, on foreign countries. I suggest that we are not in some cases setting a completely good example, and are still putting difficulties in the way of our own travellers when they go abroad. I know of one case of two ladies who wished to go from Marseilles to Algiers, and they thought 1006 their passports to France would take them to Algiers. They went from their hotel in Marseilles on to the steamer, and were then told it was no good unless they got a visé from the British Consul. As going to get the visé meant missing the boat, on the pretext of seeing to their luggage in the cabin, they retired to the cabin and locked themselves in. The boat started and took them on, and when the French authorities found they had not got the British vigé they shrugged their shoulders and said it did not matter so far as they were concerned. Why should our people therefore have the trouble of getting the British visé there at all?
§ Sir PARK GOFF
I am one of those who are in entire agreement with the passport system as regards keeping the aliens out of this country. I want to join issue with the hon. and gallant Member for Wandsworth (Sir J. Griffiths) in what he said about our Passport Office. I think they have always shown the greatest courtesy and quickness in getting passports out. You have got to differentiate between the passport and the visé, and I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Vote that he might expedite the American and Swiss consulates in this matter. People have been delayed a very long time at the American Consulate-General and at the Swiss Consulate in getting their passports viséd, I should like to suggest that he should expedite the passage of British subjects on certain foreign frontier, notably on the Swiss frontier going into Switzerland, and on the French frontier coming out of Switzerland. I also wish ho could expedite matters on the Spanish frontier, where considerable delays take place on both sides. It is not the fault of our visés or passports, but it is a great deal the fault of the officials. They are often very ignorant, and oven thoroughly uneducated. I was passing the Portuguese frontier in 391V with one of my colleagues, and we both had the same credentials. He was taken aside and kept for an hour, because there was something wrong with his passport, so they alleged, but it was simply ignorance, because they could not read the passport and did not understand the visé. On the other hand, the official who came into my 1007 carriage, read my passport diligently, upside down, for five minutes, and then handed it back to me and said, "It is all right." I heartily support the passport system as it is at present, and think it very desirable in order to keep out the aliens from this country.
§ Major GLYN
I should like to know if the actual visé system is quite efficient from the Home Office point of view. One is herded into a small place with a whole crowd of people to have one's passport viséd, and the very confusion and inadequacy of the arrangements give an ideal chance for an undesirable alien to slip through. If the country is under the impression that the visé system, as it is practised at present, keeps aliens out, I think that is a mistake, and the hon. Member for Ealing (Sir H. Nield), if he travelled occasionally and took, say, the Newhaven-Dieppe or the Havre route, would find a very indifferent state of efficiency in the examination of passports. It is by those less frequented routes that the undesirable aliens arrive, and owing to the confusion that exists they have a very good chance of slipping through. If the Home Office are satisfied that this is the best system, I feel sure everybody would submit to it, but I would urge the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote to do all he can, either to put on the screw so that it is efficient or else to withdraw it altogether.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I should like, with permission to answer a few of the points that have been raised and to remind the House that I am not asking for more than ten pounds on this Vote. In reference to the remark of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), I can assure him that the procedure under the Aliens Act is not optional but mandatory. Parliament passed that Act after long Debates. It is administered by the Home Office, and at certain ports of this country they have alien officers and every incoming traveller is examined. The custom, generally, is for the alien officer to go on board the ship on the point of departure from the foreign country. The aliens are collected together in a portion of the ship and their documents examined during the voyage, and anyone who has seen aliens who cannot speak our language, in a rolling ship, everybody seasick except 1008 the aliens officer, will understand some of the difficulties of enforcing the Aliens Act. But it is important, and if my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Major Glyn) has not seen the actual enforcement of the Act it is not because the Act is not enforced, but because the majority of people who come to this country are Britishers and are passed by reason of their British passports. The number of aliens held back for close examination is, speaking generally, a minority of every shipload of incoming travellers. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith questions the wisdom of this, but I say this is a procedure which is essential efficiently to carry out the Aliens Act and the Foreign Office acts therefore to assist the Home Office. It is entirely for the benefit of the bonâ fide incoming alien business man or traveller. He gets his passport viséd by the British Consular officer in the country of his nationality, and he has, therefore, no further trouble.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
It shows that a British Consular officer, with the knowledge of the Aliens Act in the country from which the alien comes, has personally seen that alien, has personally viséd that alien's passport, and therefore as far as he can, has identified him as the person carrying the passport and as a desirable person to visit these shores. I do not know of any better way of doing it, and I know the machinery is effective with the very minimum of inconvenience, and I would add that there are some aliens who have found very great inconvenience in getting into this country, but that was the intention of the Act. With reference to the question of money, these passports are not paid for by the general taxpayer. They cost in England 5s. apiece, and they are paid for by those ladies and gentlemen who, mainly for business, sometimes for pleasure, travel abroad. I do not see why they should not pay for these passports and I do not see why we should forego the revenue which we secure from them. I myself think that 5s. is the very minimum charge that ought to be paid for such a document.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
Remember, this passport is issued for the purpose of helping the travelling Britisher, and it does help him, I know of no other document issued which stands for more than the passport carried by a British subject. The hon. and gallant Member for Wandsworth (Sir J. Norton-Griffiths) quite rightly paid a tribute to Mr. Martin, the head of the Passport Service, a most efficient public servant, who has made our passport system the most expeditious in the world, and if all other Governments had as courteous and efficient a staff as we have, I am sure there would be no complaints. I take note of the fact that several hon. Gentlemen have urged me to make representations to foreign countries to expedite the granting of visés in those foreign countries, and I think the criticism in this Debate will make the case the stronger from our point of view. The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Holmes) mentioned the case of two ladies travelling from Marseilles to Algiers, I cannot dispute his statement, but under no conceivable system would English ladies with a British passport want a visé going from Marseilles to Algiers. What has happened, I think, is this. When they got their passport here they were asked where they were going, and they said France, and the passport was endorsed "France," when it ought to have been endorsed. "France and Algiers."
§ Mr. HOLMES
What I want to point out is that they have actually been from France to Algiers without a visé, which shows that France does not care whether they get a visé or not.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
The question of visé docs not arise here. The question is the endorsement of the name of the country to which they were travelling. However, I am glad to know that two British ladies have the pluck to defy the authorities. I sincerely hope the Committee will give me this token Vote of £10, and enable me to take note of the wishes of the Committee with reference to this important matter.
Mr. J. JONES
May I ask whether there are political considerations which weigh with the issue of passports?
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
I am not aware that there are any political considerations weighing with the issue of British passports to British subjects. I know in days gone by there has been refusal of passports to certain British citizens. There have been a very few cases of that kind. I could not go into the merits of each individual case at this moment, but if the hon. Member has any special case ho would like to bring to my notice I will deal with it on its merits.
Mr. J. JONES
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us why passports were issued to Mr. Lansbury to go to Russia?
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
No passports were issued to Mr. Lansbury for Russia. He must have secured a passport from some other country for Russia.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
This country has not now diplomatic relations with Russia, and until they are resumed the passport question does not arise.
§ Question put, and agreed to.