Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £26,000, be 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, 1922, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, including the News Department.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Cecil Harmsworth)
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I say a few words to amplify the note which appears 2314 on the Estimate. The Committee will observe that in point of fact the Foreign Office is not asking the Committee for any new money. What we are dealing with this afternoon is a question of an over-estimate. The Committee is generally aware that the Passport Department of the Foreign Office is one of the few financially profitable Departments in any branch of the State service. It was estimated that in the current financial year the Appropriation-in-Aid would equal £136,000. That estimate is not by way of being realised, and the Committee may be interested to learn why that is so. I am informed that this is one of 2315 those many instances of unsatisfactory trade conditions of which, unhappily, so many are present at this moment. The cause of our over-estimate is due entirely, I am informed, to the falling off in travel for pleasure purposes and in travel for commercial purposes. There is no other reason, so far as I can ascertain, for this falling off in the revenue of the Passport Department. The Committee will not expect me to make any long statement in regard to this Vote. It is a pure question of accountancy, and I shall be glad if they will give me the Vote with as little delay as possible.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £1,000.
I am sorry that I cannot agree to the Vote. This passport business is very like the Post Office. A point comes when the people simply get sick of the whole thing, and chuck it. It is such a business getting passports, visas, and other things, not so much with us but with other countries who keep up the system because we do, that people simply do not travel. The. Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs says that so many people are not travelling for pleasure. Can you wonder? If you want to go to Switzerland you have to get three visas, and you have to incur other expenses. I went last September, and I had to get three visas.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
You have to get a passport, a photograph, and you have to pay your fees. We all know that photographs untouched are not flattering things on a passport. You have to stand in a queue among the ducks in St. James Park, and it is all an infernal nuisance, with the result that instead of this Department being an asset, as the hon. Member rather led us to suppose, and paying for itself, we have to foot the Bill. Of course, it finds congenial employment for a number of people who otherwise would be out of work, and who would have to find their means of livelihood in the ordinary labour market. It is like putting up the price of telegrams, postcards, and stamps, and after a certain time the revenue falls off. By putting too big a tax on beer and tobacco after a 2316 time you kill the goose that lays the golden egg. That is what has happened here.
This passport system has been kept on to the annoyance of people who come to this country, and the annoyance of our own people who are travelling on their lawful business. It does not do any good as regards the purpose for which it is alleged to be kept on. It does not keep out of this country criminals and other undesirable people. This is the easiest country in the world to get into, because it has such a large seaboard, and has so many ports. Anyone who wants to get in can get in if he knows the ropes. I do not know the ropes, but I do not make any personal complaint, for I have to thank the hon. Gentleman for the great courtesy which I have always received from the representatives of the Foreign Office, but anyone can get in who ships by a small steamer and goes ashore with the cook to buy provisions without any passport, visa, or anything else. One can go to-day from this country to Tashkent, Kabul, or any other place underground without any visa, passport, or anything else. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's advisers will bear that out. Now and then one may be caught, and may or may not get punished. It is uncomfortable, and I daresay expensive, because a great deal of bribery is involved, but it can he done. The system does not work, and the sooner the whole passport system is scrapped the better for British trade and the law-abiding person, because the evilly-disposed person has no difficulty in getting all over Europe without these passports. The only real good done by this system is that it keeps in employment a number of redundant civil servants and others who ought to be doing more useful work. The business men of this country know the loss to which we are put by this antiquated system.
This passport system, I am informed, is sometimes used for political purposes. I would ask whether the Foreign Office have lent themselves to the misuse of the passport system? It is a fact that people of certain political views in this country, when they go to get passports, have four holes stamped in the spare pages in the centre for visas, and that this is a sign that these people are of a political colour rather to the left and 2317 opposed to the present order of things? I am very glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has gone away to find out about this, and as to whether this passport system is being used as an underhand method for the purpose of persecuting English people. I have seen passports treated in this way. They have not punched my passport. British subjects having this secret mark upon their passport are left open to annoyance and petty persecution. Anything of that sort ought to be done quite openly. People ought to have passports which give them full protection, as the front page of the passport says that they are entitled to full protection. There ought to be no secret signs or things of that sort on the document.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
In introducing this Supplementary Estimate the hon. Gentleman stated that it would involve no further burden on the community, but I think he misunderstood the real drawback of the passport system. It is true that in the passport system you have up to the present a self-supporting organisation. The fees for the passports pay the expenses of the Passport Department. But that does not alter the fact that the whole system, the fees paid for passports and for visas, are a burden upon industry, and that this causes the slackness in trade Which results in a smaller demand for passports. It not merely taxation which goes into the pocket of the Exchequer with which we are concerned, but the institution of any form of taxation upon the trading community of the country, even though that money pays for the upkeep of the Department. We are entitled, therefore, to protest against this Supplementary Estimate. The reason why I and my Friends oppose the system is that it is devised in order to keep apart races and nations. We believe that the future peace of the world depends very largely on free intercourse between all races and all nations. The present system is a survival of the old 18th century system. The whole passport system had ceased long before the War. The War re-introduced it into civilisation. Since the War we have consistently made efforts to abolish the system, but the system has been consistently supported by the Departments and by the Coalition party in this House, though they know perfectly well that it is devised in order to per- 2318 petuate race antagonism and international jealousy.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am. We believe that international jealousy should be swept away as soon as possible and that the way to do that is to secure freedom for people here to go abroad and for people of other countries to come here. If the hon. Gentleman who interrupted thinks he knows what Labour wants better than I do, perhaps he will get up and say so. If he joined the Labour party they would soon tell him. Our object is to get back to reasonably amicable conditions and we believe that free intercourse is the foundation of good relations. Our objection to this passport system and particularly to this Vote goes beyond the mere desire for freer international relations. We believe that the system is used, not by the Foreign Office but by the Home Office in this country, in order to penalise people with advanced views. Quite recently I have had reason to apply to the Foreign Office to assist in granting a visa to this country for an American. I was referred to the Home Office. Over and over again the same thing happens. The Home Office, in effect, through the use of passports, exercises a check upon people who come into this country. This is a device in the interests of the Coalition and is carried out with the consent of the Coalition Members of this House.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Another Coalition Member speaking in the interest of Labour! I wonder how many of them will be able to substantiate their affection for Labour when they go to the country. [Interruption.] Speaking for Labour—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"]—I say we object to this censorship on the ground that it is exercised in the interests of the capitalist system and exercised by a Department run in the interests of that system and supervised until recently by Sir Basil Thomson. For all these reasons we are against your passport system. You use it to keep people apart and to stifle the free intercourse of ideas. I should have thought that educated Englishmen would know by now—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—that 2319 the real strength of this country depends upon the ability of the country to hear all sides. It is only by hearing all sides, by hearing the nonsense as well as the sense—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—that the people of the country can choose which is the sense and which is the nonsense. It is an ordinary elementary lesson that if you confine people as to what they may hear, you confine their powers of judgment. Our chief reason for desiring free speech in this country, for desiring to have in this country even people who are not approved of by Sir Basil Thomson, is that in the long run those countries which allow freedom of speech and allow any sort of ideas to he freely spread about are the countries which survive. They alone have that strength of character, that power of judgment, which enables them to overcome even such a temporary madness as that of the 1918 Election.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
Only one point has been raised which calls for a definite answer and that is the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), that passports for undesirable people are perforated in a peculiar way, so as to warn the authorities abroad. I have had the opportunity of refreshing my memory with regard to this matter, and I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that no such process takes place at all. I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend for the testimony he gave to the courtesy with which this Department is administered. I can assure him, and I may be permitted to assure other Members of the Opposition, that the Foreign Office is always ready to expedite their passage abroad. Regarding photographs, I have myself seen photographs of my hon. and gallant Friend in the Press and I can well believe that they are in great demand, but anyone of those photographs, or rather four copies of any one of them, are all that the Passport Office asks for. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has spoken in eloquent terms about the tax on industry constituted by the passport system. He knows that a passport costs 7s. 6d., and how that can be described, individually or collectively, as a serious tax on industry I cannot imagine. In the present disturbed state of the world 2320 it has been found necessary to have the passport system operating, and even in those countries where it has been modified cards of identity are required, which are not really very distinguishable from passports. Speaking for this Government, and if I may for Labour, I should say that the passport system has very few disadvantages, whereas it has a great number of advantages, as everybody connected with passport travelling abroad is able to say. I really do not think that at the present stage there is any serious complaint which has been brought against the system, and I am certain, from what I know of the administration, that there is no single Member of this Committee who would bring any charge of unwillingness or discourtesy or extravagance on the part of those connected with the administration of this passport system.
§ Sir H. BRITTAIN
I do not know whether I am in order in referring to something closely associated with the passport system, namely, the far more complicated question of the visas. I presume, that that also arises and that this money is required for the payment of those individuals who look after the visas as well as those who look after the passports. If so, I think I shall have the great majority of Members with me who have to do a good deal of travelling on the Continent when I say that the appalling waste of time in going from one country to another which is requisite in order to obtain visas, is a thing that only those who travel can really appreciate. Last year there was an Inter-Parliamentary Conference at Lisbon, at which 13 nations were represented. Some 14 or 15 Members of this House were present at that Conference, and the only British paper which was put forward was one which dealt with the simplification of frontier formalities. That was passed unanimously by the whole of the representatives of those 13 nations, and we were requested to report to our Governments and to do all that lay in our Power to bring back the state of Europe, from the point of view of travel, to what it was in pre-War days.
It has fallen to my lot to visit every nation in Europe, with the exception of the three Baltic Republics, since the Armistice, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the difficulties in travelling from one country to another, particularly 2321 in Central Europe and in the Near East, at the present moment are perfectly terrible. Hours and days are wasted by Britishers and others who have to make their way from one country to another. At the same time, let me endorse what the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has said, that in every one of those capitals and cities in which one has had to come in contact with the British representatives, nothing more courteous could possibly have been found, and I am only too glad to have this opportunity of adding my humble tribute to what has been said before in that regard. I would suggest to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, however, that if he will merely travel through Europe as plain Mr. Smith or something of that kind, without any help from the Foreign Office, he will agree with me that it is up to every Member of this House to do all he can at the present time to try and push forward a simplification of the troubles incidental to travelling under the system of visas.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
I do not object to passports as such. I think they might be made a great deal more useful than they are, but I think it is a pity that they only last for so short a time. Nor do I see any reason why such a time limit should be put upon them. A passport in fact at the present moment is a verified photograph of an individual, stating authoritatively who he is, and a passport should last as long as the photograph is likely to continue to resemble the person whom it professes to portray. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has referred to that very much more questionable institution the visa, and I wish to support and emphasise everything he has said on that matter. The complaint is not against our own Foreign Office, nor our own representatives in foreign countries. Those of us who have had occasion to travel will universally acclaim the politeness and the friendly help which they have met from our representatives in every part of the world, but when we come to deal, especially with the minor officials of other countries, we do not always meet either with the same courtesy or with the same willingness to help, and I think if our Foreign Office could bring a little more pressure to bear upon some other countries, they might improve the method in which the visas are procured, 2322 and save the travelling British public what is really, when it is added up all over the world, an enormous expense, and that is the tremendous waste of time in which it involves travellers, many of them travelling on important duties. The object of the whole system is said to be to keep out undesirables. I have a good deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend opposite has said. I think you can carry that considerably too far. At the same time, the most impossible incomers are those who creep through the meshes of any kind of passport or visa net you may impose in their way. Honest citizens are met with every kind of difficulty, but your revolutionary of the lowest order has very little difficulty indeed in dodging all the impediments put in his way, and I should think it was far preferable to let in an occasional undesirable in order to save the time, worry, nerve, temper and efficiency of the vast mass of our own people travelling abroad.
I think the Committee is under a slight misapprehension, or I am. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that no new money was being asked by this Supplementary Vote. Is that so? It is rather an important point, because it involves £26,000.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
It is purely a matter of accountancy. The Passport Office costs £75,000 a year. It is now making a profit of something like £50,000 this year, but there was an over-estimate. It was supposed that the Appropriation-in-Aid would come to £126,000 for this year. That is not in the way of being realised, and, therefore, it is necessary to adjust the accounts by asking the House for this money.
This is a Supplementary Estimate which is going to authorise the Treasury to pay out of the Consolidated Fund £26,000. The Consolidated Fund is only refreshed from the taxes, and, therefore, this is a Vote to take from the taxes £26,000 in order to make up the necessary profit in the Passport Office. The fact of the matter is that this Estimate is for authority to pay from the Consolidated Fund, or the taxpayers of the country, £26,000 on behalf of a system which I had hoped would not have been defended in quite such a strenuous way by the hon. Gen- 2323 tleman. There may have been a necessity for it at the Armistice—I cannot say—but surely the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to carry this system of passports to perpetuity? They are an inconvenience to everyone who travels, though the people who travel for pleasure are not the most important, but those who travel for business. The hon. Gentleman ought to invite the opinion of the business men who have to make a tour on the Continent for business, and who have to go through the interminable delays produced by the production of photographs, the granting of visas, and the like. I am speaking from my own experience. The hon. Gentleman either does or does not defend the system. If the first, I say he is wrong; if the second, then he should say so.
§ Mr. JESSON
I should not have risen had it not been for the extraordinary statements of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who claims to speak for the Labour party. It only shows what extraordinary things one meets nowadays in the Labour movement.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Is it in order to allude to hon. Members of this House as "things," or is it only hon. Members who invent these elegant terms?
§ Mr. JESSON
My point is this: The hon. and gallant Gentleman made a complaint on behalf of the Labour party. I want to inform him that quite recently I was associated with a certain trade union which is affiliated with the Labour party, and we were protesting against the introduction of aliens to take work from the British workers—taking these workers' jobs and so making them draw unemployment pay. My contention is—whether I am quite agreeable that we should make this as simple as possible for the men who come here for business purposes—obviously if you are to have unemployment pay you have to retard the number of people who come here and take jobs, if they are going to do your own people out of their work. This particular trade union with which I am associated were protesting against a certain number of people coming here and taking the jobs which, in the ordinary course of affairs, would have gone to Englishmen, and so throwing the latter on the taxes.
Sir J. D. REES
Whatever may be the inconveniences attaching to the passport system—and they are very great—the system, at any rate, is a useful corrective to the prevailing disease of internationalism—which is the ruin of nationalism and destructive to the nations. If the passport system, in addition to making possible the very considerable inconvenience it imposes on our nationals when travelling, can make it equally difficult for undesirables to come to this country, we ought to welcome it with all our hearts. What is so bad about the system is that it does not seek to prevent the scum of the Continent very freely immigrating into this country and taking the bread out of the mouths of our own people. But while it does not produce that desirable effect, it does certainly annoy and inconvenience our own nationals when they are travelling abroad. At the same time, one ought to be fair to foreign officials. On the whole, I think they are pretty courteous and considerate, and we must not forget that British subjects do not always appear to foreign officials the mild and democratic creatures we appear to be in this House and know ourselves at heart to be. It is not really the case that the travelling Englishman always produces the impression of being a downtrodden worm, although he asserts that very freely when any question like this arises in the House of Commons. If any simplification of the passport system is going to make it any easier than it is now for undesirables to come here and settle among us and skim the cream off the milk, if there is any to be got, I would vote myself against any simplification of these intensely provoking regulations. I do not know how my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) discovered the taxpayer suffered very much from this system. I believe it is one of the very few things he does not suffer from. But if the taxpayer here suffers, the body of officials elsewhere profits. It is the means of livelihood to an enormous number of officials all over the Continent, and it may be that somewhere in this country there are a few officials who are reaping their reward.
Sir J. D. REES
I am not standing up for them, but the matter has to be looked 2325 at all round, and I am bound to say that before the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs accepts this as merely a question of inconvenience to the travelling public—I am sure that counts very much with me, having spent much of my life travelling—he must also consider the way in which foreigners come here under the guise of paupers, bringing with them gold to debauch the loyalty of our subjects, preaching the abominable doctrine of internationalism, by which we do nothing but lose, by which no British subject has ever profited in any way. I hope my hon. Friend will take that into account, and will stick to his guns, if necessary.
§ Sir. C. WARNER
I am thoroughly in sympathy with everybody who wants to make travelling easier and reduce the system of visas, but I think the three economists opposite, the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn), the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) have all fallen into serious error. They all want to reduce the cost to the taxpayer. I understood them to object to spending £26,000. What happens if we follow their advice? Instead of having to vote £26,000, there would be £126,000 to vote, because the passports have already provided us with a revenue of £100,000. What has happened is we have not realised quite so good a business as we might have done.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
It appears to me that this Vote is, after all, only a rectification of accounts. The Foreign Office promised the Consolidated Fund that it would give it £50,000 profit, instead of which it has only been able to give it £24,000; consequently it comes down to the House and says you must ask the Consolidated Fund to pay us back £26,000. It is nothing but a rectification of the account. Whatever the merits of the passport system may be, we must deal with this as an accounting question, and we shall only be exposing ourselves to ridicule if we oppose this readjustment of the account.
§ Mr. ACLAND
There have been so many theories put forward in regard to this Estimate that I hesitate to think I have found the real solution. Still there are some figures not yet referred to which 2326 I think are pertinent. Parliament was asked originally this year by the Foreign Office for a net sum of £212,000 for its services. It now finds it wants £238,000 for Foreign Office services. If that is not an extra charge on the taxpayer I do not know what it is. It is of course that. After all, the total charges to be provided by the taxpayer are made up of the revised Estimates for the different Departments, and these are added together, with the result that the Foreign Office finds it, cannot make both ends meet without getting £26,000 more. Quite rightly they now come and ask for the extra money. This arises incidentally, whereas at the beginning of the year they anticipated that every pound spent on the passport system would produce £2, they now find it only produces 30s. in fees, so that, instead of getting £50,000, they are only receiving £25,000 profit, and we are coming within a measurable distance of not getting even that, as—and it is, we are told, the same in the case of the Post Office—high fees are producing a diminution of business and the thing may become not worth the candle. It seems worth while considering whether it is desirable to keep on £75,000 worth of officials with a view to getting a doubtful quantity of revenue. I recognise that the question of visas does not really come into this Estimate. I do not raise it particularly because I believe the Foreign Office has tried by international arrangement to simplify the very complicated and burdensome system which hitherto has prevailed. I believe they have arranged that it shall be possible to go now to Switzerland with one visa instead of the two that were necessary only a short time ago. I feel sure that the Under-Secretary will continue to do everything he can to facilitate that system, even if a certain part of the visa or passport system happens to pay us a few thousand pounds a year. As soon as other nations begin to use the argument that, because we plague their subjects, they are justified in plaguing ours in return, the game will not be worth the candle, and we should do very much better if we abolished the officials and the visa system, even if it can be so administered as to bring in a little more than it costs. I think the Under-Secretary realises that, and that he is working to reduce the appalling vexations which still exist all over the Continent in the 2327 visa system, and therefore I will not further enlarge upon it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I think I can bring forward one argument which will induce some hon. Members to support me. The number of officials employed on this admittedly redundant system is very large, and it is going up. Last year it was 271—
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
As I think my hon. and gallant Friend will agree that we should get this Vote as soon as possible, may I point out that the authorised staff of the Passport Office is 276, but that in point of fact only 214 are, employed, and every care is taken by the head of the Department to adjust the staff to the volume of the work done. The staff at the present time is not equal, or anything like equal, to the authorisation.
§ Mr. MILLS
I would not have intervened in this Debate but for the senseless interpretation which has been placed upon the remarks of the speakers representing the Labour party. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Yes, the senseless remark of the hon. Member who spoke of paupers coming into Britain with bags of gold, which is a paradox so far as I am concerned. The hon. Member spoke as though the whole Continent was one seething mass of humanity, all imbued with the one idea of revolution. I want to say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"]—I will sit down in a moment if I am not interrupted. I have stood for seven hours in the Italian consulate in Vienna, where the sole measure of success was the ability to bribe, and from one end of Europe to the other the poorest of the population can come and go day after day, for weeks, without redress. That cannot be said of the British consulates, and I hope that, in view of the vehement protests that have come from every quarter, the Foreign Office will lead the way to an improvement in this direction.
§ Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £25,000, be granted for the said Service," put, and negatived.