HC Deb 03 March 1926 vol 192 cc1395-7

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, seeing that the staff of the Foreign Office numbered approximately 190 in 1914 and 780 in 1925, and that the aggregate salaries in those respective years amounted approximately to £61,000 and £260,000, he will explain the reasons for the quadrupling of the staff; and whether he is taking steps to reduce it substantially?

The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Austen Chamberlain)

I have to apologise for the length of this answer. The additions to the staff of the Foreign Office (apart from the Passport Office, to which I will refer later) have been necessitated by the large increase in the volume of work due to the innumerable international questions arising out of the after-results of the War. The number of countries in which His Majesty is represented and which have representatives in London has increased from 31 in 1914 to 52 in 1926. The number of papers dealt with in the Foreign Office (apart from the Passport Office) is considerably more than double the number in 1913, and in order to deal adequately with the increased volume of work it has been necessary to introduce a new and more effective system of registering papers, which necessitates a larger registry staff, as well as a larger staff to deal with telegrams. As regards the Passport Office, the increase in staff is due to the enormous increase in the issue of passports under present conditions. The number of passports issued in 1913 was 12,700; the corresponding number in 1925 (including renewals, endorsements, etc., which were not necessary in 1913) was 889,981. The staff of the Passport Office in 1913 consisted of two persons; it is now, when at its maximum in the busy season, 293. I should, however, add that the fees taken in 1924–25 amounted to £106,750, which more than covered the cost of staff and other expenses of the Passport Office. With regard to the last part of the hon. Member's question, no opportunity is lost of effecting a reduction of staff and expenditure, but it is essential to bear in mind that the strength of the Foreign Office staff must always be proportionate to the amount of work to be performed, and that this depends on factors entirely beyond the control of the British Government or Parliament. The problems raised by our foreign relations depend on what goes on and what is done in the rest of the world. The Foreign Office Estimates and staff have already been most carefully examined by the Treasury, and a further examination is being made.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL

Is this increase to be of a permanent nature; and considering that there are 889,000 passports, will the right hon. Gentleman get into communication with some other countries and see whether this vast amount of work cannot be done away with?


His Majesty's Government are not prepared to do away with the passport system, and we cannot therefore ask others to do it.


If these passports are covering the cost of the administration of the Passport Office, why have the expenses of the Foreign Office so vastly increased?


For the reason I have given in the earlier portion of my answer. It was a very long answer and I read it as rapidly as possible, but I think the hon. Member will see there is a good reason.


Could not labour be saved by simplifying the procedure of the issue of passports, which is very complicated and used to be very much simpler?


We can deal with that at another time.