HC Deb 20 February 1933 vol 274 cc1557-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding£4,000, 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, 1933, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

9.5 p.m.


This Supplementary Estimate for£4,000 deals with a very limited matter. As the Committee is aware the receipts of the Passport Office are brought into the Estimates as Appropriations-in-Aid, and when the Estimate was presented to the House it was calculated, and hoped, that this source would enable the Appropriations-in-Aid to reach the estimated sum of£103,849. In view of the prevailing economic situation, and perhaps more particularly of the appeal which was made to the public to spend their holidays at home rather than abroad, the number of new passports taken out this year has been smaller than was estimated, with the result that the contribution from passports by way of Appropriations-in-Aid as£4,000 less than the sum expected. I, therefore, ask for the authority of the Committee to provide that additional sum.

May I explain that the matter is limited in this way. The question raised on this Supplementary Estimate is not the passport system, or whether there should be any passports or not. If that was so the additional sum which would have to be provided would be about£100,000. Neither is it a question of visas. They do not come within the scope of this Estimate, for the visas which are levied by our officers abroad on the passports of foreigners do not come under this Vote at all but under the Vote for the Consular Services. The question as I see it is whether the Committee will think fit to authorise the grant of an additional sum of£4,000 in order that the Appropriations-in-Aid may be made up to the figure which was estimated for when the Estimate was presented.

9.9 p.m.


I hesitate to criticise the right hon. Gentleman but I must complain against the gentle hint he gave to the Chair that the discussion is somewhat circumscribed on this Vote. I will try and expand the circle. I want to ask one or two questions. The Foreign Secretary has tried to prove that we cannot discuss anything on this Vote but the reduction of the income from passports given to Britishers going abroad. Surely the campaign that has been conducted at the instance of the Government asking the people of this country to remain at borne, and thus curtail their knowledge of international affairs, must have had some repercussions abroad. I should like to know whether the campaign that has been conducted within our own shores to induce our people to spend their money here has actually had any repercussions abroad. Have the French Government issued an edict to their people to holiday on the French Riviera and not in this country? I see that the number of foreigners coming into this country during the three months ending the 31st December, 1932, shows a reduction on the corresponding figure of the previous year: the figures are 376,000 and 337,000.

The CHAIRMAN (Sir Dennis Herbert)

Will the hon. Member tell me how he gets into this Supplementary Vote the question of French subjects coming to this country'?


I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary gave a hint that I should be out of order in whatever I said on this Vote. Those figures were by way of illustration, to show that any action on our part must have its repercussions abroad. I think it is a proper question to ask, whether the stay-at-home campaign is conducted abroad on the same lines as we conduct it here.


That is not at all in order. That question has not the slightest connection with this Supplementary Estimate.


There has been a reduction of£4,000 in the Vote and, therefore, there is a reduction in the number of passports issued. That is the reason for the reduction in the income; and as the Foreign Secretary has told us that this stay-at home campaign has reduced the income I want to know whether the Government have given its sanction to this policy. Has it taken any part in the campaign? Lord Snowden made a speech in favour of it. Its adoption automatically reduces the income to the passport office. Was Lord Snowden definitely instructed by the National Government to conduct this campaign and, if so, is it now the policy of the Government to call upon our people to remain at home and not spend their holidays abroad?

9.14 p.m.


It is rather disappointing that for the second year in succession there is a deficit in fees from the Passport Office. The figure was£l,500 last year, and it seems to be considerably larger this year, and that in spite of the fact that the fees are still double what they were before the crisis. I should like to know whether the amount charged covers the cost of the passport, and whether the right hon. Gentleman does not think that it would be wiser in the interests of the country at the present time to get rid of these charges altogether


The hon. Gentleman forgets that this is a Supplementary Estimate. He cannot now discuss the main Estimate or the policy of the Government.


If it is impossible to raise the main question I find it difficult to pursue my argument. It is calculated that there were coming over to Europe some years ago Americans who spent something like 600,000,000 dollars. They are discouraged from coming into this country by the fees that are charged.


Americans coming here do not require British passports.


They require visas.


Visas have nothing to do with this Estimate either.


The only further thing I can do is to appeal to my right hon. Friend to take the one little step of removing barriers between nations as far as he can.


With regard to the revised Estimate, what number of people, how many passports does it represent?


Does the Foreign Secretary think that the explanation of the decrease in the number of passports issued by the Foreign Office is the general mess the Foreign Office are making of foreign affairs, and that it creates a disinclination on the part of British subjects to go abroad owing to the general disturbances which exist?

9.18 p.m.


As regards the last question, I think we must leave it for the future to decide. In reply to another question, the present charge for a passport is 15s. A passport lasts for five years, and if there is an application for a renewal of the passport there is a fee of 2s. a year up to a further total of five years. I cannot tell bow much of the£99,000 is due to new passports and how much to renewals, but one can form a general view as to the number involved. As regards my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), I sympathise with him exceedingly in his difficulty in getting a passport from the Chair, but the fact is that the additional sum required is only£4,000, because whatever may be said on one side or the other we have a passport system which does produce a revenue.

I leave to the last the important question which was put by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies). The advice which was publicly given, that as far as possible people should spend their holidays at home rather than spend money abroad, was, of course, advice given in connection with the effort to maintain our own currency and to avoid an increasing strain on the exchanges. I am very glad to think that the advice was very largely followed, and no doubt it has had a material effect in preserving our position in a difficult situation. Thanks to recent events that situation has to some extent been eased. I am informed that whereas in the holiday months the decline in the issue of passports was something more than 60 per cent, from the normal figure in past years, since October last there has been an appreciable increase over the preceding year in the demand for passports. That, I think, goes to show that the hon. Gentleman may be able to spend his customary holiday in the Riviera with assurance.


Are the Government proposing to issue another appeal asking people to stay at home?

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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