§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
I beg leave, my Lords, to lay upon your Lordships' table the Correspondence which has taken place between the English and the French Governments on the subject of Passports. I cannot help thinking that it would be convenient to the public generally, if I were to explain to your Lordships in as few words as possible what has passed on the subject, and what Her Majesty's late Government, and what Her Majesty's present Government have done in respect of it. Your Lordships know very well, that after the attempt made on the Emperor's life at Paris, the French Government, naturally alarmed at attacks carried out by foreigners residing in this and other countries, thought that the Emperor's life would be made more secure by a change in the passport law; and a suggestion was made by Her Majesty's consul at Havre—if I am not right, my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Clarendon) will correct me—that it would be better that no passports were issued to English subjects by French agents, That suggestion was communicated by my noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) to the French Government, who adopted it. My Lords, though I heard many complaints made against the French Government, I felt that those complaints were unjust, because nothing can be more just—if the system of passports is to be followed out —than that they should require that any subject of foreign countries visiting France should present passports signed by the authorities of the countries to which they belong. The consequence was, that when the new arrangements were made, some difficulty was created — or I may say, there was less facility for Englishmen to obtain passports to visit France. Indeed, many Englishmen formerly passed without any passport between England and Boulogne and Calais; and even if he went further into the interior of France, and found himself without a passport in any town where there was an English agent, he obtained his passport from him, and was not obliged to come and make an application at the Foreign Office. There 1101 was another panic created—one amongst English subjects residing in France, who thought there might be some difficulty in respect to the passports on which they had entered that country; but I must say, the French Government most liberally say, that any English subjects living in France, need not have English passports in travelling from one town to another, but may have French passports given them in France. The French Government first said, that the English passport should be signed by the Consul General of France in this country; but, since then, they have issued a regulation by which any French agent may visé an English passport, and his visé will be acknowledged; and they have appointed agents at Liverpool and the principal ports, who arc empowered to visé passports without the traveller having to come to London. So much as to the French arrangements; now, with respect to the English. When my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Clarendon) found that he was to issue the whole of the passports to English travellers from the Foreign Office, he naturally thought that before these passports were granted by the Foreign Office, that office should have some guarantee that the person getting the passport was really the person whose name it bore. We have heard it suggested, that any passport granted to an English subject should be merely a certificate of English citizenship. My Lords, I think a little consideration will satisfy your Lordships, and our fellow-countrymen at large, that that would not be sufficient; but that a passport ought to be a certificate of identification of the person who bears it. That appears to have been the view taken by my noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon); and my noble Friend sought that security in a certificate to be granted by, I believe, the mayors of towns, by magistrates, and by bankers. However, it was found that this arrangement was inconvenient to many persons; that the number was not large enough of those who could grant those certificates to parties who required passports, and that there was delay and inconvenience in sending the certificate to the Foreign Office; and many of those who complained of this inconvenience, suggested that mayors and magistrates ought to be allowed not only to give certificates, but actually passports, independent of the Foreign Office. My Lords, that seemed very plausible at first, and the suggestion received my attentive consideration; but what is 1102 everybody's business is nobody's business, and neither mayors of towns nor magistrates could be obliged by any law, or by Executive authority, to give a passport at any hour of the day or night, or not to refuse to give a passport at all—and it was most necessary, that when a man asked for a passport, he should have it as soon as possible. We know that some mayors and magistrates, at least, would scarcely be good-natured enough to act as amateurs in that business: but I can imagine a mayor just sitting down to dinner, or a country magistrate just mounting his hack to meet the hounds, being applied to at that particular moment for a passport. I think it very likely that the applicant under such circumstances would hear anything, but wishes for a pleasant journey. Under these circumstances, my Lords, it occurred to me that the best thing we could do was to widen the area of godfathers—if I may so name those who give the certificates of identification; and Her Majesty's Government, at my suggestion, has agreed that, to the mayors and magistrates we shall add the clergymen of the various Christian denominations, physicians and surgeons, solicitors and notaries. We propose to empower those gentlemen to give certificates of identification to persons wishing to obtain passports. I think it is almost impossible that any person in any part of England, who has not spent his life in complete obscurity, should not be able to find in this category some one to identify him. I have seen it stated that it is a very great inconvenience to many persons to have to come to London for their passports, and that there ought to be a passport of another sort given in other places and in other ways. Now, in respect to those two kinds of passports — or several kinds of passports, for it would come to that— those of the Foreign Office and those of the magistrates—I see very considerable inconvenience, not to the Government, but to the traveller himself, as sure to arise from them. If there were several classes of passports, there would be several different descriptions of arms, of seals, and of signature. The consequence of this would be, that the passport authorities abroad would be very much puzzled, and English travellers would frequently be detained at different points on their route. The arms of Her Majesty are known; the signature of the Foreign Secretary soon becomes familiar to those agents, who at once recognise the value of the Foreign- 1103 office passport. But I do not think the same value would be attached by them to those other passports which would not have come from that office. And I therefore thought it of importance to English travellers that their passports should be issued from the Foreign Office. To prevent the trouble of coming to London to apply for a Foreign-office passport, Her Majesty's Government have appointed at Dovor, Folkstone, and Southampton, three agents for the delivery of Foreign-office passports, and another has also been appointed at Liverpool. I do not say that more may not be appointed if it is found necessary at other ports, but those that I have now named have been appointed. Moreover, if travellers wish to save themselves inconvenience of any kind, whenever they may reside in the centre of England, or on the sea coast, they have only to provide themselves with a certificate of identity from their clergyman, their surgeon, their physician, their solicitor or notary, or from the nearest magistrate or mayor of a town. They may take this certificate with them to the Foreign Office, or to the port where they intend to embark. There they will find a Foreign Office agent, who will deliver to them a Foreign-office passport, which will be vise by the French consular agent in these ports. Or they may send their certificate a day or two beforehand to the Foreign Office, or to the agent in the ports I have named, say that they wish to have a passport by such a day or hour, and it will be forwarded to them by post. I do not think that, under these regulations, any inconvenience can arise, or any difficulty can be experienced by any person in getting a passport. But, further, Her Majesty's Government have thought it right to lower the duty on passports. The duty on the stamp was previously 5s., with a fee of 1s. to cover the Foreign Office expenses. We propose to reduce the stamp to 1s., with another 1s. for the Foreign Office expenses, making altogether 2s. I think it is only fair, as the poorer classes, navigators, labourers on railways, and others going abroad, are now under the necessity of going with a Foreign-office passport, that they should he enabled to obtain those passports at as low a rate as possible. I do not think that I could do more to facilitate the obtaining of passports. And I have made this statement in the hope that it may be well understood by the country, to whom I have no doubt it will be reported through the 1104 usual course; for one of the great difficulties of this question has been that persons have exaggerated and magnified the inconveniences from not understanding the regulations issued by the late Foreign Secretary with respect to passports. I should add only one recommendation to those likely to travel, especially to gentlemen who live on the coast of England while their families are in France, and who are likely to be called upon to travel suddenly by the illness of any portion of their family. Now, if the passport only costs 2s., it appears to me that almost any man in this country might as well at once furnish himself with that document as with a Bradshaw and an almanack; and then he would be able to go abroad at any moment. He would not meet with any difficulty on this side of the Channel; and, from the liberal conduct of the French Government, I think I may say that he is not likely to meet with any on the other.
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
said, he had heard with great satisfaction the statement of his noble Friend on this subject, which was of so much importance to so large a portion of her Majesty's subjects. He had no doubt that from the liberal arrangements of the French Government, and by the extended arrangements made by his noble Friend in this country, all the objects in view would be attained. The arrangement he had himself made, when the French Government determined to do away with the system of passports granted in this country by the French consuls to English subjects were merely provisional, to meet the exigencies of the moment, although it is much the same as that which was adopted three years ago in order to enable artizans and others of that class to visit the Paris Exhibition. He had always felt that the system established by those regulations would probably have to be enlarged; but he established them at a time of year when there was not much travelling, and when not much inconvenience was likely to be caused. Of course some inconvenience must be felt from any change of this nature, but he believed that the inconvenience which had been caused was not great, and that that change on the whole would be beneficial, more especially to the poorer classes of our countrymen. The stimulus which is given to artizans to go abroad was very much owing to the facility which was given to get passports from the foreign agents; whereas if they had to address themselves 1105 for passports to the English authorities, they could have advice tendered to them as to the prudence of seeking employment abroad. The misery to which hundreds and thousands of Englishmen had been subjected for want of such advice was almost incalculable. It was, in fact, only two or three years ago that the evil was so trying that her Majesty's Government deemed it advisable to publish a notice in the Gazette warning our artizans of the danger of seeking employment abroad, and also warning them that the English Government would not be responsible for the cost of bringing them back to this country. He believed that travellers would find the advantage of travelling with a Foreign-office passport, which would relieve them from many of the inconveniences which sometimes were sustained from travelling with a simple consular passport. For his own part, he thought the passport system a great mistake. It did not afford protection to foreign Governments against the people they feared, and against whom they wished to guard. Those were the very people who always took care to have their passports en regle; it was the innocent traveller who was exposed to the detention of the police from the want of compliance with some technical formality. He knew that the Emperor of Franco himself was opposed to the passport system, and that some years ago be wished to do away with passports; but he was beaten by his own officials, who insisted that passports were in some way necessary for carrying out that system of strict surveillance which is deemed necessary in France.
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
hoped that the system would not last much longer. There was one circumstance which encouraged that hope. A few years ago the Austrian passport regulations were more rigorously carried out and caused more annoyance than those of any other country in the world. But a great change has been made within the last twelve months in that system, and now he believed that there was no country on the Continent where a traveller could travel about with such facility as in Austria. But we could not impose our notions upon others, and all the Government could do was to afford as much facility as possible to British subjects. He thought his noble Friend had done as much as could be done at present. He had heard with much satisfaction that 1106 the cost of the passport was to be reduced, though he did not exactly understand how he meant to do it. He had in February last reduced the cost of the passport from 7s. 6d. to 6s. by cutting down the fee of the Foreign Office from 2s. 6d. to 1s., because be found that 1s. on each passport would be sufficient to maintain the passport establishment; and while he did not think that the public should be put to any expense on this head, he did not think that they should make any profit. He bad also proposed to his colleagues to abolish the 5s. stamp duty; but they found that it had been imposed by Act of Parliament, and could not be abolished without another.
§ THE EARL OF CLARENDON
would suggest that the Government should consider, while they were about it, whether it was desirable to retain even a stamp duty of 1s. To relinquish it would sacrifice a very inconsiderable amount of revenue, while it would leave the holder of a passport in a much better position than he had ever hitherto been. All consuls had hitherto charged 5s., and to place a passport within the reach of every one for 1s. would be a great boon to the poorer classes.
§ In reply to a NOBLE LORD,
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
said, that he knew of no limit to the duration of a Foreign-office passport granted to British-born subjects. For naturalised subjects the custom had been to limit its duration to a year.
§ EARL GREY
said, there could be no greater proof of the absurdity of the passport system than the regulations proposed by the English Government, and sanctioned by the French Government. If the Foreign Office was to deliver passports to any one who brought a certificate from the various persons whom the noble Earl had named, of the authenticity of which the Foreign Office could have no proof —for he supposed his noble Friend was not acquainted with the signature of every country surgeon—he saw no reason why all the mayors and magistrates in the kingdom should not be furnished with blank Foreign-office passports, which they could fill up and deliver to applicants without any further formality. There was no pretence of investigation to prevent any one not a British subject getting a passport, nor any security against a British subject 1107 handing over his passport the next moment to a foreigner. When the noble Earl had gone so far, he did not see why he should not go further, and supply passports ready filled up to competent authorities in the different towns to deliver them, on their own responsibility, at once to any applicant. The present regulations would not afford any guarantee that the person getting a passport was a British subject, while he was afraid that they would inflict more inconvenience in obtaining passports than his noble Friend seemed to expect.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
I am not here to defend the system of passports. No man in this House thinks more contemptuously of them than I do. But I thought I had made myself clear when I gave the reasons why I do not send Foreign-office passports for delivery to the mayors or magistrates of towns, or allow these authorities to deliver others. It is because they would not be obliged to do it. If the noble Earl could find some way to make them do it, this would no doubt add some facility. But what could be done if the mayors refused to distribute passports; Some might say they would only distribute them between 12 and 2 o'clock; others might say they would only do so in the evening; while others might decline to distribute them at all. People must be obliged to do it, and paid to do it; and when they are paid to do it, they are obliged to do it. If it is to be a self-supporting establishment, it must be conducted economically. The more agents there are, the more agents must be paid; and if each of a large number of agents distribute a small number of passports, the payment which would be sufficient for a small number of agents distributing a large number of passports would not be enough for their trouble. We know pretty well how many passports will be demanded, and we calculate that with only six or seven agents, who will be obliged to deliver them at any time of the day or night, the system will be self-supporting at a certain charge. That is my answer to the proposition of the noble Earl, which has often been submitted before; but if my noble Friend can tell me how I am to oblige magistrates in town or country to deliver passports, it will be a somewhat different matter.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, the country ought to be grateful to the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, for the pains which he had taken to increase the facilities of obtaining passports, but at the same time the suggestion of the noble Earl (Earl Grey) was worthy of attention. The whole thing turned upon whether the French Government had assented to this plan; because, if they had, there was nothing more to be said. He wished to know whether the new system applied solely to France, or to other countries as well.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
No country has ever objected to any passport signed by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. They have always trusted that the passport has been signed upon his being satisfied that it was the bonâ fide passport of the applicant, and I have never heard of a Foreign-office passport being questioned in any way.