HL Deb 05 February 1858 vol 148 cc745-7

said that, seeing the Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the House, he wished to draw attention to the subject of passports. He had read in the newspapers the circular issued by Her Majesty's Government respecting the alterations proposed to be made by the French Government in regard to the issue of passports by French consuls in this country. The result would be, that in future the French consuls would in this country only issue passports to French subjects, and not to British subjects, as had heretofore been the case. He wished to know what course was to be pursued with respect to the consuls of other nations besides France, because he apprehended considerable inconvenience might ensue to British subjects who might take passports from the Belgian consul, for example, and when they wished to return through France, would find their passports not available. Now that this occurrence had arisen, it afforded a favourable opportunity to put an end to a great anomaly, that of British subjects going abroad with foreign passports. It would be infinitely better if those British subjects went abroad provided with passports from their own Government. There was a time when it was difficult to get a Foreign-Office passport, for the price was then inordinately high; while other foreign Ministers issued passports without charge at all. He remembered that when he was Under Secretary, the charge for a Foreign-Office passport was no less than £2 16s. or £2 17s.; but that charge being naturally complained of, the charge had since been reduced to 7s. 6d. Foreign consuls con- tinued to issue passports as before, requiring payment for them. Under these circumstances he wished to ask his noble Friend what course would be taken now that this occurrence had taken place. He thought it a favourable opportunity for instituting a new system, and he was sure it would be for the common interest that British subjects should, as a rule, travel with passports obtained from their own Government.


, in answer to his noble Friend, had only to say that, a few days ago, the French Government informed us that it was intended to put an end to the system under which the French consular agents in this country had been in the habit of granting passports to British subjects. He should say that he had expressed his entire concurrence in the view of the French Government, if it was intended to at all rely on any safety that passports could effect; because, under the system lately in force, any person calling himself a British subject might obtain from any French consul in this country a passport, without inquiry as to the nationality of the man, still less as to his character. Again, these passports might be passed from hand to hand; and the person whom a foreign Government might have most reason to dread—who might be most dangerous to that Government—might go over and travel through the Continent as a British subject. Certainly there could be no greater anomaly than this; and that had been strikingly shown in the case of parties who went to Paris to rob different jewellers, and were subsequently arrested at Southampton with the stolen property in their possession. The British Government had never asked for the adoption of the late system; and, indeed, it had proved very inconvenient to them on several occasions: when a number of labourers, hearing that labour was required in France, were in the habit of getting passports from the French consular agents in England; of proceeding on those passports to France, and then finding that they had been deceived, and that there was no employment for them, and being reduced to great poverty, they were obliged to be brought back at the expense of the British Government. This Government did not interfere with the system because they attached no importance to passports. Any person might enter or depart from this country without a passport. It was not the intention of the Government to inter- fere in this question of passports if Foreign Governments thought that the system afforded them any security, nor could they prevent Her Majesty's subjects from getting passports when they pleased; but he thought that persons travelling in future with passports granted by foreign consular agents would be exposed to those inconveniences which had been pointed out by his noble Friend; and, therefore, while Her Majesty's Government would not interfere to prevent the issue of those passports, they would invite the discontinuance of the system of granting them. He thought, too, that British subjects would find it their interest to give up obtaining those foreign passports, because a British passport must, in the hands of an Englishman, have more weight on the Continent than a foreign one. By the recent circular, issued by the Government, it would be seen that while they gave every facility for the procuring of Foreign-Office passports, they required that the party applying for one should have a character given him by some one in authority, or some one known in the country, as a sort of guarantee. Therefore there could be little doubt that the system of obtaining foreign passports would be abandoned in a short time, because British subjects would find it was more to their advantage to take Foreign-Office passports. It was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to invite other Governments to abandon the existing system of granting passports to British subjects through their consular agents. It was quite true, as had been observed by his noble Friend, that some years ago the expense of a Foreign-Office passport was enormous; but this arose, not from the additional value of that description of passport, but in consequence of the existence of certain fees which were charged on these documents. For some time, however, the expense had been reduced to 7s. 6d., of which 5s. was stamp duty paid into the Exchequer, and the additional half-crown went to defray the expense of the establishment. He had, however, made inquiries, the result of which had convinced him that, even making provision for the payment of the additional hands which should be employed in consequence of the issue which was likely to take place, a sum of one shilling over and above the five payable as stamp duty, would be sufficient to make the issue self-supporting, and this was all the Government wanted it to be.

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