HL Deb 11 November 1919 vol 37 cc196-201

LORD MARCHAMLEY rose to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether his attention has been called to a Regulation of the French Government under which English people returning to England, and having about their persons English money, are obliged by the Custom House authorities to hand over to them all such money in excess of £25; what security there is for the return to the owners of such money; what advantage the temporary possession of the money, if and when returned, can bring to the French Government; and, if the practice is to be continued, whether he will make representations to the French authorities that it should be done with the maximum of civility.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put this Question upon the Paper only in order to draw public attention to the subject. I thank the noble Earl for his presence here this afternoon, and I can assure him that I have no personal grievance in the matter. I do not wish to refine about or to discuss the extent or degree by which British people returning to this country are incommoded by the Regulations now in force in France. I would sooner ask his opinion upon the general principle which underlies the Regulation, and inquire whether the practice that I have sketched in My Question is one which is recognised and permitted between civilised and allied nations.

The House is probably aware that at the present time Englishmen coming to England embarking at ports in France and having about their person English money (not French money) are obliged, under threat of not being permitted to embark, to hand over to the French Custom House authorities all their money in access of £25. I do not think it would be worth the while of the House for me to describe in detail what occurs, but probably the noble Earl is not quite so conversant with it as I am. Passengers are ushered—shepherded, if I may say so—two at a time into the room of one of these Custom House officials. He is an extraordinarily highhanded and autocratic gentleman. He demands that you hand him all the money that you have. You are quite willing to do so, so long as the money is French, because we are all aware that there is a great dearth of coin in France, and naturally the French authorities do not wish that any should leave the country. Then he says, "What English money have you in your purse?" You demur to that, but he says, "Where is your pocketbook? You have one; produce it." If you raise objection, you are told distinctly that unless you do show the English notes or money that you have upon you, you will not be permitted to go on board ship; and. if your impedimenta are already on the ship, it is rather a difficulty to be stranded at Dieppe or other places—I am speaking of Dieppe—without anything. You hand in your pocket-book and he goes through your notes. He extracts £25 and says, "Take these; the rest you must leave here." It is no use urging that you may have a house in France, or a banking account, or that your notes have only been taken over as a reserve and are being brought back in exactly the same condition, bearing the same numbers as when you brought them over. That argument has no weight whatever. He says, "No; my orders are to retain here any money in excess of£25, the equivalent of 1,000 francs, and you cannot take it over."

I most freely admit that in the case of people who have banking accounts in France they are courteous enough to forward the money to those banks, but the majority of people who go there from this country have no banking accounts in France. What is going to be done with their money? How long is it going to be held up—until the stringency and difficulty in French financial affairs is over? If so, I am sorry to say that I am afraid that will be some time and it will be a considerable grievance to a great number of people to leave £20 or £30 or £40 there. They cannot afford to do so. How are they going to recover the money in the end? How are people living in the north of Scotland or Wales to get it? Have they to bombard the noble Earl at the Foreign Office in order to get it? If so, I am afraid the Foreign Office will have more work to do even than it has to do now, and I know that is enormous. If the money is only being kept in France for a short time, what possible advantage can it be to the French Government to have £10, or £20, or £30, or £40, or £500 of English money which they are going to hand back in a fortnight or three weeks? It creates a great sense of grievance. Many persons in France will have their journeys spoilt by this little bit of friction at the end. The whole matter is not worth the candle.

I suggest to the noble Earl that he should make representations to the French authorities that this pinprick should be abolished and the Regulation suspended. I do not want to argue about the details and the amount of inconvenience, but I ask the noble Earl whether it is a recognised practice which is permitted between nations and whether he will give us—I am afraid I can hardly get from him his judgment—but his opinion as to whether he supports and upholds it.


My Lords, the Question which my noble friend has put to me is, it is true, from one point of view rather small, but I can quite understand that it generates a certain amount of friction and discontent which it should be the desire of the Foreign Office, so far as they can, to mitigate if not entirely to remove. The first Question put to me by my noble friend relates to a question of fact—namely, the existence of this Regulation, the reasons for it, and the manner in which it is administered. There is, as he has pointed out, a Regulation requiring British subjects returning from France to hand over all moneys on their persons over and above £25. This exportation of money from France by any person residing in France was prohibited by the Decree of April 3, 1918. By the second Article of that Decree no person residing in France may transfer from that country moneys, stocks, or securities to an amount greater than 1,000 francs—that is, before the war the equivalent of £40.

On October 23 last the Garde des Sceaux called special notice to this and other cognate laws, and issued a statement to this effect: It is forbidden to export gold or silver money, whether French or foreign, over the sum of 10 francs in value, under penalty of from one month's to two years' imprisonment and a fine of from 100 francs to 50,000 francs and confiscation of the moneys seized. It is also forbidden, without the special authorisation of the Ministry of Finance, the Commission des Changes, for travellers leaving France to remove more than 1,000 francs value in French or foreign bank notes. That is the Regulation of which the noble Lord complains.

In his second Question the noble Lord asks what security there is for the return to the owners of the money involved. I made enquiries in Paris and was informed that the following is the position of affairs. On leaving France, each passenger is required by the Customs authorities to declare what sum he or she has in his or her possession. Where a proper declaration is made, all sums in gold or silver over the value of 10 francs and in notes over the value of 1,000 francs must be deposited in a bank, the passenger being entitled to take a cheque on London for the equivalent. When there is no time for this the Customs take charge of the money, presumably against a receipt, and the passenger has to apply for its return to the Commission des Changes of the Ministry of Finance, naming the bank in which the deposit of the money should be made, the said bank then remitting the money by cheque to England. Further—I am not quite certain that the noble Lord apprehended this—these travellers are entitled to take out of France the money which they brought in, and for this purpose—


I pointed out most particularly, if I may interrupt the noble Earl, that the notes were all new notes and in numerical sequence, as he can see for himself; and I informed him that I had taken them there and was only bringing them back.


I was not alluding to the specific case of the noble Lord. I was merely stating that the general rule I understand to be that travellers are entitled to take out of France the money they brought in. For this purpose their business is to declare at the Customs on entering the country and obtain from the Customs a receipt to be shown on leaving, as a proof that they are not, in fact, exporting money from France.

The third Question put by the noble Lord is what advantage the temporary possession of this money can be to France. That, I imagine, is in the main a technical matter connected with the technique of finance, on which I am hardly qualified to give an opinion. I imagine it to be connected with the present shortage of silver currency in France and with the exigencies of exchange. The noble Lord asks, Is this an admitted or recognised practice elsewhere? Until he put his Question on the Paper I did not know that it was the practice in the case of France, and I have not pursued my investigations any further. The requirements of France may be peculiar in this respect. I have not heard of the thing happening elsewhere, but I can well conceive that in countries where there is this stringency similar precautions may have to be adopted.

Then my noble friend asks, if the practice is to be continued, whether I will make representations to the French authorities that it shall be done with the maximum of civility. I have not heard that it has ceased, and therefore the presumption for the moment is that the practice will go on. As regards the manner in which it is administered, I made enquiries in the Foreign Office and found that no complaints have reached us there. The noble Lord described, partly I dare say from his own experience and partly from that of others, what takes place, and I can well conceive the situation as described by him as irksome and sometimes unpleasant. These difficulties arise, as any of us who have travelled know, sometimes from ignorance of the language employed. They sometimes arise from imperfect acquaintance with the Regulations that are being enforced. They seldom arise from deliberate discourtesy. I doubt if in this case there is any intention—I am sure there is no intention—to make these rules operate in at all a harshtor impolite fashion. If the noble Lord desires me to make representations I shall be very glad to consider the propriety of doing so upon cases submitted to me. No cases, hitherto, have been submitted; and if he can show me any definite case in which incivility has been perpetrated, or that the manner in which these Regulations are being carried out is a source of serious inconvenience to travellers, or is at all unreasonable, I shall be only too happy to take the matter up. But at present I am without any information except that which has been vouchsafed to me this afternooon, and that which has been the basis of my own reply.