HL Deb 13 December 1922 vol 52 cc377-9

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will undertake to examine the passport system, with a view to minimising the inconvenience and expense caused to the travelling public. This Question is one, I venture to think, of some importance. The passport system was introduced as a war measure. Before the war it is probable that few of your Lordships had ever seen a passport, and when peace came all travellers hoped that the system would be abolished. Far from that happening, however, it now threatens to become a permanency, with all the hardships caused by the system, the waiting (often for hours) at Consulates in order to obtain a visa, standing in queues, sometimes in the rain, at ports and frontier stations, and so on. With these hardships and inconveniences most of your Lordships are familiar. They are, of course, intensified in the case of persons who, owing to ignorance of the complicated regulations, fail to have their passports in order. I could give instances, but most of your Lordships can no doubt supply them from your own experience.

The late Government, so far as I know, made out no case for the continuance of the system. It is alleged, of course, that it prevents undesirables from crossing the frontiers, but that it does nothing of the kind is shown by the recent case of Bevan, who, although unprovided with proper passports, had no apparent difficulty in crossing three or four international frontiers. It is notorious that undesirable aliens enter this country every day. An objectionable feature of the system is that many of the passport officials are paid out of fees. The instinct of self-preservation, therefore, urges them to offer opposition to any suggestion for modification, while the amount of bribery to which this system has given rise can only be described as vast. I do not suggest that the Government could abolish the whole system by a stroke of the pen, and I am merely asking them to examine it, but I hope that they will show themselves sufficiently reactionary not to be afraid of putting the hands of this clock back to where they were in 1913.


My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend as to the intolerable nuisance of passports and also as to the vast amount of corruption to which the system gives rise all over Europe, but I do not believe that the passport system, however bad it is, really prevents the movements ofbona fide travellers. I hope that Ms Majesty's Government will do nothing in the way of relaxing passports which may facilitate the arrival of alien agitators and revolutionary organisers into this country. We have a quite sufficient supply of those people here already. Lately, there has been a rather heated discussion in the United States about the admission of M. Longuet who, as your Lordships may know, is a grandson of Karl Marx. Karl Marx is the person who has done more probably than any one else to promote revolutionary movements in this country. He is now the apostle of the extreme section of labour, and his poisonous doctrines are taught in all Labour colleges. But Marx was not an economist. He was really a revolutionary. He adapted his economics to suit his revolutionary purposes, and he was a pan-German who set about promoting revolution in other countries with a view to the aggrandisement of pan-Germanism. I believe that M. Longuet has been admitted to America, because in America, as here, there are certain influences which always operate to enable people of that class to conic in. I humbly trust and believe that His Majesty's Government, in any modification they may make of the passport system, will bear in mind the danger to which I have referred.


My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend who asked the Question was quite right in saying that the passport system originated with the war, because I am very conscious that in certain parts of the world passports were requisite even before the war, but the hardships or rather I should say the inconveniences, because they do not amount to hardships—which are attached to the business of getting a passport and having it viséed are familiar to all your Lordships. Probably every one of you has been abroad and has suffered under it. I know I have. Consequently, I speak in full sympathy with my noble friend from a personal point of view. But he must not think that it is a matter which lies altogether in the discretion of His Majesty's Government. There are regulations which exist in every foreign country, and it is necessary for British travellers to comply with foreign regulations, or they will find themselves in great difficulty. It is not, therefore, a matter for us entirely, but we have done what we can to mitigate the difficulties and inconvenience to which I have referred.

The price of a passport is very moderate; the passport continues in force for two years, and can be renewed. Moreover, in reply to my noble friend's Question, the Government are constantly examining lie system with a view to the possibility of minimising both its extent and its inconvenience, and, as a matter of fact, there has been an agreement for the mutual abolition of visas between His Majesty's Government and the Governments of two or three foreign countries—namely, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In the case of Switzerland it has not been abolished altogether, for it continues in the case of persons who intend to reside permanently in Switzerland, or persons who are looking for employment in Switzerland, yet it is abolished in so far as tourists are concerned. My noble friend can enjoy himself on the mountains of Switzerland without the nightmare of visas disturbing his pleasure. Not only that, but we are in negotiation with many other countries with the same object. I am sure the noble Lord will see how very much we are in sympathy with him.

I ought at the same time to point out that we have paid attention to the point raised by my noble friend who has just sat down. The Home Office do find that in certain cases the visa is of great use—that is to say, the visa which is imposed when the traveller is starting is of great use in checking the entrance of undesirable aliens into this country. We are not prepared at present to abandon it in the cases to which I have referred, but in all other respects my noble friend will see that we are doing our best.

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