HL Deb 28 February 1923 vol 53 cc195-208

LORD RAGLAN rose to ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. Whether they are satisfied that the Aliens Order as at present administered is adequate to prevent the entry into this country of undesirable aliens;
  2. 2. Whether there is any reason other than the existence of this Order which has induced His Majesty's Government to make passports compulsory for British subjects travelling abroad;
  3. 3. Whether His Majesty's Government are satisfied that the assistance to the working of the Aliens Order rendered by the existence of the passport system compensates for the inconvenience caused to British subjects by that system;
  4. 4. Whether the procedure necessary to obtain a passport could not be simplified;
  5. 5. Whether countries have refused to enter into an arrangement with His Majesty's Government for the abolition of the consular visa, and what reasons have been given for such refusal;
and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not propose at the moment to make any remarks on the subject of the first three Questions that I have placed on the Paper, except to mention something that was said by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow—namely, that the possession of a passport does not entitle a foreigner to land in this country. If you look at your passport you will see that it says that those whom it may concern are required, in the name of His Majesty, to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance. Apparently, however, they are not required to do anything of the kind.

In reference to my fourth Question, if we must; have passports—and perhaps they are necessary, though I hope they are not—is there any reason why they should not be issued by Clerks of the Peace? It seems to me that those officials have very much greater facilities than the Passport Office for ascertaining the antecedents of applicants for passports; and such an arrangement would be a great convenience to the applicants themselves, and would enable the Government to dispense with the services of something like two hundred officials.

With regard to my fifth Question, I should like to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the fact that this country is in a different position from that of Continental countries. No foreigner need come here unless he likes, while thousands of Englishmen have to go to the Continent in order to reach Egypt, India, and so forth. It is the duty of the Government to see that those Englishmen are molested as little as possible. Only a few days ago I was reading an article written by a person who had had occasion to travel between Constantinople and London, and he described the difficulty and the trouble he experienced in getting across the frontier of Czecho-Slovakia. It appears that the officials of Czecho-Slovakia are able to bully British subjects with complete impunity, and I do not think that the Government can be regarded as doing their duty. I beg to move.


My Lords, in reference to the first Question of my noble friend, I am certain that at the present time the Aliens Order of 1920 is being effectively administered and is checking the flow of undesirable aliens into this country. Not long ago there was a steady stream of very undesirable people coming in, and it is essential, I think, now that we have so much sad unemployment in our land and the housing difficulty is so acute, that that stream should never be allowed to flow again. There is, however, I think, a leakage in at least two quarters. Ireland at the present time is certainly harbouring some very undesirable aliens, and it may not be difficult for those aliens to cross over to this country. As I am sure your Lordships understand, the introduction of revolution into England was one of the cardinal points of the plans which have been so successfully carried out in bringing Ireland to ruin. I hope that in his reply the noble Earl will say whether sufficient precautions are taken to prevent undesirable aliens from coming to this country from Ireland.

Then there is what is called the Russian Trade Delegation which is now masquerading in London under the title of Arcos, Limited. It has been established in London for some time, and some of its proceedings are exceedingly mysterious. It is probably the most amazing firm that has ever been allowed to be established by a simple and confiding people such as we know that we are. It was supposed to have a capital of £100,000, and it claims to have clone in two years business amounting to £15,000,000 sterling. It apparently makes very large purchases and very small sales. That is the kind of transaction which would lead any bonâ-fide firm to ruin in a very short time. The directors seem to change at very short intervals, and some of them are certainly people who ought not to be in this country at all. As regards the shareholders, many of them seem to be employees who are credited with a £1 share each.

The main business of this firm is obviously propaganda, and it publishes now a weekly review which bears on the top the Soviet emblem, and round it the motto: "Proletarians in all the world unite," which is very cleverly camouflaged by being put in the Russian characters. This review is used to feed the Communist labour publications of this country and to feed them with exactly that kind of false information about the present conditions in Russia which the Soviet. Government wishes the Labour Party in this country to assimilate. So far as I can see the officials of this amazing organisation are free to go backwards and forwards between Moscow and London. Perhaps the noble Earl will be able to tell me if I am wrong on that point.

With regard to passports, I entirely agree with my noble friend that they ought to be made as simple and cheap as possible. I sincerely hope that the system will not be abolished. The other day the noble Earl said that it was really our only guarantee of the nationality of the person who wanted to be admitted. I am not at all sure that that guarantee can be trusted in some cases. Passports are probably obtained under false pretences, but the system does provide us with some measure of protection, and therefore, I think, it would be very dangerous to abandon it.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies I ask leave to say a word or two because I took part in the debate the other day, and since then, in consequence of what I said, I have had a great many communications both from those who wish the passport system to be abolished and those who wish it to be retained and simplified. Further than that, I have had the advantage of direct information from the Home Office, who assure me that the passport is a valuable link in the chain which they are able to draw against the invasion of undesirable people.

If that is so, I can only emphasise what I said on a previous occasion. So long as the authorities of the State who are responsible for these matters believe that the present system is essential, I certainly shall do nothing to abolish it. But I share most cordially the views which have just been expressed by Lord Sydenham in regard to the particular association of which he gave details, and in regard also to the general question of the license with which these seditious organisations carry on their work here. I know there is a general and strong feeling against any interference with the ancient boast of this country that. she offers the hospitality of her shores to all decent people, but there is no doubt that a certain most undesirable class of person has a freer hunting ground here than can be enjoyed in ninny other countries.

Since I spoke last I have learned that the figures in regard to the number of aliens coming to this country, comparing last year with the year before it, which I gave, were inaccurate. The Home Office assure me that is so. I was told at the time that my figures were in every sense reliable, but the Home Office now state that that is not the case, and that the statement made by Lord Sydenham is borne out by the facts—namely, that the number of undesirable aliens has steadily decreased and not increased, as I had been informed. I therefore make that correction, but I desire to support Lord Raglan in the suggestion he has made that, assuming the evidence in the possession of the Government justifies the retention of the passport system, the whole method of issuing passports should be not only cheapened but simplified.

There are innumerable stories of people in difficult and painful circumstances who, desiring a passport to enable them to leave the country, find that they are unable to get one in less than a period of two or three days. If the passport system is necessary—and I am quite prepared to accept the statement of the Government made by Lord Onslow on the last occasion that it is necessary—surely it is a reasonable request to make that the issue of passports should be simplified, and that those who require them should be able to obtain them without all the cost and delay attendant upon the present system. That, I think, is a request which everybody must regard as reasonable, and, in the interests of humanity, I think it is a request that ought to be pressed. Imagine the circumstances of an unfortunate mother summoned by telegram to Rome, or some other part of the Continent, to the bedside of her child who is dangerously ill, and having to spend two or three days in efforts to get a passport before she can start !

I am afraid these are not fables but facts, and, if that be so, I contend it is the business and duty of the Government, if they regard the passport system as an essential adjunct of the regulations governing the admission of aliens, to take steps to simplify and, if possible, cheapen it in the interests of our own citizens travelling abroad. When I spoke last I firmly believed that the figures which had been given to me were accurate, and I have taken this oppor- tunity of correcting them. I am glad to be assured by the Home Office that they will relax none of their efforts to prevent the invasion of this country by those who come here not to add to our prosperity but to try to destroy our institutions.


My Lords, as I also took part in the debate last week I should like, after what Lord Sydenham has said, to read the last Regulations. As regards passports they say: "British subjects resident in Northern Ireland should make application for passports to the Ministry for Home Affairs, Belfast. Residents in Southern Ireland should apply for passports through the petty sessions clerk in the district in which they reside." I am told there are no such persons in Southern Ireland as petty sessions clerks.

It is difficult, by the passport system, to keep out these particularly undesirable aliens. I originally had my attention called to this matter in the most peculiar way. At the height of the spy mania during the war I had the misfortune to have the direction of the tubes in London, in which we were carrying an enormous traffic with the utmost conceivable difficulty. One of those young gentlemen who, I believe, were called Provost-Marshals, wrote to me saying that it was very dangerous with so many aliens about to allow persons to travel freely, and asking if we could issue a passport for everyone who booked from Charing Cross to Piccadilly Circus? Imagine how that would diminish the travelling' That first led me to believe that a great many of the people who advocate passports desire that persons should not travel freely, and therefore I am entirely in sympathy with the noble Viscount who has just spoken in the view that if the system is necessary it should be made as reasonable as possible.

I may say that it was my own experience to see that the Regulations of the Foreign Office are not always carried out. About a year ago I wanted to have my passport renewed. I went to the office in St. James's Park. I was told roughly that the passport was too full, and I could not have it renewed. I was thereupon told that I should go to the end of the queue. I said that if that was so I should go straight to the noble Marquess who leads this House and ask why my passport could not be renewed. I was then taken into a back room, begged not to do so, and told it was in my own interests that this was done, because I might be troubled abroad. I said that I could not see how it would be to my own interest to pay 6s. 6d., or whatever the amount was, more than the contract itself stipulated, and I got my passport renewed and never had the slightest difficulty.

I think there is a case for improving the administration of this passport system. If this was done it would help at the ports. The traffic between England and France, for which no passport is asked at all, is one which in the interests of both countries should be greatly encouraged. The noble Marquess who leads the House, a few days ago, said that any young fool could make a war, but that it took a statesman to prevent wars. That is a sentiment with which I fully agree, and I am certain that the barrier which this passport system raises between nations is most dangerous to the welfare of this country.


My Lords, I will address myself first of all to replying to the Questions of my noble friend Lord Raglan, and then endeavour, as far as I can, to deal with the other points which have been raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord asked whether His Majesty's Government are satisfied that the Aliens Order as at present administered is adequate to prevent the entry into this country of undesirable aliens. I answer most emphatically that this is the experience of the Government, and I will give your Lordships one or two figures which will show the immigration of aliens into this country during the past three years. In 1920, 427,242 aliens landed in this country and 420,836 aliens embarked, leaving a balance of those who stayed for a short time of 6,406. Those figures include transmigrants; those who land in this country in order to embark for America and elsewhere.

The figures I am going to give with regard to 1921 and 1922 are divided and do not include the transmigrants. In 1921, 294,569 aliens landed, and 305,866 aliens embarked; that is, 11,297 more aliens left this country than came into it. In 1922, 316,159 aliens landed and 315,765 aliens embarked; that is, 394 more landed than embarked. Taking the totals of the three years the number of aliens who left this country exceeded the number of those who landed by 4,497, so that at the end of last year there were, approximately, 4,500 fewer aliens in this country than there were at the end of 1919.

With regard to the point raised by Lord Sydenham and Lord Farrer, I understand that arrangements with the Irish Governments have been concluded—I have not the exact terms with me—for dealing with those aliens landing in Ireland and proceeding to this country. Of course, no passport is necessary between Ireland and this country. The Regulation to which Lord Farrer referred is one made by the Irish Government and not by the British Government. If Lord Sydenham wishes to have any more information on the subject of the firm he mentioned I would ask him kindly to give me notice and I will endeavour to procure any information that may be available.

It has been said that a large number of former enemy aliens have come into this country. With your Lordships' permission I should like to give you a few figures in order to show that this suggestion is incorrect. I will take the months of November, December and January last, as statistics for these three months have been very carefully gone into. During these months 3,389 former enemy aliens landed in this country. Of these, 2,405 were visitors on business or other matters, who landed on a strictly limited time condition; 385 were persons who are usually resident in this country under the provisions of the Act, and who had been abroad and were returning after a short absence; 299 were seamen under contract to join foreign ships in British waters; 181 were enemy aliens who were in transit to other countries, and 95 were diplomatists or other officials. The balance of former enemy aliens, the new comers, who came to this country for the first time with a view of making residence here, is only 24, and of these 24 persons 21 were females and 3 were males.

Of the 21 females 14 were British-born wives or widows of former enemy aliens; they were English women who had married enemy aliens and were not themselves aliens by birth; three were domestic servants in foreign Legations; one was a woman coming to marry a British subject; one was the newly-married wife of a German resident in the United Kingdom; one was a Bulgarian holding a Ministry of Labour permit to act as a companion, and one was an Ottoman subject coming to join her brother who is a merchant in this country. Of the males one was an Ottoman valet in the service of a British officer; one was a domestic servant in a foreign Legation; and one was a German to whom permission to return to his British-born family had been granted by the Advisory Committee set up under the Aliens Restriction Act, 1919.

It has been suggested in various quarters that if an alien has a visa on his passport from a vice-consul he comes into this country perfectly free. Let me go into that matter and explain to your Lordships that that is not the case. The granting of a visa is really a preliminary sifting which takes place in the country-of origin. If the official who issues a visa is of opinion that the individual is an undesirable person to land in this country he would not grant a visa, the person would not be entitled to travel, and the immigration officer at the port would be saved a great deal of delay and trouble. Among the aliens who entered this country in 1920 1,022 were refused admission at the ports after they had interviewed the immigration officer. In 1921, 1,712, and in 1922, 1,997 were refused admission. I think your Lordships will see that the examination of aliens at the ports is gone into with the very greatest strictness by the examining officers, and a large number of aliens are not admitted if they are not considered desirable, in accordance with Section 1 of the Aliens Order.

I pass to the noble Lord's second Question. The Aliens Order has nothing to do with British subjects travelling abroad requiring a passport.


But surely they cannot come back unless they have a passport?


That is not travelling abroad. If the noble Lord will allow me I will conic to that point in a moment. The Aliens Order applies only to people coming to this country, and there is nothing in the existing law to prevent a British subject going abroad without a passport if he wishes to do so. At the same time, I ought to say that in most cases he would be well advised to obtain a passport, because the laws of most foreign countries require all persons, their own nationals as well as aliens, to possess some certificate of identity, in order to comply with the police regulations of the country in which they happen to be. That is not the case in this country. We are not bound to have identity cards, as is necessary, I believe, in every other country, and the only satisfactory and useful means of identity which is available for a British subject is a passport. A passport has the additional advantage of enabling a British subject to establish his nationality at once if he gets into any difficulty and wishes to claim the assistance of one of His Majesty's representatives abroad. But if he does not wish to obtain one ho is under no compulsion to do so.

An illustration of this was afforded the last time your Lordships discussed this question by Lord Belhaven and Stenton, who told us that he went to France with an excursion ticket, and did not return but went on to Paris. That is an illustration of the fact that it is not necessary to have a passport. By arrangement between the various railway and shipping companies and the French and Belgian Governments it is possible, to meet the convenience of those proceeding abroad for a short time, for persons to take a 48 hours' ticket and to go to France without a passport.


May I ask why the noble Lord was stopped at Victoria?


I am afraid I do not quite follow that question.


The noble Lord told us that he was stopped at Victoria and was not allowed to go through the barrier to the boat train.


I have inquired into that point, and I gather that the reason the officers at Victoria ask for a passport is for the convenience of the traveller, because it might happen that when he got to the other side and had no papers of identity he would be turned out. It is done for the convenience of travellers and not on account of any legal obligation. I was going on to say that when the noble Lord went to France he had a ticket and proceeded to Paris. He did not tell us how he returned, or what happened in France, but I understand that if anybody wishes to reside in France for any considerable time it is necessary to obtain the usual police permit of residence. Consequently, if the noble Lord had stayed very long, he would have had to prove his identity. That would probably have been a very simple matter, and could have been done in ten minutes, but I mention the fact merely to show that it is not necessary to obtain a passport, though I should strongly advise any noble Lord who wished to go abroad, and desired to avoid inconvenience, to provide himself with one. With regard to the return to England, it is obvious that if a person is in England already and has a right to be here, and his excursion ticket takes him to Boulogne and brings him back, no difficulty arises, and it is a perfectly simple matter.

My noble friend asked me a question as to the necessity of possessing a passport on entering this country. My noble friend Lord Newton, who is not in his place to-day, told us that he returned the other day from Paris and had no difficulty in passing the immigration authorities at Dover. He just showed his passport and went through. But if he had not had a passport he would have had to interview the immigration officer. I do not suppose that my noble friend Lord Newton, or my noble friend Lord Raglan, would have any difficulty in satisfying an immigration officer of his bonâ fides or in proving, if I may say so, his intense Britishness, but he would undoubtedly have a certain amount of trouble, and instead of being able to get tea or refreshment at the station, or send a telegram, he might be detained with others who were not of British nationality. As I have explained, the passport is not an absolute necessity, but is a great convenience.

I pass to the noble Lord's third Question, though I think I have already answered it. The production of a passport is not designed to cause inconvenience, but to prevent inconvenience. As regards the noble Lord's fourth Question, I do not think that it would be possible to do much now more than I have explained to your Lordships to simplify the system. Let me, in the first instance, take the method of obtaining a passport. The noble Viscount, Lord Long, mentioned certain difficulties which had come to his knowledge as being experienced by persons applying for passports. If my noble friend would inform the Passport Office, I am sure they would be very glad to look into those cases. Their whole object is to avoid such difficulties. In no country in the world can passports be obtained so speedily as in this country. In the vast majority of cases passports are issued with twenty-four hours of the receipt of the application. As regards urgent cases, there is a special department at the Passport Office to deal with them, and in such cases passports are issued within half an hour. In the case of sudden demands for passports, there are arrangements to deal with applications at any hour of the night. If an emergency arises there is an officer on duty to communicate with the head of the Passport Office, and the case is dealt with within an hour.

My noble friend Lord Lamington, who is not here to-day, mentioned the other day the difficulty of calling at the Passport Office. I think the noble Lord must be under some misapprehension regarding the necessity of a personal visit to the office, because in the vast majority of cases there is no necessity whatever for the applicant to call at the Passport Office. The application can be sent in by post, and the passport will be issued within twenty-four hours. I may add that this applies not only to passports but to their endorsement. Another question has been raised, though I do not know whether it was mentioned in your Lordships' House—I mean the necessity of having a, passport endorsed after two years. I may tell your Lordships that that question is now under careful consideration by the Foreign Office with a view to an extension to a longer period, and I trust that it may be possible to do something to meet the convenience of noble Lords and others in that way.

I come to the last Question which the noble Lord asked The only country which has refused to enter into an arrangement with His Majesty's Government for the abolition of the consular visa is Portugal, and no definite cause has been assigned for that refusal. The visa is being gradually withdrawn in numerous cases, and no visa is now necessary in France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain, Switzerland, and Holland, while negotiations are in progress with the same object in Italy. Mention was made the other day of the trouble which is caused by having to get visas for every country through which a traveller is passing—transit visas, if I may so describe them. His Majesty's Government have considered this very carefully and endeavours have been made to obtain a simplified system of transit visas recognised by other countries, but in spite of all our efforts up to the present, and all the representations which have been made, these suggestions have not been accepted.

I can only conclude by saying that I think it is the general wish of this House and of the country that the control of immigration of aliens into this country should be maintained. The matter of these regulations was carefully considered by the League of Nations at the Paris Conference in October, 1920. So long as control is maintained I urge that the present system of passports, etc., is the best that can be devised. I trust that improvements in detail may be effected, but I think the principle is one which must be maintained. I do not think it is possible, without doing away with all control, to do away with the system which has been the subject of very careful consideration by all the parties concerned.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes before seven o'clock.