HL Deb 14 December 1955 vol 195 cc157-75

6.17 p.m.

LORD GIFFORD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take in order to improve the facilities at ports, so that delays in customs and immigration sheds may be reduced to a minimum; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it can be said that my Motion has had rather a rough passage. First of all it suffered from what might be called an infringement by the Copyright Bill; it then suffered from an overdose of heroin, and now it has been very much delayed by British Railways. However, I am pleased that I am at last in a position to initiate this debate. Any debate on ports should, in these days, include both airports and marine ports. I propose to confine my remarks mainly to the latter, because I think there is little to complain about in passenger handling at London Airport and our other big airports. I propose later in my speech to say a little about the handling of air freight, in which I think there is considerable room for improvement.

To turn to the facilities at modern ports, I should like to set my remarks out under three main headings: first, better organisation of existing facilities; secondly, the possibility of relaxation of some of the formalities; and, thirdly (which is a much bigger question), major works entailing capital expenditure. May I say at the outset that since I decided to initiate this debate I have visited a number of ports and have had discussions with marine superintendents and senior officials in the Customs and Immigration Department. From all of them I have had the greatest help and courtesy, and I hope that nothing I say this afternoon will be construed as saying anything against the way in which they carry out their duties. I firmly believe that the standard of courtesy and efficiency in our customs and immigration services are as high as any in the world.

Like everything connected with travel, the main difficulties at ports are accentuated during peak periods such as Saturdays and Sundays in July and August, and it is extremely difficult to provide a staff adequate to handle the large numbers of travellers who pass to and from the United Kingdom at that time of year. Our airlines are able to supplement their traffic staff, and the railways, to a certain extent, are able to supplement their staff by temporary labour during the peak periods. I believe that B.E.A. have successfully used university students and people of that kind, but obviously one cannot employ a temporary customs officer or a temporary immigration officer, because he has to go through a long training and is under strict security regulations. But there is one way in which these services might supplement their staff during the peak periods, and that is by bringing back pensioners on a temporary basis. Undoubtedly, the worst congestion occurs on what might be called the short-sea routes to the Continent. I intend to say more about those than about the long-sea routes. When the delays occur on a short journey they are, psychologically, far more irritating than delays on a long journey. If one has been on board a ship coming from Australia for several weeks, the fact that one has to spend an hour or two dealing with one's luggage and the customs formalities on arrival does not seem to be so irritating, but, when the sea journey is only, as in the case of the trip from Calais to Dover, just over an hour, it is most irritating. Then, even twenty minutes' hold up or delay in the queue is irritating and causes short tempers.

I propose this afternoon to say rather more about Harwich than other ports, because it is the one which, in the Press and previously in debates in your Lordships' House, has suffered most criticism. I would say at once that I think that some of the criticisms in the Press have been unfair, although certain things that have been said, particularly in the Daily Telegraph, have been justified—but not all of them, even in the Daily Telegraph. By courtesy of the Eastern Region of British Railways, I spent a day at Harwich and was taken around the whole of the port facilities there. I do not know whether your Lordships realise the number of movements that take place there. There are no fewer than ten movements in the summer period—that is to say, five boats in and five boats out, although it is only right to add that those include two military boats. They are Danish, Dutch and British boats. I am here going to make one criticism. When I was looking at those boats drawn up at the quay, I noticed that the paintwork and general appearance of our British boats did not compare in smartness with that of either the Danish or the Dutch boats. It is fair to say that the chief complaints about passenger handling at Harwich come from aliens—a horrible word; perhaps a better expression is "visitors from abroad." Delays on arrival create a very bad first impression. Returning Britons have only to show their passports, which takes a few seconds; but, with the best will in the world, visitors from abroad must go individually before an immigration officer for an interview and for their particulars to be checked.

In this connection, I think one should point out that among these aliens arriving, particularly at Harwich, there are quite a number coming here for employment; and obviously their work permits and papers of that sort take longer to deal with than the papers of ordinary tourists. So there is this not unnatural source of irritation to the visitor when he sees British passengers streaming through the customs hall and eventually on to the platform for a train while he is still held up in a queue. I believe that much more can be done than is being done at present by dealing with immigration facilities and the interviewing of visitors either on board ship or, in certain cases, at the Continental port of departure. It can be said that we have always had the most happy relationship with the Netherlands customs and immigration services. I know they would be most co-operative in any scheme of that kind.

The problem on the day boat is rather different from the problem on the night boat. On the night boat, the system of British railways is that nearly everybody on board has a bunk. It would therefore not be practicable for immigration people to be on board: there would not be room for them. To turn people out of their cabins at night for immigration formalities could not be done, but I think it would be possible to have what I may call a small enclave on the quay at the Hook of Holland where those people arriving by the earlier Continental trains could be interviewed by British immigration officials sent across on the day boat, helped by, and in conjunction with, the Dutch officials. They would then be given a landing ticket to say that they had been through immigration, which would enable them on arrival at Harwich to pass straight through the customs hall with the holders of British passports.

It may be said that it would be impracticable to pass all through at The Hook, or the appropriate port, and that therefore it could not be done. I do not believe that that matters. Even if only half the interviews that take place in the early hours of the morning, when it is cold and sometimes wet, could be eliminated, it would add greatly to the comfort of visitors to this country. To my mind, the day steamers present a much easier problem. The voyage takes somewhere about six hours and, without undue queueing, I think it would be possible to carry out all the immigration formalities on board. People could be called up in groups, according to the letters of their names, so that there would not be a large number queueing at any one time. I understand that this process is operated in reverse by the Dutch immigration authorities on the outward journey. I think it could be done by the British authorities. It would not mean a great deal more staff because there might be some saving at Harwich. This proposal was originally put forward in the Daily Telegraph, which used the term "cross-posting of immigration officials." It is a good term which describes what I am trying to explain. Before passing from this matter, I should like to pay tribute to the women police officers at Harwich who control the foreigners through the immigration hall. They are extremely tactful and I understand that they have been much more successful than their male colleagues in this rather irritating job.

It is only right, I think, that our visitors should remember that we in this country spare them one irritation which no doubt all of your Lordships have suffered many times on the Continent. Having filled in the immigration form on arrival (and there is another one on departure), they are not required, when they arrive at the hotel and want to go up to bed after a tiring journey, to fill in that other familiar form in three languages as one does on the Continent. Our particulars are all taken on arrival and departure. We are able to do that because of our island location. I would therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, whether he will look into the question of better immigration facilities on board. I believe that an experiment was made last autumn on the Dover-Boulogne car ferry, and I air sure that it could be extended. I am equally sure that the question of immigration facilities on trains could be looked into, although I fully realise that, owing to the shortness of rail journeys in this country—it takes only about one and half hours from London to Harwich—that might present some difficulty.

Another great cause of hold-up at Harwich is the fact that all registered baggage, both inward and outward, has to be examined at the port. For many years there has been at Victoria an excellent system whereby, as soon as a traveller registers his baggage, it is cleared through the customs, and he probably does not see it again until it reaches his hotel room. The same applies on the inward journey: registered baggage goes through the customs at Victoria. At Liverpool Street, however, there are no facilities for that and, consequently, all the registered baggage, some of it heavy, has to be unloaded from the rail containers on the boat train, put on to trolleys, carried into the customs hall, passed through the customs, and then reloaded again into the containers to be put on to the boat. In a busy period that operation wastes a great deal of time. At Dover the containers are simply hoisted on board; the container truck is shunted alongside the boat and the containers go straight in without any examination.

I have only one other proposal with regard to my first heading, that of organisation. I feel that where a boat service is duplicated care should be taken that the relief boat is not right on the heels of the first one. Once a boat gets into the harbour or starts to slow down, it is only human nature that people start queueing. But on the night boat, provided that people knew that the relief boat was not going to get in quite so early, they would quite happily, and I think enjoyably, stay in their hunks until half past seven, instead of half past six. The relief boat would not then come alongside until the passengers from the first boat were through the formalities. Very often at present, the second boat comes telescoping in on the first and the passengers hang about in a queue on board or on the quay, waiting until the customs and immigration people are free to attend to them.

My next point is: what can be done to relax customs and immigration formalities? The first question I would ask is whether the outward customs examination is really necessary. Before the war, there was no outward customs examination. I realise that there are reasons for the change—the prohibition of the export of currency and valuables, and some other items—but I feel that the time must soon come when the authorities will have to consider the possibility of a relaxation of the outward customs formalities. If they could not be abolished altogether, there might possibly be a right to search without notice in any case where suspicions were aroused.

I now turn to my third point, which concerns material improvements. These are badly needed in many of our ports, but of course they all entail large capital expenditure. But something will have to be done soon, otherwise conditions will become chaotic. The number of people travelling increases every year. I understand that last year half a million passengers passed through Harwich alone. In my view, at Harwich two main improvements are vitally necessary. Harwich is mainly a cargo port, and the wharves are designed with cranes and other equipment for handling cargo. Passengers have to walk quite a long way in the open before they get to the customs and immigration sheds. Some berths are worse than others; there is one berth that is not bad, but they vary. But the passengers have to go into the open to a certain extent, and even on a day in the autumn, at not at all a busy period, queueing takes place in the open, long enough for it to be necessary for a policewoman to go along the queue and ask if there are any women with young children, so that she can take them into the shed where they can sit down. I think the only answer is to move the passenger-handling facilities up, so that people go up on escalators into a sea terminal similar to the Ocean Terminal at Southampton, though perhaps on a less grandiose scale, where there is adequate space for them to wait in the warm and the baggage can be laid out with plenty of space.

There is no doubt that Parkeston Quay is quite out of date and not suited to modern conditions. The second capital improvement, which to my mind is even more necessary, is that there should be a marine terminal station at Parkeston Quay. At present there is a most extraordinary set-up at Parkeston Quay, where the station accommodates just two tracks running through, both of which are on the main line, such as it is, to Harwich Town. There are no bays at all, and delays arise in the morning, when there are three trains. The first is alongside the platform. If there is no suburban train, the second one can also be brought alongside the platform. But the third one, the relief boat train, cannot be brought to the platform until the first train has gone. Consequently, hundreds of people have to stand about on the platform in the cold until the train comes in. What is vitally needed is three or four bays where the trains can be drawn up, so that the people can go straight into them and, if they are so minded, start their breakfast.

I hope that this question of a marine terminal at Harwich will be looked into most carefully. Your Lordships know Dover. I would suggest for Harwich something on similar lines to what is provided at Dover. Of course, the traffic staff of British Railways have great difficulty with boat trains. There is the question of priorities. If there are complaints in regard to the lateness of trains and if they give priority to the boat train, the season ticket holders from Colchester and Chelmsford, naturally, get most annoyed. The traveller from Vienna gets equally annoyed if he finds himself held up for a local train. But there is very little complaint about Dover which has a modern terminal. There are great difficulties at Folkestone, but as the station is built out on a narrow pier I do not know what improvements could be made without any great expense. Southampton, of course, has one of the finest ocean terminals in the world. Plymouth, at no great expense, has a most warm and comfortable lounge, properly equipped with a buffet, paper stall and a bank, where passengers can sit in comfort. Facilities in Liverpool are very inadequate. That, again, is mainly a cargo port and passengers have to be embarked from a floating ocean stage. This stage dates back to the last century, and the baggage rooms and amenities are quite inadequate. One must not disguise the fact that it would need a major operation to improve them. The same remarks apply to Tilbury. I understand that the Port of London Authority has certain proposals but that other works may have to take priority.

I have made a brief survey of the more important of our leading ports, and I do not propose to detain your Lordships any longer on that subject. I want, however, to say a few words about the arrangements at London Airport and others. I would say at once that passenger-handling arrangements are excellent, but there the matter is simple, for passengers arrive in neat "parcels" of about fifty, instead of arriving in parties of 700, 800, or even 1,500, as they do by boat. The handling of air freight, however, badly needs attention. The methods in use are almost exactly similar to those which have been used for years for marine cargo. If someone takes the trouble, and pays the very heavy sum necessary, to send freight by air, it is obviously very urgent, otherwise the shipper or businessman would not send it in that way. It is disgraceful that something sent by air on a journey which takes an hour or two is then held up, through customs delay, for even a matter of days. It is quite common for customs clearance to take twenty-four or forty-eight hours.

One particular point here, I am advised, is the question of freight received for onward shipment. There is a great deal of traffic. If there is an urgent parcel to be sent from Italy to the United States or Canada the most obvious place for its transhipment front Al Italia to Trans-Canada Airlines is London. That would, of course, bring considerable revenue to B.E.A., and through B.E.A. to Trans-Canada. I can assure your Lordships that there is practically no freight sent to London for transhipment: it is going to Zurich or Amsterdam, where customs formalities take five minutes, while, I am told, transhipment formalities here in London take four hours. In other words, it is now impossible for air freight to catch a connecting plane.

An important businessman, taking samples to the United States from Rome, comes to London expecting that his samples will be transferred and will catch the same plane as he himself catches; but that is impossible because the formalities take four hours, whereas the Dutch and Swiss customs take the view that the samples are not really coming into their country at all and are no concern of theirs, so that the formalities on which they insist are quite, nominal, taking only a matter of minutes. Before the war, customs used to permit parcels not requiring an export licence to be shipped by air documentation being done afterwards. By this means, delays of several hours were avoided. I wonder if the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, can see whether this could not again be done. Only the most urgent freight can be cleared here on Saturday or Sunday. There are customs officials there to deal with it, but the consignment can be passed only if urgency can be proved. In this connection, the airlines pay overtime for the week-end and late working of the customs officers, so there is no question of Her Majesty's Government having to pay extra money.

There is a further small point, the question of passengers' luggage sent in advance. One would naturally expect that if a passenger sent his suitcase in advance it could he cleared by the water-guard by the time the passenger arrived, perhaps a few hours or a day later. But that is not so. The passenger has to go to a landing officer in another part of the airfield to clear the suitcase as freight. That is a matter which should be considered. The whole system is archaic for vast modern air transport operations, and I suggest that a Committee of Inquiry should be set up, at which the airlines should be represented, to see how these various difficulties can be overcome. I would repeat here what I said earlier; that individual customs officers are as helpful as they can be, within the framework of the present rules, but the rules badly need overhauling.

My Lords, I have tried to make a few constructive suggestions on what I believe is a most important subject and I have covered only a small part of it, points that I consider absolutely essential. I hope that I have said enough to emphasise that something must be done, and done quickly. The pressure on our ports is rising all the time; the number of travellers is increasing every day; and unless action is taken the congestion will get worse and worse. As your Lordships know, I speak from personal experience in the travel world. I beg to move for Papers.

6.49 p m.


My Lords, I do not propose in this debate to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, along the path he has taken, but there are two points which I want to bring out to the noble Lord who is to reply. I think he knows of them. I have given him warning, for we have been having a certain correspondence on this matter for some time, and I have taken this opportunity of bringing up my point again. I always find it peculiar that when foreign visitors come to this country they tend to be asked a lot of questions about why they have come, whether they are going to stay a long time, what they are going to do here and questions of that kind. The mother of a friend of mine came to this country. She was a member of a club in London and is a frequent visitor here. For some reason she was asked for her letter of invitation and where she was going to stay. I do not want to give many more cases, but things of that sort happen more often than they should. I have travelled abroad a good deal since the war. I have been in each country in Western Europe on various occasions, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes for business. So far as I remember, I have never once been asked a single question when crossing the frontier of one of those countries.

One of the reasons which are sometimes advanced for the questions which are asked here is that we are a big country, we have a big population and we have to be careful. Surely the same thing applies to other countries, such as, for instance, Holland and Belgium. They are not big countries, it is true, but they are very overcrowded; I think Belgium is even more overcrowded than we are here. But at the frontiers of those countries they ask no questions at all. So I cannot think that the reply which I have quoted has any validity whatever. If there were unemployment here, and we had to be careful to see that people did not come in and take jobs, it would be a different matter. But we have full employment at the present time. And note what happens in Italy, where there is a great amount of unemployment. They do not there put these questions to visitors. I well know that their tourist trade is more important to Italy than our tourist trade is to us in this country. Nevertheless, we are told a great deal about the need to build up tourist trade, and I suggest that it would help to do so if we stopped a lot of this rather tiresome questioning of people when they come from foreign countries to our ports and airports.

It always puzzles me that when one arrives at London Airport, even as a British subject, one has one's passport examined by two people. At the immigration desk, one is confronted by two officials. One of these looks at the outside of one's passport and the other looks at the inside. That seems to me to be a great waste of manpower, and it is also a great waste of money, because the enormous hall at London Airport was built at vast expense and a large area of it is used for the accommodation of these young men who are looking at passports—one of them, as I have said, scrutinising the outside, and the other the inside, of the passport. I wonder whether that system could not be modified in some kind of way.

Next, I should like to ask a question regarding what occurs in the case of foreigners who come to this country from countries where a visa is still required. I am speaking especially about people who come from Paris—I do not, of course, mean French people, but other people who need to have visas. These people have been to the British Embassy and have had a long interview with the visa-issuing authority, and after this long talk they have been granted a visa. But when they arrive at a port in this country they are subjected to another long interview, in the course of which the same questions are asked as those already put to them at the first interview. Surely once these people have been given a visa their passport is valid, and they should be allowed to come into the country with no further questioning at all. As a British subject I have visited countries abroad where a visa has been required—Spain and, in the old days, Portgual, though I do not think it is so now in the case of that country. There, again, I have never had a single question put to me on crossing the frontier. I have been travelling sometimes on business, sometimes on pleasure. Sometimes I have travelled by air, sometimes by car, but my experience has always been the same. I think that these are points that could well be looked into, because I am sure that a good deal of discomfort and trouble is caused to visitors by this foolish form of questioning. One would prefer to have what happens in most foreign countries: that is, that if one stays beyond a certain time one has to report to the police. That seems to me a very civilised system.

There is one other matter upon which I wish to ask a question—the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, may not be able to answer it now, but perhaps he can let me know what the answer is later. What is the number of wicked people who are caught coming into this country with visas which they have obtained after being interviewed by the visa-issuing authorities abroad? What number have been stopped after further questioning here? What is the number of people who have been caught and turned back when they have come over here with visas? May I make one final suggestion. When one travels in all European countries, no matter what they are, I think it is the case that one has to fill in a little form on arrival, giving such particulars as name and address, Christian name and occupation. This seems to me an unnecessary waste of everyone's time. There must be thousands of millions of these cards filled in every year. What becomes of them? I feel sure that they are all filed away and destroyed. I know that people often treat them as a joke. They fill in all sorts of names and occupations, sometimes putting themselves down as murderers and criminals, and then go gaily on their way without being held up. Would it not be possible, in this country, for a test period, to stop the filling in of these white cards by foreigners? Can the noble Lord tell me what amount of valuable information, or rather information showing that a person has some undesirable qualities or characteristics, is obtained from looking at these cards which are filled in every year by the thousands of foreigners who come to this country?

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, I think we must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, on having finally got his Motion debated. It has really been a more difficult matter for him than it would be for him to get through any of our systems of port control in this country. As your Lordships know, a large number of authorities are concerned at each one of these ports and airports. The Treasury is responsible for Customs and Excise, and there are the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, British Railways, local authorities, the Board of Trade, tourist agencies and, finally, the Home Office, responsible for immigration. I think it is rather poetic justice that I, who have the honour to represent the Home Office in your Lordships' House, should be called upon to reply to this debate. Every time anything goes wrong at a port it is always the Home Office that gets the blame for it. As I say, though, it is poetic justice and I do not complain.

We wholly realise the need for cutting down to the minimum the unnecessary delays and obstructions and we agree wholeheartedly with what has been said on the point that in order to further our tourist trade and, indeed, to support our reputation for courtesy and good will, the system should be as smooth-working as we can possibly make it. There are, of course, obvious grounds for friction at a port. People arrive after a rough passage, feeling out of sorts and tired, and they do not enjoy having put to them a series of rather awkward questions of a kind which a foreigner may well consider to be of a rather prying character. I am bound to admit that occasionally this questioning causes some annoyance; but, on the whole, complaints are remarkably few, and I should like to pay a tribute, from my own personal experience, to the almost infallible good temper, tact and efficiency of the customs and immigration officers at the various ports. It is our aim to keep these complaints down to the barest minimum.

Let me briefly consider three possible grounds for complaint. I turn first to immigration. I think that in order to understand and possibly answer some of Lord Amulree's questions we must bear in mind that the purpose of our immigration control is slightly different from the purpose of the Continental control. They at their ports ask only perfunctory questions. The immigration officer is really no more than a stamper of passports, because their long land boundaries make it impossible for them to have the sort of immigration control that we have. They rely entirely upon their interior police control system, but we rely primarily on control at the ports. Therefore it is not much use comparing the system at our ports with systems in Continental ports.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, may I ask whether it would not be better to consider following the system to which he has just referred, rather than to put people to the trouble of undergoing the questioning which they now have to undergo at our ports?


We have tried our system for a considerable length of time now and, on the whole, we are satisfied that it works better than the foreign system. But it does place an immense burden on the immigration officer. He has to ask a lot of questions, and, frankly, some of them may seem to the person questioned a little impertinent. He has to ask the questions tactfully, swiftly and not perfunctorily. Having watched many of these officers at work, I can say of my own knowledge that they do their work remarkably well. They are very swift indeed. The delay to people coming here and going past the immigration officers is very small. The officer has to satisfy himself on a considerable number of points. He has to find out whether a visitor is a bona fide visitor. He has to use initiative and considerable intelligence in putting his questions. The obvious evidence that that person has a return ticket is not necessarily infallible. The immigration officer must assure himself whether the man has any intention of trying to remain here. He must seek to find whether the man is bringing in any disease, whether he is mentally unstable, or whether he has a criminal record. The officer has to ask a lot of questions which people may reasonably resent being asked. These difficulties sometimes occur.

As the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has said, although the number of aliens is small, we do this because we have to be careful about the number of permanent admissions we make to this country. We are delighted to see visitors in their thousands and millions, but we have to be careful about whom we let in permanently. Despite the abuse levelled at us all over the world, people still seem to want to come and live in this country in large numbers, possibly larger numbers than we can accommodate and much larger numbers than Britons who wish to go abroad. That is one of the reasons why we have to take particular care, but I assure your Lordships that there is no intention to allow this examination to become an inquisition, and every effort is made to keep it within the bounds of normal courtesy. We are constantly seeking to improve the service, but we do not want to let the service become tied down with red tape or firm regulations covering everything without alteration, from one port to another. The immigration authorities have certain discretion which they use with great tact, and I think that, on the whole, the system works pretty well. The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, asked how many villains get through. We do not know how many get through. We do not catch many villains, but what we believe is that our rather exacting restrictions upon aliens reduce the number of potential villains—they do not think it worth while to risk it. It is the same with regard to the cards, which provide a useful check to make certain that our system is working properly.


My Lords, of what good can check cards be when it is known that they can be filled in with any name—John Brown or Tom Jones, or anything? What good can that be?


Some of them are filled up by humorists, I know. One was found signed "Marilyn Monroe," who declared that she had £10,000 worth of hashish in her possession. Leaving the funny ones aside, the vast majority of travellers fill in the cards correctly and genuinely and give an accurate indication to the authorities of how the system is working and where improvements are needed.

Customs is an easier business. I think most people understand the customs system and the need for it more than they understand the need for immigration control. Here, again, the customs officers carry out a difficult task courteously. I should like to say from my own experience that there is no question of departmental barriers between customs, immigration and other authorities in ports. I was gratified to find during my visits how the authorities are working together as a team. There is no attempt to "pass the buck." Immigration willingly help customs, and everyone tries to make the reception of visitors, who cannot possibly tell what authority is responsible for what, as smooth as possible. They are not in fact being passed around among a number of petty officials.

The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, asked whether the customs examination on leaving the country could not be cut down. This examination is very perfunctory, a spot check more than anything else, and when carried through so quickly it hardly forms any serious obstruction. I will certainly look into the question the noble Lord raised about freight at London Airport. I was not aware that the delay was so serious as the noble Lord suggests, but I will take the matter up and see whether I cannot find him an answer. On the whole, I think people understand the customs system and regard it as a goodhearted game which everybody plays good humouredly. We seldom hear of any serious cases of anyone being put through an inquisition. We did have one case a little while ago. A gentleman, a perfectly respectable sales manager of a well-known firm, was turned upside down, both himself and his baggage, several times in the course of six months. He was very angry and eventually sent in an official complaint. We found that what had happened was that some young lady with whom he had fallen out over a private matter knew his movements, and whenever he was coming back to this country she sent an anonymous letter to the customs telling them that he was carrying valuable jewel-lery about his person. I am happy to say that this kind of practical joke has been insured against and cannot be repeated.

The real problem is that of basic facilities at the ports. There have been great improvements since the war, at Dover, Southampton and Plymouth, and at London Airport which, of course, is a law unto itself. Further improvements are contemplated, both big and small, but there are two difficult ports—Harwich and to a lesser degree, Folkestone. We have done everything in the way of minor improvements that human ingenuity could do; but there is no getting away from the fact that nothing but a major overhaul will solve the problem in these ports. Difficulties are bound to pile up next year if we have fine weather and heavy tourist traffic during the peak period. Until we have electrified the railway lines to Harwich, Dover and Folkestone—and this must obviously go together with the reconstruction of the harbour facilities, and the whole depends on decisions on priorities and finance—we cannot solve the problem completely. But, even so, the time lag, even at peak periods, when things are not going well, is not really serious.

We admit that there is a time lag which we shall try to remove if we can, particularly because our tourist trade is increasing at an enormous rate, as the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has said. This is due to the social revolution which has put money in the pockets of people who previously never thought of going abroad or of visiting this country. We welcome the; revolution, but it brings trouble in its wake. More than on a million foreigners landed here in the year ended September 30, an increase of 16 per cent. on the previous year. In the same period two and a half million British people went out and came back. That would have been unimaginable a few years ago, and as I say, it has brought a great problem in its wake, a problem, however, of which both the authorities and the British Railways are fully aware, and are tackling as best they can.

Dover, which I believe is the biggest passenger port in the world, handled over one million people in the peak travel quarter of this year. Thirty-five passenger ships were handled in one peak twenty-four hour period. The time factor is often governed by physical limitations. With the best facilities in the world, with only two gangways one cannot unload a ship full of passengers faster than a specified time. That must always be the final limitation. Here the immigration control comes in. Often it is useful as a filter, to prevent the customs from being swamped, as it would be if there were no immigration officer to act as a filter. We are doing everything we can to stop this delay by putting immigration officers on ships, particularly on short packet services. We have tried this out on the Dover car ferry. It was not possible on the Harwich night boat, as we discovered. We are looking into this point, and where we think it useful to have an immigration officer, if we can find one, on board ship we will certainly do so.

Most of our ports were built before the days of passports and immigration control and it will be a long job to put them all right. We have, of course, the £12 million programme of modernisation for packet ports, but I cannot promise that these improvements will be carried out immediately. Like the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. I have personally investigated the question over the last few months, and my investigations have convinced me that on the human side we are doing everything possible to reduce the delays about which the noble Lord rightly complains. I cannot promise a speedy solution of the physical problems, because noble Lords will understand that that is a long-term and expensive problem, but we are getting on with it, because we want to make our tourist services as friendly, efficient and speedy as we possibly can. On the whole, I think our system is probably not bettered for efficiency and courtesy by arty that exists in the world; but we are determined that it shall be, without exception, the best.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for his comprehensive answer. I did not expect him to say that everything I proposed would he done at once, but I hope that the various suggestions I have made will be looked into by those responsible, in order to see that some of them, at least those not requiring capital expenditure, can be put into effect. I was glad to hear him say that he found at the ports that there was no departmentalism; that everybody, the immigration authorities, the customs authorities, the marine superintendent and the railway people, worked as a team. I found that team spirit very much developed. Having said that, I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.