HL Deb 26 June 1956 vol 198 cc4-7

My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the waste of time and expense incurred by the public and the considerable number of officials employed in the quite mechanical work entailed by the present system of quinquennial expiry and renewal of passports, they will consider the issue of passports of indefinite validity.]


My Lords, the existing practice is in accordance with the recommendation of a meeting of experts held in April, 1947, at Geneva, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. The recommendation reads as follows: Countries should as a general rule, adopt a validity of two years or more, and, if possible. a validity approaching five years, which has already been adopted by certain countries. Facilities should be given for easy renewals, if possible for the same periods as al initial issue, so long as the total validity of the passport does not exceed ten years". As a part of the economy drive, Her Majesty's Government re-examined this particular question at the beginning of the year, when it was decided that the very small saving in cost and manpower would not justify any change in the existing practice, which is an essential part of the passport control system. The renewal of a passport is not an automatic process. Amongst other advantages it affords an opportunity for a check on undesirables.


I thank the noble Marquess for his reply. Should I be right in drawing the conclusion that the tone of the report of the discussions at Geneva is really in favour of a longer validity for passports? The fact that the Council have recommended a minimum of two years', and preferably five years', validity, with a renewal period up Ito ten years, at any rate gives me the irnpression—I should like to know whether the noble Marquess agrees—that their feeling was that the period of validity should be longer. I should like, in addition, to ask the noble Marquess what is the cost of this particular piece of officialdom, if I may put it in that way; also whether any useful purpose is served by what I must assure him really is an extremely mechanical process of renewal, and whether, in fact, any security measure could not be fully met by the powers which already exist to withdraw a passport.


My, Lords, as regards the construction to be put upon the recommendation of the Committee, may I say that the Committee puts as the highest desirable length of time exactly the period that we in this country follow—namely, five years, with renewal, and a total validity of not more than ten years. So that, so far from being laggard in this matter, Her Majesty's Government are in fact in advance of most countries as to the length of period that they allow before renewal. I cannot give the noble Lord the exact figures of the extra cost; it would not be easy to extract that from the total cost of the Department. I can tell him that some quarter of a million passport renewals occur in the course of every year. As regards his views upon whether it is, or is not, useful from the point of view of affording some check on undesirables, I can only tell him that those who are responsible for placing the checks do attach importance to these periodical opportunities for inquiry and check.


I thank the noble Marquess very much for his reply. I would say, if I may with permission, that I did not wish to suggest that lier Majesty's Government had been in any sense laggard in this business. It was quite evident from what the noble Marquess said to start with that they had, in fact, taken as much leeway as, under the Report, they could take. I should also like to add that I have found that the officials concerned have always been most courteous and prompt.


I am much obliged.


In connection with that reply, would the noble Marquess give consideration to the inconvenience caused to those who have to travel a great deal? In the event of the near expiry of a passport, could not a visa which has some further time to run be transferred to the new passport, instead of being nailed to the old one, which is the procedure usually adopted by the Foreign Office?


My Lords, this seems to me to be going off rather at a tangent from the Question that I was asked. Exactly what the regulations are in particular circumstances, which cannot occur very often. I should be prepared to investigate if the noble Lord would like to put down a Question.


I thank the noble Marquess far his reply. I said "would he give consideration to"; I did riot expect a reply.

2.46 p.m.