§ 5.4 p.m.
Lord GREENWOOD of ROSSENDALE rose to move, That this House takes note of the Tenth Report of the European Communities Committee on a passport union in the European Community (R/1874/75) (H.L. 58). The noble Lord said: My Lords, there has been for me a certain irony in the debate we have just listened to because when I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House nine years ago it was in opposition to the order amalgamating the old Overseas Development Ministry into the Overseas Development Administration. I thought that it was a mistake then, and nothing I have heard this afternoon has made me change my point of view. I say it with the greatest respect and affection for the Minister who is to reply to this debate. In my early days in another place I was frequently not wholly in harmony with the policies pursued by Mr. Ernest Bevin, but my heart was lifted when, on one occasion, he was asked the aim of his foreign policy and he said,
It is to go to Victoria Station, get a railway ticket, and go where the hell I like without a passport or anything else".
It looked to me at that time as though the promised land was just around the corner, but it was not. The Cold War flourished, espionage became more intense, and terrorism began to acquire something akin to respectability. And the abolition of the passport became more and more a pipedream.
§ With those optimistic beginnings, I should never have expected that I should be speaking in your Lordships' House about the difficulties and dangers of getting rid of the passport system. But I am quite certain that all noble Lords who sat on the Select Committee and who studied this problem with care are fully seized of the difficulties and dangers that are involved. I should like to thank all noble Lords in the House who helped us to prepare the report; to wish the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, good 750 luck when he comes to make his maiden speech in a few minutes' time; to thank our officials, the Government departments, and the other bodies who gave evidence to us; and also to thank the Lord President of the Council whose advice was absolutely invaluable to us in our early days.
§ We decided broadly that proof of identity will be needed so long as countries have to combat crime, including terrorism, or to control immigration, or to carry out deportations, or to conduct health checks. We must not fall into the trap of not appreciating that this country is not typical of most of our partners in the Community. We have a long island frontier; the points of entry are fairly easy to control; and if we did not have that advantage there would have to be a great deal more police supervision than I think would be generally acceptable to the people of this country.
§ The proposals that we studied originated in the Commission in 1974, and they were twofold. The first was that all Community nationals should have a uniform passport. That is to say, a passport which would show the country from which they came but would also include the fact that that country was a member of the Community. The second aspect was that passport control at internal frontiers should be abolished. The second possibility was quickly abandoned by the Community, and I shall therefore confine myself to the former proposal which is, I think, one which is at any rate superficially attractive.
§ Your committee would welcome a change, but—and I hope that this does not sound too Irish, if I dare use the adjective—only if it is a change of form and not of substance. We say that because the authority of passports differs from one country to another; the issuing power inside the country differs; the scope of the protection they give differs as well. I do not think that any of us would want to surrender anything which we regarded as being a specifically British characteristic, or benefit, in the passport that we carry.
But that does not mean, of course, that we should not adapt our passports so that in using them travellers would be symbolising a new growth in internationalism as well as proclaiming their national pride in their own land, and we
summed up our general view in paragraph 26 of the report:
The Committee support the proposal for a uniform European passport, as a modest symbol of the Community's identity, provided that passports retain their national character. The Committee strongly urge Her Majesty's Government to take a constructive part in any discussions on this proposal".
I think there would be a great deal of support for that point of view, and in my view it reflects very badly on the Community that they have not made more rapid progress in that direction.
Some of the objections that have come up in the course of discussions have been almost too trivial for words. On page 16 in the statement provided for us by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office there is a section entitled:
Obstacles to agreement on a standard European passport".
1. There is disagreement between Germany and the United Kingdom over the use of languages in the passport, and over the form of the outside cover.
2. The United Kingdom favours the use of the national language plus either English or French. The Germans favour the use of all six official Community languages plus Irish. With regard to the front cover, the United Kingdom favours the name of the issuing state to appear above the words ' European Community ': The Germans would prefer the words ' European Community' at the top".
That really seems so trivial that I think it appalling that it should have been necessary for us to receive evidence on a matter of that kind. I am fairly sure, and I believe most of my noble friends on the committee are fairly sure, that this passport will come, but not yet, and I was greatly encouraged to discover that Commissioner Davignan, that most urbane and civilised of men, took the same view as we did and seemed to have high hopes of something being achieved, even if in the not too near future.
In the meantime we must do whatever else we can to ease the traveller's way, and I think the most promising aid to facilitate travel, and one worthy of study is the machine readable passport, a project which has been greatly helped by the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Soames, and certainly it appealed to every one of us who sat on the Select Committee. In paragraph 23 we used a sentence of which we were rather proud:
At the turn of the twentieth century the passport came to terms with the camera; now is the time to bring it to terms with the computer".
In so doing, we moved the Select Committee, as it were, into the computer age because the machine readable passport is one which can be scanned by a machine and its details checked by computer. It would probably look like an existing passport with a machine readable section, rather like a credit card let into the cover. It would be readable by the human eye as well as by the machine; the information it absorbed would be quickly processed in the computer and basically it would have a number of advantages. It would be very quick; we have every reason to suppose it would be very accurate; it would be much less burdensome for the traveller; it would put less pressure on immigration officials; criminals could be more readily spotted and we could avoid those horrible black looks from which so many of us must have suffered at one time or another.
§ The initiative in promoting a machine-readable passport came from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and the European Community have not entered this field. We were told by the Home Office that they were taking a leading role in international discussions about the standardisation of passports, but without any obvious results. Certainly we on the Committee were unanimous in supporting the principle of a machine-readable passport, and we should appreciate hearing from the Government what plans they have in this respect and what help they are giving to the necessary research.
§ There is one other suggestion we make which I should bring to your Lordships' attention which should make travel easier, and it comes towards the end of our report. There we suggest that as long as travellers are obliged to carry identity documents there might be a case for adding extra information on a purely voluntary basis. I emphasise that we were determined that it must be on a purely voluntary basis and that nobody should have to have this additional information on unless it was at their own request. It would be possible to include details, for example, of the holder's blood group, it could give his National Health Service number or his status under other national health regulations. If one's passport, one's 753 machine readable passport, included items of information of that kind it would probably be much more effective in ensuring that anyone taken ill abroad got the right treatment, and it would probably save them a great deal of expense as well. We found that when we put this to the Commission they were sympathetic to it and we hope it will not be lost sight of in the discussions which we hope will be restarting once again.
§ The standard European passport has the committee's support but it is probably not a project which is worth undertaking on its own. If, on the other hand, it were part of a general campaign to make travel easier and was linked with the adoption of machine readable passports, it could do much more for the average individual in the European Community than at least some of the Directives and regulations with which the committee is usually concerned. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Tenth Report of the European Communities Committee on a passport union in the European Community (R/1874/75) (H.L. 58).—(Lord Greenwood of Rossendale.)
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Baroness ROBSON of KIDDINGTON
My Lords, I was delighted when I was invited by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, to join this Committee to examine the possibilities of introducing a European passport. I must say at once that unfortunately, because of many other commitments I had, I was not able to be present at all the Committee meetings, for which I am deeply sorry, but I attended some of them.
I accept every word the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said about the possibilities of moving towards a European passport or a European passport union. I am slightly sad that we should have to come to your Lordships' House with such a limited recommendation at the end of our deliberations. Paragraph 15 says:The Committee were therefore glad to learn from Commissioner Davignan that he considers this part of the proposals dead".That is the part dealing with the passport union. I may be too much of an idealist, but I would say it was an over-statement to say I am glad the proposal is dead. 754 I am one who believed that the creation of a European passport union would be instrumental in welding together the different peoples of the Community, and making a whole of it; so I cannot say that I am glad that the proposal is dead.
I accept that the difficulties that exist at the moment are such that we cannot proceed along those lines. As has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, one of the saddest difficulties and greatest obstacles to the creation of a European passport union is the increase in terrorism that has taken place ever since the idea of the abolition of internal frontiers was first mooted. This I believe is a terrible indictment of modern society and an enormous threat to the democratic way of life in which all members of the Community believe; and this is what makes it so tragic.
In the report we also refer to the passport unions that exist in certain parts of the Community, such as the Nordic Union. We state—and it is true—that it is obviously easier to create a union among a small number of peoples of not very large populations, and of a very homogeneous way of life. I still believe that we can learn something from the way in which they are working their kind of union. I have made some inquiries, and it seems to me that the Nordic Passport Union works without the immigration laws and the terrorist laws being identical in all the countries. This is an interesting point. Immigration into the Nordic States is purely by work permit. If an immigrant enters illegally through Denmark, for instance, and he does not have a work permit, he then makes his way to Sweden and is discovered there without a work permit. On his passport it will be clearly stated that he entered through the Danish border. There is an agreement between the four Nordic nations that a person of that kind is immediately returned to Denmark because it is that country's responsibility to deal with that illegal immigrant. I believe that that kind of arrangement could be extended to an area greater than the four Nordic countries. Unfortunately the tourist arrangement in the Nordic Union is identical to that of many other countries among our European partners, under which a person has a permission to stay for three months and as he books in, a hotel is forced to register the fact that it has a foreign visitor 755 staying—something which we in this country do not believe is the right kind of thing for us.
One objection contained in evidence given to us in the committee came from the British Airports Authority and it related to the problem of what would happen about duty-free drinks if there was a passport union. The Airports Authority claimed that it made enough on duty-free drinks to enable it to keep airport charges at a reasonable level. I inquired about what happens in Scandinavia. Although they have a complete passport union, if one travels between Sweden and Denmark, for instance, and one is in Denmark for more than 24 hours, one is entitled to take duty-free drinks back from that country to Sweden. Your Lordships may ask how does this happen if one does not have a passport and one has free access; it happens on one's return ticket. It is possible, I believe, to work systems of that kind.
We should not assume that a passport union in the Community is dead for ever. If we do, we are abrogating our belief in the Community as a whole. I accept that it is not feasible at the moment. Nevertheless, I am sad that we have to come to the House and give your Lordships that advice.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, mentioned one other point related to the computerised passport, particularly with reference to health information being stated on a passport, and I agree with him a hundred per cent. that this should be voluntary, not compulsory. I wonder whether even before we have a European passport Her Majesty's Government would look into the matter so as to help people who are having problems with Form E 111. If nationals of this country voluntarily ask to have health information put on their British passports at the moment, would that not be helpful to the people of this country? I join with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, in sincerely hoping that the Government will do their best to further this first step towards a uniform European passport.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord FAIRFAX of CAMERON
My Lords, I understand that a maiden speech in your Lordships' House should preferably be short and uncontentious, and 756 should be delivered on a subject of which the novice knows something. Of these criteria I can promise to fulfil the first, and I do not expect to infringe the second, for I hope that it would not be presumptions to say that at the beginning of its deliberations the committee found the question wholly uncontentious. This was a subject not to inflame passions, but to be approached with an open mind. There were no strong partisan views. For that reason it is perhaps a particularly appropriate subject for a maiden speech. So far as the third condition is concerned, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for having given me the opportunity to acquire some expertise on this subject. It is an opportunity for which I am particularly grateful. So, although I do not pretend to speak with any great expertise on the subject, nevertheless I can come before your Lordships feeling less like David before Goliath than I otherwise might have done.
Turning now to the substance of the report, let me say at first that I shall try not to cover any of the ground that has been covered in previous speeches. There are two distinct limbs to the report. The first concerns the question of introducing a uniform passport. The second is the much more ambitious concept of establishing a passport union, a free travel area. It was thought that within such an area the citizen, whether or not from a member country, would be able to roam freely without check or hindrance. It is a grand idea, and it is entirely consistent with the ethos of the Treaty of Rome and its provision for freedom of movement. Proponents of such a scheme could point —as the noble Baroness has done—to the Nordic travel area and the special arrangements that at present exist between the United Kingdom and Ireland. But unfortunately the problems posed and the hurdles to be vaulted are enormous.
Both the schemes that I have mentioned depend upon a far greater homogeneity of policy and law than exists at the moment between, for instance, the United Kingdom and either Italy or Germany. The implications for immigration of both humans and animals, security, and the control of terrorism and crime are vast, and in my view are undoubtedly unacceptable to member Governments, given the state of our nations at the 757 beginning of the 1980s. For instance, the obvious trick for someone wanting illicitly to get himself, his cat, or his cocaine to a particular place within the Community would be to enter the Community at a slack point and from there he could expect to travel as freely as a bird throughout the countries within the Community It seems fairly clear to me, then, that attractive though the concept of a Common European Community free travel area may be, at the moment it is not a viable proposition.
Furthermore, given that the aim is to make travel not only easier but swifter, it is difficult to see how passport union, standing by itself, could achieve this without the simultaneous abolition of other checks at frontiers which are not based on the passport. I am thinking of things like Customs and health checks. For example, I understand the preoccupation with preventing the arrival on our shores of rabies. These checks clearly cannot go, but they certainly hold the traveller up; and the time it generally takes to go through passport control fades into insignificance in comparison with the time it takes a juggernaut driver to clear all his documentation with the relevant authority at a frontier, or for an airline passenger to retrieve his luggage, if he can find it at all. It is not for nothing that a cynical slogan for modern air travel may be, "Breakfast in Brussels, lunch in London, luggage in Los Angeles". With substantial problems like these, to abolish passport control within the Community would, I feel, be misguided, would help little and would simply open up Pandora's box.
However, as your Lordships have heard, there are two limbs to this question which the Committee has studied in its report, and realistic prospects of progress look brighter on the second limb, which is that of introducing a standard-form European passport for use by citizens of European Community countries. In the first place, I feel it would be a tangible symbol of European unity. At the same time, I recognise that, particularly in this country, there may he a fervent reluctance to use a document which could be seen as yet another token of the subjugation of this country's individuality and identity to Europeanism. Without doubt a passport is something which people really feel 758 represents, not a nationality but also nationalism and patriotism. For that reason, I do not think that the possibility of strong, popular reaction against the possibility of introducing a common-form European passport should be underestimated.
On the other hand, standardisation would offer a useful opportunity to incorporate into the passport some of the new innovations about which we have heard this evening. In the first place, it seems worth while looking into the question of making passports machine-readable. This would mean that passports could be scanned electronically by a machine, which would itself be linked to a central data bank. It is clear that a method like that would be much more efficient in, for instance, detecting those people who in the normal course of events would be refused entry into a country, such as, fugitive offenders. There would be no need to have those massive lists of names, the size of telephone directories, which you find at some ports of entry, where you have the hapless passport authorities flicking through them. With a machine-readable passport, the name would trigger the base in the data bank, and somebody who was not meant to enter the country could quickly be detected far more efficiently. Therefore, I would hope that not only would a machine-readable passport be more efficient but it might also be quicker, which is really, I suppose, the essence of what we are talking about.
Secondly, there has been talk of including in the passport data relating to health. It seems to me that the bearer's blood group could very usefully be included, and those further details which at the moment are supposed to be included on Form E111. Before I sat on this Committee I certainly had not heard of Form E111, and I do not think anybody else had; but, simultaneously, there appeared in the papers several advertisements explaining its use to the readers of those papers. I think the substance of it is that if you fill in this form you are entitled to a certain amount of reciprocal, free medical attention in those countries within the European Community where it is applicable. I was unfortunate enough to be involved in a car accident in France this summer, and I know that none of the people on board who were injured— 759 and, luckily, that did not include me—was armed with this E111; and they were therefore denied the opportunity of being afforded medical aid on a free basis, to which they might otherwise have been entitled if they had been armed with E111s. If that sort of information could be included in the passport, I feel that would be a very worthwhile innovation.
In conclusion, my Lords, I feel that, superficially, a free travel area probably holds enormous appeal. It is a delightful thought, that you could skip within the European Community from one country to another without having to show any form of identification at the frontiers; and it would be the essential test, I suppose, of a European Community which had the attribute of a single country. But, of course, in practice it is totally unattainable; and it could not be achieved simply by abolishing passport checks, as I have tried to show. There are other checks which simply cannot go, so abolishing passport control would not help at all.
Conversely, what is possibly attainable —namely, the introduction of a common-form European passport, which would be a tangible symbol of European unity—might, I feel, attract universal derision, almost, from those citizens of the European Community, and particularly people in this country, who would feel that it was a token of the further erosion of their national identity; and I feel that there might be a strong reaction against any mooted idea of introducing such passports. But if a new passport like that could be shown to have proper advantages, incorporating the innovations of which I have talked—more efficiency, more speed to the traveller—then it may be an appropriate moment to attempt to launch a common-form European passport in the continuing interest of European unity and harmony.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord MURRAY of GRAVESEND
My Lords, this is the first opportunity I have had in your Lordships' House to congratulate a maiden speaker, and I should like to do so most sincerely for a very lucid, articulate and concise speech. The only thing I found missing was the controversy. However, I thought that, in his opening, t0he noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, also felt that controversy 760 might be in order on another occasion, perhaps, and I am certain that he will enter into any controversies which arise in this House. On behalf of your Lordships, I should like to thank him for his maiden speech.
This is a very welcome and very thorough report, and I found that it was a mine of useful information. One of the things that is happening in this country is that when we talk about the European Community we all get obsessed with sheepmeat, wine lakes and beef mountains, and in many ways we begin to lose sight of what perhaps we should be doing in Europe, and of what we are perhaps not doing. Because I believe that people in this country feel that they are not part of the European Community, and that they are no more part of it than they were on the day of accession——1st January, 1973. I think that this House and the other place, and politicians generally, ought to be doing more, rather than just talking about the problems of sheepmeat. We know that those problems are serious, but rather than talking about all the economic difficulties I think we ought to talk about some of the wider things that we can be doing in Europe—and a uniform passport is one of the ways in which we can move in that direction.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, quoted Ernie Bevin over 30 years ago, when he spoke of how he would like to see people moving all over the world without the necessity of passports. The problem, I think, is that when Ernie Bevin said that it was in the time when Lancaster aircraft were converted to carry eight people and they were using old-fashioned York and Hastings aircraft, not when they were carrying 31 million passengers in and out of Britain, as they did in 1978. I think that is one of the problems: it is the sheer volume. In the late 1940s, during the term of office of the first Labour Government after the war, I do not think anybody believed that there would be the rush, the bustle, the movement of people that there now is every day of the week, every week of the year. That has partially made the difference. It is easy for a PLO terrorist to get on a plane from the Middle East and to be in London within half a day and for terrorists, of whatever sort, to be moving all over the world, threatening 761 people wherever they go, because the world has shrunk in terms of passenger travel.
I think that some of the suggestions in the report for removing some of the difficulties of travel ought to be investigated by the Government—outside, in a way, the European Community and the way we handle this question within the Commission. We have to remember that the Commission set up a working party which has done absolutely nothing for the last two years. It may be that this Government ought to give some impetus on the problems of obtaining and using uniform passports. There is no doubt that one of the problems about travel arises when people arrive at their destination: the difficulty is the time that people sometimes have to spend in waiting to clear through immigration and customs and in waiting for their baggage which, as the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, has said, may be in Los Angeles while they are in London.
I think that the question raised in the report about the machine-readable passport ought to be seriously considered. Perhaps we have some problems at London Airport when we arrive, but I do not think our problems are anything like the problems of arrival in New York when they go through the book that they have to check you out, or check your visa. You may be waiting in the queue for almost an hour to get through immigration control. Certainly, the US, which prides itself on its computerisation, ought to be looking at this as seriously as we are.
One of the things which is noticeable when travelling by car in Europe—apart from the controls in London and Brussels—is that for the rest of the time, you easily can sail across, or motor across, borders between Germany and Luxembourg and Luxembourg and France without (unless a terrorist check is on) much let or hindrance. That is noticeable because we happen to be on the external frontier.
On the question of a uniform passport, I may say that I was fortunate to be one of the delegated Members to the European Parliament for three years. Members of that Parliament had what was to all intents and purposes a uniform passport. They insist on calling it a Laissez-passer. Nevertheless, it was a uniform passport.
762 I never used mine when I came into Britain. Some of my colleagues did so and had great difficulty in getting past immigration with that uniform passport. I did not use mine because the officials had to read through everything before they decided whether one was allowed in. But it was a uniform passport.
I never heard of any difficulty which was occasioned by the order in which the languages were used on the European passport. This one, starts in Danish and ends in Dutch. Nobody, as far as I know, argued in the European Parliament about whether their language was first, second, third, fourth or fifth. Certainly, the German objection is a rather strange one, in terms of the number of languages, in wanting the addition of Irish. In the European Parliament itself none of the documents is in Irish. They have the standard languages but they do not distribute documents in Irish. I found it strange that the Germans wanted suddenly to introduce Irish on to the passport.
There was one thing in the report which I was hoping it would bring out further, but it did not. I understand the Committee went to London Airport and talked with immigration officers. I wish there had been in the report some written evidence from them as to their views on the introduction of a uniform passport or the relaxation of passport rules.
One of the other things which I think the Government should think about—again it is outside this report—is the question of Form E 111. I think it is serious because we are told that citizens from all over the world can come to this country and receive medical treatment. There are people who say that it is abused. I do not believe it is. I do not think that somebody who comes to this country on holiday or business and who suddenly falls ill should have to worry about whether they can pay the sum of x, y or z.
It seems to me that the Government should be working on reciprocity, certainly within the Community, without the bother of E 111. I would take the view that the production of a British passport, without any documentation, ought to be all that is necessary to receive medical treatment. The document raises the question of how many people apply for form 763 E 111. I did so before I went on holiday. I think it is another burden, in a sense, on the National Insurance offices. They have to do this job, to issue these documents, have them filled in and arrange the necessary signatures and stamping. I see no reason why, if you are a British subject, and there is a reciprocal arrangement with some European country, you should not use your passport as proof; and that that is all that is needed.
I think that one of the other anomalies that I was disturbed about in the report —again it is outside the terms of reference of the report—was the letter from Shelton Orsborn on the question of fuel importation into Europe. I found it ludicrous that coaches with parties of tourists going to France were being stopped and having the diesel fuel in the tanks measured and, if it was over 100 litres, they were fined on the spot and had all sorts of problems. Not only that, but a Mr. Gilby, who wrote the letter, said that they could be going along the road after leaving the port and be stopped again and fined again. And they had the same problem in crossing the German border. I do not think that we ought to accept that. It is in the report and I think if it is true—and I have no reason to doubt it—the Government should be doing something about that outside the Community purely on the basis of some reciprocal arrangement. I understand that the same thing does not apply when French or German coaches come to this country. Regarded from those points of view alone, it is a valuable report.
One of the other things I should like to do is to congratulate the Passport Office on their work over the past 10 years. From the figures given in the report, we learn that they issued this year half a million more passports than they did 10 years ago; and the staffing figure is only nine above what it was 10 years ago. That is remarkable. We hear a lot of criticism in Parliament, in this House, in the other place and outside, of civil servants; and the criticism in very many cases we know is unjust. We ought to congratulate the Passport Office on their work.
It is a very valuable report. I think that if the Government do not act on the uniform passport—and I realise the diffi- 764 culties; and the report outlines the difficulties—certainly some of the points raised in this report ought to be raised outside the Commission and the European Assembly and dealt with fairly quickly by this Government.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, I should like with enthusiasm to support the congratulations which the noble Lord, Lord Murray, offered my noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron on his excellent maiden speech. I do so with added enthusiasm because, 70 years ago, either the noble Lord's grandfather or his great-grandfather took me out shooting. That was 70 years ago, when I was 9¾ years old. I do not want my noble friend Lord Fairfax to interrupt me at this point, for he will probably say: "No, it was my great-great-grandfather who took you out shooting."
I agree entirely with the observations that our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, has made and the excellent exposition he made, which means that there is very little I need say. Also, I agree with the excellent points made by my noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron. I hope that anything I say will be treated with reverence because, as I told the committee, my first passport—and, for all I know, the passport I am still using—begins: "I, George Nathaniel Marquess Curzon …" which shows that it is now quite a dated document.
There are many burning issues in the EEC now; but from the evidence the committee received, the passport union does not seem to be among them, either in the United Kingdom or in other EEC countries, as things stand at present. Anything approaching passion was notably absent from the evidence that we received. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said, the original proposal for the passport union seemed attractive and in line with EEC philosophy. In the five years since then, as the report said, discussions have been desultory and progress minimal. The original proposals, the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said, involved two practical steps: a common form of passport, and the termination of internal and external checks.
It seems astonishing, so far as the first goes, that four or five years' discussions at official levels should not have produced 765 an agreed common form. Active interest, support and prodding at ministerial level does not seem to have taken place. What we are talking about is, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said, a change of form and no great change of substance. It is difficult to believe that, if Ministers had exerted pressure on their officials, the relatively simple matter of devising a common form would not have been solved by now. It must be remembered of course that the passport that results must be usable for all countries and not only for EEC travel. In passing, I should like to say how much I agree with the tribute that the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, paid to the officials of the passport office. It is very well deserved indeed.
As regards the other aim, of the removal of checks, the practical difficulties are obviously much more formidable. Sadly, it needs saying that today the needs of security and even immigration control seem greater than ever, and the police forces in every country have a hard enough job to do at present with security. It is clear the possession of some means of identification for people crossing frontiers, both external and internal, is going to continue to be necessary in present conditions. So unfortunately the laudable aim of the late Ernest Bevin for absolutely free, documentless travel is not at present realisable.
As the committee say in paragraph 26 of their report, since passport control cannot be ended, the object must be to make control as light and quick as possible This seems an eminently sensible approach. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, that one way in which the committee were impressed was with the possibility of devising a machine-readable passport which would also be capable of course of being read by the human eye. This we were told was probably technically feasible and therefore should be practically considered. Another was by the incorporation on a standard passport of certain additional information relating to health requirements. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, doubts whether they would be needed as an addition. If they were, and if they are, then the question should be considered whether they could not be incorporated in a single passport.
We were not, however, optimistic about 766 progress being made even with these limited objectives unless Ministers took a renewed interest in these questions and provided an impetus. Vicomte Davignon seemed alone to have retained a degree of hopeful optimism. There are some issues of course about which, in spite of lack of progress, one can feel comforted by what one of our distinguished predecessors called the "inevitability of gradualness". In this case, there is no such inevitability of progress with the number of pressing problems which the EEC has. I believe that the committee are right in the report which has been prepared under the beneficent and wise chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, to urge Her Majesty's Government to press forward with a limited number of improvements and simplifications which seem to the committee to be well within the field of practicability.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord PLANT
My Lords, may I too pay tribute to the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron. I hope that we shall hear more from him. I want also to pay tribute to the excellent chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Greenwood, who gave us a very wide brief and helped us to prepare a document which I think will be of some value to the Government in pressing ahead with the issues that we have before us. When Ernest Bevin made his statement I agree that there was not the flow of passengers and travellers that there is today. We have to accept that it is not possible to do what he thought could be achieved even during his tenure as Foreign Secretary. Terrorism and other issues mean that the passport has to be retained.
However, if we have to retain the passport and we are members of the European Economic Community the Government must make things more flexible and thus give less cause for irritation to visitors to the United Kingdom and to citizens of the United Kingdom visiting other parts of the EEC. While it is true that generally the United Kingdom immigration service investigate outward and inward travellers more thoroughly than most other countries, they certainly give an air of great efficiency and a complete absence of official or bureaucratic rudeness—something that I have encountered in other countries. Some travellers seem afraid of immigration 767 and customs formalities; probably they have read too many novels. If therefore we can not only speed the flow, but also reduce personal confrontation, we shall do much to help travellers. So I believe that a further review by the Commission may lead to some harmonisation of passport laws. That is surely not too difficult if we are to make steady progress to further integration. A machine-readable passport clearly has to come. The committee are right in pressing the Commission to study seriously machine-readable passports and brush aside the many difficulties which will be suggested. The present leader of the House told us that he was very much in favour of the machine-readable passport, and if your Lordships read page 41 of the report you will see what he had to say.
Like my noble friend Lord Murray of Gravesend, I accept that too many of us think of ourselves as within the EEC but still not part of it. It would help towards further integration and a feeling of unity if we had a common passport. It should be of the same colour and the same format but retaining distinguishing sovereign marks, probably on the cover. I, too, am greatly in favour of some health statistics in the passport and of using it in some way to help travellers with the problems of form E 111. I think the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and my noble friend Lord Murray should be considered by the Government.
The committee have done well to urge further consideration of the whole issue and I believe they have given some impetus to the Government and, I hope, to the Commission to review these problems with alacrity. Like my noble friend Lord Murray, I had a laissez-passer when I was a member of the governing body of the International Labour Organisation. I certainly never used it to get into the United Kingdom—it would only have delayd matters—but it was accepted very freely in Switzerland and in France.
My noble friend Lord Greenwood has emphasised some of the objections we encountered. Many of them, as he said, were trivial but they were a demonstration of national pride, and if the European Economic Community means anything for the future it is that some national traditions have gradually to dis- 768 appear. I believe that the acceptance of this report by your Lordships will give a much needed impetus to the Commission urgently to consider the many problems which clearly have to be solved.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Viscount ULLSWATER
My Lords, I should very much like to add my congratulations to those of others before me on the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Fairfax. He has shown us a glimpse of his agile brain and, with his barrister's mind, he will be able to enlighten your Lordships on divers subjects in the future. I am sure we would welcome that. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for putting down the Motion before us tonight. The noble Lord has put the case for acceptance of this report most succinctly and has picked out really all the salient points the committee discussed from the report. I had the honour to be a member of that committee and I think it came to the only conclusion that was possible. I would just go over one or two of the opinions they gave.
In the first instance, there is still a need for an identity paper of some kind, and the passport is the internationally recognised one. It provides a check on the movement of criminals and terrorists, and I would venture to say that the last few days have shown how difficult it is to take men like Jacques Mesrine or to apprehend an escaped convict like Michael O'Rourke, who must have passed out of one country and into another undetected. I do not think it is fair to the public at large to allow such men to wander around Europe unchallenged, and so a passport is needed to check undesirables. Immigration control is another stumbling block for the free movement of people from one country to another and, while these controls remain, a passport showing the nationality of the holder will be required.
The committee went on to press for a machine-readable passport. In my own mind, it will not significantly speed up the traveller because the time spent on passport control is not as great as that spent on the baggage claim area for a holiday or business journey. Immigration control will always take a certain length of time which an EEC passport, as opposed to a national passport, will not 769 alter. However, on the plus side, a machine-readable passport will allow the provision of a greater number of ingress or egress points controlled by a supervisor and, where baggage is not involved, a faster passage through frontiers.
Perhaps the most important improvement to present-day passports, which has been mentioned once or twice before, would be the inclusion of the health status of the holder: by that I mean not only the current vaccination certificates needed for travel all over the world but, perhaps more importantly, with the harmonisation of health controls among Member States, the provision of free hospitalisation and medical attention for United Kingdom passport holders in the eight, and soon to be 11, other countries of the EEC—thereby overcoming the necessity of filling in form E 111 before the journey is started. The foregoing matters led the committee to their conclusion as pointed in the report. It is a conclusion with which I concur, and I hope Her Majesty's Government take note of this report and are more prepared than their predecessors to see the move continued.
I should like just to ask your Lordships to cast your minds forward to the reasonably near future—say in five years, or 1984. I think there will be a demand for greater information and the compiling of more statistics to control a more mobile world, with improved communications. Government bodies will be looking to monitor more closely the shifts in population, and their make-up on an age pattern, in order to provide the educational and welfare facilities that will then be needed. I believe we must take a pragmatic view of what life may be like in the future, and I think it is unreasonable to believe that the freedom of movement which we think of as being a possibility now will not in fact become possible. It may prove difficult to accommodate those from the poorer parts of the North of England, Southern Italy, parts of Spain and Portugal or the Greek islands who migrate to well-paid jobs in Germany, Belgium or the South-East of England. It would put a great strain on the social and welfare provisions of these relatively small areas, and the setting up of so-called "ghetto labour-forces" which upset all the local inhabitants. This touches also on immigration and its control. I believe that the integration of different ethnic popula- 770 tions will not take place if there are too many migrants to be swallowed into a native population. I do not discount, either, the added pressure of colour integration.
My prediction, if it should be spoken of in that way, is of a world of even greater violence—not from the general breakdown of law and order but from the upsurge of more vociferous minority groups, each with its own interpretation of freedom. Crime, or the detection of crime, is increasing and criminals have a tendency to resort to greater violence to achieve their unhealthy aims. Community responsibility is diminished by the onslaught of so much collective State intervention. This intervention is the root of documentation and, because of this need for increased documentation, it will be necessary for us all to carry a form of identification permanently with us. I think that George Orwell has come uncomfortably close to the truth. Between now and 1984, however, the move towards common citizenship in Europe may be apparent, and I urge Her Majesty's Government to reflect on the content of this report and to support the conclusion that the Select Committee reached.
§ 6.11 p.m.
My Lords, I should first like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron. I think he made a good choice of subject for a maiden speech, and it certainly was a good maiden speech. I shall try not to repeat the points that have already been made in this debate, but it will be difficult to keep entirely to new matter. First, I shall mention Mr. Bevin, because when passports are talked about his remark often comes to the fore, and I do not think he is by any means the only one among us who has had that romantic view. Certainly, many people to whom I have talked since this committee was sitting echoed his wishes, and felt that probably those in charge of the different systems of control that we have at frontiers are altogether too bureaucratic. We in the committee did not find that at all, but I think that the general public believes it.
It is no good being romantic today. One hundred years ago there was much less travelling abroad and a passport was 771 not strictly necessary. But over the last 50 years there has been a great increase in travel by all classes. People are now travelling more often, they are travelling farther, they are travelling faster, there is an increase in crime—not just terrorism, but serious crime and minor crime—and there is greater awareness of health hazards. All this points to the fact that we must have some form of checks—identity documents—and checkpoints where documents are examined.
What we in Parliament, and Governments, have to do is to search for a fair balance between a too tight bureaucratic system of control, and a system that is so lax that it is ineffective. We, of course, are members of the European Community but we are not always so ready to notice that we are in a different position from other countries because we are an island. That means, in particular, that our controls at points of entry on the frontier can be very different from what there would be if we had nothing but land frontiers. Also, as a country we have a great dislike of identity cards, such as is not shared by other members of the Community who find them of great use.
Not so long ago a German police officer of some seniority, who was on a course in this country, said to me, "What the English fail to see when they criticise the German system of identity cards is that in Germany there are far fewer arrests on the streets and far fewer nights spent in detention at police stations, because we have a much better system of identification and more knowledge of people's permanent place of abode". That hardly comes within this debate, but it shows that some of the things that happen on the Continent which we dismiss may not necessarily have all the disadvantages that we are apt to suppose. What we want is a system that is acceptable and that is not extravagant in manpower.
One suggestion, which has not yet been mentioned this evening, is: Why can we not have passports examined on boat trains, such as between the Channel ports and London? It happens on the Continent. Surely that would save a great deal of time here. I knew a British police officer who, some time ago, was on official attachment to a Continental force and who found that part of his duties on 772 the other side of the Channel was examining passports on trains. He told me that one should not run away with the idea that such a check can be other than a very simple examination, because if you have some slight suspicion that some detail has been scratched out and something else written in, you can hardly do much in a railway compartment in poor light to check with six or more passengers very close to you. Further, unless you maintain a certain speed in going down the train, the chances are that the train arrives at the station where many of the passengers will get out without their passports having been examined at all.
All the same, I am sure that we are right to work towards a passport that is, in part, readable by machine. Such a passport could still be read in the ordinary way by control staff, because there are not many countries which would find it worth their while, at the start at least, to make a very big investment in the equipment for reading such documents, which has to be the same all over the world. There is just one other point about the passport that is machine-readable, which has not been mentioned. There will be some number or code embodied in it, which the owner of the passport would know but which no thief could read. The owner of the passport would push it into a slot and would tap out a code. If the code that he typed out was the same as the invisible code on the passport he would get a green light and go through. If it was not, then a red light would come on—I am speaking figuratively—and some official down the line who was checking at the barrier would see that there was something wrong and would go and see for himself.
But none of these checks that we are talking about is any real defence against incompetence or sheer awkwardness. I went to Czechoslovakia on business only about a month ago, and on my return the staff were just pure awkward. It was very easy going in, and my colleague was even asked why a Member of your Lordships' House did not have a special passport and should be travelling on an ordinary passport. So much for the classless Communist Eastern Europe! But on the way back I was held up for a very long time, for no good reason that I could see, except that the men at the barrier wandered into 773 a vineyard alongside to pick grapes. A machine-readable passport is no defence against that kind of mentality.
I am glad that the EEC have given up the idea of checks at internal frontiers. It would be placing an impossible task on the staff checking documents on the perimeter. Even if, in theory, we harmonised the immigration rules of the different members of the Community, there would frequently still be special regulations dealing with health and so on. The amount of knowledge and information that would have to be in the heads of those checking passports at the perimeter is beyond what one could expect of any official.
There is one other point that has not been mentioned. Although we talk of other countries having identity cards and, to some extent, duplicating the system by having both a passport and an identity card, we in this country issue a so-called Visitor's Passport as well as the normal one. I heard not long ago of the case of a man charged with drug offences, who when his passport had run out had obtained a Visitor's Passport and had since been travelling about the Mediterranean. I thought it was worth going to a main post office this morning to find out whether I could get one too. I got an application form and found that if I signed only once at the bottom—a false declaration—I could have a Visitor's Passport handed to me across the counter. There was no reason for this application to be countersigned by anyone else, and by making just one false declaration, saying that I did not hold another valid passport, it would have been given to me and I could have shown it to your Lordships here this afternoon. This is something that we ought to look into.
I have also been told by a friend in the police that, having got the second document, I could go abroad on it with my real passport in my pocket. I could then give my real passport to some friend who might like to come to this country, but who would rank as an illegal immigrant and come back on any Visitor's Passport. With my real passport he could then unpick it and fake it in various ways. Tam asking whether the existence of these Visitors' Passports may well contribute to the number of real passports falling into wrong hands. I must not expand on 774 that, but I thought that the point was worth making.
§ Viscount AMORY
My Lords, I think that the point made by my noble friend is very well worth making, and I hope he will pursue it further. What he told me about the ease with which you can get these Visitors' Passports really horrified me.
My Lords, it horrified me, too, and that is why I went to a post office to check. There is, perhaps, a perfectly good reason and purpose behind it, but it seems to me that it is all too easy to get something which is called a passport and which has the same validity when travelling around the countries which are listed in it. When the noble Lord winds up, no doubt he will be able to say something about all this. I do not want to exaggerate or give the wrong impression, but I do think that the present position invites cheating.
If we have common rules for the issue of passports within the Community, we ought also to work towards common rules for refusing passports and for taking them away in the very rare cases where this should happen. All this supports the case of the noble Lo
that at the present time the best thing that we can all do in our several countries is to work towards a passport part of which is machine-readable. We must move step by step.
One speaker mentioned that after a long period very little progress had been made by the Commission and their officials. I hope that this debate will encourage all those concerned to look again at this whole question and to take some steps forward, even if they cannot take all the steps forward that we feel are desirable at this time.
§ 6.21 p.m.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, we on this side of the House and I am sure all noble Lords wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and his committee on the production of yet another excellent report. Despite its slimness, this report is encyclopaedic when one considers the extent of the information that it contains. After reading through it, one is bound 775 to know a very great deal indeed about the underlying reasons for bringing forward proposals for some kind of passport union in Europe and also about some of the facts which have a bearing upon it.
I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, on his maiden speech. Bearing in mind that it was non-controversial, it displayed a degree of virtuosity. We look forward very much indeed to being informed by him when, as is inevitable after the passage of time, he adopts a more controversial role.
Turning to the points which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I do not propose to deal with them myself. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will be able to comment upon the remarks that were made by the noble Lord during the latter part of his speech.
Today we are considering a report produced by the Select Committee on the European Communities, of which we are invited to take note. It has arisen from a communiqué issued at the European Summit meeting held in Paris in 1974. This provided for a working party which, among other things would—study the possibility of establishing a Passport Union and, in anticipation of this, the introduction of a uniform passport.… It will, in particular, provide for stage-by-stage harmonization of legislation affecting aliens and for the abolition of passport control within the Community".If there is one thing which has emerged from the report and, indeed, from the contributions of your Lordships this evening, it is that the question of the abolition of passport control is not, in the words of Commissioner Davignon himself, for mature consideration at the present time. This is putting it at its mildest. So it is not perhaps surprising that much of this afternoon's debate has centred around whether there should or should not be a European passport. This implies, I suggest, although it has not been directly stated, that so far as we in the United Kingdom are concerned a European passport should be in substitution for a British passport. It has to be considered, I think, in that context.
I gathered the impression this afternoon that many noble Lords regard the British passport as very little more than a travel 776 document. The report makes it quite clear that it is much more than that. Indeed, this is implicit in the words which appear on the front of every passport:Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs requires, in the name of Her Majesty, all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may he necessary".The words "requests" and "requires" are of some significance because they imply to the holder of the passport, in so far as this can be perceived, appreciated and understood by those in other countries, that the whole power of the unitary State is behind it. As the report states at paragraph 6:A passport has more than Community significance. It provides prima facie evidence of the nationality of the bearer from which the possibility of protection by the issuing State may flow".Indeed, this is why most people in the United Kingdom are quite proud of their British passport. It is evidence of nationality and it carries with it the implication that if the holder gets into difficulty the power and influence of the United Kingdom, in so far as this is apprehended in the other states concerned, is placed at their disposal. For example, if one is in difficulty abroad one may with confidence take one's United Kingdom passport to the Embassy, and one does receive such assistance as the Embassy is able to provide. It is therefore a document of some value.
It has been suggested that it would be better if we had a European Economic Community passport. Of course, this would be a different document, because it would not be issued by a unitary State; it would not be issued on behalf of a coherent body having a coherent body of laws; and it would not have the same degree of united implication that the ordinary national passport has. Indeed, it is nowhere suggested in the report that the issue of a European passport would make it any easier for anybody to go through the existing passport controls. It has not been shown in any part of the evidence that travel delays would be minimised. However, the point has been made by my noble friend Lord Murray of Gravesend and, indeed, by others that the issue of a European passport and its accepted use would somehow be taken as a symbol of 777 our commitment to European untyi. Those are the main grounds upon which the adoption of a European passport has been commended this afternoon to your Lordships.
I venture to put forward the idea that we may have got it the wrong way round. Perhaps it would be better to work for practical unity within Europe and for the closer coming together of the Member States of Europe to a point where it would be possible progressively to abandon some of the internal controls. Then, when that was done, a European passport would in fact symbolise a practical unity that had been achieved and would mean something.
So I think there is a danger that we might support the idea of a European passport purely as a symbol, because there is a point where a symbol can become a gimmick. I have ventured to make the point many times not only in your Lordships' House but also in Europe that the great difficulty about securing progress in the European Economic Community is that from time to time—in fact almost perpetually—Commissioners and others invite our eyes to contemplate distant vistas and to devote a tremendous amount of time to debating things like economic and monetary union which, as we know, cannot be achieved for some considerable time yet, instead of getting down to the practical problems which arise from our membership of the Community in order to promote a far greater unity in Europe than there is at the moment.
As and when we do achieve that, as I sincerely hope we shall, we may then be able to have a European passport that really means something; that is a symbol of an existing unity in which people may then have confidence, rather than being symbolic of something that may be achieved later. The greatest danger in these matters is always that we may take the achievement of a symbol as being the substitute for hard and constructive work, building bit by bit the Europe that we hope to see. With that contribution, my Lords, I hope your Lordships will be pleased to note the report of the Select Committee and will regard it as something on which future progress will be made.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord TREFGARNE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, 778 made a quite remarkable and excellent maiden speech, which I am sure all your Lordships appreciated. I hope that my noble friend will intervene again in your Lordships' affairs, soon and often. The report before us this evening is a most helpful one and the Government greatly welcome it. We agree with its general interest in removing restrictions on travel between the countries of the European Community. We also agree that a political will is needed if we are to make progress in this direction. The British Government certainly have the will to make a success of our Community membership. The Prime Minister has made it clear that there are certain important problems—notably the size of our net contribution to the budget—which we are determined to resolve at an early stage. This is our priority and pressing concern. But it is only one side of the coin. The Community has positive goals and aspirations. The Government want to pursue these in the interests of people in Britain and in the Community as a whole. It is in this spirit that we approach the proposals for passport union which are the subject of the debate today.
As other noble Lords have said, the apparently simple phrase "passport union" can have a number of different meanings. One of the many values of the report which we are debating today is that it provides a clear and thoughtful analysis. Anybody concerned with this subject in the future will I believe regard the report as a basic document. It first makes the distinction between passport union in the sense of a standard European passport and passport union in the sense of abolition of frontier controls within the area of the Community.
Perhaps I can deal first with the more fundamental question of frontier controls within the EEC and it may be helpful if I say a little about our current system. Our immigration control has two broad purposes. First, to deny entry to certain individuals (essentially criminals and terrorists); secondly, to control classes of people coming here for long-term purposes such as employment or settlement in accordance with the Government's economic and social policies. Membership of the Community means that controls of the second kind have little application to Community nationals who are broadly 779 free to come and go in accordance with their rights under the Community treaties. The immigration control at the ports for EEC nationals is therefore largely concerned with identifying a tiny minority in the context of controlling crime and terrorism. It is therefore a much simpler procedure than that which applies to other nationalities.
EEC nationals arriving at our major ports are therefore dealt with separately. Our system of "channelling" has the great advantage of dealing quickly with the large number of people who can be passed through the control with minimal formality rather than making them wait behind those who require closer examination. The principle is exactly the same as that which leads our banks to have special quick service counters and supermarkets to have special check-out points for people with only a very small number of purchases: those of us who, when wanting, to cash a cheque, have found ourselves behind someone paying in the week's takings in coin or making some complex international transaction will readily understand the common sense of such an arrangement.
EEC nationals do not have to produce a passport on arrival. A valid national identity card is sufficient. We propose at the end of the year further to reduce formalities for EEC nationals. They will no longer be required, as a matter of routine, to complete a landing card and an embarkation card on arriving and departing. This change demonstrates, I believe, our readiness to look afresh at long-established formalities and retain them only if they genuinely serve a necessary purpose.
The Committee pointed out in its report that the advantages of abolishing immigration control are slim. But the consequences of abolition are potentially dangerous. So far as EEC nationals themselves are concerned, the abolition of all checks would, as I have said, make it easier for criminals and terrorists to enter this country. But the concept of completely free movement within the perimeter of the Community could also mean that anyone from outside the Community, once admitted to a Member State, would be free to travel without further formality to any other Member 780 State. This would have serious consequences for immigration control. So long as there are different immigration procedures in different Member States, an immigration officer in any Member State would have to master all the details of procedures in all the other States. As an island, our system relies heavily upon control at the port of entry, whereas some other Member States place greater emphasis on internal police controls. The Committee was very much against this here, and rightly so. The abolition of all controls within the Community would enable a person to enter where controls were least stringent and then to travel freely to any other Member State.
The noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, referred to the arrangements which apply in the Nordic countries and I think the distinct difference between those procedures and the ones we have is the degree of police surveillance which takes place after travellers have entered the country in question. We prefer to exercise our controls at the border. Your Committee rightly recognises the risk of such an arrangement not only to immigration control but in such matters as prevention of terrorism. The Government therefore agree with the views of the Committee that the right course is to concentrate on simplifying the procedures at ports for EEC nationals rather than to abolish all immigration controls within the Community.
Turning to the more specific issue of the format of passports themselves, I was interested to note the connection which the Committee saw between this and the proposal for a machine-readable passport or card. There is indeed a link between the two. On the first, the Committee considers that the proposals for a uniform passport offer a potential modest boost to the ordinary man's sense of being part of the European Community. The question of the uniform European passport has been dormant for some time. Work has, however, continued under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation on a machine readable passport. A panel of experts was asked to study the question and their report is now being considered by the Air Transport Committee of ICAO. We and our Community partners have taken an active part in these studies and we support the principle of a 781 machine-readable passport. These studies are well advanced.
There is a substantial measure of agreement within the panel of experts on the basic specification required to produce the machine readable capability. Indeed, we did prepare a specimen in accordance with what has so far achieved a pretty good consensus in ICAO, although I must tell your Lordships that this is not yet the formal position of the Government. The machine-readable card—I have one here—is about twice the size of the average credit card, but in other respects is rather similar; it is made of a similar sort of material, but the card itself can be interrogated by machine where that equipment is available.
Already some of our EEC partners are moving towards the introduction of a machine readable identity card that would meet the specifications, and it is very likely that such cards will be presented at British ports and airports within the next year or so. There is, of course, no suggestion of introducing compulsory identity cards in the United Kingdom.
We hope that the work being carried out by ICAO will lead to agreement to introduce machine readable passports by many countries, not only in Europe. This work adds a new element to the discussion on a common format passport for the Community. A common format passport which also provided the advantages of the machine readable passport has attractions. It should give the traveller the practical benefit of less delay at points of entry. It would also give people a greater sense of belonging to the European Community. And it would help to show to the rest of the world that the Community has its own political identity.
I should perhaps take up one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. I think he was under the impression that these passports will be centrally issued within the Community. That is not so. The present proposal is that these passports should continue to be issued by individual States to their nationals but in accordance with a common format.
The Committee suggested that passports might fulfil a greater number of functions; for example, they could include health details. While seeing the attraction of 782 these arguments, we should perhaps tread cautiously. We do not want to complicate the task of securing international harmonisation by trying to achieve too much with one document. We also have to be very careful about the requirements of privacy. We should not compel people to have on the passport personal information which is not strictly necessary. But I recognise that the Committee were anxious that the inclusion of medical information should be on a strictly voluntary basis.
Perhaps I can refer to a related point at the same time, and that is the question of the E 111 form which several noble Lords raised. Under present arrangements, if one is to travel to a country within the EEC and one imagines one may wish to take advantage of reciprocal medical arrangements, one must apply in advance for one of these forms. Unfortunately, the entitlement to these benefits is not uniform throughout the Community, and, although one may well be entitled to the benefit of the National Health Service here in the United Kingdom, it does not necessarily apply that one is so entitled in other EEC countries. Indeed, one's entitlement may vary from year to year because it depends upon, among other things, whether one is self-employed or paying contributions, or what one's contribution record is. For that reason, bearing in mind the fact that passports may often be valid for 10 years, we are in some difficulty about using the passport to convey information concerning the eligibility for benefits at the present time. We recognise that the present E 111 form arrangement is not perfect. We are hoping to extend the range of benefits that can be obtained within EEC countries so that the eligibility scale is more in line with that of the United Kingdom. But for the moment we are obliged to continue with the present arrangement.
Machine readable passports do not mean the disappearance of a national passport. Of course, the machine readable data would have to be standardised in the passports of all the countries which adopted this type of document, to avoid the need for a multiplicity of machines to read them. But this does not mean that there must be total uniformity of every feature of a machine readable passport or card.
783 Your Lordships may already know from the public announcement on 26th July that we have produced a specimen machine readable passport made out, for some extraordinary reason, to Sir Walter Scott. This comprises a machine readable card, which incorporates a photograph and the data presently contained in the first few pages of the current passport. This might go in a hard cover booklet which would look very much the same as our present passport and which would also have conventional pages for visa endorsements. Although this is only one of many possible arrangements, the format of the card itself accords with specifications recommended by ICAO, and it can be assumed that an internationally agreed machine readable travel document will generally have the layout of this specimen. But it will still be possible for each country's travel documents to have a national identity and a European dimension (taking the shape, for example, of a distinctive common format) in the passports of all members of the Community if this is what we all in the end decide upon.
We have also prepared a specimen of what the common format of a European passport might look like. As your Lordships can see, it looks on the face of it very much the same as the present British passport. We hope it will have provision for the machine readable card to which I referred, and it certainly contains those fine words inside the cover which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, read out to us. I must emphasise, however, that, if proposals for a common Community format were implemented, the prerogative to issue passports would, of course, remain with member States.
There are one or two other points that perhaps I could deal with. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, asked about the British Visitor's Passport. It is indeed true that British Visitor's Passports valid for a limited number of countries can be obtained comparatively easily from any post office. It is a popular document with the public; over 1 million are issued annually. If it were abandoned a great strain would be placed on the resources of the Passport Office, and I can offer no assurance at this time that we will be able to withdraw it in the foreseeable 784 future. However, we are well aware of the abuses to which they are subject. For example, a person who obtains a British Visitor's Passport to which he is not entitled and uses it to travel abroad and return to the United Kingdom does not thereby gain legal residence here. I must assure your Lordships that in our consideration of machine readable passports we will bear in mind the comments on British Visitor's Passports which have been made here this evening.
The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, asked me a specific point about the dipping of tanks of coaches and other vehicles arriving in EEC countries, particularly from here. I have no detailed knowledge of that difficulty before me at the moment, but, if I may, I will look into the matter and write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, I am sure that the Committee were right to conclude that it is along this path that we should proceed if we are to make progress on a European dimension for the national passports of Members of the Community. When the proposals are further advanced, the Government will look at them with sympathy.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord GREENWOOD of ROSSENDALE
My Lords, I should like briefly to express my appreciation of all the speeches which have been made in this short debate, from that by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, to the one which we have just heard by the Minister. They were all most kind in their references to the work of the Committee and they were all extremely solid and constructive contributions.
I should like specially to pause to say thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, for what I thought was a model maiden speech which was characterised by grace and a warm sympathy with the problems. I know that it bodes well for the future. It is not easy to make demands upon the young Members of this House who have the obligations of bringing up families, developing their careers and involving themselves in professions. When we do put these additional burdens upon them, we should be particularly grateful to them for accepting the responsibility and being prepared to help the House in that way. Your Lordships 785 would not expect me, with my background, to be an uncritical admirer of the hereditary principle, but every day in this Chamber I look around and I ask myself where the young men would be if it were not that they were here because of the hereditary principle. They make a contribution and the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, has given us striking evidence of that.
I should like to make one point. We should not be too defeatist about the possibility of matters speeding up. I am not over-optimistic, but one remembers that, when Commissioner Davignon told us that he was optimistic about future progress, he told the Committee that one reason which had led to recent inactivity was the wish of the British Government not to complicate plans to introduce direct elections. I am looking to the new Government to find some other source of embarrassment which they can use in order to galvanise the Commission and make it more positively forward-looking than it has been in the past.
Finally, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, very much indeed for the practical work that he has done. Indeed, I am prepared to offer a small prize to the noble Lord who will get to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood's post office first thing in the morning and bring the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, up to date. With those few words, I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.