§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Fawsley asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ What is their policy on the phasing out of the present style British passport.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, a new form of United Kingdom passport, which is machine readable and which is in a common format with those of other EC countries, is being introduced from July of this year. By the end of 1989, all new standard passports which will be issued in the United Kingdom will be in the new format. Passports in the present format may continue to be used until they expire.
§ Lord St. John of Fawsley
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, irrespective of any views which may be held on the EC, there is widespread dismay at the prospect of losing the traditional blue format of British passports in favour of a limp vermilion mini-version? Since the Home Office maintains that there is no such thing as a European passport and since 770 there is no legal obligation to impose one, will the Government think again and allow us to retain a symbol of which every British citizen is proud?
My Lords, I understand the adherence of my noble friend to the traditional British passport. However, I do not think that his description of the new one as limp, vermilion and mini does it true justice. I am sure that my noble friend appreciates the wording which is inside the passport and the coat of arms on the outside. Those will be precisely the same. The passport is being computerised in order to meet the increased public demand. That move was recommended by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and by a Rayner study in 1982. The manual form of passport was not compatible with computerisation. Therefore, we are modernising the system.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, are the Government aware of the very long delays in passport offices and the inconvenience which is caused to the public in seeking new passports? What do the Government intend to do about that?
My Lords, oddly enough the Government are aware of the delays, which are unacceptable. There has been a 25 per cent. increase in applicants on the corresponding period in 1987. We are trying to expedite matters by the recruitment of additional staff at all offices. Some 250 staff have been recruited. Overtime working at weekends has gone up by 65 per cent. The immediate grant of free short-term extensions to expired passports for personal callers and the issuing of emergency travel documents to personal callers whose applications cannot be readily traced have also helped.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, whether the description of the new passport by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, is an overstatement or an understatement, can the Minister explain to the House why tradition should be sacrificed to the computer? Would it not be more acceptable to ask the computer to produce something like the old British passport?
My Lords, it is producing something like the old British passport. However, it is not producing the old British passport. The changes are being made so that the passport will have a common format with the passports of other Community countries. It is also being done in order to make the passport machine readable—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will understand exactly what that means—and to prevent the very troubles to which the noble Lord referred earlier.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, am I right in suspecting that the noble Earl has a sample of the new passport with him? Will he show that to the House?
My Lords, the noble Lord has peculiarly penetrating eyes. I have a sample. However, I think that it would not be a suitable precedent to start flourishing things in the Chamber. It might encourage other noble Lords of less agreeable disposition, if there are any, to do the same.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that the passport will contain the traditional wording:We, Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs", etc., etc.?
My Lords, the noble Earl has not got the wording right. It begins:We, Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of Stateand it does not say "etc., etc.". Perhaps I may tell the noble Earl exactly what the wording is:We, Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and 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 be necessary".If the noble Earl is as diligent as I have been and compares that with his present passport, I think he will find that the words are the same.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, now that the Minister has shown us the passport—which he had not intended to do—will he accept that on these Benches we are delighted with the Government's enthusiasm for high tech and even more delighted with the unusually communautaire spirit in which they are backing the passport?
My Lords, perhaps I may say that I particularly appreciate the communautaire spirit of the noble Baroness in congratulating the Government. I did not think that I had many friends around the Chamber and I am grateful to those I do have.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, can the Minister assure the House and future brides that when brides take their husband's name their maiden name will, as it used to, appear in brackets in their passports after their marriage?
My Lords, I should be reticent about giving any assurance to brides on any matters—including the format of their names on the British passport.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, with regard to the communautaire spirit, can the noble Earl give an absolute assurance that the French Government will comply with the new rules and the new passport, skilled as they are in adapting the Community rules to their own purposes?
My Lords, if I were to say to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that I cannot answer for the French Government I think he would understand. I have no reason to believe that they will not.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I am much obliged. The noble Earl has made a very serious statement.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, do my eyes deceive me or is the new passport smaller and less bulky than the present one?
My Lords, it is smaller in dimension. I have not counted the number of pages. It has a less flexible cover than the original and therefore may fit into ladies' handbags more easily.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether Parliament will have anything to say in the matter?
My Lords, the common format was agreed by the heads of Government within the European Community, and that is the reason why it is going forward.
§ Lord St. John of Fawsley
My Lords, will my noble friend agree with regard to the communautaire spirit that that spirit has nothing to do with uniformity but with unity, and within unity there can be diversity? Since we have had a glimpse of the dreaded new passport will my noble friend kindly place it in the Library where it will clearly take up very little room?
My Lords, my noble friend draws a semantic distinction between uniformity and unity. I would not wish to follow him on that. Even he will know that in this modern day and age there is a certain advantage in uniformity and that is one of the reasons why this is being done. With regard to placing a copy of the new passport in the Library, I shall certainly see whether that can be done.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether the computer at the Passport Office will be better trained than the one at the DVLC which refused to understand that we were not all Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms?
My Lords, I do not think that those two computers will talk to each other. I have no reason to believe that the Passport Office computer will not be fully capable of dealing with the problem which the noble Countess has described.