HL Deb 22 June 1995 vol 565 cc403-6

3.10 p.m.

Lord Glenarthur asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have reached any decision on altering the style of the EC common format passport to incorporate the name and title of the holder on the front cover.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, technical and production difficulties which can be overcome only at considerable expense rule out the provision of a window panel in the front cover of the passport to record the holder's name and title.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that rather disappointing reply. Does she agree that even if it is impossible to amend the passport because of the difficulty she has indicated, British people might be better disposed towards the European Union if they did not feel that it was removing from them one of their personal or national symbols of identity? Does she not also agree that the notion of subsidiarity could be brought into play in protecting such symbols where that protection cannot conceivably be at odds with proper European co-operation?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we freely signed up to a common format and because of that we are bound by both the shape of the new document and what appears in the wording on the front. There is already a difficulty with the wording "European Community". I understand that steps will be taken to introduce the word "Union" for "Community". But having established a common format we are bound by the size and shape and what is contained within the document. Because of that there is no room to create a window on the front of the cover.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that although the passport is merely a symbol it is a symbol of our nationality and most British people did not understand that a signature had been given to prevent our being able to present a passport? What objection can there be to our having the choice of a British passport or the European one? Will that offend Europe?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is important for me to stress that it is a British passport. We have adopted a common format but it remains a British passport and it remains available only to bona fide British citizens.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the whole concept of a supra-European state and a federal Europe is a dead duck and that all this business of tinkering about with the form, shape, colour and content of our passports is a hopeless irrelevance? Most people in the United Kingdom, including Members opposite, will be quite content with the authority, prestige, and honour of holding a British passport.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am happy to agree with the noble Lord and say that I hope a supra-national federal state is a dead duck, and long may that be the case. On the second point, I think perhaps there is some logic in having a common passport across Europe so long as the passport allocated within member states remains a passport for the nationals in that member state. That is the case with the particular passport we are discussing. It is a British passport available only to British subjects.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, is the Minister aware that an even greater Labour British patriot than the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, Mr. Ernest Bevin, said that his object was to be able to go from Victoria Station without a passport of any sort to where the hell he pleased? Is that not more likely to be achieved by co-operation than by chauvinism?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, much has been done to allow freer movement of British nationals across the European continent but I have to make the caveat that we are also concerned about the security of our borders.

Lord Elton

My Lords, is not a principal advantage of the common format that while preserving the identity of the British passport it enables that passport to be read quickly by a machine anywhere in the Union and eventually in most parts of the world? Are not the advantages of that transparently honest once one has queued at a Greek or other frontier post with an old-fashioned passport?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. The passports we are discussing are machine-readable. That will help enormously not just as regards the example my noble friend gave but also in helping to speed things up at airports.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is the Minister aware that some of us do not think that passports are the same since they were introduced by the words, "We, Ernest Bevin"? More seriously, the important information in a passport is contained inside the back cover. Why should not the back cover simply be reversed so that the information is outside and is available without the complicated opening procedure we have now?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is a suggestion I have never heard. As always after responding to Questions in the House, I take good ideas back to my right honourable friends. I suspect that the reason given may still be technical and that the back of the passport has a type of cover which makes it difficult to expose the contents of the passport. I shall nevertheless report the information provided by the noble Lord to my right honourable friend.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords—

Noble Lords


Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I am not used to this self-regulating Chamber. As the Minister is in the process of receiving positive ideas, will she look at the passport document from the point of view of its already multilingual nature and consider positively whether it is now time to include all official languages within the United Kingdom in the version of the passport now available?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I report any ideas wholly without prejudice to the outcome. I find it difficult to accept the suggestion of the noble Lord; nevertheless I shall make sure that my right honourable friend hears about it.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, if titles cannot be put on the front of passports, what is the position with regard to knights, baronets and dames?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there has been a concession to that end—not on the front of the passport but on the page that contains the basic fundamental data—that titles can be included in a shortened form and that somewhere else in the passport the full title can be printed for observational purposes.

Lord Hanson

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is little enough "feel-goodness" about the European Union as it is and that what has been proposed would be a positive concession to those of us who value, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, said, everything that is British from the Union Jack to the traditional blue passport? We enjoy demonstrating, when abroad, our pride in being British. We should consider this measure and not just pass it over for reasons of machine reading or any other. It is possible for that to be done; it is not difficult. I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider the matter seriously on behalf of all of us here who seem to have strong feelings on the subject.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand the nostalgia for the blue passport; in fact, my own blue passport still has one more year to run. I understand the points being made, but we are party to an international agreement and we signed up to the common format. I believe that the noble Lord makes an impractical suggestion. Nevertheless I shall report his suggestion to my right honourable friend.

Lord Whaddon

My Lords, does the noble Baroness appreciate that while the information given on the inside back cover may be adequate for a computer reading, it is utterly useless for anyone such as a passport officer who wishes to address the holder with normal courtesy? To know that the holder is, "Mary Brown, female", is quite useless for that purpose. Can the matter not be considered further?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there has been an agreement not to include prefixes. I note what the noble Lord says, but I understand that we have agreed that prefixes should not be included.

Lord King of Wartnaby

My Lords, may I make a comment about this? I find myself in complete agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, as on so many other occasions. I have presented my passport to a number of immigration officers—

Noble Lords


The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will realise that we are running out of time and there are two more Questions to go. Will he put a question to the House rather than a statement? As the noble Lord will be aware, that is our procedure.

Lord King of Wartnaby

My Lords, it is a pity because the statement was rather good. Can we get back to having a decent passport such as the blue one that I still have? That is very important. We trade in every country in the world. When the immigration officer sees it, he recognises it as being of some value and having some identity. This little red notebook is depressing.

Baroness Blatch

; My Lords, there can be no return to the old blue passport.