HC Deb 24 July 1984 vol 64 cc574-5W
Mr. Maclean

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement about the issue and format of passports.

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend and the House will be aware from the Prime Minister's statements on 23 March 1981, at columns 219–20, of the intention to introduce a machine readable passport and of the commitment, with our European Community partners, to introduce a common format passport. In taking forward these proposals our objectives have been to provide a speedier service to the travelling public in the issue of passports, and to do so most economically in terms of public expenditure; to put United Kingdom passport holders in a position to benefit from the use of new technology to reduce delays at frontier controls, and to try to provide opportunities for British high technology industry in this field. To meet these objectives I have now decided, after consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs:

  1. (a)to accept the recommendation of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the subsequent Rayner review of the Passport Office, to computerise the issue of passports. Our aim is to have a computerised system serving the public in place in 1987;
  2. (b)to introduce at the same time as computerisation, a machine readable passport designed to reduce delays at frontiers. This will involve some changes to the form of passport, and family passports which include the particulars of a wife or husband will have to be discontinued, although it will remain possible to include children.
    • The new passport will have a more flexible cover to facilitate machine readability. The passport will contain no more information than at present. The holder will be able to read all the information read by the machine.
  3. (c)to produce the new passport in the agreed common format in accordance with the agreement reached with our Community partners.

I am sure that my hon. Friend and the House will agree that it is sensible that the various changes should be made at the same time.

Passports issued in the present form will of course retain their validity, and their holders will not need to obtain new ones until their passports expire. The passport will retain the Royal Coat of Arms and the traditional written requirement to allow the holder free passage and protection. The status and privileges of the passport holder and the citizen's eligibility for a passport are in no way affected.

For the benefit of the House I have placed in the Library a prototype of the new form of passport together with a supplementary note giving more detailed information about it.

I expect the travelling public, including our business men, to benefit from these changes. Although we do not intend to read the new British passport by machine as a matter of routine at our own immigration controls, the time taken for visual inspection of passports at our controls should be significantly reduced because all the information about the holder will be visible on one page; and the growth of machine readibility overseas should significantly benefit British passport holders. Following the Fontainebleau European Council, and the recent resolution on the easing of frontier formalities we and our Community partners will continue to examine frontier procedures seeking to bring benefits for the travelling public. The machine readable common format passport will be a major step in this process. I hope that British industry will take full advantage of the opportunities which demand for a new technology in machine readability will present at home and overseas.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will detail all circumstances where a citizen of the United Kingdom is not entitled to a passport; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Waddington

United Kingdom nationals may be refused passport facilities only when an application is made in respect of:

  1. (a) A minor whose journey is known to be contrary to a court order, to the wishes of a parent or other person or authority to whom a court has awarded custody, care and control, or to the provisions of section 25(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, as amended, or section 52 of the Adoption Act 1958, as amended.
  2. (b) A person for whose arrest a warrant has been issued in the United Kingdom, or who is wanted by the United Kingdom police on suspicion of a serious crime.
  3. (c) In very rare cases, a person whose past or proposed activities are so demonstrably undesirable that the grant or continued enjoyment of passport facilities would be contrary to the public interest.
  4. (d) A person repatriated at public expense, until the debt has been repaid.

Under successive Administrations it has been extremely rare to refuse a person under category (c). Decisions in these cases are always taken personally by the Secretary of State.