BRITISH PASSPORTS (WITHDRAWAL) (Hansard, 25 July 1951)
HC Deb 25 July 1951 vol 491 cc449-54
19. Mr. Blackburn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what action has been taken to impound the passports of Dr. E. H. S. Burhop and an unnamed Foreign Office official; and what were the reasons for, and what is the effect of, such action.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The two cases to which the hon. Member refers are quite separate. Dr. Burhop's passport has not been impounded. He was, however, informed on 19th July that the passport had been cancelled, and he was requested to surrender it to the Passport Office. This action was taken because Dr. Burhop had accepted an invitation to go to Moscow and intended to leave on 21st July. It was considered that this journey would not be in the national interest at the present time.

The Foreign Office official concerned surrendered his passport on 18th July. The Home Office were, however, asked to instruct the immigration authorities to inform the Foreign Office if this official should attempt to leave the country. This action was taken as a precautionary measure in connection with certain inquiries which are taking place.

The effect of impounding a passport is to deprive the former holder of the normal facilities for travelling to foreign countries.

Mr. Blackburn

In view of the very serious nature of the statement that has now been made, would the Minister ensure that at the earliest possible moment British subjects are made aware of the precedents for action being taken to impound passports and to take away from a British subject his normal right to go wherever he likes throughout the world? Secondly, as one who knows Dr. Burhop, may I ask whether he will have any opportunity to clear his name against a stigma which has been made on some official file, and will he be given any opportunity to appeal to some court of justice in order that this stigma may be taken from him?

Mr. Davies

As regards the first part of that question, I think it would be very regrettable if, arising out of a few cases such as this, it was decided to put obstacles in the way of British subjects travelling wherever they wish. As regards the second part of the question, I should like notice of that.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Does my hon. Friend consider that in the long run any useful public purpose is served by detaining in this country persons who may wish for their own reasons to go away and live somewhere else?

Mr. C. S. Taylor

Is any similar action being taken against the Dean of Canterbury?

Mr. Paget

Can the Minister tell us whether the Government have any power to prevent somebody going abroad, and whether people are not entitled to go abroad without a passport if they choose?

Mr. Davies

Yes, Sir. A passport is simply a facility, and if a person is not in possession of a passport he will experience considerable difficulty in leaving the country.

Sir H. Williams

Not in leaving this country, but in arriving at another.

Mr. Gammans

Why should we not be told the name of this mysterious Foreign Office official?

Mr. Davies

Because certain inquiries are still being made, and it might prejudice those inquiries if the name were revealed.

Mr. Follick

Is my hon. Friend aware that only selected individuals are admitted into Russia, and that I have been trying to get into Russia for the last four years but have not been able to get permission from the Russians to do so?

Mr. Davies

I do not think my hon. Friend's passport has been impounded.

Mr. Foot

Is it not a fact that there is no evidence of any definite character against Dr. Burhop? Is it not highly desirable that, in default of such safeguards as my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn) has mentioned, these matters should be conducted in private, if it is conceivably possible, because it is very harsh that a man should be subjected to the kind of processes to which Dr. Burhop has been subjected in the last few days?

Mr. Blackburn

Is the Minister aware that this particular delegation contained a scientist who has far more knowledge about secret information in relation to atomic energy than has Dr. Burhop? I refer to Dr. Kathleen Lonsdale.

21. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under what authority and in what circumstances requests are made to British subjects to surrender their British passports.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The issue of passports is entirely discretionary. They remain the property of His Majesty's Government and may be withdrawn at any time. A request for the surrender of a passport is only made as an exceptional measure taken for the most substantial reasons, but it is not possible to indicate in detail in what circumstances such a request would be made

Mr. Fletcher

Is it not intolerable that the Executive should take away a British subject's passport and thereby, without any judicial process, deprive him of his constitutional right to leave the country at will with or without a passport? If the Executive think it necessary to have such powers in the interests of national security, should not they come to Parliament and ask for such powers?

Mr. Davies

In the first place, if a passport is impounded or cancelled it does not necessarily mean that that person is unable to leave the country. As I have stated, a passport is a facility, and if it is withdrawn it certainly impedes the leaving of the country by that person and his entry into other countries. As regards the legal aspect, it is at present stated on passports that the passport is the property of His Majesty's Government and can be withdrawn.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Cannot the hon. Gentleman imagine circumstances in which the withdrawal of a passport might constitute a grave reflection on a person's character. Is it not right that such reflections should not be cast officially on people's characters without some sort of appeal or legal remedy?

Mr. Davies

As I have stated, no such action is taken unless it is considered necessary for certain reasons, mainly the question of national security or the public interest. Those are the reasons for which such action is taken.

Mr. Mitchison

Is not this the position: that a man without a passport may leave this country but may well find some difficulty in getting into the next one?

Mr. Paget

Is there not all the difference in the world between "in the interests of public security" and "in the public interest"? The public interest is a political matter, which is judged by the Government; security is quite different. Which of these two categories is the right one?

Mr. Bell

In view of the fact that international travel is not possible now without a passport, will the Foreign Secretary introduce legislation to ensure that British subjects are entitled by law to an international identity document so that in peace-time the Executive will have no control over the departure from, and the return to, this country of British subjects?

Sir H. Williams

Going back to Magna Carta—it is a long time back—has not a British subject an unqualified right to leave this country and to come back to this country. whether he has a passport or not?

Mr. Davies

Yes, Sir. The position is that a passport is issued by the courtesy of His Majesty's Government to those persons who request it, unless there is some reason why a passport should not be issued. It is not a document which entitles people to travel or which puts any impediment in their way of travelling. What happens is that if a person tries to leave the country without a passport, it is quite probable that the shipping company or air line would refuse to take him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] They would probably refuse to carry such people because they would be responsible for returning them to this country if they were not allowed entry into the country to which they were going.

Mr. Fletcher

In view of the fact that the Minister's answer obviously reveals a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, I must give notice that I will endeavour to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

23. Mr. J. Langford-Holt

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many British subjects have had their passports withdrawn; and what is the position of a British subject who leaves the country without a passport on seeking to re-enter the country.

Mr. Ernest Davies

In the course of years the aggregate number of passports impounded must be considerable, but it is not possible to give even an approximate estimate of the number. The impounding of a passport is, however, an exceptional measure which is only taken for the most substantial reasons.

In order to establish his right to enter the country, a British subject seeking entry without a passport may be called upon to produce other documentary evidence of identity and of British nationality.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Will the hon. Gentleman make it quite clear—which he has not done yet—that neither he nor the Government have any legal right whatever to prevent a British subject from either leaving or re-entering this country: that is the only point?

Mr. Davies

Yes, Sir; but there are certain exceptions. For instance, if a man were wanted for a criminal offence in this country he would not be allowed to leave, but there are only a very few exceptions.

Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett

Can the hon. Gentleman say under what law or order these passports were impounded?

Mr. Davies

Under the Aliens Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I withdraw-that I cannot answer without notice.

Mr. H. Hynd

Going back, not quite so far as Magna Carta, to when certain people left the country quite recently, where there not loud protests because the Government had not taken proper steps to prevent them?

Mr. Davies

Yes, Sir. It is not possible to have it both ways. There was a strong demand by hon. Members opposite for the equivalent of exit permits.

Mr. Mitchison

Are not His Majesty's Government legally entitled to recover their property—the passport—when they choose?

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