§ (4.) 71,000l. for the salaries and expenses of the office of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,
said, there was a matter in connexion with this vote which seemed to him anomalous and defective, namely, the passports granted to Her Majesty's subjects about to visit foreign States. 400 He made no charge against the Foreign Secretary, nor did he attach any blame whatever to him, for the fault lay in a system which was of old standing, and the predecessor of the noble Lord had taken the same course as himself. But for that very reason, the question being free from any party considerations, he (Viscount Mahon) asked the noble Lord and the House to consider whether the present mode of granting passports was not susceptible of great improvement. Happily and wisely, we required no passports from our fellow-subjects travelling from one part of the kingdom to another, nor from foreigners who landed upon our shores; but in all continental States a different system prevailed. They required a passport from British subjects. We, then, might take one of two courses: either say that the system was foreign to our habits and feelings, and that, therefore, we would take no part in granting passports; or else take such measures that, though not for ourselves nor for our own objects, our own authorities should grant them. We should either not grant passports at all, or, if we did grant them, let us do so under a proper and intelligible principle. The present mode was most inconvenient. We approved of foreign Ministers residing in England granting passports to British subjects, and we at the same time issued passports at the Foreign Office; but the passport was given gratuitously by the Foreign Minister, whilst by our own Minister a large premium was exacted. When he (Viscount Mahon) was Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under the Duke of Wellington, he had an opportunity of seeing how the system worked; and it now remained the same. A fee of two guineas and a half on each passport was demanded at the Foreign Office. The result was that of the thousands or tens of thousands of British subjects proceeding yearly to the Continent, only an insignificant number obtained passports from the Foreign Office, being deterred by the expense. There were some, indeed, who thought it desirable to travel under the passport of the British authorities; but even these persons might easily evade the charge which the Foreign Office made. Suppose, for instance, that a person was desirous of travelling to Madrid or Vienna, and applied at the Foreign Office at home for a passport, the charge was two guineas and a half; but if he obtained a passport from the French Ambassador in London, so far as Paris, he might 401 when once at Paris, obtain from the British Ambassador a passport to Madrid or to Vienna for nothing. Whilst 2l. 12s. was charged at homo, the British Legation abroad gave the passport free of charge. So that the present system was not only defective and anomalous, but led to evasion. He thought it would be much better to reduce the charge to 4s. or 5s., and then the passports of the Foreign Office here would be eagerly sought after, for British subjects would prefer travelling directly under the passport of the Foreign Office. The present high charge of two guineas and a half defeated itself; it was neither a source of emolument, nor a guarantee of security. It was also to be observed that Austria alone, of continental States, refused to receive a passport not regularly viséd by Her own Ministers and functionaries. One might travel from Munich to Berlin under the passport of the British Minister without any visé from any Prussian functionary, but could not proceed to Vienna without a visé by the Austrian Ambassador. The time which the granting of passports occasioned occupied a great portion of the time of our foreign legations, and it would be more cheaply, more efficiently, and more satisfactorily done at home. He had the authority of our late lamented Minister in Sweden, Sir Thomas Cartwright—whom he might be allowed to name as a most upright and most intelligent servant of the State—that while he was stationed at Frankfort as Minister, Frankfort being a central point where thousands of English passed continually, almost the whole time of one of the gentlemen in his legation was consumed in granting passports and visés. As regarded the system of passports generally, he would be very glad to see them entirely done away with by foreign Powers—for experience had proved that they gave no protection or security to the State which required them, and that they only led to inconvenience, annoyance, and delay to individuals. There was a disposition in France some time ago, he believed, to abolish the system; and the distinguished Personage who presided over France was anxious to get rid of it; he only regretted that his wishes were not accomplished. He was quite sure the noble Lord would give the subject his best attention, and in another Session of Parliament the question might, he thought, be not unworthy the inquiry and consideration of a Committee of the House, for which he (Viscount 402 Mahon) might, perhaps, be inclined to move.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, it was quite true, as his noble Friend had remarked, that there was an anomaly in the present system of arrangement regarding passports, and that the sum paid to the Foreign Office was higher than that required by any Foreign Minister residing here, if, indeed, the latter charged any fee at all. But his noble Friend must know that the sum charged for passports at the Foreign Office consisted partly of the stamp duty and partly of the fee which was paid into the aggregate fee fund, out of which the expenses of the offices of the three Secretaries of State were paid. If the charge at the Foreign Office was smaller, it would probably happen that a larger number of persons would seek passports there; but the consequence would be, that a greater number of clerks would be required there; indeed, a considerable addition would be needed to the present staff there, which was already inadequate to the performance of the duties at present imposed on it. Thus the adoption of the plan would interfere materially with the transaction of other more important business, and would increase the expense of the establishment. And even as to the convenience of individuals, he was not sure that it would be productive of any very material advantage. No British subject who at present went abroad was in want of a passport. He could obtain them from the Belgian, French, or Spanish Embassies when travelling to those countries, and exchange them abroad for British passports upon easy terms. A British passport might be easily obtained in Paris, and, considering the great number of British subjects who travelled only short distances on the Continent, he could not see any great improvement in the change proposed. Seeing, therefore, that the plan suggested by his noble Friend would occasion considerable additional expense in the establishment over which he presided; that there was not room there for more than the present number of clerks; and that no practical inconvenience existed—he did not think it would be desirable to alter the present system.
§ MR. HUME
did not think it was consistent with the dignity of England that her subjects should travel under foreign passports. He remembered travelling on the Continent some years ago, and he was the only person out of a party of twenty- 403 two who carried the passport signed by the British Minister at homo. Englishmen ought always to travel under their own, and not under foreign, colours. As to the expense, he thought a charge of two or three shillings on each passport would defray the whole of it. He knew no man in that House more anxious to maintain the dignity and honour of England than the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office; yet this was an anomaly which he thought the noble Lord had not given sufficient reasons for not removing. He wished to know from the noble Lord how many passports had last year been issued by the Foreign Office?
§ MR. ROEBUCK
hoped the noble Lord would not answer that question. The person who travelled with a British passport travelled under the protection of the British flag, which guaranteed him a character. Now, he wished to ask, was that protection and that character to be obtained for half-a-crown, or a crown, or even two guineas? He advised the noble Secretary opposite not to place the British passport in the hands of every man who had money to command it. He (Mr. Roebuck) wished to see the system abolished altogether, and that the English nation would set the example to the rest of Europe, by declaring she would grant no more passports. England should proclaim the non-necessity of them, and declare that every man who travelled did so under the safeguard of the law, and that wherever he went, as a subject of England, the power of the law protected him, so that he consequently required no passport. They were not necessary, for the rogue and the evil-designed could ever have one. Throughout the thirty republics of America there was no passport; and he thought the same system should be adopted in England. Therefore, in his opinion, the noble Lord ought not to answer the question of the hon. Member for Montrose, because the fewer passports he gave the better.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, his experience of the Foreign Office passports showed him that they were not superior or better in any way to the passports given by the Consuls. He had tried both, and, whilst having to pay 2l. 2s. for the Foreign Office passport, he had nothing to pay for the passport of the Consul.
MR. V. SMITH
said, that if the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield were acted on, it might lead to great inconvenience to British subjects, 404 and therefore the consideration should be, whether a better system of granting passports could not he adopted. As there appeared to be a general wish for the abolition of passports altogether, and as he understood there had been some negotiation on the subject with France, he would ask the noble Lord whether he had had any communication with any other Power of Europe, and whether there was any probability of that most absurd system of passports being abolished?
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he certainly had a very good reason for not answering the question of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, as he was not able to do so; but he could say that a very small number of passports had been granted at the Foreign Office. As to the question of his right hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, there had been no communication made by Her Majesty's Government to any foreign Government in regard to this matter, which peculiarly belonged to their own internal regulations. He did not know of any ground upon which we should be justified in asking any foreign Government to dispense with regulations which they adopted for their own internal purposes; but certainly, some time ago, there was reason to think that the French Government was going to reconsider these arrangements. He had not heard that they had carried that intention into effect, nor had he heard that any other Government had any intention of abolishing the system of passports.
said, the system to which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield referred still existed, but was leniently administered. Passports were required, but were not often asked for. The noble Lord the Foreign Secretary, however, had not met the objection of the facility of evading the expense of obtaining British passports at the Foreign Office under the present system.
§ MR. HUME
begged to call the attention of the noble Lord to the charge of 22,000l. for Queen's messengers and extra couriers. He thought, since the facilities of travelling by railway had been afforded, that expense might be considerably reduced; though certainly, his desire would be to reduce the number of despatches.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, that both at home and abroad considerable reductions had been recently made in the amount of travelling charges for messsengers and couriers.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
understood that English messengers travelled much more slowly than foreign messengers; and that they generally arrived two days later than any other. The cause of that was, that the English messenger was paid a certain mileage, and instead of travelling like other couriers, on horseback, he travelled in a carrriage. Instead of going, like a Spanish or French messenger, to Madrid or Athens on horseback, be went in a carriage, and travelled like a gentleman, instead of travelling as a courier. If that could be done away with it would be a good thing.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that he was misinformed when he said that the British messengers were at all less expeditious than the messengers of other countries. They always went by railway when that mode of travelling was available, otherwise they travelled in carriages. It was impossible they could carry their bags containing despatches on horseback. As a proof of the zeal with which these messengers rendered their services to the Government of this country, he would mention an instance in which a gentleman (for they were gentlemen) performed his duty on an occasion when it was required that he should make an extraordinary effort. One of the Queen's messengers, Colonel Townley, in order to carry a despatch of very considerable importance from the Foreign Office to Constantinople at the time when a question was pending between Russia and Turkey, was three days and three nights in the saddle without quitting it, and performed that journey in the worst weather and under the greatest possible difficulties. This showed that these servants of the public were willing to perform, and capable of performing duties, when required of them, which one would think it was almost impossible that any human being would be able to go through. He was glad at having this opportunity of doing justice to that excellent courier whose great exertions he had mentioned, and whose zeal had not been surpassed by any person employed in that department of the public service.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
had no doubt of the truth of the noble Lord's statement; still 406 he understood that while the distance between Paris and Madrid was performed by foreign couriers in five days, an English messenger always took seven days to accomplish the journey. He was informed also that an English messenger always took some person with him, who paid the expenses of the journey to the messenger, although that messenger was paid by the British Government. This was a sort of stigma upon the public service of England; and, at the same time, made it appear that our messenger system was used to sub-serve the private interest of individuals, to the detriment of the public service.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, it very often happened that it was of great advantage to the public service that the messenger should have someone with him. The messenger never allowed the bags containing the despatches to be out of his possession, and yet his presence was necessary at different places in order to show his passports, to hire horses, and so forth. It would be very difficult for him to do this and to carry his bags with him. It was therefore very convenient and useful to have some person with him. He did not believe that the British messengers were slower travellers than the messengers of other countries. They were required to state the time of their arrival at, and of their departure from, every place; and his impression was that the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not founded upon a true state of facts.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
replied that these gentlemen, besides their duties as librarians, were employed to arrange and index the despatches and records of the office; and that the present staff, so far from being excessive, was inadequate to the duties to be performed.
§ Vote agreed to, as were the following votes:—
§ (5.) 37,400l. for the salaries and expenses of the Office of Secretary of State for the Colonies.
§ (6). 2,000l to pay the salary of the Lord Privy Seal.
§ (7.) 24,100l. for the salaries and contingent expenses of the Postmaster General.