All Foreign Service and Consular fees have recently been reviewed. The passport renewal fee was one of these. This was fixed at 10s. in 1931 and was so out of line with present costs that it was decided to increase it. Short notice was given mainly for technical and administrative reasons.
Does not the Joint Under-Secretary consider it rather inconsiderate to give such short notice, particularly to travel agents and others who are handling these matters for their clients and who are put to considerable inconvenience? Further, does he not agree that when other countries in Western Europe are making travel easier by abolishing passports for inter-European travel and substituting identification cards, it is unfortunate that we should put up the cost of passports?
We regret any inconvenience that has been caused. As regards the hon. Member's second point, I do not think that an increase of 10s. in the renewal fee of passports will deter people from travelling.
Will my hon. Friend reconsider this matter? He says that he does not think that an extra 10s. will have any effect. Will he consider the effect it may have upon a great many people, and does he not also consider that when we are being told that it is beneficial for Europe as a whole and also for the world that people should travel more and meet each other oftener, this increase of 100 per cent. seems extraordinary?
Why did the Foreign Office decide to do this at the beginning of the visiting season? It seems an extraordinarily maladroit thing to do. The amount of money involved is not very great, but in view of the fact that travel agencies have sent out their brochures all over the country and have told people what the cost is, it seems a rather silly thing to do. What are the technical reasons for such short notice? Is it because some people would rush in and get their passports earlier? If so, is not that what we want?
On the technical side, there was some delay in producing the Order in Council, and, on the administrative side, the difficulty was that if a great deal of notice were given the number of applications to the Passport Office would be so great that the machinery would break down. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a very serious point. The Passport Office issues 700,000 new passports a year and renews over 200,000. If it were forced to take on an overwhelming burden of work the whole machinery would break down.
If my hon. Friend tells us that the whole machine would break down because of the number of people who would apply for passports at the lower price, does not that show the enormous urge to get passports and also that many people object to paying a higher price?
In order to meet the situation, could not notice have been given much further ahead? Could it not have been arranged that this 100 per cent. increase would emerge at the beginning of October, thus dealing with the administrative difficulties and at the same time not causing people to rush forward in order to avoid an imposition which the hon. Member has just said is not very great? There is an absence of logic and common sense in the Government's approach to this matter.