British Subjects Overseas (Repatriation)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th July 1965.

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Photo of Mr William Deedes Mr William Deedes , Ashford

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what progress he has made in seeking means of dealing with British tourists overseas who get into temporary financial difficulty; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Question No. 56.

The House will remember that in answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Ennals) on 14th December last I said that the Government would introduce a consular fee of £3 for the repatriation of a United Kingdom resident in financial difficulty abroad.

This fee came into force on 1st July. It is intended to ensure that persons whose difficulties are only temporary shall contribute towards the cost of repatriation facilities, and to limit the number of cases of repatriation. Unless repatriation is strictly limited to those cases in which it is unavoidable, the growth of foreign tourism will lead to a serious waste of public funds and to a diversion of administrative resources which will reduce our ability to deal with cases where the need is real and urgent.

The House and the public will understand that repatriation can be granted only as a last resort. Applicants will have to satisfy the Consul that they have no means of getting money themselves from any source. While inquiries are being made into his financial circumstances the applicant must expect to fend for himself. The undertaking to repay the debt which is always required of the repatriate will be enforced, if necessary, by legal proceedings.

Photo of Mr Carol Johnson Mr Carol Johnson , Lewisham South

Can my hon. Friend say what is the increase in the number of repatriations in recent years and, in particular, in which country the need arises? Secondly, having regard to these new rules, will he arrange for a simple leaflet explaining the effect of his statement to be made available to travellers leaving the country?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes, Sir. The need for this arises from the substantial increase in foreign travel, particularly to Western Europe, over the last few years. The number of travellers has more than doubled in the last four years and the number of repatriation cases has gone up by more than 50 per cent. We are arranging to revise the existing "Hints to Travellers Abroad", in what, I hope, will be rather less official language, to include information not only on this point, but on other matters of which travellers should take account.

The Government very much hope that travellers will protect themselves against the risks of foreign travel by arranging the necessary insurance.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

The hon. Gentleman has talked about a serious waste of public funds. Can he say how much is involved? Is not this enormous increase in foreign travel a very good thing?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Yes, Sir. The ability of a much wider range of people to enjoy the benefit of foreign travel is welcomed by everybody. The number of repatriation cases last year was 60,000 and in 20,000 of these cases it was impossible to obtain a refund of the sums of money involved.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

In addition to the sensible and reasonable measures that the Minister has announced, will he bear in mind that British nationals abroad have on occasion to be taken into embassies and put up or accommodated for some time? This can often happen in areas where crises occur. Can the hon. Gentleman give the House some information about the kind of charges that his Department makes to those people who are put up at British embassies when in difficulty?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I could not, without notice, give precise information in reply to the last point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. One of the motives behind this announcement of the new charges is not simply to save public funds, but to make sure that the administrative resources of our overseas posts are enabled to deal with those cases of genuine need and urgency instead of being turned into part-time tourist agencies.

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

The Minister has mentioned that in 20,000 cases it was not possible to obtain repayment. Will he say whether any undertaking is required to be given, or what are the legal obligations of people who take advantage of these facilities? What was the cost to the taxpayer in the 20,000 cases in which a refund was unobtainable?

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I have to apologise to the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) for an inaccuracy in my answer to him. I should have said that the cost to public funds last year was £60,000 and that £20,000 of this was unrecoverable. I apologise.