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Members Of Parliament (Overseas Travel)

Volume 411: debated on Wednesday 6 June 1945

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I ask the leave of the House to make a short statement in regard to overseas travel by Members of Parliament.

During the war in Europe it was the view of the Government, which was generally supported by the House, that Members wishing to travel overseas should stand on the same footing as other members of the community, that is to say, exit permits would be granted to them only if it could be established that the proposed journey was in the national interest. As hon. Members are aware, when France and later Belgium were liberated, it was felt to be in the public interest that Members of either House should be able to visit these countries and inform themselves of conditions there. Arrangements were accordingly made for exit permits to be granted freely to Members to travel within the limits of the ballot scheme.

Now that hostilities in Europe are over, the Government have decided that the restrictions on the departure of Members of Parliament should be abolished, and exit permits will therefore be granted to Members for travel to any destination on application. It will still be necessary for hon. Members, like other travellers, to pass through the controls at the ports, to carry valid travel documents, and to comply with censorship and currency Regulations. The grant of an exit permit does not imply that a passage will be available, and it will be necessary for a Member to secure the visas or military permits required to enable him to reach and enter the territory he wishes to visit. The number of Members wishing to travel to France and Belgium under the ballot scheme has never reached the number of places reserved for them on the transport available, and I have accordingly come to the conclusion that this Scheme now serves no useful purpose and should be brought to an end.

Members of Parliament will be able to travel freely between Great Britain and Ireland on production of a travel permit card or British passport in the same way as the public generally.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred almost exclusively to Europe and Ireland. Will travelling facilities of a similar nature be available to the United States of America, South America and other parts of the world? Will the Minister, in providing these facilities, realise that the House of Commons has imposed upon itself during the war far greater limitations than the House of Representatives or the Senate have imposed upon themselves in America, and that we have been very seriously deprived of travelling facilities during the last three or four years, that a large number of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives have come over to this country and no question has been raised, and that there ought to be no further limitation on the freedom of Members of this House?

It was because we realised that this restriction had been accepted by the House during past years that the Government have taken the earliest opportunity of doing away with the restriction. What I said applies generally to overseas travel and is not restricted to Europe and Ireland.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that currency will be available to Members of Parliament, as required, on a scale comparable with that allowed to senior civil servants?

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman inform the House whether, as most arrangements are still under the control of Government Departments, Members of Parliament will receive priority in any degree, as otherwise the concession will be valueless?

I can only deal with what is in my control. I have said that, as far as the exit permit is concerned, the restrictions are abolished. I could not make any general statement on transport facilities.

In the past we have been frustrated by obligations being passed from one Department to another. May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to realise that it is not sufficient for an exit permit to be granted? It is also necessary for the Treasury to permit Members of Parliament who wish to travel, to take cash with them out of the country, otherwise the only persons who can travel are Members who are favoured by the Ministry of Information, or business persons, who have resources abroad, and all the guarantees that he has given are worthless, unless other Government Departments insist upon the Treasury allowing cash to be taken.

I had no notice of this point being raised but I am in a position to say to the House that I have contemplated that rather special consideration should be given to Members of Parliament in the matter of foreign exchange, because in present circumstances we can fairly presume that Members of Parliament desiring to travel abroad have valid reasons of public interest for doing so.

I am not quite clear about this restriction. Is it the case that the restriction is one which Members of Parliament voluntarily imposed upon themselves and that the Executive does not claim the right in any way to prevent their free movement?

That raises the issue of the exact basis of what was done by the late Government. I think, now that these restrictions are being removed, we can leave that matter for further consideration.

Does this relaxation apply to Members seeking re-election, between polling day and the meeting of the new Parliament?

Will the exemption extend to Members' wives if they wish to accompany their husbands?

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I wanted to travel on one occasion when there was transport but I was refused a permit, and on another occasion was told I could have a permit but no transport was available?

With further reference to the point raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the delicious limbo between 5th and 26th July will be the only chance that many Members will have of visiting Europe for business or political reasons, and cannot hon. Members of the present House be deemed still to be Members for this purpose?

None of us will be Members. We may or may not be, of course, after the interval. If cases arise in the interval, they will receive careful consideration, but my statement must be related to Members of Parliament.