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Passports

Volume 886: debated on Wednesday 19 February 1975

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with existing arrangements for vetting applications for new passports at the Passport Office.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Miss Joan Lestor)

We would be more satisfied if the Passport Office had the facility to obtain irrefutable proof of identity, whilst still being able to issue over 1 million passports annually without unreasonable delay or inconvenience to the public. That is the objective of the present procedural review.

Since the Minister admitted to me in replies to questions that no effective system existed for vetting passport applications, to ensure that none were issued to dead people, will the Department look into this matter to see whether a vetting system can be set up? How can the Department be sure that no passports are being issued to dead people?

The hon. Gentleman has had extensive correspondence with me and with my right hon. Friend on this matter. The production of the death certificate or the birth certificate, be the person dead or alive, is irrelevant. The Passport Office relies for identity verification upon the signature of the professional person who testifies as to his personal knowledge that the details supplied are correct. I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in this matter. One of the difficulties involved in checking people's deaths in relation to applications for passports is that there is no central record which includes details of all deaths in the United Kingdom and deaths of United Kingdom citizens which take place overseas.

Deaths in England and Wales are recorded in one place, deaths in Scotland in another place, and deaths in Northern Ireland in yet another place. It is an administratively impossible task to try to set up such a system, but we are doing our best.

Will my hon. Friend consider making it obligatory for those responsible for the estates of deceased persons to return the passports of those deceased persons to the Foreign Office? At present it seems as though there are thousands of passports lying about the country in the hands of people who have inherited them from dead people.

I shall consider that suggestion and write to my hon. and learned Friend about the possibility of doing this, because, on the face of it, it seems to provide one way, at least, of making some sort of check.