My Lords, as part of the long-term operational arrangements to prepare for the UK leaving the EU, burgundy British passports that do not include “European Union” on the front cover were introduced as planned from 30 March. Whether their passport does or does not reference the European Union makes no difference to British citizens: both are equally valid for travel.
My Lords, not only are we still in the European Union but, after tonight, we may be so for another nine months—perhaps even a year. During that time, the UK and the Government will enjoy all the rights and obligations of EU membership, including that of sincere co-operation. Why are the Government refusing to pass on those rights to their citizens, who want “European Union” on their passports? Why are they refusing to co-operate sincerely with their citizens or respect the will of those people?
With respect to the noble Baroness, this has absolutely nothing to do with the will, or otherwise, of the British people, but everything to do with them voting to leave the European Union and the Home Office making preparations in changing passports. I really think that her point is not very good.
My Lords, this is a topical Question. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, obviously thinks that it is an urgent and important matter for discussion. Will my noble friend the Minister perhaps consider getting the Home Office to produce disposable, peel-off stickers saying “European Union” for the people who feel concerned about this matter?
My noble friend makes a very practical point. In fact, one can purchase passport covers in any colour and saying anything that anybody wants; the noble Baroness is quite at liberty to do so. It is right that the Home Office prepares for the UK leaving the European Union.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Government website and the adverts the Government have put out are confusing? If you have six months’ validity on your passport, can you still travel to the European Union? Would the Government mind extending it so that new passports would be valid for 10 years and six months henceforth?
My noble friend makes a good point. Countries such as the US offer travellers leave to go for a fixed period of time so they can use their passport right up to the 10-year limit. It would therefore be rather confusing to make ours valid for 10 and a half years. I know exactly the point she is making, though.
My Lords, by the end of the year, some British passports will be blue, some will be maroon, some will have “European Union” on the front and some will not. Does the Minister agree that this will be confusing to not only British passport-holders but foreign security personnel, and that this increases the risk of forged passports going undetected because of the variety of official documents?
I give the British public more credit for their intelligence than does the noble Lord. Of course, the Croatian passport is not burgundy, it is blue, and there is a reason for that. The Croatians did not want the association with communism writ large on their passports in the form of the red colour. Some people might rather like it, though. I do not think that it is confusing. The wrong thing to do would be to scrap a load of remade passports. There is absolutely no law against what we are doing. We intend to continue to make the blue passport available from later this year, and I look forward to ordering mine.
My Lords, perhaps I may turn for a moment from the cosmetics of passports to the national security implications. On 12 March, my noble friend Lord Wasserman asked the Government,
“how many holders of UK passports also hold passports issued by other countries”?
The reply was:
“Her Majesty’s Passport office does not hold a central record or database of persons holding both a UK passport and foreign passport”.
Is it not time that the Government put this right?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has raised an important point. Why does the Home Office not collect this information? Also, can the noble Baroness help me? I read somewhere that the European Union is going to change all of its passports to blue. Is that true?
Would it not be a wonderful day if the Europeans followed our lead and changed EU passports to blue? I look forward to that. I think that the noble Lord is just having a bit of fun with me, but it is very difficult to gather the data establishing how many people are holders of passports from other countries. However, I shall look again into why that is so.
Does the Minister share my guess that if British citizens abroad are in difficulties, they are more likely to go to the British embassy for assistance than to the European External Action Service, which has grown rapidly over the past few years, at great expense? Will it not be a nice day as and when we no longer have to make financial contributions to that service so that the money can be transferred to strengthen further British embassies and consulates throughout the world?