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Volume 561: debated on Thursday 25 April 2013

The British passport is a secure document issued in accordance with international standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The British passport achieves a very high standard of security to protect the identity of the individual, to enable the freedom of travel for British citizens and to contribute to public protection in the United Kingdom and overseas.

There is no entitlement to a passport and no statutory right to have access to a passport. The decision to issue, withdraw, or refuse a British passport is at the discretion of the Secretary of State for the Home Department—the Home Secretary—under the royal prerogative.

This written ministerial statement updates previous statements made to Parliament from time to time on the exercise of the royal prerogative and sets out the circumstances under which a passport can be issued, withdrawn, or refused. It redefines the public interest criteria to refuse or withdraw a passport.

A decision to refuse or withdraw a passport must be necessary and proportionate. The decision to withdraw or refuse a passport and the reason for that decision will be conveyed to the applicant or passport holder. The disclosure of information used to determine such a decision will be subject to the individual circumstances of the case.

The decision to refuse or to withdraw a passport under the public interest criteria will be used only sparingly. The exercise of this criteria will be subject to careful consideration of a person’s past, present or proposed activities.

For example, passport facilities may be refused to or withdrawn from British nationals who may seek to harm the UK or its allies by travelling on a British passport to, for example, engage in terrorism-related activity or other serious or organised criminal activity.

This may include individuals who seek to engage in fighting, extremist activity or terrorist training outside the United Kingdom, for example, and then return to the UK with enhanced capabilities that they then use to conduct an attack on UK soil. The need to disrupt people who travel for these purposes has become increasingly apparent with developments in various parts of the world.

Operational responsibility for the application of the criteria for issuance or refusal is a matter for the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) acting on behalf of the Home Secretary. The criteria under which IPS can issue, withdraw or refuse a passport is set out below.

Passports are issued when the Home Secretary is satisfied as to:

i. the identity of an applicant; and

ii. the British nationality of applicants, in accordance with relevant nationality legislation; and

iii. there being no other reasons—as set out below—for refusing a passport. IPS may make any checks necessary to ensure that the applicant is entitled to a British passport.

A passport application may be refused or an existing passport may be withdrawn. These are the persons who may be refused a British passport or who may have their existing passport withdrawn:

i. a minor whose journey was known to be contrary to a court order, to the wishes of a parent or other person or authority in whose favour a residence or care order had been made or who had been awarded custody; or care and control; or

ii. a person for whose arrest a warrant had been issued in the United Kingdom, or

iii. a person who was wanted by the United Kingdom police on suspicion of a serious crime; or a person who is the subject of:

a court order, made by a court in the United Kingdom, or any other order made pursuant to a statutory power, which imposes travel restrictions or restrictions on the possession of a valid United Kingdom passport; or

bail conditions, imposed by a police officer or a court in the United Kingdom, which include travel restrictions or restrictions on the possession of a valid United Kingdom passport; or

an order issued by the European Union or the United Nations which prevents a person travelling or entering a country other than the country in which they hold citizenship; or

a declaration made under section 15 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

iv. A person may be prevented from benefitting from the possession of a passport if the Home Secretary is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so. This may be the case where:

a person has been repatriated from abroad at public expense and their debt has not yet been repaid. This is because the passport fee supports the provision of consular services for British citizens overseas; or

a person whose past, present or proposed activities, actual or suspected, are believed by the Home Secretary to be so undesirable that the grant or continued enjoyment of passport facilities is contrary to the public interest.

There may be circumstances in which the application of legislative powers is not appropriate to the individual applicant but there is a need to restrict the ability of a person to travel abroad.

The application of discretion by the Home Secretary will primarily focus on preventing overseas travel. There may be cases in which the Home Secretary believes that the past, present or proposed activities—actual or suspected—of the applicant or passport holder should prevent their enjoyment of a passport facility whether overseas travel was or was not a critical factor.