Draft Consular Fees Act 1980 (Fees) Order 2002

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Mr. MacShane: The Government must make a choice. I shudder to think what a visa application to come to Britain would cost in America if we took what the poorest person in India could afford and multiplied that figure by the income difference with the United States. Many visa applications from a country such as India are from business men and professionals—people who are not in the poorest of the poor category to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Government have an open mind—at least this Minister has. At the end of the debate, if hon. Members want to discuss whether we should have more country-specific or income-specific visa systems, we could consider that.

Hon. Members also asked about passports. That is entirely a matter for people at the Home Office, so with respect I would rather leave it to them.

Mr. Duncan: On the point about the apparent inequity of the real local cost of an application in terms of the domestic purchasing power in the place where it stems from, will the Minister address my question about whether he would contemplate a scheme to allow perhaps a partial rebate for any applicant who was unsuccessful? If a family of four had to fork out £1,000—£250 each—but then could not move to Britain, it would perhaps be only fair if an element of the fee were considered for a rebate. That might address some of the inequity raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire and by the ILPA. Has that issue been discussed and has the whole scheme been discussed with the Treasury? The Minister implied that it had not, which seems rather bizarre.

Mr. MacShane: There are constant discussions with the Treasury. For a Minister, no day is complete without worry about what the Treasury thinks, but there is absolutely no sign that visa fees are an obstacle. As one of the few hon. Members serving on the Committee who often has to deal with visas in my regular surgeries, I must report that the issue of visa fees is not raised, and that the rate of growth has increased in recent years. The higher rates of growth have been most notably from poorer countries,

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especially since we removed the racist primary-purpose rule. On the basis of recent evidence, I would say that Britain is not seen as a country to which people do not want to come for whatever reason.

On the relationship between visa fees and the cost of the operation, operating in the Indian sub-continent can be expensive. There are the costs of employing UK-based staff and extra staff locally, and of running the joint entry-clearance unit in the UK. As a constituency Member of Parliament, I value the fast turnaround and superb service that we now receive. However, that costs money. The fact that the country is poor does not automatically mean that running costs are significantly lower.

I made it clear that the fee is for the work involved in processing, and is not related to whether the application is successful. Applicants must take that into consideration before entering the process. I recall seeing in our Beijing visa operation a few months ago an application from a student to attend a British university. The address at the top of the recommendation letter was St. Andrew's university, England. The gentleman who made that application deserves to have the processing officers reject it and for the processing fee to be taken from him. That is generally the basis on which the system operates.

Mr. Randall: Will the order allow for a variance in fees?

Mr. MacShane: The order sets out the proposals for the new fees, and I expect them to stay in place until 2004. They are based on our best estimate of how we can recover the deficit.

Mr. Duncan: I should like to pursue once more the question of the accumulated costs that a family applying for settlement will face. If the mother and father apply successfully, the extra costs involved in

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processing the application of children are surely minimal. Is it not unreasonable to apply a fee of, say, £264 per person to a child, when processing the parents' application would suffice?

Mr. MacShane: In my experience, applications for settlement come in one by one. Examining the applications of adults who may have been born in different villages and those of children who may have been born in different parts of the country or countries from which the application is made requires separate investigations by the visa-processing staff. I repeat that the fees are justified. I speak as someone who is well paid, but who has four children who were born overseas. I am a British citizen, but had to pay substantial fees for them even to be registered as British. There is no evidence that the proposed increase of up to 10 per cent. discourages applications to come to this country.

Mr. Chris Smith: Will my hon. Friend confirm for the avoidance of all doubt that the order simply gives the Government the opportunity to recover, first, the actual costs incurred in administering the system and, secondly, the deficits for the years since 2000, and that it does not permit them to do anything else?

Mr. MacShane: Yes. This is not a money-making operation for the FCO. One example of the increased work is in DNA testing. I am involved in a case in my constituency. Such work is time-consuming, difficult and raises new problems. We have to be fair and be seen to be fair. It is an expensive process, and I hope that the Committee will agree that the order is reasonable.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Consular Fees Act 1980 (Fees) Order 2002.

Committee rose at ten minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caplin, Mr.
Cryer, John
Dawson, Mr.
Duncan, Mr. Alan
Fabricant, Michael
Lamb, Norman
MacShane, Mr.
McKenna, Rosemary
Mallaber, Judy
Moore, Mr.
Randall, Mr.
Selous, Andrew
Smith, Mr. Chris
Smith, Mr. John
Starkey, Dr.

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Prepared 11 June 2002