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Session 2006 - 07
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Janet Dean
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Borrow, Mr. David S. (South Ribble) (Lab)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Byrne, Mr. Liam (Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Crausby, Mr. David (Bolton, North-East) (Lab)
Curry, Mr. David (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Kennedy, Jane (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
Michael, Alun (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
Simon, Mr. Siôn (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)
Trickett, Jon (Hemsworth) (Lab)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 12 March 2007

[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2007.
It is a great pleasure, Mrs. Dean, both to be under your chairmanship and to be able to speak about this extremely important order.
The order is part of a series of reforms to the immigration system that we are pushing through. It follows my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s announcement last July of a wide-ranging and radical shake-up of the immigration system. Indeed, it is the largest shake-up ever.
About two weeks ago, the Government were proud to announce that in 2006 we hit the tipping point target, which means that we removed more failed asylum seekers than the number of unfounded claims. However, the Home Secretary and I have made it clear that that is not sufficient of itself.
The immigration system needs greater ambitions. We need to tackle illegal immigration wherever it is found. That is why, at the beginning of the year, I set out five measures that we would drive through over the first quarter of the year. First, a cross-government strategy will bring together public services across the United Kingdom to tackle illegal immigration and to block British benefits to those who are here illegally. Secondly, new powers will be available under the UK Borders Bill. Thirdly, new technology is available to identify people and to help count people in and out of the country. Fourthly, we have stronger international alliances that will allow us to share information mutually on those about whom we are concerned. Finally, there are new resources.
Last year, we set out our long-term goal of doubling the amount of money that we spend on enforcement and removal. I am pleased to be able to say that this afternoon, we are taking the first step towards that goal.
Today’s debate is technical, in that we seek permission to lay a section 51 order before the House under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. That will allow us set out a range of activities for which we can provide charges. In effect, it brings together a number of powers that are scattered throughout legislation—in the British Nationality Act 1981; the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999; the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. The powers have a complex structure, but we would like to trigger one consolidated power.
There is more to come. Over the weeks that follow, we will seek further powers. In some instances, we want to impose over-cost charges for certain types of immigration services; others, of course, will remain charged at cost. That is important because at present, we do not charge what the market will bear. We do not price intelligently, and that is something that should surely be changed.
We are of course engaged with the Opposition parties in a much wider debate about the funding of the immigration service. The Conservative party has laid out some ideas. For example, it suggests cancelling the identity cards project in order to provide new resources. That, of course, will not work, because there is no pot to be redistributed. We think that ours is a much more sensible approach, as it will raise money from those who benefit from coming here. I commend the order to the Committee.
4.33 pm
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I echo the Minister’s words of pleasure and delight, Mrs. Dean, in serving under your chairmanship.
As the Minister said, the order is a technical precursor to an important debate on the level of charging that the Government propose to insist on for the various forms of visa and permit. Nevertheless, some of his assertions should not go unchallenged.
The first was his claim that the Government have hit the tipping point. I note that he then redefined the tipping point for the umpteenth time, leaving out the crucial word “anticipated” when he said that the number that the Government have managed to deport was more than the number of unfounded claims. He will be as aware, as I am, that it is the anticipated number of unfounded claims. That is extremely convenient for Ministers; they can anticipate any number and then claim that they have hit their target. That is ideal for the Home Office.
The second point made by the Minister that should not go unchallenged was that the ID card system would not cost any money, and thus that there would be no pot of money to be saved by scrapping it. That is one of the most extraordinary assertions that I have ever heard. He will be well aware that his own Department expects the system to cost some £6 billion, and that outsiders who have cast an independent eye on it cost it at anything up to £20 billion. He will also be aware that not all of that will be spent on passports, visas and such matters.
Nevertheless, with those caveats, I agree that the Government are seeking a general permission. We will no doubt have another debate shortly on the price rises that the Government are planning. As the Minister is aware, we have no objection in principle to charging fees for the various instruments and permits included in this aspect of legislation, but I hope that when we come to the substantive debate on the fee rises—they are of the order of magnitude of seven times the existing fee for some of the permits—the Minister will let us in on some of the real figures, because he has made it explicit today that the extra money that he proposes to spend on enforcement will be funded out of these rises. Therefore, it is important for the House to know how much extra money the Government propose to raise from the extra charges. There appeared to be a hint in a debate in another place that the figure was in the order of £100 million. I should be grateful if the Minister either confirmed or denied that figure.
Have the Government made any estimate of the sensitivity of demand? The Minister will be aware that even if Britain remains a desirable destination for people from various countries, there will come a point at which the charges will either deter people or, much worse, encourage them to try to get to this country illegally. I am sure that he will be sensitive to this point, as he started by referring to the tipping point. If the Government put up the charges for legal immigrants so much that they encourage illegality, they will be shooting themselves in the foot. I suspect that we will not address that issue today, but we should certainly do so when we come to the substantive debate.
A further consequential issue that I put the Minister on notice that we ought to address next time is the Government’s estimates on the numbers. Does he think that these steep price rises will reduce applications and, more particularly, reduce applications from certain parts of the world? Obviously, it will be easier for individuals from developed countries to find the extra money that is required. It will be much less easy for many applicants from, for example, the Indian sub-continent. Have the Government calculated the detailed effects, as well as the aggregate effects, on numbers of the charges that they are proposing to push up so much?
We have no intrinsic objection to the charges, but they give rise to a number of serious questions. I think that it is only two Committees in which we will debate the measures, and I hope that, certainly in the second of those, the Minister will address those questions.
4.38 pm
Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. The Liberal Democrats have no objection to what is being proposed today. The order considerably simplifies the range of orders that already exist and that allow charges to be levied. However, like the hon. Member for Ashford, we believe that the order needs to be discussed in the context of the £100 million that has been cited andof the Government’s strategy, from which I think the £100 million came. In fact, this money may well go beyond the actual cost of dealing with an application and deal with some of the wider aspects of border policing. Although we have no objection to the principle of cost recovery, we want to see the basis on which these stringent, in many cases, increases are founded.
As we heard in another place, this country benefits hugely from the number of students and post-doctorate researchers who come here and contribute to our economic well-being. Although the Minister seeks to mitigate some of the effects of the increases inthat respect, we shall need to see the background information when the second order is laid. What is the real basis on which the costs are arrived at? How do they vary in the different orders? As has been said, there might be some drop-off in demand once the fees are introduced, but what will it be?
What will the money be used for once it has been raised? The draft strategy states that £100 million extra will be found, but it should not all be recovered purely from fees. Most of the people who come into this country legitimately will not need to be affected by some of the enforcement activities in the order; it is unfair that a legitimate visitor, who might be hereon a highly skilled migrant programme, should face crippling increases. However, that is a debate for another day, and we await the Minister’s comments on our points.
4.51 pm
Mr. Byrne: I think that I detected that Opposition Members do not want the immigration system to be a soft touch, and I am glad of that; indeed, that is precisely why we propose to strengthen the system with extra resources. The changes that we have proposed today and those that we shall propose over the weeks to come should provide up to £100 million extra for immigration policing, extra detention space and systems that allow us to share data and intelligence on those who are in this country illegally, so that public services—and, indeed, businesses—can block those who are here illegally from receiving the benefits that this country offers.
Important markers have been laid down this afternoon as to the issues that we shall, I hope, beable to explore next week. A particular issue is the sensitivity of demand, and I was grateful for the responses from not only vice-chancellors but the CBI, which said last week:
“Employers support Government crackdowns on rogue employers who employ illegal workers and undercut legitimate firms. They also back better help for those who use the immigration system.”
That is a wise remark, which reflects the fact that we have undertaken unprecedented amounts of research into the demand elasticity of some of the immigration services on offer. I shall ensure that that research is put in the Library, and I know that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), who is a colleague of the hon. Member for Ashford, will take a close interest in it because he was expensively educated at a world-leading business school. I hope that he will look at the research that shows that we have pitched the prices very well in terms of international comparisons, and of the demand curves that we discovered through our research.
In summary, the proposals are a more sensible approach to strengthening investment in our immigration system. If we cancelled the ID cards project, we would of course wipe out the costs, but we would also wipe out all the revenues. There is therefore no pot of gold to be had from that course of action, and the current proposals provide a much more sensible course. I look forward to the debates that we shall have on them in the weeks and months to come.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at Sixteen minutes to Five o’clock.

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