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The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): Today the Government publish the findings of the consultation paper, A consultation on a New Charging Regime for Immigration and Nationality Fees, which ran from 30 October to 22 December last year. We also set out the policy on a new charging regime for immigration and nationality fees and the new and proposed in-country fee levels. The FCO is announcing new visa levels today, after agreement by the Privy Council yesterday.
We know that we offer highly competitive immigration services overseas and in-country and we continue to value the contribution made by migrants to the UKs economic growth and enrichment of our society. In the consultation process we were clear that any changes to the way in which we charge migrant workers and students who come to the UK must not adversely impact on the many benefits that legal migration brings.
During the consultation period we sent out over 3,000 consultation documents and received 340 formal responses. In addition, we ran a series of 13 sector- based stakeholder events with over 400 participants. These included key stakeholders in the education, business and health and social care sectors, as well as diplomats and representatives of the travel and tourism sector.
We propose to move to a new flexible charging model which balances the services we offer at home and overseas, the entitlements attached to each of these and the price. In this way we believe that we can set fees at levels that minimise the operational risk to our businesses whilst generating the revenue for the next four years to help fund the transformation of the immigration system, and maintaining the global competitiveness of the UK as a place to work, visit and do business. We believe that those who benefit most from coming to the UK should contribute most to funding the end-to-end system. The charging system must be fair to those who use the system, in terms of the price paid for the visa and attached entitlements; and fair to the UK taxpayer, who will continue to support the immigration system that brings benefits and enrichment to this country.
The new model will involve setting fees taking into account a number of factors, such as value to the migrant and international competitiveness. This will mean that for those routes that we believe to be the most sensitive to price increases, or where we believe that wider issues make a strong argument for doing so, we will set fees at cost recovery or below. Those routes that we believe, on the basis of the research, are less sensitive to increases to visa and in-country application fees and bring increased value to migrants in terms of their entitlements would be charged at levels that contribute substantially more to the overall cost of the immigration system.
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The private offices of the Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council; the Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal; the Chief Whip in the Commons and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury; and of the Lords Chief Whip and Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms will transfer to the Cabinet Office;
The Privy Council Secretariat and support for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will become part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA).
The Privy Council and its functions will continue unchanged. My right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Valerie Amos will remain the Lord President of the Council. The Privy Council Secretariat, and support for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council will retain appropriate identity and branding, and continue to carry out their duties as now. The Privy Council will continue to serve all administrations within the UK, and those private sector bodies which use its services. The Judicial Committee will remain quite distinct from the UK judicial systems.
I periodically review the structure of Departments and arrange responsibilities in the way most suited to responding to current and future challenges. This review determined that the functions of the Privy Council Office would be best served by becoming parts of larger Departments. The Cabinet Office, like the Leaders and Whips offices, works to co-ordinate and to facilitate the work of Government from a cross-Departmental perspective. The Department for Constitutional Affairs already has responsibility for similar subject areas, such as liaison with the Crown Dependencies and royal hereditary matters, and this is therefore the most appropriate home for the Privy Council Secretariat and the support for the Judicial Committee.
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): Last summer the Government asked the Low Pay Commission to produce its next report on the national minimum wage by the end of February 2007. The Government are today publishing that report.
I would like to thank the Chair of the Commission, Paul Myners, for the important role he has played in what is the first report under his chairmanship. I would also like to thank all the Commissioners for their hard work. It is particularly appropriate to acknowledge the hard work and contributions made over the years by those Commissioners who are stepping down from office this year.
The main recommendations put forward by the Commission concern the rates of the minimum wage. The Commission has recommended the adult hourly rate of the minimum wage should be increased from £5.35 to £5.52 in October 2007. The Commission has recommended increasing the development rate, which covers workers aged 18-21, from the present £4.45 to £4.60 in October 2007, and the 16-17 year old rate from £3.30 to £3.40, again from October 2007.
the recommendation that it should work more collaboratively with other organisations to raise awareness;
the recommendation that the next sector for targeted enforcement should be one with a high concentration of migrant workers. We have chosen the hotel sector for the third year of the programme. We will build on our work by targeting hospitality more generally in year four.
the recommendation relating to social care that we should continue to make clear that the commissioning policies of local authorities should reflect the costs of care provision; and to monitor practice, examine the reasons for any uneven provision, and, if appropriate, provide further guidance.
the recommendation that the accommodation offset should increase to £4.30 per day in October 2007.
the recommendation that the Government should ask the Commission to report in early 2008 on recommended rates for October 2008.
the recommendation of introducing a penalty to apply to any employer found to have underpaid the minimum wage;
the recommendation that the Commission should carry out a full review of the apprenticeship exemptions in its next report;
The Government reject the recommendation that 21-year-old workers should be paid the adult rate. The most recent data on employment continue to show the employment rate of 21-year-olds is more closely aligned to 20-year-olds than to those aged 22 years and above. We believe moving 21-year-olds on to the adult rate would risk damaging their employment prospects.
The Minister for Pensions Reform (James Purnell): On 16 January the Government appointed Paul Thornton to undertake an independent external review of pensions institutions. The purpose of the reviewannounced in the May 2006 Pensions White Paperis to look at how the responsibilities of those bodies involved in workplace pensions are arranged to ensure they support existing Government policy, and fit with its reform proposals and wider developments.
The document sets out the emerging issues and evidence presented so far, with the aim of encouraging further discussion and building consensus on the way forward. I encourage stakeholders to contribute: it is vital that institutional functions are arranged in the most efficient and effective way in order to support work-based saving and to complement our pension reforms. The consultation paper will be available on the Department's pensions reform internet site later today. Paul Thornton will report to Ministers with recommendations by spring 2007.