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Immigration and Asylum Bill

8.35 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Clause 22 [Charges: immigration control]:

Lord Hacking moved Amendment No. 27A:

Page 16, line 5, at end insert--
(“(5) In formulating the definition of the basic service the Secretary of State shall have regard to the need to provide facilities for passengers which are quick and convenient and shall have specific regard to--
(a) the avoidance of excessive queues, and
(b) the siting of immigration desks in locations which are convenient for passengers.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, who is in Europe carrying out duties with the Council of Europe, I shall move the amendment standing in his name.

Clause 22 was first introduced into your Lordships' House in Committee on 12th July. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams explained the reasons for it; that is, when additional facilities were wanted for the public need by the Immigration Service at airports, those facilities should be provided at public expense. But when there was a special need for additional services, they should be provided at private expense, either by the operators of the airport or by the airlines.

The provision in Clause 22 says that when additional charges are needed to provide a basic service at the airport--this is the purport of the clause--then they should be paid for out of public funds. My noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, in moving the amendment, assured the House that the Government were working actively with the industry to agree the definition of “basic service". If your Lordships turn to the latter part of Clause 22, it will be seen that “basic service" is to have,

that is, by secondary legislation. Unfortunately, the first draft of the definition of “basic service" was only available on Friday. I have not had an opportunity to

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see that definition and the industry has had only a very limited opportunity to consider it. Your Lordships are therefore in the unsatisfactory position of having to agree a definition for “basic service" without knowing what it is.

There are practical implications to this point. For example, when Terminal 3 was opened at Manchester airport, it was initially suggested by the Immigration Service that if there were to be immigration officers at Terminal 3, that facility would have to be paid for by the airlines, though it would cover all passengers coming into Terminal 3 who needed to pass through immigration. It was suggested that if the airlines were not prepared to pay for the additional immigration services, then all the passengers would have to be bussed to Terminal 1. That unsatisfactory position was resolved and I understand that the Immigration Service now provides at public expense the additional services needed at Terminal 3. That is an example of the difficulties that could arise unless and until the definition of basic services is properly resolved.

I suggest that the test should be that where the additional arrangements are for the convenience of special categories of passengers--such as fast-track immigration clearance for first-class or business travellers--the expense should be met by airlines, which have always agreed that they should meet that additional expense. Where there are additional arrangements for all passengers, the cost should be paid out of public funding. It is all part of a welcome to Britain, to make sure that people who come to Britain are processed efficiently.

My noble friend's amendment is designed to help the process of getting the definition right. Your Lordships can see the terms in which it has been tabled. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his expansive explanation. I fear that I am not going to do it justice, for which I apologise. He is also owed an apology for our lateness in bringing forward a reasonable and serviceable definition. It may be that we need to give it further thought. I well understand the sense of grievance that perhaps accompanies my noble friend's comments.

The amendment has value in that it attempts to go some way to defining what a quick and convenient service might be but the matter needs further reflection. I suggest that my noble friend withdraws the amendment. If we need to pick up on other issues that we have missed in the past, perhaps we can do that at a later stage. I shall be happy to have further discussions on such matters with those interested in the amendment. On that basis, I invite my noble friend to withdraw Amendment No. 27A.

Lord Hacking: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. He is coming in my direction and I am grateful for his agreement to give the matter further consideration. Clearly, there should be some concentration on the consultation process. There has been a long gap between the time when my noble and

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learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn originally offered the consultation process and the arrival of the first draft. However, let us talk not about the past but the future. On the basis that my noble friend Lord Bassam will do all he can to ensure that the industry is consulted--so that before the Bill leaves the House, we have a much better definition of basic services--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 28:

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause--

(“Charges: travel documents

.--(1) The Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, make regulations prescribing fees to be paid in connection with applications to him for travel documents.
(2) If a fee is prescribed in connection with an application of a particular kind, no such application is to be entertained by the Secretary of State unless the fee has been paid in accordance with the regulations.
(3) In respect of any period before the coming into force of this section, the Secretary of State is to be deemed always to have had power to impose charges in connection with--
(a) applications to him for travel documents; or
(b) the issue by him of travel documents.
(4) “Travel document" does not include a passport.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the new clause puts beyond doubt the power to levy fees in connection with Home Office travel documents. The background was set out in a written answer to a question from my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath on 27th July 1999 by my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn. It may assist your Lordships if I briefly restate the position.

The Home Office has for a long time issued travel documents to refugees, stateless persons and some other third country nationals. It is a valuable service of which some 15,000 people take advantage every year. There has always been a charge which, in the case of refugees and stateless persons, is the same as that for a British passport. That complies with the United Nations conventions on refugees and statelessness.

Travel documents are issued by virtue of the royal prerogative but there is no specific legal power in UK legislation that authorises the taking of fees in connection with such documents. The Government have decided that it would be right to introduce an amendment to put beyond doubt the power to levy such fees.

There is a general enabling power in the Finance Act 1973 to charge for any services provided by the Government pursuant to any international treaty to which the United Kingdom is a party. That would cover documents issued to refugees and stateless persons. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, with Treasury concurrence, has exercised those powers, and a charge of £21 was reintroduced for refugee and

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stateless person documents on 23rd August 1999 by virtue of the Travel Document (Refugees and Stateless Persons) (Fees) Regulations 1999.

Those regulations do not cover all travel documents issued by the Home Office and, for the time being, documents not covered are being processed free of charge. The intention is to make new regulations setting fees for the full range of travel documents when the Bill has received Royal Assent. Subsection (1) of the new clause provides the power to make regulations that will set fee levels. As usual in such matters, regulations require the approval of the Treasury. As has always been the case, the cost of documents issued to refugees and stateless persons will be the same as for a British passport. Other documents will be charged at a level that recovers the costs of processing applications. The price before we temporarily suspended charging was £67. That will be reviewed before new regulations are made.

Subsection (2) provides that if a fee is prescribed for a particular type of case, the application will not be considered until the fee is received. This ensures that the Home Office will not start to incur costs in processing applications until the appropriate fee has been paid. Processing costs are incurred whether or not an application is granted. It is not our intention to make any refunds if a document is not issued in a particular case. That is consistent with practice since 1994 and with the way that the powers in Clause 4 will be exercised.

Subsection (3) has retrospective effect and declares that the Secretary of State is deemed always to have had power to impose charges in connection with travel documents. The effect is that a claim for a refund in respect of a fee that was paid before the clause came into force could not succeed. The amendment in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, seeks to leave out that subsection. The Government do not propose retrospective legislation lightly. In relation to travel documents, the vast majority of applicants have received either the document they sought or a refund. They have suffered no financial disadvantage, notwithstanding any doubts there may be now about the power to charge in the past.

The exact number of applicants who paid a fee but who received neither a document nor a refund is not known. The number is believed to be small and such people are eligible for a refund in accordance with the refund scheme announced on 27th July. In those circumstances, it is right for Parliament to approve retrospective legislation in this narrow area to ensure that there is absolute clarity on the state of the law and to avoid the possibility of small claims for refunds being brought before the courts on the basis of a legal technicality. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will not press their amendment.

Subsection (4) makes clear that the clause applies to travel documents issued to foreign nationals and does not cover the issue of national passports. The new clause provides a clear and unambiguous power to charge for Home Office travel documents. It ensures

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that the position that was always thought to exist is properly established in UK legislation. Our intention is that it will be brought into force on Royal Assent, and a further drafting amendment will be brought forward to Clause 164 to that effect later in our deliberations. I beg to move.

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