Motion to Approve
Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) (Amendment) Order 2010
4:39 pm

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

That the draft order laid before the House on 20 January be approved.

Relevant Document: 7th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

5:00 pm
Photo of Lord West of Spithead

Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office; Labour)

My Lords, this Government are committed both to strengthening the United Kingdom border and to facilitating the entry of legitimate passengers into the country. To help us to achieve this, the UK Border Agency has taken advantage of new technologies that secure and manage the UK border. One such technology is automated gates. This order facilitates the entry of automated gate users into the UK by amending the Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000.

Before I explain why the order is necessary, I will give noble Lords some information about automated gates, which are already in use at some UK airports. Automated gates speed the passage of legitimate travellers across the UK border by allowing permitted passengers to enter the UK lawfully without having to queue up at the manual immigration control. Automated gates work by verifying a person's identity and making checks against Home Office systems to ensure that they are eligible to use the gates and enter the UK. If the person is eligible, the gates open and allow the person to enter the country. If the person is ineligible, the gates remain closed and the person is required to seek entry at the manual immigration control. Use of the gates is entirely voluntary.

The order is necessary because the current method of granting leave to enter to non-visa nationals who use automated gates is inefficient and outdated. Non-visa national users of IRIS automated gates are currently granted leave via a paper notice printed by the gates. When the gates' printers break down or run out of paper, the whole gate system is shut down and cannot be used by any passengers. Users also regularly forget to take their written notice from the gate, which then retracts the printout for security reasons, again taking the gates out of operation.

The order provides a better and more efficient method of granting leave to non-visa national gate users. It will allow a UK Border Agency officer to authorise a person as someone who may obtain leave by using the automated gates following satisfactory screening. Thereafter, each time the person uses the gates to enter the UK, they will automatically be granted leave to enter for six months on the same basis as leave granted at the manual immigration control to non-visa nationals who seek entry as a visitor. In both cases, recourse to public funds and employment will be prohibited. The only difference is that gate users will not receive written evidence of their leave when they use the gate.

In practice, the order will need to apply only to non-visa nationals, as the other types of traveller do not require leave to be granted when they seek entry into the UK. British citizens and EEA nationals do not require leave to enter the UK, visa nationals are granted leave in the form of a visa before they arrive in the UK, and foreign nationals who are settled in the UK already have limited or indefinite leave to remain in the UK. I trust that noble Lords will join me in supporting these provisions, which help us to deliver a safe and secure border while facilitating the entry of legitimate visitors into the country.

It currently costs the UK Border Agency more than 2 billion to maintain our world-class immigration system. To fund this, we operate the policy that those who benefit directly from our immigration system should contribute towards the costs of running the system, so that we can balance this with the interests of the general UK taxpayer. This year's fee review takes place against a difficult financial context for the UK Border Agency, public finances and the economy as a whole.

The regulations we are debating today are made under Section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and in accordance with the powers granted in Section 42 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004, as amended by Section 20 of the UK Borders Act 2007. Under Section 42, the Secretary of State can set a fee for an application at a level that exceeds the administrative cost of determining the application.

The way our legal powers are defined means that we must also specify fees in separate regulations under the powers in Section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. Those regulations set the fees for applications, processes and services that are provided at or below the administrative cost of determining the application. These regulations were laid in Parliament on 10 February, are subject to the negative process and are not debated. However, I am happy to take questions on the fees covered by those regulations in this debate.

This year, we have succeeded in limiting the extent of our general increases, by taking a more targeted approach to fees adjustment. We have also introduced some new chargeable services. The targeted increases include settlement visas. This better reflects the value of the product we offer and aligns the fee with the amounts paid by migrants coming to the United Kingdom under economic routes. We have increased the fee for long-term visit visas to reflect the value which these products represent to applicants. There is a 50 increase to the fee for tier 1 post-study route, which better aligns this fee with that paid by other applicants under tier 1. There is an above inflationary increase for all applications made at a public inquiry office to better reflect the benefits associated with these applications.

New fees include a fee for all UK-based dependant applications to reflect the fact that each individual within any given application bears a processing cost to us as well as, sometimes, an independent set of entitlements for the individual. The majority of applicants are unaffected by this increase. There will be a new pilot service for premium biometric enrolment and caseworking. This is an optional service and will not affect any of the standard services on offer. A new dependant relative settlement fee, covering parents, grandparents and certain other relatives joining family members who are already settled in the UK, will reflect the excellent benefits to applicants, including the right to stay indefinitely in the UK and exemption from our English language requirements. It also better aligns this fee with the end-to-end fees paid by other migrants who settle in the United Kingdom.

We maintain our strong belief that fee levels should be sensitive to wider policy intentions and that the United Kingdom must remain internationally competitive. However, we are unable to deliver the immigration system demanded by the public if we keep fees at current levels. Our overall aim is to ensure that fees make an appropriate contribution to the end-to-end costs of the immigration system. I believe that these fees are in the best interests of the United Kingdom. I commend both instruments to the House.

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Baroness Neville-Jones (Shadow Security Minister, Home Affairs; Conservative)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing and explaining these orders, which we support. I have a few probing questions. On the first immigration order, I understand that currently there are two types of automated gate at UK borders. The first type, e-passport gates, are designed for use by British citizens and EEA nationals who hold second-generation biometric passports and are being trialled at 10 locations in the UK. Where are the locations and how long will the trials last? When is full rollout across the UK expected? That should greatly reduce the number of people who have to queue in order to have their passport swiped.

The second type of automated gate is based on a pre-enrolment scheme, which requires users to provide biometric and biographic data before they can use the system. I think that the noble Lord was talking about that type. The Explanatory Note to the order states:

"In principle, regular travellers from any country may apply to be enrolled on the scheme".

Can the Minister expand on that point? Which categories of regular traveller might not be allowed to enrol, because it suggests that there may be excluded categories? Can he also tell us what information will need to be supplied at the face-to-face interview with a border force officer that individuals apparently must have before being allowed to enrol, and what criteria are used by the officer to judge whether an individual is unlikely to abuse the scheme? It seems that the viability of the whole scheme and the notion of the automated gates providing us with adequate protection depends on the accuracy of the information that is taken at the first instance, and therefore the interview, right at the initiation of the scheme. It is important to understand what guidance is in place and what the officer will be seeking to do. What security standards are to apply to the storage of the biographical and biometric data that have been captured? We now have plenty of experience of things that can go wrong with data storage, so it would be helpful to know that.

I understand that the type of gate that is to replace the present system will be simpler and easier to use, and I absolutely agree with that. But again, quite a lot of preparation has to go into getting this right. It would be helpful to know the timescale over which the next generation of pre-enrolment gate schemes will be rolled out. Is it to be a five or 10-year scheme, or one that will take six months? I gather that individuals who actually get enrolment will receive a form telling them the conditions that are applicable to their visa or entry conditions, but only when they have been granted their enrolment. Can the Minister say how the Government will ensure that these conditions-this comes to the business of how we monitor what happens when people get into the country-will not be abused? I mention the length of stay granted, prohibitions on employment, recourse to public funds and so on. We do not necessarily solve all these problems simply by having an automatic gate system.

I am glad to see that the automated gates will not apply to student and marriage visitors as these are two categories which are heavily abused, and therefore it seems to us that we must have a different system for them. Presumably a lot depends ultimately, as I said earlier, on the authorisation that is received at the automated gate. How long will such an authorisation remain valid for? Will it be a standard period of time or is it going to vary according to the individual, and will there be any kind of checking system?

The second order introduced by the Minister sets out the fees. We agree that it is sensible for the costs to be covered by the fees, and we accept that they therefore need to be realistic. Given the fiscal situation, that is doubly sensible. We have no objection to the principle of the notion of payment for the use and benefit of the range of immigration and nationality services, and we believe that those who use them should contribute proportionately to the costs. However, with a maximum increase, as I understand it, of 2.5 per cent for the majority of application routes versus a 6 per cent increase in UKBA costs for processing these applications over the past year, is there not likely to be a shortfall? Will the fees now actually cover the costs?

My other question might be called a sensitivity analysis. It could be that the fees might be set a level which is so discouraging that instead of encouraging people to come to this country, we act to deter. Has any work been done on this kind of sensitivity which tells us what effect the level at which the fees are set might have on the number of people who choose to visit or come to this country for various purposes? This probably applies to a lot of government services, so it would be helpful to know whether any analysis lies behind the fee levels mentioned by the Minister.

I turn finally to a topic that the Minister did not mention but which it would be helpful to know about-the Migration Impact Fund, towards which some of the fees go. Can he tell House for which routes the fees paid incorporate a contribution to the fund? It is not clear whether the fund is made up entirely of contributions or whether the Government also provide an input. Where, geographically, is the money likely to be spent? Is it spent generally or only in certain areas? We take the view that it is unlikely to be comprehensive in mitigating the effects of immigration, if only because there is not yet a firm limit on immigration levels. However, it would be interesting to know what kind of contribution it will make.

5:15 pm
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Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I start with the order which facilitates entry, as the noble Lord explained, into the UK by non-visa nationals who are lawfully entitled to enter by extending the automated gate system already in operation at certain UK airports for granting leave to enter. People coming in under this order will get prior authorisation by an immigration officer and will then be granted six months' leave to enter as they pass through the automated gate. They will no longer receive, as the Minister explained, a printed notice at the time of entry because the printing system currently in use frequently goes wrong and is put out of action for all other entrants until an engineer rectifies it. I shall come back to the question of the printed noticed no longer being made available to the person who is given leave to enter in a few minutes.

The assumption, I suppose, is that only people unlikely to abuse the system will get through the checks by UKBA staff- but there will always be some exceptions and if someone remains, for example, beyond the permitted six-month limit and is stopped by the police for a reason not connected with his immigration status, how would the officer be able to verify that he is within his permitted leave to remain? He will no longer have the date on the written statement. There may be other circumstances in which a person is required to prove the,

"manner and date of his entry into the United Kingdom",

as provided by the amendment to Article 9 of the Immigration (Leave to Enter and Remain) Order 2000 made by Article 5 of this 2010 order. Again, it is not clear how this can be done without some kind of record.

The amendment to Article 9 treats the legal requirements as if they apply equally well to the new gates as to the current methods of entry. However, in other entry methods the passenger always has either a stamp in his passport or a print-out from one of the old-style gates. This order ignores that difference. If later there is any dispute or query about the person's entry to the UK, the passenger, like others, is still required to prove the manner and date of his entry in circumstances where, unlike the rest of the entrants, he is given no means of complying. When he comes to reply, I hope the Minister will explain how that problem will be solved.

Secondly, why did the UKBA decide on a next-generation scheme based on face images when there is already an iris recognition system in operation at all Heathrow and Gatwick terminals as well as at Birmingham and Manchester? Would it not have been simpler to have one method of verifying a person's entitlement to enter through automated gates? As I understand it, there will now be two different systems in operation for different categories of entrant.

Thirdly, in relation to the IRIS system, the Minister said in the Delegated Legislation Committee in another place that capacity was the reason for requiring re-registration by persons who had not used the system for longer than a given period. That system was due to improve, implying that at some point in the future the requirement could be dropped. Can the Minister give an estimate of when that point is likely to be reached?

The 9 million cost of the ACS plus gates was paid for, we are told, by BAA. The Minister in another place told the Delegated Legislation Committee that that was in recognition of the benefits to the passenger. Is there not an inconsistency between making the ACS plus system free when services to providers by the UKBA for all passengers who are not entitled to come through automated gates are charged, in many cases at well over the rate needed to recover the cost of the service itself? If we are now looking to ensure that services enabling qualifying travellers to enter the UK are all self-funding, why exclude the automated gates, which in general are used by those who can well afford to pay?

In addition, there was a cost of 1.4 million to install the IRIS system, which was paid for UKBA, plus an amount for the enabling background which is said to be commercially sensitive but which nevertheless the Minister said would be released as soon as possible. Has that moment now been reached? Can the Minister explain why this one element should be kept secret when the other components have all been published? If the IRIS system is highly reliable, as I understand, I underline the question of why we need two different recognition systems to operate at all our airports.

I turn to the regulations. We were concerned at the extent of the powers given to the Secretary of State in Section 42 of the 2004 Act, mentioned by the Minister, to prescribe fees that are above the administrative cost of providing the service in question. That has enabled the Government to cross-subsidise to an extent that is unfair for certain users, and Parliament has no controls whatever over the levels charged in practice. We agree with the principle of cross-subsidisation while objecting to a particular charge, but we have to accept the package as a whole or vote against it, as my honourable friend did in another place. We would then have to oppose all the fees that are being charged, while certain of them may be perfectly acceptable.

We also deplore the fact that while all fees have risen steeply since 2004, many people are not being given an adequate standard of service by UKBA. If we are asked to approve these fees, there should be some guarantee of service standards, including, for instance, the timeframes within which applications are processed. UKBA continues to fail to meet its own timeframes, and it considers that it has done a good job if it makes decisions promptly over an arbitrary percentage of cases, as set out in the customer charter. The Minister in another place said:

"We are on track to be within all our service standards in all the key areas of work by March".-[Official Report, Commons, Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee, 24/2/10; col. 16.]

but he means a percentage of cases being dealt with inside the timeframe, not 100 per cent. There should be timeframes for deciding 100 per cent of the cases and, if deadlines are missed, there should be refunds to the individuals concerned.

A related point is that where a decision is taken after the change in rules on an application made before the change, and the application met the old rule but not the new one, the UKBA should at least refund the fee. Preferably, though, the fair way to handle those cases would be to abolish retrospection entirely and to treat the application as being valid if it meets the requirements of the old rule, despite the fact that it was processed after the new rules had been introduced.

Just as the noble Lord, Lord West, said in the context of the fees orders that historical legislation needs to be made easier to understand, the same should apply to the regulations. The Minister said that the consolidated fees regulations were available on the OPSI website, but I was unable to find them in the time available, so they are not very easy to access. Perhaps we simply need an improvement on the website concerned.

In the impact assessment, the net benefit of the increased charges, after taking into account the expected reduction in the number of applications and the loss of income from migrants who will be deterred from coming into the UK, is given as 109 million. The accompanying text says that the projections made are regularly reviewed. Can the Minister provide a table of previous impact assessments, with the actual changes in the year after the increased charges were imposed, so that we can assess the accuracy of the forecasts that were made? On the particular increases which are now being imposed, how did the actual fees income in the most recent period for which the figures are available compare with the costs of providing the services? Are these increases, which are expected to generate an extra 147 million from immigration and visa fees, intended to restore break-even, as the noble Baroness was inquiring, or is the intention to make a profit on these activities?

The fee charged for application for registration as a British citizen of a child born abroad to a UK mother and foreign father is kept for the time being at the 540 set last April. I take it there is no intention to put it up again this year, because it is not mentioned in the regulations. So far, since these children were first allowed to register-but only if they were born after 1983-almost 17,000 of them had done so. If all had been charged the 540 fee currently imposed, it would have cost them a total of 9 million. The children of foreign-born mothers and British fathers born over the same period got their citizenship for nothing. Now, the 1983 cut-off date has been abolished, but those who waited the longest for the gender discrimination in this part of our law to be removed will have to pay the full whack. That is manifestly unreasonable.

My honourable friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon raised the question of the fee for a dependent relative settlement visa, which is being almost trebled from 585 to 1,680-that is about six times the cost of providing the service. He got no explanation from the Minister as to why the dependant should have to pay two and a half times as much as the head of household when the latter is working and the dependent relative may well not be. Similarly, the fee charged to a dependent relative for indefinite leave to remain is going up from 820 to 1,680-a little under five times the cost of providing the service. In his reply, the Minister said he had to judge which fees should be set at cost, and which should be set marginally above that level. Five or six times the cost is not "marginally above", and we are entitled to a more rational and detailed explanation as to how these enormous increases were calculated.

The Minister agreed to look at my honourable friend's point that more women were dependent relatives than vice versa for the primary applicant. The public sector equality duty in Clause 148 of the Equality Bill, which we have been discussing, applies to the exercise of immigration and nationality functions as defined in paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 18, including the immigration Acts on which these regulations depend. If the Minister's inquiries show that there is gross gender disparity between primary and dependent visa and ILR applications, how will the Government bring these regulations into conformity with the public sector duty?

The Minister has just written to those who took part in the debate in another place. Among other things, he said that this would be explained in the impact assessment, and he gave the relevant web address. However, when I came to look it up I saw that the impact assessment gave no details at all about the relative numbers applying in head of household and dependent relative categories. On page 8, it says that there were no results in the evidence base, and no results were annexed to this impact assessment. I am afraid that the letter from the Minister to my honourable friend in another place was a little misleading.

Finally, we are concerned about the absence of any power to permit the waiver of fees in specified circumstances for in-country applications, coupled with the limited classes of exemptions. My honourable friend also raised that matter. It is not a new feature of the regulations, but there is a general power of waiver for entry clearance applications, and there is no logical difference between the two classes. It is estimated that several hundred thousand irregular migrants are living in the UK. Some of them would like to submit applications to regularise their stay on grounds of long-term residence and family connections built up here over the years, but cannot do so because the payment of the fee specified for the application is well beyond the means of anybody who is not working, including those who are prohibited from working. If the person in that category has a job at all, it is in a low-paid and probably casual occupation. If the UKBA catches up with him or her and seeks to deport them, only then can they invoke Article 8 and-if successful-acquire the right to remain without payment of any fee. Surely it is perverse to make the assertion of a human right and the waiver of the application fee conditional on going through arrest and detention while the claim is considered.

The Minister, in his reply to my honourable friend on that point, argued that it would be unfair to make the taxpayer foot the bill for applications made by irregular migrants who were advised that they had a good Article 8 case. In fact, the taxpayer will be liable for a much higher bill for the costs of the arrest, detention and court proceedings when the migrant is detected, which might have been unnecessary if he could have tested his right beforehand. The courts have already limited waiver powers in immigration and appeal cases in which the applicant is destitute; the same procedures might be applied in looking for applications for waivers in such cases. There would be severe penalties if a person made a false statement in asking for a waiver, as there are for other statements made by the applicant.

In coming forward and asking for the application fee to be waived, a person makes himself visible to the UKBA and-if he does not have a good Article 8 case-for subsequent arrest and detention. More irregular migrants would have been detected and removed as a result of exercising such a waiver, which is supposed to be government policy. Far from wanting to discourage in-country applications, we would like to encourage long-term irregular migrants with solid Article 8 cases to come forward and submit them so that they can get on with their lives, either here if their claim succeeds or in their country of origin if it fails. Either way, it is a better solution for both the migrant and the taxpayer. We urge the Minister to consider that point seriously.

5:30 pm
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Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office; Labour)

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their input to the debate. With two speakers and just under 50 detailed questions, there is no doubt that anything to do with immigration and its rules is rather complicated. Maybe they are overcomplex, but in my short period in the Home Office I have learnt that one needs to have every option covered, which inevitably makes them more complicated. Trying to cover everything with an easy, sweeping statement does not do at all when working in this area, I am afraid.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, asked a number of specific points about gates. She was correct that there are two types of gates. There are 10 IRIS airport locations and 10 e-passport gate locations. The IRIS locations are Heathrow terminals 1 to 5, Manchester terminals 1 and 2, Gatwick north and south terminals, and Birmingham. The 10 e-passport locations are Manchester terminals 1 and 2, Gatwick north, Birmingham terminals 1 and 2, Luton, Stansted, East Midlands, Bristol and Cardiff.

Where may people enrol and how will we ensure that the conditions are met? We check their immigration history and watchlists and question persons to assess their intention. If we find that they are abusing conditions, authorisation to use the gates, and obtain leave by passing gates, will be terminated straight away. Which category of passengers can use IRIS? All passengers are eligible. Passengers need to be regular travellers with no negative immigration history. Their passports must be genuine and valid. They must not be on the watchlist. If they have visa needs, they have to be genuine and valid. How long does the authorisation last? It lasts two years in general, or is linked to the validity of the passport and visa if they have less than two years' validity. An authorisation can be terminated if the UKBA wishes the person to seek entry at manual immigration control; for example, if we suspect that they may be abusing the immigration system. Therefore, it can be terminated at that stage.

The noble Baroness raised a very valid point on data security. This has been an issue in the past. All the biometric and personal data collected or accessed by the UKBA in the operation of these gates are treated in confidence and are processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act. Under e-passport gates, the person's live facial image is checked against the facial image which is securely stored in an encrypted format on the chip within the passport. Under IRIS, a person's irises are photographed during enrolment. I am sure that a number of noble Lords have done that. These photographs are then converted into digital images. The photographs and digital images are stored in an encrypted format in a secure database which has very strictly controlled access. Under ASC Plus, fingerprints are stored on a secure UKBA database, with very strictly controlled access. BAA will not be able to access those databases.

Generally, on the data storage side, we have learnt a lot of lessons. One always hesitates to say that that means we will not have problems-I am sure we will-because there is no doubt at all-I know this from my job as Cyber Security Minister-that as soon as you start collecting data in large amounts, it is always extremely difficult. Everybody needs to understand all the rules that need to be applied to the data. However, I think that we are much better at that now than we used to be.

The noble Baroness asked about the fees covering the cost. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also touched on that. Our modelling ensures that these fees will generate about 800 million for 2010-11, so we believe that they will cover the cost. The noble Baroness asked about any modelling we have done on evidence of people coming to the UK and volume demand. We have no evidence to suggest that there is any link between visa fees and volume demand. I am not aware that we have done any sensitivity studies in advance of this, but we look to see whether there has been any such link. If I am wrong on that, I will get back in writing, but that is as I understand it.

I have a rather complex breakdown of the Migration Impacts Fund in relation to visa applications, leave applications, ILR applications, PBS applications and nationality applications, so rather than go into it I will write to the noble Baroness with the breakdown of exactly how this is done. In broad brush terms, Scotland receives just under 3 million, Wales about 1.8 million and Northern Ireland about 1 million. As regards the breakdown within England, the totality is something like 54 million. I shall give a full breakdown of that.

I think that covers most of the points the noble Baroness raised. If there is anything that I have missed, I shall be very happy to come back in writing. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked a number of questions. As regards not getting notice of leave, the automated gates are used voluntarily. People can always use manual immigration to enter the country and obtain evidence of their leave. I was asked what would happen if a non-visa national was stopped by the police, given that he will not receive notice of leave. When he uses the gates, a record is generated. It indicates the individual's date, time and location of entry into the United Kingdom. The UKBA has access to these records and can use them to establish whether an individual has used the gates at that time, so the other law enforcement agencies can inquire of the UKBA, and then that data will be available. As I understand it, that is how they will be able to establish that fact. I am not sure of the exact mechanics of that when the person is stopped and whether he has to come back to the police station. I imagine that will be the case. If not, I will get back to the noble Lord on that.

On why we are going from IRIS to facial recognition, I understand that facial is faster and in some ways more secure. I understand that IRIS is pretty secure, too, so am not 100 per cent happy with that answer. I will get back to the noble Lord on that but I think it is to do with the speed at which it can be done. I have already noticed and a number of noble Lords will have registered that the IRIS system is brilliant when hardly anyone is registered for it because there are only two or three of you going through that chain. I came back from Cairo on Tuesday night and there were about 18 people ahead of me. Each person is rather slower than those handing their passport in. One needs to be able to achieve this a little more rapidly.

On high fees, it costs the UK Border Agency more than 2 billion to run the immigration system. We collect more than a third of this through fees for application and the services we offer. We review the fees on a regular basis to make appropriate changes as necessary. These fee proposals support our commitment to take forward the priority issue of strengthening the border. It is right that those who benefit directly from our immigration system-migrants, employers and education institutions-should make appropriate contributions towards the cost of the system and share the burden with the taxpayer.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman recently published a report on UK Border Agency service delivery. We agree with his assessment that long-term progress on service delivery requires the agency to have clear and consistent priorities, good forward planning and adequate resources. This is what the noble Lord touched on. Our fee proposals will help provide these resources and enable the agency to make the progress on service delivery that the Ombudsman as well as our customers and stakeholders rightly want to see. This relates to timeliness and the other issues that the noble Lord touched on.

On knowing the cost of the system, ACS Plus is still being worked on within BAA. BAA has not been able to give us a figure for the full costs to the UKBA. That is not really satisfactory. We will get that sorted out as soon as we possibly can. The noble Lord is absolutely right in spotting that. It is something we are working on but we have not yet been given the figure for that work.

On refunds, we charge for consideration of the application and so do not offer refunds-the consideration is a cost to us as well.

Photo of Lord Avebury

Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, the second leg of that point was that if you are not going to refund the fee paid by an individual before a rule change then there should not be this element of retrospection. You should consider the application as made under the old rule, not treat it as having been made under the new rule and then refuse for that reason.

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Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office; Labour)

My Lords, I can see logic in what the noble Lord said. I will take that away and think about it. I will get back to him on that point.

On timescales for ACS Plus, it is due to be installed at Heathrow Airport later this year. I will give an answer on the life of the scheme via a letter because it is quite complicated.

On new income, new fees covered by the regulations will bring in more than 50 million in additional income. As I said, this will be used to help fund the overall cost of the immigration system including enforcement, immigration appeals, et cetera. I can do a breakdown of that but it is rather complicated and long-winded. That is the amount.

I was a little concerned to hear from the noble Lord that when he went online he was not able to get this information. I will certainly look at that-it should be there. The regulations should be available in draft on the OPSI website. You should be able to get to them. Impact assessments should be there as well. Quite clearly, something is not working correctly. I will talk to the staff about this and see what has gone wrong. They should be available on that website. I was not aware of that. Clearly, if I have written and said they were there I will write to the noble Lord involved to apologise and will try to establish what the problem is.

I do not believe that the nationality fee is discriminatory, but my answer would again be complex. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on that as well. I have said that in a response to a number of his questions, but I would otherwise have to stand at the Dispatch Box for rather a long time.

I take the noble Lord's point that the fee is very high. It is priced above the cost of considering the application because it reflects benefit to the migrant-I touched on this in my opening remarks. The group of migrants concerned receives a very good package of benefits: indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK; exemption from the English language requirements; and access to public services such as health and social welfare. Setting the fee at this level better aligns with the end-to-end cost already paid by workers and other family relatives for settlement. Other migrants have to pay for leave to enter and then pay again for indefinite leave. It balances out, but I can understand why it looks initially to be rather high.

We do not agree that the fees are discriminatory towards women. We charge the fee for all dependants irrespective of their gender or the gender of the main applicant. They receive a significant number of entitlements, as I mentioned. It is right to charge for each dependant, to reflect the fact that each individual bears a processing cost as well as other entitlements. It is fair that those seeking a benefit rather than the taxpayer should meet the costs of consideration. I have touched on it a number of times, but I believe that it is correct. Imposition of a fee is fair and proportionate.

5:45 pm
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Lord Avebury (Liberal Democrat)

How can the Minister know that when the impact assessment states plainly that gender equality was not looked at and no results were annexed to it which enable one to judge the relative numbers of dependants and heads of households who were applying to come here and whether there was a gross disparity between the two? If the heads of households were predominantly men and the dependent relatives were very largely women, the huge fees charged for relatives would thereby be discriminatory.

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Lord West of Spithead (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office; Labour)

My Lords, the fees apply whether it is to a grandfather, some cousin who cannot support himself, a grandson who cannot support himself or to a grand-daughter. We charge it across the board, so I do not believe that they are discriminatory. If the noble Lord is asking whether there are more females than males, the answer is that there probably are, but we are not discriminating on that issue. It is probably fair to say that there are more women than men in that group. I do not know whether we know exactly what the split is; if we do, I shall get back to the noble Lord.

On fee waiver, if we allow a system to operate where a migrant can raise a claim without a fee, it would encourage migrants to remain unlawfully in the UK and submit speculative claims, which has an impact on the end-to-end costs of the system. I fear that that I have perhaps not answered every question that the noble Lord asked, but if there is anything significant that he feels that I have missed, I should be very happy to write to him.

Overall, our aim is to ensure that our proposals make an appropriate contribution to securing our borders-in terms of the gates, for example-and to funding the immigration system. As such, I commend both statutory instruments to the House.

Motion agreed.