I am coming to that. The consultation process began on 15 April. We are examining its findings, and considering a sliding scale for certain types of applications. In the consultation document, we asked whether customers would prefer a flat-rate fee or a sliding scale. Due, I believe, to the likely added expense of a more bureaucratic system, the early indications are that most people would favour a flat rate. We believe that that is the way to proceed, but we are awaiting the results of the consultation before drawing conclusions.
We do not intend to charge the NHS and publicly-funded schools directly, but we may consider suitable
accounting arrangements. Hon. Members made a number of points about poor advice and practice from recruitment agencies. Clause 95 brings advice agencies under the regulation of the office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, so that we can avoid some of the problems that were mentioned.
The length of the permits will depend on the needs of particular jobs. The minimum is six months and the maximum five years, but extensions will be available beyond that period, particularly if someone demonstrates added value. Illegal working was mentioned, and there are measures in the Bill to try to tackle that. On the breadth of people covered, the work permits are obtainable only for medium to high-skilled workers—those at national vocational qualification level 3 and above. The measure also covers the new high-skilled migrant programme.
The fees will be set in line with Treasury guidance. It is important that fees are designed to ensure that the full economic cost of providing the service is recovered. Imposing an arbitrary cap on fee levels would be inappropriate. However, we envisage that, in the first year and the following two to three years, the figure will be significantly less than £150.
The fee will be set out in a statutory instrument subject to a negative resolution, but hon. Members will have an opportunity to object to the fee if they feel that it has become excessive. Setting out fee levels in a statutory instrument as opposed to primary legislation will provide much more flexibility, and will facilitate the efficient adjustment of fee levels if necessary.
On amendments Nos. 300 and 313, before the outcome of the ongoing consultation, which will be completed by 5 July, we will not propose any exemptions to the charge except prospective employers of people from countries that have signed and ratified the Council of Europe charter and the revised European social charter. Those countries account for about 5 per cent. of all work permit applications received, but we do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation, as I hope hon. Members will understand. We are consulting a large number and wide range of employers, including charities and non-profit organisations.