My Lords, I am wholly familiar with Governments siphoning off funds raised for one purpose and using those funds for a quite different purpose. I was particularly conscious of that during my years as president of the Civil Court Users Association, when the Government collected very large funds on the issue of writs and the like needed in the litigation process, and then used that money in a quite different sector of the court system.
I am also familiar with the disproportionate fees, compared to the administration costs, involved in the process of obtaining British citizenship. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has already given examples of that which I willingly adopt. I am aware too of this problem for a rather more personal reason, in that young members of my family, who have very little resource, have been in the process of obtaining British citizenship and have been heavily penalised—not by £1,000 but by £2,000 and more. They were young, and the family were able to provide the necessary support. But that is an example of the rampant unfairness.
My recollection—I cannot put my finger on it exactly—is that one of your Lordships’ committees recently investigated this problem and issued a report, in which it said specifically that the correct level of fees involved in the obtaining of British citizenship should be based on the administration cost and nothing else. However, the practice continues, and the provision contained in this amendment to Section 68 of the Immigration Act 2014 is very well drafted and sets out precisely what should be done. It reads as follows:
“in setting the amount of any fee in relation to registration of British citizenship the Secretary of State … must not set that amount at a level beyond the Secretary of State’s estimation of the administrative costs of the function to which the fee relates”.
There cannot be a fairer or more precise way of addressing the problem, and I congratulate the tablers of this amendment on the care and precision with which they have done it.
Since I have not tabled this amendment, it is not for me to make the decision about whether a Division should be called. That is a matter for those who have brought it forward. I look down at the leaders of my own party to see how they are going to participate in this issue—we have not heard from the noble Lord on my side what position my party is taking.
I would, however, discourage a Division at this time of night. Certainly, when I was last in the House, a number of years ago, if you put forward an amendment at Report and it had been defeated in a Division, you were not entitled to take it further—to Third Reading, for example. The fact is that those who will be voting in whatever Division is called are not in this House and have not listened to the arguments. It is a kind of routine form of voting, not the measured form of voting that happens after listening to the arguments.