Clause 38 - Amendment of Consular Fees Act 1980

Identity Cards Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 27 January 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.  

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold

I would be grateful if the Minister clarified his thinking on this clause. It allows cross-subsidy with regard to certain groups of people applying for passports. When the Bill comes into effect, the identity card will be an integral part of applying for a passport. Pensioners who apply for a passport have been receiving them free of charge for the last little while; will that also extend to ID cards?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Minister of State (Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Citizenship, Immigration and Nationality)

I rise to respond, in so far as I can, to the hon. Gentleman's point. The policy in relation to ID cards for those pensioners who are entitled to free passports has not yet been fixed. However, there is a logic in what the hon. Gentleman says, and I will bear his comments in mind when the time comes to make those decisions, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will, too.

The clause amends the statutory basis of passport fees to provide explicit powers to cross-subsidise between applications and to make exemptions. It will come into effect two months after Royal Assent, by virtue of clause 45(5).

This provision is necessary to moderate the impact on passport fees of the development costs of passport initiatives, such as the introduction of biometrics and of interviews for adult first-time applicants. Otherwise, there would have to be a differentiation of fee for those first-time applicants whom it is intended will, for very good security reasons, be required to undergo a face-to-face interview comparatively quickly. The amendments the clause makes to the Consular Fees Act 1980 will allow the recovery of such costs to be spread across several years, and across all types of passport application, not just those directly affected. That is fair.

The initiatives currently being pursued by the UK Passport Service are intended to improve the security of the British passport—which is to the benefit of all of us—and to maintain its acceptability for international travel. Many of them will also in due course be incorporated into the ID card scheme, but facilitating the ID card scheme is not the principal purpose.

Clause 38 makes it possible for free passports for those born before 2 September 1929 to be funded from passport fees; that replaces the current arrangement of supporting that from the general Home Office funds. That is also fair, because it is a reflection of the debt we owe those people; we all agree that that should be reflected in this modest measure.

I must emphasise that there remains a provision in the 1980 Act that all fees prescribed shall be levied, accounted for and applied in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State, with the approval of the Treasury. Any proposed passport fee increase will therefore remain subject to Treasury scrutiny and approval.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.