With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 63, in clause 9, page 6, line 12, leave out ‘£1,000’ and insert
‘the maximum fine on level 3 of the standard scale.’.
No. 83, in clause 9, page 6, line 13, leave out ‘14’ and insert ‘28’.
No. 5, in clause 9, page 6, line 13, after ‘days’, insert ‘and not more than 28 days’.
No. 64, in clause 11, page 7, line 19, leave out paragraph (b).
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, who is not here to move his own amendment, is doing his last duty in the Welsh Assembly, where he has been a distinguished Member for some time. He is standing down at the current elections, but he is there today for the last time. He has many talents, but not being in two places at once.
Absolutely. Their loss is the Westminster Parliament’s gain.
Amendment No. 4 and my amendment No. 63 and consequential amendment No. 64 seek to do similar things in proposing to alter the maximum level offine. The Minister had kind words to say about the helpfulness of the previous amendments on clause 8. Amendment No. 63 is also designed to make the Bill more flexible. If the Government’s current proposal stood, the Secretary of State would constantly have to review the appropriateness or otherwise of the £1,000 fine in this area and with regard to this legislation. Immigration Bills, like buses, come along regularly under this Government, but we cannot always assume that that will be the case. The inflexibility of a straightforward fine seems to us less sensible than simply putting the maximum fine on level 3 of the standard scale, which would also have the small but significant benefit of bringing the penalties in the Bill into line with other offences and legislation where the standard scale is used. As I said, amendment No. 63 is designed to help the Minister.
Amendment No. 64 would remove reference to the Secretary of State’s decision in relation to appeals held in court. Since amendment No. 66 has not been selected, the amendment sits slightly oddly on its own, but I am sure that we will be able to return to it, perhaps in a debate on clause 10.
I hope that the Minister will take amendment No. 63 in the intended spirit, which is to make the Bill more flexible and possibly in some small way reduce the burden of future legislation that the House has to pass.
I support the comments of the hon. Member for Ashford. I believe that it is important to future-proof with some flexibility. The amendment standing in my name proposes quite a small addition to that flexibility. It seeks merely to increase from 14 days to 28 the period in which someone must pay a fine. If we are going to increase the maximum fine to take account of the severity of the offence, a small increase in the length of time in which people have to pay the penalty is quite in order.
I always look extremely sympathetically on amendments that seek to unfetter the Secretary of State or lift the cap on the powers that we are seeking. As a result, I look very sympathetically on proposals that seek to increase the civil penalty cap from £1,000 to £5,000, while the effect of subsequent amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Ashford would be to replace the £1,000 cap with a level 3 fine. I was grateful for his clarification of amendment No. 64. I agreed that the effect of that amendment sat oddly here; as it is drafted, and in the context in which it is put, the court would not have to hear an appeal against an objection notice. It appears to seek to remove appeal rights if the Secretary of State has changed his or her decision in the face of an objection. That is one interpretation of how the amendment can be read, but it is a bit unclear and now I understand why, thanks to his helpful clarification. Amendment No. 83, however, would ensure that payment could not be sought until after 28 days had passed. I was not quite sure whether that was the purpose of the amendment.
I want to reassure the Committee on four points. We seek to designate biometric immigration documents once the national identity system is up and running. We are trying to align the civil penalty regime with the penalty regime that was proposed and passed by Parliament under the Identity Cards Act 2006. We did not want a separate scheme in which there would be one kind of civil penalty for non-compliance under the 2006 Act and another that would kick in under the Bill’s biometric immigration document provisions. We therefore wanted to provide a civil penalty regime that was aligned with that approach.
We set the fine at £1,000 because we thought that that was sufficient. We looked quite closely at whether a greater level of fine was wise. The reassurance that I would give is that that fine is not the only sanction that is available to the Secretary of State. There are a number of other sanctions, which for foreign nationals may be much more significant. For example, the power to curtail leave, vary leave and refuse an application are important sanctions that can be invoked if the £1,000 penalty is not thought sufficient.
The reference to level 3 would introduce a degree of legal complexity into the equation. Level 3 works on a points scale in the criminal offences regime, but we are seeking to put in place a civil penalty regime. A degree of legal confusion might therefore arise, and we do not think that a criminal offences regime would necessarily include the right set of sanctions. We think that the civil penalty regime is the right approach.
From the thrust of the remarks of the hon. Member for Ashford, I detected that his ambition is that the Secretary of State should not have to come back to the House constantly to update the civil penalty regime and the level of fines in place. The important reassurance is that under clause 9(6), the Secretary of State is empowered to make amendments
“to reflect a change in the value of money.”
I hope that those reassurances are helpful.
I take the point about clause 6, although that provision reflects only a change in the value of money and not other circumstances such as the relative level of offences. However, I am puzzled why the Minister says that civil penalties are more appropriate than criminal ones. Anyone who falls under the provisions of the clause will think that they have committed a crime—it is a statute enacted by Parliament and enforced by the authorities. That sounds much more like a criminal offence than something for civil legal procedures. I am puzzled why he thinks that the latter is more appropriate.
I would not rest my case on that point. It is just a point to note that we are seeking to put in place a civil penalty regime in which civil financial penalties, rather than fines, are incurred. A reference to a fairly well established regime of sanctions set out in criminal law might be a source of confusion. However, as I said, I do not want to overstate the significance of that point. The nub of my argument is that if we accepted the amendments, we would introduce a degree of dissonance between the civil penalty regime under the 2006 Act and that under this Bill, which would be unhelpful, particularly once the cards are designated.
A second key point is that we think that the sanctions provided for are sufficient because the Home Secretary has recourse to others should people persist with non-compliance. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Ashford about changes in the scale of seriousness, but the key points are whether we can adjust the level of the civil penalty in line with changes in the value of money and whether other sanctions are available if people persist with non-compliance—yes, those are available. That is what will be effective in driving compliance.
That is the bottom line in the debate on the amendments before us. How do we encourage maximum compliance? I welcome what I detect is support from Opposition Members for the broad thrust of the measures—the introduction of compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals and ensuring compliance with the regime. However, I think that the sanctions in place, beginning with civil penalties but with recourse to variations or curtailment of leave, are appropriate and will be effective.