Clause 9

Part of UK Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 13th March 2007.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Minister of State (Home Office) (Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality) 11:45 am, 13th March 2007

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.