Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2023 Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office
Moved by
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
- Hansard - -

That this House regrets that the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2023, which increase fees by above inflation for a range of immigration and nationality applications, will (1) increase financial barriers to children securing their rights to British citizenship, (2) cause other individuals to fall out of lawful immigration status and face significant debt and precarity, (3) increase the operational burden on the Home Office, and (4) damage the United Kingdom’s economy; and calls on His Majesty’s Government to consider and develop policies to support individuals, families, and businesses adversely affected by these changes.

Relevant document: 55th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Session 2022-23.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this is only the third regret Motion I have brought in my 12 years in your Lordships’ House, and, like the other two, it concerns the crippling level of fees. I declare my position as a RAMP associate.

I will focus mainly on the 20% increase in the route to settlement, entry clearance and indefinite leave to remain fees for those on a five or 10-year route to settlement, and on the same increase in children’s citizenship fees, which is the subject of the previous regret Motions and a matter of great concern to a group of us who have come to be known as “the terriers”, as we never give up. Unfortunately, however, a number of the terriers who wanted to support the Motion could not be here today.

I will start with some general points. The first raises the procedural criticism voiced by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee:

“Regrettably, this is the third instrument from the Home Office in just over a month that has breached the convention that at least 21 days should be allowed between laying an instrument and bringing it into effect. In none of the cases has it been clear that urgent action is essential, and in this case the breach seems clear-cut as it resulted from the Home Office’s failure to organise its paperwork in time”.

The committee has written to the Minister concerned to seek assurances that there will be no further unjustified breaches that restrict parliamentary scrutiny in this way, and I hope the Minister can give us that assurance today.

The committee was critical of the failure to publish the impact assessment and equalities impact assessment until after the regulations were laid. Praxis, in its briefing on behalf of a group of 15 organisations working on migration issues—I am grateful to Praxis for its help—argues that the EIA fails to consider properly the impact the fee increases will have on those with protected characteristics, especially where there is no fee waiver. It states:

“Given what we know of the different impact of these fees particularly on women”

and “racialised communities”, and their likely “detrimental and discriminatory impact”, the EIA merely “pays lip service” to the assessment of this impact.

The Home Office has dismissed claims that the visa fees increase will harm business competitiveness, even though the Explanatory Memorandum acknowledges that the impact on business, charities and voluntary bodies is likely to be “significant”. Indeed, the FT ran a story in the summer on how business groups are urging a rethink on the grounds that the increase will damage the UK’s competitiveness. However, it quoted an “ally” of the Chancellor as saying:

“We need this to fund the public sector pay awards”,

which was a reason given for the increase when it was announced.

This brings me to the justification made for these big increases in fees. As funding public sector pay awards is not a permitted reason for raising them, the rationale offered in the Explanatory Memorandum is

“to significantly increase the income generated through … fees for the purpose of meeting costs within the wider migration and borders system … This will in turn allow taxpayer funding that would have otherwise been required to meet those costs, to instead be prioritised elsewhere”.

Later, there is an oblique reference to public sector pay. I am certainly in favour of decent public sector pay awards, but I fail to see why they should be financed by above-inflation increases in the fees charged to groups who are often in vulnerable circumstances, given that the existing fees were already well above the costs of their processing—a point I will return to.

Furthermore, the justification of helping to meet the costs of the migration and border system is totally inappropriate in the case of children’s citizenship fees—a point that the terriers have made over and again. As the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, of which I am patron, points out in its briefing with Amnesty and other organisations, for which I am grateful,

“rights to British citizenship by registration are plainly not concerned with migration. Rather these rights are concerned with ensuring that all people whom Parliament identified as having particular connection to the UK when it passed the British Nationality Act 1981 can be fully and equally recognised as citizens of this country.”

Given this, can the Minister please explain the rationale for raising the registration fees of those whom our nationality laws identify as British?

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for answering, but quite a lot of questions were not answered. I hope he will circulate answers to everybody who spoke. In the previous regulations, he sounded quite surprised when he said that he thought he had answered all the questions, because he obviously did not expect to—and he certainly has not this time.

I am very grateful to noble Lords from across the House who have spoken, all—more or less—in support of the Motion. I want to pick out a few points, one of which is process. My noble friend Lord Coaker made the point that these are really important issues with great financial implications, as the noble Lord, Lord German, pointed out. We have to think about how we consider these through statutory instruments, because although the Minister said that there is parliamentary oversight, if someone had not brought this regret Motion, we would not have debated these issues—they would have just gone through—so I do not call that oversight. I laid the Motion because an outside organisation asked me to. We should not leave such important issues to the vagaries of whether a regret Motion is brought.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Minister’s answer on the process of missing the 21-day rule is exactly the answer that was given to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. The committee did not take that answer very kindly. It was not impressed with it. I suspect that noble Lords were not impressed with it either. I am not sure that we had the assurance that it would not happen again which I asked for.

A number of noble Lords made points about the impact on those affected, be it businesses or individuals. I am not sure that they were really taken on board by the Minister. We are talking about some people in very vulnerable circumstances. There may not have been an increase in the number of requests for waivers yet, but these were introduced only in October and it takes a bit of time to percolate through.

A number of practical points were made about waivers. Certainly, there were questions that I asked following the debate that we had last year, which I look forward to the Minister answering in writing. There were also practical suggestions about how waivers could be improved, perhaps through using schools—the right reverend Prelate made a very valuable suggestion there. My noble friend Lady Blower talked about higher education, which brings us to the question of citizenship. I do not think that the crucial point made by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, to whom I am very grateful, and my noble friend Lady Primarolo was addressed at all. They asked, as I did in a broader context, about this fundamental distinction between immigration and citizenship—the citizenship of young people, many of whom were born here and have lived here for most of their lives. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, called “wholly odious” the way that this distinction is completely ignored by the Home Office. I am afraid that we have seen another example of it here this evening.

I notice that some of my terriers have arrived since we started the debate. I press the Minister to take this back, because we will come back to this question of citizenship time and again. I have not heard a convincing explanation for why we are raising the fee on the basic right of citizenship by this huge amount—what was huge already is now even more huge. The Home Office must look at this and come up with an answer; there was no answer today. I am disappointed that the Minister has not grappled with this fundamental question that was put so strongly from across the House.

I will leave it at that. The regret Motion was tabled partly to get answers to questions. We got answers to some of them but not others. I look forward to receiving the letter from the Minister. I hope that this will act as a shot across the Home Office’s bow in terms of processes and when it thinks again about raising fees. It is a way of saying that the terriers are still here and that we will still be yapping at the Home Office’s heels. However, on this occasion, I will not seek the opinion of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.