HL Deb 27 July 1999 vol 604 cc184-5WA
Lord Hardy of Wath

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish details on charging for Home Office travel documents. [HL3973]

Lord Williams of Mostyn

The Home Office has issued travel documents to refugees, stateless persons and some other third country nationals for many years. This service has always been subject to the payment of a fee. These travel documents are issued under the Royal Prerogative, but there is no specific legal power for the taking of fees in connection with such documents. The Home Office first received legal advice raising questions about the legal basis for charges and advising that specific powers should be taken to charge for these documents on 9 February 1999. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has, therefore, decided that it would be right for applications outstanding on that date to be processed free of charge, as will applications received between that date and the date on which new fees regulations are made. These applicants need take no action, Refunds, where appropriate, will be offered automatically by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, although it is likely to be some months before all applicants receive their refunds.

Until 31 December 1993, refunds were made to all applicants whose applications for a travel document were refused. Since then the practice has been to charge for processing applications, whether or not a document is issued. It is not proposed to offer refunds to applicants whose cases were completed before 9 February 1999, who were charged in good faith and who received the document for which they applied. But there are an estimated 1,500 applicants who received neither a travel document, because their application was refused, nor a refund, because their application was determined after 31 December 1993. It is proposed to offer refunds to such applicants, provided they apply before 30 November 1999. It is, however, not possible to identify such applications from Home Office records and we are inviting those immigration advisers who are members of the Immigration and Nationality User Panel to help to trace those who may be eligible for a refund.

An information line has been established which gives more detail about eligibility for refunds, how to apply if necessary, and how refunds will be made. The number of the information line is 020 8681 5615. Information is also being placed on the Immigration and Nationality internet website—www.homeoffice.gov.uk./ind/hpg.htm.

In the light of the legal advice which has been received, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided that it would be right to put beyond doubt the power to levy fees in connection with Home Office travel documents. A new clause to this effect will accordingly be brought forward to the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords. The clause will be retrospective— it will have the effect of making charges imposed by the Home Office in the past in connection with travel documents lawful.

In the meantime, there is enabling power in the Finance Act 1973 to charge for services provided by the Government pursuant to any international treaty to which the United Kingdom is a party. This would cover documents issued to refugees and stateless persons in accordance with the relevant United Nations Conventions, although not other types of travel document. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has decided to exercise these powers pending the enactment of wider powers in the Immigration and Asylum Bill. When the Bill has received Royal Assent, regulations will be made covering fees for the full range of travel documents.