Income Tax (Charge)

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 4th March 2021

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, and as the Chancellor has said repeatedly, there was a specific reflection at the time of introducing the extra £20 a week uplift to recognise the issues regarding people who were newly unemployed. I am conscious that the right hon. Gentleman’s Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry on people with disability and employment, and we will provide evidence in due course, when we can perhaps discuss that matter further.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I would like to reinforce what my right hon. Friend said about the fantastic work of her departmental officials. The fact that her Department has not been in the headlines much over the last months is due to the efficiency of her officials. When some of those officials are looking for a transfer, might she recommend that they go to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, to try to imbue that department with some efficiency?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the really good work undertaken by officials. I would also like to thank my ministerial team, because we have worked together to do this. Indeed, arm’s length bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive have also done really good work in trying to ensure that workplaces are safe, helping employers to ensure that that is the case and minimising the transmission of this wretched coronavirus that we have endured. I will bear in mind his thoughts, but I do not think it is in the interests of the DWP to take on the DVLA as well.

Last week, the Prime Minister set out the road map that will lead us out of lockdown and back to the way of life that we are all eager to enjoy. As we all play our part in controlling coronavirus, and after a particularly wretched winter, we are ratcheting up for what I hope will be a spectacular summer. But we know that recovery will not be instantaneous for everyone, which is why the Prime Minister said explicitly that we would not just pull the rug out from under people’s feet as we start to see light at the end of the tunnel. That is why yesterday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out targeted measures in the Budget that would deliver on that commitment to help people and businesses through these next few months as we open the economy and deliver on our plan for jobs, helping people who are still impacted by coronavirus to get back into work.

First, to support low-income households we will extend the temporary £20 increase to universal credit for a further six months, on a monthly basis, taking it well beyond the end of this national lockdown. Working tax credits are administered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and claimants will receive a one-off covid support payment of £500—this is largely driven by the way that system works operationally. That is in addition to all the other Government support for people on low incomes, be that support with some of the most expensive bits of the cost of living, through things such as the increase to the local housing allowance, which is going to be preserved in cash terms, or with other elements, such as through council tax support.

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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It is a privilege to be able to participate in this debate on the Budget, which is in a sense rather like an economic Olympics because so many records have been broken. The tax burden in 2025-26 will be 35% of GDP—the highest in over 50 years. The public sector net debt will reach 109.7% of GDP in 2023-24, which will be the highest in 60 years, and we know that the deficit in the current year, at 16.9% of GDP, is the highest in 75 years. As Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph has reminded us today, it is the first time that there has been an increase in corporation tax since Denis Healey’s “pips squeak” Budget of 1974—47 years ago.

Let us also not forget that the proposed increase from 19 pence in the pound to 25 pence in the pound is an increase of more than 30% in corporation tax. The fact that 65 out of every 100 people questioned like the increase in corporation tax illustrates the extent of the economic illiteracy that sadly abounds. If that is really what the public want, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) would have won the general election with a landslide with his promise of an even larger corporation tax rate of 26 pence in the pound.

The Office for Budget Responsibility believes that the consequence of the changes in corporation tax will be an increase in the cost of capital and reduced business investments, and that that will, in turn, lead to lower productivity and lower wages. The question that I hope the Minister will answer later is why the Chancellor did not listen to people such as Sir Paul Marshall, an extraordinarily successful wealth creator, who sits on the Government’s Industrial Strategy Council. He has argued for a post-Brexit corporation tax strategy that is globally competitive and attracts inward investment. He calls it an aspiration to create a “Dublin-on-Thames”.

That is a reference to the success of Ireland, with its headline corporation tax rate of just 12.5%. Apple, Boston Scientific, Dell, Facebook, Ingersoll Rand, Merck, Oracle and Pfizer are all international companies that have put their headquarters in Ireland or that book their revenues through that country because of the Irish policy of attracting inward investment by having very low levels of corporation tax. Arthur Laffer popularised supply-side economics by drawing diagrams on napkins, one of which I have at home. The Laffer curve suggests that that works. When we had corporation tax at 28% in 2010, it delivered a yield of £43 billion, but when it was reduced to 20% in 2018-19, that yield had risen to as high as £57 billion. That is the supply-side effect—the Laffer curve—operating effectively.

This morning, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was challenged on the radio about why he believes that the dynamic effect of lower taxes no longer applies. I have to say, the Chancellor equivocated in his answers. He said that higher yields from lower taxes are more likely due to cyclical effects. He also said that there had not been the step change in capital investment due to lower corporation tax over the last three years, but he omitted to make any reference to the uncertainty over Brexit.

The Government say that they have to ask the taxpayer to pay to repair the damage caused by the economic car crash of the pandemic, but as everyone ought to know, those seeking compensation for such crashes have a duty to mitigate their loss. My concern is that the Government are not mitigating their loss. Why should taxpayers pick up the cost of accommodating, as the Chancellor put it, the “most cautious approach” to restoring social and economic freedom? UKHospitality estimates that the costs of not reopening to hospitality on 1 April is £9 billion, and that does not include such things as weddings and so on.

My concern, which I hope will be addressed in the Minister’s response to the debate, is this. Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph today said:

“This was an avoidably bad Budget that will haunt the Tories for years to come.”

The key word is “avoidably”. One way in which we could have avoided this Budget would have been to create the end of the public health emergency and, as a result, restore economic and social freedom. The public health emergency is officially open, but it does not seem to have been recognised yet by the Treasury.

Disability Assessment Services

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 13th March 2019

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Derek Thomas Portrait Derek Thomas
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That is fair. I sit on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions with other colleagues in the Chamber, and we hear such examples all the time.

I met the individual I am talking about and I could see clearly that he should have been getting the higher mobility component. An assessor who had asked the right questions and inquired after the person’s clear and obvious physical difficulties would have discovered their whole life was adapted to be independent, and a tribunal would absolutely have been avoided.

On a few occasions, medical services for PIP assessments have stated that tribunals are not as “restricted as we are”, when justifying the fact that tribunals are often successful for the claimant. Our understanding, however, is that they all follow the same legislation and the same medical handbook, so it can only be down to poor information gathering, poor questioning and poor decision making.

The Minister knows about what I will mention now, and I am sure that she shares my concern. If the DWP did not rubber-stamp mandatory reconsiderations, as it does, people in Cornwall would not be left in desperation, causing them to turn to organisations such as Benefit Resolutions, which charges clients £100 before it even looks at the cases. Then, from some of our most vulnerable people, it takes 15% of tribunal winnings in commission. It no longer attends tribunals, and it uses aggressive tactics with the DWP, other offices and its clients. Going by the results claimed on its website, Benefit Resolutions has taken almost £200,000 from the most vulnerable people in Cornwall over the past four years. There have been numerous complaints about its conduct throughout Cornwall, and the previous charity related to it, which was called Bufferzone, was closed down following an investigation by the Charity Commission.

I take the opportunity to remind people that the many free-to-use services include Citizens Advice, Counselling and Benefit Support, disAbility Cornwall and MPs’ offices. I have serious questions about the work and moral justification of companies such as Benefit Resolutions. I would always encourage people to make contact with the organisations that I have referred to. However, the truth remains that Benefit Resolutions and companies like it exist only as a result of incompetent and poor service provided by the system.

To conclude, I will read from a letter that has been submitted as a formal complaint to the DUP, I mean the DWP—probably not the DUP, though they might do a better job—which clearly sets out the case being made this afternoon:

“Last week I had a PIP assessment which lasted an hour and a half. They ask you really hard questions like do you think about committing suicide, and you have to go over again and again how your disability or illness has affected your life.

I understand they have to assess people and I am grateful there is somewhere that we can ask for help in this country, but the system is failing and more importantly it is hurting people…This was my third assessment in three years. It was gruelling and left me completely distraught afterwards. Having to face how much my life has changed and how little I can do now in comparison to before is very difficult. Watching the person who is sitting in on your assessment with you get visibly upset by the process is heart-breaking.

I have probably over 20 supporting letters from doctors, neurologists, colorectal surgeons and healthcare professionals. These letters state that I am not going to get better. That things are likely to deteriorate for me. Not fun reading. I hand them all over willingly.

A week later I got a phone call saying that I would have to be reassessed again. The healthcare professional had not gathered enough evidence. They were at my house for an hour and a half asking me question after question. I have support from all my doctors. How could they not have enough evidence? They could not answer that question. My father asked for management to call back the next day. They did not, and have not fulfilled that request. Instead I was booked in the next day for another assessment. Not just a few extra questions. I have to go through the whole thing again.”

Thank you, Sir Christopher.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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I will call the wind-ups at 10 past 5 o’clock, which means that we have about 12 minutes and four or five people wanting to speak.

Jobcentre Plus: Closures

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 6th July 2017

(4 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

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David Gauke Portrait Mr Gauke
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On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Sheffield Eastern Avenue centre closing, let me reassure him that outreach will be put in place in the local community, so there will continue to be a service in his area. The number of jobcentres in Sheffield is being reduced from seven to six, but in the context of that city that is the right move so that we have got six properly functioning, fully utilised centres rather than more.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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May I say to my right hon. Friend that when the Labour Government closed down the Christchurch jobcentre the sky did not fall in. Would it not be sensible now, with fewer jobcentres, to ensure that they are open at weekends so that they are more accessible?

David Gauke Portrait Mr Gauke
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. Other Governments have also changed the estate system for jobcentres, and I do not think that was by any means disastrous. His point about opening at weekends is interesting. We would have the facility to do that, and we will keep it under review, considering value for money and so on. If there was a good case for that, it is certainly something we could do.

Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 5th February 2016

(5 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Again, this Bill is a reiteration of one I introduced to the House previously, but that was first brought forward two years ago, rather than one. It sets out clearly what we need to do in relation to the benefit entitlements of those who are not UK citizens. It would:

“Make provision to restrict the entitlement of non-UK Citizens from the European Union and the European Economic Area to taxpayer-funded benefits.”

Interestingly, the Bill is put in identical terms to the one introduced in the 2013-14 Session. When I introduced that Bill on 17 January 2014, it received a lot of sympathy from the Government at the time, and I shall briefly cite some of the things that were said.

I said that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whom I am delighted to say is still in post, had the week prior to the introduction of my Bill been quoted in The Sunday Times with a big headline saying “Ban migrant welfare for two years”. When that issue was examined, it turned out that it could not be done then and it was an “aspiration” rather than a “policy”. I quoted the following:

“Sources close to Mr Duncan Smith stressed he was expressing an aspiration for the future, rather than spelling out a policy.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 1138.]

The background is, therefore, that the Government at that stage were keen on limiting welfare for migrants from the European Union and the EEA.

One interesting aspect of that debate was that the problem had also been referred to by Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. He had pointed out that none other than Milton Friedman, that great free market economist who believed in open borders, had asserted that one

“can have a generous welfare state or open borders, but not both...There is no doubt that free and open immigration is the right policy in a libertarian state, but in a welfare state it is a different story: the supply of immigrants will become infinite.”

That is the issue that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been trying to address in his negotiations with other members of the European Union; we cannot have both open borders and unrestricted welfare. Of course, if we believed in a single superstate, as our European colleagues do, the issue would not arise, because we would all be living in one great state, with people moving freely from country to country with uniform benefits systems. That is not the policy of the present Government, and it is certainly not the wish of the British people.

Two years ago, we were hoping for a renegotiation, followed by a Conservative victory in the general election, with the promise of an EU referendum. The renegotiation is now taking place, but it is very sad to see the extent to which our aspirations have been watered down. Even the then Deputy Prime Minister said that it was wrong that people from countries elsewhere in the European economic area should be able to access child benefit for children living in another country. That issue was addressed specifically by the Conservative party at the recent general election, because our manifesto stated that we would ensure that nobody could access child benefit from the United Kingdom taxpayer for a child living elsewhere. Again, that seems to have been rejected in these renegotiations, which is very disappointing.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann (North Cornwall) (Con)
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How does my hon. Friend think the general public feel about the current renegotiation and the watered-down benefit reforms?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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I think that the opinion polls tell the story—I am told that another one was published today. I think that the British public are enormously sceptical about the outcome of the renegotiation, and enormously concerned that those aspects that were spelled out precisely in our manifesto have so far not been realised.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann
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What does my hon. Friend think about the fact that the watered-down version we were presented with seems to have been watered down even further, with countries such as France and Germany suggesting that they might not support the legislation that the Prime Minister has already agreed?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I am not going to go down that route, because my view is that, even if the high watermark of what the Prime Minister said in his recent statement, which is reflected in the documents produced by the European Commission, is maintained, it still falls significantly short of what we promised in our manifesto, and we will still be a million miles away from being able to remove access to benefits, which is what this Bill aspires to achieve and what the British people overwhelmingly support.

The Prime Minister answered questions after his statement to the House on renegotiation on Wednesday.

He said:

“40% of EU migrants coming to Britain access the in-work benefits system, and the average payment per family is £6,000…I think that more than 10,000 people are getting over £10,000 a year, and because people get instant access to our benefits system, it is an unnatural pull and draw to our country.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2016; Vol. 605, c. 939.]

There is a dispute about the extent to which such access brings large numbers of people in, but in any event the British people find it an affront that the money of those who have paid their taxes and into our insurance system for years is being used to fund people from another country who have not made such contributions.

There is a big issue here. Like my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), I am not convinced that the Government have achieved enough, even at the high watermark, to satisfy myself and others. The only solution is to leave. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) is laughing, but she will see that clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill have to include the words

“Notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972”.

In other words, in each of those clauses I acknowledge that, under current European Union law, we cannot change our own law as we would wish.

In answering the debate that we had two years ago about this issue, the Minister then responsible, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), said that, although he might be tempted, he could not support the Bill because he would be in breach of the ministerial code in supporting a policy that could give rise to infraction proceedings. I fear that the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), whom I am delighted to see on the Front Bench today, is in exactly the same position: despite the temptation, he could not support the Bill because in so doing he would be in breach of the ministerial code for raising the prospect of infraction proceedings.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
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Is my hon. Friend suggesting that, in a couple of weeks, when it seems that the Prime Minister will allow a free-for-all for Government Ministers, this Minister will be able to say that he agrees with the Bill?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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That is an interesting point. Perhaps the ministerial code will have to be adjusted to take account of the fact that those who remain Ministers while supporting notwithstanding clauses, for example, should have an exemption. However, I am sure that there are more important issues at stake than the ministerial code.

Scott Mann Portrait Scott Mann
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I hope my hon. Friend agrees that the decision will not be for this House, but for the country. I am grateful that the Conservatives went through the Lobby to put the referendum on the statute book and give people a say on whether we should be part of the European Union. Does my hon. Friend think that the decision will be made by this place or the great British general public?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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The people will decide. We trust the people: that is why we are Conservatives. We look forward to the referendum whenever it comes.

I know other hon. Members wish to participate, but before closing let me turn to the issue of declaration of nationality. All the responses from the Government suggest that the scale of the problem is as the Prime Minister described it on Wednesday. However, the Government do not know at the moment how many people from the European Union or the European economic area are claiming benefits because there is no information about nationality in benefit claims. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead responded to the Bill two years ago, he said this would all be put right under universal credit. Well, that is great, but universal credit is taking a very long time to roll out.

That is why I would be interested to hear what the Under-Secretary of State says about my suggestion in clause 1:

“From the date of the coming into force of this Act no national insurance number shall be issued unless the applicant provides a declaration of nationality…no application shall be made for a taxpayer-funded benefit unless the applicant provides a declaration of nationality.”

At the moment, we do not really have detailed information; all we have are some rough and ready calculations.

We know there are large numbers of people in our country claiming from the benefits system who are not UK nationals. The Bill would address that problem full on and ensure that non-UK citizens from the European Union and the European economic area were not able to access our taxpayer-funded benefits. That is why I have the pleasure of begging to move that the Bill be read a Second time.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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May I associate myself with the remarks that have been made about my former colleague, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, Harry Harpham? I did not know him well, but at the engagements we did have, he was an absolutely delightful man. I pass my condolences to his family. He will be missed.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope). I believe this is the third time he and his supporters have managed to get the Bill, in its various forms, read on the Floor of the House. He will have to give me his secret, because I have had no success with private Members’ Bills. I think we can say it is congratulations to the tenacious sextet—not Tenacious D, but Tenacious S.

On more serious matters, the hon. Gentleman alluded to the fact that his timing with the Bill was perhaps a little surprising, given the state of the EU negotiations and the draft settlement that has been produced. I appreciate that the negotiations are tentative and that there are varying interpretations of how successful the Government are being, but hon. Members surely want to wait until the final settlement is known. After all, Mr Tusk has hardly digested the apple crumble and custard he had courtesy of No. 10.

The hon. Gentleman has not yet produced an impact assessment of the Bill’s potential effects, which he also failed to do on the previous occasions. I am deeply concerned about the apparent lack of an evidence base to support the measures in the Bill. We must all strive for better, evidence-based policy.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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I welcome the hon. Lady’s desire to have evidence-based policy. Surely she will recognise that it must be the first duty of the Government to let us know how many non-UK nationals are currently accessing these benefits. I have put down parliamentary questions on the issue and received answers to the effect that the information is not available.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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The hon. Gentleman makes a relevant point, but all of us, as Members of this House, must make sure that whatever speeches we make, and whatever proposals or Bills we bring forward, they are evidence based. I would encourage him to do that.

I am incredibly proud to be British, but I am also an internationalist and an unabashed Europhile. Part of that is due to my personal experience. My great-grandparents were migrants from Poland and Germany. My grandmothers were French and Irish. My dad’s wife is Dutch, and she and my dad have retired to Spain. My brother’s wife is American, and she and my brother live in the US. My husband was born in South Africa. Before I became an MP, my work as a public health consultant took me across the world, and predominantly across Europe. I have seen the immense benefits of that cultural diversity and those employment opportunities, not only in my own personal life but in the economic benefits to the country as a whole.

The EU is our biggest trading partner, alone contributing £227 billion to the economy last year, with £26.5 billion in investment coming from Europe every year. There are 3.5 million associated jobs, of which 14,000 are in my area of Oldham. Britain’s EU membership makes us a major player in world trade. As an EU member, we are part of a market of 500 million consumers that other countries want to do business with. The UK is stronger in negotiating deals with countries such as China and the US as part of the EU group of 28 nations than we would be on our own.

It is not just Britain’s prosperity that depends on our EU membership. After the horrors of two world wars in the previous century, the EU fosters greater ties and supports struggling regions. I was working on Merseyside in the 1990s when European objective 1 funding was made available to that area. Our working together across Europe with our member state partners has ensured 70 years of peace between European states. Cross-border co-operation is essential for Britain’s future safety and wellbeing. Viruses such as Zika and Ebola do not recognise borders, nor do organised crime gangs and tax evaders, or carbon particulates and nitrous dioxide emissions. All those issues require our working closely with EU and other international countries, and the best way to achieve that is by being part of Europe, not on the fringes. That does not mean that we should not be striving for reform within all the EU institutions in strengthening governance, democratic accountability and sovereignty, but if you are going to change the rules, you need to be part of the club.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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But surely we, in our country, should be able to decide for ourselves how our taxpayers’ money is spent on benefits. If we choose not to allow that money to be given to people from outside the United Kingdom, we should be able to decide that for ourselves.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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I think the hon. Gentleman is waving a red herring.

Let me move on to the specifics of the Bill. I regret that the same effort that is rightly being put into ensuring that our social security system remains contribution-based is not being put into preventing the exploitation of workers and stopping UK-based employment agencies recruiting solely from abroad, undercutting wages for British workers. Why is that not a focus of the Government and of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill? Although there are many benefits associated with migration and migrants, not least the net positive contribution to the Exchequer—as shown in recognised evidence—we must also recognise that there are associated costs for areas with higher levels of migration, which puts pressure on local services and local communities. That has to be recognised and addressed, and local authorities must be provided with financial support to enable effective migration management and to maintain social cohesion. That was a focus of our manifesto offer at the last election. Again, could it not have been a focus of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill?

I object to the tenet underpinning this Bill, which is a failure to consider the evidence that the number of migrants who have been claiming tax credits while working is small. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the data. He will be aware that because of a freedom of information request, HMRC has had to publish the number of migrants who are in receipt of tax credits. It has been shown that in the past year only 84,000 have been involved—just over 16%, not the 40% claimed by the Prime Minister on Wednesday. I look forward to his correcting the record, although I think I could be waiting some time. That does not even take into account the fact that one in 10 couples defined as “migrant couples” include a UK national. The UK Statistics Authority has said that the DWP data the Prime Minister used were “unsatisfactory”, and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has called the figures “selective and misleading”.

The evidence is that social security is not a pull factor—jobs are. We need to protect and secure our contribution-based social security system. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. It is there to provide basic support if someone is living in and contributing to this country’s endeavours.

The Bill has little evidence base—that is being kind—and represents a bad case of scaremongering. The Conservative party must be more responsible in its approach to maximising our association with Europe and the economic benefits it brings. It should not deploy the negative divide and rule narrative that is unfortunately prevalent at present. That should not be the language of or the tenet underpinning the Bill. We must respect migrants and social security claimants, so I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Bill.

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Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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But this country does not really have a contributory system in the same way as other EU countries. That is part of the problem. It is no good the hon. Lady wanting to protect something that does not exist and opposing something that would actually do what she claims she wants to achieve. Her actions on this issue are more important than her words, and if she opposes the Bill, her actions clearly do not follow on from her words. I do not see the need for evidence. This is a Bill about a principle that is important to many people. It is about fairness, not evidence.

I would have some sympathy with the hon. Lady’s opinion if we had to give all these benefits away to secure a free trade agreement with the European Union, and that had a net benefit for our economy. If we had to give away something in order to achieve that, it might be worth doing. Given that we had a £62 billion trade deficit with the European Union last year, and that if we were to leave the EU we would be its single biggest export market, it is perfectly clear that we could have a free trade agreement with the EU for nothing. We do not have to give it access to our benefit system, and we do not need to give it a £19 billion a year membership fee. We can have what we want from the EU—free trade—for nothing. That is the deal that we should be seeking to secure. I do not think anybody can sustain the argument that if we were to leave the EU and stop giving benefits to EU citizens when they came to the UK, Germany would want to stop selling Mercedes, BMV and Volkswagen cars to people in this country. Of course they would not; it is complete nonsense for anybody to suggest that.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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Does my hon. Friend accept that people’s aspirations for retaining control over our own benefit system are gradually being eroded? It is extraordinary that back in 2014, the then Deputy Prime Minister said that he could not understand

“why it is possible under the current rules for someone to claim child benefit for children who aren’t even in this country.”

That was his view then, but he seems to have resiled from even that.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that, because the situation regarding child benefit is probably one of the most indefensible in the benefit system. It does not matter how much evidence there is of how many people it applies to; it cannot be right, as a point of principle, that somebody can come into this country from Poland to work and claim child benefit for their children, who still reside in Poland and have never set foot outside Poland. It cannot possibly be right, on principle. We do not need any evidence to know that that is wrong; it is clearly and palpably wrong. It is strange that the Labour party is so wedded to its European credentials that it will inevitably have to see restrictions in benefits for all UK citizens to pay the bill for benefits to European citizens. I am sure that that does not go down very well in many of the estates in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

I do not intend to speak for long, because I appreciate that we need to press on, but I want to make a point about clause 3, which will ensure that nobody is paid a level of benefit above that of the equivalent benefit in their own country. I think I am right in saying that the Prime Minister is trumpeting something similar in his deal regarding child benefit. As I understand it—my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, who is far more knowledgeable on the matter than I am, will correct me if I am wrong—the Prime Minister is saying that under the great deal that he has secured for the nation, Polish people, for example, who claim child benefit will be able to claim only the child benefit rate in Poland, or whichever country the children reside in. That seems very similar to clause 3.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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My understanding of the documents that were published this week is that it would not be as simple as that. The amount of child benefit that could be claimed would be related to the difference in the standard and cost of living between this country and the other EU country. That, of course, would be incredibly bureaucratic.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but the Prime Minister is trying to secure the same kind of principle that my hon. Friend seeks in clause 3. For the benefit of not only our deliberations on the Bill but those who are trying to weigh up the Prime Minister’s renegotiation, I want to say that there is a huge danger in this aspect of the Bill. We have said that if somebody comes from Poland, they can claim child benefit at the UK rate for their children in Poland. If that is changed and the amount of child benefit that they can claim becomes only £2 or £3 a week, or whatever the equivalent might be in Poland, there is a danger that rather than saving the taxpayer money, as we all intend—including the Prime Minister, I might add—we may inadvertently increase the bill to the taxpayer. We are working on the basis that people will just carry on doing as they do at the moment. Who is to say, if we limit the child benefit to the rate in the home country, that they will not take the opportunity to bring their children to the UK in order to claim the higher UK rate? On top of that, there is the cost of schooling, any medical care and all the rest of it. We must be very careful about what we wish for.

A much more sensible approach to matters such as child benefit would be that if a foreign national comes to this country but their children still reside in the home country, they should not get anything. Whether it is the UK rate, the Polish rate or any rate whatever, the UK Government should not give them anything. That would avoid the unintended consequence of more and more people bringing more and more of their children to this country at a higher cost to the taxpayer.

Having made those points, I will sit down, because we all want to hear from the Minister. We all know that he is a very good man. The Bill did not find any favour with the shadow Minister, but as he is far more sensible, we hope he will have warmer words to say about it.

--- Later in debate ---
Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

In responding briefly to this debate, I thank everybody who has participated, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who supported the Bill.

I join everybody in the House who has paid tribute to Harry Harpham, whose tenure in this place was far too short. He had a distinguished period of public service over many years and it is extraordinary to think that he was deprived of the opportunity to spend longer as the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough.

The Minister basically said that the Government are very sympathetic to what I am trying to achieve in the Bill, but at the moment their hands are tied by European Union law. That point was reinforced this morning in an interview on the “Today” programme, which you may have heard, Madam Deputy Speaker, in which a former advocate-general made it clear that the only way in which we can regain control over our own laws in this House of Commons is to leave the European Union, and that no side deal can be done that would remove the sovereignty of the European Court of Justice in deciding these issues for us.

In looking at the rights of people from the EU and the European economic area who are not UK citizens to access our benefits regime, we are completely stymied by the fact that the European Union regards everybody inside the boundaries of the European Union as effectively members of one country with a common citizenship. I believe that the citizens of this country have a distinct and, frankly, superior citizenship right to those from other European Union countries. Why should we not be able to decide, in our own sovereign Parliament and our own sovereign country, who should and who should not have access to our benefits system? That is the principle at the heart of the Bill to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley referred.

A couple of years ago, the then Deputy Prime Minister, whom I have quoted, expressed amazement that people from outside the United Kingdom could obtain child benefit for their children who were not even living in the United Kingdom. We have not even resolved that matter in the draft agreements that the Prime Minister has brought back from his negotiations.

What is contained in the Bill needs to be introduced and implemented by this Parliament, but that cannot be done until we leave the European Union. Recognising that sad reality, but hoping for the best in the referendum, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

Access to Jobs: Disabled People

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 12th January 2016

(6 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

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On resuming
Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Since all the key players are here, I call Ian Lucas.

Ian C. Lucas Portrait Ian C. Lucas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Mr Chope. It is always good to be described as a key player.

I was quoting Mencap:

“Work Choice, the Government’s specialist employment support programme, is ineffectively targeted and offers support to a small number of disabled people with just 17 percent of referred customers claiming ESA. This represents only a small proportion of disabled people who are looking for work and it is unlikely that many people with a learning disability are benefiting from it.”

Incredibly, between 2011 and 2015 the number of jobcentres employing a full-time adviser to help disabled people fell by more than 60% from 226 to only 90, with reductions in every recorded year. It is only going to get worse. Under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which is being considered in the Lords, employment and support allowance for those in the work-related activity group will be cut by almost £30 a week for new claimants from April 2017.

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Natalie McGarry Portrait Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (Ind)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate.

My constituent worked in Remploy, as Margaret did, under a skilled seamstress. She has learning disabilities and although she has worked since, it has been in wholly unsuitable jobs. The ESA group to which she has returned is the WRAG, and the concern for people such as my constituent is the disincentive to go to work because of cuts for new claimants in the WRAG. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that threat of having less work will not promote work for people such as my constituent and Margaret? When things go wrong and their disabilities perhaps prevent them from being able to carry out their employment—

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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Order. I understood the hon. Lady to be making an intervention, rather than a speech.

Ian C. Lucas Portrait Ian C. Lucas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is difficult for me to respond to a speech, Mr Chope. I might get an opportunity later, but in view of the number of people present I should move on for now.

We need support, incentives for employers and mentoring of employees. None of that has happened for Margaret in my constituency since 2012. Margaret is only one example and there are many more. Many more people who were made redundant by the Government were told that they would be able to go into mainstream employment, but have not been able to do so. Some are now not even being provided with support through the ESA. As a consequence, they remain unemployed.

I want to hear from the Minister that the Government have a real intent to address the issue. He should be providing the level of support to which I believe citizens such as Margaret are entitled. The Government failed following the closure of Remploy. They have let Margaret and others such as her down. The Government need to up their game, because people’s lives are being destroyed and they are suffering because of ill-advised and improperly implemented Government policies.

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Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (in the Chair)
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There should be ample time for you and the other hon. Gentleman who is seeking to catch my eye. The latest we can start the wind-ups is 5.47 pm, but we do not have to use all the time until then.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You have inspired me to speak longer, Mr Chope, but I will not; I will divide the time clearly between us. I thank the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall. It is a really good subject matter and one on which we are all keen to participate. In my short speech, I will mention some good things that we do in Northern Ireland—I know this is a devolved matter, but it is good to exchange ideas about what we do in Northern Ireland and what is done here in the mainland.

Despite the great services that exist and the Access to Work scheme, the proportion of people with a learning disability in paid employment has remained stubbornly low—we cannot ignore that fact—and according to Mencap UK, which represents people with learning difficulties, that proportion appears immune to economic factors. There are clearly issues to be dealt with. I know the Minister is totally committed to that and that he has done great things. We respect him greatly, but I think we need to look at what we can do better.

The proportion of learning-disabled people known to social services in paid employment fell from 7% in 2012-13 to 6.8% in 2013-14. Some hon. Members have spoken about the good things that have happened in their areas, and when that is the case, that is good—let us recognise those. We need to exchange such ideas and make others aware of them. However, that fall in numbers happened despite the fact that the majority of people with a learning disability can and want to work. There is an eagerness and a keenness to work, and we should encourage it. The figures are stark if we compare them with a national employment rate of 76% and an overall disability employment rate of just below 50%. As hon. Members have said, the Government pledged to halve the disability employment gap. Indeed, that pledge was in Conservative party’s manifesto, and we recognise and welcome it. It is good to see a commitment to it—well done.

Although welcome moves have been made to realise that commitment, the facts show that we need to do a bit more. I know the Minister will respond in a positive fashion, and I look forward to his comments. The Government need to monitor the disability employment gap, identify the factors that are still preventing it from closing and preventing disabled people from having access to work, and take action on those factors. There are things that the Government can do.

Department for Work and Pensions data show—I say this respectfully—that between 2011 and 2015, the number of jobcentres employing a full-time adviser to help disabled people fell by more than 60%, from 226 to 90, with reductions in every recorded year. We cannot ignore that issue. We all know that the Minister is a very pleasant person who is approachable and who does his job well, but that fact needs addressing. Perhaps he can tell us what steps the Government have taken to address the fall in the number of jobcentre advisers, and how we can best help people who are disabled when they come looking for assistance and help. That reduction surely contradicts the Government’s commitment to reduce the disability employment gap, and the effects of that cut in services need to be closely monitored to ensure that it is not having an adverse effect on the efforts to reduce disability unemployment.

I will give an example from Northern Ireland, because it is always good to put in the mix what we have done back home. We have an additional scheme to help reduce the disability employment gap. As well as the Access to Work scheme, there is Workable (NI), which is delivered by a range of providers contracted by the Department for Employment and Learning. Those organisations have extensive experience of meeting the vocational needs of people with disabilities, and using them is a great way of advancing social enterprise and supporting that sector.

Workable (NI) is a two-year programme that helps people out of economic gloom, gives them support and hope and prepares them for employment. It tailors support to individuals to meet their specific needs. The provision can include support such as a job coach to assist the disabled worker and their colleagues adapt to the needs of a particular job, developmental costs for the employer, and extra training, including disability awareness training. Those are all vital factors for any and all disabled people who want to work.

As I said, I am a great believer that this great country of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is better together. We know that, and many of us would subscribe to it. Let us exchange the good points and good practice that we have in every region of the United Kingdom. Lessons can clearly be learned from the approach in Northern Ireland, and we can develop additional strategies here in the mainland to help make good the Government’s comment to halve the disability employment gap.

Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 4th December 2015

(6 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Priti Patel Portrait The Minister for Employment (Priti Patel)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) for her interest in the family test and welcome the focus that the Bill puts on that test and on family stability, both of which are key priorities for the Department and the Government both now and in the future. Although I welcome the spirit in which the Bill has been introduced and some of the comments that have been made, I recommend that the House opposes it for the reasons that I will set out.

Family stability is at the heart of the Government’s approach, and families are the foundations of society—not only because, as my hon. Friend highlighted, the estimated cost to Government of family breakdown is as much as £46 billion a year, but because strong and stable families can hugely improve our children’s life chances. We know that to build a stronger society we need to support families, and by focusing on the family we can create better outcomes for our children and wider society. We cannot afford to overlook the importance of the family as a basic building block in a successful and stable society.

We know that children who grow up in workless families have much lower life chances than those brought up in working families. As my hon. Friend highlighted, the Prime Minister announced the family test in August 2014, rightly citing his commitment to family stability and recognising its significance in policy development. The Department for Work and Pensions has been working across government to aid the implementation of the test. Although that cross-Whitehall approach will inevitably take time to embed, the new policy’s impact on family functioning and stability is being measured. We are starting to see its impact on early policy development, which we believe will have positive ramifications and outcomes for families in future.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
- Hansard - -

How does the test apply to the policy on stamp duty penalties that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement? That policy means that a married couple will be penalised if they buy a second home, but a cohabiting couple will be able to buy two homes without any penalty.

Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend raises important points. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor highlighted what more he is doing to enable families to get on to the housing ladder. Housing contributes to a stable foundation in family life, particularly for young families who are starting out.

Universal Credit

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 9th July 2014

(7 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Duncan Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I accept that the hon. Gentleman needed to plan that statement. I did visit Wrexham the other day and the jobcentre there. It has a phenomenally dedicated group of people who are doing brilliantly. As a result, unemployment levels in his area are falling. They are falling as a direct result of the welfare reforms that we have brought in. I only wish that he had said the same thing to the last Government. My door is always open. If he wants to come and talk to me about any problem, I will be very happy to see him.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
- Hansard - -

May I thank my right hon. Friend for the open and frank way in which he has responded to questions about the business plan? Does he agree that the Opposition’s role in questioning business plans is important, and would he like to encourage them to be a bit more zealous in questioning the business plan for High Speed 2?

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Mr Duncan Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend always tries to tempt me, but I will resist that temptation and say that he needs to raise that matter with other Ministers who will no doubt come to the Dispatch Box.

Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Friday 17th January 2014

(8 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now Read a Second time.

It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship for the first time on a Friday, Madam Deputy Speaker.

This is one of a series of Bills presented, and for every week that has passed since it was first printed, it has become more relevant. There is tremendous public concern about this matter. The Bill would make

“provision to restrict the entitlement of non-UK citizens from the European Union and the European Economic Area to taxpayer-funded benefits.”

Last week, the front page of The Sunday Times carried a big headline reading, “Ban migrant welfare for two years”. Those were the words of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who was quoted in the article as saying:

“Britain should be able to say to a migrant: ‘Demonstrate that you are committed to the country, that you are a resident and that you are here for a period of time and you are generally taking work and that you are contributing… At that particular point…it could be a year, it could be two years, after that, then we will consider you a resident of the UK’”.

Unfortunately, what my right hon. Friend says does not accord with EU law, so it was no surprise to read the brief on my Bill produced by the policy research unit, which referred to the quote from the Secretary of State, but then said:

“However, this is not Government policy. Sources close to Mr Duncan Smith stressed he was expressing an aspiration for the future, rather than spelling out a policy.”

That is the problem. Senior politicians, whether it be the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions or even the Deputy Prime Minister, can beat their chests and say, “The present state of affairs, with EU migrants coming here and sponging off our taxpayer-funded benefits system, is unacceptable”, but when one looks at the detail, one sees that despite their huffing and puffing, they cannot do anything about it, except perhaps for the first three months that somebody is here, which is no big deal. Once someone from another EU country has been here for more than three months, they effectively have as much access to our benefits system as you or me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Apparently, one reason we cannot do much about it, legally, is that we have a universal system, rather than a contributory system. The Bulgarian Prime Minister says that our Prime Minister is being nasty, but he is not. It is actually much more difficult to get benefits in a country such as Germany, so we are just being sensible, and if the only way we can deal with this problem is to move to a contributory system, perhaps we should. There is a desire among many countries, particularly Germany, Britain and other developed countries, to try to solve this problem. It is not about being nasty; it is about being sensible.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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I certainly agree that it is about being sensible, but I am not sure the solution lies in trying to change our benefits system. Surely, we, as a sovereign country, should be able to decide what benefits system we want for our own people and should not have to try to tailor it so that it cannot be abused under EU rules.

The bigger problem was referred to by Dominic Lawson also in an article in last week’s edition of The Sunday Times. He wrote that

“although the great majority of east European migrants are entrepreneurially seeking the much higher wages available in the richer nations, a proportion will be welfare tourists.”

He then referred to the

“point made many years ago by Milton Friedman, who believed in open borders: he asserted that you can have a generous welfare state or open borders, but not both…There is no doubt that free and open immigration is the right policy in a libertarian state, but in a welfare state, it is a different story; the supply of immigrants will become infinite.”

Indeed, that is the concern of people in this country—that the supply of immigrants is becoming infinite. We look in the Government statistics for the numbers, but again we find that they fudge the figures and do not even collect the raw material.

David Nuttall Portrait Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does my hon. Friend think that the number of migrants coming into the country and the consequent increase in the supply of labour has had an effect on the cost of labour, resulting in the necessity of the introduction of things such as the minimum wage?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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As my hon. Friend knows, I have never been an enthusiast for the minimum wage. Indeed, further down today’s Order Paper is my Employment Opportunities Bill, which would enable people to opt out of it. I am glad to see the Front-Bench spokesman agreeing with that.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In opposition to my hon. Friend’s comment, I am a very strong supporter of the minimum wage, and I believe that it is a progressive thing to trickle down the effects of the economic turnaround. There is ample evidence from a university of Essex study and various other studies that an increase in the minimum wage does not have any impact on job creation.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend, but as soon as he resorts to the expression “progressive” and subsequently refers to the university of Essex, he has lost me. I think that the level of wages should be set in a private arrangement between the employer and the employee, and that it is not for the Government to intervene. We hear all the current talk about whether the minimum wage should be increased, but it is open to anyone currently on the minimum wage to go to their employer and say, “I would like to be paid more”, while it is open to the employer to pay their workers more. The fact that they are not being paid more suggests to me that the labour market is such that if they were paid more it would result in either them or their colleagues being put out of work.

The whole concept of a national minimum wage ignores the fact that we have different labour markets in different parts of the country. What might be a reasonable wage in London might be a totally unrealistic and unaffordable wage in some of the more remote parts of the country. I do not know what my hon. Friend thinks the position is in Hexham, but if the national minimum wage is designed to ensure that people in London and in Hexham are treated equally well, it is likely to have the result of reducing the employment opportunities in his constituency.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will pass on my hon. Friend’s apologies to the university of Essex. The harsh reality is that there is ample evidence from a variety of sources, including from other universities—[Interruption.] They are not their own sources; they are independent. It has been shown that the minimum wage does not impact on jobs. My hon. Friend challenged me specifically on the north-east. I represent an area that has one of the highest levels of social deprivation and there is still significant unemployment there to this day. It is coming down, but it is still significant. A rise in the minimum wage would be a fantastically good thing—for the north-east and for employers. I suggest that it would produce greater loyalty, greater productivity and greater enthusiasm in the work force. That is evidenced by companies, whether they be big ones such as Barclays or Aquila Way in Gateshead—a housing association that provides good support for the living wage.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

Perhaps we will get a chance to discuss the Employment Opportunities Bill later. As the name suggests, it gives employment opportunities to people who would not otherwise have them. I hope that my hon. Friend has looked at the Bill. To assert, as he has, that the minimum wage cannot have any impact on jobs is to ignore the level at which the minimum wage is set. That is why the Low Pay Commission was set up to look at the level and make recommendations on the minimum wage. I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be concerned if we start discussing the Employment Opportunities Bill in detail at this stage—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. The hon. Gentleman is accustomed to making long speeches in this Chamber on a Friday. I am listening very carefully to the content of his speech and to the information he provides to make sure that what he says is entirely related to the Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill. I would be surprised to discover that the hon. Gentleman wished to talk out his own Bill, so I am sure that he will stick very strictly to the matter in hand.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

You know as well as anyone, Madam Deputy Speaker, that, ultimately, each Member of Parliament has to be held accountable for his own actions. If I am still speaking at 2.30, I will obviously not expect this Bill to get its Second Reading.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will be very surprised if the hon. Gentleman is still speaking and in order at 2.30.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

Apart from anything else, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not want to exclude my hon. Friends from speaking in support of the Bill.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To help my hon. Friend seamlessly to slip back into the mainstream of his present Bill, as opposed to commenting on his other Bill further down the Order Paper, will he explain what could have possessed the Government, if they decided that they wished to deter benefit tourism, to impose a non-claimability period of just 12 or 13 weeks rather than an effectively longer period? If they did not want to impose an effectively long period, why put in any period at all—other than for some sort of public relations purpose?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes a good point about public relations; the Government have to be seen to be doing something, but they are constrained by the current state of European Union law, which will prevent them from being able to take any action against people after they have been in this country for more than three months. That is why the Government are making a great virtue of saying, “We are going to get really tough on people in the first three months they are here.” However, they are not emphasising that once those people have been here for three months the world is their oyster and they have free access to all our taxpayer-funded benefits.

David Nuttall Portrait Mr Nuttall
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is my hon. Friend aware of any change in EU regulations that has prevented the three-month rule from existing until now? If he is not aware of any such change, does he share my concern that that rule has not always been implemented in the UK?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

As I shall go on to discuss, the problem is that EU law in this area is evolving and changing. That is largely being done through regulation, but it is also occurring through decisions taken by the unelected judges in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. They are, in effect, giving an interpretation of what was originally a free movement directive—everybody would have gone along with that, because one core element in the European Economic Community was that people should be able to go from one country to another and take up employment there. Following the successive treaties, directives and regulations, the interpretation now is of people having a right to go to claim benefits in any country in the European Union once they have been there for more than three months.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are told that this proposal is against European law, but clearly the law is evolving. In any event, people cannot claim benefits in a place such as Germany unless they have been there for a considerable time. So why do the Government indulge in the politics of the pre-emptive cringe, kowtowing before what the European Commission might say in the future? Why do we not just say, “You cannot get a benefit for 12 months” and see whether it takes us to court? We could argue about it for years, so I do not know why we do not just stand firm on this.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Indeed, he will see that clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill state:

“Notwithstanding…the European Communities Act 1972”.

In other words, the Bill would ensure that we were able to decide these things for ourselves, as a sovereign legislature, and override European Union law. My hon. Friend’s point was, in a sense, echoed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in an article in The Sunday Times to which I referred earlier. It states that he

“added that reforming benefits was part of a wider move towards no longer automatically accepting rulings from the European Commission and courts.”

He welcomed the comments by Lord Judge, the former lord chief justice, that ‘we shouldn’t always assume straight away that anything that comes legally out of Europe we have to impose’ and said he was optimistic that there was the ‘beginning of a twitch with the Supreme Court”.

My Bill is designed to go a bit further than a twitch; it is designed to ensure that we change our law. If we suffer infraction proceedings in the European Court of Justice, one thing is certain: they are unlikely to reach a conclusion until you and I are in our dotage, Madam Deputy Speaker. The ECJ involves a very long-winded process, and because it is so long-winded, the French Government, for example, will deliberately defy EU law in the knowledge that any sanctions arising from their defiance will not be apparent until many, many years later.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What does my hon. Friend think would be the practicality of any sanction on a country that is a net contributor to the EU budget?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

I am not going to answer that question; as with so many of my hon. Friend’s interventions, he perhaps already knows the answer, in which case he will be able to adumbrate it if he contributes to the debate. The point he makes is that we are net contributors, and if the European Union thinks that we can be kicked around and we will do whatever Mrs Reding or anybody else wants us to do, it is about time they started concentrating their minds on the fact that British taxpayers pay a lot of their salaries.

Again, if fines or penalties are imposed, that creates distortions. I suppose we could set them off against our contributions to the European Union.

I became particularly interested in this subject early last year, because I thought that it was absolutely fundamental that our country can distinguish between our nationals and nationals of other European Union countries in dealing with benefit issues. A few parliamentary questions have been asked on the subject. In answer to a question asked on 14 January 2013, the then Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), said:

“The UK’s benefit payment systems do not currently record details of a claimant’s nationality. Looking forward, the Government is considering ways of recording nationality and immigration status of migrants who make a claim to universal credit”.—[Official Report, 14 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 466W.]

I hope that the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who is on the Front Bench today, will tell us what has happened in the subsequent year regarding recording nationality and immigration status, because if we do not even have basic information about the nationality of migrants or people claiming benefit, and have no means of finding that out, how can we ever have the tight controls that the Government keep talking about to ensure that migrants from other EU countries do not abuse our benefit system in their first three months here, or ensure that they are genuinely seeking work?

The first provision in the Bill would ensure that national insurance numbers were issued only after the applicant had declared their nationality, and would not make it possible for anybody to claim benefit without declaring their nationality. In that way, we could at least gather some statistics about the use of our benefit system by nationals from other countries, which we certainly cannot do at the moment.

There is a big problem and I fear that it suits the Government not to give the people the full facts on this issue. They have statistics measuring net migration, for the purposes of meeting a commitment they made at the last general election to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. However, there are different ways in which net migration is calculated. The labour force survey estimates that the number of A2 nationals living in the UK has increased by 25,000 a year in the six years between 2007 and 2013. However, the Government’s figures, which are based on passenger surveys carried out at ports and airports, suggest that there were fewer than 10,000 new people from Bulgaria and Romania a year. As we do not have a way of measuring people’s nationality when it comes to national insurance numbers or benefit claimants, the Government have to rely on passenger surveys to find out how many people have come from Romania or Bulgaria. The Office for National Statistics has been critical of the cavalier way in which the UK collects those statistics.

Clause 1 of my Bill would make it much easier for us to have a proper public debate on these issues, based on the facts rather than on conjecture. I hope that the Minister agrees that is a good idea.

Clause 2 of my Bill says:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972, no non-UK citizen who is a national of a member country of the European Union or the European Economic Area shall be eligible for housing benefit or council tax benefit in England and Wales unless the benefit entitlement arises by reason of having the status of a spouse or dependant of a UK citizen.”

In other words, the clause would close down access to housing and council tax benefit for people who have come to this country to work or to play.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As my hon. Friend knows, I fully support his Bill and the intention behind it. Does he think that child benefit falls under the clause on dependants, because one thing that irritates my constituents is when people come over from other countries in the EU and claim child benefit for children who have never left their country of origin and seemingly are entitled to it? I think that that is an absolute outrage, and I am certain that most of my constituents think so too.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

It is an outrage, but, unfortunately, it is in accordance with European Union law and case law. The other day, the Deputy Prime Minister, ever the populist or attempted populist, said in relation to child benefits that there was “complete unity” in the coalition—that is probably the first inaccuracy—on tightening up benefit rules for European migrants. He then said that he did not quite understand

“why it is possible under the current rules for someone to claim child benefit for children who aren't even in this country.”

He might not understand that, but if he had looked at the legal advice given to the Government and published on their own website, he would find the answer set out for him. The legal annexe on the issue of free movement cites a number of European Court of Justice cases. Specifically, in the case of Martinez-Sala, case number 85/96, it says that it is possible to require the payment of a “child-raising allowance” to a person for children outside the country in which they reside. That is why, despite the huffing and puffing, we cannot do anything about it.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with that, and that is why I want to get out of the wretched European Union at the first opportunity. I just wondered whether my hon. Friend’s Bill would deal with that issue and stop that payment of child benefit. Under the clause on dependants, he talks about housing benefit and council tax benefit, but does not specifically mention child benefit. I am just worried that he is going a bit soft. He is not going far enough with his Bill.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

Clause 4 of my Bill says:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972, no UK taxpayer-funded benefit”—

which is obviously what child benefit is—

“shall be paid to a citizen of another country in membership of the European Union…unless the entitlement to that benefit arises from an insurance-based contribution which the claimant has made.”

In that case, such a person would not be eligible for child benefit. Clause 3 would also have a bearing on that. It says that

“no UK taxpayer-funded benefit shall be paid to a citizen of another country…at a rate which exceeds in cash terms the equivalent benefit which would be payable to such a person if that person were resident in the country of his nationality.”

In other words, a Pole working here would be able to claim child benefit in respect of his children in Poland at the rate prevailing under Polish national law, rather than at the rate prevailing under UK law.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Given that we may have to wait a year or two at least before we have the opportunity to decide whether we stay in the European Union, does my hon. Friend think that the suggestion made in the letter organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) about this Parliament being given the right to overrule decrees from the European Union that we regard to be against the national interest might be one way of making progress, even if his Bill, for all its merits, does not succeed in the meantime?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

I agree with my hon. Friend. I signed that letter, as far as I know. I certainly support its content, and I am sure that if it were suggested that I had signed the letter when I had not, one of the Whips would have come to tell me about it.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It was suggested that our proposal that Parliament should have a right to veto European legislation is contrary to European law, but it is interesting that a member of the German Bundestag said on the “Today” programme that, in his opinion, such a veto is not contrary to European law because the German supreme court can apparently strike down legislation that is contrary to the German constitution. So the proposal contained in the letter from our hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) is eminently sensible, and we could do it. We should at least include the proposal in our manifesto.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

I agree with my hon. Friend. If the Government were more open with the people about the fact that they have no scope under existing law to do anything about the people’s concerns on other European Union citizens’ access to our taxpayer-funded benefits, that would help the Government to make the case for a completely fresh arrangement with the European Union. At the moment, we are deluding ourselves and the people in thinking that we can address those very serious concerns.

When my hon. Friends and I launched our Bills after the Queen’s Speech, the noble Lord Ashcroft commissioned a survey of the popularity of the proposed measures. I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that the proposal in clause 1 to record the nationality of everyone with a national insurance number or on benefits received the support of 71% of the sample, with only 8% of people against the proposal and 21% undecided. On the proposal to restrict welfare benefits to UK citizens only, which is effectively the rest of the Bill, 74% were in favour, with another 13% undecided.

I hope the Minister will realise that he should not be in any doubt, if there is any doubt, about the public demand for the measure. At the moment, the public are demanding the measure and the Government are not saying, “No we can’t do it because we are tied by European Union law. We therefore have to change the European Union law or get out of the European Union.” The Government are pretending that they have freedom and flexibility to act under European Union law when they do not. I suppose no one really wants to admit impotence, least of all a Government, but that is their situation in the face of the evolving European Union law in this field.

I will not address in great detail the way in which European Union law has evolved, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer some of the questions I asked in the debate on 5 June 2013 that were never answered. I asked:

“Does the Minister agree with the basic proposition that if someone from another European country decides to move to the United Kingdom, they should not expect to receive taxpayer-funded assistance for their housing, health care, education or living expenses?”—[Official Report, 5 June 2013; Vol. 563, c. 256WH.]

If the answer is that the Minister does not agree, let us have it on the record. It is no good ducking these questions. If a non-British EU national cannot afford to live in the United Kingdom without recourse to taxpayer-funded services, should not that person return to his own EU country rather than relying on UK taxpayer handouts? If the Government do not agree with that they should say so and then we can have a proper debate. I am sure we will then get even more letters than we do at the moment from UK Independence party supporters saying how out of the touch the Government are with the feelings of the people—but that is only an aside, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I hope that we will get some answers to those questions and will move away from the very carefully worded statements that on close analysis mean absolutely nothing, such as, “People will not be allowed to have benefits subject to their European Union rights.” Since their European Union rights give them access to almost all benefits, I submit that such a statement is without any value.

In essence, what happened was that we joined the European Economic Community, the fundamentals of which include freedom of movement, but over a period of time freedom of movement has been extended by treaty, directive, regulation and case law into areas that nobody could ever have contemplated. None of those extensions was discussed with the British people and hardly any of them were discussed with our Parliament.

The legal annexe, which is a scholarly document, spells out in frightening detail the extent to which the European Court of Justice has extended the scope of the various directives. For example, paragraph 47 states:

“In the case of Metock”

in 2008, the European Court of Justice made it clear that the free movement directive

“should not be interpreted restrictively and that its objectives must not be interpreted so as to deprive them of their effectiveness. The particular impact of the case in terms of the UK’s competence was its clear assertion that a member state should not be imposing additional requirements on those seeking to rely on free movement rights in addition to those set out in the existing legislation”.

The European Court of Justice is extending the law because it has direct application and because of the so-called shares of competence, which effectively mean that if the European Union legislates in this area it is not open to the UK Parliament or the UK Government to legislate in conflict with that.

Through the process of treating people from other countries in Europe who come to the United Kingdom as equals, we are moving inexorably towards the ever-closer union whereby people would not be citizens of an individual country but would just be citizens of the European Union. That is the agenda. When one sees the European Court of Justice’s interpretation of the various expressions in the legislation, one can see exactly what the threats on the horizon are and that they go beyond those that we have already witnessed.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my hon. Friend expand on that? Many people are confused about whether the EU rules allow free movement of people or free movement of labour. If it is free movement of labour, does he agree that if somebody from another EU country does not have a job that should give the Government every entitlement to send that person back to their country rather than allowing them to stay in the UK accessing UK benefits?

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

The problem is that the definition of “worker” is being extended. A significant case is pending in the European Court of Justice—that of Saint Prix v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—and a preliminary reference concerns

“whether a person who gives up work… can remain a worker under Article 45.”

One is bound to sympathise with the Secretary of State, because the language—well, normal language just does not apply. It might be because the European Court of Justice works solely in French and delivers all its judgments in French. None the less, I think that it is extending the language somewhat to say that someone who gives up work can remain a worker. That is linked to the current provision, which states that a person cannot access means-tested benefits if they are going to be a burden on the social assistance system, but that system is being defined so narrowly that almost everyone is entitled to means-tested benefits.

I could give further examples, but I will draw my remarks to a close. Even if the Bill does not become law in this Session of Parliament, I hope that it will form a core part of the Conservative party manifesto at the next general election, because I am sure that its contents really accord with the wishes of the British people, as exemplified in any number of opinion polls.

--- Later in debate ---
Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is leading with his chin on these matters. He is getting out increasingly bigger spades with which to dig himself into a hole. He has now suggested that nobody from the EU comes here to claim benefits, but that everybody who comes here from outside the EU does so to claim benefits and that we need to restrict access to benefits for them. If he is not saying that, presumably his argument is that we should allow a free-for-all of benefits for anyone from anywhere around the world. That is certainly not an argument that I support, and I do not think that the majority of my constituents would support it.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

Does my hon. Friend agree that the question is not just whether people arrive here with the intention of claiming benefits, but whether, having been here for a bit of time and seen our generous benefits system, people decide not to seek employment but to claim benefits? For example, I had a constituency case in which a person came here from another European country and, after a year, gave up work and went on housing benefit, saying, “There’s no need for me to work.”

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I suspect that many Members have had similar cases. A man from Poland came into my constituency surgery who had come here to work, as he was entitled to do. He had heard on the grapevine in his local community that he was entitled to claim child benefit for his four children who were still residing back home in Poland. He thought that seemed like a good wheeze and that, if all his colleagues were doing it, he might as well do it himself. Of course, he found that, bizarrely, he was entitled to child benefit for his four children, who had never in their lives set foot outside Poland and who were living there with his wife, their mother. There is absolutely no justification for anybody from another country in the EU claiming child benefit for children who have not even had the decency to come over to this country and who are still residing in their home country.

The reason I support the Bill so strongly is that I believe we should treat all non-UK citizens the same, irrespective of where they are from. To me, that means restricting their access to benefits in this country. That is a simple proposition that I think most people in this country would support. We cannot afford to carry on handing out benefits willy-nilly to people who choose to come here from all over the EU—it is not sustainable for the welfare state or for our citizens. It will collapse the welfare state for UK citizens if we keep having to add to the burden.

--- Later in debate ---
Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Bill is, of course, directly incompatible with our membership of the European Union. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) proposes that European Union citizens who are working legally in the UK should not be entitled, for example, to help with their housing costs, which UK citizens are entitled to. That direct discrimination against EU citizens is clearly incompatible with our obligations as a member state—I noted the enthusiasm for that proposition on the Conservative Benches.

One puzzling aspect of the Bill is that under its terms, contrary to what the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, people from outside Europe would continue to receive the help that citizens of the European Union would be prevented from receiving. He said that he wanted anyone who is not a UK citizen to be denied access to benefits, and I think he is under the impression that that is what the Bill would do. In fact, it would have that effect only on EU citizens, not on citizens from countries elsewhere in the world.

Two million citizens of other European countries are living in the UK. Many will have lived in the UK for a long time, and some will be in receipt of housing benefit or council tax benefit, alongside other UK residents whose circumstances are similar. Under clause 2 they would suddenly stop receiving that help. Some will be in receipt of other non-contributory benefits such as pension credit, so we are talking about some pensioners being affected, perhaps after a lifetime of working in the UK. Some are in receipt of child benefit, which is not insurance based, or tax credits, but under clause 4 they would suddenly lose them. European Union citizens would suddenly be disadvantaged not only relative to UK citizens, but also relative to citizens of non-European countries. The hon. Gentleman has told the House that that is not his intention, but that is the effect of the Bill he supports.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

If, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, a citizen of another country has been in the United Kingdom for a lifetime of work, they would be able to qualify for British nationality if they have been resident here for more than five years.

Stephen Timms Portrait Stephen Timms
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

They may be entitled to do that, but many do not. Is it not the case that London has one of the largest French populations in the world? I think only two or three cities in France have more French citizens living in them than London does. The hon. Gentleman may feel that they should all apply for UK citizenship, but that seems to me an unreasonable demand.

--- Later in debate ---
Mike Penning Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a privilege to serve in the House this afternoon as the duty Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not be surprised to hear that I and the Government support much of what has been said today. I was accused earlier of probably having a carefully worded statement to read out which had been prepared after hours of works by civil servants. Anybody who knows me since I have been a Minister knows that I have never read out anything carefully worded in my life, which is why I get in trouble so much—but there we are.

As the shadow Minister and several colleagues alluded to, I am trapped, not so much, interestingly, by our membership of the EU, but by the interpretation of that membership by the courts over the years, which has extended the powers of unelected bodies over this country and this House. I am also slightly restricted in that, if I, as a Minister of the Crown, have legal advice that the Bill would be a breach for which I could be infracted, I am required, as the shadow Minister will know, being a former Minister, not to get the Government into that position. The ministerial code prevents me from doing that.

The Government will, therefore, be opposing the Bill today. I shall explain why and what we are doing. As announced already, we are doing as much as we can, within the established framework, to ensure that people who come to this country from the EU and the EEA come here to work from the outset and that they are restricted from getting benefits for the first three months.

I heard during today’s debate that that is not much of a restriction. I would have thought that people from different countries being in this country for 12 weeks with no income whatever would provide quite a restriction and would mean bearing a lot of financial hardship. Getting here and then having to live here for three months without benefits would be quite restrictive. I accept that there might be sponsorship for some, but three months is as far as we could go, although we continue to look at other measures while negotiations with our European partners are taking place.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

When someone asks for benefits, how are the Government going to find out whether that person has been in the country for less than three months? How will the Government know even that the person is a foreign national?

Mike Penning Portrait Mike Penning
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was coming on to that, as it was one of the questions I was asked. Indeed, it is a question that I have asked as a Minister in the Department. Although employment benefits are not exactly my—

--- Later in debate ---
Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
- Hansard - -

That is both a surprise and a disappointment, although I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he agrees with a lot of the ideas behind the Bill. He says, in effect, that his hands are tied, he cannot do anything about it and we need to renegotiate these issues. My concern is that there does not seem to be any evidence that we will be able to command a majority in the European Union to renegotiate along the lines that we seek. When I asked the Prime Minister whether this issue would be one on which we would be renegotiating, my question was passed to the Foreign Office and it replied by setting out priorities for renegotiation that did not include anything to do with the subject matter of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has therefore been announcing new Government policy today in saying that this subject will be right at the forefront of our renegotiation of our terms of engagement with the European Union. If that is so, I have not been putting forward this Bill and arguing in vain.

In closing, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Shipley (Philip Davies) for their support and encouragement on the Bill. I am also grateful to my nearby colleague in Hampshire, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). Their presence and involvement shows that this subject will not go away and that a lot of people feel strongly about it. I asked the Minister how he will be able to find out whether somebody applying for jobseeker’s allowance has been in this country for less than three months, and whether they come from outside the United Kingdom and are a national of another EU country. In reply, he said that he would not be able to sort that out with a requirement as to nationality until universal credit came in, but on any view that is some many months or years away. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions are saying, “We are going to get tough, with effect from 1 January.” That is because people from Romania and Bulgaria were able to come here from 1 January and we were assured that we would be rigorous in ensuring that none of them would be able to apply for benefits within three months of their arrival. How are we going to know when people arrived and what nationality they are unless we have some means of asking the questions?

The Minister’s failure to answer that simple question drives a coach and horses through this aspect of Government policy. It is a charade; we are giving people the impression that we have got control over this when we have no control over it whatsoever. If that was not apparent from what has been said already, the fact that the Government are being taken to the European Court on the issue even of the habitual residence test just shows that the European Union is working in the opposite direction from us. That is why I think I speak for most of my hon. Friends in saying that unless we can sort this out, we would be better off out of the European Union. That is why I think it would be useful, because of the ongoing European Union debate, to test the will of the House on this matter.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Disabled People

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 10th July 2013

(8 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mark Hoban Portrait Mr Hoban
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I shall give the hon. Gentleman some homework for the summer recess. If he goes back to Thursday’s Hansard and the statement that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), made about stage 2 for Remploy factories, he will see that it sets out in detail the work that we have done to get people back into employment, and it gives the aggregate figures. The success in getting people into work after the closure of Remploy factories has outpaced what normally happens with redundancies. What we have seen demonstrates the important support given to get people into work.

This Government remain convinced of the need to maximise the opportunities available to disabled people to enable them to realise their employment aspirations. The principal objectives of our disability employment strategy are to increase the employment rate for disabled people, and to maximise the opportunity for disabled people to realise their employment aspirations and thus achieve greater economic independence. We will publish our strategy later this year. We need to make sure that money is targeted more effectively, to ensure that support continues to be available to those who need it most, that there is a lasting impact and that interventions provide a fair deal for the taxpayer.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend talks about priorities. Will he assure the House that the Government’s priority is to give help to disabled people who are British citizens over those who are not British citizens?

Mark Hoban Portrait Mr Hoban
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What we need to do is make sure that we get more people into work, regardless of their disability, and we must help them into employment. We are particularly supporting those who were Remploy employees to get into work, as well as broader groups. That is our focus; that is exactly what the Government are trying to do. That is why we accepted the recommendation from disability expert Liz Sayce that we should focus support on individuals through services such as Access to Work, rather than through institutions such as Remploy, so that more disabled people can work in mainstream employment.

Next week we will see the first ever disability employment conference, a flagship event funded by Government and business. This will involve more than 600 people in London and five regional locations via video link, with many more watching online. The conference is a unique opportunity for businesses and Government to come together to identify the challenges that others are facing and provide innovative solutions to tap into this underemployed pool of talent and reap the benefits that this can bring. But next week’s conference is just the beginning. Over the next two years we will continue to work with business to bring about a new disability-confident perspective on employment and improve the employment outcomes for disabled people.

I have no doubt that people want to work, but some are held back by a complex and unwieldy benefit system with weak or even non-existent incentives to work. Our plans for welfare reform will transform the benefits landscape. We have designed a new system with work as its focus—a coherent approach which ensures that people will be better off in work than on benefits. I firmly believe that the vast majority of people want to work and gain greater independence, but we also know that many disabled people who want to work fear the risk of losing their benefits and feel that that is too great a risk of getting into work. By simplifying the benefits system and making sure that work pays, universal credit will remove the financial risks of taking the first steps back into employment, and increase the incentives for working, even for a few hours a week.

Let me deal with some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made. Universal credit will provide unconditional support to those disabled people who are not expected to do any work. There will be no cash losers in the roll-out of universal credit. People will see their level of benefit protected when they switch over if their circumstances remain the same. Indeed, the average change in income for disabled people under universal credit is an increase of £8 a month.

Universal credit will provide support for carers and improve their opportunities to maintain links with the world of work. Many families will benefit from help with child care costs, especially people who work under 16 hours a week, who will get help for the first time. Households with one or more disabled adults will be able to keep up to £647 a month of their earnings before seeing a reduction in their universal credit. It will also offer a more flexible system for people whose ability to work fluctuates. Universal credit will encourage more disabled people to see work as financially viable, increasing their dignity and self-esteem.

Welfare Benefits (EU Citizens)

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 5th June 2013

(8 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, and to know that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond to the debate. I hope he will answer all the questions I ask.

The topic of this afternoon’s debate is very important to people not only in my constituency, but in many others. Almost all the British public are concerned, because too many British citizens are out of work, and taxpayers resent their money being used to fund welfare for foreigners. That is why my constituents wish to restrict access to out-of-work benefits that are currently being paid to non-UK nationals from other EU countries. I think that is the wish of the vast majority of the British people, and also, I hope, of our Government. Whatever the gravity of the situation now, it is nothing like as bad as it will be after 1 January next year, when the group of non-UK nationals from other EU countries will include Romanians and Bulgarians, who hitherto have been prevented from getting full access to welfare benefits and the employment market.

Does the Minister agree with the basic proposition that if someone from another European country decides to move to the United Kingdom, they should not expect to receive taxpayer-funded assistance for their housing, health care, education or living expenses? Does he accept that freedom of movement under the EU treaties should be defined as being a freedom to leave, as well as to arrive? If a person who is a non-British EU national cannot afford to live in the United Kingdom without recourse to taxpayer-funded services, should not that person return to his own EU country, rather than rely on UK taxpayer handouts?

How much money is being spent on those handouts? Unfortunately, the Government cannot tell us, because, as the Minister told the House in a written answer,

“the UK’s benefit payment systems do not currently record details of a claimant’s nationality. Looking forward, the Government is considering ways of recording nationality and immigration status of migrants who make a claim to universal credit”.—[Official Report, 14 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 466W.]

I think it will come as a shock to many that after three years of a Government led by a Prime Minister who says that he is determined to take action on this subject, we have not even begun to collect the most basic information necessary to inform public debate. When are we going to start? Why can we not start right now and record the nationality of people when they claim benefits?

Only two months ago, the Prime Minister assured us that he was going to get tough on benefits being claimed by foreigners in the United Kingdom. A month ago, the Home Secretary, along with her counterparts from Germany, Austria and Holland, wrote to Alan Shatter, president of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council, demanding tighter restrictions on immigrants’ access to welfare handouts and other state-funded services.

We are told that the Prime Minister is actively engaged in negotiating a new relationship between the British people and the European Union. I asked him a written question for answer on Monday this week about his top priorities for reforming the UK’s relationship with the EU. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister transferred the question to the Foreign Office, and the Minister for Europe’s reply makes no mention whatsoever of either welfare or immigration as being among the top priorities for reforming our relationship with the EU. That is despite a recent ComRes/Open Europe poll showing that 55% of voters regard those issues as a top priority, and despite the Prime Minister’s recent speeches in which he has indicated that he also sees them as a top priority.

I shall be grateful if the Minister can explain in detail which aspects of access to British taxpayer-funded welfare are currently being negotiated in the EU. What is the state of those negotiations, their time scale, their prospects for success and why, at the moment, are they not a top priority for our Prime Minister?

Please can the Minister also explain how confident he is that we can resolve the issue to our satisfaction, when the European Union Commission is saying that the UK, far from being too generous in welfare payouts to foreigners, is not being generous enough? That was the effect of the decision six days ago, on Thursday 30 May, by the EU Commission, when it announced that it is launching a prosecution against the United Kingdom in the European Court of Justice, because we have different and less favourable rules for access to out-of-work benefits for EU nationals, compared with British citizens. Even the EU-loving Financial Times described, in its leader on 31 May, the EU Commission as having

“lobbed a hand grenade into the political discussion about Britain’s membership of the EU”.

Does that episode not illustrate perfectly the utter contempt in which the EU Commission holds Ministers in our elected Government? In the 20 months since the EU Commission first threatened such action, there has been much huffing and puffing by our Government, but all apparently to no avail. If it has taken 20 months to make zero progress with the Commission on that issue, what hope is there that other issues we wish to renegotiate will be dealt with any quicker or with any greater success?

The background to the debate is the question I asked the Minister on 20 May, which was, what steps are the Government taking to reduce the eligibility to United Kingdom benefits of nationals of other European Union states? In his careful response, he told me:

“We are strengthening the habitual residence test; the Home Office is creating a statutory presumption that European economic area jobseekers and workers who are involuntarily unemployed will not have a right to reside here after six months unless they can demonstrate they are actively seeking work and have a genuine chance of finding a job; and we will prevent those with no entitlement to work in the UK from claiming contributory benefits.”

Analysing each element of the Minister’s response in turn, one can see the credibility gap between his precise words and the overall impression of toughness, which I am sure he was seeking to give. The habitual residence test was introduced on 1 August 1994. I recall my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley), as Secretary of State for Social Security, telling the Conservative party conference in 1993 that he wanted to curb spending on benefit tourists. It is almost 20 years later, and have we succeeded in doing so? No. The situation has got worse rather than better. This coming weekend, it will be 30 years since I was first elected to the House, and it is a pity that all I have to report over those 30 years is a continuing decline in UK sovereignty, and ever more powers and decisions over our lives being taken away from us by the EU, despite the brave words of successive Ministers.

In 2004, the habitual residence test was supplemented with the requirement that a person has to satisfy a preliminary test of a right to reside in the UK, but that does not apply to EU and European economic area nationals who are classed as workers or self-employed persons under EC directive 2004/38 and the family members of such persons. On analysis, therefore, how is the Minister proposing to strengthen the habitual residence test, and how will it do anything to reduce the eligibility of nationals of other EU member states to access UK benefits? It does not seem to me as though it will achieve anything.

The second point that the Minister made in his answer, about jobseekers and workers who are involuntarily unemployed having to leave after six months, invites the question as to what is meant by “involuntarily unemployed”. How will one assess whether they have a genuine chance of finding a job? Are we going to introduce a language test? If so, how would that be compatible with current EU legislation? What about those who are self-employed, such as Romanian Big Issue sellers?

The third part of the Minister’s answer is perhaps the most disingenuous. He says that

“we will prevent those with no entitlement to work in the UK from claiming contributory benefits.”—[Official Report, 20 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 890.]

How many people fall into that category? Every EU national who moves to the United Kingdom has the same entitlement to benefits as a UK national, regardless of their previous tax or national insurance contributions. That principle applies, without qualification, to all those who are “workers” or self-employed, while the qualification of “worker” is so broad as to include those not working but purportedly seeking work. Would it be unfair and going too far to summarise the Minister’s position as tantamount to an admission of impotence in the face of this crucial issue?

Let me emphasise that I do not blame the Minister at all, but do not his answers and the concerns of the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions amount to little more than spitting against the wind and grandstanding? What prospect is there of being able to change the European Union treaties to enable us to discriminate on the grounds of nationality in the way in which we distribute our welfare payments? Indeed, what is parliamentary sovereign democracy if it is not about the ability to treat our own citizens differently from the citizens of other countries?

One of the fundamental freedoms that lie at the heart of the EU treaties is “freedom of movement”. That was sold to the British people on the basis that we would be able to move to another country in the EU without impediment. We would be able to work there and live there and, through reciprocity, citizens of other EU countries could do the same in the United Kingdom. But what has happened is that, as with so many other aspects of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union, freedom of movement has been applied as if to a federal superstate where there is no distinction between a British citizen and a Romanian or Bulgarian. The European Union Commission has continued to apply its ratchet of integration—ever closer union—systematically undermining our ability even to decide to whom we give British taxpayer-funded services.

Does this issue not illustrate the fundamental chasm between the European Union and us? The European Union sees itself as one country, with all its citizens sharing the same European nationality. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom sees itself as one of 27 separate countries within a free trade area, but with control over its own destiny and, in the context of this debate, control over those to whom it does and does not pay taxpayer-funded benefits. Does this not illustrate perfectly why my noble Friends Lords Lawson and Forsyth and Michael Portillo, all former Cabinet Ministers with a wealth of experience in negotiating with the European Union, are spot-on in pointing out the utter futility of the renegotiation exercise on which the Prime Minister has embarked? Does this saga not illustrate graphically the extent to which this Parliament has lost control over the most basic elements of national policy?

The starting point for the right to vote in a UK parliamentary election is being a British citizen. Citizenship confers privileges for citizens over non-citizens. Why cannot the same basic principles apply to the allocation of taxpayer-funded welfare benefits? Please can the Minister tell me how we will be able to restore control over our own affairs and give preference to our own citizens over foreigners without leaving the European Union? It seems to me that actions such as we have seen from the European Commission in recent days are driving more and more people to the conclusion that there is no alternative but to leave the European Union and that we would be much better off out, and in control of our own destiny.

There is a big issue about the fact that the European Union originally started off with a whole lot of countries that each had relatively similar standards of living, but now there are countries that are new entrants, particularly Bulgaria and Romania, where the standard of living is infinitesimal compared with that which we are lucky enough to enjoy in this country.

Figures I have obtained from the Library show that the annual household net income of a single-earner couple on the average wage with two children in 2011 was, using purchasing power parity exchange rates, €31,616 in the United Kingdom but only €7,750 in Bulgaria and even less—€7,514—in Romania. That means we have an average annual household net income of more than four times that of citizens in Bulgaria and Romania, so why will the Bulgarians and the Romanians not come to the United Kingdom in large numbers from next January? Apparently, there are already about 1 million of them in Spain, so it will not be very expensive for them to get here from Spain if they want to do so, and once they get here, unless something is done to the existing rules, they will basically have free access to as many benefits as they choose to apply for. They can come. They can try to get work. Even if they are unsuccessful at getting work, they can say that they are trying to get work and then access our benefits system. That can include other benefits that they can then export back to their families in their own countries. Is this not a state of complete farce? Have the Government grasped the political significance and importance of it?

Answering questions in the careful way that the Minister has answered them is absolutely right, because he wants to be intellectually honest in answering them, but could he also ensure that much fuller answers are given and that the areas where we obviously do not have any control at the moment are highlighted? I hope that as a result of this debate, he will assure us that the Prime Minister is serious about trying to do something about all this and that it is not just huffing and puffing, because we cannot carry on like this. There was 20 months between the European Commission saying that it was going to start taking infraction proceedings against us, and the matter now being referred to the Court. Will it take two years—three years?—before the Court decides? Many of us hope that we will have an in/out referendum long before then, but in any event, does this not show that the whole renegotiation process is a complete charade?

One example can be worth a thousand generalities, and the example highlighted in this short Adjournment debate is one the Government need to take really seriously.

Mark Hoban Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mr Mark Hoban)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on securing the debate and trying to highlight some of the challenging issues we have to deal with. The Government are rightly concerned that our rules on migrants’ access to benefits should be robust. We already have strong rules to protect the taxpayer and the public purse from abuse and fraud. Those rules are fair and just, and I think they are entirely consistent with the freedom of EU citizens to work and to look for work here—I will come back to the issue of those who come here with no intention of working and the controls that are in place in that regard. The rules rightly ensure that migrants cannot get benefits if they have never worked here and have no intention of doing so.

Let me set out a bit of the background to assist my hon. Friend. European law says that an EU citizen can move to another member state if they are a worker, self-employed or a student, if they are seeking work or if they are self-sufficient. When EU nationals come to work in the hotels and guest houses of Bournemouth and Christchurch, it is that right that they are exercising, in the same way that UK nationals exercise their right when they go and work in other European Union countries.

European law also says that we must treat EU nationals who come here to work in the same way as we treat British nationals. We comply with that principle. EU nationals who work here and then lose their job can claim jobseeker’s allowance and housing benefit and, if they are temporarily unwell and unable to work, they can claim employment and support allowance.

EU nationals who come here to seek work are expected under EU law to be actively seeking work and to have a genuine chance of getting a job, and if they do, we say that they can claim jobseeker’s allowance. When people try to claim JSA, we apply a fair test to assess whether they are genuinely here to seek work—the habitual residence test. That test is applied to jobseekers whether they are EU nationals or UK nationals.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that no member state can afford to support migrants who have no intention of working and contributing economically to the community in which they choose to live. There is no requirement under EU law to provide such support, nor should there be. EU law has not sought to harmonise benefit regimes, nor should it. As he rightly points out, those are matters for national Governments. Member states have their own benefit regimes, some of which are more or less generous to their citizens than ours. It is easy to see why some people feel that they can move, not to work, but to take advantage of what they think is more generous welfare support in another country.

EU law sets out rules for co-ordination between member states to ensure that people who are genuinely exercising their free movement rights are not disadvantaged. There is no free movement right for those who are economically inactive and have no intention of working but want to be supported by state funds. We cannot be expected to support those who move just to take advantage of different benefit regimes, and the public are rightly concerned that that is what would happen if we were not allowed to check the legal basis for someone’s residence in this country, which is the basis of the infraction proceedings against us.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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My hon. Friend the Minister uses the expression “no intention of working”, but all they need to do is show that they are applying for jobs and that they hope to be able to work. It is very hard to prove that they are not intending to work, particularly when his Department does not even have the information on whether they are British nationals.

Mark Hoban Portrait Mr Hoban
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I just say to my hon. Friend that when someone seeks to claim jobseeker’s allowance, they go through vigorous tests to identify whether they are looking for work. The only basis on which people receive benefit is by demonstrating that they are looking for work, which is why we have the habitual residence test. It tests not whether someone has popped across on holiday and decided to sign on while they are here, but whether they have any real intention to be here and work. That is why we ask a range of questions and why we are trying to strengthen the test, which I shall come on to in a moment. It was one of the commitments the Prime Minister made. I want to say more about the habitual residence test and the infraction process.

The Commission says that we discriminate against EU citizens when we apply the habitual residence test. We believe that we are following EU law correctly when we apply those rules. Rules in the residence directive explicitly allow us to protect our national finances and prevent migrants from becoming an unreasonable burden on our welfare system. When we ask people to satisfy the habitual residence test, we do so not on the basis of their nationality but on the basis that they have moved to the UK from abroad, even if they have previously lived here. We do so to protect our system from abuse. Why would a member state not want to protect its benefit system from abuse by checking that someone is legally resident before they make a claim? The advocate-general of the European Court, in giving his opinion on an Austrian case called Brey, said that

“the Court has held in various circumstances that Member States may require lawful residence before granting social assistance benefits, providing that such a requirement complies with EU law.”

That is exactly what we do when we assess someone’s right to reside as part of our habitual residence test. We treat each case on its own merits and consider the individual circumstances of the claimant. Our test is fair; it legitimately requires that a benefit claimant has a reasonable right of residence here and a degree of interconnection with and integration into UK society.

This is not the first time that someone has sought to challenge the habitual residence test. We have already successfully defended challenges to our test in our Supreme Court and the domestic courts. They found that the habitual residence test does not discriminate on the grounds of nationality and that its use is justified because it protects the public finances of the UK and prevents benefit claims by people who have no intention of working here at all. My concern and that of the Government, and the reason why we are fighting the case, is that if the Commission is successful in arguing its interpretation of the rules, it will open a new door that will mean that member states can no longer check that migrants meet national residence laws, thus extending free movement to inactive migrants who believe they can move to any member state and get social assistance benefits soon after arriving. That cannot be right, which is why the Government, the Secretary of State and I are determined to defend the test. We believe that we have strong grounds to win the argument in the Court.

My hon. Friend mentioned the measures that the Prime Minister announced to strengthen our position. I shall highlight two announcements, the first of which was on time-limited access to benefits. Under EU law, someone has a right to reside as a worker or a jobseeker only if they are “continuing to seek employment” and have a

“genuine chance of being engaged”.

It is not unreasonable to take the view that if someone has not found a job within six months, that right should terminate. At the moment, we expect that most jobseekers will find a job within six months. The Home Office will amend the regulations to create a statutory presumption that EEA nationals who are coming to look for work in the UK or who have lost their job will no longer be exercising their free movement right of residence as a jobseeker after six months, unless, in line with EU law, they demonstrate that they are actively seeking work and have a genuine chance of getting a job. Most jobseekers will find work quite quickly—within six months. It is hard to demonstrate after six months that they have a genuine chance of getting a job.

The other announcement was on strengthening the habitual residence test. We will continue our work to ensure that our decision making when assessing whether someone satisfies the test is consistent and fair. We are improving the test, as the Prime Minister said, by increasing the range and depth of evidence that advisers collect from claimants and making it easier for advisers to tailor the questions to someone’s circumstances. Those improvements will support our argument that our test is robust and that our decisions are fair and comply with EU law.

My hon. Friend asked about language skills and the assessment of the genuine chance of finding a job. We will assess whether language skills are a barrier to work, as part of the habitual residence test—it is built into the test. He also commented on the fact that we are in discussions with our European neighbours. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been in Germany to meet his opposite number, the Deputy Interior Minister. The Home Secretary will raise these issues with other Interior Ministers at the Justice and Home Affairs Council over the next week. I am going to the Netherlands this evening to talk to my opposite number about how we can work together more closely. There are clear concerns in a number of member states that the Commission is seeking to extend its influence in this area and subvert the right of free movement, which is widely supported in member states. We need to continue to work with our allies, demonstrate a need for change and recognise the concerns expressed across a wide number of member states about the Commission’s role.

My hon. Friend started his speech by talking about the broader issues of access. I am sure that he will welcome the immigration Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech, which will tighten access to the NHS and controls on private landlords letting property to tenants from overseas. The Government are taking steps to tighten access to not only welfare benefits but other public services, which is an important part of our approach.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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Does my hon. Friend not agree that it would be much better if we could do all that under our own control? If we were outside the European Union, we would be able to make such decisions ourselves, instead of being beholden to the European Commission, which, from the way he has described the infraction proceedings, is wholly intransigent. I sympathise with him. For all the effort he is making, he is banging his head against a brick wall; there is no give on the part of the European Commission. Does there not come a time when the British people have to say, “Enough’s enough. If you do not concede anything, we will leave”?

Mark Hoban Portrait Mr Hoban
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My hon. Friend is being uncharacteristically defeatist. We can make progress, which is why we are engaging with other member states. The support among other member states—we were party to the Brey case—demonstrates to the Commission how much concern there is. Member states can take the initiative to change the regulations, and we need to demonstrate to the Commission that there is support for that. I fully support the Prime Minster’s policy. We need to have the renegotiation and put the outcome of that renegotiation to the people in a referendum when we win the next general election. That is the right approach. We need to build alliances with other member states; we are not alone in our concerns. My hon. Friend will be relieved to know that other member states share his concerns exactly.

I hope that from my remarks this afternoon my hon. Friend sees that the Government are actively taking steps to protect our position not only in domestic law, by strengthening the habitual residence test through the new rules and the presumption about someone being out of work for six months, but by defending the matter strongly in the Court and building alliances with other EU countries. Our approach is right.

Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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If it does not give in, will we leave the European Union?