CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DWP – BENEFIT ENTITLEMENT (RESTRICTION) BILL – 17 January 2014

Dr Julian Lewis: To help my hon. Friend [Christopher Chope] 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?

[Mr Christopher Chope: 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.]

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Dr Lewis: 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 Bernard 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?

[Mr Chope: 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.]

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Dr Lewis: On a point of clarification, let us suppose that someone had come from abroad and been in genuine employment, and had paid some contributions towards social security, but then lost his job through no fault of his own. Does my hon. Friend agree that that person ought to have some entitlement to appropriate levels of benefit?

[Philip Davies: No, I do not necessarily agree with that proposition. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has in mind how long that person might have had to work to be able to access benefits – it was not clear whether he felt that there should be a certain time span. As far as I can see, he is describing a non-British citizen who has come here not out of the goodness of his heart and concern for the UK’s economic well-being but, presumably, out of concern for his own economic well-being. It sounds as though he would have done rather well. Once the job is no longer available, I do not see any particular reason why we should then sustain such people in unemployment. It seems to me that at that point, we should be perfectly entitled to say, “If you can’t support yourself, we are not responsible for your continued upkeep.” I do not see why that should be unacceptable. The UK Government’s primary duty should be to look after UK citizens, not to look after anybody who chooses to come here, works for five minutes and then expects us to sustain them on benefits for the rest of their life. I therefore do not necessarily agree with my hon. Friend’s premise – and even if it were desirable for the British Government to make such promises, I do not think it is affordable.]