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Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 5th February 2016.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 1:31 pm, 5th February 2016

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.”—[Hansard, 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.