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Continuation Of Children's Tax Credit For Persons Subject To Immigration Control

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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'(1) Where this section applies—

  • (a) the repeal of section 257AA of, and Schedule 13B to, the Taxes Act 1988 (children's tax credit) by sections 1(3)(a) and 60 of, and Schedule 6 to, the Tax Credits Act 2002 (the 2002 Act); and
  • (b) the repeal of the references to "section 257AA" in section 257C of the Taxes Act 1988 by section 60 of, and Schedule 6 to, the 2002 Act
    shall not apply.
  • (2) This section applies where the claimant is wholly or partly excluded from entitlement to child tax credit or working tax credit (or both) by reason of being a person subject to immigration control within the meaning of section 42 of the 2002 Act and regulations made thereunder.'.— [Mr. Flight.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    This is a probing new clause, which provides for children's tax credit to continue under the new child tax credit arrangements for persons subject to immigration control. We are essentially seeking Government comment, and perhaps an undertaking to review the tax credits regime as it applies to immigrant workers and impacts on their children. Practical issues are lurking, and nothing in the new child tax credit guide says that migrant workers who were previously entitled to children's tax credit will not be entitled to the new child tax credit. That is likely to result in applications being made in ignorance of the changes to payments and then to potential problems in recouping the moneys paid from parents who may not be able to afford it. In those circumstances, do the Government intend to pursue reclaims? There is also an issue of whether it is right to prejudice the children of genuine migrants, especially when the Chancellor's Budget speech specifically mentioned improvements to skilled migrants' programmes and to the skills needed.

    We support the new clause and commend the hon. Gentleman for bringing it forward. The low income tax reform group has also helped to highlight the issue. The most important aspect of the new clause is that it aims to restore the position of certain skilled migrants to what pertained before the abolition of the children's tax credit and the introduction of the child tax credit in April this year. It seems that there have inadvertently been some losers as a consequence of the changes introduced in the Budget. Among those losers are skilled migrants from non-EU countries who lose entitlement under the new regime to a tax credit that they previously enjoyed. In some cases, individuals could be as much as £10 or even £20 worse off per week, which is unfortunate given that we are talking about a group of people who may already be on low incomes.

    The situation gives rise to three issues of fairness, the first of which is the fairness of where we are now under Government regulations by comparison with where we were before the changes were introduced. It appears that a particular group of workers has been put in a worse position with no apparent justification. The second potential unfairness is the comparative treatment of EU and non-EU individuals working in this country, with only the EU individuals receiving child tax credit, even though they may be in exactly the same jobs as the non-EU individuals. The third issue is the need to flush out Government thinking about why particular individuals should be denied a tax credit when they are paying tax on the earnings from the employment that they are entering into in this country. That calls into question the thrust of the Government's approach on tax credits and whether they are supposed to represent the reimbursement of tax already paid or constitute some kind of benefit that the Government can withhold on the basis that tax credits are regarded under existing rules as being public funds to which individuals subject to immigration controls are not entitled to have recourse. That seems to be the basis on which the Government are withholding child tax credits from the individuals in question. This is an important matter, and we have too little time to explore it. I hope we have given the Paymaster General enough time to address some of the issues.

    The issue is quite straightforward, and the new tax credits follow the practice adopted with the working families tax credit and the disabled person's tax credit. The child tax credit replaces elements of both those tax credits as well as children's tax credit relief. From 2004, the child elements of out-of-work benefits from income support and jobseeker's allowance will build on the benefits of child benefit itself.

    It is a long-standing requirement of immigration rules that those who come to the United Kingdom should be able to support themselves without recourse to public funds. For that reason, persons subject to immigration controls are not able to claim the new child tax credit, as they were previously not able to claim the working families tax credit and the disabled person's tax credit. The new child tax credit incorporates elements from a range of systems of support—tax, tax credits and social security. It is inevitable, therefore, that there will be changes in comparison with the existing system.

    The issues for income tax relief, such as the children's tax credit, are different in this area from those for the payable tax credits, because the value of the relief can never exceed the income liability. On that point, the working families tax credit—the main method of support in the last Parliament for working families on lower incomes—provides a precedent for how to proceed in these circumstances. The rules for the new tax credits need to fit within the same wider policy framework as those for working families tax credit.

    The child tax credit is the means by which we now support children. In terms of immigration laws, we are simply following the long-established policy that some people are allowed to remain here subject to certain conditions, which means that they must be able to support themselves. Conditions attached to leave to remain are a matter for the Home Office, not for our regulations. Within the wider policy framework, we have worked to ensure that the rules are fair and work fairly between couples.

    The Paymaster General says that there are long-established conventions, but will she acknowledge that a category of individual skilled migrants will be worse off as a consequence of the changes being implemented?

    Reliefs can change, as can the tax system. Behind the new tax credits, and the requirements that are not subject to change by me as a Treasury Minister, are the policies that the Government, and previous Governments, have pursued with regard to conditions that are placed on people who have leave—

    It being three and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the first Ways and Means motion relating to the Bill, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Order [this day], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

    Question negatived.

    4.15 pm

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On two occasions, first in the Committee of the whole House and now on Report, we have lost a vital amendment that affects my constituents and many others who are concerned about North sea oil exploration and the thousands of jobs that depend on it. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not a paranoid sort of guy, but I am beginning to wonder whether there might be something so powerful in the amendment that the Government are resorting to these underhand and shabby techniques to avoid debating it. If not, is not the whole timetabling of the Finance Bill deficient if important amendments, duly selected, are not being considered?

    Your knowledge of Standing Orders is much greater than mine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so my point of order is this. Is there anything in our Standing Orders to state that if an amendment is selected for the third time it must be debated? Do we have a "three strikes and you're in" policy in the House and, if we do not, should we have such a policy to stop vital amendments being lost in that fashion?

    I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, and I am sorry that new clause 9 was not reached this afternoon. However, he will understand that the Chair can do nothing about that; I am purely the servant of the House in such matters and we are only doing what the House has already decided it will do today. I am sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman has put his point firmly on the record.