Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to disqualify non-UK citizens from the European Union from entitlement to child benefit; and for connected purposes.
Mr Speaker, may I first thank you for giving me permission to move the motion? The purpose of the Bill, were it granted by the House, would be to end the absurd anomaly whereby any EU national can come to this country to work, leaving their children behind in their country of origin, and then British taxpayers pay child benefit to those children. I think that is wrong, the Prime Minister thinks it is wrong, most of the people in this country think it is wrong, and this Bill would put that wrong right.
What is child benefit? It is a universal non-taxable cash payment for families with children. It is currently worth £20.50 a week for the eldest eligible child and £13.55 for each subsequent child. As of August 2013, 7.6 million families receive child benefit for over 13 million children and qualifying young people. Expenditure in 2013-14 on child benefit totalled £11.5 billion. Families with children may also receive means-tested support through child tax credit, and approximately 4.1 million families are receiving child tax credit for around 7.8 million children and young people.
Child benefit has been said to perform a number of different functions, and different functions are emphasised at different points in time, but one of the main features of child benefit is that it provides a contribution from society as a whole to the next generation. Indeed, in August 2006 the Child Poverty Action Group highlighted the intergenerational redistributive effects of child benefit. It said:
“Since everyone—childless people, as well as those with children—will benefit in due course from the productivity of children being brought up now, society”
as a whole
“should share the cost of bringing up those children with their parents, as an investment by us all in the next generation.”
Well, that only applies if the children concerned are actually resident in, and growing up in, and will make a future contribution to, this country. Where those children are resident abroad and will not be in this country, that effect does not apply.
Domestic legislation already provides that both child benefit and child tax credit cannot normally be paid in respect of children resident abroad. That is what this House, this Parliament, has legislated for. However, under provisions in EU law on social security co-ordination within the European economic area as a whole, both child benefit and child tax credit may be payable to EEA migrants in the UK in respect of their dependent children resident in another member state. The provisions relating to payment of family benefits for children resident in another member state are in EC regulation 883/2004.
As a result of this perfect example of EU regulations superseding British law, as of 31 December 2013, 20,400 awards of UK child benefit, covering 34,268 children, were made in respect of children living in other EEA states. That equates to around 0.3% of all child benefit awards. Although not a large number, I think most people in this country would regard this as wrong.
At the end of December 2012, there were 4,011 child tax credit awards under EC regulation 883/2004 in respect of 6,838 children. The majority of families benefiting from child benefit with children resident abroad were in Poland—13,175 Polish families with 22,093 children; in second place, with 2,505 children, was the Republic of Ireland; in third place, with 1,712, was Lithuania; in fourth place, with 1,429, was France; in fifth place, with 1,091, was Latvia; and in sixth place, with 1,019, was Spain. Thirty-one countries within the EEA are eligible and a total of 34,268 living overseas are receiving child benefit from UK taxpayers.
Under the key provision, EC regulation 883/2004, an EEA migrant in the UK who is covered by the UK social security system can claim either or both child benefit and child tax credit for their dependent children, even if the children are not resident in the UK. Where the family benefits are payable by the state that has primary responsibility, if those benefits in that country are less than the family would get in the country where the working member of the family is working, the latter country has to pay a supplement to make up the difference. The benefit the Polish families are entitled to in this country is more than they would have got in Poland, so British taxpayers are supplementing the Polish child benefit to which they would be entitled. My constituents, and I would suggest the vast majority in this country regard that as simply absurd.
It is difficult to determine the cost of all this. The reason, given by Her Majesty’s Government in a written answer from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is that
“Information about the value of such awards is only available at disproportionate costs because under the priority rules”—
which I have just described—
“in that regulation not all awards of UK family benefit are made at the full UK rates.”—[Official Report, 28 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 615W.]
But some sections of the media have claimed that spending on child benefit for children resident in other countries now amounts to about £30 million a year.
How do we change this? One way is through this Bill. The other, as stated in a written answer in November 2010, is that amendments would have to be made to the EC regulation, which would require
“a proposal by the European Commission and…co-decision with the European Parliament and the Council.””—[Official Report, 28 January 2013; Vol. 519, c. 444W.]
I pray in aid of my quest the support of not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the Prime Minister himself. I understand that Her Majesty’s Opposition also regard the situation as absurd. In The Daily Telegraph in April 2013, the Chancellor said:
“The truth is we are absolutely wrestling with that issue at the moment and trying to find a way that is legal to make sure that benefits do not go to the continent of Europe. The European Union rules are pretty tough…but we are looking at all sorts of ways to make sure that British taxpayers pay for benefits that are paid in this country rather than abroad.”
In January, on “The Andrew Marr Show” the Prime Minister said:
“I…think it’s wrong that someone from Poland who comes here…we should be paying child benefit to their family back at home in Poland.”
He said that we should not be doing that. Yet, in response to that comment, the Polish Foreign Minister said:
“If Britain gets our taxpayers, shouldn’t it also pay their benefits? Why should Polish taxpayers subsidise British taxpayers’ children?”
Describing children living in Poland as British taxpayers’ children just underlines the absurdity of the whole position.
Let me make it clear to the House: I am not in favour of Britain’s membership of the European Union. I believe we would be better off out as a nation if we controlled once again our tax and fiscal regimes, our work and benefits system, and ultimately our borders. There are now almost 2.5 million EU nationals living in this country, about half of whom have come from the new entrant eastern European countries. I hope that my Bill will play a small role in ultimately securing the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr Philip Hollobone, Gordon Henderson, Mr David Nuttall, Philip Davies, Martin Vickers, Mr Peter Bone, Nigel Mills, Jim Shannon and John Baron present the Bill.
Mr Philip Hollobone accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 March; and to be printed (Bill 83).
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The former Leader of the House assured me and others, I believe on more than one occasion, that we would have a statement before the House rose for the summer recess on the aftermath of the flooding earlier this year. That is not forthcoming, and with a new Secretary of State I understand perfectly well why that may be the case, but would it be appropriate for the Secretary of State to write to Members affected by the flooding giving an update, and to put a copy in the Library, so that Members are informed over the recess about what has happened?
The hon. Gentleman has very considerable experience—including on the Front Bench—of how matters are timetabled to appear on the Order Paper and before the House. I know he is well aware that that is not a point of order for the Chair and that I have no control whatsoever over the Secretary of State, but the hon. Gentleman has made his point and I am sure that it will be heard by those on the Treasury Bench and conveyed to where he really wishes it to be sent.