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Column 857Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to raise through you the situation facing immigration detainees at Campsfield detention centre and, in particular, the case of a young woman from the Ivory Coast who attempted to commit suicide this morning in order to stop herself being removed from this country. Is there any way in which we can insist on a Home Office Minister coming to the House to make a statement about the treatment of nearly 700 people who are in detention having committed no crime and having been charged with no offence?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): The Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Gentleman. That is certainly not a matter for the Chair.
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Is it a different point of order?
Mr. Austin-Walker: It relates to the previous point of order--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. With the greatest respect, I have already ruled on that point of order. I pointed out that the Treasury Bench had heard the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and that it was not a matter for the Chair.
The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lilley): I beg to move,
That the draft Statutory Sick Pay Percentage Threshold Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): I understand that with this, it will be convenient to discuss the following motions: That the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved. That the draft Social Security (Contributions) (Re-rating and National Insurance Fund Payments) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved.
That the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved. That the draft Social Security (Contributions) Amendment Regulations 1995, which were laid before this House on 13th February, be approved.
That the Income-related Benefits Schemes (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 3) Regulations 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 1807), dated 7th July 1994, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th July, in the last session of Parliament, be revoked.
Mr. Lilley: This is an annual opportunity to examine the detailed orders before the House and to discuss, after some weeks of consideration, the social security statement that I made after the Budget. Some may consider this a rather routine occasion, but I believe that it is a profoundly important debate because it raises issues of immense significance socially, economically and politically.
Socially, the debate is about meeting our commitments to those in greatest need. The Government are fulfilling that obligation by uprating in full, maintaining the value of benefits, focusing help where it can do most good and improving incentives for people to help themselves out of dependency.
The debate is of profound economic importance because social security is central to the control of public spending, borrowing and taxation. Through its effect on incentives, social security influences the dynamism of our labour force.
Finally, the debate is of immense significance politically. The Government have spelt out clearly their long-term strategy for social security. Now is the opportunity for the Opposition to spell out an alternative strategy. Today will provide the crucial test of whether the Labour party is seriously interested in becoming an alternative Government or whether, as I suspect, it is still in its heart wedded to permanent opposition. Parties of government propose; parties of opposition merely oppose. The fact that the shadow spokesman, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), has ducked the debate suggests to me that Labour has nothing to propose. The Government's strategy is crystal clear--to maintain benefits, to focus help on the neediest, to improve incentives and to encourage self- provision. We are advancing on all those fronts in today's orders. Again, we shall meet our pledges on the level of benefits. All the main social security benefits will be uprated fully in line with prices in four weeks' time. The retirement pension for a couple will increase by £2 a week, and even less
Column 860well-off pensioner couples with no other means will receive more than £100 a week plus their housing costs. The total cost of the uprating will be about £1.5 billion; that is a measure of our commitment to protecting those most in need.
Last week the Labour party endorsed the Rowntree report, which advocates uprating benefits in line with earnings. That would cost £3.3 billion, so will today's Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), come clean today? Is the Labour party committed to that extra spending, or was it simply trying to gull vulnerable people? I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman now if he wishes to set the record straight. I gather that he needs time to think about it.
When I published "The Growth of Social Security" in 1993 social security spending was expected to grow by 3.3 per cent. a year in real terms until the end of the century. Now we expect growth of only 1.3 per cent. a year in real terms over the next three years, and that is expected to be followed by underlying growth of 2.1 per cent. a year until the end of the century. As a result, social security spending at the end of the century is now expected to be about £8 billion lower than we forecast when my long-term review began. A quarter of that fall is due to the reduction in unemployment that has already occurred. Nearly a quarter is due to other improvements in the outlook. More than half the reduction--about £4 billion a year--is due to savings from policy changes as our reforms take effect. The Labour party has opposed almost every reform that we have introduced, so it is incumbent on the Labour spokesmen today to tell the House where they would find £4 billion to replace the savings, or how they would finance the shortfall.
Those extra costs would be incurred before Labour even started to finance the £7 billion required for the main proposals of the Commission on Social Justice, let alone the untold billions of pounds that it would cost to implement all the proposals in the Rowntree report, which Labour praised last week.
At the start of our long-term review of social security we analysed systematically the main areas of prospective growth. First we identified sickness, invalidity and related benefits--hence the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Act and the Statutory Sick Pay Act, both passed in 1994. From April this year, by means of a more objective test of incapacity, the new incapacity benefit will focus help on those genuinely incapable of work.
One of the orders will introduce an improvement flowing from the Statutory Sick Pay Act. From April a new scheme will give all employers help if a large proportion of their work force is off sick at any one time. That will be straightforward to operate, will protect cash flow and will continue to give small businesses the lion's share of the statutory sick pay reimbursement. The new scheme has been welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry, the Forum of Private Business, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Trades Union Congress.
The second major area of growth in spending that we identified was help with housing costs. The amount of support for housing costs through housing benefit has more than doubled in real terms since the benefit was introduced, and is now more than £10 billion a year. That is due not only to increases in rents but to the fact that
Column 861there was a basic weakness in the system, which we have had to tackle--the open-ended commitment to pay 100 per cent. even of above-average rents.
Last November, therefore, I announced a major reform that will come into effect in October. It is a sensible reform designed to give tenants more interest in the level of rents, thus bringing pressure to bear on unreasonably high rents. We have already begun a process of informal consultation with interested parties.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): If the Secretary of State believes that rents will be reduced by the exercise of pressure, why do the Government not exercise that pressure on landlords? Why does he leave it to tenants, who in many instances are vulnerable, frail and elderly, to attempt to reduce their rents?
Mr. Lilley: It is sensible that there should be a countervailing force so that people have an incentive to make a reasonable choice when faced with two properties, and to choose the less expensive of the two if one of them has a rent above the average for properties of that type in the area. We prefer to leave choice in the hands of individuals--unlike the Labour party, which prefers all choices to be made by bureaucrats and set down by law.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde): Will the Secretary of State give way?
Mr. Lilley: Of course, I always give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Graham: Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that only this week a report was published about Glasgow, showing that over all the years of Conservative Government there has been an increase of 144 per cent. in the number of people who are ill and claiming benefit? Is he also aware that there are more than 30,000 homeless folk in Scotland who would desperately like to rent a home at a reasonable cost yet who, under the Conservative Government, have no chance of getting a home?
Mr. Lilley: On the contrary, we have taken great steps to increase opportunities for the homeless. The best way to make good use of taxpayers' money is to ensure that it is not spent unnecessarily on the most expensive properties, and on rents above those that the market should require to make sufficient properties available. That is what our reforms are designed to achieve.
We want to ensure that the details are properly discussed before being put into regulations, and my officials have already met representatives from the local authority associations, the Institute of Rent Officers and several other interested groups. Tomorrow we shall formally consult the Social Security Advisory Committee, which we envisage will then go out to wider public consultation. It is important that the public's views are fed into the detail of the policy, including working up a system to give prospective tenants an idea of how much housing benefit will be payable before they sign up to a particular tenancy.
The costs of support for mortgage interest through income support have already increased rapidly from £31 million in 1978-79 to £1.1 billion last year. The system is manifestly unsatisfactory. It fails to provide comprehensive cover and protection for people who lose
Column 862their jobs; two thirds of home owners would not qualify for income support to help with their mortgage interest if they became unemployed. Our proposals are self-evidently aimed to improve that position. They will give home owners more comprehensive protection when they have difficulty paying their mortgages.
The Social Security Advisory Committee's consultation document on mortgage interest and income support, issued on 10 February, invites comments from all interested parties. Clearly we shall be interested in the results of that consultation process. We are continuing our discussions with lenders and insurers to ensure that the interface between state and private provision works well.
I am determined wherever possible to make savings without any reduction in the levels of benefits for those most in need. The area of greatest scope for saving with no direct effects on benefit levels is obviously cutting the incidence of fraud. That is why I have made attacking fraud a priority.
Our efforts to detect and stop fraud are already increasingly successful. The Benefits Agency identified and stopped fraud worth £654 million in 1993-94--17 per cent. above its target--and I have no doubt that we shall exceed the target again this year. In April the agency will begin a five- year programme of investment to switch the emphasis away from detecting fraud towards deterring fraud and preventing it from happening in the first place.
Most fraud occurs through false declarations of earnings or circumstances. So the Benefits Agency will make more checks and more home visits, and will make better use of the information already held on our computer systems to help to spot fraud. Over the next three years that should deliver substantial savings of more than £2.5 billion over and above the existing level of fraud savings. We also expect a dramatic reduction in order book and girocheque frauds by automating benefit payments at post offices. But even more important than curbing spending is checking the growth in dependency on welfare. Before my reforms began, the debate was about how to help people who are on benefit. We still aim to do that. But now we have changed the whole focus of the debate towards how to help people come off benefit and into work.
The most effective way of raising the living standards and prospects of unemployed people is by helping them to return to work. The process continues with the package that I announced last November. New measures being introduced this year meet four major objectives.
First, we are continuing to improve benefits so that people have an even greater incentive to return to work. From July 1995, the £10 longer hours premium in family credit will make full-time work more attractive for those working 30 hours or more a week. Those on housing benefit or council tax benefit will receive in full that extra £10, which will not be offset against their housing benefit or council tax liability. We expect that more than 200,000 people will benefit in 1995-96, at a cost of £345 million. In April I shall make significant enhancements to disability working allowance to help more disabled people participate in work.
Secondly, to smooth the transition from benefit to work we shall speed up the payment of family credit from April, so that people in work will get that extra help more quickly. By April 1996 we expect almost all new claims for family credit to be arranged within five working days.
Column 863Thirdly, we want to encourage employers to provide more jobs, particularly for people with few skills or who have been unemployed for a long time. Another of the orders encourages employers to take on less skilled people by reducing employers' national insurance contributions for the second year running. This April, employers' contributions will be cut by 0.6 per cent. for all employees earning less than £205 a week. That will help the employers of 6.5 million people at a cost of £235 million.
Fourthly, I am examining ways to help low-paid people in work who do not qualify for family credit because they do not have children. I shall be publishing a consultation document in the spring for a substantial pilot study of an in-work benefit for people without children.
Overall, the measures will help almost 7 million people in the coming financial year at a cost of more than £440 million. That is a significant stage in a package that will build up to a total cost of some £600 million to the taxpayer in outgoings or revenue forgone. I also take this opportunity to discuss the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition that the Income-related Benefit Schemes (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 3) Regulations 1994 be revoked. The House will recall that the regulations introduced a habitual residence test into income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit schemes from 1 August last year.
When I announced the habitual residence test, the Opposition's knee-jerk reaction was to oppose it, as they do almost all measures which we introduce to focus benefits on those who are genuinely needy and fully entitled to them. The Opposition said that benefit tourism was a non- problem, and that there were at most 5,000 continental claimants a year. They said that the residence test was anti-European. Today, they appear to be reaffirming their opposition to the regulations.
Experience since the test was introduced has demonstrated that its opponents were wrong on all counts. First, immediately after I announced the test, Time Out magazine--not exactly a friend of the Government--set out to debunk the idea of benefit tourism, but instead found vivid evidence of its existence. It described someone called Diego, 26, who came from Barcelona to learn drama, but quickly learnt how to use the system as well. He said:
"I shared a flat with four other Spaniards . . . all of them were on Income Support. I just followed their advice and did the same." Within a month, he, too, was on income support.
Then there was Fre de ric, a 28-year-old Frenchman, described by Time Out as
"the stuff of which Peter Lilley's nightmares are made." I can assure Time Out that I do not have nightmares. He said: "I came to Britain in July 1993 to learn English . . . I am on Income Support--£44 per week--and get my rent--£47.50 per week--paid by Housing Benefit. I also work on the side to earn enough to make a decent living. I know it is absolutely illegal. Not only that but I also get French unemployment and housing benefits. It takes a lot of concentration to dodge both systems at the same time. I am now a specialist and it is almost a full-time activity. I am well placed to compare both systems: the British system is far easier."
It was, but it is not now.
Foreign magazines also began to publish accounts because they could scarcely believe that we had ever allowed this situation to exist. They demonstrated how
Column 864easy it was for other EC nationals to abuse our system. A Spanish magazine called Tribuna describes a holiday in Britain on benefit as
"a brilliant way to travel. You arrive in London one fine day, sign up at an employment office and, suddenly, money and rebates fall at your feet on a regular basis. Young Spaniards did not invent the scam but they are well known as being the most adept at taking advantage of the benefits posing as European emigrants in London." Most EC countries were ahead of us in preventing such things from coming about. I would condemn any British citizen travelling abroad who tried to abuse any foreign benefits system just as much as I would as anyone who does it to our system. We were at fault in allowing the loophole to exist, and it was right that we closed it when we found that a minority were exploiting it.
The Opposition also stated that there very few people exploiting the system --at most, 5,000. As it has turned out, the number of continental claimants has turned out to be far larger than the Opposition's forecast. One might have expected the numbers to decline following the high-profile announcement that the door was being closed. Yet in the first six months that the test has been in operation, some 6,000 continental claimants of income support have been found to be not habitually resident here. There may be others who are claiming housing benefits.
As a result, total savings from the test are running at £30 million a year, ignoring any deterrent effect which the announcement may have had. We stopped the abuse in time. The Labour party seems to justify its opposition by synthetic concern for British citizens. They display a pseudo- nationalism that fits ill with their original complaints of discrimination. It says that it is all right to hit foreigners, but we must not in any way hit people who can claim British citizenship.
In fact, 88 per cent. of people from abroad who claim British citizenship pass the test, whereas 60 per cent. of continental claimants fail. Of those British citizens who failed, most had virtually no connection with this country. Most people would think it reasonable that they should not be entitled to benefit in this country until they have earned and paid taxes here.
I shall give examples from different parts of the country. An 18-year-old whose family emigrated to New Zealand when he was six came to this country on a return ticket paid by his father to visit his grandparents. He sought benefits, and I think it is right that he should have been refused them.
A 43-year-old who has lived her whole life with her mother in Italy has come to this country for two or three months every year for the past 10 years, and has claimed benefits in the UK. She has never worked in either country, and will no longer be entitled to benefit in this country. Do the Opposition wish to enable people like that to claim benefit?
A 20-year-old woman from the sub-continent who had never been to the United Kingdom until she arrived this year tried to claim benefit. She has never worked, knows no English and her husband lives in Saudi Arabia. Again, it is not obvious to me that we should give benefit to such people. In any case, under European Union rules we would not be entitled to discriminate on the basis of citizenship rather than residence and residence is, therefore, the basis of our test. It is similar to the basis that applies in almost all continental countries, which sensibly operate similar tests.
Column 865I challenge the Opposition to say whether they think that we should return to a position in which people coming for short stays have open-ended access to claim our benefits, when they have no commitment to this country and pay no taxes here. I believe that the British public back us to the hilt.
To return to my opening arguments, we have our priorities right. We put the interests of those in greatest need first by focusing help on them, maintaining the value of their benefits and enhancing their incentives. We put British taxpayers' interests next, by curbing excessive growth in the cost of social security, and we put their interests above those of foreign claimants, as I explained. Finally, we are putting the interests of honest claimants, who constitute the vast majority, above those of fraudsters who nonetheless cost the British taxpayer large sums of money.
Labour Members seem to oppose all those priorities. We are waiting to see whether they will come up with a coherent alternative strategy today for tackling the problems of social security. I doubt very much whether they will. That is the test that they have to pass. If they fail, the House should pass our measures with acclaim.
Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington): I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Opposition social security team to the motions and to respond to the extraordinary performance of the Secretary of State, who seemed determined to talk about many issues that were not before the House, rather than those presented for debate. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will stick to the issues before us and will not digress far from matters that are of such note today.
I was going to say in my opening remarks that the Secretary of State had clearly described the purpose of the orders and regulations. Unfortunately, he spent little time describing what we are here to debate. They deal with important matters, however. I shall spend some time on the uprating and re- rating orders, the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 1995 and the Income-related Benefits Schemes (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 3) Regulations 1994. The Secretary of State belatedly concentrated on the latter, which we have prayed against--it is more commonly known as the habitual residence test.
Clearly, the uprating of benefits is always welcome, but I must highlight several areas of concern. In particular, some benefits or benefit components will not be increased. As I am sure the Secretary of State is aware, those include: statutory sick pay; statutory maternity pay, which will again be frozen at £52.50; the maternity payment from the regulation-based social fund, which will again be frozen at £100; the capital limits, which will remain unchanged; and the earnings disregards, which will also remain unchanged. Perhaps the Minister could explain why those elements have not been considered for uprating.
Mr. Lilley: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour party would operate all those elements? If so, would he like to know the cost and would he commit the Labour party to financing that cost?
Mr. Bradley: As we enter the next election, the Labour party will see how far the Government have shifted on
Column 866those elements and will find out what the real situation is. We will then develop our policies around the real situation. We will not do so two years before that point.
In relation to the compensatory recovery unit in Glasgow, perhaps the Minister will explain why the limit of £2,500--the cut-off point for recovery of benefit from people who have received a payment, for example, for personal injury--has also not been uprated. There is much disquiet in the House about that, especially about the fact that there is reclamation of benefit at that level. I would be grateful for any views that the Minister may have on the way in which that recovery unit is operating.
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester): I honestly do not feel that the hon. Gentleman can have it both ways. He seems to deplore the fact that certain benefits are not being uprated and he is being critical, which is fair enough if that is what he believes, but he does not want to do anything about it. Either he wants the uprating or he does not. If he does, will he be specific about his view of the cost and where that money would be found? I do not think that he can have it both ways, as he is trying to do.
Mr. Bradley: It is always interesting when the hon. Gentleman intervenes. We never get any clarity about the issues that he raises.
I stress that we believe that the limit of £2,500 placed on the compensation recovery unit should be increased. My purpose was to question the Minister on his views on the matter, but I will press on.
Another key concern, which the Secretary of State mentioned in his opening remarks, is the change in housing benefit. We are well aware of the more fundamental review that is taking place. I may have misheard what the Secretary of State said, but it is not the case that there is an open-ended commitment to housing benefit on rents. A mechanism is already in place by which a rent officer can intervene to ensure that a reasonable rent is charged.
More particularly at this stage, we are concerned that the Government have increased the non-dependant deduction. The rate for non-dependants with gross earnings of between £74 and £110.99 is increased from £9 to £10, while the highest deduction for gross earnings of £145 or more is increased from £25 to £30--a 20 per cent. increase. That change will clearly have a significant effect on the housing costs of those groups of people. It could be especially damaging and could affect their ability to retain accommodation. While on the subject of housing costs, it is important to comment again on the fact that the Government intend to cut income support for mortgage interest payments for people who lose their jobs, as the Secretary of State said. We await that debate with some interest. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is well aware that there is already widespread opposition to such a measure, significantly among building societies and the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Perhaps even more significantly, many Conservative Back Benchers also oppose it. If the Social Security Advisory Committee also opposes the plans, will the Secretary of State drop them and instead take measures to protect people's homes, rather than to increase the likelihood of repossession?
Two further issues of concern regarding future plans should also be highlighted. First, on the proposed imposition of a ceiling of £875 for funeral expenses from
Column 867the social fund, although we would support a proper assessment of the charges made for funerals, it is essential to ensure that the ceiling does not deny the poorest people a dignified funeral. We also want assurances that the ceiling will be uprated and will not be allowed to decline further and, in effect, to wither on the vine. Finally, on this section, I must highlight the reduced rates of benefit that will be paid under the new incapacity benefit--something on which the Secretary of State commented. The amount of money that claimants who manage to pass the new, stricter test of incapacity receive--I stress that they must pass the test--will be substantially reduced compared with invalidity benefit. On top of that, the new benefit will be taxed, as we know.
I have raised that matter on many occasions on the Floor of the House and in Committee. I make no apology for that, and I shall continue to do so. When that benefit comes into effect, on 13 April 1995, I predict an outcry of similar proportions to that associated with the chaos surrounding the introduction of the Child Support Agency. Once again, I emphasise to Conservative Members that they have been warned about the implications of the new cuts in incapacity benefit as a result of the harsher medical test.
I shall briefly discuss the Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 1995. Perhaps, for this part of the debate, we should call it the memorial debate on the guaranteed minimum pension, because I suspect that this is the last time that that order will be before us.
Although, obviously, we welcome the fact that the minimum pension is to be increased, the current arrangements will be abolished under the Pension Bill currently in another place, and new arrangements substituted. However, I understand that there will not be a similar guarantee of the pension under the new arrangements. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that to the House, because many pensioners wish to ensure that there will be a guarantee in the future arrangements for pensions.
On the new habitual residence test, I shall not fall into the trap of the populism in which the Secretary of State tried to indulge during his opening remarks but shall stick to the issues before us. The Secretary of State's speech was reminiscent of his speech to the Conservative party conference in 1993, when he first expressed his determination to root out benefit tourism.
I emphasise that Labour Members have no quarrel with rooting out benefit tourism, but we are not certain that the measures before us achieve that purpose. The Government's proposals may take a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and the original objective of the habitual residence test may have been achieved at the expense of the welfare of many British and other nationals who have come to or returned to the United Kingdom to settle.
This is not the first attempt to introduce such a test. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) undertook a similar review of the benefits system in the mid-1980s, when he was Secretary of State for Social Security, and there was at that time a similar proposal to introduce a residence test for income support, but that was rejected by the then Minister of State for Social Security. That Minister said:
"we decided that a blanket test would be too rigid, too cumbersome, and perhaps too unfair . . . It could have excluded people such as . . . British citizens returning from abroad, United Kingdom citizens on work contracts returning home".
Column 868He also foresaw:
"it could become an administrative nightmare . . . A costly administrative system would also have to be set up to deal with people who failed to qualify for benefit, yet who were in need that we would not, in practice, ignore."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee B , 27 February 1986; c. 537.]
The Minister at that time was the present Prime Minister, and many people would accept the wisdom of his opinion at that time. Some would argue whether it is a Euro-sceptic or a Euro-phobic opinion, but the Secretary of State, whichever way he plays it, should reflect on that opinion in determining his current policies.
More recently, the Social Security Advisory Committee rejected the current plans. It recommended that the Government should not proceed with the introduction of the habitual residence test, on the ground that, although it might provide a solution to the problem of benefit tourism, it would have adverse consequences for many other claimants.
In practice, the test is proving arbitrary, subjective, complex and unfair. As there is no definition of habitual residence, several imprecise and, arguably, inappropriate criteria are used to establish residence. That lack of precision has made the writing of guidance for, and training of, staff extremely difficult.
Many categories of people have been caught by the test. The Secretary of State has alluded to them, but not in the way in which we would present our evidence. Those categories of people include the children of British citizens who were taken abroad by their parents who now wish to return to this country to take up their rightful citizenship; British nationals whose marriages have broken down while living abroad who want to return to Britain; and British nationals who have returned to Britain as a result of economic or political change in the country in which they have been living. In our opinion, none of those categories could be described as "benefit tourism".
Mr. Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North-West): I bring to my hon. Friend's attention, and that of the House, the case of a constituent of mine, Lisa Capon of Thornton Heath. She is a British subject who, at the age of 16, went to Portugal with her parents and her husband. Six years later--a few weeks ago--she returned to this country, to my constituency, and failed the habitual residence test.
Lisa had a one-way ticket back from Portugal to this country. She is five months pregnant. She could not obtain any social security money; she failed the test. As she does not have a child, although she is pregnant, she could not obtain help from social services. On Friday evening, on behalf of my constituent, a British citizen, I had to telephone social services' emergency number. After some arm-twisting, I was promised that a food parcel would be given--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions are normally short and succinct. This is a very short debate and the hon. Gentleman has raised a question. I imagine that the spokesman for the Opposition will choose whether to reply to it.
Mr. Bradley: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend presented an example that illustrates the complex situation in which many people find themselves. I argue that the way in which the rules are interpreted and the way in which the criteria are being established mean that many people fall into similar traps.
Column 869Also affected are those families spread across different continents who make long visits abroad. That is an especially common occurrence in the ethnic minority communities, many individual members of whom may have originally come to the UK as immigrants or whose parents settled here. In Bradford, for example, many welfare rights organisations report many problems arising as a result of the test. Similarly, the Commission for Racial Equality has mentioned many aspects of the administration of the test that cause unease. Further, the Prime Minister, who was then Minister of State for Social Security, was right to predict the immense administrative problems. Advice agencies report that a great deal of extra work has been caused as a result of the test. The Benefits Agency needs to interview many claimants in circumstances where the habitual residence test is an issue affecting entitlement.
Thousands of cases are under appeal. The Secretary of State mentioned 6,000 cases that fail the habitual residence test. I should be grateful if he would say how many of those cases are currently under appeal.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): In view of the critique that the hon. Gentleman advanced, does he wish the habitual residence test to be abolished?