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Mr. Blunkett: I did not think that I had announced anything this afternoon that was tabloid fiction. I thought that I had enunciated a policy that we set out two years ago in the White Paper to which I referred and that I have been following ever since. There has been no disagreement between the Prime Minister and me on the

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matter—none. We are agreed that we want people to come here to work, and we are agreed that we do not want people to exploit our benefits and social services. That is simple, straightforward and everyone can understand it.

We will not need an appeals system under the rules. If people have a job and are registered, they will be entitled to benefits. If they do not have a job and are not registered, we will be able to disqualify them from benefits under the European accession rules. Those are the rules that we are laying down. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Paymaster General will together lay the necessary orders to enforce that.

I am happy to publish the number of those who register, as we do the number of those who are granted work permits, so that people can see how many people have come to our country and are working. There will be no need for a bureaucratic system forbidding registration in particular parts of the country. A labour market is a labour market: if people can get a job, they get a job, and employers have the opportunity to take them on. My only appeal is that people who do not have a job at the moment in this country are willing to be as flexible and as prepared to move and to work as those who come from other parts of the European Union. In that way, we would ensure that people who can work and who have no disability that precludes them from working get a job instead of being dependent on benefit. To be honest, that has been our policy all the time: welfare to work, make work pay, ensure that people are welcome to work and have an honest, open debate about it.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that many editors of tabloid newspapers will very much regret what he said in his statement? He has refused to rise to the bait of the scare stories and race hatred stories that they have published over the past few weeks and produced a reasonably balanced statement. However, what will the position be for immigrant workers who have a work permit and are registered and in employment? Surely they and their families will be entitled to the day-to-day benefits of the national health service, education for their children and so on once they begin to pay taxation and national insurance. Will he confirm that they will not be excluded from that?

Mr. Blunkett: I am not going to speculate on what the morning papers will say, except to say that a number of tabloids that do not take our political point of view are strongly in favour of honest work and of people declaring that they are working and paying their taxes and national insurance. I look forward to them backing what we are doing wholeheartedly and being totally against clandestine exploitation.

On my hon. Friend's second point, I can confirm that that is the case. When someone has worked consistently for 12 months and paid national insurance and taxes, they will be entitled to those benefits.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Will the Home Secretary say for how long the European Union will allow him to apply the restrictions on benefit entitlement? Is he wholly satisfied that they are legally sound?

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People who come here and secure a job will be entitled to housing benefit and, of course, to use the health service. Will that not create major problems in areas such as seaside towns, which already have a major problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman look into that? Finally, as the average income in eastern Europe is one third of what it is in the European Union, does he not genuinely think that the problem could be much greater than he anticipates?

Mr. Blunkett: On the first question, the answer is initially for two years, which is renewable. On people drawing down housing benefit, I have made it clear that social housing will not be available to anyone who is not working. It will not automatically be available to those who are working because they have to take their turn in the queue. However, I expect people who are earning their living to want to live here sensibly and respectably, and to be able to rent accordingly in the private sector. We would want them to do that.

On the hon. Gentleman's third question, I remember people saying exactly the same thing when Portugal, Spain and Greece acceded to the EU. The disparity in comparative wage levels when Portugal and Greece, in particular, entered the European Union was very similar to that which exists now between employment and wage levels here and in the accession countries. That is why we are confident that what we are doing is sensible for both the British economy and our society.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): The press and politicians are preoccupied with the lower-wage end of the market, but on the other side of the coin, will the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions deal with some of the professional bodies and royal colleges which are putting obstructions in the way of people with a profession coming here who can meet an unmet need? For instance, there is a surfeit of dentists in Poland, and I want them to be able to come here.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with his opposite number in the Irish Republic, bearing in mind our common travel area? Their problems are ours, and vice versa, and if we do not deal with the British Isles, rather than the United Kingdom, these and other measures relating to the control of immigration will not work.

Mr. Blunkett: I said "plumbers or paediatricians"; I should have said "dustmen or dentists", but we are not allowed to say "dustmen" any more. Where there is a market or a shortage, and people have the relevant skills, I am in favour of them coming here, earning their living openly and being able to contribute. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that that is sensible.

Andrew Mackinlay: The Irish Republic?

Mr. Blunkett: We have of course been in touch with our opposite numbers in Ireland, and they are considering today whether they want to replicate the measures that we are taking.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I welcome the Home Secretary's belated conversion to the habitual residence test, which he and his party so

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vehemently opposed when I introduced it. However, is he aware that, according to the House of Commons Library brief, the accession treaty contains a standstill clause that ensures that rights to access to the labour market prevailing at the time of accession may not be subsequently further restricted? He says that the Government retain full discretion to remove all or part of the concessions at any time, which clearly is untrue beyond 2007. Is there any truth in his statement or in the Library's statement? If the Library is incorrect, what restrictions would he propose subsequently to introduce if the numbers proved excessive?

Mr. Blunkett: There is a right to withdraw the concession within the time scale to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, because it is a concession.

Mr. Lilley: What about the standstill clause?

Mr. Blunkett: Well, our legal advice is very clear, and we believe that we are not bound from 1 May. We do not believe that there will be a difficulty, but if there were, we could return to the issue and consider it anew. What might be open to us is to do as the Germans propose—I am totally opposed to this—and allow people free entry, which they have to do, not allow them to work, but be prepared to countenance their working in the sub-economy. That is both dishonest and dangerous.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Will the Home Secretary clarify again the position on social housing? If a properly registered worker enters the country with his family and comes to stay in the borough of Lambeth, where there are thousands of people on the waiting list and people have been told that they must wait seven years for any chance of moving from a two-bedroom to a three-bedroom property, what exactly will be their position?

Mr. Blunkett: The position is as my hon. Friend has just spelled it out: people are likely to wait in excess of seven years to get anywhere near a property, by which time they will have paid plenty of taxes and national insurance and they will be long-standing and valued members of her community.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Home Secretary agree that the whole argument may be a little overblown? His own figures show that last year 78,000 people from the EU managed to claim habitual residence status in this country, which has a working population of 29 million. Does he also agree that any perceived influx would in any event be shortlived, as the eastern European economies picked up?

Mr. Blunkett: That is exactly the point of all parties and all politicians in the House having welcomed accession. The whole intention was to provide a trade area, lifting the standard of living and increasing the interchange of trade of people between countries that are, mainly, former communist states, and that is what we are doing. The EU has accepted that Malta and Cyprus, with which we have tremendous historical

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connections, have freedom across the board in every country for both work and benefits and support, as we do.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point entirely.

On the habitual residence test, it is worth reflecting on the fact that that was tightened by this Government in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and in regulations precisely to prevent non-EU nationals resident in the EU from coming here to exploit our system.

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