HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc600-2
8. Mrs. Knight

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will bring in regulations to deny access to Great Britain of citizens of the Irish Republic who have no means to support themselves and whose presence will be a drain on British Exchequer funds.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I am not in favour of anyone who is not a national of this country coming here to live off the British Exchequer. But in so far as a problem exists it is not uniquely concerned with citizens of the Republic of Ireland. Nor could it be solved by Regulations alone.

Mrs. Knight

Does the Home Secretary agree that hard-working and responsible taxpayers resent the fact that people come into the country and, having contributed not one penny to the Exchequer, immediately draw benefits? Does he realise that when resentment of that kind builds up the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland is affected?

Mr. Jenkins

I agree that there may be resentment, and I think that there is, occasionally. One has to view the problem in its proper proportion. If one is concerned about the resentment it is desirable not to foment it if it is not on a large scale. It has to be remembered that a British citizen can go to any of the countries of the European Community and immediately draw benefit. Therefore, the position of Ireland is not unique. Clearly, I am not in favour of people coming here to live off the back of the British Exchequer, which has enough on its back already. I agree with that principle, but on the basis of a very limited number of cases I cannot embark on a complete change in our relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the EEC.

Mr. Fernyhough

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) campaigned assiduously for Britain's entry into the Common Market, and as so many other hon. Members did likewise. Is it not true to say that if we introduced Regulations of the kind that the hon. Lady wants, we would be acting in conflict with the principles of the free movement of people, which we accepted when we became members of the EEC?

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) confined her remarks to citizens of the Irish Republic. However, the Irish Republic is a member of the European Community. Even if we were to revoke the common travel area, which would be a major step to take, the provisions of our membership, the membership of the Irish Republic and membership of the other seven countries of the Community would mean that no different position existed.

Mr. Powell

As the right hon. Gentleman has twice confirmed that he disapproves of cases of the kind which he defined, how does he propose to deal with this problem?

Mr. Jenkins

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with me on certain matters at present. There are a number of things of which I disapprove and wish did not happen. However, it is not possible or competent for a Government to deal with all of them by legislation or even by Regulation.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that hon. Members would serve the nation better if they brought to the attention of the appropriate Department those cases in which there is an abuse of public funds, rather than coming to this House and making smears and innuendoes about other people? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the latter part of last year the Daily Express, a so-called reputable newspaper, published three letters making grave accusations about the acquisition of a car and a television set by means of supplementary benefits, but that when those cases were investigated it was found that there was not a scintilla of truth in the allegations? It is about time that hon. Members stopped spreading these smears, which are completely without foundation.

Mr. Jenkins

I do not believe that my hon. Friend's powerful intervention calls for any reply from me.