HC Deb 23 July 1996 vol 282 cc129-30
3. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is his latest estimate of the annual cost of social security payments to asylum seekers. [36958]

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lilley)

If I had not introduced the changes to benefits for asylum seekers in February, it is estimated that the cost would soon have exceeded £400 million a year. Our changes will save more than £270 million, but we will continue to spend just over £140 million a year supporting asylum seekers.

Mr. Marshall

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the types of abuse of the system that many of us have come to expect from asylum seekers? One came to see me on Saturday and thought that she was eligible for housing benefit of £240 a week, or £12,480 a year. Is that reasonable? Is it not right that the Government have stamped down on such unjustified claims? Is it not irresponsible of the Opposition to have opposed that? Is not that yet another new danger from new Labour?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It was only sensible to take the measures that we have taken to prevent the waste of large sums of public money on supporting bogus asylum seekers. The Opposition are grossly irresponsible in pledging to restore that money: they will have to find that £300 million elsewhere in the social security budget—they will take money away from British citizens who are genuine claimants to give to bogus claimants from abroad.

Mr. Gapes

Will the Secretary of State give careful consideration this coming winter to any representations he may receive from Churches, organisations running night shelters and organisations providing support to the destitute that might lead him to introduce new proposals to deal with the outrageous changes he has introduced which have brought hardship to so many men, women and children?

Mr. Lilley

Of course I will consider carefully any representations I receive from any quarter, especially those the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I draw comfort from the fact that the frightening prognostications that were made when my policies were introduced have not materialised—I do not believe they will materialise. Claimants who are found to be genuine at the end of the process will have their benefits backdated, so that those who support asylum seekers they know to be genuine will have their costs reimbursed.

Mrs. Roe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if total social security spending is not to rise, any increase in spending on asylum seekers would have to be balanced by lower benefits for British citizens? Since the Labour party now claims that it would not increase the total social security budget, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the Labour party has told him how it would pay for the extra spending on asylum seekers that it proposes and which British benefits it would cut to pay for it?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The dilemma she points out is exactly that faced by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who has pledged to restore those benefits. He has had the rug pulled from under him by his leader, who has let it be known in The Daily Telegraph that he agrees with me and not with his spokesman. An interesting article by Boris Johnson states: What was the Blair view of Peter Lilley's attempt to crack down on bogus asylum-seekers? Was he outraged like the Guardian editorialists … Did he condemn them? Far from it. He continues—with words attributed by a Labour source to the Labour leader: '"I think Peter Lilley makes a lot of sense… it's a bit much all these people saying they won't be a charge on the state, and then claiming asylum when they get here.' The moment he sees daylight between himself and the Tories, Blair closes the gap.