HC Deb 25 June 1996 vol 280 cc137-8
3. Mr. Madden

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will withdraw the habitual residence test regulations. [32974]

Mr. Roger Evans


Mr. Madden

If the test was introduced to stop so-called benefit tourists from the European Union from obtaining benefits fraudulently here, how does the Minister explain that 93 per cent. of those interviewed are British citizens and that of the 7 per cent. of British citizens who failed the test most have been working and paying taxes in Britain for years? In view of this, does the Minister accept the verdict of many who are striving to cope with this test that it is expensive, unworkable, unfair and should be scrapped?

Mr. Evans

If one followed the logic of the hon. Gentleman's question, it would be a simple case of abolition. There is no satisfactory way of preventing benefit tourism under the European treaties—which allow no discrimination on nationality grounds—other than the habitual residence test. That is embedded in directive 1408/71, which is one of the earliest pieces of Community legislation.

I must correct the hon. Gentleman's statistics concerning the pass and fail rates of United Kingdom nationals: 91 per cent. pass and 9 per cent. fail. In the European economic area 50 per cent. of nationals pass and 50 per cent. fail. Therefore, the system is the least harsh way of achieving something that is absolutely necessary and in the interests of the British taxpayer. We want to know whether Labour would pledge to abolish the test.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the lessons of the test is that people should not be foot loose and free at the expense of the British taxpayer? Does that not apply also to new age travellers?

Mr. Evans

My hon. Friend makes two very powerful points with which I respectfully agree.

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