HC Deb 20 June 1960 vol 625 cc6-7
7. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance in how many cases the National Assistance Board instituted prosecutions for false declarations in connection with claims for assistance in each of the last five years; what proportion of false declarations this represented in each case; and on what basis the choice of cases for prosecution is made.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

As regards the first part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave him on 30th May. I am informed by the National Assistance Board that there are no records available to show the proportion of false declarations which result in prosecution. I am also informed that in deciding whether or not prosecution is appropriate both the circumstances and background of the person concerned and the Nature and seriousness of the offence are taken into consideration; in particular, prosecution is not undertaken unless there appears to have been a clear intention to defraud.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that, after study of the figures with which he provided me some weeks ago, there is a feeling that it is deliberate policy of the National Assistance Board to institute a certain number of prosecutions each year? Can he either confirm or deny that? Will he consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to see what is the basis on which farmers are prosecuted who falsely get ploughing up grants? I understand that in Scotland only one was prosecuted and imprisoned as a result.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As regards the first part of that supplementary question, the grounds of decision to prosecute are those I gave in my main Answer, and there is no policy to keep the numbers up to any particular figure—quite plainly. As far as the second part of the question is concerned, the figures I gave—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was complaining about them or not—show, of course, that the number of prosecutions in Scotland was down in the last three years.

Mr. Ross

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that ill-judged prosecutions—and to my mind at least one has happened in Scotland in the last few years—have a detrimental effect on the reputation of the Board at the time when we are trying to build up its reputation for humanity?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the decision whether or not to prosecute in these and analogous cases is an extremely difficult and delicate one. The Board is liable, quite rightly, to be shot at if it does not do so in appropriate cases where public money has been obtained by fraud. The Board acts very conscientiously and, though I would not claim infallibility for the Board, I do think it adopts a very sound approach.