HC Deb 23 March 1976 vol 908 cc179-81
3. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many prosecutions were instigated by her Department in 1975 against persons for obtaining social security benefit fraudulently.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Brian O'Malley)

On provisional figures, the total number of prosecutions for all types of benefit offences instigated in 1975, including cases dealt with by the police, was 15,350.

Mr. Brotherton

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in a Written Answer on 4th March he said that there were 45,000 such cases in 1975. Is not the figure of 15,000 prosecutions ludicrously small, and a gross insult to the normal decent taxpayer?

Mr. O'Malley

The hon. Gentleman does not take into account the type of case that can arise. For example, there may be very small sums involved, or we may be dealing with an estate after the death of an individual.

Mr. Clemitson

Will my right hon. Friend say how many people do not claim the benefits to which they are entitled?

Mr. O'Malley

My hon. Friend is right to raise that point, and the whole House should take it into account. For example, it has been estimated that up to 500,000 pensioners who have an entitlement—even if only a small one—to supplementary benefit do not apply for it. That is the principal problem of means testing, and that is why the Government's pension policies are designed to bring to an end, over a period, massive dependence on means testing, which is a characteristic of the life of too many retirement pensioners.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the greatest indignation is caused by foreigners who come to this country and defraud the Supplementary Benefits Commission? Does he recollect the case of Lionel Goubin, of France, who lived at Southend for three months at the expense of the taxpayer? Why was not that discovered sooner? The man was making no serious attempt to look for work.

Mr. O'Malley

The right hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that the entry to this country from EEC countries of people who are looking for work is expressly provided for within the terms of the Treaty of Accession. In the days when, perhaps, we had dissimilar views, I rather thought the right hon. Gentleman took the view that the Treaty of Accession was entirely acceptable to this country. I recognise the public indignation that is caused when people come into this country and defraud the system. The right hon. Gentleman will also recognise that the man to whom he referred appeared before a police court.

Mr. George

Does my right hon. Friend agree that most hon. Members on both sides of the House wholeheartedly condemn those who scrounge off, defraud or abuse the social security system? The figures show that abuses are only an infinitesimal proportion of the 18 million claimants. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such criticisms arouse the anxiety of ordinary working people, and may deter claims? In view of recent incidents, what advice should we, in public life, give to ordinary people on morality or financial rectitude?

Mr. O'Malley

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's observations.