HC Deb 24 July 1979 vol 971 cc339-40
12. Mrs. Knight

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many Giro cheques issued by his departmental managers in local offices were lost or stolen in 1978; and what was the amount of public money paid twice over as a result of these losses.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

A total of 57 million Giro cheques were issued by my Department in 1978, of which 91,000 were reported missing. About one-third of these were replaced immediately on hardship grounds, but over half of these resulted in duplicate payments causing an estimated loss of £480,000. I am reviewing policy in this area.

Mrs. Knight

Will my right hon. Friend take care not to fall into the trap of regarding this matter as one of small importance because it concerns a relatively small part of the total that is paid out? May I commend to him the theory that if he looks after the thousands the millions will take care of themselves? Will he take steps to take greater care of security at the payout point so that the money goes to the person whose name is on the Giro cheque?

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. The review that has been carried out by my Department embodies a series of additional checks at the point of payout to reduce and, I hope, to minimise the amount of fraud that is carried out through the issue of Giro cheques. The issue is always one of balance. Undoubtedly there are cases of immediate hardship where immediate relief is required, and these have to be balanced against measures to check possible fraud.

Mr. Cryer

Will the right hon. Gentleman resist attempts by his hon. Friends to attack those who claim supplementary benefit and to regard them as scroungers? Does he accept that we are all concerned that there should be no fraudulent use of supplementary benefit? Will he also accept that far greater sums go astray? For example, tax evasion amounts to several hundred million pounds a year, while the loss from supplementary benefit payments is only about £3 million. Will he tell his Cabinet colleagues that, far from attacking the majority of decent ordinary people who are on supplementary benefit, they should pursue tax losses, which represent by far the greater amount?

Mr. Jenkin

I have many varied responsibilities, but the pursuit of tax evasion is not one of them. I am happy to inform the hon. Gentleman that none of my right hon. or hon. Friends has ever described any legitimate claimant to supplementary benefit as a scrounger.