HC Deb 14 February 1991 vol 185 cc991-2
9. Mr. Nicholas Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the detection and prosecution of social security fraud in the province.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

The Government are giving high priority to detecting and prosecuting social security fraud. More staff are now engaged and we are up to 107 in the Province; more cases have been uncovered, with 1,000 people prosecuted last year; and greater savings have been realised, of over £6 million this year. We shall maintain our efforts against fraud in the interest of all, but we must also encourage anyone entitled to benefit to claim.

Mr. Brown

Is the Minister aware of the scathing Public Accounts Committee report on this issue which was discussed in the House in 1987? If not, will he ask the present Secretary of State about it, as he was the Paymaster General at the Treasury when the matter was debated? Is it not a fact that the Government are unable to inquire into the extent of social security fraud in Northern Ireland because of gangsterism and because the Conservative party is tolerating much higher levels of abuse than it would tolerate in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hanley

I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is talking absolute rubbish. We are completely in tune with the normal ways of trying to combat social security fraud. We understand entirely the sensitivity of the issue, and that makes the job much more difficult to tackle there than in Great Britain. We have restructured the Department, extra staff are deployed, we give them extensive training and we give them very good guidance indeed. They perform an extremely courageous task. New computer systems have been installed to help detection and staff have been deployed where the risks are greatest.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

We congratulate the Minister on looking after the public distribution of public money. Has he considered looking at the situation where some fraudulent claims are made out of need as opposed to those that are made out of greed?

Mr. Hanley

Claims should never be made out of greed. There are plenty of allowable parts of the social security system that allow those in need to claim. Indeed, we encourage people to claim. We have information and advice centres and a free line telephone system, so people should not go without.