HC Deb 25 June 1996 vol 280 cc144-5
9. Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the priority which he attaches to his review of the benefit system. [32980]

Mr. Lilley

The reform of social security systems is a central problem facing all developed countries. To ensure that our system remains affordable, I have produced a comprehensive package of reforms that are expected to save £5 billion a year in the course of the next Parliament and £15 billion a year thereafter.

Mrs. Lait

I welcome that information, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that his policy is to reform the benefit system and take action, not to hide policies and avoid action—which is the purpose of the Labour party's review?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Our policy has been to analyse thoroughly, act decisively and achieve massive savings and improvements. The Opposition reviews—but, like many reviewers, they cannot act.

Mr. Corbett

Will the Secretary of State confirm that part of his review is a proposal to close the Benefits Agency freeline service, which is used by more than 3 million people a year? Is it also the right hon. Gentleman's purpose to end the out-of-hours service for people whose girocheques go missing or whose books are stolen?

Mr. Lilley

We have announced changes to localised access to information. Rather than refer people to a national freeline, which almost invariably resulted in referring callers to their local office—so causing duplication and a waste of time and effort—we believe that callers can obtain more information more quickly by making a local call.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

When I was canvassing in my constituency on Saturday—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We are always putting over the message. One woman told me that she was fed up with the Tories. When I asked why, she said, "Because I work for the Department of Social Security." I thought that the rest of the conversation would be rather predictable, but the lady told me that she had just been recruited from the private sector and was horrified at the level of fraud and maladministration in the local DSS office. Will my right hon. Friend take that not as criticism but as encouragement for all that the Government are doing to direct benefits away from fraudsters and towards the people who need them?

Mr. Lilley

I shall certainly take my hon. Friend's question in the sense that he advised. I am sure that his constituent is aware that Labour has always been the friend of the fraudster and soft on fraud. As Labour has demonstrated this week, that party is particularly keen to allow bogus asylum seekers to keep receiving benefits— just as Labour has long allowed British citizens to enjoy benefits fraudulently and would like that to continue.