HC Deb 25 June 1996 vol 280 cc140-1
6. Mr. David Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the results of Operation Spotlight. [32977]

Mr. Heald

The Spotlight on Benefit Cheats campaign, which began in April this year, has been very successful. The spotlight has shone on 11 separate areas of the country, and seven of those have now completed their operational phase.

So far an estimated £16.5 million of benefit fraud has been stopped, and the amount increases daily.

Mr. Evans

Does the Minister agree that that is the tip of a large iceberg? Millions, if not billions, of pounds are being claimed by illegal immigrants and those who work in the black economy, often referred to as the long-term unemployed. Will the Minister be very strong with the judges and tell them that we, as elected representatives, will choose to spend taxpayers' money as we think fit? If that lot over there ever get in power with their tax plans and their spending plans, it will not be long before we all need a Giro-green cheque every week, just to survive.

Mr. Heald

My hon. Friend makes his point in his own way and I agree with much of what he said. The Spotlight on Benefit Cheats campaign is saving money and cracking down on the problem. Labour keep inventing totals for benefit fraud and silly ideas such as benefits investigators having to conduct their house-to-house interviews every eight minutes, instead of every 77 minutes under us. Labour talks: the Government act.

Ms Eagle

Can the Minister explain why the system is in such an appalling mess after 17 years of Tory rule?

Mr. Heald

The hon. Lady talks as though the Labour party has come forward with idea after idea about how to crack down on benefit fraud. That is far from the truth. We have heard no ideas and nothing but complaints while the Government get on and solve the problem.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

I have had many complaints from constituents about fraud or alleged fraud. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he visited the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) the other day to open a campaign on fraud that will cover my constituency? Can he confirm that that campaign will involve conscientious checks and will be effective? I hope that he can.

Mr. Heald

I was in Great Yarmouth last week to announce the Spotlight on Benefit Cheats campaign, which commences active operation on 1 July. That campaign has a proven track record. It involves visiting, careful checks, the use of the largest data-matching computer in Europe to check individuals' circumstances, and free hotlines for individuals to give us confidential information about fraud—and it works. In Haringey and Enfield, the first area that we tackled, the full year's savings to 1996 were £5.6 million, yet in four weeks we were able to save £4.1 million.