§ The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lilley)
As I announced to the House on 5 March, I am creating a new benefit fraud investigation service, which will bring together almost 5,000 specialised staff from the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency. I announced yesterday the first three areas to be selected for a programme of local month-long anti-fraud drives.
§ Dr. Spink
Does my right hon. Friend agree that benefit fraud takes money not only from the Exchequer but from vulnerable people? Will he therefore address the important subject of political benefit fraud, and avoid following the Opposition's policy of thinking the unthinkable and spending the unaffordable, which would perpetrate a massive fraud on the people of this country? Does he think that that is a fair description of the Opposition's social security review?
§ Mr. Lilley
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the Opposition have been trying to perpetrate a fraud on the British people over social security. They have systematically voted against and opposed every social security reform that we have introduced, yet at the same time they try to pretend that they are fiscally responsible.
§ Mr. Bradley
Clearly, we welcome those belated measures to try to combat fraud—after the Government have been in office for 17 years. At Question Time on 23 January, I asked the Secretary of State exactly what his fraud targets were for each of the next three years. He said that he could not respond immediately from the Dispatch Box, so I wrote to him. He acknowledged my letter on 8 February, but I have had no reply to my question. Will he tell us today exactly what his yearly fraud targets are for each of the next three years?
§ Mr. Lilley
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not take the reply that I gave him in debate, but I can tell him now that the overall fraud target for 1996–97 is £1.8 billion, and that for 1998–99 it is £2.5 billion. For the current year the target is £1.38 billion.
§ Mr. Waterson
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my constituency of Eastbourne, since the push on fraudulent claims began, it has been found that fraudulent housing benefit claims are running at more than £1 million a year? Is he aware that my constituents who pay their taxes and do not claim benefits fraudulently are sick and tired of underwriting such activity?
§ Mr. Lilley
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The people who most support the attack on fraud and abuse are those on modest earnings who honestly pay their way in society without claiming benefits to which they are not entitled, and who greatly resent seeing others who achieve a standard of living not far below their own by abusing the benefit system. I am delighted that, in my hon. Friend's constituency, as elsewhere, we are being successful in cracking down on that abuse.