HC Deb 21 May 1996 vol 278 cc90-1
9. Mr. Atkins

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when he expects to announce the decision on equipment for the computerisation of the benefits system. [28812]

Mr. Lilley

On 15 May, I announced that Pathway Group Ltd. had won the contract to design, install and operate the equipment that will automate the payment of benefits at post offices.

Mr. Atkins

I welcome the fact that a British company, ICL, has led the Pathway consortium to winning the biggest computer contract in Europe to cope with the problems of fraud. As it is also coupled with the innovative software of companies such as Escher and De la Rue, does my right hon. Friend agree that the benefit card will go a long way to solving the problems of fraud and thereby provide substantial sums of money for those in real need?

Mr. Lilley

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's welcome for that further step toward the introduction of the benefit payment card. Over the lifetime of the eight-year contract, we expect to save more than £1 billion a year by virtually eliminating method of payment fraud on order books and giros. It will make life easier for claimants and they will be less vulnerable to theft and attack. It will save the taxpayer money and reinforce the viability of the national network of post offices.

Mr. Miller

Some months ago, the Secretary of State agreed with me about the importance of maintaining the privacy of personal data on his Department's computers. Will he publish any evidence that he has submitted to the Home Office's prior options review regarding the function of data protection in the registrar's office, or were they simply weasel words, as he has not submitted any such evidence?

Mr. Lilley

We must stick by our duty to maintain the confidentiality of the data that we receive from benefit claimants and recipients. I will happily see whether I can publish any evidence and give it to the hon. Gentleman in order to assist him with his inquiries.

Mr. Nigel Evans

My right hon. Friend has said that computerisation and the benefit payment card will help to crack down on fraud. Will he give a commitment to publicise the telephone number that the public can use to provide information about those who are fraudulently claiming benefit?

Mr. Lilley

Members of the public throughout the country help us by providing information about benefit fraud and abuse, and they do so by telephoning their local benefit agency. We are running spotlight campaigns throughout the country which focus on particular areas. We urge those who have drifted into fraud to make good their arrangements with us and invite people to help us. I am happy to say that thousands of people are providing information and we are making substantial savings as a result.