HC Deb 28 January 1997 vol 289 cc136-7
2. Mr. Bellingham

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has for avoiding fraud in the benefit system; and if he will make a statement. [11369]

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lilley)

Tackling fraud and abuse is my top priority. The Social Security Administration (Fraud) Bill, which successfully completed its Committee stage this morning, will strengthen our ability to fight fraud, and will enable us to galvanise local authorities into tackling fraud in housing benefit.

Mr. Bellingham

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for outlining the action that the Government are taking. Will he join me in paying tribute to the staff in the King's Lynn benefits office, who work very hard to tackle fraud in Norfolk and elsewhere? Is he aware of a particular problem in Norfolk due to the recent arrival from eastern Europe of illegal immigrants who have sought work and, in some cases, benefits? Does he agree that such abuse must be tackled? What is he doing about it?

Mr. Lilley

I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Benefits Agency staff in King's Lynn and throughout the country. They work with dedication and commitment to help those entitled to benefit and to ensure that money does not go to those who are not entitled to it.

I shall look into the problem in my hon. Friend's constituency of illegal immigrants and others who are not entitled to benefits claiming them in those circumstances.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Does the Secretary of State accept that the data-matching powers in the fraud Bill will prejudice privacy and confer unprecedented powers on the state? Will he give constructive consideration to the case for introducing into the Bill a code of practice to ensure that central and local government departments and contracted agencies comply with the best international standards for data protection?

Mr. Lilley

I do not accept that those powers are an infringement of civil liberties. We are not requiring any more information from individuals than is already taken. We are simply using the power to ensure that people are not, for example, working and claiming. We have said that we will consider the appropriateness of codes of practice, and we will discuss that matter with those responsible for data protection.

Mr. John Marshall

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House about the success of his fraud hotline, which has been warmly welcomed by the majority of taxpayers who work hard and do not see why their taxes should help fraudsters?

Mr. Lilley

I can tell my hon. Friend that the fraud hotline has been extremely successful. More than 100,000 calls have been received. They are still coming in at a rate of more than 5,000 a week, which is high such a long time after the original announcement. It shows that honest, upright individuals are incensed by the minority who try to rip off the system. We entirely uphold their opinions.