Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, derailed the Social Security Minister, Alistair Darling, by exposing as fraudulent the Minister?s claims in Parliament that the government had reduced benefit fraud significantly. In fact the government?s own figures show that the level of confirmed fraud in income support and job seekers? allowance is increasing under this government.

    Peter Lilley said: “Will the Secretary of State confirm that the latest benefit fraud review measuring the level of fraud in income support and jobseeker?s allowance shows that the level of confirmed fraud is higher this year than last year??

    The Minister replied: “It shows that there has been the first ever significant fall in fraud in the payment of income support and JSA. The right hon Member for Hitchin and Harpenden was never able to say that during the previous Parliament in all this time as Secretary of State for Social Security. As I have made it clear to the House on many occasions, I do not say that we have beaten fraud and error in the system. We have not, but we have begun to turn the corner. The 6.4 per cent reduction in fraud in JSA and income support is the first significant fall that we have ever seen in those two benefits in the social security system. That is a significant achievement, and we need to build on it as we move towards meeting our target of halving the amount of fraud and error in the system in the next five to six years.

    Mr Lilley continued: “I have just checked the Secretary of State?s claim. The Library confirms that the level of confirmed fraud has not fallen. It is only by including errors that the right hon Gentleman is able to claim a decline. Will he now set the record straight and confirm that when he said ?fraud?, he was mistaken. He meant that ?fraud plus errors? has gone down; the incidence of fraud alone has gone up.?

    The Minister: “When asked about these matters, I repeatedly use the term ?fraud and error?. [Interruption]. I do. ?

    ” We have also seen reductions in fraud. The reduction of fraud and error in the system, particularly in JSA and income support is statistically significant. It is the first time that it has ever happened. The right hon Gentleman could never have announced such a reduction when he was Secretary of State for Social Security, during the whole of the previous Parliament.?

    Mr Lilley: “Will the Secretary of State give way??

    The Minister: “I will give way later on.?

    ? Mr Lilley: “The Secretary of State has now admitted that he was wrong when he said that fraud had declined ? it is fraud plus error. He then went on to say that the reduction was statistically significant. The Library research document says that the small fall in confirmed fraud and error is not statistically significant. Will the right hon Gentleman withdraw the statement??

    The Minister: “I certainly will not. The fall is statistically significant, and I attach considerable importance to it.?

    ? Peter Lilley: “In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State ? hoping that he could bamboozle us ? claimed that the level of fraud had gone down. In fact, the figures show that in the past two benefit reviews the level of confirmed fraud in income support and jobseeker?s allowance has risen. He was able to claim a fall only by adding in the errors. He is the first person who has pleaded errors to excuse fraud, or the failure to reduce it.

    “Undeterred, the right hon Gentleman then claimed ? he is nothing if not brazen ? that the fall in fraud and errors was significant. However, the House of Commons Library has produced a report in which it explicitly says that the fall is not significant. The Public Accounts Committee considered the matter and noted that even if the rate is ? as the Government claim ? edging down, it is not doing so to a significant extent.

    “The Secretary of State was mistaken on that front too. It is sad that he is not man enough to admit his error and acknowledge to the House that the benefits surveys confirm that fraud has risen. Any fall in fraud and errors combined is not statistically significant.?