The fight against fraud remains a top priority. Some £645 million was saved in 1993–94 due to direct action by fraud staff. This was an increase of 17 per cent. on both the previous year's figures, and the target set for the year.
My hon. Friend will know that there are few things that anger the British people more than the activities of rip-off merchants who fraudulently take the money of the British taxpayer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It seems that that does not worry Opposition Members, but my constituents consider such rip-off activities a disgrace. That is why my constituents, along with people throughout the country, congratulate the Government on the work that has already been done to reduce fraud. What work is being done to harness computer technology and modern payment systems to ensure that fraud is further driven back?
My hon. Friend is right. It is of great concern throughout the country that some people defraud the social security system. That is why we are determined to squeeze fraud out of the system altogether so that it is not there for us to catch. We shall be concentrating on the electronic stop-notice system, which is already doing valuable work in London. We shall be increasing the use of data matching. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we shall be introducing benefit payment cards as well as increasing the number of highly targeted visits. These measures will be effective in reducing and eliminating fraud.
Given the Secretary of State's miserable failure to answer the question asked by the Chairman of the Social Security Select Committee, will the Minister now confirm that there are about 15 million spare national insurance numbers, and give an undertaking that the availability of those numbers for fraud will be dealt with by the Government, because his right hon. Friend does not seem to be able to give an answer?
I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman understands the question that he has just asked. A large number of national insurance numbers are in existence, partly because when somebody dies it may well be necessary to keep a number in existence to allow a pension that is payable as a result of it to continue to be payable. Perhaps he does not understand his question.