§ 12. Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester)
If he will make a statement on the savings achieved as a result of the benefit integrity project. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Bayley)
The most recent estimate of benefit savings from the benefit integrity project is £8 million for 1997–98 and £30 million for 1998–99. A further estimate of the savings will be calculated following the cessation of the scheme at the end of March.
§ Mr. Bayley
We are not setting out on the scheme simply to make savings. We want to introduce a fairer system that will allow people on disability living allowance to have their award increased when their mobility or care needs increase, as well as allowing decreases when needs decrease. The benefit integrity project, which we inherited from our predecessors, was unfair because, in effect, it allowed only reductions. Our scheme will allow appropriate adjustments up or down.
§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
As the Minister has just admitted, the benefit integrity project achieved relatively little savings and caused untold anxiety and hardship for many disabled people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who started it?"] The scheme was operated for nearly two years by the Labour Government, regardless of all the complaints from hon. Members of all parties asking the Government to suspend it. Will the Minister confirm that the replacement scheme, the periodic review system, will lead to more reviews, affecting more disabled people; that the decision-making process will be the same as for the benefit integrity project; and that, if the new review process also leads to anxiety and hardship among disabled people, he will stop it, regardless of the saving?
§ Mr. Bayley
I find it quite extraordinary that the hon. Lady should make such a broadside attack on a change to the benefits system that her party introduced. We acknowledge that the system was flawed, and that is why we have changed it. The scheme saved £30 million in 1998–99, which she described as relatively little savings. That is in stark contrast to statements from other Conservative Front Benchers about the need to get the level of payments of all benefits right, which is what we intend to do.
When we introduce the new system, which we are developing in consultation with the voluntary bodies, we will do so slowly and carefully, and ensure that it beds down well. If the Conservatives had developed their scheme, the benefit integrity project, in consultation with the voluntary bodies representing disabled people, we might not have had so many problems with it.
§ Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)
May I congratulate the Benefits Agency on its sting operation over the weekend in Portsmouth, in which it targeted people returning from abroad who claim disability benefits but who had full sets of tools in their possession? They are now being investigated for fraud. Does my hon. Friend agree that every pound taken through fraud is stealing from the people who need it most?
§ Mr. Bayley
My hon. Friend could not be more right, and it is disgraceful that people make false claims for benefits. It is good that he should congratulate the Benefits Agency on its successful work to ensure that benefits are paid to those entitled to them, and it shows that the agency is doing its job.