HC Deb 08 August 1972 vol 842 cc1473-5
15. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the total cost to public funds of supplementary benefits paid to those involved in industrial disputes and their dependants during such disputes and after return to work in the first seven months of 1972.

Sir K. Joseph

Approximately £6.9 million.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

As the strike subsidy is now running at a rate between two and three times that prevailing prior to the passage of the Social Security Act, 1971, is there not some urgency to my right hon. Friend's review of the workings of the Act? Will he give a progress report on that review and indicate when if will be completed?

Sir K. Joseph

It is true that the rate is now running at one and a half times the rate in the first seven months of last year. But 94 per cent. of the supplementary benefits payment payable this year to the dependants of strikers and to strikers was accounted for by a single strike, the miners' strike. Certainly the Government regard the review to which my hon. Friend refers as urgent, but we also regard it as extremely important to get the balance of the decision right.

Mr. Leslie Hackfield

Will the Secretary of State put some of the complaints made by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) in perspective? Will he do his best to put in proper perspective the recent remarks of the hon. Gentleman about the advice which was given by the Claimants Union in Coventry, in that this was advice which was not endorsed by the Transport and General Workers Union, the union concerned?

Sir K. Joseph

Certainly the recent inflammatory leaflet in Coventry was promptly disowned by the trade union concerned. But my hon. Friend's disquiet is entirely justified, and while it is necessary to keep this whole subject in proportion, it is nevertheless entirely right for the Government to try to get the right balance between the interests of the public as a whole and the interests of the families of those who have voluntarily withdrawn their labour.

Mrs. Knight

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) has a great deal of public sympathy on his side? There is very strong public feeling on this matter. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a man's wife and children should be that man's responsibility and that if he wishes to strike the State ought not to permit him to ditch his responsibilities, in the way that many such men do?

Sir K. Joseph

I have indicated my sympathy with the worry expressed by both my hon. Friends. Nevertheless, we must get the balance of decision right. I hope that the whole House will understand that the relatively simple solutions which are often peddled do not always bear close examination.

Mr. O'Malley

Is the Secretary of State aware that any disquiet which the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) may feel on this subject is as nothing to the disquiet felt on the Opposition benches as a result of the industrial chaos which the general policies of the present Government have produced? Has not the level of supplementary benefit paid in the first seven months of this year been caused by precisely the policies put forward by the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for South Angus? Would not a way of cutting down on such benefits be for the Government to rethink the whole of their industrial relations policy, including the scrapping of the Industrial Relations Act?

Sir K. Joseph

I do not believe that the very nearly indiscriminate support of the Opposition Front Bench and their hon. Friends of almost every wage claim and industrial dispute does the country any good or, indeed, does their interests any good.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that when family allowances are extended to the first child this may make a significant increase in the amount of family benefit available which is indpendent of the circumstances of the breadwinner?

Sir K. Joseph

I am sorry to rebuff my hon. Friend and his enthusiasm. But the Green Paper on the tax credit scheme is promised for later this year. I must ask him and the House to await it.

Mr. Dunn

When talking about inflammatory statements, is the Secretary of State aware that a recent decision made in Merseyside has not helped to ease the situation? The interpretation of paragraph 27 of Schedule 2 of the Ministry of Social Security Act, 1966, which his Department has found convenient to operate, is so rigid that it is causing aggravation where aggravation is not required?

Sir K. Joseph

I think that the House will acquit me of trying to shelter behind anyone else, but the Supplementary Benefits Commission is an independent body. It is up to the Commission to interpret the legislation under which it operates.