HC Deb 13 June 1972 vol 838 cc1231-4
2. Mr. Ralph Howell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if, to help his formation of policy on payment of supplementary benefit to dependants of strikers, he will examine the practice in other countries, and publish his findings.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

Information about arrangements in some European countries and the United States is being considered as part of the current policy review.

I will, with permission, circulate a summary of the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Howell

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread concern at the extent to which the State intervenes on the side of strikers, and does he appreciate how important it is that employers in this country should not be at a disadvantage compared with employers in other Common Market countries?

Sir K. Joseph

I am aware of the concern. The Government are re-examining the position.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not clear that the Government are likely to make another great mistake if they move in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Ralph Howell)? They have already made a great mistake by introducing the Industrial Relations Act. Is it not clear that there is no widespread concern over this matter except among some of the backwoods Conservative back-benchers?

Sir K. Joseph

No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. There is widespread public concern and it is shared by supporters of both main parties in the House. The hon. Gentleman is very out of touch if he denies that fact.

Mr. O'Malley

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Ralph Howell) that the Supplementary Benefits Commission does not intervene on the side of employee against employer, and that the traditional posture of Government, the National Assistance Board and also the Supplementary Benefits Commission is one of neutrality in which the strikers themselves receive no assistance in the form of supplementary benefit? Will he also instruct his hon. Friend that the proportion of strikers who claim supplementary benefit is only a tiny fraction of the total number of people who go on strike in any one year?

Sir K. Joseph

My hon. Friend was making no comments against the Supplementary Benefits Commission, whose functions and efforts to relieve hardship are respected by Members in all parts of the House.

Following is the information:
  1. 1. This note summarises reports from Labour Attachés in the EEC countries, Sweden and the United States of America.
  2. 2. Certain features are common to all the countries involved. Nowhere is the striker eligible for unemployment benefit, but there is generally some provision for hardship relief administered at the discretion of local authorities. Following is the readily obtainable information for three groups of countries:


  1. 3. These countries are characterised by a low incidence of strikes, high levels of union strike pay, and a recognition by unions and the public that strikers should not turn to the state for relief.
  2. 4. Union strike pay in Germany and Sweden is usually sufficient to support the striker and his family. Swedish rates of strike pay range from £12 to £18 weekly and in Germany can be even higher; during an engineering strike in Germany in 1970 the main union involved, IG Metall, paid over £9 million in dispute benefit.
  3. 5. Any public relief is provided by local authorities as a last resort, and in Germany and Sweden may be repayable. In an unofficial two-month strike of miners at Kiruna, Sweden in 1969–70, about 500 out of 5,000 strikers were assisted, although both the union and the strike committee urged the strikers not to apply for assistance.
  4. 6. In Holland and Belgium there is no legal provision removing strikers from eligibility for locally administered relief, but in practice the granting of assistance to strikers is not encouraged.


  1. 7. In France and Italy the strike pattern is quite different from the Northern European countries. A large number of days are lost in 1233 strikes, but mainly as a result of very short stoppages involving large numbers of workers. Trade unions cannot generally afford any strike pay at all.
  2. 8 The brevity of strikes means that there is usually no question of strikers being subsidised from public funds. In Italy there appears to be no formal provision for public relief. In France, relief is generally restricted to a continuance of family and lodging allowance; this might amount to approximately £20 monthly for a worker with two children living in Paris but is usually less elsewhere.


  1. 9. There is considerable variation in granting relief both between states and within them. 20 states provide for means-tested relief under the Aid to Dependent Children programme, which relies in part on Federal funds. In addition general assistance may be available under programmes that exist in every state, but there are many discretionary authorities, and it is difficult to discern the practical effect of their programmes.
  2. 10. Most unions, including nearly all the largest, provide strike pay in official strikes. Some unions have built up substantial strike funds (e.g. the United Automobile Workers' Union fund of £21 million), but rates of strike pay are usually between £10 and £20 weekly—well below normal earnings. Some major unions—e.g. the Electrical workers—pay benefit according to individual need and others, including the Automobile workers, provide flat rate benefits supplemented according to family circumstances.


11. None of the countries surveyed provides payments of social assistance from public funds to strikers' families comparable to payments of supplementary benefit in Great Britain. In certain parts of the United States of America relief payments to strikers may be important and in France the continuation of family and lodging allowances is useful assistance to strikers. These cases apart, relief is either not available or is only paid as a last resort in circumstances akin to those of the old Poor Law.
13. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on his plans for granting supplementary benefit to the dependants of men on strike in the form of loans.

Sir K. Joseph

I have no such plans.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to reveal the extent of the pressures being put on him by the cavemen behind him to implement this kind of proposal, and will he resist those pressures, despite the fact that the Industrial Relations Act is now working as we forecast in that there are more working days lost now than at any time in the last 40 years?

Sir K. Joseph

I recognise a great many Neanderthal characters opposite. But the Government are surveying all the alternatives in this difficult field.

Sir G. Nabarro


Mr. Skinner

The original caveman.

Sir G. Nabarro

I deprecate my right hon. Friend calling hon. Members opposite, in a masterpiece of under-statement, Neanderthal men, but will he realise that every increase in welfare supplementation is a direct inducement to continued strikes by the idle, the in disciplined, and the unworthy?

Sir K. Joseph

I think that my hon. Friend is over-simplifying a relatively complex matter.

Mr. O'Malley

Is the Secretary of State aware that we on this side have noted his unwillingness to agree to the evil and inaccurate propositions put forward by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro)? Would he also bear in mind that we regard it as invidious that money paid in supplementary benefits to help ex-strikers and their dependants should be reclaimed as a result of payment in the form of loans, so that their personal circumstances are open to every clerk in every wages office in a company in which there has been a strike?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Member should not speak as if his own Government did not face these problems when they were in office—

Mr. O'Malley

We did not do that.

Sir K. Joseph

Indeed, right hon. Members opposite brought forward to the House proposals which they later dropped under pressure from their own back benches which showed how seriously they took the problem which we are now facing.