HC Deb 14 November 1972 vol 846 cc188-91
1. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he hopes to complete his examination of social benefits for dependants of those on strike.

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

I cannot forecast a date.

Mr. Dalyell

Would it be an injustice to the Secretary of State to suggest that when we saw the right hon. Gentleman on television at his party conference he was being a bit too emollient towards those in his party who would like to see the social benefits withdrawn from dependants of those on strike?

Sir K. Joseph

I do not think I have to withdraw a word or nuance of what I said at the Conservative Party conference.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Can my right hon. Friend advise us on a matter of perhaps rather more immediate concern? Am I right in assuming that, if groups of employees were to strike against the freeze Bill which we shall be discussing later today, during the duration of such a strike they would be legally entitled to draw supplementary benefits to sustain them in defiance of the law?

Sir K. Joseph

The Bill now before the House makes provision for offences against the standstill. The underlying Social Security Act has not been altered, and it is not at the moment intended for amendment.

Mr. Eadie

Will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to dissociate himself from people who believe that the way to solve the problem is to starve women and children into submission when there is industrial conflict?

Sir K. Joseph

We go over this dialogue every Question Time. The fact is that my hon. Friends and many people in the country from both sides of the political divide are extremely worried about abuse of the social security arrangements, which were made for humane reasons and which are sometimes exploited for political reasons.

13. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the total cost during 1972 to date of supplementary benefits paid to those involved in industrial disputes and their dependants, together with the cost of payments made after return to work and not recovered, and of administrative arrangements necessitated thereby; and what was the corresponding total for the same period of 1971.

Sir K. Joseph

As the answer contains a table of figures, I will with permission circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the strike subsidy has doubled since the passage last year of the Social Security Act which was supposed to curb this abuse? I am grateful to him for explaining earlier that the strike subsidy will be payable to those who defy the law of the land. Is my right hon. Friend really telling the House that a strike subsidy of perhaps £9 million this year and between £12 and £15 million next year is an acceptable price to pay for the acquiescence of the TUC in the resumption of the tripartite talks?

Sir K. Joseph

My hon. Friend is leaping to conclusions and extrapolating figures in a way which not even he could justify. Unless we change the law—and I have explained to the House that there are severe social and industrial relations implications in changing the law—the results will be as they are now. I hope that my hon. Friend is entirely and wildly wrong in the level of strikes he is presuming.

Mr. James Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that many people who are not directly involved in strikes have to seek social security assistance? Is he aware that employers are subsidised by the CBI, whereas workers have to strike for a living wage? Will he make it clear that in no circumstances will he attempt to starve workers back to employment?

Sir K. Joseph

I have respect for the hon. Gentleman, but it would need almost a university thesis to unravel the illusions and mistakes in his supplementary question.

Mr. Redmond

Whilst no one wants to deny benefits to the families of men who are forced to go on strike against their will by the Mafia—[Laughter.]—does not my right hon. Friend agree that this matter is extremely urgent and that the country wants action? [Interruption.]

Sir K. Joseph

In spite of all the derision from the Opposition, my hon. Friend is quite right. Some people are intimidated into striking. I can only assure my hon. Friend that we are trying to resolve this difficult matter as soon as possible.

Mr. O'Malley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is inciting the foolish, inaccurate and inflammatory remarks of his hon. Friends by describing the receipt of supplementary benefit by women and children as an abuse? As the cost of supplementary benefit to strikers has increased as a result of the large number of days lost through strikes under the Conservative Government, would it not be helpful for the Secretary of State to explain to his hon. Friends that the best way of cutting the cost of supplementary benefit to strikers' dependants would be by changing the whole basis of the Government's industrial relations policy which they so vehemently defend?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman should not get so excited. I have never accused the wives and children of strikers a abusing the supplementary benefit system.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

Following is the information:

1971 1972
For strikers' dependants £4.1 million £7.5 million
For strikers £5,000 £173,000
Following resumption of work £523,000 £892,000*
* Since 3rd April, 1972 these payments have been recoverable and £232,000 is being recovered.