HC Deb 10 December 1974 vol 883 cc222-5
11. Mrs. Knight

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the aggregate cost to public funds of supplementary benefit paid to those involved in industrial disputes up to the latest date for which figures are available, expressed at an annual rate; and what were the corresponding figures for each of the last 10 years.

Mr. O'Malley

Up to 26th November 1974, a provisional total of £4,862,275 had been paid out this year in supplementary benefit during trade disputes. It will be misleading to express figures for less than a full year as an annual rate. With permission, I will circulate the rest of the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mrs. Knight

Does the Minister recall telling me on 21st November in this House that men on strike had never received benefit on their own behalf? Does he not agree that single men often receive benefits on their own behalf when they are on strike and that because rent and hire-purchase payments are paid to married men they also can be said to receive payments? Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the House and the country should be properly informed on this subject?

Mr. O'Malley

Certainly there is full information available, because hon. Members, including one hon. Gentleman who has since lost his seat, have asked Questions on this subject since 1966. The purpose of almost all the Questions has been a desire to use the withdrawal of supplementary benefit as a weapon against men on strike through starving their wives and children.

With reference to the specific point raised by the hon. Lady, it is the case that, while there is in general no entitlement, in exceptional circumstances such as, for example, when a single man on strike could be put out of his lodgings because he had no money, payments are made. Of the total payments of £4.8 million in respect of trade disputes this year, however, only £46,000 was paid in such circumstances. I point out to the hon. Lady that £44,000 of public expenditure arose during the miners' strike which was caused by the Conservative administration.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Will my hon. Friend remember too that many single women who are laid off as a result of industrial disputes in which they have not participated find great difficulty in obtaining any money by way of supplementary benefit? Will he do something to alter the rules to enable women in this situa- tion to withstand the financial burdens which they then have to bear?

Mr. O'Malley

I understand the concern which has been expressed by my hon. Friends over a numbers of years about the operation of this provision and its application indirectly to the payment of supplementary benefit. In recognising the problem which my hon. and learned Friend has put forward, all I can say is that we are considering improvements in the overall level of social security payments against a background of severe public expenditure restraint. All of these items will therefore have to be put into a proper list of priorities for possible action at some time in future.

Sir G. Howe

Leaving on one side the question of the miners' strike, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to confirm that benefit is payable under this system to, for example, the dustmen in London who are now on strike in protest against the simple fact that some of their colleagues are facing charges under the law? Does he not recognise that the continuation of this system without any willingness on the part of himself and his colleagues even to consider that it gives rise to feelings of injustice on the part of taxpayers and ratepayers is becoming increasingly intolerable?

Mr. O'Malley

I can understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman wanting to forget the miners' strike and the industrial legislation with which he has been concerned. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] This is yet another example in the House of the way the right hon. and learned Gentleman has deliberately turned away from and spurned the policies followed by his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). We are operating the payment of supplementary benefit to strikers under legislation passed through this House when his right hon. Friend was Secretary of State for Social Services between 1970 and 1974. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has any complaints, he should be complaining about that legislation and not the operations of the present Government.

Mrs. Knight

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Following is the information:

Table of supplementary benefit payments made in trade disputes for the first 11 months of each of the years 1964–73.

Year Amount
1964 49,021
1965 65,039
1966 122,523
1967 344,589
1968 308,122
1969 679,990
1970 1,291,497
1971 4,194,448
1972 8,550,699
1973 698,775