HC Deb 18 June 1974 vol 875 cc185-7
4. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the aggregate cost to public funds of supplementary benefits paid to those involved in industrial disputes and to their dependants since the passage of the Social Security Act 1966; and if she will state, from information available to her from international sources, how this expenditure has compared with publicly-financed expenditure for the same purpose and over the same period in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA, respectively.

Mr. O'Malley

Between 28th November 1966 and 4th June this year, approximately £20.7 million. The information needed for the international comparison requested by the hon. Member is not readily available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I take it from the second part of that reply that the hon. Gentleman does not think that information would be convenient from his point of view. Is it not a fact that no other country indulges itself to the extent of obliging the taxpayer to subsidise strikes to the tune of millions of pounds a year? Is it surprising, in those circumstances, that in this country the strike has become elevated to the level of an art form?

Mr. O'Malley

I know that everything that the hon. Gentleman says on this subject, if not calculated to do so, could at least have the effect of worsening industrial relations.

The fact that none of the other countries mentioned in his Question—the United States, Japan and the EEC countries—has the sophisticated cover that we have under the supplementary benefits system does not mean that everything that they have which we have not is automatically right and that what we have is wrong. Indeed, I believe the contrary to be the case. Our supplementary benefits system is one of the most advanced and satisfactory in the world.

Mr. Skinner

Does my hon. Friend find it somewhat curious that the Question asks about payments made since the Social Security Act 1966, and not the Social Security Act 1971, which was supposedly brought in by the Tory Government, supported by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), to stop the so-called abuses about which he speaks? Is not the real answer to the question that when it suits Tory Members to go on strike, to lock themselves up in the lavatories, it is not supplementary benefit from the taxpayer's pocket that they want, but full pay—and they receive it?

Mr. O'Malley

It would almost certainly be out of order for me to comment on the behaviour of Tory Members in the lavatories in the House of Commons. Indeed, I have no knowledge of that behaviour. However, I should point out to my hon. Friend that even a Conservative administration were not willing to accede to the extremist requests made by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne).

Sir G. Howe

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment at trying to cope with the curious question posed by his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Does he accept that a continuation of the present arrangements referred to in the original Question will continue to give rise to a widespread sense of unfairness at the way the supplementary benefits system as a whole operates?

Mr. O'Malley

I note with interest—and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends and the nation will note with interest—that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is now taking up a more extreme position than the previous administration, which refused to accede to requests made by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). But I tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman, an architect of the Industrial Relations Act, that we have already seen the industrial shambles created by his kind of philosophies and policies, and that we reject them.