HC Deb 13 November 1979 vol 973 cc1139-40
7. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the aggregate cost to public funds of benefits paid to those involved in industrial disputes, and to their dependants, respectively, in the current year so far.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Up to 2 October, supplementary benefit payments amounted to £4,700 and £1.9 million respectively.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Those are formidable figures. Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when the trade unions appear to have enormous funds for expenditure on fringe benefits for their own union apparatchiks it is urgent that we should take the action to which, as Conservative Members, we are committed, to ensure that the unions bear a fair share of the cost of industrial disputes?

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend refers to the manifesto obligation on which he and I both fought the last election. We promised a review of this matter and I assure my hon. Friend that it is being carried out. We shall announce our conclusions as soon as the review is completed.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a recent television dispute in my area the members of the local branch of NATKE voted by ballot to remain at work, yet they were locked out the next day by the employers? Does he realise that they have had great difficulty in obtaining unemployment and other benefits?

Mr. Jenkin

I cannot become involved in the detail of individual disputes. It is clear that local social security offices are examining—rightly and carefully—the question of entitlement to benefit in circumstances involving industrial disputes.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the intense public feeling against the payment of strikers' benefit? Does he agree that, in many cases, the strike works against the community which becomes less and less willing to bear the financial strain.

Mr. Jenkin

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are in no doubt where public opinion lies on the issue. The Government are determined to get the matter right and therefore we are taking some time over our studies.

Mr. Rooker

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the last full year for which figures are available the amount paid out in supplementary benefit to the dependants of strikers amounted to 1 per cent. of the total amount of unclaimed supplementary benefit? Only 4 per cent. of all strikers' families received benefit. On behalf of the Opposition, I give due warning, along with the Engineering Employers Federation, that if the right hon. Gentleman changes the present system he will be heading for a major row and major problems in the country.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Like last winter, is it?

Mr. Jenkin

I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not challenge the view that a democratically elected Government may carry forward the commitments which they put firmly before the country at the last election. The hon. Gentleman is quoting from an answer that he received from my Department earlier this month. Last year, the average payment for the benefit of a striker's family was about £74. The total amount of money involved was £3.3 million. These matters are regarded as being of considerable provocation by many members of the British public.