§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the risk of a strike throughout DHSS offices".The urgency arises from the fact that the House goes into recess tomorrow until 17 January, which is the envisaged date for the beginning of an all-out strike at social security benefit offices. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, unless you allow an emergency debate, the House could return to find a strike under way. I was reluctant to make this application because I had hoped that the Minister would have volunteered a statement on the matter before the recess.
It is self-evident that this is important because, as the Prime Minister pointed out only yesterday, more than 6 million people depend on the benefits disbursed by the DHSS. Therefore, if the strike takes place, it will have immediate effects on new claimants and on claimants who receive their benefits through a weekly Girocheque, and it will have an accumulative effect on the remainder of those 6 million people as benefit books gradually expire.
It is ominous that during the recent one-day strike, 360 benefit offices were closed. One must doubt the ability of the emergency services to cope if faced with an all-out strike at such short notice.
The House should realise that this risk of hardship is avoidable. It need never have arisen. The dispute is not over pay but over severe staff shortages. In fact, last year the DHSS had a £59 million underspend on its staff budget. The staff rundown has been faster than planned by the Treasury. Before the Birmingham strike even started, the region had 1,100 fewer staff in establishment than had been allocated. In the last 12 months the work load has increased by 22 per cent. in respect of supplementary benefit and 35 per cent. in respect of claims from the unemployed, this at a time when the staff level has been reduced by 2½ per cent. The Government have merely offered to put in post for three months 45 temporary staff, although it takes 13 weeks to train them.
As I have said, this is an avoidable strike. It could have a disastrous effect on thousands of families. The House should debate the matter before the strike occurs. If that is not possible, and I well understand that at this stage in the session it may not be so, I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that we have a ministerial statement tomorrow.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman gave me notice before 12 o'clock midday that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the risk of a strike throughout DHSS offices".As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9, I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the order but to give no reasons for my decision. I have given careful consideration to the right hon. Gentleman's representations, but I must rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.