HC Deb 12 June 1984 vol 61 cc753-5
13. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied that his Department can deal speedily with the claims of those involved in industrial disputes and adequately meet the needs of the claimants' dependants.

Dr. Boyson

We are satisfied that the Department can deal speedily with claims from those involved in industrial disputes and that the needs of strikers' dependants are being met up to the full extent allowed by the Acts and regulations.

Mr. Pike

Does not the Minister think that the way in which the guidelines have been tightened harshly against the miners, as has been shown during the present industrial dispute, is totally wrong? Does he agree that it is totally wrong to take into account gifts given by charitable organisations and other donations given to miners' families during the present dispute?

Dr. Boyson

There has been no change in the regulations. There has been an interpretation of the S code of 1980 and other factors, but there has been no change. Regarding the question of gifts, all gifts over £4 are taken into account for anybody who receives supplementary benefit, not only for strikers.

Mr. Couchman

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Social Security Act 1980 deems that strikers will receive £15 per week in strike pay from their union, which is quite properly taken into account, and that the NUM decision not to provide any strike pay out of its enormous reserves is utterly reprehensible?

Dr. Boyson

The NUM was perfectly aware of the position before the strike began. The provision to which my hon. Friend refers was in the 1979 Conservative manifesto and became part of the law of the land in 1983. As for the extent of the NUM's reserves, I once read in the Financial Times that they exceeded £27 million.

Mr. Ashton

Why is it that the wife of a murderer who goes to prison does not lose £15, but the wife of a striker does? As for social security benefit, why have some people who have appealed against the Department's decisions been waiting as long as 12 weeks for their appeals to be heard, due to the Government's deliberate policy of starving strikers back to work?

Dr. Boyson

There is no such deliberate policy. More than 800 officers are working on miners' benefits and we have given postal claim forms to the NUM to distribute.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, the position of a striker is totally different from that of a person in prison because a prisoner cannot come out and go to work tomorrow. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman had not realised that. We have to look after the prisoner's wife because he is no longer in a position to do so, but strikers can go back to work tomorrow and look after their wives themselves.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that miners in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere have solved the problem by continuing to work?

Dr. Boyson

I cannot add to the delightful and accurate point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that according to a secret Government document — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] entitled, Guidance Additional to the S Manual — Miners' Strike 1984, loans from social work departments, weekly payments to miners' families and their children, cash payments from the NCB in lieu of concessionary coal, meal vouchers for children and one-off payments by local authorities by voucher to miners' children are all, for the first time, being counted against supplementary benefit, thus robbing miners' families of that additional value to which they are entitled? Is that not the most blatant and politically motivated fiddling of the social security system to try to force the miners into submission and back to work? When will the Minister stop this vindictive and illegal campaign against the miners?

Dr. Boyson

As it happens, I have a copy of that so-called "secret" document with me. So far as I know, there is also a copy in the Library. If the hon. Gentleman has any other secrets, perhaps he will share them with me. If that document is not already in the Library, it will certainly be there tomorrow. [Interruption.] I said that I believed it was already there. I am not so arrogant as the hon. Gentleman, who thinks that he is always right. Even Conservatives sometimes make mistakes. Nevertheless, I believe that the document is in the Library.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, supplementary benefit is, by definition, supplementary to other money coming in. It has always been held that if someone is receiving £4 or more in cash or in kind that income should count against supplementary benefit. It is purely a matter of interpretation as to how that applies in the present case. There is not one iota of change in the law.