HC Deb 22 July 1986 vol 102 cc165-6
2. Mr. Allen McKay

asked the Paymaster General if he has any plans to increase the efficiency of the unemployment benefit service.

5. Mr. Tony Lloyd

asked the Paymaster General if he plans to make any changes in the operation of unemployment benefit offices.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Ian Lang)

A variety of changes in the unemployment benefit service are planned and under way to improve efficiency, service and the control of public funds.

Amongst the most significant is the installation of new computer terminals in local offices, which will reduce staff work and provide better information to claimants.

Mr. Allan McKay

I thank the Minister for that reply and for the increased efficiency of the offices. With regard to increased efficiency, does the Minister agree that redundant mineworkers, like any other redundant workers, do on occasion need help and advice concerning unemployment and welfare benefits? If the Minister agrees, will he withdraw the directive sent to the offices on 15 April, and, if he does not, will he put his reasons in the Official Report?

Mr. Lang

We often give help to unemployment benefit offices to enable them to assist applicants for unemployment benefit. These are complex issues involving the interrelation between the redundant mineworkers payment scheme and the unemployment benefit service. Such guidance as has been given has been intended to give assistance to people in those circumstances and has involved the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

If the Minister's claim that advice was given in an attempt to help the miners is sincere, why did the letter to unemployment benefit offices quite specifically say that in no circumstances should advice be given to miners about whether they were entitled to claim unemployment benefit? Will he confirm that miners have been singled out for a vindictive and squalid little campaign to prevent them from drawing what they are entitled to?

Mr. Lang

Miners have not been singled out. Advice is often given in these circumstances. The intention of the circular was to enable us to be sure that unemployment offices would not give wrong advice to mineworkers and thus prejudice their interests.

Mr. Latham

Will my hon. Friend have a look at the Public Accounts Committee's report and ask himself whether there is a good case for merging these offices with the DHSS?

Mr. Lang

I shall certainly look at the report. The two organisations perform essentially different activities, but there is scope for improved co-operation between them.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

As one who was made unemployed by Robert Maxwell years ago — he was perhaps the worst employer in the country, and, I believe, still is—may I ask my hon. Friend to investigate how people claim unemployment benefit and the ease with which somebody whose name begins with B for Bruinvels can make a claim at 9.15 am and get a job for the rest of the day, not that I ever did that?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is on to a serious and important issue which is being given close attention by my Department.