HL Deb 09 November 1967 vol 286 cc485-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether—

  1. (a) any unemployment benefit, or
  2. (b) any public assistance
has been paid to any men on strike at the Barbican or in the London or Liverpool Docks; and whether any extra payment has been made to the wives of such men to enable them to keep their husbands while on strike.]


My Lords, unemployment benefit is not payable to men involved in a trade dispute; nor have these men any personal entitlement to supplementary benefit. Supplementary benefit has, however, been paid for dependants in some cases during the course of the dock strikes. In addition, a few single men for whom there were particular, urgent contingencies have been given limited help. The same practices will have been followed in relation to those involved in the Barbican dispute, but no central records have been kept of this relatively small strike by a number of men who may live in many different parts of London.


My Lords, arising out of that Answer, may I ask three supplementary questions? The first question is: when assistance is given in respect of dependants, am I right in assuming that the head of the family who is on strike is not deemed to be one of the dependants? Secondly, would the noble Lord explain how it comes about that any assistance is given to an unmarried man who is on strike? Thirdly, would he explain why it is that in the very prolonged and important Barbican dispute records have not been kept?


My Lords, in reply to the first supplementary question I may say that the head of the family is, of course, entitled to receive in his own hand the supplementary benefit in respect of his wife and family. That is the practice. Of course, it need not be confined to him: anyone else in the family can apply, including his wife. But it is the custom to allow the man himself to receive the benefit. In regard to the noble Lord's second supplementary question, I would inform him that the number of cases of assistance for unmarried men amounted to only some 70 or 80 altogether. These were very particular cases, where there was something unusual in the circumstances; and compared with the total number of men on strike they were very few. In London and Liverpool together, up to the end of October there were some 17,000 involved in the strike, out of whom only some 70 to 80 single men received these very special benefits.

In regard to the third matter which the noble Lord raised, I am afraid I cannot give him that information, but I will certainly try to secure it and send it on to him in due course. I may add that altogether something like 28,823 payments have been made, amounting to some £174,000, against which it is estimated that, up to the date I have given, the strikers have lost something like £1,600,000 in wages.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the law in relation to men on strike is the same to-day as it has been for the last fifty years? Under the old Poor Law, whereas the head of the house could not be relieved, his wife and children could; and that has always been the law. People who are single and on strike have got to be relieved if they are destitute, and surely you are not going to argue that the law, which has been there for fifty years, should be changed to one which is more vicious than that applying at the time of the 1926 miners' strike.


My Lords, if I may say so to my noble friend, I was certainly aware of that; and I am sure that no one in this House would wish to penalise the children. If we do not wish to penalise the children or the wife, payments have to be made to keep them from starvation.


My Lords, could the noble Lord give us any indication as to what the very special circumstances are which justify these supplementary payments to unmarried men?


No, my Lords, I could not off-hand, but I assume they are cases of serious illness, or something of that kind. But certainly, if either the noble Lord who has just asked that supplementary question or the noble Lord who asked the original Question wish for particulars, I will do my best to supply them.