HL Deb 01 July 1980 vol 411 cc317-38

Further consideration on Report, on Clause 6.

Lord WALLACE of COSLANY moved Amendment No. 12: Page 7, line 13, leave out from ("is") to ("and") in line 15 and insert ("50 pence or less").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the intention of this amendment is to modify paragraph (b) which provides for the £12 deduction in trade dispute cases. An amendment to delete that paragraph was debated and negatived at the Committee stage on 17th June (cols. 1070 to 1084). On that occasion, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out that some of the unions were increasing the amount of strike pay that they paid and she appeared to regard this as justifying the Government proposals. The amounts of strike pay that she quoted varied from £12 to £16..50 per week, the latter figure to apply only from July 1981. The noble Baroness overlooked the fact that in a trade dispute the supplementary benefit assessment already omits the claimant's requirements, leaving the family £17.55 per week below the normal minimum level. Strike pay at the levels that she quoted does not even fill that gap. To suggest that it will make good the additional £12 deduction is quite wrong. Strikers' families will suffer whether the unions provide strike pay or not.

Of course, it is distinctly possible that there may be some noble Lords who want to ensure that strikers' families suffer. This is a barbaric and crude approach to an extremely sensitive area of industrial relations and it will provoke and will not solve industrial disputes. I am not for one moment suggesting that the Government are acting in such a crude fashion, but they are sailing very close to the wind. Therefore, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, the effect of this amendment would be to remove the proposed deduction of £12 a week from the supplementary benefit now payable to a striker for his family and would substitute instead a new rule whereby benefit would be paid only if it exceeded 50p a week. There is no getting away from the fact that this is a wrecking amendment. I should like to make it clear at the outset that this clause, which is a commitment in our manifesto, is not aimed against trade unions at all. But one of its purposes is to ensure that trade unions contribute when their members are on strike. The whole purpose of this clause is to enable us to fulfil our election promise to ensure that the trade unions pay a fair share of the cost of supporting their members' families during a strike. We believe that for too long too much of the burden has fallen upon the taxpayer and we believe that this measure will do much to redress the balance.

As we have announced, it is our intention to bring in regulations under which up to £12 strike pay from a trade union will be ignored for supplementary benefit purposes; so that it is up to individual unions to make good this £12 reduction in the supplementary benefit paid to their members. The trade unionist who goes on unofficial strike and the non-unionist involved in a trade dispute must be expected to make some provision for themselves. It is unreasonable to expect the taxpayer to continue supporting them to the extent to which he does at present. Therefore, it will not be any surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, to hear that the Government cannot accept this amendment which, as I have said, we believe to be a wrecking amendment because it would negate the whole purpose of Clause 6.


My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Baroness rejects this amendment. That was taken for granted before I got up to move it. The noble Baroness says that she is not against trade unions as such on this basis; but it would appear that the Government are against individual trade union members because this will certainly cause hardship. I know that this is an accepted policy on the part of the Conservative Party and is wrongly designed to reduce strikes. I do not think it will do so. In fact, I feel that when a showdown or a strike arises this particular move will cause such bitterness as to produce greater industrial disorganisation than would otherwise be the case. We shall see. But that is our considered view. I do not intend to press the amendment at this stage, with the House obviously more engaged in studying the weather forecasts and feeding themselves. There are not enough Members to have a representative vote. Therefore, I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

My Lords, I should explain that if Amendment No. 13 is agreed to, it will preempt Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 which cannot then be moved.

8.7 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 13: Page 7, line 16, leave out paragraph (c) and insert— (" (c) any payments in pursuance of section 4 of the said Act of 1976 (which relates to urgent cases) made, in respect of requirements relating to that period, to him or to any other person whose requirements are to be aggregated with his in pursuance of that Act shall be recoverable by the Secretary of State.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name. The Government's intention appears to be that urgent need payments to strikers should be subject to more stringent rules than will apply to other claimants, and that initially, at least, there should be no provision at all for urgent need payments to single strikers. This, I think, is quite unnecessary because as far as single strikers are concerned the number of payments made under existing rules is, I believe, very small. Payments are made only when a striker is destitute and has no other source of help available. For those with families, whether involved in a strike dispute or not, urgent need payments will in future be limited to the types of case specified in the regulations. If I may say so, there is no good reason for making these regulations more restrictive for strikers than for other people.

The noble Baroness stated during the Committee stage debate on an amendment to delete paragraph (c) that it would result in urgent need payments being made to make good the £12 deduction. But it is perfectly clear from the list of urgent need cases that has been given both in the Notes on Clauses of the No.1 Bill and in the debates on this Bill that the regulations would not allow this. When we discussed this matter at the Committee stage on 17th June last, I was impressed by the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. I should like to quote him—and he knows that I am proposing to do so—although I shall probably jump about as far as his speech is concerned. In column 1089, where I had raised the importance of this matter, the noble Lord said: Would it not suffice to allow payments to be made on the strict understanding that they should be repaid when the people are back at work? He went on to say: There is a feeling on the opposite side of the Committee—and I share this—that there must be some means, in any event, of meeting real need during the strike". Towards the top of col. 1090 the noble Lord continued and said: The right course seems to be—it is not in the Bill and no doubt my noble friend will say that regulations will deal with it but it is important and it should be mentioned—that payments in cases of real need should be made on the understanding that they are repaid afterwards". The noble Baroness, when she came to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and myself said at col. 1092: This is a matter which we have not considered in this connection. If I may, I will write to my noble friend on that point, but I think the answer will be that it would he very complicated to pay a benefit and then ask the person who had received it to repay it when he went back to work. I understand that this is something which is sometimes done in other connections in continental countries, but it would be a new departure in our country". Towards the bottom of col. 1092 the noble Baroness went on to say: But it would be very difficult to introduce what would be an entirely new principle into our whole benefit payments, and it would therefore create a number of difficulties".

The fact that it is new, I venture to suggest, is not a reason for not considering it and for not including it in the Bill. It may well create difficulties but difficulties are made to be overcome if that can be done. I understand, and the noble Baroness said, it is done in other countries. Then presumably it does not present all those difficulties. So I ask myself whether there is really a willingness, really a desire, on the part of the Government to do this, or whether it is because they do not want to do it that they raise these objections, difficulties and problems.

The fact is that in future, under Section 4(2) of the Supplementary Benefits Act, as amended by the Social Security Act 1980, all urgent need payments will be recoverable except in cases excluded by regulations from the recovery provisions. There is no question of introducing an entirely new principle therefore. Recovery of urgent needs payments will be the normal procedure from this November onwards and Lord Drumalbyn's proposal, which is embodied in this amendment, is that this procedure should apply to those involved in trade disputes.

But in deference to the Government's view about strikers—which we do not share—that there should be no exceptions, we accept that all urgent need payments to strikers should be recoverable. That does not mean they would be automatically recovered. It would be for the Secretary of State to decide in what circumstances recovery should be waived, if at all.

However, it means that in making an urgent need payment benefit officers would not have to apply a separate set of rules to those involved in trade disputes. It would thus avoid an entirely unnecessary complication of the scheme and at the same time ensure that genuinely urgent needs are met. If this amendment was adopted and put in the Bill then urgent need cases of strikers could be met. They would have to be considered along with the normal conditions and regulations and they would be subject to being recovered, subject again to whatever the Secretary of State laid down. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, this amendment would have the effect of mak- ing some strikers eligible for further supplementary benefit to offset the £l2 reduction proposed in Clause 6(1)(b). It is quite unacceptable to the Government as we believe that it would go a long way to nullify the purpose of our proposal to reduce strikers' supplementary benefit entitlement. It is our intention that the striker should look to his trade union for a reasonable part of his family's maintenance during a strike. If the Government were to provide in effect interest-free loans for strikers, as this amendment proposes, there would be no incentive for the trade unions to increase their payments, and the taxpayer would again be bearing a high proportion of the cost of financing the strike. Recovering the loans from the strikers once they had returned to work would often be a long-drawn-out process and would incur administrative costs for the Department.

We do not intend to exclude strikers and their families completely from the urgent need provisions of Section 4 and we shall make regulations to cover the really compassionate case without opening the door to all-corners. If experience shows that there are other rare circumstances for which provision is justified, I am glad to confirm what I said on Committee, that we shall be ready to make the necessary regulations.

The House will no doubt recall the list of circumstances that I gave during the Committee stage where we believe urgent need payments will be available: fire, flood or similar disaster; a very expensive diet prescribed for the striker himself; fares to visit seriously ill or dying relatives; essential fares for special transport to take a handicapped or disabled child to school; immediate necessities for a new-born baby in a long strike; and the repair or supply of essential household equipment if, for example, there is no working form of heating during the winter.

The fact is that there is a difference between what we are proposing in Clause 6 of this No. 2 Bill and the proposals under the No. 1 Bill. I accept that after November special needs payments will be able to be recovered if they take the form of a loan. But we believe that there is a difference in principle here. We feel that it would be wrong to weaken the principle which we regard as important in Clause 6 whereby trade unions would be responsible during a strike for part of the care of their members. For those reasons, and although I understand the reasons that have led the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to put this amendment down, I regret this is not one that the Government can accept.

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, it is obviously not desirable that I should remain mute in these circumstances. My noble friend was good enough to write to me about this and I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that she said almost the same in her letter as in her reply to him now. My noble friend said that this amendment would be quite unacceptable because, if I understood her correctly, part of the intention is to cause trade unionists to look more to their trade unions in case of a strike. Immediately the question arises: what happens if a person in distress is not a member of a trade union but is on strike because others who are members of trade unions are on strike and he fears the consequences—which can be pretty serious—if he does not also go on strike? I think that is a matter which has to be borne in mind. My noble friend says that establishing this "new principle", as she calls it, would give rise to a long-drawn-out process and would cause complications. When I spoke about this, I had in mind the old principle that applies in general to supplementary benefit; that if you are in dire distress there is somewhere you can go. I do not think any of us are wholly certain, after the No. 1 Bill, where discretion begins and ends; but it seems to me that in any situation like this you must have some discretion left to those who are making payments of this kind.

My noble friend quite rightly has picked out the sort of cases—and I gather these are only examples—in which payments would be made; but even there a discretion must exist. I do not believe it would be at all possible to make out a complete list of all the circumstances in which discretionary payments would be desirable. I should have thought that provided the regulations, or the guidelines if it comes to that, make sufficiently clear to those administering supplementary benefits what is required, then it would be quite right to leave the discretion, in this case as in others, to the people administering the supplementary benefit. I should not have thought it would be impossible to get sufficient indication in the guidelines to ensure that there was not any general recourse in a crisis situation to supplementary benefit applications. I am sorry that is rather a long phrase, but I think everyone would understand what was required. I personally do not see how this would cut across the intention, which I think we must all accept, in this clause to make the trade unions more responsible for their own people during a strike.

I share that view very strongly indeed, but I would be reluctant to feel that no loophole was left to deal with cases of real hardship. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will have another look at this just to see whether, even though the words may not be appropriate, some words can be found to ensure that a person who meets with some kind of serious hardship and is in real distress should not be denied help merely because he happens to be on strike at the time. This is what we are really talking about. Surely a person who is on strike when some disaster happens should be no less entitled to the kind of benefit he would get in other circumstances if he were not on strike. I cannot see how the difference can be made in that case. While I entirely accept that these cases should be drawn as narrowly as you like, nevertheless there must be occasions when discretionary payments should be made.

8.24 p.m.


My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, cannot move the noble Baroness the Minister, then I think I have to admit that I am beaten before I start. However, I want to point out just one or two factors. It seems to me that the noble Baroness has overlooked one very important point, and those who support her must also have overlooked it. What is the position when a man goes on strike? We know—it is history and it is statistical—that very few of them ever apply for supplementary benefit for their wives and families. The bulk of them do not. It is a very small minority; but with those who do, what is the position then? The husband gets nothing at all—not a penny; only his wife and children.

If the Government succeed in doing what they want to do and take £12 from the benefit, what does that mean? It means that the husbsnd gets nothing, because he is not entitled to it, but the supplementary benefit for the wife and family is going to be reduced by £12 and so the wife and the children are being penalised. In point of fact, they are losing considerably more than £12, if one takes into account what the husband would get in the normal way.

I ask noble Lords opposite: do you not really think that it is an inhuman thing to do? You are not only saying to the man, "you are out on strike and therefore we will give you no supplementary benefit at all", but you are saying to the wife and children, "Because your husband and your father is on strike we are going to cut £12 from your entitlement." This cannot be defended; it cannot possibly be defended on any ground whatsoever.

The noble Baroness went on to say that the Government are considering what they are prepared to do for extreme cases, as I understand the situation, and they may provide in certain circumstances for strikers to apply for an urgent needs payment. May I ask the noble Baroness this? Are the Government just saying that, or are they in the process of considering who will he entitled to urgent needs payments? If so, will the regulations governing that section of the Bill be among the first batch of regulations that Parliament is asked to consider or will the whole section on extreme cases be left until some later date?


My Lords, is not the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, seeking to reinstate the Government in the foreground of industrial disputes from which, I would suggest to your Lordships, it is the purpose of this legislation and of other legislation to withdraw them? The Government surely should not be in the foreground. An industrial dispute is between a group of men and their employer, supported by their trade union. They are undertaking an enterprise, if you like to call it that, which they decide they need to do for a particular purpose, and they should support themselves in principle when they are doing that. When things go wrong and hard for individuals within this framework, then it is right that the Government should be there, as my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn was saying, to pick up the people who cannot cope in other ways.

But the important thing is that the Government should be in the background. This is not only because the Government are not in dispute, should not be in dispute and should not be seen by people to be in dispute. It is also because it creates a totally wrong impression in the body politic, if they think that the Government are going to come in and help out when anything is going wrong anywhere; however well organised people are, however well supported people are and however much money they have got, dear government will help them out. This is what we must draw back from. This is part of a legislative principle which is trying to withdraw the Government from the front line and put it behind, and not to have it as something that is automatically involved in all disputes that occur in the country.

I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that his argument was essentially trying to draw the Government back into the front line, and not really very much more than that. I also suggest to him that that is a wrong principle, which has misled hundreds and thousands of people during the course of the last five or six years, however long we have had the misfortune of having noble Lords opposite in power.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, the noble Lord has really asked me a question. I shall try not to abuse the consideration of the House by taking up too much time, but I would say this to the noble Lord. The Government are bringing the Government into the front line. It is not a question of taking an action to take them out of it. The very people whom we are talking about are taxpayers. They are entitled to all the facilities, amenities and benefits to which other people are entitled. If the Government are going to introduce a punitive measure—and this is a punitive measure, although the Government will not admit it—then, believe me, my Lords, far from removing them from the front line it is bringing the Government into the front line, and I only hope that none of us will live to regret it.


My Lords, I shall not waste your Lordships' time. It is a straight difference of opinion and I think that noble Lords opposite are wrong.

8.32 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn agrees with us about the principle of this clause. I was also very pleased to hear what my noble friend Lord Mottistone said about it, because this has set out the Government's view very clearly. But I think it would be helpful to the House if I answered the various points which have arisen about it.

May I make it clear that it is intended that there will be regulations which will prescribe the circumstances in which urgent need payments will be available. As noble Lords who took part in the proceedings on the previous Social Security Bill will know, it is our intention that they will draw up the circumstances and, therefore, there will be, we hope, a very limited discretion indeed about when they should be used.

In this Bill, the list is very tightly drawn and there would be no discretion at this stage to add to, or extend, the list of circumstances which I gave a few moments ago. These cover our normal experience of the kind of cases which can arise, and it would be for my right honourable friend to make a further regulation if the Government wanted to cover additional cases. We believe that, if we were to allow a residual discretion at this stage, it would provide a loophole which we would not wish to see at this point in the Bill.

The point was made that very few strikers' families accept supplementary benefit. None the less, we believe that the steel strike cost the country £9 million in benefits and that there would have been a considerable reduction had this Bill been on the statute book. I was also asked about the case of someone who does not belong to a trade union, and what happens then. Clearly, if someone does not belong to a trade union he is in a difficult position, but the same principles would apply to him. Whether or not he required any of the hardship payments which I have enumerated would, of course, depend on the circumstances of his family, and they would apply to him, should he qualify for them.

We believe that this clause, which, as I have already indicated, is something which was in our Manifesto and which we indicated, during the general election campaign, we would bring in, is a fair provision in this difficult world of trade union relations. It is not in any way intended to be against trade unions, but we believe that it redresses the balance; and, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone made clear, it is a fair measure. I hope, furthermore, that I have said enough to reassure my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn. We are assuming in this clause that there is a strike, and that the striker's family will have had withdrawn from them the £12 that they might have had in supplementary benefit. We believe that that sum of money will be made up by the trade unions.

We have set out six areas where there might be hardships that would be met under regulations, and which would apply. Under our proposals in the first Bill, there will be a set of regulations and there will be very limited discretion, indeed, in the way in which they will be implemented. This was the whole essence of the Bill and of the proposals.

As I have said, it will be up to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to consider, if experience proves it to be necessary, whether or not we should bring forward further amending regulations to cover additional circumstances. At the present time, we do not believe that this is the case and we think that we have covered the main areas which are likely to give rise to concern. At this stage, I am afraid, as I indicated, earlier, I am unable to accept this amendment.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask her one question? I hope that I know the answer to it. Am I right in thinking that the families of strikers will be treated as entitled to supplementary benefit, with the deduction of the £12, and entitled to all that goes with that? In particular, I was thinking of the free prescriptions, and that kind of thing, on the health side.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, my understanding of the position is that they would be entitled to all the supplementary benefits to which they would have been entitled, with the exception of the £12. That is what this clause sets out to do.

On Question, amendment negatived. 8.39 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 14: Page 7, line 17, after ("made") insert ("after 31st December 1981").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment would, if accepted, defer the operation of paragraph (c) of subsection (1) until 1st January 1982. Paragraph (c) disentitles a person involved in a dispute, and members of any family unit of which that person is a member, from urgent needs payment under Section 4 of the Supplementary Benefits Act, in respect of requirements relating to the period during which Section 8 applies to that person. We are doing this to give the Government an opportunity of seeing how the new rules regarding urgent need payments coming into force this November are working in practice and whether it is really necessary to have different and more restrictive rules for those affected by trade disputes.

I said earlier that it is our view that this is not necessary. If, as we believe, the normal rules prove to be quite restrictive enough, there will be time to repeal paragraph (c) before the end of 1981. A Bill for that purpose could pass through both Houses, I would think, in a week without undue haste, given the Government's skill in drafting Long Titles. In view of the present situation, it seems that there is no great rush and I would ask the Minister to see whether paragraph (c) could not be postponed until 1st January 1980. My Lords, I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has said, the effect of this amendment would be to postpone the operation of this clause until 1st January 1982. As I have already indicated, the Government see Clause 6(1)(c) as an essential part of our proposals for strikers' entitlement to supplementary benefit. We do not believe there would be any point in reducing benefit by £12 a week if the striker can simply claim a £12 hardship payment under Section 4 of the Supplementary Benefits Act instead. This amendment would mean that general hardship payments would be available until 31st December 1981. We cannot accept that there is a case for this. We believe that Clause 6(1)(c) must go with our main proposal contained in Clause 6(1)(b). I would look on this amendment as one which effectively would prevent the introduction of this clause for 18 months from now. As this is a matter, as I have already indicated, on which we fought the general election and therefore one to which we are committed, we would not feel it right, when we have an opportunity of putting it on the statute book earlier on, to have this kind of delay. For that reason I cannot accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment negatived.

Lord WALLACE of COSLANY moved Amendment No. 15: Page 7, line 20, at end insert ("except for the purpose of providing for or relieving hardship").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment would ensure that the ban on urgent need payments did not prevent benefit officers from making payments where it was clearly necessary to do so in order to prevent hardship. In particular, it would enable them to make payments to single strikers faced with total destitution. This amendment runs very close to the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. Whether he could support it is a different matter, but it runs very close to his thinking on this issue. The amendment would bring a streak of decency and humanity to a clause which many of us fear will bring into industrial relations bitterness and anger which the country can ill afford.

There is quite a lot of talk about strikers' moral responsibility to society. This amendment, not at all drastic in its effect, puts things in a modest, human way just a little on the other side by raising the question of the moral responsibility of society. Whether a striker be right or wrong, need we be harsh to the point of inhumanity? I know the Government have said tonight that they will be bringing in sonic regulations on this subject, and I would ask them why they would not accept this amendment to show good intentions in this field. I do not think the amendment is in any way too strong for the Government to accept. As the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and others have pointed out, there are cases where there is some need for a little general approach rather than a tight adherence to regulations. I move this amendment in the hope that the Government can come some way to meet us, in which case it will be almost revolutionary.


My Lords, I did not go over what I said before because, as the noble Lord said in introducing this amendment, it is intended to cover very much the same ground as we went over before. I could not have accepted the width of the amendment for leaving out paragraph (c). May I ask my noble friend this? Whatever the intentions are, it seems to me that this amendment really goes a good deal further than the noble Lord, Lord Coslany, thinks it does, because unless I am mistaken—I hope my noble friend will tell me if I am—" requirements "is a term of art, and if one uses that word one is opening the whole field of requirements. This is quite different from special cases, which is what are dealt with in the discretionary things. The requirements are a different matter. As I understand it, they are a matter for calculation and I think if this amendment were carried it would knock a hole in the policy that my noble friend is advocating.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, I think it would be possible, with your Lordships' willingness, for me just to say that a very distinguished Member of this House is in fact called, as we have now said three times in three weeks, Lord Wallace of Coslany. Coslany is a very distinguished ward in the city whose name I have the privilege of holding. He is one of our most distinguished citizens but is still not yet called in Norwich Lord Coslany, though I am sure that slowly we are getting the message and will start doing it unless somebody stops it.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon.


My Lords, would it not be the case, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has just been saying, that the clause would still refer to urgent cases? So it would not be taking it out of the sphere of urgent cases, if I have understood it correctly. Perhaps I have not correctly understood, but I think that is right. I must confess that I do not yet see why it is necessary to have these two different definitions of urgent cases that the Bill proposes—one under the first Bill and the other under the second Bill—for those who are on strike.

The noble Baroness says that if the regulations under the first Bill were to apply it would open the door to all-comers. But is that what she thinks is going to happen in any event, as far as non-strikers are concerned? I think she is concerned about the residual discretion, but she must be afraid that it is going to be exercised more liberally in the case of strikers than in the case of non-strikers, who would come under the first Bill in any event. I wonder why that should be so. Why should the discretion not be exercised in precisely the same way, whether people are strikers or non-strikers?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I have already explained the importance of Clause 6(1)(c); that is to say, strikers are to be excluded from the normal arrangements for dealing with urgent need, as otherwise they would be in a position simply to claim for the £12 reduction in benefit which is proposed in Clause 6(1)(b). My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn is quite right in drawing our attention to the difference provided by this amendment. This is provided generally for relieving hardship.

In the reference here to Clause 6(1)(c) mention is made of the 1976 Act which deals with a different situation. The regulations about which I have been talking and which would apply under this clause of the Bill are designed to meet narrowly defined sets of circumstances in which urgent needs payments would be made. But if we widen that provision with discretion and make it as wide as it could be in other circumstances for people who are not out on strike, we should nullify the effect of this clause which is to reduce by £12 the supplementary benefit which would then simply be made up under the urgent needs payment. I do not therefore believe that we are talking about the same thing.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Is she saying that every striker's family will be an urgent need case in terms of the regulations under the first Bill?

Baroness YOUNG

No, my Lords, I am not saying that. I am saying that if this amendment were carried it could have the effect of widening the numbers of urgent need cases that could be applied. Under Clause 6, it is our intention that there will be a much more narrowly defined list of special hardship cases which will be prescribed in regulations which will be available. One has to remember that in Clause 6 we are not talking about people who are not out on strike; we are talking only about people who are out on strike. Otherwise, the clause does not apply.

It is our intention that further categories would be included in further regulations only if Ministers were satisfied that such payments were needed to relieve dire hardship. We believe that it is essential that these categories are kept to a minimum in order to prevent a general circumvention of the £12 deduction made in Clause 6(1)(b). We are therefore talking in each case about different groups of people—in one case about people who are not out on strike, and in the other about people who are out on strike.

I hope I have made the position quite clear. It might be helpful if I said that the regulations on strikers' urgent needs will not be in the first batch of regulations but that they will be laid before November. However, on this occasion I cannot give the precise date.


My Lords, first may I thank the right reverend Prelate, the good Bishop of Norwich and a staunch supporter of the Canaries for putting my title right, although it is apt that there should be a reference to me as "Lord Coslany", for a very simple reason. "Coslany", an ancient ward of the City, has been renowned for its dissenters, both religious and political, since the 17th century, and I seem to be in a state of perpetual dissent with the opposite side, night after night!

I think that we have got something here. There is something between the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and I in a general sense. In the circumstances, it might be worth reconsidering the matter and returning to it again at Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Supplemental]:

8.54 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 16: Page 10, line 6, leave out ("the Schedule") and insert ("Schedule 1").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 16, and with the permission of your Lordships I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 18, 19 and 21. With your Lordships' further permission, I should also like to talk about Amendment No. 22 because all the preceding amendments to which I have referred are paving the way for Amendment No. 22.

Your Lordships will recall that at the Committee stage we had a fairly good debate on the position of widows in respect to the earnings-related addition, and that I tried to make out a case for preserving this allowance. We feel it is a very strong case. I mentioned that of all the groups of people who might be asked to share in the sacrifices resulting from Government policies, women who have recently suffered the tragedy of losing their husbands are surely among the least appropriate victims.

The purpose of this amendment is to safeguard the widow's allowance. If it becomes an Act, the Bill as drafted will eventually abolish the earnings-related supplement to unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and maternity allowance, and the comparable earnings-related addition to widow's allowance. This means that when the clause takes full effect the widow's allowance will have no earnings-related top layer, whereas the benefits which succeed the widow's allowance; namely, the widowed mother's allowance or the widow's benefit, have added to them any additional component which has accrued to the late husband under the Social Security Pensions Act 1975. It seems quite unfair that the widow's allowance should be deprived of that.

This amendment seeks to ensure that the earnings-related addition goes to the widow's allowance so that it follows the same pattern as the widowed mother's allowance and the widow's benefit. The position is that immediately after a woman's husband dies she receives a widow's allowance for 26 weeks. The amount is £32.60. I am talking about the present allowance, not about the one in October. The earnings-related supplement is received during this time. It is not a fixed amount; it will depend on just how much a widow is entitled to as a result of her husband's previous yearly earnings. But she does get an earnings-related supplement.

After this time, a widow over 50, without children, or a widow with children under the age of 19, at home and dependent, receives £23.30, but she receives allowances for each dependant child. This is a widowed mother's allowance. If the widow is between 40 and 50, she receives a proportion of the basic pension and the earnings-related supplement which is known as an age-related pension.

We are concerned that when the widow's allowance stops at the end of 26 weeks and she ceases to get the £32.60 a week, it then becoming a widow's allowance or a widowed mother's allowance, she ought to be entitled to the earnings-related supplement which the others already get. If this amendment were accepted, it would mean that we should insert in the Bill: In Section 13 of the Social Security Pensions Act 1975, in subsections (1) and (2) before the words widowed mother's allowance ' there shall be inserted the words 'widow's allowance'". This means that she would then be treated in precisely the same way. I beg to move.


My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 16 the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has sought leave of the House to address himself to the succession of amendments that he mentioned to your Lordships; that is, Amendments Nos. 19, 21 and 22. The intention of these amendments, as the noble Lord said, is to replace an earnings-related addition to widow's allowance from the date of its abolition under the Bill by an earnings-related additional component calculated in the same way as that currently payable with widowed mother's allowance and widow's pension.

The widow's earnings-related addition was introduced originally to bring, widow's allowance, which of course is only payable for six months, as the noble Lord said, into line with other short-term benefits like unemployment and sickness benefit. Now that it has been decided that, as part of the Government's economic strategy, it is necessary to abolish the earnings-related supplements generally, it would be quite inappropriate to replace the widow's earnings-related addition with another earnings-related payment. From next November widow's allowance will be calculated at £38 a week compared with the present one, to which the noble Lord referred, of £32.60. A further comparison is with £20.65 for unemployment and sickness benefit and there really is no justification for placing widows receiving widow's allowance in an even more favourable position compared with other short-term beneficiaries.

The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, referred to the position both of a childless widow and a widow with dependent children and I might remind the House that in the case of each dependent child there is the sum of £7.50 in addition to the sum of £4.75 in regard to child benefit. Of course, each case will vary, but from November the situation will be quite substantially better than it is at present.

However, not only are widows receiving widow's allowance already receiving a much higher rate of benefit than other short-term beneficiaries, they are also receiving a much higher rate than widows receiving one of the long-term widow's benefits, that is widowed mother's allowance or widow's pension, which from November will be £27.15 a week and only just over £30 a week even with the current maximum additional component under the new pension scheme.

One of the basic concepts of the new pension scheme, which began in 1978, is that a person should be able to receive on top of his basic pension an addition related to his earnings, or, in the case of a widow pensioner, her late husband's earnings. But this was intended to make provision for long-term needs and it would be inappropriate in the context of the new scheme to pay the additional component on top of a short-term benefit like widow's allowance—and most inappropriate of all, of course, in those cases where a young childless widow does not qualify for a succeeding benefit to follow widow's allowance. In any event, the new scheme is still in its early stages and, quite apart from any other considerations, such as the reduction in savings under Clause 4, to pay an additional component with widow's allowance would involve administrative expense and complications at a time when we are doing all we can to simplify the social security scheme.


My Lords, I should like to get this quite clear. Is the Minister really saying that a widow receiving a widow's allowance is, at the end of 26 weeks, going to be deprived of the earnings-related supplement to which she is entitled as a result of her late husband's contributions, while it is going to be added to the widowed mother's allowance and the widow's pension?


The answer to that is yes, my Lords. One has to appreciate that the whole situation changes in November, as I have described.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Citation, commencement and extent]:

[Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 not moved.]

9.7 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 20: Page 10, line 22, after first ("Act") insert ("and section 3 of that Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order made by statutory instrument, not being earlier than 1st October 1981.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment, which I can take briefly, is to ensure that the clause does not come into effect for over one year. We submit that if implementation of the clause were delayed for one year it would provide a positive time period in which the effect of the linking rule could he studied and monitored. We think it desirable that there should be this period, hence this amendment which I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, Clause 8(2) of the Bill provides that Clauses 3 to 6 and 7(7) of this Bill shall come into effect on a day appointed by the Secretary of State. As I informed your Lordships at Second Reading, the Government's intention is that Clause 3 shall come into effect from September 1980. The effect of these amendments would be to defer the implementation of that clause by over a year, until October 1981 at the earliest.

Throughout the passage of this Bill my noble friends and I have stressed that the measures it contains are unwelcome. We recognise this. Nobody wishes them to come in, but they are something which we believe are justified by the vital contribution to public savings that they will achieve. Given the urgent need for economies, there is absolutely no point in postponing the introduction of these measures a moment longer than is necessary. For these reasons it is our intention that Section 3 shall come into effect on the day appointed, which will be September 1980.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 not moved.]