HL Deb 17 June 1980 vol 410 cc1070-106

House again in Committee.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amend-No. 33:

Page 7, line 8, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 33. It is rather regrettable that one has to deal with this part of the Bill—and it is nobody's fault—which is perhaps one of the most important, if not the most important, part of the Bill so far as some of us are concerned, with less than a dozen people in the Chamber. It means that when we come to a Division, people will troop into the Division Lobby without hearing either the Government's argument or the Opposition's argument.

The point that I should like to raise at this stage—and your Lordships are generous enough to let one wander from time to time even if one is rebuked for it afterwards—is how many of the Government supporters realise that the sum of money involved in this particular matter is, I believe, £1 million. We have fought on de-indexing invalidity pensions because there was a saving of £140 million; on freezing the earnings rule because there was a saving of £16.5 million; on reducing the linking period because there would be a saving of £20 million; on abolishing the earnings-related supplement because there would be a saving of £360 million; on the reduction in unemployment benefit for occupational pensioners because of a saving of £25 million; but I say again, for the benefit of the noble Lords who have just come in, that as regards this particular matter which I think is of paramount importance; namely, the right of people to strike (and I know that there are more than two opinions on this) all that the Government will save is £1 million. It is much, much less than any of the other savings. I believe that, as a result they will have wrought havoc in industrial relations.

I ask noble Lords opposite to ask themselves whether it is worth it for £1 million. It may well be that noble Lords opposite will say, "Ah, there is a point of principle in this". I would not deny that for some noble Lords there may well be a point of principle. There is also a point of principle in it so far as we are concerned. However, Clause 6(1)(b) provides for the £12 reduction in the supplementary benefit entitlement of a claimant involved in a trade dispute. This amendment is deliberately designed to cancel that provision. The £12 reduction is entirely arbitrary. One does not know why it is £12 and not £10 or, for that matter, £14. Its effects will not only be grossly unfair, but will have far-reaching unpleasant consequences. In some strikes the union can afford to provide strike pay at the rate of £12 a week. In others, which may be equally justified, the union cannot afford that amount.

Some strikers stand to gain a great deal if the strike succeeds, others sometimes have very little to gain. Some strikers place themselves in a situation quite voluntarily, others out of loyalty or—I admit it—because they have no choice. Some trade disputes are the fault of the union and, as I tried to say previously, some are the fault of employers. Some strikers are highly paid; others are striking against poverty wages. I accept the fact that not every strike is really in respect of low wages. Yet Clause 6(1)(b) treats all these situations in the same way and imposes the same penalty.

It should be remembered that the £12 reduction does not stand by itself. Under the existing rules, the striker's own needs are ignored for supplementary benefit purposes. From this November that would mean that the striker and his family would have to manage on a income £17.55 per week below the normal supplementary benefit level if he was not on strike. Therefore, from this November there will be a reduction—because there is nothing for him—of £17.55. With the £12 reduction, it will be nearly £30 below the normal minimum in cases where there is no strike pay.

Therefore, we are really not talking about £12. I am trying to say, and probably saying very badly, that if a man and his wife and family were on normal supplementary benefit, they would receive supplementary benefit for the husband. As he is on strike, they receive nothing for him at all. So, having regard to what the benefit will be in November, he starts with £17.55 a week less. On top of that there will be a reduction of £12 benefit so far as the striker's family is concerned. So they will be £30 a week worse off than they would be if they were on supplementary benefit for other reasons. It should also be remembered that the cases we are discussing are those of strikers with families to support. The single striker hardly ever receives supplementary benefit, even under present rules. I do not think that the Minister will deny that for one moment.

One reason why this proposal is being put forward by the Government is the belief that in some cases unions could afford to provide strike pay but do not do so in the knowledge that their members can claim supplementary benefit. The idea that at the beginning of a strike the strikers all assemble at the local social security office to claim their benefit is, of course, totally false. The Government will not seek to say that they do. Most strikers do not claim supplementary benefit, even if they are not receiving strike pay. Most would not qualify even if they claimed, because most strikes end before any question of entitlement to supplementary benefit arises.

But if there is any substance in the suggestion that unions are discouraged from providing strike pay by the availability of supplementary benefit, it must be said that the changes made in the supplementary benefit rules in 1971 by the then Conservative Government might have been designed to produce this result. Perhaps I may say what I mean. Until that date, although the striker's own needs were disregarded in calculating his entitlement to supplementary benefit for his dependants, if his union paid strike pay up to the amount of his needs as assessed for supplementary benefit purposes, those payments were ignored. So until 1971 there was a situation that if the union made a grant to the man on strike and it was the amount that he would have received in the ordinary way from supplementary benefit if he had not been on strike but was applying for supplementary benefit for other purposes, this was ignored, and supplementary benefit was paid only for his wife and family. There was, therefore, a clear incentive to provide strike pay, because the man was allowed to keep it for himself, and supplementary benefit paid nothing at all, but only maintained the family.

In 1971 that arrangement was replaced by the present rule under which only £4 of strike pay is disregarded, and not even that if the striker is also receiving tax refunds. It would not be surprising if that change of policy had not made some unions—and I think that most noble Lords opposite are reasonable people and I believe that I can say this with their agreement—less anxious to finance some members during strikes, because when they did it was disregarded in the sense that it was not counted against supplementary benefit.

Having created this situation, the Government are now trying to get out of it by penalising strikers further, regardless of the hardship that this may cause, not only to those actually involved in trade disputes, but to their wives and families. I said before certain noble Lords came into the Chamber, and I want to repeat it, that we must get this in the right perspective. The Government admit that if this goes through they will save £1 million a year. This Social Security (No. 2) Bill will save the Government £562½ million, and only £1 million of that will be as a result of Clause 6.

My Lords, is it worth it? When I say that, I mean is it worth the reputation that the Government must get in carrying through legislation of this kind? Is it really worth the disharmony and unrest which this will produce? I was surprised myself when, on going into the matter, I realised that very few strikers in fact claim supplementary benefit. The noble Lord nods his head in complete agreement. I am sure I am talking to some noble Lords who think that the millions who go on strike in the course of a year immediately go down to the supplementary benefit office to claim for their wives and children. They just do not. I have given the reasons, and I shall not go through them again.

But is it going to be worth all the social disharmony, all the industrial unrest, for the sake of £1 million? Somebody may get up—I hope they will not—and say, "Oh, yes, but it's a matter of principle that strikers should not be assisted". Whatever one does, one is going to assist strikers. One is going to support their wives and families, only one is going to reduce it by £12; but one is still going to support them. So if it is a matter of principle, do not support them at all. It is all or nothing; it must be all or nothing.

It seems to me that in a matter of this kind we must get things into perspective. I think the Government would have a very good case if there were tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands in the course of one year trooping off to local social security offices demanding maintenance for their wives and families which was costing, if one likes, the British taxpayer a disproportionate sum. They cost the British taxpayer, you and me, £1 million a year. Is it a fraction of a penny per day? I do not think it is. One would have to divide it by 55 million and then by 365. It is an infinitesimal amount. Noble Lords are not sacrificing a principle here. They might not be supporting the Government, who I think are wholly out of step on this. But this is not the first time in this Bill that the Government, represented by their Front Bench, have been out of step with reality. There has been an abundant number of instances where they have been out of touch with reality. I ask noble Lords not to support this. I do not think they can do it in all conscience.

8.32 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said he feared that someone would get up and talk about matters of principle. I can put his mind at rest; I am not going to talk about matters of principle. This is a pragmatic thing. This is done because the Government recognise the extent to which this country is hurt by excessive striking. This is done in order, in my opinion, to make people think very hard of the consequences of their actions before they take them. The effect of this, in the unofficial strike, will be to penalise those who do it, and quite rightly. The effect of this in a large measure, in official strikes, will be to enable the union, if it has thought the thing out carefully, to support its members financially in doing what the union has asked them to do. This is what it is all about, as I see it, in its effect from the Government's point of view.

Let us not bother about whether it costs only £1 million. Let us not bother whether it costs £100 million or one penny. That is simply not the point. The point is that we are making it harder on those who choose to withdraw their labour, because this country is in such a way at the moment that this is the sort of thing that needs to be done. I am not sure whether the noble Lord was here, but he may know that I am one of those people who have supported, through thick and thin, the very moderate measures produced on another Bill, namely the Employment Bill, and I see this particular clause as very much in line with that. The noble Lord asked, "Why only £12?" He said that it must be a matter of principle—all or nothing. Not at all. This is a moderate measure to make people think what they are doing to the country before they do it.

8.34 p.m.


I suppose this is the first clause we have considered in the Committee stage of this Bill which has not been introduced primarily with the object of saving money, for, as noble Lords have been pointing out, had it been in operation during 1979 it would have saved only £1 million. I should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said about the number of strikers who claim supplementary benefit. I believe that the figure for all strikes is somewhere around 15 per cent. It is as low as that because most strikes are of short duration. Of course, if one gets a long strike then supplementary benefit is claimed, and if lots of workers are involved it could be comparatively expensive. But taking it overall, it is a comparatively small percentage of strikers who claim supplementary benefit.

The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, was saying to us just now that he wanted to put some disincentive, some penalty, on striking, in order to discourage people from striking. I think much depends on how we regard this question of striking. If we say that there is a right to withhold one's labour, even if on many occasions we do not like how that right is used, then I wonder whether we are correct to try to prevent people from exercising that right by placing some penalty upon them for doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said that this clause would be an encouragement to the trade unions to pay strike pay. It would be perhaps a moral inducement, but there would be no guarantee that they would all do it. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, pointed out, many of them could not do it because they would not be in a financial position to pay strike pay of £12 per week.

In these circumstances, it seems to noble Lords on these Benches that it is not fair to penalise strikers' families, because, as we have heard, the striker himself does not have a claim to supplementary benefit. To penalise strikers' families to try to induce the unions seems the wrong way to go about it. After all, a striker cannot determine whether he is given strike pay. It would be more logical to put an obligation directly on the unions. I do not advocate that, but I say that from the Government's point of view it would be more logical and certainly fairer. I say that, but I do not advocate it, even though it is true that we on these Benches are often critical of the exercise of union power.

We would like to see strikes resorted to less frequently, and sometimes we would like to see them resorted to more responsibly. But I put a rider to that. I think it is wrong to assume that all unofficial strikes are irresponsible. That is to give unions a tremendous monopoly of power. Why should they be the only people who can say whether individuals can withdraw their labour? Although on many occasions we would like to see strikes resorted to more responsibly, we would not say that that meant that all unofficial strikes were irresponsible. But I am convinced that this clause is not the way to get the better industrial relations which would result in fewer strikes and responsible strikes.


It was my intention to ask precisely what was the purpose of this particular clause, but the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, seems to have given the answer. In the Second Reading debate it was emphasised by the noble Baroness that one of the purposes was to ensure that the unions accepted some responsibility for their members and made a contribution. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, emphasised the damage done to the country by strikes, and, whether he intended this or not, the inference was that we are going to punish the unions for doing it.


I really must ask for a moment's indulgence. I specifically said that it would make the unions think very hard before they decided whether they would bring people out on strike. That is what I said. I did not use the word "punish", and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw that particular word because it is not right.


Did not the noble Earl use the word "penalise"?




I am prepared to accept what the noble Earl says about not punishing the unions, but as I try to explain how I look at this I think he will understand exactly what I mean. My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell put a powerful argument in favour of this amendment. I think that even those who may not fully support him when it comes to a vote will agree that he put up a powerful case.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, is an important one. Is this going to help industrial relations? I do not think there is one noble Lord in this House who does not want to see the number of strikes diminished, but strikes do not just come about because people want to have a nice pleasant game. They come about because of a breakdown in industrial relations at some point. Strikers already lose heavily as it is. One would imagine from listening to some of the speeches that strikers do not suffer anything at all by coming out on strike. They lose heavily when they decide to strike, whether it be an official or an unofficial strike, irrespective of the question of the £12. Decisions to strike are not taken lightly.

As my noble friend emphasised, we are not talking here about assistance to the actual striker but the position of his family. I chose my words carefully: if it is felt that because a striker's family is going to be hit that will cause him not to come out on strike or will help to end the strike, then I believe that that is the wrong way to approach this issue. People come out on strike because there is a breakdown, and what we are likely to do as a result of this clause is to create more bitterness in industrial relations. The history of trade unionism and of strikes is such that, instead of this clause doing what the Government think it may do, it may do the opposite through the creation of a feeling of bitterness being driven into them by this decision.

The majority of strikes are unofficial. Therefore, most union rules will prevent anything being paid when there is an unofficial strike. If it is suggested that they should all be made official, then instead of shortening strikes in many cases you will prolong them. Many of the short, unofficial strikes can be got over fairly quickly. Once you start making a strike official, then the whole question of union rules and apparatus comes into it and the position is made more difficult.

Listening to some of the speeches one would imagine that it is always the strikers at fault. There may be some irresponsible strikers, but by and large they do not come out and sacrifice their own financial position merely because they enjoy a few days off, or a few weeks off: it is because of a breakdown somewhere, and sometimes a breakdown caused by management. Yet the workers and their families are going to be made to suffer by this clause. I hope that the Government will reconsider this if only on the issue of industrial relations. It is not much use talking about removing the bitterness if we are going to create bitterness by this decision.

It is generally agreed that finance does not enter into this. It is not a question of saving on public expenditure. It is merely trying to tackle what the Government believe is a situation that has to be tackled. This is not the way to try to curtail strikes. This is not the way to try to improve industrial relations. On that aspect alone I hope that the Government will reconsider the position.


One should not intervene, having just come into the Committee, unless one has heard the whole debate on the amendment. Nevertheless, having heard what the last noble Lord said I cannot resist intervening. He really must realise that in many cases the workers are called out to strike, and strike by loyalty, not because they want to do so but simply because their shop stewards who, in many cases are Communists and disruptives, call them out. I really think that the last noble Lord's speech should be seen in that context.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

At the beginning of his remarks the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, said that we should get this amendment in perspective, and I hope that in the course of this debate we can do so. First, I should like to confirm what indeed the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, that this clause is not about saving money. I said in my opening speech at Second Reading that, unlike the first five clauses of the Bill, this clause is not about saving money.

While I am on that subject may I say in parenthesis that the steel strike that we have had this year cost £9 million in social security payments, and we estimate that half of this would have been saved had this particular clause of this Bill been enacted. No, the reason why we have this clause in the Bill is that it is a manifesto commitment, and we promised that we would ensure that trade unions paid a fair share of the cost of supporting the families of those of their members who were on strike. This is not in any way against trade unions or against their right to strike. Indeed, it was the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who asked whether we were denying them a right to strike. I think if he reflects on the matter—and indeed all those who considered this—he will recognise that the rights do imply responsibilities. What we are saying is that there is a responsibility which rests on the trade union, and there is a responsibility which rests upon the striker.


Would the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? What I was saying was that we should not penalise people for exercising a right. I did not say that we were preventing them from exercising the right. I said that we should not penalise them for exercising a right, and that that is what this clause does. Does the noble Baroness not agree that that is so?

Baroness YOUNG

I would not agree that we are penalising the striker in this. The striker has his right to strike. That is right. That is all part of the law of the land. It is not the responsibility of the state in those circumstances to take care of all the costs of the strike: that is what we are saying in this regard. I do not see that that is anything other than asking the trade unions to accept their fair share of responsibility in this matter, and of course the fair share of the responsibility of the striker himself not only for himself but for his family.

We have introduced this because it is a manifesto commitment, but it is not our intention to cause hardship to strikers' families. The remedy lies in fact in the hands of the trade unions. We shall bring in regulations under which up to £12 of strike pay will be ignored, and the responsibility will therefore be on the unions to be able to make good the £12 reduction which is proposed by this clause. I am pleased to see that one or two of the major trade unions seem to be adopting a more responsible attitude in this direction. For the trade unionist who goes on unofficial strike, or for the non-unionist involved in a trade dispute, he must be expected to make some provision for himself and for his family. We believe that it is unreasonable to expect the taxpayer to continue supporting them to the extent that he does at present.

Indeed, I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, say, why have we just had £12? Why did not we say all or nothing? I was grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lord De La Warr, who said in fact that this was indicative that this is a moderate measure, as indeed it is. We regard this as a reasonable sum; something that could be reasonably provided by the trade unions. It is not in any way meant to be an extreme measure, as I have already indicated. It may be helpful to the Committee to know that there is some evidence that the trade unions are reacting to our proposals by increasing their strike pay. The General and Municipal Workers' Union, currently paying £10.50 dispute benefit, is increasing it to £13.50 from October and to £16.50 in July 1981; the engineering section of the A UEW has decided to increase its benefit from £9 to £12 from 1st January 1981; and later this month the T & GWU will be considering a proposal to increase its benefit from £6 to £12.

It seems to me that this is quite right and eminently reasonable. We believe that this must be seen in the context of all our industrial relations legislation and that it will encourage trade unions and those who take part in industrial action to see the strike as a last resort in all instances.


The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, was right when he said that it is perhaps not wise to intervene in a debate when you have not heard the major argument. Had the noble Viscount been here when I put the case for the Opposition, I do not say that it would have made any impression on him, but at least he would have had a clear exposition of the view we hold in regard to strikes. It would not be fair to those of your Lordships who were here at 8.15 if I were to go over all that ground again, but it applies to a number of other noble Lords who have come in late.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that it was not the Government's intention to hurt the striker's family, but that just does not stand up. That is precisely what the Government are doing. If a family's income is to be docked by up to £12—and in cases where unions are unable to help, £12 will be stopped from their social security, bearing in mind that the husband is getting nothing—that is hurting the family. One cannot mess around and suggest that it means anything other than that, particularly when a large number of unions, because of their size and the low pay of their members, cannot pay as much by way of weekly or monthly rate as some of the bigger unions. They will never be able to build up a strike fund that will enable them to give their members strike pay.


Is the noble Lord aware that not once in his last remarks has he mentioned the responsibility of the individual towards his own family? He has been talking about the responsibilities of great amorphous masses, of trade unions and governments, but he has not taken into account the very important thing, the last resort—indeed, to some people the first resort—the responsibility of the individual towards his own family and the responsibility for his actions in and the effect that they may have on his own family.


The noble Lord usually listens very attentively.


I have been doing so.


He could not have done so tonight, otherwise he would have heard what I and the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said; namely, that very few strikers ever apply for social security. Indeed, the figure is less than 15 per cent., which means that the 85 per cent. who do not apply must be doing the very thing he is complaining they are not doing.


I am talking about actions, not money.


If the noble Lord wants to outlaw strikes altogether and make them illegal, regardless of what industrial dispute there may be, that is entirely another matter and this is not the place to discuss it. I remind the Committee that a great deal of responsibility is shown by strikers in that the majority of them, notwithstanding the fact that they get nothing for themselves, do not even apply for supplementary benefit for their wives and families. I call that being very responsible indeed. And the 12 per cent. to 14 per cent. who do apply are those who are unable to make provision for themselves.

I gather that my reference to the fact that it costs so little money makes no impression on your Lordships. I would only say that the amount involved is very small, but that the amount of chaos and industrial disorder that this clause will cause we will live to regret. I hope that some of your Lordships, who must have a real doubt in your minds, will not fail to have the courage not to vote.


As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, referred to me personally—and I am sorry I did not hear his speech—I must tell him that I know the arguments very well. One must say, first of all, that there are far too many strikes. This we must admit, and we must also admit that what is currently occurring is and has become more and more the law of the jungle. Unless we have the sanctions to prevent people from going on strike without reasonable cause, when they could have avoided such action by discussions and arbitration, it will remain intolerable that the state of our nation should be let down even further by the number of strikes we are now having.

8.57 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 33) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents 44; Not-Contents, 70.

Ardwick, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Banks, L. Janner, L. Seear, B.
Blease, L. Lee of Newton, L. Simon, V.
Boston of Faversham, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Bowden, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Brockway, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Stone, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Maelor, L. Strabolgi, L.
Collison, L. Northfield, L. Strauss, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Peart, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Phillips, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
George-Brown, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L. Underhill, L.
Glenamara, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.] Wallace of Coslany, L.
Gosford, E. Wells-Pestell, L.
Hale, L. Rhodes, L. White, B.
Hampton, L. Rochester, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Glendevon, L. Norfolk, D.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Glenkinglas, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Amory, V. Godber of Willington, L. Orkney, E.
Balerno, L. Gowrie, E. Renton, L.
Bellwin, L. Gridley, L. Rochdale, V.
Belstead, L. Hanworth, V. St. Aldwyn, E.
Bessborough, E. Hatherton, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Bolton, L. Hives, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hunt of Fawley, L. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Crathorne, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Stamp, L.
Cromartie, E. Killearn, L. Strathclyde, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Kimberley, E. Sudeley, L.
de Clifford, L. Lauderdale, E. Swinfen, L.
De La Warr, E. Long, V. Tranmire, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Lyell, L. Trefgarne, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Trenchard, V.
Dundee, E. Macleod of Borve, B. Ullswater, V.
Ellenborough, L. Mansfield, E. Vickers, B.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Marley, L. Vivian, L.
Elton, L. Mills, V. Ward of Witley, V.
Forester, L. Mottistone, L. Westbury, L.
Fortescue, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Young, B.
Gainford, L. Moyne, L.
Glenarthur, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.6 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 34: Page 7, line 16, leave out paragraph (c).

The noble Lord said: Under Clause 6(1)(c) persons involved in trade disputes will in future not be eligible for urgent need payments except so far as regulations provide otherwise".

I wish to repeat that, because it seems to me to be so extreme: under Clause 6(1)(c) persons involved in trade disputes will in future not be eligible for urgent need payments except so far as regulations provide otherwise".

This is an entirely unnecessary restriction, which the amendment would remove.

I consider this to be a most pernicious proposal, and I ask your Lordships' Committee to consider whether it is really human to do this. The Government have already made clear that the new supplementary benefit regulations to be made under the earlier Social Security Bill will limit urgent need payments to very restricted categories of cases. The list given in the Notes on Clauses relating to the earlier Bill included local disasters, loss of money, loss of travel tickets, visits to a dying relative, and disruption of transport.

During the Committee stage of the Bill in another place, the Secretary of State gave a rather similar list of circumstances in which strikers would qualify for urgent need payments under regulations to be made under Clause 6, the clause which we are dealing with at the present moment. As well as local disasters, theft and fares to visit a seriously ill relative, that list also included fares to take a handicapped child to school, maternity needs and essential household equipment, such as fireguards. It really comes down to a very serious, unfeeling situation when we have one list of needs for one section of the community and another list of needs for another section. It really does not seem necessary to have two separate but almost identical lists in two separate regulations, one for strikers and one for other claimants. It occurs to me that if the Government genuinely went to simplify the supplementary benefits scheme— and we hear so much about what they want to do to simplify the Acts—then they could avoid this sort of absurdity, because it is nothing short of an absurdity.

The one important respect in which it is clear that strikers are to be treated more restrictively than other claimants in regard to urgent need payments is where the striker is a single person without dependants. At present, because the trade dispute disqualification prevents the striker's own needs from being taken into account in the normal supplementary benefit calculation, single strikers can receive supplementary benefit only on an urgent need basis. The Supplementary Benefits Commission has laid down very tough rules for deciding whether a single striker should receive urgent need payments. Those rules can be summed up by saying that such payments are made only in cases of total destitution, where the striker has no other resources and no-one to whom he can turn for help. As a result, very few payments are made to single strikers in the course of the year, and where they are made the reality and the urgency of the need has to be beyond question.

Common humanity demands that adequate arrangements should be made. The Secretary of State told the Standing Committee on the Bill in another place: Although there is in the Bill a power to make a regulation to enable a hardship payment to be made for the single striker who has no resources and who would otherwise become destitute, it is not the Government's intention to make those regulations from the outset but to wait and see how the need develops ".

That is in Standing Committee "B", the Ninth Sitting, Part 2, on 9th May 1980, at column 983. I find this absolutely unbelievable. There are going to be no regulations; presumably the Government will wait to see how many of them collapse and die from hunger. How inhuman can a Government become?

One may not like what strikers do. We talk about their moral responsibility to society. What about our responsibility to them? I really find this quite unbelievable. How many cases of destitution will have to occur before the Secretary of State decides to use his regulation-making power? How many single strikers will have to be evicted from their homes or (I was going to say) driven begging on to the streets?

I know that that sounds very emotive. It is meant to be emotive; because it is possible. I think the Government must reconsider this while there is still time. It is clear that nothing will alter their determination to impose severe hardships upon families of the people involved in strike disputes—in the interests, as they feel, of better industrial relations. As we have just come through that discussion, I do not want to add to it. But deliberately to leave people in total destitution goes beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in a civilised society. I cannot think that noble Lords can really agree to that being in the Bill, and I invite the Committee to leave out paragraph (c) because it seems to me to go beyond the limits.

Baroness YOUNG

Clause 6(1)(c), to which this amendment refers, is an essential part of Clause 6 and this amendment therefore cannot be accepted. I should make that clear at the beginning. I am sure the Committee will recognise that it would not be a very sensible series of policies to reduce strikers' benefits by £12, as we propose—a matter upon which the Committee has just divided; and on which the Committee has supported the Government—if an immediate payment of £12 could then be made under the urgent need provisions to make good this deduction. That would be the effect if this amendment were agreed to.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, made clear, we do not intend to exclude completely the urgent need provisions. We have power to make regulations which we intend to cover the rare and truly compassionate cases without in any way defeating the purpose of the clause. Regulations will provide for help to meet urgent need for losses of essential items due to disasters such as fire or flood, for a very expensive diet for the striker himself such as is needed by someone suffering from certain illnesses, for fares to visit seriously ill relatives or to take a handicapped child to school by special transport, for the immediate necessities for a newborn baby during a long strike and for the repair or supply of essential household equipment, such as would be needed if there were no working form of heating in winter. If experience shows that there are other rare circumstances for which similar provision should be made, we will introduce the necessary regulations. The present arrangements whereby help is given for expensive diets or extra heating needed on medical grounds by a striker's dependant will continue as this comes under the normal supplementary benefit rules and not under the urgent need provisions.

In the course of his remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, made a great deal about what he called the moral responsibility of the Government. I think that, as a country, if we are to talk about moral responsibility, we must talk about the moral responsibility of a great many other people, including, if I may say so to the noble Lord and his colleagues, the moral responsibility of the trade unions, when they consider their actions and the moral responsibilities of the individual strikers when they take action on these matters. This is really what much of this debate is about. It is about individual responsibility and what one should do in certain circumstances.

I think that I have made it clear that in what we are proposing here we intend that the strikers' needs provisions, which have been accepted in the past, will continue for the cases that I have enumerated; that, if there should be other rare but hard circumstances, then, of course, we will introduce regulations to cover those particular cases. But we cannot just say in this country, as it is too often said, that the moral responsibility is the Government's and that everyone else has no responsibility for their actions. We all have moral responsibilities; we all need to consider carefully our actions.


It has been said many times that a state ought to set the example of the good life. I hope that the noble Earl will not sit there and mumble. If he wants to say something, I hope that he will get up and say it.


The noble Lord has said that he expected the state to set an example of human behaviour. I simply cannot understand it.


That relieves me of trying to explain it to the noble Earl. If he cannot understand it, then there is no point at which I can proceed to enlighten him. I do not understand the noble Baroness the Minister saying that it is the intention of the Government to make regulations in due course. Her right honourable friend the Secretary of State apparently wants to wait to see what happens. If it is the intention of the Government to do something, why not make those regulations now? I cannot really see why the regulations should not be made now. There are already two lists of benefits that can be given, and if there is going to be a special urgent needs list for strikers I cannot see why that list and regulations could not be made available very soon.

I do not want to go over the ground that we went over before. There is no common ground between Members on this side and those on the other side of the Committee on this issue, I cannot get noble Lords opposite to see that comparatively few strikers ever apply for supplementary benefit. They are using (shall I say?) an enormous tractor to crack a small nut. Industrial relations are not going to improve with a Government taking these steps.

However, I realise it is quite pointless to continue. I make no impression because noble Lords' minds are made up. I am forced to the conclusion—and I regret it—that there is only one thing in the minds of many noble Lords opposite: to put on the statute book regulations which will have a punitive effect upon strikers. I am afraid that in industrial relations you are going to pay the price when this Bill goes on the statute book.


May I ask one question? There are those with many opinions. As has been said, one cannot indict a whole nation; it may be very difficult to indict a whole trade union. There are different opinions. The minority cannot control what the majority, however misguided, may decide. 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?

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. We have not had this suggestion mentioned here; I have seen it elsewhere. But I share the view that it is wrong in principle to expect the public to pay to meet the needs of families of strikers, or indeed the strikers themselves, when the strikers are actually doing damage to others. The strikers should at least be able to look after their own, to make certain they do not do damage to those to whom they have obligations. But there is the difficult case that they may not be able to avoid doing that. 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.

I do not like to use the word "principle". That is obviously a dirty word in the eyes of the noble Lord opposite. It covers what we need to secure; a sense of responsibility and at the same time that the public will retain the overall responsibility for ensuring that all needs are met, on the understanding that in this particular case whatever is provided is repaid.

9.25 p.m.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. He does me a very great injustice. I said nothing that would lead anyone in this Chamber to suggest for one moment that I think the word "principle" is a dirty word—in fact I have been throwing it about quite a bit this evening. I think there are principles involved and I said to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that we feel this is a principle. I accept the fact that noble Lords opposite also have a principle, one which is different from mine, and so I do not think that the word "principle" is a dirty word. There are times when we could do with a little more of it: I accept that.

If the noble Lord will not mind my saying this, I do not want to be drawn on the question of assistance being given to a striker during the strike and that being subject to repayment afterwards. It sounds attractive on the face of things. But what I feel is a mistake—and I will withdraw this gladly and apologise if I am wrong—is that the Government really did not discuss this matter with the TUC when they were framing legislation. My recollection is that the Government did not do so. The Government have not shown a great deal of enthusiasm for discussing matters with the TUC. It is very unwise of them. I am not saying they never discussed industrial matters; I am talking about this particular Bill. I feel that if there had been discussions a better way may have been found, but I think it is helpful that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has raised this matter.

Viscount SIMON

Before the noble Baroness responds, I wonder whether she could help us, when she speaks, over one thing. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, read a statement made by the Secretary of State in another place which certainly seemed to suggest that the Government did not intend to introduce regulations right away, but would wait and see how things developed. The noble Baroness rather gave me the impression that the Government were quite ready to produce regulations, and she gave an outline of certain things that would be included in them. I suspect that there is a procedural difficulty in introducing the regulations before the Bill is passed, and I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, was perhaps asking for too much in asking for regulations now. Could the noble Baroness tell us whether the Government intend to introduce these regulations as soon as the Bill becomes law?


If the noble Baroness the Minister will allow me to speak before she does, I think perhaps I should repeat my quotation from the Secretary of State when he was speaking to the Standing Committee on the Bill in another place. He said: I think there is in the Bill a power to make a regulation to enable a hardship payment to be made for the single striker who has no resources and who otherwise would become destitute. It is not the Government's intention to make those regulations from the outset but to wait and see how the need develops".

9.29 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

Perhaps I might take the opportunity to answer the point raised by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn as well as that raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, on this matter. May I say that the regulations to which I referred in my remarks, to help meet urgent needs for losses of essential items (and I listed them), will be made before the clause comes into force. I cannot say definitely that they will be available before the Summer Recess, but they will definitely be made before November, when part of the Bill would come into force. May I also go on to say that the list of circumstances, which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, quoted for ordinary claimants, was, in fact, illustrative only. There will be a much fuller list which will be more substantial. I hope that that clears up these procedural points which are very important. I would not wish there to be any misunderstanding on that point by the Committee.

My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn raised a rather separate point which, if I understood him correctly, was that the full supplementary benefit should be paid to a striker's family in certain circumstances, on the understanding that it would be repaid when the striker went back to work—


If I may intervene, I did not go so far as saying "full supplementary benefit". I asked that payment would be made in accordance with need.

Baroness YOUNG

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 be 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 and would be very difficult, although I understand the reasons why my noble friend put it forward—


I am sorry to intervene again, but my noble friend begged the question by talking about a "benefit". What is being asked for is a payment in case of need, not a regular benefit.

Baroness YOUNG

Yes, I appreciate the difference. The fact is that it would be a payment of money which, if I correctly understood the point, would have to be repaid. However, I will write to my noble friend about this matter. 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. However, I hope, with what I have said on the main point about the regulations, that the Committee will agree not to accept this amendment.

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 38; Not-Contents, 69.

Ardwick, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Banks, L. Janner, L. Seear, B.
Blease, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Boston of Faversham, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Stewart of Fulham, L.
Bowden, L. Stone, L.
Brockway, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Strabolgi, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Maelor, L. Strauss, L.
Collison, L. Northfield, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Peart, L. Underhill, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Phillips, B. Wallace of Coslany, L.
George-Brown, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Gosford, E. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. White, B.
Gregson, L. Rochester, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Glendevon, L. Norfolk, D.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Glenkinglas, L. Orkney, E.
Balerno, L. Godber of Wellington, L. Renton, L.
Bellwin, L. Gowrie, E. Rochdale, V.
Belstead, L. Hanworth, V. St. Aldwyn, E.
Bessborough, E. Hatherton, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Bolton, L. Hives, L. Sandford, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hunt of Fawley, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Crathorne, L. Killearn, L. Shannon, E.
Cromartie, E. Kimberley, E. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lauderdale, E. Stamp, L.
de Clifford, L. Long, V. Strathclyde, L.
De La Warr, E. Lyell, L. Sudeley, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Mackay of Clashfern, L. Swinfen, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Tranmire, L.
Dundee, E. Mansfield, E. Trefgarne, L.
Ellenborough, L. Marley, L. Trenchard, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mills, V. Ullswater, V.
Elton, L. Monson, L. Vickers, B.
Forester, L. Mottistone, L. Vivian, L.
Fortescue, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Gainford, L. Moyne, L. Westbury, L.
Glenarthur, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.41 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 35: Page 8, line 38, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Lord said: We have come to the last amendment for which I am responsible, and I am sure there will be a feeling of pleasure all the way round. Certainly there is so far as I am concerned. At least I shall be doing something tonight which will meet with the approval of noble Lords opposite.

This is an amendment which I hope that the Government will accept. One

9.32 p.m.

On Question, whether the said amendment (No. 34) shall be agreed to?

can always hope. Ministers have admitted that the number of people claiming supplementary benefit is expected to increase by about 110,000 as a result of the cuts in national insurance benefits in this Bill. But they have also admitted that this figure is based on the assumption that only 75 per cent. of those becoming entitled to supplementary benefit will claim it. This means that the number of people living below the supplementary benefit level will increase by some 37,000, plus their dependants, which is thought to be in the region of about 100,000 people.

This is not acceptable, and I am sure that the Government do not feel that it is acceptable. We feel strongly that special measures should be taken to ensure that those 37,000 people—the figure, as I have said, may well be an underestimate in view of the current trends in the number of unemployed people—are made aware of their entitlement and are encouraged to claim.


I wonder whether the noble Lord is thinking of Amendment No. 36?


Yes, I am dealing with No. 36.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Amherst of Hackney)

I called Amendment No. 35.


I beg your Lordships' pardon. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for intervening. I beg to move Amendment No. 35, page 8, line 38, leave out subsection (6). Clause 6(6) provides for the possibility that the changes in supplementary benefit rules for people involved in trade disputes may come into force before the other changes in the supplementary benefits scheme resulting from the Social Security (No. 1) Bill. Since the No. 1 Act changes are to come into force this November, it is not clear why the trade dispute rules should need to be changed before then, unless the Government believe that their policies have brought industrial relations in this country to such a low ebb that panic measures may be needed during the next five months.

If it is the intention to bring Clause 6 into effect before November, the Government must know by now precisely what modifications in the provisions of the supplementary benefits Act will be needed and that information should be laid before Parliament in the form of draft regulations instead of the Government

taking powers, as Clause 6(6) proposes, to make whatever modifications the Secretary of State considers appropriate. This seems to me to be quite a reasonable thing to expect of the Government, and I hope that the noble Baroness, the Minister, will be able to give us a very clear reason as to why it is going to be done in this way rather than in the way the amendment suggests. I beg to move.


I am sure we are all glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is going to address us once more and that his threat that his present speech was the last one has turned out to be incorrect. So far as this particular amendment is concerned, the Government's intention is to implement the proposals in Clause 6 of this Bill at the same time as the changes in the rules for supplementary benefits introduced by the Social Security Act 1980 become operative, namely, 24th November 1980. That is the intention. However, we feel that we should be able to keep our options open and be able to introduce the new rules for strikers' benefits at an earlier date than November if the industrial situation should ever require it. It is not that we anticipate anything in the nature of panic, but we would think it appropriate if the industrial situation would appear to require it that the power should exist to bring these special rules into effect. We do not expect ever to have to make use of this subsection, but we do think it wise to preserve this freedom, and I therefore invite your Lordships not to accept this amendment.

9.45 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 35) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 38; Not-Contents, 69.

Ardwick, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Banks, L. Janner, L. Seear, B.
Blease, L. Llewelyn-Davies, L. Simon, V.
Boston of Faversham, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Stewart of Alvechurch, B
Bowden, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Brockway, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Stone, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Northfield, L. Strabolgi, L.
Collison, L. Peart, L. Strauss, L.
David, B. Phillips, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L. Underhill, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.] Wells-Pestell, L.
Gosford, E. White, B.
Gregson, L. Rochester, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Hampton, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Glenkinglas, L. Norfolk, D.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Godber of Willington, L. Orkney, E.
Balerno, L. Gowrie, E. Renton, L.
Bellwin, L. Hanworth, V. Rochdale, V.
Belstead, L. Hatherton, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Bessborough, E. Hives, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Bolton, L. Hunt of Fawley, L. Sandford, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Killearn, L. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Crathorne, L. Kimberley, E. Shannon, E.
Cromartie, E. Lauderdale, E. Soames, L. (L. President.)
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Long, V. Stamp, L.
de Clifford, L. Lyell, L. Strathclyde, L.
De La Warr, E. Mackay of Clashfern, L. Sudeley, L.
Denham, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Swinfen, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Mansfield, E. Tranmire, L.
Dundee, E. Marley, L. Trefgarne, L.
Ellenborough, L. Mills, V. Trenchard, V.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Monson, L. Ullswater, V.
Elton, L. Mottistone, L. Vickers, B.
Forester, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Vivian, L.
Fortescue, E. Ward of Witley, V.
Gainford, L. Moyne, L. Westbury, L.
Glenarthur, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Young, B.
Glendevon, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 6 agreed to.

9.53 p.m.

Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 36:

After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:

"Duty of Secretary of State to ensure claim of benefit (.It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to make such arrangements as may be practicable with a view to ensuring that any person becoming entitled to supplementary benefit under section 1 of the Supplementary Benefits Act 1976 as a result of the provisions of this Act claims that benefit.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 36. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for inviting me to make a second appearance. It is not often that I receive invitations in your Lordships' House to do that. However, having said in some detail what I wanted to say in relation to this amendment, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say just two sentences rather than go all over it again.

Several noble Lords

Hear, hear!


In that case, perhaps your Lordships will accept this amendment! What we are concerned about—and I know that the Government are concerned about this—is the number of people who fail to take up benefits to which they are entitled. We are wondering whether the Department of Health and Social Security could launch a special take-up campaign for this particular group. It is important that people who are living below the level of supplementary benefit should, by some means or other, be informed that they are entitled to apply for, and would be successful in applying for, supplementary benefit. I know from personal experience that a tremendous amount is done in this area. It is not due to the department not moving in this particular area. I wonder whether the Minister would be good enough to look at this matter with the department to see whether anything more could be done than is being done at the moment. I beg to move.


Although I have been in favour of very few of the Opposition amendments so far, I can support this amendment wholeheartedly. The fact that so many highly-deserving people fail to take up the supplementary benefits to which they are absolutely entitled, whether through timidity or ignorance of their rights, really is a national scandal. I said "highly-deserving people", because many of the less deserving, in the moral rather than in a strictly legal sense, make certain that they claim every single penny that is going, aided and abetted by such dubious organisations as the Claimants Union.

In contrast, tens of thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of elderly people whose sole income is the state retirement pension fail totally to claim any supplementary benefit out of shyness, misplaced pride or ignorance of the facts. I think that something should be done to rectify this, and this amendment seems to be a practical way of setting the ball in motion.


As has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, the proposed new clause would place on the Secretary of State an obligation to improve as best he can the take-up of supplementary benefit among those becoming entitled because of reduction in their contributory benefits. The amendment draws attention, as does the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, to the fact that there will be some increase in supplementary benefit claims: 110,000 extra beneficiaries as a result of Clauses 1 and 4: about a 4 per cent. increase in the existing case load.

Naturally the Government accept that they have an obligation to ensure that people who may be entitled to supplementary benefit are aware of that fact. This they already do by various means of publicity—in post offices, unemployment benefit offices and in the order books of social security beneficiaries. They are also continually seeking means to impove the impact and quality of their publicity. The obligation to help people know and claim their rights is not, of course, peculiar to potential claimants once this Bill becomes law.

The take-up of supplementary benefit is believed to be about 75 per cent. and the amount unclaimed was estimated for 1977 to be over £300 million. Later figures are not available. The reasons why the other 25 per cent. do not claim seem to be complex. The Supplementary Benefits Commission discussion paper, Take-up of Supplementary Benefit, which was put out in 1978, says: … some mixture of pride, ignorance, a sense of stigma, reluctance to make the efforts which a claim calls for, a desire for self-sufficiency on the part of an individual or family, an unwillingness to become involved with a government agency and a feeling that the whole business is not worth while".

The Government are far from complacent about this level of take-up, but it is important not to get the problem out of perspective. Many of the entitlements not taken up individually are small, and the expectation of a disproportionately small gain is clearly a significant factor in failure to claim.

It is also right to bear in mind that the incidental effects of the savings measures in the Bill do not make a dramatic difference to the numbers on supplementary benefit. Such difference as they do make is the inevitable outcome of maintaining the "safety net" intact, and in the light of what has been said earlier in these debates, it is most important to remember that the Government are maintaining the safety net intact. The new pension schemes will be making a dent in reliance on means testing, and this is our long-term aim.

The new clause is understandably rather vague in effect. Clearly, whether a person should exercise his right to claim supplementary benefit is essentially a personal decision for him; there can be no compulsion about it. Moreover, until a person has claimed benefit and made a statement of his financial circumstances and commitments, it is most unlikely that the department would be in a position to decide whether or not he had a title to benefit. But simplification of this scheme and a continuing regard to clear information and adequate publicity are certainly our objectives. We hope that your Lordships will feel that we will pursue these objectives without the necessity of enacting a clause of this kind. I would invite the noble Lord to be kind enough on this occasion to withdraw his amendment. It would be a very nice gesture for the last one.


It would be a very nice gesture on the part of the Government to accept one amendment out of 37; make no mistake about that. I wanted to ask the noble Lord whether he would explore with the Government, through the appropriate department, whether there is any possibility of asking BBC 1 and BBC 2 and ITV—the three television channels—if they will give just a few seconds to draw attention to the fact that supplementary benefit is available to people. I do not want to suggest the wording, but I think it would be a very generous gesture on their part. It would not cost them a great deal of money. They would lose perhaps a few hundred pounds every time they showed it, but they can well afford to make that kind of contribution.

The other point is that I noticed that in my own doctor's surgery there was no reference to the social security benefit, although doctors' waiting rooms carry an enormous number of notices. I wonder, again, whether there could be discussions with, I imagine, the BMA to see whether doctors' surgeries and waiting rooms could be used for this purpose.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for these suggestions and I shall certainly draw them to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.


I think somebody ought to please somebody in your Lordships' Committee, and perhaps we will set the example. With the leave of the Committee, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

10.2 p.m.

Lord BANKS moved Amendment No. 37:

After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

"Secretary of State to review cost of living for chronically sick

(.—(1) The Secretary of State shall review current provisions in the United Kingdom, and such other countries as seem to him to he appropriate, for meeting the extra costs of daily living as a chronically sick or disabled person and shall publish a consultative document setting out the various means by which these people could be compensated for both the extra expenses they actually incur as a result of their chronic sickness or disability and the extra expenses they should incur if their needs as chronically sick or disabled people are to be met.

(2) The review shall commence not later than three months from the date on which this Act receives the Royal Assent and the consultative document shall be published within a period of twelve months from that date ").

The noble Lord said: During the Committee stage of the Social Security (No. 1) Bill, I moved an amendment requiring an inquiry to be held into the extra cost incurred by disabled people by reason of their disablement. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said that an inquiry was going on into the position of disabled people with families and that there would be a report by the end of this year. But that, of course, is covering only part of the field, welcome though it is. There is a need for a general investigation of this problem.

As I understand it, there is general agreement in the Committee on the concept of a disablement income, which would be in two parts. One part would be for income maintenance, to replace earnings, to take account of inability to earn, and the second would be a disablement costs allowance to make up for the extra costs which a disabled person has to meet. The first of those benefits would be taxable; the second would not. Although there is agreement on that in principle, I understand that the Government's view is that it cannot be afforded at the present time, but the point is that further investigation is necessary. Public discussion in which the Government participate is necessary.

The question of extra costs and how they are to be met needs informed public discussion. The new clause which the amendment seeks to insert requires a consultative or discussion document to be published by the Government on the disablement costs allowance, the second of the two parts of the disablement income which, as I have already said, I understand we all agree in principle. The details of a disablement costs allowance must be settled so that the allowance can be introduced as soon as, in the opinion of the Government, the state of the economy allows.

I understand that this question of a Green Paper was first raised by the Disablement Income Group with the last Government in May 1978, and that after that time informal discussions continued. I understand also that preparations for issuing a Green Paper were set in hand and significant progress was made by April 1979. Unfortunately, it would appear that this work stopped with the advent of the new Government.

We have seen in our discussions on this Bill and on the No. 1 Bill how those on invalidity benefit have been hit by both Bills: the breaking of the link with earnings; the 5 per cent. abatement; the substitution of the 13-week linking rule by an eight-week rule. We have heard of the fears that the reformed supplementary benefits system might not be flexible enough to meet the needs of the disabled. All this makes a consideration of the extra costs of disablement all the more important and all the more urgent. All this amendment asks is that the Government should make a start in considering the matter themselves and in stimulating public discussion about it. I beg to move.

10.7 p.m.

Viscount INGLEBY

I should like to support this amendment asking for a discussion document, a Green Paper, on the disablement costs allowace; on the extra cost necessarily incurred by disabled people in their daily living which, as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has said was supported by all three parties in their election manifestos. If I may, I quote for a moment from the Conservative manifesto, which referred to a, coherent system of cash benefits to meet the cost of disability so that more disabled people can support themselves and live normal lives. We shall work towards this as swiftly as the strength of the economy allows". We all know that the economy does not allow it at the present time, but there would be a lot of work to be done before this could be implemented. This amendment allows a year for the discussion document, and then no doubt there would be a year or two after that before it was actually implemented; in other words, in two or three years' time perhaps, when we all hope that the black clouds over the economy would have turned to blue.

A start should be made now. As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said, the York Study covers only part of the field, being families with handicapped children, and does not cover adult handicapped persons. I very much hope that all parties will stand by their election manifestos, and that the Committee will support this reasonable amendment.


May I say one word. In the last 10 years I have had a lot to do with the disabled and the integration of the disabled into the community, and into the ordinary way of life. The various kinds of disablement, the conditions under which disabled people live, and the way in which one can integrate them, are so valid that it is important to know what are all the possibilities.

Costs vary, conditions vary, communities vary, and sometimes things are easier than at other times, but it is vital to have this integration between the disabled and the ordinary community. An inquiry of this kind would make it much easier, and at the end of the day I think save a great deal of money, because we would then know far more about what the conditions are and what money was required. I hope that the Government will accept this proposal.

10.10 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

The noble Lord, Lord Banks, argued his case cogently, as he always does; and he expressed similar views during the proceedings on the first Social Security Bill. Unfortunately, as he will appreciate, the difference between us remains the same. The amendment concentrates on one aspect of possible future provision for disabled people, namely, a cash benefit to compensate for the extra costs of disablement and reflects the conviction that a consultative document would bring us nearer to the position we would all like to reach on this matter.

The noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, quoted from the Conservative Party manifesto and was supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. I wish to reaffirm that it is our intention to move forward, as quickly as the economy will allow, to improvements in the overall structure of benefits for people who are disabled, and to do so for all the reasons that have been put so well to the Committee. What that structure will be and what its relation to the costs of disablement will be I cannot say at this stage. We have been discussing the need for savings and economies throughout the Bill and I think it would be the general view of the Committee that there can be no question but that the economy at present allows no scope at all for even a more modest improvement in the existing schemes, and is unlikely to do so for some time. The realistic issue therefore is how we spend the time in the interim.

We are well aware of the views of the organisations representing disabled people. They express them to us from time to time and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues are always willing to listen to them and to the ideas they put forward. In particular, we are seeking to evaluate significant current research which is available and which will be available in the foreseeable future. That research has taken years of study and application to bring to fruition, and some of it is concerned with the extra costs to families with disabled children. It is bound to be of significance in our deliberations and at this juncture we believe it would be premature to consider issuing a consultative document or Green Paper, as has been suggested.

On the question of schemes of other countries, which is sometimes raised, noble Lords will be aware that the Library of the House has copies of the comparative social benefit tables for member states of the European Communities showing the position as at January 1979. There are, moreover, regular contacts between DHHS officials and officials from other countries concerned with these schemes.

I recognise that this will be a very disappointing reply to the Committee, but our long-term intentions remain the same as we stated in our manifesto, and we shall move forward when we judge that the economy is right and we are able to do so. I hope I have said enough to assure the Committee of our view about this, and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who said he felt a Green Paper or consultative document would provide an opportunity for discussion, that the fact that he has raised this point, both on the first Social Security Bill and again on this one, has given your Lordships an opportunity to consider the matter, and what he said will be taken into account in the general deliberations on the future of this issue.


I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, for the support they gave to the amendment, and I thank the noble Viscount in particular for correcting me in describing the investigation which is at present going on; I think I described it as being into the position of handicapped people with families whereas of course it is, as he said, an inquiry into the position of families with handicapped children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, was afraid we would find her reply rather dis appointing; and it was. Of course, I welcome the assurance she gave, but it would have been much more satisfactory and encouraging had she been able to say that an inquiry of this kind would be launched.

The noble Baroness stated as one objection to the amendment that it provided for an inquiry into one aspect of assistance for the disabled—namely, cash benefits—and it is possible that we ought to have asked for a Green Paper or an inquiry which would cover the whole field of assistance to the disabled. Although the reply of the noble Baroness was somewhat disappointing, I should like to consider it further and perhaps return to the subject at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed

Bill reported without amendment.