§ Mr. Sproat
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement about the industrial action in 13, and subsequently more, local offices of his Department in the West Midlands on 13th June 1977, and subsequently, in support of a local officer who was disciplined by his Department for stating publicly that he would be better off living off benefits than working by paying out benefits to others.
§ Mr. Orme
An officer was disciplined for making unauthorised public statements reflecting on Government policy, contrary to the rules applying to civil servants. Such statements could undermine the confidence of benefit claimants, and the public generally, in the impartiality of staff handling claims for supplementary benefit. The disciplinary action was that he should be reprimanded, warned as to his future conduct and transferred from work involving contact with the public. A consequence of the transfer intended was494W that he would have suffered a loss of pay amounting to £15 a year immediately, rising to about £100 a year later.
The industrial dispute arose out of this loss of pay and was not in support of the officer's statements. It resulted in a gradually increasing number of offices— 13 on 13th June, rising to 25 on 17th June—in the West Midlands being closed to supplementary benefit claimants for part of the day up to 16th June and all day on 17th June.
Following discussions with the appropriate trade union, the union forwarded to my Department a statement signed by the officer which said that he realised the effect of his statements, regretted entering publicly into controversial political issues and intended in future to conform to the rules on public statements.
In these circumstances it was decided that while the disciplinary action should stand the transfer should be to a post, still not normally involving contact with the public but also not resulting in loss of pay. Local offices in the West Midlands are now working normally.