HC Deb 12 December 1972 vol 848 cc209-11
4. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the cost to the Supplementary Benefits Commission of payments to strikers and their dependants, payments made on resumption of work and not recovered, and of administrative arrangements necessitated thereby, during 1972 to date, expressed as an aggregate figure; what percentage change this represents on the corresponding figure for 1971; and how long he now expects the conclusions of his survey of the operation of the relevant parts of the Social Security Act 1971 to take.

Sir K. Joseph

As part of the answer comprises a table of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The Government's review is not limited to the Social Security Act 1971. I cannot yet say when conclusions will be reached.

Mr. Bruce-Cardyne

I should have thought that only two figures were asked for, but we must see the table when it comes out. Has my right hon. Friend noted the statement of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that this is not the right time to act on this matter? Does that represent the policy of the Government? If it does, should we not be told in this House, and should we not have an opportunity to debate it? Meantime, can my right hon. Friend tell us how much direct subsidy has been paid to those acting in defiance of the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Act?

Sir K. Joseph

There are eight figures and three footnotes in the table, and I should think that the House will be glad to have them. My hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury knew, of course, the care with which Ministers are examining this issue and therefore was surely right to warn that we have not yet arrived at a conclusion. I am not aware that any strikes have occurred in contravention of the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Act. That is a different question however, so perhaps my hon. Friend will put it down. But I am not aware, offhand, that any benefits have been paid to the families of such strikers.

Mr. John Silkin

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to his hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) that we are not a police State, and that it is not the custom in this country for Governments to take revenge on the families of persons with whom they are in dispute?

Sir K. Joseph

First, on a neutral issue, I welcome the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) to the Dispatch Box on this very important range of subjects.

Secondly, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) would say that one does not need to be a police State to identify the families who receive benefits during a strike. There is no question of a police State here, but a very large number of citizens owing allegiance to all parties are worried by the fact that sometimes, in strikes apparently directed against the Government of the day, the taxpayer's money is used to safeguard the families. This is an important issue, on which Ministers are genuinely trying to arrive at the public interest.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer will give certain satisfaction, but by no means entire satisfaction, and that the vast majority of the law-abiding population has been growing increasingly impatient at the slowness of my right hon. Friend and his Department in bringing forward some reasonably fair but stern regulations with regard to benefits to strikers and their families?

Sir K. Joseph

I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) will be among those who are even moderately pleased with my reply. But if my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Stokes) examines tomorrow in HANSARD the adjectives which he has strung together in asking his supplementary question, he will see that he is asking Ministers to reconcile some very difficult objectives.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not clear that this is not and never has been a subsidy for strikes? Would it not be wise for the Government—if they wish to reduce the number of strikes and the number of people involved in them—to get rid of the Industrial Relations Act at the earliest possible moment?

Sir K. Joseph

It is true that the vast majority of the payments go to the families of strikers, but most people would accept that when a man decides to go on strike in his own self-interest the provision for himself and his family should first and foremost fall upon his union—if he belongs to one—and himself. That is the view which I would have thought the majority of the country holds, and I have great sympathy with it. The problem is to reconcile this with the needs of the wives and children where the individual man is not willing to make provision for them.

Following is the information:

1971 1972
£ £
For strikers' dependants 4,159,549 7,342,988
For strikers 5,281 173,381
Following resumption of work and not recovered 524,763 662,201*
Total 4,689,593 8,178,570
*These are payments made before 3rd April 1972 when benefit was made recoverable.

The administrative cost is not available.

The total for 1972 represents an increase of 74 per cent. over the corresponding amount for 1971.