asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether it is his intention that the linking of periods of sickness should be used to disqualify people from receiving benefit when later periods lie in a year for which their contribution record entitles them to benefit but earlier periods lie in a year when they are not qualified for benefit.
The present linking rules for satisfying contribution conditions for short-term benefits can occasionally prolong the effect of a deficient contribution year. I am considering whether any change in the present arrangement is desirable.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that his right hon. Friend told me that the purpose of the linking rule was to make sure that the qualifying days for sickness did not have to be repeated over and over again when someone returned to work for a short period. However, will he, when looking at the unfortunate effect of this rule, undertake to ensure that it is made retrospective to cases currently under consideration?
I can give no assurance about retrospection, simply because I do not think that the legislation would allow that. If we make a change, it will have to apply for the future. I am not yet convinced that there is a strong case for a change, but, of course, I undertake to look at the matter without prejudice. As my hon. Friend has acknowledged, there are considerable advantages in the present procedure for a large number of claims.