asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the total sum paid in supplementary benefit to the families of those on strike during 1978.
£3·1 million up to 28 November 1978, the latest date to which figures are available.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a gross waste of public money? Does he agree also that strikes should be financed by trade unions and not by the taxpayer? Does he think it is time that the law was changed?
No, Sir. This money was paid to the families of strikers. Last year, only £5,000 was paid directly to strikers, and that was in exceptional circumstances. This money has gone to families, and the Government are not prepared to change the policy on this matter.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that we very much welcome that firm reassurance from the Government that dependants of strikers, particularly children, will not suffer because people are taking industrial action?
I thank my hon. Friend for that statement. I remind the House that if we were to stop payment and if, for instance, families were thereby broken up and children were put into care, the cost per child for residential care would be £81 a week. That ought to be taken into account.
If that remains the policy for the dependants of strikers, what does the right hon. Gentleman plan for those who depend upon those who take strike action for the work which they would do if they were not on strike?
That has nothing to do with the question. The question is concerned with benefits for strikers' families. I have given a clear answer. All but £4 of any tax refund and strike pay is taken into account in deciding a family's entitlement to supplementary benefit.
Apart from the cost implications, does my right hon. Friend agree that any policy change would create greater bitterness and unrest in industry? Does he agree that any policy change would not be supported by the Tory trade union organisation?
I noted with interest that the Conservative Trade Union Association came out firmly in favour of the Government continuing to pay benefits to strikers' families. The present industrial difficulties could be much worse if we did not act in a civilised manner, and we shall continue to do so.