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Industrial Dispute (Supplementary Benefit Payments)

Volume 977: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1980

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13.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many strike centres have been set up to handle claims from steel workers on strike; where they are situated; and what is the total sum that has been paid to date.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what has been the aggregate cost to public funds of supplementary benefits paid to those involved in the British Steel Corporation strike, and to their dependants, respectively, to date.

Nineteen centres were set up to handle claims for supplementary benefit—mostly on behalf of dependants —of striking employees of the British Steel Corporation. One Teesside centre has been closed and I will circulate in the Official Report, the list of areas in which the others are situated.

Up to the close of business on 22 January, the latest date for which figures are available, a total of about £790,000 had been paid, including £260 to strikers themselves.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come to stop setting up these strike centres? Is it not time for the trade unions to bear the responsibilities of the strikes that they have brought about? Is it not wrong to make the taxpayer finance these strikes?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. It is not for me to comment on the pace at which we shall implement our manifesto pledges in this respect, but it is deplorable that so much money is being spent in subsidising the strike. This is more so than usual because the two main steel unions and 11 out of the 13 smaller ones involved have decided not to pay a penny piece of strike pay.

Is it not abusive that a union such as the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, which is sitting on a piggy bank of more than £11 million, is allowed to use that money to buy the services of gentlemen from the polytechnics to man the pickets, yet does not provide one penny piece to those whom it has called out on strike without any consultation? Will my right hon. Friend please see that our manifesto commitment is actuated as soon as possible?

It is utterly deplorable that, on top of inflicting damage on the nation by the strike, the unions concerned should add insult to injury by expecting the taxpayers to subsidise the strike to the extent of the figures that I have announced. The House will have noticed that those figures are almost a week old. Therefore, by now certainly well over £1 million will have been paid out to strikers' families. That is money which should have been contributed by the unions themselves.

Is the Minister aware that it is not necessary for him to seek to outbid some of the contemptible sentiments from his own Back Benches with which he seems to think he must enthusiastically compete? Will he tell us the average payments per person? Will he also remind the House that, except for £260, all these thousands of pounds have been paid for the needs of women and children? Will he remind himself of the fact that these women and children are entitled in law to this money, that they have been so entitled for years, and that they shall continue to be so entitled?

The right hon. Member and his hon. Friends might ask themselves why the Transport and General Workers Union and the General and Municipal Workers Union are meeting their formal obligations and paying strike pay, whereas the two biggest unions involved in the steel strike and 11 out of the 13 smaller ones are not paying a penny piece.

Is it not important to keep a sense of balance and proportion? Is it not true that, even if the unions paid strike money, there would be no guarantee, unfortunately, that the money would go to wives and families? Why should they be penalised?

I agree that it is necessary to keep a sense of proportion. However, the conduct of the unions in this dispute, which is deplorable in general, is particularly deplorable in that they have not met the normal minimal obligations of unions for their own members and their members' families.

The following is the list:

Cumbria: Workington;

North-East: Consett, Hartlepool, and Teesside;

South Yorkshire: Rotherham, Sheffield (2);

North Lincolnshire: Scunthorpe (2);

East Midlands: Corby;

North Wales: Connah's Quay;

South Wales: Bridgend, Cwmbran, Ebbw Vale, Llanelli, Morriston, Neath, Newport.