Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy, the then Liberal MP for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, in the House of Commons on 15 January 1986.
The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was reasonably credible, and I agreed with much of what he said until his closing sentiments—perhaps that does not surprise him. It will certainly not surprise those sitting on the Treasury Bench. A return of the Labour party to power would greatly surprise the British people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and I welcome the fact that, on this occasion, the DHSS is staying within and upholding the law of the land, and will uprate accordingly. We have no argument with that. It was sensible of the DHSS to bring the uprating procedure into line as from 1987. My noble Friend Lord Banks and others have argued for that, and we welcome it.
My basic point on the uprating order relates to the impact that statutory sick pay has on small businesses. The Minister will recall that my hon. Friend and I have moved amendments and made speeches, in Committee and in the House, on the effect of the statutory sick pay scheme in this respect. That is why we welcome the reference in the explanatory details that accompanied the order to the DHSS consultation paper on the reduction of burdens on business. It would be helpful if the Minister would say briefly how matters are progressing in that respect—by which I mean the suggestion that employers should be allowed to opt out of SSP, provided that they pay wages to their sick employees at least as good as their SSP entitlement.
The Government will recall that the announcement of an extension of the SSP scheme was met with horror by, among others, the National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West that the bureaucracy of the SSP scheme and the extension which has been announced would discriminate against the employment potential of small businesses, and encourage more part-time employment rather than full-time employment. The Government said during SSP debates that they were conscious of the difficulty, and made some concessions in terms of bridging the gap.
You have been tolerant of my similarly lateral interpretation of the order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I end by saying that we welcome the fact that the uprating will go ahead, and especially the fact that the SSP uprating will be brought into line with other benefits. Any comments which the Minister can make on these broader points, based on the principle that we are debating this evening, would be helpful to my hon. Friend and myself.