HC Deb 24 April 1967 vol 745 cc1154-5
51. Mr. John Biffen

asked the Minister of Labour what evidence he has of the growth of self-employment in the building and constructional industry amongst engineering draughtsmen and in the retail trade; whether the movement of incomes for the self-employed is as comprehensively and regularly known as the movement of incomes for employees; what account is taken of this in the prices and incomes policy; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hattersley

Information available indicates that there has been a steady increase in the number of cards exchanged by self-employed persons in construction, and a decrease in distribution, between mid-1961 and mid-1966. Such later information as there is does not suggest that there has been a more substantial move towards self-employment in construction more recently, though a number of individual cases of transfer to self-employment have come to notice. Statistics of incomes of self-employed persons are less comprehensive and frequent than those of employees. These incomes, like others, are subject to incomes policy, though in certain cases the criteria for prices rather than for incomes are a more appropriate guide.

Mr. Biffen

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there will be many who will doubt the view taken by his Ministry that there has been no significant increase in self-employment in these trades in recent years? In view of the considerable importance of this issue, does he not think that it ought to be a matter of first priority that income arising from self-employment in the building industry should be every bit as comprehensively and as speedily known to the Ministry of Labour as is income arising from employment?

Mr. Hattersley

The hon. Gentleman has again misunderstood the Answer. There has been an increase of self-employment, but that increase has not been accelerated either since the beginning of the prices and incomes policy, or since the beginning of the Selective Employment Tax. The hon. Gentleman is equally right to say that it is important to have comprehensive understanding of the nature of self-employment in the building industry. That is why a committee has been set up to examine employment practices in that industry as a whole.

Mr. Orme

Can my hon. Friend say when we can expect a reply from the committee? To my knowledge, the matter has been before the Ministry for more than 18 months, and it is time that something was done urgently, as these practices are spreading and becoming much more comprehensive.

Mr. Hattersley

The inquiry into employment practices in the construction industry has been set up for only six weeks, and it would be very optimistic to look forward to an early report.