HC Deb 06 March 1967 vol 742 cc1047-8
47. Mr. Booth

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that the practice of engaging self-employed draughtsmen constitutes a threat to the previously established conditions relating to hours of work, sickness benefit, holiday pay and redundancy payments; and whether he will discuss the matter with the appropriate trade unions with a view to discontinuing the practice.

Mr. Hattersley

Officials of the Ministry have had a full discussion of this matter with representatives of the Draughtsmen and Allied Technicians Association, and of the Association of Supervisory Staffs, Executives and Technicians. The Ministry is examining with the other Departments concerned the unions' suggestion that the position might he improved by more effective enforcement of existing policies and legislation. The inquiry which my right hon. Friend announced on 20th February will be looking into the related matter of labour-only sub-contracting in construction.

Mr. Booth

Would my hon. Friend accept that the widespread practice of self-employment among draughtsmen is wholly incompatible with a proper system of training leading to the drawing office in the engineering industry, and therefore that it is urgent that this matter be dealt with now?

Mr. Hattersley

I certainly accept that there are some inherent disadvantages in labour-only sub-contractors in some of the practices in this industry. That is why my Answer made it clear that the Ministry is keeping the position under review.

Mr. Grimond

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the growth of these practices is almost entirely due to the Selective Employment Tax and that the Government were warned, both from their own side and from this side of the House, that this would happen when the tax was introduced? Is not the remedy to abolish the tax?

Mr. Hattersley

As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman is saying that one of the compelling factors is a desire to avoid the Selective Employment Tax. If that is the motivation, there are other things which self-employment might be said to avoid, like the levy to the Industrial Training Board. Therefore, at worst, the Selective Employment Tax could be said to be only part of the reason for this.

Mr. Orme

Is my hon. Friend aware that this practice was growing long before the introduction of Selective Employment Tax and that it is widening its grasp in industry? It is threatening holidays and safety. Income Tax is being avoided. It is jeopardising genuine trade union negotiations and organisation within industry. Will my hon. Friend's Department do something about it?

Mr. Hattersley

I accept virtually all the disadvantages which my hon. Friend outlines. I reiterate that it is for these reasons that my Department is examining the position.

Mr. R. Carr

Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that provided—and I emphasise the proviso—the rules for defining self-employment are properly drawn and properly fulfilled every man and woman in this country has the right to be self-employed if they wish to be?

Mr. Hattersley

There are two points inherent in the right hon. Gentleman's question. The first is that the Ministry needs to be convinced that people described as self-employed are self-employed within the rules he mentions. Secondly, irrespective of those rules, there are considerable disadvantages from other aspects of labour policy. I take as an example the industrial training provisions, about which the right hon. Gentleman knows a good deal more than I do, which are vitiated by the increase of self-employment. This matter, too, must be examined in some detail.

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