HC Deb 12 June 1973 vol 857 cc1181-3
6. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimate his Department has made of the number of self-employed people not so recorded in the official statistics.

Mr. Dudley Smith

The main source of information about the numbers of employers and self-employed people is the Census of Population updated annually by a sample of national insurance cards. The total for June 1971, the latest available date, was 1,791,000. No other official estimates are made.

Mr. Lamont

Is the Minister aware that the movements in the official figures of self-employed and unemployed do not correspond with the movements in the labour force as defined officially? One calculation is that there is an underestimate of the self-employed to the extent of 250,000 people. Is it not an unsatisfactory state of affairs that estimates of the numbers of the self-employed should have to depend on the census once every four years? What light is shed on the official figures in the construction industry by the experience of the issue of tax exemption certificates?

Mr. Smith

No statistical source is infallible. I am aware that some observers feel that official statistics are under-recorded, but as well as the Census of Population there is an annual undating which takes into account national insurance cards, and data have recently been provided to us by the Inland Revenue. This again should help our officials in estimating the number of self-employed more accurately, but it comes down to a question of the honesty of the individual when completing his census form. If an individual does not state that he is self-employed, it is sometimes difficult to trace the information.

Mr. Heffer

During the Second Reading debate on the Labour-Only Sub-Contracting Bill which I introduced to deal with the lump—a Bill which unfortunately did not get through—the Minister said that the Government intended to institute an inquiry into self-employment in the building industry and its effects on the total situation. Can he say what steps the Government are now taking on this topic? Are they pursuing this matter, have they any plans to deal with it, and what do they intend to do about the situation—or has their action so far been merely a lot of words?

Mr. Smith

No, Sir, I understand that that is not the situation, but these are mainly questions for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Discussions are taking place within the industry's national joint council and within the economic development committee for the building industry. I understand that the EDC's working party on employment problems yesterday considered a paper on this subject prepared by the National Economic Development Office. Progress is being made and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will look forward to further results.