HC Deb 05 August 1975 vol 897 cc216-7
11. Mr. Corrie

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she has reached a decision on earnings-related benefits for the self-employed.

Mrs. Castle

I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) on 8th July.—[Vol. 895. c. 103.]

Mr. Corrie

Can the right hon. Lady give us any idea how long her studies will take and some estimate of how many self-employed people will still be left in business at that time to receive these benefits when they eventually come?

Mrs. Castle

The hon. Gentleman's last quip rather militated against the seriousness of his question. We are taking extremely seriously this examination of the possibilities of extending earnings-related benefits to the self-employed. This is a difficult problem. Its solution has defeated the efforts of all previous Governments. I cannot say whether we shall be successful. I am afraid that I cannot give a date for when I shall be ready to put my conclusions to the House. But I am taking the matter very seriously and I am anxious to find a solution.

Mr. McCrindle

On extending benefits generally to the self-employed, has any thought been given to the possibility of renegotiating the reciprocal agreements between this country and a number of European countries, for example, so that in the future the self-employed may obtain sickness and accident benefits in respect of illness or injury occurring in those countries?

Mrs. Castle

One of the difficulties that we have faced is that membership of the Community does not automatically bestow these reciprocal benefits on the self-employed, because we have better facilities for the self-employed through our public services. But I was happy to go to the Federal Republic of Germany to sign a reciprocal health agreement which extended to the self-employed from this country benefits equivalent to those that the self-employed from that country obtain here from our health service. We continue to press ahead with these agreements.