HC Deb 13 May 1999 vol 331 cc413-4
12. Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)

What estimate he has made of the change in the amount in national insurance payable by the self-employed in 2000–01 as a result of the March 1999 Budget. [83200]

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo)

We estimate that the extra amount payable by the self-employed for 2000–01 is £240 million.

Mr. Page

This is the second time that I have asked this question at Treasury questions. Last time, I got an appalling reply from the Financial Secretary, who completely avoided the question, and I thank the Paymaster General for coming up with the right answer this time—second time lucky.

What evaluation did the Treasury carry out of the effect that the change will have on the self-employed? Will they not be brutally hit by this large increase?

Dawn Primarolo

I inform the hon. Gentleman—very gently—that his question today is different from his question at the previous Treasury questions. Last time, he asked about the amount paid, and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary gave him the correct answer. Today, he asked about liability, and I have answered his question. Both the answers that he has received are correct. The changes to class 2 and class 4 national insurance for the self-employed will help them enormously by ensuring that their entitlement to benefits moves closer to that of those in employment. They also distribute national insurance liability much more fairly among the self-employed.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

My hon. Friend will be aware that trade unions such as the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians have warmly welcomed the measures to tighten the system of national insurance contributions and tax in the construction industry. However, there is concern that Government agencies are not enforcing sufficiently rigorously the classification of construction workers for national insurance contributions. Will my hon. Friend assure me that every effort will be made to ensure that the new regulations are enforced properly?

Dawn Primarolo

My hon. Friend raises a question about the construction industry scheme, and the 714 certificates. I am aware of the concerns among trade unions and the construction industry about the effectiveness of the scheme. We are constantly reviewing the successful registration of those in the construction industry who are required to register. Like me, my hon. Friend may have had the advantage this morning of hearing the radio information bulletins advertising to those in the construction industry that they are required to get the certificate. The clear message was, "No certificate, no pay."

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

The difference in the wording of the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) was between "paid" and "payable". Ministers are playing a dangerous game of semantics to avoid revealing to the House the extra taxes that they are imposing on people. Will the Minister confirm that, when all the Government's changes to employees' national insurance are taken into account, millions of people in middle Britain who earn £27,000 a year or more will pay significantly higher national insurance contributions? Is that not yet another stealth tax increase from a party that promised not to raise taxes at all?

Dawn Primarolo

I cannot be held accountable if the hon. Gentleman does not understand how national accounting works or the difference between liability and the amount actually paid. He is an accountant, and I thought that he understood these matters, but perhaps he needs to grapple further with that point.

Millions of low-paid employees will pay around £165 a year less as a result of our national insurance changes and 960,000 low-paid workers have been taken out of national insurance contributions while still having their benefit position protected. For the self-employed, we have dealt with the class 2 problem by reducing contributions from £6.55 to £2, and we have made sure that liability to pay national insurance is more fairly distributed across the self-employed instead of being loaded towards the low-paid self-employed.