Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, despite the successes last evening on the other side of the Atlantic by the British film and acting industry and various actors and actresses, one has to look at the whole question of the self-employed and how they are treated, both by the Inland Revenue and by the national

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1574

insurance contributions system. There is little doubt that the principle of ensuring that people are treated in the same way when it comes to taxation and national insurance is important. That is why we are having to look carefully at whether this particular small group should be given an exemption from what I believe is the correct principle of uniformity of treatment.

Lord Rix: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that at a meeting in June 1994 between officials from the Department of Social Security, the British Actors' Equity Association and the Theatres National Committee, which represents managers, it was agreed at a discussion on national insurance class 1 contributions that no further action would be taken by the Government until a further discussion had taken place between those officials and the Equity-TNC working party? Can the Minister assure the House that that meeting will take place--it has not happened to date--before any final decision is taken?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister responsible for these matters, Mr. Oliver Heald, has just written to the General Secretary of the British Actors' Equity Association, inviting him to come and meet him to discuss the subject. Indeed, we have had wide-ranging consultations. The problem has arisen because two actors took their case to the commissioners, with the backing of Equity, and won it; namely, that they ought to be considered as self-employed because of the tax advantages. They should have realised at the time that other self-employed people did not have the additional advantage of being treated as employed people when it came to paying national insurance contributions. We have to recall that uniformity of treatment is an important principle with regard to the Revenue and the Contributions Agency.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the principle has been tested and tried over the years? From time to time the Inland Revenue has taken the view that actors should be on pay-as-you-earn and it has been decided against them. Is not the reason that from some points of view the contract of the actors is a contract of employment; but from other points of view it is a contract for services? It is not a privileged position but it is a special position. I am sure that when the matter is looked into, the noble Lord in discussion with Equity will come to the conclusion that there is very good reason for maintaining the situation because of the precarious conditions in the acting profession.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, one of the difficulties is that many other people are self-employed, including people in the arts and, for example, subcontractors in the building industry. They are considered to be self-employed and are not given the option of being considered as self-employed from the Revenue's point of view and at the same time allowed to pay national insurance class 1 contributions, which permits them to claim unemployment benefit. One has to be very careful before making exceptions and getting away from the principle of the Revenue and the

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1575

Contributions Agency treating people on the same basis. That is why we are in serious consultation on this issue with those in the acting profession.

As I said, the situation has been brought about as a result of two actors taking their case to the commissioners, when they were considered to be pay-as-you-earn employees and therefore eligible for national insurance class 1 contributions and eligible for unemployment benefit. They claimed that they were self-employed and won. I am afraid that what follows from that is that self-employed national insurance stamps must be paid. We have to ask ourselves whether it is correct to continue with that uniform policy or whether we should breach it in this particularly narrow case.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, is it not a fact that at any given moment in time something like one in four of all Equity members are unemployed in excess of a year? A very high proportion of them at the outside have the occasional walk-on part, with no possibility of making a living wage. In those circumstances, would not most people consider the ideal solution to be that they should look for a different profession and not that they should be subsidised by the state?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not sure that I can agree or disagree with the noble Lord's figure of one in four. At the latest count 14,000 unemployed people gave their occupation as actors, entertainers, stage managers, producers and directors. In fact only about 3,000 of them were eligible for unemployment benefit. The rest were on income support and the like. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, is quite correct. Those of us who have had a previous career with constituents will know that many people who are starting off in a self-employed career would very much like to have the option of being considered class 1 national insurance contributors and getting unemployment benefit.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, does the Minister agree that there is a case for listening very seriously to what those Members of your Lordships' House who have experience of the acting profession had to say this afternoon about the position of young actors? As has been said, many of them can expect to see a great deal of unemployment in the early years of their career. Will the Minister accept that there is no reason why such actors should not be allowed to continue to pay class 1 contributions?--otherwise, they have to be supported through means-tested benefits and the saving to the taxpayer cannot be all that much.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if the case had not been brought and they had continued to be considered as employed people--as indeed some of them are because of the kind of contracts that they have and they are paying PAYE and class 1 contributions--there would be no argument about the matter. It is because the profession decided that it wished to have the tax advantages of the self-employed that the problem has arisen for it and for the Government. The noble

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1576

Baroness cannot just brush aside the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, about other young people starting off on a self-employed career in any other business, where they too may have periods of unemployment and might like the option of having, so to speak, an each-way bet.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, whatever the unemployment rate in the acting profession, do the Government have any plans to promote the film industry, which gives much needed extra jobs to the acting profession?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, that is a little wide of the Question. Perhaps the noble Lord will look at the Order Paper for Thursday, when I believe that my noble friend Lord Inglewood is to answer a Question on that issue.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for answering the Question. I agree with an enormous amount of what he said and in particular about the case of the two actors who went to the special commissioners. Having been a theatrical agent in a former existence, may I tell the noble Lord that actors do not always do what is best for themselves? That, obviously, is one of the examples. Will the noble Lord confirm that he will not let that fact colour the decisions of his department?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall not let even the fact that the noble Lord was once a theatrical agent colour the decisions of my department. It is a difficult problem and we understand the argument of the acting profession. Equally, we are very sure that having a uniform set of rules between the Revenue and the Contributions Agency is an important principle. As so often in government, we shall have to arrive at a decision between two conflicting principles.

Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill [H.L.]

3.8 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Earl Ferrers.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Introductory: grants for improvements and repairs

(" . The purposes of this Part are to enable a local housing authority to operate a scheme for grant aid for the renewal of private sector housing in its area in such a way that it can--
(a) assess the number of private homes which are unfit for human habitation or in serious disrepair;

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1577

(b) estimate the number of homes which are owned or rented by people who are in receipt of income support, family credit, housing benefit, council tax benefit or disability working allowance;
(c) set priorities for action under this Part in accordance with a local private house renewal strategy;
(d) bring about an improvement in the condition of private housing in the area; and
(e) encourage the promotion and facilitation of sound maintenance of private sector housing by private interests including lenders, insurers and builders.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment stands in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and my noble friend Lord Dubs. As the Committee will have perceived, this is a purpose clause. Purpose clauses are not unknown in legislation. Indeed they are frequently adopted in legislation. The purpose is to define what Part I is about.

I shall not make another Second Reading speech. In my Second Reading speech I made all the points about the general situation in private housing which I would otherwise have made in introducing the amendment.

Perhaps I may direct the Committee to the context of the amendment. It is designed to "enable" local housing authorities. That is the thrust of my new clause. What is a local housing authority to do if so enabled? First, it must,

    "assess the number of private homes which are unfit for human habitation or in serious disrepair".
Many local authorities currently do that but some do not. On the whole, the record of local authorities is fairly good. Secondly, a local authority should be enabled by this part, under paragraph (b) to,

    "estimate the number of homes which are owned or rented by people who are in receipt of [various benefits]".
Under paragraph (c) a local housing authority should,

    "set priorities for action under this Part in accordance with a local private house renewal strategy".

As the Committee will be aware, many local authorities already have such a strategy. The purpose of this part is to reinforce the ability of a local authority to determine such a strategy and to follow it through. If I may add a gloss to that, in subsequent amendments we will be urging that local authorities should have much greater discretion than they have at the moment to follow their own strategies.

Having determined what the local housing authority wishes to do under this provision--given that the Government have gone away from mandatory grants to discretionary grants--the local housing authority should be able to set priorities and follow them. Paragraph (d) says that the general purpose of this provision is to,

    "bring about an improvement in the condition of private housing in the area".
That is simple in terms but complicated in practice. Nevertheless, it is something that we believe to be right. Paragraph (e) has regard to the,

    "sound maintenance of private sector housing by private interests including lenders, insurers and builders".

The purpose of Amendment No. 1 is to go back to the first principles of what renovation grants are about; that is, to recall the aims of grant activity in private

26 Mar 1996 : Column 1578

housing. Every Member of the Committee will recognise that what is needed is a system that will allow for the accurate assessment of needs in each local area; the extent to which such repairs may be undertaken privately and not with public assistance; the extent, following from that, of the need for financial assistance from local authorities with repairs, and the setting of priorities for the most urgent and most effective action.

I hope Members of the Committee on all sides will agree that the net result of this part should lead to an overall improvement in the condition of private housing. Unless this purpose clause is inserted at the beginning of Part I, I do not believe that our debates will be satisfactorily set within a framework which is the right framework for the part. I shall not go back to Second Reading, but the Government would be wise to accept this purpose clause--I emphasise again that it is only an enabling provision--in order to put Part I of the Bill into a proper framework. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page