Lord Monks Portrait Lord Monks (Lab)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Hendy on both his excellent preparation of the Bill and the clear presentation of it that he has made. This is a horrendously technical area that has become more complicated over the years, and clarifying and simplifying it is in everybody’s interests. A Bill along these lines should have been in the Queen’s Speech but for some reason or other it has been omitted, despite promises from the top of the Government that they would “protect and enhance” workers’ rights post Brexit. As we wait for the Government to act, my noble friend Lord Hendy is doing their job for them; I hope he will get an appropriate vote of thanks for doing that and that the Government will follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, embrace his Bill and get on with it.

According to the TUC, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, just said, 3.6 million people are in some kind of insecure work. They could be on zero hours, on temporary or seasonal work or classed as self-employed, and in all these categories they often earn less than the minimum wage. They need levelling up, and an end must be made to the four different statuses of categories of working people.

I first came across part of this problem in the 1970s, when labour-only sub-contracting became the norm in many parts of the construction industry. Regular employees were reclassified as self-employed, and unscrupulous employers—in the end followed by those who wanted to do the right thing but who were being undercut—led the way in avoiding national insurance, PAYE administration, employment rights, pensions entitlements and training obligations. Bogus self-employment drove out regular contracts of employment. Older Members here will recall the practice being termed the “lump”.

Variations on the “lump” have now spread well beyond construction, not least into sectors defined as the gig economy. It can even be found in the NHS and in public services; the Finance Sub-Committee of this House has been finding out about the role of personal service companies, which has led to all the problems with the loan charge. A major tax-evasion operation has been under way, and so far we have not got to grips with it. The Bill could be a contributing factor in helping that.

Exploiting the gaps between those classed as employee and those classed differently has become an unattractive feature of our labour market in this country. Although Matthew Taylor’s report is now out of date in certain areas, and I would have liked him to have gone further, he did a job in bringing a lot more people’s attention to the problem. It is time to put an end to those practices. They are a blot on our landscape, and the Bill can help consign those practices to history. I hope the Government will give it a fair and supportive wind and that this House sends its smartly on its way today.