Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the shambles that exists over the issue of 714 certificates goes much wider than the labour-only sub-contractors to whom they were originally intended to apply? Will he admit that there are local authorities that are refusing the right to tender to contractors who do not hold such a certificate? Does that attitude have the right hon. Gentleman's support?
I must take issue with the hon. Gentleman in his description of the introduction of the scheme. The scheme replaces the Conservative-introduced scheme, which had the same objectives. We have introduced a scheme that will work. It is necessary to understand that the 714 certificates are a means of ensuring that those who are required to pay tax in fact pay tax on the earnings they make.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, while we all support the aim of ending tax dodging in this respect, a key part of the proposal was the issue of plastic cards, including the photograph of the sub-contractor concerned, to ensure that there was no possibility of fiddling? However, because of the muddle in the right hon. Gentleman's Department, he has now instructed contractors that they may accept a letter without any photograph or any proof of identity. What was all the fuss about in the first place?
The hon. Gentleman may know that the letter is to deal only with applications that come at the tail end of 18 months' preparation. It is designed to cover only the period up to 5th July. This has been made crystal clear. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's support for the photographs, which a number of his hon. Friends opposed when they were first announced.
Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that there is no doubt about the need to have some effective method of collecting tax from people wherever and however they work but that the scheme is causing administrative chaos throughout the industry? Is he aware that it is causing many sub-contractors to lose their livelihoods altogether? It is causing many main contractors to lose those who would otherwise be working for them. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that these difficulties stem from the detailed and restrictive conditions attached to the scheme? Will he give the House the assurance that the Government will reconsider the entire operation of the scheme before they bring the Finance Bill before the House?
This is a matter that has been before the House for the past two years. The legislation was passed by the House 18 months ago. Certificate application forms were put in at that time. There has been plenty of time for the introduction and understanding of the scheme. We are now dealing with the 5,000 applications awaiting the Inland Revenue. It may be that some more will come into the tax offices at the last minute. The arrangements that I have announced are designed to meet only the late applications.