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Subbies fend off DTI move to block Latham

SPECIALIST contractors believe they have stopped the Department of Trade and Industry blocking the planned Latham legislation.

The DTI was understood to be opposed to new laws on the grounds that they would create unnecessary bureaucracy.

Their fears were aroused after environment secretary John Gummer wrote to cabinet colleagues, detailing proposed construction industry reforms.

In reply, Michael Heseltine, president of the Board of Trade, said he supported reform but was unhappy about legislation as it could create more red tape and could set a precedent for other industries.

But a Constructors Liaison Group delegation, led by Allan McDougall with Patrick Nicholls, parliamentary adviser to the National Specialist Contractors Council, saw deregulation minister Jonathan Evans after discovering that Mr Heseltine did not know the detail of the response in his name.

They said they were worried that the DTI planned to stop the Latham reforms without knowing the detail and depth of feeling in support of change.

'Sources,' say Mr Evans 'was supportive and flexible and he denied that the department was being dogmatic.'

Mr McDougall is said to be very pleased with the outcome.

Sir Michael Lathams proposed construction Bill will, like all new legislation, still have to be assessed by civil servants, who will consider the costs involved and whether legislation is the best way of solving the problems.

This has to be done before a cabinet committee decides in the summer on the legislative programme for the next parliamentary session.

The liaison group was involved in another clash last month when it met Roger Freeman, the Ministry of Defence minister for procurement, about prompt payment and heard him admonish his own officials.

His civil servants indicated that they felt they already had a good system and could see no reason for changing it.

Mr Freeman said he was concerned about prompt payment of subcontractors and could see every reason for change.

The planned Latham legislation will deal with three main areas: fair contract conditions, liability law and latent defects insurance.