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Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Does my right hon. Friend think that the Bill will promote the nanny state, or will it lead to the more flexible labour market that we would like?

Mr. Forth: I have not used the term "nanny state" until now, but I am happy to follow my hon. Friend's analysis. Yes, I think that this is a classic case of nanny statism, which I am delighted to say that my party opposes.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), but the Library paper suggests that this is a case not so much of nanny statism as of jobs for the boys. Has my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) seen that, according to the paper, in 1999 the total amount of money that people lost in scams was £35,000. Yet when the Bill is passed it will cost £350,000 a year for trading standards officers to enforce it. We will spend £350,000 to deal with a £35,000 problem. Would it not be better to give everyone who lost money a tenner?

Mr. Forth: I hope that my right hon. Friend is not trying to pre-empt something that I intended to say later. Now that he has mentioned it, however, I shall take the point up briefly and then, depending on my reading of your mood, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I may or may not seek to return to it later.

My right hon. Friend is correct; the Library does give us those astonishing statistics.

The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells) rose--

Mr. Forth: The Minister is going to help us.

Dr. Howells: I always try to help the right hon. Gentleman. He is, of course, making his usual pitch for a return to a more anarchic age when cheats, bullies, fixers and those who delivered short measure were regarded as a natural consequence of a thrusting economy. If the right hon. Gentleman is right, I am not sure why we need laws or police forces at all. Why not just let the bullies loose in society, and avoid threatening them in case that threatens the creation of jobs? Does he agree with the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) about the money? How much does a murder cost? Why spend money on police forces if it costs so much to solve the occasional murder? His argument is the most facile load of old garbage that I have ever heard in the House.

Mr. Forth: I am glad that we have got the Minister to his feet, and that he has given us a foretaste of the measured remarks that he will make later. If that is the extent of the Department of Trade and Industry's analysis, it has slipped a lot since I was there some years ago. If the Minister is briefed to say that transactions averaging £40 in value are equivalent to murder, we have reached a

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new and fascinating level of Government analysis. Perhaps we shall hear more from him later when the debate hots up a bit. It has been rather somnolent so far, and perhaps I will be able to encourage him to say more.

My right hon. Friend's intervention was helpful, and referred directly to the Library analysis of the Bill, which points out--I do not know whether my right hon. Friend made this clear--that the figures given come from the National Group on Homeworking, which presumably has some grasp of what is going on. Apparently, in 1999 there were 869 so-called scams--a word that has dominated the debate so far, but has never yet been satisfactorily defined--and that those nearly 900 transactions probably lost the people concerned nearly £35,000. If that had been £35,000 each, I might begin to be impressed, but I assume that that is the total. We are therefore talking about responding with the heavy hand of the law--I shall go into that in more detail when I consider the schedule--at, as the research paper goes on to outline, a very much greater cost to the taxpayer.

The research paper refers to the explanatory notes to the Bill. It is interesting that of the three private Members' Bills before us today, this is the only one with explanatory notes. That makes me wonder whether there is not just a hint of Government input. I believe that the Government said that they wanted to do something similar, but because they were too busy banning foxhunting, they could not find time to put such a Bill in their official programme. Up bobs the hon. Member for Northfield to produce, obligingly, a private Member's Bill. However, I shall let that pass.

The result is that we have useful explanatory notes for the Bill, drafted, no doubt, by the promoter himself--not. Those notes say that the public expenditure costs of

will amount to £350,000 in the first year--10 times the estimate of what the alleged hapless victims of the transactions will have lost. What sort of cost-effectiveness is that? I hope that the Minister will answer that question later, and perhaps this time he will leave out any allusions to murder. That might be helpful.

Mr. Maclean: Is my right hon. Friend as appalled as I am that the Minister should intervene with such an intemperate outburst and offer us such a pile of pants? He said that throwing £35,000 at £350,000 somehow equated to an investigation of murder. Of course the police service should leave no stone unturned in investigating murder, whatever it costs--but to compare that with a £35,000 scam is outrageous.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. His description of what the Minister said is entirely accurate, and I subscribe to it.

However, I shall not be diverted any more at this stage, because I was giving the House the benefit of the analysis in the Library research paper as a background to my analysis of the Bill, which I shall offer in due course. Now I want to remind the House, to put the matter properly in context, what the Library tells us about the nature of this sector of employment:

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The Library document continues--this is the information technology aspect that I hope my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border will help us with later--

That is the first hint that this is an absolutely vital growth area of employment--relating directly to what is called information technology.

I cannot claim any great knowledge of those matters, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so you will be relieved to hear that I shall not spend much time on them, except to point out that it is evident, even to me, that people working at home using computers and other technology, who are distance working, teleworking, home working, outworking--all those forms overlap--will be affected by the Bill, should it, mistakenly, ever reach the statute book, although I hope it does not. We run the risk of damaging growth in that sector at the very time that we as a society are utterly reliant on its development to maintain our prosperity. The figures speak for themselves. We are talking about a sector that is not only vital now but will become even more important in the future.

Reference has been made to the support given to the Bill by bodies such as NACAB and the NCC. Interestingly, in one of the many pieces of paper that they have produced on the Bill, I picked up this rather helpful phrase:

Thank goodness for that. The document continues:

Although I do not want to conduct an in-depth analysis at this stage, as it would be more appropriate for subsequent stages of the Bill, I refer to that point because I suspect that there is already a panoply of measures, agencies, bodies and so on--not least our excellent local trading standards officers--which could deal with a large amount of the abuse that worries Labour Members. In cases and Bills such as this, a full analysis is often missing. I can understand why the promoter of the Bill--or any of the Labour Members who profess themselves so keen on the measure--would not want to do that. However, we really need a full analysis of the alternative possibilities or routes--perhaps using a lighter touch, being more minimalist and less interventionist--that could be used to deal with the problems identified by Labour Members.

Mr. Tyler: The right hon. Gentleman says that he looks forward to further scrutiny of the Bill in its subsequent passage through the House. May I take it from that that he and his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), the Opposition spokesman, will give it a fair wind into Committee?

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