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Mr. Forth: Another possibility occurs to me as my right hon. Friend develops his interesting argument. The measure may drive the people to whom he refers off shore. If its jurisdiction is in the United Kingdom, those responsible for the undesirable activities may be tempted to go to the Republic of Ireland or across the channel to France to ensure that they are beyond the reach of our excellent trading standards officers. They would still be able to persuade people to part with their money.

Mr. Maclean: Perhaps we could table a new clause to deal with that on Report or explore it in Committee.

My right hon. Friend skipped over some of the enforcement powers. He believed that some were draconian and others were not strong enough. However, we will need to spend some time considering the definition of premises in Committee if the Bill gets there. I propose to vote against it today because I do not believe that it can be improved in Committee. It will inevitably reach a Committee because of the Government's majority, and we must therefore consider premises.

The schedule states:

Once a case gets to court, it can be ascertained whether a place is "only a dwelling" or a business. Some places have a mixed purpose. How will enforcement officers know that in advance? Many of the individuals with whom we are dealing will not have an office suite; they will conduct their business from home. All Members of Parliament are, in some ways, running businesses from home. We may have constituency offices, but I bet that most of us have computers. Even if we do not, we have a telephone, an index, some books and paperwork at home to deal with some our business as Members of Parliament.

Most of the people we are considering, except some big scams runners and crooks who have set up an office or a PO box address, use their homes. They may have a few

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forms, a little paperwork and a computer. Such premises would not be "only a dwelling." Those buildings, which are 99 per cent. domestic, can be invaded by trading standards officers on the basis that people keep some paperwork there and that they must, therefore, be commercial premises.

What will turn domestic premises into non-domestic premises under the Bill? If the building contains an office, it is probably not domestic premises. Does the presence of a telephone for dealing with business move the premises into another category? If a person has a few books, and a couple of receipt books, or keeps a box of advertising notices under a bed, does the building become joint business and domestic premises? We need to know.

We also need to know how trading standards officers will make a judgment in advance before they start knocking on the doors of private individuals, saying, "Aha, you've got a telephone and you're using it for business. You're therefore caught by the Act. Your house is not purely a domestic dwelling." I am surprised that my right hon. Friend, with his learned, meticulous and perspicacious manner of dealing with such Bills, did not spot that point about the schedule.

I have outlined some of my anxieties. I want to make it crystal clear that I have no intention of defending people who are involved in crooked activity. I hate and despise it, and I like such people to be slapped down and put away for a long time, not tagged and released too soon. I do not expect a further response from the Minister; others want to speak about the measure. I simply flag up my concern that the Bill's approach is wrong. We can ensure that we do not catch the innocent only by drafting a different Bill that concentrates on rooting out deception and fraud rather than catching everyone, honest or not, who publishes an advert. I shall vote against the Bill if I have an opportunity of doing that.

1.9 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): It is always a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and erudite Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). He is very nervous about losing his seat. When he loses it, perhaps he could send a cheque to the Andrew Miller beer and benevolent fund. I am sure that something useful could be done for him if it is not illegal.

I want to make several points to show that the unofficial Opposition have presented some interesting arguments, but that they have argued against themselves. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to the importance of changing technology and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border elaborated on that. However, that is the very reason it would be impossible to put a specific Bill before the House. An umbrella-type Bill is needed because of the changing technology with which the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) are familiar.

I have been advising people in this country and abroad about teleworking schemes for many years. If Opposition Members want to read some of the interesting contributions I have made to the international dimension of that subject, I will gladly provide them.

Opposition Members have missed some important points about the Bill. This sector of the work force is potentially massive. The right hon. Member for Bromley

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and Chislehurst illustrated the vagueness of the statistics, but there is evidence that up to 22 per cent. of the work force is involved in part-time home working, and the numbers are growing. There is clear evidence of people in this sector being scared off for fear of being caught by the scams operating not only in this country but elsewhere in the world, as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border pointed out.

From an employer's point of view, productivity gains of between 10 and 60 per cent. have been identified as a result of putting good, well-structured home-working schemes into operation. Those schemes have been supported by a wide range of organisations in the private and public sectors, and have been incredibly successful. For example, if one calls the AA to deal with an emergency breakdown, one is calling an individual worker operating from their own home as part of a call centre network. Important changes in technology allow that to happen. I cannot, even with the best crystal ball available, predict where such technology will take us. We must, therefore, go along the route recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden).

This is a common-sense Bill that will work alongside voluntary arrangements operating in the organised sectors of the economy, such as the teleworking agreements that exist between employers and the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union. Such partnerships are extremely important. Small employers developing within the teleworking sector should take advice from the Telework, Telecottage and Telecentre Association, which has made a valuable contribution to the wider debate on these issues. We are in a very strong position, and we just need to keep at bay the scams that could deter more people from joining this important sector.

1.13 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I shall not detain the House for long, but I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden). I have read the information from the TUC and from my own trade union, the GMB, and listened to the debate today.

I want to draw the House's attention to a case that convinced me of the value of the Bill. It concerns my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Roffman, who are serial victims of the scams that we have been discussing. They were first conned by Outworkers Direct Ltd. They sent £45 to the company to obtain button-packaging work, and were told that they would get the money back if they applied within 14 days. They applied, but did not get the money back. They came to me and I managed to get them 30 quid back. I thought that that would be the last I would hear of Mr. and Mrs. Roffman.

Unfortunately, they were conned again, this time by a company called Leading Edge Inc., of County Durham. They sent their money off, but did not get the work. The company kept their £35. The couple also had to buy stamps in connection with the job. They then referred me to Select Publications of 377 Edgware road, London W2. They were, however, put on notice by the fact that "Edgware" had been spelt wrongly--with three Es rather than two--and that the telephone number given was nowhere near our local telephone numbers. They brought that to my attention, asking how this could possibly be a legitimate business if it had a Southend phone number and an Edgware road address, and if it could not even spell "Edgware" right.

2 Feb 2001 : Column 619

Seekers UK promised to pay huge amounts for stuffing envelopes. Again, my constituents sent off £25, thinking that the company was genuine because it had an address. However, when they called the number it turned out to be--guess what?--unobtainable. By then, Mr. and Mrs. Roffman were starting to get wise. They wrote to me about Capital Publishing of Leytonstone E11 and asked me to check it out before

I am pleased to say that Mr. and Mrs. Roffman finally accepted my advice to stop sending money to such companies.

Those examples of people being continually conned show how convincing such advertisements can be. My two pensioner constituents sought to eke out their pensions by doing a bit of home work, but, time and again, were conned out of money that they could ill afford to part with. Mr. and Mrs. Roffman wrote to me to say that I should promote a Bill to outlaw such activity, so I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield has the opportunity to do so. I am also pleased to back him wholeheartedly.

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