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Mr. Clarke : The hon. Lady may have gathered that it is somewhat unusual to intervene and ask a question about a statement when one has been present for only the last 10 minutes of the proceedings. I advise her to refer back to some of what has already been said. However, I would not want the hon. Lady to start raising needless fears in Hackney or anywhere else. Regarding deprivation, and the Jarman index I am 99.9 per cent. certain that the borough of Hackney will qualify under the index we are using for higher payments per head for GPs serving the Hackney area.

Regarding the letter that the hon. Lady has, I hope that, whatever the political divisions between us, she will reply to the elderly lady repeating what I said a moment ago and saying that there is no prospect of her being deprived of any treatment at all. As I said earlier, the indicative drug budgets are an indication to a doctor of what it is believed his prescribing costs ought to be if he follows good clinical practice. If he over-subscribes he will be asked why and will be asked to justify his action to another doctor. If he cannot justify his action, it is possible that he will suffer penalties to his own pocket in his remuneration. In no circumstances will a cash limit be placed on his drug budget so that he is not able to prescribe for his patients so they can get the prescription dispensed at the chemist. To say anything different is complete nonsense and has nothing to do with our proposals.

My short answer is that the hon. Lady should write back to her constituent, telling her that her fears are groundless. Then yet another elderly patient need not be worried by some of the nonsense that has been circulated in recent weeks.

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Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill

Again considered in Committee.

[Mr. Harold Walker-- in the Chair ]

Question again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill. 11.52 am

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Before I was interrupted to listen to the Vale of Glamorgan settlement of the doctors, I was discussing the matter of clause 2. From time to time I was diverted, particularly by Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) who is PPS to the Secretary of State for the Environment was raising matters about lawyers. He actually started me talking about the devious nature of lawyers and about Government lawyers who are arguing the toss among themselves on the queston of barristers and solicitors. They are offended by the idea of the Lord Chancellor to merge the two professions.

However, I want to talk about clause 2 because my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has just arrived, and he has special knowledge of weights and measures, since he used to work in an industry in which such matters were discussed at length. He has a lawyer's analytical mind. When I first met him, I asked him what sort of Bill he would introduce if he won the ballot. He said that he had several in mind, including a Bill on weights and measures. He will probably tell us all about that later.

I am worried about a provision in subsection (5), which is designed to insert in subsection (6), after the words "An inspector" the words "or authorised person". What does that mean? It conjures up a lot of possibilities. Does it mean that we could have inspectors without proper qualifications? Will they be assessed? We have heard the Government talking about teachers needing assessment all the time, but apparently it is a different matter for inspectors. Apparently, proper assessments are not necessary for inspectors in the private sector.

For instance, the Chief Whip of the Labour party could appoint an inspector to look at the weighing machine in the cloakroom downstairs. That weighing machine is used by weight-watchers in this place. I do not have to use it. However, the weight-watchers fiddle the machine, and I suspect that such a person would be given the job as an "authorised person". Such people could go to meetings of weight-watchers and say that they have lost three stone when they have not.

If such appointments were made, how would we guarantee that machines were in order? Let us suppose one of these machines for weighing was in Harrods. I guess that, in fact, there are many such machines in Harrods. Let us suppose that an authorised person, not an inspector, was appointed to see whether the machines in Harrods were working properly. It could be Tiny Rowland dressed up.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : Would the telephone be bugged?

Mr. Skinner : He has already bugged the telephone in Harrods. He could be an authorised person, or he could be called an observer. Or it could be Donald Trelford making inquiries for a new edition of The Observer. Such people could go to Harrods, under the guise of being an authorised person, supposedly an inspector, to see whether weighing machines were working properly and were tuned

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to take account of Common Market measurements. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) who introduced the Bill said specifically that it was introduced so that we would be in advance of the Common Market in 1992.

So along goes this authorised person, probably Tiny Rowland, to Harrods to inspect the machines. What a time he would have. He could find out information on every single floor of Harrods. He could draw up another report for the Department of Trade and Industry. That report could be leaked and printed in a special edition of The Observer. That is the sort of danger that could occur under subsection (5). Any authorised person could go along to Harrods saying that he was an inspector under this Bill passed by the Tory Government.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : The Consumers Association has set out its objections in a brief that it sent to hon. Members. Its main objection is that manufacturers and installers are likely to be the repairers of such weighing machines. That is an interesting point, which needs exploring.

Mr. Skinner : I have here the brief from the Consumers Association. As the Chair knows--

Mr. Forth : The Chairman.

12 noon

Mr. Skinner : Whatever it is. If we want to have a discussion about whether to say "Chair" or "Chairman" we can have one. We can discuss it as we debate clause 2 of the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill, but I do not think that Mr. Walker wants that. He is shaking his head. It is pretty clear that he is on my side. He wants to talk about the things in the Bill, such as authorised persons. He probably wants me to talk at length about whether the lawyers have drawn up a dodgy Bill for the Government because they are fed up to the back teeth with all the attacks made on their profession by Lord Mackay. However, that is another question.

The authorised person is an important issue. This is a weakness of the Bill, because it is saying to the people involved in manufacturing this equipment, "Don't worry about how good or bad it is because instead of having proper authorised inspectors to test it we will send along people who are one of us. They will be Tory-authorised persons, who will just go along, take a cursory glance at a machine and say, It's all right. Everything's in order' ", when all of us know that we are not getting the proper weight for our goods.

The Tory Government have drawn up this Bill and then passed it to a Back Bencher. He has naively and innocently--no, not innocently. I have seen him talking to people who have something to do with this dodgy Bill. He has come along thinking that he can hoodwink us on this Friday morning, but I have this document from the Consumers Association. The Consumers Association is the body that produces that well-known publication Which? , about which I was talking when I was interrupted by the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Sedgemore : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Skinner : Yes, because my hon. Friend is a lawyer.

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Mr. Sedgemore : My hon. Friend expressed concern about whether things would improve if Donald Trelford went into Harrods to inspect the weighing machines. Will my hon. Friend come down on one side or the other? Does he prefer the Al-Fayed standards of fair trading or the Lonrho standards?

Mr. Skinner : I am pretty well disposed to the idea that the big battalions in the Tory party or close to the Tory party are cutting one another's throats. When I see the Al-Fayeds, probably supplied with the Sultan of Brunei's funny money--he is a friend of the Prime Minister and of her son--falling out with the unacceptable face of capitalism, I think to myself, "There is a chance for Socialism here."

The Chairman : Order. That has nothing to do with clause 2. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will return to it.

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) was trying to get me to talk about the standards of fair trading in Harrods, and whether it was bought properly. I am not going to go down that road--not now--because I do not have the report from the Department of Trade and Industry in my hand. I did not expect to be discussing it this morning. If I had brought the report, I could have read out large chunks of it, and that would have been a story as well. It would probably have got more coverage than the statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the Vale of Glamorgan settlement with the doctors.

The Consumers Association sent us a brief--I hope that my hon. Friends will listen carefully to this, because it is no small point--in which it says that it was not properly consulted about this Bill. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, who has introduced this Bill with the connivance of the Tory Government, did not properly consult the Consumers Association. The Government talk about being the friend of the consumer, but they did not consult the body that for many years has been well known as representing consumers' interests. The second paragraph of the brief says :

"Consumers Association's objection to the Bill is that it seeks to introduce only those recommendations which would be of benefit to those connected with the manufacturing industry, without adequate safeguards to protect the consumer."

That sentence tells us everything about the Bill.

Mr. Barron : That is not inconsistent with the legislation passed in the past 10 years. The Government should at least get one point for consistency. It is as well that my hon. Friend was here this morning early on, and able to scrutinise the Bill. From what the hon. Member for Weston- super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) said, he consulted nobody and nobody consulted him. The Bill would have gone through without proper scrutiny were it not for the vigilance of hon. Members.

Mr. Skinner : We have had to do this on a number of Fridays. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was to have introduced the Bill on another occasion, but disappeared from view. We were here about four Fridays ago discussing the Control of Smoke Pollution Bill, which was aimed at repealing the Clean Air Act 1956. My hon. Friend will understand our astonishment when we saw that that was the Government's aim. When we scrutinised the Bill, we found that it would only amend the Clean Air Act. They had got it wrong. The Government lawyers, or

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the Government themselves, had produced a Bill that would do the opposite of what was intended. As a result of some close scrutiny over about three or four hours, we managed to persuade the House--it was one of those great victories that one can sometimes get on a Friday--that the amendments should be withdrawn before the Bill was passed.

We scrutinised that Bill as we are scrutinising this Bill, and we are able to show that the Consumers Association has a good argument. The Bill would have been nodded through this morning, in the wake of the by-election results, which some people are still studying. Some are active in their constituencies, but two or three of us managed to spot what was happening. Amendment after amendment was tumbling through the House without proper scrutiny and we stopped that. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) spoke at some length on this.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who was alert to this measure and what it could do. My hon. Friend spoke about Which? and paid tribute to it. Like my hon. Friend, it is the consumers' friend. Will not this measure, with its reference to the "authorised person" create problems for Which? Like many other people, I get the magazine, which shows all that one can buy in various lines. Will it not have immense problems with its reports? It will have to print, "Look out for authorised persons' stamped on it because we cannot say that the product that we tested is the one that you are buying or that it uses the right measures." The Bill will create immense problems for consumer magazines such as Which? in getting its information across clearly to consumers.

Mr. Skinner : That is the idea. The Government want to put consumers' interests at the bottom of the pile. They are interested only in people like the manufacturers of this equipment. No doubt, if we looked into where the profits of such manufacturers went, we would find some finishing up in the pocket of the Tory party. Instead of there being inspectors, there will be "authorised persons" who may allow changes, notwithstanding all the efforts made by the Consumers Association and Which? , which my hon. Friend apparently reads every week, along with defence magazines and other publications. I did not realise that my hon. Friend was reading so much material every day, and I commend him for that. I have only a cursory glance at Which? every now and again when a relevant Bill is coming before the House. The Government are interested not in consumers but in profits for manufacturers. If they make machines that are dodgy and they are allowed to do so, they will make bigger profits. If that happens, they will say, "Well, it's pay-up day. The Tories have done us a good turn in Parliament". They will know that the Bill was smuggled through very nicely and that Labour Members were not ready for it. They will ask themselves what to do and the answer will be to give the Tory party a large sum of money, on top of what they have always given, for the next general election.

Mr. Sedgemore : It is payola.

Mr. Skinner : That is the word--my hon. Friend, who is a lawyer, uses such subtle terms. I am not sure whether it is a legal term.

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Make no mistake, when the Government introduce Bills into the House they have three things in mind : to hammer the working-class, cut taxes for the wealthy and make big profits for the manufacturers who will put money into the Tory party funds. That is their policy in a nutshell. Such Bills should be in the Queen's Speech. If the Government want to introduce Bills of a political nature, why should they be allowed to let private Members smuggle them through? They are taking up time on a Friday when proper Bills could be introduced. I can think of two or three Bills that should be discussed today. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has got a great Bill, which is designed to give pensioners proper living standards and proper pensions. It would ensure that they no longer pay standing charges. The Prime Minister does not pay standing charges at No. 10, nor does she pay rent or rates. It is costing £5 million a year to run Downing street--more than it costs to run Buckingham palace. We should be discussing a proper private Member's Bill that would give pensioners a square deal as well as concessionary fares, not just in London and not just for part of the day. Instead of Ministers being carted about from one oak panelled study to the next in ministerial cars, with free drivers, we could have old-age pensioners travelling the country. That would be a proper Bill to discuss on Friday instead of--

The Chairman : Order. We should be discussing the stamping of equipment by authorised persons.

Mr. Skinner : I want to stamp the concessionary passes for bus and rail travel for pensioners. You understand that, Mr. Walker, as you are close to getting one if you have not already got one. What would be better than to have a comprehensive bus and rail pass for every pensioner in Britain?

Ministers talk about market forces, but the moment they reach 60 or 65 they get their bus pass. I saw Lord Keith Joseph getting his photo done and I wondered, "What is he getting his photo taken for?". It was for a bus pass. When he was a Minister he was the guru of market forces, but the moment he was no longer a Minister he was into public expenditure in a big way.

We want machines to stamp the passes and to produce them.

Mr. Forth : Not weighing machines.

Mr. Skinner : We would need measuring machines. Is the Minister saying that such passes could be churned out willy-nilly? Oh no. Something would be needed to measure and weigh any form of equipment used to produce those passes. We want inspectors rather than authorised persons to do that.

Mr. Sedgemore : What about self-authorisation by the pensioner?

Mr. Skinner : We could have that if necessary and if we had such a truly libertarian society that would be nirvana.

Here we are on a Friday morning discussing a tinpot Bill, which has not been properly drawn up by Government lawyers. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch is a lawyer and I have already explained why the Bill has not been drawn up properly--one of the Tories spilt the beans. There are lawyers in the Government who are so frustrated at the reforms that have been suggested in the other place that

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they are beginning to put Bills before the House that are deliberately drawn up in a vague and obscure way. It is clear that they have said, "To hell with the Government. We'll give them a Bill that will cause some trouble." Such Bills have been drawn up by someone, in a moment of frustration over the new attack upon the legal fraternity. Those Bills are not the genuine article. That is why we have to scrutinise Bills even more nowadays, especially after the other day when we discussed a Bill that intended to repeal the Clean Air Act when it should have read "amend". I smelt a rat.

Mr. Wiggin : This is tedious repetition.

12.15 pm

Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman did not have the guts to take on the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) when she appeared before him in the Select Committee on Agriculture. He did not ask her any of the right questions and yet he has the cheek to talk to me about tedious repetition. He should have used some tediously repetitive questions that day instead of being treated the way he was by that hon. Lady.

The Chairman : Order. All of this is a long way from clause 2 and is irrelevant to the stand part debate.

Mr. Skinner : I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who originally referred to the Consumers Association, wants to make another reference to that matter.

Mr. Barron : The authorised person mentioned in clause 2 would replace local authority officers. When such officers are looking after the interests of consumers, they are subject to some form of democratic accountability. If people are authorised as suggested in the Bill, that would diminish, to some extent the relationship between democratic accountability and the inspectors. If my hon. Friend looks at the back page of the Bill, he will realise that it will probably cost jobs in local authorities. What does my hon. Friend think about the weakening of the democratic process as proposed in the Bill?

Mr. Skinner : Some time ago, representatives of the Labour local authorities, who are opposed to the Bill, sent us information about it when it first appeared on the agenda. It is probable that the environmental health department of local authorities employs such inspectors. If the Bill goes through, we shall have authorised persons, without proper credentials, doing the job. They could be taking a back-hander from companies--think about it.

Clause 2(5) states :

"there shall be inserted the words or authorised person' ". Suppose people come along who are not properly accredited, not connected to the local authority and therefore not subject to any public accountability. Suppose they are in the pay of the company concerned. We would have a real mess on our hands. There is a sinister side to the clause.

In the past few months everyone has been conscious about safety and the Government have sent Ministers to tell us how concerned they are about safety in this, that or the other. But here we are, the Government have connived with the hon. Member for

Weston-super-Mare--he has admitted that the Bill was drafted by Governmnt lawyers.

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That Bill will reduce inspectors' ability to do their job and it will allow any authorised person to take on that job. There is no doubt that this is not just an ordinary, innocent little measure contained in a Private Member's Bill.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : My hon. Friend said that the local authorities are aware of what is proposed in the Bill. If I remember aright, Derbyshire county council was way out in front by spotting it first. It informed my hon. Friend about the Bill and yet other hon. Members who represent Derbyshire and who sit on the Conservative Benches have criticised that council for the amount of money that it spends, but it appears to be spending it in the right direction.

Mr. Skinner : It made representations in the middle of all the Government attacks upon it. There was a happy ending, because, despite all the targeting by the Tories, Derbyshire Labour authorities had a great success yesterday and now have 52 Labour members out of 84 seats. A seat was won by Labour next door to me, in Brackenfield. It was a great victory.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North) : Here comes more praise for Bookbinder.

Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman does not like it whenever I mention a great victory in Derbyshire. The hon. Gentleman, who is as partisan as any right hon. or hon. Member, does not like it, but he must lump it.

The Chairman : Order. No matter how great the victory, it has no relevance to clause 2.

Mr. Skinner : Yes, it does. Derbyshire county council, fortified by that victory at Brackenfield, will say, "We were right to make representations about that distorted weights and measures Bill. We shall carry on our campaign in the knowledge that we have won another seat from the Tories and have a mandate." Although that council was saying, at the tether end of a four-year period, that we should oppose the Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill, it--together with Nottinghamshire county council, in which Labour also made gains yesterday--will be able to say, "We were right to send messages to our Members of Parliament that they should oppose the Bill. The electors realise that the Tory Government are not on the side of the consumers, but only on the side of the manufacturers."

Not that there are many manufacturers. The question must be asked whether there will be Japanese machines or more Japanese machines? Will those firms have their own inspectors? If there are to be more Japanese manufacturers, where will their factories be located? Is the Bill part of the build-up to 1992? Will the Japanese manufacture machines in various parts of Great Britain so that they can overcome the barriers against third countries and invade the Common Market? Such a thing is conceivable. Account should be taken of the Japanese element. There will be many more Japanese manufacturers in the future, but many other factories will be closed.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : What will happen if the authorised person is Japanese and does not speak English?

Mr. Skinner : One may ask why the Japanese are coming to Britain rather than the French or Germans. Suppose that the Japanese spot the Bill and say to themselves, "Here is another little niche." The reason that

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the Japanese come to Britain is that their second language is English, which is not the case with the French or Germans. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare considered that aspect, or perhaps the Government have but did not tell him.

Mr. Soley : My hon. Friend has not addressed the point that the authorised person must be appointed by the Secretary of State. The idea behind that is to centralise control away from local authorities. How will the Secretary of State know that the person who authorises is capable of performing the duties involved?

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, because in Wales another Secretary of State may be responsible. If the Secretary of State for Wales is made responsible for implementing one part of the Bill, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is made responsible for another, there is bound to be conflict. It is almost certain that the Secretary of State for Wales will come up with another coded message. We may not immediately understand it, and shall have to wait for the newspapers to do so. The Secretary of State for Wales will brief the press, saying, "When you read my speech on Monday, it will seem a bit vague and abstract, and a particular line should be explained as follows." We will pick up the newspapers and suddenly read a massive attack by the Secretary of State for Wales on the Prime Minister. The ordinary person may read that speech and be unable to piece it together, but it is the Lobby briefing that matters.

Much will depend on whether the Secretary of State for Wales keeps his job. I think that the right hon. Lady will sack him. That point is worth discussing at some other time, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman will get the chop after what he has been doing of late. It is just a question of the Prime Minister thinking to herself,"I can leave him there for the moment and blame him for the by-election defeat." I understand that the Vale of Glamorgan by-election has just been announced.

Mr. Greg Knight : What does that by-election have to do with clause 2?

Mr. Skinner : I will explain what it has to do with clause 2. Under the Bill, any authorised person can do what they like. A person can masquerade and enter a building saying, "Where is your weighing machine? I am an authorised person." Somebody could walk into a BBC studio and ask, "Where is your weighing machine? I am an authorised person."--and then walk into the studio, get on television, and announce the result of the Vale of Glamorgan by-election. That is what could happen.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : My hon. Friend makes an interesting digression about the Vale of Glamorgan by-election. I am sure that his comments are right and that the Labour majority has been huge. My hon. Friend is rightly suspicious about the Bill. Some years ago, the Government allowed not just building inspectors appointed by local authorities--which they still are up to a point--but others to do a similar job. Those other inspectors can be associated with a particular company. A person inspecting a building to ensure that it meets building regulations could be someone who is associated with the company constructing it. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to be concerned, and I should like him to

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take that aspect into consideration. It is clear that the Government lawyers are only following the path that they have been wanting to follow for many years.

Mr. Skinner : The Bill represents a relaxation of rules that have been observed for many years. The Consumers Association briefing points out that the existing form of weights and measures has endured for 100 years, but the Government want to break it. We would all agree with the Government if they wanted to tighten up the legislation. If the Government lawyers who drafted the Bill--as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare admitted was the case--had tightened up the existing provisions, we would have said, "It is not a bad Bill and we shall give it a bit of a decent ride on a Friday. It looks as though the hon. Gentleman has introduced a Bill that will assist the consumer." But when one examines the Bill, one finds that it relaxes the existing rules, so that instead of having inspectors, there will be authorised persons who could be in the Tory party and who, in the words of the Prime Minister, could be "one of us". Those manufacturers will not be too concerned about their product. Let us think about this. There will be weighing machines at the entrance to the Channel tunnel. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) laughs, but I can see it happening. And what kind of inspector is going to go there? Goods will be travelling not only to the 12 countries in the Common Market, but to countless others. The machines might have to measure in ecus, for instance--that is one of the new words that have come from the Common Market. The entrance to the Channel tunnel is a dangerous place. Are we to allow an "authorised person" who is not a properly trained inspector to turn up there saying, "I am an authorised person. I have come to check this very important machine at the entrance to the Channel tunnel."? He might be someone who could be described as a terrorist, wanting to go beyond the weighing machine and into the tunnel. 12.30 pm

People will say--as they do now when there has been an accident--"Fancy that. Were there no proper health and safety inspectors?". We shall say, "No, because the Government have cut them back." Every time that inspections are cut back in this highly technological age it opens the door for accidents. That is another reason why we must oppose the idea of the authorised person as proposed in subsection (5). We might have to force it to a vote--and, judging by the ranks on the Conservative Benches, we might be successful. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare has already agreed to withdraw subsection (4) because it has been found to be faulty.

Mr. Cohen : May I quote briefly from a letter from Cleveland county council objecting to the Bill? The letter says :

"The Bill is being promoted by Jerry Wiggin MP (Weston Super Mare) who, amongst a clutch of interests, acts as a consultant to the National Federation of Scale and Weighing Machine Manufacturers."

Mr. Wiggin : I have declared my interest.

Mr. Cohen : I know that the hon. Gentleman has done that. Is it not a possibility, however, that the Secretary of State, who has taken powers to appoint authorised persons, would say to the hon. Gentleman, "You have been a good boy, getting this Bill through for the

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Government. I shall make you the authorised person." The hon. Gentleman could then go back to his friends the manufacturers and tell them to do what they liked.

Mr. Skinner : I do not think that the Government would be as blatant as that. The hon. Gentleman has admitted a direct financial interest.

Mr. Cohen : But he would not be qualified as a local councillor.

Mr. Skinner : He would be disqualified. I may be being over-fair to the Government, beyond the bounds of reason, but I do not think that they would be so blatant. They would probably appoint someone just a step away to try to make it look right and proper.

Given all the inadequacies found in it this morning, I do not think that the Bill will get through.

Mr. Barron : We must wait and see.

Mr. Skinner : Yes, there is plenty of time, but many Labour Members are now beginning to represent the views of consumers. I note that the SLD and SDP Members have left. I say this merely in passing, but they play a very poor role in the House. They simply do not do their job. Some lawyer flitted in earlier and asked a question on the statement by the Secretary of State for Health, but then they all left. Where are they? Are they moping because they had a bad night at the election? A representative should be present.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is enormous scope for political patronage in the appointment of the authorised person? In the debate on the Widdicombe report, Labour Members were criticised for twin-tracking, but let us reflect on the scope for twin-tracking of unemployable Conservative supporters who might be appointed to "authorised person" posts all over the country. Were the business interests of the Prime Minister's son in Dallas to fall flat on their face, would there not be a risk of his emerging in this country as an authorised person? Then there is the grandson. In my view there is enormous scope for serious misuse of the powers of patronage.

Mr. Skinner : There are all those possibilities. I am not so sure that the Prime Minister would be too keen to let Mark have a job as an authorised person because he would lose his way. He would finish up looking for weighing machines in the desert. That is why they have all this electronic tagging. The Government first thought of that when he got lost in the desert. They said, "That's a good idea." That is why the Government have introduced electronic tagging, but I think that Mark would be a little unreliable.

To sum up--

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : Before my hon. Friend does that, is there not another angle? My hon. Friend referred to Conservatives being encouraged to take on the job of an authorised person. No doubt they would consider taking low earnings for it. The Government have created millions of lower-paid jobs. If they could convince

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Conservatives to take it on, would they not hope that that would influence other people to take lower-paid jobs and to continue to suffer under this Administration?

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is on to a good point. Failed Ministers could become authorised persons. Every time the Prime Minister sacked somebody she could summon him to her office and say, "It's all right. You've had eight years and a good run for your money, but I don't like your braces these days." I suppose the conversation goes along that road. "Now it's goodbye. However, I've a little sinecure for you, as a weights and measures authorised person." The Government could have initials for that. They could include it in the Queen's honours. Mind you, I do not think that the Queen would accept it. If the Prime Minister went along to the Queen and said, "I've thought up a new honour for failed Ministers, as an authorised person" I do not think that the Queen would buy it. There is a lot of mucking down, to use a phrase, between the Prime Minister and the Queen, but that is a debate for another day--unless my hon. Friends want to develop it. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) is right. To be an authorised person could be a nice little sinecure so that when Ministers were sacked they did not drop immediately right to the bottom. They could have this little job as authorised persons.

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