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Mr. Bellingham: Will my hon. Friend elaborate on the possible £3,000 registration fee? He knows that many gangmastering operations are small businesses. Some in my constituency have a full-time staff of perhaps two or
Mr. Paterson: That is a most helpful and legitimate point. The other danger is that the illegal criminals will carry on outside the system; they will not pay the fee, which will be a burden on respectable operators. Past experience of the operation of similar self-funding regulatory agencies should be used as a guide, and it is not encouraging. As a rule, they tend to expend most of their efforts on policing the legitimate players.
Jim Sheridan: Some confusion might have arisen when we talked about 3,000 gangmastersnot £3,000. That is what the TGWU briefing said. The £3,000 figure has been mentioned only by Conservative Members.
Alun Michael: Far be it from me to help the hon. Gentleman, but he has pointed to a necessary element of working out the Bill's details. We must ensure that the arrangements we make keep the fees or charges for licensing or registration to the absolute minimum in order to create an effective system that can be well policed. That is one of the issues that I have discussed with my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan). At this point, I would not give too much credence to a specific figure, wherever it comes from. It is something that everyone who wants the legislation to succeed will have to work out carefully.
Mr. Paterson: That, too, was a helpful intervention, in that it clarified where the figure came from. I entirely endorse the Minister's comment that the fee is a detail that should be examined later, but we should bear in mind the warning given by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk that the final figure should not be too onerous. The danger of a self-financing authority is that it will spend most of its time bearing down on the
Mr. Forth: It may be that my hon. Friend deals with this point later in his speech, and I hope that he does, but no one has yet mentioned in my hearing any regulatory impact assessment in respect of the Bill. He remarked, almost casually, that the NFU is in favour of it, but has the NFU provided any estimate of the likely increase in the cost of food resulting from the combination of the licences, the bureaucracy and the potential increase in basic labour costs?
Lord Grabiner strongly recommends having a Minister to deal with the whole informal economy, of which gangmasters form only a partthey are only a symptom of a much wider problem. Then, he says, the Government should determine priorities, targets and, as the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale said, resourcesthe scheme will cost money that has to be diverted from somewhere else.
Mr. Paterson: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that fraud leads to a great loss of revenue, but he presumes that the system will work 100 per cent. I am sceptical about that, as I have just explained.
My point is that to put a Minister in charge, backed up by a taskforce, could be done easily and quicklyit could be done this afternoon. To pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale, there is another accident waiting to happen up in Morecambe if nothing is done. Action must be taken, but a new Act and yet another agencythe authority specified in the Billwould simply slow matters down.
Mr. Paterson: The Bill talks about an authority. Perhaps the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire, can confirm that. I understand that there will be a new authority that will act as an independent quango. It is a detail that may be elaborated on later; perhaps the Minister will do so.
Jim Sheridan: I am happy to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he will deal with the factual elements of the Bill and not with hypotheses, or with what he might have heard in the Tea Room or anywhere else.
I have taken an authority to be an authority. The Bill will take time to get through Parliament and it will take time to establish the new organisation, whatever it is and whether it is inside a Department or is not. I think that the creation of an authority will slow down matters because it will take a year or so to set it up, and it will have to recruit and organise. Only then will it start working. It could be two years or more before the authority is fully effective. It will then have to devise a co-operative plan with other agencies, whose functions would overlap, exacerbating rather than resolving the problem with the introduction of yet another agency.
Rob Marris: I will not repeat my quote from clause 3(1), instead I shall focus on its use of the word "nominate". I suspect that no one who has been present throughout the debate would wish for a two-year delay, or whatever. Would the hon. Gentleman care today to suggest or nominate an existing authority that he thinks could pull the issues together and deal with enforcement, which many of us, if not all of us, want to be applied?
Mr. Paterson: Perhaps I have not expressed myself clearly or perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not been listening carefully. My driftthe Grabiner report made this clearis that there should be a Minister co-ordinating activities right across[Interruption.] I am a shadow Minister. It is up to the Government to decide which of their Ministers should have such responsibility. The approach I have suggested is endorsed by senior Labour Back Benchers. There should be a Minister appointed in charge whose responsibility extends across all the activities of the black economy. We are talking about a narrow symptom, which is the failure of the black economy.
Mr. Andrew George: In view of the hon. Gentleman's answer to the last intervention, can I conclude from what he is saying that Conservatives believe that there is no need for any further legislation and that existing legislation should be implemented? Will the Opposition divide on this issue? Are they opposing the Bill?
Our attitude is that if there is a failure of existing legislation, we would agree that there is a role for a Bill to introduce measures to fill that legislative hole. I have been making the point at some length that a raft of legislation has not been properly enforced. We are as keen as anyone in the House to bear down and close on illegal gangmasters and the ghastly activities that they encourage, and we entirely endorse the objectives of the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire. As I have said, if there is a hole in existing legislation, we would endorse additional legislation to fill it, but at present I am not convinced that there is.
I am making the pointI have the agreement of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale, who had such a terrible incident in her constituencythat there is a need for action now, and I think that action could be taken by appointing a Minister with a broad remit across Departments.