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Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to the Minister. He confirms the point that I was making: he does not know what the scheme will cost, which underlines the importance of the House asking him that question, because I at least do not like signing blank cheques. Until the Minister gives us the figures, the only factual information we have to go on is in the motion, which refers to

Any expenditure means a blank cheque and that is why we need more information.

Mr. Gale: This debate is being held against the background of the highly emotive and terrifying circumstances that occurred in the constituency of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith). No one has any quarrel with that. However, the Minister is saying that the measure will be self-financing and we all know what that means: the cost will be passed on.

In east Kent, in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), farmers harvest cauliflowers, potatoes, top fruit and soft fruit, and their businesses operate at the margins of sustainability. If the costs of the measure are passed on to them, there will be another death—the death of those industries. We need the answers before we vote for the motion.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to my hon. Friend who makes my point for me very well indeed. That is exactly why a blank cheque is wrong. It is also why we need to know how much the cost will be, so that we can make up our mind whether it is a sensible amount, which will achieve a very laudable objective, or wasting money. That is the only point the Minister needs to address.

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Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman think that the cost of the licensing scheme for gangmasters, which operated for most of the lifetime of the last Conservative Government, was unreasonable?

Mr. Wilshire: If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall come to the existing regulations in a moment, but we need to deal with one more thing before we decide whether to vote for the money resolution. We need to know in some detail what taxpayers' money will be spent on. We have heard a general comment or two, but we are still not clear about everything.

Mr. Brown: In fairness, a licensing scheme was in place for most of the lifetime of the last Conservative Government. The hon. Gentleman must have supported that scheme when the Conservative party was in power. Was the cost of that scheme unreasonable?

Mr. Wilshire: The right hon. Gentleman must contain himself for a moment. I should like to deal with things in the order in which I set out to deal with them, and it will make much more sense if he allows me to do so. We have to decide what taxpayers' money will be spent on, but we do not even know that. The Minister referred—again, I noted this down—to the fact that the code will be important, but the Government have not yet worked it out, so how can we decide whether spending money on the preparation of a code is sensible until we know what it is? On other occasions during his introductory remarks, he said that decisions have yet to be taken.

Alun Michael: I ought to point out to the hon. Gentleman, because it seems to have escaped his notice, that the motion relates to a private Member's Bill. The Government have responded very rapidly by saying that we will help that private Member's Bill to become law. We have come before the House to say that we want the House to agree that money can be spent from public funds in support of those purposes, and it is clear what public money needs to be spent on: the establishment and enforcement of the scheme. The hon. Gentleman, by the way that he is approaching the issue, rather undermines his claim to support the efforts to deal with the mischief and evil perpetrated by some gangmasters.

Mr. Wilshire: Absolutely not. I predicted that, sooner or later, a Government Member would try that one. However worthy a cause, nothing justifies signing blank cheques or telling the Government that they can do what they like. It is all very well for the Minister to say what he thinks the motion means. All I have got to go on is what the motion says. The preamble states that money can be spent

not just what the Minister says it will be spent on. It could be spent on anything— it is another wide-open opportunity for the Government to spend money.

Geraldine Smith: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the National Farmers Union, when it says that it

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Mr. Wilshire: I would love to debate that sort of issue, but I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would tell me that such issues arise under the Bill, not the motion.

Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament in government, as well as in opposition. Can he tell me on how many occasions he intervened in debates on money resolutions to complain about the nature of their drafting when he was a member of the Government?

Mr. Wilshire: No, I cannot, and I do not need to do so. The Government are dead keen on modernisation. They want their procedures to be brought up to date, and I have taken them at their word and decided that the modern way to deal with such things is to ask the Minister to answer sensible questions about how much he will spend and what he will spend it on. Until he answers those questions, all that we can go on are the words of the motion.

Mr. Gale: We are now into Alice in Wonderland country. The Minister said in his opening remarks that the scheme would be self-funding, and we are now accused of trying to wreck a private Member's Bill. We are told that this is merely a Government money resolution, putting in taxpayers' money. Well, taxpayers' money comes from the public, but that is another story. The scheme will either use taxpayers' money that comes from central Government or it will be self-funding. I want to know whether it will be self-funding—if so, it will place a cost on the farmers—or will taxpayers' money that comes from central Government be used? It cannot be both.

Mr. Wilshire: That is exactly what all Conservative Members would like to know, but we are not getting any sort of answer, so we cannot make up our minds whether what the Ministers is asking us to do represents a sensible way to solve a genuine problem or whether it is just another way to spend taxpayers' money. To make matters worse, paragraph (1)(b) of the motion refers not to any purpose of the Act, but to

That can include not only new expenditure, but an increase in current expenditure. Therefore, the spending commitment is wide open and we need more information on it.

It gets worse still. On Second Reading—this picks up on the point that the Minister made about the private Member's Bill—the Minister said that he backed the Bill in principle but that the Government would need to make changes before they could let it reach the statute book. I understand that. The problem is that we are being asked to sign a blank cheque not for the private Member's Bill, which is what the Minister said to me a moment or two ago, but for a Bill the contents of which we do not know yet.

The Minister has said that he will make changes to the Bill but has not told us what they are, yet we are supposed to let him have the money to do whatever he

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likes. That seems to be a silly way of trying to run a Government. If we do not have those details, if we do not know how much, if we do not know what it is to be spent on, if we do not know the changes that the Minister wants to make, how on earth can the House decide whether this is the best way of achieving what the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) properly wants and what we on the Conservative Benches want to help her to get? How can we decide without that information?

Mr. Fallon: My hon. Friend is attributing some weight to paragraph (1)(b) of the money resolution. If we were precise now, and if the Minister had told us what the provisions of the Act were likely to be, we would already know what the increase attributable to those provisions was likely to be. Surely it is incumbent on the Minister to help my hon. Friend to specify what those provisions will be, so that we can judge what the increase attributable to those provisions will be.

Mr. Wilshire: Yes. I have known the Minister some time and I thought that he might want to help us but it appears that he does not. He sits there and appears to be refusing to tell us how much, what for or what the changes will be.

One other issue concerns me about the money resolution. It asks us to authorise yet more public expenditure on top of the huge increases that the Government have already agreed to. This is particularly relevant when we consider the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) on Second Reading on 27 February. He made it clear that there is existing legislation that, if properly enforced, might have prevented the Morecambe bay tragedy and could solve other problems.

I am no expert. I cannot say whether that was right or wrong, but my hon. Friend is an expert and I am entirely content to accept what he says. He also pointed out that enforcing existing legislation properly would lead to immediate improvements, whereas going down the route of new legislation would mean delay. Therefore, another reason why we have to be cautious of the money resolution is that perhaps we should be exploring the existing legislation route before signing a blank cheque for any new legislation.

There is one other reason for exploring the use of existing legislation.

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