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The hon. Member for Richmond Park and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire asked whether the new body would be located in London—another fair question. It is an implementation matter that we are considering, with the benefit of input from Energywatch, Postwatch and the National Consumer Council. The decision where the new body will be located will take into account such issues as the cost of the existing property portfolio and concerns surrounding the retention of staff. I acknowledge the importance of the matter.

Peter Luff: When does the Minister expect to reach that decision?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I cannot gaze into a crystal ball and give the hon. Gentleman a date for that at present. I apologise; I recognise that it is an important point.

The question of regional representation by the new NCC was raised. The Bill allows for the new NCC to establish regional committees, as I am sure the hon. Lady knows, where it believes that that would be beneficial to consumers.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) asked us to be clear about the inclusion of other sectors. The Bill covers the energy sector and the postal services sector, and allows for the inclusion of the water sector after consultation. The inclusion of any other sectoral consumer bodies in future would require further consultation and legislation.

The hon. Lady asked whether small firms would be represented by the new consumer advocacy body. We propose that the remit of the new NCC will be to represent all consumers, including business consumers. It will be left to the new NCC to determine where and on whom the greatest detriment in each market falls, and therefore on which issues to concentrate its resources. She also asked about redress schemes and the fact that they would consider complaints only after three months. The question was raised also by the Chairman of the Trade and Industry Committee. The terms of each redress scheme, including the time given to companies to resolve complaints before the complaint can be dealt with by the scheme must be approved by the sectoral regulator. Deadlock letters can be issued by companies before three months are up. The current practice of existing schemes is to deal with emergency cases without allowing companies the three months.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked about the council stepping in if redress schemes were not effective. If I wished to emulate a classic “Yes Minister” response, I might say that this is a clear opportunity for the new council to advance the consumer experience by monitoring the effectiveness of redress schemes, but I hope the hon. Lady will be reassured that we expect that to be the case.

The hon. Lady and other right hon. and hon. Members also asked about positive licensing. The OFT report on the estate agency market in England and Wales specifically addressed the question whether positive licensing, which could include a fitness test and training or competence requirements, would improve
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regulation and the estate agency market, and rejected it. The OFT concluded that positive licensing would raise costs and inhibit competition, without delivering the benefits to justify that. However, the OFT found that in the majority of cases in which it took action against an estate agent, the root cause was a lack of integrity and honesty, not a lack of knowledge of the law.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire expressed concerns about the DTI’s website. I have acknowledged that there are problems, which we will deal with. He also raised questions about post office performance and closures, an issue raised by other right hon. and hon. Members. The Bill gives a role to the new NCC to look into post office network restructuring. This replicates the power currently given to Postwatch. The new NCC cross-sectoral body will also be able to bring expertise from other sectors. The hon. Gentleman requested that the new NCC will not have access to information from Consumer Direct. I can reassure him that information about consumer complaints will be a useful source of information on consumer detriment for the new NCC. It is envisaged that the new NCC will establish effective information flows from Consumer Direct and the redress schemes.

The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) asked about the Government’s continuing discussions with professional bodies. I can assure him that that will indeed continue.

The response of the consumer watchdog community to the Bill is summed up by this quote from the editor of Property Week, Giles Barrie, who says:

Charles Smailes, president of the National Association of Estate Agents, says:

Lord Whitty, chairman of the National Consumer Council, says:

Professor Ed Gallacher, the chair of Energywatch, says:

The head of campaigns for Which?, Louise Hanson, says:

The OFT says:

Citizens Advice says:

It occurred to me, perhaps uncharacteristically, to make a tiny partisan point. The report by the economic competitiveness policy group established by the right
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hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) suggested abolishing consumer protection for mortgages, pensions, insurance and credit cards, saying:

I look forward to seeing that in the next manifesto.

In summary, the Bill embodies the Government’s commitment to a robust and effective consumer regime that is fair to consumers as well as to business. It creates a new national consumer council—a powerful advocate for consumers—demonstrates our commitment to get rid of rogue estate agents and doorstep traders and gives consumers the rights and redress they deserve. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (Programme motions),

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Question agreed to.


Queen’s recommendation having been signified——

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52 (Money resolutions and ways and eans resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.

19 Mar 2007 : Column 643

UK Borders Bill

Queen’s recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question proposed,

7.22 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I do not wish to detain the House long, and certainly not for the 45 minutes allotted for this debate. Having said that, I am a little surprised that the Minister moved the motion formally without any explanation of why the Government have introduced an additional Ways and Means motion for this Bill.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the 45 minutes that is allowed for this debate, he might reflect on the fact that that is 45 minutes more than will be allowed for the regulations that appear later on the Order Paper and will be voted through on the nod.

Mr. Heath: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The most extraordinary thing about the procedure this evening is that it does not allow for debate on a matter that Members on both sides of the argument wish to debate on the Floor of the House. However, I would be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were I to continue that strain of argument.

I find it extraordinary that yet again the Government are making proposals that were not included in the original Bill and were not therefore the subject of a Ways and Means resolution on Second Reading. As I understand the Government’s new clause, which is yet to be debated in Committee and has not been introduced at the appropriate stage in the Committee’s proceedings, the intention is to allow the Government to introduce fees and charges for those who are seeking to emigrate to this country that are beyond full cost recovery, in the certain knowledge that people are in no position to argue with the imposition of such fees and charges.

It would be wrong to debate the substance of the new clause this evening—that will have to be done in Committee—but it is not proper for this House, which prides itself on its ability to scrutinise when given the opportunity to do so, to allow to pass without any comment whatsoever a Ways and Means resolution that allows the Government, yet again, to ride roughshod over the House’s ability to scrutinise its business properly. The new clause should have been introduced in the original Bill, but it was not. The Minister gave no explanation and simply put the motion before the House formally. That is no more a proper way of doing business than is the way in which we will consider the later piece of business. The least that the Minister can do is to explain why we have this motion before us tonight.

7.25 pm

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I am grateful for the chance to respond to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). The powers contained in the
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new clause are not especially radical. We have the power to cost-charge—that is in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. Neither is the power to over-cost charge especially new, because we have that in section 42 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. We are trying to bring to bear a degree of flexibility and intelligence in how charges are set. That principle was widely welcomed in the statutory instrument debate that we had last week. This motion will allow us to ensure that there is a full and proper debate in Committee on the new clauses that we propose in advance of Report and Third Reading. I am sure that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), who is representing the Liberal Democrats on that Committee, will forensically interrogate our proposals. On that basis, I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you had a request from a Minister to explain the extreme and unseemly haste with which the sexual orientation regulations have appeared on the Order Paper tonight? Have you received a request to explain the almost unprecedented shortness of time between laying the regulations on 12 March and their being in Committee on 15 March, with members of the Committee appointed with less than 24 hours to consider their merits? The Lords Merits Committee advertised a seven-day consultation period, and then sat on the sixth day, thereby cutting out some of the representations that would have been made. Given that there was no sitting on Friday, the regulations have appeared on the Order Paper within two days of consideration. Have you received any requests?

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Over the weekend, several constituents raised concerns about the impact of the details of the regulations. I have not yet had time to explore with Ministers their precise consequences because of the unseemly haste to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) referred. What channels are open to me before we vote on the regulations in a few minutes to explore the precise consequences with Ministers? Could not a Minister have come before the House and made a statement to enable hon. Members to scrutinise the regulations rather better?

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We cannot have too many points of order as a surrogate for a debate on the matter. Let me try to deal with the points that have been raised.

The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) asked whether I had received any representations or requests. The answer is no. In answer to the right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), the Chair has no power to determine what is on the Order Paper. I can only preside over what has been included in it. I understand that all is procedurally correct and we must proceed on that basis.

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