There is no specific offence of fraud or intimidation by bogus traders. However, the latest figures for fraud and forgery in 2002–03 show that 38,600 people were arrested, and 284,000 people were arrested for violence against the person.
Is the Minister aware that people are particularly concerned about bogus traders who, for instance, offer to pave a drive, do a couple of hours' work and charge substantial sums—often of £5,000 or £6,000? Does she agree that that is in fact a form of criminal activity and has nothing to do with trading? People are making a criminal living out of bogus trading. Will she speak to her hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Competition and Consumers at the Department of Trade and Industry, who has said that the Government will introduce legislation to tackle such bogus trading, which currently allows criminals to prey on the most elderly and vulnerable people in our country?
The hon. Gentleman is clearly aware of the extensive work that is being carried out by my colleagues in the DTI in response to the work of the Office of Fair Trading, which was itself a response to a super complaint by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. The OFT has set out a position paper that includes a number of options, ranging from creating a new offence of fraud—also recommended by the Law Commission—and a new offence of fraudulent trading to creating a criminal offence in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman set out. I can certainly undertake that I and Ministers from the DTI will seriously consider those propositions. Clearly, we will need to consult stakeholders, but I assure him that not only are our officials in dialogue, but we intend to have inter-ministerial dialogue as well.
Is my hon. Friend aware that among the worst offenders in this regard are those sales agents who go door to door, hoodwinking elderly and vulnerable people into changing their gas and electricity supply, based on an entirely bogus assessment of the benefits? Will she consider supporting my private Member's Bill, which would tighten the regulations and allow compensation for those, very often elderly, people who have been hoodwinked in that manner?
I am, of course, very aware of the elderly and vulnerable people who have been taken advantage of in those circumstances. That is why I am delighted not only that my hon. Friend is promoting his Bill, but that many of the respectable energy companies now have schemes whereby callers have not only to prove their identity, but to show householders a telephone number that they can ring to confirm the caller's identity. Such schemes are excellent, and I want to promote them.