|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I shall try to be as brief as possible. I want to raise yet again in the House the threat of the expansion of Heathrow airport to my constituency because things have moved on apace since the last summer Adjournment. I congratulate my colleagues the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) on the excellent work that they have done in recent months ingeniously to raise this issue on the Floor of the House as often as they possibly can. The whole community in our area is now raised against the proposals that BAA has published in recent months.
As hon. Members may well know, during the past 15 years at Heathrow airport, we have had a terminal 4 inquiry, at which we were told that that was the full extent of the airport's expansion. We then had a terminal 5 inquiry, at which BAA wrote to other hon. Members, me and my constituents to say that, if it
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1357
received permission for terminal 5, there would be no third runway. In fact, terminal 5 doubled the airport's capacity. Within months, BAA reneged on its commitment and proposed a third runway.
The third runway is now outlined in the master plan that BAA published only months ago. It includes not just a third runway, but a sixth terminal. We will therefore lose villages wholesale. At Sipson village, 700 homes will be completely demolished. Life in the villages of Harmondswoth, Longford, Harlington and Cranford Cross will become unliveable because the air pollution that results from a third runway will go beyond the limits of the European directive on air poisoning.
Let us return to the Government's figures on such developments. The last detailed study was carried out in the early 1990s and put the impact at about 4,000 homes. So 10,000 people in my constituency will be forcibly removed from their community. That is the largest clearance of a population since the Scottish clearances themselves. We face the closure of three primary schools. Whole communities will cease to exist. Community centres, greens, churches, pubs, doctors' surgeries, shops and businessesa whole communitywill be demolished as a result of a search for profits for BAA and the aviation industry.
The Government have set in train a decision-making process, called Project Heathrow, during which a number of research papers will be developed by experts with representatives from the local authorities, BAA and the industry. The project will report in late 2006, when the Government can make their decision. In the meantime, my whole area is blighted, with families who are unable to move because they cannot sell their property, and families who are unable to make decisions on their long-term future. Why? Because BAA wants to maximise its profits.
Last week, BAA announced profits for this year of £500 millionhalf a billion pounds. I attended BAA's annual general meetingFriends of the Earth bought me a single share; it has generated 12p this year, which I shall have to declare and return to Friends of the Earth, although I am sure that the organisation will not use it. At the AGM, I asked BAA's directors whether before making any decision they would bring these matters back to shareholders for a decision. The chairman of BAA made a strong recommendation against that resolution, which fell thanks to the proxy votes that he held in his pocket. He went on to award himself a 15 per cent. increase in his salary and an increase in his shareholding. The lessons are, first, that shareholder democracy does not work in this country and, secondly, that BAA is willing to put profits for itself and its directors ahead of the interests of not only my constituents, but the constituents of every MP representing the London borough of Hillingdon and west London.
The Minister should take back to the Secretary of State for Transport, the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet the message that if the Government decide next year that the third runway will go ahead, they will face the biggest environmental battle that this country has ever seen. Not only will there be parliamentary action on the Floor of the House and legislative combat,
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1358
but I believe that there will be direct action on a scale not seen before in this country or in Europe as a whole, because there is so much anger about the forced migration of so many people.
What has been brought to my attention in recent days about the operation of the airport is deeply worrying. After the London bombings, we have had a number of anxious moments at the Heathrow terminalsthere have been several security scares. It is now being reported that there has been a failure to train key staff to deal adequately with security matters. I have written today to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport saying that in the light of the London bombings we must review once again the security arrangements at Heathrow, especially the training of staff, so that we can deal properly with the safety and security of not only the travelling public, but my many constituents who work at Heathrow airport.
Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) on his eloquent maiden speech. I know that he will make a first-class contribution to the House; he is already becoming a first-class Member of Parliament.
I wish to raise the serious issue of consumer credit and a voluntary code of practice. I draw the attention of the House to the tragic case of my constituent Mark McDonald, who was driven to suicide by debts totalling £65,000 that had been amassed on his credit cards. His wife and friends had no idea of the situation. That is just one tragic example of the many people in Britain today who are getting into serious financial difficulties.
Debt itself is not bad, but unaffordable debt certainly is. Debt that is affordable one year might not be the next if people's employment circumstances change or interest rates change significantly. Eleven per cent. of credit card holders in Britain make only a minimum payment each month and 4 per cent. of British households are regarded as having too much debt. The Consumer Credit Counselling Service revealed last month that 25,000 people rang its helpline for advice in May this yearalmost double the number who called in May last year. Steve Wiseman, chief executive of Norwich citizens advice bureau has said:
I welcome the reintroduction of the Consumer Credit Bill, although it is a pity that the Government could not find more time for it in the last Parliament. The last consumer credit legislation was passed 31 years ago. In the intervening period, the credit landscape has changed beyond all recognition, in part as a result of changing lifestyles and attitudes to debate, and in part because of the liberalisation of financial markets, which has allowed a highly dynamic and sophisticated industry to develop.
Only one type of credit card was available in 1971, but today there are more than 1,300. Thirty years ago, £32 million was owed on credit cards, but today the
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1359
figure is almost £50 billion. I welcome the Government's announcement that they are setting aside £45 million to provide free advice to people struggling with unmanageable debts. That money will allow debt advice charities to train many advisers to help people in the situation in which my late constituent found himself. Could the Government explain to the House, however, how the money will be allocated and when we can expect it to make a difference? Although it will help to alleviate the problem, we must look at other options to prevent people from ending up in unaffordable debt.
It is important to recognise, as the Select Committee on Treasury has done, that responsible lending is about more than meeting the minimum legal requirements. It is about driving forward best practice and treating customers fairly. A credit card lender should provide short-term debt as part of a convenient service, rather than pushing a form of debt that sucks borrowers into a long-term cycle of indebtedness. There are many ways of reducing the problem of massive debt, not least financial education. In 2002, Melanie Johnson, the then Member for Welwyn Hatfield, who was also a junior Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, spoke about the importance of financial education:
"We want to build a generation of empowered consumers who can manage their credit effectively; who understand why it is important for them to master their finances, and how they might achieve that; who can make appropriate decisions about their finances; who understand the choices open to them and their implications."
Financial education is not helped by the way in which some institutions make credit readily available to young people, particularly those who are starting university, as they are already burdened with the Government's £3,000 tuition fees. Nearly every bank offers a special student account with incentives like free CDs or travel passes for people who open current accounts. Many also offer credit cards, often with high limits. Do the Government agree that offering a credit card to a student, who probably has a limited income, is not the most responsible approach for a lender to take? It is important that lenders assess the ability of the consumer or customer to repay and that that assessment should be based on as complete a picture as possible of their current income and credit commitments as well as their payment history. What evaluation have the Government made of the potential for a certain amount of data sharing between institutions? Mr. McDonald's widow believes that if companies shared information, such tragic cases might be averted.
Unsolicited increases in credit and spending limits should also be questioned. Have the Government assessed the need to make it a requirement that people request an increase in their limit, rather than simply letting that happen as a matter of course. In conclusion, this is clearly an emotive subject. It is easy to blame large corporations for the situation in which borrowers find themselves when they cannot afford the debt that they incur, but personal responsibility must not be forgotten. There is no doubt in my mind that credit can be secured far too easily, sometimes with tragic results. It is incumbent on companies that are in business to make money to ensure that they have ethically and socially responsible policies in place when offering credit. I do
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1360
not want to prevent people from obtaining credit, but when it is granted I should like to be sure that all the relevant factors have been taken into account, including a realistic appraisal of an individual's circumstances and their ability to pay.
Self-regulation through industry codes may well play an important role in supplementing statutory requirements. What measures will the Government take to encourage the development of codes of practice and adherence to them? The best way in which to tackle these issues is through a code of practice. The banking code, established under the last Conservative Administration, has been particularly successful. Will the Minister assure me that the Government will work with the industry to encourage companies outside the code to join it? I welcome the revised code, which has been in operation since the end of March, and I look forward to discussions about how it can be improved in future.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|