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We should all ensure that any proposals that come forward, as I hope they will, to make changes to regulation and the way in which the FSA works are not unduly top-heavy for the sake of it. Very often this is simply a matter of common sense; it is a question of saying, “Where does the regulation need to fall? Is it transparent? Will it be easy to monitor to ensure that it is working properly?”. In asking the Office of Fair Trading to
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regulate the consumer credit market, I am not asking for a lot of top-down regulation just because things have all gone pear-shaped; I am asking for regulation that works and regulation that will genuinely restore the banking institutions of this country.

Adam Price: May I just give the hon. Lady an example of the imbalance in the FSA, to which she has referred? Independent financial advisers have been massively over-regulated by the FSA, whereas it has taken a cavalier light-touch attitude to the huge international corporations of the banking sector.

Angela Browning: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman who, as ever, has put his finger on an example that I wish I had thought of. It is a classic.

When we first introduced the regulation of financial services in the mid-’80s, before I was elected, it seemed on the face of it that there was a very sensible way forward. Financial advisers, whoever they worked for—even if they were linked to a financial institution but were working independently—would carry out an analysis of somebody’s financial needs. In giving best advice, as it was called at the time, they would need to ensure that the product that they were selling was right for that person and that they could afford to pay the premiums or put capital in. The advisers were regulated and checked to ensure that they did so. All of a sudden, out of the blue, every department store, every chain store and every bank could market products through the post, over the phone—and now over the internet—without the same criterion of best advice applying.

The principle of best advice was right but, for some reason, it went wrong, and there were loopholes in it. I do not think that the answer is over-regulation. It is common sense to ensure that there is a level playing field wherever we regulate. If we do not have that level playing field, people will take advantage. When they take advantage by selling their products, however they sell them, the person who loses out is usually the poor investor who puts their money on the line.

Let me move on to something else. I realise that today’s debate is going to consider housing, in particular, and I want to touch on one aspect of that—that is, park homes. We have an all-party group on park home owners, of which I am a member, and I know that a few years ago the Government made some changes to the anachronistic rules that govern the purchase and sale of park homes. In a recession, park homes offer a wonderful opportunity for low-cost housing.

There are several park homes in my constituency, and although they are not exclusively occupied by pensioners, many people who have not owned their own home or have owned a very small home move to a park home when they retire—that releases a lump sum, too—so a lot of elderly people live in them. Will the Government look again at the rules that apply to the sale and purchase of park homes, as they missed the opportunity to do so yesterday? There is no doubt that we still have what I would regard as restrictive practices in this area.

I understand that site owners are business people who need to make a profit. Nobody is suggesting for one minute that they do not have a material interest in the sale and purchase of park homes. However, the way in which people are obliged to purchase a new home from a particular supplier and the way in which a cut of
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the sale price goes back to the park home owner is anachronistic in this day and age. I want the Government to think of the recession as an opportunity to look favourably on park homes and consider them as a way of providing more low-cost housing. Such housing would be more readily provided by park homes than by the construction industry, which seems to be moribund. If the Government plan to help the construction industry, I hope that they will equally consider the park home industry, provided that they take a fresh look at the way in which people who purchase homes from site owners are treated under the regulations.

We have heard a lot about helping people on low incomes with energy costs. I have been in correspondence for nearly a year with various Ministers—I received yet another reply today, which was very negative—on the subject of those park home owners who are on sites where the landlord provides the fuel, which is usually liquefied petroleum gas and is often metered. The landlord sells the fuel to all the people on the site, and they are locked into a pricing regime over which they have no control whatsoever. It seems that just about everybody else has the opportunity to shop around, to change supplier and to get the best deal that they can, yet these people are locked in. I have had a letter from a Minister yet again today to say that the Government have no intention of changing the regime. I do not believe that it would be that difficult to change it, and I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, to look at that, as well as at the issue of the selling and purchase of park homes.

Mr. Graham Stuart: My hon. Friend is making a powerful point on park homes. Through her, may I make the point to those on the Treasury Bench that many people on low incomes live in park homes for most of the year? They may be paying rather a high price for the fuel that heats those homes, which are often poorly insulated. When I go into many of my constituents’ park homes, I find them there with many plugged-in electric heaters, and that costs them a fortune. They often have historical industrial conditions such as emphysema. It is important that the Government take seriously the insulation and the standard of those homes to ensure that those people, who, as I say, are often on low incomes, do not find that most of their money goes on keeping themselves warm.

Angela Browning: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I know that the all-party group on park home owners has made representations to Ministers on those issues. We are talking about low-cost initiatives that would make a difference. They would not necessarily affect the Treasury figures—particularly not the changes to the regulations that I asked for—but would certainly help a lot of people. They might encourage more people to buy and live in park homes at a time when low-cost housing is absolutely essential.

I started on the subject of debt, and I will finish on the subject of debt, but I shall move from personal debt to the national debt. I referred to the fact that I am a baby boomer, born in 1946. I still have an identity card, and I remember when rationing ended for sweets. I have lived through the Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan, Blair and Brown Governments, and as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday in the Budget debate, we always end up with the same situation at the
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end of a Labour Government. They leave the country bust. Nothing in the Budget, or in what has been said in the debate so far, makes me think that the situation will be any less serious when it comes to the inheritance left by this Government; in fact, it will be a great deal more serious.

I mentioned the generation of those who are 80 and over, and I mentioned the savings culture. There is a culture in the British spirit that says that when we are up against it, we will go without certain items to make sure that we get things right. We saw that in the wartime spirit in the second world war, and we have seen it on other occasions. The British public are intelligent enough and tough enough to know that we are going into a period of great austerity. They want honesty from their politicians and their Government. If there are difficult choices to make, they want to see those choices clearly laid before them.

Yesterday’s Budget was dishonest. It deferred until after the general election a lot of tax cuts and swingeing impositions on people who are not the wealthiest in the country. The Government may argue, “It’s until the downturn picks up,” but nobody believes that the downturn will pick up by the end of this year, and we have heard all the independent evidence that corroborates the view that it will not pick up. None the less, I think that people will understand it if politicians stand up and say to them, “No, sorry, we cannot afford it,” or “Yes, it is our intention to do or provide certain things with your taxes, but because of the situation that we are in, the imperative must be to get the economy of this country back on to a stable footing.” We are old enough to know what happens if we do not.

If we do not get the economy back on to a stable footing and we go into a period of what I would describe as funny money, in which the whole economy collapses and the currency is a paper currency only, that will a very serious situation. It is about time that the Government treated the British population as grown-ups. Instead of kicking things into the long grass when action is needed now, the Government should grasp the problem, which is with us today and will be with us for a very long time.

The Financial Secretary is a reasonable and honest man, so I am sorry to have to direct these remarks to him rather than to some of his colleagues. None the less, both he and I understand what collective responsibility means. The Government are leaving it far too late to take the right action to restore the economy of this country and that is a grave disservice to the British people. They have been through trials and tribulations in their history and they will not baulk at understanding that we are in a serious situation that calls for serious measures. The Government must rethink what they have told the House over the past 24 hours, because it will clearly not solve the problems.

Martin Horwood: If by serious measures the hon. Lady means public spending cuts, can she be more forthcoming than her hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) was on the radio this morning when he failed to identify a single substantial savings cut? If the hon. Lady is worried about the recovery not happening next year, can she explain whether those cuts would go ahead under a theoretical Conservative Government, if the recovery was not occurring by then?

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Angela Browning: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chose to ask that question—it was so Lib Dem. I hope that we will have a Conservative Government because that is the only hope for the country. I shall not be part of that Government because I am retiring, but I and the British people understand that when we are up against it, we cut our cloth accordingly. Anybody who does not understand that simple concept will never solve our problems.

3. 21 pm

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning). I agreed strongly with all her comments about debt and the role of park homes, but of course we parted company at the end of her speech when she started to talk about just a quarter of the last century when Labour Governments were in control. My recollection is that those Governments had to redress the appalling lack of investment in our public services—in our hospitals and in our schools, where children were taught in leaky school buildings with outside toilets. If there was a price to pay, I think it was one worth paying.

When the debate started, I became depressed. I enjoy the cut and thrust of debates in the Chamber, but there were times when there was inappropriate guffawing from Opposition Members at what was meant to be a serious contribution to efforts to get the country out of the most appalling global difficulties. Then I heard the shadow Chancellor planning the Conservative poster campaign by saying that Crawley would be a target for the Conservatives’ inheritance tax and tax credit plans. Frankly, I hope they do that, because none of my constituents will benefit from their inheritance tax plans, whereas 10,500 families will be badly affected by their plans to cut tax credits. Such an Opposition campaign would be a very positive move.

I shall concentrate on how we can reduce carbon output in the power we use. We desperately need to do that as quickly as we can. Earlier, we heard an incredibly heartening statement about the carbon capture and storage scheme. It will certainly be heartening in my constituency, where the company Doosan Babcock, which is developing many of the new technologies, has its headquarters. It was interesting to hear Members say that the statement had come far too late, because in fact the technology is untested. It is very new. We are the first country to commit to such investment at that level and I am delighted that we are doing so. I certainly hope that the effort, investment and research that Doosan Babcock has put into carbon capture and storage will pay dividends for the company in the future.

The reason why I take an interest in such matters is that just a few short steps away from Doosan Babcock’s headquarters is another company, of which Members may be aware, called Ceres Power. It appears that Ceres Power is one of those companies that could offer the answer to many of our home power needs. It has developed a brand new fuel cell—a very interesting technology, in which many people throughout the world are hugely interested.

It is great that in my constituency there are two companies with very different ways of trying to reduce our use of power and our carbon output—one an older technology that uses the very best research to deal with
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coal burning, and the other a fuel cell that holds enormous potential. Both received a good lift and encouragement from the Budget, and I am delighted about that. When I revisit those companies, I will be able to hold my head up and say that this Government are serious—particularly given the strategic investment fund, which I hope will take those new technologies further along the line. They have already had plenty of money from the Government to continue their research, but I sincerely hope that they will be able to move to the next phase and, for example, put fuel cells in people’s homes, so that we can genuinely see that they work. I see the Budget—particularly proposals to try to reduce our carbon output—as adding to a jigsaw of other measures and building on work that has been going on for a long time to ensure that we continue to play a world-leading role in those technologies. It is a pleasure to represent a constituency that is taking part in such activity.

I shall focus the majority of the rest of my speech on housing, which has truly become one of those subjects that occupy not only people who go to advice surgeries, but young people, for whom access to housing has become a critical issue. It is the key to answering many problems as we try to tackle the global downturn. It is difficult to look at any one subject in isolation, but, if we encourage housing development, as I expect the Budget to, many other issues—education, training, job opportunities for people—will become part of the whole package. There is also an opportunity to ensure that the proposed homes are the best in terms of environmental soundness and liveability for families. That is why I was delighted by the release of the new money.

Central to all that development is the fact that we must allow our local authorities to play a part in developing housing. We tend to bandy about “affordability”, and the Library had a good stab at trying to define it. I find it extremely difficult, however, to sit in my surgery opposite a lovely young couple who have recently married and are saving furiously but have nowhere near enough for the price of a small flat in my constituency—even though, thank goodness, the amount that can be borrowed has been reduced to three times a person’s salary. People in the south of England face problems of affordability and they will find it extremely difficult to access housing, even with the new HomeBuy scheme and access to shared equity programmes, but attempts to tackle scarcity, which is at the heart of the housing problem in the south-east, will assist those young people enormously.

We are fighting tooth and nail for a university centre in Crawley, because, again, it is part of the jigsaw of keeping our young people in the town and giving them the education that they deserve and the job opportunities that they so badly want. No measure can be taken in isolation, but we have to make sure that we can house people decently. I am extremely pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing is now giving serious consideration to allowing local authorities to play their part in developing housing projects within our towns and communities. They are key to most of the things that happen; they understand how a community needs to exist and know that housing development without any of the services that make houses decent places to live does not reflect how we want to develop in the future.

I am extremely lucky to be associated with the post-war Labour Government who decided that people who had been in the war and families who had suffered should
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have the opportunity to come into homes in a lovely community such as Crawley. Such places have neighbourhoods with pubs, shops, churches and community centres. Local authorities must be at the heart of the decision making and they must be able to develop housing in the way that we believe is right and proper. People deserve to live in homes with an environmental rating of at least “very good” so that they do not spend most of their money on fuel and so that they can be proud of their new homes for many decades.

I hope that you can see, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I am keen for local authorities to play their part and get access, so the extra £100 million for local authorities to develop their housing was very welcome. We also have to consider the quality of the services offered by those local authorities into the future. Before we allow Government money to be placed in the hands of a housing authority, we must make sure that it is held in the highest regard. I shall press Ministers to ensure that, as the scheme goes ahead—I certainly hope that Crawley borough council will take advantage of it—the highest-quality local authorities are able to take part.

Another part of the jigsaw is the negative subsidy of many local authorities. I applaud and support those who have bought their council homes, but in Crawley, where there were more than 20,000 council homes, fewer than 8,000 are left in the control of the local authority. I want the local authority not to give up the principle of having a housing pool, but to be allowed to use more of the money to continue to build new homes and to improve the homes of existing tenants to the decent homes standard.

There are lots of competing arguments. The one thing that stops me from being flippant or taking part in all the shouting and jeering today is that tomorrow I will probably have to sit in front of a hard-pressed business man who is trying to hang on to his business, which employs fewer than 10 people in these difficult times; I will look into the eyes of a man who is working hard and trying to find out what the Government can offer. There are numerous schemes to help him, particularly the ability of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to delay payments. That is incredibly welcome for many companies. There are also hard-pressed families who have difficulties with mortgage payments and are looking to see how they can be helped. The Budget certainly allows such help. However, it is difficult to be jolly at a time such as this.

Mr. Graham Stuart: It is indeed hard to be jolly at a time such as this. If they are still in work, the hon. Lady’s constituents will go through the week with the worries that she has described. They may well go to their local bingo hall on a Friday night to have a little bit of fun and let their hair down. Will she sympathise with them when they see that bingo duty has been put up in this Budget and that in the next three years £105 million extra will be taken from bingo players? That is more than the amount that the Government are putting into housing.

Laura Moffatt: I thank the hon. Gentleman—I think—for that intervention. At times such as this, when families are facing a difficult time, knowing that we now have a scheme to enable them to keep their home is something that they will appreciate much more than levels of duty.

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The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): My hon. Friend will be able to reassure her bingo-playing constituents that we have relieved stakes of VAT and that, overall, the announcements in the Budget on the taxation of bingo are welcome to the industry.

Laura Moffatt: That is great to hear; I am glad that my right hon. Friend has answered the question for me.

It is important for our constituents to know that they have a Government who are here for them—a Government who are prepared to put money on the table to keep them in their homes and in their jobs and to get them through the most difficult times. I am extremely proud that I am part of a Government who are prepared to do that.

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