Stop "landbank scam", says David Heath
David Heath called for action to stop a "scam" which is costing unsuspecting purchasers tens of thousands of pounds.
Speaking in Parliament today, Mr Heath cited reports in the summer of an internet-based company selling so-called building plots in the village of Dean, near Shepton Mallet.
209 plots, selling for £10-18,000 each, were being offered as part of a putative “Whiley Green” development in Dean, a village of barely more than 30 dwellings.
However, the land is agricultural land and it is "extremely unlikely" planning permission for housing would be granted, said Mr Heath. He believes purchasers are being misled about the value and prospects of the land.
Mr Heath raised the issue in the House of Commons today, calling for government action to deal with the problem.
David Heath MP said: “This practice was uncovered by the local County Councillor Gloria Cawood, and she has asked me to raise it in parliament. Unfortunately I don’t think there is anything currently illegal about what is being done, but it is certainly a scam, in that people are being led to believe that the land they are purchasing could be used in future for housing when it is extremely unlikely that is the case.
"Because they don’t say that the land has permission at the moment, it may not be fraudulent. But the plots are being bought, often by expatriate Brits who may be hoping to retire eventually to a house in the lovely Somerset countryside. Sadly, all they are buying is a field.
“The Leader of the House promised me that she would refer the matter to her ministerial colleagues, and suggested that it is a type of fraud. I’m hopeful that we will now see something done, because at the very least it is deceitful and innocent people are likely to lose out unless it is stopped.”
David Heath backs Bacon over food labelling
David Heath has teamed up with the aptly named Norfolk MP Richard Bacon to push for better labelling of food to show the country of origin, contents and standard of production of the food.
Current regulations mean the consumer may be misled about the origin of a product. Butter churned in England using milk imported from elsewhere, should not be labelled “English” but can be described as “produced in Britain from Milk”.
Another more misleading example is pork that is imported from another country but packaged in the UK may be called a “Product of Britain”.
The Food Labelling Bill was given a second reading in the House of Commons today. The Bill seeks to ensure that a framework for labelling is produced, meaning that it is easy for the consumer to understand exactly what they are buying. The Bill should also ensure that the consumer isn’t confused by differing standards of labelling.
Commenting David Heath MP said: “In recent years people have become concerned about the quality of their food, and many are seeking out locally produced food. It is vital that companies are up front about their food on their labels, so that consumers can make well-informed decisions about what they are buying.
“The Bill should give British farmers a better standing in what is a very competitive market. Our standards of animal welfare and domestic production are high, and shouldn’t be undermined by misleading labelling from competing products.”
Act to improve audit, says David Heath
David Heath has called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to strengthen the auditing of companies and financial institutions following recent business failures.
Speaking at Treasury Questions in the House of Commons today, Mr Heath said that there had to be suspicion as to whether the concentration of audit of large firms in the hands of very few large accountancy practices had created too “cosy” a relationship between auditors and directors.
Commenting David Heath MP said: “I find it extraordinary that huge amounts of money are spent each year on audit of companies in order to protect the public from dodgy financial reporting, and yet those auditors can have cheerfully waved through the accounts of banks and businesses whose finances were so precarious or vulnerable to risk that they have crashed spectacularly at enormous cost to investors and the economy.
“What’s the point of having auditors if they don’t ask the difficult questions and don’t publicly warn boards of directors when things are going wrong? The big accountancy firms often have very lucrative contracts with these companies outside of audit work, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that too often things are soft-pedalled too much.
“If we are to avoid a reoccurrence of recent weeks’ events, we need much more rigorous regulation of accounts, and that has to start with auditing that works.”
David Heath meets young volunteers
On Tuesday 21st young volunteers from across the country were invited to the Houses of Parliament to celebrate their achievements.
David Heath met a group of six young Somerset volunteers. He said: “It's fantastic to see young people getting involved in the constituency, all to often we hear the negatives about the young, which makes it all the more important that we celebrate these positive achievements. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.”
One young person at the event, Becky Parker, 16 from Frome said: “I got involved with the Somerset Youth Volunteering Network because I wanted to make changes in my life and experience some of the opportunities that was being offered to me.
"Finding the right job has been difficult, but some of the projects I've been involved in with the Network have given me new skills and excellent things to write on my C.V.
"Being given the chance to go to the House of Commons was an amazing opportunity. The whole day was really interesting, meeting MP David Heath being a highlight. I hope to do a bit of work with David on the youth in Frome and how they're portrayed in the media.
"It was eye-opening to find out firsthand how much work goes on behind the scenes to help our communities. My thanks goes to the Youth Network and Mr Heath who helped make the day most enjoyable.”
David Heath continues to fight for small businesses
David Heath today continued his fight to bring the issue of small businesses to the fore and onto the political agenda.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Heath called for extra assistance for small businesses as they fight for survival in the current economic crisis.
Mr Heath told Ministers that people should expect Parliament to be paying as much attention to the needs of smaller businesses as it does to the interests of big city financial institutions.
Calling for a debate on the issue, Mr Heath demanded:
- Better access to the small firms loan guarantee scheme
- Action to stop banks arbitrarily calling in overdraft facilities or cancelling credit lines
- More flexibility from H M Revenue & Customs
- An end to the empty property tax which is having a disastrous effect on the business property market
Mr Heath said: “All businesses are feeling the pinch at the moment, but many small companies aren’t going to make it through the next few months unless government is better aware of the difficulties they face. Even some of the measures that have been announced won’t have the desired effect unless they are taken further.
"For instance, the welcome instruction to Government departments to ensure prompt payment of bills won’t work unless local government and bigger businesses do the same. Similarly, the increased money going to the small firms guarantee scheme is good news, but the fact is that the current scheme is undersubscribed simply because there’s too much red tape.
“Looking after high street businesses ought to be a priority, not an after-thought.”
Remember rural communities in the credit crunch, says Heath
David Heath has spoken today in Parliament to highlight the severe effect the credit crisis is having on his constituents.
With several high profile banks given substantial rescue packages by the Government in recent weeks, Mr Heath called on the Government to also provide assistance to the many local businesses in rural areas that are struggling with the credit crisis.
David Heath said: “These businesses are not household names, but are every bit as important in their own areas as the collapse of some big name in the city. The impact of their problems on the local community is just as devastating and far reaching, especially given the difficulties that rural areas face in attracting new business.
“My constituency has gone from strength to strength in recent times and we must do all we can to ensure that this is sustained.”
In addition David Heath raised serious concerns that the Government are not doing enough to stop the worrying rise in home repossessions. He noted the various possibilities that the Government could take to curtail this problem.
“As it stands my constituents find it difficult enough to pay for their mortgages or indeed buy a property in the village they grew up in, given the disparity between income and house prices in the region. One example would be to take equity in peoples houses to stop them from being repossessed if their homes are under threat.”
David Heath dismayed at £22bn student debt
David Heath today spoke out about the appalling level of total student debt in the country, which now stands at approximately £22 billion.
The average real student debt is about £33,000 after a three-year degree. One third of all students who have ever taken out a student loan have not yet reached the threshold for repaying it.
Commenting, David Heath said: “It is vital that the government consider contingency plans for graduates. With graduate unemployment set to rise due to the current economic crisis, the burden of high interest rates upon these debts will only increase.”
David Heath appointed head of Commission on Privacy
Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg today appointed David Heath as the head of the party’s new Commission on Privacy.
The Commission will play a vital role in holding the Government to account on personal privacy issues, and suggesting ways new technology can be used to benefit the public whilst safeguarding personal data. The Commission will report in January 2009.
Commenting, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg said: “Under New Labour the UK has suffered the most sustained assault on personal privacy in its history, while the Tories have refused to take a stand.
“When it is not thinking up new ways of snooping on the public, the Government has shown breathtaking carelessness with the data entrusted to it.
“David Heath is a first-rate Parliamentarian, and has always been a champion of individual liberty. I look forward to working with him in this very important new role for the Liberal Democrats on defending basic British freedoms.”
David Heath said: “I am delighted that Nick has asked me to take on this project.
“As the Government lurches from one IT crisis to another, it is continuously striving to assemble more and more information about every citizen of this country.
“It is important that we take stock of what is happening and see how we can protect what used to be an inalienable right of the British, namely personal privacy.”