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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for participating in this debate today and for the support which each has given to the Bill. A number of questions have been raised and I will try and deal with those first.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, referred to the mystery shopping exercise with regard to lifetime mortgages. He was right in identifying that there was not compliance. It underlines the point that having regulation is all very well, but it is important to make sure that that regulation is effective and implemented. The Diminishing Musharaka is a subsect of Ijara and therefore is potentially within the scope of the provisions that we are dealing with.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, both raised the issue of costs of regulation. At this stage these are inevitably an estimate of the proceedings but those estimates were based upon experience in looking at regulation for mortgages. Clearly, in due course, when the FSA has looked at its detailed rules and done its detailed cost and benefit analysis, those costs will change. The noble Baroness suggested that they might increase. Well, they might also decrease and they are the best estimate that is currently available and must be seen in the context of the benefits that will ensue from that regulation. But the Government will keep the issue under review and look forward with interest to what comes out of the FSA in due course.

On the issue of property investment clubs, we understand the concerns that have been raised, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, identified. He is right to say that the Government have recently put out information about trying to clarify what, in their view, is a collective investment activity and that which is not, and therefore that which is already regulated by the FSA and that which is not. There are concerns and the Government remain to be convinced that for the generality of the buy-to-let market there is the need for
 
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regulation. The product is different and by definition we are not dealing with people's primary residences and—depending on the nature of the products—they are not necessarily financial products. They clearly need to be kept under review and I imagine that we will return to this at later stages of the Bill. The Government's response is that they do not currently see the need to regulate in this area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, talked about timing and asked why has it taken so long and what is the timing going forward? There is inevitably some lead time to the introduction of regulation. If we are going to get it right and if it is going to be based on consultation then that process does take some time—perhaps longer than we would all wish. In terms of moving forward, it is hoped that the secondary legislation and the FSA could be dealt with in a timescale that would mean regulation will commence in the first quarter of 2007—just over a year from now. There are still two further processes to be gone through, each of which involves consultation.

The noble Baroness raised the issue of home income plans and what had happened on them. She is right that it was a sorry tale of a product that was not properly and fully regulated at the time, and vulnerable people have suffered considerable hardship. The position is as in the letter to which she referred; namely, that a lot of lenders—most lenders, fortunately—have offered a package of measures to home-income plan investors in respect of their residual debt. The Government hope that those that have not will move towards taking a similar line.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I am sorry to press the Minister on this point, but he will understand that there is considerable interest among a small number of people who have nevertheless suffered considerable hardship. Will he say something about what the Government continue to do in discussion with the organisations that sold the products, from which one might hope for some redress?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the Government are pressing those involved in lending. At the moment, I cannot give the noble Baroness a detailed, point-by-point explanation of what is happening—who is pressing whom and through what forum—but I will be happy to follow up on it and make sure that she has that information. It is impossible always to deal with things retrospectively. There was not proper regulation, which is a market failure and a failure of the process and regulation at that time. Those are the risks into which people entered at that time. Nevertheless, the Government remain sympathetic to those people whose financial circumstances, as a result of mis-selling, are pretty dire. I am sure that we will continue to do what we can within our remit to press people to try to ease the burden. I shall write to the noble Baroness in some detail about what is happening more precisely in that regard.

Flexible tenure products were raised. The amendment to the FSMA will allow for secondary legislation to be brought forward to regulate them in
 
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due course. Therefore, if products emerge that require regulation, there is scope for going through only the latter two stages and not primary legislation to have them implemented. Again, the more experience we have on regulation in the area, the shorter we hope the lead time will be to get in any additional regulation under those provisions implemented. It would be the Government's intention to act if it were required.

Parity in respect of those who have provision via local authorities or social landlords was mentioned. The remedy would be the housing ombudsman. The noble Baroness pressed me about the detail of what that might mean in comparison with what would be available to an alternative regime. I shall have to write to set that out, as I do not have the detail on that. I hope that she will accept that as an appropriate follow-up.

I hope that I have dealt with all the points raised. I thank noble Lords again for their support for the measure. We now wish to press ahead and implement it as quickly as we can.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.

Avian Flu

3.49 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, with permission, I wish to repeat a Statement on Department of Health preparations for an influenza pandemic made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

"Mr Speaker, the Government take the risk of an influenza pandemic very seriously indeed. Since 1997, we have had a plan for a flu pandemic, and because of increasing risk globally and increasing awareness we have substantially revised the plan. An updated version was issued in March this year, which outlines the actions that the Government and other authorities are taking. We are working across all government departments and sectors. We are currently revising the plan to take into account comments received, and an updated version will be published on Thursday this week.

"As the Chief Medical Officer has stated:

We take this threat very seriously. The Government have been taking increasing action over the past 12 months to prepare for a pandemic.

"We are fortunate in having some of the best scientific and medical experts in the world leading our work on pandemic preparations. The World Health Organisation believes the UK to be one of the best prepared countries in the world. But we will continue to step up our planning and take proportionate actions, based on the best available evidence, to reduce the impact of a pandemic in the UK.
 
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"It is not possible to predict with confidence when the next influenza pandemic may happen. The H5N1 virus currently circulating in poultry in south-east Asia, and now other regions including Turkey, is presenting a huge challenge for animal health. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is taking appropriate steps to reduce the risk of avian flu spreading to birds here. H5N1 has also caused about 60 deaths in humans to date. This virus, however, has so far affected only people directly working with infected birds. It is not readily transmitted from person to person, which is, of course, the key characteristic of a pandemic virus. In May 2005, the WHO stated that this virus,

"A human influenza pandemic could have serious implications for the UK. As the Chief Medical Officer explained publicly yesterday, a flu pandemic could affect around 25 per cent of the UK population. We estimate that there could be at least 50,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic, compared with around 12,000 flu-related deaths each year, and it could be significantly more.

"The NHS is well used to planning for and responding to emergencies, but every country in the world will face enormous pressures in the event of a flu pandemic. In order to help the NHS, we have published operational guidance to help with contingency planning for a human flu pandemic. We are also funding a number of exercises that test NHS plans locally and those of other stakeholders.

"We are backing up our contingency plans with practical action. Antivirals will provide the first form of defence against pandemic influenza. We have ordered more than 14.6 million treatment courses of oseltamivir—Tamiflu—to treat people who may fall ill. This month we shall have 2.5 million treatment courses. By the end of March we shall have nearly 7.3 million courses, and the full stockpile will be complete by September 2006. We have issued guidance to inform local NHS planning for the distribution and storage of those medicines.

"The other medical intervention that we are actively pursuing is vaccination. Vaccine will offer the best form of protection against pandemic influenza. However, a vaccine cannot be manufactured until the exact flu strain is known, and it will take around four to six months until first stocks of a vaccine will be available. We are working closely with manufacturers, other countries, the World Health Organisation and the European Commission to ensure that a vaccine can be developed as quickly as possible once a pandemic influenza strain emerges. That will allow us to put arrangements in place to ensure production of vaccine for the UK population.

"We have ordered 2.3 million doses of an H5N1 vaccine as a precautionary measure. We expect delivery of this early next year.
 
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"One of the cornerstones of preparedness for pandemic flu is research. The Medical Research Council is actively involved in pandemic flu research. Its chief executive is going to south-east Asia in the next few days to see what the MRC can most usefully contribute. The department is working closely with the Health Protection Agency to have in place a research strategy on vaccines and surveillance.

"Clinical management guidelines are being developed with the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the British Thoracic Society to help inform management of patients suffering from pandemic flu. We are working with the HPA to finalise infection control guidelines that will provide valuable advice on how to reduce the risk of spread of the virus.

"Good communication with the public and health professionals will be crucial both before and during a pandemic. We have seen recently that some of the messages in the media about avian flu, pandemic flu and seasonal flu can be confusing. We want to try to ensure that the public is provided with clear and factually accurate information about pandemic flu and its possible consequences. We have already carried out extensive testing with the public on communication materials to be used in the event of a pandemic. During the summer, the Chief Medical Officer alerted all doctors to the guidance and advice on the Department of Health and Health Protection Agency websites. This month we will send packs of information, including that already available on the website, to all primary care professionals, including GPs.

"We are also taking a leading role in international discussions on avian and pandemic influenza. In the UK's role in the EU presidency, I have made this a major item for our discussions at the EU Health Ministers informal meeting later this week.

"There is widespread public concern about pandemic influenza. We need accurate information and the media have an important role to play here. There is no direct threat to members of the public in the UK from current outbreaks of avian flu elsewhere in the world; this is a bird disease. There is no reason to stop eating chicken. Nevertheless, it is very important for protection against seasonal flu that people aged over 65 and other at-risk groups recommended to have vaccination should make sure that they receive their vaccinations as normal".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.57 pm


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