Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Clearly, the Government could build such a provision into the mechanism. That would be helpful. It is important to examine the possibilities and be pragmatic. It is not beyond the Government's wit to draft enforceable legislation and guidance on the matter.
Another way in which to affect the housing market positively would be to build on the Government's encouraging recent work of granting local authorities permission to charge second home owners up to 90 per cent. of the full amount of council tax. The position is much improved. The previous Conservative Administration—representatives of which are scarce—deliberately granted a 50 per cent. council tax subsidy for second-home owners when they introduced the council tax in 1991. It is a great shame that no Conservative Members are here to intervene and put me right should I be wrong. It was a reprehensible act, which redistributed wealth from the hard-working many to the privileged few.
I urge the Government to abolish the remaining 10 per cent. relief to second home owners and to examine the possibility of introducing permission further to increase council tax for second home owners in areas where there is deemed to be an excess of second-home ownership. Such a measure would reduce demand for second homes, although, realistically, it may not make a vast difference. More important, it would provide local authorities with the wherewithal to fund new affordable housing schemes.
The communities of south lakeland are well aware of the Government's plan, which has already been mentioned, to introduce new pension rules from April 2006, to give tax relief of up to £215,000 to individuals who invest in a second or third property and place it in their personal pension. They also know that the change will have disastrous consequences for our area, providing another incentive for purchasing second homes and further heating an already overheated market, thus leaving local families who are searching for a home in an even more desperate position.
With one in six homes already beyond the reach of local families, how much worse will the position be for Cumbria's towns and villages when the new pension rules are introduced? How many more local young people and families will be forced to move away from the area that they call their home as a result of the proposal? How many beautiful lakeland villages, which so many hon. Members have visited on their holidays, will become moribund ghost towns, bereft of a living, working community?
The Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales national parks are in my constituency. For those national parks to remain valuable centres of peace and recreation for the nation, the communities in them must not be allowed to die, replaced by weekend havens for the well-to-do. The national parks were set up as accessible assets for the nation—for the people of this country. To contribute towards the parks' becoming available only to a minority flies in the face of the national park ideal, with which the Labour party has often closely aligned itself.
I am sure that the Government did not intend to damage rural communities through their pension plans. However, the proposal's unforeseen consequences will be appalling. I ask the Minister to confirm in his response that the Government will abandon the proposed change in the pension rules.