Mobile Home Parks

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 2nd March 2009.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 10:15 pm, 2nd March 2009

I agree with my hon. Friend. The people affected are very often those least able to look after themselves. My constituents made the mistake of accepting the £8,000 because they did not know what else to do. Since then, they appealed to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which unfortunately said that

"Carlton Meres Country Park is not covered by this scheme."

Suffolk Coastal district council—an excellent council—has done its best, but has to say:

"Unfortunately the matters raised are not something that we can use in relation to enforcement."

It would love to, but it cannot because

"The legislation and guidance is specific about what matters can be controlled by licence conditions. The arrangements between individual pitch owners and the site owner are outside of our remit."

My problem is that the people involved are very vulnerable and they often wish to have a mobile home because they have limited sums of money—very limited capital. My constituent, Mrs. Ellis, is trying to handle the problems caused by having a husband with three strokes. Mr. and Mrs. Ellis have had £20,000 stolen by an organisation that has absolutely no concern for them at all. I wrote to the solicitor—I hope that the Law Society will look at the nature of some of the solicitors who are members of its society—and he refused to treat me as a Member of Parliament. He constantly talked about my constituents as my clients in order to suggest that somehow or other, they should go to court about the matter. The fundamental issue is this: of course they cannot go to court; they cannot afford to go to court. Mr. Barney has taken from them what money they had and left them in circumstances such that they are already extremely endangered. Their lifestyle very much diminished, they are now poor, because their life's savings have been taken from them.

I have rarely received such insulting letters—all of us who have been Members of Parliament for any length of time receive pretty insulting letters from time to time—as those that I have received from Mr. and Mrs. Barney, who run the operation, and their agents. I am sorry that the Minister should be the one dealing with this matter, because I know him to be a kind-hearted and decent man, but how would he feel if his constituents wrote to him to say the following?

"Since writing to you on 24.3.2008"—

I have been writing to the people concerned and trying to get some answers from them since then, so you can see how long the process has taken, Mr. Deputy Speaker

"including copies of letters I sent to Golam, the new Salesman...I have received a most hostile and angry phone call from Golam this evening, shouting at me that we have had £8,000 and they do not intend to recompense any more. They insist that they were not the owners of the home when we purchased it."

That is a lie. Mr. and Mrs. Barney bought the company. They took on the goodwill—and in this case it was real good will—and they took on the responsibilities as well. However, my constituents clearly do not understand that, nor can they be expected to, because they are not legally trained.

Why is it that in 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Ellis should have no redress? They cannot ask anybody to intervene. In fact, they could have asked somebody to intervene, because the original owners—the directors, before they sold—were members of the National Caravan Council, which has a proper system through which people can appeal. What was the first thing that Mr. Johar and his friends did? It was to resign from the National Caravan Council, so that no appeal, even of a voluntary kind, could take place.

I could go into great detail about the sadness that I feel for my constituents, but I hope that the House has recognised just how serious the matter is. However, after we have discussed this issue, I hope to be able to show, to every lawyer and every estate agent in the area covered by Carlton Meres, the dangers of conveyancing any such home to anybody. Unless there is some protection, people will be left at the mercy of an organisation that does not seem to have a single drop of the milk of human kindness at all. Who in this world could possibly say that it was proper to take £20,000 from an old couple, one of whom is severely disabled, who bought a caravan in March but had to sell it in October because the company failed to do what it promised to do in the first place?

The problem for my constituents is that, being decent people, they thought that if it said, "Ramp to be provided," on the bottom of their sales agreement, that was a legal position—something that they could depend on; something that was reasonable; something that they had a right to expect. But of course, the people who now own Arncliffe Leisure Ltd do not obey any of those natural rules that we in this House would expect everyone, as a matter of ordinary human decency, to accept. What I find so difficult is that this company tells direct lies. It told that couple that it was not the same company, when it was. It told them that it had no duty to carry out the promises made by the company, although it did. It also told them that they were lucky to get the £8,000. In fact, the company was wickedly lucky to get £20,000 profit from the deal that it had done.

In my 30 years as a Member of Parliament for a Suffolk constituency, I have rarely been as angry as I am about this, and about the fact that people can be defrauded in this way, and that there is no proper way of getting any sort of recompense. So I said to the company, "If you will do something about this, when we come to discuss the issues, I would be happy to say that, in the end, you have done your best." I received absolutely no answer other than, "See you in court." That is the only thing that those people are interested in.

Up and down the country, these people are destroying the lives of the most vulnerable people. Whatever our political divisions in the House, most of us came into Parliament to oppose bullying. Deep down, what we dislike most is those who are strong bullying the weak. I am so angry about this because those people are feasting off the fat of the poorest in our community—people who need help but, instead of being given it, are having what they have taken away from them. I do not want to use biblical quotations, but Naboth's vineyard is truly in the same category as this case. I only wish that the kind of biblical justice that was visited in the Old Testament could be visited on those people.

In case I have not made them clear, I should like to remind the House of the names involved. It is important that people should recognise that this is a so-called family organisation. Foolishly enough, it has the name of Lifestyle Living, and it got a prize from a really good man, David Bellamy. I just hope that he will read this and perhaps decide that this is not an organisation with which he wishes, even indirectly, to be associated. Lifestyle Living, Arncliffe Leisure and a dozen other organisations are owned and run by a Mr. A. J. Barney and his wife, Mrs. D. M. Barney, and operated under the close supervision of the solicitors Johar. They are a disgrace to what could be an important part of the provision of housing for people in Britain.

I have no angst about mobile homes. There are a number of excellent ones in my constituency. For example, I would honour Mr. Little, who has run two mobile home parks in the most exemplary way. I do, however, have angst about those who use their position of power, influence and wealth to destroy the lives of others who are unable to stand up for themselves. In that sense, it is a great privilege for me to be able to say to the House that Mr. and Mrs. Ellis should not be in this position, and that the Government should do something about it. They have not done anything about it to date, and I am not asking them to do anything about it retrospectively, but they ought to ensure that no one else is ever tempted to buy any such mobile home from Arncliffe Leisure, or from Mr. Barney, Mrs. Barney or Mr. Johar.

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