The Financial Services Authority yesterday launched its new mortgage website offering impartial, jargon-free information – including budget calculators and a useful table comparing different mortgages – to help homebuyers find the right loan.

As with the launch of almost anything, the FSA heralded its arrival with the now obligatory survey designed to show just how valuable its new service will be.

The survey showed that:

62 per cent of those questioned did not know what APR stood for.

62 per cent still did not know what it was after it was explained to them.

99 per cent of those surveyed about the survey were utterly unsurprised that 62 per cent of those surveyed did not know what APR stood for.

0.001 per cent knew exactly how APR was calculated.

0.001 per cent then spent the next 15 minutes proving he knew how it was calculated.

36 per cent did not understand at least half their mortgage literature.

64 per cent did not understand the other half.

81 per cent did not know what the FSA was, while 19 per cent thought it had something to do with food safety.

97 per cent were rightly ashamed of themselves when they realised the FSA was there to protect them.

87 per cent said they would personally write to Callum McCarthy to apologise for their ignorance.

93 per cent had no idea just how hard John Tiner works.

52 per cent would welcome more information about their mortgage.

48 per cent would welcome less.

84 per cent said that if they had ever heard of the Financial Services Authority they would certainly welcome its jargon-free top tips such as “shop around for the best deal” and “don’t borrow money from anyone called Soprano”.

85 per cent said that if they knew enough to know about the FSA they were probably aware of the need to “shop around for the best deal”.

94 per cent agreed with the statement: “If I am too stupid to realise that I could ‘save myself money by shopping around and comparing prices’ then I am probably unlikely to bother checking out the FSA’s Mortgages Laid Bare website.”

Smoked out

The shambles surrounding the government’s onslaught on smoking in enclosed public places has provided the entertaining sight of ministers coming up with ever more Byzantine ideas so that they can claim to have stopped short of a total ban and avoid charges of nanny-statism.

First, John Reid proposed allowing smoking in pubs that did not serve food. But his successor as health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, decided this was a) unenforceable (is a jar of pickled onions food? is any of what is served in most pubs food, come to that?) and b) might lead pubs to stop selling what they describe as food.

Her new plan would restrict smoking in pubs and clubs to what have been described as “smoking carriages” (or other rooms with a door to use the technical term).

However, it has been resisted by Mr Reid, puffed up with wounded pride at a colleague dreaming up an even more complex compromise than his own. How – to raise just one query – are the bar staff, who are meant to be protected from the smoke, supposed to collect the empty glasses?

Still, ministers need not despair. There are many unexplored ways to break the deadlock. They might restrict smokers to individual sealed booths rather like the toilets one sees on the high street where, for 20p, they can light up and enjoy their smoke in the knowledge that the unit will be fumigated after they exit.

Alternatively, smoking would be banned in all pubs except those with hermetically sealed smoking areas, which must be at least 50 feet below sea level and which must have an inner and outer door, one of which must be closed at all times. Only bar staff issued with full breathing apparatus will be allowed in to collect empties. Both ideas are easily policed although upfront installation costs could be quite high.

But perhaps it is merely a problem of presentation. Maybe ministers should announce that smoking in pubs will stay legal as long as it is restricted to designated areas known, for legislative purposes, as pavements.

Scanning the horizon

The European Union is to ban the import of wild birds as it fights to contain avian flu. This is a splendid gesture – a real lone protester standing in front of the tanks moment. Alas, one fears it may be that not all bird routes into the EU are covered by this move. Rumour has it that many illegal asylum- seeking wild birds sneak over the borders in mid-air. When can we expect further EU action? Biometric poultry passports and bird’s eye scanners at all ports of entry perhaps?

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