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Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Mullin: Forgive me, but I do not have time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) graphically described the collapse of the social fabric in some former coalfield areas. There are similar areas in my constituency, so I understand the seriousness of the problem that he outlined. We shall listen carefully to the argument that the seller's pack could exacerbate problems in areas where the market has collapsed. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning made clear, there is scope for flexibility in the Bill, but we are not so far persuaded. There is a difficulty, and hon. Members referred to it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) said, it is hard to define who should be exempt. Exempting properties in band A of the council tax would exempt 64 per cent. of the houses in Burnley. Although Burnley has its share of social problems, it also has many houses that are not affected by those problems and such an exemption would drive a coach and horses through our proposals.

My hon. Friend also pointed out that Burnley is not an assisted area. Many other areas with such problems are also not assisted, so that definition would not help either. I acknowledge the problem, and we shall consider it, but we cannot at the moment give any assurances on that point. However, we take seriously any possible impact that the seller's pack may have on areas of low demand, although I take some comfort from the surveys in Bradford and Burnley, which suggested that many owners of low-value properties also welcome the seller's pack.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) suggested that we should do more to tackle the problem of slum landlords, especially those who have derived their fortunes from housing benefit. I heartily endorse that, and we are considering the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate was also right to say that much more must be done to tackle the large number of empty properties. Those are important points and issues that we take seriously, but they are not the purpose of the Bill.

Let me deal with some of the specific points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Eastbourne said that the seller's pack would be very expensive and add to the cost of selling a home--a point amplified in a press release put out by the Tories this afternoon. We estimate that the pack will cost about £500, but that is not all additional cost and it is a gross misrepresentation to pretend otherwise. Most of the information in the pack is provided now, some by buyers. As most sellers are also buyers, a lot of the costs will even out. Indeed, the illustrative costs that we have placed in the Library show that there should be no large increase in overall transaction costs.

Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin: Forgive me, but I have only six minutes left and rather a lot of points to reply to, including some that the hon. Gentleman made.

8 Jan 2001 : Column 803

The only additional cost under our proposals will be that of a survey in those transactions where buyers currently do not commission one, but our reforms will achieve other savings not reflected in our illustrative costs. Some £350 million a year is wasted by consumers on abortive transactions in England and Wales. That figure should be significantly reduced.

The hon. Member for Bath asked whether the seller's pack will have to be updated if the property does not sell quickly. Other hon. Members made the same point. Most of the items in the seller's pack are not time-affected. The home condition report will normally be valid for about six months, well within the time scale of most, but not all, transactions. Local searches are usually accepted as valid for three months, and it is always open to the buyer to get updated search information. As was made plain by my hon. Friend the Minister, that will be easier and quicker when the national land information service is available nationally.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) and others, including the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), spoke of the need for three surveys--one in the pack, one for the buyer and one for the lender. We do not believe that that will be the case. The surveyor will be liable to both the buyer and the seller. We are working with lenders as we develop the home condition report to ensure that it meets their requirements as far as possible.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin: Forgive me; I have only five minutes to reply, and many points to respond to. With all due respect--I know that he acknowledged this--the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not present for most of the debate.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford spoke of a massive bureaucracy. With all due respect to him, that is nonsense. We estimate that it will cost about £5,000 per authority to enforce the seller's pack. The estimate comes not from us, but from the local authorities co-ordinating body on food and trading standards--that is the Gestapo to which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred a moment ago. It should be borne in mind that in many respects, enforcing the seller's pack will be an add-on to trading standards officers' existing duties to enforce the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991.

The point was made that the proposals will not prevent gazumping. Our research found that gazumping occurs in less than 2 per cent. of transactions. In our view, a ban is impractical as it would risk stopping legitimate activity--for example, a seller may want to accept another offer because a buyer was deliberately dragging his feet. The answer lies in increasing transparency and speeding up the process, thus reducing the window within which problems such as gazumping can occur. That is what our proposals will achieve.

Mr. Waterson rose--

Mr. Mullin: Forgive me; I shall not give way. I have many points to reply to, and only three minutes left in which to do so.

8 Jan 2001 : Column 804

A particularly scurrilous point was made about allowing criminals to queue-jump ahead of more needy, deserving householders. It is important that I knock that one on the head.

The criterion for priority will relate directly to vulnerability, regardless of whether the institutional background is a care home, the armed forces or prison. It is vulnerable people who will be given priority. Let me add, in passing, that there is a benefit to the wider community in ensuring the successful rehabilitation of ex-offenders. There is a significant correlation between the homeless and ex-offenders, rough sleepers and re-offenders. By ensuring support for the most vulnerable citizens, we will help to break that cycle.

The point was made that the evidence base for the reforms was thin. No doubt someone will pull my coat in a moment and tell me that I must sit down, but I have a long list of the key components, of which the Bristol pilot scheme was only one. Suffice it to say that a great deal of detailed research went into the proposals.

In conclusion, the Bill takes forward important measures to improve the home buying and selling process. It will make it easier, speedier and more consumer friendly. It will reduce the stress, frustration and abortive costs that millions suffer under the current system. The Bill will also put in place a strong system to prevent homelessness, to provide more effective help and more sustainable housing solutions for those who do become homeless, and to improve the choices offered to homeless people and others in need. The Bill is an important element of the Government's strategy. I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 123, Noes 332.

Division No. 32
[9.59 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bercow, John
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Day, Stephen
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Faber, David
Fallon, Michael
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
Gibb, Nick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Horam, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Loughton, Tim
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
May, Mrs Theresa
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Ruffley, David
St Aubyn, Nick
Sayeed, Jonathan
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spring, Richard
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Peter Luff and
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)
Bennett, Andrew F
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burstow, Paul
Butler, Mrs Christine
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Yvette
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cotter, Brian
Crausby, David
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davidson, Ian
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kirkwood, Archy
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Rendel, David
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Tyler, Paul
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Willis, Phil
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Mike Hall and
Mr. Kevin Hughes.

Question accordingly negatived.

8 Jan 2001 : Column 807

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):--

The House divided: Ayes 325, Noes 6.

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