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8 pm

Mr. Don Foster: I rise to give full support to Government amendments Nos. 22 and 23. I suspect that there is no need to go into the detail of the amendments. I am sure that we will shortly hear a detailed exposition of them from the Minister. I hope that he will point out the remarkable similarities between amendments Nos. 22 and 23 and amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) and I tabled in Committee.

I remind the Minister that in Committee he said not only that such amendments were unnecessary but that they could be positively dangerous because they could preclude information relating to other matters such as noise or disabled access. I am delighted that he has seen the light and is willing to change his views. He can be assured of our full support for the two amendments.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) can be assured of our support for new schedule 1 and either new clause 13 or new clause 14--whichever the Minister chooses. He asked why we had not seen fit to put our names to the new clauses and the new schedule. They are rather like a baton in a relay race passed on from one group to another. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the grace to admit that his new schedule is identical to the one that I tabled in Committee.

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However, even I am honest enough to admit that I was not its originator. The originator could be said to be the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), but if he was honest he would admit that he was not the originator either. He got the idea from my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett). Even my hon. Friend would be willing to admit that he was not the originator--the new schedule went back as far as the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo).

The ideas in the new schedule and new clauses are not new. They have been supported by hon. Members of all parties, and rightly so because they touch on important issues. I am sure that the Minister supports their principle. I suspect that his reason for not accepting them will be the same as the one that he gave in Committee--that he will include energy efficiency reports in the seller's packs, which will come into force relatively quickly, and that there is no need for an interim measure.

I hope that the Minister will reflect again. All the evidence is that, however keen the Minister is to introduce seller's packs--if they are accepted by both Houses of Parliament--the chances are that it will be a long time before they are fully implemented. The evidence is clear to see. His attempt to introduce the energy efficiency aspect of building regulations has been agreed for only 18 months, yet we know that it has already slipped by a further 18 months. I suspect that the same fate will befall the seller's packs. That is why it is important not only to accept amendments Nos. 22 and 23 but to introduce an interim measure, as proposed in the new schedule. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to consider it.

Even if new schedule 1 is defeated today, many Members of the other place are keenly interested in it and have tabled amendments in the same vein, and they will start all over again. The Minister could save a great deal of time and debate by simply accepting the new schedule.

Mr. Fallon: I am puzzled by the new clauses and new schedule tabled in the name of the Opposition. I assumed that they were some means of lightening the burden of the proposed seller's packs, but after my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) had spoken I realised that they added to the seller's packs. As I said in my intervention, I am a little confused about the consistency between new clauses 13 and 14 and new schedule 1. I understand that new clause 13 requires the Secretary of State to bring the schedule

That seems a little odd.

Either we believe in this energy efficiency gimmick, or we do not. Why we should wait 12 months to bring it into force, I am not clear. New clause 13 is not compatible with new clause 14. New clause 14 seems to suspend judgment on whether energy efficiency reports are necessary and simply suggests that we do not really know, but that we are prepared to trust the judgment of the Secretary of State. That is an extraordinary way in which to legislate. Either we as a party believe that energy efficiency reports are necessary, or we do not.

Mr. Forth indicated dissent.

Mr. Fallon: My right hon. Friend indicates that he does not. I happen to share that view, but we cannot say credibly as an Opposition that we are not sure and that

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we will leave it all up to the Secretary of State to decide. Neither new clause 13 nor new clause 14, in the multiple choice that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is offering the Government, stands up.

Mr. Loughton: I thought that I had made it clear that we are offering a multiple choice because there is a long history of frustration of the legislation; we want to make it easier for the Government to adopt something. Even in a weakened form, that is better than nothing. That is the view that we have taken. We are in favour of the Bill and, rather than reject the whole lot, we have tried to make it as easy as possible for the Government to accept something.

Mr. Fallon: I am no clearer. Either we are in favour of energy efficiency reports or we are not. If we are, we should surely add them to the seller's packs. I am not in favour of doing so, because I am not in favour of seller's packs. My hon. Friends might disagree with me. They might have come round to the idea that seller's packs are a wonderful thing. I have never been convinced about seller's packs, and I certainly do not want to add to them, but even if I did want to add to them, I would like to think that I was clear whether I wanted to or not. It seems perverse simply to leave it to the judgment of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Bercow: I am listening with interest to my hon. Friend's explanation of the position as he sees it. Is it his understanding that the regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure or simply nodded through the House?

Mr. Fallon: I am not clear any more about the difference between the negative and affirmative procedures. It seems to me that the House does not have a handle on either procedure any more. I deeply deplore that. If we are to table amendments, we ought to be clear whether we are in favour of them; simply to leave their implementation to a future Secretary of State seems to be fudging the issue.

Three pages of legislation are proposed in new schedule 1. I have some difficulty with the proposals. First, there is the problem of definitions. The definition of energy efficiency is not clear; it is to be construed under paragraph 1. I have searched that paragraph high and low, but I can find no specific definition of the words "energy efficiency report". If we are to put three pages of legislation on to the statute book, thereby imposing a new burden on every seller of a house, we should be a little clearer about what an energy efficiency report is.

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham can tell us. Perhaps he has news from Denmark about what an energy efficiency report comprises. He will have seen that his new schedule states, in paragraph 7, that

I cannot find any definition of those words in paragraph 1. When my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham winds up the debate, perhaps he will assist me. Perhaps there is some definition by reference to another statute, but I cannot find it.

What I can find, however, is a series of definitions of matters that I had not previously realised related to energy efficiency. There are definitions of half-blood

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relationships, of the likely expected life of the qualifying measures and of relevant periods. I am not at all clear what the definition of half-blood relationships has to do with energy efficiency reports. If we must legislate on who should be bound to carry out energy efficiency reports, why must we define in paragraph 4(3)(c) that

I am not clear what that has to do with the definition of energy efficiency or the improvement of the housing market.

I have some difficulty with the way in which the new schedule has been constructed. I am at a loss to understand the definitions of various terms in it.

My second difficulty is the catalogue of supporters of the proposal read out by my hon. Friend. In essence, they are lobby groups. There is nothing wrong with lobbying for particular measures, but we should ask why this measure has been frustrated for so long. It is an extremely specialist measure for which some highly specialist lobby groups have campaigned for a long time. I am not at all convinced that it is the role of Opposition Front Benchers to pander to such groups without considering the overall effect--the cost and the additional bureaucracy. After all, that is probably why, when we were in government, our Secretary of State did not introduce such provisions.

The third of my hon. Friend's arguments with which I have some difficulty is his statement that such provisions have been implemented in Denmark. I am not sure that that offers a persuasive argument for any piece of legislation being presented to the House. Indeed, one might be tempted to ask why these provisions apply only in Denmark and why they have not been implemented in the major European states or in other European countries. I am not sure that we should adopt this proposal simply because it has been done in Denmark. Some things might be done in Denmark of which I do not particularly approve. On the other hand, some things might be done in Denmark whose introduction in this country I should welcome. However, it is not transparently obvious to me that we should support the new schedule simply because "it is done in Denmark". I hope that when my hon. Friend tries to sum up this somewhat miserable new schedule he can do better than that.

Fourthly, I am not clear about my hon. Friend's central argument: that if we do not like seller's packs, we can somehow make them better by adding to them. Surely, if the Opposition do not like them, we should do our best to minimise the bureaucracy and cost involved and to make the packs as simple as possible, better to aid the functioning and transparency of the housing market.

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