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8.15 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point on seller's packs. Does he agree, however, that if we are to have them in the mortgage and house-purchase business, they should at least be useful to property buyers? The amendments proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) would at least provide useful information for property purchasers.

Mr. Fallon: That is a perfectly reasonable point, although I am becoming more and more suspicious of an amendment advanced by my own Front-Bench team that seems to attract support from every party but my own. That does not necessarily distinguish the proposals.

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The hon. Gentleman's thesis is probably right. If seller's packs are to be foisted on us, let us make them as sensible as possible, but I am not convinced that we would do that by adding to the requirements. On the contrary, it would be perfectly possible to simplify some of the ideas for seller's packs. I am a bit surprised that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench have not proposed a series of amendments that would reduce the bureaucracy involved.

I have made my position clear. I do not believe that the case for seller's packs has been established, but if we are to have them, I do not want them to be added to. I certainly do not want them to be added to by my hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

Fifthly, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said that the measure was supported by the Council of Mortgage Lenders. That raises the rather important point that if mortgage lenders think that a seller's pack is an essential feature of house buying, it is perfectly possible for them to require it. It is perfectly possible for the House to enable them to make that requirement by ensuring that, if they want to lay down various conditions for a mortgage, a seller's pack could be one of them. However, why that should involve any of the parties in the House making additions to the statute book simply escapes me. If mortgage lenders think that a seller's pack should be a key feature of the loan that they advance, they already have it in their power to make such a requirement or, indeed, the production of any other report, a condition of their lending--as I hope that the Minister for Housing and Planning will confirm.

None of those arguments justifies the case for adding to legislation. I point out to my hon. Friend that there is a further consideration. Over the next few weeks, I understand that we shall argue that, as a party, we stand for the reduction of bureaucratic requirements--for making it easier for markets to function and for reducing compliance costs. We cannot have our cake and eat it. If we say that we stand for less interference, less government--for not fussing around, requiring people to produce reports--we cannot, in the same breath, produce three pages of laborious detail, including a definition of a half-blood child in the compilation of an energy efficiency report, and expect to be taken seriously as advocates of less government.

I urge my hon. Friend to think again.

Mr. Simon Thomas: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to take part in the debate. I shall now destroy the career of my fellow member of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton), by speaking in support of his amendments, but I shall also welcome the Government amendments.

As I said when I intervened on the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), if we are to have seller's packs and go ahead with this somewhat cumbersome process, let us make them useful for the purchaser and the seller of property and for the mortgage lender, and let them contain information that can be useful to them in deciding what properties they will buy, what work needs to be done on the properties and how much to pay for them. That is a key question, which needs to be addressed here.

As the hon. Member for Sevenoaks said, mortgage lenders could require energy efficiency reports now, just as they require surveys--I am not aware of any legislation

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that provides that people must have a survey on their home before taking out a mortgage on it, but lenders insist on that--but they have not done so. The requirement needs to be embodied in legislation, because there are wider Government objectives--energy efficiency, reaching our Kyoto targets and ensuring good housing stock--that could be addressed if the requirement was on the face of the Bill. Although I accept that it could be achieved by permissive legislation, it would be far better if we included provision in the Bill, so that mortgage lenders, purchasers and sellers would all work from the presumption that one should know the energy efficiency of the property that one is considering purchasing.

I should like all properties--especially new homes, which are easy to assess for energy efficiency--to display something similar to the fridge sticker, enabling purchasers to know straight away how much energy they consume, how much it is likely to cost to run them and how much might need to spent to make them energy-efficient. Enacting such a requirement could be a huge step towards achieving some of the Kyoto targets and improved energy efficiency in this country.

Most home energy-efficiency measures are relatively cheap. Cavity wall and loft insulation are quite cheap to install. Even condensing boilers are relatively cheap and grants are available for them. Vendors, knowing that their homes would be assessed for energy efficiency, might choose to spend £500 or £600 on home improvements and improved energy efficiency instead of buying a new item of white goods, which would enable them to tell prospective purchasers that the house would save money and energy in the long term. That would contribute to people's increasing awareness when they buy large items such as cars--and homes, these days--of the impact of their spending on the environment.

The Minister should be congratulated on at least moving at this late stage and agreeing to include energy efficiency on the face of the Bill. Will he tell us what details emerged from the experiment in Bristol and what details can be included in such a report, because new schedule 1 has been criticised for not setting out what the energy efficiency report may cover? That might be a fair criticism at one level, but no one in this country, other than in the experiments in Bristol, has tried to compile an energy efficiency report, so we need at least an idea of what one might cover.

If the Minister rejects new schedule 1, I should like him to tell us what else the Government are likely to propose. I take it that the Minister will produce regulations, so it is important that the House be given an inkling of what might be in them. As has been said, such regulations are likely to flow through the House and we shall not get an opportunity to view them or scrutinise them.

What consultation will the Minister undertake with the National Assembly for Wales on the regulations? I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is incorrect. I believe that under part I the Minister will be forced to consult the National Assembly.

Mr. Raynsford: We are already doing so.

Mr. Thomas: That is good.

It is a well-known fact that housing conditions in Wales are worse than those in England, although there are regional disparities in England. Is there a way of using

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the energy efficiency reports from the purchase and sale of homes to supplement the information in home condition surveys?

At the moment, home condition surveys are carried out all too irregularly. We have not had one in Wales for more than 10 years. Therefore, much of the housing expenditure in Wales is based on inaccurate statistics, so money might be wasted. Would the format of the energy efficiency reports under the regulations be useful in developing the statistical information on the condition of homes?

We should either accept Government amendments Nos. 22 and 23--which represent the minimum--or consider the imperfect but considerable virtues of the Conservative party's proposals. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made it clear why we should go down this route. It would be hugely beneficial not only to those purchasing properties, but to the Government's thinking on how they will achieve their joined-up Kyoto and environmental improvement targets. I hope therefore that energy efficiency reports will be included in the seller's packs, irrespective of their final format.

Mr. Forth: I share the bewilderment of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), because I am proud to be a member of a party that espouses the principles of non-interventionism, anti-regulation and opposition to the nanny state. I thought that that was my party's position on such matters. I thought that we were also opposed to old-style patronising paternalism, in which it was assumed that people were generally so cretinous that they required legislation to protect their interests.

I thought that new schedule 1 contained a printing error--apparently, some of my hon. Friends were its authors. I thought that that could not be so because my party espouses the principles of deregulation and the free market and does not patronise individuals, but it seems to have produced three pages of garbage. I thought that that was a mistake until I heard Conservative Front Benchers say that they were the measure's authors and allege that the party supported it. I shall take new schedule 1 at face value and spend a little time examining it to find out whether it is deregulatory and non-interventionist, whether it measures up to the principles that we espouse and whether it will benefit our society.

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