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Keith Hill: That is not the subject of the Housing Bill, but I am happy to respond. We have made it clear throughout discussions on the Government's new proposals on section 106, that that will be for the local authority to determine. The local authority will determine the way in which the requirements of section 106 will be met, and whether that will be done wholly in kind, partly in kind, wholly by cash or partly by cash. However, that decision is for the local authority to make and for the developer to respond to.
Mr. Curry: We will pursue that in the course of our proceedings because, although the proposals are in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill, they are relevant to the Housing Billthe two are meshed together. However, my understanding was that developers would have the right to commute section 106 agreements across the piece. That obviously has significant implications, but this is not the time to deal with them.
What proportion of social housing grant are the Government willing to commit to private sector developers as opposed to registered social landlords? Is there a cut-off point? The Minister said that the standards and rules would be identical. With Sir John Egan's recommendations on productivity, training and techniques in mind, the issue of the level playing field becomes significant. What happens if a private developer goes bust? Who safeguards the tenant's interest, and who safeguards the public interest, given that public funds have been committed to the scheme? There have been rumours of objections from Brussels to the state aid provisions. I should therefore be grateful if, in Committee, the Minister clarified whether there are any such concerns from Brussels about the operation of those provisions.
Mr. Simon Thomas : The right hon. Gentleman has raised some issues that the Minister skipped over rather too quickly for many of us who are sceptical about the Bill's provisions. However, if public money is going to be used to provide social housing, the powers of the independent housing ombudsman in Wales and England are pertinent. Surely, tenants of such housing have the same rights as tenants of housing provided directly by registered social landlords. Does he agree?
Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman has added an extremely relevant question to my list of questions for the Minister. I am happy to endorse it, and shall point it out to my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), who will be dealing with the Bill in Committee.
I have left until last the issue of the seller's packsor more precisely, the son of seller's packsbecause I like to keep some of the nicest parts until the end. It is a bad answer in search of a problem. The comparison with
The problems are easily stated. The seller's pack will add to the costs of transactions, which is particularly true in low-value areas. If we move, according to what the Government have been spinning, to a new band of council tax in areas of housing stress where houses can be sold for a few thousand pounds, it will be a measurable addition to the overall costs. It will require a new army of inspectorsthe estimate is some 7,000 to 8,000 of them to produce home information packs. Who will recruit them, who will train them, and what will be their professional experience? Even more pertinently, what will be their indemnity or insurance position in the event of there being a problem with the information contained in the packs, given that no claims history exists on which to base it.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that an alternative proposal to assist both the vendor and the purchaser would be to have a fresh look at the work done by the Land Registry, which appears systematically, particularly in Devon, to provide inaccurate information in solicitors' searches, leading to many court cases and unnecessary legal costs for both vendor and purchaser?
Mr. Curry: My hon. Friend is right. If the basic information is incorrect, it does not matter in what form it is assembled, or in what sort of packthe information remains incorrect and needs to be sorted out. The Minister mentioned the idea of a phased roll-outthat wonderful word that the Government use. Would it not be more sensible to roll out bits of the pack at a time, rather than to roll it out on a geographic or price basis? The danger is that there will be an unnecessary multiplication of systems and costs. We are likely to end up with a pack of some 55 to 60 pages, which will have been written for lawyers, and which will be valid for no more than six monthsthe length of time for which the lending industry will regard it as validto deal with the problem of failed transactions, which are much more likely to stem from relationship breakdown, relocation, the chain of selling, the difficulty with funding or change of mind than from technical problems with transparency in the process or deficiency in the information[Interruption.] I give way to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) with whom I used to share the chair of the all-party group on homelessness and housing need.
Mr. Curry: No, I do not agree entirely. I do not think that the Consumers Association's pronouncements should be regarded as having biblical truth attached to them. Despite having the word "consumers" in its name, it has got many things wrong in its time, and if the hon. Gentleman would like to join me in a beer at some stage, I will be able to go into that in some detail.
Do the Government intend to exempt any propertiesthere was some talk about whether properties up to a certain value might be exempted? The danger might be that if some low-value properties cannot even get a home information pack, they really would be stigmatised for being at the bottom end of the market. The Government are already saying that landlords should warn right-to-buy purchasers of the burdens of home ownership and of what they are taking on. In that context, it seems curious that there is no requirement on the public sector to deliver home information packs or seller's packs, for example, on right-to-buy property. That seems a curious perversity in the Government's proposals. As has been said, there are much better ways to increase efficiencye-conveyancing, improved efficiency and better searches by the national land information centre, and agreement of common data exchange formats.
My final point is that this measure is likely to lead remorselessly to demands for the licensing of estate agents. The only people in the housing world who are not licensed are estate agents, and they will be key players in the process, whether or not they have any expertise. I wait to see the inevitable bandwagon demanding licensing of estate agents rolling towards us[Interruption.]
Finally, let me mention a couple of absent friends. One is any reference to empty properties, a subject to which the Government have alluded on a number of occasions; another is the issue of park homes. The Government have recognised the need for legislation on park homes. Park owners and tenants have reached a consensus on a number of important matters, yet the Government have apparently said that such measures cannot be incorporated in this Bill, although it already includes measures to extend the definition of park homes so that gypsies and travellers can benefit from improvement grants that are currently not available to them. That seems perverse, given that there is all-party consensus on the issue and no argument between the two sides involved. After all, we do not have many opportunities to legislate in this way.
Mr. Dawson : I agree with all that the right hon. Gentleman has said about park homes. The Government have already produced a hand-out Bill dealing with crucial issues such as the harassment of residents of the park home sector. Surely those provisions could be incorporated in the Housing Bill.
This could be made into a sensible, practical, forward-looking Bill that could garner a wide range of support. The Government could drop the whole idea of seller's packs. They could tailor the right-to-buy measures to ensure that they are really targeted at abuse. They could simplify the licensing measures to create a unified system that is easy to understand, administer and enforce. They could supply the essential details that allow us to make judgments on other parts of the Bill that are still very imprecise, such as the part dealing with the social housing grant. In its current form, however, the Bill is unwieldy, too often confused, constantly lacking clarity or clear definition of purpose and frequently deficient in basic, essential details.