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Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the Division, there was a good deal of confusion between Portcullis house and the Chamber. A large number of us, hearing that the Division was off, turned back; that may have been our fault. But when we returned, at least two of us—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) and I—tried to get in the door downstairs behind the Chamber. The door was locked and our passes would not open it, despite the fact that the light was flashing green, so we could not get up to vote. Will you have that looked into?
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Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was one of the first Members here for the last vote, and the monitors clearly showed that the Division was off. I then moved to Portcullis house and misled hon. Members by saying that the Division was off, which seemed a sensible thing to tell them, as it had been announced. That should be taken into account, in addition to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall).

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Perhaps I can clarify the situation for hon. Members. The Division on Lords amendment No. 10 was called off. The Division on Lords amendment No. 37 followed in quick succession. That, perhaps, explains some of the difficulty. I remind hon. Members that in proceedings such as these, Divisions can be called at any time. On the matter of the door, I will draw that to the attention of the Serjeant at Arms.

Lords amendment No. 38 disagreed to.

Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. For our part, if you wanted to put the Government motions to disagree together, we would be content with that.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that suggestion, but I am required to put the motions separately. I shall go through them as quickly as I can.

Lords amendment Nos. 43 to 45 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) to (e) in lieu of Lords amendments Nos. 37, 38, 43, 44 and 45 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 47 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 47 agreed to.

Remaining Lords amendments agreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Mr. Richard Allan, Mr. Oliver Heald, Ruth Kelly, Ms Bridget Prentice and James Purnell; three to be the quorum of the Committee.—[Ms Prentice.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.

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Housing Bill

Lords message considered.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I inform the House that privilege is involved in Lords amendment No. 191B. If the House agrees to the amendment, I will arrange for the necessary entry to be made in the Journal.

After Clause 143

Lords amendment: No. 128C.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Keith Hill): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

I have already made it clear that this Government will not introduce the duty to have a home information pack unless we are sure that the industry and the public are ready. We are already committed to undertaking a national voluntary dry run of home information packs ahead of compulsory introduction.

Yesterday, in another place, my noble Friend Lord Rooker offered a commitment that our Department will pursue positively with stakeholders the possibility of a compulsory element to the dry run in a local or sub-regional area further to test our proposals ahead of the introduction of national compulsory packs. That would be achieved by commencing the statutory scheme in the chosen area earlier than in the rest of England and Wales. Clause 231(8) provides the necessary powers. We will involve all the key consumer and industry stakeholders in the arrangements and in the monitoring and evaluation of the voluntary and compulsory elements of the dry run.

We are confident that we have the flexibility within this Bill quickly to respond through regulations to any problems that arise before or during the dry run period or with the compulsory element. Depending on the nature of a potential problem, we could tailor the contents of the pack, exclude certain types of property from the duties or allow certain elements of the pack to be included later than the day of marketing, and so on.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): I wonder whether the dry run will be in a low-value area.

Keith Hill: We have not decided where the dry run will occur. That is a matter for close consultation with the industry.

We recognise that even with those commitments to undertake rigorous research and testing ahead of introduction, there are concerns among Conservative Members and in some sections of the industry that problems might arise that, despite the extent of the flexibility provided in the Bill, might be best addressed by suspending the operation of all or part of part 5 while they are resolved.

In response to those concerns, my noble Friend moved amendment No. 128C. That amendment adds a new clause, giving the Secretary of State the power to suspend the home information pack duties. I do not expect that we will face problems that we cannot solve quickly through regulations, so I do not expect that we
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will need to exercise that power. Should I be wrong, however, this power will enable us to suspend duties while we put things right.

I hope that I have allayed the concerns of Opposition Members and put to rest once and for all the suggestion that we are hell-bent on persisting with compulsory home information packs regardless of their impact.

Mr. Hayes: According to St. Luke, there is

In this case, there is undoubtedly a degree of repentance on the part of the Minister, and we should be generous about that. He has listened to the concerns expressed by Opposition Members. In that respect, despite my intrinsic reservations about all Liberal Democrats, I have to say that they have been at one with us. He has listened to the concerns expressed in the House of Lords by peers of all parties, including Cross Benchers. He has listened to the concerns expressed by the Law Society. Incidentally, although he withdrew the remark, it was not terribly emollient of Lord Rooker to describe it as the "Lie Society" in the other place. That was not the right tone for the Government to use in making such a U-turn.

The Minister has listened to the concerns expressed by estate agents and by others who have pointed out that with the best will in the world—I think that the Minister does have good will over this—significant problems could arise during the trial period of these packs.

Let me lay my cards on the table. I make no secret of the fact that I believe that home information packs are unnecessary and will be unhelpful. They will slow down the market, might stimulate further surveys, are unlikely to satisfy mortgage lenders, and will be insufficient in many regards.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not right that the state should compulsorily interfere with two freely contracting individuals, and that that is the heart of the argument that Conservative Members have advanced?

Mr. Hayes: For once, there is a nuance of difference between my hon. Friend and I, who agree about so much, so often. As hon. Members know, I am not an advocate of the unbridled free market, and I believe that there is a civilising role for Government and local government. In this instance, however, my hon. Friend is spot on, because the case that the Government made—that this would assist the marketplace—was not made persuasively. It did not persuade Opposition Members and clearly it has not persuaded the Lords.

For that reason, the trial, as we can now reasonably call it, becomes highly significant. If my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) is right about this, as he probably is, and if our reservations are founded in common sense—as, in my judgment, they are—so that significant problems arise during the course of the trial, it is absolutely right that this House should have the power to suspend the implementation of the packs. That would mean that instead of a dry run leading to an inevitability, we would
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have a legitimate and genuine pilot scheme. Under a pilot scheme, one tests something, sees what has gone wrong, and alters it. The suspension suggested in the amendment will be essential following the failure that sellers packs will undoubtedly become; otherwise, we will experience the chaos predicted by many experts, colleagues in this place, and Members of the Lords.

I acknowledge that the Minister has recognised those arguments. He has had the courage to make a significant concession, for which we must be grateful. But I have to say, although I do not want to be churlish, that he could have done that a long time ago. We had this debate in Committee, on Second Reading and during several other debates in this place and in the other place. It is an 11th-hour conversion, but at least it is a conversion.

I make a prediction and a commitment. The prediction is that, in their trial, sellers packs will be a disaster. The commitment is that, when a Conservative Government are elected to office—as I confidently expect next year—we will use the provision to suspend sellers packs at the outset. We are not convinced about them for the reasons that have often been articulated. I shall not tire the House by repeating them.

4.30 pm

I am pleased that the Minister has made a concession, but a concession which would not have been granted without the consistent and energetic pressure that my colleagues in the Lords exerted. Baroness Hanham and Lord Hanningfield have been notable in that campaign, supported by Liberal Democrat Members. Without that pressure and the humble contribution of those in this place, who pale into insignificance beside the eloquence of our colleagues in the other place, we would not have wrung the concession from the Minister. He is a sinner that repenteth and I welcome his repentance. Sellers packs will not work. They will be suspended and the proposed new provision provides the chance to do that. We therefore welcome it.

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