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Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. We recognise the uncertainty that many home inspectors are expressing. We are keen to tell them that we believe that home information packs will need to be introduced
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from 1 June next year and that they will need to include energy performance certificates, so there is work to be done to introduce those certificates by that date.

We also want to promote the roll-out of the home condition reports. We think that those are valuable. However, we are concerned that a big bang approach and introducing all aspects of the home condition reports next year would pose too many risks to consumers. Therefore, in the trials that we shall begin later in the year, we shall look in particular at ways to support the roll-out of home condition reports. We shall work with the industry in order to increase take-up and look at both voluntary and mandatory approaches in order to be able to promote the roll-out of home condition reports. We think that the surveys will be very valuable for consumers.

Several hon. Members rose—

Yvette Cooper: I will give way in the order in which hon. Members caught my eye.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): For those home inspectors and those training to be home inspectors in areas not subject to the pilot tests, will the Government be willing to refund the money that they have spent training to do a job that will never materialise, potentially?

Yvette Cooper: As I have said, we think that we should be rolling out home condition reports. That is the clear aspect of the statement that we made yesterday. We want to start the trials this November. We will need home inspectors in place in order to be able to do the trials from this November for the home condition reports but, clearly, we will want to look at the results of those trials, too.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend say something more about what she means by an area based roll-out? Are we talking about regions of the country, which has some sense in terms of the digital roll-out? Labour Back Benchers are keen, for environmental reasons, that home information packs be continued with. The people who are trained are vital, so we must make sure that they are supported and that there is a clear process. Perhaps she can say something about what that process will be.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Let us be clear. We think that the energy efficiency information needs to be brought in from 1 June next year nationwide, so that energy efficiency information, as part of the energy performance certificates, will be included on a mandatory basis within the HIP from 1 June next year. Obviously, we will need to test the workings of energy performance certificates and their effectiveness, but we also want to test the home condition reports and the top-up for the full survey. Our approach is to begin this summer with some detailed consumer research and analysis of the HIPs that have been produced already—there are HIPs that have been produced already across the country—in order to develop detailed area-based trials, to begin sometime later in the year. We will set out the details of those trials in the light of the further research that is taking place over the summer. We will inform Parliament in due course of further details on that.

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Ian Lucas: In the trials, I ask my hon. Friend not to shy away from making the scheme compulsory. There have been numerous attempts to reform the conveyancing system to assist first-time buyers. I have personal experience of those. They have all failed as a result of a lack of compulsion. Sellers and their solicitors have chosen not to supply the information because of the additional cost for sellers, so I urge her to make the scheme compulsory. Consult and get it right, but make it compulsory.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I have said, we want to look, as part of the trials, at different ways of supporting the take-up of the full home condition report. That may mean looking at incentives and at all sorts of different approaches, but we want to look at the mandatory approach, too. We are clear that we need the trials to look at a range of approaches to ensure that we can get the roll-out of the home condition reports and to ensure that those are effective. It is important that we learn from the trials and have a pragmatic approach in order to deliver the benefits for consumers and the environment.

Mr. Betts: I welcome what the Minister just said. If we are going to market-test, market-testing mandatory home condition reports in at least some areas of the country will be worth while. I was at a breakfast meeting last week with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). At that time, he was also calling for a mandatory trial run on that basis, so we would satisfy him by doing that, too.

Yvette Cooper: Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point. As I have said, we want to consider the precise design of the trials in the light of the research over the summer, so at this stage we cannot confirm exactly how those trials will work. It will depend on the consumer research and the further analysis that we undertake.

Mr. Raynsford: May I press my hon. Friend a little further on that matter? She will know from the research that has been done that the vast majority of dry run packs that have been issued to date have not included the home condition report. How will the evidence from that research help her to conclude which areas would be appropriate for the mandatory tests, to which she responded positively—which was welcome—in replying to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts)?

Yvette Cooper: It is important to make clear what we are considering. We want to look at mandatory, voluntary and other approaches to roll-out, but we cannot make a commitment to conduct a mandatory trial, as there are problems with the practicalities of such a trial, and we must undertake further work over the summer. We are looking at existing HIPs—my right hon. Friend is right that many of them have been produced without surveys—and at consumer attitudes and evidence from other countries. He will know that Denmark, for example, has introduced home condition reports in an extremely popular scheme that is similar to HIPs. We want, too, to look at the experience in Australia and other countries. We must therefore undertake detailed and informed work so that we can promote the home condition reports.

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Once HIPs are in place, they can be topped up to become full HIPs with a home condition report. Most people do not have a HIP, so their position will be very different if searches are conducted and an energy performance certificate is issued. We want to work with the industry to look at the alternative options in a market-led approach to roll-out. As the amendment makes clear, the Secretary of State believes that the mandatory approach remains on the table.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I am grateful to the Government for proceeding more slowly with home information packs. I welcome my hon. Friend’s measured tone and approach to the issue, in contrast to the pyrotechnics of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove)—his speech was all sizzle and no steak—and I urge her not to fall for his strictures on local authority searches. I remember conveyancing when the Opposition were in office. Local authority searches could take up to 46 weeks, but the Conservative Government did nothing about it.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. If we provide information at the beginning of the process, rather than at the end, we will cut the time that it takes to buy and sell homes. That takes far too long at present, and it is not a sensible way to run a major market in which people invest huge amounts of money in their most important possession.

Bob Spink: It is claimed that the national land information service is dysfunctional, which would prevent the benefits of HIPs from being realised if the scheme proceeds. How does the Minister intend to make sure that electronic local authority searches work better? Will she, for instance, consider compulsion?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right that it is important that NLIS works effectively. He will be aware that reforms to e-conveyancing have the potential to introduce a substantial measure of transparency. If there are long delays, people do not know whether it is their solicitor or estate agent or the other party’s solicitor or estate agent who is at fault, or whether there is a problem elsewhere in the chain. Most people who are buying or selling a home do not know whether the delay in the system is legitimate because they cannot work out where it is. They do not know whether someone is ripping them off, because they do not know exactly what is going on. Together, e-conveyancing and HIPs have a huge potential to introduce transparency in the system.

Mr. Clifton-Brown rose—

Yvette Cooper: I should like to make a little progress, as I have given way to many hon. Members.

It is important to acknowledge the importance of the energy performance certificates, but Opposition Members’ response was disappointing. They had an opportunity to back them and welcomed the changes that we have made to the programme. They could acknowledge that HIPs and energy performance certificates will have a big impact, as 27 per cent. of carbon emissions in this country come from domestic homes. The certificates will allow us to give people reliable information so that they can cut those emissions as well as fuel bills. However,
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there is not a word about the certificates in the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. There was hardly a word about them in his speech, although he did mention them under questioning by Government Members. Opposition Members have a chance to support the introduction of energy performance certificates 18 months earlier than the European deadlines, because it is important to give people information on ways in which they can cut fuel bills and carbon emissions.

Green gimmicks are all that the Tories can offer. They fly to the Arctic and they sledge with the huskies, but they will not tell a first-time buyer how to cut her fuel bills. They ride bikes across London, but only if the chauffeur is following with the shoes. They say that it is okay for the wealthy to buy wind turbines, but they will not tell everyone else how important it is to lag the loft. That is the reality of the Opposition’s policy on the environment. They are not prepared to introduce energy performance certificates early, even though the measure is backed by WWF and Friends of the Earth. There is silence from the Opposition. All that they say is that work in Northern Ireland suggests that we could proceed without home information packs. They may wish to know that Northern Ireland cannot introduce energy performance certificates on 1 June next year, 18 months earlier than the European deadline. It will introduce them, but it still has an awful lot of work to do, as there must be consultation and regulations must be introduced. We are right to introduce the certificates early with HIPs to give people proper information about ways in which they can cut emissions from their homes.

Justine Greening: A couple of weeks ago, the Government acquiesced in the introduction of an EU directive to postpone mandatory nitrogen oxide emissions targets for another five years. That is not the approach one would expect of an environmentally friendly Government, so rather than criticising the Opposition the hon. Lady should look at what her own party is doing.

Yvette Cooper: Given that the Tories opposed the climate change levy and are desperate to get out of any European policy, they do not have a huge amount of credibility on the issue.

The Opposition parties have always opposed the reform of home buying and selling. They have resisted every aspect of HIPs and energy performance
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certificates from the beginning, and they object to estate agents having to change the way in which they operate. They have defended the status quo and the vested interests of people who make money from the system, rather than defending the consumer. It is right to conduct detailed debates about the way in which we can make the changes effective, and we must ensure that we learn from the trials and from experience. However, we must ensure, too, that we reform home buying and selling and the wider housing market to achieve stability, which benefits the economy, as hon. Members said at the outset of our debate. We must build more homes, but Opposition Members have repeatedly rejected that proposal. If they cared about stability in the housing market, they would back our proposals to build 200,000 new homes, but they have failed to do so.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): They must be in the right place.

Yvette Cooper: Where is the right place? Opposition Members can never think of the right place to build homes—they oppose them wherever they are. The oppose them on greenfield and on brownfield sites; they oppose them in the country and in the town. They do not want them here or there; they do not want them anywhere. It is a Dr. Seuss or “Green Eggs and Ham” approach to housing policy. The reality is that Opposition Members do not care about housing market stability, or benefits for the consumer or first-time buyers and home owners. The Government have introduced benefits for the housing market, for the consumer and for the home buyer. We will continue to do so, and we will back the interests of the next generation—not the vested interests that have dominated the Opposition for far too long.

royal assent

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Appropriation (No. 2) Act 2006

Finance Act 2006

Commons Act 2006

Housing Corporation (Delegation) etc Act 2006

Health Act 2006

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Home Information Packs

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

2.50 pm

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I congratulate the Minister on making such good use of the extra week that she has had to consider the Government’s position, as a result of my hon. Friends forcing an Adjournment of the House following the Government’s craven and inept use of the extradition rules. It cannot have been easy, but eventually, by 5 pm yesterday, reality had broken in on the Government. As a Liberal Democrat, I was pleased to see that reality came in the form of the Minister’s statement, the terms of which were very similar to the amendment that we tabled for today’s debate but which, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker has not selected for consideration.

The Minister set out the key considerations in much the same terms as those in which we see the problems of the home information packs project, as it was. First, there has been a significant delay in issuing the vital regulations determining how the scheme would run. One of my questions to the Minister is whether tomorrow’s statutory instrument Committee is still intended to go ahead and consider some of those rules, or whether the rules now have to be withdrawn and reconsidered. Secondly, there has been serious delay in implementing any pilot schemes. Thirdly, there are insufficient inspectors to carry out a mandatory scheme on the time scale that the Minister originally set out.

In the amendment that we tabled both last week and today, we pointed out that there needs to be a realistic assessment of when and how a compulsory scheme should be introduced. We also made the point that we do not need a gold-plated home information pack scheme. We were therefore pleased that the scheme outlined by the Minister in her statement is confined to fulfilling the important EU directive, and does not include gold-plated extras. Her statement yesterday was three times longer than our amendment, but it made the same points.

A useful concept has been wrecked by difficulties of the Government’s own making, and it would be unwise and unsafe to plough on. The Minister may initially have been seduced by an attractive argument, and one which appeals to me on many occasions—that anything opposed both by estate agents and by the Conservative party must be good. Well, 99 times out of 100, that is correct, but the Minister has belatedly understood that this was the 100th occasion.

We are grateful for the decision that the hon. Lady has taken and we look forward with great interest to what will happen next. The Liberal Democrats welcome the energy efficiency certificate and the fact that it will be introduced next year. However, she should not take too much credit for bringing it in 18 months early. That is not the case. In 1998, my former hon. Friend who was then the Member for Torridge and West Devon introduced a Bill that would have brought about exactly what is to happen in 2007. I was a sponsor of his Energy Efficiency Bill and served on the Committee that considered it. The Bill was opposed by the Government and eventually fell in July 1998.

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If the Government want to take the credit for introducing home energy certificates 18 months early, they should also take the blame for bringing them in nine years late—nine years in which an extra 1.5 million homes have been built and about 11 million homes have been sold, none of which have had home energy efficiency checks, because back in 1998 the Government opposed their introduction. There have been no certificates, no transparency and no market pressure for energy efficiency for nine unnecessarily prolonged years.

Rob Marris: Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that there are no energy efficiency requirements and no energy efficiency information with respect to the 1.5 million new homes? I find that extremely difficult to believe.

Andrew Stunell: The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that the energy efficiency information has been available for the past nine years. If so, why is he trying to take credit for such a requirement being introduced in June next year? He cannot have it both ways. Much as I welcome the home energy certificate element of the Government’s proposals, I do not believe that it is right or appropriate for them to try to take credit for being ahead of the crowd, when they are in fact years behind what my former hon. Friend proposed.

In the present fiasco, we must not lose the core points about reducing the carbon emissions from our homes, increasing the transparency of transactions when buying and selling takes place, and reducing the stress factor. There is no doubt that buying or selling a home is a deeply stressful experience.

I was interested to read both the amendment tabled by the Government last week and the one that they tabled this week. They are almost identical, but they differ in one interesting respect. Last week, the final sentence said:

This week, the Government amendment ends with the statement that

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