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useless but a very expensive waste of time?
As the start date approached, we warned the Government that there were not enough HIP inspectors, but they were not listening. Blinkered to the truth, they tried to push stubbornly ahead with HIPs, only to be forced red-faced back to the House at the eleventh hour to announce an embarrassing delay. Fortunately for the Housing Minister, that job did not fall to her. In August, HIPs on four-bedroomed homes were finally introduced. Despite a 50 per cent. drop in the number of four-beds coming on to the market, the Government still failed to assess the impact, instead choosing to impose HIPs on three-bed homes from September.
However, with all that confusion, delay and lack of marketable properties, another group of people was starting to hurt. We warned the Minister that she was wrong to suggest that qualified HIP inspectors could earn up to £70,000 a year by training to become a HIP inspector or domestic energy assessor. In reality, those hard-working people have been hung out to dry by the Government. Many of them have spent their savings on a fundamentally flawed scheme, and they, I think, deserve an apology. Will the Minister take this opportunity to apologise to those enterprising people who now find themselves without sufficient work and out of pocket?
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Are these the same hard-working people that the motion wants to put out of work? Has the hon. Gentleman had any face-to-face discussions with home energy certificate providers and pack providers? The largest company in my constituency to deal with those matters, employing 500 people, tells me that that is not happening. The motion has come out of thin air.
Grant Shapps: I shall come on to what the rest of the industry is finding out about the situation. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that we should maintain bad law for the sake of bad law, I have to disagree with him. This Government have led those people into training for jobs that do not exist. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, they would never be paid £70,000 a year even if HIPs were fully up and running, which they are not.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): My hon. Friend will know that when the scheme started we warned the Government that there was no way in which there would be enough providers. The training systems were not up to training them. The Government knew that at the time. Does he agree that they have misled the country and should apologise to the House and the nation?
My hon. Friend is right when he says that the scheme has been a fiasco from beginning to end. It is an exemplary example of a Government who have refused to listen to common sense. It is not just us
whom they have not listened to; they have not listened to the industry or the consumers, all of whom are lined up against this atrocious piece of legislation, which does not help anybody to buy or sell a house.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Grant Shapps: I want to make a little progress.
By contrast, we have always been crystal clear about our opposition to HIPs. We saw what was wrong with them. We voted against them. Last week, we pledged to scrap them.
Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Grant Shapps: I want to make some progress.
Where the Government have thrown the market into complete and utter turmoil, we have sent a clear signal that would end this bureaucratic nightmare of HIPs. As they have become increasingly discredited, the embarrassed Minister has tried to use energy performance certificates as a green fig leaf with which to cover up her embarrassment.
We think that EPCs can be introduced more quickly and effectively without HIPs. Will the Minister explain why our approach was possible in Northern Ireland but not in England and Wales? On their own, energy performance certificates are a good thing. They mean that house buyers will have better information about their new homes. However, even the Governments Better Regulation Commission warned that the new regulations are imposing
additional administrative burdens without adequate justification
beyond the requirements of the Directive,
no supporting evidence to justify this gold-plating.
Does the Minister accept that damning indictment of her policy by the Governments own commission?
We said that HIPS could increase the cost of moving home, that sellers would be put off, that housing supply would be restricted and that instability could rattle the marketplace. The letters and e-mails that I have received since the introduction of HIPS suggest that our concern was not misplaced, with agents reporting a shortage of three and four-bedroom houses coming on to the market. A survey conducted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors last month revealed that 73 per cent. of respondents had recorded that fewer three and four-bedroom properties were becoming available than in the same month last year, and that new instructions requiring a HIP had decreased by 37 per cent. In the face of that compelling new evidence, will the Minister now concede that the introduction of HIPS has had a deeply detrimental impact on the housing market?
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab):
The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, have done his homework, and will have seen the August bulletin of the RICS, to which he referred. It commented that new instructions to sell property had fallen for the third
consecutive month. Will the hon. Gentleman now explain what was happening in June and July in relation to HIPS?
Grant Shapps: The hon. Gentleman willI hopebe pleased to learn that I have done my research. I did not hear him mention that he has an interest in the Association of Home Information Pack Providers.
Mr. Raynsford: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should make it clear that my interest is declared in the Register of Members Interests. I always declare my interest at the beginning of a substantive speech, but do you agree that it is not necessary to declare an interest when asking a question?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am perfectly happy with the explanation given by the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that there is nothing to stop a Member from making a debating point about the matterwithout, I hope, making an insinuation of dishonour on the part of the right hon. Gentleman.
Grant Shapps: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am sure that the Minister will try to characterise this as a problem only for those with a vested interest, but it is not. The truth is that the public are worried. London and Country, the United Kingdoms largest mortgage broker, recently asked a panel of its own customers for their thoughts on HIPS, which revealed that 62 per cent. thought that the information contained in them would not help to sell their properties. Even more damning, 78 per cent. thought that HIPS were bad value for money.
The cost of obtaining information that does not come with the now weakened HIPS may not be quite as significant for those privileged couples who, through generous taxpayers allowances, can buy a second home in, say, central London, but first-time buyers struggle to pay for their surveys, and every penny really does count to them. Does the Minister agree that, unlike this expensive red tape, our policy of raising stamp duty to £250,000 would make a real difference to nine out of 10 first-time buyers?
HIPS is the story of a Government who have been in office for 10 years but are fast running out of steam. It is a fiasco that started when the Government employed consultants whom the National Audit Office later described as having a clear conflict of interests. As compelling evidence mounted that the original HIPS proposals were seriously flawed, all that the Minister could do was shut her eyes and charge ahead with legislation that stumbled from crisis to crisis.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentioned stamp duty. He wishes to assist first-time buyers; so do the Government, and they have. Cutting stamp duty will be of no benefit to first-time buyers, because house prices will simply adjust upwards. Conversely, HIPs shift costs from buyers to sellers. Does the hon. Gentleman not see a contradiction in his position?
Grant Shapps: I do not see a contradiction in a position that makes it easier for nine out of 10 first-time buyers to purchase a house and removes bureaucracy from the home buying and selling process. There is simply no contradiction in that.
Dr. Starkey: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the point I attempted to make in my earlier intervention when he was mentioning the industry? For the sake of clarity, will he explain whether the industry is solely the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which has a strong vested interest? If not, what other representatives of the industry is he citing?
Grant Shapps: The hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the RICS also supplies HIPs, so it has a strong vested interest in both directions. It has spoken in a truthful manner, as has almost every other professional body that has been consulted on the issue. In fact, we have now reached the stage where the Association of Home Information Pack Providers is pretty much the only organisation supporting this flawed measure.
The last time I stood at the Dispatch Box, I asked the Minister for Housing 11 questions. Reading from a prepared text, she failed to answer a single one of them. Today I have asked the Minister a further 10 questions, and I am sure that Members would like to hear her answers to them, plus those to three more questions that I have for her.
Will the Minister guarantee today that information gathered for HIPs will not be used for stealth council tax revaluation? Is the Minister aware of a leaked memo from her own West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service that confirms that HIPs are completely unenforceable throughout large parts of the country, including her backyard? Finally, as the statutory instrument introducing HIPs has yet to be laid before Parliament, will she accept my invitation to follow the lead of the Prime Minister and Chancellor of poaching yet another of my partys policies by announcing to the House that she will today abolish the costly, ineffective and discredited HIPs?
The Minister for Housing (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move, To leave out from House to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
believes that the ongoing reform of the home buying and selling process should revolve around the interests of the consumer and environmental sustainability; considers that the most important thing for the housing market is macroeconomic stability including sound public finances; therefore further believes that unfunded tax cuts including on stamp duty would be irresponsible; further believes that increased house building to deliver more affordable homes is essential to help first time buyers; further considers that the introduction of Home Information Packs and Energy Performance Certificates can improve the process of home buying and selling for consumers and provide them with vital information about the energy efficiency of homes and practical suggestions about how to cut fuel bills and reduce carbon emissions; and notes that the Government continues to work with industry to consider further reform of the home buying and selling process in order to maximise the benefits for consumers..
I welcome the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) to what I believe is his first Opposition day debate. I also believe that he has just made his first parliamentary remarks on home information packs. I noticed that he and his party chose not to take up any of the opportunities to debate HIPs in Julyin one of their Opposition day debates or by seeking an early
date for Committee consideration of the regulations. Neither did he take up the opportunity to ask about HIPs or raise stamp duty during the first oral questions after his appointment. In fact, he did not raise housing at the first oral questions because he was not present; apparently, he was in a place called Ealing at the time. I am sure that he has fond memories of his important role in the Ealing campaignI can certainly tell him that we do, and that we are always very happy to remind him of the role he played.
The hon. Gentleman raised a series of points about HIPs and stability in the housing market. Although stamp duty is mentioned in his motion, he refrained from mentioning it, except when my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) referred to it.
Home information packs and energy performance certificates are now in place for three and four-bedroom properties. The Government set out a phased roll-out last May, which is now under way; more than 1,000 energy performance certificates have now been processed. I should point out that many of the calamities that Opposition Members predicted have not materialised. HIPs are not creating months of delay; in fact, the average time taken to compile a HIP is five to seven days, far faster than it takes to gather the same information under the old system.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): The Minister spoke of a phased roll-out. Will she give us the date on which properties with one or two bedrooms, or other properties, will be covered by the regulations? If the policy is to be pursued, logic demands that a timetable be set.
Yvette Cooper: No, I shall not set out the timetable today. In May, we set out the criteria for the phased roll-out. One element in those criteria was the number of energy assessorswhich has been increasing very quicklyand another was that the policys implementation, and the experience in the market so far, should be monitored. That consideration is taking place at the moment, and we will set out the timetable for the next steps in due course.
I can also tell the House that, contrary to predictions by the Opposition, HIPs are not costing an average of £1,000 each. The current average market price is £300 to £350, most of which covers the cost of things that buyers and sellers of homes pay for under the traditional system. That means that they are saving money thanks to the introduction of HIPs.
Moreover, some estate agents are offering HIPs on a no-sale, no-fee basis, or even for free. Indeed, search costs are coming down as a result of HIPs, with more than 80 local authorities cutting the price by an average of £30, and a couple doing so by more than £100. In addition, the Energy Savings Trust has said that the new energy performance certificates have the potential to save homeowners £300 a year on fuel bills.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con):
I thank the Minister for giving way, and I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members Interests. Does she agree that most local searches for HIPs are personal searches that
are not widely acceptable to the industry? For most purchasers, it is necessary to make a second, official search. Does that not add to the cost to the process?
Yvette Cooper: That is simply not the case. In fact, personal searches already account for about 40 per cent. of the market. They are a very important, significant and established part of the process: a lot of solicitors already use them, and lenders are familiar with them. It is not the case that all buyers are having to purchase additional searches as a result of the introduction of HIPs, which can include either personal or local authority searches.
It is significant that the introduction of HIPs has improved competition and cut the cost of searches. I believe that searches need to be reformed further, but it is important to recognise that personal searches are covered by all sorts of insurance and protections, and to ensure that what is effectively misinformation about them is not spread around.
HIPs and EPCs are already increasing transparency. They are speeding up the process of providing information, and bringing in new competition to help cut costs for consumers.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): The Minister was kind enough to write to me about EPCs in July, when she explained that the certificate would have to be compiled in the 12 months before a property was put on the market but that that requirement was to be reviewed over the summer. Will she update the House about that review?
Yvette Cooper: We will be consulting fully on the appropriate age for EPCs. We have made it clear that it is important for people to have information that is relevant and up to date, and we will shortly make it possible for people to express their different views. For example, Opposition Members believe that the certificates should have a life of up to 10 years, although I cannot imagine that many people making a decision about buying a house would find such old information especially useful, given that it deals with fuel prices and the measures that they could take to change their homes.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Does the Minister agree that most householders already have very useful documentation that could be made available to buyers? I am referring to gas and electricity bills, which people are used to reading and understanding.
Yvette Cooper: That is true but, if that is Opposition policy, it does not say much for their commitment to the environment. Consumers need to be aware of what more they can do to cut their carbon emissions as well as their fuel bills. After all, 27 per cent. of this countrys carbon emissions come from our homes, and a lot of it comes from existing homes.
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