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A number of right hon. and hon. Members raised issues about BREW, WRAP and NISP. I am not in a position to tell them this afternoon the final outcomes of our discussions on finance. However, I would say that, just because particular work is done at a particular time does not mean that that particular work should continue. These programmes have been about innovation, encouraging businesses to adopt new practices and bringing businesses together. Therefore, much of that work has set a pattern and it is more than reasonable that business itself begins to engage in that pattern. People should not believe that, because, for example, WRAP has had to issue notices, all that change will necessarily come to fruition. Decisions have not yet been taken, and it is reasonable that we have had conversations with our delivery bodies.

I was asked about the recycling of plastic. It was suggested that there was a lack of co-operation by retailers. The landfill tax escalator is the tool that the Government are using to persuade commerce and industry that they should divert waste from landfill. The serious increases in price will mean that commerce and industry will be driven into carrying out more recycling and we are working with them on recycling plastics in particular.

I was asked about Government support for local recycling. Again, I would like to refer to the situation in Norwich and in Norfolk, because I obtained the figures for that area for this particular debate. In 2006-07, more than £1.5 million of Government funding went to that area to help to raise the performance on recycling and composting. In the current financial year, which will end soon, the same amount—more than £1.5 million—was again given to the area to promote that work. That is the type of support that the Government give. Sometimes, that support is given directly and at other times it is given through WRAP. That support has been given through the waste performance efficiency grants.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) asked about a number of issues relating to commercial and industrial waste, including a ban on the incineration of products and materials that could be recycled. In the waste strategy 2007 document, we said that we would consider such a ban. We would expect aluminium to be collected separately, and indeed we are talking with industry about the streams of metal waste in particular.

Briefly, I would like to return to the household sector. We are enabling people to recycle more easily. We are
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providing powers in the Climate Change Bill for five pilot projects, so that local authorities can examine incentives for reducing waste, and the rate for the national recycling of waste, as set out in the waste strategy 2007 document, will rise to 40 per cent. by 2010, to 45 per cent. by 2015 and to 50 per cent. by 2020. Although achieving those increases is incredibly challenging, we believe that we are on target and that we will reach the first of those major objectives by 2010.

We are also recycling new streams of waste. Earlier, right hon. and hon. Members referred to electrical and electronic equipment. Through the waste electrical and electronic equipment, or WEEE, directive, we are dealing with that issue and it is important that we do so, because UK households are throwing away around 1 million tonnes of that type of waste every year.

With WRAP, we have launched a programme to deal with food waste. We aim to achieve a reduction of 100,000 tonnes of food waste by March this year. As a society, we are throwing away a third of all the food that we purchase, so food waste reduction is an important new area for waste reduction.

The waste strategy 2007 document will encourage local authorities to collect different types of waste separately, including food waste. In particular, we are putting money into encouraging the use of anaerobic digestion, so that we can have a win-win situation whereby we take away the food and green waste, put it into a digester and then it can, I hope, be used both in agriculture and to produce energy. Furthermore, batteries are the latest product on which we are consulting, because each household is throwing away an average of 21 portable batteries every year.

In conclusion, we are placing a greater responsibility on businesses for the environmental impact of their products and operations. We are placing a strong emphasis on waste prevention, with householders reducing their waste, for example, through home composting and use of food waste, and we are encouraging business to help consumers, for example, by using less packaging. Packaging recycling has doubled over the past 10 years. People perhaps do not realise that industry is ahead of the householder in that regard and much more progress has been made in the industrial sector. Finally, we are issuing a challenge to see recycling extended outside the home and office and taken into public places, such as shopping malls.

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New Home Buyers

4 pm

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I intend to raise a number of issues concerning the difficulties experienced by many people buying newly built houses or flats. Those problems are legion. They can range from houses not being built on time or not being made available to the purchaser, sometimes for years after the date on which they were meant to be; defects in the building work that are not repaired in spite of repeated requests and demands from the purchasers; problems with the estate as a whole; and problems with the property management companies associated with new build developments. Those problems often affect those buying new build homes at the time when they are most under pressure, owing to the personal and financial stress involved in buying a new home.

I am raising this matter today, because a large number of new build properties—mainly, but not exclusively flats—are being built, or have been built recently, in my constituency. Over a number of years, I have been approached by constituents who have had problems with new build housing such as those that I have described. Indeed, I first raised this issue in Parliament in April 2002, less than a year after I was first elected. I am glad to have the opportunity to raise the matter again, but the fact that I am obliged to do so illustrates that much action is still required to deal with a problem that has been raised with me on many occasions in my constituency. However, consumer organisations are also concerned and see it as a problem affecting the entire UK.

As I said, particular issues have been raised in my constituency, and I shall describe in more detail a particular case raised with me recently. However, I emphasise that the problem exists throughout the UK. Extensive research on the matter has recently been conducted by the consumer group Which?, the National Consumer Council and the Scottish Consumer Council. It shows that as many as 90 per cent. of those who buy new build homes are left with snagging problems, such as faulty wiring, badly fitting doors, leaking windows or more serious problems. More than a quarter of new build property developments are described by their purchasers as being of poor quality.

As I have said, this issue has been raised with me on a number of occasions, over a number of years. However, the particular case that led to me raising the matter today was brought to my attention by a constituent of mine who lives in a development called Corinthian Quay, undertaken by Elphinstone builders, on Lower Granton road in my constituency. I shall quote briefly from her e-mail in which she first raised the matter with me shortly before Christmas:

The e-mail also states that

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I shall not read her e-mail in full, because it would take too long. However, the crux of the matter comes in her final comments:

That highlights one constituent’s problems, but, as my research shows, the same problems—although perhaps not as bad as in that development—affect many people in many parts of the country.

My constituent’s comments about having more rights when buying a packet of crisps than when buying an new house touch on one the central problems in dealing with the issue. For many people, a new home—possibly a new build home—will be the biggest purchase of their lives. However, practical remedies are not available to them as consumers to enable them to deal with problems that can arise when buying such a property. That contrasts with the simplest and cheapest items that one might buy in a corner shop, when consumers benefit from legislation, such as the Sale of Goods Act 1979, which, of course, does not apply to new build homes. As a result, consumers have fewer legal rights than if they bought a packet of crisps in a local shop.

One problem is that the purchase of houses or flats, whether new build or older properties, is covered by property law. There are differences between Scotland and England, but the general point is still a reasonable one. Property law is governed essentially by the rule of buyer beware, which gives consumers much less protection than they would have if they enjoyed legal rights similar to those that apply under the 1979 Act.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Has he had difficulties with factoring companies as a result of such sales? We have had major difficulties with companies such as Greenbelt Group Ltd and Ross and Liddle taking constituents of mine to court. They were charging up to £400 a year for a service that they did not provide.

Mark Lazarowicz: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Problems can arise with factoring companies or property management companies—or however they want to describe themselves. Certainly constituents of mine have raised such concerns, although the case that I just referred to did not involve that problem. However, it is certainly an indication of the kind of problems that arise for many people living in new build flats in particular. Action needs to be taken, perhaps at a devolved level in my hon. Friend’s case, or at a UK level. That problem needs to be attended to.

On the extension of consumer protection to the buyer of a new build property, the problem was recognised by the Housing Improvement Task Force set up by the Scottish Executive some years ago. In 2003—five years ago, which illustrates part of the difficulty—it reported:

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the buyer beware principle—

That highlights another problem faced by those buying new build properties. In effect, they must accept the developer’s terms, or they do not get the house. They have no alternative or room to negotiate for a better deal.

The developer will normally have a standard builders missive or contract. In theory, in some circumstances, the purchaser might be able to withdraw from a contract to buy the property and get their money back, but that is not normally a realistic option in practice. It is not much use if people have had to wait for years to get their property, and then they find that their only option is to try to cancel the deal, dump all their furniture in the street and start all over again. That is not a realistic option for most people who buy new build property, or indeed any property, even though it might apply in theory in some cases.

We need changes to the law to give people who buy newly built houses or flats much greater consumer protection, and as my hon. Friend the Minister knows, it is a UK-wide problem, because consumer protection is a reserved matter for the UK Parliament. Aspects of it relate to devolved legislation, but the consumer protection aspect requires action at UK level. Although I refer to cases in Scotland and in my constituency, the problem applies UK-wide, and the consumer organisations have requested a change in the law at UK level, which I certainly support.

There must be changes in the law, such as providing people who buy new build flats or houses rights similar to those under the 1979 Act. However, there must also be important changes in practice, too. Many organisations have agued that the standard new build missive must be much fairer to buyers. For example, there should be a specific entry date, rather than a vague entry date that is not worth the paper that it is written on.

My colleague, Helen Eadie MSP, recently submitted a Bill to the Scottish Parliament designed to bring about precisely that change to the law to ensure that there is a specific entry date for new property. However, she has been advised—whether correctly is open to discussion—that because of the consumer protection provisions, it is a reserved matter for the UK Parliament, so she can no longer pursue it as a private Member’s Bill in the Scottish Parliament. Again, the situation indicates that we need action not only at Scottish level, but at UK level. We need action to ensure that, when people in Scottish constituencies are affected, the two levels of government work together to find a solution. Furthermore, there must be better self-regulation by the housing industry, as the consumer organisations have said. I do not have time to go into that issue, but it is another part of the solution.

Having made some suggestions for change, I recognise that other proposals might be introduced to deal with the situation. I first raised the issue almost six years ago, and there has certainly been a great deal of talk, but not much action. Recently, however, the Office of Fair Trading has begun an investigation into the issue—an
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important step that I hope will result in an improvement in the situation for people who have such problems with new build property.

The first round of consultation by the OFT has concluded, but I have been told that it would welcome the submission of evidence of such problems. I shall certainly be submitting to the OFT examples from my constituency, and if any of my constituents watching the debate decide to send me information, I shall submit that, too. However, I should ask that people in other constituencies do not send me information, because when I raised the issue previously, I received correspondence from throughout the UK. That illustrates the problem, but the evidence should nevertheless go to the individual’s MP.

The OFT is carrying out a study, so I am sure that the Minister will tell us that he wants to wait for its report before the Government come to a conclusion on the matter, which I understand. However, I ask him to assure us that, when the OFT reports, the Government will act urgently to make changes to give proper consumer protection to people who buy newly built homes and flats and who find that they have such problems. In particular, as an MP representing a Scottish constituency, I ask him to ensure that the appropriate UK Departments get together with the appropriate Scottish Departments, the relevant consumer organisations and legal and trade interests to ensure that the action that I have called for is implemented throughout the UK.

As I have indicated, apparently, this involves some complex areas of law, which may have caused the delay in taking action in Scotland in particular, but we cannot wait too much longer for action—not much longer at all, I hope. The number of new build developments is increasing in most constituencies—certainly in mine and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) more than in others. Therefore, we cannot wait for action indefinitely. We want it soon, and I should like a commitment from the Minister that the Government recognise the seriousness of the problem and that they will take early action, including on the issues that overlap the Scottish and UK levels of government. Co-operation between the various interests should resolve that overlap, and I am sure the Minister agrees that it should not be an excuse for inactivity.

4.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) on obtaining the debate and on his assiduity in pursuing the issue for the time that he has. It is clearly important to his constituency and to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), given his intervention.

I listened in particular when my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith read out that extract detailing the frustration of his constituent. No one who has ever bought a home could fail to be sympathetic to the frustration that his constituent has endured. My hon. Friend raised two broad areas of concern for new home buyers: snagging and the rectification of faults, and delays in completion. He made specific requests about the OFT study, and I can assure him that, once we have seen the study, we will ensure that its conclusions are discussed with officials in the Scottish
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Executive. I welcome my hon. Friend’s writing to the OFT directly, and I shall bring his remarks to the OFT’s attention.

Mr. Devine: Will my hon. Friend the Minister also include the role of factoring companies in his discussions with the OFT? Companies such as Greenbelt Group take over the common land and own it in perpetuity, so regardless of whether they provide a good service, people have to pay and the companies have a monopoly, which is totally unacceptable, as I am sure my hon. Friend will agree.

Mr. Thomas: I hear my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I am happy to draw them to the OFT’s attention. I should also be happy if my hon. Friend would like to meet separately to discuss them.

There are already some initiatives regarding the two areas of concern that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith discussed. The Council of Mortgage Lenders has introduced a revised finalling procedure, under which lenders will not release the mortgage funds on a property until a satisfactory final inspection has been completed and confirmation has been given that a full new home warranty will be in place on or before the entry date. It follows a similar initiative in England and Wales that was successful in reducing the number of failed pre-handover inspections. There have also been discussions between the Law Society of Scotland and Homes for Scotland—the umbrella organisation for the home building industry in Scotland—about standard terms for the builders missives, the conveyancing contract.

Those initiatives will be helpful in addressing the issues that my hon. Friend has raised, but he will recognise that such matters fall within the purview of the Scottish Executive. I have no doubt that the Executive will be interested in what the OFT has to say. I hope that he recognises that I am not in a position to comment at length on matters that fall within the responsibility of the Scottish Executive, but I repeat that I will ensure that the outcome of the OFT study is discussed with Executive officials.

Mark Lazarowicz: I accept that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot act on matters within the purview of the Scottish Executive, but I reiterate that Helen Eadie MSP has been advised by the legal officers of the Scottish Parliament that she cannot introduce legislation on an entry date, because it falls within UK reserved competence. I hope that the Minister’s Department will consider that before it assumes that it is a Scottish Executive responsibility. I am concerned that we could end up with years of argument between the two levels of government about who is responsible, and we do not want that to happen. I hope that he will ensure that his Department notes that there is some argument about where responsibility lies.

Mr. Thomas: I note my hon. Friend’s intervention, and I have heard his point about the discussions that have taken place in Scotland between Helen Eadie MSP and the Scottish Executive. I would be happy to receive direct representations on those discussions from either my hon. Friend or Ms Eadie herself.

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