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That the draft Maternity and Parental Leave etc. and the Paternity and Adoption Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2008, which were laid before this House on 30th June, be approved. [Alison Seabeck.]
That, at the sitting on Thursday 17th July, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motions in the name of the Prime Minister relating to the Intelligence and Security Committee not later than Six oclock; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; the Questions may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.
That, at the sitting on Monday 21st July, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on
(1) the Motions in the name of Sir Peter Viggers relating to the Electoral Commission one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the first such Motion; and
(2) the Motion in the name of Secretary Jack Straw relating to Data Protection and Freedom of Information one hour after the commencement of proceedings on that Motion;
in each case proceedings may continue though opposed after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply. [Alison Seabeck.]
Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I wish to present a petition signed by approximately 1,500 people on behalf of the staff and customers of the Revenue and Customs office in Boston, Lincolnshire.
The petitioners declare that they are concerned about cuts to public services, particularly the proposed closure of the HMRC office in Boston, which could have detrimental impacts not only on the staff of the office but on the many businesses and individuals who use the office, and would result in more traffic on Bostons already congested roads.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I wish to present a petition on behalf of the supporters of the campaign to save Cherry Lane cemetery. The background to the petition is that the British Airports Authority has submitted its proposals to extend Heathrow airport, and the road proposals linked to the airport. The roads run through Cherry Lane cemetery, which is the only operational cemetery within my constituency, and is where many of my constituents have buried their loved ones.
The campaign to save the cemetery has collected 8,000 signatures online and in hard copy. I wish to pay tribute to the campaigners and the campaign team, in particular Natasha La Mothe and her mother and family friends who have collected so many signatures on the petition.
Declares that the proposal by the British Airports Authority to construct an access road to the proposed Third Runway and Sixth Terminal at Heathrow Airport through Cherry Lane Cemetery, which is the only functioning cemetery in this part of the London Borough of Hillingdon, is an act of outrageous, sacrilegious destruction, which is causing considerable distress to the families of loved ones buried at the cemetery and concern to the local community.
Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is less than a year since the Government made it a statutory requirement for sellers of domestic properties to provide and pay for, at their own expense, home information packs. It is now clear that the Government have introduced HIPs without proper preparation of the process that is to be followed, they are of questionable value to those who buy a home, they are an additional expense to those who are selling a home, particularly in what is frequently referred to as a turbulent housing market, they do not speed up the process of conveyancing, and the energy efficiency component is neither reliable nor worth the money that is spent on it. Despite the fact that HIPs were subject to frequent debate in the House and also subject to many U-turns on the part of the Government in terms of how they would or would not introduce them, none the less the Minister at the time, the right hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), now the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, repeatedly espoused them as valuable, often likening the process to buying a fridge or identifying the need to change the light bulbs.
In less than a year since the full introduction of HIPs, we have seen several reports from independent bodies that have identified the real weakness in the system. I refer first to the Leeds Legal report by professional lawyers in Leeds, which came out only this month. It states:
Fifty-seven per cent. of people questioned in the national research for Leeds Legal, an alliance of the citys major law firms, said the time has come to ditch the packs, introduced by the Government last August in a bid to simplify and speed-up the home buying process.
Our finding that a clear majority of people now want Hips abolished will come as an eye-opener to many and a blow to the Government.
It will be no surprise to many professionals, however. Most of the buyers Ive acted for since Hips were introduced have regarded the content of the packs as so unreliable theyve commissioned providers like me to supply the information independently.
Given the current credit crunch, most buyers are far more concerned about securing funds for their purchases than they are about receiving Hips, which they seem to regard as a complete waste of time and money.
Furthermore, it is not just the sellers who have to part with moneyand I have had reports of this fact, and personal experience of it. If someone wants to have a look at a HIP for a property, even one for which they have made an offer, they can look at it online. However, if they want to receive a hard copy, costs are involved and there is also a cost to the purchaser. I should like the Minister to look into that issue particularly, because it seems that money is being paid out at both ends.
The recently produced Carsberg review of residential property was commissioned by the Royal Institution of
Chartered Surveyors, the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the National Association of Estate Agents. It is very comprehensive and includes a chapter on HIPs, which states:
I understand that, to date, few buyers have shown an interest in the HIP.
a substantial number of conveyancers ignore its existence and recommission searches on receiving instructions from their buyer client, suggesting a lack of confidence in the limited content. This evidence alone indicates that the costs of HIPs are likely to exceed their benefits. Some would summarise the position by saying that the HIP provides the worst of all worldsit omits much of the most useful information but still imposes significant costs on the property transaction.
that the Government should amend legislation on Home Information Packs to make them voluntary.
It is not only property market professionals who are disenchanted with HIPs; so, too, are those who represent consumers. I recall that when we had the debates on this subject, Which?, an eminent body representing consumers, was initially in favour of HIPs and very supportive of the Governments measures. Since then, however, the magazine Which?, published by the organisation, has, in April this year, run a report headed Hips need a shake-up. It says:
The Law Society told us it considered Hips to be the worst piece of consumer legislation in 50 years.
wasnt impressed by her inspectors quote.
The inspector figured that the total annual energy cost for her home would be £606, but she had just received an energy bill that showed she had used only £518 in the past year. She contacted the inspector and the agent, but they were not interested.
I have brought this debate to the Floor of the House tonight not only because, as we Conservatives said when HIPs were debated, the Government have not thought the issue through, but also because of information and representations from my constituency. My casework shows the flawed system and the anger that people start to feel when they pay out good money to so-called professionals who clearly are not professionals and are not properly trained, because they have to go through a process that the Government have not thought through.
the energy efficiency rating and the CO2 rating I felt were only average when I eventually saw the graphs. I asked to see the report (why is the vendor not given a copy?), and was horrified by what I read. My house has three solar collector panels on the roof, yet the report suggested that solar heating be installed!
How can anybody have any confidence in somebody assessing a property for its energy efficiency if they fail to notice the solar panels put on the roof, at great expense to the householder, let alone add that to their assessment? Furthermore, they assumed that there was a solid floor when in fact there was not.
I have raised this issue on the Floor of the House before. On 18 December, during the Christmas Adjournment debate, I described the case of Mr. Dyke of Dunkeswell, about which I have had correspondence with the Minister. The problem that Mr. Dyke identifiedI have visited his home, so I am very familiar with itis typical of what must apply not only in my Devon constituency but around the country. When the Government introduced the process for assessing properties, particularly the energy performance certificate, they used a form of matrix that clearly was trialled only on modern properties. The tick-box procedures that the assessors go through mean that they have great difficulty in accurately identifying the merits of the energy efficiency of older houses, of which we have a great many in Devon. Very old houses are added to over the years and the centuries, and improvements are made to them. If people are to be expected to pay out of their own money for such a certificate, they will expect, whatever the construction or age of the property, that the people coming to carry out the process are able to do it competently and professionally. When I tabled parliamentary questions to the Ministers predecessor, I received some disturbing answers.
One of my concerns as regards older buildings is the way in which cob walls are assessed. We have a lot of those in Devonthey are very thick walls that have good insulating properties. Another material that has been used to construct many Devon properties is wattle and daubalthough it is not used nowadays. This flags up the fact that the major building regulations were last changed in the 1960s, when there was a big push to reform them. However, the thinking behind the Governments home information packs seems to be that properties built since 1960 are typical of all properties that are assessed. There are a lot of anomalies. For example, people with solid-fuel Agas or wood burners, which are deemed to be carbon-neutral, are not even given a credit rating on their energy assessment for those types of heaters and cookers. For some of the older properties, there is no proper consideration of the amount of double glazing, which I would have thought pretty fundamental when assessing their energy efficiency.
The SAPstandard assessment procedureis the Governments approved procedure for calculating an energy rating. It is based only on modern houses. The process for a reduced data SAP, which many of my constituents in older properties have come across, is so flawed that they, like Mr. Dyke, have had to take professional advice. He said that he had a professional benchmark, because in 1998 a properly approved, qualified architect had rated his property with a SAP of 60. When he had the HIP done to sell the property, the SAP was reduced to 44. He therefore started to ask a lot of questions and to negotiate with the powers that be, especially the national home energy rating people, because he wanted to identify the problem and discover why the SAP was lower now, albeit with reduced data, than it was when an architect examined the property.
There is a long list of items that the reduced SAPs cannot take into account because of the procedure that the Government have introduced and which the assessors have to implement. I will not go through the whole list
tonight because I mentioned many itemsthey are on the record in Hansardwhen I raised Mr. Dykes case in December.
Whilst awaiting the response from Ms Cooper I was not idle and entered into negotiation with NHER who were forced to accept that the reduced data SAP methodology could not work on renovated or even modified buildings. They tasked their software people to declare some of the facts who came back to me with the enclosed technical document that formally acknowledged the following:
Wall insulation is not accurately reflected.
Roof insulation assumed in respect of the age of the building...
RDSAP cannot reflect retro fitted, under-floor insulation.
The long list goes on and on. It tells even a lay person that people are being unfairly treated. They pay good money up front, but there is a negative impact on their energy performance certificate. They have to pay a lot of money for something that is not accurate. The Government must do something.
Mr. Dyke is a persistent man, and I am grateful to him because he has taught me a lot about HIPs and energy performance certificates. He managed to negotiate with the national home energy rating scheme an agreement that he could write, with its approval, on his official energy performance certificate and on the estate agents documentation:
Since the introduction of the HIP legislation, the assessment procedure used for producing the energy performance certificate (EPC) has been monitored. The EPC is a comparison tool and there are limitations in the model that may lead to a property like this
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