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Question agreed to.

business of the House

Madam Deputy Speaker: With the leave of the House, we shall take together motions 6 and 7.




HMRC Work Force Change (Lincolnshire)

7.35 pm

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 Boston’s already congested roads.

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The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge Her Majesty’s Treasury to work to ensure that the HMRC office in Boston remains open.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of staff and customers of the Revenue and Customs Office in Boston, Lincolnshire,

Declares that they are concerned about cuts to public services, particularly the proposed closure of the HMRC office in Boston.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges HM Treasury to reconsider the decision to close the office in Boston, which provides an excellent service to local people.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


Planning and Development (Heathrow)

7.36 pm

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.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of the Supporters of the Campaign to Save Cherry Lane Cemetery,

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.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons calls upon the Government to reject this proposal and safeguard this site.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


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Home Information Packs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Alison Seabeck.]

7.37 pm

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:

Mr. Stephen Pickard, head of residential property at law firm Lupton Fawcett and a Leeds Legal spokesperson, said:

It sounds as though people are so disenchanted with HIPs that they are paying twice. Mr. Pickard goes on:

Furthermore, it is not just the sellers who have to part with money—and 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
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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:

So we now know that despite the fact that sellers must by statute pay to have HIPs produced, a lot of buyers do not value them at all—do not even look at them. The review goes on:

The report recommends

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 Government’s 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:

That is quite an indictment of how the Government have forced this ill-thought-through legislation on to the statute book.

Which? quotes some of its members—the consumers themselves, who are paying out their money for HIPs. One member in Llandudno

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.

A constituent, who will remain anonymous—she is a lady who lives in Awliscombe—wrote to me to say:

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.

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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 identified—I have visited his home, so I am very familiar with it—is 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 Minister’s 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 Devon—they are very thick walls that have good insulating properties. Another material that has been used to construct many Devon properties is wattle and daub—although 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 Government’s 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 SAP—standard assessment procedure—is the Government’s 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
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tonight because I mentioned many items—they are on the record in Hansard—when I raised Mr. Dyke’s case in December.

Mr. Dyke wrote:

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 agent’s documentation:

meaning like Mr. Dyke’s house—

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