Housing and Regeneration Bill

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New Clause 27

Former right to buy and other flats: equity share purchases
‘After section 450C of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68) (loans in respect of service charges) insert—
“Other financial assistance in respect of service charges
450D Purchase of equitable interests
(1) The appropriate national authority may by regulations provide that where—
(a) a housing authority is the landlord of a flat under a long lease granted or assigned by the housing authority or another housing authority, and
(b) the tenant is liable under the terms of the lease to pay service charges in respect of repairs or improvements (whether to the flat, the building in which it is situated or any other building or land),
the landlord may, with the agreement of the tenant and in such circumstances as may be prescribed, purchase an equitable interest in the flat for the purpose of assisting the tenant to meet some or all of the service charge payments.
(2) Regulations under this section shall ensure that the purchase price is to be met by the landlord reducing or (as the case may be) cancelling the service charge payable to the landlord by the tenant to such extent as corresponds to the amount concerned.
(3) Regulations under this section may, in particular—
(a) provide that the power to purchase an equitable interest does not arise in the case of particular descriptions of landlord;
(b) make provision about calculating the purchase price (including provision about any discounts and about imposing charges for the services of district valuers);
(c) provide for—
(i) the tenant to be liable for the administrative expenses of the landlord in connection with the purchase;
(ii) such expenses not to exceed such amount (if any) as may be specified in the regulations;
(iii) the purchase price to include, at the option of the purchaser, a deduction for such expenses;
(d) provide for an alteration, as a result of the purchase of the equitable interest, in the liability of the tenant for future service charges or improvement contributions.
(4) Regulations under this section may not contain provision for cases where the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers are the landlord unless the Welsh Ministers are the landlord—
(a) as the result of the exercise by them of functions under Part 3 of the Housing Associations Act 1985; or
(b) as the result of—
(i) the exercise by the former National Assembly for Wales, the Secretary of State, Housing for Wales or the Housing Corporation of functions under Part 3 of the Act of 1985; and
(ii) the transfer of the flat to the Welsh Ministers by virtue of paragraph 39 of Schedule 11 to the Government of Wales Act 2006.
(5) For the purposes of this section a long lease granted or assigned by—
(a) the Welsh Ministers, or
(b) in a case falling within subsection (4)(b), the former National Assembly for Wales, the Secretary of State, Housing for Wales or the Housing Corporation,
shall be taken to have been granted or assigned by a housing authority if (but only if) the person concerned granted or assigned it in exercise of its powers under section 90 of the Housing Associations Act 1985.
(6) This section does not affect any other power of the landlord to purchase an equitable interest in the flat for the purpose of assisting the tenant to meet some or all of the service charge payments.
(7) Regulations under this section may apply whenever the lease concerned was granted or assigned and whenever the service charge concerned became payable.
(8) Regulations under this section—
(a) are to be made by statutory instrument;
(b) may make different provision for different cases or descriptions of case including different provision for different areas;
(c) may contain such incidental, supplementary and transitional provisions as the appropriate national authority considers appropriate.
(9) An instrument containing regulations made under this section—
(a) by the Secretary of State is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament;
(b) by the Welsh Ministers is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales.
(10) In this section—
“appropriate national authority” means—
(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State; and
(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;
“former National Assembly for Wales” means the Assembly constituted by the Government of Wales Act 1998;
“housing authority” includes—
(a) any registered provider of social housing other than a co-operative housing association;
(b) any registered social landlord other than a co-operative housing association; and
(c) any co-operative housing association which is not—
(i) a registered provider of social housing; or
(ii) a registered social landlord;
“improvement contribution” has the same meaning as in Part 5 (see section 187);
“repairs” includes works for making good a structural defect.”’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Brought up, and read the Firs t and Second time and added to the Bill.

New Clause 28

Amendments to Housing Act 1985 relating to lending institutions
‘In section 622(1) of the Housing Act 1985 (c. 68) (minor definitions: general)—
(a) in the definition of “authorised deposit taker”, in paragraph (b), for “12(1)” substitute “12”, and
(b) in the definition of “authorised insurer”, in paragraph (b), for “12(1)” substitute “12”.’.—[Mr. Wright.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Wright: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause is technical. It aims to ensure that clause 264 applies to all relevant institutions. Clause 264 is designed to reduce the regulatory burden on lenders, who currently have to apply twice to different Departments for what is, in effect, the same approval, which is, as I am sure that Committee members agree, both bureaucratic and pointless. At the same time, the clause clarifies the protection afforded to right-to-buy providers.
I will spend a moment providing the background. If a tenant buys their home under the right to buy and resells it within five years, their former landlord may require them to repay some or all of the discount that they received. That obligation is secured by a charge on the property. The same obligation applies to the right to acquire from registered social landlords under the Housing Act 1996 and to voluntary sales at a discount by both local authorities and RSLs. The landlord’s charge protecting the discount payment would normally have priority. However, if the owner has a mortgage and is unable to keep up the payments, approved lending institutions are entitled to recover what they are owed ahead of the landlord’s entitlement—in other words, they have first charge on the property. That protection has been in place since the introduction of the right-to-buy scheme in 1980.
We know from recent consultation, and from comments on a slightly removed point at the oral evidence sitting last month, that lenders in the right-to-buy market regard that protection as important. Lenders with ALI status are specified in various pieces of legislation: first, in section 156 of the Housing Act 1985 with respect to right-to-buy sales, which also applies to right-to-acquire sales; secondly, in section 36 of the same Act with respect to voluntary sales by local authorities; and, finally, in section 12 of the Housing Act 1996 for voluntary sales by RSLs.
That specification also applies to sales by housing action trusts under the Housing Act 1998 and where properties have been sold under the rent-to-mortgage scheme, which is no longer available. Although some financial bodies are automatically ALIs, at present others only become ALIs on being specified as such by the Secretary of State. As I alluded to earlier, such lenders have to come to the Government twice: first, to the Financial Services Authority for authorisation to conduct lending business, and, secondly, to my Department for approval as a right-to-buy lender. The clause and the amendments will remove that unnecessary duplication.
My Department has no powers of expertise in financial regulation and, as somebody who did his tax return at the weekend, I have no financial expertise whatsoever. Approvals under sections 156 and 36 are given on the advice of others, including the Office of Fair Trading and Companies House. All lenders accorded ALI status under the current system meet the requirements of FSA authorisation and regulation.
4.15 pm
Clause 264 removes the Secretary of State’s powers under sections 36 and 156 to specify bodies as approved lending institutions and to revoke that status. Instead, it adds the term “an authorised mortgage lender” to the relevant lists of automatically approved lending institutions. An authorised mortgage lender means one authorised for that purpose by the FSA.
The new clause alters references in section 622(1) of the Housing Act 1985 to schedule 3 to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 in respect of the terms “authorised deposit taker” and “authorised insurer” to ensure that the definition of an ALI is consistent with the regulatory regime established by the 2000 Act. The alteration consists of referring to paragraph 12 of schedule 3 to the 2000 Act rather than to paragraph 12(1). The FSA has advised me that the wider reference is correct. Clause 264 makes that alteration for the definition of an authorised mortgage lender, and this new clause makes the same alteration for the definitions of authorised deposit taker and authorised insurer.
I am sure, Mr. Benton, that everyone found that absolutely thrilling. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] They are far too kind. I am happy to repeat all that I have just mentioned, if they so wish, but on this occasion I will not do so.
Question put and agreed to. Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 5

Abolition of home information packs
‘(1) Sections 148 to 170 of the Housing Act 2004 (c. 34) are hereby repealed.
(2) A person who is selling a residential property must supply the purchaser with information about the energy efficiency of the property.
(3) The Secretary of State may make regulations prescribing the particular information which is required or authorised to be included in, or which is to be excluded from, such energy efficiency information and all other incidental matters relating thereto.’.—[Grant Shapps.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I feel that we have been here before. When we were debating HIPs last week, the Minister said that we were flogging a dead horse, but if only it were so. The legislation has been virtually pointless, and its useless implementation has been matched only by its introduction. It is worth reminding the Committee that the legislation followed a troubled path into operation across numerous pledges and manifestos. It was eventually introduced, but the home condition report is the critical point. When the home condition report—effectively a survey produced by the seller rather than the buyer of a property—was dropped, it rendered the HIP virtually useless. However, rather than recognising the difficulties that the legislation had run into, the Government pushed forward, which is the point that new clause 5 seeks to address.
Following the watered-down home condition report, there were incredible delays in the rest of the implementation, including a staggered introduction. The measure was delayed until August, which was followed by separate introductions for four-bedroomed properties, three-bedroomed properties and one and two-bedroomed properties. There were also delays in the legislation, which, even to this day, does not require, for example, leasehold documents to be included in a HIP or, for that matter, for the HIP to be obtained.
It is a requirement of the current bureaucratic legislation only that the HIP is ordered. If a house is sold before it is obtained, it does not matter, because of an exemption called first-day marketing, which means that somebody can market their home on the first day that they have the idea to put it up for sale. It seems to most onlookers that if the first-day marketing exemption were scrapped—so far, it has been extended on two occasions, most recently last week to 1 June—it would be almost impossible for the HIPs system to operate. If it were scrapped, one would need to have received a HIP to put one’s house on the market, which is not as straightforward as this Minister and the Minister for Housing like to pretend. I say that from personal knowledge, because, as I reported to the House last week, I have ordered a HIP.
Mr. Wright: How is your HIP? Is it a new HIP?
Grant Shapps: Well, I am pleased to report to the Minister—I think that I told him this at the time—that the energy performance certificate was supplied within 72 hours, and I have it here. Eleven days later, however, the HIP has yet to appear. If I had purchased the HIP with the intent of selling my house and the exemption to first-day marketing had not been extended till 1 June, I would be legally forbidden from putting my house on the market, which is nonsense. The idea that the legislation is fine, but only because it has a massive hole in it—the first-day marketing exemption—makes a mockery of the entire legislation.
The issue involves more than the time taken, although I understand that if one happens to live in an area supplied by Southern Water, the delays are such that someone who ordered their HIP in October last year will still not have received it, because the search details will not have come through. That water company wrote to conveyancers in the area explaining that it could not supply the water searches for two months. Those people would be unable to sell their homes, if it were not for the first-day exemption.
Mr. Wright: I am being slightly flippant, if not cheeky, and I run the risk of being ruled out of order. If the hon. Gentleman’s HIP comes tomorrow, it will have taken 12 days, so a new hip is a lot quicker under Labour than the Tories.
Grant Shapps: Thank you for your intervention, Minister, which is significant, because it demonstrates the extent to which it has been hard to get the Government to focus on the true issues. It is easy for them simply to provide a sneering look and move on with business, but the reality is that if one orders a HIP and it does not come, one would not be able to sell one’s house without the exemption. If that is not the case, I challenge the Government to get rid of the exemption straight away, but they know that that is the case and that the problem is significant.
Unfortunately, the problems do not end there. The difficulty with the HIPs legislation is that it goes against the grain of human nature. When one buys something as big as a house, one would be insane not to want to carry out one’s own searches. My neighbour put their home on the market a year ago. Due to a slowing housing market and possibly some other factors, that house has not sold. Had they been required to get a HIP, it would probably have been replaced on two occasions by now. It would be insane to trust search information so far out of date, if one were buying that house. That, in a nutshell, is the fundamental flaw in asking the seller to commission the work that is required at the time of purchase by the buyer.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has said that it would be insane to purchase something as significant as a house without obtaining all the relevant information. How many people under the old system commissioned a survey before they purchased a house—entering into probably the biggest financial transaction in their life without adequate information about what they were making an offer on?
Grant Shapps: The reality is that the information that the buyer gets depends on the buyer. I think that the right hon. Gentleman’s point is that most people do not commission a full survey on their homes, which is entirely up to them. The home condition report would never have been a full survey on the house. Home condition reports are available, but only 4 per cent. of people who have ordered a HIP to date have bothered to get a home condition report, including those paid by the Government to order HIPs—the £4 million trials. That home condition report is not of the same standard and quality as a home condition report that one would get if one were to survey one’s home, which would be carried out by an entirely separate body.
Mr. Raynsford rose—
Grant Shapps: I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to discuss whether home inspectors are the same as, for example, chartered surveyors.
Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman will recall making a pejorative remark about the survey being commissioned by the seller, not the buyer, and implying that that somehow tainted it. The reality is that the surveys will be carried out either by approved inspectors or, in the case of the old system, by surveyors. The crucial thing about the HIPs system is that the liability will allow the purchaser of the property to seek redress, if the survey is not accurate, which is the key thing. Will he explain to the Committee how he justifies his party’s support for the old arrangements, where £1 million was lost to consumers every day of every year because of inherent inefficiency and delays?
Grant Shapps: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge of the housing market is usually impeccable. The actual figure is £320 million a year, which is not quite £1 million a day, and those costs have not, of course, disappeared because of HIPs. Furthermore, he should be aware—I am sure that he is aware—that a home inspector who has studied for a period of time is not equivalent to a chartered surveyor. The people who normally carry out home inspections for the purposes of a survey are different from the people who are invited to carry out a home condition report. The right hon. Gentleman’s argument is not, in fact, with me, but with his own Front Benchers, who scrapped the requirement for a home condition report. It is not, after all, part of what is happening in the marketplace—nobody is bothering to get an HCR because they recognise it has very little value to the purchaser, who will want to purchase that survey themselves.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a two-part question, the first part of which concerned the survey or home condition report and the second part of which concerned searches. The searches will sometimes be in place following the introduction of HIPs, which leads to the question whether any solicitor worth his salt, acting on behalf of the buyer, is going to trust information provided some months earlier. House sales take time—from the moment when a buyer and seller agree in principle to the sale, it is typically a three-month process—so most solicitors acting for a buyer are simply not going to trust that document. I am not sure why it is so difficult for the Government to see and understand the reality that people are paying the costs twice. The seller is now having to commission this information, much of which—even most of which—is repeated by the buyer, which is the problem with HIPs.
The Government repeatedly misquote the cost at £300. I invite the Minister to come clean, because we know that VAT is added. Tax is involved in the additional bureaucracy, so at the very minimum the cost is £350, and experts in the marketplace are saying that average costs are coming out nearer £400 or £500, which does not take into account running HIPs or the situation if home condition reports are included. The body of evidence makes it clear that the delay is unacceptable. The Government know that the delay is unacceptable, which is why they have had to skewer their own legislation with an exemption to allow people not to receive their HIPs, because it is sufficient to order a HIP under the first-day marketing exemption.
On my HIP, it is 11 days and counting. With the permission of the Committee, I will report back when it eventually comes through. As things stand, however, I would be unable to sell my house. New clause 5 seeks to resolve that problem. Energy performance certificates are, as we have said all along, a good idea, because they will enable people to make the comparison between their own houses and those of friends and neighbours, if they wish to share that information. It is absolutely sensible to liberate the energy performance certificate from the shell of a HIP. By cutting away the bureaucracy that surrounds EPCs and allowing them to stand on their own, we will enable them to spread faster and wider, to become more generic and to achieve our common objective of greener homes.
4.30 pm
Mr. Wright: Here we go again. We have debated this many times.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Endlessly.
Mr. Wright: Indeed. We had an Opposition day debate—my first ever, actually—on HIPs on 10 October, a statutory instrument on 18 October and a further statutory instrument last Wednesday. Frankly, I am extremely concerned that the hon. Gentleman feels the need to use valuable parliamentary time not to have Opposition day debates about the supply of new housing or to talk about how to improve its quality, but to protect vested interests—my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich has referred to the cost of £1 million a day. It is simply not on. We need to move away from that and ensure that we talk about the real issues on housing policy.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the vested interests of whom he speaks are the same people from whom the Government sought advice, namely surveyors and others in that area of work? When the Government did not like the advice that they got, those people suddenly they became “vested interests” to be abused by the Government.
Mr. Wright: Everybody, Government and Opposition alike, recognises that the current home buying and selling process needs to change. My understanding was that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield appreciated that and was doing something about it.
Grant Shapps: Undertaking a review.
Mr. Wright: Exactly. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is doing that.
Mr. Raynsford: Does my hon. Friend recall that when the HIPs scheme was first trialled, it commanded the support of almost all the professional bodies, which could see the clear benefit of reforming an inefficient system under which, every time a buyer commissions a survey and the sale falls through, the fee is lost? If it takes three, four or five times for the sale to go through, the surveyor does very well, because he sells the survey again and again. That was the absolute waste of money in the old system, which the Opposition continue to defend. Is not their position untenable?
Mr. Wright: Absolutely. The biggest losers in all this tend to be first-time buyers, who are at a disadvantage in any case because of spending power, and we are trying to address that. Government Members recognise—I thought that Opposition Members did too—that the current house buying and selling process is confusing, expensive, stressful and opaque, and we need to do something about it.
That is why, frankly, I cannot quite understand why the Opposition have tabled a new clause that would do away with HIPs, when all the indications are that the measure is starting to work incredibly well and is doing what it was intended to do. The introduction of HIPs brought information up front in the process for the first time, and transferred costs from the buyer to the seller, making it easier for first-time buyers to get on the housing market ladder.
I thought that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield would share my aspirations and ambitions for first-time buyers, but clearly that is not the case. Now that HIPs are operational and working well in the marketplace, with all the indications showing so far that they are bringing the intended positive benefits, I cannot quite believe that the Opposition still want to pull the rug from under first-time buyers’ feet. We should all be committed to improving the home buying and selling process, not looking back.
Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): I wholeheartedly agree that this is all about the protection of potential or existing owner-occupiers, and I happen to think that the HIPs process has brought in greater protection. If the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield is genuinely concerned about protecting those people, he should make greater efforts to look at the other end of the scale. Unscrupulous financial institutions push elderly people to sell their homes and then rent them back, and there are some dubious transactions that put those elderly people and their homes at risk.
Mr. Wright: My hon. Friend has raised an important point. We have all seen the adverts on television that tell people they can stay in their own homes for the remainder of their lives, but that financial penalties will be involved. The Conservatives should be considering that, but they do not seem to be.
I will give the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield the benefit of the doubt. I think that he wants energy-efficiency measures for housing, but the effect of the amendment would be to withdraw all the positive work that is going on. Last time I checked, that was being done very successfully as part of the HIP. More than 270,000 energy performance certificates have been produced to provide information to sellers and prospective buyers alike on measures to improve the energy efficiency of homes. I was about to refer to my hon. Friend regarding oral questions last week, but I am happy to give way to him.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): If the Opposition truly intend to press the new clause to a vote, is that not irresponsible when we have set up the system and it appears to be working?
Mr. Wright: If the new clause is pressed, I shall ask members of the Committee who vote against the scheme to justify to their electors why they have voted against protection for first-time buyers and hard-working families, why they are trying to protect vested interests and why they are trying to scrap energy-efficiency measures. Given that the stock market is vulnerable and that we have the most turbulent housing market for 15 years, why do they want to derail things and to create further stress and uncertainty? That is to play politics in a devious manner, and I will have no part in it.
Grant Shapps: That is extraordinary rhetoric. Having just agreed that we are not planning to scrap EPCs and would like them furthered, the Minister slipped into a tirade as if scrapping them were our policy. I hope that he accepts that the truth is that, if HIPs were removed and EPCs did not apply only in respect of moving home, more EPCs would be issued.
Mr. Wright: I had been about to refer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton last Tuesday at oral questions. He made an important point about assistance for people whose homes have low energy ratings. I am happy to give way again to the hon. Gentleman, because we would love to know the EPC rating of his home——or one of them; I am not sure of his status.
Grant Shapps: I can report that my EPC came in at a D, with a little room for improvement in the A to G banding. I can also report that, unlike some others, I have only one home.
Mr. Wright: I am disappointed, because I wanted him to say that he had an F or G-rated home so that I could have offered him the help of the green homes service that I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton at oral questions and which we announced in November. To every householder who gets an F or G-rated EPC for a home being sold or bought, the green homes service will make an offer of discounted or free help with energy efficiency. We expect some 10 million households to benefit from energy efficiency measures in the first and subsequent phases of the energy efficiency commitment. We are seeing a tremendous amount in terms of energy efficiency. Given that something like 27 per cent. of all the UK’s carbon emissions come from domestic dwellings, we need to do something about this. This is up and running now: we are curbing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency as part of the HIPs process now. If the new clause goes through, we just scrap that, we provide nothing and almost go back to square one.
That suggests that the Conservatives saying, “Vote blue and go green” is somewhat misleading.
Grant Shapps: In fact, the new clause does include provision for the energy performance certificates to continue. Subsection (2) says:
“A person who is selling a residential property must supply the purchaser with information about the energy efficiency of the property”
and subsection (3) says that the Secretary of State can prescribe exactly what that is. We imagine that that would be an EPC.
Mr. Wright: But the wording is somewhat vague, and my interpretation was quite strong, saying that it looked as though we were going back to square one.
Alistair Burt: I am struggling here. We have a lot of respect for the Minister, as he knows, but where can he find ambiguity in the words,
“A person who is selling a residential property must supply the purchaser with information about the energy efficiency of the property”?
I am a lawyer by background, but I would really struggle to get out of that one—it is as plain as it can be. I would be grateful if he reflected and said that the new clause does indeed guarantee that energy efficiency would be right up there as the key ingredient in a new certificate.
Mr. Wright: No, I still maintain that it is very vague and ambiguous and does not provide that certainty.
Mr. Raynsford: Subsection (3) of the new clause says:
“The Secretary of State may make regulations”—
not “shall make regulations”—
“prescribing the particular information which is required or authorised to be included in, or is to be excluded from, such energy efficiency information”.
That is absolute ambiguity and total freedom for the Secretary of State—if it was a Tory, heaven knows what they would do. It simply leaves an open door to an incoming Tory Administration to do what they like, with absolute lack of clarity.
Mr. Wright: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for that clarification.
The dividing lines are most apparent. We are currently working to ensure that home information packs and energy performance certificates work in what is, frankly, a turbulent and uncertain housing market. We are providing that reassurance, and we will not play fast and loose with the housing market—no responsible Government would do that.
We are working now with energy companies to make the most of the EPC, linking recommendations in the EPC with grants for improvement measures, given the answer that I gave my right hon. Friend on Tuesday. This is all part of the process for the phasing in of EPCs across all sectors of buildings. Commercial buildings of more than 10,000 sq m are scheduled to require them from April; in July this will extend to those of more than 2,500 sq m; and in October to all remaining buildings. Public buildings above 1,000 sq m will need to display an energy certificate from October 2008.
All these measures are part of an agreed package that will lead to a reduction in carbon emissions. We are already considering ways of further enhancing this environmental package.
Alistair Burt: It might help the Committee to hear that the Government had at least some humility about the way in which HIPs were introduced, following the recent critical report. What was the Government’s biggest mistake that has not led the housing market or would-be purchasers to feel that HIPs are the right way forward? Why is there such concern about them, and why was the recent report so critical about the Department’s performance in putting them together?
Mr. Wright: I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Select Committee report, which mentions HIPs. What I took from the report was that we did not go fast enough, but that the policy of improving transparency and helping first-time buyers and other hard-working families in buying and selling houses was spot-on. It was right to phase the policy in a turbulent housing market. The potential judicial review from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors meant that we had to do something about home condition reports.
4.45 pm
As I have throughout my debates with the hon. Gentleman, I maintain strongly that, in the turbulent housing market of the summer, with the sub-prime problems across the Atlantic, Northern Rock, rising interest rates and some uncertainty——which is important in housing markets——it was absolutely right and proper that the Government took a prudent approach and did nothing that would further undermine confidence or jeopardise the stability of the housing market. Much to the annoyance of the Opposition, the phased approach remains robust in a turbulent world and has not been compromised as a result of HIPs. The Europe Economics report showed that. We took the right, considered, reasoned, pragmatic approach; we are not going to play fast and loose with the housing market. That is what responsible Governments do. In the recession of 1991-92, when the Conservatives were in office, one in nine people lost their homes. We will never go back to that.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): The key point that my hon. Friend made was that EPCs relate only to homes being sold, which leaves 95 per cent. without them. The key issue for debate is what we are to do about the homes that are not on the market, many of which require improved energy efficiency if we are to meet the 2050 targets by reducing carbon emissions from homes.
Mr. Wright: That is a good point. EPCs need to be widened. We had a good debate last week on sustainability certificates for new homes and clauses 242 to 256 in respect of making the provision of sustainability information mandatory as part of the HIP.
I have gone on longer than I intended. We have been round the houses on this. I implore the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield to stop flogging this dead horse and withdraw the amendment. To change my metaphor, the HIPs aeroplane has taken off and is cruising at a steady altitude, the stewardesses and stewards are bringing the drinks round, so I wish that the Opposition would stop trying to cause a crash landing.
Grant Shapps: Would not the Minister’s case be stronger if he published the results of the £4 million trial? What does he say to the comment of the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich in respect of those whom the Government told they could earn up to £70,000 a year if they trained as home inspectors, as opposed to the domestic energy assessors who do EPCs? They should have been carrying out home condition reports now. What is the Minister’s message to people, who, in many cases, spent their life savings on this project?
Mr. Wright: On the area trials, I have told the hon. Gentleman many times, most recently on Wednesday, that when the process is finished, I will write to him and place the report in the Library. I cannot say fairer than that. The process needs to be taken to its conclusion. That is reasonable and we have been round the houses on that.
On the second point, I know that HCRs are not mandatory and there is a case for advertising their merits, but it is not as if we have abolished them. There is still a strong case for them. I implore the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion and ensure that HIPs, which are bedding in well and not destabilising the housing market, but having the desired, positive effect, can go on and do what we intend.
Grant Shapps: I have listened carefully to the Minister, and as he rightly points out, we have debated this on numerous occasions—three separate occasions in Delegated Legislation Committees—not least because of the way the Government introduced the legislation in a hotch-potch fashion: hardly something he can blame this Front Bench for, when it was his own Government who produced these statutory instruments to debate the legislation.
I am still not hearing any answer to the question that has been hanging over the Government’s implementation of HIPs all this time, and that is, what on earth happened to the £4 million of public money that was spent on trialling this HIP legislation? What is the point of trials and pilots if it is not to test the results and publish that outcome? Without that information, we are none the wiser as to whether, in those trials, this worked or did not. The Minister has never told us what the point of those trials was if it was not to produce information that could be used as a basis to decide whether this legislation should be pushed through in full.
I do not think there is a satisfactory answer to the question for those people who trained as HIPs inspectors and spent £10,000 or £12,000 of their money, or even for those who thought there would be a lot more work available as domestic energy assessors, having spent several thousand pounds, when the work is not there. The fastest and easiest way to ensure that the market is there for them would be to run with new clause 5 and liberate the energy performance certificate so it could be used much more widely, and not just when someone buys or sells a house. I am not convinced by the Minister’s lack of arguments and cannot therefore withdraw the motion.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 11.
Division No. 3 ]
Burt, Alistair
Shapps, Grant
Syms, Mr. Robert
Young, rh Sir George
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Brown, Lyn
George, Andrew
Gwynne, Andrew
Love, Mr. Andrew
Moran, Margaret
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Wright, Mr. Iain
Question accordingly negatived.
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