20 Apr 2000 : Column 813

House of Lords

Thursday, 20th April 2000.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I shall be on an official visit to Slovakia on Tuesday 2nd May and hosting a luncheon in London on behalf of Her Majesty's Government for Nelson Mandela on Wednesday 3rd May 2000, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Energy Audits: Mortgage Surveys

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to make it a requirement that home surveys for mortgage purposes shall include energy efficiency audits.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government's recent housing Green Paper describes our proposals for reform to the home-buying and selling process in England and Wales. Under these proposals, people marketing homes for sale would provide a pack of standard information for potential buyers, including an energy efficiency survey. We have also given our support to a Private Members' Bill sponsored by the honourable Member for Eltham, Clive Efford. That Bill includes a requirement for mortgage lenders to provide borrowers with information on energy efficiency, and on possible measures for improvement, as part of the inspections they carry out for mortgage valuation purposes.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that constructive response to my Question. May I remind him that it was back in 1996 that I introduced a Bill in this House to include energy audits in mortgage surveys and that, subsequently, Bills were introduced in the other place, notably by my honourable friend John Burnett and then, as the Minister mentioned, taken up by Mr Clive Efford? However, these Private Members' Bills have been running into considerable difficulties. Therefore, if Mr Efford's Bill does not get through, can the noble Lord say whether the Government would contemplate introducing such a measure in legislation of their own?

20 Apr 2000 : Column 814

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I share the noble Lord's concern that Private Members' initiatives on this front have run into the sand and, in most cases, the rather specific sand of objections of two Members of Her Majesty's Opposition in another place. If Clive Efford's Bill does not proceed, clearly we would contemplate similar measures for inclusion in any future housing legislation, which will be required by the Green Paper in any event. I cannot pre-empt the Queen's Speech, but we would certainly consider this for inclusion.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, to the best of my knowledge, it is mandatory in Denmark to have such energy efficiency surveys and results, and that it has made a marked difference--indeed, an improvement--in the efficiency of houses in Denmark and, therefore, a significant reduction in the consumption of energy?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. We are aware of the Danish procedure in this respect. The procedure that is now being proposed would, to some extent, follow it. At present, we are piloting this idea with home buyers in the Bristol area to see how they would respond to suggestions for improving home efficiency that are included in such surveys. The exact form of any legislation would obviously need to take that into account. It is most important because domestic emissions of carbon account for about one-quarter of total emissions, and we need to tackle this problem through a variety of home efficiency measures.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, can the Minister say who will carry out these energy efficiency audits and how much they will cost the average home buyer?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, one would need to employ a surveyor. Whether or not the responsibility rests on the vendor or on the borrower, figures for the actual carrying out of the surveys would be worked out by surveyors who would then apply their findings through systems developed by the four designated companies which provide such information and which are recognised and accredited by the Government.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister say in what form these energy results will be published? Further, is the noble Lord aware that appliances such as refrigerators are designated A, B or D, but there is no indication as to which is the better category? Unless there is a straight percentage for energy efficiency, will the Minister ensure that some indication of the meaning of each code is also published?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in my experience white goods are labelled fairly clearly. Indeed, this is one of the success stories. However, I suppose that some consumers will require a little explanation even for that straightforward information. It is, of course, more complicated in relation to housing because so many different aspects have to be taken into account. But the

20 Apr 2000 : Column 815

survey will produce a points system that will need explanation. It will also include an indication of the return--the number of years in which your money would be "paid back"--for each of the individual items that the surveyor identifies. I should say here that it is possible that I missed one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, in this respect. I am saying that this will be part of the normal survey that will be carried out as part of any house purchase.

Serbia: Effect of Sanctions

11.11 a.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that current sanctions are harming the population of Serbia while strengthening the Milosevic government; and, if so, what modifications they would propose.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the European Union sanctions regime aims to target the Milosevic government and their supporters, while minimising the impact on the civilian population. We are content that the current regime is achieving those aims.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Is it not a fact that the general standard of living in Serbia has been reduced to below the level of even Albania? If that is so, can the noble Baroness say how the Government defend their policy of not targeting the civilian population? Can sanctions be refocused so as to bear on the government and the state institutions? If that can be done, or if such an attempt can be made, will not the Government find themselves in agreement with both the French and the German governments?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I say straight away that Her Majesty's Government are sensitive to the need to focus the sanctions on Milosevic's regime as opposed to the people of Serbia. Obviously, no wholesale sanctions relief can be implemented until democracy and reform are established in Belgrade. The European Union is in contact with the democratic opposition in Serbia and has demonstrated that it is prepared to think flexibly on sanctions by responding to calls by the Serbian opposition to suspend the flight ban by making exemptions for Kosovo and Montenegro. However, we need to relate the evolution of sanctions policy to the political developments and situation on the ground in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, why does the European Union support the United States in the case of sanctions against Serbia but disagree with the United States in the case of sanctions against Cuba?

20 Apr 2000 : Column 816

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government will take a view depending on the circumstances that prevail in relation to each situation. We make an informed judgment; we have made an informed judgment in this case; and we shall make an informed judgment in every other case.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, remembering that Milosevic's brother is Serbia's ambassador to Moscow, to what extent did the Prime Minister press Mr Putin on Russia's observation of sanctions on Serbia? The Minister mentioned supporters. Is Russia classed as a supporter?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not in a position to assist the noble Baroness as to the precise nature of the discussion that took place between Mr Putin and the Prime Minister on this issue. As the noble Baroness will know, the Prime Minister had an extensive discussion on a number of issues which are directly pertinent to Russia, not least of which is Chechnya.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's general reply, but does she agree that in a situation where indicted war criminals are still walking free, particularly in the Republika Srpska, sanctions are perceived as hitting the civilian population? Some of the leading figures in the previous government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are still able to move around without any sanctions imposed upon them despite the fact that they have been indicted by the criminal tribunal for Yugoslavia.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page