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16 Jan 2008 : Column 1366

(a) for “a Passenger Transport Authority” substitute “an Integrated Transport Authority”;(b) for “passenger transport area” (in both places) substitute “integrated transport area”;(c) for “Passenger Transport Authorities” substitute “Integrated Transport Authorities”.(a) for “Passenger Transport Authorities and Executives” (in both places) substitute “Integrated Transport Authorities and Passenger Transport Executives”;(b) for “passenger transport areas” (in both places) substitute “integrated transport areas”.”“(d) an Integrated Transport Authority for an integrated transport area in England.”.”“Race Relations Act 1976 (c. 74)“Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c. 27)(a) after “an area which is” insert “an integrated transport area or”;(b) for “that passenger transport area” substitute “that area”.”

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“Value Added Tax Act 1994 (c. 23)“(d) an Integrated Transport Authority, Passenger Transport Authority or Passenger Transport Executive for the purposes of Part 2 of the Transport Act 1968;”.Education Act 1996 (c. 56)Audit Commission Act 1998 (c. 18)“Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36)“Railways Act 2005 (c. 14)(a) in subsection (2) for “passenger transport area” substitute “integrated transport area”;(b) in subsections (3), (4), (5), (7), (8) and (9) for “a passenger transport area” substitute “an integrated transport area”.“(d) an Integrated Transport Authority or a Passenger Transport Authority;”.(a) after “a reference to” insert “an Integrated Transport Authority or”;(b) after “or to” insert “an integrated transport area or”.Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 (c. 13)Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 (c. 28)“(i) an Integrated Transport Authority for an integrated transport area in England;”.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, I suggest that Report stage begin again not before 8.32 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

European Communities (Finance) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Home Information Pack (Amendment) Regulations 2007

7.33 pm

Lord Dixon-Smith rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 23 November 2007, be annulled (SI 2007/3301).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we take up again what was a fruitful source of debate and indeed a happy hunting ground for my predecessor in this job, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. We continue to debate a saga of unfortunate actions that have led to unfortunate consequences.

In a sense, the Government are fortunate that the consequences of this series of regulations are now fairly well disguised behind a growing economic slow-down which is being followed by falling prices in the UK housing sector. All of that is exacerbated by the consequences of the sub-prime banking collapse in the United States which has caused a shortage of credit in the UK banking system and aggravated the general loss of confidence in the market. The collapse of Northern Rock, which is as yet unresolved, does nothing to help the situation.

All these factors hinder the possibility of seeing a clear and precise picture of the impact caused by the introduction of home information packs. However, there are things that we know. We know that the Government have never dared to publish the results of the research, which cost £4 million, into the effects of the pilot schemes. This is most unfortunate. It inevitably leads suspicious minds like mine to the conclusion that there is perhaps something the Government wish to hide—or, at the very least, not to reveal. We know that in its fifth report of this Session, the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee undertook a very helpful and full review across what I will term the housing market industry. Its conclusions, which I will paraphrase, are as follows. The objectives of the home information packs regulations are to provide consumers with better information at the right time to reduce costs and carbon emissions from homes. It goes on to say that these amending regulations provide for a further reduction in the information required in home information packs. Views among stakeholders continued to be divided—both about the benefits of this change and about home information pack policy generally.

I acknowledge that the Association of Home Information Pack Providers continues to be enthusiastic because of the transitional arrangement that the

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Government have put in place. It goes on to note that there are problems in obtaining even some of the reduced information required. I believe that I have interpreted its note correctly. The fact that there is less information than was originally intended means that the general purpose of the packs is not as strong as it might otherwise have been. However, its enthusiasm is not matched by others elsewhere. While noting a reduction of costs of searches by some local authorities, the Council for Mortgage Lenders also noted that delivering energy performance certificates through home information packs will take more than 13 years to cover the housing stock. Yet energy performance certificates are the main reason for pressing on with home information packs. It goes on to say that the Government should reflect on whether energy performance certificates could be more quickly, and more universally, delivered in a different way.

As someone who is participating in the Committee stage on the Climate Change Bill, which is currently in this House, the matter of speeding up the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the domestic sector cannot be deferred for 13 years; the problem is more urgent than that. Those qualified to provide energy performance certificates will need to provide their services to any householder. We have a much greater urgency than is implied by having them tied to home information packs.

A memorandum from Mr Michael Garson to the Statutory Instruments Committee lists 10 objectives which, he says, the home information packs fail to meet. I do not intend to list them all as it would take too long.

A noble Lord: Hear, hear!

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am glad that I have a measure of agreement. Those objectives range from increasing the costs of home transactions to uncertainty about standards and whether those standards can be consistently applied.

Anecdotal evidence from members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, who are in the housing business on a day-to-day basis, is not helped by the state of the housing market. Inquiries that they receive about possible new business are down by 5 per cent in the south of England and nearer to 30 per cent in the north. That is a very heavy reduction, and prices are going down at the same time.

I also received the comment from RICS members—again, this is anecdotal—that home information packs had become a source of revenue for some of them. In other words, the law of unforeseen consequences applies: the client will pay more for the home information pack than it costs to produce.

It seems to be said everywhere that the searches required for home information packs are inadequate for the purposes of clients’ lawyers before any purchase can be completed. The members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors are clear that, in reality, the home information pack is not a major consideration in the minds of home-buyers.

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It is now time to appreciate that the introduction of home information packs has been a distraction in the housing market and that we should bring them to an end. This Prayer could be the first step in that process. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 23 November 2007, be annulled (SI 2007/3301). 5th Report from the Merits Committee.—(Lord Dixon-Smith.)

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I feel as though I am intruding on old friends in this debate. When there was a debate on the No. 2 Regulations last year, my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market started by saying, “Here we are again”. I am taking over from her today and, as I look around, I see a number of Members of the House whose words on that occasion I have recently read. On that occasion, on a Motion moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, from the Conservative Front Bench, the Government, with Liberal Democrat support, got what might be called a “non-fatal mauling”. To say that the Government ignored that would be unfair; I am sure that they paid a great deal of attention to what was said, not least because many of the points made in the debate were very valid. Nevertheless, they ploughed on.

I have never been terribly enthused by home information packs. They were a good idea, but the Act was flawed and the implementation has certainly been flawed—at least, it has been very difficult. It has been fragmented and there has been an impression of stuttering and stumbling along. Having said that, we should pay credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who, as a Minister, has put a lot of personal commitment and energy into making HIPs work. Without her efforts, they probably would not have been put into force. Some people may consider that to be a good thing but I think that she should be given the credit for them. However, they are still struggling to get over the finishing line, as we see with the amendment regulations before us.

In many ways, it is too soon to make a judgment on home information packs. In the debate on 18 July, the Minister said:

At the moment, the kindest thing that one can say is that that case is as yet unproven, but it may be that that will be the long-term effect. However, Parliament as a whole will have to come back to this issue at some point in the future to see whether HIPs are doing what has been claimed for them. If they are not, their cost will mean that they should be done away with. Nevertheless, at the moment the jury is not out because the evidence and information is not there, but the jury will be needed in future.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said that the Government had never dared to publish the report from the pilot trials. I do not know whether that is the case or whether it has just taken a long time for the information to emerge through the system. Again, I shall be kind to the Government and suggest that that may be the case, but one has to ask when this information

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will be published, as clearly it must be. On the previous occasion, they promised to publish it in the late autumn. Whenever autumn may be nowadays with global warming, it certainly does not extend into January of the next year. We need a clear commitment on when the information will be published, because it is vital. It is extraordinary that a system has been introduced across all types of housing before publication of the report on the pilot schemes, which were presumably intended to give us the benefit of that information before the decision to proceed was made.

7.45 pm

The report by Europe Economics has been published but it was only narrow in its reference to the housing market and it suggests that there has been no impact as yet. Again, we shall see in a year or two whether that continues to be the case. I know only that the introduction of the two-bedrooms-and-less rule on 14 December resulted in all the advertisements for houses disappearing from the local press in my part of the world for around three or four weeks before Christmas. We got remarkably thin newspapers, which just shows how much the newspapers rely on people advertising houses. It may be that, apart from that, nothing has happened. However, we want to know what use HIPs are, what impact they are having and whether they are value for money. Those are questions to which we shall have to return.

The energy performance certificates have had a wider degree of support around the House and certainly from the Liberal Democrats but, again, some serious research must be done on them once they have been around for a while to see whether they are making a difference. Are they resulting in more energy-efficient houses because people are investing in things to produce that? Such evidence might emerge in a couple of years’ time, but the Government must take responsibility for ensuring that the research takes place, and that is the basis of my second question.

Here, we are discussing quite narrow amendment regulations to regularise what has been happening since 14 December and to extend what is known as the “temporary first-day marketing provision”—a few people in the world will understand what that means—to 1 June. What will happen if there is a need to extend that beyond 1 June? Will we have more amending legislation or will 1 June be an absolute back-stop? That is my third question.

I turn to the temporary provision on leasehold information. Until 1 June, the leasehold documents, apart from the lease, will now be authorised, not required, documents because of the difficulty that people have had in getting this information quickly from landlords and leaseholders. Are the Government satisfied that by 1 June people will start to produce this information or that they will have had enough practice in the new system for it to work, or, again, will the date be extended beyond 1 June?

The debate about HIPs goes far wider than these regulations, but the noble Lord rightly asked questions about how they were introduced and where we are going now. However, in the context of where we are now, our view is that the regulations are sensible. They

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are not fundamental and they are not unprincipled, and, even if we voted against them today, we would not want to see the system close down overnight—it is too far advanced for that. If HIPs are to become a permanent feature, that is one thing but, if they are not to become permanent, a decision on them will have to be taken in a year or two or perhaps four or five in the light of experience. Therefore, we would not support the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, if he pushed this Prayer to a Division this evening, although we sympathise with a great deal of what he said.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I declare my interest as a consultant to a firm of estate agents. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith mentioned some of the problems with the energy performance certificate and although it is welcomed by a lot of people, I would remind the House that it is not a panacea. It is not going to solve the energy problems of housing. It might identify some but it does not provide a solution.

HIPs are a very different issue, and that issue, among others, has led to this Government being the most disliked and distrusted when it comes to property matters, most particularly for the lack of consultation. Even the Communities and Local Government Select Committee in another place, which has just published its annual report for 2007, said:

It was absolutely crucial that the Government took the property industry with it. It clearly failed and that was a major mistake.

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