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Housing: Home Information Packs

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare a small interest in that a member of my family has just completed this training.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will consider providing reimbursement for those who have undertaken training for the compilation of home information packs.

My Lords, the home condition report will remain part of the home information pack, but as an authorised document rather than a mandatory item. There are significant employment opportunities for those in training as home inspectors, and properly trained inspectors will be needed to produce energy performance certificates required for packs. This is in addition to the number of inspectors needed to meet the demand for voluntary full home condition reports.

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, does she not accept that most people undertook this training on a gilt-edged assurance from the Government that there would be a mandatory demand for their services? They have undertaken long, extensive and expensive courses. Do not the Government have at least some duty of care to make sure that they get either some reimbursement or that the scheme is brought back in—if that is a wise idea?

My Lords, let me start by saying that we are aware of the difficulty caused by the announcement of a change in the implementation policy. My honourable friend the Minister of State is writing to express her regrets and apologies to the people who embarked on the course. However, we want to make it absolutely clear that we believe that there are major employment opportunities in this area. We are committed to making a success of the voluntary rollout of this programme and we are working very closely with the industry to ensure that we do so. We have an obligation to home inspectors to ensure that the rollout of this programme is a success. We believe that we can do that.

However, we also have an obligation to the consumer. When we went into the detail of the process of implementation, it became clear that there were disadvantages, partly because the industry was not ready and partly because we were not sure about the numbers coming forward for training and completing their training on time in the right parts of the country. Various factors had to be taken into account and we have done so.

My Lords, when I asked the noble Baroness a few weeks ago about the point of having home information packs when it was clear that the building societies were not going to accept the surveys for mortgage valuation purposes, she assured the House that talks were taking place, the deadline would be met and there would not be a problem. What on earth is the point, other than saving the Government’s face, of imposing this bureaucratic system on the public and on those selling their houses with all the costs associated with that when it clearly has no value whatever? When will the Government learn to take note of the warnings they had from the industry and from this House instead of proceeding in this arrogant manner, which has cost many people hundreds of thousands of pounds?

My Lords, I do not think it is a weakness for the Government to have listened to voices telling us that we should consider the effects on an industry which considered itself not to be ready. We have listened to that. Perhaps if the previous Government had done a little more listening they would have been a little more successful; for example, in the rollout of the railways. There is, indeed, a very good case for the home information pack. If the noble Lord reads the debate he will see that both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat Opposition in the House of Commons have congratulated us on the decision we have taken. The Liberal Democrats said that they were very grateful. The home information pack includes everything, except the HCR, which people will need for more security and transparency in transactions which, under the present system, cause wastefulness and distress. It remains a valuable product and we support it equally. When the home condition report is tested with consumers it is extremely popular. We have made a commitment to ensure that the voluntary rollout is successful.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is better for the Government to have thought before implementing something like this and withdrawn it, rather than—as the party opposite did with the community charge—insist on it and ruin themselves and the country?

My Lords, I completely agree. When, under our system of conveyancing, one in three sales collapses because of inadequate information and the like, we are right to try to find a system which will improve on it. This will provide information up front and make the whole process more certain and less stressful.

My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for being frank and forthright in what she has said. None the less, one needs to dwell on the fact that when the Bill was first introduced into the House the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was kind enough to accept that the research as to the practical effects of the pack was simply not adequate. Is there not a lesson here for legislation as a whole that it is far better not to have to withdraw a Bill on the point of implementation but better not to bring it forward unless it has been thoroughly researched?

My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord is in his place today to ask this question. I regret that he will not be in his place as we complete the successful voluntary rollout as his contribution to this House is formidable. He is absolutely right: we need evidence-based policies for all we do. He was one of the people who called upon us to carry out area-based trials, which is very difficult to do for all the reasons that we have exchanged over the Dispatch Box. However, we will now carry out area-based trials, with the support of the industry, as best we can. We have to test out the home condition report in place and its impact on consumers. It was difficult to do that in the dry run because of the volume of packs on which we have had to base our evidence, but we shall certainly do it.

My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as one who fought against this measure but undertook the training. I can assure the noble Baroness that there is not a surveyor I know who will undergo further training on this scheme because they cannot trust the Government after they have reneged on it and cost us thousands of pounds. Under the new circumstances, can we continue to sell houses as soon as we are instructed and not have to wait for the remainder of the home information pack to be produced?

My Lords, I am sure that when the noble Earl receives the letter from the Minister of State expressing her regrets, he will understand more about why we have taken the decision. We have not reneged on the policy. As I have said, we are completely committed to both the home information packs and to the value of HCRs. As to the question he asks, in a Written Statement the Minister of State in the other place said:

“Working with the industry and with consumers, we are proposing to support a series of area-based trials and we will test proposals such as allowing sellers to start marketing their homes if they have already commissioned their HIP rather than having to wait up to 14 days”.—[Official Report, 18/7/06; col. WS 80-1.]