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Mr. Raynsford: Perhaps I can shortcircuit this debate and make time available for the other amendments that hon. Members are keen to debate by making it clear that the Government have the greatest reservations about new schedule 1. We do not intend to support it and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman need not fear that it will become part of the Bill. If that helps to overcome the slight difficulty in the Conservative party and allows us to move on to other matters, I hope that the House will have been done a service.

Mr. Forth: I am pleased that my limited eloquence has already persuaded the Minister of the position to take on new schedule 1, but I want to carry some more of my hon. Friends with me if I can. So despite the Minister's blandishments, I shall take just a few more minutes to deal with some of the measures in new schedule 1, on which, happily, the Minister and I share a view.

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I welcome him to the world of deregulation and non-intervention, in which we honour the good common sense of the people of this country and assume that they know what is best for them, and do not need the nanny state to guide them.

Under the proposals, we would interfere in the long-standing relationship between lenders and borrowers, and between the buyers and sellers of property. We would somehow attempt to tell people what it was in their interests to judge when considering a property transaction. The assumption is that something called a report on energy efficiency would add to that process. I am not sure how many people think about an amorphous concept such as energy efficiency when considering the sale or purchase of a house. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks said, the concept is defined nowhere in new schedule 1, and is therefore of only limited use, if any.

I am not sure whether people should take much account of something called energy efficiency when considering the location of a property, or its accommodation, garden, garage, or whatever. They may choose to take account of that, but they may deliberately set it to one side. However, the new schedule would not only make it mandatory for the new process to be interposed in the normal transaction, but its inevitable additional cost would be added arbitrarily, without any choice, to what until now has been a freely undertaken transaction between buyers and sellers.

8.30 pm

That disturbs me at a number of levels. It disturbs me because of the assumption that we in this place--and the lobby groups to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks referred--know better than the 1.5 million people who undertake such transactions in this country every year. That assumption is, at the very least, worth querying or challenging.

Mr. Bercow: For the avoidance of doubt, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, even if he were persuaded that energy efficiency reports were on the whole germane as a factor in the purchase price of properties, he would not think that they should be obligatory on that account?

Mr. Forth: That is right. We have been told that the Council of Mortgage Lenders is very keen on all this. I do not understand that because--following what my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks said--if mortgage lenders were as keen as is alleged, they would already make it a condition of loans that something called an energy efficiency report be carried out as part of the transactions that now take place. Why these excellent people do not do that now, yet say that they would like it to be imposed by statute or by regulation, is a question that only they can answer. I cannot answer it for them. I am puzzled by their approach, because it suggests a duality of attitude--I shall put it no more strongly--that requires an explanation.

Paragraph 1(3) of the new schedule states:

The trouble is that it appears that even if the buyer and the seller were mutually to decide, for whatever reason, that they did not want an energy efficiency report, they would be obliged to meet the fee set by the lender in accordance with that sub-paragraph.

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That strikes me as unreasonable. Surely if adult citizens who wish to undertake a purchase or sale mutually agree that it is not in their interests, or not part of their requirement, to undertake this extra cost, they should be free to make that decision. I find the mandatory element of the provision--not to say the assumption that people cannot make their own judgment about how far something known as an energy efficiency report will be germane or relevant to the transaction--utterly offensive.

The new schedule gets worse than that. In an attempt to answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks so sensibly posed, I draw the House's attention to paragraph 1(4), which attempts to be helpful. It says:

That raises a question that runs all through the schedule. If the report is to be a cheap, cheerful and easy estimate of energy efficiency, I doubt its value. If it is to be of real value, I suspect that it should properly be detailed, comprehensive, lengthy and probably fairly costly.

The whole concept falls at the very first hurdle. If those who support it argue that it would not cost anybody much more, and would not be long or burdensome, I suspect, as a layman, that it would probably not be of much value. Conversely, if an energy efficiency survey were to be of use to the buyer or seller of the property, I would have thought that, in all reason, it would have to be an expert, detailed, lengthy and necessarily fairly expensive business. That suggests a parallel with the surveys that are either for valuation purposes only or for structural purposes.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): I am trying to grasp the contours of the anarchic landscape that the right hon. Gentleman portrays so eloquently. I am sure that he knows that gas safety and electricity safety certificates must be provided for properties. Does he believe that there is no room for assessing safety factors when selling or renting out a property?

Mr. Forth: That would be my starting point. I would have to be persuaded on a case-by-case basis. I enjoyed lunch with the hon. Gentleman today, and it is good to see him back in the Chamber, albeit not in his usual place. However, he tries to suggest a symmetry between safety and energy efficiency. The two factors are different. Safety is important, and we can legitimately argue, case by case, about whether regulations should try to guarantee it. We cannot make the same argument for alleged or real energy efficiency. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's parallel.

We are obliged to plough through the new schedule, because that is what Report stage is all about. It gets hopelessly bogged down. I make the point to illustrate the horror of what we are attempting to do, and of what my hon. Friends believe will add to the general joy of life. Paragraph 4(1) states:

that of undertaking a survey or assessment--

I suppose that that shows some flexibility. We are relieved of the burdensome requirement if we make a transaction with someone else in the family.

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Paragraph 4(2) states:

and it lists spouses and people living together as husband and wife. It does not refer to "partners"; at least we have not gone that far. I suppose that I should be grateful that the new schedule talks about good old husbands and wives. I am surprised that no one has tabled an amendment to try to make it more inclusive. My hon. Friends have fallen down badly on that; there are no gender or ethnicity points here.

The new schedule goes on to list:

It is becoming more inclusive. It continues:

I shall not go into all that in detail; it is becoming gruesome. However, for the avoidance of all doubt, my hon. Friends, who are trying to help those who are buying and selling houses, state in the schedule:

This is becoming pretty bloody. It also states:

I assume that my hon. Friends were trying to be helpful. However, the new schedule shows the reasons for the Conservative party's opposition to regulation, intervention and patronising claptrap. We get bogged down in the sort of nonsense that the new schedule represents. We start by imagining that we will help people to buy and sell houses and end by saying that

That is desperate stuff. The new schedule is the essence of modernist nonsense.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): By going through the detail of the new schedule, my right hon. Friend may have revealed a weakness, especially in paragraph 4(3)(c), which states:

If the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) had adopted the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), he would have been able to escape the provisions of the schedule when he offered him the loan for the house in Notting Hill.

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