Homes Bill

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Mr. Don Foster: As the Minister knows only too well, my response is argument B, and I assure him that we will continue to deploy it with vigour.

Mr. Raynsford: I shall outline argument A for the benefit of hon. Members who have not had the good fortune of attending such debates in Committees on which the hon. Gentleman, you, Mr. Gale, and I have served. It is always a mistake to try to put too many specific details in a Bill, because, unless the list is exhaustive, inferences could be drawn from what is excluded. It is far better to give general rather than highly detailed commitments, unless there are overriding reasons why only those commitments are to be implemented.

I will expand the argument with relation to home condition reports. Many other issues are of real concern to certain groups, who will press us for commitments on them. For example, I will give some examples. Noise insulation is a growing concern that worries many people. Disabled persons' access is also an important issue, and the Government have changed building regulations to provide better access for disabled people in new buildings. To give a topical example, there are strong arguments for including information on the risk of flooding.

The danger of specifying one such issue—or group of issues—in the Bill, is that in any future litigation or argument about the extent of a home condition report, it could be inferred that Parliament, by specifying a limited number of matters that must be included, did not intend other issues to be covered, or intended identified issues to be viewed as more important than unidentified ones.

There is always a risk that a good intention—in this case, the desire to list an issue that the whole Committee accepts as important—could result in an unfortunate by-product later, when someone who has not been a party to our discussions has to interpret the Bill and its language.

Mr. Gareth Thomas: I well understand why my hon. Friend does not wish to over-prescribe the contents of the seller's pack. Clause 7(5)(d) refers to

    the physical condition of the property (including any particular characteristics or features of the property).

Would regulations made under that provision cover matters such as energy efficiency or susceptibility to flooding? If so, Parliament would be being prescriptive.

Mr. Raynsford: As my hon. Friend knows, it is easier to amend or adapt regulations should it emerge later that something has not been included that should have been, or vice versa. That is why we prefer to use regulations when specific listings are needed. I have already given a commitment to the Committee that we intend to include the energy efficiency report, with all the characteristics that I have described, in the regulations. That commitment will be clear to anyone who reads the relevant Hansard. We do not, therefore, accept the amendment although we support its purpose.

On new clause 4 and new schedule 1, we are committed to ensuring that information about energy efficiency is available at the point of sale in all cases. The hon. Member for Bath has conceded that that would not be achieved by new clause 4 and new schedule 1, because they place the obligation on the lender, and so apply only to properties sold with the aid of a mortgage. Approximately one quarter of all sales do not involve a mortgage. The figures that he gave to the Committee are probably slightly optimistic, because in a sale that did not involve a mortgage, the property would not be subject to the information requirements to which he referred. The measure is therefore not as satisfactory as he would have liked, and he has admitted that. The Government's commitment to including a full energy efficiency statement in the seller's pack is a better way to achieve his aim.

The Chairman: Order. Hon. Members may leave papers in the Room. It will be locked between now and 4.30 pm, when the Committee will sit again. I suspect that Mr. Stevenson will chair that sitting, although that has yet to be determined.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Robert
Brake, Mr.
Buck, Ms
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Curry, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Don
Hope, Mr.
Iddon, Dr.
Loughton, Mr.
Love, Mr.
Mullin, Mr.
Raynsford, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Turner, Mr. Neil
Waterson, Mr.

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