Homes Bill

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: On the subject of those further environmental searches, it will be necessary to establish the norm in relation to searches. Will those searches have to include the normally separate commons registration search? Will the local authority search have to include a search of the contaminated land register?

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman raises two important but highly technical issues, and rather than give an unadvised answer immediately, I will take further advice and write to him on both those issues. I can assure him that it is our intention to ensure that the searches and the compilation of the condition report are carried out in as standard a format as possible, to ensure that the vast majority of eventualities that are relevant to the property are identified and that the evidence can be relied upon by prospective buyers and others.

Amendment No. 20 seeks to include the suitability of a property for occupation by disabled persons as an example of relevant information under clause 7 (5). Information on whether the property being sold is suitable for disabled people is clearly relevant information within the meaning of clause 7(3) and (4). However, it is not strictly necessary, and it could be counter-productive, to make it a specific requirement for the regulations. The information would fall within clause (7)(5)(d), which provides that the pack may include information on the physical condition of the property. I refer to my earlier comments on the reasons for not wishing to specify matters in the Bill where it is not necessary to do so—argument A.

As the hon. Member for Bath recognised, there is a considerable variation in the type of adaptation carried out for disabled people, and some adaptations would not be appropriate for certain needs, but not for others. I hope that he will recognise that, while we are quite clear about the importance of ensuring that relevant information, including information about suitability for disabled people, is included, his would not be an appropriate amendment to put on the face of the Bill.

While mining subsidence and radon are both potentially relevant issues, as the hon. Gentleman recognised, they are applicable only in certain areas. We are considering how we can best organise the home condition report to provide as much relevant and useful information as possible, without it becoming unduly complicated, inaccessible or expensive. Those issues are under consideration and we will certainly reflect on the views expressed in the Committee before we come to conclusions.

Mr. Curry: Exactly what does the Minister mean by the term ``risk'', which he has been using frequently over the last 15 minutes? We have all become used to the ``analysis of the risk'', for example, in food safety. We talk about the ``risk of flooding''. Yet the Environment Agency was talking about a one-in-500-year event, which has now turned out to be rather more frequent. There is a real danger that details about a risk that is in practice unlikely to occur may, by being included, be a serious deterrent to sale. We need a definition of what the order of evaluation of risk means, and to reassure people that when we say, ``You cannot discount something,'' that does not mean that it is not going to happen.

Mr. Raynsford: The right hon. Gentleman makes a point similar to the one that I made in my evidence to the inquiry into flooding conducted by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee. I made the very point that the fact that the property is in a flood plain does not of itself necessarily indicate that there is a risk of flooding. We are all in a flood plain. The whole of central London is a flood plain. However, given the presence of the Thames barrier, the likelihood of a flood is very much reduced. Therefore, the information needs to be relevant and to take account of the remediation and safeguards that are present to try to counter those risks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we are very much alert to the point that he has raised, and we do not wish to raise undue fears by information being included that is only partially accurate and therefore could give a false impression. It is important that information should be available, but the information must be useful and give a true picture of the extent of the risks that exist.

Amendment No. 40 would amend clause 7(5)(e). That provides that the regulations may prescribe that ``any warranties or guarantees'' relating to the property should be included in the pack. The amendment would restrict this to ``warranties or guarantees'' that relate to the physical structure of the property. The intention here is to make sure that, where a new home is being sold, the NHBC or similar warranty is included in the pack. If it is not—for example, if the builder is not a member of the scheme—then a home condition report must be provided instead. This guarantee clearly concerns the physical structure of the property and therefore meets concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Eastbourne. In other cases, the pack may include guarantees that do not relate to the structure— for example, a guarantee for a new central heating boiler. However, such documents need be included only where they are available, and there will be no question of sanctions being brought against people who have mislaid them.

I apologise to the Committee for having taken such a long time to deal with these issues but, as hon. Members will accept, these are complex issues, right at the heart of this piece of legislation and I think it is right that all hon. Members should be aware of them.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now accept that his amendment should be withdrawn and that we can proceed to further matters.

Mr. Waterson: These are matters we are going to return to in further debate and so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Six o'clock till Tuesday 23 January at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Stevenson, Mr. George
Gale, Mr. Roger

Stevenson, Mr. George

Ainsworth, Mr. Robert

Buck, Ms

Clifton-Brown, Mr.

Curry, Mr.

Foster, Mr. Don

Hope, Mr.

Iddon, Dr.

King, Ms Oona

Love, Mr.

Mullin, Mr.

Raynsford, Mr.

Turner, Mr. Neil

Waterson, Mr.

 
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