Homes Bill

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: When a surveyor conducting a full structural survey finds a defect, he will often recommend that another professional be brought in, for example a civil engineer. A civil engineer may be well capable of calculating whether the size of a beam of a lintel is sufficient for the stress on it, but he would not be capable of commenting on the subsidence of a property. We are going to have boundary problems between differently qualified professionals and the Minister will have to consider that.

Mr. Loughton: My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. The opposite is also true. Now, less than 3 per cent. of surveys involve a full structural survey. If there are more detailed requirements, especially in connection with older properties, a professional of another related body will be called on to provide that greater degree of detail. Under a home condition report, it is far less likely that the one-size-fits-all surveyor or surveyor equivalent will call upon another person to add detail, because the cost of doing so is likely to be far greater than the normal cost of providing the home condition report. It is therefore less likely the additional professional detail will be added to the home condition report.

Mr. Raynsford: There is no question of dilution of standards: all those who are accredited to carry out the inspections will have to meet the standards necessary to complete home condition report inspections—that would be a condition of their accreditation. In terms of numbers, there are already 9,000 general surveyors, 3,000 valuers and further thousands of engineers, architects and others who would have the basic professional understanding needed to acquire accreditation, if they can demonstrate that they have the specific skills. I really do not think that there is a problem with numbers, and there is certainly no question of dilution. We would not tolerate that.

Mr. Loughton: Presumably those 9,000 plus individuals are not idly twiddling their thumbs waiting for the Bill to be passed; they have their time cut out doing all sorts of other work, including surveys and engineering or structural surveys on commercial property, which has nothing to do with the Bill. It is inevitable that there will be a shortfall of individuals readily available to fill a large gap. Eighty per cent. of 1.5 million homes represents a large figure. The RCIS and all the other bodies that are professionally involved in the issue say that they will have to recruit many additional people, which is likely to cause problems.

The Minister said that the Government want to ensure that the standards of the new scheme are maintained—the trouble is that we do not know what those standards are to be. We do not know the details of the standards that will be required in the home condition reports. As is so often the case, we are all flailing around in the dark trusting in a promise—not, I hope, a whim—regarding the detailed provisions that the Government might implement if the scheme gets off the ground within its two-year take-off slot. I can see that we will not get any further. We must rely on the assurances of the Minister—assurances that are based on very little detail. Our probing amendments have exposed the continued gaps in the legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Waterson: I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 7, line 2, at end insert

    `, being a minimum of £500,000 in the first instance.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 37, in page 7, line 3, after first `the', insert `effective'.

No. 12, in page 7, line 4, after `sellers', insert `, lenders'.

No. 13, in page 7, line 13, at end insert—

    `(8) Sellers, buyers and lenders shall be entitled to bring proceedings in respect of a home condition report upon which they have relied in any transaction.'

Mr. Waterson: I seek your indulgence, Mr. Gale. The four amendments are narrow in scope and I shall not take long to explain their virtues to the Committee. May I put down a marker about having a short stand part debate on the clause, given that the amendments do not touch on at least one aspect of it? Compared with the debate on clause 7, our debate on clause 8 has not ranged far, so I make my request in the desire to be helpful.

The amendments are narrowly drawn and designed to tighten the existing provisions. Amendment No. 37 is very simple and is designed to ensure that complaints are properly resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. It may seem obvious to include that in the Bill, but why not include the obvious? That is the entire purpose behind the amendment.

Amendment No. 11 was partly instigated—it is certainly supported—by our old friend the CML. It tackles the familiar problem of professional indemnity cover. Solicitors have an obligatory scheme and many take part in top-up schemes to ensure that they have adequate professional indemnity insurance cover should they make a mistake and face a claim made against them by a client. I assume that qualified surveyors have a similar scheme. Such schemes are often expensive, but they are a prerequisite for professional people and provide reassurance to the clients for whom they act.

The CML says:

    Lenders will require Home Inspectors PI cover of at least £500,000 for each case they appraise.

It makes the fair point that, if lenders are expected to rely on the contents of the HCR, they

    should be able to bring a claim under PI cover for negligence.

I perceive no argument against that.

The Minister may want to argue against setting a specific figure, but the amendment is designed to probe what figure he thinks would be appropriate. If he has his way, both buyers and lenders will rely on the reports. We support the notion that there should be adequate indemnity insurance. I am open to the argument that it is not sensible to put a firm figure on that in primary legislation, but the Minister will have reflected on that and I am sure that he agrees with the principle that those drawing up the reports are not, as he said, second-class citizens and should have sufficient back-up—

        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
Buck, Ms
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Foster, Mr.
Hope, Mr. Don
Iddon, Dr.
Loughton, Mr.
Love, Mr.
Mullin, Mr.
Raynsford, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Turner, Mr. Neil
Waterson, Mr.

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