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House of Lords

Thursday, 8 May 2008.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Royal Assent

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act.

Housing: Home Information Packs and Condition Reports

11.06 am

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, the commercial and private nature of a home owner’s decision when to place their property on the market for sale means that we do not hold information on the number of home information packs and home condition reports commissioned. However, from 1 August 2007 to 1 May 2008, 642,551 home information packs have been produced; and, to the beginning of May, 1,776 home condition reports have been lodged on the HCR register.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is she aware that some inspectors are not earning the income that they were led to expect? For how many months does an HIP energy performance certificate last, especially in this very uncertain housing market?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, on the first part of the question, the noble Baroness will know that we rolled out HIPs to all dwellings last December, which will create a significant demand for EPCs. I can also tell her that throughout the year there will be increasing opportunities. From 1 October, EPCs will also be required for private and social rented property on a change of tenancy and for sales of commercial property, so we will embark on a major communication campaign. Significantly, we are also finding that the industry is responding to the potential of the market-led, voluntary home condition report, and we are looking at examples that are coming forward to complement that. So there is a lot of positive activity in the field. At the moment, the EPC lasts for a year but, following our consultation process, we are considering a range of options proposed by stakeholders and will come to a decision soon.

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Lord Marsh: My Lords, this is a very interesting subject to practically everyone in the country. Would it be useful if a study was undertaken to find out how many people selling or buying a house think of undertaking a study themselves?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we conducted area trials to anticipate the rollout and found that most people who took part found that the information was what they wanted. It is an evolving process. We have been as flexible as possible; today, we are laying amending regulations to extend the period of flexibility for first-day marketing and in relation to leasehold information, because that is complex. That is what the industry wants, and that is what we are doing.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will my noble friend expand on what she means by change of tenancy?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords. In the private rented sector, when the change is introduced, EPCs will have to be produced on a change of tenancy. That does not mean that an energy performance certificate will have to be commissioned every time the tenancy changes. At the moment, the EPC lasts for a year, but, as I said, the consultation process suggested that it should last for longer, and we are considering that. It is right to include the private rented sector because so many people need to know what their energy costs would be when they change tenancy, even if they are renting.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, the Minister will know that the report of the pilots came out after the rollout of this operation. Fifty-eight per cent of buyers did not agree that home information packs had speeded up the buying process and more than three-quarters said that the HIP had no effect on their decision to purchase their property. In the light of this, and given what the Minister said today, when can we expect a proper evaluation of this whole costly bureaucratic process?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it is not costly or bureaucratic. The EPC on average costs £300, not the £1,000 that was anticipated. It is giving people information for the first time about the costs of their energy when they move home. Thirty per cent of the people who took out HIPs said that they were going to act on that information. We do have a problem in that estate agents are not always letting buyers know about the HIP or what it contains. That is why we are now working closely with the industry. We have a stakeholder group that represents the whole of the industry and consumers to ensure not only that people get the information they want but that the HIP itself is enhanced with consumer-friendly information. This is work in progress—we have never made a secret of that—but it will help the market and the buyer.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I understand that yet another order is coming forward that will extend the date so that the first-day exemption, which permits a seller to sell their house without a home information pack, in effect defers the full implementation of this programme once again. It really is time that we began to look at the end of this farce. Would it not be much better to focus everyone’s attention on the energy and

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efficiency reports for individual homes, which are essential and very helpful to everyone, even to people who are not moving house, and would be much more beneficial to the whole community, and to end this nonsense which the vast majority of sellers of houses do not find helpful? I agree that it is not very expensive, but it is beginning to waste a great deal of everyone’s time.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. He is a champion of energy performance certificates, which do an important job. However, the home information pack is serving a purpose. The interesting thing is that as the process beds down—and it has been successful; nearly 700,000 HIPs have been rolled out—the industry is coming forward to see what is possible and how HIPs can be improved in relation to a home’s condition. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I assure him that we are working with people such as RICS and SAVA to make the most of the opportunity. The changes that we make today are in response to the certainty that industry says is important at this time to extend the process of flexibility of first-day marketing.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that despite the impression created in some quarters that home information packs have no friends in the country at all, these are very widely seen as an enormous advantage in dealing with estate agents, who are not normally known for putting the whole truth on their prospectuses. History will show that a variation of the present home information pack, if not the exact one, is here to stay, and the professionals in the industry really ought to start to get behind it and realise that it is in the interests of everyone in lubricating the buying and selling of houses.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right: the point is that the industry is now behind it. There is no doubt about that. We have seen what we thought would happen; the introduction of HIPs is driving changes across the market. For example, the cost of searches has gone down on average by £30 and in some instances by £120. As I have said, we have 700,000 energy performance certificates. People are acting on those changes, and, at a time when energy bills are inevitably going up, how much better it is that we give them information on which they can bring down their costs.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister tell me how they will work in blocks of flats?

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, we are in the ninth minute.

Prisons: Titans

11.15 am

Lord Ramsbotham asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, site searches are currently under way. We will apply for planning permission when a suitable site has been identified.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for what can only be described as a remarkably thin reply. On the same day that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, was published, the Times published a diagram of one of these monsters. It contained a series of three radial wings five storeys high to hold over 2,500 people. I understand that the firms that submitted these designs were invited to help solve today’s crisis by housing as many prisoners as possible as cheaply as possible. Can the Minister explain how that direction squares with the frequently voiced opinion that the Government are trying to protect the public by providing conditions and treatment for prisoners that are designed to prevent reoffending?

My Lords, the proposal is for three Titan prisons. The point of the Titans is that by investing in them, we will ensure that we have first-class design, infrastructure and shared services, but within the campus of such a prison there can be smaller units. In that way you get the benefits of large-scale investment together with the benefit of being able to manage smaller units within the campus. As part of taking Titans forward, we want to continue to improve the record on offender management programmes. The noble Lord may have forgotten that there has been strong investment in our prison services and offender management programmes over the past few years.

Lord Henley: My Lords, in February the noble Lord promised us a consultation on these so-called Titan prisons, and I think that it was supposed to come out in April. I have been through the department’s website very carefully but I can find nothing whatever about the consultation. Is this yet another bit of consultation from the Government, or at least from the noble Lord’s department, that is to be deferred again and again?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Not at all, my Lords. We are going to publish a consultation in the near future. It will enable all interested parties, including noble Lords, to have a look at the proposals, and I am sure that we will take great care in taking account of the views expressed. It is better to get it right. If that means that the consultation comes out a little later, in terms of the final outcome, that is well advised.

Lord Woolf: My Lords, is it still the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to advance the principle of community prisons so as to meet the need for prisoner management and, if not, why not? If it is, how can the use of Titan prisons be said to be consistent with that policy?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it needs to be remembered that the proposals for Titan prisons will be developed particularly in areas where prisoners are held at quite long distances from their homes. This will enable us to ensure that prisoners are held much closer

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to their homes. Developing Titans will also enable us to rationalise and further invest in the current stock, which may well provide some of the facilities referred to by the noble and learned Lord.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, given the vulnerability of young people in the criminal justice system, can the Minister tell the House whether he has determined a minimum age for those who might be housed in these Titan prisons?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. We debated youth justice extensively during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which received its Royal Assent today. The noble Baroness knows that we see custodial sentences for young people as very much the last resort, but they are necessary for some young offenders. Our aim is to make sure that the conditions and circumstances in which they are held in custody are geared towards the prevention of reoffending. We will continue with that aim.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the optimism with which he describes the way in which these Titan prisons will work is not confirmed by the experience of other countries? For example, the advice that has come from France is that it will not build any more because they do not work. Can he further explain his earlier comment that these large prisons would enable prisoners to be near their families? I do not understand how that would work. Surely large prisons, by definition, have larger catchment areas and therefore the distances from prisoners’ families must be greater.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is a particular shortage of prison places in the south-east, the West Midlands and the north-west. By providing more facilities in those areas we will enable prisoners to be located closer to their homes and families. The point about whether Titans will work effectively is surely this: we already have three clusters in this country where a number of units are located close together and are being moved towards a single management structure. There is very little difference between that and the concept of Titans.

Lord Elton: My Lords, it is very different from the model of Titans published under the Ministry of Justice logo shortly after it appeared on television on 11 December, which showed one monolithic building and a small football pitch. What is the status of that particular design and how will the one small football pitch provide exercise for 2,500 prisoners and accommodation for the enormous number of visitors whom they can expect?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, much as I admire the Ministry of Justice website, one should not take one diagram and assume that that is the model that is set in stone. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, proposed a number of approaches and visions of how this programme might be developed. Essentially, it allows several categories of prison and different regimes within one perimeter. As I have said, that means that

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you get the benefit of large-scale investment, better design, better infrastructure and the cost-effective benefit of shared services; and with the smaller units within it you get the benefit of closer attention between management, staff and prisoners.


11.22 am

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the United Kingdom is fully committed to the fight against international corruption. We continue to work closely with the OECD on improving our anti-bribery procedures and helping to raise standards across the membership of the working group on bribery—indeed across the globe. The UK is a founder signatory of the 1997 OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and has been represented at every quarterly meeting of the working group.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the comment about a full commitment may raise an eyebrow. In his distinguished report on ethical conduct for BAE Systems Ltd, the former Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, recommended that,

to the OECD. Back in June 2000, the then Home Secretary, now the Secretary of State for Justice, commendably said:

With commendable speed, the then Home Secretary brought forward a White Paper which adopted the Law Commission’s proposals for a single bribery convention. That was eight years ago. Since then, there has been only one small change, in a provision on the bribery of foreign officials in the counter-terrorism legislation of 2002. Do the Government intend to meet their obligations and include a serious and comprehensive bribery law in the next Queen’s Speech?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, we have been trying to bring forward a new law for some time. It has not proved an easy task, but it is vital that we get it right. We originally presented a draft Bill in 2003 but, despite having been widely welcomed until that point, it was heavily criticised by the parliamentary committee that considered its suitability for presentation to Parliament. A further government consultation in 2005 confirmed broad support for reform but not what form that reform should take.

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