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Since the debate only 10 days ago, the market has continued to worsen. I spoke to someone at only the beginning of the week who was familiar with the City, and he said that the trouble was that the banks effectively had no money. Through the regulators, the Government have rightly required the banks to strengthen their reserves. Given that the banks were to some extent overborrowed and overlent, they need to do that. However, the effect has been that if banks can get hold of funds, those funds are then put into their reserves. As a consequence, the money is not available for commercial use anywhere, so the market continues to devalue and depreciate. In those circumstances, anything that would reduce the cost of a transaction would undoubtedly be helpful.
I accept entirely that one should not take short-term decisions to deal with what one hopes is only a short-term situation, but the housing market is practically non-existent at the moment. You have only to look at what is happening to our main house-construction firms to see that there is a deep problem. If one is honest, the problem is so severe now that tackling it in a short-term way will not produce a solution. None the less, it would be appropriate as a gestureit would be no more than thatto remove one possible impediment, although a tiny one, which is on the record so far as having helped to slow the market down. It has led to particular houses not being put forward for sale.
The whole question of home information packs has always been doubtful. In our party, we have always wished them to exist for no longer than they have to. We have an opportunity tonight, if we choose to take it, to remove them and remove an impediment. It might have only the most marginal effect on the market, but if it has any beneficial effect it will be worth taking that step. I beg to move.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I was intrigued by the weight that the noble Lord placed on the words of Sir Bryan Carsberg about letting the market decide, because it was the market that decided in the past, when the problems arose of delay and cost. From day one there has been a concerted effort to denigrate the worth of HIPs. It has been difficult. As the House will appreciate, the market itself has been topsy-turvy for at least the past two or three years.
On this side of the House, we are more prepared to intervene than those on the other side. In other words, we intervened in a genuine belief that the first-time
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I am not in touch with the detail, but the Government should not feel chastised at all because they have not allowed the market to decide. It was the absence of a market that was sympathetic to the needs of the consumer that led the Government to intervene. I will of course listen to what the Minister has to say, as I am sure the House will too.
Baroness Ford: My Lords, I am disappointed that we return to the issue of home information packs, because the House has debated them long and hard in the past 12 months and, finally, we agreed on the way forward. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smithoddly, because I do not do that oftenbut it is unreasonable to blame home information packs and energy certificates for the current lack of mortgages in the market. We all know perfectly well that the residential market is frozen because of the lack of availability of mortgage finance.
The noble Lord said that home information packs were marginal. Abolishing them would be a gesture and a wholly retrograde step. This afternoon I spent a long time talking to some housebuilders. Not only did they want us to get rid of home information packs, but to significantly dilute all quality standards and elements of the sustainable buildings code that will make a serious difference to climate change. It is wrong to use the current, one hopes temporary, state of the capital and housing markets to renege on very hard-fought and hard-won advances in terms of the impact that the housing construction industry has on climate change. I urge noble Lords to resist the amendment.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, my noble friends have removed two of the most important planks of my argument much more eloquently and powerfully than I could have done. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Ford for her latest piece of intelligence; we must hold firmly to the principles of what we know is right and we must build differently for the future, not be destabilised by what I am sure is a temporary difficulty in the housing marketalthough it seems to be severe for many people.
We had a similar debate 10 days ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, pointed out. Not a great deal has changed in my argument. It was certainly the market that failed to deliver; in fact, it delivered a chaotic and protracted system of buying and sellingthe longest time in Europe that it takes to buy or sell a house. This happened against a background whereby customers simply did not get the information they needed early enough to inform their decisions about a property.
The introduction of HIPs has been a first step in addressing these problems. We always said that it would be first step. We also said that we hoped that it would galvanise the market into changing itself. Indeed, it has, because the process of introducing HIPs has been much smoother than we had expected. They take on average seven days to prepare; drainage and water searches are taking three days; competition from HIPs is reducing the average cost of property searches; 85 local authorities have already reduced their charges by £30, and some by as much as £120; and energy performance certificates are being prepared within an average of two to four days. This has not been an onerous or bureaucratic exercise and important information is there for the first time.
I understand and listened with respect to what the noble Lord said about the state of the market. I am sure that he will have read the independent and thorough report that I sent him by Europe Economics on the relationships that HIPs have with the market when compared with the many other influences on what makes people buy and sell homes. The report found no evidence of an impact of HIPs on transactions and prices, and noted that any effect on listings would be short-lived and the impact on the market marginal compared to wider factors. I hope that the noble Lord accepts that, because we want to move on with industry and consumer groups to enhance and improve HIPs and ensure that consumers can get the information that they want at the right time in a format that they find useful.
My other argument with the noble Lord is that at this time of turbulence in the housing market, more change is the last thing that we want, particularly regarding home improvement packs. The industry and consumers want certainty and confidence. That is a very strong argument for rejecting the amendment. More than 750,000 HIPs have now been produced, and energy performance certificates have put into the hands of consumers information which previously they never had. This is important information at a time of rising fuel costs. I know the noble Lord understands that.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the essential arguments have not changed; they go over similar ground to that covered 10 days ago. I want to raise three points. First, the amendment would keep the energy performance certificate; that is not an issue. Part of my reluctance about HIPs is because the energy performance certificate is needed on all housing now. Relying on the market to distribute energy performance certificates is a basically flawed strategy.
The second problem is that, for better or worse, the home information pack really is not fit for purpose. If it were, we would not have passed, only a few weeks ago, yet another extension of the exemption on first-day advertising and sale, so that HIPs only have to be applied and do not have to be available from day one. If there was confidence that they were doing a genuinely good job, we would not have passed that exemption when we did. I should be surprised if, when the time
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Thirdly, the sustainable building code is nothing to do with HIPs. That code will apply in particular to new buildings but it will inevitablybecause we want to see itwork its way through into the existing housing market. It will not be an issue in the marketing of property; people buy their property as it is. The evidence is that people buy their property without particular regard to the home information pack and most people usually make a commitment to buy before they have seen it. So long as that is so, we cannot say that this is a benefit to the market.
I agree that this could have only a marginal effect on present circumstances. I also agree that the existence of the pack has nothing to do with current marketing or the quality of housing except in so far as the really useful part of itthe energy performance certificateis part of the pack; we need the energy performance certificates, and we intend that they should continue. There really is no case for sustaining this unsustainable bit of marketing nonsense. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it would be an understatement to say that this is a large group of amendments, but it is the case. Many of them are intended to respond to concerns raised by noble Lords and Members of the other place. The amendments relate to three sets of provisions in Part 3: tenant ballots, family intervention tenancies and the right to buy.
I shall begin with Amendments Nos. 159, 160, 161 and 162, which relate to tenant ballots. These amendments are intended to improve the working of Clause 292, which itself amends Schedule 3A to the Housing Act 1985.
Amendment No. 159 would bring forward the date on which the local authority could hold a ballot on its proposals. Under the Bill as drafted, the local authority would have to wait until the time for making a representation to the Secretary of State had expired. The amendment would allow the local authority to hold a ballot as soon as it had served the notice of its proposals on the tenants. This will make for a more flexible process.
Amendment No. 160 responds directly to the concerns raised by my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lady Jones. They spoke eloquently about the need to ensure that the consultation and ballot process prior to stock transfer is conducted fairly and properly. We agree. The amendment would require the Secretary of State, or Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales, to publish guidance on the consultation process with tenants and the holding of ballots prior to the transfer of council housing stock to registered social landlords. The amendment would also require local authorities to have regard to that guidance.
The Government want to put these requirements in the Bill to reflect our commitment to ensuring that tenants are properly involved in decisions about the future management of their homes. We consider that this amendment will provide a safeguard in circumstances where there is considerable scepticism about the willingness to involve tenants effectively or to have regard to the view of the majority.
Amendment No. 162 is a minor amendment. It would amend the definition of registered social landlord in Wales to take account of the changes that are being made in Part 2 of the Bill. Once Clause 63 is fully in force, the definition of a registered social landlord will be relevant only to Wales.
Amendments Nos. 163 to 175 and Amendments Nos. 205 and 207 all relate to family intervention tenancies. These amendments have two main purposes. A number are minor and technical, and are intended to improve the functionality of the clauses. I do not propose to run through these. The other group addresses concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and Shelter and will therefore be of more general interest to noble Lords. They are aimed at further clarifying the circumstances under which family intervention tenancies can be used. They address concerns that FITs could be used inappropriately alongside support programmes that are not of sufficient quality or intensity. We accept that that is a legitimate concern. It is better that we include additional safeguards where they are sensible and do not unduly compromise the flexibility to carry out valuable project activities.
One of the main purposes of the FIT is to provide behavioural support to the tenants of family intervention tenancies. The purpose of the support services is to address exactly the kind of behaviour that led to the tenants anti-social behaviour. Through these amendments, we have specified that the behaviour support services provided under the FIT scheme should be such services as are identified in the behaviour support agreement between the tenant, the landlord and the local housing authority.
Behaviour support agreements, often called support contracts, are commonly used to outline the support that will be provided to families referred to family intervention projects. They set out clearly what support will be offered and by whom, and what will be expected in return from the families. This ensures that family intervention tenancies will be used only where an agreement of this nature is in place. It would be difficult to conceive of an agreement that specified that support services should be sporadic or not of a type sufficient for the purpose of addressing the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 180 to 187, 200 and 204 relate to the right-to-buy provisions. The bulk of these amendmentsnamely, Amendments Nos. 180 to 186, 200 and 204are designed to clarify aspects of the review procedure that Clause 304 introduces. They do this in four ways. First, they provide that when a redetermination of value is requested following court proceedings, no party may request a review of the original determination which that redetermination has superseded. However, they will be able to request a review of the redetermination itself. Secondly, when the value of a property is determined, redetermined or reviewed, they specify the start date of the 12-week period in which a tenant must decide whether to go ahead with his right-to-buy application. Thirdly, they clarify that the landlord must advise the tenant that a review of either a determination of value or a redetermination can be requested by either the landlord or the tenant, and they clarify the effect of either of them doing so. Finally, they remove a superfluous phrase from Section 128(2) of the Housing Act 1985 and I am very much in favour of removing superfluous phrases.
Amendment No. 187 is slightly different. It relates to Clause 307, which will give local authorities and registered social landlords the power to buy a shareformally, an equitable interestin flats that they have let on long leases. This power is to be used, where all parties agree, for the purpose of assisting the owner of such a flatthe leaseholder, formally referred to as the tenantto meet some or all of the service charges that he or she is liable to pay towards the cost of repairing, maintaining or refurbishing the building in which their flat is situated and the surrounding estate grounds. That fulfils the Governments commitment, in our Statement to Parliament on 29 March 2007, to give landlords such a power. We also said that we would give landlordsboth local authority and registered social landlordsa power to offer equity loans. Provision for this is made in Clause 306. These measures were widely welcomed. Amendment No. 187 simply makes a necessary technical change to the definition of housing authority.
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