HL Deb 12 March 2003 vol 645 cc1311-4

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as a trustee of the National Energy Foundation.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure wider awareness of the standard assessment procedure, to inform prospective house buyers of the energy efficiency of their homes.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, whenever a new home is built in England and Wales its energy rating, calculated in accordance with the SAP, is required to be prominently displayed inside. When parliamentary time allows, the Government will legislate to introduce sellers' packs in England and Wales. We propose that sellers' packs should include an energy report containing an SAP energy rating. The energy report and the SAP will be made compliant with EU directive 2002/91/EC. That will enable prospective buyers of new and second-hand homes to understand how energy efficient the property is.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure he will be aware that in a survey carried out by National Energy Services and De Montford University, it was found that although it has been law for new houses to display their SAP rating, that was not the case on 98 per cent of building sites. Indeed, three-quarters of sales negotiators on sites did not understand the SAP rating and at least half of them did not even know that it existed. Can the noble Lord assure me, given that we are awaiting parliamentary time, that the Government will take urgent action to get the building industry on side on the matter? It has been law for two years. How on earth are we to persuade and influence buyers of houses in their decisions if that basic information is not available at the point of sale?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, the report to which the noble Baroness refers is an extremely good report: well written, well balanced, comprehensive and constructive. It informs the Government that, as she said, our wish that every new home should have an energy rating displayed is simply not working. It explains why and points out the way forward in a constructive manner. Among other things, it suggests improving the design of the SAP notice and a new impetus by the home building industry to ensure that that part of the building regulations is strictly enforced.

The Government will shortly publish for consultation a draft housing Bill that will include provisions to introduce sellers' packs in England and Wales, in line with our manifesto commitment. The Bill will contain provision for a home condition report, which will include a report on energy efficiency. Obviously, that will take time. In the meantime, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is conducting urgent talks with the building trade to try to get what is already law acted on immediately. As the noble Baroness said, it is unsatisfactory that, two years later, that important government objective is not being implemented.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, having listened to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, does the Minister agree that the system is not clearly understood even in relation to new property? But he has said that in the sellers' packs, everyone selling a second-hand home will have to provide details of the standard assessment procedure for energy. If I were to offer my home for sale when the sellers' packs are introduced, exactly how would I go about having it assessed? Who will do the assessments? How will the public know about that? If they do not understand the procedure for new build, how will they even begin to understand it for second-hand homes?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, there is no disguising that there are huge problems. One of the most interesting parts of the report explained why the provision has not been implemented. The report states that there are logistical problems in getting SAP notices in the correct site at the right time in the first place, let alone in ensuring that the notices are kept safe on a busy site or sales office. When the draft housing Bill is published for consultation, the points raised by the noble Baroness will form part of the consultation process. We must find a satisfactory conclusion.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, perhaps to the Minister's surprise, I welcome all of his replies in response to this Question. I am sure that he is aware of the current system in Denmark, whereby all homes, be they apartments, flats, houses, second-hand or new, are assessed for energy efficiency. The certificate that goes with the property makes a significant difference to the value of the home when it is sold. Will the Minister encourage his colleagues to promote that avenue as hard as possible, because it makes sense for all concerned?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning the example of Denmark, of which we are fully aware. As part of the consultations that we are now commencing with the building trade to help to solve the problem before the new Bill is published, we are considering the Danish example. As the noble Lord said, if we can implement that provision here, we shall have no problem with the matter.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, should not the lawyers representing prospective purchasers raise an inquiry about that matter at the very beginning of the transaction? In that way, every potential purchaser would know what was the liability.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I agree that what my noble friend describes is the central point of the sellers' pack, which will be part of the Bill to be published as early as the end of this month.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, while remembering that the sellers' pack did not receive an enormous amount of support last time, whose responsibility is it to provide the notices and ensure that they are on display? What liabilities and redress are there for people buying property for which that information is not made available? What redress do they have against whoever is meant to have displayed the notice if they do not receive the correct information?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I am aware that the notion of the sellers' pack has already been before this House and did not receive universal acclaim. Because of the general election, that provision was lost but will now be reintroduced. It is impossible for me to say what will be in the draft Bill, because I have not read it, but we shall certainly want to consider the issues raised by the noble Baroness when we discuss it in the House.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the Minister referred to the recently issued European directive on energy efficiency in buildings. Have the Government worked out a programme for its implementation in this country? Is it their objective for an energy efficiency certificate to be issued for all buildings?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, the Government have accepted the EU directive. It came into force on 4th January 2003 and allows three years, until January 2006, to effect transposition—with a possible further three years for full application of some provisions, including those on energy performance certificates.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, most noble Lords and other people buy and sell houses using estate agents and wonder what they get for their 2, 3, 4 or higher per cent fee. What discussions have the Government had about getting estate agencies involved, in addition to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, as far as I know, we have had no discussion with estate agents. We consider that the problem must be solved and settled with the building trade, which, as has been said, is obliged under law to provide certificates for new houses but is not doing so.