Clause 145 — Home Condition Reports

Part of Orders of the Day — Housing Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 8th November 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Keith Hill Keith Hill Minister of State (Housing and Planning), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 8:15 pm, 8th November 2004

Can the House be surprised that I describe my hon. Friend as my guru in these matters? Not only has he anticipated exactly the point that I was about to make on disclosure, but he has also made a typically shrewd point about a typographical error in the amendment. I can confirm that there is indeed such an error, and it will of course be put right. I am most grateful to him for drawing the House's attention to it, and I am sure that he is grateful for my immediate and positive response. That certainly demonstrates the listening character of this Government and this Minister.

I was about to say that any disclosure, except as provided for in regulations, would be taken very seriously and would amount to a criminal offence. My hon. Friend Mr. Kidney is absolutely right about that. Anyone committing such an offence, for instance, by passing on data from home condition reports to a building firm or to the proverbial double glazing salesman, would be liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to level 5 on the standard scale—currently a maximum of £5,000. That is equivalent to the penalty for offences relating to infringing the Data Protection Act 1998. The Home Office has confirmed that criminal offences for the unlawful disclosure of information are the norm in legislation and has approved this particular offence.

Clause 153 provides that the Secretary of State may make grants towards expenditure incurred in connection with the development of proposals for the contents of home information packs or of potential home inspector certification schemes. Amendment (d) is consequential on the introduction of the new clause and provides that the Secretary of State may also make grants towards expenditure incurred in the development of a register of home condition reports.

There are legitimate sensitivities surrounding disclosure of information—I fully concede that to Mr. Clifton-Brown—we will not know for some time which certification scheme will get approval. We will need to begin work on developing the technology for a secure register of home condition reports as soon as possible in order to address those issues, and that work will require a grant. We also need to ensure that the register is not specific to a particular certification scheme so that it is possible for the keeper of the register to be changed, if necessary, without resulting in practical difficulties.

It is important that consumers and lenders can trust the home condition report and be able to rely on it with confidence. Together with the provisions for home inspectors' certification schemes already in the Bill, these amendments should provide that confidence. In moving these Government amendments, I draw the House's attention to my support for amendments Nos. 142, 145, 147, 148 and 149.