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.

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Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 8:15 pm, 8th November 2004

I will be brief. We broadly welcome the amendments in the group, including the Government amendments, which go a long way towards dealing with the concerns of the House of Lords, but I want to ask the Minister a couple of questions about the administration and security of the system.

From what the Minister described, it would appear that, under the system, people producing the reports could post them on to a register via a remote server somewhere. The difficulty arises in controlling access to it. The Minister says that buyers will be given a unique number for a particular property, allowing them to look into that single property alone. Even with a good random generator of numbers, given the sheer number of properties available on the market at any one time, it would be possible for someone to guess the numbers and be able to look at other properties. That will be a problem if the register is accessed through a single number, however large. In reality, there are likely to be patterns in the numbers; they are not purely random. From what the Minister described, it would be possible for people to view other properties.

The question of security raises another potential concern. As we saw last week, online banks can have problems with unauthorised access to some of their systems. Can the Minister be confident that no one could hack into the system holding the details on, say, the house that the Prime Minister has just purchased and sell the information or publish it on the internet? Can the system be secure at the same time as being flexible enough to allow access to all the users who need it? The Minister seems to have much more confidence in the ability to set up a foolproof system than I have.

The amendments have gone a long way towards addressing the issues raised in the other place. We do not support home information packs, but if they do go ahead the amendments will be necessary. On that ground, we will not oppose the Government on this issue tonight.