Michael Gove – 2007 Speech on Home Information Packs

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Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Gove, the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath, in the House of Commons on 22 May 2007.

thank the Secretary of State for her grace and courage in coming to the House to make the statement today. It cannot have been easy announcing a retreat on a policy that she had no part in implementing originally. It is big of her to take the flak.

I also thank the Secretary of State for allowing me sight of her announcement, which I received just 25 minutes ago—clearly this is a day for doing everything at the last minute.

May I ask why, after being warned more than a year ago that they were comprehensively mishandling this issue, Ministers have seen fit to retreat only now with eight days to go before home information packs were due to be implemented? Why did Ministers not take the opportunity that we offered last week to think again? Was it stubborn vanity or sheer incompetence? The Secretary of State may argue that this humiliating climbdown was precipitated by the judgment issued in the High Court today, but that prompts the question that goes to the heart of the matter: why did Ministers find themselves in court in the first place? Why did they press ahead with a scheme that everyone who knows anything about the housing market told them was flawed at the heart?

Those warnings, unlike this climbdown, did not come at the eleventh hour. In this House at this Dispatch Box a year ago, we told the Government that their scheme was flawed. The Government told us that we were scaremongering, but 11 months ago they were compelled to execute the first in a truly embarrassing series of U-turns by dropping the mandatory home condition report, which was the keystone of the original home information pack, just hours after the Minister for Housing and Planning had defended it in this House. However, they were still determined to press ahead after that U-turn. Why did they not take the opportunity to work with us and others to put the stability of the housing market first? Why did Ministers decide to ignore the growing chorus of concern, shut out expert advice and carry on regardless?

On 21 February, all the key stakeholders who were originally invited to help the Government set up the scheme issued a warning letter to the Minister for Housing and Planning asking for an emergency meeting to address fundamental concerns with the scheme. They were not granted the meeting for which they asked: why? In desperation, the same group wrote to the Secretary of State on 2 March asking for a collective emergency meeting. Again, they were snubbed and no collective meeting was granted: why? What explains that refusal to listen to the experts, who were once charged with setting up the policy and whose involvement would be key to implementing it? Was it because this Government could not bear to be told that they were in the wrong, or did they not realise what a mess they were presiding over? Was it deadly arrogance or fatal ignorance? After today’s announcement, we know that this lady is for turning.

There are still many unanswered questions. The Government were warned that there were not enough qualified, accredited and certificated home inspectors in place. Over a year ago, I warned that getting those people in place was crucial. Only last week, the Minister for Housing and Planning told us that we had enough people to ensure the smooth operation of the scheme—she told us that everything would be all right on the night. Why did she offer that cavalier assurance, when the Secretary of State has told us that there will not be enough people in place after all? We know that relations between these Ministers are bad, but did the Secretary of State find out only in the past few days how few qualified people are in place? When did she know the real numbers? And why was not the House informed about the truth last week?

How can Ministers ever again ask to be taken seriously on the environment, when they have comprehensively mismanaged a measure that they argued throughout was vital to fighting climate change? Will the Secretary of State also confirm that today’s judgment in the High Court underlines what we have argued all along and what best practice in the European Union shows—you do not need home information packs for energy performance certificates? Will she agree to meet me, my colleagues, the Liberal Democrats and everyone with an interest in getting the housing market right to ensure that there is at last some expertise in this process?

Is this not a desperate, last-minute retreat designed to ensure that the Minister for Housing and Planning is airlifted out of this Department by her friends in the Treasury in a future reshuffle, so she does not have to cope with the chaos that she has created? And is it not truly tragic that confidence in the industry, the stability of the housing market and the battle against climate change have all been damaged by this Government’s arrogance and incompetence?