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Mr. Loughton: This is not an easy debate to which to respond. I am bitterly disappointed, because I have never seen such a volte face by a Minister executed by the use of the phrase, "Time has moved on." Many of the Minister's colleagues will also feel bitterly let down. The measure that he and other Labour Members supported in Committee--and which the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) introduced in a private Member's Bill--was acceptable to him and to the majority of hon. Members. Under cover of the phrase, "Time has moved on," it has been completely cast aside.
The Minister made no attempt to respond to the points that I made, because he was still trailing the nonsense, which I thought I had pre-empted, about parallel schemes running together. He merely read out the notes that had been prepared for him before the debate, not having listened to a line of the objections that I made. The Government's mind is utterly closed on this issue and I fear that we shall get no further.
The great tragedy is that virtually none of part I has been debated on Report, yet we now have just one minute left. Bearing that in mind, I shall sit down so that we can move on to the next group of amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
No. 28, in page 2, line 3, leave out--
'a freehold interest or a long leasehold interest in the property'
'the freehold interest or the interest under a long lease'.--[Mr. Raynsford.]
'unless the property is explicitly advertised as being sold "without seller's pack".'.
'save that these shall not include local authority searches.'.
'save that these shall not include a survey report or home condition report.'.
'and the term "characteristics" shall include information about risk of flooding.'.
'( ) an account of the suitability of the property for occupation by people with disabilities.'.
'(9) All the documents and information contained in the seller's packs shall be confidential to the seller, a person acting on his behalf as an estate agent and any bona fide buyer or potential buyer.'.
'( ) A statutory instrument which contains regulations under this Part is not to be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.
Amendments made: No. 32, in page 3, line 41, after "possession", insert "or under his control".
No. 33, in page 3, line 42, leave out "copy of the".
No. 34, in page 4, line 11, leave out "contained" and insert "included".--[Mr. Raynsford.]
Amendments made: No. 35, in page 4, line 40, leave out "copy of the".
No. 36, in page 4, line 40, after "possession" insert "or under his control".
No. 37, in page 5, line 15, leave out "copy of the".
No. 38, in page 5, line 15, after "possession" insert "or under his control".--[Mr. Raynsford.]
Amendments made: No. 39, in page 5, line 20, leave out from beginning of line to "must" in line 25 and insert--
'(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations prescribing--
(a) the documents to be included in a seller's pack required for a residential property by section 3(2) or 4(2); and
(b) particular information which is to be included in or excluded from any prescribed document.
(2) A document prescribed under subsection (1)'.
No. 40, in page 5, line 34, leave out--
'in relation to a residential property'.
No. 22, in page 6, line 2, at end insert--
'(dd) the energy efficiency of the property;'.
No. 41, in page 6, line 13, leave out subsection (7) and insert--
'(7) The regulations may require a prescribed document--
(a) to be in such form as may be prescribed; and
(b) to be prepared by a person of a prescribed description on such terms (if any) as may be prescribed.
(7A) The terms mentioned in subsection (7)(b) may include terms which enable provisions of the contract under which the document is to be prepared to be enforced by--
(a) a potential or actual buyer;
(b) a mortgage lender; or
(c) any other person involved in the sale of the property who is not a party to that contract.'.
No. 42, in page 6, line 24, at end insert--
'( ) In this section "prescribed" means prescribed by regulations under this section.'.--[Mr. Raynsford.]
Amendments made: No. 23, in page 6, line 26, leave out from "document" to "which" in line 27 and insert--
'dealing with matters mentioned in section 7(5)(d) or (dd) (reports on physical condition or energy efficiency)'.
Amendments made: No. 44, in page 9, line 34, at end insert--
'(2A) A document which is not in electronic form is only to be regarded as being under the control of a person while it is in the possession of another if he has the right to take immediate possession of the document on demand (and without payment).'.
No. 45, in page 9, line 36, after "possession", insert "or under his control".--[Mr. Raynsford.]
Amendment made: No. 46, in page 14, line 25, leave out Clause 24.--[Mr. Raynsford.]
Amendment made: No. 47, in page 16, line 37, leave out from "person" to "to" in line 40 and insert--
'is an applicant for an allocation of housing accommodation shall not be divulged (without his consent)'.--[Mr. Raynsford.]
Amendments made: No. 48, in page 21, line 29, leave out "forming part of" and insert "included in".
No. 49, in page 21, line 35, leave out "forming part of" and insert "included in".
No. 50, in page 21, line 39, leave out--
'comprised in the seller's pack'
'included in the seller's pack in question'.--[Mr. Raynsford.]
Amendment made: No. 51, in page 25, line 39, column 3, leave out "Section 159(5)(b)".-- [Mr. Raynsford.]
Order for Third Reading read.
The Bill fulfils important Government commitments to improve the home buying and selling process, and to strengthen the protection available to homeless people. It is an important part of the Government's strategy to
The Bill improves the housing market for the benefit of the public when they are selling or buying homes, when they seek help because they are at risk of homelessness or have become homeless, when they are in housing need and are applying for social housing, and when they are existing tenants of social housing seeking to move within the social housing sector.
The proposals in part I form part of a wider package of reforms to help up to 2 million individuals and families who buy and sell their homes each year. We are introducing a modern, more streamlined system that is easier and faster for consumers, avoids unnecessary stress and disappointment and offers value for money.
In Committee, it was suggested that sellers' packs would add to the cost of selling homes, that buyers and lenders would not trust home condition reports commissioned by sellers, and that it was unnecessary to impose criminal sanctions on those who market homes without sellers' packs. Those concerns are not well grounded. There will be a small additional cost for people who would not normally commission a survey, but we believe that that cost will be more than outweighed by the benefits of a speedier transaction process and reductions in the huge abortive costs of the current inefficient system, which are about £350 million a year.
In developing the home condition report, we will set up a certification scheme to ensure consistent and high- standard inspections and reports. As we have made clear in recent amendments, inspectors will be liable to sellers, buyers and lenders. We believe that everyone will have confidence in the inspections, will rely on them, and will be able to take action in the event of any defect.
Sanctions are necessary. Without them, the temptation would be too great for freeloaders to sell their homes without a seller's pack, while reaping the benefits of a pack for the homes that they bought. Just one weak link would break the chain, thus perpetuating the misery of the current system.
We have looked carefully at the appropriateness of criminal sanctions. As we pointed out repeatedly in Committee, they are consistent with similar sanctions--for example, those in the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991, and others applying to landlord and tenant law. Currently, 95 per cent. of home sales are conducted through estate agents. Estate agents would be responsible for having sellers' packs when they were marketing a home, and in the vast majority of cases it would be estate agents who faced sanctions if they failed to comply with the law.
Additionally, local trading standards officers will have clear discretion--I emphasised this point repeatedly in Committee--to take the action that they regard as appropriate where they find a person marketing a home without a seller's pack. They will have scope and discretion to offer advice, to give a warning, to issue a fixed-penalty notice or, ultimately, to prosecute. Only the option of prosecution would lead to a criminal record.
We must, however, have sanctions, including criminal sanctions, to cope with the risk of what I hope would be a very small number of unprincipled estate agents seeking to subvert the whole purpose of the scheme by marketing properties persistently without a seller's pack and paying no heed to initial warnings from trading standards officials. I hope that I have made it clear that we have provided a range of responses to allow a proportionate response depending on the circumstances, and that the fears that have been expressed about sanctions are misplaced.
I have listened to the concerns voiced by a number of my hon. Friends about low-demand areas and low-value properties. I have made it clear that we are prepared to consider measures where seller's pack requirements would cause particular difficulties. The Bill provides us with a power to make such exemptions, but we must consider that issue carefully. Our research indicates that seller's packs would offer benefits in low-value areas and we must avoid further stigmatising properties in areas of declining demand and value. We are working up a number of options in a paper that I hope to issue for consultation shortly. That will allow us to have a thorough and considered debate about the best way in which to balance the conflicting pressures on that important issue.
The proposals in part I are based on extensive research and piloting. We will continue to work with the key professionals and consumer representatives in developing the details of our proposals, especially the home condition report and the supporting certification scheme, so that seller's packs can be introduced as planned in 2003.