Homes Bill

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Mr. Raynsford: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that because it was the hon. Member for Eastbourne who mentioned the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster on Second Reading in which he sketched out an alternative approach. I invited my hon. Friend to the Department last week and we had a lengthy, constructive and detailed discussion about a number of the issues, including alternative sanctions. I pointed out to him that there were defects in his proposals, such that they would work in most cases but not in every case. Individuals might not be able to satisfy the requirements of the Land Registry, which would result in a delay. The whole process be put at risk because people could not depend on the validity of the documentation. That is the crucial point.

As I made clear in my response to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, once there are people who are not participating or cases in which it is not possible to ensure compliance, the whole system begins to break down and the effect across a whole chain has far-reaching consequences. That is why we want a simple, standard procedure that applies across the board with an understood and straightforward enforcement mechanism.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Raynsford: I see three hon. Members wishing to speak. I give way first to the hon. Member for Eastbourne.

Mr. Waterson: Will the Minister deal specifically with the suggestion that has been made by the hon. Member for Upminster and others that there should simply be a bar on registry? I do not quite understand the practical difficulty with that. I use the analogy of stamp duty. I do not expect the Minister to deal with the matter on the hoof—he may want to write to the Committee about it. Secondly, although the matter is not strictly for the Minister, given the experience and expertise that his hon. Member for Upminster could bring to these matters, why is he not a member of the Committee?

Mr. Raynsford: The selection of hon. Members to serve on the Committee has nothing to do with me. I have already made it quite clear that I responded quickly to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster; I met him and discussed his concerns in detail. I have been willing to talk to other hon. Members outside the Committee because I believe that that is the right way to handle those matters. We are genuinely looking for the best way forward and we have considered alternatives. I made it clear earlier that we had considered civil sanctions as one possible mechanism, but that we had come to the conclusion that that was not the best way forward.

The fear that criminal sanctions are being applied inappropriately and that they are completely out of proportion does not stand up if one looks at the issue carefully. There are a large number of precedents for the application of the criminal law to enforce civil obligations. Let us take a few housing examples: the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985—an Act for which the previous Government were responsible, though it had earlier precedents—sets out obligations to provide a rent book, to provide information in a rent book and to provide information to leaseholders about service charges; those are all civil duties, but they are enforceable under the criminal law. The obligation to provide information to a prospective buyer does not seem very different.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. Roger (Chairman)
Ainsworth, Mr. Robert
Brake, Mr.
Buck, Ms
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Curry, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Don
Hope, Mr.
Iddon, Dr.
Loughton, Mr.
Love, Mr.
Mullin, Mr.
Raynsford, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Turner, Mr. Neil
Waterson, Mr.

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