Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the Minister. He always answers in a concise and helpful way. I shall probe him further about two aspects.
Does the Minister think that clause 14 will catch everyone who purports to be an estate agent? Will it catch the rogue person, who sets himself up as an estate agent overnight, and simply puts up a board stating that he is a house seller? Will it catch the person who is open for whatever business, house selling being one of many activities? Will the clause catch the trader who is not normally recognised as an estate agent?
We have talked about the draconian sanctions under the Bill, but what if one happens to be the poor, unfortunate vendor caught up by an unregistered estate agent? It could be a catastrophic experience. The Government should keep an open mind. If it appears that one or two people are providing a less than professional service because they are not registered with any of the professional bodies, it would be reasonable to consider revisiting the question of whether it should be compulsory to be registered as an estate agent. It is a serious matter that concerns the largest transaction that someone is likely to make in their life. We do not want untrained people acting for sellers and buyers of houses. It will not do the estate agency profession or its image any good, and it will provide a lurking danger to the general public. Sales may go wrong rarely, but when they do, they will go wrong with a vengeance, and those most important transactions will become much more difficult and expensive.
Mr. Raynsford: I hope that I can give the hon. Gentleman the comfort for which he is looking. Clause 14 will catch the sort of rogue traders that he describes if they market a property for a seller. It will not catch rogue traders acting as estate agents on behalf of a buyer, because it is concerned only with the process of marketing properties. It will be a complete answer to the problem of unqualified people, who are likely to deliver a poor service, setting themselves up as rogue estate agents. That is a separate issue, and I shall return to it in a moment.
The provision will cover any individual body corporate or partnership that markets properties and has a place of business in England and Wales. That is a much broader definition that will catch rogue traders. I do not want to detail circumstances in which they will not be caught. Of course, they will not be caught if they have premises outside England and Wales, for the simple reason that there is no enforcement mechanism without the complicated arrangement of a reciprocal procedure with Scotland. Anyone who sets up his premises in Scotland is badly placed to market properties in England and Wales, so we do not think that that is a serious issue, although it might technically be seen as a loophole.
I was asked whether we should revisit the issue of the licensing of estate agents. I made it clear that, although the Government have no current plans to proceed with such licensing, we have a genuinely open mind. We are conscious of the extent of the work that the National Association of Estate Agents has carried out to raise standards in the profession, and of the representations that we have received on the issue. We prefer the voluntary route where possible, but we recognise that there is sometimes a need to take action to protect the public interest.
I hope that the hon. Member for Cotswold will be reassured that we will keep an open mind on the matter. I ask him to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I love the image of the Minister as the Minister with the light touch. Time will tell whether he fulfils that criterion. I am not sure that he will do so with the enactment of the Bill but, be that as it may, his response was helpful and courteous, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]
Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes past Seven o'clock till Thursday 25 January at fifteen minutes to Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
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