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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may press him further on it. The significance of including limits on costs and fees in this Bill would make a difference to how the Government's attitude as regards the wish of many people to have more rights over their property is perceived. To await the report of Sir Andrew Leggatt and then to deal with it as a complete matter would be a different issue. I should like to think that the Minister will press, I presume, the Lord Chancellor's Department, to bring forward an amendment in the Commons which would assist people in a positive manner, rather than waiting for further legislation.

Other ways could be found to deal with this problem, such as reaching firm decisions on how the costs and fees would be calculated. Provisions in the Bill before us allow for the fees to be fixed. I wish to see the creation of a known fee. I do not intend that the procedure should cost absolutely nothing; people should be obliged to pay a known fee, even if the amount were to vary as time went by. I press the Minister to respond on that point.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is clear from what I have said that I am not in a position to give any assurance as to what may happen. However, I am prepared to say that we will take the matter away, consider it very carefully, discuss it, and address the issue of whether we should bring forward an appropriate amendment in another place—which, as the noble Baroness knows, is a movement from our position at Report stage. I hope that with those assurances she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. If the noble and learned Lord feels that I can help in any way in the drafting of the amendment, I hope that he will discuss it with me. I find him an honourable person and I know that he would not say that if he did not mean to do it. He will certainly have me on his back if it does not happen. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 30:



"REGULATION OF MANAGING AGENTS
(1) After such consultation as he considers appropriate, the Secretary of State may by regulations provide for a scheme to regulate managers of property under this Part.
(2) A scheme under subsection (1) may take the form of—
(a) a professional regulatory body,
(b) a licensing regime, or
(c) such other arrangements as the Secretary of State deems appropriate.

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(3) Regulations under subsection (1) may include procedures for extending eligibility for membership of any scheme to other managers of property."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment relates to one of the unresolved issues in the Bill; that is, the regulation of managing agents. The matter was debated both in Committee and on Report but we have come to a stalemate. On Report, my noble and learned friend said that my amendment went down a channel he did not wish to follow. I have therefore redrafted the amendment to allow the Secretary of State, after consultation, to do more or less whatever he wants.

Your Lordships recognise that we have to get something into the legislation which will allow the regulation of managing agents. It is not enough to say that that may come in future legislation and so on; it has to come now. My noble and learned friend said on Report that we can introduce legislation from time to time, but my argument is that the amendment is necessary for this Bill at this time in order to get the legislation on to the statute book. That would save any government—it is not a party political matter—from having to produce new primary legislation for the regulation of managing agents.

I cannot see what is wrong with my amendment. Noble Lords will have read the text of the amendment—I do not need to go through it—which, in effect, states that, after consultation, the Secretary of State may do this, that and thus, whatever he wishes. It is time for the House to say that we need to get this last unresolved issue on to the statute book when the Bill leaves the House. I beg to move.

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, there has been a printing error in the Marshalled List. I shall therefore call the amendment as follows. Before Clause 168, insert the following new clause as printed on the Marshalled List, together with the words,


    "(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament".

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, in this matter, on which I have spoken on a previous occasion. The amendment is totally in line with the professional approach that the Government and many others in the housing world are striving to take towards managing properties across all sectors of housing. It is very important.

As the noble Lord pointed out, this is an unresolved issue. If the Government want the Bill to work and people to have better conditions and better management, this is a vital part of it. I hope that the Government will respond to the noble Lord in the way in which they responded to the previous amendment and make sure that something is done about this issue when the Bill arrives in another place.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, will take it all the way.

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However, I do not think the amendment goes far enough. The Minister and I have discussed this matter. I believe that all agents should be regulated, whether they be managing agents, letting agents or estate agents who are buying and selling property. In this century, we should certainly have much greater regulation. As has so often been pointed out, one is dealing with people's homes, which is probably the major investment of their lifetime. As a surveyor, I am sad to admit that there are far too many cowboy surveyors. In the property transaction industry, one needs absolutely no qualifications to set up as a managing agent, letting agent or residential agent. That is totally improper in this day and age.

The problem could be solved if the Government were to implement Section 21 or 22—from memory, I believe that it is Section 21—of the Estate Agents Act 1979. If the provisions of that Act were implemented, it could solve the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and ease my concerns.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I support the amendment. I am particularly pleased with subsection (3). I am very much in favour of the proper regulation of estate agents. As I have said before, in Australia everyone has to be qualified for whatever they do in estate management or sales. Subsection (3) states:


    "Regulations under subsection (1) may include procedures for extending eligibility for membership of any scheme to other managers of property".

That will enable people who have been making their living through managing property—or accountants, or solicitors or someone who is qualified in a different way—to be approved and registered.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, whether or not the text of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will achieve his objective, we strongly support the objective. I hope that in his reply the noble and learned Lord will give your Lordships' House a clear indication of the Government's intention to act in response to that objective at some early time in the future.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel wishes to ensure that managing agents of leasehold property meet certain standards. As I have said before, we support this objective. I see, too, that the noble Lord has taken on board our earlier comments with regard to not prejudging the best way to go about this. He has made a real attempt to leave the way open for any kind of scheme that we might devise. He has, in effect, trusted the Government with very broad and sweeping powers. I wonder whether he would be quite so trusting if the Government were an administration of a different stripe.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, with the greatest respect to my noble and learned friend—I hesitate to intervene—this is not a party political matter.

19 Nov 2001 : Column 942

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I appreciate that my noble friend is not making it a party political matter.

Moving smartly away from party politics, there are some difficulties in my noble friend's proposition. There would be no point in setting up a regulatory scheme that lacked sufficient powers for enforcement. For example, under a licensing scheme we would need an effective way to stop rogues from operating without a licence. Otherwise, they could simply carry on as they have always done with complete disregard to the law.

If we did decide to go down the regulatory route, we might want powers to allow leaseholders to withhold service charges under certain circumstances; we would certainly need a power to impose fines; and we might even want to explore the possibility of harsher penalties for the real hard cases. That is not something that we could leave to secondary legislation; it would have to be provided for on the face of the Bill.

We would also need to consider certain practical issues. For example, we should need a power on the face of the Bill to fund any new body and to prescribe its constitution. Moreover, my noble friend will recall that we are still considering whether any scheme should be confined to agents, given that problems may be caused by the landlord instead, or indeed by any other person responsible for the management.

On the face of it, the amendment appears to allow us the flexibility to decide on that point at a later stage, as we should wish. However, it would not enable us to make arrangements for the replacement of, for example, a landlord. Therefore, if a landlord were banned from managing leasehold properties, there would be a sort of interregnum when no one would have the responsibility—or the power—to manage the property at all. That would hardly be satisfactory and we ought to make provision on the face of the Bill to resolve any such difficulty. This is further complicated by the fact that we can think of two different ways in which we could deal with that problem. It may be that when we consult on this issue consultees will come forward with a third, better option.

Doubtless, there would be other matters that we should need to address on the face of the Bill which have not even occurred to us yet. Creating a power to implement a scheme of unknown scope, nature and detail is an astonishingly ambitious goal. Again, I thank my noble friend for his trust in us. However, we truly do not think that we could make adequate provision on the face of this Bill to cover all eventualities, or indeed even to come close to doing so.

We believe that the right course is to proceed with consultation, as we promised we would, on how to deal with this issue. If the consultation leads to the conclusion that we should legislate, then we should bring forward legislation in the first available legislative vehicle that would allow us to do so. We should use our best endeavours to seek to achieve that as soon as the legislative timetable allowed. Obviously, I am not in a position to say when that would be. We should hope that it would be in the next Session, but

19 Nov 2001 : Column 943

plainly that would depend on a whole range of unpredictable issues on which I am not in a position to comment.

In the light of those remarks, I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw his amendment.

7.30 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, will he confirm that his consultation will be about the regulation of all agents? Or will it be limited, sadly, to managing agents?


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