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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in this debate. There may have been few speakers, but I think the contributions were helpful and positive from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches. I will talk about the Government's contribution in a minute.

I will deal with one or two of the points that have been made. It is intended that the scheme will be mandatory. Once the scheme or schemes are in being, it will be an obligation on all estate agents to be members, otherwise they will not be able to operate as estate agents. I am not sure I should chance my luck on trying to do some legal interpretation of the wording now, but the point is that there could be independent consumer redress schemes that were not satisfactory or to the proper standards, and it would be up to the Secretary of State whether a scheme met such a standard before he required all estate agents to be
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members of it. It is certainly my intention, however, that under the legislation it should be mandatory for estate agents to be members of such a scheme. That is an answer to both the Front Benches opposite.

The problem of having a limited redress scheme as regards the home information pack proposals is that this will be confusing for consumers. People will say, "Well, we can complain, but only on a limited aspect of the purchase transaction". That does not help. When people fall foul of any particular system they like to know, in an open and transparent manner, what their redress is. I fear that, although the Government's motives are good as regards HIPs, and I think it is a welcome step forward, there is a confusing element in having a redress scheme for only a limited part of the house purchase process.

I was also asked about trading standards officers. They perform a useful job but they cover a wide range of goods and services. I seek a specialised service which will cover estate agents. The officers concerned will therefore understand the estate agency business and will be able to develop codes of conduct to establish what is appropriate professional behaviour on the part of estate agents. I hope that will result in a quicker procedure. It would also debar from working estate agents who do not behave professionally and who behave badly. Despite all the good work that trading standards officers do, I understand that they do not have the powers that I mentioned. For that reason I would prefer the scheme I am discussing to be adopted although I accept that trading standards officers do a good job covering a wide range of goods and services. However, the help that they can offer is more limited in the area that I am discussing.

I welcome the Government's support for the principles underlying the Bill. This Bill is very similar to that introduced by Alan Williams MP, but he did not secure any time for that Bill to be debated and therefore could not evoke the government response which today's debate has elicited. Accepting the principle is fine. The Minister said that the Government intended to take action, but not in this Session. However, many Sessions will follow this one. I very much hope that the Government will consider that this is an urgent matter. Any measure that commands such popular support—I believe that this measure will command popular support—constitutes a win-win situation for the Government. Not all government legislation is necessarily as popular as this measure would be. The Government have every incentive to bring such a measure forward. It is in their interests, but particularly in the interests of house buyers and sellers, to do so.

As regards letting, I understand the technical difficulty that the original legislation—the Estate Agents Act 1979—did not cover lettings and that it might be difficult to amend this Bill sufficiently to include them. However, there is a problem with lettings. Many people are very upset at the way they are treated by estate agents when they seek to rent a property. Therefore, I put it to the Government that the matter is worth considering seriously. However,
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this Bill may become law before the Government consider that matter. We shall see what progress is made.

I thank noble Lords for the support that they have given the Bill. I shall watch with interest its further progress through this House. It may well become law and save the Government much bother in the next Session.

On Question, Bill read a second time.

Veterinary Surgery (Testing for Tuberculosis in Bovines) Order 2005

2.42 pm

Baroness Byford rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the order, laid before the House on 25 July, be annulled (S.I. 2005/2015) [8th Report from the Merits Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am sorry that the measure was not included in the Minute. The reason for bringing this measure before the House is underlined by the fact that the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee has drawn this and the following measure on the Order Paper to the attention of the House. The committee states:

I have several questions for the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. The Explanatory Notes clearly acknowledge the fact that the use of non-veterinarians for testing purposes is a very sensitive issue for the profession. However, the NFU supports the measure as its members are as well aware as anyone, including vets, that it is undesirable to have a backlog of tests.

I understand that about three years ago, after the foot and mouth epidemic, the statistics in regard to the late running of lay testing were challenged and that British cattle vets undertook a survey. The survey showed that 3,000 tests were waiting to be done. However, the results also showed that some of the parties surveyed did not exist or had given up farming, or that the TB test had been completed but had not been signed off by the SVS office because of staff shortages. So before we talk about the details, will the Minister confirm how many tests are outstanding and say whether she is confident that the situation of three years ago is no longer true and the figures apply? It is an enormously important point.

The noble Baroness will also be well aware, because she has been spokesman on this topic for some time, of the Government's desire to see greater working in the farming community and improved animal healthcare. The most important way of achieving that is by the proper use of veterinary surgeons. At this stage I should perhaps declare an interest, as I am sure others will shortly, as an associate member of the BVA. It does an amazing job. Vets may well be called to a farm to respond to a specific problem that may be nothing
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to do with lay testing, but while on the farm notice that other matters are not quite as they should be. Their expertise is greatly valued. One of the BVA's big worries is that lay testing will jeopardise that close link. The Government should consider that very seriously.

On the financial side, the vets will be paid for lay testing. However, if it is done by non-qualified people, that income will not go to practices which otherwise would have received it. As I am sure the noble Baroness will realise, there is still a question mark over the viability of large animal practices. The small practices are not the worry; it is the large ones. Every time one of those practices disappears or loses a partner or a vet, the response time and the mileage covered is increased and the service is closer to being jeopardised. If there are fewer such practices and they have to cover a wider area, it is likely that their fees also will increase. It presents a no-win situation. The Government are pushing on the one hand to try to improve animal health and welfare, but on the other, really through default, they may be jeopardising the very objective they are trying to achieve.

The order deals with setting up the test programme, which we are told will last 12 months and involve about 1,100 tests. Will that number be broken down into a certain number of farms in certain areas? How do the Government propose to define their "test area"? That information would be helpful to the House. Will the information gained in doing the tests and from any observations made on the farm on a given day be passed back to the local vet who normally provides veterinarian services to the farm, or will that vital information be lost? That issue has not been addressed at all.

Finally, I turn to paragraph 34 of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee report, which states:

It then goes on to say that it recognises that Defra has responded by deciding to conduct the pilot programme before deploying lay testers more widely. However, we are not clear that the pilot programme as planned will necessarily produce the sort of evidence needed to meet some of the concerns expressed, and I would be glad for clarification on that point. This statutory instrument raises important issues about the way the department views the value of vets per se and how it will establish and maintain that vital link in keeping the health and welfare of animals on the farm in its main criteria for future welfare. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Order, laid before the House on 25 July, be annulled (S.I. 2005/2015). [8th Report from the Merits Committee]—(Baroness Byford.)

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