HC Deb 23 January 1991 vol 184 cc313-5
9. Mrs. Irene Adams

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further steps he is considering to protect housebuyers from misleading property descriptions following his review of the Trade Descriptions Act.

Mr. Leigh

As the then Minister told the House in several written answers last year, it is the Government's intention to amend the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 to apply its provisions to descriptions of real property. That remains the Government's intention, subject to parliamentary time being available. However, an order under the Estate Agents Act 1979, dealing with the misdescription of property, will be laid before the House as soon as possible. This is part of a package of measures to curb malpractices in estate agency which was announced last April by the then Minister and was the subject of a consultation document issued by my Department last year.

Mrs. Adams

Does the Minister realise that, because of the Government's refusal to introduce their own legislation on this, they have left the door wide open for hundreds of unscrupulous estate agents to mislead thousands of home buyers? How can the Government justify their lack of action?

Mr. Leigh

On the contrary, the Government have listened to a number of representations. My predecessor gave a commitment on behalf of the Government, which has necessitated a full consultation period during which a number of problems have come up; but if the hon. Lady had listened to my answer she would have heard me give a commitment. She may also be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) drew a high place in the ballot for private Members' Bills and intends to promote a Bill to deal with misdescription of property.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Given the cost, inconvenience and occasional distress caused to house buyers by the more fanciful hyperbole of less scrupulous estate agents, will my hon. Friend agree that the measures shortly to be brought forward by the Government in regulations and in the private Member's Bill to which he referred are welcome not only for the benefit of consumers but for the benefit of the more responsible estate agents?

Mr. Leigh

Yes. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the lacuna in the present law, in that the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 does not cover real property. We know this and intend to take action. We also intend to take action on the Estate Agents Act 1979. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] We have had to wait for time in the legislative programme, but, as I have said, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West is bringing forward a Bill in the next few weeks which should cover the problem.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

I know that the House will want to join me in wishing the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) a speedy recovery from his illness.

Will the Minister tell the House why he has failed to give house buyers the protection that was promised in the Government's press statement on 19 June 1990 and which a Minister pledged to implement by the 1st of this month? Why is that protection not in place now nor likely to be in place for some months to come?

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman may be confused as between our determination to bring in primary legislation to amend the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and secondary legislation under an order to amend the Estate Agents Act 1979. On the first of these, we must take our place in the legislative queue; on the second, the hon. Gentleman should wait and see.

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend should be congratulated on the answers that he has given to the House. Will he agree with me that, while it is necessary to say "caveat emptor", or "buyer beware", to anyone buying a good or service, the steps that my hon. Friend has outlined should be brought forward at the earliest opportunity to protect young people, who, as first-time buyers, may take estate agents' details at face value and be deluded into buying a property which is suspect in some way?

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to these matters. The Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West has not been published, but we agree with its aims, in so far as we know what they are, and hope that the Bill will become law.