HL Deb 06 May 1993 vol 545 cc797-8

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 is working as intended.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)

My Lords, the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 only took practical effect on 4th April this year. It is therefore too early to say whether the Act is operating as intended.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware of the situation which has been reported to me, which relates to London, where groups of estate agents work together? Fourteen estate agents pooled particulars so that purchasers and vendors benefited from a much wider service, but now no estate agent is willing to take responsibility for any other estate agent in that group. Therefore, a purchaser or vendor has to approach each estate agent individually since there is now no centralised system in London, and the progress of sales is being inhibited as a result. Does my noble friend consider that, in view of the due diligence defence under the Act, estate agents are being over anxious?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, it is a matter of concern if estate agents do not trust each other. The aim of the Act is to ensure that a purchase of property—probably the most expensive purchase that people make—has the same cover as the Trade Descriptions Act provides for every other purchase. The market will only be slowed if people keep on looking at unsuitable property.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am sure that none of us would dream of making any critical remarks about estate agents. Obviously one accepts the Answer of the noble Baroness as being more than full. However, given that the question will continue to be relevant, is her department monitoring the way the Act works or is she waiting for the public to write in with complaints? Is her department taking positive action?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the Office of Fair Trading has responsibility for assuring that estate agents behave in an ethical manner. However, as this is a new measure we are also keeping a close eye on the position.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, am I correct in thinking that only estate agents have responsibility under the Act? If a vendor says that he has recently rewired the house to what extent must the estate agent demand proof of that statement from the vendor, who has no liability for his description of the property?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The Act covers estate agents and those solicitors who are involved in sales of property, but it does not cover private individuals. However, the Act provides a defence for an estate agent who can show that he took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing an offence. If, however, he suggested that the house had been rewired but there were still round-holed electrical sockets in the property he might well be subject to question.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the Minister has made some extraordinary replies. First she said that the Act had only been on the statute book for some four years and it is not working yet.

Noble Lords

Four weeks.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, four weeks! Then I can only say that if it has only been in operation for four weeks I do not know what all the fuss is about.

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