Mr. Waterson: The amendment having been fairly narrow, I wish to debate just two issues in the stand part debate. One is short and technical. The other is longer, and is basically a whinge. The first point, raised by the Law Society, was whether the Bill would apply where a property was bought with vacant possession but with the express purpose of letting to tenants. I assume that I have to qualify that question by saying that we are not talking about a right-to-buy case, for which, as the Minister explained, there is a different set of rules.
The whinge, which is slightly longer, relates to a point that I have made before and I raise it now rather than make a separate point of order. Clause 5 is the first of severalin company with clauses 7, 8 and 31in which the Minister proposes to take powers to enable his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make regulations. On 10 January, I wrote to the Minister asking whether draft regulations would be available for the Committee stage. The Minister courteously responded on 15 January and sent copies, I think, to all members of the Committee. The letter was long and detailed and definitely courteous, but the basic answer was no.
A more outgoing letter followed on 16 January, enclosing a helpful note prepared by the Department about the ambit of the likely regulations. With respect, that note, while helpful, raises more questions than it answers. I will not list them in detail but, since the letter was despatched, we have discovered other bits and pieces that will need to be addressed. I think that the Minister conceded in one of our debates that the question of derelict properties might have to be considered in regulations. There is also the vexed question of friends and family and so on, which I gather is going to be dealt with.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. I return to the point of order that I made in a previous sitting. I have just seen the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary communicate with the lady in the red sequinned top. Your co-Chairman ruled strictly that that was out of order. I ask you again whether it is in order to communicate with that lady and whether it is in order for that lady to sit on the Press Bench.
The Chairman: My co-Chairman has ruled on that. As I understand it, provided that the Press Bench is not occupied by members of the press, it may be occupied by others. I have since received remonstrations by some members of the press who regard that as a hard-fought-for privilege. While we do not propose to raise the matter, the Press Gallery may wish to raise it with the House authorities.
So far as communication is concerned, the point of order gives me an opportunity to go slightly wider than the hon. Gentleman's question. As you know, I have always deprecated private conversations or communication in Committee Rooms. There is plenty of space on the Green Benches outside. If people on the Front or Back Benches wish to have private conversations, then, out of courtesy to the Committee and the Chair, they should go outside to do so.
Mr. Waterson: Thank you, Mr. Gale. I was in the middle of saying that issues have arisen since the letter I mentioned was written. I dare say that others will arise as debates develop and that those, too, will be encompassed in regulations. I appreciate that it is not always practically possible for Committees to have draft regulations beforehand, but sometimes it is. Clause 5 is a perfect illustration of the type of clause under which, should the Bill become law, substantial regulations will probably be made. We hope and expect that the points we raise will inform the drafting of regulations, but I can only reiterate that the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and even Government Back Benchers are seriously hampered if the likely contents of regulations remain unseen by us.
All we can do, despite the general indication given to us of some of the matters to be covered in regulations, is hope and expect that the Minister and his officials will take some note of the points that we raise. They are not frivolous and are often practical, and they have been brought to our attention by professional bodies and others. That is my whinge.
Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Member for Eastbourne raised two issues. The first was a technical point about properties bought with vacant possession but with the express purpose of letting. Under the Bill, a property put on the market with vacant possession will be subject to a seller's pack, irrespective of the intended usage.
The hon. Gentleman's second point was about regulations. I repeat that we want to take full account of the views expressed in the House, in Committee and in another place. We want to ensure that any detail that cannot reasonably be put in the Bill now, but that will be necessary to guide the implementation of the scheme, will be embodied in regulations, which should be practical, effective and easy to interpret. We have already debatedon Tuesday and this morningsome of the borderline definitional issues that are difficult to interpret.
It is important to produce effective guidance on regulations, especially in respect of exemptions. We have not yet committed ourselves to exemptions and we are aware of the disadvantages. The hon. Member for Cotswold rightly pointed to the potential danger of stigmatising low-value properties through low-value exemptions. Equally, however, the absence of an exemption might inhibit the market is some low-value areas. As I said, we intend to pay attention to all the views expressed in Committee, in the House and in another place. We shall also work with professional bodies such as the National Association of Estate Agents and others, so that the regulations will be well informed and produce the requisite effect.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Under-Secretary has already explained that an introductory agent will have to produce a seller's pack. If one person is selling the house to another, unconnected personnot a friend or relativeand both parties use agents, would the vendor's agent have to produce a pack?
Mr. Raynsford: We are once again getting into complex and technical territory. It is important to deal with the complexities, which is precisely why we want further opportunity to reflect on them before making binding commitments. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has already said that he would reflect further to check that the answer he gave was correct.
Our concern is that anyone marketing a propertywhich may not be the case in the hon. Gentleman's examplemust be subject to the seller's pack procedure. Although parts of the industry may deplore it, under some agreements several agencies are involved in the same sale. In those circumstances, it would be absurd if only one agent had to produce a pack and the others could sell without it. Agents involved in the marketing of properties will therefore be subject to the provisions.
In certain circumstances, marketing of a property may not be relevantan agent could be putting two people together and acting on behalf of a potential buyerand the pack provisions might not apply. In common with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, I want to reflect further and I undertake to write to the hon. Gentleman about the matter.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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