Mr. Mullin: As it happens, I could have guessed most of the answers that I have received, because they largely concern matters of common sense.
One must bear in mind throughout this discussion that the schedule, like the enforcement clause that we have just discussed, is lifted almost entirely from the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991, which was introduced by the previous Government. The same questions might therefore have been asked of that Act, although I doubt whether they were.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham asked about the circumstances in which paragraph 4(1), which will enable withdrawal of a fixed penalty notice, will be used. It will be used, for example, if a mistake has been made. Has it occurred to the hon. Gentleman that people sometimes make mistakes? Not everybody corrects their mistakes, of course, but trading standards officers do. He asked whether paragraph 6(4), which enables the seizing of documents, would in such circumstances leave the sale in limbo. In fact, the vendor would not be prejudiced by seizure because copy documents can be made and he could retain his own copy.
The hon. Gentleman asked what safeguards exist in terms of the reasonableness of trading standards officers' behaviour. The short answer to that is the British legal system. He asked who is to notify a person whose documents have been seized. That is the estate agent's job, because he has a contractual relationship with the vendor and is therefore liable. The hon. Gentleman also asked what constitutes a reasonable hour for the exercising of an officer's power. Here he is returning to his ``something of the night'' argument, in which he imagines trading standards officers exercising their powers in a gestapo-like fashion at 4 o'clock in the morning. That might happen in west Sussex, but it certainly does not in Sunderland. His guess as to what constitutes a reasonable hour is as good as mine, but I imagine that the English courts might have something to say if officers started bashing down doors at 4 o'clock in the morning. I rest my case.
Mr. Loughton: I am glad that the answers were so simple and such a matter of common sense that the Minister still needed to read the notes that were thrust under his nose. That shows that the answers were not obvious. Indeed, they give rise to further questions.
Of course a sale will not be interrupted, because only copy documents are requiredthere will not just be one seller's pack. However, the weights and measures officer will, presumably, have taken action either because something in the seller's pack is incorrect, or because something has not been included in it. Could the sale process be restarted for the vendor, seamlessly and straight away? Could it be restarted with the same firm of estate agents, which would then be required simply to insert the missing document or correct the erroneous one? Given the basis of employee or employer responsibility and liability, could the sale continue with the same estate agent even though an employee of that estate agency was the subject of a criminal investigation? There is a potential conflict of interest. If the sale cannot be restarted with the same estate agent, how easily can it be transferred to an alternative firm?
For the Minister yet again to dismiss my question in a complacent manner is most unsatisfactory. He tells us that the estate agent is contractually obliged to communicate to the vendor that a sale has been interrupted or suspendedwhatever terminology he chooses to accept. Where in the contract is it clearly stated that the estate agent has a contractual duty to inform the vendor of any seizure of documents, any interruption or potential interruption of the sale through the actions of weights and measures officers? We, as laymen, want the answers, but so do technical experts and practitioners in the field. It is not a matter of common sense. There are many details still to be provided. The Ministersolodid not know the answers. We should approach the questions with rather more seriousness than he has shown.
Mr. Mullin: I dealt with all the points head on. The notes that I was struggling to read were my own. They were to remind me of the clauses to which the hon. Gentleman had drawn my attention. He asked whether the sale could continue. Yes, it could, although it is possible that the vendor might have lost confidence in the estate agent if there had been a raid that resulted in documents being taken away. The cause of the raid might have been a complaint from the vendor, which would make it highly likely that he would want to go elsewhere. That is a matter for the vendor to decide.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the estate agent's duty to inform the vendor in the event that he is investigated. The estate agent has a duty to market the property. He has a duty towards the vendor from the moment an agreement is reached. A contract does not have to written down in black and white, although there will be terms and conditions that are standard to the profession. The estate agent will be expected to perform his duty to the best of his ability. If he keeps quiet about some relevant consideration, such as the fact that he is, in some way, under investigation, he will be in breach of that duty.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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