Schedule 6

Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 24 April 2007.

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Estate Agents’ Redress Schemes

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

I beg to move amendment No. 23, in schedule 6, page 62, line 29, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘shall’.

The amendment is another rehearsal of discussions that we have previously had and would strengthen the demand upon the Secretary of State, who is not required to do any of the things in the schedule. The argument is in a sense tautological: we wish him to be required to undertake the matters referred to.

Stephen Pound rose—

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Order. Amendment proposed, in schedule 6, page 62, line 29, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘shall’.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

I apologise for my premature rising, Mr. Weir.

The hon. Lady’s amendment has stimulated me to delve deep within the entrails of proposed newsection 23A(1) of the Estate Agents Act 1979, particularly the use of the word “complaints.” When my right hon. Friend the Minister responds, will he comment on third-party complaints? I raise thatpoint because, like many Members, I am constantly approached by aggrieved constituents complaining about the proliferation of sale boards. In many cases, there is a veritable forest of them.

I have discovered that, in a number of cases, estate agents place boards on properties in which they currently have no interest but may at some stage. Inmy constituency, on the corner of Ruislip road and Rectory Park avenue, there is an absolute forest of boards, providing a windbreak if anyone happens to be playing football behind it. If one wishes to complain, there is no obvious direct first or second-party complainant, because the boards are on the corner of the road, so we come to a stage at which there must be a third-party complainant.

My public-spirited constituent, Tessa West, has drawn to my attention a problem in Queen’s walk in  Ealing, where an estate agent has placed a board outside a property on the assumption that they may have an interest in disposing of that property at some point in the future. Like all people of good will, I look to my right hon. Friend the Minister to resolve such problems in the style for which he is so well known.

I should like to discover whether there is some way in which we can consider third-party complaints, particularly in respect of sale boards. I have pursued such a case through the small claims court, and I was told that the damage done to a property by the affixation of a sale board was so minimal that there could be no claim in law. The estate agent was then required to take down the board within 21 days, which gave them 21 days of free advertising.

In such a massive industry—agency charges in England and Wales are about £3 billion a year—there is inevitably great pressure on estate agents to get their name into the public domain. I am concerned that in some cases, keen and hungry estate agents, who are not necessarily unscrupulous, use the entirely legitimate sale board in an illegitimate way.

When my right hon. Friend sums up, will he offer some comfort to the many people, such as my constituent, Tessa West, and, I am sure, many hon. and right hon. Members, who suffer in that way and do not see an obvious remedy? Local government planning law does not apply, because a board is a temporary structure. There appears to be some size regulation in the industry, so it is not as though estate agents produce massive billboards, which could be a hazard under highway legislation. Such use of sale boards is certainly a nuisance, however; it is sharp practice and something that we could address, even though in the grand scheme of things, it may seem small potatoes.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

The hon. Gentleman makes a useful point, but I have one concern with the direction in which his argument is  running. In my constituency, for example, local primary schools advertise their fairs in conjunction with local estate agents. Throughout the village in which I live, Chorley Wood, one sees what appear to be estate agent boards that are in fact advertising fairs for local primary schools. That is quite helpful to those schools; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to suggest anything that would make such advertising more difficult.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. In my constituency, Robertson Smith Kempson, an admirable estate agent, supports Hobbayne primary school, which is an excellent school round the corner from where I live. We are delighted to have those notice boards up for a couple of days. My concern is that when, as in one case, there are 11 different sale boards clustered outside an obviously not very desirable property—

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Labour, Ealing North

I am actually referring to my property.

That brings not into disrepute not only the profession, but the activities of those public-spirited school governors who are trying to make a few bob for their school fete. This issue has become more than an irritant, and I see no sanction or redress in law, because compliance normally carries a 21-day time frame, which is beneficial to the advertisers. I finish by looking with hope and expectation to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who never disappoints, and I am sure that he will not do so on this occasion.

Debate adjourned.—[Steve McCabe.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Twelve o’clock, till this day at Four o’clock.