asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek to reduce the costs of house purchasers and sellers by encouraging local authorities to provide easily available lists of private houses in their area for sale: and if he will make a statement.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend's underlying objective, but when this approach was tried out between 1966 and 1968 the results were disappointing.
Does not my hon. Friend accept, however, that perhaps too little energy was devoted under the previous experiment in this direction? Does he not agree that it seems that the estate agencies appear to be only a burden on both the house purchaser and the house seller, and that the basic facilities for this sort of work are much more available with the local authority? Could not there now be closer co-operation between the local authorities and the building societies, irrespective of what ultimately may happen to the building societies?
Our new plans for cooperation between local authorities and building societies on mortgage lending should help. I very much agree with my hon. Friend about the need to make house purchase easier. He has put this point to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has responded favourably but cautiously. But I am afraid that when we examined the outcome of the previous experiment it was found that, although that experiment covered a total of 20 councils, known sales of houses amounted to only about 30.
Is the Minister aware that people can perfectly well use the columns of the newspapers in this matter and do not have to employ agents? Agents get a return on only about 20 per cent. of the properties on their books, and the rest is abortive work.
There are various ways of making available knowledge of properties for sale. What my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) is admirably attempting to do is to help people buy houses and help people to sell houses to people who need them.