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House Prices (Public Registration)

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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9 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that, whenever a residential property is sold, the price and date of sale are to be entered on a register which will be freely available to everyone.
For most people, the purchase of a home is the biggest single financial transaction of their lives. Yet, as regards the price that they have to pay or are willing to offer, it is the least informed decision that people normally have to make. Compared with the purchase of, say a secondhand car or a television set, there is virtually no information to guide an individual when making an offer to purchase a house or flat.

The simple proposal in this Bill is that there should be a register of the prices of houses and flats, such register to be open to public inspection. There would be four items of information on the register: the price at which a property had changed hands; the date at which that transaction had taken place; whether the property was leasehold or freehold; and, if leasehold, the number of years out standing on the lease. The suggestion is that the register should be freely available—in, say, a local town hall—so that any member of the public could look at it before deciding whether he could afford to purchase a home in that area and, if so, at what price.

It might be said that estate agents already have such information available on their lists; but those lists contain only the asking prices, not the actual prices at which properties change hands. Some years ago, when I was attempting to purchase a property, I was unable to find the going rate in a particular neighbourhood. Only by resorting to the subterfuge of telephoning an estate agent and offering to sell a property of the kind that I wanted to buy was I able to get an idea of the prices of properties of that kind in the area.

The Bill proposes a fairly easy solution. It proposes a measure of consumer protection, because if the consumer has knowledge he is better protected than if he has to act in ignorance.

Technically, there would be few problems about implementing the proposals in the Bill. Under section 28 of the Finance Act 1931, such information, or the bulk of it, is already made known to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. The point of the Bill is to make information already being collected available to the public. Therefore, there would be little additional work for either the Inland Revenue or town hall staffs in making such information available. The most appropriate suggestion is to put the information on the same listing as that on which rateable values are made available for public inspection by the Inland Revenue.

One of the benefits of this proposal is that there would be fairness between buyer and seller. That is important for the buyer, because normally he does not have the help of estate agents or other advisers to guide him on price.

Another benefit is that I believe there would be more stability of prices and possibly less of a tendency towards gazumping.

An incidental benefit would be better knowledge of house prices in particular areas.

This measure should be of substantial benefit to people when making what is a major financial decision.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Alfred Dubs, Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann, Mr. Gerald Kaufman, Mr. Jack Straw, Mr. Allan Roberts, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Arthur Davidson and Dr. Oonagh McDonald.