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House Buyers And "Chains"

Volume 491: debated on Monday 11 January 1988

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3.3 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consult the relevant professional bodies to establish procedures, including indemnity insurance, to help house buyers caught in a "chain" to move more expeditiously into their new homes.

My Lords, I believe it is the noble Lord's birthday, and I should like to begin by wishing him many happy returns of the day.

The Conveyancing Committee appointed by the Government under the chairmanship of Professor Farrand considered the question of chains in its second report on Conveyancing Simplifications, which was published in 1985 following consultation with the relevant professional bodies. The Conveyancing Standing Committee, set up by the Law Commission at the Government's request pursuant to the primary recommendation of the Conveyancing Committee's second report, is currently examining ways in which the problems of house buyers caught in a chain may be alleviated.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his very sympathetic reply and also for his congratulations on my birthday. Is the noble and learned Lord aware that an increasing number of house buyers are finding themselves sitting on the doorstep of the home they have bought because there has been some hitch along the chain in completion? Is the noble and learned Lord also aware that that can be overcome by a code of practice sponsored by the Government and agreed with the local authorities and the professional bodies concerned? I can speak on this matter from personal and first-hand experience.

My Lords, the Government are aware of the difficulties, and that is why the action that I have indicated in the principal Answer has been taken. If a code of practice by itself could solve all the problems we should all be very happy, but I for my part have not yet seen such a code of practice. The matter is a difficult one, but I hope it is not one without some progress being made in its consideration.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that one of the factors in changing houses is what is called gazumping? Are the Government prepared to encourage the procedures used over many years in Scotland which have virtually prevented gazumping from taking place?

My Lords, the Conveyancing Standing Committee has recently issued an explanatory guide to house selling the Scottish way for England and Wales. The guide in all fairness points out that there are advantages and disadvantages, both in the Scottish way and in the way hitherto adopted in England and Wales. It is a question of which advantages and disadvantages a person wishes to choose, whether he goes along with the former method here or that hitherto used in Scotland.

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor aware that I do not suggest that a code of practice would solve the whole question of chains? However, I believe that a code of practice would prevent the absurdity of people sitting on the doorstep of their new home for two or three hours unnecessarily.

My Lords, I certainly think that that particular aspect of the problem is one which is perhaps a bit easier to resolve than the problem as a whole. It is being considered in the context of the whole problem.

My Lords, would not the Government be well served if they were to seek the advice of my noble friend Lord Jacques on this matter?

My Lords, the Government are always very willing to receive advice from any Member of your Lordships' House. I cannot think of anyone who is better qualified on this matter than the noble Lord, Lord Jacques.