Should estate agents share offices?

It’s a busy, busy day. All days are busy – but this is ridiculous. At the Lib Dem Home Affairs Team meeting I give a presentation on police mergers. We have quite a lively discussion. The problem is that the Government is steaming ahead with this lousy, rushed, costly and inappropriate merger program.

Straight into Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions. John Prescott stumbled and bumbled his way through (as the boss is in Australia admitting he had made a mistake to pre-announce that he would go – but not when he would go. Gissa date Tony). I admire him in a way. He gave one good answer to the Tories – that he would rather get his words wrong than his policies – unlike them.

And then the ID card debate came back to the floor of the Commons from where it had pinged in the Lords. The Lords Amendment was rejected by the Commons – and was sent immediately back to the Lords. I could see the way this ping-pong was shaping up – that my tightly timed evening commitments were going to be out the window. I was to speak at Policy Exchange on Police Mergers and then rush to Highgate to the Highgate Society to be on a panel speaking on ways to solve the problems of Highgate Village where there are something like 17 estate agents and a Tescos – and our diverse village is in danger. Save our shops! I say.

Anyway – the way the timing goes I can make the Policy Exchange (because it is only two minutes walk from parliament – so can get back if vote is called) but have to pull out of Highgate as the ID cards debate will come back to the Commons around 9pm. I phone my apologies – but was quite annoyed as very much wanted to put in my two pennies worth. I heard from my sister who went that it was very well attended and that Cllr Bob Hare (councillor for Highgate and a LibDem colleague) had put forward lots of fresh ideas and had been very well received.

I had wanted to take on the estate agents. Seems to me that they all want to say they have an office in Highgate (for prestige). And indeed virtually everyone who lives in Highgate will have bought their house through one of them. At present, there is nothing in planning law that allows control of which types of usage (within a range) can be restricted. So there is work to do at the Parliamentary level to get the law changed. We have an EDM about Business Conservation Areas aimed at this type of thing – but I think we need to find another way.

Anyway – legislation takes forever – so whilst we put our thinking caps on about that – I think the estate agents should get together to share premises. I know – shock horror! But the truth is that most punters visit all the estate agents to register with them – so they wouldn’t care if they were all in one building (in fact it would make it easier). But even if it were only two to a shop – that would half the number of agents in the village. They could still refer to their ‘Highgate Office’ and they would half their running costs and overheads – not to mention rent! Of course they won’t want to even consider it – but they should. I may write to them to see whether they are willing to all come to a discussion about what can be done.

So – the Police Merger event at Policy Exchange went well – but we were all on the same side. Simon Jenkins was there – always good value. This is one that is going to really hit labour at the elections. It is such a dreadful proposal in its current form. Anyway – finish and run back to parliament for the last ID card debate as it comes back from the Lords once more.

This time the new amendment by the Tories suggests that up until December 2009 you will be able to opt out of having an ID card when you get your new passport. Labour in the Lords have agreed – and now if this passes in the Commons – the Tories having completely caved in, flip-flopped, whatever you want to call their disgraceful u-turn yet again on ID cards – that will be that.

And this is a dreadful amendment – no wonder Labour agreed. All it does is mean that when you get a new passport – until December 2009 – you will be able to opt out of the ID card. But you won’t be able to opt-out of the National Database Register – and that is where the real sinister part is; the card is nothing compared to the register.

And the date – December 2009, does not take you past the last possible date for the next general election. Yet the whole point of the new date being set is to take it beyond the next general election so that the parties can go to the country with their promises, clear in their manifestos, of their policy on ID cards.

So wrong date and the National Register now goes ahead. It really is Big Brother and then some.