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Mr. Robathan: Is not the main point the fact that, if the motion is passed, various amendments and new clauses that I am sure will be proposed in Committee will not even be reached? The Minister has not addressed that. He says that the position is simple, but amendments tabled in good faith and not on a partisan basis will not be reached, however important they may be.
Mr. Cash: That returns me to a point I made earlier: this Bill should be bipartisan. If assurances given by the Lord Chancellor in the other place are not followed by proper and adequate consideration because not enough time has been provided, inadequacies and deficiencies in the Bill will result in protests not only from those who happen to be members of the Conservative party, but from those with an interest in commonhold and leasehold matters who would like the Bill to be improved to respond to important questions in respect of which amendments will be tabled but, apparently, not considered. Those protests will fall heavily on the Government, and I ask them to reconsider the programme motion.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): In past Parliaments, there were three separate attempts by the then Government, now the Opposition, to reform leasehold, all of which failed. Was there any attempt during consideration of any of those three Bills to adopt a bipartisan approach?
Mr. Cash: It speaks for itself that there has been a natural progression from the dates that I gave earlier. We have tried to arrive at the position that I think we are on the threshold of achieving: a Bill that will go through with all-party endorsement. However, for reasons to do with the programming motion, it will be the responsibility and liability of the Government if proper consideration is not given to important amendments that are in the interests of persons throughout the United Kingdom.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): My hon. Friend has already referred to the complexity of the legislation. Does he agree that careful thought needs to be given to how the measures are explained to members of the general public? As a new Member of Parliament, I am looking for a second home in London. I have been struck by how the informationnot the advicethat I have sought from different estate agents has ranged from non-existent to entirely contradictory. There are 75 pages of explanatory notes to the Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree that thought needs to be given to ensuring that information on the Bill can be put over simply to members of the public?
Mr. Cash: It may be necessary to make such information available to Members of Parliament as well. My hon. Friend has almost selected himself for the Committee stage, as a result of which he will discover even more. The Minister and I get on quite well for a fair
Mr. Pike: Some of the things in the Bill, including leasehold enfranchisement, were moved as amendments in 1993 by the then Opposition and voted against by people such as the hon. Gentleman on the Government side.
Mr. Cash: I am delighted, if that is a factual point, to concur with it. After all, as I keep on saying, we are adopting a constructive position with respect to the Bill. If it so happens that at that point in time good points were made by the then Opposition, so be it. If the consequence is that we end up with a better Bill, that is the object of the exercise. In matters of this kind, where there is no substantial philosophical or principled distinction between the parties, we should do nothing other than seek to arrive at the best possible solution for all our constituents.
However, as I have said, there have been inadequate responses by the Government to suggested improvements to the Bill. Although it has been examined at length twice in Committee in the other place and gone through Report and Third Reading twice, the Government have doggedly refused to make improvements to it. I find that difficult to accept and I hope that the Government will bear it in mind.
Let me turn to two particular matters where obstinacy seems to have ruled. Obviously, commonhold is a new form of tenure. It is unfamiliar to lawyers who deal in conveyancing let alone to the general public. The point about managing agents is also important. The extent to which the Government have not dealt with these matters is covered in the Library research paper published on 14 December which refers to the regulation of managing agents. Nothing in the Bill deals with that problem, yet on Report and on Third Reading Lord Williams of Elvel moved an amendment to provide for the establishment of a professional regulatory body for property managers, or a licensing scheme or other arrangements deemed appropriate by regulation after consultation. Lord Falconer set out the Government's position in a nutshell, saying:
Mr. John Taylor: Before my hon. Friend concludes, let me draw his attention to a point that has not so far been covered. The Bill could win itself plaudits in the leasehold enfranchisement area if it had a patent, transparent price calculation mechanism for the acquisition of a freehold. The Leasehold Reform Act 1967 failed in that respect. Could not this Bill be commended for getting it right?
Mr. Cash: I am sure that the matter deserves further consideration and that we shall examine it in Committee. Any improvements that produce an accurate value of an interest will obviously be relevant.
We shall need clear rules to calculate and establish ownership of the different units. Valuation tribunals may offer one route to achieve that, but I suspect that there will be many disputes. No doubt we shall return to the issue in Committee if hon. Members table amendments on arbitration ombudsmen and so on.
I was drawing attention to the Government's failure to improve the Bill. If, as Conservative Members hope, commonhold is successful, it is important that it develops a degree of momentum so that it becomes the preferred form of tenure for blocks of flats. If only a few commonholds are established, lawyers will not gain the necessary practical familiarity with the new concept and the momentum for adopting commonhold as the standard method of flatholding will be lost. That is a serious point. At present it is quite common for developers to sell flats on long leases and give the lessees shares in the management company so that the lessees manage the block. Indeed, developers will often grant the freehold to the lessees. The selling of flats on 999-year leases is not dissimilar to the commonhold idea.
Opposition Members believe that it is vital that commonhold should add to what exists. It seems that the Government have not yet fully come to grips with the need to make commonhold attractive. That is a key point.
First, the Government have sought deliberately to restrict the availability of commonhold. If a block of flats is to be converted from leasehold to commonhold, the unanimity of all those with an interest in the building is required. All the flat owners must agree. The freeholder must agree. All the mortgagees must agree. Anyone who has registered a caution on the Land Registry must agree. Even people with a right of way or some easement over the property must agree.
In practice, therefore, in all but the smallest blocks, there is no realistic scope for converting from leasehold to commonhold. I trust that the Minister is giving that serious matter a great deal of thought.
However, if a well-judged amendment were put forward, for which there was substantial cross-party support, the Government would listen to the debate and consider it very carefully."