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Sue Doughty (Guildford): New clause 4 was tabled because we want to extend the same rights of self-management given to leaseholders in blocks of flats to enfranchised owners in estate management schemes. Under those antiquated schemes, leaseholders who buy their freehold might find themselves with fewer rights than they had before and face higher charges despite the substantial expenditure and administrative difficulty of enfranchisement.

The annual fee payable to their previous landlord for managing the scheme can be higher than their erstwhile ground rent and landlords frequently impose onerous charges in respect of consents for alterations and supervision of work. That aspect of being forced to pay a landlord's surveyor—often at extremely high rates—to agree and supervise work evolved long before the days of conservation areas and careful planning controls by local authorities. Enfranchised owners subject to such charges and double surveillance are understandably resentful. Now that leaseholders in blocks of flats are being given a no-fault right to manage their own affairs, the anomalous position of freehold owners in the outmoded estate management schemes is even more inequitable than it was.

I appreciate that, since the new clause was tabled, the Government have introduced a new clause that certainly goes some way to dealing with the concerns that I have expressed. However, we want to know how far the new clause will go towards dealing with the problem. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Mr. Cash: This group of new clauses and amendments, including the Liberal Democrat proposal, deals with an extremely important issue. However, I was slightly surprised by the fact that the Minister hardly provided the type of explanation that one would have expected in relation to new clauses—I refer in particular to new clause 12—that are not only extremely long but contain very complicated arrangements.

7.15 pm

New clause 12(1) says that the new clause applies to schemes under

Subsection (1) also includes provision for

I have described the three types of schemes to which the new clause will apply.

Subsection (2) adds:

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Given the size of the Government's majority in the House, we should not imagine that the new clause will not be enacted. Subsection (3) states:

We all know that the word "unreasonable" means what a court—or tribunal in this case—regards as unreasonable. The question of whether something is unreasonable is determined by the court. That does not necessarily mean that everything will work out in the way that the Government intend, so I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that. I doubt whether the hon. Lady will be able to say what would be regarded, in given circumstances, as being unreasonable, although had she spent more time on her explanation, she might have been able to make the position clearer.

Subsection (4) states:

Again, we have no idea as to the manner in which the tribunal would make such an order. The phrase

invites the question: what will the tribunal actually do? The Government might know, but they have not told us and the Minister's opening remarks did not tell us what grounds on which the application was made would be likely to satisfy the tribunal. However, the tribunal will be able to vary the scheme in the manner that it determines.

Subsection (5) states:

We know what "thinks fit" means in these circumstances, because it is a well-established principle of law that where, for example, those words—or, in analogous circumstances "in the opinion of"—are used, they are non-justiciable in the general context of the deliberations. An enormous power is granted to the tribunal. The variation specified in the order is immensely important to those who are assessing the variation in any given scheme.

Subsection (6) provides:

Clearly, an enormous range of matters go before the tribunal, but the Minister has provided no explanation of the implications lying behind the provision. It may be

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beneficial, but we have had no explanation. The Minister disposed of all the new clauses in about five minutes at most, yet these matters are crucial to those affected.

Subsection (7) goes on to say that the matters to which I referred—the application made to the leasehold tribunal in the respects that I outlined—

That moves us into deeper territory because the subsection will apply irrespective of whether a payment has been made, yet, as we saw, subsection (6) makes it clear that the question arises in relation to whether an estate charge is payable. A distinction is being made between what is payable and what is paid, which leaves an enormous amount at large.

Subsection (8) continues:

to which I have twice referred,

Frankly, that is exceedingly wide. It is not just a question of the functions of a tribunal: it extends to a wide arena, which is almost impossible to identify.

Subsection (9) states:

All those matters are excluded, but the impact on the scheme and the persons concerned remains serious.

Subsection (10) continues:

The fact that a person has paid up, when the gravamen of the situation depends on payment, means that the person's agreement or admission cannot be assumed to mean anything by reason only of having made a payment. The Minister should have provided a proper explanation of the proposals, but she only skipped through them.

Under subsection (11):

We are dealing with a range of generalities and a series of propositions here. There are some sensible provisions such as assisting people through these schemes, but we have no idea whether they are capable of working effectively or whether people will be prejudiced by these arrangements.

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I acknowledge that Bills need definitions, but a degree of opaqueness is apparent in the wording of subsection (11)—particularly where it states that an agreement

is void—when in subsection (12), the definition subsection, it states that a

It goes on to provide further definitions with which I would not disagree, according to which

For all those reasons, it is difficult to understand how the Minister can make such a brief statement saying what the measure provides. The Government know that they will get their way because they have a majority. Nevertheless, a full and proper explanation is expected.

Let us move on to new clause 4, tabled by the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) provided a brief explanation of what she wanted, but accepted that the Government have produced their own version. With respect to types of dwellings affected, the new clause states:

It then goes on to say:

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