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Shona McIsaac: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. At the eighth sitting of the Committee, I introduced new clause 13, which dealt with rural exemption. The Minister responded by saying that there is some sympathy with the desire to create a level playing field, but that she would need to consult first. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can convey that to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).

Mr. Cash: In a vicarious fashion, and given the charm of the hon. Lady's intervention, I am glad to endorse her comment. It is clear that there is a problem which the Minister may be prepared to address.

There is, however, a further difficulty in relation to Adlestrop:

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold apparently met Mr. Mason and the then Minister with responsibility for such matters—the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford)—on 31 January 2001 to discuss the Adlestrop problem. Indeed, the Minister was also present at that meeting, so—unlike me—she is very familiar with the problem. It is in the nature of our affairs that we take a special interest in matters affecting our own constituencies. Had my hon. Friend been able to attend today's debate, I could have asked him exactly what went on at that meeting.

7 pm

According to Mr. Mason's letter, he suggested at that meeting

Apparently, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich was sympathetic to the problem, and concurred that it needed to be addressed; according to Mr. Mason,

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Mr. Mason—

Mr. Mason adds:

Mr. Mason then proposes further amendments. His letter continues:

Any infelicities in the amendments that we are considering would not alter the fact that a considerable problem exists, and it is surely not beyond the wit of parliamentary counsel to sort it out. Mr. Mason continues:

In her letter of 13 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, the Minister said:

We shall shortly consider an amendment—tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon—that relates to private Acts, but I should first point out that this important matter

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can be resolved. I look to the Minister for an assurance that it will be resolved. It appears that the provision could take on the character of a hybrid provision, because it could affect certain persons in a manner different from other persons in that category. The Minister shakes her head and I am glad that she does—I simply thought on the spur of the moment that such a problem might exist. If no such problem exists, there is even less reason for not dealing with the matter by way of future assurances. The Minister shakes her head again—I find this process of mute exchange difficult to bear.

The Minister's letter concludes as follows:

I am glad to note that the Minister now nods her head.

Shona McIsaac: I have listened carefully to the concerns of the residents of Adlestrop, but does the hon. Gentleman consider the Adlestrop question or the Schleswig-Holstein question the more difficult?

Mr. Cash: I am pleased that the hon. Lady has asked such an incredibly perceptive question. In doing so, she has introduced a completely new dimension to the Schleswig-Holstein question, which establishes three categories of person: one who is dead, one who has forgotten, and one who has gone mad. However, it is not clear which category is relevant to this case. As I do not represent Cotswold, I do not know the details of this case, other than what is contained in Mr. Mason's extremely erudite letter on behalf of the Adlestrop residents' association. I am therefore unable to add anything to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold could have contributed himself.

Mr. Greg Knight: Is there not a danger that the current residents of Adlestrop will themselves be dead before the matter is resolved? As I understand it, a meeting with the Minister took place 14 months ago, in January 2001. How much more time must elapse before the consultation period is brought to an end?

Mr. Cash: I have great sympathy with what my right hon. Friend has just said. The Department is well aware of the issue, which has been discussed extensively for a long time. The Minister had to admit that, despite the sympathy expressed by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, the Leasehold Advisory Service was unable to deal with the issue. However, I consider the reasons given thoroughly unconvincing.

Ms Keeble: The original intention was that the Leasehold Advisory Service might advise leaseholders on their individual circumstances, not that it should advise on the drafting of an amendment.

Mr. Cash: That is no more convincing. The more the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to answer my points—and the more she sits and shakes her head—the more concerned I become. I am determined to divide the House on this issue, because it is very strange.

Ms Keeble: If the hon. Gentleman had been so concerned, he could have met the constituents of the

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hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and talked through the matter with them. He would then have had a much better grasp of all the issues involved in this complex case.

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