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Ms Keeble: The amendments deal with very specific circumstances involving individual Members' constituency interests. Amendment No. 88 would limit the rural exemption to cases in which the lease was originally granted for less than 80 years. The matter was raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is not here, and the amendment was inspired by the circumstances of Adlestrop.

I note that several Conservative Members have entered the Chamber and are making all kinds of remarks about the matter. I assure them that, unlike their spokesman, I have not only exchanged correspondence with the people concerned but had a meeting with them at which the issues were discussed in some detail. I told them that it would not be possible for the Government to amend the Bill to support their position. However, it may help if I go through some of the issues.

Mr. Cash: We all understand the constraints on the Commons Report stage of a Bill that was introduced in the Lords. Although obviously we hope that the amendment will be made, which is why we shall divide the House, the question is whether the Minister is prepared to give an assurance that the problem will be dealt with in future legislation if the Government are not minded to accept the amendment.

Ms Keeble: If the hon. Gentleman had considered the issue before coming here and simply reading out the letter

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that he had been given, he would understand exactly why it is not possible to deal with the matter in the Bill. That has nothing to do with how long people have known about the matter; it has to do with the circumstances of the individual case.

It is not clear from the discussions that my predecessor and I had with the hon. Member for Cotswold and a representative of the leaseholder whether the Adlestrop leaseholders are caught by the rural exemption, which, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) rightly says, is the point in question. The leaseholders were directed to the Leasehold Advisory Service, not to get an amendment drafted—that is not the role of the service—but to get advice on their existing rights and on whether they would be entitled to enfranchisement under existing legislation, let alone under the Bill. As I said, it is not clear whether they are caught by the rural exemption; that is a point on which they must seek legal advice. It would be irresponsible of any Government to introduce a provision whose effect was not fully understood, not only by us but by the people in question, who may not have not determined whether they are entitled to the franchise.

7.30 pm

We have no way of knowing the amendment's full effect or who would be affected by it. The provision would limit rural exemption in cases when the lease was originally granted for less than 80 years; the length of different leases provided at Adlestrop would have to be determined exactly. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Stone has that information in the letter that he was given, but I certainly have not seen it. It is not clear whether the people of Adlestrop want to enfranchise, nor whether there have been any discussions with the landlord. It is not clear how they are affected by different pieces of legislation and whether they are affected by rural exemptions. We are not willing to change a law with a national application to meet the concerns of certain people—and I do not believe that Members of Parliament would want us to do so—when we do not know how many people are affected; we do not know how many people in that settlement are involved and even whether they would be affected by the measure. There has not even been any consultation on the matter.

That said, as the hon. Member for Cotswold is aware, I recently received detailed correspondence from a representative of the Adlestrop leaseholders. Although he is not here, I can assure him that I will make sure that the matter is dealt with as helpfully and fully as possible. I shall give our view on whether those properties are exempt or not, which will involve getting a fair amount of information that so far has not been forthcoming.

Shona McIsaac: Much has been made in our debate about the clause on rural exemption. I have had a chance to look at the Minister's words in Committee, and I hope that she will reiterate her message tonight, so that people are clear where she and the Government stand. She told the Committee that the Government

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She went on to say that interested parties should be consulted before that was done. If she will repeat that message clearly for the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), he may be reassured and not divide the House so that we could get on and discuss forfeiture.

Ms Keeble: I am happy to repeat my previous assurances, although I do not believe that that will have any effect on the Opposition—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stone may make rude remarks, but the Opposition are not even remotely familiar with the case that they have raised. They have not provided any evidence that they know how many properties in Adlestrop would be affected by the measure and how many leaseholders want to enfranchise. They have received a letter from one person, but that is all. They are not proposing to abolish rural exemption, but to deal with properties with a lease of less than 80 years. They do not even know how many properties would be affected.

Mr. Cash: The Minister is getting unnecessarily personal.

Ms Keeble: I said, "They".

Mr. Cash: All right. I simply note that there is a certain stroppiness in relation to Adlestrop.

We now have conclusive evidence in the form of the allegations that the Minister has just made, which I do not dispute. However, I have provided the best description that I can of the circumstances, with which I was furnished by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). The Minister has proved that there is a fourth category in the Schleswig-Holstein question—a Government who do not know the answer.

Ms Keeble: That is nonsense. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Cotswold is not here. He has represented fairly his constituents' interests, but they have not been advanced in this evening's discussion. As I have said repeatedly, and as I told the representative of the Adlestrop leaseholders, we are prepared to look at further information. At our meeting with the representative and the hon. Member for Cotswold, there was not a lot of information available about the circumstances of all the properties in Adlestrop and the consequences of any change to the law for the settlement, let alone anywhere else.

I shall now deal with amendment No. 62. I welcome the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) on the Bill and its importance to his constituents. The amendment would exempt all land held under local Acts of Parliament from the provisions of clause 142. As Members will know, clause 142 amends the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 to allow leaseholders who have extended their lease to buy their freehold or to benefit from security of tenure when that lease comes to an end. Currently, people who extend their leases under the 1967 Act are left in an unfavourable position. Once the extended lease begins, they lose the right to enfranchise for ever. Moreover, when the extended lease ends, they have no security of tenure and may face eviction from their home, which is unduly harsh. If a leaseholder can afford to pay a fair price for the leasehold of their home, they should be entitled to buy it. If instead they are prepared to pay the appropriate rent for the property after their lease comes to an end, they should be able to stay in their home as renting tenants.

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The clause will amend section 16 of the 1967 Act accordingly. The new rights will apply to leases that have already been extended as well as those extended after the Bill has come into force. My hon. Friend said that the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators were concerned that land that they hold under a local Act will be adversely affected by the clause. We are sympathetic to those concerns, but clause 142 will not in fact have the effect that he suggested. As I said, it affects the position of leaseholders who have already taken advantage of the provisions of the 1967 Act to extend their leases. They will now be able to use the provisions of that Act to acquire the freehold, but clause 142 does not confer any additional rights on such leaseholders; if they were previously unable to acquire the freehold because the landlord was unable to dispose of it, the situation remains unchanged. We do not consider it appropriate to do anything that could take away any rights that tenants currently enjoy under the 1967 Act.

My hon. Friend mentioned the consultation paper that my Department issued in August 2000 which made reference to that particular problem. However, only the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators have identified any property that would be affected by the new provisions. As I said, we do not consider it appropriate to do anything that could take away any rights that tenants currently enjoy under the 1967 Act. If the Bill mentioned a local Act and made provision for it to be treated differently from anything similar, we would risk making the Bill a hybrid, which would obviously wreck it. We do not want to do that. My hon. Friend said that he supports the Bill in principle and is definitely not a wrecker.

On the basis of my response, I invite my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Stone not to press their amendments.

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