|Commonhold & Leasehold Reform Bill [Lords]
Mr. Cash: I have listened to the Minister, but we have not yet had the benefit of hearing what technical amendments will be tabled on Report. For example, we do not know whether he has it in mind to provide that absent leaseholders might have their consent overridden by the court. We have heard nothing from the Minister to suggest how it could be done, and some would find that proposition fairly difficult to swallow.
Column Number: 21Serious problems have arisen on matters relating to trials in absentia and on other matters raised in the House.
I am not saying that circumstances will not arise in which it would be impossible to trace a leaseholder, but the courts might be able to bring some rules or principles to bear that could ease the passage of the absence of that person's vote. However, that raises some fairly difficult questions. A concession could be made, based on legal principles, under which the absence of a person from a country or the fact that someone could not be traced would mean that 100 per cent. consent was not needed. By the same token, however, one could stack up a whole series of other arguments for removing the unanimity rule, in which the difficulties would be less than that a person had been absent.
In a nutshell, I am saying that once the principle is breached, a number of other examples may be given, some of which will be more difficult than others. There will always be hard cases, but nevertheless a really recalcitrant person living in a block of flats could veto an entire project. In a democratic society—I trust that all members of the Committee are democrats—[Interruption.] I shall ignore my hon. Friend's comments.
The Minister has not answered my question. Indeed, I would go further. My proposal that Ministers could reflect on it and propose regulations to deal with it still remains reasonable. His arguments will have to be evaluated. Some of them have been heard for the first time. The Minister and his officials have been straining every nerve to come up with difficulties to ensure that the unanimity rule remains. I see that the hon. Gentleman is anxious to intervene.
Mr. Wills: I would like to clarify the point. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the difficulties I have just outlined are invented, or does he accept that they might actually happen?
Mr. Cash: I have never doubted that there are certain difficulties. I am concerned about the principle. This Bill, which would otherwise be supported in all parts of the House and indeed all parts of the country, is vitiated by failure to recognise that the principle on which the Government are insisting—unanimity—has to give way to the more pragmatic and practical approach required—
Mr. Taylor: Would my hon. Friend like to join me in giving the Minister something to think about, possibly after he has reflected and taken the advice of his officials? This is an unusual area. It is my suggestion—which could be mistaken, but I believe I am right—that part III of the Community Land Act 1975 is still on the statute book and that it provides a mechanism for the acquisition of untraceable interests. I wonder whether, with the assistance of his officials and possibly with the concurrence of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, we can leave the Minister with that thought even at this stage: here is a potential mechanism for the acquisition of the unwilling interest.
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Mr. Cash: I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend's remarks and vicariously pass on the thought to the Minister. I hope that he does not bat it away.
I turn to another important aspect of his analogies. He knows that management companies exist to run blocks of flats. Decisions are frequently taken—on the basis of the memorandum and articles of association, companies limited by guarantee and so on—about the manner in which tenants will want the running and administration of the flats to be carried out. I have little doubt that some Committee members are or have been members of such management committees or are subjected to their decisions from time to time.
Some of the issues are controversial and difficult. For example, where there are gardens attached to a block of flats there may be prohibitions on walking dogs, or on children going into the gardens. Decisions on such matters are taken not by unanimity but by majority vote under the terms of the memorandum and articles of association of the individual blocks of flats and the associated appurtenances and curtilages. The idea that unanimity is already regarded as a good idea is out of the question. I shall give way to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon)—oh, I see he just wanted some water. I thought that this was a new Labour gesture: when wishing to intervene, lift up a bottle of water.
Mr. Taylor: He had better not go to an auction.
Mr. Cash: Indeed. I hope that the Minister takes my point that the unanimity rules do not apply in the real world of the management of blocks of flats and there are many examples to show that some majority voting is essential.
Would it not be a good idea to consider the matter further? The official Opposition will think about what the Minister says and return to the subject on Report, as to press the amendment to a Division would shut off the opportunity for further consideration of this important matter. No doubt the hon. Member for Torbay will express his thoughts on the subject.
Mr. Sanders: I understand what the Minister said about standardisation, a principle that the Government want to establish in the Bill. The explanatory notes, the Bill and the statements made show that the Government have faith in what they propose; it is one of the founding principles of commonhold.
I accept what the Minister said about previous failed attempts to establish commonhold, and that there are alternatives. However, the British Property Federation said:
Our amendments were directed to that statement, although they, and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Stone and his hon. Friends, may not be the right ones. We want to give the matter more thought—I hope that the Minister will do so too—and return to it on Report.
Mr. Cash: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
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Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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