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Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 254A:

Page 60, line 16, at end insert (", or

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(c) any aspect of good management practices to be adopted in the running of flat management companies").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment, tabled in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, is to extend the scope of the Department of the Environment's existing commitment to providing information on enfranchisement and estate management schemes to include advice for self-managed blocks of flats on good management practice.

It is clear that flat management is not an easy task. It requires people to accept wide responsibilities, show a sense of commitment and expend a lot of energy in order to carry out the management function. I say that not from personal experience but having heard it from friends who are in that situation.

The commitment given under the 1993 Act to co-fund the Leasehold Enfranchisement Advisory Service was expanded to provide general legal advice about residential tenancies including estate management schemes. However, no commitment is given to providing general advice and assistance on good management practice to groups of leaseholders once they have bought their freehold. Those are the people who have the responsibility to oversee the management.

It has been demonstrated on a number of occasions that the willingness of the residents to get involved and not the nature of the building itself is the key factor in the success of a flat management company. The ability and motivation of the members is therefore crucial, and in order that that can happen effectively there needs to be access to impartial advice. After all, many of the residents in flats find themselves with a management responsibility possibly for the first time. It is not something for which they can plan in advance. Once they achieve the position of being able to exercise management, they must move quickly because it usually happens in circumstances when there has not previously been good management. It is for those reasons that I hope the Government will be sympathetic to the amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Lytton: This amendment gives me an opportunity to sing the praises of the Leasehold Enfranchisement Advisory Service--not, I hasten to add, on my own account, but to pay tribute to the extremely hard work put in by the chief executive and his staff, for which I am enormously grateful.

The Leasehold Enfranchisement Advisory Service welcomes the clause in the Bill because there have recently been more inquiries on the subject of management. Unless I misread the provision, I did not understand Clause 87 as it stands, and in particular subsection (1)(a), to be exclusive of the management provision. It seemed to me that it was not prescriptive as currently drafted.

Bearing in mind that LEAS is a jointly co-funded operation, it seemed to me that the nature of the advice should follow the funding, the source and the remit from that. As an advisory service giving impartial advice, we at the LEAS want to stick to giving advice on what the legal rights and legal remedies might be. The legal

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position therefore is a baseline that flows from both the legislative provisions on the one hand and the landlord/tenant relationship under a lease on the other.

I would be a little concerned if the wording of the amendment led us on to the practical application of day-to-day management matters. It would be extremely difficult to be impartial with that degree of detail. On a purely practical note, it could add substantially to the burdens, at any rate on the LEAS, regardless of what may happen to any other advisory service. I may have mistaken the extent of what the noble Lord intended and I appreciate his reasons for tabling the amendment. However, I felt that the Committee should know what my thoughts are on the matter.

Lord Strabolgi: I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs. Flat management carries with it communal responsibilities. Although self-management is demonstrably better than management by remote freeholders--the kind of people we were discussing earlier--it can suffer from problems of apathy among the majority of residents, particularly in larger blocks of flats such as those in the central metropolitan area of London. Service charge arrears can also be a problem when some tenants do not pay their "whack" on time. There may be a lack of planning for management and maintenance, especially in the older blocks, and a lack of clarity about maintenance responsibilities in leases causes difficulty with planning, particularly in the smaller and older converted blocks.

It seems to me that the provision of good advice on aspects of management will become crucial when the Government deliver their commitment--now a longstanding commitment--to introduce a system of commonhold and when flat owners are offered the benefits of self-management and freehold title. Unless an advisory agency exists to promote good practice and practical advice it is difficult to see how some problems inherent in human beings dealing with other human beings will be resolved.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, mentioned earlier the state of affairs on the Continent which is so much more satisfactory than what we have here, with the system of leasehold and large freehold landlords. Perhaps the Government could also consult our colleagues in the Community, particularly in France, where they have a very satisfactory system of freeholds of apartments, and perhaps get some useful practical knowledge from them. In the meantime, I hope the Government will institute some sort of scheme as suggested in the amendment.

Lord Meston: My name is associated with the amendment and I speak briefly to support it since it seems to me to focus on practical assistance rather than merely the provision of legal advice, and would go a

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considerable way to prevention rather than cure of the problems which can arise in the situations which have been described by previous speakers.

Lord Lucas: I have listened with great interest to what noble Lords have said but I think I can boil down my speaking note to, "We don't want to do it".

Lord Strabolgi: The noble Lord must say rather more than that and give some explanation. The noble Lord has been most thorough and courteous the whole way through this Committee stage. I am very surprised at what the noble Lord has just said. I know it is getting late and perhaps we are all getting tired, but I think the noble Lord should give some explanation. He must have a brief. If he has not, perhaps the Box could help.

Lord Lucas: Indeed I do have a brief. I can say in two pages exactly what I have said in one sentence. If noble Lords would like me to do that, I shall now do it.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has suggested that an agency funded under Clause 87, such as the Leasehold Enfranchisement Advisory Service, should also be able to advise on any aspect of good management practices to be adopted in the running of flat management companies.

Clause 87(1)(a), as presently drafted, allows the person or agency funded by the Secretary of State to give advice on any aspect of the law of landlord and tenant so far as relates to residential tenancies. This is a very wide remit indeed. It would include giving advice on matters covered by any code of practice approved by the Secretary of State under Section 87 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. Noble Lords will be aware that, under Section 87, such codes are admissible in court or tribunal proceedings and may be taken into account in determining any question arising in the proceedings. The result is that, so far as Clause 87 of this Bill is concerned, such approved codes and their application to individual disputes are to be treated as part of residential landlord and tenant law: and a person or agency funded under Clause 87 will be able to advise freely on such questions.

However, the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would go somewhat further than this, in a way which we think would be undesirable. For example, we do not think it would be appropriate for the Government to fund an agency providing general advice on aspects of property management. In particular, this would cut across the Secretary of State's powers to approve codes of practice relating to these matters.

Given my assurances as to the wide scope of the existing powers in Clause 87, I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is willing to withdraw his amendment.

Perhaps I may also point out that grouped with the amendment is Amendment No. 278, which is a minor measure which commences Clause 87 automatically two months after Royal Assent. As it is an enabling power, with no transitional implications, there is no need to trouble Parliament with a commencement order.

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Automatic commencement also has the benefit of having the legislative cover in place before Parliament will be asked to vote any money.

I see nothing in that which adds to my brief reply to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I am sorry if I offended the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and others by attempting to speed up proceedings by being summary in my execution. But if the noble Lord has found something extra in what I have just said that I did not say originally, he is a better man than I. But I suspect he is anyway.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Dubs: I listened to both speeches of the Minister with equal attention, but I was not persuaded by either of them. I can understand his reservations about the particular model that would follow from this amendment. I am a little concerned that the Minister has not accepted that there is a problem. If tenants are going to exercise effective self-management, then some help is necessary. It may be that he believes that the existing help is there in sufficient quantity for any further help not to be necessary. I believe that that was part of the point that he made. There is a problem here. Some tenants, in exercising management, may need some help and support for the system to work well. It is the wish to have that problem recognised that motivated me in tabling this amendment rather more than the thought that the Minister might accept it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 87 agreed to.

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