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Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 164:


After Clause 114, insert the following new clause--

Leasehold valuation tribunals: pre-trial review

(".--(1) Procedure regulations may make provision in relation to proceedings before a leasehold valuation tribunal--
(a) for the holding of a pre-trial review, on the application of a party to the proceedings or of the tribunal's own motion; and
(b) for the exercise of the functions of the tribunal in relation to, or at, a pre-trial review by a single member who is qualified to exercise them.

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(2) In subsection (1) "procedure regulations" means regulations under section 74(1)(b) of the Rent Act 1977, as that section applies in relation to leasehold valuation tribunals.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(b)--
(a) a "member" means a member of the panel provided for in Schedule 10 to that Act, and
(b) a member is qualified to exercise the functions referred to if he was appointed to that panel by the Lord Chancellor.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this new clause concerns the procedures used by leasehold valuation tribunals. From the debate on the Bill, the House will be familiar with the role of the tribunals under the existing legislation in dealing with leasehold enfranchisement and under this Bill in dealing with service charge disputes and with the appointment of a manager.

The purpose of the new clause is to allow pre-trial reviews. Mrs. Susan Lloyd, the president of the London Rent Assessment Panel, from which leasehold valuation tribunals are drawn, has suggested that it would be extremely useful if, when dealing with complex cases, a preliminary hearing might be held, under a single member of the tribunal, to clear the ground in advance of the main hearing. She has suggested this in the light of experience in handling cases in disputes over the price to be paid for flats and houses being enfranchised. A pre-trial hearing would allow the parties to indicate to each other, and to the tribunal, the points on which they are agreed and the points on which they disagree, and to indicate broadly the evidence which they will be bringing forward. This will allow each of the parties to be better prepared, and to concentrate on the issues which are in dispute. This should save time and effort both before the main hearing and at the hearing itself. For example, it is not uncommon for parties to ask for an adjournment to prepare a response to unanticipated evidence.

There are often delays in setting up leasehold valuation tribunal hearings. These are primarily caused by the difficulty of finding a date convenient to the parties. A pre-trial review would provide a better opportunity to identify the length and complexity of a case and to negotiate on the spot a firm date for the hearing to begin.

Our informal discussions suggest that both landlords and leaseholders are likely to welcome this provision as a helpful step towards streamlining tribunal procedures--something which will save time and money, as noble Lords appreciate from earlier discussions. I therefore commend the new clause. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, on the face of it, the provision seems sensible. I wish to ask the Minister one question, going back to the charges made for applications to leasehold valuation tribunals. Will he say a little more about the implications of a pre-trial review? He may well say that it will shorten the number of days the tribunal sits and to that extent the daily charge of £2,000 or whatever it is will be reduced. The charge perhaps will not be reduced, but the total sum of the daily charges will be less because there will be fewer hearing days. Will the pre-trial review be a part of the process

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that has to be paid for? Or will there be some other way in which people can, as it were, have a pre-trial review before they start incurring charges?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I will correct my statement in a letter if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the Bill constrains us to recover costs as a whole. How we charge for particular elements of the service--for example, a pre-trial review--is to be determined through consultation and discussion after the Bill receives Royal Assent. As yet, I know of no proposals, particularly on such a new element as this, as to how charging should be undertaken.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 164A:


After Clause 114, insert the following new clause--

Assignment of short tenancy of dwelling by parol

(".--(1) Section 54 of the Law of Property Act 1925 (creation of interests in land by parol) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (2) substitute--
"(2) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Part of this Act shall affect the creation or assignment by parol of leases of dwelling-houses taking effect in possession for a term not exceeding three years (whether or not the lessee is given power to extend the term).
(3) Nothing in the foregoing provisions of this Part of this Act shall affect the creation by parol of leases not falling within subsection (2) above taking effect in possession for a term not exceeding three years (whether or not the lessee is given power to extend the term) at the best rent which can be reasonably obtained." ").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment may appear more mysterious than it is. In principle, the creation and assignment of every lease or tenancy has to be by deed. Section 54(2) of the Law of Property Act 1925 contains an exception relating to short leases.

Assignment by way of exchange is a right of secure tenants and tenants of housing associations. Comments made during the course of the Bill suggest that noble Lords would probably applaud the fact that in such situations consultation with a lawyer is rare. It is certainly the case that lawyers rarely become involved. It must be very rare for assignments to take place by deed. If they are not executed by way of deed, their validity must be in question.

Fairly recently, alterations to the formalities required to execute documents by way of deed have been made. Even companies were not wholly observing the formalities. The physical aspects of impressing a deed and so on are not now required. It is expecting quite a lot of tenants in this kind of situation to observe all the formalities.

Where an assignment takes place on family break-up a similar situation arises. There is no exception for assignments to be other than by deed, even though the grant of the tenancy need not be. That was drawn to my attention; and I understand that some comments were made in the Court of Appeal five years ago. However, it still appears to be the case that assignments are required to be by deed. Speaking as a lawyer, I am more than happy to advocate circumstances in which people

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do not need to involve lawyers and to suggest a change in the formalities required as set out in this amendment. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, complained that Amendment No. 163 was a starred amendment and appeared on the Marshalled List only today. Curiously enough, this amendment is also starred, which indicates that it, too, appeared on the Marshalled List only today. I grant that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, does not run to 10 pages, as mine did. Her amendment involves a modest single clause. When I examined it, I thought that she might be aiming--

Lord Dubs: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. There is a world of difference between a very long government amendment to a government Bill which has been going through both Houses of Parliament for months and an amendment tabled fairly late by a Member of an Opposition party. With respect, there is no comparison.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that there is a comparison; the comparison is that they both appeared on the Order Paper today for the first time. I agree that the government amendment was a long one, but for reasons explained by my noble friend it had to be.

I was simply pointing out that the amendment of the noble Baroness appeared today and we have had to consider what it meant and so forth. I am not complaining. When we looked at the amendment I thought the noble Baroness was aiming to reverse the situation. She spoke of a divorce settlement in which a husband gave an oral undertaking to transfer the tenancy to his wife but that nothing was put down in writing and the wife was judged to have no defence to possession proceedings.

I have great sympathy for anyone who is forced to leave their home simply because an assignment was made orally rather than in writing. In practice, many short-term leases cannot be assigned because it is prohibited by the terms of the tenancy agreement or the statute. Not only that, but since the introduction of assured shorthold tenancies there are few advantages to the tenant in being able to assign the tenancy.

I have difficulty with the proposal that a tenant might be assigned a tenancy on the basis of an oral agreement. In most cases where assignment is allowed the landlord's agreement is required. The amendment would increase uncertainty in this area of the law and it may lead to an increase in the number of cases whereby a tenant unwittingly tries to assign the tenancy where the law or the terms of the tenancy specifically prevent that or where the landlord has not given his consent. That may well be good for the legal profession, of which the noble Baroness is a distinguished member, but it is unlikely to be good for the tenants.

The landlord should also be entitled to know who the tenant is. There is a strong case for requiring leases to be assigned in writing. But there are dangers in rushing

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to change--in this case 24 hours--laws which have been settled and go back hundreds of years. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.


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