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Lord Monson: In contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, this seems to me a very worthwhile group of amendments. They would introduce a highly desirable safeguard into the Bill, particularly as one could count upon the leasehold valuation tribunals to come to a fair and balanced judgment. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, may have overlooked that point.
Lord Jacobs: I cannot support the amendment. Of all the provisions that the Government are putting into the Bill, the one most supported by leaseholders--and the least disappointing--is the right to manage. The amendment would destroy any benefit that leaseholders will secure.
Having said that, as I said before, I live in central London and have one of the greater landlords as the freeholder, who manages the property. In the last two or three years, he has doubled and redoubled his efforts to do the most professional job imaginable. One would need to be barking mad to consider taking over the management because it could not be done to the same standards. However, the possibility of the tenants taking over the management is a spur to good management, particularly to the landlords. I, therefore, strongly oppose the amendment.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Jacobs, are right; these amendments expose the real difference between us on Chapter I, Part II of the Bill. If they were to be agreed to, Part II of the Bill would not be worth pursuing.
The principle behind the Bill is a "no-fault" right to manage. The criterion for the right-to-manage is that the leaseholders should have the greatest share of the equity of the building. We argue that, if they have that, they should be able to take over responsibility for managing the investment without having to prove shortcomings on the part of the landlord or to prove
The phrase "just and convenient" comes from Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, which enables leaseholders to apply to a leasehold valuation tribunal for the appointment of a manager where the landlord has failed to comply with his obligations. The use of the phrase in those circumstances allows the tribunal to balance the landlord's failings against the consequences of losing management responsibility. That does not work in these circumstances. "Just" to whom? "Convenient" to whom? The question is left entirely open.
It has been said already that Amendment No. 139 has a long list of matters which would have to be taken into account, but the list is not exhaustive. Amendment No. 139 says "shall have regard in particular" to these matters, which allows others to be involved.
There are plenty of safeguards in the Bill. There are safeguards for landlords or other occupants if the RTM company fails to manage the building. This includes the right to apply to a leasehold valuation tribunal for the appointment of a new manager, to which I have already referred. The manager could be the landlord himself if the tribunal accepted that he was suitably competent to carry out this role. It is unnecessary to add a further hurdle to be overcome before the leaseholders can exercise the right in the first place.
The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that the landlord has a right to protect the reversionary value of his property. Clause 94(1) allows a landlord to require a right-to-manage company to carry out its management responsibilities. This, together with his right to be a member of the company, allows him to safeguard his reversionary interest. If the RTM company persistently falls down in its duties, anyone affected could seek its replacement under the 1987 Act.
It would be wrong for the right to be taken away on spurious grounds. The amendment suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, would provide unscrupulous landlords with every opportunity to frustrate or obstruct leaseholders' legitimate aims. We simply cannot accept what would, in effect, destroy Chapter 1 of Part II.
Lord Kingsland: To make it absolutely clear to the Committee, we strongly support the principle of the right to manage. That is not in issue. Moreover, we deplore the conduct of bad landlords and their practices.
Our concern is where a good landlord, who has an unblemished record, is required to transfer the right to manage to a right-to-manage company which subsequently manages the property badly. The Minister has described to the Committee a number of provisions in the Bill which he believes will prevent
The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 142, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 143 and 144. They are simple amendments. They seek to leave out "court" and insert "leasehold valuation tribunal". The Bill rightly gives emphasis to increased role for the leasehold valuation tribunals. I see no reason why that is not the appropriate body to deal with landlords who are not traceable, which is the kernel of Clause 82.
A leasehold valuation tribunal is a much less daunting prospect for a right-to-manage company than going to court. Much as I admire and like solicitors, unless it is absolutely necessary, the further they are kept away from property the better. This is one area where they can be kept just that little bit further away. I beg to move.
Lord Goodhart: We support the amendment. It seems appropriate that the leasehold valuation tribunal should become a specialist court, dealing as far as possible with all the issues that arise under the Bill. It is appropriate that these particular issues should be determined by the LVT. It will be a more informal and, we hope, a quicker and cheaper way of dealing with such issues.
Lord Kingsland: We also support the amendment, although we consider that the operation of the leasehold valuation tribunals at the moment leaves something to be desired. We shall table amendments later in the Bill to that effect.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The reason we suggested putting this to the courts was because the courts have to make similar decisions in other areas and no particular specialist expertise is required. We do not think that leaseholders, going to the courts in this way, are likely to receive a substantial bill of costs. There is a precedent in the 1993 Act for the procedure for collective enfranchisement where the landlord cannot be found, but we do not feel very strongly about this. There are other precedents in other parts of the Bill, where we have transferred some categories of leasehold disputes to the leasehold valuation tribunals.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Parliamentary draftsmen never allow us to accept amendments unless they have been drafted by parliamentary counsel. I have said that we do not feel strongly about it, and we will consider it.
The Earl of Caithness: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. We have moved from "consider" to "not objecting", which is a monumental step forward. In this spirit of encouragement, perhaps we can look forward to some more positive speeches from the noble Lord.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart--I am grateful for his support--that the LVTs need strengthening. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that as a result of this Bill there will be improvements in the staffing resources and efficiency of the LVT in order to carry out all the tasks it is required to do.