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Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord must have some degree of confusion. Does he agree that either Sinn Fein is a democratic party in the United Kingdom like the rest of our parties, in which case it should be subject to the same rules and prohibited from overseas funding, or it is, as so many Ministers of both this Government and previous ones have said, a part of the IRA/Sinn Fein organisation and it is playing with words to distinguish between the two, particularly when we know that leaders of Sinn Fein are also members of the Army Council?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords, it is the noble Lord who has surprisingly fallen into confusion. Sinn Fein is a political party which offered itself to the democratic mandate in Northern Ireland and was successful in part. It offers itself for election in the Republic of Ireland. The United Kingdom consists of, among other areas, Northern Ireland. Everyone recognises that over many years there have been distinct problems in Northern Ireland. Our legislation has frequently rightly met those. It is not simply Sinn Fein which is the subject of this application; it applies just as powerfully to the SDLP.

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Lord Renton: My Lords, has not more than enough already been said this afternoon about this matter? Would it not be best now to enable the United Kingdom and the United States Governments in co-operation to get on with it?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, not for the first time, I am grateful for that statesman-like approach. It is right to say that, although these are early days, there have been far-reaching consequences after the crimes of 11th September. We should take maximum advantage--I say that deliberately--of this opportunity which offers itself at this time.


3.21 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 this afternoon, my noble friend Lord Whitty will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on research into BSE in sheep.

Business of the House: Debates, 23rd October

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg leave not to move the Motion relating to Standing Order 40 standing in my name on the Order Paper. An error has been made. The wrong Motion was printed on tomorrow's Order Paper, as your Lordships will undoubtedly have noticed. If my positive Motion were therefore to have been upheld it would have been compounded by a further error tomorrow. The error having been made, for which of course I take total responsibility, looking only to my right at the Chief Whip, we shall make sure, with great apologies, that the Order Paper tomorrow is in proper order. I shall then move my Motion, which I hope will be carried unanimously. We shall then proceed to the substantive Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, which is incorrectly described at present.

Select Committees

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord Cope of Berkeley be appointed a member of the following committees, in the place of the Lord Henley: Selection, House of Lords' Offices, Privileges and Procedure of the House.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill [H.L.]

3.23 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Irvine of Lairg.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 82 [Counter-notices]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 123:

    Page 40, line 12, at end insert ", or

(c) claiming that there are special reasons why the RTM company should not acquire the right to manage,"

The noble Lord said: The ultimate purpose of all legislation in the field of residential landlord and tenant must be to improve the quality of housing stock in the country. In many cases, giving residents the right to manage their own blocks will contribute to this aim because who more than the residents will have an interest in improving the place in which they live.

None the less, there will be cases where residents will not be interested in improving their own housing. A particular example will be where a block requires extensive works of repair, but the lessees' leases have only a comparatively short time to run. In these circumstances, there is a grave risk that lessees will seek to exercise the right to manage, not to improve the building, but in order to let it be run down. It is to be hoped that only rarely will lessees seek to exercise the right to manage in bad faith for such reasons. None the less, it must be right that landlords in this type of case can oppose giving the right to manage to people who are improperly motivated.

When the matter was previously debated in Committee earlier in the year, I laid emphasis on the human rights issues. That point was never satisfactorily answered. Of course a member state has a margin of appreciation which can be exercised to deny landlords their property rights, including the right to manage. However, there are cases, such as those I have just outlined, where it is irrational to treat landlords in the way the Bill seeks to treat them when they are taking steps to keep a building in repair as they are obliged to do under their leases.

When the matter was previously debated in Committee, I put forward a proposal that would have given the leasehold valuation tribunal a broad discretion to do what was right, in any particular case. That proposal did not find favour. Therefore, I return with a more circumscribed one. The effect of it is to allow a landlord to oppose an application if he can show severe prejudice. The prime example is the short lease where the lessees intend to avoid carrying out necessary repairs.

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The proper course is to leave to the leasehold valuation tribunal the determination of whether the prejudice to the landlord is sufficient to outweigh the prima facie right of tenants to manage. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 140A in the group. I should perhaps explain to Members of the Committee that we have tabled a number of additional amendments since the first day of the Committee stage. All our amendments have been proposed and drafted by the Law Society as a result of its consideration of the terms of the Bill. Many of them are matters of drafting rather than of substance. Those which are of substance are not of fundamental substance. Nevertheless, I believe that they are useful.

The amendments reached me only at a late stage. A number of them relate to the parts of the Bill considered by the Committee last Tuesday. We were not able to table them at that stage because we had not received them. They will therefore have to be tabled for the Report stage.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Why was the Law Society so slow in considering the Bill that it produced these amendments at a late stage--indeed between the interval of the two days in Committee?

Lord Goodhart: I cannot speak for the speed of operations of the Law Society. I agree that it would have been better if the amendments had been produced at an earlier stage. Of course this is a highly technical Bill. No doubt it took some time to establish a committee to consider it. At any rate, I have received the amendments at a late, but perhaps not too late, stage from the Law Society.

Amendment No. 140A gives partial but not complete support to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. In particular, it covers the last of his proposals; that is, new subsection (5A)(c) where it states,

    "that in all the circumstances it is just and convenient that the RTM company should not acquire the right to manage".

Perhaps it goes rather wider than that because the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, would mean that all three of those conditions would have to be satisfied, whereas under the amendment proposed by the Law Society the right arises only if there are substantial breaches of obligation on the part of the RTM company and thus the tribunal considers it just and convenient to make the order.

In the circumstances, I believe that a strong case can be made for accepting an amendment in one or other of these forms. I submit that probably the more appropriate form would be that put forward by the Law Society. Otherwise, what is intended to be a cure in favour of RTM companies where landlords have abused their powers could be turned around, creating the possibility of abuse of landlords by RTM companies.

22 Oct 2001 : Column 821

3.30 p.m.

Lord Kingsland: I negligently failed to spot that Amendment No. 127 has been included in the first grouping. Perhaps I may crave the Minister's indulgence to say a few words in support of it. I am much obliged.

When this matter was last raised in Committee, I described as astonishing the omission from the Bill of any means of getting rid of an RTM company, once it had taken over the task of management. With any form of human activity, there is a risk that things can go wrong. There is a risk that something may go wrong with an RTM company. Perhaps the lessees fall out among themselves; perhaps the managing agent appointed by the company proves not equal to the task, but the tenants, for whatever reason, do not replace him. Still worse, lessees may deliberately decide not to carry out critical structural work. A number of reasons may explain why an RTM company might not carry out its primary function of managing a block of flats in a proper manner.

Equally, the lessees may decide that they simply do not want to carry on exercising their right to manage and would prefer to hand back the management function to the landlord. After all, nowadays property management is a professional activity which requires a great deal of skill and care. Tenants who, as amateurs, try their hand at property management may decide that they have made a mistake and that leaving the management to a professional would be preferable.

The Bill makes no provision for the right to manage to go back to the landlord. We feel that this is an error. Cases may be rare, but in appropriate instances some provision is necessary to bring to an end the right of RTM companies to manage. Where an RTM company ceases to have the support of the qualifying tenants or is manifestly mismanaging the block, I believe that it is right that the interested parties should be able to apply to have the right to manage taken away from the RTM company. Amendment No. 127 seeks to achieve that purpose.

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