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Mr. Cash: We discussed this issue at some length in Committee and I am glad that the Minister has taken the opportunity to describe the arrangements in new clause 15. It is always refreshing to note occasions on which consideration in Committee has produced improvements in legislationand that is especially so in relation to this Bill, following the extended discussions that took place when it was first introduced and then on its reintroduction.
We all understand that an important Bill cannot cover every issue, butas I said in Committeeit is a matter of increasing concern that a tidal wave of regulation is affecting the people of this country. The public are confused, because even if they can understand the opaque and difficult provisions of a Billwe have already discussed several examples tonight and I have tried to point out how difficult it is for people to understand, or even have ready access to, the provisions that will affect themit is even more difficult to understand those areas that are shoved off to be the subject of regulations.
We do not even know what the regulations will contain. In Committee, I made that point about the drafting and preparation of the standard form of community statement and the commonhold association. I do not want to go back over old ground, but it took more than a nutcracker to get the details out of the Government. I am glad that I succeeded.
Mr. Mark Field: I understand my hon. Friend's concern about an overwhelming tide of regulation. Equally, I think all of us would accept that leaseholders must be protected. Some of the Government's suggestions are entirely sensible. However, does my hon. Friend have some thoughts on the de minimis provisions, on which the Minister was unfortunately unwilling to go into any detail, and the amounts of money below which such regulations would not come into play?
Mr. Cash: I should have thought that it was sensible to prescribe arrangements to ensure that people were excluded from the operation of the regulations except in circumstances where it was obvious that there was no alternative. Just as we cannot apply sunset clauses to everything, we cannot apply de minimis regulations to everything. What we can do is set a threshold and say, "The regulation will not apply in these cases but it will apply in others." As it happens, thresholds have already been set in a number of provisions in the Bill. They may have been applied in this case.
(a) to provide details of proposed works or agreements to tenants or the recognised tenants' association".
I have on occasion unwisely taken part in some of those activities. I am a little apprehensive, because there is alwaysI say it with great respectthe A1 barrack-room lawyer, who is determined to continue analysing the management association, the articles of association and the memorandum in every detail. [Interruption.] I take good note of the gesture the Minister has just made to me, which I perfectly understand. I assure her that those people do what they do in the great cause of ensuring that people understand the documents properly. All I can say is that there will be many occasions when the regulations will be buried from view. They will probably be in some obscure corner of a solicitor's office and cause a great deal of difficulty.
Mr. Greg Knight: My hon. Friend should know that there is a lot of concern among Conservative Members about the scope of the regulations to which the Minister has referred. Has the Minister given him any undertaking as to whether she will consult with him and other political parties in the House before the regulations are formulated? If that assurance has not been given, has an assurance been given that the House itself will have the opportunity to debate the regulations? I share the concern that he expressed a few moments ago on this matter.
First, constituents have told me that, sometimes, in leasehold agreements, if someone who is not a leaseholder but a potential purchaser asks the freeholder for an answer to a legal point, the freeholder is free to consult his own lawyers and the existing leaseholders have to pay the legal costs. I find that surprising. That may be understandable in the lease, but it is not understandable to the leaseholders. The Minister may want to consult her officials on whether, here or in another place, that point can be covered by this new clause or by another.
Shona McIsaac: Many Members raised this issue in Committeethe leaseholder always seems to be paying the freeholder's costs in relation to many different things. Concerns were voiced in Committee, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that.
Peter Bottomley: I am happy to do so. The point is whether anything can be done about it. To raise the issue in Committeeand to have nothing done about itis an advance, but I want a more practical advance.
My second point may fall within the new clause or outside it. Sometimes, managing agents and freeholders are highly reluctant to spend a small amount of money that can make a major difference to the costs to leaseholders. I shall give a brief example from the commercial field. When I was a junior Minister in the Department of Employment in the 1980s, I discovered that spending £250 on a water meter in the Department of Employment's office in Tothill street would save £100,000 a year£100 for each employee. I then had that change made throughout the Department of Employment estate. In Worthing, which has the highest proportion of retired people in the country and a reasonable proportion of leaseholders, nearly all pensioner flats pay more for water in terms of council tax values than they would if they were on meters. Installing meters in blocks of flats is complicatedmany managing agents and landlords do not want the botherbut the leaseholder would be the gainer.