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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Is it not the case that the landlord's interest can be exercised ultimately through a right to compel the RTM to comply with its obligations as to the management of the property? He does not need to be a member of the company to do so.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I heard what the noble Lord said in his speech; and that may be so. We shall, of course, reconsider the issue as a consequence of today's debate. However, because we are convinced at present that the landlord's interests will, in nearly every case, be a minority one, we shall need some persuading that landlords should have no right to be a member of the company. Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987, leaseholders can apply to a leasehold valuation tribunal for a replacement manager to be appointed if they are unhappy with the landlord's manager, or to the courts for an order entitling them to acquire the freehold compulsorily. Under those procedures the LVT or the court will need to be persuaded that the landlord's management is seriously defective and that the appointment of a new manager is an appropriate solution. We shall no doubt return to that issue at a later stage.
I move on to the removal of the residence test and the argument that that will open the door to purchases--predatory purchases--by speculators. We agree that the purpose of the right to enfranchise is to benefit bona fide residential occupiers, not speculators. But it has long been apparent that the residence test, which was introduced in the 1993 Act during its passage through this House ostensibly as a safeguard against speculation, was intended by its designers as a means of complicating and frustrating legitimate attempts at enfranchisement. It has certainly been routinely exploited in that way.
The 1993 Act contains another anti-speculation measure, which, in our view, is perfectly adequate. Section 5(5) of the Act prevents a leaseholder from qualifying for the right at all if he is the long leaseholder of more than two flats in the block. Therefore, a speculator cannot acquire the right to enfranchise by a process of piecemeal acquisition of the individual flats in the block. In addition, Section 5(6) prevents anyone getting round that obstacle by acquiring the flats under arranged different names. The residence test itself requires 50 per cent of the enfranchising group to have occupied their flats as their only or principal homes for the past 12 months, or for periods amounting to three years in the past 10 years. Occupation by a company does not count for this purpose. Clearly a recent purchaser cannot pass
Some landlords have gone to enormous lengths and have subjected leaseholders to intrusive questionnaires. They have even resorted on occasions to hiring private detectives to check out leaseholders' compliance with these rules if an attempt to enfranchise is begun, or even mooted. Moreover, since the 1993 Act, some landlords have resorted to a policy of letting to companies only--a genuine residential purchaser will be required to take out his lease through a company. The purpose of that manoeuvre is to deny purchasers' their right to enfranchise. Meanwhile, in a large block with a rapid turnover of leaseholders, the residence test has proved something of a nightmare for many who have attempted to initiate and sustain an attempt to enfranchise. We believe that it is high time that the residence test was removed.
I shall now talk briefly about a reserve fund, a "sinking fund", usually to facilitate saving for large items of expenditure, or a reserve fund to finance the repair and maintenance of common parts or units (to be used should any major works be required) that the annual commonhold assessment or budget would not cover. We still have an open mind on the issue as to whether the maintenance of a reserve fund for specified purposes should be a legal requirement of the commonhold association. I hope that we shall return to that point in Committee.
My noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall made some very interesting points. However, I do not have sufficient time to deal with all of them. He raised the difficult matter of how the right to manage should apply to properties that are a mix of commercial and residential units. The Bill provides that the rights, and now also the right to enfranchise, will apply to such properties provided that no more than 25 per cent of the property is in non-residential use. My noble friend suggested that that limit will prevent leaseholders from exercising their right.
We believe that the limit of 25 per cent has been chosen for good reason. If the non-residential area is any greater than that, its value will tend to exceed that of the residential part of the building. The Government did not consider that it would be right to empower residential leaseholders to take over the management of a block in which their interest represented less than half the value. My noble friend also made a number of interesting points about precisely how we should calculate the residential and non-residential proportions. He was concerned over how any common parts should be taken into account. We shall also consider those points most carefully.
I have one further detailed point to make. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned stamp duty. We consider that the registration process should not involve transfers of value and that they should not attract stamp duty. But we shall have to consider the matter further to ascertain whether or not we are right in that respect.
I thank again all those noble Lords who participated in this Second Reading debate. We believe that the proposals in Part I of the Bill will deliver commonhold--a long overdue alternative to leasehold--which has been used all over the world with great success. As I said earlier in relation to our commonhold proposals, we expect to have model forms of the commonhold association's memorandum and articles and the commonhold community statement ready for the Committee stage. We also aim to have available the necessary government amendments, which we hope to table seven days in advance of the first Committee day.
My noble friend Lord Whitty and I hope to conduct the Committee stage on behalf of the Government. We intend to hold a meeting with all interested noble Lords of all parties before Committee stage begins in order to discuss the Bill further in a more informal setting. I commend the proposals to noble Lords.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I think that there has been some misunderstanding about the order and my purpose in tabling a Prayer against it. Therefore, let me start by saying what I am not against.
The Prayer is not against the principle of prescribing the morning-after pill. The pill has been in existence since 1985, although in its present strength for only a short time. It is currently available on prescription from GPs, 1,300 family planning clinics and a great many hospitals. Indeed, last year some 800,000 morning-after pills were supplied.
If my Prayer is carried this evening, the law will remain as it was before 1st January this year. My concern in tabling the Prayer is that pharmaceutical chemists will be able to sell the morning-after pill over the counter to women aged 16 and over, and that it will inevitably be bought by girls under the age of 16.
I am not in any way against the principle that pharmaceutical chemists ought to be able to prescribe a wider range of medicines and so help the community at large and take some weight off GPs and the NHS. As proof of this, perhaps I might add a personal note and say that my father-in-law was a pharmaceutical chemist, as were his two brothers. They must have been good at this work as, between them, they won two gold medals and one silver medal from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. I therefore see pharmaceutical chemists as a very important part of the health provision of our country, and I have on more than one occasion been very grateful for the help given to me by the local chemist.
The order is introduced under the negative resolution procedure, the weakest of all parliamentary procedures. The order was laid before Parliament on 12th December 2000. It must lie on the Table for 40 days after publication, before it becomes law, in order to give an opportunity for debate. In this case, the Government brought the order into force on 1st January, although the 40 days do not expire until 4th February. This order has been brought in, therefore, without any proper parliamentary scrutiny or debate. The debate in the committee in another place was on 24th January and it is in your Lordships' House today.
There was a time when the Government talked about the importance of openness and transparency, but this, if I may say so, is an example of trying to bypass Parliament on an issue of great importance to a great many people, without discussion.
On a separate but related issue, an important order was laid on 17th July last year. I refer to the Prescriptions Only Medicines (Human Use) Amendment Order 2000. Under that order, the Government made it possible for the morning-after pill to be distributed free by school nurses and some other health professionals. Under this order it is also possible for chemists to dispense the pill free to girls under the age of 16 where the local health authority has made an appropriate patient group directive.
Clearly, this is an issue of great concern to parents. This order, however, was not debated in Parliament because it was a general enabling power for health authorities. However, it had wide implications: it makes the pill available to girls aged 16 and under. My point in raising the issue is that it makes much more important the debate on the order before noble Lords this evening.
The second constitutional point is that the order applies throughout the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, the age of consent is 17, and the order would appear to conflict in law with that part of the United Kingdom by stating that it will be available to girls at the age of 16. I appreciate that the order was signed by the Northern Ireland Minister, Bairbre De Brun. It would, however, be helpful to know whether the order has the full support of the Northern Ireland Assembly and what the position is in that part of the United Kingdom.
I turn now to the principle. I have often been accused in the past of being concerned only about boys. That has never been true, but today I am concerned about girls. My concern, as always, is the protection of young people, and 16 year-olds are children in law. I have also said on more than one occasion that all law sends a signal. So what signal does this order send? First, it says that unprotected sex is all right. This is exactly the opposite of what the whole sex education industry has been saying for at least 20 years. It is of course a very dangerous signal because it will increase the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.
Secondly, promiscuity will be encouraged. Everyone, including GPs, health authorities and now chemists, and, as I have already mentioned, nurses and youth workers, will be making the morning-after pill available to young girls. One can picture the scene. The boy will say to the girl, "why not; you can take the
As I have discovered, there is no difficulty in getting an ID card. Teenage magazines are full of advertisements showing how to obtain one. Not only will the chemist not know the true age of the girl, but he or she cannot consult the girl's GP and find out anything about her medical history. I heard only this morning of the case of a 14 year-old girl getting the pill from a chemist in Newcastle. I think that we should take this situation very seriously. We are saying that young, under-age girls, can buy for £20 a very strong pill, and the chemist can supply it without knowing anything at all about her medical history.
That further development means that girls can obtain the morning-after pill without the knowledge of their parents. That undermines family life. How many of us would like such medicines to be given to members of our family without our knowledge? In many cases, the current approach ignores the wishes of parents and of many religious people, especially Muslims, who have made very strong representations to me on this matter. They are greatly concerned about the effect of such provisions on their family lives and on their girls.
I was interested to hear that Superdrug was selling the morning-after pill on the Internet as recently as last Friday. I also heard that the Department of Health had asked Superdrug to withdraw it. I understand that the company will resume the scheme after a clarification of the guidelines by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. However, what Superdrug was doing is perfectly legal under the order. If it is agreed to, the home delivery service of the morning-after pill will start again, and the drug will be even more readily available to young girls.
The Government want to halve the number of teenage pregnancies by 2010. Currently, 90,000 teenage girls become pregnant each year, of whom 8,500 are under 16. That is a tragedy for the girls and the babies. The figure has remained at the same level for the past 10 years, despite the fact that millions of pounds have been spent on sex education and on the provision of advice from clinics and doctors. The same is true of the overall abortion rate, which is higher now than it was in 1990. Those developments occurred despite an increase that is almost in four figures in the use of the morning-after pill. If the order's purpose is to bring down the number of teenage pregnancies, the figures do not suggest that it is likely to be successful.
I want to make a final point. Many people, in your Lordships' House and outside it, have put to me the argument that it would be better for a girl to have the morning-after pill than an abortion. As I have already said, the evidence shows that the more morning-after pills there are, the higher the number of abortions.
What, someone might ask, if a girl has had unprotected sex and is at risk? What would your Lordships do? Give her the morning-after pill, or what? Under those circumstances, I would say that she should go, preferably with her parents--or one of them--to her doctor or a clinic or hospital, because that is a far better and safer route. If she went to her GP, she would go to someone who knew her medical records and her family and who could give good advice. That is far better than going to an anonymous chemist, who would know nothing at all about her. If I were in that position and one of my daughters was concerned, that is what I would choose.
Is the morning-after pill safe? Each treatment, I understand, is 50 times more powerful than the previous contraceptive pill. What adults choose to do is a matter for them but, as I have said before, we have a responsibility to the young. The order is one more example in a series of provisions that give unsound and wrong advice. There are very few parliamentary opportunities to take a stand as a matter of principle and to help the young. This is one, and I believe that we should take it.
Like others, I have received many unsolicited briefings from people on both sides of the argument. Those who support the Government's policy strongly suggest that the number of teenagers with unwanted pregnancies will diminish. On the other hand, it is argued with equal strength that adultery and fornication will increase. No one can predict exactly what will happen or how far the evils in question will be apparent. If we had to choose between reducing the number of teenage pregnancies and reducing the occurrences of fornication and adultery, I know which I should choose. I know that some Christians will disagree with me, but I cannot imagine how a Christian could think that adultery and fornication were the lesser evil. However, that is a matter of opinion--this is a free country and we sit in a free House.
We have a Government who contain five Christian socialists. To that extent, they are, potentially, the most Christian government in my time. I should add, although the Government may not welcome such comments from me, that this is the best government we
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