The Minister for Local Government and Housing
We are analysing the many responses to our consultation paper. We are proceeding as swiftly as possible, but, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, I cannot make any commitment on when we will be able to legislate.
§ Jacqui Smith
My right hon. Friend is aware of the seven-year battle which has been fought by the Redditch Leasehold Action Committee on behalf of several thousand householders in my constituency. Their freeholds were sold from underneath them in bulk to private firms, which then profiteered by offering them back for sale at increased prices—in many cases, at more than 10 times the price. Does she accept that that situation could have been avoided by extending the right of first refusal to householders? Will she assure me that the proposal will be in Government legislation—and that such legislation will be introduced soon?
§ Ms Armstrong
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to her constituents in Redditch, who have fought a long and determined battle, and who, I am pleased to say, have recently had some success in leasehold valuation tribunals. I am conscious of the points that she makes. In our consultation paper, we proposed that the right of first refusal should be extended to houses. We are conscious of the difficulties that some leaseholders have faced because of the lack of such a right. We will consult further on the details of the provisions that would be required, but my hon. Friend has my assurance that, in accordance with the consultation, we intend to move on the issue.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
The Minister will know that the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 first gave leaseholders a right of first refusal when a landlord decided to dispose of his interest in a property. There is evidence that that was widely ignored by landlords. That led to considerable strengthening of the provision in the Housing Act 1996. Is she satisfied that the new measures in that Act are working well?
§ Ms Armstrong
As I have said, leasehold valuation tribunal rulings have strengthened that part of the Act— 148 the rights of people who live in houses, not simply of those who live in flats. We consulted on the whole subject, and that consultation has now finished. We have had a remarkably high number of responses, and we will reflect on them to see what strengthening is necessary in legislation.
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, when there is a response from the Department to the consultation period and when it is preparing the way forward, it will also examine shared ownership schemes and sheltered schemes, where many of the problems about leasehold tenure that my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) mentioned also arise?
§ Ms Armstrong
We know that there are particular problems in those areas. As my hon. Friend knows, there are problems all around. Again, he is someone who has consistently made strong representations on behalf of leaseholders. I congratulate him on that and I assure him that we will examine those issues. As I say, we have had a considerable number of responses to the consultation document and we will respond to them as soon as we are able.