HC Deb 13 March 2002 vol 381 cc936-51
Mr. Cash

I beg to move amendment No. 88, in page 68, line 1, at end insert— '(a) after paragraph (a) insert— (aa) the tenancy was granted for a term of years not exceeding 80 years".'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 62, in clause 142, page 68, line 37, at end insert— '(1A) Nothing in the omission from section 16 of the 1967 Act provided for by subsection (1)(a) above shall prejudice the operation of any provision of a private Act by which an interest in property vested in a body for the benefit of the public may not be sold, leased, granted or otherwise disposed of otherwise than in accordance with that private Act.'.

Mr. Cash

Amendment No. 88 is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who has raised an important constituency issue that arises out of the Bill.

Amendment No. 62 was tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale). Although it is interesting, I am not sure how it connects with amendment No. 88. I shall be interested in the hon. Gentleman's explanation, not least because I am curious to learn what type of private Acts the amendment refers to. He may reveal interesting facts about how the private Acts that he has in mind will operate.

I return to the gravamen that led my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold to seek to amend the Bill. For a variety of reasons, it is a racing certainty that my hon. Friend will not be able to return to the House to deal with this issue, but I can do just that for him. His constituent Mr. Mason lives in Adlestrop in Moreton-in-Marsh, a place that I know well. As chairman of the Adlestrop residents' association, Mr. Mason has set out with great clarity his concerns about enfranchisement, which, as he says, are not currently addressed by the Bill.

The Minister may already have been in correspondence with Mr. Mason and, if she has, she will be thoroughly briefed on how to reply to the arguments of the Adlestrop residents' association, which I shall now set out. It is an interesting feature of the landscape of our parliamentary proceedings that we have an opportunity to focus on a problem that would otherwise be swept aside in ministerial correspondence.

Mr. Mason says in his letter to my hon. Friend: As you know, Adlestrop is a small village with some 70 adult inhabitants and is somewhat unusual in that it comprises a number of long leasehold properties. The freeholder of these properties is the Trustees of the Adlestrop Settlement. Apart from one freehold property, the remaining properties in the village are owned by the Adlestrop Trustees and are let on short term tenancies at an open market rent. There are currently 18 long leasehold properties and an almost identical number of properties that are let on short-term tenancies. The letter continues: The 18 long leasehold properties fall into three different categories…There are properties where leases contain a Prince of Wales Clause and which qualify for enfranchisement under the 1993 Act. In light of that, perhaps we should consider whether the consent of the Prince of Wales or the Duchy of Lancaster should be signified to the proposal. However, such a technical question would only tickle the fancy of legal advisers.

Mr. Mason then says: There are properties where leases were not at a low rent but which now qualify for enfranchisement as a result of the Housing Act 1996…There are properties where leases are not at a low rent but which will not qualify for enfranchisement under the 1996 Act on account of the fact that the freehold of the property is owned together with adjoining land which is not occupied for residential purposes.' These properties would be enfranchiseable but for the exclusion of certain properties in rural areas contained in Section 1AA(3) Leasehold Reform Act 1967, which was of course introduced by the 1996 Act. The pattern that was followed in Adlestrop is that long leases were granted on a number of properties in the early 1970s at a rent which was not a low rent. Subsequently, during the period between the mid 1970s and the late 1980s, leases appear to have been granted with Prince of Wales Clauses.

Mr. Wiggin

Will my hon. Friend briefly explain what a Prince of Wales clause is?

Mr. Cash

The Minister may be able to help, because I am not sure. As I understand it, a Prince of Wales clause is a special provision in Acts to save the rights, properties, privileges and liabilities of the Prince of Wales. [Interruption.] Would the Minister be good enough to repeat what she has just said from a sedentary position? Obviously not, and in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, I am afraid that I can only take a stab at it. Perhaps we can elucidate such matters in due course.

The letter goes on to say: Subsequently, from 1990 onwards leases have been granted with a formula which ensures that the lease is not at a low rent. I can let you have copies of leases for each category…The leases were granted at terms in excess of 99 years and in most cases were for a term of 120 years or more. In each case the properties were sold at a premium by the trustees. The only reason for the sale of the properties on long leases, rather than by way of the sale of the freehold, was to enable the freeholder to retain control over the development, character and amenity of the village. There is no prospect that the freeholder will wish to resume possession of any of the properties on expiry of the leases. In each case a substantial premium was paid on the grant of the lease which would have been broadly equivalent to the price on the sale of the freehold (reflecting the length of the lease). In layman's parlance, the properties were effectively sold. In most cases, the properties were in very bad repair or involved the sale of a building plot which was subsequently developed by the lessee. The lessees have therefore expended considerable sums on the properties. The control of the development, character and amenity of the village can of course be met equally through an Estate Management Scheme. An Estate Management Scheme was introduced in 1998 in anticipation of the eventual enfranchisement of a number of properties within the village. There are many estate management schemes for rural estates. It is by no means improbable that the problems faced by Adlestrop are also shared by others who live on estates that are owned by individual freeholders. It is surprising how many villages are in that situation and have properties that are let on the basis of similar arrangements which give rise to the problems that I have described. Unless the Minister has evidence to the contrary, I do not think that Adlestrop is an isolated case and, as my argument has a general application, I hope that I can help to elucidate some of the problems.

The residents' association continues: To date, only one property has been enfranchised. In that case enfranchisement took place by agreement between the parties outside the Act and prior to implementation of the Estate Management Scheme. The lack of enfranchisement reflects the fact that, where properties are enfranchiseable, lessees have been awaiting clarification of the marriage value issue which Mr. Mason hopes will be resolved by the Bill. The letter says: In other cases, properties are not enfranchiseable. The problems of Adlestrop were the subject of the debate in the House of Lords prior to enactment of the 1996 Act which resulted in introduction of the rural exemption provision. I understand that this was intended to avoid enfranchisement of country properties which had been let for more than 21 years at a rent in excess of the low rent and where it was clearly anticipated that the freeholder may wish to regain possession of the property on the expiry of the lease. This is not a situation which is applicable to Adlestrop, but unfortunately the rural exemption extends to all leases over 35 years which are not at a low rent in designated rural areas. So the problems that Adlestrop faces are applicable elsewhere.

The letter continues: I understand that rural areas have been designated by the Secretary of State and which include Adlestrop. The end result so far as Adlestrop is concerned is that some properties are enfranchiseable whereas others are not. Mr. Mason then says: You will be aware that the nature of the properties does not justify such a distinction.

Shona McIsaac

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. At the eighth sitting of the Committee, I introduced new clause 13, which dealt with rural exemption. The Minister responded by saying that there is some sympathy with the desire to create a level playing field, but that she would need to consult first. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can convey that to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).

Mr. Cash

In a vicarious fashion, and given the charm of the hon. Lady's intervention, I am glad to endorse her comment. It is clear that there is a problem which the Minister may be prepared to address.

There is, however, a further difficulty in relation to Adlestrop: in the case of some of the properties which are not at a low rent, the application of the test as to whether the freehold of the property 'is owned together with adjoining land which is not occupied for residential purposes' is not clear. Consequently, it is not clear whether such properties are or are not excluded under section 1AA(3). This reflects the nature of the village and its properties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold apparently met Mr. Mason and the then Minister with responsibility for such matters—the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford)—on 31 January 2001 to discuss the Adlestrop problem. Indeed, the Minister was also present at that meeting, so—unlike me—she is very familiar with the problem. It is in the nature of our affairs that we take a special interest in matters affecting our own constituencies. Had my hon. Friend been able to attend today's debate, I could have asked him exactly what went on at that meeting.

7 pm

According to Mr. Mason's letter, he suggested at that meeting that a distinction should be drawn between properties which had been sold, albeit on long leases, and those which had been let on a long lease in anticipation that they may eventually revert to the freeholder. Apparently, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich was sympathetic to the problem, and concurred that it needed to be addressed; according to Mr. Mason, He suggested that an amendment should be proposed to the Bill which was then under consideration in the House of Lords. He suggested that I"— Mr. Mason— liaise with the Leasehold Advisory Service concerning the drafting of an appropriate clause. Unfortunately, they have not been able to be of any assistance due to pressure of work. The Bill was…then lost as a result of the General Election and has subsequently been reintroduced. Mr. Mason adds: I would be surprised if there are a large number of properties in rural areas which have been let for a term in excess of 21 years, but which have not effectively been sold, and which therefore require the protection of the rural exemption, but it does appear…that there are at least some such properties which require protection. Presumably these may have been let at a rent which was not then a low rent in order that the leases of such properties should not be enfranchiseable. However, there are no such properties in Adlestrop. I suggest that the position of Adlestrop, and any other similar situations, can be met by a simple amendment to Section 1AA(3) of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 by the addition of paragraph (d): '(d) The tenancy was granted for a term of years certain not exceeding 80 years'. Mr. Mason then proposes further amendments. His letter continues: The purpose of the amendment is to draw a distinction between those properties which have been sold off and those which have merely been let. Accordingly, properties which are let for a term in excess of 80 years would be outside the rural exemption, whilst those let for a shorter term would remain within the rural exemption.

Any infelicities in the amendments that we are considering would not alter the fact that a considerable problem exists, and it is surely not beyond the wit of parliamentary counsel to sort it out. Mr. Mason continues: I would expect that any properties which are let with any reasonable prospect that they would revert to the freeholder would have been let for a term somewhat less than 80 years. I have suggested a term of 80 years in order to accord with the marriage value provision, although that is applicable to leases where the unexpired term is in excess of 80 years, whereas my suggested amendment refers—I think correctly—to the original term. If it was wished the length of term could instead be 90 years. Such an amendment would mean that all properties within Adlestrop would be enfranchiseable on the same terms. If such an amendment is not introduced there would be a continuing distinction between properties which are or are not enfranchiseable. Such a situation is clearly inappropriate in a small village such as Adlestrop. The amendment would not only address the present anomaly but would also do away with the current lack of clarity as to the status of certain properties in Adlestrop. However, it would not prejudice properties in rural areas which were let for less than 80 years and which would continue to be excluded by Section 1AA(3). There may be other similar situations to Adlestrop which would also be addressed by the amendment…I would hope that the Government would consider it appropriate to include such an amendment in the Bill. In her letter of 13 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, the Minister said: It is most unfortunate that the Leasehold Advisory Service has been unable to assist your constituent, as we're now in a position that it will not be possible to complete the procedure he would expect before supporting an amendment such as your constituent would like to be made to the Bill. We do not think that it would be right to amend the law to meet the particular concerns of one class of interested party without first consulting all interested parties. Therefore, it is not something that we could realistically resolve at this late stage in the Bill's proceedings. We shall shortly consider an amendment—tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon—that relates to private Acts, but I should first point out that this important matter can be resolved. I look to the Minister for an assurance that it will be resolved. It appears that the provision could take on the character of a hybrid provision, because it could affect certain persons in a manner different from other persons in that category. The Minister shakes her head and I am glad that she does—I simply thought on the spur of the moment that such a problem might exist. If no such problem exists, there is even less reason for not dealing with the matter by way of future assurances. The Minister shakes her head again—I find this process of mute exchange difficult to bear.

The Minister's letter concludes as follows: I'm sorry I can't give a more positive response. If your constituents would like to come and talk through their concerns, they would be welcome. I am glad to note that the Minister now nods her head.

Shona McIsaac

I have listened carefully to the concerns of the residents of Adlestrop, but does the hon. Gentleman consider the Adlestrop question or the Schleswig-Holstein question the more difficult?

Mr. Cash

I am pleased that the hon. Lady has asked such an incredibly perceptive question. In doing so, she has introduced a completely new dimension to the Schleswig-Holstein question, which establishes three categories of person: one who is dead, one who has forgotten, and one who has gone mad. However, it is not clear which category is relevant to this case. As I do not represent Cotswold, I do not know the details of this case, other than what is contained in Mr. Mason's extremely erudite letter on behalf of the Adlestrop residents' association. I am therefore unable to add anything to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold could have contributed himself.

Mr. Greg Knight

Is there not a danger that the current residents of Adlestrop will themselves be dead before the matter is resolved? As I understand it, a meeting with the Minister took place 14 months ago, in January 2001. How much more time must elapse before the consultation period is brought to an end?

Mr. Cash

I have great sympathy with what my right hon. Friend has just said. The Department is well aware of the issue, which has been discussed extensively for a long time. The Minister had to admit that, despite the sympathy expressed by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, the Leasehold Advisory Service was unable to deal with the issue. However, I consider the reasons given thoroughly unconvincing.

Ms Keeble

The original intention was that the Leasehold Advisory Service might advise leaseholders on their individual circumstances, not that it should advise on the drafting of an amendment.

Mr. Cash

That is no more convincing. The more the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to answer my points—and the more she sits and shakes her head—the more concerned I become. I am determined to divide the House on this issue, because it is very strange.

Ms Keeble

If the hon. Gentleman had been so concerned, he could have met the constituents of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and talked through the matter with them. He would then have had a much better grasp of all the issues involved in this complex case.

Mr. Cash

I do not want to get into a slanging match with the Minister, but from the evidence that I have it is clear that the advisory service did a minimal job on this point. The Minister said that it was not for the advisory service to engage in drafting exercises, but this is not the most difficult undertaking. It is a matter of public interest that goes beyond Adlestrop, for the reasons that I have given.

Ms Keeble

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should read the correspondence in his possession carefully, to see how many people in Adlestrop can be identified as having expressed an interest in enfranchising. That would give him some indication of the scale of the issue.

Mr. Cash

The Minister implies that relatively few people are affected, but the issue is not a matter of special pleading in relation to Adlestrop. It may apply to a range of other people throughout the country. When I made that point earlier, the Minister nodded because she knows that the case raises questions on the rural exemption, which the hon. Member for Cleethorpes mentioned, and for many estates in country areas. Such situations could arise in many villages, so the Minister's response is not good enough. I do not wish to engage in a slanging match, but I am concerned that the hon. Lady is being obtuse. It would not be difficult to resolve the question. The hon. Lady has not replied to the debate yet, but I am not happy with the direction of her argument.

Mr. Greg Knight

Is an injustice any less of an injustice if it affects only a few people?

Mr. Cash

That is exactly my point. If the operation of the law in respect of a minority is defective, we have an opportunity to remedy the problem. I am increasingly concerned that the Minister has made a policy decision that the Government will not assist a relatively small number of people in Adlestrop with a problem that has arisen as a result of great complexity in the law. I do not doubt that it has cost the people in question considerable time and expense, but the problem has arisen because earlier legislation is defective. It is a matter of putting right something that is wrong.

The hon. Member for Wimbledon is about to speak to amendment No. 62, dealing with private legislation. I have great experience of those matters and I can tell the Minister that private Acts have been introduced over and over again to deal with special cases that give rise to considerable difficulties in practice. Anomalies exist, and this issue is an example on which the Government could help out. Where is their sense of social justice?

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the letter from Mr. Mason states that the previous Minister—now the Minister for Local Government—accepted that the problem needed to be addressed? It appears that the Department's policy has changed, because the present Minister's predecessor—she shakes her head, but we have it in writing from Mr. Mason—agreed that the problem needed addressing.

Mr. Cash

I shall not pursue the argument any further.

7.15 pm
Mr. Wiggin

Following my unhelpful previous intervention, I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. Bearing in mind the lack of complexity of amendment No. 88, what does he imagine the Minister would have said to the constituents she offered to meet when they came to talk through their concerns? Would she have tried to persuade them that they did not want to enfranchise? What advantage would the constituents have gained from meeting the Minister on such a straightforward amendment?

Mr. Cash

That is a good question, and we have put it vicariously to the Minister, because she will have heard my hon. Friend's remarks. The mere fact that anomalies affect a limited number of rural areas is no reason—if the Government mean what they say about rural communities, social justice and playing fair with people—to resist the opportunity to remedy a defect in the law. The Bill is before the House and the amendment has been selected. Why will not the Government take the appropriate action? If they are not prepared to do so, we will divide the House on the question. I shall give the Minister the benefit of the doubt until she replies. She knows all about this matter, because she has already told us that she was at the meetings with the Minister for Local Government. I shall listen with great interest to her reply, but without prejudice to any comment I may wish to make on what the hon. Member for Wimbledon says on his mysterious and fascinating amendment.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

Amendment No. 62 stands in my name, but I can confirm that I shall not seek to divide the House on it. I wish to seek some assurances from the Minister in relation to a matter that affects my constituents in Wimbledon, but I do not wish to detract from my overall support for the Bill in any way. I was unfortunately not called to speak on Second Reading and could not serve in Committee because of my commitments on another Committee. That is why I am raising this issue on Report.

I am sure that the Minister will accept that I have been a champion of the Bill on behalf of many leaseholders in my constituency who wish to apply for the right to manage and, perhaps, eventually acquire freeholds. On behalf of Mrs. Robertson and the residents of Grosvenor Court, Langham Court and many other constituents, I strongly support the Bill

Amendment No. 62 is compatible with the Bill's overall objectives. However, every new rule requires exceptions in particular circumstances. In this case, those circumstances arise in relation to a particular category of leaseholders in my constituency—those who lease property on Wimbledon common.

To anticipate any possible interventions, I should say that I am not referring to the Wombles, because I have spent many happy hours with my young daughter looking for their houses so far without success.

There are properties on Wimbledon common that are leased and are subject to a private Act. Like my constituents, and indeed the mythical Wombles, my daughter and I have been able to enjoy many happy hours roaming freely on Wimbledon common because the land is protected by that private Act.

Members who are familiar with the flight path into Heathrow from the east will know that just before planes fly over the neighbouring borough of Richmond, disturbing the residents' sleeping patterns, they fly over a vast green space in south-west London which is Wimbledon common. It is green space because it has not been sold off for development, and that is because it has been protected since 1871 by the private Act.

The private Act is an Act of Parliament that safeguards private property for the public benefit. It allows the property to be leased, but the freehold is held inalienably under its provisions. The Act concerned is the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1871. Like many other 19th-century statutes governing open spaces, the Act provides that the commons are to be maintained for the benefit of the public and, in consequence, prohibits the sale of any part of them. Hon. Members will appreciate that the prohibition on sale is intended as a guarantee against alienation of the land.

In anticipation of my speech, hon. Members have asked about the background to the Act. It goes back to when the railway came to Wimbledon and many people sought to move to the area, so there was a premium on the land. Earlier laws and rights going back to feudal times meant that local people could gather firewood and graze their cattle on Wimbledon common. New house owners, who were not themselves dependent on grazing cattle and collecting firewood, were nevertheless aware of those rights, and they came to Parliament and had the rights enshrined in the 1871 Act.

Mr. Cash

Does the hon. Gentleman know which railway it is?

Roger Casale

It is the railway line that goes through Wimbledon station.

Mr. Cash

Which one?

Roger Casale

It is the line that goes into London Waterloo. Before we get distracted—in Committee we heard long treatises about railway stations and embankments throughout the country—I want to emphasise the uniqueness of the provisions enshrined in the 1871 Act.

We in Wimbledon are proud of the tradition that led to the Act and grateful for the measures that have allowed people to enjoy the commons since that time. Clause 142 abolishes the current bar on a tenant who has been granted an extended lease on a property having a claim to the freehold. It so happens that there is a property on Wimbledon common that is held on an extended lease. It might therefore be argued that even though the 1871 Act provides that no part of the commons can be sold, clause 142 trumps that provision and entitles the leaseholder to claim the freehold. Such an outcome would be extremely unfortunate because it would mean that part of the commons would be alienated.

The amendment seeks to put the issue beyond doubt by providing explicitly that clause 142 does not allow the acquisition of the freehold of property held inalienably under a private Act such as the 1871 Act. As I said, I believe the amendment to be consistent with the Government's overall objectives. The consultation paper that preceded the Bill recognised the potential difficulty over property held inalienably for the public's benefit under such private Acts. It compared the position with that of properties held by the National Trust, noting in paragraph 92: Both the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 and the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 make specific exemptions from leasehold law for properties owned by the National Trust. It is not possible to enfranchise a house or a block of flats or to renew the lease of an individual flat where the property is on land which has been declared inalienable by the National Trust. These provisions are necessary to prevent the Trust losing control of properties which it holds for the nation under powers granted to it by Parliament".

The Government recognised that the position of other properties might not be entirely clear and stated in paragraph 94 of the consultation paper that they were minded to apply the exemptions enjoyed by the National Trust to other properties held and protected under Acts of Parliament. The paper indicated, however, that there might be difficulties concerning the ability to identify all properties that could or should be caught by such an exception. I recognise that difficulty and I have tried to counter it in the wording of the amendment.

I appreciate that the absence of provision in the Bill is consistent with the assumption that provisions in private Acts that prohibit the sale of property held for public benefit will continue to govern, making an amendment unnecessary. Whatever the explanation, I should be grateful for the Minister's reassurance that it is not the Bill's intention to override private Acts that prevent the sale of land held for the public benefit in circumstances such as those that exist on Wimbledon common.

In Wimbledon, where so many of us depend on the common for leisure and recreation, we do not want to start to undo the work that was started 150 years ago to protect the common for the enjoyment of the community.

Ms Keeble

The amendments deal with very specific circumstances involving individual Members' constituency interests. Amendment No. 88 would limit the rural exemption to cases in which the lease was originally granted for less than 80 years. The matter was raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is not here, and the amendment was inspired by the circumstances of Adlestrop.

I note that several Conservative Members have entered the Chamber and are making all kinds of remarks about the matter. I assure them that, unlike their spokesman, I have not only exchanged correspondence with the people concerned but had a meeting with them at which the issues were discussed in some detail. I told them that it would not be possible for the Government to amend the Bill to support their position. However, it may help if I go through some of the issues.

Mr. Cash

We all understand the constraints on the Commons Report stage of a Bill that was introduced in the Lords. Although obviously we hope that the amendment will be made, which is why we shall divide the House, the question is whether the Minister is prepared to give an assurance that the problem will be dealt with in future legislation if the Government are not minded to accept the amendment.

Ms Keeble

If the hon. Gentleman had considered the issue before coming here and simply reading out the letter that he had been given, he would understand exactly why it is not possible to deal with the matter in the Bill. That has nothing to do with how long people have known about the matter; it has to do with the circumstances of the individual case.

It is not clear from the discussions that my predecessor and I had with the hon. Member for Cotswold and a representative of the leaseholder whether the Adlestrop leaseholders are caught by the rural exemption, which, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) rightly says, is the point in question. The leaseholders were directed to the Leasehold Advisory Service, not to get an amendment drafted—that is not the role of the service—but to get advice on their existing rights and on whether they would be entitled to enfranchisement under existing legislation, let alone under the Bill. As I said, it is not clear whether they are caught by the rural exemption; that is a point on which they must seek legal advice. It would he irresponsible of any Government to introduce a provision whose effect was not fully understood, not only by us but by the people in question, who may not have not determined whether they are entitled to the franchise.

7.30 pm

We have no way of knowing the amendment's full effect or who would be affected by it. The provision would limit rural exemption in cases when the lease was originally granted for less than 80 years; the length of different leases provided at Adlestrop would have to be determined exactly. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Stone has that information in the letter that he was given, but I certainly have not seen it. It is not clear whether the people of Adlestrop want to enfranchise, nor whether there have been any discussions with the landlord. It is not clear how they are affected by different pieces of legislation and whether they are affected by rural exemptions. We are not willing to change a law with a national application to meet the concerns of certain people—and I do not believe that Members of Parliament would want us to do so—when we do not know how many people are affected; we do not know how many people in that settlement are involved and even whether they would be affected by the measure. There has not even been any consultation on the matter.

That said, as the hon. Member for Cotswold is aware, I recently received detailed correspondence from a representative of the Adlestrop leaseholders. Although he is not here, I can assure him that I will make sure that the matter is dealt with as helpfully and fully as possible. I shall give our view on whether those properties are exempt or not, which will involve getting a fair amount of information that so far has not been forthcoming.

Shona McIsaac

Much has been made in our debate about the clause on rural exemption. I have had a chance to look at the Minister's words in Committee, and I hope that she will reiterate her message tonight, so that people are clear where she and the Government stand. She told the Committee that the Government have some sympathy for the suggestion that the rural exemption should be amended so that it is better targeted".—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 24 January 2002; c. 212.] She went on to say that interested parties should be consulted before that was done. If she will repeat that message clearly for the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), he may be reassured arid not divide the House so that we could get on and discuss forfeiture.

Ms Keeble

I am happy to repeat my previous assurances, although I do not believe that that will have any effect on the Opposition—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stone may make rude remarks, but the Opposition are not even remotely familiar with the case that they have raised. They have not provided any evidence that they know how many properties in Adlestrop would be affected by the measure and how many leaseholders want to enfranchise. They have received a letter from one person, but that is all. They are not proposing to abolish rural exemption, but to deal with properties with a lease of less than 80 years. They do not even know how many properties would be affected.

Mr. Cash

The Minister is getting unnecessarily personal.

Ms Keeble

I said, "They".

Mr. Cash

All right. I simply note that there is a certain stroppiness in relation to Adlestrop.

We now have conclusive evidence in the form of the allegations that the Minister has just made, which I do not dispute. However, I have provided the best description that I can of the circumstances, with which I was furnished by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). The Minister has proved that there is a fourth category in the Schleswig-Holstein question—a Government who do not know the answer.

Ms Keeble

That is nonsense. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Cotswold is not here. He has represented fairly his constituents' interests, but they have not been advanced in this evening's discussion. As I have said repeatedly, and as I told the representative of the Adlestrop leaseholders, we are prepared to look at further information. At our meeting with the representative and the hon. Member for Cotswold, there was not a lot of information available about the circumstances of all the properties in Adlestrop and the consequences of any change to the law for the settlement, let alone anywhere else.

I shall now deal with amendment No. 62. I welcome the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) on the Bill and its importance to his constituents. The amendment would exempt all land held under local Acts of Parliament from the provisions of clause 142. As Members will know, clause 142 amends the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 to allow leaseholders who have extended their lease to buy their freehold or to benefit from security of tenure when that lease comes to an end. Currently, people who extend their leases under the 1967 Act are left in an unfavourable position. Once the extended lease begins, they lose the right to enfranchise for ever. Moreover, when the extended lease ends, they have no security of tenure and may face eviction from their home, which is unduly harsh. If a leaseholder can afford to pay a fair price for the leasehold of their home, they should be entitled to buy it. If instead they are prepared to pay the appropriate rent for the property after their lease comes to an end, they should be able to stay in their home as renting tenants.

The clause will amend section 16 of the 1967 Act accordingly. The new rights will apply to leases that have already been extended as well as those extended after the Bill has come into force. My hon. Friend said that the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators were concerned that land that they hold under a local Act will be adversely affected by the clause. We are sympathetic to those concerns, but clause 142 will not in fact have the effect that he suggested. As I said, it affects the position of leaseholders who have already taken advantage of the provisions of the 1967 Act to extend their leases. They will now be able to use the provisions of that Act to acquire the freehold, but clause 142 does not confer any additional rights on such leaseholders; if they were previously unable to acquire the freehold because the landlord was unable to dispose of it, the situation remains unchanged. We do not consider it appropriate to do anything that could take away any rights that tenants currently enjoy under the 1967 Act.

My hon. Friend mentioned the consultation paper that my Department issued in August 2000 which made reference to that particular problem. However, only the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators have identified any property that would be affected by the new provisions. As I said, we do not consider it appropriate to do anything that could take away any rights that tenants currently enjoy under the 1967 Act. If the Bill mentioned a local Act and made provision for it to be treated differently from anything similar, we would risk making the Bill a hybrid, which would obviously wreck it. We do not want to do that. My hon. Friend said that he supports the Bill in principle and is definitely not a wrecker.

On the basis of my response, I invite my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Stone not to press their amendments.

Mr. Cash

I shall be brief because we have discussed the problem at length. I am glad that the Minister recognised that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) could lead to hybridity. There is another problem, as private Acts could also apply to land in Epping Forest, the New Forest and many other places.

We are not at all convinced by the arguments that the Minister advanced with regard to Adlestrop, and we intend to press the amendment to a Division.

Roger Casale

I wish to put it on record that I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the assurances that she has given in respect of the matter that I raised

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 113, Noes 325.

Division No. 194] [7.39 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Brazier, Julian
Amess, David Browning, Mrs Angela
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Burns, Simon
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Burt, Alistair
Bacon, Richard Cameron, David
Barker, Gregory Cash, William
Baron, John Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin Chope, Christopher
Boswell, Tim Clappison, James
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick Maclean, Rt Hon David
Cran, James McLoughlin, Patrick
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Malins, Humfrey
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) May, Mrs Theresa
Djanogly, Jonathan Mercer, Patrick
Dodds, Nigel Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Duncan Smith, Rt Hon Iain Moss, Malcolm
Evans, Nigel Murrison, Dr Andrew
Fabricant, Michael Norman, Archie
Fallon, Michael O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Field, Mark (Cities of London) Osborne, George (Tatton)
Flook, Adrian Paterson, Owen
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Prisk, Mark
Fox, Dr Liam Randall, John
Francois, Mark Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Gale, Roger Rosindell, Andrew
Gibb, Nick Ruffley, David
Goodman, Paul Sayeed, Jonathan
Gray, James Selous, Andrew
Grieve, Dominic Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gummer, Rt Hon John Shepherd, Richard
Hague, Rt Hon William Simmonds, Mark
Hawkins, Nick Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Hayes, John Spicer, Sir Michael
Heald, Oliver Spink, Bob
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hoban, Mark Steen, Anthony
Horam, John Streeter, Gary
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Swayne, Desmond
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Swire, Hugo
Hunter, Andrew Syms, Robert
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Jenkin, Bernard Taylor, John (Solihull)
Key, Robert Tredinnick, David
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Trend, Michael
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (E Yorkshire) Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Walter, Robert
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Waterson, Nigel
Lansley, Andrew Watkinson, Angela
Leigh, Edward Whittingdale, John
Letwin, Oliver Wiggin, Bill
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Wilkinson, John
Liddell-Grainger, Ian Willetts, David
Lidington, David Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Loughton, Tim Tellers for the Ayes:
McIntosh, Miss Anne Mr. David Wilshire and
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Mr. Charles Hendry.
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Bryant, Chris
Allan, Richard Burgon, Colin
Allen, Graham Burnett, John
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Burnham, Andy
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Burstow, Paul
Atherton, Ms Candy Cable, Dr Vincent
Atkins, Charlotte Calton, Mrs Patsy
Barrett, John Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Barron, Kevin Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Beard, Nigel Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Benton, Joe Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Berry, Roger Caplin, Ivor
Betts, Clive Carmichael, Alistair
Blackman, Liz Casale, Roger
Blears, Ms Hazel Cawsey, Ian
Blizzard, Bob Challen, Colin
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington) Chaytor, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Clapham, Michael
Bradshaw, Ben Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Brennan, Kevin Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Brown, Rt Hon Nicholas (Newcastle E & Wallsend) Clelland, David
Coffey, Ms Ann
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cohen, Harry
Corston, Jean Hoyle, Lindsay
Cotter, Brian Hughes, Beverley (Stretford)
Cousins, Jim Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cranston, Ross Humble, Mrs Joan
Crausby, David Hutton, Rt Hon John
Cruddas, Jon Iddon, Dr Brian
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Cummings, John Irranca-Davies, Huw
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Jenkins, Brian
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
David, Wayne Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Joyce, Eric
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Dawson, Hilton Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Dean, Mrs Janet Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Denham, Rt Hon John Keetch, Paul
Dobbin, Jim Kemp, Fraser
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Khabra, Piara S
Doran, Frank Kidney, David
Doughty, Sue Kilfoyle, Peter
Dowd, Jim King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston) Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Edwards, Huw Kumar, Dr Ashok
Efford, Clive Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Ellman, Mrs Louise Lamb, Norman
Ennis, Jeff Lammy, David
Etherington, Bill Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Fisher, Mark Laws, David
Fitzpatrick, Jim Lazarowicz, Mark
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Lepper, David
Flint, Caroline Levitt, Tom
Flynn, Paul Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Foster, Don (Bath) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Lloyd, Tony
Foulkes, George Llwyd, Elfyn
Francis, Dr Hywel Love, Andrew
Gapes, Mike Lucas, Ian
George, Andrew (St Ives) Lyons, John
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S) McAvoy, Thomas
Gerrard, Neil McCafferry, Chris
Gibson, Dr Ian McDonagh, Siobhain
Gilroy, Linda MacDonald, Calum
Godsiff, Roger McDonnell, John
Goggins, Paul MacDougall, John
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Grogan, John McIsaac, Shona
Hain, Rt Hon Peter McKechin, Ann
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McKenna, Rosemary
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) Mackinlay, Andrew
Hancock, Mike McNamara, Kevin
Hanson, David McNulty, Tony
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W) MacShane, Denis
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) Mactaggart, Fiona
Havard, Dai McWalter, Tony
Healey, John McWilliam, John
Heath, David Mahmood, Khalid
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hendrick, Mark Mallaber, Judy
Heppell, John Mann, John
Hermon, Lady Marris, Rob
Heyes, David Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hill, Keith Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hinchliffe, David Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hodge, Margaret Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Holmes, Paul Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Hood, Jimmy Martlew, Eric
Hope, Phil Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hopkins, Kelvin Meale, Alan
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E) Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe)
Miliband, David Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Miller, Andrew Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mole, Chris Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Moore, Michael Soley, Clive
Moran, Margaret Southworth, Helen
Morgan, Julie Spellar, Rt Hon John
Mudie, George Squire, Rachel
Mullin, Chris Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Munn, Ms Meg Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Stinchcombe, Paul
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stoate, Dr Howard
Naysmith, Dr Doug Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Stringer, Graham
O'Hara, Edward Stunell, Andrew
Olner, Bill Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)
Öpik, Lembit Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Owen, Albert Taylor, Dr Richard (Wyre F)
Palmer, Dr Nick Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pearson, Ian Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Perham, Linda Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Picking, Anne Thurso, John
Pickthall, Colin Timms, Stephen
Pike, Peter Tonge, Dr Jenny
Plaskitt, James Trickett, Jon
Pond, Chris Truswell, Paul
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Price, Adam Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Primarolo, Dawn Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Prosser, Gwyn Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Pugh, Dr John Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Purchase, Ken Tyler, Paul
Purnell, James Vis, Dr Rudi
Quin, Rt Hon Joyce Walley, Ms Joan
Rammell, Bill Ward, Ms Claire
Rapson, Syd Wareing, Robert N
Reed, Andy (Loughborough) Watson, Tom
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute) Watts, David
Rendel, David White, Brian
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Roy, Frank Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Ruane, Chris Willis, Phil
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wills, Michael
Salter, Martin Winnick, David
Sanders, Adrian Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sarwar, Mohammad Wood, Mike
Savidge, Malcolm Woolas, Phil
Sawford, Phil Wray, James
Sedgemore, Brian Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Shaw, Jonathan Wright, David (Telford)
Sheerman, Barry Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Sheridan, Jim Wyatt, Derek
Simon, Siôn Younger-Ross, Richard
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha Tellers for the Noes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Nick Ainger and
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Dan Norris.

Question accordingly negatived.

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