HC Deb 14 June 1993 vol 226 cc653-64

Lords amendment: No. 7, insert the following new clause—

Qualifying tenants satisfying residence condition

(".—(1) For the purposes of this Chapter a qualifying tenant of a flat satisfies the residence condition at any time when the condition specified in subsection (2) is satisfied with respect to him.

(2) That condition is that the tenant has occupied the flat as his only or principal home—

  1. (a) for the last twelve months, or
  2. (b) for periods amounting to three years in the last ten years, whether or not he has used it also for other purposes.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)—

  1. (a) any reference to the tenant's flat includes a reference to part of it; and
  2. 654
  3. (b) it is immaterial whether at any particular time the tenant's occupation was in right of the lease by virtue of which he is a qualifying tenant or in right of some other lease or otherwise;

but any occupation by a company or other artificial person, or (where the tenant is a corporation sole) by the corporator, shall not be regarded as occupation for the purposes of that subsection.

(4) In the case of a lease held by joint tenants—

  1. (a) the condition specified in subsection (2) need only be satisfied with respect to one of the joint tenants; and
  2. (b) subsection (3) shall apply accordingly (the reference to the lease by virtue of which the tenant is a qualifying tenant being read for this purpose as a reference to the lease by virtue of which the joint tenants are a qualifying tenant).")

Sir George Young

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments Nos. 16, 18, 19, 22, 54, 59, 61, 63, 64, 66, 70, 222 and 225.

Sir George Young

I shall speak briefly to the amendments and then speak again if there are any issues that the House wishes to raise.

When the Bill left the House for another place, it contained no test to residence on qualifying tenants that had to be satisfied before either of the new rights—collective enfranchisement or individual lease renewal—could be exercised, but there was a strong feeling that there should be a residence qualification. Two groups of amendments constitute the Government's response. Amendments Nos. 54, 59, 61, 63, 64, 66 and 70 introduce a residence test that qualifying tenants will have to satisfy before they can obtain a new lease under the provisions of chapter 2. We have followed the principle of the test provided for in the 1967 Act that is applied to individual tenants of houses.

The remaining amendments in the group introduce a residence test for collective enfranchisement. Basically, the new test requires half of the participating tenants to be residents. The new test is intended to prevent a majority of non-resident long leaseholders from purchasing their landlord's interests. Our declared policy is that flat owners should be able to gain ownership and control of their blocks. The test does not seriously interfere with that objective but clearly signals that flat owners cannot take over if only a minority of the participants live or have lived for significant periods in their flats. That amendment will be appreciated by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

In another place, Lord Williams, representing the Labour party, said that he had sympathy with the idea of a resident test that supported the principle that companies and absentee landlords should not be allowed to take control of what he called "real people". Lord Strathclyde confirmed that these amendments will not disfranchise many blocks but will exorcise the spectre of control by an absent minority.

Mr. Battle

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his recent appointment, and wish him well. It is fair to say that he is the longest serving Minister in his post. I hope that his new appointment will take him into the inner sanctum of Government and perhaps a little closer to the Treasury, so that he can apply some real pressure for housing resources in the future.

We now move to the group of amendments, headed by amendment No. 7, that start to tighten the rights of leaseholders with regard to enfranchisement. When leaseholders examine the Bill, they will discover that the reforms are not as substantial or as far-reaching as they expected.

Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Very good.

Mr. Battle

That shows that there is still a difference between those Conservative Members who agree with the Government's manifesto commitment to give 750,000 leaseholders real enfranchisement and those Conservative Back Benchers who are fighting a rearguard action in another place and in this House to take away that right. Leaseholders will know that they have been short-changed; their expectations of leasehold reform have been raised—it is there on the face of the Bill—but in practice, the hedging and disqualifications will mean that those 750,000 leaseholders will not get enfranchisement after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The Bill is hedged with disqualifications, and the low rent test is the primary one. A Labour Government will abolish that test. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have said that a Labour Government are committed to abolishing that test, and we will stick with that commitment because the test is discriminatory and ensures that people who should have the right to leasehold and enfranchisement will not have that right.

Clause 7 is not as strong as the original clause, which said that there should be a three-year test of residence before people could get enfranchisement. That was pushed hard on the Government by those defending the great estates—we sometimes refer to them as the Duke of Westminster and his merry men, who are holding on to their entrenched interests. Thankfully, the Government did not agree with that argument.

We are still left with a one-year residence test. Effectively, the Government are gradually narrowing the range of eligibility. As a result of the new clauses and amendments to the Bill, the Government are limiting eligibility for enfranchisement. They will now offer such enfranchisement to but a tiny fraction of the leaseholders who expected to receive it once the Bill was enacted.

In effect, all long-term leaseholders of houses have no chance or hope of enfranchisement. The Government have offered a banner right, but they have qualified it away. They have whittled down the number of those who will be eligible. The Government have created expectations, but, in common with the citizens charter, in reality we are left with a damp squib on a dull day. Many who expected the rights that the Government promised them in the manifesto will now discover that they are not eligible to receive them.

Lord Strathclyde claimed that the Government wanted to keep exemption from leasehold enfranchisement to an absolute minimum"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 March 1993; Vol. 543, c. 1037.] In other words, the Government maintain that it is their intention to give enfranchisement to as many long leaseholders as possible. That will not happen.

It is important to consider the substance of Lords amendment No. 7. To insert a residence qualification into the current proposals mean that, because of the collective nature of enfranchisement, particularly of flats, any residence test will deprive those who pass it, as well as those who do not, of the chance of becoming full owners of their homes. We accept that, unlike other tests previously proposed and rejected, the new residence test will not wreck the Bill, but it could have certain repercussions.

The research of the Consumers Association, which we discussed in Committee, spelled out that a high proportion of flat owners tend to own their properties for a relatively short time. That fact, taken with the two-thirds majority requirement for enfranchisement, which has now been stiffened by the proviso relating to not less than 50 per cent. of all flats, means that any residence test is bound to have a significant and unfair effect, because it will exclude flat owners in particular from any chance of enfranchisement.

When the residence test was promoted in the other place, emphasis was placed on the hypothetical examples of the enfranchisement of properties owned by companies and foreign residents. Let us put things in perspective. I believe that the vast majority of flats are owned by ordinary British citizens, who have always lived here. Although recent economic difficulties may have forced some of them to become non-resident owners—we all know that repossessions have taken their toll and that negative equity problems have pushed people into difficulties—the residential qualification, albeit narrow, will reduce the number of those who are entitled to enfranchisement under the Bill.

The Government set out with a great intention. The Prime Minister suggested on the eve of the general election that about 750,000 leaseholders would receive the right to leasehold enfranchisement once the Government were re-elected. As in many other areas of policy, the Government have pared that offer and hedged it with disqualifications. They have built up expectations only to dash them on the rocks of Government expendiency. Those who expect to be enfranchised will, sadly, find out that they are denied that right. Sadly, they will only discover that once the Bill is enacted.

4.45 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I echo what the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) said about the recent honour bestowed on my right hon. Friend the Minister. I am sure that many other hon. Members are pleased to register their pleasure at that. May I also declare, for the last time, what I am told is not, strictly, an interest: I hold the leasehold of a flat in my constituency.

The Bill is an excellent piece of legislation, and it is characteristically churlish of Opposition Members to criticise it, particularly when they could muster only a measly 148 votes in the previous Division. That reveals their level of genuine interest in this important, bold and imaginative Bill, which will redeem an important and widely welcomed manifesto pledge.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the fact that the central provisions of the Bill have emerged largely unscathed from another place. It is an excellent Bill, and it has been my desire throughout its passage to ensure that the provisions offered by it are available to as many people as possible.

I appreciate the concern that underlies the new clause tabled in amendment No. 7 about speculators who may seek to advantage themselves under the Bill, instead of the genuine leaseholders whom the Bill is designed to help. I am concerned about some of the effects of the new clause, especially when one considers the other hurdles to be negotiated under the Bill, particularly the two-thirds test.

The terms of the new clause are somewhat less onerous than a similar clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin), which was defeated in the House. It follows the same principle, however, and I remember saying on that occasion in February that my hon. Friend's proposed new clause could emasculate the Bill.

I have a number of concerns that I should like to raise, particularly in the context of my constituency, and in similar constituencies along the south coast. As I said in a previous debate, I am concerned about the effects of the new clause on holiday homes. Eastbourne is a popular place in which to buy such properties, and they are often purchased by perfectly ordinary people who are in no sense property speculators.

It is also important to consider the effect of the new clause on flats that are rented out for a short period or owned by people who are temporarily working abroad. Of great importance for somewhere like Eastbourne, where 30 per cent. of the population are of retirement age, is the position of retirement homes. Many people put their savings into such property in advance and anticipation of their retirement and, for a time, it is not regarded as the principal place of residence.

It is also important to consider the necessary and natural movement of people within a block of flats. That may be a more important factor in the London area, where the population is subject to greater shifts, but any block of flats is subject to a turnover of residents. In some cases, that would make for a fundamental mathematical problem in reaching the qualifications under the Bill, particularly when they are to be overlain by a new residence qualification. It is also important to consider the knock-on effect of such a proposal. That qualification, apart from making it impossible for particular individuals to qualify for enfranchisement, makes it more difficult, if not impossible, for others in a particular block of flats to qualify. Such individuals might well qualify in every other respect under the Bill.

I do not wish to hinder the progress of this important Bill; the sooner it is on the statute book the better. I wonder whether any research has been carried out, however, on the numbers likely to be directly affected by the new residence qualification. When the operation of the Bill is reviewed, as I am sure that it will be in due course, perhaps my right hon. Friend will undertake that, whenever that may be, that review will consider the effect of the new clause specificially, as well as other aspects that have been mentioned, such as the low rent test.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich)

I, too, would like to raise doubts about the impact of this clause, and follow the comments of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), who rightly expressed concern that the impact might be to make it difficult, in certain circumstances, for leaseholders to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill.

On Report, I highlighted the phenomenon that was noticed in parts of Kensington, where one particular landlord, Smith Charity, had been involved in the practice of letting an increasing proportion of its properties to companies as a deliberate block.

I put it to the Minister that there is an obvious risk that landlords who seek to frustrate the intentions of the Bill —there is no question but that many large estates and others are deliberately seeking to prevent the Bill from having the effect that most hon. Members wish to see, which is for leaseholders to have the opportunity of enfranchisement—would naturally, as a result of this amendment, have an incentive to consider letting a significant proportion of the properties that become vacant in blocks of flats to companies, to ensure that the 50 per cent. threshold could not be met. That is an obvious loophole, which I fear may be exploited to frustrate the intentions of the legislation.

I therefore ask the Minister—adding to the comments of the hon. Member for Eastbourne—whether he will give thought to how the working of this provision is to be monitored, and what steps he intends to take to ensure that, if he receives representations from leaseholders in certain areas that their wish to enfranchise is being frustrated by the effect of this provision, this matter will once again come up for review. While we understand the perfectly reasonable wish to ensure that the benefits accrue only to bona fide leaseholders, the effect of this provision could be to frustrate some of them. I hope that the Minister will respond to this point.

I also ask him to be more specific about the numbers. If I remember correctly, he said in his opening remarks that the clause would disfranchise only a limited number of blocks. What number does his Department expect to he ruled out as a result of this provision? Will he go a bit further and tell us—as he and his colleagues have not done in the earlier stages of the Bill's passage through the House —how many leaseholders they expect to benefit from the Bill and enfranchise their homes in the course of the next few years? The Government have been strong on expressions of good intention about this Bill but very weak indeed on any forecast.

I know that the Minister will say that it is up to the leaseholders to decide, but in any matter of policy the Government have to make an estimate of the likely effect of what they are doing. Clearly, if there were no interest at all, it would be a waste of Parliament's time for us to be discussing all these very detailed, complicated and tortuous provisions. Some of us who sat on the Committee considering the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 may wonder whether our time was well spent then, given the very limited take-up of that piece of legislation.

So I put it to the Minister that he owes the House some indication of the level of take-up that can be expected. Obviously, it will not be the full 750,000, but can we expect half that total? Can we expect 375,000 households to be seeking to enfranchise in, say, the lifetime of this Parliament, or will it be nearer 100,000 or fewer than that?

Without some indication of the extent to which the provisions of this Bill are likely to be taken up, we have to express some scepticism about whether the good intentions which the Government have expressed with regard to these measures will work through in practice to the benefit of leaseholders. We fear that the complexity of the legislation and the obstacles that undoubtedly exist, which will be to some extent compounded by this residence test, will deter bona fide leaseholders who want to buy the freehold of their homes, and prevent them from doing so.

I hope that the Minister will give us some answers on these points.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

I am grateful for this opportunity to intervene briefly. I have no wish to take up the time of the House for too long, being one of those who are anxious to see the Bill on the statute book.

At the outset, I offer my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his appointment to the Privy Council. I sometimes think that, for his stewardship of this Bill alone, he qualifies for that privilege and honour.

I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), who put the case very well.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) referred to the briefing material that many of us have received from the Leasehold Reform Co-ordinating Committee, which quite rightly put the case for reducing the residence qualification to the absolute minimum. Many of my constituents agree with that. Nevertheless, this Bill, as it affects leasehold reform, is controversial in both this place and the other place, and compromises inevitably have to be accepted.

I hope that this amendment will succeed, although I doubt it. I hope that the Government will feel that they can continue actively to monitor the impact of this residence qualification and, if it should prove an obstacle to the intentions of the Bill as a whole, will take the opportunity on some future occasion to rectify the matter.

Many of my constituents live in apartment blocks in the centre of London, in the city of Westminster, where there is a stable community, while others may live in apartment blocks where there is greater mobility. It is among the latter that the problem may arise, and that is an area to which I hope that we shall return on a future occasion should there be genuine difficulty.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I begin by reminding the House of two points that I made when the Bill was before it on Report stage and Third Reading.

First, I remind the House that I am an owner of rented property, although I am advised that none of it falls within the provisions of this Bill.

Secondly, I repeat what I said on Third Reading: that, in the 28 years that I have been in this House, I can recall no piece of legislation that makes me more ashamed of what my party proposes than this wretched, miserable Bill. It is a totally lamentable Bill. To tear up agreements freely entered into by people, without duress, and to have the element of confiscation that this Bill has, is entirely against the philosophy of the party that I have represented in the House for all those years.

I am enormously unhappy about this, and I could not disagree more with my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler).

However, I have to accept that amendment No. 7 is a modest improvement to the Bill. It does not make the Bill acceptable, in my view, but it is a modest improvement, and I hope very much that the House will accept it.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

I intervene very briefly to say how much I agree with the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). This is a reprehensible piece of legislation. One of its worst features is the invitation to speculation that no residence qualification would have brought. Therefore, I look upon it as a distinct improvement to the Bill that there now has to be a personal residence qualification. Those who take a different view from the Government are told that the Government made a manifesto commitment, but that commitment applied to occupied flats and was designed to help individuals. It was not intended to encourage speculation. Therefore, I believe that the provision is an essential safeguard, and I am extremely happy to see it before the House.

5 pm

Mr. Dudley Fishburn (Kensington)

I shall distance myself a little from my rural hon. Friends, who find the legislation reprehensible. I have been in the House for five years, and no other piece of legislation has caused me greater pleasure. I have greeted no other legislation more willingly. It is entirely in keeping with a Conservative party which believes in wider home ownership and, above all, in practical forms of law. Our philosophy is not to believe that, in the 21st century, we should have 18th-century forms of tenure.

The Bill comes before the House with 270 Lords amendments. This afternoon and in the next months or indeed years, we cannot be fully aware of what those amendments will mean for the legislation. Therefore, I add my voice to those who hope that the Department of the Environment will officially monitor the Bill's progress over the coming years and conduct a proper review in two or three years' time. In that way, should the Bill prove to be unsatisfactory in giving the widest form of leasehold enfranchisement, the Government of the time will be able to widen it.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I want to say how much I support the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin). The Bill is a reprehensible piece of legislation which amounts to confiscation. If I freely enter into an agreement with someone, why should someone else have the right to say that that agreement was bad—irrespective of whether I entered into it or my parents, grandparents or great-grandparents did so?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the honour bestowed on him in the recent honours list. It is thoroughly well deserved as he has a great knowledge of housing. However, I have made representations to him on the specific subject of the residency tests. As a chartered surveyor and property owner, I believe that it would be wrong if someone could enter into property ownership on the basis of speculation—whether they be a foreign-owned company or a foreign individual—so that they bought leasehold property with a view to making a profit out of the landlord.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way—I want to be sure exactly what he is saying. The Government have always claimed that theirs is the party of leasehold enfranchisement. If that is so, it runs contrary to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is saying that any contract entered into now or in the past should be enforced. He is saying that all previous leasehold enfranchisement legislation should not have been passed by the House. If I understand him correctly, his approach is at great variance with that of the Government Front-Bench team.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

All previous legislation has been freely debated in the House—much of it was passed by the Labour party. Had I been a Member of Parliament at that time I would have argued against it as hard as I could. Acts such as the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 are abhorrent.

I welcome the amendment. I do not think that it makes a bad Bill good, but it brings an element of fairness in abolishing some of the property speculation which would have been totally abhorrent.

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

Surely what is lamentable—a word which has been used over frequently in the past few minutes by some Conservative Members—is the idea that contracts on leasehold between tenant and leaseholder are based on an equal standard. It is impossible to obtain a freehold on flats, certainly in London. A freeholder holds all the cards in his or her hand, and has played those cards in a way that has had a deleterious effect on tenants.

Hon. Members have given examples of why someone should be able to be a tenant even if not currently resident in a leasehold flat. However, mention has not been made of the fact that, in the desperate recession which the country has been enduring in the past few years, families who have outgrown the size of their flats have had to move out of their homes to find a smaller place that they can afford and rent out their flats. The measure could make such families ineligible for enfranchisement.

I find it extraordinary that Conservative Members should put the housing needs of visiting business men, academics or diplomats above the needs of residents and nationals of this country, particularly in our capital city. The opportunities to obtain decent. affordable housing in this already overpressed capital are constantly decreasing. The Government have reneged on their manifesto commitments on leasehold enfranchisement. The House should vote against the measure, which does not work in the best interests of democracy and the commitment of political parties. It betrays the Government's manifesto. Most importantly, it betrays the thousands of people who are looking to the Bill to enable them to say that their home is their own.

Sir George Young

I thank the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) and my right hon. and hon. Friends for their kind words on the recognition that I have recently received. In these meritocratic days, it is nice to have an appendage to my name that has been earned, not inherited.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West started by chiding the Government for accepting an amendment that would disfranchise leaseholders. He has just marched his hon. Friends—though not many of them—through the Lobby to do just that. He insisted on dividing the House on an amendment which, had it been carried, would have disfranchised a large number of leaseholders and taken away the rights that they hoped the legislation would afford them.

The hon. Gentleman also said that the vast majority of flats were owned by ordinary people who live in them. He is right. That partly answers the reservations expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson). I should be surprised if the residence tests had a major impact in his constituency or other constituencies on the south coast.

There is provision for enabling leaseholders who are temporarily in residence abroad to participate in enfranchisement. The leaseholders of retirement homes would not be able to be participating tenants until they had moved into and occupied the retirement homes. However, it would need only 50 per cent. of the remaining participating tenants in the block to be residential. The hurdle is a little higher, which is why the provision was welcomed by some of my hon. Friends.

We have been urged to keep the matter under review. We are setting up an advisory organisation to help leaseholders achieve their entitlements under the legislation. I have no doubt that that organisation and others will let the Government know of the legislation's progress. I would hesitate to commit myself or my successors to more legislation on the subject. It is difficult to think of any more difficult legislation to pilot through the House than legislation on leasehold reform. My reasons for saying that have become manifestly clear in the past minutes.

We have made no estimates of the numbers who might benefit from the Bill. The Government's role is to give people entitlements and rights. It is entirely a matter for them how they exercise those rights. Therefore, we have set no targets for enfranchisements.

Mr. Battle

We appreciate the Minister's difficulty to a large extent. He has promised us a review, but it would be better to get the legislation right from the outset. In the other place, the Minister said: 1 strongly believe that a residence condition for qualification for collective enfranchisement in flats would not be fair … it would substantially reduce the number of blocks in which collective enfranchisement could take place … In fact I am convinced that a residence test for participation in collective enfranchisement would render unworkable this part of the Bill … We would end up with a worthless, discredited piece of legislation and our declared policy would not be delivered."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 March 1993, Vol. 543, c. 954–55 ] Is that not Government policy? Is not the Minister saying that the Bill will not deliver the Government's intentions?

Sir George Young

I hope to come in a moment to the particular residency test that we are introducing, which, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, is substantially different from some of the earlier tests that were put before this House and another place. My own view is that the new residency test will not substantially disfranchise a large number of people. As has been said, flat owners move frequently, but only half of the participating tenants have to satisfy the test. Further, it is a 12-month rather than a three-year test, for precisely that reason.

In reply to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) I shall simply repeat what Lord Williams of Elvel said in another place on behalf of the Labour party: I say to the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, that our reaction to the amendment is that we agree with anything which is against absentee landlords and artificial persons but as regards residents, we have had our doubts about 'the last twelve months'."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 May 1993; Vol. 545, c. 1259.] So, in another place, there was some support for the insertion of a residency test before enfranchisement becomes possible.

I should like to turn now to the heart of the reservations raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, said that we did accept that there is some logic in the argument that only long leaseholders who actually live in their flats should be able to take control of the building and do something about the inevitable decline in the value of their asset, but we foresaw difficulty with the practicalities.

Our view was that a residence test for collective enfranchisement which disqualified either buildings or individual tenants would mean that in too many blocks the right of tenants to buy out their landlords would not be exercisable, so the overall policy could not be achieved. We did not apply that argument to individual lease renewal, about which there has been no debate this afternoon.

Our original objection to a residence test was that the requisite majority of tenants to trigger collective enfranchisement would, in practice, be hard to attain. That is because the turnover of lease ownership means that at any one time a significant proportion of long leaseholders in a block would not have lived in it long enough to become qualifying tenants. Further, individual blocks could move into and out of eligibility frequently, making it harder to find an opportunity to claim.

In another place, my noble Friend Lord Boardman found a way round this difficulty. His amendment, which was accepted in another place and is before the House today, applies a test to participating tenants only. It requires that not fewer than half of those who sign the initial notice meet the residence condition. Thus, the difficulty over the disqualification from enfranchisement of whole blocks of flats, because not enough of the leaseholders have lived in their flats for long enough to allow the number of qualifying tenants to pass the two-thirds threshold, is neatly bypassed.

The residence conditions differ somewhat from those that we have introduced for lease renewal, because of the different circumstances. There are alternative tests. First, there is occupation of the flat, or part of it, as an only or principal home for the preceding 12 months. Secondly, occupation for periods amounting to three years out of the last 10 will suffice. Tenants may choose what for them is the easier. The second limb of the test means that people who have recently let out their flats—for example, because they have gone abroad for a period—will not be denied the opportunity to join in collective enfranchisement. Occupation does not have to have been under the qualifying lease. Thus, for example, someone who has lived in a flat owned by his or her parents and has recently inherited the long lease will be able to participate.

These amendments represent a sensible compromise between two conflicting points of view, both of which have been expressed in this debate. They will not disfranchise many blocks, but, as I said earlier, they will exercise the spectre of control by an absent minority. Politics is the art of the possible. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North said, compromise is sometimes necessary. In my view, these amendments represent an acceptable compromise.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 8 and 9 agreed to.

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