HL Deb 22 March 2001 vol 623 cc249-50GC

In section 1AA of the 1967 Act, omit—

  1. (a) in subsection (1), the words "and is not an excluded tenancy",
  2. (b) subsection (3),
  3. (c) subsection (5).").

The noble Lord said: This is another problem with the same section of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act, as amended. Section 1AA excludes from enfranchisement houses that are held for a term which is greater than 35 years, if they are not at a low rent, if they are in certain rural areas designated by the Secretary of State, and if the freehold of the house is held together with adjoining land which is not occupied for residential purposes.

We note that properties which are let at a low rent are not excluded under that provision, so this applies only to houses which are held for a ground rent which is more than the low rent level; that is, of course, something which is very small.

The purpose of this exclusion is not clear. Is it to enable landlords to let off surplus farm cottages on terms which would enable them to get them back if they are leased? I understand that there are some villages where a large number of houses are covered by this exclusion. One village mentioned to me is the village of Adlestrop in Oxfordshire, which will be familiar to many people from Edward Thomas's poem of that name.

Can the Minister explain why this exclusion is justified? If the object is to enable landlords to get the cottages back, they are not likely to want to let the cottages for periods of more than 21 years. The exclusion seems to serve no useful purpose. If the recovery of these houses does not serve a purpose, how can the exclusion be justified? I beg to move.

Baroness Hanham

I have tabled an amendment similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, although he has outlined the issue far more eloquently than I could have done.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I remember Adlestrop. Before I go into the more general argument, we have spoken to a representative of the leaseholders of Adlestrop and, based on that conversation, we are not entirely sure whether the leaseholders are caught by the rural exemption. But that is a matter on which they must seek their own legal advice.

The rural exemption exists to prevent the break-up of country estates. When the right to enfranchise was first extended to leaseholders who could not pass the low rent test, it caused great concern among rural landowners. They argued that they would not have leased houses which were an integral part of their rural estate if they had thought there was any risk of the house being permanently detached from the estate as a result, and we have accepted that argument. There may be a case for amending the rural exemption to target it better at the kind of properties that we wish to exempt, and we are willing to look at this question in the longer term. However, I cannot make any greater commitment than that at this time. If we were to do that, we would have to consult interested parties, and I do not believe that we could realistically do that in time to deal with it in the Bill.

Lord Goodhart

I am grateful that the Minister is willing, in the longer term, to take another look at this issue. It seems to me that this problem is almost certainly over-estimated because, if the houses are potentially part of the estate, they are distinctly unlikely to be let for substantial terms. It is almost certainly an unjustified exemption.

Nevertheless, I accept that there would have to be consultation on the proposal in order to enable the landlords to put their case for retaining the exemption. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 233A: After Clause 133, insert the following new clause—