HL Deb 22 March 2001 vol 623 cc275-7GC

(" .—(1) Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (2), before paragraph (a) insert— (za) they consist of an individual house;".").

The noble Baroness said: The Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 makes provision for qualifying tenants in blocks of flats to have rights of first refusal when the landlord sells his interest. The Housing Act 1996 strengthened this provision and made it a criminal offence for the landlord not to offer the freehold to his tenants if he decided to sell it. There is again a discrepancy between flats and houses. House leaseholders do not have the right of first refusal. There have been instances in which whole estates of houses, in particular in the Midlands and the North East, have been bought over the heads of their leasehold owners by professional freehold companies. The amendment will put house leaseholders on a footing of equality with flat leaseholders as far as concerns the right of first refusal. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I understand the concern but I do not believe that we can deal with it as simply as this amendment. In this case the noble Baroness is absolutely right that there is a difference between houses and flats. There are some problems with the existing legislation that governs the right of first refusal in relation to flats, and we may need to look at that. However, it would require lengthy amendments to existing legislation to achieve this objective. We would probably need to draft fresh provisions with which we cannot realistically deal in the timescale of the Bill.

We are aware that there is a loophole in the existing right of first refusal in relation to flats, in that it does not apply to the sale of a company that owns a freehold as opposed to the sale of the freehold itself. Therefore, companies can be sold without the flat leaseholder having the right of refusal in real terms.

If we looked at the whole area we would look at the shortcomings of the existing provisions as well as their extension to the housing area, which raises separate issues. The noble Baroness must be fed up with my saying that I have deep sympathy with what she is trying to do, but I do not believe we can do it simply by this method. We do not have the time or scope to do it within this Bill.

Baroness Hamwee

As the Minister said, this is similar to answers that the Minister has given to other amendments. I do not expect him to respond to this point but nevertheless I make it. I hope that the Government will consider, if the Bill falls because of the dissolution of Parliament in the event of an election, but is brought back afterwards, making real efforts to use the opportunity to pick up many of the points being made in this technical area. It is fairly unlikely that we will have a chance to come back to the question during the next Parliament. We might, of course—who knows—but it would be a pity if opportunities were Missed.

Baroness Hanham

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said something that I was going to say. A number of the amendments that I have produced are technical, but they concern practical issues that have arisen as a result of previous legislation not working as well and as comprehensively as it should.

I hope that the Minister will not tire of me saying that I am grateful for his response. I hope that we can keep an eye on these matters and, as appropriate legislation becomes available during the coming months and years, we can look forward to an opportunity to put them right.

Lord Monson

Many of the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, are indeed technical. She is right to ask the Government to get them through at some stage. However, Amendment No. 247 is more than technical; it is quite serious. I admit that I was caught off guard and have not studied it, but I hope that the Government will think carefully before adopting it. It represents quite a major change and should not be accepted, even in principle, without very serious thought.

Lord Whitty

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she did not expect a response; the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, then added to that. Clearly, we take this matter seriously; the Government will look at it further.

As to the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which seemed to presume the result of the general election, the contents of the Queen's Speech, and the parliamentary programme for the next Session, I could not possibly comment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 143 agreed to.

Clause 144 [Section 143: supplementary]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 248 and 249: Page 66, leave out lines 13 to 15. Page 66, line 17, at end insert (", and

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 144, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 145 agreed to.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 250: After Clause 145, insert the following new clause—