HL Deb 06 December 1982 vol 437 cc11-55

3.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Lord Bishopston moved a Amendment No. 11:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause:

Prohibition of premiums

(".—(1) Any person who, as a condition of the making of an agreement under this Act or the approval of the assignment of such an agreement, requires in addition to the sums payable in pursuance of the agreement the payment of any premium shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) Any person who, in connection with the making of an agreement under this Act or the approval of the assignment of such an agreement, receives any premium in addition to the sums payable in pursuance of the agreement shall be guilty of an offence.

(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100.

(4) The court by which a person is convicted of an offence under this section may order the amount of the premium to be repaid to the person by whom it was paid.

(5) Proceedings for an offence under this section may be instituted by any local authority.

(6) Where an offence under this section committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary, or similar officer of the body corporate, or any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

(7) Where any premium is paid and the whole or any part of that premium could not lawfully be required or received under this section, the amount of the premium or, as the case may be, so much of it as could not lawfully be required or received, shall be recoverable by the person by whom it was paid.

(8) For the purposes of this section, "premium" includes—

  1. (a) any fine or other like sum;
  2. (b) (subject to paragraph (c) below) any other pecuniary consideration in addition to the sums payable pursuant to the agreement; and
  3. (c) the excess over the fair market price of any price paid for the mobile home,
but does not include any discount of commission provided for by this Act.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 11 standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It might be helpful in moving this amendment if I were to refer to last Thursday's Committee stage very briefly. I rather feel that many noble Lords, interested people and organisations outside who read last week's Committee proceedings on the Bill must have been very disappointed with the Government's reactions to the amendments which have been tabled. The noble Lord the Minister will know better than I that he has received a great many representations over a period of time from organisations representing people such as mobile home owners and residents, Shelter, the National Consumer Council and others—and there has been a great deal of publicity in the press. I believe that many people, like myself, welcome the Bill not for what it contains but for the opportunity it gives us to deal with some of the anomalies, injustices and evasions not covered by the Mobile Homes Act 1975.

We all know that there is unequal bargaining power between the site owners and mobile homes residents. We have already received reminders of how many such residents are elderly people—I believe the figure is 25 per cent. Some are young people and some are probably not able to express their views about their rights as they should. So this Bill was welcomed as an opportunity to look at some of these outstanding injustices.

If the Bill becomes an Act, as one anticipates it will, then site owners and others will say that Parliament has just passed this legislation, that it is bang up to date, and that therefore it is a fair Bill. But surely the noble Lord the Minister himself must know that there are many loopholes in this Bill which need closing up during the period when this legislation is going through its various stages. I only say this because I hope that the Minister is prepared this afternoon and at later stages to concede either some amendments or the spirit of some amendments in order that we may progress in making the Bill even more effective. We do not want a Bill that is balanced one way or the other either in favour of site owners or residents, because of the possible consequences to which the noble Lord the Minister has referred.

I believe we ought to close some of the loopholes—and the amendment to which I am about to speak is certainly directed towards one of those. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will be able to put into practice the impression which he gave in all sincerity at Second Reading, that he was prepared to look at some of these matters sympathetically, to see what could be done. In this new clause we want to stop site owners from requiring or receiving a premium in connection with mobile homes. This will be roughly in accordance with Part 9 of the Rent Act 1977. Perhaps I ought not to mention that Act or the Housing Act 1980, because the noble Lord the Minister does not seem to think that either should apply to mobile home owners. Certainly we do not want those two Acts to cover all the varying but in some ways similar circumstances which apply to mobile home residents and site owners, but we do think they have some merits so far as security and the prevention of abuse are concerned. The noble Lord the Minister may recall his own department's report of 1977, which, on page 11, said of the 1975 Act: The Act does not appear to deal with premium payments of any kind if they are charged outside the terms of the agreement and it is not yet certain which, if any, of these additional charges are open to challenge in the courts. Connection charges and premiums charged to new residents entering the site seem usually to be paid outside the terms of the agreement".

I think that quotation from the Ministry's report of a few years ago outlines the need for action.

The extra charges may take many forms, including £100 or much more for the agreement itself, for merely making the agreement. One can see that there are reasons for many other charges, such as service amenity charges and so on; but it seems to us that premium charges have no justification whatever. Unless the measure actually says so, the practice, which now causes so much trouble, expense and worry to so many residents, will continue. So we want to stop the taking of premiums on the making of an agreement under the Act or on the giving of approval to an assignment. It is a form of key money which is quite unjustified.

I would like to know whether it is the intention of the Government that the owner shall be entitled or otherwise to make a charge for offering an agreement under the Act or for giving approval to an assignment in accordance with paragraph 8 of Schedule 1. If so, they should say so. But if the Government say, "No, that is not the intention", then clearly there is justification for the amendment. The new clause makes it clear that such a charge should not be either demanded or received. This applies to all charges, whether imposed as part of the statutory agreement or outside it.

The amendment prohibits premiums. It is modelled on Part IX of the Rent Act 1977; the wording is very much the same as in this amendment. That has worked well, as I understand it, and it allows for recovery of premiums actually paid. I believe that the Committee will be well advised to support this amendment, and the Minister will be well advised to support the idea of making it quite clear that the Government are against premiums by putting that in the legislation. In that way they will help those who are not blessed with a solicitor—as are people who purchase other forms of homes—to deal with titles and similar matters. This will make it clear beyond all doubt that the charging of premiums on top of all the other charges which may be quite necessarily incurred is quite unjustified. I beg to move.

3.13 p.m.

Lord Avebury

I am sure the Minister will appreciate from the correspondence in the DoE that this is a matter which concerns mobile home occupiers almost as much as the level of the actual charges imposed. I think one should say also that it is not quite as simple a matter to deny the payment of key money to the owner of a mobile home site as it is in the case of furnished rented properties. The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, mentioned the 1977 Act. The provisions go back earlier than that, in fact to the Rent Act of 1968. Parliament considered that it was wrong that premiums should be charged in that manner for the granting of an agreement to occupy a furnished letting. On similar reasoning, we would say that it is fundamentally inequitable for premiums or key money to be charged as a condition of the granting of an agreement under this Bill or under the Mobile Homes Act which preceded it.

In many cases the site owner is also selling the mobile home, and he can simply charge a little more than he would otherwise have done so as to obtain a concealed premium. The amendment we are now proposing to your Lordships tries to cope with this by extending the meaning of the word "premium" to include any sum over and above the fair market price. There can be many ways in which such sums are charged, as appears from paragraph 342 of the department's 1977 document: Residents may have to make a number of lump sum payments, often amounting to several hundred pounds and in some instances much more than that. These may be in the form of connection charges, a premium or contribution to development costs to enter the site, or within a 'package deal' price for the sited home. The commission is payable to the site owner where the home is sold on site to a third party, or a discount on the price paid if the site owner buys it himself, at rates of normally between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. of the sale price". The DoE document goes on to say that there should be an implied covenant that all charges of whatever nature should be reasonable, with the ability to refer disputes to arbitration.

In this Bill the court is required by Clause 2(5) to see that charges are just and equitable, and that should certainly apply to any sums demanded in respect of improvements or new facilities. It would be helpful if the Minister were to say something about the ability of site owners to charge sums to the existing residents for the recovery of any capital expenditure which may be incurred—for example, on new drainage, in which there is frequently some attempt to make a levy on existing occupiers—not as key money or premiums for coming on to the site but as a condition for allowing them to remain in possession of the pitches which they already occupy.

This is a very widespread problem, as can be seen from some of the documents; for example, that from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux talking about the 15 per cent. charge payable to the site owner. The memorandum of the National Consumer Council speaks of representations which they have had from a number of sites, including one in Nottinghamshire, which refers to at least one mobile home site which has been sold three times and each time the site owner has received a 15 per cent. commission and increased the pitch fee. We have received representations from the leader of the East Hampshire Liberals, which conducted an intensive local survey on problems faced by mobile home occupiers in that area. He says that they are indignant about the 15 per cent. commission which owners take on any sale, especially when some homes can now cost up to £20,000. So we are not talking about sums of a few hundred pounds, as the DoE document mentions; we are actually talking in this case about a sum of £3,000. If the mobile home changes hands, as in the Nottinghamshire case, three times in a year the site operator has made £9,000 out of a single pitch without lifting a finger.

If we allow such an enormous loophole to prevail in the Bill. I really do not think we are doing our job. If the noble Lord says that our amendment does not meet the evil to which I am addressing myself, then I hope he will say that he is seized of the problem and that the department will look at it very closely. Then perhaps the noble Lord will come back before Report stage with comprehensive amendments to the Bill which will take care not just of the premiums or key money charged for entry on to the site but all the other charges which may be levied on the unsuspecting mobile home owner, who goes on to the site imagining that once he has entered into an agreement for a pitch fee that will be the end of the matter and he cannot be caught for any other amounts. In fact, as we have seen from the examples which have been drawn to our attention, this is far from the case and owners may be faced with enormous imposts which it would be very difficult to pay. This is really one of the most serious loopholes in the Bill. I very much hope that the noble Lord will accept this amendment, but if he cannot I hope that he will come forward with proposals of his own before we come to Report stage. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

In response to the opening observations of the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, that there may be those who are disappointed having read some of our proceedings last Thursday, may I say first that I am sure they will be offset by those who will be very relieved having read those proceedings. As comes out again and again in our discussions, there are two sides and two groups of people whom we are seeking to protect. I only wish, if the noble Lord felt so badly about what he calls the evasions not covered by the 1975 Act, that someone at that time would have tried to anticipate the things to which our attention is being drawn today. Of course, we do not want loopholes, but one needs to know the definition of a loophole. One person's loophole is apparently something that is very desirable to others. That is what we are trying to protect in seeking to get the best Bill that we can.

The effect of the new clause is to make it a criminal offence for a site owner to charge a premium either as a condition of granting an agreement or as a condition of approving the assignment of an agreement, although it allows the charging of commissions and discounts on sale. I am not sure that it would achieve what the noble Lords have in mind. It may be helpful if I explain what the Bill already does in this area. The Bill imposes an absolute duty on site owners to offer agreements to all residential occupiers—those on site at commencement and those whom they allow to come on to site subsequently. There are no conditions on that offer and it is open to occupiers to accept the agreement freely. The Bill does not, therefore, allow a site owner to charge a premium as a condition of offering an agreement. Nor does it allow him to charge a premium as a condition of approving the assignment of an agreement. All he can charge on assignment is his commission—or discount—on the price of the mobile home. It is the case that the Bill does not make it a criminal offence to charge premiums in this way but I do not believe that criminal action is either necessary or desirable here. I would take some convincing that it was.

The Bill will, therefore, already achieve at least part of what this new clause, as drafted, sets out to do. But I suspect that its promoters, as they have said, have a rather different target in mind—that is, the premium that site owners charge new occupiers who bring new homes on to their sites. Let us be very clear here. These premiums are charged not as a condition of granting an agreement, but, in effect, as a condition of granting the right to station the new mobile home in the first place.

It is not our intention to prohibit this sort of premium. What often happens is that a prospective occupier identifies a new mobile home that he wants to buy and agrees with the site owner that he should bring it on to site. The site owner then arranges the transportation of the mobile home to the site and charges the occupier both the costs of transportation and connection and a proportion of the overall price as a "premium". We do not believe that this sort of premium should be prohibited, for two reasons: First, an occupier can very easily find out how much a site owner plans to charge on this basis. If the premium is excessive, he can simply go to another site. He certainly does not have to accept it. It is not a surprise or something about which he does not know.

Lord Avebury

Is the Minister aware that there is a shortage of sites in this country? We are not faced with a completely free market. It is like the market for rented homes, where Parliament prohibited the charging of key money. Therefore, does not the noble Lord consider that these charges ought to be fair and reasonable, as is provided for on the weekly pitch fees under Clause 2(5)?

Lord Bellwin

Perhaps I may be allowed to finish what I want to say and we can then debate this in the normal way. The noble Lord says that there is a shortage of pitch sites. That is not my information. In any case, this is a matter of supply and demand. The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, so often refers to the Rent Acts. I in turn so often refer to the shortcomings of the Rent Acts and what they have done to reduce the availability of accommodation. The same must surely apply in principle here. That is why on Second Reading I said that what we do not want is a Rent Act type Bill.

I come back to my point about the opportunity for the occupier either to accept or not to accept a site that is offered. That seems clear enough to me. Surely a site owner who attempts to charge excessive premiums is likely to find himself without any occupiers beause no one will pay more than he can afford or pay more if he can do better elsewhere. Secondly, these premiums represent an important part of a site owner's income. The result of prohibiting them would be increases in pitch fees for all occupiers, unless we were prepared to control the level of pitch fees, which we are not. I do not think that such a result is in the interest of occupiers as a whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to levies on existing residents to pay for capital works. A site owner can only recover charges that are provided for in the agreement. If the agreement offered to an occupier allows the site owner to make such charges in a way that the occupier considers unreasonable, surely he should challenge the agreement when it is first offered to him. The site owner cannot go beyond what the original agreement says.

Your Lordships will have gathered that the Government do not want to accept the amendment, but in saying that the one point I do accept is that it is a difficult area. Whenever one seeks to do what we are doing in the Bill, and to find a balance, there are those who feel that the weight of advantage is going to one side rather than the other. It is not easy to get the balance exactly right, but I believe that on the whole we are doing that.

Lord Bishopston

I am sure that the Committee is very disappointed with the Minister's reply. He talks about being fair between the two sides. I felt that his reply was well balanced on the side of both in that in one respect one point applies and in another something else applies. I gather the Bill does not allow a premium, but does not prevent it. It does not make it an offence to charge a premium. The Minister went on to give an impression that a premium was not possible under the Bill but later said that the premium represents an important part of the site owner's income. Therefore, he accepts that a premium is payable and I think I am right in saying that he justified it as a proper part of the site owner's income. I can imagine that site owners will be keeping a copy of today's Committee stage debate relating to the Minister's comments to that effect. I am sorry the Minister said that because he is saying that the site owners have been quite properly charging premiums and that he does not intend to make any changes.

We all know that people going on to these sites have to accept, and rightly so, many charges—connection charges, service charges, amenity charges, and so on—but the premium is quite unacceptable. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that there is a shortage of sites and I believe that is the position. One might say that if the mobile home owner does not want to accept any part of an agreement he can go elsewhere, but that may not be easy. One can have premiums imposed after one is on the site, and one cannot suddenly take away the mobile home and plonk it somewhere else. It is not as easy as all that. That is quite unacceptaable.

However, the point is that we are not asking for something new. If the Minister turns to Section 119 of the 1977 Act, he will see that the wording in our amendment regarding prohibition of premiums and loans on grants of protected tenancies is not dissimilar. Therefore, it is a criminal offence under the 1977 Act. I am not suggesting—and I have said this many times—that we should make a blanket change in this Bill from all that the 1977 Act and the 1980 Act provide, because this Bill has a much more limited range of provisions. But we feel that, if the Minister believes that premiums are unjustified, then he ought to put it into the Bill so that there is no doubt whatever about it in the minds of site owners or residents living in mobile homes. I rather feel that his final comment, that the premium represents an important part of the site owner's income, is not only accepting the position but also justifying it. I hope that the Committee will support the amendment and help to keep the balance between the interests of site owners and of residents.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I should like to support what my noble friend has said about the rather confusing statement of the Minister which I, too, could not quite follow. Surely, if we allow a loophole, then someone will take advantage of it. As I understand it, we are trying to prevent the loophole whereby a site owner makes some money on top of what he deserves anyhow. Surely the Minister must agree that the new clause makes it explicit that such charges should not be demanded or received—indeed, this applies to all charges whether imposed as part of the agreement or outside it. As the Minister said, the point of the Bill is to keep a balance between those two aspects, and in this case I do not think that he has followed that up in what he has said.

Lord Bellwin

I should like to make a last observation. I am not sure what the noble Baroness means when she says that the site owner may charge "on top of what he deserves". I do not know what the noble Baroness meant by "what he deserves". I should have thought that he would say to someone who comes along wishing to place a mobile home on his site, "This is what I want from you". It is then up to that person to say that the amount is too much, it is not acceptable or, "What you want is not acceptable". It is up to that person to decide and if he does not want it then he does not take it. If the site owner is asking more than the amount that anyone will pay, then he will not get anything from anyone. It seems clear enough to me. It is quite straightforward.

Lord Avebury

I do not want to prolong this discussion. However, one point that has not been mentioned is the reluctance of the local authorities to grant planning permission and site licences for new mobile home parks. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of that and that the department is familiar with the arguments that local authorities put forward against the development of these sites and the imposition of obligations on a local authority as a result of having mobile homes within its area. It cannot be disputed that the use of mobile homes as a form of residential accommodation is highly unpopular among planning authorities, who resist to the teeth the development of any new ones. That is why I said in my earlier remarks that there is a shortage, particularly in certain areas.

The noble Minister may be correct in thinking that there are some parts of the country where there is a sufficient number of mobile home parks for the would-be occupier to make the kind of decision about which he was talking. If he finds on entering into negotiations with a particular site owner that the premiums charged, the connection fees, the siting charges and the commission all add up to something which he is not prepared to pay, he can say, "All right, I will go to the other mobile home park just down the road". However, there are certain counties, one of which, to my knowledge, is Hampshire, where there is not a superabundance of these sites and the person who wishes to live in a mobile home does not have a choice. He may have already committed himself to this form of living. He may have retired shortly before and want small accommodation because he cannot sustain the burden of looking after a house. He may move into a mobile home because he thinks that it will be easier to look after, and he may not have the ability to pick and choose in the manner that the Minister portrays. That is why I believe that he needs the type of protection that the amendment would afford him and, therefore, it is really necessary to have it written into the Bill.

Lord Jaques

It appears to me that the Minister is contemplating two agreements. First, there is a verbal agreement which does not come under the Bill—for example, when the caravan owner wants a site he seeks out the site owner and they come to a verbal agreement that he will pay "X" in order to put his caravan on that site. Secondly, the Minister seemed to be contemplating that there would at a later date be a written agreement as provided for by this Bill. Is the Minister contemplating a verbal agreement and a written agreement?

Lord Bellwin

Not at all. The noble Lord has not read the Bill at all, because if he had done so he would have seen that what is proposed is that for the very first time those coming onto a site will have the right to receive a written offer of an agreement—something which they have not had previously. The mobile home owner has the right to have the notice in a form that the Secretary of State will prescribe. It will not be just any type of odd notice. If he does not get it, he has redress. So what we are proposing in the Bill is a whole advance on what was in the 1975 Act. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who was deeply involved in that Act, and even, I think, in earlier legislation of this kind, will be the first to confirm that what I am saying is correct. We are here trying to protect the interests of occupiers of mobile homes who in the past have not had this type of protection. We are going a long way down that road, and because we are going so far down that road, quite naturally there are representations made to us by those on the other side of the fence who feel that we are going too far.

We are trying here to get a balance in doing justice and in making a tolerable situation for both sides. There is no question at all of two agreements. There will be the right to have a written agreement so that there will then be the kind of take-up to which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred last week as not having occurred because people did not know that they had that right. Now we are bringing in a form that will not only ensure its existence but will make it obligatory to tell people that it is there in a written form. That is what we are doing and that is all that we are doing. But, when I say "all", it is a very big "all", because it is trying to keep a balance between the interests of all parties.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

Will the Minister tell me how the inclusion of this clause would jeopardise the interests of the site owner?

Lord Bellwin

As I said previously, if we try to impose restrictions on the right to charge what is called a premium for the kind of services that I mentioned previously—namely, cost of transportation, cost of connection, and so on—then we shall be imposing restrictions upon them regarding something which we think it perfectly proper for them to do, because they are able to tell the prospective occupier of the home what it will mean to him if he wants to come to their site.

I thought that the point which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made as to availability was a very fair point, in that I am sure that there are parts of the country where it is much harder to get a site than in others. I accept that point and I would not try to say otherwise. However, when you try to strike a balance and to do something for everyone you do not get the ultimate that you would like to see everywhere and you compromise in the end to get the best you can, and that is really all that we are doing.

Lord Jacques

In the absence of this amendment, would an owner who charges a premium, allows the caravan to come on to the site and then later offers an agreement which makes no reference to the premium which the owner has already received, be committing an offence under the Bill?

Lord Bellwin

The Bill says that it will be obligatory to offer an agreement. The terms of that agreement will be those which we will prescribe. We said earlier when discussing this matter that we were having consultation now upon the level of what the discount should be. We have had long consultations with all sides on this Bill and we have listened carefully to representations. We have brought the Bill to its present stage by taking notice of what all the interested parties have wanted to do. As the noble Lord will appreciate, we continue to receive representations. We continue to get them until the end of the proceedings. However, the Secretary of State prescribes what the notice should say and what has to be involved in an agreement, and whether anything else goes on outside certainly has nothing to do with the Bill.

Lord Bishopston

I do not wish to detain the Committee for more than a moment, but in relation to what my noble friends have said, I would remind the noble Lord the Minister of the DoE report of 1977, which, at paragraph 356, says: It is also unclear how far the Act"— and that refers to the Mobile Homes Acthas succeeded for those who have agreements in outlawing certain restrictive practices. The Act does not appear to deal with premium payments of any kind if they are charged outside the terms of the agreement and it is not yet certain which, if any, of these additional charges are open to challenge in the courts. Connection charges and premiums charged to new residents entering the site seem usually to be paid outside the terms of the agreement. That, of course, is another loophole, because not only can you charge a premium, but you can do it one way or the other. This point has not really been answered by the Minister. I hope the Committee will make it quite clear in the interests of all concerned by putting the amendment—or terms like it which the Minister might introduce later—into the Bill.

3.42 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 11) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 86.

Airedale, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Amherst, E. Collison, L.
Amulree, L. Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.
Ardwick, L. Darwen, L.
Avebury, L. [Teller.] David, B.
Aylestone, L. Denington, B.
Bacon, B. Diamond, L.
Banks, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Barrington, V. Elwyn-Jones, L.
Beswick, L. Ewart-Biggs, B.
Birk, B. Fisher of Rednal, B.
Bishopston, L. Gaitskell, B.
Blyton, L. Gormley, L.
Briginshaw, L. Hale, L.
Brockway, L. Hampton, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Hanworth, V.
Burton of Coventry, B. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Byers, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Caradon, L. Jacques, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Shinwell, L.
John-Mackie, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Leatherland, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Listowel, E. Stone, L.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Strabolgi, L.
Milverton, I. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Molloy, L. Vernon, L.
Oram, L. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Paget of Northampton, L.
Peart, L. Walston, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, 1. Wells-Pestell, L.
Rea, L. Whaddon, L.
Sainsbury, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Seear, B. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Sefton of Garston.L.
Adeane, L. McFadzean, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Mancroft, L.
Alport, L. Margadale, L.
Ampthill, L. Marley, L.
Atholl, D. Melville, V.
Auckland, L. Merrivale, L.
Avon, E. Mersey, V.
Bellwin, L. Mottistone, L.
Brookes, L. Mountevans, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Newall, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Northchurch, B.
Clancarty, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. O'Hagan, L.
Clitheroe, L. Onslow, L.
Cottesloe, L. Orkney, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Penrhyn, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Porritt, L.
De Freyne, L. Reigate, L.
De La Warr, E. Ridley, V.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Rugby, L.
Derwent, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Dudley, B. St. Davids, V.
Ebbisham, L. St. Just, L.
Ellenborough, L. Sandford, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Fortescue, E. Soames, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Spens, L.
Gainford, L. Stamp, L.
Greenway, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Gridley, L.
Harvey of Prestbury, L. Sudeley, L.
Hayter, L. Swansea, L.
Hill-Norton, L. Swinton, E, [Teller.]
Home of the Hirsel, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Thorneycroft, L.
Killearn, L. Trefgarne, L
Kinloss, Ly. Trumpington, B.
Kinnaird, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Vickers, B.
Lauderdale, E. Vivian, L.
Lloyd, L. Wilberforce, L.
Long, V. Wise, L.
Loudoun, C. Young, B.
Lyell, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 4 agreed to.

3.50 p.m.

Clause 5 [Interpretation]:

Lord Bishopston moved Amendment No. 12: Page 3, line 23, leave out ("the arbitrator") and insert ("an arbitrator appointed for this purpose by the President for the time being of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors").

The noble Lord said: There is still hope yet of getting some satisfaction, but the last amendment was very important and it rather revealed the Government's attitude to the measure. Despite their fine words about providing a balanced Bill, in fact the Government do not seem to be prepared to put in those amendments, or the substance of them, which we feel are essential to clarity and justice. This amendment, which I am moving with Amendment No. 13, is very important indeed. There have been many representations made about it.

One should look at one or two parts of the Bill to see exactly what it has to say. The purpose of these amendments is to be sure that the arbitrators who are appointed—or the arbiters in Scotland, I suppose—are really independent, because without fair arbitration there is no justice. The Bill refers in various places to the powers of the courts. I am a magistrate, and those who are aware of the work of the magistrates' courts, the county courts and other aspects of justice, get the impression that there are people sitting on the Bench who are fair-minded and are prepared to consider all aspects of cases put before them and come to a fair conclusion.

However, in this Bill Clause 5 says: … unless the context otherwise requires— 'the court' means—

  1. (a) in relation to England and Wales, the county court or, where the parties have agreed in writing to submit any question arising under this Act or, as the case may be, any agreement made under it to arbitration, the arbitrator;
  2. (b) in relation to Scotland, the sheriffor, where the parties have so agreed, the arbiter;"

Therefore, the court can be an arbiter or arbitrator.

If one is going to expect the justice, the fair-mindedness and the impartiality of the courts, one has to ask whether the arbiter, or arbitrator, is so fairly-minded to look at the cases put before him and to come to a fair conclusion; but the Bill gives no assurance that that is the case. There is no identity mentioned in the Bill as to who the arbitrator should be. One has to have regard to the kind of people living on mobile home sites. Many are quite capable of looking after themselves, of reading the small print, of looking to see what their rights are or indeed their responsibilities. However, there are many people, not only on mobile home sites but in any other kind of accommodation, who do not find it easy to work out these matters. Therefore, a site owner who is not as fair-minded as one would expect could suggest an arbitrator who was tilted in the direction of his own particular interests.

The fact that the arbitrator may have to be agreed between the parties is no case at all for anticipating justice because there are problems of pressures and harassment, and so forth, which can be applied to the site tenants, to the mobile home owners and occupiers, and they may not be able to understand parts of the agreement. It will be of course the site owner, under the Bill, who will have to produce the text of the agreement, and it can easily be that the significance of any part of the agreement is not appreciated by those who will be affected by it. Therefore, we have a situation where there is potential unfairness at a time when we are seeking to keep the balance of fairness between the two, and the bargaining power is not equal. After all, the mobile home resident is on the site by the kind permission of the site owner and he, or she, is the one who can set the pace.

The seriousness of the position arises when we turn from the interpretation of Clause 5, which says that "the court" can mean an arbitrator, to page 5, Schedule 1, paragraph 6, where you get such aspects as:

"[Termination by court]

(1) The court shall be entitled to terminate the agreement if, on the application of the owner, the court is satisfied that the occupier is not occupying the mobile home as his only or main residence."

It also goes on to say in sub-paragraph (2): The court shall be entitled to terminate the agreement",

for various reasons if, the mobile home— (a) is having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site;".

We are not dealing with a court, with a judge, or magistrates, who are concerned with impartiality and justice. We can have one part of the interpretation of Clause 5 which says that the court can be an arbitrator, and there is no limitation on who the arbitrator should be. It could be a friend of the site owner; it could be his brother-in-law, or his agent. If poor Mrs. Smith, who is being asked to come to an agreement, is asked whether she will agree to Mr. Brown or Mrs. Green to arbitrate and the site owner says, "Well, I think we can trust their impartiality. I am sure you will agree to that", she may say, "Well, that is all right". There is no limitation in the Bill as to who the arbitrator shall be.

The seriousness is underlined in paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 1 which says that the agreement can be terminated if, the mobile home— (a) is having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site;".

Who is to say what that really means? What is meant by having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site? This is a matter of opinion. I submit it will even defy the good sense and impartiality of what we know to be a properly constituted court, much less an arbitrator, who may not be all that impartial. We believe that there should be an amendment. I am sure that the Minister, in his fair-mindedness, will accept the principle anyway.

The amendment says: an arbitrator appointed for this purpose by the President for the time being of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

That is not an unusual clause, or requirement. It is in many areas where impartiality is expected, and it is left to the Institution. Indeed, if the Minister would like to suggest another body—a professional body whose recommendations, I am sure, will be really accepted as being impartial—I think we will accept it. This question of restricting the area of the appointment of arbitrators is very important, especially when security of tenure on the site is at risk, and mobile home residents can suffer a real sense of injustice.

Many organisations are concerned about this—the National Consumer Council and Shelter, for instance—and let us remember that we are not talking about an arbitration service. The Bill refers to "an arbitrator", not "an arbitration service"; if it did, one would have greater confidence in its impartiality. As I say, it would be easy for a site owner to pass off a relative, friend or employee as an independent arbitrator, so making the mobile home resident vulnerable.

Those are some aspects that the Committee should consider when viewing the amendment, and I feel that, unless the Minister either accepts the amendment or is prepared to name an alternative impartial or professional body to help in this situation, the amendment should be supported. We are here trying to close yet another loophole in the Bill, one which seems to be wide open.

Lord Bellwin

To listen to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, one would think we were introducing some wicked legislation seeking to impose a great new regime on all mobile home occupiers in order to grind them into the dust.

Lord Bishopston

Many think so.

Lord Bellwin

Need I remind the noble Lord yet again that the Government are introducing the Bill and that he is trying to find what he calls loopholes to ensure, I presume, that the interests of one side are not disadvantaged? That is fine and is what a Committee stage is supposed to be about; but that is not the only thing we are doing. Need I say yet again that we are trying to get a balanced situation so that all the parties concerned have all their interests properly protected? If we cannot get to that optimum situation, we are concerned to get as near to it as possible.

So that the noble Lord shall have no doubt, I say straight away that I do not accept the amendment. I, too, am a magistrate and therefore appreciate the impartiality and expertise of magistrates. The Bill provides for disputes to be settled by the court; it defines the court in England and Wales either as the county court or, if the parties agree to submit to arbitration any questions or agreements under the Bill, an arbitrator. In Scotland the court is either the sheriff or, again, if the parties have agreed to arbitration, an arbiter. The Bill does not attempt to define who the arbiter should be.

The effect of the amendment would be to restrict the choice of an arbitrator to a person appointed by the incumbent president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I believe that to be an unnecessary and, indeed, unwelcome restriction. I do not see why a site owner and occupier should not be able to choose the arbitrator they want. I do not for one moment question the ability of the president of the RICS to make a wise choice, but there may be a person known locally to both site owner and occupier who would be perfectly competent to arbitrate between them and who would not cost very much. Is it really necessary to remove from the parties to the dispute the ability to choose who the arbitrator should be? For all his virtues, the president of the RICS cannot know everyone who would make a good arbitrator, and dare I say that his choice would not be likely to be cheap?

It may be said that the site owner would try to impose his own choice of arbitrator on the occupier. But the person appointed must be agreed either at the time of the dispute or else be one provided for in the agreement under the Bill. If both parties do not agree, the dispute goes to court. It would be foolish of a site owner to persist with his own choice of arbitrator to the point at which the occupier demanded what would normally be a more expensive and drawn out process in court.

I shall not speak at greater length on the subject, otherwise I should have to bring a mobile home here, considering the time it would take to get through these proceedings. I would only say that I believe the amendment is unnecessarily restrictive and, for that reason, I cannot accept it.

Lord Avebury

The Minister did not deal with the second point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, about the relationship of the definition in Clause 5 and the powers of the court in Schedule 1(6). As the noble Lord pointed out, the parties may have agreed in writing to submit any question arising under the Bill to arbitration, and when they do that the arbitrator may take the place of the court. According to the definition, the court is then given power in Schedule 1(6), to terminate the agreement if, on the application of the owner, the court is satisfied— which means the arbitrator— that the occupier is not occupying the mobile home as his only or main residence". Is that what the Minister really wants? Does he want to give such sweeping powers to the arbitrator—not the court—to deprive the resident of his occupation on the grounds that he is not occupying his mobile home as his only or principal residence or that it is having a detrimental effect on the amenities of the site? The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, explained clearly that he did not think this was a suitable matter for an arbitrator to decide, that it should go before the county court and that the reference in the definition clause to the arbitrator should be limited to the clauses of the Bill and not extended to the schedules. I should be grateful if the Minister would deal with that point before we part with the amendment.

Returning to the substance of the matter, we are in some difficulty because, as I understand it (the Minister appeared to confirm this in his reply) while the parties to an agreement may decide to submit any question arising under the measure to arbitration, unless they specify who the arbitrator shall be or how he shall be chosen at that point—when, as the Minister said, he will be a person agreed at the time of the dispute—there is no provision to say what should happen when a site operator and occupier cannot agree. They then reach an impasse and that is not a satisfactory state in which to leave the legislation.

In other words, there may be a dispute which causes enormous difficulty for either the occupier or the site operator—the Minister will see that I am being even-handed here—and while the dispute can be resolved only by reference to an arbitrator as provided for in the agreement, the parties have not been able to decide who the arbitrator shall be. In that situation there is no means of resolving the dispute under the Bill. I do not think that is what the Minister would like to see; he cannot want the provisions more or less left in mid-air.

We must provide, if we are to leave the provision saying that the arbitrator may be a person appointed "under the agreement", for what happens when a dispute arises and there is no person acceptable to both parties. That is the nub of the question to which the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, was addressing himself, and while I am tempted to agree with the Minister that perhaps a person appointed by the president of the RICS might not be cheap, at least he would introduce an element of certainty into the Bill, one which is at present lacking.

Lord Bellwin

Perhaps I might answer now that one point as to what happens if the parties cannot agree on who the arbitrator should be. As I understand it, at that point the court will have to adjudicate, and that is where the matter ends. The amendment says the person should be appointed by the president of the RICS, whereas the Bill aims at leaving it to the parties themselves. Only if they cannot decide who the arbitrator should be will the court decide. I suspect that in almost all cases they will be able to decide. In the odd cases it might not be possible to decide, but that is the way with most legislation in any case. But to seek to say who should make the appointment is not, I think, at all related to what we are trying to do.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I did not think that in introducing the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, was suggesting that the Government were proposing to grind the faces of the poor, and certainly I make no such suggestion. If I may say so, I can think of no one less likely to be concerned to grind the faces of the poor than the Minister, who has opposed the amendment. I should have thought that there was everything to be said for an amendment to this effect, not in order to prevent Government, or anyone else, from grinding the faces of the poor, but in order to avoid people feeling that perhaps advantage has been taken of them in the original agreement.

I should have thought that there were many precedents for statutory and other provisions regulating the appointment of arbiters, if not by the president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, then at least by someone else. For instance, in Scotland it is not at all unusual for a provision to be made in statute, or otherwise, for the arbiter to be appointed by the sheriff, which would ensure an appearance of impartiality. I am as surprised as is the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, that the Minister should resist the amendment, which I should have thought cannot conceivably do any harm, and might do some good.

Lord Jacques

The Minister has made it clear to the Committee that what the Government are seeking is—in his words—a balanced situation. I submit that in order to secure a balanced situation steps must be taken in the Bill to ensure that any arbitrator who is appointed is independent—that is to say, does not belong to one side or the other. If that is accepted, I must ask the Minister whether, if he does not agree to the present amendment, he is prepared to consider another amendment which would ensure that the arbitrator is independent. I ask that question because by such a provision we seek to achieve the objective which he himself has in mind—a balanced situation.

Lord Bellwin

If, as the Bill states, it is for both the parties themselves to agree who the arbitrator should be, then no one is appointing anyone at all. It is the two parties who themselves have to agree who is to be the arbitrator. It is only if they cannot agree that we have a situation in which (as was pointed out), in Scotland, the sheriff and, in England, the court will have to be the means of arbitration, if one may put it that way. But I cannot think of a position that is less of an imposition than one where the parties themselves have the right to decide who their arbitrator shall be. No party should impose an arbitrator upon another party; it does not arise. If the noble Lord and I were the two parties, he might say, "I want X to be the arbitrator", and I might reply, "I am sorry, old boy, but I prefer Y". He might ask, "Why?" If the noble Lord were to say "No, I don't agree with your suggestion", then I would say, "Let's see if we can find someone who we can both agree should be the arbitrator". I am fairly certain that we should find someone; in fact with the noble Lord involved I am certain that we should. But, if we could not decide on an arbitrator, then we should go to the court and it would decide. I do not see where the difficulty is there.

Lord Jacques

The Minister must know that in many circumstances the position is not so easy as he has made out. What happens is that there is a young man who is anxious to find a site for his caravan. He has found work, and he wants to find a site for his caravan. He finds a site, it is a suitable place, the rent is not unreasonable, and when he looks at the agreement he sees that Mr. X has been appointed as arbitrator. He regards that as unimportant. So far as he is concerned the main things have been agreed: he wants to get on to the site and get to work. He regards the name of the arbitrator as being of no account. But, if the Bill remains as it is at the moment, the person appointed could in fact be the agent of the site owner; he could even be the brother-in-law of the site owner. Surely if the Government want a balanced situation, they should ensure by means of the Bill that any arbitrator is in fact an independent arbitrator.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

; I should like to add a few words. The Minister spoke about the relative virtues of an arbitrator, but surely there is only one important virtue. It is not a question of whether he is tall, thin, rich or poor, but simply whether he is impartial. The major objective must be to find an arbitrator who is impartial. There might be a danger in leaving the situation as it is at present under the Bill, and, as my noble friend has said, there might be an occupier who has not understood the position. I am quite sure that it is not the same with the Minister, but the minds of some of us become a complete blank when we look at the small print in agreements. So why leave the danger in the agreement when it could be avoided in some other way?

Lord Bellwin

I really do not want to go on about this question, because otherwise we shall be here for several days, but, if what we are talking about is an arbitrator mutually agreed by both parties, I just cannot see how there can be any problem regarding someone reading the small print. If that is not independent, what is independent? I should have thought that an arbitrator appointed in that way would be far more likely to be regarded as an independent and acceptable choice than would anyone who is imposed by someone else, no matter how well-meaning and able he or she may be.

Lord Jacques

But I must point out to the Minister, as my noble friend behind me has pointed out, that over the years Parliament has often taken the view that it is absolutely essential that the arbitrator agreed by the parties should have the approval of an authority concerned with arbitration. The kind of provision that is contained in our amendment is already in many Acts of Parliament. If Parliament has decided that the provision has been necessary in previous Acts, why is it so absurd now, as the Minister is trying to imply?

Lord Campbell of Croy

I should like to add a few words to the debate, because it seems to me that a sledge-hammer is being taken to try to crack a local nut. Many people in my area in Scotland would certainly object to what it is proposed to add to the Bill—which is, that an arbitrator, or an arbiter, as he would be in Scotland, must be appointed by someone in London, instead of someone who could be agreed upon locally.

Lord Jacques

All we are trying to get from the Minister is an assurance that there shall be an independent arbitrator. If some other method of securing that objective is appropriate to Scotland, well and good. We are not trying to force on the people of Scotland something that they do not want—that is a red herring.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I think that other rural areas, or areas remote from London, would probably feel the same. Why should someone based in London appoint an arbitrator for all kinds of local areas when the parties themselves can agree on someone?

Lord Wilson of Langside

I do not want to take a sledge-hammer to crack what might be a very small nut. However, will the Minister correct me if I am wrong in thinking that, in the kind of situations to which the provisions will relate, it is reasonably foreseeable that one party to a written agreement may sign it, apparently agreeing to the appointment of an arbiter, and will not at all understand the implications of the agreement because he does not know who is the arbiter?

Lord Bellwin

I do not see how one can agree to an arbitrator if one does not know who he is. One would not agree unless one knew who he was. I really do not follow the point.

Lord Gore-Booth

I should like to return to the already over-travelled suggestion that if there could be a formulation which included a clearly understood interpretation of the term "agreeable to both parties", if a wording could be found for that, surely it would be the solution.

Lord Bellwin

What can be more agreeable than the right of both parties to agree among themselves to appoint an arbitrator? I can think of nothing that would be more satisfactory. I am really astonished to find that we are now into another half hour on the amendment.

Lord Bishopston

I think we are in need of some kind of arbitration, and I hope we do not have this by means of a Division if it can be avoided, as it can be by the Minister saying that this is clearly something which needs looking at again. From all the debates which have been held in your Lordships' House and in another place the Minister must know the position on mobile homes; and he will have read the debate in another place on 9th July, when Mr. Nicholas Lyell and his honourable friend Nicholas Baker took part in an adjournment debate on this matter. If one reads the terms used by those two honourable Members on the Minister's side of the House (I am not sure whether I would be in order in quoting them) I think one finds that they say, in effect, that in practice the Mobile Homes Bill is riddled with flaws, anomalies and loopholes.

Only about a third of the mobile home residents have agreements at all, and there is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding, as well as a lack of knowledge about rights and, indeed, responsibilities, on both sides—and lots of harassment, too. It is in this situation that the site owner can say, "I think that, as we cannot agree, we ought to have Mr. X or Mr. Y to look at this, and I think I can recommend someone who will do it fairly"; and many people will be pressured into accepting this because of fear of possible consequences, to put it no higher than that.

I think that if we could only get some assurance that the arbitrator would be appointed for his impartiality—we are not insisting on the RICS; it could be the Law Society (and it is not unusual that the chairman of the local law society should help on this matter) or some other body—it would be acceptable. What we are trying to do is protect the people who, albeit they will have to give agreement to whoever is appointed, will be assured that the person appointed is going to be fair and impartial. Indeed, I must not mention the rent officer again because the Minister loses control, almost, when I do, but if it was somebody who has experience in this kind of thing and who knows something about the problems, then this would be additionally helpful. But all we want is for the Minister to say, "This is a matter which has taken a little time, it has concerned your Lordships' Committee; I will have a look at it and come back at Report stage".

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?

4.23 p.m.

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 94.

Airedale, L. Boston of Faversham, L.
Amherst, E. Briginshaw, L.
Avebury, L. [Teller] Brockway, L.
Aylestone, L. Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Bacon, B. Byers, L.
Balogh, L. Caradon, L.
Banks, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Beswick, L. Collison, L.
Birk, B. Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.
Bishopston, L. Darwen, L.
BIyton, L. David, B. [Teller]
Denington, B. Listowel, E.
Diamond L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Oram, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Rea, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Sainsbury, L.
Fulton, L Sefton of Garston, L.
Gaitskell, B. Shackleton, L.
Gormley, L. Shinwell, L.
Hale, L. Stedman, B.
Hampton, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Hanworth, V. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stone, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Strabolgi, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Strauss, L.
Jaćques, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Jeger, B. Vernon, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
John-Mackie, L. Walston, L.
Kennet, L. Whaddon, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Wilson of Langside, L.
Leatherland, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Ailesbury, M. Lyell, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. McFadzean, L.
Atholl, D. Mancroft, L.
Auckland, L. Margadale, L.
Avon, E. Marley, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Melville, V.
Bellwin, L. Merrivale, L.
Brookes, L. Mersey, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Milverton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Mottistone, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Mountevans, L.
Clitheroe, L. Newall, L.
Colwyn, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cottesloe, L. O'Hagan, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Onslow, E.
De Freyne, L. Orkney, E.
De La Warr, E. Pender, L.
Denham, L. [Teller] Penrhyn, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Porritt, L.
Ebbisham, L. Reigate, L.
Eccles, V. Rugby, L.
Effingham, E. St. Davids, V.
Ellenborough, L. Sandford, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Ferrers, E. Soames, L.
Fortescue, E. Somers, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Stamp, L.
Gainford, L. Stradbroke, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Gibson-Watt, L.
Gore-Booth, L. Strathspey, L.
Greenway, L. Sudeley, L.
Gridley, L. Swansea, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swinfen, L.
Swinton, E. [Teller]
Hankey, L. Terrington, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Teviot, L.
Henley, L. Teynham, L.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Thorneycroft, L.
Kearton, L. Trefgarne, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Trumpington, B.
Kinnaird, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Vickers, B.
Lauderdale, E. Vivian, L.
Long, V. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Loudoun, C. Wise, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Agreements under Act]:

4.30 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 14: Page 5, line 16, at end insert ("; and (d) be in such form and include such terms as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State. (3) Regulation under this paragraph—

  1. (a) shall be made by statutory instrument; and
  2. (b) may make different provision with respect to different cases or description of case, including different provision for different areas.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 14 which stands in my name and in that of the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston. This deals with the point that cropped up indirectly on Amendment No. 11; that is to say, the right of the Secretary of State to prescribe the form of any agreement which may be reached between the occupier and the site operator. It seemed to me, from the remarks made by the noble Lord the Minister, that he was under the impression that the Secretary of State already had these powers because he said (and I took down the words) that the terms "will be that which we will prescribe". Later he said, "the Secretary of State prescribes what the notices shall say has to be involved in the agreement". So that if the noble Lord thinks that this is already within the powers of the Secretary of State, then I am sure that I need not spend much time in moving this amendment for he will already be on my side.

What the Bill actually says is that there are certain matters which have to be included in the agreement and these are specified in Part II of the schedule. Also there is a reference at the beginning of Part I of the schedule to some other matters which have to be specified. But this is not an exhaustive list. It does not include, for example, anything about the choice of arbitrator, which we have just been discussing. If the noble Lord thinks that the right way of approaching that question—and I know that we have disposed of it—would be that the site operator and the occupier, right at the start of their relationship, should agree on whom the arbitrator should be, or, if they do not specify a name, how he is to be appointed, then obviously that ought to be one of the matters laid down in the agreement. Then there does not arise the sort of dispute that we were talking about just now. It is because we were anxious that the agreement did not have to be as comprehensive as we thought it ought to be that we were discussing the possibility, at any rate, of these disputes arising.

Another very important matter which is not mentioned anywhere in Schedule 1 is the right of the site operator to lay down the rules which have to be observed by the occupiers. These rules can sometimes be very onerous. I do not suppose one would find it today but I have mentioned a case that came to my attention when I was first a councillor, some 21 years ago, a case of a site that was in my ward where the rules included a provision that no one should have a baby on the site. The person who came to me was desperate because she had become pregnant and was afraid that this was a contravention of the rules which would result in her being evicted from the site. That was a long time ago and I do not suppose that there are very many site operators who would seek to impose a provision of that sort today.

We want to ensure that the regulations made by the Secretary of State should include provisions regarding the site rules so that they do not impose the kind of onerous conditions that may be the result of an unequal bargain: because we are not talking here about an arm's length transaction in which the parties have equal powers—as the noble Lord the Minister would like to see. We on this side of the Committee agree with him that if one is talking about a free bargain in an open market between partners of equal powers, that would be absolutely wonderful; but in the conditions of shortage of supply and excess demand and the shortage of housing accommodation generally which impels people to look to mobile homes as an alternative to residential accommodation, then the bargain is very often an unequal one with the powers of the parties being extremely disparate.

Although we very much welcome the fact that in Part II there are certain matters which are enshrined in an agreement as of right—such as the right of the occupier to quiet enjoyment or, in Scotland, the right to undisturbed possession of the mobile home, which is fundamental—we think that many other equally important things are left out. In order to avoid having to specify them all in great detail in the Bill and in order to avoid the kind of inflexibility which would arise from trying to foresee every possible eventuality, in this amendment we should like to give the Secretary of State the powers that the noble Lord the Minister thought that he possessed already. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

Perhaps I can clarify this. This amendment is designed to amend the way in which the Bill deals with the contents of statutory agreements by adding a system of "model terms". The Bill currently provides, in Part I of Schedule 1, a list of requirements with which agreements must comply, in precise terms. Part II of Schedule 1 lists those subjects which an agreement must cover. It does not say how they are to be covered because that is a matter which site owner and occupiers will work out between them in the light of local circumstances. If an occupier does not like the way in which these subjects are dealt with in the agreement that is offered to him, he can ask a court or an arbitrator to change them.

The amendment would enable the Secretary of State to prescribe model terms for agreements, presumably in addition to the provisions in the schedule. We do not believe that the Secretary of State would wish to use that power. I think we must be absolutely clear what is meant by model terms. They simply provide a model agreement. Unless they are accompanied by controls on the content of the agreement, they do not go significantly further than the Bill already does. Let me give an example from Part II of Schedule 1. Paragraph 2 provides that an agreement must cover the, review at yearly intervals of the sums payable by the occupier in pursuance of the agreement". A model term on this point would presumably say something like, "The sums payable are to be reviewed annually, taking into account" et cetera. Unless we are prepared to specify the et cetera, this sort of model term would go no further than the Bill already does; and we do not want to fill in the rest.

There are other subjects on which it is not for us to say whether there should be rules or not. Let us take Paragraph 4: the preservation of the amenity of the protected site". It is not for us to say whether there should be rules about cats and dogs or not. I do not believe that model terms would significantly improve upon the approach the Bill uses and I ask noble Lords to reject this amendment. I do not see this in quite the same way as previous amendments. I am anxious, as is the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to get this right. We are talking now of definitions. I do not think it is a question of "desirable". I do not think the amendment is necessary. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord may wish to say further on the matter.

Lord Bishopston

I should have thought the Minister might be more forthcoming on this matter, because although we do not want to restrict or put too much in the Bill there is a need to give more guidance than is in it already and to have more safeguards. We think there would be room for substantial unfairness and injustice in agreements if we do not pass this kind of amendment. It would be very difficult for people who are not legally qualified to challenge the terms of such agreements. Of course, we are also concerned with agreements which can be terminated, and then the security of tenants is also affected. I am sure—we are unbiased as well—it will be in the interests of the site owner also to have this clarification and I hope that, whatever the Minister's response may be to this, the matter can be looked at before the later stages.

Lord Avebury

Just one further word in response to the Minister's invitation to clarify the purpose of the amendment. If I may take up where he left off about cats and dogs, the point is that under Part II of the schedule the site rules do not have to be included among the matters concerning which provision has to be made, and so the agreement between the occupier and the site owner could be completely silent regarding site rules. What I should like to see as a very minimum is for the Secretary of State to have power to prescribe additional matters for which provision has to be made in the agreement, so that in his wisdom he might see his way to treating the rules as something to be included in the agreement and not to be treated as something separate from it.

As I said earlier, we ought also to include provisions for arbitration. That is not going quite so far as the model agreement, because the model agreement might include very detailed provisions regarding the keeping of pets, and so on, as the Minister has mentioned. But the actual existence of the site rules and their incorporation in the agreement is something which I should have thought the Secretary of State would want to consider. Therefore if the department is not prepared to go down to the roots, as we have recommended, and to the kind of detail that would be required in a model agreement, then at the very least the Secretary of State should have power to add to the matters which are dealt with in Part II and which have to be covered by any agreement.

Lord Bellwin

I think that is slightly on a different tack. Clearly, I cannot accept this amendment but I want to read what the noble Lord has said: that I certainly will do. I must say that I do not feel any differently at all as I stand here, but I will certainly read what the noble Lord has said.

Lord Avebury

In that case, I shall be happy to seek your Lordships' permission to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.)

4.46 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy moved Amendment No. 16: Page 6, line 3, leave out ("at the end of a relevant period")

The noble Lord said: I think it will be convenient if we considered Amendment No. 19 with this one. I beg to move Amendment No. 16. As I see it, the Bill seeks to improve the system of agreements which was brought in under the 1975 Act. As I have been listening to my noble friend the Minister, it appears that he is building on the 1975 Act, which I remember going through this House when the party opposite were in government. From what I remember of those days I think the then Government thought they were providing a system of agreements which was the best balance possible at the time. Since then, in the light of the experience of the past seven years, problems have been thrown up and we are now trying to reconstruct the system of agreements and to improve them. I do not think it could be said that in 1975, when the Act was going through, the Government of the day thought it was going to be riddled with loopholes.

I think that the whole system of agreements needs to be improved now. Paragraph 2 of this schedule reads: The court shall be entitled to terminate the agreement at the end of the relevant period if, on the application of the owner, the court is satisfied that, having regard to its age and condition, the mobile home—

  1. (a) is having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site; or
  2. (b) is likely to have such an effect before the end of the next relevant period."

The aim is clearly to attain high standards of accommodation. As I am sure your Lordships know, there are mobile homes which do have a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site, to use the words of the schedule, or are likely to do so. These homes are usually occupied by elderly people and they are usually mobile homes which are themselves ageing or sub-standard. The general run of site owners will normally allow those elderly people to live out their lives, if they wish to do so, in those mobile homes without requiring them to be replaced even though they may be sub-standard. That, I think, is a principle with which all sides of your Lordships' Committee would agree.

It would be wrong if those homes could be sold by the existing occupiers to further occupiers who were not ageing or living out the rest of their lives in a home they had previously occupied. As the Bill stands, the owner cannot exercise the right until after the first relevant period. The amendments will allow the owner to apply to the court at any time from the commencement of the agreement. I think that will deal with the circumstances which I have described.

Lord Bellwin

This amendment and Amendment No. 19, which is consequential upon it, would have a considerable effect on the operation of agreements entered into under the Bill. The Bill at present provides for agreements to last indefinitely but for site owners to be able to apply to the court every five years to terminate an agreement on the grounds that, having regard to the age and condition of the mobile home, it is having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site or is likely to have such an effect within the next five years. This amendment would remove the restriction on the timing of applications to the court. It would mean that a site owner could apply to a court every year, or more often if he so chose, for termination on these grounds. It would mean that occupiers would never be secure in their homes.

In considering this amendment, I think it is important to bear in mind the other provision in the Bill for a site owner to terminate an agreement. A site owner can terminate on the grounds of breach of a term of the agreement. Part II of Schedule 1 requires that one of the matters that must be covered in an agreement is the maintenance of the mobile home by the occupier. So, if an occupier does not maintain his mobile home properly, the site owner can terminate the agreement on that ground. More specifically, if an occupier allows his home to fall into a state of disrepair through mistreatment or total neglect, the site owner should be able to terminate the agreement on these grounds.

The site owner does not need to be concerned about an irresponsible occupier who does not maintain his home. He does not need, in those circumstances, to use paragraph 6 of Part I of Schedule 1, to which this amendment relates. Paragraph 6 is concerned with the circumstances in which a mobile home deteriorates, through no fault of its occupier, to the point where it has become an eyesore. We believe that five years is a reasonable period within which to give an occupier security against termination on this ground. This amendment would leave an occupier unable to feel secure against termination on this ground at all. So really it is a question of time yet again; and here I am arguing the case from the other side, so even-handedness I most certainly do claim, despite what might have been thought or said earlier. We are just trying to get it as right as we can. The 1975 Act took the matter a certain stage forward. Loopholes have appeared and it has not worked as well as it might have done. The present proposals are welcomed by just about everyone. What is not welcomed is some of the detail, and that is why we are here in Committee trying to get it right. On this occasion, I cannot accept the amendment of my noble friend and I have tried to explain why. Even if that does not satisfy him, I am sure he will understand.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I fully understand my noble friend. I hope that he will look at the situation that I have described. Certainly, the intention of the amendments was not to cause the uncertainty which he mentioned, but to see whether there was a way of preventing an elderly person, for example, who was specially being enabled to stay on, passing on the mobile home to somebody else who was not in that position. But I hope that my noble friend will look at this, to see whether there is any way of putting this in the Bill, even if my amendments do not do it satisfactorily. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bishopston moved Amendment No. 17: Page 6, line 7, leave out ("having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site") and insert ("unfit for human habitation").

The noble Lord said: I do not want to involve myself in family disagreements on the other side, but I must say that I was very much on the side of the Minister. If I had commented on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, I should have said that it would give insecurity to have a termination at any time. But, apart from that, there is the problem of defining what is meant by the words, detrimental effect on the amenity of the site".

The Minister was helpful and gave other areas where a site owner can, quite properly, have the safeguards which we should all want for the maintenance of very high standards. This is absolutely essential on sites of this kind, and I am sure that many residents are as anxious as anyone that amenities on sites are maintained at the highest possible level.

Amendment No. 17, with which I should like to take No. 18, sets out to strengthen the criteria for allowing the termination of an agreement due to the condition of a mobile home. I think the Minister will be well aware of the practice whereby some site owners expect the residents to buy new homes at certain periods—probably much too often—for the benefit of all concerned,

It is very difficult to argue in what kind of situation a mobile home has a detrimental effect on the amenity of a site. Certainly, it would be very difficult for the courts to apply this kind of definition, and we believe that it would be helpful to everybody concerned, not least the courts, if we had the definition which is in the amendment, so that we leave out the words, having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site", and insert the words, "unfit for human habitation". I recognise, as I am sure the Minister will, that amenity values are not easily defined. He may not be happy about the words, "unfit for human habitation". He may wish to have another look at this before the later stages, and I hope that he will do so in order that we can make progress. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

We go from one side to the other, and the noble Lord will probably not be too surprised to know that I cannot agree with his amendment either. The Bill provides that every five years a site owner may apply to the court to terminate an agreement on the grounds that, having regard to its age and condition, the mobile home is having a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site, or is likely to do so within the next five years. The effect of these amendments would be to make termination on these grounds much more strict, by entitling courts to terminate only if the mobile home is actually "unfit for human habitation". I think that that goes too far.

The term "unfit for human habitation" is a phrase used in—dare I say it, in view of what the noble Lord said a few moments ago?—the Housing Act 1957 and applies in that Act to houses. It does not apply to mobile homes. But, even if it did, it would impose a far stricter condition on this ground for termination than would be appropriate in this Bill. The 1957 Act lays down that, for a house to be unfit for human habitation, it must be so far defective in one or more of a number of ways that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition. That test is, quite simply, too strict for a mobile home.

The life of a mobile home is a finite one. There must come a point when the external condition of the home has so far deteriorated that it has become an eyesore on the site and that it is having a, detrimental effect on the amenity of the site", even if it is, in the strictest terms, still fit for human habitation. At that point, it will begin to reduce the value of the site as a whole. Not only will the site owner suffer if the mobile home is allowed to remain on site in that condition; so, too, will the other occupiers, particularly if they wish to sell their homes. I believe that most people involved with mobile homes—occupiers as well as site owners—would accept that a mobile home which fails the test which this Bill imposes should not be protected by an agreement under the Bill.

May I quickly make one further point? The test which the Bill imposes is not a trivial one. It is that, having regard to its age or condition, the mobile home has, or is likely to have, a detrimental effect on the amenity of the site. I do not believe that the courts, or an arbitrator, would lightly terminate an agreement on this ground. I think that it is an appropriate test and, with respect, I suggest that the test proposed in the amendment is not appropriate, which is why we cannot accept it.

Lord Bishopston

I do not wish to go on for too long, but this also concerns security. It is easy for any landlord who wants to exploit, or to get rid of, a mobile home resident, to say that a mobile home is having this kind of effect on the amenity. The test is used, as we know, on many occasions when a site owner wishes a tenant to buy a new van or a new mobile home, and to buy it from him as part of the conditions. It is subject to exploitation. While I recognise some of the points made by the Minister, it is very difficult to define the words in the Bill at this stage. It might be useful if the Minister, and my noble friends and I, were to look at this point between now and the later stages. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 not moved.]

4.58 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy moved Amendment No. 20: Page 6, line 12, leave out ("five") and insert ("three").

The noble Lord said: I suggest that the following Amendment, No. 21, should be considered with No. 20, which I now move. This is a small point, but I hope that the Government have given it some thought. The court is here required to try to decide the future condition of a mobile home based on expert evidence, and it has been suggested that it is more likely to arrive at an equitable decision if it is required to predict over a shorter period than five years. Therefore, this amendment and the subsequent one shorten the period from five years to three years. The purpose of the paragraph in the schedule does not seem to be impaired, in any way, by making the period shorter and I shall be glad to hear the Government's reaction. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

My understanding is that the reasoning behind my noble friend's amendments is that it would be difficult for a court or an arbitrator to judge the life of a mobile home over a five-year period. The hypothesis is that a mobile home might, in fact, be capable of lasting only a further two or three years. In such a situation, the court would either have to make a decision that was harsh on the occupier by terminating his agreement immediately, or one that was harsh to the site owner by forcing him to keep a home on the site beyond the end of its life. But the court or the arbitrator will have the benefit of expert advice in considering the life of the mobile home. It does not seem unreasonable to me to expect them to be able to look five years ahead. In a case where the view of the court was that the mobile home would last only two more years and therefore that the agreement should be terminated, there would be nothing to prevent a site owner from allowing an occupier to remain on site on the same basis as that of a statutory agreement.

Perhaps I should make the point that termination of an agreement is not the same thing as eviction. Under the Caravan Sites Act 1968, a site owner must separately apply to the court to remove a mobile home from his site. But the main reason why I cannot accept this amendment is that I believe occupiers should be able to know they are safe from the possibility of losing their agreement for five years at a time, provided that they do not breach the terms of the agreement.

I should have thought that five years was a reasonable period of security. I respectfully suggest to my noble friend that three years is not. The Mobile Homes Act 1975 gave an initial period of security of five years to all those who took agreements under the Act, whatever the state of their mobile home at the time. This Bill should not give any less. I hope that my noble friend, who I am sure will want to consider what has been said, will see the equity of that suggestion and will not press his amendment.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I am grateful to my noble friend. The last point which he made—security for five years, which is continued from the 1975 Act—is the most important. Therefore, I shall not press the amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Listowel)

Before I call Amendment No. 22, I should point out to the Committee that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 23 to 27.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 22: Page 6, leave out lines 24 to 41 and insert— ("(2) This paragraph applies only if the occupier has given to the owner at least 14 days prior notice before agreeing to sell the mobile home and to assign the agreement.").

The noble Lord said: The Bill provides for the first time that nearly every mobile home occupier will have an indefinite right to remain in occupation of a pitch, so long as he conforms with the terms of the agreement. The corollary, one would have thought, is that he should have freedom to transfer that agreement to anybody he chooses. However, when we look at paragraph 8 of the schedule we find that the occupier has first to offer to the site operator the sale of his mobile home at a fair market price, less a discount at such rate as may be provided by the Secretary of State. There are certain other provisions which similarly restrict the occupier's right to transfer his mobile home at a price which is lower than that which would be paid by the site operator.

We are saying that these rights of the site operator to have pre-emption rights over the sale should be eliminated altogether and that the occupier should have the right to sell to whomsoever he chooses, within reason. The amendment provides that, instead of all these restrictions on transfer and the offering of the mobile home to the site operator before he can go outside and look around the market, the occupier simply has to give notice of his intention to sell to the owner. This would give to the site owner the opportunity, if he wishes to do so, to make an offer higher than he thinks would be received from outside. It means that the Minister's principle of maximum possible freedom of sale within the market and arm's length transactions would be complied with, because the site operator would have to compete with everybody else if he wished to acquire possession of this particular mobile home.

I cannot understand why these rights should be contained in the Bill, except that the custom has always been for a site operator to have the privilege of first refusal at a special price, which is normally something like 15 per cent. below what the market will stand. We have to remember that the site operator continues to receive rent or periodic payments for occupation of the pitch during the transitional period between one occupier and the next. He is not forfeiting anything as a result of the transfer of occupation from the existing owner to somebody new, so why should he suddenly receive a completely uncovenanted benefit of a sum, which may be as large as £3,000, for doing nothing else but give his assent to the transfer of an agreement from one person to another?

I do not need to waste the time of the Committee by outlining many of the detailed cases of abuse which have been drawn to our attention. I am sure that the Minister knows them as well as any of us on this side of the Committee. They have been a very severe thorn in the flesh of people living in mobile homes. Even where they are not immediately contemplating the sale of their dwelling, there is always in the back of their minds the knowledge that if they did have to move they would be at the mercy of perhaps an unscrupulous site operator in charging an enormous fee by way of consent to the transfer. This is a very outdated provision which finds no place in a modern Bill which attempts, as the Minister said a minute ago, to bring up to date the mobile homes legislation and to eliminate the abuses which still remain from the 1975 Act. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

The first point I should like to make about the amendment is that I do not believe it would achieve what the noble Lord has in mind. It would remove the right of first refusal for the site owner but it would not stop him from charging commission. With this amendment the Bill would be silent about commission. The site owner would be able to make the payment of commission a condition of approving the assignment of an agreement, so long as he did not fix the commission at so high a level as to amount to an unreasonable withholding of consent. What the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, wishes to achieve by the amendment is clear, but it will be no surprise if I say that, unless the noble Lord can say something else to convince me, I fear that I shall be unable to accept his amendment.

I said in my speech on Second Reading of the Bill that we were issuing a consultation paper on commission and discount on sale. That consultation paper invites views on the maximum level of commission and discount that the Secretary of State should prescribe. It does not offer the option of prohibiting commission and discount altogether. Very few of those who replied to the consultation paper we issued in February this year advocated outright prohibition. It was clear that most occupiers believed that a certain level of commission and discount was justified—to reflect the site owner's level of investment in the site—though they felt that 15 per cent. was too high.

The new consultation paper will enable those who respond to give their views on what the maximum level should be, and our intention is to bring forward an order to prescribe a maximum level in the light of the views expressed. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the level we prescribe will be significantly lower than the 15 per cent. prescribed under the 1975 Act, but that will depend on our consideration of the responses to the consultation paper. I do not believe that there is a demand for outright prohibition of commission and discount, given the effect that would have on the level of pitch fees charged to all occupiers.

The other effect that the amendment would have would be to remove a site owner's right of first refusal on a mobile home. Site owners believe that this is a valuable right because it enables them to buy an aging home, or one that is out of place, and remove it from their site. Provided that the occupier is protected by the right to a fair market price on his home, less a discount, he should not suffer as a result of this provision. The Bill enables an occupier to claim a fair market price.

There is another point on which there was relatively little comment in the earlier responses to the consultation paper; that the worst abuses in this area, to which the media have drawn attention, have arisen where the occupiers concerned did not have agreements under the 1975 Act. Your Lordships may remember my saying before that one of the intentions of our proposals for the Act is to bring to the notice of everyone the rights they have, because we believe that perhaps the reason why only one-third of people had such agreements was that they did not appreciate what their rights were. It is essential that those rights are brought to their attention in such a way that they can never claim, "We did not know". We said that it had to be done clearly and in simple terms, in a form which the Secretary of State will prescribe, because we thought that was much of the reason for the shortcomings of the 1975 Act.

Again, I have not yet seen a convincing case for removing the right of first refusal. The amendment—and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would agree—is a very sweeping amendment. We believe it goes too far. There is some merit in what the noble Lord has said so far as I am concerned, but the amendment goes much too far. For the reasons I have given, which I do not wish to repeat, we cannot accept the amendment—certainly, not as it is.

Lord Bishopston

As the noble Lord the Minister believes in the market economy, will he at least take a look at the right of the site owner to have first refusal? If the site owner has to consider buying the caravan or mobile home in competition with others, this is preferable to the kind of monopoly start which the Bill gives him at the moment. Will the Minister look at that?

Lord Avebury

The most important point that the noble Lord the Minister was making was that the discounts or premiums reflect to some extent at any rate the investment which the site operator has put into the land to make it suitable for a caravan site. On that I would say that originally, when the site came to be developed, the site operator sold new caravans to the residents for occupation on the pitches and he was entitled to a commission as a person running a business selling mobile homes. The example I gave earlier was taken as an indication of what the earnings level might be from these sales; a twin unit home might cost £20,000 and, if his level of commission was 15 per cent., the site owner would get £3,000.

What we are saying in this amendment is that the site owner should not receive another £3,000 every time that particular mobile home changes hand, because the original payment he received partly reflected the investment he made in the site—although £3,000 a pitch would be a very modest level of investment these days. For the remainder of his capital, he would hope to recover this in the form of the pitch charges he makes at weekly or monthly intervals for occupation. Therefore, he should not expect another sum on top of that every time that particular mobile home changes hands, when he has done nothing whatsoever in respect of that for which the payment is made.

I suppose the most I can hope for on this amendment is to impress this view on the noble Lord the Minister and ask him to take it into account when the level of commission or discount prescribed by the Secretary of State under the Bill is being decided. It would be helpful if we could have some indication of the direction in which the department's mind is moving before we lose the opportunity to discuss it on the floor of the House or in Committee. The Minister has hinted strongly that he believes that 15 per cent., which has been usual in the past, is certainly on the high side; and I was delighted to hear him say so because I warmly agree with him. But even if one was to receive only 10 per cent., with the site operator receiving perhaps £2,000 every time a mobile home changes hands, this is still an enormous sum for doing nothing. I will not press this amendment to a Division, but I shall be grateful if the noble Lord the Minister, before we take our leave of him, will say whether or not we are likely to have any further indication of what is in the Government's mind before we leave the Bill.

Lord Bellwin

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has referred to a figure of £20,000, but, as he will be the first to agree, not all mobile homes cost £20,000. If he seeks my view on a figure of 15 per cent., I cannot give this until the results of the consultation paper are in. I hinted that many might think that 15 per cent. was too much—and certainly the situation which the noble Lord has described is of a kind which, I am sure, was never anticipated. If the noble Lord wants a further comment from me it will only be that, as I hope I have intimated, I believe there is some merit in the points he was making, and that we shall have to wait for the results of the consultation paper. I do not think that I can go any further than that today. I have said enough to intimate how we feel in general about this point—unlike some of the earlier points on which I was taking a more vigorous line, if that is the right term.

Lord Avebury

That is certainly a more encouraging reply than we have had on some earlier amendments. I believe it will be best if we delay further consideration of this point until we know the results of the consultation paper, which I understand will not be known during the proceedings of this Bill. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.17 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy moved Amendment No. 23: Page 6, line 24, at end insert ("in writing").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 23 and I propose that the following four amendments be considered with it. This amendment concerns a very simple point and one which I made at Second Reading. We are dealing with the sale of mobile homes and I believe that the procedure for these transactions should be formal. Unless my noble friend Lord Bellwin has reason to indicate that it is not necessary to put in these words, I consider that the formality should be prescribed in the Bill. This will avoid misunderstandings and disputes later, when transactions are being made. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

Again, I am in some difficulty. These amendments would affect the procedure by which a mobile home is sold. The Bill uses the same procedure as the 1975 Act. When an occupier wishes to sell his mobile home, he must first offer it to the site owner at a fair market price less discount. If the site owner decides not to buy it at that price and the price is subsequently reduced the occupier must give the owner another chance to buy the mobile home at the new price, again less discount.

The effect of these amendments would be to require, each time the home was offered to the site owner, that the offer was made in writing. The 1975 Act does not require the offer to be made in writing, and I am not aware that the absence of that requirement has given rise to any serious problems that way—it just occurs to me that I do not know how one describes "that way" in Hansard—as opposed to the occupier having his rights brought to his attention. This would be an extra burden on occupiers in what is already a difficult area; the question of whether a site owner should have this right of first refusal at all is quite controversial. There is no doubt that it places him in a relatively strong position in relation to an occupier who wishes to sell his mobile home. I would not have thought that we should consider imposing an extra burden on an occupier to make his offer in writing unless there is very clear evidence that it is necessary to do so. If my noble friend feels that there is great evidence to show such a necessity then I will gladly listen, but I cannot accept this amendment as it is. I suspect that it will not be possible for him to do so, but it is only on that basis that I will say other than that we cannot accept the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. I am glad to hear that there have not been difficulties on this point resulting from the similar provisions in the 1975 Act. If my noble friend is satisfied that this does not need to be put in writing, in the form of a formal transaction, then I am glad to propose that this amendment be withdrawn.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 24 to 27 not moved.]

Lord Campbell of Croy moved Amendment No. 28: Page 6, line 45, at end insert— ("(2) In this paragraph the expression "member of his family" means a wife or husband, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, stepfather, stepmother, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, stepson, stepdaughter, brother, sister, half-brother, half sister.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 28, which is on another of the points to which I referred in our Second Reading debate. This is the degree of family relationship in this part of the schedule. When my noble friend replied to the Second Reading debate he said—and I can absolutely understand this point—that the Government preferred not to put in any degree of relationship but to leave it entirely open, so that the matter could then be dealt with by the courts. That is a point of view which I understand. But I think the courts might need some guidance as to whether it should be a close relationship or a second-cousin-twice-removed relationship. I cannot resist giving some examples that have come up. Someone has done a little research for me on cases which have come up in litigation concerning statutes where no relationship has been defined. For example, there was an application for a housekeeper; that was not accepted. There was an application for a man masquerading as the tenant's husband; that was not accepted. There was the case of a mother-in-law who had only visited from time to time, and that was not accepted. We can all perhaps agree that those are not the kinds of relationships which are intended, but it does show that applicants do come forward, and the courts may well be besieged with a large number of cases where the relationship is a distant or even a remote one.

I am aware that in this part of the schedule it is necessary to have the site owner's agreement, but it also states that this must not be unreasonably withheld. So the site owner has to agree, but on the other hand he cannot unreasonably withhold his agreement. The degree of family relationship is, therefore, something on which I think those who have to deal with these situations would need guidance.

The paragraph which this amendment inserts is taken from legislation; it comes from the Workmen's Compensation Act. That is an example of legislation where it has been included in the past. I would hope that perhaps my noble friend and the Government would find a way of using this as an example of the kind of relationship that should be followed in this part of the Bill. I beg to move.

BaronessWootton of Abinger

I wonder if the noble Lord can make it clear whether in this context "son" and "daughter" would include adopted son and daughter?

Lord Campbell of Croy

As far as I am concerned, I think they would.

Lord Avebury

I wonder whether it would be convenient to take at the same time Amendment No. 29, the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, and myself, which takes into account the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I rather hoped that that one could be dealt with separately.

Lord Avebury

I thought the Committee had agreed that we would take them together, but I am perfectly happy to deal with them separately. It seems to me illogical because they are both addressed to the same point.

Lord Bellwin

I was not aware that they were to be taken together. I am quite content to deal with the first one. This is not a long matter, and I think there is a greater measure of agreement on this than might be apparent at first sight.

Lord Avebury

I am quite happy to leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to deal with his amendment and then come to mine later.

Lord Bellwin

We are talking here about the intention to restrict the scope of the term "family" in paragraph 9 of Part I of Schedule 1. This paragraph enables an occupier to give his mobile home and assign his agreement to a member of his family approved by the site owner. It is a new provision, not taken from the 1975 Act. We have put it in because we think that an occupier should not, in selling his home to a member of his family, have to pay a commission to the site owner. If we consider, for example, a husband and wife whose marriage breaks down, the husband has the statutory agreement and he leaves the family home. Without this provision the only way that he could be sure of being able to transfer the home and his agreement to his wife would be to sell it to her.

Site owners are worried that without some limitation on the scope of "family" this provision might be abused. A gift might be made to an imaginary second cousin in North America simply to avoid paying commission. I think the danger of this sort of abuse can be exaggerated. The site owner does have the right to refuse his approval to a recipient if he considers the gift to be a sham.

There is also a risk that by defining "family" we might unfairly exclude someone who should not be excluded. My noble friend's amendment, for example, excludes from the definition people living together as husband and wife who are not actually married. I do not underestimate the concern of site owners on this point. I am also aware that there are recent precedents in legislation for the definition of "family".

As it stands, I do not think I can accept this amendment, because I think it is too restrictive. If my noble friend is prepared to withdraw it, I will undertake to consider the possibility of inserting an alternative definition at a later stage during the passage of the Bill. I think that this is a valid point of concern. If we can deal with it in that way, I think we may get a solution that will satisfy more or less everyone.

Lord Campbell of Croy

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for his reply, having obviously taken this into careful consideration since Second Reading. He has raised the point about the common-law wife. I think in Scotland arrangements usually do cover a common-law wife in this sort of case. I do not know whether a similar position exists south of the Border. That is the kind of point that one would need to take into account in considering this. In view of what my noble friend has said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 29: Page 6, line 45, at end insert— ("(2) In this paragraph, "member of his family" shall have the same meaning in relation to the occupier as the expression "member of the original tenant's family" has in relation to the original tenant in Schedule 1 to the Rent Act 1977.").

The noble Lord said: If I may continue where the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, left off, it was apparent in the discussion we have just had that if you try to specify exactly in the Bill the degrees of consanguinity to which the privilege of transferring the occupation of a pitch without fee is extended, you are going to be in difficulties because there are always going to be exceptions of the kind mentioned, the common-law wife, the adopted child. On the other hand, one agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that perhaps some indication should be given to the courts of what Parliament intended.

Therefore, one looks for parallels among recent precedents in legislation. We believe that a fairly close parallel is to be found in Schedule 1 to the Rent Act 1977, where we were concerned with the transfer of tenancies in similar circumstances. We think this provides a model which would give some guidance to the courts when they come to decide to what kinds of relative it would be appropriate for an agreement to be transferred. I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

I would say, similarly, to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that it is clear that there is concern on both sides of the Committee that some sort of definition is needed. I gladly undertake to consider the possibility of inserting a definition at a later stage. I hope that will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and that he will feel able to do as my noble friend Lord Campbell did. We will see what we can come up with.

Lord Avebury

I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Bishopston moved Amendment No. 30: Page 6, line 45, at end insert— (" .—(1) If any question arises whether the withholding of an approval required by paragraph 8 or 9 above was unreasonable it is for the owner to show that it was not. (2) Such an approval—

  1. (a) may be validly given notwithstanding that it follows, instead of preceding, the sale or gift in question;
  2. (b) cannot be given subject to a condition, and if purporting to be given subject to a condition shall be treated as given unconditionally; and
  3. (c) shall be treated as given if unreasonably withheld.")

The noble Lord said: This amendment stands also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Briefly, the purpose of the amendment is to bring the arrangements for giving the approval—that is, of the assignment or gift—nearer to those detailed in the Housing Act 1980. In other words, the burden of proof should be on the owner to show that lack of approval was not unreasonable, that approval may follow the sole assignment or gift, that the approval cannot be made conditionally and that approval should be treated as given if unreasonably withheld. The drafting of the amendment is on the basis of the 1980 Act but, like most amendments, is capable of some improvement. With those brief words of introduction, I beg to move.

Lord Bellwin

The Bill allows an occupier to sell his mobile home and to assign his agreement to a person approved by the site owner. It also allows him to give his home to a member of his family approved by the site owner. In both cases the Bill provides that the site owner's approval must not be unreasonably withheld. This amendment would impose very tight restrictions on a site owner's ability to withhold approval. It prevents him from imposing a condition on his approval, provides that his approval shall be treated as given if it is unreasonably withheld, and requires him to show that the withholding was not unreasonable. This is yet another point at which the Bill follows the precedent of the 1975 Act. And it is another issue on which I am not aware that the 1975 Act has given rise to any problems. Here, again, I must ask whether we should be changing the provisions of the 1975 Act without a very good reason for doing so.

The amendment uses wording drawn from Section 82 of the Housing Act 1980. Since that Act was passed by this Government—I took it through your Lordships House—I would not dream of criticising its wording, but I wonder how relevant is the precedent. Section 82 is concerned with a tenant's right to improve his house or flat. These provisions are concerned with a mobile home occupier's right to transfer the ownership of his home. The crucial element in this amendment is the occupier's right to proceed if approval is unreasonably withheld. It is clearly important that a renting tenant should be able to get on with improving his home if the landlord is being difficult about the improvements. It is a matter between the tenant and the landlord and it is unlikely that anyone else would be harmed by the improvements the tenant is making.

However, the transfer of the ownership of a mobile home is a very different matter. This amendment would put the occupier in an extremely strong position and the site owner in a fairly weak one. I am not sure that it is right that the site owner's ability to exercise his right of approval is so weakened, either in his own interests or, frankly those of other occupiers on the site. An example may point out the difficulty I see here. There are a number of mobile home sites which cater only for retired people, where the occupiers have chosen to come on to the site for precisely that reason. Suppose that one of those occupiers wishes to sell, or give, his home to a young couple with small children. The site owner will withhold approval, but this amendment might very well encourage the occupier to go ahead with his gift or sale. The site owner would have to go to court to enforce his view and retrospectively cancel the transfer of ownership. In the meantime, the other occupants of the site would have their lives disturbed in precisely the way they wanted to avoid. I could give more extreme examples but I do not think that that is at all unlikely.

Here again we are trying to balance the relative strengths of the occupier and the site owner. For the reasons I have given, I think this amendment tips the balance too far towards the occupier. The Bill uses exactly the same approach as the 1975 Act and I am far from convinced that it is wrong to do so. It has not led to problems, so I do not see why we should proceed with such an amendment when it appears to be unnecessary and could lead to the sort of problems that I have mentioned.

Lord Bishopston

The amendment seeks to give the same kind of facilities to the tenants of mobile homes as to other tenants which have been referred to on a number of occasions today. I have another amendment which deals with the same section and it may well be that the matter will come before the House at a later stage. I am grateful for the Minister's comments and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal moved Amendment No. 31: Page 6, line 45, at end insert— (" . The occupier shall be entitled to give the mobile home and to assign the agreement to any person by virtue of a testamentary disposition.").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak briefly on this amendment. We seek to allow the occupier to leave his mobile home and the benefit of his statutory agreements in his will. Therefore, it goes beyond Clause 3 which only allows a member of the family already in residence to take over on the owner's death. I draw attention to the fact that many who have spoken this afternoon referred to the fact that there are many middle-aged and elderly people who are moving to mobile homes. They might have spent the whole of their redundancy pay to become, for the first time, an owner-occupier. They might have already sold a larger house to raise capital and enable them to maintain their standard of living when they moved into the mobile home.

For that reason I ask the Minister to think seriously about the amendment. The majority of these elderly residents want to maintain their independence. That is why they have gone for something smaller and compact. By doing so they can continue to look after themselves. Therefore, they do not normally want anyone else living with them. They have moved to a mobile home in order to maintain their independence. They welcome visits from their children and their grandchildren. Their families are happy that they are living independent lives. Therefore, it seems strange that, when we have people who have entered the owner-occupier field and are trying to be independent, we penalise their families when they die.

This amendment has no party political bias. I am appealing to the Minister on the grounds of common justice. I say that because this House, above all organisations, believes in the hereditary principle. Many noble Lords pass on their homes to sons and daughters and to others in their family. If they believe that it is important to pass on what they have worked hard for, and their parents have worked hard for in the past, is it not right that the mobile home owners, who have very humble homes compared with some homes owned by noble Lords in this House, should not also be able to pass on those benefits when they die?

A strange situation exists when one considers the difference between leaving benefits when one dies and passing on benefits when one is living. I am referring to Clause 3 and what we have been discussing on Schedule 9. I am asking the Minister to maintain a balance between the gifts of the living and the gifts of the dead—to put it as simply as that. We are asking that the same privileges of giving shall apply. If a will is left, and it accords with the proper procedure, that should apply.

In conclusion, if the noble Lord says that he will not consider this proposal, can he tell us what other class of owner occupier is prevented from leaving, in a will, the home that he lives in to the person of his choice? Are we to discriminate against a very small group of people? If the noble Lord says that this is a matter that can go through the courts to be adjudicated, I point out that it is a matter which has been through the courts and has been adjudicated upon. Because we are operating under the previous Act of Parliament, quite obviously the people who have been left out are the families of the owners of mobile homes. I hope that the Minister will keep the balance and will perhaps give me a very favourable reply. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury

I should like to add a few words to what the noble Baroness has put to the Minister with such eloquence. If the old people living in this mobile home do not have any close relatives to whom they wish to leave their property but they have a close friend who has been very good to them in their retirement to whom they may wish to transfer the benefit of this asset, under the Bill, as presently drafted, they would not be able to do that because, as the noble Lord has pointed out, gifts and assignments are only to a member of the family approved by the owner.

Even if we assume that that is extended to a testamentary disposition, it still would not mean that the occupier could leave the mobile home in his will to a person who is not a member of his family. As a result, when the executors come to realise the assets and discuss the matter with the site operator, he can point out to them that the mobile home is worth absolutely nothing at all unless it is on the site. Of course, he then has them over a barrel because he car, charge a very large commission for agreeing to accept the person named in the will as the new occupier when he does not have to do so under the provisions of the Bill. It will be a source of immense profit to the site operator to be able to impose that type of condition on testamentary dispositions unless we have something like this amendment written into the Bill.

Lord Bellwin

Let me say at once that I applaud unreservedly the vigour with which the noble Baroness pressed the virtues of home ownership. I sincerely hope, as one who spoke not without some passion on this whole subject at the time we dealt with the Housing Bill which gave the right to buy, that the noble Baroness will use equal eloquence to persuade her colleages in another place to withdraw their intentions, so expressed, of taking away from tenants of council houses the right to buy and that they, too, should have the right to have all the inheritance—virtues which the noble Baroness so properly proclaims and to which I too, adhere.

I am aware that the relatively narrow provisions in the 1975 Act have caused some concern, unlike the earlier point that I was making when I said that one reason for not moving away from certain parts of that Act was that they had not been shown to have been working disadvantageously. In this case the noble Baroness is quite right when she says that there has been some concern about the application of that Act. But if we are to consider the possibility of extending the 1975 Act provisions which the Bill adopts, it must be on a narrower basis than the amendment.

Let us consider the effect of the amendment. It will enable an occupier to leave his mobile home, his agreement and all the benefits that went with them to anyone he chooses. His heir would be entitled not only to sell the mobile home on site and recoup its value in that way, but also to live in it and enjoy the full security which an agreement under the Bill will provide. There would be no way in which the site owner could influence the use which the heir made of the home.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I quote again the example I used in an earlier amendment. On that occasion we were considering the right of a site owner to withhold approval from the sale or gift of a mobile home. I quoted the case of a site occupied entirely by retired people on which one occupier sold his home to a young couple with children. I made the point that the other occupiers of the site would be forced to put up with the resulting disturbance until the site owner could enforce his right to withhold approval in court.

This amendment will have an even more serious effect than the last one. A retired person on the site quoted in my example could leave his home to a young couple and there would be nothing that the site owner could do about it. There is no question here of whether the site owner's approval was considered reasonable or not: it would not be needed. I think that both the site owner and the other occupiers of the site, who perhaps chose it precisely because it was only for retired people, would be very well justified in complaining that their lives had been unfairly disturbed. This amendment will provide the only point in the Bill which will enable a new occupier to come on to a site without the site owner having any say at all in whether he will fit in.

Having said that, I think I am bound to say that the issue of inheritance is one on which we would not want to rule out the possibility of considering some change in the Bill's provisions. I have explained why I think the amendment goes too far and could lead to problems. However, if the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment, I think that I have said enough to indicate to her that I am sympathetic certainly to the philosophy of what she says. Indeed, that goes without saying and I hope that she would not expect otherwise from me. I give her that assurance and perhaps, in the light of that, she may feel able not to press the amendment.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I thank the noble Minister—it must have been the way in which I smiled at him! I readily withdraw the amendment on the undertaking that he has just given. Perhaps it will be possible for us to talk about another amendment or I could leave it to the Minister to bring forth an amendment at the Report stage. I am heartened by what he said so long as we achieve the principle in which our amendment is enunciated. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees, (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

The next amendment is Amendment No. 32 followed by Amendment No. 33. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is not in his place and so we pass to Amendment No. 34.

[Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 not moved.]

Lord Bishopston moved Amendment No. 34: Page 7, line 9, at end insert—

("Service charges

11.—(1) If the occupier requests the owner in writing to supply him with a written summary of the costs incurred by the owner in respect of services available on the protected site in the relevant period defined in sub-paragraph (4) below, the owner shall do so within six months of the end of the period or within one month of the request, whichever is the later.

(2) The summary shall set out these costs in a way showing how they are or will be reflected in the sums payable by the occupier and must be certified by a qualified accountant as in his opinion a fair summary complying with this requirement and as being sufficiently supported by accounts, receipts, and other documents which have been produced to him.

(3) The occupier may require the owner in writing to afford him facilities for inspecting the accounts, receipts, and other documents supporting the summary and for taking copies or extracts from them and the owner should then make reasonable facilities available to the occupier.

(4) The relevant period mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) above is—

  1. (a) if the relevant accounts are made up for periods of 12 months, the last such period ending not later than the date of the request; and
  2. (b) if none are made up for such a period, the period of 12 months ending with the request.

(5) In this paragraph "qualified accountant" has the same meaning as in Schedule 19 to the Housing Act 1980.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 34. This amendment concerns service charges and it aims to help the occupier to get more information or, indeed, accurate information about service costs. There has been some mention today of the charges which can be levied on mobile home residents. We believe that it would be in the interests of the residents and of the site owners if there were written information as required in the amendment. After all, the amendment says; If the occupier requests the owner in writing to supply him with a written summary of the costs incurred by the owner in respect of services available on the protected site in the relevant period", and so forth, it shall be provided. It goes on: The summary shall set out these costs in a way showing how they are or will be reflected in the sums payable by the occupier and must be certified by a qualified accountant",

and so on, Surely that information is something which all people concerned in the transaction should have. It is rather interesting that there is no requirement on the site owner to publish any accounts in the light of the charges which he seeks to impose upon the occupiers.

The amendment gives the occupier the right to information on service charges and the information may be needed by the court or, indeed, by an arbitrator—a matter which we have debated this afternoon. In many places if the site owner is a good owner he will be giving this information; if he is otherwise, then surely the mobile home residents have a right to the information?

I draw the attention of the Minister to paragraph 8.1.7 of the Department of the Environment report, which concluded: In addition, residents should have a right to certain information about the costs of services analogous to those already enjoyed by private tenants and leaseholders".

Therefore, I believe that the amendment provides for a written summary of costs, certified by an accountant, supported by receipts and so forth. This should be willingly given by any good site owner.

I should like to turn to another point which is not directly associated with that but which is involved. This matter may come within the preview or the consultation that the Minister has in mind. He mentioned earlier the new consultation which he is having with all those concerned; I believe he mentioned it in relation to commission. How many bodies have already been consulted and what action has already been taken? I understand that Shelter have not automatically been consulted and they had asked to be able to make submissions. I believe that other bodies, such as the National Consumer Council, have not yet been requested for their views. This is purely a question of information which may help all those concerned with this legislation. With those comments, I beg to move.

Lord Avebury

In the course of his reply, I wonder whether the Minister could remind the Committee of the point we had reached as regards the matter of electricity charges, which used to be a very difficult area to resolve when there was a supply of electricity to a site that was metered at a single point and not separately to the individual mobile homes? I know that the area electricity boards were very keen that every mobile home should be separately metered and then, of course, no difficulty would arise. But the problem of apportioning supplies that were received from a common source was a very difficult one to sort out and in many cases led people to think that they had been unfairly overcharged, and in some cases it was possible to prove it. Although the electricity boards were always quite ready to entertain representations from people living in mobile homes that their charges were excessive and to look into the matter, site operators were never happy about electricity officials coming on to the site, measuring the amount that was being consumed by particular residents and seeing whether or not the charges were fair. Therefore, I think that notification to the residents of that particular charge, to the extent that sites are still commonly metered, would be a very helpful way of ensuring that the charges are properly apportioned as between individual residents.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I should like to make one very general point to the Minister. Would he not agree in principle that, on the assumption that mobile homes are being used and will continue to be used more and more as permanent homes, the rights of these home-dwellers should in every possible way—and this amendment is a typical example—be brought into line with those of people who have lived and continue to live in ordinary houses? This is an important point which underlies so many of the amendments.

Lord Bellwin

On the latter point, I do not know whether or not more people will tend to use mobile homes. They may indeed. The likelihood is that they will. As to whether it will be other than at the margin in relation to the totality of housing, I should think probably not. If the noble Baroness is right in her assumption, all the more reason we should make sure that we have a Bill like this, that it is the best Bill we can get, and that we do the best we can. I do not think that there is any difference between us on that.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, about consultation, so far we have sent copies to the representatives of site operators, to the Mobile Homes Residents' Association and to any other bodies that have asked for it. We will willingly send copies to anyone. Of course, we will willingly pick up the cases to which the noble Lord referred, now that he has mentioned them. It would perhaps be useful for me to repeat on the record that if anyone has not had a copy—and I shall check to make sure that we have covered all who we think ought to be included—we shall gladly send him one.

Lord Avebury

I did ask the department and they said that the consultation letter was not available. If it is now available, may we have copies?

Lord Bellwin

There is absolutely no reason why anyone should not have a consultation paper. There can be nothing secret about a consultation paper. Why not? I shall gladly undertake to see that this is so.

Lord Bishopston

I thank the Minister for his comments on that and I anticipate that he will automatically be in touch with many organisations and individuals who may have made earlier submissions on his previous documents.

Lord Bellwin

If anyone has made submissions and has not had a copy, of course, we shall send him one. We would not want to start trying to discover anyone who we thought might be given one or ought to have one. But those who want one clearly should know. I certainly undertake to do that.

Turning to the amendment, I think that we must be very careful here—this is the last amendment of this Committee stage and I have said it on several of the earlier amendments—not to draw false comparisons between the position of mobile home occupiers and tenants of flats. They are two very different sets of circumstances. Schedule 19 to the 1980 Act gives flat tenants the right to information about the costs incurred when they pay variable service charges which will often be separate from the rent, and that is right. But mobile home occupiers are in a very different position. They do not normally pay one sum for rent and another sum for service charges. They normally pay pitch fees, which include both rent for their mobile home site and service charges and which are not directly related to increases in costs. No matter how much information they were given, it would not be of any use in challenging the level of pitch fees unless the agreement itself tied the level of increases to increasing costs.

The Bill does not prevent an occupier from seeking more information about the charges he is asked to pay. If he considers that the agreement offered to him contains too little information about the yearly review of sums payable by him or the provision of services available on the site, there is nothing to prevent the occupier from challenging that agreement. The Bill already provides in Part II of the Schedule that agreements must make provision on these matters. We do not think that it is justified or, frankly, practical, or even necessary to go further.

I shall conclude on the point of electricity charges which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised. It depends on what the agreement provides for. If what is contained in the agreement as regards charges of any kind does not seem reasonable, then the occupier should challenge it at that stage. It seems to me that that is the answer to that particular problem. If the noble Lord would like us to go further on the point, of course I shall do so.

Lord Davies of Leek

This is a tangential point. I apologise for being late, but as a result of battling with fog and human beings in cars I have found it rather difficult to get here. However, I am delighted that I am here at this point. Fairness to the owner of the land and fairness to the people living in mobile homes comes into account when we are dealing with water services. The Severn-Trent Water Authority Bill is before this House and deals with water services. They want their committee meetings to be held in secret, with no press allowed. The inhabitants of mobile homes in country areas and the inhabitants of cottages in country areas often find that they pay as much for water services as people pay in the metropolitan areas and in the towns. Something should be done to get a relative payment of charges which is in ratio with the supplies to those areas. The noble Lord is a wise Minister. Does he take my point? I think he does. I could make out a long argument on this, which could go on for minutes, but I think that I have spiked down the point. Will he bear this in mind, because it is important to the rural areas of Britain and to the seaside towns where mobile homes are situated?

Lord Bellwin

I can only say that the noble Lord got here just in time. The last sentence of the last amendment of this Committee stage, and he just made it. It is always a pleasure to hear him anyway. I think I have the point he makes about the water. I do not think that it is relevant to this Bill at all, but I promise him—and he knows that if I say it, I will do it—that I shall talk to colleagues and, if it is felt in any way that there is some merit in bringing it forward, then of course I will. I truly do not think that there is, but he knows that I will do that.

Lord Bishopston

If my noble friend had been here a little earlier I am not sure that he would have been so keen on giving the compliments to the Minister that he has. However, this is the last amendment. The reason for moving this amendment, among others, was, as the Minister knows, that there is controversy where you have, say, metered services as to how much should be paid for gas, electricity, and so on. He knows that charges for electricity often spark off controversy, and this kind of amendment would help to eliminate that. The Minister has been forthcoming on this, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with the amendments.