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Ms Keeble: Which one?

Mr. Cash: The Minister asks which one. I do not think that it matters unduly, but the man's name began with "S".

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): It was Savundra; I think the company involved was Fire, Auto and Marine.

Mr. Cash: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Greg Knight: Was he a Labour supporter?

Mr. Cash: I have no idea. What I do know is that the principles of asset backing matter a great deal to an insurance policy when the crunch comes and something goes wrong, whatever kind of insurance we are dealing with. In relation to property insurance of this kind, it is essential for the tenant to have a proper degree of interest in who the insurer is, because he will be affected if the assets are not there to back the insurance policy. He and the other tenants and leaseholders will all be affected.

The matter should not, therefore, be left entirely to the landlord. That is why I agree that the inclusion of the words "or approved" means that there would be no way in which a tenant, under paragraph 8 of the schedule to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985—which covers the right to challenge—could leave a leaseholder swinging in the air, because he would now be able to give names to the insurer. It would not simply be a question of nomination, which I regard as offensively monopolistic and extremely dangerous from the point of view of the people living in the premises.

There has been quite enough trouble, one way or another, in the insurance industry over the last few years, and it is the easiest thing in the world for a large estate with many leaseholders and tenants to prescribe its own insurer, and not only collect the commission but give no verifiable evidence of the assets that back that insurance company. That does not apply in all cases, but in a number of cases the provision will be extremely important. For all those reasons, I regard the new clause as good and sensible.

The Minister referred to clause 161, which prescribes that

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The provision is extremely useful and will be of great benefit to tenants. We support the Government's proposals.

Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): I shall be brief. I welcome clause 161, for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) set out. It is disgraceful that members of the British public should be forced by anybody to take out insurance with the landlord's insurer. The amendments strengthen the clause and give people the power to decide which insurer to have.

The clause is a fine example of how Parliament should work. In the original proposals that went through the other place and came to this place, there was no recognition of the point. Because hon. Members in all parts of the House argued their case, the Government listened, rightly, and are acting in the interests of the British people.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): I shall make a brief and inexpert contribution. I cannot rival the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) in his eye for detail or his rhetorical skills.

There will be genuine rejoicing in my constituency at the inclusion of the clause, as it puts to bed an issue that has dogged Southport for many years. I am grateful to the Government for being responsive, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) for drawing the matter to the Government's attention.

Southport was developed in the Victorian era and land was originally in the hands of feudal families. They sold off the land on 999-year leases, which is a peculiarity of the north. In the discussion of the Bill, there has been something of a London focus, and that practice is a northern peculiarity. For many years, those families collected a ground rent and expected an income for about a thousand years.

Attached to the lease were various exotic conditions. When I first owned my house, I understood that the Weld Blundell estate had the right to appear if ever, during the course of gardening, I struck oil or found coal or gold. The estate had additional income, quite apart from ground rent. Further income was derived by charging for alterations and extensions. A fee would be charged for an alteration as simple as putting in a new window.

As a result, the value of the ground rent in Southport fell. The cost of administration outweighed the income received by the original ground landlords. The ground rents were sold off to City firms, which had no connection whatever with the locality. The problem surfaced in Southport in the 1980s, when the then Member of Parliament, Sir Ian Percival, the Solicitor-General, got involved. There were threats from various companies that if insurance companies were not changed, dispossession would be a distinct possibility.

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Southport people are thoughtful and intelligent, which is one reason why they habitually elect Liberal Democrats. They reacted positively. They got together and there were huge meetings attended by hundreds of people. Pressure was brought to bear, and as a result some of the companies that tried to profiteer backed off. Few, if any, cases went to court, and there was something of a stand-off. However, the problem was not resolved. Many people took the opportunity to buy their freehold.

Latterly and very recently the problem has resurfaced. Residents, many of whom are elderly and still have houses under leasehold conditions, are being asked to switch insurance companies—not to fly-by-night companies, but major insurance companies that are associated with this technique. AXA is the insurance company that people in the northern part of Southport have been asked to change to, and it is a shame that AXA is associated with such a process. It is not motivating it: a Welsh finance company is doing that.

The letters and communications, which I have seen, have an undertone of threat. Letters sound legally assured, and people are genuinely frightened that they may lose their property. The people who are frightened are none the less well insured. They may not have an opportunity to look round the insurance market to find out what would be best for them.

Until this law is enacted, the process that is happening now could be repeated in three, six or nine years' time. It is an abuse: it has nothing to do with securing people proper insurance, but everything to do with making a fast buck.

It is a shame AXA is involved. No company should be party to an arrangement that involves frightening elderly people. It has nothing to do with the legitimate interests of ground landlords or real insurance: it is simply profiteering. Although this legislation may be dull—it is certainly a dull evening for many of us—there will be genuine rejoicing in Southport that it is going through because it will benefit many ordinary people.

Peter Bottomley: I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I note what was said about long leases in Southport. I have a family interest in a long lease on the Isle of Wight, which is about as far south as one can get. I should declare an interest in a flat in Worthing, so I would potentially be affected, although not directly.

The leaseholders in my constituency and elsewhere want service, assurance and a reasonable way of being protected against sharks. The suggestions that my hon. Friend made in welcoming this new clause would help to protect people against sharks, and ensure that there is a common interest in insurance being carried through properly. In my block of flats in Worthing, all bar one of the six tenants have changed during the five years that I have been the Member of Parliament. It is important that managing agents and freeholders as well as the changing leaseholders have some continuity of protection. When damage occurs, insurance matters. I welcome the Government's rational approach to this issue.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): I welcome the new clauses on insurance and the one that was passed in Committee. In all our deliberations on the Bill, we have shown that too many sharp practices are associated with

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leasehold tenure, whether it is the insurance scams that were detailed on Second Reading and in Committee or forfeiture and ground rent grazing. This new clause is welcome, as it closes down the possibility of freeholders abusing leasehold home owners. The Government have done well to introduce the new clause. It is right that leaseholders should have freedom of choice and be able to choose the insurer that best suits them and gives them best value for money. I welcome this further tightening of the law to deal with insurance scams.

9 pm

Ms Keeble: I welcome the support for new clause 14 from my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) and for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), and from the hon. Members for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley). Members have raised the issue repeatedly, and I hope that these measures will go further to ensure that people are not ripped off.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) mentioned the possibility of tenants' failing to insure properly. Under clause 161, landlords can be satisfied that properties are insured. He also asked about insolvent or dubious insurers. Insurance must be with authorised insurers, supervised by the Financial Services Authority. I wrote to him just after the Committee stage, and he should have that on file.

The new clause extends what we have already done. It reflects concern expressed by Members on both sides of the House about the skill of a small percentage of freeholders in finding ways of making legal loopholes work to their financial advantage. I hope that many leaseholders will benefit from this further safeguard.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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