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6.15 pm

In the light of my current personal experience, it is entirely likely that in a well ordered and promising situation a series of long leaseholders would see their best interests served by the evolution of an RTM into an RTE. That would be a good thing. In my own case, I sincerely hope that we shall be able to acquire the freehold through the RTE mechanism. The management company will then have a serious asset. It will have a realistic balance sheet and a capital basis.

That relates to our earlier discussions. Such management companies will need working capital and they will be in a much stronger position to acquire it if they have a freehold as collateral. As the value of the freehold will almost certainly increase, they will have an appreciating asset on their balance sheet.

There is still the question of how to build a reasonable kitty in the early stages, although few right-to-manage companies will come into being—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the scope of the amendments is narrow. He should address his remarks to those amendments.

Mr. Taylor: I should actually find that extraordinarily difficult, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I rose to my feet with no particular intention of speaking to the amendments. My remarks are in almost terminal decline, so I thank the House for listening to me with such warmth and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for rebuking me with such courtesy.

Mr. Sanders: I hope to say in five minutes what the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said in 28. I hope effectively to scrutinise the provisions rather than to "excrutinise" them.

Amendment No. 36 is relatively simple. Such a wide discussion of such a straightforward amendment is a disrespect to this place. Amendments Nos. 37 to 41 are clarifications.

Amendment No. 42 is the only provision that one might question. I do not fully understand why it was necessary to alter the wording and I hope that the Minister can clarify that point.

We could have dealt with the other amendments in two minutes.

Mr. Greg Knight: Conservative Members will take no lessons from the Liberal Democrats on what is disrespectful to this place when the majority of their party were notable by their absence from our debates on Report. They deigned to appear only when the hon. Member for

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Torbay (Mr. Sanders) moved a new clause on Monday evening. He should look to his own party if he is concerned about disrespect to the Chamber.

Mr. Cash: In view of the somewhat surprising and intemperate remarks of the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), my right hon. Friend may remember that one morning in Committee, at only 10.30, I had to ask a question about the fact that the hon. Gentleman was fast asleep—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind hon. Members that we are discussing specific amendments.

Mr. Knight: I do not complain when the hon. Member for Torbay is asleep—that may be the time when he makes the most sense.

I was a little hard on the Minister in an earlier intervention. In general, she has handled the Bill well, but her brevity on this group of amendments was unfortunate and has given rise to concern from Conservative Members. So I hope that when she replies to the debate she will answer fully the concerns that we have expressed.

I do not follow my hon. Friend's concern about the words "binding contract", but I am concerned about amendment No. 38, which uses the words

for the reasons that I gave in an earlier intervention. What does that phrase mean? When is the relevant conveyance actually executed? In the normal meaning of that phrase, the conveyance is executed when it is signed by the parties to it, but as lawyers will know, the conveyance itself may be held back until a later date before it is deemed to become effective. So I hope that the Minister can assure the House that she is confident that that phraseology will not lead to numerous court cases in future, with people questioning precisely what it means.

Mr. John Taylor: I believe that my right hon. Friend still holds a current certificate to practise as a solicitor. I should tell the House that I went straight many years ago and have given up practising the law, so I may be a bit out of date. Would he care to tell me whether it is still necessary, under English land law, for a conveyancing deed to be signed, sealed and delivered?

Mr. Knight: My hon. Friend is right to say that I am a practising lawyer. I still hold a practising certificate, but this area of law is not my speciality, so I hesitate to give advice to the House that may be incorrect. However, I am sufficiently concerned to raise this issue with the Minister. A better form of words could be found, and I hope that she will respond to that point.

Ms Keeble: On Monday evening, one of your colleagues, Madam Deputy Speaker, said that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) had got on to a loop line. This time he has got on to a circle line and gone around it several times, and the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) was on it with him for a short time, until he seemed to leap off in mid-flow. I say that because these are technical amendments, which deal with a change to the 1993 Act in relation to the valuation date. I hope to go through all the details.

Mr. Cash: I wish to indicate the sort of concerns that we have by referring to the famous story of Catherine the

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Great writing to Voltaire. Voltaire wrote a clever constitution—very complicated stuff—and she wrote to him saying, "Monsieur Voltaire, you write exquisitely"—indeed, this Bill is written exquisitely—"but I have to write upon the human skin, which is mighty ticklish."

Ms Keeble: Well, I think that we just went around the circle line again, without making much progress, and the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) made some very fair points about that.

These technical amendments are purely designed to ensure that the Bill operates as intended. As I said, they are consequential to the change in the valuation date. I shall deal with the most serious point first. Amendment No. 42 will require the RTE company to notify the landlord of any such agreements entered into before the exchange of contracts, so it relates to the change in the valuation date. I hope that deals with that.

Apart from reading out different parts of the Bill at great length, the hon. Member for Stone asked what a participating member was and read out various explanations of that term. Of course, it is particularly important to ensure that the landlord knows how many participants there are. That is part of the intention behind many of these amendments, and he will see that that is exactly the case if he looks through them.

The nub of the hon. Gentleman's concern—he made exactly the same point in Committee—goes to the heart of this group of amendments. His real argument is about the valuation date. He argued previously that the valuation date should be the date of the landlord's counter-notice, whereas something quite different is argued in these proposals. Our concern about his suggestion is that, in fact, many landlords have chosen to spin out proceedings as much possible with a view to persuading leaseholders to give up the enterprise altogether—a bit like the way in which the hon. Gentleman has spun out the proceedings in debating these amendments.

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman hopes that the Government would give up these amendments completely, but we have no intention of doing so, because the Bill provides that the valuation date is fixed as the date of the initial notice, to ensure that the landlord will be encouraged to proceed with all speed and, as a consequence, that any movement in the market in the intervening period will not be material. All these amendments are consequential to that and are intended to produce more orderly arrangements. These purely technical amendments are consequent on something that we have already dealt with.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 37, in page 61, line 14, leave out from "if" to end of line 16 and insert—

'he has given a participation notice to the company within the period beginning with the date of the assignment and ending 28 days later (or, if earlier, on the execution of a relevant conveyance to the company).'.

No. 38, in page 61, line 18, leave out from "if" to end of line 19 and insert—

'they have given a participation notice to the company at any time (before the execution of a relevant conveyance to the company).'.

No. 39, in page 61, line 20, leave out second "a" and insert "the".

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No. 40, in page 61, line 22, at end insert—

'(7A) For the purposes of this section a participation notice given to the company during the period—
(a) beginning with the date when the company gives a notice under section 13, and
(b) ending immediately before a binding contract is entered into in pursuance of the notice under section 13,
is of no effect unless a copy of the participation notice has been given during that period to the person who (in accordance with section 9) is the reversioner in respect of the premises.'.—[Ms Keeble.]

Schedule 8

Enfranchisement by company: amendments

Amendment made: No. 41, in page 115, line 7, leave out from "tenants" to end of line 8 and insert—

', as" substitute "persons who are participating members of the RTE company immediately before a binding contract is entered into in pursuance of the initial notice, as", and

(b) for "participating tenants, once" substitute "those participating members, once".'.—[Ms Keeble.]

Clause 125

Valuation date

Amendment made: No. 42, in page 63, line 31, at end insert—

'(2) In section 18(1) of the 1993 Act (duty to disclose existence of agreements affecting premises etc.), for "valuation date for the purposes of Schedule 6" substitute "time when a binding contract is entered into in pursuance of the initial notice".'.—[Ms Keeble.]

Clause 127

Disregard of marriage value in case of very long leases

Amendment made: No. 43, in page 64, line 4, leave out from first "of" to end of line 6 and insert—

'the lease held by any of those participating members exceeds eighty years, any increase in the value of the freehold or any intermediate leasehold interest in the specified premises which is attributable to his potential ability to have a new lease granted to him as mentioned in sub-paragraph (2)(a) is to be ignored.".'.—[Ms Keeble.]

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder where amendment No. 43 came from?

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