I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. At the eighth sitting of the Committee, I introduced new clause 13, which dealt with rural exemption. The Minister responded by saying that there is some sympathy with the desire to create a level playing field, but that she would need to consult first. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can convey that to the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).
In a vicarious fashion, and given the charm of the hon. Lady's intervention, I am glad to endorse her comment. It is clear that there is a problem which the Minister may be prepared to address.
There is, however, a further difficulty in relation to Adlestrop:
"in the case of some of the properties which are not at a low rent, the application of the test as to whether the freehold of the property 'is owned together with adjoining land which is not occupied for residential purposes' is not clear. Consequently, it is not clear whether such properties are or are not excluded under section 1AA(3). This reflects the nature of the village and its properties."
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold apparently met Mr. Mason and the then Minister with responsibility for such mattersthe right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford)on 31 January 2001 to discuss the Adlestrop problem. Indeed, the Minister was also present at that meeting, sounlike meshe is very familiar with the problem. It is in the nature of our affairs that we take a special interest in matters affecting our own constituencies. Had my hon. Friend been able to attend today's debate, I could have asked him exactly what went on at that meeting.
According to Mr. Mason's letter, he suggested at that meeting
"that a distinction should be drawn between properties which had been sold, albeit on long leases, and those which had been let on a long lease in anticipation that they may eventually revert to the freeholder."
Apparently, the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich was sympathetic to the problem, and concurred that it needed to be addressed; according to Mr. Mason,
"He suggested that an amendment should be proposed to the Bill which was then under consideration in the House of Lords. He suggested that I"
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"liaise with the Leasehold Advisory Service concerning the drafting of an appropriate clause. Unfortunately, they have not been able to be of any assistance due to pressure of work. The Bill was . . . then lost as a result of the General Election and has subsequently been reintroduced."
Mr. Mason adds:
"I would be surprised if there are a large number of properties in rural areas which have been let for a term in excess of 21 years, but which have not effectively been sold, and which therefore require the protection of the rural exemption, but it does appear . . . that there are at least some such properties which require protection. Presumably these may have been let at a rent which was not then a low rent in order that the leases of such properties should not be enfranchiseable. However, there are no such properties in Adlestrop.
I suggest that the position of Adlestrop, and any other similar situations, can be met by a simple amendment to Section 1AA(3) of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 by the addition of paragraph (d):
'(d) The tenancy was granted for a term of years certain not exceeding 80 years'."
Mr. Mason then proposes further amendments. His letter continues:
"The purpose of the amendment is to draw a distinction between those properties which have been sold off and those which have merely been let. Accordingly, properties which are let for a term in excess of 80 years would be outside the rural exemption, whilst those let for a shorter term would remain within the rural exemption."
Any infelicities in the amendments that we are considering would not alter the fact that a considerable problem exists, and it is surely not beyond the wit of parliamentary counsel to sort it out. Mr. Mason continues:
"I would expect that any properties which are let with any reasonable prospect that they would revert to the freeholder would have been let for a term somewhat less than 80 years. I have suggested a term of 80 years in order to accord with the marriage value provision, although that is applicable to leases where the unexpired term is in excess of 80 years, whereas my suggested amendment refersI think correctlyto the original term. If it was wished the length of term could instead be 90 years.
Such an amendment would mean that all properties within Adlestrop would be enfranchiseable on the same terms. If such an amendment is not introduced there would be a continuing distinction between properties which are or are not enfranchiseable. Such a situation is clearly inappropriate in a small village such as Adlestrop.
The amendment would not only address the present anomaly but would also do away with the current lack of clarity as to the status of certain properties in Adlestrop. However, it would not prejudice properties in rural areas which were let for less than 80 years and which would continue to be excluded by Section 1AA(3).
There may be other similar situations to Adlestrop which would also be addressed by the amendment . . . I would hope that the Government would consider it appropriate to include such an amendment in the Bill."
In her letter of 13 February to my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, the Minister said:
We shall shortly consider an amendmenttabled by the hon. Member for Wimbledonthat relates to private Acts, but I should first point out that this important matter
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can be resolved. I look to the Minister for an assurance that it will be resolved. It appears that the provision could take on the character of a hybrid provision, because it could affect certain persons in a manner different from other persons in that category. The Minister shakes her head and I am glad that she doesI simply thought on the spur of the moment that such a problem might exist. If no such problem exists, there is even less reason for not dealing with the matter by way of future assurances. The Minister shakes her head againI find this process of mute exchange difficult to bear.
The Minister's letter concludes as follows:
"I'm sorry I can't give a more positive response. If your constituents would like to come and talk through their concerns, they would be welcome."
I am glad to note that the Minister now nods her head.
I have listened carefully to the concerns of the residents of Adlestrop, but does the hon. Gentleman consider the Adlestrop question or the Schleswig-Holstein question the more difficult?
I am pleased that the hon. Lady has asked such an incredibly perceptive question. In doing so, she has introduced a completely new dimension to the Schleswig-Holstein question, which establishes three categories of person: one who is dead, one who has forgotten, and one who has gone mad. However, it is not clear which category is relevant to this case. As I do not represent Cotswold, I do not know the details of this case, other than what is contained in Mr. Mason's extremely erudite letter on behalf of the Adlestrop residents' association. I am therefore unable to add anything to what my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold could have contributed himself.
Mr. Greg Knight:
Is there not a danger that the current residents of Adlestrop will themselves be dead before the matter is resolved? As I understand it, a meeting with the Minister took place 14 months ago, in January 2001. How much more time must elapse before the consultation period is brought to an end?
I have great sympathy with what my right hon. Friend has just said. The Department is well aware of the issue, which has been discussed extensively for a long time. The Minister had to admit that, despite the sympathy expressed by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, the Leasehold Advisory Service was unable to deal with the issue. However, I consider the reasons given thoroughly unconvincing.
The original intention was that the Leasehold Advisory Service might advise leaseholders on their individual circumstances, not that it should advise on the drafting of an amendment.
That is no more convincing. The more the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box to answer my pointsand the more she sits and shakes her headthe more concerned I become. I am determined to divide the House on this issue, because it is very strange.
If the hon. Gentleman had been so concerned, he could have met the constituents of the
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hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and talked through the matter with them. He would then have had a much better grasp of all the issues involved in this complex case.