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Baroness Turner of Camden: There is no time to interrupt!

Lord Henley: My Lords, noble Lords may think that I am going on too long, but I believe that I do indeed have 12 minutes and I shall continue as I wish.

As I made quite clear, we believe that employers have the lead responsibility for in-work training, but we also believe that we should encourage this--that is what I want to get across to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel--through the Investors in People initiative. It is logical that a company's most important assets are its people. It is logical that we should properly develop those people. It is logical that such people will contribute more fully to the company if they are committed. If they are committed, it is because the company cares. In that type of environment the business prospers.

That culture, which after all is only common sense, has produced tangible results, such as greater customer satisfaction, increased profits and generally more effective working of a company's staff and its business. That is why the Government spend about £50 million per annum. I believe that the results are very good indeed. We now have about 21,000 organisations employing 5 million employees who are committed to that very exacting standard.

I believe that that should apply to all businesses, whether large or small. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, mentioned small businesses. We know that small businesses need extra help to develop their workforce. Obviously training can be very expensive in terms of time. A simple equation used by some is that time for training equals production time lost. I believe that to be a mistake, short-sighted and wrong. But the competitiveness White Papers have very much addressed that problem. That is why we introduced the Skills for Small Businesses initiative. That is why we conceived the Skills Challenge--a fund for small businesses; and, indeed, why we have small firms training loans.

Many thousands of small businesses have been helped to develop in-work training in that way. Only today, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, the Government published their response to the points raised from the "Your Business Matters" regional conferences, organised and facilitated by the Government, where small businesses were able to articulate their concerns. We have listened to those concerns and we will certainly act upon the points that were made.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, we also believe in the culture of life-long learning. It sees vocational training as an equally valued route for young people into the world of work. A learning culture inculcated in young people will, I believe, last into

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adulthood. Training is a means for the individual to reach full potential and for a business to prosper. Again, that is why we have looked critically at the education and training needs of our young people. That is also why we have asked Sir Ron Dearing to look at the routes to the world of work and the qualification structure for the 14 to 19 age group. Indeed, that was also mentioned by my noble friend, and, again, that is why we have introduced modern apprenticeships, which were praised by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. We have committed much money to that and I believe we are making a great deal of progress. We already expect to see the number of young people gaining NVQs at level 3 to increase to over 60,000 a year through the modern apprenticeship movement.

Today is a significant day. We have seen the publication of our third competitiveness White Paper. We have seen the skills audit and the Government response to the "Your Business Matters" conferences. All of those had one thing in common--the need to make the best use of our most valuable resource, our people. I believe that the economy is healthy and the country is healthy and that we are now competing with our global rivals. The Government know that to maintain our position we must have a well-educated and well-trained workforce. We are fostering the reality of lifetime learning--as I said at the beginning--from nursery vouchers into adulthood. A key component of that will always be in-work training--a component recognised, encouraged and acted upon by this Government.

Housing Bill

8.1 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 78 [Restriction on termination of tenancy for failure to pay service charge]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 242K:

Page 50, line 37, at end insert--
("( ) The reference in subsection (1) to premises let as a dwelling does not include premises let on--
(a) a tenancy to which Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 applies (business tenancies),
(b) a tenancy of an agricultural holding within the meaning of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 in relation to which that Act applies, or
(c) a farm business tenancy within the meaning of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 242K I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 242L and 242M. At last we come to some amendments on which we are totally in agreement. These measures are designed to improve tenants' rights to challenge unreasonable service charges. Many Members of the Committee will be aware of the increasing concern over recent months about a minority of landlords who exploit

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their position to levy excessive service charges. The measures in Chapter I of Part III are designed to curb these abuses.

One of the techniques used by these landlords is to exercise the right of forfeiture as soon as any dispute arises. This intimidates leaseholders into paying service charges even when they are excessive. Forfeiture is an important weapon of last resort for landlords to make sure that service charge contributions can be collected and buildings can therefore be insured and maintained. But it should be a last resort. Unfortunately, some landlords use this weapon even while a leaseholder may be seeking to challenge whether a service charge is reasonable.

In practice landlords very rarely obtain forfeiture. If the leaseholder is properly advised, it is possible to resist forfeiture and also to dispute service charges. But many leaseholders may be intimidated into paying up by the mere thought that they may lose their home to the landlord, even though in practice that is unlikely. Clause 78 therefore provides a new arrangement. Landlords will only be able to proceed to forfeiture once it has been established that a service charge is lawfully due. That may be done either by the leaseholder admitting that the sum is due or by the landlord obtaining a court judgment that it is due. So if the leaseholder wishes to fight, he will be able to do so before the court or before the leasehold valuation tribunal purely on the basis of a dispute about the service charge rather than one on the basis of a forfeiture action.

It is the Government's intention that the procedure should apply to residential flats and houses. Although the clause refers to, "premises let as a dwelling", there is some concern that that may not be sufficiently precise. Amendment No. 242K therefore makes it clear that the change applies only to residential tenancies and not to business or agricultural lettings. Those regimes have always been separate and distinctive from the regime applying to residential tenancies, and it is important to clarify that the provisions in the Bill have no impact in those sectors.

Subsection (5) of Clause 78 requires that any landlord serving the statutory notice often required before seeking forfeiture--known colloquially as a Section 146 notice--should make clear that the landlord cannot begin forfeiture until the liability to pay the service charge has been established. Otherwise some landlords might seek to intimidate leaseholders with Section 146 notices implying that forfeiture is imminent. Unless the tenants know better, they might be paying up even where they have a legitimate case. But there was some concern in another place that landlords might do this in obscure or legalistic language. The Government are therefore taking a power for the Secretary of State to prescribe a form of words to be used if that proves necessary or if it seems there would be advantage in having a standard form of words. Amendments Nos. 242L and 242M achieve this. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: In principle I support any amendments which safeguard the rights of tenants; that is, people occupying their flats. However, I wish to raise a specific issue on Amendment No. 242M. The amendment states:

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    "The Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe a form of words"
in order that proper notice is given. That provision is quite reasonable but I am concerned about subsection (4) of the proposed new clause which states:

    "The information or words required must be in characters not less conspicuous than those used in any other part of the notice".
I appreciate that we do not normally obtain such detail in legislation as regards pieces of paper. However, there is a certain ambiguity here in that we could be talking about a small footnote printed in a small typeface. Therefore the information or words might not be more conspicuous in a footnote. I wonder whether the Minister can find some way to tighten up the wording so as to achieve fully the laudable aim he described.

Lord Lucas: I am delighted that the noble Lord supports the aim of these amendments. I shall certainly examine the point he made about Amendment No. 242M. I shall look at the wording, if I may, at leisure to see whether I can either give some comfort that the words mean what the noble Lord and I think they should mean, or, if an amendment is necessary, bring that forward on Report.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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