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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I do not think that I am convinced by the Minister's arguments. I have a feeling that the Minister's heart was not totally in the argument that he was putting forward. I may be doing him an injustice. However, it seems to me that there is a weakness in the Government's argument.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am mortified that the noble Lord thought that my heart was not in the argument. Of course it was. It was right there and he knows that perfectly well.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, in which case I can only suggest that the Minister's heart is not quite in the right place!

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The proposition is very simple, now that I have had time to think in more detail about the points which the Minister raised. We are dealing with something which, for the tenant, is one of the most important aspects of his life; namely, his home. In a variety of legislation, we find measures to protect consumers in all sorts of ways to prevent misunderstandings. I use hire purchase agreements as an example of that. In that case, there is legislation to protect people and to make sure that everything is written down. That is a matter which may be important but it is not as important as an individual's home.

There is a whole raft of other legislation which seeks to protect individuals when they enter into arrangements. And yet here we have a situation where, if the landlord does nothing, he puts the tenant in a more vulnerable position than he would otherwise be. Landlords are not stupid. Tenants are often not as well informed as landlords. And yet the suggestion is made that somehow it is too onerous for landlords to produce a written agreement to clarify the position, and that undermines Clause 95. That is stretching credulity a little too far.

The Minister said that Clause 96 provides a safeguard. It does of sorts, provided that the tenant knows what are his rights. But my contention is that tenants do not know what are their rights. They may be in a position in which they are ignorant and the landlord is almost invariably better informed. The tenant, through not knowing his rights, loses out.

But even if the tenant does exercise his rights under Clause 96, it can still take 28 days for any response to be forthcoming from the landlord. What about the housing benefit situation? The tenant may need to apply immediately for housing benefit, and yet for 28 days he may not have any statement from the landlord clarifying the terms of the tenancy. It seems to me that that leaves scope for a certain amount of fraud, because the arrangement is not sufficiently clear and the basis for giving housing benefit may also therefore not be clear. I understand that in a number of London boroughs fraud officers are very concerned that the arrangements which the Minister described open the door to the possibility of housing benefit fraud--something about which I know the Government are very concerned in a general sense.

But the basic proposition is that it is not a large burden on a landlord to produce an agreement. Even if the Minister's heart is totally in support of opposing the amendment, I fear that logic is not on his side. Very reluctantly, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for causing him confusion. I did not know that he had not been informed about the correction in the Marshalled List. We now return to Amendment No. 128.

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Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 128:

After Clause 97, insert the following new clause--

Recovery of possession

(".--(1) Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 shall be amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (4) after "subsection (1) above" there shall be inserted "of the landlord under an assured shorthold tenancy to recover possession of the dwelling-house let on the tenancy in accordance with Chapter I above".
(3) In subsection (4)(a) after "the date the notice was given" there shall be inserted "and not earlier than six months from the commencement of the tenancy".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very technical amendment and I hope that the Government will accept it as such. The purpose of the amendment is to avoid a problem which was caused by a judicial decision in the Shoreditch County Court in 1995 where the judge seemed to take the view that there was an ambiguity between subsections (1) and (4) of Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

The object of the amendment is to remove the ambiguity whereby Section 21(1) and (4) may be interpreted as alternatives and to prevent landlords from serving two months' notice seeking possession which ends before the end of the first six months of the tenancy.

I am sure that the Government are aware of the ambiguity caused by that judicial decision and I hope that they will accept the amendment in order to clarify the position. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it seems that it is now the turn of the Opposition to keep us on our toes. Amendment No. 128 was tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, yet the noble Lord, Lord Williams, speaks to it. That surprised me; but, nevertheless, it was a delightful experience to witness it.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, with the leave of the House, in that case, will the Minister give a different answer?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Baroness will have to wait and see. Then she will have to work out whether the answer I give would have been the same as the one that I might have given to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Needless to say, I always tailor my answers to the individual noble Lord who addresses the subject, but the substance is usually the same. However, if I may say so, that is enough of the frivolity stimulated by the noble Baroness.

Clause 98 amends Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 which sets out the procedures for a landlord to recover possession when a shorthold tenancy expires at the end of the initial fixed term. At present, the initial fixed term must be for a period of at least six months. An amendment is required because Clause 95 of the Bill will remove the requirement for a new shorthold tenancy to have an initial fixed term. Clause 98 will prevent a court from making an order for possession of a new shorthold tenancy until six months after the beginning of the original tenancy.

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The amendment tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and interpreted by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel--again, I have no doubt that the substance is the same; indeed, the noble Lord need not look so worried--

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, it is all very well to say that the substance is the same, but the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has been moving amendment after amendment tabled in the name of the Minister throughout the whole proceedings on the Bill; indeed, he did so while the noble Earl was in hospital. I do not mind but, once tabled, an amendment is the property of the House.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly right. I was just waiting for him to give such an elementary response. I knew that he would not be able to resist doing so.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that the amendment refers to a judgment concerning Shoreditch County Court. In fact, no one has raised the matter with my department and, indeed, we are not aware of any ambiguity. However, I shall certainly look into the matter. If the noble Lord, Lord Williams, says that there is a genuine problem, I shall of course look at it.

I had prepared myself for the fact that the purpose of the noble Lord's amendment was something other than that which he outlined. I believe that the noble Lord would prefer it if I were to consider the substance of the amendment as he put it. As he said, it is a technical matter and one to which I cannot give him an answer straightaway.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. The decision in question is on Ujima Housing Association v. Richardson (1995) CLW 46/95, Shoreditch County Court. Perhaps the noble Earl would be good enough to look at that judicial decision to see whether the amendment is well founded. If it is--and we think that it is--I hope that the Government will clear up the matter on Third Reading. As I said, it is a very small technical point.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for giving us details of the judgment. I am bound to say that I do not have the answer on the tip of my tongue at present, but I shall consider the matter and write to the noble Lord.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am always happy to receive letters from the noble Earl, but I would prefer to have the matter resolved by way of an amendment on Third Reading. Of course, I realise that the noble Earl does not pay unique and particular attention to every judicial decision, especially in the Shoreditch County Court; indeed, I would not expect him to do so. But, nevertheless, there is an anomaly here which I am advised is present in existing law. I very

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much hope that the Minister and whoever advises him will come forward with something on Third Reading, rather than just sending me a letter.

However, if I and my advisers are wrong and there is no ambiguity involved, I shall be delighted to receive a letter from the noble Earl explaining why I am wrong. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 99 [Applications for determination of rent: time limit]:

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