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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, given the importance of the stability of the Russian Federation, can the Minister comment on this morning's news that the Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, has taken the unprecedented step of dismissing his entire government and has taken over temporarily as prime minister? What implications does that have for the political and economic stability of the country and the region as a whole, particularly since

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President Yeltsin has stated that the move is an attempt to give new impulse to economic reform rather than a change in economic policy?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am afraid that I must say that that has nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper. Indeed, it is far too early to comment on that matter.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a different question, but one on the same lines. Bearing in mind that President Yeltsin has sacked his government because they are unable to glean from the Mafia and other "businessmen" the tax which is necessary to keep Russia going, is it not odd that British taxpayers should be forking out for the retraining of Russian officers?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I must say to my noble friend that I do not believe the two are connected. Indeed, we believe, along with our European allies, that it is in our interests and the interests of security and co-operation in Europe that we should help Russia with the resettlement and reorganisation of her army. For that reason, we undertook that project.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, may I return to the Question on the Order Paper and ask the Minister from which Vote the money is taken? To be more specific, does it come from the defence budget?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I must write to the noble Lord in answer to that question; I note the point he makes.

Leasehold Valuation Tribunal

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the working of the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal and the basis of the appeals from that tribunal to the Lands Tribunal.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the leasehold valuation tribunals have provided an effective means of resolving a variety of disputes relating to leasehold property without the risks of high and uncertain costs associated with court proceedings. We shall be monitoring the operation of their recently introduced role in hearing service charge disputes and applications for the appointment of a manager. There has been some concern about appeals to the Lands Tribunal, which has the power to award costs. The procedures at the Lands Tribunal are kept under review, and, if it is decided that there is scope for change, interested organisations will be consulted. We are generally satisfied with the basis of appeals from the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal to the Lands Tribunal.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that there is an

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anomaly as regards the right of appeal? Under the Housing Act 1996, leave to appeal from any decision must be obtained from the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal, whereas under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, an appeal can be ledged on any ground? Does she know that the Leasehold Advisory Service is extremely concerned that unscrupulous landlords are using that right of appeal as an intimidatory tactic to worry tenants into agreeing higher prices than those determined by the tribunal? Will the Government consider rectifying that anomaly?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we are aware of concerns that different rules apply to appeals relating to service charge disputes and applications for the appointment of manager under the Housing Act 1996. In those cases, there is a requirement to seek leave to appeal from either the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal or the Lands Tribunal. In other cases, there is an unqualified right of appeal. The Government are committed to leasehold reform and plan to issue a consultation paper later this year. That will provide an opportunity to consider the working of the leasehold valuation tribunals and the arrangements for appeals against their decisions.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the problem to which attention has been drawn arises quite simply from the situation that the opportunity to act with oppression is given to a landlord where an appeal is of right? Where an appeal requires the leave of either the tribunal or the Lands Tribunal, that opportunity does not occur because of the conditions that can be appended to leave to appeal. Will not the Government consider urgently making leave to appeal to the Lands Tribunal a requirement in every case?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as I tried to explain to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, we are aware of the concerns which have been raised in this field. We have a manifesto commitment to introduce commonhold reform and we appreciate that the two areas of leasehold and commonhold reform need to be considered together because they are closely connected. Therefore, we shall consider those matters in due course.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether she is aware of the fact that Judge Marder, who is president of the Lands Tribunal, has issued guidance for those seeking to appeal under the 1996 Act, which is the one which requires leave to appeal. In that guidance he says:

    "It may be appropriate to refuse leave to appeal where there is no substantive point at issue between the parties and the application appears to be oppressive, eg, where the application appears to be exploiting deeper pockets in order to deter other parties from asserting their rights".

Does not the Minister think that fear of the enormous cost which could be involved for ordinary people in being forced to answer an appeal at the Lands Tribunal is a very real deterrent for many people?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we are aware of those concerns and are aware also of the

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points which are being raised. We are monitoring the situation closely and we shall seek to act in the appropriate way, as necessary.

Equal Pay

2.55 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to expedite progress towards equal pay.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Government's New Earnings Survey for April 1997 shows women's average hourly earnings, excluding overtime, were 80.2 per cent. of that of men. Government policies will enable more women to train for and enter higher status jobs and will encourage employers to pay full and fair rates. The introduction of a national minimum wage will also help to reduce the gap between men's and women's pay, since women form a large proportion of those workers who will benefit from this measure. The Equal Opportunities Commission is currently undertaking a review of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Government will consider the review when it is formally presented later this year.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating, with a change I believe of only six words, a Written Answer to me of 16th February. I am sure that she is familiar with the draft consultation paper issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission entitled Equality in the 21st Century. Will she pay particular attention to four proposals in that document: the proposal to change the negative ban on discrimination into a positive right to equal treatment; the proposal to incorporate the law on sexual harassment within the right to equal treatment; the proposal to consolidate the law on pregnancy and maternity leave; and the proposal to incorporate, where possible, the provisions of European Community law in British law? In that context, will the Minister agree that Europe is a girl's best friend?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am delighted that on this occasion at least the Government are found to be consistent and that the Answer I have given today is the same as the Written Answer which I gave to the noble Earl on 16th February.

It is obviously too early to comment on the Equal Opportunities Commission review, and we shall wish to do that when it has been completed. However, I believe that all the issues which the noble Earl has raised will be addressed by the commission, and the Government would certainly wish to see progress made in all those areas to ensure that we have equal rights at work and move slowly towards achieving genuine equal pay. Although there have been improvements, we are still not there.

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Finally, as regards the European Union, that is an area in which the Commission and the Community have in some respects been ahead of the UK and we can benefit from the work that they have done.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, can the Minister tell me which government departments are currently undertaking a pay audit in keeping with the code of practice on equal pay issued by the Equal Opportunities Commission in 1997?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, all government departments have to evaluate their pay systems as a condition of delegated pay. As part of that evaluation process, they are expected to review their systems for any sex bias and provide details of how any discrimination issues have been handled. The Cabinet Office monitors the results closely. However, I believe that the record of government departments in that respect is very good.

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