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Lord Lea of Crondall: I have sympathy with the amendment in so far as it gives the Minister an opportunity to consider whether there may be some asymmetry between RTM and other matters. I have raised this matter in another connection. I believe that there is some asymmetry between the clauses to do with RTM and other matters in the Bill, and it may be worth while to consider that.

Lord Whitty: As regards Amendment No. 127, which allows the RTM company to appoint a surveyor prior to exercising the right to manage, my noble friend Lord Williams may be right that we can deal with this matter in guidance. I shall certainly look at that carefully. It is, however, possible that we may need something like his original amendment because that gives the surveyor right of access to the building and to relevant documents. As to that, we may need to establish a statutory right. Ideally, it should be dealt with in guidance, but if it was necessary to clarify the statutory position on access we might need to look at it further.

As to the date of commencement, in a sense there may well be some asymmetry in the Bill, but in the area of the right to manage we are committed to a substantial period of consultation, principally in relation to the constitution of the RTM company itself. As explained earlier, we are committed to consulting before making regulations. We want to ensure that proper guidance is in place before the commencement of that right. All of that will take time. It may take six months as the amendment suggests; it may take longer or even less time, but there will certainly be a substantial period of consultation and drafting. At this stage the Government prefer to have flexibility in the Bill rather than be tied to a commencement date.

Baroness Hamwee: I, too, have sympathy with the amendment. Can the Minister confirm that Clause 155, which provides that the provisions of the Bill shall,

allows for different parts of the Bill to be brought into effect at different times?

Lord Whitty: If that is what is stated, it allows flexibility. I believe that that is the normal form of words.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for raising that issue. I am sure that that is right. I hope that the Government will take seriously the fact that the right to manage is a fundamental matter that many people look to in the Bill. If there must be consultation, let there be a sense of urgency about it, because people want the right. I am grateful for my noble friend's observations about

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Amendment No. 127. No doubt he will look at it and let noble Lords know at a later stage what the Government propose to do about it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 128 not moved.]

Clause 76 [Right to obtain information]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 129:

    Page 33, line 33, after ("person") insert ("who has a right to manage the premises or any part thereof").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is twofold. First, it is to limit the RTM company's powers to obtain information and, secondly, to provide sensible enforcement powers.

As presently drafted, the clause gives the RTM company extensive powers to demand information from anyone whomsoever. It must be remembered that the RTM company has this power at a time when it has not yet acquired the power to manage. In other words, it is just a putative RTM company--a company that wants to acquire the right to manage.

The main thing which the RTM company needs at this stage is a list of all the qualifying tenants in the block. The person who knows that will be the person with the right to manage. The purpose of the first two amendments is to limit the power to demand information so that, in practical terms, only the landlord need give information, and to limit the information that can be demanded to the information which needs to be put in the claim form.

As at present drafted, Clause 76(1)(b) is extremely imprecise. What limits are to be placed on information which the RTM company may reasonably require? This is potentially an extremely intrusive provision. All sorts of confidential agreements could reasonably be demanded by the RTM company and there is no limit as to whom can be asked for information.

A proper enforcement power is also needed. As at present drafted, I suppose an RTM company might be able to apply for an injunction, ordering the recipient of a notice to provide information. That is hardly a cheap and cheerful means of enforcing this obligation. It would be much better to have a narrow duty of disclosing the names of tenants and the details of their leases, which is imposed on the landlord and is enforceable by summary criminal proceedings in the event of breach. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for explaining his amendments, which are as we understood them. The amendments are intended to restrict the power for RTM companies to obtain information. Under the amendment, the power could be used only to obtain information relating to certain matters which are required to be included in the claim notice which is, in turn, required by Clause 78. However, I observe that the noble Lord has tabled amendments to Clause 78 itself, which would extend the matters which would be required to be included in the claim notice.

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The main purpose of Clause 76 is indeed to ensure that an RTM company can obtain this information, but the company may have a legitimate reason to obtain other information which is pertinent to the claim. It is difficult to set that out exhaustively on the face of the Bill. We have therefore decided to provide a general power to obtain other information which the company reasonably requires. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked me about the limitation. The answer is that the word "reasonably" should protect landlords and other managers from being faced with unnecessary or unjustified demands. Indeed, I should remind the noble Lord that he argued previously that the RTM company will need to have made all manner of management plans. If it is to do that, it will need information on the existing management. If the Bill were limited in the way suggested by the amendments, it would not achieve what the noble Lord wants.

We have another problem with the amendment. It creates a criminal sanction for a failure to comply. We are reluctant to create new criminal offences unless there is a pressing need to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, suggests that it is not enough to go for an injunction to the court, but Clause 103 provides the power to apply to the court for an order to provide the information requested. We consider that to be enough.

6 p.m.

Lord Kingsland: I thank the Minister for his response. Clause 76(1) is limited to situations before the RTM company acquires the power to manage. It refers to its power to make a claim. The Minister quite rightly drew my attention to the fact that, in another amendment, I have asked that more information be provided by the existing management of the company so that a putative RTM company can make an objective assessment about what it is taking on.

However, those amendments sought to place an obligation on the existing management to produce that information. Here I am talking about a claim which the Minister will observe applies to any person. Therefore, with great respect, I do not believe that the two approaches are incompatible.

I understand the Minister's desire not to introduce more criminal offences--it is very good to find a Minister who feels that way about a parliamentary Bill--and I agree with him that an injunction is a reasonable alternative, but it is much more expensive for an individual to put on foot. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 130 to 132 not moved.]

Clause 76 agreed to.

Clause 77 [Notice of claim to acquire right]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 132A:

    Page 34, line 12, leave out ("14") and insert ("28").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 133, 134 and 135 in this group are also in my name. I propose not to move them when the appropriate moment arrives.

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Amendment No. 132A, which I shall move, would increase the minimum period of time between the service of the notice of participation and the service of the notice of claim from 14 to 28 days. We believe that 14 days is too short a period to allow the leaseholders to decide how they wish to respond to a notice to participate. What if a notice were served the day after a leaseholder left for a two-week holiday? We consider that 28 days would be more appropriate. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: As regards the proposal to increase the minimum period from 14 to 28 days, we consider that it is unnecessary and would cause another delay. The 14-day gap is intended to allow leaseholders the opportunity to reflect on whether they support the acquisition of the right to manage. If enough of them do, the notice can be served once the 14 days have expired. If they do not, the company will have to wait until sufficient members agree and it can serve the notice.

If someone was away, it would not affect that calculation at all. When they returned they could indicate that they wished to participate. However, if there was a majority there already, their subsequent view would not be relevant. If someone was away on a holiday for longer than 14 days and there was not a majority, the whole process would have to wait anyway. I do not believe that these amendments are necessary.

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