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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, will not think me discourteous if I deal with the amendments quickly and simply. In essence, they have one common feature; that is, to introduce delay into the process of acquiring the right to manage. We see no justification for that. We insist that the timetable that is set out in the Bill has been carefully constructed and thought through. We believe that 14 days is a sufficient gap between invitation to participate and claim notice, and that one month is the correct minimum gap between establishing that the company will take over management and the acquisition date itself.

The amendments were tabled in Committee earlier this year. We have heard nothing this evening to persuade us that we have got the balance wrong. We think that all the amendments lean too far towards the convenience of the landlord. We believe that the balance is right and we therefore see no reason to change the arrangement.

The noble Lord properly raised the issue of contracts but it would be better to discuss the issue in relation to Amendment No. 128. I hope that the noble Lord feels able to wait until we reach the relevant group of amendments so that there can be a more substantive debate on and response to this issue.

I can tell that the noble Lord will be disappointed by our response. However, we feel that we have struck the right balance and that we are right to insist on our approach. I hope that he feels able to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kingsland: I am extremely disappointed by the noble Lord's response and vastly unimpressed by the logic that apparently lies behind it. It is not the Liberal Party's practice to vote in Committee; if it were I am sure that I should be backed to the hilt. I shall reflect on what the Government have said and return to the matter on Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 78 agreed to.

Clause 79 [Contents of claim notice]:

[Amendments Nos. 116 to 121 not moved.]

Clause 79 agreed to.

Clause 80 [Claim notice: supplementary]:

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 122:

    Page 39, line 15, at end insert--

"( ) Nor shall a failure to serve any qualifying tenant or tenants with a notice of invitation to participate invalidate the claim notice, so long as a sufficient number of qualifying tenants were members of the company on the relevant date."

The noble Lord said: I am extremely weary of suggesting that this might prove to be an uncontroversial amendment. All the technical improvements that I have so far proposed have been met with the welcome that Scrooge gave to the Christmas carol singers. None the less, it seems to me that there is a technical lacuna in the clause.

Members of the Committee will have noticed that Clause 80(2) is an anti-technicality measure. In other words, the fact that a claim that purports to be given by some people who are not in fact qualifying tenants will not render the claim notice invalid so long as there is a sufficient number of qualifying tenants. So far so good. However, the clause still leaves the problem that some qualifying tenants may not have been served with notices inviting participation.

In a block of 100 flats or more, there is every chance that one or two tenants have not, by some accident or misadventure, been served with a notice inviting participation. So long as the number of qualifying tenants wanting to exercise the right to manage is sufficient, there seems no reason why that accident or misadventure should invalidate the notice. None the less, difficult though it is to believe, that is the Government's intention.

I raised this issue when we were previously in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, stated:

    "Any failure to serve notices properly would in itself invalidate any attempt to exercise the right to manage and therefore they would have to start all over again".--[Official Report, 1/3/01; CWH 153.]

In other words, if one tenant out of 100 is not served, the whole exercise is vitiated.

That does not seem sensible. It would be better to have a modest criminal sanction and directors who do not serve all the qualifying tenants with notices inviting participation, thus leaving it to the discretion of the prosecuting authorities or aggrieved tenants to prosecute rather than have the entire "right to

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manage" procedure rendered a nullity due to a minor and possibly excusable mistake in the service of the notices inviting participation. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, should hold on to his seat: we think that this is an excellent amendment. At the moment, a claim notice might be invalid or at least be open to challenge if the RTM company has, for whatever reason, failed to serve notices of invitation to participate on all of the qualifying tenants. Having commented on the quality of the amendment, I hope that the noble Lord will not mind if I refer to the exact opposite thrust of his earlier amendments, which I had to refer forward in an earlier debate.

On reflection, the present position is not entirely sensible. It could open the door to frivolous challenges by unscrupulous landlords. Amendment No. 122 seems to strike a better balance. A failure to serve the invitation to participate on everybody would not invalidate the claim notice, provided that the right number of qualifying tenants had signed up as members of the RTM company.

No one's interests would be harmed by such an approach. The acquisition of the right to manage would still need majority support. Any person who had not been sent an invitation to participate would be in the minority and would be unable to prevent the

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RTM from going forward. At the same time, such a person would still have the right to become a member of the RTM company at any time.

We support the amendment but think that it might have to go wider. It might be prudent, for example, to say that minor inaccuracies do not invalidate the notice, as we have provided in the claim notice in Clause 80(1). We should also like to check that consequential amendments will not be required. I hope that the noble Lord will allow us to take away this matter and consider an appropriate amendment to be brought forward at a later stage.

Lord Kingsland: My enthusiasm for the amendment is now somewhat tempered by the fact that the Government have accepted it. I wonder whether I was right after all. In any case, I think I am correct in withdrawing the amendment. I shall be interested and, indeed, intrigued, to see what the Government make of it on Report. Meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 80 agreed to.

Clause 81 agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at four minutes past ten o'clock.

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