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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am sympathetic to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. Amendment No. 95 is aimed at ensuring that the public can obtain certain information from the LVT. We agree that the public should have access to the sort of information described in order to assist in and avoid precisely the situation that the noble Baroness related. It is not necessary to deal with such matters through regulation. I suspect the amendment, quite rightly, was simply a means of raising this issue.

The Government already produce a free booklet entitled, Applying to a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal, which is available from numerous sources, including the LVT itself. That booklet includes guidance on the jurisdiction of the LVT and is regularly updated to reflect new developments.

Of course, neither we nor the LVT can give legal advice. That is the role of the Leasehold Advisory Service—more commonly known as LEASE—an independent body funded by the Government. LEASE also produces a booklet called Leasehold Valuation Tribunals—a User's Guide, and two booklets on applying to the LVT, one for enfranchisement and lease renewals and one for disputes relating to the management of the property. Again, they are free publications which include advice on matters of jurisdiction.

The Leasehold Advisory Service also has a website on which it lists LVT decisions, summarises the key facts of each case and provides a link to a copy of the actual decision. Paper copies of LVT decisions are available from the LVT on request. We would be more than happy to consider any other suggestions the noble Baroness has as to how one could improve the information that is available.

Perhaps I can turn to the specific question of estate management schemes, and again I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this matter. We have corresponded on this matter and the noble Baroness first raised it with me in Committee. However, she rightly continues to press it as an important issue and perhaps I can respond in a little detail.

As the noble Baroness will know, estate management schemes are designed to ensure that common facilities and common standards can continue to be upheld on an estate where one of the properties on that estate is enfranchised. We understand why enfranchised leaseholders dislike

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being subject to such schemes. But we are also satisfied that, as a general principle, estate management schemes are both desirable and necessary.

That said, there are two key questions which need to be looked at within the present arrangements. First, we are aware anecdotally that there may be some schemes which have not been set up properly. That seems to include some instances of schemes which contain unnecessary and possibly inappropriate terms—the noble Baroness referred to a large document.

As the noble Baroness is aware, there are already mechanisms to address that point. All schemes are required to include provisions which allow for the variation of their terms. In most cases—I cannot promise in all—that will involve an application to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal either because the scheme specifically says so or because jurisdiction was transferred from the High Court by Section 75 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. Anyone who is concerned about the terms of the scheme to which they are subject should seek to address that under those provisions—I underline in effect the point made by the noble Baroness in her speech.

The second issue is that of payment under schemes. As noble Lords will know, leaseholders who pay service charges have rights and protections to protect themselves against unreasonable charges. This Bill will improve and extend those rights and introduce comparable ones for administrative charges under a lease. However, there are not any similar provisions in respect of charges made under estate management schemes. At present, therefore, anyone who enfranchises and is subject to a scheme will move from having protection against unreasonable charges under their lease to having no protection against unreasonable charges under the scheme. That seems to us to be an anomaly.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised the issue in Committee in the previous Parliament. We have been considering it since then. The noble Baroness will know, because I corresponded with her, that I cannot promise that I will be able to find space in the Bill to change this provision. However, it is right that I make those comments on estate management schemes. There are concerns about them, on which the noble Baroness has touched, both in her remarks tonight and in correspondence. In the light of my comments, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for those comments, which are extremely valuable. However, the point he made about unreasonable payments is the very point that has been made to me; that is, that people had more rights even before the Bill. If I understand him correctly, the Minister is saying that the Bill will improve people's rights against unreasonable charges. The statement that has been made to me is that people are being asked to pay much more now as so-called freeholders than they ever were when they were leaseholders. That seems to be unjust.

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The noble and learned Lord also mentioned that where one house in a street is enfranchised, the rest of the street has to be protected. I accept that. However, in the example to which I referred, I understand that seven out of nine properties are enfranchised. That means that the vast majority are so-called freeholders, and it is the vast majority who are suffering.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to find a way to include in the Bill some form of protection for people from unreasonable charges, wherever the matter is taken to, whether that be to the leasehold valuation tribunal or elsewhere. It is wrong for people to be exploited in terms of charges under an estate management scheme. I thank the noble and learned Lord for the point he raised and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 165 [Appeals]:

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 96:

    Page 84, line 36, at end insert—

"( ) In any proceedings in the Lands Tribunal on appeal from a leasehold valuation tribunal, the fees payable and costs awarded shall not exceed such fees and costs as may be specified for a leasehold valuation tribunal under paragraphs 9 and 10 of Schedule 12 to this Act."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I covered this subject fairly fully in Committee, and your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I do not need to do so again tonight. At present people are frightened into not pursuing their cases to the Lands Tribunal because they are told that the costs could cripple them or break them. Therefore, that is being used as a big stick to prevent people taking appeals to that tribunal. I believe that it would be fair for such charges to be in line with those of the leasehold valuation tribunal, whatever those charges happen to be. I beg to move.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and would add one comment. Such costs are a deterrent to people taking cases on appeal to the Lands Tribunal after losing a decision in the leasehold valuation tribunal. As a barrister, I am well aware that one of the most awful fates that can sometimes befall a litigant is to win at first instance, to find oneself taken to appeal—something which one cannot prevent—and then to be saddled with the costs both at first instance and in the Court of Appeal. Therefore, the deterrent is not only to people taking cases to the Lands Tribunal by way of appeal but to making the original application to the leasehold valuation tribunal. Therefore, I am more than happy to support the amendment.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will have noted that I have not tabled any of my Committee stage amendments regarding the leasehold valuation tribunal. However, I hope that he will forgive me if I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Gardner.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I had noted that point. The noble Baroness made her points in

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Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has indicated the point; namely, to limit the fees payable to the Lands Tribunal to reflect to some extent the limit at the land valuation tribunal. That would avoid any intimidatory effect to a leaseholder who is worried about the cost effect of going to the Lands Tribunal.

When those issues were raised before I undertook to study them carefully with my colleagues at the Lord Chancellor's Department. I have now done so. As noble Lords will know, Sir Andrew Leggatt recently concluded a wide-ranging review of the tribunal system as a whole. The Government are still consulting on the outcome of that review. That will provide an opportunity to consider all aspects of Lands Tribunal procedures, including its costs regimes. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, will agree that this issue would be better dealt with in that context when her arguments, which have considerable force and support around the House, can be put. In those circumstances I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I do not know whether I am prepared to wait that long, but I am prepared to withdraw the amendment tonight so I can discuss it with the noble and learned Lord between now and the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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