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Commons Chamber

Volume 205: debated on Friday 6 March 1992

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House Of Commons

Friday 6 March 1992

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]


Human Organ Transplants

9.35 am

I wish to present a petition. I fully support the aspirations of the petitioners, who are predominantly from the Coventry area. About 5,500 citizens have signed the petition. This test of public opinion reflects the findings of annual surveys carried out by the British Kidney Patients Association, which show that the majority of British adults —72 per cent.—are in favour of legislation of the sort that is widely accepted in Europe. It applies in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. There is a crying need for similar legislation in Britain. To those who might object, I suggest that they see themselves not as donors but as recipients. At some time any of us could be in need of a transplant.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House, in the circumstances, will take immediate steps to enact legislation that will protect patients' rights and permit surgeons to remove organs for transplantation in conditions specified by the Act of Parliament, except where the central information and records unit of the Department of Health indicates that an individual has clearly declared otherwise.
Your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table

Crime (Cornwall)

I have been presented with many signatures and petitions and the one that I seek to present is in a form that is suitable for Parliament. It was assembled after the community of Perranzabuloe— especially the senior citizens thereof and those from other areas—suffered from shock, outrage and fear as a result of daylight attacks—handbag snatching with force—resulting in hospital treatment in some instances. This happened at Malpas, Truro and Perranporth. Police and ambulance personnel were required to attend the scenes of the crime.

For this reason the petitioners pray that the House calls upon the Home Office to provide the excellent Cornwall police with more support and to ensure that there are more community police officers on the beat to help reassure shocked people and children that our streets are safe.

To lie upon the Table.

Bill Presented

Human Organ Transplants (Amendment)

Mr. John Hughes, supported by Mrs. Alice Mahon and Mr. Dave Nellist, presented a Bill to amend the Human Organ Transplant Act 1989 further to provide for the circumstances in which an organ may be retrieved from a dead person for the purposes of transplant; to require the anonymity of the donor and the recipient; to define death for the purposes of that Act of 1989 as the total and irreversible loss of brain function; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 13 March and to be printed. [Bill 110.]

Commonhold And Leasehold Reform

9.38 am

I beg to move,

That this House calls for the early introduction of commonhold as a means of effecting necessary reforms in leasehold and freehold tenure.

I feel especially fortunate to have been lucky in the lottery. I drew first prize and thereby gained the opportunity to present to the House for debate a subject which is of great national importance. At the same time, it is of great constituency concern for many Members on both sides of the Chamber.

A motion in similar terms was proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) almost a year ago, on 8 March 1991. The need for leasehold reform is a recurring theme in the House, and it has been with us throughout this Parliament. There is a need to regularise the relationship between landlord and tenant and between leaseholder and ground landlord and it is necessary to consider how these relationships can be improved by the introduction of the device of commonhold. In what might be the last occasion on which to debate private Members' business in the House, it is opportune to raise this matter. I hope that it will be viewed as a matter of great urgency and that it will have priority on the agenda in the next Parliament.

I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, who has tenaciously and relentlessly pursued the matter during his time in the House, but to his predecessor, Sir Brandon Rhys Williams who, throughout his time in the House, also made the issue one of his particular concerns.

The matter has particular links with particular constituencies. My constituency of Dulwich has a large amount of leasehold tenure, where the ground landlord is a large landed estate. Over the years, the matter has become one of enduring concern. My predecessor, Sam Silkin, although of a different party, pursued the matter in the House, and previously his predecessor, Robert Jenkins, a Conservative Member, did the same. The matter is therefore not party political, but one of great concern, because we want to ensure that the law relating to leasehold is reformed and regularised.

All sides of the House recognise that there is something wrong in the relationship between the leaseholder and the ground landlord. There is, perhaps, something rotten in the leasehold law. That is why I am grateful that the Minister for Housing and Planning gave a commitment on 4 March that legislation would be introduced to allow long leaseholders to extend the term of their lease, with a provision to allow acquisition of the freehold interest. That builds on the earlier commitment by the Minister on 12 July 1991 that commonhold tenure would be introduced into the legislative programme. I was somewhat disappointed that it was not included in the programme for this Session, but, realistically, we understand that such a complex matter, with so many unintended implications, must be comprehensively considered. We must get it right; we cannot take a chance on bodging it. Therefore, it is appropriate that the matter should be considered at the beginning of a new Parliament.

I am glad that those welcome commitments have been given, because they give a sharper focus to our debate this morning. In some ways we are now pushing at a opening door and we can pinpoint where particular proposals can be most effectively applied. Why is there a need for change? Anyone who has had dealings, whether professionally, as a representative of local government, as a Member of Parliament or as a tenant, recognises that there is a deficiency in the current leasehold law and, therefore, a problem in the relationship between landlord and tenant. The law does not meet the needs of those whom it exists to serve.

I can cite one or two examples of that. In an ideal world, a lease is a contract between landlord and tenant—an agreement entered into voluntarily on equal terms by the parties concerned, to their mutual benefit, each recognising his obligations and accepting his rights under that agreement. In theory, it is an equal exchange. However, in many instances that is not the case and there is great inequity and inequality in the status of the two parties to the contract. I will not go into the matter in any detail, but I know of a number of cases where, for the long leaseholder, the interest that he has is the interest in his own home—an asset involving financial, emotional and personal investments. One of the most traumatic experiences must be any damage or threat to one's home. Landlords often view the contract as a simple commercial transaction. The property is an asset—an investment on which a return is sought. Therefore, it cannot be said that the contract relationship is one of equality, because there is a disparity of interest that could lead to conflict.

This may be an appropriate time to declare an interest. The House should be aware, if it is not already, that I am the chairman of a board of governors that looks after a charitable foundation—the Wellcot Educational Foundation. It has its assets in landed property in inner London. In that sense, I am a landlord, although it is a voluntary activity for which I receive no remuneration. My responsibilities allow me to view the position from both sides.

Over the years, I have received representations about the need to retain the integrity and the completeness of many of the large landed estates, to which the proposed legislation might be a threat. It has been argued, with great conviction, that there is a need in certain areas to have comprehensive management to ensure that the architectural integrity of the buildings concerned, which are often of great distinction, is maintained.

It is recognised that many of the large estates have been innovators in town planning and that they have made a substantial contribution to conservation. The charm and the beauty of my Dulwich constituency can largely be attributed to the good stewardship, sympathetic understanding and sensitive development of the estate's governors of Alleyns College of God's Gift, who are the managing agents and ground landlord for much of that area.

Recognising the distinguished service and responsible stewardship of many of the landed estates in the past should not obscure the fact that there is now a crying need for change. By way of comfort to those responsible landlords, I say to them that they will have to accept change, but they have nothing to fear from the proposed legislation. There is a need to adapt to changing social need, and landlords have done that over the ages. With reasonable recompense, there is an opportunity to redeploy those assets in some other directions.

Although responsible landlords have little or nothing to fear, the rapacious Rachman-like landlords have every reason to be apprehensive. Many hon. Members have had experience of such landlords, but their racket has been rumbled and their game is up. The proposed legislation would do a great deal to ensure that responsible landlords can continue to exercise proper control and concern over their estates, but the irresponsible landlords will be rooted out.

What are the problems; what is the mischief; what are the elements that we are seeking to change? It concerns mainly flats but also houses. I refer to the problem, which affects hundreds, if not thousands, in my constituency, that arises in respect of the lease—having a term of perhaps 99 years—that is taken up by a person in their 20s when he or she is first beginning to earn. Throughout that person's working life of 40 years, the lease gradually diminishes, so that what was once a rising asset and an investment begins to fall in value. The property, on which the leaseholder once hoped to capitalise, in planning for his or her retirement, becomes an unmarketable asset. A lease with no more than 60 years to run is unsaleable, because it is unmortgageable by any prospective purchaser. A provision to extend leases so affected would go some way to mitigating that problem.

There is the attendant problem of the landlord's responsibility to repair, maintain and service the structure of a block of flats and its common parts, including the surrounding land, gardens and garages. That is a constant source of concern, friction, stress and anxiety. The irresponsible landlord often exploits that aspect in devious ways, perhaps by neglecting to meet his obligation under the covenants of the leases. He may not only allow the property to fall into disrepair but impose a service charge to finance a maintenance fund that makes payments that are disproportionately high in relation to the work undertaken.

Frequently, such work is not put out to open tender but is placed with the landlord's own sub-contractors, with all the opportunities for quasi corruption that that presents.

The House has addressed that issue on more than one occasion, and was able to close several gaps in that particular racket. I am interested to know whether others have appeared since the days when I was a housing Minister.

My hon. Friend has made a distinguished contribution to landlord and tenant issues since the first day that he entered the House. Overt corruption has been stamped out, but it is difficult to prove that necessary work commissioned by the landlord, but for which tenants will pay, has been contracted at the cheapest price or even at a competitive price. That presents an opportunity if not for corruption then for a form of internal payment that does not represent open market, value for money of the kind that is in the tenants' interest. Such practices may fall short of criminal behaviour, but they are not an open book. We seek to draw public attention to those loopholes, in the hope that provisions can be devised to close them.

Excessive management fees and service charges, and landlord neglect, are frequently obscured by complex leases. Long ago, I trained as a lawyer, but many of the leases that have been shown to me read like double Dutch. One cannot help but conclude that the drafting lawyers not only used an antiquated and unnecessary form of words, but made a deliberate attempt to kick dust in the eyes of the prospective tenant, and that there was a deliberate intention to obscure the landlord's obligations and the prospective tenant's rights.

An element in commonhold reform should be the introduction of a simple and readily understandable form of words that the layman can comprehend, which clearly sets out the occupants' obligations and rights.

In the relationship between landlord and tenant, the cards are often stacked against the latter. It is often an unequal and inequitable relationship, and one which requires fundamental reform. It is no longer sufficient to tinker on the fringes of landlord and tenant law. The relationship between the long leaseholder and the ground landlord served a purpose in the past, and may have an enduring role to serve in future—but in its present form, it is not one which best represents the association between the occupant of a flat and the person or persons responsible for its maintenance and that of the common parts, including the building's roof and foundations.

Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning outlined in a written answer a move towards enfranchisement, by abolishing the artificial, rateable value hurdle in the way of leaseholders wanting to acquire their homes. A large number of leaseholders throughout the country will have an opportunity to acquire the freehold interest that they were artificially denied under the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. That is a step in the right direction.

Will that provision relate to houses as well as to flats?

Yes. The rateable value of £1,500 is applicable to London properties. I believe that the figure outside London is £750. Subject to consultation, the removal of that hurdle will allow occupants of properties under a long lease to acquire the freehold.

The next stage is to allow tenants who are anxious about the diminishing term of their leases and the threat that presents to their futures an opportunity to extend their leases or to acquire the freeholds, with the ultimate objective of the introduction of commonhold. That system of tenure flows automatically from the tributaries of lease extension and enfranchisement. To use the political idiom of the day, commonhold would serve as the leaseholders charter, offering rights and guarantees that are extended by charters to other aspects of our lives.

The nature of commonhold is often debated among those ideologues who think of angels dancing on the head of a pin. I may have erred in referring to it a moment ago as a form of tenure. Commonhold is a legal device which allows individuals who enjoy the freehold occupancy of a residential unit jointly to own a commonhold interest, with responsibility for all the duties and obligations, but also enjoying all the rights, of a ground landlord. It is not so much the creation of a new form of tenure as a way of supporting existing leasehold and freehold tenure in a regularised, sensible scheme.

There is a need for a standard form to be defined and recognised from the beginning. It should not be left to the individual draftmen of professional firms to draw up what they think is appropriate to meet these needs. Far be it from me to ascribe deviousness to draftsmen, but it is possible to benefit one party rather than the other.

With the introduction of commonhold there should be established a commonhold commission. It would be a regulatory body with the duties of administering commonhold arrangements, of advising in any circumstances where they were being considered and of adjudicating when any dispute arose. Without such a safeguard, it would be impossible to ensure that the commonhold scheme would have universal application, which is desirable, and universal understanding, which is essential.

I fear that what I have said so far may have sounded like rather dry, academic theorising. The case is best illustrated by three examples from my constituency. Earlier I mentioned the management of the estate of Alleyn's College of God's Gift and particular developments that were introduced in the 1960s. Some fine blocks of flats of seven or eight storeys, containing 20 or 30 highly desirable, small dwellings, are involved. There is responsible tenant occupancy. The tenants occupy on long leases and there is a great deal of corporate concern through residents' associations and leaseholder associations. Whatever the good faith and good will on the part of the estate's governors, there is, if not conflict, certainly friction arising from the nature of the landlord-tenant relationship, to which I referred earlier.

Commonhold would provide tenants with the opportunity not only to extend their leases, which in most cases run for 60-plus years, to make them a more marketable asset, but to take responsibility for the management and maintenance of the blocks. They would be individual freeholders of their flats with a joint responsibility for carrying out the duties of the management of the block as a whole. That is clearly desired by the vast majority of the occupants of Lowood court, Raleigh court and Drake court. They, and others, are recognisable names of residents' groups that wish a greater say in the control of the management, maintenance, decoration and general care of their home which they regard as their freehold right.

The friction is reflected on a wider front. I am fortunate in having a constituency with a large number of professional people who are able to share their expertise for the benefit of the community as a whole. Three active, well-informed amenity societies are the Dulwich Society, the Dulwich residents' association and the Dulwich Village preservation society. They have all participated in the debate and have taken a view about any change in tenure that is needed and any change in management that commonhold would offer to occupants in the area. Those bodies represent broader interests than do individual tenants of a block and they commend the commonhold principle for the legislative programme.

There are developments in the private sector and there is significant involvement by the London borough of Southwark. The commonhold provisions would be of great benefit if applied to one of its responsibilities. There are two blocks known as Dawsons Heights. They dominate the landscape rather like the totalitarian buildings of eastern bloc countries. They have a commanding view of London. They were developed in the 1960s and are occupied by a remarkably lively group of tenants, some of whom, but by no means the majority, have exercised their right to buy under the Government scheme. They are, therefore, long leaseholders, whereas the remainder are direct tenants of Southwark council. They have sought to take advantage of the provision in the Housing Act 1988 for tenants to choose their landlord and opt out of the landlordship of Southwark council. They have taken up the tenants choice scheme early on and run with it. Over the past two and a half years the negotiations have been slow, largely because of the efforts of Southwark council to put obstacles in the way of the tenants exercising that choice.

I am delighted to say that on Wednesday I had the opportunity of showing the estate to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. He met several tenants who made it clear to him that they wished to proceed. I hope that the negotiations will now take wing. The Samuel Lewis Trust is the preferred choice as landlord. It has been given what is called approved landlord status and is to be considered as the alternative landlord in a ballot. The management of the negotiations is in the reputable hands of the Paddington Churches housing association and I hope that a ballot will be held at the end of the year. This provides an opportunity for tenants who are not long leaseholders to show that they want to change their landlord. At the same time, if commonhold was thought to be an appropriate way of holding the freehold or harmonising leasehold, freehold and tenants interests on such an estate, it would work well for such mixed occupancy.

On a much smaller scale, in Dunton court, a block of 20 flats, 18 or 19 tenants have exercised their right to buy. They are outraged that they are called on to pay heavy sums to Southwark council for reserve and maintenance funds for work that is not being done on their leaking roofs and rising damp. In those circumstances there is an excellent, easy opportunity for the long leaseholders to take on a commonhold interest together, making provision for any remaining tenants but ensuring that they, rather than a remote, indifferent, inefficient bureaucracy, look after their interests.

I allude to another example which represents a different aspect of the problem. Ruskin Park house was built by the London county council to a higher standard and, in the terms of the times, was intended to be a block for professional people. In the early stages of the right-to-buy scheme—in the 1960s and early 1970s—the tenants of Ruskin Park house exercised that right in good measure. About 75 per cent. of the flats in that block are now owner occupied. I was about to say that the management of the block was organised on rather novel terms—it was certainly novel when it started.

The Greater London council—the successor to the LCC—retained the freehold interest. The owner-occupiers formed a housing association—I believe that their status is that of a non-charitable housing association—and took a long lease on the whole freehold interest which, in turn, was subject to sub-leases for owner-occupiers. The GLC took sub-leases for the people who remained tenants and offered weekly or periodic tenancies to their tenants. Therefore, the GLC was originally the ground landlord —the freeholder—which had granted a long lease to the Ruskin Park housing association which, in turn, granted subsidiary long leases to individual occupiers. In the case of those who remained tenants, a subsidiary long lease was granted in similar terms back to the council, and the tenants' position remained unaltered.

A management committee held shares in the proportion of one share per flat. When I was the Dulwich member of the GLC, I sat on that management committee and exercised my vote for the number of shares—not a block vote in the pejorative sense, but limited to representing the flats still occupied by GLC' tenants. When the unlamented GLC was dissolved, one of the effects of that dissolution was the decision by the London residuary body not to transfer the freehold interest to the head lessee—the Ruskin Park housing association, as would have been right and proper. Instead, it transferred it to the London borough of Southwark. That, alas, has been one of the enduring concerns that have plagued this development.

The development was innovative and displayed all the best elements of management self-help, but under the present arrangements it has fallen between two stools. The opportunity provided by commonhold would be a way to solve that problem. When the Housing Act 1988 was in Committee I raised that issue several times and the then Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) acknowledged that something had to be done. I believe that something can be done with commonhold tenure.

By using examples from only one constituency I have tried to illustrate three problems that affect many people and which need to be resolved. The reforms of leasehold enfranchisement, extension of leases and commonhold would be steps in the right direction. However, there are a number of questions still outstanding which would need to be resolved in Committee. One of the most crucial is whether, if commonhold is thought to be desirable, it should be by voluntary agreement or involve an element of compulsion. I know that that will be a matter of controversy and that is why I raise it this morning. I have my view, but I accept that other people may have different views. I would start with the principle that, as the original arrangement between landlord and tenant is in theory reached through contract, any change should be by agreement. I am enough of a realist to know that if it is left to voluntary arrangements by agreement between the parties, there might be expressions of goodwill and support but little action. That was very much the case with the right-to-buy scheme. It was left to local councils to implement voluntarily if they wished, but it was not until it was made a right for tenants that it became effective. Therefore, there must be an element of compulsion. Compulsion might encourage ground landlords and their long leaseholders to get together in the spirit of co-operation. Without that, I do not think that the scheme will take off.

That leads to the question of proper compensation in such circumstances. Valuers will disagree, depending on whom they are representing, whether it should he the open market value, modified open market value, market value reflecting marriage values, or any other ramifications or whether it should be decided according to a statutory formula. I raise this issue without offering an opinion, but it must be considered at an early stage. Unless there is reassurance and clarification about the basis on which compensation would be given, there might be objections which might be misinformed.

My hon. Friend will know from experience that in tranferring an asset from one owner to another, if the marriage value is not taken into account his constituents and others will make very large tax-free capital gains almost immediately if they wish to sell their property thereafter.

I accept my hon. Friend's point. I in no way promote the idea of commonhold or the element of compulsion which it might bring to deliberately do down the landlord or to give an unexpected bonus to a tenant. It should realistically represent the value of the property so that some tenants do not make a killing and beneficiaries of a charitable trust do not suffer. There should be a professional and realistic valuation which would solve the mischief and problems inherent in the present system. Responsible landlords have little to fear from the financial consequences of the scheme, although they will have to adapt. It might be less attractive to and, indeed, might scupper some of the activities of irresponsible landlords.

We must also consider what happens when a number of residents wish to have a commonhold arrangement but others object. One can easily imagine that if it were necessary to have 100 per cent. unanimity in order for all residents to have commonhold, very few schemes would take off. There is bound to be one objector to any arrangement who might thwart the wishes of the vast majority. Indeed, I envisage an unscrupulous or devious landlord ensuring that there was one or more such persons in occupation to object. I am interested in the concept, which I believe came from Mr. Edward Nugee, QC, of qualified unanimity, which is a smart way of saying majority. It is necessary to have a decision on whether there should be commonhold tenure or a commonhold arrangement which is based not on complete unanimity, but on a majority vote by those affected. From my reading of the answer given earlier this week by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, a two thirds majority would be considered acceptable support to trigger off the commonhold arrangements.

There is another group of housing about which my hon. Friend may not know. In the north of England, there are houses that were built by benevolent employers with 999-year leases at £1 a piece. They can now be used by unscrupulous landlords to squeeze tenants who pay only £1 a year each. That must be dealt with in forthcoming commonhold or leasehold reform.

I fully agree with the principle of my hon. Friend's suggestion. I hesitate to make any observations about the detail, because I do not have the facts of the case. The landlord's role is thoroughly honourable and socially useful. As I said when I declared my interest, I have been involved in that role. In defending that position and in speaking with pride as a landlord, one must recognise that there are unscrupulous landlords who must be rooted out and identified as such. They must not be allowed to prosper and flourish as many have.

The legislation will be complex. It will not be easy to understand and it will take time to ensure that it goes through the House properly. The legislation must be comprehensive and it cannot be hurried, although it is a matter of urgency. I commend the proposals to the House and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that they are high on the agenda of any new Parliament.

10.21 am

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on introducing the debate, which interests me and many other hon. Members. The issues of commonhold, leasehold reform and a greater say by tenants in service charges are long overdue for consideration. It is regrettable that after 12 years of Conservative Government, we have the debate in the closing days of this Parliament when for many years —the hon. Member for Dulwich referred to four hon. Members who, like him, have been involved in the issue —there have been calls for changes in legislation.

Leasehold is a London issue and, as the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson) explained, it is a problem in other areas. I refer to two blocks of flats in my constituency. Ducane court is a large block of flats containing 600 properties with 800 to 1,000 residents. There is a smaller block of flats called Moira court. Both give examples of the issues to which the hon. Member for Dulwich referred.

If ever a group of tenants has suffered the abuses of despicable behaviour by landlords and their agents, it has been those who live in Ducane court. I quote briefly from a letter from a lady who lives in Ducane court. She says:
"I have lived in Ducane court for 50 years and under the present regime of ineffective management agents, of which our landlords are directors which I believe is outside the law, I have watched this block deteriorating year by year."
Many other residents have made similar comments to me over the years in which I have tried to work with them. I have had countless meetings. I have had meetings here with junior Ministers in the Department of the Environment on the specific issues of the behaviour of the landlords and their agents, and of the service charges that were repeatedly charged to those men and women.

The great problem was that one could never get a detailed breakdown of how the charges were arrived at. The agents once decided that there would be a three-stage improvement programme for the property. The residents did not object to that, but they objected to the fact that before the first stage had been completed, the agents demanded money for the second stage. The residents came to see me and said that they did not know what the total cost would be for the first stage because they had not been given accounts and the work had not been completed. They told me that they were now being pressurised by the landlords and their agents who said, "Do not worry about the cost. Do not even worry about when the first stage will be completed. We are interested in payment for the work for the next stage." The landlords could not even tell my constituents when the work would be carried out.

Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to name the landlords? I do not ask that in a mischievous spirit, but because the behaviour he describes sounds so similar to the behaviour of some freeholders in my part of London that I wondered whether they could be the same landlords.

That is a fair question. I am not reluctant to give the name. However, the people who then owned and were responsible for the property have long passed from the scene. Other people now run the property. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman who the people involved were, because they have moved on. I am sure that many hon. Members can give similar examples. Such behaviour undoubtedly causes great bitterness. The hon. Member for Dulwich talked about commonhold and we must also consider services charges.

I have received letters from constituents who live in the blocks of flats and from other constituents who are aware of the commonhold proposals. They want to know what would be involved in the legislation and how they would be affected. We need to hear a little bit about several issues. Whichever party wins the next election, there will be support for legislation to be introduced quickly. People will decide that they are interested in such a scheme, but they will feel that they need to know certain basic points before they commit themselves to voting in support of commonhold.

As I understand it, two thirds of those eligible to vote on the introduction of a commonhold scheme will have to support it. There can be many different types of tenancies within a large block of flats. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's thinking on that. I accept that he may not be able to go into great detail at this stage, but those who come to us—their Members of Parliament—will want some basic guidelines. In the same block, there will be people with leases and people who are renting their property. In Ducane court, for example, some people have been renting for many years and may wish to know where they would stand under a commonhold policy. Some people live in sub-let properties and some own their properties. How would that breakdown of tenancies affect the two thirds majority proposal?

I received a letter from a gentleman which illustrates the kind of difficulties to which the hon. Member for Dulwich alluded:
"When one gets to 80 and with about 30 years to go on the lease of this desirable studio—husband and wife sharing, living on pensions and savings, no relatives to leave the property to anyway—one is not very enthusiastic for spending more money."
He is obviously talking there about spending more money on buying the leasehold. As a resident in a block of flats, that gentleman would clearly be eligible to vote for or against the introduction of commonhold and no doubt we can all understand and accept that he would have good reason for not wanting to vote for commonhold at this stage in his life. There are many elderly people living in such properties who may be interested, but would wish to know exactly what sort of sums would be involved. That information will be crucial to those interested in such schemes.

That matter has been examined in the context of a block of flats in my constituency which the tenants wished to purchase from the Church Commissioners. The whole block was bought by the tenants who then became landlords and those who did not want to buy their own flat became tenants of the new tenant organisation. Similar arrangements could apply in respect of commonhold.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting comment and I hope that such provision can be incorporated in any legislation.

I come back to the question of cost because that is what we are talking about. Another letter that I received says:
"I am very much in favour of commonhold being obtained for the above building, provided it is not too expensive."
We will be told that repeatedly.

Suppose that a majority of residents has voted in favour of commonhold. How will the market value be determined? Many of the properties have been neglected by agents over the years and some of them are in a very poor condition. Will that be taken into account in determining their market value? I could quote many further letters, but I will not, because I am sure that many other hon. Members present will have received similar correspondence. Suffice it to say that these matters are of great concern to people in my part of London.

The residents in a large block may be very diverse. They may include professionals and elderly people who would not want to be involved in the management of the new commonhold. What criteria would the Department apply in relation to the management of such properties? In many cases large groups of properties may be involved and the legal aspect may be complicated. There is also the question of financial accountability—how money will be spent in the day-to-day maintenance of the property. The property will sometimes also need to be surveyed.

The management committee would presumably be made up principally of residents. Will there be certain legal requirements necessary to qualify for commonhold of which a potential management committee will he made aware before it decides whether it is in favour of commonhold? We are talking not only about cost but about complex issues of which many people have had no experience. Recently, I received a letter which said:
"One would need to be absolutely sure of the competence and representative stature of the management committee to supervise the introduction of the scheme and see to its day-to-day running."
Those are what I would describe as the gut issues affecting people who are interested in the introduction of commonhold. They will want some guidelines concerning the day-to-day management and how that would operate in legal terms.

I hope that whichever party wins the next election will regard the introduction of commonhold legislation as a priority. Can the Minister assure us that civil servants at the Department are already starting to put together draft legislation? I hope that we shall not be told after the next election that the Government have to go out to consultation. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know what people want: they want action to be taken to protect their interests and an opportunity to express their concerns. They want to be listened to, and they seek redress for the injustices from which they have suffered for so long.

I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says about the urgency of ensuring that commonhold legislation is introduced. Does he agree, however, that it is important that any Bill should include measures to deal not just with flats held on leasehold but with whole houses held on leasehold? As I understand it, there are at present two exceptions to the ability to enfranchise and to take the freehold. That cannot be done if the rental value some time ago was too high or if the rateable value is too high. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that both those criteria should be wiped from the exceptions to freehold enfranchisement and that we ensure that people in my constituency and in Hackney, for example, can purchase the freeholds of their properties?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The great benefit of debates such as this is that we have an opportunity to introduce other aspects of the legislation that is needed and my hon. Friend has done just that. I hope that, after 9 April when a change of Government comes about, the Minister then responsible for that legislation will take note of the points that have been made.

What will happen if a two thirds majority of the tenants in a block of flats is not arrived at? I hope that arty legislation will be tough on the abuse of service charges and that the dubious landlords who, sad to say, still exist, will be deterred. I am referring to those landlords who say, "My tenants have had an opportunity to vote for commonhold but did not take up that opportunity, so I need not bother about the law." Otherwise, we shall continue to see an abuse of service charges. I hope that, where the two thirds majority is not reached, there will be strict guidelines on service charges. People should have a right to oppose service charges, as my constituents have tried to do over the years, without success.

The issue of squatters may be out of the terms of the general debate, but it will be interesting to hear the Minister's views on it, because squatters have moved in to a block of flats in my constituency. Ministers may say that legislation on that already exists and that the agents or landlords should implement it. In the past two or three weeks, however, my consituents in that block of flats have been writing to me daily, asking me to get something done. The police say that they have enough to do, without worrying about squatters. Unfortunately, the legislation does not work quickly enough in support of decent, honourable people who have long lived in a block of flats and have a pride in it because it is their home. If a few properties fall empty for a period of time, it soon becomes known and the squatters move in. We need a means by which action can be taken quickly. Once squatters have been living in a property for a month or so, it becomes difficult to get rid of them.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich, who has done a great service to London constituents who have experienced the difficulties to which he referred. Whichever party wins the election, I hope that this will be a priority for the next Parliament because it is long overdue.

10.43 am

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on raising this issue and compliment the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on what he has just said. From his experience of dealing with squatters, he will know that some of the attempts in the past 12 years or so to toughen the laws on squatting were vehemently opposed by hon. Members on the extreme left of the Labour party, under the guise of libertarianism. I exclude the hon. Gentleman, because he is a much more sensible person. He is the authentic voice of the Labour party. If such Labour Members controlled the Labour party, we might have some worries about winning the election, but we have no worries, because people like him are not in control.

May I place on record the absence of the co-called Liberal Democrats, who clearly have no interest in the problems of tenants of any kind? Yet when the election comes, they will be at the forefront, squeaking in their hypocritical terms about how they are the friends of tenants.

After being in the House for some 22 years, this is probably the last time that I shall address it. I have always been greatly interested in the problems of tenants, both private and public. When I came into the House in 1970, there was the scandal of Freshwaters—landlords who were destroying private tenants. They had taken over from highly reputable landlords, such as the London County Freehold and Leasehold Property Company and the Prudential, all of whom managed their properties in the interests not only of themselves but of their tenants, and there was immense satisfaction.

My own dear parents lived all their lives as tenants in Key Flats, and I lived most of my early life in those same conditions. So I know the problems, and I saw the change when the Key Flats were sold.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and the hon. Member for Tooting spoke about service charges. On occasions, I have rebelled and my first rebellion was on the first Housing Finance Bill to go through the House. As a new Member, I moved a new clause dealing with service charges, but I did not know the rules of the game then and had not warned the Whips what I intended to do. I won and beat the Government on the issue. However, I did not know that the second vote to be taken was that the new clause stand part of the Bill and, by then, the Whips had organised matters and my new clause was not added to the Bill. When the Bill was dealt with in another place, however, my points were covered. So I soon learnt that it is better to have the Whips on one's side and to work with them, and I have tried to do that ever since.

I thought that we had covered service charges then. Later, when I had the good fortune to be a junior Minister in the Department of the Environment, I again thought that we had cleared up all the loopholes. I was assured by the draftsmen and lawyers in the Department that that was so and, with the help of my senior colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley), we went into the matter in great detail. I thought that we had managed to settle the issues of the inspection of service charge accounts and independent auditors—we had got rid of the phoney auditors put up by the landlords —and that we had provided that, where work was to be carried out, alternative and genuine estimates had to be submitted so that the tenants could challenge them if they were not satisfied. All those issues were to be challengeable in the county rather than the High Court so that expenses could be kept to a minimum.

I am disturbed to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and the hon. Member for Tooting that that system is not working. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will explain why it is not working. What can be done to ensure that Parliament's intention is carried out? If there are loopholes, will he take urgent steps to ensure that they are closed in the first housing Bill that comes before the House in the new Parliament?

The hon. Member for Tooting and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) spoke about landlords' identities. Again, I thought that we had ensured in the last Housing Act, which my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning took through the House, that the names and addresses of landlords had to be disclosed. If that Act is not working, I am very disturbed. I hope that the Minister will be briefed by his officials on those points, because they are of immense importance. It is not a party issue but an issue affecting human life.

Such actions give landlords a bad name. The overwhelming majority of landlords do not deserve that bad name, as they are good. But they are tarred with the same brush as the irresponsible people who use so-called managing agents, who could not manage a fish and chip shop if everything was supplied free. The agents take large fees for doing poor work. I hope that the profession will tidy itself up. It involves only a minority, but we have all seen, over the years, newspaper headlines stating, "MP's fifth cousin up on driving charge". We never read, "Journalist's third cousin up on driving charge"—which is interesting. The irresponsible minority causes us all problems.

Having tried to do something for private tenants, when the opportunity arose, I tried to do the same for public tenants. I wanted to ensure that council tenants had the right to buy, and that the legislation covered various issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich spoke of the delays in Southwark. We introduced amendments to the legislation so that, if there were delays, tenants could serve notice on the council, rent could be withheld and go towards the purchase cost. Such delay was covered in the legislation.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to note a new factor. Camden council has now decided that there should be a differential parking charge on mixed estates. Council tenants pay one parking charge and those who have bought their flats and who park on the same estate are asked to pay four and six times the weekly amount. I am told that nothing can be done until the law is changed. I hope that that can be done, as that system is grossly unfair.

There will always be gaps. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich mentioned the problem of long leases coming to an end. Those long lease contracts were freely entered into many years ago—perhaps not even by the current residents, but by their predecessors. There are two sides to the question: the right of the freeholder who owns the property and who has sold on the lease for a fixed term at a ground rent, and the right of the person living there to some form of security. We must get the right balance.

One of the best ways of achieving the correct balance is to extend the lease. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) has done much work in that sphere and he put forward various proposals in a debate about a year ago. The extension of the lease would give tenants the security that they understandably want. It would also cover the issue raised by the hon. Member for Tooting about whether people could afford to buy.

There used to be an option to remain in a block of flats. Those who chose that option remained as tenants of the new owner. That might not always have been satisfactory. We must see what can be done to ensure that the market value of the lease extension is fair to both sides. Perhaps that task should be given to what used to be the old rent assessment committees, which now have some new duties under the Housing Acts. Perhaps we should re-establish the old valuation courts that used to work with the benefit of the advice of the district valuer. We must have a system that is seen to be fair and workable, in the interests of both the freeholder and the tenant. It would be possible to achieve that, and I should certainly welcome an advance on that front.

We must also examine the option of compulsory sale. We must decide what percentage is adequate to demonstrate the desire of the majority to purchase. How does one decide what to do if there is a resident freeholder or commercial occupation? The statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State issued spoke of a 10 per cent. commercial occupation—that is one suggestion to consider. There is a problem with mixed occupation. If a council tenant of a garage lives over that garage, he has no right to purchase that property, which does not seem fair. We must consider how we could overcome that problem in future legislation. There must be fairness on both sides.

The issue of leases presents problems. When I had responsibility for the new towns, I was confronted with the problem of what length of lease one should give in the case of commercial properties. I had been brought up all my life to think of 99-year leases. Those no longer held good as if there were substantial redevelopments to take place, this would involve a time scale of about 60 years. We considered the issue and decided that 125 or 150 years would be about the right length for a lease. When considering the continuation of existing leases, we may decide that they should extend for longer periods than previously, but we must bear it in mind that all properties have a useful life and it is no good to the freeholder, leaseholder or tenant if the useful life expires and one cannot redevelop in a sensible way.

One of the simple theories in the world is that there are more tenants than landlords, so one must carefully consider the tenants' interests. Of course, that is right. A landlord is in business to provide an income for himself, which is quite understandable. A tenant is there because it is his home. We must find the correct balance. Over the past 30 years or so, the balance has swung somewhat unfairly against the tenant due to the activities of the bad landlords.

I do not believe that many people in the world would quarrel with the concept of private landlords if they conformed to previously accepted landlords' practice. Big companies such as the London County Freehold and Leasehold Property company had an unmatched reputation for looking after property and tenants.

People who are to become the new owners of blocks of flats—I leave aside houses, as they are a different issue —must realise that they will not necessarily have the time or ability to look after the immensely detailed business that will come their way. They may need to appoint managing agents to look after the property, but they will have to ensure that they pick the right ones. They must realise that major repairs will have to be done from time to time, which cost substantial amounts of money. They will have to listen to the advice given to them by their managing agents, which means that they will have to establish sinking funds that are well maintained and looked after in the interests of the tenants. They must realise that a cycle of preventive maintenance is by far the best way of proceeding. They cannot suddenly think that, as they have purchased the commonhold or freehold, they will not have to carry out any more repairs or have any more outgoings. If they understand that, a new Parliament will provide us with the opportunity to introduce legislation to allow private tenants to feel more comfortable and satisfied as they enter the last stage of this decade. I think that the whole House would welcome that. That is what I hope will happen.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich on giving the House the opportunity of debating this important issue.

10.59 am

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on introducing this subject. It is significant that the Government, who dithered on the issue for 13 years, have chosen their last few days to make a statement that seems to support the attitude of the hon. Member for Dulwich and of other hon. Members on both sides. It is also interesting that the warm noises emanating from the Department of the Environment have not yet been matched by any legislation. There is no draft Bill—

It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).

National Lottery

11 am

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government's plans, set out in a White Paper being published today, to introduce a national lottery for good causes.

As hon. Members will know, we have been considering for some time the merits of a national lottery. It raises a number of complex practical issues, but the potential benefits are substantial. In the past in our own country, a lottery funded the foundation of the British museum. More recently, in Canada a lottery also helped to fund the Olympic games. A lottery helped to fund the building of the Sydney opera house.

Many other countries have long been using the proceeds of national lotteries to fund a wide range of projects which improve the quality of life of their people. Every other country in western Europe has a national lottery. In the years ahead it will become increasingly difficult in practice to prevent their lottery tickets from being sold in this country. Without a national lottery of our own, other countries rather than our own will benefit.

In the light of all these considerations, and bearing in mind the opportunities it will give us to raise substantial sums for the public benefit, the Government have decided to introduce a national lottery to be promoted throughout the United Kingdom.

We propose that the national lottery proceeds should be used to support projects of lasting benefit to the nation. The good causes to be funded will be sports, arts, our heritage and charities. This means that sporting facilities could be further improved and new ones provided; a whole range of additional facilities for young people could be developed; our historic buildings, houses, museums, galleries and cathedrals could be restored and worthwhile new buildings constructed; art treasures could be purchased for our national collections; and a wide range of other charities could be supported.

A national lottery could be operating by 1994, but it will take some time to become fully established. Once fully developed, it could raise up to £1 billion a year for good causes. I must emphasise that this will be additional funding. The Government do not intend that the money provided from the lottery should substitute for existing expenditure programmes. Nor do we believe that lottery proceeds should go to the main areas of public expenditure, such as the national health service. These services are of fundamental importance to the community and must continue to be funded by the Exchequer in the normal way.

We have concluded that a single national lottery is the best way forward. This would allow major prizes to be offered and it would maximise the potential funds which could be raised for good causes, while minimising the risk of fraud or mismanagement.

The White Paper sets out the broad framework for the operation of the national lottery. There will be an independent national lottery board whose task will be to distribute the proceeds of the lottery. The day-to-day operation and management of the lottery will be undertaken by the private sector under contract and subject to strict regulation.

Today's White Paper sets out a number of practical issues, and on some of them we want to consult interested parties. We are aware of the concerns of the football pools companies and others. We intend to discuss their concerns with them, and to assess the possible effect of a national lottery on their activities. In the light of these discussions we shall consider whether there is a case for any changes in the controls under which they operate at present.

Charities will be among the beneficiaries of the lottery. But we still need to consider how best to protect their interests, both in the allocation of the proceeds and the effect on their income from existing small lotteries. We would welcome the views of all charitable organisations on both these points.

A national lottery will be a popular development of great significance. It provides a unique opportunity to improve in a lasting way the quality of our national life. I look forward to its early introduction.

The Government make themselves ridiculous by announcing in the dying days of a Parliament a decision that they could have taken years ago, and it is particularly absurd of the Government to introduce a White Paper which they will have no opportunity of implementing.

Does the Home Secretary recall that as late as January the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said—seven times, to be precise—that a decision on all these matters could not be taken without careful examination and consideration? He was especially precise about the need to examine the impact on the pools industry and, in his words,
"to give those directly affected a chance to express their views before a decision is taken."
That promise has been broken. Since that speech, no consultation with the pools industry has taken place, yet the Home Secretary has made his statement today. That amounts to nothing more than the Government taking decisions first and fraudulently holding the consultations afterwards.

The way in which this statement has been hurriedly cobbled together is demonstrated by the bland announcement that it will raise £1 billion. How can the Home Secretary possibly know that when, according to the White Paper, he cannot even tell us the extent of the tax to be levied from each lottery ticket?

Does the Home Secretary understand that the Labour party, in a policy statement over a year ago, announced its intention of giving serious consideration to a lottery? That remains our position. We well understand the benefits that a national lottery might provide—to the arts, to sport, to our heritage and to charities. There are, however, substantial problems to be overcome before one can be introduced, and I know very well that in their present mood the Government are not prepared to examine any of them.

The Under-Secretary promised consultation on a number of vital issues, all of which have since been subject to arbitrary decisions taken, not in the national interest, but in the hope of gaining brief party-political publicity. I intend, therefore, to ask the Home Secretary a number of questions to which I have no real hope of getting answers. I do so simply to demonstrate the irresponsibility of his position. The difference is that we anticipate being in a position to implement a lottery; the right hon. Gentleman only considers the hope of cobbling together a few votes between now and 9 April.

Is the Home Secretary certain that the lottery tax he proposes will not result in some small but important charities receiving less from the lottery than they do from their own current schemes? Is he sure that some small charities which now exist on fund-raising schemes will not be driven out of business altogether? Since the leak to The Times which appeared this morning, small charities of every sort have been phoning Members of this House, saying that their existence has been threatened. What assurance can the Home Secretary give them that that is not true?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the right hon. Gentleman sure that he can avoid the most serious consequences to the football pools, with enormously adverse effects on Treasury revenue, with enormously adverse effects on the essential income of football clubs, and above all with deep damage to Merseyside, an area already grievously affected by unemployment?

The next Labour Government will examine these and other essential questions with the seriousness that the subject deserves. Only when the difficulties are resolved will it be right for the lottery scheme to go ahead.

That was one of the right hon. Gentleman's more memorable performances. He is a sourpuss—there is no event that he attends on which he does not cast a blight. In this case, he is a party-pooper.

In the past 18 months, during which the right hon. Gentleman has been my shadow, he has come forward with no creative idea. He could have committed the Labour party to a national lottery had he wanted to, but he has remained silent. There has been an absence of decision and a daily struggle in the right hon. Gentleman's frame between sloth and indifference.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about charities. I refer him to paragraphs 33 to 37 of the White Paper in which we discuss the effect upon large and small charities. We specifically say:
"The Government wants to consult widely with the major charitable interests and will pay careful attention to their views … The Government would welcome views on whether the monetary limits"
in the small lotteries on which some charities depend
"should be increased and, if so, to what level."
We also mention the existing rules on small lotteries.

On the question of football pools, I refer the right hon. Gentleman to paragraphs 30 and 31. This morning my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State spoke to the Pools Promoters Association and to representatives of Vernons and Zetters, and I spoke to the managing director of Littlewoods. We explained to them what was in our mind, which they knew perfectly well. We say specifically in paragraphs 30 and 31 that we want to have meetings soon to consider their assessment of the effect of a national lottery upon their activities.

As the House knows, there are different views on the matter. The pools companies say that they would be seriously affected and quote examples from other countries. But in other countries with national lotteries the pools operation has not been affected. We want to make a proper assessment of that and want to discuss with the pools companies in the light of that consideration whether we should take steps to change the existing rules in relation to pools. The Government have no intention of forcing the pools companies out of business, and I do not think that that will happen. Pools can exist perfectly naturally and successfully alongside a national lottery.

Order. Hon. Members know that this is private Members' day and that time is precious. I will allow questions to continue until about 11.30, but I ask for questions about the national lottery and not on wider issues.

Would my right hon. Friend agree after a mere moment's reflection that the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) are reminiscent of a 50p piece—two-faced and seven-sided? Does he also agree—

I do so immediately, M r. Speaker, but you will understand that as a numismatist I was factually correct. Of course I withdraw.

Does my right hon. Friend also agree that his proposal, which will be widely welcomed, will bring new money to charities because many British citizens are already spending their money on lottery tickets elsewhere in Europe?

That is correct. It will become progressively difficult in the years ahead to prevent the sale of lottery tickets between European countries. We are the only country in Europe without a national lottery and money spent in other countries does not benefit Britain. Therefore, our proposal seems doubly sensible.

Is it not perverse that this Government of all Governments should be involved in nationalising gambling? Has the right hon. Gentleman not considered that in many cases gambling is an addiction which leads to great hardship in families and that for the state to be involved in its deliberate promotion is a dubious role for a Home Secretary? Has he considered the damage that state lotteries have caused in other countries, such as the Republic of Ireland where the 16 major charities are petitioning the Government to end the national lottery?

What possible guarantee can the right hon. Gentleman give that the revenues, uncertain as they will inevitably be, from a lottery will not be used as an excuse by Government to stop money that would normally come from the Treasury to back the arts and other desirable heritage functions?

It seems that the Liberal party is hooked on yet another unpopular policy, because from what the hon. Gentleman says I understand that he opposes the proposal. The fact that it is a "national" lottery does not mean that it will be nationalised. It will be operated by a private contractor and the national lottery board will be at arm's distance from the Government.

I remind the hon. Gentleman of what is said about additionality in paragraph 41 of the White Paper:
"Under standard conventions, the disbursements of a national lottery will be classified as public expenditure in the national accounts. The Government does not intend that the money provided from the lottery should substitute for that provided in other ways: the proceeds will not be brought within the planning total, and the Government will not make any case by case reduction in conventional expenditure programmes to take account of awards from the lottery proceeds."

I congratulate most warmly my right hon. Friend and the Government on their bold and imaginative decision. It is a great pity that the other parties have not given it their firm support. As a former Minister for the Arts, I believe that there is enormous potential for extra resources for the arts, sports and the environment and for other fields, thus improving the quality of life in the 1990s. Will my right hon. Friend continue to give every assurance that resources from the national lottery will not be seen as a substitute for public expenditure?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his warm welcome and pay tribute to the work that he carried out when he was responsible for our arts policy and for funding the arts. I know that he has supported for a long time our having a lottery, as does the present Minister for the Arts, who has given me great assistance in preparing the policy. I assure my right hon. Friend that resources from the lottery will not be a substitute. I remind the House of the substantial increase in arts spending under the Government—56 per cent. higher in real terms than it was in 1978–79. The arts budget this year is some £560 million.

Does the Home Secretary accept that the only wage packet for thousands of families in Merseyside comes from the member of the family who works in the pools? He proposes to introduce this measure without undertaking a single piece of work on the likely employment consequences. We accept that it is totally proper for the right hon. Gentleman to do as he wishes with his own money, but it is intolerable for him to gamble with the jobs of my constituents. Will he give a commitment that if he proceeds with the scheme the centre for the national lottery will be in Merseyside?

I respect the hon. Gentleman's views and I read his speech in the January debate on this subject. I also understand his concern about employment prospects. It is by no means certain that there will be such adverse effects upon the pools. We want to discuss that matter with the three pools companies, and especially in the hon. Gentleman's case with Littlewoods. It is quite possible that the pools companies, either individually or collectively, will make a bid to run the national lottery.

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the site from which the lottery should operate. I cannot comment upon that now, but we shall be having constructive discussions with the pools companies because, obviously, we do not want to put them out of business. I do not think that a national lottery will put them out of business, but we must explore with them their concerns.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his enthusiastic and prompt response to the National Lottery Bill which I presented only six weeks ago. It shows that the Government are still full of dynamic action. His proposal will be immensely popular in the country because it will bring much pleasure and reward for thousands of people every week, many of whom will not be well off. It will bring an immense amount of help, which the taxpayer does not provide, to the arts, sport, heritage and charities.

My right hon. Friend's proposal is timely because when my Bill was presented Albania was the only other country in Europe without a national lottery and now it has one. If we did not have one, we would be alone. If a national lottery had not been introduced quickly, British money would quickly flow out of the country to foreign causes, even though there are many good causes in Britain that we have yet to satisfy.

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on being a pioneer in introducing his Bill in January, thus concentrating discussion on the matter. He brought the matter to a head in the House. There was considerable support for his Bill not only from the Government side, but from many Opposition Members. However, during the debate on my hon. and learned Friend's Bill, the Opposition spokesmen were rather lukewarm. The plain fact is that the Labour party would have made no decision on a national lottery. I doubt whether it will be mentioned in the Labour manifesto, although perhaps now it may be —it is a johnny-come-lately.

I agree with my hon. Friend that, if we do not do this, other lottery tickets will be sold here and it will be increasingly difficult to stop that, so this is a sensible move. The important point is that, in the words of Lord Rothschild in 1978, this is a harmless entertainment, a mild flutter, for many people, and our public life will benefit from it.

In considering whether to publish the White Paper, did the Secretary of State have the opportunity to study the Coopers and Lybrand report on the impact of a national lottery? On the evidence collected in Belgium, Australia and the Republic of Ireland, it predicted that a lottery would kill off the pools industry within a matter of weeks.

Has the Home Secretary taken into account the fact that 4,600 jobs on Merseyside alone will be put at risk, and the predictions are that, even if the national lottery scheme were located there, it would provide only about 200 jobs? Has he taken into account the fact that places such as Merseyside cannot afford to gamble with the jobs that are at stake in these proposals? Will he take it from me that the hostility that he will arouse among the people of Merseyside with this proposal will have an impact not only on the progress of this scheme but on the Tory party in the forthcoming election?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not over-exaggerate any likely effect. The interesting thing about the Belgian experience, as set out in the letter, is that its pools were operating on the British fixtures list because there was not a long, strong tradition of clubs playing there. Therefore, there was not the same commitment to and interest in soccer in Belgium as there is in this country, where it is the national sport. In other countries where soccer is well established as a national sport, the football pools co-exist quite happily with the national lottery. These are matters which, with the pools operators, we shall be considering.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and warmly welcome his announcement. It is very opportune because I believe, as a former Minister for Sport, that it may well enhance Manchester's chances of winning the Olympic bid, which will lead to the building of many excellent new sports facilities. Following what my right hon. Friend said about the flood of money to national lotteries in other countries, may I press him for a little more detail on the time scale of introducing a Bill and then bringing in a national lottery, because there is some urgency to stop the sale of other national lottery tickets here?

After the general election, when we return to office, we shall introduce a Bill to implement a national lottery and that will be put on the statute book as soon as possible. It will establish arrangements for a national lottery and a national lottery board and all the regulations needed. We estimate that it will probably require a year to 18 months to get established. The arrangements for selling lottery tickets through different outlets, which could include small shops, large shops, village post offices—

Yes; there will be a great deal of job creation as a result of this activity, not least in the disposal of the proceeds. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) for the work that he did for sport when he was Minister for Sport. The lottery will allow many new sports facilities to be built across the whole range of sports, including new stadiums, tracks and clubs, quite apart from supporting major international events. It is an exciting prospect.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I am concerned about the way that this project has been introduced, and it will be clear to the public why it has been introduced today. Nevertheless, as a supporter of a national lottery for a long time, I welcome the decision. However, the Government will not implement their plans because the Conservative party will not be forming the Government after the general election. I know that the next Labour Government will look at this matter in great detail, immediately, with full consultation to ensure that the jobs of workers in the pools business are protected. I share the feeling that there has been some over-exaggeration of the threat to pools jobs that is posed by a lottery, but I hope that the Labour Government will look at this matter quickly and carefully to ensure that the national lottery will have the confidence of all the people.

I do not believe that what the hon. Lady says will happen, but, even if it did, I cannot imagine a Labour Administration giving a national lottery any priority. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her strong and consistent support for a national lottery. She has been outspoken about it; and I heard her speech on 17 January, in which she said that she does the football pools every week, and would continue to do so even if there were a national lottery. I think that that will be the reaction of many people. I hope that she is lucky on the pools this week.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his statement. It is up to his usual standard in creative and imaginative thinking. Does he see the premium savings bonds disappearing? Secondly, will he ensure that shareholders' money will not be used for buying tickets? Thirdly, what about regional money? Will the money collected in one region be allowed to be used in another, or will it be spent only in that region? How will that be organised?

I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulatons— for such I took them to be. In paragraph 48, we say two things about regional money. First, we say:

"Consideration might also be given to the possibility of participants recording their general preference for the use of the proceeds at the time they pay their stake."
They could nominate which charity or activity it went to, Secondly, we say:
"Amongst the factors which the Board might want to take into account is whether proceeds raised in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should he devoted to causes in those countries. The Government would welcome views on these, and any other ways, in which the distribution of lottery proceeds could be arranged."
That is a matter for consideration.

I am attracted to a national lottery, not least because I recently won 512 in the Florida state lottery. There are those who say that the Government have been organising a national lottery with the economy over the past 13 years.

Will the Home Secretary say a little more about charities? He said that money from the national lottery would not go to the national health service to replace those moneys that come from the Exchequer, but a number of charities work within the NHS. Finally, what sort of prizes does the Secretary of State envisage being paid out?

As the hon. Gentleman is a lottery punter —I did not know that he engaged in the Florida state lottery—he knows how they work and he has been lucky enough to win something. The odds are quite strongly against winning. I would expect a large number of medical charities to be among the beneficiaries of a lottery, just as charities for disabled people, for education and for charitable projects that help health activities generally will be.

The prize will depend on the stake, which is envisaged to be 50p or £1. It is for the lottery contractors to determine that. The White Paper deals with whether there should be a maximum. We are disinclined to set a maximum, but that will be a matter for the lottery operators and contractors to decide. Lord Rothschild said in his report in 1978 that there should be a maximum prize of £500,000—in current day money £1·5 million. Only the other week the prize for the pools exceeded £2 million. It is for the lottery operator to decide how to distribute prizes and how much they should be.

This is the first Government to show real common sense on this issue in modern times, and I welcome this move by the Home Secretary. It could also have an enormously important social effect if my right hon. Friend would say that post offices, and particularly rural sub-post offices, will be able to handle the scheme. That would save many rural sub-post offices in our constituencies.

I thank my hon. Friend for his words of support. I think that, like many others, he feels that perhaps this could have been done very much earlier. The scheme will benefit many good causes and will improve the quality of our national life.

It would be for the lottery contractors to decide what outlets they would use. I should have thought that they would be very attracted to village post offices. They are important outlets in many village communities and people have easy access to them. I should have thought that they would be high on the contractor's list.

Order. As several new points have been raised by hon. Members—I hope that that will continue—I shall allow questions to proceed for a further 10 minutes. At that stage we must return to the private Members' business.

Will the Home Secretary tell us whether this matter of principle, which it is, was included in the Conservative party's election manifesto at the last general election? Does he agree that some of his supporters might have reservations about the proposal on the ground that it gives a social imprimatur to gambling that it otherwise might not have? Apart from the charities which he has mentioned, will he tell us which good causes are either not being sustained by votes made by the House or which could easily be sustained from moneys voted by Parliament? Will not the members of the board be put in a position of considerable potential patronage? Does he think that appointed rather than elected persons of this sort, especially when there are other charities that perhaps will be affected, is compatible with representative democracy?

I am sure that the proposal will be clearly stated in our forthcoming manifesto. It is not our intention to promote gambling. A lottery is the softest form of gambling, the hardest being casino gambling. Lord Rothschild described a lottery as "harmless entertainment". I think that many people see it as that. They consider it to be just a flutter.

The hon. Gentleman referred to causes that are not supported. In all the areas that I have mentioned—sports, the arts and our heritage—I think that successive Governments have always wanted to spend more than that which is available. We have spent substantial amounts, and a lottery will provide an opportunity to spend more.

It is true that the members of the board will have a grave responsibility when it comes to allocating moneys. It is the sort of responsibility that has been borne by those who have to dispense money that is raised by various forms of television charitable raising of money, such as telethon, the BBC's "Children in Need" appeal and red-nose day. Those who decide which organisations shall be the beneficiaries take tremendously scrupulous care in so doing. Charities are examined and those involved like there to be a national spread. The board will have to conduct its affairs as scrupulously as that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having finally overcome the reluctance of the Treasury, which we know has for years been against a national lottery. When putting the scheme out to contract, would it be possible to include a condition that rural post offices, for example, must be included in the list of sales places? Will he comment on the fact that Liberal Members came into the Chamber to be killjoys in their response to his proposal but took no interest earlier in the debate on tenants?

I cannot comment on my hon. Friend's final point. However, it is on the record and will be used.

My hon. Friend's suggestion about post offices is one that we can consider. There are various matters that we will still wish to consider, including small shops as well as large retail outlets. I am glad that we have been able to win over all members of the Government in support of this measure.

Does the Home Secretary recognise that many people will see his announcement as one of the last sleazy acts of an exceptionally sleazy Government? What additional protection has he considered for charities such as the one with which I am proud to be associated, the National Children's Home, which refuse to accept anything from the proceeds of gambling? What defence has he for coming to the House, and using public money and parliamentary time, to announce something that was agreed by the Tory party only last night as part of its election spending and election commitments? What justification is there for doing that with the public purse?

The White Paper was not printed overnight; it was decided some time ago. The hon. Lady is being rather churlish. I suggest that she should have listened to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). As I understand it, he is half-heartedly in favour of a lottery, so the Labour party will be committed to one as well. If there is the chance of possibly quite large sums—up to £1 billion—being distributed when a lottery is fully established, a considerable extra amount of money can go to good causes.

The policy of charities depends on their trustees. If the trustees do not wish their charity to receive money from small lotteries, that is up to them. The hon. Lady will see in the paragraphs in the White Paper dealing with charities that we wish to examine with them necessary safeguards and protections. Charities will be among the beneficiaries of a national lottery.

The gestation period for coming to this decision has been inordinately long. I recall that in my maiden speech, which I made about 18 years ago, I spoke about lotteries. I therefore greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's decision. How many people does he believe will be directly employed by a national lottery? Will he consider the Spanish example with a view to employing disabled people and disadvantaged people to run the whole show?

I could not make an estimate of the number of people who will be needed to run the lottery. There will, of course, be many thousands of agents across the country, and the disposal of the proceeds will be job-creative in many instances. Major capital projects will stem from the lottery and so it will have a positive effect. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his percipience. It has taken a long time to ripen.

Is it not a fitting epitaph for the Government that after 13 years, having chucked 3 million people on the dole and having a public sector borrowing requirement of £30 billion, they come to the House—[Interruption.]—they live in a never-never fantasy land—to talk about running another gambling den'? Will the Home Secretary consult the 50-odd Tory Members who are members of Lloyd's—[Interruption.] —on how best to run a lottery? They have got themselves into a right old mess. Will he get in touch with the Littlewoods organisation and all the other similar concerns that have given money to the Tory party over the years and tell them that as the Government are trampling on their territory they will send the money back?

My hon. Friends have showed their contempt for the hon. Gentleman's usual display of spleen and venom. As I understand it, he is about to fight an election and there is a commitment, I believe, in the Labour party manifesto to introduce a national lottery. I trust that he will be able to support the Labour party.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and his commitment to speak to the pools companies. Will he bear it in mind that most people, if they had to choose, would rather the proceeds or their flutter went to good causes than into the extremely deep pockets of the pools millionaires, where they have gone in the past? Will he confirm that, although there may be some genuine concerns about jobs in the pools companies, there are good prospects for jobs in the arts, in welfare, in sport and in the environment, directly or indirectly, from the lottery?

Estimates have been made. The interests that promote a national lottery have talked of very high figures in terms of job creation. I am sure that it will have that effect. I believe that as a result there will be much greater activity in the arts and in sport, including building projects, and across a range of charities, and in preserving our heritage. I hear what my hon. Friend says about the pools. As I have said, we shall discuss with the companies the arrangements that may be necessary.

I wish to speak up for urban post offices. Are they not just as important as rural post offices? I have had to fight to save five in my constituency.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many churches, of all denominations, and other places of worship involving many faiths, organise raffles, lucky dips and the rest? So we already have the principle of a little flutter—perhaps concealed—by bodies that are committed to promoting morality of the most proper kind. There can be no moral objection to what my right hon. Friend is doing—just a warm welcome for it.

We all know that many church activities are supported by a mild flutter. Therefore, I hope that there will not be any great objection on those grounds. One of the beneficiaries should be the great clerical architectural heritage of our country. The cathedrals and the medieval churches will benefit.

If post offices are to be used—and the Post Office is a useful network for establishing contact with a large number of people—urban as well as rural post offices will be considered.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest excitment in doing the football pools is checking the results over the weekend, and that that will continue? People in the United Kingdom are compassionate and they will still want to give to other charities in their own way, so those other charities would not be harmed.

Can my right hon. Friend explain why the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), introduced the gambling argument? I do not know what his experience is, but mine is that the first person to be asked to buy a raffle ticket in a constituency is either the mayor or the Member of Parliament. For many years I have given most generously to so many causes that it is unbelievable. Either the Liberal Democrat spokesman is a mean man or he has a short memory. I am sure that he has bought raffle tickets.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman must struggle with his conscience—[Interruption.] I do not know who would win. As my hon. Friend rightly said, all politicians will be buying raffle tickets this weekend and supporting, in one way or another, a mild form of gambling. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a strong vein of compassion in our country. One of the endearing characteristics of the British nation is its willingness to give to charitable causes. The flows of money are very substantial, and I do not think that they will be choked by a national lottery.

The right hon. Gentleman's statement will be viewed as utterly reckless and ill considered. It has been presented entirely for electoral purposes. That is shown by the Home Secretary's wild departure today from the Government's statement on this very subject on 17 January. The forthcoming election has caused that.

There have been no consultations with the pools companies. We spoke to them this morning and they are annoyed that the Government have reneged on the promises made by the Under-Secretary of State, who is in his place, on 17 January.

The nature of gambling in Britain is such that none of us here today even knows whether a national lottery is viable—[Interruption.] We do not know. For example, we do not know what form of regulation would be used vis a vis the pools. We do not know what the taxation will be. Will it be 37·5 per cent. as it is for the pools? It would be irresponsible of hon. Members on either side of the House to talk about £1 billion in prizes for good causes when none of us knows what the figure will be.

From his experience of other EC countries, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the probability of two long odds gambling regimes co-existing is very doubtful? There are serious risks. The Belgian experience, to which he referred, was that the pools were wiped out within three weeks. In Britain, that would mean the loss of one third of a billion pounds to the Exchequer. The Government are not bothered about that any more. They are spending money like water—borrowing, borrowing, borrowing.

There are 6,500 full-time jobs on Merseyside and 70,000 collectors' jobs that need to be considered. The right hon. Gentleman had little to say about that. We are also worried—and I cannot underline this enough—about the effect that the lottery could have on charities, especially small charities. It could undermine a great deal of good work in this country. The Labour party wants to ensure that the charities are properly protected.

Labour party policy is to review the fund-raising arrangements for sport, the arts, charities and other bodies, and we will do so when we form the Government in the next few weeks. As we said in September 1991, we shall sympathetically consider the question of a national lottery while ensuring that the football pools and charities are properly protected.

That is not much of a commitment. The hon. Gentleman will have happier appearances at the Dispatch Box than he has had in the past five minutes. The best advice to the Labour party is, "If you are in a hole, stop digging."

The Government have made a clear commitment to introducing a national lottery, and we shall do so. We will get on with it; we will not have reviews. We shall hold discussions immediately with the pools companies and charities to resolve any problems and difficulties. We are convinced that a national lottery will be of great benefit to the nation and to many good causes.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967. that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

  • Bingo Act 1992.
  • Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992.
  • Taxation of Chargeable Gains Act 1992.
  • Further and Higher Education Act 1992.
  • Local Government Finance Act 1992.
  • Offshore Safety Act 1992.
  • Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1992. Coal Industry Act 1992.
  • Licensing (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1992. Local Government Act 1992.
  • Aberdeen Harbour Order Confirmation Act 1992.
And to the following Measure, passed under the provisions of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919:
  • Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 1992.

Commonhold And Leasehold Reform

Question again proposed.

Before the statement, I was saying that the Government have had 13 years to do something about leasehold reform, but they have shown a lamentable lack of inclination to do so—with the exception of the Lord Chancellor's consultative paper on commonhold.

I have only just begun. I shall give way in a moment because I know that the hon. Gentleman has spoken in these debates previously. I want to get a little way into my argument before giving way.

I again congratulate the hon. Member for Dulwich on introducing the motion. He made a cogent and well-argued case for reform. However, if the past 13 years are anything to go by, the prospects of the Government doing anything if they are returned to power are pretty dismal. I do not want to go back over the whole of those 13 years, so I shall just itemise a few opportunities during the past two years that the Government have had to do something about the problem, but which they have failed to take.

The hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) has raised the matter frequently in the House. He is not in his place, although he was previously. He introduced the Leasehold Reform Bill on 3 April 1990. It is interesting that one of the sponsors of the Bill was the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), now the Minister for Housing and Planning—who has been somewhat reticent in following up the promise that he made at the time. There was another opportunity to make some sort of announcement on 8 March 1991, when a suitable motion was before the House. The Minister and I took part in that debate and the hon. Members for Kensington and for Dulwich also spoke. The opportunities have been there, but they have not been taken.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will give the Government credit for passing the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and 1987.

I do so, but I will mention later the inadequacies of that legislation.

A letter dated February 1992 from Joan South of the Leasehold Enfranchisement Association, which was widely circulated, states:
"We have now received a positive commitment from the Labour party … a less than satisfactory one from the Liberal Democrats … but as yet have received nothing from the Government or the Conservative Party."
Earlier this week, perhaps because of fears in many Conservative-held marginal constituencies, particularly in London, the Department of the Environment issued a press release on which the Minister will no doubt comment in more detail. That suggests some panic in the Government. There are fears in a number of London constituencies about the inadequacy of the Government's past and proposed action.

When Labour comes to power in the next few weeks, it will put into effect a document, "Commonhold and other new rights for leaseholders" which I launched at Kensington town hall earlier this month in the company of that constituency's excellent Labour candidate, Ann Holmes. It suggests extending a new right to buy, including one relating to commonhold, along the lines previously considered for all leaseholders of houses. It deals also with lease expiry. A Labour Government will consider introducing and co-operating in the introduction of holding legislation.

Other key points in that document include the right for existing leaseholders to choose their managing agents, to help to ensure that agents are efficient and that reasonable service charges are levied. Existing leaseholders will be given the right to extend their leases and to have the freeholder's accounts examined by an auditor of the leaseholder's own choosing.

There will be a right to covenants that will clearly stipulate the freeholder's responsibility to repair and to improve the block. We shall also introduce the concept of an arbitration panel with the remit of settling disputes between leaseholder and freeholder over, for example, the price of a freehold or the level of service charges. We will also repeal the legislation that makes the original lessee liable for payment when the lease is sold on—an anomaly which exists in respect of commercial and residential leases.

The Government's proposals made even at this late hour are inadequate. I quote from a letter sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) earlier this week from Miss Jude Goffe of 68 Cloudesley road, north London. She makes the reasonable point that
"The Leasehold Reform Act 1967 entitled the leaseholder to acquire freehold or to extend the lease by 50 years if certain conditions were met. These have been subsequently amended and the two most important are: 1. for leases issued pre-1 April 1990—the tenancy was at a "low" rent, i.e. at rent of less than two-thirds of the 1965 rateable value or the rateable value on the first day of the term, if later than March 1965. For leases post-April 1990—rents may not be more than £1,000 in central London or £250 elsewhere. 2. The rateable value on 23rd March 1965 was not more than £400 (increased in 1974 to £1,500) in London, and £200 (increased in 1974 to £750) elsewhere."
Miss Goffe makes the point that most houses in Islington and Hackney are excluded because of condition 1, whereas houses in Kensington, Mayfair, and Belgravia are mainly excluded because of condition 2—and that due to insufficient details in the Government's announcement,
"we are not sure whether it is proposed to remove both conditions."
Miss Goffe adds:
"We suspect that the Government is seeking to keep votes in key marginals, including Kensington. It would therefore not surprise us if only condition 2 were removed."
I understsand that that is precisely the Government's intention. That is all being done because in a few weeks' time, the country will go to the polls, and the Government are anxious to save the hides of a few Conservative Members in London constituencies.

The situation that I described does not exclusively affect London. In the previous debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) spoke at length about the problems of long leaseholders in the north-west of England. It exists also in south Wales, parts of Yorkshire, and the north of England.

My hon. Friend proposed a four-point plan. He suggested establishing the right to sell the ground lease 1 o the owner-occupier; limiting by statute the level of on-costs in any transaction, because some organisations have been ripping off long leaseholders, who have been charged for all manner of items, including extensions, modifications and improvements; the removal from a given date of the imposition of retrospective permission; and, until the owner-occupier purchases, and for the benefit of those who do not choose—even at an affordable cost—to enfranchise, reasonable charges for current permissions to alter. I should be happy to incorporate those four provisions in legislation.

The Consumers Association also makes a number of important points. In a letter to me dated 4 March, it outlines five reservations that it has about the Government's proposals, and states:
"enfranchisement and commonhold alone will not be sufficient to address the problems of the long leasehold system. They should be conjoined with a right to extend leases, available to all residents, and an overhaul of landlord and tenant law to improve the lot of those unable to convert to commonhold;
too many leaseholders in 'mixed' blocks containing rented flats or commercial units will be excluded from the enfranchisement provisions, and too many 'resident landlords' in converted properties will be able to escape them; a statutory formula for valuation may be preferable to open market valuation: either way, the process must be clearly explained, and an inexpensive appeals procedure established; an early announcement is needed to persuade freeholders that they will not benefit from carrying out extensive works at the expense of flatowners in the run up to enfranchisement; a commonhold and enfranchisement commission should be set up to provide advice and informal resolution of disputes."
Broadly speaking, the association is proposing a similar strategy to that set out in the Labour party's policy document published earlier this month. We can happily go along with that approach, which I welcome.

In conclusion, I repeat an offer that I made earlier to the Under-Secretary. I said:
"My offer is that, if the Government take up one, two, three or all of those demands, made in our policy statement … the Opposition will co-operate in every way to ensure that the legislation—which we hope will be proposed by the Government—gets on to the statute book. We would do nothing to detain or delay such legislation and would co-operate as fully as possible."—[Official Report, 8 March 1991; Vol. 187, c. 610.]
Even in the dying days of this Parliament if the Government, even over the weekend, come forward with some draft legislation, unlikely though it is, we would co-operate with them to get it on to the statute book.

The Government have dithered and delayed for 13 years. I have no confidence and I suspect that those affected have no confidence in this last-minute conversion. The Government's attitude has everything to do with the imminence of an election and nothing whatever to do with the fact that something needs to be done about this thorny problem. In the unlikely event of the Government holding their majority at the election, I suspect that nothing will be done thereafter. My pledge is that within the first year of a Labour Government we will introduce legislation to resolve these problems and the longstanding problem of leasehold reform, which this Government have evaded and avoided for the past 13 years.

12.1 pm

As the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) is likely to remain in opposition for some time, I thank him for his offer to co-operate with the Government in getting legislation on to the statute book as quickly as possible. I look forward to taking up that offer later this year.

I declare an interest as the owner of a long leasehold flat in a rather well-managed block which, I am glad to say, as the Whip is present, is within the Division bell area. This has been an extremely high-quality debate. No speech exceeded in quality that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) when he opened the debate. I congratulate him on winning first place in the ballot, on choosing this particular topic so timeously and on the excellence of his speech.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) that the fact that no Liberal Democratic Member has been present at any stage in our proceedings is a sign of the low priority that that party attaches to this subject. I know that it is customary to congratulate hon. Members when they make their maiden speech. This morning my hon. Friend made what he mentioned could be his valedictory speech to the House. I should like to take the opportunity of saying what an excellent speech it was. I hope to be able to deal with some of the points that he raised.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who asked for answers on a range of subjects when he spoke before the Home Secretary's statement, has not bothered to remain to hear the answers that I shall now try to give.

As the hon. Member for Knowsley, North said, it is just a year since we last debated this subject. A great deal has happened since then. The Government have made progress at a vigorous pace. Last July my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning announced the Government's firm intention to proceed with the introduction of commonhold as an entirely new scheme of freehold ownership and communal management of flats and other interdependent buildings. He made a further commitment of our intention to give long leaseholders of flats the right to enfranchise and collectively to purchase at market value the freehold interest of their block. The Department of the Environment then issued a leaflet and sought comments on those proposals.

Only this week my hon. Friend confirmed our commitments to the policy of enfranchisement. On Wednesday in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) he announced two important additional measures: the right to a lease extension and the extension of the right to enfranchise to householders who were previously excluded because of the high rateable value of their property.

Can my hon. Friend say whether this warmly welcomed announcement will extend to individuals in a block of former council tenants where others have not bought or where some have bought not at all? He will be aware of the various problems that that causes.

Yes, I shall try to explain in more detail exactly to whom this will apply. The fact that the landlord is a local authority rather than a private landlord will not make any difference. There will still be a threshold in that two thirds of the properties in a block will have to qualify. In other words, they will have to be sold on long leases. That means that a number of flat dwellers who have exercised the right to buy will find at this stage that they are in too small a minority within their block to qualify. In smaller blocks it is perfectly possible that more than two thirds of the flats will have been sold under the right to buy, so will qualify.

As my hon. Friend will know, this is extremely important to the people whom I have described. Can he give them some hope that the Government will consider the case of those who find themselves in a block where there are fewer than two thirds qualifying? They are almost always former council tenants. Can my hon. Friend give them some hope that they will be able to buy before too long?

We shall have to consider that point in Committee when we reach that stage. The Government will continue to promote the right to buy. I hope, and I am sure that my hon. Friend hopes, that in blocks where a relatively small number of people have bought their leases the fact that this opportunity to enfranchise will exist when they get beyond the two thirds may attract more buyers. Therefore my hon. Friend's concerns will be met in that way.

Our proposed extension of the rights of leaseholders will go a long way towards resolving many of the bad management problems, about which many hon. Members on both sides are concerned. It has been apparent from the responses during consultation last year that there is still some confusion about the important differences between commonhold and leasehold enfranchisement. Indeed, that confusion has spilt over into this morning's debate, so I shall briefly clarify the Government's intentions.

Commonhold, as a new form of land tenure, is intended as a means of overcoming the present inadequacy of the law which does not provide for the satisfactory ownership of individual flats on a freehold basis. It is not intended to replace leasehold as a form of tenure, because in many instances, particularly in the commercial sector, leasehold works perfectly well. Commonhold will provide an alternative form of tenure.

There are some freehold flats in England and Wales, but the owners of those interests are in a far from satisfactory position. Their interest is generally not mortgageable, so is difficult to sell.

The commonhold Bill will introduce a new system of positive and restrictive land obligations which, in effect, will enable positive covenants to be enforced upon successors to a freehold title. Commonhold will also establish standardised arrangements and fair rules for the democratic management of individual flats and other relevant properties. All commonhold unit owners will automatically belong to a commonhold association which will have responsibility for the fabric of the building and its common parts. A commonhold unit owner will have the additional responsibilities and liabilities that freehold ownership brings, but he will also have a mortgageable asset instead of a diminishing leasehold. The Government do not feel that it would be right to enforce those additional liabilities of commonhold ownership on anyone who does not wish to take on such responsibilities. In answer, then, to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich, commonhold will not include any element of compulsion.

By contrast, our proposals on leasehold enfranchisement have an element of compulsion. The qualifying leaseholders of flats in wholly or mainly residential blocks will be given a right to purchase collectively the freehold of those blocks. That right forms a separate part in the package of measures that will be exerciseable by qualifying leaseholders, regardless of whether they subsequently wish to convert to commonhold.

We have placed in the Vote Office a leaflet that explains the proposals on the enfranchisement of leaseholds. It will go a long way towards answering the points raised by the hon. Member for Tooting, who I see is now back in his place. In outline, two thirds of the flats in the block concerned must be let on long leases—that is, leases originally granted for a term of more than 21 years. If two thirds of the flats are in that form, a further test is applied: two thirds of the people who have the long leasehold flats must vote in favour, if enfranchisement is to take place. There are a number of other more detailed conditions explained in the document, but I shall not weary the House with them now.

The process of leasehold enfranchisement will go a long way to ending management problems with freeholders, because enfranchisement transfers management to the people who own the flats.

I must declare an interest as chairman of Haven Services Limited which manages more than 4,000 units of sheltered accommodation for the parent company Anglia Secure Homes and for many other outside developers. May I draw the Minister's attention to what I consider to be the most crucial element in what he has said so far. The only justification for leasehold enfranchisement is as a response to poor management by freeholders. Why does he believe that such a profoundly undemocratic and un-Conservative measure as the enforced sale of assets by an individual can be justified where there is no evidence of poor management? Does not he realise that there is justification for restricting the availability of leasehold enfranchisement only in those cases where there is proven poor management, perhaps by serving a notice on a recalcitrant landlord?

It would be difficult to put into legislation a definition of what was or was not poor management. I have no doubt that the company of which my hon. Friend is chairman would never fall into the category of poor managers. That being the case, I strongly suspect that the leaseholders of properties that his company and other well-known companies own will not be in the forefront, demanding the purchase of the freehold. They will not be seeking to enfranchise because, as I am about to explain, the process of enfranchisement carries a considerable cost. It is not a free option, so I believe that landlords with well-managed properties have nothing to fear from the principle of compulsion. Indeed, negotiations may take place between landlords and leaseholders about lease extensions and other matters, which will largely satisfy the concerns of leaseholders in well-managed properties.

The other advantage of enfranchisement is that it eliminates the problem of an unsaleable asset in the form of a lease which is too short to be mortgageable, as has been said. We are also concerned about the freeholder. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) intervened, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate made the same point. There is no question of expropriating the freeholder's asset. The price that the leaseholder must pay to enfranchise must be a fair market value. We do not intend that through this legislation leaseholders should be able to acquire assets at a discount.

The valuation process will be complex. The price must include not only the open market value for the freehold but a share of the marriage value. The marriage value is a concept familiar to those in the property world. It represents the latent value released by the merger of two or more interests in land or property. The combination of those interests may be worth more if it is in the same ownership than the sum of the individual values in separate ownerships. Our aim in acquiring the marriage value to be shared is to be fair to the leaseholder and the freeholder. The document in the Vote Office explains that the freeholder will always receive at least half of the total marriage values of the individual flats.

Where there are disputes over facts, they will be referred to the county court. Where there are disputes over valuation, they will be referred to the local leasehold valuation tribunals.

I take the Minister's point that it is a complex issue, but, as I and other hon. Members have said, one of the on-going criticisms is the condition in which properties are left. Can the Minister say that the condition of a property will also be included in the market value that the owner is seeking to obtain?

Inevitably, the condition and the location of a property will be reflected in the valuation.

I said that qualifying leaseholders in wholly or mainly residential blocks could enfranchise. Although we wish to spread the benefits of enfranchisement as widely as we can, our proposals will not apply to properties of which more than 10 per cent. of the internal floor area is used or intended for use for non-residential purposes.

We have no evidence of widespread demand in the property market for leaseholders of commercial units to have the same rights as people living in flats to purchase the freehold. I believe that the introduction of such a right for commercial leaseholders to enfranchise could undermine the effective working of the property market and would threaten the position of investors and developers. The 10 per cent. threshold has been chosen carefully in the light of consultation, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate said, it is a difficult balance to strike and there will no doubt be further debate about that in due course.

Relatively few leaseholders of flats will be excluded by that provision. We have also tried to minimise the other exclusions so that leaseholders such as local authorities and other public sector landlords will also qualify, as will leaseholders of housing association properties and of sheltered housing properties.

Will my hon. Friend at least examine the point that I made about a council property that is at least partly commercial—for example, a garage with residential accommodation upstairs? Can his Department's long-standing objection in that respect be overcome?

I shall certainly look into that.

The effect of the proposals would be that if enough qualifying tenants in any of the categories that I mentioned are willing to enfranchise, the opportunity to do so will be widespread.

Where four or fewer flats in a property have been converted from a house and where the landlord occupies one of those flats as his sole or main residence, that block will also be excluded. However, for the people who are excluded the next proposal is important, because it will extend leases on an individual basis. We have amended our original proposals to include this right because of our concern about how unenfranchisable leases might be treated in the property market following the opportunity to enfranchise being granted to many other leaseholders. The right to extend individual leases will ensure that leaseholders exclude from the other provisions can retain a saleable and mortgageable asset, an issue which will be of great interest to many of my hon. Friends' constituents.

I stress that the right to lease extension will be confined to leaseholders excluded from the right to enfranchise in the categories that I have already mentioned. An extended lease will be granted for the unexpired portion of an existing lease, plus an additional 90 years at a peppercorn rent for the entire period. The price will be the market price of a new lease, including the income value to the landlord of the existing lease and the price that could reasonably be expected to be paid for granting a 90-year extension at a peppercorn rent. That price will also include a share of any marriage value lost to the landlord by granting a new lease. The process of settling the price will be the same as that for a lease enfranchisement.

The issue of lease extension is much more complicated for flats than for houses. Our minds are not absolutely closed on every detail. We are still consulting on that aspect of our proposals and we are looking for comments before the end of May.

I mentioned briefly our proposals to amend the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. Most long leaseholders of houses have had the right under that Act to enfranchise, subject to their properties falling within certain rateable value limits. Those limits left many high-value houses—mostly in central London—excluded by the rateable value limits. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North has made us aware of the problem that that restriction poses for his constituents. We now recognise that introducing the right for leaseholders of flats to enfranchise without any rateable value limits would create anomalies for high value houses. Therefore, we have made it clear that not only do we have no fundamental objection to removing the rateable value limits but that we now intend to do so.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. I should be glad if he would comment on two issues.

First, will he assume that the provisions that he has just announced and which will be included in the forthcoming Bill will apply to the long leaseholders of the Crown Estate, as the Crown Estate Act 1961 would usually exempt the estate from the consequences of this legislation? Secondly, can he confirm that there will not be any evasion of our intentions by those who claim charitable status, except as set out in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967?

In the past, the Crown Estate has undertaken to abide by the consequences of legislation and we will have discussions with the aim of achieving that again in this case. In the second case, charitable housing trusts will not be able to claim any exclusion from the legislation except when, for the purpose of fulfilling their charitable objectives, they have sold property at a discount to its market value to the long leaseholder. In other respects, they will be treated the same as everyone else.

The existence of the right to enfranchise will be a powerful spur to all landlords to maintain higher standards of management, but it will not eliminate disputes altogether. Leaseholders in blocks where the freeholder is responsible for management will still need to be protected, both against unscrupulous landlords and, sometimes, other tenants.

I regret to say that the problems of bad management are not confined to the private sector. The incompetence or worse extends all too frequently to local authority landlords which is recognised by Conservative Members even if it is often vehemently denied by Opposition Members.

Before my hon. Friend leaves the 1967 Act, I must point out that it is apparent from the note in the Vote Office that those who enfranchise themselves under the extension to the 1967 Act in highly priced properties, mainly in central London, will not get: the marriage value or a proportion of the marriage value. If it is equitable for the leaseholders of flats to get that, why is it not equitable for those in such properties?

What is proposed for those properties is consistent with the case of the properties that qualified under the 1967 Act. As my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the point, I undertake to consider it. We have said in the document in the Vote Office that the process of calculating the price is almost identical to the market valuation principle proposed for flats. To the extent that it is different, I will consider my hon. Friend's concerns and reflect on them. My hon. Friend may not be in the House by the time that the legislation goes through. I am sure that he will be here in spirit and I have no doubt that we shall be able to communicate with him as he is a substantial landlord in Hackney. I am sure that the Hackney constituencies will soon become Conservative.

I regret that it is not surprising that Opposition Members are so reticent about the disgraceful behaviour of many local authority landlords, because such landlords are almost invariably Labour-controlled authorities. The principle that landlords can appoint managing agents cannot be easily overturned. I notice that that proposal is included in the Opposition's policyy statement. We have considered carefully whether tenants should be given the right to choose the managing agent or to remove a managing agent chosen by the landlord. To give such a right would create more problems than it would solve. It would present severe practical difficulties if the tenants wanted to take action against the landlord because of poor management. As the landlord is ultimately responsible for the management of the block, he must have the final choice of managing agent.

The Landlord and Tenant Acts already provide for tenants' agents to be consulted over the appointment of managing agents and about their duties. Leaseholders also have the right to be consulted about major works. They have the right to information about service charges, including a summary of the costs and they have the opportunity to inspect supporting documents if unreasonable service charge demands are made.

In answer to the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate, I point out that the legislation provides a broadly adequate set of safeguards. Difficulty has arisen because of the reluctance, which may be understandable, of some tenants to enforce the legislation. The House should deliver a clear message to people that there is a framework that can be used to pursue bad landlords who are inflicting the consequences of poor management on their tenants. As Members of Parliament, we should advise and encourage people to go down the legislative route. Only if we find that the legislation proves to be ineffective when it has been tested in court would it be necessary to consider further change. I understand the caution that many tenants would feel about going to the courts and I especially understand the caution that tenants of local authorities may feel because of the danger of harassment.

I condemn the practice of many local authorities, especially in London, of making exorbitant demands for contributions from leaseholders who have exercised the right to buy to the cost of works in the blocks in which they live.

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend being so vocal on the matter. In Waltham Forest and in Southwark, there is still great Labour party hostility to home ownership. That is never far from the surface anywhere in the Labour party. That hostility was reflected in Labour's opposition to the right-to-buy legislation when it was introduced. That hostility is reflected in Labour's opposition to rents-to-mortgages, the most valuable extension of right to buy. Even when the right to buy has been established as a statutory right, local authorities such as Lambeth and Hackney continue to obstruct, both by incompetence and by dogma, the process of tenants trying to exercise their right to buy.

Under prodding from my Department and following legislation, Lambeth's previously lamentable performance has improved slightly. The mantle of being the worst performing London borough in terms of processing right to buy applications has now passed to Hackney.

Before my hon. Friend concludes his excellent speech, will he deal with this point? He may have been as astounded as I and my hon. Friends were to hear the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) talk about the Government "dithering" over the proposals. Will he confirm that this Government set up the Nugee committee of inquiry in 1984 which led to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987? It greatly extended the accountablity of freeholders and managing agents to renting and leaseholding residents.

Will my hon. Friend dwell on another point? Although the Opposition have said that they support the forthcoming legislation, they have proposed in their policy documents the introduction of two taxes that would make the acquisition of freeholds and commonhold an irrelevance. They propose an inheritance tax and the reintroduction of a capital transfer tax.

My hon. Friend makes two important points. No Government have done more than we have, through a series of measures throughout the 1980s—we will follow that in the 1990s—designed to bring sense and balance in the relationship between landlords and tenants. In the unlikely and tragic event of the Labour party coming to power this year, there is no doubt that few leaseholders would have the resources or inclination to try to exercise the rights that we propose because they would have been taxed out of existence. The danger of the Labour party coming to power is that most householders, through a combination of higher income tax, higher national insurance contributions and, above all, higher community charges, because Labour is committed to abolishing community charge capping, would be struggling to remain where they are now. They will not be able to lay out money to acquire the freehold of their properties.

The Opposition's total silence about the way in which their Labour party allies in the local authorities are denying tenants their statutory rights is revealing. We have listened in vain this morning, as always, for any whisper of condemnation of those disgraceful practices. It is not only that such authorities deny tenants their statutory rights. They waste resources by leaving properties empty and by failing to collect the rents due to them. To know what a Labour Government would be like in practice, one has only to look at the record of the London Labour-controlled authorities.

Let me conclude with a word about service charges.

The Minister has treated us to a long litany of abuse. As he has widened the debate to housing concerns in general, would he care to spend a few minutes defending the Government's record on homelessness?

I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am looking forward to the publication of the next set of homelessness statistics next week, and they will demonstrate the success of our policies.

Let me deal specifically with the point about service charges. We know of contributions requested from leaseholders of £20,000 towards work on flats whose total market value is little more than that. We have heard of demands for advance payments of up to £40,000—even where there is no evidence that the council plans to carry out any work in the near future. At the moment, I am taking up a case with Southwark—brought to my attention through the good offices of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich—involving a tenant who has been billed every quarter for a contribution of £100 a month towards repairs that the council shows no sign of being ready to undertake. That sum is additional to the charges for day-to-day services and maintenance costs. If that is not an abuse of landlords' power, I do not know what is. It is certainly not acceptable to us. Again, I listen in vain for any condemnation of that practice by the Labour party.

No, I must make progress. I am sorry, but I have given way many times.

Tenants are being discouraged from exercising the right to buy because of their fears of excessive charges—fears that are being whipped up by councils providing unjustifiably high pre-sale estimates. They are being warned of—one might almost say that they are being threatened with—liability for repair bills higher than the value of the flats themselves.

On the issue of timing, my hon. Friends will know that I cannot make commitments about what legislation will be included in the first Session of the new Parliament. I can confirm, however, that leasehold enfranchisement and the introduction of commonhold will be a top priority. We have done the work, we have completed the consultation. The Government are committed to the policy.

The Opposition have tried to claim that they would attach a high priority to such a policy—but they have so many priorities. By the time they have introduced legislation to cripple employers and destroy jobs through the introduction of a minimum wage, and to legalise flying pickets, by the time they have renationalised the water industry, abolished fund-holding general practices and scrapped the council tax, I do not know how much parliamentary time will be left in the first five years, let alone the first year.

At least the Opposition list their priorities on housing: there are 16 priorities listed in their policy document on housing, and I should like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to one of them. Labour would lift restrictions on direct labour organisations. Of course, the Opposition must pay their dues to their masters in the public sector trade unions, but to call the promotion of direct labour organisations a priority is surely unnecessary even by Labour party standards. Let us recognise it for what it is—not a priority but a threat to the pockets of charge payers in London Labour-controlled local authority areas who have benefited so much from compulsory competitive tendering. It is a threat, too, to the tenants, whose repairs are unlikely to be more speedily or effectively undertaken if the direct labour organisation monopoly is restored as the Labour party wishes. The priority for Labour to help its union friends ranks at least equally with the introduction of leasehold enfranchisement. The message is clear: those who want legislation on the statute book quickly need a re-elected Conservative Government. That is what they will get later this year, and I commend the policy to the House.

12.31 pm

I had not intended to speak in the debate but as it has been rather one-sided I have decided that I would like to intervene. I must declare my interest as the owner of leasehold property.

No one objects at all to commonhold as an additional form of housing tenure—although the claims made for it are grossly exaggerated, and the sort of instances described by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) show the difficulties that will arise. Commonhold sounds lovely but in practice it will mean a lot of extra money for the lawyers.

It is not that aspect with which I have difficulty, however. What sticks in the gullet is the compulsory overthrow of agreements freely entered into and their extension—quite apart from commonhold—to the Leasehold Reform Act 1967. The changes will affect the whole concept of the private rented market. As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norrish) implied in his intervention, that effect could have been avoided, by allowing the right of enfranchisement on change of ownership or where a landlord does not conform to a proper code of practice.

Such legislation would remove long leasehold from housing tenure. Nobody would ever again grant a long lease. The opponents of the existing system say, "So what. This is a bad system and we have heard much of its defects today. We have heard a lot about the bad apples in the barrel." But there are grave disadvantages in losing the leasehold system, particularly in areas of high-priced property. Leasehold has always been the halfway house between direct rental and owner occupation. Without it there will remain only two forms of private housing tenure—direct rental on my one hand and owner occupation on the other. I beg my hon. Friends to understand that, as a result of the change, both will become more expensive.

One of the saddest aspects of the current housing scene is the relatively small size of the private rented sector. Compared with our industrial competitors overseas, we are a long way behind, which militates against the mobility of labour. There are several reasons for that—principally, the low return that a landlord receives on rented property largely caused by the tax advantages available to owner occupiers. It is also a direct result of the political uncertainty that has surrounded rented property for so many years. As a result of the compulsion element of the proposed change whereby a Conservative Government proposes that these contracts should be overthrown, landlords will wonder how they can ensure that the same will not happen to ordinary rented properties and will decide to get out now while the going is good. That will be their overriding reaction.

Some of my hon. Friends may say that the number of private rentals is now rising, and I have the figures from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. But that is because of the depressed state of the housing market. As soon as that changes, as it rapidly will, people will leave the private rented sector in droves.

May I raise the issue of compensation, not as a private plea but because it is important for landlords' general conception of renting in the future. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Minister replied to me as he did about the extension to the 1967 Act. But even what is proposed for flats—the market price plus at least half the market value—will give enormous immediate tax-free capital gains to the leaseholder at the expense of the freeholder. There is no way to avoid that. If no change is made to the proposal for extending the 1967 Act, the windfall gain involved will be enormous and will involve hundreds of thousands of pounds per property. That is marvellous for the Government because they do not have to pay a penny, and it will no doubt have a considerable effect on how people vote. But it does make one curious about why all those impoverished people in Eaton square should have that windfall.

Excluding the 1967 Act itself, we must go back to the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII to find an equivalent transfer of property from one section of the population to another.

I am tempted to intervene in my hon. Friend's speech to say that he may have proved the case for change if he is looking back that far in history.

Henry VIII transferred arbitrarily a large amount of property in this country. My hon. Friend may say that that was beneficial. I am not arguing that point, but it is a curious measure for the Conservative party to aspire to. When the appearance of central London changes out of all recognition, as it will, and when the price of property and rents escalate, we shall know who to blame.

12.38 pm

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on his good fortune in winning the ballot and choosing such an interesting motion for debate.

Commercial leasehold has not yet been dealt with in the debate. In a good letting market, a landlord has all the advantages. People fall over themselves to take property at a time of buoyant economy and many people want to run their own businesses from those properties. That means that landlords can include all sorts of conditions in leases, sometimes quite onerous ones that deal with the maintenance of the building and state that there must be rent reviews at regular intervals—indeed, upward-only rent reviews at regular intervals. The landlord is doubly advantaged by privity of contract—a double whammy.

We should ask what privity of contract is—

My hon. Friend asks me to define it, and I am just about to make a gallant effort to do so. In broad and general terms, at the start of a lease there is privity of contract between the lessee and the freeholder. Well on into the lease, where the lease may have been assigned several times, there is privity of estate between the freeholder and whoever holds the lease at the time. In addition, there is privity of contract between the freeholder and the original lessee, who may have assigned the lease and disappeared off into the distance.

If the lease was originally for a term of 25 years, has run for 15 to 20 years, has been assigned several times, and the holder of the lease is unable to pay the rent or comply with the conditions of the lease, the landlord can go back to the original tenant. As there is privity of contract between the two, the landlord can demand of the original tenant that he pays the rent. It could be that, with upward-only rent reviews, the rent will be much higher than it was when the lease was first granted.

I have some examples of what can happen in those circumstances, and shall quote from a publication, "Drapers Record—the Fashion Business". It states:
"Some retailers are facing bills of up to £50,000 for rent arrears run up by tenants to whom the lease has been sold on. By law, previous holders of the lease can be forced to pay the arrears, if the current holder defaults on payment.
Retailers say that they face bankruptcy because they cannot pay the bills.
One fashion retailer in the Midlands, who said he did not wish to be named, said he had just received a demand for £50,000 on a property which he and his wife had left 11 years ago. 'It is causing a lot of hardship but it is the law, and the freeholder is entirely within his rights to do this.'
The retailer is now worried that the landlord will continue to force him to pay the rent until the lease is up in another nine years or until another tenant is found. He added: 'We will have to go bankrupt—there is no way that we can be liable for that sort of figure."
That is what happens with privity of contract.

A report was published by the Law Commission in November 1988, following publication of a consultation paper in 1986. A press notice on the report states:
"Once a tenant no longer owns property, he should not pay for it. The Law Commission, in a report published today, recommends that the responsibilities of both landlords and tenants under a lease should normally end as soon as they dispose of the property. At present, the general rule is that anyone who signs a lease remains liable to comply with the obligations until the end of the lease period, even though he may long since have parted with all interest in the property.
The rule applies equally to landlords and to tenants, of all types of property—residential, commercial, agricultural. But tenants feel the main impact because leases impose more obligations on them. Difficulties arise particularly when the original tenant transfers the lease, the new tenant defaults on the rent, and the original tenant has to foot the bill … The Law Commission found widespread ignorance of the present rule."
We cannot be surprised that there is widespread ignorance of privity of contract.

The press notice continues:
"The first that many people heard of it was when they received a claim.
Although it is now possible to make a contract to vary the position, the Commission reports that 'landlords are often in a dominant position in this market, which either makes it impractical for tenants to negotiate on equal terms or even deters them from trying'.
The Law Commission recommends that liability should normally cease when an owner parts with property let on a lease, but there would be exceptions. The scheme works differently for tenants and for landlords:
Tenants would automatically be released, unless the landlord's consent to a transfer was needed and he could show that it was reasonable that they should guarantee their immediate successor's liability.
Landlords would have a chance to seek a release, but the tenant would have the opportunity to insist on their remaining responsible if it was reasonable that they should be."
The matter was raised more recently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who tabled a question answered on 3 March by the Attorney-General, who said:
"In 1988 the Law Commission published its report, 'Landlord and Tenant Law: Privity of Contract and Estate', Law Com. No. 174. It recommended that all the obligations created by leases should bind the parties who for the time being are interested in the land and that those parties should cease to have any liability when they part with those interests, except in cases in which it is objectively reasonable that their liability contiue. It is envisaged that in many cases a landlord consenting to an assignment by a tenant of his interest will be able to impose a condition that the tenant guarantees the performance of the lease covenants by his successor, but only until any subsequent assignment. The Lord Chancellor is actively considering the report's recommendations and hopes to be able to make an announcement about them in the near future."—[Official Report, 3 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 99.]
That is good news, especially since, as we hope, the Lord Chancellor has been actively considering the report's recommendations since 1988, so he will doubtless be full of ideas.

It surely cannot be right that a landlord can bankrupt someone for someone else's debt.

Turning to residential matters, I declare an interest as the owner of some freehold property in south-west London. My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich is quite right about the difficulties facing leaseholders. He spoke of rapacious freeholders and declining leases, and no doubt there are problems; but certain difficulties also face freeholders. They will have responsibilities imposed on them for any lease. Usually, those responsibilities will include managing, insuring and maintaining a building. Freeholders, too, can run into difficulties. What if, for instance, a couple of lessees in the block do not feel like contributing to the cost of maintenance? Property maintenance is expensive and sometimes people do not feel like paying up. That puts freeholders in a quandary; they are bound by the terms of the lease and by statute to maintain a property. What, therefore, should they do when lessees say that they will not pay? They may decide that if they do not go ahead they will be breaking the law, so they go ahead and try to recover the money later. If a great deal of work has to be done to the block in question, the freeholder may find himself having to pay out large sums of money which the lessees have refused to pay.

House owners have a choice when it comes to maintenance. If the roof starts to leak and someone is feeling a bit hard up, he can decide to buy a bucket to catch the drips and leave the roof until next year. A block of flats is different, however, because the interests of everyone in it have to be considered and the freeholder may have to carry out the work. I question whether these difficulties will be solved by what we have been discussing today.

Will commonhold solve all these problems? Certainly, it will have certain different effects on blocks of flats. It will mean that other commonholders will be able to put pressure on those who do not feel inclined to pay their bills. On the other hand, some people say, "We want to live in peace with our neighbours and do not feel like knocking on the door of the recalcitrant lessee. If he will not pay up that will make things difficult for everyone else."

However, there are rapacious freeholders, people who do not do their job properly. Some of them terrorise leaseholders, and I use those words in a considered way. My constituency has a large block of flats called Fernhill court and there are many problems there. The first problem is in finding out who the landlords are. I think that the Freshwater group is involved, but the trouble is that it has created a number of intermediate forms of tenure. There are freeholders, head leaseholders, under-leaseholders and sub-under-leaseholders. As a result, responsibility for carrying out the terms and conditions of the leases has become thoroughly obscured.

Whoever the freeholders or leaseholders are in that case, they are certainly good at sending out service charge hills to the lessees, and those bills arrive without reference to any law. They consist of a bald statement to the effect that the person owes £500 in service charge. However, they are certainly bad at maintaining the property. They say, "We refuse to maintain the property until you, the lessees, pay our service charges." That is what I mean by rapacious freeholders. It is unfortunate that such things happen, because they tend to give the whole leasehold system a bad name.

Fernhill court also has the problem of short leases which are down to about 30 years, and many elderly people in the blocks are worried about that. Some of them are worried that they may outlive their leases and others are worried that if they want to move they cannot. How can anyone sell a 30-year lease in a block of flats, particularly where those who are supposed to be maintaining the fabric of the property are not doing their duty and are sending out exorbitant and, I am sure, illegal service charge demands?

We must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water, because there are many well-managed estates. Estates in London, and especially in central London such as the Grosvenor estate, Belgravia and Mayfair, tend to be well looked after and well maintained. If an estate wishes to sell properties on fairly short leases it should have the right to do so. Many foreigners who come to this country for two or three years would like a home of their own and are perfectly willing to pay a premium for a 25 or 30-year lease in a part of London such as Mayfair or Belgravia. They do not wish to buy a 99-year lease, because the difference in the amount that they would have to pay for a 35-year lease and a 99-year lease is considerable. They know that at the end of the time they can sell the lease and return to America or wherever.

We should consider a simpler solution to the problem, which is that ordinary flats should be sold on leases of, say, 999 years. Those who erect blocks of flats or convert a house into flats sell them on 99 or 125-year leases and then scarper because they are not interested in the freehold. If the leases were for 999 years the freehold could be vested in the leaseholders.

I spoke about elderly people with short leases. Is it possible to put in place some sort of system whereby elderly people who have lived in their flats for a long, time but are unable to sell them because of a short lease could sell them on notional 99-year leases? That proportion of the price received that can be attributable to their flats could be passed over to them and the rest passed over to the freeholder, or something like that.

I was rather cross when the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) read out a quote from the Consumers Association because I was going to do that myself. However, although he was good at reading out its reservations, he did not quote one part of the letter, which says:
"In brief, we broadly welcome the developments to date."
I have received a paper, called "A Programme for a New Parliament", from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, of which I have the honour to be a fellow. It asks for a better deal for leaseholders and tenants and says:
"Many people in rented and leasehold accommodation have to endure low standards of management and maintenance. The government has tried to help some tenants through its Tenant's Charter. But many tenants and leaseholders in both the public and private sectors still receive a poor service from landlords. Organising even essential repairs can be a major problem.
There is cross-party support for the introduction of a system of commonhold under which leaseholders would be given the right to buy their freehold. Management of the common parts of blocks of flats would then become the responsibility of a commonhold association comprising of all the flat owners. What more can be done?
A statutory code of practice should be prepared for all who manage residential property—whether rented or leasehold, public or private sector. It would lay down a set of minimum standards which all managers would have to meet. The RICS is currently preparing just such a code in close liaison with the Department of the Environment.
A commonhold form of tenure may suit the needs of some people. But introducing it poses many problems. It should only be available with the agreement of both the leaseholders and the freeholder. The needs of many leaseholders may well be better served by giving them a statutory right to extend their leases, a right already enjoyed by commercial leaseholders. This would overcome the difficulty that leaseholders can experience in selling flats with short leases." Those who have been listening to my speech will doubtless be able to point out a number of contradictions in what I have been saying. That just goes to show how difficult and complicated a subject this is. We have to be terribly careful about what we are proposing and doing. Dispossessing good landlords and freeholders of their properties is something which no Conservative Government should undertake lightly.
I emphasise what has already been said by my hon. Friend the Minister about the treatment by the London borough of Waltham Forest of leaseholders who have exercised their right to buy their flats from the council. Waltham Forest council has behaved in the most disgraceful way towards those leaseholders. It has sent out demands for sinking funds—demands that lead to sinking hearts in my constituency. These demands are often undetailed and have figures written in at the bottom in hand. This is a London borough behaving like this.

Some of the service charges are for exorbitant amounts. People get demands for £2,000 on account. As a result, the London borough of Waltham Forest leaseholders' association has been set up. That just goes to show the demand that there is for a voice for these people who feel themselves so pressurised by the council. There are now more than 2,000 members of the association, which has sent delegations to see me and my hon. Friend the Minister. They are looking to us for help. I am grateful for the assistance that he has already given and I look forward to the further assistance that he will doubless give in the future.

12.59 pm

First, I make my declaration of interest in leaseholds as chairman of Haven Services Ltd. Secondly, I apologise to the House for being absent during the first part of the Minister's speech. I was carrying the Home Secretary's bag from his office to the House before he delivered his most welcome statement on the national lottery.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on his good fortune in the ballot and on what I am assured was a most lucid survey of the problems of leaseholders in Britain. I wish to enter one or two notes of caution along the lines of those of my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon), whose contributions to our debates will be sorely missed by those of us who know him to be one of the most honourable of all right hon. and hon. Members. He has a most distinguished record of contributions to many debates over many years.

The Government are proposing and extremely un-Conservative act. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes said, they are proposing to dissieze on a scale which has not been contemplated since—I am sure that the historical researches of my hon. Friend are complete—the dissolution of the monasteries.

We are talking about the right to enfranchise and purchase long leases and the recent announcement of the right to extend leases by providing an extension to the balance of the existing lease plus 90 years. We are establishing a new right to householders who were previously excluded from the terms of leasehold reform legislation to buy their properties, whether or not the landlord likes it, and there is now the new right of commonhold.

My hon. Friend the Minister was right to suggest that there is often confusion over the differences between leasehold enfranchisement and the principle of common-hold. I have no great difficulty with the concept of commonhold, because my hon. Friend made it clear that compulsion was to be absent in deciding when and where commonhold might be appropriate. I believe that he is right. There might be merit—not exclusively but on many occasions—in having a form of ownership of units of occupation within one larger unit or building, which is essentially what we are talking about, of the sort that commonhold seems to represent. I hope that in the next Parliament my hon. Friend, if he has not then moved on to be the Minister of State or the Secretary of State of another Department, will be able to advance that concept. I am sure that it would be generally approved.

With leasehold enfranchisement, we are surely in extremely dangerous territory. We are saying that we, the Conservative party, should require an individual to sell an asset—not that he wants to or has any intention of doing so, and not that he has been anything but the most prudent, decent, honourable and conscientious landlord—merely because the tenant of the property that the landlord owns has decided that he or she would like to make a windfall gain.

Surely my hon. Friend recognises that Parliament decided upon that principle in 1967. The decision has been made. We are proposing to extend the principle to a few remaining houses, chiefly in central London. Surely he recognises also the impossibility of enfranchising the £1 million flat in Westminster under commonhold but leaving the £1 million house next door to it still subject to the leasehold regime.

First, I am surprised that my hon. Friend should regard the occupants and tenants of a £1 million flat as being deserving of our attention as persons in dire need. Secondly, I say that two wrongs certainly do not make a right. The fact that the House, before I became a Member of it, introduced—in my view, unwisely—the concept of forcing people to sell assets that they had no intention of selling does not mean that we should compound the felony by extending the principle still further.

I do not doubt the good intentions of my hon. Friends, but there are at least three significant disadvantages in following their preferred route. The suggestion to extend leases sounds perfectly reasonable, but the idea is that someone who has only the tail end of a lease, which is not easy to sell, should be able to buy the balance plus 90 years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) knows, if such a property were a commercial property, under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 the owner would have the right not to extend the lease if he intended to use the property himself or to redevelop it. There is no suggestion that that facility will be available under the proposed legislation.

Let us suppose that I have a block of flats. When the leases on that block come to an end, I want to redevelop it—but I cannot do so because I am now told that I must allow the tenants to buy the remainder of their leases and extend them for another 90 years. It does not matter whether I am compensated for that; no amount of compensation imaginable would be adequate to compensate me for the development loss that I would suffer. However, that is what the motion envisages—unless my hon. Friend the Minister wishes to intervene and say that that is not the case. As he appears to be reasonably comfortable where he is sitting, I can only assume that it is the case. It is nonsense. It is a disgrace that a Conservative Government should even think of doing such a thing.

Let us consider the difficult business of the person who owns the tail end of a lease. There are not many of us who, when contemplating purchasing property, have not thought about the seductive appeal of getting much more premises for our money, provided that we are prepared to accept a shorter lease. It is a well-known choice, which is available to us all. We can have freehold or we can have a 20 or 30-year lease—but on a much grander property—for the same price.

If someone is prepared to buy a 30-year lease, he knows what he is buying. He knows that the value of the lease will diminish and that, at the end of the 30 years, he will not have an asset. That is why he can purchase the occupancy of those premises, with a much shorter lease, for such a small price.

Even if the person concerned was elderly—and we are all sympathetic to the plight of the elderly—and might have occupied a leasehold property for a great many years, it would be a clear breach of natural justice if we were to say that that person had the right to take from the landlord a further extension of the lease plus the balance of the lease simply because that person's circumstances appeared to require our sympathy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) is a good friend of mine. He is a distinguished member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. However, he is wrong to assume that our sympathy for a person who happens to have the tail end of the lease means that we should force landlords to sell for no other reason than that.

My greatest concern is our motivation behind the wish to change the nature of tenure of property. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes that the concept of the lease, short and long, is valuable in the way in which we make property available to people. From freehold to weekly lettings, there is a whole variety of tenures. That is good for the market and we should encourage it. It is clear that the real concern behind the wish to give tenants more power relates to bad landlords. I shall not enter into the argument about whether some Labour local authorities are worse landlords than the worst private landlords.

If one drew up a scale of awfulness, at the very bottom one would find the odd Rachman-like landlord who was cynically ripping off people in an intolerable and unjustifiable way. Above him there would be a whole raft of Labour authorities, which are often just as bad and in some cases even worse. The only justification for their actions is pure political spite. They are prepared to use the poor people whom they claim to represent as political pawns, and outrageously scare and intimidate them to make a cheap political point.

Before my hon. Friend the Minister embarks on the course that he described, I ask him to consider that the majority of landlords are decent and reasonable people. Some of us are very proud of the standards that we observe in managing property. Over the many years that I have been involved in Haven Services, I cannot recall one substantial complaint being received about the way in which we manage the hundreds of blocks that contain more than 4,000 properties.

We should be addressing instead the right that should be given to tenants when the landlord clearly does not meet his obligations. I refer to a failure to repair, or an endeavour to exact unreasonable charges. My hon. Friend the Minister says that that might be difficult to achieve, yet he proposes to take us down a complex, undemocratic, and un-Conservative path to compulsory enfranchisement and commonhold, as if that were a better alternative.

It would not be difficult, building on the Government's excellent work in improving the rights of tenants of blocks of flats that are run by management companies, to provide for a system whereby tenants could, on a number of different grounds, serve a notice on the landlord; and if he failed to respond adequately after a set period, tenants would be entitled to acquire from the landlord the freehold of the property on a basis to be agreed.

In such circumstances, there would not be much argument for giving the landlord a particularly generous deal, and perhaps that is as it should be. I envisage a situation in which the total cost of the landlord's outstanding liability to repair would be deducted from any value attaching to the freehold, so that the landlord received nothing more than the net difference. If that amounted to nothing, there would be every justification for the tenants to say, "We shall take the freehold from the landlord. He does not deserve to own it. He fell down on his obligations"—which could be expressed in a statutory form—"and did not respond to our notice."

I want to place on record, in the marvellously neutral territory of a debate on a private Member's motion, a sentiment that I might have more difficulty expressing in the course of a Government debate, such as a Second Reading introduced by my hon. Friend the Minister. A great deal of uncertain territory remains to be explored. There are profound anti-Conservative, anti-libertarian, and undemocratic issues at stake. I counsel my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government to consider carefully the alternatives that are available in improving the lot of tenants before embarking on the course that my hon. Friend the Minister described.

1.13 pm

I propose to be brief, because I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) is waiting to introduce an important debate, to which we shall listen with great interest.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) will not be surprised if I say that I cannot agree with anything that he said. It echoed from the 16th century. That thought was put into my mind by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon).

The plain truth about leasehold property is that the public no longer have any confidence in it. They have been demanding change. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and his marvellous officials will be only too well aware of the quantity of correspondence that I have sent him over the years from the public in the city of Westminster.

I do not find any person—no judge, no distinguished Queen's counsel, no lawyer, no property magnate, no capitalist, no candlestick maker—standing up to defend leaseholds as they are. All the demand is in the opposite direction.

No, let me get on. People are saying that the concept is out of date and that they want the right to enfranchise in their higher rateable value properties as Parliament set out in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 when it debated and agreed to the principle of this change in the law. At long last, justice is coming to that important, but relatively small group of people in the city of Westminster and elsewhere in the centre of London.

I was astounded to hear the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), who I know has had to leave the Chamber for a moment, say that the Government have "dithered" over the introduction of the commonhold and leasehold reform Bill. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 13 years that the Conservatives have had the privilege of being the Government of the United Kingdom, we have been at the forefront of reform and change. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in response to my intervention, the establishment of the Nugee committee of inquiry in 1984 led the way to a thorough and detailed investigation of the many problems faced by renting tenants and leaseholders in blocks of flats. It resulted in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 which gave the right of first refusal when a freeholder was proposing to dispose of his interest in a block of flats. It greatly extended the ability of leaseholders and others to hold to account managing agents and property owners.

Then came the Lord Chancellor's paper on the concept of commonhold. As my hon. Friend knows, this is an immensely complicated subject. It was right that the Government should consult widely to obtain all views possible. I am glad that I have been able to contribute to this debate, albeit modestly, on behalf of my constituents so that we prepare legislation for introduction into the House in a few weeks' time that will stand the test of time.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning announced on Wednesday the intention to introduce that legislation. I was glad that he could confirm that the Crown Estate would also apply the provisions of the proposed legislation as if it applied to the estate, because the Crown Estate is generally exempt under the Crown Estate Act 1961. I was glad, too, that he could confirm that the principle of charitable property would be as defined in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967.

Some say that this may damage the maintenance and quality of some of the great historic estates in central London. Of course, that is absolute nonsense. These days, historic buildings are protected by a great deal of legislation, and by planning controls when planning consents are required. However, the case for change is overwhelming, not least in the many blocks of flats in central London and elsewhere which are owned by, for example, the Harounis. Any hon. Member who has such properties in his constituency knows the sheer misery that they cause. The properties are not maintained or cared for but every penny is extracted from the wretched leaseholders and renting tenants. It is right that something is at last being done, and I pay a warm tribute to the city of Westminster and the councillors for the way that they seek to enforce the law with regard to such properties.

I also conclude my brief speech with the warmest thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden). He is surely a great champion of the rights of leaseholders and renting tenants in his constituency, and he has also done the House and other hon. Members a great service by making it possible for us to hold this debate. I look forward to the introduction of the commonhold and leasehold reform Bill in the next Parliament. I am glad that the legislation is ready to roll the moment the general election is over.

1.20 pm

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) on introducing this important debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) said, some people have bought their leases from the council. A large number of those people—a number growing by the day—have inherited a worrying situation as a result. Such people and those described by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) are getting together because they have many problems in common.

I associate myself with what my hon. Friends the Members for Westminster, North and for Dulwich said—I am sorry that I missed so much of what the latter said—but especially with what my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow said. He put his finger on the problem facing many of my constituents. I do not need to repeat what my hon. Friends have said, but I wish to make two points which are of great concern to my constituents.

First, I refer to the disappointment of many people who have bought their flat in a block in which there is no prospect of two thirds of the people wishing to become enfranchised. Can the Government show real imagination and find a way in which individual leaseholders can yet be enfranchised? We have always said that where there is a will, there is a way. There must be a way, difficult as it may be. I ask the Minister to recognise the disappointment and, possibly, resentment felt by people who cannot have the same entitlements and rights as others in similar but slightly different positions.

Secondly, service charges, especially to council tenants, are a matter of the utmost concern. So often tenants do not know what they are paying for. When they ask, they are sent a list of what has been done with the money that they have paid, but they are often highly dissatisfied. For example, they are told that the cleaning of common staircases and the mowing of lawns is included, but men tell me that their stairs are never cleaned except by their wives and women say that the lawns are never mown except by their husbands. That, rightly, causes great dissatisfaction.

Another problem with service charges is the iniquity of the difference between charges imposed on people in almost identical properties. People cannot understand why, as their properties are almost identical in layout and value to others, they have to pay different service charges. Should not there be some way in which people could be charged more evenly and more fairly?

Repairs are an issue of great disappointment and dissatisfaction for many people. If they live in a block of flats and the council requires, for example, the replacement of all the windows in the block, they ask to be allowed to get the work done themselves. It may be said that one flat could not be allowed to have different windows because it would spoil the appearance of the block. I have met many constituents who say that they could find a little builder down the road who would use materials almost identical to those used by the men employed by the council and who would do the work at less than one quarter of the cost. Why cannot my constituents do that?

We need to consider people who have bought their flat and who are approaching old age and, sometimes, penury. Some are required by councils to have work done which, in the opinion of many, is not required. The cost may run into thousands of pounds and those people may be in debt for the rest of their lives. That severe problem should be addressed.

I make my comments against a background of knowing that everyone in the categories that I have described is grateful for having been given the right to buy by this Conservative Government. I well remember how, in the 1979–80 Session, the House sat until 15 August to get the right to buy on to the statute book against the bitterest, most wicked and meanest opposition imaginable from the Labour party. Labour has no honest interest in the tenants' right to buy. Let no one say that it has. That is proved by the way in which Labour behaved then and by the way in which it continues to behave when it controls councils. There are many examples, including Ealing between 1986 and 1990. Every possible impediment was put in the way of people who wanted to buy. The evidence for that is in the figures, because the figures for the Labour period of control are very different from the figures for the Conservative periods of control before and afterwards. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

1.27 pm

Hon. Members have referred to bad landlords, and the whole issue turns on that. Only this week, I have found bad landlords in my constituency. One has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) this morning. Some 400 flats are owned by that firm in my constituency.

The proposed legislation must answer three points. First, is it adequate to protect weak and defenceless tenants when they fall under exploitive landlords? The legislation must be adequate if it is to have my support. Secondly, have all landlords paid their taxes? Have there been checks, especially on the service charges? Thirdly, does the law need to be strengthened so that there is an obligation to provide local accounts of service charges and expenditure, and to maintain proper building insurance? Landlords could not then avoid their responsibilities with impunity.

I am anxious that those three points should be met because many tenants suffer tremendously at present. Good landlords exist; bad landlords must be dealt with. My support for the proposed legislation is conditional upon answers being given to my questions for the sake of my constituents.

1.29 pm

We have had an interesting debate on an important subject, during which many good new ideas have emerged. Anyone who has been listening to the debate or who reads Hansard will immediately realise that almost all the discussion has been on the Conservative Benches. The Liberal Democrats have not deigned to turn up to show an interest or to give the matter some thought. With the notable exception of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who raised an important constituency matter related to squatters with which we can all sympathise, we have had no Labour Back-Bench speeches, and the Front-Bench spokesman merely said, "We would do something similar if we had the chance." It is Conservative Members who have instigated the discussion and made the debate.

There are differences of view on this important subject and we have been able to expose them to scrutiny and debate. It has been a notable occasion in that we have had the benefit of a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) who may have been making his last speech as a Member of the House. His first speech in the House, to which he drew attention, was on a similar subject. It is evident that his interest, concern and commitment are in no way diminished and his constituents must feel proud to have been represented by him over the years and glad that he has taken such an interest in their concerns.

We have also heard my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon). I am sure that, although they may not agree with the detail of his argument, hon. Members will recognise his great understanding, experience and expertise in the field and the contribution that he has made to the honourable profession of being a good landlord who takes care of his tenants' interests. It will be a great loss to the House that he will not be here to contribute to other debates on these matters in future. We shall bear in mind the thoughts with which he has left us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes raised the serious question—which might be taken into account by Opposition Members if they would care to listen or attend—of how far it is within Conservative principles compulsorily to acquire an existing interest. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) drew attention to precisely the same point. It is a matter for debate but the principle has been established—not only in legislation to allow compulsory purchase for the general good and planning purposes, but in the leasehold enfranchisement Act, the Leasehold Reform Act 1967.

We had notable contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson)—

Brent, North—of which we understand Wembley to be a part. My hon. Friends have all drawn attention not only to the broad principle but to the particular application that we need to consider in relation to the provisions. Our debate today leaves us in no doubt that there is a crying need for landlord and tenant law to be reformed. The question is whether we should simply tinker with and adjust the existing arrangements or whether what is needed is a major overhaul. From time to time it is necessary—as in 1925—to take a serious look at the law of property. I believe that such a time has arrived once more. Leasehold enfranchisement, the extension of leases and commonhold, provide us with that opportunity. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House calls for the early introduction of commonhold as a means of effecting necessary reforms in leasehold and freehold tenure.


1.33 pm

I beg to move,

That this House warmly welcomes Government educational policies to bring back standards of learning in the three Rs in the infant school by an emphasis on phonics in reading, on number and tables in arithmetic and on writing in English, by subject teaching and learning by heart in the junior school and by a variety of secondary school provision providing for the varied interests, aptitudes and ability of pupils, by tests at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 to guarantee to parents that all schools are fulfilling their purposes, by the retention of 'A' level examinations before transfer to university and professional education at 18 while provision is made at the same age for craft and technological examinations which will lead to craft and technical qualifications and by the provision of maximum parental choice of school based on full public information on all schools, including their external examination results; and believes that such policies will ensure maximum advantage to the pupils, the parents and the whole country.
I came to the House this morning in my capacity as a humble—or not so humble—school master, although I intervened in the previous debate because the suffering that was being inflicted on my constituents had been drawn to my attention this week.

According to my definition, quality of education involves taking all pupils—irrespective of their ability—as far as they can go within the context of finite economic resources. It also means the preservation of high culture. Every society should preserve its high culture in literature, music, poetry and religion if it is to claim to be a civilised society.

Educational quality is always improving or declining at any point. I can look back on almost three generations of school masters, from the age of going to school, being a school master and being a head master. Until the 1960s Britain had a system that worked as well as anywhere in the world. In infant schools, children were taught the three Rs and the habits of disciplined learning. That is what infant schools are for. In junior schools between the ages of seven and 11, children were taught a set of subjects—arithmetic, writing, reading, geography, history, literature, science, nature study and religious education. They also learnt by heart. At that age, children enjoy learning by heart, with poetry and Bible readings that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. In secondary schools, the 11-plus system divided some 20 per cent. of pupils to grammar academic schools, some 5 per cent. to the long-lamented technical schools and some 75 per cent. to secondary modern schools. The system worked.

The hon. Lady, who lives in another world, may not know that, but we know that it worked. At that time, the standards of education of children aged 14 were equal to any in the world, before the Labour party damaged it by putting its paws all over the system.

The destruction came in the 1960s. The first changes were made in the primary schools. Children cannot discover learning for themselves. If they could, we could do without schools and let children loose, as Dewey and Rousseau said. It would be anarchy. The idea that children could discover things for themselves degraded teachers and that is when the status of teachers started to fall. That system, imported from America, did untold harm in schools. I have never yet met a pupil who could write one of Milton's sonnets during the morning break, learn French subjectives at lunch time and write a Shakespearean play in the evening, without being taught any of those subjects along the way. If such a pupil exists, I shall go on a world tour with him or her. We could pay off the national debt from the money earned through people coming to this country to see such a person.

Mixed ability teaching then came to primary schools and secondary schools. It was the most ineffective method of teaching. Pupils of extremely different abilities being taught together meant that half of them did not know what was going on. In a lesson of 30 minutes, it could mean teaching each child for one minute, which was like going back to hand loom weaving compared to a factory system. We should put together children with the same interests and abilities, and then learning can roar ahead. In an average class of 30 children aged 10, one may have a mental age of five while another has a mental age of 15. To think that those children can be taught together is wrong. Bertrand Russell, who I do not think was ever a member of the Conservative party—he never advocated Conservative policies—once said that to educate bright and dull children together was the height of cruelty, and so it is. The bright become arrogant because they think that they can achieve everything and the dull, whatever they try to do, cannot catch up. It is not a moral issue but the fact that the good Lord made us all different. Just as we differ in the speed at which we can run and the amount that we eat, so we differ in intellectual ability. I do not believe that there is just one type of brain—a class 1 brain that is given to everybody.

The Labour party then introduced its disastrous comprehensive policy. It is always looking for policies and has no initiatives of its own. It killed grammar schools, which were the ladders of opportunity for working-class children, and intends to kill them off further if it comes to power again. It killed the 450 technical schools, which probably did even more damage and broke technical teaching in this country. The Labour party also destroyed secondary modern schools, which were developing extended courses. I was then the head of a secondary modern school and, before that, taught in one.

As a result, the standard of mathematics of a Japanese child of 14 became two years ahead of the standard of the average child in this country. In Germany and France, children are one and a half years ahead of us in mathematics, a subject in which comparisons can be made. We are the only country of the 10 industrial countries in which the standard of mathematics was lower in 1981 than it was in 1964.

In addition, the Labour party disenfranchised working class children. The proportion of working-class children going to university between 1961–63 was 25 per cent.—by 1980, that figure had dropped to 19·4 per cent.

There is no such thing as a comprehensive school; there are comprehensive schools that are different in each region. Middle class districts have grammar schools with CSE streams, downtown areas have secondary modern schools, in which few pupils are studying to go into higher education. That is no slur on the staff working there, but reflects on the system that does not work.

No, I shall not give way as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) has some excellent things to say, which could change the educational system of this country.

The ones who suffered most from the change were not the most able, but the average plus, and the technically innovative children. The destruction of the technical school was probably more damaging than the destruction of the grammar school. For a long time, the Conservative party tried to retrieve standards. We came into power and questioned our position, and where we were going.

I pay tribute to the present Ministers, particularly the Secretary of State, at the Department of Education and Science, who are at last taking hold of the subject by the neck and achieving reasonable standards. Undoubtedly, in five years' time, even the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong)—I am glad that she is wearing red, as she is the only remnant of the Labour party present—will be saying what I am saying today. It is simply that it takes the Labour party a long time to catch up with us. We must be charitable to the Labour party, as we are in our schools.

What must we do? The Labour party and other Opposition parties—were any of their Members present today—would say that we need more money and smaller classes. Japanese classes have 50 per cent. more pupils than ours, as do Israeli classes. I would willingly exchange the system that we have had during the past 30 years for either of those. It is not a question of the size of class or the amount of money, but the calibre of teacher, the correct curriculum, gathering together the right groups of children and having a belief in what one is doing.

We should return to teaching phonics in infant schools. We can also use other methods, but we must teach tables and writing. In junior schools we must encourage learning by heart, including poetry. We need a rich variety of secondary schools, to relate to aptitude, ability and interest. I very much approve of city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools and the assisted places scheme—all of which have been introduced by the Government during the past 12 years. Recently, these policies have been more speedily introduced.

We need a much greater variety of secondary schools. Germany and Russia have three types of secondary schools. In Russia, or what was Russia, one third of pupils receive technical education. Russia has boarding schools for languages, mathematics and physics. If the economic system in Russia ever takes off, woe betide us unless we increase our educational standards in this country, as we are now trying to do. Children in Russian schools can study 1,100 crafts, from laundry work to watch repairing. One third of pupils in Sweden attend technical schools and they have a choice of 250 crafts. I have seen the education systems in Sweden, Japan and parts of Russia. In Japan, one third of students can train for technical work, business work, fisheries, commerce. Only here, according to the benighted, non-thinking Labour party, has everyone to go to the same school.

Socialist, mixed economy and capitalist societies all enjoy some form of separate educational institutions. The Labour party alone remains the one-eyed man who believes that he will be king because he cannot see anyone else passing by—I thought that was rather good. I want classical schools, mathematics schools, science schools, sports schools, trade schools and commercial schools. We are a city people; 85 per cent. of us live in towns or cities comprising 100,000 or more people. We should all enjoy a variety of provision, assuming that all schools provide the basic curriculum, as do city technology colleges. Beyond that, much more can then be done—two hours a day on a specialised subject, for instance. Pupils could operate selection as well as external selection policies.

I agree with the seven-plus tests, the 11-plus tests and the 14-plus tests; they may be a little too complicated, but the Government are slimming them down. I agree with retaining A-levels. The Labour party would destroy them on the basis of, "If anything works, pull it down."

I have always supported education vouchers, although I doubt whether they will be included in our manifesto or brought in by the next Government. George Bernard Shaw said that he could suggest improvements when he got to heaven. We could all suggest so much more.

I am worried about the lack of right of parents to decide how much sex education their children should receive, especially in an AIDS age. Despite any worries, however, the differences between Labour party policy and Conservative party policy are vast and they subsume my other anxieties. If the Labour party wins the next election, it will destroy CTCs and grant-maintained schools and it will try to destroy the assisted places scheme. It will destroy the A-level system, which helps to maintain reasonable university entrance standards. I hope that my constituents and those in all other constituencies will vote against the Labour party on the ground of education policy alone.

At the risk of repeating myself—I rarely do so, because I find it rather boring—I reiterate that the present team of education Ministers has done a first-class job. Those Ministers need the support of everyone, if only for what they have done with examinations, tests and the diversification of secondary education. Let the country support the Conservatives on education alone, if not on all our other policies. We cannot afford to allow the Labour party to take power. We have started to build up education standards in this country; it would be a terrible tragedy if the Labour party came in and destroyed them.

1.47 pm

I am delighted to have the opportunity once again to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson). Following him is the story of my life; I followed him as the Minister for schools, a post that I held from 1983 to 1988. 1 and the present team of Ministers can point to bricks that we have put in the wall that we are building to strengthen and support the country's education system.

The motion touches on a number of aspects which time will prevent me from referring to, but I must point out that the quality of education in this country has improved and it will improve further as long as our education philosophy is underpinned by variety and choice. As my right hon. Friend said, Conservative and Labour Members are a million miles apart on this issue. In 13 years of Conservative Government, many new education policies mentioned by my right hon. Friend have been introduced. We have brought about local management of schools, grant-maintained status, open enrolment and the national curriculum, and there have been many other changes.

When I was in the Department of Education arid Science I abolished the Inner London education authority. Many Opposition Members argued against its passing, but they do not do that now. In a speech at that time, I said that the ILEA had a policy on anti-racist sport and that it would not be long before it had a policy on anti-racist mathematics. Within two days of that speech, ILEA introduced such a policy.

I should like to deal with the quality of education in my constituency which is most fortunate in being a part of the 5 per cent. of the country which retains a selective system of education. We have grammar schools and successful single-sex and mixed high schools. We have a successful 13 to 18-year-old comprehensive school in Longfield and a city technology college, a concept which I introduced at the Department of Education and Science some years ago.

We speak about bringing on our young people according to their abilities and about trying to find their talents. The people of Dartford have an education service which is among the best in the United Kingdom's local authority structure, as it was, and within the grant-maintained structure as it is. It is amazing that in such debates Opposition Members, many of whom gained an enormous educational experience from attending grammar schools, choose to support a policy which would destroy them. Fourteen members of the shadow Cabinet, including the Leader of the Opposition, went to grammar schools, thereby benefiting from a system of education which they have denied and would like further to deny to my constituents.

The Labour party's greatest worry is that its empire is breaking up, and they have lost political control of our schools. In the context of education in Kent, we had a visit a few days ago from the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). Unfortunately, he was not able to make a speech in Dartford as planned. I had hoped that he would speak to the people of Dartford about his plans to pass a death sentence upon our district grammar and high schools, our comprehensive school in its present form, and our city technology college.

I should like Labour to make plain the implications of its policy for the future of Dartford schools. Our well-supported and popular range of schools in Dartford have no future under Labour. All our schools would be turned into comprehensives and there would be an end to parental preference in north-west Kent—a principle which I have fought for years to sustain and retain. Labour is pledged to destroy our schools by law. It will compel the closure of grammar schools. Labour will not say, "Would you mind or can we talk about the matter?" It will be as before. If Labour has its way it will pass legislation to close the grammar schools and will confine all pupils to simple neighbourhood comprehensives, a gamble on success or failure depending on where pupils live and on what housing their parents can afford. Labour will trap people on housing estates, as it has in the past, and there will be no ladder of opportunity to allow young people from difficult backgrounds to make a real contribution to the future of our country.

Of course, Labour will say that the Conservative party has closed grammar schools. That is true, but it occurred because of the infection of socialism many years ago. During the five years in which I was a Minister with responsibility for schools, only 20 grammar schools were closed, and they were not closed because of doctrinaire, dogmatic policies. On the contrary, I fought hard to keep them open, philosophically, but with falling rolls and reorganisation it was necessary occasionally to amalgamate, to change the status and to close some grammar schools. One such grammar school in the west riding of Yorkshire took 65 per cent. of its pupils from across the ability range. But that school was no longer a grammar school and therefore had to close.

The debate is focusing on the deep divide, and we have had that from none other than the hon. Member for Blackburn. At the end of last year I tried to get the hon. Gentleman to put down in writing what he would do to my grammar schools in Kent. Finally, after three letters from me, he said:
"I am astonished that you should have any doubts about the wisdom of ending selection at 11".
I am surprised that he thinks that I have doubts because I do not. He continued:
"We shall end selection at 11 across the country, and we shall legislate to do so…Good grammar and other schools in your constituency will under our plans have an assured future as even better comprehensives."
I have to tell the Labour party that that is the best thing that the hon. Gentleman could have said. It came out clearly and the people of Dartford wanted to hear that Labour party position defined. They know, because I have told them so on many occasions, that our grammar schools will close under Labour or the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Blackburn has spelt it out in a way that even the deaf could hear.

On 26 February last, among reports in the national papers, the Daily Mail had the headline:
"Labour pledges to abolish last of the grammar schools".
There we are. It is clear. There is no question of trying to hide the facts or to fudge as the Labour party does on so many other issues, pretending to be something that it is not. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) can mutter and chunter to her heart's content. It is indisputable that the Labour party will close grammar schools—

The House notes that the hon. Lady agrees with me. She is the only person on the Labour Benches who can talk and think at the same time. Once the Labour party realises that, in all the many constituencies which still have them, the philosophy of closing grammar schools and bringing everything down to the lowest common denominator will be electorally unpopular, there will be a change or a fudge.

I shall conclude by quoting the words of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I have nothing in common with him, but I respect his honesty and integrity. On 30 September last in The Independent, he said:
"If we've changed our mind to win, we could change our mind when we've won. What's wrong with that?"
That will be the caveat that all of us who are concerned about education standards will put to the people over the next few weeks. Undoubtedly, people will back our view that parental preference is the key and that the variety and range of schools that we have in Dartford should be extended across the country. I support the motion.

1.57 pm

I was interested to read the motion. I hope that hon. Members will read and reflect on Monday's debate about the sittings of the House and the report of the Select Committee from which the debate arose. I am rarely here on Friday because it is the only day that I can spend with my constituents and in my constituency office. I can be here this afternoon only because I have broken constituency commitments. I have a very able person to deputise for me, and my father is this afternoon presenting, on my behalf, prizes to 17-year-olds in Consett who have recently achieved qualifications from the YTS scheme.

We need to look at how we organise business in the House. Private Members' business is important, but because it happens on a Friday, many hon. Members who are not from London constituencies are excluded from debates on it. Today, almost every hon. Member who has spoken has represented a constituency in London or the south-east. The way that we conduct business limits the ability to participate of hon. Members whose constituencies are a long way from here. That is one of the reasons why I was pleased to be a member of a Select Committee which recommended alternative ways to organise the business of the House.

We are here to debate quality in education, and it is clear from the debate that there are real differences about what we mean by quality and how we achieve it. I believe that the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) is genuinely concerned about quality in education, but on reading his motion I groaned. I thought, "This is taking us forward into the past." I wish that I could believe in the romantic vision of a past education service that worked. I come from another country; I come from the north of England.

Both the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and the right hon. Member for Brent, North may come from the north, but it is obvious that they have not been living and working there for some time.

As I have said, I come from the north. I know of many people whose talent has been unrecognised; it has been untapped. Their abilities were wasted because they were pushed into secondary modern schools. I am amazed when Conservative Members talk about choice in terms of a selective system. Nobody has choice in such a system except those who run schools. Parents and pupils have no choice.

When my father was chairman of the education committee in Sunderland I remember only too well the many parents who would tell him, "My child has failed the 11-plus and yet I know that he is capable of pursuing academic interests." That assertion was true. When I began my secondary education in a grammar school I learnt that the school believed that only the top two streams were worth bothering about. Those in the bottom two streams, even though they had passed the 11-plus, were seen as being not quite up to the cream in the other two streams. When the school went comprehensive at the end of my fourth year—my father was still the chairman of the education committee, and this was one of my early political lessons—my English teacher went on over and over again about what my family was doing; that strong memory lives with me. That teacher personalised the issue. He went on about plenty of crops, as he put it, joining the cream, and claimed that the entire system would be corrupted. What a view. What a way to regard those who would be citizens and decision-makers in the town—I am pleased to say that it is now a city—and in the country generally.

Against that background I am enormously disappointed by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Brent, North and the hon. Member for Dartford. I know that many of the 75 to 80 per cent. who were excluded from grammar schools had talent and have talent. They failed the 11-plus but they had enormous talent, which was then wasted.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North did not pass the 11-plus and nor did I.

Many of those who failed the 11-plus had talent which was wasted.

Before I came to the House I worked at a polytechnic and was involved in a mature students' course. All the people taken by the polytechnic had failed the 11-plus and had left school at 15 or 16. Their experience was that they had failed in their education career. We were finding ways in which they could return to education as mature students. The average age of the students on the course that I taught was 34. The work that we did on access before students could apply to take up the course and when they first came on it was mainly directed to giving them confidence in their abilities. What a waste of talent. Britain has wasted the talents of so many people who had an enormous contribution to make but who believed, because they went through a system that told them that they had failed, that they were failures.

We are now in a very different period.

No, because I am anxious to get on and I do not want to be distracted. It is important to deal with the claims about the selective system.

When the Secretary of State gives evidence to the Select Committee, he says that the Government bear no responsibility for what happens in schools—yet at the same time they impose almost weekly changes, thought up on the hoof, with each change contradicting a previous change. All the changes have undermined the confidence of teachers in their ability, to the extent that Her Majesty's chief inspector said in his report last year that the manner in which the national curriculum was being centrally imposed risked the deskilling of teachers. What a state to be in.

The Government are concerned not to listen and not to consult. They say, "We know better than everybody else." They impose weekly changes on schools such that that chief inspector said that they run the risk of deskilling our teaching force. The way in which the Government have introduced change has caused incalculable damage.

Much of what is claimed in the motion has been challenged in recent reports. I was interested to hear the comments about phonics. Have hon. Members read the recent report on reading by the National Foundation for Educational Research? It says that the overwhelming majority of all methods include phonics.

Absolutely. I have not known a school which, during recent years, has not dealt with phonics in some form—even those schools that are using real books. As the NFER says, they represent only 2 per cent. of actual practice.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Tim Eggar): Will the hon. Lady give way?

No, the Minister will have his opportunity in a moment.

What is now being called the WAR report also says that there has been a great deal of rhetoric on teaching methods that is not borne out by the practice in the classroom. It is our responsibility to encourage teachers to identify good practice, to help them to do so, and then to build on that. Much of the Government's rhetoric has undermined rather than reinforced the confidence of teachers.

The motion fails to recognise the changing demands on people, whether academics or skilled workers. No one can enter the work force without having confidence in both their educational and technical abilities. Unless we recognise that as a nation, we cannot tackle the challenges of the future. All those wishing to contribute to our society need to have a grasp of both knowledge and skill. We cannot train technical workers unless they have confidence in their ability to have a basic educational grounding, to learn and to change. We cannot train academics unless they have a knowledge and understanding of some technical skills.

For a short period last year, I had a student who had been to a top public school and who has a first from an Oxford college. When he came to work here last year, I discovered that he had never before laid hands on a computer, and was illiterate in the skills that I needed him have. We do not allow anyone into the Library, and the only way that one can access its information is through the POLIS database. That young man's education had not fitted him for the work of being a good researcher, which is what he wants to be, in modern society. His education was too narrow.

Those of us who are concerned about this country's future needs and its education system—bar the Government—argue that the three A-level model is too narrow. I discussed that aspect with students at Durham, which is supposed to be one of the better universities—although I sometimes wonder, in the sense that it, too, has a narrow intake. Those students were keen to defend the three A-level model, saying, "I could never do modern languages." It sent a shiver down my spine to hear top intellectuals among the next generation say that they are incapable of learning a foreign language. What does that say about their capabilities after leaving sixth form and their confidence in their ability to learn?

If we continue to follow that route and fail to give even the brightest among our 18-year-olds confidence in their own abilities, what does that say about the future of which they will be a part? The Government offer only experimentation, which has changed and shifted, and has largely been unsuccessful. They offer only double standards—which, together with experimentation, are characteristic of the Government's education policy. They have so little faith in the changes that they have wrought on the maintained sector that only one Cabinet Minister is prepared to risk educating his children in it.

The greatest example of the Government's lack of commitment to standards and quality is to be found in the lunacy surrounding the Education (Schools) Bill, which introduced the concept that a privatised inspectorate could somehow lever up standards. What an insult.

I am delighted that their lordships rejected that proposal and, as the Minister in another place said, tore out the heart of that Bill. We know, however, that a deal has been done, yet even last night the Department was not prepared to concede that. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government will try to reinstate their inspectorate provisions next week? Has a deal been done whereby the Bill will be guaranteed a Third Reading provided that the Government do not try to reverse their lordships' decision?

If the situation is as I understand it, will the Government commit the money that local authorities will need to continue meeting their responsibilities as currently identified in the Bill? Does the Secretary of State intend to keep the local inspectorate privatised? Again, that would go against the spirit of the amendments that have been agreed.

If the Government are interested in raising the standards and quality of education, they will recognise that every single school must have its standards raised. We must have a means of measuring the progress that children make, whichever school they attend. We heard the real answer from the right hon. Member for Brent, North when he said that the quality of schools depended on the sums spent.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted standards raised in schools, but—

No. Standards depend on the quality of teachers. They have nothing to do with money.

I am responding too much to sedentary interventions and I apologise for that.

The Government have said that they can afford to educate only a few well. I reject that, and the Labour party rejects that. We are committed to ensuring that all children, wherever they live and whatever school they attend, get the very best attention. Our education standards commission will lay down national guidelines and national standards. Local authorities and schools will work towards them to ensure that they deliver for every child and every family the highest quality of education, wherever they live and whichever school they attend.

2.16 pm

It is significant that there are no Members present from the two socialist parties, the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties, to listen to the splendid speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). Unlike them, I have not been a Minister, but I passed my 11-plus and went to an excellent grammar school. I was in the second year sixth when it went comprehensive and 18 teachers left. If success is gauged against salary, those who went to the technical and secondary modern part of the school received an excellent education as they are all earning more money than I am now.

My hon. Friend the Minister visited Basildon last week and saw at first hand the splendid standards of education that we have. Of my five children, the two oldest attend school. One attends the St. Anne line school and the other the infants school. They receive a splendid state education in Basildon. My hon. Friend the Minister will also be pleased to know that thanks to the intervention yesterday of three Conservative county councillors, Councillor Brin Jones, Councillor David Walsh and Councillor Iris Pummell, we saved Fryerns secondary school in Basildon.

Examination results in all Basildon secondary schools continue to show improvements. Increasing numbers of students are moving on to higher education this year. All schools have successfully taken on the national curriculum. The Nicholas school, in particular, received one of the nationally prestigious, schools curriculum award for involving the community in the curriculum to the highest standard.

My infant and junior schools are all doing splendidly. I regularly visit all our education establishments in Basildon. I thank and congratulate our excellent ministerial team on helping the children in my constituency to enjoy ever-higher standards of education.

2.18 pm

I am delighted to respond to the debate and to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) on his motion. The whole House recognises his lifelong commitment to improving the quality of education and has noted with dismay the present situation at the school in which he was once a distinguished head master. As he said, the recent HMI report on Highbury Grove school is a shocking indictment of what can happen to a school when it is not properly and adequately led and when it does not retain the traditional values that must be associated with successful schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) talked of the variety of schools in his constituency. There is indeed a unique amount of choice available to his constituents and I know that they value that. I hope that in time other hon. Members may have the same degree of choice available for children in their constituencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) reminded us that only a few days ago I had the chance to meet the headmaster and staff of Fryerns school. I also met a number of pupils who had come in especially to show what they were capable of doing. I am delighted to hear that the school has been saved. I was very impressed, especially by the commitment of the staff who were taking a training day to consider ways of improving the school's image, of attracting more pupils and of ways of using the school's considerable assets to even better effect. I am sure that now that the difficulty is behind it, the school will go from strength to strength.

It was interesting that we heard nothing about the early years from the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) who claims to be the shadow Minister with responsibility for that issue. I think that she is embarrassed by the press release that she issued yesterday and probably believed that it was better not to mention it. It contains a most extraordinary announcement about the proliferation of bureaucracy and planning. It tells us that under a Labour Government—if we were ever unfortunate enough to have one—all child-minding will come under the control of the Department of Education and Science. Presumably, if one wanted to drop one's child round at granny's for a few hours while one did the shopping, one would have to ring the Minister for the early years to find out whether granny is registered with the Department. However, it would not stop there.

The Minister for the early years would not have the answer because she would have to consult the Minister for women who would co-ordinate the Minister for the early years. The Minister for women would then have to double check with the Minister for children. Having been double checked, the Minister for the early years would then presumably go back to the new special unit within the Department which would ensure that everything was properly co-ordinated. It would then, presumably, say whether granny was capable of looking after the child, but, before final decision was made granny would be referred to Labour's new quality commission which would investigate granny's skills as well as investigating the skills of the Ministers for the the early years, for children and for women.

I recommend the document to my hon. Friends because it gives an image—

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Lady. The document gives an image of life under a Labour Government. It would be a marvellous world if one were a woman and wanted to be the Minister for the early years, for women or for children, but we should not get very far in terms of better child care.

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not giving way, but I must deal with several issues.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North stressed the importance of raising standards still further, of getting back to basics, of concentrating on improving the standards of literacy and numeracy and the understanding of science. I know that he recognises the considerable importance of the national curriculum in improving standards still further.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) does not recognise the importance of the national curriculum. In 1987, the hon. Gentleman said that the national curriculum would lead to
"a monopoly in thought, in ideas, in education".
The hon. Gentleman has learnt something and he has moved on. In December 1991, on "Frost on Sunday" he said:
"We'd keep the national curriculum … the idea of a national curriculum is, in principle, a good one."
The hon. Gentleman's idea of a national curriculum is not ours. It is not the idea that is shared by parents and supported by teachers. Let us see what the Socialist Educational Association believes that the national curriculum should consist of. I quote from its January 1992 document entitled "The New National Curriculum: a socialist view". It said:
"Every institution—including the school—is part of [the] struggle. Disadvantaged students are entitled to expect this to show both in the curriculum itself and in the ways it is implemented."
In other words, the Labour party sees the national curriculum as nothing more than a method of social engineering—and an especially nasty method at that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North talked about the importance of improving primary education. I know that he recognises the importance of the recent report on primary education by the three wise men. The report will be widely read and widely discussed in primary schools. It highlights the importance of ensuring that there are phonics in the teaching of reading. It mentions the importance of subject teaching, especially for older primary children. It will be an important report, especially when it is put together with Professor Alexander's examination of what was going on in socialist Leeds. The report recognises that there must be a change in primary schools. That change will be widely recognised and supported by primary teachers.

My hon. Friends have made it clear how important it is to have testing in our schools. That view has been consistently opposed by Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Blackburn said in December 1987 that testing is a system which
"sets child against child, which tells them only how to compete against their peers and which labels them as successes or failures at age 11, 14, 16 or seven."—[0fficial Report, 1 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 788–89.]
The hon. Member for Blackburn has recognised that his view is not shared by parents so he has moved on. As recently as 21 October—this is a remarkable statement from the shadow spokesman who has been here for so long —he said:
"Labour has not made final decisions on how testing would operate under a Labour Government."
Labour simply cannot make up its mind about whether it is in favour of testing.

The hon. Member for Durham, North-West made a series of extraordinary assertions about the Education (Schools) Bill. The amendments that their lordships accepted the other day were not only a change from the Government's point of view, but the complete abandonment of all the Opposition's arguments in Committee. The amendments completely contradicted and torpedoed the policy document "Raising the Standard" which had taken a quite different approach. The hon. Lady may well be worried about issues such as the role of the local education authorities. She has realised that the amendments are wholly contrary to her party's policy.

I will tell the hon. Lady. Their lordships preferred the selection of inspectors to be made by Her Majesty's chief inspector. That centralises the system and we should have preferred the matter to have rested with governors. However, the amendments can be managed and we are tabling consequential amendments to give practical form to the effect of their lordships' main, amendment. That decision is quite consistent with the aims of the parents charter, and our new inspection system bears no resemblance to the monopoly inspection of schools by local authority inspectors that has been urged on us by the Labour party.

We are determined, through the Education (Schools) Bill to get on to the statute book legislation that will give parents information about the strengths and weaknesses of all our schools, which will publish performance tables of a kind that we have never seen before. We are determined that there should be regular and transparent inspection of all schools because we want to open up the education system to public accountability in a way which we believe is bound to raise standards and extend the influence of parents. I am delighted to have had the chance to debate this important—

It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Orders Of The Day

Private Members' Bills

Health Benefits Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

Shops (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [31 January].

Debate to be resumed on Friday 13 March.

Timeshare Contracts (Time For Reconsideration) (Scotland) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

Housing (Fitness Standard) (Amendment) Bill

Order, for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

National Health Service (Supply Of Medical Equipment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

Sea Fisheries (Wildlife Conservation) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; read the Third time, and passed.

Young Persons' Rights Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

With the permission of the Member concerned, Friday next.

Second reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

Hare Coursing Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

Elimination Of Poverty In Retirement Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 13 March.

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; read the Third time, and passed.

Access To Neighbouring Land Bill Lords

Read a Second time; considered in Committee; reported without amendment.

I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has deprecated the considering of Bills without adequate prior notice.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I detected a note of incredulity in your voice and saw the incredulity on the faces of some hon. Members. It would have been useful if, when the Bill was briefly in Committee, I could have caught your eye to ask its sponsor to explain, in a few sentences, what he wanted the Bill to achieve. Instead, the Bill was rushed through in a matter of seconds. As you correctly said, Mr. Speaker on more than one occasion has said that that should not happen.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I help by saying that the Bill has been fully considered in the other place and has all-party support? It is a simple Bill to allow somebody whose house is in danger of falling down to repair it, even if neighbours object, although he or she would first have to get the courts' approval.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.

Education (School Premises) Bill

Order for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee), read.

To he considered on Friday 13 March.

Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill Lords

Read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House— [Mr. Lord.]

Committee on Friday 13 March.

Offshore Safety (Protection Against Victimisation) Bill Lords

Read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House— [Mr. Nellist.]