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Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill

Volume 837: debated on Wednesday 24 April 2024

Committee (2nd Day)

Welsh Legislative Consent sought

Clause 36: Enfranchisement or extension: new method for calculating price payable

Amendment 23

Moved by

23: Clause 36, page 29, line 29, at end insert “and has effect subject to section (LRHUDA 1993: Non-development guarantee)”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is related to another amendment in the name of Baroness Andrews inserting a new Clause (LRHUDA 1993: Non-development Guarantee).

My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendment 24. These might seem to be rather arcane amendments; Amendment 23 is a technical amendment and Amendment 24 is the substantial point and a proposed new clause. This might look like an arcane point but it is a very significant one and it is simple to correct. The amendment asks the Government to act on a promise to remove a significant blockage, which at the moment increases the cost of enfranchisement to leaseholders who are threatened with upward extensions to blocks of flats and have to pay the freeholder extra for the possible profit he might have made had he chosen to develop. The proposed new clause, although detailed— I apologise for the length of my speaking note—would remove the blockage. I am extremely grateful to noble Lords around the Committee for supporting this, and to the Minister, who has already met me. We all agreed that this is something that must be put right in the Bill.

I declare an interest as a leaseholder in a block of flats that has been under threat of an upward extension for not two years but five years. The consequent blight and anxiety have been considerable. Asking for compensation for not extending upward is now an accessible and popular option for freeholders looking for more profit, especially when it falls under the relaxed requirements of permitted development. That means that there would be no automatic planning hearing, and often what would count as a major development slips by for determination simply by planning officers. There is no requirement for affordable housing, friendly accommodation that would help disabled people, or considerations of planning issues such as the impact on structural stability or protection from massive disturbance for residents.

Given that upward extension can be authorised in wider circumstances than the normal planning rule, it is estimated that there are about 2.2 million custom-built private sector leasehold flats in blocks where development value—for example, for upward extension—could be an issue, and therefore where leaseholders might face this additional obstacle to enfranchisement. There are certainly many people already affected by upward development in London alone.

The current key legislation is paragraph (5) of Schedule 6 to the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. It defines development value in relation to premises to be enfranchised as an

“increase in the value of the freeholder’s interest in the premises which is attributable to the possibility of demolishing, reconstructing, or carrying out substantial works of construction on, the whole or a substantial part of the premises”.

To give a graphic illustration, in our own situation in my block of flats, when faced with a development we were not consulted on and did not want, we sought to enfranchise ourselves. The cost was originally estimated at £750,000 for 103 flats. Now the development value has been added, that has shot up to £1.75 million. We can no longer raise the funds and we cannot buy the freehold. What has shocked me most as I have pursued the Government on this point is that the impact assessment on upward extension of permitted development shows that the Government actually knew that this would happen. They anticipated that upward extensions would generate freeholder profits to the tune of £530 million in land value uplift, even without any actual development. Moreover, the impact statement recognised that this may make it more expensive for leaseholders to enfranchise.

To their credit, the Government realised that there was something wrong, especially since it would contradict the policy intentions of this Bill to make enfranchisement cheaper. So they referred it to the Law Commission, which reported in 2020 on options to make enfranchisement cheaper and easier. In option 9, it said that:

“When exercising enfranchisement rights, and in order to reduce the premium payable where there is development value, leaseholders could be given the ability to elect to take a restriction on future development of the property”.

The Government accepted the option. On 11 January 2021, in the House of Commons, Robert Jenrick promised in a Written Statement:

“Leaseholders will also be able to voluntarily agree to a restriction on future development of their property to avoid paying ‘development value’”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/1/21; col. 10WS.]

Nothing would give us more pleasure in my block than a promise not to develop.

Even more to their credit, this solution was signposted in the impact statement on this Bill, in Annex 2, at paragraph 12, which recognises that the prospect of paying development value can make enfranchisement “prohibitively expensive”, and contemplates that there will be a new right for an option not to pay development value on the condition that leaseholders guarantee not to develop themselves. So I must ask the Minister this: with all these assurances having been given, where is this new clause? What has happened to the policy commitment?

The Minister knows I have enormous respect for her—she and I have solved many problems outside this House together, and I am sure that we can do so inside the House as well. Perhaps in her response she could explain to me why the impact statement recommends something that the Law Commission did not recommend, and which I find slightly bizarre—that

“the freeholder will be paid reasonable out of pocket expenses that have been genuinely incurred in pursuit of development”.

Why do the Government feel they have to reward the developer again for doing this, when the Secretary of State in another place is all for squeezing freeholder revenue streams, not finding new ones?

This is about helping the Government. The proposed new clause would speed up the process of decision— I am doing the Government’s job for them. To cut through the legal language necessary in the proposed new clause, let me explain briefly how it would work, and how Amendments 23 and 24 relate to Schedule 5.

Amendment 23 makes a link between the non-development guarantee and Schedule 5. Paragraphs 2(2) and (4) of Schedule 5 restate the existing law in the 1993 Act and define development value in relation to the premises to be enfranchised as any increase in the value of the freeholder’s interest in the premises

“attributable to the possibility of demolishing, reconstructing or carrying out substantial works of construction on, the whole or a substantial part of the premises”.

Subsection (1) is the key provision of the proposed new clause. It covers the point that leaseholders can obtain

“a reduction in the price payable for collective enfranchisement in relation to any premises”

if the nominee purchaser—the leaseholder, or the leaseholder’s representative—guarantees not to pursue development. This is achieved by way of a non-development guarantee, or NDG, to be proposed when the necessary notice under Section 13 of the 1993 Act is given. The guarantee specifies that the nominee purchaser, if they acquire the freehold, promises not to carry out or allow others to carry out similar development works.

In proposed new subsection (2) we have provided that, in making this calculation, exact terms will be followed: works of

“demolition, reconstruction or substantial work of construction”

which correspond to those specified in the guarantee in subsection (1) must be disregarded. There can be no doubt about what sort of development we are talking about.

We also recognise the need for flexibility. The law recognises that enfranchisement can be a process of negotiation about price and terms, and that the price may have changed by the end of the process. The amendment takes care of that. Proposed new subsection (3) recognises that the NDG, incorporated in a final negotiation, may indeed differ, but requires that the terms must be “set out expressly” in the final documentation.

We have also solved the problem of how to make the guarantee legally effective—there is no end to the help we are giving the Government. Even if the freehold changes hands, by using the Local Land Charges Act 1975, under proposed new subsection (4) an NDG is registerable as a local land charge and is enforceable by injunction by the immediately former freeholder. This follows the model of Section 106 planning agreements, which are enforceable by injunction by the local authority under Section 106(5) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It avoids the problem recognised by the Law Commission of formulating the restriction as a covenant between incoming and outgoing freeholders.

Finally, there is the question of how long the guarantee should last. The impact assessment is silent on this, but the Law Commission, at paragraph 6.167 of its report, says that a time limit should possibly be imposed, and that in any event it is not necessarily the case that the restriction on development should last for the life- time of the lease. It suggested 10 or 20 years, but the measure in the impact assessment is silent on this. However, given the constant changes in planning law, we follow the advice of the Law Commission.

Subsection (6) adopts a 10-year lifetime for the non- development guarantee from the date of enfranchisement, after which it would be removed from the local land charges register. In subsection (8) we also provide specifically that a registered NDG may be varied with the consent of both the current and former freeholder. I pay tribute to David Boardman, who has given us expert advice on this.

The amendment covers all the necessary points. There is much more that I could add in context, but the Committee will be relieved to know I am not going to do that. The Minister may well tell me how to improve the clause and I would be very pleased if she could do that, but I hope she will not find fault in my seeking to help her to put in place simply what the Government said they wanted. I remind her that the decision was based on legal advice that they themselves commissioned, it was announced by the Minister in another place and it was contemplated in the Bill’s own impact assessment. All that is missing is the actual new clause that would have delivered it, which I have now provided and which I look forward to the Minister accepting. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support Amendments 23 and 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I can imagine the anguish that must be felt by leaseholders in blocks of flats who are facing the disruption of one or even two new storeys being built on the roof of their flats. With freeholders now having permitted development rights for upward extensions, residents face the disruption, noise and hassle of builders, lorries, cranes, skips, scaffolding and so on for months—and now they face the prospect of being unable to buy the freehold of the block because development, or the possibility of upward development, adds to the value of the block and can make enfranchisement prohibitively expensive. The extra value of adding new storeys, or the compensation demanded for not developing where there is potential to add them, generates additional freeholder profits but makes enfranchisement unaffordable, yet the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill is all about giving leaseholders a better deal and easier access to enfranchisement.

I note that the previous Secretary of State promised to fix this specific problem through a clause in the Bill enabling leaseholders in a block to agree together that no upward extension should take place. In this way, they remove the extra value for the freeholder. It seems that in the drafting of the Bill the promised new clause, originally an option proposed by the Law Commission, has got lost. So, on behalf of the 2 million-plus lease- holders who could be affected, I strongly support the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, which would fulfil the Government’s earlier promise.

My Lords, I suppose I could say “#UsToo”. I support these amendments, which are simple in purpose, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who summed them up thoroughly, clearly and personally. As things stand under PDR, a freeholder can add two storeys to their existing building as a matter of right, with no planning permission needed: as I look round Watford, I can see evidence of that with my own eyes. But I also know that that can have very serious consequences. As well as the inconvenience of the building work going on for as long as it takes, you also discover that the top-floor flat that you paid a premium for is now worth less as you are a middle-floor flat. Then there is the pressure on communal space and amenities, including the dreaded bin store and the state thereof.

Adding two more storeys to a presumably well-planned block of flats, for a set number of residents, is not consequence-free. But the consequences are absolutely trivial compared with the knock-on effects of such development on the Government’s own stated aim, which is to encourage more leaseholders to buy their freehold. This is an additional and often insurmountable obstacle. It significantly raises the cost of enfranchisement, as has been said. The value of the block will have gone up. The leaseholders are now required to pay more for their freehold. In many parts of the country, this takes it way out of reach, as in the noble Baroness’s case.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, very thoroughly cited a positive trail of support: all the right noises from the Secretary of State in 2021, the Government’s complete recognition of the dilemma and a real promise of the ability to look into some restriction.

It is clear that there is a policy conflict here: the need for more homes, which we all agree on, versus the enfranchisement of leaseholders. As things stand, the homes policy is top trumps. Can the Minister advise on whether there will be a review of PDRs in general, including focusing on unintended consequences such as this and whether there is a way to sort this out in the leaseholder’s favour in the Bill? At the moment, it feels as if the freeholders are still very much holding all the aces and current residents have no voice at all in this significant change to their environment and, possibly, their life chances and finances.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Andrews for the collaborative way in which she has prepared and worked on her amendment, and drawn the attention of the House to what seems to be an omission from the Bill. We believe this needs to be rectified and my noble friend has not only set out, with her usual thorough approach and eloquence, exactly what the issue is, but has also proposed a straightforward and elegant solution, which we support.

My noble friend describes the Law Commission report as adopted by the Government in January 2021. Indeed, the government press release of January 2021 indicated that the Bill would strongly take account of this government commitment to release leaseholders from the straitjacket of hope of future development value. I quote from that press release:

“Leaseholders will also be able to voluntarily agree to a restriction on future development of their property to avoid paying ‘development value’”.

This is based on a Law Commission suggestion, which clearly indicates the direction of travel and which we believe the Government have accepted. To quote from the Law Commission recommendation:

“Premiums would be reduced at the date of the freehold acquisition claim. If leaseholders subsequently decided that they wanted to develop, they would pay a portion of any profit received on a subsequent development to the landlord, rather than (as at present) having to pay development value in respect of a speculative future possibility of development”.

The Law Commission also set out clearly the principle that leaseholders should not need to have to negotiate on a piecemeal basis for this restriction but should be granted it by right. The commission refers to leaseholders of flats acquiring the freehold to their block and states that,

“as they would not be required to pay the landlord an additional sum to reflect the potential to develop their properties, leaseholders would no longer be required to negotiate with the landlord to create such a restriction; rather, they would be entitled to demand such a restriction be included”


“disputes, negotiation and litigation about development value would be reduced”.

The Law Commission clearly believed that the election to take a restriction on development outweighed the disadvantages put forward by other consultees and that such an election was eminently possible to implement where there was agreement among leaseholders.

I also point out that this issue arises, in part, from yet another unintended consequence of the permitted development regime—a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill—on which I have made my views clear in your Lordships’ House in the past. I am not an unequivocal fan of PD. Permitted development removes the step of local accountability through the planning system, often the contribution to local community infrastructure and almost always the contribution to local affordable housing which would be required through traditional planning applications.

At its worst, permitted development drives a coach and horses through local plans, resulting in residential property in inappropriate areas and buildings, and in taking buildings out of commercial use where it may not be appropriate to do so. In the case of the subject of this amendment, its very existence can create an added financial pressure on those wishing to exercise their enfranchisement rights. That is another reason why we believe that the solution proposed by my noble friend Lady Andrews delivers an equal and justifiable right to leaseholders.

We strongly support my noble friend’s amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, has said, 2 million leaseholders may be affected. We support it on their behalf and not least because it meets the overall aim of the reform to leasehold as stated by the Government and in the Bill: that it should reduce enfranchisement premiums while maintaining sufficient compensation for landlords. It also sets out a clear and practical route map for the implementation of such a scheme. We look forward to hearing from the Minister about how she might make the necessary progress on this issue.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for her Amendments 23 and 24 on development value. I also thank her very much for meeting me on this subject.

The amendments would introduce a scheme where enfranchising leaseholders would not pay development value if they guaranteed that they would not develop for a period of 10 years. Under the current law, lease- holders are sometimes required to pay development value when collectively enfranchising a block of flats. This is the value of the potential future development of the property, such as through adding another storey to the building, as we have heard. We recognise that development value can make the cost of enfranchisement prohibitively high.

We are committed to bringing forward a workable scheme and are exploring this area further. It is, as we have found, however, an area fraught with loopholes and technical detail. To be honest, it will take us time to get this right.

Before I finish, I want to bring up permitted development, because all noble Lords have brought this up. As noble Lords probably know, the Government have recently consulted on making changes to various permitted development rights. The consultation ran for eight weeks from 13 February to 9 April. We are considering the responses and I am sure we will have a debate on those in this House in due course.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is right about this issue. We know about it and we support her, but it is difficult. I would like to meet her again, and anybody else who would like to come, to go through her amendments in detail and take things forward in that way.

Could the Minister tell the Committee whether the problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has defined could be resolved by removing permitted development rights altogether on these blocks of flats? This goes back to what was the case. If any development was proposed, it had to go through the normal application to the local planning authority.

I do not think that would be a sensible solution, because there might be times when permitted development might be the correct thing to do and everybody might be happy about it, including those leaseholders who have enfranchised. We need to take this steadily because it is fraught with complexity.

I am extremely grateful to everyone who has supported the amendment, especially the noble Baroness on my Front Bench. I am also particularly grateful to the Minister. I understood her to say that the Government are committed to bringing forward a workable scheme to deal with this problem, which is exactly what I wanted to hear. I know it must be fraught with difficulties. There are lots of rights and planning issues involved. There is a whole nest of issues that would have to be addressed. The important thing is that it be in line with the timetable for the Bill. Perhaps she will be able to say more about this when we meet, but I hope that it will be either aligned in the timetable, so that there is no more confusion and we can get this tracked as soon as possible, or, if it requires legislation, in the Bill. I take the point, and I would be very happy to meet her—and to take in with me an army, and its advisers.

I have one further reflection on the PDR review. I did my homework—I did what the Minister said, and I saw whether I could use the current PDR review as a way of raising this, but it does not allow me to do that; it is too narrow in scope. Therefore, in fact we need a proper review of PDR, because the implications are so varied and wide. If the Government could commit to that, there would be a lot of political capital in it. In the meantime, I am happy to leave this amendment, and we will see and wait on progress.

Amendment 23 withdrawn.

Clause 36 agreed.

Amendment 24 not moved.

Schedule 4: Determining and sharing the market value

Amendment 25

Moved by

25: Schedule 4, page 157, line 35, at end insert—

“(1A) If section 3(3) of the LRA 1967 applies to the current lease (successive leases treated as a single lease), sub-paragraph (1) is to apply only if the one of those leases which is in effect at the valuation date is a market rack rent lease.”Member's explanatory statement

This modifies the application of paragraph 8 where successive leases are “chained” to constitute a long lease under the LRA 1967.

Amendment 25 agreed.

Amendment 26

Moved by

26: Schedule 4, page 160, line 27, at end insert “, but see sub-paragraph (3A).”

I speak to Amendments 26 and 27 in my name, focusing on the measures in this Bill relating to marriage value which, as it stands, would allow leaseholders with leases of 80 years or fewer to acquire freeholder rights without paying a fair share of the marriage value to the existing freeholder.

Marriage value, in relation to leasehold enfranchisement, is set out in the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, and defined as the financial benefit that results from merging the freeholders’ and leaseholders’ interests in a residential property. Under the 1993 Act, and reaffirmed in the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002, 50% of the marriage value is payable by the leaseholder to the freeholder when the unexpired term of an existing lease is under 80 years.

Handing over the full benefit of marriage value to leaseholders without due compensation will have wide-ranging effects, but the most damaging and significant is the threat to property rights. Our economy is built on property rights. If the ownership of property is no longer secure, because it can be taken away without compensation, where does that leave us? If the Bill goes through unamended, it will set a dangerous precedent for Governments to transfer wealth arbitrarily. What we are looking at today could be the thin end of the wedge. I am not suggesting that government actions would escalate immediately, but any power given to government will be used to its full extent sooner or later, however benign the original intention. Do not forget that income tax started out as a temporary measure at 2.5p in the pound, and has reached as high as 100%

On top of the principled concerns that I have set out, there are a number of practical ones. The assets set to be transferred as a result of these measures have a value of £7.1 billion, and it is likely that some of that value is being used as security for loans. Do His Majesty’s Government know how much of the affected property is tied up in this way, and do they know how the banking regulatory authority feels about, what would become, unsecured loans, or the possible consequent impact on banks’ capital requirements?

The Government’s impact assessment states there are 4.8 million leasehold properties in England, of which only 385,400 have leases under 80 years. Of those 385,400 leases, the bulk of the value is located in London and the south-east. Despite the Government’s noble ambition to support aspirational home owners, I understand that in London, 60% of leaseholders benefiting from this change in policy would be private investors, of which 10% to 25% are based overseas. At the same time, many of the freeholders whose assets would be removed are charities or pension funds which have invested to cover their long-term liabilities.

There is also a significant impact on the Exchequer. Under the status quo, any financial gain made by freeholders when leases are sold is taxable. If all the financial gain is given to the leaseholder, a good proportion of the tax that would have been due will be sheltered by the exemption of disposal of a principal private residence. The loss to the Exchequer under this consequence alone has been calculated at £l billion.

Finally, there is the problem with human rights legislation. One of the founding principles of the European Convention on Human Rights is the protection of property. The lack of compensation for freeholders under the processes set out in the Bill challenges the expectation that parties should be fairly compensated for losses resulting from expropriation or state control of use. Whatever government lawyers say, there is bound to be a difference of opinion. In fact, the Government’s own legal advice described it as “finely balanced”. Do your Lordships imagine for a moment that this arbitrary transfer of property without proper compensation being paid will not be fought through the courts to the highest level? It will cost the Government a small fortune and freeze the market in leasehold properties, as present leaseholders will be reluctant to sell while there is a chance of greater value in the future.

My amendments are simple. They preserve the existing arrangements only for leases with an unexpired term under 80 years, leaving the 95% of leaseholders who have leases of more than 80 years to benefit from the Government’s proposals, even when their term drops below 80 years. This is a fair balance. I hope my noble friend the Minister will consider my amendments carefully and from a point of principle. I would welcome further discussions to fine-tune the details so that we can ensure that this policy works for everyone. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am pleased to lend my support to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and have put my name to these amendments. I have three short points to make. One is that phasing out in this area must be right. The second is that we should treat retrospective legislation very suspiciously. Thirdly, it cannot be right to deprive people of their property without compensation.

Noble Lords might ask what I know about this. I taught property law for many years and, although I have forgotten much of the detail, I can assure your Lordships that this area of law goes back to the Middle Ages—in fact, it probably goes back 1,000 years. It is by no means simple to reform it, although I understand that the Government’s intentions towards leaseholders are good ones and that one day leasehold will be phased out. But the law is so complex that this cannot be done quickly or unfairly. The Law Commission has written thousands of pages on this area; it is far from a simple matter. Indeed, to replace the leasehold system might take decades, if not longer.

The main argument against the Government’s proposals is wrapped up in the European Convention on Human Rights’ Article 1 of Protocol 1, which says that all persons have the right to own property and to make use of their possessions, and that no one shall be deprived of his property until public necessity so demands; if so, the state must guarantee fair compensation. This does not seem to be the case in the Bill.

Our own UK Human Rights Act says:

“Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.

If we do not accept the amendments in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, this law stands a very strong chance of being attacked under human rights law, because it is not offering fair compensation to the freeholders, and it is retrospective. I therefore very much hope that the Minister will see the dangers and unfairness in this, and accept the proposals in these amendments.

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after the noble Baroness, with her depth of knowledge about this subject, and my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising, who did me a number of favours. First, he saved me from any obligation to explain the meaning of marriage value. Secondly, he made a moderate and temperate case for his amendment when my argument might be expressed in a somewhat less moderate and well-tempered manner, because I feel a real sense of outrage about what is being proposed.

As my noble friend has explained, marriage value is a real financial asset. His Majesty’s Government say that they are abolishing it. They are not abolishing it; they are, in effect, transferring, at the stroke of a pen, value from the freeholder to the leaseholder without any compensation. It is, simply, expropriation. My amendment, which is a probing amendment—I would not expect it to be part of the Bill—obliges the Secretary of State to pay compensation to those who have lost out as a result. Of course, I really want the Government to scrap the provision itself, rather than for compensation to be paid, and I would not expect my amendment to be a practical policy. It is a probing amendment to raise the question about expropriation without compensation.

I want to make three broad points. There are genuine evils in the leasehold system. I made it clear at Second Reading that there were things that I support in the Bill. For example, it was scandalous that in recent years some housebuilders sold leasehold houses with rapidly escalating ground rents, which they then securitised in order to increase their capital receipts. Also, it is scandalous the way that many freeholders are implementing their obligations in relation to the cladding crisis; people are genuinely suffering as a result.

However, how many of these evils are actually being addressed by removing marriage value from the calculation of the enfranchisement premium, or the premium paid for extending a lease? It is not germane to the main evils that the Bill has been advanced as addressing.

Expropriation of this character implies some wrongdoing on the part of the person whose assets are being expropriated. It requires a high test. Noble Lords will have noticed that even in the case of the friends of Putin, we have been sensitive and careful about expropriation. We have frozen assets, but when it comes to whether we should expropriate them and give them to Ukraine or do whatever useful stuff we might do with that money, we all draw back from it because of the legal consequences. Here, we are perfectly happy to expropriate assets and hand them around the market without any consideration, and with very few people rising to protest about it, even in your Lordships’ House.

I believe that the Secretary of State said that he sees this as an act of justice, but what justice is involved in transferring wealth from a group of people who include, as my noble friend has said, charities and pension funds to leaseholders, who in many cases are frightfully rich? We will shortly come to amendments in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester which deal specifically with charities, which I have put my name to. I live in Kensington, and as I declared at Second Reading, I live in a flat on a long leasehold. However, there are many people around Kensington with very expensive properties who are salivating at the prospect of this going through. This is not substantially helping the poor and middle classes; it is going to transfer huge amounts of wealth to people with long leases. The more valuable the flat, the bigger the benefit that they are going to get from it. Where is the justice in all this? I simply do not understand how that point can be made.

My second point relates to the European Convention on Human Rights, on which I do not claim to be an expert. I have a suspicion that my noble friend, when she rises to answer, will say that in respect of Article 1 of the first protocol—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has referred with such learning—similar cases in the past have been taken to the court, and that the landowners, the freeholders, have lost. Therefore, the Government are certain that this will pass that test. I am, of course, wholly unqualified to comment on the legal merits of the case in either way. However, even if it did pass that test, is this something that should pass the test in England, as far as the older rights that we have inherited are concerned? This is principally England that we are talking about, with its tradition of respect for private property and not implementing retrospective law or seizure of assets without very good reason. I would suggest that it does not pass the test. Even the Law Society—the “leftie lawyers”, as they are often referred to, which is not a phrase that I would use, and I hope Hansard will put that in quotation marks—is concerned about the damage that this will do to the reputation of English law.

My final point is addressed to my fellows on these Benches, who take the Conservative Whip. Are we and our noble friends on the Front Bench here to expropriate property without compensation, without justice, without an argument, or without there being serious wrongdoing on the part of the person whose assets are seized? Is this what we came into this House to do? I do not think it is. This is something that the Government need to take away and rethink very seriously, because it is wrong, it smells, and it is something that we should have nothing to do with.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a long-standing leaseholder, as I have done before. I support the expressed view of His Majesty’s Government on abolishing marriage values—I take a somewhat different view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan—so making lease extensions cheaper and easier. I therefore oppose all the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and others, the subsequent amendment in the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, plus the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, which we will come to later.

All these amendments impact on the issue of marriage value. I know that your Lordships’ House debated marriage value to some extent at Second Reading, but it is clear to me that reform is long overdue. I will not repeat the discussion that we had at Second Reading about the definition of marriage value. I must tell your Lordships’ House that, as a long-standing leaseholder, I have extended the lease of two properties in two different apartment blocks. I do not know how many noble Lords have gone through the process, but it is quite something to go through.

The current process is a farce—a piece of theatre designed to enrich everyone but the leaseholder, who pays all the costs. First, the freeholder comes up with an imagined figure of the future value of a property which bears no resemblance whatever to market reality. Basically, think of a figure and double it, and that is what your freeholder comes up with. The hapless leaseholder then employs a valuer and solicitor, and so does the freeholder, and the negotiation dance begins. The leaseholder ends up paying much less than the original premium—the original figure—but an awful lot of money in fees.

For the leaseholder, the whole process is uncertain, expensive and stressful. For the freeholder and associated professionals, it is lucrative, and their bread and butter. The current lease extension process is designed to protect the freeholder’s long-term interests at the expense of the leaseholder. It is nothing to do with transferring wealth—we keep hearing this figure of £7 billion being transferred—and everything to do with retaining it, as understandable as that may be.

Several of London’s great estates have maintained their property empires over hundreds of years by exploiting the system and making leasehold extension, or enfranchisement, extremely difficult, opaque and tedious. Leaseholders’ insecurity and uncertainty provide freeholder security. The more freeholders keep control of leases, and discourage extensions, the more they can protect their accrued wealth, and that is really what the debate is about today.

I do not intend to repeat what I said a couple of days ago in your Lordships’ House about the Church of England’s feudal property empire, and the work that it does with charities, except to say that it is a multi-billion-pound business, and, like all businesses, the Church will fight to protect its interests as one of the country’s leading landowners. Abolishing marriage value could, of course, affect all that.

I do not accept all the doom-laden warnings that we have heard from, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising. We have heard such dire warnings before about the impact this could have. We heard the same from the pension funds—remember that they were saying that the abolition of ground rent would cost them tens of billions of pounds. Well, just today, the Society of Pension Professionals and its chair have said that this is exaggerated and overplayed. In fact, the scale, relative to total assets, is probably not that significant in the long run. I think we will find the same when it comes to marriage value.

I know that a lot of people, including the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who is very experienced legally in these matters, mentioned the European Convention on Human Rights. A number of major estates and property owners are citing that. I had a hedge fund lobby me, saying that their human rights would be breached under the ECHR were marriage value to be abolished. I do not think the great British public will be awfully sympathetic about hedge funds’ human rights being breached because some people want to reform leasehold and marriage value. In fact, I heard today from noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, a wonderful case for an opt-out from the ECHR. If billionaires and hedge funds are going to hide behind the ECHR to prevent reform, I think it is a good idea to opt out—maybe some of the noble Lord’s colleagues in GB News would support that as a proposal.

Some say that there will just be a transfer of wealth from one group of rich people to another. There is obviously a certain amount of truth in that—the properties owned by people in central London, whether they are local or foreigners, are expensive—but if you abolish marriage value you will make the housing market more transparent and bring many more properties on to the market, thereby providing more homes. The problem with short-lease properties—I have found this myself—is that they are often unsaleable and un-mortgageable. That means that they can be purchased only by cash. Often, they remain short-lease properties because, as I have already described, extending the lease is a complicated process, lacks transparency and is prohibitively expensive, so they clog up the market. There are an awful lot of short-lease properties, which could be opened up to the market as a whole.

That situation may suit freeholders, who see an early return of their asset when they get a shorthold property back into their hands, but it is bad for the housing market as a whole. It would be better if short-lease properties—there are about half a million of them—were smoothly converted to long-lease properties relatively cheaply, transparently and efficiently. That would benefit the whole economy, not just large freeholders. Getting rid of short leases—and making extensions cheaper and easier, which is the Government’s intention—was one of the key points of the entire Bill, and freeholders should not be able to frustrate it.

On the deferment rate designed to replace marriage value, I fear that it can become marriage value by another name, so, in a way, I understand the point the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, made. Marriage value, as such, is not being entirely abolished as a concept; it is being replaced by the deferment rate. I agree with Amendment 42 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, which states:

“In setting the deferment rate the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability of encouraging leaseholders to acquire their freehold at the lowest possible cost”.

Otherwise, there is a danger that, in replacing marriage value with the deferment rate, His Majesty’s Government will make extending leases even more costly than at present. I hope the Minister can put my mind at ease on that score.

Amendment 41 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, which would give a fixed formula based on the bank rate, appears attractive at first sight, except that no one can possibly know where the rank rate will be in the future. It looks too high at the moment, and the bank rate plus 5% looks overly generous. If the noble Lord can later advise the Committee on where investors can currently achieve certain returns of over 10%, I would be very grateful.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, explained very well what I would have liked to say, so “hear, hear” to that. I was beginning to worry that the debate might be getting a bit dull—until the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, spoke. He so infuriated me that I feel I have to say something. I am not able to stay for the rest of the evening, but I wanted to clarify a number of things.

It is true that there are some people who own lease- hold flats who are not poverty stricken, but the characterisation of the 5 million leaseholders in this country as wealthy is ludicrous. The main reason why people—certainly me—are forced to buy leasehold flats is that they are cheaper than non-leasehold flats. As I will indicate in an amendment to be discussed on the next day in Committee, very few of us were originally aware of what a leasehold meant. We thought that we were entering into the housing market and buying a house, having saved up very hard to do so, without realising that we were, in effect, pseudo-tenants with very few rights. That has all been discussed often in this House.

The other thing that I wanted to clarify—I hinted at it, and it will come up again—is the notion that any charity that is a freeholder is doing good in the world; that strikes me as at least open to question. Many of the problems that leaseholders face are due to their being local authority—local authorities are not charities, but there are real problems with local authority flats. Also, housing association leaseholders have endured incredible problems with how the leasehold is set up. It is not appropriate to assume that, because charities say that they are doing charitable work, they are not accountable for some of the uncharitable consequences of the fact that they are, in effect, freeholders making a huge amount of money out of leaseholders.

In that sense, what really wound me up was the idea of this being a limitless expropriation scheme. Leaseholders have felt for some time that they are on the receiving end of a limitless expropriation scheme. The reason why this Bill is here and why people across the political parties, from right to left and in between, are so committed to tackling leasehold is that the inequity is in that capacity to expropriate, via the service charge, ground rent and so on. It means that leaseholders feel there is no way to defend themselves against a freeholder who can just take, take, take. Having paid quite a lot in service charges, I know that you do not necessarily get a service and there is not very much you can do about it, which is what the Bill is trying to address. I am pleased that the Government are addressing this, although they are not going far enough.

This is whipping up a climate of fear, and the notion that mad socialists are going around stealing property from freeholders is absolutely mythical. It is very important that we do not allow myths to emerge in the midst of this discussion, and that we have a proportionate sense of how to respond. I do not think that all freeholders are evil, but the system is iniquitous. I mentioned before that it has taken a few years of me being here to hear so much enthusiasm for feudalism, but it seems to be coming up again. It might make it difficult to untangle the law—as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, explained, this goes back many hundreds of years—and I am not trying to be glib, but there have been a lot of commissions looking into this. However, it is not appropriate to sing the virtues of feudalism, either. Feudal property rights are not in the interest of modern democrats, whether they are on the left or the right. The idea that this is the equivalent of the difficulties of expropriating from Putin does not make any sense.

As to the European Court of Human Rights: the irony of the position of Conservative Peers! By the way, I am one of the people who would leave the ECHR— I know everyone here will hiss and boo when I say that —because I do not think it should determine the decisions we make in this or the other House. But Conservative Peers, who would otherwise say that the European Court of Human Rights is unreliable, defending it for hedge fund managers is ludicrous. Freeholders are not necessarily virtuous, benevolent, benign landowners; some are, but most are money-making rentiers. It is actually a criticism of the failures of capitalism that the only way anyone thinks they can make money is by ripping off leaseholders—and then describing them as rich, just because they have got a decent flat. Noble Lords get the gist.

My Lords, I remind the noble Baroness, in light of what she has just said, that it was in this place in 1215 that the barons said to the King, “This is the Magna Carta”. This principle was established and made very clear that a person’s property could not be seized by the King, except by the lawful judgment of his Peers over the law of the land. The assumption is that if you take the property, compensation must follow, even if you are taking such property because you want to convert some or all of it into leaseholds, so that they too can become owners. The Magna Carta will tell you, “Have you forgotten your history? Have you forgotten your law?” The rule of law in this country is what gives us liberty. It is not just a question of the European Court of Human Rights; it is also Magna Carta, which is really the foundation of all these things. To seize somebody’s property, even by an Act of Parliament, would go against the whole reason why Magna Carta came out and gave us the rule of law, in the end.

Let us be very careful in this Bill. If you take away somebody’s property without compensating them, those barons from 1215 will be rising up and saying, “Remember your history, remember your law, remember the tradition that it has created, and safeguard it”.

I do not think that freeholders are simply wanting to hold on to things, in the way that the noble Baroness described some of them, or are not doing any good charitable thing. I live in Berwick in Northumberland, and the duke there has plenty of other things. I have also seen some of the charity work that is being done.

Let us not use language and words because we are enthusiastic in one direction or another and ignore the Magna Carta. It is what has given freedom and liberty even to newcomers such as me. My friends, the rule of law cannot ever simply be brushed aside because of a desire to correct a particular question. The rule of law matters. The Magna Carta matters.

My Lords, I support each of the three amendments in this group. I was going to say that the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, concerning compensation, was so articulate that it really needed no reinforcement, but I was not expecting the fine history lesson just now, which has reinforced it with great skill and humour. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, explained that she taught property law for many years. I studied property law for many years, and I am sure that, if I had studied under her—which would of course not have been appropriate at all in age terms—it would not have taken me so many years.

The expropriation is bad enough, but to add the retrospective characteristic in this legislation is shameful. My principal interest in contributing is the 80-year rule referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, because that is a very sensible, intelligent compromise to the sledgehammer of absolute abolition of marriage value and hope value in the calculation being entirely reserved to the lessees. Many of the highest-value elements of this paragraph are, indeed, in central London and the south-east, and many are non-resident.

This clause would save the Treasury billions, in addition to earning it some billions, which we heard referred to by the noble Lord. There is logic to the 80 years proposed in his clause. That is the threshold below which mortgagees such as banks and building societies are very reluctant to lend on property. Lessees therefore have no choice but to negotiate an extension if they want to use borrowed money—and, of course, nearly all do. The 80-year rule is a compromise between the very long leases and those moving into the unmortgageable zone. It makes a great deal of sense to cut the pack in this way because it excludes those freeholders of over 80 years but encapsulates the value of the expiring leases. It should be supported.

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, I come to this from a professional viewpoint. I am a chartered surveyor and, until recently, I was a registered valuer with my professional body. Coming from my background, I see the balance to be struck. When I was in the public sector, I was dealing with matters of compulsory purchase and compensation. Later on, after the passing of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, I became the first chairman of the Leasehold Advisory Service. Although I was not a practitioner in the matter of leasehold enfranchisement, I had a very close up and personal involvement with what was happening there.

As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, marriage value exists. It is not a fiction. It is there in legislation and referred to. It is one of the things that is supposed to be taken into account, for instance when dealing with a compulsory purchase case or something like that. I do not make any particular claim for one or other camp; I make a claim for order and rationality in what is happening here. My fear is that if the Bill creates a disorderly process, it will be highly undesirable for everybody concerned—for the public interest, for the people who lose assets and also, incidentally, for leaseholders. With the interconnected way in which property and finance function, I do not think you can simply fillet out all the bits you want for the leaseholder. There would be an imbalance.

We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, about the ECHR and the principle of fair compensation where assets are necessarily taken away by the order of the state, whether taken directly for the purposes of the state or removed in some other way. That is based on the principle of fair compensation, as defined by reference to the term “market value”. Noble Lords may wish to refer to paragraph 4 of Schedule 4 to the Bill, which refers to market value. I shall return to this theme, because it is very likely that later I shall have amendments of my own to clarify this.

It is worth reiterating what market value means. First, it is part of an international valuation standard—it is not just UK. It is brokered by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a body called the International Valuation Standards Council. Market value is:

“The estimated amount for which an asset or liability should exchange on the valuation date between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arm’s length transaction after proper marketing and where the parties had each acted knowledgeably, prudently and without compulsion”.

My difficulty—I think it is probably germane to what is happening here, because bits of this Bill interleave with other bits at earlier and later stages—is that the definition of market value for the purposes of Schedule 4 is something rather different. It does not identify a willing buyer and a willing seller, just a willing seller. I will come back to this matter at a later stage.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, has dealt with commercial rent review, as I did for many years when I operated out of the West End. Anybody who has done so will know that the question of each party being described as “willing” is significant to the outcome of the assumed deal that has to be brokered—ultimately, if not by agreement, by an arbitrator or an independent expert dealing with the valuation. Typically, this will be for a rent review or a rent under a new lease where the commercial lease is entitled to a process of renewal.

It is very important that we understand that that failure to have a willing seller and a willing purchaser implicitly results in a skewing of the outcome; in other words, it can be argued that the only willing party to this is the seller—in theory, at whatever figure might be offered by the person trying to acquire the asset. That cannot be right, so that needs to be dealt with and picked up to clarify where we are going on that.

With regard to the comment from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about the cost of dealing with this—I think it was her and not the noble Lord, Lord Truscott; forgive me if I have got it the wrong way around—fairness and justice involve considerable care, expertise and no small cost. It is a bit like the price of democracy, if you please. We should not just say that because it is expensive, it is expendable. It is not. I think the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, would agree with that principle.

This is an important part. The impact assessment says at paragraph 152:

“We do not expect freeholders will exit the market as following our reforms; many freeholders will continue to hold a valuable long-term interest in leasehold buildings”,

and it goes on to describe those. The problem is that we have a successive draining away of the asset that is available to those freeholders. That might be fine, were there not a particular legacy issue about which I have spoken in this House many times before, and will do again at a later stage of the Bill—I give due warning of that—which is the question of building remediation, where it is required. Ultimately, you can drain so many resources away that there is nothing left for remediation and the person who is made responsible, particularly under the terms of the Bill elsewhere, is the owner of the building.

What is to happen with the owner of the building if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, wants, permitted development rights are removed? For all sorts of reasons that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, referred to, I agree there are some really rubbish, poor-quality additions to buildings that should not be there and have not respected the structure underneath—for instance, in terms of wind-loading and load-bearing structures and stuff like that—never mind the inconvenience to those living immediately underneath. None the less, it is there, and I suspect that if the Government were to turn around and say, “We’re going to get rid of a whole tranche of permitted development rights”, there would be another issue to do with whether compensation is not available this time, possibly not in relation to this Bill, but under planning laws. We have to be really careful about this. I am worried that there will be a default in terms of remediation—that freeholders will end up with so little that they have no skin in the game worth having any more, and that they engineer the process where they can financially exit from the whole thing.

There is one last point here, which has been made already. This is a matter of confidence in the system that we have: do we have a rules-based system or do we not? What would happen to our wider reputation as a country where investment in property and this sort of thing can be made? What else might be taken away at a moment’s notice? I fear for that. If we are not to have greater reticence and a response to risk in terms of short-termism and a degree of hedging of bets—which, in valuation terms, leads to higher costs and lower values—we need to be very careful about what we are doing. On that point, I will sit down.

My Lords, the debate on this group of amendments has taken an interesting turn. I was not expecting to be discussing expropriation or to hear reference to the European Court of Human Rights, particularly from those who have in the past criticised it. I was not expecting the debate to hinge on the rule of law, of which I had thought we had a good example in previous days.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. If there is any suggestion that I have been critical of the European Convention on Human Rights, if that remark was addressed to me, I should be glad to know when that was the case because I have never said that we should withdraw from that convention. I do not know whether the remark was addressed to my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising and not me. If that was the case, I apologise for intervening.

There was, of course, no mention of or reference to any noble Lord in this Chamber. It was a general reference to criticisms of that court under the human rights legislation. We have heard in debates in your Lordships’ House over the past weeks that have hinged on the rule of law. So it is most interesting, for those of us who have felt that the rule of law had been breached in the decisions that have been made, that it is now being raised in defence of these amendments. The debate has become emotive on this issue.

I hope that we can draw back from that rather, because what we have here is the Government’s intention to rebalance the rights of leaseholders as against the rights of freeholders. From these Benches, we support the rebalancing of those rights. In many cases, we think that the Government are not going far enough, but there ought to be a rebalancing of those rights. That is not referencing in this case the fact that there seems to be an argument among those who have moved or supported the amendment, that the loss of value can be defined as an expropriation. I find that difficult to accept because all along, in changes to legislation on major infrastructure projects, property is infringed and property holders feel abused. But it is for the state to make those decisions. So I am not sure why we are going to the barricades on this issue.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. In the case of infrastructure, it is certainly true that private property owners can have their property taken away from them to allow infrastructure to be built. But this is under a compulsory purchase regime whereby they receive something approaching the market value, normally plus a premium of so many per cent on top. My amendment would ensure that those expropriated of their marriage value would receive that. Is the noble Baroness, in fact, swinging in behind my amendment? There is a clear difference between what is proposed today and the compulsory purchase regime.

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. To me, the issue here is quite simple. We expect leaseholders to fund the enfranchisement of their lease—to pay the costs of the enfranchisement—and then to share the increased value of the lease with the freeholder, who has made no financial input to the extension of the lease. From a leaseholder’s point of view—although I do not have a leasehold myself—that seems to me to be the wrong balance. This is what the proposals in the Bill are attempting to put right. From that perspective, we would want to agree with that.

We are constantly warned that no investments can be regarded as safeguarded for all time. That must be true for property as it is for any other investments. We have heard arguments this afternoon about protecting freeholders, seemingly for ever. I accept the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that phasing might be an answer to freeholders’ difficulties, but you cannot keep things in aspic for ever. Change is on the move and the Government are right to try to provide a better balance of rights and responsibilities between freeholders and leaseholders.

We on these Benches would prefer to move entirely to commonhold—but that argument has yet to be completed. I accept that the situation is very complex. Whenever we have a substantial change in legal rights, there is a loss on one side and arguments about that, and benefits on the other. Nobody can be absolutely clear and certain how the balance will be reset.

I take the noble Baroness’s point about things changing, but I ask her to cast her mind back—although she was not there at the time, any more than I was—to the great reforms in the Law of Property Act 1925. There was a big discussion about all sorts of matters to do with tenure and getting rid of things such as entails, and modernising the system. If we are to make a seismic change—and I think this Bill will produce something of a wobble—there ought to have been that big discussion about the fundamentals of property law. Does the noble Baroness not agree that, instead of tinkering around piecemeal with this and trying to shoehorn it into the unfortunate focal point of leasehold reform and the balance between leasehold and freehold, that discussion should have taken place first?

I thank the noble Earl for that intervention, because he is right in many cases. I am not a lawyer, but I know that the 1925 property Act made a huge change away from the old system, which was feudal at that point, and modernised property legislation. This Bill may do the same. In some instances, as we have heard this afternoon, it will have big consequences—for freeholders, in the context of this set of amendments. I accept that maybe there ought to have been—as we heard on Monday from the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—a draft Bill on commonhold. Maybe it requires an in-depth, cross-House, cross-party committee to get into the detail, rather than the 300 or so pages of the Bill that we have in front of us, in order to get to grips with the consequences of what is being proposed.

I go back to the principle, and the principle has to be right. We are trying to rebalance the rights between freehold and leasehold. There is frequent talk on the Conservative Benches that the basis of Conservative philosophy is a property-owning democracy, but leaseholders will not be full participants in that until these changes are made. So it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say with regard to this very challenging debate.

My Lords, this has been a more wide-ranging debate than was anticipated at the beginning of the group. The noble Lords, Lord Howard and Lord Moylan, made some interesting points in introducing their amendments, and it is for the Minister to clarify and address her noble friends’ concerns. All three amendments in this group attempt to make changes to Schedule 4, which is where the market- value element of the premium for any enfranchisement claim is determined.

I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights. Although we have differing views on that, it is interesting how legislation and the regard for international law are debated in different debates in this House—without pinpointing any noble Lord in particular.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, laid out and stipulated the complexity of the issue as a teacher in property law, while the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, as a student of property law, made some interesting points about complexity and about working and bringing change in a fair manner.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister what consideration the Government have given to the principles of grandfathering for leases of various lengths and other conditions when developing the Bill? For example, in the instance of a lease of a very short length, when the Bill becomes law, what are the ramifications of the Bill as it is written? Do the Government think that some shorter leases are going to be treated in a way that may be fairer on wider principle but do not seem appropriate, given the shorter lengths? If so, did they consider any mitigation?

I finish by referring to my noble friend Lord Truscott, who advocated in a diligent manner the ending of marriage value and talked about the wider unfairness in leasehold properties. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Howard and Lord Moylan for their amendments in this group. Amendments 26 and 27 would require marriage value or possible hope value to be payable by a leaseholder who has fewer than 80 years remaining on their lease on the passage of the Act.

The Government’s stated objective is to make it cheaper and easier for leaseholders to extend their lease or acquire their freehold. We want them to attain greater security of tenure. The amendments are directly counter to our objective. In particular, they would prevent us from helping the trapped leaseholder—that is, a leaseholder with a short lease who is unable to afford to extend because of the prohibitive marriage value payable, and so is trapped with an asset of diminishing value.

We do not believe that the leaseholder should have to pay marriage value. For the freeholder, the marriage value that is payable under the current law is a windfall created by the freehold and leasehold interests being married earlier than they otherwise would have been—namely, at the end of the lease. It is a sum that the freeholder would not receive if the lease ran its course. Parliament has previously determined that the value should be split equally and the leaseholder should pay half of it to the freeholder on enfranchisement, but we do not believe that freeholders should continue to receive that windfall.

The leaseholder needs to enfranchise, because by its very nature a lease is a wasting asset. Without either extending their lease or buying their freehold, they will suffer financial loss as the lease runs down or lose possession when it has fully run down. Nor has the lease- holder meaningfully chosen to enter such an arrangement, since leasehold is very often the only available form of tenure outside the rented sector at certain price points or in certain locations. The lease- holder’s need to enfranchise is born out of their insecurity of tenure; that is, out of the inherent injustice of the leasehold system. Our objective is to enable them to obtain greater security and to address that inherent injustice. By not having to pay marriage value to the freeholder, the leaseholder’s ability to obtain security of tenure is much improved.

A third party who bought the landowner’s interest would not pay marriage value, and we do not think it is right that the leaseholder should pay more than that same interest. Requiring leaseholders to pay more than a third party—or, in other words, enabling the freeholder to profit from the sale to a leaseholder by comparison to a third party—is to punish the leaseholder for their need to enfranchise, and therefore to affirm the very injustice we are trying to address.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and many other noble Lords brought up compensation. Under our valuation scheme, the freeholder is compensated as if the lease simply ran its course. We believe that this is adequate compensation; it is sufficient to reflect their legitimate property interests.

Amendments 26 and 27 would also further complicate an already complex system. They would create a new two-tier system, with different rules for leases that were under 80 years at the time of the Act and those that fell under 80 years thereafter. This is undesirable, as it runs contrary to our stated aim to simplify this complex tenure.

Before I move on to Amendment 29, I will answer one or two specifics. First, the issue of human rights has been brought up by a number of noble Lords. The Government consider that all provisions in the Bill are compatible with the relevant convention rights and that in the case of the provisions engaging Article 8 and A1P1 any interference is justified and proportionate. There is a GOV.UK page where noble Lords can read further information on that should they wish.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, also brought up phasing, which is important. Following Royal Assent, we will allow time for a smooth transition to a new system, while making sure that leaseholders and freehold home owners on private and mixed-tenure estates— which is an issue—can benefit from it as soon as reasonably possible. We will also support leaseholders, freeholders, landlords and agents to adjust to and understand the new rules. We will work with delivery partners to make sure that the necessary support is in place, including through the publication of appropriate guidance.

I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. It reminds me that in the case of the 1925 legislation, the centenary of which approaches us, there were six different statutes with a long lead-in time. Apparently, many solicitors gave up practice entirely because they could not cope with the new law, so it is good to know this will be gently introduced.

On human rights, I am all in favour of the European convention; I would not want to drop it. I just find it rather dismaying that if the possible claimant were a hedge fund manager or a rich freeholder then we should not worry about them. The point about the European Convention on Human Rights is, whether you like the claimant or not, the thing must be taken as a whole; we cannot pick and choose. I would like some disassociation from the notion that hedge fund managers and rich freeholders should not have their rights considered under that convention.

I do not think that I will comment on that from the Dispatch Box, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right: we will make sure that it is phased in and that everybody understands it. Let us hope we do not lose too many solicitors in that journey.

Amendment 29, tabled by my noble friend Lord Moylan, would address the removal of marriage value far beyond that of a specific carve-out for charities, for example, which we are going to address specifically in the next group. The amendment would transfer the requirement to pay marriage value to freeholders in all enfranchisement claims on to the public purse. That would be unfair to hard-working taxpayers.

For the reasons I have outlined, I hope that my noble friends Lord Howard of Rising and Lord Moylan will withdraw or not press their amendments. Of course, I am always happy to meet noble Lords to discuss this further before Report.

I thank the Minister for her comments. On human rights, I neither supported nor did not support them; I commented that human rights will prove a fortune for lawyers, as they argue for years and years over whether assets have been expropriated fairly or unfairly. The Minister referred to complexity; that really will bring complexity to what is at present a relatively simple situation.

When everybody is talking about this and how unfair it is on leaseholders, we should also remember that all a leasehold is is a discount on the freehold value. Somebody has paid less for that asset than they would have done had it been a freehold. If you take that logic to its full extension, why not go to the motor car industry, for example, and say that everybody who has bought their car on hire purchase should be able to have it without having to pay any more? They bought it under certain terms, as the leaseholder did—

I suggest that one of the problems is that those who buy cars under hire purchase do not think that they are buying the car to own it. One clarification that has emerged only recently is that most people did not know when they bought a home, advertised as being sold to them, that the lease was a hire-purchase arrangement. I hope that is one of the things being clarified by this law.

Sorry, but when you buy a car under hire purchase, you buy it that way: that is why it is called purchase. You are just deferring your payment over a period. That is what happened when I was in the motor industry.

I thank all those who have supported my amendment. I hope that, as the Minister said, we can return to discuss this further. In the meantime, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 26 withdrawn.

Amendment 27 not moved.

Amendment 28

Moved by

28: Schedule 4, page 161, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) But in a case where the freeholder is a charity and the freehold interest was vested in that charity immediately before the passing of this Act—(a) assumption 2 must not be made, and(b) accordingly, marriage and hope value are payable.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would provide that, where the freeholder in the case of a lease extension or freehold enfranchisement is a charity which had owned the freehold interest since before the passing of the Bill, marriage and hope value are payable.

My Lords, while I thoroughly enjoyed that previous group, I hope this one will not prove quite so wide-ranging. In tabling these amendments, my aim is to deal with an issue that in the charity world is specific to a small number of bodies but would severely impact the work that they do. First, I am a leaseholder myself, as it happens, as set out in the register of interests. I have been through the process of extending my lease; my flat is not in London, and it was quite a simple and cheap process. Secondly, although I am no longer on the board of governors of the Church Commissioners, it is the body that pays my stipend, owns my home and covers my working expenses, so I declare that interest too.

The commissioners are directly affected by the proposals in the Bill. They would indeed benefit from my amendments but, as has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, in the previous group, that charity is large enough to withstand the adverse impact. Smaller charities would struggle much harder to maintain their work, and it is their case I seek to plead today.

As I said at Second Reading, I wholeheartedly support the central thrust of the Bill, which is to protect leaseholders from freeholders who exploit them as a cash cow. I also agree that leasehold is ripe for bold reform. I have spoken repeatedly in your Lordships’ House on behalf of victims of the cladding scandal, as well as joining them on public platforms in Manchester. My lifelong commitment to those in housing need is well known in this House and that commitment remains undiminished.

I was unable to be in my seat on Monday and I am grateful that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Derby spoke to an amendment in my name that day. Having carefully read the report of that debate in Hansard, I have informed the Whips’ Office that I no longer intend to oppose the question that Clause 47 stand part of the Bill, nor does my co-signatory, the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. I have taken that step as I believe my efforts at this stage are best focused on the specific issue of charities and marriage value. I apologise to noble Lords for the lateness of that decision but hope that they will take it as a sign that even a bishop can be penitent.

To focus on the subject of this group, in England there are a small number of charities, probably no more than a dozen, all of them with long and distinguished histories, which, in centuries far past, came into the possession of land lying largely within just a few miles of this House. As London grew and the land increased in value, rather than simply selling it and seeking to invest elsewhere—remember that back then there were far fewer opportunities for investment—the charities stuck with the business they knew and understood. They kept the freeholds and have used them as regular and predictable sources of income to drive their work. The charities, apart from the commissioners, of which I am aware, are John Lyon’s Charity, the Portal Trust, the Dulwich Estate, the London Diocesan Fund, Merchant Taylors’ Boone’s Charity, and Campden Charities —not a large number.

John Lyon’s Charity was gifted its land in St John’s Wood about 500 years ago. Income from being the freeholder, principally through marriage value, provides it with about £4 million per annum, which is one-quarter of its total income. Marriage value is not a matter, as we have heard, in which the freeholder can set their own arbitrary figure. It is not open to the abuses that have been associated with ground rents. It is also the case that around 80% of all marriage value is in or around the capital. This is a very London-focused issue.

The money that John Lyon’s Charity receives enables it to be one of the principal providers of youth services to some of London’s most needy children. Properties on its holdings sell for around £5 million. The leaseholders who purchase them are not London’s poor and needy. Many are not resident in the premises, which are let out to tenants. A typical leaseholder on such an estate is, as we have heard in previous debates, more than likely to be a wealthy overseas investor or corporation. I have nothing against them, but the Bill, in its present form, will transfer money used presently for youth work to these very rich organisations and individuals. It will present them with an entirely unearned windfall, hence my comments at Second Reading about this being a “reverse Robin Hood”.

I have been told that the Bill needs to be kept simple, and that making any exceptions will unnecessarily complicate it. Of course, there is already an exception for the National Trust, but I will not debate that any further. However, the simplest solution to a problem is not always the right one. In any battle between simplicity and justice, justice must always prevail.

I have also been told that it would be wrong for some leaseholders not to profit from the abolition of marriage value when others, whose freeholders are not charities, do. I will not go back as far as my good friend, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Sentamu, did when citing Magna Carta in the previous debate, but there is another principle that is long established: the assets of a charity should not be alienated from it at anything less than full market value, except where those assets are being applied directly to the purposes set out in the charity’s objects clause. That principle has been applied even to such flagship Conservative projects as tenants’ right to buy, in which charitable housing associations were excepted as not being forced to sell properties at a discounted value, unless that discount was being made up from elsewhere. I have not heard any case, not even an unconvincing one, as to why leaseholders of charity-owned freeholds should be treated more favourably than charity tenants.

My amendments in this group offer one way forward. They stipulate that marriage value should continue to apply in cases where the charity owned the freehold before the Act came into effect. There would be no loophole allowing charities to purchase freeholds and apply marriage value in future, nor any opportunity for other bodies to seek to register as charities thereafter. From day one, those leaseholders with charity freeholders should know exactly who they are.

We could tighten it up even further—this is still just Committee stage. It would make little difference if the exemptions applied only to charities, or their predecessors, which owned the freehold prior to 1950, which would of course exclude most housing association leasehold properties. Given how few they are, we could even name them in a schedule. We could explore how marriage value for charities might be phased out over a period of some decades, as was referred to more generally in the previous group, instead of the impact hitting in full in the first year. We can also look at ways of compensating charities in full for the loss of assets—again, an issue referred to in the previous group. I note the Minister’s comments that to fully compensate all freeholders would be an unfair burden on the taxpayer. We are talking here about something much smaller—a small number of charities severely impacted—and I beg to suggest that that can be afforded. None of this needs to slow down the progress of this much-needed Bill through your Lordships’ House.

I am grateful to the Minister, who has already met me and representatives of some of the affected charities, written to us setting out the Government’s current position, and assured us that she remains ready to meet again. I greatly appreciate her openness to such conversations. I also appreciate the Opposition Front Bench for similarly listening to our concerns. I look forward to hearing the views of other Members of your Lordships’ House, so that the charities impacted can have a better sense of where we might find ways forward to tackle this problem. In the meantime, I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, and I have added my name to his amendments.

There is a great deal that I could say on this issue but, since I said most of it in the debate on the last group, I shall keep my remarks fairly short. I can add a little personal knowledge of one charity to which the right reverend Prelate refers, because it is very Kensington-based. I have no connection with it and no interest to declare—but Campden Charities was started in the 17th century by Viscount Campden, a devout Puritan. When he died, he left a charitable endowment, naturally in the shape of land that he owned, for the benefit of the poor youth of Kensington. His widow, when she died, did likewise with her property—hence the plural. It is Campden Charities: technically, they are two separate endowments, but they are run as one. They own land in Kensington to this day from which they have an income, and they continue to support the poor youth of Kensington—and there are poor youths in Kensington—giving them grants to allow them to continue their education and apprenticeships, and work of that sort. Their income is now going to be, to some extent by this measure, reduced and expropriated.

As I say, apparently as Conservatives we feel no embarrassment in doing this—we feel no constraint on us. We are too tender and too ginger to feel that we can expropriate the assets of ill-doers such as Putin’s friends—they are sacrosanct. But those who do good, such as charities, can have their money taken away with very little debate and handed to leaseholders who may or may not be poor and meritorious. Who knows? What is it next, I wonder, for my noble friends on the Front Bench? Shall we be stealing the widow’s mite from the poor box?

My Lords, I want to pay tribute to Campden Charities, as I am a beneficiary of the activities of Campden Charities. I came from a community where the likelihood of one of us appearing in the Lords was next to zero, and Campden Charities is an important part of my arrival in your Lordships’ House. I point out that removing the ability of charities countrywide to provide such services would be devastating to some of the poorest communities in this country. Again, I stand here as a witness to the effectiveness of some of the work that they do.

My Lords, it is not on the list but I did put my name to this amendment and I am very keen to support the right reverend Prelate. Much of the debate we have had so far this afternoon seems to be focused on the rich, greedy landlords versus the impoverished tenants. If we strip this away from the debate and focus on these landlords, those addressed in this amendment are charities; they do good. They are not bad actors. Their managing agents, in the case of their property investments, are not bad actors. They are responsible to the Church and they thoroughly deserve this exemption, as we were reminded very eloquently in the excellent few words of the previous speech. I proudly add my name to the amendment.

My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to speak to this amendment and very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for tabling it. His office asked me whether I would add my name, and I am afraid I neglected to do so. Implicit in what the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said is that we have within the Bill a carve-out for the National Trust as a charity that does not apply to other charities. My understanding, and I think noble Lords will know the principle, is that this touches on and concerns the question of hybridity of a Bill. That is dangerous territory for somebody who is a non-lawyer, but none the less I raise the question, because public Bills should apply equally to all citizens and entities. If you single out one, you have to face the consequences of having a hybrid Bill.

I scanned around earlier to see how many legal minds there might be sitting around the Chamber, because I am not one and I stand to be shot down, not being a lawyer, but the matter did crop up on the levelling-up Bill and I had reason to look into that in some detail, although it was not debated in the Chamber. So I hope I am reasonably up to date in believing that the only workaround here is if the entity singled out in the legislation is what is known in the jargon of the legislator as “a class of one”. I have seen the letter dated 22 April to the right reverend Prelate from the Minister. She appears to allude to the uniqueness of the National Trust in that its lands are inalienable. I looked at the world wide web at lunchtime to see just how inalienable things actually are, because as I will explain, I am not sure that is necessarily a correct point on which to rest the case.

What I discovered, among other things, was “Battle over National Trust sale to developer”, which was a question of three acres of a meadow near Bovey Tracey in Devon in 2021. There was another freehold property on the market, and I think it was described as being a former National Trust property. I therefore assume that the National Trust is doing what other charities normally do—namely, that it gets property bequeathed to it, or it acquires property by public subscription, and that may contain bits that it wants and considers rightly inalienable, and other bits that it considers expendable. Any charitable organisation having property is required by the Charity Commissioners to make best use of its assets, and that means not having bits of deadwood floating around. It has to be organised, and that happens in any management process. So to what extent inalienability cuts into this, I am absolutely not sure.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Can he explain what the word “inalienable” actually means?

I believe it means that it cannot be disposed of away from the purposes of the charity. I am not a lawyer and I am afraid I do not know exactly, but I understood it to be the term contained in the Minister’s letter to the right reverend Prelate, which is why I used it.

I want to make it clear that the organisation of a charity is necessarily of a commercial nature but devoted, ultimately, to its charitable purposes. It cannot be otherwise; it must use its assets optimally, and it is required to do so. I can see no discernible difference between something like the National Trust and an organisation such as the Church of England. Any such charity acquires, disposes and otherwise deals with its land assets as a matter of course. It is required to do so if it is disposing according to a set of rules, with which I am familiar, under the Charity Commission: CC 28, which state that you have to get best value for the asset, or words to that effect.

I am concerned about the potential hybridity aspect of the Bill, to which the right reverend Prelate did not refer, but it is implicit in what he is asking. It is a question that needs to be raised and is a procedural one for this House. I would very much like to know the answer, and if the Minister, who has not had any warning, cannot give it today perhaps she would be kind enough to write and copy in other noble Lords who are listening.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester for drawing our attention to the fact that when you make complex changes, the consequences cannot always be predicted and may not be ones we would wish to support.

The issue is one I hope the Minister will be able to help us resolve. The right reverend Prelate cited the balance between justice and simplicity. He said to always come down on the side of justice, and so would I. However, in this case, we have competing justices. The principle being advocated throughout the Bill is the justice of rebalancing the rights and responsibilities between freeholders and leaseholders to the benefit of leaseholders—a principle most of us support. The difficulty is that the justice we support has a consequence we would not support: reducing the funds available to charities whose income is based on freehold property. So, there is a conundrum for us.

The right reverend Prelate listed the charities that he thought were affected by these changes. I noted they were all London-based, no doubt because of land values in London. It is important for us to know whether this is a more extensive problem, or a London-based one. The first question we need to ask is, what other charities will be affected?

I do not have an answer to the next question: is there a workaround that mitigates the effect of the principal changes the Bill seeks to implement? I am sure the bright young things in the department could come up with a way of mitigating the outcome, so that charities do not lose their income, which is in nobody’s interest. I am confident that somebody will come up with a great way of overcoming this problem, while retaining the other justice: fairness towards leaseholders.

So, there are questions but no answers, and I look forward to hearing what the Government might be able to do.

My Lords, this debate has again outlined what a huge benefit it would be to have proper, detailed pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills such as this. I hope that will take place when we get a commonhold Bill, whoever brings it forward.

In principle, I am in much of the same mind as my noble friend Lord Truscott when it comes to special pleading on marriage value. I fear that the amendments in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester are in danger of being an almighty sledge- hammer to crack not a very big nut, and my comments are made on that basis.

First, I thank the right reverend Prelate and Lynne Guyton, from John Lyon’s Charity, for meeting me yesterday to explain the issue in more detail. The issues set out by the right reverend Prelate affect a very small number of charities, such as the ones in central London that he has outlined. They have been in place for centuries and, as was explained to me, use marriage value on lease extensions as a critical contribution to the funding of their charitable work. The leaseholders of these properties are largely offshore companies or non-residential wealthy owners, so the argument put forward by the charities is that, in this case, the benefit of marriage value has what the right reverend Prelate described as the “reverse Robin Hood effect”. The benefit currently accrues to the beneficiaries of the charity, such as youth clubs, arts projects, emotional well-being initiatives, supplementary schools, parental support schemes, sports programmes, academic bursaries and similar projects. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bailey, for his personal testimony in this respect.

The fear is that, after the Bill has passed, the benefits will then accrue to the said wealthy offshore companies and leaseholders. I believe the Government have been in conversation with the charities concerned and have promised to look at what can be done to ensure that a very limited exception is considered. However, it is our understanding that this has not been forthcoming, and I hope the Minister will tell us where the Government have got to. Have the Government carried out any impact assessment of the way the Bill will affect charities that have long-standing property endowments solely for the purpose of enabling their charitable aims?

However, as with group 2, these amendments would amend Schedule 4, which is where the market value element of the premium for any enfranchisement claim is determined. The second amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester has also applied it to the later section on loss suffered, in paragraph 32, which refers back to assumption 2. Straightforwardly, these amendments would disapply assumption 2 for charities, and thereby include marriage and hope values in determining market value.

As I said during the first Committee sitting on the Bill, we genuinely appreciate the intention behind supporting what is argued to be the unique circumstances of this small group of charities. However—and it is a big “however”—the amendment as drafted is almost certainly far too broad to encompass only their very unusual circumstances. Perhaps the Government will continue to work with right reverend Prelate and the charities concerned to see what can be done to support them; otherwise, we fear that a general amendment such as the one tabled could open a big Pandora’s box and encourage those wishing to avoid the new system of enfranchisement—which we support, of course—and there may be plenty who wish to do so, to misuse charitable status for that purpose.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to exemptions created for the National Trust, which the Government felt were justified. Presumably, the Government feel that some exemptions are justified.

While we do not feel that the amendment as tabled would avoid some of the obvious pitfalls of creating a loophole in the stated aims of the Bill—with which we agree—I look forward to the response of the Minister about whether any progress can be made in this respect.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, and my noble—and actual—friend Lord Moylan for their valuable contributions at Second Reading, and for the amendments that they have put forward which seek to alter the Government’s current position on marriage value and hope value. I say on behalf of my noble friend the Minister that we are grateful for all the time and engagement with the right reverend Prelate on this issue, along with the Church Commissioners and the charities which she has spoken to today.

In addition, we are grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group and on the somewhat excited group previously. As has been noted, a lot of the points that I will speak to were covered in the previous discussion. I also say to the right reverend Prelate that we are always happy to meet. In answer to the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Pinnock, the Minister is more than happy to engage with any noble Lord who is impacted by this, as well as charities, to discuss it further.

Amendments 28 and 46 would exempt freeholders who are charities at the time of the Bill receiving Royal Assent from the removal of the requirement for leaseholders to pay marriage value, and for hope value to be payable. Before I go into detail, I reiterate the Government’s wholehearted recognition of the vital role and work that charities provide in our communities up and down the land, as has been noted by my noble friend Lord Bailey.

However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, explained previously, we do not believe that leaseholders should pay marriage value. The leaseholder needs to enfranchise to prevent financial loss from the running down of their lease, and to prevent their losing possession when it ends. As has been said, we do not believe that their position, which concerns their security in their home, should be used as a basis for requiring them to pay more than a third party to enfranchise, nor that the freeholder should profit by way of windfall by selling to the leaseholder as compared to a third party. Under our valuation scheme, the freeholder is compensated as if the lease ran its course.

The good work of a charity is separable from its funding. Requiring leaseholders of charities, for no other reason than the coincidence of the nature of their freeholder, to pay marriage value when other leaseholders do not have to would be, I am afraid to say, unfair. Granting exemptions would also create an unbalanced two-tier system. By removing marriage value across the board, we will level the playing field and ensure that we are widening access to enfranchisement for all leaseholders, both now and in the future.

There have been a couple of references to the National Trust. Briefly—as I know it has been covered previously in this debate—it is a different scenario given that its land is inalienable and cannot be sold, yet it is not exempt from the removal of marriage value. I am not aware of the case that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, mentioned, but I am certainly more than happy to look into it for him. I assume—and it is only my assumption—that it is because it is for the National Trust as an entity to decide, but I assure the noble Earl that I will look into it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about other charities that may be impacted by this beyond those that we have discussed. Again, I am not aware of any, but I am sure that that work has been done by the department. I will certainly take it back and investigate. Further to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, it is something on which we will continue to engage with any noble Lord or any charity that is impacted, as we have done with the right reverend Prelate.

For these reasons, I respectfully hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and my noble friend Lord Moylan will understand and therefore not press their amendments.

Before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may address a point he made earlier which was made also by my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook. The idea that the Government are peddling, that if a landowner sells a leasehold or freehold interest to a third party, they do not receive marriage value, is to assume gross inefficiency of markets and complete ignorance of market participants. It is of course true that the purchaser would not pay marriage value as a separate sum, but the purchaser is perfectly aware of the potential for marriage value and will pay a price that incorporates that. To assume anything else is to assume that all those clever and evil hedge fund managers are too dim to notice what is going on. It simply is not the case. The line the Government are peddling is simply unfounded in fact and reality.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has been somewhat less emotive than the previous one. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his support, and for his description of the good work that is done by the Campden Charities for young people in Kensington. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bailey of Paddington, who spoke movingly of how that same charity has been part of what has enabled him to become the great asset he is to your Lordships’ House today, and to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his helpful and insightful questions.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for asking whether other charities, including those outside London, are affected. While I cannot guarantee that my list is exhaustive, I am pretty sure that if there are any that we have missed, they would quickly come forward, but I do not think that there are many.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, both for her meeting yesterday and for her support for the matter being further considered. Can we find a workaround that does not disapply the whole principles of the Bill, but which deals with the problem that these particularly good causes are going to suffer as things stand? I am very happy to look at some tighter drafting, as she suggested. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gascoigne, for his response, and for his willingness, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, to continue to engage with us on this matter.

In the previous debate, we were told that compensation for loss of marriage value would be too much of a strain on the taxpayer. We are talking about a very much smaller amount here, and I wonder whether that would be a course that we could continue to pursue in further conversations before Report. For now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 28 withdrawn.

Amendment 29 not moved.

Amendments 30 to 40

Moved by

30: Schedule 4, page 161, line 24, leave out from “of” to “a” in line 27 and insert “—

(a) the relevant freehold on the transfer of a freehold house under the LRA 1967, or(b) the notional lease on”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would correct the references in paragraph 18 to what is being valued under Schedule 4.

31: Schedule 4, page 163, line 40, leave out “time of valuation” and insert “valuation date”

Member's explanatory statement

This changes the terminology used in paragraph 21(2)(a) so that the correct defined term is used.

32: Schedule 4, page 165, line 26, leave out “a lease (the “lease being valued”)” and insert “the current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

33: Schedule 4, page 165, line 28, leave out “lease being valued” and insert “current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

34: Schedule 4, page 165, line 31, leave out “lease being valued” and insert “current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

35: Schedule 4, page 165, line 35, leave out “lease being valued” and insert “current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

36: Schedule 4, page 165, line 38, leave out “lease being valued” and insert “current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

37: Schedule 4, page 166, line 21, leave out “lease being valued” and insert “current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

38: Schedule 4, page 166, line 23, leave out “lease being valued” and insert “current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

39: Schedule 4, page 166, line 30, at end insert—

“(10A) If section 3(3) of the LRA 1967 applies to the current lease (successive leases treated as a single lease), sub-paragraph (9) is to apply only if the one of those leases which is in effect at the valuation date meets the condition in sub-paragraph (9)(a) or (b).”Member's explanatory statement

This modifies the application of paragraph 25 where successive leases are “chained” to constitute a long lease under the LRA 1967.

40: Schedule 4, page 166, line 31, leave out “lease being valued” and insert “current lease”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would avoid the “current lease” (the terminology otherwise used in Schedule 4) being referred to by a different term (“lease being valued”) in paragraph 25.

Amendments 30 to 40 agreed.

Amendment 41

Moved by

41: Schedule 4, page 167, line 31, leave out from “rate” to “and” in line 33 and insert “determined using this formula:

Bank Rate at the time that the notice of intention to enfranchise is served + 5 %

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to make the process for setting the deferment rate more efficient through using a fixed formula based on Bank Rate, rather than requiring the Secretary of State to set the deferment rate in regulations.

My Lords, I first declare my interest in my home, which is a long-leasehold property in London. It would not normally be declarable, but in the case of this Bill, this should be an exception. I also declare my interests as in the register in property companies, some of which are developing or have developed houses.

While I am not a great fan of a Conservative Government forcing freeholders to sell land to lease- holders, that principle sailed many years ago, and my Amendments 41, 43, 44 and 45 are designed to simplify the process in this Bill, reducing the costs for the department. They would speed up the process, perhaps by as much as 18 months, making it quicker and cheaper for the Government.

The present structure of the Bill has the price of the enfranchisement calculated by a system laid out in Schedule 4, under which the single most important factor is the deferment rate. I believe that the deferment rate is more important to the size of the actual price than the abolition of marriage value or any other factor.

What is the deferment rate? Some noble Lords believed that it must be in the Bill, but that is not so. The deferment rate, an interest rate by another name, is to be decided by the Secretary of State for DLUHC by way of statutory instrument. When will this be published? We do not know. Departments take a different time for SIs, and some take as long as five years. I have been criticised in the past for being acidic about the Department for Transport taking as long as five years to bring forward an SI on disability matters. The point is that it is certainly not instantaneous.

The interest rate is to be set by the Secretary of State at a date to be announced in due course. I could be rather difficult and quote my right honourable friend from another place, Michael Gove, on the subject of setting interest rates. He has been a supporter of the principle that interest rates should be set not by the Chancellor but by the independent Bank of England. For many years we have had that as a common policy between all parties, yet the Bill reverses that policy, at least in respect of the deferment rate.

The Minister has said that the rate will be a market rate for about 10 years, amended only by another SI. I am afraid that markets do not work like that—they alter fast and furiously. Over the last 10 years, the national rate has varied quite widely, between 0.1% and today’s 5.25%. Yet the department will fix it for the next 10 years, subject only to review at about a year’s notice. If the department was that good, it could make a fortune in the markets rather than create legislation. It cannot be done accurately, but the department still wants to do it.

I submit that my solution is better: there should be a variable rate, varying automatically as a simple margin over base rate. We can have a debate about what that margin should be. I have proposed 5% as a probing amendment. The leaseholder will, in almost all cases, be a worse credit risk than the freeholder, and I have asked several banks about their prospective price for a loan to finance an enfranchisement. I have had a variety of suggestions, as each price will of course depend on the particular circumstances, but a margin of 5% over base rates seems to be a reasonable guess.

There are occasions when leaseholders of flats in a block have enfranchised but one in 100, say, has not come up with their share. It is not unknown for the freeholder himself to provide the finance, and I am told that a margin of 5% over base is considered reasonable by freeholders when they are the lenders.

The first thing would be to agree that the rate should be variable, to take account of current financial circumstances. My Amendment 41 achieves this. The second thing is to agree that the margin on the rate over bank rate should reflect the leaseholder’s cost of borrowing, which is consistent with the rest of the terms of the Bill, but at present I am not entirely certain what that margin should be. I look forward to other noble Lords expressing their opinions.

Amendments 43 to 45 are either consequential or the equivalent measure for leaseholds to be extended rather than enfranchised. My noble friend Lord Forsyth, who is not in his place, was going to support this proposal and may put his name to it later, if it comes forward on Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, mentioned this amendment at an earlier stage. I did not know whether I should stand at that moment or wait. I hope he will forgive me for replying to his point now. The current rate set by the tribunal is 4.75% or 5%—the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, can immediately correct me if I am wrong—so 10.25% may be wrong, but so is 4.75% or 5%. The noble Lord, Lord Truscott, asked whether a return of 10.25% is available, but the question should be whether any lenders charge as much as 10.25%. I believe that they do, so his argument is actually an argument for variable rates. I beg to move my amendment.

My Lords, I rise to support, in general, the principle of what my noble friend Lord Borwick has said, but I am not entirely sure that we need to go into this new world that he is creating when we have a perfectly satisfactory world that already exists. I hasten to add that I am not a chartered surveyor, and everything I say is subject to correction by Members of this Committee who understand these matters better than I.

My understanding is, first, that the deferment rate exists already—this is not a new thing being invented. It is essential in any enfranchisement that you have a rate of interest at which you discount to a present value what has to be paid, because you are dealing with transactions that are theoretically happening in the future, but you are paying for them today. For that, you need a rate of interest. At the moment, that rate of interest is set in the environment of a tribunal, and the tribunal can change the rate of interest on the basis of evidence adduced to it, and the basis of argument as to why that evidence is applicable to a particular case. I am sure that to a degree it reflects market value, the circumstances of those properties and the location, whether it is central London or some other part of the country—the rates will be different. Nobody has ever thought that system to be wrong.

The second thing, and this is where I may part company from my noble friend, if I have it correct and he has not grasped the point, is that the rate currently used is a real rate. It is a rate that assumes zero inflation, because the valuations used for future value—the value of my flat in 80 years—assume that there is no inflation over that period. So the appropriate discount rate is a real rate of interest, and that may explain the discrepancy between the four-point-something per cent, on the one hand, and the 10-point-something per cent that my noble friend has come up with. In either case—whether I am right about that or he is not—we need to understand whether the deferment rate is a real rate of interest or one that incorporates inflation. In my view, that is not clear in what has been said.

The Government are proposing that this decision—currently sensitively taken on the basis of evidence and argument by an independent tribunal—should be transferred to become the arbitrary choice of the Secretary of State. This has huge implications. If you really want to make it very cheap for a leaseholder to extend their lease, or to acquire the enfranchisement of their property, all you have to do, arbitrarily, is set a very high deferment rate—because that will produce a very low present value that you have to pay. But if you want to protect the freeholder class, you would set a very low deferment rate, which would mean that the leaseholder had to pay a very large amount.

It is an entirely political choice if the Secretary of State sets the deferment rate without any constraints—it hands money to one class or the other as seems politically suitable to you. We are asked to agree this measure with no indication, as my noble friend has said, as to what deferment rate the Secretary of State will choose. All this—whatever your views on the rights and wrongs, whether leaseholders are good people or bad people, what you should do about charities, and everything else—is profoundly unsatisfactory. We are moving from an evidence-based system to one that is essentially arbitrary. We are giving a power that is inherently political, not financial. We are doing this with no sight whatever of what the decision of the Secretary of State might be. Why on earth would we agree to this? Whether my noble friend’s solution is the correct one or we are better sticking with the current system is an important question, but why are we making changes in the first place and giving these powers away with no understanding?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Borwick for allowing what I hope will be a short debate on the deferment rate. I am conscious that I am a very inadequate substitute for the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.

The deferment rate is very important, as my noble friend Lord Moylan explained. It is the current value of the vacant possession of a flat when the lease expires. According to what deferment rate you choose, it affects the premium that is paid by the leaseholder. My understanding is that the current deferment rate was set in a Court of Appeal case in 2007—the so-called Sportelli case—which ended up with the two rates that I think my noble friend Lord Moylan referred to: 4.75% for houses and 5% for flats. That was fixed nearly 20 years ago. There was a recent appeal decision in a Welsh court—I have the name in front of me but, like many Welsh names, it has a large number of consonants and very few vowels, so I am afraid that I cannot pronounce it. The appeal failed because the land valuer was not an economist, but it opened the way to an appeal to alter the rate. My noble friend Lord Moylan touched on my first question: when will the Secretary of State come to a decision? It affects what leaseholders do at the moment: whether they should wait for a preferential rate, which might be fixed by the Secretary of State, or whether they should try now, in case it moves the wrong way.

I want to raise a totally different point. At the moment, there already is a deferment rate set by the Government under the personal damages Act 1996. Using exactly the same basis as a deferment rate for leasehold, the Lord Chancellor sets the deferment rate for personal injury damages. Unlike what is proposed in this Bill, that rate changes quite often. In 2017, the rate was changed, and it was a negative rate for some time. It was changed again in 2019, and then again in 2023. It is now 0.5% for short-term cases and 3% for long-term cases. My question for the Government is: will we have two separate Secretaries of State fixing deferment rates at different times and coming up with different rates, or is there a case for rationalising the Government’s view as to what is an appropriate deferment rate?

One opportunity would be for the Secretary of State simply to replicate what the Lord Chancellor does. The Lord Chancellor has recently had a consultation on how to fix deferment rates and has come up with a short-term rate and a long-term rate. It seems odd to me to have two totally separate systems in the Government for basically coming to the same decision—that is, deciding what the long-term rate is on a risk-free investment. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister has had discussions with the Lord Chancellor’s department to see whether we can have a common approach to this important issue.

My Lords, for me, this is a very technical set of amendments, but they are very important. As we have heard, this issue can have significant implications.

I always go back to first principles. One of the aims of the Bill is to make enfranchisement cheaper than it is currently, and so more readily available. However, as we have heard, that will entirely depend on the deferment rate and how it is set. My understanding was that the current deferment rate was set by the Court of Appeal in 2007, as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said. The debate is around whether it is right for that to continue; whether another process should be used, such as that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, in his amendment about using the bank rate as a base for setting a deferment rate; or whether, as in the Bill, the responsibility is passed to the Secretary of State to determine the deferment rate. I have to agree with the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Young of Cookham, that the latter does not seem right.

When I was investigating the deferment rate issue, I noticed that Homehold Services Ltd gave evidence to the Commons Public Bill Committee that was very telling. It criticised the fact that the “applicable deferment rate” was referenced throughout the Bill

“without specifying what this will be”.

It provided an example of what effect a change in the deferment rate could have on the cost of enfranchisement. It said:

“A lease extension … on a £200k flat with 80 years unexpired and no ground rent would be c. £4,000”.

That is the example given by Homehold Services Ltd; as it is one of the experts, I thought it might be right. It continues:

“If the deferment rate was reduced from 5% to 4%, the premium would increase to c. £8,500. At 3.5% it would be … £12,000”.

Those small changes in percentages have very high consequences for the leaseholders. This is important—that is what the evidence told me when I read it.

The argument from Homehold Services Ltd was that the deferment rate must be set no lower than that set by the appeal judgment in 2007. Otherwise, the consequence is that the rate can escalate considerably, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out. The cost of enfranchisement would increase, removing the ability of many leaseholders to continue with the process—contrary to one of the objectives of the Bill. Can the Minister say what consideration the Government have given to the deferment rate?

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said that the Chancellor’s department has had a consultation on this and come up with some figures. Why are those not being adopted in this instance to set the rate in the Bill? As we have heard, it is very important to know exactly what the deferment rate will be. I do not believe that it is satisfactory to leave the applicable deferment rate to be set by a statutory instrument some time in the future. Surely, if the Government’s intentions are as they are set out in the Bill—to make it cheaper for leaseholders to enfranchise—one of the key rates must be this one. Therefore, I would have thought that we would want to see it set during the course of this Bill, rather than wait for a statutory instrument.

I have a lot of sympathy with the arguments that have been made by the mover of the amendment and others about the need for certainty here, rather than a principle and uncertainty as to the exact figure at which the deferment rate will be set.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 42 in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, which was well supported by my noble friend Lord Truscott in his earlier remarks.

Deferment rates are a phenomenally complex area to understand, and the standard valuation method in Schedule 4 is extremely technical. The Law Commission set out options. It did not make recommendations, but the Government have chosen to allow the Secretary of State to prescribe the applicable deferment rate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, for his contribution and for seeking to make the process for setting the deferment rate more efficient and asking for more clarity and certainty.

Our amendment is clear and would ensure that, when determining the applicable deferment rate,

“the Secretary of State must have regard to the desirability of encouraging leaseholders to acquire their freehold at the lowest possible cost”.

We understand that the 2007 Cadogan v Sportelli judgment, which has broadly set deferment rates, was made in the context of 0.5% interest rates. If the Government are minded to remain of the view that the Secretary of State should fix the deferment rates, how best should they do that? Although it may work in London, what would need to be taken into account for other parts of the country? Is there a need to set multiple rates for different parts of the country to deal with the variations?

I want to explore the prescribed rates a bit more and how they can function most effectively across the country. On balance, however, we believe it is right that the Secretary of State be given the power to set both the capitalisation and the deferment rates used to calculate the price payable on enfranchisement or extension. It may indeed be the case that the Sportelli judgment has produced deferment rates that are broadly adhered to as a starting point in most claims for leases with at least 20 years to run, but there are real problems in relying on a 17 year-old case to maintain generic rates over the long term.

As with much of the Bill, we await future regulations to understand the process by which the Secretary of State will determine those rates and what the initial rate that he determines will be. This is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, alluded to. I will be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether it is the Government’s intention, before they introduce the regulations required to bring the new processes into force, to undertake a public consultation on precisely how the applicable deferment rate should be determined.

When it comes to the regulations required to bring the new valuation process into force, we recognise that they are the means by which the detailed methodology for setting the applicable deferment rate will be brought forward. However, while it would not be right to pre-empt those regulations at this stage, we believe that the objective underpinning the setting of the deferment rate should be set out in the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, also mentioned. How the Secretary of State sets the rate and what it should be are crucial to the premiums that leaseholders will pay. Can the Minister provide some clarification on this?

While the rate or rates will need to be set at a level that does not unfairly strip freeholders of value, we think it is important that the Bill states clearly that in determining what should be the rate or rates, the Secretary of State must have at the forefront of their mind the need to reduce premiums for leaseholders. While other considerations will clearly need to be taken into account, not least how to ensure that landlords receive adequate compensation to reflect their legitimate property interests, this amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to set a rate or rates with the overriding objective of encouraging leaseholders to acquire their freehold at the lowest possible cost. It is important as it is the deferment rate that will be the primary driver of price to be paid by leaseholders in enfranchisement or extension claims.

It is essential that reducing premiums for leaseholders is the determining factor in the process by which such a rate or rates will be set and reviewed; therefore, it must be put in the Bill. I hope the Minister will give due consideration to our amendment, and I look forward to her response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and my noble friend Lord Borwick for Amendments 41 to 45 in this group. I turn first to the series of amendments tabled by my noble friend, and I thank him for his constructive engagement with me and for the time he spent in trying to address this vital matter.

Amendments 41 and 43 to 45 would seek to replace the current provisions in the Bill, which will allow the Secretary of State to set the deferment rate used in enfranchisement valuation calculations, as well as removing a requirement to review these rates every 10 years. Instead, these amendments would require the deferment rate to be prescribed by a formula, which would be based on the Bank of England’s base rate plus 5%. The specific deferment rate would then be calculated based on the date of the leaseholder’s enfranchisement claim.

As I have discussed with my noble friend Lord Borwick, this is one potential solution for setting the deferment rate, but it is not the only one. I am aware of the importance of the deferment rate to both leaseholders and freeholders, and it is important that we take the time to take this decision carefully. There are serious consequences with any attempt to prescribe the methodology for setting the deferment rate in the Bill; this would tie the hands of this Government, and successive ones, in terms of adapting the approach if the need were to arise. It is also important that the Government retain their role in providing balance between market stability and the need to review the rates. It is the Government’s view that the proposals in the Bill enable this balance, and it would therefore be inappropriate, at this stage, to prescribe in the Bill the methodology for setting the deferment rate.

These deferment rates are a really important part of the Bill. At the moment, it is difficult for leaseholders to understand how much they may have to pay to the landlord when they enfranchise. Different rates are used across the country and across the industry on a case-by-case basis. The deferment rate is used to calculate the reversion value, and this provides the landlord with the compensation for the value of the freehold property with vacant possession in the future; that is, at the end of the lease. Prescribing these rates and using them to develop an online calculator, which will help leaseholders understand what they may have to pay, is also important. These rates will be prescribed at a market value to ensure that the amount that landlords are compensated reflects their legitimate property interests. These are important decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, asked about the timing; this could take years and years, but we do expect the majority of these reforms to come into effect in 2025-26, as set out in the Bill’s impact assessment. Obviously, this may change, but that is what we expect. We will continue to carefully review all the information and views shared on the setting of rates, and I welcome any further thoughts that the Committee has on this matter.

Does my noble friend the Minister have a moment to give a response to my query about whether the Government regard the deferment rate as a real interest rate or one that incorporates inflation? I ask because the calculation, as I understand it, assumes zero inflation in the value of the asset over the time to the point at which it is being valued, and that a real interest rate is therefore appropriate. Is that her assumption or is she assuming an inflation-based interest rate, which, I suggest, would have consequences for how the asset is valued at the end of the term during which it is assessed? Does she have any comments on that?

I reiterate that this is why we would like the Secretary of State to be involved because it is complex and there needs to be a balance. I will come back to the noble Lord with any further comments, but this is why we would prefer the Secretary of State to have this role, to make sure that we are balancing the market at the time with leaseholders’ representation.

I turn to Amendment 42 from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, which would require the Secretary of State, when prescribing the deferment rate used in the enfranchisement valuation calculations, to set this at a level that would encourage

“leaseholders to acquire their freehold at the lowest possible cost”.

I assure the noble Baroness and the Committee that the Government are committed to making enfranchisement cheaper and easier and that these reforms will achieve that aim.

I understand how vital setting rates is for enfranchisement premiums. This very proposal was discussed in the other place, and I reiterate the importance of not constraining the Secretary of State via the Bill when making such important decisions. We have been clear that we will set the rates at the market value and recognise that many different elements need to be considered when setting them, as I have just reflected to my noble friend. We continue to have conversations with all relevant stakeholders. As I said, I welcome members of the Committee sharing their views on this matter so that the Government can take them into consideration when making a final decision. For these reasons, I ask my noble friend—

I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend again. One of the problems I see with this is the great difficulty in making a change except through statutory instruments, and the amount of time this takes. Whenever the Secretary of State decides that a change must happen, it must happen more quickly than through the route laid down in the Bill. At present, the amount of time doing the statutory instrument, and the fact that we cannot debate its details or change it, makes the whole thing very unfortunate.

There is something to be said for the point, made by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, that there is a route through that is used by the Lord Chancellor. I had not appreciated that the deferment rate had so many different implications. I am sure we could call it something different for this purpose, and thus carve out the rate for property matters. But, with a delay of one year or more between a decision and taking action, it is a very difficult subject to structure using the statutory instrument route.

My noble friend is absolutely right, and that is why we have not made this decision. We want to get it right, and that is why we listened to everything everybody said in this place and the other place. We will come back to my noble friend with our deliberations. This is important, and speed will also be important: you cannot take a year to change things that need changing, because of the market. They have to be dealt with in a timely manner.

Regarding my noble friend Lord Young’s point about the Lord Chancellor, I will take it back to the department and see whether any discussions have been had on a common approach, and if not, why not, and whether we should have those discussions.

For the reasons I have given, I ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I thank everybody for their constructive points and for the education that I have received through this process. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.

Amendments 42 to 46 not moved.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed.

Schedules 5 to 7 agreed.

Clause 37: Costs of enfranchisement and extension under the LRA 1967

Amendment 47

Moved by

47: Clause 37, page 33, leave out from line 12 to line 6 on page 34

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would leave out the proposed new section 19C of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, and so ensure that leaseholders are not liable to pay their landlord’s non-litigation costs in cases where a low value enfranchisement or extension claim is successful.

My Lords, we welcome the new costs regime provided for by provisions in the Bill, because, as things stand, there is no balance of power: the playing field is tilted very much in favour of landlords rather than leaseholders, and that needs to be addressed. Under the current law, leaseholders are required to pay for certain non-litigation costs incurred by their landlord when responding to an enfranchisement or lease extension claim. That obviously does not reflect normal practice in residential conveyancing, where each party bears their own costs. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for explaining our rationale for this amendment in a bit more detail than is customary for me, but it is a point of real principle, and some technical detail is warranted.

Noble Lords will remember that I quoted from a letter I had received from elderly leaseholders on the first day of Committee. I have received further representations in relation to excessive charges for non-litigation costs, which I will read out as they are a perfect illustration of the problem these amendments seek to address. I appreciate that this example relates to a ground rent dispute, but it would be the same issue for an enfranchisement or extension claim.

“After the Freeholder asks a ridiculous sum in increased ground rent with their ground rent review (every 4 years) this causes the leaseholder to then employ both a Solicitor and Surveyor to counter this high valuation which incidentally had no calculations to back it up. Therefore so far this year having paid £3,000 for a surveyor to dispute this figure and a lawyer costing so far £3,600, the freeholders haven’t even tried to justify their huge increase and valuation. Now after 4 months having passed and the 3-month negotiation ended and the Freeholders have made no effort to take part, negotiate or even contact our surveyor they now say this increase is NOT agreed …

If we lose with the third-party surveyor’s estimate and the increase is even only minimal we still have to pay the third-party surveyor’s fees plus the freeholder’s lawyer’s fees and our own lawyer’s fees, therefore it could end up costing as much as £15,000. Plus if they look to backdate the increase over the past 6 years’ Ground Rent charges this could amount to who knows what?

Even if we win we still lose a great amount of costs and fees plus we cannot look forward to a reduction in Ground Rent as the lease states an ‘Upward Only Revision’. Therefore freeholders know they can put in totally unrealistic figures for rent increase of whatever they want as the leaseholders are on a hiding to nothing … until they throw in the towel.

Additionally, to lodge a dispute at the 1st Tier Tribunal for any high unreasonable charges it is necessary to not pay the bill in question otherwise it is deemed you have agreed to this payment but then withholding payment runs the risk of forfeiture”,

which we will discuss later today. My correspondent goes on to plead that the issue of ground rent increases finally be resolved by the Bill, but their case illustrates the financial and legal minefield that leaseholders face.

The argument for imposing non-litigation costs has always been that, in enfranchisement or lease extension claims, a landlord is being forced to sell his or her asset, which would justify a departure from the practice in open market sales of residential property. However, when it comes to lease extensions or freehold purchases, a landlord is obviously not simply being compensated for the value of the asset they are being compelled to sell. They are instead securing, through the payable premium, a share of the profit to be made from selling to the leaseholders in question. In addition, as things stand, through capitalised ground rents, they are extracting funds from leaseholders over long periods—often decades —prior to securing that profit share, for no explicit services in return.

The valuations of lease extensions and freehold acquisitions under the existing statutory regime rely on prices agreed via an open market transaction, but those valuations do not account for the fact that leaseholders are expected to pay their landlord’s non-litigation costs. Therefore, landlords in enfranchisement or extension transactions receive the price for the asset being sold, which reflects the market rate without non-litigation costs factored in, and their reasonably incurred non-litigation costs on top.

In its 2020 final report on enfranchisement, the Law Commission is very clear that the effects of law and current market practice are that

“the landlord is over-compensated for the non-litigation costs that he or she has had to incur in order to transfer the interest to the leaseholder”.

In addition, many of those who are better resourced could use the fact that such costs are borne by leaseholders as leverage in negotiations on the price of the lease extension or freehold acquisition, confident that the expense of challenging those costs in a tribunal would dissuade many leaseholders from doing so.

The Opposition are clear that freeholders should not receive compensation in respect of non-litigation costs. A landlord selling his or her asset and receiving a share of the profit as a result is not sufficient justification for departing from an arrangement in which reasonable non-litigation costs are factored into the ultimate price. The decision to enfranchise or extend a lease is often not discretionary; it is often a requirement brought about by the fact that a lease is due to expire, because the payable premium is rising as the lease shortens, or as a result of the decision to move or remortgage.

We therefore fully support the intention in the Bill to provide for a new regime based on the principle that leaseholders are not required to pay the freeholder’s non-litigation costs in these circumstances. We note the Law Society’s concern that landlords are being asked to bear their own non-litigation costs, despite the fact that the proposed standard valuation method provided for by Schedule 2 will lead to payable premiums below full open market value because it caps the capitalisation rate. However—and this point touches on one of our previous debates—political decisions set the rules of the game for market competition. In our view, it is simply not the case that there is some kind of inherent market value for premiums entirely independent of legislation in this area. Every sale of a flat and every lease extension process relating to a flat since 1993 has been undertaken against the backdrop of the 1993 Act, which reduced ground rents to a peppercorn.

The market value for premiums is shaped by the laws that the House passes. It is right in principle that, to achieve the Bill’s objectives of making it cheaper and easier for leaseholders in houses and flats to extend their lease or buy their freehold, leaseholders do not pay non-litigation costs in addition to the payment of a premium, as determined by the new method proposed in Schedules 2 and 3. We believe that leaseholders should not be liable for these costs as a result of an enfranchisement or lease extension claim on principle, irrespective of the method by which the premium is calculated. That is why we take issue with the clause as drafted, because it does not protect all leaseholders from liability for costs incurred.

The clause as drafted entails only a selective extension of rights in this area, because it does not ensure that all leaseholders will no longer have to pay their freeholder’s costs when making a claim. Instead, it makes exceptions to the general rule, whereby the price payable for the freehold or extended lease is below an amount to be prescribed in regulations.

We understand the rationale—namely, that leaseholders should pay a freeholder’s non-litigation costs in such circumstances, so that low-value claims do not cost the freeholder money. The Minister has been very clear that the Government believe that this must happen to ensure that the process is fair for both sides. We also appreciate that there are risks in prohibiting a landlord from passing on non-litigation costs to leaseholders in cases where they would be required to spend more in carrying out the transaction than they received for the asset. The Law Commission highlighted a number of those risks, including the incentive created for landlords not to co-operate with a claim, or for them to transfer the low-value freehold into the name of a shell company and then liquidate the company.

However, we are concerned that exempting claims below a certain value will create a different set of practical problems. These include costly and time-consuming disputes in cases in which the price payable is close to the level of the non-litigation costs in question for low-value claims, and the potential for landlords to game the system by arguing for a price payable below the threshold in order to secure both it and associated non-litigation costs because of the burden of disputing the amount.

Taking a step back, we fail to see the logic in the Government’s position. On the one hand, they seem to be ignoring the Law Commission’s recommendations in relation to costs; they have chosen to provide for a general rule that leaseholders are not required to make a contribution to their landlord’s non-litigation costs, but have not chosen to adopt a valuation methodology that seeks to reflect open market value, which was the commission’s stated prerequisite for such a rule. On the other hand, they are following strictly the commission’s recommendations in respect of low-value claims.

Put simply, we believe that, by means of this Bill, we should take the political decision to remove any exception to the general rule that leaseholders are not required to pay the freeholder’s non- litigation costs in such circumstances. I hope the Minister will give this careful consideration; otherwise, this section of the Bill has the potential to undermine the stated aim to increase, simplify and reduce the cost of enfranchisement. I beg to move.

My Lords, when we started the debate today, I felt like I was wading in mud. I feel I am still in the mud—it has got thicker, and the fog has come down. This is a complex and complicated Bill. I have really enjoyed listening to the arguments and the debate; I have already learned a lot. Report will be a lot better—certainly for me.

I will try to keep my remarks short and my questions simple in order to seek clarification. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, has, in her own style, ably illustrated the issue and set out the case for her amendments in great detail. I will not repeat those—some paragraphs have already been knocked out of my speech.

The newly inserted Sections 19A and 89A set out the general rule that neither a current nor a former tenant is liable for any costs incurred by another person because of enfranchisement or a lease extension claim. However, new Sections 19C and 89C set out the exceptions to this rule. The debate is around whether these exceptions are justified. We are seeking the Government’s justification for this variance. Amendments 47 and 48 from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would delete these exceptions, so that leaseholders would not be liable to pay their landlord’s non-litigation costs under any circumstances. We agree. Each side should pay its own costs; we are unsure as to why this is not the case.

When this was debated in the Commons, the Government argued that, while the main aim of the changes to the costs regime was to address the imbalance of power that has existed between the landlord and tenant, they had a desire to ensure fairness on both sides. Sections 19C and 89C prevent the landlord incurring a net financial loss when leaseholders exercise their rights to enfranchisement and lease extension, thus acknowledging that this really is a balancing act. We look forward to the Minister’s comments as to how the Government have managed to keep the scales level.

I agree with the comments made in the debates on the last two groups. Some of the problems are because much too much is being left for later regulations, in either guidance or SIs. I believe that we should have had a clear government position on issues as important as landlord costs, deferment and capitalisation rates. This is still too vague. Such uncertainty is bad, not only for the leaseholders but for us parliamentarians who would hope to scrutinise and improve the legislation. However, I note the explanation from the Minister in the last group.

The Law Commission’s report highlights that the current law means that the landlord is overcompensated for these non-litigation costs. We support the Government in saying that costs should be balanced. It has to be said that these amendments raise important questions as to whether new Sections 19C and 89C undermine this aim. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, has made a good case to that effect.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for her Amendments 47 and 48, which seek to remove the exception on costs arising from low-value lease extension or freehold acquisition claims. While the Bill includes a new general rule that each side will bear its own costs, we believe that there need to be exceptions in certain circumstances so that the regime is fair for both sides. The low-value cost exception entitles landlords to receive a portion of their process costs from leaseholders in low-value enfranchisement and lease extension claims for flats and houses respectively. We believe that these are necessary provisions that protect landlords from unfair costs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, said that this is sometimes like wading through mud. I say from the Dispatch Box that she is not alone in that feeling. Also, it is great to hear another northern and Lancastrian accent in the Chamber.

On the issue of balance, it would be unfair if landlords incurred a net financial loss when leaseholders wished to exercise their statutory right to extend their lease or buy their freehold. If the exception were removed from the Bill, this could happen in claims where the premium the landlord receives is less than their process costs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, cited some cases, which I was very sorry to hear, but my understanding is that, if landlords seek to demonstrate that costs are marginally below the low-value claim threshold to receive a prescribed sum, that is not how the low-value exception works. Landlords are not eligible for a fixed proportion of their claim if the low-value costs exception applies. Instead, they are eligible to receive the difference between their costs and the low-value threshold. For instance, if costs were a few pounds below the threshold, the landlord would be eligible to receive a prescribed sum of that amount only, and not a large proportion of their overall costs.

The exception for low-value claims is a necessary provision to protect landlords from unfair costs and, as has been noted, it implements the Law Commission’s enfranchisement recommendation 84. I kindly and respectfully ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.

I thank the noble Lord for that reply to my amendments. I am grateful for his reassurance about the costs relating to the difference between the low-value claim and where it ends up. That is a useful clarification. However, we will think through the possible implications of this before we get to Report. It seems iniquitous that the leaseholder is taking all the burden of any reduction in the value of the property and in the value of the lease, while the freeholder is exempted from that because they will then get their costs paid if that happens to be the case when the transaction takes place. We will give that some more thought before Report, but for now I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 47 withdrawn.

Clause 37 agreed.

Clause 38: Costs of enfranchisement and extension under the LRHUDA 1993

Amendment 48 not moved.

Clause 38 agreed.

Clauses 39 and 40 agreed.

Clause 41: Amendment of Part 1 of the LRHUDA 1993

Amendment 49

Moved by

49: Clause 41, page 51, line 10, at beginning insert “the appropriate tribunal may”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would correct an error.

Amendment 49 agreed.

Clause 41, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 42 to 44 agreed.

Schedule 8: Leasehold enfranchisement and extension: miscellaneous amendments

Amendments 50 and 51

Moved by

50: Schedule 8, page 196, line 17, leave out “paragraphs 11 to 15” and insert “this Part of this Schedule”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the removal of the amendment to the Housing and Planning Act 1986 in paragraph 16 of Schedule 8.

51: Schedule 8, page 199, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 200

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on alternative amendments to the Housing and Planning Act 1986 being made in the new Schedule of consequential amendments to be inserted after Schedule 8.

Amendments 50 and 51 agreed.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed.

Clause 45: LRA 1967: preservation of existing law for certain enfranchisements

Amendment 52

Moved by

52: Clause 45, page 55, line 37, at end insert—

“(4) Subsection (1) does not apply in any of the following cases— (a) the tenancy was created by the grant of a lease under Part 5 of the Housing Act 1985 (a “right to buy lease”);(b) the tenancy is, by virtue of section 3(3), treated as a single tenancy with a tenancy created by the grant of a right to buy lease;(c) the tenancy is a sub-tenancy directly or indirectly derived out of a tenancy falling within paragraph (a) or (b);(d) the tenancy was granted under this Part in substitution for a tenancy or sub-tenancy falling within paragraph (a), (b) or (c).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would prevent the tenants listed from exercising the right in new section 7A of the LRA 1967 to have that Act apply without the amendments in the Bill.

Amendment 52 agreed.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 53

Moved by

53: After Clause 45, insert the following new Clause—

“Part 2: consequential amendments to other legislationSchedule (Part 2: consequential amendments to other legislation) contains amendments to other legislation that are consequential on this Part.”Member’s explanatory statement

This new Clause would introduce the new Schedule on consequential amendments to be inserted before Schedule 9.

Amendment 53 agreed.

Amendment 54

Moved by

54: After Clause 45, insert the following new Clause—

“Crown Application(1) For section 33 of the LRA 1967, substitute—“33A Crown land(1) References in this Act to “Landlord”, include the Crown Estate and the Crown where the Crown Estate or the Crown hold freehold land subject to long leases, howsoever such freehold land is held or acquired, including land falling to the Crown as demesne, or by Escheat.(2) The prevailing standard method of dealing with lease enfranchisement in the market, is the method of valuation and calculation of fees for enfranchisement, the extension of leases, or grant of a new freehold title for Escheat land held by the Crown Estate, the Crown, in accordance with this Act, and applies to all leaseholders seeking to enfranchise their leases.”(2) LRHUDA 1993 is amended as follows.(3) Omit section 88.(4) For section 94, substitute—“94A Crown Application(1) References in this Act to “Reversioner” and “Landlord”, include the Crown Estate and the Crown where the Crown Estate or the Crown hold freehold land subject to long leases, howsoever such freehold land is held or acquired, including land falling to the Crown as demesne, or by Escheat. (2) The prevailing standard method of dealing with lease enfranchisement in the market, is the method of valuation and calculation of fees for enfranchisement, the extension of leases, or grant of a new freehold title for Escheat land held by the Crown Estate, the Crown, in accordance with this Act, and applies to all leaseholders seeking to enfranchise their leases.””

My Lords, this amendment deals with the obscure but important issue of escheat, which I suspect will empty the Chamber. When I was a Minister and put the 1993 leasehold Bill on the statute book, I made a statement to Parliament that, although the Crown was not bound by the various leasehold reform Acts, it would in practice follow the provision of such Acts relating to enfranchisement, lease extensions and collective freehold purchases.

However, there is a difference between where the Crown holds a freehold and accepts the responsibility of a landlord and where the Crown holds the land in escheat. William the Conqueror decreed that, henceforth, all land in the realm belonged to the Crown. The Crown would grant fee simple—freehold interests held from the Crown—on the one hand and leasehold interests on the other. Thus, where a freeholder dies without a beneficiary who can inherit the land, or where a freeholder company is liquidated, the asset falls back to the Crown. If the Treasury Solicitor disclaims the land, it falls into escheat and the original title is extinguished.

This creates a problem, and I apologise for talking legalese. If a non-escheat freehold is vested in the bona vacantia division of the Treasury Solicitor, existing tenants can, as per my statement to Parliament, serve notice on the Treasury Solicitor of their intent to enfranchise their leases, collectively or otherwise. The current government guidelines, set out on GOV.UK, then apply. That is form BVC4. The premium payable is calculated by a straightforward multiplier of the ground rent, plus a contribution to the Treasury Solicitor’s legal costs.

However, where land falling into escheat previously comprised a freehold subject to long leases, the Crown accepts no responsibility as the landlord. It neither collects the rent nor complies with the landlord covenants under the long leases. More importantly, with reference to escheat land, the Crown does not currently accept any responsibility under the leasehold reform Acts. This gives no opportunity for the long lease holders affected to extend their leases or purchase the freehold, pursuant to the provision of the leasehold reform Acts. They are left in limbo. It is worth remembering that, where properties are owned freehold by private individuals or companies, qualifying leasehold owners in those properties have a legal right under the Acts to enfranchise, unlike where the freehold is held in escheat.

The Crown can offer the sale of a new title, subject to the existing leases, or respond to an application by tenants to enfranchise but, crucially, it is not bound by any guidelines or formula, as would be the case under the said Acts. It arbitrarily sets its own legal and valuation fees without any mechanism for control. Equally, there is no formula for calculating the price, so in practice the Crown can ask what it wants, plus the costly fees of the private consultant lawyers and valuers, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. This is at odds with its stated policy to return assets it controls to private ownership quickly and efficiently.

The impact of what I have just described clearly conflicts with the stated intent of the Bill—namely,

“to amend the rights of tenants under long residential leases to acquire the freeholds of their houses, to extend the leases of their houses or flats, and to collectively enfranchise or manage the buildings containing their flats”.

By way of illustration, I have been made aware of a case where the Crown Estate is demanding an inflated premium, plus expensive private consultant lawyers’ and valuers’ fees, which total four times the total cost of what the premium and fees for an enfranchisement would be under the BVC4 formula that I mentioned a few moments ago. This is not justifiable or equitable, and it is wrong that, where the asset is effectively controlled by the state, namely through part of the same government department, the Treasury, this behaviour should take place.

As the unexpired term of the leases becomes shorter, it becomes increasingly difficult and costly for these leaseholders to raise capital on the asset. The inevitable result is that many leasehold owners are unable to afford the inflated premium and the fees demanded by the Crown to ensure that the housing stock is compliant and fit for purpose. So long lease holders where escheat applies are left powerless and exposed to the whim of the Crown’s legal consultants and surveyor representatives. These anomalies need to be brought into the 21st century to keep in step with the intent of the Bill.

My amendment is designed to provide a level and equitable playing field for all long leasehold owners. The Crown must accept that all Crown land, whether held in escheat or otherwise, must be subject to the provisions of the various leasehold reform Acts, subject to specific exceptions only where land is of a nationally sensitive nature.

To conclude, I hope that my noble friend will undertake to get those assurances that I have just referred to from the Crown Estate and the Treasury. I beg to move.

My Lords, I follow that interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, which explained his amendment clearly. It may be that the amendments in my name in this group, Amendments 93A and 106, are not necessary—but I am not certain yet, because it is a complicated subject, shrouded in mystery and secrecy sometimes. So I should like to speak to those two amendments as well and hope that we can have some good discussions, meetings and so on, between now and Report with the noble Baroness the Minister to see whether there is a solution.

My amendments refer only to the Duchy of Cornwall: let us be quite clear about that. That is partly because I do not think that the other two members of the Crown need it in the way that I am speaking, because they do not have lots of residential properties. Secondly, if one reads the Law Commission report, which went into some detail, one sees that the Crown Estates and the Duchy of Lancaster both agreed to comply with what the Law Commission recommended, whereas the Duchy of Cornwall did not. So we need to we need to consider some special legislation to cover just the Duchy of Cornwall’s ownership of land.

The other reason for saying this is that the Duchy of Cornwall, unlike the other two Crown groups, is in the private sector. It states quite clearly on its website that it is in the private sector. The argument is that it should be treated differently from other big estates, such as Cadogan, Richmond, Devonshire, and so on. They are all in the private sector and my understanding is that, whether they like it or not, they are going to go along with whatever happens with this legislation when it is accepted. But the Duchy of Cornwall will not do so.

I live in the Isles of Scilly, as noble Lords probably know, and I have a number of friends who have been trying to enfranchise and have been turned down. It is not a question of them looking for a 99-year or 999-year lease. Some of them want 50-year leases and they cannot have them, either, because the Duchy does not like it. So nobody who leases from the Duchy of Cornwall at the moment can enfranchise. That is unfair on the people who live there. The population is about 2,500 and they should be treated like everyone else in this country. Whatever the legislation says, they should do it.

The duchy’s argument, which goes to some length and is repeated in the Law Commission’s report, states all the wonderful things that the duchy does as a kind of landlord in Scilly. Well, it is not really true. The Scillies have a council, a local authority, like any other area. They have a Member of Parliament, water services and national landscape designation. I could go on with a long list of all the organisations, but the environmental concerns are properly looked after and there are even marine protected areas around there. I think the people of the Isles of Scilly would say that they are well set up to manage themselves, just like any other part of the UK. I am grateful to the Minister for meeting me and for the correspondence we have had, but trying to find some solutions is important.

The Law Commission published one solution that suggested enfranchisement should be possible for all the properties, apart from one or two very critical ones. I always use the example of Carlton House Terrace. Nobody would expect that to be sold off to a bingo hall: it is part of the nation and its palaces. But on the Isles of Scilly it is not really like that. They are pretty standard properties most of which were built in the past 100 years.

The letter from the duchy to me, dated 21 December last year, confirmed that the duchy believed that the status quo can be maintained through

“a ministerial undertaking that will be provided at an appropriate time in the Parliamentary process”.

This was repeated, more or less, in the letter the Minister kindly sent me.

However, none of it says when this would happen, on what grounds, to which properties—and how much. Unless one gets that information, in my experience of dealing with the duchy—I have had several attempts at a Private Member’s Bills, which I do not need to go into now—there is no appeal. This is what you are going to get and you can like it or lump it. At least until this Bill becomes law and reaches Royal Assent, we can have a debate with the duchy, but there is nothing we can do about it if the residents do not like it.

The other matter that is, frankly, irritating is that the duchy claims special privileges that have been subject to many attempts to cut down, such as voluntary tax payments, free legal advice, treasure trove and many other things. That rather leaves the Isles of Scilly as a rather feudal and medieval structure, which is totally inappropriate today because, at the end of the day, these residents do not have any alternative.

Worse still, as a result of a freedom of information request, Dr John Kirkhope, who is a notary public and an extreme expert on this, discovered that the duchy had had meetings with Ministers about how to phrase this legislation so as not to affect the duchy. Now here we have an unelected and unaccountable body engaged in policy formation when that body is exempt from the legislation that it wants to change. That is all wrong. So the alternative to accepting my amendment, which I hope the Minister will do, although I suspect she will not, is to come up with a solution, before we stop having the ability to debate, which may get the Duchy of Cornwall to accept that all properties it owns should comply with the Act, apart from a small list of very important ones, such as a 300 year-old castle.

Unless we have that, the simplest solution is my amendment, which would include the Duchy of Cornwall within the whole scope of the Bill. It is quite simple, and I cannot see why the Government should object, but they probably will. We shall see what the Minister says, and I look forward to having a meeting with her afterwards.

My Lords, I shall make a brief contribution to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I want to make one additional point to add to the problems he clearly outlined for a person in this situation—to quote him unfairly—and the impact that has on them.

I have not been an elected representative for some years, but I took on many cases involving every kind of issue, and I have dealt with these issues. My files were rightly shredded some years ago when I entered this House, so I do not have the precise detail available, only my vague memories. However, I have one distinct memory. There are two types of people who have this kind of problem—those who have solicitors and are used to dealing with solicitors, and those who do not.

Occasionally those who had solicitors would come to me, normally when they were wondering whether there was a way of minimising the costs. I always used to listen for the mention of counsel’s opinion having been suggested: the thousands then started to ring up on the till instantly, because not all solicitors had quite the expertise in such matters as others might have had.

The more concerning cases were the people who came to see me who were not familiar with dealing with solicitors, and who were horrified at the predicament they were in, and the potential costs—not just the costs from the other side, but they costs that they might have to bear. The prospect was one of an unlimited amount of costs, well beyond their comprehension, their budget and their expectations. The psychological impact of that, as well as the risk, would lead to an incredible feeling of relief if someone like me, in an amateur but persistent way, was prepared to take on their case. That I remember distinctly, in precisely this kind of case. So the common sense that has been suggested is worthy not just of consideration but of enactment, by all sides of the House. I commend the amendment, which is highly appropriate.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Berkeley, on exposing and exploring the exceptions to the general rule in the legislation and its application. If we live in a democracy, the rule of law should apply to everyone without heed or hindrance, so I am grateful to both noble Lords for bringing this to the attention of the House. I hope that when the Minister responds she will be able to confirm that the Bill will apply to the Crown Estate and the Duchy of Cornwall, because it ought to.

My Lords, I rise briefly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley for providing the detail, with diligence and eloquence, in calling for what the noble Lord, Lord Young, called a level and equitable playing field for all leaseholders in that situation, particularly in relation to Crown land. I want to press the Minister on getting information from the Government about to what extent Crown and Duchy of Cornwall land would be affected by the amendments, and on providing clarification on the important and pertinent points that both noble Lords raised.

My Lords, I will briefly speak to the amendments in my name before turning to the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Government Amendment 83 is a clarificatory amendment. Clause 67 outlines that all of Sections 18 to 30P of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 bind the Crown, and that the relevant provisions bind the Crown whether or not they relate to Crown land.

As a result, Section 172(1)(a) of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 will be repealed. Since subsections (4) and (7) of Section 112 of the Building Safety Act 2022 amend the 2002 Act, these subsections are no longer necessary.

I now turn to the amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I thank my noble friend Lord Young for his Amendment 54, which seeks to bind the Crown to the enfranchisement measures in the Bill and to apply those measures to properties subject to escheat. It is a long-established principle that legislation does not bind Crown lands, including the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, unless the Act expressly states so or by necessary implication. Where an Act, or a part of an Act, does not bind the Crown, the Crown can and often does agree to act in accordance with the legislation.

The current position is that most Crown leaseholders enjoy the same lease extension and enfranchisement opportunities as other leaseholders, by virtue of the Crown’s undertaking given to Parliament to act by analogy with the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 and the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993, which are not directly binding on the Crown. We also expect that the Crown will agree to act by analogy with the Bill before us. The effect will be that most leaseholders of the Crown will have the same opportunity to extend their lease or buy their freehold as any other leaseholder would, except in certain special circumstances set out in an undertaking we expect to be given by the Crown. Therefore, the outcomes the Government want to see can be achieved without legislation, and the amendment is unnecessary.

I would also like to thank my noble friend for raising an important point in his amendment about properties subject to escheat. The Government recognise that when the freehold becomes ownerless, it can cause problems for some of those leaseholders. However, the amendment would not achieve its intended aim because when a property escheats to the Crown the freehold no longer exists, and the Bill is not the appropriate place for a review of the complex law surrounding ownerless land. When a property becomes ownerless the land and buildings escheat to the Crown. If a purchaser is interested, the Crown can sell it so that it goes back into private ownership.

The law in relation to ownerless land and escheat is complex. Following consultation with the Law Commission, the commission flagged ownerless land as a possible law reform project for inclusion in its 14th programme of law reform. As noble Lords can see, if the Law Commission has flagged it as a complex issue needing to be dealt with by it, that is the place where I think it should remain. However, I am happy to talk more to my noble friend; I am particularly interested in the case that he brought forward and am happy to look into it. I therefore hope my noble friend will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment 106, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, seeks to bind the provisions of the Bill to the Duchy of Cornwall where they would not otherwise. I thank the noble Lord for giving advance notice of his intention to table this amendment. I know that he is a tireless campaigner and has a personal interest particularly in this area and the Isles of Scilly.

I am also grateful for the noble Lord’s further Amendment 93A, which would bind the provisions of Part 5 of the Bill to the Crown more broadly. As discussed in relation to Amendment 54, the principle that legislation does not bind the Crown land applies to the Duchy of Cornwall as a Crown body unless the Act expressly states so or by necessary implication.

Most leaseholders of the Crown have the same opportunity to exercise their rights as any other leaseholder, except in special circumstances. The Law Commission recommended that the Crown should remain exempt from statutory enfranchisement rights on the basis that Crown bodies will give an undertaking to act by analogy with the new enfranchisement regime except in special circumstances. The Government are therefore implementing those recommendations.

The Law Commission put forward suggestions for Crown bodies to consider—relating to those areas with special circumstances, including some parts of the Isles of Scilly—to be included in their future undertaking. We continue to discuss the undertaking with the Crown authorities, and an update will be provided to the House in due course. For most properties on Crown land, we expect the Crown to act by analogy with the Bill.

With regard to Part 5, relating to freehold estates, the Crown is bound to a large extent. Clause 96 makes it clear that the provisions of Part 5 bind the Crown for the home buying and selling measures, and for those aspects of Part 5 where they are required to provide information on request from an estate manager. However, there may be a small number of locations that could be built on now or in future—that is, land owned by His Majesty or other parts of the Crown Estate. In such circumstances, we expect that the Crown will act by analogy with the Bill; in other words, they will ensure that home owners on such estates have access to equivalent rights. In our opinion, it is therefore not necessary to bind the Duchy or, in relation to Part 5, the Crown. That is because, as with Amendment 54, the outcomes that the Government wish can be achieved without statutory provision. I therefore kindly request that the noble Lord not press his amendment, but I am more than happy to speak to him between now and Report.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for a very detailed reply, and I thank her for her interest in this project. I have one question: will we be able to see a draft or a copy of the undertaking from the Crown, which she has mentioned several times, before Report?

My answer is that I am not sure, but I will make sure that I let the noble Lord know. If we can do that, obviously we will.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for reminding us that it is often a rather one-sided battle, with leaseholders confronted by freeholders with massive resources. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her support for my amendment.

As far as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is concerned, I have happy memories of replying when I was on the Front Bench to his Duchy of Cornwall Bill. He spoke at somewhat greater length on that occasion about the need for major reform of the Duchy.

On the specific issue that I raised, I am not expecting any legislative change because my noble friend said, quite rightly, that the Crown is not bound by legislation, but she said on several occasions that the Crown would act by analogy with the terms of the leasehold Acts. I think that gives me what I want, so long as it covers the Crown acting as freeholder as well as the Crown acting as owner of land in escheat. At the moment, that is not the case. At the end of my remarks, I asked whether my noble friend would be good enough to get the necessary assurance from the Crown Estate and the Treasury that they would deal with escheat applications in the same way as applications for where they are the freeholder.

I am grateful to my noble friend for her sympathetic reply. I think I can build on the undertaking that she has given to make some progress. I do not want to wait until the Law Commission has gone round the course all over again, whenever that may be. The leases that I referred to are coming towards the end of their time, and each delay adds to the potential cost for the leaseholders.

I hope we can make progress without waiting for a Law Commission report. It is simply a case of the Crown acting equitably and doing exactly what my noble friend has said: acting by analogy and delivering the laws that have been passed by Parliament. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Amendment 54 withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.20 pm.