Amendment 13

Part of Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:15 pm ar 22 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Khan of Burnley Lord Khan of Burnley Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:15, 22 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for introducing this group of amendments. It has been a fantastic, constructive debate, with some excellent points made across the Committee. I do not want to repeat the arguments, but I will speak particularly to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, which many noble Lords have spoken about. I remind the Committee that this amendment would require the Government to set out a strategy for making commonhold the preferred alternative to leasehold, as recommended by the Law Commission in its report, Reinvigorating Commonhold: the Alternative to Leasehold Ownership.

The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bailey of Paddington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, are both important. They all point towards a particular focus: that commonhold should be the future. We should help the move towards commonhold; it is overdue. The Government have had 14 years to deliver and have broken their promises to leaseholders, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark. Let me remind the Committee that an incoming Labour Government would be left to pick up the pieces should we have the opportunity to serve.

On these Benches, our commitment, as reiterated by my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage, is to have comprehensive leasehold reform, and this has not changed. We will bring forward ambitious legislation to enact all the Law Commission’s remaining recommendations at the earliest opportunity if we are privileged enough to serve.

The important point made by my noble friend Lord Kennedy about not having a strategy is why, on these Benches, we have brought forward an amendment asking for a strategy as part of this Bill. It has been so long; commonhold was introduced in 2002 as a way of enabling the freehold ownership of flats and avoiding the shortcomings of leasehold ownership. However, fewer than 20 commonhold developments have been established since the commonhold legislation came into force. Flats in England and Wales continue to be owned, almost inevitably, on a leasehold basis.

Unlike practice in most other countries across the world, flat owners in England and Wales continue to hold leasehold interests that will expire at some point in the future, and landlords make the key decisions about the management and costs of their buildings. Commonhold enables flats to be owned on a freehold basis, so that owners’ interests can last for ever and gives decision-making powers to home owners.

The Law Commission published its final report in July 2020, in which it makes numerous recommendations that seek to make commonhold not only a workable but a preferred form of home ownership to residential leasehold. Its recommendations include measures designed to make it easier for leaseholders to convert to common- hold and gain greater control over their properties; to enable commonhold to be used for larger, mixed-use developments that accommodate not only residential properties but shops, restaurants and leisure facilities; and to allow shared ownership leases to be included within commonhold. The recommendations would give owners a greater say in how the costs of running their commonhold are met, and ensure they have sufficient funds for future repairs and emergency work. They would provide owners with flexibility to change the commonhold’s rules, while improving the protections available to those affected by the change.

I ask the Government whether they disagree with the benefits I have just outlined? If they do not, why are they not doing this? That is the fundamental question from this debate that numerous noble Lords have alluded to. There was clearly some appetite for it a few years ago, so why are they not doing this? Have the Government changed their mind or are they just not brave enough to do it?

In May 2021, the Government had even established a Commonhold Council as a partnership of industry, leaseholders and government that would prepare home owners and the market for the widespread take-up of commonhold. I ask the Minister what has happened to that council. When did it last meet and how often does it meet?

It is widely accepted that, in terms of this Bill, we will not have commonhold brought in now. However, there is still much miscommunication around commonhold in the industry. There needs to be more education and an awareness campaign. As contributions have highlighted today, commonhold is so much easier. You do not have complex laws; you talk to one another and work problems and disputes out. You have meetings and laws are prescribed so that it is easy for people to know what to do at each step of the way. There are things that could be done with commonhold in this Bill to strengthen it and pave the way to commonhold happening en masse. The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor would help the Government ensure that there is a strategy in this Bill and fulfil their manifesto promise, as mentioned previously. I commend the amendment in the name of my noble friend, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister.