Amendment 20

Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill - Report (and remaining stages) – in the House of Lords am 5:00 pm ar 24 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham:

Moved by The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham

20: Schedule 4, page 164, 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, the freeholder is entitled to compensation for loss of marriage or hope value, with the amount of compensation being equal to the amount the freeholder would have received by way of marriage or hope value if assumption 2 had not been made.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment would give a charity freeholder the right to compensation for the loss of marriage or hope value.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham Bishop

My Lords, I will speak to both amendments in my name. I declare my interest as a beneficiary of the funds of the Church Commissioners, being in receipt of a stipend. I am also a leaseholder of a flat in Bristol.

I beg the House’s indulgence briefly to return to the impact that this Bill will have on seven charities. I do not wish to unduly detain the House for longer than strictly necessary, but this legislation as drafted will have a significant financial effect on the operational ability of the charities.

My amendments have the support of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who are unfortunately unable to attend the House today but raised similar issues at Second Reading and in Committee. We submitted our concerns to every consultation and debate before the Bill arrived, and have done so since. We none the less thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, who has given very diligent service to the House, particularly for her work on this Bill. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Gascoigne, who has been supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and is stepping in today in somewhat challenging circumstances.

I wish to put on record that these two amendments serve to register the ongoing concern that I and others have and seek to press for clarity and reassurance. This has been requested in meetings but, despite the best efforts of the ministerial team and the department, it is still not sufficient. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, last night when the Bill was announced as returning and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Gascoigne, has seen this.

My right referend friend and I unreservedly support the Bill’s primary aim of making leasehold a simpler and fairer tenure for all. However, we are concerned about the unintended consequences, in particular on a small number of charities which, despite being fairly few in number, deliver a large amount of public good. These charities collect receipts from lease extensions which fund their charitable work and which are put in jeopardy by this Bill. Some of the charities implicated stand to lose as much as £3 million per annum in distributable funds. These are not small figures. I fear that, for some of those charities affected—the John Lyon’s Charity will lose £4 million per annum, one-quarter of its total income, most of which goes towards supporting children and youth projects—these losses will be considerable.

The Church Commissioners stand to lose £1 million per annum in distributable funds. This will hit their discretionary spend, including the strategic development fund, which supports some of the more deprived areas of the country. This is particularly close to my heart, as my diocese of Southwell and Nottingham has received four significant disbursements from this fund, benefitting particular areas of higher deprivation where there were important opportunities to develop work among children and young people. These funds equip churches to grow and enhance their contribution to community-building initiatives, especially working in partnership with local schools. The transformation that that brings is of considerable social and public benefit. For example, there has been pioneering and successful regeneration work across seven estates to the north of the city.

It is work like this that the charities I am talking about are particularly well placed to deliver. When we discussed this issue in Committee, there was support from various corners of the House that charities should not be out of pocket as a result of this Bill. Nobody wants to see the worthwhile work of charities threatened, particularly in a time of ever-increasing need.

My right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester and I had hoped that there would be sufficient time in the remaining stages to agree a solution to deliver a fairer deal for leaseholders without unduly disadvantaging charities. I regret but understand that wash-up has got in the way of that. While I have no desire to hold up proceedings, I hope that the Minister will look seriously at accepting the amendment offered by way of a mutually acceptable solution.

The amendments in my name seek to mitigate the financial impact of this Bill on charity freeholders. Amendment 20 would entitle charity freeholders to compensation, which would mean that they would be no worse off due to the passage of the Bill in terms of marriage and hope value. Amendment 32 would ensure that, in setting deferment rates, the Secretary of State would need to have due regard to the income of charity freeholders, taking into account their incomes and public benefit, just as the rates will take into account the needs and wishes of leaseholders.

These rates are potentially make or break for some of these charities, while all support the aim of making it clearer and simpler to extend a lease. However, in setting these rates, the Secretary of State needs to consider the potential impact on beneficiaries of registered charities. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to set, change and periodically review the deferment rates. How do the Government intend to set these rates? Will the Minister commit to consult charities about these rates to ensure that they can continue their good work?

It should be noted that, despite our support on these Benches for the concept of the Bill, in our view it does not deliver the Government’s aim of ending the tenure of leasehold or present a compelling alternative. Commonhold was a wholly positive development but, as noted in this House several times, it has failed to take off and nothing in this Bill will help it to catch on. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester and I are particularly concerned that the Bill will make life difficult for charities and their beneficiaries without really delivering an improved system of tenures. I therefore respectfully request that consideration be given to the adoption of these amendments.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I apologise for not previously intervening on this Bill. I have no leasehold interests but, given that I will support the right reverend Prelate’s amendment, I should declare that, until very recently, my son sung in the excellent cathedral choir at Southwell Minster.

It is very difficult for the Government to argue against the point raised by the right reverend Prelate. It cannot be right that a Conservative Government should impact on the revenue of charities in this way. The seven charities he listed, in particular the John Lyon’s Charity, are fundamentally reliant on the income derived from these sources. Insufficient scrutiny has been given to the efforts made to protect that income. Similarly, the vital funds paid to the Church Commissioners from their income from these types of sources need to be protected.

All this appears to be symptomatic of the lack of scrutiny consequent on the driving of this measure through wash-up. I share the concern expressed in earlier groups by my noble friends Lord Robathan, Lord Howard, Lord Jackson and Lord Moylan and the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. I also share the concern that legislating in haste will result in our experiencing difficulties in the Strasbourg jurisdiction. While my noble friend the Minister reassured us on the last group that the Minister had seen fit to certify that, in his view, these measures are compliant with Article 1 of the first protocol of the European convention, as my noble friend Lord Jackson identified, there is a wealth of case law in Strasbourg identifying the protection of property rights, particularly in relation to charities.

I find myself strongly in agreement with the right reverend Prelate, which is a very happy and unusual situation. I commend his amendment to the Front Bench. I conclude by praising my noble friend the Minister, who has picked up this unfortunate googly at the last minute. The right reverend Prelate’s amendments are worthy of considerable consideration.

Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I listened with great interest to the right reverend Prelate. Worthy though charities are, it should not just be charities which benefit from this. Although I would like to see them exempted, the same should happen to everybody. Under the law, all should be equal. I find it difficult sometimes to support the Church as a charity if it can bung away £100 million. Then it wanted to bung away £1 billion—it is quite difficult to keep up with the Church’s generous donations. It is hard enough supporting my wife in her endeavours with the village fête to raise £2,000 and I sometimes wonder why we do it when the Church can give away as much as it does.

The Church does fantastic work and I would like to see it getting a larger income but I think this should apply not just to specific charities but to everyone who has made an investment and is expecting something in the long term. Pension funds invest in this form of investment because they have obligations that stretch 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ahead. How do you pay for that in the days of inflation? If you buy a freehold which you expect to fall in, you are covering your future liability. If that can be suddenly taken away, maybe we should include pension funds as a special category. I come back to the thing that it should be the same for everybody. I do not know how the Government intend to work it out for pension funds. If the total sum, as I said before, is £7 billion, that is a big hole in pension funds even if they own only a percentage of that.

I look forward to hearing what the Minister says about charities and, in particular, the Church’s exemption.

Photo of Lord Gascoigne Lord Gascoigne Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham for these amendments and for his very kind comments about the Minister, which I will ensure she is aware of.

The Government fully appreciate the essential work done by the charity sector and I completely understand the sector’s concerns about the deferment rate. I also understand the importance of prescribing the rates for both leaseholders and freeholders, and recognise the right reverend Prelate’s concerns. We have committed to prescribing the rates at market value and the Secretary of State will carefully take into consideration and review all the information and views shared ahead of setting the rates. We have welcomed and appreciate the contributions the Church Commissioners and charities have provided and will welcome continued engagement before the rates are set.

As I have said, we recognise the positive contributions many charities make to our society, yet attempting to create carve-outs for specific groups of landlords, including charities, would complicate a system we aim to simplify. With that and with respect, I ask the right reverend Prelate to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham Bishop

I thank the Minister for his answer. I will keep this brief. I thank the charities concerned and their staff for the support they have given to these amendments. I am also grateful to noble Lords for their valuable contributions not only to these amendments but to this debate more generally, expressing concerns about this Bill.

As we approach the election, I hope that these points have been heard, and heard by all those who might stand at the Dispatch Box in the next Administration. Further consideration will need to be given to clarify the compensation arrangements so that charitable activity and public benefit are not reduced as a consequence of this Bill. Having put this concern on record, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 20 withdrawn.