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asked the hon. Member for Chelmsford, as representing the Church Commissioners, whether he is aware that the Royal Exchange Assurance Company, as head lessees of 52, Warwick Avenue, are in breach of covenant through the management of the property by Messrs. Martin East, the effective owners of the sub-lease, who have given a month's notice to quit to most of the tenants; and whether the Commissioners will urge the head lessees to secure forfeiture of the sub-lease and ensure that sanitary amenities are improved to make evictions unnecessary.
May I thank the hon. Gentleman for the keen interest he has shown in this problem since taking up his new responsibilities, may I thank him for his answer and may I leave it that everything possible will be done to see that these people are not evicted, as is at present threatened?
asked the hon. Member for Chelmsford, as representing the Church Commissioners (1) what progress they have made towards meeting the problem caused by the exploitation of ends of leases of their property by companies, with little nominal capital and no assets, who charge high rents and do no repairs; and whether they will proceed, as a matter of policy, to secure the forfeiture of all leases where there is breach of the original covenant, without subsequent licence from the freeholder, while, at the same time, allowing security of tenure of any part of the dwelling occupied by the leaseholder himself and paying reasonable ex-gratia compensation in suitable cases;
(2) whether, in view of the extensive breaches of the covenants of leases of dwelling-houses, let as tenements, of which they are the freeholders, they will consult with local housing authorities and with the Minister of Housing and Local Government with a view to drawing up a workable plan for the management of dwelling-houses let in tenements, where they are the freeholders and where the lease is subject to forfeit through breach of covenant, in order to provide for the minimum disturbance of existing tenants and the maximum expenditure out of rents on repairs and improvements until the properties can he dealt with under a development plan.
The Commissioners are very aware of the problems arising towards the end of long ground leases; these leases when granted in the last century were drafted in such a way as to make it impossible for the ground landlords to control assignments. The Commissioners can report, however, that breaches of covenant of the nature referred to are now infrequent on their estates.
The policy of the Commissioners' predecessors on this estate was to use the power of the court to attempt to remedy breaches. The Commissioners, on the other hand, consider that this problem is capable of quicker and better solution through good estate management, whereby conversions are carried out either by the Commissioners or by their head lessees in return for a licence permitting multiple occupation. The Commissioners are in constant touch on these matters with the local authority, and with the Minister of Housing and Local Government where necessary. Last year the Commissioners spent on repairs and improvements to this estate more than their net income.
While thanking the hon. Member again for his very encouraging replies, may I remind him that this problem is one of increasing gravity, that it may need legislation, and that it will be very much better if that legislation can he agreed legislation after consultation between all the authorities concerned to see what maximum use can be made of the existing powers and those which the Commissioners are reviving?
I assure the hon. Member that the Church Commissioners are far from complacent in this very difficult matter. We have taken very careful note of what he and other hon. Members said in the debate on 22nd November. We are more than happy to discuss these problems both with him and with anyone else who may be concerned.