My Lords, I will speak primarily to Amendment 26 in my name, which would ensure that the Government bring forward legislation to end ground rent for existing leaseholders. I also add my thanks to the Minister for making himself and his officials available and for seeking to explore whether there is any chance of a solution to this. There was not, although he described this problem as “a top priority for the Government”. That is something that the noble Lord, Lord Young, heard when, in the other House, he was trying to deal with the question of hereditary Peers in this place. He was persuaded not to move an amendment by the then Government and was promised that legislation would be forthcoming. That was 20 years ago.
Millions of people are trapped in these contracts and the Government must end the feudal system for them as well as for new leaseholders. That is the whole purpose of this amendment—to make life equal for all leaseholders. Almost 5 million properties in England are leasehold dwellings—around one in five of all homes —and the House will be aware that many of them, if not all, are seeing their ground rent increase at incredible rates. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, memorably described this in Committee as a legal racket. That is what it is: it leaves a loophole available which sees rents increasing without any explanation, for no service whatever to leaseholders. It is creating immense misery and financial difficulties and there is no reason for the Government to maintain the system when they have already acknowledged how outdated ground rent is.
That is why the amendment would ensure that the Government bring forward early legislation within 30 days to end the practice once and for all. The amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, identifies the same issue and tries to deal with it, but I am afraid I do not believe it goes far enough. Ground rent must be ended for leaseholders, including those in existing arrangements, and for that reason I will be testing the opinion of the House on Amendment 26 at the appropriate time.
I confirm the support of these Benches for Amendment 9 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and I also welcome other amendments he has tabled to probe aspects of these provisions. Amendment 9 raises the crucial point that leaseholders must always be informed of arrangements, and I hope the Minister will accept that point. With that, however, I will leave it to the Minister to respond.