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4.41 pm

Mr. Cash: We embarked on this odyssey on Second Reading, and moved on to consideration in Committee. The Minister was right to contend that the procedure was justified for a Bill such as this. The procedure provides us with an opportunity to consider the consequences of proceedings both in Committee and subsequently on Report. We can now wrap up, as it were, the arguments on Third Reading.

The Bill is monumental. It is not a vast Bill by current standards, but it contains a huge amount of complexity. As I said on Second Reading, during the heady days when I was sitting my conveyancing examinations—too long ago for me to care to remember—the law was complicated and made no better by the fact that the Acts, which have now been axed by the Bill, were deficient. I am sure that that is something that my tutors would have told me, rather than something that would have I observed for myself at the time. However, difficulties and complications arose, and the Bill goes a long way to solving them.

I pay tribute vicariously to the Minister's advisers and to the Law Commission. The Minister has been ably assisted throughout on the various points that I have had the temerity to raise from time to time. Consideration of the Bill in Committee was conducted in a good spirit. Mr. Charles Harpum's time at the Law Commission has

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only recently concluded. He worked throughout with the parliamentary counsel who was seconded to the commission; they both deserve tribute.

I do not want to test your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we shall shortly consider the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill on Report. I hope that the criteria that led the Law Commission to be so effective in relation to this Bill will be borne in mind when we discuss the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill, in which a number of unresolved issues remain. I hope that we can arrive at some satisfactory conclusions before our consideration is concluded.

This Bill lays the foundations for a system of electronic conveyancing that will bring the whole system up to date, providing a faster and more open mechanism for the buying and selling of homes, which will benefit consumers. Indeed, it will affect many millions of people. I notice that the Minister looked up when I mentioned millions of people. That is a lot of people, and we want to be sure that they are all satisfied by the way in which the Bill is enacted.

The Land Registration Act 1925 had to be disposed of, and the Government are engaging in a sensible pace of reform here. To begin with, the new system will apply only to certain simple registered transactions; other transactions will be drawn into it as time goes by. The system will, in the end, have to be compulsory if the full benefits are to be enjoyed, but as clause 5(4) makes clear, that will be feasible only when electronic conveyancing has by common consent become the most effective way of dealing with transactions.

There was considerable argument in Committee about the provisions on the length of leases. Our difficulty with clause 91 has been addressed again today, and we have dealt with a significant number of the points made not only here but in the other place. I pay tribute to those in the other place who took the initial phases of the Bill through in such a competent fashion.

I also want to put on record, however, the fact that the Bill contains a vast number of rule-making powers. I have already expressed concern about the extent to which such powers are becoming the norm. I looked the other day at the array of statutory instruments that have been introduced in any given year. If we aggregate them with European directives, the burdens that over-regulation can impose and the lack of scrutiny given to all such matters, we realise that the appearance that, because the procedures are followed, these matters are given sufficient consideration is not really justified. I do not mean that the consideration is not justified. I mean that it would be an exaggeration to believe that, when statutory instruments and rules are made, they are given the kind of consideration that the Minister was suggesting they are given. I do not believe that that is the case. The way in which we deal with subordinate legislation needs to be much tighter; far too much goes through on the nod.

On the compulsory registration of leases in excess of seven years, the profession—by which I mean, broadly speaking, the Law Society—generally believes that such compulsory registration is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage. I said in Committee:

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Concerns have been expressed about whether there will be a vast increase in applications for registration. We discussed that in Committee and it was also considered in the House of Lords. My noble Friend Baroness Buscombe tabled an amendment that would have reduced the length of leases that must be registered from 21 to 14 years, instead of to seven years. She was strongly supported in the background by the Country Landowners Association, among others. As the Member of Parliament for Stone, which is a rural constituency, I can confirm that people are worried about the complexity of the system. I hope that that will be borne in mind.

It is important to ensure that client confidentiality is sustained, especially between solicitors and their clients; we raised that in Committee and we remain concerned about it.

Having reached the dying days of the Bill, we have, after some argument, obtained assurances from the Minister about the way in which it should operate in practice. The Government have tabled amendments to the Bill, and by and large it has been improved, both in Committee and in the other place, so as to benefit the public as a whole.

We support the Bill and we are glad that the Law Commission and the Land Registry played such a distinguished part in helping it to reach the statute book. If and when any glitches occur in practice, I hope that the Government will enthusiastically ensure that they are rectified as soon as possible.

4.52 pm

Mr. Sanders: I promise not to take up much of the House's time. I shall not go on until 10 o'clock tonight or drag out the debate. I want merely to note a concern that we raised in Committee. We accept that the Bill is the first step towards achieving a comprehensive Land Registry, but it could have been introduced more quickly. That is a lost opportunity.

The debates on Second Reading, in Committee and today on Report and Third Reading have been good natured and they have clarified the provisions. We hope that the Bill will succeed in speeding up conveyancing, which is important to any prospective house buyer or vendor. We also hope that it will encourage people who might not otherwise have registered their land to do so. Perhaps one day there will be proposals to speed up the system even further; we shall have to wait and see.

I thank hon. Members for the way in which business has been conducted. It has been civilised, enjoyable and educational. We have all learned something from the process.

4.53 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): I rise to speak in support of the Bill, although I was not a member of the Committee that scrutinised it. I should have preferred it to include tougher remedies against squatters and the creation of a more effective land register for empty public sector property. As with most Bills, the devil is in the detail.

I want to draw hon. Members' attention to clause 115, which is entitled "Reduction in unregistered interests with automatic protection", in relation to manorial rights. Essentially, it means that owners of manors will have

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10 years from the appointed day to register any interests in the land that they hold as lords of the manor. If registration is contemplated after the 10-year period, it will be too late, and any rights or potential rights in the land will be lost. Any unregistered rights will not be capable of registration, and therefore incapable of enforcement.

Although it may seem that 10 years is a long enough period for everyone to register, that presupposes that everyone knows of the change in the law. Experience of the Commons Registration Act 1965, under which a period of seven years was allowed for registration of an interest, showed that after 1972 many people had not registered because they did not know that they had to. In fact, discretion was granted to the Commons Commissioners to register after the final date, but there is no discretion contemplated in the Bill, as one of my constituents thinks there should be.

My constituent, Mr. John Hornchurch, purchased the lordship of the local manor of Hornchurch hall some years ago, and gave it to his family's charitable trust, the Hornchurch hall trust, as a foundation asset. He writes on behalf of the trust: his only personal interest is that he is the trustee whom the other trustees have nominated to use the title "lord of the manor" for life.

Only a small part of the Bill affects manorial rights, but unfortunately the manorial provisions seem to be adverse and unfair. Under one provision, where a title is registered, it will be possible to have it deregistered, so that future proof of title will depend on title deeds rather than on a register. Mr. Hornchurch believes that that provision is an unfair step. At considerable personal time and expense, he registered the Hornchurch hall trust as the proprietors of the title of lord of the manor of Hornchurch hall. His aim was to obtain benefits of registration, and to make the title and its ownership certain. Clearly, he does not want the trust's position to be arbitrarily weakened.

Another provision will require unregistered manorial rights to be registered within 10 years of the Bill coming into force, or the rights will be lost. Many rights are uncertain, and become evident only when particular circumstances arise. It seems unfair that the time limit should be imposed, and Mr. Hornchurch feels that it should at least be longer or that there should be provisions for exceptions.

In the case of the lordship of Hornchurch hall, there is a degree of uncertainty about rights, which Mr. Hornchurch doubts could be removed without considerable further expense. Neither the trust nor the trustees of Hornchurch hall, who provide all the income of the trust, have ever benefited financially from those rights. They make financial gifts to deserving causes. They have wide discretionary powers, and conform to the Charity Commissioners' rules. The trust is entirely philanthropic.

The Bill will revise and bring up to date much of the law on the way in which the ownership of land is recorded. However, there is an incidental consequence for lords of the manor, which may not have been intended. Land registration works through a register, which now exists in computerised form and records many details of the land. It also includes rights belonging to lords of the manor. The general rule is that, if anyone is registered as the owner of land, that is free of any third-party rights

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unless a note is made on the register of title that it is subject to such rights. That rule is subject to certain exceptions.

One of the important exceptions relates to overriding rights, which are rights that affect the land even if they are not noted on the register. As the law stands, if someone owns land that is subject to the rights of the lord of the manor in relation to these matters, the rights of the lord will continue whether or not the matter is mentioned on the register. Under the Bill, if rights are not registered within 10 years from the date of the legislation coming into force, they will cease to bind the land. If the law comes into force in the way suggested, lords of the manor will have to register their rights within 10 years or, for practical purposes, they will lose them. That may be fair if the lord of the manor knows what his or her rights are, but the rights may often be difficult to ascertain. Anyone who knows about their rights will need legal advice on protecting them.

The Bill also contains other provisions on manors. One is that when the title to the manor itself is registered, as distinct from the land over which the manorial rights can be exercised, it will be possible to have the title deregistered so that from then on proof of title will depend on the title deeds rather than on a register.

Another factor that will affect owners of roadside verges or similar areas is that after the Bill comes into force it will no longer be possible to lodge a caution at the Land Registry. A lord of the manor may register a caution when he or she is unable to provide evidence of ownership of the verge to the satisfaction of the Land Registry, but still claims ownership. If someone else, such as the owner of an adjoining field, applies to be registered as owner, the Land Register will tell the person who has lodged a caution, and the matter can then be resolved. It will not be possible to lodge such cautions in the future, however.

It seems that there is a fundamental principle of human rights here. Under the European convention on human rights, now incorporated in United Kingdom law, it is unlawful for citizens to be deprived of their property without due process. The Bill will deprive some citizens of their property simply because they will be unaware of the relevant provision. They will lose their property by default, which cannot be right.

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