Land Registration Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Cash: I am deeply grateful to the Minister for that exposition. He will appreciate that those who are engaged in such matters professionally have an enormous amount at stake, as does the Land Registry. As he said, the matter goes to the heart of the Bill, addressing questions such as will the system work, how will it work, and what circumstances will apply if there is a collapse in the system. I do not think that any of us have the slightest doubt that the Bill takes us into a new age. As we have said several times, much credit must be given to those who put it together.

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My former partner drafted the Solicitors Act 1974, soon after I had arrived in the office, as I recall. He died quite recently, so I mention that as a small memorial to him.

Given all the considerations and complications of the proposals—not because I want to be curmudgeonly or even simply because I want to be sure that every Committee member is alive and aware of the debate that has happened—I am reluctant to withdraw the amendment. I am sorry if I disappoint the Minister, but I think that he knew that this was coming. I press the amendment to a division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 10.

Division No. 5]

AYES
Cash, Mr. William
Hoban, Mr. Mark
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen

NOES
Barnes, Mr. Harry
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Doughty, Sue
Jones, Lynne
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Mole, Chris
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Stringer, Mr. Graham
Wills, Mr. Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 92 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 93

Power to require simultaneous registration

Mr. Cash: I beg to move amendment No. 70, in page 34, line 13, after ''consult'', insert—

    ''the Law Society and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and''.

This is a simple but important amendment. It relates to detailed consultation with the society and council who will be the operators of this process, adding a requirement to consult with the Law Society and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. It is pretty obvious what that means. I do not need to go into all the details, but I would be grateful to hear what the Minister has to say.

Mr. Wills: We have already discussed the general approach taken in drafting the Bill and the problems that might arise from specifying particular individuals or bodies for consultation. The duty to consult in various parts of the Bill has deliberately been worded very loosely to enable the Lord Chancellor to consult such persons as he or she feels should be consulted at that time.

We cannot know at this stage what changes could alter any list of consultees that we prepare now and it would be inappropriate and undesirable to create a partial list. Flexibility is important. At present, it is inconceivable that either the Law Society or the Council for Licensed Conveyancers would be left out of a consultation process under clause 93, which, as the

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hon. Member for Stone said, is an important clause. I happily undertake to ensure that they will be consulted when the time comes.

It remains our view that it would not be appropriate or desirable to highlight those groups by mentioning them in the Bill. There will be other consultees whose contributions will be equally important to the decision-making process. In light of the need to maintain flexibility and of the undertaking that I have given, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Cash: I am a little disappointed with the Minister. The Law Society is the chartered body with specific responsibility here, and which, through the Solicitors Act 1974, has specific requirements imposed on it with regard to conveyancing. Licensed conveyancers are also subject to statutory requirements. I am not suggesting that the Minister would not end up consulting the Law Society, as he said, but this still seems extraordinary. I am waiting with bated breath in the hope that the Minister will listen to what I am saying and respond properly.

Mr. Wills: I will just repeat something that the hon. Gentleman might not have picked up. Of course we understand the importance of the Law Society and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, and I gave a specific undertaking that they will be consulted. I also said that the views of other consultees will be equally important and will have to be taken into account. We need to maintain flexibility, and I hope that my specific undertaking, which I now repeat, will enable the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Cash: I heard what the Minister said extremely clearly and I am familiar with the formulas frequently used in respect of questions of consultation. As the Minister knows, as a matter of law, consultation does not necessarily mean that what the person seeking the consultation wants will be done. It is a matter of, ''I hear what you say; I will do so in a responsible way.''

I do not want to enlarge on what I have said, because the point is obvious. However the consultation process is conducted and whoever it is conducted for or with, in reality one is dealing definitely and specifically with a chartered body with statutory functions and licensed conveyancers. I would be repeating myself if I mentioned that again, so I shall return to the serious business of dividing the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 10.

Division No. 6]

AYES
Cash, Mr. William
Hoban, Mr. Mark

NOES
Barnes, Mr. Harry
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Dobbin, Jim
Doughty, Sue
Jones, Lynne
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Mole, Chris
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Stringer, Mr. Graham
Wills, Mr. Michael

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Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 93 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 94 to 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 106

Jurisdiction

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I beg to move amendment No. 86, in page 37, line 18, at end insert—

    '(c) determining appeals concerning the boundary of a registered estate, as referred to in section 60.'.

I believe that there has not been a specific debate in the other place or this House on matters relating to clause 106, except that Lord Goodhart in another place moved a probing amendment to clause 60, which refers to boundaries, in an attempt to clarify the role of the adjudicator. The functions of the adjudicator are covered by clause 106 and my amendment relates to those. The noble Lord said when moving his amendment that it

    ''would clarify that situation''--

on registration--

    ''and make it clear beyond any doubt that the adjudicator will have jurisdiction to determine the question of fixing boundaries.''--[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1606.]

I referred to those matters when I spoke on clause 60.

I am attempting in the amendment to add to the functions of the adjudicator. I welcome the setting up of the office of the adjudicator by the Lord Chancellor. The adjudicator takes over certain functions that are currently undertaken by the solicitor for Her Majesty's Land Registry but is completely independent of the Land Registry and will continue to provide certain determinations cheaply, swiftly and more informally than court hearings. The independence, informality and relative cheapness of the arrangement is welcome when the registration of land and property involves issues that are often fraught with disputes.

11 am

The clause defines the areas of the adjudicator's jurisdiction. They are important but limited areas, and I hope that they will be extended and developed in future. The function provided for in the clause first deals with certain objections raised against applications for registration, which are described in clause 73(7). Secondly, it deals with determining disputes about what are known as network access agreements and thirdly, with making orders required by the High Court to correct or set aside certain dispositions and transfers of interest. If those functions were added to over time, the adjudicator could become the first port of call in a wide number of disputes before anything appeared before the courts. That would be beneficial because it would provide uncostly, quick informal decisions closely based on the records of the Land Registry.

During debates on clauses 11 and 60 I have been worried about two points. The first is boundary disputes and is addressed in the amendment, which would include such matters in the adjudicator's role.

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The second relates to access ways over land, on which I tabled an amendment that has not been selected. My concerns would be addressed by amendment No. 86 because cross deeds that affect boundaries also involve areas with access problems. I dealt with a case in which three people shared access ways and certain details were included in one set of deeds, but not in another so their rights were limited. The ability to ask the adjudicator to sort out a boundary dispute would have been valuable.

I am grateful to the Minister for considering the points that I have raised and sending me a detailed letter on them on 12 December. Although he considers the cases that I raised as matters for the courts to resolve—I hope that I have correctly interpreted what he has written—he recognises that they are relevant to the consultation process when drawing up rules provided for in clause 126. He also recognises that there are possible extensions to the role of the adjudicator, particularly after the introduction of electronic conveyancing, that can be further addressed when the provisions are reviewed. I am grateful for the airing of that and the fact that the Minister has taken it seriously.

I tabled this as a probing amendment in order to place on record what has arisen during my correspondence with the Minister. I hope that we are at the start of a period in which the role of the adjudicator, when it is up and running and has acquired experience, can be extended and developed because it will be a handier way in which to deal with a dispute, and better than dragging things to the courts. Sometimes solicitors might be over-keen to encourage clients to take something to court, but that is extensive, costly and may come up with peculiar results. Being able to decide a case in a different atmosphere—one linked into but independent of Land Registry—would be of great benefit.

 
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Prepared 13 December 2001