Land Registration Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Sanders: It sounds wonderful to say that 80 per cent. of titles have been registered. However, those titles do not represent 80 per cent. of the land. Vast tracts of our nation are owned without the title being registered.

Mr. Wills: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but we must examine the issue in context. We are specifically discussing powers to compel, and I will go on to explain why we are not taking those powers. We must accept and agree that the far greater transparency that the Bill will introduce into the property and land markets will make the advantages of registration so compelling that in time the Bill will achieve everything that the hon. Gentleman wants. He will no doubt ask me why, if the measures are so exciting and advantageous, we do not simply take those powers to compel immediately. As the hon. Member for Stone said, there is already concern in another place about the powers given to the Lord Chancellor to compel under the Bill. No doubt we will return to that.

I should like to give the hon. Member for Torbay some other reasons why we should be wary of taking up his suggestion. First, we believe that it would be premature to take such powers. The Land Registration Act 1997 significantly extended the requirements for first registration. Its provisions are broadly reproduced in the Bill, the changes have only recently started to have effect and the Bill will offer considerable additional benefits. As I have said, we believe that there will be a significant rise in voluntary first registration as a result. As a matter of general principle—I hope that the hon. Member for Stone is able to agree with me—compulsion should be employed only when it is clearly needed.

Mr. Cash: A thought occurred to me while the Minister was speaking, but I doubt that he will be able to answer immediately. A host of private Acts deal, for example, with the New Forest, where land is subject to ancient rules of perambulation, piscary and herbage. I do not want to make things unduly complicated, but perhaps the Minister's advisers might consider clause 3(1), which refers to ``an interest'' such as

    ``a profit a prendre in gross''.

There are other such interests, including riparian owners' rights and the whole question of internal waters. There is some interesting material, which we do not need to go into now but which should be taken into account.

The Chairman: That is an issue for the Committee stage.

Mr. Wills: The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on spotting that I am not at present cited with respect to the prime lands the New forest—but I will be. That will be looked into.

I want to try to reassure the hon. Member for Torbay about the matter of compulsion. First, such powers should be taken only when it is clear that they are needed. We think that they may well not be needed. Let us see how the legislation beds down. Secondly, compulsory registration is triggered at present by dispositions of unregistered land. It is not easy to devise a system of compulsory registration of title other than one that operates on a disposition of the land in question. The mechanisms of compulsion in such situations are not self-evident. There are dangers that any system could be heavy handed.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the European convention on human rights. Self-evidently, under the convention and under the Human Rights Act 1998, the means must be proportionate to the desired ends. It is not clear in the context in question how that could be the case other than with a disposition of the land.

Thirdly, although the Land Registry has given us the reassurance that it can cope with bringing leases of seven years or thereabouts into the parameters of registration, that is likely to be demanding on both the conveyancing profession and the Land Registry for some years after the introduction of the measure. It would perhaps stretch them too far to include compulsory registration at the same time. However, I give him this comfort: both the royal commission and the Land Registry have recommended that the working of the Bill should be reviewed five years after implementation to assess what more needs to be done. We are not closing the door on the matter. We need to consider it in the round.

We have reached the end of Second Reading. We have had a useful, constructive and interesting debate. Clearly issues remain to be discussed and, I hope, resolved to the satisfaction of all members of the Committee. The Bill is technical, as everyone has noted, but it is enormously significant. It is often said that the three most stressful events in life are a death in the family, a divorce and moving house. Governments can unfortunately do nothing about the first and little about the second, but we can do something about the third. The Bill will make life much easier for everyone involved in all transactions to do with property. That must be welcomed.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommends that the Land Registration Bill ought to be read a Second time.

Committee rose at seven minutes past Eleven O'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hancock, Mr. Mike (Chairman)
Barnes, Mr.
Bellingham, Mr.
Burnett, Mr.
Cash, Mr.
Cox, Mr.
Jones, Lynne
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Sanders, Mr.
Stringer, Mr.
Wills, Mr.

 
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Prepared 29 November 2001