Land Registration Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Cash: This is an interesting amendment and I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it because the issues it raises will be immensely important in relation the role of the adjudicator. The Government advisers who are listening to the debate should take into account that a role similar to that of an ombudsman that deals with questions related to complex matters that affect many people should be given as much publicity as possible so that its functions are known to those people who could take advantage of them. A huge number of people own their own properties and leases, and they should know exactly what the adjudicator can do for them. That information should be made available as soon as land is registered. It should be incumbent on advisers to ensure that the people who need to know are informed that this service is available to them. That is a simple point on which the amendment allows us to touch.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): I have two practical questions on the amendment, which the hon. Gentleman rightly described as interesting. Indeed, it was moved in the other place by one of my noble

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Friends. Is there capacity within the Land Registry to answer the number of inquiries that may come to it? Will the Land Registry be able to offer such a service without a comprehensive land register?

Mr. Wills: I hope that I am right in saying that this is the amendment on which we have had the most contributions from members of the Committee. That reflects its importance, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) for bringing it to our attention. These disputes can be troublesome for the individuals concerned and can cause a great deal of grief and stress, so anything that can help to resolve them is welcome. However, the amendment is unnecessary because the Bill already sets out procedures that will achieve my hon. Friend's objective.

Before I go on to address those issues, perhaps I can reassure the hon. Members for Stone and for Torbay that the Land Registry has the capacity to register every square inch of land in this country, which is a goal that we are well on the way to achieving. In the interim, the adjudicator will provide a valuable service, and the Land Registry will do everything it can, as it usually does, to bring its services to the attention of everyone who may benefit from them. I shall detain the Committee briefly on this subject because it is an important issue and I want to put my view on the record.

Clause 60 creates a rule-making power that will govern procedures for determining the exact line of a boundary. Those procedures are quite flexible, and they will not be limited to applications by those with an interest in the land, so the registrar will be able to take steps to fix a boundary where, for example, that seems to be the sensible way to resolve a dispute. However, it will be possible to apply to the registrar for a boundary to be fixed, and that may well be the most usual way in which the procedure is started. Under clause 60(4) applications for fixing boundaries must be made to the registrar.

That is as far as clause 60 needs to go because the provisions for handling disputes on applications are now to be found in clauses 73 and 106. Under clause 73, anyone may object to an application to the registrar. The registrar must tell the applicant that an objection has been lodged, and may not determine the application until the objection has been disposed of. The registrar may attempt to do that either by encouraging the parties to negotiate or by discussing the matter with them. If it is impossible to dispose of the objection by agreement, under clause 73(7) the registrar must refer it to the adjudicator. Clause 106 gives the adjudicator the jurisdiction to determine such appeals, and provides wide powers to do so.

The Bill therefore already achieves what the amendment sets out to do. It creates a range of ways, of escalating formality, in which disputes can be handled before they must go to the adjudicator. The provisions reflect the wide range of circumstances that can arise in land registration disputes, and the Government believe that they provide the flexibility

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needed in the vast majority of cases. In the light of my explanation, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Barnes: The amendment would clarify and extend the provisions of the adjudicator whom I recognise will be newly established. Some areas with which the adjudicator will be involved relate to my concerns, and I hope that through the consideration of rules and later review we may move to a position in which this begins to be contained in statute. However, I am happy with the Minister's response, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 107 to 125 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 126

Rules, regulations and orders

Mr. Cash: I beg to move amendment No. 78, in page 42, line 32, leave out from 'is' to end of line and insert

    'subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss amendment No. 79, in page 42, line 38, leave out from beginning to 'House' and insert

    'may only be made if a draft of the statutory instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each'.

Mr. Cash: I shall be brief because the amendment is straightforward. With respect to rules regulations and orders, it provides that a statutory instrument that falls within clause 126(3) shall be subject to annulment. With respect to subsection (4), the statutory instruments in question shall be subject to affirmative resolution procedure. It is unnecessary for me to take the Committee through that because we know that it would enhance the status of the statutory instruments and would provide for proper scrutiny of the proposals.

Mr. Wills: I shall endeavour to be brief, and I shall address the two amendments simultaneously.

Amendment No. 78 seeks to subject the regulations and orders referred to in clause 126(3) to negative resolution procedure. As a result of careful consideration of the recommendations of the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Bill provides that the secondary legislation and regulations in question are to be laid after being made. My noble Friend Baroness Scotland explained the Government's policy in another place, and it is unnecessary to repeat it at length.

Briefly put, the regulation and orders under clause 99 referred to in subsection (3) relate to the internal administration of the Land Registry. Both in relation to this and to the setting of fees, the Land Registry needs the greatest flexibility to be able to respond to changing circumstances without compromising the high standard of services that it supplies. The level of parliamentary scrutiny proposed is the same for the analogous provisions in relation to the courts, which

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have been the subject of recent parliamentary debate. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Stone will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 79 seeks to increase the degree of parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation made under the Bill to levels that would disrupt the working of both the Land Registry and Parliament. The Government have carefully considered the recommendations of the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee, and we have accepted the majority of them. The amendment would require an affirmative resolution procedure for every change in land registration rules, which are, of course, important, but I cannot believe that negative resolution procedure is inadequate or inappropriate in this case. The general scheme of the Bill now follows that applicable to the court and it was subject to recent parliamentary discussion.

I am firmly of the view that following the Government amendments in another place, the balance between administrative efficiency and parliamentary control is adequately drawn. Given those comments, I hope that the hon. Member for Stone will withdraw the amendment.

11.15 am

Mr. Cash: In the light of what the Minister has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 126 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 127 to 129 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 130

General interpretation

Mr. Cash: I beg to move amendment No. 80, in page 43, line 41, leave out from 'under' to end of line 42 and insert

    'Part 11 or section 119'.

The amendment relates to the interpretation of the Bill as a whole. We propose amending the definition of land registration rules so that it would read: ''Land registration rules means any rules under this Act other than rules under part II or section 119'', deleting the other provisions that are included within the definition of land registration rules. The Minister knows what that would entail, and we have already been over related matters in the past, but it would be helpful to know where he stands at the present time.

Mr. Wills: The Bill makes a clear distinction between land registration rules that relate to the detailed operation of the current land registration system and the new rules on electronic conveyancing supported by network access agreements. Land registration rules made under the Bill will continue to be prepared as they are under the current system by Land Registry lawyers internally and approved by the Land Registration Rule Committee. They will then be submitted to the Lord Chancellor and be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

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Greater scrutiny is needed to support the novel arrangements for e-conveyancing. There will need to be wide consultation with stakeholders at various stages during the design process and greater scrutiny of the supporting rules. The Bill provides that the Lord Chancellor will consult such persons as he considers appropriate. The members of the rule committee, with their expertise in land registration, will be among the consultees. Their involvement may actually begin at an earlier stage than in the normal process.

The Bill's drafting allows for greater flexibility to produce the rules in the most appropriate way. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the rules will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. There is therefore no need for additional controls to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to consult with all the appropriate people. I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

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Prepared 13 December 2001