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The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, as the noble Baroness has rightly said, we have already discussed extensively similar amendments both in Committee and on Report.
In relation to e-conveyancing, the noble Baroness suggested that it will happen contemporaneously. It will not. The reduction in leases will take effect in all probability in 2003. Electronic conveyancing needs rather more discussion with the profession and would follow at least three or maybe four years after.
The advantages of registration for conveyancers and consumers are well known and, I think, to date have been unchallenged. Extending registration will make the market more transparent. The lack of reliable information on leases, and in particular on short leases, prompted the Government to be cautious about accepting the economic and commercial arguments for making all leases over three years registrable at once.
In the financial years 1999-2000 and 1998-1999, the Stamp Office stamped some 75,000 and 100,000 new leases respectively. The overwhelming majority are already registrable. But 9,000 and 12,000 were for between 14 and 20 years, and 11,000 and 17,000 for between seven and 13 years. So the Land Registry can expect between 20,000 and 40,000 or so new leases from the proposals in the Bill, plus assignments of extant unregistered leases where the unexpired residue
The figures should be seen in the context of the overall workload. In 1999, the Land Registry received over 3 million applications to change the register following a dealing with the whole or part of a registered estate, and 373,000 first registrations.
It is against that background that I have been assured by the chief land registrar that the Land Registry could, without detriment to its other services and without electronic conveyancing, be prepared to register all leases of seven years or more by the time the Bill is implemented.
The Stamp Office recorded some 4,000 leases of seven years or less in 1999-2000. The Land Registry currently believes that it would be able to accept these for registration within a comparatively short period of the Bill's implementation. That helpfully suggests that a further reduction in the length of registrable leases should be feasible relatively soon, although it is wise to be cautious about that. Early reduction would be desirable because it must be a nuisance and an inconvenience for conveyancers to have to deal with two streams on leases, involving registered and unregistered leases. The shorter that period of dual running is, the better.
In view of these figures, and the chief land registrar's unequivocal assurance, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendments. We understand the concerns that she has expressed, but regrettably we do not find them to be well founded.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response. The Minister knows that I am disappointed because, as she made clear in Committee, during consultation not one voice was heard as to where the dividing line should be. We have had a great deal of discussion with the Law Society. It has a very different view on this issue. It will be its members who will have to work with the Land Registry. As we all know, the Law Society represents the bulk of solicitors in this country. Therefore, it represents the vast majority of conveyancers. It should be stated that, although its working party, which was set up initially to consider the draft Bill, was made aware of the Government's proposals to reduce the term of years from 21, it was not at any time thereafter consulted as to the exact term, or the sort of term, that its members would think advisable or practicable. That is surprising and disappointing. We understand and appreciate the confidence that the Land Registry holds and I accept what the Minister has said about the time-frame within which the new arrangement will commence, before e-conveyancing is implemented. In the scheme of things, however, I think that three to four years is a fairly short term in relation to the enormity of the task ahead.
The Minister has endeavoured to persuade and reassure us that the amendment is not necessary. However, I am afraid that I am not persuaded and would like to test the opinion of the House.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 132.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Clause 27 [Dispositions required to be registered]:
Clause 80 [Compulsory registration of grants out of demesne land]:
Clause 82 [Escheat etc]:
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