§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) is not here, because I feel that this would be even more in his line than the last Bill which we have just discussed. I can explain very shortly to the House the purpose of this Bill. The Middlesex Deeds Registry dates from 1707. It is a statutory system for protecting or seeking to protect those who dealt in land in Middlesex, by ensuring that if deeds were registered anybody who bought land is presumed to have notice. That general scheme has been superseded in modern times in Middlesex and certain other parts of the country, by the system of land registration. The broad difference is that under the land registration system you can look at a map and see where the bit of land is and then find out what has happened to it, whereas in registered deeds you see simply "Mr. Jones" or "Mr. Robinson" on the deeds. This is a much better and more scientific way of classifying and registering deeds in land. As a result, the Middlesex Deeds Registry was closed for the further registration of deeds in 1936, when land registration was made compulsory in Middlesex, but it has remained open for the purpose of search, because the effect of the registration of the deeds already registered still continues. It costs a considerable sum of money each year to keep it open for the purposes of search and, of course, a considerable amount of work by those who make the searches. 507 The time has come, we feel, particularly having regard to the war, to close it for all purposes. That will save the cost of keeping it open for search.
Certain provisions of a technical kind have to be made as to the change-over and the position of deeds registered in the past, and we have to contemplate the possibility, though not at all a likely one, of someone, suffering financially, by not having been able to search in the Middlesex Deeds Registry. It is just possible that there are cases in which, owing to not making a search, certain persons might find they were prejudiced. In those circumstances, therefore, provision must be made for anybody who is able to show that he has suffered damage through Parliament in effect bringing to an end the statutory scheme which Parliament itself set up. Therefore, Clause 3 provides for compensation to recover the amount paid.
§ The Attorney-General
They would approach the Treasury Solicitor in the first instance. As a matter of fact, cases of this kind, like cases under the Land Registry Act, are almost always settled by agreement. Should a case not be settled by agreement, we have provided that it can be settled in the High Court. That would be done by an originating summons in the Chancery Division, and we think that it is the best procedure for settling the rights of the persons aggrieved should it not be possible to settle them by agreement.
§ The Attorney-General
In the first place, I think it unlikely that persons will be adversely affected. If they are, I think that the cases would be of the class in which it is very unlikely that the amount of compensation would not be agreed. In the last resort, if it was not agreed, and if it was shown that the Treasury—or the Treasury Solicitor, on behalf of the Treasury—had been unreasonable, the court would, of course, award costs to the person who had had to apply to the courts. That is the ordinary system. I do not think the 508 House would wish me to go into technicalities; those are the broad lines.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
The Bill in itself is a relic of the past, and I hope that it will not require to be invoked. The old, historic difficulty of search, and the valuable payments that were made to those who made the searches, and the difficulty of the man who bought land, not knowing whether it was his or not, and never knowing when a claim might be sprung upon him, are, let us hope, things of the past. While this is interesting as a relic, how much easier it would have been if we had had a sane system, so that search would not even have been required, and the man in possession would have been much more secure, and would have been able to sleep in his bed at night without wondering what was coming in the morning in the way of a claim upon the site. If in the past the user of the land had been required to pay a tax on its market value, it would have been quite unnecessary to bring forward this Measure.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
Perhaps the hon. Member will not develop that theme any further.
§ Mr. MacLaren
I am merely pointing out that the Bill before us now is necessitated only by the fact that in the past we did not deal with these matters in a sane and rational way. I hope that in the future there will be no necessity for further Measures of this sort, seeing that we have now emerged into a new dispensation, under which the land belongs to the State; and after the war there will be very little time devoted to searching to find who owned the land before the war began. It would have been much better if in the past certain principles had been observed and acted upon. There would then have been no doubt as to who was the owner, and no need for any search. The owner or user of the site would have been the man who paid the tax upon the values.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Tuesday next.—[Mr. Grimston.]