HC Deb 24 June 1969 vol 785 cc1419-68

10.30 a.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

I beg to move, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Law of Property Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time. I am conscious that this is very much a lawyers' Bill. When handling a Bill entitled "Law of Property Bill", a lawyer's mind goes back to that great property legislation of the Birkenhead era when a Law of Property Bill and a number of related Bills set up a comprehensive code of ownership and dealings in rights in land.

I do not think that I may make such ambitious claims for this Bill. It is a much more modest Bill which seeks to improve the system of ownership of land, of dealings in land and of the relationship between persons who have different interests in land, a system which operates under existing Statutes. By common consent, much of the legislation in these fields has stood the test of time well, but there are defects here and there, it may be thought, in methods of conveyancing, methods of registration of title, relationships between landlords and tenants and elsewhere which call for reform.

The Law Commission has been examining various branches of the law of real property and has made recommendations which the Bill implements. Other defects have been brought to the attention of my noble and learned Friend, the Lord Chancellor, or have emerged in the course of examination, or experience of the working of the law in the courts, the Land Registry, the Lord Chancellor's Department or other Departments in Whitehall. The Bill seeks to amend or improve the law of real property on a wide variety of matters, some small, some large, which have come to the Government's attention in the way I have described. The approach of the Bill is empirical.

It justifies its title as a Law of Property Bill by the wide range of matters which it covers. It ranges from the relationship of landlords and tenants to conveyancing practices, registration of interests in land and restrictions on the use and enjoyment of land. I believe that the Committee will agree that there is little that is really controversial in the Bill, though opinions among the experts may differ here and there about the detailed technical approach to a particular problem. I hope that the Committee will also agree that the Bill will make a substantial and not unimportant contribution towards the improvement of the law of property.

Unhappily, the very range and variety of subjects set limits on my ability to give a general and simple survey of the Bill. I should like to use a broad brush to give a panoramic view but that subject does not lend itself to that kind of treatment. There is no general theme to be extracted from the Bill and I must largely content myself with the part of a cataloguer. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if my exposition of the Bill will consequently be rather more dry and technical than I should have wished.

The Bill contains four main parts. Parts I, III and IV implement recommendations made in the Reports of the Law Commission. Part I is largely founded on the Law Commission Report on the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, Part II—Law Com. No. 17—published in January this year. Part III gives effect to the Commission's Reports on Root of Title to Freehold Land, published in January, 1967, and on Land Charges Affecting Unregistered Land—Law Com. No. 18—published in March, this year. I may claim some credit for the Government for their prompt action when I say that the Bill was introduced in another place almost simultaneously with the publication of that last mentioned Report.

Part IV is substantially based on recommendations relating to the discharge and modification of covenants found in the Law Commission's Report on Restrictive Covenants, Law Com. No. 11, published in February, 1967. It may be found that it is the Part of the Bill which gives rise to the greater amount of discussion.

Part II, which is concerned with administration rather than substantive law, is not based on Law Commission recommendations. It provides for the abolition of the ancient system of deeds registration in Yorkshire and it paves the way for the introduction of the general English system of land registration in that county.

This is necessarily a highly technical Bill, and hon. Members who would like to acquaint themselves with the finer details will, I believe, derive considerable help from the Law Commission Reports to which I have ventured to refer. I feel confident that, having read them, they would wish to join me in congratulating the Commission on its valuable and thorough work in these subjects. But I feel that some members of the Committee may take less delight in the more esoteric legal intricacies than others, I propose, having given the Committee this background to the Bill and recommended the Reports for not so light reading, to confine myself to a more general exposition of only some of the provisions of the Bill and not to burden the Committee with too much detail.

Part I is concerned with business tenancies. It implements nearly all the recommendations of the Law Commission's Report on the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, and adds to them a few more improvements to the code laid down in that Act. The Clauses in this Part are grouped into those which concern business rents—Clauses 1 to 3—and those relating to the ending and renewal of business lettings—Clauses 4 to 10—and a third group of a few miscellaneous matters.

Clause 1 deals with the situation of a tenant who has made improvements to the premises, or has taken an assignment of a lease of premises improved by his predecessor. Such improvements are already, under the existing law, to be disregarded in fixing the rent on the grant of a new tenancy, but the courts have held that the relevant provision in the 1954 Act applies only to improvements made during the last tenancy of the premises. The case of "Wonderland", Cleethorpes, will come to the minds of some hon. Members in that connection, reported in 1962 Chancery, at page 696, a decision affirmed by the House of Lords.

The Clause ensures that any improvements made by the tenant or his predecessor in title during the 21 years preceding the new grant will be disregarded, so that in any such case improvements which are due to the tenant's efforts, and not the landlord's, will not be reflected in a higher rent.

Clause 2 ensures that in granting a new tenancy the court may include in its terms a clause providing for variation of the rent. This accords with the general object of the 1954 code which contemplates renewal of business leases broadly in accordance with the practice and terms of the market. The adoption of variable rent clauses is nowadays a common practice, as a matter of consent between parties. The Clause will benefit both landlords and tenants. It enables tenants to obtain the security of longer terms and the landlords to grant such terms as rents adjustable to changing monetary values. The courts will, I think, be more willing to grant a longer term in a case where it seems to them appropriate to do so but where to determine a fair rent might inhibit them from doing so.

Clause 3 is one of the most important provisions in this Part. It meets a longstanding complaint from landlords that unscrupulous tenants can take advantage of the protection of the 1954 Act by spinning out negotiations or court proceedings preceding the grant of a new lease. Under Section 64 of the Act, a business tenancy continues at the same rent as before until such time as a new tenancy is agreed or determined by the court, or an order by the court rejecting a tenant's request for a new lease takes effect, and for three months thereafter.

There have been cases where tenants have spun out the litigation for years and where the difference between the old rent, perhaps fixed 21 years ago, and the market rent has run into thousands of pounds. The Clause enables the court to fix an interim rent which will be payable during the interval between the application and the time when the old tenancy finally terminates.

Clause 4 is another Clause of some significance, particularly to developers. At present, where business premises are occupied by tenants and subtenants, a landlord may experience great difficulties in obtaining possession against both at the same time. For technical reasons, he will often be unable to serve his notice to end the tenancy on the subtenant until he has dispossessed the tenant. The timetable for terminating tenancies under the Act and the provisions which enable a subtenant sometimes to obtain a renewal of his tenancy for a period which exceeds his own landlord's interest can on occasions involve landlords who wish to redevelop their property in substantial delays before vacant possession against subtenants is obtained.

The object of Clause 4 is to overcome these difficulties by enabling head landlords in certain cases to terminate tenancies and subtenancies at the same time. I am told that the Clause is not completely effective in this respect, and it is my hope to put down Amendments later to improve it. I hope that that degree of candour about the contents of the Bill will be acceptable to the Committee.

I need say little about Clauses 5 and 6. They are concerned with contracting out of the provisions of the 1954 Act. As the Act is intended to afford tenants security of tenure and compensation for dispossession, it is important to prevent its wholesale exclusion when there is a shortage of business accommodation. But here one must hold a balance between what is needed for the effective protection of tenants and what would fetter freedom of contract to such an extent that lettings were discouraged and worth-while accommodation left unoccupied.

Clauses 5 and 6, together with Clause 12, improve this balance. The first invalidates devices sometimes employed to keep the lease outside the 1954 Act. Clause 12 extends from three months to six months short-term lettings which are excluded from the Act, and Clause 6 enables the court to authorise provisions excluding the operation of the Act in longer lettings and in agreements for the surrender of a lease at a future date.

I should like to take Clauses 7 and 10 together, for both concern companies. Under the 1954 Act, a landlord may resist an application by the tenant for a new tenancy if he can show that he intends to occupy the premises for his own purposes. That, of course, also applies to a corporate landlord, and there is a provision in the Act enabling a company landlord to obtain possession for a business carried on by a subsidiary of that company. But there is no provision to enable a person who is the landlord to do so where he controls a company and intends the premises to be occupied by that company for the purpose of its business. This is clearly illogical and Clause 7 puts it right.

Clause 10 deals with a slightly different defect. Although, as I have said, a landlord may, under the 1954 Act, obtain possession for his own business occupation, he cannot do so where he has become the landlord only during the preceding five years. As I have already explained, different companies in a group are treated as the same person for many purposes of the Act, but this is not so where the landlord's interest is transferred from one member of the group of companies to another. Consequently, after such a transfer, the new landlord company will not be able to dispossess any tenant for another five years, even though the previous landlord company would have been qualified to do so. Clause 10 corrects this anomaly.

10.45 a.m.

Clause 8 is based on Clause 7 in the draft Bill in Appendix 1 to the Law Commission's Report, but it has been amended in an important respect in another place. The object of the Clause is to enable a tenant of business premises to obtain a renewal of his lease in certain cases where the landlord is able to establish one of the grounds on which, under the 1954 Act, landlords may resist requests for new leases, namely, that he intends to reconstruct or redevelop the premises.

It is now intended that in such a case the tenant should be able to obtain a new lease if he is able and willing to accept a tenancy on condition that he gives the landlord all necessary access and facilities to do his work, or where he wants to retain only part of the premises and the landlord can do his work without occupying that part. It is clearly right that a tenant should not be deprived of his lease in such circumstances, but the Clause suggested by the Law Commission was thought to be capable of an interpretation which would have enabled the tenant to demand a new lease after the property had been completely redeveloped.

As the Clause now stands, the tenant will not be able to get a new lease if he could remain in occupation during the landlord's works only at the cost of substantial or prolonged interference with his business. One can look forward, therefore, to hearing tenants argue on the evidence that the landlord's contractors are so expeditious and careful that the tenant's business will not be substantially interfered with, and to hearing landlords argue contrariwise.

There is little I need say about the rest of Part I. I have already referred to Clauses 10 and 12 and I shall single out only Clause 11 for specific mention. The provisions of the 1954 Act, enabling a tenant who cannot obtain a new lease to obtain compensation for displacement, are drawn in such a way that they depend on an unsuccessful application to the court for the grant of a new tenancy. On occasions, this has proved a trap to unwary tenants who have allowed the time limit for applying to the court to expire and who have found themselves thereafter unable to claim compensation. Clause 11 provides for entitlement to compensation irrespective of an application to the court. In addition to protecting a few tenants from losing compensation unawares, it would also do away with the need to make applications to the court with the sole object of qualifying for compensation, and that seems an economical and desirable provision.

Before I leave Part I, I should like to tell the Committee that my learned and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has now received some suggestions from the Law Commission on amendments to the law relating to business premises held by tenants carrying on business in partnership, a matter referred to in paragraph 5(iii) of the Commission's Report as awaiting a decision of the House of Lords. It is my intention later to table a Clause on this subject. It is also my intention, in accordance with an undertaking given by the Lord Chancellor in another place, to table a Schedule setting out all the Sections of the 1954 Act which have been amended in the Bill in their amended form.

Part II provides for the closing of the Yorkshire Deeds Registries. These registries—there is one in each Riding of Yorkshire—were established by Statute in the times of Queen Anne and King George II to provide in the form of public registers a means of preventing the fraudulent suppression of deeds by certain discreditable individuals who battened on the prosperity of the wool trade. The deeds registries have in their time provided a useful service in protecting titles and enabling them to be checked.

But more modern systems of registration have made the deeds registries anachronisms which add to the complications and the expense of conveyancing without conferring any substantial benefits. The time to close them is approaching now. In time, the system of registered title, that is to say, guaranteed title under the Land Registration Act, 1925, which is gradually being extended throughout the country, would, in any event, force their closure, because the Acts governing registration of titles specifically provide that when a title to land is registered, the system of deeds registration ceases to apply to that land.

So, as registration of title is extended to the Ridings of Yorkshire, any land in that county would be removed from the jurisdiction of the deeds registries immediately it was sold and the title to it came to be registered in the Land Registry. Compulsory registration of title has already been applied to Huddersfield and is planned for other areas. Thus, the continuance of the deeds registries is shortly becoming uneconomical and would become more and more so as time progressed. There are increasing staffing difficulties in the registries. In providing for the early closure of the deeds registries, Part II is assisting in an inevitable process.

Clause 14 provides that each registry is to begin to close either on the date on which registration of title is next extended to any part of the Riding concerned, or at an earlier date appointed by the Lord Chancellor at the request of the county council of the Riding. One effect of the Clause will be that in each Riding there will probably be a period when some areas are subject neither to deeds registration nor to registration of title, but I do not think that this will cause any hardship because the remaining Clauses in this Part of the Bill will provide for the protection of any rights which have already been acquired by the registration of deeds.

The remaining Clauses of Part II concern the effect of the closure of the registries, the re-registration of some of the matters now registered in them, the preservation of documents deposited in them, administrative arrangements and payment of compensation for displaced staff and members of the public who suffer loss. I do not propose to trouble the Committee with the details. The broad effect of the closure of a registry will be that from the appropriate date, new deeds will cease to be capable of registration. The registry will remain open for another two years for the purpose of registering deeds executed earlier and for searches. Thereafter, the registry will be closed for all purposes. After the initial date of closure of a registry, charges on land which would previously have been registrable in it will become registrable in the Central Land Charges Register.

One class of charges already registered, namely, mortgages not protected by the deposit of title deeds, will need to be re-registered in order to protect their priority, and provision is made in the Bill for such re-registration and for the payment of compensation to any mortgagee who re-registers within two years but has, nevertheless, suffered some loss because the priority resulting from the previous registration has lapsed on the closure of the register.

This brings me to Part III which, as I have said, implements the Law Commission's Reports dealing with conveyancing problems affecting unregistered land—the 9th Report on Root of Title to Freehold Land and the 18th Report on Land Charges Affecting Unregistered Land. Hon. Members will know that there are two entirely different systems of conveyancing, one for land where the ownership is not recorded in the Register of Titles to land and the other for registered land. The system of registered conveyancing is superior in many ways and is being extended throughout the country under a programme which should make it nation-wide by the end of the 1970s. But that is some time yet, and even in those areas where it has been applied it does not bring land on to the register until it is sold. So for some time there will continue to be numerous transactions in unregistered land. This Part of the Bill is designed to alleviate some of the defects of the system of unregistered conveyancing. It will diminish in importance as time goes on, and, therefore, I need not deal with it in too great detail.

Clause 21, which implements the recommendation in the Law Commission's 9th Report to which I have just referred, deals with the statutory period for the investigation of title. Under the present law, unless the parties make special arrangements, the vendor of freehold land can be required to show a title going back at least 30 years. He must show a "good root of title", that is to say, a document showing clearly on its face that a particular person had a sound legal title to the land 30 years or more ago, and he must then show the steps whereby the title has passed to him.

This "deduction of title", as it is called, can be burdensome and costly and where the land has changed hands repeatedly it may be quite unnecessary, because the same inquiries will have been repeated on each occasion. Informed opinion, which was accepted by the Law Commission, suggests that a much shorter period would be sufficient in the great majority of cases, and the Clause adopts the Law Commission's recommendation that the period of 30 years should be reduced to 15.

There are slight risks that burdens affecting the land may not come to light because they were imposed by documents executed before the root of title. These risks were examined fully by the Law Commission which concluded that they could properly be accepted; and they are lessened by Clause 23, to which I now turn.

Before I explain the provisions of Clauses 22 and 23, I must say a word about the registration of burdens, so-called charges, on unregistered land. As it is of fundamental importance to anyone who buys land to know whether it is subject to mortgages, options to purchase, restrictive convenants, or other burdens, there has to be machinery for recording such charges, and the law requires them to be registered. Unregistered charges are void against most purchasers of the land, while, on the other hand, a charge once registered is deemed to come to the knowledge of all persons dealing with the land.

Where the land itself is registered, the charge can be entered on the Register of Titles and so be immediately discovered by anyone inspecting that register. But where the land is not registered, the charge can be recorded against the name of the owner of the land only at the time when the charge was created; and a purchaser of land will not normally, at any rate until the vendor produces the documents of titles to him, have any knowledge of the names of the past owners of the land.

The doctrine that a registered land charge is deemed to have been brought to everybody's knowledge, combined with the fact that the name of the landowner against whom the charge is registered may not be known to an interested party, can lead to serious injustices. These are examined in the Law Commission's 18th Report to which I have referred.

Clause 22 remedies the position of the person who contracts to buy land unaware of the existence of some registered charge on it. In accordance with a decision given in 1927, which will be known to the lawyer members of this Committee, the case of re Forsey and Hollebone's Contract, which is reported in 1927, 2 Chancery, at page 379, a judgment of Mr. Justice Eve, and upheld in the Court of Appeal by Lord Hanworth, Master of the Rolls, and Lords Justices Sargant and Lawrence, such a purchaser cannot avoid his contractual obligations when he subsequently discovers the existence of the land charges because he is deemed to have known about them at the time of the contract despite the fact that he could not at that time have discovered them.

As a result of Clause 22, such a purchaser will in future be able to rescind the contract at any time before the land is actually conveyed to him. Clause 23 assists the purchaser of unregistered land who discovers the existence of a registered land charge after the land has been conveyed to him. He will in future be able to claim compensation from public funds.

As I explained in relation to Clause 21, the title documents which a purchaser of land can normally require at present go back at least 30 years. As the system of registration of land charges was set up in 1925, that is, 44 years ago, it is possible even now that a charge registered against the name of a previous owner of the land more than 30 years ago will not be discoverable on a normal investigation of title. This is a defect in our system of conveyancing which, if it causes loss, ought to be made good from public funds.

When the root of title period is reduced under Clause 21 from 30 to 15 years, the chance of old land charges not being discovered will correspondingly increase and also, as time goes on, the period from 1925 to the beginning of roots of title will increase. I have no reason to think that losses are frequently incurred, or that there will be many claims on public funds under this Clause, but the Clause should provide a welcome safeguard against the possibility of loss.

Discussion of the remaining two Clauses of this Part, Clauses 24 and 25, which are of a rather specialised nature, can be left over until the Committee stage.

Perhaps the Part of the Bill which will make the greatest impact is that to which I now turn, Part IV, which substantially enlarges the powers of the Lands Tribunal to modify or override restrictions which have been imposed on land and limit or inhibit the uses to which it can be put. Such restrictive covenants can be modified or discharged by the Lands Tribunal under the existing law embodied in Section 84 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, but that Section has been found inadequate to meet the needs of the present day.

11.0 a.m.

Part IV, although it covers more than three pages, contains only one Clause, Clause 26, which operates by way of amending Section 84. That Section, as amended, is set out in Schedule 2. When I explain the provisions of the Clause, hon. Members may find it helpful to turn to the Schedule where the Amendments are set out in heavy print.

First, may I explain the background and objectives? The law on restrictive covenants is examined in the Law Commission's 11th Report, which recommends extensive reforms regarding the creation, effect, transfer, enforcement, modification and discharge of such covenants. For present purposes we are concerned only with the part of the Report—propositions 9–11—which relate to modification and discharge, because the rest of the recommendations need to be implemented in a wider context which should include covenants other than restrictive covenants as well as easements and other types of rights appurtenant to land, and that must await further study.

But hon. Members will find an invaluable account of the nature of restrictive covenants and the history of the present law and its defects in the first ten pages of the Report. For those who may not find the time to read these pages, may I briefly explain that a restrictive covenant is an agreement between owners of land whereby one undertakes to restrict the use of his land for the benefit of that belonging to the other. The restriction may concern the number of buildings which may be erected on the land, or their height, or their position, or the uses to which the land or buildings on it may be put, or it may relate to the avoidance of noise, or distraction, or restrain the right to cut down trees, or existing structures. The variety of possible restrictions is immense.

Such restrictions if they are properly framed bind the land burdened with them in the hands of its successive owners and they will benefit the successive owners of the land for the enhancement of which they are imposed. The burden runs with the former land and the benefit runs with the latter. In this way, restrictive covenants imposed on land in a particular area can ensure that the character of the area is maintained, that the amenities of the district are preserved, and that one plot of land is not used in such a way as to detract from the value of another.

In their time, restrictive covenants have made a valuable contribution to preserving the character of many desirable residential areas and often they still do so, as well as, of course, often establishing mutual benefits between adjoining land owners. On the other hand, as conditions change, restrictions which may have been perfectly reasonable in the past sometimes come to inhibit uses to which, in the public interest, land could now be put, perhaps even without causing any substantial harm to other properties.

So the system is open to the criticism that it enables individuals to enforce restrictions which obstruct development which would be beneficial and may be urgently needed. Parliament recognised this as long ago as 1922, when it first gave power to a judicial tribunal, which has now been succeeded by the Lands Tribunal, to discharge or modify restrictive covenants in certain circumstances. But the powers then conferred on the Tribunal have not proved to be effective. As a result of restrictive interpretation of Section 84, the Lands Tribunal is not now able to discharge or modify covenants unless, broadly, they are obsolete or almost worthless.

What the Law Commission has recommended and Part IV seeks to achieve is that in future the Lands Tribunal should have an effective power to discharge or modify covenants where the balance of public and private need favours such a change. As such powers must involve the discharge of some covenants which are of material value to the owners of the land benefiting from them, the Law Commission has recommended that the powers should not be exerciseable unless any loss resulting from the discharge of the restriction can be adequately compensated by monetary payment.

The balance between the private and the public interest in this context is not an easy one to achieve. There are those who would argue that there is no longer a place for restrictive covenants since the introduction of comprehensive planning legislation. That is not a view accepted by the Law Commission, and the Government share the Commission's opinion that privately imposed restrictions continue to have a useful part to play. They can concern themselves with matters of detail outside planning control and preserve amenities, particularly where people sell off part of their land while retaining another part, and they are capable of enforcement by private individuals who might not be able to influence planning authorities to insist on restrictions of more general application.

At the same time, we take the view, as did the Law Commission, that in future, planning considerations should play a much greater part in determining the public interest, and the Clause specifically directs the Lands Tribunal to take them into account.

I hope that the Clause will achieve the right balance in providing that a restriction may be discharged—and by referring to discharge, I include from now on modifications reducing the gravity of the restriction—where it impedes some reasonable use of the land. At present, it can be discharged only if it impedes any reasonable use of the land, but there should be a discretion, subject to the further tests I am about to mention, to discharge it whenever, although the existing use is quite reasonable, some other reasonable and desirable use is prevented.

Where the restriction operates in that way, the Lands Tribunal is to be enabled to discharge it on being satisfied either that it does not confer any substantial benefit or advantage on the persons entitled to the benefit of the restrictions and that such insubstantial value or advantage as it does confer can be compensated in money, or that, although it does confer a substantial benefit or advantage, it operates contrary to the public interest, and, again, on the further condition that there can be adequate monetary compensation.

For example, it will in future be possible for a developer to override a density restriction by building a larger number of houses than is allowed under the covenant, but where the density restriction is not itself contrary to the public interest, he will be able to do so only where the consequential diminution in the value of adjoining properties is very slight. On the other hand, if the density restriction operates against the public good, as, for example, because the area has been designated for a higher density and there is in the circumstances no special reason for maintaining the restriction, the developer should be able to have the convenant discharged and proceed with his development even though adjoining properties are substantially reduced in value. He will, of course, have to pay full compensation.

It is true, of course, that not every amenity can be valued in money. Some may have little monetary value but yet may be worth preserving. One can even think of cases where they add nothing to the market value—for instance, where a house with a beautiful view is on a site which would have a far higher value for industrial development for which planning permission would be granted. In such a case the view is an amenity which adds nothing to the top market value but may nevertheless be highly prized by a person living there. The new Clause is framed in such a way that he would probably not be deprived of his view—that is, as a result of a restriction on buildings obstructing his view being discharged—unless there were a substantial public interest to be weighed against him.

The new subsection (1)(a) to be inserted in Section 84 refers to practical benefits of substantial value or advantage to ensure that not only monetary benefits can be taken into account, and there will always be an overriding discretion for the Tribunal to have regard to all other material circumstances before deciding whether it will discharge a covenant. I hope that the Clause achieves the right balance in this somewhat delicate conflict between public and private interests.

The opportunity is also taken in Clause 26 to tidy up various provisions of Section 84, particularly those relating to the measure of compensation, which are not at present satisfactory, and to clarify the relationship between the court, which alone has jurisdiction on legal issues concerning the validity and effect of restrictive covenants, and the Lands Tribunal, which exercises the powers of discharge or modification. But these are technical matters with which I do not wish to weary the Committee. I am most grateful to hon. Members for the patience which has been shown to me while I have sought to expound the provisions of an extremely technical Bill. I have endeavoured to give an account of what the Bill proposes, and I invite the Committee to agree that the changes proposed are desirable in principle. No doubt, in Committee there will be points of detail arising which we can consider constructively together.

Mr. Graham Page

Upon a Bill which, in party political terms, is noncontroversial, I am reluctant to quarrel with the Solicitor-General at the very beginning, but he called this a lawyers' Bill. It is much more than lawyers' Bill. In its four parts it is concerned with the letting of business property, the registration of title to property, the sale and purchase of property and the way in which properties will be used, meaning by "property" land and buildings. To put it shortly, it is concerned with how one gets them, how one keeps them, how one uses them and how one gets rid of them. It is in no way comprehensive on any of those subjects, but because it deals with them, it would be wholly wrong for us to sneer at the Bill by calling it merely a lawyers' Bill.

The Solicitor-General

I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with that. One does not sneer at a Bill when one calls it a lawyers' Bill.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Page

As lawyers we do not, but I am sure that it is a derogatory remark when laymen call it a lawyers' Bill.

It is true that these matters are not directly everyday matters for the public, but two things arise. We are dealing with matters which, when they arise for the individual, may be the most important in his life. It may be the change of his home; it may be the change of his business.

Secondly, they are events which indirectly have a significant effect on the public. For example, Part I deals with leasehold business premises and I guess that 75 per cent. of industrial, commercial and professional premises are occupied by tenants and not by freeholders. The rents payable by those tenants are reflected in the goods which they produce or distribute, or the services which they provide. So is the cost of disruption if they are obliged to move from one property to another. These costs are reflected in the prices of their products and therefore in the pockets of the citizens.

This part of the law affects considerably the development and redevelopment of the centres of our cities and towns, and we have to see that the law strikes a balance between the desirable continuity of business tenancies on the one hand and the modernisation of our towns and cities on the other.

Part II prepares the ground for an extension of registration of title. That may seem highly legal and technical, but socially it has an impact upon the sales and purchases of our homes. These days, homes change hands about once every seven to ten years and owner-occupation is rapidly increasing throughout the country. Taking those two facts into account, it is right for any Government to try to make the process of changes of ownership cheaper and simpler.

Registration of title holds out the prospect of that simplification and cheapening of the process, a prospect which hon. Members who are practising solicitors will say has not yet been wholly achieved, but for which we should continually strive. That is why the Opposition were disappointed when the Government suspended voluntary registration of title and when the Treasury failed to engage the staff to bring in compulsory registration much more quickly.

I shall be accused of advocating more civil servants. I would rather have them doing a useful job in the Land Registry than doing a useless job in the Land Commission. The Government ought to have concentrated more on bringing compulsory registration into operation to a far greater extent over the past four or five years.

In every Session of Parliament we add something more to the long list of matters to be investigated when property changes hands. Many hon. and right hon. Members forget when they make the sort of mother-in-law joke of abusing solicitors about the costs of conveyancing, that it is the fault of hon. Members that so much work has to be done in conveyancing. It is the law makers and not the lawyers who are the culprits in increasing conveyancing work and thereby making it impossible to reduce the cost of conveyancing under the present system.

The Bill recognises that. Part III, dealing with unregistered property, tries to delegislate rather than to legislate the reduction in the length of title to be investigated and in the length of time for which land charge searches have to be made. This will save some time in conveyancing. It will not substantially reduce the work to be done, but at least it will not increase the work, as so much of our legislation has done over the past years.

The Bill tries to lift the burdens of the past from the shoulders of the current owner and it continues that process in Part IV by reforming the procedure from removal of obsolete restrictive covenants. This will be an aid to development in areas where old restrictive covenants hamper progress rather than preserve amenities.

The Bill goes some way to remove obstructions to the development of land and buildings and to remove some of the clutter of conveyancing, but it brings no revolution in the law relating to changes in the ownership of property. I, for one, feel that revolution is overdue. The Solicitor-General referred to the Birkenhead reforms. We broke away from 19th century property laws with the Birkenhead reforms in 1925, half a century old in their concept although they reached the Statute Book only in 1925.

The need then was for a system which would simplify the breaking up of the great landed estates into suburban building plots for owner-occupiers. That, I imagine, was what the reformers of 1925 had in mind. That was just the moment when I was becoming an articled clerk and had to learn those reforms in the law very thoroughly. The process of breaking up the great landed estates into suburban plots continues, but the need has changed.

In the 1920s, the troublesome things about property were the interests created by the lord of the manor on the one hand, and the family benefactor on the other. In 1922, the lord of the manor was dealt with by sweeping away copy-holds; in 1925, the family benefactor was dealt with by drawing the curtain in front of the interests which the Victorian family benefactor was so fond of creating in his properties. Entails and life interests, trusts and annuities and the rest were bundled behind the curtain and, provided the purchaser was not a Peeping Tom, he escaped liability for them.

However, in the ensuing half-century, while we have kept the curtain drawn against those unwelcome intruders, the door seems to have been gate-crashed by another "lord of the manor", now called the local authority, and a new family benefactor, the building society, the bank, or the insurance company. These are the realities of today and these are the matters to which we should pay attention in any reforms of conveyancing law.

Normal conveyancing is not now concerned with the house on the plot which was recently part of the big estate. Run-of-the-mill conveyancing is now concerned with the house on land which has changed hands many times since it was part of the big estate. Conveyancing is now about town planning, road widening, clearance areas, motorways, compulsory purchase orders and so on. It is about finding a mortgage, about satisfying the building society as to the status of the borrower, about satisfying the building society's solicitor of the saleability of the property if the borrower should default. The Bill does not do much about that sort of thing.

What could it have done? It deals with land charges. It deals with those charges registered in the Central Land Charges Registry against the names of individuals. We do not find many puisne mortgages or estate contracts in conveyancing now. They are quite exceptional. When restrictive covenants are registered, they are usually disclosed pretty well on the title, without finding them on the Land Charges Registry.

What the Bill does not touch are the registers of local land charges scattered about the country with the local authorities, registered against the properties themselves, it is true, and not against the names of previous owners, but that is where one discovers whether the property is in the line of a new road, or in a clearance area, or something of that sort.

Nor does the Bill touch on those vital matters which do not even have to be registered in those local land charges registries and on which information has to be winkled out of the local authority by a form of inquisition. Only there does one discover whether there will be that new motorway passing by one's bedroom window; only there, by question and answer, does one discover whether there will be any road charges, a crippling sum for some owners of property.

Conveyancing can never be simplified until and unless everything relating to the property is placed on one register. Universal compulsory registration of title, even as it is practised at present, will not solve that. I hope that at some time we may reform the land registry so that it can take on board local land charges and all other encumbrances on the property so that there is only one place to look.

If we do not do something like that before the Redcliffe-Maud reforms come into operation, I dread to think of the chaos in the creation of new registries for the new authorities and all that trouble. But even before the universal register of all encumbrances, we could have tackled the problems of conveyancing, the more obvious lunacies of conveyancing, in this Bill.

Our system of conveyancing has grown into a formidable structure of stationery. On that stationery we play a sort of quiz game. We have preliminary inquiries and answers; we have local authority inquiries and answers; we have requisitions for local searches and answers by a certificate of search; we have requisitions for land charges searches and answers by the certificate of search; we have requisitions on title and replies thereto; and we have now the particulars delivered form with questions and answers; and finally, the Land Commission form which is a form of question and answer.

All this quiz game goes on solemnly with poker faces on either side. The vendor's solicitors know exactly what the purchaser's solicitor is to ask both of them and of the local authority. But, with poker faces, we wait until the questions are asked and then we make those non-committal replies—"The vendor is not aware of any", or, "None other than is apparent on inspection", or other forms of non-committal answering.

We could speed up this game by listing a number of statutory assumptions that the purchaser was entitled to make when a property was offered to him for sale, or when an offer was made by him to purchase and that offer was accepted. Thus there would be an obligation on the vendor to state specifically any respects in which those assumptions were inapplicable, putting the obligation on the vendor to disclose any burdens on the property, and if he did not, to compensate for them after the contract.

I should have liked something on those lines of practical reform in the Bill. But, rather than stray into ideals perhaps, I had better get back to what is in the Bill.

As is appropriate after what I have said about conveyancing, Clause 1 deals with the case of in re "Wonderland", Cleethorpes, but in leaving us out of in re "Wonderland", it drags us straight into the Wonderland Commission. The landlord will be liable for betterment levy upon improvements for which he will receive no return, and this needs a little careful thought. I am not prepared to leave this to the discretionary powers of postponement of the Land Commission and I should like this to be dealt with specifically in the Bill.

11.30 a.m.

The 21-year period in Clause 1 is a rough and ready rule which we may have to consider further in Committee. Some owners of business premises resent any restriction on their powers of letting and would like Part II of the 1954 Act swept away altogether. But the majority of owners take the view that they are in business to let and so long as they are assured of a market rent, they have no complaint.

But that majority will dwindle unless we get Clause 3 right. Clause 3 is that which deals with the tenant who has been stalling by litigation so that he continues to pay an out-of-date rent, and owners have been waiting a long time for Parliament to condemn that tenant and to amend the law.

The Bill allows the court, upon application, to fix an interim rent while that litigation proceeds. But I have yet to be convinced that there is any good reason why the tenant should have the premises during that period at anything less than the market rent as finally determined. The right way to deal with this, although I agree with the application for an interim rent, a rough and ready solution for the time being, would be that the difference between the interim rent and the market value should be paid by a premium or, perhaps, a contrary payment to a premium if the figures work out the other way, or to be taken into account in the figure for the new rent when it is finally fixed, that is to say, spread over the new rent having regard to the fact that the tenant under the interim rent may have been paying less or more than the proper market rent.

It is too much a feature of the Bill that we have resorted to a rough and ready rule. The 21 years under Clause 1 is rough and ready, and I certainly think that the interim rent provisions come into the same category. The other Clauses in Part I are useful reforms and, with some Amendments which we have in mind, I hope that we can make them even more useful.

There are some serious omissions, however. The Solicitor-General said that he would introduce some Amendments to Clause 4. It is Clause 4 which deals with sub-tenants, but there is a lot more in the law relating to business premises which needs correction in connection with sub-tenants. There are problems of the unlawful sub-tenant; the sub-tenancy which is granted for longer than the head tenancy; the sub-tenant improving the property and so on. In my own experience, sub-tenancies have given more trouble in the operation of this Act than the direct tenancies, and yet the Bill seems to have run away from this problem. We shall suggest Amendments to Clause 4, and we shall wait to see how far they deal with the sub-tenant problems.

We are also to have some additions to the Bill to deal with partners in business. I hope that these Amendments will be published for the Committee stage and that the Committee will be able to discuss them and come to a conclusion on them without waiting for the Report stage when we may find the Bill discussed late at night so that we have to discuss important Clauses in the early hours of the morning.

We welcome the undertaking to produce a Keeling Schedule for Part II of the 1954 Act and to insert that as a Schedule to the Bill. This is helpful and it is a practice which is now adopted by a number of Government Departments when in producing amendments to Statutory Instruments. It has proved useful in that sphere and we shall welcome it here.

Part II, which deals with the Yorkshire registry, leaves me very unhappy. I am unhappy about the closure of the registry, or the possibility of its closure, before the introduction of compulsory registration. It seems to me that there will be a waste of energy in transferring everything to the Land Charges Registry at one step, and then, when compulsory registration comes, transferring it again to the other part of the registry.

There will also be a serious gap of a sort of semi-unregistered title during that period when the Yorkshire registry is being closed down and compulsory registration has not been applied to the area. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to look at this in Committee. When it has been decided to abolish one form of registration, the hon. and learned Gentleman should go to the Treasury cap in hand and say, "Please give us the staff to convert Yorkshire to compulsory registration right away so that there is not this gap and this waste of effort".

On Part III; I am not convinced that the dangers inherent in the reduction of the period of title from 30 years to 15 years are so small or so acceptable by what the Solicitor-General called informed opinion as is stated by the Law Commission. I should have favoured a 20-year period. This we recognise in conveyancing in connection with statements in recitals having a prima facie truthfulness if they are 20 years old. I think that 20 years might have been sufficient by way of reduction. It will not make much difference in the work entailed between 15 and 20 years.

Under the new system, the purchaser need search only against the names of those who held the property since the conveyance on sale 15 or more years prior to the contract for sale, but I am a little doubtful about the obligation of the vendor. Has he an obligation to disclose burdens of which he is aware prior to the root of title? If he does not do so, will that be fraud under Clause 23(8)? If it is, would that entitle the Chief Land Registrar to prosecute him for fraud and get the return of the compensation which will have been paid to the owner? It looks as though the vendor will sometimes be able to take the full purchase money and keep his mouth shut, and the State will pay off the land charge. I cannot think that that is intended, but it may be that we need a provision in the Clause to make that clear.

Is the vendor bound in quantum by the sum paid by the Chief Land Registrar in compensation? It does not seem that the vendor will be called into the negotiations or the litigation between the Chief Land Registrar and the unfortunate current owner. Apparently, they may settle it between themselves. If the Chief Land Registrar then searches out the vendor, apparently the vendor cannot argue, "You paid him too much". The vendor ought to have the opportunity to come into the negotiations, or the litigation, between the Chief Land Registrar and the present owner claiming compensation.

On part IV we shall be at issue with the Government over the direction to the Lands Tribunal to consider planning permission upon an application for the discharge or modification of restrictive covenants. It would be fatal for the Lands Tribunal to become another planning authority, and this is what will happen as the Clause stands.

This was argued to some extent in another place, but I shall wish to return to it in Committee. This reform of the applications for discharge or modification of restrictive covenants fails to deal with two important aspects of those proceedings. It does not deal with the problems between positive and restrictive covenants. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that that has to await further study, but we know what that means—we shall not get the Bill for that for a long time. In the meantime, there are problems which crop up again and again in conveyancing as to the rights and liabilities under positive covenants.

The other trouble here is that the Clause does not deal with the one great defect of the Lands Tribunal—the absence of legal aid. What it will do is increase the evidence to be brought by the parties to the Lands Tribunal and therefore increase the expense. It is not always the great estates or the wealthy developers who squabble over restrictive covenants. It is often the modest suburban householder faced with a tower block of flats in the next garden. He does not have the funds to fight through, probably against a wealthy developer, without the assistance of legal aid. If we are to extend occasions when the Lands Tribunal will deal with restrictive covenants, as is clearly the intention, we ought to give a chance to the man of modest means to put up his fight.

Finally, I cannot feel wildly enthusiastic about the Bill. My lack of enthusiasm, though, is not due to its being a technical Bill. I do not think that it is a technical Bill. However, it has great social effects. It will affect many people in their ordinary lives. I am disappointed that it does not go much further with the necessary reforms. We have had the classic example in the past few years of the Companies Bill when we were promised again and again, "If you make this little reform in company law now, next year you will have another Companies Bill." It is always next year. I fear that the Bill will be a good chance lost. In Committee and on Report we shall try to retrieve as much of that chance as possible.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi

On a point of order. I did not wish to interrupt the two first speeches, but may I draw your attention to the official list of members of the Committee, Mr. Probert? Where my constituency appears, the name against that constituency is not my name. I should like to know whether I am a member of the Committee so that my listening to two speeches was not in vain. If I am a member of the Committee, could a very distinctive "i" be added to my surname? Otherwise, I am in great danger of being translated to the Scottish Grand Committee.

The Chairman

I drew the attention of the Clerk to this omission at the commencement of the Committee. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will be pleased, but I have put a very distinctive "i" against his name on my list.

Mr. Rossi

I am much obliged, Mr. Probert.

Mr. Gordon Oakes

That point of order by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), who himself is a solicitor, ought to show laymen what a difficulty may be created by the omission of an "I" in that way in a conveyance in 20 years' time. This is just the sort of thing the lay public does not understand and why solicitors have to be so careful when conveying property. It is an apt example.

This is a useful Bill. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General on the clear and concise way in which he explained it Clause by Clause. But my imagination was captured by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) when he explained his broad and imaginative view of the present situation of conveyancing and the need for drastic reform of this mountainous stationery, as he so aptly described it, with which members of the profession now have to deal.

To the hon. Member for Crosby, to myself and to most hon. Members in the Committee who are lawyers, the Law of Property Bill can mean only one thing: the monumental legislation of the 1925 Act. To us, any other legislation by the same name must be a misnomer. During that 12 months, the difficult was done immediately and the impossible was achieved within 12 months in four major Acts from one Parliament, and the whole law of property was revolutionised.

The Bill's concept goes nowhere near resembling even one Section of the 1925 legislation. I agree with the hon. Member for Crosby that we now have to consider the local authority, or Government Departments, as the lord of the manor. We are not dealing with estates any more, not even broken up estates; we are dealing with tiny pieces of land, people's homes, which are to be conveyed to someone else as homes. That is the sort of matter with which the solicitor, the conveyancer, now deals.

On another Committee of which the hon. Member and I were members, we dealt with the question of the suspension of voluntary registration of title. I raised the issue of computerisation. I will give the Committee an example of the multiplicity of registers in which one has to search. The lawyers will know it, but non lawyers may not.

If one is dealing with a house in an urban district, one searches in the local urban district, in the county council, in the Register of Land Charges, often in the Companies Register if there has been a company somewhere on the title in the past. All this must be done twice. It must often be done pre-contract, and it must be done again before completion.

If all these things were on one register, together with compulsory registration of title, the situation would be much easier. Conveyancing would be infinitely cheaper, and it could be done if we could get paper. Paper is the problem. We no longer need paper for conveyancing. A computer and an electronic machine can do it far more efficiently and probably far more accurately than any hon. Gentleman, no matter what his legal ability, because the computer does not forget. A computer is accurate and can give immediate answers to questions. I am not saying that the computer would never make a mistake, but the mistakes would be so rare that a State guarantee of compensation to anyone so affected would adequately cover it.

I am convinced that the Law Officers ought to pursue computerisation much more vigorously so as to put all these varied searches on one register. It would imply not a growth but a diminution in the number of civil servants.

There are three aspects of the Bill. The first is the tidying up of the Landlord and Tenant Act. The second is the holding operation until we have compulsory registration of title affecting the whole country. The third is this major reform of the Lands Tribunal and the way in which we are to deal with restrictive covenants and application for their removal.

Some of the most useful Clauses are Clauses 5 and 6, which allow a landlord and tenant to contract out of the provisions of the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act. That Act was designed for the ordinary tenancy, where a tenancy had come to an end and the tenant was seeking its renewal. But increasingly in practice one finds difficulties stemming from that Act where there is a redevelopment scheme in the area, where one is not dealing with a transfer of a tenancy from one tenant to another, or a renewal for a further period, where the tenancy is coming to an end because either there is to be a major reconstruction of the premises, or the premises are to be demolished.

In the interim there is planning "blight" on our major shopping centres. The Bill does not get rid of the problems of planning blight, but Clauses 5 and 6 may marginally help, because now a landlord will not be deterred from granting a short tenancy of property, whereas in the past he may well have been deterred because he might be caught by the 1954 legislation.

The result was that that property stayed empty, dirty, decrepit, waiting for demolition, and that had an effect not only on the property itself, but on the surrounding area, the surrounding shops and on the customers, who did not want to use that area any more because it looked so down and out and decrepit.

Clauses 5 and 6, which my hon. and learned Friend mentioned only in passing, could have a considerable effect on central shopping areas and on keeping premises in use instead of being closed down because the landlord feared the effects of the 1954 legislation.

What the Bill does not do, and it may not be within its terms of reference, is deal with another major anomaly of the 1954 legislation. That is the level of compensation paid to a tenant on the determination of his tenancy. It stands either at the rateable value of the premises, or, if he has been there for a long time, double the rateable value of his premises. That is what the tenant receives by way of compensation when he must give up not only his home, but often his livelihood.

I have known case after case of a shopkeeper receiving infinitely less in compensation for the loss of his home, business and livelihood than his assistant receives in redundancy payments. Clearly, this proves that the level of compensation for the small shopkeeper, who is not a wealthy man, is far too low. I wish that the Bill, which amends the Landlord and Tenant Act, contained a better provision than this rule of thumb, arbitrary figure of the rateable value of the property, which may be only £200, or double the rateable value, as the yardstick for compensation.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Crosby is so worried about the Yorkshire registries. Surely the position in Yorkshire in the interim will be only that in the rest of the country. I was intrigued by my hon. and learned Friend's description of these registries from the time of Queen Anne. I am a Lancashire Member and I understand that it is necessary that special precautions should have to be taken in Yorkshire, but the closing of the registries had to come. I hope that this will speed up compulsory registration of title over Yorkshire, but I do not foresee any damage being created in the meantime, because this change will put Yorkshire in the position of the rest of the country until compulsory registration is applied.

I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend said about the 15 years root of title. I remind the Committee that it has been agreed and accepted by the Law Society, by the Building Societies Association and by all sorts of people who agree to this reduction of the title. On a practical note, may I tell my hon. Friend what happens? Usually, the parties do not have an open contract between each other; they have a contract whereby they agree the length of title that one is to give the other. This is agreed in the contract.

Until recently, it was frequently agreed that the title should be left in 30 years, which was perfectly proper for two parties to agree. The reason for that is that one does not want to investigate the title of a whole building estate to investigate the title of one house. Therefore, one can restrict the period of title without any inconvenience to anyone.

But recently, because of the extension of compulsory registration of title and because of the 30-year rule, solicitors have often had to insist on a 30-year period in order to satisfy the future requirements of the Chief Land Registrar. We have gone backwards rather than forwards because of this 30-year period, and I warmly welcome the fact that it is now to be reduced to a 15-year period.

The major part of the Bill is the reform of the Lands Tribunal and the modifications and discharge of restrictive covenants. Clearly, this reform has long been needed.

Let us suppose that 100 years ago a landowner in the mansion, which we will call "Irvine Hall", had a view of a heath in the distance which he wished to preserve. The whole character of the neighbourhood will have changed in 100 years. But 100 years ago a restrictive covenant was put on some other land some distance away which that landowner then owned and was about to sell. The covenant provided that no building over a certain height should be built upon the land.

In the course of time, someone may wish to develop that land and build a block of flats, which we will call "Gardiner Mansions", on that plot. He would not be able to do so because of the restrictive covenant, unless he got it modified or discharged. That is so even though "Irvine Hall" itself may be a block of flats, or a factory. The owner could still say, "No, this covenant is not entirely obsolete, because I may sell and this may go to the benefit of the purchaser; the benefit of this covenant still runs with my land."

Clearly, in an instance like that the public interest should be taken into account. Surely the public interest is best represented by the views of the local planning officer, whose evidence is vital in this matter.

12 noon.

For decades the law on other restrictive covenants has leaned heavily in favour of the covenantor and not the covenantee, but with property it has rigidly adhered to terms in favour of the covenantee. It is not unknown for the public interest to be taken into account. The Restrictive Practices Court is mainly concerned with the public interest when it is dealing with restrictions. When there are restrictive trade agreements between individuals, the law very much considers the position of the covenantor from the point of view of public interest. Indeed, a ground for setting aside a restrictive covenant is that it is in breach of the public interest.

All the Bill does is to apply that to land. Why should it not be applied to land? Much money is spent to do away with restrictive covenants which are no benefit to anyone. If the public interest can be taken into account by the Lands Tribunal, that will free and utilise what may be Britain's scarcest resource—land. It will enable land to be used more freely and to better purpose than it now is because of private agreements between individuals, agreement that may have been made many years ago.

I wonder why the Government did not adopt all the recommendations of the Law Commission about restrictive covenants, land obligations and so on. They have dealt only with the discharge of restrictive covenants. It will be a long time before we have another Bill of this nature, and it is a pity that the other recommendations of the Law Commission were not included. They may be included in Committee. Perhaps Government Amendments will be introduced to incorporate those recommendations. It would be a pity if they were shelved, for they are useful.

If the hon. Member for Crosby wishes to suggest an Amendment to extend legal aid to the Lands Tribunal, he is certain to have my name on that Amendment. It is wrong to set up a court, and an expensive court at that, and not provide for legal aid. The Lands Tribunal is an extremely expensive tribunal, particularly for those in the provinces some distance from London. Hence, it is rarely resorted to.

The person affected by a restrictive covenant and needing the protection of the Lands Tribunal and needing to have it discharged is often not the big landowner but the little, suburban, semi-detached house owner. He needs legal aid. He has as much right to justice as the big landowner. If the Lands Tribunal is to consider the public interest when considering restrictive covenants, legal aid should be extended to those appearing before it.

It is a useful Bill, but it could have done much better. That is my summing up of the Bill.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke

I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) will induce the Solicitor-General to put down a Money Resolution enabling us to table and discuss an Amendment to extend legal aid to those appearing before the Lands Tribunal. That will need a new Money Resolution, but I am sure that it is worth trying, because lack of such legal aid provision is clearly the biggest defect in Part IV.

The most interesting statement in the Solicitor-General's speech was when he told us that compulsory registration of title to land should become nation-wide by the end of the 1970s. That I regard as a pledge. Whether it will be for him to fulfil it, I do not know, but it is a good pledge to have given.

I think that it could be implemented even earlier. Much of Part III, almost all of Part III, which may become more than a holding operation unless we are careful, would be unnecessary if we were to have nation-wide compulsory registration. Part III already involves the expenditure of additional public funds—in compensation for defective conveyancing and in compensation for defective registers of land charges. Against the expense of compulsory registration, one has to put in the other side of the scale those public expenditures which are to be newly assumed by the Government which would be obviated if compulsory registration were rapidly extended.

It is good news that in the last few years a number of new district registries have been opened, though it is bad news that the system of voluntary registration has been abolished. Lord Wilberforce made an acute observation in the other place about the expense of registration. He said that it was a money-making machine, that land registries made money for the Government. They are not in the category of the public expenditures which we deplore so much, which are wasteful in the sense that they involve an outflow of public funds. They more than pay for themselves.

It is a false economy and using the Chancellor's stick with a broad and clumsy stroke in any way to impede this desirable process. If civil servants are needed for the purpose, as I am sure they will be, they should be transferred from other Departments which are not so necessary or so profitable. Although no doubt necessary, Part III is a confession of some failure.

I do not share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) about the reduction of the statutory period of title. I have no doubt that it will be of great convenience to solicitors, but the convenience of solicitors is not necessarily coincidental with the public interest for once. I am appalled by one of the reasons given in paragraph 28 of the Report of the Law Commission on the Transfer of Land. There is a sentence in paragraph 27 which I ought to read: It must also be acknowledged that the extent of the saving of work, in those cases where work is saved, must be variable, depending on the facts of each particular case. In other words, sometimes no work will be saved and, even when it is saved, there is no clear evidence of how much the Commission thinks will be saved.

Paragraph 28 goes on: In view of these variable factors, we think that guidance as to the advantages flowing from a reduction in the period can best be obtained from the general impression derived from conveyancers from their day-to-day work: In other words, it is all very subjective, all a matter of opinion, and not of evidence. We appreciate that on questions such as this it is easier for experts to know the answer than to prove it. That is true of all experts, often with disastrous results.

However, our attention has been drawn to one significant fact, and this is where I foresee great danger. A reduction to 15 years would remove from many abstracts of title transactions carried out between 1940 and 1946 which, owing to the generally disorganised conditions then prevailing and the destruction of many documents, can be an unusually troublesome period. It may be unusually troublesome, but the provision is just what is necessary to protect somebody against the appearance of a defect in his title during a period when titles became very defective.

It is no good sweeping a difficulty or danger under the carpet and saying that it is a difficult task when its very difficulty increases the necessity for undertaking it. During that period defects in title arose frequently, not so much as to the absolute title of all the parcels of land, but often over a question of boundaries, often a question of partial defects of title.

Knowing much less about it than the hon. Member, I believe that when we talk about defects of title, we often imagine the tremendous cases where the whole of a great estate is found not to be in the hands of the person in whose hands everybody thought it to be. But that is so rare that it does not matter. These difficulties arise over and over again when the map at the back does not agree with another map and there is a dispute about the parcels, or about a ditch, or about the extent of a field, or something of that sort. That is where there is great danger in reducing the necessity to show a good root of title to a 15-year period.

My worry is made the greater because, for some reason, the Law Commission went on to say that it did not think that it was necessary to try to define a good root of title. If we are to limit the period to 15 years, surely we should take the opportunity of putting that matter beyond doubt and of providing a copper-bottomed—I think that is the modern word—root of title.

In paragraph 39 the Law Commissioners say: It has been suggested to us that a good root of title should be defined"— I should think so— (a) so as to include a clear requirement that the document concerned effects a disposition for value; the judgment of Cotton L.J. in Re Marsh and the Earl of Granville's Contract (1884) 24 Ch. D.11 leaves it in doubt whether a conveyance by way of gift is sufficient;"— We do not know whether that is a good root of title— (b) to include dispositions under overreaching powers, e.g. by mortgagees, trustees for sale etc., as to which there may be some doubt;"— and— (c) to deal with problems arising from dispositions drawn without words of limitation, in reliance on section 60 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, by accepting such a disposition as a good root if it was for value and contained a recital of the grantor's interest. These are all matters of doubt.

The last three sentences of paragraph 40 say: Only under an open contract does the vendor have an obligation at large to produce a 'good root'. It is only open contracts that we are discussing in this reduction of the period. Where there is a specific contract, one does not need to consider the root of title, because it gives its own definition. Only under an open contract does the vendor have an obligation at large to produce a "good root". It is important to practitioners that there should be complete freedom to negotiate according to the particular circumstances of each case. That is obvious. Hence they prefer to leave the requirements of a 'good root' to be decided on the facts in the rare cases in which a dispute arises. As a reason for not taking the opportunity to define what is a "good root" of title that is about as unconvincing a piece of argument as I have ever found. I am sorry to speak disrespectfully of the learned Law Commissioners, who are a most distinguished body, but if we are reducing the period for which one has to show a good root of title, it seems essential to define what a good root is, and I hope that this will be done.

12.15 p.m.

One of the reasons for the reduction of the period given by the Government and by the Commissioners is that it does not matter so much because we are to compensate people out of public funds if, as a result of the reduction of period, the purchaser finds that he has not got what he thought he was to get. That applies only in the case of encumbrances. It applies only where it is a land charge, other than a local land charge, which has been discovered and which dates back far beyond that period and which has not previously been discovered because it was by mistake registered in the name of Ross instead of the name of Rossi.

There are many examples of that in our land law history, and there are many cases on that subject. In those cases the taxpayer is now to pay for that mistake. But the taxpayer is not to pay if it is a question not of encumbrance, but of title, and particularly in the frequent case of mistakes as to the parcels, as to the boundaries of the land conveyed, or something of that sort. And that mistake is much more frequent than is thought. I fear that, if the period is to be reduced in this way, where the advantages to be gained are highly subjective—the Commissioners say that they have no firm evidence of the sort of advantage which will be gained, but it is just that the practitioners have a feeling that there will be advantages—it will be difficult to evaluate on one side of the scale what that advantage is, and, on the other side of the scale, there will be great dangers.

I therefore, support very strongly my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in saying that the period should be 20 years at the very least, because otherwise we shall have many more cases of conflict, not so much about encumbrance, because then the public will pay, but about title, particularly at the margins of parcels.

Mr. Oakes

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman take into account that not only practitioners but the Building Societies Association, whose members would have most to lose if there were to be ill effects from the reduction to 15 years, itself strongly supports and approves it?

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Yes. I see also that members of my profession in Lincoln's Inn strongly disapprove, and I should not like to go to arbitration between those two. I think that it goes too far, for the reasons I have given. I fear that there is a slight desire to be "with it" on this 15-year period. Twenty years would harm the practitioner or the building societies, and in marginal but important cases it would still provide an important protection.

But more important than that, whether it be 15 or 20 years, a "good root of title" ought to be defined. The argument which various intellectuals adopt, that one makes something more doubtful by definition, always strikes me as being too clever by half. I hope, therefore, that the opportunity to define a good root of title will be taken, and will concentrate the mind of those people, because when they say that it ought not to be defined, what they really mean is that they do not know how to define it as they do not know what it is. So let us do something in Committee about defining that.

My point in making those remarks is to show that, whatever difference there may be between the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) and myself on root of title, and whatever differences we may have on the question of the enforcement of land charges—I do not think we have many—we all agree that all these problems would fall away like scales if there were a compulsory system of land registration. I fear that, as is the way with best-intentioned Government Departments, the Redcliffe-Maud Report and all the other Reports will be taken subconsciously as a reason for putting off this necessary task. They will, of course, have enormous problems in the implementation of the Redcliffe-Maud Report, if it is implemented, they may think it more urgent, and their attention will be diverted to that problem. But I hope that, having had an important undertaking from the Solicitor-General, we shall all see that he is kept to it.

At the moment, the areas of compulsory registration are peculiar. The hon. Member for Bolton, West has his constituency well within an area of compulsory registration now. I have half my constituency in an area of compulsory registration in Blackburn, but between Blackburn and his constituency there are the non-county borough of Darwen and the urban district of Turton, which are not within an area of compulsory registration, although it is built-up very nearly all the way. This anomaly is not good. I hope that the Solicitor-General will use his influence to see that much larger areas are much more rapidly brought into the modern system of conveying.

I know that the experience of solicitors is not wholly happy about the system of conveying registered land. I am still a great believer in it. I think that it can be greatly improved, particularly by the inclusion on the compulsory register of local land charges. That is an essential reform and, until it is done, many of the great merits of a system of compulsory registration will not be gained.

As my hon. Friend said, we welcome the parts of the Bill, and they are the majority, which provide a good basis of reform. The Solicitor-General described it as a modest Bill, but it has a very immodest title, as his hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West implied. It makes great claims for the reforming zeal of the Government of which he is a member, and this is not the first time that has happened. The Consumer Protection Bill has to be cut down to size in Committee by being given its true title of Trade Descriptions Act, and I dare say that something on those lines will have to be done when we come to Committee on the present Measure.

Mr. James Allason

Perhaps I should declare an interest in that I am not a lawyer but a property owner and manager. Owners, managers and business tenants have an equal interest in the results of the Bill, and I hope that it will not go down in history as purely a lawyers' Bill.

I take, first, Clause 22(4): For the purposes of this section any knowledge acquired in the course of a transaction by a person who is acting therein as counsel or as solicitor or other agent, for another shall be treated as the knowledge of that other. That is probably extremely convenient for lawyers and, I take it, estate agents, but it is not all that convenient for principals. Everyone who has been concerned with transactions in land has found mistakes which have been made. Let us say that they have been mistakes of estate agents and not always mistakes of lawyers, but, nevertheless, mistakes are made and ultimately those mistakes will fall on the head of the principal. It may be the correct legal fiction to say that the onus must fall on the head of the principal, but it seems a rather unfortunate approach to accuse the principal of having known all along that which has been concealed from him, which he did not know anything about, and which may be a very painful event for him, the principal.

I turn now to Clause 4, which, as the Solicitor-General told us, deals with the fairly narrow point of the landlord being able to deal with subtenants at the same time as tenants on the expiration of a lease. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said, the position in relation to the determination of leases and subtenancies is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Here is an example. A tenant of business premises created a subtenancy. Then, just as his lease was due to expire, which he did not wish to renew, he assigned the lease at a handsome consideration to the subtenant. The subtenant then immediately and automatically became the tenant under the 1954 Act. He was entitled to a new lease, and, as soon as he received the new lease under the 1954 Act, he was able to sell it to an entirely outside body at a considerable profit to himself. As I say, the position of subtenants in relation to the determination of leases requires looking at.

I have another case of which I shall tell the Committee. The lease has not yet expired. The tenant, in breach of his obligation, has divided the premises into an absolute rabbit-warren of tiny sub-tenancies. Legal action is at present going on to try to stop him doing this. It will not be effective because the lease will terminate before then, and the tenant will, presumably, not get a new lease under the 1954 Act. He will probably disappear, but all those subtenancies will now become entitled to deal with the landlord and, presumably, be able to claim fresh leases. It is possible to do this only by having somebody to sit on the premises as the tenant does at the moment in order to sublet the various compartments, by the hour, by the week, or perhaps for longer periods. It is necessary to have someone on the premises.

It is quite unreasonable that that sort of inheritance should be passed on to the landlord, yet it can happen. I can visualise that it is possible for a tenant, who is in any case intending to give up his long tenancy of business premises, to put in subtenants expressly to spite his landlord. The whole area of subtenancies in relation to the 1954 Act must, therefore, be looked at.

Although the hon. and learned Solicitor-General told us that all that Clause 4 did was to put the landlord in a better position, it does say: … the landlord shall be deemed, for the purposes of this Part of this Act other than section 28, to be the landlord in relation also to the sub-tenancy … That seems to me, as a layman, to give the subtenant greater rights than he has at the present. We know that he has considerable rights under the 1954 Act. We ought to look at this very carefully to ensure that this is not an extension of the rights of subtenants. Many of them may be worthy people, but I have in mind those subtenants whom I deem to be unworthy.

I hope that we shall have an interesting time in Committee, and I hope also that we shall remember that the purpose of Parliament is to uphold the sanctity of contract. Even if it be a restrictive contract, we should still remember that.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Rossi

I do not want to take up the time of the Committee by covering ground which has been ably and adequately covered already, but there are one or two points which require reinforcement, and I shall devote a moment or two to those.

First, the question of registration and title to land. The point has already been made by my hon. Friends, but it is a matter of such major importance that it must be re-emphasised, that the end of the 1970s is far too long to wait for the bringing in of registration throughout the United Kingdom. Voluntary registration also is a matter of importance. If the system of voluntary registration still existed today, we should not have the kind of problem referred to by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) when he spoke of the need to deduce the title of large estates which have been broken up into small plots on development. It was a retrograde step on the part of the Government to abolish voluntary registration, as they did in recent legislation. One can see no reason why the Treasury should wish to starve the Land Registry of staff. It is only that which has prevented a far more rapid development of the land registration system.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has already referred to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wilberforce, in another place, when he said that the Land Registry is one of the departments of Government which is a money-maker. Apart from that, in terms of the individual buying and selling land, registration of title is a great economy. From all aspects, one cannot begin to understand the shortsightedness of depriving the Land Registry of the means of expediting land registration. If the Government would give further thought to that, Part III would become largely unnecessary, without causing some of the concern that it is bound to do.

My hon. and learned Friend has already expressed doubt about the wisdom of reducing the title period to 15 years. I do not want to go into that argument again, but I have found as a practising solicitor that old deeds and old titles are invaluable in elucidating problems and answering many questions. Perhaps it is because the old-fashioned solicitor's clerk of many years ago, who laboriously wrote out deeds in his copper-plate, was a very meticulous gentleman who took great care in his conveyancing and the preparation of his plans. Where those deeds still exist, they are of great help to the modern solicitor in defining the rights of his client. More recent titles do not give the same assistance. The danger, when the 15 years root title is introduced before land registration has come about, will be that many of those old deeds will be turned into lampshades, will no longer exist, and they will cease to be the help they are today.

I have great reservations, despite all the learned arguments which the Law Commission brought forth, with, I know, the support of the Law Society, about the wisdom of introducing this 15-year root of title before land registration and the deposit of deeds in the Land Registry and examination there has come about.

There is nothing in the Bill, either—one has in mind the change from constructive to actual notice on the part of a purchaser as regards land charges—which does away with the appalling inconvenience of having to search against names rather than against property. This also is something which will only be cured, and can only be cured, when there is compulsory registration of title and the existing land charges register is abolished altogether. It ought to be added here. There ought to be a sense of urgency, because the land charges register as it exists in its present form for unregistered titles is a matter of great inconvenience, and there are always the inherent dangers of not knowing precedent evidence.

I am not sure that the provision for compensation will be sufficient, because this in itself will lead to problems and litigation. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has pointed to the difficulty which a vendor, perhaps an innocent vendor, will be in when there has been a rapid change of property and nothing has turned up on the title, despite several transactions. Which vendor will be landed with the compensation? Will it be a vendor three, four or five removed who may have had some knowledge, or will it be an intervening vendor who may have bought and resold the land without knowledge of these matters at all? And what is the compensation to be? There is no indication in the Bill, no guidance for the Chief Land Registrar on how he must calculate the compensation and certainly no guidance for the purchaser who is left with the title subject to a restriction that he knew nothing about.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby also that is it important that the Government tackle early—one would like to see it in this Bill—the problem of positive covenants which at present do not run with the land. Matters which might at first sight may appear to be minor, for example, the obligation to repair and rebuild fences between houses, the obligation to repair drains serving houses in common, are not likely to be the subject of great national legislation, but they are matters constantly giving rise to friction between adjoining land owners. It does not help at all when positive covenants imposed by deeds dealing with matters of that kind are unenforceable between adjoining owners because there have been various transfers in the ownership of the properties concerned. Certainty in such matters is highly desirable and would eliminate much bad feeling between neighbours. I can see no reason, having regard to the many years over which this problem has existed, why the Government cannot apply their mind to its solution now.

There is also the matter of local land charges and, in particular, proposals for development of adjoining land. Today, if a purchaser buying a particular house and garden makes a search against that property in the local land charges register with the local authority, he will find matters relating to the property but he will not be told whether the adjoining landowner has received permission to build an outhouse or a balcony which will overshadow a window so as to spoil a room the attractiveness of which persuaded him to buy the particular house in the first place. After being there six months, he suddenly finds that an addition has been built to the next-door house which ruins his view, excludes his light, or brings some objectionable obstruction which, if he had known about it, might well have influenced his decision to buy.

This is the sort of matter which a prospective purchaser ought to know when he is buying a house. The amenity of a house is of great importance to him. The difficulty could be cured by extension of a local land charges register to include matters of that kind. It would be better still if it could be brought on to the Land Charges Register entirely.

There are two other matters which have not been touched on so far. The first relates to the question under the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954. We are told in the Bill now that improvements carried out by the tenant are in certain circumstances to be disregarded for the purpose of fixing a new rent for a new letting. The wording of the Bill follows the recommendation of the Law Commissioners, who gave it as their opinion that the improvements to be disregarded should be so disregarded only if there has been no subsequent break in the chain of tenancies so the landlord will not lose the rental value of improvements for which a previous tenant has already claimed, or has been in a position to claim, compensation. I quote there from the explanatory note on page 25 of the Law Commission Report No. 17.

One can understand that, where a landlord has paid compensation for improvements under the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927, it would be wrong for the tenant to have the benefit because then the landlord would be made to lose twice over. But I cannot see why the tenant cannot have the benefit of this new provision in the Bill when he has been in a position to claim compensation under the 1927 Act but has, in fact, not done so. If the landlord has not paid the compensation, and is not liable any longer to pay it, it would not be financially detrimental to him for the Bill to operate. Perhaps that is a matter which could receive further consideration in Committee.

Finally, the question of the unscrupulous tenant who has spun out litigation for a number of years, with the result that the landlord has been deprived of the market rental of his premises. Perhaps there has been the odd case where a tenant, or his legal advisers, knowing the ropes in the county court, has been able to protract litigation in that way. Where that has happened, on the whole, the landlord must have been slow on the uptake and not made his applications to the county court. Or, alternatively—this is the more likely—the defect exists in the county court system itself because of the burden of work. I do not think that it is so much the unscrupulous tenant who has brought the situation about. I think that the cause lies in the fact that the county courts are overburdened and cannot cope with all the work confronting them.

Mr. Allason

My hon. Friend should remember that, although the applications may have gone to the court, if the negotiations are proceeding the matter does not come into court. The unscrupulous tenant can prolong his negotiations for a long time. I must say, as an "unscrupulous landlord", that I now intend to pay it back until three months after the Bill becomes law in a case which is happening to me.

Mr. Rossi

But it is up to the landlord how long he is prepared to allow himself to be strung along in that fashion. I should have thought, if he was sufficiently wide awake, that he would not. I have an example in mind. There was a case five or six years ago concerning a landlord's desire to redevelop premises, and because of all the evidence which had to be given by surveyors and experts on both sides to decide whether it was a genuine scheme, the hearing lasted six days of the county court's time. But because of the practice in that particular county court—I do not wish to name it—only one day was given each time for a sitting and between each sitting day there was a gap of three or four months because the lists were so crowded.

It was the desire of neither landlord nor tenant that that should be so. In the event, the landlord was defeated; it was proved that he did not have a genuine scheme. But the tenant then had his rent fixed by a county court judge at a figure which the tenant thought he could not afford anyway. The result was that the tenant had to leave the premises. It all took about 18 months of litigation, spread over six hearing days with large gaps in between. Simply because the county court's business is organised in that fashion.

12.45 p.m.

I think that that is where the real defect exists. If it were possible for these cases to be brought on rapidly and dealt with in one go, instead of spreading out sittings in that way, much of the need for this legislation would, I believe, disappear. I think it only right to make a comment of that kind. We are much concerned with the administration of justice. If there is a glaring defect—I believe that it is not only my experience but the experience of other members of my profession—perhaps a suggestion might go to the Lord Chancellor to look at the system more carefully.

The Solicitor-General

No one who has listened to the debate can fail to have been impressed, if I may say so, by the constructive force of the contributions which have been made from both sides and the amount of knowledge contained in them. I rise, if I may have leave, merely to deal with one or two matters in the short time which remains.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) was a little grudging, not to say ungracious, in his reception of the Bill. No doubt, there are matters far removed from the law of property which may be causing him dismay of one kind or another, but, none the less, we shall pay the most careful regard to his observations.

The hon. Gentleman regretted, and the matter was referred to later by most hon. Members who contributed to our discussion, the extent to which there has been a suspension of the process of land registration. I want to say a few words about that. As the Committee will be aware, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General recently announced in the House the resumption of the land registration programme, with the partial lifting of manpower restrictions. He indicated that the areas to be included by the end of the year include Liverpool, Nottingham, Newcastle, Luton and Plymouth.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby made a point about the hiatus which might occur in Yorkshire before land registration is extended. The position is that the programme throughout the country is to be extended to built-up areas first, so there are bound to be, inescapably, I fear, substantial rural areas to which the system cannot be extended until towards the end of the 1970s. The system depends upon adequate Ordnance maps, and the mapping of rural Yorkshire is, I am told, not yet adequate for the purpose. But every effort is being made, I assure the Committee, to deal with this matter of registration.

The hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke), for whose contribution I was greatly indebted intimated that he regarded what I had to say about the proposed extension of registered conveyancing as a pledge. It takes two to make a pledge, or, at least, it takes two to agree what is a pledge. I should not wish to have gone further, or be thought to have gone further, than to give the Committee, as I thought it right to do, a reiteration of plans already announced by my noble Friend to extend compulsory registration to all built-up areas by the middle of the 1970s and to the rest of the country by the end of the 1970s. That is the plan and I do not want to go beyond that. The somewhat emotive expression "pledge" will now, I hope, be considered in that milder context.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) deplored the abolition of voluntary registration. However, I suggest to him—I appreciate his understanding of these matters and I should be glad if he would agree—that that was essential if the work of the Land Registry was to be concentrated on the extension of compulsory registration, which must be the first priority. Voluntary registration in non-compulsory areas are very expensive in man-power and some multiple voluntary registrations are still accepted.

A good deal of reference has been made to the 15-year root of title and hon. Members have asked whether it was too short a period. The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) suggested that many defects in title may have occurred in the course of the 1939 to 1946 period. I follow that, but he may be overlooking the effect of the Limitation Act and of the circumstance that in most instances the 12-year period of limitation would have cured the greater part of these defects. That, at any rate, is an aspect of the matter which he might be good enough to consider. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) mentioned, and this has been acknowledged by others, the Law Commission's recommendation as to the 15-year root of title is based upon a recommendation by the Law Society.

I was asked about the effect of Section 23(8) and the vendor being liable in fraud in the event of non-disclosure of defects. I should like to read these observations and give them further consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West mentioned the need for computerisation. Computerisation of land charges is already planned. The Law Commission has been studying computerisation of local land charges. A reference to this, for any hon. Member who is interested, will be found in paragraph 30 of the Commission's Third Annual Report.

The hon. Member for Crosby referred to the failure, as he put it, to deal with local land charges. That was mentioned, with some emphasis, also by the hon. Member for Hornsey. The Bill does not deal with these charges, because they are the subject of further examination by the Law Commission. It is fair to say that in any event reforms under that head had better await the reorganisation of local government.

Mr. Graham Page

Oh, no!

The Solicitor-General

As the Committee is aware, the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee in its last report recommended legal aid for those appearing before the Lands Tribunal. The Lord Chancellor accepts this desirable aim, but in that connection one must have regard to the availability of public funds.

Hon. Members have shown a most acceptable and praiseworthy desire to make haste in changing and reforming many matters. I share with them the wish that there could be for example, a

Probert, Mr. (Chairman.) More, Mr.
Allason, Mr. Oakes, Mr.
Archer, Mr. Page, Mr. Graham
Atkins, Mr. Ronald Pink, Mr.
Doig, Mr. Rossi, Mr.
Fletcher-Cooke, Mr. The Solicitor-General
Harper, Mr. Wells, Mr. William
Jackson, Mr. Colin Whitaker, Mr.

speedy implementation of at any rate some of the recommendations of the Wilberforce Report on Positive Covenants. I hope that it is true to say that on an objective view of the Bill, despite the somewhat lukewarm Laodicean commentaries of the hon. Member for Crosby, a useful series of steps forward are proposed which in due course will be regarded as not without importance.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Law of Property Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

The Solicitor-General

May I say, Mr. Probert, that we are all greatly indebted to you for the skill and courtesy with which you have conducted our affairs.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Committee rose at two minutes to One o'clock.