HC Deb 30 October 1975 vol 898 cc1929-34
Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 10, line 30, after 'power', insert '(a) to impose an obligation upon registering authorities and originating authorities not to register nor to keep registered as a local land charge any matter which is not, or which has ceased to be, effective as a local land charge within the meaning of section 1 of this Act; and (b)'. The amendment would impose an obligation on the registering authority not to register something which ought not to be registered, and not to maintain on the register charges which are no longer effective.

Throughout, we have been considering the protection of the purchaser against lack of information from the register and against a failure to register a charge which should be registered and of which the purchaser should be informed. The Bill lays no obligation on the registering authority not to register something which should not be registered, or not to keep on the register something which should not be kept on the register.

One might wonder "Why bother about that? What does it matter if there is something on the register? What we are concerned with is that the purchaser should be told of every encumbrance on the property." But—I think I mentioned this on previous amendments—if an official certificate of search shows some en- cumbrance which ought not to be registered against the property, it may have the result of the sale being broken off because the purchaser thinks he is buying an encumbered property.

In those circumstances it is the vendor who suffers. I presume that he would probably have an action for negligence against the registering authority, but it would be rather a difficult case for him to prove, and there might be some doubt in the fact that it is not mentioned anywhere in the Bill that he is excluded from such an action. We have been so specific in giving the purchaser the right to claim compensation that that might have the effect of excluding any further claims against the registering authority by the vendor.

Far be it from me to put extra burdens on registering authorities or on those from whom charges originate, but it is important that we should have complete reliance on the register. If there is anything wrong in the register, anyone who suffers loss from that error should be entitled to compensation.

For that reason I tabled this amendment, to place an obligation on registering authorities to keep the register straight and to see that it includes only proper land charges.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

This is the first occasion on which, during the passage of this Bill, I find myself in disagreement with the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). Does he want to have removed from the register all those conditions attaching to planning consents which provide most of the information we need when dealing with property which has had planning conditions imposed on it in the past? The conditions imposed before 1948 are all registered as local land charges. He gets that information when he makes a search.

If the amendment were accepted, local authorities would be so busy trying to find out all the things that they ought to remove that they would not have enough time to find out what they ought to register.

I hope the amendment will be resisted. Notwithstanding the fact that some things are not going to be compulsorily registrable, I hope that the majority of those matters which were registered in the past will be available on the search certificate. In fact, I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman would prefer it also.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) that I shall resist this amendment, although for slightly different reasons.

The rule-making power in subsection (1)(g) is sufficient to enable rules to require cancellation where appropriate. The existing rules already provide for cancellation of charges which have been discharged or have become unenforceable. The general power in subsection (1) is also sufficient to enable the making of rules to oblige local authorities not to register matters which are not local land charges, although such a rule would seem unnecessary because anything which is not a local land charge under the Bill is plainly not registrable. If it ceases to be a local land charge, it should be taken off the register. The registering authority cannot be expected to reach a judicial decision whether a matter is or is not a local land charge. In cases of doubt it is often the practice of authorities to register the item for safety's sake.

11.15 p.m.

I have agreed with the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) throughout that as much information as possible should be put on the local land charges register. It would be wrong to place a definite obligation on the registering authority not to register irrelevant material and to put the authority at risk of being in breach of that obligation owing to doubt as to the status of the particular matter in relation to local land charges.

In those circumstances, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to press his amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

As I have been deserted by my professional, if not parliamentary, colleague, the least I can do is to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 22 in page 10, line 35, at end insert 'which shall be subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament'. This amendment relates to the rules to be made by the Lord Chancellor to bring into operation the machinery of the Bill. This power has been with the Lord Chancellor ever since we have had local land charges.

Subsection (3) states merely that The power to make rules under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument. The amendment makes it necessary for such a statutory instrument to be subject to parliamentary procedure—the negative procedure which enables it to be annulled by resolution of either House of Parliament. These are important rules, particularly with regard to the changes in what is and is not to be a local land charge. The House should have the right to deal with these rules under the normal parliamentary procedure of annulment if it wishes to do so. We are seldom able to bring a Prayer before the House these days. At least this amendment gives an opportunity for attention to be called to rules of this sort, which are of more importance under the Bill than they had been previously.

We should have some form of parliamentary procedure. As the Bill stands, the rules do not even have to be laid before Parliament, if I am correct in my interpretation of that subsection. On this occasion I am asking that right hon. and hon. Members should have an opportunity by way of a Prayer in this House, to raise anything on these rules.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

As the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) will know, the rules are simply the machinery for giving effect to the Bill. On reflection, he might agree that they hardly merit the extent of parliamentary control that he is advocating.

Local land charge rules are not subject to such control, and have not been since 1925. Despite large numbers of amending and consolidating rules, I am assured that it is not thought that any of these have ever been the subject of parliamentary disapproval. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that a number of crucial matters at present dealt with by rules, notably the procedure and effect of official searches, are dealt with in the Bill. Therefore, I take issue with him on that matter. The new rules will, to that extent, be less important. The right hon. Gentleman was suggesting that they would be more important. He will know, because he is a great expert on statutory instruments—

Mr. Graham Page

Will the Minister confirm that the intention under the Bill is that this Statutory Instrument should not even be laid before Parliament? There is at least a distinction between an instrument which is not laid, an instrument which is laid, and an instrument which has some parliamentary procedure. I believe that he is treating the House with a little contempt. Those who have put this sort of law into operation have taken a great interest in the Bill throughout. At least it is right for Parliament to be informed that these rules are being made. This is not entirely a technical matter. If the rules are wrong in some respect—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman should be making an intervention, not a lengthy statement.

Mr. Page

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had forgotten that I had asked to intervene. I thought that I was replying to the debate.

Mr. Davidson

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am not seeking to be discourteous to the House. The absence of any negative resolution procedure does not remove the rules from parliamentary scrutiny. The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments—the right hon. Gentleman is, if not the greatest living expert on statutory instruments, certainly the greatest expert on statutory instruments in the House—can be relied upon to consider questions concerning fees, the unusual use of the rule-making power, matters of drafting, and so on.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not go to the gallows for another amendment. I would not go to the gallows on this amendment. However, on balance I do not think that the amendment is necessary.

Mr. Graham Page

If I may now make a speech in reply, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am very dissatisfied—not with the flattery, with which the hon. Gentleman tried to soft-soap me. I think that the rules will be important. When I attempted to extend my intervention into a speech I was saying that these matters may appear to be technical, but if there are matters which are wrong in the rules and which seem to be wrong to those who practise in the profession it will mean an extra cost in conveyancing and in purchasing a home. To that extent, the rules should be subject to survey by Members of the House.

I am not satisfied on the answer I have received that I should be right to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. I urge the hon. Gentleman to accept it. Under our present practice in the House it will impose no great burden on the time of the House if a Prayer goes down drawing attention to an error in the rules. I am anxious to ensure that the rules do not increase the cost of conveyancing and of purchasing a home.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I said that I would not go to the gallows on the amendment. I am prepared to strike a blow for parliamentary democracy. The right hon. Gentleman has made a cogent case. He has been of great help on the Bill. No harm will be done by, and perhaps there will be a marginal gain from, accepting the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

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