HL Deb 31 July 1968 vol 296 cc306-9

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why it has been necessary to suspend the extension of land registration, and how long this suspension is likely to last.]


My Lords, in spite of increased efficiency and productivity, the introduction of new areas of compulsory registration of title to land inevitably leads to the need for more staff in Her Majesty's Land Registry. In consequence of the Government's; decision not to increase the number of civil servants during the present financial year, as announced by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place on January 16, Her Majesty's Land Registry have been unable to recruit more staff and have thus been unable to accept further areas of compulsory registration of title to land. I hope that before very long it will be possible to continue with the plan to extend the compulsory registration system throughout the country.


My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord confirm that this registration is self-supporting from the fees of registration, and that the last five years have shown a surplus of some £1,250,000? In these circumstances, does this really constitute a charge on the public purse, and could this registration not be proceeded with rather more quickly or more steadily than in the past?


My Lords, I should be very glad if it could; but many civil servants are, of course, associated with increases in revenue. When, some eight days, I think, after my right honourable friend had spoken, I was speaking in this House on the economic situation and referred to this pledge, I pointed out that we cannot have it both ways; that cutting down the number of civil servants is always popular, but that it was going to mean inconveniences to the public. I think the two examples I then took were, first, delay in getting back one's motor-car registration licence; and, secondly, the fact that it was bound to slow down my programme for extending compulsory registration of title to land.


My Lords, if, as I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack would agree, land registration results in a reduction in the costs incurred in buying and selling houses, it is surely in the interests of the overall economy of the country to permit and encourage its extension rather than to delay it.


My Lords, I should be very glad if we could. Of course, there are a number of civil servants who earn their keep—for instance, those, I suppose, who issue motor-car licences and collect the money. But the pledge was an overall pledge: that in this financial year the total number of civil servants would not be increased.


My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord further aware that the civil engineering E.D.C. have asked for registration to be speeded up, to save expense and delay in acquiring property for roads? Does the noble and learned Lord really feel that such reductions and economies which could be obtained by increasing the speed of registration are rendered impossible for the reason that he has stated? Could not some special case be made for getting some increase in the civil servants allowed for that purpose?


My Lords, I am afraid not. The pledge that the number of civil servants would not be increased this year was favourably received by everybody. As I have said, in this field I, personally, should be glad to see this work done, but it cannot be done without an increase in civil servants.


My Lords, while welcoming the noble and learned Lord's fulfilment of the intention to limit the number of civil servants, may I ask whether he is aware that it is well known that there is a large professional staff in the Land Commission with not very much to do? Is it possible that they could help with this matter of land registration?


My Lords, that is a very happy thought which I will certainly pursue.


My Lords, further to that supplementary question, may I ask whether the noble and learned Lord would consider putting out a White Paper or some statement showing where the shoe is pinching—what people are short in numbers and where the money is short—in order that we may consider, if possible, where priorities ought to lie, whether with land registration on the one hand, or with the Land Commission on the other? I feel that even within the target of the number of civil servants, it should be possible, if one has the information to see that resources are better used.


My Lords, the Chief Land Registrar has been into this matter exhaustively. He was getting on extremely well in what was our six-year "crash" programme to extend compulsory registration of title to all the built-up areas of the country. He was absolutely on time. He is all ready, when the word "Go" is given, to proceed further, and he has published statements showing exactly where compulsory title has slowed down. They would have been during 1968–69, Nottingham, Liverpool, Luton, Dunstable, Bedford and Kempston, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Cardiff and Newport, having in all a total population of just over two million, and I think everybody concerned knows that those are the areas which have unfortunately been affected.