§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord SIMON of GLAISDALE
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Matrimonial Homes (Co-ownership) Bill. I think I should explain to your Lordships why I am taking this course, after your Lordships gave it such overwhelming support on Second Reading; support so unanimous that my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack felt it incumbent, as he said, to act as the Devil's advocate against the Bill. My noble and learned friend is never anything else but effective as an advocate, but I am bound to say that he is more convincing when he has a more congenial client to represent.
The Bill was not, in any event, going to make progress during this Session, but the supporters of the Bill understood that it would be reintroduced at the beginning of next Session. In the meantime, though, there has been a decision by an Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House in a case called Williams and Glyn's Bank v. Bolland, which was argued last April and decided in June. That was a highly technical matter with which I do not propose to trouble your Lordships. It had to deal with land registration and a concept called overriding interest. My noble and learned friend Lord Scarman was a member of the committee and he will, no doubt, go further into it if your Lordships so require.
But one of the effects of the decision was that my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack thought that the whole matter of land registration and overriding interest should be considered by the Law Commission. As the matter impinged slightly on the Matrimonial 114 Homes (Co-ownership) Bill, he asked whether I would withdraw the measure so that the Law Commission could consider any repercussions, and, of course, my noble and learned friend having expressed that wish, I was anxious to comply.
I know that there have been misgivings that a reference back to the Law Commission might be simply a manoeuvre to stifle the Bill. I do not myself believe that. My noble and learned friend, when he wrote to me, said that he thought that that course would give the Bill a better opportunity of passing into law. I have been assured by the chairman of the Law Commission that there is no question of going back on the principle of co-ownership which has been accepted since 1973, when my noble and learned friend Lord Scarman was chairman of the Law Commission, and in the form of a Bill since 1978, when the late Mr. Justice Cooke was chairman. The present chairman has, as I said, assured me that there is no question of going back on that principle.
As I understand it, therefore, the task of the Law Commission will be to see whether the machinery of the Bill needs any reconsideration in the light of the Bolland case. My own view is that it can have only the slightest repercussion, because the only clause that I can see which might be affected is Clause 24(4), which is in declaratory form and might need a slight change of wording. My noble and learned friend Lord Scarman, who knows much more about this matter than I do from both sides—the Law Commission and your Lordships' Appellate Committee—considers that the Bill does not require any amendment at all. Therefore, I cannot conceive that it would be a matter of any prolonged delay if the course which my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack favours were followed. In those circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw the Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be withdrawn.—(Lord Simon of Glaisdale.)
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord SCARMAN
I cannot think that the House would be very pleased if I were to accept my noble and learned friend's invitation to explain the techni- 115 calities of the Bolland decision or its relationship to the Matrimonal Homes (Co-ownership) Bill, and I politely and firmly decline the invitation.
I am a reluctant supporter of the order for which my noble and learned friend is asking. I am reluctant because I think it is a pity that we should have further delay before a Bill which has been so thoroughly thought out by the Law Commission and which has tremendous support is enacted. But I respect the decision to ask the Law Commission to take another look at this highly technical problem with which it is concerned and, like my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I am content, or at any rate I accept, that the order committing the Bill to the Committee should be discharged.
§ Lord RENTON
My Lords, it will be well known to your Lordships, especially to noble and learned Lords, that the Law Commission always have more on their plate than they can readily digest. Therefore one hopes that when this matter is referred to the Law Commission, as I hope it has already been, they will not find there are so many other matters of pressing urgency that this must go to the end of the queue. I do not know whether my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is able to give us any idea of the degree of priority which this matter will have, but certainly it should not be long postponed.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)
My Lords, before I formally put to the House the leave to withdraw the Bill asked for by my noble and learned friend on the Cross-Benches, perhaps I may say by way of a footnote that I was, as a matter of fact, taken entirely by surprise and that I was not conscious that this matter was going to be raised this evening—so much so that I had to change my clothes twice during the course of the day. I owe it entirely to the courtesy of my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale that I was told at all, otherwise I might well not have been here. I therefore speak without adequate preparation. However, I can assure my noble and learned friend that so far as I am concerned there is no question of a manoeuvre of any kind. I am very largely in the hands of the present and the former chairman of the Law Commission.
116 I cannot give my noble friend Lord Renton any immediate news, but I will try to find out for him the answer to his question, so far as I am able, and I think that to write to him would be the best plan. There will be no chance whatever of this Bill reaching the statute book in this Session, so we shall all have time to reflect upon what has taken place.
I am very grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale for having made the matter so plain. There are questions of a technical character arising out of the land registration case to which reference has been made which the Law Commission wish to consider in connection with the Bill. I cannot say what will be the result of it, but both of my noble and learned friends on the Cross-Benches are there to act as eagle-eyed inspectors of what goes on. Therefore I apprehend that no harm will be done, while they are there, at any rate, to the supporters of the Bill, and certainly they are losing nothing by the step which is at present proposed.
§ Bill, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.15 to 8 p.m.]