HL Deb 23 February 1988 vol 493 cc1120-3

7.23 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Land Registration Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Templeman

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Templeman.)

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, as no amendments have been tabled, I think that this is an appropriate time to make a few remarks before we reach the stage of asking the House to say that the Bill be now passed. I should, first, like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Templeman, for the way in which he has piloted the Bill through your Lordships' House with his usual courtesy and eloquence. Although it may already have been done, I believe that the time is also opportune to express the appreciation of the House, which is so often felt, to the Law Commission for the work that it did in order that the Bill might see the light of day.

The Bill was received with a little anxiety by some members of the legal profession. They were of the opinion that the secrecy and privacy that appertained to the registration of title, and to the issue of ownership and so forth, was rather precious. It was felt that the Land Registration Bill now before us was an invasion of that private right by giving the public the means to obtain certain information from the registrar. I do not believe that that was a majority view within the profession but the view was expressed. I believe that nobody could have put the answer to that question better than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Templeman, when at Second Reading he said; The ownership of land can no longer be confidential. Ownership of land brings obligations as well as rights. Many people apart from the owner are interested in land. The state is interested. The Forestry Commission is interested. Everyone concerned with town planning is interested. Neighbours are interested. Tenants are interested. Even a trespasser might he interested. One cannot isolate a piece of land in the middle of England and, for no good reason, simply cloak its ownership and say that no one should be entitled to know the name of the man who owns it."—[Official Report, 25/11/87; col. 683.] I quote that statement with some amount of pleasure only because I believe that when reading the paragraph even the minority in the legal profession who felt otherwise will be convinced that this Bill deserves your Lordships' support.

I have only one other comment to make. It will be remembered that at the Committee stage a provision was inserted stating that the date of operation of the Bill should be such as may be fixed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. At Second Reading, he expressed views as to the delay which for understandable reasons might occur in the operation of the Bill in regard to the administration of the Land Registry. I noticed that there appears to be omitted by accident a word from the additional clause. I do not say that that will be the most profound and useful remark that I shall ever make in your Lordships' Chamber. Clause 3, as amended in Committee, states that: the Act shall come into force", and I believe that then the word "on" has been omitted. The clause goes on to read: such day as the Lord Chancellor may by order made by statutory instrument appoint". I should like your Lordships to know that I read the Bill as amended in Commiteee and that seems to be the sole point of my making that remark.

Will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor give an indication about that matter? In addition to the legal professions other professions are interested as to when the Act may come into operation, if the Bill becomes an Act after leaving your Lordships' House today

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in congratulating my noble and learned friend Lord Templeman on bringing the Bill to this stage. I should like to thank him for bringing the Bill forward and for the skilful and eloquent way in which he has piloted it through the House. There is also the added bonus that his words may have had the effect of soothing the anxieties felt among a minority of the legal profession, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said.

I should also like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in thanking the Law Commission for its work. We owe it a continual debt in this and other areas of the law. It is right that we should acknowledge that and I do so with pleasure.

It would be my wish to bring the Bill, if it becomes an Act, into operation as soon as possible, consistent with not imposing the burden of bringing it into operation at a time when the Land Registry was under heavy commitment to its ordinary business.

As your Lordships know, the Land Registry has had difficulty in the recent past with the growth in conveyancing activity. We must warmly welcome that growth but it has imposed a fairly heavy burden on the registry and on the loyal staff who run it. I would not wish to introduce such a provision in a way that would impede progress in that connection. I hope that the arrangements which have been made, and which were outlined at Second Reading, will have the effect of enabling the business of the Land Registry to continue to run smoothly. I also would not wish anything to be done to impede the extension of the registration of title which I believe your Lordships will welcome. I hope that these constraints may still allow us to bring this Bill, if it becomes an Act, into force at a fairly early stage.

Lord Templeman

My Lords, in commending the Bill in its present form to your Lordships, I should like to echo the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to the Law Commission and, in particular, Mr. Trevor Aldridge. Mr. Aldridge was a member of the Law Commission in 1985 when the Law Commission first set its hand to its report and has been of great assistance in marshalling the amendments and consulting the Land Registry to make sure that the Bill is in a form which is acceptable to all those interested in it.

I should also like to thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for their support for this Bill. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his wise words about the minority. I can understand the feelings which have been expressed. I do not believe that there are any secrets or confidences which will be exposed as a result of the passing of this Bill. I have been heartened by the number of people who have spoken to me and who have had real experience of difficulty when, with innocuous proposals or information that they really needed, they have been frustrated by the fact that their solicitors have had to throw up their hands and say, "We cannot find out who owns the land". I am sure this Bill will be a useful measure for that purpose.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, who has supported the Bill and has given it a prod in various interesting directions from time to time and who has warned the Treasury—and one always supports him in this—to keep its hands off the Land Registry money and let the Land Registry do what it wishes to; namely, to computerise and bring the whole of the Land Registry into the 21st century. I am grateful for the kind remarks which have been made about me. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.