HL Deb 05 December 1996 vol 576 cc794-6

4.13 p.m.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Browne-Wilkinson.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Lord Coleraine moved an amendment: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause— Inspection of leases of residential flats (". After subsection (1)(a) of section 112 of the Land Registration Act 1925 (inspection of register and other documents) insert— (aa) copies, in the custody of the Registrar, of leases of residential flats referred to in the register, and".")

The noble Lord said: When I supported this Bill at Second Reading, I had given notice to the noble and learned Lord and to my noble friend Lady Trumpington that I considered that the Bill gave an appropriate opportunity to revisit the 1988 Land Registration Act. That Act opened up the Land Registry for the first time. It gave public access to most of the information about the ownership of land in England and Wales held in the registry. A notable exception at that time, and now, is that copies of registered leases held in the registers remain secret.

The case that I made at Second Reading—I need not repeat it now—was that much water had passed under the bridge since 1988 and that it was now appropriate to reconsider the matter as it was left then. There would be great benefit to all actual and potential flat owners if they and those who advise them had access as of right to copies of registered residential flat leases. This amendment would provide for that change.

In responding for the Government at Second Reading, my noble friend regretted that time had not permitted an answer to be prepared and given to me. She undertook to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to write to me with a substantive reply. I have now received that reply. I shall be happy to provide any Members of the Committee with a copy of his letter. My noble and learned friend wrote that the Government could not support an amendment to this Bill to compel the Land Registry to provide copies of residential flat leases as of right. However, he reminded me that the registrar has a statutory discretion, which is occasionally exercised, to provide copy leases in cases where there is no right of inspection. My noble and learned friend writes also: The Registrar accepts that, since that section was replaced in 1988. circumstances have shown that there is sometimes a need to see copy leases of flats other than the one owned by the applicant and there have been some cases where the discretion has been exercised accordingly. Following consideration of the points you made in the debate, the Registrar proposes that there should be a liberal use of the discretion so that anyone who can show an interest in obtaining copy leases of residential flats may do so upon payment of the usual fee. Without being limited to such cases, the exercise of the discretion would encompass any person involved in a process of collective enfranchisement or who is interested either as an existing lessee or as an intending one in a flat in a purpose built block of flats or a converted building.

I found that encouraging. It may well be that my noble friend will be able to satisfy me that my concerns can be met in that way. I look forward to her response. In the meantime, I beg to move.

Baroness Trumpington

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Coleraine for giving the Chamber an opportunity to hear what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has been able to offer as an interim measure to go towards meeting the noble Lord's point about access to copy leases held by HM Land Registry. Further details will be addressed by the joint working group which is considering land registration. Meanwhile, as I said during the Second Reading debate, the Government wish this short but useful Bill a fair wind for the remainder of its passage through this Chamber and in due course in another place.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, having received that assurance, will be able to withdraw the amendment, so as to enable this Bill, which everybody agrees is valuable, to go through swiftly. Otherwise, we have to move to Report stage formally, which will hold it up. I trust that the assurances from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may be sufficient.

Lord Coleraine

I am very pleased to reassure the noble and learned Lord. I am very satisfied with the response from my noble friend. I should like to thank my noble and learned friend and the registrar for dealing with the matter so speedily in the way that they have done. I am sure that the changes being introduced will be of great benefit to many lessees and those who advise them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses and schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.