Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:26 pm on 9th December 2016.

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Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:26 pm, 9th December 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for bringing this Private Member’s Bill forward for debate today. He is a man of great experience in this area and the intention of the Bill is to resolve property boundary disputes at the earliest opportunity and with the least cost to the individuals concerned. That is a very welcome intention indeed. We are all aware that matters concerning boundaries can lead to highly charged and protracted legal proceedings, which can be extremely expensive for the parties involved, and certainly far more expensive, as has been said before, than the value of the land in question or the boundary in dispute. That situation is of benefit to no one and we should all be concerned to remedy it. Being able to consider the revised Bill is very welcome. I generally welcome the Bill, as did the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. That is not to say that there are no areas that could be improved and refined in your Lordships’ House, and I hope we will have a day in Committee to do that.

As has already been outlined, the Bill makes provision for the resolution of disputes concerning the location or placement of boundaries and of private rights of way relating to the title of an estate in land. It seeks to do this by requiring the owner of land who wishes to establish a boundary to serve notice on the adjoining landowner. If the adjoining landowner does not specifically consent to the notice, a dispute is deemed to have arisen. The dispute is then resolved by an agreed surveyor or, where there is no agreed surveyor, by a third surveyor who shall determine the precise location of the boundary. I very much agree that too many matters are driven towards the courts, and the Bill gives us a clear and straightforward way in which to resolve these disputes. The surveyor’s findings would be considered conclusive and could be challenged only if an appeal was made within 28 days to the High Court. The Secretary of State shall have the power to make regulations regarding the process and the surveyors, and would specify that there would be no right of appeal to the county court. Where a party to the dispute seeks to disrupt or not co-operate with this process, the Bill sets out the rights of surveyors to be given reasonable access.

I am assuming that the Bill is not going to receive an enthusiastic welcome from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, but I hope he will recognise that this is a real issue and a real problem and that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, is making a positive attempt to reduce the costs and have these boundary disputes determined quickly and efficiently for as little cost as possible to all the parties involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who is not in his place today, said on a previous occasion that this proposal would not always return beneficial results. He suggested that this could be due to the adversarial nature of these disputes and the potential lack of legal expertise held by the appointed surveyors. If the noble Lord, Lord Henley, intends to pursue a similar opinion today, perhaps he could also address the argument that it is the expertise of surveyors in determining these matters that would make the likelihood of successful appeal proceedings less likely. That is because the determination will have been made by a qualified professional who is an expert in the field following regulations set out by the Secretary of State on how these matters must be determined. It would also be helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Henley, given that combination of factors, would express his view on the number of appeals he would expect.

I again thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for bringing the Bill before your Lordships’ House. It is a valuable contribution to the debate on these matters and a pointer to where we need to make improvements.

I have said before on many occasions that some very good Private Members’ Bills come before your Lordships’ House. We have a Second Reading and then pass a Motion to commit it to a Committee of the whole House—and then the Bills die and are never seen again. I ask the Minister to take back to the Government Chief Whip the suggestion that the Bills could be passed on to the Moses Room, where they could be debated in a more consensual way and make more progress. It is a shame that so many Bills are left sitting here and often die after Second Reading. With that, I bring my remarks to a close.