Clause 23 - Owner's powers

Part of Land Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 11 December 2001.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General 12:00, 11 December 2001

The Bill removes the power to create a mortgage by demise. That is a helpful and welcome modernisation, assuming that the man in the street knows what a mortgage by demise means. As a solicitor who has held a certificate to practise since 1967, I am well aware of the complexities of the law. However, although I have done quite a lot of conveyancing, it is not one of my specialties. Despite the Government's intention to improve the quality of the legislation, which I appreciate, it is obvious as we proceed that we are dealing with matters of enormous complexity and that much of the language is, by definition, more than the average person can be expected to understand. Speaking as a lawyer, I am happy to acknowledge—I can see St. Thomas's hospital across the river—that the same applies in the medical and other professions.

Complications develop by accretion and we must simplify the legislation and the language that is used. It is quite a bold task, but Justinian managed to do it in the 3rd or 4th century, if I have my dates right—I probably have not. He went off to Byzantium, took one look at the statute book and saw that it was an incredible mess, employed 2,000 lawyers and told them that they had about 18 months in which to sort it all out. Believe it or not, they achieved that.

My point is an example of the question marks that arise in drafting. How does one define what a legal charge is when what it is said to be equivalent to can no longer be created? The purpose of the amendment is to overcome that. The matter was first raised in the House of Lords and there is an intellectual battle between the draftsmen. We believe that our amendment is preferable because it resolves the problem more directly and simply, and that the Government's formulation in the Bill is unnecessarily complicated and might even be technically defective. The difficulty that I am predicating comes not from the change to section 87 of the Law of Property Act 1925 made by clause 23 (1)(a), which is the basis on which the Government's formulation proceeds. Clause 23 does not affect the meaning of section 87 of the 1925 Act but provides that a registered proprietor cannot make a disposition of a kind to which section 87 refers. I am happy to acknowledge that those words, which may sound erudite, have their basis in the intellectual battle between the draftsmen on both sides of the equation. I want to put the issue on the record because drafting amendments can ultimately become a matter of contention in the courts. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.