Clause 60 - Boundaries

Land Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 11 December 2001.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General 12:15, 11 December 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 52, in page 22, line 7, leave out ''may'' and insert ''shall''.

Congratulations, Mr. Illsley, on that marathon run. I am amazed that you managed to remember the words as well as you did. It is a bit like reciting ''The Rime of the Ancient Mariner''. I hope that the Clerks and others and the Minister will take note of the point that I have tried to make: in the absence of any sense of dissension in a Committee of this kind, having to go through such a marathon to no useful purpose seems an unbelievable waste of time and breath. That is all part of my continuing interest in improving the procedures of the House and its Committees. Wearing my hat as shadow Attorney-General, I am entitled to make that point. I am sure that the Minister will agree, and that my point will be noted down and referred to the appropriate sources, such as the Leader of the House.

The amendment concerns rules for fixing boundaries. Those are well established, but little used. There should be no doubt that that facility will continue. The overwhelming majority of property boundaries shown on Land Registry plans are subject to the general boundaries rule—in other words, they are approximate. That flexibility is valuable. At least one state in the United States abandoned registration of title early in the 20th century because fixing precise boundaries was found to be impractical.

Remembering any of the great films with John Wayne and the others that we can all recall from the '50s and '60s—at least, those of us who were around at the time can—I would think that it was extremely difficult in the United States to establish where boundaries were. It seems that they kept on being pulled down and re-erected, and an awful lot of people got shot in the intervening period. We are rather more peaceable about such matters over here, although I suspect that there are some people not very far from here who have grave reservations about the system.

The procedure for fixing boundaries—that is, guaranteeing what is shown on Land Registry plans—is well established and sometimes very useful. It is therefore important that it remain. The Law Society proposes that there should be a duty to make rules for that purpose rather than it being discretionary. The Land Registry quinquennial report says that fixed boundaries may become more common, especially where adverse possession proceedings succeed in boundary cases.

Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

This is an important subject. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire has already inferred, it often causes considerable concern. I hope that my remarks will reassure him as well as the hon. Member for Stone.

Powers in clause 60 allow rules to be made governing the determination of a fixed boundary. It might be helpful if I remind the Committee that the boundaries marked on registry plans are general ones, mapped to obvious landmarks. They are not precisely determined and an application to the registrar is necessary for a definitive answer to be given on where the boundaries lie between two properties.

The procedure is used comparatively infrequently and inevitably requires an application to the registrar and the work that that involves. Applications are often opposed and the general feeling may be that there is no need to invoke the procedure unless there is a specific problem to be dealt with. The report behind the Bill states that that may well change, since improved computer-based mapping techniques may enable a rather cheaper firm boundary to be constructed.

Effective provision by rule is already essential and will remain so, but that is not an argument for the amendment. The style of drafting adopted throughout the Bill and the general practice for conferring power to make rules are designed to make it possible for rules to cover certain items, but not to require them to be made for any specific purpose. It is the correct approach to give the Lord Chancellor maximum flexibility to adapt the rules as the registry embarks on major changes to electronic conveyancing. Rules covering that area and other elements of land registration will be approved by the Rule Committee and will, following a Government amendment, be subject to the negative resolution procedure. There will be much scrutiny of what they contain, and gaps can be pointed out during that process.

A technical, if rather cautious, point against the amendment is that stipulating what the rules must contain would raise the argument that the condition had not been met, and raise the question of validity if the pre-condition had not been met. That would be highly undesirable and unnecessary in the context of the clause, given the degree of scrutiny that the rules will receive. I reassure the hon. Member for Stone that the intention is to make rules that deal with all of the headings set out in the clause. However, we should not place an artificial limitation on the registry's ability to adapt its procedures in appropriate ways that we cannot yet envisage. In light of that reassurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Barnes rose—

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

I await with interest and bated breath the comments of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire. I know that he has concern about the clause, which he raised on Second Reading. I will reserve stating my position until after we have heard his comments.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

I have been rather caught out by our fast-moving proceedings. When I spoke in the debate on clause 11, I said that I would like to persuade the Minister to table appropriate amendments to clause 60, or that I might be minded to do so myself—there was still time then to table an amendment for today. I am in difficulty because I did not realise that I was a member of this Committee until yesterday and by then it was too late to table an unstarred amendment. That is why I said that I wanted the clause to be clarified.

The Minister said that there is scope for the Land Registry to provide clarification when a dispute arises about the exact position of a border. However, in some cases, people have purchased property around which there is a clear physical border and no dispute is apparent, only later to discover that the border does not tie in with the deeds. The boundary line in the plan may not be particularly precise or accurate, but there are cases when part of a property has not been included and it is clear that the area goes beyond the boundary. Sometimes, such disputes are not taken to the Land Registry, but are dealt with by the courts, although the registry may adopt a position that defends the owner.

I have a constituency case of that nature and the people involved feel aggrieved. I support their position. New land that was being marked out was owned by the builder who was building the house next door, which he was occupying even though it took over a portion of land that was clearly included in the deeds. Because the courts had ruled that the people had purchased what they saw rather than what was in the deeds, they were placed in an extremely difficult position, which has led to an on-going dispute. Under the law as it stands, they have lost the very element of land that was initially in their deeds, and they believe that the deeds should have had much greater standing. Although the case could be taken to court again on appeal, financial and other difficulties would arise.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General 12:50, 11 December 2001

I have nothing to add to what I have already said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

On a point of order, Mr. Illsley. I thank members of the Committee for agreeing to that suspension, which was granted to try to accommodate my concerns. I was not able to table an amendment, but it is helpful to have discussed the matter, and I hope to proceed by other methods.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Is it the Committee's wish that I invoke Standing Order No. 52 whereby, with the possibility that there will be no more Divisions, I put the question that a group of clauses stand part of the Bill?

Hon. Members:


Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

On a point of order, Mr. Illsley. I was surprised that amendment No. 63 was not selected, as I had something to say about it. I am sure that there is a reason, but I should like to know what it is.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

I am advised that the amendment was not selected because it was defective.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

I am sorry to hear that. I was not aware of it—nor were those advising me. However, that is your decision, Mr. Illsley, and I shall have to take note of it.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

Yes, because that is the sum total of information that I have about the amendment. I shall try to get further clarification in due course.

Clauses 62 to 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.