First, I welcome you to the chair, Mr. Illsley. As the Parliamentary Secretary has already said, we had a perfectly congenial Second Reading. This is a very technical Bill, and I pay tribute to those in the Law Society and the Chancery Bar who have helped us to formulate our views on the subject.
I also pay tribute to the other House, where most of these matters have been exhaustively discussed and canvassed in Committee and on Report, with great expertise. Because of that, and because this is a Law Commission and Land Registry Bill backed up by enormous expertise and the assistance that I have mentioned, it will be unnecessary for us to prolong the proceedings unduly. That would be to engage, in effect, in repetition of what has already been discussed—with several important exceptions. I shall treat the Committee stage in that light.
The amendments relate to non-continuous leases and situations in which title may be registered. Their object is to achieve consistency and avoid making the register over-saturated. We believe that non-continuous leases should be registrable only if they are to last for at least 14 years. I should add that a discontinuous lease is one that is granted for, say, a fortnight each year. Several timeshare developments have been documented in that way, but the system could conceivably be used in other ways. I discovered the example of the letting of a site to a regularly visiting fair, and in a VAT case it was held that the letting of a lease for one week a year for 80 years constituted a lease for 80 weeks.
The Bill provides that all discontinuous leases be registered, but the regrettable truth is that that could clog up the register to no obvious advantage. On the other hand, to apply the general time qualification, even if it were as low as seven years, would exclude almost all such leases from registration. Our suggestion is that one should consider how distant is the final date—the beginning of the last week or fortnight—on which the tenant would be entitled to take possession. If that date were as distant as the normal period of qualification for registration, the non-continuous lease would be registrable.
There is a further reason for accepting the amendment. Under the Bill as drafted, if the parties to the lease wanted to register a lease for less than 14 years or less than seven years, they could do so by creating a lease with a short break of, for example, one day. That would make it non-continuous and, according to current proposals, registrable. Again, that would result in the register's being unnecessarily and unjustifiably saturated.
It has been common practice to let grazing tenancies for less than a year to avoid the effects of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1984. Theoretically, a tenant is not entitled to occupy the gap between two tenancies, but none the less, animals often remain on the field continuously. Who could say that mid-tenancy breaks inserted to make a lease registrable would not be treated with the same disregard?
Amendment No. 28 deals with the issue of very short leases. Under the Bill, a cottage rented for a week at Easter half term will have to be registered—a situation that I would not have thought was intended.