Clause 5 - Power to extend section 4

Land Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 11 December 2001.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General 11:30, 11 December 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 4, line 20, at end insert 'the Rule Committee and'.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 74, in clause 116, page 40, line 15, at beginning insert—

'In addition to the consultation required by section 125(1A),'.

No. 77, in clause 125, page 42, line 7,at end insert—

'(1A) Before making any order under any provision of this Act, the Lord Chancellor shall consult the Rule Committee.'.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

The amendment would require the Lord Chancellor to consult the Land Registration Rule Committee in addition to other people whom he considers to be appropriate. It is imperative that all interested parties are properly consulted, especially those on whom the Government are relying to implement the system. The Rule Committee should be consulted before the Lord Chancellor exercises the power to amend section 4. It is important that where he does exercise that power, the order should be approved by each House of Parliament. If the Lord Chancellor decides, for whatever reason, to invoke his powers under clause 5, why not consult the Rule Committee in addition to other people whom he considers to be appropriate?

The matter was discussed at some length in the other place both in Committee and on Report, but we are having to make the same point yet again. It is a simple point about consultation. As Baroness Buscombe said in the other place:

''It remains our contention that if we are to have a rule committee, we should have a committee that has broad powers and a strong remit in order to allow it to be used to good, practical effect by the Lord Chancellor of the day to ensure that the right decisions are made.

I echo the words of the Minister''—

that is, Baroness Scotland

''when she said in Committee,

'Confidence in the system is necessary. Once that confidence has been established, it will be possible for the Lord Chancellor of the day to look again at whether a further reduction is merited, but that would be done at a time that was in line with what the market, the profession and the registry could tolerate with ease'.—(Official Report, 17/07/01; col. 1395.)

We believe that the rule committee would be ideally placed, given its constituents, to signal to the Lord Chancellor when that time may be right.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 October 2001; Vol. 627, c. 1314.]

Photo of Adrian Sanders Adrian Sanders Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

What is the Rule Committee and who are its members?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

Members of the Rule Committee are deputed to give advice to the Lord Chancellor about the manner in which rules relating to registration are devised. I cannot give individual names.

Photo of Adrian Sanders Adrian Sanders Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Perhaps my question should be addressed to the Minister. Is it not likely that members of the Rule Committee would be consulted by the Lord Chancellor in any event?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

That is a valid point, but it would be better put to the Minister.

The other amendments are designed to prevent the rule-making power being used to introduce compulsory registration of five-year and shorter leases without further parliamentary consideration. Five-year leases are, indeed, common. They are usually occupational, business, residential or farming leases and are not assigned anything like as frequently as longer interests. There is no pressing practical need to register them, either to ensure that the purchaser and the superior interest find out about them, or to make it easier to buy and sell them.

Not only are five-year and shorter leases predominantly granted to tenants for their own occupation throughout the term and rarely assigned or under-let, the tenant holds all the documentation relevant to the assignee or under-tenant and would still do so were the lease registered. The benefits of registration to the parties would be small.

The Government said in Committee in the other place that registration of short leases would enable information to be collected that would be useful in creating transparency in the market. Even if it is accepted that there is a connected purpose in the long title of the Bill, making tenants register and pay fees for the privilege in furtherance of what the Government present as a general public interest would amount to levying tax. If it is permissible to comment on that, I suggest that that would be an unreasonable tax.

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

Both of the amendments would require the Lord Chancellor to consult the Rule Committee before making orders under the Bill. The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) asked a question about the Rule Committee and perhaps I can enlighten him. The hon. Member for Stone rightly said that that is the body that gives assistance and advice to the Lord Chancellor when he makes rules on Land Registration. Its current composition is a High Court judge from the Chancery Division, the Chief Land Registrar, a person chosen by the former Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, a person chosen by the council of the Law Society and a person chosen by the General Council of the Bar.

The membership of the Rule Committee is to be broadened to include a nominee of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, a nominee of the Council of Licensed Conveyancers and a consumer affairs expert. It will no longer include a person chosen by the former MAFF, but will instead include a surveyor appointed by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

I must resist both amendments. Amendment No. 8 deals with the important power given to the Lord Chancellor under clause 5 to extend compulsory registration by order, by adding further events that will trigger first registration. Amendment No. 74 would have a wider effect, making the same requirement in relation to all the order-making powers in clause 116. As a result of Government amendments in another place, the exercise of both those powers will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

The Government also made a commitment in another place to consult the members of the Rule Committee before making an order under the clauses. Its members will undoubtedly have a valuable contribution to make to any consultation processes undertaken on secondary legislation made under the Bill. I have already described the professional membership of that committee. Its members will bring to the process the professional expertise that took them on to the committee and their experience of serving on it. I am happy to repeat that commitment, but I think that it is all that is required.

The duty to consult on both clauses is worded widely to enable the Lord Chancellor to consult with such persons as are appropriate for the issues being dealt with in the order and at the time. The clauses reflect the formal procedures for the preparation of the rules concerned. We cannot know at this stage when the need for consultation will arise, or what changes might occur in the meantime. It is therefore prudent for the clause not to be more prescriptive.

There is a further, more technical reason for resisting the amendments. When consultees are listed in statute, it can be thought that there is some justification in limiting consultation to those people, or treating their contributions as carrying greater weight than those of others. That is inadvisable when, as in this case, a large number of interests will have to be taken into account in the preparation of rules. I undertake to ensure that the members of the Rule Committee are included in any consultation process under the clauses. The Government maintain that it would be inappropriate and unnecessary to highlight one particular group by mentioning it in the Bill.

I hope that in the light of those commitments, the hon. Gentleman will be able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General

I am sorry to disappoint the Minister. I understand the generosity that impels him to suggest that there will be consultation, but he referred to our amendments as prescriptive. All I can say is that we believe that there is a strong line for sustaining our position. I regret to have to say this, because it is not one of the most fundamental issues underlying the Bill and the Minister put his contribution in temperate terms, but an underlying question remains and I shall press the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 7.

Division number 2 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 5 - Power to extend section 4

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.