Clause 106 - Jurisdiction

Land Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 13 December 2001.

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Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire 10:45, 13 December 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 86, in page 37, line 18, at end insert—

'(c) determining appeals concerning the boundary of a registered estate, as referred to in section 60.'.

I believe that there has not been a specific debate in the other place or this House on matters relating to clause 106, except that Lord Goodhart in another place moved a probing amendment to clause 60, which refers to boundaries, in an attempt to clarify the role of the adjudicator. The functions of the adjudicator are covered by clause 106 and my amendment relates to those. The noble Lord said when moving his amendment that it

''would clarify that situation''--

on registration--

''and make it clear beyond any doubt that the adjudicator will have jurisdiction to determine the question of fixing boundaries.''--[Official Report, House of Lords, 19 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1606.]

I referred to those matters when I spoke on clause 60.

I am attempting in the amendment to add to the functions of the adjudicator. I welcome the setting up of the office of the adjudicator by the Lord Chancellor. The adjudicator takes over certain functions that are currently undertaken by the solicitor for Her Majesty's Land Registry but is completely independent of the Land Registry and will continue to provide certain determinations cheaply, swiftly and more informally than court hearings. The independence, informality and relative cheapness of the arrangement is welcome when the registration of land and property involves issues that are often fraught with disputes.

The clause defines the areas of the adjudicator's jurisdiction. They are important but limited areas, and I hope that they will be extended and developed in future. The function provided for in the clause first deals with certain objections raised against applications for registration, which are described in clause 73(7). Secondly, it deals with determining disputes about what are known as network access agreements and thirdly, with making orders required by the High Court to correct or set aside certain dispositions and transfers of interest. If those functions were added to over time, the adjudicator could become the first port of call in a wide number of disputes before anything appeared before the courts. That would be beneficial because it would provide uncostly, quick informal decisions closely based on the records of the Land Registry.

During debates on clauses 11 and 60 I have been worried about two points. The first is boundary disputes and is addressed in the amendment, which would include such matters in the adjudicator's role.

The second relates to access ways over land, on which I tabled an amendment that has not been selected. My concerns would be addressed by amendment No. 86 because cross deeds that affect boundaries also involve areas with access problems. I dealt with a case in which three people shared access ways and certain details were included in one set of deeds, but not in another so their rights were limited. The ability to ask the adjudicator to sort out a boundary dispute would have been valuable.

I am grateful to the Minister for considering the points that I have raised and sending me a detailed letter on them on 12 December. Although he considers the cases that I raised as matters for the courts to resolve—I hope that I have correctly interpreted what he has written—he recognises that they are relevant to the consultation process when drawing up rules provided for in clause 126. He also recognises that there are possible extensions to the role of the adjudicator, particularly after the introduction of electronic conveyancing, that can be further addressed when the provisions are reviewed. I am grateful for the airing of that and the fact that the Minister has taken it seriously.

I tabled this as a probing amendment in order to place on record what has arisen during my correspondence with the Minister. I hope that we are at the start of a period in which the role of the adjudicator, when it is up and running and has acquired experience, can be extended and developed because it will be a handier way in which to deal with a dispute, and better than dragging things to the courts. Sometimes solicitors might be over-keen to encourage clients to take something to court, but that is extensive, costly and may come up with peculiar results. Being able to decide a case in a different atmosphere—one linked into but independent of Land Registry—would be of great benefit.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General 11:00, 13 December 2001

This is an interesting amendment and I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it because the issues it raises will be immensely important in relation the role of the adjudicator. The Government advisers who are listening to the debate should take into account that a role similar to that of an ombudsman that deals with questions related to complex matters that affect many people should be given as much publicity as possible so that its functions are known to those people who could take advantage of them. A huge number of people own their own properties and leases, and they should know exactly what the adjudicator can do for them. That information should be made available as soon as land is registered. It should be incumbent on advisers to ensure that the people who need to know are informed that this service is available to them. That is a simple point on which the amendment allows us to touch.

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

I have two practical questions on the amendment, which the hon. Gentleman rightly described as interesting. Indeed, it was moved in the other place by one of my noble

Friends. Is there capacity within the Land Registry to answer the number of inquiries that may come to it? Will the Land Registry be able to offer such a service without a comprehensive land register?

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

I hope that I am right in saying that this is the amendment on which we have had the most contributions from members of the Committee. That reflects its importance, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) for bringing it to our attention. These disputes can be troublesome for the individuals concerned and can cause a great deal of grief and stress, so anything that can help to resolve them is welcome. However, the amendment is unnecessary because the Bill already sets out procedures that will achieve my hon. Friend's objective.

Before I go on to address those issues, perhaps I can reassure the hon. Members for Stone and for Torbay that the Land Registry has the capacity to register every square inch of land in this country, which is a goal that we are well on the way to achieving. In the interim, the adjudicator will provide a valuable service, and the Land Registry will do everything it can, as it usually does, to bring its services to the attention of everyone who may benefit from them. I shall detain the Committee briefly on this subject because it is an important issue and I want to put my view on the record.

Clause 60 creates a rule-making power that will govern procedures for determining the exact line of a boundary. Those procedures are quite flexible, and they will not be limited to applications by those with an interest in the land, so the registrar will be able to take steps to fix a boundary where, for example, that seems to be the sensible way to resolve a dispute. However, it will be possible to apply to the registrar for a boundary to be fixed, and that may well be the most usual way in which the procedure is started. Under clause 60(4) applications for fixing boundaries must be made to the registrar.

That is as far as clause 60 needs to go because the provisions for handling disputes on applications are now to be found in clauses 73 and 106. Under clause 73, anyone may object to an application to the registrar. The registrar must tell the applicant that an objection has been lodged, and may not determine the application until the objection has been disposed of. The registrar may attempt to do that either by encouraging the parties to negotiate or by discussing the matter with them. If it is impossible to dispose of the objection by agreement, under clause 73(7) the registrar must refer it to the adjudicator. Clause 106 gives the adjudicator the jurisdiction to determine such appeals, and provides wide powers to do so.

The Bill therefore already achieves what the amendment sets out to do. It creates a range of ways, of escalating formality, in which disputes can be handled before they must go to the adjudicator. The provisions reflect the wide range of circumstances that can arise in land registration disputes, and the Government believe that they provide the flexibility

needed in the vast majority of cases. In the light of my explanation, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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

The amendment would clarify and extend the provisions of the adjudicator whom I recognise will be newly established. Some areas with which the adjudicator will be involved relate to my concerns, and I hope that through the consideration of rules and later review we may move to a position in which this begins to be contained in statute. However, I am happy with the Minister's response, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 107 to 125 ordered to stand part of the Bill.