New Clause 2 - Completion of register

Land Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 13 December 2001.

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'.—(1) All unregistered land shall be registered by 30th December 2003.

(2) Any person who fails to register land pursuant to this section shall be guilty of an offence punishable on conviction by a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.'.—[Mr. Sanders.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 3—Registrar to create public record of unregistered titles—

'.—The registrar shall create a public record of all unregistered titles known to him by 30th December 2003.'.—[Mr. Sanders.]

Mr. Sanders: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Bill will be used for the purposes of registering land, and I am confident that it will ensure that more land is registered than ever before. The Minister said more than once that he hopes that it will encourage the eventual registration of all land. The question is, when will that be? Will it be in 10, 20 or 100 years' time? It could be 1,000—although it is nearly 1,000 years since the Domesday book, so perhaps we should not worry about another 1,000.

As I said on Second Reading, there have been several attempts to record land ownership, most notably the 1872 return of owners of land, which

achieved without computers or lawyers, but with quill pens and ink, a 90 per cent. return within four years. That is 90 per cent. of acreage, not just title. Our country is 50 million acres in size and some 59 million of us live on those acres. The area taken up by the homes of those people takes up less than 10 per cent. of the land—a maximum of 6 million acres, but more probably just 4.4 million acres. It is impossible to settle on a more accurate figure, as the statistics for most of the UK are estimated, and the Northern Ireland Administration has no figures available at all for residential usage.

The scale of the discrepancy has been estimated, with 2.6 million acres of England unaccounted for and a further 1.2 million acre gap between the total that Government think is farmed and the amount that the European Union thinks is farmed. Despite the discrepancies, that still leaves a great deal of country uncovered by bricks and mortar—at least 55.6 million acres. Of that, between 12 million and 14.5 million acres are mountain, forest, moorland, water, roadways and industrial land, which leaves some 40 million acres of often beautiful, sometimes productive countryside, which is owned by just 189,000 families.

Are these figures important? Should we need or want to know who owns the country that we live in? Does it really matter who owns which parts of Britain? In my view, the answer is yes, it matters a lot—certainly a lot more than the tiny minority of those who own most of the land would like us to realise. The fact that the rich and powerful do not seem to want us to know who owns the country is encouragement enough to try to find out what they are hiding from us.

One obvious and instinctive link that many people have to the land that they inhabit is patriotism—an often incoherent and emotional bond, but hugely real for all that, and one that I am sure that is shared by everyone in this Room. Loyalty to one's land and community has frequently been used by Governments and monarchs to motivate people to take up arms and to die for their country, yet the vast majority of Britons who died in the two world wars of the 20th century owned not a square yard of their country's soil. Indeed, many ordinary soldiers fought in both world wars in the hope that one day their heirs would become owners of the land that they had fought to keep free.

After the second world war, those who had survived the conflict voted in a Labour Government to share out the land between all the people, not just the privileged few. In 1945, the redistribution of land was a manifesto commitment of the Labour party, similar in many respects to Lloyd George's promise to those returning from the first world war to make Britain a country fit for heroes to live in. They were betrayed then, as they so often have been.

Land also matters to those who own it, but for different reasons. Those reasons are not often heard, at least not in public, which makes the words of the 15th Earl of Derby in the 19th century all the more illuminating. One of the greatest landowners of his age, he explained in 1881 why people want to own land. He said:

''The object which men aim at when they become possessed of land in the British Isles may, I think, be enumerated as follows. One, political influence; two, social importance, founded on territorial possession, the most visible and unmistakable form of wealth; three, power exercised over tenantry; the pleasure of managing, directing and improving the estate itself; four, residential enjoyment, including what is called sport; five, the money return—the rent.''

He should have known, because he owned 68,942 acres in five counties, making him the 20th largest landowner in England and the seventh richest man in

the UK, with an annual income of £163,000, which is about £16 million today. The current heir to the estate, the 19th earl, owns about 30,000 of the acres attributed to the estate in 1872.

In his book, ''Who Owns Scotland'', Andy Wightman argues that the ownership and use of land is one of the most fundamental issues—

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Stringer.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock.