New clause 2 - Completion of register

Part of Land Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 13 December 2001.

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Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department) 2:30, 13 December 2001

I thank the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) for a fascinating and radical insight into the way in which Liberal Democrat policy is evolving. If I understood him correctly, he is calling for the nationalisation of land, widespread redistribution and, as a consequence, the abolition of most other taxes—all of which is to be brought about through completion of the land register. That is remarkable. I look forward to seeing those policies develop, and to combating my Liberal Democrat opponent on their fine detail.

I do agree with many of the hon. Gentleman's points about the importance of registering land. In case there is any doubt, however, I should make it clear for the record that, although registration is valuable, we do not see it as a precursor to the nationalisation of land. We share his views about the importance of completing the register, but I am afraid that we must resist the new clauses. Unregistered land should of

course be phased out as soon as possible—indeed, that is the purpose of the Bill. However, to proceed in the way envisaged in the new clauses would be fraught with difficulties. The vast majority of events that result in changes to the legal owner of the land are already caught by the existing trigger mechanisms. As I think I said on Second Reading, it would be hard to devise a system that naturally picked up further registrations, and now is not the time to do so. The Bill as drafted and the way in which it will be implemented will fully match the resources of the Land Registry and its customers for many years to come. We think that they can cope with the current proposals, but they would be hard pressed to deal with much more than that.

The issues surrounding completion of the register need to be considered very carefully. Due account must be taken of human rights, which the hon. Member for Torbay seemed to overlook in his survey of future developments. The Law Commission has suggested that that issue be reviewed in about five years' time, when the Bill has bedded in, and in my view that is a sensible course to adopt. Moving towards the goal of total registration is of course important, but we may not need drastic measures of the sort that the hon. Member for Torbay would like to see. If we allow time to discover the Bill's impact on the level of voluntary registrations, such information could help us to design the measures necessary to complete the register.

New clause 2 is unnecessary, ill-timed and misconceived. The creation of a record of unregistered interests would not result in a meaningful public register without a corresponding investigation of legal titles to those interests. To be meaningful, such a record must involve the investigation of title process that currently precedes first registration of title. The new clause is untimely, in that we anticipate the Bill's encouraging a far greater level of voluntary registrations. The new clause would also result in much additional work for, and adjustment by, the Land Registry, and occupy those involved in the conveyancing process for some time to come. Regrettably, we must therefore resist it.